The Birth of Modern Belief: Faith and Judgement from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment

Princeton Univ. Dec. 2018. 408p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780691174747. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780691184944. HIST
Shagan (history, Univ. of California, Berkeley; The Rule of Moderation) notes that philosophers have long debated what constitutes belief. In extending this discussion to outline a social and intellectual history of how belief has functioned throughout history, the author begins this work with St. Augustine, who maintained that belief is thinking with assent. In distinguishing between belief in general and belief in a higher being, a dynamic plays out in which belief acquiesces to articles of faith. Shagan asserts that the Reformation/Counter Reformation dissolved this dynamic and contracted the nature of belief. Thus, Protestants limited belief to faith in Christ, while Roman Catholics viewed it as obedience to the church. This set the stage for a shift to one's own judgment about such ideas, subject only to individual reasoning. In some ways Shagan's history ultimately comes full circle, as the sovereign judgment of a reasoning subject is not much different from thinking with assent.
VERDICT Shagan's fresh perspective will appeal to those with an interest in the history of philosophy or history of ideas, and clarifies for philosophers and scientists what each means by "belief."

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