Re: Elgin’s True Enough[1] against the Epistemology of Faith

It should be noted up front that Catherine Elgin’s paper True Enough was not written to discredit the epistemological value of faith. The paper was offered to me by one of her students as a “must read” as a support to his rather equivocating response on a question I posed to him! The question was: “Is faith epistemologically valid?”

And so, after reading her paper True Enough, the following is the reply I gave back to him with a $1 bet that she would agree with me, (based on what I’ve written here as an explanation), that faith is epistemologically invalid and why. The following is what I wrote (with a few annotations for clarity).

Note: after reading my explanation… he didn’t take the bet.

Why Faith is Epistemologically Invalid

After countless examples that make the same point, the conclusion is finally and eloquently stated in exactly one sentence properly couched by the context of its paragraph on the last page; (page 23 of the .pdf version). It states:

“Because it is indifferent to evidence, claptrap is indefeasible.”

“Because it is indifferent to evidence, claptrap is indefeasible. Hence it is untenable. I said earlier that even in theories that include felicitous falsehoods truth plays a role. We see now what the role is. A factually defeasible theory has epistemically accessible implications which, if found to be false, discredit the theory. So a defeasible theory, by preserving a commitment to testable consequences retains a commitment to truth.”

For page after page, Elgin explains through various examples that the means, models, and methods by which we describe what is true, may not necessarily be partially or completely true. But rather, our descriptions of what is true need only be “true enough” to facilitate an understanding of what is true given the context of exemplification. And this is perfectly valid, from language to science. Descriptions need only be true enough to facilitate the intended understanding. <– That right there is the crux of her entire paper. The above paragraph explains why!

Defeasible – Capable of being annulled or invalidated.

In this sense, Elgin is using the term “defeasible” no differently than a logician or scientist would use the term “falsifiable.” If a claim to what is or what might be true is not falsifiable, it’s not science. It’s claptrap. It is for this reason Elgin has exonerated science as a valid epistemic approach in spite of its use of “felicitous falsehoods.” Elgin does this while simultaneously, perhaps wittingly, demonstrating the uselessness of faith as an epistemic approach, for exactly the same reason!

Faith is epistemologically invalid precisely because it is not falsifiable; it is indifferent to evidence, and it retains no commitment to truth by way of “testable consequences.” It is, as Elgin explains, indefeasible.

1. TRUE ENOUGH* Catherine Z. Elgin, Harvard University

[Add link to online paper or upload .pdf version.]

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One Response to Epistemology
  1. Luella
    June 8, 2011 | 9:36 PM

    Wow, thatÂ’s a relaly clever way of thinking about it!

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