Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Lewis & Clark College

van Inwagen's Skeptical Theism

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Peter van Inwagen in his The Problem of Evil argues that the argument from evil (or rather, arguments) are failures. That is, he thinks that ideal agnostics would not be persuaded to accept any of these arguments as sound based on the defense he offers. In effect, he argues that for all we know there is a God who has good moral reasons for allowing certain evils (e.g. horrors, suffering of sentient creatures, etc.). This is in contrast to a theodicy which offers what actual moral reasons God has for allowing certain evils. 

One worry that philosophers have raised against skeptical theism is that if for all we know there are moral reasons for why God allows certain evils then one could be equally skeptical about ordinary morality. For example, suppose a parent allows their child to run in the street and is hit by a car. One might defend their action (or inaction) by saying that for all we know they have good reasons for what they did. Thus, one cannot be a skeptical theist and also not be a moral skeptic in general. 

Do you think this is a reasonable criticism of skeptical theism? 

An Argument From Evil

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Let’s define ‘God’ as “a being which is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.” Consider the following valid argument:

  1. Necessarily, if God exists, then any evil which exists is either impossible to prevent, impossible to know, or morally required.
  2. However, the existence of Adolf Hitler was possible to prevent, known, and was not morally required.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

Premise (1) is just the traditional theistic claim that God is by definition omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. One needn’t define ‘God’ in this way but most theists do so. Premise (2) is substantiated on the basis of the following, 

Consider Hitler’s parents – they freely chose to attempt to have a child and it turns out they were successful. However, God could have prevented the zygote that would be or was Hitler from existing by preventing the egg and sperm from becoming that zygote. This does not breach the parent’s free will since they cannot freely choose the fusion of the egg and sperm. Moreover, in the actual world, it would have been better without Hitler than with him. That is, a world in which 11 million innocent people didn’t die would be better than one in which they did.

If you are or were a theist, how would you respond to this argument? 

Kitcher on the Value of Philosophy

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Philip Kitcher is skeptical of the role that philosophy plays in the lives of ordinary people. On his view, philosophy has become excessively technical and does not help social conversation about what matters. He writes, 

“Philosophy, so understood, is a synthetic discipline, one that reflects on and responds to the state of inquiry, to the state of a variety of human social practices, and to the felt needs of individual people to make sense of the world and their place in it. Philosophers are people whose broad engagement with the condition of their age enables them to facilitate individual reflection and social conversation.” (254)

In effect, he argues, 

  1. An area of inquiry is healthy only if it is makes a contribution to human lives.
  2. Philosophy doesn’t make a contribution to human lives.
  3. Hence, philosophy is not healthy. 

Though this argument is valid, the pressing question is whether it is sound. So, is this argument sound? 

Fine Tuning

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Here is an argument for the universe having been "fine tuned" by an intelligent designer. Each of the cosmological constants could have had different values than they do (e.g. the gravitational constant g ). However, intelligent life is compatible only with very, very, very few values of those constants. Suppose there are 5 such constants each of which can take 1 of 10 values. Moreover, assume that only one of those values per constant is compatible with intelligent life. Thus, the probability that all of the constants have the values they do (i.e. compatible with intelligent life) is P(intelligent life/chance) = (1/10)^5 = 0.00001. Likewise, P(intelligent life/intelligent designer) = 1 since it is likely that an intelligent designer would create intelligent beings in our universe. Thus, if we should believe the best explanation of some phenomenon and intelligent design better explains fine tuning than random chance, then we should believe that an intelligent designer fine tuned the universe. 

Is this a cogent* argument? 

*A cogent argument is one where the premises make the conclusion probable as opposed to validity.  


Added on by jay odenbaugh.

A common thought in philosophy and elsewhere is what is called Ockham's Razor : Do not multiply entities beyond necessity. I.e. prefer the simplest hypothesis which accounts for the phenomena of interest. Here are two questions: (a) What is simplicity? (b) Why should we prefer simpler hypotheses all things being equal? 


Added on by jay odenbaugh.

I want to try a tricky argument out on you guys. To motivate Rorty's anti-representalism, I mentioned a position called "emotivism" which is now called non-cognitivism. Here are the two positions:

Non-cognitivism is the view that moral judgments are neither truth nor false; they express disapproval or approval (roughly). 
Cognitivism is the view that moral judgments are true or false; they represent the world as having certain moral properties. 

For a non-cognitivist, "Government shutdowns are morally wrong," is simply expressing disapproval of government shutdowns. For a non-cogntivist, "Government shutdowns are morally wrong" is representing government shutdowns as having a moral property wrongness. Hence, for non-cognitivists, moral judgments are not representing facts but expressing emotions, commitments, or feelings. The most common argument against non-cognitivism is called the Frege-Geach  problem since Gottlob Frege and Peter Geach co-discovered it. The problem is this; consider the following argument:  

  1. If government shutdowns are wrong, then the US government shutdown is morally wrong. 
  2. Government shutdowns are wrong.  
  3. Therefore, the US government shutdown is morally wrong.  

 (3) doesn't follow from (1) and (2) though it would for a cognitivist. Why? Because (1) doesn't express disapproval it is merely hypothetical. If it is merely hypothetical, then not all moral claims express disapproval since (1) doesn't. 

Question: What do you think about this argument?  

Truth-as-correspondence and Representationalism

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Consider the following "Rortian" argument.  

  1. If truth is correspondence with reality, then we must be able to compare our beliefs with reality. 
  2. However, we cannot compare our beliefs with reality.  
  3.  ∴ Truth is not correspondence with reality.

Anti-Representationalists like Richard Rorty claim (2). Question: Can we or can we not compare our beliefs against reality? 


Moore's Open Question Argument

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Here is my reconstruction of G. E. Moore's Open Question Argument.

  1. Suppose that “A is good” means the same as “A is what we desire to desire."
  2. Then, “Is what we desire to desire good?” means the same as “Is what we desire      to desire what we desire to desire?” [1]
  3. But the first question is significant – there would be a point in asking the      question – whereas the second question is trivial – there would be no point in asking the question.
  4. So the two questions do not mean the same.
  5. So “A is good” does not mean “A is something we desire to desire.”

Ultimately, Moore concludes that we cannot give any conceptual analysis of the term 'good' because it is simple and only complex concepts can be given an analysis.

Question: Is Moore's argument sound? Why or why not? 

[1] (2) follows from (1) because we are substituting 'desire to desire' for 'good' and this is supposed to have the same meaning by hypothesis according to (1). 


What is the Argument?

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Consider this passage from Introduction to Metaphilosophy  regarding phenomenology.   

This is particularly so, the phenomenologist might continue, when the structures of the experienced objects are what is at stake, rather than the finer details of ’what it is like’ subjectively. In fact, if we didn’t all experience things in roughly the same ways we would be in trouble. If other people didn’t strike all of us - or very nearly all of us - as fundamentally different from trees or lampposts, then our societies would surely collapse. On some fundamental level, we must experience things in the same way. That there are some marginal cases where our experiences differ does not detract from the value of phenomenology in all those cases where we experience things in the same way. (81)

What is the argument given? I.e. what is the conclusion and what are the premises? Is the argument valid and is it sound?  

Here is my own reconstruction.  

  1. If we didn't experience the world in roughly the same way (i.e. people as people not lampposts), then we would be in trouble (i.e. societies would collapse). 
  2. Societies haven't collapsed due to fundamental differences in experience. 
  3. Therefore, in some fundamental way, we must experience the world in the way.   

The last claim about the value of phenomenology strikes me as a tacked-on comment as opposed to a component of the argument. Additionally, (2) is asserted in the passage without a conclusion indicator word so it is hard to determine if it is a premise or conclusion. However, if it is a premise the conclusion would be that societies haven't collapsed due to differences in experience which would be an odd conclusion given the passage. So, this I think is a charitable reconstruction.  

Incidentally, societies have collapsed but the question is whether they did so because of differences in experience between peoples. So, (2) might be true but we would need to see more evidence one way or the other.  

Free Will -- Which Position Do You Choose?

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

We have considered the following argument:  

  1. If determinism is true, then we are not free.
  2. Determinism is true. 
  3. Therefore, we are not free.  

Let's define 'determinism' as follows: A universe is deterministic if, and only if, given the initial state of the universe S(0) and the laws (e.g. if S(i), then S(j)), there is one an only one state S(n) possible. Thus, given the initial moment at the Big Bang and the laws of nature, you could not have failed to wake up exactly at the time you did this morning and have whatever breakfast you did.

compatibilist  rejects (1). A hard determinist  accepts (1) and (2) and hence accepts (3). An incompatibilist  accepts (1) and denies (3); hence, they reject (2).

Questions: (a) Are you a compatibilist, hard determinist, or an incompatabilist? (b) What is the most important problem your position faces? 


The Manifest and Scientific Image

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Consider Sir Arthur Eddington's "two tables." According to common sense, the table is solid (e.g. you can put your coffee cup on it). However, according to physics, it is mostly empty space. Question: Is there really just one table or two?