Can Theists be Libertarians?
January 15, 2015 — 23:02

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 14

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?


A Simple Question on the Consequence Argument
August 16, 2014 — 15:01

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 29

Here’s a fairly simple question about the consequence argument. Still, I think it is an interesting question that focuses on the conditionals in the argument. The rule α is not interestingly in doubt, but I assume both α and β. Let P* be  proposition describing a time slice of the universe at some point a billion years ago. Let L all the laws of nature. Let P be a true proposition describing any event after P*.  If determinism is true, then P follows from the conjunction of P* and L. ☐ stands for logical necessity. Assume that determinism is true. Here is van Inwagen’s argument.

1. ☐((P* & L) ⊃ P) assumption
2. ☐(P* ⊃ (L ⊃ P)) 1; modal, prop logic
3. N(P* ⊃ (L ⊃ P)) 2; rule β
4. NP* premise
5. N(L ⊃ P) 3, 4; rule α
6. NL premise
7. NP 5, 6; rule α

I’m not so concerned with working out whether rule α or β are valid. But I am concerned about some of the implications of the premises of the argument. Note first that (8) is necessarily true,

8. N(P* ⊃ (L ⊃ P)) ≣ N(P* & L) ⊃ P))

The conditional in (3) allows for strengthening antecedents. So, (9) is also a necessary truth, for any Q whatsoever.

9. N(P* & L) ⊃ P)) ⊃ N(P* & L & Q) ⊃ P))

So, (3), together with (8) and (9) entail (10).

10. N(P* & L & Q) ⊃ P))

Let Q be that God brings time to an end. Or let Q be that a miracle occurs, as certainly happens in some worlds. Or let Q be that an event happens between the occurrences of P* and P that is inconsistent with P, as certainly happens in some worlds.  Recall that Np is the proposition that “No one has any choice about the fact that p“. Now no one has a choice about time ending, or miracles occurring or events-inconsistent-with P occurring in the past, in addition to not having a choice about P* and L. And this is true whether or not any of these propositions in Q, L or P* are true.

Consider a world w in which Q is true. It is also true in w that (11), though P* and L are not both true there.

11. N(P* & L & Q)

There is no world in which I have a choice about P* or L, even if they’re false. So, we can derive that (12) is true in w, from (10) and (11).

12. NP & ~P

So, it is consistent with no one ever having a choice about, say, whether I raise my arm that I do not raise my arm. So, NP is consistent with my bringing about ~P. But then NP is consistent with a version of the principle of alternate possibilities that is relevant to my having free will relative to P.



CFP: BSPR 2015 Conference – Divine Hiddenness
July 14, 2014 — 20:06

Author: Yujin Nagasawa  Category: News  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

The BSPR’s Eleventh Conference: Divine Hiddenness

Oriel College, Oxford, Thursday 12th through Sunday 13th September

Saturday 12th will focus on the legacy of Richard Swinburne in honour of his 80th birthday.

Keynote Speakers:

Richard Swinburne (Oxford), Stephen R. L. Clark (Liverpool), Sarah Coakley (Cambridge), Trent Dougherty (Baylor)

Call for Papers:

The problem of the “Hiddenness of God” has been explored in analytic philosophy of religion in recent decades mainly as an issue of theodicy and providence: if God wishes to make Godself transformatively available to humans, why does God not do so more obviously and openly? Many, such as Russell and, more recently, Schellenberg, have taken this to be an argument against theism.

There is however also a deeper ontological issue at stake, that of the apparently intrinsic divine transcendence of God as creator. What philosophical sense can be made of a God who is (it is said) utterly unknowable in ‘essence’ but equally utterly available ‘in energies’, grace and revelation? Is there anything to be gained by a comparison with modern cosmological speculation here? We know what ‘dark matter’ does (namely, pull visible baryonic matter into stars and galaxies) but not what it is.

There is also an epistemological problem, with echoes in other (non-religious) spheres. We may hope one day – though perhaps without much reason – to know the nature of ‘dark matter’, whereas – we are told – God is forever incomprehensible. How – as Hume enquired – does an incomprehensible divinity differ from an equally incomprehensible, non-divine, origin? How does “God does it” differ from “we can never know what does it”?

Papers are invited which probe these philosophical issues from different directions, in connection with Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or classical pagan traditions, both ancient and modern, and from the perspective of abstract metaphysics and epistemology. The theodicy question in the earlier discussion need not be neglected, but should be considered in the light of the metaphysical and epistemological issues already named.

Please send abstracts either in the body of an email or as a .doc file (no pdfs) of a maximum of 250 words to me ( by the end of March 2015. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to consider abstracts that exceed the word limit or that are submitted after the closing date (allowance being made to colleagues in other time zones).

Final versions of accepted papers will be due one month before the conference begins.

Preference will be shown towards papers that are on the theme of the conference. Time and space at the conference will be limited, so we shall have to be selective, even allowing for the fact that we plan to run parallel sessions and request people presenting papers to keep to half-hour slots.

In order to keep to the tight timetabling required to permit participants to hear (the whole of) as many papers as possible, papers should take ideally fifteen minutes and an absolute maximum twenty minutes to deliver, leaving ten minutes or so for discussion.

New Graduate Student Essay Prize
January 17, 2014 — 10:10

Author: Jon Kvanvig  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 0

Thanks to generous support from the John Templeton Foundation, through the National Philanthropic Trust, Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion now has a Graduate Student Essay Prize, to be run in tandem with the Marc Sanders Prize in Philosophy of Religion.

The deadline for entry for both prizes is August 31 each year. The Sander Prize has been raised to $10,000 for the winning entry (scholars up to 15 years post-PhD are eligible), and the Graduate Student Essay Prize is $3,000 (entries must be enrolled in an accredited graduate program at the time of submission).

Kleinschmidt on the Principle of Sufficient Reason
December 15, 2013 — 17:19

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Existence of God Prosblogion Reviews  Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,   Comments: 4

Philosophers have perhaps more often assumed the Principle of Sufficient Reason than argued for it. Furthermore, this assumption has, in recent years, fallen out of favor due to the PSR’s allegedly unacceptable consequences. Recently, however, the PSR has been defended by Alexander Pruss and Michael Della Rocca. Pruss and Della Rocca both argue that (a version of) the PSR is a presupposition of reason. Pruss defends a version of the PSR restricted to contingent truths and consistent with libertarian free will and indeterminism is physics as a presupposition of our scientific and ‘commonsense’ explanatory practices. Della Rocca argues that the metaphysicians who deny the PSR implicitly make use of an unrestricted PSR, applying even to necessary truths, in other metaphysical arguments. Both arguments depend crucially on the claim that there is no weaker principle which is non-ad-hoc and justifies the relevant practices. In her contribution to The Puzzle of Existence, Shieva Kleinschmidt argues that both defenses fail.

Kleinschmidt’s general strategy is to outline contrasting cases – those in which admitting in-principle inexplicability seems to be an option, and those in which it does not – and argue that a non-ad-hoc descriptive account of this distinction can indeed be given.

Kleinschmidt’s primary focus is on Della Rocca, but compared to Pruss Della Rocca gives weaker support to a stronger conclusion. Della Rocca argues that if the unrestricted PSR is not true, then we cannot justifiably rule out certain metaphysical positions which we find intuitively implausible. However, not everyone finds the ‘brutal’ or ‘primitivist’ positions unpalatable in the way Della Rocca supposes (see Markosian). Furthermore, it would not be the end of the world if we were forced to conclude that many of the epistemic practices of analytic metaphysicians are in fact unjustified. Pruss, on the other hand, argues from commonsense and scientific explanatory practices. He asks, for instance, why it is that, when investigating a plane crash, no one takes seriously the hypothesis that the plane crashed for no reason at all. A position that undermined this kind of ordinary, everyday explanatory practice would be in much bigger trouble than a position that said analytic metaphysicians were out to lunch.

Now, Kleinschmidt does talk about the kind of everyday cases with which Pruss is concerned: “For instance,” she writes,

suppose we find small blue handprints along the wall, and we notice that the blue frosting is gone from its bowl and some is on the hands, face, and torso of a nearby five-year-old. When wondering what happened, we will not be tempted even for a moment by the alternative the child wishes to bring to our attention, namely, that the handprints are on the wall for no reason, that they are simply there (p. 67).

Again, someone who was forced to deny that our ordinary process of explaining the handprints was well-justified would be in much bigger trouble than someone who thought our metaphysical reasoning defective. Perhaps the reason for this is that Kleinschmidt herself belongs to the group of metaphysicians targeted by Della Rocca’s argument.

Della Rocca complains that these metaphysicians use the PSR when it suits them and ignore it the rest of the time. Kleinschmidt, however, thinks that this alleged inconsistency shows that Della Rocca has misunderstood the methodology employed by these metaphysicians, for there are indeed cases where (at least some of) these metaphysicians are willing to accept unexplained (and unexplainable) facts (whether necessary or contingent). These hypotheses are not ‘off the table’ in the way the hypothesis that the blue frosting is on the wall for no reason is off the table. In particular, Kleinschmidt describes in detail two contrasting cases: in standard fission cases, the view that it is simply a brute fact that either Lefty or Righty is identical with the pre-fission individual is rarely taken seriously, but in the Problem of the Many, especially as applied to human bodies, brute fact views have been more popular.

This, however, does not get to the bottom of things, for the common core of the arguments of Pruss and Della Rocca is the contention that no weaker principle than the PSR will justify our practice of treating these hypotheses as off the table in the cases where we do so. In other words, if we reject the PSR, then we ought to take the hypothesis that the blue handprints are on the wall for no reason seriously, but surely we ought not to take that hypothesis seriously, so we’d better accept the PSR.

It is only in the last three pages of her chapter that Kleinschmidt addresses this contention directly. She proposes that the claim that explanatory power is a truth-tracking theoretical virtue is sufficiently strong to account for our explanatory practices. “So, for instance, in the handprint case, we reject the theory that the handprints simply appeared for no reason, because we can see how some explanations might go, and some of the explanations are such that endorsing them won’t have disastrous consequences” (77). This, she argues, explains our explanatory practices: we take explanatory power to be a very important virtue in theory choice, so that we do not accept theories that render certain phenomena inexplicable unless we are backed into a corner.

As Kleinschmidt recognizes, this is really only the beginning of a response to Pruss and Della Rocca, for the core problem is not one of description but one of justification. Della Rocca, for instance, explicitly admits that metaphysicians are not consistent in rejecting unexplainables; this is precisely his complaint. He says that this inconsistent practice cannot be justified. Kleinschmidt recognizes this problem, but all she has to say about it is that there is considerable difficulty, as well, regarding the other features (e.g., parsimony) we take to be truth-tracking theoretical virtues.

Insofar as Kleinschmidt has helped to make clearer what our actual explanatory practices are, and shown that a descriptive account need not be radically disunified and ad hoc, this is progress. But the fact is, it is not really an answer to the Pruss-Della Rocca argument for, unless the treatment of explanatory power as a truth-tracking theoretical virtue can itself be justified, no method of justifying our explanatory practices in the absence of the PSR has been made to appear. On the other hand, perhaps Kleinschmidt should be regarded as having shown that those who continue to be untroubled scientific and/or ontological realists despite recognizing the difficulties involved in explaining why the features we regard as theoretical virtues should be regarded as truth-tracking might as well continue to be untroubled deniers of the PSR despite recognizing the difficulties raised by the Pruss-Della Rocca argument, for those difficulties are, essentially, the same. On the other hand, the reasonableness of this untroubled attitude could certainly be called into question.

Finally, it should be noted that Kleinschmidt’s formulations of the virtue of explanatory power are quite strong. She says we are willing to accept unexplainable propositions only when the consequences of refusing to do so are ‘disastrous.’ Now, unless one thinks either (a) that positing a necessary being is itself disastrous, or (b) that contingent facts cannot be explained in terms of a necessary being (i.e. that the modal collapse problem cannot be solved), this principle will still be strong enough to support the argument from contingency for the existence of a necessary being. (Personally, I think (a) is silly but (b) presents a deep and tangled problem.) In short, it seems likely that, even if we accept Kleinschmidt’s conclusion, we can still overcome the parsimony worries I discussed last time.

(Cross-posted at

CFP: Transformative Experiences
November 18, 2013 — 21:44

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: News  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 0

Res Philosophica invites papers on the topic of transformative experiences for a special issue of the journal.

Deadline for Submission
October 1, 2014

Some potential experiences are transformative experiences: they will change us in broadly cognitive—and perhaps significant—ways, and yet the full nature of the phenomenal characters of these cognitive changes are epistemically inaccessible to us before we have the experiences.

Philosophers are familiar with some of these types of experiences from the literature on consciousness—for example, the “what it’s like” properties involved in the knowledge problem. When Mary sees color for the first time, her experience is transformed in a way that she could not have predicted: she could not know what it would be like for her to see red for the first time. Such experiences are transformative for an agent in the sense that they are radically unlike the agent’s previous experiences with regard to their phenomenal character, intensity, and overall cognitive significance.

These sorts of transformative experiences include seeing color for the first time, but may also involve other sorts of experiences that involve significant changes in the agent’s phenomenal point of view, such as converting to belief in God, becoming sighted for the first time or becoming a hearer for the first time, becoming paraplegic, becoming female (or male), going to the front in wartime, or having one’s first child. Contemporary psychological and sociological research suggests that one’s actual experiences are often very different from how we expect they will be.

The special issue, in broad outline, invites papers exploring the implications of the possibility that certain major life experiences are phenomenologically transformative: that is, they are relevantly just like Mary’s when she leaves her black and white room. The transformative nature of such experiences raises many questions. For example, if choosing to believe in God, choosing to have a cochlear implant, or choosing to have a child is a choice to undergo a phenomenologically transformative experience, how should agents evaluate the values of the outcomes of acts that bring about such experiences? Are there decision-theoretic implications? Since such choices, especially when they are irreversible, may also change the values and belief structure of the agent, how should agents assess the choice before having the experience, and how are they to reflect on whether having such an experience improves well-being? Papers that address these and related issues are welcome.

Selected papers will be included in a special issue of Res Philosophica along with invited papers from Elizabeth Barnes, Rachael Briggs, Ruth Chang, Elizabeth Harman, Rae Langton, and L. A. Paul.

Submissions will be triple anonymously reviewed. (First, authors do not know the identity of the referees, second, referees do not know the identity of the authors, and third, editors do not know the identity of the authors.) Please format your submission so that it is suitable for anonymous review. (Instructions are available here.)

Papers may be up to 12,000 words long (including footnotes).

We accept pdf and Microsoft Word documents. Papers may be submitted in any standard style, but authors of accepted papers will be required to edit their papers according to the journal’s style, which follows The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition). Style instructions are available here.

Please use the online submission form for submitting your essay, available here.

Fully funded PhD position in Philosophy – VU University Amsterdam
June 18, 2013 — 22:27

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: News  Tags: ,   Comments: 0

For 1.0 fte
Vacancy number 13184
VU unit: Faculty of Philosophy
The PhD student will work in the research project “Science Beyond Scientism” which investigates how scientism influences our thinking about rationality, free will, morality and religious belief and explores the way in which science can be taken seriously without succumbing to scientism. A description of the project, as well as of the PhD project can be found at


Explaining Molinist conditionals
April 12, 2013 — 20:55

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Molinism  Tags: ,   Comments: 16

I remember David Manley (who I think was a first year grad student at the time) querying Al Plantinga over a meal whether counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs) could be explained. I think Al didn’t have an answer but thought it was a really good question.

I may finally have an answer to David’s question. I think that the Molinist should answer in the affirmative if and only if non-derivatively free actions have explanations.

Suppose w0 is the actual world. Consider the conditional C→A, where C says that Curley has such-and-such character and is offered a $5000 bribe at t0, and A says that he freely accepts the bribe at t0. Suppose w1 is a sufficiently close-by world where C and A are true. Now let’s put ourselves in w1. So, Curley freely accepts the $5000 bribe. Does this have an explanation? If not, then a fortiori I think we should not have said in w0 that C→A had an explanation. After all, if it has an explanation in w0, it surely doesn’t lose one in w1, just because C holds there. But it would be just too weird that in w1, C→A has an explanation but A does not, especially if, as will at least typically be the case, C has an explanation.

Conversely, suppose that in w1, A has an explanation. What kind of an explanation is that? The most plausible candidate for an explanation of a free action is in terms of non-necessitating reasons and character. Maybe, in w1, what explains A is that Curley is very greedy. But that Curley is very greedy is a part of C. So it seems very reasonable to say at w0 that what explains C→A is that were C to hold, Curley would be very greedy (a necessary truth, since C includes a description of Curley’s character). Now you might say: Yeah, but that he would be greedy in C doesn’t entail or maybe even make likely that he would take the bribe. But the very same point holds in w1: that he is greedy doesn’t entail or maybe even make likely that he takes the bribe–yet, we supposed, it explains it. If we accepted the explanation of the categorical claim in w1, we should accept the corresponding explanation of the conditional claim in w0, if w1 is close enough to w0.

Does Religious Experience Have an Expiration Date?
April 12, 2013 — 20:51

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Religious Belief  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 6

A fairly common position in philosophy of religion is that religious experience can provide justification for religious belief of a sort that cannot be transmitted by testimony. (We here use the term ‘religious experience’ non-factively; that is, we leave open the possibility that these experiences might provide misleading evidence.) This is not necessarily to deny that testimony of religious experience can provide evidence in favor of religious belief; it is just to say that, no matter how credible the testimony, this won’t provide the same sort of justification as actually having the experience oneself. Often it is thought that at least some mystics gain justification which is not only different in kind than the justification that can be got by testimony, but greater in degree. (I use the term ‘mystic’ to refer to anyone who has religious experience; I take it that this group is far larger than just the famous mystical writers and those directly influenced by them.) On this view, no matter how much testimony of religious experience from sincere, apparently sane, people one collected, this could never add up to as strong a reason for belief as that possessed by (say) Julian of Norwich on account of her experiences.


Final CFP: The British Society for the Philosophy of Religion 2013 Conference
March 4, 2013 — 0:58

Author: Yujin Nagasawa  Category: News  Tags: , ,   Comments: 0

The British Society for the Philosophy of Religion
2013 Conference

Oriel College, Oxford, Wednesday 11th – Friday 13th September 2013.
Keynote Speakers: Dr. Pamela Anderson (Oxford), Professor Stephen R. L. Clark (Liverpool), Professor Owen Flanagan (Duke), and Professor Robin Le Poidevin (Leeds)
Call for Papers
Buddhists, Epicureans, Christians, Pantheists, Materialists, Liberal Humanists, Transhumanists, Nietszcheans and Idolaters have all at different times been content to be called “atheists”, and even the most ardent of “New Atheists” will insist that they need have no “positive” beliefs, except to reject whatever God or notion of God it is that they oppose. There need therefore be no one doctrine or way of life identified as “Atheism”. The question is rather what forms of life and thought are to be reckoned “atheistical” and why they might (or might not) seem attractive.
Nor need the rejection of whatever God or Gods are in question always be a matter of intellectual conviction rather than politics (as anti-clericalism) or broadly “spiritual” practice (requiring the rejection of any authority superior to the individual’s own will, or to the State’s judgement).
If you would like to present a paper, please send an abstract of a maximum of 250 words to me ( by the end of March, 2013. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to consider abstracts that exceed the word limit or that are submitted after the closing date (allowance being made to colleagues in other time zones). The plural form “ATHEISMS” is to be noted: papers solely directed to refutations of (and refutations of those refutations of) “the Five Ways” (for example) are discouraged, as are papers directed solely to proving the non-existence of one particular deity, without regard to the alternatives.
Papers need not be on the theme of the conference, although a preference may be shown towards selecting those that are, other things being equal. Time and space at the conference will be limited, so we shall have to be selective, even allowing for the fact that we plan to run parallel sessions and request people presenting papers to keep to half-hour slots.
In order to keep to the tight timetabling required to permit participants to hear (the whole of) as many papers as possible, papers should take ideally fifteen minutes and an absolute maximum twenty minutes to deliver, leaving ten minutes or so for discussion.
Andrew Moore
Hon. Sec. BSPR