Examine two theories on the nature of faith

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Examine two theories about the nature of Faith

The nature of faith has been discussed by various philosophers from a voluntarist (freely choosing faith) and non-voluntarist perspective (belief is based on reason and must be correct).

        William James was a pragmatic (choosing most practical and prudent option) and voluntarist philosopher. He argued that faith should be based on what is most practical to believe and is based around the idea of utility meaning that faith should provide the most beneficial impact on a person’s life that can be pragmatically achieved. Furthermore James contended that additional truths behind the faith were subjective and that by believing something a person could make it true for them as it could enhance their life. He posited three criteria for making a faith decision, with all three needed for an option to be genuine. The first was that it had to be momentous, meaning that it is significant enough to actually matter so that it has the potential to have a significant impact on life. For example, choosing between two different movies to watch would not have the same impact on a person’s life so consequently wouldn’t be momentous. James’ second option outlines that a decision has to be forced meaning that there must be two distinct options so that suspension of judgement isn’t possible. For James, a suspension of judgement for example in believing in God was akin to choosing not to believe. Finally the third mandates that an option must be live or in other words a real possibility meaning that a statement such as ‘the sky is green’ should be discounted. If the three criteria are not in place then we should let our ‘passional nature’ guide us choosing the most pragmatic option for happiness and satisfaction. James was at odds with reason believing that if we just believed things on the basis of empirical (sensory information) evidence then “life would be impoverished”. This suggests that faith should take precedence over reason. This argument was refuted by Clifford who argued that it is unethical to believe anything on the basis of insufficient evidence. James however argued that he risked loss of truth by not chancing error, and that decisions based entirely on faith without reason to support them could be justified.

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        Kierkegaard’s theory on the nature of faith is also a voluntarist theory and is similar in the way it prioritised faith over reason. To support this idea Kierkegaard posited three arguments outlining the limitations of reason when compared to faith. In his first argument known as the ‘approximation argument’ he contended that reason could only ever give a likelihood of existence rather than a certainty. In other words it “could only say ‘God probably exists’ not that he categorically does. For this reason faith is the only way to truly believe something as reason will never be able to provide ...

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