About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

New 5-minute Philosopher video: On miracles

Marta: Hello David! How are you today?

David: Hi Marta, I'm fine thanks. I wonder if you have a moment to talk about miracles.

M: As you know, it's one of my favorite topics David, what specifically did you have in mind?

D: I'm trying to understand David Hume's famous argument about miracles, which is still used today by skeptics of religion and of other unusual claims. In the words of astronomer Carl Sagan, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

M: Yes, that was Sagan's rendition of Hume's famous conclusion that "a wise man proportions his belief to evidence."

D: Right, but how did Hume arrive at that conclusion, Marta?

M: Well, he started out by acknowledging that human experience is fallible, and that we have all manners of degrees of confidence concerning specific matters of fact.

D: Right, from what I understand, Hume thought that it is reasonable to doubt in particular alleged facts that have rarely or never been reported before.

M: Exactly. So Hume proceeded to define miracles as violations of the laws of nature, and to argue that the validity of the laws of nature is one of the things we can be most sure of, because we observe it every day.

D: Did Hume distinguish between miracles and just very unusual occurrences?

M: Yes, he said: "It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country."

D: Ah, right, that is an important difference. So now I understand why he said that "no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish."

M: Precisely, my dear David. Indeed, Hume went on to argue that when someone confronts us with the possibility of a miracle we need to ask ourselves "whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened."

D: On that basis Hume concluded that there is not a single reliable case of a miracle in all of human history. But how did he explain the fact that people report miracles nonetheless?

M: Here is what he said in response to that question: “The passion of surprise and wonder, arising from miracles, being an agreeable emotion, gives a sensible tendency towards the belief of those events, from which it is derived.”

D: So his opinion was that people are fascinated by strange occurrences, and so readily believe them. And I think he also pointed out that it is easy for some people to take advantage of the credulity of others, or even simply that one feels good about having witnessed such an extraordinary event. All of which explains why people are so easily mistaken or credulous about miracles.

M: Not only that. Hume also pointed out that, strangely enough, one doesn't see many miracles these days, possibly because people have gotten a bit more sophisticated and less credulous.

D: And if I'm not mistaken he went on to make some remarkably daring statements for his time. He said that "it is impossible the religions of ancient Rome, of Turkey, of Siam, and of China should, all of them, be established on any solid foundation.” I guess he meant that it is rather strange for any particular religion to claim that it is the true one, when there are so many others making the same claim, all of them based on precious little evidence.

M: Exactly. Hume also had a viable theory for how some religions manage to establish themselves in the long run. He said: "In the infancy of new religions,the wise and learned commonly esteem the matter too inconsiderable to deserve their attention or regard. And when afterwards they would willingly detect the cheat, in order to undeceive the deluded multitude, the season is now past, and the records and witnesses, which might clear up the matter, have perished beyond recovery.”

D: Do we have any recent examples of this phenomenon that one may study?

M: Oh yes, plenty. Take for instance the establishment of the Mormon religion in the 1820s, or the even more recent rise of Scientology, invented by science fiction writer Ron Hubbard in 1952.

D: Wow, Hume surely had guts to talk about this stuff back in the 18th century. Did he get into trouble for that?

M: Well, nothing serious. He could never get a university post, and his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion were published after his death, originally anonymously. But Hume lived in the age of the Enlightenment, and thankfully by then the time of witch burning was over.

D: Still, modern philosophers and skeptics certainly owe David Hume a major debt for his clear treatment of all sorts of nonsense.

M: Indeed David, Indeed.


  1. Hume's reasoning can also be applied to all anomalous events, like the advent of the universe, the laws of physics, and the fine-tuning of the universe. Which makes more sense - that these anomalies just happened or that they were miraculously designed?

    Besides, for those of us who have experienced miracles, it is Hume who becomes the strange anomaly.

  2. Massimo,

    I wish you'd consider allowing us to post without a prior approval process. Your process inhibits direct and satisfying communication.

  3. Manns,

    Sorry, tried that before, but between death threats, spam and simple rudeness, I prefer the current method.

    As for people who experience miracles, well, I'm with Hume, man beings are easily deluded. The unique events you are talking about have not been witnessed, they have been inferred by indirect (and highly reliable and widely shearable) means, so they do not fall into the purview of Hume's argument.

  4. Massimo,

    //As for people who experience miracles, well, I'm with Hume, man beings are easily deluded.//

    The same can be said about "rational" arguments such as Hume's.

  5. Not all extraordinary claims need be religious in nature. The possibility of time travel, the existence of wormholes, the possibility of faster than light travel and the validity of String Theory are all at present extraordinary claims as none of them have been witnessed.

  6. Thameron, exactly, and accordingly Hume would say that we need to remain skeptical until we have enough evidence. His argument was not that one should never believe unusual claims, only that belief should be proportional to evidence. There aree a couple of nice papers that show that Hume's argument can be recast in Bayesian terms.

  7. @Massimo:

    Problem here is that as long as we have things like objective fact and fiction, the dialog makes sense. But if we cast aside these strange beliefs in anything objective - even mathematical truths - then the miracle simply becomes an outlier event, less replicable than other events.

    Since that dinner you hosted on Hume earlier, have read bits and pieces of his work, and he certainly impresses to the point that I even forgot about someone's interest in punching someone else in the nose. But Hume lived in a time where it was a stretch to feel that reality might best be considered observer-dependent. Even if countless philosophers before his time had already concluded this, the man simply had no evidence. But you do.

  8. The laws of physics were mysteriously designed, but the logic of their very existence negates the prior perception that mysteries required miracles to explain them or experience them.

  9. Manns Word,

    Re: "Hume's reasoning can also be applied to all anomalous events, like the advent of the universe, the laws of physics, and the fine-tuning of the universe. Which makes more sense - that these anomalies just happened or that they were miraculously designed?"

    I do not see how Hume's reasoning in 'On Miracles' may be applied to the above cases.

    First, Hume's argument against miracles is not a priori but rather an a posteriori, probabilistic argument.

    Second, that the existence of the universe (multiverse), the particular ensemble of life-permitting constants, the existence of laws of nature, etc., are anomalous has not been established. To say that they are we must have some sense of their probabilities and to calculate the probability of any given event, we need to have enough samples of that event in order to estimate the probability density function of the underlying natural processes. Once we have done that, we can say X, Y, or Z are anomalous.

    Since Hume's argument against miracles is probabilistic (and we can certainly establish good probability assignments for miracles) and the 'anomalous' events that you mentioned cannot be established to be 'anomalous' in a technical sense, it follows that Hume's argument cannot be in the way you suggest.

    To do as I suspect you are doing and say 'Well, I myself cannot see how it is very likely that such grandeur could arise without the guidance of an intelligent agency, thus it is probable that an intelligent agency brought about the universe' is to technical meanings of 'likely' and 'probable' with personal ignorance and prejudices.

  10. Apologies for the incivilities: 'to replace technical meanings...' in the last paragraph and 'Hume's argument cannot be used...' in the penultimate paragraph.

  11. Paraconsistent

    Anomalous events occur all the time. They are even necessary. Before an event happens a second time, it must first be anomalous – there must first be a first time before there is a second time! There are also anomalous forces like the speed of light. Can you logically or empirically rule out that it might be miraculous? Perhaps we are surrounded by anomalous, miraculous phenomena?

    Let’s take it in another direction. We can also prove that an anomalous event took place, despite the fact that it violated a well-established pattern. Take Dr. Gun who shot his wife to death after 40 years of marriage. The defense had brought in 100 witnesses, each testifying that they had never seen Dr. Gun do such a thing, that there had been an empirical pattern of his always treating people with the utmost of respect. However, there were two witnesses who testified that they had seen Gun shoot his wife and carry the body into his car. He was understandably found guilty despite his well-established pattern for having done right by people.

    We have numerous testimonies of Jesus having risen. Should the well-established pattern of people not rising from the dead overcome direct testimonial evidence?

  12. >[to say] it is probable that an intelligent agency brought about the universe' is to replace technical meanings of 'likely' and 'probable' with personal ignorance and prejudices.<

    Not if the intelligent agency is a universe that intelligently evolves.

  13. >Should the well-established pattern of people not rising from the dead overcome direct testimonial evidence?<

    Not if the allegedly risen were not actually dead to begin with. Or if Jesus was miraculously unkillable.

  14. "We have numerous testimonies of Jesus having risen."

    We do?

  15. Michael,

    Almost all of the Apostles died the death of martyrs, having been offered life if they'd renounce their belief that Jesus had risen. There is no indication that any of them had ever broken rank.

    On top of this, all of the church fathers attest to the fact that Jesus had died and risen. Even many of the Gnostic (false) gospels attest similarly.

    There is even enemy (Jewish) attestation of miraculous events that had attended the Crucifixion.

    There is also the phenomenon of the rapid growth of the church, which would be impossible to explain, in view of the crucifixion, apart from a miraculous resurrection.

  16. Manns Word,

    A miraculous event is a violation of a law of nature, and such violations are 'anomalous,' but an anomalous event need not be a violation of a law of nature. So, all miraculous events are anomalous, but not all anomalous events are miraculous.

    Neither Hume nor I argue that anomalous events do not occur (read above lines 10 & 11). In fact, to use your example, domestic homicides are well documented events and it is only because they have been well documented that we can assign a probability to domestic homicides (given the appropriate contexts, of course) and thus determine whether such events are anomalous. However, as I noted in my initial comment, we cannot identify as anomalous the existence of the universe (multiverse), laws of nature, or the arrangement of life permitting constants because we do not have their probability distributions (this addresses your speed of light comment).

    As for being able to prove an event was not miraculous, I needn't do such a thing. The burden of proof is on he who affirms the proposition, i.e., he must give us good reason to believe the proposition true, since it is logically impossible to prove a negative.

    As for the bit about testimonies, two personal testimonies suffice for ordinary claims (that I am a registered Libertarian) but not for extraordinary claims (that Jesus was resurrected); we should demand much more and much better quality evidence than that.

  17. "belief should be proportional to evidence"

    Leave it to Sagan to admonish us about the nature of belief. But "evidence" only comes into play in the context of belief. "Evidence" for the occurrence of miracles is "evidence" precisely in the light of beliefs the non-theist does not share. These beliefs are incontrovertible. Thus, Hume fails to show that justified belief in a miracle's occurrence is the result of "delusion".

  18. Massimo, what is your take on "Hume's Abject Failure"?

  19. I may add that Hume's failure is yet another glaring example of the intellectual short-sightedness of the English race (no racism intended!) which now manifests in the blather of Ditchkins.

  20. Hume was Scottish, not English.

  21. 'But "evidence" only comes into play in the context of belief.' Perhaps, but only in a very general sense.

    '"Evidence" for the occurrence of miracles is "evidence" precisely in the light of beliefs the non-theist does not share.' Absolutely not. Evidence for the guilt of a defendant is evidence precisely in light of beliefs one who believes in the innocence of the defendant does not share? Of course not.

    There is exist objective, epistemic relationships between propositions and evidence such that if latter is gathered, the former becomes more or less likely to be true.

  22. The Scottish did not have an Enlightenment, they had a bout of Anglo-Saxonism.

  23. aharrell, what kind of failure by Hume are you taking about? And yes, there was such a thing as the Scottish Enlightenment, check the recent book "The Philosopher's Quarrell" (Yale University Press).

  24. I was referring to Earman's analysis of Hume's argument as 'almost wholly without merit' ("Hume's Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles" Oxford University Press, 2000)

    The Scottish should stick to scotch as their realm of expertise.

  25. I liked the litle robots better.

  26. aharrell, or perhaps Earman doesn't know what he's talking about. Hume's argument is considered very solid by most philosophers, and as I mentioned earlier, there are recent interpretations of it in Bayesian terms that strengthen it even more.

    And what's with the anti-Scottish racism anyway?

  27. Massimo,

    From what little I know of David Hume, I'm a big fan so thank you for this piece. For what it's worth, I vote for more stuff on Hume and at a more advanced level. Thanks also for including the text; I'm a bit old fashioned and prefer reading for this sort of material.

    I'm shocked that the incidents that motivated you to introduce comment approval were so terrible. :-(

    Apologies if this repeats old questions but... to which books would you point a reader interested to know more about Hume? Would you suggest starting with Hume's own writings?


    You said: "The Scottish should stick to scotch as their realm of expertise."

    Are you arguing that we should dismiss Hume because he's from Scotland and the Scots are too stupid to do any more than make booze? If so, are you proud of method of undermining an argument you don't like?

    Not cool dude, not cool. And I say that as someone from England. With a taste for a good single malt.

  28. GG, Hume is actually very accessible directly. However, I can also recommend the following (at varying levels of sophistication):


  29. Massimo,

    John Earman most certainly does know what he is talking about; he is a very capable philosopher and brilliant man.

    That aside, Earman's analysis of Hume's argument is not entirely persuasive. Sober wrote a nice review of Earman's book wherein he shows (I think successfully) that a more charitable reading of Hume can save his argument. (Although, I would go further than Sober in my critique of Earman.)

    If you are inclined, read Sober's review here: http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/earman%20on%20hume%20on%20miracles.pdf

  30. If a miracle's existence is dependent on the definition of the laws of nature, then given our changing understanding of these laws, there is wiggle room which allows one person's miracle to be a fact of life for another.

    So if these laws exist and are even fixed in time and space, they are also unknowable, as we only comprehend a portion of them. The miracle is simply an event outside our understanding of the laws, but not the laws themselves.

    One way for nearly anyone to have a personal take on miracles is to think about dreams. Most people report that within a dream, things occur that would be considered miraculous if they occurred in the shared world of the awake. But post-Hume, cosmologists assert other universes. Post-Hume, others describe or even prove non-physical aspects of consciousness. Post-Hume, doubts arise about any objective truth or fiction in a world of information that is only useful when consumed. Today, it does not matter if some of the more highly speculative sciences are proven or not. What matters is things once considered fantastical are now considered plausible - by scientists. It does not matter if I can't prove that dreams are or are not a window into another very real place. What matters is that the direction of multiple disciplines in science bring events heretofore thought of as miracles into the realm of scientific possibility, regardless of shape or substance.

  31. Paraconsistent,

    You rejected my allegory about the anomaly of Dr. Gun shooting his wife as not being analogous to the phenomena of miracles. You claim that miracles are a “violation [or side-step or transcend] of a law of nature,” while other analogous events do not violate.

    However, I wonder whether your position merely represents an anti-miraculous bias? I say this because it’s apparent that many things can’t be reduced to naturalism. Perhaps you will deny the possibility of freewill choices, but how would you explain the origin of “natural” laws/forces of physics? You can’t appeal to natural laws since they didn’t exist.

    I think that the problems of your position are even more serious. Although we might agree that events occur according to laws and formulas, I don’t think that you can even begin to prove that the underlying laws are natural and unintelligent as opposed to transcendent and intelligent. Taking it one step further, even if there are natural forces, I don’t see any way to limit causation to only them.

    Instead, I think that we are surrounded by the supernatural, whether events occur formulaically or as anomalies.

  32. miracle |ˈmirikəl|
    a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency

    mystery 1 |ˈmist(ə)rē|
    noun ( pl. -teries)
    1 something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain

    There would seem to be no need to therefor explain a mystery as the work of a divine agency when the divine is also impossible to understand or explain.

  33. "aharrell, or perhaps Earman doesn't know what he's talking about"

    You can run Bayesian computations all day long if you like (Peter Millican does) but doing so will not relieve you of the fundamental epistemological dilemma you are tasked with as a philosopher: "Bayesian analyses . . . do not help one iota in the analysis of Hume's argument but are superfluous representations of it that beg the crucial questions of interpretation. One only gets out of the Bayesian equation what one puts in, and what one puts in is a function of interpretation . . . Apart from independent philosophical arguments — arguments that would in effect undermine the relevance of a Bayesian analysis to the question of the credibility of reports of the miraculous — no such analysis can, in principle, prove that testimony can (or cannot) establish the credibility of a miracle" (http://www.humesociety.org/hs/issues/v28n1/levine/levine-v28n1.pdf) In other words, when you say that "belief should be proportional to evidence" -- as if evidence is simply found, not produced -- you beg the question of whether "evidence" can be interpreted independent of a context of "belief" (or, more precisely, the matrix of interpretive assumptions that determine what counts as "evidence" in the first place). Framing the "evidence" for (or against) miracles in Bayesian terms will not resolve this quandary.

    As to the force of your charge that "man beings are easily deluded", it rests upon acceptance of -- faith in -- the principle of the 'uniformity of nature' — that is, it depends upon the reasonableness of assuming the principle as a basis for judging what it is reasonable to believe with regard to testimony to the miraculous. Correspondingly, Hume affirms the principle of the 'uniformity of nature' and then defines 'miracle' in such a way that it contradicts this principle. It is hence impossible to judge whether a 'miracle' has occurred because the method of inference Hume favors presupposes a principle -- what I call a brute posit -- that entails the concept of 'miracle' as a 'violation'.

  34. para,

    thanks for the link. I guess I'm far less inclined than you (or Sober) to be charitable to people I consider veering toward the sophistry end of philosophy.


    > when you say that "belief should be proportional to evidence" -- as if evidence is simply found, not produced -- you beg the question of whether "evidence" can be interpreted independent of a context of "belief" <

    No shit, Sherlock. That is precisely why I don't take arguments like these seriously. That sort of objection applies to any discussion of any type of evidence, and in this context is a red herring. Hume's argument is of a Bayesian type, and given reasonable assumptions about what one means by "evidence" the argument flies too high for this sort of sophistry to bring it down.

    And if you are wondering what happened to your last comment, it's in the trash can. I don't appreciate racist and misogynistic "humor."

  35. I see the claim that Jesus' apostles died martyrs deaths, and this apparently is evidence of the truth of their beliefs. Besides this being a logical fallacy, is there even any evidence that any apostles died martyrs deaths, aside from Christian tradition?

  36. Camus,

    I don't know if I can answer your question. However, there is no historical evidence whatsoever that any of them ever broke rank to deny the events -- the resurrection appearances -- when threatened by death. In fact there are many evidences regarding Jesus' miracles among his detractors. http://mannsword.blogspot.com/2010/10/fellowshipping-with-atheists-in.html

  37. "Hume's argument is of a Bayesian type, and given reasonable assumptions about what one means by "evidence" the argument flies too high for this sort of sophistry to bring it down"

    You are begging the question of what counts as a "reasonable" assumption. "Reasonable" according to what body of information? "Reasonable" according to the axioms of science? Do you mean "assumptions" that satisfy "scientific canons of induction" (Mill)? On what basis do you discard the assumptions of those who reject the principle of uniformity as a given as "unreasonable"? Since evidence is relative to evidential canons -- "no shit" indeed -- what the atheist has to do is adduce logically relevant reasons (disclose an illogical step in the theist's own "reasoning") against the occurrence of 'miracles', not cling obstinately in the face of an evidential standoff. And indeed, since it is not logically incoherent to conceive of a being with the power to set aside the laws of nature which He normally sustains (Swineburne), your assertion that justified belief in a miracle's occurrence is the result of "delusion" -- which issues from your faith in the validity of inductive reasoning, the postulate of the uniformity of nature, etc. -- stands as justifiable only by recourse to an infinite regress.


  38. aharrell,

    congratulations on posting a comment without racist or misogynist slurs, there's hope! As for what counts as logic and evidence, there is a huge literature on the topic, it's covered by the field of epistemology. Perhaps you'd like an intro book recommendation or two? Here we go:


  39. Or rather, I should say, not an infinite regress, but a vicious circularity. That is, your assertion that those who claim to have experienced miracles are deluded cannot be justified except in a circular way. There is no non-circular way of appealing to evidence, or of justifying the foundational assumptions -- the determinants of evidential quality -- that undergird the marshaling of evidence. Likewise, the admonition "belief should be proportional to evidence" is nothing more than a charming bit of sophistry, incanted as if evidence wasn't simply interpolated, as if it wasn't engendered by belief: "The testimony of senses is an operation of the mind in which belief creates evidence.” Thus, Hume's argument flies high (in the minds of the half-educated) but finds its wings clipped all on a sudden by the conceptual shears of anti-foundationalism.

  40. aharrell,

    you didn't read the books I suggested. The idea of a foundational justification has gone out the window in philosophy since at least Quine, and possibly earlier. People talk about a more sophisticated model of a "web" (as opposed to an edifice) of knowledge and understanding. But something tells me that you'll find this too "vicious circular."

  41. As anyone who's read those books can tell you, Quinean coherentism cannot resolve the regress problem without incurring the charge of vicious circularity -- the idea that beliefs receive non-circular support from one another -- that appeal to mere relations of coherence could ground "knowledge" -- is nothing more than an intellectual prank played on the non-English speaking philosophical community. There is no non-circular, non-arbitrary account of the terminus of epistemic justification, just as there is no non-circular, non-arbitrary evidence against the occurrence of a miracle.

  42. aharrell, you must have a fixation with vicious circularity. Coherentism, especially when part of the web is made of empirical evidence (not only theories and logic) is not subject to that problem, as anyone who actually read and understood those books would readily tell you. If you don't buy that, I am wondering on what grounds you believe anything at all in the world. Must be a tough life to live.

  43. No, I have a fixation with intelligence that is impaired by intellectual myopia. As anyone who has read those books, understood them, and is intellectually honest will explain, no coherentism can actually rest on a justified (non-arbitrary) first belief. The only way to stop the regress is by taking the first — "properly basic" — belief as a brute posit, assented to by pure intuition. Your "web" of empirical evidence is therefore indissociable from a circular chain. The claim that "men are deluded" is -- contrary to your misplaced confidence -- grounded not in some "web" of non-circular justification, but in mere intuition and blind faith.

  44. Feedback circles are continuous, and tend to multiply in number Trying to monitor them all at once can drive you nuts.

  45. aharrel, no I just think you don't get it. Within the context of a web of knowledge it simply makes no sense to ask for foundations, and it is silly to argue circularity, vicious or not. And of course you haven't even began to put forth your alternative, presumably because you don't have one.

  46. aharrel,

    Unfortunately, there are not many outside of South Bend, In., and Grand Rapids, MI., who take reformed epistemology and properly basic beliefs seriously, and for good reason.

    First, so-called properly basic beliefs are little more than get-out-of-providing-rational-justification-free cards; in fact, one can view the advent of RE and properly basic beliefs as the last ad hoc gasps of religious epistemologist after the failure of classical presuppositional apologetics.

    Second, the employment by other religious beliefs systems of properly basic beliefs to defend religious belief systems inconsistent with the Christian belief system provides a defeater for the proper basicality of Christian belief (and vice versa).

    Third, an implication of RE is that science, formal logic, and mathematics require from philosophers a firm basis upon which to stand. However, that philosophers can provide such a basis- indeed, that such a basis is necessary- is an empty dream: Science, logics, and maths are on firmer epistemic grounds than philosophy is or can ever hope to be.

    In a nut, RE is an impotent and unnecessary philosophical endeavor.

  47. Paraconsistent (or anyone else),

    Please contact me, Jack Angstreich, at angstreich@mac.com, and I can explain your error in your response to Attlee's contention.

  48. Don't ask me to believe the lion is about to chew me up unless you can tell me why the lion is even there and also why it necessarily has to chew, and why it's not a herbivore, and why I'm not an actor on a stage, and why it's infinite regress from here down, and why I lack the capacity to appreciate an educated guess.

  49. Jack,

    Reformed epistemology amounts to little more than fideism (of an externalist bent) and is taken seriously by no formal epistemologist (myself included) of whom I am aware. But if you would like defend the relative merits of Plantinga's A/C model, or some other RE formulation, you can do it here and I will engage you on all points.

  50. "Within the context of a web of knowledge it simply makes no sense to ask for foundations, and it is silly to argue circularity, vicious or not. And of course you haven't even began to put forth your alternative, presumably because you don't have one"

    I am not asking for foundations in the sense of justified belief. I am asking, rather, how can any belief in the "web of knowledge" be justified without assuming the implicit validity of the belief one uses to justify the specific belief in question? The answer is that coherentism still has, within a given "web", doxastic basicality, that is, a belief that is "first" or "basic", so while it may be said that beliefs can be conditionally "justified" merely by appeal to other beliefs, the first or basic belief is not itself "justified" except in a circular fashion, and so it is arbitrary and accepted on faith. "Properly basic" does not mean a justified belief, it means a belief (e.g. in the "laws of nature") that is groundless and unjustified i.e. one assented to by virtue of mere intuition, blind faith, etc. This is an alternative account to both foundationalist and coherentist approaches and an answer to the regress problem, so far as I am concerned (and if it doesn't concern me, you can rest assured that it doesn't matter).

  51. "Why not explain it publicly?"

    Publicness is so not Jack's style.

  52. It's too cumbersome in this format to elucidate all the errors.

  53. Re: “I am asking, rather, how can any belief in the "web of knowledge" be justified without assuming the implicit validity of the belief one uses to justify the specific belief in question?”

    To begin, let us present an evidentialist definition of epistemic justification:

    (E1) S is justified in believing p at t if and only if S's evidence supports p at t and S believes p at t on the basis of the evidence.

    Now, a statement or observation, e, supports a belief or hypothesis, h, if and only if, on receipt of e, h is more likely to be true than prior to the receipt of e [in other words, Pr(h|e) > Pr(h)].

    The ‘more likely to be true’ part indicates that whether or not we are justified in holding a belief depends on natural facts, determined by the nature of our common physical world and our past interactions with that physical world and the patterns which are revealed; in brief, natural facts about evidence possessed determine epistemic facts about justification.

    The aim of holding true beliefs, then, provides the normative aspect of justification, and when we identify a belief as justified, we appraise the evidence upon which it is based, viz., whether the evidence conduces to (has in the past led to) more true beliefs than false beliefs.

    If the world were such that clairvoyance, blind faith, and extispicy led on balance to true beliefs more often than false beliefs, then extra-sensory perception, blind faith, and reading animal entrails would count as evidence for our beliefs and E1 would hold as well; only, what counts as evidence would change.

    However, to emphasize, E1 is determined by natural facts, not anything which approximates doxastic basicality.

    If you insist that I face a regress problem, my initial response will be that the regress problem- much like questions concerning the meaning of life, the nature of love and happiness, qualia, and why is there is something rather than nothing- is an idle philosophical exercise, at best, and a downright pseudo problem, at worst.

    My more thoughtful response is that we require no Archimedean point upon which to base our epistemology. We form hypotheses about the external world, receive the bits and pieces of stimuli, organize and arrange the data, locate patterns, formulate general rules (which we precisify as the process proceeds), test our conjectures, store what is useful, record and discard what is not, and begin again.


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