If classical Western theism is correct that God's timeless omniscience is compatible with human free will, then it is incoherent to hold that this God can in any strict sense be immutable and a se as well as omniscient. That is my thesis. ‘Classical theism’ shall refer here to the tradition of philosophical theology centring on such mainstream authors as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. ‘Divine omniscience’ shall mean that the eternal God knows all events as a timeless observer of them. (...) ‘Human free will’ shall mean that human beings are, at least sometimes, self-determining agents who make choices not decisively caused to be what they are by external or internal factors other than the free willing itself – choices that these agents have the capacity and the freedom to make differently than they do. Except where stipulated otherwise, ‘divine immutability’ shall ‘mean that God is neither subject to, nor capable of, change in being, knowing, or willing, since God is immune to external influences, and without internal needs, of the sorts that might give rise to such change. Finally, ‘aseity’ shall be used to underline the divine immunity to external influences, since a being that is wholly a se or self-caused , cannot be open to such influences, cannot be made to be what or how it is by anything other than itself. (shrink)
Can there be a moral philosophy which combines Christianity and consequentialism? John Stuart Mill himself claimed that these positions were, at the least, not mutually exclusive, and quite possibly even congenial to one another; and some recent work by Christian philosophers in America has resurrected this claim. But there is a simple argument to show that consequentialism and orthodox Christianity are not so much as jointly assertible.
Psychological egoism is, I suppose, regarded by most philosophers as one of the more simple-minded fallacies in the history of philosophy, and dangerous and seductive too, contriving as it does to combine cynicism about human ideals and a vague sense of scientific method, both of which make the ordinary reader feel sophisticated, with conceptual confusion, which he cannot resist. For all of these reasons it springs eternal, in one form or another, in the breasts of first-year students, and offers excellent (...) material for their philosophy instructors, who like nothing better than an edifice of sturdy appearance but with rotten foundations on which to display their skill as demolition experts. (shrink)
Generally, I find gatherings of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness more interesting and congenial than the Tucson conferences. There are at least two reasons for this, the first one obvious: the former is smaller. Less crowds, more chances to participate in discussions . The second reason reflects my predispositions, and of course those of the ASSC: the talks, research, and speculation are closely data-driven. I find it highly refreshing to attend talks on consciousness which are reporting experiments (...) done by groups employing stringent quality controls, and to hear speculation which is carefully restrained to inferences that closely and clearly follow from consensually verified data. I find it hopeful that researchers have not abandoned lines of inquiry which have decades of experiments to back them up merely because they have not yet found answers to some particular questions. But hey, these are my own biases; I'm someone who thinks the Skeptical Inquirer is a valuable resource. (shrink)
That the legacy of Berkeley's philosophy has been a largely sceptical one is perhaps rather surprising. For he himself took it as one of his objectives to undermine scepticism. He roundly denied that there were ‘any principles more opposite to Scepticism than those we have laid down’. Yet Hume was to write of Berkeley that ‘most of the writings of that very ingenious author form the best lessons of scepticism, Bayle not excepted’. And it has become something of a commonplace (...) to say that Berkeley's philosophy is sceptical in direction, if not in intention. He is represented as a half-hearted sceptic, applying radical empiricist principles in his treatment of matter but baulking at their implications when he came to consider spirits. Hume is credited with being the more thoroughgoing of the two. Berkeley had denied the substantiality of extended things. Hume felt obliged, by parity of reasoning, to deny the substantiality of the self. On his account of the mind there is ‘properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different’. It is commonly supposed that Berkeley, in maintaining the quite contrary view that we know ourselves to be simple, undivided beings, showed a lack of rigour or consistency. (shrink)
As my title implies, I think the verifiability criterion is indeed a criterion of something. I do not intend, therefore, merely to commemorate it. On the other hand I am not sure that those who put it forward in its more liberal forms as a criterion of ‘factual significance’ or ‘literal meaningfulness’ were right in what they identified as the consequence of a sentence's failing to satisfy it. What I want to argue for, in a somewhat reductionist spirit, is a (...) resurrected version of the ‘weak’ verifiability criterion. My resurrected version will certainly appear more rarefied, in so far as it is independent of empiricism. It will, I hope, also be purified of some of the mortal blemishes from which the criterion, as construed by members of the Vienna Circle, seems not to have recovered. (shrink)
To many Western students of India, svarāj and mokṣa have often seemed to represent two very different ideals of freedom, the former social, political, and modern; the latter individual, spiritual, and traditional. It is not surprising that the Hindu ideal of spiritual freedom is most commonly known by the term mokṣa , for it is this word that is usually listed as the fourth and supreme goal in the famous four ends of man . The first three ends, desire , (...) success , and morality , find their fulfillment within society, while mokṣa , it is generally said, takes one beyond society. It is pertinent to note, as Ingalls and others have pointed out, that mokṣa is a relatively late term, which came to be added to the older, first three goals of man. As a noun, mokṣa does not appear until the latest of the Upanisads, and then only three times, in Śvetāśvatara 6.16 and Maitrī 6.20 and 30. In addition, some orthodox schools did not accept the ideal of mokṣa for several more centuries, the Mīmāṁsā denying it until the eighth century A.D. (shrink)
Ontology was never Hume's main interest, but he certainly had opinions as to what there is, and he often expressed these in his philosophical works. Indeed it seems clear that Hume changed his ontological views while writing the Treatise , and that not just one but two different ontologies are to be found there. The ontology of Parts I, II, and III of Book I is more or less Lockean. There are minds and their operations and qualities. There are physical (...) entities, bodily actions and qualities if not bodies over and above these. And there are further entities, called ideas by Locke and perceptions by Hume, that represent things other than themselves, both physical and mental, while existing in and being dependent upon minds. In Part IV of Book I, however, and especially in Sections 2 and 6, a new ontology appears, one that differs not only from the doctrine of the earlier sections of the Treatise but also from any that previous philosophers had held. According to this new ontology, there are only perceptions: all other sorts of things are absorbed by or reduced to these, or else simply eliminated. Berkeley had indeed assimilated bodies and the properties of bodies to perceptions, but he had kept minds as a distinct category of entity. Hume went the whole way, making everything perceptions. We might characterise this new ontology as trans-Berkeleyan, or call it, on account of its similarity to later doctrines so named, phenomenalism or neutral monism. (shrink)
In Better Never to Have Been, David Benatar argues that existence is always a harm. His argument, in brief, is that this follows from a theory of personal good which we ought to accept because it best explains several???asymmetries???. I shall argue here that Benatar's theory suffers from a defect which was already widely known to afflict similar theories, and that the main asymmetry he discusses is better explained in a way which allows that existence is often not a harm.
As late twentieth-century discourses of modernity and postmodernity invoke their Enlightenment heritage in a search for the origins of their present achievements and predicaments, Adam Smith's works are still seen as a canonic representative of that heritage. Smith has long been evoked as the ‘father’ of economics and the original proponent of laissez-faire capitalism, but the political changes in recent decades have reconstituted his iconic status. With the full range of Smith's published and unpublished writings and lectures now widely available, (...) there has been a huge growth in the scholarly literature on Smith which has subjected this traditional view to searching questions. The overwhelming conclusion to emerge is that Smith's works display a subtlety and complexity that is at odds with the received image of Smith as the spokesman of modernity, but the diversity of interpretation raises some difficult methodological issues. (shrink)
In his Comment ‘Adam Smith on the Morality of the Pursuit of Fortune’, Richard Arlen Kleer accepts much of the argument in my article ‘Signifying Voices’ but insists that I have ‘gone too far’. Kleer agrees that there is a moral hierarchy in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments where benevolence and self-command are ranked higher than justice and prudence, but he is uneasy with the conclusion that economic activity and the pursuit of gain are ‘amoral’ activities and insists that (...) they do have a significant moral standing. In addition, although Kleer accepts a good deal of the stylistic analysis, again he is uneasy with the results that are derived from it. This reply will take each of these aspects in turn. (shrink)
The “Adam Smith problem” has traditionally been concerned with the issue of authorial integrity: the issue of how a single author, Adam Smith, could have written two such apparently dissimilar, even contradictory, works as The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. As the problem to be resolved was the single authorial origin of two such works, the perceived incompatibilities between them were explained in terms of Smith's intellectual biography – for example, Smith's travels to France, Smith's meetings (...) with the physiocrats, or the mental incapacities of an aging man. The current consensus is that the Adam Smith problem is a “pseudo problem” and that Smith's works represent a unified project, but the same reference to authorial origins now provides thr opposite claim that “the same man” wrote both books. Here the postulate of authorial integrity, “of stable integrated character, not subject to deep intellectual doubts or fissures” provides an assurance that such a man is unlikely to have written two entirely different books, an assurance underwritten by a coherent authorial intentionality that guarantees the consistency of the two works. (shrink)
Mikel Burley says that he thinks that the Makropoulos debate can make no sense unless talk about eternal life makes sense. Here is his most striking argument that it doesn't – that immortality is inconceivable: …the concepts [of birth, death, and sexual relations] are internally related to the concept of a human being in the sense that they form part of the complex system of interrelated concepts of which ‘human being’ is a member. To understand what a human being is, (...) and hence to be able to operate competently with that concept, one must also have some understanding of, among many other things, what it means for a human being to be born, to form sexual relationships, and to die. (shrink)
Applied ethics work seems to me to be of three main kinds. There is participatory work, where a person whose specialism is ethics participates in a process leading to ethical judgments or decisions. And there are two kinds of teaching work where the teaching objective is to make learners better placed to participate in such processes; one kind of teaching work relates to matters which are specific to the future occupation of the learner, the other kind relates to matters which (...) are not specific to it. (shrink)
In what sense can we not help thinking that every event has a cause? One answer is, that this begs the question: we can think of events as uncaused. Well, we can think of events in isolation from causes, and we can formulate the proposition that some events have no cause, or that no event needs a cause. But the first of these does not constitute thinking of an event as not caused , but thinking of an event not-as-caused ; (...) while the implications of the second, forming anti-causal propositions, are obscure. I can verbally formulate the proposition ‘some events are uncaused’; the question is, whether it makes sense to affirm it. Now I can verbally formulate the proposition ‘some triangles are quadrilateral’, and we must not say that this does not make sense ; for I know the criteria for being a triangle, and I know the criteria for being quadrilateral; and the proposition simply asserts that there are some figures which satisfy both sets of criteria. That this is logically impossible is true, but it is not unintelligible. It does not, however, make sense to affirm a logical impossibility, simply because I cannot meaningfully affirm what I do not understand and believe to be possible , and if I understand what it means to be both triangular and quadrilateral, I cannot also believe it to be possible, since to understand what it means for a plane figure to have three sides is to understand that this excludes its having any other number of sides, e.g. four. But ‘some events are not caused’ is not logically incoherent in this way, or not apparently so; for in thinking of an event I am by definition thinking of a happening in isolation from any cause; I am thinking of it not as caused . Thus ‘some events are uncaused’ is not incoherent ex vi terminorum. (shrink)
My title advertizes a paradox. The characteristic complaint of the sceptic is that others make assumptions they are not entitled to make. A philosophical sceptic is committed to a systematic refusal to accept such assumptions in the absence of the kind of justification they think is required. A sceptic who, none the less, helps himself to such an assumption, seems to be caught in a paradoxical position. This is the kind of situation in which, it seems, certain eighteenth-century sceptical philosophers (...) were placed in relation to the ‘principle’ of natural order. They did not doubt that there is such a principle, that there is a source or ultimate cause of the order to be found in the universe. And yet, on their own terms, is not the existence of such a principle something we should expect them to have doubted? What I shall try to do in this lecture is to bring out why they did not doubt the existence of such a principle and how serious their failure to do so is for their sceptical position. (shrink)