Friday, August 26, 2016


Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Monday, August 22, 2016


Saturday, August 20, 2016


Thursday, August 18, 2016


Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Thursday, July 28, 2016


Monday, July 11, 2016


Sunday, July 3, 2016

New book

My first book was just published. It's about the various arguments to the effect that determinism and/or naturalism are self-defeating, such as those by C.S. Lewis, Karl Popper, J.R. Lucas, Thomas Nagel, and Alvin Plantinga. You can read a goodly portion of the first chapter on the publisher's website, on Amazon, and on GoogleBooks. Sorry about the price. I won't be offended if you get it via interlibrary loan.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Who telled you of the Valley?" said Tutu. "No horowitz doed it, because none haved speech until you teached them how to talk. Who telled you?"

"The man doed it," replied Carmody. "Him goed there."

"The man who comed from the stars? The man me seed you talking to that night?"

Carmody nodded, and she said, "Him have knowledge of where us go after death?"

He was caught by surprise and could only stare, open-mouthed, at her a few seconds. Holmyard was an agnostic and denied that there was any valid evidence for the immortality of man. Carmody, of course, agreed with him that there was no scientifically provable evidence, no facts. But there were enough indications of the survival of the dead to make any open-minded agnostic wonder about the possibility. And, of course, Carmody believed that every man would live forever because he had faith that man would do so. Moreover, he had a personal experience which had convinced him. (But that's another story.)

"No, the man no have knowledge of where us go after death. But me have knowledge."

"Him a man; you a man, said Tutu. "If you have knowledge, why no him?"

Again, Carmody was speechless. Then he said, "How you have knowledge that me a man?"

Tutu shrugged and said, "At first, you fool us. Later, everybody have knowledge. Easy to see that you put on beak and feathers."

Carmody began to remove the beak, which had chafed and irritated him for many months.

"Why you no say so?" he said angrily. "You try to make fool of me?"

Tutu looked hurt. She said, "No. Nobody make fool of you, John. Us love you. Us just thinked you liked to put on beak and feathers. Us no have knowledge of why, but if you like to do so, O.K. with us. Anyway, no try to get off what we talk about. You say you have knowledge of where dead go. Where?"

"Me no supposed to tell you where. No just yet, anyway. Later."

"You no wish to scare us? Maybe that a bad place us no like? That why you no tell us?"

"Later, me tell. It like this, Tutu. When me first comed among you and teached you speech, me no able to teach you all the words. Just them you able to understand. Later, teach you harder words. So it now. You no able to understand even if me tell you. You become older, have knowledge of more words, become smarter. Then me tell. See?"

She nodded and also clicked her beak, an additional sign of agreement.

"Me tell the others," she said. "Many times, while you sleep, we talk about where us go after us die. What use of living only short time if us no keep on living? What good it do? Some say it do no good; us just live and die, and that that. So what? But most of us no able to think that. Become scared. Besides, no make sense to us. Everything else in this world make sense. Death that last forever no do, anyway. Maybe us die to make room for others. Because if us no die, if ancestors no die, then soon this world become too crowded, and all starve to death, anyway. You tell us this world no flat but round like a ball and this -- what you call it, gravity? -- keep us from falling off. So us see that soon no more room if us no die. But why no go to a place where plenty of room?

...

He must have dozed away, for he suddenly awakened as he felt a small body snuggling next to his. It was his favorite, Tutu.

"Me cold," she said. "Also, many times, before the village burn, me sleep in your arms. Why you no ask me to do so tonight? You last night!" she said with a quavering voice, and she was crying. Her shoulders shook, and her beak raked across his chest as she pressed the side of her face against him. And, not for the first time, Carmody regretted that these creatures had hard beaks. They would never know the pleasure of soft lips meeting in a kiss.

"Me love you, John," she said. "But ever since the monster from the stars destroyed us village, me scared of you, too. But tonight, me forget me scared, and me must sleep in you arms once more, so me able to remember this last night the rest of me life."

Carmody felt tears welling in his own eyes, but he kept his voice firm. "Them who serve the Creator say me have work to do elsewhere. Among the stars. Me must go, even if no wish to. Me sad, like you. But maybe someday me return. No able to promise. But always hope."

"You no should leave. Us still childs, and us have adults' work ahead of us. The adults like childs, and us like adults. Us need you."

"Me know that true," he said. "But me pray to He that He watch over and protect you."

"Me hope He have more brains than me mother. Me hope He smart as you."

Carmody laughed and said, "He is infinitely smarter than me. No worry. What come, come."

He talked some more to her, mainly advice on what to do during the coming winter and reassurances that he might possibly return. Or, if he did not, that other men would. Eventually, he drifted into sleep.

But he was awakened by her terrified voice, crying in his ear.

He sat up and said, "Why you cry, child?"

She clung to him, her eyes big in the reflected light of the dying fire. "Me father come to me, and him wake me up! Him say, 'Tutu, you wonder where us horowitzes go after death! Me know, because me go to the land of beyond death. It a beautiful land; you no cry because John must leave. Some day, you see him here. Me allowed to come see you and tell you. And you must tell John that us horowitzes like mans. Us have souls, us no just die and become dirt and never see each other again.'

"Me father telled me that. And him reached out him hand to touch me. And me become scared, and me waked up crying!"

"There, there," said Carmody, hugging her. "You just dream. You know your father no able to talk when him alive. So how him able to talk now? You dreaming."

"No dream, no dream! Him not in me head like a dream! Him standing outside me head, between me and fire! Him throw a shadow! Dreams no have shadows! And why him no able to talk? If him can live after death, why him no talk, too? What you say, 'Why strain at a bug and swallow a horse?'"

"Out of the mouths of babes," muttered Carmody, and he spent the time until dawn talking to Tutu.

Philip José Farmer
"Prometheus"
Father to the Stars

Monday, June 13, 2016

Please pray

for the victims of the terrorist attack in Orlando. Fifty people created in the image of God were murdered, targeted specifically because they were gay, and more than that were injured, some severely. Pray also for the families of the victims, especially those whose loved ones were killed. "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4:20-21)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Internal vs. External Conditions

In an earlier post, I wrote about the cardinal virtues: wisdom (or prudence), courage, moderation, and justice. The cardinal virtues are there to liberate us from the inner restrictions to our freedom. By mastering them, we become free. But contemporary culture focuses on external restrictions to our freedom, which, being external, cannot be treated by internal transformation. They can only be treated by changing the external conditions. But since a great deal of the external conditions involve other people, this means that changing other people takes priority over changing ourselves. I have two objections to this.

First, it's not practical. We only have direct control over one person, after all, ourselves. To skip over the one person we have direct control over in order to try to control other people, who we do not have direct control over, is unwise. If we can't master direct control, why do we think we'll be able to master indirect control? This is the meaning of one of Jesus' most famous statements: "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" You can't be expected to be correct about someone else's judgment if your own judgment is skewed. It's also the idea behind the movie To End All Wars. How can I bring about peace on earth if I am not willing to be a peaceful person, the type of person who could actually live in a peaceful world? As the old saying goes, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."

This may make it seem that focusing on oneself and the inner restrictions to our freedom that the cardinal virtues free us from is entirely a pragmatic affair: we're not doing it because it's the right thing to do, but simply because if we want to gain more and more control over everything, we have to start with ourselves and build outward. In fact, maybe it's even the wrong thing to do. Under this scenario, we are to focus on ourselves before focusing on others.

But that leads me to my second objection. Trying to change the external world rather than ourselves it not just impractical, it's immoral. It's the attempt to manipulate people into doing what we want them to do. As Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy, when we engage in such behavior

We are making use of people, trying to bypass their understanding and judgment to trigger their will and possess them for our purposes. Whatever consent they give to us will be uninformed because we have short-circuited their understanding of what is going on. … As God's free creatures, people are to be left to make their decisions without coercion or manipulation. Hence, "let your affirmation be just an affirmation," a yes, and your denial be just a denial, a no. Anything more than this "comes from evil" -- the evil intent to get one's way by verbal manipulation of the thoughts and choices of others.

Kingdom rightness respects the soul need of human beings to make their judgments and decisions solely from what they have concluded is best. It is a vital, a biological need. We do not thrive, nor does our character develop well, when this need is not respected, and this thwarts the purpose of God in our creation.

This was brought home to me recently when I watched a video on the genius of Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones. Tyrion succeeds not by trying to force people to do what he wants but by trying to get them to think that they want what he wants.

   

I have no problem with this idea simply as an observation of people or as indicative of good character writing. But the video recommends this type of behavior to its viewers, and many of the commenters seem to take it to heart. I find it horrifying: what kind of a life would that be? How miserable and empty must a person be to live a life like that? It almost seems worse than death.

Now I'm treating changing internal conditions and changing external conditions as if they were mutually exclusive: obviously we should do both, and everyone does do both. If the speck in your brother's eye is a violent crime he should be stopped from committing, then it is not moral to ignore it until you remove the log in your own eye -- nor would Jesus or any of the other advocates of the cardinal virtues suggest otherwise. The question is the priority. If trying to change others is your fall-back position, if your immediate instinct in all circumstances is to blame other people or external circumstances rather than your own character, then maybe you need to take stock. And, as I mentioned in the earlier post, I'm no better than anyone else in this regard. I have lifelong character traits that blame others instead of myself, and my attempts to improve my character are sporadic and trivial. I have found that it is not true that recognizing the problem is half the battle. It's barely one percent.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Thought of the Day

The difference between a) patriotism and b) nationalism is about the same as the difference between a) loving your parents and b) helping them bury the bodies.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Summer Reading

I've been dissatisfied with the texts I've used for my introduction to philosophy class but have yet to find any better ones. It's not that the texts themselves are not good enough (for the most part), it's that what I want is so particular the only way I'm going to find a book that meets all my requirements is if I write it myself. Overall I prefer a topical approach rather than a historical introduction or an anthology, although I sometimes think about having the course be the reading of several complete historical texts rather than short readings: a couple of Plato's dialogues, BoethiusConsolation of Philosophy, Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy, Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, etc. I think reading a bunch of short excerpts is like taking a three-day tour of Europe. You need to settle in and live there for a while to get an appreciation of the place.

The text I've used the most is Donald Palmer, Does the Center Hold? An Introduction to Western Philosophy, 6th edition. Palmer's book is structured closest to my Platonic ideal of a philosophy text (which isn't saying much), it's well-suited for college freshmen, and it's cheap. But I'm unhappy with some elements of it, not least his treatment of philosophy of religion. So I've been collecting introductory texts and I plan to spend the summer going over them, or at least some of them, to potentially replace Palmer but probably just to integrate some of their contents into the course. Maybe I should say I hope to spend the summer reading them, since plans change, and I can already foresee several events that will take precedence. Anyway, the books I have are:

-- Malcolm Clark, The Need to Question: An Introduction to Philosophy. The only text I've seen that addresses philosophy of language. Looks like it's from a Kantian perspective.
-- Reuben Abel, Man Is the Measure: A Cordial Invitation to the Central Problems of Philosophy.
-- Clark Glymour, Thinking Things Through: An Introduction to Philosophical Issues and Achievements, 2nd edition. This one looks like it goes into much more detail but over fewer subjects than I want. So greater depth, smaller scope. Nevertheless, it looks very good, and I might consider switching to it if I think it's accessible to freshmen.
-- Daniel J. Sullivan, An Introduction to Philosophy: Perennial Principles of the Classical Realist Tradition. A Catholic introduction.
-- Phil Washburn, Philosophical Dilemmas: A Pro and Con Introduction to the Major Questions and Philosophers, 4th edition. The format of this book looks excellent, giving the strengths and weaknesses of numerous philosophical issues and conundrums. I might consider switching to it, although it's an expensive text (most of them are), and I want to use a cheap one if possible.
-- Andrew Pessin and S. Morris Engel, The Study of Philosophy: A Text with Readings, 7th edition. Mostly text with short readings at the end of each chapter.
-- Lewis Vaughn, Philosophy Here and Now: Powerful Ideas in Everyday Life, 2nd edition. I've used this, and it's really excellent. My only objections are that it doesn't address some of the subjects I want addressed and it's expensive. But I might consider switching to this one too.

Another book I'll look at that isn't technically an introduction to philosophy text is Alasdair MacIntyre's God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition.

I put these on the sidebar in my GoodReads widget which I have neglected for the past year. I also have several anthologies, which, as I say, is not my preference. However, I plan to take a close look at them to see if they can convert me:

-- Andrew Bailey and Robert M. Martin, First Philosophy: Fundamental Problems and Readings in Philosophy, 2nd edition.
-- Gideon Rosen, Alex Byrne, Joshua Cohen, and Seana Shiffrin, The Norton Introduction to Philosophy.
-- Steven M. Cahn, The World of Philosophy: An Introductory Reader.
-- John Perry, Michael Bratman, and John Martin Fischer, Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, 7th edition.
-- William F. Lawhead, The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach, 6th edition.
-- John Chaffee, The Philosopher's Way: Thinking Critically about Profound Ideas: A Text with Readings, 5th edition.

I'm also slated to teach an introduction to ethics course next fall. However, in this case, the university wants me to use a particular text, so this summer I'll also be reading Nina Rosenstand, The Moral of the Story: An Introduction to Ethics, 7th edition. It's on the sidebar too.

Update (15 June): Well, it didn't take very long. The day after I posted this my plans became more, shall we say, fluid, and now I don't know which courses I'll be teaching in the fall. It's not a bad thing at all, it's an opportunity, it's just an opportunity to teach different classes, and I don't know how it's going to end up. The closest thing to a constant is that I'll probably still teach ethics sometime next school year, so I'll still go through Rosenstand. On top of this, we're moving, and most of my books, including those mentioned in this post, are going into storage. The only ones I've kept out are Abel, Clark, Palmer, Vaughn, and Washburn. And MacIntyre. So I'm kind of in limbo now. Maybe I'll just read science-fiction.