American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 94, Issue 1, Winter 2020

The Philosophical Legacy of John Henry Newman

Joe Milburn
Pages 105-123

Newman’s Skeptical Paradox
Certainty, Proof, and Fallibility

John Henry Newman starts the second half of the Grammar of Assent by laying out a “paradox,” and he announces that the purpose of the following chapters of the book is to resolve it. Surprisingly, recent scholarship has tended not to question the nature of this paradox. In this paper, I argue that we should understand Newman’s paradox to be a kind of skeptical paradox that arises when we accept “Lockean rationalism.” I then show how Newman deals with the paradox. One of the upshots of this reading is that “naturalism” plays a smaller role in Newman’s anti-skepticism than previous commentators have suggested. Another is that we should understand Newman to be a kind of infallibilist.