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05/20/2020

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Tom

Hi Dr. Arvan, thankyou for sharing this paper and your testimony! I found your personal story quite moving and fascinating as someone who came to faith in a similar way to you but for different reasons.

Lately, I've been reading Lloyd Gerson's book 'Platonism and Naturalism'. It's a fascinating look at Gerson's take on the distinctive subject matter of philosophy in opposition to philosophical naturalism from the perspective of the Platonic tradition, but also interacts with contemporary naturalists as well.

https://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/9781501747250/platonism-and-naturalism/#bookTabs=1


Pendaran

Is the idea that god lets there be suffering, because it takes suffering to know god in some sense? I don't see why. Can't you find god in good times too? Or is the idea that god has to punish us so much that we start to beg for his help. LOL!

I think it's a moral AND rational failing to believe in anything like a christian god. So, I probably got off the boat here before it started to sail. haha!

Marcus Arvan

Thank you, Tom, for the kind response and reading tip. I appreciate them both, and look forward to reading Gerson's book.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Pendaran: I don't have a snappy rejoinder. Like I said in the OP, I used to consider it a moral and rational failing myself.

In any case, no, the point of my story wasn't that God has to punish us so much that we must beg for his help.

The point, to the extent that I can put it into words (and it is very difficult), is that suffering can lead a person to choose see the world differently, in a way that (in my experience, at any rate) can be profoundly transformative, both personally and spiritually, depending on how one chooses to face it.

Here's an example of what I have in mind. Throughout my life from childhood on, I always knew my mother loved me. But I don't think I ever *understood* the depth of that love or how profoundly important love like it is until I suffered a great deal in this life, and saw her love profoundly help someone close to us who was suffering a great deal. I also suspect I may never truly appreciate its real depth unless and until I become a parent, sharing my child's joys and suffering as though they are a part of my own. By a similar token, I don't think I ever quite appreciated how precious life is until I, myself, had a close brush with death and had to seriously consider that my remaining days on this planet might be very small in number.

Suffering can lead to hate, but it can also lead one to love more deeply, and to understand what a gift it is to live in a world with things like love, friendship, forgiveness, and mercy are possible through good times and bad. And, to the extent that I've ever been able to hold those experiences in my mind--or even feel them in rare moments--the best that I can say is that it felt like 'communion with God' and some kind of felt understanding of how a loving being could create a world with so much senselessness.

Maybe that's not a kind of experience you can appreciate. And I don't blame you one bit if it's not. To be clear: it's not something that I ever felt like I understood in the slightest until just a few years ago. I always thought when people said stuff like that, it was just a bunch of BS spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Indeed, my past self would probably be very disappointed in me. But in any case, I now feel differently. Like Balfour, I fully recognize that the experiences I just described could all be false (maybe there is no God). Rationally speaking, I have to admit that. Nevertheless, I believe that it is possible to take a leap of faith in them that is not rational or moral failing, provided one recognizes it for what it is--a leap of faith in one's heart, and not one that should lead one to abandon one's faculties of reason in how one acts in the world or treats others (I, for example, will always oppose religious dogmatism and intolerance, and the kind of uncritical attitudes that lead people to harm others on religious grounds).

Michel

I recently read Roy Sorensen's "Meta-Conceivability and Thought Experiments," and I loved it. It was a joy to read.

Partly, it's because my expectations were low: I expected a very dry article on some epicyclical aspect of intuitions and thought experiments, and instead I was treated to a lively and highly informative paper about the imagination, with lots of great examples.

Partly, it's because Sorensen's paper gave me a new and better way of articulating a suspicion I've had about some of the discourse surrounding our ability to imagine, especially in fictive contexts.

Pendaran

Hey Marcus,

I appreciate the response, because I was very curious, even if dismissive. However, I can't say I can make much sense out of your reply.

My grandmother used to tell me that "if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all." That's probably pretty good advice.

However, as I feel that the fantasy you've chosen to have "faith" in is pretty harmful, I would say that I advise you to stop being silly and grow up.

Sorry if that's mean. It probably is. But I feel a moral obligation to say it.

Yes I know I'm kind of an ass hole. LOL

Paul Carron

Given my domestic situation I am not able to read much more than usual. But I am prepping to teach two online courses this summer for the first time, and one is a new course for freshman. So, I just read Taylor's The Ethics of Authenticity, and it is both stimulating philosophically and just edifying (as Kierkegaard sought to be). As a fellow Christian with a similar faith outlook as yours, it is difficult to find good social-political philosophy deeply informed by faith that isn't from the perspective of a cultural "knocker" (as Taylor calls conservative critics of modernity like Allan Bloom). One of my favorite quotes after my initial read: "Only if I exist in a world in which history, or the demands of nature, or the needs of my fellow human beings, or the duties of citizenship, or the call of God, or something else of this order matters crucially, can I define an identity for myself that is not trivial. Authenticity is not the enemy of demands that emanate from beyond the self; it supposes such demands" (40-41).

And as a wannabe Kierkegaard scholar, I must take slight issue with your invoking the phrase "leap of faith." Jamie Ferreira shows that he never uses that phrase, although he certainly talks often of "the leap" or the "qualitative transition," a decision that cannot be fully explained by anything that come before it. Here is one of the more famous quotes from philosophical fragments: "Yet this letting go, even that is surely something; it is, after all, meine Zuthat [my contribution]. Does it not have to be taken into account, this diminutive moment, however brief it is-it does not have to be long, because it is a leap" (43). Ferreira compares this decision to a gestalt shift. It takes effort, and it is something that the agent does, but it is not something that one can simply will. The new perspective suddenly appears almost as a gift. Sorry for the ramble, but great post!

Marcus Arvan

Pendaran: I appreciate your response here perhaps a bit better that you might expect (I'm not sure). It's basically the same response I gave to my own parents at the dinner table moment I mentioned above. I felt the very moral obligation you feel here for much of my life. I used to think that religious people were silly (at best), should grow up, and that religious belief was necessarily harmful (for more or less the reasons Clifford provides in his famous article on the ethics of belief).

I just think and feel much differently now. In terms of what I think (as I am still a philosopher), I no longer think that it is religion that causes such harm. Rather, I think it is unwarranted *certitude* that does--and that certitude in non-religious doctrines can be as harmful as religious certitude. Hitler's certitude wasn't religious, for example, nor was Lenin's or Stalin's--and they all led to mass murder.

Do organized religions lend themselves to harmful forms of certitude? Absolutely, and I think that is to be fought against. But I do not think that religious faith necessarily leads to certitude, and when it doesn't, I don't think it need be harmful in any way. On the contrary, I've seen, felt, and experienced the good that an epistemically humble sort of religious faith (or hope, if you prefer) can lead to.

On that note, I think that I would say that my own faith is better described as a form of hope--and there is interesting philosophical work exploring this angle. See especially https://philpapers.org/rec/JACBCA but also https://philpapers.org/rec/ADAHAM

For an earlier post where I wrote about this, see https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2015/03/philosophers-and-their-religious-practices-part-1-homilies-for-a-hoping-agnostic.html

I don't think seeking to have faith in God in this sense is any problematic than seeking to have faith in humanity, which for the record I also think can be deeply important--see: https://philpapers.org/rec/PREFIH-2

On the contrary, I personally find that faith helps me find hope, hope helps me pursue things like love and forgiveness--things that we also have good secular reasons to pursue too.

Pendaran

If you don't believe in a christian-like god but merely hope there is a christian-like god, then I'm not sure what that entails morally. However, it's still irrational to hope for things for which you have no good evidence.

If hope in god is required by you to behave morally and virtuously, then that is itself I think a moral failing on your part. I hate to be so common as to quote a tv show character, but I do think Rust summed it up well in True Detective:

"If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward then, brother, that person is a piece of shit. And I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible."

I don't really think you're a piece of shit. LOL But the sentiment is a good one.

I do love that show by the way, if you haven't seen it.

Marcus, stop hoping for things that are obviously false and learn to live with the reality you are in. In other words, ...

I won't say it again. I do think that learning to be comfortable with the fact that there is no big daddy in the sky is in a way part of growing up, in the fullest sense.


TT

I don't mean this rhetorically: what do you take to be the key difference between the kind of thing Wittgenstein is saying and the kind of thing you accuse the moral realist of? Are they both instances of motivated reasoning? If so, why is one ok? If not, why is one not?

Marcus Arvan

Pendaran: I don't think you're being very charitable and I would appreciate it if you didn't cast aspersions about my moral integrity here (I don't think that's in the spirit of the blog).

In any case, to address the content of your response, I am not moral because I hope there's a big man in the sky somewhere. I'm moral because I think I should treat people well and fairly, for these reasons:

https://www.marcusarvan.net/neurofunctional-prudence-and-morali

https://www.marcusarvan.net/my-book

I also don't think there's "no evidence" for theism. Rather, I think the rational evidence for theism is inconclusive--much like most philosophical hypotheses in fact.

First, there are serious philosophers who still carefully defend versions of the ontological argument, cosmological argument, and argument from design. Further, after studying them all for quite a long time, I tend to think there may be something to all three of them. Do I think any of the three arguments succeed? No, I'm not at all sure that they do. But then again, I don't think many philosophical arguments succeed in general, and so when it comes to deciding what to believe or place hope in, I think it's entirely rational to take a holistic stock of your evidence and apportion your credences appropriately. And I think I do this in my own faith.

On that note, I take it that you believe some philosophical hypotheses, do you not? I see by your publication list that you've defended particular conclusions about the nature of color and perception. I assume you have some belief and/or hope that the arguments you defend are sound and their conclusions therefore true. However, as I argue the following blog post (and first chapter to my first book), philosophical methodology in general--including the kind that you use--doesn't really have any good claim to truth-aptness: https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2020/04/has-philosophy-made-progress.html

Finally, it seems to me I could make a parity argument to you: "Grow up, Pendaran! Stop believing or hoping that any of your philosophical arguments bear any relation to truth, since you have no good evidence that they do." But I take it you would probably want to resist that, right? Why? Because, I take it, you do have some faith (or at least hope) that philosophy gets at some truth. But that's just what my religious faith is like, so...

Marcus Arvan

Hey TT: Good question. Here's a quick answer.

First, I think my faith/hope in God probably has the same rational evidential value as robust moral realism--which is to say, not much at all. This is part of the point of the present post: namely, that my own faith, and experience that there may be something to Balfour's second-personal theodicy, are highly uncertain. Like Balfour, I admit that my faith/hope may be deeply in error, and my experiences as of communion with God may be illusory. Despite all of that, the argument nevertheless coheres very deeply with my spiritual path through life and personal experience--which is why I shared it.

Second, here is why I think motivated reasoning is okay in the one case (uncertain religious faith/hope) whereas it's not okay in the other case (moral realism). When I go to church or pray (or whatever), I'm not seeking philosophical evidence or *pretending* that my spiritual experiences are truth-apt. I also don't write articles or books claiming my religious experiences are truth-apt. Unlike some Christians I know, I am all too willing to admit deep uncertainty about whether God exists. Faith, for me, isn't an intellectual commitment to the truth of propositions. It is, as Wittgenstein puts it, a matter of the heart--with the full recognition that what my heart needs and desires here may be false. In other words, sure, when it comes to religious faith, I may be engaging in motivated reasoning--but that's just what faith and hope are! And, as long as I admit to myself and others that it could well be just that (and I am happy to), then no harm, no foul.

Where the moral realist goes wrong, I believe, is in more or less the same way that the dogmatic religious believer goes wrong. They use methods that are deeply susceptible to motivated reasoning, don't adequately recognize it, and then pretend their theories are truth-apt when there are all sorts of very good reasons to doubt whether they are. To use John Stuart Mill's words (who criticized commonsense moral theorists Thomas Reid and William Whewell on similar grounds), moral realists "make opinions" about reasons "their own proof" and make "prevailing opinions, on matters of morality, into reasons for themselves." (John Stuart Mill - Richard Reeves 2007, pp. 164, 241)

Suppose moral realists (like Parfit, Scanlon, etc.) wrote, "You know, my evidence for external, mind-independent normative reasons is really meager. Maybe it's not zero. But I'm have to admit that my methods aren't very good--because they just appeal to what people like me think--and my belief that such reasons exist may therefore be little more than motivated reasoning." Then I would be happy and go along on my merry way. But that's not what they do. They present their methods as though they are good ones--that is, as truth-apt ones.

Finally, I think there is another very important difference between spirituality and philosophy/moral realism. In matters of spirituality, there are no better methods available. All we can do is speculate wildly (viz. arguments for God's existence) and have personal experiences (such as experiences as of communion with God). But this is precisely what I argue in both of my books isn't true in moral philosophy (and, I think, in philosophy more generally). There *are* better methods of doing philosophy that have a much better claim to truth-aptness than the ones moral realists use. And so, I argue, we should use those better methods, or else (again) just admit that moral realism is a matter of faith. Which is, I think, something David Killoren has right: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11153-015-9509-2 The only difference I have with Killoren here is that while we both agree that robust moral realism is a religion, he thinks it is a good religion: I think it is a bad one--since I think there's a better way to do moral philosophy that does better than the moral realist's faith, and because I think belief in mind-independent moral reasons is conducive to harmful forms of moral certitude that in turn fosters social polarization and counterproductive forms of human conflict: https://philpapers.org/rec/ARVTDS

TT

You might also like this, which makes similar claims to those in the Balfour piece: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781118608005.ch18

I taught it once. Students seemed to both like it and find it deeply unsatisfying. The source of dissatisfaction was basically this: suffering is partially justified by the fact that lets us know what God is feeling (viz. pain at our suffering); but the other reason God is feeling that way is because we're suffering in the first place. So it seems to presuppose an independent justification of suffering, otherwise the intimacy justification never gets off the ground.

TT

Thanks for your response, Marcus. (Sorry I haven't responded to the other thread yet--I was away from my laptop for two days.)

pendaran

I had written a long response. However, I think I decided it's just not worth it. Let's just drop it. I've had my say on the matter. We can leave I there.

Best,

Pendaran

Nicolas Delon

Two delightfully written papers I read recently:

- 'How valuable could a person be?' by Rasmussen and Bailey, forthcoming in PPR: https://philpapers.org/rec/BAIHVC-2

Fun, elegant and stimulating: a simple argument that, if persons have equal and extreme value, then they most likely have infinite value.

- 'The rejection of consequentializing' by Daniel Muñoz, forthcoming in JPhil: https://philpapers.org/rec/MUOTRO-2

I had never really gotten into the consequentializing debate but Muñoz makes a simple yet compelling case that it's incoherent. The writing is excellent too.

Geez I wish I could write like these folks.

Sam Duncan

I'm starting to reread Ian Hacking's "Rewriting the Soul", which I read somewhat carelessly in grad school. I remembered it being good and so far it's even better than I remember. Hacking's more moderate and nuanced take on Foucault's style of archaeology of knowledge and his more moderate and nuanced conclusions are much more plausible and interesting than Foucault's own work and the grandiose conclusions he draws from it. The issues it raises fit in very nicely with an excellent book on the history of psychiatry I read this winter "Mind Fixers" by Anne Harrington. Harrington's not a philosopher but the book deals with some really fascinating questions in philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and epistemology. Also, it documents the ways that psychiatrists have been constantly forced to modify their grand theories of mind when confronted with a much messier and complicated reality, which should give analytic philosophers of mind with similarly grand and neat theories a bit of pause if they were familiar with them.
Finally, I don't know if a textbook should count, but I came across Jonathan Weisberg's "Odds and Ends" while teaching logic this spring and it's just a really excellent textbook for teaching that material. And it's free too!

Evan

Pendaran: You wrote: “However, it's still irrational to hope for things for which you have no good evidence.”

I agree that it can be irrational. But what cost is there in a little hope or acceptance that the idea of a God is a possibility? I don’t think living an ethical or even a human life requires us to be rational 24/7 about everything. Many times, the costs are so low we are willing to accept some irrationality in our judgement. Most of us rely on trust more so than knowledge to get us through our days. Imagine trying to gather sufficient evidence to determine whether every Uber driver is a good person and won’t end up murdering you while you need to go to an important meeting. Or calculate when is the right time to drive to avoid a car crash and have the probability be slim to none. That would be mentally exhausting and often times counterproductive if we just want to get on with our lives.

We rely on irrationality in our daily routine. We don’t always seek evidence for every decision we will make. Rather, we just hope or trust that it will go as we expected it to without questioning it or demanding evidence.

A little faith, hope, or acceptance of possibilities of certain things really poses little cost, threat, or harm to most of us. At worst it will just be annoying to overly rational people. Most people you meet in real life, don’t think it’s a big deal nor are they harmed by it.

So yea, hope in certain things without evidence is irrational, but it’s not necessarily wrong or dangerous to do so which is often the the connotation that those phrases have. Some irrationality is fine. This over prioritization of rationality amongst philosophers is really pretentious and often hypocritical as it often overlooks commonsense or least takes it for granted.

Pragmatist

Evan
I hope you have read the William James - W K Clifford exchange. This is it all over again.

WL

When I teach ethics, I sometimes run through the following four views:

(1) no on God and no on objective moral truths,

(2) no on God and yes on objective moral truths,

(3) yes on God and yes on objective moral truths, where objective moral truths are a function of divine commands,

and

(4) yes on God and yes on objective moral truths, where objective moral truths are not a function of divine commands (e.g., because they are best understood as eternal and uncreated divine ideas).

I tell students that these are not the only four possible views in this domain, but that they are the four main views that philosophers accept and discuss. Then I ask students to map their own views onto these four (i.e., to say which of the four they incline toward accepting). Sometimes they complain back to me that there is a fifth view that is not on the board (I write the four views on the board) that they find most likely to be true: yes on God but no objective moral truths. I always say back, "well, yes, this fifth view is definitely a possible view, but I don't think it is very common in philosophy." After readings what Marcus has said here, I now have a example of a philosopher who accepts this fifth view, namely, Marcus. I wonder how common this fifth view is, both among philosophers and among the general public. It might be more common than I have previously thought it to be.

Marcus Arvan

Hi WL: Just to clarify, I would not describe myself as endorsing that fifth view.

I argue that there are objective moral truths--specifically, that we should treat everyone fairly, in a way that I argue reconciles the insights of utilitarianism, Kantianism, virtue ethics, and contractualism. See:

https://www.marcusarvan.net/my-book
https://www.marcusarvan.net/neurofunctional-prudence-and-morali

What I deny is that moral truths are mind-independent and 'categorical'. The idea that moral truths must be mind-independent and categorical first emerged with Kant. Prior to Kant, no one held that view. Aristotle didn't for instance. Rather, Aristotle derived his virtue ethics from the psychological fact (as he took it) that we seek eudaimonia as our highest end.

My view is similar. I think the modern belief that moral facts have to be mind-independent and categorical to be 'objective' is simply a false alley that Kant set moral philosophy down (see also GEM Anscombe's 'Modern Moral Philosophy'). I used to assume this Kantian view myself. I just reject it now because I don't think good philosophical methods support it. I argue that good methods should lead us to treat it instead as a seductive prejudice that, in the end, we should reject--much like the appearance that the Earth is flat and stationary are seductive appearances that we should reject once we do science properly.

WL

Thanks for the clarification, Marcus.

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