CALL FOR PAPERS
Philosophy of Religion in a Pluralistic World
Charles University, Prague
28-31 August 2018
Few parts of the inhabited world are unaffected by religious diversity. This has often been regarded as a philosophically, sociologically, and politically challenging fact, rather than as something to be celebrated. Within the philosophy of religion, in particular, religious diversity has typically been regarded as standing in need of a theoretical explanation that will defuse the challenge it seems to present to prevailing belief systems. This conference invites exploration of philosophical responses to religious diversity, and investigation of the epistemological, metaphysical, and socio-political questions that it raises.
Sub-theme 1: Philosophical Responses to Religious Diversity
In the last several decades it has become common-place to regard inclusivism, exclusivism and pluralism as the main forms of response to religious diversity. Is it time to move beyond these familiar categories, or are they still theoretically useful today? Within the philosophy of religion, one widely influential form of religious pluralism – Hickean pluralism, which posits a single noumenal Reality lying behind all the world’s major religious traditions – has dominated the discussion since the 1990s. However, it faces serious philosophical problems and other forms of pluralist theory have been developed which seek to avoid these. How might religious pluralism, as a theoretical response to religious diversity, best be articulated? What is the relation between it, as a philosophical response, and other approaches to religious diversity?
Sub-theme 2: Epistemological Challenges of Religious Diversity
The fact that the world contains a number of diverse systems of religious belief and practice raises epistemological issues that fall centrally within the range of concerns covered by the philosophy of religion. What are the implications of religious diversity for the ways we might think about the truth, reasonableness, or justification of religious claims? To what extent ought religious diversity undermine confidence in all religious belief systems? Does persistent disagreement about core religious claims among adherents of different religious traditions suggest that none of them are justified in their beliefs? Does diversity fatally erode the view that any religious claims are true? To what extent, if any, does religious diversity undermine claims made on the basis of religious experience? Might the phenomenon of cognitive penetration feature in an explanation of religious diversity? Does reflection on religious diversity suggest that philosophical approaches that do not focus on traditional epistemological notions like ‘truth’ and ‘justification’ are more salient in the religious domain?
Sub-theme 3: The Metaphysics of Religious Diversity
Religious diversity challenges philosophers of religion, and scholars in cognate disciplines, to explore different conceptions of the divine. How might philosophy of religion have to change in response to this challenge? Do the diverse religions of the world exhibit any common features in their ways of conceiving the Ultimate? Does the diverse religious experience of humankind point to an underlying Reality beyond all particular religious conceptions, as John Hick has claimed? How might the various conceptions of the divine that are advanced by different religious traditions be related to such an underlying Reality? Does a religious pluralist need to posit such a Reality to make sense of the idea that all major world religions are equally capable of putting their adherents on the path to the religious goal, however that is conceived? Is the distinction between personal and impersonal conceptions of the Ultimate the most fundamental one, or might other categorical distinctions be equally important to consider, such as causal and acausal, transcendent and non-transcendent?
Sub-theme 4: The Socio-theoretic Implications of Religious Diversity
How should the facts of religious diversity in different parts of the world impact philosophical reflection on the relation of religion and politics, religion and law, religion and the state, and the relation of religious organisations to each other? How are understandings of concepts such as freedom of religion, secularisation, and religious neutrality, affected by the way we think about religious diversity? How might theological or religious ethics assimilate the facts of diversity? How might doctrinal perspectives on religious diversity be fruitfully combined with sociological ones? To what extent does reasonable pluralism (as advocated by Rawls and Habermas) still offer an adequate response to the current societal challenges of religious diversity?
Scott Appleby (University of Notre Dame)
Mikel Burley (University of Leeds)
Tomáš Halík (Charles University, Prague)
Victoria Harrison (University of Macau/traveling from Britain)
Roger Pouivet (Universite de Lorraine)
Alister E. McGrath (University of Oxford)
Marianne Moyaert (VU University Amsterdam)
Ivana Noble (Charles University, Prague)
Christian Polke (University of Goettingen)
Mikael Stenmark (University of Uppsala)
Philipp Stoellger (University of Heidelberg)
Call for Short Papers
Scholarly short papers (with a reading time of 20 minutes) are invited on the above topics connected to the conference theme. In order to submit your proposal, please, send the abstract (max. 15 lines) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please, include information about your institutional affiliation and your academic qualifications (doctoral student, Ph.D., Professor, etc.)
Deadline for submissions is April 15th 2018
By the end of April 2018, you will receive notification about whether your paper has been included in the conference (if you need an earlier decision in order to be able to apply for funding, please state that clearly as you submit your abstract and submit the abstract as early as possible).
Inquiries should be directed to email@example.com
For further information about the conference, please, go to the conference webpage:
or to the ESPR website:
The Society of Christian Philosophers invites applications for its second round of the Graduate Student Cross-Training (GSCT) Fellowship Program, with fellowships to begin fall 2018. The GSCT Fellowship program is intended to equip graduate student members of the Society of Christian Philosophers with an opportunity to take up to one academic year to develop competency in an empirical science connected with their research. The 2017-2018 fellows are: Allison Thornton (Baylor, biology), Isaac Wilhelm (Rutgers, physics), Vivek Mathew (Cornell, cognitive science and psychology), Eddy Chen (Rutgers, physics), and Hayden Kee (Fordham, developmental psychology).
Fellowships. Up to five fellowships will be awarded. Each GSCT Fellowship will provide recipients with a stipend of $30,000, plus $2,000 for the home institution’s overhead costs and an additional research fund for the applicant of $2,000. This fund can support the purchase of books, journal subscriptions, or travel to disciplinary conferences, subject to the following conditions: (a) any books or journal/articles subscriptions must be for the purposes of cross-training in an empirical discipline; and (b) any travel costs must be for the purposes of traveling to a professional meeting, conference, or workshop in the cross-training discipline. The Society of Christian Philosophers will contract with recipients’ home institutions for the award monies, and the fellows’ home institutions will administer the award on behalf of the Society of Christian Philosophers. The home institution will be expected to continue providing fringe benefits and tuition support. At the end of the fellowship period, each fellow will submit a 5-page narrative summary of their fellowship experience.
Course of Study. Acceptable courses of study might include a plan to audit undergraduate and graduate-level courses, take up residence in a laboratory, or earn a degree in an empirical science. Fellows will be expected to undertake their study at their home institution, but study at another institution may be warranted in rare instances. All fellows must have a faculty mentor in their cross-training discipline.
Eligibility Requirements. The following requirements must be met for an application to be eligible for consideration:
- Applicant is a member in good standing of The Society of Christian Philosophers.
- Applicant is enrolled in a terminal philosophy PhD program at an accredited university.
- Applicant has reached ABD status, or will do so by June 1, 2018.
- Eligible scientific disciplines for cross-training are psychology, cognitive science, biology, physics, genetics, neuroscience, and astronomy. Cross-training in mathematics, logic, environmental science, economics, medicine, and political science will not be supported (with the exception of behavioral economics). Proposals expressing an interest in cross-training for the purposes of research in political philosophy, in philosophy of law, or in applied ethics, where this includes bioethics, environmental ethics, sexual ethics, medical ethics, and business ethics, are not eligible.
- John Templeton Foundation employees, officers, and Trustees are not eligible.
Full details can be found here: http://kevintimpe.com/gsct.html
By Nevin Climenhaga, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Notre Dame
As I had the honor to attend the recent Templeton Prize Ceremony for Alvin Plantinga, Helen De Cruz has asked me to write a summary of the event for the Prosblogion audience.
For those who would like to see the ceremony for themselves, a video of the ceremony is available on YouTube here. I note to my satisfaction, though, that you will not get to see everything those of us at the event saw. In particular, the narrator on the tribute video at 8:16 on YouTube is different – those of us in attendance saw the same video, but narrated by Morgan Freeman. I presume that Templeton did not want to pay the fees to post the Morgan Freeman-narrated video online, proving that even Templeton money does have its limits.
The ceremony was held on September 24 at the Field Museum in Chicago. Templeton usually hosts their prize ceremonies in London, so those of us who were in nearby Notre Dame felt fortunate to be able to attend this ceremony closer to home. The auditorium was very full, and many of those in attendance were not only influenced by Plantinga’s work, but were his direct “academic descendants” through teaching and advising. (Plantinga was an advisor for two of my own undergraduate professors, Robin Collins and Caleb Miller, both of whom were in attendance.) The tribute video shown during the event also illustrated how many people Plantinga has impacted, at one point zooming through Skype conversations with philosophers from some 20 different countries influenced by Plantinga.
Submissions are invited for the Religious Studies Postgraduate Essay Prize, which is sponsored jointly by Cambridge University Press and the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion. The winning entry will be published in Religious Studies, and the winner awarded £300.
The Prize is an international prize, and open to all those who are registered for a postgraduate degree at the time of submission. The topic of the essay should be in the philosophy of religion and must be no longer than 8,000 words in length. The judges reserve the right not to award the Prize if no submission of sufficient merit is received. All entries will be considered for publication in Religious Studies.
Essays should be submitted via the journal’s electronic system. A special submission area will be established for entries to the Essay Prize. The author’s name and contact details should not be included on the paper, but submitted separately.
The closing date for entries is 31 December 2017.
Having finished commenting on every chapter of Idealism and Christian Theology, allow me here to offer some concluding thoughts on the book and its aims and scope.
First, some comments regarding scope. The title ‘idealism and Christian theology’ allows for a very wide scope. In the design of a volume like this, a judgment must be made about how broadly or narrowly the title is to be interpreted. Here, the title bears a relatively narrow interpretation in two respects, only one of which is explicit in the introduction. The explicit restriction of scope is that the volume considers only Berkeleian and Edwardsian idealisms and not, e.g., Kantian or post-Kantian idealisms (p. 3). The implicit restriction is that the Christian theology is confined exclusively to conservative/traditional Protestant theology.
By my count, three of the essays focus primarily on Berkeley and five focus primarily on Edwards. Of the three essays remaining, one (Wainwright) is primarily concerned with comparison and contrast between Berkeley and Edwards, and the other two (Wessling and Arcadi) focus on the theological consequences of idealism without engaging in significant exegesis of either Berkeley or Edwards (though Wessling connects his version of idealism with Edwards and Arcadi connects his with Berkeley).
While I’m tabulating things, here are some facts about the authors: four work primarily in philosophy, seven in theology. All eleven authors are male. Six of the seven theologians are affiliated with Christian institutions (colleges or seminaries), all of which have a conservative Protestant orientation. Three authors are affiliated with Fuller Theological Seminary. By contrast, all four of the philosophers (and the one remaining theologian) are affiliated with secular universities. All of the Berkeley essays (and the one comparative essay) are by philosophers, while all of the Edwards essays are by theologians.
These facts are likely connected with a point of contrast between the Berkeley essays and the Edwards essays, which I have been noting as I go along: the Edwards essays pretty much universally pay careful attention to Edwards’ own theological commitments, and the way Edwards himself connects his idealism with his theology. The authors writing about Edwards generally seem sympathetic to Edwards’ theology, as well as his idealism. By contrast, Airaksinen is the only author to pay significant attention to Berkeley’s theological commitments. The other authors writing about Berkeley are generally concerned with how Berkeley’s idealism interacts with certain theological claims they (the authors) take to be important. This observation is not necessarily a criticism; it’s another choice about scope. The two questions (how Berkeley’s idealism interacts with his own theological commitments; how Berkeley’s idealism interacts with our theological commitments) are both perfectly legitimate, provided we distinguish them from one another. However, it is a little odd, and perhaps unfortunate, that all the Berkeley essays are on one side and all the Edwards essays on the other. This probably has to do with the disciplinary divide: the fact that all the Berkeley essays are by philosophers and all the Edwards essays are by theologians (with one comparative essay by a philosopher).
Second, some comments regarding the aims of the volume. In my introductory post, I wrote: “This post will be not so much a discussion of the book’s introduction as my own way of framing and approaching the issues in the book.” However, there turned out to be a degree of mismatch between my conception of the connection between idealism and Christian theology and the conception that animates this volume. My own account had primarily to do with a certain cluster of problems faced by the Christian idealist, which might be placed under the general heading ‘theology of the body.’ The body has significant importance to Christian theology, and idealism might be accused of running into Gnosticism by devaluing the body. To be sure, these sorts of issues do crop up in several places in the volume, and in some cases are addressed quite insightfully. (See especially the essays by Hamilton, Cortez, and Arcadi.) However, as the editors emphasize in the introduction (p. 3), this volume is more concerned with the value of idealism for constructive theological work than with the compatibility of idealism with basic points of orthodoxy. Of course, the orthodox theologian can use idealism constructively only if it is compatible with orthodoxy, and this is the reason that my question (the compatibility of idealism with ecumenical orthodoxy regarding the theology of the body) does come up in a number of places. But this is not the central focus.*
Finally, an overall evaluation. This volume must be understood as a defence of the harmony (not mere logical compatibility) of Berkeleian/Edwardsian idealism with traditional/conservative Protestant theology. Read in this way, all of the eleven essays are good, and at least six are excellent. The book is important and timely insofar as it stands at the intersection of two trends: the increasing seriousness with which idealism is taken in analytic philosophy, and the increasing engagement between analytic philosophy and theology. I, for one, think both of these trends are positive developments, and I therefore hope that this book will help to solidify both of them and also to begin a larger conversation about the relevance of metaphysical idealism to Christian theology.
Table of Posts
- Spiegel on Berkeley and Orthodoxy
- Wainwright on Berkeley and Edwards
- Wessling on ‘Idealistic Panentheism’
- Yandell on Berkeley and Creation
- Farris on Edwards on the Imago Dei
- Mark Hamilton on Idealism and Fallenness
- Cortez on Edwards on the Resurrection
- Crisp on Edwards on the Incarnation
- Tan on Edwards’ Christology
- Arcadi on Idealism and the Eucharist
- Airaksinen on Berkeley’s Theological Ethics
(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)
* Thanks to Joshua Farris for helpful correspondence on these points.
Today’s Virtual Colloquium is “God’s Standing to Forgive” by Brandon Warmke. Dr. Warmke received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Arizona in 2014 and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. His work in moral philosophy has been published in journals such as Philosophical Studies, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, and Philosophy and Public Affairs.
God’s Standing to Forgive
Consider two cases:
|LUCY:||I lie to my brother, telling him I bought a gift for our parents when I did not do so. Realizing my guilt, I ask my new plumber Lucy to forgive me for my lie. Lucy forgives me for lying to my brother.|
|GOD:||I lie to my brother, telling him I bought a gift for our parents when I did not do so. Realizing my guilt, I ask God to forgive me for my lie. God forgives me for lying to my brother.|
The claim that Lucy could forgive me for lying to my brother will, I think, strike most people as very strange. And yet for many people, it will not seem nearly so strange to think that God could do so. An apparently central tenet of all three Abrahamic faiths is that God can and does forgive human persons for the wrong things they do to one another. But how is this possible? Because I lied to my brother—and not to Lucy—we are inclined to think that Lucy cannot forgive me. She lacks standing to do so. But then why think that God can forgive us for the wrongs we do to others? It is natural to suppose that just like I did not lie to Lucy about the gift, I also did not lie to God about the gift. And so if Lucy does not have the standing to forgive me, how does God? This is the question I wish to explore: how could God have the standing to forgive us for the things we do to one another? Call this the problem of divine standing. In this paper I provide two different solutions to the problem.
I begin by cataloging the various ways that one might have standing to forgive someone for wrongdoing. One has direct standing to forgive a wrongdoer when one is the direct victim of that wrongdoing. One has indirect standing when one is wronged as a result of a wrongdoing to someone else. Controversially, one can possess proxy standing to forgive when one can forgive on behalf of the victim. Also controversially, one can possess third-party standing to forgive a wrongdoer for what she did to someone else.
I then show that none of these individual varieties of standing to forgive explains why God would be able to forgive interpersonal human wrongs. For example, one might argue that when humans wrong one another, both the human victim and God have direct standing to forgive, but for different wrongs. When I lie to you, you can forgive me for lying to you, and God can forgive me for, say, disobeying God. But such a solution would still not secure God’s standing to forgive me for lying to you.
I then develop two different solutions to the problem of divine standing. One kind of solution concedes that God cannot forgive wrongs between human persons because God lacks standing to do so, but argues that this is no problem. There are many things that God cannot do. Just as God cannot, say, keep your wedding vows to your spouse (only you can do that), God cannot forgive you for lying to your spouse (only s/he can do that). This solution also stresses the importance of human forgiveness: because only you can forgive the wrongs done to you, those wrongs will be forgiven only if you do so.
For those who desire for God to be able to forgive us our “trespasses” against others, I develop another solution to the problem of divine standing. On this strategy, when we wrong others: (1) the human victim has direct standing to forgive us for the interpersonal human wrong; (2) God has direct standing to forgive for the wrong against God; and (3) God has third-party standing to forgive for the interpersonal human wrong. In developing this solution, I defend the possibility of third-party standing. I suggest a new strategy for defending third party-forgiveness and show that persons can come to have such standing when they stand in relationships of personal care with both victim and wrongdoer. I conclude that since God stands in relationships of personal care with all of us, this explains why God has standing to forgive us for our wrongs against each other and not just our wrongs against God.
The complete paper is here. Comments welcome below!
Today’s virtual colloquium paper is “How to Tell Whether Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God” by Tomas Bogardus and Mallorie Urban. Dr. Bogardus received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Pepperdine University. His papers on epistemology and the philosophy of religion have appeared in journals such as Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Philosophical Studies, Ethics, Faith and Philosophy, and Philosophia. Mallorie Urban is an undergraduate philosophy major at Pepperdine.
How to Tell Whether Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God
Tomas Bogardus and Mallorie Urban
We start the paper by laying out three recent arguments for the “Same God” thesis, and offering objections. Francis Beckwith offers an argument from monotheism: Christians and Muslims both believe there can be only one God, so they must be worshiping the same God. We doubt that inference. After all, two baseball fans might agree that only one team can be the best, without thereby thinking the same team is the best. Michael Rea argues that if Christians and Muslims aren’t worshiping the same God, then “God” for one group is “absolutely meaningless,” or refers absurdly to a mere human being, an animal or plant, an inanimate object like a rock or a star. We again doubt that inference, since there’s a third option: “God” for one group is a meaningful but empty name, like “Zeus” is for Zeus-worshipers. Finally, Dale Tuggy argues that since Christians and Muslims are engaged in genuine theological disagreements, they must be talking about the same God. We’re skeptical again, since it’s possible for a name to shift reference over time or across groups, and for two people to disagree while using the same name without thereby referring to the same entity. In the paper, we use the example of how “Santa Claus” has shifted reference over time and across groups, in a way that could allow one child to use “Santa Claus” to refer to St. Nicholas, another to use that same name to refer to a jolly Nordic creature of fiction, and for these two children to disagree vociferously about the sentence “Santa Claus is dead.” (Or, if you insist that it’s part of the meaning of “genuine disagreement” that there’s co-reference, what this case shows is that something can look and sound just like a genuine disagreement—and even involve the same name—without really being a genuine disagreement. For all Tuggy says, this could be what’s going on with apparently genuine theological disagreements between Christians and Muslims.)
The case of “Santa Claus” also makes trouble for anyone who thinks a simple Kripkean causal picture of reference supports the “Same God” conclusion. On a common interpretation/extrapolation of Kripke’s causal picture—which Kripke himself was reluctant to endorse—a name acquires its referent at a baptism ceremony, and then is passed along from speaker to speaker who form, as it were, links on a chain. And as long as each link in that chain intends to use the name in the same way as the previous links, the name preserves its reference. So, one might think, since Mohammad acquired divine names from neighboring Jews and Christians, and intended to use the names as Jews and Christians do, he therefore referred to—and directed worship toward—the same God that Jews and Christians do. And similarly with subsequent Muslims.
But that’s not the way reference works. Kripke himself was aware of the troubling case of “Santa Claus,” and he says: “There may be a causal chain from our use of the term ‘Santa Claus’ to a certain historical saint, but still the children, when they use this, by this time probably do not refer to that saint.” Inspired by Gareth Evans’ theory of reference, we suggest that our conception of Santa Claus became so corrupted and distorted by myth-makers that at some point in the past—and it’s vague when this happened—the man St. Nicholas ceased to be the dominant source of information that we associate with the name “Santa Claus,” at which point the name ceased to refer to him.
We then develop Evans’ notion of dominance, exploring a few ways we might weight information in a name’s “dossier,” different types of information that we might elevate to dominance, i.e. to a sine-qua-non position in the name’s dossier. The details are in the paper, but the upshot is this: we can tell whether a name has shifted reference by asking certain hypothetical questions about the use of the name. For example, we know that “Santa Claus” shifted reference because, when we ask “What if there were no jolly Nordic elf who’s alive and delivers presents on Christmas, but there had been an ancient bishop of Myra who did such and such noble things, but is now dead? Might “Santa Claus” still refer?” all the children shout “NO!” In that contemporary use of “Santa Claus,” certain mythical information has been elevated to dominance, so that when children find out that nobody answers to that information, they conclude there is no Santa Claus and never was, that “Santa Claus” fails to refer. It has shifted reference from fact to fiction.
And now we can answer our “Same God?” question: If Islam were false and Christianity true, might “Allah” still refer? If YES, then, from a Christian perspective, Muslims’ modified conception of “Allah” has not shifted its reference. If NO, then it has. And: if Christianity were false and Islam were true, might “God” still refer? If YES, then, from a Muslim perspective, Christians’ modified conception of “God” has not shifted its reference. If NO, then it has.
Depending on your answers to those questions, it could be that you’ll think, from the perspective of each religion, that the other’s modified use of the divine name has not shifted its reference, like how early modifications of the use of “Santa Claus” didn’t yet shift its reference. In that case, you’ll probably be sympathetic to the “Same God” conclusion. Or it could be that you’ll think, from the perspective of each religion, the other has made such radical modifications that the divine name has shifted reference, as happened at some point in the fairly recent past with “Santa Claus.” In that case, you’ll likely deny the “Same God” conclusion. Another option is that it’s unclear whether, from the perspective of each religion, the other’s modifications to the use of the divine name were radical enough to shift reference, as it was for quite some time unclear whether the gradual modifications of the use of “Santa Claus” had made it cease to refer to St. Nicholas. And then you’ll likely think there’s simply no determinate fact of the matter on the “Same God?” question, or at least none we’re in a position to affirm.
We close with some speculations about what, in addition to co-reference, might be required for co-worship, and whether, from a Christian perspective, salvation turns on this issue.
The complete paper is here. Comments welcome below!
Christina Van Dyke shares the following:
Marilyn McCord Adams passed away early morning on March 22, 2017. She was an uncompromisingly fierce person: in her scholarship, in her pursuit of justice for the marginalized, in her wickedly awesome sense of humor, and in her love for God, Bob (her husband), and her friends.
Marilyn was a prodigious scholar and an enormously influential figure in both medieval philosophy and the philosophy of religion; she held positions at a number of top research institutions and was one of the founding members of the Society of Christian Philosophers. (See Daily Nous for a short summary of her life and work: http://dailynous.com/2017/03/22/marilyn-mccord-adams-1943-2017/)
Yet perhaps the most important legacy Marilyn leaves behind is her impact on the lives of those around her. Her heartfelt work on God and horrendous evils, her devoted ministry as an Episcopal priest, her tireless support of junior scholars–especially those on the margins of philosophy, her witness for women in a field with few role models, and her ability to combine incisive criticism with dry wit and an irresistible laugh are all just parts of what made her such an important person to so many of us.
From the moment news of her death began to spread, people started sharing stories of what Marilyn meant to them and the many ways in which she shaped their lives. Anyone who wants to should feel free to share their stories below in the comments: some losses are easier to bear in community, and it seems clear that this is one of them.
As mentioned above, Marilyn was one of the founding members of the Society of Christian Philosophers, and she remained active in the Society throughout her life. The liturgy here: http://societyofchristianphilosophers.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/McCordAdamsLiturgy.pdf is one she wrote for the Service of Lament, which the SCP hosted at the 2015 Central APA, included here because it captures so much of what she thought Christian philosophers should stand for. May it continue to call us to justice and compassion as we mourn her absence and celebrate her life.
The second essay in Idealism and Christian Theology is “Berkeley, Edwards, Idealism, and the Knowledge of God” by William J. Wainwright. The aim of this article is to explore and explain similarities between Berkeley and Edwards in terms of the religious and cultural context in which they wrote, particularly the threat of deism and freethinking to these (relatively) traditional religious thinkers. This is an extremely interesting project, and it is for the most part well-executed, though the brevity of a single paper necessitates glossing over certain details, leaving some points underdeveloped, and so forth.
Wainwright’s central contention, I take it, is that Berkeley and Edwards share a concern with the ways in which God is coming to seem distant in a world governed by mechanistic science. The world is, increasingly, viewed as a grand machine that keeps rolling along without any outside assistance. Berkeley and Edwards regard it as insufficient to reason (as, for instance, Leibniz and Paley do) that behind a great machine there must be a great Engineer, for this may secure the existence of God, but it will not secure the nearness of God to the believer, or God’s immanence in the world. I am not very familiar with Edwards, but Wainwright’s account of Berkeley’s motivations and concerns is certainly sound. For instance, in the conclusion of the Principles Berkeley writes, “to an unbiassed and attentive mind, nothing can be more plainly legible, than the intimate presence of an all-wise Spirit, who fashions, regulates, and sustains the whole system of being” (sect. 151, my boldface) and that God “is present and conscious to our innermost thoughts” (sect. 155). Further, Berkeley tells us that “the main drift and design of [his] labours” was (among other things) to “inspire [his] readers with a pious sense of the presence of God” (sect. 156). Thus, for Berkeley, the mere existence of God is not enough. Similarly, in Alciphron it is said that the divine language argument “proves, not a Creator merely, but a provident Governor, actually and intimately present, and attentive to all our interests and motions, who watches over our conduct, and takes care of our minutest actions and designs throughout the whole course of our lives, informing, admonishing, and directing incessantly, in a most evident and sensible manner” (sect. 4.14). So Wainwright seems to be on firm ground (at least with respect to Berkeley) when he identifies the nearness of God as a key object of concern, and it is easy to see how the Berkeley-Edwards brand of idealism might be thought to do that. This paper is, in my view, quite a welcome addition to the literature. Too often, Berkeley’s religious motivations are treated as an embarrassment, as though the ‘real’ philosophy has been encumbered with a lot of nonsense from which we must separate it if we are to get the value out. Perhaps that may, in the end, turn out to be the case with respect to present-day philosophical value, but if we don’t see Berkeley’s religious vision clearly we’ll never understand his philosophy in the first place and our ‘disentanglement’ will go awry.
Of course, there are also differences between Berkeley and Edwards. Wainwright makes an interesting and plausible suggestion about the source of these differences: Calvinism. (Of course, Calvinism is always at the forefront with Edwards!) Now, I think Wainwright is a little oversimplistic here when he says that “Because Anglicans, like Berkeley, were not [theological determinists], he may have assumed that humanity’s contra-causal freedom required the existence of relatively independent and autonomous choosing substances” (41). Berkeley says almost nothing about human freedom, and what he does say (e.g., in the later sections of Alciphron 7) is pretty ambiguous. The theological debate between Calvinists and Arminians does not exactly track the metaphysical debate between compatibilists and libertarians (though it does track fairly closely), and not all Anglicans were Arminians. Indeed, prior to the Laudian reforms of the 1630s Calvinism had been the dominant view, and Archbishop James Ussher, the primate of Ireland at the time, had vigorously opposed the attempt to impose Arminianism. What was actually going on (several decades later) in the post-Restoration Anglican Communion was more that folks were keeping pretty quiet about the issues in the hope of keeping it from blowing up again. (Civil wars are not fun.) In my previous post I claimed that Berkeley was a latitudinarian. If so, that would explain why he is so carefully ambiguous on these points: part of the latitudinarian strategy was to try to make room for Calvinists and Arminians within the same church.
Nevertheless, Berkeley, while denying the existence of inanimate secondary causes and attributing the causation of sensory ideas to God, tries to carve out some room for genuine, autonomous human agency. Wainwright provides documentation that Edwards (unsurprisingly, for a radical Calvinist) has no such concerns. Indeed, in emphasizing our dependence on God, Edwards (in the quotes provided by Wainwright) appears driven nearly to Spinozism. I expect this issue regarding Edwards will be addressed further in some of the later essays.
An additional interesting point from Wainwright’s essay has to do with the theory of the world as divine language found in both Berkeley and Edwards. I don’t think Wainwright gets Berkeley’s version of that theory quite exactly right, but this is one of my pet issues and I’ll refrain from nitpicking about it here. More importantly: Wainwright notes that Berkeley believes that the status of the world as a language can be established by empirical and philosophical reasoning, and the fact that the world is a language shows that it must have a speaker. Hence the divine language can be used to establish the existence of God. Edwards, on the other hand, seems to take as a starting point a “two books” theology and a principle of typological interpretation. Thus the world, like the Bible, is a communication from God in the form of types and figures in which the presence of Christ must be discerned. This is justified primarily theologically.
I will conclude with one nitpick: Wainwright says that “Recent scholars agree that Berkeley and Edwards arrived at their idealism separately” (48n2). This claim is meant, I suppose, to underline the importance of identifying common contextual factors in order to explain the similar views of Berkeley and Edwards. In support of this claim, Wainwright cites the introduction to the science and philosophy volume of Edwards’ Works. Now this edition of Edwards’ Works was published from 1957–2008 and Wainwright does not indicate when this particular volume was released, so it is not clear what’s meant by “recent.” In any event, Edwards was taught philosophy at Yale by Berkeley’s disciple Samuel Johnson. (Based on the extant correspondence between Berkeley and Johnson, I do not think ‘disciple’ is too strong a word.) I don’t know what the state of the evidence is regarding whether Edwards actually read Berkeley’s works, but there is certainly a vector for indirect influence, at least. In places I took Wainwright to be implying that if we couldn’t uncover some shared contextual factors explaining the similarity of Berkeley’s and Edwards’ views that similarity would have to be regarded as sheer coincidence, and this is much too strong. Nevertheless, this point does nothing to detract from Edwards’ status as an original thinker, or from the interest of Wainwright’s analysis of Edwards’ similarities and differences from Berkeley.
(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)
CFA: Third Annual Theistic Ethics Workshop
College of William and Mary
October 5-7, 2017
Laura Ekstrom (College of William and Mary)
Dan Moller (University of Maryland)
Mark Murphy (Georgetown University)
Mark Schroeder (University of Southern California)
Rebecca Stangl (University of Virginia)
Goal: Contemporary philosophy of religion has been richly informed by important work in metaphysics and epistemology. At the same time, there has not been nearly as much work done at the intersection of philosophy of religion and meta-ethics or normative theory. To help inspire more good work in this area, Christian Miller (Wake Forest), Mark Murphy (Georgetown), and Chris Tucker (William and Mary) organize a series of annual workshops on theistic ethics.
Logistics: The third workshop will be held at the campus of William and Mary. We will begin with dinner and the first paper on Thursday, October 5th and conclude at the end of the day on Saturday, October 7th, 2017. There will be five invited papers and four spots for submitted papers. All papers will have 40 minutes for presentation and at least 40 minutes for discussion.
Themes: “Theistic ethics” is to be understood broadly to include such topics as divine command and divine will theories; God and natural law; ethics and the problem of evil; moral arguments for a theistic being; infused and acquired virtues; the harms and benefits of theistic religions; what mainstream moral theories imply about divine action; specific ethical issues in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam; and many other topics as well.
Applying: Those interested in participating should submit an abstract of up to 750 words and a current C.V. to Chris Tucker (firstname.lastname@example.org) by May 1, 2017. Word or PDF file formats only. Please prepare abstracts for anonymous review. For although the organizers seek to have a balanced program both in terms of topics and presenters, the initial stage of review will be done anonymously. Questions about the workshop should be sent to the email@example.com.
Notification will be made by June 1, 2017 at the latest. If your abstract is selected, we will cover your accommodation, meals at the conference, and travel expenses of up to $1200 (and possibly more). Co-authors are welcome, but only one author’s expenses can be covered. You do not have to send your paper in advance of the workshop, and it certainly can be a work in progress.
Supported by generous funding from William and Mary’s philosophy department, Theresa Thompson ‘67, William and Mary Arts and Sciences, and the Carswell Fund of the Wake Forest University Philosophy Department