Philosophy: August 2004 Archives

I'm not sure exactly what to think of this, but Joe Carter thinks Antony Flew is showing signs of moving away from atheism. It's not clear what he's moving toward, but this is important news in philosophy of religion, since he's been one of the staunchest defenders of arguments for atheism and opponents of arguments for theism. I haven't read a word of his atheistic arguments, but I've been told that his work doesn't hold a candle to J.L. Mackie or William Rowe's stuff, so I don't think this is as big a deal as Joe does. What's interesting here is that the arguments for God's existence are actually playing some role in his move from atheism.

Someone asked me to blog about abortion, thinking that I've never said anything about it. I have, but I haven't really given a solid defense of why I think abortion is wrong, though. I've more explored issues around the sidelines that I think have some bearing on the general area of topics. I do think there are excellent arguments for being solidly pro-life in the way that John Ashcroft is. He's seen as a Nazi on this issue who just wants to control women because he has such strong opposition to abortion. I'm sure that this was the major reason so many Democratic senators opposed his nomination for Attorney General. They simply thought he was a bigot because they were too ignorant to appreciate the position he has and the reasons for it. I think the majority of philosophers are in the same position, and I think it's merely ignorance in many cases. That's not to say that the liberal position on abortion doesn't bring something to the table that conservatives need to hear. I see a number of crucial points in Judith Jarvis Thomson's fundamental paper on the topic that conservatives would do well to acknowledge, though I think in the end her paper supports nothing like the abortion-on-demand that has been allowed in this country despite the false claims that liberals really want to make abortion rare. If they really wanted it rare, they'd be happy to restrict it rather than fighting tooth-and-nail against a law that forbids delivering a child halfway and then killing it before it's born on the grounds that somehow it's safer to kill a kid in mid-childbirth than it is to go through with the birth and just not have the kid raised by the woman who wanted to kill her child after halfway giving birth.

I've taught on abortion enough times and read enough different papers on it during the different times I've taught it that I think I have a better understanding of the liberal position on abortion than most liberals do. I know I have a better understanding of it than most students I've had who are inclined to that view. I say I understand it, but I don't think I really understand it. Peter van Inwagen is fond of saying things like that about metaphysical pictures that don't agree with his own, and one philosopher I know calls it Petering out when he has no real objection. Another philosopher I know refers to it as finding something unInwagenable. I think I really am in that position with the philosophical orthodoxy about abortion.

Philosophers' Carnival I

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The very first Philosophers' Carnival is now online at Philosophy, et cetera... It includes my first Prosblogion post on the problem of evil and open theism, which has now been joined by part II, and Ben Bradley's OrangePhilosophy post Help Me Choose a Murder Victim from last month.

Michael Cholbi's PEA Soup entry on the issue of whether mental and psychological competence is necessary for execution or whether such a requirement is simply perverse was interesting to me simply because the whole issue had never occurred to me. He's right that a number of other interesting questions arise once you consider this. I don't know what I think about most of them.

Maverick Philosopher discusses a logical problem with the incarnation. His solution is to say that Jesus isn't essentially human (for non-philosophers, that just means he didn't have to become incarnated). I thought it was fishy when I saw the claim that God the Son might not have been Jesus, because 'Jesus' is a proper name for God the Son. My questioning that amounts to questioning the same inference Maverick Philosopher wanted to question, so I don't think we really disagree. The one thing he said that I really did question is his claim at the beginning that God the Father is radically transcendent and God the Son immanent, as if each person of the Trinity has to be one or the other. An orthodox Christian theology doesn't divide up transcendence and immanence between different persons of the Trinity. God the Father is as immanent as he is transcendent. A quick read of the psalms should give a sense of both. Similarly, God the Son is fully transcendent even with the incarnation. That's part of what he claims about his identity through doing things the scriptures assign only to God.

More on Evil

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My second post on the problem of evil and open theism is finished and residing at Prosblogion. At this point I don't have anything else I'm planning to say, so that may be it, but I wouldn't be surprised if people leave comments that will leave me wanting to continue the post in a different direction. The blog was inactive for a couple weeks, so I suspect most of the usual traffic there has disappeared. If that's so, then it might be awhile before I get motivated by a comment discussion to say anything in a further post, if it happens at all.

I've posted my first part in a series on open theism and the problem of evil at Prosblogion. At least, that's what it's starting out as being about. It may go in different directions as it goes. The first post gives some problems with open theism's explanation of evil. The second will look at traditional responses to the problem to see why open theism doesn't really add much compared to the major complaints about where traditional responses are lacking. Those gaps can't be filled by open theism. If it goes beyond that, I'm not sure what else it will involve, but I can foresee it going in a number of possible directions.

Due to my work on tomorrow's Christian Carnival, I haven't had time to post anything today. Here's a book review I wrote on Amazon in November 2002. This book is currently out-of-print, but these academic books go in and out of print every few years, and I imagine used copies are much more available over the internet than it used to be. A good library with interlibrary loan connections with academic libraries should be able to get ahold of it fairly easily also.

Peter van Inwagen, God, Knowledge, and Mystery: Essays in Philosophical Theology

Peter van Inwagen is a first-class philosopher, widely respected as one of the best metaphysicians of our day. This book collects previously-published work in philosophy of religion. He is a sincere Christian thinker who began his philosophical career as a nonbeliever. The value, difficulty, and strengths and weaknesses in this book vary from paper to paper.


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This is really a day late. Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation, and I decided to do my month-delayed post on lying. Well, I didn't get to it yesterday, so it's today, the 30th anniversary of Gerald Ford's first full day as president in the aftermath of Watergate.

Is lying always wrong? I say no. Immanuel Kant argued that lying is always wrong, but what would you do if you were holding Jews in your basement and the SS troops showed up to ask if you were holding Jews in your basement? If you turn them in, you're doing something wrong. It would therefore be wrong not to lie in this case. Most philosophers are convinced by this sort of case. Kant dug in his heels and said that you just need to tell the truth. He went so far as to say that if we tell the truth in such circumstances then we're allowing the Jews in the basement to escape, while lying means if the Jews try to escape then they'd get caught because the soldiers wouldn't be in the basement where they should be if you tell the truth. If it takes that kind of denial of what's really likely to happen, the view doesn't have a lot going for it. I understand that some would say God will reward truth if only we're trusting enough to speak it, even when it seems we'd be condemning someone to death, but usually people who say such things believe the Bible, and I think lying in some cases is biblically defensible for a Christian.

I'll look at the relevant texts given on both sides, and then I'll come back to the issue of presidential lying in the cases of Nixon and Clinton and also the purported cases of Reagan and George W. Bush. I was originally planning to use the title "What if Bush Really Did Lie?", but there are so many other issues I'm discussing here that using a counterfactual title would have been misleading about the main content of the post, so I've just gone with a generic title.

I got the following example from Ben Bradley about a completely different topic, but since it raises interesting issues about the afterlife I figured I'd steal it and ask some questions about it.

Suppose you had a terminal illness. You're given six months to live. There's a treatment that can save you, but it will lead to a total transformation of your personality and interests. For example, you might stop enjoying philosophy and the intellectual life and start enjoying bottle cap collecting. You would find complete fulfillment in bottle cap collecting and not miss the intellectual life, but the desires you currently have would no longer be fulfilled. Ben poses the case as a means to wondering whether it would be better to die in six months or to undergo the treatment and be transformed so drastically that your current desires and preferences would very likely go unfulfilled.

My question is this: what significance does this case have for the possibility or nature of an afterlife? More particularly, what should someone who is not a univeralist say about this sort of case? If I need to spell out the details of what I'm thinking to guide the discussion in the direction I've been thinking, I will, but I'd rather see what people want to say about it first.

Double Positive

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Sidney Morgenbesser, philosophy professor at Columbia University, died yesterday. NPR had a little tidbit on him this afternoon, demonstrating that a famous urban legend really happened. One of his colleagues was on the air recounting it.

J.L. Austin was giving a talk formal semantics and pragmatics or something like that, and he said something about double negatives canceling out and making a positive but that double positives never turn to a negative. Morgenbesser, under his breath and not expecting to be heard, said "Yeah, yeah..." Everyone in the room did hear and of course broke out in laughter.

I heard this story without any names and without it being said to be even related to philosophy. I think it was "Yeah, right!" instead. I had assumed it was just another urban legend like most stories about professors, but it turns out to be a true urban legend.



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