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Skepticism and Belief: A Reply to Benoît Garceau

  • Kai Nielsen (a1)


I am grateful to Professor Garceau for his thoughtful and gracious characterization and critique of my account of religion. As will become apparent, as I proceed, there is much in his account, both methodological and substantive, that I think is fundamentally mistaken, but, that notwithstanding, I very much appreciate the tone and spirit in which his critique of my work was conducted. Benoît Garceau has carefully studied my views and has in an exemplary manner tried sympathetically to understand them to capture what divides reflective and informed religious believers and reflective and informed skeptics. It is, I believe, fair enough to say that the task of trying to ascertain what most fundamentally divides contemporary literate believers and skeptics is of fundamental significance in any attempt to come to grips with the contemporary significance of religion, though it does seem to me that this task is much more problematic than is usually thought. In responding here to Carceau's specific criticisms, I shall, in the general drift of my remarks, be trying to make some contribution to the clarification of that issue. Though I shall only be able to touch on a small corner of it, I shall be concerned to examine in what way, if at all, it is possible for there to be, as Garceau would put it, a dialogue between such believers and skeptics; and I shall be concerned, as well, somewhat more broadly, to ascertain what it would be like for us, not only to understand each other, but, if indeed such a thing is possible at all, what it would be like to move a step forward in the ancient but still ongoing and developing debate concerning whether one should, all things considered, be, if one can, a believer, or a skeptic.



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1 Garceau, Benoît, “On Dining with the Meta-theological Skeptic: Comments on Nielsen's Position”, in Faghfoury, Mostafa, ed., Analytical Philosophy of Religion in Canada (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1982), 125137.

2 Ibid., 128–130.

3. ibid., 128.

4 See my “Wittgensteinian Fideism” and my “Religion and Groundless Believing” in Analytical Philosophy of Religion in Canada and my An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (London: Macmillan, 1982).

5 Phillips, D. Z., “Belief and Loss of Belief”, Sophia 9 (1970), 17.

6 Garceau, , “On Dining with the Meta-theological Skeptic”, 130.

10 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953); Pitcher, George, ed., Wittgenstein: The Philosophical Investigations (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 231383;Kenny, Anthony, Wittgenstein (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 178202; andKripke, Saul A., Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982).

11 Alston, William, “Ineffability”, Philosophical Review 65 (1956), 506522;Hepburn, Ronald, Christianity and Paradox (London: Watts, 1958), 2459;andMartin, C. B., Religious Belief (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1959), 6494.

12 Hepburn, , Christianity and Paradox, andMartin, , Religious Belief.

13 Garceau, , “On Dining with the Meta-theological Skeptic”, 131.

15 Hepburn, Christianity and Paradox, and Martin, Religions Belief.

16 Garceau, “On Dining with the Meta-theological Skeptic”.

19 Nielsen, Kai, Ethics Without God (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1974); Nielsen, Kai, In Defense of Atheism (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1983); andNielsen, Kai, “A Rationale for Egalitarianism”, Social Research 48/2 (Summer 1981), 260276.

20 Garceau, “On Dining with the Meta-theological Skeptic”.

26 It will not help to appeal to the analogical uses of terms here. If the stretching of meanings is only slight, we continue to have the problems of intelligibility. If it is extensive, then it is just clear that we are anymore saying anything very substantive that the skeptic need disagree with, though he might very well complain about the misleading jargon used.

27 Garceau, “On Dining with the Meta-theological Skeptic”.

30 Hägerström, Axel, Philosophy and Religion (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1964), 224259.

Skepticism and Belief: A Reply to Benoît Garceau

  • Kai Nielsen (a1)


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