Saturday, January 25, 2014

Wielenberg's Forthcoming Book on Non-Theistic Moral Realism

Be on the lookout for Eric Wielenberg's book, Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). Here's the blurb:
Erik J. Wielenberg draws on recent work in analytic philosophy and empirical moral psychology to defend non-theistic robust normative realism and develop an empirically-grounded account of human moral knowledge. Non-theistic robust normative realism has it that there are objective, non-natural, sui generis ethical features of the universe that do not depend on God for their existence. The early chapters of the book address various challenges to the intelligibility and plausibility of the claim that irreducible ethical features of things supervene on their non-ethical features as well as challenges from defenders of theistic ethics who argue that objective morality requires a theistic foundation. Later chapters develop an account of moral knowledge and answer various recent purported debunkings of morality, including those based on scientific research into the nature of the proximate causes of human moral beliefs as well as those based on proposed evolutionary explanations of our moral beliefs. 
Further details can be found here.

New SEP Entry on Skeptical Theism


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Matter Is Metaphysically Necessary if Anything Is

Here's an argument I'm toying with. It's really rough at this stage, and it would take a good bit of work to flesh out the full reasoning, but the basic idea is that, prima facie, new stuff can only come from old stuff[1] -- ex nihilo creation of new stuff seems not to be in the cards. But if so, then given the existence of matter, it must've either always been here, or else it must've been made from other stuff (which in turn must've either always been here or must've been made from other stuff, which in turn...). So it seems there must've always been matter (or the stuff of which matter's composed, or the stuff of which matter's composed is composed, or the stuff of which...).

Now the next step is the biggest "if" -- it's the reason why I qualified "matter is metaphysically necessary" with "if anything is". The basic idea is that if there is some temporally first, eternal, uncaused stuff (as opposed to a beginningless series of new stuff coming from prior stuff), and if whatever occupies the role of being temporally first, eternal, and uncaused doesn't vary from world to world, then matter (or the stuff of which matter is ultimately composed) is metaphysically necessary.

Now my own view is that it's epistemically possible that what's temporally first, eternal, and uncaused (if indeed anything satisfies or can satisfy that description) can vary from world to world. If such an epistemic possibility is also a metaphysical possibility, then matter (or whatever matter is ultimately composed) is, at best, factually necessary, which is another reason why I say "if anything is".

In any case, that's an impressionistic sketch of the line of argument I'm toying with. Thoughts? (I should say that at this stage I'm looking for "big picture" questions and comments, and not those aimed at minor details.)

[1] I tend to think such a causal/explanatory principle is at least on an an evidential par with those appealed to in cosmological arguments. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Winter 2013 Issue of The European Journal for Philosophy of Religion... now out. It's a special issue devoted to exploring the nature of the second-person perspective and its bearing on issues in philosophy of religion.

(A related bleg: Does anyone know where to find EJPR's RSS feed?)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Cosmological Argument and the Multiverse

(Slightly revised in light comments)

Two questions that contingency arguments aim to answer are:
Contingent Particularity: Why does this particular universe exist (with its particular set of particles, history, laws of nature, etc.), and not some other? 
Contingent Existence: Why does the universe exist at all, rather than just nothing?
Contingent Particularity is supposed to get at least some of its force from our supposed modal intuition that there could've been a different universe (different particles, history, laws of nature, etc.), and Contingent Existence is supposed to get at least some of its force from our supposed modal intuition that there could've been no physical universe at all.

Here I'd like to set aside Contingent Existence (at least until the end. See below), and raise a quick point about Contingent Particularity. It's this: Unlike contemporary discussion of the fine-tuning argument, much of the discussion of Contingent Particularity continues to assume that our particular universe is the only one that exists[1], and that ours is not just one universe in a multiverse -- in particular, one in which all possible universes exist. But so long as such a multiverse is an epistemic possibility, there is a corresponding epistemically possible explanation for the particularity of our universe in terms of the causal mechanisms of the multiverse. And of course our modal intuitions about how our particular universe[2] could've been different aren't sufficiently strong pieces of evidence that all physical reality's particularity is objectionably contingent. 

Objection 1: Theism is a much simpler explanation of Contingent Particularity than other hypotheses (e.g. other naturalistic hypotheses). Therefore, theism is a better explanation. 

Reply: Not so fast. As with the dialectic re: the fine tuning argument vs. the multiverse hypothesis, this isn't so clear.  For the objector seems to falsely assume that there is only one relevant kind of theoretical parsimony, viz., quantitative parsimony (i.e., the explanation postulates fewer entities). However, as David Lewis has taught us, another type is qualitative parsimony (i.e.,the explanation postulates fewer kinds of entities). And while the theistic hypothesis is a much more quantitatively parsimonious explanation of the data (it explains all of the data in terms of just one entity, viz., a god),our multiverse hypothesis is a more qualitatively parsimonious explanation of the data (since it explains all of the data solely in terms of one kind of entity, viz., matter-energy). And it's not clear which type of theoretical parsimony is more important here.

Objection 2: Such a hypothesis just pushes the Contingent Particularity question back a step. For the question now becomes: why this particular multiverse, and not some other (for example, one with fewer universes, or with a fewer range of laws or constants)?

Reply: Our modal intuitions are considerably less assured when we start talking about alternative multiverses -- especially if they go beyond the reach of even our most rarified and speculative scientific theorizing. I don't think the theist will want to take such a freewheeling approach to modalizing, as it's then hard to know how to screen out similarly freewheeling modal judgements about the particularity of God ("Why this god, and not some other?").[3]  

Objection 3: Such a hypothesis makes it puzzling why such a multiverse might exist at all (if it does exist), rather than just nothing.

Reply: That's to change the subject from Contingent Particularity to Contingent Existence. In any case, our modal intuitions about Contingent Existence are much more dubious than those about Contingent Particularity. For we have good scientific theories that entail that the universe could've had different laws and/or constants, whereas we have no comparable evidence-sensitive theory to support our modal intuitions about the possible non-existence of all matter-energy. At best, our modal intuitions about the possible non-existence of all matter-energy are on a par with our modal intuitions about the possible non-existence of God.

The upshot seems to be that multiverse hypotheses might pose as much of a problem for contingency arguments as they do for design arguments. 

Here's a deeper point I was trying to get at in my previous post. Contingency arguments can be characterized as having the following steps:

Step 1. Metaphysically contingent beings require an explanation for their existence.
Step 2. Metaphysically contingent beings can't be explained in terms of themselves.
Step 3. Every possible being is either metaphysically contingent or metaphysically necessary.
Step 4. Therefore, metaphysically contingent beings are explained in terms of at least one metaphysically necessary being.
Step 5. The metaphysically necessary being is God.

The problem I was focusing on was one for step 5. And my line of reasoning was that: the crucial evidence for step 5 is modal evidence; the evidence consists in (a) the supposed modal intuition of contingent particularity and (b) the supposed modal intuition of contingent existence; the supposed modal intuition for contingent existence is neutralized by the contrary modal intuition for God's contingent existence; that the modal intuition for contingent particularity is undercut by its epistemically possible explanation in terms of a multiverse hypothesis; and that, therefore, since contingent particularity was the best piece of evidence for step 5, the multiverse hypothesis thereby undercuts step 5 of contingency arguments.

[1] Timothy O'Connor is perhaps the most obvious exception. Derek Parfit might be another.
[2] Or (to handle Kripkean origin essentialist intuitions) some suitable surrogate(s) of our universe.
[3] One might appeal to an ontological argument at this point, but there are even fewer who are convinced by ontological arguments than cosmological arguments from contingency.  In any case, the cosmological argument would be superfluous if we had such an argument at hand, and the contingency argument would fail as a successful independent argument for God's existence if the persuasiveness of the former depended on the latter. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Announcement: Marilynfest, A Conference in Honor of Marilyn Adams

Thursday, March 13 2014 CST - Friday, March 14 2014 CST

Department of Philosophy, Georgetown University
Washington DC 20057
United States

All speakers:
Andrew Chignell
Cornell University
Richard Cross
University of Notre Dame
Keith DeRose
Yale University
Mark Henninger
Georgetown University
Brian Leftow
Oxford University
Calvin Normore
Laurie Paul
UNC Chapel Hill
Derk Pereboom
Cornell University
Giorgio Pini
Fordham University
Marleen Rozemond
University of Toronto
Houston Smit
University of Arizona
Cecilia Trifogli
Oxford University

Mark Henninger
Georgetown University
Thomas Ward
Loyola Marymount University
Scott Williams
Centre College

Topic areas
Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
Philosophy of Religion

Everyone is welcome. If interested in attending, please get in touch with one of the organizers.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Announcement: Workshop on Defeat in Religious Epistemology

Monday, March 17 2014 BST - Tuesday, March 18 2014 BST

Oxford University
United Kingdom

View the Call For Papers
Keynote speakers:
Maria Aarnio, University of Michigan
Michael Bergmann, Purdue University

Topic areas
Philosophy of Religion


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