Metaphysics Archives



More Generally: Philosophy (440)
More Specifically: Abilities (6) Action Theory (4) Axiarchism (1) Causation (7) Essentialism (2) Grounding (1) Identity (3) Laws of Nature (6) Mereology (4) Metaontology (1) Modality (30) Natural Kinds (2) Ontology (46) Philosophy of Mind (36) Properties (1) Time (1)

March 26, 2014

March 19, 2014

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

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

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


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March 18, 2014

March 10, 2014

The Puzzle of Existence: Concluding Thoughts and Table of Posts

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

McDaniel's Ontological Pluralism and the Puzzle of Existence

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

Maitzen on the Explanatory Power of Penguins

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

Lange on the Natural Necessity of Something

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

Kotzen on the Improbability of Nothing

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

Rodriguez-Pereyra on Ontological Subtraction

Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra's contribution to The Puzzle of Existence is the last of a series of contributions on the question whether there might have been nothing. Rodriguez-Pereyra defends a version of the subtraction argument for metaphysical nihilism. That is, he argues (roughly) that for any concrete being and any possible world at which that being exists, the world obtained by subtracting that being from that world is likewise possible, and that it follows from this that there is an empty possible world. (The empty world is to be obtained by subtracting all of the concrete beings from some possible world with...
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February 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 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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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 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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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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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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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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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 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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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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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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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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November 19, 2011

Counterpossible Reasoning in Philosophy of Religion (and Elsewhere)

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

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

I apologize for the very light posting; I have been busy stressing about my upcoming qualifying exam. But I thought I would break my silence today for some thoughts about (as usual) Berkeley. The following passage from Berkeley's Dialogues (L&J p. 200) is rather notorious: Phil. ... I am content to put the whole [debate] upon this issue. If you can conceive it possible for any mixture or combination of qualities, or any sensible object whatever, to exist without the mind, then I will grant it actually to be so. Hyl. If it comes to that, the point will soon...
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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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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 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 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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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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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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January 11, 2011

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

One of the main aims of Berkeley's Essay Toward a New Theory of Vision is to argue that the application of spatial vocabulary ('far', 'near', 'big', 'small', 'right', 'left', etc.) to how things look ("visible objects") is derived from the primary meaning of that vocabulary as applying to how things feel ("tangible objects"). A big object is one you can't fit your arms around. An object looks big when the way it looks makes you think that you probably wouldn't be able to fit your arms around it. It is only by experience that we learn that objects we can't...
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December 1, 2010

Abilities and Tryings

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

Leibniz and Frankfurt on Freedom

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

Omniscience and Simplicity

The end of the semester is fast approaching, which means an even more hectic academic schedule, followed by a vacation. This post will be a brief remark on Sobel's treatment of omniscience, which completes his interlude on divine attributes. Following this, I will leave off until after the holidays, at which point I will deal with the remainder of the book, which treats arguments against the existence of God, and also 'Pascalian' practical arguments for belief in God. The main puzzle Sobel finds with omniscience is one pushed by Patrick Grim. The thrust of the argument is this: (1) a...
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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 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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September 28, 2010

Explanatory Principles and Infinite Propositions

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

A Non-Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

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

A Leibnizian Cosmological Argument

Sobel's sixth chapter is devoted to, as he says, "proofs a contingentia mundi" (from the contingency of the world). The chief exponent here is Leibniz, though Sobel also considers Hume's Demea and his probable source, Samuel Clarke. Sobel argues that Leibniz's argument is valid ... by contradiction explosion. That is, he argues that Leibniz's premises are inconsistent. In this post, I show how to fix the argument using Leibnizian resources. In the next post, I will give another version of the argument which uses premises which I consider to be anti-Leibnizian, but which I think are more widely held than...
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September 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 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 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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July 9, 2010

Authority, Authoritativeness, and Objectivity

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

Unrestricted Quantifiers and Fundamental Quantifiers

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

Locke on the Arbitrariness of Ideas of Mixed Modes and Substances

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

The Simplicity of Berkeley's Argument Against Representative Realism

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

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

My paper "Can Berkeley's God Raise the Same Body, Transformed?", which is to be presented at the Society of Christian Philosophers, Pacific Division conference next week is now available on the conference web-site. I would greatly appreciate any comments or criticisms.
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October 14, 2008

Minimalist Ontology and Familiar Object Talk

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

Baber on the Real Presence

Some of the papers to be presented at the Society of Christian Philosophers, Pacific Division Conference have now been posted. Mine isn't up yet, but I will provide a link when it is. For now, I want to point readers to a paper by the University of San Diego's Harriet Baber which she has entitled simply "The Real Presence". We have previously discussed here the difference between transubstantiation and real presence. Baber describes this quite nicely in her introduction...
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September 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 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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August 30, 2008

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

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

Representative Realism, Phenomenalism, and "Physical-Talk"

When I wrote a while back about the idealist strategy, I said that the second step was to "argue that our physical statements - both ordinary statements about physical objects and statements about the discipline of physics - are best construed as talking about perception." What I want to do here is to unpack this statement. First, let's examine what the argument is supposed to do and then we'll look at the argument as it appears in a brief section of Berkeley's Three Dialogues. This piece of the argument is a reductio against representative realism...
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April 11, 2008

Language and the Metaphysics of the Material World

Let me begin with a reminder: be sure to get your posts in for the 67th Philosophers' Carnival by tomorrow (Saturday) midnight (Eastern time), and remember that the theme is idealism. I've received many good posts already (probably more than I'll be able to include), but only a handful are idealism-themed. Having said that, let me begin my own idealism-themed post. In my paper "The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley" (which I never tire of linking to, because it is much better thought out, developed, and argued than the mostly half-baked stuff I post on this blog), I spend...
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March 29, 2008

Berkeley: Phenomenalist or Platonist?

Commentators have long recognized the existence of two distinct strains of thought in Berkeley's discussions of how our perceptions give rise to something that is properly called a world. According to the phenomenalist strain, the world is quite simply composed of perception and it becomes a world, rather than simply an unrelated collection of perceptions, by means of the orderliness with which God causes perceptions. According to the Platonist strain, the world (and each object in it) has an archetype in the divine mind and our perceptions are perceptions of the world because what we perceive is an "ectype" of that archetype...
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March 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 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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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 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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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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September 25, 2007

"The Ontological Status of Dreams in Berkeleian Metaphysics"

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

Armstrong on Berkeley

I was looking on half.com recently to see if I could find an affordable volume containing Berkeley's Siris last week when I came upon this 1965 collection, Berkeley's Philosophical Writings (ISBN 0020641702 according to half.com; it's apparently too old to have an ISBN printed in it) edited and with introduction by none other than D. M. Armstrong. I was unable to find any further information on the book, but, at half.com prices, decided it was worth buying just to get Armstrong's introduction (and on the off-chance that it contained Siris). Since there was no information on this book available online, and there are more copies still available, I thought I should provide some information myself...
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August 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 5, 2007

Paper #2: For Real This Time

Before I left last week, I sent in to Religious Studies the final draft of my paper "The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley," which they have accepted for publication. The paper discusses the meaning of the "universal language of the Author of Nature" Berkeley argues for in the Essay Toward a New Theory of Vision and elsewhere. Essentially, the question I try to begin to answer is "if sense perception is a language by which God speaks to us, then what is he saying?" (I say "begin" because I have not developed a detailed semantic theory, but only offered...
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May 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 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 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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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 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 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 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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December 31, 2006

On Moore's Alleged Refutation of Idealism

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

Philosophical Language in Hebrews 11:1

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

On Synergism

Gerald has a piece on Augustine and the synergism/monergism distinction up at Iustificare. Gerald believes that the real question is not about synergism vs. monergism, but rather about the resistability of grace. I think he is probably right about this, but I question his definition of synergism, since synergism is working together, but he seems to interpret it as simple concurrence. If I want God to do something, but have no power in myself to make it happen, it's not clear that this is synergism. However, Jesus does say "this is the work of God: that you believe in the One He has sent" (John 6:29). So let's suppose that believing or willing is a "work" (ergon) for the purpose of synergism. I have two points to make...
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October 18, 2006

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

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

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September 22, 2006

My First Academic Journal Paper!

Last night I received word that a paper I wrote entitled "The Ontological Status of Dreams in Berkeleian Metaphysics" has been accepted for publication by The Dualist! The paper argues that the characteristics of dream perceptions by which we, in practice, distinguish them from waking perceptions prevent dream perceptions from functioning as a language in the way Berkeley believes waking perceptions do and thus provide a principled grounding for an ontological distinction between dreams and waking life...
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July 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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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 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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May 2, 2006

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

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

Blogging Parmenides

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

"Theism and Mechanism in Leibniz"

I've just posted a new paper to my writings page, entitled "Theism and Mechanism in Leibniz." This is a topic that I've discussed quite a bit in the past few months, and this may be the end of it for a while. An earlier version served as a term paper for Professor Karen Detlefsen's undergraduate seminar on Leibniz at Penn last semester. It has undergone slight revision based on her comments. Please feel free to offer any responses or discussion you have in the comments section of this post. Any revisions made will be documented in the comments here as...
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January 27, 2006

Persons as Events

Over the semester break, I took some time to look at Peter van Inwagen's paper "Materialism and the Psychological-Continuity Account of Personal Identity" (Philosophical Perspectives 11 (1997): 305-319) and, as I realized that I don't have a good candidate for submission to Monday's Philosopher's Carnival, I thought this would be a good time to write down some thoughts that I had in connection with this paper and (very) broadly Lockean "psychological continuity" accounts of personal identity in general. The aim of van Inwagen's paper is to show that these kind of psychological continuity accounts require the existence of immaterial substances,...
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January 7, 2006

Christianity and Aristotelian Metaphysics

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