Sweet, William (St Francis Xavier University)

Title: Religious belief and demonstration in J.H. Newman

Recent studies in the philosophy of religion have focussed on the (cognitive) character of religious faith and whether there is place for a rational demonstration of religious belief. These studies frequently pit ‘foundationalists’ against ‘anti-foundationalists’ (such as Cantwell Smith, Plantinga, and Phillips). Interestingly, these issues were of central concern to the 19th century philosopher, John Henry Newman--principally in his Grammar of Assent (1870) and his Oxford Sermons (3rd ed. 1872)--where Newman attempts a ‘via media’ between these two extremes.

In this paper, my focus is not so much on the adequacy of Newman’s ‘via media,’ as on his analysis of the phenomenon of ‘religious belief’ and on what he takes belief and the epistemic standards relevant to determining the meaning and truth of religious belief to be. I will argue that Newman’s account allows for a better understanding of the relation of ‘grounds for belief’ to faith than provided by many of his (near) contemporaries (e.g., Paley, Whately, James), and that its attempt to be a ‘via media’ has a surprisingly post-modern character.