Welcome again to the Prosblogion Virtual Colloquium! This week’s paper is “Proportionality, Maximization, and the Highest Good” by Craig E. Bacon. Bacon is a PhD candidate at the University of South Carolina. His dissertation is entitled The Life of Virtue: Moral Progress and Kant’s Idea of the Highest Good, and is scheduled to be defended in May. While the dissertation itself answers a variety of problems in the scholarship on the highest good and works out a coherent account of the role played by the religious postulates, Bacon also maintains research interests in the relationship between happiness and morality in the Early Modern period, and in contemporary Kantian approaches to the intersection of ethics, philosophy of religion, and civil life.
Proportionality, Maximization, and the Highest Good
Craig E. Bacon
In this paper, I argue that the contemporary scholarship on Kant’s highest good has mistakenly framed the discussion in a way that confuses the true content of this idea and obscures the role of the religious postulates of God and immortality. I suggest an alternate framework that begins with Kant’s own thought experiment from the Critique of Practical Reason and the First Preface to Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (and, more subtly, in the Critique of Pure Reason). In this thought experiment, the context for thinking about the highest good centers on a morally committed agent who takes on the viewpoint of an omnipotent world creator. This context establishes the content of the idea of the highest good, and the religious postulates arise in connection to this idea.
Beginning with Andrews Reath’s influential 1988 paper, much of the scholarship on Kant’s idea of the highest good has focused on the assertion that Kant has both a “secular” and a “theological” conception of the highest good, where the theological conception considers the postulates of God and immortality to be essential to the realization of the highest good, but the secular conception either sidesteps the postulates or at least finds Kant’s commitment to them waning. This distinction largely (but not without exception) maps onto another division in the literature between a “maximization” thesis and a “proportionality” thesis. The maximization thesis claims that the highest good consists in the concurrent maximization of happiness and virtue–whatever that maximum might be–whereas the proportionality thesis understands the highest good as a state of affairs in which happiness appropriately matches virtue, i.e., whatever one’s level of virtue, one’s enjoyment of happiness occurs proportionately. Both theses ‘hedge’ on the highest good as ideal, since less-than-complete happiness and/or less-than-complete virtue comprise the ideal. The common assumption is that the religious postulates (and most importantly for this paper, the postulation of God as an author of nature) arise from the proportionality thesis but not from the maximization thesis. The further common assumption is that God’s role is to actively ‘set’ the proportion between happiness and virtue, i.e., that divine agency supersedes human efforts to bring about the highest good.
I argue that (1) these common assumptions are mistaken and (2) that secular/theological and maximization/proportionality dichotomies exist because scholars have taken these mistaken assumptions about the religious postulates and ‘read them back’ into the content of the idea of the highest good. That is, the scholarship has assumed an interpretation of the religious postulates’ role as more or less obvious, and has interpreted the highest good accordingly. To correct this mistake, I argue that we should turn things around: the content of the idea of the highest good must be set first, then we can understand how the religious postulates support the realization of the highest good.
In the Second Critique and in the Religion, Kant introduces his discussions of the highest good with a question: what kind of world can I will? The thought experiment assumes an agent who is already committed to the moral law; as such, this agent would choose a world in which everyone is committed to the moral law and does what they should. But this fidelity to the moral law (‘virtue,’ for the purposes of this paper) is what constitutes worthiness to be happy, since happiness itself is only conditionally good while moral goodness fulfills this condition. Therefore, Kant’s idea of the highest good consists in truly universal happiness proportioned to truly universal virtue. Lesser degrees of happiness or virtue are inconsistent with this ideal.
My argument in this paper is a slice of a dissertation chapter that argues for an understanding of ‘proportionality’ as ‘conditionality’ rather than as a calculable, mathematical apparatus. This chapter also situates Kant’s use of proportionality against the background principle of ‘ought implies can,’ and sets up later chapters on the role of the postulates of God and immortality in relation to the highest good. Most interestingly for my future research, I think my argument here has important implications for Kant’s claim that morality expands into religion through the highest good. Any lesser ideal than what I argue for here does not generate the same (subjective) need for God that results in religion as a way of conceiving of/representing “all our duties” as divine commands.
The complete paper is available here. Comments welcome below.
This week’s Virtual Colloquium paper is “The Shattered Spiritual Self” by Michelle Panchuk. Dr. Panchuk received her PhD from the University of South Carolina in 2016, and is currently a research fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Philosophy of Religion. Her previous work, some of which has been published in International Philosophical Quarterly, has focused on the relationship between classical theism and the metaphysics of universals. Currently, she is working on a monograph on the topic of religious trauma.
The Shattered Spiritual Self
Philosophical Reflections on Religious Trauma, Worship, and Deconversion
In this paper I argue that we should understand religious trauma as a kind of transformative experience that diminishes the individual’s capacity to engage in religious life, and that this diminished capacity is sometimes so severe that it constitutes an all-things-considered reason for the individual to deconvert, whether or not she maintains the beliefs associated with her former religion. In the first section I provide an introduction to trauma in a general sense. In the second I suggest two criteria that trauma must meet to count as religious trauma and then sketch a working definition of it. In the third section I narrow the scope of discussion to the non- cognitive effects of religious trauma and analyze two case studies relative to those effects. In the final section I argue that the non-cognitive effects of religious trauma may place worship out of reach of some survivors of religious trauma, and that this can give them an all-things-considered reason to deconvert. Even if this last argument fails to persuade the reader, I believe that this paper will successfully demonstrate that religious trauma is a kind of experience that deserves serious philosophical and theological consideration.
In its most severe forms trauma has devastating effects on the individual’s ability to function and flourish. Trauma theorists divide the effects of trauma into two categories: the epistemic/cognitive effects and the non-cognitive—emotional and physiological—effects. Examples of the former are things like believing oneself to be fundamentally unsafe in the world, while examples of the latter include intrusive memories, hyperarousal, hypervigilance, and sleep disturbances. At least two conditions must be met for an experience to count as religiously traumatic. First, the trauma must be inflicted by some aspect of the religion, and second, its effects must have a religious object. The fact that only a portion of the individuals who experience trauma more generally develop a post-traumatic disorder suggests that only a portion of those who endure a religiously traumatic experience will develop religiously significant post- traumatic distress, but there simply isn’t enough research to say exactly how common it is. It is enough for our current purposes that religious trauma exists, and as I will show below, raises philosophical questions about religious faith in those cases. Thus, I will define religious trauma as: any traumatic experience of the divine being, religious community, religious dogma, or religious practice that transforms the individual, either epistemically or non-cognitively, in such a way that her ability to participate in religious life is significantly diminished.
According to our definition, trauma is a kind of lived experience. It does not result from theoretical reasoning when someone contemplates the ontological argument and infers that it is invalid. The experience itself transforms the individual, and that transformation involves both epistemic and non-cognitive changes. Epistemically, the subject gains knowledge of what the experience is like, which would have been impossible for them to gain otherwise. Though this is knowledge gained, we may include it as an aspect of the shattered self because it does not involve propositions inferred from the experience. Personally, they may experience a range of changes in their values, preferences, and non-cognitive responses to religious life. For the most part, these results are outside of the individuals’ conscious control.
In most religions, maintaining the relevant set of propositional attitudes is not a sufficient condition for counting oneself an adherent of the religion. What is required beyond the appropriate propositional attitudes, we may call worship in a broad sense (e.g., religious rituals, proper attitudes toward the sacred and the divine, etc). However, there is another sense of ‘worship’ that is much more narrow, referring only to the attitudinal aspects of worship, so we can distinguish between the practice of worship and the attitude of worship, for the sake of simplicity. In this narrow sense, worship involves loving, adoring, revering, and desiring the divine being. Survivors of religious trauma may find themselves unable to worship according to the demands of their religion in both the broad and the narrow senses. If a survivor experiences intrusive memories while engaging in religious rituals, it may become physically and psychologically impossible for her to fulfill them. This would be an obstacle to worship in the broad sense. If, however, she experiences deep revulsion and utter terror toward the divine being, then even worship in the narrow sense may be out of reach, because the proper emotions are partially constitutive of this sense of worship. I argue that not only is the survivor of religious trauma nonculpable for these non-cognitive effects of trauma, but that in cases where they are severe enough to preclude that attitudinal state constitutive of worship, they may constitute and all-things considered reason to deconvert.
The complete paper is available here.
Welcome again to the Prosblogion Virtual Colloquium! This will be our last paper of the fall term. The Virtual Colloquium will return beginning Friday, January 20. There are still plenty of slots open for the spring, so please send me (Kenny) nominations (including self-nominations)!
Today’s Virtual Colloquium paper is “Rationality, Reasonableness and Religion” by Samuel Lebens. Dr. Lebens received his PhD in philosophy from Birkbeck College, London in 2010. After completing his PhD, he attended Rabbinical Seminaries in Israel and received Rabbinical Ordination in 2013. Currently, he is Research Director of the project on analytical Jewish philosophical theology at the University of Haifa, and also chair of the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism. His papers have appeared in journals such as Philosophical Studies, Religious Studies, and International Journal for Philosophy of Religion. Additionally, Dr. Lebens in a contributing blogger for Haaretz.
Rationality, Reasonableness and Religion
This paper was born during a summer seminar on the nature and value of faith run by Baylor University and Western Washington University, hosted at the University of Missouri. Accordingly, it owes its existence to Trent Dougherty, Daniel Howard-Snyder, and Jon Kvanvig, who ran the seminar. I won’t name all of the participants, but it was conversations with them that really helped me to hone my ideas into their current form. So I’m grateful to them all.
The paper was, initially, going to be a work of Jewish philosophy. I was interested by a number of Rabbinic texts that made it seem as if feeling alienated from the community, and setting yourself aside from the community, was in and of itself an act of apostasy. That struck me as counter-intuitive because apostasy is supposed to be an intellectual crime. I was interested in bringing those texts into conversation with Midrashic portrayals of Ruth’s conversion to Judaism. The authors of the Midrash seem to go to great lengths to downplay Ruth’s theological commitments, and to present her conversion as stemming first and foremost from her personal relationship with Naomi. These somewhat surprising threads of the Jewish tradition jibe well with work I had already published that sought to downplay the role that belief plays in the religious life, and to emphasise the role of the imagination. These new sources were downplaying belief in order to emphasise, not imagination, but communal affinity. It was these reflections that lead me in the direction of the central tri-partite distinction in this paper between (1) the propositional content of a faith, (2) communal belonging, and (3) imaginative engagement.
Before long, I realized that the picture wasn’t peculiar to Judaism at all. For that reason, the paper has evolved and barely contains any reference to the Rabbinic texts that inspired it. The paper considers religious traditions as far apart from one another as Zen Bhuddism and Quakerism. My idea is simple: all religions require (1) propositional faith, (2) communal belonging, and (3) imaginative engagement. There are putative counter-examples to this claim, but I think that they can all be dealt with (I try to deal with many of them in the paper). What’s more, I think that failure to conceive of religion in these terms stems either from a failure to recognize that religion is a sociological phenomenon, or from the failure to appreciate that religiosity has a distinctive psychology. The paper then became about the philosophical merit of regarding religiosity in terms of these three elements. The basic conclusion is that philosophers conceiving of religiosity in this way opens up new ways for thinking about what could make religiosity rational and/or reasonable.
In its own small way, I hope that this paper contributes towards a move within philosophy of religion to concentrate upon religion as a lived human experience. I love philosophical theology. But philosophy of religion needs to have broader horizons than mere theology. Religions often come along with theological commitments, but religions are much richer than that, and the philosophy of religion would do well to relate to religions as sociological and psychological phenomena too. The paper is still a little rough around the edges, and I look forward to hearing people’s comments and suggestions.
The full paper is available here. Comments welcome below!
This is the twenty-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.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
My current work focuses on rectificatory justice and argues that the negative social and moral perceptions of Black Americans work to prevent Blacks from gaining rectificatory justice. This is because of connections between American colorblind liberalism and gaining rectificatory justice within the liberal paradigm. Liberalism is a political philosophy that espouses the mutual equality of persons, individual liberty, and that a set of moral rights flow from their mutual equality. Rectificatory justice is the branch of justice concerned with setting unjust situations right, which may require a number of different actions. Within the liberal tradition, injustice is violating someone’s rights. When one’s rights are violated, the victim has the right to have their injustices rectified in some manner. I plan to defend these positions: rights have a social dimension that is based in being recognized as one’s equal; that Blacks have not received rectificatory justice; and that racial reconciliation (which includes the dominant group changing their negative perceptions about Blacks) is a necessary step for Blacks to receive rectificatory justice.
A particular institution that has indoctrinated and educated millions about ethical behavior, respect, and following the moral law is the Christian Church. My father is a Baptist (his side of the family having faithfully attending Christ Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church for decades), and his side of the family introduced me to what Baptist church services were like. My mother’s side of the family, however, is Catholic. Something I find interesting is how quickly I identify with having an upbringing in the Catholic Church, and yet I have little memory of choosing to be Catholic rather than Baptist. My older brother and I would attend church often as children, going to Dad’s church some weeks and Mom’s church (St. Bridget’s) other weeks. I surmise it was a decision more or less made by Mom that her sons would grow up in the same kind of faith that she did. Since the difference is more in how people praise rather than who people praised, Dad acquiesced on this issue. That said, it was never unheard of for the whole family to go to both churches on holidays or important services.
I was never confirmed, but I was baptized as an infant by the priest at St. Bridget’s. When I learned that being baptized meant that I chose to take God in, it struck me as peculiar that it was a choice made for me. Not that I wasn’t happy that the choice was made – I have an unwavering belief in the existence of God, thanks in no small part to God’s existence being indoctrinated in me from birth. The conviction in the value of a church community that my parents held meant St. Bridget’s to be my first church home: where I did a confession for the first time; I sang in the choir; I learned hymns and songs to affirm the story of Christ and the glory of God; and I knew church to be where I would see many of my cousins, aunts, and uncles regularly. My family loves to get together, and church was another excuse to get together as I grew up. The building itself was supposed to be respected as a place of worship, a concept that taught me how important the worship was to any sort of faith practice that I would adopt.
In my early teens, St. Bridget’s closed. This destabilized my sense of church community and led me to seriously consider the purpose of attending church. By that time I understood certain theoretical differences between Baptists and Catholic, such as the existence of Purgatory, and had chosen Catholicism as my preferred brand of Christianity. For one, I figured that Heaven takes way too perfect a person to get in but that I wouldn’t be evil enough to deserve Hell and thought Purgatory would be a nice middle ground for eternity (at least it’s not Hell). The other thing that swayed me was how short the services were in Catholic churches; we come in, say a few prayers, sing a couple of songs, hear a good message from the priest, have communion and we’re done. In my mind, as long as we were genuinely engaging in religious rites that heaped praise and respect upon God then it shouldn’t necessarily take all day to do so. And man, Baptist church services just go on forever.
Most of my account has focused so far on my relationship with the church and how that helped me forge my religious view of the world. Losing St. Bridget’s put things in perspective for me about what the important part of going to church is – building a relationship with God. Attending church wasn’t a requirement for building a relationship with God, prayer was. So I went into my parent’s bedroom around 15 or 16 and told them I didn’t want to go to church anymore because I didn’t know what I was supposed to get out of it. At least as a youngster, I knew that church meant family time in a sacred place. Without a church community, it felt like I was going to church to sing songs and hear a story and none of it made sense. God exists, that made sense. Jesus story? Sure, I can roll with that. But I wasn’t very clear on the point of church any longer, and that moment of truth with my parents emboldened me to my newfound beliefs. I was nervous that they would be upset or even punish me for not wanting to go to church, but church felt like a chore that was not providing me any benefit. I distinctly remember my parents asking me if I still believed in God, which was met with a crystal clear, “Of course!” God wasn’t the issue – church was the issue.
Since that moment, I really avoided taking on any labels regarding my belief structure. If asked, I respond that I’m a Christian, and that I was raised Catholic. It doesn’t concern me if I’m considered nondenominational, Catholic, or whatever someone thinks of me. The only thing that matters is maintaining a relationship with God, which I do through prayer and appreciation. Since May 1, 2009, I try my best to say daily, “Thank you God for today, thank you for yesterday, and thank you for a chance at tomorrow.”
|Today’s colloquium paper is “How to be Omnipresent” by Sam Cowling and Wesley Cray. Dr. Cowling received his PhD from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2011 and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. He has published papers on a variety of topics in metaphysics, and his first monograph, Abstract Entities (Routledge) is scheduled to be released on March 1. It’s available for pre-order now!|
How to be Omnipresent
Sam Cowling and Wesley D. Cray
Thanks to Kenny Pearce and everyone else here at the Prosblogion. We are Sam Cowling (Denison University; firstname.lastname@example.org) and Wesley Cray (Texas Christian University; email@example.com), and we’re excited to be a part of the new Prosbloglion Virtual Colloquium series. Today, we’re presenting the penultimate draft of our paper, “How to Be Omnipresent,” which we’re happy to say is forthcoming in American Philosophical Quarterly.
Though the topic of omnipresence itself is perhaps one most naturally located within philosophy of religion, we hope that the paper is of interest to metaphysicians more generally—especially those who are invested in questions about occupation and location. We also think it has the potential to lead into neat discussions about abstract entities. And even among philosophers of religion, we hope that the paper will be of interest to those working outside of the constraints of philosophy of Western, monotheistic religion. Discussions of omnipresence do, of course, show up in other religious traditions—and we take it to be a virtue of our account that it stretches across (and even outside of) traditions, rather than remaining bound to any particular tradition.
Anyway, we develop and defend a new account of omnipresence, which, we argue, is preferable to more familiar views, such as the Occupation View (according to which an entity is omnipresent iff it occupies every region) and the Dependence View (according to which an entity is omnipresent iff it can exert its will or power at every region). Our view, which we call the Existential View, takes an entity to be omnipresent iff it exists at every region.
Consider a version of necessitism along the lines of the views endorsed by Williamson and Linsky & Zalta. On such a view, the stock of entities is modally invariant, with all entities existing at all worlds. Despite enjoying necessary existence, (many or most) entities are only contingently concrete. When not concrete, they exist as abstract entities. We take it that these entities occupy regions only while concrete. For any world w, they still exist at w while abstract, even though they don’t occupy any region at w. So, the existence facts are separable from the occupation facts. We can make parallel comments and observations about the temporal case, looking to versions of permanentism.
In developing the Existential View, we repurpose the machinery of necessitism and permanentism and explore a spatial analog. If necessitism and permanentism are coherent—and we think they are—then, again, existence facts are separable from occupation facts. Now, just apply that to the spatial case: an entity might exist at a spatial (or spatiotemporal) region without occupying that region. An omnipresent entity is just an entity that exists at all regions, regardless of which regions, if any, it occupies.
On necessitism and permanentism, the stock of all entities is modally or temporally invariant, respectively. We don’t want to go that far in the spatial case. Instead, we take omnipresence to be a metaphysically distinctive feature, rather than one enjoyed by all entities. In fact, we take it to be an open question whether any entity actually enjoys omnipresence in the sense we develop. But we do think that it is metaphysically possible that an entity be omnipresent, and, by our lights, it’s good to have a account of what that means.
We call our view the Existential View because we tie existence to quantification, a la Quine. We might say that an entity exists at a world iff it is included in the scope of the existential quantifier when restricted to that world. Likewise, we might say that an entity exists at a time iff it is included in the scope of the existential quantifier when restricted to that time. By extension, we find it natural to go on to say that an entity exists at a region iff it is included in the scope of the existential quantifier when restricted to that region. To be omnipresent, then, is to be within the scope of the existential quantifier, regardless of regional restriction.
The biconditionals above are certainly not meant to offer reductive analyses. We leave it as an open question whether existence-at-a–world/time/region is something that can be reduced to more basic notions or whether it itself should be taken as basic. But even if we opt for the latter approach, the Existential View is still informative: an entity’s status as omnipresent depends, not on facts about its power or on facts about which regions it occupies, but on facts about where it exists. Omnipresent entities exist everywhere, even if they have no power or will or no regions that they occupy.
So, that’s the idea. In the paper, we go into more detail in developing the account, and give reasons why one might prefer it over the Occupation and Dependence Views. We also defend against a few objections. Maybe we’ll get the opportunity to try to defend it against a few more in the comments section here. We’re looking forward to the discussion!
The complete paper is available here. Discussion welcome below!
In the coming weeks, I will begin running a new feature on this blog which I am calling ‘the Prosblogion Virtual Colloquium’. Like a real philosophy department colloquium, the virtual colloquium aims to be a weekly discussion of a philosophy paper. This being the Prosblogion, these will of course be papers in philosophy of religion. However, this term will be construed in a very broad sense to include philosophy papers in any field and any tradition that are relevant to religion in general or to any particular religion. I will be trying, as much as possible, to span the full diversity of philosophers, philosophical projects, arguments and positions that fall within that very general characterization of philosophy of religion. The colloquium will primarily feature the work of junior scholars.
I have several aims for this project. First, I hope simply that this will foster interesting discussion of philosophical issues related to religion(s). Second, I think it is an unfortunate feature of the academic discipline of philosophy that many excellent papers are barely read and commented on at all. I therefore hope that the virtual colloquium will help a variety of philosophy papers to be part of a genuine conversation (and maybe not wait years to be cited for the first time!). Third, I hope that the series will help to bring attention to the diverse kinds of work being undertaken in contemporary philosophy of religion and the variety of positions and arguments being defended. Finally, I hope that this will provide an opportunity for philosophers who don’t get to attend conferences and colloquia on a regular basis to engage in helpful back-and-forth philosophical discussion at a high level.
I am open to suggestions about format, but my current plan is as follows. Just like an in-person colloquium, I will briefly introduce the colloquium ‘speaker’. Following this, the ‘speaker’ will give an introductory summary of the paper under discussion (recommended length about 800 words, but flexible). Then there will be a link to the full text of the paper. The paper may be a draft or a recent publication, but must be online somewhere. Open access is of course preferable, but where this is infeasible for copyright reasons a link to the journal (or PhilPapers) to allow those who have access through their university would be acceptable.
If there is sufficient interest, I hope to run the first virtual colloquium on Friday, October 14 and hold subsequent colloquia each Friday through at least the end of the present academic year. I am beginning to contact potential presenters right away. I would appreciate receiving nominations particularly of junior philosophers who have a draft or recent publication in philosophy of religion to discuss. These can be left in the comments below, or sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Receiving plenty of nominations from lots of different people will help to ensure the schedule does not end up unduly biased toward my own philosophical propensities. Self-nominations are also encouraged!
For the past few years, I have organized a lively philosophy of religion work-in-progress group at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto.
– If you would like to be added to the mailing list for this group, please email me: email@example.com
– If you are (or plan to be) in the Toronto area this semester, and would like to present a paper to this group, please let me know.
– If you would like to present a paper to this group via Skype this semester, please let me know. (We have an 80″ screen in our department’s meeting room!)
Department of Philosophy
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 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 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.
This is the twenty-first 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, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20. 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 Kevin Timpe, who will be the Jellema Chair of Christian Philosophy starting this fall.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
I’m actually in transition this summer. We’re in the process of moving to Grand Rapids, MI where I’ll be the W. H. Jellema Chair in Christian Philosophy at Calvin College starting this coming fall. I just finished my seventh year at Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho, and before that I taught for six years at the University of San Diego in southern California. As you can tell from this, I’ve been at a number of fairly different Christian universities over the course of my career.
I’m joked a few times that I’ve gone from teaching in a Catholic school to a Wesleyan school and now to a Reformed school without substantively changing my philosophical or religious views, but I actually think there’s a fair bit of truth in that description. I have a strong affinity for what my friend and frequent co-author Tim Pawl calls ‘conciliar Christianity’. I lean toward the medievals (more so than toward modern or postmodern theologians) in a lot of my theological views, which helps explain why I have many Catholic sympathies. A few of my papers have drawn heavily on parts of Augustine’s and Aquinas’s thought. Some of my views are a little unusual for a Protestant, such as my thinking that purgatory fits very nicely with what I think about character formation and a recent paper of mine exploring a particular understanding of limbo. Last year for a paper on grace, I read a fair bit of Maximus the Confessor and would love to engage his thought more in the coming years.
In terms of research, most of my early work focused on issues relating to the metaphysics of free will and various issues in the philosophy of religion. At the University of San Diego, I taught a general-education ethics course entitled “Virtues and Vices” that got me thinking more about virtue ethics, particularly about the connections between our actions and our moral character. Though initially primarily a teaching interest, I came to write some on moral character and virtue, and eventually edited a collection (with Craig Boyd) entitled Virtues and Their Vices (OUP, 2014). A little over a year ago, I started a new research project on philosophy of disability, largely as the result of having a disabled child and having to do some significant advocating for him once he entered elementary school. Though my other interests remain, I think that disability (including how it intersects with agency) will be the primary focus of my research for the next few years.
This is the twentieth 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, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19. 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 Tyler Dalton McNabb, PhD student and tutor at the University of Glasgow.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
I am currently a tutor at the University of Glasgow. I also teach online as an Adjunct Instructor at Southeastern University. Given that I’ll be turning in my PhD thesis in a few weeks, I am currently looking for a full-time position. Speaking of my PhD thesis, now might be a good time to address my work. My thesis and recent publications pertain to defending both Plantinga’s proper functionalism and his Reformed epistemology.
I grew up in Texas and like all good Protestant Texans, I was raised a Southern Baptist. My family wasn’t the most devout family (though they were one of the most loving!) though. We would go to church off and on and there were times where we went a very long time without going. This being so, there was still a sense of needing to honour Christ in one’s actions.
This would change a bit in my senior year of high school where I began to struggle with doubt. I found myself convinced (and I am still convinced) of the following conditional: if atheism is true, then nihilism is true. I started really asking the ‘big’ questions about God’s existence and the resurrection of Jesus.
Though I always felt naturally inclined to just believe that God exists, I didn’t have a good argument (which I thought I had to have) for believing in theism or Christianity. One day, I told God that if He wouldn’t reveal Himself to me that I would become a nihilist. That night, through the internet, I came across what theologians call ‘Messianic prophecy’ and I found myself believing that passages like Isaiah 53 spoke of Jesus. I immediately believed that Jesus was the Messiah and that the Bible was God’s Word. The next day, being that I was already late to school, I figured that I would pull over and take out my Bible. I prayed to God and asked Him if Jesus was indeed the Second Person of the Trinity. I did that unpardonable sin and randomly flipped open the Bible. As Providence would have it, I read a verse that to me, clearly reflected Jesus’ deity. It was from this point on that I began to have a great love for God and I immediately felt convicted to share the Gospel with strangers. In total, from the time of getting right with God to starting my street evangelism career, there was about 2 months.
I ended up going to a theologically liberal Baptist college after high school and I was quickly forced to again confront scepticism. I began to study apologetics which would eventually lead me to philosophy. I ended up going to Israel to share the Gospel and there, I would be forced to put what I learned into action. At the end of the trip, I felt God asking or calling me to share and defend my faith on a larger scale. I told God that as long as I didn’t lose my faith in the process that I would accept His call. And while I didn’t lose my faith, I did struggle with great doubt for about a year soon after. This was partly due to having Cartesian epistemology. Though through this time I had a couple of occasions where I did feel God’s presence in incredible ways. I believe God let me experience His presence like this in order to preserve my faith during this time of doubt. It was eventually through the work of William Lane Craig and especially Alvin Plantinga (surprising to you, I’m sure) that the season of doubt ended and my desire to be a professional philosopher began.
While I now feel very confident in my Christian faith, I have struggled with which Christian tradition I should belong to. In fact, I have now had the pleasure of belonging to almost all of the main Christian traditions. I believe that, my warrant for my belief that Christianity is true is very high, while my belief in the so called ‘secondary doctrines’ carries significantly lower warrant (though still enough for knowledge, I think). Because of this, I feel most comfortable calling myself an Evangelical Christian before anything else. The struggle hasn’t prevented me from evangelism or pursuing a long philosophy career though. Fast forward to current times, I am not only teaching philosophy, but I am using philosophy to help share the Gospel through open air preaching and personal evangelism.