Volume 32, 2007
Gregg Ten Elshof
Religious Experience, Conceptual Contribution and the Problem of Diversity
How Not to Make the Problem Worse
This paper aims to contribute to a defense of the now quite familiar argument from the perceptual model of religious experience (hereafter PMR) to the rationality of beliefs formed on the basis of religious experience. The contribution will not, however, come in the form of a positive argument for PMR. Neither will this contribution take the form of a response to key objections to the plausibility of that model. Instead, I wish to argue that there is a widespread assumption about the role of concepts in perceptual experience generally which, when assimilated by PMR, complicates the attempt to respond to the most serious objection to the argument from PMR to the rationality of religious belief—viz. the objection from conflicting religious claims. Again, this paper will not respond to the objection from conflicting religious claims. Rather, it will explain how a common assumption makes that problem worse (or even intractable) and it will offer a positive suggestion about how to avoid that common assumption. Of course, to have shown how not to make a problem worse is not yet to have solved the problem. But, if the argument of this paper succeeds, it is a crucial first step.
In what follows, I will (i) very briefly summarize the role of PMR in an argument for the rationality of religious belief, (ii) state the problem of conflicting religious claims, (iii) explain how a widespread assumption about the role of concepts in perceptual experience exacerbates the problem and (iv) offer the beginnings
of an alternative account of the role of concepts in perceptual experience and comment on the evidential force of religious experience construed along the lines of this alternative account. Of course, an adequate treatment of the points in (iv) would require far more attention than can be devoted to them here. The primary burden of this paper is to establish the critical point in (iii), i.e., to generate some dissatisfaction with the “widespread assumption,” and to use this dissatisfaction as a motivation for exploring an alternative account of conceptual contribution.