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.