The Science, Philosophy, and Theology of Immortality

The John Templeton Foundation has awarded John Fischer (UCR professor of philosophy) $5 million to fund research on aspects of immortality, including near-death experiences and the impact of belief in an afterlife on human behavior. This is exciting!

Some of the questions investigated will include:

1. whether and in what form(s) persons survive or could survive bodily death

2. why and how persons are (at least pre-reflectively) disposed to believe in post-mortem survival

3. whether it is in some sense irrational to desire immortality

Read more here and here

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Fostering Intellectual Virtues in the Classroom

The Intellectual Virtues and Education Project is a three-year grant project sponsored by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation and housed at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.  It is devoted to developing and applying the first systematic formulation of an “intellectual virtues educational model,” which is a model that focuses on fostering intellectual character virtues like curiosity, wonder, intellectual carefulness, intellectual thoroughness, open-mindedness, intellectual humility, and intellectual rigor.

While the idea of “character education” is not new in educational theory, most character education models and programs have tended to focus on fostering moral or civic virtues rather than intellectual virtues. However, with the recent advent of “virtue epistemology” in mainstream philosophy, robust theories of intellectual virtue now exist. The Intellectual Virtues and Education Project is devoted to applying and implementing this material in an educational context.

The project consists primarily of the following six elements:

  • Academic Workshop: a weeklong workshop in July of 2012 that will bring together top scholars in virtue epistemology, philosophy of education, and educational theory and psychology to read about, reflect on, and discuss: (a) the nature and structure of intellectual character virtues; (b) the place of intellectual character formation within the proper aims and goals of education; and (c) how best to foster intellectual character virtues in an educational setting.
  • Academic Conference: a three-day academic conference in June of 2013 on intellectual virtues and education, drawing scholars and teachers from across philosophy, philosophy of education, and educational theory and psychology. A call for papers will be sent out in the fall of 2012.
  • Edited Volume: Project Director Jason Baehr will edit a volume of essays, some from the academic conference described above, on intellectual virtues and education. The volume will give special attention to (a) the importance of intellectual character formation vis-à-vis the proper aims and goals of education and (b) methods for fostering intellectual character virtues in an educational context.
  • Implementation Guide: Project Director Jason Baehr, in consultation with Ron Ritchhart from Harvard University’s Project Zero, will develop a systematic guide for implementing an intellectual virtues educational model in an educational context. It will provide a practical and detailed account of how to promote intellectual character development across a wide range of educational dimensions, including curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment.
  • Pedagogy Seminars: a series of one-day and weeklong workshops aimed at training 15 local secondary teachers and administrators in an intellectual virtues approach to education. Seminar participants will also experiment with and provide feedback regarding the Implementation Guide described above.
  • Intellectual Virtues and Education Resource Page: an online repository for teachers, administrators, and scholars interested in learning more about an intellectual virtues approach to education. The Implementation Guide described above will be available for download from this site.

The Intellectual Virtues and Education Project is closely tied to another exciting educational initiative also sponsored by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The Intellectual Virtues Academy of Long Beach (IVA) is a grades 6-8 public charter school presently being founded in Long Beach, CA, and scheduled to open in the fall of 2013 (pending petition approval). IVA’s distinctive focus is educating for intellectual virtues. If its petition is approved, IVA will implement and benefit from an array of resources produced by the Intellectual Virtues and Education Project, including the Implementation Guide, Pedagogy Seminars, Intellectual Virtues and Education Resource Page described above.

Visit the website for Intellectual Virtues Project.

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What is Philosophy?

What is Philosophy? An Omnibus of Definitions from Prominent Philosophers

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‘Philosophy is 99 per cent about critical reflection on anything you care to be interested in.’

From Philosophy Bites, the book based on the wonderful podcast of the same name, comes an omnibus of definitions, bound by a most fascinating disclaimer — for, as Nigel Warburton keenly observes in the book’s introduction, “philosophy is an unusual subject in that its practitioners don’t agree what it’s about.”

The following definitions are excerpted from the first chapter of the book, which asks a number of prominent contemporary philosophers the seemingly simple yet, as we’ll see, awfully messy question, “What is philosophy?”

Philosophy is thinking really hard about the most important questions and trying to bring analytic clarity both to the questions and the answers.” ~ Marilyn Adams

[P]hilosophy is the study of the costs and benefits that accrue when you take up a certain position. For example, f you’re arguing about free will and you’re trying to decide whether to be a compatibilist or incompatibilist — is free will compatible with causal determinism? — what you’re discovering is what problems and what benefits you get from saying that it is compatible, and what problems and benefits you get from saying it’s incompatible.” ~ Peter Adamson

Philosophy is the successful love of thinking.” ~ John Armstrong

It’s a little bit like what Augustine famously said about the concept of time. When nobody asks me about it, I know. But whenever somebody asks me about what the concept of time is, I realize I don’t know.” ~ Catalin Avramescu

Read the rest here!

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Paul Moser’s The Elusive God

As the subtitle says, Paul Moser’s The Elusive God is a project in “re-orienting religious epistemology.” One might think that this pricey tome from Cambridge University Press is apparently written for “religious epistemologists,” though that is misleading. It is really addressed to anyone who takes the time to think hard about how we have (or might have) knowledge of God. While I am sure he had a general reader in mind who could be of any religious persuasion (or not of any at all), I found Moser’s book to be one of the more challenging, philosophically oriented devotional (Christian) books I’ve ever read.

What is needed, argues Moser, is a shift from thinking “What does God have to do to prove that he exists?” to  “What do I have to do to show that I am open to God existing and making claims on my life?”  Or as Moser puts it the questions we are responsible for is not “Do we know that a perfectly loving God exists?” but “Are we willing to be known and thereby transformed by a perfectly loving God?”

These questions are meant to address the problem of divine hiddenness, which might take the following form: (1) If a perfectly loving God exists, then evidence of God’s existence would be obvious to all; (2) Evidence of God’s existence is not obvious to all; therefore, a perfectly loving God does not exist. But why think that God would make himself cognitively available to us on our terms, asks Moser? Many of us (if not all) have what Thomas Nagel describes as a “cosmic authority problem:”

I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

Perhaps it is not couched in these precise terms, but a cosmic authority problem is just the propensity to reject God’s authoritative claim on our lives and set ourselves up as the judge of what is good, true, and beautiful.

In response, Moser argues that a perfectly loving God would deliberately hide himself from those who claim such a self-serving cognitive position so as to lead them out of their destructive selfishness noncoercively. A key claim in Moser’s argument is that if God made his existence obvious to all, everyone’s belief in God would be brought about through coercion. Yet because God is perfectly loving, which includes a perfect love of his enemies, God does not coerce anyone into believing in or following him. God’s intention is to make “purposively available evidence” to everyone such that evidence of God’s self-revelation is available to anyone that is willing to receive it.

The volitional component to accessing knowledge of God is one that God requires of us–he makes cognitive demands of us so that we will be properly situated to know that he is God and we are not. Perhaps the strongest virtue of Moser’s book is how he accounts for both God’s authority and love–”authoritative love” he calls it–in a theory of religious knowledge that depends on God’s grace and our willingness to come to him on his terms. Coming to God on his terms benefits us by leading us out of our destructive selfishness (which leads to death) and gives us a knowledge of God that comes more by acquaintance than by argument or other forms of propisitional belief. As such, it is not subject to sorts of defeaters that arise from divine hiddeness or problem of evil arguments that readily undermine claims made from natural theology.

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Tackling the GRE

Some of us are preparing of the GRE this summer, and I thought I’d share some of the tips and prep strategies I discovered last summer so as help others in their study process.

What study materials to buy?
There are myriad ways to prepare for the test; some are good, some are bad, and determining the quality of each depends on your learning style. With this sort of test I learn best when doing an independent study. Taking an intensive course with a tutor might be helpful for those who have no idea where to start, but keep in mind it is expensive. However, studying independently can be expensive too depending on the route you take. Some I know dropped $400 on a Kaplan course that includes a couple of prep books and a plethora of practice tests through their websites. The results of have been mixed with some doing very well and others getting refunds.

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Euthyphro in the News

In response to some criticism of his new book Ross Doubthat, addresses the ancient question of whether moral goodness is good, because God commands it, or God commands it because it is good in itself. Since it isn’t stated very clearly in the article, some help from Mark Timmons will get things clear. The so-called Euthyphro dilemma has three premises:

  1. G1: Creator: God is creator of everything (other than himself).
  2. G2: Full Rationality: There is a sufficient reason for all of God’s actions –everything he does he does for a reason with complete wisdom.
  3. G3: Perfect Moral Goodness: God, as a being, is morally good in the fullest sense: He possesses every moral perfection to the highest possible degree. If we were to make a list of these perfections, we could begin by saying that he is all-just, all-loving, all-merciful, and so forth.

The dilemma:

  1. What is right and wrong depends on God’s commands such that his commands alone are what make actions right or wrong. There is no reason for what is right and wrong (denies G2) and morality is arbitrary.
  2. God commands us to perform certain actions and refrain from others because certain actions are right and others are wrong and being fully rational he knows what is right and wrong and being completely good he issues commands to humanity that conform to his moral knowledge. Yet morality is autonomous from God’s commands and is something to which God must conform. Thus God is not omnipotent over morality (a denial of G1).
Or consider Bertrand Russell’s popular treatment of it:

If you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not?

If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good.

If you are going to say . . . that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not good independently of the mere fact that he made them.

If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.

Justin Taylor provides a response from John Frame on the matter:

God’s Word and God’s goodness are equally ultimate aspects of his character. . . [C]ontrary to Euthyphro, neither Word nor goodness comes before the other; the two are correlative. There is nothing in God’s nature which His Word does not express; and there is nothing in His Word which lacks truth. So: God’s goodness determines God’s revelation, and God’s revelation determines His goodness.

I do not find this response to be all that helpful. If God’s word is an expression of his character and it infallibly expresses the truth, then why claim that it also determines his moral properties? That does not follow at all. Most philosophers of religion think the contents of God’s character are logically prior to the contents of his word. If it weren’t, then the contents of God’s word would be arbitrary. Besides, claiming that both God’s word and God’s character determine his goodness seems to be a case of overdetermination: why posit two answers when only one will do?

Also I am not sure what to make of Taylor’s tu toque reply to Russell:

If you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to your fiat or is it not?

If it is due to your fiat, then for you yourself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that you are good.

If you are going to say . . . that you are good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of your fiat, because your fiats are good and not good independently of the mere fact that you made them.

If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through you that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to yourself.

I think this is assumed from the beginning. Socrates, who famously deployed the dilemma, most certainly believed morality was logically independent of his moral beliefs, so a Platonist will not be troubled by this response. Russell is another story, because he found it very difficult to find a place for objective moral properties in a physical world, but he was no a relativist. Perhaps this is the apologetic import. It leads us to the following question: Where do moral properties get their ground? What is it grounds moral obligation?

Divine command theory is a popular response for the theist, or at least one that is modified to avoid the problems posed by Timmons. Following Robert Adams, one can modify it like so:

  1. An action A is obligatory if and only if  a loving God commands that we A.
  2. An action A is wrong if and only if  a loving God forbids that we A.
  3. An action A is optional if and only if a loving God does not command or forbid that we A.

The upshot is that all moral obligations are generated by God’s commands. That is, there are no moral obligations without God’s commands.

But there is a problem with this. Nicholas Wolterstorff thinks we have a good reason to believe that a moral obligation exists apart from God’s commands. Since God has a standing right to our obedience by virtue of the power and authority that inheres in the worth of his (loving) being, we have a standing correlative obligation to obey God regardless of whether he commands us to do something or not (Justice, 2008: 274). Yet this standing obligation is not itself generated by the God’s commands. Therefore, God’s inherent rights, not his commands, are the ultimate grounds for moral obligation.

This response is better than Frame’s because God’s nature and character are prior to his self-expression; his commands, which flow from a loving an authoritative source, cannot be arbitrary (though, I assume we would have to first argue that nothing would exist without God’s existence).

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Does Philosophy Matter?

Making Philosophy Matter—or Else

 

Making Philosophy Matter—or Else 1

 

In March administrators at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas announced that, because of budget cuts, the entire department of philosophy would be eliminated. Philosophers rallied, the administration flinched, and within a month the crisis was averted. So all is well, right?

Not so fast. Unless systemic changes are made within the profession of philosophy over the next several years, we can expect that within a few decades, the entire discipline may be threatened.

In November 2010, The Boston Globe reported that student interest in humanities courses has cratered in recent years. And long-term trends are troubling, too. When adjusted for total enrollment, numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics show a 20-percent drop in philosophy and religion majors from 1970 through 2009. Of course, none of that is news to anyone who has worked recently in an American philosophy department. There is anecdotal evidence aplenty that our students are disappearing.

And how have we responded? Do we design better courses? Try to attract more student interest? Some members of our profession do, but by and large our response has been pitiful. We collapse tenured positions as soon as their inhabitants retire. We hire more adjuncts. Instead of trying to figure out how to reach more people with philosophy, we cut back. But in doing so, we eat our seed corn. (Note that in saving philosophy at UNLV, the department agreed to slate all its junior faculty members for termination.)

To those who are tenured, the threat may still seem distant. The barbarians are not quite at the gates. But if we do not intervene, soon the threats will be not just to our enrollments or course offerings (or junior faculty), but also to the ranks of tenured faculty—and whole departments. (If you don’t think that can happen, take a stroll over to the classics department at your local university sometime—if it’s still there—or to the library to check out a copy of Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath’s bracing polemic, the 2001 Who Killed Homer?)

Something should be done about the growing crisis in philosophy, but no one seems to be doing anything. Who is to blame?

We are. Philosophers. We did this to ourselves.

Read the rest of Lee McIntyre’s article here.

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