Faith in Humanity

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 87 (3):664-687 (2013)
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Abstract

History and literature provide striking examples of people who are morally admirable, in part, because of their profound faith in people’s decency. But moral philosophers have largely ignored this trait, and I suspect that many philosophers would view such faith with suspicion, dismissing it as a form of naïvete or as some other objectionable form of irrationality. I argue that such suspicion is misplaced, and that having a certain kind of faith in people’s decency, which I call faith in humanity, is a centrally important moral virtue. In order to make this view intuitively more plausible, I discuss two moral exemplars – one historical and the other literary – whose lives vividly exhibit such faith. Then I provide a rationale for the view that having such faith is morally admirable. Finally, I discuss cases in which someone’s faith in humanity can lead her to make judgments that are, to some degree, epistemically irrational. I argue that the existence of such cases does not pose a serious objection to the view that having faith in humanity is a moral virtue. Rather, it makes salient important limits on the role that epistemic, as opposed to practical, rationality should occupy in our ideals of how to live.

Author's Profile

Ryan Preston-Roedder
Occidental College

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