1993-11 Plurality, Rationality, Christian Faith

The following paper was the final version of a longer paper I wrote on the subject of the rationality of religious belief.  The original paper, which I completed for a NEH Younger Scholars program, focused on William James and William Alston.

Plurality. Rationality, and Christian Faith[1]

Eric P. (Holm) Lemonholm

November 8, 1993


This paper is an exploration of three related topics: Christian faith, rationality, and the present pluralistic situation. The problem can be posed in many different ways, including the following: Given the reality of the competing religions and philosophies of our present situation, how is it reasonable or rational to be a Christian? How can one find truth amidst the conflicting truth-claims of the various belief systems? How can one combine the requirements of both faith and reason? There is a plurality of religions in the world; how can one be a Christian in the midst of this plurality, and how should one treat people of other faiths? This paper will examine several answers to these questions.

In the past two millennia, Western Christians have too often ignored, silenced, or killed people of other faiths, or else have dismissed their beliefs as products of finite, sinful, self-deceptive minds (as if they themselves were free from such limits and defects). Regrettably, those possibilities are still live options for many in our day. With such actions, one can, with difficulty, either silence others or else dismiss their beliefs without a hearing. But such moves should not be made, for reasons which shall later become clear.

This paper examines the thought of four individuals who, in different ways, have struggled with plurality, rationality, and faith: the turn-of-the-century Pragmatist William James, the analytic philosopher William Alston, the moral philosopher Alasdair Macintyre, and the theologian David Tracy. The purpose of this paper is to gain some insight into how Christians can begin to balance faith, rationality, and plurality.

I. James and the Right to Believe

James’ philosophical style is the opposite of systematic, especially when he considers religion, which he considers differently in different contexts and at different times. And yet, there is unity underlying the diversity of James’ thought, a unity which is evident in his (sometimes implicit) criteria for assessing the truth or falsity of beliefs.

In his essay “The Will to Believe,”[2] James defends the right of the individual to believe beyond the evidence in religious and moral matters. James states that there are times when we have the right, indeed the obligation, to decide between various hypotheses, based upon “our passional nature… whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds” (1977: 723). A hypothesis is a genuine option if and only if it fulfills three qualifications. The hypothesis must first be living, that is, it must be a real possibility to the individual. It must also be forced, i.e., “based on a complete logical disjunction, with no possibility of not choosing” (Ibid.: 718).  Finally, the option must be momentous, so that the individual would miss “a unique opportunity” if she chose the wrong path, or even if she chose not to choose. As James puts it: “for to say, under such circumstances, ‘Do not decide, but leave the question open,’ is itself a passional decision,—just like deciding yes or no,—and is attended with the same risk of losing truth” (Ibid.: 723),

Tracy notes that there is “rough coherence” between these criteria and criteria James uses elsewhere: “On the whole I read James (who once quipped that his position should be named ‘on the wholeism’) as holding to the same kind of criteria whether judging non religious phenomena… or religious phenomena” (1990: 36). The live option category concerns conduct, especially the practical consequences of the belief. To test if an option is live for a particular individual, one must ask: will the belief make a difference in the conduct of the individual? The live option helps to explain James’ interest in “saintliness” In the Varieties of Religious Experience (Ibid.: 37), because it is in the lives of saints that the practical consequences, the “fruits” of religious beliefs are most apparent. In relation to religious beliefs, James describes live options in terms of “moral helpfulness” (1963: 18).

Whether an option is forced corresponds with the notion of logical coherence and how an hypothesis coheres with the rest of one’s knowledge. A forced option is a belief which does not conflict with the rest of the individual’s knowledge. One’s religious beliefs, for example, must cohere with what one knows from non-religious sources of knowledge. In the Varieties of Religious Experience, James calls the forced category “philosophical reasonableness” (Ibid.). The momentous category concerns the individual’s personal experience. In terms of philosophical assessment, the momentous category reflects James’ interest in experience in the widest sense, which includes sense experience, as well as “feelings, mood, and what Whitehead (here influenced by James) named non-sensuous perception” (Tracy 1990: 37). In religion the momentous category is what James calls “immediate luminosity” (1963: 18), and is especially pertinent in understanding mysticism, where the individual purportedly experiences a “MORE” beyond herself. A momentous belief option is a belief in an object that is a genuine part of the individual’s experience, so that if an individual did not believe in the object she would be deprived of a veridical object of experience, it is significant that the Varieties is devoted to demonstrating that, for many individuals, religious beliefs are truly live, forced, and momentous.

If a set of propositions fulfills these three criteria, then it is a genuine option, but only if the decision between the options “cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds.” What kind of hypotheses, if there are any, cannot be proven or disproved intellectually? James argues that scientific questions are generally neither live nor momentous, no matter how logically “forced.” Religious and moral questions, on the contrary, are often live, momentous, and forced.[3]  In “the press of life,” as Alston notes, one cannot afford to remain a skeptic; and, James argues, in religion and morality, often to not choose is itself a choice, with its own risks and responsibilities. In a letter, James wrote:

When an hypothesis is once a live one, one risks something in one’s practical [moral] relations toward truth and error, whichever of the three positions (affirmation, doubt, or negation) one may take up toward it. The individual himself is the only rightful chooser of his risk. Hence respectful toleration, as the only law that logic can lay down (Myers 1986: 453).

This is the core of James’ notion of “the right to believe.” James stresses the person- relative nature of belief: a belief that is live, forced, and momentous for one person may not be for another. James reveals the subjective side of belief, by noting that it is always individuals in particular situations who believe.

II. Alston and Religious Belief Forming Practices

In a way similar to James, Alston helps clarify what it means to be rational in one’s beliefs, and offers a contemporary defense of the “right to believe”. In his book Perceiving God, Alston is concerned with what he calls the state of being epistemically justified in holding one’s beliefs. To be epistemically justified in holding a belief is to be in a strong position for gaining the truth, which means that one has “an adequate ground or basis” for the belief in either one’s other beliefs or one’s experience, and that one’s belief is based on that ground (1991:73). One’s epistemic aim is to balance two different goals: to maximize one’s true beliefs and to minimize one’s false beliefs. How does one accomplish that aim?

To begin to answer that question, Alston describes our belief forming practices. One’s belief forming practices include sense perception, memory, various sorts of reasoning, and introspection. Belief forming practices are loose systems of “dispositions,” “habits” or “mechanisms,” by which an individual’s beliefs are formed (Ibid.: 153). A notable fact about belief forming practices is that, despite centuries of attempts, the practices cannot be shown to be reliable— that they help one reach one’s goal of maximizing true beliefs and minimizing false ones— without using circular arguments. It is simply impossible, for example, to show that sense perception is reliable without relying on sense perception itself, or on another belief forming practice, and the same holds for the other practices. At some point, one’s argument becomes circular, or else it simply fails.

Alston deals with this problem by explicating a sort of practical rationality: since one cannot appeal beyond one’s psychologically and socially established belief forming practices, the only rational (although still circular) thing to do is to accept one’s basic practices as prima facie rational, or rational at first appearance, pending reasons for disqualification. Any belief formed by a practice can be overridden if it conflicts with other beliefs formed by the same or another practice, and “massive and persistent inconsistency” among beliefs, either within a practice or between practices, would signal that (at least) one of the practices is unreliable (Ibid.: 170-1). On the other hand, a belief forming practice’s prima facie claims can be strengthened through significant self-support. Belief forming practices support themselves by how well they fulfill their respective aims.

Alston’s argument does not prove that belief forming practices are in fact reliable, because it is still epistemically circular. Alston has shown, however, that it is rational to accept one’s belief forming practices as reliable. Since one is justified in supposing that one’s practices are reliable, moreover, the beliefs formed by those practices are prima facie justified in a strong sense. Of course, since all of one’s beliefs are only prima facie justified, any belief can be overridden if it conflicts with what one otherwise knows or believes.

What relevance does Alston’s perspective have for the topic of this paper? To answer this, Alston describes his notion of the Christian mystical perceptual belief forming practice. Alston holds that the experiential awareness, or perception, of God is an important ground of Christian religious beliefs (lbid.: 1). In prayer, in worship, in mystical states, in fellowship, in everyday life experiences and actions, and in a myriad of other situations, Alston contends, Christians actually perceive God, perceiving either that God is doing something in relation to the person, or that God has some attribute.

Like higher mathematics and wine tasting, such mystical perception of God is not engaged in by all human beings, but it is a socially shared practice with its own criteria for justified beliefs, criteria which are somewhat loose (as they are in all practices). Even more than other belief forming practices, the mystical perceptual practice relies on one’s background beliefs for the recognition of, and reaction to, the object of one’s mystical perception (God), but a belief formed through this practice is always based at least partly on the individual’s experience of God. Most important, the mystical perceptual practice exhibits significant self-support through the ways it fulfills its function in one’s life, which is to guide one in one’s relations with God: by contributing to the spiritual development of the individual, by illuminating the details of one’s life, by beliefs from the practices conforming to the background beliefs of Christianity, and by diverse Christians confronting the same reality.

The point of self-support is coherence: is mystical perception coherent itself, and does it cohere in the full life of the Christian? Alston argues that it does. When mystical perception is joined with the other grounds of the Christian belief system, moreover, a cumulative case for the reliability of mystical perception emerges. Revelation, tradition, and natural theology complement each other and mystical perception to fill out the background of the Christian belief system. One finds that these grounds of one’s beliefs, along with the experience of the coherence and fruitfulness (moral, spiritual, communal) of a life of faith, are enough for the individual to be epistemically justified in her religious beliefs.

The main stumbling block for Alston’s case is religious plurality. There are many different types of mystical perception which yield different, often conflicting, beliefs. As Alston himself admits, an argument analogous to his own can be made for each religion and type of mystical perception. In this situation, Alston notes that there is no common belief forming practice to which to appeal to adjudicate between these conflicting mystical perceptual practices. All people are in the same epistemic boat, must all simply abandon their religious beliefs, their respective faiths, in the face of disagreements? No, says Alston. The believer can trust that, in time, the disagreements between the various religions will be resolved. In the mean time, the religious believer is justified in sticking with her belief system, in being faithful to what she knows.

As stated earlier, Alston’s perspective is (implicitly) a contemporary Jamesian defense of the religious believer’s right to believe on the basis of the mystical perception of God. There is a rough coherence between Alston’s and James’ criteria of justified religious beliefs. Given three characteristics of the mystical perceptual belief forming practice – the fruits of beliefs produced by the practice in the person’s life, the coherence of those beliefs with what one otherwise knows or believes (from both specifically religious and nonreligious sources), and the genuinely experiential, perceptual nature of mystical perception (that it is a genuine part of the person’s experience, the basis of a reliable belief forming practice)— one’s beliefs from the practice are epistemically justified.

Alston’s perspective advances the discussion, but this inquiry cannot end with James and Alston, because their positions lead to the following predicament: the world is full of religious individuals who are justified in holding conflicting, often mutually exclusive beliefs in their various communities and traditions. While both help us to see that all religious people are ‘in the same epistemic boat,’ they do not help us discern how we are get along in that boat, how we should relate to the plurality of religious peoples and perspectives in the world. Where do we go from here?

III. MacIntyre and Traditions

Alasdair MacIntyre takes the discussion a step further with his conception of “tradition-constituted and tradition-constitutive enquiry,” or what we shall call tradition based rationality (1988: 9). MacIntyre argues that the Enlightenment ideal of rationality, wherein one must be able to justify a belief so that any neutral observer will accept the belief, is flawed, for there are no such things as neutral observers nor neutral standards of rationality. In contrast to the ideal of the purely neutral rational intellect, McIntyre stresses the inherent cultural, communal, and historical context of one’s rational, moral, and religious lives One lives in and understands one’s life through a number of traditions; in fact, even the languages through which people speak and think have developed over time in specific historical, cultural contexts, that is, they are tradition based.

Every standard of rationality develops in the history of a living tradition, which MacIntyre defines as “an historically extended, socially embodied argument, and an argument precisely in part about the goods which constitute that tradition” (1981: 222). In this context, to determine what a particular concept means is to see where the debate has led, to enquire into its history, within a tradition. There is no ahistorical, unchanging meaning for a term. Of course, MacIntyre does not exclude his own concepts from this rule: tradition based rationality can only be understood from how it has developed in a particular tradition. Thus, MacIntyre explicates it by telling the history of the Aristotelian and, later, Thomist traditions of moral thought.

Since all rationality is tradition-bound, relativism and perspectivism are not genuine rational options in the contemporary situation. Either, Maclintyre argues, one belongs to a tradition, in which case one owes allegiance to that tradition’s standards of rationality, and one is committed to (at least most of) the truth-claims made in the tradition; or else one is outside of all traditions or simply incoherent. Neither those who, like the relativist, are not committed to a standard of rationality in a tradition, nor those who consider their own traditions to be merely ‘perspectives’ without truth-claims, can enter into rational debate. This situation is complicated by the fact that individuals generally belong to more than one tradition, more than one community of enquiry. An essential goal, therefore, is for individuals to be aware of what traditions and communities to which they belong, such as (for example) the Western intellectual, Christian, Protestant, Evangelical, Covenant (and male) traditions, to which I more or less belong.

Commitment to a tradition, however, must be balanced with a willingness to carry on the argument. Although some parts of a tradition may be more resistant to change than others, such as sacred or canonical texts, no element in the tradition is exempt from reformulation, reevaluation, or reinterpretation in the light of reflection or challenge from another tradition.

Inter-tradition challenges are problematic because two traditions may disagree about almost anything, including the nature of their disagreements Traditions can differ on how they characterize and resolve disagreements, and on what they value as worthwhile to discuss. In a confrontation between traditions, there is no neutral, tradition-free standpoint from which one can adjudicate differences. In this situation, if one is to comprehend another tradition, one must first understand it in its own terms, according to its own standards of rationality; one must be immersed in the other tradition and learn it much as one learns ‘a second first language.’ Only then can one evaluate the tradition and engage in constructive dialogue with members of it.

This sheds light on how one can rationally resolve debates between traditions. In such debates, members of one tradition may show those of a second tradition in what way the second tradition fails to be rational according to its own standards. In this situation, the challenged tradition may rise to the occasion and overcome its incoherence in such a way that the tradition is better able to withstand challenge. Traditions can gain insight from other traditions and be mutually enriched, or even join together. Or, one tradition may encounter another tradition and discover irresolvable incoherencies within itself; eventually, the tradition could lose its viability and wither away. There is no way to tell beforehand how such conflicts will be resolved, and they may last generations.

To help ensure that such debates will continue, MacIntyre calls for a reconception of the modern university and the modern lecture, arguing that debate has been stifled by Enlightenment notions of rationality. The modern university should be a place of both “systematically conducted moral and theological enquiry” within traditions and “systematically conducted controversy” between traditions; it is very important in this situation to ensure that “rival voices [are] not illegitimately suppressed” (1990:231).

Like Alston and James, MacIntyre stresses that we are in the same boat, that there is no privileged, non-contextualized point of view from which to judge between belief systems. Unlike them, MacIntyre also considers how we can understand the fact of religious diversity and begin to deal with diverse traditions and religious believers. His tradition based rationality, however, is mainly a formal schema for understanding how one might approach the task of resolving conflicts within and between traditions, over possibly long periods of time. How that conflict is resolved in concrete situations is itself open to debate, and then what is needed is practical wisdom, or practical rationality. We must look elsewhere for help in moving from the inter-traditional level to the inter-personal level, where conflicts between religious believers occur, and also to the individual level, where conflicts within individuals themselves occur.

IV. Tracy and Dialogue

David Tracy is a fitting figure to consider next, because he directly faces— and struggles to make sense of— the problem of the plurality of religions. Tracy also stresses the particularity of human existence, and that one must both stick to one’s convictions and be open to others of different religions.  He calls Christians to enter, as committed Christians, into inter-religious dialogue. In fact, the Christian’s dual commitment— first, “a faith commitment to love of God and neighbor;” second, “an ethical commitment” to “the value of truth wherever it may lead”— compels one to seriously converse with those of other faiths (1990: 95; 1975:135). Of course, how the individual Christian’s commitments to love and truth are worked out in life depends on one’s situation.

There is a deep connection between Alston, MacIntyre, and Tracy (and, implicitly, James) which we can now make explicit: all three call for a movement beyond objectivism and relativism (as Richard Bernstein terms it). Objectivism is the belief that our knowledge is, or should be, grounded in some objective, ahistorical, absolute foundation. Relativism is the belief that all supposedly fundamental concepts are actually “relative to a specific conceptual scheme, theoretical framework, paradigm, form of life, society, or culture” (Bernstein 1983: 8). The worry (which is classically embodied in Descartes) is that, unless one can objectively ground our knowledge, one will fall into the endless pit of relativism. In rejecting both objectivism and relativism, the four thinkers do not reject rationality as such. Instead, they call for some conception of rationality that better reflects and guides one’s intellectual life.

Tracy’s alternative notion of rationality is the possibility of attaining relative adequacy in one’s interpretations. To understand any “event, symbol, text, ritual, ideology, or person” is to interpret (1987: 4). The act of interpreting involves one in a to-and-fro movement of conversation with a text or person. Tracy states about conversation that it is

a game with some hard rules: say only what you mean; say it as accurately as you can; listen to and respect what the other says, however different or other, be willing to correct or defend your opinions if challenged by the conversation partner; be willing to argue if necessary, to confront if demanded, to endure necessary conflict, to change your mind if the evidence suggests it (Ibid.: 19).

In interpreting anything or anyone, it is not the case that one can achieve complete, “objective” knowledge of the other; one cannot claim full adequacy for one’s interpretations. One can, rather, achieve a relatively adequate interpretation: relative to the nature of the text, relative to one’s powers of discernment, relative to one’s cultural situation (Ibid.: 22).

The problem for Tracy, however, is that the very notion of conversation is threatened by three issues. First, methods, explanations and theories, such as historical, literary, and social-scientific critical methods, often genuinely call conversations into question by highlighting their limits and wrong presuppositions (Bernstein 1989: 88). The second hindrance to conversation is the recognition of human beings as finite, culturally and historically bound creatures, and thus the recognition of the plurality of language, knowledge, and reality. In this situation of finitude and plurality, what are reality and truth? Tracy states that “reality is constituted by the interaction between a text, whether book or world, and a questioning interpreter,” while truth is “the reality we know through our best interpretations” (1987: 48).

The third challenge to conversation is perhaps the most serious: the ambiguous nature of our history, our social situation, and our lives. Human history is an ambiguous mixture of great good and great evil. As Merold Westphal reveals, prophetic figures throughout history— from the Old Testament prophets, to Jesus Christ, St. Paul, St. James, and in modernity, to Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud— have revealed all too clearly the existence of mixed motivations, distorted wills, hypocrisy, self-deception, self-centeredness, and plain old sin, in one’s religious, interpersonal, and political lives. Ambiguity, moreover, can affect not only what one believes, but how one’s beliefs function in one’s life, because even a true belief can be used wrongly. One cannot extricate oneself from the ambiguity that comes with being human, so one must recognize that there is “no innocent interpretation, no innocent interpreter, no innocent text,” and one must listen carefully to those other voices who are marginalized in one’s midst: the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, the alien, the victims of racial or sexual discrimination or violence.

These three challenges, Tracy argues, need not destroy conversation. Critical methods can help purify dialogues without destroying them, by clearing up minor disputes and helping all to focus on the essential issues. Recognizing the plurality of rationality, reality, and human existence, one nevertheless must embrace one’s particularity and “enter into history again” in conversation (Ibid.: 65). One must also take seriously the fact of ambiguity in life. And yet, ambiguity is ambiguous, a mixture of evil and good, so there is hope that the conversation can continue. One must recognize that relative adequacy is the most one can hope to achieve in one’s interpretations of one’s situation (including the situation of plurality) and of one’s tradition. And yet, recognizing the relativity of one’s beliefs to one’s particularity does not entail the acceptance of relativism. Tracy does not, however, prove that the challenges to conversation can be overcome. Perhaps only in practice can the challenges be met, in one’s conversation with others. The threats to conversation are not decisive; conversations, therefore, must continue, striving for relative adequacy.

In fact, even though the religious traditions share fully in the ambiguity and plurality of our world, they also are primary sources for both resistance and hope. Religions at their best resist “more of the same;” that is they resist the individual’s reduction of everything to some complacent, self-serving similarity— as in, for example, religious or secular forms of fundamentalism (Ibid.: 84). The three challenges to conversation can aid in this resistance to more of the same, by breaking down the barriers that stand between the individual and both the ‘dangerous,’ challenging religious classics, and also those challenging others around one.[4] Again, none of this proves the possibility of conversation in the contemporary situation. And yet, Tracy contends,

both conversation [the life of understanding] and solidarity [the life of action], like reason itself, are grounded in real hopes: a hope for freedom from the rule of the same and a hope for some enlightenment and emancipation (Ibid.: 113).

In what are those hopes grounded? Tracy’s hope is grounded, as it can be for all Christians, in his Christian faith in God, in God’s revelation, and in the possibility of real liberation (ibid.). For the wider circle of our pluralistic situation, the hope is more modest, but still important: that we all continue to risk openness to all traditions, all classics, and all others.

Tracy advances the discussion further by reformulating William James’ (and, implicitly, Alston’s) criteria for justified religious belief into (tentative) criteria for inter-religious dialogue. Like any criteria, however, these are rough guidelines for conversation, not substitutes for conversation. Tracy shifts James’ live criterion, which focuses on the fruits of beliefs in one’s moral and spiritual life, to ethical-political criteria. This category highlights the importance of the ethical aspect of one’s religion and life, challenges the often overly individualistic self-absorbed habits of thought of those (especially) in the West, and forces one to face both “the inevitability of social-political realities of power embedded in all discourse” and the claims of the marginalized in the world (1990: 47).

James forced criterion, second, the criterion of logical coherence, is transformed into rough coherence with what one knows or believes from other sources. This criterion, of course, takes into account the modern situation of moving ‘beyond objectivism and relativism.’ Finally, Tracy shifts the momentous criterion, the category of “immediate luminousness” or genuine experientiality, to the hermeneutical category suggestive possibility. For a religious believer, a possibility need not be a genuine, live option for it to be a genuine, suggestive possibility to one’s religious imagination. The term ‘possibility,’ moreover, is an aesthetic rather than ethical term, allowing room in inter- religious dialogue for the primordial religious notion of “truth-as-manifestation,” as opposed to truth as mere correspondence or coherence (ibid.: 43).

Tracy’s criteria are a good start in knowing how to deal both with the others in one’s midst, including the others in one’s own traditions, and with their religious beliefs. Does a religious belief make genuine ethical-social-political claims on one? Does it roughly cohere with what one otherwise knows or believes? Does it have suggestive possibility, genuinely disclosing reality to one’s imagination, even if one is not likely to change one’s core convictions?



What can we conclude from all this? James and Alston, first, gave us a solid contemporary defense of the religious believer’s ‘right to believe.’ Given MacIntyre’s depiction of competitive, organic traditions, and Tracy’s description of the plurality and ambiguity of the world, reason, and human life, however, one must be wary of claims to epistemic justification, especially if such claims lead one to shut out other voices or reduce those other beliefs to ‘more of the same’. Religious believers do have to trust what they know from their own particular perspective. But Christians, in addition to experiencing one another and God, also experience people of other faiths, and experience the tension between their beliefs and the others’. The beliefs of Christians are not exempt from the limiting and distorting effects of finitude, plurality, and an ambiguous mixture of good and evil. Thus, although trusting that all truth belongs to God and to Christ, Christians nonetheless cannot silence or shut out the truth claims of those others, cannot rule out the possibility that God’s truth is manifested in different people or religions, and cannot decide to ignore their commitment to love their neighbor as themselves, that is, to take them seriously as children of God. Some sort of dialogue, therefore, is essential for at least some in each religious tradition.

MacIntyre helps us in this regard with his conception of tradition based rationality, how disagreements between traditions can be clarified and eventually, one hopes, resolved. MacIntyre understands, however, how difficult this process can be: no one knows, for example, how (or even if) differences can be resolved between such diverse traditions as theistic, person centered Christianity and atheistic, no-thingness centered Therevada Buddhism.

In such a situation, Tracy is more helpful, both with his understanding of the contemporary situation, and with his criteria for beginning to evaluate religious beliefs in the context of plurality. Like MacIntyre and Alston, Tracy understands that the task of understanding one another has only just begun. Believers have much work to do in developing our analogical imaginations for understanding other religious concepts as analogous to their own, that is, as “similarities-in-difference,” remembering the importance of the difference between the concepts; they are not more of the same (Ibid.: 42).

There is no guarantee that the inter-religious dialogue will result in a vindication of one’s position; there is no guarantee that the conversation can even succeed; there is no guarantee that the relative adequacy that is human truth will be approached. Nevertheless, if the Christian is armed with a commitment to rationality and truth, armed with the hope that the dialogue may continue and be fruitful, and armed with the love that makes openness possible, all of which are possible because of one’s faith in the God of Jesus Christ, the God of truth: given all this, one may accept one’s convictions, based as they must be in one’s historical-cultural context, and with humility, self-suspicion, openness, and conviction engage in dialogue with the others who are a part of one’s experience.


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[1]          An early version of this paper was submitted to the N.E.H. in 1992 as part of its “Younger Scholars Program” (dealing only with James and Alston), and a later version was presented to the 1993 meeting of the North Park Philosophy Academy. Many thanks are due to both organizations for the opportunity to reflect on these issues.

[2]          James later admitted that the title of The Will to Believe was misleading. A better term would have been ‘The Right to Believe.’

[3]          Regarding James’ contrast between science, and religion and morality, one should note the ethical and faith dimensions inherent in the scientific enterprise.

[4]          Westphal has demonstrated this with the challenge of ambiguity, by taking seriously the “masters of suspicion,” Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud (1993).

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