- Metaphysics (3) : What is Real
- Epistemology (50) : What and How We Know
- Faith & Reason (86) : Faith and/or Reason
- Truth? (28) : True vs. "true"
- Ethics (34) : Good & Evil, Right & Wrong
- Arts & Letters (17) : Art, Beauty, Interpretation
- Being Human (37) : The Human Condition
- Society & Culture (24) : Living Together
- Origins & Science (50)
- Worldviews (5) : Paradigms & Metanarrative
- God? (25) : God's Existence and Nature
- Jesus (37) : On the Person and Teachings
- Religion (25) : Religion Under the Lens
- Christianity (17) : Beliefs, Practices, History
"Consciousness and the Quantum Worlds: Putting Qualia On the Map" in Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives, Quentin Smith and Aleksandar Jokric, eds. (Oxford: 2003), p. 447.
Let me begin by nailing my colours to the mast. I count myself a materialist, in the sense that I take consciousness to be a species of brain activity. Having said that, however, it seems to me evident that no description of brain activity of the relevant kind, couched in the currently available languages of physics, physiology, or functional or computational roles, is remotely capable of capturing what is distinctive about consciousness. So glaring, indeed, are the shortcomings of all the reductive programmes currently on offer, that I cannot believe that anyone with a philosophical training, looking dispassionately at these programmes, would take any of them seriously for a moment, were it not for a deep-seated conviction that current physical science has essentially got reality taped, and accordingly, something along the lines of what the reductionists are offering must be correct. To that extent, the very existence of consciousness seems to me to be a standing demonstration of the explanatory limitations of contemporary physical science. On the assumption that some form of materialism is nevertheless true, we have only to introspect in order to recognize that our present understanding of matter is itself radically deficient. Consciousness remains for us, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, what it was for Newton at the dawn of the eighteenth century: an occult power that lies beyond the pool of illumination that physical theory casts on the world we inhabit.
"Conceiving the Impossible and the Mind-Body Problem" in Philosophy 73:285 (1998), pp. 337-52.
I believe that the explanatory gap in its present form cannot be closed — that so long as we work with our present mental and physical concepts no transparently necessary connection will ever be revealed, between physically described brain processes and sensory experience, of the logical type familiar from the explanation of other natural processes by analysis into their physico-chemical constituents. We have good grounds for believing that the mental supervenes on the physical — i.e. that there is no mental difference without a physical difference. But pure, unexplained supervenience is not a solution but a sign that there is something fundamental we don't know. We cannot regard pure supervenience as the end of the story because that would require the physical to necessitate the mental without there being any answer to the question how it does so. But there must be a "how," and our task is to understand it. An obviously systematic connection that remains unintelligible to us calls out for a theory.
"The Project of Natural Theology" in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Blackwell: 2009), p. 12.
In contemporary particle physics, objects without mass are posited with primitive charges or spins, which are presumed to be the basic foundations for explaining more complex events. Positing a basic power, terrestrial or divine, is not, ipso facto, explanatorily empty. ... In the sciences, we may well claim that with respect to any explanation, further questions can be asked of it, but this is not the same thing as claiming that science does not or cannot posit basic powers and accounts that are not themselves explained by further powers or scientific accounts. If the sciences can allow that subatomic particles have basic powers, it is hard to see how we can rule out that intentional agents have basic powers.
Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes (Macmillan: 2007), p. 177.
It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape: they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.
Cornel West on Truth as ... huh? said...
"Cornel West: Truth" interview by Astra Taylor at Killing the Buddha (November 15, 2009).
I think in many ways it is the ultimate question: What is truth? How do we understand truth and what are the ways in which we wrestle with truth? And I believe that Theodor Adorno was right when he said that the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. He said that the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak — that gives it an existential emphasis, you see, so that we’re really talking about truth as a way of life, as opposed to a set of propositions that correspond to a set of things in the world.
Cullen Murphy on Who Jesus Was said...
"Who Do Men Say That I Am?" in The Atlantic (December 1986).
It may be that Jesus went to his death not knowing quite who he was, regardless of what other men thought. He certainly went to his death with public opinion sharply divided and with his own disciples profoundly confused. There is obviously no consensus even today — even among Christians — as to what the real message of Jesus was and how it should apply to our lives, if it should apply at all. Despite the credal affirmations of the mainstream Christian churches, there is also no consensus — not if one looks at what real people actually believe — as to the identity of Jesus. Was he, as traditional Christian dogmatics hold, both God and Man — "the Word made flesh," a human being who was "consubstantial with the Father"? Did he partake of the divine in some more diluted and, as many twentieth-century churchgoers have doubtless concluded, inherently more plausible manner? Was he simply another of those charismatics who appear from time to time, destroy some complacency, do some good, and bequeath to the human race the symbol of an exemplary life?
Christianity and Liberalism (Wm. B. Eerdmans: 1923), pp. 141-3.
Faith is being exalted so high today that men are being satisfied with any kind of faith, just so it is faith. It makes no difference what is believed, we are told, just so the blessed attitude of faith is there. The unidiomatic faith, it is said, is better than the dogmatic, because it is purer faith — faith less weakened by the alloy of knowledge. ¶ Now it is perfectly clear that such employment of faith merely as a beneficent state of the soul is bringing some results. Faith in the most absurd things sometimes produces the most beneficent and far-reaching results. But the disturbing thing is that all faith has an object. The scientific observer may not think that it is the object that does the work; from his vantage point he may see clearly that it is really the faith, considered simply as a psychological phenomenon, that is the important thing, and that any other object would have answered as well. But the one who does the believing is always convinced just exactly that it is not the faith, but the object of the faith, which is helping him. The moment he becomes convinced that it is merely the faith that is helping him, the faith disappears; for faith always involves a conviction of the objective truth or trustworthiness of the object. If the object is not really trustworthy then the faith is a false faith.
"The Argument from Reason" in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Wiley-Blackwell: 2009), p. 386
So, I would maintain that there are gaps and there are gaps. It is not just pointing to an unsolved engineering problem in nature. First of all, the categories of the mental and the physical are logically incompatible categories. You start attributing mental properties to physics and you might end up being told that you are no longer describing the physical at all. Purpose, normativity, intentionality, or aboutness, all these things are not supposed to be brought in to the physical descriptions of things, at least at the most basic level of analysis. ¶ Let us consider the gap between the propositional content of thought and the physical description of the brain. My claim is that no matter in how much detail you describe the physical state of the brain (and the environment), the propositional content of thought will invariably be undetermined. ... As I see it, it is not a matter of getting a physical description that will work. In my view, the logicoconceptual gap is always going to be there regardless of how extensively you describe the physical. As I said earlier, bridging the chasm is not going to simply be a matter of exploring the territory on one side of the chasm. ... [T]he "God of the gaps" or even a "soul of the gaps" response to the argument from reason does not work. I am not saying that we just cannot figure out right now why the mental states involved in rational inference are really physical, I am suggesting on principled grounds that a careful reflection on the nature of mind and matter will invariably reveal that there is a logical gap between them that in principle cannot be bridged without fudging categories.
A Treatise of Human Nature (Longmans, Green: 1909), p. 245.
Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflection into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but 'tis the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar'd to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind: And this discovery in morals, like that other in physics, is to be regarded as a considerable advancement of the speculative sciences; tho', like that too, it has little or no influence on practice. Nothing can be more real, or concern us more, than our own sentiments of pleasure and uneasiness; and if these be favourable to virtue, and unfavourable to vice, no more can be requisite to the regulation of our conduct and behaviour.
Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy (Prometheus: 1998), p. 253.
The Darwinian argues that morality simply does not work (from a biological perspective), unless we believe that it is objective. Darwinian theory shows that, in fact, morality is a function of (subjective) feelings; but it shows also that we have (and must have) the illusion of objectivity.
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