Wednesday 25 February 2015

Fakers and Fanatics Revisited: A Response to Anna

Neil Van Leeuwen
I would like to thank Anna for her insightful response to my latest blog. I’m delighted to respond to her response.

The dialectic so far is this.

I maintain that psychology and epistemology should posit a cognitive attitude I call religious credence. This attitude is not the same as ordinary, mundane factual belief. But it is also not the same as fictional imagining, the attitude that underlies pretend play and cognition of fiction.

I hold this position for a number of reasons. But the motivation I gave in my blog is that most ordinary religious 'believers' are not full-blown fanatics (like Joan of Arc), nor are they fakers, who merely pretend to be religiously committed. Since ordinary religious people are in-between (that is a rough way of speaking), we should posit an attitude that captures their underlying mental state; so I posit religious credence. (See the full paper for a more thorough set of empirical and theoretical motivations.)

Anna responds that she agrees that ordinary religious 'believers' do not have factual belief attitudes toward their religious doctrines, as she’s argued before. But she does not agree that an additional attitude of religious credence needs to be posited. Rather, she thinks imaginings of various sorts can do the explanatory work needed to capture the behaviours of ordinary religious people.

In particular, some religious people, on her view, may simply be mistaken about what they believe. They have 'religious imaginings' but do not realize those are not genuine beliefs and may engage in self-deceptive avowals accordingly. Alternately, they might have better metacognition yet allow the religious imaginings to play an expanded role in their lives that outstrips the role of imaginings in guiding pretend play. They might see the contents of the imaginings as metaphorical or as fruitful hypotheses by which to order their experience of the world around them.

So it seems that Anna and I disagree about whether typical religious cognitive attitudes are to be classified as imaginings.

Now here is my response.

As far as I can tell so far, Anna’s view and my view are notational variants. That means our theories have the same number of major components, and those components are theoretically related in roughly the same ways, but we just employ a different set of labels for each of the components.

On my scheme—which, admittedly, I did not make entirely clear in my blog, though I did in the longer paper—we have two broad categories:

1. Factual belief.
2. Secondary cognitive attitudes.

The class of secondary cognitive attitudes divides into a number of more specific cognitive attitudes used for special purposes, like inquiry (hypothesis), pretend play (fictional imagining), argumentation (assumption for the sake of argument), or religious practice (religious credence).

In general, I am making the case for classifying typical religious 'beliefs' as secondary cognitive attitudes. This means they are fundamentally distinct from factual beliefs. But they are also distinct in some ways from fictional imaginings. (Again, see the longer paper for details about what makes the various attitudes distinct and what makes the divide between factual beliefs and secondary cognitive attitudes so important.) The ontology ends up looking like this:

1. Factual belief.
2. Secondary cognitive attitudes [fictional imagining, religious credence, etc. …]

As far as I can tell, the way Anna uses the attitude term 'imagining' maps semantically to my term 'secondary cognitive attitude'. It is an umbrella term for non-(factual-)belief cognitive attitudes generally. Thus, her broad categories are:

1. Belief.
2. Imagining.

But it’s fairly clear that she expects the “religious imaginings” to operate in some ways that are special and distinctive. This is effectively to admit that they are different in some ways from the imaginings that underlie pretend play. So if we grant Anna’s claims, we end up with the following picture.

1. Belief.
2. Imagining [pretense imagining, religious imagining…]

This appears to be the same picture as I have. It is just labeled differently.

Now it may be that some differences in detail emerge once you look at our views more closely. But right now, I do not know that we disagree about anything. In fact, I endorse her points about how some religious people have poor self-knowledge about their own attitudes and how, if they have good self-knowledge, they may regard the contents of their religious attitudes metaphorically. All of that is perfectly coherent with what I say.

So at this point, I should simply end with an honest question.

Anna, do we actually disagree about anything?

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