Episteme Review #2 – Rational Fundamentalism? An Explanatory Model of Fundamentalist Beliefs – Michael Baurmann

Rational Fundamentalism? An Explanatory Model of Fundamentalist Beliefs – Michael Baurmann


The article sketches a theoretical model which explains how it is possible that fundamentalist beliefs can emerge as a result of an individual rational adaptation to the context of special living conditions. The model is based on the insight that most of our knowledge is acquired by trusting the testimony of some kind of authority. If a social group is characterized by a high degree of mistrust towards the outer society or other groups, then the members of this group will rely solely on the authorities of their own group for their acquisition of knowledge. In this way they can adopt a corpus of beliefs which may seem absurd from an external point of view. However, they may be locked in a “fundamentalist equilibrium” in which particularistic trust, common sense plausibility, epistemic seclusion, social isolation and fundamentalist beliefs are mutually reinforcing – and in which individuals who adopt the “fundamentalist truths” of their group do not behave more irrationally than individuals in an open society who accept the “enlightened” worldview of their culture.


The abstract worried me; it seemed uncomfortably close to the thesis I was advancing in my recent paper, what with all this talk of particularist trust and a focus on the plausibility of a proposition to a hearer being based upon its coherence with the hearer’s other beliefs. I needn’t have been concerned; the paper hardly touches on Conspiracy Theories at all and focuses mostly on religious fundamentalism. Whilst I think there are some similarities (mostly to do with the development of theories when they are isolated from ‘mainstream’ ‘consensus’ (I’m unsure of the correct terminology to use here, you see)) I think that Baurmann’s examples have too many disimilarities. I think that most of what he writes is true of cults, but its a mistake to think that cults are exemplars of other groups that hold strange beliefs, like Conspiracy Theorists. I think Baurmann’s focus on religious fundamentalism is a big mistake and it derails his project in regard to the epistemological concerns of Conspiracy Theorists. Still, he has introduced me to the notion of ‘particularist trust,’ a term I shall be introducing to my thesis and then modifying quite substantially (with argument as to why) in future work