Disagreement and Faith: Ockham on Faith as an Intellectual Virtue

At the beginning of Chapter III, Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle lists five intellectual virtues or veridical habits: art, scientific knowledge, prudence, intellectual intuition, and wisdom. The intellectual virtues are habitual powers of the mind to act that promote certainty and true belief, and Aristotle distinguishes them from opinion, in which “we may be mistaken”. Unlike beliefs attributable to the veridical habits, which altogether exclude falsity and doubt, it is recognized even by those who hold them that opinions are less than certain, and that they could be either true or false. Regarding faith, however, it is unclear from Aristotle`s discussion in the Nicomachean Ethics whether it is opinion or veridical habit. Beliefs held on the basis of faith, such as my belief about who my parents are, have the unwavering certainty that mere opinions lack, yet they lack the evidence that would rule out error and make for knowledge. Should faith be considered an intellectual virtue or a species of opinion? Or, is faith a category unto itself? This paper examines a late-medieval debate about the position of faith in the framework of the veridical habits. William of Ockham makes faith an intellectual virtue on par with the other five. While we cannot have evident knowledge on the basis of faith in the way that we can through the other five veridical habits, beliefs held through faith are nevertheless certain and true. For this reason faith should be considered a veridical habit distinguishable from opinion. Ockham’s confrère and student, Adam Wodeham, rejects faith as a veridical habit. If faith were a veridical habit, then an increase in degree should eliminate disagreement. But an equal increase in faith on both sides of a dispute does not reduce disagreement. If anything, it intensifies it. So faith cannot be a veridical habit. Several counter-arguments in support of Ockham’s position that stem from his epistemological externalism are also discussed, but I claim that in the final analysis Wodeham is correct. According to Ockham’s own epistemology and psychology faith cannot be an intellectual virtue.
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The Basic Works of Aristotle.W. D. Ross (ed.) - 1941 - Random House.

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