Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Graduate Conference on Essentialism

Well, blogging will probably be light for a while (in case you couldn't tell already!) - with dissertation work and job applications all in the mix, it's a wonder I ever find time to do anything else. That means putting a lot of future blog posts on the backburner as I try to finish up here at Davis and move on to the next stage of my career. The next few months will be extremely busy as I get application materials together, teach three sessions of phil religion and exegetical stuff at FBC, give a paper at the Midwest Philosophy and Theology Conference, TA for Minds, Brains and Computers here at Davis, work on chapter 4 of my dissertation, and so on. Already it's been busy. Last weekend we had a Graduate Conference on Essentialism here at Davis, organized by our very own Dana Goswick. It was a really fun time and I got to meet and have interesting discussions with some cool people from out of town (as well as some new incoming Davis grad students). I was a commentator for Melissa Ebbers' paper on Chalmers 2D argument against materialism. We also had some interesting papers concerning vague composition, quantifier variance, and other cool topics. The free food was pretty nice too!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

First Obama, Now Palin - Smears All Around!

I don't blog about politics very much, mostly because I'm not very comfortable in either of our major parties and don't quite fit under either extreme right or extreme left ideologies. Hence why I'm not registered with either party. Also, I'm enough of a stickler about having sufficient justification for my beliefs that I find it hard on many issues (economic ones in particular) to really pick a side, since I don't feel I know enough to judge who's right (or who's more right, I should perhaps say). But the way the current election is going, I'm pretty fed up with the smears going on on both sides of the political aisle (yes, both - I don't see how anyone whose head isn't completely muddled with extreme partisanship could miss the loads going on on each side). In particular, I've found the smears about Obama and Palin particularly galling. First, various ignorant people spread rumors that Obama is really Muslim, a terrorist sympathiser, etc., they attack him through guilt-by-association because his pastor has said some kooky things, and so on. Fortunately, most of this has gone on outside the mainstream media (not all - the Jeremiah Wright stuff got pretty annoying). The latest feeding frenzy of blind attacks - this time, centering on Palin - has, unfortunately, been almost entirely perpetrated by the media (or its members) itself! So much for journalistic integrity.

Consider, how, for instance, Palin, when pressed, said that we perhaps would have to go to Russia if Georgia were to be a NATO member and Russia attacked Georgia (thus making a response on our part a contractual obligation), but even then she thinks really we should instead resort to sanctions, etc., and should try to avoid war. And what do we find in the news? Big media headlines, twisting her words out of context, saying 'Palin ready to go to war with Russia' or something like that. Again, so much for journalistic integrity - its all about sensationalism and taking people's words out of context to make them look bad. Oh wait, that's what journalism's been like for years now!

Other lies, misrepresentations and quotes taken out of context include the constant refrain that Palin 'wants creationism taught in schools', that she 'was part of a secessionist party', that she 'thought the war in Iraq was God's will', and so on. None of this is accurate and finding out that it is innacurate only takes a few moments to check one's facts and read Palin's quotes in context - once one does this, the accusations reported by the media as accepted fact are pretty ridiculous. Again, so much for journalistic integrity.

One finds all kinds of partisans repeating these lies and misrepresentations - even when they have been corrected - without any apology and without acknowledging any similar problems, etc. about their favored side in the election. See, for instance, Brian Leiter's posts on the election, where he repeatedly calls Sarah Palin an "ignorant yahoo" and goes for cheap shot after cheap shot, largely based on innacurate information garnered from the media (he's a good philosopher and I like reading his blog, but his political posts read like a liberal Anne Coulter - with all the stereotypical over-the-top, blinded-by-partisanship, lack-of-fact-checking, sheer overload of mere rhetoric that that implies - see the recent posts on his Leiter Reports site (link to the left on the blog sidebar)).

Jeremy Pierce has some interesting posts pointing out media hypocrisy and hysteria about Palin and how manipulative they have been - including a link to 71 rumors about Palin that are being passed around. See his posts here, here, here, and here.

When is this country going to get some real journalists who are objective and have some integrity? Politicians, whether they be Obama or Palin, deserve better (whether you agree with them or not).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Why I Think John Piper's 'Christian Hedonism' View Sucks (And Also What's Good About It Too)

Sorry about the long wait between blogs. I've been extremely busy teaching a critical reasoning class by myself for the first time, raising an almost-two-year-old, writing and revising papers for conferences and/or job writing sample, and working on my dissertation. Oh yeah, and taking vacations too. Whew! Anyway, here's a topic that came to mind since FBC did a Sunday School class recently featuring some material of John Piper's (my wife and I were able to make it to the last session only). Part of the material, of course, is John Piper's view he calls 'Christian Hedonism'. Unlike some others, I have no problem with the provocative title - its the actual content I dislike now and always have since I first encountered it in college. I'll start by laying into (some of) the problems I see with the view and will end my nasty things by actually saying some nice things as well (unfortunately, which is a poor reflection on me, I often don't get around to saying many nice things about books or views with which I disagree - I just "don't have the time").

So here are Piper's views as far as I understand them (if I've gotten anything wrong, let me know). The basic idea is that Piper alters the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which reads "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever" to "The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever". Here Piper understand "enjoying" as literally "taking pleasure in", thus effectively altering the statement even further ("enjoying" certainly includes this notion, but it is much broader than this). On Piper's view, our supreme goal should be pleasure - that is, pleasure from (or, perhaps, in or through or...?) God. This should be our overarching desire and goal. Piper gives an analogy where the reason he does loving things for his wife is because it gives him pleasure. Similarly, our motivation in doing godly things should be the pleasure that can ultimately be derived from it. The pursuit of godly pleasure ought to be our number one concern.

There are a lot of things I find wrong, if not even disturbing about this view. First of all, it exalts as godly what I take to be an essentially fallen, sinful motivational structure. God becomes nothing more than the big giant Pez dispenser of pleasure in the sky. Sure, I may do godly things and think godly things perhaps, but the ordering of my motivations is all off. I am to serve God because of what's in it for me - not because I value God or anything he says or does for its own sake. Sure, godly pleasure is a very good thing, but we mess up priorities and the ordering of various values if we put that as numero uno. In effect, by doing so, we put ourselves as numero uno - it is my pleasure in God that matters. So there's a kind of self-centeredness at the heart of Christian hedonism that does not recognize the fact that what we should value most and what our motivations should be centered on should be something outside of ourselves. Not only is it not all about me, but my thinking and desires should not ultimately all be about me either.

Another thing I find wrong with it is that it fails to take into account the Paradox of Hedonism. The idea essentially (which is a very old, wise one noticed by countless thinkers throughout history and throughout the world) is that the surest way not to get happiness is to pursue it as primary goal. It is only when we pursue and value other things and do so for their own sakes that we find happiness in achieving our goals. For non-bodily pleasures, happiness comes precisely as a byproduct of achieving those things we value for their own sakes. If I do not already value something for its sake, I am much less likely to take any pleasure in it. Pleasure or happiness is a reaction to or constituent of achieving our highest goals, not the highest goal itself. That is precisely why seeking non-bodily pleasure for its own sake is so self-defeating! But this is precisely what Piper does - he mistakes the frosting for the cake, the valuable response to what is ultimately valuable for what is ultimately valuable. Sure, pleasure in God probably is one of the highest goods for humans. But it is not the single highest good to be pursued for its own sake, rather it is the proper reaction to pursuing and achieving such higher goods. Piper, like all hedonists of whatever variety, simply gets things mixed up and upside down.

There are good points about Christian hedonism, though. Pleasure in God really is something good. It really is something we should want (it just shouldn't be our ultimate, overarching goal and desire). And it really is something we ought to have and it can be a sign that we aren't quite there yet spiritually if we are lacking in it (though I'd want to include some qualifications here having to do with being tested spiritually, suffering on behalf of others, dark nights of the soul, etc., which do not necessarily indicate any kind of spiritual immaturity). Indeed, the idea of Christian hedonism can help release those who find God and religion a rather stuffy, no-pleasure, all-guilt and suffering all-the-time, somber and bleak affair. (Although, granted, in my life I've more often encountered people who went off the deep end in the other direction and just went around looking for the next big religious high) So Christian hedonism isn't all bad, it just mistakes one key, important part of the main thing for the main thing itself.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Quick Thoughts on Some Remarks by Dummett

So I decided to read Michael Dummett's Truth and the Past to see if there was anything relevant for my dissertation. I suppose some of it may be, but I want to focus on some of the things he says in his penultimate chapter, "The Metaphysics of Time". Some of his arguments or considerations offered in this chapter are particularly weak or bordering on the question-begging (although, to be fair, these were just a series of lectures that have now been published in book form, so the brevity of some of the discussions is perhaps a little understandable). Of the four-dimensional model of the universe (by which he seems to mean a strange version of a tenseless, perdurantist view), for instance, Dummett says:

The four-dimensional model [...] deprives the world we observe of genuine change; there is only that of our awareness as we travel into the future. The model is grounded on the conception of our consciousness as moving through the static four-dimensional reality along the temporal dimension.

Now, first of all, no one that I know of holds a view like this. This reads like some unholy combination of a tenseless physical world coupled with a tensed mental world or else a timeless physical world coupled with a temporal mental world. Either way, no tenseless, perdurantist view is going to own up to anything like this. But Dummet continues:

A proponent of the four-dimensional model may deny this. We are, he says, irregular four-dimensional tubes (or hypertubes), with the peculiarity that consciousness attaches to our temporal cross-sections. Nothing changes: it is just that our different temporal cross-sections are aware of different things.

This is better, but it is still question-begging - the variation of an object along its temporal dimension, on a tenseless, perdurantist view just is the changing of the object. The perdurantist does not repudiate change, they give an account of it. Dummett misses the point here entirely. He continues:

This image is misconceived. Consider a description of other hypertubes, whose axes lie along a spatial dimension. To us these would appear long, very short-lived objects; if we learned that a different consciousness attached to each segment of one of the tubes, we should regard them as strings of distinct creatures. But if we were told that a different consciousness attached to each cross-section of such a tube at an angle orthogonal to its axis, and that the different consciousnesses varied continuously, we could make nothing of this at all.

It's not clear who the "we" is here (Van Inwagen and Dummet perhaps?), for quite a few people seem to be able to make sense of such things. Such a thing may be impossible, but it certainly seems intelligible or conceivable in a pretty strong sense. As we will see elsewhere, Dummett seems to like to think that if some view is contrary to a deeply entrenched belief of his, it must be unintelligible. Forget the fact that lots of other people seem to find it the opposite - or even to find that the denial of the perdurantist view is unintelligible itself!

Another less than stellar paragraph comes a few pages later, where Dummett writes:

Why should truth be explained in terms of knowledge? The question is whether it is possible to swallow the conception of a reality existing in utter independence of its being apprehended. [...] My question is whether it is intelligible to suppose that the universe might have been devoid of sentient creatures throughout its existence. What would be the difference between the existence of such a universe and there being no universe at all? To express the question theologically, could God have created a universe devoid of sentient creatures throughout its existence? What would be the difference between God's creating such a universe and his merely conceiving of such a universe without bringing it into existence? What difference would its existence make? It seems to me that the existence of a universe from which sentience was perpetually absent is an unintelligible fantasy. What exists is what can be known to exist. What is true is what can be known to be true. Reality is the totality of what can be experienced by sentient creatures and what can be known by intelligent ones.

It's not really clear here why we should take any of this seriously at all. This is all not so much argument as much as dogmatic assertion of Dummett's own crazy views. Of course, if one is already completely convinced of an antirealist view and think that such a view is necessarily true, one will likely find the scenario discussed here unintelligible. But that shows absolutely nothing. I could also hold crazy views about other things such that a very plausible view will then seem to me to be unintelligible. But that doesn't make the latter fact any evidence for my view - rather, it presupposes it. This is a particular example of how, unchecked, some badly formed intuitions and a lot of stubborness can snowball and lead one into incredibly implausible views. After all, many people will find the impossibility of Dummett's scenario unintelligible. After all, we normally do not think that the existence of stars or the wider universe is somehow dependent on us. That seems just as crazy (more, in fact) as the denial of the reality of the past that Dummett is so eager to escape from.

And notice his rhetorical questions! Here's a good example of the sort of thing I tell undergraduates not to do - introduce rhetorical questions in the place of actual argumentation, particularly when your opponents may very well have an answer for you. In this case, it seems perfectly clear what the difference would be between the universe existing or not, or being created by God or merely conceived. If the universe exists, all sorts of properties are instantiated, there are events occurring, etc. You may as well ask what the difference would be between me existing and me not - obviously, if I did not exist, certain properties would not be instantiated nor would certain events occur had I not been around. But the answer for the existence or non-existence of the universe is exactly parallel. To deny this as Dummett does would make the existence of the external world dependent on us so that it is literally metaphysically impossible that the universe could have been destroyed or ended up in some state such that sentient life never happened. This seems, to say the least, rather implausible.

As for being created versus merely conceived, that also seems too plain to even deserve mention - if God merely conceives of something, it does not exist, whereas if he creates it then it does. And so the differences will be just those between existing and not existing (as for his "What difference would it make?", if it is asking something beyond this, I have no idea what it is or why it would be relevant). He says, "It seems to me that the existence of a universe from which sentience was perpetually absent is an unintelligible fantasy," but, on the contrary, it is his view that seems the unintelligible fantasy. He says, "What exists is what can be known to exist. What is true is what can be known to be true. Reality is the totality of what can be experienced by sentient creatures and what can be known by intelligent ones," but all this is perfectly compatible with realism - it is only incompatible if we make these out to be actual analyses, where the epistemic claim in each statement is analyzing the metaphysical one. But even if we accepted these statements, there seems no good reason to read them this way. After all, the right hand side contains what already appear on the left, thus making such analyses circular and hence no good in developing any kind of theory. But there seems no other option for a view like Dummett's. Dummett simply seems to be confused, like most antirealists, and to have canonized that confusion as dogma.

UPDATE (7/27/08): I've just discovered that an Anthony Rudd in a 1997 Phil Studies article entitled "Realism and Time" makes an argument against the B-theory of time very similar to that of Dummett's against 4Dism, with all the same horribly mistaken assumptions. Rudd's arguments in this piece are, to put it politely, quite weak.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Metaphysical Thoughts I: Past Notes

I finally finished a second chapter of my dissertation (chapter 3), clocking in at 34 single-spaced pages! That was quite a marathon. Anyways...

This post is yet another entry in my Past Notes series. These are just random thoughts on issues in metaphysics, encompassing times, for instance, when I've flirted with Carnap/Putnam type views and endurantism. Part II will be posted later with post-2002 stuff.


I am me. Who else could I be? To ask about a counterfactual situation where I was someone else is like entertaining the idea tha the Sun might not have been the Sun. It is meaningless.

The opposite of self-identity? There is none. Try to contradict it and what you say will be meaningless. A=A cannot be thought otherwise.

We cannot escape from metaphysics - every claim we make is saturated with ontology. To say that metaphysics is meaningless is itself a claim of metaphysics. "There is a cat on the mat" is a metaphysical claim. Even if we try to say it all formally, we are still being metaphysical. How can we avoid metaphysics and yet say or think anything? "Metaphysics is meaningless" is self-refuting.

Let us say it is secured through concepts that material objects exist independently of us. That will hold only in case we are right about our conceptual argument. The fact that even we could not imagine it to be any other way than right does not make it so. We must assume certain things in making any argument and so will always rest on assumptions which might be false, though perhaps invulnerable to doubt.

I learn what a material object is through experience. I have a continuous experience of a certain sort. I develop a sense of object permanence. Soon I have a full conception of a material object as a distinct object of experience - it is the kind of thing I can interact with in such and such a way and interacts with others in such and such ways. A famework for thought and experience thus arises. Whether the rudiments or beginnings of such are already in me is another question. Of course, perhaps I experience things from the beginning as discrete objects. But this seems odd. In any case, idealism could not be correct - the mental is, at the very least, those things we know of which are not material objects. To say material objects are mental in nature is to change the meaning of words and disregard their common usage. There might be some properties, known or unknown, in common between material and immaterial things, yet the distinction still remains. If idealism was true, I could not think it. I could only whether idealist "material objects" were idealist "mental" in nature. This is similar to Putnam's brain-in-a-vat. Realism is almost by definition true - it is a commitment of our thought and action, our language and concepts.

I cannot consistently deny realism. It is implied in all our assertions. Realism is not a theory - it is the way in which we must think. It cannot be unmasked.

There are 3-dimensional objects. These are not mere time-slices of the "real" objects, which are the spatiotemporal series. Real change requires this - the same object to have one property at one time and a different one at the next (replacing the other). If the real objects are space-time worms, there can be no change. Each worm has each of its properties in every time. Consider a coffee-worm. At 1:00 it has the properties of being hot-at-1:00 and cold-at-2:00. At 2:00 it has the exact same properties. Objection: The worm does not at 1:00 have the property of being hot, rather it has the property of being-hot-at-1:00. The same with 2:00. And it always has exactly the same properties. Consider a poker, where one end is hot and the other cold. Point to one end and say that at that point the poker is hot and point to the other say that at that point the poker is cold. But the poker cannot be both hot and cold. What is really true to say is that the poker has the property of being hot-at-poker-end and the property of being cold-at-handle-end. Objection: But it is not the same object that changed. The properties changed, but so did the object. One temporal slice is not another. So this is not sufficient for real change. Space-time worms, then, cannot be the "real" objects, but rather the three-dimensional objects we know and love.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Moral Indexicals, Or Why Judgment Internalism Is Not Evidence Against Objectivist Moral Realism

So one argument I've come across more than once is that Judgment Internalism - on the version I am here interested in, the view that, insofar as one is rational, moral judgments will be intrinsically motivating - provides evidence against moral realism or at least against objectivist versions thereof (could a subjectivist view count as moral realist? I'd have to think about that, but it's late so I won't). The reasoning here is that objective facts are not intrinsically motivating, so when one makes a moral judgment one can't be judging that some objective fact is the case. I have two main responses to this argument, either one of which would effectively defang it:

First, I would contend that in fact not all moral judgments do motivate on their own. Consider this one: 'Ian Spencer ought to A'. That's not going to motivate me to do anything unless I know that I am Ian Spencer. Andy Egan thinks that since self-locating beliefs such as 'I' beliefs are motivating and hence that moral judgments must be self-locating beliefs ascribing to oneself the property of being such that one's ideal rational self would prescribe or proscribe such and such. But notice that, as we just saw, the only moral judgments that are in fact motivating are the ones that contain an explicit first-person reference. This has nothing to do with the fact that it is a moral judgment - it only has to do with the fact that it contains a first-person indexical! So Egan is right to find the motivating factor in a motivating moral judgment to come from self-location but he is wrong to think that this has anything to do with the relativity of morality. After all, an moral realist objectivist could perfectly well agree that self-location is doing the work here but disagree with Egan's relativism - the non-motivating third-person judgment and the motivating first-person one express the same facts and these can perfectly well be objective, morally realist facts. Similarly, 'Ian Spencer is being chased by a bear' and 'I am being chased by a bear' express the same objective, realist fact even though the latter will motivate me all on its own whereas the former will not (that requires me to know that I am Ian Spencer). Note that this also shows that there may also be non-moral judgments that are also intrinsically motivating insofar as I'm rational!

Second, suppose I am wrong about the above. Notice that Judgment Internalism says that it is only if one is rational (or insofar as one is so) that one is motivated by moral judgments. But if we view morality as in the business of dealing with reasons for action, we can view moral judgments as embodying or expressing reasons for or against different actions. Now, insofar as one is rational, one will be motivated by one's reasons. So judgment internalism follows nearly-trivially from just these two conceptual points about morality and its connection with rationality. No need for relativism or emotivism or what-have-you. The nature of rationality and morality jointly do all that work for us. So whichever of these two arguments you choose to employ, it looks like the move from Judgment Internalism to relativism or anti-realism done for.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Christ and Proper Functioning: Past Notes

More past notes. You'll be able to see the beginnings of a self-formation view (see some of my other blogs on this) take shape here as well as me toying with various connections with morality and God.


No one goes to Hell for not being a Christian. Everyone is headed there anyways - because we are human. Christians are merely those who have opted for the way out.

To be a Christian - to follow Christ, to have Christ as Lord, to love, to be conformed to Christ, to glorify God. It is to function properly - how were designed by God to be. How were we designed to be? To glorify Him and live with Him and one another in perfect joy by loving God and one another perfectly. To live according to design is to live as God wants and thus also being as God wants; we are in His kingdom and have Christ as Lord. As Lord, he tells us and shows us how to love - and so we follow him. He is the perfect example and therefore we try to conform to him. Lord -> glorify -> love -> conform -> follow. Following is the first step in making Christ Lord. We follow to conform and in doing so love and thus glorify God, who is in this way Lord over our lives. All the ways of describing the goal of Christian life are linked.

There must be a sense in which ultimate freedom includes not being able to do certain things the one who is less free can do. This connects with the fact that we can have a hand in building our own character.

He is a good thief = he is successful at doing thief-like things - he functions well as a thief. He is a good person = he functions well as a person - performs functions of personhood. This is a good action = conforms to the standards = is the action of a perfectly good person. Bad = fails a standard of goodness. - He is a bad thief. Evil = bad person/bad action + ?
What does it mean to function well as a person? If we try to figure this out on our own, we can try to give an ethical imperative to try to capture this, like the utilitarians or Kantians. But these will always fail in some case or other. Why, after all, is conforming to utility functioning well? Why is this what it means to perform the functions? Kantianism fares better, but it still cannot cope with actual life. Is morality conventional? Is being good a conforming to our own constructed standards? The Christian answer is that being good is being as God designed us. Pleasure, pain, partiality, impartiality, value and valuelessness all find their fit in the Christian view of goodness. What does it mean to say that God is good? Obviously, He is good by definition. All He does is good, for what higher standard must He conform to than His own? This shows that all accusations against God are unfounded - it is to mistake the Creator for part of His creation.

What are signs of improper functioning of humans? Pain, for one. Improper functioning causes unpleasantness. We are averse to improper functioning. No matter how drawn to it, we still function improperly and thereby experience unpleasantness in some area, some lack of perfect peace and joy. This obviously, however, does not make utility a mark of goodness - pleasure and pain, rather, are consequences of moral life rather than its nature. We know things are meant to be different. All of this coincides with the divine command theory of ethics yet diverges in so far as ethical life is in our nature from God rather than imposed on it bey God - real ethics is an ethics of character rather than rule-following. Ethics does need God, but not for the lame reason that moral law requires a law giver. Ethics needs God because humans and their life need a Creator. Law is a formalization of a way of living - it is a formal descriptions of the way things are done by perfect people. Law is to be followed not because it is law but because it is the way one lives if one is perfect. This is perfect law - God's law. Human law, falling short, is obviously not the same kind of thing.

In Adam, therefore -> No proper function - cannot enter into God's reign. Christ's death and resurrection paid for all sins. In Christ, therefore -> cost of improper function paid - free to enter into God's reign, freed from sin. In Adam, are considered as him and are in fact as him. In Christ, are considered as him and are made to be as him - Christ paid our way into the kingdom of God and proper functioning. Christ triumphed over sin, death, all the powers, and Satan. How? The weakness of the world.

That our proper function is a certain way is part of the background of our lives and how we think - especially how we think morally, no matter how confused we may otherwise be or become.

As free I shape my decisions, my character, myself, my future - I build for myself a future destiny of what I will be for all eternity. Adam and Eve were flawless but not perfect or complete. To bring out this original flawlessness we might call it by perfection and simply say they lacked completion or the fulfillment of what they were. To live perfectly would have been to grow into completion. The incomplete may sin or not - they are on the path of building themselves. The complete may not- they have completed the project of becoming what they are. So my free will expresses itself in perfection through the possibility of falling into sin, while my free will expresses itself in completion through the impossibility (in the resurrection). Some, however, will end their time of making with something which is not what they are but a mockery of it - something which cannot of its own free will go into completion because it has wrought itself fully but as a marred, malfunctioning shadow of what it could have been. Such are those who do not find themselves in the kingdom.

Components of Internal Autonomous Freedom: Freedom of the Will, Self-determination of character, Rationality (full?), Autonomy.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Thoughts on Love and Desert: Past Notes

More past notes while I gather my thoughts to comment on some recent articles. This is just me puzzling over love and desert:


Love dictates morality. Immoral love is imperfect and dictated to by true love. The original "ought" is to love.

What does it mean to deserve punishment? Is this something irreducible or can it be explained in terms of something else? Look at some of the reasons for punishment - it was threatened in order to be a deterrence (Gen 2-3), it provides correction (punishing a child - many times in the Bible), it makes one an example for others (Ananias and Sephira). Is there any sense, though, in which evil by itself simply deserves punishment? Let us look at punishment's opposite - reward. What does it mean to deserve reward? Some reasons for reward - promised in order to be an incentive, it provides positive reinforcement, it makes on an example for others to follow. Is there any sense, though, in which good by itself simply deserves reward? Is there any intrinsic merit or demerit? What does it mean to deserve something at all? Irreducibility seems attractive - look at the urge for revenge (I am offended, this person deserves punishment). Clearly desert is intricately connected with normativity and consequences of actions. Maybe I deserve whatever is a consequence to myself (foreseeable) of what I do. But this is not enough for an adequate analysis. What else is needed?

Isn't love by nature active? Isn't it more than a mere feeling? Consider Frankfurt's analysis and its natural fittingness over Velleman's. Love considers its object as an end - a final end. Is the beloved, though, valuable because it is loved or is it loved because it is valuable? Love will give of itself - it is self-sacrificing. Even self-love is like this - I will forgo other things in order to do things for myself. I do not love myself for any other end than myself. "Love your neighbor as yourself."

When I feel guilty I wish to make atonement - I feel I ought to suffer. What does this say about deserving?

What is the connection between fault and desert? You deserve what you are responsible for - whatever leads to desert is your fault. Anything else?

Monday, June 23, 2008

God and Knowing What It's Like: Past Notes

Wahoo! Just finished a chapter of my dissertation!

Anyway, here's the first in a series of posts where I plan on recording the contents of an old notebook which contains thoughts from a few years in philosophy - beginning with my senior year as an undergrad philosophy major at Cal. This is partly just so I have this stuff somewhere where it won't get lost. Plus some of it's interesting in its own right. Sometimes, I'll probably make some shortish or longish comments about the topic afterwards as well. This first one was written from way back when I thought the Knowledge Argument worked (note that I'm not always currently sure about what I meant in some places - note also that I was taking a Wittgenstein course that semester, which shows!):


Does God know what it's like to be a bat? Not in the epistemological sense of knowing information, but in the ontological sense? Or is it part of omnipresence that He experiences things also from the bat's point of view? Or is it that He experiences all in such a way that the bat's experience is a qualitatively identical set of experiences as a chosen subset of God's? But this seems to say the same thing. Maybe we can think of God's consciousness as "behind" the bat's - the bat's consciousness is not God's but God is also conscious through the bat - the bat's consciousness being that which rests on and depends on the deeper divine consciousness. Or is this too close to pantheism? This is too speculative.

Return now to the first view. This seems closer to reality. Or is it? We are still wondering of the relation between other consciousnesses and God's. Here it is: Finite consciousness is an activity or characteristic of Creation and Creation is God's thought of something possible made now actual by His will. Thus all our thoughts are thought in God's thought but determined by our own selves. But must not our thoughts be also in total be thought by God if He is to know what it is like to be a bat? But then God would think sinful thoughts. How can God experience doubting that He exists? Where then is His unity - His personhood? There must be some fundamental difference between what He knows of how it is like to be me and God actually being a man in Jesus Christ. I am not God. Christ is. God is holy. I am not. How are to mark the difference, given an absolute God? It is not obvious. No wonder so many thinkers have slid from orthodoxy into pantheistic and hyper-panentheistic heresy. Consider Hegel and others. But perhaps we should think of it this way - God suffers our thoughts, we think them. In Christ, God actually thought the thoughts. Our thoughts exist in God's thought, but not as His thought - Christ's exist in God's thought as His thought. This is hard to understand. God gives our thoughts existence in His thought yet they are ours.


More Recent Thoughts: Does God know what it's like for me, say, to be sinful? Maybe knowing what it's like requires having (pure) phenomenal concepts. Could God have those? Not if having them requires having the relevant experience. But why think this for God? Why think God would require actually having the experience, even if it's a requirement for us humans? In any case, assume he can't have such concepts. He might still be able to know all the same propositions that get expressed using phenomenal concepts, but does so via other concepts. But assume that propositions are individuated partly by the concepts used to express them (or at least that this is the case with propositions expressed by phenomenal concepts). God might still be able to know the exact same facts just via different propositions. But let's say that facts are individuated by propositions in some way. Then maybe God knows the facts expressible by the metaphysically appropriate truth conditions or truth makers or fact makers for all of those propositions. God will still be fully omniscient in the appropriate way - God must be such that nothing in the world is mysterious to Him or beyond his ken. Omniscience doesn't require having every truth vehicle in the head, so to speak. In fact, maybe God's knowledge doesn't involve propositions at all - maybe God's knowledge of everything is direct in a way superior to and bypassing propositional knowledge. God, perhaps, has no use for representational mediaries and so not knowing what it's like in some sense is no blow to his all-knowingness.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Sketch of How One Might Acquire a Tenseless View of Time Using Only Tensed Resources

So the mad end-of-quarter rush is finally over. Here's a little bit of something I thought recently (still a bit rough):
Some tensed theorists seem to think that our tensed representations or experiences are the basic ones. I think there's a lot of truth to that. But then many will also say in turn that any ideas of tenseless relations like earlier than or later than and any idea, really, of anything like a B-series are really reducible to tensed determination like past or present and our ordering of things into an A-series. Indeed, they might claim, we can have no idea of B-relations or B-time other than via A-relations or A-time - we have no experience of this tenseless stuff, only the tensed, so there's no way we could acquire tense-independent, objective concepts of mind-independent time.

Now, I think this is all not quite fair, but let's go with it for a moment and accept that our basic experience and primitive representations are all tensed - that we have no direct experience or grasp of tenseless B-relations qua B-relations. So how could we acquire such tense-independent concepts? Are they just reducible conceptually to A-properties as many A-theorists would have it?

Consider how we get our concept of B-space. Our experience is always of A-space, arguably. So how do we get to B-spatial relations? Are they reducible to A-ones? Part of having a conception of objective space (for a spatial agent) - and, by many lights, of even being an agent in space - is knowing how to mentally transform one's point of view into others. That is, knowing what things would be like elsewhere - being able to detach one's point of view from one's current self and place and conceptually 'move it about' to places other than the one one is currently at. This involves seeing other places as possible points for spatial points of views. But the process of objectification in one's ideas of space does not end here. One of the last things to do is now to identify spatial A-facts related to me and my current place to those related to other places. So 'J is here' said by A at place p1, expresses the same fact as 'J is there' said by B at place p2. If one wanted, now, one could form a form of representation free of spatial centeredness to stand in for that very fact which is expressed in both of the two spatially-tensed sentences. And voila, B-relational representations irreducible to A-ones, all on a thin spatially A-representational basis.

A similar story will go for time. Having an objective conception of time involves knowing how to transform one's point of view into others - knowing via memory, imagination, etc. what things would be like elsewhen by detaching one's point of view from the present and freely moving it about. As in the spatial case, this will involve an idea of other times as possible points for a temporal point of view to take up residence. The final steps will be similar - we then identify A-facts relative to the present with those relative to other times. So the fact expressed by 'J is F' said by A at t1 is now identified with the fact expressed by 'J is P' by A at t2. In a way similar to the space story, we can now form a kind of tenseless representation via a sort of abstraction from these two sentences and the fact that they each are said to express the same fact. So now we get concepts of earlier and later and simultaneity, all without these being reducible to A-concepts. Hence, for all that's been shown, the supposed fact that we do not experience time or even at first represent it qua tenseless does not show anything about whether it is in fact fundamentally tenseless or tensed.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Non-superfrickin'-technical posts for the non-superfrickin'-technical reader

For those family and friends who stumble upon this blog and have no idea what I'm saying, here are some posts you may find (slightly more) readable (hopefully updated regularly):

Series Posts

Short Historical Write-Ups
(for a history of Christianity class I took)
Radical Reformation
Reformation for Women
Ehrman on the Bible on Suffering
Warren on the Purpose-Driven Life

Dispensationalism and the Interpretation of Scripture
(cursory remarks on why I don't think dispensationalism is scriptural - some of this may be dated, though and I can't guarantee everything will match my current views to a T)
Part 1: Two Kinds of Hermeneutic
Part 2: Prophetic Literature
Part 3: Modern Israel and Biblical Prophecy
Part 4: The People of God, Israel, and the Church

(on the uses and misuses of nature and the natural in debates over homosexuality, gender and gender roles, etc. and in human lives)
If It's Natural Does That Mean It's Good or Good for You?
Naturalness Part 2: Gender and Biology
Naturalness Part 3: The Sinful Nature and the Image of God

Non-Series Posts
Notes on Philippians 3:7-16
(what it says)
Notes on Acts: Introduction and Chapters 1-2
(what it says, some of this used for teaching a class)
Genesis and Christmas
(some connections between Genesis and Christmas)
Transgender Bill
(why I'm not happy with a particular bill that just got passed in my state of California)
Notes on Galatians 5:1-12
(what it says)
Notes on Galatians 4:12-20
(what it says)
Teaching About the Bible, Not Just Its Content
(about why we should teach about the Bible itself more, not merely the information therein)
Some More In-Depth Notes on Galatians 3:1-18
(a follow-up to the previous Galatians entry below)
Why We Shouldn't Use the Word "Legalism"
(what is says - me complaining again about the harmfulness of poor word choice)
Some Notes on Galatians 3
(what it says)
Short Science and God Presentation Notes
(notes for a short church presentation on science and the existence of God)
Evil as Purposelessness and the Problem of Evil
(some thoughts on the problem of evil from a semi-practical standpoint)
Time Travel, Pre-Natal Ethics, and Other Miscellania
(a potpourri of thoughts)
Annoying Theodicy Objections
(a tiny rant)
Some Notes on Genesis 45:21-50:26
(what it says)
Pneumatological Trends
(just a dry run-down of current trends in thinking about the Holy Spirit)
Hate religion, love Jesus?
(just a fun picture I found)
More on Ephesians 5 and Principles of Interpretation and Application of Scripture
(why it is hard to argue on the basis of Ephesians 5 in favor of patriarchal households and how people's interpretations of this passage often involve certain common mistakes often found among Christians when reading the Bible)
Ephesians 5 Contains No Command for Wives to Submit - Or, Why Things are Often More Interesting in the Original Greek
(why a careful look at the Greek shows this and how most translations get it wrong)
Thoughts from Ephesians 3:1-13
(what the title says)
Ephesians 1:1-14
(some notes on the beginning of Ephesians)
Portraits of a King
(another Cal paper featuring David)
David and Tamar
(an old paper from my Cal days on the near-identity of structure for the Tamar and rise-of-David stories)
Bibliography 2010-2011
(most of the books I read or cited September 2010-June 2011)
Some Random Song of Songs Notes
("deleted scenes" from a much longer paper)
An Abridged Introduction to Christian Ethics
(a version of a paper I wrote - a bit denser than some other things here at points)
Update!!! (Finally...)
(what's been going on...)
First Obama, Now Palin - Smears All Around!
(how the internet and media have smeared Obama and Palin)
Why I Think John Piper's 'Christian Hedonism' View Sucks (And Also What's Good About It Too)
(what the title says)
The REAL Solution to Global Warming
(stupid humor about pirates and global warming)
Quotes: Anscombe on Various Topics
(interesting quotes, most of which I used in a Sunday School class at FBC)
In the Meantime...
(funny political cartoon)
Teleological Personhood
(don't be turned off by the title - this one's all about justice for folks like the unborn and mentally handicapped and many ethicists' and philosophers' prejudices against them)
Weird Cult-Like Folks
(the title says it all - another cult-like website I found through the google ads on my sidebar)
Chavez Finally Goes Too Far!!!
(a tongue-in-cheek tirade against Venezuela's president's "crusade" against hot sauce)
Freedom, Heaven, and Purgatory
(a slightly harder post on why Protestants might want to believe in Purgatory after all)
Quiz Results
(results of a quiz on eschatology that grouped me as amillenial)
Self-Formation, Aristotle, and Kierkegaard
(for the more sophisticated general reader only; all about character formation and virtue)
Bad Responses
(what I don't want students to say in their papers or people to tell me in conversation)
Some Teacher's Proverbs: Thoughts Thought While Grading a Bunch of Papers
(me being cynical)
Some Criteria for an Adequate Moral Theory
(what it says - very simple)
Simon Gathercole in Christianity Today on the New Perspective on Paul
(a critique of a critique of the New Perspective)
Notes for the Simply Christian Sunday School Class on Justice & Spirituality, God, and Israel
(what it says - based on the curriculum and book by N.T. Wright)
Politics Trumps Facts In Editorial Hostile To Administration
(critique of editorial criticising the Bush administration for being 'hostile to science' but where the editorial itself is really just presenting philosophical opinion masquerading as science)
Helm on Wright on the Order of Salvation
(for the more theologically literate, what Reformed thinker Helm gets wrong in his critique of N.T. Wright)
Notes on Self-Formation
(character formation and the forging of one's self for the future)
Notes on Romans 1:1-6
(what it says - an exposition of sorts)
Philippians 2:5-11 (Spencer Paraphrase Version)
(a paraphrase/translation of the passage)
Identity Politics
(the politics of identity, especially sexuality, and what goes wrong)
Hey Wise Guys!
(a test to check your wisdom)
Anglican Pit Fight
(more fights over homosexuality and a very contentious speech)
Random Thoughts on Ethics, Society, Welfare, and Human Functioning
(what it says - cosmetic surgery, amputation, disability, and human flourishing)
Cosmetic Amputation
(yikes! yes, there is such a thing!)
Peeps Alive!
(a link to a great video of our family fielding "peep wars")
A Large Portion of My Class Says They'd Push Someone in Front of a Runaway Train
(a bit heavier but still readable - ethics and society's views on it)
The True Nature of Internet Discussions and Debates
(me being cynical about the internet)
Religion as an Excuse for Violence
(what it says - a quick comment)
Further Notes on Moral Relativism
Moral Relativism and Really Bad Papers
(self-explanatory posts)
Yo-Mama Jokes for Philosophers
Controversy surrounding FBC
(the big media fiasco surrounding our church, one of the members, and some very prickly protesters)
"Blog": Genealogy of a Word
(me being weird)
Philosophical Orthodoxy
(first post)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why Some Presentists Should Believe that the Objects of Memories are not Past Tensed

Contrary to this previous post on the divine memories analysis of past-tensed statements, I think the defender of such a view actually ought to take the object of memory to be non-past tensed (and hence present-tensed or tenseless instead). The past-tense involved in ordinary memory-statements, I think, should be assigned not to the object of the memory state itself but rather to the perspective of the speaker. So "Sam remembers that he hit the ball" tells us (at least) that (1) Sam has a memory whose content is normally expressed with the present-tensed "I am hitting the ball"; (2) the content of that memory is ascribed to a time earlier than the memory. This is similar to statements such as "At one time, Sam believed he was the tallest man in the Communist Party", where the "was" does not indicate that Sam once believed something he would put in a past tense but rather indicates the speakers own current, shifted perspective on the purported obtaining of that content. So the analysis of the divine memories person should more exactly read: WAS(p) iff God has a memory with the content that p.

Why is this needed by the divine memory person? Well, consider what would happen if we regarded the content of a memory to be a past-tensed something or other. The analysis is supposed to be (where p is past-tensed) something like: p iff God has a memory with the content that p. But the right side contains exactly what we need to find truth conditions for, so this is not a successful statement of the truth conditions for p - it is plainly circular, since the semantics for the right side already presupposes we have semantics for the left. p, even though it is used normally on the left-hand and appears in an intensional context on the right, still appears on both sides in a manner vicious enough to defeat the account. So the divine memories person should state the view the way it is in the above paragraph, not as it is in this one and take the content of the memory to be the non-past-tensed core of the corresponding past-tensed statement rather than get caught in a vicious circle or similar trap.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Is Tense Common Sense? (Plattitudes, Attitudes, and Experiences)

Tensed theorists often claim that their theories are common sense. Growing block theorists claim their theory is the common sense view, moving spotlight folks claim theirs is the common sense view, presentist claim theirs is the common sense view, etc. And this is somehow supposed to provide evidence or at least a presumption in favor of their pet version of the tensed time. But what on earth makes them think this in the first place? I suppose it must involve things like fitting various common platitudes and asymmetric attitudes about time or our experience of time or agency. But I'm skeptical about their claims, to say the least. Note first that it's pretty implausible that each of these views is the common sense one or general common sense. And I think that it's a fair piece of evidence against the identification of, say, a view like presentism with common sense that many people find the debate between it and an opposing view like eternalism to be simply vacuous at best. If common sense is indeterminate enough to leave up in the air an issue such as that between eternalism and presentism, I think that's pretty good reason to say that presentism is not the common sense view. It seems to me in general that common sense is either indeterminate between or vacillates between tensed and tenseless views of time. My money would be that common sense doesn't on it's own go either way, though individuals may take it a step farther in one direction or another. Ordinary thought simply does not deal in such high powered metaphysics to a great enough extent in this area to go either way.

But what about all those platitudes, attitudes, and experiences? Well, tenseless theorists can accept and explain all of these too! It is not contrary to the tenseless theory to say, in ordinary speech, that, for instance, time flows or that "time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'...into the future". Or even that "the future is not yet and the past is no more". What I think tensed theorists are latching onto isn't the plausibility of their own theories but the apparent implausibility of tenseless ones as accurate accounts of what's behind such platitudes, attitudes, and experiences. Sometimes when one looks at tenseless theories of time, it can seem that something is missing in accounting for such things. Tensed theorists, I take it, think they can give us what they think are the things are felt to be missed. But, I contend, they actually fail precisely in this regard in almost the same ways and in general at least as bad as (as sometimes worse than) tenseless theorists. (See Alan's post here and our discussion following for a possible example of the sort of stuff I'm talking about in this post)

This last fact - that the apparent gap between our attitudes, platitudes, and experiences, on one hand, and tenseless views, on the other, is just as bad if not worse between our attitudes, platitudes and experiences and tensed views - usually goes unnoticed (though not always - many people have pointed this out in particular cases of these gaps). This is at least partly because of tensed theorists' misleading terminology and (mis?)appropriation of 'common sense talk' as well as intricate ontologies and metaphysics hidden (or put aside to avoid committing to any particular view) behind the soothing, ordinary speech. It all lends an air of authority and authenticity and faithfulness not possessed by most tenseless theorists' talk, largely because tenseless theorists often eschew common talk and often seem to be denying its worth (sometimes this is precisely because, unfortunately, they are!). This is also due to the prevalence and entrechedness of the common misperceptions of what tenseless eternalists believe (see my earlier post on this).

No theory, however, can fill in the gaps I've mentioned - something will always seem missing from any account. Tensed theorists think that because tenseless theorists "fail" in this regard that they therefore succeed, but that is simply not so. In my dissertation, I am arguing that this is true, show that the most plausible account of our mind's access to, uses of, and representations of time explain where these gaps come from - and do so in a way that is in itself neutral between the two big camps. And that this is just one piece in a larger fabric of our conscious, perspectival access to the world and all the associated perspectival/nonperspectival gaps that arise because of it. Tensed theorists in time - as well as other folks in other areas - make a peculiar mistake relating to our representations' relation to the world, one that is widespread in areas from metaphysics to ethics. Or so I argue. So there is absolutely no support for tensed theories from common sense - not even from our plattitudes, attitudes, and experiences.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Quotes: Anscombe on Various Topics

Last week's biography of Anscombe at the adult Sunday school class went pretty well. Here are some interesting quotes of hers, most of which ended up making it into the presentation:

“You might as well accept any sexual goings–on, if you accept contraceptive intercourse.”

“There is one consideration here which has something like the position of absolute zero or the velocity of light in current physics. It cannot possibly be an exercise of civic authority deliberately to kill or mutilate innocent subjects.”

"In these days, the authorities claim the right to control not only the policy of the nation but also the actions of every individual within it; and their claim has the support of a large section of the people of the country, and of a peculiar force of emotion. This support is gained, and this emotion caused by the fact that they are "evil things" that we are fighting against. That they are evil we need have no doubt; yet many of us still feel distrust of these claims and these emotions lest they blind men to their duty of considering carefully, before they act, the justice of the things they propose to do. Men can be moved to fight by being made to hate the deeds of their enemies; but a war is not made just by the fact that one's enemies' deeds are hateful. Therefore it is our duty to resist passion and to consider carefully whether all the conditions of a just war are satisfied in this present war, lest we sin against the natural law by participating in it."

"For men to choose to kill the innocent as a means to their ends is always murder."

“It is nonsense to pretend that you do not intend to do what is the means you take to your chosen end. Otherwise there is absolutely no substance to the Pauline teaching that we may not do evil that good may come.”

“It is not a vague faith in the triumph of the spirit over force (there is little enough warrant for that), but a definite faith in the divine promises, that makes us believe that the Church cannot fail. Those, therefore, who think they must be prepared to wage a war with Russia involving the deliberate massacre of cities, must be prepared to say to God: 'We had to break your law, lest your Church fail. We could not obey your commandments, for we did not believe your promises.'”

“Each nation that has ‘liberal’ abortion laws has rapidly become, if it was not already, a nation of murderers.”

And last, but not least...

"If you do that again, I'll put you on the train to Bicester."

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Truthmakers and Conceivability Arguments

In my last post, I discussed Lucas's presentist account of what grounds truths about the past. The upshot was that Lucas and his ilk must find someway of specifying those mental states of God which are supposed to be doing the grounding in their theory but without already presupposing that these states are memories (since that in turn already presupposes the very truths about the past which are supposed to be explained). But this gets us into a further problem.

Many presentist accounts of the grounding of past truths are susceptible to conceivability arguments against their proposed truthmakers. Consider a verificationist account, for instance, on which past truths are grounded in present evidence. If this account were correct, given the current evidence it would necessarily follow that we have exactly the past truths we in fact have. But this doesn't seem right. It is certainly conceivable that our universe have the evidence it in fact has yet have a completely different past (say, because God decided to miraculously make it so at this particular point in time, with no taking into account anything that came before). Russell seems right about this sort of thing. So it seems false that evidence is what grounds past truths since they seem to be only contingently related.

So a version of Lucas's view, reformed to take into account my last post, is going to say that there is some mental state S of God's such that it has the content p and that this is what makes it true that p (or that WAS(p), depending on how this gets spelled out). Now, one virtue of cashing this out in terms of memories was that it guaranteed the truth of p - no conceivability argument was possible against it. But now that we cannot specify S in terms of memories, it looks like this view is going to be susceptible to conceivability arguments perhaps after all - it seems likely that it will indeed be conceivable that God bear S to p and yet p not be true of the past. Indeed, it will be conceivable that S is not a memory at all.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Presentism, Divine Memories, and Circularity

In A Treatise on Time and Space, J R Lucas - a (sometime) presentist and theist - posits the theory that it is God's memories that ground purported truths about the past (I think Alan Rhoda also subscribes to this view and has a paper on the subject but I haven't read through it carefully yet). There's a bit of trouble for this theory, though, that means such a theory needs to be restated.

First, let's take a step back - when we remember something, what do we remember? I take it that we remember something having occurred or having been the case - that is, that memory presents its contents as obtaining in the past. If we represent the situation as this: 'Memory(p)' the complete content of the memory will be 'it was the case that p'. We can cut out the tech-speak by simply saying 'I remember that such-and-such happened' or something similar, where the sentence falling under the that-clause is in the past-tense.

So if God remembers that p, 'p' is going to be past-tensed. But since it is past-tensed, it is in need of a truth-maker if presentism is true. This is what Lucas's account supplies: What makes it true that p is that God has a memory that p. But now we are in trouble. What makes something a memory in the first place? What makes something a memory that p - as opposed to some other attitude towards p - is that p is true and p's occurrence is responsible for that very memory. Leave aside the second, 'responsibility', clause - it offers its own problems, but I won't go into them here since the problems offered by the first are enough for now. The fact that p is one of the grounds for the fact that God has a memory that p. But, on Lucas's view, the fact that God has a memory that p is itself supposed to ground the fact that p. We clearly have a vicious circle that we somehow must break out of. If we want to keep something like Lucas's view, I take it that the only option is to come up with some other way of picking out the appropriate mental states which are supposed to be doing the grounding work - that is, other than as memories - and in such a way that we do not already presuppose what we are supposed to be explaining - that is, the truth of things like p. I don't know if that's going to be a difficult job or not - but if this sort of view is to be tenable, I think it must be done.

Monday, April 21, 2008

In the Meantime...

Busy working on a biographic presentation on Elizabeth Anscombe for FBC. Here's a funny political comic I found to tide you over until my next blog:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Can a Presentist Believe in Incompatibilist Freedom?

In my last post, I argued that the following was true:

Fatalist Contradiction (FC): ~((Incompatibilism & DF) & FP)

Since then, I noticed that this has certain other consequences for presentism (and growing block views too). Notice first that the following seems true (straightforwardly, via the principle that Truth Supervenes on Being):

Presentism and Indeterminacy (PI): If Presentism and Incompatibilism then FP.

A Molinist may deny this, but in doing so they run afoul of TSB or either DF or Incompatibilism (depending on how its spelled out). So it follows from FC and PI that

Incompatibility (I): If DF, then ~Presentism or ~Incompatibilism.

So if libertarianism is true, presentism is not. And if presentism is true, either we have no free will or we do but it is of a compatibilist nature.

EDIT (4/18/08): PI should probably be restricted in such a way that it is true only of future truths - that is, as far as facts about the future are concerned, if Presentism and Incompatibilism, then if these future things are determinate they are necessary.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fatalism, Indeterminacy, and Power

Here's an interesting argument I came up with:

Many people (i.e., many (but not all) growing block theorists and presentists) don't believe in a real, concrete and determinate future because they think it leads to fatalism and hence a lack of freedom on our part. Here are some assumed (incompatibilist) assumptions:

Freedom Implies Power (FIP): If I am free to make it the case that p then I have the power to make it the case that p and I have the power not to make it the case that p.


Power Implies Possibility (PIP): If I have the power to make it the case that p then possibly (I make it the case that p).

These seem to be fairly straightforward incompatibilist beliefs - incompatibilists will accept them, even if others do not. Here's another principle:

Power Produces Determinacy (PPD): I have the power to make it the case that p iff I have the power to make it the case that determinately p.

This is pretty straightforward - it makes no sense to say that someone has the power to bring something about if they do not also have the power to make it determinately the case (and vice versa). So far none of this gives us fatalism when conjoined to a determinate, real future. But then, some no-future folks will also hold to the following controversial principle:

Fatalistic Principle (FP): If it is the case that determinately p then necessarily p.

FP in conjunction with FIP and PIP entails the relevant belief in no determinate future:

Openness Principle (OP): If I am free to make it the case that p then it is not the case that determinately p.

And so these folks will take it that there are instances where I am free to do something and hence where my doing it in the future is indeterminate. And, of course, I am not only free to do certain things, but I am determinately so (since really robust freedom requires us to be determinately free, not merely for it to be indeterminate whether we are so):

Determinate Freedom (DF): I am determinately free to make it the case that p.

From OP and DF, we can reasonably infer,

Determinate Indeterminacy (DI): It is determinate that it is not the case that determinately p.

Now here's where my real argument starts to get going: From DI and FP, we get:

Necessary Indeterminacy (NI): It is not possible that determinately p.

From NI and PIP, we get:

Power Failure for Determinacy (PFD): It is not the case that I have the power to make it the case that determinately p.

And now we finally get to use PPD which I mentioned earlier. From PFD and PPD we get:

General Power Failure (GPF): It is not the case that I have the power to make it the case that p.

So from GPF and FIP we get:

Unfree (U): I am not free to make it the case that p.

And so we have a contradiction, which means at least one major assumption must be false. The only real substantive premises that might be candidates for rejection, I would contend, are FIP, PIP, FP, or DF. Since FIP and PIP just follow from incompatibilism and DF is just a way of saying that we are free, we can put things this way: What this argument shows is that either incompatibilism is false, the Fatalistic Principle is false, or we have no free will. Contra the no-future folks who hold to all three of these, we must choose one of these options. In my opinion, a rejection of the Fatalistic Principle is the obvious choice.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tenseless Eternalism: Myths and Misconceptions

So, I've been reading a lot lately - in philosophy of time, mind, and language respectively (mostly for my dissertation) - and this has included quite a few books and articles by folks who reject eternalism, the tenseless theory of time, or both. Unfortunately, I've found that for a lot of these authors, their rejection of tenseless eternalism is based on one or more fundamental misconceptions about what the theory says or what its practitioners believe. Frankly, it's a bit frustrating to see such things over and over again. Not all the tensed theorists I've read fall into this camp - some seem to understand tenseless theory perfectly well - but the number who do fall into this group was somewhat overwhelming (of course, tenseless theorists do not always understand the nuances of opposing positions either). Even more unfortunate is the extent to which many people who have held to tenseless eternalism have themselves misunderstood the position and/or held to complimentary but unnecessary positions which might be mistaken for necessary corollaries for holding to such a theory. So it's no wonder that many tensed theorists have such misconceptions about tenseless eternalism given the statements and positions of many of the people who have historically held such a position.

Here are some of the myths or misconceptions about tenseless eternalism that I have in mind (not precisely in any particular order):

Time is static and unchanging.
There is no change or dynamism.
There is no passing away, ceasing to exist, coming to be, becoming, coming to pass, happening, flow, or presence.
All is at once.
All coexists.
All facts are fixed from or at the beginning of time.
All events or facts are eternal or endure through time.
Every time, including the future, is already there.
Temporal experience is illusory.
There is no past, present, or future.
Time is pretty much exactly like space (except maybe for those differences we find in physics).
Everything has temporal parts.
Tensed representation or thought is degenerate, not needed, or otherwise 'bad'.
The river of time metaphor is a fraud.
Causal determinism holds.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

BSD 2008

I just got back from the 2008 Berkeley-Standford-Davis Graduate Student Conference in Philosophy and it was a lot of fun (we here at Davis were the hosts this year). Unfortunately, I only got to go to talks in the morning sessions, but I did get to hang out at dinner and 'talk shop'. During the first session I commented on Patrick Todd's paper "Freedom, Presentism, and Truth Supervenes on Being". His paper was showing how the principle of the open future (OF) for the presentist was incompatible with the conjunction of truth supervening on being (TSB) and future semantic settledness (FSS). In my comments I argued that, as formulated, OF was directly incompatible with TSB. During discussion time, Patrick and I talked a little about how to amend the formulation of OF so that he wouldn't get that result. I think we came up with relatively similar strategies for how the revision would go. It was a good paper and Patrick's a cool guy - it was nice talking with him. It's nice to be around people who like both metaphysics and philosophy of religion stuff! (Not too many of those hereabouts)

During the second session, our own Jonathan Dorsey argued that our conception of the physical should not include a constraint against fundamental mentality (hence the title of the paper, 'Against the No Fundamental Mentality Constraint'). I was a bit weary at first, but the argument's growing on me.

Overall, it was a pretty good time.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Link: How to Solve the Paradox of the Incarnation? One word: Counterparts!

Click here for a very interesting post by Ross Cameron where a lot of the seemingly contradictory aspects of the doctrine of the Incarnation get explained via, of all things, counterpart theory. I suppose if Geach can try to explain the Trinity via the metaphysically exotic relative identity, why not put counterpart theory to work with the Incarnation? (Of course, I don't believe either metaphysical view, so...bummer)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Presentism, Passage, and Time Density

Here's a quick argument I thought up. I don't really know whether it is a good one or not, so I hope if there's something wrong, someone who reads this will point it out to me. So here's the argument:

1. If time is dense, for any distinct given moments m1 and m3, there is a further distinct moment m2 that is between m1 and m3.
2. If a moment m3 is the next moment after a moment m1 then there is no further distinct moment m2 between them.
3. So, if time is dense, for any moment m1 there is no next moment.
4. If presentism is true, time irreducibly tensedly passes only if either first some moment m1 is present and then the next moment m2 is present or temporal passage proceeds in a non-continuous manner.
5. So if time is dense and presentism is true then either time does not irreducibly tensedly pass or temporal passage proceeds in a non-continuous manner.
6. Presentism is true only if time irreducibly tensedly passes.
7. So if presentism is true, time is not dense or temporal passage proceeds in a non-continuous manner.

I'm not sure of the mathematics, but I think if time isn't in fact dense, temporal passage will have to be non-continuous here too - in which case, it would follow that if presentism is true, temporal passage proceeds in a non-continuous manner. That is, there are going to have to be something like chronons for the presentist - smallest units of temporal passage with non-zero duration (that is, if the duration of the time segment which is present stays constant - otherwise we might have strange things like first one duration of 5 hours being present, then 1 minute, then 3 years, etc., which would be highly strange and hard to motivate). So the presentist is then, perhaps, committed to a temporally thick present which may be troublesome for some of the motivations that have been offered in its favor. In addition, we would need to come up with some non-arbitrary way of specifying the exact length of said interval, which may or may not cause trouble.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Interesting Quotes: Bennett on Timeless Personhood

From "Time in Human Experience" by Jonathan Bennett:
To get a sense of what it would be like for us if things were somehow different from how they are, we take fragments of our experience and assemble wholes out of them. We know what it would be like to have purely achromatic vision; for we have watched black-and-white movies, and have seen mountain landscapes whosewhole palette is black, white and grey; and we can have the thought of a visual life that is, so far as colour is concerned, all like that. Or suppose we want to envisage experiencing an outer world which does not consist of hard physical objects but rather of smooth waves of reality of some kind. Never mind the physics. I am talking about the idea of the world’s being given to us as wave-like, with the sort of immediacy with which it actually comes to us as full of knobbly things. We can get some sense of that, too, by focussing on the parts of our actual experience that pertain to fluids and jellies and clouds, and out of those materials trying to build a picture of a complete course of experience that presents us with an objective, outer world which is not organised in a thing-like manner. I know of no other way for us to imagine alternative possibilities for ourselves. If that is our only way, then to get a sense of what it would be like to exist out of time we must focus on the parts of our lives that are not temporal, and out of those fragments assemble a picture of a way of being that is all like that. All like what? What fragments? In this case the technique cannot get started, because all of our inner lives are temporally ordered, not just over-all but also down to the finest detail. We have no atemporal fragments out of which to build; no ground to stand on while we try to get a sense of a non-temporal way of being. So temporality lies deep in our thought because it spreads wide in our experience. We cannot think our way down to a level where time does not apply, because no parts of our experience, however small or odd, lie outside time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More Rough Notes on Tracking and Tracking Systems

At least two kinds of tracking – plotting and (semantic) fix maintenance. Talk of ‘tracking time’ here used in the second sense.
Two kinds of maintenance tracking – dynamic state and static state. Dynamic state tracking involves producing a succession of representations which is meant to reflect how things are with what is being tracked at the very time of the tokening (so if tracking A’s height, might token ‘A is 5’6”’ to reflect A’s height at the time of the tokening).
Static state – static state tracking involves using a single representation which (or part of which) has a succession of extensions or propositions expressed to reflect how things are with what is being tracked at the very time of the tokening (so ‘now’ refers to a different time at each time but without itself changing). First person thought may be a limiting case of static state tracking where the succession of extensions of the first person aspect of the representation (within a given a system) are identical (e.g., as used by a single subject, the referent of ‘I’ is going to be identical – the subject using it – across moments). Fully explicit indexical thought will be static state thought since explicit indexicals will be static state trackers of whatever they are meant to refer to.
Past/future tense thoughts may be either ‘n units before now’/ ‘n units after now’ (perhaps to a certain diminishing precision) or ‘before now’/ ‘after now’ and so track what came before or after a time.For the first-person tracking system (the system for tracking me), we don’t need a system which changes states over time – merely such that it can take us from representations to action (e.g., gets me to run away when tokening ‘IS is being chased by a bear’). As far as 3rd person representations go, it chooses which ones are relevant for action. Two ways: Fixed choice of first person representations (which are static state trackers of the agent deploying them) and can then use those and their connections to 3rd person ones (that is, it acts on all 1st person representations and 3rd person representations connected to those – e.g., ‘I am IS’ plus ‘IS is being chased by a bear’ gets me to run), or directly chooses the 3rd person ones somehow (e.g., makes me act on all decisions about what IS ought to do).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Teleological Personhood

I take it as fairly obvious that in some sense we ought to be egalitarians about moral status - we (I'll leave the 'we' vague for now) ought all to be treated with the same respect and consideration and ought to be thought of as being moral equals in this sense (note that this doesn't mean, of course, that we are moral equals in the sense that one of isn't of better or worse character than another or doesn't do better or worse things). But what is the scope of this 'we' here that we ought to be egalitarians about? Most would say, inuitively, that the 'we' of which we can say "we are all of equal moral worth" is specificly the class of persons. Various theories then try to give accounts of what grounds the moral status of persons.

Unfortunately, most theories of moral personhood are themselves immoral and fail to be egalitarian enough. I take it that it would be positively immoral not to give children, infants or the severely mentally handicapped the same moral status as a normally-abled adult. Not to do so would be simply chauvinistic towards the well-developed, intelligent human being over against those who fall short. This is not a surprising thing coming from philosophers, who tend themselves to be of the very intelligent sort and tend to value such intelligence and rational thought very highly. Aristotle, for instance, seems to have thought women of lesser worth than men partly because he thought that men were more able to engage in rational thought than they were (and, indeed, held that the most valuable life was in fact the contemplative one). This, of course, is not an uncommon phenomenon - it can be seen all throughout history where human beings who do not have the particular valued qualities of the society or elites are thought of as being of less worth or consideration.

But I think as moral thinkers we ought to resist this sort of trajectory and stick up for those who cannot stick up for themselves - not only in practice but in our theories of moral status and personhood as well. Our values concerning qualities that we hold dear for ourselves ought not to blind us to the inherent value in others who unfortunately lack those qualities to the same degree as we. And this is not just for others' sakes - if we live long enough, it is more or less likely (depending on the particular quality in question) that we too will experience a diminishing of some of those qualities we value in ourselves.

Against a utilitarian conception of personhood - where the only personal moral status one has is as an experiencer of pleasure and pain - we can give the example of a person in a temporary coma who is at this time - and will for a while be - unable to experience pleasure or pain. I take it that such a person does have full moral status, despite the fact that they are in a coma and (let us suppose) experience nothing. Perhaps someone here might say that the moral status of the person here is dependent on their future status as an experiencer - that future status counts, as it were, retroactively. But if that's all there is to it, one could kill the person now, thereby preventing them from having such a future status, and one would not have violated the comatose's moral status as a person since by killing them one has prevented the comatose's having the requisite future status in the first place.

Perhaps what is meant here is that, despite the coma, the human has moral status because they are alive and existing and could experience pain or pleasure - and, indeed, do have the capacity to do so - it is only that they are temporarily blocked due to some biological damage (or drug-induced state, etc.) from actualizing this capacity. Or maybe what is meant is that, left unhindered, this human being will in fact be able to do the requisite experiencing in the future. But both of these last things goes beyond the utilitarian conception noted above - we no longer are interested purely in the actual occurent and actualizable capacities for pleasure and pain. But going beyond this conception, I think we have come up with some plausible diagnoses for why, among other things, we might be inclined to grant this person full moral status. In neither case, we must note, does this moral status depend on the ability to currently activate the qualities said to be required for moral personhood. We could say similar things about theories which make personhood depend on rationality or other mental traits. In metaphysical terms, we might say that 'being a person' is not a phase sortal.

How about grounding the personhood of those who do not share the qualities we think necessary for equal moral status in the shared interests of the community or particular segments or members of the community (a kind of contractarian approach)? I take this to be wrong too. Consider the case of a small community of adult persons out in the middle of nowhere. In fact, the community consists of only one adult person - a mother, who also has in her care an infant. Does the infant here have full moral status or not? Would the mother not caring about and then killing the infant count as murder just as much as killing an adult or be just as wrong as if it were done in a community that cared for infants? I take it that the answers to these questions ought to be yes. But what is relevant here? Well, if we take a cue from the above paragraph, we might think it has something to do with future capacities in something like the ways noted above. How about if the infant is severely retarded or if we replace the infant with a severely retarded adult? Such an individual will have no future ability to reason or do whatever the other adult does that gets them personhood on many views. Instead, it seems reasonable to ascribe their moral personhood to something like a blocked capacity for such qualities - blocked by, say, physiological defects of the brain. Again, this is similar to one of the things we said in favor of the comatose person above.

In all of these sorts of cases, personal moral status is not about having an active current capacity to do or have the qualities thought to be important for personhood. Infants, the mentally handicapped and the temporarily comatose all still have personhood. And yet their personhood is still somehow closely connected with those qualities - after all, there is strong intuitive force that personhood is somehow connected with things like experience or rationality. The common thread in these cases of those on the margins of the society of persons is that in each case we have a being which is the kind of thing that has these special qualities. They have, in teleological terms, the acquisition and activation of such qualities as a proper function of themselves. An infant, for instance, even a severely handicapped one which will never be capable of rational thought, is still the kind of thing that has rational thought as its function. In its proper environment and with all obstacles or malfunctions taken away, a person will exhibit such characteristics as are characteristic of a person. Putting it in a blatantly trivial way, to be a person is to belong to a personal kind.

We might call this a teleological conception of personhood and it seems to have important ramifications for other areas of ethics. If we accept this conception and give full moral status to the mentally handicapped and infants, we would be very hard pressed not to do the same for unborn fetuses. And if we are forced to do this, I think we would then be very hard pressed not to admit that in almost all cases aborting a fetus is morally wrong and simply a special instance of murder - a case of violence against an intrinsically valuable person of great moral status.