The foregoing account of belief, including religious belief, is a cognitive one: to say ‘I believe in God’ is (among other things) to claim to know that God exists; it is not to express an emotion or a practical resolve, though if the belief is sincerely held it will give rise to emotions and practical resolves. This account of religious belief, and the corresponding account of divine revelation as communicating knowledge of God that we would not have had without it, is deeply unfashionable among Protestant philosophers of religion, and many Protestant theologians. Religious beliefs are said to be more akin to moral beliefs, in the sense that ‘people ought to be kind to animals’ is a moral belief. Behind this, in turn, is a long-standing philosophical position (a false one, in my opinion) about the nature of moral beliefs and moral psychology. Moral beliefs are treated as free-floating imperatives, not grounded in any statements of fact, and correspondingly statements of fact are denied to be reasons for action. This is often presented as a logical point: you can’t derive imperatives from indicatives – though why anyone should obey an imperative without some indicative grounding I can’t imagine. The logical point has been sufficiently refuted by Roy Bhaskar’s account of explanatory critiques.1 The underlying error in moral psychology can take two forms: either (with Hume) emotions can be separated from (cognitive) beliefs and said to be the springs of action; or a faculty called the will, distinct from both emotion and belief, is postulated, and ascribed the power to make choices ungrounded in beliefs or emotions. As against these views, I am assuming a Spinozist account of action: emotions are the springs of action, and nothing can drive out an emotion but another emotion; so far Hume is right. But emotions involve beliefs: to love someone is to believe that they are in some way good, to fear something is to believe that it is in some way dangerous, and so on. Apparent
counter-examples such as irrational phobias and obsessive loves can be explained psychoanalytically in terms of unconscious beliefs. So the way to replace wrong actions by right actions is by replacing irrational emotions by rational ones, and the way to do that is to replace false beliefs by true ones.2 If religious beliefs are to make us better people, they must do so by virtue of their truth. At this point, however, I part company from Spinoza, who held that true beliefs about God (or Deus sive Natura) are deducible geometrically from evident premisses. I hold that they can only be based on God’s historical self-revelation to us.