In a recent article for Aeon magazine, Prof. Bruce Russell argues that all our justified beliefs ultimately rest on a priori justification. At first glance, this appears to be quite a claim, for surely some of our justification is a posteriori – how can empirical propositions such as, say, the sun will rise tomorrow, because it has risen in the past (the inductive proposition par excellence) turn out to be justified a priori? Russell argues that even induction is justified a priori – a contentious claim, to say the least, but not an indefensible one. The question of its viability, then, hinges on the quality of the arguments given in its defence. It is important to note at the outset and keep in mind Russell’s definition of a priori justification – this will prove significant later: Continue reading
It seems that the the idea that the metaphysical language of Chalcedon itself gives us a normative description of reality, or commits us to a specific metaphysic, is mistaken. While the creeds language is highly metaphysical, are all these terms, substance, person, nature, essence, about the person of Christ to be taken in the strictest metaphysical terms? Are we committed to a broadly classical metaphysic by Chalcedon?
Upon closer inspection, however, Chalcedon itself doesn’t appear to commit us to any such thing (the assertion that it does would probably only have any force if it was assumed that such a metaphysic was already the case) nor is it required to remain within the bounds of orthodoxy. It is absolutely possible, for example to construct a fully orthodox christology without metaphysics on the ‘basis of the narrated history of Jesus’ ( such as that of Bruce McCormack). But there’s a few significant things about Chalcedon that, to me, put a few nails in the overtly classical concept of Chalcedon (a lot of this comes from Sarah Coakley’s essay on Chalcedon ‘What Does Chalcedon Solve’ in ‘The Incarnation’) Continue reading
Modern philosophy can be characterized by two things: a deep hostility to any idea of ‘enchantment’ and a deep forgetfulness of the idea of ‘second nature’. Properly qualified, the former is acceptable (there need be no overarching enchanted metaphysical scheme underlying nature), but the latter is the source of some of the key problems of modernity, the most prominent of which might very well be the problem of the naturalness and mindedness of man. This is the axis on which German Idealism turned, and the answers the idealists struggled for continue to fund contemporary discussions; it isn’t an exaggeration to say that the question of naturalness and mindedness encompasses nearly every aspect of philosophy. The problem itself will be discussed first, then the idea of ‘second nature’. Continue reading
Paul Tillich, in The Protestant Era, took the Reformation insight of justification by faith and embedded it, as a principle of criticism, into the sociological fabric of the universe: ‘Protestantism as a principle is eternal and a permanent criterion of everything temporal’, (The Essential Tillich, ed. F. Forrester Church, p. 69). Put another way, this means that nothing has a claim on the absolute, and anything that claims to have such a claim ought to be protested against and resisted – this may be one way of expressing the rallying cry of ‘Semper Reformanda’. The classic example of this was the Protestant critique of the office of the Papacy, who could claim to speak truth; in fact, it was Truth with a capital T. This Truth can’t ever be reached by man: it can only come to man: Continue reading
Consider any given action, X, performed by any agent S. Consider a description of X: such a description will have a largely causal story (S X’d), while an explanation will feature a belief/desire story, and most significantly for our purposes here, a reasons story (though the causal story will be significant as well). The overall point here will be to show a couple of things: that reasons figure prominently in a rational explanation of action but in a non-causal way, reasons point to a conception of freedom that is positive, as opposed to negative (being free from causal forces, for example), and that the causal and reasons stories are distinct but not opposed to each other – an agent can be caused to have a reason to X, in other words, without the causal story being the figuring more prominently than the reasons story. Continue reading
Foundationalism has had a really rough time in the last few centuries. Starting with Thomas Reid‘s attacks on ‘the way of ideas’, finding perhaps their most sophisticated articulations in Sellars and his attack on the ‘myth of the given’ (both Reid and Sellars are concerned with the foundations of empirical knowledge here) and continuing with Rorty and his attack on the ‘mirror of nature’, powerful arguments have been leveled at what has been, according to the received wisdom, the reigning theory of knowledge for most of history. Alvin Plantinga has rather famously given classical foundationalism a final kick. Now, a perusal of these links will show that foundationalism is indeed a many splendored thing: there are epistemic and metaphysical articulations to be found, ranging from Descartes to the British empiricists to Russell, but the overall moral is this: the idea that knowledge requires foundations (of any of the kinds listed above) in order to be rational is at the very least open to serious doubt. Now, the fact that foundationalism is in doubt doesn’t negate the idea that knowledge may have foundations more generally. Plantinga is a good case study here, since while he objects to classical foundationalism he is still a sort-of, or a modest, foundationalist. It may be more helpful to put it this way: while the requirement for foundations for knowledge to be rational may be called into question, the question of grounds for knowledge is still alive and well. Continue reading
The fundamental disagreement between Aquinas and Anselm, IMO, occurs in the SCG, where Aquinas says that
‘No difficulty, consequently, befalls anyone who posits that God does not exist. For that something greater can be thought than anything given in reality or in the intellect is a difficulty only to him who admits that there is something than which a greater cannot be thought in reality.’
Obviously, this is in direct conflict with Anselm’s invocation of the Fool, but to me it also shows that the Ontological Argument is more logical than metaphysical. Anselm is basically interpreting negative existentials as being both about something ‘in the understanding’ that does not exist in reality: Anselm is trying to derive a logical contradiction or absurdity here. In other words, Anselm is trying to show that ‘There is no God’ or ‘God doesn’t exist’ is a contradiction. But this is easily avoided if we employ something like Russell theory of definite descriptions: we can say that ‘God’ = ‘something than which nothing greater can be conceived’. The fool can be taken to be saying that ‘there is nothing which fits the description ‘‘something than which nothing greater can be conceived’. To avoid the contradiction, all we have to do is translate that to ‘For any given thing, in the understanding or in reality, a greater than it can be conceived’, and, since Anselm’s argument doesn’t require the Fool to know that his statement is true but only to state it without contradiction, we have avoided Anselm’s contradiction. Aquinas’s quote above is basically the same as what I just laid out.