Relevant Alternatives/Contextualism/Contrastivism and Religious Knowledge

Martijn Blaauw sent me his dissertation on contrastivism, and his last chapter raises an interesting question. If we think of the relevant alternatives theory (RAT), contextualism, and contrastivism as having in common a kind of “localization” of epistemic concern with respect to knowledge (attributions), it looks as if the philosophical objections to religious claims might function in much the same way that other “globalizers” function. For example, you can know that the animal at the zoo is a zebra (not a tiger), but maybe not that it is a zebra rather than a cleverly disguised mule (that’s put in contrastivist terminology, but it’s easy to translate into contextualism language or RAT language).

I doubt there are many epistemologists any more who want to insist that religious belief can’t be rational or justified, and even if there are, assume that such beliefs can. Even so, I would have thought that attributing knowledge to such would be much more troubling, even if we also assume that the beliefs in question are true. On theories of knowledge that localize epistemic concern, however, it will be difficult to explain why knowledge attributions in ordinary matters of religious belief are untrue. One ground would be to insist that the claims themselves are false, but it will be hard to find distinctively epistemic considerations for denying the truth of such claims. Such a result would support Plantinga’s claim that there are no distinctively epistemic objections to religious knowledge claims, but would do so in a much more theory-neutral way than Plantinga allows (I’m assuming that we interpret these theories as metaepistemological theories, rather than epistemological theories such as proper functionalism).


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