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Faith, Hope and Doubt

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Wesuspect, at times, that many of our beliefs, while not formed through fully conscious volits, have beenformed through half aware desires, for on introspection we note that past beliefs have been acquired inways that could not have taken the evidence seriously into consideration. Volitionalism seems a goodexplanatory theory to account for a great deal of our cognitive experience. I will argue that it is not the natural way in which weacquire beliefs, and that while it may not be logically impossible that some people volit, it seemspsychologically odd and, even conceptually incoherent.

Beliefs are not Chosen Beliefs are not chosen but occur involuntarily - as responses to states of affairs in the world. Beliefs are, to use Frank Ramsey's metaphor, mappings in the mind by which we steer our lives.

Illustration - Doubt Vs Belief Faith Hope Puzzle Words 3d Illustration

As suchthe states of affairs which beliefs represent exist independently of the mind; they exist independently ofwhether we want them to exist. Insofar as beliefs presume to represent the way the world is, and henceserve as effective guides to action, the will seems superfluous. Believing seems more like seeing thanlooking, falling than jumping, catching a cold than catching a ball, getting drunk than taking a drink,blushing than smiling, getting a headache than giving one to someone else. Indeed, this involuntary,passive aspect seems true on introspection of most propositional attitudes: anger, envy, fearing, suspect-ing, doubting, though not necessarily of imagining or entertaining a proposition, where an active elementmay often be present.

In acquiring a belief, the world forces itself upon one. Consider perceptual beliefs. If I am in anormal physiological condition and open my eyes, I cannot help but see certain things, for example, thispiece of white paper in front of me.


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  • Logic and Its Applications: 4th Indian Conference, ICLA 2011, Delhi, India, January 5-11, 2011. Proceedings.

It seems intuitively obvious that I don't have to choose to have abelief that I see this piece of white paper before I believe I see it. I can explore my environment, focus in on certain features,and turn from others. I can direct my perceptual mechanism, but once I do this the perceptions I obtaincome of themselves whether or not I will to have them.

I may even have an aversion to white paper andnot want to have such a perception. Likewise, if I am in a normal physiological state and someone nearbyturns on loud music, I hear it. I cannot help believing that I hear it. Belief is forced on me. Logic of Belief Argument against Volitionalism The notion of volitional believing involves a conceptual confusion, that it is broadly a logicalmistake.

It argues that there is something incoherent in stating that one can obtain or sustain a belief infull consciousness simply by a basic act of the will, that is, purposefully disregarding the evidenceconnection. The point is that because beliefs just are about the way the world is and are made true or false depending on the way the world is, it is a confusion to believe that any given belief is true simply on thebasis of being willed.

If this reasoning is sound, then, since beliefs are not actions, we cannot be judged for our beliefs. That is, if ought implies can, and we cannot acquire beliefs directly by choosing them, we cannot bejudged according to what beliefs we have. Of course, we can be judged by our actions, by how well wehave investigated the evidence and paid attention to the arguments on the various sides of the issue.

Thatleads to the matter of the ethics of belief. Ethics of Belief Of course, we can indirectly obtain beliefs by willing to have them. I can desire to believe that Iam innocent of an unjust act against my neighbor, say directing my drain pipes to drain onto his property,bring to mind all the nasty things my neighbor may have done, use autosuggestion to convince myself Iwas justified in redirecting the drain pipes towards his property, and, thus, bring the desired belief about. This manipulation of the mind is immoral. At least, there is a strong case against indirect volitionalism.

Nevertheless, I only defend the principle of an ethic of belief as a primafacie moral principle, one which can be overridden by other moral principles, but which has strongpresumptive force. Because beliefs make up our road map of life, which guide our desires. If I want to live a long life and believe that living on alcohol and poison ivy willenable me to do that, I will not attain my desire.

The importance of having well justified beliefs is connected with truth seeking in general. Webelieve that these two concepts are closely related, so that the best way to assure ourselves of having truebeliefs is to seek to develop one's belief forming mechanisms in such ways as to become good judges ofvarious types of evidence, attaining the best justification of our beliefs that is possible.

The value ofhaving the best justified beliefs possible can be defended on both deontological grounds with regard to theindividual, and teleological or utilitarian grounds regarding the society as a whole. The deontologicalargument, is connected with our notion of autonomy.

To be an autonomous person is to have a highdegree of warranted beliefs at one's disposal upon which to base one's actions. There is a tendency tolower one's freedom of choice as one lowers the repertoire of well justified beliefs regarding a plan ofaction, and since it is a generally accepted moral principle that it is wrong to lessen one's autonomy orpersonhood, it is wrong to lessen the degree of justification of one's beliefs on important matters.

Hence,there is a general presumption against beliefs by willing to have them. When afriend or doctor lies to a terminally ill patient about her condition, the patient is deprived of the bestevidence available for making decisions about her limited future. She is being treated less than fullyautonomously. While a form of paternalism may sometimes be justified, there is always a presumptionagainst it and in favor of truth telling. We even say that the patient has a right to know what the evidencepoints to.

Cognitive voliting is a sort of lying to oneself, which, as such, decreases one's own freedom andpersonhood. It is a type of doxastic suicide which may only be justified in extreme circumstances. If thereis something intrinsically wrong about lying making it prima facie wrong , there is somethingintrinsically wrong with cognitive voliting, either by directly or indirectly.

Whether it be Pascal, WilliamJames, John Henry Newman or Soren Kierkegaard, all prescriptive volitionalists consciously or not seem to undervalue the principle of truthfulness and its relationship to personal autonomy. General truthfulness is a desideratum without which society cannot function. Without it language itselfwould not be possible, since it depends on faithful use of words and sentences to stand for appropriatelysimilar objects and states of affairs. Communication depends on a general adherence to accuratereporting.

Faith, Hope, and Charity in an Age of Doubt

More specifically, it is very important that a society have true beliefs with regard to importantissues, so that actions which are based on beliefs have a firm basis. The doctor who cheated her way through medical school and who, as a consequence, lacksappropriate beliefs about certain symptoms, may endanger a patient's health.

A politician who fails to takeinto consideration the amount of pollutants being discharged into the air or water by large corporationswhich support his candidacy, may endanger the lives and health of his constituents. Even the passer bywho gives wrong information to a stranger who asks directions may seriously inconvenience the stranger.

Some people object to my model of the verific person, the truth seeker, as being neutral on thematter of religion. They point out that the issue is too important to permit neutrality as an appropriateattitude. Let me clear this up by making a distinction between neutrality and impartiality. The verificperson is not neutral but impartial. For the proper model of the verific person, one seeking to proportionhis or her beliefs to the strength of the evidence, consider the referee in an Army vs Notre Dame footballgame.


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  4. The veterans of foreign wars and Army alumni will tend to be biased towards Army, consideringclose calls against their team by the referee as clear instances of poor officiating, even of injustice. RomanCatholics throughout the nation will tend to be biased towards Notre Dame, seeing close calls againsttheir team by the referee as clear instances of poor officiating, even of injustice.

    But the impartial person is the referee,who, knowing that his wife has just bet their family fortune on the underdog, Notre Dame, still managesto call a fair game. He is able to separate his concerns about his financial security from his ability todiscern the right calls in appropriate situations. The verific person is one who can be trusted to reachsound judgments where others are driven by bias, prejudice and self-interest.

    If we have a moral duty not to volit but to seek the Truth impartially and passionately, then weought not obtain religious beliefs by willing to have them, but should follow the best evidence we can get. Hope - as the Proper Religious Propositional Attitude for Doubters For those who find it impossible to believe directly that God exists and who follow an ethic ofbelief acquisition, hope may be a sufficient substitute for belief. I can hope that God exists withoutbelieving that He does. Let us first analyze the concept of hope in order to determine whether this is aviable option.

    Quote by Parker J. Palmer: “The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must en”

    Consider some examples of hope. Ryan hopes that he will get an A in his Philosophy course. Mary hopes that Tom will marry her. Susan hopes that Happy Dancer will win the Kentucky Derby next week. Steve hopes that the Cubs won their game yesterday. Although Bill desires a cigarette, he hopes he will not give into his desire. If we look closely at these examples of hoping, we can pick out salient features of the concept. First of all,hope involves belief in the possibility of a state of affairs obtaining. We cannot hope for what we believeto be impossible.

    If Ryan hopes to get an A in philosophy, he must believe that it is possible to do so, and 6. Expectation impliesbelief that something will occur, whereas we may hope even when we do not expect the object to obtain,as when Mary hopes that Tom will marry her or Steve hopes the languishing Cubs won their game againstthe awesome Atlanta Braves. So belief that the object of desire will obtain does not seem necessary for hope.

    It isenough that the hoper believe that the proposition in question is possible, though not necessarily probable it has a subjective probability of greater than 0 but not necessarily more than 0.

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    Secondly, hope precludes certainty. Mary will not be certain that Tom will marry her, and Susanis uncertain whether Happy Dancer will win the race. There must be an apparent possibility of the state ofaffairs not obtaining. Thirdly, hope entails desire or a pro-attitude for the state of affairs in question to obtain or theproposition to be true.

    In all of the above examples a propositional content can be seen as the object ofdesire. The states of affairs envisaged evokes a pro-attitude. The subject wants some proposition p to betrue. It matters not whether the state of affairs is past case 4 or present cases 5 and 6 or future cases 1through 3 , though it generally turns out, because of the role hope plays in goal orientation, that the stateof affairs will be a future situation. Fourthly, the desire involved in hoping must be motivational, greater than mere wishing.

    I can wish, but not hope, for what I believe to be impossible - as when I wish I were twenty-years old again. If I hope for some state of affairs to occur, under appropriate circumstances I will dowhat I can to bring it about - as Ryan will study hard to earn his A in Philosophy. In this regard, hoping involves a willingness to run some risk because of the positive valuation ofthe object in question.

    Forthis to be the case, Susan must be disposed to act in some way as to manifest trust in Happy Dancer. Shemay bet on the horse without believing he will win the race, and the degree to which she hopes HappyDancer will win the race may be reflected in how much she is willing to bet. Fifthly, hoping, unlike believing is typically under our direct control. I hear that my enemyis suffering and find myself hoping that he will suffer great harm. Then I reflect that this schadenfreude isa loathsome attitude and decide to change it to hoping he will suffer only as he deserves!

    I may or maynot be able to give up a hope, but, unlike beliefs, normally I am able to alter the degree to which I hopefor something. I find that I am hoping that I will get an A too strongly, notice that it is preoccupying meto the point of distraction, and decide to invest less hope in that goal. It seems that the degree of hope hassomething to do with cost-benefit analysis about the pay-off involved in obtaining a goal.

    The greater thecombination of the perceived probability of p obtaining and the value of its obtaining to me, the more Iam likely to hope for p. So reflection on the cost-benefits of p will affect hope. Sixth, hoping, like wanting, is evaluative in a way that believing is not. We may have morallyunacceptable hopes, but not morally unacceptable beliefs. Consider the difference between: i. This is applicable to beliefs about racial or genderdifference.

    The inference is then made that since racism and sexismare immoral, anyone holding these beliefs is immoral. Such beliefs may be false, but, unless the believerhas obtained the belief through immoral activities, there is nothing immoral in having such beliefs, assuch. So either racism and sexism should be defined differently as immoral actions or the charge ofimmorality should be dropped if it is simply the cognitive feature that is in question.

    Finally, we must make a distinction between ordinary hope and a deep hope. She may only believe that horse has a 1 in 10 chance to win theKentucky Derby, but she may judge this to be significantly better than the official odds of to 1against him. She has no hope of getting the money elsewhere but sees that if she wins on Happy Dancer,she will get the required amount. Shecommits herself to Happy Dancer, though she never believes that he will win. When the risk involves something of enormous value, we might call it desperate hope.

    We conclude, then, that hoping is distinguished from believing in that it may involve a strongvolitional or affective aspect in a way that believing does not and that, as such, it is subject to moralassessment in a way that believing is not. Hoping is desiderative, but is more inclined to action than merewishing. Hope may be ordinary or profound. Let us apply this to religious faith. Can hope serve as a type of faith in a religion like Christianitywithout belief that the object of faith exists?

    Let me tell a story in order to focus our discussion. Supposewhen Moses decides to launch a preemptive strike against the Amalekites in obedience to the commandof Yahweh in the book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible his brother Aaron doubts whether such apreemptive strike is morally right, let alone the command of God. He is inclined to make a treaty with theneighboring tribe. He doubts whether Yahweh has revealed such a command to Moses, doubts whetherGod appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and wonders whether Moses is hallucinating.

    Although he cannot bringhimself to overcome his doubt, he plumbs for the better story. He decides to accept the proposition thatYahweh exists and has revealed himself to Moses, and so lives according to this hypothesis as anexperimental faith. He assists Moses in every way in carrying out the campaign against the Amalekites. On the other hand, hisscrupulous doubt may help him to notice problems and evidence which might otherwise be neglected, towhich the true believer may be impervious. This awareness may signal danger which may be avoided,thus saving the tribe from disaster.

    Doubt may have as many virtues as belief, though they may bedifferent virtues. Moses is the true believer, whereas Aaron, the doubter, lives in hope, profound hope. The point may be put more simply. Suppose you are fleeing a murderous gang of desperados, saythe Mafia, who are bent on your annihilation. You come to the edge of a cliff which overlooks a yawninggorge. However, there is a rope spanning the gorge, tied to a tree on the cliff on the opposite side of thegorge. A man announces that he is a tight-rope walker who can carry you on the rope over the gorge.

    He takes afew steps on the rope to assure you that he can balance himself. But your options arelimited. Soon your pursuers will be upon you. You must decide.