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Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview


A few questions chapter 12 has brought up that I must admit I can’t answer, or don’t have a good answer to. Most of these questions have to do with physicalism.

  1. How do conscious states arise from physical events?
  2. Can a purely physical mind account for subjectivity?
  3. Are some of our internal states incorrigible, i.e. can’t be wrong?
  4. If the physical can’t account for mental states, what are the implications for naturalism?
  5. Can dualism fit into a naturalistic account of the universe?

Kindle Notes:

I must be frank with you: the greatest danger confronting American evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism (247).

Our text is intentionally Christian and therefore aims to offer, not just a soporific review of positions pro and con, but rather an articulation of what we take to be the most plausible stance a Christian can take on various questions (394).

Accordingly, philosophy may be defined as the attempt to think rationally and critically about life’s most important questions in order to obtain knowledge and wisdom about them. Philosophy can help someone form a rationally justified, true worldview, that is, an ordered set of propositions that one believes, especially propositions about life’s most important questions (468).

Epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief (see part two). What is knowledge? Can we have it? How do we know things and justify our beliefs? What are the kinds of things we can know (492)?

Metaphysics is the study of being or reality (see part three). Here are some metaphysical questions: What does it mean for something to exist? What are the ultimate kinds of things that exist? What is a substance? What is a property? Is matter real? Is mind real? What are space, time and causation? What is linguistic meaning (493)?

The biblical notion of faith includes three components: notitia (understanding the content of the Christian faith), fiducia (trust) and assensus (the assent of the intellect to the truth of some proposition) (598).

if disembodied existence is metaphysically possible—if there is a possible world with disembodied existence—then a person cannot be identical to his or her body because there is no possible world where the person’s body exists and is disembodied. Since it is possible for a person to exist disembodied, but it is not possible for a body to exist disembodied, then a person is not identical to his or her body. Why? Because something is true of the person (the possibility of disembodied existence) not true of his or her body (4765).

Linguistic Reduction. This occurs when language that uses one vocabulary or set of terms is replaced with language that uses another vocabulary or set of terms. For example: a. The average family has 2.5 children. a′. Add the children and divide that number by the number of families and you get 2.5 (4878).

Strong Ontological Reduction. This occurs when some entity x is reduced to (i.e., identified with) some entity y. In this case, x exists and is nothing but y; in other words, x is identical to y. Some have said (erroneously in our view) that statements such as the following express strong ontological reductions: “Redness is a wavelength,” “Heat is the vibration of molecules,” “Pain is a certain brain state.” In each case one entity (redness, heat, pain) is reduced to another entity (a wavelength, a vibration, a brain state) in that the former entity exists and is nothing more nor less than the latter entity (4906).

3. Weak Ontological Reduction. Here entity x is reduced to entity y in that x is caused by or explained by or dependent on y. Y is a sufficient condition for x. For example, wetness is reduced to the molecular structure of a group of water molecules in that this structure is what causes and explains wetness (4911).

Substances fall into natural classes called natural kinds, e.g., the class of dogs, humans and so forth. This can be explained by saying that each member of a natural kind has the very same essence in it. All humans have humanness and that explains the unity of the class of humans, why certain things (Smith) belong in that class, and why other things (Fido) do not (5296).

Note: Naive idealism?

Christian thinkers, though by no means all of them, and many non-Christian thinkers have held to a realist doctrine of properties and a traditional notion of substance, and they have done so for good reasons. If we assume the truth of these two positions, then two things follow. First, crude, sensate forms of empiricism (knowledge and justified belief can operate only within the bounds of the five senses) are false because at least many properties (that of being triangular or of being even) are not knowable within those boundaries. Second, physicalist forms of naturalism are false as well because neither properties, nor the individuated essences that constitute substances are material beings (5471).

physical can mean whatever can be described using the language of physics and chemistry. Second, physical can include the sense just given and be extended to include whatever can be described in any physical science, especially including biology. Third, physical can be extended beyond the first two senses to include any commonsense notion of physical. This is often, though not always, taken to include the primary qualities (shape, mass, size, motion) and to exclude the secondary qualities (those experienced through only one sense organ such as color, smell, texture, sound, taste) (5550).

Some have defined a mental entity as something such that it would not exist if there were no sentient creatures. Others define a mental entity as something about which the subject is in a better position to know than is anyone else, or something to which a subject has private, first-person access. Mental entities belong to the private world of inner experience (5580).

If physicalism is true and if mental entities exist but are really nothing but physical entities, then everything true of the brain (and its properties, states and dispositions) is true of the mind (and its properties, states and dispositions) and vice versa. If we can find one thing true, or even possibly true of the mind (or its states) and not the brain (or its states), or vice versa, then some form of dualism is established. The mind is not the brain (5625).

It may be that brain events cause mental events or vice versa (e.g., having certain electrical activity in the brain may cause one to experience a pain, and having an intention to raise one’s arm may cause bodily events). It may be that for every mental activity a neurophysiologist can find a physical activity in the brain with which it is correlated. But just because A causes B (or vice versa), or just because A and B are constantly correlated with each other, that does not mean that A is identical to B (5632).

Mental properties, like feeling sad, experiencing red, having a thought that three is an odd number, are self-presenting properties, that is, they present themselves directly to the subject (5667).

Not only do people have private access to their own mental states, but also, people can know them incorrigibly. If something is incorrigible to a knowing subject, then that subject is incapable of being mistaken about that thing (5693).

Now intentionality is not a property or relation of anything physical because the notion of “ofness” or “aboutness” is not something that is part of the language of physics and chemistry (5755).

Note: First order vs. second order descriptions?

through introspection a person is directly aware of the fact that (1) he is an immaterial center of consciousness and volition that uses his body as an instrument to interact with the material world; (2) he is the owner of his experiences and he is not identical to a bundle of mental experiences; and (3) he is an enduring self who exists as the same possessor of all his experiences through time. This direct awareness shows that a person is not identical to his or her body in whole or in part or to one’s experiences, but rather is the thing that has them (5778).

It would seem that a person can maintain absolute sameness through change, that is, personal identity. More specifically, even though one’s body constantly gains new parts and loses old ones, and even though one’s mental states come and go in rapid succession, nevertheless, the person himself remains the same because he is a mental self that is other than his body parts and mental states (5803).

Given choices A and B, one can literally choose to do either one, no circumstances exist that are sufficient to determine one’s choice; a person’s choice is up to him, and if he does one of them, he could have done otherwise, or at least he could have refrained from acting at all. One acts as an agent who is the ultimate originator of one’s own actions and, in this sense, is in control of one’s action (5811).

Now, when it comes to morality, if determinism is true, some argue that it is hard to make sense of moral obligation and responsibility. They seem to presuppose libertarian freedom of the will. If one “ought” to do something, it seems to be necessary to suppose that one can do it in the libertarian sense (5818).

Thus property dualism, no less than physicalism, is false, given the truth of agent causation and commonsense notions of moral ability, moral responsibility and punishment (5855).

Note: Why are commonsense notions seen as not needing defense here?

determinism is self-stultifying. If my mental processes are totally determined, I am totally determined either to accept or to reject determinism. But if the sole reason for my believing or not believing X is that I am causally determined to believe it I have no ground for holding that my judgment is true or false (5861).

In fact, it is possible for a disembodied person to exist and to think, have certain feelings, beliefs, desires and so forth. But it hardly makes sense to speak of a brain state that could exist in a disembodied, immaterial mode of existence. Thus mental states and brain states cannot be the same thing (6124).

Note: Is that true? What if we say that brain states are necessary conditions for subjective experience? If so, then can we say that these experiences cannot exist less a brain?

argue hard compatibilists, the only choices that are free are those caused by one’s character, beliefs and desires. If a choice, say to raise one’s hand to vote, is not caused by a prior event, then it is completely uncaused and utterly random or fortuitous. How can a completely random event (the raising of one’s hand) over which one has no control be a “free” choice (6526)?

classical compatibilists like John Locke and David Hume primarily applied the notion of freedom to bodily action. For them, one was free if and only if one could act according to one’s own desires and preferences in the absence of external constraint. Julie is free to leave the room if she desires to do so and no one is holding her down or keeping the door locked, even if her desire to leave is causally determined (6535).

According to contemporary or hierarchical compatibilism, the problem with classical compatibilism is that freedom to act bodily seems to be neither necessary nor sufficient for having the type of freedom necessary to be a responsible agent. Kleptomaniacs and people with serious addictions or phobias are not free even though they can act according to their desires in the absence of external constraint (6538).

Note: The reason the kleptomaniac is not responsible is that his desires are not amenable to stimuli like condemnation or praise (or being held “responsible). Someone who acts according to his desires is can be considered responsible insofar as they are amenable to those stimuli. Otherwise, there’s no use in any sort of moral condemnation. It fails to have its intended effect.

consider a case where a person could not have done other than what he did, but still acted freely. Suppose a scientist has placed an electrode in Jones’s brain so that he can read what Jones is going to do on any occasion and can cause him to do whatever the scientist desires. Now suppose the scientist wants Jones to kill Smith, and Jones himself, in the absence of any influence from the scientist, is deliberating about the murder. If Jones decides not to kill Smith, the scientist will activate the electrode and cause the killing, but he does not need to do so because Jones carries out the act on his own. Here Jones was free but could not have acted otherwise (6544).

Note: In this case, Jones could have desired not to kill Smith. This much he could change. This ability to have a different desire is why we might hold him responsible, and it is a necessary component.

When an agent acts freely, he is a first or unmoved mover; no event or efficient cause causes him to act. His desires or beliefs may influence his choice or play an important role in his deliberations, but free acts are not determined or caused by prior events or states in the agent; rather, they are spontaneously done by the agent himself acting as a first mover. Thus libertarian freedom is both a position about freedom itself and a theory about the nature of agents and agency (6560).

Compatibilists and others have responded to the problem of fatalism by claiming that it is false and that determinism does not imply fatalism. It is true, given that determinism is the case, that only one future course of events can happen. But it does not follow that this future course of events will occur irrespective of our deliberations and choices. For example, it makes no sense to say of some single man named Harry that he is fated either to get married or not get married, and while we do not currently know which outcome is fated, one of them is and it will occur irrespective of Harry’s choices and deliberations. These choices and deliberations play a crucial role in the causal chain leading up to the outcome. In general, the future will unfold by running through the chain of events constituting our deliberations and choices, and thus these play a crucial role in causally contributing to what the future is going to be (6823).

problem. Still others utilize a notion called middle knowledge, roughly, God’s knowledge of what every free creature he could create would do in every possible circumstance in which they could be placed. God’s middle knowledge of future free acts does not determine, but rather rests on what those choices will be (6860).

philosophy is more fundamental and basic than science. In fact, scientific knowledge presupposes and is founded on presuppositions that require philosophical formulation and defense (see chaps. 15-18). When this order is reversed and science becomes the benchmark for formulating a philosophical position on some matter, highly counterintuitive results often follow, as is the case with empiricist positions on personal identity (7291).

The body version of empiricist views holds that continuity of body is what constitutes personal identity; memory versions reject this and claim that continuity of memory and other psychological traits are what constitute personal identity. Absolutists hold that persons maintain strict, literal sameness through change, that personal identity is unanalyzable and different from artifact identity, and that the first-person “I” is a unity at a given time and through time, which is most reasonably grounded in a substantial soul (7345).

A number of arguments were given for the absolutist view: our basic experience of the self, the fact that the first-person cannot be reduced to the third-person, our fear of future pain and punishment for past wrong, the need for an enduring self to ground our reasoning processes, switch cases that show that body or memory criteria are neither necessary nor sufficient for personal identity, and a set of specific problems that seem to plague empiricist views (7349).

we have already seen that God’s usual way of operating is through secondary causes, and primary causal gaps are God’s extraordinary, unusual way of operating; by definition, these will be few and far between. Second, the evidential or sign value of a miraculous gap arises most naturally against a backdrop where the gaps are rare, unexpected and have a religious context (e.g., there are positive theological reasons to expect their presence) (8718).

Note: Is this ad hoc, or were there new predictions that this justified?

certain phenomena, like the origin of life or gaps in the fossil record, are not problems in need of solution for creationism beyond an appeal to the primary causal agency of God. But they are problems for evolutionary theory, so fruitful lines of research for new mechanisms must be sought. However, it is naive and question-begging to fault creationists for not developing fruitful problem-solving strategies for such gaps compared to their evolutionary rivals because such strategies are simply disallowed given that these phenomena are basic for creationists (8776).

Consequently, virtually all philosophers of time and space, even those who hold to a B-theory of time, admit that the view of the common man is that time involves a real distinction between past, present and future (9089).

advocate of the A-theory of time may plausibly contend that our experience of tense ought to be accepted as veridical, or trustworthy, unless we are given some more powerful reason for denying it (9092).

A belief’s being properly basic implies that one is justified in holding to that belief unless and until it is defeated. We may say that such a belief is justified at face value (prima facie). For example, take the belief “The external world is real.” It is possible that you are really a brain in a vat of chemicals, being stimulated with electrodes by some mad scientist to believe that you are reading this book. Indeed, there is no way to prove this hypothesis wrong. But that does not imply that your belief in the reality of the external world is unjustified. On the contrary, it is a properly basic belief grounded in your experience and as such is justified until some defeater comes along. This belief is not defeated by the mere possibility that you are a brain in a vat. For there is no warrant for thinking that one is, in fact, a brain in a vat. Indeed, our belief in the reality of the external world is so deeply ingrained and strongly held that any successful defeater of this belief would have to possess enormous warrant. In the absence of any successful defeater, we are perfectly justified in taking our experience of the external world to be veridical (9097).

this is like arguing that because a brain in a vat would have the same experiences of the external world that we do, therefore we no longer have any grounds for regarding our experiences as veridical (9113)!

Note: I can’t fully object to that.

Ethics can be understood as the philosophical study of morality, which is concerned with our beliefs and judgments regarding right and wrong motives, attitudes, character and conduct. When an ethicist studies morality, certain value concepts are the center of focus: “right,” “wrong,” “good,” “bad,” “ought,” “duty,” “virtuous,” “blameworthy” and so on (9371).

The following have been offered by a number of philosophers as a set of necessary (and/or sufficient) conditions for defining morality: 1. A judgment is moral only if it is accepted as a supremely authoritative, overriding guide to conduct, attitudes and motives (9391).

Note: By desirism, morality does not exist. It’s possible that divine command theory or natural law are not morality by these definitions. Why act according to our nature or God’s commands? No overriding guide there.

2. A judgment is moral only if it is a prescriptive imperative that recommends actions, attitudes and motives and not merely a factual description about actions, attitudes and motives (9403).

3. A judgment is moral only if it is universalizable, that is, if it applies equally to all relevantly similar situations (9411).

4. A judgment is moral only if it makes reference to proper human flourishing, human dignity, the welfare of others, the prevention of harm and the provision of benefit (9419).

Metaethics involves two main areas of investigation. First, metaethics focuses on the meaning and reference of crucial ethical terms, such as right and wrong, good and bad, ought and ought not, duty, and so on. For example, metaethics investigates the meaning of a statement like “Love is a virtue” (9436).

So emotivism and imperativalism imply the impossibility of moral disagreement. But any view that implies such an implausible assertion as this is inadequate as a general theory of moral meaning (9505).

Ethical naturalism is a reductionist view that holds that ethical terms (goodness, worth and right) can be defined by or reduced to natural, scientific properties that are biological, psychological, sociological or physical in nature (9559).

Two major objections can be raised against ethical naturalism both based on its moral reductionism. First, it confuses an is with an ought by reducing the latter to the former. Moral properties are normative properties. They carry with them a moral “ought.” If some act has the property of rightness, then one ought to do that act. But natural properties like the ones listed do not carry normativeness. They just are (9572).

it was approved by most people, it would still be wrong (9580).

Note: Isn’t this just question begging? The authors are using their own preconceived notion of morality to evaluate the claim, and make a cheap Appeal to intuitions. 200 years ago, one could make the analogous argument that ethical naturalism implies that slavery is wrong, therefore ethical naturalism is false. A sound approach would be to figure out or stipulate what morality is, then figure out what is right or wrong. Instead the authors have already decided what is moral, and take their own assumptions as an infallible marker of morality.

It seems reasonable to say that if a physicalist version of philosophical naturalism is true, then objective moral values do not exist (9598).

If one adopts the moral point of view, then one does the following: One subscribes to normative judgments about actions, things (persons, the environ ment) and motives; one is willing to universalize his judgments; one seeks to form his moral views in a free, unbiased, enlightened way; one seeks to promote the good. In other words, if one adopts the moral point of view, one submits to and seeks to promote the dictates of normative, universalizable morality in a mature, unbiased, impartial way. One embraces the dictates of morality and seeks to live in light of the moral point of view (9609).

“Why should I be moral?” Different answers have been given to the question, but the two most prominent have been the egoistic and theistic replies. Roughly, the egoistic response says that one ought to be moral just in the case that it is in one’s best interests to do so (9639).

because the moral law is true and is constituted by the nonarbitrary commands of a good, just, wise, loving God or because the moral law is grounded in the way we were designed by such a God to function properly (9642).

Three things can be said against ethical skepticism. First, one could adopt the standpoint of particularism and claim that it is self-evidently true that some things are simply right or wrong—mercy as such is a virtue; rape as such is wrong. The skeptic could respond that this claim is question-begging. He could ask us how we know these things are wrong. The particularist could reply that one does not need a criterion that tells us how we know the above claims before we are rationally entitled to make them. Further, we have more grounds for believing that mercy as such is a virtue than we have for believing that ethical skepticism is true. Thus the burden of proof seems to be on the skeptic in this case (9868).

some forms of “the good life” are better than others and, indeed, some choices of “the good life” (e.g., one devoted to self-mutilation and narcissism) are bad forms of life. The simple fact is that some lifestyles are objectively more valuable than others and some lifestyles are actually worthless even if they are chosen freely. Combinatorial relativism does not leave room for this fact and this counts against it (9914).

What does it mean to claim that some moral principle P is an absolute? There are at least three answers to this question. First, one can mean that P is objectively and unchangingly true irrespective of the beliefs of individuals or cultures. Someone who holds this form of absolutism would embrace one or more of the following: (1) Moral statements have truth values which make no reference to the beliefs of individuals or cultures. (2) There are objectively good/bad arguments for the truth of moral positions people take. (3) Nonmoral facts (e.g., persons exist) and moral facts (irreducibly moral properties like goodness) are relevant to the assessment of the truth value of moral statements. (4) When two moral statements conflict, only one can be true. (5) There is a single true morality (9945).

A second understanding of an absolute is as follows. A moral absolute is true and completely exceptionless. This is sometimes put by saying that a moral absolute is universalizable (9952).

Absolute morality is at home in their conceptions of the world and is to be expected. On the other hand, physicalistic or naturalistic worldviews labor to justify moral absolutes in a way not necessary for theism or Platonism, because objective moral properties and propositions that refer to human beings are odd and surprising within their worldview (10071).

Note: Like saying that moral value magically exists. Morality is not necessarily at home in theism more than naturalism.

While philosophers differ over a precise definition of intuitions, a common usage defines an intuition as an immediate, direct awareness or acquaintance with something. An intuition is a mode of awareness—sensory, intellectual or otherwise—in which something seems or appears to be directly present to one’s consciousness. For example, one can have a sensory intuition of a table or an intellectual intuition of a conceptual truth, for instance, that 2 + 2 = 4 (10086).

Note: Whose intuitions count? My intuitions go against what the authors claim we intuitively know.

Intuitions are not infallible, but they are prima facie justified. That is, if one carefully reflects on something, and a certain viewpoint intuitively seems to be true, then one is justified in believing that viewpoint in the absence of overriding counterarguments (10089).

Note: Is this stance true of all intuitions?

teleological ethics can refer to certain types of natural moral law theories that depict the purpose of human life in general, and moral rules in particular, to be that of moving toward and promoting the end or goal (the telos) for which we were made—ideal human flourishing in accordance with our human nature (10138).

ethical egoism, embraced by such philosophers as Ayn Rand and John Hospers, is called universal or impersonal rule egoism (hereafter, ethical egoism): each person has a moral duty to follow those and only those moral rules that will be in the agent’s maximal self-interest over the long haul (10151).

God’s commands, the objective moral law, etc. could be rationally cited as the things that make an act our duty in the first place. The Scriptures may be citing self-interest as a motive for action and not as the reason for what makes the act our duty (10313).

Note: Why follow God’s commands? Desires are reasons that justify, but commands alone and duty do not.

According to Lewis, the desire for heaven and rewards is a natural desire expressing what we, by nature, are. We were made to desire honor before God, to be in his presence and to hunger to enjoy the rewards he will offer us, and these things are the natural consummations of our activity on earth. Thus the appropriateness of seeking heaven and rewards derives from the fact that these results are genuine expressions of our natures and are the natural consummation of our activities for God (10345).

Note: Naturalistic fallacy.

The essence of utilitarianism can be stated in this way: the rightness or wrongness of an act or moral rule is solely a matter of the nonmoral good produced directly or indirectly in the consequences of that act or rule (10353).

But in spite of act utilitarian claims, such an act does not seem to be a moral act at all. Thus act utilitarianism fails because it turns trivial acts like this into issues of moral obligation (10569).

Roughly, deontological ethics focuses on right and wrong moral actions and moral laws and holds that some moral acts and rules are intrinsically right or wrong irrespective of the consequences produced by doing those acts or following those rules. According to deontological ethics, moral

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