Pragmatic vs Rational Beliefs

Since 3 of us had the questions and comments related to the idea of pragmatically formed vs rationally formed beliefs from @structureoftruth’s comments on the On Euthyphro thread, I thought the topic could be worthy of a separate discussion thread.

Copying @John_Harshman’s comments here instead of moving them fully over to preserve them on the old thread, as well

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So what rational justification do you believe exists for properly basic beliefs?


Not two different types of beliefs, per se, but two different ways of accepting beliefs.

I think belief in God is one that can be accepted on a pragmatic basis - pretty much all true beliefs can be accepted that way, after all - but it can also be accepted on a rational basis. And it is better to have rational justification for a belief you accept than not (assuming that justification is valid).

Yes, I agree with that. In fact, it may be that there are some beliefs that you would never find rational justification for unless you first accepted them on a pragmatic basis. Belief in God could be like that, at least for some people.


An example of a properly basic belief is they notion we have that other humans have minds like our own. We can’t prove this with confidence, yet we all believe it to be true, and in fact I say it is true. To deny it’s truth leads to all sorts of strange places.

Is that what you mean @structureoftruth?


A post was merged into an existing topic: On Euthyphro

Thanks for that example of a pragmatic, properly basic belief.

It is how Alvin Plantinga reasons in his book “God and Other Minds,” right? Epistemologically, belief in God and belief in other minds are in the same boat.
Belief in other minds is obviously perfectly rationale, so is belief in God

I’d be interested in hearing what people think of this argument.

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And then there is also the example of our rational belief in gravity. We have justification for that belief, because we feel and observe the effects of gravity.

However, our understanding of gravity also points to limits in the knowledge we get from science, and our need for different types/sources of knowledge. As John Lennox explains on p34-35 in “Can Science Explain Everything?”: The law of gravity gives us a way of calculating the effects of gravity for practical purposes, such as calculating the velocity of a rocket, but no one knows what gravity is, only how it operates. Lennox cites Newton as understanding this difference.


I’ve never heard anyone even try to explain how that is supposed to work.

Do you need to know how something works to know that it works, or that it exists?

I would say that it depends on the perspective of the individual that matters. Belief in God is pragmatic and basic for a believer and theoretical/ideological for an unbeliever. So, arguing that belief in God is pragmatic and basic to an unbeliever does not resonate with them because in their mind it is in fact not.

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If God can be made rational by one mind, then he can also be made irrational by another. So here is what you are missing. God and gravity cannot be equated on a rational level. While gravity cannot be rationally eliminated, God can.

The only possible philosophical link between God and gravity is that gravity was already there before we believed in it. And it would still be there even if we never believed in it.

So the question is, “Is God only a subjective thought of a rational mind?”

But there is a fundamental error here because God, if real, would have never expected us to merely rationalize his existence. God, if real, would have left traces of his existence.


Then you know God? You know why and how God behaves the way that He does? You sound like a true authority over God, with the ability to approve or disapprove of His will. yikes.

Michelle is not missing anything.

The same can be said for God, so I don’t understand your point. I can say with complete confidence that God was there before you believed (if you ever do), He will be there whether you believe or not, and He will also be there long after you are gone.

You got my point right. Both gravity and God are realities no matter if we believe in them or not. Michelle however is incorrect in thinking that somehow the existence of gravity infers an existence of God philosophically. And that is just too simplistic. The atheist and agnostic will easily see through her argument and undercut it.

Of course I believe in God and of course I believe he has left innumerable traces of his existence. I was just trying to play by the rules here and argue using logic only. But I do believe that logic can win the argument for God’s existence. For instance, I believe the existence of evil is proof of God. Also, the very existence of the Atheist is proof for God.

This is the problem posed to Alvin Plantinga and other philosophers:

(1) God is omnipotent (that is, all-powerful).
(2) God is omniscient (that is, all-knowing).
(3) God is perfectly good.
(4) Evil exists.

But J. L. Mackie and H. J. McCloskey are only pretending to know God in the above construction, so in reality it did not need to be answered in the first place. You see, what they left out about the truth of God’s character is in point 3 and 1/2. So here is the more complete character of God:

(1) God is omnipotent (that is, all-powerful).
(2) God is omniscient (that is, all-knowing).
(3) God is perfectly good.
(3.5) God is at perfect peace with his human action and inaction
(4) Evil exists.

For someone to assume that they know anything about the “character” of God proves that they know nothing about God. But there is really only one point that humans are capable of grasping fully about God…

(1) God IS.

The rest is just conjecture, and will only be known when we meet Him.

Stop with the bait and switch arguments, makes you seem foolish and makes me want to not engage in conversation with you. Just say what you believe or say nothing.

I understand the frustration. I share it. But unfortunately, we are not dealing with simple faith in these people here. They have educated themselves out of a simple belief in God. For us to to tell them “God IS” means nothing to them.

Defending @r_speir here above he had said God would make himself known and that’s how we could know his character.

This is what I have also been arguing in the Euthyphro comnents thread.

I think you guys actually agree; you are just taking different angles.

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I was not using gravity as an argument for the existence of God, but using it to highlight how we accept beliefs using different types of knowledge. The gravity example points to the limits of science: that knowledge comes from different sources, not just science

No. But you need to demonstrate that it works or that it exists.

So which “source of knowledge” demonstrates that God exist? And how did it do so?

I’m very sympathetic to the views of Maarten Boudry on this subject:

Boudry on scientism and “ways of knowing” « Why Evolution Is True

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8 posts were split to a new topic: Side comments on pragmatic vs. rational beliefs

Thanks for that article and for your questions. Your post is deserving of a longer response, which would take time to write out (as you know, many books have been written on these topics). It could also take a while for me to get to, because I’m swamped at work this whole week, so I appreciate your patience.

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