Welcome to the first Virtual Colloquium of the spring term! Today’s paper is “Anselm, not Alston: The Reference of ‘God’ Revisited” by H.D.P. Burling. Hugh Burling is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge (UK) and a Visiting Graduate Fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame. He work has been published in Religious Studies. His research concerns religious disagreement, method in theology, and the concept of God.
Anselm, not Alston: The Reference of ‘God’ Revisited.
We instinctively characterise religious disagreement as disagreement either about what there is, or about what the same thing – God – is like. A common dialectical move made in modern theology, both academic and popular, sits between these two possibilities. Often, we read a theist of one stripe claiming that theists of another stripe don’t worship the same God. They are ‘idolaters’, or, more diplomatically, they just so badly misconceive God that they don’t ‘mean’ the same ‘thing’ by His names. It is not easy to explain what is mistaken about this move when it seems mistaken. My first publication concerned a particular version of it, in which natural theology is attacked as having to do with some other being than the God Christianity concerns. ‘Debunking’ local instances of the manoeuvre is worthwhile, but I wasn’t satisfied, and wanted a more general strategy which might show what is wrong with adopting partisan definitions of ‘God’ in order to avoid deeper engagement with others’ claims about God.
The strategy I adopt in the following article is to regard that manoeuvre as just one of the many features of theistic religious language which is curious – one of the explananda for a semantics for theism. So, we start by asking what we ‘mean’ by ‘God’, and answer that question by attempting to infer the rules of the ‘theology game’ by watching people play it. The conclusion I come to is that ‘God’ implicitly denotes, in Russell’s sense, whichever being is worthy of our worship. This secures co-reference between theists of extremely different stripes, whilst explaining the high-stakes nature of theological disagreement, and why parties to it o not just ‘walk away’ when apparent parity is reached, or one party attempts to squirrel his definition of “God” in favour of his claims about God. If both parties implicitly understand something Anselmian by ‘God’, then when the Christian insists that by ‘God’ he just means the Holy Trinity, the Muslim’s response to this makes sense. Rather than walking away (‘If they’re what you mean by ‘God’, I don’t care what you claim about them’), she will challenge him.
The article itself shows how my crypto-Anselmian understanding of God copes better with other desiderata for a semantics for theism than rival theories in the nascent literature. The view I defend makes it very easy for humans to successfully pick out God with ‘God’ because the basic ethics of worship are something we pick up fast, and, plausibly, most of us are introduced to God-talk in an appropriate context to get stuck in with worshipping the One we intentionally pick out with that Name. Kripkean views according to which ‘God’ is a proper name whose reference is passed down via a causal chain, however, threaten ease of access for speakers because the chain is so messy and fragile. Non-Anselmian descriptivist views struggle because their content is often harder for speakers to have in mind.
I hope the article is persuasive in defending a view about the semantics of ‘God’ which, I think, is the best candidate for being ‘the’ traditional view. (I think that Anselmian descriptivisms, and descriptivisms which appeal to lists of metaphysical divine names, only come apart in practice when our axiologies do not reflect those of the theologians responsible for the lists of divine names.) But I also hope it’s persuasive to theologians who lean towards identifying God in a confessional manner. Otherwise, I think identifying God the way I do can help explain a lot about the commonalities between different behaviours and literatures we call ‘religious’.
Within the scope of the article, I do not have space to go through alternative iterations of the ‘Specified Singleton’ view, other than my preferred option. So I’d be particularly curious to hear about alternatives which strike readers as preferable.
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-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 nineteenth 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 and 18. 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 J. Aaron Simmons, Associate Professor in philosophy at Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
Currently, I am an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. I have been at Furman for five years and prior to coming here I held positions at Hendrix College, The University of the South (Sewanee), and Vanderbilt University.
Most of my work is in philosophy of religion and occurs in light of phenomenology and existentialism. That said, I have also done work in political philosophy, environmental philosophy, and the history of philosophy (especially focusing on the thought of Søren Kierkegaard, Emmanuel Levinas, and the “new phenomenology” of Michel Henry, Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Louis Chrétien, and Jean-Luc Marion).
In general, there are two questions that keep me up at night and continue to cause me to get up every morning and keep working. The first is “What are the possibilities for and the fate of determinate religious belief and identity in postmodernism?” The second is “How might philosophers stop calling for the overcoming of the so-called analytic/continental divide and simply do constructive work that no longer reinforces the divide?” Ultimately, these two questions dovetail together in my thinking and writing.more…
META-PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION & META-THEOLOGY
We are delighted to announce the new journal TheoLogica, a peer-reviewed international journal. TheoLogica is a multidisciplinary research journal focused on philosophy of religion and theology (analytic theology, natural theology, philosophical theology), exploring philosophical and theological topics with the standards of conceptual clarity and rigorous argumentation, which are recognized (in particular but not exclusively) in the analytic tradition. The Journal adopts the Open Access Journal (free access) in order to promote research and development of philosophy of religion and theology in the Spanish-speaking academy. In order to contribute equally to international scientific discussions held in several languages, articles and reviews written in Spanish, French, English, Italian and German are accepted.
We invite submissions for the first issue of the journal: Meta-philosophy of religion & Meta-theology. The authors will be expected to discuss the nature, methods and aims of philosophy of religion and/or theology from a metaphilosophical or metatheological perspective. The following is a (non-exhaustive) list of possible research topics:
- What are philosophy of religion and/or analytic theology? What are their subject, their methods and aims?
- Is theology continuous with philosophy and with science? Can it be called a science and in what sense?
- What are the ultimate sources of theology (Scripture, Councils, Tradition, Reason, etc.) and their relative roles? What is the relationship between Scripture and the analytical style of philosophizing? What is the epistemological status of the Scripture in these disciplines?
- What is the place of argumentation in the methodology of theology?
- Is there such a thing as theological knowledge? What are the epistemic sources of theological knowledge?
- Is theological knowledge necessary? Are there epistemic conditions for Salvation?
- Do philosophy of religion and theology aim at Wisdom? How is this sapiential dimension to be fostered? Is the analytic style a hindrance for this aim?
Deadline for sending the paper: April 30st, 2016
Full papers should be submitted via our website: http://revistatheologica.com, or send your paper to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the TheoLogica homepage for a description of the journal and instructions to authors.
This is the seventeenth 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. Follow the links for parts 1, 2,3,4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work?
I’m a Muslim trainee-philosopher born in Iran. I studied BSc in Business and Economics and MA in Islamic and Western philosophy at the University of Tehran and Shahid Beheshti University, Iran. I spent my doctoral journey in moral philosophy at the University of Reading and Oxford under the supervision of Prof. Stratton-Lake, Prof. Hooker and Dr. Rini. My thesis was on “Mind, Epistemology and Neuroethics: A Defence of Epistemological Intuitionism”. Currently, I’m doing research on “Ethics of Migration” and “Compassion in Islamic and Christian Theology” for the department of Theological Ethics and Christian Social Ethics at Universität Luzern. I’m also an associate researcher and adjunct lecture on “Metaphor and Cognition” and “Neuroethics” at Institute for Cognitive Science Studies.
The areas that I’m working on are mostly normative ethics, applied ethics, moral epistemology (esp. intuitionism), moral psychology, neuroethics, metaphor, philosophy of religion, Islamic mysticism and philosophy of Persian music. In 2015, I established “School of Rumi” as an online charity institute for teaching ethics, mysticism and religion. In 2014, my book, Metaphor and Science, has been published in Persian. I have also published a Persian translation of James Brown’s The Laboratory of the Mind. My recent publications in English are, among others, “Success of Public Knowledge Management in the Light of Rossian Ethics” (2013), “Medical Ethics in Qiṣāṣ Punishment” (2015), “Ontological Nominalism and Analytic Philosophy” (2015) and “Playing with the “Playing God”” (forthcoming).
This is the sixteenth 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. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3,4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15. 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 Kristen Irwin, an assistant professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago.
Can you tell me something about your current academic work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
I specialize in the early modern period, particularly the seventeenth century. My 2010 dissertation was on the nature and function of reason and belief in the thought of Pierre Bayle, but I have broad interests in the treatment of rationality, religious beliefs, and moral beliefs by modern philosophers. I also dabble in contemporary philosophy of religion and metaethics.
My religious affiliation is… not entirely straightforward! My most obvious identification is as a follower of Jesus Christ in the sense indicated by traditional statements of Christian belief such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, interpreted in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. Beyond that, however, things get… complicated. I’ve found that I’m a bit of an oddball, religiously speaking: With respect to religious practices, I have a deep appreciation for—maybe even a love of?—traditional liturgy, and I find a certain freedom and invitation in its privileging of embodiment in one’s interaction with God. At the same time, I value the spontaneity and sincerity of more contemporary forms of worship, and acknowledge the vitality and authenticity of those practices. I also tend to shy away from the hierarchical authority structures generally associated with groups that adopt traditional liturgical practices, especially in light of the ways that this authority has been misused and abused, to the detriment both of those within the church, and outside of the church.
Seattle Pacific University, Philosophy: Assistant professor, tenure-track position beginning September 2016 (subject to funding). Ph.D. in philosophy required; teaching experience preferred. AOS: Epistemology or Philosophy of Language. AOC: philosophy of religion, philosophical theology. Teaching responsibilities include multiple sections of a general education course required of all SPU students, which explores issues at the intersection of religion, science, and philosophy. In addition, teaching responsibilities include all or most of the following courses: epistemology, beginning symbolic logic, advanced logic (predicate logic and modal statement logic), philosophy of religion, and philosophical theology. Founded in 1891, Seattle Pacific University has a long and distinguished history in Christian higher education. Its comprehensive academic programs serve more than 4,100 undergraduate and graduate students. Located just minutes from downtown Seattle, SPU seeks to be a premier Christian University fully committed to engaging the culture and changing the world by graduating people of competence and character, becoming people of wisdom, and modeling grace-filled community. Seattle Pacific University seeks applicants committed to its Christian mission. Due to our mission of cultural engagement, SPU is committed to building an excellent and diverse teaching faculty. The online application includes an official SPU application form, a cover letter, a CV, three letters of recommendation, a faith statement of approximately one page, a teaching philosophy statement of approximately one page, and evidence of excellence in teaching. Completed applications should be submitted by November 1. For more information, contact C. Stephen Layman, chair, Philosophy Department, Seattle Pacific University, 3307 Third Ave. West, Seattle, WA 98119 / email@example.com
This is the tenth 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 parts1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. 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 James Faulconer, professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University. His area specialization is on contemporary European philosophy, particularly Heidegger and French thought from approximately 1960 to the present.
This is the third installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices (see here and here for previous installments). In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. I have interviewed (and am in the course of interviewing) agnostics, theists and atheists, hopefuls and skeptics. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited, except for some occasional shortenings (indicated by ellipses)
The third interview is with H.E. Baber, who is a full professor at the University of San Diego.