Responsibility for Fundamentalist Belief

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Responsibility for Fundamentalist Belief

Rik Peels. (2020). “Responsibility for Fundamentalist Belief”, in Kevin Ray McCain and Scott Stapleford (eds.), Epistemic Duties: New Arguments, New Angles (Oxford: Oxford University Press), forthcoming.

Date Published: 1 April 2020
Author(s): Rik Peels


The ethics of belief is nowadays a flourishing field at the intersection of ethics and epistemology. In this paper, I apply various ideas from the current ethics of belief literature to an important phenomenon in our society: fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is one of those cases in which belief formation or belief maintenance is much like we do not want it to be. I do not have enough space in this short paper to develop a full-blown ethics and epistemology of fundamentalist belief, which is, after all, a largely novel field for philosophers. What I would rather like to do is show how an ethics and epistemology of fundamentalistbelief arerelevant to current models in fundamentalism studies that aim to understand and explain fundamentalism, sketch the main issues that such an ethics and epistemology of fundamentalist belief would have to cover, and make various positive suggestions about what my own preferred approach, the so-called Influence View, would imply for the ethics and epistemology of fundamentalist belief.

The paper is structured as follows. (§2)First, I sketch the state-of-the-art in fundamentalism studies. Most importantly, I explain how the main models of the field –such as the pathology model and the radicalization model –fail for two reasons: they cannot explain why some people turn to fundamentalism while others do not and they cannot do justice to the fact that we often hold fundamentalists responsible for fundamentalist actionsand beliefs. I explain how a philosophical model that provides an ethicsand epistemologyof fundamentalist belief can help the field to overcome these two problems. (§3) After that, I sketch which issues such a model would have to address. First, what is needed is an account of fundamentalist belief: what is it to hold a fundamentalist belief?(§4)Second, we need atheoryof what is wrong with fundamentalist belief: is it moral wrongness, epistemic wrongness, or both? (§5)Third, even if fundamentalists in coming to hold or in maintaining certain fundamentalist beliefs violated certain obligations pertaining to their beliefs, it does not follow that they are culpable or blameworthy for that. Whether or not they are,depends on whether they are properly excused for violating such obligations and for holding such beliefs. What we also need, then, is an account of excuses for fundamentalist beliefs. (§6)I conclude by exploring where we can go from here.