July 28, 2015

Tuggy Bombs

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 1:52 pm

I’m dropping bombs on my archnemesis, Dale Tuggy, over at his homeland, Trinities. I’ve fired some light rounds at his divine deception argument before, but the following two posts can be thought of as Fat Man and Little Boy, fat_manrespectively.

1. Farewell to Tuggy’s Divine Deception Argument
2. Dale’s Divine Deception Dilemma

But you know how philosophy goes. Like in war, things are rarely decisively settled. Stay tuned for the fall out.

Update 7/29/2015: Tuggy returns fire!

June 9, 2015

Juicy Quote X

Filed under: Juicy Quotes,Life — camcintosh @ 7:45 pm

“It would be the height of folly to suppose that man’s sociality is wholly negative; but its corrupting side cannot be denied. Encounter with nature in solitude pulls one out of one’s social comfort zone in such a way that the ultimate questions obtrude themselves with full force. In society, they can strike one like jokes from a Woody Allen movie; in solitude, in the desert, they are serious. Nature is not God; but the solitary encounter with it, by breaking the spell of the social, can orient us toward Nature’s God.”

—William Vallicella, “Waiting for St. Benedict. Various Withdrawal Options

May 28, 2015

Reflections on Reflections on Perfections

Filed under: Philosophical Theology,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 11:05 am

Assume it’s possible for S, a maximally perfect person, to think of himself qua maximally perfect person. What would happen, metaphysically speaking? Well, the object of S’s thought must be a perfect representation of a perfect person. But what, exactly, does ‘perfect representation’ amount to?

One understanding would threaten to eliminate any distinction between S and S’s object of thought. In Parmenides 130-134d, Plato argues that no object in the sensible world can perfectly resemble the Form of which it partakes, for if it did, it would just be the Form itself. Similarly, Frege argued against the correspondence theory of truth on the grounds that perfect correspondence between thought and reality—a relation he thought essential to the theory—would require thought and reality to be identical. The reasoning seems straightforward: compare any two things, x and y, where y is a representation of x; if y differs from x in any respect, then y cannot be a perfect representation of x, for y does not represent x at least in that respect. The application is clear: if S’s thought of himself were truly a prefect representation, then S’s thought of himself would be identical to S himself. But that seems either incoherent (what sense can be given to it? I cannot find any) or false (oneself and oneself qua object of thought are not identical).

Maybe this difficulty can be overcome by qualifying “perfect—in relevant respects.” But what are the relevant respects? If S is thinking of himself qua maximally perfect person, the relevant respects would be the those which make S perfect. S and the object of S’s thought would then be individuated by properties that are not perfections (e.g., “being the thinker” and “being the object infinite-regressof thought” etc.). But now we run into another problem: being able to think of oneself qua oneself is a surely perfection. So, the object of S’s thought of himself would inherit the perfection of being able to think of oneself qua oneself. But any entity able to think of oneself qua oneself is a person. We have come to a conclusion familiar to us from psychological analogies of the Trinity. But if S’s thought of himself is also a perfect person (S*, say), would not S* also think of himself qua perfect person, and so generate another perfect person, S**, who does the same? It would seem that if a perfect person generates another person in virtue of thinking of himself then an infinite number of perfect persons would be generated, like a mirror reflecting itself.

What we have, then, is a double dilemma facing those who think it’s possible for a maximally perfect person to think of himself qua maximally perfect person. Either

(A) S’s thought of himself is not a perfect representation

which I’m assuming is a non-starter, because S is ex hypothesi a maximally perfect person, and so would upon thinking of himself do so perfectly, or

(B) S’s thought of himself is a perfect representation

But then it seems that either of the two proposed ways of understanding ‘perfect representation’ is problematic, for the one

(C) Eliminates any distinction between S and S’s object of thought (a la Plato and Frege)

and the other

(D) Generates an infinite number of perfect persons

Maybe there is another understanding of ‘perfect representation’ that isn’t problematic in the way (C) and (D) are. Or maybe the original assumption—that being able to think of oneself qua oneself is a perfection—is false. If it isn’t a perfection, or at least a divine perfection, then one could also escape similar worries raised here.

May 27, 2015

Can God give an Ontological Argument for God?

Filed under: Arguments for God's Existence — camcintosh @ 11:40 am

RedundancyThe idea of God, by Anselmian definition, implies that God exists, for to exist in reality is greater than to exist in the understanding alone. But if that is so, then what of God’s idea of himself? As a perfect being, God’s idea of himself must be of a perfect being. But if to exist in reality is greater than to exist in the understanding alone, would not the object of God’s thought be greater if it existed in reality than if it existed in God’s understanding alone? If so, then Anselm’s argument might be an argument not just for one perfect being, but an infinite number of perfect beings. Or you might see this as a reductio against Anselm’s argument.

Objection: “That’s trivial; of course God’s idea of himself entails his existence. Have you ever heard of Descartes’ Cogito?” Of course it’s true that God’s thinking of himself entails that God exists. But it’s unclear to me that the worry here can be dismissed so easily. The idea God has of himself is not strictly identical to God. There is a difference between the thinker and the object of thought. So if existing in reality is greater than existing in the understanding alone, then God’s thinking of himself does not merely trivially entail his existence (as the thinker), but the existence of a qualitative duplicate (as the object of God’s thought).

Objection: “There is no difference between existence in God’s mind and existence in reality, so the parallel doesn’t work at God’s level.” Two problems. First, this seem to imply a kind of radical idealism according to which we are all just ideas in the mind of God, which is absurd. Second, surely there is such a difference for God, unless we are willing to say there are no unrealized possibilities even for God; no possibilities God thought of but chose not to actualize. But that seems just as absurd. If there aren’t, is it because God cannot think of any, or maybe because God’s nature compels him to actualize all ‘possibilities’? Either case seems to collapse into a kind of divine necessitarianism: there is one and only one way things could be.

Objection: “The difference between existence in the understanding and existence in reality for us is not the same as it is for God. So the parallel doesn’t work at God’s level.” Again, two problems. First, granted, the difference might not be the same, but so long as there is a difference it seems there is a parallel. Instead of the usual difference between existence in the understanding and existence in reality that is true of us, we can just talk of existence in the understanding* and existence in reality* true of God. Second, while it seems true that existence in our understanding is different than existence in God’s understanding, do we really want to say existence in reality for us is different than existence in reality for God? Here ‘existence in reality’ just means existence simpliciter. Some want to say God’s mode of existence is different from ours, but I don’t. One reason is because every argument for the conclusion “God exists” would then be rendered invalid on account of equivocating on “existence.”

Maybe a closer look at a more detailed version of Anselm’s argument would turn up other premises where the parallel doesn’t work. Has anyone written about this before?

May 6, 2015

What is Philosophy?

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 12:10 pm

An Omnibus of Definitions from Prominent Philosophers.” Very cool collection excerpted from the introduction of David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton, Philosophy Bites (Oxford, 2010). Were these solicited by the authors? If they were found in publications, I wish they had provided citations. I like A. W. Moore’s answer.

April 13, 2015

Is it Wrong to Kill Awkward People?

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 12:55 pm

memeI explained why the answer is “no” last week at the Cornell philosophy dept. workshop. But I admit that the title is a bait-and-switch. The presentation is an extension (of sorts) of the Workshop talk I gave almost exactly one year earlier.

My favorite moment of the presentation was when I was interrupted by a collective, horrified gasp after saying it wouldn’t be morally wrong of Luke Skywalker to scrap C-3PO for parts. Any sympathetic ears I had up to that point were promptly retracted. A draft can be found here. Feedback welcome!

March 5, 2015

Double Standards

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 4:20 pm

Helen de Cruz is conducting a series of interviews with “academic philosophers about their religious practices.” Her first interviewee is Marcus Arvan. In response to the question “The majority of philosophers are atheists, and it’s not uncommon for philosophers to regard religion as quaint, epistemically defective or worse. What has been your experience in the philosophical community when you discuss these matters?” Arvan had this to say:

Truth be told, it doesn’t come up in conversation. I’ve rarely heard religion or philosophy of religion so much as mentioned by other philosophers, say, at conferences. It just doesn’t seem to be discussed—except by people who work in philosophy of religion. I’m guessing this is because—as you note—most philosophers seem to regard religion as quaint and epistemically defective.

In any case, I think this is unfortunate. One of the reasons I think it is unfortunate is substantive: I personally think the only epistemically defensible position is Agnosticism, not atheism. Related to this, I think it is unfortunate because, as a Hopeful Agnostic, I tend to think it’s precisely here—in the realm of uncertainty between Belief and Disbelief—where the really interesting questions are in philosophy of religion.

Allow me to explain. I’ve heard that a lot of non-philosophers of religion think contemporary philosophy of religion is little more than religious apologetics. Although I wouldn’t go that far, my personal experience is that it doesn’t seem too far from the truth. Most of the phil religion talks I’ve attended have basically assumed that God exists, and then addressed some problem of other (e.g. the Problem of Evil) against that background assumption. Although I guess this kind of argumentation might appeal to Believers, it’s not hard to imagine why it—and philosophy of religion in this vein more broadly—might be seen as hopelessly quaint (if not completely uninteresting) by outsiders.

What we have then is a small group of people (Believing philosophers) who think philosophy of religion is super-interesting, and a much larger group of people (Atheistic philosophers) who seem to consider it super-uninteresting. In my view, this is unfortunate, a lot of the most interesting questions in philosophy of religion arise for the person who falls into neither category: the person who is skeptical whether God exists, and whether there are any reasons to even presume God to be perfect (or even good) given our evidence, but who regards it a live-possibility not ruled out by our evidence and may even be willing to Hope it is a true hypothesis.

These, at any rate, are the questions that attract me to the philosophy of religion—and indeed, to religion itself (as I have said before, I do engage in religious practice as a Hoper but not a Believer). And I would be willing to bet philosophy of religion would be considered a whole lot less quaint/epistemically defective by the philosophical majority if it spent more time on them.

Think about Arvan’s response for a moment: on the question of God’s existence, Arvan thinks agnosticism is “the only epistemically defensible position.” Accordingly, he thinks the really interesting questions in PoR are about agnosticism, i.e., “in the realm of uncertainty between Belief and Disbelief.” Imagine that! But the Christian philosopher, who perhaps thinks Christian theism is the only epistemically defensible position, and so also thinks the really interesting questions in PoR are about, say, the coherence of Christian theism, is suspected of doing “little more than religious apologetics,” or at least something “epistemically defective.”

The double-standard operative here is exactly the kind of uncharitable and unjustified criticism of PoR I had in mind when I wrote this. That being said, I found most of what else Arvan said in the interview interesting.

February 18, 2015

Why do Philosophy of Religion?

Filed under: Life,Philosophy,Philosophy of Religion — camcintosh @ 5:17 pm

It’s hard for me to shake the impression that many professional philosophers aren’t satisfied with their four years of high school, and so view the profession of philosophy as an indefinite extension of that period of adolescence. There’s the popular crowd meangirlswho fancy themselves gate-keeping trendsetters, as well as the characterless shadows who seek the vicarious thrill of riding the cool kids’ coat tails. And for some time the Mean Girls of philosophy have declared that philosophy of religion is for losers. It is passé, unworthy of the time and attention of more enlightened minds; philosophers of religion are just posers from the vacuous field of theology trying weasel some clout by rubbing shoulders with real philosophers. This is a common subtext at gossip blogs like NewApps and Leiter Reports, which act as playgrounds for the philosophoney showoffs and bullies.

They are wrong, of course. But convincing them of that would be pointless. Peer pressure is a stronger force than the weight of argument. One can only hope they’ll someday grow up to reminisce with embarrassment on their high school years like the rest of us. But until then, if you have received a suspicious eye (or more) because of your interest in philosophy of religion, as I have, then it might be prudent to have something ready to say lest your silence be interpreted as shame. In that spirit here are five reasons why philosophy of religion (hereafter PoR) is one of the choicest fields of philosophy.

February 1, 2015

McTaggart Anecdotes

Filed under: Life,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 3:35 pm

The other day my wife confused McTaggart (the philosopher) with Mick Jagger (the singer). I thought that was too cute. In belated honor of the former’s death on January 18, 1925, here are some amusing anecdotes picked from the biographical sketch prefacing J. McT. Ellis McTaggart, Philosophical Studies (St. Augustine’s Press, 1934. Rep. 1996), including an ingenious way to protest the Super Bowl:

He was an avid reader of novels (good and bad) and poetry and is reputed to have read the whole of the Union Library collection by an early age (xii). By the age of seven he was well read, studying Kant closely (vi).

His head was unusually large; he suffered from a spinal curvature and walked crab-like, often with his back close against walls. He was very sensitive and cried easily, usually over poems or songs. He roamed the countryside, swinging a stick and carrying on philosophical conversation with himself. Because of his eccentricity children called him a ‘loonie’ (vi).

In January 1882, at the age of fifteen, he was sent to Clifton College in Bristol. His incompetence at games (he lay down on the games field refusing to take part), McTaggartuntidiness, absorption in philosophy and sensitivity, augured an unhappy life there. However, in his first year, he formed close loving relationships and won his victory over organized sport—he was allowed to walk on the Downs and philosophize instead (vii).

Eccentric as a child, now an adult he was a ‘character’ (xi). When lecturing, he spoke rapidly, illustrating his arguments with images of dragons and griffins (x). Often in his red gown, he rode a tricycle along Trumpington Street to Trinity at precisely the same time each day. He saluted cats whenever he met them and observed the conduct of College ceremonies in minute detail (xi). His own priorities became confused. He became upset by the selling of land and possessions at Trinity and with the same strength of feeling he mourned the death of a friend’s cat (xix).

He was fat, unfit, and disinclined to put his energy into argument and verbal combat. He was happier at home, writing letters, or in his rooms, reworking his manuscript of The Nature of Existence (xix). Throughout his last years he continued working strenuously on The Nature of Existence. His editorial practice was to complete five drafts before his work was ready for publication (xvii).

Because McTaggart is mostly known for his analytical work on the nature of time and existence, it is interesting to note that, despite being an atheist, McTaggart was a mystic of sorts committed to the belief that love is a fundamental binding relation and the necessity of immortality. He was fiercely loyal to his friends and loved ones throughout his life. The one exception seems to have been Bertrand Russell. McTaggart’s enthusiastic support for England’s war efforts against Germany couldn’t be reconciled with Bertie’s flat-footed pacifism.

January 12, 2015

Is “Supports” Intelligible?

Filed under: Metaphysics,Philosophical Theology — camcintosh @ 4:27 pm

Building on the substance dualist view that our own individual substance/soul supports one mind (i.e., person), Williams Craig and Hasker propose models of the Trinity according to which a single trope of divinity—a divine substance/soul—supports three minds (i.e., persons) in like manner. Craig relies on this claim to flesh out how three persons can be said to compose one being, and Hasker relies on the claim to flesh out how three persons can be said to be constituted by one being.

Daniel Howard-Snyder will have none of this. In response to Craig, he writes:

Craig’s use of “supports” has no precedence in the English language. Suppose there is some x, y, and z such that x supports y and z. Why should we infer that, therefore, y and z compose x? The foundation of my house supports its walls, floors, roof, and so on, but they do not compose the foundation. The worry here is intensified by the fact that there is no use of “support” and “compose” in ordinary parlance such that supporting entails composing, as a look at the Oxford English Dictionary will reveal. Without, at minimum, a stipulative definition in terms that we can understand, we have no idea what [Craig means] by “supports” and hence we have no idea what [Craig means] by the claim that the Persons compose the Trinity “as a whole” because the latter supports the former; we have no idea what proposition is expressed, we have no idea what model is proposed for our consideration. (Howard-Snyder, “Trinity Monotheism,” pp. 120-121).

And similarly in his review of Hasker:

[F]ew of [Hasker’s] peers, if any, will understand what he means by “support”. At some level, he is aware of the problem since he seeks “a more precise account of the relationship between the persons and the divine nature than is provided by the loosely defined ‘support’ relation” (237). However, the problem is more acute than Hasker acknowledges since nowhere does he define it. He only says that “the term is used in the ordinary sense in which we can say that the human body/mind/soul…‘supports’ the continuing conscious life of a human being” (228). This is no definition, not even a “loose” one; nor is there any such thing as “the ordinary sense” of the term “supports” that is used to say that “the human body /mind/soul supports the continuing conscious life of a human being”. Thus, the primary explanatory relation posited by the first model is an explanatory surd.

Is the “supports” claim Craig and Hasker make really as unintelligible as Howard-Snyder thinks? I think not. A fairly straightforward case can be made that the relevant “supports” relation here should be understood in terms of parts being grounded in—i.e., supported by—a whole, where ground is a relation of non-causal ontological dependence. Here are three examples where this makes perfect sense:

Peak1. The Mountain and the Peak
The peak of a mountain ontologically depends on and is posterior to the mountain as a whole. Yet the peak of a mountain is undeniably a part of the mountain, and so (partially) composes the mountain. So understood, I see nothing untoward in saying “the mountain supports its peak.”

circle2. The Circle and the Semi-Circles
Draw a circle. Now draw a partitioning line creating two semi-circles. The two semi-circles ontologically depend on and are posterior to the circle as a whole. Yet the two semi-circles are undeniably parts of the circle, and so compose it. So understood, I see nothing untoward in saying “the circle supports its semi-circles.”

3. The Fabric and the Flag
FlagA piece of fabric constitutes a flag in flag-favorable circumstances (e.g., certain arrangements of colors, patterns, and symbols). The flag ontologically depends on and is posterior to the fabric, yet the flag is constituted by the fabric. Arguably, we might even say the flag is a part (albeit an improper part) of the fabric. So understood, I see nothing untoward in saying “the fabric supports the flag.”

Therefore it seems to me “supports” is a perfectly intelligible word to use to describe the relation between a whole and its parts, where the parts are ontologically dependent on and posterior to the whole. That this is in fact how Craig understands his model is made clear by the fact that he (with Moreland) says as much in their discussion of substances earlier in Philosophical Foundations (pp. 219-223). There they distinguish substances from “property-things” and argue that substances as wholes are ontologically prior to their parts, whereas property-things as wholes are ontologically posterior to their parts (I have a discussion of this distinction here). If Craig’s and Hasker’s Trinitarian models are problematic, it is not because their use of a “supports” relation cannot be given intelligible meaning.

The problem with the claim that a substance “supports” the three divine persons is that it is incompatible with the divine perfection of aseity. It seems clear that “supports,” for Craig and Hasker, tracks ontological priority, as it does in the three examples above. “Supports,” so conceived, is an asymmetric ontological dependence relation. But if the three divine persons asymmetrically depend for their existence on an underlying substance then they do not exist a se and so are not perfect and so are not divine.

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