Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Preparation for Quiz #5

Quiz #5 will be held Friday, 3/12

It will cover:
Sire, Chapters 2-6, 9
“Worldview Chart”
“Deism and Naturalism”
Nihilism and Existentialism
“Theism, Modernism, Postmodernism”

You should be able to:

A. define the following concepts:

  • phenomena

  • noumena

  • Deism

  • Naturalism

  • Nihilism

  • Theistic Existentialism

  • Atheistic Existentialism

  • Nihilism

B. Answer the following questions:

  • Compare and contrast Christian Theism and Naturalism. How can a Christian argue against Naturalism, besides appealing to special revelation (the Bible)?

  • How does Kant’s distinction between noumena and phenomena pave the way for these two worldviews: Naturalism and Existentialism? Discuss.

  • What are the Nihilist’s criticisms of Naturalism? (Discuss the epistemological, metaphysical and moral inconsistencies)

  • What are the ways Existentialism fails as a worldview? Discuss in detail.

  • Compare and contrast theistic and atheistic existentialism.

  • How is theistic existentialism different from Christian theism? How is it alike?

  • What are some characteristics of postmodernism, according to philosophers (as opposed to theologians and literary critics?)

  • How would you contrast "modernism" and "postmodernism?"

  • How would you contrast "premodernism" and "postmodernism."

  • If you couldn't be a Theist, which worldview would you embrace? Why?

  • Besides Postmodernism, which of these worldviews do you think most people in the U.S. hold: Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, Existentialism? Explain in detail.

QUOTE: C.S. Lewis on Premodernism and (Post)Modernism

C. S. Lewis concisely presents the modern problem:

"For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality, and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline, and virtue. For the modern, the cardinal problem is how to conform reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique." --Peter Kreeft, "Back to Virtue"

Defining Postmodernism

How do you name the fog?
These two pages give it a try.

1) "Defining Postmodernism," by James Morley

What is postmodernism?
Firstly, postmodernism was a movement in architecture that rejected the modernist, avant garde, passion for the new. Modernism is here understood in art and architecture as the project of rejecting tradition in favour of going "where no man has gone before" or better: to create forms for no other purpose than novelty. Modernism was an exploration of possibilities and a perpetual search for uniqueness and its cognate--individuality. Modernism's valorization of the new was rejected by architectural postmodernism in the 50's and 60's for conservative reasons. They wanted to maintain elements of modern utility while returning to the reassuring classical forms of the past. The result of this was an ironic brick-a-brack or collage approach to construction that combines several traditional styles into one structure. As collage, meaning is found in combinations of already created patterns.

Following this, the modern romantic image of the lone creative artist was abandoned for the playful technician (perhaps computer hacker) who could retrieve and recombine creations from the past--data alone becomes necessary. This synthetic approach has been taken up, in a politically radical way, by the visual, musical,and literary arts where collage is used to startle viewers into reflection upon the meaning of reproduction. Here, pop-art reflects culture (American). Let me give you the example of Californian culture where the person--though ethnically European, African, Asian, or Hispanic--searches for authentic or "rooted" religious experience by dabbling in a variety of religious traditions. The foundation of authenticity has been overturned as the relativism of collage has set in. We see a pattern in the arts and everyday spiritual life away from universal standards into an atmosphere of multidimentionality and complexity, and most importantly--the dissolving of distinctions. In sum, we could simplistically outline this movement in historical terms:

1. premodernism: Original meaning is possessed by authority (for example, the Catholic Church). The individual is dominated by tradition.

2. modernism: The enlightenment-humanist rejection of tradition and authority in favour of reason and natural science. This is founded upon the assumption of the autonomous individual as the sole source of meaning and truth--the Cartesian cogito. Progress and novelty are valorized within a linear conception of history--a history of a "real" world that becomes increasingly real or objectified. One could view this as a Protestant mode of consciousness.

3. postmodernism: A rejection of the sovereign autonomous individual with an emphasis upon anarchic collective, anonymous experience. Collage, diversity, the mystically unrepresentable, Dionysian passion are the foci of attention. Most importantly we see the dissolution of distinctions, the merging of subject and object, self and other. This is a sarcastic playful parody of western modernity and the "John Wayne" individual and a radical, anarchist rejection of all attempts to define, reify or re-present the human subject.

2) R.R. Wesley Hurd; "Postmodernism: A New Model of Reality"

Looking to man and not God, the optimism of modernism has proven itself ill-founded. The response has been postmodernism. The best Christian book on postmodernism that I have found is A Primer on Postmodernism by Stanley J. Grenz. In this article, however, I will have to describe postmodernism more briefly, which I will do by looking at five presuppositions inherent in the postmodern worldview:

(1) The quest for truth is a lost cause. It is a search for a "holy grail" that doesn't exist and never did. Postmodernists argue that objective, universal, knowable truth is mythical; all we have ever found in our agonized search for Truth are "truths" that were compelling only in their own time and culture, but true Truth has never been ours. Furthermore, if we make the mistake of claiming to know the Truth, we are deluded at best and dangerous at worst.

(2) A person's sense of identity is a composite constructed by the forces of the surrounding culture. Individual consciousness--a vague, "decentered" collection of unconscious and conscious beliefs, knowledge, and intuitions about oneself and the world--is malleable and arrived at through interaction with the surrounding culture. Postmodernism then, in stark contrast to modernism, is about the dissolving of the self. From the postmodernist perspective, we should not think of ourselves as unique, unified, self-conscious, autonomous persons.

(3) The languages of our culture (the verbal and visual signs we use to represent the world to ourselves) literally "construct" what we think of as "real" in our everyday existence. In this sense, reality is a "text" or "composite" of texts, and these texts (rather than the God-created reality) are the only reality we can know. Our sense of self--who we are, how we think of ourselves, as well as how we see and interpret the world and give ourselves meaning in it--is subjectively constructed through language.

(4) "Reality" is created by those who have power. One of postmodernism's preeminent theorists, Michel Foucault, combines the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's ideas about how those in power shape the world with a theory of how language is the primary tool for making culture. Foucault argues that whoever dominates or controls the "official" use of language in a society holds the key to social and political power. (Think, for example, of how official political "spin" control of specific words and phrases can alter the public perception of political decisions, policies, and events.) Put simply, Nietzsche said all reality is someone's willful, powerful construction; Foucault says language is the primary tool in that construction.

(5) We should neutralize the political power inherent in language by "deconstructing" it. Another leading postmodernist, Jacques Derrida, theorizes that the language we use when we make statements always creates a set of opposite beliefs, a "binary," one of which is "privileged" and the other of which is "marginalized," and the privileged belief is always favored. For example, if one says "Honey is better for you than white sugar," this statement of opinion has "privileged" honey over white sugar. In the arena of morals one might say "Sex should only happen in marriage," in which case the experience of sex in marriage is "privileged" and sex out of wedlock is "marginalized." Derrida argues that all language is made up of these binaries, and they are always socially and politically loaded. "Deconstruction" is the practice of identifying these power-loaded binaries and restructuring them so that the marginalized or "unprivileged" end of the binary can be consciously focused upon and favored.

Evaluating Postmodernism

What 's good/true about postmodernism? What's false and bad about postmodernism?

1)It offers a powerful critique of the autonomy and total sufficiency of human reason

Whereas Modernism spawned unbridled intellectual pride, Postmodernism can provide us with a much-needed dose of intellectual humility. It makes for a fabulous philosophical laxative! However, you can't live on laxatives!

God says, "I AM," therefore everything else can exist."
Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am."
Derrida says, "There is no self, only linguistic constructs."

But if I am only a linguistic construct, why should we worry about being constructed one way rather than another? Indeed, how is it even possible?

2)It reminds us that language is indeed closely associated with power.

However, saying that "all linguistic utterances are power plays" is self-refuting. It tells us that we have no reason to prefer one discourse/story/narrative/worldview over another, leading to intellectual and moral anarchy. As Hauerwas says, "Who told you the story that there is no Story?" The rejection of all metanarratives is itself a metanarrative.

2) It alerts us to the limitations of our perspective

In idolizing reason, Modernism ignored the fact that our environment does shape us in various ways. Postmodernism can encourage us to see how our culture forms us through various "metanarratives." It tells us that we have no access to reality: there is no knowable connection betweeen what we think and say with what is actually "out there." All we can do is "tell stories."

It is one thing to admit that our knowledge is not infinite and perfect, and that much of what we "know" is given to us by our culture. However, when it emphasizes culture as the exclusive cause of our knowledge and values, Postmodernism leads to metaphysical, epistemological and moral relativism. It continues the modernist habit of anti-realism, denying that there is an external world which we are able to know more or less accurately. and denying that there is any special revelation that enables us to know anything with certainty. The truth is no longer "out there" or even "within." Like God, truth is dead. All that can possibly remain is "meaning."

Friday, March 05, 2010

How to write a Philosophy Paper

A philosophy paper is different from a paper for a history, lit or Bible class. It's likely this is the first time you have ever written this sort of paper, so it will feel a bit strange, but that's what education is about, right? Learning new things. Here's your chance to learn a new skill.

Philosophy papers require not just research, but argument.
They are persuasive, attempting to convince the reader to accept the writer's position on some issue/question.

1) begin with a question.

Look at the texts on reserve for this class to find some examples of potential questions you might wish to explore, and settle on one. Since there is an ethics class being offered next quarter, please do not write on any ethical topics. Also, I would prefer if you did not write on freewill or determinism, unless you run your outline by me first.

Example: "Do all roads lead to God?"

2) Research your question.

How have people answered it? What reasons/arguments have they given for their answer? What reasons,/arguments have the given against other positions (See previous blog entries for more details about reliable sources for information)


  • Some people say all roads lead to God (Pluralists)
  • Others say there is only one way (i.e, Mohammad, or Jesus)
  • Others say that "even though the work of Christ is the only means of salvation, it does not follow that explicit knowledge of Christ is necessary in order for one to be saved"

3) Narrow your topic

You only have 5-7 pages you need to write, so it usually works best to narrow yourself to two possible positions, and compare and contrast them.

Example: I want to discuss exlusivism and pluralism.

4) Make an outline using this template, and then "fill it out" clearly, concisely, and completely:

I. Introduction

A. First sentence should be your thesis statement: what is your position? (remember, be clear, consise and complete!)

B. Then, to involve your reader, explain the importance of this issue/question, or why it interests you, and/or give a brief summary of the direction you will be arguing and who you will be arguing against.


"In this paper, I will argue that there is only one way to God, and that is through Jesus Christ."

II. Clarify concepts

Are there any terms or concepts that might need to be agreed upon? Specify how you will be defining them in this paper.


Exclusivism means.....X; Pluralism means .....Y

II. Present your position and arguments for it

A. Repeat your thesis


The only way to God is exclusively through Jesus Christ.

B. Support it with arguments that are cogent or sound.


This is because.....(argument #1)
This is also because (argument #2) and so on.

C. Go through the "back door" rather than the "front door." That is, don't argue directly from the authority of Scripture; rather, argue from experience,or reason; find some way that your argument could appeal to a non-believer, if necessary.

III. Present opponents' position and arguments for it and/or against you

A. Briefly state your opponent's thesis
B. Give reasons for this thesis

Pluralism is right is because....(counterargument #1)
Pluralism is right also because (counterargument #2) and so on

C. Go through the "back door" rather than the "front door." That is, don't argue directly from the authority of Scripture; rather, argue from experience,or reason; find some way that your argument could appeal to a non-believer, if necessary.

IV. Respond to your opponent's arguments


Pluralism is wrong because...(counter-counterargument #1)
Pluralism is also wrong because (counter-counterargument #2) and so on.

V. Conclusion:

what is the significance of taking your position? What difference does it make if you adopt one position rather than another?


If pluralism is correct, then there really is no need for missions. However, if exclusivism is correct, then we MUST evangelize as many people as possible....

C. Go through the "back door" rather than the "front door." That is, don't argue directly from the authority of Scripture; rather, argue from experience,or reason; find some way that your argument could appeal to a non-believer, if necessary.

Resources for your Paper

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
you can browse the table of contents for potential paper topics

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Look to the right, and you can browse by topic
History of Philosophy
16th Century European
17th Century European
18th Century European
19th Century European
Ancient Philosophy
History Misc.
History of Analytic Philosophy
Medieval Philosophy
▶Metaphysics & Epistemology
Mind & Cognitive Science
Philosophy of Language
Philosophy of Religion
▶Philosophical Traditions
American Philosophy
Chinese Philosophy
Continental Philosophy
Feminist Philosophy
Indian Philosophy
Islamic Philosophy
Tradition Misc.
▶Science, Logic, & Mathematics
Philosophy of Mathematics
Philosophy of Science
▶Value Theory
Philosophy of Law
Political Philosophy
Value Misc.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Preparation for Quiz #4

We have a quiz Wednesday, February 24. You will be responsible for the following information:


correspondence theory of truth
coherence theory of truth
pragmatic theory of truth
source skepticism
radical scepticism
basic belief
Evidentialist principle
Principle of Belief Conservation

Be able to answer the following questions:

1) Explain the three theories of truth.

2) What is source skepticism? What is radical skepticism? How can we overcome them? (that is, how can we keep them from "shutting us down" as knowers?)

3.) What is a "basic belief?" Can it be proven? Why are basic beliefs important?

2) What is the Evidentialist Principle? Discuss it in detail, noting what its impact is for Christians, and whether it is consistent with itself or whether it is self-defeating.

3) What is the Principle of Belief Conservation? Discuss in detail, explaining its significance.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rubric for Grading Your Papers

F "Failure – no credit"

o Extreme lack of clarity or coherence of expression or thought.
o Thesis absent
o Frequent spelling/grammatical/format mistakes
o Disregard for the objectives and requirements of the assignment.
o Absent or irrelevant use of the relevant course readings.
o Submission of another’s words or thoughts as if they were your own, whether in the form of plagiarism or failure to acknowledge the source of an idea or expression.
o Anything less than 59 points

D "Work of inferior quality, but passing"

o Minimal or deficient thesis
o Unclear or incoherent expression or argument
o Failure to satisfy the requirements of the assignment.
o Inadequate understanding of the relevant course readings.
o Inadequate acknowledgment or citation of the sources of your expressions or ideas.
o Frequent spelling /grammatical/format mistakes.
o Ranges from 60-69 points; lower the points, lower the D

C "Satisfactory work"

o Basic thesis
o Basic clarity and coherence of expression and argument.
o Adequate understanding of the views expressed in the relevant course readings and the arguments provided in support of those views.
o Clear, coherent expression of an evaluation of the views and arguments expressed in the relevant course readings.
o Minimally appropriate acknowledgment and citation of the sources of your expressions and ideas.
o Several spelling /grammar/style/format mistakes.
o Ranges from 70-79 points; lower the points, lower the C

B "Noteworthy level of performance"

Demonstrates all of the qualities of satisfactory work, as well as:
o Clear thesis that prevents vagueness later on paper.
o Above average clarity and coherence of expression and argument.
o Clear, logical organization of the essay’s introduction, body, and conclusion.
o Clear, detailed, accurate understanding of the views expressed in the relevant course readings and the arguments offered in support of those views.
o Adequate attempt to provide argumentative support for your evaluation of the views and arguments expressed in the relevant course readings.
o Few spelling/grammar/style/format mistakes
o Ranges from 80-89 points; lower the points, lower the B

A "Outstanding achievement and an unusual degree of intellectual initiative"

Demonstrates all of the qualities of noteworthy performance, as well as:
o Strong, clear thesis
o Excellent clarity and coherence of expression and argument.
o Originality of interpretation, explanation, argumentation, or criticism.
o None or one: spelling/grammar/style/format mistakes
o Ranges from 90-100 points, lower the points, lower the A

How to Write your Philosophy Paper

DUE: March 10, 2o10 1:00 pm
LENGTH: 5-6 pages, not including title and bibiliography pages
SOURCES: must use at least 3; two of which must be print

Excellent links:
Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper by Jim Pryor
Tips on Writing a Philosophy Paper by Douglas W. Portmore
How to Write a Philosophy Paper by Amy Kind
How to Write a Philosophy Paper by Ashley McDowell

I. Decide on a question you want to wonder about.

A. Please limit your questions to metaphysical or epistemological ones; DO NOT consider ethical questions, as those will be dealt with next quarter in a separate class. DO NOT write about free will or determinism issues; we've already done those in debate. (However, for the purposes of explaining this paper, I will use that topic.)

B. Example: “I wonder whether human beings are free or not.”

C. A good resource to help you: Invitation to Philosophy, Issues and Options, by Honer, Hunt and Ockholm, or any other introduction to philosophy in the library. Ask Priscilla for help.

II. If necessary, do some research to get an idea of some ways that question might be answered.

A. Warning: remember that philosophy papers are not research papers, but are more properly persuasive or argumentative papers
1. The research is not an end in itself; rather, it is a launching pad to discover various positions on the problem.
2. Research can help to clarify concepts that are integral to a position.
3. Use at least 3 sources, two of which must be print.

B. Again, Priscilla can be a tremendous help here, or ask me for resources.

C. Example:
1. You discover that there are several answers/positions on the problem of free will: various deterministic positions, compatibilism, and libertarianism.
2. You discover that there are different ways of referring to the same position: i.e., “soft determinism” and “compatibilism” mean the same thing.

III. Narrow your answers down to the two strongest contenders (in your opinion) and write as many reasons/arguments as you can that would support each position.

A. For position A:
1. Some of those reasons/arguments will be positive ones showing why position A is correct.
2. Others will be negative reasons/arguments, showing why position B is wrong.

B. For position B:
1. Some of those reasons/arguments will be positive ones showing why position B is correct.
2. Others will be negative reasons/arguments, showing why position A is wrong.

C. Explain the reasons/arguments in detail for each position.
1. Settle on what vocabulary/concepts you want to use and don’t vary them.
2. Lay out the arguments clearly, concisely. Try putting them in “standard” form, with premises and conclusions. That guarantees clarity!

IV. Evaluate those positions.

A. Which position do you think has the best (cogent or sound) arguments?
1. What makes them good? (cogent or sound)
2. Explain how those arguments overcome the other position.

B. Which position do you think has the worst (uncogent or unsound) arguments?
1. What makes them bad? (uncogent or unsound)
2. Explain those arguments are “knocked over” by other position.

V. Write your concluding paragraph, including any further observations or connections you want to make.

VI. LAST OF ALL: Write your thesis statement and opening introductory paragraph

A. Your first sentence should plunge the reader into the debate by clearly stating your position on the problem: Hit the ground running!

B. This is not a lit paper. Spare, clean and clear are better than rhetorical and verbose.

1. Avoid use of the second person.
2. DO NOT say "I feel that..." instead say, "I think" or "I hold" or "I maintain" or "I conclude" or ANYTHING that demonstrates that you are reasoning, rather than emoting.

2. Theron Schlabach offers the following wise advice:

Avoid self-conscious discussion of your intended purposes, your strategy, your sources, and your research methodology.

Draw your reader's attention to the points you are making, not to yourself and all the misery and sweat of your process of research and writing. Keep the focus on what you have to say, not on the question of how you hope to develop and say it. Do not parade around in your mental underwear. Show only the well-pressed and well-shined final product.

Was Tolkein Rational?

Apropos our unit on epistemology (as we consider relation of opinion to knowledge, and the defintion of knowledge), here's a quote from Humphrey Carpenter's Tolkien: The Authorized Biography, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1977:

"As Tolkein grew older, many of his characteristics became more deeply marked. The hasty way of talking, the bad articulation and the parenthetic sentences grew to be more pronounced. Attitudes long held, such as his dislike of French cooking, became absurd caricatures of themselves. What he once wrote of prejudices held by C.S. Lewis could have been said of himself in old age: 'He had several, some ineradicable, being based on ignorance but impenetrable by information." At the same time he had nothing like so many prejudices as Lewis, nor is 'prejudice' exactly the right word, for it implies that his actions were based upon these opinions, whereas in truth his stranger beliefs rarely had any bearing on his behavior. It was not so much a matter of prejudice as the habit...of making dogmatic assertions about things of which he knew very little."

Monday, February 08, 2010


Quiz #3 will be held Friday, 2/13

A. You should be able to define the following concepts:

esssential property
nonessential property
common property
fully God
fully human
merely human
personal immortality
personal reconstruction
personal resurrection
problem of identification
problem of individuation
theological determinism
scientific determinism
freedom (compatibilist definition)
freedom (libertarian definition)
Principle of Universal Causality

B. You should be able to answer the following questions:

1) What are three ways of framing the possibility of life after death, and how do they depend upon how one understands what it means to be a human being ? (from class discussion)

2) How can Christians rationally hold that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man? (cf. Nash, Ch. 5, pp. 99-106; class discussion)

3) Compare and contrast compatibilism and libertarianism. Which position do you think is more Biblical? Why?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Greatest Christian Philosopher of our Day Retires

May 20–22, 2010
University of Notre Dame
Center for Continuing Education (McKenna Hall)

In 1980, Time magazine reported on the remarkable resurgence of religious philosophy. Using a 'kind of tough-minded intellectualism', Christian philosophers, it was reported, have stemmed the rising tide of strict empiricism. This quiet revolution was led by Alvin Plantinga, John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, whom the article describes as 'the leading philosopher of God.'

It would be difficult to overestimate the hostility towards theism among professional philosophers over the past seventy years. The swell of empiricism was thought to sound the death knell of religious belief. From the 1930s to the 1960s religious philosophers went into hiding. What happened from the 1960s to the 1980s to so radically transform the face of philosophy? Few philosophers today fail to recognize the courageous, original and powerful work of Alvin Plantinga as the impetus behind this revolution in philosophy. His first book, God and Other Minds, was an astonishing and potent defense of the rationality of religious belief. His next two major works, The Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom and Evil, included an original argument for the existence of God and a novel and universally recognized solution to the problem of evil.

Plantinga, who taught for twenty years at Calvin College, was one of the co-founders of the Society of Christian Philosophers in April 1978. The society has since grown to over 1,100 members and is the largest single-interest group among American philosophers. In 1984 the society initiated its own scholarly journal, Faith and Philosophy. His inaugural lecture for the O'Brien Chair of Philosophy, 'How to Be a Christian Philosopher', was published as the lead article in the premier issue of Faith and Philosophy and changed the course of Christian philosophy. Philosophers from such leading universities as Yale, Harvard, Rutgers, UCLA, Princeton, and Oxford attribute their subsequent scholarly projects in Christian philosophy to that lecture.

He has lectured around the world and has been admirable in his devotion to furthering philosophical research in developing countries, such as China, Russia, Romania, and Poland.

Plantinga has helped make religious belief once again a rationally acceptable option. His enduring contributions are: the free will defense in response to the deductive argument from evil, the ontological argument for the existence of God, the rationality of belief in God without the support of arguments, and a theistic theory of knowledge.
Those interested in creating intellectual breathing room for religious belief are grateful to the work of Alvin Plantinga.

We will honor Alvin Plantinga with a retirement celebration that looks back on his tremendous accomplishments and forward to the future of the above topics as they’ve been influenced by Plantinga.

This conference is generously supported by the John Templeton Foundation, the Society of Christian Philosophers, Calvin College, and the University of Notre Dame.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Assignment for Feb. 8: God and Free Will

I promised you all that we would address the question of God's omniscience, foreknowledge and human freedom. Please read all the pages on this website for Monday, February 8.

The problem can be stated this way:

(1) If God exists, then God is omniscient.
(2) If God is omniscient, then God foreknows future human actions.
(3) If God foreknows future human actions, then humans are not free.
(4) Humans are free.

Therefore: (choose one)

(5) God does not foreknow future human actions. [from 3, 4, & modus tollens]
or else
(6) God is not omniscient. [from 2, 5, & modus tollens]
or else
(7) God does not exist. [from 1, 6, & modus tollens]

Since this argument is a valid deductive argument, the only way to escape the conclusion is to deny one of the premises of the argument. Below are some of the ways one can deny the premises of this argument.

Denial of Premise (1): Functional Theism or Process Theism
Denial of Premise (2): Divine Timelessness or Open Theism
Denial of Premise (3): Molinism or Ockhamism
Denial of Premise (4): Theological Fatalism (=what we are calling Theological Determinism in our class)

VIDEO: Free Will and Physics

YOu can read a transcript of this video here