Historical Thinkers Archives



More Specifically: "Barnabas" (2) "Dionysius" (3) Albert Einstein (1) Anselm (3) Anthony Collins (1) Antoine Arnauld (4) Aristotle (12) Arthur Schopenhauer (3) Athanasius (2) Augustine (12) Ayn Rand (2) Baruch Spinoza (3) Basil the Great (1) Bertrand Russell (2) Blaise Pascal (1) C. I. Lewis (2) C.S. Lewis (2) Christian Huygens (1) Colin Turbayne (2) Cyril of Alexandria (1) David Hume (16) Edward Stillingfleet (3) Elizabeth Anscombe (1) G. E. Moore (7) G. W. Leibniz (44) Galileo Galilei (2) Gaunilon (1) George Berkeley (88) Gregory of Nyssa (1) Henry Sidgwick (1) Huldrych Zwingli (1) Immanuel Kant (18) Isaac Newton (1) J. L. Austin (1) J. L. Mackie (3) J. N. Findlay (1) Jean-Jacques Rousseau (2) Jesus of Nazareth (10) John Bramhall (1) John Calvin (4) John Chrysostom (3) John Locke (26) John Sergeant (2) John Toland (2) John Wesley (2) John of Damascus (2) Jonathan Swift (1) Kurt Gödel (2) Lodewijk Meijer (1) Ludwig Wittgenstein (3) Margaret Cavendish (1) Martin Luther (2) Nestorius (1) Nicolas Malebranche (7) P. F. Strawson (1) Parmenides (5) Paul Grice (2) Peter Browne (2) Philipp van Limborch (1) Pierre Bayle (2) Plato (21) Protagoras (1) Rene Descartes (12) Roderick Chisholm (1) Samuel Clarke (2) Sergius Bulgakov (3) Sextus Empiricus (1) Socrates (1) Thomas Aquinas (9) Thomas Hobbes (9) Thomas Reid (12) Voltaire (1) William James (1) William King (4) William Paley (1)

September 1, 2014

July 25, 2014

Regarding All Those Possible Arnaulds

One of the main topics of the Leibniz-Arnauld correspondence is the question how, on Leibniz's theory, it can be true that Arnauld might have had children and been a physician rather than being a celibate theologian (see Arnauld's letter of May 13, 1686). One of the curious things that happens in this discussion is that both Leibniz and Arnauld start talking about the many Adams and many Judases and many Arnaulds in the various possible worlds, with Leibniz insisting that none of them is identical to the actual Adam/Judas/Arnauld. In that May 13 letter, Arnauld even speaks of 'several mes',...
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April 23, 2014

Hudson on Skeptical Theism and Divine Deception

The forthcoming Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion is full of interesting stuff! So far, I specially recommend Bishop and Perszyk on alternative conceptions of God and Dougherty and Pruss on apparently unjustified evils as 'anomalies' (in the philosophy of science sense). I have not yet read the last four articles. Here, I want to comment on Hud Hudson's "The Father of Lies?" (This post got longer than I intended, so I've added sub-headings. If you get bored in the middle, please skip to the end. I've also bolded important parts to make for easier skimming.) Hudson's Argument Hudson's central...
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March 26, 2014

March 19, 2014

Quote of the Day: Bayle on the Skeptical Consequences of Multi-Location

[If multi-location is possible] it follows that neither you nor I can be certain whether we are distinct from other men, or whether we are at this moment in the seraglio of Constantinople, in Canada, in Japan, and in every city of the world, under different conditions in each place. Since God does nothing in vain, would he create many men when one, created in various places and possessing different qualities according to the places, would suffice?

- Pierre Bayle, Historical and Critical Dictionary (1697), tr. Popkin, s.v. "Pyrrho," note B


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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 21, 2014

Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World (Doctoral Dissertation)

The final draft of my doctoral dissertation, Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World is now complete, and available here. The defense is scheduled for March 21.
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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 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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December 25, 2013

A Thought for Christmas

The King of the Universe born in a stable can mean nothing less than the total subversion of the established social order. As I was contemplating this point this morning, I was reminded of a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: as King Arthur rides by, one peasant says to another, "look! It must be a king." When the second peasant asks, "how do you know?" the first responds, "he's the only one who hasn't got [dung] all over him." The image of the king is of the clean, the privileged, the wealthy, the insider. But the story...
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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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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 27, 2013

Quote of the Day: Margaret Cavendish on Rational Animals

That all other animals, besides man, want reason, [Descartes] endeavours to prove in his discourse on method, where his chief argument is, that other animals cannot express their mind, thoughts or conceptions, either by speech or any other signs, as man can do: For, says he, it is not for want of organs belonging to the framing of words, as we may observe in parrots and 'pies, which are apt enough to express words they are taught, but understand nothing of them. My answer is, that one man expressing his mind by speech or words to another, doth not declare...
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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 16, 2013

That's Not How We Do Things in the Kingdom of Ends...

The Russian news agency Ria Novosti is reporting (via the LA Times) that an individual in the Russian city of Rostov-On-Don put an end to an argument about Kant by shooting his opponent. (The opponent's injuries are not critical; that means it's ok to laugh, right?) I love the last paragraph of the article: The attacker now faces up to a decade in prison for intentional infliction of serious bodily harm, police said. That sentence would give him time to more thoroughly study the works of Kant, who contemplated a universal law of morality. If our friend spends a little...
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September 9, 2013

"Berkeley's Meta-Ontology: Bodies, Forces, and the Semantics of 'Exists'"

I've posted a new draft to my (recently reorganized) writings page, "Berkeley's Meta-Ontology: Bodies, Forces, and the Semantics of 'Exists'." This paper defends, in a relatively short space, some of the central conclusions which I defend at much greater length in my dissertation, Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World. Here is the abstract of the paper: To the great puzzlement of his readers, Berkeley begins by arguing that nothing exists other than minds and ideas, but concludes by claiming to have defended the existence of bodies. How can Berkeley's idealism amount to such a defense? I introduce resources from...
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June 25, 2013

Vision : Touch :: Written Words : Spoken Words?

In a very interesting, if rather bizarre, paper called "Berkeley's Metaphysical Grammar," Colin Turbayne develops an interpretation of Berkeley's 'language of nature' theory which takes extremely seriously Berkeley's remark, in the New Theory of Vision, "that visible figures represent tangible figures much after the same manner that written words do sounds" (sect. 143). The relation of vision to touch is, in other words, the same as the relation of written English to spoken English. A particular visible idea signifies a particular tangible idea not in the way a word signifies its referent, but rather in the way a written word...
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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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February 23, 2013

Berkeley, Analogy, Matter, and God

On May 15, 1709 William King, archbishop of Dublin, preached a famous sermon (it was really more of a lecture in philosophical theology with a Scripture quotation at the beginning, but this was not too unusual in the Anglican Communion at the time) entitled "Divine Predestination and Fore-knowledg, consistent with the Freedom of Man's Will." The sermon was published shortly thereafter in both Dublin and London and is therefore now available on Google books. (I have written about King before.) King considers three atheistic arguments: the argument from the inconsistency of divine foreknowledge with human freedom, the argument from the...
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January 29, 2013

A Theistic Argument for Compatibilism

One often hears it asserted that most theists are metaphysical libertarians. This seems to be supported, at least in the case of theistic philosophers, by the PhilPapers survey where target faculty specializing in philosophy of religion, who were overwhelmingly more likely to be theists than their peers in other specializations (72.3% for religion specialists vs. 14.6% overall), were also overwhelmingly more likely to be libertarians (57.4% vs. 13.7%). (Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a way to compare theists to non-theists across the board, so we just have this correlation among religion specialists.) Now, I suppose there are some reasons...
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January 15, 2013

A Hypothesis about the History of the Concept of Voluntariness

In Aristotelian physics, natural objects are characterized by their teleology, i.e. their tending toward certain ends. According to St. Thomas, what makes an event a voluntary action is that the subject of the event has knowledge of the end toward which the action is directed. Post-Galileo, physics is not about teleology in this way. Instead, physics is about laws, rules according to which events unfold. Accordingly, many early modern philosophers hold that a voluntary action is an event which unfolds according to a rule which has been adopted by the subject of the event. The clearest statement of this idea...
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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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November 27, 2012

Quote of the Day: Swift on Lawyers

There [is] a society of men among us, bred up from their youth in the art of proving, by words multiplied for the purpose, that white is black, and black is white, according as they are paid. To this society all the rest of the people are slaves. For example, if my neighbour has a mind to my cow, he has a lawyer to prove that he ought to have my cow from me. I must then hire another to defend my right, it being against all rules of law that any man should be allowed to speak for himself....
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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 15, 2012

"Berkeley's Philosophy of Religion"

I have posted a new paper, "Berkeley's Philosophy of Religion," which is my contribution to The Continuum Companion to Berkeley, ed. Richard Brook and Bertil Belfrage. This is an early draft, so comments and suggestions are welcome.
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August 3, 2012

Quote of the Day: Augustine on Philosophy

Many things certainly do I muse upon in this earthly tabernacle, because the one thing which is true among the many, or beyond the many, I cannot find.

- Augustine, City of God, tr. Dods, 12.15


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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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July 20, 2012

Rule Utilitarianism and Divine Command Theory in Berkeley's Passive Obedience

Berkeley's 1712 Passive Obedience is the closest thing to a systematic work of moral theory he ever wrote, and it isn't very close. The overarching argument can be paraphrased as follows: We have a negative moral duty of passive obedience to government. No negative moral duty admits of any exceptions - i.e. we are morally obligated to fulfill our negative duty in absolutely all cases. Therefore, We are morally obligated passively to obey the government in all cases. The work is concerned primarily with the defense of (1) and (2). (A few terminological clarifications. A negative duty is just a...
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July 7, 2012

"Berkeley's Lockean Religious Epistemology" in JHI

My paper, "Berkeley's Lockean Religious Epistemology" has been accepted to Journal of the History of Ideas. This is a direct descendent of the paper I presented at the International Berkeley Conference in Zurich last summer. The paper examines Berkeley's relationship to Locke's conservative religious critics, with focus on Edward Stillingfleet, John Sergeant, and Peter Browne, and argues that, on the questions about faith and reason which exercised these critics, Berkeley self-consciously and intentionally sides with Locke. In accordance with the journal's self-archiving policy, I have made my final draft of the paper available here.
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June 13, 2012

Quote of the Day: Augustine on Bad Science and Bad Biblical Interpretation

In fact, it often happens that even a non-Christian has views based on very conclusive reasons or observations about the earth, heaven, the other elements of this world, the motion and revolutions or the size and distance of the stars, the eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of years and epochs, the nature of animals, of plants, of rocks, and similar things. Now, it is very scandalous, as well as harmful and to be avoided at all costs, that any infidel should hear a Christian speak about these things as if he were doing so in accordance with...
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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 25, 2012

Quote of the Day: What is a Soul?

In my last post, I discussed a variety of conceptions of the soul in the history of Christian thought and of Western philosophy more generally. One of the points I was making is that, for an ancient Greek (or Latin) writer, talking about a 'soul' (Gr. psuche, Lat. anima) does not automatically mean believing in something immaterial. Today (while reading Antoine Arnauld's On True and False Ideas, ch. 24), I came across a passage from Augustine which makes this quite clear. Augustine is arguing that the soul is immaterial, i.e. he's defending substance dualism. Here's how he describes his opponents'...
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May 17, 2012

A Brief History of Christian Conceptions of the 'Soul'

It is sometimes said that Christianity presupposes the existence of a soul, that, due to the progress of science, this view is no longer credible, and that, therefore, Christianity can no longer be taken seriously. It is very probable that there are some combinations of views, widely held among self-identified 'Christians', which can be effectively criticized along these lines. However, there are several puzzling features about this line of thought. The first is that it is not clear what the relevant 'progress of science' is supposed to be. Neuroscience is indeed advancing, but it can hardly be considered so advanced...
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April 7, 2012

The Pseudo-Voltaire Principle

Voltaire famously didn't say, "I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." There is, however, something quite important in the sentiment, which Voltaire of course endorsed, and it can be generalized beyond the case of speech. Call the following the Pseudo-Voltaire Principle: It often happens that there is an agent S and domain of action A such that: (a) S has the exclusive right to make decisions with respect to A, so that it would be morally wrong for anyone to attempt to interfere with S's implementation of her decisions with...
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April 6, 2012

Quote of the Day For Good Friday

The body of the Word, then, being a real human body, in spite of its having been uniquely formed from a virgin, was of itself mortal and, like other bodies, liable to death. But the indwelling of the Word loosed it from this natural liability, so that corruption could not touch it. Thus it happened that two opposite marvels took place at once: the death of all was consummated in the Lord's body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished. Death there had to be, and death for all, so...
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March 27, 2012

"Reid on Character" Now Online!

For those who are subscribed (or affiliated with institutions that are subscribed), my "Thomas Reid on Character and Freedom" is now available online from History of Philosophy Quarterly.
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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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February 6, 2012

Quote of the Day: Kant on the Task of Moral Philosophy

A reviewer who wanted to say something censuring [The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals] hit the mark better than he himself may have intended when he said that no new principle of morality is set forth in it but only a new formula. But who would even want to introduce a new principle of all morality and, as it were, first invent it? Just as if, before him, the world had been ignorant of what duty is or in thoroughgoing error about it. But whoever knows what a formula means to a mathematician, which determines quite precisely what is...
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February 1, 2012

Would Berkeley Endorse the Deflationary Theory of Truth?

In several place, most notably Alciphron 7, Berkeley seems to think that the meanings of many, if not all, terms are given by the rules for correctly applying them. He doesn't seem to mean the conditions under which they are true. Rather, he seems to mean the rules actual speakers apply in deciding to use the word. We're not talking about mere disquotation; we have to give conditions that speakers can actually use when deciding whether to utter sentences. So, to use one of Berkeley's favorite examples, the meaning of the symbol 'i' in algebra is given by the formula...
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January 18, 2012

The Mod Squad

Lewis Powell has announced the formation of The Mod Squad, a group blog devoted to the history of modern philosophy. My first post over there, King's Theory of Election has just gone live. In the future, I will cross-post everything here as I have been doing with my Prosblogion posts, but for now I will just encourage readers to check things out over there.
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January 11, 2012

Berkeley and Motivational Internalism

Motivational internalism is a view about moral language or evaluative language in general and its relation to motivation. According to motivational internalism, if someone says 'x is good' but is not in the least motivated to pursue x, then that person is either insincere or not a competent user of the language. This is not supposed to be a fact about human psychology (that all humans pursue the good), but rather a claim about how the word 'good' works: something good is something which is to be pursued, so if you call something 'good' without taking it to be something...
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December 19, 2011

Christmas in Platonic Context

The important cultural background to the rise of Christianity includes both the Hebrew context of the Old Testament and the context of the Greek culture which was dominant in the Eastern Roman Empire at the time. From the Christian perspective, Athens has quite a lot to do with Jerusalem. I believe there is adequate evidence for this (admittedly controversial) claim in the New Testament; if one is sufficiently traditional to allow the testimony of the Greek Fathers of the early church, then the matter should be beyond any doubt. Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation, of God becoming man...
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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 14, 2011

Berkeley on Miracles and Transubstantiation

It was the custom among 17th and 18th century English philosophers to take as many potshots at the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation as possible. Sometimes it almost seems that a desideratum for a theory of metaphysics is that it should be inconsistent with that doctrine. This desideratum is, of course, easily satisfied: most theories of metaphysics are inconsistent with transubstantiation. All versions of the doctrine require that it be metaphysically possible for flesh to exist under the 'species' of bread, and a conservative interpretation of the doctrine popular in the early modern period further required that numerically the same...
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October 12, 2011

Locke and Berkeley on Cartesian Skepticism

Descartes's First Meditation is one of the most striking texts in the history of philosophy. As anyone who has taught the text can attest, students are immediately gripped by the problem, and often despair of a way out. John Locke was evidently not such a student, for he responds to these doubts primarily with ridicule: If any one say, a Dream may do the same thing [as sense perception], and all these Ideas may be produced in us, without any external Objects, he may please to dream that I make him this Answer, 1. That 'tis no great matter, whether...
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September 14, 2011

Reid on Character in HPQ!

I have just officially received word that my paper, "Thomas Reid on Character and Freedom," will appear in the April 2012 issue of History of Philosophy Quarterly! Unfortunately, the journal has a moderately restrictive archival policy, so I have had to take down the online copy of the paper for now. (If I understand correctly, I can upload it to archives like philpapers and academia.edu after one year, and post it to my own web-site after three.) I'll post a link to the official version when it comes out, so that if you are subscribed, or your university is, you can get to it.
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September 10, 2011

Berkeley, Commonsense, and Surprising Discoveries

Suppose (as happens often) that scientists, or philosophers, or explorers, or whoever, make some sort of surprising discovery, one that appears to be at odds with our commonsense view of the world. How should we react? It seems that there are three possible courses: either one rejects commonsense, or one rejects the alleged discovery, or one attempts to revise and/or reinterpret things to synthesize the two perspectives. An example: periodically results come out in neuroscience which purport to show that some brain event, of which the subject is unconscious, occurs significantly before a subject makes a supposedly free conscious choice,...
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July 21, 2011

Berkeley and Sergeant

John Sergeant was a late seventeenth century English proponent of Roman Catholicism and Aristotelian philosophy. He is now mostly forgotten, though he is occasionally mentioned as a critic of Locke, partially because Locke and Stillingfleet discuss Sergeant's criticisms of Locke in their famous dispute. (Stillingfleet disowns Sergeant's criticisms; Stillingfleet and Sergeant had earlier been embroiled in a theological dispute about the rule of faith.) I mentioned a while ago that I think the Locke-Stillingfleet debate was an important influence on Berkeley. It looks like Sergeant may have been an important influence as well. First, in section 12 of the preface...
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July 14, 2011

Quote of the Day: Hume on Space Travel

I've just returned from watching the last space shuttle launch. We also got to spend several days looking through the excellent museum exhibits at Kennedy Space Center, which I highly recommend. Anyway, all this time spent considering the history of American space flight, its effects on the individuals involved, and the effect it had on international politics, put me in mind of this quote from Hume: In general, it may be affirm'd, that there is no such passion in human minds, as the love of mankind, merely as such, independent of personal qualities, of services, or of relation to ourself...
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July 2, 2011

June 29, 2011

A Short Story About Berkeley's Theory of Vision

On the plane back from Zurich last week I read a very interesting story, "He Who Shapes," by Roger Zelazny. This work won the Nebula for best novella in 1965. The story centers around essentially the same piece of technology depicted in the recent movie Inception: a device that allows two people to share a dream, with one of them, the 'shaper', in control of the dream world. However, unlike Inception, in which the technology is used primarily for corporate espionage, in "He Who Shapes" the device is used for psychotherapy. This would be interesting enough, but it gets better:...
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June 13, 2011

Omnipotence and Failure

The famous Stone Paradox asks, 'can an omnipotent being make a stone so heavy he can't lift it?' A simpler question, and one which I think makes the issues clearer, is, 'can an omnipotent being fail?' If a being can fail, then there is something that being doesn't have the power to do, namely, whatever it is it can fail to do. If a being can't fail, then there is something it doesn't have the power to do, namely, to fail. Now, we sometimes have chancy powers/abilities, as, for instance, in J. L. Austin's famous example, the power to sink...
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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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June 9, 2011

2011 International Berkeley Conference

The program for the 2011 International Berkeley Conference, to be held in Zurich a few weeks from now, is now up. I'll be presenting a paper called "Berkeley's Lockean Religious Epistemology," and there are a number of other interesting talks on the schedule from several well-known and less well-known Berkeley scholars. The organizers solicited abstracts from the speakers for the web-site, so I'm sure those will appear shortly.
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June 2, 2011

Miracles and Competence

I'm currently thinking about miracles and laws of nature, because I am working on revising this paper on the subject. Also on my mind is a paper of mine called "Divine Language, Unperceived Objects, and Berkeley's Response to Skepticism" which I will be presenting at the International Berkeley Society group session at the Eastern APA in December. It occurred to me that these two subjects of thought interact in an interesting way. In the Berkeley paper, I argue that we should take quite seriously Berkeley's claim that the laws of nature form the grammar of a language (PHK 108-110), and...
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May 26, 2011

True and Immutable Natures in Descartes's Ontological Argument

In the Fifth Meditation, Descartes argues that "from the fact that I cannot think of God except as existing, it follows that existence is inseparable from God, and hence that he really exists" (CSM 2:46). Caterus famously replied with the 'existing lion' objection (parallel to Gaunilo's 'Lost Island'): we can't think of anything as an existing lion without thinking of it as existing, so the existing lion must exist (CSM 2:72). In fact, Caterus didn't need to add 'existing' at all: existence is a necessary condition for the exemplification of any property whatsoever. Nothing can be red, blue, five feet...
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May 9, 2011

Berkeley and Stillingfleet

I'm increasingly convinced that the debate between Locke and Stillingfleet is important background to Berkeley. Berkeley, like Stillingfleet, thinks that Locke's philosophy leads to 'Socinian scruples' (PHK 95). Furthermore, even in the early works, Berkeley seems to be attacking the 'free-thinkers' (DHP, Pref.), but the only writer he quotes is Locke. This was the behavior Locke complained about in Stillingfleet. Stillingfleet was attacking 'the gentlemen of the new way of reasoning', who, according to Stillingfleet, denied the Trinity (the main target was John Toland), but only Locke is ever quoted. In addition to the fact that the Locke-Stillingfleet correspondence was...
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April 26, 2011

Phenomenalisms, De Re and De Dicto

'Phenomenalism' is the name given to Berkeley's doctrine that the being (existence) of material objects consists in their being perceived (their esse is percipi - PHK 3). This formula is, however, several ways ambiguous. Here I just want to point out one of them. (I have been thinking about these issues in connection with a paper I am writing on the question of whether Leibniz was a phenomenalist, and, if so, of what sort.) The ambiguity I am concerned with here is a de re/de dicto ambiguity. De re is Latin for 'concerning the thing', and de dicto is Latin...
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April 5, 2011

Quote of the Day: Confuting and Convincing

I think that as the proper end of our conference ought to be supposed the discovery and defence of truth, so truth may be justified, not only by persuading its adversaries, but, where that cannot be done, by shewing them to be unreasonable. Arguments, therefore, which carry light have their effect, even against an opponent who shuts his eyes, because they shew him to be obstinate and prejudiced. (Berkeley, Alciphron 4.2) This thought comes back at the end of the book, where Dion observes, "how unaccountable it [is] that men so easy to confute should yet be so difficult to...
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March 10, 2011

Two Bad Footnotes

I found two rather bad footnotes in student editions of early modern texts this week. Both texts are from the Oxford Philosophical Texts (OPT) series. The first makes a rather contentious historical/interpretive claim, and doesn't seem to recognize that it is doing so; the second is an outright error. The first footnote is in the OPT edition of Hume's first Enquiry. In the course of a critique of occasionalism, Hume writes, It argues more wisdom to contrive at first the fabric of the world with such perfect foresight that, of itself, and by its proper operation, it may serve all...
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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 12, 2011

The Target of Leibniz's "Comments on the Book Concerning 'The Origin of Evil'"

Toward the end of his Theodicy, Leibniz included a section which in the Huggard translation has the title "Observations on the Book Concerning 'The Origin of Evil' Published Recently in London." The French title is: "Remarques sur le Livre de L'Origine du Mal, Publie depuis peu en Angleterre." (Note that, unless there is a disagreement between different French printings, 'London' is a mistake for 'England' in the title, but in the first paragraph Leibniz does identify London specifically as the place of publication.) I just spent a considerable amount of time trying to identify the book in question, so I...
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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 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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January 11, 2011

The Nature of the Visible Space in Berkeley's New Theory of Vision

One of the main aims of Berkeley's Essay Toward a New Theory of Vision is to argue that the application of spatial vocabulary ('far', 'near', 'big', 'small', 'right', 'left', etc.) to how things look ("visible objects") is derived from the primary meaning of that vocabulary as applying to how things feel ("tangible objects"). A big object is one you can't fit your arms around. An object looks big when the way it looks makes you think that you probably wouldn't be able to fit your arms around it. It is only by experience that we learn that objects we can't...
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December 21, 2010

Leibniz's Short Proof of Classical Theism

In a single paragraph near the beginning of the Theodicy, Leibniz gives a very compressed version of an argument a contingentia mundi (from the contingency of the world) from which he purports to derive not just the existence of God, but several of the most important traditional divine attributes (from which, Leibniz seems to think, the other divine attributes follow). In this post, I'll try to unpack Leibniz's reasoning. I'm not going to do too much evaluation of the arguments, since this post will be long enough without that; I'll just lay out the arguments as I see them and...
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December 19, 2010

Quote of the Day: Leibniz on True Religion

One cannot love God without knowing his perfections, and this knowledge contains the principles of true piety. The purpose of religion should be to imprint these principles upon our souls: but in some strange way it has happened all too often that men, that teachers of religion[,] have strayed far from this purpose. Contrary to the intention of our divine Master, devotion has been reduced to ceremonies and doctrine has been cumbered with formulae. All too often the ceremonies have not been well fitted to maintain the exercise of virtue, and the formulae sometimes have not been lucid. Can one...
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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 23, 2010

John Locke, Ron Paul, and Airport Security

It has been rather a long time since I wrote on politics. As you can probably imagine, I'm pretty worked up about this whole body scanner business. As recently announced in a post on Homeland Stupidity, Ron Paul and two co-sponsors have introduced a bill in the House which would remove immunity from airport screeners and other federal employees who engage in certain sorts of behavior associated with airport screening. That is, it ensures that the screeners at airports are subject to the same laws regarding battery, sexual assault, child pornography, etc., as everyone else. I think there is something...
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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 21, 2010

A Lame Response to the Problem of Evil

I very rarely say anything negative about Leibniz, especially when it comes to philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. This, however, is just ridiculous: [T]he world is not only the most wonderful machine, but also in regard to minds it is the best commonwealth, by whose means there is bestowed on minds the greatest possible amount of felicity or joyfulness; and it is in this that their physical perfection consists. But, you will say, we find in the world the very opposite of this. Often the worst sufferings fall upon the best men; the innocent (I speak not only of...
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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 21, 2010

"Leibnizian Miracles" in Pomona

I have just officially accepted an invitation to present "A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles" at the Southern California Philosophy Conference, to be held in Pomona Saturday, November 6.
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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 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 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 6, 2010

Implicature and the Interpretation of Foreign Language Texts

I've just read Grice's "Logic and Conversation" (ch. 2 in Studies in the Way of Words) for (I'll admit) the first time. Something that struck me while reading it, which Grice does not explicitly recognize, is that his model helps to explain a phenomenon that causes a lot of trouble when one tries to interpret texts (or speech) in a language in which one is not fully fluent. Grice's basic model works like this: sometimes a speaker says something which, taken in its perfectly straightforward sense, seems quite odd. The oddness (at least in the cases in which Grice is...
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June 20, 2010

Quote of the Day: Theological Warfare

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things and through whom He made the universe. He is the radiance of His glory, the exact expression of His nature, and He sustains all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.     - Hebrews 1:1-3, HCSB When therefore [the author of Hebrews] would show that [the Son] is...
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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 2, 2010

What is the Problem with Empiricism, Realism, and the Way of Ideas?

After discussing my last post offline with Lewis yesterday, I wanted to clarify this claim: "The argument points to serious problems with the combination of empiricism, realism, and the 'way of ideas.'" The problems I have in mind are difficulties with being justified in believing in, or perhaps even capable of expressing, realism. That is, there are certain views that seem natural if one accepts empiricism and the way of ideas which lead to the denial of realism. Here is, I think, the best example. Empiricism is an explanatory program for philosophy of mind which systematically favors explanations of the...
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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 27, 2010

Three Substances, One Property-Instance: A Trinitarian Speculation

I've been using the beginning of my summer to make some progress on some theology books that have been awaiting my attention on my bookshelf. So far, in honor of Pentecost, I read St. Basil On the Holy Spirit, and I am also making some progress through St. John of Damascus' Concise Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. The latter is pretty dense and technical (that comes from being 'concise'); I started it quite some time ago and my progress has been slow. Anyway, as a result of this reading, and also the always interesting discussions on Dale Tuggy's Trinities Blog,...
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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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May 8, 2010

Quotes of the Day: Berkeley and Hume on Unconvincing Arguments

But that all his [Berkeley's] arguments, though otherwise intended, are, in reality, merely sceptical, appears from this, that they admit no answer and produce no conviction. Their only effect is to cause that momentary amazement and irresolution and confusion, which is the result of scepticism. (David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748): sect. 12.1.15) I am not to be persuaded by metaphysical arguments [for the existence of God] ... as they are not suited to my way of thinking they may perhaps puzzle but never will convince me. (Alciphron, the free-thinker, in Berkeley 1732 work by that name, sect....
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April 25, 2010

Quote of the Day: Turbayne on Alleged Refutations of Berkeley

The argument [for idealism] achieves [a proof of the external world] in a most ingenious yet simple way, by accepting the sceptical conclusion of one such as Hylas, that all we can ever know of the external world is certain ideas or appearances, and then admitting, as any consistent empiricist must, that these appearances are real. After all, it is a jest to hold, as do the philosophers, that the things we see and touch are mere illusions.[18] [18] This final step illuminates the irony inherent in Dr. Johnson's notorious ostensive refutation of Berkeley's 'ingenious sophistry', by exclaiming while 'striking...
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April 19, 2010

Kantian Ethics Simplified

It is probably a safe bet that no view which has ever been successfully explained in a blog post can correctly be attributed to Kant. I won't try to falsify that claim in this post. What I will try to do is to present a sketch of a simple (probably too simple) moral theory that shows why I find Kantian ethics attractive. The fundamental principle of this ethical theory is the following definition: Wrongness =df. the property an action has iff it is the direct result of a practical judgment whereby the agent is committed to a practical contradiction. An...
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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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April 2, 2010

Quote of the Day for Good Friday

In honor of Good Friday, I offer the following original translation of some excerpts from the Gospel of John: In the beginning Reason was - Reason was directed toward God, and Reason was God. He was directed toward God in the beginning. All things came about through Him, and none of the things that came about came about apart from Him. In Him was life, and the life was the light of human beings. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not grasp it. ... [Reason] was the true light, which, coming into the world, enlightens every...
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March 27, 2010

How Reductive Theories of Mental Representation Lead to Phenomenalism

It seems initially plausible to suppose that mental representation can be reduced to phenomenal character. That is, we all know that when we think about things we get into certain states of mind, and there is such a thing as what it's like to be in that state of mind. Now, when we think about things, we are representing the world as being in certain ways. It is tempting to suppose that this representing can be explained entirely in terms of the what-it's-like (phenomenal character). According to naive forms of representative realism, this is because that phenomenal experience resembles the...
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March 19, 2010

Locke and Leibniz on Armchair Teleology

[I]f we may conclude that God hath done for men all that men shall judge is best for them, because it is suitable to his goodness so to do, it will prove not only that God has imprinted on the minds of men an idea of himself, but that he hath plainly stamped there, in fair characters, all that men ought to know or believe of him, all that they ought to do in obedience to his will, and that he hath given them a will and affections conformable to it. This, no doubt, everyone will think it better for...
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February 24, 2010

Biblical Literalism as Hyper-Perspicuity

Last night I was at a lecture on science and religion at USC's Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies. (Evidently, we have an Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies. Who knew?) In the course of a lecture with which I otherwise mostly agreed, Fr. Paul Heft connected radical Biblical literalism with the Reformers. This is, of course, strictly false: the Reformers were not literalists in anything like the sense in which twentieth century fundamentalists were. However, it got me thinking about what connection the doctrine of perspicuity, which I was recently discussing on Called to Communion, might have to radical literalism...
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February 8, 2010

A Simple Argument for Idealism

One of Berkeley's key arguments for his idealism (his positive view that the only fundamental entities are minds and ideas) is something like the following: (1)The gardener is justifiably certain that he waters the cherry tree daily. (2)One can be justifiably certain only of facts about one's own mind and its ideas. Therefore, (3)The gardener's belief that he waters the cherry tree daily is a belief about his own mind and/or its ideas. (1) is a 'common sense' premise, which Berkeley thinks we ought to preserve. (2) is supposed to have been shown by the skeptical considerations of Descartes and...
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February 3, 2010

Soteriological Inclusivism

Jeremy has an interesting discussion of soteriological inclusivism up on his blog. He argues, without necessarily endorsing inclusivism, that this view can be best accommodated by a Calvinist understanding of salvation. I want here to first clarify how we should understand inclusivism and why we should take it seriously, and then challenge the assumption that Calvinism is the best way to accommodate the view within a Christian framework. Soteriological inclusivism, as I understand it, is an attempt to endorse both of the following claims: (1) There is only one way of salvation. (2) Some who do not explicitly/consciously/intentionally follow this...
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February 2, 2010

Quote of the Day: G. E. Moore on Philosophical Arguments

It may be thought that my contention is unimportant, but that is no ground for thinking that I am not in the right. What I am concerned with is knowledge only - that we should think correctly and so far arrive at some truth, however unimportant: I do not say that such knowledge will make us more useful members of society. If any one does not care for knowledge for its own sake, then I have nothing to say to him; only it should not be though that a lack of interest in what I have to say is any ground for holding it untrue (G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica, sect. 37).

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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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January 11, 2010

Doing What You Believe to be Right vs. Doing What Is Right

Many, perhaps most, people disagree with the majority of my moral beliefs. When I find myself in a situation to advise such people, I often try to persuade them to adopt my moral beliefs, but if this fails I generally advise people to follow their own considered beliefs, rather than mine. Similarly, where there are disagreements on matters of fact, I take it that it is most important to persuade people to believe according to their own considered evaluation of the evidence available to them. Attempts to show that the evidence best supports my own position are secondary. The reason...
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December 21, 2009

The Mystery of the Incarnation

As we are nearing the end of Advent, I hope that we (Christians) have all been pondering the mystery of the Incarnation. For myself, I have been doing some speculating, connecting the Chalcedonian Definition with some issues I have been studying in Greek philosophy. I mean, in particular, the argument which some scholars have made to the effect that Greek ontology is primarily concerned with the 'is' of predication (see section I of "The Homonymy of Predicative Being"). I have been considering this for some time but have not been confident enough to post it. However, I have just finished...
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November 21, 2009

Quote of the Day: A Science Fiction Thought Experiment in Aristotle

Therefore, however many things appear to come about in different types of material, for instance, a circle in bronze and stone and wood, it seems clear that neither bronze nor stone is part of the substance of a circle, since they can be separated. But even for things that are not observed to be separated, there is no reason why the same results should not follow, just as even if all circles that were seen were bronze, nonetheless bronze would be no part of the form, but it would be difficult to separate them in thought. For instance, the form human is always observed in flesh and bones and these sorts of parts. Are these parts therefore part of the form and the definition [of human]? ...
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November 16, 2009

Quote of the Day: Aristotle on Parmenides

Parmenides seems to speak with rather more insight: for not considering, aside from being, anything that is not worthy to be, he thinks that from necessity it - that is, being - is one, and nothing else ... But being compelled to follow the phenomena, he supposes that it is one according to reason [or: in account], but many according to sense perception (Aristotle, Metaphysics 986b27-33, my translation, after Ross). The surviving fragments of Parmenides speak of a 'path of persuasion' and a 'way of mortal opinion.' These seem to have been two sections of his original poem. In the former, he denies the reality of plurality or change. Puzzlingly...
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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 4, 2009

"A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles"

I have posted a new paper draft to my writings page entitled "A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles". The aim of the paper is to defend a conception of miracles on which no violation, suspension, or circumvention of the laws of nature is required. Comments are welcome.
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November 3, 2009

Miraculous Early Modern Blogging!

As previously mentioned, I am currently working on a paper entitled "A Leibnizian Theory of Miracles". After a few more rounds of edits, I will post a draft, so stay tuned. In the meantime allow me to point you to a few miraculous instances of early modern blogging (both posted today, incidentally)...
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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 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 2, 2009

Quote of the Day: Leibniz Against Hyper-Calvinism

If there are people who believe that election and reprobation are accomplished on God's part by a despotic and absolute power, not only without any apparent reason but actually without any reason, even a concealed one, they maintain an opinion that destroys alike the nature of things and the divine perfections. Such an absolutely absolute decree (so to speak) would be without doubt insupportable. But Luther and Calvin were far from such a belief: the former hopes that the life to come will make us comprehend the just reasons of God's choice; and the latter protests explicitly that these reasons...
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September 18, 2009

Quote of the Day: A Source in Descartes for Berkeley's Visual Language Theory?

We must take care not to assume - as our philosophers [i.e. the scholastics] commonly do - that in order to have sensory awareness the soul must contemplate certain images [i.e. the species] transmitted by objects to the brain; or at any rate we must conceive the nature of these images in an entirely different manner from that of the philosophers. For since their conception of the images is confined to the requirement that they should resemble the objects they represent, the philosophers cannot possibly show us how the images can be formed by the objects, or how they can...
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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 16, 2009

The New Cambridge Berkeley Volume

A brief review of George Berkeley, Philosophical Writings, ed. Desmond M. Clarke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). ISBN: 978-0-521-70762-6. 338 pp. $29.99 on Amazon. I recently acquired a copy of the new Berkeley volume in the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, edited by Desmond M. Clarke. Clarke's selection of texts is quite good. As far as I know, this is the only collection of its kind to include excerpts from Alciphron and Siris, and the excerpts are well chosen. From Alciphron, we have the Dialogue IV's divine language argument for the existence of God, and Dialogue VII's theory...
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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 27, 2009

Reductivism, Eliminativism, and Berkeley's Theory of Physical Objects

In present-day metaphysical discussions it is common to distinguish between 'reductivism' and 'eliminativism' with respect to some class of objects, C. These can be thought of as two different ways of denying the (fundamental, metaphysical) existence/reality of the objects in C. Examples of classes discussed by philosophers in this way include minds, conscious experiences, and macrophysical objects. The two views may be given a linguistic formulation as follows: Linguistic Reductivism (LR): Sentences which appear to assume the existence of the putative objects in C are strictly and literally true, although, in metaphysical rigor, the putative objects do not exist. (The...
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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 23, 2009

The Biblical Origin of Hobbes's State of Nature Theory

Thomas Hobbes is famous for his pessimistic state of nature theory. According to Hobbes, the 'state of nature' (i.e. anarchy) is a "warre of every man against every man" (Leviathan, p. 63 of the 1651 'Head' edition). The concepts of justice or injustice are, according to Hobbes, not applicable in this state of war. This is because injustice is defined as "the not Performance of Covenant" (p. 71). However, "If a Covenant be made, wherein neither of the parties performe presently, but trust one another; in the condition of meer nature ... upon any reasonable suspicion, it is Voyd"...
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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 13, 2009

"Kant's 'Bad' Examples"

I have posted another paper to my workbench, entitled "Kant's 'Bad' Examples". This is the paper I was working on when we were discussing Kant on sexuality (follow-ups here, here, and here). Many contemporary 'Kantian' ethicists ignore or even malign Kant's applied ethics. I argue that this is misguided: when Kant's theory is properly understood, it can be shown that many of his supposedly objectionable conclusions are well supported by it. I consider five of Kant's applications and argue that each of them can be supported by means of his theory of personality and the role it plays...
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June 30, 2009

"The Homonymy of Predicative Being"

I have just posted to my workbench a paper entitled "The Homonymy of Predicative Being." Here is the abstract: Aristotle famously claimed that "being is said in many ways." This has traditionally been understood as a claim about existence. However, the interpretation of Aristotle's theory of being under this assumption has proven problematic. In this paper, I argue for an alternative reading which identifies the core uses of 'being' as copula uses with primary substances as subjects. Comments and criticisms are welcome below....
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June 29, 2009

Quote of the Day: If the Septuagint was Good Enough for Abraham, It's Good Enough For Me!

I'm fond of reminding people that long before there was KJV Only-ism there was LXX Only-ism: a great many early Christian writers (though probably not a majority) not only thought that the LXX was inspired, but that the Hebrew texts had been subsequently corrupted. (LXX, the Roman numeral for 70, is the abbreviation used for the Septuagint, and ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament made a few centuries before Christ.) A few even went so far as to claim that they had been intentionally corrupted by a Jewish conspiracy. Really, nothing is new under the sun. An example which...
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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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May 23, 2009

Kant, Libertarianism, and the Limits of Contract Right

By 'libertarianism' here (and in my tagline) I mean the family of broadly Lockean political theories, mostly articulated in the 20th century, which take private property to be the most fundamental concept for political theory. (Locke himself writes, "'Where there is no property, there is no injustice,' is a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid: For the idea of property being a right to any thing, and the idea to which the name injustice is given, being the invasion or violation of that right; it is evident, that these ideas, being thus established, and these names annexed to...
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May 14, 2009

A Semantic Argument for Phenomenalism

I believe an argument similar to the following can be attributed to Berkeley, but I have too much real work to do to go find the texts to justify it right now. (Which is why we have blogs, where we don't have to adequately justify our assertions!) The meaning of a word is exhausted by the correct conditions of its application. Any speaker S on any given occasion determines whether to utter a given word based entirely on S's subjective state (i.e. factors internal to S). Speakers consistently and non-accidentally use 'plain language' correctly (i.e. 'common sense' is correct). Therefore,...
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May 13, 2009

Quote of the Day: Stillingfleet on the Natural Immortality of the Soul

You [Locke] say, That all the ends of Religion and Morality are secured barely by the Immortality of the Soul without a necessary Supposition that the Soul is Immaterial. I am of the opinion that the great ends of Religion and Morality are best secured by the Proofs of the Immortality of the Soul from its Nature and Properties; and which I think can prove it Immaterial. I do not question whether God can give Immortality to a Material Substance; but I say it takes off very much from the evidence of Immortality, if it depend wholly on God's giving...
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May 7, 2009

Quote of the Day: Leibniz on Survival of Death

One of the quandaries I ran into in writing my paper on Berkeley on resurrection is the question of what the 'revealed' Christian doctrine is supposed to be. In particular, there is the question of natural versus miraculous immortality of the soul. Some writers who seek to defend the Christian doctrine of survival of death assume that it is part of the doctrine that this survival is miraculous. (For a recent example, see Lynne Rudder Bakker's "Persons and the Metaphysics of Resurrection" which appeared in Religious Studies in 2007; James Ross also brought this up in his criticisms of my...
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April 29, 2009

Locke, Berkeley, and 'Common Sense'

John Locke is often portrayed as a 'philosopher of common sense' (or, 'tempered common sense', some say), and George Berkeley as a proponent of a bizarre and novel metaphysics which is radically discontinuous with common sense. However, it is Berkeley, much more than Locke, who is constantly appealing to 'common sense' in support of his views. Why is this? And how is it that Berkeley, with his radical metaphysical claims, purports to be a defender of common sense? The answer, I believe, is that the philosophies of Locke and Berkeley are related to our ordinary beliefs in radically different ways...
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April 18, 2009

Quote of the Day: Aristotle on the Law of Contradiction

The most certain principle of all [is one] it is impossible to be mistaken about ... A [principle] one must have in order to understand any being whatsoever - this is not a [mere] hypothesis! ... Next we will state what this principle is: it is impossible for the same thing at the same time to exist and not to exist in the same [subject] and in the same respect (and however many other [qualifications] we [previously] defined, let them be defined [here] on account of the logical difficulties). ... But we now have accepted that it is impossible for a being to be and not be at the same time, and we showed that this was the most certain of all principles. In fact, some people, because [they are] uneducated, think that even this ought to be proven. [Someone who] doesn't know that it is necessary to prove some things and not others is uneducated...
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April 12, 2009

Quote of the Day: Athanasius on the Destruction of Death

A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Saviour has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those...
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March 22, 2009

Kant's Argument for Monogamy

In my previous post on The Problem of Sex in Kant's Ethics, I ended with Kant's argument for monogamy, on which I declined to offer any commentary. I am going to offer a brief reconstruction here (go back to the previous post for the original text).

The argument can be understood as follows:
  1. Sex involves the use of the other's 'sexual attribute' as a means
  2. It is impermissible (contrary to right) to use what one has no right to
  3. One cannot have a right to the sexual attribute of another without having a right to the whole person...

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March 19, 2009

(Self-)Quote of the Day: A Controversial Claim for Your Consideration

Hobbes's normative theory implicitly commits him to the belief that a constitutionally limited government of the sort that would later be described by John Locke would be a paradise if only it could be achieved and maintained.
    - Kenneth L. Pearce, "Deposing Leviathan: Hobbes and Locke on Grievances Against the State" (working draft)
This is the last sentence of a paper that I just finished my first draft of. (I'm running a little late - it's due tomorrow evening!) As I'm editing, I'll be taking a closer look to try to see whether I've really established a claim this strong...
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March 18, 2009

Hobbes, Locke, and Grievances Against the State

It is a fact of life that people frequently come into conflict in various ways: conflicts both about whether a certain action took place, and about whether that sort of action is acceptable. Thomas Hobbes calls the first of these "a question Of Fact" and the second "a question Of Right" (Leviathan ch. 15). Both Hobbes, the notorious proponent of absolute sovereignty, and John Locke, the great proponent of limited government (can you tell whose side I'm on?), agree that one of the chief reasons for forming governments is to prevent these disputes from leading to violence...
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March 4, 2009

Quote of the Day: Kant Against the Objectification of Women

Kant has something of a reputation as a misogynist. This reputation is not entirely undeserved. However, in his 1775-1780 Lectures on Ethics, Kant gives voice to a line of reasoning which, at least in its general outline, will be familiar to most readers from certain strains of 20th century feminism: There is no way in which a human being can be made an Object of indulgence for another except through sexual impulse ... it is an appetite for another human being ... Because sexuality is not an inclination which one human being has for another as such, but is an...
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March 3, 2009

Dude, Where's My Teleology?

In introducing duties to the self considered as an animal being in the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant writes: There are impulses of nature having to do with man's animality. Through them, nature aims at (a) his self-preservation, (b) the preservation of the species, and (c) the preservation of his capacity to enjoy life, though still at the animal level only. - The vices that are here opposed to his duty to himself are murdering himself, the unnatural use of his sexual inclination, and such excessive consumption of food and drink as weakens his capacity for making purposive use of his...
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February 22, 2009

Quote of the Day: Why Write Political Theory?

I may be asked whether I am a prince or a legislator that I should be writing about politics. I answer no: and indeed that that is my reason for doing so. If I were a prince or a legislator I should not waste my time saying what ought to be done; I should do it and keep silent.

    - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, tr. Maurice Cranston, Introduction to Book I

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February 21, 2009

The Problem of Sex in Kant's Ethics

According to Kant, "Sexual union (commercium sexuale) is the reciprocal use that one human being makes of the sexual organs and capacities of another." (The Metaphysics of Morals, tr. Mary Gregor, p. 61) A thing that is used is generally used for something, and, indeed, in this section Kant mentions two purposes for which "the sexual organs and capacities of another" are used in "sexual union" (he does not say that these are exhaustive): "begetting and bringing up children" is said to be "an end of nature, for which it implanted the inclinations of the sexes for each other," but...
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January 28, 2009

Quote of the Day: Kant Smacks Down Eudaimonism With Some Greek Word Play

If this distinction [between 'pathological pleasure' and 'moral pleasure'] is not observed, if eudaimonism (the principle of happiness) is set up as the basic principle instead of eleutheronomy (the principle of the freedom of internal lawgiving), the result is the euthanasia (easy death) of all morals. (Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, tr. Mary Gregor, p. 143)
For the record, I think that, whether accidentally or intentionally, Kant radically distorts ancient eudaimonism. Eudaimonia doesn't mean 'happiness' in the English sense of that word, which comes from 'hap', meaning 'luck' (as in 'perhaps')...
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January 24, 2009

Kant on Copyright

Regular readers are no doubt aware that I don't believe in intellectual property. That is, I don't believe that you can have property rights in ideas or, generally, in intangibles. I have, however, noted that I support anti-plagiarism laws, and even suspect that they are capable of doing most of the good that so-called 'intellectual property' laws do. (Our current copyright and patent laws, in my opinion, do more harm than good.) Kant, however, has an interesting argument (which is even more or less comprehensible - a rare find in a Kant text!) against the unauthorized publishing of books. The section is fairly short so I will publish the whole thing without authorization...
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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 21, 2009

The Limits of Religious Toleration

In a very sad case out of Wisconsin, the parents of 11 year old Kara Neumann are being prosecuted for reckless endangerment after their daughter died of diabetes. They refused medical care for their daughter on account of their religious beliefs. (They do not belong to the Church of Christ, Scientist, which I believe is the largest religious organization which forbids its adherents from seeking medical care; rather, it appears that they are followers of some internet group by the name of "Unleavened Bread Ministries".) The Neumanns originally entered a constitutional challenge to their prosecution. The judge ruled that...
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January 20, 2009

Topics of Thought for This Quarter

Although I only very rarely post life updates to this blog, it is my custom here to list the subjects I am studying each term because it generally has some bearing on what interesting philosophy I will be blogging about. This quarter I am taking courses on the following topics: Early Modern Social Contract Theory. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. I am already considering a paper topic: grievances against the state. (A timely subject.) Hobbes seems to say that you can't sue a sovereign (whether sovereignty is held by an individual or a group) unless he/she/they intentionally set up a process...
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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 7, 2009

'Contemning the Shame'

I was reading Hobbes today, and came across a word I'm not sure I've ever seen before. At Leviathan 1.6 (p. 24 of the original edition), Hobbes writes: Those things which we neither Desire, nor Hate, we are said to Contemne: CONTEMPT being nothing else but an immobility, or contumacy of the Heart, in resisting the action of certain things; and proceeding from that the Heart is already moved otherwise, by other more potent objects; or from want of experience of them. The word I am talking about, 'contemne' (which was later spelled 'contemn' - I will use this spelling...
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December 24, 2008

Valicella on Private and Public Morality

Bill Valicella of The Maverick Philosopher has an interesting discussion on the distinction between private and public morality. Valicella supposes that there is an inherent tension between any Socratic, Platonic, or Christian ethics and the requirements of a stable state. A couple years ago, in my post on rights, obligations, and abortion (which continues to be one of the most popular posts on this blog) I argued that there was no inherent contradiction, or even tension, between the idea that I have a libertarian right to retaliate for an offense against me, but an obligation of private morality not to exercise that right...
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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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December 4, 2008

The Reason for Berkeley's Anti-Abstractionism

In my post, Does Philosophy 'Trickle Down', I noted that "Berkeley thinks he has discovered two philosophical doctrines which are indeed 'the Chief Causes of Error and Difficulty in the Sciences' and also 'the Grounds of Scepticism, Atheism, and Irreligion.' These are the epistemic/linguistic doctrine of abstraction, and the metaphysical doctrine of corporeal substance." In this post I want to examine how the doctrine of abstract ideas is supposed, according to Berkeley, to lead to "Error and Difficulty in the Sciences ... [and] ... Scepticism, Atheism, and Irreligion."...
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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 16, 2008

Three Varieties of Certainty

'Certainty,' whatever that is supposed to be, would certainly (!) seem to be important in epistemology. Like a lot of important words, it frequently gets thrown around without definition. I know of at least three totally distinct ways of using this term, and the only thing they all seem to have in common is 'very high epistemic status' - i.e. something is certain if we really know it, in some way that is 'better' (more certain!) than ordinary knowledge. I'm going to outline here these three different varieties of certainty. Cartesian Certainty (also called 'demon-proof certainty') is attributed to a...
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November 11, 2008

Does Philosophy 'Trickle Down'?

One of the interesting things about George Berkeley as a historical figure is that he labors under the peculiar belief that he is writing philosophy out of pastoral concerns. I like to illustrate Berkeley's purposes by reference to the subtitles he gave to his works. The Treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge is subtitled, "wherein the Chief Causes of Error and Difficulty in the Sciences, with the Grounds of Scepticism, Atheism, and Irreligion, are inquired into." Berkeley thinks he has discovered two philosophical doctrines which are indeed "the Chief Causes of Error and Difficulty in the Sciences" and also "the Grounds of Scepticism, Atheism, and Irreligion." These are the epistemic/linguistic doctrine of abstraction, and the metaphysical doctrine of corporeal substance...
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October 30, 2008

Quote of the Day: Berkeley's Own Summary of the Argument from Representational Realism to Skepticism

In a previous post, I summarized Berkeley's argument against representational realism. I just came across a very good passage in the Dialogues where Berkeley himself gives a summary of his argument that representational realism leads to unpalatable skeptical consequences: It is your opinion, the ideas we perceive by our senses are not real things, but images, or copies of them. Our knowledge therefore is no farther real, than our ideas are the true representations of those originals. But as these supposed originals are themselves unknown it is impossible to know how far our ideas resemble them; or whether they resemble...
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October 23, 2008

The Simplicity of Berkeley's Argument Against Representative Realism

A passage in T.E. Jessop's introduction to the Siris reminded me today of how simple Berkeley's argument against representative realism is. Jessop writes, "Such archetypes - material things as understood by the Cartesians and Locke - [Berkeley] rejected on the epistemological ground that they require a representative theory of perception, which logically entails scepticism, since it excludes the possibility of comparing the sensed object and the supposed 'real object'." (Berkeley, Works, ed. Luce and Jessop, vol. 5 p. 17) The argument, in all its simplicity, goes like this: Representative realism holds that, for each object of our experience, there exist...
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October 22, 2008

"Can Berkeley's God Raise the Same Body, Transformed?'

My paper "Can Berkeley's God Raise the Same Body, Transformed?", which is to be presented at the Society of Christian Philosophers, Pacific Division conference next week is now available on the conference web-site. I would greatly appreciate any comments or criticisms.
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October 17, 2008

Quote of the Day: Why do Relativists Write Books?

The sophist Protagoras of Abdera (c. 490-420 BC) wrote a book entitled Truth (which does not survive) in which he argued that 'man is the measure of all things;' an early form of relativism. In Plato's Theaetetus, Socrates gives the following review of Protagoras' book: Well, I was delighted with his general statement of the theory that a thing is for any individual what it seems to him to be; but I was astonished at the way he began. I was astonished that he did not state at the beginning of the Truth that 'Pig is the measure of all things'...
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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 26, 2008

Quote of the Day: Appearances and Judgments About Appearances

And when we question whether the underlying object is such as it appears, we grant the fact that it appears, and our doubt does not concern the appearance itself but the account given of that appearance, - and that is a different thing from questioning the appearance itself. For example, honey appears to us to be sweet (and this we grant, for we perceive sweetness through the senses), but whether it is also sweet in its essence is for us a matter of doubt, since this is not an appearance, but a judgement regarding the appearance. (Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of...
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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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September 18, 2008

Society of Christian Philosophers, Pacific Division Conference

A paper of mine entitled "Can Berkeley's God Raise the Same Body, Transformed?" has been accepted to the Society Christian Philosophers, Pacific Division Conference on "Mind, Body, and Free Will" at UC Riverside Oct. 30 - Nov. 1. The conference organizers plan to post papers online, and I will provide a link when they do. In the meantime, I've discussed some of the material in the paper here and here. My official abstract is as follows: Orthodox Christianity affirms a bodily resurrection of the dead. That is, Christians believe that at some point in the eschatological future, possibly after a period of (conscious or unconscious) disembodied existence, we will once again live and animate our own bodies...
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September 4, 2008

Elsewhere on the Web

I'd like to draw all of your attention to a couple of sites. The first is Houyhnhnm Land (no, I don't have any idea how to pronounce 'Houyhnhnm' or what it means), a resource for the study of early modern thought created by Brandon Watson (of Siris fame). I have just finished my first post to the Houyhnhnm Land guest blog, "Berkeley and Ordinary Objects". In the future, I plan to cross-post everything, but for now I am going to tell all of you to click on over there and explore the site. Secondly, Logical Space, the brain child of Lewis Powell...
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September 2, 2008

"Streams of Living Water"

«ἐάν τις διψᾷ, ἐρχέσθω πρός με καὶ πινέτω. ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμέ, καθὼς εἶπεν ἡ γραφή, ποταμοὶ ἐκ τῆς κοιλίας αὐτοῦ ῥεύσουσιν ὕδατος ζῶντος.» - John 7:37b-38

"If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him." - John 7:37b-38, HCSB

"But where hath the Scripture said that 'rivers of living water shall flow from his belly'? Nowhere. What then meaneth, 'He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture saith'? Here we must place a stop, so that the, 'rivers shall flow from his belly,' may be an assertion of Christ." - St. John Chrysostom (tr. Philip Schaff), Homily on John 7:37-44

I just read this in Chrysostom, and I don't think I've ever seen this resolution anywhere...
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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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May 3, 2008

Quote of the Day: Plato on Knowing that You Don't Know

THEAETETUS: Well, do you see what we're looking for?
VISITOR: I think I see a large, difficult type of ignorance marked off from the others and overshadowing all of them.
THEAETETUS: What's it like?
VISITOR: Not knowing, but thinking that you know. That's what probably causes all the mistakes we make when we think.
THEAETETUS: That's true.
VISITOR: And furthermore it's the only kind of ignorance that's called lack of learning.
THEAETETUS: Certainly.
VISITOR: Well then, what should we call the part of teaching that gets rid of it?
THEAETETUS: The other part consists in the teaching of crafts, I think, but here in Athens we call this one education...
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April 11, 2008

Language and the Metaphysics of the Material World

Let me begin with a reminder: be sure to get your posts in for the 67th Philosophers' Carnival by tomorrow (Saturday) midnight (Eastern time), and remember that the theme is idealism. I've received many good posts already (probably more than I'll be able to include), but only a handful are idealism-themed. Having said that, let me begin my own idealism-themed post. In my paper "The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley" (which I never tire of linking to, because it is much better thought out, developed, and argued than the mostly half-baked stuff I post on this blog), I spend...
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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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March 15, 2008

Berkeley's Theory of Reference and the Critique of Matter

George Berkeley is well known for his critique of matter. By "matter" he means Locke's "material substratum." At the end of the Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous he actually does acknowledge that one might use the word "matter" simply to mean "the stuff of the physical world" (that's not a direct quote) and he doesn't object to this, so he actually isn't opposed to the way the word was used in your physics or chemistry classes, but only to the way it was used in early modern metaphysics. The critique of matter is tied up in the critique of...
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March 7, 2008

Quote of the Day: Chrysostom on Private Scripture Reading

I desire to ask one favor of you all, before I touch on the words of the Gospel; do not you refuse my request, for I ask nothing heavy or burdensome, nor, if granted, will it be useful only to me who receive, but also to you who grant it, and perhaps far more to you. What then is it that I require of you? That each of you take in hand that section of the Gospels which is to be read among you on the first day of the week, or even on the Sabbath, and before the day...
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February 18, 2008

A Moderate and Plausible Arminianism, Based on John 6:40 and Romans 8:29

My position on the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is that the more moderate forms of each are both plausible and orthodox. Hyper-Calvinism can slide into the heresy of fatalism, or the denial that God loves all people; hyper-Arminianism slides, of course, into Pelagianism. It is only the moderate forms of each which are, I say, plausible and orthodox. These moderate forms, I hold, represent two different man-made philosophical and theological systems designed to uphold the same doctrines revealed in Scripture. I believe that when the disagreement actually reaches all the way down to Biblical hermeneutics, rather than staying in...
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February 16, 2008

Quote of the Day: Schopenhauer on the Absurdity of Materialism

The objective method [i.e. the method of philosophy which starts from the object and proceeds to the subject] can be developed most consistently and carried farthest when it appears as materialism proper. It regards matter, and with it time and space, as existing absolutely, and passes over the relation to the subject in which alone all this exists. Further, it lays hold of the law of causality as the guiding line on which it tries to progress, taking it to be a self-existing order or arrangement of things, veritas aeterna, and consequently passing over the understanding, in which and for...
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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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December 26, 2007

Aristotle and Transubstantiation (Some More)

Tim Troutman (formerly known as "The God Fearin' Fiddler") of The God Fearin' Forum has responded to my latest discussion of Eucharistic theology and Aristotle. Perhaps I have not been very clear. Whatever the case, Tim persistently misunderstands both my claim and my argument for it. I am going to try to make what I am claiming very clear here:
The doctrine of transubstantiation, as expounded by Trent, is rendered incoherent by any system of metaphysics sufficiently different from Aristotle's.
This should not be confused with any of the following claims, which I do not make...
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November 29, 2007

Quote of the Day: Schopenhauer on The History of Idealism

Now as, notwithstanding the transitory, isolated nature of our representations with respect to their immediate presence in our consciousness, the Subject nevertheless retains the representation of an all-comprehensive complex of reality, as described above, by means of the function of the Understanding; representations have, on the strength of this antithesis, been viewed, as something quite different when belonging to that complex than when considered with reference to their immediate presence in our consciousness ... This view of matter, which is the ordinary one, is known under the name Realism. On the appearance of modern philosophy, Idealism opposed itself to this...
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November 4, 2007

Patristic Carnival V

Patristic Carnival V is up at The God Fearin' Forum, with a link to my post on "Dionysius". It is a truly ecumenical venture, and I recommend that you all check it out. Notable posts include: A collection of quotes on the Eucharist at The Byzantine Anglo-Catholic...
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November 2, 2007

Transubstantiation vs. Real Presence

The God Fearin' Fiddler has a post up on the historical significance of transubstantiation which has led to some interesting discussions. The principle problem with this post and the discussion that follows it, however, is that no one seems to understand the difference between transubstantiation and the Real Presence. Unfortunately, I'm not an expert on this either, but I do think I know enough to clear up some historical and metaphysical confusion. I am going to use two principal sources - session 13 of the Council of Trent, and the relevant article from the Catholic Encyclopedia - to explain the historical development and specific content of the doctrine of transubstantiation, and then attempt to show two things...
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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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October 26, 2007

"The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley"

My paper "The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley" is now available on my writings page. An earlier version of this paper served as my undergraduate honors thesis, and a somewhat reduced version of it has been accepted for publication by Religious Studies. I haven't heard anything about what issue it will appear in. This paper discusses Berkeley's theory that our sense perceptions (especially visual perceptions) form a language by which God communicates with us, and asks how we are to interpret this language. In particular, it argues...
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October 9, 2007

"Dionysius" on God-Talk

A collection of writings have come down to us under the name "Dionysius the Aereopagite" (after Acts 17:34) which effectively form the foundation of the tradition of Christian mysticism. Most scholars today believe the writer lived in Syria, c. 500 AD. The general consensus is that he couldn't have written earlier than this because he seems to have been influenced by 5th century Neo-Platonists. All this by way of background; I don't have any particular opinion as to when the writer lived or by whom he was influenced. The principle work of "Dionysius" is only a few pages long and...
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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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August 13, 2007

Original Sin-Original Guilt, Christ's Righteousness-Imputation of Righteousness

Peter Kirk has posted a discussion of the Latin text Augustine was familiar with and its effect on his doctrine of original sin. The claim is, effectively, this: Augustine believed in the doctrine of original guilt because of an ambiguity introduced by an excessively literal Latin Bible which persists in the Vulgate and later theologians have a propensity to read original guilt into the text of Scripture because Augustine did. The passage in question is the end of Romans 5:12. The English translations are pretty much all the same: "in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned." But Augustine's translation says...
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July 7, 2007

On Worship and Veneration

Some time ago, I posted on icons and discussed my attempt to understand the difference between what Catholic and Orthodox believers call "relative worship" or "veneration" and the "true worship" which belongs to God alone. I mostly failed to understand any real difference here. Today, I did something I should have done a long time ago: I read the decree of the Second Council of Nicea (the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which reinstated the veneration of icons). I found something interesting. In the Greek, the council makes a distinction between veneration and worship, as is to be expected. However, the words used are the Greek...
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July 5, 2007

Paper #2: For Real This Time

Before I left last week, I sent in to Religious Studies the final draft of my paper "The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley," which they have accepted for publication. The paper discusses the meaning of the "universal language of the Author of Nature" Berkeley argues for in the Essay Toward a New Theory of Vision and elsewhere. Essentially, the question I try to begin to answer is "if sense perception is a language by which God speaks to us, then what is he saying?" (I say "begin" because I have not developed a detailed semantic theory, but only offered...
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May 24, 2007

Quote(s) of the Day: Selections From Berkeley's Letter to Sir John James

In the course of a bit of research on Berkeley's views on the epistemology of religion, I have just come across a little letter Berkeley wrote to one Sir John James, dated June 7, 1741. James was, apparently, an Anglican living in Boston who was considering converting to Roman Catholicism. While for some reason (perhaps because he was Irish) Berkeley is often mistakenly believed to have been a member of the Roman Catholic Church, he was, in fact, a member of the clergy of the Church of England, and wrote against Roman Catholicism on a number of occasions, this being...
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May 2, 2007

The Ontological Economy of Idealism

The following is an excerpt from a draft of my metaphysics term paper, which I thought might be of interest to readers. The paper presents an idealist theory of properties under which two things are said to have a property if those two things are or would be indistinguishable under some specified conditions. I call this account, fittingly enough, the "conditional indistinguishability" analysis of properties. After presenting the conditional indistinguishability account, I discuss the ontological economy of the idealist theory from which it arises, as compared especially to the currently dominant physicalist assumptions, but also to substance dualism: The theory...
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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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March 21, 2007

Sola Scriptura in Augustine

As previously promised, this post will treat the presence of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura in Augustine. First, let me state that by Sola Scriptura I do not necessarily mean a particular formulation by Luther or Calvin or any particular church, but rather I mean to show that the cluster of doctrinal positions into which all of these fall exists in the early church. So I really mean the doctrines (plural) of Sola Scriptura, and not some particular doctrine. I define these as follows: A teaching is a Sola Scriptura doctrine if and only if it asserts that the contents of the canonical books of Scripture possess divine authority and/or sufficiency...
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March 19, 2007

Rational Atheism Entails Rational Solipsism?

In the Fourth Dialogue of Berkeley's Alciphron, Alciphron the "Free-Thinker" challenges Berkeley's spokesman, Euphranor, to present a proof of the existence of God. Alciphron, however, lays down some quite stringent conditions: First then, let me tell you I am not persuaded by metaphysical arguments; such, for instance, as are drawn from the ideas of an all-perfect being, or the absurdity of an infinite progression of causes. This sort of arguments I have always found dry and jejune; and, as they are not suited to my way of thinking, they may perhaps puzzle, but never will convince me. Secondly, I am...
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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 28, 2007

Quote of the Day: Augustine on Reading the Bible in Translation

An important antidote to the ignorance of literal signs is the knowledge of languages. Users o the Latin language - and it is these that I have now undertaken to instruct - need two others, Hebrew and Greek, for an understanding of the divine scriptures, so that recourse may be had to the original versions if any uncertainty arises from the infinite variety of Latin translators ... There are certain words in particular languages which just cannot be translated into the idioms of another language. This is especially true of interjections, which signify emotion rather than an element of clearly...
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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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January 4, 2007

Why Idealism?

I talk a lot about Berkeley on this blog, and it has probably become clear to most regular readers that I am quite sympathetic to his position. There are a number of reasons for holding to various forms of idealism, and I have already discussed the chain of inferences which leads Berkeley to his theory. Important also is Berkeley's critique of matter, which proceeds by collapsing Locke's distinction between primary and secondary qualities (this collapse is almost universally viewed as successful by later philosophers), then applying Locke's arguments that secondary qualities are not actually in the objects to all perceived...
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January 1, 2007

Plato on Homosexuality

A month or so ago, I published a post which has been rather popular on Christianity and Homosexuality. In it, I discussed Paul's statements on homosexuality in contrast to the "received view" in Greco-Roman "polite society." I referred then to Plato's Symposium and Phaedrus, early and middle dialogs, respectively, which contain useful information on the practice of pedaresty in classical Athens. (If you are interested in interpreting Paul, it is important to note that classical Athens is some 400 years earlier...
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Quote of the Day

"For when two things are raised by one and the same exertion, the lesser quantity will invariably yield more readily and the greater (which offers more resistance) less readily, to the force applied." - Plato (tr. Donald J. Zeyl), Timaeus 63c
So what you're saying is that an object's acceleration is directly proportional the force applied and inversely proportional to its mass. Didn't some other guy get famous for saying that? Hmm...
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December 31, 2006

On Moore's Alleged Refutation of Idealism

I've just finished reading G.E. Moore's paper, "The Refutation of Idealism." The paper was originally published in Mind in October 1903 and reprinted in Moore's Philosophical Studies in 1922, but I've got the version reprinted again in Colin Turbayne's edition of Berkeley's Principles with critical essays, and I'll be citing page numbers from there. Moore's target in the essay is not Berkeley directly (it is, of course, Berkeley in whom I am most interested here), but what he calls "modern Idealism." The modern Idealism described by Moore seems to be a sort of immaterialist panpsychism; that is, Moore claims that...
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December 22, 2006

My Five Favorite Philosophers

Recently, while I was busy with finals, Clarke at Mormon Metaphysics and Johnny-Dee at Fides Quarens Intellectum posted lists of their favorite philosophers. I thought that today I would do the same. I won't get fancy with pictures and stuff, because that's not my style (as you can plainly see if you are looking at this page), but I do have a list, roughly in order...
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Philosophical Language in Hebrews 11:1

Over at Better Bibles Blog, Wayne Leman is discussing the difficulties involved in producting coherent English from Hebrews 11:1. I want here to produce some considerations on the use of a couple of unusual (in the NT) words in this verse that will hopefully help us to produce a better translation of the word. Wayne made it clear that his post was primarily about the coherence of the English. However, I think part of the reason we have difficulty rendering this verse in English is that we're not totally clear on what we are trying to communicate...
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November 15, 2006

On Synergism

Gerald has a piece on Augustine and the synergism/monergism distinction up at Iustificare. Gerald believes that the real question is not about synergism vs. monergism, but rather about the resistability of grace. I think he is probably right about this, but I question his definition of synergism, since synergism is working together, but he seems to interpret it as simple concurrence. If I want God to do something, but have no power in myself to make it happen, it's not clear that this is synergism. However, Jesus does say "this is the work of God: that you believe in the One He has sent" (John 6:29). So let's suppose that believing or willing is a "work" (ergon) for the purpose of synergism. I have two points to make...
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November 1, 2006

Quote of the Day

ALCIPHRON: ... But what apology can be made for nonsense, crude nonsense? ... Look here, said he, opening a Bible, in the forty-ninth Psalm : ... "Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the wickedness of my heels shall compass me about?" The iniquity of my heels! What nonsense after such a solemn introduction! EUPHRANOR: For my own part, I have naturally weak eyes, and know there are many things that I cannot see, which are nevertheless distinctly seen by others. I do not therefore conclude a thing to be absolutely invisible, because it is so to...
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October 29, 2006

Preserving Ambiguity in Translation

I'm studying Plato's Parmenides in a graduate seminar this semester. It is rather a baffling text, and there is a wealth of secondary literature which contains little consensus on anything. Today, as I was reading Constance Meinwald's guidebook to the dialog, I came across an issue in the translation of the text which I think is relevant to a number of discussion about Bible translation that I've had on-blog, and thought I would share. The issue is one of preserving a (probably intentional) ambiguity in the original in translation, and thus with the degree of interpretation done by translators, and the degree left up to readers of the translation.
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October 18, 2006

Descartes, Berkeley, and Moore on the Existence of the Spiritual and the Physical

I have been thinking recently about Moore's argument for the existence of the physical world.
For those who may not be familiar, Moore's argument looks something like this:
  1. Here is one hand; here is another
  2. If there are two hands here, then two hands exist.
  3. Hands are physical objects
  4. Therefore, physical objects exist
This simple argument seems to be part of the reason why many contemporary analytic philosophers do not consider idealism a live issue (something that I intend to make it my business to change). However, it seems to me to have two enormous and equally simple defects:
  1. It isn't actually an objection to Berkeley's theory, since Berkeley accepts all of the premises and the conclusion.
  2. Most people who make this argument are physicalists but if you accept the argument then, by parity of reasoning, you must allow Descartes to prove the existence of the soul.

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September 22, 2006

My First Academic Journal Paper!

Last night I received word that a paper I wrote entitled "The Ontological Status of Dreams in Berkeleian Metaphysics" has been accepted for publication by The Dualist! The paper argues that the characteristics of dream perceptions by which we, in practice, distinguish them from waking perceptions prevent dream perceptions from functioning as a language in the way Berkeley believes waking perceptions do and thus provide a principled grounding for an ontological distinction between dreams and waking life...
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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"

July 12, 2006

Infallible vs. Irresistable Grace

Gerald at Iustificare has written several posts on grace and free will in recent weeks. The latest post, a discussion of Augustine's treatment of the issue, introduces an interesting distinction I had not heard before: the distinction of infallible vs. irresistable grace. Gerald describes the distinction as follows: Infallible grace is �grace that always accomplishes it purpose� �nothing more or less. Infallible grace can be resisted, but is not. Infallible grace can fail, but does not...
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June 30, 2006

Berkeley's Taxonomy of Ideas

Since my post on Berkeley's metaphysics generated so much interesting discussion, I thought I would write a post on Berkeley's taxonomy of ideas. A particularly interesting (to me) aspect of this discussion is the way it plays into his critique of John Locke's theory of abstraction. Also of interest is the way this view (may have) influenced Immanuel Kant's epistemology of metaphysics. I'll skip lightly over that last one, because I don't understand Kant very well (who does?), but I re-read the Prolegomena recently and was thinking about this, so I'll float a few ideas by toward the end of...
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June 27, 2006

Tradition Essay Posted at the Sergius Bulgakov LiveJournal

My essay "Tradition as the Platonic Form of Christian Faith and Practice", which I posted on my writings page a few months ago, was published online today at the Sergius Bulgakov LiveJournal, a blog devoted to the 20th century Russian Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov, whom I cited in the essay. It looks like there are some other interesting materials up at the site as well. I reccomend checking it out. Also, this seems like a good time to remind everyone that all of my writings on this site are released under Creative Commons licenses. There are different licenses for this...
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June 10, 2006

The Foundational Argument of Berkeleian Metaphysics

Metaphysics (theory of reality) is notoriously difficult to get off the ground. There is very little to start from, because everything else starts from here. However, as Descartes so famously observed, I, the one reasoning about metaphysics, am, in fact, reasoning about metaphysics, and therefore must, in some sense, exist. Descartes has been challenged by Neitszche (in Beyond Good and Evil) and others, for his inference from "there is thinking going on" to "there must be a substance which does the thinking," and, as little sympathy as I have for Neitzsche in general, I think that this may be a...
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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 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"

May 2, 2006

"Three Persons, One Substance" - Paradox or Solution?

I seem to have opened quite the can of worms in my post on Church dogma the other day when I said: There seem to be some clear (to me) cases of Christian dogma that are not obviously uniquely deriveable from Scripture. For example, consider the formulation of the trinity as three persons (Greek hupostaseis and/or prosopa, Latin personae) in one substance/essence (Greek ousia, Latin essentia and/or substantia). This type of formulation is extremely common in the Christian tradition, and is derived primarily from the Chalcedonian Creed. However, I don't think we can say that it is obviously uniquely deriveable...
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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 13, 2006

Blogging Parmenides

I feel the need to point to this post about Parmenides over at Mathetes simply because ... well, because I approve of blogging about Parmenides! The post gives a good overview of Parmenides' argument for the establishment of monism. To which let me add three things: This is the oldest deductively valid argument in surviving literature. It is contained in a hexameter poem (written, presumably, in imitation of Homer and Hesiod) which begins with an appeal to divine revelation (a narrative about being carried in a chariot to meet a strange goddess who promises to reveal "the way of truth"...
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January 30, 2006

"Theism and Mechanism in Leibniz"

I've just posted a new paper to my writings page, entitled "Theism and Mechanism in Leibniz." This is a topic that I've discussed quite a bit in the past few months, and this may be the end of it for a while. An earlier version served as a term paper for Professor Karen Detlefsen's undergraduate seminar on Leibniz at Penn last semester. It has undergone slight revision based on her comments. Please feel free to offer any responses or discussion you have in the comments section of this post. Any revisions made will be documented in the comments here as...
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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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January 7, 2006

Christianity and Aristotelian Metaphysics

In a recent discussion with Suzanne McCarthy, my views were compared to Aristotle's, and I pointed out that I am really more of a Platonist and am often irritated at the continuing dominance of basically Aristotelian metaphysical ideas in Christian philosophy. In this post I will discuss the nature of these Aristotelian metaphysical claims, the manner in which they have been incorporated into Christian thought, and my reasons for objecting to said incorporation. Before I start, I should note that I am not an expert on Aristotle, so I will be examining only basic points of Aristotelian metaphysics, and relying...
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