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Philosophy Now
  • SimonSimon November 2011
    Ha - third issue in a row that I have had a letter published in Philosophy Now:

    Dear Editor: I particularly enjoyed Carl Murray’s ‘The Dead German Philosopher’s Club’ in your last issue, especially as it reminded me of Wittgenstein’s claim that the “philosophical problems that exercise us are examples of language going on holiday.” On reading it I realised exactly what had been worrying me about the second half of an earlier piece in the same issue by John Holroyd, where he was discussing the question ‘Is religious faith a matter of blind faith?’ Thanks to my online subscription, I copied the text of this article into a word processor and used the search and replace function to change all the occurrences of the word ‘faith’ into the word ‘belief’. As I had suspected, the meaning of the argument did not seem to change, confirming my suspicion that the author is guilty of an equivocation. As I argued in Issue 85 Letters, the word ‘faith’ is notoriously misused. Although I am sympathetic to the general thrust of John Holroyd’s argument – and acknowledge that he does discuss Terry Eagleton’s more sophisticated definition of faith – the article does a poor job of distinguishing between faith proper and the rhetorical characterisation of faith as ‘a belief I do not agree with’. In fact, rather than being a type of belief, faith is the jump from argument to conviction based upon ‘good enough’ evidence. Faith is therefore not the belief in itself, but rather the process of settling on – or becoming convinced by – a certain belief. As such, ‘blind faith’ is an example of an epistemological error, not a metaphysical one. For this reason although I remain sympathetic to John Holroyd’s overall contention that many people’s religious faith is an example of ‘blind faith’, at the same time I maintain that no matter how common this may be, any argument that uses this observation to dispute the existence of God is merely an ad hominem attack on believers. John Holroyd is not the first to get himself tied in a knot over this issue.