Philosophy Archives



More Specifically: 'Common Sense'/Intuition (3) Bullshit (1) Conceivability (2) Dialectic (3) Epistemology (34) Ethics (30) Explanation (8) Gender (7) Historiography of Philosophy (6) Intelligent Design (9) Logic (10) Meta-Philosophy (16) Metaphysics (140) Philosophical Theology (26) Philosophy of Language (26) Philosophy of Religion (134) Philosophy of Science (16) Political Philosophy (44) Practical Rationality (6) Teleology (1) The American Philosophical Association (1)

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 21, 2014

Dissertation Defended!

You may call me 'doctor' now.
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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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March 18, 2014

March 10, 2014

The Puzzle of Existence: Concluding Thoughts and Table of Posts

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

McDaniel's Ontological Pluralism and the Puzzle of Existence

The very last essay in The Puzzle of Existence is the article by Kris McDaniel which examines the bearing of ontological pluralism on the question, why is there something rather than nothing? Ontological pluralism, as McDaniel uses that term, is the thesis that there is more than one kind of being, existence, or reality. (McDaniel usually prefers the term 'being,' but seems to use 'existence' and 'reality' as synonyms.) This is not simply the trivial thesis that there are many different kinds of beings (i.e., that there are things of many different kinds), and it is not a metaphysically deflationary...
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March 5, 2014

The Big Announcement

Beginning in August, I will be a Lilly Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Valparaiso University, Valparaiso Indiana.
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March 4, 2014

Maitzen on the Explanatory Power of Penguins

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

Lange on the Natural Necessity of Something

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

Kotzen on the Improbability of Nothing

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

Rodriguez-Pereyra on Ontological Subtraction

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

Lowe on Metaphysical Nihilism

Like several other contributions to The Puzzle of Existence, the essay by the late E. J. Lowe is devoted to the question whether there might have been nothing. Lowe calls the view that there might have been nothing 'metaphysical nihilism,' and he offers an argument against a certain version of it. Lowe's paper begins with some very helpful context-setting. In 1996, Peter van Inwagen had argued that there is a possible world which was 'empty' in the sense of containing only abstract objects, and no concrete objects. However, according to van Inwagen, out of the infinitely many possible worlds, only...
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February 10, 2014

Philosophers' Carnival 160

Welcome to the 160th Philosophers' Carnival! The Philosophers' Carnival is a monthly roundup of online philosophy. Here, in no particular order, are some excellent philosophical blog posts which have appeared in the last month: Continue reading "Philosophers' Carnival 160"

February 3, 2014

Why Do We Ask Why?

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

How to Determine Whether there Might Have Been Nothing

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

John Leslie's Axiarchism

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

Conee on the Ontological Argument

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

Christopher Hughes on Contingency and Plurality

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

Jacob Ross on the PSR

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

Kleinschmidt on the Principle of Sufficient Reason

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

Oppy on Theism, Naturalism, and Explanation

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

O'Connor on Explaining Everything

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

Introducing The Puzzle of Existence

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

Some Historical Context to Locke on Faith and Reason

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

Berkeley's Second-Order Anti-Skepticism

Consider the following parallel passages from Berkeley's Principles and Dialogues: so long as men thought that real things subsisted without the mind, and that their knowledge was only so far forth real as it was conformable to real things, it follows, they could not be certain that they had any real knowledge at all. For how can it be known that the things which are perceived, are conformable to those which are not perceived or exist without the mind? (PHK sect. 86) It is your opinion, the ideas we perceive by our senses are not real things but images or...
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September 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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September 5, 2013

Quote of the Day: Childs on Miracles

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

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


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September 4, 2013

Philosophical Portraiture

It turns out that one of my USC philosophy colleagues is an accomplished painter! Check out Renee Bollinger's portraits of famous philosophers in the style of famous painters on the Huffington Post here.
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August 28, 2013

Three Responses to the Argument from Contingency

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

"Infinite Power and Finite Powers"

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

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

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

Omnipotence and the 'Delimiter of Possibilities' View

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

Does Religious Experience Have an Expiration Date?

A fairly common position in philosophy of religion is that religious experience can provide justification for religious belief of a sort that cannot be transmitted by testimony. (We here use the term 'religious experience' non-factively; that is, we leave open the possibility that these experiences might provide misleading evidence.) This is not necessarily to deny that testimony of religious experience can provide evidence in favor of religious belief; it is just to say that, no matter how credible the testimony, this won't provide the same sort of justification as actually having the experience oneself. Often it is thought that at...
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March 12, 2013

Being Greater and Doing Better

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

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March 9, 2013

Philosophers' Carnival 149

Welcome to Philosophers' Carnival 149! The Philosophers' Carnival is a monthly showcase of the best philosophical blog posts. First up is Derk Pereboom's "The Free Will Debate and the Limits of Philosophical Method" at Flickers of Freedom. Glenn Carruthers explains delusions of alien control and their relevance to the theory of agency at Philosophy of Brains. Speaking of mind and action, I should note an important event in 'virtual philosophy' in the past month: the Fifth Online Consciousness Conference. Also in philosophy of mind, we have Richard Brown's discussion of phenomenal concepts at Philosophy Sucks! Our final philosophy of mind...
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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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November 30, 2012

Divine Power, Alternate Possibilities, and Necessary Frankfurt Cases

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

A Linguistic Argument for Immaterialism

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

The Value Component of Plantinga's Free Will Defense

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

Carroll on God and Physics

Sean Carroll has a great article on God, physics, and explanation up on his web-site. I've posted some comments regarding it over at Prosblogion.
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August 20, 2012

On Attributing Philosophical Errors to the Great Dead Philosophers

Eric Schwitzgebel (author of this fascinating paper on introspection) has a blog post up defending "uncharitable and superficial history of philosophy." At New APPS, Catarina Dutilh Novaes responds, arguing that we should be critical, but not superficial. Now what Schwitzgebel says he is arguing against is "excessive charity." We should all agree that there is such a thing as excessive charity in interpretation, and of course it's bad. (If it were good, it wouldn't be correctly described as 'excessive'.) The question is, at what point does interpretive charity become excessive? I take it part of Dutilh Novaes' point is that...
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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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July 3, 2012

The Port-Royalists on Judgment and Other Mental Operations

Locke famously defines judgment, knowledge, etc., in terms of the joining or separating of ideas. It is quite probable that Locke's source for this is the Port-Royal Logic. There are two well-known problems with this view. First, according to this view in order to think that Peter is not living I must mentally separate the idea of Peter from the idea of living, but if I do that then its not clear how this judgment, that Peter is not living, can be a unit which can be, for instance, embedded in complex sentences. Locke makes matters worse by talking about...
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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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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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May 5, 2012

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

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

Philosophy of Religion and Apologetics

Philosophy of religion, as practiced by religious believers, is often confused with apologetics. (Perhaps it is even so confused, on occasion, by some of its practitioners.) Indeed, if we use the term 'apologetics' more broadly, to include not just the giving of an apologia (defense) of religion, but of just any belief system, then we could say that philosophy in general is often confused with apologetics. This is, I think, a serious mistake. The philosopher, qua philosopher, is up to something quite different than the apologist, qua apologist. The 'qua' clauses are necessary, because of course the same person may...
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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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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 26, 2012

Ross's Theory of Omnipotence Entails Double Predestination

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

"Understanding Omnipotence"

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

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November 19, 2011

Counterpossible Reasoning in Philosophy of Religion (and Elsewhere)

The latest (July 2011) Faith and Philosophy contains an excellent article by Jeff Speaks on some difficulties related to establishing the consistency of certain claims (he uses as examples the existence of human freedom and the existence of evil) with the existence of an Anselmian God. The basic idea is this: since an Anselmian God is, by definition, a necessary being, establishing the possibility of an Anselmian God is tantamount to establishing the necessary, and therefore actual, existence of an Anselmian God. But these compatibility arguments typically, in one way or another, assume the possibility, and so the actuality, of...
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November 12, 2011

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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October 6, 2011

Quote of the Day: Philosophers and Platitudes

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

David Lewis, Convention, p. 1


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September 23, 2011

Philosophers' Carnival 131

I'm a little late posting the link, but Philosophers' Carnival 131 is now up at Minds and Brains with a link to my post on Berkeley, Commonsense, and Surprising Discoveries.
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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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September 1, 2011

Lawless Events and the Existence of God

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

A Dialectical Role for the Ontological Argument

It has been nearly a month since I've posted anything, and for this I apologize. The last few weeks have been pretty hectic - I was on vacation, and had to rush off to an unexpected funeral in another state, then came home and had to replace a car and a computer (the computer was expected, the car was not). Anyway, it seems the my world has more or less righted itself, and I am getting prepared for the semester to start on Monday. Here's what I'm thinking about today (not related to that dissertation I need to start working on...). Suppose we make an ontological argument with the following general form:
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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 6, 2011

An Annotated Bibliography of Omnipotence

I'm currently working on an article on omnipotence for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I found it a useful first step to compile an annotated bibliography on the subject, and since I had the thing already prepared (and it's more comprehensive than what will go into the final article), I thought I'd share. If there is any important literature I'm missing, or any pieces which my annotations mischaracterize, I'd like to hear about it.
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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 6, 2011

Philosophers' Carnival 126

Welcome to the 126th Philosophers' Carnival! The Philosophers' Carnival is a regular round-up of blog posts related to the academic discipline of philosophy. Our first exhibit is David Fryman's, Is God Necessary for Morality? at The Bennett Commentary. David argues that most disputes on this question are purely verbal - that religious morality is a fundamentally different notion from secular morality, and the former, of course, relies on God, while the latter does not. Next in line, Katja Grace wonders whether running computer simulations of yourself can make you more likely to win the lottery at Meteuphoric. Luke Meuhlhauser...
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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 18, 2011

The History of Swampman

It's been a while since I posted anything here, so I thought I'd take Jeremy's recent discussion of Davidson's 'Swampman' case (and modifications thereof) as an occasion to post a historical tidbit about swampman-like scenarios. Davidson's story - of a duplicate of himself being created by a lightning strike in a swamp - has obvious resemblances to the DC Comics character Swamp Thing. What is less obvious, less well known, and not mentioned on Swamp Thing's Wikipedia page, is that the swampman scenario was actually originated by Theodore Sturgeon in his short story "It", originally published in Unknown in August of 1940. Sturgeon himself, who was not a follower of comic books, did not know about his influence on that genre until he was invited to receive an award at the San Diego Comic Convention in 1975. Sturgeon's own description of the event can be found in the introduction to his 1984 collection, Alien Cargo, and is quoted in the story notes to "It" in the first volume of Sturgeon's Complete Stories.
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April 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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April 4, 2011

Philosophers' Carnival 123

Philosophers' Carnival 123 is now up at Faith in Philosophy with a philosophy of religion focus, and a link to my post on reactive attitudes.
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April 1, 2011

Concluding Remarks on Sobel's Logic and Theism

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

An Argument from Reactive Attitudes for the Existence of God

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

Faith and Rationality

In my previous post on Sobel's treatment of Pascalian wagers, I indicated that, although I accept a strong thesis about the autonomy of theoretical reason, I believe that religious faith has more to do with practical than with theoretical reason. Now, faith can have as its object either a person or a proposition. (There are also other uses, like having faith in a theory, but I take these two to be the central ones.) Call the former faith-in (as in, 'I have faith in you') and the latter faith-that (as in, 'I have faith that everything will turn out alright')....
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March 14, 2011

Philosophers' Carnival 122

The 122nd Philosophers' Carnival is now up at Icthus77, with a link to my post on bad footnotes. Also of interest this time is Michael Billy's post, "Is 'piracy' theft?". I am in broad agreement with Billy on this one, though I don't have time to lay out my thoughts in detail right now, but let me simply say that the distinction between piracy properly so-called, theft properly so-called, and copyright infringement is, to my mind, a very important one because it is my view that property is a natural right, whereas copyright and patent are only statutory rights. This...
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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 21, 2011

Philosophers' Carnival 121

The latest Philosophers' Carnival is now up at Enigmania, with a link to my post on the rationality of acting arbitrarily. (By the way, there is some good discussion on the Prosblogion version of that post as well.)
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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 31, 2011

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

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

Skeptical Theism and the 'Beforehand-Switch'

I return now from my hiatus to blog through the last three chapters of Sobel's Logic and Theism. There are two chapters on arguments against the existence of God, mostly focused on arguments from evil, and one on Pascalian wagers. In chapter 11, section 4, Sobel presents what he takes to be Hume's evidential argument from evil, and discusses skeptical theist responses to it. Now, in general, the dialectic between the evidential arguer from evil and the skeptical theist goes something like this: the evidential arguer from evil says, a perfect being would probably create a world with very little...
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January 15, 2011

Validly Affirming the Consequent

I'm grading some logic exercises from an intro class today. The students were supposed to give examples of valid and invalid arguments, with true and false premises and conclusions, and so forth. One student turned in the following fantastic example (I have edited it to remove some ambiguities):
(P1) If P1, then C
(P2) C
:. (C) P1
The student, understandably, thought the argument was invalid, since it has the form of affirming the consequent. However, due to the self-reference, the argument is valid. The student just wrote 'the premise' and 'the conclusion', so I'm not sure if this is the intended interpretation, but still pretty clever.
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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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January 10, 2011

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 14, 2010

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 22, 2010

Philosophers' Carnival 117

The 117th Philosophers' Carnival is is now up at a blog with the fantastic name The Consternation of Philosophy, with a link to the Prosblogion version of my post post on omnipotence.
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November 9, 2010

Omniscience and Simplicity

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

Leibniz Against Fine-Tuning

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

On Omnipotence

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

Only Necessarily Self-Limited Power

After considering arguments for the existence of God, Sobel has a brief interlude on the divine attributes, before going on to arguments against the existence of God. Chapter 9 concerns omnipotence and the famous Stone Paradox. Sobel defines omnipotence (roughly) as the ability to do anything that can be done. (He improves this basic definition in a few ways, but these need not concern us.) The Stone Paradox, Sobel rightly recognizes, is no real problem for omnipotence as such, for if a being can do anything that can be done, then that being can take away some of the powers...
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October 12, 2010

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 27, 2010

Joining the Prosblogion

I am pleased to announce that I have been invited to join The Prosblogion, the premier philosophy of religion blog! As the invite seems to have resulted largely from my series on Sobel's Logic and Theism, I suppose that, in addition to thanking the Prosblogion folks for inviting me, I should thank Jonathan for challenging me to engage seriously with an atheist writer on my blog, and Brandon for suggesting Logic and Theism as the text of choice. From now on, any serious, contentful posts on philosophy of religion (including the remainder of the Sobel series) will appear both here...
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September 23, 2010

A Non-Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

In my last Sobel post, I reconstructed the cosmological argument Sobel attributes to Leibniz in such a way that there was no obvious contradiction in the premises by using Leibniz's own resources. Here I want to try to produce an argument with more widely accepted premises. Recall that Sobel's reconstruction is as follows: (1)The World - the Cosmos - exists. (2) The World is contingent, it is a contingent entity. (3) For everything that exists - for every fact and every existent entity - there is a sufficient reason for its existence. (4) The sufficient reason for the existence of...
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September 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 20, 2010

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 31, 2010

August 30, 2010

A Genuine Dialectical Problem for Ontological Arguments

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

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

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

The Dialectical Appropriateness of Ontological Arguments

After, for some reason or other, spending some 30 dense pages of Logic and Theism on the laughable ontological arguments of Descartes and Spinoza, Sobel moves on to the more interesting argument advanced by Anselm. (The next chapter deals with versions of the argument set in modern modal logic, such as those of Hartshorne and Plantinga.) In my view, the Descartes and Spinoza arguments don't even look good; the Anselm version at least produces puzzlement, insofar as the reasoning looks valid, yet it seems, intuitively, that no such strong conclusion could ever be derived from such weak premises. Sobel (fairly uncontroversially...
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August 23, 2010

3quarksdaily Philosophy Prize

The blog 3quarksdaily has opened nominations for their second annual philosophy prize, to be judged by Akeel Bigrami. Head on over and nominate your favorite philosophy blog post of the year. (Especially if your favorite post was one of mine!) After nominations, there will be a round of online voting, followed by a round of voting by 3QD contributors, and then Professor Bigrami will make a final selection.
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August 20, 2010

Normative Skepticism and the Existence of God

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

Divine Freedom and Worship

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

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

Some time ago, I promised that I would take time on this blog to seriously engage with some recent work arguing in favor of atheism. The book chosen, mostly on Brandon's recommendation, was Jordan Howard Sobel's 2003 Logic and Theism: Arguments For and Against Beliefs in God. This summer I had a fairly long reading list of things more closely related to my main research directions in metaphysics and early modern philosophy so, unfortunately, I did not get started on this earlier. I have, however, now (one week before the start of classes) completed my other reading and begun working...
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August 16, 2010

Ignorant Assertions in Pennsylvania

I've just heard that my paper, "In Defense of Ignorant Assertions" will be included in the program of the 64th Mountain-Plains Philosophy Conference, to be held at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, PA October 15-16. Will any other philosophy bloggers be in attendance?
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August 13, 2010

Quote of the Day: Gutting on Dawkins

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

More on FWD and Brute Contingencies

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

Some Odd Brute Contingincies in Plantinga's Free Will Defense

Once upon a time, many philosophers believed that there was a logical problem of evil. That is, it was held that the (obviously true) proposition that there is some evil in the world logically entails that there is no God. (Where God is conceived as omnipotent and perfectly good.) I imagine that a lot of philosophers still believe this, but today few are arguing for it in print. Instead, atheist philosophers now typically put forth an evidentiary problem of evil. That is, they propound an argument something like this: The more evil there is, the less likely it is that...
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August 9, 2010

Philosophers' Carnival 112

The 112th Philosophers' Carnival is now up at A Concentrated Tincture, with a link to my post on The Lockean Proviso and Federally Managed Lands. Also in the carnival is Paul Gowder's interesting treatment of, as he calls it, "The Difference Between Faith and Fallibilism". I've left a lengthy comment there which may be of interest to some readers of this blog. This is supposed to be the first installment in a series of at least three posts; I am looking forward to reading the rest of what Paul has to say on this subject.
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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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August 4, 2010

Philosophers' Carnival 111

I've just returned from a long vacation. During my absence Philosophers' Carnival 111 was posted at Parableman, with a link to my post on authority and authoritativeness. I expect to resume regular blogging now.
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July 9, 2010

Authority, Authoritativeness, and Objectivity

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

Unrestricted Quantifiers and Fundamental Quantifiers

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

Locke on the Arbitrariness of Ideas of Mixed Modes and Substances

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

Why Listen to 'Continental' Philosophers?

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

Meta-ethics on the Brain

Last night I had what might actually be the strangest dream ever. It was much weirder than hilzoy's now-famous (among philosophy bloggers, at least) synthetic a priori dream. In my dream, some space aliens discovered that platonism was false. They were very disturbed by this because, they thought, without platonic objects, there was nothing to serve as the ontological ground for moral facts. So the aliens convened a galactic council, and held a sort of lottery. Earth lost the lottery, so the aliens were rounding up all the humans and putting them into a simulation. In the simulation, the humans...
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April 26, 2010

Philosophers' Carnival 107

The 107th Philosophers' Carnival is now up at Philosophy of Brains, with a link to my post, "Morality as a System of Assertoric Imperatives". Also of interest is Gary Williams' "The Myth of Sensory Immediacy - Why Berkeley Was Wrong", which argues that modern understanding of the neuro-psychology of perception disproves the sense data theory and thus deprives Berkeley of his starting point.
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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 6, 2010

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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March 15, 2010

Philosophers' Carnival 105

Welcome to the 105th Philosophers' Carnival! The Philosophers' Carnival collects some of the best philosophy blog posts all in one place. Here they are: Metaphysics Aaron defends an account of the ontology of fiction which avoids commitment to possible worlds at the expense of introducing truth-value gaps, at the Florida Student Philosophy Blog. Philosophy of Mind Avery Archer of The Space of Reasons criticizes motivational rationalism. Gualtiero Piccinini provides a critical review of Gallistel and King's Memory and the Computational Brain: Why Cognitive Science Will Transform Neuroscience at Brains. Epistemology Martin Cooke considers a version of the two envelope paradox...
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March 11, 2010

Philosophers' Carnival Call for Submissions

I will be hosting the 105th Philosophers' Carnival this coming Monday, March 15. Posts in all areas of academic philosophy are welcome. Submissions should be made by Saturday, midnight.
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March 9, 2010

Deontic Utilitarianism, Liberty Utilitarianism, and Deontologism

I just came across the following passage by J.J.C. Smart in Smart and Williams' Utilitarianism: For and Against: What Bentham, Mill and Moore are all agreed on is that the rightness of an action is to be judged solely by consequences, states of affairs brought about by the action. Of course we shall have to be careful here not to construe 'state of affairs' so widely that any ethical doctrine becomes utilitarian. For if we did so we would not be saying anything at all in advocating utilitarianism. If, for example, we allowed 'the state of having kept a promise'...
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February 18, 2010

What is a Right?

Among my moral convictions is the conviction that there is a sharp distinction to be drawn between public or political morality and private or individual morality. This roughly corresponds to Kant's distinction between the Doctrine of Right and the Doctrine of Virtue. That there be such a distinction is important to me because I believe that political morality is very permissive, whereas private morality is very restrictive. I have tried to cash this out before. I want to try it again today, by examining what I take to be the central concept of political morality, the concept of having a...
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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 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 29, 2010

Seeing the World Through Teleology-Colored Glasses

My previous post on evaluating traditional theistic arguments has generated a lot of discussion! Thanks to Jonathan, Lewis, and Clayton for helping to clarify some issues with my initial presentation. Most of the discussion centered on the teleological argument. I'm not sure if that's just because I presented it first, or because it was the most problematic...Anyway, let me try to make my version of the argument a little more precise, and consider some objections. (The most important objection, I take it, is that we see the world through teleology-colored glasses, as it were; more on that below.) In trying to make the argument the more precise, I will ...
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January 25, 2010

Evaluating the Traditional Arguments for God

Kant famously classified traditional arguments for the existence of a divine being into three categories: ontological, cosmological, and teleological. Very few, if any, philosophers today think that any of these forms of argument is conclusive. However, some philosophers do believe that a cumulative case for the existence of a divine being can be made out from these arguments. Atheist colleagues often respond that "three leaky buckets won't hold water any better than one." However, this reply assumes that the traditional arguments don't show anything at all. Specifically, those who respond this way are often assuming that the arguments are straightforwardly...
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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 31, 2009

Preventing Terrorism "At All Costs"

Insofar as there is any debate about airline security measures at all (and there is not as much as there should be), the debate typically assumes that we ought to prevent terrorism "at all costs". But this is simply false. Last night I saw a segment on the local news here in Johnstown, PA, where a "terrorism expert" (it wasn't clear exactly what his qualifications were) said that we could catch terrorists much more effectively by engaging in religious profiling. Apparently a federal legislator recently said the same thing. What these people are pointing out is something that should be...
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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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December 8, 2009

Why are There So Few Atheist/Agnostic Philosophers of Religion?

The results of a survey of the opinions of professional philosophers on philosophical topics were released today, and Trent Dougherty has some interesting discussion of some philosophy of religion numbers at The Prosblogion. I was recently bemoaning the scarcity of atheist/agnostic philosophers of religion. The survey numbers back me up: among philosophy faculty at top English-speaking universities, only 14.6% said they "accept" or "lean toward" theism. However, among faculty whose main area of specialization is philosophy of religion, that number was 72.3%. Now, it's hardly surprising that atheists and agnostics don't feel the desire to dedicate their entire careers to investigating religious claims...
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December 2, 2009

Gupta and Idealism: My Project for the Next Two Weeks

It's been a while since I posted anything, and even longer since I posted anything other than Aristotle quotes - I have been busy trying to get my term papers underway. Since I don't expect to have any more time in the near future than I have had in the recent past, I thought I would keep things going around here by posting an outline of one of my projects. Below is a very rough draft of an introduction to one of my two papers (it doesn't have a working title yet) which describes what I hope to accomplish. Comments...
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November 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 10, 2009

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 25, 2009

Speaking Loosely

Philosophers often use such phrases as 'strictly speaking' or 'in metaphysical rigor' before saying things that might sound outrageous. For instance, many philosophers have denied the existence of entities which everyone 'knows' to exist, such as chairs, or minds, or numbers. The philosopher will almost always prefix such a denial with this sort of modifier. The opposite of speaking strictly is speaking loosely. In early modern philosophy, the 'strict and philosophical' mode of speech was often contrasted with the 'loose and popular' mode. Other philosophers might use the modifier 'strictly and literally.' What is the point of making these qualifications?...
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October 19, 2009

Philosopher's Carnival 98

Welcome to the 98th Philosopher's Carnival! The Philosopher's Carnival is a roundup of the best philosophy blog posts of the last three weeks or so. As host, I have selected the submissions (and a couple of non-submissions) which, in my opinion, will be of most interest to academic philosophers. There is necessarily some subjectivity here, so I apologize to anyone who feels he or she was unfairly excluded. Metaphysics Steve Esser presents Notes on C.B.Martin's The Mind in Nature posted at Guide to Reality. This post summarizes Martin's work across a wide variety of metaphysical and especially ontological topics. Aaron...
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October 13, 2009

Leibniz's Theistic Case Against Humean Miracles

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

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

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

Quote of the Day: Australians Against Bullshit

"Analytic philosophy is all about bullshit detection, and we [Australians] are very good at that." - Fiona Cowie, as quoted in The Australian.
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September 30, 2009

Philosophers' Carnival 97

The latest Philosophers' Carnival is up at Camels With Hammers with a link to my list of philosophical science-fiction stories. I will be hosting the next philosophers' carnival on Monday, October 19, so be sure to submit a post by the deadline, Saturday the 17th!
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September 22, 2009

Philosophical Science-Fiction Stories: A Preliminary List

One of the main ways I was turned on to philosophy was via science-fiction, and I continue to be a big science-fiction enthusiast. I am most interested in the classic (c. 1935-1960) short stories, especially those of Theodore Sturgeon. I have been reading through the new Wiley-Blackwell Science Fiction and Philosophy volume, ed. Susan Schneider. This is a good collection of philosophical writing - both from the professional literature and from more popular writers - on topics that have a direct and obvious relation to popular works of science-fiction, with some great short fiction (including Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder"...
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September 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 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 28, 2009

Correlation, Causation, and Salvation

The New Testament uses a number of criteria to identify the 'saved' (in this post, I won't be concerned with what exactly 'saved' means, though I will be assuming, somewhat controversially, that its meaning is more or less consistent). For instance, the saved are identified as: Those who 'bear fruit' (Matt. 7:16-20), where this seems to involve undergoing some kind of general change of character (Gal. 5:22-25). Those who perform particular good or loving deeds (Matt. 7:21, 1 John 1:6, 2:3-6), especially care for the poor (Matt. 25:31-46). Those who abstain from particular evil or hateful deeds (1 John 2:9-11)....
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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 19, 2009

Why Libertarians Should Support a Carbon Tax

When people list reasons for having a strong central government, one of the reasons they most frequently give is the need for environmental protections. Air and water pollution frequently effect huge numbers of people across large geographic areas (in the case of greenhouse gasses, the entire world) and so, it is thought, we must have a strong central government that can regulate emissions and such. A typical libertarian response to the 'what about the environment?' question is to argue that there should be unlimited civil liability for environmental damage. The current system isn't working particularly well and, libertarians are always...
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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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July 7, 2009

Community Standards of Decency

May communities (justly) set standards of decency? In the recent Philosophers' Carnival, Russell Blackford of Metamagician and the Hellfire Club (a blog with which I am not familiar) argues that they may not. Blackford argues from not-quite-libertarian principles (he allows some limited degree of paternalism) to the conclusion that neither burkas nor nudity should be banned in public. What I want to do here is to show that, on the libertarian picture, either having or not having community standards of decency creates a problem, and try to chart a way forward from there. Libertarians (and, indeed, all proponents of liberal democracy)...
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Philosophers' Carnival 93

Philosophers' Carnival 93 is now up at Philosophy, etc. with a link to my recently posted Aristotle paper.
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July 6, 2009

Quote of the Day: The Praying Agnostic

There is no reason why someone who is in doubt about the existence of God should not pray for help and guidance on this topic as in other matters. Some find something comic in the idea of an agnostic praying to a God whose existence he doubts. It is surely no more unreasonable than the act of a man adrift in the ocean, trapped in a cave, or stranded on a mountainside, who cries for help though he may never be heard or fires a signal which may never be seen.      - Anthony Kenny, The God of the Philosophers,...
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June 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 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 27, 2009

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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May 6, 2009

Announcing: The Extended Cognition Blog

A fellow UCI graduate student, Kris Rhodes, has announced the launch of The Extended Cognition Blog (ex-cog for short). Ex-cog will be devoted to the exploration of the extended mind hypothesis. Anyone interested in philosophy of mind should hop on over and check it out.
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May 4, 2009

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 7, 2009

Repenting For Fear of Hell

Paul Gowder is discussing a recent case in which a man by the name of Elwin Wilson who used to be a violent racist and KKK member has changed his ways and gone around apologizing to the people he harmed or otherwise offended. Paul wants to know how we ought to respond to Wilson's repentance, given that Wilson states that he changed his ways out of fear of hell. Brandon's comments on that post are insightful (he notes, among other things, that the article gives another reason for Wilson's repentance: Wilson evidently believes that there will be blacks in heaven)....
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April 3, 2009

Apologetics: The Good and the Bad

I have been meaning for some time to write a post about apologetics: not to engage in it - though I do that sometimes - but to examine it as a practice. Brandon's recent post, "On Controversial Blogging and Temperament," touches some of the same issues I have been thinking about, so I thought that I would build on it. To start from the beginning: 'apologetics' derives from the Greek apologia, meaning 'defense' (as, for instance, a court-room defense), and it means just that: the giving of reasoned defenses. Christians often talk about the importance of engaging in apologetics...
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March 29, 2009

Moving to USC

Today I accepted an offer of admission (with funding) from the University of Southern California School of Philosophy. As those who have been following this blog for a while know, USC was one of my top choices last year. I was encouraged to reapply by one of the professors there after very nearly making the cut last year. In addition to being very strong in my areas of interest and having an excellent placement record, USC will massively decrease my commute, offered me better funding, and will mean no longer depending on the unpredictable California state budget. All of these are good...
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I Exist!

Berkeley famously said that "to be is to be perceived." Quine's maxim was "to be is to be the value of a variable." We, however, know the truth: to be is to be a search result in Philosophers' Index...
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March 23, 2009

Philosophers' Carnival 88

Welcome to the 88th Philosophers' Carnival! The Philosophers' Carnival is a regular round-up of some of the best philosophy blog posts on the web. Each carnival receives a great many submissions, and it is therefore necessary for hosts to be selective. The posts that have been selected represent, in my very subjective opinion, the best of the submissions (in no particular order)...
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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 6, 2009

Moral Wrongs and Civil Rights

The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments on challenges to Proposition 8 yesterday, and The New York Times seems to expect that, surprisingly, the court may rule more or less the way I want them to: that is, they are expected to rule that the state must extend all the same substantive rights to gay couples as to straight couples, but if the voters don't want to call them both by the same name they don't have to. The NYT article happened to note that there were some protesters outside the courtroom, and one of them was holding a sign that read...
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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

Philosophers' Carnival 87

Philosophers' Carnival 87 is now up at There Is Some Truth in That with a link to my "The Problem of Sex in Kant's Ethics". The 88th carnival will be held here at blog.kennypearce.net on Monday, March 23. The submission deadline will be Saturday, March 21.
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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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February 17, 2009

On Christian Higher Education

There is an argument raging on Leiter Reports about the APA's non-discrimination statement and the policies of certain Christian colleges and universities. Wheaton College, Azusa Pacific University, Belmont University, Calvin College, Malone College, and Pepperdine University are listed as institutions that allegedly violate the APA's non-discrimination statements with their policies about homosexuality. A pair of posts on The Prosblogion offer some helpful reflections. What I want to try to do here is analyze in light of this issue the question of what Christian higher education ought to look like. To start with, let me distinguish three types of goals...
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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 5, 2009

The Problem of Analyticity

The new quarter has begun, and I have just finished reading Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism". One of Quine's chief purposes here is to argue that the difference between 'analytic' and 'synthetic' truths is one of degree, and not of kind, so that there is no neat division between the two. I want discuss this difficulty here, although I shall treat it slightly differently than Quine does. Anyone who has been exposed to post-Kantian philosophy is familiar with the distinction between the analytic and the synthetic. For instance, 'no bachelor is married' is an analytic truth...
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December 29, 2008

Philosophers' Carnival 84

The 84th Philosophers' Carnival is up - in verse! I have my own stanza...
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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 19, 2008

Legislation and Regulation in the Libertarian State

A little while back, I argued that the current crisis was not, by any means, the end of libertarianism, and that anyone who says so misunderstands libertarianism both in terms of its practical consequences and in terms of its theoretical basis. What I mean by this is, in the first case, that libertarianism doesn't condone the policies that led to the current crisis and, in the second case, that libertarianism is a deontological theory of political morality, not a theory of political 'utility'. That last claim perhaps needs a translation for non-philosophers...
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December 13, 2008

Philosophers' Carnival 83

I apologize for being late on this (as usual), but Philosophers' Carnival 83 is now up at The Uncredible Hallq with a link to my post, What Is Composition? Chris, the carnival host, laments the fact that, unlike Michael Drake, I do not have a part 2. I do, however, hope to continue my discussion of composition (or perhaps post my paper) eventually, so stay tuned!...
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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 15, 2008

Quote of the Day: Beer and Philosophy

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

Philosophers' Carnival 80

Sorry to be a little late on this, but Philosophers' Carnival 80 is up at the Principia Comica blog with a link to my post on Minimalist Ontology and Familiar Object Talk.
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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

California Proposition 8: What Rights?

There are some issues that I always hesitate to talk or write about on account of the fact that it seems to me that most of the discussion on the issue - regardless of which side it's coming from - is, well, stupid. Evolution (in the context of either (1) theology, or (2) public education) is one of those issues. Another is gay marriage. Nevertheless, since, now that I'm a Californian, I have to decide how to vote in two weeks, I suppose I had better wade in. When the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing gay marriage,...
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"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 21, 2008

The End of Libertarianism?

I'm still on the newsletter of the Penn Libertarian Association, which has pointed me to an article on Slate entitled "The End of Libertarianism". Author Jacob Weisberg believes the current US financial collapse proves that libertarianism is not viable in the same way that the fall of the USSR proved that Communism is not viable. I offer two brief practical responses and one theoretical response. Firstly, without any government involvement, it is unlikely that any of this would have happened...
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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 14, 2008

Minimalist Ontology and Familiar Object Talk

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

Baber on the Real Presence

Some of the papers to be presented at the Society of Christian Philosophers, Pacific Division Conference have now been posted. Mine isn't up yet, but I will provide a link when it is. For now, I want to point readers to a paper by the University of San Diego's Harriet Baber which she has entitled simply "The Real Presence". We have previously discussed here the difference between transubstantiation and real presence. Baber describes this quite nicely in her introduction...
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October 6, 2008

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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Is Deduction Justification-Preserving?

There is a popular class of theories of epistemology called "Justified True Belief" (JTB) theories. According to these theories (which have their ancestor in Plato) a belief counts as knowledge just in case the content of the belief is true and the belief itself is justified. ... The reason I call this a class of theories, rather than a single theory, is that no one can agree on what 'justification' is other than to say that it is that property which, when added to truth, makes a belief knowledge. The Gettier cases are a famous pair of objections to JTB accounts. Many more cases have been added since the original publication in 1963. Now, both of the original Gettier cases and, as far as I know, all of the more recent ones, involve a type of deduction called a vacuous introduction...
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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 8, 2008

Philosophers' Carnival LXXVII

Welcome to Philosophers' Carnival LXXVII at blog.kennypearce.net! The Philosophers' Carnival is a fortnightly roundup of the best blog posts related to academic philosophy. Following the procedure I used for Carnival XXXI, I will divide the posts according to the three major traditional divisions of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory. (Actually in Carnival XXXI I used "ethics" rather than "value theory", but "value theory" is a broader term.) In order to accommodate a variety of posts, I have construed each category rather broadly...
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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 3, 2008

Call for Submissions: Philosophers' Carnival LXXVII

Philosophers' Carnival LXXVII will be hosted here at blog.kennypearce.net this Monday, September 8. Submissions on any subject related to academic philosophy are welcome. The best posts will be selected for inclusions (I will probably pick between 10 and 20 posts). Posts can be submitted online here.
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August 30, 2008

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

Peter van Inwagen famously argued in his 1978 paper "The Possibility of Resurrection" that the only way God can bring a dead person back to life is to raise the very same body. However, if the body has decayed or been cremated, then it doesn't exist to be raised. Therefore, van Inwagen reasons, if Christianity is true, God must, at the moment of death (or immediately prior) surreptitiously remove the dead/dying body and spirit it away somewhere, replacing it with a simulacrum. Otherwise, there could be no afterlife. Unsurprisingly, this has met with some "incredulous stares." Here are a couple...
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July 9, 2008

R.I.P. Lex Americanorum (Sept. 17 , 1787 - July 9, 2008)

Lex Americanorum, the King of America, passed away this afternoon on the Senate floor. Lex had been ill for some years and White House-ologists in Moscow have long suspected that one or more cabinet members had in fact taken responsibility for most major decisions. The exact identity of this person had not been firmly established, but most experts agree that it is Vice President Dick Cheney. Lex was born on September 17, 1787 and became king shortly thereafter upon election by representatives of the 13 American colonies. Lex was able to survive and maintain power for nearly 221 years...
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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 27, 2008

The Adversarial Method in Philosophy

Brandon points to a collection of posts at Feminist Philosophers on the subject of "philosophy as a blood sport". Apparently the phrase comes from this article. The latest discussion seems to have been occasioned by a post by Brian Leiter who is not particularly known for his civility, and apparently thinks this is all a big joke. In this post, I will not focus on the question of whether this has anything to do (either as cause or effect) with philosophy being male dominated. The reason for this is that that question would only be relevant in very specific circumstances, and I do not think these circumstances obtain...
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April 21, 2008

Philosophy is Analytic

It seems that Alexander Pruss (also of Prosblogion fame) has set off a bit of a firestorm (there is a list of links at Siris) on the subject of the history of philosophy and the analytic-Continental divide. He has been criticized for making statements about Continental philosophy and then admitting that he doesn't know much about it. I'm going to try to be careful here, because I'm certainly no expert on Continental philosophy myself, but I do want to enter into the fray with a few observations. I've titled this post "Philosophy is Analytic." Let me begin by clarifying what I mean by that...
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April 18, 2008

Reflections on the Philosophy Graduate Admissions Process

Well, I'm glad that's over. On Wednesday, I accepted an offer of almost full funding from the UC Irvine philosophy department. By "almost" I mean that I was waitlisted for funding and the spot I got was actually a California resident spot, so what would have been my stipend is being used to pay for the out of state tuition. This only affects the first year, since it only takes a year to establish residency in California. When I was applying and waiting anxiously and so forth, I wasn't able to find many resources online that were helpful, so I thought that I would post what I have learned...
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April 14, 2008

Philosophers' Carnival 67: Idealism

Welcome to the 67th Philosophers' Carnival, on the theme of idealism! A large number of submissions were received, so among those that were not idealism-themed, I have selected only a few of my favorites. My apologies to those that were not included. Also, for those of you who find the color scheme distasteful (or a cause of headaches), let me point you to the top right of the page, where a link reading "view with boring colors" will magically turn this page to black on white (please let me know if it doesn't work in your browser). And now, without further ado...
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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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April 2, 2008

Philosophers' Carnival 66

I'm a couple days late with this (my apologies), but Philosophers' Carnival 66 is now up at The Uncredible Hallq with a link to my post, Berkeley: Phenomenalist or Platonist? The 67th Carnival will be held right here, so stay tuned!
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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 27, 2008

The Philosophers' Carnival Returns to blog.kennypearce.net

The 66th Philosophers' Carnival is coming up this Monday at The Uncredible Hallq. The Philosophers' Carnival is a bi-weekly roundup of blog posts on subjects related to academic philosophy including, but not limited to, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political theory, "continental" philosophy and the history of philosophy. Submissions are due online every other Saturday for inclusion in the carnival the following Monday. Following the Uncredible Carnival 66 this Monday, Philosophers' Carnival 67 will take place here at blog.kennypearce.net on Monday, April 14 (submissions due by Saturday April 12). Some of you may recall that I had previously hosted Philosophers' Carnival 31. The 67th carnival will be focused on the theme of "idealism"...
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March 18, 2008

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 12, 2008

Telecom Immunity and "Lex est Rex"

The most recent Electronic Frontier Foundation newsletter contains a couple of links on telecom immunity which allude to an argument against telecom immunity that I want to expand upon. Many people think that the basic principle of democracy or of a free society more generally is "majority rule" or some such. However, this is not historically how the matter has been viewed, and history in fact furnishes plenty of cases in which majority rule has not been particularly consistent with freedom. Classic liberals - the early modern thinkers who gave us the foundations of western democracy - had a different view...
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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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January 22, 2008

January 19, 2008

A Brief Argument for Descriptivism About Laws of Nature

Isaac Newton believed that F=ma was a law of nature. Leave aside for the moment the question of whether he was right - some philosophers might think that, although it turned out simply to be an approximation that worked well for matters of ordinary experience, it still counts as a legitimate law. That's not what I'm concerned with right now. What I'm concerned with is what it means to claim that F=ma is a law of nature. Because of this, I may sloppily speak of F=ma as having a referent when, according to some theories I will be considering, it...
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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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December 12, 2007

What is a Probability?

There is always a more fundamental question. Kenny Easwaran at Antimetea has written a response to my post What Does Bayesian Epistemology Have to Do With Probabilities? In his post, he raises the question, just what is a probability? I want to take a look at my own assumptions about what a probability is, and what he has to say, and see if this has any relevance for our discussion of Bayesian epistemology. I will not attempt here to develop a philosophy of probability, like Bayesianism, or frequentism, or anything of that sort. These are accounts of what probabilities mean, but not of what probabilities are...
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December 3, 2007

November 30, 2007

What Does Bayesian Epistemology Have To Do With Probabilities?

The answer to the question in the title of this post may seem obvious (after all, isn't Bayesianism all about probabilities?), but I think that the long discussion that followed Lauren's post on van Fraassen's objection to Bayesianism from quantum mechanics shows that it isn't clear at all - or at least, that it wasn't clear to either of us as we were discussing the issue. I think that I now understand why. In this post, I'm going to give three answers to this question, which I will call The Primitivist Account (P), The Kripkean Possible Worlds Account (KPW), and the Lewisian Possible Worlds Account (LPW). This post will discuss...
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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 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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September 21, 2007

On Theological Method

Last night, I had a brief friendly debate with some Calvinists, which has me thinking about theological method. Briefly, I approach the issue of Calvinism and Arminianism from the perspective primarily of philosophy rather than revealed theology. That is, I argue that libertarian free will, which is incompatible with most (but, surprisingly, not all) versions of Calvinism, but is central to Arminianism, is a philosophically attractive thesis on grounds of, for instance, human moral responsibility, the problem of evil, and the phenomenology of choice. (I don't claim that Calvinists can't provide accounts of these things, I simply claim that Arminians...
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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 17, 2007

Why Believe the Bible?
Part 4: The Church's Witness to the Scriptures

Here it is, finally! Almost exactly 13 months after the last post, I am finally continuing my series. For those of you who have forgotten (probably most of you), in May of 2006 I outlined a proposed series providing an argument for belief in the Bible. I'm going to give a fairly detailed recap here because it has been so long since my last post. In Part 1: Plan of Attack I outlined the argument I intended to give. The basic claim of the argument is that historical investigation renders the idea that the canon of Scripture as we have it is divinely inspired a live option...
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Part 4: The Church's Witness to the Scriptures"

August 8, 2007

Linguistic Ersatz Modal Realism and Types of Modality

David Lewis is best known for his modal realism, the view that all possible worlds exist in precisely the same sense that the actual world exists. He holds this view because he believes that it solves all sorts of philosophical problems related to modality, counterfactuals, properties, and so forth. However, there are a number of philosophers who think that the benefits of modal realism can be had without actually supposing that the possible world really exist. These philosophers Lewis calls ersatzers...
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July 31, 2007

Philosophy Humor

This is probably the best I've ever seen. I had to post a link to it, just because it begins with the sentence "On Twin Earth, a brain in a vat is at the wheel of a runaway trolley," after which it took me a few minutes to stop laughing long enough to read the rest. Also, at the bottom we have the following modification: "ALTERNATIVE EXAMPLE: Same as above, except the brain has had a commisurotomy, and the left half of the brain is a consequentialist and the right side is an absolutist." My apologies to those who don't spend their time reading contemporary ethics and metaphysics, and therefore haven't yet figured out why I'm laughing.
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Topic(s): Philosophy
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July 21, 2007

Economically Optimal Copyright Term is 14 Years

According to economic analysis recently published by Cambridge Ph.D candidate Rufus Pollock, the optimal term for copyright is 14 years. Presumably, this means that a 14 year term would maximize utility across society in an idealized free market or some such. This is of interest to me because I don't believe that one can hold libertarian property rights in information or ideas (or intangibles generally), and so I take copyright and patent law to be constructed in the social contract (which means that its enforceability by goverment is limited, in terms of what the government is morally permitted to do),...
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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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June 27, 2007

The Teleological Argument

While we are talking a bit about intelligent design, I'd like to take the opportunity to post a little paper I wrote last semester on the teleological argument for the existence of God. The assignment was to give the strongest possible version of the teleological argument, discuss the most important objection, and whether the objection succeeds (and why). The catch: it all had to fit on one page. (This sort of thing is, by the way, a very useful exercise for budding philosophers; I recommend it.) So, without further ado: Teleological arguments for the existence of a divine being attempt to show...
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June 26, 2007

Theological Implications and "Scientificness"

It is popularly believed that if a theory has theological implications, then the theory is somehow "unscientific." A post (NOTE: MovableType won't let me link directly to this post because the URL contains an unescaped ' contrary to the HTTP spec so the above link goes to the daily archive) at the Florida Student Philosophy Blog challenges this claim. I think the article is unnecessarily long and involved, but I'm quite impressed with the insight. The argument is a reductio that works more or less like this...
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June 6, 2007

Discussions on Scripture and Tradition

Just a couple quick links: John Fraiser of Chaos and Old Night discusses the attitude Evangelical Protestants ought to take to Church tradition in his post, Sifting Through Church Tradition. Fraiser argues that we need to recognize the influence tradition has on us, and we ought not to try to escape from that influence, but, at the same time, we need to recognize that it is Scriputre and not tradition which is authoritative. I mostly agree with what Fraiser said...
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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 11, 2007

Quote of the Day

I am no feminist (my wife will confirm my impeccable Neanderthal credentials); I have strong views on women's ordination; but I am saddened by the way Reformed church culture so often tramples its women underfoot with its mindless identification of biblical manhood with something akin to John Wayne and its assumption that all Christian women should make Mary Poppins look domestically incompetent. - Carl Trueman, Reformation21.
I'm not sure where these attitudes come from...
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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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April 26, 2007

The New York Times Supports the Police State!

An editorial appearing in today's New York Times finally, at least, more or less understands the position of supporters of the Second Amendment as written. That's close to all that can be said positively about this little article. It begins with this line:
By now, the logic is almost automatic. A shooter takes innocent lives, and someone says that if the victims had been armed, this wouldn�t have happened. The only solution to a gun in the wrong hands, it seems, is a gun in the hands of everyone.
Why do gun advocates support this line of reasoning? The critical point is that it is not possible to keep guns out of the hands of criminals...
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April 24, 2007

April 19, 2007

Calvinism and Arminianism: On Making the Right Objection

I want to make an important point about something that is either a reasoning mistake (if done accidentally) or an underhanded rhetorical trick (if done intentionally). I've seen it a lot (and done it myself, accidentally) in debates between Calvinists and Arminians (mostly on a popular level, but sometimes even in the writings of philosophers and theologians), so I'm going to use this debate to provide examples ... The issue is this: all of us believe implicit contradictions, because we are unable to determine all the consequences of our beliefs. This means that there is a big difference between rejecting a belief p and accepting a belief q which, unbeknownst to you, logically entails not-p. So, if you believe ...
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April 9, 2007

Libertarian Compatibilism?

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

The Conjunction of the Armstrong-Laws is God

D. M. Armstrong is the best known proponent of a currently quite popular understanding of natural laws. Laws so understood are, as a result, called Armstrong-Laws, or A-Laws for short. These are distinguished from L-Laws, named for David Lewis. L-laws are identical to regularities in events (but not all regularities are laws). Unlike L-Laws, A-Laws are actual metaphysical entities, which exist independently of their instances. That is, according to this theory, the Law of Universal Gravitation is a thing out there in the universe (not in the mind) which actually makes massive objects move toward one another. The attraction (no...
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March 23, 2007

1 Timothy 2:12

Over at Better Bibles Blog, Suzanne has been doing a series on Bible passages relevant to women in leadership. 1 Timothy 2:12 is of course an important verse to deal with on this subject. She hasn't actually got to it yet, but it came up in the comments to the post on 1 Corinthians 12:27-31, and I felt that I needed to say more about it than could reasonably be said in a comment, so here it is: 1 Timothy 2:12 is a very difficult verse. When taken with the following few verses it appears at first glance to make some argument like...
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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 17, 2007

The Historicity of the Doctrine of Inerrancy

Jeremy Pierce of Parableman has an excellent post refuting the claim that the doctrine of inerrancy was invented in the 19th century as a response to theological liberals. I intend someday to get back to my long-stalled Why Believe the Bible? series, and when I do some of what Jeremy says here will be important for the next post, which is supposed to be on the witness of the Church to the Scripture. My one complaint about this post is that, in a fashion that is unfortunately typical of my fellow Protestants, it jumps through Church history from the New Testament, to Augustine, to Luther and Calvin, as though there was nothing in between...
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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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March 10, 2007

Laissez-faire (the game) Version 2

Update (6/2/07): Three minor changes: (1) the cost of the Home Maintenance Co. has been increased to $500. (2) A provision has been made (see under "Taking a Turn" and "Jail") to ensure that players going out do not gift their properties to other players to alter the course of the game. (3) Changes have been made to the selection order at the beginning of the (not yet play-tested) zero sum variant in the hope of increasing the fairness of the initial selection of properties. Also some clarifications have been made. I am considering removing the Petroleum Distribution Co., but...
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February 24, 2007

Foreknowledge, Free Will, and the Grandfather Paradox

Compatibilism is belief in actions that are both free and determined. Usually, one hears such phrases as "what I will to do, I must do" (I think Hume phrases it something like this) or "I am free to act according to my nature." The idea is that human beings have determinate natures and they act as their natures determine. They are free because nothing outside determines their actions. Theories that posit a more robust freedom of the will are called "libertarian" (no relation to the political theory referred to in my tagline). Usually one hears phrases like "I am free...
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February 21, 2007

New Philosophers' Carnival Up!

The latest Philosophers' Carnival is now up at This is the Name of This Blog (don't you just love analytic philosophy humor?) with a link to my two posts on the nature of love.
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February 14, 2007

What Is Love? Part 2: Types of Love

In part 1 of this series, I outlined a theory of love according to which love is defined as "a deeply internalized belief in the intrinsic value of the beloved." I indicated in that post that it was possible to differentiate between types of love along two dimensions: the reason for the belief, and the sorts of actions the lover takes or desires to take as a result. This post will discuss the traditional divisions of love and how the theory accounts for them along these two dimensions. The philosophical literature on love...
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Topic(s): Philosophy
Posted by Kenny at 12:57 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

February 12, 2007

What Is Love? Part 1: The Theory

In honor of Valentine's Day, I would like to present today a philosophical theory of love ... This first post will give my theory of love in outline, and a second post will discuss the different types of love in light of this theory. The theory that I hold to is this: Love is a deeply internalized belief in the intrinsic value of the beloved. I believe that this brief definition is able to take account of essentially all of the important facts about love (though I don't have any pretensions about actually listing all of the important facts about love in a single blog post, or even about knowing them all!). Let's take it apart ...
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Topic(s): Ethics , Philosophy
Posted by Kenny at 12:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

February 7, 2007

Quote of the Day: A Puzzle About Infinity

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

No Such Thing as an Ontological Free Lunch

In D.M. Armstrong's book Universals: an Opinionated Introduction, he discusses the pros and cons of a number of theories of the metaphysics of properties. Chapter three deals with "resemblance nominalism." According to resemblance nominalism, properties can be accounted for in terms of degrees of resemblance between the various objects having the property. So, for instance, on object is red if and only if it resembles some paradigmatic red objects. This theory is plagued by the "Resemblance Regress." Armstrong quotes Bertrand Russells' version as the "classical exposition" of the difficulty (p. 53): If we wish to avoid the universals...
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January 27, 2007

Scripture and Tradition in Protestantism

At the new blog Metaphysical Frameworks, Johnny-Dee (also of Fides Quaerens Intellectum fame) discusses the meaning of sola scriptura in its application to the practical methodology of Protestant theology. His suggestion is that "protestants consider the Bible to be like the Constitution, and the theological tradition to be like legal precedents from the Supreme Court." In other words, the determinations made by previous generations of Christians as to the teaching of Scripture are to be given great weight and not overturned lightly, but, ultimately, they are interpretations of Scripture and it is Scripture that is ultimately authoritative. Therefore, as much...
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January 23, 2007

What is "Trope Theory" Supposed to Explain?

I'm taking a graduate seminar in metaphysics this semester and, for the first part of the course, we are focusing on the metaphysics of properties. One account of properties is known as "trope theory". Tropes are often spoken of, rather sloppily (it doesn't seem to be possible to speak of tropes without being sloppy - a point I take to be significant to the epistemological problem we are about to discuss), as "property instances." The reason this is sloppy is that the point of trope theory is to get rid of universals (Platonic forms or their equivalents in other small-p...
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January 17, 2007

Quote of the Day

Philosophy of religion, I believe, is best viewed as a process of critical dialog... Such a critical dialog is risky. Probably everyone has heard a story of a student in a strict religious environment who loses his faith as a result of the critical challenges hurled at him at a university. But there is something unhealthy and even dishonest about a faith which hides from such a challenge. Can one really believe in God wholeheartedly and at the same time assert that one can only continue to believe by refusing to consider the evidence against one's belief? Such a "belief"...
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January 8, 2007

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 29, 2006

Laissez-faire (The Game)

I received for Christmas this year a copy of the game Anti-Monopoly. The game has an interesting premise. Half of the players are "monopolists" who play according to rules similar to the original Monopoly, and the other half are "competitors" who must charge "fair" rents and obey laws and so forth. The competitors make up for their lower rents by being able to build houses without controlling a monopoly. If you are detecting a slight socialist bias here, you are right; the rulebook contains questionable and irrelevant interjections like "monopolists will destroy competitors in the absence of anti-monopoly laws." However...
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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 30, 2006

Christianity and Homosexuality

In the very first Carnival of Citizens, there is a post at HeartFulls (a blog with which I was not previously familiar) in which the author wants to know how Christians deal with homosexuality. She seems to be particularly concerned with the question of gay marriage (which is presumably why this post was included in the Carnival of Citizens). She cites a few Scripture passages that are commonly used in arguments, but doesn't present a clear picture of how and why these arguments cause Christians to hold the positions they do (presumably, she doesn't know quite how these passages are interpreted, which is why this is part of her "I want to know" series). In this post, I will try to explain how these verses are interpreted, and how they should influence Christians' actions, especially in the political realm...
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November 28, 2006

US Mint Out to Get the Liberty Dollar?

It seems, over the last few months, that the U.S. Mint has suddenly been out to get the Liberty Dollar. This after years of investigations by the Secret Service and others which concluded that there was nothing criminal about it whatsoever. In the latest Liberty Dollar newsletter, which will be available on their web-site shortly, we read that "'threatening' letters have been received via certified mail by all the [regional currency officers] and [monetary architect Bernard von NotHaus] from Daniel P. Shaver, chief counsel for the US Mint." Also, NORFED, the organization behind the Liberty Dollar, has had their bank...
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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 7, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival 38

I'm extremely swamped right now (in the second round of midterms, and in tech week for Othello) and don't have time to post anything substantive, or keep up on what's going on on the other blogs I ordinarily read, for which I apologize. I do however, want to point all of your attention to Philosophers' Carnival 38 which is up at The Splintered Mind with a link to my post on Moore's "two hands" argument for the existence of the physical world.
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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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September 19, 2006

Certainty Miraculously Rescued From the Jaws Skepticism!

In my recent post on the inerrancy of the autographs, I made the following passing comment:
There is uncertainty everywhere in this world. If we are (rationally, justifiably) certain about anything at all, it is only about very elementary logically necessary propositions like '2+2=4', and even here there is some question (uncertainty!) about whether we are, or ought to be, truly certain.
I'm (maybe - it's a long story) taking a course on analytic epistemology this semester and, in the course of doing my course reading this evening, I came across a spectacular refutation of the statement above, proving once and for all that there is absolute certainty in the world:
"no one can mistakenly believe that there are beliefs"
    - Richard Feldman, Epistemology, p. 125
Well, isn't that impressive. I guess I am certain (and certain that I'm certain) about something!
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September 11, 2006

Conservative Judicial Activism?

The New York Times has a piece today on conservative judicial activism. The article claims that, not only does conservative judicial activism happen, but it is more common in the US today than liberal judicial activism. However, I have to wonder if 'conservative judicial activism' is even possible. My disagreement with the Times is, I admit, in large part semantic, because the terms 'conservative,' 'liberal,' and 'judicial activism' are all horribly equivocal, but they are also all emotionally charged terms, and I can't stand the kind of rhetorical trick the Times seems to be trying to pull here...
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August 16, 2006

Inerrancy of the Autographs: Does it Matter?

A common argument levelled against Evangelicals (most recently by Neal in the comments to my post on Jesus' witness to the Hebrew Bible) is that if, as most Evangelicals believe, it is that autographs of the Biblical books that are inerrant, then the doctrine of inerrancy is irrelevant since the autographs no longer exist ... What this amounts to is the claim that the inerrancy of the autographs is irrelevant because there is uncertainty about what the autographs in fact said. This is very similar to the claim that inerrancy is made irrelevant by the uncertainty in our interpretation. Both of these arguments are seriously flawed in precisely the same way. What I hope to do here is, by making some very simple applications of the Bayesian probability calculus...
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August 5, 2006

In Defense of Moderate Complementarianism

Peter Kirk at Speaker of Truth (also of Better Bibles Blog fame) has recently completed a fascinating six-part series on "Scholarly and Fundamentalist Approaches to the Bible." The series begins with a discussion of Al Mohler's ("fundamentalist") claim that permitting female elders and deacons contradicts the "clear teaching" of Scripture. Taking the fundamentalist approach, Peter says, we take a few verses as our standard, without seriously inquiring into their context, call the most obvious interpretation of these few verses (in English, out of context) the "clear teaching of Scripture," and then find creative ways to explain away every verse that seems to contradict this teaching. Peter goes on to compare this with a scholarly interpretation of Titus 1:6, and argues convincingly (he convinced me, at least) that in context and with proper lexicography and hermeneutics, this verse has little or nothing to do with the gender of overseers, and doesn't necessarily preclude women from taking the position. Peter rightly points out that those he calls 'fundamentalists' often refer to various doctrines as "the clear teaching of Scripture" when they are anything but clear, and I would not charge Peter, who is a gender egalitarian, with denying the authority of Scripture or ignoring its teachings. This is a complicated issue, and there is room for some disagreement. However, I do think that the teaching of Scripture is, on the whole, clear enough for the Church to base its structure on, and I will argue here that that teaching is in favor of what I will call a moderate complentarian position...
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July 24, 2006

William Lane Craig on the Historicity of the Resurrection

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

Truth-Makers, Truth-Conditions, and Middle Knowledge

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

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

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

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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July 4, 2006

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 12, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival XXXI!

Greetings one and all, and welcome to blog.kennypearce.net and the 31st Philosophers' Carnival! The Philosophers' Carnival is an every-few-weekly compilation of philosophy posts from blogs all over the web. The next Philosophers' Carnival is scheduled for July 3rd, and is still in need of a host! If you would like to host Philosophers' Carnival XXXII, visit the hosting guidelines then contact Richard Chappell of Philosophy, etc. to volunteer. Today's Philosophers' Carnival contains a truly fantastic collection of deep and insightful posts which will be divided into the three traditional sub-divisions of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology (including logic/dialectic), and ethics (including political...
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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"

June 5, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival #31 Reminder

Just a reminder: Philosophers' Carnival #31 will be hosted right here at blog.kennypearce.net on Monday, June 12, one week from today! Any philosophy-related blog post is eligible for inclusion, so get those submissions in! The submission deadline is midnight, US Eastern time, next Sunday night....
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May 22, 2006

Philosphers' Carnival 30 at anniemiz!

Philosophers' Carnival 30 is now up at anniemiz with a link to my post on why the NSA data mining peration is bad. The next Philosophers' Carnival will be hosted right here at blog.kennypearce.net on June 12, so stay tuned! To submit an entry, go to the Philosophers' Carnival home page....
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May 17, 2006

How to be a Christian Philosophy Professor

Douglas Groothuis, a philosophy professor at Denver Seminary has some interesting thoughts on Christianity, philosophy, and education in his article A Christian Philosophy of Education on his blog, The Constructive Curmudgeon. An excerpt: the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a philosopher are a strong and lived-out inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters through the rigorous use of human reasoning, and the ability to do so with some intellectual facility. By �philosophical matters� I mean the enduring questions of life�s meaning, purpose, and value as they relate to all the major divisions of philosophy (primarily ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics)....
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May 15, 2006

Why is the NSA Data Mining Operation Bad?

In the comments to my first post on NSA domestic spying, Jeremy said, This is exactly why I think libertarianism is completely nuts. If it's going to place some absurd sense of an absolute right to privacy so much higher than the extremely important obligation of the government to protect its people, then I want nothing to do with it ... It just seems silly to me to complain that my rights are being violated simply because information the government can already get if there's reason to suspect me of any criminal activity is more readily available in the event...
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May 13, 2006

What's a Fundamentalist?

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

Why Believe the Bible?
Part 1: Plan of Attack

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

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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What Is Philosophy? Ten Things Everyone Should Know

No less than three top ten lists of things everyone should know about philosophy have been published on philosophy blogs in recent days. The best of the three is at DuckRabbit. This list is entirely about how philosophy works, and not particular philosophical ideas the author thinks you should believe in. I think I agree with everything he says. The list that started it all is at Philosophy, et cetera. I don't much care for this list on the whole, because I don't think it's really a list of things people should know about philosophy (that is, it isn't about...
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April 18, 2006

Monty Python's "International Philosophy Match"

At Locusts & Honey.
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Topic(s): Philosophy
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April 17, 2006

Quote of the Day

"For tell me, if you saw any two persons, one naked, one having a garment, and then having stripped the one that had the garment, thou wert to clothe the naked, wouldest thou not have committed an injustice? It is surely plain to every one. But if when thou hast given all that thou hast taken to another, thou hast committed an injustice, and not shown mercy; when thou givest not even a small portion of what thou robbest, and callest the deed alms, what manner of punishment wilt thou not undergo?" - St. John Chryosostom (Patriarch of Constantinople, c....
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Biblical Inerrancy

Update (4/17/2006) There seem to have been some errors in my post on inerrancy. (How ironic!) I would like to take some steps to correct these. First: the Council of Nicaea did NOT proclaim that canon of Scripture. This is a widely circulated myth (google it, and see esp. this article). In fact, the canon of Scripture we have was never proclaimed by any ecumenical council, and several books continue to be disputed (see the Catholic Encyclopedia article on "Canon of the New Testament". I'm still working on what this means theologically. Second: as you can see from the comments,...
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April 6, 2006

Invisible Hand, April '06

The April 2006 issue of the Invisible Hand Newsletter is now available for download. The publishers hope that libertarian groups and individuals at colleges and universities across the country - and perhaps even internationally - will print and distribute this newsletter on their campuses. This latest issue contains an article by yours truly entitled "What Rights Don't I Have?" and based on a blog.kennypearce.net post from last October entitled "Why 'Positive Rights' are Stupid." The whole newsletter is worth a read....
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March 23, 2006

The Invisible Hand Newsletter

I was recently introduced to The Invisible Hand, a newsletter being put out by the Rutgers Libertarians (that would be Rutgers University, in New Jersey). The first edition came out last November and was distributed at two campuses in New Jersey. Now the group wants to get a wider distribution, by having individuals and groups on various college campuses throughout the country print the newsletter from the internet and distribute it. I am planning to submit an article on positive rights and why libertarians don't believe in them (based on this post) for the next issue, which is due out...
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March 20, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival 31 Coming to blog.kennypearce.net!

It's official! Philosophers' Carnival 31 will be hosted right here at blog.kennypearce.net on June 5, 2006. The philosophers' carnival occurs about every three weeks and showcases philosophy posts from many different blogs, in order to help small blogs gain exposure and help facilitate blog discussions about philosophy. The next carnival will be on April 3 at The University of Nowhere. You can submit your entries here....
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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 14, 2006

Philosopher's Carnival 27

Philosopher's Carnival 27 is up at Heaven Tree with a link to my post on Rights, Obligations, and Abortion. Check it out....
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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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A Singularly Un-Nutty Gun Nut

Jeff The Baptist is pointing to this opinion piece by one Jim March, apparently an activist concerned with gun policy and electronic voting machines (no, the two don't seem to be connected). After reading the article, I take March to be a singularly un-nutty gun nut. He provides statistics, history, scientific case studies, and personal anecdotes to support his position that keeping guns away from law-abiding citizens (a) undermines democracy, and (b) increases crime. Particularly interesting is his claim that the development of weapons technology that could be purchased and used by the common people was an essential element in...
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March 5, 2006

Rights, Obligations, and Abortion

A while ago, in a post on abortion, I had a brief discussion with Jeremy Pierce about the distinction between rights and obligations. Since we are discussing abortion again, I thought now would be a good time to clarify what I mean by this distinction. I will also discuss briefly how this applies to the abortion debate. First and foremost in this distinction is this: rights belong to the province of public or political morality, whereas obligations belong to the province of private or individual morality. Political morality has to do with the existence and nature of morally appropriate government,...
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March 3, 2006

John Stossel on Education and the Free Market

Syndicated columnist and ABC news reported John Stossel has an editorial at TownHall.com (HT: WorldMagBlog) on the benefits of introducting free market competition to the primary/secondary education system through a voucher-type system. Most of the points he makes are obvious - as economists say, idealized free markets lead to Pareto-optimal states, and competition brings a system that much closer to the idealized free market - but the article is nevertheless worth a read. In short, under the competitive system "Bad schools will close and better schools will open. And the better schools won't all be the same." Stossel points out...
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March 2, 2006

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

Prospect Magazine has published a series of letters between Richard Swinburne and Daniel Dennett regarding the existence of God and the historical origin of religious belief, following the publication of Dennett's new book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Dennett's book argues that an evolutionary explanation for religious belief exists, and that religion can and should be examined empirically by science with the initial presumption of "methodological naturalism" (i.e. we must assume for the sake of argument that God does not exist in order to take on this investigation). Swinburne argues that no such investigation can be adequately...
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February 21, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival 26

Philosophers' Carnival 26 is up at Hesperus/Phosphorus with a link to my post on libertarianism and corporations....
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February 20, 2006

Libertarianism and Corporations

One of the key problems of strict (non-consequentialist) libertarianism is how the state is to successfully perform its function of protecting citizens from force or fraud without the funding acquired from confiscatory taxation schemes. The problem is that libertarian commitments in the region of political morality do not permit the government to violate the private property rights which individuals have in the hypothetical "state of nature," and in the state of nature individuals own all of their income, not just what's left after taxes. The government exists to enforce these property rights. Robert Nozick believes (see his book Anarchy, State,...
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January 31, 2006

Uncredible Double Carnival

Both the Philosopher's Carnival and the GOD or NOT Carnival are up at The Uncredible Hallq. I didn't get a submission in for this month's GOD or NOT, on the theme of "Definition of God," but the philosopher's carnival contains a link to my recent post on persons as events....
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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 20, 2006

On Public Education

In the comments to this post on recent attempts to insert intelligent design into public high schools as philosophy, Ed Darrell and I have been having a discussion about more general questions of public education. I thought it would be a good idea to write a piece about my general view of this subject here, since the discussion is looking like its about to get quite long and detailed. As I see it, there are two issues here: the government's use of tax money to fund education, and the government's exercise of power over how education is done. Furthermore, there...
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January 14, 2006

Tying Up Some Loose Ends: Greek Musterion in the New Testament

I've been meaning for some time to write a post tying together two topics that I had previously discussed. The items in question are my discussion of translation and transliteration and my suggestion in this post that Pagan religion might have had an influence on the New Testament's mode of expression. The common tie? The word "mystery." This word, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is first attested with the definition "A religious truth known or understood only by divine revelation; esp. a doctrine of faith involving difficulties which human reason is incapable of solving" in the Wyclif Bible of...
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January 13, 2006

Can High School Students Handle Philosophy?

Brian Leiter, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas Austin, points to an LA Times article about a lawsuit against a California public school district over an attempt to introduce an elective course entitled "philosophy of design." The suit charges that the course is about promoting a particular religion, rather than looking at the issue in the sort of balanced way a permissible "comparative relgion" course would. Now, if the charge is true and the course teaches only one viewpoint and seeks to convince students of that viewpoint, then it is a bad philosophy class (the constitutional issue is,...
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January 12, 2006

Propaganda, Abortion, and the New York Times

I am a regular reader of the New York Times, and I must admit that I often sympathize with the assertion of many conservatives that the Times is biased toward the Democratic party. However, I think this concern is much overstated. The Times routinely portrays both sides of issues on the Op-Ed page, and also in factual reporting. Biases of omission, or phrasings that seem to make value judgments rather than report fact, do occur and tend to occur in a decidedly liberal direction, but if there is real persistent bias in the Times, I would say that it has...
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January 10, 2006

Smoking Bans, Private Property, and the Free Market

Hammer of Truth reports today that New Jersey has been added to the list of states banning smoking in "public buildings." Washington is also one of these states. Philadelphia tried to pass a city ban some time ago, but I believe it failed (I'm not entirely sure). Now, there are two things I want everyone to know about these smoking bans: (1) they are unjust, because they violate the private property rights of restraunt and bar owners, and (2) they are unnecessary because, to the degree that people actually want non-smoking establishments, the free markent provides them. I do not...
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Philosophers' Carnival XXIV

Philosophers' Carnival XXIV is up at Rad Geek People's Dailywith a link to my post Let's Make Creation Science Not Suck. Rad Geek does a wonderful job summarizing all of the very interesting entries in the carnival. Check it out....
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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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December 24, 2005

How Much of Science is Philosophy?

There is an interesting post over at Parableman about the relationship between science and philosophy, in the context of the Intelligent Design debate. Jeremy claims that (1) ID is clearly not religious in nature, and (2) its philosophical nature is not a good reason to exclude it from science curriculum, because everything else in science is philosophical too. It's worth a read. Personally I've been arguing for some time (not on this blog, in real life) that the vast majority of scientists don't have a sufficient grasp of the philosophical foundations of their fields to adequately pursue some of the...
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December 22, 2005

Let's Make Creation Science Not Suck

Nearly a month ago, I posted without commentary a Leibniz quote about materialism and supernaturalism. At the time I was busy with classes and didn't have time to really address the issue I saw the quote raising, but now that finals are over, I'd like to take a minute and look at this. When I read this quote, I immediately thought of "creation science." Leibniz here describes what he sees as two false extremes: the one is represented today by the likes of Peter Atkins, the Oxford Chemist who insists that in order to properly follow scientific methodology one must...
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November 29, 2005

Quote of the Day

"We know that while there have been, on the one hand, able philosophers who recognized nothing except what is material in the universe, there are, on the other hand, learned and zealous theologians who, shocked at the corpuscular philosophy and not content with checking it's misuse, have felt obliged to maintain tha tthere are phenomena in nature which cannot be explained by mechanical principles; as for example, light, weight, and elastic force. But since they do not reason with exactness in this matter, and it is easy for the corpuscular philosophers to reply to them, they injure religion in trying...
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November 28, 2005

Can The New Testament Be Both Influenced By Plato and Inspired by God?

The God Or Not Blog Carnival is a cool idea. It happens once or twice a month. For each carnival, there is a theme and the carnival host selects an approximately equal number of posts on that theme by atheists and theists for inclusion. The theme of the December 12 carnival is miracles. I have dealt substantially with miracles on this blog in a general way already, and so I've decided to post on applying my views to one very specific miracle which is central to the claims of Christianity and especially Evangelicalism: the inspiration of Scripture. The story so...
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November 23, 2005

Carnivals Galore!

Within the last 24 hours, Philosopher's Carnival XXII has gone up at For Those of You At Home, and Christian Carnival ICVII has gone up at Thought Renewal. The Philosopher's Carnival links to my recent post on judicial activism, and the Christian Carnival is linking to "Ivy League Elitist ... Porn?". At the Philosopher's Carnival (though not at the Christian Carnival), it is customary for the host to comment on each of the posts. Ian Olasov ends his very kind remarks on my post with the line "Now all we need to do is force our elected officials to speak...
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November 16, 2005

Republican Opposition to Privacy Amendment Would Alienate Libertarians?

Today's New York Times has an Op-Ed entitled "Can I Get A Little Privacy?" in which Dan Savage argues that Democrats should propose a constitutional amendment to gaurantee a right to privacy. He goes on to claim that Republican opposition to the amendment "would alienate not only moderates, but also ... libertarian, small-government conservatives." Really? As I've discussed before, right-libertarians (and he certainly isn't talking about left-libertarians of the ACLU variety - what do the Republicans care about them?) are by definition opposed to the concept of "positive rights." Now, perhaps Savage has in mind a wording that would turn...
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November 4, 2005

What is Judicial Activism?

An article in today's New York Times about the continuing Supreme Court confirmation process discusses the degree to which "ideology" should or does play a role in judicial confirmations. In the course of this discussion, both Democrats and Republicans are accused of hypocrisy in this area, and they are obviously guilty on this point. Virtually all senators claim that ideology shouldn't matter for their own party's nominees, but should for the other party's. It goes on to discuss the question of "judicial activism." The Times quotes extensively from Professor Lee Epstein of the Washington University in St. Louis School of...
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October 31, 2005

Philosopher's Carnival XXI

Philosopher's Carnival XXI is up at Prior Knowledge with a link to my recent post on Leibniz and miracles (yes, that's the same post the Christian Carnival linked to last week - I haven't had time to write much recently). The Philosopher's Carnival is a "fortnightly" compilation of recent posts on philosophy blogs....
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October 12, 2005

Leibniz on "Efficient" vs. "Final" Causes in Physics: Its Application to God, Science, and Miracles

So I'm taking this class on Leibniz this semester (for those of you who may be unfamiliar, that is Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the 17th century philosopher/scientist/mathematician, and the "other" discoverer of calculus), and I was reading his Discourse on Metaphysics today and came across this fantastic passage in section 19: Moreover, it is unreasonable to introduce a supreme intelligence as orderer of things and then, instead of using his wisdom, use only the properties of matter to explain the phenomena. This is as if, in order to account for the conquest of an important place by a great prince, a...
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October 7, 2005

Why "Positive Rights" Are Stupid

They lead to crap like this. According to the mayor of San Francisco, "It is ... a fundamental right to have access universally to information" and providing wireless internet access for free to the city is " a civil rights issue as much as anything else." (Hat tip: Evangelical Outpost) Wait, civil rights? Wireless internet? Next you'll be telling me they have a "fundamental right" to own a laptop with which to use the wireless internet. Where the heck does this crap come from? Libertarian and classic liberal political theorists believe that all of our rights are what are called...
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October 6, 2005

Ronald Dworkin on John Roberts and Principles of Constitutional Interpretation

The New York Review Of Books has published an insightful piece by Ronald Dworkin, a brilliant political philosopher at NYU, on what we can expect from John Roberts. For those of you who are on familiar, Dworkin wrote an excellent book entitled Sovereign Virtue in which he develops a systematic political philosophy which is capable (if successful) of justifying the voting patterns of moderate Democrats. This is very impressive, as most political philosophies end up in one of three extremes (libertarianism, Marxism, or utilitarianism), or else are hopelessly unsystematic. However, as you might expect I, having adopted one of the...
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October 1, 2005

Theism, Empiricism Mutually Exclusive?

Parableman points to an anti-intelligent design petition circulating among academic scientists. The text of the petition reads: We, as scientists trained in fields that utilize evolutionary theory, do not consider Intelligent Design to be a fact-based science appropriate for teaching in public schools because it is theistic in nature, not empirical, and therefore does not pass the rigors of scientific hypothesis testing and theory development. As such, we petition that Intelligent Design not be presented in public schools as a viable science within the scientific curriculum. (emphasis original) Parableman points out the very strange phrase "it is theistic in nature,...
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Topic(s): Philosophy
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September 27, 2005

The Right Way to Introduce Intelligent Design to Public Schools ...

is by teaching philosophy of science. Metaphysics and philosophy of science, no matter what anyone says, are "ontically prior" to experimental science. What that means is that you must have at least a working philosophy of science (with some difficult conceptual work it is possible to abstract away the metaphysics in most cases) in order to interpret the results of observations and experiments. Remember that "scientific method" thing you learned in high school (or, hopefully, middle school)? Scientists hold to a philosophical - not scientific - theory states that that method works. The details of this philosophical position will determine...
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September 3, 2005

Experimental Philosophy?

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting on one Dr. Joshua Knobe, professor of philosophy at UNC Chapel Hill, who has published 18 papers, primarily in the field of ethics (and moral psychology) using a method of "experimental philosophy" which he has apparently devised or helped devise. Basically, Mr. Knobe observed that philosophers, especially ethicists, constantly talk about "our intuitions" and their arguments often rely on this. Furthermore, much of analytic philosophy, methodologically, begins with questions of the form "what do we mean when we say..." Based on this, Mr. Knobe decided to attempt to devise survey questions to determine...
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Topic(s): Philosophy
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August 31, 2005

Ecclesiology in Swinburne's Revelation

I've just finished reading Richard Swinburne's Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy, in which he strives to create a rational foundation for belief in (a particular understanding of) "the Christian revelation" (which, on Swinburne's account is not exactly equivalent with the Bible, but we'll get there). The beginning of this book is very good. Swinburne argues forcefully that if the God of traditional Western monotheism exists, then there is good reason to expect that He would reveal Himself to mankind, and, of course, if we have an a priori expectation that there is probably a revelation out there somewhere, then much less evidence is required to identify some specific item as that revelation than if we had a view of the world which makes such a revelation unlikely (note that Swinburne establishes the authority of the Bible on the basis of the existence of God, not vice versa). However, as one moves on further in Swinburne's book, into the specifics of his theory of revelation, his statements become increasingly problematic (read: false). Swinburne's departure from sound doctrine is not due to flawed philosophical reasoning, but rather to correct reasoning from a false premise. The departure occurs at a very definite point and comes from a very definite cause: the horrible ecclesiology assumed, not argued for, in chapter 8...
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August 28, 2005

Dennett: "Intelligent Design" Obscures Real Objections to Evolution

Daniel Dennet, a brilliant philosopher at Tufts University, known (to me) for his work on personal identity and philosophy of mind, is an avowed atheist. In today's New York Times, Dennet joins the "intelligent design" controversy with a lengthy Op-Ed. The article is four pages long, but I just want to focus on one thing he says and the conclusions he draws from it:
The focus on intelligent design has, paradoxically, obscured something else: genuine scientific controversies about evolution that abound. In just about every field there are challenges to one established theory or another. The legitimate way to stir up such a storm is to come up with an alternative theory that makes a prediction that is crisply denied by the reigning theory - but that turns out to be true, or that explains something that has been baffling defenders of the status quo, or that unifies two distant theories at the cost of some element of the currently accepted view.

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August 2, 2005

Jesus as a Philosopher

Douglas Groothuis, professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary, meditates on Jesus as a philosopher in a post today on his blog, Culture Watch: Thoughts of a Constructive Curmudgeon. The article makes a good read and asks an important question, Why has there been so little serious study of Jesus as a philosopher to date? I have long propounded a belief that Paul has a sophisicated philosophy of mind, and John a philosophical cosmology, but what of Jesus Himself? Professor Groothuis points to a couple of passages suggesting a deeply philosophical outlook in the thought of Jesus; a devotion to reason...
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July 19, 2005

God, Science, and the Teleological (Design) Argument Revisited

I've just finished the deeply moving experience of reading one of the most brilliant, and beautiful, philosophy papers I have been exposed to to date. The paper, "Natural Theology, Methodological Naturalism, and 'Turtles all the Way Down'" by Dr. Del Ratzsch, a philosopher of science at Calvin College, appears in the latest issue of Faith and Philosophy, and academic journal published by the Society of Christian Philosophers. (The latest issue is dated October 2004 - they're a little behind.) The paper discusses a broad range of issues related to the interaction between theology and science. There are two points that I find particularly beautiful and compelling and would like to discuss. The first is his argument that the success of science (not any particular scientific endeavor, but the entire enterprise) actually amounts to experimental support (albeit inconclusive) for traditional monotheism. The second is his discussion of "infinite regression" of naturalistic explanations...
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May 29, 2005

Evangelical Outpost: Dead Wrong on "Hyperbolic Doubt," Modernism, and Christianity

Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost has posted a pair of articles on the subject of "doubt, certainty, and epistemic humility" in which he blasts Rene Descartes for giving place to doubt in his quest to utlimately provide the epistemic groundwork for a Christian worldview. Descartes' method in his Mediations on First Philosophy (and Discourse on Method) is to practice doubt with great effort, and discover the limits of doubtability. I am of the opinion that Descartes' arguments ultimately fail to prove the existence of God, or anything else beyond the existence of the meditator himself, as the limits of doubtability give us information not about the ultimate truth of the universe, but about our own psychology (and, despite my idealist/phenomenalist metaphyics, I absolutely insist that the two are not interchangeable). However, Mr. Carter goes on to criticize the entire enterprise of the Christian philosophers of the early modern era (he speaks positively of Pascal, but from what little I know of Pascal I would say that he fits better in the tradition of medieval philosophy than that of the modernists). I cannot overemphasize how greatly misplaced his criticisms are, and I wish to argue here that it is not modernism but post-modernism that is the enemy of Christianity; the tradition of modern philosophy has much to contribute to the Christian worldview and quest for truth. It in no way contradicts Scripture, nor does it undermine faith.
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Topic(s): Philosophy
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May 24, 2005

This Just In: Some Creationists are Stupid!

It seems that the other day an article by Richard Dawkins, the vice-president of the British Humanist Association was published arguing that creationism is based on a rejection of "scientific logic." I would like to go on record stating that I agree with most of his points. It is absolutely necessary for scientists to be able to admit that they are still unsure about certain points of their theory without being pounced upon by the rhetoric of ignorant laymen. This hampers inquiry. Science thrives on ignorance by seeking to destroy it. Legitimate Christianity is not a religion that thrives on...
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Topic(s): Philosophy
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May 7, 2005

The Future of This Blog

In case you hadn't noticed, this blog has been awefully sparse for the past few months. I had an extremely busy semester and not much time for blogging. It is now summer (that is, the spring semester of school is over), and working 40 hours a week and having Saturdays and Sundays off and not taking work home in the evenings is sounding restful. So, in this post I'd like to give some idea on what sorts of things will be influencing my topics over the course of the summer, and then comment briefly on a few issues I missed.
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December 21, 2004

Christian Naturalism

I've been talking about miracles a lot lately, and the subject has also come up in an otherwise excellent essay I was reading, "On Being a Christian Academic" by William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig unfortunately makes the mistake of assuming that several philosophical doctrines (e.g. platonism in philosophy of mathematics) are clearly repugnant to Christianity, when, in fact, they may have Christian interprettations. To this end, I am writing today about miracles and, in particular, my own view; a sort of Christian naturalism. By naturalism I do not mean materialism (my metaphysics, at present, is neo-Berkleyan in nature, and as such I believe not only that minds exist non-physically, but that the physical exists only insofar as these minds perceive it). Nor do I mean the denial of a "first philosophy" ontically prior to natural science (this sort of move is patently ridiculous, despite its current popularity. A sound metaphysics and philosophy of science are needed in order to interpret scientific evidence, and so natural science is clearly dependent on them). What I do mean, is the belief that every occurence in the physical world is governed by a set of fundamental laws to which there are no exceptions. This has been argued from a purely secular philosophical perspective countless times, so I will not repeat these arguments. Rather, I will argue from Scripture in favor of this view, and then provide a theory of miracles based upon it.
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November 5, 2004

Education, Democracy, Moral Idealism, The Church, and Academia

There are lots of current events I could be blogging about right now (I still haven't commented on the election results, and two news items totally made my day today: John Ashcroft is retiring and Yasser Arafat is dying. Also, Dr. Faustus opened this evening). However, none, of them is particularly inspiring at the moment. Instead of venturing into the wacky world of real politics and the present (which I have done too much of the last few months leading up to the election), I've decided to venture backward in time some 2,500 years, and comment on Plato's Republic, its...
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September 27, 2004

Penn HumanitiesForum/Class Schedule

A long overdue update on factors which will determine the content of my non-political postings over the next semester/year:
  1. The first meeting of the Penn Undergraduate Humanities Forum was today. I was awarded a year-long research fellowship with the Humanities Forum last spring after submitting a research proposal. This year's theme is "Sleep and Dreams" and I will be doing research on my favorite philosopher, George Berkeley to determine how his philosophy of immaterialism can deal with the fact that we perceive things in dreams which we would like to say are not real....
  2. My class schedule. I should have posted this sooner but didn't. I'm taking two philosophy class, Intro to Ancient Philosophy, and Formal Logic II. I'm also taking Greek and two courses in computer science, but it is unlikely (though not impossible) that these will inspire anything posted here...

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July 27, 2004

"A Philosophical Discussion of the Christian Doctrines of the Fall of Man and the Regeneration of the Holy Spirit"

I've just posted a new paper to my writings section. The name of the paper is "A Philosophical Discussion of the Christian Doctrines of the Fall of Man and the Regeneration of the Holy Spirit". This is a first first first draft (not yet seen by anyone but me) so any input would be much appreciated and can be posted here or e-mailed to me. That goes for any kind of feedback, whether on form or content. As before, I'll post my responses here and if I alter the paper in any way I will make note of that here. Check it out here (PDF format).
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May 12, 2004

Beauty is Not in the Eye of the Beholder: Foundations for an Absolutist Theory of Beauty

My writings page has just been reorganized. There are now separate pages for older and newer documents. The first thing to go up on the new documents page is the paper "Beauty is Not in the Eye of the Beholder: Foundations for an Absolutist Theory of Beauty." This is an edited and slightly expanded version of my term paper for aesthetics class this past semester (spring of 2004). Special thanks to Serena Halley whose comments made the first revision possible, and Michael Rohlf whose comments did the same for the second. Click here to take a look at it (PDF format).
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April 30, 2004

Penn Humanities Forum

Good news! I've been selected as an Undergraduate Fellow of the Penn Humanities Forum. As part o the humanities forum, I will be doing research on metaphysical idealism generally and George Berkeley specifically to determine how such theories can deal with dreams, and whether or not an idealist must consent that dreams have some degree of reality. I'll be working on this beginning next fall and presenting my research next spring.
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March 29, 2004

The Problem of Freedom: The Answer Was in Schopenhauer All Along

So I have been plagued the last couple of days by the sudden realization that a problem I thought I had easily solved had actually not been solved at all. You see there is this inherent problem in the whole idea of free will. Now, personally, I think the "libertarian" (NB: the use of this word in metaphysics is mostly unrelated to its use in politics as in my last couple of posts) sense of free will, which is to say the doctrine that we are free with regard to an action if and only if we can do otherwise,...
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Topic(s): Philosophy
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March 15, 2004

Ontological Argument for the Existence of ... Objective Truth?

I have just returned from Spring Break, during which time I made a strange realization. I'm sure someone must have discovered this before, but did you know that by using the same logic employed in the modal version of the ontological argument for the existence of God, one can pull a reductio ad absurdum on the thesis of relativism (which is to say, reduce it to a contradiction). The reasoning isn't much different than when a person is told that there is no such thing as absolute truth and responds with the question, "Is that absolutely true?" but this version sounds much more... well... impressive. Check it out:
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Topic(s): Philosophy
Posted by Kenny at 1:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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