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Our panel of 88 professional philosophers has responded to

Question of the day

On Kant and Aristotle: Kant did not think belief in the existence of God was completely irrational nor that God probably does not exist, but he did argue that the traditional arguments justifying belief in God (and indeed the traditional domain of metaphysics) went beyond the boundaries of reason. This meant, for him, that atheism as well as theism went beyond reason, where reason is understood to involve rational speculation and argument. But Kant went on to hold that what he referred to as practical reason offers grounds for faith that there is an all just God (also faith in an ultimately just cosmos in which there would be concord between virtue and fulfillment, something that may take a miracle or an afterlife to pull off).

On Aristotle: He advanced reasoned arguments for recognizing the reality of God and, in a sense, he suggests in the Ethics that our ultimate fulfillment in a life of philosophical contemplation is one that mirrors the divine, but Aristotle's God is not a providential creator and redeemer who seeks out the happiness of creatures and makes moral demands (calling persons to lives of justice and mercy). Thomas Aquinas in the 13 century would draw on much of Aristotle's philosophy of God, but he transformed it to bring it more in line with classical Christianity.

On your general concern: Many philosophers have considered the merits of beliefs and practices in terms that go beyond a narrow rational estimation of their being justified rationally. Plato, for example, in the Republic, allowed for there being useful falsehoods that might do great good socially and politically. Referring back to Aristotle, he may have offered an explicit reprimand to Plato when he commented that he loved truth more than his teacher (Aristotle was Plato's student for about 20 years). Henry Sidgewick is an interesting figure on this matter of whether it is better to only adopt beliefs that are rational versus adopting beliefs that are probably false but provide us with significant goods. Thus, while he was a major proponent of utilitarianism, he thought it might be good (sometimes) for persons to think that utilitarianism is false.

Of all the figures I might recommend given your interests, I think William James (1842-1910) may be the most engaging. The brother of Henry James, William has a wonderful style of writing and his works can be found on the web. I recommend The Will To Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. While it was published in 1897, I think it still reads with a fresh, contemporary tone. James is very much interested in both the rational warrant or justification of our beliefs, as well as their affective role in our lives.