Sunday, December 13, 2015

A different kind of link

I just played this video for my kids (ages 5 and 7) as a reward for picking up their room. I fear it makes me a bad father. (I stopped it before the final few seconds, btw.)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Quote of the Week

The narration of events on the fourth day raises several questions. Does the text state that the sun, moon, and stars were created on the fourth day? If so, how could the universe, "the heavens and the earth," which would have surely included the sun, moon, and stars, have been created "in the beginning" (1:1)? Could the author speak of a "day and night" during the first three days of Creation if the sun had not yet been created? Were there plants and vegetation on the land (created on the third day) before the creation of the sun?

Keil represents a common evangelical viewpoint; he suggested that though "the heavens and the earth" were created "in the beginning" (1:1), it was not until the fourth day that they were "completed." Keil's explanation can be seen already in Calvin, who stated that "the world was not perfected at its very commencement, in the manner in which it is now seen, but that it was created an empty chaos of heaven and earth." According to Calvin, this "empty chaos" was then filled on the fourth day with the sun, moon, and stars. Calvin's view is similar to that of Rashi: "[The sun, moon, and stars] were created on the first day, but on the fourth day [God] commanded that they be placed in the sky."

The Scofield Bible represents another common line of interpretation (the "Restitution Theory" or "Gap Theory"), which can be found much earlier in the history of interpretation: "The sun and moon were created 'in the beginning.' The 'light' of course came from the sun, but the vapor diffused the light. Later the sun appeared in an unclouded sky." According to this view the sun, moon, and stars were all created in 1:1 but could not be seen from the earth until the fourth day.

Both of these approaches seek to avoid the seemingly obvious sense of the text, that is, that the sun, moon, and stars were created on the fourth day. Both views modify the sense of the verb "created" so that it harmonizes with the statement of the first verse: God created the universe in the beginning.

There is, however, another way to look at this text that provides a satisfactory and coherent reading of 1:1 and 1:14-18. First, we must decide on the meaning of the phrase "the heavens and the earth" in 1:1 (see comments above on 1:1). If the phrase means "universe" or "cosmos," as is most probable, then it must be taken with the same sense it has throughout its uses in the Bible (e.g. Joel 3:15-16 [4:15-16]); thus it would include the sun, moon, and stars. So the starting point of an understanding of Genesis 1:14-18 is the view that the whole of the universe, including the sun, moon, and stars, was created "in the beginning" (1:1) and thus not on the fourth day.

Second, we must consider the syntax of verse 14. When one compares it to that of the creation of the "expanse" in verse 6, one can see that the two verses have a quite different sense. The syntax of verse 6 suggests that when God said, "Let there be an expanse," he was creating an expanses where none existed previously (creation out of nothing). Thus there seems little doubt that the author intends to say that God created the expanse on the first day. In verse 14, however, the syntax is different, though the English translations do not always reflect this difference. We should be careful to note that in verse 14 God does not say, "Let there be lights ... to separate...," as if there were no lights before this command and afterward the lights were created. Rather, the Hebrew text reads, "God said, 'Let the lights in the expanse be for separating ....'" In other words, unlike the syntax of verse 6, the syntax in verse 14 assumes that the lights were already in the expanse, and in response to his command they were given a purpose, "to separate the day and night" and "to serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years." If the difference between the syntax of verse 6 (the use of היה alone) and verse 14 (היה with an infinitive) is significant, then it suggests that the author does not understand his account of the fourth day as an account of the creation of the lights but, on the contrary, he assumes that the heavenly lights have already been created "in the beginning."

John Sailhamer
The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary
(Library of Biblical Interpretation)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Quote of the Week

Until quite recently, Islamic philosophy was regarded as a fringe phenomenon in the broad scope of the history of philosophy, worthy of inclusion only to the extent  that it played a role in the transmission and transformation of the Greek heritage before its final appropriation by the Latin philosophers and theologians from the thirteenth century onwards. While the absence of verifiable contacts between the principal proponents of Islamic and Christian philosophy after Averroes' death in 1198 CE may have legitimated the delegation of the study of the subsequent Islamic tradition to the orientaists, this was often coupled with the more derogatory thesis that there simply was no philosophical activity worthy of the name in the Arabic language after Averroes' allegedly unsuccessful attempt to defend philosophy against Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī's (d. 1111 CE) fatal blow dealt in his critical Tahāfut al-falāsifa.

It has since been conclusively shown that Ghazālī did not put an end to the development of philosophical thought in the Islamic world, either single-handedly or as the spearhead of a wider opposition from orthodox theologians. In fact, the contrary consensus is beginning to emerge according to which he may not even have intended anything of the sort. Instead, Ghazālī has been argued to have knowingly incorporated a great amount of philosophical material, not to mention the philosophical method of rigorous argumentation, into this own though, and to have been followed in this by Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī,another highly venerated Sunnī theologian. Thus, although self-proclaimed philosophers may have grown rare in the subsequent centuries of Islamic thought, philosophical activity prospered in Sunnī thological writing and teaching, quite likely down to our era.

On the other hand, Iran has fostered a thriving philosophical tradition through to the present day. In the light of our increasing knowledge of the development of this field of intellectual activity, it seems a safe estimate to say that post-Avicennian Islamic philosophers were not afraid of making departures comparable in extent to their early modern European peers. This is especially evident in the thought of Suhrawardī and Mullā Ṣadrā whose revisions of received views will be our major concern in the following. Nevertheless, the strictly philosophical value of this tradition is sometimes still obscured  by the fact that some of its most prominent Western scholars have tended to emphasize other, more mystical aspects of the philosophers' thoughts.

Jari Kaukua
Self-Awareness in Islamic Philosophy: Avicenna and Beyond

Jim's comments: The first paragraph is in accord with my own experience. I wrote one of my Master's theses on Islamic philosophy, and planned to do my Ph.D. on it as well -- specifically on the influence of Alexander of Aphrodisias's philosophy of mind on medieval Islamic philosophy of mind, particularly in al-Andalus. That's when I started writing this blog, and that's why I called it Agent Intellect, which is a term that comes from all these texts, commentaries, and commentaries on commentaries. The medievalist at my school was strongly encouraging me in this direction. But then a couple of "old-school" historians of philosophy let it be known (to him, and thus indirectly to me) that they would not accept my Doctoral candidacy if I applied to do it on Islamic philosophy. I've always suspected -- and that's all it is, a suspicion -- that they didn't think Islamic philosophy had anything of value to offer: the Muslims allegedly just held on to the great philosophies of the ancients, making a few developments here and there, but mostly just writing commentaries. I have a 1968 book on my shelves called Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature. About three pages include Muslim and Arabic contributions to this process, which is just mind-boggling: they should make up 75% of the book.

I think after 9/11 Westerners were desperate to find good things in Islam, and this has resulted in the pendulum swinging to the other end. Now we have people implying that medieval Islam represented all that was good and right in the world until Western civilization came along and wrecked it. I guess this is understandable, but it is, at best, an extreme exaggeration. For example, there was a traveling museum exhibit ten years ago or so that was on Islamic inventions (it started off at 20, then went up to 100 I think). The problem was almost none of the inventions were Islamic. They were inventions from various people groups all over the world who were conquered by Muslims and had their inventions "appropriated". What the museum directors meant to say was inventions that came to Western Europe via Islam, but that wouldn't have portrayed Islam as positively as they wanted (not to mention that the inventions would have got to Europe eventually, even without the Islamic intervention). When people learn that they're being fed half-truths like this, they tend to take other reports of the positive aspects of Islam with a grain of salt. So we need to balance it out by recognizing the real contributions Islam has made to medieval philosophy and science without going overboard by representing medieval Islam as some sort of Golden Age of intellectualism that was just as impressive as the contributions of Western civilization and Christianity.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Quote of the Week

Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it: the old Christian rule is, "Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence." Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong.

But I have other reasons for thinking so. The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body. Now if we eat whenever we feel inclined and just as much as we want, it is quite true that most of us will eat too much: but not terrifically too much. One man may eat enough for two, but he does not eat enough for ten. The appetite goes a little beyond its biological purpose, but not enormously. But if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village. This appetite is in ludicrous and preposterous excess of its function.

Or take it another way. You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act -- that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?

One critic said that if he found a country in which such striptease acts with food were popular, he would conclude that the people of that country were starving. He meant, of course, to imply that such things as the strip-tease act resulted not from sexual corruption but from sexual starvation. I agree with him that if, in some strange land, we found that similar acts with mutton chops were popular, one of the possible explanations which would occur to me would be famine. But the next step would be to test our hypothesis by finding out whether, in fact, much or little food was being consumed in that country. If the evidence showed that a good deal was being eaten, then of course we should have to abandon the hypothesis of starvation and try to think of another one. In the same way, before accepting sexual starvation as the cause of the strip-tease, we should have to look for evidence that there is in fact more sexual abstinence in our age than in those ages when things like the strip-tease were unknown. But surely there is no such evidence. Contraceptives have made sexual indulgence far less costly within marriage and far safer outside it than ever before, and public opinion is less hostile to illicit unions and even to perversion than it has been since Pagan times. Nor is the hypothesis of "starvation" the only one we can imagine. Everyone knows that the sexual appetite, like our other appetites, grows by indulgence. Starving men may think much about food, but so do gluttons; the gorged, as well as the famished, like titillations.

C.S. Lewis
"Sexual Morality" (chapter 5 of Christian Behavior)
Mere Christianity


Monday, September 14, 2015

Quote of the Week

It's not that science can't remind us of, or call attention to, modal truths that would be accessible without science. The surest proof of a possibility is an actuality. It would have been a lot harder to come up with a dream argument for skepticism if people didn't dream, or an argument from the possibility of hallucination if people didn't have non-veridical experience. But it would only have been more difficult. The possibilities upon which the arguments trade are real whether or not they ever materialize. The possibility that the neural activity associated with mental states differs from creature to creature, and even person to person, is (and was always obviously) real whether or not the possibilities materialize.

Indeed, after all of the empirical data are in, we might ask again: What distinctively philosophical  questions will be, or even could be, answered by science? What distinctively philosophical  controversies will be advanced, let alone settled? Suppose that we have obtained exhaustive correlations of the sort described above. Are we any closer to answering any of the following? Can you even imagine any empirical research that would shed light on any of the following?

(1) Are knowledge arguments for substance/property/fact/event dualism sound?

(2) Are there important distinctions to be made between substance/property/fact/event dualism? Is there such a thing as substance? What is the connection between differences between kinds of substances and kinds of properties exemplified by substance? What is the difference between a mental property and a physical property? What is the distinction between an event and a fact?

(3) Is functionalism a plausible account of the nature of mental states?

(4) On a functionalist account of mind, should we identify mental states with that which "realizes" the functional state (i.e. plays the functional role) or should we identify mental states with the exemplification of the second-order functional property?

(5) Do we "fix the reference" of predicate expressions picking out kinds of mental states with definite descriptions that nevertheless do not capture the meaning of the predicate expressions, or shall we view terms for kinds of mental states as having the meaning of definite descriptions? If either, what are the relevant definite descriptions?

(6) Should we be internalists or externalists about the identity conditions for mental states? If brain states are intentional (representational) what makes them intentional? Is it some feature intrinsic to the states, or has it more to do with the causal origin of the states. [sic] If the latter, why were we trusting first-person reports of mental states in trying to correlate neural activity with, say, desires or fears? Why would anyone have privileged introspective access to the character of a mental state whose identity conditions involve facts that are clearly the purview of empirical science?

Do any of the philosophers partnering with cognitive science think that they'll get any useful information from empirical science that will help them answer any of the above questions?

Don't misunderstand me. Many of the answers to these philosophical questions will clarify important empirical questions that someone might be interested in answering. If you decide that functionalism is true, you will probably need to turn to empirical science to discover what takes the value of the variable used in the specification of the functional state. If you become really interested in that question, then by all means stop doing philosophy for a while and do (or consult) the relevant empirical research. Alternatively, you could view your task qua philosopher as finished once you've come up with your functionalist analysis, content then to let the chips fall where they may with respect to the hard-wiring of the brain or the nature of a Cartesian ego.

If we decide that either mental predicate expressions, physical predicate expressions, or both have their reference fixed, or meaning given, by definite descriptions, and we can isolate the relevant definite descriptions, it may turn out that only the cognitive scientist can tell you whether or not the predicate expressions have an extension, and if they do what that extension is. I've already implied that I think it wildly implausible to suppose that our grasp of pain is somehow indirect (is "by description"), at least as we actually have an experience of pain of which we are consciously aware -- we'll talk about this issue in more detail shortly. I cant see how it can possibly turn that "is in pain" fails to pick out a property. Any view that allows for such a possibility is for that reason an implausible view. It's hardly the case, for example, that I think of being in pain as the property I typically exemplify when I'm bleeding all over the floor, or the property exemplification of which causes me to grimace, complain, answer questions in certain ways, or what have you. If such a view were correct, then, to be sure, it would be a matter of empirical investigation as to what that property is, and it might turn out in humans to be a pattern of neurons firing. When I think of Jack the Ripper, I think of a person who is causally responsible for certain atrocities committed at the end of the nineteenth century and there are any number of people who might turn out to be the referent of "Jack the Ripper." But I already know what property I'm talking about when I talk about pain. I don't pick it out via some metaproperty it exemplifies.

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

Friday, September 11, 2015


Not much to say really that I haven't said before: see herehere, and here.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Quote of the Week

Fifteen minutes later I breached the border of the woods and came back to colony ground to find four werewolves in a semicircle and Hiram Yoder standing silently at their focus. I dropped to the ground.

The werewolves didn't notice me; they were entirely intent on Yoder, who continued to stand stock-still. Two of the werewolves had spears trained on him, ready to run him through if he moved. He didn't. All four of them clicked and hissed, the hisses falling in and out of my sonic range; this was why Jane heard them before the rest of us did.

One of the werewolves came forward to Yoder, hissing and clicking at him, stocky and muscular where Yoder was tall and trim. It had a simple stone knife in one hand. It reached out a claw and poked Yoder hard in the chest; Yoder took it and stood there, silently. The thing grabbed his right arm and began to sniff and examine it; Yoder offered no resistance. Yoder was a Mennonite, a pacifist.

The werewolf suddenly struck Yoder hard on the arm, perhaps testing him. Yoder staggered a bit from the blow but stood his ground. The werewolf let out a rapid series of chirps and then the others did, too; I suspected they were laughing.

The werewolf raked his claws across Yoder's face, shredding the man's right cheek with an audible scraping sound. Blood poured down Yoder's face; he involuntarily clutched it with his hand. The werewolf cooed and stared at Yoder, its four eyes unblinking, waiting to see what he would do.

Yoder dropped his hand from his ruined face and looked directly at the werewolf. He slowly turned his head to offer his other cheek.

The werewolf stepped away from Yoder and back toward its own, chirping. The two who had spears trained on Yoder let them drop slightly. I breathed a sigh of relief and looked down for a second, registering my own cold sweat. Yoder had kept himself alive by not offering resistance; the creatures, whatever else they were, were smart enough to see that he was not a threat.

I raised my head again to see one of the werewolves staring directly at me.

It let out a trilling cry. The werewolf closest to Yoder glanced over at me, snarled and drove his stone knife into Yoder. Yoder stiffened. I raised my rifle and shot the werewolf in the head. It fell; the other werewolves bolted back into the woods.

I ran over to Yoder, who had collapsed on the ground, and was pawing gingerly at the stone knife. "Don't touch it," I said. If the knife had nicked any major blood vessels, pulling it out could cause him to bleed out.

"It hurts," Yoder said. He looked up at me and smiled, gritting his teeth. "Well, it almost worked."

"It did work," I said. "I'm sorry, Hiram. This wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for me."

"Not your fault," Hiram said. "I saw you drop and hide. Saw you give me a chance. You did the right thing." He reached out toward the corpse of the werewolf, touching the sprawled leg. "Wish you didn't have to shoot it," he said.

"I'm sorry," I said again. Hiram didn't have anything more to say.

John Scalzi
The Last Colony

Monday, August 31, 2015

Quote of the Week

The question then arises, "What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer?" The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers. The answer surely is that a compulsive empirical proof such as we have in the sciences can never be attained.

Some things are proved by the unbroken uniformity of our experiences. The law of gravitation is established by the fact that, in our experience, all bodies without exception obey it. Now even if all the things that people prayed for happened, which they do not, this would not prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable "success" in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something much more like magic -- a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.

There are, no doubt, passages in the New Testament which may seem at first sight to promise an invariable granting of our prayers. But that cannot be what they really mean. For in the very heart of the story we meet a glaring instance to the contrary. In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not. After that the idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infallible gimmick may be dismissed.

Other things are proved not simply by experience but by those artificially contrived experiences which we call experiments. Could this be done about prayer? I will pass over the objection that no Christian could take part in such a project, because he has been forbidden it: "You must not try experiments on God, your Master." Forbidden or not, is the thing even possible?

I have seen it suggested that a team of people -- the more the better -- should agree to pray as hard as they knew how, over a period of six weeks, for all the patients in Hospital A and none of those in Hospital B. Then you would tot up the results and see if A had more cures and fewer deaths. And I suppose you would repeat the experiment at various times and places so as to eliminate the influence of irrelevant factors.

The trouble is that I do not see how any real prayer could go on under such conditions. "Words without thoughts never to heaven go," says the King in Hamlet. Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrots would serve as well as men for our experiments. You cannot pray for the recovery of the sick unless the end you have in view is their recovery. But you can have no motive for desiring the recovery of all the patients in one hospital and none of those in another. You are not doing it in order that suffering should be relieved; you are doing it to find out what happens. The real purpose and the nominal purpose of your prayers are at variance. In other words, whatever your tongue and teeth and knees may do, you are not praying. The experiment demands an impossibility.

Empirical proof and disproof are, then, unobtainable. But this conclusion will seem less depressing if we remember that prayer is request and compare it with other specimens of the same thing.


For up till now we have been tackling the whole question in the wrong way and on the wrong level. The very question "Does prayer work?" puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. "Work": as if it were magic, or a machine -- something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary -- not necessarily the most important one -- from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.

C.S. Lewis
"The Efficacy of Prayer"
The World's Last Night and Other Essays

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.