July 26, 2018

Phenomenal Conservatism and Dream Skepticism

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 2:53 pm

Phenomenal conservatism: if is appears to S that p is the case, then S is prima facie justified in believing p is the case. It appears to me that I am not dreaming. So, I am prima facie justified in believing I am not dreaming.

Dream skepticism objection: Ah, but as you learned from Wykstra, ‘appears claims’ are justified only if: If p were not the case, then S would not likely be appeared-to-p-ly. But the possibility of a dream-inducing evil genius guarantees that your appearances would be no different, whether you were dreaming or not. So you cannot justify knowledge of the external world by appeal to phenomenal conservatism.inception-totem

But maybe there is a difference, namely: it appears to me that there is a difference between dreaming and wakefulness. Now, the very fact that I am aware of such a distinction at all suggests the distinction is real. Were our whole lives a mere dream, how could we even be aware of such a distinction as that between dreaming and wakefulness?

To say I merely dreamed of the distinction does nothing to discredit the legitimacy of the distinction: I have a concept of a phenomenal state called “dreaming”, and I also have the concept of a different phenomenal state, one that is not dreaming. The distinction is as conceptually solid as any other between two distinct things. But then how do I get the concept of wakefulness in the first place other than from a state of wakefulness? It would be like having the concept of a color without having seen the color.

So the fact that it appears to me that there is a distinction between dreaming and wakefulness justifies my belief that there is something that induces non-dreaming phenomenal states—i.e., an external world. But does it justify the belief that I am not dreaming now? I don’t see how it could seem to me that there is a distinction between two phenomenal states without having actually experienced those different states, as seemings are phenomenal states. I must know what its like to dream, and know what it’s like not to dream; i.e., to be awake. And these two are not the same. So I must be able to tell the difference somehow (even if I can’t articulate exactly how). So I have good reason to believe that it is false that were I dreaming, I would not be appeared-to differently. And since it seems to me now that I am awake and not dreaming, I am prima facie justified in believing I am awake and not dreaming.


May 3, 2018

For All the Right Reasons

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 12:41 pm

I’ve taken a break from my dissertation to write a chapter for a forthcoming book called Ethics, Left and Right: Moral Issues that Divide Us, projected to be used in college ethics courses. The angle of the anthology, as the title indicates, is to bring philosophers on both the political left and right into dialogue on the usual hot-button topics (gun control, abortion, feminism, immigration, race, etc.). My own chapter does more stage-setting work, as I sketch a conservative view of the world in general terms rather than defend a conservative position on a specific topic. The word count restriction was oppressive, but I am very proud of the result. Here it is.

It is no secret that philosophers, no less than their counterparts in other disciplines, overwhelmingly lean left. One recent book estimates that professors who identify as “far left” outnumber those who identify as “far right” between 30 to 1 and 50 to 1! The ratio is no doubt even more extreme among philosophers in particular, and has been for a long time (as documented by Neven Sesardic in his excellent book When Reason Goes on Holiday: Philosophers in Politics). Accordingly, there is more than reasonable suspicion that conservative views don’t often get a fair hearing in the university. So I think a book like this is a fantastic idea, and I hope it is successful. Much thanks to Bob Fischer, the editor, for having me contribute.

February 24, 2018

We Don’t Need a National Conversation about Guns (or Nearly Anything Else)

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 6:39 pm

Below is an article I recently wrote for American Thinker, which ran a truncated version on Feb 22. Given my topic, I was amused to see that their website describes their mission as follows: “We want to advance the national conversation with fresh insight”.

We Don’t Need a National Conversation about Guns (or Nearly Anything Else)

I was, up until the Sunday afterward, blissfully ignorant of the horrific shooting that occurred in Parkland, Florida three days prior. Upon learning of the shooting, my heart sank. Sorrow turned to anger, frustration, and despair as I learned more details. Anger at the misinformation. No, the shooter wasn’t associated with a white supremacist group. Frustration at the preventability of this tragedy had the police and FBI done their jobs in following protocols and enforcing laws already in place. And despair that, judging by the deep divisions between us so apparent on social media, those who predict another civil war in this country may well be right.

Maybe I was better off not knowing. Maybe most of us would have been. Can knowing less national news, somewhat paradoxically, make for a broader, more accurate, and healthier perspective as a citizen? Does promoting a “national conversation” about this or that problem—most recently, gun control—do more harm than good? I think so. Being exposed to a constant cacophony of problems, the vast majority of which do not personally affect us, nonetheless engenders social unrest that does affect us. Just look at your social media feeds. Despite its ostensible purpose of “connecting” us, social media is, in fact, tearing us apart. Anti-American forces, foreign and domestic, know this and are doing what they can to exacerbate the problem.

It would be hard to exaggerate how much this sense of social unrest primes us to accept leftist philosophy: the problems seem so many and beyond our control that we might begin thinking that only something as big as the federal government can have the solutions. So we give it more power. Don’t miss the irony: in response to our sense of powerlessness, we relinquish more power. This is how the Leviathan grows. It would quickly starve if we just removed ourselves from the “national conversation” — or at least what is commonly meant by that term.

In another sense, engaging in a national conversation is our civic duty. This is, in effect, what national elections and congressional voting sessions are. But apart from our limited and infrequent contributions to those, there really is no national conversation to be had precisely because of our impotence at a national level. And this is a good thing.

Think about it. When someone close faces a problem, there is a sense, beyond merely being empathetic, in which we take their problem on as our own. We have a shared interest in each other’s flourishing, and in virtue of our intimacy we have privileged authority and insight and into the conditions of our flourishing. The more intimately acquainted we are with someone, the likelier we are to know just what they need. The converse also holds. The less intimately acquainted we are with someone, the less likely we are to know what they need, and the less authority we have to speak to their problem. And there is a point of distance when other peoples’ problems cease being our own, not because we don’t care, but because we are impotent to solve them.

National news media outlets of all varieties conspire to create the illusion of intimacy in matters that are almost always distant, and with it the illusion of authority and insight into those matters. If they’re telling me about something, I suppose I ought to know about it. And if I ought to know about it, I suppose I ought to do something. But when I discover I am powerless to do anything with the information I’ve been given, and yet dissonantly believe I need to know it, I get angry, frustrated, and fall into despair. At last, I feed the Leviathan.

The philosophical underpinnings of the irony here was perhaps best articulated by Neil Postman in his classic book Amusing Ourselves to Death. When it comes to national news, which largely consists of information irrelevant to me, knowledge is not power. It leads instead, in Postman’s words, to “diminished social and political potency.” Prior to the advent of mass media technologies, the value of information was determined by how it affected my actions, and was disseminated and consumed accordingly. Back then, “the information-action ratio was sufficiently close so that most people had a sense of being able to control some of the contingencies in their lives.” Contrast that with the sense of control we get from information that has little to no action-value by asking yourself a series of questions like the following:

What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of the Baha-is in Iran?

And we might add: what steps do you plan to take to reduce gun violence? The answer to these questions is: none, really. The most a civilized person can do is cast a vote every few years and hope for the best. Thus, the excessive consumption of national news encouraged by mass media has only served to “dignify irrelevance and amplify impotence.” While mass media technologies “may have made the country ‘one neighborhood,’” Postman observes, “it was a peculiar one, populated by strangers who knew nothing but the most superficial facts about each other.” And if we need proof of how quickly we can get nasty with strangers, just consider road rage. As common as it is, its virtual equivalent on the world wide roadways of the web is all the more. Armed with nothing but the most superficial facts about each other, we reconcile our belief in the importance of national news with our powerlessness to do anything with it by engaging in a “national conversation” – which is rarely more than impulsive snark, slogans, memes, and misinformation. It does more harm than good.

To combat the increasing sense of social unrest, we should replace the norm of interest in national affairs, created by excessive devotion to national news by mass media outlets, with an interest in the local affairs of our own state, county, community, and family. It was, after all, the conviction that local concerns should take precedence over the non-local that gave birth to our country (bye bye Britain!) and the principles upon which it was founded (Federalism, subsidiarity). We have bucked this conviction to our detriment. It is no secret that the guarantee of national exposure motivates mass shooters. That same guarantee is exploited by terrorists. And there is no doubt that national attention given to a handful of controversial police shootings is responsible for the myth that blacks are disproportionately victimized by law enforcement in the United States. Similar national attention given to isolated incidents of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. are responsible for the myth that these are systemic problems in America. And as these “national conversations” continue, our sense of powerlessness grows, and the Leviathian right along with it.

I’m not recommending that we be luddites or political ostriches with our heads buried in the sand. But the wisdom in what Rod Dreher calls The Benedict Option is becoming clearer by the day. At the very least, we need to periodically take a rest from what is causing so much unrest. Turn off the TV and radio. Take a break from Facebook and Twitter. Don’t look at your cell phone. Doing so would be for the good of not just our own souls, but the soul of the country as well.

February 6, 2018

Juicy Quote XVI

Filed under: Juicy Quotes,Philosophy — camcintosh @ 7:10 pm

“To say that ‘God is perfect’ is true by definition requires more than showing that perfection is part of the definition of ‘God’ or the concept of God. It requires showing that this definition or concept is consistent. Leibniz saw this, and took pains to argue that the definition of God as ‘the being that has all perfections’ is consistent. This question about the consistency of the concept of God is the fundamental question in the ontological argument. Whether existence is a perfection, or necessary existence is a perfection, [or, we might add, whether existence is a predicate,] are really irrelevant questions … That so much should turn on such a simple question is, to me, a fascinating fact of metaphysics.”

—James Cargile, “The Ontological Argument,” Philosophy 50/191 (1975), p. 69, 80.

January 4, 2018

Books of 2017

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 11:37 am

Well, I don’t have much to show for in 2017, academically speaking. Moving states and remodeling an old house while teaching two classes will do that. Most of my reading time now is devoted to material for my dissertation. What other time I’ve had for books went to the following:


  1. William Lane Craig, God Over All (Oxford, 2015).
  2. Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo (Doubleday, 2008).
  3. Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George, What is Marriage? (Encounter, 2012).
  4. John Kekes, A Case for Conservatism (Cornell, 1998).
  5. Michael Knowles, Reasons to Vote for Democrats (Self. Pub., 2017).
  6. William Manchester, The Last Lion Vol. 1. Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 (Little, Brown & Co., ed. 2012).
  7. William Manchester, The Last Lion Vol. 2. Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 (Little, Brown & Co., ed. 2012).
  8. William Manchester, The Last Lion Vol. 3. Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (Little, Brown & Co., ed. 2012).
  9. Jay Richards, Money, Greed, and God (HarperOne, 2010).
  10. Ann Rule, The Stranger Beside Me (Pocket, 2008).
  11. Neven Sesardic, When Reason Goes on Holiday ( Encounter, 2016).
  12. John Toland, Adolf Hitler Vol. 1 (Doubleday, ed. 1976).
  13. John Toland, Adolf Hitler Vol. 2 (Doubleday, ed. 1976).
  14. J. D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy (Harper, 2016).


  1. Eric Larsen, The Devil in the White City
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Sadly, almost all of my books sat packed away in boxes for half the year. But it felt great to be on my feet more than my butt all summer. Now that the study is set up, though, this coming year should be a better showing. I’m in contract to contribute to an ethics anthology, and am going through a lot of books for that. And, of course, there’s what I need to get through for the dissertation!

April 16, 2017

Not Dying is Not Sufficient

Filed under: Christian Doctrine — camcintosh @ 1:11 pm

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the resurrection in Christian theology and worship, if it is even possible to do so. Christianity is all about resurrection. In the resurrection we see nearly every other essential Christian doctrine at work. But for all that, the death of Christ on the cross unduly dominates the empty tomb in the pulpit, and our celebration of the birth Christ at Christmas unduly overshadows our celebration of his victory over death at Easter.

Perhaps one reason the importance of the resurrection is underappreciated is because we play fast and loose with the term “resurrection.” Pop culture uses of the term are hopelessly divorced from its theological meaning (e.g., zombies are sometimes said to be resurrected). But Christians too misuse the term, as is often and easily done when describing Jesus’ miraculously raising Lazarus or Jairus’ daughter from the dead as Jesus’ resurrecting them. Even some Bible editors have titled the section in John 11 “The Death and Resurrection of Lazarus”!

Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead may well have been a sign of what was to come later (Jesus’ own resurrection), but it was not at that point the thing itself. Even the term “raised” in most Biblical contexts bears the significance of resurrection. What, then, is the key difference between resurrection proper and these other cases of supernatural raisings from the dead?

dali21Some, who although are careful to distinguish resurrection from these other cases, nonetheless miss the key difference. The difference is emphatically not, as is commonly thought, that those who are resurrected will not die again, whereas those who are supernaturally revived will. It is true that the resurrected will not die again. That, however, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for resurrection. Consider: suppose after Jesus raised him from the dead, God assumed Lazarus into heaven like He did Enoch and Elijah. We’d have a case of rising from the dead without a “second death,” but still not resurrection.

The key difference is that the resurrected have the transformed, glorified body that Paul describes in 1 Cor 15. The resurrected won’t die again precisely because death can’t touch the transformed body. To repeat, it is not because Lazarus, et al. died again that his being raised wasn’t a resurrection; it it because he wasn’t raised with a transformed body. CARM rightly sees the glorified body as salient, but confusedly distinguishes two kinds of resurrection rather than distinguishing resurrection from supernatural revivifications. This, again, plays fast and loose. There is no resurrection without a glorified body. A resurrection without a glorified body would make zero conceptual sense to first century Jews, and so should make no more sense to 21st century Christians.

This is one reason I love Dali’s Corpus Hypercubus, where Christ is hanging on an unfolded hypercube, which happens to take the shape of a cross. More popularly interpreted to mean Christ’s divine nature can’t be fully grasped by us 3D+t creatures, the wound-less body on the rising cross calls to my mind resurrection—there’s something extra-dimensional about that restored, radiant body, the hypercube cross representing both that extra-dimensional reality as well as the gateway to it.

March 21, 2017

Grandma Kelly’s Meaningful Life

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 5:15 pm
I’m presently teaching a course on the meaning of life, and today we covered Richard Taylor’s “Time and Life’s Meaning.” In that essay, Taylor argues that essential to a meaningful life is the exercise of creative potential unique to us rational creatures. Beethoven’s 9th symphony or Shakespeare’s plays, for example, break nature’s monotonous repetition of cause-and-effect by introducing something unprecedented, something novel and innovative, thereby introducing meaning in an otherwise meaningless world. Having just returned from my dear Grandma Kelly’s funeral, this passage from Taylor’s essay stuck out to me:
Lest the impression be given that the creative thought and work that I am praising is something rare, the possession of only a few, let it be noted that it exists in degrees and is, in one form or another, far from rare. What is rare is, I think, the proper appreciation of it. We tend to think of creative works as spectacular achievements, particularly in the arts, but in fact the human capacity to create something new is sometimes found in quite mundane things. Thus, for example, the establishment of a brilliant position in a game of chess is a perfect example of creativity, … . Things as common as gardening, woodworking and the like give scope to the originality of those who have the knack for them, and are probably the most constant source of life’s joys. … . My own favorite example of a creative work, and one whose value as a creation is rarely appreciated, is the raising of a beautiful family, something that is reserved for the relatively few who can, as a natural gift, do it well.
Taylor is right. And if there was anything evident from Monday’s services, it was that Grandma Kelly had that natural gift and raised a beautiful family well: 8 children, 25 grandchildren, and (of yet) 33 great-grandchildren. Just… wow. There can be no doubt that Grandma Kelly exercised her creative potential and lived a meaningful life!

February 24, 2017

Promiscuous Blogging

Filed under: Philosophy,Politics — camcintosh @ 12:16 pm

My poor failing blog. To add an insult to the injury of neglect, I’ve engaged in a bit of promiscuous blogging this month. It would be indecent not confess by unchaste escapades here.

pimpThanks to the editors at Rightly Considered, who asked me if I wanted to write a guest post for them. I wrote about whether it is rational to carry a gun. The numbers in the post could be tightened up, but the rough estimates, I think, sufficiently justify the philosophical point I tried to make. (Note: I understand that Rightly Considered is a bloga non grata among philosophers, so I hasten to add that I do not agree with other things written there.)

Thanks also to Kenny Pearce, who asked me to be a contributor to Prosblogion‘s Virtual Colloquium. I am looking forward to (potentially) receiving feedback on that post, which exposes the conceptual heart of my dissertation to the surgical minds of other philosophers. (Note: I understand that Prosblogion is not a bloga non grata among philosophers, so I hasten to add that I agree with everything that’s ever been written there.)

January 1, 2017

Books of 2016

Filed under: Annual Book Log,Life — camcintosh @ 1:19 pm

Behold, the list of mostly non-work related books I (slowly) traversed in 2016:


  1. Allison Hoover Bartlett, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (Riverhead Books, 2010).
  2. Arthur Brooks, The Conservative Heart (Broadside Books, 2015).
  3. Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (Simon and Schuster, 2010).
  4. Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue (University of Michigan Press, 1960).
  5. Andrew Klavan, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ (Thomas Nelson, 2016).
  6. John Lott, The War on Guns (Regnery, 2016).
  7. Michael Lynch, True to Life: Why Truth Matters (MT, 2005).
  8. Mike Martin, Self-Deception and Morality (Kansas, 1986).
  9. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (Penguin Books, 1985).
  10. Graham Priest, One: Being an Investigation into the Unity of Reality and of its Parts, including the Singular Object which is Nothingness (Oxford, 2014). Reviewed HERE.
  11. Nicholas Rescher, Philosophical Standardism: An Empirical Approach to Philosophical Methodology (Pittsburgh, 2000).
  12. Jeff Shaara, Civil War Battlefields (Ballantine, 2006).
  13. Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Race (Basic Books, 2013).
  14. Thomas Sowell, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics: An International Perspective (Basic Books, 2015).
  15. Benjamin Wiker, Ten Books that Screwed Up the World (Regnery, 2008).
  16. Benjamin Wiker, Ten Books Every Conservative Must Read (Regnery, 2010).


  1. Ransom Riggs, Tales of the Peculiar
  2. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Although overall better than 2015’s showing, the uptick in politics probably offsets any gains in philosophy. Maybe that is a reflection of the intensity of the election year. I hope to resume more regular and rewarding reading habits in 2017, a year which will, God willing, see the completion of the ol’ dissertation and moving back to the Southeastern heartland.

I’ve been pretty bad at keeping my book resolutions of previous years. At the close of 2013 I resolved to read more books in 2014 than I did in 2013. Failed. At the close of 2014, I resolved to temper the bibliophilia driving me to acquire books much faster than I can read or even shelve them. Failed. At the close of 2015 I resolved to keep the flame of love for lady philosophy from burning out. I suppose that resolution was met, but cold winds are still blowing. So no resolution this year. Resolutions are for losers, anyway (of which I am proof).

May 4, 2016

Pipe Sesh 5.0: Flashback

Filed under: Life,Pipe Sesh Post,Politics — camcintosh @ 12:29 am

Once upon a time there was a man named Joseph Smith. Joe was a very charismatic man. But he was also a treasure-seeking, duplicitous, sexist, power-hungry, moderately intelligent, manipulative, swindling scumbag. For all his vices, Joe managed to convince many credulous Christians that he was not just a Christian, but a timely Christian prophet. He wasn’t, of course. He was, in reality, just a treasure-seeking, duplicitous, sexist, power-hungry, moderately intelligent, manipulative, swindling scumbag. Sadly, though, many believed in his message. So they gave him treasure, power, and license to change accepted standards of Christian morality. OSBTrue Christians saw him for who and what he was, which forced him to start a new sect. Non-Christians also saw him for who and what he was, which reinforced their rejection of Christianity for what it wasn’t.

Today’s reflection was brought to you by Old Shenandoah’s Bootlegged. It is described as wonderfully aromatic and bite-free, with soft, nutty Burleys blended with good portion of silky black Cavendish and accented by the addition of some lemon Virginia.

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