After an undergraduate degree with a major in mathematics, I turned to philosophy—in part because philosophy had all the interest of math (and logic) plus an indefinitely wide range of subject matter. I began philosophy at an intersection of metaphysics and philosophy of science. My dissertation, Ontological and Linguistic Aspects of Temporal Becoming, was on the philosophy of time. A convinced physicalist, I defended the idea that past, present and future (the A-series) are merely “mind-dependent.” I spent a year as (...) a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, working mainly with Adolf Grünbaum, who was very generous to me with his time. Other members of the philosophical community in Pittsburgh suggested that there was no philosophical interest in nowness; the word ‘now’ exhausted whatever there was of real interest concerning the status of the present. I therefore turned my attention from the status of the present (nowness) to the word ‘now’. (shrink)
I want to raise three questions for discussion: 1. How are a philosopher’s concerns about the human mind related to a neuroscientist’s concerns? 2. Can neuroscience explain everything that we want to understand about the human mind? 3. Does neuroscience threaten our dignity or humanity (or anything else that we cherish about ourselves)? Let’s take these questions one at a time.
In the large recent literature on the nature of human persons, persons are usually studied in isolation from the world in which they live. What persons are most fundamentally, philosophers say, are human animals, or brains, or perhaps souls—without any consideration of the social and physical environments without which persons would not exist. I confess that I, too, have been guilty at times of focusing narrowly on persons without regard to the world in which they live.
My main reaction to "Intelligence without representation" is to applaud. Dreyfus's use of Merleau-Ponty is a refreshing new breeze in philosophy of psychology. About twenty or so years ago, philosophers struck an unfortunate course..
Amie Thomasson and I are in agreement about artifacts, in particular about the existential dependence of artifacts on human intentions. Thomasson says, “Since the very idea of an artifact is of something mind-dependent in certain ways, accepting mindindependence as an across-the-board criterion for existence gives us no reason to deny the existence of artifacts; it merely begs the question against them.” I agree entirely.
Amie Thomasson has won well-deserved praise for her book, Ordinary Objects. She defends a commonsense world view and gives us “reason to think that there are fundamental particles, plants and animals, sticks and stones, tables and chairs, and even marriages and mortgages.” (p. 181) Ordinary objects comprise a vast array of things—natural objects both scientific and commonsensical, artifacts, organisms, abstract social objects.
In his neglected treatise on education, the great eighteenth-century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, mentions that Benjamin Franklin “wondered why everyone didn’t learn to swim, since swimming is so pleasant and so useful.” Franklin..
Here’s what I intend to do. First, I want to summarize the paper as I see it. Then, as a philosopher is expected to do, I’ll present some questions and disagreements—both substantive and methodological—with Open Theism. Finally, despite the fact that I am an outsider, I want to comment on the debate over Open Theism within certain evangelical circles.
One of the deepest assumptions of Judaism and its offspring, Christianity, is that there is an important difference between human persons and everything else that exists in Creation. We alone are made in God’s image. We alone are the stewards of the earth. It is said in Genesis that we have “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps (...) upon the earth.” It is difficult to see how a traditional theist could deny the significance of the difference between human persons and the rest of Creation. We human persons are morally and ontologically special. (shrink)
I want to raise a question for which I have no definitive answer. The question is how to understand first-personal phenomena—phenomena that that can be discerned only from a first-personal point of view. The question stems from reflection on two claims: First, the claim of scientific naturalism that all phenomena can be described and explained by science; and second, the claim of science that everything within its purview is intersubjectively accessible, and hence that all science is constructed exclusively form the (...) third-personal point of view. Using these two claims as premises, we can construct a simple valid argument, which I’ll label ‘The Master Argument:’. (shrink)
We run into instances of material constitution everywhere we turn. Material constitution is the relation that obtains between an octagonal piece of metal and a Stop sign, between strands of DNA molecules and genes, between pieces of paper and dollar bills, between stones and monuments, between lumps of clay and statues, between human persons and their bodies—the list is endless. Although there has been a great deal of controversy recently about the nature of material constitution, I want to enter the (...) fray by setting out and defending an explicit definition of what it is for an object x to constitute an object y at time t. (shrink)
Bransen takes the first question to pose “the problem of man’s uniqueness,” and his ultimate aim is to dissolve that problem. His method of dissolving it is by way of a detailed answer to the second question, which is the most fundamental. I want to show that Bransen’s answer to the second question actually provides an answer to each of the other questions, and that instead of dissolving the problem of man’s uniqueness (posed by question #1), what he offers is (...) really a straightforward solution—albeit a partly normative one. To see this, we must look beyond Bransen’s answer to the metaphysical presuppositions on which, I believe, it rests. (shrink)
After centuries of reflection, the issue of human freedom remains vital largely because of its connection to moral responsibility. When I ask—What is human freedom?—I mean to be asking what kind of freedom is required for moral responsibility? Questions about moral responsibility are intimately connected to questions about social policy and justice; so, the issue of moral responsibility—of desert, of whether or not anyone is ever really praiseworthy or blameworthy—has practical as well as theoretical significance.
Many Christians who argue against Christian materialism direct their arguments against what I call ‘Type-I materialism’, the thesis that I cannot exist without my organic body. I distinguish Type-I materialism from Type-II materialism, which entails only that I cannot exist without some body that supports certain mental functions. I set out a version of Type-II materialism, and argue for its superiority to Type-I materialism in an age of science. Moreover, I show that Type-II materialism can accommodate Christian doctrines like the (...) Resurrection of the Body, the Incarnation, and the intermediate state (if there is one). (shrink)
Abstract: On standard accounts, actions are caused by reasons (Davidson), and reasons are taken to be neural phenomena. Since neural phenomena are wholly understandable from a third-person perspective, standard views have no room for any ineliminable first-personal elements in an account of the causation of action. This article aims to show that first-person perspectives play essential roles in both human and nonhuman agency. Nonhuman agents have rudimentary first-person perspectives, whereas human agents—at least rational agents and moral agents—have robust first-person perspectives. (...) The author concludes with a view of intentional causation, according to which reasons are constituted by (but not identical to) neural phenomena. The idea of constitution without identity allows for a causal account of action that automatically includes first-personal aspects of agency. (shrink)
Nonphilosophers, if they think of philosophy at all, wonder why people work in metaphysics. After all, metaphysics, as Auden once said of poetry, makes nothing happen.1 Yet some very intelligent people are driven to spend their lives exploring metaphysical theses. Part of what motivates metaphysicians is the appeal of grizzly puzzles (like the paradox of the heap or the puzzle of the ship of Theseus). But the main reason to work in metaphysics, for me at least, is to understand the (...) shared world that we all encounter and interact with. And the shared world that we all encounter includes us self-conscious beings and our experience. The world that we inhabit is unavoidably a temporal world: the signing of the Declaration of Independence is later than the Lisbon earthquake; the Cold War is in the past; your death is in the future. There is no getting away from time. (shrink)
Anselm’s argument for the existence of God in Proslogion 2 has a little-noticed feature: It can be properly formulated only by beings who have the ability to think of things and refer to things independently of whether or not they exist in reality. The authors explore this cognitive ability and try to make clear the role it plays in the ontological argument. Then, we offer a new version of the ontological argument, which, we argue, is sound: it is valid, has (...) true premises, and does not beg any questions against the atheist. However, the new reconstruction of the argument falls short of Anselm’s goal of producing “a single argument that would require no other for its proof than itself alone; and alone would suffice to demonstrate that God exists.” The new reconstruction requires a subsidiary argument to show that God exists in the understanding. The subsidiary argument relies on premises that are both contingent and known a posteriori. However, the somewhat amplified argument, if it is sound as the authors believe it to be, does show that God exists in reality. Moreover, the new reconstruction escapes an important recent criticism by Peter Millican (2004, 2007) against ontological arguments generally. (shrink)
The ontological argument in Anselm’s Proslogion II continues to generate a remarkable store of sophisticated commentary and criticism. However, in our opinion, much of this literature ignores or misrepresents the elegant simplicity of the original argument. The dialogue below seeks to restore that simplicity, with one important modification. Like the original, it retains the form of a reductio, which we think is essential to the argument’s great genius. However, it seeks to skirt the difficult question of whether 'exists' is a (...) genuine predicate by appealing instead to a distinction between having only mediated causal powers and having unmediated causal powers. Pegasus has no unmediated causal powers, but he has mediated causal powers through the thoughts, depictions, and literature in which he figures. This distinction allows us to argue about the existence of God without begging any questions. (shrink)
The expression ‘nonreductive materialism’ refers to a variety of positions whose roots lie in attempts to solve the mind-body problem. Proponents of nonreductive materialism hold that the mental is ontologically part of the material world; yet, mental properties are causally efficacious without being reducible to physical properties.s After setting out a minimal schema for nonreductive materialism (NRM) as an ontological position, I’ll canvass some classical arguments in favor of (NRM).1 Then, I’ll discuss the major challenge facing any construal of (NRM): (...) the problem of mental causation, pressed by Jaegwon Kim. Finally, I’ll offer a new solution to the problem of mental causation. (shrink)
The extended-mind thesis (EM) is the claim that mentality need not be situated just in the brain, or even within the boundaries of the skin. Some versions take "extended selves" be to relatively transitory couplings of biological organisms and external resources. First, I show how EM can be seen as an extension of traditional views of mind. Then, after voicing a couple of qualms about EM, I reject EM in favor of a more modest hypothesis that recognizes enduring subjects of (...) experience and agents with integrated bodies. Nonetheless, my modest hypothesis allows subpersonal states to have nonbiological parts that play essential roles in cognitive processing. I present empirical warrant for this modest hypothesis and show how it leaves room for science and religion to coexist. (shrink)
Saving God is a rich and provocative book. It aims to "save God" from idolatrous believers, who take God to be largely concerned with the welfare and destiny of human creatures. Banning idolatry, Johnston is led to a panentheistic conception of "the Highest One," who (or which) is not separable from Nature. With echoes of Spinoza and, to a lesser extent, Whitehead, Johnston argues that the natural world is all that there is, but, properly understood, can be seen as "the (...) site of the sacred.". (shrink)
Any artefact – a hammer, a telescope, an artificial hip – may malfunction. Conceptually speaking, artefacts have an inherent normative aspect. I argue that the normativity of artefacts should be understood as part of reality, and not just “in our concepts.” I first set out Deflationary Views of artefacts, according to which there are no artefactual properties, just artefactual concepts. According to my contrasting view – the Constitution View – there are artefactual properties that things in the world really have. (...) For example, there is a property of being a telephone per se; we apply our concept telephone to things that have that property. Things that have the property of being a telephone are constituted by, but not identical to, aggregates of particles. To be an artefact, an object must have an intended function, among other things. Telephones – in virtue of being the kind of objects that they are – are always subject to malfunction. And malfunctions, when they occur, are just as much part of the world as telephones are. The example of artefacts shows that what is in the world – what really exists – need not be “mind-independent” nor independent of our concepts. (shrink)
Jean Baudrillard has posited a theory of ‘the precession of simulacra’, arguing that it is no longer possible to tell the difference between an image and the meaning it purports to represent because technology allows the image to precede its meaning. Christa Wolf, while researching Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays (1984), traveled to Greece and discovered the ways in which language in the rational, Western model of civilization has been distorted. Both Baudrillard and Wolf are disturbed by the ways (...) in which sign systems can be manipulated and generated, and both demonstrate the effect this has in the political and cultural arenas. This analysis intends to show how Baudrillard’s theories play out in Wolf’s narrative, and how Wolf resolves the problems thus posed through the shock of the aesthetic experience, which forces communication while it defies representation. (shrink)
It is no news that you and I are agents as well as persons. Agency and personhood are surely connected, but it is not obvious just how they are connected. I believe that being a person and being an agent are intimately linked by what I call a ‘first-person perspective’: All persons and all agents have first-person perspectives. Even so, the connection between personhood and agency is not altogether straightforward. There are different kinds of agents, and there are different kinds (...) of first-person perspectives. On the one hand, all persons are agents, but not all agents are persons; on the other hand, all moral agents are persons, but not all persons are moral agents. (shrink)
Metaphysics has enjoyed a vigorous revival in the last few decades. Even so, there has been little ontological interest in the things that we interact with everyday—trees, tables, other people.1 It is not that metaphysicians ignore ordinary things altogether. Indeed, they are happy to say that sentences like ‘The daffodils are out early this year’ or ‘My computer crashed again’ are true. But they take the truth of such sentences not to require that a full description of reality mention daffodils (...) or computers. Many metaphysicians now interpret the apparent variety of things in the world as variety only of concepts applied to things that are basically of the same sort—for example, sums of particles or of temporal parts of particles. (shrink)
Eric Olson won the hearts of my graduate students by dedicating his book “to the unemployed philosophers.” (The students subsequently got fine jobs, but it’s the thought (or rather the sympathy) that counts.) As appreciated as the dedication was, however, I doubt that it was responsible for the wonderful reception that Olson’s book, The Human Animal, has had. Rather, the cleverness of his arguments, the vigor with which Olson writes, and the new interpretations of old thought experiments and arguments have (...) deservedly captured a great deal of philosophical attention in the past ten years. Despite the fact that I hold significantly different views from Olson’s, I am happy to be here today to help celebrate the tenth anniversary of his important book. (shrink)
Peter van Inwagen has offered two versions of an influential argument that has come to be called ‘the Consequence Argument’. The Consequence Argument purports to demonstrate that determinism is incompatible with free will.1 It aims to show that, if we assume determinism, we are committed to the claim that, for all propositions p, no one has or ever had any choice about p. Unfortunately, the original Consequence Argument employed an inference rule (the β-rule) that was shown to be invalid. (McKay (...) and Johnson 1996) In response, van Inwagen revised his argument. I shall argue that the conclusion of the revised Consequence Argument is wholly independent of the premiss of determinism, and hence that the revised Consequence Argument is useless in showing that determinism is incompatible with free will. (shrink)
Artifacts are objects intentionally made to serve a given purpose; natural objects come into being without human intervention. I shall argue that this difference does not signal any ontological deficiency in artifacts qua artifacts. After sketching my view of artifacts as ordinary objects, I’ll argue that ways of demarcating genuine substances do not draw a line with artifacts on one side and natural objects on the other. Finally, I’ll suggest that philosophers have downgraded artifacts because they think of metaphysics as (...) resting on a distinction between what is “mindindependent” and what is “mind dependent.” I’ll challenge the use of any such distinction as a foundation for metaphysics. (shrink)
Bransen takes the first question to pose ―the problem of man‘s uniqueness,‖ and his ultimate aim is to dissolve that problem. His method of dissolving it is by way of a detailed answer to the second question, which is the most fundamental. I want to show that Bransen‘s answer to the second question actually provides an answer to each of the other questions, and that instead of dissolving the problem of man‘s uniqueness (posed by question #1), what he offers is (...) really a straightforward solution—albeit a partly normative one. To see this, we must look beyond Bransen‘s answer to the metaphysical presuppositions on which, I believe, it rests. normative. (shrink)
In the large recent literature on the nature of human persons, persons are usually studied in isolation from the world in which they live. What persons are most fundamentally, philosophers say, are human animals, or brains, or perhaps souls -- without any consideration of the social and physical environments without which persons would not exist. In this article, I want to compensate for such overly narrow focus. Instead of beginning with the nature of persons cut off from any environment, I (...) shall begin with metaphysical consideration of the world of which persons are a part. I shall then briefly describe my view of persons, according to which persons are material objects like other concrete things in the world, but are unique in their first-person perspectives. Finally, I shall consider some of the special relations that persons, and only persons, have to other things in the world. (shrink)
Ever since the 1970’s, philosophers of mind have engaged in a lively discussion of Externalism. Externalism is the metaphysical thesis that the contents of one’s thoughts are determined partly by empirical features of one’s environment. Externalism appears to clash with another plausible thesis—the epistemological thesis that one can have knowledge of one’s own thoughts, without evidence or empirical investigation. Many have argued that the conjunction of these theses is incompatible. I have argued elsewhere for their compatibility.1 Here I’ll just assume (...) that they are compatible and explore some consequences of conjoining a particular externalist thesis about the contents of thoughts (Social Externalism) with a particular thesis about self-knowledge (First-Person Authority). (shrink)
The first-person perspective is a challenge to naturalism. Naturalistic theories are relentlessly third-personal. The first-person perspective is, well, first-personal; it is the perspective from which one thinks of oneself as oneself* without the aid of any third-person name, description, demonstrative or other referential device. The exercise of the capacity to think of oneself in this first-personal way is the necessary condition of all our self-knowledge, indeed of all our self-consciousness. As important as the first-person perspective is, many philosophers have not (...) appreciated the force of the data from the first-person perspective, and suppose that the first-person perspective presents no particular problems for the naturalizing philosopher. For example, Ned Block commented, “It is of course [phenomenal] consciousness rather than...self-consciousness that has seemed such a scientific mystery.” (Block 1995, 230) And <span class='Hi'>David</span> Chalmers says that self-consciousness is one of those psychological states that “pose no deep metaphysical enigmas.” (Chalmers 1996, 24). (shrink)
Theories of the human person differ greatly in their ability to underwrite a metaphysics of resurrection. This paper compares and contrasts a number of such views in light of the Christian doctrine of resurrection. In a Christian framework, resurrection requires that the same person who exists on earth also exists in an afterlife, that a postmortem person be embodied, and that the existence of a postmortem person is brought about by a miracle. According to my view of persons (the Constitution (...) View), a human person is constituted by—but not identical to—a human organism. A person has a first-person perspective essentially, and an organism has interrelated biological functions essentially. I shall argue for the superiority the Constitution View as a metaphysical basis for resurrection. (shrink)
We human persons have an abiding interest in understanding what kind of beings we are. However, it is not obvious how to attain such an understanding. Traditional analytic metaphysicians start with a priori accounts of the most general, abstract features of the world— e.g., accounts of properties and particulars—features that, they claim, in no way depend upon us or our activity.1 Such accounts are formulated in abstraction from what is already known about persons and other things, and are used as (...) constraints on metaphysical investigation of everything else. So, if we accept traditional metaphysics, we should be prepared to yield to abstruse pronouncements—either by giving up our most secure beliefs about the world that we encounter or by abandoning our conception of what those beliefs are really about. (shrink)
Social Externalism is the thesis that many of our thoughts are individuated in part by the linguistic and social practices of the thinker’s community. After defending Social Externalism and arguing for its broad application, I turn to the kind of defeasible first-person authority that we have over our own thoughts. Then, I present and refute an argument that uses first-person authority to disprove Social Externalism. Finally, I argue briefly that Social Externalism—far from being incompatible with first-person authority—provides a check on (...) first-personal pronouncements and thus saves first-person authority from being simply a matter of social convention and from collapsing into the subjectivity of “what seems right is right.”. (shrink)