Subject: How faith is private (was: Newton's religion) Summary: In how it causes belief, n

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From: turpin@cs.utexas.edu (Russell Turpin) Subject: How faith is private (was: Newton's religion) Summary: In how it causes belief, not in outward signs. Date: 29 Aug 90 18:44:59 GMT ----- In article <26257@mimsy.umd.edu>, mangoe@mimsy.umd.edu (Charley Wingate) writes: > And I disagree with the characterization of faith as being basically > solitary. Particularly in a religion which is organized around the > passing of the Good News from believer to convert, faith is as public > as anything else. ... > > Russell has slipped into the typical use of "faith" as a synonym > for "poorly justified belief". ... I really think that Mr Wingate is missing my point about faith, because otherwise his criticism would be more incisive. Hence, I will attempt to express it again. In the postings in this thread, I have not used faith as a synonym for poorly justified belief, but as a synonym for justification that lies outside of discourse, and because of this, that is essentially private in a way that most other justification is not. Obviously, faith can be publicly professed and publicly urged, and those with a common faith can participate in common activities. The privacy of faith concerns how it causes belief. Suppose John asks Lilith why she believes something. Her verbalized response can take two different forms. In the first form, she talks *about* the cause of her belief, that cause not itself being the things she says. In second form, she provides reasons that are themselves the cause of her belief. If John understands the reasons and finds them sound, then they will also generate belief in him. If he does not find them sound, he can explain his belief in their unsoundness, and his explanation will also follow either the first form or the second. As long as discourse includes only statements of the second form, all causes of belief are public (or more realistically, can be made public). If, for example, John asks Lilith why she believes the mean value theorem, she can show him a proof that is both the cause of her belief and that will also cause his belief if he understands it and finds no holes in it. If he provides a counter-example, again that is both the cause of his belief that she is mistaken, and can become a cause of Lilith also believing that she was mistaken. Assertions of the second form have an interesting quality: agreeing to the assertion means that a rational person also agrees to the belief it is supposed to explain. If one agrees that a statement is a correct proof of the mean value theorem, then one agrees that the theorem is true. (Obviously, someone could accede that the proof was correct and still deny the theorem, but this person becomes mired in contradiction. Communication becomes either impossible or nonsense.) Some very important causes of belief cannot be made assertions of the second form. In particular, experience cannot be directly relayed by talking *about* it. If Lilith asks John why he believes there is a panther in the neighborhood, he can say that he saw a partially eaten sheep. Now this assertion may not cause Lilith to believe that there actually is a partially eaten sheep, even if she believes that he is telling the truth about his experience as best he knows it. Perhaps John reads too many Lamour mysteries and due to neurological problems is prone to hallucination. Fortunately, many kinds of experience can be made public evidence, because the physical world through which we communicate is also the physical world in which most of our experience takes place. John takes Lilith by the hand, leads her to the site of the carcass, and together they look at it. (In fact, we tend to take people's assertions about their experiences as evidence of what really occurred when a variety of conditions are met: we have no reason to suspect them of deceit, we consider them qualified to make the kind of judgment that is required, etc. This allows us to learn much more than would otherwise be possible.) There are two kinds of evidence that are essentially private. The first is unrepeatable experience. Only Antigonus knew for sure Alexander's last words. If Ptolemy Soter doubted, there was no way to step back into time and repeat the death scene. For this reason, the study of history takes a very different turn than the study of the natural sciences, which for the most part concern experience that is public in the way described above. The second kind of essentially private evidence is when someone claims reasons that are neither discursive nor about experience in the world through which we communicate. John communes with his god, but he cannot lead Lilith by the hand and show her his god the way he did with the sheep carcass. Peter "just knows" that god is. When this "reason" for belief is put on the table, Lilith can accede to it: the reason Peter believes is because he "just knows". But in acceding this, it does not become a cause for Lilith to believe. Mark claims it takes a leap of faith to believe, and Lilith believes this also, but again, without believing in Mark's god. All these reasons have the first form: the statement of them is not itself a cause of belief, but merely a talking about the cause of belief. Moreover, the real cause is essentially private. John cannot lead Lilith to his god, Peter cannot give Lilith his god-bit, and Mark cannot justify his leap of faith. For all the talking about of their causes of belief, the cause is neither the things they say nor something that they can publically show. It lies in a private world, either in their own mind or in a supernatural realm that one either sees or not, and which even if one sees it, cannot be used to communicate with others. (The ability to use the supernatural world as a communication channel with some minimum baud rate would consistute good evidence that it was there.) ----- On another topic, Mr wingate writes: > I find it interesting that you have "corrected" both my parable > and one of Ed Turner's analogies. ... That is because in ways important to the point of the analogies they are unfaithful to reality. > ... I don't agree with your correction of either; indeed, if I > may correct your correction, I would say that the second child > is really the bastard son of the same father, but refuses to > admit this. I do not accept this correction for very good reason. For the analogy to have meaning to our discussion, the second child is the unbeliever, in particular, me. Here my experience is simply this: when I see my brother the believer speaking to "our father", I SEE NOTHING THERE. It is not a matter of refusal, Mr Wingate, because I have looked where and how my believing brother has directed. And still I see nothing. By including the nonbeliever, your parable speaks about my experience. I corrected your first version because what your parable said about my experience was wrong. Your revision above is an attempt to again tell me what my experience is. Again, I reject this. I do not mind parables, but I do object when they are used as a way to distort my experience. If you are going to tell parables about me, Mr Wingate, I think you should allow me to point out where the points they make about my experience are false. Russell

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