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Rational Fundamentalism? An Explanatory Model of Fundamentalist Beliefs1


The article sketches a theoretical model which explains how it is possible that fundamentalist beliefs can emerge as a result of an individual rational adaptation to the context of special living conditions. The model is based on the insight that most of our knowledge is acquired by trusting the testimony of some kind of authority. If a social group is characterized by a high degree of mistrust towards the outer society or other groups, then the members of this group will rely solely on the authorities of their own group for their acquisition of knowledge. In this way they can adopt a corpus of beliefs which may seem absurd from an external point of view. However, they may be locked in a “fundamentalist equilibrium” in which particularistic trust, common sense plausibility, epistemic seclusion, social isolation and fundamentalist beliefs are mutually reinforcing - and in which individuals who adopt the “fundamentalist truths” of their group do not behave more irrationally than individuals in an open society who accept the “enlightened” worldview of their culture.

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Peter. Bernholz 2006. “International Political System, Supreme Values and Terrorism.” Public Choice 128: 221–31.

Elizabeth. Fricker 1994. “Against Gullibility.” In B. K. Matilal and A. Chakrabarti (eds.), Knowing from Words, pp. 125–61. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Miranda. Fricker 1998. “Rational Authority and Social Power: Towards a Truly Social Epistemology.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 98: 159–77.

Alvin I. Goldman 2001. “Experts: Which Ones Should You Trust?Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 63: 85110.

John. Hardwig 1985. “Epistemic Dependence.” The Journal of Philosophy 82: 335–49.

John. Hardwig 1991. “The Role of Trust in Knowledge.” The Journal of Philosophy 88: 693708.

Keith. Lehrer 1994. “Testimony, Justification and Coherence.” In B. K. Matilal and A. Chakrabarti (eds.), Knowing from Words, pp. 51–8. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

John L. Mackie 1971. “The Possibility of Innate Knowledge.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 70: 245–57.

Paul. Thagard 2005. “Testimony, Credibility, and Explanatory Coherence.” Erkenntnis 63: 295316.

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  • ISSN: 1742-3600
  • EISSN: 1750-0117
  • URL: /core/journals/episteme
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