The Diviner and the Scientist: Revisiting the Question of Alternative Standards of Rationality

Journal of the American Academy of Religion 78 (4):1048-1086 (2010)
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Are the standards of reasoning and rationality in divination, religious practice, and textual exegesis different from those in the sciences? Can there be different standards of reasoning and rationality at all? The intense “rationality debate” of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s focused on these questions and the related problems of relativism across cultures and systems of practice. Although philosophers were at the center of these debates at the time, they may appear to have abandoned the question in recent years. On the contrary, I discuss recent developments in philosophy that approach the issue from a number of new directions, changing our understanding of reasoning and rationality. I argue that, in comparing the diviner to the scientist, focusing on reasoning is likely to be a red herring. Instead, I argue that a careful treatment of rationality, paying particular attention to its context-dependence, untangles longstanding confusions. Moreover, it points the way forward to investigating modest but interesting ways for there to be alternative standards of rationality.

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Brian Epstein
Tufts University


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