This is the fifteenth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with Gilah Kletenik, who is currently a doctoral student, studying Jewish Philosophy, in the Hebrew and Judaic Studies Department at New York University. Her specific area is modern Jewish Philosophy and her research interests focus on phenomenology, philosophy of language, aesthetics and political theology.
Could you tell me something about your current religious affiliation/self-identification?
You ask about my “religious” upbringing and affiliation. This word, “religious,” while ubiquitous and obviously familiar, actually reverberates within my Jewish ears as somewhat alien. I will begin by elaborating on this further, so as to contextualize the ensuing response to your line of inquiry and our broader conversation.
This is the fourteenth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with Michael Rea, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame. Most of his work to date has been in metaphysics and philosophy of religion. The project that is currently occupying most of his time is a book, and a corresponding set of lectures, on the hiddenness of God.
Can you tell me something about your current religious affiliation/self-identification?
When people ask me about my religious upbringing, I usually say that I grew up in a liberal PC-USA church with a renegade conservative Calvinist youth minister. That characterization is misleading in certain respects, but there is more truth than falsehood in it. Probably the best way to illustrate the divide is with a story. The church was (and still is) located in Redondo Beach, California—just a couple of blocks from the ocean, and just 26 miles by boat from Catalina Island, where we held our summer youth camps every year. Our camp was popular; every year some 100+ high school students attended; many would commit or recommit their lives to Christ around the campfire at the end of the week, and the ranks of our youth group were accordingly swollen for months afterward. Some of the students at camp thought that it would be extremely cool to be baptized in the ocean right there at camp; and so one year, our youth minister—not yet ordained, and not yet even a seminary graduate—obliged them. (“See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”) Predictably, the youth minister was brought before the elders of the church. His defense appealed to scripture: Philip did not wait to be ordained by the Presbyterian Church before baptizing his Ethiopian convert; so why should he? The response from one of the elders was, “Don’t bring the Bible into this.”
This is the thirteenth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with Samuel Lebens, a post-doctoral research fellow in the philosophy department at Rutgers, as part of their Center for Philosophy of Religion, directed by Dean Zimmerman. Before that, he was a post-doctoral fellow in the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame. His PhD was in early analytic philosophy and the intersection between metaphysics and philosophy of language.
Can you say something about your current religious affiliation/self-identification – please feel free to say something about your religious upbringing or history, or anything else that might be relevant to your current religious affiliation?
I am an Orthodox Jew. I grew up in a traditional Jewish household in England.
As is the case with many British Jews, we affiliated with Orthodoxy but weren’t all that devout in our observance. For instance, Orthodox Judaism forbids driving on the Sabbath, but, like many British Jews, we would drive almost every week to the Orthodox synagogue, and a hide our car nearby, and we wouldn’t drive to the Reform synagogue, even though they allowed driving on the Sabbath!
Paul Draper shares the following:
It is with great sadness that I inform you that my friend, William Rowe, died this morning (August 22nd, 2015). As most of you know, he was a philosopher of religion and metaphysician, best known for his work on the cosmological argument, the problem of evil, and Thomas Reid’s theory of agent causation. What follows is a brief summary of some of his accomplishments.
Rowe earned his Ph.D. in 1962 at the University of Michigan under William P. Alston and wrote a dissertation—the basis for his first book (1968)—on Paul Tillich’s philosophical theology. He taught at Purdue University from 1962 to 2005 and, in 1986-7, was President of the American Philosophical Association’s Central Division.
Rowe wrote a second book (1975) focusing mainly on Samuel Clarke’s version of the cosmological argument for the existence of a necessary being. Hume had attacked this sort of argument by claiming that if each member of an infinite series of dependent beings is explained by another member of that series, then the entire series is explained. Rowe rejects Hume’s claim on the grounds that explaining each dependent being in terms of another leaves unexplained why the collection of all dependent beings has any members at all. He nevertheless finds Clarke’s argument unpersuasive because it depends on a dubious principle of sufficient reason.
Beginning in 1979 with his famous paper “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” Rowe published numerous papers defending an argument from evil against theism. Rowe denies that a logical incompatibility between God’s existence and known facts about evil can be established. He maintains instead that theists face an evidential problem of evil. In Rowe’s distinctive argument, however, the crucial evidence is not that our world contains horrendous evils, but that we cannot even conceive of any goods that justify God’s allowing those evils.
Rowe’s most recent book (2004) challenges the view that God is both free and perfectly good. For either there is a best of all possible worlds or there isn’t. If there is, then a perfectly good God must create it and so is not free. If there is not, then no matter which world God freely chooses to create, it is possible to create a better one, which, Rowe argues, implies that God is not perfectly good.
Bill Rowe was much more than a great thinker. He was a warm and extraordinarily gracious man, a mature and beautiful soul who had a gift for making others feel welcome and at ease. He will be sorely missed both by those who had the great fortune of knowing him personally and by those who know him only through his brilliant philosophical work.
This is the twelfth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with Amber Griffioen, a US-American postdoctoral researcher at the University of Konstanz (Germany), where she has worked since 2010. She currently has a 5-year fellowship from the Margarete von Wrangell Program aimed at completing the Habilitation (which would qualify her for a full professorship in Germany). Her primary areas of research are Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Action, and Philosophy of Sport, and her current research focuses on non-doxastic models of religious faith. She is also currently working on a side project with an Iranian scholar on Christian and Islamic mysticism and will be affiliated with a project on Religious Minorities next year in Konstanz.
Can you tell me something about your religious affiliation/self-identification?
Both my religious background and current affiliation/identification are rather complicated. Both my parents come from conservative Dutch Reformed backgrounds, and my primary and secondary education was (for better or worse) in the CSI school system (first in Milwaukee, later in West Michigan). However, “unofficially” I had a very ecumenical upbringing, which profoundly informs my religiosity (or what remains of it) to this day. My father (a theologian) received his Ph.D. from a Jesuit school, and as a young child I was often surrounded by his Catholic colleagues, many of whom were priests and nuns. We ended up attending a Missouri Synod Lutheran church that was known for its music, and we also attended an Episcopal church for a time. Importantly, I also received what one might consider a “religious” education in baseball (i.e., American civil religion), and I’m pretty sure the closest I’ve ever come to what people tend to call a “religious experience” has occurred at the ballpark. All of these factors instilled in me a deep reverence for (and aesthetic attraction to) religious symbol, ritual, and liturgy – much of which was in tension with the heavily Protestant (and increasingly Evangelical) traditions associated with my formal schooling. So I’ve always been a bit of a “religious outsider” wherever I found myself.
This is the eleventh installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with David McNaughton, currently Professor of Philosophy at Florida State, having previously been Professor at Keele University. He is a member of the Church of England, and a regular attender at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Tallahassee, Florida.
Can you tell me something about your current religious affiliation/self-identification?
I was brought up agnostic, but my parents sent me to Methodist Sunday School (for as long as I wished) so I might find out for myself. After considerable prayer and heart-searching I joined the Methodist Church around 1960 and stayed there for ten years, including being a very active member of the Methodist Society at my undergraduate university. I did my graduate work at Magdalen College Oxford and attended College Chapel, at the end of which I was received into the Church of England.
Shortly thereafter I drifted away from Christianity, eventually becoming both sceptical and slightly hostile until my mid-30s when I began slowly to re-evaluate my position. Strong influences here were C. S. Lewis and William James, as well as teaching philosophy of religion with Richard Swinburne. I remained a highly sympathetic agnostic until 2004, when I decided to recommit to the church.
Guleserian (1983) presents a version of the Problem of Evil that attacks the conjunction of theism and modal realism. Like the traditional Problem of Evil, Guleserian’s argument begins with a set of initially plausible, but mutually inconsistent, propositions, which Kraay (2011) reconstructs as follows:
1. Necessarily, there exists a being (God) who is essentially unsurpassable in power, knowledge, and goodness.
2. Every possible world is actual at itself.
3. Necessarily, if w is a possible world, then it is true in w that God permits w to be actual.
4. Necessarily, if it is true in w that God permits w to be actual, then it is morally acceptable for God to do so.
5. There is at least one on-balance-bad world, w.
6. It is not morally acceptable that, in w, God permits the overall bad world w to be actual when it is within God’s power to prevent this.
(1) and (2) state the primary ontological commitments of theism and modal realism respectively. (3), (4), and (6) state plausible consequences of the conjunction of theism and modal realism. (5) reflects a common modal intuition had by many philosophers, namely that we can conceive of at least some some possible world that is full of misery and altogether lacking in redeeming value.
One strategy for resolving the inconsistency is to reject (5). This the move endorsed by Morris (1987). Thomas argues that nature of an Anselmian God (one that is unsurpassable in greatness) would rule out the possibility any on-balance-bad worlds existing. The Anselmian God is, thus, “a delimiter of possibilities.” Another strategy, favored by Almeida (2011) is to reject (6). On Almeida’s view, the necessity of the on-balance-bad worlds exculpates God from moral responsibility for their existence. Finally Kraay (2011) also rejects (5). He argues for a Theistic Multiverse account of possibility on which (i) there is only one possible world (the actual world), (ii) it is the best possible world, and (iii) it is a multiverse.
What all of these positions have in common is a commitment to (2), the claim that all possible worlds are actual at themselves. This is a core principle of Lewisian modal realism. On Lewis’ account the term ‘actual’ works like the term ‘here’. Just because some things are real here it does not follow that other things cannot be real elsewhere. Likewise, for the denizens of other possible worlds, on Lewis’ theory, their worlds are just as concretely real for them as our world is for us.
Here’s another strategy for resolving the inconsistency. This one allows us to keep (1), (3), (4), (5), and (6) by modifying (2). On the view in mind, we accept an axiological restriction on actuality. We thus replace (2) with
(2′) All and only on-balance-good worlds are actual at themselves.
If this substitution is made, then the inconsistency in the proposition-set is resolved. Why accept such a restriction? The Anslemian theist will argue that such a restriction is merited by the nature of God. While a Lesliean axiarchist might argue that such a restriction is an abstract ethical constraint upon the space of possibilities.
Traditional modal realism holds that there is nothing special about actuality. Ersatz views take actuality to be a special property that only applies to one world, the one that obtains. The view in mind here takes a middle position. Many worlds (perhaps infinitely many) have the property of being actual at themselves. In this way the proposed view is akin to the modal realists position. But not every world, on this view is actual. Some worlds fail to obtain. But the failure is not entirely ad hoc. They either fail because they are inconsistent with the nature of an Anselmian God, or because of an abstract ethical requirement that only on-balance-good worlds exist.
(cross posted from Persons and Value)
This is the tenth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with James Faulconer, professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University. His area specialization is on contemporary European philosophy, particularly Heidegger and French thought from approximately 1960 to the present.
An Argument for the View that God has a Sense of Humor
Does God have a sense of humor? Here is one argument to think that he does. Let us start with the following uncontroversial premise:
(1) Having a sense of humor is a good-making property for human beings.
This does not seem to need much by way of defense: surely, ceteris paribus, we prefer someone with a sense of humor over someone without a sense of humor. In fact, when asked what we deem most important in relationships with other persons, the attribute of humor is usually in the top five. The second premise is as follows:
(2) For any property P, if P is a good-making property for entity X and P is intrinsically good, then for any entity Y that can have P, P will be a good-making property for Y.
Let me point out two important features of this premise. First, it says that if something is a good-making property for X, then it is a good-making property for Y if Y can have that property. The following example illustrates the relevance of this restriction. It is good for a building to be hurricane-resistant. However, since God is an immaterial being, it would be ridiculous to think that God is hurricane-resistant. God does not even have all good-making properties that humans have. Being a fast swimmer is a good-making property, but, of course, God is not a fast swimmer—nor is he a slow or an average one; he is simply not a swimmer at all, given that he does not have a body. That some property P (say, being hurricane-resistant or being a good swimmer) is a good property for one thing X (say, a building or a human being) does not mean that it is also a good-making property for some other thing Y (say, God). Only if Y can have that property is it good-making for Y.
A second important feature of (2) is that it is restricted to properties that are intrinsically good. It is a matter of philosophical debate precisely how we are to spell out what it is for goodness to be intrinsic rather than instrumental, but it seems the following will do for our purposes: something is intrinsically good if it is good in itself or for its own sake rather than as a means to something else. It is good that the water in my cup is fluid, but merely because I want to drink it. It is, therefore, merely instrumentally good. However, the beauty of Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride or the courage of a fireman who attempts to save someone’s life by risking his own life are intrinsically good, because they are good in themselves and for their own sake.
The third premise is:
(3) Having a sense of humor is a property that is intrinsically good.
To have a sense of humor seems to be a property that is intrinsically rather than (merely) instrumentally good. To have a sense of humor is good in itself or for its own sake, not merely because it is a means to something else. Among the things that are usually considered to be intrinsically good are happiness, beatitude, contentment, and pleasures and satisfactions of certain kinds. To be amused seems to be one of the pleasures and satisfactions that are intrinsically good, for it seems that if someone is amused at something and there is nothing morally wrong about that, then that is a good thing in itself: it need not serve any further purpose in order to be good.
From (1) through (3) it follows that:
(4) If God can have a sense of humor, then having a sense of humor is a good-making property for God.
The next premise is:
(5) God can have a sense of humor.
I return to this premise below. (4) and (5) together allow us to infer that:
(6) Having a sense of humor is a good-making property for God.
The next premise says that:
(7) If having a sense of humor is a good-making property for God, he has that property.
And from (6) and (7) we conclude that:
(8) God has the property of having a sense of humor.
Let me now defend the two premises not yet discussed. The reason to embrace (7) is that God is perfect in all regards. This is not to say that God will have any good-making property that he could have. It is, presumably, a good-making property of God that he has actualized the actual world. Assuming that God was free in actualizing this possible world, he could have actualized another possible world, and if he had done so, he would have exemplified the good-making property of having actualized that possible world. But God cannot actualize this possible world and another possible world. Hence, God will not have all good-making properties that he could have. With the property of having a sense of humor, things are different, though. There seems no property or set of properties that God contingently exemplifies, such as having actualized this possible world or having raised Jesus Christ from the dead, that rules out his having a sense of humor.
This leaves us with (5), which says that God can have a sense of humor. Is this true? Well, I see no reason to think that it conflicts with God’s omniscience. And I cannot think of a good reason to think that it would be ruled about by God’s omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence, or any other properties that are traditionally ascribed to God as essential properties that he has. There seems to be nothing in the nature of being amused or having the disposition to be amused that is ruled out by God’s nature. Thus, for all we know, God can have a sense of humor.
It follows from the argument that God has a sense of humor.
Yesterday, I discussed Thomas Flint’s response to the grounding objection in chapter 5 of Divine Providence: The Molinist Account. Today, I want to discuss his response to Robert Adams in chapter 7.
Adams’ objection turns on a notion of explanatory priority which, Flint complains, is not adequately defined. Flint argues that there is an equivocation in the argument, and that Adams relies on a transitivity assumption which is not plausible when applied across the different sorts of priority involved. I think, however, that Flint is mistaken on both counts: first, the notion in question is not equivocal. Rather, it is a genus containing several species. Second, transitivity is not actually required. What’s required is just an anti-circularity principle. The anti-circularity principle is abundantly well-justified across the entire genus.
The notion of priority here corresponds to the notion of objective explanation. That is, A is prior to B iff B because A. That’s simple enough. Of course, there are many different uses of ‘because’ and I’m inclined to agree that the anti-circularity principle won’t apply to all of them. That’s why we require that the because or priority here track objective explanation, i.e., that A really be a reason why B is true, and not merely a fact that helps make B intelligible to some particular mind. It is extremely plausible to suppose that there can be no cycles in chains of objective explanation.
The types of priority/explanation at issue include these:
- The priority of reasons (and, more generally, considerations) to actions (whether divine or creaturely).
- The priority of God’s creative act to all creaturely activity.
- The priority of causes to effects.
- The priority of free choices to free actions.
Now, it is, as I said, extremely plausible that an anti-circularity constraint applies here. For instance, it is incoherent to suppose that I should choose to act in a certain way because I am going to act in that way. Similarly, if my action causes it to be the case that P, then P can’t be among the reasons for my action, since (barring overdetermination, etc.) P won’t be true unless I take the action. (Of course, I might take the action because taking the action will cause it to be the case that P. That’s different.)
Now, let C be a proposition describing a total circumstance and let A be a proposition stating that a creature takes some free action in that circumstance. The Molinist is clearly committed to:
(1) C -> A is prior to God’s decision to weakly actualize C.
(2) God’s decision to weakly actualize C is prior to the agent’s having the reasons, considerations, etc., which lead her to choose A.
(3) The agent’s reasons, considerations, etc., are prior to her choice that A.
(4) The agent’s choice that A is prior to A.
By the anti-circularity constraint, this implies that neither the agent’s choice that A, nor A itself, is prior to C -> A.
But then why is C -> A true? If the Molinist says, for no reason at all, she runs into the randomness objection. The anti-circularity constraint prevents the Molinist from saying it’s because of the agent’s choice or the agent’s action. The Molinist obviously can’t say it’s due to God. If it’s due to the agent’s essence, nature, character, etc., then we’re presupposing a compatibilist theory of freedom and don’t need to bother with all the complexities of Molinism. There’s a serious problem here, and Flint hasn’t defused it.
(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)