PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION
“I remember well how during my study of philosophy as an undergraduate one of my teachers wrote the following words (or their like) on the margin of an essay in which I had criticized a certain accepted theory: ‘Every theory has its difficulties, but you have not considered whether any other theory has less difficulties than the one you have criticized.’ And I remember that the further reflection set up in my mind by that simple remark was, in that particular instance, enough to lead me back to the received doctrine. I am happy to count among my own friends a rather remarkable number of men of high intellectual distinction who have returned to the full Christian outlook after years of defection from it, and I should say that in practically every case the renewed hospitality of their minds to Christian truth came about through their awakening to the essential untenability of the alternative positions, which they had been previously attempting to occupy.”
Naiveté ®® Reflection ®® Post-Critical Naiveté
The ontological arguments are a priori (prior to, or independent of, experience) and purport to demonstrate that given our concept of God, it follows that he actually exists.
Anselm (1033-1109) was the first to propose such arguments. Aquinas (ca. 1250) rejected the argument and it fell out of general use until Descartes reformulated it in the seventeenth century. Kant articulated what many consider to be a devastating critique of the argument. Recently, the argument has enjoyed somewhat of a comeback.
Charles Hartshorne (1941) and Norman Malcolm (1960) detected two distinct ontological arguments in Anselm, one of which is not subject to Kant’s critique. Contemporary philosophers including Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff have contributed to the rehabilitation of the ontological arguments.
1. God is that which nothing greater can be conceived.
Generally accepted definition of “God”
2. The concept ‘God’ exists in the understanding.
Because we understand the definition of ‘God.’
3. If God exists only in the understanding then sometime greater than God can be conceived, i.e., an actually-existing God.
The degrees of perfection assumption—existence is a property, like any other property, that can be maximized to perfection.
4. Suppose God exists only in the understanding and not also in reality.
Hypothesis. (This sets up a reductio ad absurdum.)
5. Then something greater than God can be conceived, i.e., an actually-existing God.
Entailment from 3. and 4.
6. Therefore, something greater than that than which nothing greater can be conceived, can be conceived.
From 1. and 5.—substituting the definition of God for the term ‘God’.
7. It must be false that God exists only in the understanding and not also in reality.
Since 6. is a contradiction, the hypothesis in 4. is false—it is reduced to an absurdity.
Immanuel Kant provided an important critique of this argument. In his view, to say that x exists is not to ascribe a property to x but merely to denote or point out an instance of x. Existence doesn’t “fill out” x in any way. To say that God exists is simply to say that “the concept of God applies” to this particular being.
If Kant is correct (and many philosophers think so), existence is not like other properties, (e.g., goodness, beauty), which can be maximized since it adds nothing to the concept or reality of God.
There is, however, a second ontological argument in Anselm:
“For something can be thought to exist that cannot be even thought not to exist, and this is greater than that which can be thought not to exist. Hence, if that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought can be thought not to exist, then that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought is not the same as that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought, which is absurd. Something-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought exists so truly then, that it cannot be even thought not to exist.”
1. God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.
Generally accepted definition of ‘God’.
2. It is possible to conceive of a being who exists necessarily—that is, who exists in all possible worlds.
Any coherent conceptualization is possible.
3. A being who exists necessarily is superior to a being who does not exist necessarily.
Necessary existence is a maximal excellence; it is superior to contingent existence.
4. That which nothing greater can be conceived must exist necessarily.
Entailed by 3.
5. God exists necessarily.
Substitute ‘God’ for his definition in 1.
6. God exists.
Entailed by 5.
This version of the argument does not assume that existence is a property that can be maximized. Rather, it assumes that necessary existence is superior to contingent existence.
These ontological arguments elaborate what is arguably the most radical form of monotheism. God is thought of not merely as a superior being but as the most superior being conceivable.
Cosmological arguments aim “to prove the existence of God from premises asserting some highly general facts about the world.”
Typically these arguments move from various types of contingency in the world to an explanation of those contingencies. And since an infinite series of causal contingencies cannot explain the existence of anything, a universe of contingent objects leads inevitably to the noncontingent.
“It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is moved is moved by another. . . . If that by which it is moved be itself moved, then this also must needs be moved by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover, seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are moved by the first mover. . . . Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.”
Even if this argument were successful it would not prove the existence of the Christian God, but only a causal power that is somewhat greater than the cosmos. Further, it does not prove a single first cause. Perhaps there is a plurality of first causes? Further, this argument does not establish the current existence of the first cause.
“In the world of sensible things we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or one only. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate, cause.”
Contemporary Thomists distinguish between causes in fieri (originating) and causes in esse (sustaining). It is the latter that Aquinas has in mind in this argument.
What series of causes enables you to read the words on this page?
Aquinas’s argument goes something like the following: efficient causes and their effects are simultaneous—not sequential. All efficient causes are the “right now” effect of yet another “right now” cause or causes.
Imagine a machine with a large assortment of interlocking gears. Gear A drives gear B which in turn drives gear C and so on. Each gear is simultaneously acted upon and acts upon other gears. The entire series relies on a power source for its ability to act. In order for there to be any motion in the final gear, there must be concurrent motion in the initiating gear.
This hierarchical order of efficient causes must be distinguished from a causal series stretching back through time. The fact that this causal hierarchy produces any remote effect rests on the efficiency of an ongoing act of agency. Aquinas takes this to be God.
The argument from simultaneous causation seems to imply that all intermediary causes are passive—they merely transmit God’s efficient causation into the world. In other places, Aquinas denies that human agents are merely passive.
This account of simultaneous causal action relies on Aristotle’s view that motion is an unnatural state. Motive agency must be continuously applied in order for motion to persist. The modern principle of inertia, however, suggests that moving bodies stay in motion unless acted upon; in other words both motion and rest are self-sustaining states.
Also, this argument cannot prove the existence of the Christian God in all of his fullness. The “first mover seems much more general and more limited than the God described in the Bible.”
“Somehow what goes on in the experience of leading the Christian life provides some ground for Christian belief, makes some contribution to the rationality of Christian belief.”
Most mystical experience tends to be in harmony with existing views, whether theistic, monistic or naturalistic. Mystical experiences are notoriously confirmatory.
“What I wish to show is only that there is a clear causal connection between the religious and social structure one brings to experience and the nature of one’s actual religious experience.”
Steven Katz et al. argue that all experience, including mystical experience, is conditioned. Beliefs shape experience just as experience shapes beliefs. There is an irremovable socialization which conditions all experience.
Stace claims that there is a core essence to all (real) mystical experience, namely, “the apprehension of an ultimate nonsensuous unity in all things.” This appears to be a stipulative definition designed to privilege one type of experience over others.
Rudolph Otto in The Idea of the Holy, argues that mystical experiences are actually of two types: (1) numinous experiences—a sense of distance or otherness. cf. Isaiah 6; and (2) mystical experiences—a sense of union or merging. R. C. Zaehner argues that there are two “distinct and mutually opposed types of mysticism—the monistic and the theistic.”
Stace claims that the terminological similarities in the reports of mystics prove that a common experience underlies them. Katz argues, in reply, that common descriptors such as joy, bliss, unity, etc. derive their meaning from their respective linguistic contexts and thus do not guarantee a similar underlying experience.
It is often claimed by theistic mystics that God is beyond our knowing and thus it is no surprise that experiences of Him cannot be adequately understood or communicated. In a strict sense the claim that God is incomprehensible is likely meaningless. God’s “incomprehensibility” should be understood, not as the claim that God is utterly unknowable, but that “he is not totally comprehensible.”
“[32%] of the 74 subjects in Ditman and Hayman’s study reported, looking back on their LSD experience, that it looked as if it had been ‘very much’ or ‘quite a bit’ a religious experience; 42 per cent checked as true the statement that they ‘were left with a greater awareness of God, or a higher power, or ultimate reality.”
“[T]hose subjects who received psilocybin experienced phenomena which were indistinguishable from, if not identical with . . . the categories defined by our typology of mysticism.”
In recent years several influential philosophers have argued that beliefs about God derived from experiences of God are comparable to beliefs about the world derived from perceptual experiences. If a justifiable belief about God arises from contact with God, then we have reason to believe in the object of that experience, namely, God.
John Baillie makes an argument of this sort.
If I have a direct experience of X, then X exists.
I have a direct experience of God.
Therefore, God exists.
(1) When subjects have an experience they take to be X, it is rational to conclude that they really do experience X unless we have positive reasons to think their experience delusive.
(2) Experiences occur which seem to their subjects to be of God.
(3) There are no good reasons for thinking that all experiences that seem to their subjects to be of God are delusive.
(4) Therefore, it is rational to believe that at least some experiences that seem to their subjects to be of God really are experiences of God.
(5) Therefore, it is rational to believe that God exists.
Rowe suggests that premise (1) is the crucial (and controversial) premise. It is not unique to arguments about religious experience since it plays an important role in arguments for the veracity of sense experience. To make it too stringent would not only rule out all beliefs derived from religious experience but many or most beliefs derived from sensory sources as well. This premise has come to be known as the principle of credulity.
“The practical postulate which we go upon everywhere else is to treat cognitive claims as veridical unless there be some positive reason to think them delusive. This, after all, is our only guarantee for believing that ordinary sense-perception is veridical. We cannot prove that what people agree in perceiving really exists independently of them; but we do always assume that ordinary waking sense-perception is veridical unless we can produce some positive ground for thinking that it is delusive in any given case. I think it would be inconsistent to treat the experiences of religious mystics on different principles. So far as they agree they should be provisionally accepted as veridical unless there be some positive ground for thinking that they are not.”
The principle of credulity shifts the burden of proof to those who wish to deny the veracity or cognitive status of beliefs derived from religious experiences. Due to the substantial parallels between religious perception and sense perception, a double standard seems arbitrary.
William Rowe, who wishes to deny the cognitive status of religious belief, faces a dilemma. He cannot just discard the principle of credulity since that would entail a general scepticism regarding all knowledge derived from all types of experience. On the other hand, he cannot just arbitrarily rule out religious experience by fiat. He needs a revised (and broadly justified) principle of credulity.
In his view, the revised principle of credulity requires that all cognitively-significant experiences be subject to “checking procedures.”
“Now, in the case of sense-perception there are several tests which we can use to tell whether a perception is delusive or not. We can check one sense by another, e.g., sight by touch. We can appeal to the testimony of others and find out whether they see anything that corresponds to what we see. Finally, we can make inferences from what we think we perceive, and find whether they are verified. We can say: ‘If there are really rats running about my bed my dog will be excited, bread and cheese will disappear, and so on.’ And then we can see whether anything of the kind happens.”
The lack of suitable testing procedures for religious perceptions, according to Rowe, disqualifies them as sources of knowledge.
“In some particular circumstance I may have doubt about some putative [supposed] experience, perhaps my apparent seeing of a piece of blue paper. In that case I might resort to photography or to the testimony of friends to resolve my uncertainty. This procedure does not enable me, however, to substitute a ‘checked’ experience for the unchecked variety. It enables me, rather, to substitute one unchecked experience for another. If I do not rely upon my vision of the paper, I do rely upon my vision of the photo, or upon my sense of touch, or upon the accuracy of my hearing when I listen to my friends’ report. I can, perhaps, seek a check for any of these that I wish but to look for a check for all of them is self-stultifying. If I cannot rely upon some unchecked experience of my own, I just cannot get anything out of experience and I must give up the empirical route to knowledge.”
The problem with all checking procedures is that they cannot be shown to be non-circularly reliable. All empirical checking procedures assume the veracity of some (unchecked) empirical “knowledge”.
Peter Losin argues that the theist is therefore entitled to make a similar assumption in her evaluation of her religious beliefs.
“I am suggesting it is open to the theist to claim that the kind of reasoning we typically engage in checking particular sensory experiences can perform a similar function in cases of experience of God. We can assume, if only provisionally, ‘for the sake of argument,’ that some experience of God or other is probably veridical; on this basis other experiences of God can be identified and dismissed as non-veridical.”
“With respect to corroborating experience of other sorts, by other people, the status of religious experience is fundamentally similar to, not different from, that of other types of experience.”
There are, pace Rowe, testing procedures within the Christian community which appraise the veracity of a given experience and the resultant beliefs which issue from it—e.g., normative theology, the experiences of credible believers, the past tendencies of the subject herself, or the effect of the experience on the recipient and others.
As noted previously, attempts to produce a noncircular justification of sense perceptions fail. In the wake of this failure, however, Bill Alston argues that it is still rational to adhere to the practice of accepting beliefs derived from sense perception, if the practice is socially established, free from massive internal and external contradictions, and it demonstrates a significant degree of self-support.
Christian practice has an equally strong claim to justifiable status as does sense perception. It too cannot be shown non-circularly to be reliable; it is a socially established practice; it possesses an overrider system [it can override claims made by certain individuals]; there are no compelling reasons to believe that it is unreliable, and it has a significant degree of self-support.
Regarding the differences between beliefs which arise from sense perception and religious perception: Why should we suppose that the sorts of procedures required to put us in touch with physical reality should be identical to those required to put us in touch with God?
Why should the procedures of Christian practice be identical with those of our perceptual practice? We do not generally accept this cross-practice extrapolation. For instance, introspective reports (e.g., “I am excited now”) cannot be tested by procedures designed to verify sense-perceptual states such as whether others experience the same thing under the same conditions.
· We should not expect manifest regularities in our contact with God since God’s will determines their occurrence.
· We should not expect verification by all interested, but unqualified, parties.
· We should expect great variability in the beliefs derived from religious experience if the Object is only “barely” within our cognitive powers.
“In short, there is no reason to believe that genuine experiences of God will be supported by the experience of others in the way in which veridical sense experiences are supported by the experiences of others, or that veridical experiences of God will provide data which can be used to predict the future. The fact that mystical experiences are not supported by the agreement of others in the way in which veridical sense experiences are supported by the agreement of others, and that they afford no glimpse of the future, is therefore not decisive.”
“The general point is this. The nature of an object should (at least partly) determine the tests for its presence. Given the nature of physical objects it is reasonable to suppose that genuine experiences of those objects can be confirmed by employing appropriate procedures and obtaining similar experiences, and that non-genuine experiences can be disconfirmed by employing the same procedures and obtaining different experiences. God’s nature, on the other hand, is radically different from the nature of physical objects. It is therefore not clearly reasonable to suppose that (apparent) experiences of God can be confirmed or disconfirmed in the same fashion.”
In sum, Alston and Wainwright conclude that certain experiences do constitute veridical perceptions from which justifiable beliefs about God arise. Therefore God exists.
“If there be a God, from whence proceed so many evils?”
“Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”
Three problems of evil: (1) evil is logically inconsistent with God’s attributes; (2) God’s existence is improbable with respect to the evidence; (3) can God’s goodness be affirmed in the midst of personal suffering?
Borrowing from Plotinus, Augustine held that evil is a privation (lack) of good. Only good has substantive (real) existence—evil is parasitic. Evil corrupts, subtracts from the prior goodness of God’s creation.
Evil originated in the free will of creatures—angels and men— and is the result of turning from the highest good to something lesser. Since human wills are free, a full account of particular evils is impossible.
Certain virtues presuppose the existence of evil, (e.g., truthfulness). If there weren’t evils, some virtues would not exist. It is logically necessary for certain types of evil to exist if these virtues are to exist.
Mackie claims that there is a contradiction between these theistic beliefs:
(1) God is omnipotent [omnipotence = no limits to what can be done]
(2) God is wholly good [a good thing eliminates evil as far as possible]
(3) Evil exists
According to Mackie, the contradiction that issues from (1), (2), (3) can only be eliminated by denying one or more of them, which a theist will be loathe to do.
(4) God exists
(5) God is omnipotent
(6) God is omniscient
(7) God is omnibenevolent
(8) God created the world, and
(9) The world contains evil
Alvin Plantinga asks, “Where is the formal contradiction in the theistic set?” (Contradiction = def: a is both b and non-b at the same time and in the same respect) In order for there to be an explicit contradiction a premise must be supplied (and be generally accepted by theists) which explicitly contradicts one or more of the other premises, such as, “It is not the case that the world contains evil” or “It is not the case that God exists.”
In order to generate a contradiction, Mackie must find additional premises which are believed by theists and which generate a formal contradiction when combined with the theistic set.
Theists have long held that there are things that an omnipotent being cannot do, e.g., the logically impossible. For instance, God cannot make square circles nor can He make necessarily false statements true.
“What the theist typically means when he says that God is omnipotent is not that there are no limits to God’s power, but at most that there are no nonlogical limits to what He can do.“
However, the elimination of some evils sometimes results in greater evils or in the non-existence of a greater good, e.g., amputation to reduce minor leg pain.
To date, no premise has been proffered which generates a formal contradiction within the theistic set and which Christians generally affirm.
Plantinga has offered a defence of free will as a possible reason why God created a world which now contains evil. He argues that it is not possible for God to create significantly free beings and that these beings can be guaranteed not to perform evil actions.
“Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. . . . The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”
“[I]t is possible that God could not have created a universe containing moral good . . . without creating one that also contained moral evil. And if so, then it is possible that God has a good reason for creating a world containing evil.”
Against the claim that God could have created a world of free creatures who never choose to do evil (Mackie) Plantinga argues that there may be a type of “transworld depravity” wherein free beings go freely wrong in all possible worlds. There may be a logically possible world (free will and only good actions) that even God cannot bring about once He determines that humans are to be significantly free.
In recent years several critics of theism have conceded that the logical problem of evil and God’s attributes is solvable. J. L. Mackie stated towards the end of his life that “the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.”
William Rowe, another prominent atheologian, asserts: “Some philosophers have contended that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of the theist God. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim. . . . there is a fairly compelling argument for the view that the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God.”
In recent years the debate over the problem of evil has shifted to the evidential case against the existence of God based on the existence of evil.
Critics of Christian theism now typically argue that even if evil does not explicitly contradict theism it must count as strong evidence against it.
“It seems quite unlikely that all of the instances of intense human and animal suffering occurring daily in our world lead to greater goods, and even more unlikely that if they all do, an omnipotent, omniscient being could not have achieved at least some of those goods without permitting the instances of suffering that lead to them. In the light of our experience and knowledge of the variety and scale of human and animal suffering in our world, the idea that none of these instances of suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without the loss of a greater good seems an extraordinary, absurd idea, quite beyond our belief.”
The theistic response to these evidential arguments against God’s existence has been swift. Generally speaking, the theistic response contends that evidential arguments fail to prove that God could not have a morally justified reason for permitting (that is, failing to act against) evil.
Probabilistic arguments against God’s existence cannot refer solely to instances of evil in the world. They have force only in light of the entire body of relevant information and not a subset, (i.e., evil).
Probabilistic arguments against God’s existence on the basis of evil are highly inferential. Atheistic arguments typically do not, but should, incorporate the evidence for God’s existence into their overall probabilistic determinations.
The existence of evil may count as evidence against theism even though theism is still probable on other, broader grounds.
Most of God’s actions are epistemically inscrutable. The apparent pointlessness of evil is a characteristic of many of God’s dealings with humans, (e.g., his apparently gratuitous love).
“[G]iven our cognitive limitations, our failure to understand a given evil—or a given type, or quantity, of evil—permits no inference for or against the existence of a justifying reason, hence of God.”
“[T]he problem of evil becomes as much a problem of our understanding as a problem about evil.”
The natural law theodicy holds that an orderly creation is a necessary condition for a number of divine objectives. It is reasonable to believe that these objectives require that free moral agents be placed in a universe exhibiting order and predictability. The same natural framework that enables purposive action and planning also enables evil actions. A moral order qua order must produce unpleasant side effects.
Objection: Why doesn’t God intervene every time the natural order is about to produce evil?
This demand is really a request for an entirely different natural order with its own unanticipated natural evils. The destabilizing and patronizing effects of systematic, divine intervention would undercut the moral possibilities of the natural order.
Objection: Why didn’t God create a different natural order with different laws that would have precluded natural evils?
It is not clear that a new natural order would produce as much good as our current order and produce significantly less natural evil.
“[I]n order to demonstrate that some modification of our present natural system would greatly reduce the amount of physical evil we experience, the atheologian must do more that cite isolated contexts in which such modifications would greatly help. He or she must demonstrate that, in the context of the entire world system of which it would be a part, such modification would actually result in a significant increase in the net amount of good in comparison to the actual world.”
e.g., In a new (and allegedly improved) universe, fire would have to do many or most of the positive things that fire does in this world, without its evil consequences, (e.g., burning flesh under specific conditions). Is this even conceivable and, if so, what new evils might be present?
“The soul-making theodicy states that in order for God to produce the virtuous beings with whom he wants to fellowship, these individuals must face challenges that teach them the intrinsic worth of the virtues he possesses perfectly . . . We cannot grow in an environment that is free of risk and danger and disappointment.”
“Men are not to be thought of on the analogy of animal pets, whose life is to be made as agreeable as possible, but rather on the analogy of human children, who are to grow to adulthood in an environment whose primary and overriding purpose is not immediate pleasure but the realizing of the most valuable potentialities of human personality.”
Moral growth presupposes struggle and the real possibility of failure.
“[The doctrine of meticulous providence holds that] events are carefully controlled and manipulated in such a way that no evils are permitted to occur except as they are necessary for the production of a greater good. . . . God determines in each particular case that the good involved in allowing the creature to make that particular choice outweighs the evil that results from the choice that is made.”
Michael Peterson argues that the theist need not be committed to the doctrine of meticulous providence. The atheistic position which ascribes it to theism fails. 
“[T]here may occur specific instances of moral and natural evil for which God has no direct purpose.”
“It is reasonable to believe that the terrifying human potential for evil includes the possibility of some person’s willing and loving evil to the extent that hell becomes the emergent, dominant choice of his whole life. Hell is simply the natural culmination of things which he has voluntarily set in motion. Just as God cannot override a person’s every choice, He cannot contravene the larger, cumulative evil orientation of one’s life. If God is going to allow us to exist as significantly free beings, capable of the highest achievements, then He must allow us the most depraved and senseless errors—even if they lead to Hell.”
All simple impressions are distinct, self-contained units. Taken by themselves, simple ideas are loose and unconnected, providing the imagination with materials for its own synthetic operations. The associative habits of the mind provide the connective tissue between these otherwise “loose” impressions and ideas. “Matters of fact” are not connected by necessary relations but by associations made by the mind.
Hume’s epistemology prevents him from arguing that miracles are impossible since no “matter of fact” can be categorically ruled out. The so-called “laws of nature” are merely descriptions of what has occurred in the past. Scientific generalizations, when applied to the future, rely on our expectations rather than on any intrinsic certainty.
“A law of nature, for Hume, is an observed regularity, postulated by habit or custom. Since, according to him, there are no necessities in nature, it is always possible that a law of nature may be violated.”
Hume is not arguing that miracles are impossible, rather, he argues that in all known cases the evidence against the occurrence of a miracle is always greater than the evidence for that miracle.
Read paragraph beginning with “A miracle is a violation . . . “ (386-87)
The fact that “miracles” are conceptualized as violations is, for Hume, proof that the natural order (“laws of nature”) is assumed by the theist. But as soon as this presumption is acknowledged the theist must likewise admit that the probability of any “miracle” is lesser than the probability of the natural order taken as a whole. Therefore, it is always more reasonable to presume that the testimony of a witness is mistaken, overreaching, or deceptive than to believe in the miracle itself.
“Hume is in effect claiming that miracles are by definition so improbable that even the most impressive testimony would merely balance the counterevidence provided by the improbability of the miracle.”
“[T]he qualifications that he demands of such witnesses are such as would preclude the testimony of anyone without a Western university education, who lived outside a major cultural center in Western Europe prior to the sixteenth century, and who was not a public figure. . . . deliberately excluding any testimony issuing from the ancient world.”
Miracles in competing religions would only cancel each other if they directly supported formally-contradictory theses, e.g., a miracle that supported the fallibility of the Pope vs. another which supported the infallibility of the Pope. Most miracles are compatible with similar miracles in other religious contexts. They may, in fact, be evidence of God’s care of His creatures, regardless of their religious beliefs.
“No simplicity of mind, no obscurity of station, can escape the universal duty of questioning all that we believe. . . . To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”
The evidentialist objection, when applied to theistic belief, can be formulated as follows:
1. It is irrational to
believe x without sufficient inferential evidence for x.
2. Inferential evidence =df. other beliefs which give one reason to hold x.
3. There is insufficient inferential evidence for belief in God’s existence.
4. Therefore, belief in God’s existence is irrational (and unethical).
The evidentialist account of proper belief formation has been widely adopted by many nontheists and theists alike who concur with the first two premises above. They differ, of course, on the claim expressed in the third premise.
Several problems have been noted with the evidentialist conception of rational justification. First, it is not clear that Clifford’s proposition, “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything on insufficient evidence,” can be inferred from any set of evidence. It has been suggested, secondly, that this standard of rationality is too high. Much of what we believe must simply be taken with little or no evidence. Some of our most important beliefs cannot be demonstrated inferentially, including our belief in other minds, the veracity of memory, and the veracity of sense perception. And finally, the requirement for inferential evidence for all beliefs must logically terminate in beliefs that are not believed on the basis of other beliefs. If these objections hold, evidentialism cannot be a general theory of rational justification.
The position that all rationally-justified beliefs must be supported by inferential evidence must, in the end, distinguish between beliefs held on the basis of other beliefs and those which are not. This position is called foundationalism.
Aquinas held that there are propositions that we are rationally justified in accepting even though we don’t have inferential evidence for them. These propositions are in a descriptive sense basic—they are not as a matter of fact believed on the basis of other propositions. They are, additionally, properly or normatively basic—they do not contravene canons of epistemic propriety.
Aquinas held that we are rationally justified in believing the following classes of propositions, even though we do not have evidence for them: beliefs which are self-evident to me, (e.g., 1 + 2 = 3); or beliefs which are evident to the senses, (e.g., ‘I am appeared to greenly’). Later foundationalists, such as Descartes and Locke, held that a proposition was properly basic only if it is self-evident to me or indubitable—it cannot be doubted, (e.g., “I think, therefore, I am”).
On the strong foundationalist account, a person is rationally justified in accepting belief x if and only if x is self-evident, evident to the senses, or indubitable or is derived from self-evident, evident to the senses, or indubitable beliefs using acceptable methods of logical inference. To have a rationally justified belief is to be warranted in holding beliefs by virtue of these relations.
Are there good reasons to suppose that the three conditions of proper basicality, (i.e., self-evidence, evident to the senses, and indubitability), are jointly sufficient?
Is the belief “x is properly basic to me if and only if x is self-evident, evident to the senses, or indubitable” basic or nonbasic? If it is the former, it must be either self-evident, indubitable or evident to the senses which it is not. If the latter, it must be supported by inferential evidence of some sort which has not been forthcoming. In other words, “If strong foundationalism is true, then no one is rational in accepting strong foundationalism.”
Strong foundationalism (which includes these three and only these three criteria) thus fails this self-referential test; it self-destructs.
“[T]he fact that a belief is properly basic in no way guarantees the truth of that belief.” However, it does insure that the person who believes x is rationally justified in believing it; she is within her epistemic rights.
It is also possible to be rationally justified in holding x even if others do not agree since they may not have access to the ground on which the belief is non-inferentially based (see below).
Belief x is properly basic for a given person at a given time if there is some specific experiential condition, (e.g., being appeared to greenly), which non-inferentially grounds x (the belief that I am being appeared to greenly). Even though x is not based on inferences, it is not thereby groundless. It is the fact of x’s being occasioned by specific circumstances which warrants belief in x. It follows, therefore, that beliefs can be justified or warranted in ways other than by logical inference from other beliefs.
“[T]ypically, a basic belief is formed when an experience ‘triggers’ some faculty or belief-producing disposition. My basic belief that a bird is on my window sill is produced when a particular sensory experience triggers a complex belief-forming mechanism we call ‘vision.’ Basic beliefs are produced by many other mechanisms—(e.g., memory, spontaneous trust in the testimony of others)—when triggered by specific circumstances or experiences.”
In light of the collapse of strong foundationalism, Alvin Plantinga can find no reason why propositions about God should not also be properly basic: “Belief in the existence of God is in the same boat as belief in other minds, the past, and perceptual objects; in each case God has so constructed us that in the right circumstances we form the belief in question.”
In Plantinga’s view, humans display a disposition to spontaneously form beliefs under certain common conditions. For example, common situations occasion beliefs such as:
God is speaking to me.
God has created all of this.
God forgives me.
God is to be thanked and praised.
The experience of God provides non-inferential warrant for the beliefs produced by the experience in tandem with our disposition to form true beliefs under these conditions. These beliefs are justified apart from any inferential basis.
From any one of these propositions, (listed above), the belief ‘God exists’ is immediately entailed. In this sense, “God exists” is almost properly basic for a person in the right circumstances.
“[I]t is rational to believe that there is such a being as God, without basing that belief on any argument. . . . the Christian faith gives us good reason to think that the belief in God is properly grounded in the right sort of experiences—experiences in which we encounter God’s love, forgiveness, disapproval, guidance, etc. That is, such experiences tend to produce in us the belief that there is a God, and it is rational for us to believe in God under those circumstances.”
Even if all evidential attempts to prove God exists fail (and this is still an open question), it is still rational to believe that God exists. Believing in non-inferentially-grounded propositions is rational under certain conditions.
Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) saw his project as a positive contribution to the understanding of religion: “I deny only in order to affirm. I deny the fantastic projection of theology and religion in order to affirm the real essence of man.”
Feuerbach’s radical humanism is a response to the liberal humanism of German theology in the early nineteenth century. Friedrich Schleiermacher, one of best known theologians of the period, defined religion or piety as “the consciousness of being absolutely dependent, or, which is the same thing, of being in relation with God.”
“Man is himself at once I and thou; he can put himself in the place of another, for this reason, that to him his species, his essential nature, and not merely his individuality, is an object of thought.” (2)
“The consciousness of the infinite is nothing else than the consciousness of the infinity of the consciousness; or, in the consciousness of the infinite, the conscious subject has for his object the infinity of his own [species] nature.” (2-3)
“Reason, love, force of will, are perfections—the perfections of the human being—nay, more, they are absolute perfections of being. To will, to love, to think, are the highest powers, are the absolute nature of man as man, and the basis of his existence. . . . The divine trinity in man, above the individual man, is the unity of reason, love, will.” (3)
“It is true that the human being, as an individual, can and must—herein consists his distinction from the brute—feel and recognise himself to be limited; but he can become conscious of his limits, his finiteness, only because the perfection, the infinitude of his species, is perceived by him.“ (7)
“Man’s being conscious of God is man’s being conscious of himself, knowledge of God is man’s knowledge of himself. . . . God is the manifested inward nature, the expressed self of man.” (10-11)
“Man projects his nature into the world outside himself before he finds it in himself.” (11)
“Religion . . . is an attitude toward human nature [mankind as a species] viewed as a distinct being . . . purified . . . freed from imperfections . . . projected . . . revered as a different and distinct being with a nature of its own.” (12)
“Man—this is the mystery of religion—projects his nature into objectivity, and then makes himself an object of concern for this new ‘subject’ . . . . in and through God, man aims at himself” (17)
As opposed to the atheist who rejects both the divine subject and his predicates, Feuerbach holds that the predicates attributed to God are real and important, even if their subject, God, is nonexistent.
“[R]eligion is man’s earliest, and still indirect, form of self-knowledge.” (11)
“[T]he historical progress of religion consists in this: that which during an earlier stage of religion was regarded as something objective is now recognized as something subjective, so that that which was formerly viewed and worshipped as God is now recognized as something human. The later stage of religion recognizes the earlier stage as a stage of idolatry, a stage at which man prayed to his own nature, and at which man objectified himself without recognizing the religious object for what it was: his own nature.” (11)
“[M]an objectifies his own latent nature. Hence it must be proved that this antithesis, this contrast between God and man with which religion begins, is in reality a conflict between the individual and his [species] nature.” (18)
“Disunion and conflict exist only between beings who are at variance, but who ought to be at-one.” (18)
“[T]hat ‘being’ with which man feels himself in discord must necessarily be his own immanent and inborn nature.” (18)
God is not what man is
Man is not what God is
God is infinite
Man is finite
God is perfect
Man is imperfect
God is holy
Man is sinful
God is omnipotent
Man is impotent
God is complete perfection
Man is imperfect
“Religion is the alienation of man from himself.“ (18)
“The divine being in its unadulterated perfection is the intellect conscious of itself and of its perfection.” (19)
“Hence all metaphysical predicates of God are real predicates only when they are recognized as belonging to thought, to intelligence, to the understanding.”
“That man created God in his own image does not detract, according to Feuerbach, from the value or validity of God. It is only when man is unconscious of his own creations, when he cannot isolate the passions and desires which move him to creation, that he falls into error. Feuerbach’s method, then, is in the widest sense an anthropological one. It is an attempt to reveal the nature of man in whatever man does.”
Feuerbach’s Effect on Marx: Marx disagreed that man projects his species nature into religious “objects.” He held, rather, that certain economically powerful groups project their interests into religious objects and thereby and therewith dominate other groups. “Man looked for a superman in the fantastic reality of heaven and found nothing there but the reflection of himself.”
Feuerbach completed the de-theologization of religion which had been the project of Romantic theologians since the publication of Schleiermacher’s Speeches which had argued that religion should not be identified with either theology or metaphysics. Religion is unique in that it is a certain type of feeling (“absolute dependence”) or interiority. The unity of religion is the unity of the individual consciousness in its life-world.
For Freud and Marx religion is an expression (projection) of power relations: within the self for Freud; between social classes for Marx. For Freud, religion is a wish-fulfilling dream of the divided self.
For many thinkers today, religion (suitably stripped of any confessional or doctrinal content) is understood as the function of more basic dynamics, (e.g., sexual drives, power needs, insecurity needs, etc.). Thanks to Feuerbach, for many today religion is simply the autobiography of human desire and need.
Ethics = philosophical reflection on moral
behaviour, moral problems, and moral judgments. Ethical reflection emerged in
Three Kinds of Ethical Inquiry:
1. Descriptive: what people actually do
2. Normative: what things ought to be done. What is obligatory?
3. Metaethical: What is the meaning or justification of basic moral concepts such as “the good,” “right,” “ought,” etc.
Ethics (as a branch of philosophical reflection) typically deals with 2. and 3., that is, with what ought to be done and how basic ethical concepts are to be understood.
· Every person acts always to promote her own self-interest.
· The sole end of every act is the agent’s own interest.
· All acts are selfish even if some appear unselfish.
· Everyone does what she most wants to do or what she least dislikes to do.
· Concern for one’s own welfare always outweighs in motivational strength concern for anyone else’s welfare.
Rachels develops the following arguments against PE:
(1) Although I may, in every case, be acting on my wants, this does not mean that I am acting selfishly. PE needs an additional premise to the effect that all my wants are selfish;
(2) Even if the agent receives satisfaction from “unselfish” acts this does not entail that his motive was this satisfaction. Personal satisfaction may be a by-product that occurs only when the object of desire (the goal) is attained.
Rachels argues that the following (unwarranted) assumptions are made by PE:
(1) “Selfishness is identical with self-interest.” Reply: Self-interest applies to many activities, e.g., brushing one’s teeth, which are not morally objectionable but praiseworthy. Selfishness, by contrast, is applied to situations where the interests of others should have been considered but were not.
(2) “Every action is either from self-interest or from other-regarding motives.” If an act can be proved to be not other-regarding then it is self-interested. Reply: Self-destructive motivations are neither self-interested nor other-regarding.
(3) “A concern for one’s own welfare is incompatible with a concern for the welfare of others.” Reply: There is nothing incompatible between these concerns at all. It is possible to be concerned with self and others.
PE has taken a special type of human situation as a paradigm for the entire moral life; it assumes a competitive situation in which the aims of the parties are strictly incompatible.
“For in most of my dealings with others of a cooperative kind, questions of benevolence or altruism simply do not arise, anymore than questions of self-interest do. In my social life I cannot but be involved in reciprocal relationships, in which it may be certainly conceded that the price I pay for self-seeking behavior is a loss of certain kinds of relationships. But if I want to lead a certain kind of life with relationships of trust, friendship, and cooperation with others, then my wanting their good and my wanting my good are not two independent, discriminable desires. It is not even that I have two separate motives, self-interest and benevolence, for doing the same action. I have one motive, a desire to live in a certain way, which cannot be characterized as a desire for my good rather than that of others.”
In non-competitive moral contexts—family, friendship, church, etc.—where the boundaries of the self are poorly defined, people do in fact act in the interests of others. These actions, happily, coincide with my interests as well. If the moral community itself is a good towards which behaviour can be directed, all actions that benefit it are mutually beneficial to all its members. Similarly, all actions directed towards the self by the self are directly relevant to the interests of all members of the moral community.
Ethical relativism is a theory about ethical principles. It suggests that if a given culture holds that X is wrong, X is therefore wrong. This account argues that cultural variances are fundamental, that is, they would not be removed even if all parties agreed about all of the properties of the acts in question. For the ethical relativist there is incompatibility at the most basic level of ethical evaluation.
This argument is not sound—the premise can be true and the conclusion false. It moves illegitimately from what is believed to what is. For example, some cultures believe the earth is flat; others believe that the earth is spherical. It certainly doesn’t follow that there is no truth about this matter.
In order to determine whether contrasting moral beliefs or practices are fundamentally opposed one must elaborate the meanings they embody and the general principles on which the participants are acting and not just the specific practices.
For example, the ancient Callatian Indians ate their dead fathers, whereas the ancient Greeks practiced cremation. According to Heroditus, the early Greek historian, both of these groups found the practices of the other repulsive. However, when pressed, both groups would acknowledge a similar fundamental moral belief—dead fathers must be honoured. There is a great difference as to what counts as honouring the dead in either culture, but there is little difference in the general principle underpinning their practices.
Early twentieth-century philosophers were preoccupied with meta-ethics—the philosophical study of ethical judgments and the terms used in them such as ‘the good,’ ‘ought,’ and ‘the right.’ Many so-called analytic philosophers held that puzzles in philosophical ethics could be defused by a careful consideration of the meaning and use of these basic linguistic elements. For these thinkers, ethics turns on the proper demarcation, meaning, and use of ethical concepts.
pre-occupation with meta-ethical issues can be traced to G. E. Moore’s, Principia
Ethica (1903). In
Plato was also very interested in what has come to be known as meta-ethics. His dialectic clarifications of the concepts of courage, equality, beauty, etc. were first of all inquiries into how these concepts could be properly demarcated from other “nearby” concepts and ultimately how they relate to their transcendent forms. To intellectually grasp an ideational form is to understand the meaning and proper use of its corresponding term.
In the Republic Plato is concerned with the concept of justice (the right way to live). His dialectic reveals that most popular definitions of justice are deficient. In the end he concludes that justice is a property of human souls (and cities) and not primarily a property of actions (since actions can appear just but yet issue from unjust motives). For Plato, to be just is to possess a particular configuration of parts. (We will consider Plato’s theory that justice is a structural virtue in our next unit on political philosophy.)
Aristotle was born in 384 B.C. in Stageira, a
city under the dominion of the king of Macedon. His father was a physician who
attended the family of the Macedonian king.
At about seventeen Aristotle went to
Aristotle’s ethical theory emerges from his studies of what nature reveals, namely, that human beings strive to actualize their potentialities. The aim of ethics is to actualize what is already implicit in human behaviour. Ethics seeks proper action and not knowledge per se.
“Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.” (621) For Aristotle, the things humans aim at are “capable of being coherently integrated with one another.”
“[W]e call final [complete] without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else. Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue [excellence] we choose indeed for themselves . . . but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy” (622)
For Aristotle, eudaimonia indicates human flourishing, well-being, a harmonious and integrated realization of a being’s unique function. It is the good at which all its actions (praxis) aim.
“Happiness, then, is something final and self-sufficient, and is the end [telos] of action.” (623)
“[T]he good and the ‘well’ is thought to reside in the function . . . we are seeking what is peculiar to man.” (623)
“When something has an ergon (characteristic activity, function) . . . [its] . . . good is specified by it.”
F. Siegler’s summary of Aristotle’s argument: (1) Man has a function; (2) The function of man is determined by what is peculiar to man; (3) Acting on reasons is peculiar to man; (4) Therefore, the function of man is acting on reasons.
Virtue denotes a functional excellence, that is, a set of character qualities that enable a person to fulfill his/her function well. Happiness can only be achieved if it is pursued virtuously and as a deliberate desire to function properly.
“Virtue [excellence], then, is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e., the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it. (626)
(Scale of Goodness)
Vice of Deficiency -------------------------Vice of Excess
With regard to its “neighbouring” vices, virtue is a mean. With regard to goodness, it is an extreme.
“Moral virtue [excellence] . . . is formed by habit. . . . In a word, characteristics [hexis, trained abilities] develop from corresponding activities.”
“[A] man becomes just by performing just acts and self-controlled by performing acts of self-control . . . without performing them, nobody could even be on the way to becoming good.”
“The virtues are precisely those qualities the possession of which will enable the individual to achieve eudaimonia and the lack of which will frustrate his movement toward that telos.”
Deontological (deon = duty; logos = science) theories hold that the rightness or wrongness of actions or rules is basic. Judgments of moral obligation are logically prior to judgments of value. According to this view there are properties of actions or rules, and ways of knowing these properties, which make the actions or rules right or wrong, without considering the value produced.
“The will is thought of as a faculty of determining itself to action in accordance with the conception of certain laws.” (661)
“Nothing in the world—indeed nothing even beyond the world—can possibly be conceived which could be called good without qualification except a good will.” (642)
“The good will is not good because of what it effects or accomplishes or because of its competence to achieve some intended end; it is good only because of its willing (i.e., it is good in itself).” (643)
Moral worth is determined by the maxim or principle expressed in an action; acts are only morally esteemed when they are done from this maxim (duty) rather than inclination.
“[Since] all men have the strongest and deepest inclination to happiness” it cannot be morally praiseworthy in and of itself. A man’s happiness can be legitimately promoted, not on the basis of inclination, but from duty. (646)
The moral worth of a “dutiful” action is in the maxim or self-conscious psychological principle (motive) that lies behind the act of will.
“Now as an act from duty wholly excludes the influence of inclination and therewith every object of the will, nothing remains which can determine the will objectively except law and subjectively except pure respect for this practical law.” (647)
“I ought never to act in such a way that I could not also will that my maxim should be a universal law.” (647)
“Would I be content that my maxim of extricating myself from difficulty by a false promise should hold as a universal law for myself as well as for others? . . . I could will the lie but not a universal law to lie. For with such a law there would be no promises at all [the practice of promise-keeping would be destroyed] . . . Thus my maxim would necessarily destroy itself as soon as it was made a universal law.” (648)
“Everything in nature works according to laws. Only a rational being has the capacity of acting according to the conception of laws (i.e., according to principles). This capacity is the will.” (653)
“The conception of an objective principle, so far as it constrains a will, is a command (of reason), and the formula of this command is called an imperative. . . . there is one imperative which directly commands certain conduct without making its condition some purpose to be reached by it [as in hypothetical imperatives]. This imperative is categorical. It concerns not the material of the action and its intended result, but the form and principle from which it originates.” (653, 655)
“There is, therefore, only one categorical imperative. It is: Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” (658)
“These fundamental principles must originate entirely a priori and thereby obtain their commanding authority; they can expect nothing from the inclination of men but everything from the supremacy of the law and due respect for it.” (660)
“Now, I say, man and, in general, every rational being exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will.” (662)
“Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.” (662)
“[A rational being is a being] that must regard itself as giving universal law through all the maxims of its will, so that it may judge itself and its actions from this standpoint.” (664)
“Reason, therefore, relates every maxim of the will as giving universal laws to every other will and also to every action towards itself; it does not do so for the sake of any other practical motive or future advantage but rather from the Idea of the dignity of a rational being who obeys no law except one which he himself also gives.” (665)
“Autonomy [self-rule or self-law-giving] is thus the basis of the dignity of both human nature and every rational nature.” (666)
Teleological theories hold that judgments of value are basic. Obligations or duties are derivative, that is, we are obliged to bring about what is valuable. We can know how we ought to act if we know whether our actions are likely to produce good (valuable) results.
Born in 1806, John Stuart Mill was raised by his father, James Mill,
an austere, demanding, unsentimental, and doctrinaire disciple of Jeremy
Bentham, the leading utilitarian of his day. John Stuart was an intellectual
prodigy: he was reading Greek by the age of three, Latin at eight, and mastered
many other subjects shortly thereafter. His daily study regime began at 6:00
a.m. and ended at 9:00 p.m. When his education was complete at the age of 14,
he went off to stay with friends of his father in
When he returned to
During the long period of recovery (some five years) he expanded his acquaintances and read more broadly. He discovered the romantic poetry of Tennyson, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. He gradually found that he could share “states of feeling” with other human beings.
“The creed which accepts as the foundations of morals Utility or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.” (681)
“[P]leasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends.” (681)
“Human beings have faculties more elevated than the animal appetites, and when once made conscious of them, do not regard anything as happiness which does not include their gratification.” (682)
“It is quite compatible with the principle of utility to recognize the fact, that some kinds of pleasure are more desirable and more valuable than others.” (682) In other words, some pleasures are more pleasurable than others.
How can we know that one pleasure is more valuable than another? Mill answers that if people who have experienced both pleasures actually prefer one to the other, then that one is the more desirable pleasure, that is, it is “superior in quality”. (682)
“The utilitarian morality does recognise in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others.” (688)
“[E]ducation and opinion, which have so vast a power over human character, should so use that power as to establish in the mind of every individual an indissoluble association between his own happiness and the good of the whole.” (688)
“[T]he motive has nothing to do with the morality of the action, though much to do with the worth of the agent.” (688) For the utilitarian, it is the intention of the act, that is, what it wills to bring about, that is morally relevant, not the motive, “the feeling which makes him will to do so.” (689)
“The whole force therefore of external reward and punishment, whether physical or moral, and whether proceeding from God or from our fellow men, together with all that the capacities of human nature admit of disinterested devotion to either, become available to enforce the utilitarian morality.” (695)
“The ultimate [internal] sanction [or source], therefore, of all morality . . . [is] a subjective feeling in our own minds.” (695) This feeling, or Conscience, is a type of pain, “more or less intense, attendant on violation of duty.” (694) Through education, the utilitarian standard can and should become the rule by which the judgments of conscience are determined.
There is a natural basis in our sentiments for utilitarian morality: “This firm foundation is that of the social feelings of mankind; the desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures, which is already a powerful principle in human nature, and happily one of those which tend to become stronger, even without express inculcation, from the influences of advancing civilization.” (696)
“Not only does all strengthening of social ties, and all healthy growth of society, give to each individual a stronger personal interest in practically consulting the welfare of others; it also leads him to identify his feelings more and more with their good, or at least with an even greater degree of practical consideration for it.” (697)
“[T]he smallest germs of the feeling are laid hold of and nourished by the contagion of sympathy and the influences of education; and a complete web or corroborative association is woven around it, by the powerful agency of the external sanctions.” (697)
Many contemporary moral theories insist that right conduct demands the impartial application of a priori rules or the impartial promotion of the general good. Since Kant and Mill, moral theory has highlighted the apparent universalizability (the substitutability of similarly-situated persons) implicit in moral judgments.
Similarly, contemporary Christians often interpret agape love as a universal love for mankind. Mother Theresa, however, refused to understand her expansive love for the poor in these terms. She referred to her love for others as a love for each particular person, rather than a “love for mankind, merely as such.”
In this section we will explore an alternative to both universalistic and relativistic ethics—what might be called, moral particularism. Andrew Oldenquist’s important essay on loyalities will introduce these concepts to us.
“Loyalty needs to be distinguished from both impersonal morality and self-interest . . . loyalties are a third category of the normative, distinct from both self-interest and impersonal morality” (173, 176).
“When I have loyalty toward something I have somehow come to view it as mine. It is an object of noninstrumental value to me in virtue (but not only in virtue) of its being mine, and I am disposed to feel pride when it prospers, shame when it declines, and anger or indignation when it is harmed” (175).
“Unlike the object of self-interest, an object of loyalty can be shared or ‘owned’ by a number of people” (175).
“Group loyalty toward a common object is not inappropriately called group egoism, or alternatively, tribal morality” (176).
“The egoist acts because doing so benefits himself, the group egoist acts because doing so benefits or protects what he has come to regard as his, for example, his family, his neighborhood, his company, his city, his country, or his species. When we shift from egoism to group egoism, the self expands beyond selfishness: There occurs an extension of the self that disposes us to care and sacrifice for something because it is ours.”
“But group egoists (group loyalists) can share noninstrumental goods, such as a nation, a family, a neighborhood . . . and therefore can constitute a moral community” (176).
“Our wide and narrow loyalties define moral communities or domains within which we are willing to universalize moral judgments, treat equals equally, protect the common good, and in other ways adopt the familiar machinery of impersonal morality” (177).
“[I]mpartiality is a moral requirement only in certain restricted sorts of situations . . . Institutional roles and positions are an obvious arena of life in which a certain kind of impartiality between the interests of all, including those to whom we are personally connected and attached, is demanded of us.”
“A loyalty defines a moral community in terms of a conception of a common good and a special commitment to the members of the group who share this good” (177).
“A very wide loyalty [e.g., the brotherhood of man] looks more like a pure ideal than does a narrow loyalty because we haven’t to decide what to think of competitors . . . all morality is tribal morality and there will be as many systems of social morality as there are loyalties” (179).
“Utilitarians think a wider loyalty must carry greater weight just because it is wider; their slogan is ‘more is better.’ But the wider loyalty identifies one’s kind under a different description: I have extremely weak loyalty to the whole of living nature, relative to loyalty to my species, and weaker species loyalty than family loyalty or national loyalty. More is not always better because it is not always more of the same thing: My daughter and your daughter may both be human beings, but they are not both members of my family.”
“[T]he demand for impartiality is never true impartiality, it is merely an invitation to give one’s loyalty to a larger whole with which someone identifies; in other words, an invitation to join a larger tribe” (181).
Although largely ignored in contemporary ethical theory, the moral life is often situated in contexts where the interests of an expanded self and others cannot be meaningfully distinguished and where we find ourselves in possession of a shared loyalty to the encompassing group or good. Attachment to others and the larger group is, in the words of Michael Sandel, discovered rather than constructed. It, and its attendant loyalty, is a constituent of my identity and not merely an attribute.
The nature of the self and its relation to the surrounding public world is not only at the heart of ethical theory, it reverberates through western political theory as well.
“The term realism identifies a philosophy which holds that the universe consists of real, independent, existing things, hierarchically structured and related, and forming a cosmos or totality within which meaning and order can become available to man.”
Three Philosophical Tenets of Realism:
“[Realist] political philosophy is the attempt truly to know both the nature of political things and the right, or the good, political order.”
“The basic problem of social philosophy for the realist, then, is to determine the place of man and society alongside other beings in the cosmos, in the hierarchical totality of things.”
In addition, the concept of ‘justice’ was in dispute. Various conceptions of justice were bandied about in Plato’s day. They included the view that justice is (1) helping one’s friends and harming one’s enemies; (2) keeping treaties or promises; (3) the right of the stronger to rule the weaker; or (4) a cloak for naked self-interest.
For Plato, the only hope was that the moral order might come to dominate the life of the polis. Only then could wisdom, justice, harmony, and political order secure the best human life.
Throughout the early chapters of his Republic Plato shows the inadequacy of various popular conceptions of justice. These conceptions typically identified justice with particular acts—following the enacted laws of the polis or giving to each what is due him. Plato argues, however, that it is not good to obey unjust laws nor is it good to give someone his entitlement if it will harm himself or others. Further, an evil man, intent on deception, often performs apparently just actions but we are unwilling to call him just.
Justice, therefore, cannot be a property of actions per se. Both within the individual and the polis, justice is a structural relation. Justice is thus a unique virtue—it is a characteristic of the whole and not any single part or action.
It turns out that both the polis and the soul have similar tri-partite structures. The highest virtue of a polis (or person) is that the parts that are by nature suited to a particular task can and are compelled to do it. The justice of the polis is that the part fitted for ruling, rules, the part fitted for courage, is courageous, and the part fitted for making money, does so. Similarly, in the just soul the part fitted for ruling (reason), rules, the part suited for courage (spiritedness), acts courageously, and the part suited for acquisition (desire), acquires.
Wisdom is the chief characteristic of rulers who superintend the polis; they permit and require each part to do its suited tasks. Only the wise are aware of the ‘Good’ and subject to it and thus are able to provide the discipline necessary for the polis as a whole.
The link between the just man and the just polis is that each supports the other. By enforcing respective justice-structures, the interests of the just man and the just polis coincide. Each part can pursue its particular aspect of the good without interference or colonization; the entire polis thereby pursues the comprehensive good of its citizens (which is the good of man) without disruption.
“The central preoccupation of both ancient and medieval communities was characteristically: how may men together realize the true human good? The central preoccupation of modern men is and has been characteristically: how may we prevent men [from] interfering with each other as each of us goes about our own concerns? The classical view begins with the community of the polis and with the individual viewed as having no moral identity apart from the communities of kinship and citizenship; the modern view begins with the concept of a collection of individuals and the problem of how out of and by individuals social institutions can be constructed.”
Positivistic political theory takes its starting point from actual (or positive) conditions rather than from the realization of some ultimate value. Positivists look at human nature and social conduct as they actually manifest themselves and then attempt to construct the political society based on their most elemental features.
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) argued that the classical realists, (e.g., Plato), aimed too high (the perfection of man) and thus were ineffective. Machiavelli advocated a political theory that begins with the real-life goals pursued by men or societies. This new type of “realism” was supposedly more realistic than the classical approach.
In his travels to the European Continent,
Thomas Hobbes was greatly impressed with analytic geometry and Galileo’s
science. He returned to
Factional fighting and civil war often disrupted Hobbes’s life. His Leviathan  was published in the period shortly after the execution of Charles I. This was a period of intense debate regarding the proper form of government and the limitations of the monarch.
Hobbes rejected classical political theory which had characterized the good state in terms of the ultimate ends it pursued and the character of the ruler(s). Hobbes argued that the commonwealth could be derived from fundamental aspects within individuals themselves and their private pursuits.
“For everything is understood by its constitutive causes. For as in a watch, or some such small engine, the matter, figure and motion of the wheels cannot be known, except it be taken assunder and viewed in parts; so also to make a more curious search into the rights of states and duties of subjects, it is necessary . . . that they be so considered as if they were dissolved.”
Hobbes believed that human behaviour could be understood as the compounded motions of the passions within the individual. These passions push the individual from behind, so to speak.
Hobbes identified several fundamental passions: (1) self-preservation, which includes the continuing quest for power and the fear of violent death; (2) the desire for peace or comfort; and (3) hope. These passions interact with those of the surrounding individuals to produce the need and desire to enter civil society.
In order to ground the civil state and its
ruler, it was necessary to demonstrate that it could be justified with
reference to those who would agree to enter it. Any contrived social
arrangement must be explicable in terms of the passions of those who are not
yet contained within it. This state-less and ruler-less condition is called the
Hobbes characterizes the State of
“[T]he life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (FP, 761)
This State of
What is missing in the State of
“To lay down a man’s right to anything, is to divest himself of the liberty of hindering another of the benefit of his own right to the same. For he that renounceth, or passeth away his right, giveth not to any other man a right which he had not before, because there is nothing to which every man had not right by nature, but only standeth out of his way that he may enjoy his own original right without hindrance from him.” (First Philosophy, 763)
This passage is critical in that it shows that
the covenant of individual with individual does not transfer (in our sense of the term) any right. It is an agreement
to extinguish one’s own liberty with respect to the actions of another. The Sovereign
is permitted to act as he wills based on
his antecedent right to everything in the State of
At the moment of making the covenant each one says to everyone else: “I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner.” (FP, 773)
Here Hobbes indicates that the Covenant does
not confer any new right, but rather permits one person from the State of
For Hobbes, the Sovereign is grounded in the
psychological features of (sovereign) individuals. The Sovereign is simply an
individual (any will do) from the State of
The Sovereign is technically not created or
constituted, but instituted, by the simultaneous renunciation of right and
power by those in the State of
Hobbes characterizes the individual in ways which release him from the feudal bounds and socially-constitutive definitions of the past. As sovereign, the individual is free from all obligations—a condition hitherto unimaginable. The individual-as-sovereign is by definition free of all external and internal obligations. His will is arbitrary within his realm. He is god incarnate, or, in Hobbes’s memorable phrase, a “Mortall god.”
The Commonwealth/Sovereign’s institution-by-renunciation reconciles the various self-interests within the Commonwealth. This is not to be mistaken for a mutuality of interests or for a program of moral transformation. It is, rather, an institutional harmonization of purely self-interested individuals.
Liberalism, as the name implies, gives central importance to individual freedom (or liberty) For most liberal theorists, this means that each individual should be free to live her life as it seems best to her provided she respects the similar freedom of others.
Locke came from a middle-class family. His father was a small landowner and an attorney. His life spanned the turmoil surrounding the execution of Charles I, the rise of Oliver Cromwell, the reestablishment of the Stuart monarchy, and the ascension of William of Orange in 1689.
Locke’s Two Treatises of Government were published in 1690, the same year in which his monumental Essay Concerning Human Understanding came out. Locke is often referred to as the theorist of the English Revolution (1688) and the American Revolution (1776).
Locke was much more optimist than Hobbes about
the potential for moral behaviour in the State of
In the State of
In the State of
There is no common judge with sufficient authority to enforce the law of nature; nor is there sufficient power or known laws. These conditions cause instability and motivate the search for conditions under which peace and self-preservation can be achieved.
Property emerges in the State of
In Locke’s view, God originally “donated” the earth to humans as a whole. The earth was not owned by anyone (cf. Hobbes where everyone has a right to everything). A person possesses a natural (God-given) title to her own person and to the labour which issues from her body.
As she intermingles her labour with the soil and its bounty, she acquires title to this property by virtue of her labouring. (This is Locke’s famous labour theory of value.) Property, which for Locke includes life, liberty, and estate, is an extension of the ownership of one’s own body. The body expands, through labour, to encircle a larger territory—which serves to delimit the freedom of others with respect to the goods gained by labour.
Property is protected by the absolute right to self-defense, a right which is derived from God’s original intent in creating humans. Property must be defended since it is part of the body and one is morally obligated to defend oneself against attack. Furthermore, property is protected by the owner’s inability to dispose of her body (i.e., in suicide). These natural law maxims give property the status of an absolute value for Locke.
Self- and property-preservation is precarious
in the State of
This compact enables individuals to leave the
“They are thereby presently incorporated and made one body politic wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.”
Locke’s calls this pre-governmental body, civil
Civil society is logically (and temporally) prior to the institution of a
specific government. Civil society provides a stabilizing counterpoise [counter-balance]
in that the collapse of government does not mean a reversion to the State of
Once the populus is constituted as a majority-will-based corporation, it remains for that body to elect a legislature which will govern as a “trustee” of the corporate body and will protect, in trust, the property of its members. The governmental agencies of the populus—legislative, judicial, executive—are limited in their scope (vs. Hobbes’s sovereign) because they are deployed for the purpose of preserving individual (private) property.
The chief end of the constituted populus is the preservation of property.
“For the essence and union of the society consisting in having one will, the legislative, when once established by the majority has the declaring and, as it were, keeping of, that will.”
Genuine freedom for Locke is impossible when one is subject to the arbitrary will of another.
Consenting to the will of the majority is consenting only to oneself. In following those dictates of the majority one is obeying only oneself. The individual is both sovereign and subject when he submits to the will of the majority.
The sovereignty of the will of the majority is not to be feared since it cannot be arbitrary. Every individual is the author of the acts of the legislative body since she consented to this particular decision-making strategy as a condition of her entrance into the commonwealth.
Furthermore, the will of the majority will not interfere with the liberty of the individual and his property since it was agreed to on the condition that it protect those very things. Since only those powers resident in the individual can be “handed over” to the body politic and since no person has a right to harm herself or her property, the body politic can do her no harm.
The edifice of government built on initial consent is the mechanism whereby the freedom of doing what one pleases is preserved in civil society, even in those areas necessarily governed by law.
Freedom is not freedom from law (pace Hobbes), but rather only having to obey those laws that originate in my will or, in this case, my will of the majority. Freedom is compatible with restraints insofar as they too are derived from the free (consenting) acts of my will. Even laws which command my obedience can be self-willed and thus the expression of liberty.
In Locke, the will of the individual is
actually two wills; one, the particular will manifest in the State of
The bifurcated (split) self preserves the self-ownership of will, but at the cost of postulating two very different sources of will, wills which can and do contradict each other. Hobbes’s maxim that there can only be sovereigns and subjects is true within the self for Locke. Each individual is now a miniature kingdom of wills wherein one will commands and the other obeys.
Rousseau was born in
Rousseau’s Social Contract has become a bible of contemporary political analysis, affecting the practice, justification, and rhetoric of the modern state and its citizens.
According to Rousseau, what was missing in his day was the concern of the classical Greek polis for the virtue of its citizens. Rousseau’s upbringing in Calvinist Geneva and his intellectual exposure to antiquity were deeply formative. For him, the political association must be a tutor in virtue, that is, it must seek to make its citizen morally better.
The modern problem, at its most fundamental level, concerned dependency on other wills. Like Locke, Rousseau determined that true and virtuous citizenship required that dependence on other wills be eliminated.
In Rousseau’s view, the reign of (impersonal) law was the solution to the dependency problem, provided that the law was not the expression of the will of another. If law was the expression of each individual’s will, it could command each in a way which would not violate her freedom and would actually allow her to flourish. The universal reign of law would guarantee the conditions necessary for political stability and virtuous action.
“Where shall we find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and the property of each associate, and in which every person, while uniting himself with all, shall obey only himself, and remain as free as before” (14-15).
In order to justify the governance of the political association, Rousseau, much like Locke, discovers within the individual herself two distinct sources of will. The first, volunte particuliere, is that will which by its nature regards only particular or self-regarding interests. The other, volunte generale, is inclined by its nature towards impartiality and equality. These two forms of will are in constant opposition to each other even though they both reside within the self.
The instability of the pre-political condition arises from the fact that the general will of the individual is unable to consistently subdue her particular will, the latter of which is necessarily self-centred and self-regarding.
The social contract permits the general wills of the individuals to acquire sufficient power to rule over their particular wills. The artifice of the Commonwealth empowers each individual with the force of law so that her general will can rule over her particular will.
Rousseau argues that general will can bind particular will without subjecting the individual to outside domination. The individual binds herself by virtue of her dual wills; her general will gains the upper hand through the social contract.
As in Locke, colonization by others is theoretically eliminated from the Commonwealth. All laws within the Commonwealth are my laws (issuing from my general will). Since they are my laws I am not subject to the will of another.
In Rousseau, the general will of the individual retains the moral purity of the sovereign’s will in Hobbes. The particular will, however, is identified as the source of all envies, strivings, and selfish pursuits. The particular will generates all inter-social evil.
The general will cannot be “directed towards a private object” (33). Because of the form of its judgments, it is not possible for the general will to reference or favour particular individuals. Therefore, purely formal qualities distinguish particular and general wills as well as the moral and the immoral.
The generality of the judgments or laws of the general will assure a convergence of justice, equality, and self-interest (as expressed by the general will of the individual). The laws of the general will are impartial, non-self (particular)-regarding, and for the good of all. They are therefore just and express the very nature of morality (non self-regard) itself.
The sovereign general will “by its nature, is always everything it ought to be” (17). When it acts upon its commonwealth it is incapable of harming itself and can literally do no wrong. In this political association, “the political requirements of preservation and of virtue therefore coincide perfectly.”
The impact of Rousseau’s project is difficult to overestimate. For instance, he gave Kant the strategy he needed to adjudicate the mutually discordant moral claims made by individuals. Kant received from Rousseau the notion that there is a form of (general) will that is, by definition, moral and which can serve as a formal criterion of right conduct. Kant’s categorical imperative has its genesis in Rousseau.
Rousseau’s suggestion that the moral republic can actually force its citizens to be free provided a justification for the Reign of Terror that followed the overthrow of the French monarch. The notorious Committee of Public Safety made the following assertion: “You must entirely refashion a people whom you wish to make free, destroy its prejudices, alter its habits, limit its necessities, root up its vices, purify its desires.”
Rousseau destroyed the force of the common law and any other source of authority that originates outside the activities of the general will. All particularity evaporates before the searing heat of the General Will. At bottom, all interpersonal relations are dispensed with, all constitutive forms of community are relegated to the past, and nothing but self-interest will and the formal generality of will are left. Even Rousseau’s so-called political association is nothing but abstract relations within the individual herself. The cost of banishing the all-to-real particular sovereign has been the elimination of all moral relations between concrete persons.
“Rousseau, like Augustine, gives primacy to the will—a concept that remains crucial and problematic from Augustine through Rousseau and beyond. He also, like Augustine, inevitably seeks a supplement through which to heal it. But he shifts the locus of the supplement from obedience to the will of a god to obedience to oneself, an obedience to oneself made possible only by a new form of political organization.”
Those theories which have their roots in Rousseau have fundamentally de-peopled the world, and given us a world in which all substantive moral disagreements and relations reside within the self. The self is the all-in-all, subject and sovereign rolled into one.
Both Kant and Hegel saw Rousseau’s turn to the will as the basis for political association as his most significant contribution. Kant discovered within the spontaneity of human consciousness a type of (universal) will that could underpin the moral life as well as political association. The formal characteristics of this will, found in all individuals, could resolve the classic problem of the contrariness of particular wills.
Hegel argued that the absolute freedom of self-consciousness must be embodied in order to serve as the basis for political association. The highest form of this concretized Will was the State. The State alone is able to preserve the absolute freedom of the individual will. The dialectic connection between individual consciousness and the laws of the State prohibit harm to the citizen. The historical development of the State as an expression of the logic of freedom (sovereignty) guarantees its moral propriety.
J. S. Mill was part of a broad-based, nineteenth-century reaction to the totalism of the Hegelian state. Various types of federalism emerged during this period. They were thought to demonstrate that sovereignty could be partitioned within the Commonwealth. There was also a great deal of historical work done at this time, work which indicated that there were multiple and plural sources of moral authority within the State; these sources pre-dated the State itself—e.g., the household, religion, etc.
By the mid-nineteenth century, a new series of problems were emerging in representative democracies. Alexis d’Tocqueville (ca. 1830) discovered that within the American “experiment” several ominous trends were developing. D’Tocqueville was concerned about the dominance of public opinion and the rising tide of mediocrity. He also worried about the possibility of a “tyranny of the majority.”
Mill’s On Liberty (1859) was designed to elaborate a social principle that would protect representative democracies from the stupefying forces of conformity as well as the danger of the abuse of dissenting minorities.
In Mill’s judgment, attempts to limit the power
of government by Bills of Rights (as in
The essential problem with modern democracies was “how to make the fitting adjustment between individual independence and social control” (5).
Mill proposed the following: “ . . . the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. . . . The only part of the conduct of anyone for which he is amenable to society is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign” (9).
With regard to those acts which concern only himself the person is sovereign. With regards to those acts which concern others, society is sovereign.
With regard to those acts which concern the individual alone, the person may be remonstrated with, reasoned with, etc. but he is the final judge of what is proper for him to think and do.
With regard to those acts which affect society, Mill holds that society ought to apply the utilitarian principle. In his view a very broad territory (not harming another) belongs to each individual and can be supported by reasons of social utility. The broader the territory, the greater social good which will issue from creative ideas, innovations in living arrangements and novel opinions. A maximum sphere of liberty will in fact counteract the tide of mediocrity overwhelming modern democracies.
Mill does not hesitate to deploy the vocabulary of the Sovereign when speaking of the individual. The individual, within her “sphere” of sovereignty is “arbitrary.” She can do whatever she pleases. In the larger society, she is to be afforded maximal liberty of expression. She knows her own interests best and can be relied on to execute them to the fullest. She is an unreconstructed Hobbesian Sovereign within her realm. She cannot be governed by past promises she has made, nor can she be held to her own stated plans. Her sovereignty resides in the unity of her will at this present moment. She is autonomous, giving laws to herself alone and receiving none.
Only the opposition of another will (individual or State) restrains her will. Society is simply to enforce her sovereign jurisdiction and erect a perimeter of legal safeguards around it.
She is free, but she inhabits a world of contrary wills, not actual persons. Neither friend nor foe constitutes her. She is a kingdom unto herself, splendidly regal, but fundamentally alone.
The emergence of western society from feudalism called for new ways of conceiving a person’s relation to her fellows. Theological concepts were pressed into new service. Concepts like sovereignty, the General Will (which originated in the concept of God’s general will that all mankind should be saved), and the individual (which originated in the discussion of the distinctiveness and membership within the Godhead) were reconceived in accordance with political and social demands.
The concept of the individual as sovereign, once unfettered from its specific (and Trinitarian) theological context, provided the means whereby the social world could be grounded in such a way that it would no longer require organic relations between men or transpersonal sources of authority.
One of the results of this project has been a fundamentally bifurcated self, a self which embodies all of the essential features and conflicts of modern political life. This bifurcated self has been distanciated from its attributes, aims, beliefs, relations, and roles. The identification of the self with the sovereign individual has radically isolated the self from those features previously believed to be constitutive. The conceptual demands of Jean Bodin’s theory of sovereignty have pushed the logic of sovereignty to its most radical conclusion: the self is not constituted by anything, not itself nor even its most fundamental relations.
All attributes of this modern self are self-chosen and self-willed. All social institutions which issue from this modern self are constructed, fabricated out of collected individual will. In all cases, the self, in its radical isolation, stands above and beyond the reach of all determinations and passes judgment on all things. In Hobbes’s apt phrase, it “gives laws to all and receives none in return.” This is the self Alone, in extremis, “mimicking the self-sufficient God [it] has rejected.” At its best, this self can join others only for the sake of self-protection, but even then, it remains a citizen of nowhere, embodying a deficient form of friendship based solely on mutual advantage.
Can this self properly be called an individual, i.e., sovereign? Does the self stand above its attributes as sovereign? Are its boundaries fixed in advance of contact with other persons? Is the will the central faculty in grounding human associations of all sorts? Are we not deeply constituted by the attachments we “discover”? Do these discovered attachments penetrate to the very core of the self and thus preempt any meaningful claim to sovereignty?
Socialis est vita sanctorum [Even the life of the saints is lived together with other men.] A community of concrete others who are mutually co-determining each other’s lives offers a much better model for political theory or ecclesiology, for that matter, than what has been delivered to us through this tradition. Life together is not only the hope which enriches our life in this world, but, as Augustine suggests, it will be our eternal state as well.
John Baillie, Invitation to Pilgrimage (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1942), 15.
See Charles Hartshorne, Man’s
Vision of God (New York: Harper and Row, 1941); Norman Malcolm, “Anselm’s
Ontological Arguments,” Philosophical
Review 69 (1960); Alvin Plantinga, The
Nature of Necessity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), chapter 10; and
Nicholas Wolterstorff, “In Defense of Guanilo’s Defense of the Fool,” in Christian Perspectives on Religious
Knowledge, ed. C. Stephen Evans and Merold Westphal (Grand Rapids: Wm. B.
Peter Dear discusses why medieval thinkers believed that the premises of a demonstrative argument needed to be generally accepted. See his Discipline and Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), esp. chs. 2-3.
In a reductio ad absurdum you prove a given proposition, p, by showing that its denial, not-p, entails a contradiction.
The phrases in quotation marks in this paragraph are taken from
James Kellenberg, Introduction to
Philosophy of Religion (
Anselm, Proslogion, ch. 3 in First Philosophy, 25.
Ronald Hepburn, “Cosmological Argument,” s.v. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Paul Edwards, 8 vols. (New York: The Free Press/ Macmallan, 1967), 2:232.
T. Aquinas, Summa theologiae, Part I, Qt. 2. Art. 3. Quoted in First Philosophy, 45-46.
See Patterson Brown, “Infinite Causal Regression,” in Rowe & Wainwright, ed., Philosophy of Religion (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), 129-32.
T. Aquinas, Summa theologiae, Part I, Qt. 2. Art. 3. Quoted in First Philosophy, 46.
See James Keller, “Some Basic Differences . . . ,” International Philosophical Quarterly 22 (March 1982): 8-9.
W. Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence (Louisville: Westminster/Knox, 1996), 25, n. 21.
Thomas I. White, Discovering
Philosophy, 2d ed. (
William Alston, “Christian Experience and Christian Belief,” in Faith and Rationality, ed. Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 103.
Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 250-51.
Reprinted in Philosophy of Religion, ed. William Rowe and William Wainwright (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973).
Steven Katz, “Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism,” in Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, ed. Steven Katz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 40.
The Nature of Mysticism, 269.
R. C. Zaehner, Mysticism: Sacred and Profane. Reprinted in William Rowe and William Wainwright, ed., Philosophy of Religion, 3d ed. (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1998), 381.
Ninian Smart, “Understanding Religious Experience,” in Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, 17.
H. Smith, “Do Drugs Have Religious Import?” in Philosophy of Religion, 328.
John Baillie, Our Knowledge of God, 2d ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959), n. p.
William Rowe, “Religious Experience and the Principle of Credulity,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 13 (1982): 85-92.
C. D. Broad, Religion, Philosophy and Psychical Research (NY: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1953), 197.
This strategy was first suggested by Charles B. Martin, Religious Belief (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1959).
Broad, Religion, Philosophy and Psychical Research, 168.
George Mavrodes, Belief in God (New York: Random House, 1970), 76.
Peter Losin, “Experience of God and the Principle of Credulity: A Reply to Rowe,” Faith and Philosophy, 4 (1987): 65.
Mavrodes, Belief in God, 77.
See W. Alston “Christian Experience and Christian Belief,” in Faith and Rationality, ed. A. Plantinga
William Wainwright, Mysticism: A Study of Its Nature, Cognitive Value, and Moral Implications (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981), reprinted in Philosophy of Religion, 3rd ed., ed. William L. Rowe and William J. Wainwright (New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998), 402.
Wainwright, Mysticism, 401.
Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, I, 4.
David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Part X, in The Empiricists (Garden City, NY: AnchorBooks/Doubleday, 1974), 490.
See John Hick, “Evil, The Problem of,” s.v. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 3:136-37.
Originally published in Mind, 64 (April 1955).
Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Harper & Row, 1974).
Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, cited in Philosophy of Religion, 3d ed., ed. William L. Rowe and William J. Wainwright (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998), 264.
Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974), 30.
Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, cited in Philosophy of Religion, 272.
J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 154.
William Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (1979): 335.
Much of the line of argument presented in this section is taken from John Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), ch. 12 and Nash, Faith and Reason, ch. 14.
William Rowe, Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction (Encino, CA: Dickenson, 1978), 89.
Garth Hallet, “Evil and Human Understanding,” Heythrop Journal 32 (1991): 467.
Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil, 296.
David Basinger, “Evil as Evidence Against God’s Existence: Some Clarifications,” Modern Schoolman 58 (1980-81): 181.
R. Nash, Faith and Reason, 204.
John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, rev. ed. (New York: Harper, 1978), 258.
W. Hasker, “Must God Do His Best?” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 16 (1984): 216.
See Michael L. Peterson, Evil and the Christian God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982).
Nash, Faith and Reason, 220.
Peterson, Evil and the Christian God, 124-25.
J. Collins, The British Empiricists (
Keith Ward, “Miracles and Testimony,” Religious Studies 21 (1985): 134.
Hume’s essay still attracts a great deal of attention. For a recent
and scathing critique see John Earman, Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument
Against Miracles (
C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 111-12.
For a further discussion of this point see J. A. Cover, “Miracles and Christian Theism,” in Michael J. Murray, ed., Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 356-57.
Colin Brown, Miracles and the Critical Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 97.
R. Swinburne, The Concept of Miracles (London: Macmillan, 1970), 60-61.
W. K. Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief,” in Lectures and Essays . Reprinted in Philosophy: Paradox and Discovery, 4th ed., ed. Shipka and Minton (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996), 83, 85.
For instance, John Frame, a theist, argues that “we should not believe anything without having evidence in the objective sense." See his Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 1994), 64.
Some of these criticisms of evidentialism are taken from Kelly James
Clark, “Without Evidence or Argument,” in Readings
in the Philosophy of Religion, ed. Kelly James Clark (
This reading of Aquinas’ view is taken from Alvin Plantinga’s early
work. In his most recent work he has rejected his earlier view that Aquinas was
a strong foundationalist. See Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (
This definition of proper basicality is suggested by Philip L. Quinn, “On Finding the Foundations of Theism,” in Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, 198.
The phrasing in this paragraph is borrowed from Michael Peterson, et al., Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, 2d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 149.
Michael Peterson, et al., Reason and Religious Belief, 150.
Michael Peterson, et al., Reason and Religious Belief, 152.
Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, 101.
Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, 156.
Stephen J. Wykstra, “Towards a Sensible Evidentialism: On the Notion of ‘Needing Evidence’,” Reprinted in William Rowe and William Wainwright, ed., Philosophy of Religion, 3d ed. (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1998), 483.
Plantinga, “Reason and Belief in God,” 90.
A. Plantinga, “Is Belief in God Properly Basic?” Nous 15:1 (March 1981). Reprinted in William Rowe and William Wainwright, ed., Philosophy of Religion, 477.
A similar claim was made by Thomas Reid (1710-1796). "This
power which we acquire of perceiving things by our senses, which originally we
should not have perceived, is not the effect of any reasoning on our part: It
is the result of our constitution, and of the situations in which we happen to
be placed. We are so made, that when two things are found to be conjoined in
certain circumstances, we are prone to believe that they are connected by
nature, and will always be found together in like circumstances. The belief
which we are led into in such cases is not the effect of reasoning, nor does it
arise from intuitive evidence in the thing believed; it is, as I apprehend, the
immediate effect of our constitution." See his Essays on the
Intellectual Powers of Man (
Caleb Miller, “Faith and Reason,” in Michael J. Murray, ed. Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 143.
Ludwig Feuerbach, Das Wesen
der Religion, ed. Alfred K. Verlag (
Friedrich Schleiermacher [1768-1834], The Christian Faith, trans. from the 2d German edition, ed. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1976), 12.
Quotations in Section B. are from Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1957).
Quotations in Sections C. and D. are from Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, ed. Waring and Strothmann (New York: Frederick Unger Pub., 1981), 10-20.
Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot, 37.
Sidney Hook, From Hegel to Marx (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1962), 225.
Karl Marx, “On the Future of Religion.”
William Frankena, Ethics, 2d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973), 18.
Reprinted in Philosophy for a New Generation, ed. A. K. Bierman and James Gould, 4th ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1981), 58-66.
Alasdair MacIntrye, “Egoism and Altruism,” s.v. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 8 vols., ed. Paul Edwards (New York: The Free Press/Macmillan, 1967), 2:466.
See R. Brandt, “Ethical Relativism,” s.v. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 8 vols., ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Macmillan/Free Press, 1967), 3:75.
Much of what follows in subsections 2., 3., and 4. is adapted from James Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, excerpted in Philosophy: Paradox and Discovery, 4th ed., ed. T. Shipka and A. Minton (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996), 290-301.
Robert E. Dewey and Robert H. Hurlbutt, An Introduction to Ethics,
ed. Dewey and Hurlbutt (
Unless otherwise noted, quotations from the Nicomachean Ethics are from First Philosophy, 621-33.
Kathleen V. Wilkes, “The Good Man and the Good for Man in Aristotle’s Ethics,” in Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics, ed. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980), 341.
Thomas Nagel, “Aristotle on Eudaimonia,” in Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics, 8.
Cited in An Introduction to Ethics, ed. Robert Dewey and Robert Hurlbutt (New York: Macmillan, 1977), 296.
See “Translator’s Introduction,” in Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Martin Ostwald (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1980), xxii.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Ostwald, 33-34.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Ostwald, 39-40.
A. MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 139.
Quotations cited in parentheses in the section are from I. Kant’s Foundations of the Metaphysic of Morals. Reprinted in First Philosophy, 642-66.
The material in this subsection is derived from: John H. Hallowell and Jene M. Porter, Political Philosophy: The Search for Humanity and Order (Scarborough: Prentice Hall, Canada, 1997), 502-10.
Citations referenced in parentheses are from J S Mill, Utilitarianism  as excerpted in First Philosophy, 677-702.
Peter Singer, The Expanding Circle: Ethics and Sociobiology (NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1981), 157.
Taken from Andrew Oldenquist, “Loyalties,” The Journal of Philosophy 79 (April 1982): 173-93. References in parenthesis in this section are from this source.
Andrew Oldenquist, “The Metaphysics of Self and Society,” in The Non-Suicidal Society (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986), 113-34.
Oldenquist, “The Metaphysics of Self and Society,” 267.
Michael Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 150.
Robert Beck, Perspectives in Social Philosophy, ed. Robert Beck (NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1967), 5.
Beck, Perspectives in Social Philosophy, 5-6.
Leo Strauss, “What is Political Philosophy?”, excerpted in Aeon J. Skoble and Tibor R. Machan, ed., Political Philosophy: Essential Selections (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999), 434.
Beck, Perspectives in Social Philosophy, 6.
Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1960), 40.
Alasdair MacIntyre, “How to Identify Ethical Principles,“ in The
Thomas Hobbes, De Cive, Preface, in The English Works of Thomas Hobbes, ed. Sir William Molesworth, 11 vols (London: 1839-45), 2:xiv.
John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government, V.27, 17.
Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government (Chicago: Henry Regency Co., 1971), 121.
Locke, The Second Treatise of Government, III.21,14; VII.87, 49.
Locke, The Second Treatise of Government, VIII.106, 60.
References to The Social Contract are from an eighteenth-century translation edited by Charles Frankel (New York: Hafner Press, 1947).
A. M. Metzer, “Rousseau’s Moral Realism: Replacing Natural Law with the General Will” American Political Science Review, 77 (September 1983): 638.
Nisbet, The Sociological Tradition, 40.
William Connolly, Political Theory and Modernity (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 182.
Translated: “To be in the company of men.”
See Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution, rev. ed. (NY: Harper & Row, 1961), 73.
This phrase is taken from Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984), 71.