Pascalian Faith

Australasian Philosophical Review 5 (1):73-79 (2021)
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Katherine Dormandy aims both to classify possible modes of relating faith to epistemic norms in terms of three broad viewpoints: evidentialism, epistemological partialism, and anti-epistemological partialism. I advance two related claims: first, her categorization flattens the epistemological terrain by treating epistemic norms that operate at different levels as if they operated on the same level and thereby distorts the views she categorizes under Anti-Epistemological Partiality; and second, when rightly described, the noetic conflict involved in this view can be understood as waged between epistemic norms of different types and function. To advance this claim, I examine Pascal’s conception of faith. For Pascal, we require first principles to establish an interpretive framework for understanding the universe and interpreting evidence, but outside of statements whose negations are self-contradictory, we cannot distinguish between “natural” principles and fantasies; faith is then understood as a relation to the Divine that allows the believer to receive, through grace, more accurate first principles. Faith therefore has a special cognitive status: (a) it has the right to influence how we interpret the world, including our epistemic norms and how to accommodate apparently disconfirming evidence, and (b) it is resilient to being reinterpreted in ways that would hinder it from fulfilling this function of stabilizing our epistemic situation—in the manner, for example, that such functioning would be hindered by negative beliefs concerning whether God exists, is good, and is faithful. The Pascalian believer is therefore involved in a much more subtle type of struggle than one between evidence and belief. Her conflict is waged between evidence and the interpretive framework through which she understands the world, including that evidence. I use the example of Job as a paradigm of how such a believer responds to apparently disconfirming evidence, treating doubt as grounds for frankly asking, or even demanding, God to answer one’s doubts, for the sake of his justice and love.

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Alexander Jech
University of Notre Dame


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