One often hears it asserted that most theists are metaphysical libertarians. This seems to be supported, at least in the case of theistic philosophers, by the PhilPapers survey where target faculty specializing in philosophy of religion, who were overwhelmingly more likely to be theists than their peers in other specializations (72.3% for religion specialists vs. 14.6% overall), were also overwhelmingly more likely to be libertarians (57.4% vs. 13.7%). (Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to compare theists to non-theists across the board, so we just have this correlation among religion specialists.)
Now, I suppose there are some reasons for this. One is that the free-will defense is widely thought to be the best response to the problem of evil, and is widely thought to require libertarianism. Another is that theists are often committed to some notion of punitive justice which is also widely thought to require free will. A third reason is that if God is a necessary being, and libertarianism is not true at least about divine freedom, then we inherit all of Leibniz’s difficulties in trying to carve out any contingency in the world at all. Now, it is perfectly possible to be a libertarian about God’s freedom and a compatibilist about human freedom. According to some (most?) interpreters, Aquinas adopts this view. On the kind of view in question, libertarian freedom would be the most perfect sort of freedom, and perhaps one might even concede that it’s a sort of freedom that we (prideful) human beings often think we have, but one would say that compatibilist freedom is sufficient for moral responsibility and is all that we actually have. Nevertheless, if the theist is committed to saying that God has libertarian freedom, then the theist is committed to saying that libertarian freedom is at least a coherent notion, and it’s easy to see why that would be at least correlated with claiming that we actually have libertarian freedom.
On the other hand, I think there are special philosophical reasons for theists to accept compatibilism. Reasons, that is, which are specially philosophical (as opposed to theological or scientific) and also specially applicable to theists. Consider the following argument:
May 9-11, 2013 at the University of Notre Dame
Theological realism is a hot topic nowadays, and is interestingly related to issues about religious pluralism. These debates bear obvious connections to debates about realism and anti-realism in science, as well as to issues in metaphysics and the philosophy of language about ontological commitment and related topics, and with the theological literature on the nature of doctrine. These are the sorts of issues that will be in focus at this workshop.
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Dustin Locke asks the following questions:
I was wondering if anyone could help me with another scholarship question. I’m looking for texts that concern theistic accounts of moral epistemology. Of course there are all the texts on divine command theory. But these discuss divine command theory primarily as an account of what moral facts are, rather than accounts of how we know about them–in other words, they’re accounts of the metaphysics of morality, not the epistemology. The obvious theistic contenders for the latter would be things like scripture, personal revelation, God-given innate moral beliefs, etc. Does anyone know of a good text that explores the possibilities here and perhaps argues for one over the others (or at least argues that one is no good)?
Suppose we make an ontological argument with the following general form:
- D (for divinity) is a consistent concept
- Every consistent concept is possibly instantiated
- D entails necessary existence
- D is actually instantiated
- A being who instantiated D would be God
- God exists
Or something like this. (Note that this formulation of the argument uses the modal principle that possibly necessarily p entails necessarily p.)
This sort of argument has a problem: If (3) is trivial, given how D is defined (for instance, if D is defined as the concept of necessary existence), then the argument is question-begging, for no one who didn’t already believe that D is instantiated would ever accept premise (1). However, if (3) is a surprising result, for which a sophisticated argument is required, then we might worry that D has other surprising consequences, some of them contradictions, and so reject (1).
Furthermore, it seems to me that for most theists the existence of God is more certain than any of the premises in the argument, so it doesn’t seem that the argument can be used to increase the confidence of someone who is already a tentative theist.
So can the ontological argument do anything? I say it can. Suppose we grant that the argument is question-begging, and that, for the theist, the conclusion is already more certain than the premises. Now, all question-begging arguments are valid, and some are sound, the problem is just that they can’t be used to convince people of the conclusion. A parallel case to this can be found in work on the foundations of arithmetic. When axiomatic set theory was being developed, people were coming up with axioms, which they weren’t sure were right, and using them to prove that 2+2=4. Now, since the premises of these arguments were quite questionable, and the conclusion was already known certainly to be true, this procedure can’t possibly have been intended to increase anyone’s confidence in 2+2=4. So what was the point? Well, they were trying to construct an axiomatic foundation for arithmetic, and 2+2=4 is a truth of arithmetic, so if the axioms don’t entail it they are obviously not the axioms we are looking for, and if they entail its contrary they are obviously false. However, if we can come up with axioms that have all the right entailments, we’ll have a reason for thinking our axioms are true, and we’ll be able to use them to answer the questions we weren’t sure about to begin with, and we also will have a much more systematic understanding of arithmetic. (Note that the method of ‘reflective equilibrium’ employed by many philosophers, especially in value theory, has a similar structure: you start by making up some proposed rules and seeing if they get the right answers in the cases where we know what the right answer is, then, if they do, apply them to the cases we aren’t sure about.)
I propose that the ontological argument might play a similar role in a theory of metaphysical theology. (Indeed, I think it does play a role somewhat similar to this in James Ross’s Philosophical Theology.) On this view, the ontological argument is not used directly to convince people of the existence of God. Rather, its premise (1) is proposed as a sort of axiom, on which a metaphysical system is to be built. This system is to be judged by its overall coherence and the plausibility of its consequences. The ontological argument might still have an indirect role to play in convincing people of the existence of God: if it turns out that assuming that the concept of, e.g., a being than which none greater can be conceived, or an infinitely perfect being, or whatever, is consistent leads to a highly attractive and systematic theory of metaphysics, wouldn’t that be a reason for accepting it? Next question: what are the consequences (apart from the existence of God) of supposing the candidate concepts to be consistent?
[cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net]
I am pleased to announce the imminent publication of the winning essay from the 2009 Oxford Studies in Metaphysics Younger Scholars Prize: “Ontological Nihilism”, by Jason Turner (University of Leeds). It will be the lead article in Vol. 6 of OSM, due early 2011 from Oxford University Press. I am also happy to report that Karen Bennett and I are now co-editors of OSM; Karen has been breathing new life into the series, and the results will already be apparent with Vol. 6.
It is also time to remind all the younger metaphysicians out there that the due date for submission to the 2011 competition is fast approaching! It is NOT January 15 (as last OSM reported), but January 30. The winning essay will be published in OSM (often alongside runners-up) and the author receives an $8,000 prize. You still have a whole month in which to prepare your submissions. Get to it!
The competition is supported by the Ammonius Foundation — which supports a similar $8,000 award for the Younger Scholars Prize for Philosophical Theology, a parallel competition associated with Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion (with a deadline of August 31). “Younger” metaphysicians and philosophers of religion (in grad school or within ten years of receiving a Ph.D.) should check out the details at: http://www.ammonius.org/index.php.
Both prizes were dreamed up and are financed by the Ammonius Foundation. The Foundation’s grants have encouraged many younger metaphysicians with generous essay awards (past winners are Rachel Briggs, Graeme A. Forbes, Jason Turner, Jeff Russell, Bradford Skow, Stephan Leuenberger, Matthew McGrath, Cody Gilmore, and Thomas Hofweber), and more senior metaphysicians with individual research grants for projects in metaphysics and philosophy of religion (past recipients include Derek Parfit, Jonathan Schaffer, Mark Johnston, John Hawthorne, Alvin Plantinga, George Bealer, and Jan Cover).
If you just go to the main Ammonius Foundation web site, however, you won’t find any link to a really interesting, closely related page: http://www.comingtounderstanding.com/, the home of Coming to Understanding, the grand metaphysical system constructed by the founder of the Ammonius Foundation, Marc Sanders. The author, aka “Ammonius”, has developed an elaborate monistic, neo-platonic ontological scheme described in a (free!) downloadable book (which includes a critical essay by yours truly, and another by Gordon Graham). There are a lot of interesting ideas in his carefully crafted system, and the religious thrust of the book will resonate with those attracted to a deity like “the Highest One” of Mark Johnston’s recent book, Saving God. (After the manner of philosophers and junior high students, I show my respect for Ammonius’s system by relentlessly attacking it along multiple fronts.)
Marc Sanders is retiring from his role as head of the Ammonius Foundation, and passing the reins to his son, Eric Sanders, who plans to continue the two Younger Scholar Prize competitions, among other things. It has been a real privilege and pleasure to work with Marc and his Foundation over many years. Although Ammonius has a distinctive mission (http://www.ammonius.org/mission.php), much of what the Foundation does has no goal other than to promote serious work in metaphysics and, now, philosophical theology, no matter the conclusions reached. The Foundation’s grants to the Younger Scholars program have been absolutely “no strings attached”; a committee of three judges, culled from editorial board members of OSM, makes the call, not me (committees have included Karen Bennett, Hud Hudson, Trenton Merricks, Ted Sider, Andrew Cortens, Yuri Balashov, and John Hawthorne, among others). I can’t imagine a pleasanter relationship with a grantor than mine with Ammonius.
As Marc steps down, I want to thank him publicly for his steadfast support of excellence in metaphysics. But I know that public praise and attention is the last thing he wants — he wants our attention drawn, not to him, but to the ideas in his metaphysical system. So the only way I can adequately say “thanks” is to encourage you to check it out for yourself: Coming to Understanding.
I’ve been thinking for a while about metaphysical positions that bring with them — free, so to speak — theological claims. For a not-so-good example, think of Bradley’s metaphysic. According to F.H. Bradley, there is no such thing as time. If Bradley is right, and God exists, then God is atemporal. (I say this is a not-so-good example because Bradley’s argument for the unreality of time also gets him the unreality of space, and further, the claim that there cannot be more than one thing. So, if Bradley is right, and God exists, then pantheism is true.) The same is true for McTaggart — if McTaggart is right about time being an illusion, then God is atemporal.
Now, of course I know that just about every metaphysic entails something-or-other about theology. And I also know that some metaphysical positions have nothing at all to say to some theological claims. However, I’m wondering whether there are any contemporary metaphysics such that, adding a contentious theological claim doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t provide a difficulty not already resolved in the metaphysic? A concrete example, you ask? Why, sure.
I just read Brian Leftow‘s “God and the Problem of Universals” which is in the latest Oxford Studies in Metaphysics (vol. 2) (Table of contents available here). It is divided into four sections of three or four essays each and Part IV is “Metaphysics and Theism”. [I previously interviewed Leftow for Prosblogion (link).]
I’ve mentioned my desire to explore divine conceptualist alternatives to the regnant Plantingan Platonism previously here. [By the way, another part of the Plantingan Paradigm is a “relational” vs. a “constituent” ontology. Michael Loux has an essay on this in the same volume (and Wolterstorff discusses it in “Divine Simplicity” Phil Perspectives 1991.]
Leftow’s piece is meandering and mysterious at times, but he’s doing front-line work which means there are also some very exciting ideas as well. I’ll mention a few things I find especially mysterious and especially exciting below the fold.