The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Friday, September 10, 2010

My text for a spot on NPR's Wordwise (audio to follow)

The word “justification” is interesting, in part, just because of it’s wide range of application. Acts can be justified (or not), beliefs can be justified (or not), and even people can be justified (or not) in a religious sense. In fact the same Greek word behind “justification” is translated “righteousness” in the New Testament.

And though there’s something common to the three notions—it’s hard to say just what—they each have their own criteria of applicability. The justification of a belief depends on one’s evidence, the justification of an act depends on one’s motives and/or consequences, the justification of one’s soul depends on one’s embracing grace.

It can get complicated because these kinds of justification can run counter to one another or can support one another. For example, there are scientific hypotheses such that the only way to get enough evidence to justify them would be morally unjustified. And doing something morally unjustified could endanger the justification of one’s soul.

Yet there can be confusions involved here too. Some people, misguidedly, think that what they need to believe in order four their souls to be justified isn’t evidentially justified, but that, somehow, they’re still justified in believing it. That’s just a confusion. People’s beliefs, even their religious beliefs, tend to have more justification than they realize, because a lot of cognition is subconscious. You’re justified in believing I’m a person and not a talking robot, even though it would be hard to defend it in debate.

Consistent with what I just said, though, would be a need to be able to martial evidence for an *assertion* to be justified. But that’s yet another kind of justification, and I see we’re running out of time.

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