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Volume 5, Issue 1, Spring-Summer 2002

Byron Williston
Pages 62-83

Self-Deception and the Ethics of Belief
Locke’s Critique of Enthusiasm

Locke’s critique of enthusiastic religion is an attempt to undermine a form of supernaturalist belief. In this paper, I argue for a novel interpretation of that critique. By opening up a middle path between the views of John Passmore and Michael Ayers, I show that Locke is accusing the enthusiast of being a self-deceived believer. First, I demonstrate the manner in which a theory of self-deception squares with Locke’s intellectualist epistemology. Second, I argue that Locke thinks he can show that the enthusiasts’ most cherished beliefs are in fact contrary to manifest evidence. In “matters of ultimate concern” to us---i.e., our religious beliefs---the critique is thus meant to buttress Locke’s commitment to a naturalistic ethics of belief

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