This is the twelfth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with Amber Griffioen, a US-American postdoctoral researcher at the University of Konstanz (Germany), where she has worked since 2010. She currently has a 5-year fellowship from the Margarete von Wrangell Program aimed at completing the Habilitation (which would qualify her for a full professorship in Germany). Her primary areas of research are Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Action, and Philosophy of Sport, and her current research focuses on non-doxastic models of religious faith. She is also currently working on a side project with an Iranian scholar on Christian and Islamic mysticism and will be affiliated with a project on Religious Minorities next year in Konstanz.
Can you tell me something about your religious affiliation/self-identification?
Both my religious background and current affiliation/identification are rather complicated. Both my parents come from conservative Dutch Reformed backgrounds, and my primary and secondary education was (for better or worse) in the CSI school system (first in Milwaukee, later in West Michigan). However, “unofficially” I had a very ecumenical upbringing, which profoundly informs my religiosity (or what remains of it) to this day. My father (a theologian) received his Ph.D. from a Jesuit school, and as a young child I was often surrounded by his Catholic colleagues, many of whom were priests and nuns. We ended up attending a Missouri Synod Lutheran church that was known for its music, and we also attended an Episcopal church for a time. Importantly, I also received what one might consider a “religious” education in baseball (i.e., American civil religion), and I’m pretty sure the closest I’ve ever come to what people tend to call a “religious experience” has occurred at the ballpark. All of these factors instilled in me a deep reverence for (and aesthetic attraction to) religious symbol, ritual, and liturgy – much of which was in tension with the heavily Protestant (and increasingly Evangelical) traditions associated with my formal schooling. So I’ve always been a bit of a “religious outsider” wherever I found myself.more…
This is the eleventh installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with David McNaughton, currently Professor of Philosophy at Florida State, having previously been Professor at Keele University. He is a member of the Church of England, and a regular attender at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Tallahassee, Florida.
Can you tell me something about your current religious affiliation/self-identification?
I was brought up agnostic, but my parents sent me to Methodist Sunday School (for as long as I wished) so I might find out for myself. After considerable prayer and heart-searching I joined the Methodist Church around 1960 and stayed there for ten years, including being a very active member of the Methodist Society at my undergraduate university. I did my graduate work at Magdalen College Oxford and attended College Chapel, at the end of which I was received into the Church of England.
Shortly thereafter I drifted away from Christianity, eventually becoming both sceptical and slightly hostile until my mid-30s when I began slowly to re-evaluate my position. Strong influences here were C. S. Lewis and William James, as well as teaching philosophy of religion with Richard Swinburne. I remained a highly sympathetic agnostic until 2004, when I decided to recommit to the church.
Guleserian (1983) presents a version of the Problem of Evil that attacks the conjunction of theism and modal realism. Like the traditional Problem of Evil, Guleserian’s argument begins with a set of initially plausible, but mutually inconsistent, propositions, which Kraay (2011) reconstructs as follows:
1. Necessarily, there exists a being (God) who is essentially unsurpassable in power, knowledge, and goodness.
2. Every possible world is actual at itself.
3. Necessarily, if w is a possible world, then it is true in w that God permits w to be actual.
4. Necessarily, if it is true in w that God permits w to be actual, then it is morally acceptable for God to do so.
5. There is at least one on-balance-bad world, w.
6. It is not morally acceptable that, in w, God permits the overall bad world w to be actual when it is within God’s power to prevent this.
(1) and (2) state the primary ontological commitments of theism and modal realism respectively. (3), (4), and (6) state plausible consequences of the conjunction of theism and modal realism. (5) reflects a common modal intuition had by many philosophers, namely that we can conceive of at least some some possible world that is full of misery and altogether lacking in redeeming value.
One strategy for resolving the inconsistency is to reject (5). This the move endorsed by Morris (1987). Thomas argues that nature of an Anselmian God (one that is unsurpassable in greatness) would rule out the possibility any on-balance-bad worlds existing. The Anselmian God is, thus, “a delimiter of possibilities.” Another strategy, favored by Almeida (2011) is to reject (6). On Almeida’s view, the necessity of the on-balance-bad worlds exculpates God from moral responsibility for their existence. Finally Kraay (2011) also rejects (5). He argues for a Theistic Multiverse account of possibility on which (i) there is only one possible world (the actual world), (ii) it is the best possible world, and (iii) it is a multiverse.
What all of these positions have in common is a commitment to (2), the claim that all possible worlds are actual at themselves. This is a core principle of Lewisian modal realism. On Lewis’ account the term ‘actual’ works like the term ‘here’. Just because some things are real here it does not follow that other things cannot be real elsewhere. Likewise, for the denizens of other possible worlds, on Lewis’ theory, their worlds are just as concretely real for them as our world is for us.
Here’s another strategy for resolving the inconsistency. This one allows us to keep (1), (3), (4), (5), and (6) by modifying (2). On the view in mind, we accept an axiological restriction on actuality. We thus replace (2) with
(2′) All and only on-balance-good worlds are actual at themselves.
If this substitution is made, then the inconsistency in the proposition-set is resolved. Why accept such a restriction? The Anslemian theist will argue that such a restriction is merited by the nature of God. While a Lesliean axiarchist might argue that such a restriction is an abstract ethical constraint upon the space of possibilities.
Traditional modal realism holds that there is nothing special about actuality. Ersatz views take actuality to be a special property that only applies to one world, the one that obtains. The view in mind here takes a middle position. Many worlds (perhaps infinitely many) have the property of being actual at themselves. In this way the proposed view is akin to the modal realists position. But not every world, on this view is actual. Some worlds fail to obtain. But the failure is not entirely ad hoc. They either fail because they are inconsistent with the nature of an Anselmian God, or because of an abstract ethical requirement that only on-balance-good worlds exist.
(cross posted from Persons and Value)
Here’s a modal quandary. Both modal arguments seem correct. Both arguments seem valid.
1. Necessarily, God actualizes the best world.
2. There is no best possible world.
3. :. God does not exist.
1. There is no best possible world.
2. It is impossible that God actualizes the best possible world.
3. :. It is not necessary that God actualizes the best world.
The problem arises because we are (implicitly) reasoning counterfactually (strictly, counterpossibly), and there’s room for different ways to resolve the vagueness involved.
I’ve recently been wondering whether atheism – the belief that God does not exist – could be properly basic. By that, I mean whether it could be a belief that is not based on arguments, but nonetheless formed by a reliable mechanism that is truth-oriented.
I doubt whether atheism could be properly basic. If I am right, then, in order for atheism to be warranted (or maybe even merely rational; see below), atheism has to be based on arguments—whereas, perhaps, such a thing is not required for theism.
Now, here’s my line of thought. It seems we need to consider two mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive scenarios: one in which God exists and one in which he does not.
We can be rather short about the first scenario. If God exists, then it seems impossible that humans have a truth-oriented reliable mechanism that produces the basic belief that God does not exist. Such a mechanism could never be both truth-oriented and reliable, for all of its deliverances – each instance of the basic belief that God does not exist – would be false.
Here’s a dilemma that might be worrisome for theists. It’s, in any case, a worry for me. Consider, first, the thesis in (1).
1. Possibly, God actualizes a morally perfect possible world or a morally very good possible world.
Most of us believe that (1) is true, indeed, many of us believe that (1) is necessarily true. But if we affirm (1), we have to deny (2).
Some theists say that, if there is a best world, then God must actualize it; but if there is no best possible world, then God can actualize a bettered world w. A bettered world w is a world for which there is a better actualizable world w’. The thought that God cannot actualize a bettered world when there is no best world is what we might call an optimal illusion.
I listed five false consequences of the standard view of personhood. Let me offer the continuant argument that I’m not a person. I mean, of course, that I am not essentially a person in the standard sense of personhood. I’d like to know where the argument goes wrong. I can’t see any place where it does. It’s actually a simple argument.
Let’s say someone is a person if and only if he possesses self-awareness, consciousness, rationality, the ability to communicate, and so on. Call that the standard view. The standard view is found in Singer, Glover, Tooley, Lowe, Williams, McMahan, and Parfit and goes at least as far back as Locke. According to the standard view, the property of being a person confers a special moral status on those who instantiate it. Only persons have the full profile of moral rights, so their lives have a moral protection that is not afforded to non-persons.
If I were a person, then all of the following would be true:
Suppose for the sake of discussion that (1) is true. I have no idea whether there are worlds in which there are just 100 happy people, but it does simplify the discussion.
1. w includes 100 happy people existing for 10 minutes only.
The value of w, I think, is ten times the value of w’ in (2).
2. w’ includes 100 happy people existing for 1 minute only.
Now let w” be exactly like w, but add the fact that w” is an eternalist world. w” includes 100 happy people. There is no time in w” at which it is false that 100 happy people exist.
3. w” includes 100 happy people and it is true at each time t that 100 happy people exist.
Since it is true at each time in w” that a 100 happy people exist (and despite the fact that it is not true at each time that 100 happy people exist at that time), the value of w” should be much higher than the value of w. The value of a world is a function (in part) of the number of happy people existing in the world over time. It doesn’t much matter where in the world they are (spatially or, it seems to me, temporally).