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Epistemology

Epistemology

Paul K. Moser on Kerygmatic Philosophy

Go The disturbing God acknowledged by Jewish and Christian theism is not static but dynamic, interactive, and elusive. In particular, this God reveals himself to some people at times and hides himself from some people at times, for the sake of gaining fellowship with people. As a result, this God is cognitively elusive, since the claim that this God exists is not obviously true or even beyond evidentially grounded doubt for all capable mature inquirers. Let’s think of the God in question as “the living God” in virtue of this God’s being personally interactive with some agents and cognitively nimble and dynamic rather than functionally or cognitively static. This God, more specifically, is elusive for good reasons, that is, for reasonable divine purposes that fit with God’s unique character of being worthy of worship and thus being morally perfect. Accordingly, we should expect any evidence of God’s existence for humans to be purposively available to humans, that is, available to humans in a way that conforms to God’s perfectly good purposes for humans. This paper explores the striking consequences of this position for natural theology in particular and for theistic philosophy in general. It outlines an epistemology of God’s existence that is pneumatic, owing to a personal divine Spirit (who cannot be reduced to Calvin’s sensus divinitatis), and that is thus foreign to secular epistemology and to much philosophy of religion. It is also an incarnational epistemology, given its cognitive role for God’s Spirit dwelling in humans, in such a way that they become a temple of God’s Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). We may think of incarnational epistemology as requiring that human inquirers themselves become evidence of God’s reality in virtue of becoming God’s temple. In this approach, characteristic evidence of God’s reality is increasingly available to me as I myself am increasingly willing to become such evidence.

Christopher Hitchens on Scientific Naturalism

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And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursut of ideas for their own sake. We do not hold our convictions dogmatically: the disagreement between Professor Stephen Jay Gould and Professor Richard Dawkins, concerning “punctuated evolution” and the unfilled gaps in post-Darwinian theory, is quite wide as well as quite deep, but we shall resolve it by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication.

Philosophy of Religion

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A comprehensive and authoritative overview of the most important ideas and arguments in this resurgent field. The text moves beyond the borders of Western theism to more accurately reflect the nature of the twenty-first-century world. Featuring eighteen original essays from leading scholars, this collection offers a wide variety of viewpoints for a well balanced perspective on both traditional and cutting-edge topics in philosophy of religion. Designed for course use, this accessible text includes study questions and annotated further reading lists to stimulate reflection and provide opportunities for deeper exploration of the fundamental questions of the nature of religion.

Intellectual Virtue

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Virtue ethics has attracted a lot of attention over the past few decades, and more recently there has been considerable interest in virtue epistemology as an alternative to traditional approaches in that field. Ironically, although virtue epistemology got its inspiration from virtue ethics, this is the first book that brings virtue epistemologists and virtue ethicists together to contribute their particular expertise, and the first that is devoted to the topic of intellectual virtue. All new and right up to date, the papers collected here by Zagzebski and DePaul demonstrate the benefit of each branch of philosophy to the other. Intellectual Virtue will be required reading for anyone working in either field. ~ Synopsis

Alvin Plantinga

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Few thinkers have had as much impact on contemporary philosophy as has Alvin Plantinga. The work of this quintessential analytic philosopher has in many respects set the tone for the debate in the fields of modal metaphysics and epistemology and he is arguably the most important philosopher of religion of our time. In this volume, a distinguished team of today’s leading philosophers address the central aspects of Plantinga’s philosophy – his views on natural theology; his responses to the problem of evil; his contributions to the field of modal metaphysics; the controversial evolutionary argument against naturalism; his model of epistemic warrant and his view of epistemic defeat; and his recent work on mind-body dualism. Also included is an appendix containing Plantinga’s often referred to, but previously unpublished, lecture notes entitled ‘Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments’, with a substantial preface to the appendix written by Plantinga specifically for this volume. ~ Product Description

Douglas Wilson on Determinism and Reason

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But it is interesting that the same thing happens to you when you have to give some warrant for trusting in “reason”. I noted your citation of LaPlace in your book and am glad you brought him up here. LaPlace believed he was not in need of the God hypothesis, just like you, but you should also know he held this position as a firm believer in celestial and terrestrial mechanics. He was a causal determinist, meaning that he believed that every element of the universe in the present was “the effect of its past and the cause of its future.”

Douglas Wilson on Tasting It to Test It

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When I said that Jesus is good for the world because he is the life of the world, you just tossed this away. You said, “You cannot possibly ‘know’ this. Nor can you present any evidence for it.” Actually, I believe I can present evidence for what I know. But evidence comes to us like food, and that is why we say grace over it. And we are supposed to eat it, not push it around on the plate – and if we don’t give thanks, it never tastes right. But here is some evidence for you, in no particular order. The engineering that went into ankles. The taste of beer. That Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, just like he said. A woman’s neck. Bees fooling around in the flower bed. The ability of acorns to manufacture enormous oaks out of stuff they find in the air and dirt. Forgiveness of sin. Storms out of the North, the kind with lightning. Joyous laughter (diaphragm spasms to the atheistic materialist). The ocean at night with a full moon. Delta blues. The peacock that lives in my yard. Sunrise, in color. Baptizing babies. The pleasure of sneezing. Eye contact. Having your feet removed from the miry clay, and established forever on the rock. You may say none of this tastes right to you. But suppose you were to bow your head and say grace over all of it. Try it that way.

Skepticism: An Anthology

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This anthology contains the principal texts of the skeptical tradition from its origins in antiquity to contemporary philosophy. Selections include the writings of both well-known and lesser-known but influential philosophers of the Western tradition who either advanced skeptical views or dealt with skeptical issues for other philosophical or religious purposes. An introduction on the origins, kinds, and significance of philosophical skepticism puts the various readings in the context of the history of Western philosophy. The editors have also added brief discussions of each philosopher and text included in the anthology, plus a selected bibliography, which lists the main secondary literature on ancient, modern, and contemporary skepticism. This collection is ideal for introductory philosophy courses and courses on intellectual history, or for any reader interested in an influential school of thought, which challenges the nature of philosophy itself.

Andrew Sullivan on Making Distinctions

Go The reason I find fundamentalism so troubling — whether it is Christian, Jewish or Muslim — is not just its willingness to use violence (in the Islamist manifestation). It is its inability to integrate doubt into faith, its resistance to human reason, its tendency to pride and exclusion, and its inability to accept mystery as the core reality of any religious life. You find it troubling, I think, purely because it upholds truths that cannot be proved empirically or even, in some respects, logically. In that sense, of course, I think you have no reason to dislike or oppose it any more than you would oppose my kind of faith. Your argument allows for no solid distinctions within faiths; my argument depends on such distinctions.

Breaking the Spell

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In his characteristically provocative fashion, Dennett, author of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, calls for a scientific, rational examination of religion that will lead us to understand what purpose religion serves in our culture. Much like E.O. Wilson (In Search of Nature), Robert Wright (The Moral Animal), and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), Dennett explores religion as a cultural phenomenon governed by the processes of evolution and natural selection. Religion survives because it has some kind of beneficial role in human life, yet Dennett argues that it has also played a maleficent role. He elegantly pleads for religions to engage in empirical self-examination to protect future generations from the ignorance so often fostered by religion hiding behind doctrinal smoke screens. Because Dennett offers a tentative proposal for exploring religion as a natural phenomenon, his book is sometimes plagued by generalizations that leave us wanting more ("Only when we can frame a comprehensive view of the many aspects of religion can we formulate defensible policies for how to respond to religions in the future"). Although much of the ground he covers has already been well trod, he clearly throws down a gauntlet to religion. ~ Publishers Weekly

Nassim Taleb on the Opacity of History

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History is opaque. You see what comes out, not the script that produces events, the generator of history. There is a fundamental incompleteness in your grasp of such events, since you do not see what’s inside the box, how the mechanisms work. What I call the generator of historical events is different from the events themselves, much as the minds of the gods cannot be just by witnessing their deeds. You are very likely to be fooled about their intentions. ¶ This disconnect is similar to the difference between the food you see on the table at the restaurant and the process you can observe in the kitchen. … the human mind suffers from three ailments as it comes into contact with history, what I call the triplet of opacity. They are: a) the illusion of understanding, or how everyone thinks he knows what is going on in a world that is more complicated (or random) than they realize; b) the retrospective distortion, or how we can assess matters only after the fact, as if they were in a rearview mirror (history seems clearer and more organized in history books than in empirical reality); and c) the overvaluation of factual information and the handicap of authoritative and learned people, particularly when they create categories — when they “Platonify.”

Graham Oppy on the Cumulative Case for God

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If we have two valid arguments, each of which entails the conclusion that a particular monotheistic god exists, then we can form a disjunctive argument that also entails the same conclusion. More generally, if we have a large collection of valid arguments, each of which entails the conclusion that a particular monotheistic god exists, then we can form a multiply disjunctive argument that also entails that same conclusion. However, it should not be supposed that a ‘cumulative’ argument that is formed in this way is guaranteed to be a better argument than the individual arguments with which we began (even if we are properly entitled to the claim that the arguments with which we are working are all valid). For, on the one hand, if all of the arguments are defective on grounds other than those of validity — for example, because they have false premises, or because they are question-begging — then the cumulative argument will also be defective. But, on the other hand, if even one of the arguments with which we began is not defective on any other grounds, then it is a cogent argument for its conclusion, and the cumulative argument is plainly worse (since longer and more convoluted). So, at the very least, we have good reason to be suspicious of talk about a cumulative case for the claim that a given monotheistic god does — or does not — exist that is based upon a collection of (allegedly) valid arguments for the claim that the god in question does — or does not — exist. …

Ben Witherington III on the Magi

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Anyone who has ever studied the sculpture and art of the ancient Near East will at some juncture have run across a particular common household statue of a man. The man, with head inclined towards the heavens, has his eyes wide open and a look of wonder on his face. Both before, during, and after Jesus’ day, all societies were agricultural, and thus they were all dependent on the heavens, on rain and sun, in order to live at all. Of course, this is true of us as well, but as the majority of us have become increasingly less tethered to the soil we have tended to forget this fact. It is no wonder that persons in this days constantly consulted the heavens, the stars in their motions and configurations, the movement of the planets and of special astral events like comets, in order to discern when would be an opportune time to plow or allow the land to lie fallow, plan or pluck up. Indeed, one can read the Farmer’s Almanac even to this day and get a sense of how closely prognostication is linked to an agrarian society like that of Jesus. ¶ Astrologers, or Magi as they are called in our text (from which we get the word magic), were stargazers. They were not kings, but they were most definitely consultants to kings. The Magi constantly looked to the stars for help, for hope, for knowledge of the future, for truth. They did not believe the stars were inanimate matter; they believed they were likely to be supernatural beings — the heavenly hosts or angels. This is hardly surprising, since they saw them moving around in orderly patterns with the seasons of the year.

Anthony Kenny on the Mind of God

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If we are to attribute intelligence to any entity — limited or unlimited, cosmic or extra-cosmic — we have to take as our starting point our concept of intelligence as exhibited by human beings: we have no other concept of it. Human intelligence is displaced in the behavior of human bodies and in the thoughts of human minds. If we reflect on the active way in which we attribute mental predicates such as "know," "believe," "think," "design," "control" to human beings, we realize the immense difficulty there is [in] applying them to a putative being which is immaterial, ubiquitous and eternal. It is not just that we do not, and cannot, know what goes on in God’s mind, it is that we cannot really ascribe a mind to God at all. The language that we use to describe the contents of human minds operates within a web of links with bodily behavior and social institutions. When we try to apply this language to an entity outside the natural world, whose scope of operation is the entire universe, this web comes to pieces, and we no longer know what we are saying.

The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology

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The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology contains nineteen previously unpublished chapters by today’s leading figures in the field. These chapters function not only as a survey of key areas, but as original scholarship on a range of vital topics. Written accessibly for advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and professional philosophers, the Handbook explains the main ideas and problems of contemporary epistemology while avoiding overly technical detail. “This is an extensive collection of well-chosen papers on a wide range of topics in current mainstream epistemology, all of which are written by international experts and published here for the first time. Most papers do not require any specialist knowledge in epistemology, although there are exceptions to this general rule. As my own teaching confirms, this book is ideal as an introductory text for a wide range of graduate students in epistemology, philosophy of science, and the epistemology of ethics.” ~ Erik J. Olsson, Theoria

Scientific Explanation and Religious Belief

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The science-and-religion dialogue has become an established part of the wider cultural conversation about the respective roles of science and religion within democratic societies. By reflecting on the matrix of science, religion and politics, this volume constitutes a major contribution to the science-and-religion dialogue. It is not only required reading for philosophers, scientists and theologians, but will be of interest to all those engaged in the larger cultural conversation about the relationship between science and religion. ~ Product Description

True to Life

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Why does truth matter, when politicians so easily sidestep it and intellectuals scorn it as irrelevant? Why be concerned over an abstract idea like truth when something that isn’t true — for example, a report of Iraq’s attempting to buy materials for nuclear weapons—gets the desired result — the invasion of Iraq? In this engaging and spirited book, Michael Lynch argues that truth does matter, in both our personal and political lives. Lynch explains that the growing cynicism over truth stems in large part from our confusion over what truth is. “We need to think our way past our confusion and shed our cynicism about the value of truth,” he writes. “Otherwise, we will be unable to act with integrity, to live authentically, and to speak truth to power.” True to Life defends four simple claims: that truth is objective; that it is good to believe what is true; that truth is a goal worthy of inquiry; and that truth can be worth caring about for its own sake—not just because it gets us other things we want. In defense of these “truisms about truth,” Lynch diagnoses the sources of our cynicism and argues that many contemporary theories of truth cannot adequately account for its value. He explains why we should care about truth, arguing that truth and its pursuit are part of living a happy life, important in our personal relationships and for our political values. ~ Product Description (Gold Award Winner for Philosophy in the 2004 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards)

Introspection Vindicated

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In a naive sense it seems that there could be nothing simpler than to "know thyself" yet a philosophical elucidation of the process by which one comes to know oneself is quite elusive. In this book Gregg Ten Elshof deals with the epistemology of introspection; whether and to what extent self-knowledge can appropriately be thought of as a species of perception. Assessing the suggestion that we, at least sometimes, come to acquire significant knowledge about ourselves, by observation, in very much the same way that we sometimes come to know things about the external world; this book explains the perceptual/observational model of introspection and contrasts it with its more prominent competitors. Ten Elshof examines in detail rival conceptions of the epistemology of self-knowledge such as those proposed by Searle, Dennett and Lyons yet concludes by insisting that the arguments levelled against the perceptual/observational view have not been decisive and that it deserves to be taken seriously as a viable competing model. ~ Product Description

D. Z. Phillips on Theories of Everything

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What kind of theory is a theory about the structure of the world? If by “the world” one wants to mean “everything”, there is no such theory. Certainly, science has no such theory, nor could it have. “Everything” is not the name of one big thing or topic, and therefore, there can be no theory concerning a thing or topic of this kind. To speak of a thing is to acknowledge the existence of many things, since one can always be asked which thing one is referring to. Science is concerned with specific states of affairs, no matter how wide the scope of its questions may be. Whatever explanations it offers, further questions can be asked about them. It makes no sense to speak of a last answer in science, one that does not admit of any further questions. Science is not concerned with “the structure of the world”, and there are no scientific investigations which have this as their subject.

John Courtney Murray on Holding Certain Truths

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The whole premise of the public argument, if it is to be civilized and civilizing, is that the consensus is real, that among the people everything is not in doubt, but that there is a core of agreement, accord, concurrence, acquiescence. We hold certain truths, therefore we can argue about them. It seems to have been one of the corruptions of intelligence by positivism to assume that argument ends when agreement is reached. In a basic sense the reverse is true. There can be no argument except on the premise, and within a context, of agreement. Mutatis mutandis, this is true of scientific, philosophical, and theological argument. It is no less true of political argument.

Jonah Goldberg on a Mysterious God

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So let me answer the question even though I find it distasteful. Yes, I believe in God. But I suppose I would emphasize my belief that He is a mysterious God — a very mysterious God — and that the best way we have to understand Him is through metaphors which we will, and almost always should, find wanting. God may be able to make a boulder too heavy for Him to lift, but even He couldn’t do better than “I am that I am.”/ “I am Who am.” Or He could, but we wouldn’t understand it.

A History of Half-Truths

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Jef Raskin, one of the originators of the Macintosh, writes an interesting lament at what often passes for the history of its development. “Holes in the Histories” is instructive for its catalogue of how the telling of history can be corrupted by the use of secondary sources, by oversimplification, by misrepresentation, by an affection for celebrity, by relying on appearances, and by a general lack of interest in the truth of the matter. Every day, each of us hears countless reports, studies, and comments about the way of things and Raskin’s article is a welcome reminder to be wary of taking such claims at face value. It is also a call to avoid such carelessness about truth in our own words. We are especially vulnerable to being taken in by fictions when we are inclined to agree with their source for other reasons. David C. Wise’s Creation/Evolution page (link expired) is a sobering account of ways in which the “Creation Science” movement has been incorrigibly guilty of many of the sins of scholarship that Raskin describes. For example, see his article “Moon Dust” (link expired).

Moral and Epistemic Virtues

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Whilst virtue ethics has long been a focus for discussion in moral philosophy, it is only recently that an analogue virtue-based theory has come to the fore in the field of epistemology. This volume brings together papers by some of the leading figures working on virtue-theoretic accounts in both ethics and epistemology, including Guy Axtell, Julia Driver, Antony Duff, Miranda Fricker, John Greco, Christopher Hookway, Michael Slote, Lawrence Solum and Linda Zagzebski. It is the first volume to combine papers on virtue ethics and virtue epistemology. This volume brings together papers by some of the leading figures working on virtue-theoretic accounts in both ethics and epistemology. A collection of cutting edge articles by leading figures in the field of virtue theory including Guy Axtell, Julia Driver, Antony Duff and Miranda Fricker. The first book to combine papers on both virtue ethics and virtue epistemology. Deals with key topics in recent epistemological and ethical debate. ~ Product Description

Anthony Kenny on Humility and Agnosticism

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Humility is a virtue which concerns one’s assessment of one’s own merits and defects in comparison with others. The virtues, as Aristotle taught us, concern particular passions; they assist reason to control these passions. The relevant passion in this quarter is the raging tempest of self-love: our inclination to overvalue our own gifts, overesteem our own opinions and place excessive importance on getting our own way. Humility is the virtue that counteracts this prejudice. It does so not by making the judgment that one’s own gifts are lesser than others, or that one’s own opinions are falser than others — for that, as St Thomas says, would often lead to falsehood. It does so, rather, by making the presumption that others’ talents are greater, others’ opinions more likely to be right. Like all presumptions, the presumption of humility is rebuttable; it may be that for a particular purpose one’s own gifts are more adapted than those of one’s neighbours; on a particular topic it may be that one is right and one’s neighbour wrong. But only by approaching each conflict of interest and opinion with this presumption can one hope to escape the myopia that magnifies everything to do with oneself by comparison with everything to do with others.