Philosophers and religious thinkers through the ages have often conceived of “God” as the ultimate, unconditioned ground for the world in which we live. In this course, we will explore the relationship between three fundamental human attitudes towards the divine and the world around us: faith, knowledge, and doubt. Doing so will demand that we get to know one type of thinker who takes part in philosophical and religious conversations in particular: the skeptic. The skeptic raises difficult questions about the beliefs others claim to have; indeed, the skeptic often questions whether any beliefs can truly be justified. The skeptic’s questions thus amount to serious threats of various kinds: they threaten the philosopher’s claim to know something about God and the world, they threaten the faith of the religious believer, they threaten the political stability of the religious community. As we advance through the academic term, we will explore how some of the most important and influential philosophical proofs for the existence of God developed in response to the threat of skepticism. We will read important advocates of religious belief who claimed that the only viable response to the skeptic was to risk a leap of faith. We will also discover the surprising way in which skeptics and believers at times unite in common cause against those philosophers who claim to know something about the divine. As the course unfolds we will join the thinkers we read in asking: which attitude faith, knowledge, or doubt is most likely to make possible the attainment of truth and the good life? Which attitude best describes how the human being should approach life in the world?
Topics to be discussed include:
- philosophical conceptions of divinity;
- “proof” and the possibility of philosophical certainty;
- mystical experience and the possibility of spiritual certainty;
- the political ramifications of faith, doubt, and knowledge;
- monotheism and pantheism;
- philosophizing under religious authority;
- ancient and modern skepticism;
- skepticism as a way of life;
- philosophical argument as spiritual ascent.
Student grades will be determined based on a midterm and final exam, attendance and in-class participation, periodic short writing assignments, and a course journal.
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