Philosophy Word of the Day – Falsifiability

Karl Popper
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A property of any proposition for which it is possible to specify a set of circumstances the occurrence of which would demonstrate that the proposition is false. According to Karl Popper, falsifiability is the crucial feature of scientific hypotheses: beliefs that can never be tested against the empirical evidence are dogmatic.

(Via Philosophical Dictionary)

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Dr. Doug Geivett’s Recommendations for Learning Epistemology

Here’s a fine blog post by Doug Geivett on books he recommends for gaining a good grasp of contemporary epistemology (theory of knowledge).  In his own courses, Dr. Geivett prefers

He explains:

These books complement each other nicely. The book by Robert Audi will require a tutor for most who are new to the subject. It is rich and comprehensive, and, most important, very sensible about the topics it addresses. Better than any other book I know of, this book presents the subject in a natural order that is conducive to proper progress through to thorny issues it addresses.

To anchor a course in epistemology, I’ve found that the books by Feldman and Bon Jour complement each other neatly. They are concise and readable surveys of major topics. Laurence Bon Jour adopts a method of presentation that he explains clearly at the outset. While I think the method he adopts is unfortunate, it does give readers a sense of the rootedness of trends in contemporary epistemology in the influential work of the great 17th-century philosopher René Descartes. Of special value is Bon Jour’s treatment of the contest between foundationalists and coherentists in epistemology. A convert from coherentism to foundationalism, Bon Jour excels in his exposition of this debate; yet he is also realistic about the persistent philosophical challenges raised by foundationalism . . . (continue reading)

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Rationalism

Paris, France
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Reliance on reason {Lat. ratio} as the only reliable source of human knowledge. In the most general application, rationalism offers a naturalistic alternative to appeals to religious accounts of human nature and conduct.

More specifically, rationalism is the epistemological theory that significant knowledge of the world can best be achieved by a priori means; it therefore stands in contrast to empiricism. Prominent rationalists of the modern period include Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz.

(Via Philosophical Dictionary)

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What about Those Four Greek Words for “Love”?

William Mounce sheds some light on the differences in meaning between the four Greek words for love at the Koinonia blog.  For example, about agape:

αγαπαω (αγαπη) [agape] was a colorless word without any great depth of meaning.

Perhaps it is because the word was so colorless that the New Testament writers chose it to express a specifically Christian kind of love, most importantly God’s love for his unlovely creation. All those great talks you have heard about αγαπη [agape] love being an undeserved love for the unlovely really has nothing to do with what the Greek word meant in the Koine. Rather, the word was infused with God’s love and so after the first century carried the biblical nuances of God’s love.

About phileo,

φιλεω [phileo] was the general verb for “love.” It has a wide range of meanings, stretching from hospitality to affection to love, even “to kiss.” It is not necessarily a softened form of love, and is used of God’s love for his Son and our love for God. For example, “the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does” (John 5:20). Paul warns the Corinthians, “If anyone does not love the Lord — a curse be on him” (1 Cor 16:22). Jesus loved Lazarus (John 11:3).

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Four New Books on Calvin

John Calvin
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These spring and summer volumes are releasing just in time to celebrate Calvin’s 500th birthday on July 10.  Publishers Weekly provides these useful summaries.

Although famous for his theology, Calvin’s personal life remains veiled in darkness. Above all, the French-born reformer thought of himself as an instrument of God. Bruce Gordon’s magisterial biography Calvin (Yale Univ., July) sets the theologian in his 16th-century context and portrays Calvin as a prophet and an apostle whose genius lay in his ability to interpret the Bible and express a coherent, penetrating and lucid vision of God’s abiding love.

Calvin was so passionate in his calling to reform the Church and to reveal God’s majesty in the world to individuals that he spent every waking hour writing biblical commentaries, sermons and theological treatises. Plagued in later life by ill health brought on by overwork, he dictated his commentary on Joshua and his letters so that God would not find him idle, even in sickness. Drawing on that body of writings for John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor (Crossway, Apr.), Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Seminary, portrays Calvin as a pastor and spiritual pilgrim who was always finding anew the apostolic Christianity expressed in the Bible.

Biblical scholar and critical theorist Roland Boer provocatively offers up a new view of Calvin, one who has as much in common with Karl Marx as with Karl Barth. In Political Grace: The Revolutionary Theology of John Calvin (Westminster John Knox, July), Boer challenges traditional readings of Calvin as a political conservative by arguing that Calvin let a radical political cat out of the theological bag only to try his hardest to push it back in and tie it up again.

Does Calvin have anything to say to contemporary audiences? Princeton Seminary professor William Stacy Johnson provides a Calvin for our day in his graceful little study guide, John Calvin: Reformer for the 21st Century (Westminster John Knox, June) As Johnson points out in his book, which includes discussion questions, Calvin would want believers today to remain true to the God to whom he was ever seeking to bear witness.

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Top Five Books on Early Evangelicalism

Bruce Hindmarsh shares his list at  He writes,

The past generation has seen tremendous breadth and depth of scholarship on the 18th-century North Atlantic evangelical awakening, from deep in central Europe to the American frontier. There have been many debates about the origin, character, and significance of evangelical religion during this period. Here are some of the books that best introduce the general reader to early evangelicalism. All of these books are a pleasure to read, and all of the authors are experts in their fields.

The first couple include

The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys
Mark A. Noll

A masterful survey of the whole transatlantic movement. Mark Noll has (as usual) taken the best of the secondary literature and summed it up in a readable narrative with a wide perspective.

The Inextinguishable Blaze: Spiritual Renewal and Advance in the Eighteenth Century
A. Skevington Wood

A classic account of the evangelical awakenings of the period that covers the ground in a brilliantly written and lucid narrative.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Empiricism

John Stuart Mill by G F Watts
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Reliance on experience as the source of ideas and knowledge. More specifically, empiricism is the epistemological theory that genuine information about the world must be acquired by a posteriori means, so that nothing can be thought without first being sensed.

Prominent modern empiricists include Bacon, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Mill. In the twentieth century, empiricism principles were extended and applied by the pragmatists and the logical positivists.

(Via Philosophical Dictionary)

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Deconstruction

Jacques Derrida
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Interpretive method that denies the priority or privilege of any single reading of a text (even if guided by the intentions of its author) and tries to show that the text is incoherent because its own key terms can be understood only in relation to their suppressed opposites.

Deconstructionists like Derrida seek to uncover the internal conflicts that tend to undermine (or at least to “decenter”) the putative significance of any text. In ordinary language, for example, someone who says, “If I may be perfectly candid for a moment, . . .” thereby betrays a reluctance—at least in the past and, probably, even in the present case—to do so, and this difference points toward a systematic ambiguity in the very notions of honesty and truth.

(Via Philosophical Dictionary)

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What Went Wrong with General Motors – A Short History

GM F platform
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Here’s a nice piece from The Week describing how GM slid from industry dominance to near bankruptcy.  One early success was appealing to every segment of the market.

Chevrolet, said a GM executive, was “for the hoi polloi, Pontiac for the poor but proud, Oldsmobile for the comfortable but discreet, Buick for the striving, and Cadillac for the rich.” GM also produced many of the innovations that would come to define the modern automobile, including power steering and power brakes, independent suspension, and automatic transmission. And significantly, GM was the first auto company to change its cars’ features and styling almost annually—instilling in Americans the habit of replacing their cars every few years. With GM factories turning out cars in virtually every price range, sales soared, and by the 1950s, more than half the vehicles on America’s roads were GM-made.

The unions played a significant role in the eventual downfall.

The unions were slow to moderate their demands in response to competitive challenges. They resisted the closure of unneeded factories and pressured GM to create a “jobs bank” that paid laid-off workers up to 95 percent of their salary and benefits. But you can’t blame the workers for management’s arrogance and complacency. Finance executive Nancy Rottering, who quit in frustration in 1987, said the attitude at headquarters was, “We’re GM. We know everything, we don’t need to change.” Executives were literally walled off from the rest of the company behind the double electronic doors to the 14th floor of GM’s Detroit headquarters. They entered the building through a private basement garage and took their gourmet meals in private dining rooms. They rarely interacted with customers or even their own dealers, who knew firsthand their customers’ likes and dislikes.

The entire story is interesting, and unfortunate.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Counterfactual

A conditional statement whose antecedent [see below] is known (or, at least, believed) to be contrary to fact. Thus, for example, “If George W. Bush had been born in Idaho, then he would never have become President.”

Unlike material implications [see below], counterfactuals are not made true by the falsity of their antecedents. Although they are not truth-functional [see below] statements, counterfactuals may be significant for the analysis of scientific hypotheses.

[antecedent - The element that states the prior condition in any conditional statement. For example, "It doesn't rain" is the antecedent in both

"If it doesn't rain, then we'll have a picnic." and

"It will reach ninety degrees today if it doesn't rain."

In a true material implication, the truth of its antecedent is incompatible with the falsity of its consequent.]

[material implication - The logical relationship between any two propositions such that either the first is false or the second is true. See implication.]

[truth functional - A compound statement or connective is truth-functional if its truth or meaning is wholly determined by the possible combinations of truth-value of its component statements.]

(Via Philosophical Dictionary)