Philosophy 462 – Seminar on Metaphysics and Epistemology II- Winter 2014


Professor: W. Sweet 
Office: 707 Nicholson Hall 
Telephone: 867-2341 
Office Hours: M/W 9:15 -11:00 a.m.; M/T/W/Th 2:00-3:00 p.m. and by arrangement. 
Home page:


The theme this term is the Epistemology of Religion and, specifically, the investigation of the concept of ‘religious belief’.

            The course will begin with a brief outline of the concepts of knowledge and belief. Then, we will look at some ‘modern’ and (primarily) ‘recent’ texts bearing on religious belief, and see how they understand ‘(religious) belief’ (or faith) and its relation to belief, faith, reason, evidence, argument, proof, meaning, truth, and justification.


For course notes, click here. (NB this is a .doc file)



Course outline


1. Some classic statements:


a) Knowledge and belief / faith and reason

b) Locke on belief (selections from Essay Concerning Human Understanding)

c) Hume on belief (selections from the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding)

d) William Paley and Richard Whately on argument and belief (selections from Elements of Rhetoric)

e) Newman on faith, reason, and belief (selections from Fifteen Sermons Preached before the University of Oxford Between A.D. 1826 and 1843)


2. Meaningfulness and objectivity


a) A.J. Ayer and meaningfulness 

b) Karl Popper and demarcation 

c) Ludwig Wittgenstein and D.Z. Phillips 

d) Anthony Flew, R.M. Hare, Basil Mitchell on meaningfulness 


3. Concerns about the nature of belief


a) Wilfred Cantwell Smith

b) Bernard Lonergan

c) H.H. Price


4. Religious Belief and Religious Experience


a) Alvin Plantinga, “Is Belief in God Properly Basic?”

b) William Alston, “Religious Experience and Religious Belief,”


5. Conclusions


Required Readings: The texts we shall use will be available on the course moodle page. Please print out a copy of the article(s) and bring them to class.


Related Readings:

R.B. Braithwaite, “An Empiricist’s View of the Nature of Religious Belief”

M.C. D’Arcy, Belief and Reason [excerpts] London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1946.

Basil Mitchell (ed.), The Philosophy of Religion, Oxford, 1971

Thomas V. Morris, "Pascalian Wagering",

William Sweet, Religious Belief: The Contemporary Debate. Bangalore, India: Dharmaram Publications, 2003.


Students should also have a good dictionary available. They might also consult: Philosophy Pages (from Garth Kemerling):


Method of the course and the role of the student:

The class will have a seminar format. A member of the class will introduce a topic with a summary of the relevant arguments or a commentary on a text. This will be followed by questions and discussion of the material by the class as a whole (e.g., points of clarification or criticism and of comparison; comments on the relations between or among different issues).

            Students are expected to have prepared the readings before class, to attend all of the classes and to participate in discussion. In conformity with University regulations, students who have more than 3 unjustified absences in a term may be reported to their Dean.

            It is essential in studying philosophy that students be prepared to ask and answer questions in class.


Laptops and other technologies

Laptops and similar technologies are not permitted unless you have my prior, explicit permission. Unauthorized use or related activities will result in being asked to leave the classroom.


Students with disabilities

Students who believe they may need accommodations in this class are required to contact the Centre for Accessible Learning [Bloomfield Centre room 421; (902) 867-5349] as soon as possible to ensure that accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion.


Email and office policy

I can respond to short messages through email, and I try to check e-mail once a day. I do not, however, provide grades or answers about course content by email. Students should make use of my office hours and ask questions in class. Urgent requests (e.g., to meet) are best made by telephone. If I am not in when you call, please call later or drop by.

            Writing to a course instructor is not the same as writing to a friend. For example, if you send me an e-mail message, please mention the specific topic of your message in the "subject" line. Use proper English. Begin the communication with an appropriate salutation, e.g., "Dear Professor Sweet" (A poorly written and misspelled message reflects badly on the author.) Sign the communication with your name and the course in which you are enrolled.


Policy on plagiarism and academic dishonesty

St. Francis Xavier University values academic integrity. All forms of academic dishonesty (including plagiarism) are unacceptable and will be sanctioned. For the university policy on plagiarism, please visit



Attendance, ‘class notes,’ and participation (15%); seminar presentation (20%); rewritten seminar presentation (25%); “Take home” essay-examination (40%)


Writing Centre

Students are encouraged to take advantage of the resources of the Writing Centre, particularly with regard to organizing study time, writing papers, preparing for examinations, etc. For more information, please see