Okay, so I'm currently taking a philosophy of religions course at a community college. Anyway my teacher had asked where morals come from and I responded with a social-evolutionary type of theory and his response was: Teacher: "Your faith in reason is matched only by the most devote religious believers." Me: Let's examine that word 'faith'. Faith by definition can mean two different things, one definition of faith is confidence. For example, I have faith in my abilities to win at a sport competition or something like that. The second is belief in something without any proof at all, like for example God. It is important that we note where this difference in usage, because depending on context - they mean two different things and using them interchangeably in the same way is equivocation. If one were to say - well you have faith in science, just like I have faith in god - this is an example of equivocation. Teacher: For the record, dictionary definitions are great for learning general senses of a term, they are terrible for understanding the etymology of a term. Hence, I do not agree that faith has different meanings, and as you offer no reason why one should believe that, I will give everyone a reason why they should not believe that. As one who has worked in religious studies for years, I am quite confident that faith is NOT equivocal with confidence, hence, there is no problem of equivocation as if I meant confidence I would have said confidence. As to whether faith is merely belief, if that were the case we wouldn't have had to create a word to keep the two apart would we? Now as to supporting this, I studied attic Greek and Latin, plus while studying medieval mysticism I had to struggle with a bit of Middle English. So I have a pretty good sense of how the term evolved. Now doxa--which is attic greek for belief/opinion--was a broad term that basically stood for any logos--account--that remained limited to koin doxa--common opinion. For example, Sparta held the doxa that killing the weak was good. Athens held the view that you need all levels of humanity--though don't make any mistake, the Athenians hated what was believed to be weak as well, just differently--thus they held different doxas. Interestingly, for much of the early development of humanity, doxa was enough. No one really cared if you were "right" about your opinion, if you were willing to defend it--often physically--that was more than enough. But then something changed, doxa was juxtaposed with episteme--knowledge. Episteme was the attic Greek term for "informed" opinion, i.e., a doxa that rested on some sort of support--and here many argue this is directly linked to the discover of mathematics; why the hell does 2+2=4?? Basically from that point forward one could either claim to "know" something, or to simply hold an opinion about something. That is basically the Intro course, so I will stop there. As to faith, it gets linked to hope, which is SUPER important for keeping in mind how/why faith is NOT mere opinion--and even less so knowledge as Kierkegaard so nicely explains it. Rather, faith extends beyond both opinion and knowledge in terms of the conditions under which it shows itself. Therefore, philosophically we limit knowledge to something akin to repeatability--warranted is sometimes used--that can be reproduced under the proper conditions. For example tin's melting point is 449.47 degrees at one atmosphere. That is a good example of knowledge as I can both repeat it and use it. Do I NEED to believe in melting points, not at all, only if I want things made of ores. But wait, what does that mean about knowledge? Is knowledge too limited to mere human opinion--interest perhaps? That is a loooooooong dark path so lets leave it there. Wanna follow it, dive deep into philosophy; and good luck. As to opinoin, I can be of the opinion that climate change is being directly influenced by human activity, but can I KNOW that is happening? I am not sure, at least not in the same way I know tin's melting point, or 2+2=4; see the difference? That said, someone that claims to KNOW climate change is NOT being influenced by humans is just as dogmatic--from the term doxa--as the one that claims to KNOW it is; they simply hold different opinions. Now is one more "informed" than the other, yes I would say so, but again looooong story. Lastly comes faith. I don't have to have faith in tin's melting point, nor do I necessarily have to have faith in my opinion about climate change. But what about what it means to be me? What about what it means to be a finite being destined to die? Are such things limited to mere opinion? They clearly stand beyond knowledge, so how do we deal with them? We have faith; we hope. And at that moment, doxa and episteme can suck it. End of Teacher's response. Okay so here's my problem with his argument, I don't see how he's not equivocating faith. I'm arguing that faith and belief are not synonyms and he seems to have missed that point. He says it's because of the etymology of the term faith, which for some reason he never gets into. But even if he did, I can't see how that isn't the etymological fallacy and I certainly don't see how doxa or episteme figure into the etymology of faith. This part too: "As to faith, it gets linked to hope, which is SUPER important for keeping in mind how/why faith is NOT mere opinion--and even less so knowledge as Kierkegaard so nicely explains it. Rather, faith extends beyond both opinion and knowledge in terms of the conditions under which it shows itself." He says it's super important, but doesn't explain (and again I never argued that faith was either of those things, I argued that they aren't synonyms for those things, but I digress) and this bit ""...nor do I necessarily have to have faith in my opinion about climate change." I cannot see a way in which this is not giving up the whole game to me. I was not talking about "what it means to be me"; I was talking about scientific theories about the natural world, of which climate change is surely a prime example. So I guess my question here is What exactly is faith and is my teacher correct or is he equivocating terms?

A fascinating reflection. You should write it up in the form of a Socratic dialogue.

Perhaps your prof meant that your belief in science amounts to a faith in reason which is basically unsupported by reason or I suppose empirical data. Therefore, it is in the same league as faith in God.

I have heard people hold that it takes faith to believe that the sun is going to come up tomorrow -- therefore religious faith is nothing that peculiar. I myself tend to agree with Kierkegaard that faith as in faith that, say, Jesus is God - that He is coming back - that He has forgiven our sins and gives us life eternal - that all this involves a radical collision with the understanding, that it is more than improbable but instead an offesne to reason, and that it is categorically different from an opinion.

As for the etymolgy issue, I am a dunce, but it is true that the dictionary only provides a glimpse into the way a word tends to be used at a given time. The word in Danish that Kierkegaard uses is "tro" which also means trust --- and that is how I think of faith as a trust - which of course would involve a hope-- but not as an opinion alongside my opinion that the Boston Tea Party was caused by ... Thanks again for the interesting discourse and question.

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