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Philosophy 302: Ethics
G. W. Foote, "It Doesn't Pay to Be Religious"

Abstract:  Foote argues that the appeal to death-bed conversions does not prove the case that persons should maintain their faith out of fear; in fact, such conversions provide little evidence for any conclusion about the validity of religious belief.

1.  What is the argument behind the appeal to "infidel death-beds'?

2.  How would a representative of a specific belief evaluate the claim that "the religion of mankind is determined by the geographical accident of their birth"?

3.  Are the beliefs of most persons limited to ideas they were taught as children?

4.  Is Foote's argument concerning the reversion to early beliefs when a person is near death, an ad hominem appeal?

5.  How is the issue of death-bed confession of faith logically related to the ethical issue of how we should live?

1.  What is the argument behind the appeal to "infidel death-beds'?

Some religious authorities argue that those persons who live their lives without religious faith die in terror and agony from the lack of belief in a higher power.  Foote believes this is an ad baculum appeal.

Foote points out that one popular series of such death-bed accounts by a minister has turned out to be fraudulent.

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2.  How would a representative of a specific belief evaluate the claim that "the religion of mankind is determined by the geographical accident of their birth"?

Most persons believe in the faith that they are exposed to as children. When people die, it is natural that they would return to the beliefs that used to comfort them as children.  A specific representative of a religion might maintain that  such a person is "returning to religion."

Foote claims that some people are converted on their death-beds because they are weak, sick, and feeble and are taken advantage of by those who hold power over them at death.

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3.  Are the beliefs of most persons limited to ideas they were taught as children?

If there were limited changes in religious beliefs over time, there would be few changes in the history of religions.  Religious insight changes to some degree over time.

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4.  Is Foote's argument concerning the reversion to early beliefs when a person is near death, an ad hominem appeal?

No doubt it is an ad hominem appeal, but the critical question is whether or not it is fallacious.  Heine's claim that death-bed conversions of free-thinkers belong at best to pathology is indeed an ad hominem fallacy.

The fact that many persons revert to early beliefs when near death could very well be due to good reasons as well as the emotions of fear and dread. Hence, Foote's claim is not accurate in all cases.

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5.  How is the issue of death-bed confession of faith logically related to the ethical issue of how we should live?

The implication is that an authentic individual dies as that individual lives.  We do what's right because it's right, not because of the fear of a revengeful God.  Something is not right because God says so, God says so because it's right.

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