Welcome again to the Prosblogion Virtual Colloquium! This week’s paper is “Proportionality, Maximization, and the Highest Good” by Craig E. Bacon. Bacon is a PhD candidate at the University of South Carolina. His dissertation is entitled The Life of Virtue: Moral Progress and Kant’s Idea of the Highest Good, and is scheduled to be defended in May. While the dissertation itself answers a variety of problems in the scholarship on the highest good and works out a coherent account of the role played by the religious postulates, Bacon also maintains research interests in the relationship between happiness and morality in the Early Modern period, and in contemporary Kantian approaches to the intersection of ethics, philosophy of religion, and civil life.
Proportionality, Maximization, and the Highest Good
Craig E. Bacon
In this paper, I argue that the contemporary scholarship on Kant’s highest good has mistakenly framed the discussion in a way that confuses the true content of this idea and obscures the role of the religious postulates of God and immortality. I suggest an alternate framework that begins with Kant’s own thought experiment from the Critique of Practical Reason and the First Preface to Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (and, more subtly, in the Critique of Pure Reason). In this thought experiment, the context for thinking about the highest good centers on a morally committed agent who takes on the viewpoint of an omnipotent world creator. This context establishes the content of the idea of the highest good, and the religious postulates arise in connection to this idea.
Beginning with Andrews Reath’s influential 1988 paper, much of the scholarship on Kant’s idea of the highest good has focused on the assertion that Kant has both a “secular” and a “theological” conception of the highest good, where the theological conception considers the postulates of God and immortality to be essential to the realization of the highest good, but the secular conception either sidesteps the postulates or at least finds Kant’s commitment to them waning. This distinction largely (but not without exception) maps onto another division in the literature between a “maximization” thesis and a “proportionality” thesis. The maximization thesis claims that the highest good consists in the concurrent maximization of happiness and virtue–whatever that maximum might be–whereas the proportionality thesis understands the highest good as a state of affairs in which happiness appropriately matches virtue, i.e., whatever one’s level of virtue, one’s enjoyment of happiness occurs proportionately. Both theses ‘hedge’ on the highest good as ideal, since less-than-complete happiness and/or less-than-complete virtue comprise the ideal. The common assumption is that the religious postulates (and most importantly for this paper, the postulation of God as an author of nature) arise from the proportionality thesis but not from the maximization thesis. The further common assumption is that God’s role is to actively ‘set’ the proportion between happiness and virtue, i.e., that divine agency supersedes human efforts to bring about the highest good.
I argue that (1) these common assumptions are mistaken and (2) that secular/theological and maximization/proportionality dichotomies exist because scholars have taken these mistaken assumptions about the religious postulates and ‘read them back’ into the content of the idea of the highest good. That is, the scholarship has assumed an interpretation of the religious postulates’ role as more or less obvious, and has interpreted the highest good accordingly. To correct this mistake, I argue that we should turn things around: the content of the idea of the highest good must be set first, then we can understand how the religious postulates support the realization of the highest good.
In the Second Critique and in the Religion, Kant introduces his discussions of the highest good with a question: what kind of world can I will? The thought experiment assumes an agent who is already committed to the moral law; as such, this agent would choose a world in which everyone is committed to the moral law and does what they should. But this fidelity to the moral law (‘virtue,’ for the purposes of this paper) is what constitutes worthiness to be happy, since happiness itself is only conditionally good while moral goodness fulfills this condition. Therefore, Kant’s idea of the highest good consists in truly universal happiness proportioned to truly universal virtue. Lesser degrees of happiness or virtue are inconsistent with this ideal.
My argument in this paper is a slice of a dissertation chapter that argues for an understanding of ‘proportionality’ as ‘conditionality’ rather than as a calculable, mathematical apparatus. This chapter also situates Kant’s use of proportionality against the background principle of ‘ought implies can,’ and sets up later chapters on the role of the postulates of God and immortality in relation to the highest good. Most interestingly for my future research, I think my argument here has important implications for Kant’s claim that morality expands into religion through the highest good. Any lesser ideal than what I argue for here does not generate the same (subjective) need for God that results in religion as a way of conceiving of/representing “all our duties” as divine commands.
The complete paper is available here. Comments welcome below.
This week’s Virtual Colloquium paper is “The Shattered Spiritual Self” by Michelle Panchuk. Dr. Panchuk received her PhD from the University of South Carolina in 2016, and is currently a research fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Philosophy of Religion. Her previous work, some of which has been published in International Philosophical Quarterly, has focused on the relationship between classical theism and the metaphysics of universals. Currently, she is working on a monograph on the topic of religious trauma.
The Shattered Spiritual Self
Philosophical Reflections on Religious Trauma, Worship, and Deconversion
In this paper I argue that we should understand religious trauma as a kind of transformative experience that diminishes the individual’s capacity to engage in religious life, and that this diminished capacity is sometimes so severe that it constitutes an all-things-considered reason for the individual to deconvert, whether or not she maintains the beliefs associated with her former religion. In the first section I provide an introduction to trauma in a general sense. In the second I suggest two criteria that trauma must meet to count as religious trauma and then sketch a working definition of it. In the third section I narrow the scope of discussion to the non- cognitive effects of religious trauma and analyze two case studies relative to those effects. In the final section I argue that the non-cognitive effects of religious trauma may place worship out of reach of some survivors of religious trauma, and that this can give them an all-things-considered reason to deconvert. Even if this last argument fails to persuade the reader, I believe that this paper will successfully demonstrate that religious trauma is a kind of experience that deserves serious philosophical and theological consideration.
In its most severe forms trauma has devastating effects on the individual’s ability to function and flourish. Trauma theorists divide the effects of trauma into two categories: the epistemic/cognitive effects and the non-cognitive—emotional and physiological—effects. Examples of the former are things like believing oneself to be fundamentally unsafe in the world, while examples of the latter include intrusive memories, hyperarousal, hypervigilance, and sleep disturbances. At least two conditions must be met for an experience to count as religiously traumatic. First, the trauma must be inflicted by some aspect of the religion, and second, its effects must have a religious object. The fact that only a portion of the individuals who experience trauma more generally develop a post-traumatic disorder suggests that only a portion of those who endure a religiously traumatic experience will develop religiously significant post- traumatic distress, but there simply isn’t enough research to say exactly how common it is. It is enough for our current purposes that religious trauma exists, and as I will show below, raises philosophical questions about religious faith in those cases. Thus, I will define religious trauma as: any traumatic experience of the divine being, religious community, religious dogma, or religious practice that transforms the individual, either epistemically or non-cognitively, in such a way that her ability to participate in religious life is significantly diminished.
According to our definition, trauma is a kind of lived experience. It does not result from theoretical reasoning when someone contemplates the ontological argument and infers that it is invalid. The experience itself transforms the individual, and that transformation involves both epistemic and non-cognitive changes. Epistemically, the subject gains knowledge of what the experience is like, which would have been impossible for them to gain otherwise. Though this is knowledge gained, we may include it as an aspect of the shattered self because it does not involve propositions inferred from the experience. Personally, they may experience a range of changes in their values, preferences, and non-cognitive responses to religious life. For the most part, these results are outside of the individuals’ conscious control.
In most religions, maintaining the relevant set of propositional attitudes is not a sufficient condition for counting oneself an adherent of the religion. What is required beyond the appropriate propositional attitudes, we may call worship in a broad sense (e.g., religious rituals, proper attitudes toward the sacred and the divine, etc). However, there is another sense of ‘worship’ that is much more narrow, referring only to the attitudinal aspects of worship, so we can distinguish between the practice of worship and the attitude of worship, for the sake of simplicity. In this narrow sense, worship involves loving, adoring, revering, and desiring the divine being. Survivors of religious trauma may find themselves unable to worship according to the demands of their religion in both the broad and the narrow senses. If a survivor experiences intrusive memories while engaging in religious rituals, it may become physically and psychologically impossible for her to fulfill them. This would be an obstacle to worship in the broad sense. If, however, she experiences deep revulsion and utter terror toward the divine being, then even worship in the narrow sense may be out of reach, because the proper emotions are partially constitutive of this sense of worship. I argue that not only is the survivor of religious trauma nonculpable for these non-cognitive effects of trauma, but that in cases where they are severe enough to preclude that attitudinal state constitutive of worship, they may constitute and all-things considered reason to deconvert.
The complete paper is available here.
Welcome to the first Virtual Colloquium of the spring term! Today’s paper is “Anselm, not Alston: The Reference of ‘God’ Revisited” by H.D.P. Burling. Hugh Burling is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge (UK) and a Visiting Graduate Fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame. He work has been published in Religious Studies. His research concerns religious disagreement, method in theology, and the concept of God.
Anselm, not Alston: The Reference of ‘God’ Revisited.
We instinctively characterise religious disagreement as disagreement either about what there is, or about what the same thing – God – is like. A common dialectical move made in modern theology, both academic and popular, sits between these two possibilities. Often, we read a theist of one stripe claiming that theists of another stripe don’t worship the same God. They are ‘idolaters’, or, more diplomatically, they just so badly misconceive God that they don’t ‘mean’ the same ‘thing’ by His names. It is not easy to explain what is mistaken about this move when it seems mistaken. My first publication concerned a particular version of it, in which natural theology is attacked as having to do with some other being than the God Christianity concerns. ‘Debunking’ local instances of the manoeuvre is worthwhile, but I wasn’t satisfied, and wanted a more general strategy which might show what is wrong with adopting partisan definitions of ‘God’ in order to avoid deeper engagement with others’ claims about God.
The strategy I adopt in the following article is to regard that manoeuvre as just one of the many features of theistic religious language which is curious – one of the explananda for a semantics for theism. So, we start by asking what we ‘mean’ by ‘God’, and answer that question by attempting to infer the rules of the ‘theology game’ by watching people play it. The conclusion I come to is that ‘God’ implicitly denotes, in Russell’s sense, whichever being is worthy of our worship. This secures co-reference between theists of extremely different stripes, whilst explaining the high-stakes nature of theological disagreement, and why parties to it o not just ‘walk away’ when apparent parity is reached, or one party attempts to squirrel his definition of “God” in favour of his claims about God. If both parties implicitly understand something Anselmian by ‘God’, then when the Christian insists that by ‘God’ he just means the Holy Trinity, the Muslim’s response to this makes sense. Rather than walking away (‘If they’re what you mean by ‘God’, I don’t care what you claim about them’), she will challenge him.
The article itself shows how my crypto-Anselmian understanding of God copes better with other desiderata for a semantics for theism than rival theories in the nascent literature. The view I defend makes it very easy for humans to successfully pick out God with ‘God’ because the basic ethics of worship are something we pick up fast, and, plausibly, most of us are introduced to God-talk in an appropriate context to get stuck in with worshipping the One we intentionally pick out with that Name. Kripkean views according to which ‘God’ is a proper name whose reference is passed down via a causal chain, however, threaten ease of access for speakers because the chain is so messy and fragile. Non-Anselmian descriptivist views struggle because their content is often harder for speakers to have in mind.
I hope the article is persuasive in defending a view about the semantics of ‘God’ which, I think, is the best candidate for being ‘the’ traditional view. (I think that Anselmian descriptivisms, and descriptivisms which appeal to lists of metaphysical divine names, only come apart in practice when our axiologies do not reflect those of the theologians responsible for the lists of divine names.) But I also hope it’s persuasive to theologians who lean towards identifying God in a confessional manner. Otherwise, I think identifying God the way I do can help explain a lot about the commonalities between different behaviours and literatures we call ‘religious’.
Within the scope of the article, I do not have space to go through alternative iterations of the ‘Specified Singleton’ view, other than my preferred option. So I’d be particularly curious to hear about alternatives which strike readers as preferable.
The complete paper is available here
Please see the project website for details.
The Pantheism and Panentheism Project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, welcomes applications for summer stipends from scholars and writers who wish to spend the summer writing a paper for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal, a reputable magazine (if they wish to write for a popular audience), or an edited collection to be published by a leading academic publisher. We offer £1000 each to 10 applicants in the summer of 2017 and 9 awards of £1000 in the summer of 2018. Co-authors are welcome to apply together but they will be awarded only one joint stipend of £1000. This is a non-residential grant that allows grant recipients to work on their project anywhere they wish.
Applicants are required to submit the following items electronically:
- A curriculum vitae
- An project abstract of no more than 200 words
- A project proposal of 750-1500 words
Please email all of the above as a single PDF document by 15 April 2017 to email@example.com
The Pantheism and Panentheism Project focuses on the following three main problems. Applicants are required to address at least one of these problems directly or indirectly from a philosophical, historical, theological or scientific perspective. It is not required that applicants defend pantheism or panentheism. Applications from critics of these views are also welcome.
- The problem of personality: Pantheism and panentheism say that the cosmos is identical with, is constituted by, or is part of God. This appears to suggest that, contrary to the classical theistic view, God is not a person or a personal being. Critics claim that this is problematic because a concept of God that is non-personal does not seem to be adequate for theological discourse. Can pantheists and panentheists respond to this problem by developing a plausible account of personhood that makes the pantheistic or panentheistic God qualify as a person or a personal being?
- The problem of unity: Classical theists maintain the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, according to which God created the cosmos out of nothing. This doctrine entails that God is ontologically distinct from the cosmos. Classical theists face the following intractable question: How could God, who is understood by classical theists as an incorporeal, timeless, changeless being, create the cosmos, which consists of matter, time and space, out of nothing? Pantheists and panentheists avoid such a question by maintaining that the cosmos is not ontologically distinct from God. Yet it is not very clear how the cosmos, which includes an extremely large number of entities, can be considered a single, unified entity that can be described as divine. Can pantheists and panentheists coherently maintain that the cosmos is a unified whole?
- The problem of evil: Classical theists face the problem of evil because they maintain that the cosmos, which includes apparently pointless pain and suffering, was created by an all-powerful and all-good God. One of the main virtues of pantheism and panentheism is that they do not face this problem. Since they do not postulate the existence of an all-powerful and all-good God the problem of evil for classical theists cannot be directed at them. However, pantheism and panentheism do face a variation on the same problem: How could the cosmos be identical with or be part of God if it contains apparently gratuitous pain and suffering?
The selection criteria are (i) the quality of the abstract, (ii) relevance to the project topics and (iii) the applicant’s publication track record.
Welcome again to the Prosblogion Virtual Colloquium! This will be our last paper of the fall term. The Virtual Colloquium will return beginning Friday, January 20. There are still plenty of slots open for the spring, so please send me (Kenny) nominations (including self-nominations)!
Today’s Virtual Colloquium paper is “Rationality, Reasonableness and Religion” by Samuel Lebens. Dr. Lebens received his PhD in philosophy from Birkbeck College, London in 2010. After completing his PhD, he attended Rabbinical Seminaries in Israel and received Rabbinical Ordination in 2013. Currently, he is Research Director of the project on analytical Jewish philosophical theology at the University of Haifa, and also chair of the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism. His papers have appeared in journals such as Philosophical Studies, Religious Studies, and International Journal for Philosophy of Religion. Additionally, Dr. Lebens in a contributing blogger for Haaretz.
Rationality, Reasonableness and Religion
This paper was born during a summer seminar on the nature and value of faith run by Baylor University and Western Washington University, hosted at the University of Missouri. Accordingly, it owes its existence to Trent Dougherty, Daniel Howard-Snyder, and Jon Kvanvig, who ran the seminar. I won’t name all of the participants, but it was conversations with them that really helped me to hone my ideas into their current form. So I’m grateful to them all.
The paper was, initially, going to be a work of Jewish philosophy. I was interested by a number of Rabbinic texts that made it seem as if feeling alienated from the community, and setting yourself aside from the community, was in and of itself an act of apostasy. That struck me as counter-intuitive because apostasy is supposed to be an intellectual crime. I was interested in bringing those texts into conversation with Midrashic portrayals of Ruth’s conversion to Judaism. The authors of the Midrash seem to go to great lengths to downplay Ruth’s theological commitments, and to present her conversion as stemming first and foremost from her personal relationship with Naomi. These somewhat surprising threads of the Jewish tradition jibe well with work I had already published that sought to downplay the role that belief plays in the religious life, and to emphasise the role of the imagination. These new sources were downplaying belief in order to emphasise, not imagination, but communal affinity. It was these reflections that lead me in the direction of the central tri-partite distinction in this paper between (1) the propositional content of a faith, (2) communal belonging, and (3) imaginative engagement.
Before long, I realized that the picture wasn’t peculiar to Judaism at all. For that reason, the paper has evolved and barely contains any reference to the Rabbinic texts that inspired it. The paper considers religious traditions as far apart from one another as Zen Bhuddism and Quakerism. My idea is simple: all religions require (1) propositional faith, (2) communal belonging, and (3) imaginative engagement. There are putative counter-examples to this claim, but I think that they can all be dealt with (I try to deal with many of them in the paper). What’s more, I think that failure to conceive of religion in these terms stems either from a failure to recognize that religion is a sociological phenomenon, or from the failure to appreciate that religiosity has a distinctive psychology. The paper then became about the philosophical merit of regarding religiosity in terms of these three elements. The basic conclusion is that philosophers conceiving of religiosity in this way opens up new ways for thinking about what could make religiosity rational and/or reasonable.
In its own small way, I hope that this paper contributes towards a move within philosophy of religion to concentrate upon religion as a lived human experience. I love philosophical theology. But philosophy of religion needs to have broader horizons than mere theology. Religions often come along with theological commitments, but religions are much richer than that, and the philosophy of religion would do well to relate to religions as sociological and psychological phenomena too. The paper is still a little rough around the edges, and I look forward to hearing people’s comments and suggestions.
The full paper is available here. Comments welcome below!
Today’s Virtual Colloquium paper is “Skeptical Theism and the Paradox of Evil” by Luis Oliveira. Dr. Oliveira recently received his PhD from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is now a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. His papers have appeared in journals such as Philosophical Studies, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, and Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.
Skeptical Theism and the Paradox of Evil
Let me begin by thanking Kenny Pearce for hosting this Virtual Colloquium and for inviting me to contribute a paper to it. I have enjoyed reading and discussing each of the papers presented so far. I hope my paper will continue the trend of substantive and constructive exchanges in the comments section. Here is a preview, from my introductory section:
According to the evidential problem of evil, our seeing no justifying-reason for many instances of suffering is sufficient evidence for the belief that the traditional (maximally great) God does not exist. According to skeptical theism, however, it is not at all likely that we would see a justifying-reason for instances of suffering, were such a God and such reasons to really exist. Given plausible assumptions about the nature of evidence and undercutting defeat, it has seemed to many that the force of the evidential problem of evil therefore depends on skeptical theism being false. If we cannot expect to see God’s justifying-reasons, were Him and them to truly be there, then our not seeing them can hardly count as evidence against His existence.
In this paper, I argue that there is a way of understanding the evidential problem of evil where it is compatible with skeptical theism. I show that skeptical theism blocks the evidential problem of evil only given certain natural assumptions about how the evidence from evil accrues, I show that these assumptions are not essential to the problem, and I show which alternative assumptions can take its place. I do not, however, go as far as endorsing the evidential problem of evil on the basis of these alternative assumptions. Nonetheless, if I am right about all this, the result is that the stalemate between the many who defend skeptical theism and the many who criticize it can be altogether sidestepped.
Here is how I proceed. I begin, in section 1, by clarifying two essential features of William Rowe’s justly famous original formulation of the evidential problem of evil. Next, in section 2, I articulate what I call its inductive justification, which I argue is widely presupposed by Rowe commentators, according to which Rowe’s argument depends on the accumulation of little bits of evidential support from particular instances of apparently pointless suffering. Then, in section 3, I argue that skeptical theism, properly formulated, resists Rowe’s argument by denying that these particular instances provide even a modicum of support against God. With this dialectic clarified in the background, in section 4, I suggest an alternative justification for Rowe’s original argument. On what I call its collective justification, Rowe’s argument turns on the evidential support provided by the collection of instances of apparently pointless suffering in a way that is compatible with each particular instance failing to provide any support at all. Drawing on the evidential dimension of the preface paradox, I call this result the paradox of evil. I conclude, in section 5, by arguing that skeptical theism, based as it is on a claim about our cognitive limitations, is compatible with the collective justification of Rowe’s argument. Whether Rowe’s argument is sound remains open for debate, though a debate that does not center around skeptical theism anymore.
The full paper is here. Comments welcome below!
It’s Friday again, and time for the Prosblogion Virtual Colloquium! A brief administrative note: there will be no colloquium next week (November 25) due to the American Thanksgiving holiday. We will return on December 2.
For today’s colloquium, Matthew Benton presents “Evil and Evidence,” a paper he co-authored with John Hawthorne (USC) and Yoaav Isaacs (UNC). Dr. Benton received his PhD from Rutgers in 2012 and subsequently held positions at Oxford and Notre Dame. Currently, he is assistant professor of philosophy at Seattle Pacific University. His papers on epistemology and other topics have appeared in such journals as Analysis, Philosophical Studies, Synthese, and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Additionally, he is co-editor (with John Hawthorne and Dani Rabinowitz) of Knowledge, Belief, and God: New Perspectives in Religious Epistemology, soon to be published by Oxford University Press.
Evil and Evidence
Introductory Comments by Matthew Benton
The problem of evil presents the most prominent argument against the existence of God. Recent probabilistic or evidential versions of the argument, due especially to William Rowe (esp. “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” 1979; cf. also 1984 and 1996), suggest that the existence of evil (or its distribution and magnitude) are evidence against the existence of God. As such, these arguments claim that at least in the abstract, evil makes less likely the existence of God; and perhaps even given all of the other available evidence, it is strong enough evidence to make belief in God problematic.
Skeptical theists contend that these are not good arguments, and many go so far to deny that evil is evidence against the existence of God. To cite just a few prominent examples: Peter van Inwagen (“The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence,” 1996, 169-71) says that “While the patterns of suffering we find in the actual world constitute a difficulty for theism…, they do not—owing to the availability of the defense I have outlined—attain the status of evidence”. Daniel Howard-Snyder and Michael Bergmann (“Evil Does Not Make Atheism More Reasonable than Theism,” 2004, 14) argue for the conclusion that “grounds for belief in God aside, evil does not make belief in atheism more reasonable for us than belief in theism”; and Richard Otte argues that “theists should not believe [that] evil, or our ignorance of a good reason for God to permit evil, is evidence against religious belief or the existence of God, at all” (“Comparative Confirmation and the Problem of Evil,” 2012, 127), and that “at best, the theist should refrain from judgement about whether evil is evidence against the existence of God” (2012, 131).
Skeptical theists have various reasons for arguing as they do, involving such notions as ‘CORNEA’ (the ‘Condition Of ReasoNable Epistemic Access’; Wykstra “The Humean Obstacle to Epistemic Arguments from Suffering,” 1984), epistemic appearances, ‘gratuitous’ evils, ‘levering’ evidence, the representativeness of goods, and radical skepticism about the probabilities of evil on the hypothesis of theism, or of no good we know of justifying the kinds of evil in the world. In this essay, we consider each of these notions and aim to dispel some confusions about them, and along the way attempt to clarify the roles of such notions within a probabilistic epistemology. In addition, we examine the role that distinct accounts of evidence play in the discussion, and we develop new responses to the problem of evil from both the phenomenal conception of evidence and the knowledge-first view of evidence.
The full paper is available here. Comments welcome below.
Today’s Virtual Colloquium paper is “Against Religious Indifference” by Joe Milburn. Dr. Milburn recently received his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and is now a Research Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Philosophy of Religion. His papers have appeared in journals such as Metaphilosophy and Philosophia.
Against Religious Indifference
I want to thank Kenny Pearce for allowing me to present at the Prosblogion Online Colloquium. I want to thank in advance all who participate in the colloquium. I hope you enjoy reading my paper and that it stimulates your own thinking.
This paper is inspired by some of the remarks Pascal makes in F 427 of the Pensées. There, Pascal makes the following claim.
The immortality of the soul is something of such vital importance to us, affecting us so deeply, that one must have lost all feeling not to care about knowing the facts of the matter. All our actions and thoughts must follow such different paths, according to whether there is hope of eternal blessings or not, that the only possible way of acting with sense and judgement is decide our course in the light of this point, which out to be our ultimate object. Thus our chief interest and chief duty is to seek enlightenment on this subject, on which all our conduct depends. [Krailsheimer translation]
In this paper I attempt to unpack in my own way Pascal’s comments above. I make the following argument.
(P1) We should not be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding fundamentally significant questions.
(P2) But fundamental religious questions are fundamentally significant questions.
(C) Therefore, we should not be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding fundamental religious questions.
To be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding a question is to suspend judgment regarding this question and not look for a (good) answer to it. An individual S suspends judgment regarding a question, q, just in case S believes that there is an answer to q, and they judge that they don’t know the answer to q.
A question q is a fundamentally significant question for an individual S, just in case S recognizes (or can be expected to recognize) that she could give a wrong answer to q and that answering q is either a necessary means to, or constitutive of, her answering one of the following questions: What constitutes my flourishing? What are the central duties in my life? What is the purpose of my life?
I stipulate that there are two fundamental religious questions: the question of salvation “might I be saved and how?” and the question of the sacred “is there anything sacred, such that my flourishing consists in worshipping it; or such that one of my central duties is to worship it; or such that the purpose in my life is to worship it?”
I argue for P1 by taking it as given that we should not be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding the following questions: What constitutes my flourishing? What are the central duties in my life? What is the purpose of my life?
If we suspend judgment regarding a fundamentally significant question then we should suspend judgment regarding these questions concerning flourishing, central duties, and purpose. Thus, given my assumption, we should inquire into these questions. But in order to answer these questions about flourishing, central duties, and purpose, we must answer the fundamentally significant question for which we have suspended judgment. So inquiring into the fundamentally significant question is either a necessary means for, or constitutive of, inquiring into these questions about flourishing, central duties, and purpose. Thus, given that we should take the necessary means to our ends, if we suspend judgment into a fundamentally significant question, we should inquire into it.
I spend a little time trying to show that what I am calling the fundamental religious questions are fundamentally significant questions.
Finally, I spend a little time responding to what I call the waste of time objection. This objection goes as follows.
(P1*) We should not inquire into questions if we know on the outset that we cannot find good answers for them.
(P2*) But we know on the outset that it is impossible to find good answers to the fundamental religious questions.
(C*) Therefore, we should not inquire into fundamental religious questions.
In my response to the waste of time objection I put pressure on both of the first two premises. I point out that skeptics seem to call (P1) into question. (Here I have in mind Licentius’s view in Book I of Augustine’s Contra Academicos that human happiness consists in seeking for the truth, not in finding it.) I also point out that P2 is hard to establish in a way that does not undermine P2 itself.
I am thankful for any comments, but I would especially like feed-back on the following: 1.) Is it ok for me to assume that we shouldn’t be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding the questions, What constitutes my flourishing? What are my central duties? What is my purpose in life? 2.) Are there better ways of formulating the waste-of-time-objection than I have? 3.) Are there better ways of formulating my argument for P1?
Once again, thank you for this opportunity!
The full paper is available here. Comments welcome below!
Today’s virtual colloquium paper is “Jesus and the Virtues of Pride” by Robert C. Roberts and Ryan West. Dr. Roberts received his PhD from Yale in 1974 and is currently Chair of Ethics and Emotion Theory in the Jubilee Centre, the University of Birmingham (UK) and Distinguished Professor of Ethics emeritus at Baylor University. His extensive publication history includes monographs published by Oxford, Cambridge, and Eerdmans (among others) as well as numerous journal articles, mainly focusing on Christian virtue ethics. Dr. West received his PhD from Baylor, under Dr. Roberts’ supervision, earlier this year and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Grove City College. His papers on virtue ethics have appeared in journals including Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Synthese, and Faith and Philosophy.
Jesus and the Virtues of Pride
Robert C. Roberts and Ryan West
We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in this virtual colloquium. Our paper, “Jesus and the Virtues of Pride,” is to be included in an interdisciplinary volume on pride edited by Adam Carter and Emma Gordon as part of Rowman & Littlefield’s forthcoming series, Moral Psychology of the Emotions (series editor, Mark Alfano). This is the penultimate draft, and we welcome your feedback. Here’s a sketch of the project.
It is commonly thought that humility and pride are traits that repel each other. And so they are, but only in a qualified sense. We propose that there are both virtuous and vicious forms of both humility and pride, and that only some of these are mutually repelling. More specifically, we argue that virtuous pride and virtuous humility are in fact mutually reinforcing, even as each is opposed to both vicious pride and vicious humility. We make our case by offering conceptual analyses of several sub-species of the four classes just mentioned, giving special attention to the presence or absence of those traits in the character of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we take to be an exemplar not only of virtuous humility, but also of virtuous pride.
We take virtuous humility to consist in the intelligent absence of the vices of pride. The latter encompass three general areas of human selfhood: the self as agent, as having special entitlements or privileges, and as a self among other selves. The third area admits division, so we group the pride vices into five species:
- The prides of distorted agency (selfish ambition, domination, and hyper- autonomy);
- The prides of corrupt entitlement (arrogance and presumptuousness);
- The prides of empty self-display (vanity and pretentiousness);
- The prides of invidious comparison (snobbery, self-righteousness, invidious pride, and envy); and
- The prides of tribal superiority (racism, sexism, ethnicism, homophobia, etc.).
We suggest that people with the vices of pride are concerned to have a kind of importance, which, in a way that deviates somewhat from common usage, we call self-importance. The drive for self-importance is exemplified in such things as using one’s agency for personal importance independently of the real value of one’s actions, taking over others’ proper agency, and eschewing others’ contributions to one’s own agency; having entitlements beyond what is proper to one; getting the (usually) positive regard of others in abstraction from what is actually excellent; and being superior to others and having others be inferior to oneself, either individually or in tribal terms. Virtuous humility, then, comes in a number of varieties: there is the lack of vanity, the lack of snobbery, the lack of domination, and so on.
The three areas of human selfhood just noted—the self as agent, as entitled, and as a self among other selves—are generic and unavoidable in the constitution of selfhood. They are fundamental aspects of human life that bear on individuals’ importance—not just the false value of self-importance, but the real importance of persons. People can be important for what they do, for what they are entitled to, and in virtue of their relations to one another. Also, these three belong intimately together, because they all intersect. The virtues of pride—traits like self-confidence, secure agency, aspiration, pride in one’s work, sense of dignity, self-respect, personal authority, pride in associates, group belonging, and secure collegiality—are excellences with respect to the same dimensions of character with respect to which the vices of pride are defects.
If virtuous pride is a positive self-construal in terms of one’s agency, one’s dignity, or one’s entitlements, it would seem to encourage virtuous humility in a special way, namely, by being a proper and genuine satisfaction of a basic human need of which the vices of pride are a perverse and false satisfaction. The fact that the vices of pride speak to the same psychological need as the virtues of pride marks the special intimacy between them. We illustrate this point by exploring the presence of several virtues of pride in the New Testament presentation of Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, we suggest that we can discern in the teaching of Jesus that he encourages his disciples to imitate him in many of these respects.
Finally, we suggest that virtuous pride and virtuous humility are each contrary not only to vicious pride, but also to what we call vicious humility. The latter finds expression in traits like deep shame, servility, and a variety of other unrealistically low dispositional self-construals.
That is a basic outline of the conceptual scheme of pride and humility we develop. In the paper, we offer several narrative examples to illustrate the nuances of each trait and their interrelations with one another. We also defend our view against some objections. We welcome the opportunity to explain and/or defend ourselves here as well. Thank you in advance for your feedback.
The complete paper is here. Comments welcome below!
This is the twenty-fifth 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.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
My current work focuses on rectificatory justice and argues that the negative social and moral perceptions of Black Americans work to prevent Blacks from gaining rectificatory justice. This is because of connections between American colorblind liberalism and gaining rectificatory justice within the liberal paradigm. Liberalism is a political philosophy that espouses the mutual equality of persons, individual liberty, and that a set of moral rights flow from their mutual equality. Rectificatory justice is the branch of justice concerned with setting unjust situations right, which may require a number of different actions. Within the liberal tradition, injustice is violating someone’s rights. When one’s rights are violated, the victim has the right to have their injustices rectified in some manner. I plan to defend these positions: rights have a social dimension that is based in being recognized as one’s equal; that Blacks have not received rectificatory justice; and that racial reconciliation (which includes the dominant group changing their negative perceptions about Blacks) is a necessary step for Blacks to receive rectificatory justice.
A particular institution that has indoctrinated and educated millions about ethical behavior, respect, and following the moral law is the Christian Church. My father is a Baptist (his side of the family having faithfully attending Christ Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church for decades), and his side of the family introduced me to what Baptist church services were like. My mother’s side of the family, however, is Catholic. Something I find interesting is how quickly I identify with having an upbringing in the Catholic Church, and yet I have little memory of choosing to be Catholic rather than Baptist. My older brother and I would attend church often as children, going to Dad’s church some weeks and Mom’s church (St. Bridget’s) other weeks. I surmise it was a decision more or less made by Mom that her sons would grow up in the same kind of faith that she did. Since the difference is more in how people praise rather than who people praised, Dad acquiesced on this issue. That said, it was never unheard of for the whole family to go to both churches on holidays or important services.
I was never confirmed, but I was baptized as an infant by the priest at St. Bridget’s. When I learned that being baptized meant that I chose to take God in, it struck me as peculiar that it was a choice made for me. Not that I wasn’t happy that the choice was made – I have an unwavering belief in the existence of God, thanks in no small part to God’s existence being indoctrinated in me from birth. The conviction in the value of a church community that my parents held meant St. Bridget’s to be my first church home: where I did a confession for the first time; I sang in the choir; I learned hymns and songs to affirm the story of Christ and the glory of God; and I knew church to be where I would see many of my cousins, aunts, and uncles regularly. My family loves to get together, and church was another excuse to get together as I grew up. The building itself was supposed to be respected as a place of worship, a concept that taught me how important the worship was to any sort of faith practice that I would adopt.
In my early teens, St. Bridget’s closed. This destabilized my sense of church community and led me to seriously consider the purpose of attending church. By that time I understood certain theoretical differences between Baptists and Catholic, such as the existence of Purgatory, and had chosen Catholicism as my preferred brand of Christianity. For one, I figured that Heaven takes way too perfect a person to get in but that I wouldn’t be evil enough to deserve Hell and thought Purgatory would be a nice middle ground for eternity (at least it’s not Hell). The other thing that swayed me was how short the services were in Catholic churches; we come in, say a few prayers, sing a couple of songs, hear a good message from the priest, have communion and we’re done. In my mind, as long as we were genuinely engaging in religious rites that heaped praise and respect upon God then it shouldn’t necessarily take all day to do so. And man, Baptist church services just go on forever.
Most of my account has focused so far on my relationship with the church and how that helped me forge my religious view of the world. Losing St. Bridget’s put things in perspective for me about what the important part of going to church is – building a relationship with God. Attending church wasn’t a requirement for building a relationship with God, prayer was. So I went into my parent’s bedroom around 15 or 16 and told them I didn’t want to go to church anymore because I didn’t know what I was supposed to get out of it. At least as a youngster, I knew that church meant family time in a sacred place. Without a church community, it felt like I was going to church to sing songs and hear a story and none of it made sense. God exists, that made sense. Jesus story? Sure, I can roll with that. But I wasn’t very clear on the point of church any longer, and that moment of truth with my parents emboldened me to my newfound beliefs. I was nervous that they would be upset or even punish me for not wanting to go to church, but church felt like a chore that was not providing me any benefit. I distinctly remember my parents asking me if I still believed in God, which was met with a crystal clear, “Of course!” God wasn’t the issue – church was the issue.
Since that moment, I really avoided taking on any labels regarding my belief structure. If asked, I respond that I’m a Christian, and that I was raised Catholic. It doesn’t concern me if I’m considered nondenominational, Catholic, or whatever someone thinks of me. The only thing that matters is maintaining a relationship with God, which I do through prayer and appreciation. Since May 1, 2009, I try my best to say daily, “Thank you God for today, thank you for yesterday, and thank you for a chance at tomorrow.”