Virtual Colloquium: Joe Milburn, “Against Religious Indifference”
November 11, 2016 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: 7

Today’s Virtual Colloquium paper is “Against Religious Indifference” by Joe Milburn. Dr. Milburn recently received his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and is now a Research Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Philosophy of Religion. His papers have appeared in journals such as Metaphilosophy and Philosophia.


Against Religious Indifference

Joe Milburn

I want to thank Kenny Pearce for allowing me to present at the Prosblogion Online Colloquium. I want to thank in advance all who participate in the colloquium. I hope you enjoy reading my paper and that it stimulates your own thinking.

This paper is inspired by some of the remarks Pascal makes in F 427 of the Pensées. There, Pascal makes the following claim.

The immortality of the soul is something of such vital importance to us, affecting us so deeply, that one must have lost all feeling not to care about knowing the facts of the matter. All our actions and thoughts must follow such different paths, according to whether there is hope of eternal blessings or not, that the only possible way of acting with sense and judgement is decide our course in the light of this point, which out to be our ultimate object. Thus our chief interest and chief duty is to seek enlightenment on this subject, on which all our conduct depends. [Krailsheimer translation]

In this paper I attempt to unpack in my own way Pascal’s comments above. I make the following argument.

(P1) We should not be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding fundamentally significant questions.

(P2) But fundamental religious questions are fundamentally significant questions.

(C) Therefore, we should not be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding fundamental religious questions.

To be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding a question is to suspend judgment regarding this question and not look for a (good) answer to it. An individual S suspends judgment regarding a question, q, just in case S believes that there is an answer to q, and they judge that they don’t know the answer to q.

A question q is a fundamentally significant question for an individual S, just in case S recognizes (or can be expected to recognize) that she could give a wrong answer to q and that answering q is either a necessary means to, or constitutive of, her answering one of the following questions: What constitutes my flourishing? What are the central duties in my life? What is the purpose of my life?

I stipulate that there are two fundamental religious questions: the question of salvation “might I be saved and how?” and the question of the sacred “is there anything sacred, such that my flourishing consists in worshipping it; or such that one of my central duties is to worship it; or such that the purpose in my life is to worship it?”

I argue for P1 by taking it as given that we should not be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding the following questions: What constitutes my flourishing? What are the central duties in my life? What is the purpose of my life?

If we suspend judgment regarding a fundamentally significant question then we should suspend judgment regarding these questions concerning flourishing, central duties, and purpose. Thus, given my assumption, we should inquire into these questions. But in order to answer these questions about flourishing, central duties, and purpose, we must answer the fundamentally significant question for which we have suspended judgment. So inquiring into the fundamentally significant question is either a necessary means for, or constitutive of, inquiring into these questions about flourishing, central duties, and purpose. Thus, given that we should take the necessary means to our ends, if we suspend judgment into a fundamentally significant question, we should inquire into it.

I spend a little time trying to show that what I am calling the fundamental religious questions are fundamentally significant questions.

Finally, I spend a little time responding to what I call the waste of time objection. This objection goes as follows.

(P1*) We should not inquire into questions if we know on the outset that we cannot find good answers for them.

(P2*) But we know on the outset that it is impossible to find good answers to the fundamental religious questions.

(C*) Therefore, we should not inquire into fundamental religious questions.

In my response to the waste of time objection I put pressure on both of the first two premises. I point out that skeptics seem to call (P1) into question. (Here I have in mind Licentius’s view in Book I of Augustine’s Contra Academicos that human happiness consists in seeking for the truth, not in finding it.) I also point out that P2 is hard to establish in a way that does not undermine P2 itself.

I am thankful for any comments, but I would especially like feed-back on the following: 1.) Is it ok for me to assume that we shouldn’t be in a state of disengaged agnosticism regarding the questions, What constitutes my flourishing? What are my central duties? What is my purpose in life? 2.) Are there better ways of formulating the waste-of-time-objection than I have? 3.) Are there better ways of formulating my argument for P1?

Once again, thank you for this opportunity!


The full paper is available here. Comments welcome below!

Virtual Colloquium: Perry Hendricks, “An Empirical Argument for Substance Dualism”
October 21, 2016 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Afterlife  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: 15

Today’s colloquium paper is “An Empirical Argument for Substance Dualism” by Perry Hendricks. Hendricks is a graduate student in philosophy at Trinity Western University in British Columbia, where he also received his BA. His interests include philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, and epistemology.


An Empirical Argument for Substance Dualism

Perry Hendricks

A common problem with arguments for dualism is that they rely on modal premises that are only supported by dubious intuitions. This results in the arguments having a narrow scope—only those who already hold the needed intuitions will find them to be convincing. In this paper, I try to remedy this situation by constructing a new modal argument whose key premise is empirically supported. I begin by formulating the physicalist thesis and make clear its commitments. Next I explicate the notions of reduction and substance. After this, I argue that Twin Earth—a physical duplicate of Earth (including its history and its inhabitants) is possible and that this possibility is empirically supported. I finish by showing that the possibility of Twin Earth entails that selves cannot be reduced and are not supervenient, and this entails that they are non-physical. Further, since selves are substances, it follows that substance dualism is true.

It is not uncommon to hear the argument that if there is an afterlife, then dualism must be true. However, dualism is false, and hence there is not an afterlife. It is also not uncommon to hear the argument that if dualism is true, then the probability of theism rises. I find neither of these theses compelling—I think that physicalism is compatible with an afterlife and that dualism does not raise the probability of theism—but if my argument is correct, it will provide a way to circumvent the first argument while providing support for the crucial premise of the second (i.e. that dualism is true). However, my argument will bring out a new challenge for theism: if the argument that I defend here is successful, then it follows that God acted arbitrarily in actualizing me over another self (or person). This is because multiple selves could have served the causal role that I do. But then why pick me over someone else? What could possibly ground this choice?

In its barest form, my argument is that physicalism entails that everything that exists is at least minimally supervenient, but selves are not minimally supervenient. Hence physicalism is false. Further, since selves are not minimally supervenient, it follows that they are non-physical. To show that selves are not minimally supervenient, I argue that they cannot be functionally reduced because it is possible for multiple selves to play the same causal role in the world.

One objection that I have pondering recently is that Twin Perry and I do not have identical causal roles because of our differing spatial locations. That is, Twin Perry’s causal role is (slightly) different than mine because he is causally related to Earth in a way that I am not, and I am causally related to Twin Earth in a way that he is not. While I’m not convinced that this difficulty is insurmountable (it is not clear to me that these differences are relevant given my definition of the self), we could tweak the argument to get around this objection as follows. First, note that Twin Earth and Twin Perry are possible. Second, note that this entails that Twin Perry can cause the same actions as I do—Twin Perry and I have overlapping causal powers. Lastly, note that this entails that my causal role does not point only to me, for Twin Perry could cause the same actions—play the same causal role—as I do. Hence Twin Perry and I may be inverted, and the objection mentioned above is rendered irrelevant.


The complete paper is here. Discussion welcome below!

Philosophers and their religious practices: Part 23, Goodness, Beauty, and Asceticism
July 28, 2016 — 10:55

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

This is the twenty-third 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 12345678910111213,  141516171819, 2021 and 22

This interview is with Jeremiah Carey, PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley.

Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?

I’m a graduate student in philosophy at UC Berkeley.  I’ll be going on the job market in the fall and graduating in the spring, so I’m eagerly (and anxiously) waiting to see what the future holds.  My philosophical interests are broad and mostly ethical – I want to know how to live and whatever is relevant to knowing that – but my main research has centered on issues in moral psychology.  I pitch my dissertation as a defense of a contemporary analogue of Plato’s tripartite theory of soul. Basically, I argue that in order to make sense of weakness of will, we have to think of ourselves as having multiple “sources” of motivation, which I identify as reason, desire, and the will. A big chunk (over half) is about how to understand desire and its relation to reasons for action.  I’m also interested in normative issues in moral psychology and related topics in virtue ethics and free will/moral responsibility.  I’ve found myself attracted more to ancient approaches to these questions than modern ones, which has led to secondary interests in ancient philosophy, and, more recently, Asian philosophy.

I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I converted to Orthodoxy fairly recently, though I grew up in church, almost quite literally – when I was young my father was a pentecostal preacher and we lived for awhile in an apartment built above the sanctuary. The denomination I grew up in was un-orthodox (denying the doctrine of the Trinity), and at least at that time quite fundamentalist and anti-intellectual.  In fact, my first exposure to philosophy came from my dad’s struggle against the anti-intellectualism of his own church.  (I remember him trying once, without much success, to give us family lessons on common fallacies. A more lasting impression was made when he gave me to read, as a pre-teen, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and emphasized Douglass’ discovery of the link between slavery, on the one hand, and a failure to ask questions and to think deeply, on the other.)  My family left that church while I was in middle school and remained non-denominationally affiliated for the rest of my childhood (my dad quit pastoring, went back to school and became a medical doctor).  Since then I’ve always been, more or less half-heartedly, connected to one church or another, until I discovered the Orthodox church early in my graduate career.

I’ve always been somewhat ill at ease with my faith.  I seem to be the only person in my immediate or extended family who is, I’m afraid, basically immune to religious experience.  I think there are good arguments for theism in general and Christianity in particular, but I don’t find them rationally compelling.  So while Truth is undoubtedly an important issue, my primary draw towards religion is based more on those other transcendentals, Goodness and Beauty.  I want to be good, and I want to recognize and love the beautiful, as well as to believe the true.  Orthodoxy holds out for me the hope of those things more than anything else I’ve encountered.

more…

Philosophers and their religious practices part 20: Using philosophy to help share the Gospel
May 24, 2016 — 14:13

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

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 123456789101112131415161718 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.

more…

Philosophers and their religious practices part 18: Being a Shia Muslim Philosopher – Double Consciousness, Resistance, & Spirituality
January 9, 2016 — 16:24

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

This is the eighteenth 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 12345678910111213141516 and 17. The contributors  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 Saba Fatima, assistant professor at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.

Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?

I am an Assistant Professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in the Philosophy Department. I am also the current Religious Studies Advisor. Among other courses, I teach contemporary Islamic social & political thought, and philosophy of race. My research interests include non-ideal theory, philosophy of race, and feminist philosophy. I employ the tools these sub-fields provide me to better understand the current political context surrounding Muslims. My teaching and research interests were influenced quite a bit by own experiences.

I am a Muslim. I belong to the Shia sect (Fiqh-e-Jafria) of Islam. I grew up in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Early in my life, I didn’t realize we were Shia. I have a faint memory from when I was a kid, realizing one day that we were Shia and being very scared in school. I thought that ‘they’ would come take me away. It was of course unfounded fear of a child, but even as a child, I knew that Saudi Arabia was far from a friendly place for Shia Pakistani expats to work. Our family would host and attend religious gatherings in secret because of fear of persecution. The government still sees Shias as polluters of Islam, and has a contentious political relationship with Shias (within its own borders and elsewhere).

When I moved to Karachi, Pakistan, I never discussed my religious identity. Because my school friends did not know, anti-Shia sentiment would occasionally rear its head. However, it was certainly not anywhere as terrible as Saudi Arabia. Since our extended family had lived there for many years, our neighbors knew we were Shia, but they were friendly and it was a non-issue. When I came to the United States for my undergraduate studies, I again encountered anti-Shia sentiment in the immigrant Muslim communities. This is all, of course, one (very important) aspect of who I am and what my upbringing has been like. For example, one cannot escape anti-Muslim sentiment in the West, or sexist attitudes, both within religious community and the wider society. Even as an adolescent, I always had strong feminist tendencies, but I remain wary of feminist threads which drown out women of color voices or justify imperialism. These experiences were fundamental in my decision to pursue graduate studies in Philosophy and they continue to guide my research.

more…

Philosophers and their religious practices part 15: A life-affirming Judaism
September 17, 2015 — 13:46

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life Religious Belief Teaching  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 1

This is the fifteenth 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, 45678910, 111213 and 14. 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 Gilah Kletenik, who is currently a doctoral student, studying Jewish Philosophy, in the Hebrew and Judaic Studies Department at New York University. Her specific area is modern Jewish Philosophy and her research interests focus on phenomenology, philosophy of language, aesthetics and political theology.

 

Could you tell me something about your current religious affiliation/self-identification?

You ask about my “religious” upbringing and affiliation. This word, “religious,” while ubiquitous and obviously familiar, actually reverberates within my Jewish ears as somewhat alien. I will begin by elaborating on this further, so as to contextualize the ensuing response to your line of inquiry and our broader conversation.

more…

Philosophers and their religious practices part 13: The tremendous liberation of the Sabbath
September 8, 2015 — 6:33

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , , , , , ,   Comments: 0

This is the thirteenth 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, 45678910, 11, and 12. 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 Samuel Lebens, a post-doctoral research fellow in the philosophy department at Rutgers, as part of their Center for Philosophy of Religion, directed by Dean Zimmerman. Before that, he was a post-doctoral fellow in the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame. His PhD was in early analytic philosophy and the intersection between metaphysics and philosophy of language.

Can you say something 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 an Orthodox Jew. I grew up in a traditional Jewish household in England.

As is the case with many British Jews, we affiliated with Orthodoxy but weren’t all that devout in our observance. For instance, Orthodox Judaism forbids driving on the Sabbath, but, like many British Jews, we would drive almost every week to the Orthodox synagogue, and a hide our car nearby, and we wouldn’t drive to the Reform synagogue, even though they allowed driving on the Sabbath!

more…

Philosophers and their religious practices – part 12: A religious outsider
August 4, 2015 — 12:00

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: 2

This is the twelfth 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, 45678910, and 11. 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 Amber Griffioen, a US-American postdoctoral researcher at the University of Konstanz (Germany), where she has worked since 2010. She currently has a 5-year fellowship from the Margarete von Wrangell Program aimed at completing the Habilitation (which would qualify her for a full professorship in Germany). Her primary areas of research are Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Action, and Philosophy of Sport, and her current research focuses on non-doxastic models of religious faith. She is also currently working on a side project with an Iranian scholar on Christian and Islamic mysticism and will be affiliated with a project on Religious Minorities next year in Konstanz.

Can you tell me something about your religious affiliation/self-identification?

Both my religious background and current affiliation/identification are rather complicated. Both my parents come from conservative Dutch Reformed backgrounds, and my primary and secondary education was (for better or worse) in the CSI school system (first in Milwaukee, later in West Michigan). However, “unofficially” I had a very ecumenical upbringing, which profoundly informs my religiosity (or what remains of it) to this day. My father (a theologian) received his Ph.D. from a Jesuit school, and as a young child I was often surrounded by his Catholic colleagues, many of whom were priests and nuns. We ended up attending a Missouri Synod Lutheran church that was known for its music, and we also attended an Episcopal church for a time. Importantly, I also received what one might consider a “religious” education in baseball (i.e., American civil religion), and I’m pretty sure the closest I’ve ever come to what people tend to call a “religious experience” has occurred at the ballpark. All of these factors instilled in me a deep reverence for (and aesthetic attraction to) religious symbol, ritual, and liturgy – much of which was in tension with the heavily Protestant (and increasingly Evangelical) traditions associated with my formal schooling. So I’ve always been a bit of a “religious outsider” wherever I found myself.

more…

Philosophers and their religious practices part 11: The Wesley experience
August 3, 2015 — 5:28

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 0

This is the eleventh 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, 456789 and 10. 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 David McNaughton, currently Professor of Philosophy at Florida State, having previously been Professor at Keele University. He is a member of the Church of England, and a regular attender at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Tallahassee, Florida.

Can you tell me something about your current religious affiliation/self-identification?

I was brought up agnostic, but my parents sent me to Methodist Sunday School (for as long as I wished) so I might find out for myself. After considerable prayer and heart-searching I joined the Methodist Church around 1960 and stayed there for ten years, including being a very active member of the Methodist Society at my undergraduate university. I did my graduate work at Magdalen College Oxford and attended College Chapel, at the end of which I was received into the Church of England.

 

Shortly thereafter I drifted away from Christianity, eventually becoming both sceptical and slightly hostile until my mid-30s when I began slowly to re-evaluate my position. Strong influences here were C. S. Lewis and William James, as well as teaching philosophy of religion with Richard Swinburne. I remained a highly sympathetic agnostic until 2004, when I decided to recommit to the church.

more…

Philosophers and their religious practices part 10: Covenants with God and with each other
June 3, 2015 — 6:00

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

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, 45678 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.

more…