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Christianity, Philosophy, and the integrated mind

There are two different attitudes that I will call "approaches of diffidence" that Christians who are philosophers can take. One is more extreme than the other. Both are wrong.

Attitude #1 is what I will call the Averroist Approach. The Averroist Approach says that, to be an honest and professional philosopher, you must even in your own mind completely bracket your Christian beliefs when you are doing philosophy. So, for example, if you are examining the question of the existence of a non-material aspect to man, you should bracket the fact that traditional Christianity clearly does assume that there is such a thing (hint: "the soul"). That's religion, not philosophy. The two are different, and that's flat. They just don't have anything to do with one another, and the fact that you believe Christianity to be true can't give you any reason, while you happen to have your philosopher's hat on your head, for believing in the existence of the soul.

My reasons for connecting this approach with Averroes should be historically evident.

Attitude #2 is what I will call Extreme Rhetorical Diffidence. ERD says that even though in the privacy of their own minds Christian philosophers do believe things at odds with the zeitgeist, when it comes to making arguments, they have to pretend for practical purposes that they don't. In fact, the best rhetorical thing to do is to assume, for the sake of the argument, the truth of the most popular present philosophical position, even if that is not only totally at odds with your Christian beliefs but also at odds with other known and developed philosophical options. Hence, even though there are non-Christians (or philosophers who don't make use of explicitly Christian premises) who question or outright deny naturalism, use only naturalist premises when making your arguments--say, in ethics. Even though there have been secular humanist philosophers who have rejected Peter Singer (e.g., Jenny Teichman), use only Singer-approved premises when doing ethics. Even though neo-Aristotelians like David Oderberg defend essences, assume nominalism in metaphysics. Even though Richard Fumerton is an internalist in epistemology, don't question naturalized epistemology and externalism. Even though Thomas Nagel strongly questions materialism, don't challenge the premise that the mind evolved by purely material means. And so forth.

Do I exaggerate? Maybe a little. But if you know a lot of Christian philosophers, especially those just getting started, I'll wager you've met at least a couple who take positions enough like these that my characterizations are recognizable.

There are many streams that feed into the river of conformism. At the risk of offending, I cannot refrain from saying that one stream is fear. But that may not influence everybody, and I'd rather focus on others. I truly believe that Christian philosophers face difficulty knowing what it means to be both Christian and professional in philosophy. The philosophical establishment tells them that religion is unprofessional and then ups the ante yet further by telling them that all manner of unpopular positions, including positions that didn't used to be thought to be religious, are actually religious, tainted with religion, indefensible except by resort to explicitly religious premises, etc. The effect is heightened by simply not teaching alternative views, so that dualisms of various sorts are dismissed contemptuously in metaphysics class, and graduate epistemology class is all about "naturalized epistemology," even though that is a relatively recent phenomenon.

As for ethics, don't get me started. I've already said plenty elsewhere. (For just a few examples, see here, here, and here.) See also this 2008 article by David S. Oderberg. Let's face it: Professional rewards go to those who write articles conspicuously lacking in philosophical merit that simply push the envelope further after starting with, say, Michael Tooley's infanticidal assumptions as a given. I don't actually look at the syllabuses of graduate and undergraduate ethics courses in America, but I think it would be interesting to ask: When was the last time Teichman was required reading? (I'll be happy to be proved wrong in guessing, "Not very often." If so, of course, that just means there is less excuse for Extreme Rhetorical Diffidence in challenging Singer.)

It's little wonder that young philosophers get the impression that they are violating professional norms if they don't a) set aside their Christian beliefs and b) make arguments only from popular stances.

In fact, though, Averroism is false. There is only one truth. If Christianity is true, then its teachings and clear implications are entirely compatible with the conclusions of true philosophy. More: Christianity is defensible by evidence. If anything should stiffen your spine, that should. Your Christianity doesn't have to be some private little intellectual vice that you can't quite give up, something you hold to because of your upbringing, something foggy, fuzzy, and mystical. You need not be ashamed of your Christianity before your hard-edged philosopher friends. Man up. Not only is Christianity true, but God has not left himself without witness.

If you are a Christian and you insist on setting aside your Christian beliefs in developing your own philosophical beliefs, you are at grave risk of developing a split mind, an Averroist mind, a mind that believes incompatible things. You are at risk of denying the unity of truth, in practice if not in theory. And, since intellectual people find it hard to live that way, and since as a philosopher you will be surrounded by smart, sophisticated atheist and agnostic colleagues, you are at risk of losing your faith altogether. Not a good position to be in.

Ah, but what about ERD? After all, it's a long way roundabout to argue for, say, a non-materialist view of the human person by first arguing for Christianity per se, evidence or no. I agree. It is a long way roundabout, nor do I recommend it.

Here is where we need to focus again on the concept of the integrated mind, and the integrated world. Do we as Christians really believe that the notion of, say, human nature is inaccessible to non-Christians? Do we believe that the idea that it is wrong to murder human infants is something that can be grasped only by a rote adherence to a Divine command? What about the existence of the mind? Did man really not know that he had a mind until God revealed this, so that the only way to tell philosophers reasonably that they have minds is by arguing from explicitly religious premises?

The Averroist Approach is obviously dis-integrated. But the Extreme Rhetorical Diffidence approach also fosters a dis-integrated mind. Let's talk as Christian to Christian. We believe that man is made in the image of God, that God has given general revelation, and that God has written his law on man's heart, a law for which all men are responsible. It hardly seems a long stretch to take this to mean that God has given man access to such commonsensical propositions as

--Man is not merely a material entity,

--There is such a thing as objective truth,

--There really is such a thing as a human species and a human nature,

--Human beings have value simply in virtue of their humanity,

--It is wrong deliberately to kill human infants,

--Men and women are different from each other.

--I have access to my own thoughts and experiences, which are not just material phenomena.

Suppose that we start out by thinking that these propositions are just so inaccessible and so controversial that all our arguments must treat them as false, or at least that we must never start from the assumption that one of them is true. It seems that in doing so we are treating the image of God in man and general revelation as having no or virtually no intellectual consequences or content. Epistemically, we are treating these things as if they are very, very difficult to see to be true, as though they were all highly complex, abstract mathematical conclusions. And what consequences does that assumption have for the robustness of our own positions on these issues? If you really think that "Man is a rational animal" (a proposition whose philosophical credentials ought to be assured) and other propositions in the vicinity are only Divinely revealed black boxes, outlandish, alien, and counterintuitive conclusions which you accept only because God told you they are true, how likely is it that you will stick to them in the face of continual assaults from feminists, physicalists, and postmodernists?

Note, too, what ERD appears to concede, unjustifiedly, about burden of proof. Apparently Singer & Co. can blithely assume that "personhood" is the kind of thing that comes and goes in a human life. This despite not only the monstrous conclusions to which that position leads (which should be reductios in themselves) but also the difficulties it faces with deep sleep or induced dreamless unconsciousness. One assumes that a personhood theorist would believe that a wrong had been done him if he were killed for his organs without his consent after being thoroughly knocked out for, say, hip replacement surgery. (Thus being temporarily turned into a "non-person," right?) Yet the ERD approach would lead us to treat Singeresque personhood theory as the default position because of its popularity--a dangerous move toward making the bandwagon fallacy a principle of philosophical debate.

The Christian who advocates something like ERD might respond that one's faith in, say, the Trinity is not shaky simply because one regards it as a truth of revelation rather than a truth of nature. And it certainly seems that the specific doctrines of Christianity--the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the resurrection, and the like--bear some sort of burden of proof. So what is the problem with extending that approach to other, more general philosophical propositions?

The answer ought to be fairly evident. Aquinas told us long ago that grace builds on nature. The problem with the ERD approach is that it functionally assumes that there is, epistemically speaking, no nature to build on. In so doing, the Christian philosopher underrates and thus undermines not only the human nature of his non-Christian opponents but his own human nature as well.

In the introduction to The Revenge of Conscience, Jay Budziszewski tells of a time when he was, as he puts it, looking into himself and tearing out everything that had the image of God on it.

Visualize a man opening up the access panels of his mind and pulling out all the components that have God's image stamped on them. The problem is that they all have God's image stamped on them, so the man can never stop. No matter how much he pulls out, there's still more to pull. I was that man. Because I pulled out more and more, there was less and less that I could think about. But because there was less and less that I could think about, I thought I was becoming more and more focused. Because I believed things that filled me with dread, I thought I was smarter and braver than the people who didn't believe them. I thought I saw an emptiness at the heart of the universe that was hidden from their foolish eyes. Of course I was the fool....There is a point of no return, and I was almost there. I said I had been pulling out one component after another, and I had nearly got, shall we say, to the motherboard.

The Revenge of Conscience, pp. xv-xvi

If we tear out all the pieces stamped "image of God," we leave ourselves with nothing. The proponent of ERD apparently thinks that unbelievers, because they do not accept special revelation, really cannot be expected to know, e.g., that there is anything wrong with killing human infants or that there is such a thing as human nature. Unfortunately, this goes near to implying that tearing out the motherboard, for unbelievers, is justified.

About two years ago I wrote this post on Alvin Plantinga's interesting paper, "Advice to Christian Philosophers." In my post I expressed agreement with much of what Plantinga said and some disagreements. Here I want to emphasize the agreements. Plantinga's idea of "integrality" is very similar to what I have been calling "the integrated mind." Plantinga says,

Second, Christian philosophers must display more integrity-integrity in the sense of integral wholeness, or oneness, or unity, being all of one piece. Perhaps 'integrality' would be the better word here.

And he gives a couple of rather amusing examples:

Suppose the student I mentioned above goes to Harvard; she studies with Willard van Orman Quine. She finds herself attracted to Quine's programs and procedures: his radical empiricism, his allegiance to natural science, his inclination towards behaviorism, his uncompromising naturalism, and his taste for desert landscapes and ontological parsimony. It would be wholly natural for her to become totally involved in these projects and programs, to come to think of fruitful and worthwhile philosophy as substantially circumscribed by them. Of course she will note certain tensions between her Christian belief and her way of practicing philosophy; and she may then bend her efforts to putting the two together, to harmonizing them. She may devote her time and energy to seeing how one might understand or reinterpret Christian belief in such a way as to be palatable to the Quinian. One philosopher I know, embarking on just such a project, suggested that Christians should think of God as a set (Quine is prepared to countenance sets): the set of all true propositions, perhaps, or the set of right actions, or the union of those sets, or perhaps their Cartesian product. This is understandable; but it is also profoundly misdirected. Quine is a marvelously gifted philosopher: a subtle, original and powerful philosophical force. But his fundamental commitments, his fundamental projects and concerns, are wholly different from those of the Christian community--wholly different and, indeed, antithetical to them. And the result of attempting to graft Christian thought onto his basic view of the world will be at best an unintegral pastiche; at worst it will seriously compromise, or distort, or trivialize the claims of Christian theism. What is needed here is more wholeness, more integrality.
By now, of course, Verificationism has retreated into the obscurity it so richly deserves; but the moral remains. This hand wringing and those attempts to accommodate the positivist were wholly inappropriate. I realize that hindsight is clearer than foresight and I do not recount this bit of recent intellectual history in order to be critical of my elders or to claim that we are wiser than our fathers: what I want to point out is that we can learn something from the whole nasty incident. For Christian philosophers should have adopted a quite different attitude towards positivism and its verifiability criterion. What they should have said to the positivists is: "Your criterion is mistaken: for such statements as 'God loves us' and 'God created the heavens and the earth' are clearly meaningful; so if they aren't verifiable in your sense, then it is false that all and only statements verifiable in that sense are meaningful." What was needed here was less accommodation to current fashion and more Christian self-confidence: Christian theism is true; if Christian theism is true, then the verifiability criterion is false; so the verifiability criterion is false. Of course, if the verificationists had given cogent arguments for their criterion, from premises that had some legitimate claim on Christian or theistic thinkers, then perhaps there would have been a problem here for the Christian philosopher; then we would have been obliged either to agree that Christian theism is cognitively meaningless, or else revise or reject those premises. But the Verificationists never gave any cogent arguments; indeed, they seldom gave any arguments at all. Some simply trumpeted this principle as a great discovery, and when challenged, repeated it loudly and slowly; but why should that disturb anyone? Others proposed it as a definition--a definition of the term "meaningful." Now of course the positivists had a right to use this term in any way they chose; it's a free country. But how could their decision to use that term in a particular way show anything so momentous as that all those who took themselves to be believers in God were wholly deluded? If I propose to use the term 'Democrat' to mean 'unmitigated scoundrel,' would it follow that Democrats everywhere should hang their heads in shame? And my point, to repeat myself, is that Christian philosophers should have displayed more integrity, more independence, less readiness to trim their sails to the prevailing philosophical winds of doctrine, and more Christian self-confidence.

The examples I have used above are different from Plantinga's, but the point is the same.The assumptions of the philosophical zeitgeist are very often simply wrong, not to mention silly, and sometimes outright monstrous. Bearing that in mind, don't force yourself to make your arguments only within the confines of those assumptions.

Instead, be a Christian philosopher with an integrated mind.

P.S. In the very interesting discussion that followed my previous post, philosopher Bobcat answered my call for a list of non-Christian philosophers who hold unpopular philosophical positions, positions that call naturalism into question. In addition to those I mentioned above, here are those lists from Bobcat:

Carl Ginet: non-agent-causal libertarian; Bob Brandom: non-naturalist who I assume is an atheist; John McDowell: same as Brandom; William Rowe: agent-causal libertarian; W.D. Hart: I believe he is a substance dualist; David Chalmers: property dualist or panpsychist
Paul Draper: agent-causal libertarian (I think); Michael Huemer: substance dualist/agent-causal libertarian/moral realist; Don Regan: non-naturalist moral realist; Russ Shafer-Landau: non-naturalist moral realist; Jaegwon Kim: flirting with property dualism.

And here is a post on "old-time atheist" anti-materialists from Ed Feser.

Comments (30)

Bravo! Well said Lydia!
I'm reading Budzisewski "The Line through the Heart", and it's a wonderful remedy for the zeitgeist.

Way back in the days of yore when I was a young undergraduate student majoring in biology, I took the Intro to Philosophy course to satisfy a gen ed requirement. I liked it and the professor who gave me good advice: be more critical of my ideas.

I took more philosophy courses and liked them also, thought even of doing a double minor in chemistry and philosophy. Then it occurred to me one day, during the existentialism course, that the entire point of philosophy is not establishing truth as much as it is constructing an internally consistent argument. You can't be shot down for being wrong, only for having contradicted yourself, and there was no objective reference point of appeal in the case of a tie. This was like a cow prod applied to my mind and it set my future firmly in the sciences.

I remember, near the end the last semester before I graduated, having a conversation in the university cafeteria with a philosophy major who I had made friends with. We were discussing where we were going next. He said with some melancholy that he just wished he could open an office and have paying people come in to ask him what to do. I asked him, "What could you tell them?". That didn't lift his mood any.

He said with some melancholy that he just wished he could open an office and have paying people come in to ask him what to do.

Like Lucy: "Psychiatric advice, 5 cents."

By the way, in defense of philosophy: I think good philosophy is about both consistency and discovering truth. :-)

OK. I consider myself to be a Christian philosopher who is just getting started, and I undoubtedly have an Averroist attitude. But, despite the reasons you give to think this attitude wrong, you also seem to give reasons to think it right; to wit, the truths of Christianity are compatible with the conclusions of philosophy, and there is evidence for the truth of Christianity.

You give a string of propositions that are reasonable to believe given the truth of traditional Christian teachings, but do you think it impossible for the Averroist to make these propositions seem reasonable, or--better yet--to show that they are reasonable without assuming the truth of propositions specifc to Christianity?

Well, let's go back to my (perhaps slightly caricatured) characterization of the Averroist attitude:

That's religion, not philosophy. The two are different, and that's flat. They just don't have anything to do with one another, and the fact that you believe Christianity to be true can't give you any reason, while you happen to have your philosopher's hat on your head, for believing in the existence of the soul.

Now, as a philosopher, you are interested in knowing what is true. And if what is true is _one thing_ (that is, if the actual Averroist position of "two truths" is completely false [actually, I think it's incoherent]), then your Christianity _does_ give you reasons for believing in the existence of the soul. And as a philosopher, you should be interested in that, because you want to know what's true, so you want to bring all your sources of information to bear on any given question.

The only way that what I've just said wouldn't hold would be if you have no reason at all for believing in Christianity--that is, if your Christianity were totally irrational. Now, if that's the case, then obviously Christianity can't help you to have reasons to believe any of its tenets. If that's the case, then when you have your "Christian hat" on your head you are just giving in to being totally irrational, which is not very likely to lead you to true beliefs. Being in a religious frame of mind would be akin to, I don't know, deliberately trashing your mind with drugs or something and then believing whatever tom-fool thing popped into your head while high. In which case, when you have your philosopher's hat on your head, you ignore your Christian beliefs because they are themselves held totally irrationally.

That, however, would be a very unfortunate, and entirely unnecessary, way to be a Christian. Christianity certainly isn't inherently irrational. There is no reason why you have to hold Christianity irrationally. Go out and find some of the good reasons for Christianity. Not even all of them. Even just some of them will do, because those reasons will then be reasons for believing that materialism is false, which should be important to you as a philosopher. (Since as a philosopher you want to know the truth.)

Now, is it possible for the Averroist to, as it were, get over it by a blinding flash of insight that says, "Hey, look! I've discovered that there is a mind simply by reflection, and Christianity says that there is a soul, so now I know that materialism is false in two different ways"?

Sure, that's possible. In fact, I think it's great to see the truth of these things in two different ways, and seeing their truth in two different ways isn't actually what I am calling an Averroist attitude. The real Averroist treats his Christian beliefs as irrelevant to truth. That's a bad idea. The person trying to see things both philosophically and in light of his Christian beliefs says something like this, "Since I have good reason to think Christianity true, I already know that materialism is false. I therefore expect true philosophy to confirm this as well. Now let's go out and look at various philosophical options on the table and see what kinds of arguments materialists give for their position."

The two attitudes are actually quite different.

Let me point out, too, that I think it's quite possible and even likely for an Averroist also to take a position much like ERD. That's a hugely problematic combination, as you can imagine. Suppose that you start by bracketing your Christian beliefs as irrelevant to your philosophical beliefs. (See all that I've just said.) Then, suppose further that when you come to consider philosophy and do philosophy, you always bend to the prevailing winds and make your arguments based only on assumptions accepted by the consensus of the philosophers who happen to be influential at the time that you're doing your work. Is it at all likely that you will emerge from such a process convinced that, say, materialism is false? Not jolly likely. The Averroist position makes you think Christianity doesn't give you good reason to take certain philosophical positions. Then the ERD approach further hampers your boldness in actual philosophical investigation and argument and limits the options you are going to treat seriously. The outcome at that point is nearly predetermined.

I agree with the basic point of the article, one truth and all that, but the label "Extreme Rhetorical Diffidence" kind of threw me. You're not talking about rhetoric, are you? I think you should draw a sharp line between rhetoric and "philosophy" or dialectics or whatever you call it.

I think that what you call Extreme Rhetorical Diffidence is just good rhetoric. To persuade someone, as opposed to converting him, you want to start out accepting as much of his world-view as you can. So if you want to convince a utilitarian that killing babies is wrong, and you think you have a good utilitarian reason for that, then use that utilitarian argument rather than your "own" argument. When you're doing philosophy (something I've never done, by the way), it seems a no-brainer that you start out with the whole truth.

My other reaction was addressed in the last couple paragraphs. This article doesn't seem to be specifically about Christian philosophers, but about philosophers who hold unfashionable basic beliefs. Here's a question addressed to specifically Christian or otherwise religious philosophers: Will you test your Christian beliefs in the same way you test your other philosophical beliefs? That's the flip side of the Quine example above. You could bracket or "suspend" your Christian knowledge to investigate some other, contradictory, philosophy. Does the other philosophy then seem sound? If so, then you have to resolve the contradiction in favor of one or the other. Right? This is very different than defending your philosophy against criticism. As I said, I've never done philosophy, so maybe my image of what philosophers do is way off here.

By the way, in defense of philosophy: I think good philosophy is about both consistency and discovering truth. :-)

Right, Lydia, because without being for truth, the for consistency aspect just shrivels into a worthless game. It descends into this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQFKtI6gn9Y

If you don't think philosophy is about truth, you can have nothing to say to the person who claims he is "perfectly happy with his inconsistencies, and his self-contradictory arguments are just as worthwhile as your so-called "consistent" arguments." What point consistency? Worse yet, without truth claims about what ACTUALLY CONSTITUTES consistency, even attempting to establish consistency is a hopeless exercise in its own right.

True philosophical skeptics are just like people playing an intensely complicated game of Calvinball, without the least shred of realization that nobody set out rules before they came in, that the rules change every time anyone wants them to, and STILL think that the game has an "objective" of some sort: they are adult simpletons who belong in a home for those who are incapable of being responsible for themselves.

I remember facilitating a class on dystopian literature and the book was A Brave New World. The students debated on whether the people in this society were happy, and if they are happy, what did it matter how bizzare that society was structured? The class went back-and-forth employing various philosophical points until one kid piped up, "Everyone seems to be forgetting one important thing: It isn't true!" A good reminder of how easy it is to give junk a fair hearing.

So if you want to convince a utilitarian that killing babies is wrong, and you think you have a good utilitarian reason for that, then use that utilitarian argument rather than your "own" argument.

Aaron, I want to address this carefully. Suppose that I were in some emergency situation where a specific child was in the power of a utilitarian who planned to kill him, and I had a chance to try to convince the utilitarian not to do it. Then, yes, I can imagine frantically trying to come up with some utilitarian argument that I would ordinarily despise--I dunno, something about the distress that would be caused to others or the net pain that would be caused by his killing the baby, or the way that it would undermine trust in society, or some, er, stuff like that. If I thought such an argument had a chance of stopping him from his evil act and giving the baby a chance to live, I would probably do it.

In something I was going to publish in a calm dialectical forum, no. *At most* I might throw something like that in as lagniappe (a little something extra). Like, "Besides all this, on Professor Herod's own principles, it would be a bad idea to institute the Groningen Protocols in the United States, because it would decrease overall happiness in the following ways." I warn you, though: They usually work pretty hard to have that side of things tied up. If I recall correctly, Singer (I believe it is) has suggested deceiving people about whether they are likely to be bumped off when they are old so that society will not be filled with fearful elderly people. Or they just stipulate that they're proposing it only in situations in which it will not decrease overall happiness.

And similarly for discussions in class or in the philosophy lounge, etc.

I'm glad, in fact, to have the chance to address this, because I think that sometimes people who take an ERD stance are thinking exactly that: "Well, I want to convince my colleagues, so I have to accept their premises."

If their premises are monstrous, as in the case of thinking that human infants are not persons and that the only way that they should be allowed to live is if their lives benefit "real persons," then appearing to accept those premises in calm dialectical contexts is not a good idea. It further solidifies the acceptance of those monstrous premises among philosophers, which will, make no mistake, have real-world consequences. Even if one says in the lead-in to one's arguments, "Now, I don't accept your premises that the baby is not a person, etc., but suppose I did, I could still say ___________." Even so, particularly if this is all you ever do in that type of high-brow context, you further the impression that the normal, human, non-monstrous proposition that the baby is a full-fledged person is always to be set aside, that it's some sort of non-philosophical or unrespectable proposition that no one ever works from as a premise.

I want to note something here: About twenty years ago I met a completely secular philosopher who had intellectually "converted" (if I can use that term carefully) to the pro-life position on abortion, or at least on most abortions, by the reductio that pro-lifers so often make to the effect that there is no principled distinction between abortion and infanticide. He let me read a paper in which he argued this all the way back to the point of conception! There were a couple of things I disagreed with in the paper, but overall, it was a straightforward piece of what would normally be considered pro-life argumentation. And as I recall (I no longer have my copy of the paper, or if it is around here, I don't know where it is) he never once considered seriously the idea that infanticide is morally right. He didn't feel like he had to hat-tip to Michael Tooley or Peter Singer or anything like that. He didn't make a utilitarian argument. He used, "Infanticide is morally wrong" as a premise and treated the absence of principled distinction between abortion and infanticide as a reductio of abortion.

I don't know if he convinced anybody. But insofar as he passed that paper around or got it published (I believe it hadn't yet been published at the time I saw it) what he did was far more philosophically and even rhetorically responsible than making all manner of concessions, even just for the sake of the argument, at the outset to the anti-human crowd and then trying to argue within that box.

Let's put it openly: What the Singer crowd needs to be convinced of is that babies are real people and that it's monstrous to kill them. Slavery would not have been ended decisively in the United States, and America would not have repented for slavery as it needed to do, if the only thing anybody ever argued was that slavery was inefficient. The slaves needed to be seen as human beings whom it was really wrong to enslave.

Our goal shouldn't just be to affect policy by any means necessary. Consciences need to be awakened. If many of the intelligentsia are too far gone for that, then it would be entirely legitimate simply to produce an "alternative" set of publications (see Oderberg's article on the unpopular minority) to bolster the spines of hoi polloi, including undergraduate and graduate students, who are not yet thoroughly corrupted.

"Since I have good reason to think Christianity true, I already know that materialism is false. I therefore expect true philosophy to confirm this as well. Now let's go out and look at various philosophical options on the table and see what kinds of arguments materialists give for their position."

Fr. Patrick Reardon, who's taught philosophy in several colleges and seminaries, makes a similar argument here:

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-06-085-f

I have suggested to Fr. Reardon that he could expand the thesis of this piece into a book-length essay, combining it with the critique of nominalism he puts forth in some of his other essays, notably "Materialism and the Abdication of Intellect." He seems amenable to the idea, but whether or not it will come to fruition I can't say.

Okay, to address the other part of your comment, Aaron:


Here's a question addressed to specifically Christian or otherwise religious philosophers: Will you test your Christian beliefs in the same way you test your other philosophical beliefs? That's the flip side of the Quine example above. You could bracket or "suspend" your Christian knowledge to investigate some other, contradictory, philosophy. Does the other philosophy then seem sound? If so, then you have to resolve the contradiction in favor of one or the other. Right? This is very different than defending your philosophy against criticism.

It's probably useful to note here that Christianity is not first and foremost a philosophy but rather a religion with both an historical basis and philosophical implications. Not to go on at too much length, but here's a simple example: Jesus clearly and explicitly taught that God the Father exists and is a spirit. Christianity includes the proposition that Jesus rose from the dead, which vindicated him as the Messiah, the Son of God, and that everything Jesus clearly taught is true. Therefore, it follows from Christianity that any philosophical position according to which there can be no non-physical beings is false. However, the statement that Jesus rose from the dead is a statement about something that either did or did not happen circa A.D. 33 in Palestine during the time when Pontius Pilate was Procurator.

The philosophy of, say, W.V. Quine simply isn't going to address the evidence that Jesus was the Son of God. That's pretty obvious.

There's nothing wrong with reading Quine and attending to his arguments.

However, to do so it isn't actually necessary to say, "I'm not going to be skeptical of these because I already have reason to believe that naturalism is false. Instead, I'm going to do my best to forget that I already have reason to believe that naturalism is false."

Sure, it's mentally possible to see how those arguments hold up according to some set of criteria that don't invoke your other reasons for thinking their conclusions false. I myself have never encountered any argument for, "There are no non-physical beings" that was cogent in purely philosophical terms or even that seemed so for a nanosecond. If one encountered an argument to that effect that seemed cogent in purely philosophical terms, but if one had evidence that the conclusion of that argument was false, one would be perfectly justified in going back and asking, "Is there something here I've missed?"

As I said, I've never done philosophy. . .

That's alright, Aaron, neither have about 95% of professional philosophers.

Why, George, I didn't know you were hanging around!

What, did you think I had anything better to do?

Of course not - there ISN'T anything better to do than read Lydia's posts on W4!

Lydia,

I agree that any doctrine of "two truths" would be incoherent. That's not how I've understood Averroes, but I might be wrong.

Assuming I'm right, (mostly so I can continue to call myself an "Averroist"), I think ERD is wrong for the same reason I think the Averroist attitude is right: all beliefs that are not absolutely foundational ought to be bracketed out when doing philosophy.

Philosophy, I think, is the only discipline the scope of which encompasses all subjects, because, apart from those propositions that are necessary for critical inquiry, (and, perhaps, all necessary a priori truths), it assumes nothing to be true. The philosopher may then entertain any propositions and submit them to critical examination. (I'm pretty sure I'm stealing this conception of philosophy--while putting my own spin on it--from Michael Dummett's The Nature and Future of Philosophy.)

Accordingly, religion, insofar as it is not philosophy, will have foundational principles/assumed propositions that make it religion as opposed to physics or history. Thus Christianity too will have foundational propositions that make it distinct from Islam or Judaism, etc.

A philosopher, then, can legitimately employ his religious beliefs while doing philosophy if and only if he can provide and defend arguments that show these beliefs are relevant to the subject at hand, because philosophy does not assume Christian truths to be true. So even if it were a matter of fact that the philosopher believed Christianity to be true, that fact alone would be insufficient for him, qua philosopher, to believe in the existence of the soul.

A philosopher, then, can legitimately employ his religious beliefs while doing philosophy if and only if he can provide and defend arguments that show these beliefs are relevant to the subject at hand, because philosophy does not assume Christian truths to be true.

I find this a little hard to understand. Obviously, if Christianity entails propositions about the soul, its relevance to a philosophical question like, "Are there any immaterial entities" is self-evident. Isn't that correct?

Do you perhaps instead mean "if and only if he knows both that these religious beliefs are relevant and that these religious beliefs are justified" or something like that?

But I've already addressed that, at least to some extent. And I'll say a little more here:

First: As a Christian, you need not hold your religious beliefs without justification. There is ample evidence for the truth of Christianity which you have plenty of opportunity for accessing.

Second: The restriction stated above is too strong anyway. Even if some religious belief is not fully justified (if, say, you have some high threshhold level set for justification for "full belief" or something like that), if you have *some good reasons* for believing or suspecting that it is true, then, as a fully rational agent (which as a philosopher you should aim to be), you should take into account the fact that those reasons, insofar as they provide *some support* for the religion, also thereby have positive bearing on the philosophical propositions entailed by that religion.

My preferred view of philosophy is stolen from an observation about another profession. "You don't do philosophy to make money, you do philosophy to justify your life."

I said I had been pulling out one component after another, and I had nearly got, shall we say, to the motherboard.

For someone assuming the existence of the soul, it seems a little out of place to make an analogy to computer wiring and hardware. Besides, Walker Percy made a far better comparison. Rough sketch: he describes the process of discovering scientific or artistic truth as a matter of transcendence and objectifying the world in order to analyze or re-imagine it, therefore the problem is returning to the world that you intentionally alienated yourself from. For artists especially this can cause a hard crash: alcoholism, drug use, or some other powerful escape mechanism that keeps reality at a safe distance.

My preferred view of philosophy is stolen from an observation about another profession. "You don't do philosophy to make money, you do philosophy to justify your life."

step2: Exactly right. Professionalism is a big problem here, which seems to amount to careerism in the sense we use it now.

. . . to be an honest and professional philosopher . . .

I truly believe that Christian philosophers face difficulty knowing what it means to be both Christian and professional in philosophy. The philosophical establishment tells them that religion is unprofessional . . .

Professional rewards go to those . . .

It's little wonder that young philosophers get the impression that they are violating professional norms . . .

Lydia: The above statements seem to me an admission of the problems of professionalism in the sense we mean it today. Professionals have generally given up their independence, at least unless and until they attain tenure, and acting too independent beforehand can jeopardize that. Professionalism hasn't been any better on the teaching of philosophy than it has been on the clergy. There is always a price for giving up your independence.

There are many streams that feed into the river of conformism. At the risk of offending, I cannot refrain from saying that one stream is fear.

As I've hinted, loss of independence is what makes people act (or not act) because of their fears. Fears are magnified by lack of independence. But at a far greater risk of offending, I'll add that another stream is ignorance. The quest to jump through the requisite hoops to attain a professional credential often leads to narrowness that I think they tell themselves they'll rectify after gaining employment, but fewer than we'd like to think actually do after they've joined the rat race and chase the cheese in front of them, while hopefully trying to have a life too. "I don't have time," "that's not my specialty," "that book is too expensive" (and I'm not willing to do what it takes to get it cheap or free,) blah, blah, blah. Hillary Putnam said in an introduction to a book about the differences between analytical and continental philosophy that (for reasons that don't really matter here) few professors go very much beyond or outside of the grooves laid down by their own teachers. I thought that was fairly obvious really. At any rate, the pursuit of knowledge is too important to leave to professors.

I know what you mean, Mark, about independence.

I think, though, that what is happening is a conflation between the positive and legitimate meanings of "professionalism" and a meaning that is little more or other than wimpiness or conformity.

Actually, it's fine to use "professional" as a compliment. I would use it to compliment, for example, an atheist philosophy teacher who didn't ridicule his Christian students. I would also use it for a scholar who wrote well, researched carefully, argued cogently, maintained his dignity and treated others with respect, and held himself to high standards. In general, the positive sense of "professionalism" is opposed to things like sloppiness, self-indulgence, immaturity, and over-personalizing one's work. The latter includes losing one's temper, taking revenge on those who are less powerful than oneself, and injustice.

What's happened is that the Powers that Be, knowing all of these positive connotations that surround the concept of professionalism, want to hijack it for their own agenda. We're seeing the effects of this in all sorts of areas, probably most devastatingly in the helping professions such as medicine and psychology. But I think it may well be coming into philosophy as well, though my guess so far is that in analytic philosophy the greatest problem is that young scholars think they will be considered unprofessional for taking an unpopular stand and hence they don't even try it.

Well, I've gone over the ERD and policy versus-metaphysics thing before. Lydia, you've pointed out the down side, but there are up sides, too - someone who's become a vegetarian for health reasons is easier to persuade about animal rights, etc. Obviously there's a rhetorical place for persuasion in policy and a rhetorical place for conversion in metaphysics, and the two influence each other.

My point about Christianity is that if you bring it into philosophy, then I'd think a Christian philosopher, as philosopher, would always be prepared to reject Christianity. His Christian belief would be provisional, or else he's not doing what we moderns call philosophy. But a Christian philosopher as Christian would not look on his faith as something he might reject at any time, if a better argument comes along. (If someone wants to say that the same holds true of some atheists, go ahead, but I don't think it's that relevant.) That's the contradiction I see, though I'm neither a philosopher nor a Christian, so what do I know.

Lydia,

You wrote: 'Do you perhaps instead mean "if and only if he knows both that these religious beliefs are relevant and that these religious beliefs are justified" or something like that?'

That's close to what I meant. I would maintain that, when wearing one's philosopher's hat, finding oneself with a particular set of beliefs does not automatically make those beliefs relevant to the propositions they entail. (For example, a logically inconsistent set of beliefs entails any proposition, but we obviously don't want inconsistent sets of beliefs to be relevant to every proposition one might believe). All non-foundational propositions introduced in a philosophical context as statements that ought to be believed must be argued for.


I s'pose I was a bit confused when you said that the Averroist brackets out his Christian beliefs--which seems right to me because I think everyone ought to bracket out their beliefs when doing philosophy. I didn't understand why you thought the Averroist couldn't muster evidence for his Christianity. (The whole two truths thing is crazy, and I really hope Averroes didn't believe that.)

It is, in fact, what Averroes is best known for. :-)

I think any Christian can, if he does a bit of looking, muster evidence for his Christianity. If we're talking about going back to foundations and arguing forward, of course one could think about one's belief that Quine )(or some other philosopher) exists or something as well, which is also not foundational. :-) So it's pretty much impossible to write a philosophy article doing the entire problem of the external world over again in order to show your audience that your opponents exist. For that matter, trying to publish at all involves the assumption of the existence of other minds, one's computer, the journal itself, which are fully defensible but not foundational. I'm afraid it's not in the realm of practical politics (and probably not healthy) to be constantly bracketing everything non-foundational. Foundationalists don't think one has to do that, either. It's possible to be a normal, sane human being and to believe that these normal beliefs are entirely defensible while seeing the _structure_ of justification as going back to foundations.

In any event, there's nothing special about religious beliefs. They don't have to be "bracketed" in any special way. And it's a rather urgent thing for the Christian to look into apologetics and find a defense of his faith. Then he'll know for _sure_ he doesn't have to bracket them.

I think that what you call Extreme Rhetorical Diffidence is just good rhetoric. To persuade someone, as opposed to converting him, you want to start out accepting as much of his world-view as you can.

Aaron, in order to have an effective discussion, one with even a chance of progressing toward a commonly agreed conclusion, (even if only a conclusion on part of the subject), you do have to have common ground points. Fortunately, though, you ALREADY hold a number of things in common: you are both human, you both think the other person exists, you both think the other is speaking, and speaking a language that you recognize (even if you hold some terms in different ways), that you both experience sensations, feelings, and thoughts in much the same basic ways. Given all that, you always have some common ground to work with. Many of these common-ground items are, simply, common sense.

(Note: the idiot skeptics who dispute one (or several) of the above points only dispute them in their philosophical and/or scientific theories. They don't dispute them in practice. When a student comes up to a Quine or a Dennett to debate a point, the teacher doesn't simply ignore the student as a mere illusion, nor ignore his speech as mere meaningless sounds, nor pretend that sense experience in him is like shovels hitting rocks in the other: he always ARGUES the issue, which is clearly irrational behavior if HIS sense experience gives no insight whatsoever to what is going on in the other.)

The process of the argument when you find some point in direct dispute, is to elaborate and open up that point to discover the reasons each have by which the point may be supported, and to keep doing so until you work back to one of those common-ground things. But doing so does not imply granting ALL of the opponent's notions that lie separate from the specific point at issue. This is especially the case when the specific point at issue is tied integrally to a whole host of the other issues you disagree with. If a materialist is doing bad metaphysics, bad epistemology, and bad biology, arguing only the biology and accepting his bad metaphysics and epistemology (without, say, forcing him to bracket his beliefs in those areas while you bracket your own) guarantees that the argument will at best only cover over some disputed point without actually settling the point.

The second point to keep in mind is that ALL investigations presume something that is prior to the investigation, but each investigation has its own proper sphere of discovery that requires other fields for support - for us humans there is no definitively FIRST truth in the order of knowing. For example, knowing epistemology requires knowing something about language and grammar. Knowing general things about language and grammar usually requires knowing something of more than one language, so one must study foreign languages. Knowing epistemology also requires knowing something about human nature, which requires some biology, some natural philosophy, and some psychology. None of which can be undertaken without knowing language. But one cannot have a truly well grounded knowledge of natural philosophy without having some good understanding of epistemology. Finally, ALL of this knowledge rests (in part) on some principles of metaphysics, which cannot be studied directly as its own field until one has studied something of logic, of epistemology, of psychology, etc.

While there is indeed an order, and there is a more fundamental knowledge and less fundamental knowledge, the sequence in which we study truth is not the same order. The order of truth itself is not the order in which we come to it. If it were, we would have to know God first, then grasp created being as such, understand angels, then understand physical/spiritual dual being, then understand change and development, then understand language, etc. But of course, no human can begin any of these studies without understanding language.

As a consequence, in discussion it is inevitable that within the framework of the discussion a number of other matters are not directly and immediately in dispute, but may remain matters of discord. It is impossible to debate all issues simultaneously. For a reasonable discussion, then, BOTH sides can legitimately say "we leave off the dispute about Z for a future time so we can focus on X." That's a lot different from the Christian saying "well, even on the assumption that materialism is correct, " in a debate about evolution. And that itself is not nearly as bad as arguing as if materialism were not in dispute without actually saying so - which leaves the opponents materialism without any voiced opposition.

My point about Christianity is that if you bring it into philosophy, then I'd think a Christian philosopher, as philosopher, would always be prepared to reject Christianity. His Christian belief would be provisional, or else he's not doing what we moderns call philosophy.

No, I think that is a very inappropriate way of viewing how we understand investigating truth. To see THAT it is so, imagine the person who is studying logic for the first time, and is told: "well, you must be prepared to jettison logic if you find the evidence points against it." It's irrational. If some putative evidence is considered possibly to show *logically* that there is no such thing as logic, or human reason, then...you have forgotten that you already have a notion of rules of evidence and applications of logic that pre-date your study of the matter, and pre-suppose your attempt to learn further, and is being used to undergird the argument against logic. You don't study logic with the caution "but it might not be true so I have to be prepared to jettison it." You study logic to understand it more fully, and at the very most the only space entertained for not-logic as a conclusion is to study logic as if the basis for it were in doubt. You can no more _actually_ doubt logic's validity than you can debate without using language.

Somewhat similarly, in studying many other matters, you can undertake the study as if the subject were to be considered in doubt, even though you have no doubt. One can readily study sensation, or choice, from an angle that leaves open to question whether these exist, but you don't do so actually holding doubt about them, only holding the issue mentally open to give room for the evidence to show the basis for the truth most fully. It is sufficient for a legitimate study that the issue held as if in doubt. It is not in virtue of it being religion that you proceed with a pre-supposed conclusion. So no more is it in virtue of being a religious truth that you must be prepared to jettison it if you find evidence that suggests opposition.

Admittedly, this "as if" sense of openness to alternative evidence is open to abuse - the investigator may allow himself to affirm the conclusion he expects with only imperfect evidence for the conclusion. But this defect readily shows its ugly head in all sorts of other places than religion: a scientist who hypothesizes a new notion will often come to affirm it very strongly indeed with one or two experiments that support it without proving it, only to find decades later that he was allowing his affinity to his new idea to blind him to OTHER avenues of evidence that would have disproved it immediately. It is not in virtue of the subject matter being a point held religiously, nor even having an inherently pre-supposed conclusion (like logic), that we find this inclination to accept incomplete evidence as providing more than its proper mode of support for the conclusion.

My point about Christianity is that if you bring it into philosophy, then I'd think a Christian philosopher, as philosopher, would always be prepared to reject Christianity. His Christian belief would be provisional, or else he's not doing what we moderns call philosophy. But a Christian philosopher as Christian would not look on his faith as something he might reject at any time, if a better argument comes along. (If someone wants to say that the same holds true of some atheists, go ahead, but I don't think it's that relevant.) That's the contradiction I see, though I'm neither a philosopher nor a Christian, so what do I know.

Well, no, there's nothing about "bringing x into philosophy" that means "being willing to jettison x at any time." Tony's example of logic is a good one in this regard.

How willing you are to jettison anything should depend on how well-supported that thing is. Now, sometimes you might be doing, say, philosophy of religion and discussing a question like, "Is the Judeo-Christian concept of God coherent?" Richard Swinburne has a whole book called The Coherence of Theism. It would have been a very short and very boring book, of course, if Swinburne had said, "I'm a Christian, so I think God does exist, so of course theism is coherent. End of story." Instead, the book consisted of considering objections to the coherence of the Judeo-Christian concept of God, putting forward a concept of God, showing how accusations of incoherence failed, and so forth. Swinburne didn't have to either "be prepared to jettison theism at any moment" nor, on the other hand, to take theism to be true as in the short imaginary book I envisaged above in order to undertake this project. Swinburne has spent a lifetime showing the whole world just how strong he thinks the positive case is for theism, after all.

But there's more: Sometimes you're going to be contemplating an area of philosophy to which your Christianity is relevant but where the area of philosophy isn't otherwise directly _about_ either theism or Christianity. See, e.g., my example above of metaphysics and the proposition, "Some non-material beings exist." Now, _especially_ in your own mind, it's important at that point to realize that, as a Christian with reasons for your Christianity (!), you have reasons to give a particular answer to this question. That doesn't mean at all being prepared to jettison your Christianity at any moment.

I think perhaps you think this, Aaron, because you assume that the philosopher goes around (or should go around) all the time half-expecting some absolutely knock-down argument to pop up, an argument that could overwhelm all evidence to the contrary, for, e.g., materialism. Honestly, I don't see any reason to expect any such thing. All the less so as I know my _own_ mind directly. So do you. :-)

I think, though, that what is happening is a conflation between the positive and legitimate meanings of "professionalism" and a meaning that is little more or other than wimpiness or conformity.

Actually, it's fine to use "professional" as a compliment. . . .

Lydia I can easily agree with you on that restricted sense, though I'm still uncomfortable that the term has travelled so far from it's original meaning. But even more significant to me is how it has been virtually trivialized out of existence. I just can't use it for myself without even more restrictions because it is just too widely and indiscriminately used. I think the way the term "professional" is now used is directly analogous to the word "scientific." To say something is "not scientific" now means that it isn't approved by the cultural authorities one looks to, whoever that is. That is how I see the term "professional." Now, yes I understand the meaning has come to encompassed "seasoned expert," and I don't object to that meaning, but even here the term "amateur" as one who does something out of love of the discipline should be juxtaposed. Often they are the real experts, though unrecognized because uncredentialed in the context of this discussion.

What's happened is that the Powers that Be, knowing all of these positive connotations that surround the concept of professionalism, want to hijack it for their own agenda.

True as I've mentioned, but many get caught up in it innocently and this is the path of cultural pollution. People used to say "don't judge a book by it's cover," and other aphorisms that conveyed the dangers of superficiality and appearance. Now a middle-school teacher may mark a student's paper with question marks for a flaw produced by a laser printer drum. "Hey, what's this line?" Our neighbor kids had this happen to them when I printed out their homework on my printer for them. It was perfectly legible. I felt like going over and throttling him. I turned to a co-worker and said "Can you believe that? My middle-school English teacher always told us clearly it was the content not the appearance she cared about as long as one made an honest effort to make it legible." What did my co-worker say? "Well, it's not professional." Well, there you go. Appearance is all now. I could give you a score of other examples I know of that show that the term is abused in ways that are troubling. We're all professionals now, even the kids.

But look, I think my critique against "professionalism" and careerism as producing narrow scholars and scholarship is the larger and more important one. The most interesting stuff is always going to be multi-disciplinary, and this is the type of thing that the academy no longer encourages. Because the profession of education encourages a rushed specialization as a survival technique while publishing things they know full well no one will ever read. People specialize before they even know enough to know whether they should be specializing in what they've chosen or not. The most interesting work is done in spite of rather than because of the academy by those who are bright enough, popular enough, or otherwise have some advantage that they can use to hold off the encroachments of the academy to do work that the academy does not teach, encourage, or reward. Or obtain tenure in such a political environment and then do the sort of work that amateurs (gasp!) do every day and explore widely according to his own lights and follow the truth wherever it leads. I know there is no real answer to this. Institutions are what they are, but I don't have to like their worst features. I suppose the winds of change we can feel coming will change much of this, and in my opinion it won't be too soon. I have no real dog in the fight either way, because I've never wanted to be a teacher or a student. But I have an interest as a citizen when people are spending more and more time and money doing things with less and less value for reasons they don't understand, and the worst thing is that they think themselves less able to take advantage of opportunities that are increasingly available to the "non-professional," if they could accept that knowledge and wisdom are the goal rather than a credential.

I'll give Swinburne credit for constructing a meta-narrative to find a moral reason for the incarnation, as well as being one of the few to admit that two major arguments for theism are nonsense. On the other hand, he seems to think the time of Jesus was a time of evidence based scholarship compared to the Old Testament accounts.

http://closertotruth.com/participant/Richard-Swinburne/103

But Swinburne isn't a professional. He doesn't have a Phd. :)

I...I think I just witnessed a miracle. Mark made a truly funny wisecrack. Now my naturalist worldview is ruined.

I'll be here all week . . .

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