November 12, 2015

Pipe Sesh 2.0: The Welding Relation

Filed under: Philosophy,Pipe Sesh Post,Politics — camcintosh @ 7:56 pm

You’ve heard of “grounding” and “glue” and “compresence” and even “consubstantiation” as special relations that bind objects and layers of reality together. I now propose a special relation of welding. Metaphysical welding (not to be confused with metaphysical soldering).

Two (or more) objects x1, x2, … xn are *welded* together iff (i) each of x1, x2, … xn are of the same substance S, (ii) x1, x2, … xn are fused into one object, X, of substance S, and (ii) x1, x2, … xn’s fusion into X occurs without material from another substance, S*, used as a fusing agent. Welding seems to be symmetric and transitive: if x1 is welded to x2, it’s also true that x2 is welded to x1, and if x1 is welded to x2 and x2 is welded to x3, then x1 is welded to x3. Although it’s not obvious at first that welding is reflexive, consider: possibly, for some substance S (steel, say), S could be stretched out rectilinearly, then the ends of S could be curved to meet each other and welded together. So, welding is reflexive: possibly, x1 is welded to x1. But can the two ends of our rectilinear-shaped substance really be considered distinct objects? Do we need a distinction between objects and entities, or perhaps just between objects generally and individual (i.e., disjoint) objects? I won’t weigh in on that important question here. Suffice it to say that the two ends are not identical to each other. Whether the pre-welded rectilinear-shaped substance is identical to the post-welded circular-shaped substance is reminiscent of the problem of the material constitution. So maybe we should say when x1, x2, … xn are welded into X, the relation that obtains between x1, x2, … xn and X (i.e., welding) is very much like identity. But this gets complicated. When x1 gets welded to x2, does x1 and x2 cease to exist and a new object, X, come into existence? Or does X have x1 and x2 as proper parts? (Or perhaps improper parts? One thing having more than one improper part—there’s an odd idea.) In what sense can they be said to be proper parts if they literally fuse together to make X, an object of the very same substance as x1 and x2? And…

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 6.46.54 PMSo much for philosophy of welding. I’m playfully riffing on the facetious call for philosopher-welders by many in response to Marco Rubio’s remark that “Welders make more than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” See the video clip here.

Philosophers (among others), predictably, went into their drone-like counterexample mode impervious to the broader point Rubio was making, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics that allegedly show his statement about the respective incomes to be false. Forget that “fact-checking” that statement is more complicated than simply citing mean wages from the BLS. The broader point Rubio was making was not about philosophers and welders specifically. His point, which was obvious, was that trade jobs have more immediate social utility than do liberal arts educations, and that learning a trade will make you generally more employable than earning a four-year humanities degree. That is a cold hard fact—sad as it might be for a philosopher to hear—and, ironically, has been argued before by philosophers (See Matthew Crawford’s wonderful book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work). The reality is that many students who get liberal arts degrees leave university with more debt than education. It is neither feasible nor desirable that everyone go to university. There is a more pressing need for people to enter the work force than higher education. Hence, the absurd stigmatization of pursuing trade school instead of university.

But there is another mistake I see these philosophers making. In addition to arguing that Rubio’s statement, taken strictly and literally and out of context, is false, they are stooping to defend the usefulness of philosophy, thereby assuming the misguided premise that what justifies philosophy is its usefulness. Sure, philosophy can be useful. And I’m not talking about that philosophically flaccid social justice politics crap that masquerades as “philosophy”, however popular it is among the philosoactivists. And I’m not talking about Slick Willie’s weaselly use of the distinction between different senses of ‘is’, ingenious though it was. Real philosophy is useful. But its usefulness is incidental to its purpose. The practice of philosophy is intrinsically valuable and is its own reward, and so needn’t be—and, arguably, oughtn’t be—justified on grounds usefulness. Lady Philosophy stands quite well on her own, thank you.
Tonight’s reflection was brought to you by Drew Estate’s Central Park Stroll. The description on the label reads, “We really cherish the days when we’d stroll through Central Park on a lazy summer afternoon. The sweet aroma makes you feel like your [sic] standing outside a bakery; notes of chocolate, vanilla, caramel blend harmoniously whit [sic] mellow tobaccos.” Most salient, I found, was the hint of vanilla and the blend’s mellowness. I could smoke this stuff all day long.

October 21, 2015

Pipe Sesh Post 1.0: Criminals in the Hands of an Angry Batman

Filed under: Ethics,Life,Pipe Sesh Post — camcintosh @ 12:34 am

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 12.32.48 AMFor as long as I can remember, I’ve been a Batman fan. One time—I must have been 4 or 5 years old—I entered a local Batman costume contest. Rumor had it that the real Batman would be there to determine the winner. It was a massive childhood disappointment. The moment I saw the “real” batman, I pegged him as a phony. He had nothing on Michael Keaton. I left angry at that charlatan and envious of another kid’s awesome utility belt.

Although Tim Burton’s Batman will always have a nostalgic place in my heart, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is as good as movies get. I like that they chose to emphasize the role of fear in the creation and maintenance of the Batman character. Batman is born out of Bruce Wayne’s fear of bats. He never quite loses the fear, but it becomes a healthy kind of fear, the kind that motivates action (Cf. Tom Morris on “The Purpose of Fear”). He uses this to create in criminals a different kind of fear, the kind that stifles and suppresses action.

But there is a certain tension inherent in that theme: it’s not obvious how to reconcile the concept of Batman as a fearsome character and the concept of Batman as a righteous character. A criminal can’t be deathly or desperately afraid of Batman if he knows Batman is not, as a matter of moral principle, an agent of death and mortal despair.

But do criminals need to know that Batman isn’t an agent of death and mortal despair? Perhaps not. All Batman needs to do is make them genuinely believe he is. Would such an act of deception be wrong? Again, perhaps not. Nazis forfeit their right to know the truth when they ask if you’re harboring Jews. Gotham’s criminals forfeit their right to know that Batman will not assume the divine role of taking a man’s life. And that’s a good, albeit terrifying, thing. The more a criminal fears Batman, the more deterred from criminal behavior he will be.

How much more should we fear the one who we know has the power of life and death in His hands, perfectly good though He is? But this is the healthy kind of fear—the kind that prompts action, or, in Biblical terms, is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Wisdom is essentially action-oriented. A person is wise when he consistently knows and does the right thing. But a person becomes wise by first developing a healthy fear of a righteous judge, for such fear entails knowing something about the judge’s moral prescriptions, the consequences of failing to live up to them, and being motivated to act accordingly. And it is important to note that the life of wisdom begins with fear; it doesn’t dwell or end there. Eventually, love replaces fear as the motivation for obedience.

But the fool despises wisdom and, like Gotham’s criminal, dwells in the fear of the stifling kind, the fear of unknowing. They don’t know when or weather they’ll fall into the hands of an angry, righteous judge, but the prospect ought to cast a dark and terrifying shadow over their lives.

But amidst all these rejoicings Aslan himself quietly slipped away. And when the Kings and Queens noticed that he wasn’t there they said nothing about it. For Mr. Beaver had warned them, “He’ll be coming and going,” he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down—and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all Consummate Gentlemanright. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” –C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Harper, 1994), p. 182.

Tonight’s reflection was brought to you by Ashton’s Consummate Gentleman. It has a robust and memorable flavor; it tastes a bit like how pine needles smell in the fall. Despite being a medium-bodied blend, one bowl was enough. The blend’s full description is on the label.

October 20, 2015

Pipe Sesh Post 0.0: Something Different

Filed under: Life,Pipe Sesh Post — camcintosh @ 3:58 pm

Believe it or not, this blog has been active under this domain for almost 10 years. It has functioned, for the most part, as an intellectual journal of sorts, where I scribble notes or thoughts that occur to me that might be worth exploring further. Its other function has been to host the most comprehensive outline and bibliographic resource on the project of natural theology in existence. The blog will continue to serve those functions, but it’s time, I think, for something a little different.

Philosopher's PipeI’m by no means an aficionado, but I’ve been enjoying getting more into pipe smoking this past year. The catalyst was being introduced to higher quality pipe tobacco blends, as opposed to those cheap 1.5oz plastic pouches of “pipe tobacco” that most people use to roll their own cigarettes, or dilute other stuff they’re rolling…

There is an excellent case to be made for pipe smoking. I won’t belabor it here, but you would do well to read Michael Foley’s fine piece, “Tobacco and the Soul,” as well as William Vallicella’s apologia for the pipe, in which he rightly observes:

If the cigarette is a one-night stand, the cigar is a brief affair. The typical cigarette smoker is out for a quick fix, not for love. The cigar aficionado is out for love, but without long-term commitment. The pipe, however, is a long and satisfying marriage.

But I will say this: the trope is true; pipe smoking does, for whatever reason, lend itself to philosophical reflection—not so much of a technical, analytic type, but more of the existential type. My last few pipe sessions, for instance, have been dominated by the question, “Do I really want to pursue a career in professional philosophy?” Not only does my need to be outside and to work with my hands conflict with a desk life in academia in general, the state of the profession in particular has become less than hospitable to people like me. More about that later, perhaps.

So to spice things up on this blog, I thought it might be a good idea to regularly start pipe session postings: brief reflections inspired by the pipe, accompanied by some completely amateurish comments on the session’s blend of choice. Stay tuned for the inaugural Pipe Sesh Post 1.0!

September 25, 2015

Juicy Quote XII

Filed under: Juicy Quotes,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 4:09 pm

“The gist of Augustine’s view of faith and reason is summed up in his use of the scriptural passage “Unless you believe, you shall not understand.” He takes this to indicate a temporal priority of faith to understanding—as if to say, faith is where we begin but understanding is where we end up. And of course it is the end, the goal or telos, which gives meaning to the beginning—for as Augustine insists very emphatically, the journey is pointless apart form its destination. In one of his latest writings, Augustine says, “It is begun in faith, but completed by sight,” echoing one of his earliest works, in which he says, “Authority comes first in time, but Reason is first in reality. […] The road to understanding often begins with our believing what our teachers tell us—as when we believe a mathematical formula on the authority of our math teacher, even though we cannot really see what it means. But of course if we are good students then we desire to understand the changeless truth it signifies—to see it for ourselves, with our own mind’s eye.”

–Philip Cary, Augustine’s Invention of the Inner Self (Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 145.

Cf. Anselm: “I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand.”

September 21, 2015

Juicy Quote XI

Filed under: Juicy Quotes,Life — camcintosh @ 12:50 pm

“Something is practical if it helps you to realize your goals. If your goals include knowing who you really are, what life in this world is all about, and what’s ultimately important, then philosophy is eminently practical. If these things are not among your goals, well, then you need new goals.

—Tom Morris, Philosophy for Dummies (IDG Books, 1999), p. 335.

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 nuclear-explosionand Little Boy, respectively.

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!
Update 9/2/2015: My surrejoinder, with promise of ceasefire.
Update 9/4/2015: Tuggy claims my bombs were duds.

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.

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