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.)
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.
The fourth chapter of Idealism and Christian Theology is “Berkeley, Realism, Idealism, and Creation” by Keith Yandell. This is an interesting paper on Berkeley which, unless I missed something, did not turn out to be about Christian theology at all.
I say purposely that it did not turn out to be about Christian theology, because it sounds at the beginning as if it is going to be. Yandell begins by noting that Berkeley’s position is rare among Christian thinkers (p. 73), and discussing a particular threat to Christianity from those who take the creation of matter to be impossible (p. 73-74). He also briefly discusses the problem of how Berkeley can accommodate certain core Christian doctrines, such as creation and Incarnation, within his idealism (p. 78-79). Now, this paper is a mere 8 pages in length (plus endnotes), so I just mentioned over half of the pages as having something to do with Christian theology. Nevertheless, the paper does not seem to me to be about Christian theology in any significant sense, because the theology (and especially the specifically Christian elements of that theology) are totally inessential to the paper’s central point. Here’s why: Berkeley’s own response to the question of the compatibility of his view with divine creation is, essentially, that the Bible says God created the sun and the moon and the earth and plants and animals and so forth, but it doesn’t say that God created material substrata. So, in other words, there is not special theological problem here: if Berkeley has an adequate analysis of the real existence of ordinary objects, then he can preserve divine creation.* Yandell also mentions the Incarnation, but he says one might worry about how, on Berkeley’s view, we can say that “the Second Person of the Trinity [became] fully human as well as being fully divine, and thus being embodied, crucified, buried, and resurrected” (78). It sounds like what Yandell is worried about here is docetism, the heresy which holds that Christ merely appeared to be embodied and to suffer. But, again, if Berkeley can preserve the claim that human beings are really embodied—or, if you like, that human bodies are real—then it seems there is no special theological problem. (The case would be totally different if we were worried about avoiding Apollinarianism or Nestorianism or something; there might be special theological problems for Berkeley there.)
Indeed, Yandell does not treat these as special theological problems, for when his paper comes to solve them we are merely treated to an account of the existence of objects unperceived by humans. This account, of course, involves God, but it doesn’t seem to me to involve Christian theology in any interesting way. (Yandell goes for a sophisticated version of the divine idea theory somewhat similar to the ‘single-idea’ interpretation proposed by Marc Hight.)
This paper seems to me to be a missed opportunity, in terms of exploration of idealism and Christian theology. Most importantly, Yandell never discusses what looked at the beginning like it was going to be the central issue: why did many philosophers regard the creation of matter by God as a serious problem, and how can Berkeley’s immaterialism be seen as responding to this problem? In response to this, Yandell simply notes that most theists held that God was able to create matter (and had created matter). What reason is there to be dissatisfied with this view? Yandell gives Berkeley’s reasons for being dissatisfied with this view, which is that matter is (according to him) conceptually impossible. But Yandell quotes Berkeley saying that many of his predecessors had thought the creation of matter by God to be impossible, despite believing in matter (and, in some cases, also in God)! The opponents (according to Berkeley) take matter to exist eternally, since it can’t be created. Why do they think so, and how is Berkeley responding? This is not explored.
(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)
* The objection raised by Lady Percival, which first led Berkeley to address this problem, was a more serious worry: how can God be said to have created inanimate objects before creating human beings? But that is not the problem of creation discussed by Yandell.
The first paper in Idealism and Christian Theology is James Spiegel’s “The Theological Orthodoxy of Berkeley’s Immaterialism.” This piece was originally published in Faith and Philosophy in 1996, though I must confess that I had not read it before today. I found the essay rather odd, partly because I have some confusion about the nature of its project. Contrary to my expectations, it does not really address any of the questions I outlined in my last post. On the whole, I think the essay makes problematic unexamined assumptions about Berkeley’s religion, and it relies on a controversial characterization of Berkeley’s analysis of body with which I disagree, but it emphasizes the role of divine language in a way I find helpful and also makes some interesting and original points about this topic. I will address each of these in turn.
Berkeley and Orthodoxy
Spiegel does not really address the question of what Berkeley might have meant by ‘orthodoxy’. At one point (endnote 26) Spiegel defines ‘theological orthodoxy’ as adherence to the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed, but this clearly isn’t really what Spiegel means by ‘orthodoxy’ since these creeds play no further role in his examination of Berkeley’s ‘orthodoxy’. Rather, as is quite clear beginning at the first page of the article, what Spiegel means by ‘orthodoxy’ is consistency with the Bible. The creeds do not come into it at all. Having defended Berkeley’s orthodoxy (in this sense), Spiegel goes on to say that Berkeley’s ultimate conclusions “would undoubtedly please a theologically conservative Anglican so sensitive to heresy” (27). The trouble is, Spiegel’s characterization of Berkeley as a theologically conservative Anglican is (in the historical context) inconsistent with Spiegel’s assumptions about what ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heresy’ mean for Berkeley. A defining feature of conservative (‘high church’) Anglicanism in Berkeley’s time was adherence to tradition, in both faith and practice. For a conservative Anglican, ‘heresy’ would be departure from the creeds and the tradition. A conservative Anglican would not just interpret Scripture however he or she pleased, in the ‘just the text’ fashion Spiegel employs. If Berkeley really was a theologically conservative Anglican, then he ought to be far more worried about how immaterialism can be rendered consistent with, for instance, the Chalcedonian Definition, but neither Berkeley nor Spiegel addresses this. This is an inauspicious start to a book purporting to deal with issues in Christian theology: Spiegel characterizes Berkeley as a conservative Anglican, but (implicitly) ascribes to him a Baptist conception of orthodoxy.
Having been a little hard on Spiegel in the preceding paragraph, let me make two more conciliatory points on this subject. First, Spiegel’s question of the consistency of Berkeley’s philosophy with Scripture is certainly an intrinsically interesting question and one that mattered a lot to Berkeley. Second, Spiegel primary mistake here is his characterization of Berkeley as a theological conservative, which occurs in a passing remark on the last page of the paper. In fact, the approach Spiegel employs in the article is not as far off the mark as it would be if Berkeley were a theological conservative. Let me expand on this last point.
It seems pretty clear to me that Berkeley is a latitudinarian Anglican and a religious populist. The term ‘latitudinarian’ is one that was in use in Berkeley’s lifetime and it is a description I believe Berkeley would be happy to accept (though I know of no text in which he applies the term to himself). Latitudinarians supported the status of the Anglican church as ‘established’ (i.e., state-supported), though most of them (including Berkeley) also supported toleration for dissenting Christians. They thought that the established church was important for social unity and the promotion of individual virtue, as well as (of course) for the spiritual salvation of their fellow citizens. Latitudinarians believed that the best way for the church to accomplish this was to keep doctrinal requirements to a minimum—that is, to allow broad latitude in individual belief. But not unlimited latitude. The established church was still to be a specifically Christian church, holding to the Bible and to Christian distinctives like the Trinity and the Incarnation. This perspective is in evidence, in particular, throughout Berkeley’s Alciphron.
Berkeley’s latitudinarianism is closely connected with his religious populism, that is, his view that “the Christian religion is … an institution fitted to ordinary minds, rather than to the nicer talents … of speculative men … [so that] our notions about faith … [must be] taken from the commerce of the world, and practice of mankind, rather than from the peculiar systems of refiners” (Alicphron, sect. 7.13). If the main justification for the established church is the moral and spiritual health of the nation, then the religion taught by the established church had better be a religion that benefits the ordinary people of the nation, and not only ‘speculative men’.
Now, to Spiegel’s credit, he quotes in full, on p. 13, Berkeley’s notebook entry 405: “All things in Scripture wch side with the Vulgar against the Learned side with me also. I side in all things with the Mob.” This entry makes clear what Berkeley is doing in the discussions of Scripture in the Three Dialogues Spiegel addresses later: he’s resisting the importation of metaphysical subtleties into the text of Scripture. Scripture, Philonous insists, never talks about material substrata (which Berkeley rejects). Instead, it talks about “the sun, moon, and stars, earth and sea, plants and animals” (Luce and Jessop, p. 250). Berkeley believes in all of these things. So Berkeley’s view is that if we set aside “the peculiar systems of refiners”—i.e., traditional systems of metaphysics and philosophical theology, such as that of Thomas Aquinas—and read Scripture as speaking in plain language to plain people, then we will see that it is not only consistent with but actually deeply harmonious with immaterialism. But actual conservative Anglicans in the 18th century, such as Peter Browne, would hardly call this ‘theological orthodoxy’.
So in the end my complaint here is that Spiegel has characterized Berkeley’s theological orientation in a way that is deeply flawed relative to Berkeley’s historical context. Berkeley would certainly count as theologically conservative relative to the Anglican churches of England, Ireland, and North America today, but in his own time he was not a conservative. If he had been a conservative, the entire approach Spiegel takes in his essay would be deeply flawed. However, because Spiegel is wrong about this particular point, much of the rest of what he says is actually correct. In general, though, the essay would have benefitted from a more careful characterization of Berkeley’s view of theology and Scripture. This would also have helped at the end of the essay, where I think Spiegel underplays the extent to which Berkeley takes his philosophy to be useful for the promotion of virtue, and not merely cold intellectual assent to Christian doctrine.
Bodies and Divine Ideas
I’ll be brief here. In his discussion of Berkeley’s treatment of creation, Spiegel interprets Berkeley as identifying bodies with divine ideas. Following Dancy, he takes these ideas to be of two kinds, private archetypes and public ectypes. The ectypal ideas are immediately perceived by us. While Spiegel is not the only one who interprets Berkeley this way, I am far from convinced that Berkeley holds that the ideas we perceive are numerically identical to ideas perceived by God. Further, I am not convinced that this reading of the divine archetypes avoids collapsing into a form of representative realism (how can I know that the idea I experience corresponds to the archetype?). I develop a very different interpretation of Berkeley on bodies in my book. Of course nothing one could have said on this point would have been uncontroversial, but this controversial interpretation plays a large role in this paper.
The strongest point of the article is its emphasis on divine language, and the extent to which Berkeley takes literally, or almost literally, the large number of Biblical passages that talk about God speaking things into existence. For on Berkeley’s view the perceived world just is God’s speech. I think Spiegel is correct that Berkeley sees this as a key point where his views are more consonant with Scripture than materialist views. Further, Spiegel suggests that Berkeley might regard our capacity for language as very important in the interpretation of the doctrine that humans are created in the image of God. This is an interesting and original point that’s well worth consideration.
(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)
A few years ago, I had a student with Cerebral Palsy. He was one of those students that I connected with outside of the regular classroom. One day while we were talking about theological matters at our favorite local coffee shop, he told me that he’d be “really pissed off” if he didn’t have CP in heaven. The reason he gave for this claim was that his disability is part of his identity.
I confess that his claim struck me as odd at the time. Like many individuals, I had the thought “but why wouldn’t you want to not be disabled if that’s possible?” But over the past year and a half as I’ve begun immersing myself in various disability literatures, I’ve come to learn that my student’s thought is common among many people who have disabilities. Some members of the Deaf community think that they’ll be deaf and speak in sign language in the eschaton, just as others expect to speak in their own linguistic communities. (Just as I would like to be able to speak and understand Farsi in heaven, should I get there, I hope that I’ll be able to communicate in ASL.) And theologian Amos Young, in his well-known Theology and Down Syndrome, argues that his brother will still have Trisomy 21 in the eschaton.
Why might it be important to take seriously this line of thought? I think because of the substantial history of harms that have been done against those with disabilities, both in general but also more specifically by denying their voice when they speak of their own experiences. In her wonderful The Minority Body, Elizabeth Barnes talks about the tendency to downplay such testimony from those with disabilities as a kind of epistemic injustice, namely testimonial injustice. According to Miranda Fricker, testimonial injustice “occurs when prejudice causes a hearer to dive a deflated level of credibility to a speaker’s word”(Epistemic Injustice, p. 1). (As an illustration of some of the difficulties facing individuals with disabilities and the denial of their voice, I highly recommend people read Harriet McBride Johnson’s “Unspeakable Conversations.”).
Now, I don’t think that the need to take such testimony seriously means that it’s always veridical. (Neither does Barnes.) But it should make us pause and think before speaking. In what follows, I especially encourage those with disabilities to weigh in. And I encourage those of us that don’t have disabilities to take their reports seriously.
So what of the question, “will people have their disabilities in the eschaton?” Obviously, on one sense of the term ‘identity’, if a disability is part of a person’s identity then they will. Here I’m thinking of specifically numeric identity. But I also think that there are compelling reasons to think that not all disabilities are part of a person’s identity in this sense. (I’m inclined toward the view that there’s not a single thing that is disability, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I think that not all disabilities are similar in the relevant respect.) Disabilities that are acquired later in life—e.g., dementia or disabilities which result from a traumatic brain injury (TBI)—aren’t essential to a person’s numeric identity. If a person exists prior to having a disability, then it is possible for that person to exist without that disability. And if Christianity is true, it’s also possible for those born with a disability to no longer have it. The blind are given sight; the lame walk.
But this doesn’t mean that all disabilities are like that. It may be that chromosomal abnormalities (e.g., Trisomies 18 and 21, 2p15-16.1 Microdeletion Syndrome) as well as other kinds of disabilities are not separable from one’s numeric identity in this sense. I confess I don’t know what to think about these kinds of cases. But I think we have some (though certainly defeasible) reasons for thinking that these disabilities will be present in the eschaton because they are tied to a person’s numeric identity.
There’s another—a weaker—sense of identity where I think it makes sense to say that disabilities are part of a person’s identity, and that’s the “self-understanding and narrative” sense of the term. This is, I think, what many people mean when they say that being disabled is part of their identity. It is, for instance, what I think is present in the following passage from Simi Linton:
While retaining the word disability, despite its medical origins, a premise of most of the literature in disability studies is that disability is best understood as a marker of identity. As such, it has been used to build a coalition of people with significant impairments, people with behavioral or anatomical characteristics marked as deviant, and people who have or are suspected of having targets of discrimination…. When disability is redefined as a social/political category, people with a variety of conditions are identified as people with disabilities or disabled people, a group bound by common social and political experience. (Claiming Disability, 12)
A similar approach to one’s identity as disabled can also be found in Harilyn Rousso’s Don’t Call Me Inspirational. For many people with disabilities, their disability has so shaped their self-understanding that they cannot understand what it would be like for them not to have those disabilities (even if it is metaphysically possible for them to exist without those disabilities).
There are other aspects of one’s identity, so construed, that might also be understood in a similar way. Being a parent isn’t part of my numeric identity (since I was still me prior to being a parent), but it is a significant part of my own self-understanding and who I’ve become. And this is also true more specifically of being a parent of a disabled child. Even if I am no longer a parent at some point in the future (that thought is horrific to me!) or still a parent but not of a child with disabilities, the ways that those experiences have shaped my life are, I think, marks that I shall always bear in the future. And it’s hard, if not impossible, to know what these marks will be like prior to having them. Such marks are, in Laurie Paul’s term, transformative experiences.
Answers to the question depend on lots of philosophical questions (e.g., What is the nature of disability? What is the correct account of human nature? What kinds of goods and diversity will be realized in the heavenly kingdom? What experiences are compatible with the beatific vision?). It is my hope that in the future there will be more interaction between philosophy of religion and disability studies.
 I’d like to Michelle Panchuck, Scott Williams, and Hilary Yancey for discussions on these issues.
In this brief post—based somewhat on a section of my book The Problem of Animal Pain: A Theodicy for All Creatures Great and Small—I defend the thesis that animals are created in the image of God. I will argue that the notion of bearing the imago dei is “graded.” That is, bearing the image is a property that comes in degrees, of, if it is not the same thing, there are many ways of bearing the image of God, which can be placed along a spectrum from triviality to very substantive.
I write from a Christian perspective, but won’t focus on the biblical data. However, it is very much worth noticing one feature of the Genesis narrative. One frequently hears—including in sermons—that the imago dei doctrine is taught in Genesis 2:7. Man “becomes a living being” when the “breath of life” is “breathed into his nostrils.” God had just said “Let us make man in our image” and nothing follows that is a better candidate for the imaging happening than the instilling of the breath of life. As with the Greek pneuma, the use of the Hebrew neshamah evokes a connection between breath and soul. And it is often thought that the soul, whatever else it is, is the locus of the image of God. But Genesis 1:30 had just abbreviated a long list of animals with the covering phrase “everything that has the breath of life” (1:30). And, like its cousin neshamah, nefesh—used here—is sometimes rendered “soul.” And, again, there is nowhere else in the creation narrative that is a plausible ground for the imago dei. Nowhere in Scripture is a premium put on abstract thought and there’s certainly nothing about it in the creation narrative. (It is perhaps there by implication in the act of speech in the naming of the animals by Adam, but that’s a bit obscure.) And speaking of abstract thought…
Once when presenting a paper at a regional meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Society in Western New York, I made reference to Sosa’s distinction between animal knowledge and reflective knowledge. A guy pointed out to me than “animal knowledge” might not be an apt phrase, since, in certain respects, apt belief (in Sosa’s sense) is more like God’s knowledge than human knowledge. The relevant respect was that animal knowledge is “direct” in a way that included being non-discursive but also included being “hooked up” to the world in a way that “skips” ratiocination involved in much human knowledge, especially Sosa’s reflective knowledge. This is inchoate, but it points the direction to a way in which animal cognition might be much more in the image of God’s cognition than distinctively human cognition. An extension of this is the fact that humans are plagued by doubt in ways most animals don’t seem to be.
In chapter 6 of his Philosophical Theology (1969), James F. Ross undertakes the very ambitious task of showing that the evil in the world does not provide even a prima facie case against divine moral perfection. Ross takes the phrase ‘a prima facie case’ in the legal sense: to provide a prima facie case is essentially to bring charges that need answering. So, for instance, someone who says that the evils in the world are justified by some greater good which would be impossible without them is conceding that there is a prima facie case and attempting to answer it. Ross believes that there is no such case that needs answering. After explaining his argument, I will show that, even if Ross’s answer to the alleged conflict between the evils of the world and divine moral perfection succeeds, the evils of the world can still be used to make a prima facie case against divine benevolence, and Ross’s strategy cannot be used to defuse this.
International Conference, 16 – 19 August 2011, VU University Amsterdam
People of all times have experienced the world of nature as expressing an overwhelming beauty, coherence and order. In the great monotheistic traditions this beauty, coherence and order have been related to the will or nature of a Creator. This idea has come under considerable pressure from different directions: evolutionary theory with its emphasis on the deep contingency of the living world, social science and in particular historicist and postmodernist strands in it, and philosophical critiques inspired by Marxism, Nietzschean perspectivism, existentialism, critical theory, social constructivism, and postmodernism have all served to subvert traditional conceptions of order.
The challenge for this ecumenical, interdisciplinary, and international conference is to explore whether there is room, still, for a distinction between something like an ontological affirmation of pre-given norms and ordering principles in various domains, while also acknowledging the particularity and ‘locatedness’ of our access to those norms and principles. Key ideas in this dialogue will be order, law, structure, principle, system, necessity, chance, change and emergence. The goal of the conference is to delve deeper into the current condition of the philosophical concept of (creation) order, and to assess its future trajectories and prospects.
Keynote speakers include:
- Nicholas Wolterstorff (Yale)
- Eleonore Stump (St. Louis)
- C. Stephen Evans (Baylor)
- Gordon Graham (Princeton Theological Seminary)
- Denis Alexander (Cambridge)
- William Desmond (Leuven)
- Roy Clouser (College of New Jersey)
- Lambert Zuidervaart (ICS Toronto)
- Jonathan Chaplin (Cambridge)
- RenÃ© van Woudenberg (VU)
- Gerrit Glas (VU)
- Henk Geertsema (VU)
Call for papers
In addition to the plenary sessions, there will be further parallel workshop sessions for contributed papers. We cordially invite thinkers from all different philosophical and scientific traditions to submit a 500 word abstract on any topic relevant to the conference theme. Please prepare your abstract for anonymous review. Abstracts may be submitted by e-mail (as plain text, MS Word, Pages, or pdf files) to firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail (consult http://www.cpc2011.org for the address).
Abstracts should be submitted to the conference organizers by March 31st, 2011. Notification of acceptance / rejection: April 15th, 2011.
Session length for contributed papers will be 30 minutes including question time. We encourage authors to prepare papers that take no longer than 20 minutes to present so as to leave suitable time for questions and discussion afterwards.
Further information and registration
For all further details, online registration, and payment, please visit http://www.cpc2011.org. Feel free to contact us with questions about the conference at email@example.com.
Leibniz famously argued that the actual world must be the best of all possible worlds (BPW). His argument, which he repeated in several places, went something like this:
- The actual world was created by an omnipotent and perfectly good being.
- An omnipotent being can actualize any possible world.
- A perfectly good being always chooses the best outcome from among its choices.
- The actual world is the BPW.
Most people have found the conclusion of this argument incredible, and sought ways to escape it. The logical problem of evil is essentially an argument to the effect that the only premise that can be plausibly rejected is (1). Free will defenders often instead target premise (2). However, premise (3) is also open to question. In fact, many of Leibniz’s arguments (e.g. the opening sections of the Discourse on Metaphysics) seem to be directed against Malebranche’s 1680 Treatise on Nature and Grace, in which the denial of (3) was defended. (3) is also famously denied in Robert Adams’ 1972 “Must God Create the Best?”
(3) is amoral proposition, and so its evaluation will depend on one’s moral theory. (There is one way of denying (3) that is independent of one’s moral theory, and that is to deny that there is a unique best possible world; for purposes of this post let’s set that (epistemic) possibility aside.) The only moral theory on which (3) cannot possibly be denied is pure consequentialism. However, there are two major rivals to consequentialism: deontologism, and virtue ethics. (Mixed theories are also sometimes advocated.) So there are two main possibilities for the denial of (3): either the creation of the BPW would violate some deontological constraint, or the creation of the BPW would demonstrate a less than perfectly virtuous character. (I assume that a being who is perfectly good, at least if it is also perfectly rational, would at least allow goodness of outcomes to play a tie-breaking role, and so would create the BPW unless there was a moral reason not to.)
Malebranche takes the first option. He frequently speaks of “the perfection of God’s ways.” How would God’s ways be imperfect if he created the BPW? According to Malebranche, it seems, the BPW is irregular – it has a lot of miracles. Personally, I think regularity is much more plausibly construed as a good-making feature of worlds than as a good-making feature of God’s creative activity, so to my mind Malebranche’s suggestion is a non-starter. Might there be some other deontological constraint that could stand in here? Well, perhaps we could use a modified free will defense: contrary to the usual free will defense, we allow that God could actualize the BPW, but claim that he could do this only by engaging in some morally objectionable meddling with the freedom of creatures.
Adams is, of course, well known for his work on virtue ethics, and, as might be expected, takes the second option. According to Adams, a being who created the BPW would not be displaying the virtue of grace. This virtue is displayed by treating people better than they deserve. But the beings in the BPW deserve to exist, and deserve to be treated as well as possible. We, on the other hand, do not deserve to exist, since we are not part of the BPW. So God acts graciously toward us by creating us at all, and also by treating us as well as he does. A nice feature of Adams’s view is that it is easy to see how, on this view, it can be maintained that no one has a just complaint against God: the inhabitants of the BPW don’t exist, and therefore can’t have been wronged (even though, in some sense, they deserve to exist); we wouldn’t exist in the BPW, and so can’t very well complain about God’s not creating it, since that would amount to complaining about our own existence.
[cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net]