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Monday, August 9, 2010

Philosophy and Faith -- A Mormon Perspective

Gary Gutting* wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times entitled "Philosophy and Faith." In it, he examines how and why we hold our religious beliefs. Secular thought, religion and philosophy do not, and cannot, agree on these issues. Gutting suggests a "starting point."
An answer may lie in work by philosophers as different as David Hume, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Alvin Plantinga. In various ways, they have shown that everyday life is based on “basic” beliefs for which we have no good arguments. There are, for example, no more basic truths from which we can prove that the past is often a good guide to the future, that our memories are reliable, or that other people have a conscious inner life. Such beliefs simply — and quite properly — arise from our experience in the world. Plantinga in particular has argued that core religious beliefs can have a status similar to these basic but unproven beliefs. His argument has clear plausibility for some sorts of religious beliefs. Through experiences of, for example, natural beauty, moral obligation, or loving and being loved, we may develop an abiding sense of the reality of an extraordinarily good and powerful being who cares about us. Who is to say that such experiences do not give reason for belief in God as much as parallel (though different) experiences give reason for belief in reliable knowledge of the past and future and of other human minds? There is still room for philosophical disputes about this line of thought, but it remains the most plausible starting point of a philosophical case for religious belief.
Unless your belief system includes modern revelation to modern church prophets, I think Gutting's viewpoint is the most logical.


What sets Mormons apart from other religions is the fact that our epistemology, our way of knowing, includes the fact that Heavenly Father communicates directly with us. From the Newsroom web site:
Latter-day Saints believe that God still speaks to humankind, that He has called new apostles and prophets and that revelation flows today as it did anciently. Further, many of those revelations have been formally incorporated into new volumes of scripture. These include the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ; the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations to Joseph Smith and subsequent presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and the Pearl of Great Price, which includes the writings of Moses and Abraham as well as modern writings of Joseph Smith.
We know what we know because Heavenly Father has communicated directly with us. Individuals have the ability to receive revelation concerning their own lives. Church leaders have the ability to receive revelation concerning their specific ecclesiastical assignment. The President and Prophet of our Church has the ability to receive revelation concerning the entire Church.

No one receives revelation from Heavenly Father outside his or her authority. For this reason, individuals can know for themselves whether The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church. Heavenly Father can and will convey that certainty directly to them through revelation. They probably will not be able to convince anyone else that they know it but they can know it for themselves.

Mormons do not need philosophers to answer these questions for us, or even to begin the discussion

*Gary Gutting teaches philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and co-edits Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, an on-line book review journal. His most recent book is “What Philosophers Know: Case Studies in Recent Analytic Philosophy.”

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