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 – Moral Character

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Questions about moral character have recently come to occupy a central place in philosophical discussion. Part of the explanation for this development can be traced to the publication in 1958 of G. E. M. Anscombe’s seminal article “Modern Moral Philosophy.” In that paper Anscombe argued that Kantianism and utilitarianism, the two major traditions in western moral philosophy, mistakenly placed the foundation for morality in legalistic notions such as duty and obligation. To do ethics properly, Anscombe argued, one must start with what it is for a human being to flourish or live well. That meant returning to some questions that mattered deeply to the ancient Greek moralists. These questions focused on the nature of “virtue” (or what we might think of as admirable moral character), of how one becomes virtuous (is it taught? does it arise naturally? are we responsible for its development?), and of what relationships and institutions may be necessary to make becoming virtuous possible.

Answers to these ancient questions emerge today in various areas of philosophy, including ethics (especially virtue ethics), feminist ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of education, and philosophy of literature. Interest in virtue and character was also indirectly the result of a more practical turn in political philosophy, inspired by the publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in 1971. In Part III of A Theory of Justice, Rawls provided a picture of how individuals might be brought up in a just state to develop the virtues expected of good citizens. Although his interest was not in moral education per se, his discussion of the nature and development of what he called self-respect stimulated other philosophers to explore the psychological foundations of virtue and the contributions made by friendship, family, community, and meaningful work to good moral character. (continue article)

— Marcia Homiak in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Noumenon

Immanuel Kant

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“(pl. noumena) ‘Thing-in-itself’ contrasted with appearance or phenomenon in the philosophy of Kant.  Noumena are the external source of experience but are not themselves knowable and can only be inferred from experience of phenomena.  Although inaccessible to speculative reason, the noumenal world of God, freedom, and immortality is apprehended through man’s capacity for acting as a moral agent.”

A Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., ed. Antony Flew, 251.

 

“By Kant’s view, humans can make sense out of phenomena in . . . various ways, but can never directly know the noumena, the “things-in-themselves”, the actual objects and dynamics of the natural world. In other words, by Kant’s Critique, our minds may attempt to correlate in useful ways, perhaps even closely accurate ways, with the structure and order of the various aspects of the universe, but cannot know these “things-in-themselves” (noumena) directly. Rather, we must infer the extent to which thoughts correspond with things-in-themselves by our observations of the manifestations of those things that can be sensed, that is, of phenomena.”

— “Noumenon,” Wikipedia.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Transcendental Arguments

Immanuel Kant developed his own version of the...

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Transcendental arguments are partly non-empirical, often anti-skeptical arguments focusing on necessary enabling conditions either of coherent experience or the possession or employment of some kind of knowledge or cognitive ability, where the opponent is not in a position to question the fact of this experience, knowledge, or cognitive ability, and where the revealed preconditions include what the opponent questions.

Such arguments take as a premise some obvious fact about our mental life—such as some aspect of our knowledge, our experience, our beliefs, or our cognitive abilities—and add a claim that some other state of affairs is a necessary condition of the first one. Transcendental arguments most commonly have been deployed against a position denying the knowability of some extra-mental proposition, such as the existence of other minds or a material world. Thus these arguments characteristically center on a claim that, for some extra-mental proposition P, the indisputable truth of some general proposition Q about our mental life requires that P.

Eighteenth Century Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant is usually credited with introducing the systematic use of the transcendental argument. His use of it included arguments aimed at refuting epistemic skepticism, as well as arguments with the more fundamental purpose of showing the legitimacy of the application of certain concepts—in particular those of substance and cause—to experience. Later scholars have developed a variety of general objections to the transcendental argument strategy. In response, some recent and contemporary philosophers have offered updated strategies similar in form to transcendental arguments, but with less controversial premises and/or more modest goals. (continue article)

Adrian Bardon, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Omnibenevolence

Whereas classical Greek religion ascribed to the gods very human foibles, theism from Plato onward has affirmed that God is purely good and could not be the author of anything evil (Republic). . . .

As to our knowledge of divine goodness, Aquinas separates the order of being from the order of knowing: all goodness derives from God but we understand divine goodness by extrapolating from the goodness of creatures. For Aquinas, this requires an analogical (as opposed to an equivocal) relationship between divine and human goodness. For Kant, divine goodness is known as a postulate of pure practical reason: God must be there to reward virtue and punish evil.

The greatest challenge to belief in divine goodness has been the fact that evil exists, or more recently, the amount and type of evil rather than the mere fact of it. The problem is lessened if it is acknowledged that divine goodness does not require that each creature always be made to experience as much happiness as it is capable of experiencing. Reasons may include, for example, that: it is impossible that all creatures collectively experience maximal happiness (e.g., because the maximal happiness of one precludes the maximal happiness of another), or that there is some higher good than the happiness of all creatures (e.g., John Hick’s view that maturity is that higher good, and acquiring it may entail some displeasure), or that some forms of good are manifested only when certain types of evil exist (for example, forgiveness requires wrongdoing . . . ); or because God’s favor is undeserved and not given in response to merit, it cannot be owed and God cannot be faulted for not giving it. (See full article)

— Brian Morley, “Western Concepts of God,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Dialectic

The portrait of G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831); Stee...
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“In ancient Greece, dialectic was a form of reasoning that proceeded by question and answer, used by Plato.  In later antiquity and the Middle Ages, the term was often used to mean simply logic, but Kant applied it to arguments showing that principles of science have contradictory aspects.  Hegel thought that all logic and world history itself followed a dialectical path, in which internal contradictions were transcended, but gave rise to new contradictions that themselves required resolution.  Marx and Engels gave Hegel’s idea of dialectic a material basis; hence dialectical materialism.”

—  Peter Singer, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 198.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Eudaemonism

An approach to ethics (as proposed, for example, by Aristotle or the Stoics) that aims at the achievement of a good life. Classical eudaemonism is concerned with satisfying the objective conditions of happiness {Greek eudaimonia}, rather than with pursuing the subjective experience of pleasure. Kant condemned this approach to human conduct as heteronomous.

Recommended Reading: Aristotle, Kant, and the Stoics: Rethinking Happiness and Duty, ed. by Stephen Engstrom and Jennifer Whiting (Cambridge, 1998) {at Amazon.com}; J. L. Ackrill, Aristotle on Eudaimonia (Oxford, 1972) {at Amazon.com}; and Don Asselin, Human Nature and Eudaimonia in Aristotle (Peter Lang, 1989) {at Amazon.com}.

(Via A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names)

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