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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Book Review: ‘Did The Reformers Misread Paul: A Historicacal Critique of the New Perspective’, by Aaron O’Kelley

Did The Reformers Misread Paul: A Historicacal Critique of the New Perspective‘, by Aaron O’Kelley, Paternoster, 188 pp. $20.00

 

Did the Reformers Misread Paul? The debate(s) over the new perspective(s) on Paul have largely cooled, replaced by debates over the apocalyptic Paul or the covenental Paul. This cooling has, however, allowed for a bit more breathing room and flexibility when it comes to engaging with the central ideas of the NPP, and the present work is a much calmer examination of these central ideas. The answer to the initial question and title of the book is, as I see it, is twofold: yes, and no. But first, I’ll attend to the book itself and then to its main ideas. Continue reading

The Goodness of God and the Freedom of Man Sacrificed on the Altar of Universalism: or, Two Brief but Powerful Arguments Against Everyone Going to Heaven

In Destiny and Deliberation, Johnathan Kvanvig mounts an impressive attack on universalism on two fronts: the goodness of God and the freedom of man, and, to this reader at any rate, has given more than ample reason to doubt the truth of universalism. Perhaps what makes this so persuasive to me is that the arguments are purely philosophical – no retreat to contentious translations or traditions are possible here, no invoking of controversial thinkers to place universalism on firmer ground. If these arguments work, universalism is simply not an option. Kvanvig is working with what he calls ‘McTaggert’s dilemma‘, but I actually think that if we bracket that to the side, the challenge to universalism is even starker. The arguments proceed roughly as follows. The truth of universalism is either contingent or necessary – i.e., universalism is a possibility or it’s an impossibility. The former attacks the goodness of God, and the latter attacks the freedom of man.

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A Life Most Divine: Karl Barth and Divine Simplicity

At a crucial point in his discussion of the perfections of God, Barth says something which struck me as odd. After tracing what he takes to be nominalistic understandings of God’s essence and attributes – where God’s attributes are really only distinctions in our knowledge of God as opposed to things that God actually has – Barth gives three propositions in which he explains how he understands God’s attributes over against nominalism. While all three of these are important in understanding just how Barth thinks of God’s attributes, the second proposition gave me pause (or, to be more precise the ending of the second proposition):

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Heidegger and Searle Make for Strange Bedfellows: or, What Analytic and Continental Philosophy Combined Might Tell Us About A.I.

Mark Okrent notes an interesting phenomenon: though Heidegger effectively never explicitly interacted with anything close to what we today would recognize as the philosophy of mind or the cognitive sciences or artificial intelligence, it is nearly obligatory to reference Heidegger when one writes on the topic of artificial intelligence. This is largely due to Hubert Dreyfus’s reading of Heidegger. John Searle, by contrast, has interacted extensively with the cognitive sciences, artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind. Heidegger and Searle together, however, are an unlikely pair, but I think that implicit in Heidegger is what is explicit in Searle, especially in his (in)famous Chinese Room Argument.

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