Virtual Colloquium: Robert C. Roberts and Ryan West, “Jesus and the Virtues of Pride”
November 4, 2016 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Virtue  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 6

Today’s virtual colloquium paper is “Jesus and the Virtues of Pride” by Robert C. Roberts and Ryan West. Dr. Roberts received his PhD from Yale in 1974 and is currently Chair of Ethics and Emotion Theory in the Jubilee Centre, the University of Birmingham (UK) and Distinguished Professor of Ethics emeritus at Baylor University. His extensive publication history includes monographs published by Oxford, Cambridge, and Eerdmans (among others) as well as numerous journal articles, mainly focusing on Christian virtue ethics. Dr. West received his PhD from Baylor, under Dr. Roberts’ supervision, earlier this year and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Grove City College. His papers on virtue ethics have appeared in journals including Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Synthese, and Faith and Philosophy.


Jesus and the Virtues of Pride

Robert C. Roberts and Ryan West

We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in this virtual colloquium. Our paper, “Jesus and the Virtues of Pride,” is to be included in an interdisciplinary volume on pride edited by Adam Carter and Emma Gordon as part of Rowman & Littlefield’s forthcoming series, Moral Psychology of the Emotions (series editor, Mark Alfano). This is the penultimate draft, and we welcome your feedback. Here’s a sketch of the project.

It is commonly thought that humility and pride are traits that repel each other. And so they are, but only in a qualified sense. We propose that there are both virtuous and vicious forms of both humility and pride, and that only some of these are mutually repelling. More specifically, we argue that virtuous pride and virtuous humility are in fact mutually reinforcing, even as each is opposed to both vicious pride and vicious humility. We make our case by offering conceptual analyses of several sub-species of the four classes just mentioned, giving special attention to the presence or absence of those traits in the character of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we take to be an exemplar not only of virtuous humility, but also of virtuous pride.

We take virtuous humility to consist in the intelligent absence of the vices of pride. The latter encompass three general areas of human selfhood: the self as agent, as having special entitlements or privileges, and as a self among other selves. The third area admits division, so we group the pride vices into five species:

  1. The prides of distorted agency (selfish ambition, domination, and hyper- autonomy);
  2. The prides of corrupt entitlement (arrogance and presumptuousness);
  3. The prides of empty self-display (vanity and pretentiousness);
  4. The prides of invidious comparison (snobbery, self-righteousness, invidious pride, and envy); and
  5. The prides of tribal superiority (racism, sexism, ethnicism, homophobia, etc.).

We suggest that people with the vices of pride are concerned to have a kind of importance, which, in a way that deviates somewhat from common usage, we call self-importance. The drive for self-importance is exemplified in such things as using one’s agency for personal importance independently of the real value of one’s actions, taking over others’ proper agency, and eschewing others’ contributions to one’s own agency; having entitlements beyond what is proper to one; getting the (usually) positive regard of others in abstraction from what is actually excellent; and being superior to others and having others be inferior to oneself, either individually or in tribal terms. Virtuous humility, then, comes in a number of varieties: there is the lack of vanity, the lack of snobbery, the lack of domination, and so on.

The three areas of human selfhood just noted—the self as agent, as entitled, and as a self among other selves—are generic and unavoidable in the constitution of selfhood. They are fundamental aspects of human life that bear on individuals’ importance—not just the false value of self-importance, but the real importance of persons. People can be important for what they do, for what they are entitled to, and in virtue of their relations to one another. Also, these three belong intimately together, because they all intersect. The virtues of pride—traits like self-confidence, secure agency, aspiration, pride in one’s work, sense of dignity, self-respect, personal authority, pride in associates, group belonging, and secure collegiality—are excellences with respect to the same dimensions of character with respect to which the vices of pride are defects.

If virtuous pride is a positive self-construal in terms of one’s agency, one’s dignity, or one’s entitlements, it would seem to encourage virtuous humility in a special way, namely, by being a proper and genuine satisfaction of a basic human need of which the vices of pride are a perverse and false satisfaction. The fact that the vices of pride speak to the same psychological need as the virtues of pride marks the special intimacy between them. We illustrate this point by exploring the presence of several virtues of pride in the New Testament presentation of Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, we suggest that we can discern in the teaching of Jesus that he encourages his disciples to imitate him in many of these respects.

Finally, we suggest that virtuous pride and virtuous humility are each contrary not only to vicious pride, but also to what we call vicious humility. The latter finds expression in traits like deep shame, servility, and a variety of other unrealistically low dispositional self-construals.

That is a basic outline of the conceptual scheme of pride and humility we develop. In the paper, we offer several narrative examples to illustrate the nuances of each trait and their interrelations with one another. We also defend our view against some objections. We welcome the opportunity to explain and/or defend ourselves here as well. Thank you in advance for your feedback.


The complete paper is here. Comments welcome below!

Philosophers and their religious practices: Part 23, Goodness, Beauty, and Asceticism
July 28, 2016 — 10:55

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

This is the twenty-third 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 these links for links for parts 12345678910111213,  141516171819, 2021 and 22

This interview is with Jeremiah Carey, PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley.

Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?

I’m a graduate student in philosophy at UC Berkeley.  I’ll be going on the job market in the fall and graduating in the spring, so I’m eagerly (and anxiously) waiting to see what the future holds.  My philosophical interests are broad and mostly ethical – I want to know how to live and whatever is relevant to knowing that – but my main research has centered on issues in moral psychology.  I pitch my dissertation as a defense of a contemporary analogue of Plato’s tripartite theory of soul. Basically, I argue that in order to make sense of weakness of will, we have to think of ourselves as having multiple “sources” of motivation, which I identify as reason, desire, and the will. A big chunk (over half) is about how to understand desire and its relation to reasons for action.  I’m also interested in normative issues in moral psychology and related topics in virtue ethics and free will/moral responsibility.  I’ve found myself attracted more to ancient approaches to these questions than modern ones, which has led to secondary interests in ancient philosophy, and, more recently, Asian philosophy.

I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I converted to Orthodoxy fairly recently, though I grew up in church, almost quite literally – when I was young my father was a pentecostal preacher and we lived for awhile in an apartment built above the sanctuary. The denomination I grew up in was un-orthodox (denying the doctrine of the Trinity), and at least at that time quite fundamentalist and anti-intellectual.  In fact, my first exposure to philosophy came from my dad’s struggle against the anti-intellectualism of his own church.  (I remember him trying once, without much success, to give us family lessons on common fallacies. A more lasting impression was made when he gave me to read, as a pre-teen, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and emphasized Douglass’ discovery of the link between slavery, on the one hand, and a failure to ask questions and to think deeply, on the other.)  My family left that church while I was in middle school and remained non-denominationally affiliated for the rest of my childhood (my dad quit pastoring, went back to school and became a medical doctor).  Since then I’ve always been, more or less half-heartedly, connected to one church or another, until I discovered the Orthodox church early in my graduate career.

I’ve always been somewhat ill at ease with my faith.  I seem to be the only person in my immediate or extended family who is, I’m afraid, basically immune to religious experience.  I think there are good arguments for theism in general and Christianity in particular, but I don’t find them rationally compelling.  So while Truth is undoubtedly an important issue, my primary draw towards religion is based more on those other transcendentals, Goodness and Beauty.  I want to be good, and I want to recognize and love the beautiful, as well as to believe the true.  Orthodoxy holds out for me the hope of those things more than anything else I’ve encountered.

more…

Philosophers and their religious practices: Part 22, Comparative Philosophy, the Unforced Moral Consensus, and the Charms of Expressive Theism
June 30, 2016 — 14:49

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 7

This is the twenty-second 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 these links for links for parts 12345678910111213,  141516171819, 20 and 21

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 Owen Flanagan, James B Duke University Professor of Philosophy at Duke University

Can you tell me something about your academic position, and about your current religious affiliation/self-identification – please feel free to say something about your religious upbringing or history, or anything else that might be relevant to your current religious affiliation.

I am James B. Duke University Professor of Philosophy at Duke University in Durham NC, where I am Co-director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy. I was raised as a Roman Catholic and still have that Catholic boy inside me.  I received a fantastic education from nuns, most of whom had never been to anything that we would call college. I get Catholicism.  It is in my blood and bones. It is familiar.  In Rome last year, my wife and I visited Saint Peter’s, many other churches, went to vespers at a convent, and I was consistently moved, engaged. But I haven’t practiced since I was a young teenager.  I was bothered by hell, specifically the idea that a good God would have such a place, by the emphasis on sexual sins, and by a sincere worry that although Jesus might be understood as a prophet, as he is in the Koran, but was simply nowhere good enough to be God.

So, I am a certain kind of atheist, a philosophical one, who has never heard a substantive conception of God, the sort that is presented in creedal religions (I believe in god the Father almighty…) that I thought the weight of reasons supported belief in. The reasons always seem to weigh against actually believing in THAT God.  This philosophical orientation goes well with a certain resistance to epistemic over-confidence that is needed to speak confidently about the existence or nature of one’s God or gods.

In part, I have been too impressed, in a good way I think, by my interest and study of other great world religions to be confident about the creedal parts of the Catholicism I was raised in, which I was told was the one true religion. Confucianism, which treads lightly on the divinity stuff, and Buddhism, Jainism, and Daoism, are beautiful without being theistic in the familiar senses. Some say Buddhism is atheistic, which is true as far as a creator God goes. But Buddhism, like almost every spiritual tradition seems committed to ideas, which are hard to take literally from the perspective of the scientific image such as rebirth and karma. These ideas can however easily be taken poetically and embodied in rituals without literal commitment.

That said, I get the religious impulse, embrace the feelings of mystery, awe, and existential anxiety about the meaning and significance of life that most every religion responds to.  I love the part of most religious traditions that enact, express, and acknowledge the mystery of things.  In fact I preferred the old pre-Vatican 2 masses in Latin with more dramatic music, incense, mystery, drama.

In The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (2007), I make the distinction between assertive theism, where one asserts certain supernatural claims as true, and expressive theism, where one expresses various extra-mundane impulses, feelings, emotions, and expansive not-humanly-possible love.  I prefer the latter to the former.

You might think this makes me a familiar type: spiritual but not religious.  Maybe. But I am pretty allergic to New Age style religions because they seem self-indulgent, egoistic, and in addition often assert empirically irresponsible stuff such as one hears in homeopathy.  So to make things maximally confusing and to conclude this part of our interview: When people ask about my religion, I sometimes say I am Catholic.  I say it in the same spirit many of my Jewish friends say and mean they are Jewish.  Catholicism is part of me.  It is like when I go home to Westchester County, New York where I was raised.  The dirt smells right, the way dirt is supposed to smell, the sky, the trees look right; it is familiar, comforting, and grounding.  But in both cases, I don’t live there anymore.

more…

Philosophers and their religious practices, part 5 – The ethics and justice of mitzvot
March 20, 2015 — 15:38

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

This is the fifth 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 and 4. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.

The fifth interview is with Anya Topolski, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Leuven.

more…

Theism and the just-world hypothesis: would it be unreasonable for a Game of Thrones character to believe in an all-good, omnipotent creator?
June 12, 2013 — 0:00

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Afterlife Atheism & Agnosticism Existence of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 5

[X-posted at Newapps] As the third season of Game of Thrones has ended, this interesting reflection, written by Adam Brereton, contends that A Song of Fire and Ice by G.R.R. Martin and the TV series based on it simply don’t work, because they do not obey what Chesterton has termed “elfin ethics”:

according to elfin ethics all virtue is in an ‘if’. The note of the fairy utterance always is, ‘You may live in a palace of gold and sapphire, if you do not say the word “cow”‘; or ‘You may live happily with the King’s daughter, if you do not show her an onion.’ The vision always hangs upon a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden.

In GOT, however, this rule doesn’t apply: people who do break oaths (like Robb Stark) get killed in a horrible way, but people who are honorable, try to do the right thing and don’t break oaths (like Eddard Stark) also get killed in a horrible way. In this, Martin differs from other fantasy writers, like H.P. Lovecraft or J.R.R. Tolkien. We can expect something like the massacre of the Starks at the Red Wedding to occur on a biweekly basis. So, Brereton concludes

Westeros just doesn’t work. Unlike Tolkien, Lovecraft and Peake, it is not a consistent creation. Where does the good exist?…In Martin’s broken world, good only resides in individual acts, only as long they don’t get you killed, which more often than not they do.

The intuition that fantasy works should have some moral compass, or indeed, that fantasy universes should ultimately be just worlds, is compelling. Indeed, as Mitch Hodge argues in this draft paper, we even have a strong intuition that the world, au fond, is a morally just place. People intuitively regard the world as a just place: the good prosper, the wicked suffer.

more…

RIP John Kavanaugh, S.J.
November 12, 2012 — 22:21

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: News  Tags: ,   Comments: 1

Here are some brief words by Jeremy Neill, followed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch obit. Though I only spoke with him a few times, I join Jeremy and others in mourning his loss and commending his soul to the Father of Lights.
John Kavanaugh, S.J., a beloved mentor and philosophy professor at Saint Louis University, died this week in St. Louis. He was 71. To those of us in the Saint Louis Philosophy Department who knew him and were counseled by him, he was a teacher of deep skill and pedagogical sensitivity. Equally at home on the Catholic right and the Catholic left, Fr. Kavanaugh left a lasting legacy on a generation of Jesuits and philosophy graduate students at Saint Louis University. His compassion for the poor and underprivileged of this earth was matched only by his powerful support for the most underprivileged persons of all – the unborn. Not afraid to write for popular philosophical audiences, his columns and books reached a vast audience among Catholics in the United States and around the world. He will be deeply missed by his students and friends. May the God of Peace, who brought forth from the dead the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the Sheep, now carry Fr. Kavanaugh’s soul to its eternal rest.
Jeremy Neill
I have copied below Fr. Kavanaugh’s obituary from the St. Louis city newspaper, the Post-Dispatch.
Rev. John Kavanaugh dies at 71; acclaimed philosopher and eloquent preacher at St. Louis University
The Rev. John Kavanaugh, who died this week at age 71, spent part of his year of prayer as a young Jesuit priest working in Calcutta for Mother Teresa. She took him to the House of the Dying, a former temple she had converted to a home for women and men found dying on the streets. Father Kavanaugh washed and fed those patients, most of whom would never leave the facility alive. He recalled how he and others had tried but failed to help a man who was close to death. But when Mother Teresa took the man’s face in her hands, his eyes opened and she was able to engage him. She had a powerful ability to connect with the poor.
It was a transforming experience for the young Jesuit, Father Kavanaugh recalled later. He went on to become an acclaimed philosophy professor at St. Louis University and an eloquent preacher who delivered powerful homilies. He gained attention for his opposition to the death penalty and the war in Iraq. The Rev. John Francis Kavanaugh died Monday (Nov. 5, 2012) at St. Louis University Hospital. He had been on medical leave from the university while doctors tried to determine the cause of a mysterious blood disease he had come down with earlier this year, his order said Tuesday. Father Kavanaugh specialized in the study of ethics. He taught a course in medical ethics and founded the Ethics Across the Curriculum program at the university to help faculty members incorporate ethics into their own studies and courses. He wrote an ethics column for the Jesuit publication “America Magazine.” Earlier this year, his column described how both political parties had become rigid and “driven by the rhetoric of extremists.” He had voted for “the hope” promised by Barack Obama four years ago, he wrote. He was disgusted, he said, with those who he said had slandered Obama with outright lies. But he went on to condemn the president for his use of drone missiles “and the horror they bring to innocent people.” He compared it to torture and rewriting the principles of a just war. He concluded by suggesting that he couldn’t vote for either the Democrat nor the Republican and planned to write in a third candidate.
Father Kavanaugh was reared in St. Louis and was ordained a priest in 1971. He earned a degree in philosophy at St. Louis University and a doctorate at Washington University in 1974. The next year, he went to India for a year of tertianship — prayer, reflection and service. He returned in 1976 to St. Louis University, where he spent the next 36 years. He became the spiritual guiding force for generations of young Jesuits. He wrote books and syndicated columns on consumerism, advertising, faith and culture. His most famous book, “Following Christ in a Consumer Society,” was first published in 1981 and was reissued twice. In 2001, he opposed the death penalty for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh saying, “we will have become just a little more like him.” Father Kavanaugh was a soccer player at St. Louis University High School and a handball fanatic. He played the guitar and performed traditional ballads with a half-dozen members of his family who traced their roots to the counties Galway, Kerry and Mayo in Ireland. Visitation will be 5 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at St. Francis Xavier (College) Church at the university. The funeral Mass will follow at 7:30 p.m. Burial will be Saturday at Calvary Cemetery, with departure from the church at 8:15 a.m.
Among the survivors is a brother, Thomas Kavanaugh of St. Louis.

Ethics without God, Aristotle style
July 14, 2011 — 0:35

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Divine Command  Tags: ,   Comments: 23

Here at the Naturalism and Ethics conference at Auckland and thinking about this again.
Christians seem to like stuff from Aristotle, so it puzzles me that I rarely see anything like the following discussed in contexts where it is asserted that there can’t be ethics without God.
1. A thing that exists has the intrinsic nature it has whether or not God exists.
2. The conditions for an existing thing’s flourishing are fully determined by its intrinsic nature.
3. How a thing ought to be treated is fully determined by the conditions of its flourishing.
4. Lemma: How a thing ought to be treated is fully determined by its intrinsic nature. 2,3
5. How a thing ought to be treated does not depend on whether God exists. 1,4
Wolterstorff discusses a Kantian “capacities approach” in his Justice book (HT Matt Flannigan) which is somewhat similar, but I think he gives it short shrift.

Craig, Kagan, and Significance
May 4, 2011 — 12:46

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Afterlife Existence of God Links  Tags: , ,   Comments: 112

I’ve now watched this debate between William Lane Craig and Shelly Kagan twice: once alone and once with interested ethics students (for extra credit!). It’s very good, and Kagan pushed buttons on Craig’s arguments in many of the ways I thought that his arguments should be pushed.
There’s an intuition that if there is no God or afterlife, then life loses its significance. Paul writes, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'” (1 Cor. 15:32b). The author of Ecclesiastes (2:15-16) writes

Then I thought in my heart, ‘The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?’ I said in my heart, ‘This too is meaningless.’ For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!

Craig has written,

Mankind is a doomed race in a dying universe. Because the human race will eventually cease to exist, it makes no ultimate difference whether it ever did exist. Mankind is thus no more significant than a swarm of mosquitoes or a barnyard of pigs, for their end is all the same. The same blind cosmic process that coughed them up in the first place will eventually swallow them all again. (Reasonable Faith, p. 59, 1994 edition).

Many existentialist philosophers have seemed to agree with this line of thinking. You get this impression from Sartre, Camus, and Nietzsche.
Kagan calls this into question. In his closing statement, in the last minutes of the recording, he says,

It seems to me that one essential point of disagreement between Craig and me is something that I asked about several times. It’s this move that, to my mind, is the move from the thought that, without theism, then our actions don’t have eternal cosmic significance, to the conclusion that, therefore, without theism our actions don’t have significance – objective, moral significance. That just seems to me to be a mistake. It seems to me that if I love somebody, the reality of that loving relationship is valuable, of real value, of genuine objective value, and it’s not in any way threatened by the fact that I will die, my wife will die, my children will die ,and eventually the universe will come to an end. The fact that billions and billions of years from now, it’s all going to be the same doesn’t mean it’s all the same now. I certainly want to concede that if you’re looking for this kind of cosmic significance, atheism’s not going to provide it for you. But that wasn’t the subject of tonight’s debate. The subject of tonight’s debate was whether you needed that kind of cosmic significance to have morality, and on that issue, I’m quite confident that the answer is ‘no’.

I take Kagan to be insightfully calling into question this premise:
1) If x does not have eternal, cosmic moral significance, then x does not have objective, moral significance.
And I must say that (1) still has a strong pull on me. Yet, Kagan’s reasoning in his quote here (and throughout the debate) seem compelling as well. I was wondering if anybody had arguments either for or against (1).

Divine command theory
March 4, 2011 — 13:19

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Divine Command  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 12

The following simple and valid argument came out of discussions with Mark Murphy (who has a forthcoming book that contains related arguments, though perhaps not this one).

According to the identity version of Divine Command Metaethics (IDCM), to be obligated to A is to be commanded to A by God (or to be willed to A by God or to be commanded to A by a loving God–details of this sort won’t matter). But:

  1. If p explains x’s being F, and to be F is the same as to be G, then p explains x’s being G.
  2. My being commanded by God to follow Christ explains my being obligated to follow Christ.
  3. It is not the case that my being commanded by God to follow Christ explains my being commanded by God to follow Christ.
  4. Therefore, it is false that to be obligated to A is the same as to be commanded by God to A. (By 1-3)

And so IDCM is false.

The argument more generally shows that no normative-level answer to a “Why am I obligated to A?” question can provide a property identical with being obligated. Thus, sometimes at least the answer to “Why am I obligated to A?” is that Aing maximizes utility. Hence, by an exactly parallel argument, being obligated to A is not the same as having A as one’s utility maximizing option.

The argument is compatible with constitution versions of DCM on which the property of being obligated to A is constituted by the property of being commanded to A. But such theorists then have the added complication of explaining what the constitution relation means here, over and beyond bidirectional entailment (after all, many non-divine-command theorists will agree that necessarily x is obligated to A iff God wills x to A).

Society of Christian Philosophers: 2011 Eastern Regional Conference
January 4, 2011 — 8:37

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: News  Tags: , , ,   Comments: Off
Minds, Bodies, and Souls
Society of Christian Philosophers
2011 Eastern Regional Conference
March 18-19, 2011
Fordham University
New York, NY

Keynote speakers
Peter van Inwagen, University of Notre Dame
N.T. Wright, University of St. Andrews
Dean Zimmerman, Rutgers University
Call for Papers
Discussions of mind, body, soul, and spirit have played a central role in the history of philosophy, and in the theologies of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other religious traditions. Possible paper topics include the following: What is the relationship between psychological capacities and states of the human nervous system? Are we animals or something else? What does it take for us to survive over time? What implications do our answers to these questions have for ethics, epistemology, free will and action theory? What implications do they have for theological topics such as resurrection of the dead, immortality of the soul, reincarnation, and our knowledge of divinity? Papers on any philosophical topic are nevertheless welcome.
Submission Deadline: January 1, 2011
Papers should be prepared for blind review, and submitted electronically in an easily accessible form. Reading time should be 25-30 minutes. Decisions will be made by February 1.
For more information or to submit a paper, contact William Jaworski jaworski@fordham.edu