January 4, 2016

Books of 2015

Filed under: Annual Book Log,Life — camcintosh @ 1:51 pm

In keeping with my blogging tradition of posting an annual book log, here is my 2015 showing:


  1. Lynne Rudder Baker, Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective (Oxford, 2013).
  2. Jeff Guinn, The Last Gunfight (Simon & Schuster, 2012).
  3. Steve Sheinkin, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers (Scholastic, 2012).
  4. Richard Carwardine, Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power (Vintage, 2007).
  5. Chris Kyle, American Sniper (Harper, 2013).
  6. Peter Kadzis, Blood: Stories of Life and Death from the Civil War (Thunder’s Mouth, 2000).
  7. David Roberts, Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration (W. W. Norton & Co., 2014).
  8. Mitchell Zuckoff, Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II (Harper Perennial, 2012).
  9. Richard Taylor, The Disciplined Life (Bethany House, 1962).
  10. Antonio Mendez, Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History (Penguin Books, 2013).


  1. Orson Scott Card, Earth Unaware
  2. Orson Scott Card, Earth Afire
  3. Orson Scott Card, Earth Awakens
  4. H. G. Wells, War of the Worlds
  5. Gary Paulsen, Brian’s Winter
  6. Gary Paulsen, The River
  7. Gary Paulsen, Brian’s Return
  8. Gary Paulsen, Brian’s Hunt
  9. Richard Adams, Watership Down
  10. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

CoPAn abysmal list, really, as far as philosophy is concerned (Cf. 2013 and 2014). What can I say? The ‘game’ of professional philosophy and its star players disgust me more than ever. As a not-completely-subconcious act of personal protest, I’ve turned to other outlets to scratch inquisitive, creative itches. I still dutifully read the tenure files and enjoy my work. But that’s what it has become. Work. I never saw it that way before. Maybe that’s why I was better at it then. Anyway, the challenge I face this next year will be to keep that original flame of love for Lady Philosophy burning, and to not let the cold drafts of academia blow it out entirely. Here’s to 2016.


December 17, 2015

Pipe Sesh 4.0: No, Muslims and Christians do not Worship the Same God

Filed under: Pipe Sesh Post — camcintosh @ 3:41 pm

Recent controversy at Wheaton has reminded us of one of the most cherished nuggets of contemporary wisdom, positively golden for its heart-warming conciliatory sentiment. Yes, you have heard it said, “Muslims and Christians worship the same God.”

But you don’t have to bite down very hard on that nugget to discover it’s fool’s gold, sold by bullshitting Western journalists whose infatuation with Islam is matched only by their contempt for conservative Christians. Sadly, even many Christians have invested in the worthless pyrite. And they really should know better. They should know that the Christian God and the Muslim God have different essential properties, which entails that our concepts of them cannot possibly denote the same God. If A and B are essentially different, and we were aware of those differences, our concepts of A and B cannot possibly denote the same thing. If (per impossible) Hesperus and Phosphorus had different essential properties, and we were aware of those differences, our concepts of each could not possibly denote one and the same object.

The Christian and Muslim concepts of God do share certain properties in common. Both Gods are omnipotent, omniscient, created the world, and sent prophets, for example. Both are even referred to by the same name; i.e., “God.” But it hardly follows from this fact that they are therefore the same. This is the Dumbo fallacy. I have ears. Dumbo the elephant has ears. It doesn’t follow that I am Dumbo the elephant. And don’t fall for the equally elementary ‘same word, same referent’ mistake. Words refer to concepts and concepts denote things. We can use the same word to refer to different concepts that denote different things. So the “’Allah’ is just the Arabic word ‘God’” defense goes precisely no distance in showing the concepts referred to are the same, much less the objects the concepts denote.

An example may help. My uncle Mark proudly drives a pickup truck. My grandpa Bill proudly drives an 18-wheeler. And they playfully make fun of each other for their respective vehicle of choice. Sure, they know both vehicles have much in common. Both have engines, wheels, can haul stuff, are referred to as “trucks,” etc. But my uncle and grandpa are also keenly aware of the essential differences. How absurd, confusing, and downright foolish it would be if I went up to them strumming a conciliatory note on my guitar and said “You know, guys, you really drive the same truck,” my kumbaya attitude notwithstanding.

How, then, does the Christian God and the Muslim God essentially differ? Again, easy: the Christian God is trinitarian. God is three persons. The Muslim concept of God is unitarian. God is one person, not three. So if either a Christian or a Muslim thinks they’re worshiping the same God, they have simply failed to understand the concept of the God in whom they claim to believe. If a Christian is worshiping the same God that a Muslim is, one or the other is worshiping the wrong God. In fact, one doesn’t exist. Christians and Muslims believe there is room in reality for one and only one God. If the Christian God exists, the Muslim God doesn’t (and vice versa).

As I said, the “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” line is usually peddled by dishonest salesmen who like the sentiment it expresses more than the truth. But well-meaning, thoughtful people have bought in, too. Witness Francis Beckwith:

But doesn’t Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn’t this mean that they indeed worship different “Gods”? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.” On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.” Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. In the same way, Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity, but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do.

The problem with Beckwith’s example is that Fred and Bob are disagreeing over which non-essential properties Thomas Jefferson has. It is not essential to Jefferson either that he is or is not the father of several of Sally Hemings’ children. And of course we can talk about the same thing while disagreeing about which non-essential properties it has. But that is not like the present case. So here’s a better example. Fred and Bob are disagreeing over the essential properties of tables. Fred insists that essential to a table is that it have a surface. Not only does Bob disagree, Bob insists that tables essentially do not have surfaces. Fred is right and Bob is wrong. But the point is that whatever Bob’s concept denotes, it does not denote a table, and Fred’s and Bob’s concepts cannot possibly denote the same thing. So don’t go around saying Fred and Bob are talking about the same thing, because they aren’t—regardless of whatever other properties their concepts have in common and regardless of whether they’re using the same word.

Saying “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” promotes confusion, not solidarity. And as Jonathan Edwards rightly observed, “it is much the more hard to think right when speaking so wrong.” There is more to say about this, but that’s enough for now. Go in peace, and worship God in spirit and in truth.

EMPToday’s reflection was brought to you by Dunhill’s Early Morning Pipe. The description reads, “Sweet Oriental carefully blended with Bright and Red Virginias, pressed and lightly stoved. Great as the ‘first pipe’ arousing the palate for the further pleasures of the day.” Indeed.

*Update: The claim that Muslims, Jews, and Christians all worship the same God seems demonstrably false to me for the reasons I outlined in the post. But I am genuinely open to it being true. The principles I appealed to to justify denying the claim (e.g., “If A and B are essentially different, and we were aware of those differences, our concepts of A and B cannot possibly denote the same thing”) could probably be Chisholmed to account for prima face counterexamples. However, the only way I can see how it could turn out true is if interesting philosophy of language considerations are brought to bear on the topic. There is a recent paper on this I’ve been meaning to look at. Here’s the reference if anyone’s interested: Jeroen de Ridder and Rene can Woudenberg, “Referring to, Believing in, and Worshipping the Same God: A Reformed View,” Faith and Philosophy 31/1 (2014), pp. 46-67.

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.

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