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, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 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.
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.
In chapter 5 of Divine Providence: The Molinist Account (1998), Thomas Flint defends a response to the grounding objection which he attributes to Alfred Freddoso. According to the Flint-Freddoso line, there are difficulties about future contingents which are exactly parallel to the difficulties about counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, and solutions to the problems about future contingents can be adapted to provide equally plausible solutions to the problems about counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. This claim is false.
The exact formulation of the grounding objection is a little tricky. Some philosophers take it to be based on the (questionable) assumption of some form of truthmaker theory, i.e., the notion that if a sentence/proposition is true then its truth must somehow be grounded in an actually existing concrete entity. This kind of very abstract claim about truth is quite controversial and can easily be rejected by the Molinist. However, the objection can be stated much more compellingly by keeping the focus on free will, which is of course the Molinist’s main concern. The Molinist endorses a negative thesis about freedom, namely, that my action is unfree if that action is determined by anyone or anything other than me. However, if this negative thesis were the Molinist’s whole conception of freedom, then the Molinist would succumb to the randomness objection to libertarianism: she would be unable to distinguish between an indeterministic spasm and a genuinely free action. Accordingly, the Molinist should conjoin to this negative thesis the positive thesis that an action is free only if it follows from my (undetermined) causal activity. But then, according to the Molinist, all of the counterfactuals regarding my free choices are determined and known by God in a manner that is logically independent of my even existing (let alone choosing), so it seems that it is not my undetermined causal activity that makes the counterfactuals true, and the same ought to be true of the subjunctive conditionals with true antecedents (since those would have remained true even if God had decided not to create me). Accordingly, I am not free in any positive sense, since all of my choices are determined by the prior truth of the counterfactuals and not by my spontaneous causal activity.
One response to this objection the Molinist should not make is that the determination in question is okay because it’s not causal determination. If the Molinist made this response, a Thomist or Leibnizian opponent would reply that it is perfectly consistent with their view that our actions might be free from external determination by natural causes (and, indeed, both the Thomist and the Leibnizian will insist that our actions are indeed often free from such external determination). As Leibniz expresses the matter:
Since, moreover, God’s decree consists solely in the resolution he forms, after having compared all possible worlds, to choose that one which is the best, and bring it into existence together with all that this world contains, by means of the all-powerful word Fiat, it is plain to see that this decree changes nothing in the constitution of things: God leaves them just as they were in the state of mere possibility, that is, changing nothing either in their essence or nature, or even in their accidents, which are represented perfectly already in the idea of this possible world. Thus that which is contingent and free remains no less so under the decrees of God than under his prevision. (Theodicy, tr. Huggard, sect. 52)
If the Molinist is to have grounds for rejecting Leibniz’s view, she has to insist that it is not only (natural/secondary) causal determination that interferes with freedom, but any kind of determination whatsoever. Hence determination by the prior truth of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom must, on the Molinist’s view, be inconsistent with freedom.
Now consider the Flint-Freddoso response. According to this response, the issue here is exactly parallel to the issue about future contingents. (Note that Leibniz makes the same claim about his compatibilist response.) It is true now that I will freely eat breakfast tomorrow. But if it is already true now, then doesn’t that mean I won’t be free, since the truth of this proposition determines that I will eat? Note again that the Molinist can’t say that this doesn’t matter because the determination is not causal, or else the Thomist or Leibnizian comes back with a distinction between primary and secondary causation.
Flint argues that a particular solution to the problem of future contingents can be adapted to the counterfactual case. According to this solution, a future claim counts as grounded iff the grounding will happen in the future. Similarly, a counterfactual claim counts as grounded iff the grounding would happen if the antecedent were true. This solution, however, cannot succeed without surrendering the Molinist’s claim to a more robust notion of freedom than the Thomist or Leibnizian, for here we are saying, effectively, the if the antecedent were true I would exercise undetermined causal efficacy to make the consequent true. But this is exactly what Leibniz says: God sees, in that other possible world, that the manner of causation I will exercise will be free causation. By actualizing that world, he doesn’t make the causation any less free. The Molinist now lacks motivation for saying that God couldn’t actualize that other possible world at which I freely take the opposite action in exactly the same circumstances.
Flint’s formulation of the solution to the problem of future contingents is complicated by a desire to remain neutral in the debate between presentists and eternalists in the philosophy of time (or perhaps by an endorsement of presentism – it’s not really clear). Endorsing eternalism makes the solution to the problem of future contingents easier to state, and more plausible. At the same time, it makes it clearer why the parallel solution to the problem about counterfactuals is not plausible. If eternalism is true, then we can say that the future contingent claim is made true by the fact that at that future time I actually do exercise undetermined causal influence and thereby bring it about that I eat breakfast. The future time really exists. (It is true now that it exists, although it is, of course, located in the future.) My free choice really happens at that time. That’s what makes it true. Nice and simple.
Now consider the parallel move for the counterfactuals. Here we’d have to say that it’s because I exercise undetermined causal influence at some other possible world that the counterfactual is true. But note that if it’s enough for me to exercise undetermined causal influence according to some abstract possible world then we’re back at Leibniz: why can’t God just make that world actual without altering the manner of causation I exercise? What we need, if this is going to be parallel to the case of eternalist future contingents, is for me not merely to be represented as exercising undetermined causal power, but actually doing it. This means that, in order for the Molinist to make the parallel move, we need (a) realism about the feasible worlds (but not the other merely possible worlds); and (b) transworld identity across feasible worlds. In other words, we need it to be the case that I myself actually face every choice which it is metaphysically possible that I face. Needless to say, eternalism is much easier to swallow than this. Accordingly, the grounding problem for Molinist counterfactuals is really not parallel to the problem of future contingents.
(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net)
This is the ninth 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 and 8. 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 Michael Sudduth, a full time lecturer in the Philosophy Department at San Francisco State University, where he is also the coordinator of the university-wide religion program. He has been teaching at SFSU since January 2005.
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.
[cross-posted at The Philosophers’ Cocoon] This is the first installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. Curiously, there’s relatively little attention for religious practices, with most work in philosophy of religion strongly focusing on beliefs (this is changing thanks to excellent work by Terence Cuneo, Howard Wettstein, Sarah Coakley and others, but this work is still decidedly in the minority).
In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers who are religious practitioners—they go to church or temple, pray, utter blessings, engage in stoic meditation, read the Torah, serve in the capacity of priest—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 first interview is with Marcus Arvan, who is an assistant professor at the University of Tampa. Arvan self-identifies as a hoping Agnostic and attends Catholic mass weekly.
I listed five false consequences of the standard view of personhood. Let me offer the continuant argument that I’m not a person. I mean, of course, that I am not essentially a person in the standard sense of personhood. I’d like to know where the argument goes wrong. I can’t see any place where it does. It’s actually a simple argument.
These posts are advertised as part of the Birmingham Fellowship scheme. They are permanent academic posts for outstanding junior academics, which start with five years of protected time for high-quality research.
Philosophical Theology (Job Ref: 36482)
The School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion seeks to appoint an Enhanced Early Career Lecturer in any area of Philosophical Theology. The School is home to a lively research community which is strongly committed to delivering the highest quality of research. We are well placed to achieve our goal of being one of the best research institutions in Theology, Religion and Philosophy in the English-speaking world. In the REF2014 national research audit, both the Department of Philosophy and the Department of Theology and Religion ranked second in the UK. The Department of Theology and Religion has many areas of specialization, including those represented by the Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, the Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, and the John Hicks Centre for the Philosophy of Religion. The Department’s vision is to develop its engagement with Philosophical Theology over the next five years, building a strong cohort of scholars engaged in world-leading research. The appointed Lecturer will play a key role in delivering this vision, building on and enhancing connections across the two departments in the School and beyond. They will have a growing reputation in the field and be able to demonstrate a strong research track record, including high quality publications and the ability to attract external funding.
Suppose for the sake of discussion that (1) is true. I have no idea whether there are worlds in which there are just 100 happy people, but it does simplify the discussion.
1. w includes 100 happy people existing for 10 minutes only.
The value of w, I think, is ten times the value of w’ in (2).
2. w’ includes 100 happy people existing for 1 minute only.
Now let w” be exactly like w, but add the fact that w” is an eternalist world. w” includes 100 happy people. There is no time in w” at which it is false that 100 happy people exist.
3. w” includes 100 happy people and it is true at each time t that 100 happy people exist.
Since it is true at each time in w” that a 100 happy people exist (and despite the fact that it is not true at each time that 100 happy people exist at that time), the value of w” should be much higher than the value of w. The value of a world is a function (in part) of the number of happy people existing in the world over time. It doesn’t much matter where in the world they are (spatially or, it seems to me, temporally).
I take minimal libertarianism (ML) to entail that, for any time t, free agent S, action A, and world W, S is libertarian free at t in W with respect to A only if S can (is able to) do A at t and S can (is able to) do ~A at t. It is central to the freedom of the libertarian free agent S in W that S has available to her at t an A-world, w, and a ~A-world, w’, each of which share the same past. There are of course many complicating clauses we can add to (ML), and various resulting versions of libertarianism, but the minimal conditions in (ML) is all we will need.
Theists often find libertarianism appealing. But can theists consistently be libertarians? The standard view on gratuitous evil is in (P).
P. Necessarily, God prevents every instance of gratuitous or pointless evil.
(P) of course expresses a necessary truth (if true). (ML) also expresses a necessary truth. Both (P) and (ML) are widely accepted among theists. But if (P) is true, as it certainly seems to be, and God exists, then (ML) is false. How would a proof go?