Philosophy: November 2005 Archives


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Stuart Taylor examines the claim that Judge Alito is outside the mainstream, concluding that he's well within both the general American mainstream and the legal/judicial mainstream. [Hat tip: SCOTUSBlog]

William Wainwright has updated his Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Jonathan Edwards, originally authored in 2002. Most Edwards fans don't look at his philosophy as much as other aspects of his work, so I very much appreciate when a philosopher takes an interest in the first great American philosopher. Wainwright has done a lot to motivate thinking of Edwards as up there with the great early moderns, and I have to agree. Edwards and G.W. Leibniz are by far my favorite early modern philosophers. Edwards anticipated both Berkeley and Hume in interesting ways.

Brooksilver at The Lord of the Blog Rings has a nice post about Christian parables within The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I'm beginning to realize how little I remember from those books. I must have been 10 or so when I read them. I highly recommend his blog as a whole, by the way. I discovered it during his recent hiatus when he wasn't posting anything, but he's been a good friend for years, and I intend to read everything he posts now that he's back to blogging.

Two more pictures of the kids: Isaiah prim and proper and Sophia's underwear hat

Click on the picture for the full-size version. They've got Robby Steinhardt's photo above the Phil Ehart blurb, but otherwise this is pretty funny. One of the people on the discussion list where I found this spoke of Phil looking more and more like Robby every day!

What's funniest to me about this isn't intentional. It's that the members who would be most likely to favor ID aren't even in the current lineup, which is the group the picture shows. What follows close behind is that Kansas actually does have lyrics that deal with intelligent design. Then there's the fact that Kerry Livgren now thinks of Dust in the Wind as expressing the main theme of Ecclesiastes. It's not as if that song is contrary to Christian teaching, except in a couple of details ("nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky?" as if either would last forever anyway).

What's a little disappointing is the insinuation that intelligent design is about religion and the suggestion that it has anything to do with opposition to gay marriage. I'd guess that Kerry Livgren does oppose gay marriage, and I know he encourages all to become Christians, but this isn't about Livgren's current views and how he'd adjust the song in light of them. It's about how Dust in the Wind could be adjusted to sound like the ID proponents. Those would have been more important to put in the last box with those who prefer Foreigner to progressive rock. It's also a little unfortunate that ID is being held up against evolution, given what I argued in my last post on the topic. Good humor is good humor, but it still needs to be evaluated for its philosophical presuppositions.

It's occurred to me that a common complaint against intelligent design is a huge mistake. In particular, it misrepresents the ID movement. That's no surprise to regular readers of this blog, who should have been explose to numerous misrepresentations of the ID position by now. This one isn't a stupid mistake, though. I can understand why people might make this mistake, but it's a mistake nonetheless and a philosophical one.

I've seen ID opponents make the complaint that ID requires special creation even if the people making ID arguments claim otherwise. By special creation here, I don't mean the creation of the universe to begin with. Any theist will believe in special creation in that sense. Special creation here means miraculous intervention to create certain biological elements that we don't have explanations for at this point. Immediately, I already see one problem with this. Intelligent design requires no such thing, because some intelligent design arguments have nothing to do with biology. Some are about fine-tuning of the cosmological constants. But even leaving that issue aside, I think this misunderstands those who endorse the biological ID arguments, including most notably Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Philip Johnson.

Pseudo-Polymath has started a series on one of the most important Christian works of all time, Augustine's City of God. The second post on suicide is also up, and the third one seems to be taking its time. I have a few thoughts on the second post. Most of what he says is exactly right, and it's worth reading on your own. There's a lot there that would take too long to try to encapsulate briefly.

There are some interesting things in Augustine's discussion of suicide that Mark didn't get into. The first one isn't central to Augustine's argument and probably would be politically incorrect to say now, but I find it fascinating. In arguing that women who have been raped are not morally responsible for being raped, Augustine is way ahead of his time. Greek and Roman culture considered such a thing shameful, not to the rapist but to the victim. Augustine says that such a view is nonsense. Christian women realized this, and when Rome was sacked the Christian women responded very differently than others did to being raped. They didn't see themselves as having been shamed. This is part of Augustine's overall apologetic for Christianity over paganism, that Christianity has a view on this issue that is thoroughly at odds with the pagan view, and the Christian one easily comes out on top.

At the same time, one thing he says sounds really insensitive. As he's explaining why it's not immoral to be raped, he has a little aside about the one possible (though perhaps he would admit very unlikely) exception to when someone might do something morally wrong in being raped. If it turned out the person enjoyed it, he thinks it would be wrong. That strikes most modern readers as being really odd, and it sounds as if he doesn't understand anything about rape. How could someone enjoy being raped?

In preparing for my discussion of euthanasia next week, I was reading through a summary of Dan Brock's positions on the matter. Brock is widely considered one of the foremost medical ethicists among philosophers. After explaining why self-determination is a good thing, he argues that one of the things that it's good to have self-determination about is our own death. There are important factors in self-determination that are served if we have control over our own death. I'll grant that having some control over some things to do with our death serves the value of self-determination in some important ways. But then he summarizes his discussion with the following statement:

If self-determination is a fundamental value, then the great variability among people on this question makes it especially important that individuals control the manner, circumstances, and timing of their dying and death.

Maybe I've been reading the Stoics too much, but this just sounds irrational. Someone who wants to die soon and figures out how to kill themselved in the way they want at the time they want can usually do a very good job of fulfilling this especially important goal, but most people would like to live fairly long lives if possible. Some might not want to live under certain conditions, which is his point, but how can someone who wants to keep living place this sort of control over your death as such an especially high level and then want to keep living? If it's that important, we should just kill ourselves and be done with it. Wouldn't it be better to live in such a way that if we die we would consider our life to have been what we would want it to have been in the time alotted to us? Putting such high value in something we can't control unless we choose to die soon just seems fruitless. The Stoics were right about at least this. It's setting yourself up for valuing something especially high that chances are you simply won't achieve. But if that's so, then I just can't understand choosing to value it at such a level.


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At Real Clear Theology, you can find excerpts of D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo's section on the New Perspective on Paul in their new edition of An Introduction to the New Testament, a book I would wholeheartedly recommend. [Hat tip: Rebecca]

Tyler Williams looks at witches in the Bible and traces out the origin of our modern conception of a witch. The first comment (the only one so far) is priceless.

Ed Feser at Right Reason takes apart Simon Blackburn's critique of Elizabeth Anscombe's natural law theory. [Hat tip: Philosophers' Carnival XXI] Standout quote:

Blackburn appears to be the sort of philosopher who, as an undergraduate, read a few excerpts from Anselm and Aquinas in some textbook, along with the standard potted “refutations��? deriving from Hume and Kant, and never looked back – assuming ever since that no one could seriously believe that the existence of God could be demonstrated philosophically. He shows no awareness of the extent to which many of these standard objections are based on caricatures or oversimplifications of the traditional theistic arguments, nor any appreciation of the work done in defense of them by contemporary philosophers of religion like Plantinga and Swinburne, much less by analytical Thomists like John Haldane, whose work is most relevant to the matters presently at issue.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. It doesn't seem good for those who have insisted that Bush really wanted a war no matter what.

Senators Lindsey Graham (SC) and Mike DeWine (OH) were among the seven Republicans in the Gang of 14 who conspired to prevent Democrats from filibustering President Bush's judicial nominees and Republicans from using what's been called the nuclear option to remove the ability to filibuster judicial nominees. Since there are 55 Republicans, and 50 (+ Vice President Cheney's tie-breaking vote) would be needed to change the filibuster rule, only 6 Republicans were needed for the Gang of 14. They had 7. They now have at most 5, at least with respect to Samuel Alito's nomination for the Supreme Court. Graham and DeWine have indicated that they would not allow a filibuster on this nomination. It remains to be seen if the 44 Democrats (plus independent Senator Jim Jeffords of VT) would have enough votes to filibuster to begin with. The Gang of 14 again needs 6 votes to oppose the filibuster. As far as I know, not one of them has indicated anything on how they will approach Alito's nomination.



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