SOME CRITERIONS FOR
Faith on account of empirical evidence is knowledge but
this does not mean that knowledge, or propositional knowledge,
can be based on nothing else than empirical evidence.
This is what empiricists have taught and what they have not been able
to prove conclusively.
Faith in spite of empirical evidence is false belief and cannot
be knowledge by definition.
Judging from the principle of
truth, such faith can never be
justified and must be vehemently rejected.
A belief which is typically unjustified because it contradicts empirical
evidence is, for example, the belief that the existing plant and animal
species would be created by one personal being instead of having evolved
from other existing, or from presently extinct, species.
(It is here that the genesis of the world and the genesis of false belief
coincide symbolically.) The apotheosis of this moldy belief from
the Directory of Discarded Ideas is that the earth would be
created by one personal being in a certain number of days.
Of course, people may have different opinions on what exactly is empirical
evidence, and what they believe or 'know' to be indubitable, empirical
evidence today might not be accepted as such tomorrow
(altho we are seldom
willing to reaccept what has been refuted as rubbish, but which we 'knew'
to be evidence yesterday).
The disagreement between those who trust the scientific account (even if
only the present, scientific account) and those who belief in a
supernaturalist account is not a disagreement about empirical evidence but
one which results from the profound difference between recognizing the
ground-facts and ignoring or
The 'evidence' of religious creatures is at the most the
propositional fact, or the
quasi-event, that something has been written down in age-old documents
or has once been said by an ancient of days, if said at all.
(That is how certain monotheist believers come to claim, for example,
that they 'know that their redeemer liveth'.)
The question whether a belief is unjustifiable or not is not
the same as the question whether telling a story is unjustifiable
or not. One may tell a story of which everyone knows that
it is false but which everyone likes because it is beautiful,
educative, amusing or something like that.
When such a story is told, it is done as if it is true, but it is
the context in which it is told which makes clear that one does not
believe, and that one does not claim, that it is really (entirely) true.
In the context, the story is recognizable as a piece of prose, as a
fairy-tale or as mere mythology. Hence, it is quite possible to
read the supernaturalist tales of ancient, sacred scriptures and
even to enjoy some of the mythological, fanciful passages of
those writings, and to pretend for a moment that they are true,
without believing that they are or were descriptive of reality
at all. It is the belief in those tales and the propagation of
those tales as true stories which flagrantly violates the
principle of truth.
A belief is not necessarily unjustified in the absence of empirical
evidence, for the criterion of empirical evidence can only apply to
factual belief, that is, belief about
the world as it was, is and/or will be.
Especially a fundamental
normative belief, that is, a belief
about the world as it should be according to the most general principle or
principles, is always belief in the absence of empirical evidence (but
—one may argue— so is a fundamental factual belief too from
the apriorist or mixed apriorist-empiricist angle).
It is particular normative views which, in addition, require their own
For example, if every act is right that makes sentient beings happier, the
justification of the belief that a certain act is right depends on the
empirical evidence that the act in question does indeed make sentient
But the fundamental normative principle underlying this belief
itself cannot be proved or refuted by empirical evidence. On
our ontology there are at least two spheres (in addition to the
factual one) in which the rule of empirical evidence is not
operative, or not operative in a decisive way. And even if one
does not adopt the explicit recognition of a separate, objective,
normative sphere, the implicit recognition of norms and
values cannot be avoided when one uses language which is
partially evaluative, and when one does acknowledge goals and
objectives to strive for.
Every fundamental normative belief, whether left implicit or
made explicit, must be held in the absence of empirical evidence
since the correspondence which should exist between the normative
proposition about reality and the norm in reality cannot
be perceived in the empirical sense, nor can the norm itself.
Nonetheless, it does not follow that we may hold any normative
The least which is required is coherence of such a normative proposition
with all other propositions considered true or false, and with what has
explicitly or implicitly been taken to be normatively superior.
We thus espouse coherence as criterion of truth even tho we might be
forced to accept what is least incoherent when the option of coherence is
not open to us in
Yet, coherence itself (let alone minimal incoherence) is not a proof of
truth: a coherent system may be false.
Of two coherent beliefs which are incompatible with each other, at least
one must be false.
In the case of factual belief empirical evidence may show which system is
erroneous, or it may show that both systems are erroneous.
If, and insofar as, belief is normative, it is not empirical evidence
either which can demonstrate which one of two incompatible coherent systems
is at least wrong, or which belief in one of two incompatible minimally
incoherent systems is at least ungrounded.
It is banal to remark that empirical evidence cannot be used
to justify normative belief. The crux of the matter is that it
is the normative significance of empirical evidence on the
basis of which normative belief can be justified or must be
As explained in The normativeness of 'purely descriptive' theorizing
(3.2.3) this entails that every normative
belief is unjustified that does not embrace a principle of truth, that
does not embrace a principle of
relevance and that does not, in a
coherent way, indicate what the goal or goals are to determine what is
relevant or not.
Moreover, if two coherent normative systems both encompass all these
principles and goals, but the one is simpler than the other, while not
being less comprehensive, it is only justifiable to hold the simpler
belief according to a principle of conceptual austerity.
(Like the principle of coherence this principle is expressive of a
propositional norm, not a ground-norm and even not a norm of
We have now provided a number of criterions to determine
what beliefs are plainly false or unjustified.
From this it does not immediately follow that there is only one
modal and normative belief, even if
there is, or were, only one true factual, one true modal and one true
If we already formulated at this place, for example, the fundamental
principles of the normative doctrine which is the sole justifiable one in
our eyes, this formulation would still leave many important matters open
to widely divergent interpretations.
This should have become regrettably clear with
respect to truth: 'everyone' is in favor of truth and willing
to pay lip-service to a principle of truth or truthfulness, but
the interpretations of what is true vary from the belief of the
most dogmatical and obscurantist supernaturalist to the analysis
of the most critical and clear-sighted scientist.
In this chapter we have roughly sketched the minimum and very
beginning of what we ourselves understand by 'truth' and by a
'principle of truth', or rather what we do not understand by it.
Instead of continuing this discussion on truth at this place, we should
first consider the next concept and principle which any adequate normative
doctrine must recognize: that of relevance.
However important truth may be, it is no excuse for irrelevance.