Tag Archives: philosophy

From an interview with Michael Ruse on ‘What is it Like to be a Philosopher?’


From Cliff Sosis’s interview with Florida State University philosopher Michael Ruse (born in Britain to a Quaker family) on the blog “What is it Like to be a Philosopher?”

You recently became a citizen, correct? Do you think religious fundamentalism will always have a place in American politics?

Yes, I feel that if I am going to live here and teach students, I should make a commitment. Also by being a US citizen I can criticize without being a hypocrite. In my lifetime yes, I think these things will always be around so long as we are still fighting the Civil War – perhaps as the Hispanic vote and other immigrants get more sizable we shall see a shift – but not in a hurry.

Do you think creationism is ever going to go away? Where do you think the new atheists get things right?

Creationism isn’t going to go away in my lifetime! I don’t think a fondness for pseudoscience or irrational religion will ever go. Well, I think the New Atheists are right that Christianity is false! I think they are wrong to say that all religious believers are charlatans and fools.

You’ve worked a bit with the intelligent design guy, Bill Dembski. How did that come about?

Just meeting him at conferences or when we were on the same platform – if I were a scientist, I would hesitate about collaborating, but I think as a philosopher one ought to be open to debate – that is our job.

What are your political views?

Left wing – socialist but not Marxist – very much in the British Fabian tradition – Mill, the Webbs, that sort of thing. That said, there are days when I have a bit of a libertarian streak. I wish universities would stop being therapy units and get on with teaching and research.

Read the entire interview at what is it like to be a philosopher?

via what is it like to be a philosopher?

Preventing a repeat


FT Magazine has as regular feature entitled “The Shrink & the Sage,” written by therapist Antonia Macaro and philosopher Julian Baggini. A recent topic for their column was, “Should we ‘get over it’?

Here are two excerpts.

reasons to choose differently next time

“A big part of getting over something is learning from past events so that we can act differently in the future.” — Antonia Macaro

The Prosecution looks to the future

“Think, for example, of the friends and relatives of people who have died due to the negligence of others. They may embark on tortuous legal processes, usually with the aim that no one else should have to go through what they did. Sometimes, it might be true that their persistence is indicative of a failure simply to accept that things happen. But often this is a principled move that has real benefits for others. The fact that life might have been easier for all concerned if they had tried to move on quicker is besides the point. Justice needs to be done, more to prevent future tragedies than to try to fix what can’t be mended.” — Julian Baggini

Here’s what three Reformed / Calvinist scholars say about the variety of views within Christianity


If anything gives me a bit of hope for evangelicals and Calvinists and self-identified Reformed folks, it’s this kind of honest, clear-headed assessment from three leading scholars:

…Most of our theories of the world — philosophical, commonsensical, or even scientific — are underdetermined by the evidence that supports them. They are consistent with the facts, but the facts are not so compelling that their competitors can be shown to be logically inconsistent with the facts. When two such theories are in competition, no appeal to evidence, therefore, could determine the winner.

Biblical interpretations and theological statements are underdetermined by the biblical data. Scripture is a mix of history, myth, poetry, moral instruction, praise, hyperbole, prophecy, and so forth. Sorting through this array of genres requires some sort of hermeneutical [interpretive] method. The inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture are of themselves incapable of delivering God’s truth. Without a hermeneutical method, the inerrant or infallible biblical data cannot communicate truth claims…..

Underdetermination may account for the apparent intractability of theological disputes…. Theologians on both sides of these disputes believe their doctrines to be the only adequate explanation of the biblical data. However, if their competitors also adequately account for all of the biblical data, no appeal to the evidence could resolve the dispute.

Those are excerpts from the entry entitled “Underdetermination” in 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology (Westminster John Knox, 2004) by Kelly James Clark and James K.A. Smith of Calvin College (at least at the time of the book’s release) and Richard Lints of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (ditto).

Reading this assessment from top-notch scholars helped me exhale. Of course, I imagine Clark, Smith, and Lints have strongly held points of view, and I don’t think they’re saying all systematic interpretations are equal. Then again, they seem to be saying the available data does not lend itself strictly to one point of view.

I’m especially appreciative of the authors’ definition of “Underdetermination” and, as I’ve noted previously, “Aesthetics.”

God and meaning on Twitter — a snapshot


Zombies take over philosophy departments!


Based on a survey of approximately 1,000 professional philosophers in 99 philosophy departments of North America, Europe, and Australasia:

ZOMBIES

Conceivable but not metaphysically possible: 36 percent

Metaphysically possible: 23 percent

Inconceivable: 16 percent

Other: 25 percent

The “other” is taxing my imagination.

Source: David Chalmers and David Bourget, “What Do Philosophers Believe?,” Philosophical Studies, quoted in The Philosophers’ Magazine, 1st Quarter 2014

‘still frantically concerned…to keep thought separate from the exigencies of the flesh’


quotation by Steven Shaviro from tiredshoes.tumblr.com

from tiredshoes.tumblr.com

Compare what Shaviro says with the information on Pietro Torrigiani’s marble bust “Christ the Savior.” Consider physicality and materiality, and wonder about the default modes of anti-materiality and anti-physicality within Western culture and sub-cultures.

Living well is not a gift from God (but the ability to live well is): Seneca on God & wisdom


I should start with three quick notes on Seneca’s relevance in Christian history because some background will give reasons for considering his writings as relevant to thinking about God.

First, a general assessment of Seneca’s point of view in relation to Christianity:

His [Seneca’s] writings represent Stoicism at its best and have been much studied by Christian apologists for the similarities as well as the contrasts of their moral teaching with the Gospel ethic.  — The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

Second, John Calvin’s interest in Seneca:

In 1532 he [John Calvin] issued a Latin commentary on Seneca’s ‘De Clementia’. — The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

And third, a translator’s note on Seneca’s importance to four Christian thinkers:

While scholars and schoolmasters in the century following continued to condemn Seneca, early Christians were taking to this kindred spirit among pagan writers, so many of who ideas and attitudes they felt able to adopt and share. Anthologies were made of him and he was frequently quoted by such writers as Jerome, Lactantius and Augustine. Tertullian called him saepe noster, ‘often one of us’.  — Robin Campbell, in the introduction to his translation of Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic

Furthermore, as Campbell also notes, Dante frequently quotes Seneca.

So, as I was recently reading Seneca’s Letter XC, I came across something that helped me think about what God does and what God doesn’t do for humans.

In a way, the following passage sounds like an overview of the biblical book of Proverbs.

From Seneca’s Letter XC, as translated by Campbell:

“Who can doubt, my dear Lucilius, that life is the gift of the immortal gods, but that living well is the gift of philosophy? A corollary of this would be the certain conclusion that our debt to philosophy is greater than the debt we owe to the gods (by just so much as a good life is more of a blessing than, simply, life) had it not been for the fact that philosophy itself was something borrowed by the gods. They have given no one the present of a knowledge of philosophy, but everyone the means of acquiring it. For if they had made philosophy a blessing, given to all and sundry, if we were born in a state of moral enlightenment, wisdom would have been deprived of the best thing about her — that she isn’t one of the things which fortune either gives us or doesn’t. As things are, there is about wisdom a nobility and magnificence in the fact that she doesn’t just fall to a person’s lot, that each man owes her to his own efforts, that one doesn’t go to anyone other than oneself to find her. What would have have worth looking up to in philosophy if she were handed out free?

“Philosophy has the single task of discovering the truth about the divine and human worlds. The religious conscience, the sense of duty, justice and all the rest of the close-knit, interdependent ‘company of virtues’, never leave her side. Philosophy has taught men to worship what is divine, to love what is human, telling us that with the gods belong authority, and among human beings fellowship.”

My takeaway:

Life is a gift from God. Living well is a gift of philosophy. Philosophy is also a gift from God, and philosophy has taught us to worship “what is divine.” But living well is not a gift from God. We must engage philosophy to learn how to live well.

The Penguin Classics edition of Letters from a Stoic, selected, introduced, and translated by Robin Campbell

“Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca, translated by Robin Campbell