April 8, 2014

Easter Dream

Filed under: Christian Doctrine,Life — camcintosh @ 5:08 pm

Last night I had an interesting dream. In the dream I and everyone else were in a strange afterlife.

Resurrection 2Everyone I saw was either a soulless body or a bodiless soul. Those in the former group were miserably carnal, always pouring into but never filling the hollow vessel of their bodies with sensuous pleasures. They seemed oblivious to everyone but themselves, others being mere instruments of pleasure. The latter group, by contrast, were surrounded by loved ones, yet were miserably separated, always reaching for but never being able to embrace one another.

I wasn’t aware of being in either group. That just wasn’t part of the dream. But I knew I was in a miserable place. Despite that, I didn’t feel dread or despair. I felt hopeful, like it didn’t have to be that way forever, and expected it wouldn’t.

That’s the best I can explain it, anyway. Describing dream phenomenology is very difficult. It would be a good mental exercise to try to explain as accurately as possible all your dreams after they’re fresh. I bet it would increase your vocabulary.

The dream was no doubt influenced by my recent reading and thinking about the resurrection, it being Easter season and all. Apparently one side effect of using N. T. Wright’s massive tome, The Resurrection of the Son of God, as a bedtime sedative is rich dream fodder. In reality, though, resurrection is anything but dreamlike.

April 3, 2014

Group Persons Without Tears

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 2:21 pm

CorpPersI’ll be giving this paper at the department workshop here at Cornell a week from today. If anyone in cyberspace thinks I’m wrong in what I say, comments are welcome. Otherwise I’ll interpret silence as unequivocal acceptance.

March 16, 2014

A Materialist Picture of the Imago Dei

Suppose you accept the following two propositions, as I am inclined to:

(1) If S is created in the image of God, then S is a human.
(2) If S is a human, then S has a particular kind of body (i.e., having a particular kind of body is essential to having a human nature).

It follows that

(3) If S is created in the image of God, then S has a particular kind of body.

But we don’t want to interpret (3) as saying humans image God in having a particular kind of body, as if God has a particular kind of body, do we? Well, maybe we do. So far as I can tell, the following is fully consistent with Orthodox thought.

Designate the set of properties essential and exclusive to divinity {P}. Sans creation, God knows this counterfactual:

(4) If the second Person of the Trinity were embodied in W, that’s how He’d be.

where one of things the demonstrative ‘that’s’ indicates is the having of a particular kind of body. Why that particular kind of body? I dunno. Maybe a particular kind of body is required for a perfect person to be perfectly embodied in W. At any rate, the picture God has from (1) is that of a perfect embodied person, a person with all those properties in {P} with a particular kind of body. What this would amount to in the actual world, W@, is the post-resurrected incarnate Christ. So suppose that the kind-essence that results from embodying a divine person in W@ is humanity. A perfect embodied person in W@ would therefore be a perfect human person—a human person who is necessarily morally perfect, perfectly free, incorruptible, etc. God sees that this would be very good.

Seeing that it would be good, God decides to create persons like that—i.e., humans. However, properties like being uncreated and being omnipotent are essential and exclusive to divinity. So, any non-divine human persons God creates must lack those and other properties in {P}. In other words, God creates with this counterfactual in mind:

(5) If a human person were not divine, that’s how he’d be

imago deiwhere the picture is the same as in (4) save only those properties essential to divinity. The result is, in effect, pre-Fall Adam—a truly human person, albeit a merely human person—a human person who is not necessarily morally perfect, not necessarily perfectly free, not necessarily incorruptible, etc.

If I were a materialist about human beings—and I am as of yet unsure that I am—I would think about human persons qua created in the image of God along these lines.

Discussions of the incarnation sometimes give the impression that the incarnation is logically posterior to humanity; humanity is something antecedently there, and Christ sort of steps down into the middle of things and acquires a human nature. But on the view sketched here, humanity is logically posterior to the incarnation. God starts at the middle (so to speak) with God incarnate, then goes back to the beginning and sets the course of humanity to anticipate the incarnation.

March 12, 2014

Group Agency and the Extended Mind Thesis

Filed under: Metaphysics,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 4:18 pm

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 4.16.51 PMAccording to the extended mind thesis (EMT), one’s mind can literally be ‘extended’ to or located in objects in the external environment. There is a genuine sense in which one’s mind is ‘in’ one’s diary, for example. Another oft-cited example is the main character in the movie Momento, who must rely entirely on written notes and external cues and reminders for his sense of identity. An interesting consequence of the EMT is that one’s mind can be located in different objects and at different locations.

It seems to me that the EMT can make for a unique defense of a robust theory group agency realism (GAR). According to GAR, certain groups can qualify as intentional agents distinct from their members, complete with thoughts, beliefs, desires, etc. of their own. Some even argue that groups can be self-conscious, morally responsible, and have their own first-person perspective.

To the extent that one thinks a mind is required for having some or all of these properties, and that groups cannot have minds on account of lacking a tightly unified substratum in which to ground a mind, the EMT provides a way of seeing how that might be possible. By the EMT, we could say that the group’s mind is located in its members wherever they might be. Indeed, this may be an even more plausible example of EMT than the standard ones, for instead of locating mind in a non-mental, physical object like a diary, a group agent’s mind will be located in the minds of its members.

This seems like a really obvious connection. I’d be surprised if it hasn’t been made before.

February 17, 2014

Juicy Quote VII

Filed under: Juicy Quotes — camcintosh @ 12:20 pm

“Philosophy is hard. Thinking clearly for an extended period is hard. It is easier to pour scorn on those who disagree with you than actually to address their arguments. […] And of all the kinds of scorn that can be poured on someone’s views, moral scorn is the safest and most pleasant (most pleasant to the one doing the pouring). It is the safest kind because, if you want to pour moral scorn on someone’s views, you can be sure that everyone who is predisposed to agree with you will believe that you have made an unanswerable point. And you can be sure that any attempt your opponent in debate makes at an answer will be dismissed by a significant proportion of your audience as a ‘‘rationalization’’ — that great contribution of modern depth psychology to intellectual complacency and laziness. Moral scorn is the most pleasant kind of scorn to deploy against those who disagree with you because a display of self-righteousness—moral posturing—is a pleasant action whatever the circumstances, and it’s nice to have an excuse for it.”

—Peter van Inwagen, The Problem of Evil (Oxford, 2006), pp. 61-62.

January 9, 2014

Can There Be More Than One Creator? II

Filed under: Attributes of God,Natural Theology,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 2:43 pm

In the last post I argued that there cannot be more than one creator if the creator creates ex nihilo. So the “there could be multiple creators” objection to kalam cosmological arguments fail.

But here’s a simple argument for the conclusion that there cannot be more than one creator if the creator is an uncreated concrete being that creates everything concrete other than itself. Say there exists one such being, U1. If there existed another such being, U2, U1 would not be an uncreated being that creates everything concrete other than itself, for either U1 is created by U2 (contrary to our hypothesis) or U2 would be a concrete being not created by U1 (contrary to our hypothesis).

Thus, the ‘multiple creators’ objection also fails against cosmological arguments that show there exists an uncreated concrete being that creates everything concrete other than itself, which is characteristic of Thomistic cosmological arguments.

January 8, 2014

Can There Be More Than One Creator? I

Filed under: Attributes of God,Natural Theology,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 7:28 pm

One common criticism of cosmological arguments is that, even if successful, they do not establish the existence of a single creator. It remains possible that there be multiple beings one of which created, or that creation be the joint effort of multiple beings. Thus cosmological arguments for the existence of a monotheistic God are failures.

Typical replies appeal to Ockham’s Razor: in the absence of reasons for postulating more, we’re justified in thinking cosmological arguments establish the existence of just one being because just one is sufficient for the task. Here’s another reply, sketched in a rough and intuitive way, the theist might make. As far as I can tell, it will only work (if it works) for cosmological arguments that establish creatio ex nihilo, such as the kalam.

Creatio ex nihilo implies the creator be omnipotent. The ‘distance’ between existence and non-existence is ‘infinite,’ so to speak, and only a being of infinite power could traverse it. Some have argued that there is no greater difference than that between the abstract and the concrete. But it seems more plausible that there is no greater difference than that between existence and non-existence. Any being that has such difference-making power has power none greater than which can be conceived. This is little more than an intuition pump, but it pumps my intuitions at least. So, plausibly, for any x, if x has the power to create ex nihilo, x is omnipotent (Cf. David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding §7.18, 20).

But now we can bring in the familiar arguments for the conclusion that there cannot be more than one omnipotent being. Quick and dirtily: suppose there are two omnipotent beings, O1 and O2, and that for any x such that x is omnipotent, x can bring about p or bring about ~p. Possibly, O1 brings about p at t and O2 brings about ~p at t. But that’s not possible. For either p or ~p to obtain at t, O1 or O2 must fail to be omnipotent. Thus there can be only one omnipotent being.

So if there can be only one omnipotent being, and creatio ex nihilo implies the creator be omnipotent, there can be only one being able to create ex nihilo. So if a creator created the universe ex nihilo, there is only one creator and the ‘multiple creators’ objection fails. See here for an argument that the objection also fails against Thomistic cosmological arguments.

December 24, 2013

Books of 2013

Filed under: Life — camcintosh @ 1:23 pm

Last year my friend Paul Gould mentioned that he keeps an annual book log of what he’s traversed over the year. I thought that was a good idea, being a useful way to recall major checkpoints along one’s intellectual journey. Excluding vague cases (did I finish that?), here’s my 2013 log:


  1. James Dolezal, God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness (Pickwick, 2011).
  2. Fabrice Correia and Benjamin Schneider (eds.), Metaphysical Grounding: Understanding the Structure of Reality Cambridge, 2012).
  3. Joseph Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington (Vintage, 2005).
  4. Anne Field, Delivered From Evil: Jesus’ Victory Over Satan (Servant, 2005).
  5. Aubrey Johnson, The One and the Many in the Israelite Conception of God (University of Wales Press, 1961).
  6. John Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity with A Discourse of Miracles and part of A Third Letter Concerning Toleration (Stanford, 1958; rep. 2005).
  7. Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty (Fortress Press, 2003).
  8. Christian List and Philip Pettit, Group Agency: The Possibility, Design, and Status of Corporate Agents (Oxford, 2011).
  9. Thomas McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology (Eerdmans, 2010).
  10. James McPherson, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (Penguin, 2009).
  11. Richard Muller, Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines (W. W. Norton & Co., 2013).
  12. Amy Plantinga Pauw, The Supreme Harmony of All: The Trinitarian Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Eerdmans, 2002).
  13. C. H. Perelman, Justice (Random House, 1976).
  14. Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Eerdmans, 1995).
  15. H. Wheeler Robinson, Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel (Fortress Press, 1980).
  16. John. A. T. Robinson, The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology (SCM Press, 1952).
  17. Richard Swinburne, Simplicity as Evidence of Truth (Marquette University Press, 1997).
  18. N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (IVP, 2006).
  19. N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (HarperCollins, 2008).
  20. Linda Zagzebski, Omnisubjectivity (Marquette University Press, 2013).


  1. Max Brooks, World War Z
  2. Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game
  3. Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Shadow
  4. Orson Scott Card, Xenocide
  5. C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
  6. C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  7. C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy
  8. C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian
  9. Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Being able to take in and appreciate a panorama is a skill worth developing. In general, (analytic) philosophy lends itself to analyzing snapshots; most of my time is spent reading so-called “tenure files”: an article here and there in various philosophy journals and volumes obscure to anyone outside a narrow few. Heck, a handful of the above books are little more than glorified articles. This coming year I have a great opportunity to work on my panoramic skills as I review Brian Leftow’s mammoth tome God and Necessity (Oxford, 2012).

Each new year my resolution will be to read more (non-fiction) books than I did the previous year.

December 15, 2013

Institutions of Higher Performance

Filed under: Life,Politics — camcintosh @ 3:47 pm

I recently filled out a course evaluation. Most of the questions wanted my assessment of the instructor’s “performance” in some area. Assessment of the instructor’s ability to instruct seemed peripheral at best. It was nauseating. By the time I encountered the final question “How would you evaluate the instructor’s overall performance?” I couldn’t resist responding: “Overall, I was not very impressed with the instructor’s performance. It could have been a lot better had he instructed class on roller skates or while hulahooping.” It is as deplorable as it is understandable. A performance, after all, is what most students must expect from their instructors now days, right? (If you have any doubt, just watch a few “TED talks”.) And how else should an instructor be evaluated but by whether they meet students’ expectations?

An “institution of higher performance” sounds more like a car-testing site; the instructor-machines are put through crash courses and are then subjected to performance ratings.

December 10, 2013

Juicy Quote VI

Filed under: Juicy Quotes — camcintosh @ 10:31 pm

“Talk of God as the reality that includes and determines everything, as the ground and goal of everything, and as id quo maius cogitari nequit, is to be understood as the answer to the question, inseparable from the human being as a person, regarding the whole of reality; moreover, it is only in relation to the most comprehensive of all questions that talk about God can become articulate. Metaphysics is the name given to the science which inquires not about individual beings or realms of being but about being as such and as a whole. Talk about God presupposes the metaphysical question about being and at the same time keeps this question alive. In our present situation, therefore, theology as talk about God also acts as protector and defender of philosophy as the question about being as such. ‘The Christian is the person who by virtue of his faith is compelled to philosophize.’ This does not imply a choice of one particular philosophy, as, for example, Aristotelian philosophy and metaphysics; it does, however, imply an option for a philosophy that in opposition to every narrowing and obscuring of the human horizon keeps open the question about the meaning of the whole and precisely in this way serves the humanness of humanity.”

—Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ (Crossroad, 1984; Eng. Trans. 1994), p. 15.

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