A Dogmatic Framework: or, how a Debate Over the Semantics of Truth Rehabilitated Ontology

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

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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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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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