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Faith and Philosophy

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published on August 14, 2014

Daniel M. Johnson, Adam C. Pelser

Foundational Beliefs and Persuading with Humor
Reflections Inspired by Reid and Kierkegaard

The most important and common solution to the Pyrrhonian skeptic’s regress problem is foundationalism. Reason-giving must stop somewhere, argues the foundationalist, and the fact that it does stop (at foundational, basic, non-inferentially justified beliefs) does not threaten knowledge or justification. The foundationalist has a problem, though; while foundationalism might adequately answer skepticism, it does not allow for a satisfying reply to the skeptic. The feature that makes a belief foundationally justified is not the sort of thing that can be given to another as a reason. Thus, if foundationalism is true, we can only fall silent in the face of a challenge to our epistemically basic beliefs. Call this the practical or existential problem of foundationalism. Thomas Reid offers a rather stunning solution to this problem. Humor (“ridicule”), he thinks, can be used to defend basic beliefs which cannot be defended by argument. We develop and defend an account on which Reid is correct and emotions such as rueful amusement can be invoked to rationally persuade the skeptic to accept foundationally justified beliefs. Then, inspired by Kierkegaard, we extend the account to foundational moral and religious beliefs.

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