Augustine and William James on the Rationality of Faith

Heythrop Journal (4):648-659 (2018)
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Augustine and William James both argue that religious faith can be both practical and rational even in the absence of knowledge. Augustine argues that religious faith is trust and that trust is a normal, proper, and even necessary way of believing. Beginning with faith, we then work towards knowledge by means of philosophical contemplation. James’ “The Will to Believe” makes pragmatic arguments for the rationality of faith. Although we do not know (yet) whether God exists, faith is a choice between the risk of believing something false and the risk of not believing something true, and in the absence of convincing evidence we may decide for ourselves which risk we prefer. We may be able to experience God in the future and thereby gain knowledge, yet this may be contingent on our willingness to believe. There are key differences, however. Augustine is a Christian with a neo-Platonic bent, James an empiricist defending the religion of your choice. These differences may be less significant than they first appear. After explaining Augustine and then James I draw out the major points of comparison and contrast and suggest a few reasons their insights might be at least partially synthesized. This is the accepted version of the following article: Mark J. Boone, “Augustine and William James on the Rationality of Faith,” The Heythrop Journal (online edition December 2018), which has been published in final form at [See First URL]. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with the Wiley Self-Archiving Policy [See Second URL].

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Mark J. Boone
Hong Kong Baptist University


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