How Religion Informs Philosophizing
In an interview at What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher?, Christian Miller, the A. C. Reid Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University, discusses, among other things, the relationship between his religious and philosophical commitments.
Interviewer Clifford Sosis (Coastal Carolina) asks Miller: “Do your religious views inform your philosophical views? Do your philosophical views influence your religious views?”
They do. And, incidentally, I think everyone’s religious views (where this includes being an agnostic or atheist) informs his or her philosophical views, at least in the sense of opening and closing certain positions from serious consideration. Consider atheism and divine command theory, for instance. Or atheism and Reformed epistemology.
One example of how my religious views inform my philosophical views is in meta-ethics. There I take seriously views which ground deontological moral properties in God’s will (so divine will theories, not divine command theories). I have written several papers trying to think through such an approach.
Of course there are many views I hold in philosophy that don’t seem to be informed by my religious views. For instance, I am confident I would still reject the Humean theory of motivation, motivational internalism, internalist views about normative reasons, identification approaches to agency, various formulations of moral realism, and so forth even if I suddenly became an atheist.
As far as my philosophical views informing my religious views, one example is that I have incompatibilist leanings about free will, which makes it hard for to accept certain views about predestination, election, and divine determinism.
I take it that the contrasting of religious views and philosophical views in the first part of this exchange is meant to focus discussion on those religious views which are themselves not the conclusions of philosophical argument. With that in mind, I’m curious what other philosophers, both religious and nonreligious, think of Miller’s claim that “everyone’s religious views (where this includes being an agnostic or atheist) informs his or her philosophical views.”
The whole interview is here.
It was my understanding that atheists can accept (and some in fact have accepted) Divine Command Theory. They just conclude that because God does not exist, nothing is morally right or wrong. “If God is dead, everything is permitted”…Report
I don’t think atheism means one can’t accept reformed epistemology. The reformed epistemologist just accepts that belief in God can be epistemically warranted very easily – even if the belief is held in the basic way. So it is essentially externalism applied to religious belief. (But it is not necessarily tied to externalism.) And hence, I think there’s nothing inocompatible with an atheist accepting it.
That said, I agree with his major point, that religious belief, or lack there of, informs one’s philosophy.Report
I’ve written some on the wrongness of killing, and I agree with Miller in the sense that one’s religious attitudes, whether positive or negative (with respect to, say, humans being made in God’s image) will have a deep influence on how one goes about accounting for what makes killing wrong when it is wrong.Report
Out of curiosity, do you think there are conclusions about killing and the value of persons that wouldn’t be shared by non-religious people who have broadly Kantian instincts?Report
“is meant to focus discussion on those religious views which are themselves not the conclusions of philosophical argument.”
Every religious claim is the conclusion of some philosophical argument. E.g.,
(1) If Ahura Mazda revealed himself to Zoroaster, then Zoroastrianism is true.
(2) Ahura Mazda revealed himself to Zoroaster.
(3) Zoroastrianism is true.
I’ve never understand the supposed difference between a “religious” argument and a “philosophical” argument other than the subject matter.Report
I don’t see what’s supposed to make that argument “philosophical,” apart from the fact that it consists in a list of numbered premises and is deductively valid. I’m curious: what am I missing?Report
You’re not missing anything. Academics just want an excuse not to have to engage with Christianity in the classroom.Report
wait, so *all* deductively valid arguments that consist in lists of numbered premises are philosophical?Report
Do you have a better definition?Report
Actually, scratch the valid part: many of the papers I’ve read in grad school failed on that score.Report
So all reasoning is philosophical reasoning?
Is this a philosophical argument?:
1. If it’s raining out then I should grab my umbrella.
2. It’s raining out.
3. Therefore I should grab my umbrella.
1. If I bought 3 apples and ate 1, then I have 2 apples.
2. I bought 3 apples and ate 1.
3. Therefore I have 2 apples.Report
How many people are going to express incredulity before someone actually gives a clear alternative answer?Report
I don’t have one (but I also think it’s wrong to assume that because we can’t give a criterial definition of something there’s therefore no distinctions), but if you have such a broad understanding of “philosophical argument” then I’ll admit I find it hard to see what the significance of your point is. On that understanding there’s all sorts of philosophical arguments which we don’t engage with in the classroom.
(Also I find your assertion that religion isn’t engaged with odd. I’m currently grading for a Intro class where the first 4 classes [after an intro the logic] where on Pascal’s Wager, a contemporary defense of such, and John Hick’s theodicy.)Report
Josh: I’m curious how many of the world’s religions academics should “engage with in the classroom”?Report
Just the true one, of course!
But if that’s too much to ask, why not start with the one held and taken seriously by the majority of—or at least a plurality of—your students?Report
In what context? Just out of the blue? I teach aesthetics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of literature. Religious questions sometimes arise naturally in that last course, but don’t really come up in the others. General questions regarding theism arise in Intro and there is some more specific religious stuff that comes up in Intro to Ethics.
But for the most part, it just isn’t relevant to most of what goes on in my classes.Report
“Every religious claim is the conclusion of some philosophical argument.”
That’s not true at all. Think of properly basic beliefs (“Is Belief in God Properly Basic?” Plantinga). Or, consider any belief produced in line with Plantinga’s religious epistemology (“Warranted Christian Belief.”). Such beliefs are not be based on argument – and that is not a strike against them.Report
First, note that I said *there is* an argument for any religious claim. And there is. Let X be any religious belief:
(1) If chickens are cows then X.
(2) Chickens are cows.
Second, it’s not at all clear that Prof. Plantinga doesn’t have an argument for his (supposedly) properly basic beliefs. What will I find if I open open up Warranted Christian Belief? He may be arguing that others don’t need to give arguments, but he surely gives some for properly basic beliefs. His argument there is unusual in certain respects, but it’s an argument all the same.Report
I wasn’t clear in the latter part of my answer, so let me try again:
Even if there are beliefs produced by non-argumentative means, it doesn’t follow that such beliefs aren’t results of arguments or responsive to them. There is nothing special about religion here. I believe there is a table in front of me, and argumentation plays no causal role in my coming to have that belief. But it’s still a metaphysical claim (“there is a table”) and as such can be the conclusion of an argument etc.
Plantinga gives an argument that a certain class of beliefs are warranted without argumentation, but this is no basis for thinking that these beliefs are to be quarantined off from the rest of philosophy.Report
“God is three persons of one nature.”
I mean, you could list premises that lead to that conclusion, but I don’t think it’s, um, y’know, a philosophical one. It’s not something to which natural reason extends by virtue of its own discovery, or which it can comprehend in any but the most distantly-analogical fashion. But maybe I’m misunderstanding your point?
To be fair, in the background of my own thinking is Aquinas’ distinction between “the philosophical disciplines” and “sacred doctrine” (http://dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/FP/FP001.html#FPQ1OUTP1).Report
I mean, um, y’know, you could give me a criterion that would allow me to determine how to distinguish philosophical conclusions from un-philosophical ones. I have no idea what natural reason is, or how it comes to be personified so that it “extends” conclusions, but then again I never found Aquinas all that compelling.Report
Well, a philosophical conclusion, or argument, or thought, would be one which entails the critical control of logical reflection whereby we are examining the relation between our concepts and their objects which are discerned by the use of common reason (i.e., needing no specialized equipment or investigative means).
Theology is not accessible to common reason. So even though it can be (and really, must be) investigated philosophically, its “source material”, so to speak, comes from elsewhere.Report
I’m having trouble knowing exactly what you mean. I understand “logical reflection” to mean analysis of the formal structure of various claims, so I can see what claim follows from what purely in virtue of those formal features. I have no idea how to examine the relation between concepts and objects directly. As far as I can tell, I don’t have direct epistemic access to objects; sadly my understanding of them is mediated by language, concepts, imagination, and/or other such faculties. Furthermore, I strongly suspect that other humans share my limitations.
Theological claims are made using natural language. I can’t speak for your church, but the Orthodox Church claims understands its theological claims to be true. Theological sentences have formal features that are just as liable to formal analysis as any other sentence. Obviously there is more to philosophical argumentation than deduction… but, again, speaking of my church, we think our claims describe the world as it is, the world as it is investigated by practitioners of other fields. Theological claims and other claims better match up, if we’re all to describe the world accurately.
One theological claim made by the Orthodox Church is that Jesus ascended into heaven. The disciples watched Him go up until their view of Him was obscured by a cloud. It seems pretty obvious to me that the disciples watching had some measure of evidence that Jesus ascended into heaven!Report
Well sure. I’m speaking from a tradition to which you’ve likely had little exposure, so my terms will likely be foreign to you.
Broadly, in the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition, logical reflection (actually a bit redundant) involves what we call a second intention. A first intention is the orientation of the concept whereby we know towards the object known. For instance, my concept “human” is that by which I consider the intelligible properties of human beings. A second intention is a reflexive movement whereby I conceive of my own concept. This is not a direct introspection, but rather a consideration of what it is that I myself actually know about those intelligible properties. Through such action, we arrive at the notions of “genus”, “species”, “difference”, etc., such that I can say “animal” is the genus of “human” and “semiotic” (as a contemporary take on what Aquinas et al. meant by “rational”) as the difference.
Consequently, philosophical inquiry entails not only understanding our objects, but understanding our understanding of those objects, so to speak.
I don’t understand why mediation of your access is “sad”, unless, of course, you’d rather be an angel (fair enough, if that’s the case). Peirce quite rightly, I think, said that the whole universe is perfused with signs. That does not mean that we do not have access to our objects, though, nor does it mean that our access is inescapably subjective–since, in fact, our “ideas” or concepts are themselves signs pointing beyond and outside of themselves to those objects of which they are signs. That’s a bit of an aside, though.
Back to the point: properly philosophical inquiry concerns those objects to which we have (mediated, of course) access by means of our natural, common powers: what comes to us through sensory observation. The Apostles could philosophically reflect on the ascension, to be sure… though given the paucity of such events (maybe analogously the transfiguration and the assumption), I’m not sure how much anyone could make of it. That’s kind of the point of a miracle, I think, that it exceeds the abilities of our reason to understand fully. So we can philosophize about it, to see how it is not *contrary* to reason, but can never comprehend it, as though it occurs *within the bounds* of reason–much like Aquinas’ doctrine of transubstantiation.
In sum: philosophical reflection starts from experience of the world; theological teaching, or sacred doctrine, begins from divine revelation made known to us *through* some experience of the world, but from a source which exceeds it.Report
I am pretty skeptical about Thomist epistemology, but let’s set that (mostly) aside. It’s not obvious that people can fully understand natural phenomena, so if lack of complete understanding is supposed to keep us from doing philosophy we’re in a lot of trouble. How many people really understand what an electronic is? And how much more complicated are other things than that? Why think in advance we have the capacity to understand all natural phenomena? I’m aware of some things a Thomist might say here but I’m asking why we should think such a view is correct.
If you concede Peirce’s point that reality is filled with signs, and some of those signs are theological sentences, why not think we can do formal analysis on them? (I have questions about how a sign could pick something out beyond itself unambiguously—think of Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit—but set that aside too.)
I didn’t say anything about complete understanding being in the cards. But if I see a miracle I’ve learned something. I’ll write about it and others will read and learn from it. Even if miracles are rare (they weren’t for Elijah), I’m still going to get a lot out of it if I see one!Report
“electronic” should be “electron”. I’m sorry about all the mistakes in my posts… I probably shouldn’t use a phone to write my answers.Report
Perhaps I should have qualified my statements better. Comprehension here is said in terms of extension; that is, to comprehend something means any aspect of it is potentially intelligible to us, inasmuch as we are capable of grasping its essential being. We might endlessly enumerate its parts or relations, always grasping it with better depth and precision, but all of that is within our possibilities, even if we do not do it actually.
Why we should think this is true? In short: it coheres with our experience. The long: we’d have to pull Thomistic epistemology (mostly) back to the mid.
“If you concede Peirce’s point that reality is filled with signs, and some of those signs are theological sentences, why not think we can do formal analysis on them?”
I didn’t say this. I said (more or less) that our “analysis” of them, or whatever you’d like to call it, will never adequate to the source of those statements.Report
Joshua Reagan: When you say things like, ” I have no idea what natural reason is, or how it comes to be personified so that it “extends” conclusions, but then again I never found Aquinas all that compelling,” I hope you realize how hollow this makes your complaints that other philosophers don’t take religion seriously enough.Report
I hope you realize how presumptuous that is on your part. I’d be willing to bet I’ve spent a lot more time trying to make sense of what an “agent intellect” could be than the vast majority of people reading this. I simple came to the conclusion that Aquinas was wrong about our having such a faculty. Am I presumed to be unable to study *and* come to negative conclusions about what I read?Report
This doesn’t help your case, I’m afraid. “Agent intellect” is a bad translation of “intellectus agens”–and I’d argue that if someone is going to understand Aquinas adequately, a strong command of scholastic Latin is necessary.
Moreover, the word “faculty” implies a separation between intellectus agens and intellectus possibilis which Aquinas never makes (and denies); there are not two faculties, but one with different operations regarding attainment and consideration of species intellgibilis…
My point being: if you haven’t found Aquinas sufficiently compelling to induce further study of his work, fine. But don’t imply that you’ve sufficient expertise to summarily dismiss his work. Just because you’ve spent more time than most neither means that you’ve spent that time well nor that you’ve spent an adequate amount of time.Report
Maybe I read Aquinas, understood him well enough to figure out he is wrong, and you are mistakenly trying to salvage something that doesn’t work. Let’s not beg the question by ruling out that possibility in advance.
Personally I’m not interested in getting into the finer points of Aquinas scholarship here. I wasn’t trying to “help my case”, I was just giving my negative assessment of Aquinas. If you want to leave links or references, fine. I was trying to get you to give us a straightforward distinction between a philosophical claim and a theological one. If you’re content to hand-wave at Aquinas without giving a clear answer then we’re probably done here.Report
Hey, you’re free to think Aquinas is wrong, and I’m free to think you’re wrong about him being wrong. I know his work pretty well, and I’m willing to guess better than you, having studied at the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas and having written my dissertation on Thomistic epistemology.
You probably know some other philosopher or tradition better than I do. I wouldn’t presume to tell you about them without doing considerable study and being able to say something more than, “I don’t think the agent intellect works” or “it isn’t compelling to me.”
I gave a pretty straightforward distinction between philosophical and theological claims. The former deals with things comprehensible by natural reason. The latter employs natural reason to attain non-comprehensive understanding of things supernatural. I don’t see what’s so obscure about that.Report
Lol, yes, your distinction between philosophical and theological claims is clear as soon as I learn Latin and read Thomas in the original manuscripts—apparently Thomist epistemology has the strange property of being impossible to render adequately in English—and then I’ll know exactly what “natural reason” is and exactly what its scope is. And this excursion will either make clear how formal logic as it’s understood today has nothing to do with natural reason, or else why sentences about theological topics aren’t theological claims. And I’ll learn how Elijah’s demonstration that his God is real and Baal isn’t wasn’t actually a demonstration, or else it was a demonstration but wasn’t actually theology.
I appreciate that you have a scholarly interest in Aquinas. Good for you. I have no problem conceding that you know a lot more about him than I do. But I know something that you apparently don’t: Aquinas is wrong. You seem to think I have no basis for saying this, but in fact my reasons have to do with trying to make sense of philosophy of math from a Thomist epistemology. It’s an involved issue that I don’t want to get into here because that’s a ton of work, especially for engaging with someone I’m not convinced is arguing in good faith. All your expert training has managed to help you do is make a pedantic criticism about whether “agent intellect” is the right translation, and to give a mistaken speculative reconstruction of what I believe about Aquinas. It makes me wonder what’s happening at the Center for Thomistic Studies if this is the best they can do.Report
Would you be so kind as to give me a citation for where Aquinas denies the “separation” between active(/agent/whatever) intellect and possible(/passive/whatever) intellect?Report
Okay… first of all, relax. There’s no need to dip into the bag of “tricks to score points in an internet argument”: it’s pretty low to accuse me of arguing in bad faith when you’re either not reading me very carefully or deliberately misconstruing my arguments. The distinction I made between theology and philosophy requires no prior understanding of Aquinas, nor did I say so. I said that Aquinas’ treatment of sacred doctrine at the outset of the Summa Theologiae is in the background of my own thinking, and that understanding him is difficult, taking years of study and–to understand him at a great depth–an understanding of Latin, not because he is impossible to translate, but because most of the widely-available translations of Aquinas are not very good.
I don’t even know where to begin on “demonstration”, except that it is a commonly-used technical term of Aristotelian and Scholastic philosophy (clearly so, even in bad translations…). Elijah demonstrated, to be sure… but not in the sense of a philosophical demonstration. I’d rather not swerve into that digression, however.
As for the rest: why is it incumbent on me to give a compelling demonstration of Aquinas’ value here but not upon you to provide your objection? You tell me that you know (and I don’t) that he is wrong. Seems to me that, if one of us has a burden of proof, my shoulders bear no yoke. Also seems that besmirching my program based upon your own misconstruing of my statements and intentions here is, frankly, childish.
As for a citation: first, and this is why I say “agent intellect” is a bad translation, is that Thomas universally uses the participle, agens, agentis. In the most literal, barbaric translation, that would be “the intellect agenting”, or, less offensive to native-English ears, the intellect acting. While it often coheres better with common English usage to translate adjectivally-used participles as straightforward adjectives, this denudes the force of the Latin phrase. Read any passage mentioning the “agent intellect” with this in mind, and you might begin to see it differently.
For instance, Quaestiones disputatae de anima, a.4, ad.8: “Ad octavum dicendum quod duorum intellectuum, scilicet possibilis et agentis, sunt duae actiones. Nam actus intellectus possibilis est recipere intelligibilia; actio autem intellectus agentis est abstrahere intelligibilia. Nec tamen sequitur quod sit duplex intelligere in homine; quia ad unum intelligere oportet quod utraque istarum actionum concurrat. ”
To the eighth objection, it must be said that of these two intellects, namely as possible and as acting, there are two actions. For the act of the possible intellect is to receive intelligibles; while the action of the intellect acting is to abstract intelligibles. Nevertheless it does not follow that there is a twofold act of understanding in humans; because to one act of understanding it is necessary that each of these actions concur.
Second, and another reason knowing Latin is critical for understanding Thomas in depth, when he distinguishes the “power” of intellectus agens from intellectus possibilis, he uses the word “virtus”–never potentia. In other words, indiscriminate English translations renders both by the word “power”, where only the latter technically designates a distinct faculty. For instance, in Summa Theologiae, q.79, a.3, where he says, “Oportebat igitur ponere aliquam virtutem ex parte intellectus, quae faceret intelligibilia in actu, per abstractionem specierum a conditionibus materialibus. Et haec est necessitas ponendi intellectum agentem” — “Therefore it is necessary to posit some *ability* on the part of the intellect, which makes intelligibles in act, through the abstraction of species from material conditions. And this is the necessity of positing the intellect acting.”
Now, I’ve googled your name and the word “philosophy”, and if you are the Joshua Reagan at Rice, I’ll tell you what: I’m going to be in Houston on April 27, giving a colloquium at the Center for Thomistic Studies on the nature of interpretation. You are welcome to come and afterwards we can have a civil and open discussion, and perhaps you’ll find sufficient motivation to explain your objections to Aquinas.Report
You can spare me the moralizing about careful reading or reaching into a rhetorical “bag of tricks”. I briefly referred to the agent intellect as a faculty, and then you ascribed to me the view that this must mean I think the passive intellect is another distinct faculty. If that’s careful reading then I want no part of it.
In fact, I had no such view because it’s been a few years since I looked into that part of Aquinas, and I didn’t quite remember how he characterized the relationship between the active and passive intellect. But when I did look again this morning, lo and behold he refers to there being two intellects, each of which has its own distinct acts. He only says they are one when they cooperate in an “act of understanding”. I don’t see anything at all misleading about characterizing this account as advancing two faculties (ability to abstract, ability to be moved by an “intelligible”) working together to bring about understanding. You have the nerve to talk about “point scoring” and you’re bringing up absurd objections like “no, obviously it’s one faculty, why are you claiming (implicitly??) there are two!?!”
I understand that I didn’t explain my objection to Aquinas, and of course I don’t expect you to take an unexplained objection seriously. In your shoes I wouldn’t either. Some things are too complicated for the comment section of a blog though, which is why I declined to bring it up for as long as I did. I was also trying to avoid getting bogged down in Aquinas jargon, because it’s not all that helpful. In case it wasn’t obvious before, I don’t think citing his jargon clarifies the distinction between philosophical and theological claims. You were citing it as if it settled matters, when clearly it doesn’t unless you’re a Thomist (or you believe that his account is close enough for that purpose). Sorry, I’m not a Thomist. If you’re inviting me to learn Latin so I can respond to you in a way you deem adequate, I’ll pass. If you believe you’ve shown clearly how to distinguish philosophical claims and theological ones, let the matter stand. I see no point in bickering over burden of proof.
If you want my objection to Aquinas’s account of the active intellect, send me an e-mail. I’ll write you back when I have time for it.Report
This is just silly. You dismiss Aquinas as though you’ve legitimate authority to do so but clearly know his work about as well as the average undergraduate having taken a single course in which he was read for a couple weeks–such that you make mistakes like conflating the “passive intellect” with the “possible intellect”. A “faculty”, for Aquinas, is a “potentia”, not a “virtus”. He only ever distinguishes the intellectus agens from the intellectus possibilis as a virtus. I’m not “point-scoring”, I’m explaining the language of a philosopher whom I’ve studied for the past 12 years. Maybe you’ve never been taught the importance of carefully distinguishing your terms–beats me. But you’re not doing it here, which makes me question the depth of your understanding of anything in philosophy, let alone Aquinas.
If you can’t have a civil discussion here, though, I suppose there’s really no point in continuing. As I said–if you’re in Houston, you’re more than welcome to come to the colloquium, provided you can maintain decorum there.Report
lol, don’t send me that e-mail after all. Your pedantry is out of control. I’m citing terms from a different English translation of Aquinas than your favorite one and that’s supposed to be proof that I can’t make distinctions. What a joke.
Good luck with your talk—I hope you won’t be insulted if I skip it.Report
btw, here’s the SEP on Aquinas:
“The Latin-Averroists … denied that Aristotle taught personal immortality. Given this consequence, Thomas’s adoption of the opposite interpretation—viz. that the agent intellect is, like the possible intellect, a faculty of the human soul—may seem merely an interested desire to enlist Aristotle’s support for a position in harmony with Christian belief.”
Notice they call it an “agent intellect” and call it a “faculty” of the human soul. Maybe the authors of this article, Profs. John O’Callaghan and Ralph McInerny, are mouth-breathing morons, I don’t know. Maybe your Google skills will help you find out.
I retract my earlier concession that you know a lot more about Aquinas than I do.Report
The Latin translation of the QD de Anima was my own. As I stated: most commonly available translations of Aquinas are bad.
McInerny was a good Thomist, for the most part, but one with whom I find many disagreements. O’Callaghan is one with whom I find disagreements almost everywhere and who had a rather (in)famous (for Thomists) dispute with my dissertation director. So I’d hardly rest on their authority.
I don’t understand your hostility, really. You appear to be carrying an abscess of insecurity through which your pride is easily wounded. Sorry I ruined your day and I hope you have a pleasant life… where you’re not so angry and sad.Report
Okay, so you have an idiosyncratic view of Thomas and everyone who disagrees is terrible. I sincerely respect your gumption, if not your scholarship.Report
Stop me if you guys have heard this before, but have you ever thought of doing a podcast together?Report
Brian, I apologize for being rude to you in this thread. There was no point to it.Report
A distinction should be drawn. The sentence “God exists”, understood in the usual way, has certain formal properties and a certain metaphysical significance. Some may come to believe this because of an argument, and others not. Of the latter, some might never develop arguments for it, but others will.
The non-philosophical causal origin of some belief in the minds of some is insufficient to show that the content of the belief isn’t philosophical in nature. Replace the claim “God exists” with “God doesn’t exist” and everything in the last paragraph still holds. Or “Murder is immoral”, etc.Report
I’m inclined to agree with you that there aren’t philosophical and non-philosophical arguments. There are just arguments. But there are more and less philosophically sophisticated arguments. Arguments from a religious perspective tend to be the latter, because they accept more, and more robust, premises as not in need of justification. As I’m sure you know, valid arguments come pretty cheap – the price rises dramatically when looking for reasonable and interesting premises as well.Report
Agreed, arguments are cheap.
I disagree that non-religious arguments tend to be more sophisticated in the way you suggest. The popularity of premises for, say, utilitarianism and Kantian ethics are far better explained by non-rational sociological factors than by plausibility of their premises.
Unfortunately the uninteresting arguments for things like utilitarianism or Kantian ethics are A-OK for the classroom and religious arguments often aren’t.Report
What sorts of religious arguments do you have in mind? Ones with conclusions like, “All people are born with the stain of sin” or “Be as little children and come unto me” or “I am the Alpha and Omega”?
I think I can motivate the idea that happiness is intrinsically valuable, or that people are responsible for their actions because they possess things like free will and reason. I wouldn’t know where to begin with the above ideas, despite being familiar with both the tradition and the literature.Report
“happiness is intrinsically valuable”
I am at least as skeptical about your ability to defend this claim adequately as you presumably are about defenses of Christian claims. (Actually, if you believe in a religion, any religion, I’d cut you a little slack… I think it’s possible that you could get from religious premises to that claim.)Report
People have world-views–Miller’s is theistic, mine not. It would be odd to hold philosophical positions that directly contradict one’s world-view, though Miller is right that there are probably plenty of positions that are adjustable and consistent with one’s overall world-view. I don’t see that one would be drawn to realism or anti-realism in philosophy of science by one’s theistic world-view, for example. I’m more interested in more practical commitments with respect to world-views, for example why so many Christians support Trump. Having once been a practicing conservative Christian myself, I have to say I find that odd.Report
Why did Christians vote for Trump? Abortion. The Gorsuch seat was open and they wanted a pro-life justice. If abortion really is the moral atrocity that many Christians think it is, then this is totally reasonable. Imagine you found out that Hillary was an absolutely terrible person–just as terrible as Trump. (She’s not, but imagine it.) And suppose that, despite her awful character, you were confident that she would nevertheless push through policies that would secure single-payer healthcare, stricter gun control, LGBTQ rights, and so on, while the other candidate (not Trump) was a decent person but would oppose all of these policies. I think it would be reasonable for you to vote for Hillary, despite her (hypothetical) awful character. Your voting for her is not an endorsement of her character. It’s an endorsement of her policies. And so it is with Christians voting for Trump (I suspect). At any rate, this is not a crazy hypothesis. But no one even considers this hypothesis because it feels so good to imagine that Christians are raging hypocrites, applauding every outrageous Trump comment and every evil deed.Report
So the ends justify the means no matter what. We are indeed all Bozos on this bus.Report
Lol, no. It just means that elections aren’t virtue contests.Report
One problem with explaining evangelical support for Trump as purely strategic (the abortion response) is that many of the evangelical leaders who support Trump were signatories to the 1998 evangelical declaration denouncing Clinton. That declaration specifically denounced strategic approaches to politics, saying that character always matters more than policy.
Of course that doesn’t entail that evangelicals don’t support Trump on pragmatic grounds. It just entails that there is no story to be told on which their commitments are consistent.Report
I am curious about this declaration. Do you have a link by any chance?Report
My information comes from this paper, Peter (links therein).Report
The paper mentions two evangelical “leaders” who condemned Clinton but endorsed Trump: James Dobson and Wayne Grudem. TWO! Omg, all those evangelical hypocrites! James Dobson was popular in the 80s and early 90s. What little influence he has now is almost exclusively among those who are 60+. Wayne Grudem is popular among certain reformed evangelicals–members of the PCA (one of the many Presbyterian denominations) and some Southern Baptists. But keep in mind who we’re talking about: evangelicals. They’re protestants. They have no pope. No one speaks for them. James Dobson and Wayne Grudem are to evangelicals what the department head at some other university is to you. A person with similar commitments to you who says things. I suspect that you and those who liked your comment take this paper to be probative because you know nothing about evangelicals. You know the stereotype and you’ll believe close to anything that supports it. You shouldn’t be surprised by this. This is precisely the sort of thing that your standard Trump supporter does. They have stereotypes about what liberals are like and they believe close to anything that confirms it (and nothing that doesn’t). You have the same dispositions they do. You just prize different beliefs.Report
As a person who is pro-life and very deeply committed to that position, I want to point out one issue that your analysis ignores. The problem is not merely that Trump is a bad person. That would be tolerable enough. The problem is that Trump consistently undermines democratic norms. And we knew he would, in advance.Report
This reminds me of an old saying: “A fundamentalist is someone who loves God more than liberal democracy.”Report
Sorry, forgot the link.
Tyson, it mentions two *by name*. They are examples. You can find more if you like. And there are plenty of cases of evangelicals who denounced Trump only to fall in line. You seem to think I’m on anti-evangelical crusade. In fact, I’ve argued in print that we should expect all of to be susceptible to these kinds of shifts. It is by no means specific to evangelicals or the right. In my published and forthcoming work on the topic, I have many further examples – from across the political spectrum and non-political domains too.Report
Hi Neil. Thanks for this.Report
Like some of the others here, I am a Christian and (ostensibly) a philosopher. My incompatibilist leanings certainly leave me inclined to think that Calvinist/Reformed views of sovereignty are probably mistaken. My views in favor of the importance of naturalistic explanations in science foreclose advocacy of e.g. young-earth creationism and, therefore, certain views of the Genesis accounts. On the flip side, my Christian view that humans bear the image of God as visible symbols of his authority on earth means that even if I decided to take an anthropocentric view of moral considerability, marginal cases wouldn’t be as troubling for me.
Plenty of my views on each are probably independent of each other, however.Report