Monday, August 24, 2015

Quote of the Week

The naturalistic/physicalistic crusade to reduce the mental to the physical is driven by the idea that we have better knowledge and understanding of the physical than we have of the "problematic" and uncomfortably "mysterious" mental. But if what I asserted above is true, the tenability of any sort of physicalism rests on an epistemology that is committed to a view diametrically opposed to this idea. We have a better, and more immediate grasp of the mental than we have of the theoretical posit that is the physical world and its properties. If anything, we should be much more concerned to reduce the physical to the comfortable, more familiar world of the mental than we should be interested in reductions that move in the opposite direction.

Richard Fumerton
Knowledge, Thought, and the Case for Dualism
(Cambridge Studies in Philosophy)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Quote of the Week

"Everything seems meaningless," Charlene complained to me one day.

"What is the meaning of life?" I asked her with seeming innocence.

"How should I know?" she replied with obvious irritation.

"You're a dedicated religious person," I responded. "Surely your religion must have something to say about the meaning of life."

"You're trying to trap me," Charlene countered.

"That's right," I acknowledged. "I am trying to trap you into seeing your problem clearly. What does your religion hold to be the meaning of life?"

"I am not a Christian," Charlene proclaimed. "My religion speaks of love, not of meaning."

"Well, what do Christians say as to the meaning of life? Even if it isn't what you believe, at least it's a model."

"I'm not interested in models."

"You were raised in the Christian Church. You spent almost two years as a professional teacher of Christian doctrine," I went on, goading her. "Surely you're not so dumb as to be unaware of what Christians say is the meaning of life, the purpose of human existence."

"We exist for the glory of God," Charlene said in a flat, low monotone, as if she were sullenly repeating an alien catechism, learned by rote and extracted from her at gunpoint. "The purpose of our life is to glorify God."

"Well?" I asked.

There was a short silence. For a brief moment I thought she might cry -- the one time in our work together. "I cannot do it. There's no room for me in that. That would be my death," she said in a quavering voice. Then, with a suddenness that frightened me, what seemed to be her choked-back sobs turned into a roar. "I don't want to live for God. I will not. I want to live for me. My own sake!"

It was another session in the middle of which Charlene walked out. I felt a terrible pity for her. I wanted to cry, but my own tears would not come. "Oh God, she's so alone," was all I could whisper.

M. Scott Peck
People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil

Monday, August 10, 2015

Quote of the Week

We clearly weren't getting very far on the topic of pets, so I decided to switch to another topic, which often elicits some enthusiasm from young people. "It's not long since Christmas," I said. "What did you get for Christmas?"

"Nothing much."

"Your parents must have given you something. What did they give you?"

"A gun."

"A gun?" I repeated stupidly.


"What kind of gun?" I asked slowly.

"A twenty-two."

"A twenty-two pistol?"

"No, a twenty-two rifle."

There was a long moment of silence. I felt as if I had lost my bearings. I wanted to stop the interview. I wanted to go home. Finally I pushed myself to say what had to be said. "I understand that it was with a twenty-two rifle that your brother killed himself."


"Was that what you asked for for Christmas?"


"What did you ask for?"

"A tennis racket."

"But you got the gun instead?"


"How did you feel, getting the same kind of gun that your brother had?"

"It wasn't the same kind of gun."

I began to feel better. Maybe I was just confused. "I'm sorry," I said. "I thought they were the same kind of gun."

"It wasn't the same kind of gun" Bobby replied. "It was the gun."

"The gun?"


"You mean, it was your brother's gun?" I wanted to go home very badly now.


"You mean your parents gave you your brother's gun for Christmas, the one he shot himself with?"


"How did it make you feel getting your brother's gun for Christmas?" I asked.

"I don't know."

I almost regretted the question. How could he know? How could he answer such a thing? I looked at him. There had been no change in his appearance as we had talked about the gun. He had continued to pick away at his sores. Otherwise it was if he were already dead -- dull-eyed, listless, apathetic to the point of lifelessness, beyond terror.


"Look, Doctor," the father interjected, "I don't know what you're insinuating. You're asking all these questions like you were a policeman or something. We haven't done anything wrong. You don't have any right to take a boy from his parents, if that's what you're thinking of. We've worked hard for that boy. We've been good parents."

My stomach was feeling queasier moment by moment. "I'm concerned about the Christmas present you gave Bobby," I said.

"Christmas present?" The parents seems confused.

"Yes. I understand you gave him a gun."

"That's right."

"Was that what he asked for?"

"How should I know what he asked for?" the father demanded belligerently. Then immediately his manner turned plaintive. "I can't remember what he asked for. A lot's happened to us, you know. This has been a difficult year for us."

"I can believe it has been," I said, "but why did you give him a gun?"

"Why? Why not? It's a good present for a boy his age. Most boys his age would give their eyeteeth for a gun."

"I should think," I said slowly, "that since your only other child has killed himself with a gun that you wouldn't feel so kindly toward guns."

"You're one of these antigun people, are you?" the father asked me, faintly belligerent again. "Well, that's all right. You can be that way. I'm no gun nut myself, but it does seem to me that guns aren't the problem; it's the people who use them."

"To an extent, I agree with you," I said. "Stuart didn't kill himself simply because he had a gun. There must have been some other reason more important. Do you know what that reason might have been?"

"No. We've already told you we didn't even know that Stuart was depressed."

"That's right. Stuart was depressed. People don't commit suicide unless they're depressed. Since you didn't know Stuart was depressed, there was perhaps no reason for you to worry about him having a gun. But you did know Bobby was depressed. You knew he was depressed well before Christmas, well before you gave him the gun."

"Please, Doctor, you don't seem to understand," the mother said ingratiatingly, taking over from her husband. "We really didn't know it was this serious. We just thought he was upset over his brother."

"So you gave him his brother's suicide weapon. Not any gun. That particular gun."

The father took the lead again. "We couldn't afford to get him a new gun. I don't know why you're picking on us. We gave him the best present we could. Money doesn't grow on trees, you know. We're just ordinary working people. We could have sold the gun and made money. But we didn't. We kept it so we could give Bobby a good present."

"Did you think how that present might seem to Bobby?" I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that giving him his brother's suicide weapon was like telling him to walk in his brother's shoes, like telling him to go out and kill himself too."

"We didn't tell him anything of the sort."

"Of course not. But did you think that it might possibly seem that way to Bobby?"

"No, we didn't think about that. We're not educated people like you. We haven't been to college and learned all kinds of fancy ways of thinking. We're just simple working people. We can't be expected to think of all these things."

"Perhaps not," I said. "But that's what worries me. Because these things need to be thought of."

We stared at each other for a long moment. How did they feel, I wondered. Certainly they didn't seem to feel guilty. Angry? Frightened? Victimized? I didn't know. I didn't feel any empathy for them. I only knew how I felt. I felt repelled by them. And I felt very tired.

M. Scott Peck
People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil

Monday, March 30, 2015

Recent acquisitions

As usual, apologies for not posting. I just thought I'd list a few books I've acquired over the past several months. Many of them were free -- most of these are textbooks I got from the publishers or from other philosophers who were discarding them. A few are books I repurchased because one of our boxes of books was lost in shipping between Belgium and the States two years ago. I won't provide links, because that's a bit too much. And, man, when I put them all together, it looks like a lot. It certainly doesn't feel like a lot. It feels like I'm living in abject poverty in terms of books. My sister recently told me that if you're going to be a hoarder, being a book hoarder is perhaps the most forgivable type.

Aristotle, The Works of Aristotle, volume I (Great Books of the Western World, 8).
Stan Baronett, Logic, 2nd edition.
Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology
Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy (9 volumes in three books). (repurchase)
Suzanne Cunningham, What Is a Mind? An Integrative Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind.
Daniel Dennett, Content and Consciousness.
Daniel Dennett, Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting.
Daniel Dennett, Kinds of Minds: The Origins of Consciousness.
Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolves.
Daniel Dennett, Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness.
René Descartes, Principles of Philosophy.
René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy (in one volume).
Rocco J. Gennaro, Mind and Brain: A Dialogue on the Mind-Body Problem.
Steven D. Hales, Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings.
Barbara Hannan, Subjectivity and Reduction: An Introduction to the Mind-Body Problem.
Paul Herrick, Introduction to Logic.
Paul Herrick, Think with Socrates: An Introduction to Critical Thinking.
Robert M. Johnson, A Logic Book, 5th edition.
Douglas E. Krueger, What Is Atheism? A Short Introduction.
Jonathan L. Kvanvig, Rationality and Reflection: How to Think About What to Think.
David Levinson, Religion: A Cross-Cultural Dictionary
David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450. (repurchase)
Michael Molloy, Experiencing the World's Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change, 3rd edition.
Peter A. Morton, A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind: Readings with Commentary.
Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere.
Nickolas Pappas, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Plato and the Republic.
Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger, Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, 3rd edition.
Stephen H. Phillips, Philosophy of Religion: A Global Approach.
Alvin Plantinga, God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God.
Alvin Plantinga, Does God Have a Nature?
Plato, Collected Works of Plato. (repurchase)
Nina Rosenstand, The Moral of the Story: An Introduction to Ethics.
William L. Rowe, Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction, 3rd edition.
James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th edition.
Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, revised edition.
Peter van Inwagen, Metaphysics (Dimensions of Philosophy series).
Willard Van Orman Quine and J.S. Ullian, The Web of Belief.
Willard Van Orman Quine, edited by Roger F. Gibson, Quintessence: Basic Readings from the Philosophy of W.V. Quine.
Peter Vardy and Julie Arliss, The Thinker's Guide to God.
Peter Vardy and Julie Arliss, The Thinker's Guide to Evil.
Lewis Vaughn, Philosophy Here and Now: Powerful Ideas in Everyday Life.
Phil Washburn, Philosophical Dilemmas: A Pro and Con Introduction to the Major Questions 

Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu, The Three-Body Problem.
Michael Flynn, The Forest of Time and Other Stories.
Peter F. Hamilton, The Reality Dysfunction.
Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312.
Fred Saberhagen, Berserker.
Brad Thor, The Last Patriot.

Update (6 April): I forgot to include these:
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away.
Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge.
Karl Popper and John Eccles, The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism.
Gideon Rosen, Alex Byrne, Joshua Cohen, and Seana Shiffrin, The Norton Introduction to Philosophy.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Thought of the Day

Satan is a morning person.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Insulting Muhammad

In light of the terrorist attacks in Paris against a newspaper and cartoonists who wrote and published cartoons that mocked Muhammad, I will simply repeat something I wrote in one of my first posts regarding the controversy over a Danish newspaper that commissioned and published some cartoons depicting Muhammad. Part of the issue there was that many Muslims oppose representations of Muhammad. That's less of an issue with the Paris newspaper, since they regularly published cartoons that were intended to be offensive far beyond the mere representation of Muhammad. This only affects points 3 and 4, however, and does not actually affect their main points.

1. It's incredibly ungracious to treat something profanely when many people consider it sacred. It's morally reprehensible to do something for the sole purpose of offending others, especially when it comes to something as close to people's personal sense of identity as their religious beliefs.

2. Nevertheless, they had the right to do it. Free speech, freedom of the press, etc. entails the right to offend. If you only have free speech until someone is offended by what you say, you don't really have free speech.

3. To respond to some cartoons by committing such horrific acts of violence is absurdly disproportionate. It doesn't matter how offensive the cartoons are: the terrorists are not animals only responding to external stimuli. They are human beings, and so answerable to God for their chosen actions, and for choosing to align themselves with evil.

4. The prohibition of making images of Muhammad is not a universally-held doctrine in Islam. Many museums throughout the world, including the Muslim world, have paintings of Muhammad, which have been made by both Muslims and non-Muslims throughout Islamic history. Drawings and paintings and even cartoons of Muhammad -- including, most relevantly, offensive cartoons of Muhammad -- have been made many times before without similar responses. As such, these terrorist acts show all the signs of being a contrived outrage. The terrorists, in other words, used these cartoons as a pretext to express the evil that was already in their hearts. This doesn't necessarily absolve Islam (see here and here), it just puts the responsibility for these wicked acts on those who committed them.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Oh man

Here are some photos taken by the Philae lander from the surface of a comet. It took a little while to load, but it's worth the wait. I just showed them to my son and told him that, before now, only God had seen this sight. I actually have tears in my eyes. I prayed for this the night before Philae landed. God is amazing.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Restored posts

For those of you listening at home, I took three posts offline a year and a few months ago because an article I wrote was being published in an academic journal, and I wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety. I figure it's been long enough now, so I've just restored them. The posts were:

The Central Issue; or, Location Isn't Everything
Size Doesn't Matter, part 2 (if you want to start with part 1, which wasn't taken offline, click here)
"The alien who lives among you", part 1

All three are on science and religion. The third one was meant to be the first in a series (obviously) but I never wrote any more posts on it. Even though I'm on a blog-break, I'm planning to restart the franchise and write a series of posts on what the discovery of extraterrestrial life might mean for religion. Stay tuned. In the meantime, you can check out some of my more interesting posts.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014

OK... I guess I'm taking a break from blogging. For whatever reasons, I'm finding it very difficult to find the motivation to blog. I'm certainly busy, but I was busier during my Doctoral studies and I managed to blog fairly consistently then. I expect I'll start blogging again when fall term starts.

So there's a lot of stuff going on in the world right now, but rather than go into all of that, I'll just provide you with a list of things I have been / am / will soon be reading:

Elizabeth Asmis, "Free Action and the Swerve," Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 8 (1990): 275-91.

Michael Bergmann, Justification without Awareness: A Defense of Epistemic Externalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Walter G. Englert, Epicurus on the Swerve and Voluntary Action. American Classical Studies, 16. Atlanta, Scholar’s Press, 1987.

Brain Leahy, "Can Teleosemantics Deflect the EAAN?" Philosophia 41 (2013): 221-38.

Tim O'Keefe, Epicurus on Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

David Sedley, "Epicurus' Refutation of Determinism," in Συζήτησις: Studi sull’epicureismo greco e romano offerti a Marcello Gigante, G. Macchioroli, ed. Napoli: Bibliopolis, 1983: 11-51.

Feng Ye, "Naturalized Truth and Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism," International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 70 (2011): 27-46.

Update: Perhaps, if time allows (which it probably won't), I'll soon be reading these books too:

Henry E. Allison, Kant’s Theory of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Karl Ameriks, Kant’s Theory of Mind. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


I apologize for not posting anything for so long. I think this is the longest I've gone without blogging since I started in 2003. As you can guess, I have not had much spare time of late. I'm starting to get some now. Starting to. To tide you over, here are a few more links:

1. Hilary Putnam is blogging! And you can leave comments! I'm adding his blog, "Sardonic Comment", to the sidebar. Via Maverick Philosopher.

2. An objection and response between Patricia Churchland and Colin McGinn. Also via Maverick, who concludes (correctly in my view) that McGinn has the better of it.

3. An inferior exchange (actually an interview) between Tim Maudlin and Gary Gutting on science and religion. Maudlin is a philosopher of science, but it's hard to believe that, given how misinformed he is. It's just embarrassing. Via Keith Burgess-Jackson who calls it "about as stupid an exchange as I have encountered".

4.  Burgess-Jackson quotes David Brink on moral realism. Brink writes, "Moral realism is roughly the view that there are moral facts and true moral claims whose existence and nature are independent of our beliefs about what is right and wrong". Burgess-Jackson says he does not share Brink's intuition on this, but I certainly do. If moral facts did not hold independent of whether anyone believed them, then I don't see how you can make room for moral progress, since that would involve advocating moral claims that no one had hitherto recognized. You can easily construct thought experiments where everyone holds false moral beliefs -- say that all 10-year old children should be forced to kill each other in gladiatorial contests until only a few are left, this is done every year in order to keep the population down, and has been done for the entire history of the human race. This is morally atrocious, yet in that scenario, no one thinks it is immoral, including ex hypothesi, the 10-year-olds. I maintain that in those circumstances it would still be immoral. I don't see how you can maintain that without accepting moral realism. However, this is not really my field, and I am very open to correction. Burgess-Jackson has been thinking about it for longer than I have.

5. Ed Feser criticizes an introduction to philosophy that misstates the cosmological argument in the usual way (as I've commented on here). I have some criticisms of my own of another intro to philosophy that I plan to blog about it in the near future.

6. The Venus Express is getting ready to descend into Venus's atmosphere. Very exciting.

7. In light of the push for space tourism -- that is, constructing spacecraft to take paying passengers up into space -- one company is jumping the gun by doing it cheaper with balloons. They should be up (ha!) and running in 2016.

8. Saturn's moon Titan may be older than Saturn itself.

9. Ten things Kvothe absolutely needs to do in day 3 of Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles. The first two volumes are entitled The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear. I'm not really a fan of fantasy, but I make an exception for Tolkien and Rothfuss. They think it's too obvious that there be a connection between Cinder and Denna's patron, but I suspect there will be. I'd also add an eleventh point: we are told a few times that Kvothe's father seduced his mother away from court life, and then we learn that the Maer's new wife hates the Edema Ruh (Kvothe's family's performing troupe) because one of her relatives was seduced away by one. So yeah, Kvothe is almost certainly going to be revealed as having royal blood. Plus, Rothfuss has to bring in those freaky-deaky giant spider-things that he started the series off with.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Apologies again for not posting much of late. In the meantime, here are links to some interesting things I would have posted sooner if not for my frenetic schedule.

1. Malcolm Young of AC/DC is ill and unable to perform. However, AC/DC denies that they are retiring.
2. The Hackers Who Recovered NASA's Lost Lunar Photos.
3. Super Planet Crash!
4. Muslims becoming Christians.
5. Atheists becoming Christians.
6. Mapping Great Debates: Can Computers Think? This is a series of posters on issues on philosophy of mind and artificial intelligence (like the Chinese Room and Gödelian arguments), which organizes everything into charts. It's immensely helpful and I highly recommend it.
7. Mickey Rooney died. He was one of the last surviving actors from the silent film era, and the only one who was active the whole time. I was always kind of amazed by him: here was a guy who was making movies in the 1920s -- the freaking 20s -- and he was still making movies in the 2010s. One of his last roles was in the Night at the Museum series, the third of which began filming in January. I can't find anything indicating whether he had filmed his scenes before he died. But that would be amazing: his first movie came out in 1926 and his last movie will come out in 2014 or 2015. That's an insanely long career. I find this makes me sad, similar to how I felt when the last veteran of World War I died. These people are a connection to the past, and when they die, that connection is broken. I tried to express my appreciation for such connections with this short story. I'll feel the same way when the last person born in the 19th century dies. Currently there are 14: one born in 1898, four born in 1899, and nine born in 1900. (It must be weird to be the oldest person in the world: everyone else in the world who was alive at the time of your birth has died.) Wikipedia has lists for the last surviving veterans of wars, last surviving US war veterans, and last survivors of historical events. Reflecting on them makes the march of time seem like such a tragedy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

More Favorite Movie Scenes

The Dark Knight


Boondock Saints 2: All Saint's Day

The Book of Eli

Die Hard (1)

The Matrix Reloaded


The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars Episode V)

Burn after Reading

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Fun and Fancy Free / Mickey and the Beanstalk

Wreck-It Ralph

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Sorry for not posting much of late, I have a lot going on right now. I'll get back to what's important as soon as I can.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Interesting fact o' the day

The Old Testament was translated into Aramaic in ancient times, as well as several other languages. When they translated Genesis 1:1 ("In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth") they made an interesting error. The third person singular perfect mode of the verb "to create" in Hebrew is bara. But after they translated this into the Aramaic word for create, they kept the Hebrew word bara in the text. I say this is an interesting error because bara is an Aramaic word with a completely different meaning than the Hebrew "to create". In Aramaic bar means "son" (Simon Barjonah, blind Bartimaeus, etc.), and  an aleph (or "a") at the end of a noun is the definite article. So the Hebrew verb "to create" and the Aramaic noun "the son" are identical. Since they kept this term in the text when they translated it into Aramaic, the first verse of the Aramaic Bible reads "In the beginning the Son of God created the heavens and the earth."