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The Logic of the Heart: Augustine, Pascal, and the Rationality of Faith

James R. Peters
Published by Baker Academic in 2009

Logic of the Heart is an attempt to demonstrate the rationality of faith (specifically, the Christian faith) by supporting a deeply Augustinian and Pascalian conception of reason.

According to Peters, faith is rational insofar as it accounts accurately for the totality of the human condition. Properly functioning rationality, according to Peters, ought be described thusly:

Properly understood, human reasoning on ultimate issues of human life is inextricably bound up with those affections and feelings that reveal to us our proper place in creation. Reason can function properly …only when reason is informed by the intuitions of the heart as it is nurtured … by traditional beliefs and practices (16).

He terms this conception of reason, “embeddedness” (18). That is to say, for a human being to be properly rational it requires that our faculty for reasoning be informed sufficiently by matters of the heart. It is the argument for and defense of this particular concept that occupies this inquiry’s attention. For, Peters claims, if this conception of “embedded rationality” is the case, then it seems faith and its justification might not simply be warranted – it might be (plausibly) entailed by proper (embedded) reasoning. His attempt to expound and demonstrate the viability of the book’s central thesis is broken into four sections.

Chapter 1 begins by decrying the extremity of both the enlightenment’s push for autonomous reason and the postmodern cry for interpretive freedom as dangerous and misleading. To elucidate, he offers supposedly decisive critiques offered by each respective camp against the other. Peters cites arguments derived from the Pyrrhonists, Augustine, Pascal, and David Hume. The Pyrrhonist’s skeptical arguments demonstrate modernity’s inability to provide adequate support for the most basic of our natural beliefs. The Pyrrhonist shows us the inevitable uncertainty of supposedly certain and indubitable first principles of dogmatic rationalists, or those who presume to attain certain knowledge (43). That is, they call into question modernity’s failure of “rationally justifying,” by their own standards, the most basic and natural beliefs, such as the belief in other minds.

Should we refuse, then, to assent to any degree of objective certainty, as the Pyrrhonist and radical postmodernist would suggest? Certainly not. Refusal to assent (in the strictest sense of the word) to our most basic natural beliefs is a potentially harmful and likely impossible enterprise. Furthermore, in the cases of our instinctual composition compelling us to believe independently of the presence or absence of evidence provides us a pragmatic and durable good that appears necessary for proper human functioning (55).

Despite these powerful critiques, Peters does not reduce both movements to obscurity. Instead, he posits that “embedded rationality” is the middle ground between them and from that vantage point he is privy to gleaning helpful lessons from both camps. With logical proofs now lacking authority, Peters declares that the Socratic dialectical method – one seeking the internal coherence of one’s totality of beliefs – to be the appropriate avenue utilized in seeking a proper understanding of rationality and the subsequent rationality of one’s faith.

The first chapter concludes with a substantial explanation of Peters’ proposed system of “embedded reason.” Again, he proposes that the faculty of reason should be informed sufficiently by one’s heart. It is in the final portion of the first chapter that we learn of faith’s deep roots in one’s heart and the inextricable connection that faith has to proper rationality. One might consider the argument to be (roughly) as follows:
(a) Proper rationality requires sufficient interplay between the heart and one’s faculty for reasoning.
(b) Faith is a matter of the heart.
(c) Therefore, faith is involved in one’s properly functioning rationality. Built upon the Augustinian doctrine of credo ut intellegam, Peters carefully skirts charges off ideism while introducing a refreshing take on David Hume and a novel interpretation of Pascal and his “Thoughts” in the second and third chapters.

Chapter 2 is devoted to stating, evaluating, and finally responding to Hume’s many objections to the rationality of faith. Peters focuses on responses that are supposed to adequately deflate the following of Hume’s arguments; (i) epistemic refutation of theism, (ii) attack on the miraculous, and finally, (iii) the psychological refutation of theism. Viewing theism and Hume’s attacks through a Pascalian lens (a lens that Peters feels ought be called “embedded rationality”), Peters claims that arguments (i) and (ii) are reducible to curious misrepresentations of rationality and epistemic requirements (103). Peters calls them “curious” because the justificatory demands that Hume places on theism seem to be the very demands that Hume dismembered so powerfully in his writings against Lockean evidentialism. Regarding (ii), Peters asserts,

The true epistemic foundation of a theistic system is its diagnosis for human incompleteness and sinful rebellion; the narratives of miracles within the Christian tradition serve as signs … and they do so to someone who is open to that religion’s path to salvation … not by serving as its evidential foundation(130).

By contending that the miraculous serves merely as a promotion for moral transformation and not epistemic justification for a religion, Peters claims that Hume’s arguments begin to lose their weight. Having uncovered this misunderstanding, Peters rewrites Hume’s apology against the miraculous, inserting into it what he feels are the proper conceptions of miracles and natural laws. Interestingly, once the revision is completed, it seems that Hume’s argument against the miraculous and the epistemic validity of faith does not simply become void, but transforms into an affirmation of the miraculous and other theistic epistemic entailments. The remainder of the chapter is devoted to a similar dialectical thrashing of (iii) Hume’s psychological refutation of theism (the argument that Peters regards as Hume’s most powerful).

Chapter 3 provides a dialectical defense of Peters’ justification of faith via “embedded rationality.” It is in this chapter that we find an answer to the question; “if embedded rationality is the case, how does that help the justification of the Christian faith?” Since the Pyrrhonist has shown that indubitable knowledge appears to be unattainable at the most basic levels, Peters endorses a Socratic, dialectical stance. That is, we are rational in assenting our belief to something so long as it proves to be coherent with the fullest of our self-knowledge. Without Cartesian-certainty required, the Christian faith must provide a sufficient prescription for the human condition in order to fulfill its commitment to epistemic responsibility. What, then, is the human condition? Peters, by way of Pascal, describes it thusly; “Humans naturally seek to fulfill their deepest aspirations and thus attain self-completion and wholeness” (198). An honest assessment of the human condition reveals, what Pascal called,a paradox. Namely, humans are able to recognize their need and theorize on its fulfillment but are unable to attain it individually or communally (199).

The final chapter is consumed by a dialectical defense of Pascal’s account of the human condition, “embeddedness,” and justified faith against the fourfold hermeneutics of radical postmodernism. Additionally, Peters attacks the foundations of the radical postmodern movement briefly, in what proves to be the only section of the book that fails to offer a novel, refreshing argument. However, in the final section, Peters affirms that although postmodernism has some serious defects, great insights may yet be gained from the movement. He goes so far as to claim that “postmodernism may even end up being more amenable to Christian theism than was modernity” (217). Pointing out two particularly prevalent features of postmodernism that Peters feels to be demonstrative of a possible positive relationship,

Every encounter of self with other and self with the natural world is mediated through humanly generated concepts and language, and that all judgments of human reasoners are fallible, historically situated, and bound up with disordered affections (218).

It is from these personal, subjective viewpoints that we might come to recognize the reality of our paradoxical human condition – a condition leaving us deeply in need of grace. Peters concludes by declaring that the Christian faith is rational insofar as it provides – dialectically– a coherent self-knowledge of our existence and reveals to us the grace necessary to overcome our otherwise ill-fated human nature.

Logic of the Heart is clear, well-written, and contains strong dialectical arguments supporting Peters’ stance on the rationality of faith. Through creating an extensive and intriguing dialogue between Pascal, Augustine, and Hume, Peters cogently produces a holistic defense of the rationality of faith. The non-technical semantics of the book afford the reader complete clarity, regardless of academic training. This work deserves a significant place in philosophical and theological curriculums. More accurately, it deserves a prominent space on the shelf of anyone seeking to live the examined life.

Cite this article
Steven Demmler, “The Logic of the Heart: Augustine, Pascal, and the Reationality of Faith”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 39:1 , 129-131

Steven Demmler

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Steven Demmler, Graduate Student, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary