New and Forthcoming Books (August 2011)

Since books are part of the life-blood of apologists and philosophers, I wanted to highlight a few new and upcoming ones here.  This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but hopefully it will alert you to some new titles you may want to add to your library or wish list.  I’ll try to post similar lists on a regular basis. 

* Evidence and Religious Belief – Edited by Kelly James Clark and Raymond J. VanArragon. Oxford University Press. July 2011.

  • Brand-new work in the hot topic of philosophy of religion
  • Features essays by leading scholars in the field
  • Addresses the crucial question of the role of evidence in religious belief
  • Explores a range of contemporary arguments that push the debate in new directions
  • Will interest theologians as well as philosophers

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* Thomas Aquinas on God and EvilBrian Davies. Oxford University Press.  August 2011.

“Brian Davies offers the first in-depth study of Saint Thomas Aquinas’s thoughts on God and evil, revealing that Aquinas’s thinking about God and evil can be traced through his metaphysical philosophy, his thoughts on God and creation, and his writings about Christian revelation and the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.”

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* Destiny and Deliberation: Essays in Philosophical TheologyJonathan Kvanvig. Oxford University Press. December 2011.

“Jonathan Kvanvig presents a compelling new work in philosophical theology on the universe, creation, and the afterlife. Organized thematically by the endpoints of time, the volume begins by addressing eschatological matters–the doctrines of heaven and hell–and ends with an account of divine deliberation and creation. Kvanvig develops a coherent theistic outlook which reconciles a traditional, high conception of deity, with full providential control over all aspects of creation, with a conception of human beings as free and morally responsible. The resulting position and defense is labeled ‘Philosophical Arminianism,’ and deserves attention in a broad range of religious traditions.”

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain

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“(1882-1973).  The best-known neo-Thomist of the twentieth century.  Having become dissatisfied with secularism and scientism, at the age of 24 Maritain converted to Roman Catholicism and spent the following sixty or so years elaborating a comprehensive philosophical system based on the writings of Thomas Aquinas and his scholastic followers, most especially John of St Thomas (1589-1644).

“His major contributions are to epistemology (The Degrees of Knowledge (1932)), social philosophy (The Person and the Common Good (1947)), and aesthetics (Art and Scholasticism (1920)).  Maritain is a staunch realist in metaphysics and epistemology; he advocates ontological pluralism, claiming that there are various non-reducible levels of existence, e.g., the physical, the biological, the psychological, the social, and the spiritual; and similarly he insists upon the diversity of our ways of knowing reality, emphasizing the role of rational and creative intuition and thereby linking metaphysics and aesthetics.”

— John Haldane in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 522.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Aquinas’ Philosophical Theology

The fifth of Thomas Aquinas' proofs of God's e...

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“In addition to his moral philosophy, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is well-known for his theological writings.   He is arguably the most eminent philosophical theologian ever to have lived.  To this day, it is difficult to find someone whose work rivals Aquinas’ in breadth and influence.  Although his work is not limited to illuminating Christian doctrine, virtually all of what he wrote is shaped by his theology.  Therefore it seems appropriate to consider some of the theological themes and ideas that figure prominently in his thought.

“The volume and depth of Aquinas’ work resists easy synopsis.  Nevertheless, an abridged description of his work may help us appreciate his  philosophical skill in exploring God’s nature and defending Christian teaching.  Although Aquinas does not think that philosophical reasoning can provide an exhaustive account of the divine nature, it is (he insists) both a source of divine truth and an aid in exonerating the intellectual credibility of those doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith.  From this perspective, philosophical reasoning can be (to use a common phrase) a tool in the service of theology.

“An adequate understanding of Aquinas’ philosophical theology requires that we first consider the twofold manner whereby we come to know God:  reason and sacred teaching.  Our discussion of what reason reveals about God will naturally include an account of philosophy’s putative success in demonstrating both God’s existence and certain facts about God’s nature.  Yet because Aquinas also thinks that sacred teaching contains the most comprehensive account of God’s nature, we must also consider his account of faith—the virtue whereby we believe well with respect to what sacred teaching reveals about God.  Finally, we will consider how Aquinas employs philosophical reasoning when explaining and defending two central Christian doctrines:  the Incarnation and the Trinity.” (continue article)

— Shawn Floyd at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Religious Language

The term “religious language” refers to statements or claims made about God or gods. Here is a typical philosophical problem of religious language. If God is infinite, then words used to describe finite creatures might not adequately describe God. For example, is God good in the same sense that Kofi Annan is good? This difficulty challenges us to articulate the degree that attributes used for finite beings can be used for God and what these attributes mean when they describe God. The ambiguity in meaning with respect to the terms predicated of God is the “problem of religious language” or the “problem of naming God.” These predications could include divine attributes, properties, or actions. Since the doctrines of the divine in Eastern religious traditions differ radically from the doctrines of the Abrahamic traditions, the problem of religious language has not been accorded much attention in Eastern philosophy.

The problem of religious language also provides a challenge for philosophers of religion. If there is no adequate solution to the problem of religious language, large discussions in the domain of philosophy of religion will also be rendered unintelligible. For example, philosophers of religion debate the nature of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. These claims about God would be rendered unintelligible if human speech about God is impossible. Thus, the problem of religious language is a philosophical problem that must be solved in order to provide a framework for understanding claims about God in both the house of worship and the academy. (Continue)

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

One helpful way to address this problem is understanding our language about God analogically, as suggested by Thomas Aquinas.

“For Aquinas, God is known by analogy with the creation.  Claims to possess univocal knowledge (terms applying identically) of God are always false according to Aquinas, since our knowledge of God is always limited, finite, and mediated through the natural order.  God may only be seen in the reflection of the creation.  Humans may use words about themselves (e.g., good) and try to apply them to God, but they must not forget the radical differences between themselves and God.  The difference between the goodness of humans and the goodness of God is the difference between the finite and the infinite.  This does not render our knowledge of God null and void.  It merely reminds us that the creature and the Creator are vastly different even if they are also similar in some respects.”

“Thomas Aquinas” in 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology, Kelly James Clark, Richard Lints, and James K. A. Smith (Westminster John Knox, 2004), 7.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Neo-Thomism

A nineteenth- and twentieth-century movement (encouraged by Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris in 1879) that attempts to defend the philosophical and theological doctrines of Thomas Aquinas in a contemporary context. Prominent neo-Thomists include Gilson, Maritain, and Lonergan.

(Via Philosophical Dictionary)

Neo-Thomism is also referred to as Neo-Scholasticism.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Divine Command Theory

Philosophers both past and present have sought to defend theories of ethics that are grounded in a theistic framework. Roughly, Divine Command Theory is the view that morality is somehow dependent upon God, and that moral obligation consists in obedience to God’s commands. Divine Command Theory includes the claim that morality is ultimately based on the commands or character of God, and that the morally right action is the one that God commands or requires.

The specific content of these divine commands varies according to the particular religion and the particular views of the individual divine command theorist, but all versions of the theory hold in common the claim that morality and moral obligations ultimately depend on God.

Divine Command Theory has been and continues to be highly controversial. It has been criticized by numerous philosophers, including Plato, Kai Nielsen, and J. L. Mackie. The theory also has many defenders, both classic and contemporary, such as Thomas Aquinas, Robert Adams, and Philip Quinn. The question of the possible connections between religion and ethics is of interest to moral philosophers as well as philosophers of religion, but it also leads us to consider the role of religion in society as well as the nature of moral deliberation. Given this, the arguments offered for and against Divine Command Theory have both theoretical and practical importance. (Continue)

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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The Best Philosophy Textbooks

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Philosophy professor Jeremy Pierce at Parableman shares his experience with finding the best and least expensive philosophy textbooks, and makes some good recommendations.

I’m always trying to keep my students’ textbook prices down. Here are some of the lower-priced books I’ve found. I’d be glad to hear any other suggestions any other philosophy instructors have found helpful.

For the ancient and medieval historical intro class that I’ve taught a number of times, there have been two books that I’ve liked. I had settled into Julia Annas’ Voices of Ancient Philosophy at one point, since it organized the material by topics (which is arguably better suited for an intro class in some ways than working through the material chronologically, which admittedly does have other advantages), and I love a number of her more idiosyncratic choices of texts. Amazon sells it for $52, though, and I still had to provide some medieval sources. The college bookstore always jacks the price up noticeably above list price, too. I’ve used Penguin’s edition of Augustine’s City of God, and I’ve tried a few different Aquinas anthologies, one from Oxford World Classics and the other from Hackett (Aquinas: A Summary of Philosophy). Along the way, I discovered Nicholas Smith’s (et.al.) Ancient Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary, which contains a pretty large amount of material for only $35.

I should say that the best inexpensive texts for historical sources are from Hackett, Penguin, and Oxford World Classics. The two things I look for are readability (at least in intro courses) and whether they include marginal page numbers and such markers, since some of the texts for ancient and medieval sources don’t, and it’s much harder to find a passage if you don’t have those. I’ve looked at Amazon’s preview function to compare translations for a number of these books. Sometimes one translation is much harder to introductory students to grasp.

For early modern texts, I usually use Jonathan Bennett’s online translations. Those are free, and they’re much more readable than anything you can buy. For an advanced history of philosophy class, I might hesitate to use these, although I’d probably do it for a 300-level survey. I don’t hesitate at all with intro courses.

Other books I’ve used include Greg Ganssle’s Thinking About God, which is an excellent introduction to philosophy of religion. It’s the most readable introductory book I’ve ever seen. It’s fun and funny. But it seriously looks at the issues, and while I don’t agree with Ganssle on every point I think he’s especially fair on some pretty controversial questions. (Continue)

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