Problems of Religious Luck, chapter 1: Kinds of Religious Luck: A Working Taxonomy


Although there has been little written to date that speaks directly to problems of religious luck, described in other terms these problems have a long history. Contemporary contributors to the literature have referred to “soteriological luck” (Anderson 2011) “salvific luck” (Davidson 1999) and “religious luck” (Zagzebski 1994). Using “religious” as the unifying term, Part I of this monograph begins with the need a more comprehensive taxonomy. Serious philosophic interest in moral and epistemic luck took hold only after comprehensive taxonomies for those kinds of luck were introduced, but this has not yet been done for religious luck. Even if incomplete, the more comprehensive taxonomy, as introduced in Chapter One enables better diagnostic questions to be raised for researchers. Emerging questions about potentially ‘luck leaning’ attributions of good/bad religious luck, and of the possibility and desirability of “luck free theologies,” are questions which I hope to motivate as of central interest to researchers in philosophy of religion, both secular and religious. The taxonomy highlights why we should take two concerns — with the concept of religious luck and with asymmetric or sharply differential ascriptions of religious value — to be inextricably connected. The connection between attributing good/bad luck and violating inductive norms is easy to see upon reflection. One related distinction common in recent work on epistemic luck is that between benign evidential luck (‘benign’ because consistent with justified belief and knowledge), and malign (positive epistemic status undercutting) veritic luck. How, philosophically, this distinction should be understood is an especially acute problem when it comes to testimonial trust, and to intellectually virtuous or vicious ways of assessing testimonial claims, and sources of claims. So the chapter concludes with development of the case of Tess, as an example of testimonial environmental veritic luck. The Tess case is constructed to be formally analogous to the environmental veritic luck operating in fake barn cases (where visual perception rather than reception of testimony is the source of the agent’s belief). There does seem to be an intrinsic connection between epistemic assessment of the agent’s beliefs and the inductive context in which their own and their religious community’s inquiry takes place. This will allow for some potentially powerful thought experiments in successive chapters, about luck, risk, and questions of epistemic in/justice as they pertain to religious faith ventures.

Author's Profile

Guy Axtell
Radford University


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