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.)

Tan on Edwards’ Christology
April 11, 2017 — 12:45

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

Chapter 9 of Idealism and Christian Theology is “Jonathan Edwards Dynamic Idealism and Cosmic Christology” by Seng-Kong Tan. The article addresses the relevance of Edwards’ idealism to his accounts of the two central mysteries of the Christian faith, the Trinity and the Incarnation. Whereas most of the articles in this volume are primarily philosophical and deal with Christian theological commitments only at a rather basic level, this essay dives deep into the theology. Anyone not steeped in the history of these doctrines is likely to find it difficult to follow. I found it quite challenging myself, and will here only attempt to summarize the picture of Edwards’ Christology presented by Tan.

Orthodox Christology involves a sort of two-stage model. As the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed has it, Christ was “begotten of the Father before all worlds” but, at a particular, identifiable point in history, “came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” Thus our Christology must address two distinct points: the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, was eternally begotten of the Father, and subsequently became incarnate forming (as the tradition has it) a hypostatic union with a complete human nature, so that there was one individual person who was at once divine and human.

Tan argues that Edwards’ accounts of both stages are intimately connected to his idealism. Edwards, according to Tan, adopts two Augustinian analogies: he speaks of the Son as the divine intellect and the Spirit as the divine will, and he also speaks of the Spirit as identified with the mutual love between the Father and the Son. The relevance of idealism here is that the Son and the Spirit are, like everything in Edwards’ system, identified as ideas. The Son is ‘begotten’ through the Father’s self-contemplation. As on the Thomistic picture, God is thought to know all possible creatures by knowing Godself (to know what creatures are possible is to know what God can create). This idea that God has of Godself is the Son, begotten in an eternal act of self-contemplation. The Holy Spirit is the act or operation of mutual love between the Father and the Son which arises necessarily and eternally from the act of self-contemplation whereby the Son is begotten. Thus the Son is intellect, knowledge, contemplation, while the Spirit is act or will (178).

For Edwards (according to Tan), creation is a Trinitarian act of the continual communication of ideas. These ideas are ultimately to be found in the Logos, the Son, and communicated by the Spirit. This amounts to a continuous creation. (I’m not totally clear on what’s meant by ‘communication’ here—in fact I’ve had some confusion about that in some previous chapters as well.) A feature of Edwards’ particular brand of continuous creation that is important to the understanding of the Incarnation is that the identity of objects over time is effectively a matter of divine fiat (183). It apparently follows from this that a created human nature can be united with the Logos by mere fiat, without any fancy metaphysics (185). Edwards has more to say about the kind of communion or indwelling that exists between Christ’s human nature and the Logos but curiously it seems that, at least on Tan’s telling, this isn’t really required for hypostatic union, since unity/identity are in general created by arbitrary divine fiat. On the other hand, as Tan is at pains to emphasize (183-4), the fiat is not arbitrary in the sense of capricious, but only in the sense of being a free choice shaped only by divine wisdom, so Edwards may think it would have been somehow unfitting for God to decree such unity in the absence of communication or indwelling.

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

Crisp on Edwards on the Incarnation
April 6, 2017 — 6:03

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

Chapter 8 of Idealism and Christian Theology is “Jonathan Edwards, Idealism, and Christology” by Oliver Crisp. This is the second of the two previously published essays, having appeared in another edited volume in 2011.

The first part of the essay provides an admirably clear overview of Edwards’ distinctive metaphysical views, particularly as they relate to God and creation. Crisp then goes on to draw out some consequences for Christology and defend the orthodoxy of Edwards’ position.

Crisp enumerates 11 Edwardsian positions he takes to be relevant, but it seems to me that there are really just three that are of central relevance to the question of the Incarnation. Using slightly different terminology than Crisp (in order to sum things up more briefly), we may call these; immaterialism, stage theory, and occasionalism. Each of these doctrines is important primarily for what it denies, not for what it affirms. Immaterialism denies the existence of mind-independent extended substances; stage theory denies that created objects persist over time in any metaphysically significant sense; and occasionalism denies that created objects are ever efficient causes. In all three cases, Edwards, like most other proponents of these views, tries to soften the blow of these denials: immaterialism doesn’t deny that there are bodies, but merely denies that bodies are mind-independent material substrata; stage theory doesn’t deny that there is some relation between the apple this morning and the apple this afternoon which makes us call it ‘the same apple,’ it just denies that this relation is, in truth and strictness, identity; finally, occasionalism doesn’t deny that one event happens because of another, it merely says that, in the oomphy ‘anti-Humean’ sense God, and only God, is responsible for making the events happen in this order.

Each of these theories, Crisp suggests, might be thought to cause problems for the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation. First and most obviously, Christian theology holds that the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, took on a body—in reality and not appearance only—and this might well be thought to conflict with immaterialism. Second, orthodox Christology holds that Christ became incarnate just once, in apparent conflict with stage theory which would have Christ bearing some relation to a series of human body-stages. Third and finally, the Third Council of Constantinople affirmed that Christ possessed a human will (faculty of willing) distinct from the divine will. Presumably the Council meant to affirm that Christ’s ordinary human actions were undertaken by ordinary human willing. But Edwards (unlike many other early modern occasionalists) makes no exception to his occasionalism for human minds/wills. Like Malebranche (the most extreme of occasionalists), he holds that when we will to move our arm God moves it for us. In what sense, then, can Christ’s actions be said to be undertaken pursuant to a human will?

Crisp’s answer to all three of these objections is fundamentally the same: the key point affirmed by the Chalcedonian Definition (in connection with Christ’s humanity) is that Christ is “perfect in humanity … consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects, except for sin” (quoted on p. 158). In other words, orthodox Christology is fundamentally committed to the claim that Christ became a human being like other human beings. It is not fundamentally committed to a particular metaphysical conception of human beings. Thus Edwards can say that Christ has a human body just like we do (which is to say, he was associated in a special way with certain divine ideas); that this body persists through time just like our bodies do (which is to say, it doesn’t really persist at all, but is preceded and succeeded by certain suitably related bodies); and that Christ undertakes voluntary actions in the body just like we do (which is to say, he wills certain actions and on the occasion of his willing God makes the actions occur).

This, I think, is all convincing. The real question becomes, can Edwards’ metaphysics make sense of all the things it needs to make sense of? But insofar as the challenge is to make sense of the ordinary case (and not the extraordinary case of the Incarnation), this is a question about the viability of his metaphysics, not a question of its theological orthodoxy. If Edwards can indeed make sense of the ordinary everyday cases, then he can do at least as well as the dualist in making sense of the Incarnation.

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

Cortez on Edwards on the Resurrection
April 1, 2017 — 4:33

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

Chapter 7 of Idealism and Christian Theology is “Idealism and the Resurrection” by Marc Cortez. Like the preceding article by Hamilton, this is an excellent piece of work directly addressed to the central issues of this volume. Cortez begins by noting that idealism, from the perspective of Christian theology, faces the problem of explaining the reality and importance of the body, and a particular example of this is the claim that there will be a bodily resurrection in the eschaton. In this respect, Cortez observes, Jonathan Edwards is a particularly interesting case since he is an idealist but also places a great deal of emphasis on the bodily nature of the afterlife. (This contrasts with Berkeley, who occasionally mentions bodily resurrection and says that his idealism is consistent with it, but can hardly be said to emphasize the importance of embodiment in the afterlife.) Unfortunately, Cortez observes, Edwards never directly brings his idealism and his eschatology together. The interpreter is therefore left to reconstruct Edwards’ thought on the matter and his reasons for (apparently) taking his idealism to be consistent with bodily resurrection.

Cortez argues that Edwards’ idealism is indeed consistent with bodily resurrection (since idealism does not deny the existence of bodies but rather reduces them to mental phenomena) but threatens to undermine the importance of bodily resurrection. According to Cortez, Edwards makes some progress to preserving the latter by taking the human being to be naturally both spiritual and bodily and arguing that bodily resurrection will allow both natures (spirit and body) to enjoy vision of God, in their different ways.* This is superior to the (disembodied) intermediate state in which the blessed enjoy only spiritual, and not bodily, vision of God. (Bodily vision of God is said to be ‘mediated’ and seems to be a matter of appreciating God’s bodily creation and thereby apprehending God’s greatness.) According to Cortez, this is sufficient to explain why, given that humans are mind-body composites, bodily resurrection is better for us than disembodied existence. However, it does not explain why God should create such mind-body composites at all.

It is not clear to me that this last point is a serious problem. A standard response in the tradition is to appeal to a principle of plenitude: God created some bodily natures, and some spiritual natures, and the ‘mixed’ human nature because it was better that creation as a whole should exhibit this kind of diversity. Especially when this is combined with Edwards claims, quoted by Cortez, that God’s bodily creation would be in vain without some created consciousness to appreciate its beauty (132), this seems like an adequate explanation. (At least, as adequate as any human explanation of God’s purposes could ever be!)

In any event, Cortez concludes (136-137) by suggesting that Edwards could endorse either of two strategies to strengthen his case for the importance of bodily resurrection: he could argue that the ‘mediate’ vision of God that requires embodiment somehow adds something of value which could not be had with ‘immediate’ spiritual vision alone, or he could argue that metaphysically necessary conditions for personal identity restrict how much ‘immediate’ vision one can have while remaining a distinct person. (The latter strategy is suggested by some of Edwards’ own remarks, though he does not apply them in the eschatological context.)

On the whole, this is an excellent essay and is recommended to anyone interested in the compatibility of idealism with Christian (or, more broadly, Abrahamic) eschatology, or in the unity of Edwards’ thought.

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


* Note that the move Cortez makes here requires him to construe Edwards as a mind-body dualist in Hamilton’s sense.

Virtual Colloquium: Tomas Bogardus and Mallorie Urban, “How to Tell Whether Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God”
March 31, 2017 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God  Tags: , , , , , , , ,   Comments: 17

Today’s virtual colloquium paper is “How to Tell Whether Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God” by Tomas Bogardus and Mallorie Urban. Dr. Bogardus received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Pepperdine University. His papers on epistemology and the philosophy of religion have appeared in journals such as Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Philosophical Studies, Ethics, Faith and Philosophy, and Philosophia. Mallorie Urban is an undergraduate philosophy major at Pepperdine.


How to Tell Whether Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God

Tomas Bogardus and Mallorie Urban

We start the paper by laying out three recent arguments for the “Same God” thesis, and offering objections. Francis Beckwith offers an argument from monotheism: Christians and Muslims both believe there can be only one God, so they must be worshiping the same God. We doubt that inference. After all, two baseball fans might agree that only one team can be the best, without thereby thinking the same team is the best. Michael Rea argues that if Christians and Muslims aren’t worshiping the same God, then “God” for one group is “absolutely meaningless,” or refers absurdly to a mere human being, an animal or plant, an inanimate object like a rock or a star. We again doubt that inference, since there’s a third option: “God” for one group is a meaningful but empty name, like “Zeus” is for Zeus-worshipers. Finally, Dale Tuggy argues that since Christians and Muslims are engaged in genuine theological disagreements, they must be talking about the same God. We’re skeptical again, since it’s possible for a name to shift reference over time or across groups, and for two people to disagree while using the same name without thereby referring to the same entity. In the paper, we use the example of how “Santa Claus” has shifted reference over time and across groups, in a way that could allow one child to use “Santa Claus” to refer to St. Nicholas, another to use that same name to refer to a jolly Nordic creature of fiction, and for these two children to disagree vociferously about the sentence “Santa Claus is dead.” (Or, if you insist that it’s part of the meaning of “genuine disagreement” that there’s co-reference, what this case shows is that something can look and sound just like a genuine disagreement—and even involve the same name—without really being a genuine disagreement. For all Tuggy says, this could be what’s going on with apparently genuine theological disagreements between Christians and Muslims.)

The case of “Santa Claus” also makes trouble for anyone who thinks a simple Kripkean causal picture of reference supports the “Same God” conclusion. On a common interpretation/extrapolation of Kripke’s causal picture—which Kripke himself was reluctant to endorse—a name acquires its referent at a baptism ceremony, and then is passed along from speaker to speaker who form, as it were, links on a chain. And as long as each link in that chain intends to use the name in the same way as the previous links, the name preserves its reference. So, one might think, since Mohammad acquired divine names from neighboring Jews and Christians, and intended to use the names as Jews and Christians do, he therefore referred to—and directed worship toward—the same God that Jews and Christians do. And similarly with subsequent Muslims.

But that’s not the way reference works. Kripke himself was aware of the troubling case of “Santa Claus,” and he says: “There may be a causal chain from our use of the term ‘Santa Claus’ to a certain historical saint, but still the children, when they use this, by this time probably do not refer to that saint.” Inspired by Gareth Evans’ theory of reference, we suggest that our conception of Santa Claus became so corrupted and distorted by myth-makers that at some point in the past—and it’s vague when this happened—the man St. Nicholas ceased to be the dominant source of information that we associate with the name “Santa Claus,” at which point the name ceased to refer to him.

We then develop Evans’ notion of dominance, exploring a few ways we might weight information in a name’s “dossier,” different types of information that we might elevate to dominance, i.e. to a sine-qua-non position in the name’s dossier. The details are in the paper, but the upshot is this: we can tell whether a name has shifted reference by asking certain hypothetical questions about the use of the name. For example, we know that “Santa Claus” shifted reference because, when we ask “What if there were no jolly Nordic elf who’s alive and delivers presents on Christmas, but there had been an ancient bishop of Myra who did such and such noble things, but is now dead? Might “Santa Claus” still refer?” all the children shout “NO!” In that contemporary use of “Santa Claus,” certain mythical information has been elevated to dominance, so that when children find out that nobody answers to that information, they conclude there is no Santa Claus and never was, that “Santa Claus” fails to refer. It has shifted reference from fact to fiction.

And now we can answer our “Same God?” question: If Islam were false and Christianity true, might “Allah” still refer? If YES, then, from a Christian perspective, Muslims’ modified conception of “Allah” has not shifted its reference. If NO, then it has. And: if Christianity were false and Islam were true, might “God” still refer? If YES, then, from a Muslim perspective, Christians’ modified conception of “God” has not shifted its reference. If NO, then it has.

Depending on your answers to those questions, it could be that you’ll think, from the perspective of each religion, that the other’s modified use of the divine name has not shifted its reference, like how early modifications of the use of “Santa Claus” didn’t yet shift its reference. In that case, you’ll probably be sympathetic to the “Same God” conclusion. Or it could be that you’ll think, from the perspective of each religion, the other has made such radical modifications that the divine name has shifted reference, as happened at some point in the fairly recent past with “Santa Claus.” In that case, you’ll likely deny the “Same God” conclusion. Another option is that it’s unclear whether, from the perspective of each religion, the other’s modifications to the use of the divine name were radical enough to shift reference, as it was for quite some time unclear whether the gradual modifications of the use of “Santa Claus” had made it cease to refer to St. Nicholas. And then you’ll likely think there’s simply no determinate fact of the matter on the “Same God?” question, or at least none we’re in a position to affirm.

We close with some speculations about what, in addition to co-reference, might be required for co-worship, and whether, from a Christian perspective, salvation turns on this issue.


The complete paper is here. Comments welcome below!

Mark Hamilton on Idealism and Fallenness
March 30, 2017 — 4:52

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

Chapter 6 of Idealism and Christian Theology is “On the Corruption of the Body: A Theological Argument for Metaphysical Idealism” by S. Mark Hamilton. This is easily the best essay in the collection so far, and the most directly focused on the central issues the volume purports to address.

Hamilton provides a carefully documented account of the ways in which mind-body dualism is presupposed by theologies of our post-lapsarian state of corruption in Reformed dogmatics from Calvin to the early 20th century. Jonathan Edwards, he shows, is an outlier with respect to this tradition. Hamilton enumerates a number of theological claims about our state of corruption and explicitly connects them to particular presuppositions about the metaphysics of the human person. He then argues that Edwards’ idealism captures what is important in this theology while avoiding certain metaphysical problems to which the opposing dualist view falls prey.

Like his co-editor Farris, Hamilton lumps together a variety of different views under the heading ‘mind-body dualism’. However, where Farris had done this somewhat sloppily and in a way that I think vitiated some of his arguments, Hamilton has done it carefully, identifying a genuine point of agreement between a number of different views and staying focused on that particular point. What Hamilton calls ‘mind-body dualism’ is simply the view that the mind and body are numerically distinct and the human person is some kind of composite of mind and body (108-109). Thus substance dualism, hylomorphism, and various forms of non-reductive physicalism all count as mind-body dualisms, in Hamilton’s sense.

All of these views can say very similar things about the corruption of post-lapsarian human persons. Hamilton interprets Reformed theologians as holding that the person is naturally a mind-body composite, but can exist in the absence of a body, although union with a body is required for “an immaterial soul’s proper function in a material world” (110). Given such a view (regardless of the metaphysical details) one can go on to say that post-lapsarian corruption is the corruption of the whole person (body and mind), but the primary locus of corruption is in the mind (soul), and in particular in “a disordered desire for things that are not God” (111). If, however, the corruption is to be a corruption of the whole person, it is inadequate to hold that the body and mind each separately or independently suffer corruption. The mind-body dualist (in Hamilton’s broad sense) will, Hamilton suggests, want to account for this in terms of a teleo-functional relationship between mental corruption and physical corruption. In other words, the mental (spiritual) corruption of the fallen person is such that it has certain natural physical consequences. The nature of this mental state is to be (mis)directed toward bodily sins. (I note in passing that Hamilton does not discuss the view—suggested by Augustine and emphasized by Malebranche—that fallenness/corruption consists in a disordered relation between mind and body. I do not know whether this view has defenders in the tradition of Reformed dogmatics.)

Hamilton asserts that Edwards is not, in his sense, a mind-body dualist. Edwards holds, according to Hamilton, “that human persons are essentially minds whose bodies are merely ideas or a collection of ideas in the divine mind” (117). According to Hamilton’s definition, this is not a form of dualism, even though it involves a distinction between mind and body, since it identifies the human person with the mind to the exclusion of the body. However, it seems to me that Hamilton is not totally consistent in attributing such a monism to Edwards since Hamilton’s definition of ‘mind-body dualism’ is in fact so broad that it could be accommodated within Edwards’ idealism: if Edwards thought that the human was somehow composed of mind and body this would make Edwards a dualist in Hamilton’s sense, even though bodies are just collections of mind-dependent ideas. Hamilton sometimes seems to attribute this view to Edwards.

This, however, does not vitiate what I take to be Hamilton’s central point, which is that the doctrine of fallenness as the Reformed tradition (and Augustinianism more broadly) has understood it is located right at the nexus between mind and body. Following the well-known arguments of Jaegwon Kim, Hamilton argues that, even on his broad definition, any form of mind-body dualism will face an interaction problem similar to the one famously faced by substance dualism. This despite the fact that mind-body dualism, so construed, is consistent with physicalism. If this is right, then our ability to spell out, and make sense of, the doctrine of fallenness or corruption depends on our ability to solve the notoriously difficult interaction problem. Edwards’ idealism, on the other hand, does better. According to this view, the corrupt features of the body (and the perceived world more generally), such as “disease, decay, and death” (122), just are corrupt states of mind. This, Hamilton says, provides a superior account of the corrupt fallen state of the human person.

The only point I have to make in response to this is that the Edwardsian view has an advantage over its competitors only if it takes states of bodily corruption to be numerically identical to mental states (or composites thereof). If non-reductive physicalism is coherent, then one could equally develop non-reductive idealisms. (Indeed, my interpretation of Berkeley could perhaps be described this way.) However, if Kim is right that non-reductive physicalisms have an interaction problem, then presumably non-reductive idealisms will as well. Accordingly, Hamilton needs to attribute to Edwards a fairly simplistic version of idealism, and such a simplistic idealism may face difficulties elsewhere.

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