Humanities Should Be Interested in Phil. Religion
April 13, 2010 — 17:21

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Links  Comments: 32

In Leiter’s recent post on Jason Stanley’s nice article on the relationship between philosophy and the humanities, somebody asked, “What eternal truths have philosophers discovered in the last 2,000 years that have any bearing on life such that anyone in any discipline outside of philosophy ought to care?”
There was a lot of discussion on what philosophers (and analytic philosophers) have discovered, and so I cited Plantinga’s argument in the Nature of Necessity for the conclusion that the existence of God and evil are compatible. Most theists and atheists who work on the problem of evil (at least in analytic philosophy) think that his argument was successful. I thought that this was a conclusion that people in the humanities (outside of philosophy) should care about.
I’m bringing attention to this discussion at this blog partly because, if you have the time, I want to ask that you make sure that I’m not saying false things. (One guy thought that I was kidding!) (Also, here, I am really asking only those people who work on PoE and are familiar with the literature.) Second, I would like to give good PR to philosophy of religion; it’s largely ignored in these sorts of discussions, but I think it’s an area where real progress – progress that nonphilosophers should care about – has been made. And most philosophers who frequent this blog will care that phil. religion gets good PR.

Comments:
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    It’s a mistake to think that we need to demonstrate the value of philosophy to people in the humanities who don’t see it to think that what we do is valuable. I think it’s a bit arrogant on their part to think that our projects should be funded if they seem valuable to _them_. If I was holding the purse strings, I wouldn’t demand that they proved their worth to _me_. At any rate, it’s also a mistake to think we need to be in the business of finding “eternal truths” that we’ve worked out. I don’t think the value of philosophy depends upon discovering new truths. Actually, I think a lot of its value comes from undoing things taken to be true.
    At any rate, I’m surprised, Andrew, that you were surprised that they thought you were kidding. If you’re dealing with a talking donkey who thinks philosophy isn’t valuable and demands some justification for thinking he’s wrong, you shouldn’t be surprised to discover that he thinks you can’t seriously be invested in the projects that you work on.
    Here’s a larger issue. You seem to think that there are things philosophers are doing that these people should care about. Why? I don’t know what force these claims about what people should be cared about have. We could try to poke around in their skulls to find something they care about and then try to lead them to care about philosophy, but suppose we can’t find that thing. What then? Does that show that our enterprise is bankrupt? I don’t think so. There are loads of other people who care about things such that if they were reasonable and reflective they would think they should care more about what philosophers do. I take it that that’s how lots of us ended up in philosophy. We’re the kind of people into philosophy. If it’s just some quirk of the philosopher’s psychology, lucky us. I feel sorry for them. An analogy and then bed. There’s an interesting philosophical question as to whether you can say something to the amoralist to show that moral requirements are rational requirements. I’m sort of kind of with Foot. Even if we cannot find something to say to some amoralist who is an insensitive lout or cruel jerk that would show them to be irrational, we should settle for “insensitive lout” or “cruel jerk”. It’s not as if calling them “irrational” is really going to hit ’em where it hurts. Setting that aside, it’s a fool’s errand to engage the self-described amoralist in a blog thread to literally try to show them that moral requirements are rational requirements. The same goes for the aphilosopher who heads to Leiter’s blog looking for trouble.

    April 13, 2010 — 22:52
  • John A.

    “What eternal truths have philosophers discovered in the last 2,000 years that have any bearing on life such that anyone in any discipline outside of philosophy ought to care?”
    In order for the question to have any meaning presupposes some philosophical sophistication. I take it that the questioner had some idea of what ‘truth’ means, what an ‘eternal truth’ means, the meaning of ‘ought’ and how it functions in relation to other terms in questions regarding value, the importance and role that ‘care’ plays in our lives, and the difference between ‘discovering’ and ‘creating.’ Of course if one is a Platonist or Aristotelian, or a adherent to any philosophy over 2000 years old, I guess they must have discovered eternal truths so studying them would have some bearing on life. Of course the idea of something having a bearing on life presuppose that life has a value, etc. Seems rather Socratic to me. One could go on, but the questioner seems not to understand what he/she actually knows. He/she should take a course in Philosophy!

    April 14, 2010 — 7:53
  • Thomas D. Carroll

    I would just like to make a few observations. First, “the Humanities” strikes me as being too broad a category for a potential conversation. Imagine reversing the statement: “Phil. Religion Should Be Interested in the Humanities”. Which disciplines should philosophers of religion be interested in? English? History? All of the Humanities?
    Second, while I agree with the overall tone of Clayton Littlejohn’s comment, I would like to note that one doesn’t have to “poke around” in people’s skulls to find out what they care about; one can participate in conversations, read academic work, etc. What I am suggesting is that if some philosophers of religion want their work to be taken more seriously by scholars in another discipline, those philosophers of religion should become more familiar with the theories, projects and problems of that discipline. That would at least increase the likelihood that those philosophers would receive a fair hearing. (I imagine that philosophers would expect the same were the situation reversed.)
    Third, in light of my second observation, it seems to me that more or better PR for philosophy of religion would not necessarily solve the problem of apparent lack of interest among scholars in other disciplines. Instead, instances of interdisciplinary conversation seem to me to be more likely to accomplish that goal (albeit, only locally), and of course, there are no guarantees that attempts at conversation will lead to mutual understanding.
    Fourth, one potential consequence of interdisciplinary conversation is that the kinds of questions or problems one chooses to address in one’s scholarly output may change in light of what one may come to accept from a neighboring discipline. Some might consider this to be an unacceptable risk, while others might think it to be a potentially promising outcome; perhaps this one reason why interdisciplinary work remains controversial.

    April 14, 2010 — 9:47
  • Christian

    For what it’s worth Andrew, I don’t think Plantinga showed that. He makes assumptions in his argument, both with respect to value and metaphysics, that strike me as false. I really don’t know how many philosophers of religion familiar with his argument actually accept his argument. It’s not clear to me that the answer is “most”.

    April 14, 2010 — 13:23
  • Robert Gressis

    Andrew, do you think it’s true that Plantinga has established the logical compatibility of God and evil more decisively than how Leibniz established the compatibility of God and evil? After all, I take it–and I could very well be wrong here–that Plantinga’s Free Will Defense has two eminently doubtable presuppositions: namely, that we have libertarian free will; and that middle knowledge is possible. If you deny libertarian free will and middle knowledge, then you might very well say that all that Plantinga has established is that if we have libertarian free will and if middle knowledge is coherent, then God and some amount of evil can coexist. But similarly, you can say that if you accept that God always chooses the best, and if there is a best of all possible worlds, then God and and some amount of evil are compatible.
    I admit, though, that one of the consequences of Leibniz’s argument is necessitarianism, whereas Plantinga’s argument has no such troubling consequence.

    April 14, 2010 — 14:27
  • I’ve used the Plantinga example in other places as an example of philosophical progress. Robert- given that Plantinga is only seeking to solve the logical compatibility of God’s existence with evil, then it doesn’t matter whether or not we actually have libertarian freedom. All that matters is that it is a logically coherent notion. If we are talking about the evidential problem, which gets most of the attention now, then your points are of course very relevant. To one of the points in the original post, I think it is desirable not that we necessarily can justify our discipline to those outside of it, but rather we should engage on some reflection about its state for our own benefit, qua philosophers. To that end, I would suggest reading a paper by David McNaughton, “Why is so much philosophy so tedious?” available at http://www.fsu.edu/~philo/FPA%20speech%20final.pdf

    April 14, 2010 — 15:57
  • James Brantner

    Robert,
    I would strongly disagree that Leibniz’s argument has necessitarianism as a result. I would agree, however, that it establishes the compatibility of God’s existence and the existence of evil (and, imo, does so better than Plantinga’s, because it doesn’t depend on libertarian free will).
    Leibniz can do just fine by analyzing what is possible in the same way a compatibilist analyzes what a given agent could (in the ordinary language) have done in a given situation. To take Dennett’s example, Luther couldn’t strictly have recanted, given his beliefs, desires, circumstances, etc., but we still say that he could in ordinary language because of an implicit “if he had wanted to.” Leibniz can do the same thing and get the whole infinity of possible worlds. I will, however, claim that a result of his argument is that the Principle of Sufficient Reason can’t be true in all possible worlds. However, van Inwagen’s argument shows the same thing, so this is not a big concern.

    April 14, 2010 — 17:03
  • Anonymous

    Did Plantinga not develop a free will defence that does not rely on middle knowledge? I feel sure that someone’s mentioned that here before.

    April 14, 2010 — 22:30
  • Robert Gressis

    Mike,
    Many critics–I don’t know if most–criticize libertarianism because they don’t think it can overcome the luck objection. In other words, one of the issues at stake in libertarian is not just whether it’s empirically real (i.e., whether there is indeterminacy at the neural level, or whether there really is agent-causation) but also over whether, even if the libertarians got everything they want (agent causation or indeterminacy at the neural level), they could use that to explain how people have control over their actions. In other words, the coherence of libertarianism is a very real issue in debates over its plausibility.

    April 15, 2010 — 1:54
  • Robert Gressis

    James,
    Isn’t it true that Leibniz thinks that God necessarily exists? And that God necessarily chooses to do what he knows to be best? And that there is a best possible world? So isn’t it necessary that the world we’re in exist?
    It seems to me that you could say, “yes, if one of these necessary truths were false, then a different world could be actual”, but now we’re in counterpossible reasoning, not just hypothetical reasoning.

    April 15, 2010 — 1:58
  • Robert,
    I’m still a little unclear about the issue of coherence and libertarianism. Is the sense of coherence at issue in the debates logical, i.e. is the claim that there is something logically contradictory within the libertarian viewpoint? It has been several years since I’ve been engaged with the literature on the issue, but I don’t recall such a position (though this isn’t my area, so I may be out of the loop here).

    April 15, 2010 — 7:39
  • jordan.nwc

    Mike said:
    “I’ve used the Plantinga example in other places as an example of philosophical progress. Robert- given that Plantinga is only seeking to solve the logical compatibility of God’s existence with evil, then it doesn’t matter whether or not we actually have libertarian freedom. All that matters is that it is a logically coherent notion.”
    Robert then challenged the coherency of libertarianism…
    Does Plantinga’s FWD even rely on the possibility of libertarianism?
    For transworld depravity he only requires that a creaturely essence be ‘significantly free.’ I believe that in God and Other Minds he also says more about this by defining an ‘unfettered’ action as one that is free in either a compatibilist or incompatibilist sense.

    April 15, 2010 — 8:50
  • James:
    “Leibniz can do the same thing and get the whole infinity of possible worlds. I will, however, claim that a result of his argument is that the Principle of Sufficient Reason can’t be true in all possible worlds. However, van Inwagen’s argument shows the same thing, so this is not a big concern.”
    Van Inwagen’s argument is meant to show the PSR isn’t true in our world, either. The argument works as well or as badly in our world as in others.
    Also, if the PSR is only contingently true, then that raises the interesting question: What explains why the PSR is actually true?
    I think on Leibniz’s view we have the following: Recall that he distinguishes between moral necessity and logical necessity. Now, the PSR holds in all morally possible worlds. But it is morally contingent which world is best. The reason for that is that moral necessity = provability, and logical necessity = provability by a finite proof. PSR follows by a finite proof from God’s perfection, according to Leibniz. So, PSR is logically necessary, just as God’s existence is. But claims of the sort “world w883 is the best” are typically not provable by a finite proof, since one would need to compare the world against infinitely many worlds. A consequence of the view is that all morally possible worlds are in fact such that there is no finite proof of their non-optimality.
    Christian:
    I think the impact of Plantinga’s argument may have been something like this. Yeah, the argument has questionable assumptions. But it gives the form of a defense against the deductive problem of evil. And once one has the form of a defense, it becomes plausible that even if this one fails, others could be cooked up that would work.

    April 15, 2010 — 8:58
  • James Brantner

    Robert,
    That’s not quite right, at least not as I read Leibniz. Leibniz claims that God’s choosing of the best world is certain but not necessary. The line between certainty and necessity is the same one that allows him to believe in free will even in a deterministic world. There is a question about where the contingency comes in. Leibniz waffles about it, and I personally think that it’s alright as long as the contingency is not located in God’s nature but rather in His will or actions.
    Alexander,
    I recognize that van Inwagen’s argument is supposed to show that PSR isn’t ever true, but I don’t think it does. I do, however, think it shows just fine that PSR can’t be necessarily true. I absolutely agree that PSR’s contingency is an extremely interesting question, and I do have some thoughts on where to go with that, but they aren’t well-developed yet. I’m actually thinking about doing my writing sample on this subject, but I really need to dive back into the literature. If my metaphysics prof okays the idea for a paper (despite our class focusing on identity and metaontology), the next thing on the agenda is to check out your and van Inwagen’s books and Leibniz’s assorted thoughts on the subject. If not, it’ll have to wait until summer.

    April 15, 2010 — 10:05
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Mike,
    I don’t know the libertarianism literature too well, but here’s what I can tell you:
    Galen Strawson thinks libertarian free will is logically impossible, or at least metaphysically impossible (if that’s weaker than logically impossible).
    van Inwagen thinks that we have no idea how either agent-causation or simple indeterminism could help to secure the kind of control needed for responsible agency (he also tries to show how any attempt to make sense of it fails).
    Near as I can tell, libertarians are pretty worried about whether we can make any sense of how we could have meaningful control over our own actions on the assumptions of either indeterminism or agent-causation.
    Of course, while most philosophers reject libertarian free will, I don’t know how many think it’s incoherent. I know some do, and for them Plantinga’s argument won’t cut the mustard.

    April 15, 2010 — 17:37
  • Robert Gressis

    jordan.nwc,
    Up until 2004, I don’t think Plantinga gave a reason for holding that transworld depravity was possible. All he claimed, I think, is that TWD was, from our epistemic vantage point, just as possible-looking as a world wherein every creature libertarianly free did the right thing all the time.
    In 2004, Plantinga said that, for a world to be good enough for God to realize it, it had to include God, a Fall, an Incarnation, and an Atonement. This explains why we should believe in TWD–because in every world good enough for God to realize it, every free human creature sins at least once. Moreover, it seems to me to work even if the compatibilists are right that determinism is possibly compatible with free will.
    That said, for those philosophers who are compatibilists, who find Plantinga’s 2004 intuitions to be looney-tunes (which seems to be a lot of philosophers, near as I can tell), and who think either libertarianism or middle knowledge is incoherent (fewer philosophers, but still some), Plantinga’s FWD won’t succeed as a defense.

    April 15, 2010 — 17:44
  • Robert Gressis

    James,
    I took Leibniz’s distinction between necessity and contingency to be this: to say that a necessarily follows from b means that you can prove that a follows from b in a finite number of steps; to say that a contingently follows from b means that you can prove that a follows from b only in an infinite number of steps (e.g., it will take an infinite number of steps to derive “Robert Gressis is typing this comment on Prosblogion in his apartment on April 15 at 3:49 pm” from the concept of Robert Gressis; I got this reading from Adams’s _Leibniz: Determinist, Theist, Idealist_). That doesn’t exactly get at the issue of certainty, but is it related?

    April 15, 2010 — 17:51
  • James Brantner

    Robert,
    It’s likely that you’ve read more on Leibniz (or more of Leibniz himself) than I have, but I’m getting the distinction from the Theodicy. I’m not 100% sure how your comment relates, although it sounds like it fits in rather nicely. However, even if it doesn’t, I’m quite certain that Leibniz held inconsistent ideas, so he may’ve said one thing on place and another thing elsewhere.
    Also, I’m one of those philosophers who thinks libertarianism is incoherent (although I tentatively accept middle knowledge), so I agree with your point about Plantinga’s argument failing.

    April 15, 2010 — 22:21
  • Andrew Moon

    Thanks for the comments everybody. I’ve been out of country (in Korea) and w/out time to delve in. I have some points below; note that my not responding to your comment does not mean that I didn’t read it or find it valuable and helpful.
    I believe that Plantinga’s argument depends on there being true counterfactuals of freedom and on libertarianism. (Note to Mike Austin: libertarianism = 1) free will is incompatible with determinism and 2) some acts are free. Since the first conjunct of libertarianism is necessarily true if possibly true, libertarianism is possibly true only if it is true in all worlds in which there are some free actions. It follows that if it is possibly true, then it is actually true.)
    Consider Alexander’s comment:
    “I think the impact of Plantinga’s argument may have been something like this. Yeah, the argument has questionable assumptions. But it gives the form of a defense against the deductive problem of evil. And once one has the form of a defense, it becomes plausible that even if this one fails, others could be cooked up that would work.”
    Even if Plantinga’s specific argument doesn’t work (and he himself made revisions following 1974 in response to points by David Lewis), I think that
    – most analytic philosophers of religion think that either Plantinga’s argument or some other revision (I am using the word ‘revision’ very liberally) of it (which does not rely on the same assumptions) does work.
    Case in point: Robert Adams responded to Plantinga by questioning the existence of true counterfactuals of freedom, and from the dialogue between Adams and Plantinga arises another nice and convincing response (given the assumption that there are no true counterfactuals of freedom) to the logical problem of evil.
    And I think that many in the humanities would find the above hyphenated point interesting.

    April 19, 2010 — 11:42
  • Actually, Plantinga’s argument doesn’t really need libertarianism to be true. What it needs is that (a) libertarian free will is possible (it does not need to be actual), and either (b1) if compatibilist free will is possible, libertarian free will nonetheless has a significant value that is lacking in compatibilist free will or (b2) the conjunction of theism, determinism and free will is impossible.
    In particular, hard determinists who think that determinism is only contingently true can accept Plantinga’s argument–they may believe (a) and (b2).
    Likewise, compatibilists who think undetermined free actions are possible will accept (a), and may also accept (b2) if they accept the principle (which is a modification of a principle Richard Gale has given) that if all of y’s actions are entirely determined by a person x, then y is not free (I am pretty sure some classical compatibilist–maybe Ayer–accepted that determination was freedom-canceling when it was determination by another person). Or the compatibilist may still think that compatibilistic freedom is second-best to libertarian freedom and accept (b1).

    April 19, 2010 — 13:01
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    Andrew,
    How can you show that God and evil are compatible if you haven’t shown that they both exist?

    April 20, 2010 — 14:55
  • Mike Almeida

    How can you show that God and evil are compatible if you haven’t shown that they both exist?
    All he needs to show is that they’re compossible. If compossible, then their compatible. But it does not follow that if compossible then they exist. My 9th brother being the fastest runner in the world is compatible with my 10th brother being the slowest. Neither brother exists.

    April 20, 2010 — 16:50
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    Hey Mike,
    I wasn’t serious. Thought it might get a laugh. (I’m guessing you didn’t read the thread where half of analytic philosophy tried to explain your point to a commentator responding to Andrew over at BL’s blog.)

    April 20, 2010 — 17:35
  • Mike Almeida

    sorry…didn’t pick that up (but should have)…no, didn’t read the bl thread.

    April 20, 2010 — 19:01
  • Justin

    “It follows that if it is possibly true, then it is actually true.”
    Should this read “It follows that if it is possibly true and some acts are free, then it is actually true”?
    If not, I don’t follow the little argument.

    April 20, 2010 — 19:16
  • Andrew Moon

    Justin,
    That’s right, I had just assumed that everybody agrees that some acts are free, but I forgot that not everybody agrees with that. So, yep.
    Clayton,
    When I first read Clayton’s comment, I thought, “Are you kidding me?!?” and I thought that maybe there was some hidden argument that you were aware of that compatibility claims in ordinary English entail existence claims. Then I saw Mike’s comment and your response, and then I smacked my head and realized you were joking. I’m a bit slow on some things.

    April 21, 2010 — 1:16
  • Seriously, there is something problematic about making the compatibility claims. Suppose compatibility is compossibility. Then from Possibly(God exists and there is evil) we get Possibly(God exists). Given standard arguments that it follows from the definition of God that he is a necessary being and essentially divine, by S5 we get that God exists. So, to show that the existence of God and the presence of evil are compossible basically involves one showing that God exists.
    I’ve never seen this point addressed, and I thought this was the one Clayton was raising.
    I think what is being shown in free will defenses is either something weaker than compossibility or else what is being shown is the conditional:
    If possibly God exists, possibly (God exists and there is evil).

    April 21, 2010 — 7:38
  • No, the conditional take doesn’t seem to work. For if possibly God exists, then necessarily God exists. But possibly evil exists. So, possibly (God exists and there is evil).

    April 21, 2010 — 9:09
  • Mike Almeida

    I think what is being shown in free will defenses is either something weaker than compossibility or else what is being shown is the conditional:
    If possibly God exists, possibly (God exists and there is evil).

    The FWD is supposed to show that the traditional Anselmian God and evil are epistemically compossible. This is to show that we cannot apriori rule out compossibility. But this is tricky. On traditional Anselmianism it is apriori true (if true at all) that God possesses each of the divine attributes, including necessary existence. If the traditional Anselmian God is epistemically possible, then it is epistemically possible that something exists whose failure to exist necessarily is apriori impossible. But then it is metaphysically necessary that such a God exists (this just follows from the principle that, for all x, if it is apriori necessary that Fx then it is metaphysically necessary that Fx, and the fact that it is apriori necessary that God has the property of (necessary) existence). But then such a God is actual. So, we are back to the problem, such as it is.

    April 21, 2010 — 10:45
  • Jeremy Pierce

    How about this?
    The FWD shows that the existence of evil doesn’t create any contradiction beyond any (if there are any) that are already present without the existence of evil.

    April 21, 2010 — 19:03
  • Jeremy:
    That’s a nice way of putting it. I’d just change “existence of evil” to “possibility of evil”. For even if evil didn’t exist, the fact that evil is possible would according to the deductive arguer from evil contradict the existence of the Anselmian God.

    April 22, 2010 — 9:25
  • Mike Almeida

    The FWD shows that the existence of evil doesn’t create any contradiction beyond any (if there are any) that are already present without the existence of evil.
    Interesting suggestion. Show the set of propositions describing the Anselmian God plus the proposition that there is evil is simultaneously satisfiable. Of course, that set of propositions will be satisfiable only if God actually exists. If God does not exist, then the set will not be satisfiable, since some of those propositions will be necessarily false.

    April 22, 2010 — 13:36