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.
March 21, 2017
February 24, 2017
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.
Thanks 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.)
May 11, 2016
Here’s a simple argument for the conclusion that your gender is essential to you, your essence, haecceity, or identity.
(i) Take Kripke’s essentiality of origins thesis: your origin is essential to you. You could not have originated from a different set of parents. That a particular sperm and a particular egg united at a particular moment (i.e., conception) is essential to you. Had a different sperm or egg united at that moment, you would not have existed. (ii) You originated at conception. Your origin and conception are, in fact, the same event. (iii) Gender is determined at conception. The moment a sperm fertilizes an egg, gender is set. It might be protested at this point that the argument confuses biological “sex” with “gender.” But the arguer need not assume human persons are essentially biological organisms; only that their biological origin is essential to them, and that they have certain essential properties in virtue of that origin. But if human persons are possibly not biological organisms (e.g., they can exist disembodied, or at least with a non-biological body), then they possibly lack a biological sex. What would it mean to say you’re biologically male while lacking a biological body? So either the distinction between “sex” and “gender” is illegitimate, or what is essential to you in virtue of your biological origin is gender, not biological sex. It follows that (iv) gender is constitutive of your origin. Part of what made your origin/conception the very event it was, was what occurred in that event; what occurred in that event was the creation of a gendered zygote. (v) If x is constitutive of y, and y is essential to S, then x is essential to S. So, (vi) your gender is essential to you.
April 11, 2016
Here is a pre-print of my review of Graham Preist’s most recent book, One: Being an investigation into the Unity of Reality and of its Parts, including the Singular Object which is Nothingness (Oxford, 2014), forthcoming in Philosophy in Review.
It was a fun and engaging book to read, though I disagreed with almost every assertion made in it. But that’s OK. Part of the pleasure of reading it was in appreciating the power and elegance of a view so radically different from my own. I aspire to be able to defend my views with as much ingenuity, clarity, wit, and verve as Priest does his.
March 27, 2016
Christianity, unlike most other religions, is a religion grounded in a particular historical event that either did or did not happen. That event—resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—is susceptible to historical investigation just like any other. Attempts to place the resurrection beyond the reach of falsification by taking it out of the messy, gritty realm of concrete, objective, investigable fact and putting it into the “safer” realm of subjective, spiritual, internal experience is dishonest in the extreme.
If Jesus didn’t actually come back to life with a body that could be poked and prodded by skeptics or embraced and kissed by friends, I don’t give a damn what heart-warming lessons can be drawn from the story. But if he did, nothing else could have more profound existential ramifications. The following passage from Wright’s magisterial book on the resurrection is worth quoting at length:
The early Christians saw Jesus’ resurrection as the action of the creator god to reaffirm the essential goodness of creation and, in an initial and representative act of new creation, to establish a bridgehead within the present world of space, time and matter through which the whole new creation could now come to birth. Calling Jesus ‘son of god’ within this context of meaning, they constituted themselves by implication as a collection of rebel cells within Caesar’s empire, loyal to a different monarch, a different kyrios. Saying ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead’ proved to be self-involving in that it gained its meaning within this counter-imperial worldview. The Sadducees were right to regard the doctrine of resurrection, and especially its announcement in relation to Jesus, as political dynamite.
Once again we must not confuse ‘meaning’ in this sense with ‘referent’. Just as ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead’ does not refer to the fact that ‘my sins have been forgiven’, even though it means that within its wider world of implication, so that same sentence does not refer to the fact that the true god disapproves of brutal tyranny, even though it means that. Some recent books, eager to bring out the political implications of the resurrection, have allowed this political ‘meaning’ to take over entirely, and have supposed that this argument is strengthened by suggesting that nothing much happened on the third day after Jesus’ death. Get rid of the original referent, and (so it appears) you allow the implication to take its place. But this misses the point the early Christians were eager to make, the point that brought them quickly into confrontation with the authorities both Jewish and pagan. To imply that Jesus ‘went to heaven when he died’, or that he is now simply a spiritual presence, and to suppose that such ideas exhaust the referential meaning of ‘Jesus was raised from the dead’, is to miss the point, to cut the nerve of the social, cultural and political critique. Death is the ultimate weapon of the tyrant; resurrection does not make a covenant with death, it overthrows it. The resurrection, in the full Jewish and early Christian sense, is the ultimate affirmation that creation matters, that embodied human beings matter. That is why resurrection has always had an inescapable political meaning; that is why the Sadducees in the first century, and the Enlightenment in our own day, have opposed it so strongly. No tyrant is threatened by Jesus going to heaven, leaving his body in a tomb. No governments face the authentic Christian challenge when the church’s social preaching tries to base itself on Jesus’ teaching, detached from the central and energizing fact of his resurrection (or when, for that matter, the resurrection is affirmed simply as an example of a supernatural ‘happy ending’ which guarantees post-mortem bliss).
…The resurrection constitutes Jesus as the world’s true sovereign, the ‘son of god’ who claims absolute allegiance from everyone and everything within creation. He is the start of the creator’s new world: its pilot project, indeed its pilot.
That being said, as a Christian doing graduate work in philosophy, I often wonder what non-Christian philosophers would make of arguments for the resurrection, whether the historiographical treatments of Wright and Licona or the more philosophically rigorous formulations of Swinburne and the McGrews, especially in light of how the standard Humean objection to miracles has been shown to be demonstrably fallacious. Philosophers read and think about stuff all the time. It is their job, after all. Given the monumental significance of the resurrection, if true, don’t non-Christian philosophers owe it to themselves to read at least a few good books on the topic, and to devote some honest thought to how good of a case there is for it? Some have done that, to be sure. But they are few. Most non-Christian philosophers are, I imagine, blissfully unaware that serious arguments for the resurrection even exist. But I suppose their lot is understandable. They’re no doubt too busy tackling the really important questions, like whether the principle of substitutivity of identiticals holds when substituting codesignators within the scope of temporal and modal operators.
November 12, 2015
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…
So 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.
September 25, 2015
“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.”
July 28, 2015
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, respectively.
But you know how philosophy goes. Like in war, things are rarely decisively settled. Stay tuned for the fall out.
May 28, 2015
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 of 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 6, 2015
“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.