Contemporary Thinkers Archives



More Specifically: Alex Byrne (1) Alexander Paseau (1) Alexander R. Pruss (8) Alfred J. Freddoso (1) Alva Noë (2) Alvin Plantinga (13) Amartya Sen (1) Anil Gupta (2) Anthony Kenny (1) Bas van Fraassen (2) Brevard S. Childs (2) Bruce Ellis Benson (1) Christine Overall (2) Christopher Hughes (1) D. Z. Phillips (1) D.M. Armstrong (3) Dana Scott (1) Daniel Dennett (2) David Albert (1) David Berman (2) David Chalmers (2) David Efird (1) David Lewis (10) Dean Zimmerman (1) Del Ratzsch (3) Desmond M. Clarke (1) Donald Davidson (3) E. J. Lowe (1) Earl Conee (1) Edmund Gettier (2) Fiona Cowie (1) Gary Gutting (1) George Boolos (1) Georges Dicker (1) Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra (1) Graham Oppy (1) Harriet Baber (1) Harry Frankfurt (4) Helen Beebee (1) Hilary Putnam (2) Hud Hudson (1) J.J.C. Smart (1) Jacob Ross (3) James D. Madden (1) James F. Ross (7) James K. A. Smith (1) James Van Cleve (3) Jeff Speaks (1) Jennifer Hornsby (1) John Beaudoin (1) John Foster (3) John Heil (1) John Leslie (1) John Piper (2) John Polkinghorne (1) Jordan Howard Sobel (24) Kadri Vihvelin (1) Karen Bennett (1) Keith DeRose (1) Kenneth P. Winkler (3) Kris McDaniel (1) Lara Buchak (1) Lawrence Krauss (1) Marc Lange (2) Margaret Atherton (1) Mark Johnston (1) Matthew Kotzen (1) Michael Della Rocca (1) Michael Fara (1) Michael Ruse (1) Nancy Cartwright (1) Ned Block (1) Ned Markosian (1) Nicholas Jolley (1) Patrick Grim (1) Penelope Maddy (2) Peter Enns (2) Peter Unger (2) Peter van Inwagen (8) Philippa Foot (1) Quentin Smith (1) Randolph Clarke (1) Richard Dawkins (3) Richard Swinburne (7) Richard Taylor (1) Robert Larmer (1) Robert Merrihew Adams (3) Robert Nozick (4) Saul Kripke (2) Sean Carroll (1) Shieva Kleinschmidt (3) Stephen Darwall (1) Stephen H. Daniel (1) Stephen Maitzen (1) Steven M. Nadler (2) Susan Schneider (2) Sydney Shoemaker (2) Ted A. Warfield (1) Ted Sider (1) Thomas P. Flint (1) Thomas V. Morris (1) Tim Maudlin (1) Timothy O'Connor (2) Timothy Ware (2) Timothy Williamson (2) Tom Stoneham (1) Trenton Merricks (4) Tyron Goldschmidt (18) Vere Chappell (1) W.V.O. Quine (5) William Dembski (1) William Lane Craig (4) William P. Alston (1) William Rowe (2) William Wainwright (1)

March 18, 2014

March 10, 2014

The Puzzle of Existence: Concluding Thoughts and Table of Posts

I have now completed my series of posts on The Puzzle of Existence. I'll conclude by saying that I enjoyed most of the essays in this book quite a lot, and found them interesting food for thought. Further reflection on the points raised by the various authors stands to enrich metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and the theory of explanation. Additionally, most of the essays are quite accessible for non-specialists, including advanced undergraduate students. Assuming that a less expensive paperback version becomes available, this book would be a great choice for graduate or advanced undergraduate courses covering explanation in metaphysics, the...
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March 6, 2014

McDaniel's Ontological Pluralism and the Puzzle of Existence

The very last essay in The Puzzle of Existence is the article by Kris McDaniel which examines the bearing of ontological pluralism on the question, why is there something rather than nothing? Ontological pluralism, as McDaniel uses that term, is the thesis that there is more than one kind of being, existence, or reality. (McDaniel usually prefers the term 'being,' but seems to use 'existence' and 'reality' as synonyms.) This is not simply the trivial thesis that there are many different kinds of beings (i.e., that there are things of many different kinds), and it is not a metaphysically deflationary...
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March 4, 2014

Maitzen on the Explanatory Power of Penguins

In his contribution to The Puzzle of Existence, Stephen Maitzen defends the surprising claim that penguins hold the answer to the deep mysteries of the universe. Well, that's not exactly what he says. Maitzen's position is that the only interpretation of 'why is there something rather than nothing?' on which that sentence expresses a legitimate, well-formed question is one on which it is not a deep mystery at all, but a trivial empirical question to which 'because there are penguins' is a perfectly adequate answer. It is interesting to note that Maitzen's article is, in a way, just the reverse...
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March 1, 2014

Lange on the Natural Necessity of Something

Marc Lange's contribution to The Puzzle of Existence, begins with this remark: I read recently about a baby who was trapped during the night of February 26, 2011, in a locked bank vault in Conyers, Georgia. Naturally, I wondered why that had happened (235). In the article which follows this fantastic opening, Lange appeals to the theory of necessity and laws of nature from his 2009 book, Laws and Lawmakers, to argue that one can explain why there is something rather than nothing only by showing that something exists as a matter of natural necessity (or, in a qualification he...
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February 26, 2014

Kotzen on the Improbability of Nothing

When someone asks 'why p rather than q?', it is sometimes a good answer to say, 'p is far more probable than q.' When someone asks, 'why is p more probable than q?', it is sometimes a good answer to say, 'there are many more ways for p to be true than for q to be true.' According to a well-known paper by Peter Van Inwagen, the question 'why is there something rather than nothing?' can be answered in just this fashion: something is far more probable than nothing, because there are infinitely many ways for there to be something,...
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February 24, 2014

Rodriguez-Pereyra on Ontological Subtraction

Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra's contribution to The Puzzle of Existence is the last of a series of contributions on the question whether there might have been nothing. Rodriguez-Pereyra defends a version of the subtraction argument for metaphysical nihilism. That is, he argues (roughly) that for any concrete being and any possible world at which that being exists, the world obtained by subtracting that being from that world is likewise possible, and that it follows from this that there is an empty possible world. (The empty world is to be obtained by subtracting all of the concrete beings from some possible world with...
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February 11, 2014

Lowe on Metaphysical Nihilism

Like several other contributions to The Puzzle of Existence, the essay by the late E. J. Lowe is devoted to the question whether there might have been nothing. Lowe calls the view that there might have been nothing 'metaphysical nihilism,' and he offers an argument against a certain version of it. Lowe's paper begins with some very helpful context-setting. In 1996, Peter van Inwagen had argued that there is a possible world which was 'empty' in the sense of containing only abstract objects, and no concrete objects. However, according to van Inwagen, out of the infinitely many possible worlds, only...
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February 3, 2014

Why Do We Ask Why?

Several of the essays in The Puzzle of Existence argue, in one way or another, that no non-trivial answer can be given to those who ask why there is something rather than nothing. This may be because the question is somehow confused or mistaken, as in the case of Ross who argues that there is no such entity as everything (the totality of contingent concrete things, the Cosmos, etc.), and hence there can be no explaining the existence of everything. Or it may be because the Principle of Sufficient Reason is false, and so not every legitimate why question has...
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January 27, 2014

How to Determine Whether there Might Have Been Nothing

Even those of us who think that necessary truths often need (and have) non-trivial explanations generally think that these explanations tend to look different from the explanations of contingent truths. Furthermore, one might well think that showing that p is necessary explains why p, even if one thinks that it is possible to show that necessarily p without explaining why necessarily p. Additionally, of course, there are those who hold that once one has shown a certain proposition to be a necessary truth, there are no further 'why' questions to be asked. Thus if one wants to know whether the...
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January 14, 2014

John Leslie's Axiarchism

Why is there something rather than nothing? According to John Leslie, because it is better that there be something. Leslie holds that ethical requirements themselves are 'creatively effective' and give rise to "an ocean of infinitely many infinite minds" which Leslie calls 'God' (p. 143). Leslie is a pantheist, holding that the world (including us) is in fact constituted by the thinking of these minds. His essay is devoted to arguing both that this is the best explanation for the existence of something rather than nothing, and that this view deserves to be regarded as a kind of (non-religious) theism....
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January 9, 2014

Conee on the Ontological Argument

According to Leibniz, any answer to the question 'why is there something rather than nothing?' must bottom out in "a necessary being, which carries the reason for its existence within itself, otherwise we still would not have a sufficient reason at which we can stop" (Principles of Nature and Grace, sect. 8, tr. Woolhouse and Francks). The coherence of such a being has, however, been questioned. What would it be for a being to 'carry the reason for its existence within itself?' What kind of impossibility could there be in the supposition that some particular being does not exist? Earl...
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January 6, 2014

Christopher Hughes on Contingency and Plurality

According to Christopher Hughes, arguments from contingency for the existence of a necessary being are standardly held to depend on two crucial assumptions: a contingency-dependence principle (which may be thought to derive from the Principle of Sufficient Reason), and the existence of a sufficiently inclusive being. The burden of Hughes's contribution to The Puzzle of Existence is to argue that the second assumption can be dispensed with. Let's start by seeing what these two assumptions are, and how they fit into standard arguments. A contingency-dependence principle states that any contingent entity must depend for its existence on some entity outside...
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December 20, 2013

Jacob Ross on the PSR

Leibniz famously claimed that, once we have endorsed the Principle of Sufficient Reason, "the first questions we will be entitled to put will be - Why does something exist rather than nothing?" The answer to this question, he further claimed, "must needs be outside the sequence of contingent things and must be in a substance which is the cause of this sequence, or which is a necessary being, bearing in itself the reason for its own existence, otherwise we should not yet have a sufficient reason with which to stop" ("Principles of Nature and Grace," sects. 7-8, tr. Latta). In...
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December 15, 2013

Kleinschmidt on the Principle of Sufficient Reason

Philosophers have perhaps more often assumed the Principle of Sufficient Reason than argued for it. Furthermore, this assumption has, in recent years, fallen out of favor due to the PSR's allegedly unacceptable consequences. Recently, however, the PSR has been defended by Alexander Pruss and Michael Della Rocca. Pruss and Della Rocca both argue that (a version of) the PSR is a presupposition of reason. Pruss defends a version of the PSR restricted to contingent truths and consistent with libertarian free will and indeterminism is physics as a presupposition of our scientific and 'commonsense' explanatory practices. Della Rocca argues that the...
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December 9, 2013

Oppy on Theism, Naturalism, and Explanation

In his contribution to Goldschmidt's The Puzzle of Existence, Graham Oppy argues that, "as [a] hypothes[i]s about the contents of global causal reality" (p. 51), naturalism is ceteris paribus preferable to theism. Oppy's strategy for defending this claim is to consider three hypotheses about the structure of global causal reality, and argue that naturalism is superior to theism on each hypothesis. Here are his three hypotheses: Regress: Causal reality does not have an initial maximal part. That is, it is not the case that there is a part of causal reality which has no parts that stand in causal relations...
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December 6, 2013

O'Connor on Explaining Everything

Goldschmidt's volume opens with an essay by Timothy O'Connor who defends the traditional answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing: God. More specifically, the traditional answer O'Connor defends holds that a necessarily existent immaterial agent chose that contingent beings should exist. There are several well-known difficulties for this kind of view. The first difficulty is, if there must be an explanation of why there are contingent beings, then mustn't there be an explanation of why there is a God? This is, of course, a version of the much-ridiculed 'what caused God?' retort, and O'Connor's (implicit)...
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November 27, 2013

Introducing The Puzzle of Existence

I am currently in the process of putting together a review of The Puzzle of Existence: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?, edited by Tyron Goldschmidt, for Faith and Philosophy. For edited volumes like this, reviews never allow enough space for substantive discussion every contribution, which is prima facie unfortunate. (I say prima facie because if the reviews were that long, I, at least, would probably read a lot fewer of them.) In light of this situation, I have resolved, before writing my review, to write blog posts with critical comments on each of the chapters. This post is...
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November 19, 2013

Some Historical Context to Locke on Faith and Reason

Most debates about faith and reason in the Western tradition carry the background assumption that 'faith' is or involves believing the teachings of the Bible. This gives rise to a rather obvious strategy for resolving any apparent conflicts between faith and reason: reinterpret the Bible. Much of what Locke says in "Of Faith and Reason, and their distinct Provinces" (EHU 4.18) depends crucially on this assumption, and this is why, in the 4th edition, Locke saw fit to add a chapter "Of Enthusiasm" (4.19) against those who claimed a direct revelation from God not mediated by language. In this post,...
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November 7, 2013

Berkeley's Second-Order Anti-Skepticism

Consider the following parallel passages from Berkeley's Principles and Dialogues: so long as men thought that real things subsisted without the mind, and that their knowledge was only so far forth real as it was conformable to real things, it follows, they could not be certain that they had any real knowledge at all. For how can it be known that the things which are perceived, are conformable to those which are not perceived or exist without the mind? (PHK sect. 86) It is your opinion, the ideas we perceive by our senses are not real things but images or...
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September 21, 2013

Substances, Events, and Causes

Irreducible agent causation is quite a slippery notion. Many philosophers hold that it is not merely slippery, but unintelligible or incoherent. I take it that these philosophers have stated genuine problems which a proponent of irreducible agent causation needs to answer. However, in pressing objections to agent causation, philosophers sometimes make what seem to me to be pretty serious mistakes. First, sometimes they fail to include (explicitly) the qualifier 'irreducible.'* Second, they sometimes claim that the problem (or one of the problems) with agent causation is that it's a species of substance causation, and substance causation is unintelligible or bad...
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September 5, 2013

Quote of the Day: Childs on Miracles

[I]n the Old Testament a miracle is not some purely supernatural event, but rather something that evokes surprise and astonishment by which God is revealed as its source.

- Brevard S. Childs, commentary on Isaiah 29:13-14


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August 28, 2013

Three Responses to the Argument from Contingency

In my view, the cosmological argument from contingency is the most powerful philosophical argument for the existence of God. By a 'philosophical' argument, in this context, I mean a way of giving reasons for something that does not depend on detailed empirical investigation, or on idiosyncratic features of a particular individual's experience or psychology. Thus I do not hold that the argument from contingency is the best reason anyone has for believing in God. I think, for instance, that some people have had religious experiences which provide them with stronger reasons than the argument from contingency could, even making very...
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June 19, 2013

"Infinite Power and Finite Powers"

I have posted a new draft, "Infinite Power and Finite Powers," to my writings page. This is the paper I plan to present at the divine infinity conference in Bochum, Germany in August. In it, I argue that the ordinary notion of power or ability should be understood as a notion of approximation to an ideal, where that ideal is provided by the analysis of omnipotence which Alexander Pruss and I have previously defended.
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June 18, 2013

Quote of the Day: D. Z. Phillips on the Christian 'Image'

Consider the following example. There is a gentleman who appears advertising cigars on television. No sooner does this immaculate man light up cigars than women come from all quarters to gather round him. We can imagine people reacting in certain moods by saying, 'What a man!' Here, 'man' is clearly not a purely descriptive term. They are extolling, praising, wondering. A cluster of images influence their attitude: success, flair, charm, panache, the great seducer, etc., etc. At the heart of Christianity is a very different event. It is that of a torn body on a cross. Here, too, it was...
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May 20, 2013

Omnipotence and the 'Delimiter of Possibilities' View

Aquinas notes that some analyses of omnipotence have a serious problem: they reduce the apparently substantive claim "God is omnipotent" to the trivial claim that God "can do all that He is able to do." Now, perhaps it is true that to be omnipotent is to be able to do everything God is able to do (or at least that omnipotence entails this), but this is hardly an illuminating analysis. In several places in his Anselmian Explorations, Thomas Morris defends the view that the Anselmian God is the 'delimiter of possibilities.' This view has been endorsed by other Anselmians, and...
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April 12, 2013

Does Religious Experience Have an Expiration Date?

A fairly common position in philosophy of religion is that religious experience can provide justification for religious belief of a sort that cannot be transmitted by testimony. (We here use the term 'religious experience' non-factively; that is, we leave open the possibility that these experiences might provide misleading evidence.) This is not necessarily to deny that testimony of religious experience can provide evidence in favor of religious belief; it is just to say that, no matter how credible the testimony, this won't provide the same sort of justification as actually having the experience oneself. Often it is thought that at...
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March 13, 2013

Quote of the Day: Enns on Religious Fear of Evolution

At present there is a lot of fear about the implications of bringing evolution and Christianity together, and this fear needs to be addressed head-on. Many fear that we are on a slippery slope, to use the hackneyed expression. Perhaps the way forward is not to resist the slide so much as to stop struggling, look around, and realize that we may have been on the wrong hill altogether.

- Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam, p. 145


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March 12, 2013

Being Greater and Doing Better

Consider the following attempted reductio of Anselmian theism (based on Rowe, Can God be Free?):
  1. God exists and actualized the actual world and no being could possibly be greater than God actually is (assumption for reductio)
  2. There is a possible world, w, which is better than the actual world (premise)
  3. Possibly, God actualizes w (premise)
  4. Therefore, possibly, God does better than God in fact did (from 1-3)
  5. Therefore, possibly, God is greater than God in fact is (from 4)

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January 11, 2013

The Bible as Dialogue?

Over the holiday, I read Peter Enns' Inspiration and Incarnation. (Enns also writes an excellent blog.) I have also been reading Brevard Childs' commentary on Isaiah. These two books have set me off on an interesting train of reflections. I'll first summarize the relevant points from each book, then proceed with my own reflections. The central point of Enns book is a familiar but important one: the Bible simply isn't the sort of book the fundamentalists want it to be. That is, fundamentalists (and, interestingly, certain atheist polemicists) have a certain a priori conception of what a revelation from God...
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November 30, 2012

Divine Power, Alternate Possibilities, and Necessary Frankfurt Cases

Much of the difficulty in analyzing the notion of power comes from the various limitations of creaturely power: our powers come and go, and they are not infallible (sometimes we have the power or ability to do something, and nevertheless fail to do it when we try). These are the sorts of cases which derailed conditional analyses of power. However, an omnipotent being would have none of these limitations. In our paper, Alexander Pruss and I exploited this fact to develop an analysis of omnipotence, or unlimited power, without the need for a prior analysis of power. This approach has...
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October 4, 2012

A Linguistic Argument for Immaterialism

I think Berkeley would endorse the following argument: The rules governing a bit of language cannot tell agents to perform or refrain from actions in certain circumstances unless the agents can recognize the obtaining or not obtaining of those circumstances prior to the introduction of that bit of language. A word refers to an object only if the rules governing that word tell the agent to behave differently with respect to the use of that word depending on whether that object is present. (E.g. a necessary condition of 'rabbit' referring to rabbits is that the rules governing 'rabbit' specify that...
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September 28, 2012

The Value Component of Plantinga's Free Will Defense

A defense (in Plantinga's sense) against the logical problem of evil requires two components: a metaphysical component, which claims that a certain scenario is logically possible, and a value component, which claims that if the scenario in question were actual then it would be consistent with God's goodness to weakly actualize a world containing evil. In Plantinga's Free Will Defense (FWD), the scenario in question is one in which every creaturely essence suffers from transworld depravity (TWD). Now, in both The Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil Plantinga's focus is squarely on the metaphysical component, defending the coherence...
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September 12, 2012

Carroll on God and Physics

Sean Carroll has a great article on God, physics, and explanation up on his web-site. I've posted some comments regarding it over at Prosblogion.
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July 26, 2012

Leibniz, Lewis, and Freedom to Break Laws/Divine Decrees

In his classic paper, "Are We Free to Break the Laws?", David Lewis argued that although we are not free to break the laws of nature, we are free to perform certain actions such that, if we performed them, a law would have been broken. This is supposed to allow compatibilists to secure alternate possibilities: it's true that in order for me to raise my arm right now, either the past or the laws of nature would have to have been different, but it's not true that if I raised my arm right now I would thereby alter the past...
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June 4, 2012

On the Controversy Surrounding Berkeley's Ordination

In George Berkeley: Idealism and the Man, David Berman amasses considerable circumstantial evidence to the effect that Berkeley's movement away from Locke's theory of language may have been touched off by an in-person encounter with Archbishop William King and Provost Peter Browne (later Bishop of Cork and Ross) at a meeting of the Dublin Philosophical Society, November 19, 1707, where Berkeley read a brief paper entitle 'Of Infinities' (included in Luce and Jessop, volume 4; see Berman 11-20). I think Berman's overall picture is quite likely correct. In fact, in a paper called "Berkeley's Lockean Religious Epistemology" which I am...
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May 5, 2012

Fictions, Imaginations, and the Prima Facie Case Against Divine Benevolence

In chapter 6 of his Philosophical Theology (1969), James F. Ross undertakes the very ambitious task of showing that the evil in the world does not provide even a prima facie case against divine moral perfection. Ross takes the phrase 'a prima facie case' in the legal sense: to provide a prima facie case is essentially to bring charges that need answering. So, for instance, someone who says that the evils in the world are justified by some greater good which would be impossible without them is conceding that there is a prima facie case and attempting to answer it....
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April 12, 2012

Philosophy of Religion and Apologetics

Philosophy of religion, as practiced by religious believers, is often confused with apologetics. (Perhaps it is even so confused, on occasion, by some of its practitioners.) Indeed, if we use the term 'apologetics' more broadly, to include not just the giving of an apologia (defense) of religion, but of just any belief system, then we could say that philosophy in general is often confused with apologetics. This is, I think, a serious mistake. The philosopher, qua philosopher, is up to something quite different than the apologist, qua apologist. The 'qua' clauses are necessary, because of course the same person may...
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February 15, 2012

Dropping My Tagline

For several years, this blog has been labeled with the tagline "The Evangelical libertarian philosopher." For some time now, I've been dissatisfied with this label, both as a description of my views and as a description of what this blog is about. I've hesitated to drop it primarily because I think that blogs of non-famous people, such as myself, should have some kind of descriptive name or tagline rather than just the author's name, and I couldn't think of another short, catchy, descriptive phrase that would nicely fill that bit of screen space. (I toyed with: "Berkeley's metaphysics, Nozick's politics,...
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January 26, 2012

Ross's Theory of Omnipotence Entails Double Predestination

Let E (for 'election') be the proposition which says de re of each person who will in fact be saved that he or she will be saved. That is, E is the longest conjunction of the form 'John will be saved, and Mary will be saved, and Lois will be saved...' which is true. Let R (for 'reprobation') be the proposition which says de re of each person who will in fact be damned that he or she will be damned. The doctrine of predestination is the doctrine that God, from eternity, has issued an efficacious decree of election -...
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December 15, 2011

"Understanding Omnipotence"

"Understanding Omnipotence," co-authored by myself and Alexander Pruss, has been accepted for publication by Religious Studies! Cambridge University Press's latest copyright agreement permits authors to post preprints on their personal web-sites, so I have made the complete text available here. Also, here is the abstract:
An omnipotent being would be a being whose power was unlimited. The power of human beings is limited in two distinct ways: we are limited with respect to our freedom of will, and we are limited in our ability to execute what we have willed. These two distinct sources of limitation suggest a simple definition of omnipotence: an omnipotent being is one that has both perfect freedom of will and perfect efficacy of will. In this paper we further explicate this definition and show that it escapes the standard objections to divine omnipotence.

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November 19, 2011

Counterpossible Reasoning in Philosophy of Religion (and Elsewhere)

The latest (July 2011) Faith and Philosophy contains an excellent article by Jeff Speaks on some difficulties related to establishing the consistency of certain claims (he uses as examples the existence of human freedom and the existence of evil) with the existence of an Anselmian God. The basic idea is this: since an Anselmian God is, by definition, a necessary being, establishing the possibility of an Anselmian God is tantamount to establishing the necessary, and therefore actual, existence of an Anselmian God. But these compatibility arguments typically, in one way or another, assume the possibility, and so the actuality, of...
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November 7, 2011

Berkeley's 'Master Argument' and the Theory of Mental Representation

I apologize for the very light posting; I have been busy stressing about my upcoming qualifying exam. But I thought I would break my silence today for some thoughts about (as usual) Berkeley. The following passage from Berkeley's Dialogues (L&J p. 200) is rather notorious: Phil. ... I am content to put the whole [debate] upon this issue. If you can conceive it possible for any mixture or combination of qualities, or any sensible object whatever, to exist without the mind, then I will grant it actually to be so. Hyl. If it comes to that, the point will soon...
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October 6, 2011

Quote of the Day: Philosophers and Platitudes

It is the profession of philosophers to question platitudes that others accept without thinking twice. A dangerous profession, since philosophers are more easily discredited than platitudes.

David Lewis, Convention, p. 1


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September 1, 2011

Lawless Events and the Existence of God

Christine Overall famously argued that miracles, conceived as violations of the laws of nature, would be evidence against the existence of the traditional God. A lengthy debate with Robert Larmer ensued, in which Larmer argued that only slight modifications to the law-breaking account of miracles are necessary in order for miracles to serve as evidence for, rather than against, the existence of God. Larmer tries to argue that miracles do not violate the laws of nature, but nevertheless holds that they are different from ordinary events in that they don't follow from the laws of nature. (I don't have Larmer's...
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August 18, 2011

A Dialectical Role for the Ontological Argument

It has been nearly a month since I've posted anything, and for this I apologize. The last few weeks have been pretty hectic - I was on vacation, and had to rush off to an unexpected funeral in another state, then came home and had to replace a car and a computer (the computer was expected, the car was not). Anyway, it seems the my world has more or less righted itself, and I am getting prepared for the semester to start on Monday. Here's what I'm thinking about today (not related to that dissertation I need to start working on...). Suppose we make an ontological argument with the following general form:
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June 10, 2011

What Version of Locke's Essay Did Berkeley Read?

Locke's Essay went through several revisions in the author's lifetime, some of them quite substantive philosophically. The first edition was 1689, Locke died in 1704 and the posthumous fifth edition appeared in 1706. Locke seems to have had at least some hand in the revisions made between editions 4 and 5. Because some of the changes are substantive, I've sometimes wondered what version of the Essay Berkeley was working from. We know that it was required reading when Berkeley was studying for his BA at Trinity between 1700 and 1704. Today I was reading Berman's George Berkeley: Idealism and the...
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May 16, 2011

Quote of the Day: Polkinghorne on the Creation Story

The Bible is often rightly said not to be a book but a library. It contains a great variety of different kinds of writing: poetry and prose, history and story, letters, laws, and so on. Very great mistakes can be made, and much disrespect shown to Scripture, if a reader carelessly confuses one genre with another. Those who attempt to read Genesis 1 and 2 as if these chapters were divinely dictated scientific texts, kindly provided by God to save us the trouble of attempting to read the book of nature for ourselves, are committing just such an act of...
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April 18, 2011

The History of Swampman

It's been a while since I posted anything here, so I thought I'd take Jeremy's recent discussion of Davidson's 'Swampman' case (and modifications thereof) as an occasion to post a historical tidbit about swampman-like scenarios. Davidson's story - of a duplicate of himself being created by a lightning strike in a swamp - has obvious resemblances to the DC Comics character Swamp Thing. What is less obvious, less well known, and not mentioned on Swamp Thing's Wikipedia page, is that the swampman scenario was actually originated by Theodore Sturgeon in his short story "It", originally published in Unknown in August of 1940. Sturgeon himself, who was not a follower of comic books, did not know about his influence on that genre until he was invited to receive an award at the San Diego Comic Convention in 1975. Sturgeon's own description of the event can be found in the introduction to his 1984 collection, Alien Cargo, and is quoted in the story notes to "It" in the first volume of Sturgeon's Complete Stories.
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April 1, 2011

Concluding Remarks on Sobel's Logic and Theism

Having finished my series of discussions on Jordan Howard Sobel's Logic and Theism, I thought I should post some concluding thoughts. The parts of Sobel's book I found most interesting were his discussions of a variety of ontological and cosmological arguments for the existence of God. His book is quite thorough (as it should be, given its length) and, in general, I think his evaluations are careful and fair. I, of course, have found plenty of occasions to disagree with him. However, I found his discussions consistently interesting and well-informed, and never simply dismissive of opponents. He chooses his opponents...
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March 22, 2011

An Argument from Reactive Attitudes for the Existence of God

In The Second-Person Standpoint, Stephen Darwall notes the fact that "we speak of being grateful for good weather" as a possible objection to his view that reactive attitudes are 'second-personal'. He goes on to dismiss the objection on grounds that such gratitude "evidently involves the conceit that the weather is a free gift, as if from God" (p. 73). This remark struck me because I have known people who feel a sort of psychological need to believe in God in order to have someone to be grateful to (or, in other cases, angry at) for events beyond human (or animal,...
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March 18, 2011

Faith and Rationality

In my previous post on Sobel's treatment of Pascalian wagers, I indicated that, although I accept a strong thesis about the autonomy of theoretical reason, I believe that religious faith has more to do with practical than with theoretical reason. Now, faith can have as its object either a person or a proposition. (There are also other uses, like having faith in a theory, but I take these two to be the central ones.) Call the former faith-in (as in, 'I have faith in you') and the latter faith-that (as in, 'I have faith that everything will turn out alright')....
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March 2, 2011

Sobel on Pascalian Wagers

In the 13th and final chapter of his book, Sobel discusses Pascalian wagers. According to Sobel, there need not be anything wrong with the practical reasoning involved in a Pascalian wager. In addition to defending this controversial claim, Sobel must explain how, if the Pascalian reasoning is correct, he can be justified in holding on to his atheism. As the chapter unfolds, both contentions are defended as a package. In general, for reasons to be explained below, I disagree with Sobel's approach here. However, I do agree with him on one thing: religious faith is more a matter of practical...
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February 19, 2011

Berkeley and Leibniz Should be Friends

In his 1733 Theory of Vision Vindicated, commenting on the prevalence of the deist and free-thinking movements in England and Ireland, and justifying his association of these views with outright atheism, Berkeley writes: That atheistical principles have taken deeper root, and are farther spread than most people are apt to imagine, will be plain to whoever considers that pantheism, materialism, fatalism are nothing but atheism a little disguised; that the notions of Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibnitz [sic], and Bayle are relished and applauded; that as they who deny the freedom and immortality of the soul in effect deny its being, even...
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February 11, 2011

Sometimes It's Rational to Act Arbitrarily

In the middle sections of his 12th chapter, Sobel goes through a series of adjustments to his deductive argument from evil designed to get around various versions of the Free Will Defense and other tactics attempted by theists. For reasons mentioned earlier, I am not happy with Sobel's formal treatment of these arguments, so I'm going to reconstruct the substance of the argument somewhat differently. Consider the following: If there were a perfect being, it would take a best course of action available to it in creating the world If a perfect being took the best course of action available...
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February 4, 2011

Malebranche and Robert Adams on Creating the Best

Leibniz famously argued that the actual world must be the best of all possible worlds (BPW). His argument, which he repeated in several places, went something like this: The actual world was created by an omnipotent and perfectly good being. An omnipotent being can actualize any possible world. A perfectly good being always chooses the best outcome from among its choices. Therefore, The actual world is the BPW. Most people have found the conclusion of this argument incredible, and sought ways to escape it. The logical problem of evil is essentially an argument to the effect that the only premise...
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January 31, 2011

A Technical Difficulty in Sobel's Treatment of the Logical Problem of Evil

Unlike most other recent writers on the subject, Sobel believes that the logical problem of evil - that is, the problem of showing that it is logically possible for God and evil to coexist - is a serious problem which recent treatments have not adequately dealt with. In his 12th chapter, he considers several deductive arguments from evil against the existence of God. In future posts, I will consider the specific arguments that Sobel makes, but here I just want to point out a flaw or limitation in the way Sobel frames his arguments. Each version of the problem of...
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January 19, 2011

Skeptical Theism and the 'Beforehand-Switch'

I return now from my hiatus to blog through the last three chapters of Sobel's Logic and Theism. There are two chapters on arguments against the existence of God, mostly focused on arguments from evil, and one on Pascalian wagers. In chapter 11, section 4, Sobel presents what he takes to be Hume's evidential argument from evil, and discusses skeptical theist responses to it. Now, in general, the dialectic between the evidential arguer from evil and the skeptical theist goes something like this: the evidential arguer from evil says, a perfect being would probably create a world with very little...
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December 1, 2010

Abilities and Tryings

I am trying to write a seminar paper about the ability to try (or perhaps the ability to will, or the ability to choose). It seems to me that commonsense recognizes, in at least certain situations, a non-trivial question about whether an agent has the ability to try to perform an action. However, given the close connection between the concepts of ability and trying, there is reason to believe that the question might be trivial, or even incoherent, after all. This is the issue I am investigating, and I'm going to try to do some blogging on the subject in...
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November 29, 2010

Leibniz and Frankfurt on Freedom

The history of the debate on free will is sometimes narrated as follows: first, we have the 'classic compatibilists', starting from Hobbes, through Locke, Hume, and the positivists. At first these fellows square off against libertarians like Bramhall and Reid, who are (so the story goes) deservedly obscure. The debate is terribly unsophisticated: the compatibilists hold that freedom just is the ability to do what you want to do, the absence of any sort of external constraints. The libertarians require some kind of magic 'contra-causal' agent causation they can't explain. They slowly die out as English language philosophy is purified...
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November 9, 2010

Omniscience and Simplicity

The end of the semester is fast approaching, which means an even more hectic academic schedule, followed by a vacation. This post will be a brief remark on Sobel's treatment of omniscience, which completes his interlude on divine attributes. Following this, I will leave off until after the holidays, at which point I will deal with the remainder of the book, which treats arguments against the existence of God, and also 'Pascalian' practical arguments for belief in God. The main puzzle Sobel finds with omniscience is one pushed by Patrick Grim. The thrust of the argument is this: (1) a...
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November 2, 2010

Leibniz Against Fine-Tuning

It appears that I'm going to be getting a bit behind on my Sobel series due to other commitments. Here is some Leibniz to make up for it. One of the problems with those forms of teleological (design) arguments that posit necessary 'gaps' in naturalistic explanation is that they are revisionary with respect to scientific practice: that is, it is a principle of scientific methodology to keep looking for naturalistic explanations no matter what. Now, most philosophers think that taking a revisionary attitude toward scientific practice is bad since the track record of science, on its current methodology, is stellar...
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October 26, 2010

On Omnipotence

In my last Sobel post, I discussed Sobel's proposal that, since the Stone Paradox shows essential omnipotence to be incoherent, the traditional God, since he would have his properties essentially, would have essential ONSLIP, or only necessarily self-limited power, but that this would not amount to omnipotence. Here I want to propose an alternative account of omnipotence, an attribute worthy of that name and which would be had essentially. First, however, we must distinguish power from freedom. To be omnipotent is to be all powerful. God is also supposed to be free in his exercise of power, and this creates...
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October 17, 2010

Only Necessarily Self-Limited Power

After considering arguments for the existence of God, Sobel has a brief interlude on the divine attributes, before going on to arguments against the existence of God. Chapter 9 concerns omnipotence and the famous Stone Paradox. Sobel defines omnipotence (roughly) as the ability to do anything that can be done. (He improves this basic definition in a few ways, but these need not concern us.) The Stone Paradox, Sobel rightly recognizes, is no real problem for omnipotence as such, for if a being can do anything that can be done, then that being can take away some of the powers...
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October 8, 2010

Modern Cosmology and Theology

At the end of his discussion of fine-tuning arguments, Sobel briefly, and somewhat indirectly, discusses issues arising from attempts to combine theism with modern cosmology (pp. 285-287). In particular, many cosmologists now believe that the fundamental constants of nature were set by quantum fluctuations in the early universe. Stephen Hawking has suggested that such fluctuations might be very likely to produce a world like ours. If correct, the thought goes, this would undermine the fine-tuning argument. However, it would also do something more: if the laws of nature make it very likely, but not certain, that a world like ours,...
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October 5, 2010

Kant, Strawson, and Conditionals

P. F. Strawson is not one of Kant's more sympathetic interpreters: Kant's faculty psychology, he thinks, is no more than a historical curiosity. The account of logic is likewise a mess. Above all, transcendental idealism is sheer nonsense. Also, of course, Kant's arguments notoriously rely on the claim that Euclidean geometry is known a priori to be the geometry of the sensible world, whereas we now know that this claim is not only not known a priori, but is actually false. (James Van Cleve has argued, however, that Kant needs only the existence of some a priori geometrical knowledge, and...
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September 29, 2010

Evolution and Teleological Arguments

Much of Sobel's chapter on teleological (design) arguments is devoted to Hume interpretation and to explaining Bayesianism. The latter seems to be one of several places where Sobel has not decided whether he is writing a textbook or a monograph. As for the former, the 'analogical' version of the teleological argument is, I think, not the strongest version and, although I haven't conducted a survey of the various treatments, I would be surprised if Hume's version turned out to be the best. After all, Hume is at most a half-hearted supporter of the argument; even he doesn't think his argument...
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September 28, 2010

Explanatory Principles and Infinite Propositions

In the course of his discussion of cosmological arguments, Sobel argues against the Principle of Sufficient Reason and similar strong explanatory principles. In particular, he argues that even a weak principle like "there is a deductive explanation that has only true premises for every contingent truth" will result in modal collapse (p. 218). In Sobel's terminology, an argument 'deductively explains' its conclusion iff (1) the argument is sound, and (2) the conclusion does not entail the premises (p. 219; condition (2) applies to contingent conclusions only). Sobel now introduces the following two premises: (3) If there is any true contingent...
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September 23, 2010

A Non-Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

In my last Sobel post, I reconstructed the cosmological argument Sobel attributes to Leibniz in such a way that there was no obvious contradiction in the premises by using Leibniz's own resources. Here I want to try to produce an argument with more widely accepted premises. Recall that Sobel's reconstruction is as follows: (1)The World - the Cosmos - exists. (2) The World is contingent, it is a contingent entity. (3) For everything that exists - for every fact and every existent entity - there is a sufficient reason for its existence. (4) The sufficient reason for the existence of...
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September 15, 2010

A Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

Sobel's sixth chapter is devoted to, as he says, "proofs a contingentia mundi" (from the contingency of the world). The chief exponent here is Leibniz, though Sobel also considers Hume's Demea and his probable source, Samuel Clarke. Sobel argues that Leibniz's argument is valid ... by contradiction explosion. That is, he argues that Leibniz's premises are inconsistent. In this post, I show how to fix the argument using Leibnizian resources. In the next post, I will give another version of the argument which uses premises which I consider to be anti-Leibnizian, but which I think are more widely held than...
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September 13, 2010

What is Supposed to be Proved in Aquinas's Five Ways?

I'm not a Medieval scholar, so I don't really know what I'm talking about, but that's ok. Sobel's fifth chapter is concerned with Aquinas's Second Way, one of the classic texts for the cosmological argument. Sobel raises some concerns about the premises, but for the most part he finds them plausible (though he may ultimately reject one or more of them). His main concern is that, as he schematizes the argument, a fallacy of equivocation occurs at the very end. Sobel reads the 'good' part of the argument as (perhaps) justifying the 'Preliminary Conclusion'...
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September 7, 2010

Would a Being With All Positive Properties Be God?

Sobel's final objection to ontological arguments is that, even if they are sound, their conclusion does not mean that God exists. That is, according to Sobel, a necessarily existing 'being than which none greater can be conceived' or 'being with all perfections' or 'being with all positive properties' would not be God. His argument for this is rather confusing and depends (1) on a controversial modal intuition, and (2) on an odd definition of 'worshipfulness'. As far as I can tell, the argument goes like this: it is clear (so Sobel claims) that such properties as consciousness, knowledge, power, love,...
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September 2, 2010

Modal Collapse: Sobel's Objection to Gödel's Ontological Argument

The last ontological argument Sobel discusses is the Leibniz-inspired argument put forward by the famous logician Kurt Gödel. Gödel sets up a formal system in third-order quantified modal logic with equality and abstraction (!) and proves within that system the theorem: □∃xG(x) Where the predicate G is defined as follows: Gx ↔ ∀φ[P(φ) → φ(x)] Where P is primitive. (Sobel includes the complete source texts for Gödel's proof on pp. 144-146.) Now, unsurprisingly, given that the proof was originated by Gödel, everyone agrees that the proof is valid in the formal system. The question is whether there are any interpretations...
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August 30, 2010

A Genuine Dialectical Problem for Ontological Arguments

Sobel spends much of the third chapter Logic and Theism evaluating the dialectical status of ontological arguments, and, in particular, whether ontological arguers are entitled to the premise that it is possible that there be a perfect being. I am simply going to take the occasion here to state my opinion on the matter. There is a fundamental dialectical tension in the ontological arguments that start from this premise. If, on the one hand, necessary existence follows trivially from the stipulated definition of perfection, then the argument will beg the question as Sobel suggests that Anselm's argument does. That is...
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August 25, 2010

Sobel's Argument Against Believing in the Possibility of a Perfect Being

My previous posts on Sobel's Logic and Theism, have been pretty favorable and made only minor criticisms or qualifications. In this post, my criticism will be much more strenuous for, in his criticism of modern modal ontological arguments, Sobel has made a serious error. Sobel wants to argue that there is no strong presumption in favor of the possibility of a perfect being, and that, because of contrary evidence (e.g. the problem of evil), if the ontological argument is to benefit the theist (by showing that, necessarily, there is a perfect being), rather than harm the theist (by showing that...
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August 24, 2010

The Dialectical Appropriateness of Ontological Arguments

After, for some reason or other, spending some 30 dense pages of Logic and Theism on the laughable ontological arguments of Descartes and Spinoza, Sobel moves on to the more interesting argument advanced by Anselm. (The next chapter deals with versions of the argument set in modern modal logic, such as those of Hartshorne and Plantinga.) In my view, the Descartes and Spinoza arguments don't even look good; the Anselm version at least produces puzzlement, insofar as the reasoning looks valid, yet it seems, intuitively, that no such strong conclusion could ever be derived from such weak premises. Sobel (fairly uncontroversially...
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August 20, 2010

Normative Skepticism and the Existence of God

As I discussed in my last post, Sobel argues that the main requirement anything has to fulfill in order to count as a god is that it must be deserving of worship. However, as Sobel argues on pp. 24-25 of Logic and Theism, this requires that it makes sense to talk about something being worthy or unworthy of worship. An error theory of the normative (a view that questioned whether statements about 'worthiness' and other such things were ever correct), such as the view espoused by J. L. Mackie, would have the result that no matter what might exist in...
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August 18, 2010

Divine Freedom and Worship

This is the first substantive post in my discussion of Sobel's Logic and Theism. The first chapter of Sobel's book focuses on the question of what people disagree about when they disagree about whether God exists. There are a lot of interesting metaphysical and linguistic issues here, like the meaningfulness of negative singular existentials, but this is all really preliminary to the real purpose of evaluating beliefs in God and the reasons for them, so, although these issues are interesting, I'm going to keep discussion of them to a minimum, and focus on what I take to be the first
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August 17, 2010

Sobel's Logic and Theism: An Introduction to my Forthcoming Discussion

Some time ago, I promised that I would take time on this blog to seriously engage with some recent work arguing in favor of atheism. The book chosen, mostly on Brandon's recommendation, was Jordan Howard Sobel's 2003 Logic and Theism: Arguments For and Against Beliefs in God. This summer I had a fairly long reading list of things more closely related to my main research directions in metaphysics and early modern philosophy so, unfortunately, I did not get started on this earlier. I have, however, now (one week before the start of classes) completed my other reading and begun working...
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August 13, 2010

Quote of the Day: Gutting on Dawkins

Religious believers often accuse argumentative atheists such as Dawkins of being excessively rationalistic, demanding standards of logical and evidential rigor that aren't appropriate in matters of faith. My criticism is just the opposite. Dawkins does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires. The basic problem is that meeting such standards requires coming to terms with the best available analyses and arguments. This need not mean being capable of contributing to the cutting-edge discussions of contemporary philosophers, but it does require following these discussions and applying them to one's own intellectual problems. Dawkins simply...
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August 12, 2010

More on FWD and Brute Contingencies

Yesterday, I noted that Plantinga's Free Will Defense (FWD), as it appears in The Nature of Necessity (NN) involves some very odd brute contingencies. These brute contingencies are not determined by God, or by anything else at all. They are truly brute: there is no reason or explanation for them. Furthermore, they limit God's power. When Plantinga admits that according to his theory "the power of an omnipotent God [is] limited by the freedom he confers upon his creatures" (NN 190), he cites William Wainwright, "Freedom and Omnipotence", Nous 2 (1968): 293-301. As it turns out, Wainwright is responding to...
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August 11, 2010

Some Odd Brute Contingincies in Plantinga's Free Will Defense

Once upon a time, many philosophers believed that there was a logical problem of evil. That is, it was held that the (obviously true) proposition that there is some evil in the world logically entails that there is no God. (Where God is conceived as omnipotent and perfectly good.) I imagine that a lot of philosophers still believe this, but today few are arguing for it in print. Instead, atheist philosophers now typically put forth an evidentiary problem of evil. That is, they propound an argument something like this: The more evil there is, the less likely it is that...
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August 6, 2010

The Lockean Proviso and Federally Managed Lands

On my recent vacation, I visited a number of national parks (specifically: Crater Lake, Redwood, and Yosemite). This got me thinking about the moral and political aspects of federal land management, including the National Park System. Libertarians are often skeptical of government ownership of anything. However, in this post I want to argue that the Lockean Proviso actually demands such a system of government land management, and so such a system should be supported by libertarians of the Nozickian/Neo-Lockean sort, such as myself. Let's start at the beginning. Locke holds that initially all of earth's natural resources were held in...
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July 13, 2010

The Frustrations of Ecumenical Dialogue

I believe that ecumenical dialogue is important. For one thing, the current divisions of the Church are not just a shame but a sin. For another thing, I think that Timothy Ware is correct in claiming that God intended for differing perspectives between different linguistic and cultural groups, and also between differing tastes and focuses to balance each other out. Instead (and let me, as a Protestant, admit that the Reformation only made this worse), we tend to congregate with people who think like us and look like us and talk like us and want the same styles of preaching...
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July 9, 2010

Authority, Authoritativeness, and Objectivity

I've just finished reading John Foster's new book, A World For Us: The Case for Phenomenalistic Idealism. Foster had previously defended idealism in his 1982 The Case for Idealism, and many of the basic arguments are the same, though I think the structure is cleaner and easier to grasp. (I've also just finished reading the restored version of Stranger in a Strange Land, so every time I write 'Foster' I'm thinking of the archangel - but that's beside the point.) The main motivation behind Foster's idealism, all the way back to 1982, is the thought that if anything is to...
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June 21, 2010

Unrestricted Quantifiers and Fundamental Quantifiers

According to Ted Sider, ontology is concerned with determining what objects are in the scope of the 'unrestricted' universal quantifier. Sider argues that ontological questions thus have genuine objective answers, for there can be no vagueness in the meaning of the unrestricted quantifier. Suppose, says Sider, that there are two precisifications, ∀1 and ∀2 of the universal quantifier ∀. Then, he says, there must be some thing, x, that is in the extension of one, but not the other, of ∀1 and ∀2. But in that case, whichever of ∀1 and ∀2 lacks x in its extension will fail to...
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June 14, 2010

Locke on the Arbitrariness of Ideas of Mixed Modes and Substances

In Locke's discussion of names of mixed modes and names of substances in EHU 3.5-6, he seems to suggest that the ideas of mixed modes are in some way more arbitrary than the ideas of substances. Some commentators, such as Nicholas Jolley (Locke: His Philosophical Thought, 155-161), have found this claim problematic for, according to Locke, ideas of substances are 'the workmanship of the understanding'; they are not given to us by nature. I think, however, that considerations from book two are sufficient to answer this worry. Locke defines mixed modes as "such Combinations of simple Ideas, as are not...
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June 7, 2010

Why Listen to 'Continental' Philosophers?

In a recent edition of Faith and Philosophy (the October 2009 edition, to be exact), there is an exchange between James K. A. Smith and Bruce Ellis Benson about what can or should be done to improve 'Continental' philosophy of religion. The discussion focuses on the reduction of 'enclaves' - i.e. on getting 'Continental' philosophy of religion into mainstream venues, and having dialogue with mainstream (analytic) philosophy of religion. Now, something about this exchange struck me as rather odd: the exchange takes place in a mainstream venue, a philosophy of religion journal read mostly by analytic philosophers. Yet the exchange...
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May 29, 2010

Can Immediate Perception Save Realism? (Hint: No)

As I mentioned in my last post, now that the term is over I am catching up on some stuff I've been meaning to read. Another item on that list is Georges Dicker's "Anti-Berkeley" which appeared in British Journal for the History of Philosophy in 2008. Dicker's aim is to show that many of Berkeley's arguments are good, but immaterialism, nevertheless, does not follow. Dicker thinks that Berkeley's arguments are best seen as showing us how to formulate a better version of materialism than the one common in Berkeley's day. So, for instance, Dicker thinks that Berkeley successfully refutes the...
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May 22, 2010

"In Defense of Ignorant Assertions"

I have posted a new draft to my workbench, "In Defense of Ignorant Assertions." This very short (~7 pages) paper argues, against Timothy Williamson and Keith DeRose, that knowledge is not a norm on assertion, and provides an alternative explanation for the "modified Moore's Paradox" ('p, but I don't know that p'). Check it out, and come back here to let me know what you think in the comments.
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May 11, 2010

Leibniz + Adams = Calvinist Theodicy

As I have said before, it is my belief that revealed theology cannot resolve the Calvinist-Arminian debate. Both views (at least in their moderate forms) are both plausible and orthodox; any reason to prefer one to the other will be a philosophical reason, a conclusion of fallible human reason. With this understanding of revealed theology in mind, I reject Calvinism on philosophical grounds, one of which is that I think Calvinism has an extremely difficult time with the problem of evil. In a recent post, The Problem of Evil 101, at Reason From Scripture, Nathanael Taylor presents a 'Reformed' response...
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April 13, 2010

Morality as a System of Assertoric Imperatives

I recently read Philippa Foot's paper "Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives" for an ethics class. The paper, as the name suggests, puts forward the view (which Foot has since rejected) that the imperatives of morality are merely hypothetical and not, as Kant had argued, categorical. What this means is that morality tells us how we should act if we want certain things, such as justice and the general happiness of humanity. As Foot recognizes, an untoward consequence of this view is that, if it is true, we can't sensibly tell people that they should want justice or the...
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March 9, 2010

Deontic Utilitarianism, Liberty Utilitarianism, and Deontologism

I just came across the following passage by J.J.C. Smart in Smart and Williams' Utilitarianism: For and Against: What Bentham, Mill and Moore are all agreed on is that the rightness of an action is to be judged solely by consequences, states of affairs brought about by the action. Of course we shall have to be careful here not to construe 'state of affairs' so widely that any ethical doctrine becomes utilitarian. For if we did so we would not be saying anything at all in advocating utilitarianism. If, for example, we allowed 'the state of having kept a promise'...
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February 1, 2010

Philosophers' Carnival 103

The 103rd Philosophers' Carnival is now up at Philosophy, etc. with a link to my post on seeing the world through teleology-colored glasses. Also of interest in the new philosophers' carnival is Chris Hallquist's discussion of reformed epistemology and moral realism. In the course of his discussion, Chris gives a narrative of the history of early modern philosophy which is similar to my Berkeley-centric narrative (despite not mentioning Berkeley): Descartes sets up an impossible program, Hume shows that either Cartesian or classical empiricist assumptions lead inevitably to skepticism, and this motivates a 'Reidian' program...
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January 20, 2010

A Berkeley-Centric Narrative

Continuing the discussion of the historiography of modern philosophy, I want to consider an alternative narrative. The standard narrative is Kant-centric: the rationalists and empiricists spend a century squabbling, then Kant comes along and figures out what's right and what's wrong with each view, resulting in the Critical Philosophy. The key figures, apart from Kant, are Descartes, the great founder of the rationalists; Locke, the great founder of the empiricists; and Hume who called attention to the severe failings of both schools. (When I took intro to modern at Penn, this is exactly the way it went: these were the...
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January 12, 2010

Alternative Groupings of Early Modern Philosophers

Last month, there was some blog discussion about historiography and teaching methods in early modern philosophy. The standard story is evidently due to Hegel, and continues to be standard despite being unpopular among specialists in history of modern. It groups modern philosophers before Kant as follows:
Rationalists
Descartes
Spinoza
Leibniz
Empiricists
Locke
Berkeley
Hume
Dana McCourt, blogging at The Edge of the American West...
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December 2, 2009

Gupta and Idealism: My Project for the Next Two Weeks

It's been a while since I posted anything, and even longer since I posted anything other than Aristotle quotes - I have been busy trying to get my term papers underway. Since I don't expect to have any more time in the near future than I have had in the recent past, I thought I would keep things going around here by posting an outline of one of my projects. Below is a very rough draft of an introduction to one of my two papers (it doesn't have a working title yet) which describes what I hope to accomplish. Comments...
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November 12, 2009

Best Recent Books For and Against Religious Belief

Right now there are two very active comment threads on this blog: the first discussing whether or not I should read The God Delusion and the second listing philosophical science fiction stories. As such, I thought I would combine the religious discussion with the successful attempt at blog bibliography by asking readers to list the best recent books for an against religious belief. I will admit that I actually haven't read any of the books below all the way through; I list them because they are commonly excerpted in philosophy of religion readers (I have read excerpts of most of...
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November 9, 2009

What Caused God?

In comments to my post on Dawkins and the Philosophers, atheist blogger Jonathan West has been pushing back against Michael Ruse's claim that Dawkins' prominent use of the "what caused God?" question is, as Jonathan puts it, 'fatuous.' Jonathan has also pushed this point in a recent blog post which considers this question in light of Swinburne's 'necessary being' arguments in The Existence of God. I will first make a few remarks about Swinburne's work in this area, and then proceed to show why the "what caused God?" question is indeed confused. To be fair, I admit...
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November 7, 2009

Subjunctive Phenomenalism and Logical Construction Idealism

Within the last week, I have seen the same mistake in two different recent books on the philosophy of perception: According to phenomenalism, objects are (in John Stuart Mill's excellent phrase) "permanent possibilities of sensation"; they are, in a more recent idiom, "logical constructions" of sense data. (Alva Noë, Action in Perception, 79) Berkeley observed that the philosophical conception that the objects of direct awareness are sense-data (or, in Berkeley's terminology, "ideas") is perfectly compatible with the commonsense conception that the objects of direct awareness are ordinary things (e.g., tomatoes). We can accept both, Berkeley argued, if we recognize the...
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November 5, 2009

Dawkins and the Philosophers

I am periodically asked by my fellow Christians how Christians should respond to Richard Dawkins. I confess to being puzzled by the question of how I personally should respond to Dawkins. This is because a great many non-philosophical atheists take his word as Gospel, and a great many Christians are troubled by his arguments and assertions, but the fact of the matter is that, on the intellectual merits, Dawkins is simply not worth the effort of refuting. In philosophy, it is our practice, in arguing against positions, to target the best version of the view. This is why, for instance,...
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November 2, 2009

Does 'The Desk is Black' Express a Proposition?

According to standard versions of subjunctive phenomenalism, such as the version developed by C. I. Lewis, sentences purporting to be about physical objects can be analyzed into long conjunctions of subjunctive conditionals having to do only with sense data and voluntary actions. It's very difficult to actually state these conditionals, but they are supposed to say things like 'if I'm in such and such a condition, and I do X, I will experience Y'. Alva Noë is not a phenomenalist, but he expresses some similar ideas about the nature of perception. Specifically, Noë argues that perception does not involve the...
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October 25, 2009

Speaking Loosely

Philosophers often use such phrases as 'strictly speaking' or 'in metaphysical rigor' before saying things that might sound outrageous. For instance, many philosophers have denied the existence of entities which everyone 'knows' to exist, such as chairs, or minds, or numbers. The philosopher will almost always prefix such a denial with this sort of modifier. The opposite of speaking strictly is speaking loosely. In early modern philosophy, the 'strict and philosophical' mode of speech was often contrasted with the 'loose and popular' mode. Other philosophers might use the modifier 'strictly and literally.' What is the point of making these qualifications?...
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October 13, 2009

Leibniz's Theistic Case Against Humean Miracles

Most of the recent philosophical literature on miracles focuses on Hume's argument against belief in miracles in EHU 10. There, Hume asserts that all miracles are "violation[s] of the laws of nature" (10.12) and argues that we could never be justified in believing in such events. Call these Law-Breaking Events (LBEs). As Hume recognizes, being an LBE cannot be sufficient for being a miracle; miracles must have the right kind of theological/religious significance. Hume thus gives in a footnote a more precise definition: "A miracle may be accurately defined, a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition...
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October 7, 2009

Quote of the Day: Robert Adams on Contextualist History of Philosophy as Philosophy

I believe that historical accuracy and careful attention to the historical context are important to the philosophical as well as the historical value of work in the history of philosophy and, conversely, that philosophical argument and critique are important for historical understanding of philosophy. One reason for the philosophical importance of patient and careful attention to the actual meaning of Leibniz's writings in their historical context is that he was indeed a great philosopher, great enough that an arbitrary interpretation of his work, more relevant to our historical context than to his, is unlikely to be as interesting philosophically in...
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October 6, 2009

Quote of the Day: Australians Against Bullshit

"Analytic philosophy is all about bullshit detection, and we [Australians] are very good at that." - Fiona Cowie, as quoted in The Australian.
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September 22, 2009

Philosophical Science-Fiction Stories: A Preliminary List

One of the main ways I was turned on to philosophy was via science-fiction, and I continue to be a big science-fiction enthusiast. I am most interested in the classic (c. 1935-1960) short stories, especially those of Theodore Sturgeon. I have been reading through the new Wiley-Blackwell Science Fiction and Philosophy volume, ed. Susan Schneider. This is a good collection of philosophical writing - both from the professional literature and from more popular writers - on topics that have a direct and obvious relation to popular works of science-fiction, with some great short fiction (including Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder"...
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September 17, 2009

Quote of the Day: Berkeley on Combining Ideas Into Objects

One of the big questions in Berkeley interpretation is how and by whom ideas or experiences get put together to form objects. (See, for instance, the end of Margaret Atherton's recent paper "'The Books Are in the Study as Before': Berkeley's Claims About Real Physical Objects".) I've just noticed an interesting passage in Berkeley that ought to be really important to this discussion, though I don't think I've seen it quoted in this connection: [I]t ought to be considered that number (however some may reckon it amongst the primary qualities) is nothing fixed and settled, really existing in things themselves....
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September 8, 2009

Quotes of the Day: Berkeley and 'Functional Role Semantics'

The second approach [to intentionality on the computational model of cognition] is known as functionalism (actually, "functional role semantics" in discussions of meaning) in philosophy, and as procedural semantics in cognitive psychology and computer science. Functionalism says that what gives internal symbols (and external symbols too) their meanings is how they function ... This picture can be bolstered by a consideration of what happens when one first learns Newtonian mechanics. In my own case, I heard a large number of unfamiliar terms more or less all at once: "mass", "force", "energy", and the like. I never was told definitions of...
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August 31, 2009

Quote of the Day: Nadler on Arnauld on the Church's Authoritativeness

I have recently been involved in an interesting discussion on the authority/authoritativeness of the Church over at Called to Communion. In light of this, I thought I would post a selection I came across today on the position of Antoine Arnauld, the French Jansenist theologian and Cartesian philosopher, on this question: Like all Jansenists, [Arnauld] was accused of Calvinism and political subversion. In 1656 he was excluded from the faculty of the Sorbonne for his refusal to submit to the Church on the issue of five propositions condemned as heretical in the encyclical Cum occasione (1653), and which the Pope...
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August 24, 2009

External Coherence and the Reality of The Matrix

David Chalmers writes: I think that even if I am in a matrix [i.e. any computer simulation similar to the one depicted in The Matrix], my world is perfectly real. A brain in a vat is not massively deluded (at least if it has always been in a vat) ... Philosophers have held this sort of view before. The 18th-century Irish philosopher George Berkeley held, in effect, that appearance is reality ... If this is right, then the world perceived by envatted beings is perfectly real: they have all the right appearances and appearance is reality ("The Matrix as Metaphysics"...
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August 8, 2009

On Pop Philosophers

What exactly is a pop philosopher, and what distinguishes a pop philosopher from a philosopher simpliciter? This question has been on my mind due to trying to explain to people why certain very good pop philosophers, such as C.S. Lewis, are nevertheless not very good philosophers. I will try here to explain what I take the difference to be. It should first be noted that both 'philosopher' and 'pop philosopher' are agency nouns. As such, they are attributed accidentally (inessentially) to a person in virtue of her involvement in certain activities: one person is called a 'butcher' in virtue of...
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July 22, 2009

The Master Zombie Argument

Berkeley's so-called 'Master Argument' and Chalmers' 'Zombie Argument' are two famous arguments that turn on the relationship between conceivability and possibility. I have been thinking for some time about an amusing (and perhaps somewhat troubling) way of putting the two together. First, let me give simplified versions of the two arguments. The Master Argument (MA): (MA1) Whatever is conceived is conceived by some mind. (MA2) Whatever is conceived by a mind is in that mind. Therefore, (MA3) Nothing can be conceived that is not in a mind. (MA4) Whatever is inconceivable is impossible. Therefore, (MA5) It is impossible for anything...
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July 6, 2009

Quote of the Day: The Praying Agnostic

There is no reason why someone who is in doubt about the existence of God should not pray for help and guidance on this topic as in other matters. Some find something comic in the idea of an agnostic praying to a God whose existence he doubts. It is surely no more unreasonable than the act of a man adrift in the ocean, trapped in a cave, or stranded on a mountainside, who cries for help though he may never be heard or fires a signal which may never be seen.      - Anthony Kenny, The God of the Philosophers,...
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June 21, 2009

Intelligent Design and Scientific Instrumentalism

John Beaudoin's recent paper "Sober on Intelligent Design Theory and the Intelligent Designer" contains the following fascinating remark in a footnote: [William] Dembski has suggested that the designer referred to in ID theory need not be real: it could in principle be treated by design theorists as a mere useful fiction, if that should better fit with a particular design theorist's philosophy of science. Beaudoin cites Dembski's No Free Lunch, p. 15, and The Design Revolution, p. 65. I haven't bothered to read too much on the whole ID thing because it is not closely related to my main philosophical interests and from a theological/religious perspective seems like a mere distraction. Furthermore, most ID types seem to me to exaggerate the problems of 'orthodox' evolutionary biology...
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January 23, 2009

How Putnam Defeats Descartes' Demon

A little while back, I wrote a post describing Cartesian demon skepticism as a form of 'adversarial epistemology'. The idea is that Descartes' thought experiment can be conceived of as a game with two players: the meditator and the demon. The meditator selects a process for forming beliefs from perceptual experiences, and the demon knows what process the meditator has selected, and controls all of the perceptual experiences. If the meditator ends up with mostly true beliefs, she wins. Otherwise, the demon wins. Now, I mentioned at the bottom of that post that this way of framing the problem is helpful...
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January 19, 2009

Alex Byrne on Contemporary Debate About the Existence of God

The latest edition of the Boston Review is running an article by MIT philosopher Alex Byrne on the state of philosophical debate about the existence of God. For a popular article, it is in many ways quite good. It focuses on the ontological argument and the teleological argument (although it doesn't consider versions of the latter like the one I advocate), which are probably the two most interesting of the traditional arguments, and it has interesting things to say about each of them. I do, however, have a few complaints. First, early in the article we find this colorful phrase...
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January 9, 2009

Quote of the Day: A Summary of Berkeley's Mature Doctrine of Signs

Although the details are sketchy, Berkeley's basic point is clear: A sign may be significant not because it marks an idea, or even because it can be traced to something with which we are immediately acquainted, but because it is a working part of a system of signs that makes a genuine difference to our lives - to our thoughts, actions, and emotions. (Kenneth P. Winkler, "Berkeley and the Doctrine of Signs" in Winkler, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Berkeley, p. 151) This is Winkler's summary of Berkeley's mature "doctrine of signs" as developed in Alciphron 7. By the way,...
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January 5, 2009

The Problem of Analyticity

The new quarter has begun, and I have just finished reading Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism". One of Quine's chief purposes here is to argue that the difference between 'analytic' and 'synthetic' truths is one of degree, and not of kind, so that there is no neat division between the two. I want discuss this difficulty here, although I shall treat it slightly differently than Quine does. Anyone who has been exposed to post-Kantian philosophy is familiar with the distinction between the analytic and the synthetic. For instance, 'no bachelor is married' is an analytic truth...
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December 22, 2008

Cartesian Demon Skepticism as 'Adversarial Epistemology'

In one of my computer science classes in undergrad, we discussed a particular way of thinking about the efficiency of an algorithm, which the professor called 'adversarial upper bounds'. The idea was to suppose that someone knows the 'guts' of your algorithm - exactly how it works - and that person is trying to make your algorithm take as many steps to complete as possible. The upshot was that sometimes with this kind of system inserting some randomness will give you a better expectation value. For instance, suppose I am trying to find a route (just any route) from A...
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November 20, 2008

What Is Composition?

I am currently doing research for a term paper in which I will argue that composition requires a 'principle of unity'. That is (to a first approximation), that given some objects, the xs, there cannot be any y which has all and only the xs as parts unless there is some feature of the world which bestows some degree of unity or oneness on y. I hope to argue that this is a conceptual truth - that is, that it flows from what we mean by composition. I haven't finished reading up on the subject yet, so there may already...
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November 15, 2008

Quote of the Day: Beer and Philosophy

"The claim that atoms arranged baseballwise fail to compose a baseball might be hard to swallow. But it goes down like draught Guinness compared to the claim that baseballs are simples." - Trenton Merricks, Objects and Persons, p. 63. Some context: so-called 'folk ontology' (i.e. 'commonsense' beliefs about what sorts of things there are, modified by just a bit of modern science) claims that there are a bunch of atoms bonded together in a spherical region which compose an object called a baseball. Merricks is arguing that, while all of those atoms exist, there does not exist, in addition to...
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October 14, 2008

Minimalist Ontology and Familiar Object Talk

I have just finished reading Mark Johnston's 1992 paper, "Constitution is Not Identity," reprinted in Michael Rea's Material Constitution: A Reader. After arguing against a variety of theories of material constitution, Johnston claims that, with regard to our talk about familiar objects, "the distinction it embodies is acceptable as it stands and what is bogus is the conception of justifying our practice which requires that, for the distinction to be justified, the difference between an F and its constituting matter must be a deep metaphysical difference secured by an extra ingredient of the F." (Rea, p. 58) Johnston calls the person who holds this view 'the Minimalist'...
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October 8, 2008

Baber on the Real Presence

Some of the papers to be presented at the Society of Christian Philosophers, Pacific Division Conference have now been posted. Mine isn't up yet, but I will provide a link when it is. For now, I want to point readers to a paper by the University of San Diego's Harriet Baber which she has entitled simply "The Real Presence". We have previously discussed here the difference between transubstantiation and real presence. Baber describes this quite nicely in her introduction...
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September 21, 2008

Quote of the Day: Plato on Opinion and Knowledge

Following up on the last post, I thought it would be helpful to go back to Plato to provide another view on the subject. Socrates and Meno are discussing the nature of virtue, whether it is a form of knowledge, and whether it can be taught: SOCRATES: So true opinion is in no way a worse guide to correct action than knowledge. It is this that we omitted in our investigation of the nature of virtue, when we said that only knowledge can lead to correct action, for true opinion can do so also. ... MENO: That appears to be...
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Is Deduction Justification-Preserving?

There is a popular class of theories of epistemology called "Justified True Belief" (JTB) theories. According to these theories (which have their ancestor in Plato) a belief counts as knowledge just in case the content of the belief is true and the belief itself is justified. ... The reason I call this a class of theories, rather than a single theory, is that no one can agree on what 'justification' is other than to say that it is that property which, when added to truth, makes a belief knowledge. The Gettier cases are a famous pair of objections to JTB accounts. Many more cases have been added since the original publication in 1963. Now, both of the original Gettier cases and, as far as I know, all of the more recent ones, involve a type of deduction called a vacuous introduction...
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August 30, 2008

Quote(s) of the Day: A Pair of Responses to van Inwagen's "Body Snatching" Account of the Resurrection

Peter van Inwagen famously argued in his 1978 paper "The Possibility of Resurrection" that the only way God can bring a dead person back to life is to raise the very same body. However, if the body has decayed or been cremated, then it doesn't exist to be raised. Therefore, van Inwagen reasons, if Christianity is true, God must, at the moment of death (or immediately prior) surreptitiously remove the dead/dying body and spirit it away somewhere, replacing it with a simulacrum. Otherwise, there could be no afterlife. Unsurprisingly, this has met with some "incredulous stares." Here are a couple...
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June 5, 2008

Representative Realism, Phenomenalism, and "Physical-Talk"

When I wrote a while back about the idealist strategy, I said that the second step was to "argue that our physical statements - both ordinary statements about physical objects and statements about the discipline of physics - are best construed as talking about perception." What I want to do here is to unpack this statement. First, let's examine what the argument is supposed to do and then we'll look at the argument as it appears in a brief section of Berkeley's Three Dialogues. This piece of the argument is a reductio against representative realism...
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March 29, 2008

Berkeley: Phenomenalist or Platonist?

Commentators have long recognized the existence of two distinct strains of thought in Berkeley's discussions of how our perceptions give rise to something that is properly called a world. According to the phenomenalist strain, the world is quite simply composed of perception and it becomes a world, rather than simply an unrelated collection of perceptions, by means of the orderliness with which God causes perceptions. According to the Platonist strain, the world (and each object in it) has an archetype in the divine mind and our perceptions are perceptions of the world because what we perceive is an "ectype" of that archetype...
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February 2, 2008

The Idealist Strategy

There is a particular strategy of argument generally employed by idealists in their arguments against materialism/physicalism/scientific realism and/or substance dualism. The strategy originates primarily with Berkeley. Some of the Parmenides fragments sound similar, but, absent context, it is not possible to determine exactly what he intended. Hume and Kant developed their metaphysical systems largely in response to it, and it is similar to the arguments of the so-called "modern Idealists" which Moore set out to refute. Finally, the strategy is, in recent literature, explicitly adopted in John Foster's The Case for Idealism, which I am currently reading. The strategy goes like this...
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November 30, 2007

What Does Bayesian Epistemology Have To Do With Probabilities?

The answer to the question in the title of this post may seem obvious (after all, isn't Bayesianism all about probabilities?), but I think that the long discussion that followed Lauren's post on van Fraassen's objection to Bayesianism from quantum mechanics shows that it isn't clear at all - or at least, that it wasn't clear to either of us as we were discussing the issue. I think that I now understand why. In this post, I'm going to give three answers to this question, which I will call The Primitivist Account (P), The Kripkean Possible Worlds Account (KPW), and the Lewisian Possible Worlds Account (LPW). This post will discuss...
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October 29, 2007

Berkeley, Computers, and Time

I read a very interesting paper by James Van Cleve today, regarding a pair of arguments originally made by Jorge Luis Borges to the effect that either Berkeley's idealism or Leibniz's principle of the identity of indiscernables could be used to prove the unreality of time. The paper is "Time, Idealism, and the Identity of Indiscernables," Philosophical Perspectives 16 (2002): 379-393. Van Cleve identifies three "axioms of time order" which Borges' arguments are designed to undermine...
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September 25, 2007

"The Ontological Status of Dreams in Berkeleian Metaphysics"

The Dualist 13 (2006) is finally available online, including my paper "The Ontological Status of Dreams in Berkeleian Metaphysics". Unfortunately, the main index site is still badly broken. Hopefully it will soon be fixed. In the meantime, the direct link to my paper works. There are some typesetting errors in the PDF (most importantly: footnote numbering is messed up, and some logical symbols are boxed out), and I haven't seen the print version to know if it contains these errors as well. I was never shown any proofs and I also found some spelling errors, and at least one place where a sentence is missing a word. Such is life. But the content is, I hope more interesting than the form...
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August 20, 2007

Armstrong on Berkeley

I was looking on half.com recently to see if I could find an affordable volume containing Berkeley's Siris last week when I came upon this 1965 collection, Berkeley's Philosophical Writings (ISBN 0020641702 according to half.com; it's apparently too old to have an ISBN printed in it) edited and with introduction by none other than D. M. Armstrong. I was unable to find any further information on the book, but, at half.com prices, decided it was worth buying just to get Armstrong's introduction (and on the off-chance that it contained Siris). Since there was no information on this book available online, and there are more copies still available, I thought I should provide some information myself...
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June 27, 2007

The Teleological Argument

While we are talking a bit about intelligent design, I'd like to take the opportunity to post a little paper I wrote last semester on the teleological argument for the existence of God. The assignment was to give the strongest possible version of the teleological argument, discuss the most important objection, and whether the objection succeeds (and why). The catch: it all had to fit on one page. (This sort of thing is, by the way, a very useful exercise for budding philosophers; I recommend it.) So, without further ado: Teleological arguments for the existence of a divine being attempt to show...
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April 28, 2007

"Common Sense," "Pre-Theoretical Intuitions," and Philosophy

I am presently reading Peter van Inwagen's Material Beings (I'm not sure if it's going to actually help with my very strange philosophy of religion term paper wherein I argue that idealism is compatible with a belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead, or if I'm just procrastinating). In section 10, after denying that there are, in metaphysical rigor, any artifacts (i.e. inanimate macrophysical objects, such as chairs), van Inwagen makes the following remark: Does my position not fly in the face of common sense? I do not think so. This is not because I think that my position is in accord with "common sense," but rather because I do not think that there is any such thing as the body of doctrine the philosophers call common sense...
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April 9, 2007

Libertarian Compatibilism?

In metaphysics, libertarianism is the view that human beings (and other free beings) are free because they can do otherwise. Determinism is the view that the conjunction of the laws of nature with all the facts about the configuration of the world at some time t entail all the facts about the configuration of the world at all times. Compatibilism is the view that free will and determinism are logically compatible, and incompatibilism is the view that they are not. Libertarianism is generally taken to entail incompatibilism, and is contrasted with compatibilist theories of free will. However, in her recent...
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March 26, 2007

The Conjunction of the Armstrong-Laws is God

D. M. Armstrong is the best known proponent of a currently quite popular understanding of natural laws. Laws so understood are, as a result, called Armstrong-Laws, or A-Laws for short. These are distinguished from L-Laws, named for David Lewis. L-laws are identical to regularities in events (but not all regularities are laws). Unlike L-Laws, A-Laws are actual metaphysical entities, which exist independently of their instances. That is, according to this theory, the Law of Universal Gravitation is a thing out there in the universe (not in the mind) which actually makes massive objects move toward one another. The attraction (no...
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March 12, 2007

A Note on Middle Knowledge and Berkeleian Philosophy of Science

A thought occurred to me just now as I was reading the end of Sydney Shoemaker's "Causality and Properties" and thinking, as usual, of a Berkeleian response. What, we ask, are the truth-conditions or truth-makers for statements about natural laws and causality? Shoemaker has a story about properties being defined in terms of dispositions to act a certain way in the presence of certain other properties, and he thinks we can flesh out these statements in this way. For Berkeley, of course, the properties of physical objects can have no causal efficacy. Instead, Berkeley takes these statements to be simple...
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February 24, 2007

Foreknowledge, Free Will, and the Grandfather Paradox

Compatibilism is belief in actions that are both free and determined. Usually, one hears such phrases as "what I will to do, I must do" (I think Hume phrases it something like this) or "I am free to act according to my nature." The idea is that human beings have determinate natures and they act as their natures determine. They are free because nothing outside determines their actions. Theories that posit a more robust freedom of the will are called "libertarian" (no relation to the political theory referred to in my tagline). Usually one hears phrases like "I am free...
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February 7, 2007

Quote of the Day: A Puzzle About Infinity

The following is from William Lane Craig's "The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe". It is part of the defense of premise 2.11 of his version of the kalam cosmological argument, which says that "an actual infinite cannot exist:" Perhaps the best way to bring home the truth of (2.11) is by means of an illustration. Let me use one of my favorites, Hilbert's Hotel, a product of the mind of the great German mathematician, David Hilbert. Let us imagine a hotel with a finite number of rooms. Suppose, furthermore, that all the rooms are full. When a new guest arrives asking for a room, the proprietor apologizes, "Sorry, all the rooms are full." But now let us imagine a hotel with an infinite number of rooms and suppose once more that all the rooms are full...
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February 3, 2007

No Such Thing as an Ontological Free Lunch

In D.M. Armstrong's book Universals: an Opinionated Introduction, he discusses the pros and cons of a number of theories of the metaphysics of properties. Chapter three deals with "resemblance nominalism." According to resemblance nominalism, properties can be accounted for in terms of degrees of resemblance between the various objects having the property. So, for instance, on object is red if and only if it resembles some paradigmatic red objects. This theory is plagued by the "Resemblance Regress." Armstrong quotes Bertrand Russells' version as the "classical exposition" of the difficulty (p. 53): If we wish to avoid the universals...
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July 24, 2006

William Lane Craig on the Historicity of the Resurrection

Over the course of this summer, I've been forming an argument for belie in the Bible. Part 2 of my argument was critically depndent on the claim that "if we accept ... [the] postulate ... that a very powerful being is trying to get our attention, then the most coherent ... [explanation] ... is that ... Jesus did in fact rise from the dead." This is, of course, a fairly modest claim, as it explicitly presupposes a pretty substantial chunk of theology (there is a God, he actually cares what we think/do, he wants us to know about him, etc.). However, some would still dispute it. Some time ago, after reading this post on The Prosblogion, I downloaded the transcript of the debate between William Lane Craig and Bart D. Ehrman on the historicity of the resurrection, and I've just now got around to reading it...
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July 19, 2006

Truth-Makers, Truth-Conditions, and Middle Knowledge

Middle knowledge is a problem that has been bothering me for quite some time now. It goes like this: middle knowledge is knowledge of the truth or falsity of counterfactuals of freedom, where a counterfactual of freedom (sometimes called a counterfactual of creaturely freedom) is a statement about what some agent having libertarian free will would do in a purely hypothetical situation, i.e. one that never has and never will occur. Libertarian free will means that one is free because one could do otherwise than one actually does. So, for instance, if human beings (including me) have libertarian free will...
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July 18, 2006

Why Believe the Bible?
Part 3: Jesus' Witness to the Hebrew Bible

Here, finally, is part 3 of my series on divine revelation. The story so far: part 2 argued that the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth constitute a self-revelation of God to mankind, and that the New Testament documents, and especially the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), constitute generally reliably historical sources as to the content of that revelation. These points will be assumed to have been established (but feel free to comment on the previous post if you want to contest them), and I will now argue that the entirety of the Hebrew Bible is included by reference in this revelation...
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Part 3: Jesus' Witness to the Hebrew Bible"

June 6, 2006

Why Believe The Bible?
Part 2: The Life and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth

Welcome to part 2 of my promised series on divine revelation! My apologies for the long delay (it's been over a month since I first posted my plan of attack), but I've been very busy moving here there and everywhere, and I still don't have all my books and stuff unpacked (nor do I have a desk). According to the plan of attack, this part of the argument "will argue in a manner based heavily on Swinburne that there is good reason to suppose that the life and teachings of the historical person Jesus of Nazareth represent a revelation of...
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Part 2: The Life and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth"

May 13, 2006

What's a Fundamentalist?

Reported without comment: According to Alvin Plantinga, "on the most common contemporary academic use of the term," the word 'fundamentalist' means "stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine." (HT: Chrisendom)...
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May 4, 2006

Why Believe the Bible?
Part 1: Plan of Attack

There has been a lot floating around about the doctrine of inerrancy recently. I posted on this subject not long ago, responding to a post at World of Sven and a lengthy series at Chrisendom. Since then, there has been a second World of Sven post, and also a post from the No Kool-Aid Zone about just how important inerrancy is. This is a problem that I've been thinking seriously about for some time. Actually, I started by asking the question "just why do I believe in the Bible?" then realized that the answer to that question would have a...
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Part 1: Plan of Attack"

April 17, 2006

Biblical Inerrancy

Update (4/17/2006) There seem to have been some errors in my post on inerrancy. (How ironic!) I would like to take some steps to correct these. First: the Council of Nicaea did NOT proclaim that canon of Scripture. This is a widely circulated myth (google it, and see esp. this article). In fact, the canon of Scripture we have was never proclaimed by any ecumenical council, and several books continue to be disputed (see the Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Canon of the New Testament". I'm still working on what this means theologically. Second: as you can see from the comments,...
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March 15, 2006

"Tradition as the 'Platonic Form' of Christian Faith and Practice in Orthodoxy"

I have just posted on my writings page a new essay, "Tradition as the 'Platonic Form' of Christian Faith and Practice in Orthodoxy." This served as my mid-term essay in my class on the Greek Orthodox Church here at DIKEMES in Athens where I am studying this semester. I have attached a short preface explaining the relationship of the views presented in my essay (realizing that the essay is supposed to explain the teaching of the Orthodox Church) to my actual beliefs and my reasons for deciding to publish the essay. Please post here with any comments or objections. If...
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March 2, 2006

Dennett v. Swinburne on the Origin of Religion and the Existence of God

Prospect Magazine has published a series of letters between Richard Swinburne and Daniel Dennett regarding the existence of God and the historical origin of religious belief, following the publication of Dennett's new book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Dennett's book argues that an evolutionary explanation for religious belief exists, and that religion can and should be examined empirically by science with the initial presumption of "methodological naturalism" (i.e. we must assume for the sake of argument that God does not exist in order to take on this investigation). Swinburne argues that no such investigation can be adequately...
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February 20, 2006

Libertarianism and Corporations

One of the key problems of strict (non-consequentialist) libertarianism is how the state is to successfully perform its function of protecting citizens from force or fraud without the funding acquired from confiscatory taxation schemes. The problem is that libertarian commitments in the region of political morality do not permit the government to violate the private property rights which individuals have in the hypothetical "state of nature," and in the state of nature individuals own all of their income, not just what's left after taxes. The government exists to enforce these property rights. Robert Nozick believes (see his book Anarchy, State,...
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January 27, 2006

Persons as Events

Over the semester break, I took some time to look at Peter van Inwagen's paper "Materialism and the Psychological-Continuity Account of Personal Identity" (Philosophical Perspectives 11 (1997): 305-319) and, as I realized that I don't have a good candidate for submission to Monday's Philosopher's Carnival, I thought this would be a good time to write down some thoughts that I had in connection with this paper and (very) broadly Lockean "psychological continuity" accounts of personal identity in general. The aim of van Inwagen's paper is to show that these kind of psychological continuity accounts require the existence of immaterial substances,...
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