Testimony amidst Diversity

In Matthew A. Benton, John Hawthorne & Dani Rabinowitz (eds.), Knowledge, Belief, and God: New Insights in Religious Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 183-202 (2018)
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Abstract

That testimony is one of the principle bases on which many people hold their religious beliefs is hard to dispute. Equally hard to dispute is that our world contains an array of mutually incompatible religious traditions each of which has been transmitted down the centuries chiefly by way of testimony. In light of this latter it is quite natural to think that there is something defective about holding religious beliefs primarily or solely on the basis of testimony from a particular tradition. The present chapter takes up the question of what that defect consists in. I first consider whether religious diversity entails that a religious believer’s testimony-based beliefs are not formed in a suitably epistemically reliable manner even conditional upon the truth of her religion. After casting doubt on this thought I turn to look at the idea that testimony-based beliefs are subject to defeaters in light of awareness of religious diversity, and I suggest that many such beliefs are not obviously so. According to my diagnosis the problem, rather, is that believers who base their religious beliefs just on testimony will be very unlikely to have reflective (that is, second-order) knowledge even if they possess first-order knowledge, and I explain why this is a notable shortcoming.

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Max Baker-Hytch
Oxford University (DPhil)

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