A2 Predictions

1. Hume’s understanding of miracle is flawed. Discuss.

2. The concept of disembodied existence is incoherent. Discuss

3. Critically assess theories of the use and purposes of religious language

4. Scripture is the only valid form of revelation. Discuss.

5. Critically assess Ayer’s theory of Verification.

6. There will always be more plausible explanations for religious experience than God. Discuss.

These are my six guesses for the A2 Philosophy examination questions this year. 1 is likely I would say because we have had miracles the least as a topic, and because there has never been a question on the different understandings of miracle. 2 because it hasn’t come around for a while, 3 has never come up – to be honest I’m not sure how a question on it would be phrased, but we have been told they can ask a question on anything on the spec, and its on the spec. 4 because we haven’t had revelation for a while, and this particular question hasn’t come up. 5 because we haven’t had Ayer/verification for ages (since before the new spec) and 6 because, as they mention here there hasn’t been a question on challenges to religious experience – although that is not specifically mentioned on the spec – but I do have a hunch there may be a religious experience question – call it a religious experience if you will! Good luck!

Freedom regained

Matthew Livermore:

A discussion on some theories of mind/brain relationship

Originally posted on Scientia Salon:

81lyH-va9ELby Julian Baggini

[This is an edited extract from Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will, University of Chicago Press. Not to be reproduced without permission of the publisher.]

We’ve heard a lot in recent years about how scientists — neuroscientists in particular — have “discovered” that actions in the body and thoughts in the mind can be traced back to events in the brain. In many ways it is puzzling why so many are worried by this. Given what we believe about the brain’s role in consciousness, wouldn’t it be more surprising if nothing was going on in your brain before you made a decision? As the scientist Colin Blakemore asks, “What else could it be that’s making our muscles move if it’s not our brains?” And what else could be making thoughts possible other than neurons firing? No one should pretend that we understand exactly how it…

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Boethius’ Consolation, Freedom and Divine Foreknowledge

Matthew Livermore:

Eternity and God’s foreknowledge

Originally posted on Scholasticus:

[This is the final segment in the Boethius series as the problem of divine foreknowledge takes us through the end of the Consolation. I’ve enjoyed writing it, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it.]

In prose III of book V Boethius proposes the problem of divine foreknowledge as a subject for further philosophical discussion. How is it that God can have infallible foreknowledge about contingent future events because knowledge requires necessity? If God necessarily knows that Socrates will do X at some future time, then it seems that Socrates cannot fail to do X, and therefore that he does not have free will and X is not contingent. But it is ridiculous to deny the freedom of the will in Boethius’s opinion, since then there would be no vices nor virtues, and even vices would be understood to come about through God’s action, nor would there be any point…

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Creatio ex Nihilo: The Grammar of Agency

Originally posted on Eclectic Orthodoxy:

Until we grasp the radical transcendence of the eternal Creator, we cannot think rightly either his providential action in the world or of the peculiar freedom that we, as creatures, enjoy in him. Like the ancient Greeks we conceive of God as a being within the order of the cosmos—a supreme, perfect, noncorporeal being but a being nonetheless. And given our present scientific understanding of the universe, it’s difficult for us to envision how such a being can be providentially involved in world and cosmic history. Maybe he got things started at the Big Bang (or maybe not), but since then the cosmos has been rolling along quite nicely without him, thank you very much. God does not appear in the cosmological equations of the physicists. He is an unnecessary hypothesis. Divine transcendence is thus inevitably interpreted as distance and noninvolvement, a functional deism. If God is present in the…

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Kant and the Moral Argument

Here are three answers to a part b question on Kant’s moral argument:

They vary in quality -see if you can critique them.

  • ‘Morality has nothing to do with the existence of God’. Discuss.
  1. Kant believed that morality proved the existence of God. He thought that good people would seek happiness and therefore because it couldn’t be found on this earth it had to be found in the next life. But Freud proved that morality was given by your parents and your upbringing. This shows that morality doesn’t have to come from God. Also Kant’s argument doesn’t work as sometimes people do good things for rewards, and not out of duty.
  1. Kant’s argument is incoherent – it has at least two main areas which are strongly disputed by philosophers. The first is that ‘ought implies can’. Kant claims that whilst the imperative for moral agents to act according to their duty has no reward other than itself, nonetheless all actions have a goal, and the goal which moral actions aim at is the “highest good,” (summum bonum) which is a world in which both moral virtue and happiness are maximized. If I have an obligation to seek this highest good, Kant maintains, then it must be achievable.

But this is just wishful thinking; it may be that the sense of moral obligation we feel is just the result of upbringing or societal pressure as Freud would claim. In that case, just because I ought to do something, there is no guarantee that it will be achievable – the source of moral obligation is not a universal moral law, but a subjective, culturally bound set of practices.

Equally, some have questioned the notion that ought implies can when applied to the existence of things rather than just what should happen – Kant is clearly saying that the state of the summum bonum must exist somewhere because ought implies can, but this is false. Ought implies can if applied to an action, for instance if someone tells me I ought to try to work harder, but it tells me nothing about what actually exists.

However, Kant would probably say that his argument does not make this step; it is merely a working out of what morality implies, and shows what we have to postulate in order for moral actions to make sense.

It is also unclear that even more straightforward uses of ought imply can. For instance we might say of someone that they ought to be paid more, even though we know that their employer doesn’t have the money to do so.

Ultimately, Kant’s argument relies on the assumption of the fairness of the universe, but many philosophers would contend that this is unwarranted.

  1. The summum bonum is an incoherent notion in the sense that it doesn’t seem to follow from Kant’s moral theory – in fact his moral theory seems to disallow the existence of the summum bonum, as it functions as a reward for moral virtue. Kant rules out any possibility of reward for moral actions – the good will is that in which we act for duty’s sake, whereas the summum bonum is the state of supreme happiness which is the end goal of perfect virtue. But surely this is a reward by another name? As Michael Palmer has suggested – this looks suspiciously like trying to keep your cake and eat it.

However, it is possible that the notion of the summum bonum as a reward by another name does not do justice to Kant’s actual theory. Kant does seem to have identified a key element of moral behaviour – happiness or a state of satisfaction that one is acting in the right way, and although the summum bonum and duty are in tension, it is perhaps not completely incoherent. Kant is concerned with establishing the implications of morality, and if there is a conflict between my happiness and my duty, then perhaps the only coherent solution is that God will resolve that conflict.