In this book Mark Wynn argues that the landscape of philosophical theology looks rather different from the perspective of a re-conceived theory of emotion. In matters of religion, we do not need to opt for objective content over emotional form or vice versa. On the contrary, these strategies are mistaken at root, since form and content are not properly separable here - because 'inwardness' may contribute to 'thought-content', or because emotional feelings can themselves constitute thoughts; or because, to put the (...) point a further way, in religious contexts, perception and conception are often infused by feeling. Wynn uses this perspective to forge a distinctive approach to a range of established topics in philosophy of religion, notably: religious experience; the problem of evil; the relationship of religion and ethics, and religion and art; and in general, the connection of 'feeling' to doctrine and tradition. (shrink)
In his discussion of conversion experience, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James draws attention to a variety of experience which has not been much investigated in the philosophy of religion literature, but which seems to be of some importance religiously—namely, an experience which consists in a re-vivification of the sensory world as a whole. In this paper, I develop four accounts of the nature of this kind of experience, and I show how the experience can inform our conception (...) of the spiritual life, considered as a world-directed mode of experience and practice. (shrink)
God and Goodness takes the experience of value as a starting point for natural theology. Mark Wynn argues that theism offers our best understanding of the goodness of the world, especially its beauty and openness to the development of richer and more complex material forms. We also see that the world's goodness calls for a moral response: commitment to the goodness of the world represents a natural extension of the trust to which we aspire in our dealings with human beings.
In this article, I consider some of the forms that truthfulness can take in the Christian life. Drawing on the notion of storied identity, I address the following questions. In general terms, what does it take to live truthfully with respect to some narrative? More exactly, how might that truthfulness be realized in bodily terms? And, finally, how might living truthfully with respect to a narrative contribute to the further elaboration of the narrative? I examine these questions with reference to (...) the concerns of Christian ethics in particular, by taking as my focus the kind of storied truthfulness that is embodied in the practice of neighbour love, and the question of how that truthfulness may be extended through participation in the eucharist. (shrink)
The gift of life argument, the claim that suicide is immoral because our lives are not ours to dispose of as we are their guardians or stewards, is a persistent theme in debates about the morality of suicide, assisted-suicide, and euthanasia. I argue that this argument suffers from a fatal internal incoherence. The gift can either be interpreted literally or analogically. If it is interpreted literally there are serious problems in understanding who receives the gift. If it is understood analogically (...) the question arises whether the gift is understood to be a finite or everlasting existence. If it is finite then it is hard to see how one can be punished for bringing that existence to an end for one will not be around to be punished. If the existence is infinite it is impossible to see how one can be punished for ending one’s life because one cannot end it. However, there is still ethical mileage to be gained from the description of life as a gift and in the concluding section I indicate one way in which this is so. (shrink)
In this paper, I explore two ways of understanding the moral and spiritual significance of stories, and in turn two ways of developing the notion of storied identity, and hence two ways of reading the Bible. I propose that these two approaches to the biblical text provide the basis for a fruitful interpretation of the Christian rite of the Eucharist, so that, to this extent, we can take the Eucharist to support these ways of drawing out the sense of the (...) text. Accordingly, we can speak of reading the Bible eucharistically. The aim of the paper is not to substantially explain central features of the Eucharist as it has been understood in mainstream Christian teaching but, more modestly, to consider how these two ways of approaching the biblical text may help to bring some aspects of the rite, as depicted in Christian thought, into rather clearer focus, including its social dimension, and the relationship, on the Christian understanding, between the divine presence in the Incarnation and in the Eucharist. (shrink)
The recent philosophical literature on religious experience has mostly been concerned with experiences which are taken by the subject of the experience to be directly of God or some other supernatural entity, or to involve some suspension of the subject–object structure of conventional experience. In this paper I consider a further kind of experience, where the sense of God is mediated by way of an appreciation of the existential meanings which are presented by a material context. In this way the (...) paper aims to extend the standard philosophical concept of religious experience so as to take account of phenomenological treatments of sacred place, and to give more prominence to the materially mediated or sacramental character of much religious experience. (shrink)
This paper argues that we can fruitfully consider some central issues in philosophy of religion through the lens provided by the literature in aesthetics. Specifically, I argue that Mikel Dufrenne's theory of representation in the arts can be usefully applied to representations of the sacred. The paper seeks to trace some of the implications of this view for our understanding of religious language and the epistemology of religious belief. It also aims to throw light on the religious power of art, (...) including art which lacks any explicitly religious content. (shrink)
In his book The Existence of God , Professor Swinburne develops a cumulative case for theism. As part of this case, he presents two forms of the argument from design, one form taking as its premise the fact of spatial order, the other proceeding from the fact of temporal order. In this paper, I shall concern myself with the second of these arguments; that is, in Swinburne's terms, I shall concern myself with the argument from regularities of succession.
The ”dark night of the soul’ is a common motif in Christian spiritual writing; and the locus classicus for this motif is the work of John of the Cross, a Spanish Carmelite friar of the sixteenth century. My aim in this paper is to use John’s account of the ”night’ to consider how the themes of mystery, humility and religious practice may be subsumed, and related to one another, within a Christian conception of God and of human life lived out (...) in relation to God. (shrink)
This chapter begins with a review of recent philosophical literature on religious experience, which has generally been concerned with experiences that focus on God or some other supernatural ‘thing’, and then considers other kinds of religious experience which should be of some interest for natural theology. It suggests that these kinds of religious experience invite a certain conception of God, namely, as an overarching meaning, rather than as a supernatural ‘object’, and also a correlative epistemology, one which gives due acknowledgement (...) to the sense-making capacities of the human body and of affective responses in particular. (shrink)
The paper seeks to address three objections to pilgrimage practices -- they are tied to superstitious beliefs (except where they are seen as simply an aid to the imagination), imply a crude experiential or emotional understanding of the nature of faith, and rest upon a primitive conception of divine localizability. In responding to these objections, I argue that the religious significance of places is not reducible to their contribution to religious imagination, experience or understanding. In this sense, relationship to God (...) is not just a matter of thought, but of location. (shrink)
ABSTRACTI discuss three accounts of the spiritual significance of aesthetic experience. Two of these perspectives I have taken from the recent literature in theological aesthetics, and the third I have constructed, building on Thomas Aquinas’s conception of the goods of the infused moral virtues. This broadly Thomistic approach occupies, I argue, a middle ground between the other two, on account of its distinctive understanding of the role of theological context in defining spiritually significant goods. These perspectives are not mutually exclusive, (...) but they do present rather different conceptions of the ways in which aesthetic goods can contribute to spiritual well-being, and provide a focus for religious practice. (shrink)
This paper explores some implications of the idea that religious thoughts can enter into the sensory appearances of things. I begin by clarifying this idea, using some examples drawn from Roger Scruton's discussion of the phenomenology of architectural experience. Then I consider the bearing of the idea on the case for religious belief in pragmatic and epistemic terms. More exactly, I explore how the idea of an internal relation between religious thought and the sensory appearances of things can be used (...) (1) to state William James's case in 'The will to believe' with new nuance, and (2) to set out an epistemic case for religious belief whose central claims seem quite commonly to weigh with believers, but which has not been much discussed by philosophers. (shrink)
This paper considers whether John McDowell’s cognitivist account of affectively toned ethical experience can be extended to the case of theistic experience. It makes particular use of McDowell’s claim that there is no simple correlation between value-free qualities in the world and kinds of value experience. The paper draws on the work of William Alston and John Henry Newman, and argues that at various points, McDowell’s work can help to strengthen their defence of the epistemic significance of religious experience.
Spiritual Traditions and the Virtues provides a philosophical appreciation of the spiritual life, showing how a certain conception of spiritual well-being, rooted in Thomas Aquinas's account of the virtues, can generate a distinctive vision of human life, and the possibilities for spiritual fulfilment.
The paper examines three themes from the recent philosophical literature on place: the status of places as “concrete universals”; the narratively mediated agency of places; and the various ways in which human identity proves to be relative to place. I argue that these themes throw into new relief a set of correlative issues in philosophical theology concerning, respectively, God’s supra-individuality, God’s status as a final cause, and the divine grounding of human identity. On this basis, the paper proposes that knowledge (...) of place is analogous to, and partly constitutive of, knowledge of God. (shrink)
In this paper, I consider the fruitfulness of the notion of supererogation for an understanding of the relationship between religious and secular ethics. I approach this theme in three ways. First, I note a contrast between the virtues of neighbour love and infused temperance, as they are represented in the work of Thomas Aquinas: in the first case, but not the second, appeal to religious context changes the status of an action, so that it is now obligatory when it would (...) otherwise have been supererogatory. I consider how we might explain this difference, and what it indicates about the distinctive character of a ‘religious ethic’. Next, I note how John of the Cross's account of the spiritual life, while tracking Aquinas's discussion on certain points, invites a more radical revision of the distinction between obligation and supererogation. Finally, and briefly, I argue that these reflections throw new light on a puzzle that is posed by some attempts to ground religious commitments in moral commitments. In all of these ways, the notion of supererogation turns out to be key for an appreciation of the distinctive character of a religious vision of human life. (shrink)
In his paper ‘Theism and the philosophy of nature’, Ben Cordry argues that theism's conception of nature has been falsified. In this response, I argue that the universe in many ways conforms to theistic expectations, and that there is no presumption that a divinely ordered world will take the form that Cordry proposes. (Published Online July 10 2006).
In this paper, I shall consider four approaches to the idea that the world points towards or represents God. I shall argue that the relation of resemblance may not offer the best initial way of expounding this idea, and that the relation of necessary complement may provide the basis of a more useful model. I begin by examining three accounts which draw primarily upon the notion of resemblance in order to explain the sense in which the world represents God. I (...) shall then survey a further approach, which seeks to interpret the idea of resemblance in terms of the more fundamental idea of complementarity. (shrink)
I would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by the referees forSophia. Their comments have encouraged me to make more extended use of the anthropological literature, and helped me to make a number of other important improvements.
The paper considers the possibility of an alliance between natural theologians and environmental ethicists in so far as both uphold the goodness of the natural world. Specifically, it examines whether the work of Holmes Rolston III can contribute towards the natural theologian’s treatment of two issues: the nature and extent of the world’s goodness, and the reasons why we may fail to register its goodness fully. The paper argues that the holism and non-anthropocentrism of Rolston’s work throw new light on (...) the values in nature, and on the multiple achievements which are presupposed in any informed appreciation of its goodness. (shrink)
At the outset of this discussion, I undertook to present an argument from design which would follow Swinburne's example in making use of a priori judgments, while avoiding some of the objections which have been posed in response to his treatment of these issues. So we need to ask: how does this approach to the question of design compare with Swinburne's?Swinburne argues that a chaotic world is a priori more likely than an ordered world: this consideration provides one central reason, (...) on his account, for giving an explanation of some sort for the world's regularity. The other central argument he advances for this claim is the argument from analogy (in terms of the coins) which we noted earlier. The approach I have taken offers an alternative route to this same conclusion. In particular, it substitutes the simpler a priori judgments recorded in (i) and (ii) for the rather difficult and contentious claim that chaos is a priori more likely than order. In place of this claim, I have offered the judgment that order, or recurrence, is more likely given the activity of a common source or common kind of source than otherwise: this proposal does not commit us to a view either way on the question of whether order is a priori likely per se. Moreover, in place of Swinburne's analogical argument, I have offered an a priori approach, with the advantages I have noted.Given that recurrence is to be explained, we might ask: why offer an explanation in terms of design? On this point, Swinburne argues, for instance, that no other explanation of temporal regularity is even possible a priori. Again, the a priori principles which I have used, in (iv) and (v), may be less ambitious, but at the same time more persuasive. In support of this same idea, Swinburne also cites various ideas to do with the predictive power of the idea of design. I have tried to bring out the role of this sort of consideration in terms of my principle (v). Principle (iv) has no place in Swinburne's account, in view of his reliance on the principle of simplicity as a measure of prior probability.Lastly, we may ask: if we are to cite a designer, are there reasons for attributing to this agent more powers than are needed for the production of the effect to be explained? On this point, Swinburne cites the principle of simplicity. Again, my approach avoids what has proved to be a relatively controversial judgment about the nature of a priori probabilities, offering in place of the principle of simplicity the less ambitious principle recorded in (iii). At this point, I have moreover inverted the logical sequence of Swinburne's argument: it seems to me that, in the ways I have indicated, it is helpful to consider the extent of the powers of the source of recurrence before addressing the question of design.In these various ways, I hope I have made good my undertaking to present an argument which avoids some of the controversy surrounding the particular measures of a priori probability which figure in Swinburne's argument. Moreover, I hope that this approach provides an indication of how a priori judgments may function in a relatively unproblematic way within an argument from design, in so far as (i)–(v) are all rather modest proposals. In sum, the argument I have presented is distinguished by its explicit use of the a priori judgments recorded in (i)–(v), by its attempt to buttress in this fashion analogical forms of argument, and by the logical role it gives to the idea that the source of regularity possesses more powers than are required for the production of this effect.Lastly, we might ask: how persuasive is this argument? Of course, the cogency of the idea of design depends upon the balance of debate in other areas of the philosophy of religion, especially upon our ability to provide some account of the existence of evil. In this paper, I have been concerned to argue simply that recurrence by kind provides evidence for design: I have not addressed the question of whether other features of the world provide good evidence against the idea of (benevolent) design. However, if we confine our attention to this one phenomenon, there is it seems to me good evidence for the idea of design, (i) and (ii) suggest that recurrence surely calls for some explanation; (iii), together with the existence in nature of statistical irregularities, suggests that whatever provides this explanation could have brought about other effects besides; and design seems the only clear explanation of why this effect should have been brought about, if (as I have argued) analogies drawn from vegetable and animal reproduction fail, and if we cannot explain the effect satisfactorily by reference to the conditions of observation. Moreover, I have argued that there are reasons for supposing that the probability a priori of design is relatively high in relation to the probability a priori of any rival hypothesis of equivalent predictive power. In brief, this is because the design hypothesis (unlike the hypothesis of theism) can cite an agent of relatively indeterminate power in order to account for the phenomenon to be explained. In this regard, it is less ‘precisely defined’ than any rival hypothesis of equivalent predictive power. If all of this is so, then as philosophers from early times have supposed, temporal regularity provides the basis for a powerful argument in favour of design. It remains true, of course, that its import can be judged in full only when we have taken into account the relevance of other phenomena, many of which are apparently less favourable to the idea of design. (shrink)