Fideism and epistemic justification

Is it logically possible for a Fideist to be justified in her Fideism? If so, then a Fideist can ‘know’ some things via Fideism – and by ‘know’, I mean here having a true justified belief. Now, obviously the Fideist can have true beliefs, but the question of whether they are epistemically justified is an interesting one. One might think that since the Fideist is refusing to trust in their own proficiency at using the rational faculty to come to know truths they cannot in principle be justified. However, the Fideist is essentially just saying that they have a better way of ‘knowing’ than the use of their rational faculty. Perhaps they are right. For instance, if they have a properly basic knowledge that God exists, or that Christianity is true, and if God does exist and Christianity is true, then it would seem that they have true justified beliefs. It is even the case that they accept these beliefs by ‘faith’. For instance, to sketch an analogy, suppose the person of faith accepts in the absence of any rational arguments (and let’s imagine that they do so even in the face of arguments against) that the physical world exists. That means that the Fideist will believe that the inference to there being a tree from the phenomenological reality of ‘being appeared to treely’ is itself legitimate, justified, and indeed is more sensible than questioning whether the experience of being appeared to treely is trustworthy. Similarly the inference from religious experience, which we might call ‘being appeared to divinely’, to the religious reality, which we might call ‘God’, or even the religious experience in the Eucharist of ‘being appeared to Christly’ (qua spiritual experience) might legitimize the inference to Christ being truly present in the Eucharist. The Fideist believes and maintains as properly basic what is a matter of faith, and if she is both justified and correct, then the Fideist can ‘know’ her faith is true. The question becomes whether we can say that the kind of child-like phenomenological realism of the Fideist is ‘reliable’. We cannot appeal to different Fideists believing different things as a good argument against its reliability – after all, there were never two rationalist philosophers who agreed, and even today there are hardly any two philosophers who agree on matters that all consider to be of the utmost importance in philosophy. The use of the rational faculty does no more ensure ‘reliability’ as evinced by popular consent than does Fideism.

More interestingly, can the rational faculty itself be considered reliable on Naturalism? Supposing I am a physicalist who believes that all of my thoughts are literally the result of the concatenation of atoms, and thus all of my beliefs are causally necessitated by the physical world (even my belief in physicalism and determinism) – I can have no reason for thinking that this process of belief-formation can in principle be epistemically justifying. Even if somebody should propose a model, such as some model of evolutionary psychology, and attempt to explain how evolution might ensure that our cognitive faculties are reliable a significant portion of the time – that model itself is one which I have come to believe in by causal necessity, and thus doesn’t help get one out of the problem that any beliefs which arise from causal necessity, however coherent they may seem to me (their seeming coherent is also physically determined in my mind), are certainly not ‘justifying’.

Perhaps the Naturalist will respond that this kind of vicious questioning can be applied even to the Theist, or indeed to anyone, but I’m not sure that a true analogy to this problem does exist for the Libertarian. I suppose we could respond as Plantinga does and point out that the process of evolution does nothing to ensure true beliefs, but I would want to say that the physicalist has a more fundamental problem; the physicalist cannot believe in rational doxastic voluntarism, and any philosophy which makes rational doxastic voluntarism impossible has, by reason of that alone, an in built epistemic defeater.

Fideism, therefore (and ironically), has a better shot at being epistemically justifying (on theism – and possibly on atheism) than does the use of the rational faculty on typical Naturalism (physicalism).



About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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