A virtue-theoretic approach to religious epistemology
McCraw, Benjamin William
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This work lies at the juncture between religious epistemology and virtue epistemology. Currently, both fields in epistemology are burgeoning with interest and novel theories, arguments, and applications. However, there is no systematic or sustained overlap between the two. I aim to provide such a systematic connection. Virtue epistemology holds that epistemology should turn away from analyzing person-neutral concepts like evidence, reliability, etc. as the primary locus of analysis in favor of person-based properties like intellectual character traits. I develop and defend a virtue-theoretic approach to religious epistemology; arguing that, in certain circumstances, faith can be an act of epistemic virtue. After developing my own account of epistemic virtue, I turn to an analysis of epistemic trust and argue that such trust is an epistemic virtue. To place epistemic trust in someone is to be disposed to see him/her as a kind of intellectual authority and depend on that authority—a kind relying confidence or confidence reliance. Next, I analyze the conceptual connections between faith and epistemic trust—arguing that robust religious faith is a species of epistemic trust. We should see faith as an expression of epistemic trust in certain ways; namely, for religious matters and for beliefs that matter deeply to one’s overall intellectual, moral, pragmatic, etc. worldview. Given my argument(s) that epistemic trust is a virtue, it follows that faith is a particular expression of that virtue. Therefore, faith (when expressed properly) is epistemically virtuous qua act of epistemic virtue. We have an epistemological analysis of faith rooted systemically and deeply in virtue epistemology. The overall upshot is that genuine faith expresses a epistemically virtuous character via trust and, as such, can confer positive epistemic status on religious beliefs. Moreover, genuine faith must fit the same framework as other virtues: it must admit of a mean between excess and deficiency, it must come under the direction of practical wisdom, it must be consistent with other virtues, and other key criteria. I end by discussing how my approach addresses serious issues in religious epistemology and I locate it in the landscape of major theories of proper religious belief.