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Hawthorne & Dunaway's Fantastic New Paper on Theological Scepticism

Billy Dunaway & John Hawthorne. "Scepticism", in William J. Abraham Frederick D. Aquino (ed.), Oxford Handbook of the Epistemology of Theology. Oxford University Press (forthcoming).

State of the art. Absolutely required reading.


Angra Mainyu said…
Hi EA,

Thanks for posting the link. Very thought-provoking paper.
Two cents:

It seems to me that one of the arguments they suggest, if it's successful, provides the basis for yet a challenge for theists who believe in infinite punishment.
More precisely, Hawthorne and Dunaway argue (on pages 23-24) that if a psychologically realistic human being knows that they will be punished for eternity if they fail to perform A, then that will be a psychologically salient reason for them to A.
Furthermore, they argue that, if some implementation of a Kantian view is correct, that will take away any positive moral value from the action, so doing A would not be morally praiseworthy.

If the argument they suggest succeeds, it seems to me that the same applies to belief in infinite punishment, since that would be enough to make the feature salient. In fact, even assigning a probability of 1/2 or more to the event that they will be punished for eternity if they fail to do A - and for essentially the same reasons; a 1/2 chance of infinite punishment is salient enough - one may just consider the 1/2 chance of being kidnapped and tortured by some gangsters for a week depending on the flip of a coin. And that's "only" a week.

But if that is true, then one of the following obtains:

1. Those who believe in Hell (and specific actions linked to being so punished) almost certainly never perform any praiseworthy actions, no matter what they do.

2. They only assign high probability to Hell when they're not engaging in any morally praiseworthy actions, but when they do engage in them, their beliefs about Hell change, so their beliefs are jumping back and fort for no good reason, since there is no such good reason for the change (assuming they do more than one morally praiseworthy action; else, after the first and only such action, we're back in 1.), and on top of that, they don't even realize that their beliefs are jumping back and forth.

3. They have contradictory beliefs on the matter, so sometimes they act upon their Hell belief, sometimes act upon their non-Hell beliefs.

There are potential objections, of course. For example, it might be suggested that perhaps the believer in infinite punishment believes - say - that as long as she accepts Jesus as her lord and savior, she escapes Hell, or that if she confesses later, she escapes Hell. But it seems to me any successful objection to the belief-based variant would probably be also successful against Hawthorne and Dunaway's original knowledge-based [suggested] argument, so if the argument they suggest succeeds, the variant described above (or something along those lines) probably succeeds as well.

On a different note, there are counterexamples to Kripke Companion, apart from the ones the authors suggest, but they do point out that Kripke Companion needs refinement, and what I have in mind shouldn't be a problem for their argumentation, so that's not an objection.

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UPDATE: Thanks!