Sunday, November 28, 2010

Philosophy - Academic or Practical?

I've always thought of philosophy - good philosophy, at least - as being both academic and practical. I have to wonder about some of the great minds who have undertaken various philosophical exercises. When Kant was "scandalized" by Hume's writings, were his (Kant's) reactions based upon something he really believed?

I don't mean to call into question Kant's sincerity, and hopefully my intentions will become clear by the end of this post. Take, for example, Kant's insistence that causation is a mental construct, which is part of the phenomenal realm. Would Kant have really thought that causation has nothing whatsoever to do with the realm of the noumena? Or, as I suspect, did he set out to demonstrate as much as he thought possible and simply leave his belief in causation-qua-noumena as a rationally-held belief that couldn't have absolute metaphysical certitude?

We find traces of a less-than-skeptical Hume, as well. Not even he questioned the truth of ex nihilo nihil fit. He only questioned our ability to prove it with Cartesian certitude.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Zeus Fallacy

Some of the new atheists have likened belief in God (I'm thinking especially of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic conception of God) to belief in Zeus, Santa Claus, and other beings that are known, to a fairly high degree, to not exist. There is, however, a major disparity involved in their comparisons. Let's start with the fact that God is supposed to be a transcendent personal creator of the universe. Zeus may be personal, but he's certainly not transcendent. Take the statement:

1. The universe has a transcendent cause.

Is (1) obviously false? Can it even be said with a high degree of certainly that (1) is false? Not at all. Even without the use of argumentation, we can see that (1) provides evidence for the rational acceptability of theism. Contrast (1) with:

1*. There is an embodied god living on the top of Mount Olypmus.

Certainly, there is no explicit contradiction in (1*), but we also have many good reasons to think (*1) is false. For one thing, we have travelled to the top of Mount Olympus and no gods have been discovered. This appears suspect (to say the least) given especially that Zeus is an embodied god. It's not like he is omnipotent or immaterial, the latter two of which would explain why something has not yet been discovered empirically.

Now take the next step:

2. The universe's transcendent cause is a personal agent.

Once again, (2) is not obviously wrong. In fact, there are good reasons to think (2) is true. Just think of the incredible fine-tuning of the universe, the possibility (and later actualization) of entities evolving who possess rational cognitive faculties and knowledge of an objective moral law. These are all data we would expect to find if God exists. If God does not exist, however, the probability of discovering these things, on the hypothesis that God does not exist, is either low or inscrutable.

I conclude that one should abandon atheism/naturalism in favor of some form of theism.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Change and Permanence

As human beings, we have a need for security. Time is fleeting and despite our best efforts, those moments we recognize ourselves as truly happy in our earthly lives only last for a brief glimmer. We desire permanence, but we also desire spontaneity. Think, for example, of a hypothetical situation in which you could "freeze" time so that a state of happiness could last forever. Should this happiness outweigh the happiness of others in the future? It seems not, and moreover, the actions we perform in the future will potentially contribute to the happiness of others in such a manner that we are needed to continue through time.

There is, then, a desire for spontaneity along with a desire for permanence. It is in the permanence of God's love that we find satisfaction for both desires. We endure through time, God's creation, all the while knowing that we rest in God's love.

Monday, November 15, 2010

God and the Necessity of Logic

Is logic dependent on God? Some have gone so far as to say that God is logic, simply as a matter of identity. Others, such as Plantinga, hold that logic, insofar as it can be expressed propositionally, constitute one of the "divine ideas," or thoughts of God. One argument against this goes something like this:

1. Logic is necessary. (Premise)

2. Whatever is necessary cannot be contingent. (Definition)

3. If logic is dependent on God, then logic is contingent. (Definition).

4. Therefore, logic is not dependent on God. (From 1 - 3)

The problem with this argument, and we find a similar problem with the Euthyphro Dilemma, is that it unambiguously equivocates the term, "contingent." In (2), "contingent" refers to contingency-as-possible-non-instantiation, whereas in (3), "contingency" refers to contingency-as-dependency. Only the former of the two definitions necessarily entails the non-necessity of logic.

To show that this is the case, suppose that A exists necessarily. Now imagine that A necessarily entails B. B is therefore necessary as well, but it is also dependent on A. Therefore, B is both necessary and dependent.

For this reason, it is probably best to use the term, "dependent," when referring to contingency-as-dependency. "Contingency" may then be reserved only for possible non-instantations. This may help alleviate the common confusion.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Ontological Argument Based on Providence

Providence, roughly stated, is power over all things. It is slightly different than omnipotence in that providence specifies an actual causal relationship between the agent with providence and all existing, and all possibly existing, things.

Take the following axioms:

1. If X is a great-making property, then ~X is not a great-making property.

2. Being a necessary condition is a great-making property.

3. Having providence is a great-making property.

Now, the argument:

4. A provident agent is not possible. (Premise)

5. If a provident agent is not possible, then every existing thing has the property of not being provident. (Premise)

6. If every existing thing has the property of not being provident, then not being provident is a necessary condition. (Premise)

7. If not being provident is a necessary condition, then not being provident is a great-making property. (From 1 and 2)

8. Not being provident is not a great-making property. (From 1 and 3)

9. Hence, a provident agent is possible. (From 5 - 8)

10. Therefore, a provident agent exists. (From 9 and S5)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Bible and Cogent Induction

An inductive inference to X is said to be cogent so long as the data are best explained by positing X. We do this all time. For example, given our experience of human beings, we conclude that if Socrates is a human being, then Socrates is mortal. After all, every other human we observe is mortal, and there doesn't appear to be anything about Socrates that would make him an exception.

The Bible exposes a number of false inductive inferences. For example, in 2 Chronicles 32:13-14, King Sennacherib of Assyria has this to say to Judah: "Do you not know what my fathers and I have done to all the peoples of other lands? Were the gods of the nations in those lands able to save their land from my hand? Who among all the gods of those nations which my fathers put under the ban was able to save his people from my hand? Will your god, then, be able to save you from my hand?"

Sennacherib's point is simple enough: the god of every other nation X was unable to save X. Yahweh is the god of Israel. Therefore, Yahweh will most likely fail to save Israel.

Of course, we later read that Sennacherib's invasion fails (2 Chronicles 32:21-23). Why is this?

Inductive inferences are only cogent insofar as there is uniformity in certain key analogies. However, there is a disparity between the gods of the nations that Sennacherib conquered and the God of Israel, Yahweh - namely, Yahweh is maximally great. A cogent inductive argument would have taken the finitude of these other gods into account.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Axiological-Ontological Argument

According to Leibniz, we live in the best possible world. Imagine some possible world w1 in which the cumulative best state of affairs is instantiated. This means that w1 is the best possible world, regardless of whether w1 is the actual world or not. Now consider the following argument:

1. The best possible world w1 is actually a possible world. (Premise)

2. Necessarily, w1 is possible if and only if a maximally great being exists in w1. (Premise)

3. Hence, a maximally great being possibly exists. (From 1 and 2)

4. Therefore, a maximally great being exists. (From 3 and S5)

(2) seems obviously and intuitively true to me, but I'm interested in how a proponent of the argument might argue for its veridicality. If the world would be a better place to live in if there were a God (a maximally great being), then the best possible world would have to have a God, would it not?