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

Wittgensteinian views of religious language
December 7, 2010 — 11:12

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Christian Theology Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , ,   Comments: 36

Wittgensteinians lay stress on the idea that

  1. One cannot understand central worldview concepts without living as part of a community that operates with these concepts.

The non-Christian cannot understand the Christian concept of the Trinity; the Christian and the atheist cannot understand the Jewish concept of God’s absolute unity as understood by Maimonedes; the theist cannot understand the concept of a completely natural world; and the non-Fascist cannot understand the concept of the Volk. It is only by being a part of a community in which these concepts are alive that one gains an understanding of them.

Often, a corollary is drawn from this, that while internal critique or justification of a worldview tradition such as Christianity, naturalism or Nazism is possible, no external critique or justification is possible. In fact, there is an argument for this corollary.

  1. (Premise) One’s evidence set cannot involve any propositions that involve concepts one does not understand.
  2. (Premise) Necessarily, if a proposition p uses a concept C, and a body of propositions P is evidence for or against p for an agent x, then some member of P involves C.
  3. If x is not a member of the community operating with a central worldview concept C, then x does not have any evidence for or against any proposition involving C. (1-3)
  4. (Premise) External critique or justification of a worldview of a community is possible only if someone who is not a member of the community can have evidence for or against a proposition involving a central worldview concept of that community.
  5. Therefore, external critique or justification of a worldview of a community is not possible. (4 and 5)

This is a particularly unfortunate result in the case of something like Nazism, and may suggest an unacceptable relativism.

The argument is valid but unsound, and I think unsalvageable. I think that (5) is false, and on some plausible interpretations of (1), (2) and (3) are false as well.