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.
Perhaps no more familiar conflict exists in the wide world of theology than Barth’s conflict with natural theology. Summarized by the title of his (in)famous reply to Emil Brunner, this has often been taken as a conversation-stopper. And yet, as is so often the case with familiar stories, there is, in fact, more to the story. While Barth never swayed from his negative instincts towards natural theology, it is exceedingly important to pinpoint exactly what he felt and exactly what he felt that about. Torrance went a long way towards clarifying what Barth mean in his rejection of natural theology though himself was somewhat inconsistent in his own positive articulation of the doctrine; however, both give pride of place to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Torrance fleshes out a good deal of all this in his essay on the Scots Confession, and makes a few key moves that are absolutely crucial to both his and Barth’s thinking on this subject. Continue reading
Pragmatism in America has, by and large, been thought of as a theory of truth. This is in no small part due to William James’s formulation of pragmatism as, in fact, a theory of truth, where the truth of a theory consists in its ‘cash value’, and it’s fair to say that this brand of pragmatism can be construed as a primarily ‘psychological’ kind of pragmatism. It was just this kind of psychologism that Peirce was keen to avoid in his own thinking, and in so avoiding, Peirce articulated a philosophy in which truth, purpose and realism played roles that they never could have played in the psychologistic theories of pragmatism. Continue reading
‘Metaphysics’ – The Antichrist
Barth and analogy were not friends. Not just any kind of analogy provoked Barth’s wrath, however, but a very specific kind of analogy: the analogy of being (or so the story goes). This well-known theological campfire tale has undergone significant criticisms since its origin in the early 20th century, and the reader may be forgiven for feeling a bit exasperated at yet another blog post on this well-worn topic. As deep as the ruts in this field may be, though, there yet remains much to be gleaned. Let’s start off with the nub of this issue: talking about God. There’s two topics within this nub which merit close attention: what I’ll call ‘the given’, which is the fact that we can, actually, talk about God, and what I’ll call the ‘transcendental’, which is the question of the conditions of the possibility for talking about God. Given ‘the given’, what makes it possible and intelligible? There are, broadly (probably too broadly), two answers to this transcendental question. The first says that the answer to the question of the possibility of talking about God lies in metaphysical possibility. That is, within the created order, within nature, there is a kind of similarity to God. The second says that the possibility lies not in creation but in God. (Here we must make a metaphysical and christological digression before we return to the problem of talking about God.) Continue reading
GENERAL BIBLICAL AND HISTORICAL STUDIES
Larry Hurtado takes a look at ‘The Form of God‘ as it appears in Philo and Paul.
The Guardian isn’t typically where I look for evidence of the existence of Jesus (nor is it strictly a blog, but this was interesting enough to merit inclusion), but Simon Gathercole presents a few of the more compelling pieces of historical evidence for Jesus.
Christianity Today interviews Mike Licona on the (seeming?) contradictions and inconsistencies in the Gospels (again, not strictly a blog, but certainly biblical-studies-related).
Mike Bird gives a brief overview of and bibliography for the ‘continuing exile’ thesis defended most prominently by N.T. Wright.
For the beer drinkers among us: beer in Mesopotamia
A fascinating look at negotiation in Ezra-Nehemiah, in which Bourdieu makes an appearance.
Andrew Wilson notes something interesting about Jesus being ‘handed over’
THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY
The big news in the philosophy/religion/philosophy of religion world: Alvin Plantinga was awarded the Templeton Prize (again [again], not strictly a blog, but still). While this is a maximally great event, not everyone is pleased.
A fantastic review of Dogmatics after Barth – for the Barthians and dogmaticians among us, this will be a crucial volume.
One of my own hobby horses, the Barth Wars, gets a little bit of coverage here in this review of Reading Barth with Charity with a rejoinder by the author.
William Lane Craig gave two great answers to to great questions in his weekly Q&A: one on the doctrine of the atonement and one on the place of Old Testament difficulties in Christian belief.
A superb look by Cassandra Farrin at Martin Luther the Man
Andrew Perriman had a number of interesting posts, including a review-series of Salvation by Allegiance Alone (this is the fourth and most recent post -I linked to this because the other posts in the series are more easily accessible from here), Jesus and violence, and a quiz on the atonement (which was very much worth taking).
A typically perceptive post by Richard Beck: Empathy and the Kingdom: Part 1, What Is So Bad About Empathy? (be sure to read all of the posts in this series)
May 2017 will be hosted by Jeff Carter
June 2017 by Cassandra Farrin
July 2017 by Reuben Rus
August 2017 by Jason Gardner
October 2017 – open! If you’re interested, get in touch with Phil Long
November 2017 – Jim West
December 2017 – Jennifer Guo
Thanks for stopping by – if there’s anything I missed (and I’m sure there is) then please feel free to link in the comments!
During the balmy days when it was socially acceptable to entertain logical positivism as a coherent philosophical position, it was commonly thought that questions of metaphysics were senseless, nonsense, or not even wrong. There are, of course, no shortage of problems with positivism and it’s safe to say that positivism is one of the very few philosophical theses that attained the distinction of being rejected because it was, in fact, actually wrong. However, granting all of that, it is no less the case that contemporary ontology has been shaped largely by a debate which took place on positivist grounds: the debate between Carnap and Quine on metaontology. The simple version of their respective positions might be boiled down to two ideas: for Carnap, metaphysical or ontological questions don’t really have an answer, while for Quine they do, and for Carnap, there are two kinds of truth, while for Quine ‘truth is truth’ and comes in only one variety. The outcome of this debate would have far-reaching consequences for metaphysics and ontology. Continue reading
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
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