Intentionality and Theodicy
October 14, 2017 — 15:30

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Existence of God Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: 4

The following line of thought is commonly found in analytic philosophy of mind: the reason calculators, for instance, are not minds is that the symbols they manipulate in order to solve mathematical problems to not mean anything to them (the calculators). It is not that their symbols/representations lack meaning or reference. Rather, they have the meaning or reference they do because of our conventions and the aims and purposes we have for calculators. This is known as derived intentionality. Our mental states, on the other hand, exhibit original intentionality. Their meaningfulness is not due to someone else’s employment of those symbols, but our own. Now, this talk about aims, purposes, and employment (according to this common line of thought) is a hint in the direction of the proper explanation of original intentionality. What would be needed for the calculator to think would be for these symbols to play an informational or indicative role for it, for them to have a function in meeting its needs, ensuring its survival, etc. And this is what we find with respect to information encoded in human and animal brains: certain states have the function of carrying information about the environment because either evolution or learning selected for those states to occur in those circumstances so that the animal’s well-being (evolutionary fitness) would be promoted by responding appropriately to those circumstances.*

If this story is true, it opens up the possibility of a new and interesting sort of theodicy. If the story is true then it may turn out that, quite apart from any questions about free will, it is metaphysically impossible for created minds to exist in the complete absence of evil.

To see why, consider a problem. On this view, if God directly creates an adult human ex nihilo** (like swampman) and God intends the human’s brain states to represent certain states of the external world, then, one worries, the human’s brain states will have only derived intentionality and the human will therefore not exhibit genuine thought—any more than a calculator does. So what does God need to do in order to give the human genuine thought? God needs to bring it about that these brain states function as representational or information-carrying states for the human, that the interpretation of them as meaning this or that is not imposed from the outside, but part of the human’s constitution. In order to bring this about (according to the story) the human must have needs which are satisfied only by the proper functioning of the system. The only is important: there must be a contrast class of cases in which the needs are unsatisfied. It thus appears that (if this story is correct) creatures can have states exhibiting original intentionality, and hence engage in genuine thought, only if they are genuinely vulnerable to their environment, and this requires the existence of evil.

Objection One: this story does nothing to address the magnitude, kinds, and unjust distribution of evil. Well, I’m not sure it does nothing about this problem, but it certainly doesn’t solve it. But no one should expect a real solution to that problem.

Objection Two: the theist can’t endorse the story in question, since the theist holds that God, an immaterial being with no needs, has original intentionality. To this objection, I have two replies. First, many theists have accepted some form of the doctrine of analogy, according to which the thing we call ‘knowledge’ in God is not actually of the same kind as our knowledge (though our use of the same word for both is supposed to be somehow non-arbitrary), and even theists who don’t endorse this doctrine must admit (on grounds quite independent of the story I’ve just told) that God’s knowledge is quite different from ours, so this may not be very problematic. Second, since God was not made by someone else, there is no worry that God’s states might have derived intentionality, and so at least one part of the worry the story is addressing does not apply.

Objection Three: most theists believe the human mind is immaterial, so they don’t want a naturalistic reduction of intentionality. Again, I have two replies. First, although this is probably true as a sociological generalization, that doesn’t reduce the philosophical interest of this combination of views. There’s nothing inconsistent in combining theism with this approach to intentionality and it looks like it has at least one significant benefit for the theist: it has the consequence that there couldn’t have been created minds and no evil at all, and so explains why there is at least some evil in the world. (As I conceded above, it does very little if anything to explain the magnitude, kinds, and distribution of evil.) Second, the relevant portions of the account could be endorsed by someone who held that the intrinsic nature of mental states was exhausted by their phenomenal character and representation/intentionality derives from the way those states are used by the mind according to rules (as on my interpretation of Berkeley). So it is not inconsistent with immaterialism about mind, or even with some of the leading arguments for immaterialism about the mind (those stemming from the irreducibility of qualia).


* Rather different versions of (approximately) this line of thought can be found, for instance, in Fred Dretske and Ruth Millikan.

** Essentiality of origins concerns may lead one to deny that this creation is really a human, but let’s ignore that complexity.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)

Logos 2018
July 5, 2017 — 16:09

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: News  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

May 24-26, 2018 at the University of Notre Dame

Race, Gender, Ability, and Class: 

Expanding Conversations in Analytic Theology

Guest Co-Organizer: Michelle Panchuk

Over the past several decades, scholars working in biblical, theological and religious studies have increasingly paid attention to the substantive ways that our experiences and understanding of God and God’s relation to the world are structured by our experiences and concepts of race, gender, ability, and class. These personal and social identities and the intersections between them (for better or worse) serve as a hermeneutical lens for our interpretations of God, self, one another and our religious texts and traditions. However, these topics have not received nearly the same level of attention from analytic theologians and philosophers of religion, and so a wide range of important issues remain ripe for analytic treatment. For example, what implications do the social concerns of liberation theology have for the kinds of questions with which analytic theologians and philosophers have more typically been concerned, and vice versa? How might our understanding that suffering and trauma are often inflicted by unjust social structures and religious communities inform our response to the problem of evil? To what extent does the historical use of a particular doctrine as a tool of oppression bear on its truth? How should analytic philosophical explications of doctrinal loci (e.g. creation, incarnation and the imago Dei) shape our understanding and theology of race, ability, gender, and class, and vice-versa?  Do these identities circumscribe the kinds of religious experience or religious understanding that one is able or likely to have? The Logos 2018 Workshop will bring together analytic philosophers, scriptural scholars, and theologians/thealogians to discuss these and other aspects of the theological significance of personal and social identities.

To have your paper considered for presentation at Logos 2018, please submit an abstract of the paper or the paper itself no later than October 1, 2017. Other things being equal, preference will be given to those who submit full papers by the deadline. You will be notified by December 1, 2017 whether your paper has been provisionally accepted. Full acceptance will be conditional on submission of the full reading version of the paper by April 1, 2018. It is expected that papers presented at the Logos workshop will be works in progress that can benefit from the group discussion. Consequently, we ask that authors not submit papers that will be published before the conference has ended.

Please send Abstracts or Full Papers to:  logos@nd.edu

For more information, please visit: http://philreligion.nd.edu/calendar/annual-logos-workshop/

Analytic Theology Summer School & Conference in Innsbruck (Austria)
July 4, 2017 — 12:59

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: News  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

The Nature of God: Personal and a-personal concepts of the divine

Summer School: July 26 – August 4, 2018 (Call for participants)

Conference: August 6, 2014 – August 8, 2018 (Call for speakers)

In recent decades, an increasing number of philosophers in the analytic tradition have begun to produce exciting philosophical work on topics relating directly to systematic theology.

The Analytic Theology Project is a multinational three-year endeavour that contributes to this development in a creative way.  The project funds systematic research promoting interdisciplinary cooperation between analytic philosophers and theologians.  It thus explores the intersection of both fields and seeks to establish links between the traditions of classical European theology and analytic thinking.  Against this background the project is organizing a summer school (with a call for papers) and an international conference on The Nature of God.  The language of both events is English.

These events will investigate the theoretical commitments of views according to which God is personal, and those according to which God is a-personal, as well as considering the implications of this for spirituality and religious practice.

Summer School Instructors

  • Yujin Nagasawa (Birmingham, UK): A-personal conceptions of God
  • Christoph Jäger (Innsbruck University, Austria): Personal conceptions of God
  • Thomas Jay Oord (NNU, USA): Conceptions of God and spiritual/religious practices

Conference Speakers

  • Jonathan Kvanvig (Washington University, St. Loius, USA)
  • Robin Le Poidevin (Leeds, UK)
  • Anastasia Scrutton (Leeds, UK)
  • Ryan Mullins (St. Andrews, UK)
  • Yujin Nagasawa (Birmingham, UK)
  • Oliver Wiertz (Sankt Georgen, Germany)
  • Matthias Remenyi (Universität Würzburg, Germany)
  • Roman Siebenrock & Manuela Neulinger (Innsbruck, Austria)
  • David Efird (York, UK)
  • Mark Wynn (Leeds, UK)
  • Thomas Jay Oord (NNU, USA)
  • Natalja Deng (Yonsei University, South Korea)
  • Simon Kittle (Innsbruck, Austria)

We invite applications for participants at the summer school.  For how to apply and the relevant funding information, please visit:

http://www.uibk.ac.at/analytic-theology/conferences/summer-school-2018.html

We also invite applications for speakers at the conference, at which there are two open slots.  For details please visit:

http://www.uibk.ac.at/analytic-theology/conferences/conference-2018.html

Virtual Colloquium: Ricki Bliss, “Metaphysical Foundationalism and the Principle of Sufficient Reason”
May 19, 2017 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: General  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: 4

Welcome to the final installment of the Prosblogion Virtual Colloquium. Many thanks to all of those who have contributed, both as presenters and commenters.

Our final paper will be “Metaphysical Foundationalism and the Principle of Sufficient Reason” by Ricki Bliss. Dr. Bliss received her PhD from the University of Melbourne in 2012 and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Her papers on metaphysics have appeared in journals such as Philosophical Review and Philosophical Studies. She is co-author (with Kelly Trogdon) of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on metaphysical grounding and co-editor (with Graham Priest) of Reality and its Structure, forthcoming from Oxford University Press.


Metaphysical Foundationalism and the Principle of Sufficient Reason

Ricki Bliss

The following is the abstract for my paper that I am grateful to have the opportunity to discuss:

The metaphysical foundationalist claims that reality is hierarchically arranged, with maximal chains of phenomena ordered by the grounding relation terminating in contingently existent fundamentalia. Some influential foundationalists claim that there must be something fundamental because being requires a ground or explanation, or because grounding chains that do not terminate are viciously infinitely regressive. Surprisingly, reconstruction of these arguments reveals an enthymematic assumption that makes appeal to a Principle of Sufficient Reason: a principle the foundationalist would not, and should not, accept. I explore three different Principles of Sufficient Reason: two familiar to us from cosmological arguments and one, novel, dependence PSR. I argue that without a PSR, certain of the most influential arguments to the existence of something fundamental do not work; and that with a PSR, certain of the most influential arguments to the existence of something fundamental leave us with a position that is epistemically unstable.

By way of introduction, I would like to say a few things about what has motivated me to write this paper, and what I think some interesting (and important!) open questions are.

Contemporarily, analytic metaphysics seems to be in the thrall of notions of ground, structure and the idea that there is something fundamental. In addition to this, there seems to be a growing tension between those wedded to a Quine-style naturalizing of metaphysics and the ‘neo-Aristotelian’ return to the good old fashioned way of doing it. In theory, a good proper Quinean will hold that the only kinds of arguments we need in defence of fundamentality are arguments from theoretical virtue, whereas the neo-Aristotelian will allow the use of, say, arguments from vicious infinite regress. In practice, however, the contemporary grounding literature and discussions of fundamentality are a mess. Card-carrying Quineans make appeal all over the place to talk of ‘grounds of being’, arguments from vicious infinite regress and the need that there be some kind of ultimate explainers. At the same time, they throw around talk of theoretical virtue with almost no reflection, wheel out their intuitions, and are prone to even suggest that we don’t need arguments in defence of a view as spectacularly ontologically committing and weighty as fundamentality. What is to my mind, however, almost singularly most striking about the state of the contemporary literature is it’s apparent utter blindness to the rich history of debates over the regress problem, the grounds of being, and ultimate explainers in the form of cosmological arguments to the existence of God.

This, then, is my starting point: that so much of the contemporary thinking about fundamentality just is disguised variations on very old, very big and very problematic themes. When properly reconstructed, many contemporary arguments in defence of fundamentality look to be variations on cosmological-style arguments to the existence of an ultimate explainer. The consequences of this for how we understand our commitment to fundamentality, though, are interesting. First of all, it seems that what we need here is some version of other of a Principle of Sufficient Reason. What such a version might be is the central theme of this paper. But in addition to this, clarifying which version of the principle might be in operation is not yet to get us an argument to the existence of something fundamental. In order to have a good proper argument in defence of fundamentality we need to know (i) what exactly it is that the fundamentalia are supposed to explain and (ii) why it is that no dependent entity is up to the task to hand.

These last two points are not really issues that I take up in this paper. In fact, at the time of writing this paper – which was a few years ago now – I think I had a sense of the importance of these two questions without yet being able to articulate it so clearly. I have since written another paper that does engage with these questions, and I believe the second one is a particularly complex issue. Without engaging with these particular questions, however, there is still much of significance that needs to be explored; and much that is very often taken for granted. What is the relation between self-dependence and necessary being? Can contingent existents be self-explanatory? How does fundamentality intersect with modality? What is the modal status of that which is to be explained by the fundamentalia? Although this paper doesn’t answer any of these questions, I believe it draws to our attention how important it is to ask them. And I believe that the literature on cosmological arguments to the existence of God is an invaluable resource to look to try and start our investigation.


The full paper is available here. Comments welcome below!

Virtual Colloquium: Amber Griffioen, “With or Without You”
May 12, 2017 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God Religion and Life  Tags: , , , , , , , , ,   Comments: 4

This week’s Virtual Colloquium paper is “With or Without You: ‘Post-Metaphysical’ Religion and the Religious Imagination” by Amber Griffioen. Dr. Griffioen received her PhD from the University of Iowa in 2010 and is currently Margarete von Wrangell Research Fellow and Lecturer at the University of Konstanz, Germany. Her papers on self-deception, superstition, and religion have appeared in journals such as Religious Studies, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, and European Journal for Philosophy of Religion.


With or Without You: “Post-Metaphysical” Religion and the Religious Imagination

Amber Griffioen

This paper represents the (still very rough) skeleton of a paper, adapted from a recent conference talk at UNISA on The Resurgence of Metaphysics in Science, Philosophy, and Theology. I am currently working to expand my thoughts from this talk into a full-length article. The paper begins with a sort of overview of one of the gulfs that seems to separate analytic and continental philosophers of religion (at least in my experience), namely the insistence of the former on continuing to focus on religious epistemology and the metaphysics of classical theism and the resistance of the latter to engaging in any sort of metaphysical or “ontotheological” enterprise. I do not mean this introduction to cover the entire spectrum of analytic or continental philosophy of religion; I merely want to gesture at a point of contention that often arises when I (as a participant in the more analytic tradition) engage in dialogue with continental philosophers of religion. The paper itself is (ideally) supposed to use the instruments from my more analytic conceptual toolkit to suggest a way in which the analytic desire for a deeply “metaphysical” religion can be made commensurate with the continental demand that we go “beyond” metaphysics.

The middle part of the paper draws on some other work I’ve done (published in German) on demarcating the realism/anti-realism debate and the cognitivism/non-cognitivism debate, which are sometimes run together in what I think are unhelpful ways. On the assumption a) that many continental philosophers of religion are anti-realists about the God of classical theism and b) that many analytic philosophers of religion want to hold on to some cognitivist understanding of religious language, I move on to talk about the promise that fictionalism might hold for the development of a “post-metaphysical” theological semantics. At the same time, I think fictionalism is limited in at least two ways: a) it generally assumes a kind of anti-realism about the objects of discourse, and b) it usually represents an instrumentalist approach to the arena of discourse in question. I thus think the development of an alternative semantics is warranted—one which is cognitivist, expressivist, and non-error theoretic, and which moves us past the somewhat stagnant realist/antirealist debates. It also allows that religion, like sports or music, may be an autotelic (not mere instrumental) enterprise, one engaged in for its own sake. This is a view I am calling “religious imaginativism”. It claims that the cognitive attitudes expressed by religious language are not, strictly speaking, beliefs but rather imaginings, combined with the more volitional attitude of acceptance. I argue that religious concepts require the implementation of the imagination, such that believers, agnostics, and non-believers alike must employ the imagination to get these concepts off the ground in the first place. The view is thus supposed to allow that—even if antirealism about God turns out to be true—it might still be legitimate to employ the term ‘God’ and to engage in “metaphysical” debate about the appropriate way to talk about God and God’s nature from within the imaginativist framework. At the same time, so long as we’re operating within a particular religious “model”, religious realists and religious antirealists who care about the model itself should be able to successfully communicate about God. That is, religiously committed believers, agnostics, and even atheists can successfully employ religious language without necessarily talking past each other.

I am treating this online colloquium like I would a live colloquium presentation. The text is thus still quite short and not fully fleshed-out. It is intended more to elicit questions, discussion, and constructive suggestions (for further reading, directions to take this in, ways to address objections, etc.). I haven’t laid out the entire view here. In fact, I’m still working the kinks out of it. I also have not inserted references to the relevant literature yet, so what you see are really my developing thoughts on a complex issue. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it, and I look forward to your comments!


The complete paper is available here. Comments welcome below!

Virtual Colloquium: Amod Lele, “Resolving Disagreements across Philosophical Traditions”
April 28, 2017 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Religion and Life  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: 0

Today’s virtual colloquium is “Resolving Disagreements across Philosophical Traditions: an Aristotelian-Historicist Methodology” by Amod Lele. Dr. Lele received his PhD in religion from Harvard University in 2007. Currently, he is Senior Educational Technologist and Lecturer in Philosophy at Boston University, as well as a Visiting Researcher at BU’s Center for the Study of Asia. His papers, focused primarily on the Indian Buddhist philosopher Santideva, have appeared in journals including the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice.


Resolving Disagreements across Philosophical Traditions

An Aristotelian-Historicist Methodology

Amod Lele

Can comparative religious ethics do more than compare? Once we have found similarities and differences between different traditions – including similarities within differences and differences within similarities (Yearley 1990) – what then? Mencius was not content to compare Yang Zhu, Mozi and Xunzi; he wanted to form an account of human virtue more adequate than theirs. Likewise, Aquinas’s integration of Augustinian Christianity and Muslim Aristotelianism was no mere articulation of similarities and differences; he aimed to provide a true account of the world and human flourishing, drawing on the wisdom of his two very different teachers. Given our awareness today of the wide-ranging differences across traditions, can we now aim to complete a project like Aquinas’s and Mencius’s own, one that attempts to resolve differences across traditions?

This paper will argue that we can. It will articulate and develop an Aristotelian-historicist methodology for cross-cultural ethics: one rooted in Aristotelian dialectic, maintaining the deeper awareness of cultural difference stemming from the German historicist tradition. It will take particular inspiration from the Aristotelian and historicist works of Alasdair MacIntyre (as articulated in a wide variety of works and especially MacIntyre 1991), but will also articulate a critique of MacIntyre’s method in important respects.

From Aristotle the methodology accepts the idea of dialectic: starting from established beliefs and resolving apparent contradictions among them by showing that the contradictions were only apparent or showing why one side was wrong but appeared right. Drawing on historicist philosophy of science – Kuhn, Lakatos and the Duhem-Quine thesis – it acknowledges that claims can rarely be refuted piecemeal and need to be understood within the context of a wider theoretical system, thus aligning itself with a “holist” or “historian’s” approach to comparative ethics rather than a “formalist” or “ethicist’s” approach. (See Sizemore 1990, 87; Stalnaker 2006, 16.) Further, it accepts that traditions may be incommensurable – that is, having no neutral or common standard by which their claims may be judged.

Unlike some formulations of the holist approach, however, the proposed methodology does not take incommensurability as final. With MacIntyre, it argues that traditions can become commensurable (and thereby supersede or be superseded) by learning the history of each other’s characteristic anomalies in their own terms and becoming able to explain another tradition’s anomalies better than they could themselves.

The project diverges from MacIntyre in refusing the ideal of situating ourselves within one single tradition. It argues that membership in multiple traditions of inquiry is necessary, across disciplines at a minimum (a properly informed scientific inquirer should be both a Darwinian and Mendelian biologist, and an Einsteinian and quantum physicist). Moreover the general condition of being (sometimes incoherently) “betwixt and between” traditions is not merely a modern problem, as MacIntyre (e.g. 1988, 397–8) implies it is, but a feature shared by Muslims who pray to local gods and Buddhists in Thailand who make offerings to Ganesh. So the methodology suggests that a joint process of synthesis is likely to be more fruitful than one-sided supersession.

A key question for any such project is reflexivity: how does it apply to itself? Since the methodology claims to be situated in Aristotelian-historicist tradition rather than tradition-neutral, one can well ask whether the methodology should be of interest to anyone who is not already Aristotelian or historicist. I claim that the methodology is, in MacIntyre’s words, “the best theory so far” – for everyone, not merely for those who are already Aristotelians or historicists. It is not that I advocate this methodology because I am an Aristotelian; rather, I am an Aristotelian because I believe it to be the most helpful methodology. But the methodology also draws from historicism a humility that recognizes that those involved in other traditions will start from very different places; insofar as this method rests on Aristotelian or historicist presuppositions that they cannot accept, it invites them to develop an alternative from which the dialogue can begin. “We have to begin by disagreeing even on how to characterize that about which we disagree, if we are to make any movement, even a stumbling and halting one, in the direction of rational agreement.” (MacIntyre 1991, 122–3)

Works cited

MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1988. Whose Justice? Which Rationality? Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1991. Incommensurability, Truth, and the Conversations Between Confucians and Aristotelians About the Virtues. In Culture and Modernity, edited by Eliot Deutsch. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press. 104–22.

Sizemore, Russell F. 1990. Comparative Religious Ethics as a Field: Faith, Culture and Reason in Ethics. In Ethics, Wealth and Salvation: A Study in Buddhist Social Ethics, edited by Russell F. Sizemore and Donald K. Swearer. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.

Stalnaker, Aaron. 2006. Overcoming Our Evil: Human Nature and Spiritual Exercises in Xunzi and Augustine. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Yearley, Lee H. 1990. Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of Virtue and Conceptions of Courage. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.


The complete paper is available here. Comments welcome below!

Idealism and Christian Theology: Concluding Thoughts and Table of Posts
April 24, 2017 — 15:48

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Christian Theology  Tags: , , , , , , , ,   Comments: 1

Having finished commenting on every chapter of Idealism and Christian Theology, allow me here to offer some concluding thoughts on the book and its aims and scope.

First, some comments regarding scope. The title ‘idealism and Christian theology’ allows for a very wide scope. In the design of a volume like this, a judgment must be made about how broadly or narrowly the title is to be interpreted. Here, the title bears a relatively narrow interpretation in two respects, only one of which is explicit in the introduction. The explicit restriction of scope is that the volume considers only Berkeleian and Edwardsian idealisms and not, e.g., Kantian or post-Kantian idealisms (p. 3). The implicit restriction is that the Christian theology is confined exclusively to conservative/traditional Protestant theology.

By my count, three of the essays focus primarily on Berkeley and five focus primarily on Edwards. Of the three essays remaining, one (Wainwright) is primarily concerned with comparison and contrast between Berkeley and Edwards, and the other two (Wessling and Arcadi) focus on the theological consequences of idealism without engaging in significant exegesis of either Berkeley or Edwards (though Wessling connects his version of idealism with Edwards and Arcadi connects his with Berkeley).

While I’m tabulating things, here are some facts about the authors: four work primarily in philosophy, seven in theology. All eleven authors are male. Six of the seven theologians are affiliated with Christian institutions (colleges or seminaries), all of which have a conservative Protestant orientation. Three authors are affiliated with Fuller Theological Seminary. By contrast, all four of the philosophers (and the one remaining theologian) are affiliated with secular universities. All of the Berkeley essays (and the one comparative essay) are by philosophers, while all of the Edwards essays are by theologians.

These facts are likely connected with a point of contrast between the Berkeley essays and the Edwards essays, which I have been noting as I go along: the Edwards essays pretty much universally pay careful attention to Edwards’ own theological commitments, and the way Edwards himself connects his idealism with his theology. The authors writing about Edwards generally seem sympathetic to Edwards’ theology, as well as his idealism. By contrast, Airaksinen is the only author to pay significant attention to Berkeley’s theological commitments. The other authors writing about Berkeley are generally concerned with how Berkeley’s idealism interacts with certain theological claims they (the authors) take to be important. This observation is not necessarily a criticism; it’s another choice about scope. The two questions (how Berkeley’s idealism interacts with his own theological commitments; how Berkeley’s idealism interacts with our theological commitments) are both perfectly legitimate, provided we distinguish them from one another. However, it is a little odd, and perhaps unfortunate, that all the Berkeley essays are on one side and all the Edwards essays on the other. This probably has to do with the disciplinary divide: the fact that all the Berkeley essays are by philosophers and all the Edwards essays are by theologians (with one comparative essay by a philosopher).

Second, some comments regarding the aims of the volume. In my introductory post, I wrote: “This post will be not so much a discussion of the book’s introduction as my own way of framing and approaching the issues in the book.” However, there turned out to be a degree of mismatch between my conception of the connection between idealism and Christian theology and the conception that animates this volume. My own account had primarily to do with a certain cluster of problems faced by the Christian idealist, which might be placed under the general heading ‘theology of the body.’ The body has significant importance to Christian theology, and idealism might be accused of running into Gnosticism by devaluing the body. To be sure, these sorts of issues do crop up in several places in the volume, and in some cases are addressed quite insightfully. (See especially the essays by Hamilton, Cortez, and Arcadi.) However, as the editors emphasize in the introduction (p. 3), this volume is more concerned with the value of idealism for constructive theological work than with the compatibility of idealism with basic points of orthodoxy. Of course, the orthodox theologian can use idealism constructively only if it is compatible with orthodoxy, and this is the reason that my question (the compatibility of idealism with ecumenical orthodoxy regarding the theology of the body) does come up in a number of places. But this is not the central focus.*

Finally, an overall evaluation. This volume must be understood as a defence of the harmony (not mere logical compatibility) of Berkeleian/Edwardsian idealism with traditional/conservative Protestant theology. Read in this way, all of the eleven essays are good, and at least six are excellent. The book is important and timely insofar as it stands at the intersection of two trends: the increasing seriousness with which idealism is taken in analytic philosophy, and the increasing engagement between analytic philosophy and theology. I, for one, think both of these trends are positive developments, and I therefore hope that this book will help to solidify both of them and also to begin a larger conversation about the relevance of metaphysical idealism to Christian theology.

Table of Posts

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)


* Thanks to Joshua Farris for helpful correspondence on these points.

Airaksinen on Berkeley’s Theological Ethics
April 22, 2017 — 11:04

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Divine Command Religion and Life Virtue  Tags: , , , , , , , ,   Comments: 0

The 11th and final chapter of Idealism and Christian Theology is “Idealistic Ethics and Berkeley’s Good God” by Timo Airaksinen. This is a rich, complex, and careful treatment of Berkeley’s ethical thought. It is the only essay in the volume that pays careful attention to Berkeley’s own theological commitments. Further, by specific attention to the theological context of Berkeley’s ethical thought Airaksinen is able to show that Berkeley’s thought in this area is richer and more complex than philosophers have often supposed.

The discussion is focused around Berkeley’s Alciphron. Surprisingly little attention is paid to Passive Obedience, though good use is also made of Berkeley’s sermons (which scholars have often ignored). Further, the article concludes with some interesting discussion of the development of Berkeley’s thought about evil in the world over the course of his career.

It is widely recognized that Berkeley’s ethical thought contains both divine command elements and rule utilitarian elements. A disputed question is how these elements fit together. On this subject, Airaksinen makes the provocative statement, “Berkeley is no utilitarian, rather God is” (221). What Airaksinen means by this is that, on Berkeley’s view, morality for us is fundamentally a matter of obedience to God. Yet we should not conceive God as a tyrant issuing arbitrary commands which we follow solely out of hope of reward or fear of punishment.* Rather, such obedience should be based on our attitude of love and trust toward God, which are in turn based on our faith in the goodness of God. Now this requires that we be able to make sense of God’s being good in some way that is not wholly arbitrary or trivial. On Airaksinen’s reading, Berkeley appeals here to the fundamental or intrinsic goodness of happiness, which is closely related to but perhaps not identified with pleasure. God’s goodness means that God seeks to promote these ends in God’s design of the natural and moral order of the world. Insofar as this is a genuine order it must be based on rules. It is in this sense that God is a rule utilitarian: God has instituted a moral system which is optimal with respect to the promotion of the happiness of creatures. Proper religious attitudes should include not mere acquiescence in this moral system, but active endorsement of it. That is, the genuinely moral/virtuous person buys into God’s plan for the natural and moral order of the universe. It is in this sense and for this reason that, according to Airaksinen’s reading of Berkeley, religious faith is required for genuine virtue.

What does all of this have to do with idealism? According to Airaksinen, Berkeley’s ethical thought is idealistic in two senses. First, Berkeley holds that “one cannot define moral notions and conscience without a reference to the mind and its functions or, in this case, God’s will” (217). This is idealism in the sense in which that term is used in contemporary metaphysics, that is, the claim that things we might not ordinarily think of as mental are grounded in or reducible to mental phenomena. Second, Berkeley’s view (according to Airaksinen) is idealistic in the Platonic sense that it appeals to a transcendent moral ideal, namely, God (217). Now, Airaksinen says that “His [Berkeley’s] ethics rests on idealistic metaphysics—it is metaphysically informed as it tracks God” (217). However, I don’t see any particular connection here to idealism in the sense of immaterialism, and in fact immaterialism makes no (explicit) appearance in either Passive Obedience or Alciphron. In fact, most of Christian ethics has been idealistic in the two senses Airaksinen defines. So I was left puzzled about the connection to idealism in the sense in which that term is understood in the rest of this volume. Nevertheless, this is an excellent essay which handles Berkeley’s text carefully and advances our understanding of his ethical thought.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)


* I note that Airaksinen seems to me to underemphasize the extent to which Berkeley does want to defend reward and punishment as sources of moral motivation in Alciphron. However, Berkeley certainly does not think that this is the best sort of moral motivation.

Virtual Colloquium: Brandon Warmke, “God’s Standing to Forgive”
April 21, 2017 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: General  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 2

Today’s Virtual Colloquium is “God’s Standing to Forgive” by Brandon Warmke. Dr. Warmke received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Arizona in 2014 and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. His work in moral philosophy has been published in journals such as Philosophical Studies, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, and Philosophy and Public Affairs.


God’s Standing to Forgive

Brandon Warmke

Consider two cases:

LUCY: I lie to my brother, telling him I bought a gift for our parents when I did not do so. Realizing my guilt, I ask my new plumber Lucy to forgive me for my lie. Lucy forgives me for lying to my brother.
GOD: I lie to my brother, telling him I bought a gift for our parents when I did not do so. Realizing my guilt, I ask God to forgive me for my lie. God forgives me for lying to my brother.

The claim that Lucy could forgive me for lying to my brother will, I think, strike most people as very strange. And yet for many people, it will not seem nearly so strange to think that God could do so. An apparently central tenet of all three Abrahamic faiths is that God can and does forgive human persons for the wrong things they do to one another. But how is this possible? Because I lied to my brother—and not to Lucy—we are inclined to think that Lucy cannot forgive me. She lacks standing to do so. But then why think that God can forgive us for the wrongs we do to others? It is natural to suppose that just like I did not lie to Lucy about the gift, I also did not lie to God about the gift. And so if Lucy does not have the standing to forgive me, how does God? This is the question I wish to explore: how could God have the standing to forgive us for the things we do to one another? Call this the problem of divine standing. In this paper I provide two different solutions to the problem.

I begin by cataloging the various ways that one might have standing to forgive someone for wrongdoing. One has direct standing to forgive a wrongdoer when one is the direct victim of that wrongdoing. One has indirect standing when one is wronged as a result of a wrongdoing to someone else. Controversially, one can possess proxy standing to forgive when one can forgive on behalf of the victim. Also controversially, one can possess third-party standing to forgive a wrongdoer for what she did to someone else.

I then show that none of these individual varieties of standing to forgive explains why God would be able to forgive interpersonal human wrongs. For example, one might argue that when humans wrong one another, both the human victim and God have direct standing to forgive, but for different wrongs. When I lie to you, you can forgive me for lying to you, and God can forgive me for, say, disobeying God. But such a solution would still not secure God’s standing to forgive me for lying to you.

I then develop two different solutions to the problem of divine standing. One kind of solution concedes that God cannot forgive wrongs between human persons because God lacks standing to do so, but argues that this is no problem. There are many things that God cannot do. Just as God cannot, say, keep your wedding vows to your spouse (only you can do that), God cannot forgive you for lying to your spouse (only s/he can do that). This solution also stresses the importance of human forgiveness: because only you can forgive the wrongs done to you, those wrongs will be forgiven only if you do so.

For those who desire for God to be able to forgive us our “trespasses” against others, I develop another solution to the problem of divine standing. On this strategy, when we wrong others: (1) the human victim has direct standing to forgive us for the interpersonal human wrong; (2) God has direct standing to forgive for the wrong against God; and (3) God has third-party standing to forgive for the interpersonal human wrong. In developing this solution, I defend the possibility of third-party standing. I suggest a new strategy for defending third party-forgiveness and show that persons can come to have such standing when they stand in relationships of personal care with both victim and wrongdoer. I conclude that since God stands in relationships of personal care with all of us, this explains why God has standing to forgive us for our wrongs against each other and not just our wrongs against God.


The complete paper is here. Comments welcome below!

Arcadi on Idealism and the Eucharist
April 12, 2017 — 17:36

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Christian Theology  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 0

Chapter 10 of Idealism and Christian Theology is “Idealism and Participating in the Body of Christ” by James Arcadi. This article is very clearly written and handles both philosophy and theology well. However, I have some lingering concerns about the position defended.

Arcadi begins with an admirably clear account of the spectrum of Christian positions on the metaphysics of the Eucharist. (I note, in passing, that during the Reformation and the early modern period, this was one of the most divisive questions in Christian theology, and differences over this question were at least as important as difference in soteriology in distinguishing one Christian communion from another. Today, however, these disputes are mostly forgotten by ordinary Christians—including, to a large extent, even clergy—and receive very little emphasis from Christian theologians and philosophers.) Aracadi is specifically interested in views that affirm the corporeal presence of Christ in the Eucharist for these, one might suppose, are inconsistent with idealism. Corporeal presence theories take Christ to be present bodily in the Eucharistic elements, in contrast to symbolic theories or ‘spiritual’ presence theories. Arcadi helpfully uses the term ‘corporeal presence’ rather than the more common ‘real presence’ on account of the fact that some spiritual presence theologians might like to regard the spiritual presence of Christ as ‘real’. The question with which Arcadi is concerned is whether an idealist might claim that Christ is present in the consecrated elements in a bodily way.

In his discussion, Arcadi successfully avoids a few common pitfalls. First, he avoids the conflation of real presence with transubstantiation. As Arcadi clearly explains, transubstantiation is a specific theory of how Christ is bodily present in the consecrated elements, and this specific theory should be distinguished from the bare claim that Christ is (somehow) present bodily. Second, one might think that idealism is just obviously inconsistent with corporeal presence since idealism denies the reality of all things corporeal. This, however, is not so: idealism (at least the Berkeleian variety with which Arcadi is concerned) denies the existence of matter in a particular metaphysical sense of that term, but it nevertheless affirms the existence of bodies. The doctrine in question is a doctrine of corporeal (bodily) presence, not a doctrine of material presence, so it is not so obviously inconsistent with idealism. So the question is whether the idealist can affirm that Christ is somehow bodily present in the consecrated elements.

To answer this question, Arcadi considers three theories: transubstantiation, consubstantiation, and impanation. Now, the doctrine of transubstantiation is standardly explicated in the jargon of Aristotelian metaphysics and this, one might suppose, makes it obviously inconsistent with idealism, a radically anti-Aristotelian metaphysical doctrine. (Indeed, this is precisely what I would have said prior to reading this article!) However, Arcadi argues that this is too quick, for transubstantiation can be formulated without this jargon. What the doctrine claims, at bottom, is that, when the elements are consecrated, the bread ceases to be present and the body of Christ begins to be present, although the sensible qualities of bread remain throughout, and the sensible qualities of the body of Christ are absent throughout. Consubstantiation is precisely the same, except that it holds that the bread continues to be present (201-2). Now these views, Arcadi argues, do turn out to be inconsistent with (Berkeleian) idealism. The reason is that a core principle of Berkeleian idealism is the refusal to distinguish the bread itself from its sensible qualities. Hence, for the Berkeleian, as long as the sensible qualities of bread are present, the bread is present, and as long as the sensible qualities of the body of Christ are absent, the body of Christ is absent (203-4).

According to the third view, impanation, Christ comes to bear to the bread a relation that is somehow similar or analogous to the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ, or Christ’s relation to his human body. Arcadi favors the latter approach, and argues that it is consistent with idealism: the bread (while remaining bread) comes to be the body of Christ in the sense that it comes to be related to Christ in the same way Christ’s human body is related to him. As indicated at 213n26, consistency with the Chalcedonian Definition appears to require that the relevant relation, on this picture, be a relation to Christ’s human soul. Arcadi takes the Berkeleian picture to hold that a given soul is embodied in a particular body just if it bears the right perceptual relation to the sensible qualities of that body (206-8). Clearly, there is no metaphysical difficulty in God’s bringing it about that Christ’s human soul bears this relation to the Eucharistic bread.

So far so good. However, as I said, I have some lingering concerns. First, one may worry that this is a Pyrrhic victory for the proponent of corporeal presence, for idealism would appear to undermine the distinction between corporeal presence views and merely symbolic views. Indeed, this will be particularly true if one holds (as I do) that on Berkeley’s view your body is the word in the language of nature that names you. On this view, that the bread means or refers to Christ (in the language of nature, and not merely by human institution) may be sufficient for it to count as Christ’s body, so there may be no ‘daylight’ between the mere symbolic view and Arcadi’s brand of impanation.

Now perhaps Aracadi’s story about the perceptual relation between Christ and the bread can help here. However, and this is my second concern, Arcadi does not spell out precisely what the perceptual relation between Christ’s human soul and the bread amounts to. If the analogy to our relation to our bodies holds, then one expects that Christ (according to the humanity) experiences pain when the worshipper chews the Eucharistic bread. This strikes me as … troubling. (Perhaps others will think this is not so bad: after all when Christ refers to the bread as his body broken for us, he is talking about his suffering on the cross. This issue merits further reflection, and I’m sure there is a large theological literature on it with which I am not familiar.)

These concerns notwithstanding, this is, as I have said, an excellent essay that handles both the philosophy and the theology with admirable clarity.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)