Unjustified, (Ir)rational, Ideological Belief: Why the Etiological Challenge Reveals That No one Justifiably Holds Ideological Beliefs, (and Why They Should Remain Dogmatically Committed to those Beliefs Anyway.)
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This honors thesis focuses on the “etiological challenge” in epistemology. Roughly, that challenge says: “A person cannot justifiably hold ideological beliefs given the contingency of these beliefs on irrelevant or biasing influences.” This is an abstract generalization of the very intuitive challenge against ideological beliefs: “you only believe that p (where p is some proposition about religion, politics, philosophy) because you were educated or raised to believe it.” I examine and raise several epistemic principles that could underwrite the challenge, and I conclude that at least one such principle does support the challenge. This principle appeals to problems with our beliefs that directly result from issues raised by the etiological challenge, so the challenge doesn’t simply reduce to more general epistemic worries. Briefly, the most promising principle to underwrite the challenge is that all ideological beliefs are produced by a unique belief forming mechanism, which is unreliable. Since reliability of the belief forming mechanism is a necessary condition for holding justified beliefs, it emerges that we do not justifiably hold ideological beliefs. I further conclude that there’s no good reason to think that any subclass of ideological beliefs deserves special exemption from the challenge. So, if the epistemic principle succeeds, the etiological challenge demonstrates that no one ever justifiably holds ideological beliefs. Despite this bleak conclusion for epistemic justification, I explain why ideological dogmatism is rational, and perhaps even becomes more attractive once we come to realize that no one justifiably holds ideological beliefs to begin with. The upshot of the etiological challenge is faith, not skepticism, although it does generate some surprising results.
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