Archive for March, 2008

An Argument Against Intellectual Cynicism

March 30, 2008

Recently I have met various people and read about various characters (particularly villains in The Brothers Karamazov) who are cynics. I think most people are cynics to some degree and in some way, and some kinds of cynicism in small doses can be alright. Its radical, widespread, or categorical cynicism that I think is damaging to human well-being. Consequently, I am inclined to wonder if there are any good arguments against certain of the more damaging kinds of cynicism. Below, I will give an argument against what I call “mild intellectual cynicism” and “extreme intellectual cynicism”. If successful these arguments will show that mild and extreme intellectual cynics should probably give up their brand of cynicism. (more…)


Hamlet's Argument for Particularism

March 27, 2008

O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
(Act 1, Scene 5)

When reflective people begin to ask which of their beliefs count as items of knowledge, they are led down one of three roads. The problem of deciding between these positions is what Roderick Chisholm called “The Problem of the Criteria” (see his essay by the same name). What is the process by which we begin to distinguish an item of knowledge from an item of non-knowledge? Chisholm offered two questions that people will answer in a different order. Depending on which question you think should be answered first in the search for knowledge, you fall into one of the three views:

Conditional Election in the Incarnation

March 2, 2008

Defenders of unconditional election will generally deny that there are any examples of God choosing a person based on qualities internal to them in Scripture. Many of them will also assert that if God depends on human decisions (if He “waits on man to respond” as it is sometimes said) to accomplish salvation, then this robs God of his glory and sovereignty, because its really man’s choice that counts, not God’s.

Luke 1:28-30
“Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God…”

If defenders of unconditional election are correct about these two ideas, then why does it seem that in Christ’s incarnate economy, the very foundation of our salvation, God elects Mary based on a faith that she chooses to have? Notice the lack of “God elected you to accept grace” language; rather, its “God elected you because you accepted grace”. And if God conditionally elected in something as great as the Incarnation, why not think God conditionally elects in personal election of believers unto salvation?

The Argument from Rationality for Absolute Personal Identity

March 1, 2008

I have seen this argument used before elsewhere, but I thought I would post it here when I was reminded of it while reading Andrea Christofidou’s paper “God, Physicalism, and the Totality of Facts” (Philosophy, vol. 82, October 2007, pp 515-542). I think its fairly well-known, but I want to expose people who haven’t heard of it before. It attempts to show that a view of personal identity as an absolute and irreducible non-physical quality that defines us (as opposed to something like memory grounding personal identity) is a precondition for us to be rational.

The Argument from Rationality:

1. In order for me to be rational in forming my beliefs, I must be able to consider all the premises of an argument and its conclusion.

2. In order to be able to consider all of the premises of an argument and its conclusion, I must exist from the moment I consider the first premise to the moment I assent to or reject the conclusion.

3. If I exist from the moment I consider the first premise to the moment I assent to or reject the conclusion, then I am absolutely the same particular individual across a stretch of time.

C. Therefore, in order for me to be rational in forming my beliefs, I must be absolutely the same particular individual across a stretch of time.

Insofar as the defender of memory views of personal identity and other views aren’t willing to give up their claim to rationality (lest we dismiss them and ignore them) it seems they must agree that we are absolutely the same particular individual across a stretch of time. I think the absolutist view of personal identity causes problems for physicalism as I have argued elsewhere. I wonder how a defender of a non-absolute view of personal identity would defend against this?

Veneration of Mary in Scripture

March 1, 2008

The Virgin Mary is honored highly in Scripture:

Luke 1:28-30
Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you… for you have found favor with God.

Luke 1:41-3
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken her by the Lord.

Luke 1:48
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed…

Exodus 20:12
Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

John 2:1-7
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

1 Corinthians 11:1
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

In Luke, the angel Gabriel–a being of power and wisdom far exceeding that of ourselves–praises Mary and singles her out among all women as uniquely full of God’s presence and life. She found favor with God in a way that no other human being had ever found favor before her–through a paradigmatic, unwavering faith in Christ. He gives her the title “full of grace”–a name used elsewhere only of Jesus Christ (John 1:14). God’s act of recognizing Mary by incarnating himself in her is an honor that not even the highest order of angels could even claim.

Then Elizabeth is inspired by the Holy Spirit and praises Mary and exclaims that she is uniquely blessed among women. Note that this precedes her blessing of the Incarnate One who she bears in her womb. It is the sound of Mary’s greeting that brings John the Baptist to leap joyously. And Mary’s faith is commended a second time by an agent of God as uniquely valuable.

To top it all off, Mary is to be blessed by every generation. To say this about oneself in the context of divinely-inspired prophecy about the people of God implies that there is a kind of obligation we have to acknowledge the blessedness of the Virgin Mary.

Think also of how Christ himself honors Mary, granting her requests at the wedding, even going out of his way to command servants multiple times. Christ is simply obeying the ten commandments like we would expect the representative Jew to do in the process of fulfilling the law–he is honoring his mother. As imitators of Christ, we must imitate the honor that he gives to both his heavenly Father and his blessed Mother. She is truly “more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim”–the greatest servant of her Son, who showed the greatest faith and cooperation with grace of any mere human who ever lived.