The Missing Links – Sept. 9, 2011

Peter Adamson, Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King’s College London, takes listeners through the history of Western philosophy, “without any gaps.” Beginning with the earliest ancient thinkers, the series will look at the ideas and lives of the major philosophers (eventually covering in detail such giants as Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna, Aquinas, Descartes, and Kant) as well as the lesser-known figures of the tradition.

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The purpose of this site is to set [the] contemporary ‘God Wars’ in their historical context, and to offer a range of perspectives (from all sides) on the chief issues raised by the ‘new atheists’. We hope this will encourage more informed opinion about the issues, discourage oversimplification of the debate, and deepen the interest in the subject.

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Edgar Andrews answers this question in an article written for the Christian Apologetics Alliance.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – First Philosophy

René Descartes (1596-1650)

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“In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the study of being qua [as] being, including the study of theology (as understood by him), since the divine is being par excellence. Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy was concerned chiefly with the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the nature of matter and of the mind.”

— Panayot Butchvarov in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 311.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Foundationalism

Epistemic foundationalism is a view about the proper architecture of one’s knowledge or justified beliefs.  Some beliefs are known or justifiedly believed only because some other beliefs are known or justifiedly believed.  The claim that one has heart disease is known only if some other beliefs are known—for example, that doctors have reported this and that the doctors are reliable.

This dependence among our beliefs naturally raises the question about the proper epistemic structure for our beliefs.  Should all beliefs be supported by other beliefs?  Are some beliefs rightly believed apart from receiving support from other beliefs?  What is the nature of the proper support between beliefs?  Epistemic foundationalism is one view about how to answer these questions.  Foundationalists maintain that some beliefs are properly basic and that the rest of one’s beliefs inherit their epistemic status (knowledge or justification) in virtue of receiving proper support from the basic beliefs.  Foundationalists have two main projects: a theory of proper basicality (that is, a theory of noninferential justification) and a theory of appropriate support (that is, a theory of inferential justification).

Foundationalism has a long history.  Aristotle in the Posterior Analytics argues for foundationalism on the basis of the regress argument.  Aristotle assumes that the alternatives to foundationalism must either endorse circular reasoning or land in an infinite regress of reasons.  Because neither of these views is plausible, foundationalism comes out as the clear winner in an argument by elimination.  Arguably, the most well known foundationalist is Descartes, who takes as the foundation the allegedly indubitable knowledge of his own existence and the content of his ideas.  Every other justified belief must be grounded ultimately in this knowledge.

. . . [Debates over foundationalism] touched off a burst of activity on foundationalism in the late 1970s to early 1980s.  One of the significant developments from this period is the formulation and defense of reformed epistemology, a foundationalist view that took as the foundations beliefs such as there is a God (see Plantinga (1983)). While the debate over foundationalism has abated in recent decades, new work has picked up on neglected topics about the architecture of knowledge and justification. (Continue article)

— Ted Poston, “Foundationalism,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

* Hyperlinks are mine

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Omnipotence

“Omnipotence is maximal power.  Some philosophers, notably Descartes, have thought that omnipotence requires the ability to do absolutely anything, including the logically impossible.  Most classical theists, however, understood omnipotence as involving vast powers, while nevertheless being subject to a range of limitations of ability, including the inability to do what is logically impossible, the inability to change the past or to do things incompatible with what has happened, and the inability to do things that cannot be done by a being who has other divine attributes, e.g., to sin or to lie.”

— Edward R. Wierenga, “Divine Attributes,” The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., 240.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Accident

“A feature or property of a substance (e.g., an organism or artifact) without which the substance could still exist.  According to a common essentialist view of persons, Socrates’ size, color, and integrity are among his accidents, while his humanity is not.  For Descartes, thinking is the essence of the soul, while any particular thought a soul entertains is an accident.  According to a common theology, God has no accidents, since all truths about him flow by necessity of his nature. . . . Issues about accidents have become peripheral in this century because of the decline of traditional concerns about substance.  But the more general questions about necessity and contingency are very much alive.”

– Steven J. Wagner, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., 5.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Cartesian Skepticism

Any of a class of skeptical views against empirical knowledge based on the claim that claims to empirical knowledge are defeated by the possibility that we might be deceived insofar as we might be, for example, dreaming, hallucinating, deceived by demons, or brains in vats.

(Via Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind)

Parableman has a nice post on Cartesian Skepticism here.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Incorrigible

Directly and conclusively verified, not subject to any further tests.  A class of so-called basic statements or propositions that are descriptive of present contents of experience (for example, “I have a headache”) are generally regarded as incorrigible in so far as they express nothing about which one could be uncertain or mistaken.

Such statements may, however, be false, even when the claim is sincere, not because experience itself can be in any way fallible but because it might be misidentified or incorrectly formulated in words.

(from A Dictionary of Philosophy, Rev. 2nd ed., ed. Antony Flew, 166-167)

Another common example of an incorrigible belief is Descartes’s “cogito ergo sum”: I think, therefore I am.

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