The Challenge of Al-Ghazālī’s Scepticism

  • Zain Ali
Part of the Palgrave Frontiers in Philosophy of Religion book series (PFPR)


We have engaged with James’s account of faiths in three distinct ways. First, I articulated James’s argument which suggests that a person can, under certain conditions, be entitled to believe beyond the evidence. Second, we engaged with Cliffordian evidentialism, which maintains that it is always wrong to believe anything based upon insufficient evidence. This absolutist form of evidentialism was found to be weak. There were three considerations in support of this conclusion: (a) it begs the question against the example of the mountaineer and courtship which suggest the justifiability of venturing beyond the evidence; (b) the case of the mountaineer suggests that in some cases, Cliffordian evidentialism and the Jamesian account are on a par with respect to grasping truth and avoiding error, i.e., in the case of the mountaineer, when a choice is made, be it in accordance with Clifford’s maxim, or with the Jamesian account, the mountaineer cannot avoid the risk of error; and (c) it does not seem possible to justify Clifford’s maxim on the basis of evidence without begging the question. Third, we considered and responded to three distinct challenges which questioned the applicability of James’s account to the case of religious belief. In response to these challenges, I argued that: (a) acceptance of the ambiguity thesis is consistent with an attitude of non-dogmatic commitment and does not require tentative commitment; (b) it is also possible to accept ambiguity yet continue to view faith commitment as being momentous and important; and (c) ambiguity, uncertainty and the risk of error do not undermine the right to exercise trust; instead, we need a form of trust which is reflective in nature.


Religious Belief Cognitive Capacity Sense Perception Human Reason Religious Commitment 
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    For a Muslim defence of philosophical reasoning, see Abd Al-Jabbar, ‘The Book of the Five Fundamentals’, trans, by R. C. Martin, M. R. Woodward and D. S. Atmaja, Defenders of Reason in Islam: Mutazilism from Medieval Schools to Modern Symbol (Oneworld, 1997); Abu Hamid al-Ghazālī, The fust Balance: al-Qistas al-Mustaqim. Trans, by D. P Brewster (Ashraf Printing Press. Lahore. 1978)Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Zain Ali 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zain Ali
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AucklandNew Zealand

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