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Epistemology

Epistemology

Martinez-Conde and Macknick Channeling Kant on Phenomonology

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Your brain creates a simulation of the world that may or may not match the real thing. The “reality” you experience is the result of your exclusive interaction with that simulation. We de­fine “illusions” as the phenomena in which your perception differs from physical reality in a way that is readily evident. You may see something that is not there, or fail to see something that is there, or see something in a way that does not reflect its physical properties.

One Nation Undecided

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Let’s be honest, we’ve all expressed opinions about difficult hot-button issues without always thinking them through. With so much media spin, political polarization, and mistrust of institutions, it’s hard to know how to think about these tough challenges, much less whatto do about them. One Nation Undecided takes on some of today’s thorniest issues and walks you through each one step-by-step, explaining what makes it so difficult to grapple with and enabling you to think smartly about it. ~ Publisher’s Description

Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn

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It is difficult to think of a topic of greater concern than the nature of truth. Indeed, truth and the knowledge thereof are the very rails upon which people ought to live their lives. And over the centuries, the classic correspondence theory of truth has outlived most of its critics. But these are postmodern times, or so we are often told, and the classic model, once ensconced deeply in the Western psyche, must now be replaced by a neopragmatist or some other anti-realist model of truth, at least for those concerned with the rampant victimization raging all around us. Thus, “we hold these truths to be self evident” now reads “our socially constructed selves arbitrarily agree that certain chunks of language are to be esteemed in our linguistic community.” Something has gone wrong here, and paraphrasing the words of Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Newman, “We came, we saw, and we conked out!”

Paul Johnson on the Humbling Lessons of History

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The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false. It is sobering, too, to find huge and frightening errors constantly repeated; lessons painfully learnt forgotten in the space of a generation; and the accumulated wisdom of the past heedlessly ignored in every society, and at all times.

Mark Galeotti on Fact Checking

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Instead of trying to combat each leak directly, the United States government should teach the public to tell when they are being manipulated. Via schools and nongovernmental organizations and public service campaigns, Americans should be taught the basic skills necessary to be savvy media consumers, from how to fact-check news articles to how pictures can lie.

Dallas Willard on Scientism and Inquiry Being Shaped by Its Subject Matter

Go We say “science,” but in actuality there are sciences like physics and biology. We say “religion,” but it would be more accurate to say religions like Christianity or Buddhism. Scientists will tell you that they do have a method, but the method of one science doesn’t work in another science. The method of validating a theory in biology doesn’t work particularly well in astronomy. Method is always tied to subject matter, and in dealing with life in general there is no such thing as a single scientific method. This has become the quandary of our culture, because everything that really matters in guiding life falls outside of science.

Natural Signs and Knowledge of God

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Is there such a thing as natural knowledge of God? C. Stephen Evans presents the case for understanding theistic arguments as expressions of natural signs in order to gain a new perspective both on their strengths and weaknesses. Three classical, much-discussed theistic arguments — cosmological, teleological, and moral — are examined for the natural signs they embody. At the heart of this book lie several relatively simple ideas. One is that if there is a God of the kind accepted by Christians, Jews, and Muslims, then it is likely that a ‘natural’ knowledge of God is possible. Another is that this knowledge will have two characteristics: it will be both widely available to humans and yet easy to resist. If these principles are right, a new perspective on many of the classical arguments for God’s existence becomes possible. We understand why these arguments have for many people a continued appeal but also why they do not constitute conclusive ‘proofs’ that settle the debate once and for all. Touching on the interplay between these ideas and contemporary scientific theories about the origins of religious belief, particularly the role of natural selection in predisposing humans to form beliefs in God or gods, Evans concludes that these scientific accounts of religious belief are fully consistent, even supportive, of the truth of religious convictions.

Bernard of Clairvaux on Hubris and Dominating Conversation

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The proud person “must either talk or burst …. He hungers and thirsts after hearers, to whom he may vaunt his vanities, to whom he may pour forth all his feelings, to whom his character and greatness may become known. … Opinions fly around, weighty words resound. He interrupts a questioner, he answers one who does not ask. He himself puts the questions, he himself solves them, he cuts short his fellow speaker’s unfinished words. … He does not care to teach you, or to learn from you what he does not know, but to know that you know that he knows.”

Ed L. Miller on the Freedom of the Text

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Certainly for anyone who thinks that Biblical teaching is at least in some ways normative, or that the Bible is in some sense authoritative, or who merely claims to take the Bible seriously, it should be a fundamental principle that the Bible must be allowed to say exactly what it wants to say irrespective of the consequences. We may then freely reject what it says as being foolish, inconvenient, embarrassing, or offensive. But no good is served by acting dishonestly with Biblical texts, that is, turning or twisting or otherwise manipulating and forcing them in the direction of what we want them to say. To be sure, we do not often do this in a deliberate or even conscious way, though this renders the problem even more insidious than it might otherwise be.

The Allure of Gentleness

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The revered Christian author whose bestselling classics include The Divine Conspiracy and The Spirit of the Disciplines provides a new model for how we can present the Christian faith to others. When Christians share their faith, they often appeal to reason, logic, and the truth of doctrine. But these tactics often are not effective. A better approach to spread Christ’s word, Dallas Willard suggests, is to use the example of our own lives. To demonstrate Jesus’s message, we must be transformed people living out a life reflective of Jesus himself, a life of love, humility, and gentleness. This beautiful model of life — this allure of gentleness — Willard argues, is the foundation for making the most compelling argument for Christianity, one that will convince others that there is something special about Christianity and the Jesus we follow.

To A Beautiful Child

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… thy book
Is cliff, and wood, and foaming waterfall;
Thy playmates — the wild sheep and birds that call
Hoarse to the storm; — thy sport is with the storm
to wrestle; — and thy piety to stand
Musing on things create, and their Creator’s hand!

Patrick J. Deneen on the Presuppositions of a Great Books Education

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Books were understood to be a storehouse of wisdom from the past, a treasury and repository of hard-won experience and knowledge of these limits. What these books taught was itself a justification for an education centered around them. Because the present and future were believed to be fundamentally identical to the past, the past was understood to be a source of wisdom about our condition as humans in a world that we do not command. An education in great books was itself a consequence of a philosophical worldview, and not merely an education from which we derived a worldview (much less sought an education in critical thinking).

Patrick J. Deneen on Uncritical Critical Thinking

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Many commend the teaching of great or core texts to provide something more than the exercise of “critical thinking,” a goal onto which academics have latched (after the ferocious curriculum battles of the 1980s and 1990s) with an almost audible sigh of relief. Debates about substance were put to rest as agreement was reached on the contentless goal of critical thinking, which allowed academics to lay down their arms and embrace the common project of cultivating a thinking style . Indeed, it has reached a pass in which the only idea impervious to critical thinking is the shared goal of critical thinking: No one quite knows what it is, but we can all agree that we want our students to be able to do it. Push-pins is equal to Homer, and Homer equal to push-pins, since both can be claimed to foster critical thinking.

Thomas Boys on the Insistence of Miracles

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A miracle is an extraordinary manifestation of supernatural power, perceptible to unbelievers as well as believers. Grace is a manifestation to believers only: Miracles are manifestations to unbelievers. A miracle is something perceptible to the senses, or to the intelligence, of a natural man. A miracle, therefore, may be called something tangible: something that we can lay before him and allege to him: something concerning which we can make an appeal to his natural perceptions: something concerning which we can charge it upon his conscience, that he knows within himself that such a thing has taken place. The world, therefore, is opposed to the doctrine of miracles: and opposed to it for this very reason, because they are tangible or perceptible. And mock professors, in like manner, shrink from the doctrine of miracles: because it brings them, at once, to an issue with the world. They shrink not, equally, from the profession of spiritual truths; because these may be eluded by the world, and lead to no issue. Doctrines, the world can explain away: miracles, it cannot. Here is something that it cannot get over. It is easy, for instance, to say to a man sick of the palsy, “Thy sins be forgiven thee;” because there is nothing to shew, at the moment, whether they are so or not: the issue stands over to the day of judgment. But it is not so easy to say to him, “Arise, and walk;” because, if the speaker be an impostor, he knows the sufferer will not rise and walk, and he dreads the consequent exposure.

Paul K. Moser on Expectations and Religious Epistemology

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Many people, including philosophers, have misguided expectations for God. These expectations are misguided in their failing to match what would be God’s relevant purposes, if God exists. The latter purposes include what God aims to achieve in revealing to humans (the evidence of) God’s reality and will. Misguided expectations for God can leave one looking for evidence for God in all the wrong places. In failing to find the expected evidence, one easily lapses into despair, anger, or indifference toward matters of God. We find such regrettable attitudes among many people, including philosophers and theologians. ¶ The needed antidote calls for a careful reconsideration of our expectations for God. This antidote enables us to approach religious epistemology in a way that does justice to the idea of a God worthy of worship. As we shall see, the evidence available to humans from a God worthy of worship would not be for mere spectators, but instead would seek to challenge the will of humans to cooperate with God’s perfect will. This would result from God’s seeking what is morally best for humans, including (a) their cooperative reconciliation to God, (b) their redemption from volitional corruption, such as selfishness, pride, and despair about human life, and (c) their ongoing cooperative life with God. ¶ What if, as Kierkegaard (1846) suggested, God maintains God’s value by refusing to become a mere third party and instead offering second-person (I–Thou) access to humans? What if, in addition, God is elusive in hiding from people unwilling to cooperate with God’s will? Such “what if” questions can shake up misguided expectations for God and point us in a new, reliable direction.

Kindly Inquisitors

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“A liberal society stands on the proposition that we should all take seriously the idea that we might be wrong. This means we must place no one, including ourselves, beyond the reach of criticism; it means that we must allow people to err, even where the error offends and upsets, as it often will.” So writes Jonathan Rauch in Kindly Inquisitors, which has challenged readers for more than twenty years with its bracing and provocative exploration of the issues surrounding attempts to limit free speech. In it, Rauch makes a persuasive argument for the value of “liberal science” and the idea that conflicting views produce knowledge within society.

Lactantius on Knowing a Little

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Among philosophers some have pretended that man might know every thing, — these are madmen; others that he could know nothing, — these men were not more wise: the former have given too much to man, the latter too little; both the one and the other have rushed into excess. Where then is wisdom? She consists in not believing that you know every thing — that is the attribute of God alone; in not pretending that you know nothing — that is the property of brutes: between these two extremes there is a medium which is appropriated for man — it is knowledge mixed up with darkness and tempered with ignorance.

Charles Townes on the Interaction Between Science and Religion

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Science has been digging deeper and deeper, and as it has done so, particularly in the basic sciences like physics and astronomy, we have begun to understand more. We have found that the world is not deterministic: quantum mechanics has revolutionized physics by showing that things are not completely predictable. That doesn’t mean that we’ve found just where God comes in, but we know now that things are not as predictable as we thought and that there are things we don’t understand. For example, we don’t know what some 95 percent of the matter in the universe is: we can’t see it – it’s neither atom nor molecule, apparently. We think we can prove it’s there, we see its effect on gravity, but we don’t know what and where it is, other than broadly scattered around the universe. And that’s very strange. ¶ So as science encounters mysteries, it is starting to recognize its limitations and become somewhat more open. There are still scientists who differ strongly with religion and vice versa. But I think people are being more open-minded about recognizing the limitations in our frame of understanding.

Robert P. George on Friendly Disagreements

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Like my Swarthmore peers, I wanted to be sophisticated and enlightened — and to be regarded by others as sophisticated and enlightened. So a lot of what I believed simply as a matter of tribal loyalty was reinforced by a tendency to adopt views that conformed to the beliefs of what the late Irving Kristol dubbed “the knowledge class” — professors, elite journalists, and the like. With the exception of abortion, which I had thought about a lot, I hadn’t really thought myself into the positions I held. Rather, I had taken the short cut: I was content to believe what I thought sophisticated and enlightened people believed, or at least were supposed to believe. I simply, and rather unselfconsciously, assumed that an approach of that sort would reliably place me on the correct side of the issues. And, of course, it would give me access to a world I wanted to enter more fully — the elite world of important people who really counted and made a difference. If I got the right credentials, beginning with a Swarthmore degree, and held the right views, I could be someone who mattered. It was then, as it is now, a common motivation for students at elite colleges and universities.

Duhemian and Augustinian Science and the Crisis in Non-Empirical Knowledge

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A salient feature of the success of any social, religious, or moral movement is the degree to which its advocates understand, shape, and employ the flow of ideas that forms the intellectual backdrop against which those advocates carry out their work. Setting aside Marxist and other self-refuting materialist forms of social determinism, it seems clear that ideas are among the primary things that impede or facilitate revolutionary movements. ¶ Nowhere is this more evident than the pro-life cause. But just exactly what ideas constitute the core components of the milieu in which pro-life advocates live and move and have their being? I am not a sociologist nor the son of one, and I am no expert in the sociology of knowledge. However, I am a philosopher and, as such, I have a take on this question upon which I believe it is important for us to reflect.

Kyle Roberts on Blind Spots in Our Thinking

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The “blind spot” metaphor is ubiquitous to the point that we hear it with a yawn. But my accident reminded me that, while the familiarity of the metaphor may dull its impact, it is a powerful hidden factor of everyday life. Whether one is driving, theologizing, or debating social issues and public policy, blind spots are pervasive and dangerous. We are often too lazy to crank our necks for the full truth. It’s easier to keep looking ahead and assume all is well. It seems easier—until we crash.

E. J. Lowe on Progress in Metaphysics and Philosophy

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There is a widespread assumption amongst non-philosophers, which is shared by a good many practising philosophers too, that ‘progress’ is never really made in philosophy, and above all in metaphysics. In this respect, philosophy is often compared, for the most part unfavourably, with the empirical sciences, and especially the natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry and biology. Sometimes, philosophy is defended on the grounds that to deplore the lack of ‘progress’ in it is to misconceive its central aim, which is to challenge and criticise received ideas and assumptions rather than to advance positive theses. But this defence itself is liable to be attacked by the practitioners of other disciplines as unwarranted special pleading on the part of philosophers, whose comparative lack of expertise in other disciplines, it will be said, ill-equips them to play the role of all-purpose intellectual critic. It is sometimes even urged that philosophy is now ‘dead’, the relic of a pre-scientific age whose useful functions, such as they were, have been taken over at last by genuine sciences. What were once ‘philosophical’ questions have now been transmuted, allegedly, into questions for more specialised modes of scientific inquiry, with their own distinctive methodological principles and theoretical foundations.

James S. Spiegel on the Tension Between Conviction and Fallibility

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The pursuit of knowledge is a tricky thing. On the one hand, when we discover truth — whether concerning an issue in science, history, theology, or any other subject matter — we should maintain a conviction about it, holding on to our belief with a certain amount of firmness. After all, knowledge is valuable and precious—sometimes even life-saving. In fact, when it comes to moral insight or what Scripture calls wisdom, a biblical proverb says we should be prepared to sacrifice all we own in order to attain it (Pr. 4:7). ¶ On the other hand, the pursuit of knowledge requires a teachable spirit and a willingness to recognize one’s intellectual fallibility on all sorts of issues. We all make mistakes in the intellectual realm, so it is possible that we have erred even regarding beliefs about which we feel most confident. Where we have the strongest convictions we might in fact be entirely ignorant! ¶ So how does one deal with this tension between the need for conviction and the fact of human fallibility? How do we avoid the vicious extremes of closed-minded dogmatism and total skepticism? The answer, it seems to me, lies in open-mindedness, which is generally regarded as a key intellectual virtue.

Eric Reitan on Grasping God Through Cultural Filters

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I believe in a transcendent creator whose self-disclosure is difficult for humanity to grasp and understand properly given the cultural filters through which that revelation is received. As such, any historical report of revelation will be a distortion, and the task of historical religion is to attempt to work through the distortion by gradually evolving in the light of critical conversation about experience.

True Paradox

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How do we explain human consciousness? Where do we get our sense of beauty? Why do we recoil at suffering? Why do we have moral codes that none of us can meet? Why do we yearn for justice, yet seem incapable of establishing it? Any philosophy or worldview must make sense of the world as we actually experience it. We need to explain how we can discern qualities such as beauty and evil and account for our practices of morality and law. The complexity of the contemporary world is sometimes seen as an embarrassment for Christianity. But law professor David Skeel makes a fresh case for the plausibility and explanatory power of Christianity. The Christian faith offers plausible explanations for the central puzzles of our existence, such as our capacity for idea-making, our experience of beauty and suffering, and our inability to create a just social order. When compared with materialism or other sets of beliefs, Christianity provides a more comprehensive framework for understanding human life as we actually live it. We need not deny the complexities of life as we experience it. But the paradoxes of our existence can lead us to the possibility that the existence of God could make sense of it all.