Philosophy Word of the Day — Oxford Philosophy

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“A label frequently used for a kind of analytical philosophy with a distinctively linguistic orientation, which from the mid-twentieth century set the tone for much academic philosophy internationally.  Among its leading exponents were Gilbert Ryle, P. F. Strawson, J. L. Austin and H. P. Grice.

“It is entirely different from and has only the name in common with the so-called Oxford Movement in the nineteenth century, and with the Oxford Group of the 1930s, led by Frank Buchman and later renamed Moral Re-Armament.”

The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy, 446.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Belief

“Contemporary analytic philosophers of mind generally use the term “belief” to refer to the attitude we have, roughly, whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true. To believe something, in this sense, needn’t involve actively reflecting on it: Of the vast number of things ordinary adults believe, only a few can be at the fore of the mind at any single time.

“Nor does the term “belief”, in standard philosophical usage, imply any uncertainty or any extended reflection about the matter in question (as it sometimes does in ordinary English usage). Many of the things we believe, in the relevant sense, are quite mundane: that we have heads, that it’s the 21st century, that a coffee mug is on the desk.

“Forming beliefs is thus one of the most basic and important features of the mind, and the concept of belief plays a crucial role in both philosophy of mind and epistemology. The “mind-body problem”, for example, so central to philosophy of mind, is in part the question of whether and how a purely physical organism can have beliefs. Much of epistemology revolves around questions about when and how our beliefs are justified or qualify as knowledge.” (continue article)

— Eric Schwizgebel in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Book Review – Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal

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  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (July 30, 2009)
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  • Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal by philosophers Keith Yandell and Harold Netland, is an important contribution to Christian-Buddhist dialogue. Along with a concise but thorough overview of the history and beliefs of Buddhism, it provides an analysis and criticism of Buddhist doctrines from the perspective of Western analytic philosophy. Yet the authors’ tone is irenic, and their sensitivity to the cultural and ethnic aspects of Buddhism also contributes to the success of the book.

    The authors spend the first three chapters tracing the historical development of Buddhism from India to China, Japan, and the West. The explanation of the doctrinal development/transformation from Theravada Buddhism to Mahayana Buddhism is insightful and helps the reader to not only understand the core teachings of the Buddha (The Four Noble Truths, impermanence, no-self, Nirvana, etc.), but also to grasp the adaptive nature of the religion. The authors demonstrate familiarity with a wide array of sources related to these topics. In charting the historical development of Buddhism, Yandell and Netland highlight the social and culture environments of the times that helped shaped Buddhism’s developments. This is particularly true in chapter 3 in regard to the Japanese effort to carry the dharma (Buddhist teaching) to the West. This chapter provides opportunities for readers to understand the Japanese mind, partly by explaining the close relationship between Japanese Buddhism and nationalism.

    In chapters 4 and 5, the authors provide metaphysical analysis and criticism of the core doctrines of Buddhism. These two chapters (especially chapter 4) may prove challenging to readers who do not have a background in metaphysics. Nonetheless, the basic idea of each argument is clearly stated. What was most intriguing to me in these chapters is their analysis and criticism of impermanence, no-self, and dependent co-origination. Buddhism believes that “nothing . . . can exist independently. Any [existing] thing exists in mutual dependence on other things that . . . are essenceless” (121). In other words, there is no independent nature or essence. In addition, there is no enduring self, including souls and minds. For Buddhists, there is no concept of self, but simply “a collection of momentary states” (120). Naturally, such metaphysical claims raise questions for Christians who believe in enduring souls, minds, and selves.

    In chapter six, the authors examine Buddhist teachings in the light of specifically Christian belief. Although there are some similarities between Christianity and Buddhism, “the basic differences between the two visions of reality and how we are to live” are un-reconcilable. For example, Christianity affirms theism, while Buddhism rejects it, and the Christian concepts of sin and final judgment are absent from Buddhist teaching. Further, for Buddhism, “the core religious disease is the occurrence of unsatisfactory states in collections” (180), while for Christianity it is our sin. The cure for the disease in Buddhism is enlightenment—detachment from anything in the world—but for Christianity, it is repentance. Thus, the authors conclude, “The Buddha or the Christ? The dharma or the gospel? These are not simply variations on a common theme, or different ways of expressing the same spiritual insight. The choice here is between two radically different perspectives on reality, on the nature of the human predicament, and the way to overcome it” (212).

    Having been raised in a Buddhist culture, I found this book to be enlightening and challenging. I grew in my understanding of Buddhist beliefs, and also recognized interesting parallels between Buddhism and Christianity, which I believe reflect God’s common grace. Yandell and Netland’s skillful introduction to and analysis of Buddhism will not disappoint anyone who seeks a critical but fair Christian engagement with this influential religion.

    – Reviewed by Naomi Noguchi Reese

    * Kind thanks to Adrianna at InterVarsity Press for this review copy.

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    Philosophy Word of the Day – The Analytic/Synthetic Distinction

    “Analytic” sentences, such as “Ophthalmologists are doctors,” are those whose truth seems to be knowable by knowing the meanings of the constituent words alone, unlike the more usual “synthetic” ones, such as “Ophthalmologists are ill-humored,” whose truth is knowable by both knowing the meaning of the words and something about the world.

    Beginning with Frege, many philosophers hoped to show that knowledge of logic and mathematics and other apparently a priori domains, such as much of philosophy and the foundations of science, could be shown to be analytic by careful “conceptual analysis.” This project encountered a number of problems that have seemed so intractable as to lead some philosophers, particularly Quine, to doubt the reality of the distinction. There have been a number of interesting reactions to this scepticism, both in philosophy and in linguistics, but it has yet to be shown that the distinction will ever be able to ground the a priori in the way that philosophers had hoped.

    (Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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    Philosophy Word of the Day – Analytic Philosophy

    Ludwig Wittgenstein
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    The school of analytic philosophy has dominated academic philosophy in various regions, most notably Great Britain and the United States, since the early twentieth century. It originated around the turn of the twentieth century as G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell broke away from what was then the dominant school in the British universities, Absolute Idealism. Many would also include Gottlob Frege as a founder of analytic philosophy in the late 19th century, and this controversial issue is discussed in section 2c. When Moore and Russell articulated their alternative to Idealism, they used a linguistic idiom, frequently basing their arguments on the “meanings” of terms and propositions. Additionally, Russell believed that the grammar of natural language often is philosophically misleading, and that the way to dispel the illusion is to re-express propositions in the ideal formal language of symbolic logic, thereby revealing their true logical form. Because of this emphasis on language, analytic philosophy was widely, though perhaps mistakenly, taken to involve a turn toward language as the subject matter of philosophy, and it was taken to involve an accompanying methodological turn toward linguistic analysis. Thus, on the traditional view, analytic philosophy was born in this linguistic turn. The linguistic conception of philosophy was rightly seen as novel in the history of philosophy. For this reason analytic philosophy is reputed to have originated in a philosophical revolution on the grand scale—not merely in a revolt against British Idealism, but against traditional philosophy on the whole.

    Analytic philosophy underwent several internal micro-revolutions that divide its history into five phases. The first phase runs approximately from 1900 to1910. It is characterized by the quasi-Platonic form of realism initially endorsed by Moore and Russell as an alternative to Idealism. Their realism was expressed and defended in the idiom of “propositions” and “meanings,” so it was taken to involve a turn toward language. But its other significant feature is its turn away from the method of doing philosophy by proposing grand systems or broad syntheses and its turn toward the method of offering narrowly focused discussions that probe a specific, isolated issue with precision and attention to detail. By 1910, both Moore and Russell had abandoned their propositional realism—Moore in favor of a realistic philosophy of common sense, Russell in favor of a view he developed with Ludwig Wittgenstein called logical atomism. The turn to logical atomism and to ideal-language analysis characterizes the second phase of analytic philosophy, approximately 1910-1930. The third phase, approximately 1930-1945, is characterized by the rise of logical positivism, a view developed by the members of the Vienna Circle and popularized by the British philosopher A. J. Ayer. The fourth phase, approximately 1945-1965, is characterized by the turn to ordinary-language analysis, developed in various ways by the Cambridge philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and John Wisdom, and the Oxford philosophers Gilbert Ryle, John Austin, Peter Strawson, and Paul Grice. (Continue reading article)

    (Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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