The Necessarily Trinitarian Shape of Divine Freedom: or, How It is Impossible to Preserve Freedom in a Doctrine of God Unless Trinity is Priority

Towards the back end of her Systematic Theology, Katherine Sonderegger attempts to work out a coherent doctrine of divine freedom within her doctrine of God. Her account of God is to a large degree set over against what she takes to be overly-trinitarian accounts: as should be well known at this point, her fundamental starting point is God’s oneness, as opposed to God’s triunity. Much to modern theology’s chagrin, she also enthusiastically embraces substance as a legitimate category for describing God, and she also enthusiastically positions herself against Barth on a number of matters. What I want to do here is draw out what I think are some serious shortcomings over her view here and then see where Barth, something of a bête noire for Sonderegger, can offer a better way forward. Continue reading

A Problem Emerges: or, why Nonreductive Materialism and Emergentism Face the Same Set of Insourmountable Problems

Jaegwon Kim, in his superb essay The nonreductivists troubles with mental causation (from the volume Supervenience and Mind), argues that nonreductive materialism (NRM) and emergentism (E) have the same cash value. He identifies four key theses that NRM is committed to: (1) all concrete particulars are physical (2) mental properties are not reducible to physical properties (3) all mental properties are physically realized and (4) mental properties are real properties of objects and events. Kim finds that E is committed to the same four theses: E accepts a materialist ontology (1), accepts that emergent properties are not reducible to their ‘basal conditions’ (2), accepts that higher-level or emergent properties need a physical base; this physical base is itself sufficient for the emergence of these properties (3) and finally, E accepts realism about the mental (4). These agreements are sufficient to show that NRM and E are, more or less, the same thing. Thus, any problems had by one are had by the other. Should NRM face an insurmountable difficulty, E will as well, and should E face its own insurmountable difficulty, then NRM also will. Continue reading

From Knowledge to Understanding: or, why Truth is Unimportant in Philosophy

In Reason in Philosophy, Robert Brandom devotes an essay to justifying the claim that truth is not important in philosophy. This is something of a jarring claim, and when I first read it, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Having read it a few times over, I now think there is a lot of potentially fruitful ground mapped out by Brandom, whose overall goal here is to deflate notions of truth where truth is a property that does explanatory work. Brandom takes this to be something of a grammatical confusion, since saying that X is true looks a lot like predicating a property of X. Truth here has both a practical role – Brandom thinks that for the philosophical tradition, truth is basically how one gets what one wants, since true beliefs guarantee the success of our every day undertakings – and a more ‘constitutive’ role, where truth is what separates us from the animals. This is so, says Brandom, because we can have propositional attitudes, distinguished by propositional contents which can can be assessed as being true or not. What separates us from the animals, more precisely, is our relationship to this truth-property. The fundamental way of explaining and understanding propositional content is, then, in terms of truth conditions. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Critical Conversations: Michael Pol Christian Theology’, ed. Murray A. Rae

‘Critical Conversations: Michael Pol Christian Theology’, ed. Murray A. Rae, Pickwick Publications, 200 pp. $20.00

In this volume, the thought of chemist-turned-philosopher Michael Polanyi is put into conversation with various aspects of Christian thought. Polanyi, largely due to (I suspect) T.F. Torrance, is generally seen as a figure congenial to theology, and these essays show the extent to which his thinking has proven useful here. For those unfamiliar with Polanyi, the first essay proper, by Tony Clark will serve as a solid intro to the basic contours of his epistemology (tacit knowledge, personal knowledge, passion, etc). All the distinctive aspects of Polanyi make an appearance here with an eye towards how these aspects apply to religious thought, although unfortunately the religious payoff is just under a page long and leaves much to be desired. As a general introduction to what makes Polanyi attractive to religious and theological thinkers, however, this is a worthy essay. The following essay, by R.T. Allen, is also extremely helpful in exploring Polanyi’s notion of ‘logical gaps’ which require heuristic passion to cross as well as showing the extent to which Polanyi appears to largely be Augustinian in his epistemology. Lincoln Harvey’s essay, which follows Allen’s, is also tantalizing in its suggestion of knowing as a social act or practice (I wish this had been developed further).

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