Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Slew of Excellent New Papers from Stephen Maitzen

"Questioning the Question," forthcoming in The Puzzle of Existence: Why is There Something Rather than Nothing?, ed. Tyron Goldschmidt (Routledge)

"'Agnosticism', Skeptical Theism, and Moral Obligation," forthcoming in Skeptical Theism: New Essays, ed. Trent G. Dougherty and Justin P. McBrayer (Oxford University Press)

"Atheism and the Basis of Morality," forthcoming in What Makes Us Moral?, ed. A. W. Musschenga and Anton van Harskamp (Springer)

"The Moral Skepticism Objection to Skeptical Theism," forthcoming in A Companion to the Problem of Evil, ed. Justin P. McBrayer and Daniel Howard-Snyder (Wiley-Blackwell)

More of Maitzen's excellent work in philosophy of religion can be found here.


Robert Harker said...

Isn't Maitzen just running around brute facts in "Questioning the Question"?

Steve Maitzen said...

@Robert Harker: What a cryptic comment. I have no idea how to reply to it. But thanks for reading my paper.

Angra Mainyu said...

@Steve Maitzen,

With regard to your paper on skeptical theism and moral obligation, as I mentioned in the other thread, I agree that skeptical theism fails, and I agree with a number of the points that you make, as well as your approach of using commonsense morality to test the claims instead of a specific moral theory.

That aside, after further considering the arguments, it seems I still have a different take on a couple of issues regarding commonsense morality, unless I misunderstood some of your arguments (in which case, I would appreciate it if you let me know).

One of the issues is the question of whether in a case like Ashley's, consequences for third parties are relevant (not actual consequences, though, but what the agent knows, should know, etc.; but that's another issue).

For instance, let's say (an completely unrealistic scenario, but not more so than the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect creator, in my view; still, that's not the issue here, I think), that the perpetrator in Ashley's case has rigged nuclear bombs to go off in 100 cities if he's killed, or if someone tries to stop him by force.

An AI, through a camera, checks whether someone tries to use force to stop him, and activates a 60 second countdown for the bombs if it deems that that is the case, sending a signal to the perpetrator informing him of that, so that he can call of the attack by entering a password.

Also, the perpetrator can press a button, and the bombs will go off.

So, Bob sees what the perpetrator is doing to Ashley, and he can clearly stop him without serious personal risk, but if he does, millions will die instantly, and millions more will die slowly in days or weeks, due to radiation poisoning. Bob actually knows that that will happen, since the perpetrator has advertised it and showed his capabilities already.

In that scenario, it seems to me that Bob wouldn't immorally fail to act if he chose not to stop the perpetrator, out of concern for the results for other people if he does intervene (i.e., he doesn't have a moral obligation to intervene).

Realistic scenarios can be construed as well, if needed, though they would require some more work. (e.g., involving undercover police officers, spies, etc.),

So, I think that, perhaps, that particular argument against skeptical theism requires some changes, but please let me know if I misunderstood some of your points.

Steve Maitzen said...

@Angra Mainyu: Many thanks for your comments. I still have a chance to revise that paper before final submission, and I'm going to reword parts of p. 14 to address or forestall the objection of yours that the current wording invites.

The crucial claim on p. 14 is this: "[W]e regard ourselves as obligated to intervene on Ashley's behalf only if we at least implicitly assume that the total consequences for her will be better if we intervene than if we don't" (italics added). It's an "only if" rather than an "if," so it allows for a situation such as you describe, in which we regard ourselves as not obligated to intervene on Ashley's behalf even though we judge intervention to be in her overall best interest.

Nevertheless, my "only if" claim implies what I need it to imply, namely, that Agnosticism can't make rational sense of our obligation to intervene on Ashley's behalf in the normal situation, i.e., when we are obligated to intervene.

Angra Mainyu said...

@Steve Maitzen,

Thank you for your reply and clarification.

Just to clarify myself (I'm now not sure I've been sufficiently clear, so just in case), the part from which I seem to have gotten a mistaken impression about your position (and which I think might need rewording) wasn't the second paragraph on page 14 (including the 'only if', which, as you point out, is compatible with the scenario I posted above), but the first paragraph, and more precisely the statement: "Our obligation to intervene on Ashley’s behalf doesn’t depend on what we predict about the consequences of our intervention for other persons, especially those absent from the scene, let alone those who have yet to exist: we ignore those consequences, as it were."

Steve Maitzen said...

@Angra Mainyu: Quite right -- the sentence you end by quoting certainly needs revising. Indeed, I need to rethink the wording of the whole paragraph. I'd like to acknowledge your help, but I don't acknowledge by pseudonym. Can you email your autonym to me at

wissam h said...

Maitzen's work on moral skepticism and ordinary morality got me reading papers on anti-theodicies.

I'd like to share the links to these papers.

Moral Anti-Theodicy: Prospects and Problems:

Samuel Shearn: Moral critique and defence of theodicy:
Moral critique and defence of theodicy

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