Kierkegaard, “The Leap of Faith and the Limits of Reason” Late 19th C. Danish philosopher




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Kierkegaard, “The Leap of Faith and the Limits of Reason”

  • Late 19th C. Danish philosopher

  • Christian existentialist

  • Argues that it is not possible to prove the existence of God through reason, since it is difficult to prove the existence of anything.


Paradox of Reason

  • We cannot prove the existence of God, nor that God does not exist, yet we are constantly moved to attempt to decide the issue.



Kierkegaard’s Argument

  • The only way that we can prove God’s existence is to begin by presupposing it.

  • But since this is question-begging, such a method cannot rationally demonstrate God’s existence.

  • Thus to believe in God or even to make the attempt to understand the nature of God is to make a leap of faith.

  • Then one can begin to understand God’s purpose.



James, “The Will to Believe”

  • Thesis: logic or reason is not incompatible with faith.



Some distinctions

  • A hypothesis is an assertion.

    • either live or dead: live if it is at all possible or credible for someone; otherwise it is dead.
  • An option is a choice between two hypotheses.

    • living if either of the possibilities is live.
  • Option is forced if the choice cannot be avoided.

  • Option is momentous only if it is crucial that we act on one or the other options.



The Religious Hypotheses

  • 1. The best things are the eternal things.

  • 2. Better to believe in Religion even if false.



James’ Argument

  • P1. God’s existence is a living option.

  • P2. Religion is a momentous option.

  • P3. It is a forced option.

  • P4. To choose not to believe in religion (God) is to think it is better to fear being wrong more than hope for the possibility of eternal good.

  • P5. But this cannot be right.



James’ Argument, cont.

  • C1. Therefore holding the religious hypothesis is to be preferred to any alternative.

  • P6. Religion is the kind of hypothesis which we can only see to be true if we accept it first.

  • C2. Thus, it is a kind of truth which we cannot see if we are skeptical of it.



James’ Argument, cont.

  • P7. Any rule that prevents us from being able to apprehend a kind of truth must be a bad rule.

  • C3. So there cannot be a command of reason to be skeptical of religion.

  • C. Therefore the religious hypothesis is compatible with reason.



Faith and Rational Belief

  • Faith is not the same as rational belief

  • 1. Belief assumes the possibility that the assertion is false.

  • 2. Beliefs could be falsified by the empirical evidence.

  • Faith, unlike belief, is unlimited by the empirical facts of the world.

  • Faith is limited by social and contextual features of one’s culture.



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