March 30, 2018

God's Solidarity with the Oppressed: Biblical Reflections for Good Friday

In a post on this blog that I am surprised to discover is now more than five years old, I proposed an approach to (religious/devotional) reading of the Bible which I called the Bible as dialogue. The central question motivating this approach is, why is the Bible written from diverse human perspectives? That is, what are we to make of the fact that the Bible does not present itself as direct divine discourse, the way the Quran does? My proposal, in brief, was that we are not meant passively to ingest the contents of this book, but to 'think along...
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February 21, 2018

"Ideas and Explanation in Early Modern Philosophy"

I have posted a new draft, "Ideas and Explanation in Early Modern Philosophy," to my writings page. Abstract: Malebranche argues that ideas are representative beings existing in God. He defends this thesis by an inference to the best explanation of human perception. It is well-known that Malebranche's theory of vision in God was forcefully rejected by philosophers such as Arnauld, Locke, and Berkeley. However, the notion that ideas exist in God was not the only controversial aspect of Malebranche's approach. Another controversy centered around Malebranche's view that ideas are to be understood as posits in an explanatory theory. Opponents of...
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January 10, 2018

Locke's Populist Logic

Again, your lordship [Stillingfleet] charges me, that I do not place certainty in syllogism; I crave leave to ask again, and does your lordship? ... And if you do, I know nothing so requisite, as that you should advise all people, women and all, to betake themselves immediately to the universities, and to the learning of logic, to put themselves out of the dangerous state of scepticism: for there young lads, by being taught syllogism, arrive at certainty; whereas, without mode and figure, the world is in perfect ignorance and uncertainty, and is sure of nothing. The merchant cannot be...
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January 8, 2018

Stillingfleet on the "Fundamental Mistake" of the Way of Ideas

The Rules established in the Schools ... seem to lay the foundation of all other Knowledge in these Maxims ... [but in fact] where our Ideas are determined in our Minds, and have annexed to them by us known and steady, Names under those settled Determinations, there is little need, or no use at all of these Maxims ... he that needs any proof to make him certain, and give his Assent to this Proposition, that Two are equal to two, will also have need of proof to make him admit that What is, is. John Locke, An Essay concerning...
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January 5, 2018

Stillingfleet's Target

I have now, I say, the satisfaction to see how I lay directly in your lordship's [Stillingfleet's] way, in opposing these gentlemen, who lay all foundation of certainty, as to matters of faith, upon clear and distinct ideas; i.e. the Unitarians, the gentlemen of this new way of reasoning; so dangerous to the doctrine of the Trinity. For the author of Christianity not mysterious [Toland] agreeing with them in some things, and with me in others; he being joined to them on one side by an account of reason, that supposes clear and distinct ideas necessary to certainty; and to...
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January 2, 2018

Berkeley and Toland on the Homoousion

EUPHRANOR. There is, if I mistake not, a practical faith, or assent, which sheweth itself in the will and actions of a man, although his understanding may not be furnished with those abstract, precise, distinct ideas, which, whatever a philosopher may pretend, are acknowledged to be above the talents of common men; among whom, nevertheless, may be found, even according to your own concession, many instances of such practical faith, in other matters which do not concern religion. What should hinder, therefore, but that doctrines relating to heavenly mysteries might be taught, in this saving sense, to vulgar minds, which...
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January 1, 2018

Toland's Rhetorical Use of Cyril and Hypatia

No, no, they were no Christians that kill'd Hypatia; nor are any Christian Clergymen now to be attack'd through the Sides of her Murderers, but those that resemble them; by substituting precarious Traditions, scholastick Fictions, and an usurped Dominion, to the salutiferous Institution of the holy Jesus. John Toland, HYPATIA: OR, THE HISTORY OF A Most beautiful, most vertuous, most learned, and every way accomplish'd LADY; WHO was torn to Pieces by the CLERGY of Alexandria, to gratify the Pride, Emulation, and Cruelty of their ARCHBISHOP, commonly but undeservedly stiled St. CYRIL (1720), ch. 21 There is some controversy regarding...
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October 14, 2017

Intentionality and Theodicy

The following line of thought is commonly found in analytic philosophy of mind: the reason calculators, for instance, are not minds is that the symbols they manipulate in order to solve mathematical problems to not mean anything to them (the calculators). It is not that their symbols/representations lack meaning or reference. Rather, they have the meaning or reference they do because of our conventions and the aims and purposes we have for calculators. This is known as derived intentionality. Our mental states, on the other hand, exhibit original intentionality. Their meaningfulness is not due to someone else's employment of those...
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October 8, 2017

Two Observations upon Observations upon Experimental Philosophy

I am currently re-reading Margaret Cavendish's Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, as I will be teaching it in the near future. There are two features of the text that have struck me this time through, to which I was perhaps less attuned on my last read: I am struck by the extent to which Cavendish's reasons for panpsychism match the reasons given in more recent discussions (e.g., Nagel, Chalmers). The basic line of argument seems to be: human beings are made of ordinary matter, just like everything else. But human beings have sensitive/rational capacities that can't be explained mechanically. So there...
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September 25, 2017

Descartes and the Rise of the 'New Philosophy'

Earlier this year, Christia Mercer published a fascinating article on the influence of Teresa of Avila on Descartes. Mercer shows (in my view convincingly) that the structure of Descartes's Meditations is patterned after Teresa's The Interior Castle, an extremely popular text at the time, especially in Jesuit circles such as the college where Descartes was educated. This line of influence has been missed by scholars because philosophers are dismissive of women and of religious mystics, and Teresa was both. (I hasten to add: scholars are often quick to forget that certain male philosophers such as Plotinus and Augustine were undeniably...
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August 20, 2017

George Berkeley and the Power of Words

Today the OUP Author Blog features a post by me highlighting one of the main lines of argument from my book, Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World. The title is, "George Berkeley and the Power of Words."
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June 28, 2017

Newton and Berkeley on the Scope of Natural Philosophy

In the first two editions of the Principia, Newton makes two pronouncements about the scope of natural philosophy that appear to be in tension with one another. In the first (1687) edition Preface to the Reader, Newton writes, "the basic problem of [natural] philosophy seems to be to discover the forces of nature from the phenomena of motions and then to demonstrate the other phenomena from these forces" (Janiak 60). In the famous General Scholium added to the second (1713) edition, Newton writes, "to treat of God from the phenomena is certainly a part of natural philosophy" (Janiak 113). We...
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June 27, 2017

Newton's Rationalism

One of the problems for the traditional 'Rationalists and Empiricists' story of early modern philosophy is that it is surprisingly difficult to define 'rationalism' and 'empiricism' appropriately (see here for a previous discussion). One traditional way of drawing the distinction, derived from Locke, is over the existence of innate ideas. This distinction, however, does not capture what is of importance to many other early modern philosophers, and oddly excludes Malebranche and his followers from the rationalist camp. (Since Malebranche holds that no ideas are ever in the human mind—they are all in God—he holds that no ideas are innate to...
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June 10, 2017

Epistocracy and Theocracy

I was struck by a line in Thomas Christiano's recent NDPR review of Jason Brennan's Against Democracy. Brennan, a philosopher in the Georgetown Business School and frequent blogger at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, defends the superiority of 'epistocracy'—rule by those with knowledge—over democracy, in part on the basis of evidence that voters in democracy lack the knowledge they need to make responsible decisions. Brennan acknowledges that we have significant data on what actually happens in real-world democracies and it's better than the outcomes we get from a lot of alternative systems but, he says, epistocracy has never been tried and lacks...
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April 24, 2017

Idealism and Christian Theology: Concluding Thoughts and Table of Posts

Having finished commenting on every chapter of Idealism and Christian Theology, allow me here to offer some concluding thoughts on the book and its aims and scope. First, some comments regarding scope. The title 'idealism and Christian theology' allows for a very wide scope. In the design of a volume like this, a judgment must be made about how broadly or narrowly the title is to be interpreted. Here, the title bears a relatively narrow interpretation in two respects, only one of which is explicit in the introduction. The explicit restriction of scope is that the volume considers only Berkeleian...
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