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American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 80, Issue 4, Fall 2006

Lydia Jaeger
Pages 581-602

Bas van Fraassen on Religion and Knowledge
Is There a Third Way beyond Foundationalist Illusion and Bridled Irrationality?

In his recent book, The Empirical Stance (2002), Bas van Fraassen elaborates on earlier suggestions of a religious view that has striking parallels with his constructive empiricism. A particularly salient feature consists in the way in which he keeps a critical distance from theoretical formulations both in science and religion, thus preferring a mystical approach to religious experience. As an alternative, I suggest a view based on mediation by the word, both in the structure of reality and the encounter between persons. Without falling prey to rationalist illusions, such an approach allows for true human knowledge as embedded in transcendent Wisdom. It implies a more radical break with the Enlightenment ideal of neutral and universal knowledge than van Fraassen’s program, as he still maintains a kind of immanent grounding of knowledge in the form of direct, unmediated experience, in spite of his rejection of classical foundationalism. We can thus overcome the antithetical ring that characterizes his notion of rationality understood as bridled irrationality and escape relativism without forgetting the lessons that we have learned from the collapse of positivism—lessons to which van Fraassen rightly draws our attention.