Faith as doxastic venture

Religious Studies 38 (4):471-487 (2002)
Abstract
A ‘doxastic venture’ model of faith – according to which having faith involves believing beyond what is rationally justifiable – can be defended only on condition that such venturesome believing is both possible and ethically acceptable. I show how a development of the position argued by William James in ‘The will to believe’ can succeed in meeting these conditions. A Jamesian defence of doxastic venture is, however, open to the objection that decision theory teaches us that there can be no circumstances in which ‘the evidence does not decide’, so a fortiori no occasion to permit belief on a ‘passional’ basis. I argue that this objection does not apply to certain ‘framework principles’ such as those presupposed by the framework of theistic belief and practice, and that there are good grounds for preferring a doxastic venture model of faith over a more austere alternative (advocated by Richard Swinburne) according to which reasonable faith cannot be more than the commitment to act on the assumption, with any (non-negligible) degree of confidence, that God exists and is to be trusted.
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