A Critical Review of Rop’s “Searching for the Soul”: Emergentism, Interventionism and Christian Materialism

This paper is a critical review of Rianne Rop’s 2016 thesis “Searching for the Soul in an Evolutionary World.”[1] Rop’s paper concerns the tensions which have arose both historically—between theologians, philosophers, and scientists—as well as philosophically—ways in which one accounts for the origin of the soul and its relation to the natural world. While the paper is exegetically helpful and contributes to the discussion taking place regarding the ontology of the soul, an analysis of some of the central claims requires that many premises adopted are, it seems, problematic. I will begin, then, by providing a brief exegesis of her paper to provide a context in which her thesis can be situated. Then, I will move onto explain what I take as essentially correct in her proposal. Having done this, I will move onto explain disagreements which I make with Rop’s model, and do this retrospectively by evaluating some of the central premises which Rop accepts as philosophically legitimate, and explain my concern with their adoption. I will conclude the paper by suggesting that what Rop has done has provided a very neat model in which much of the scientific data can be harmonized with the philosophical and theological presuppositions she wishes to maintain; however, if her thesis is to be maintained, more philosophical and theological work need to be done so as to respond to the nuances in the alternative models she critiques.

Rop’s central contention is that the conjunction of evolutionary theory and the ontology of the soul requires a nuanced model of (i) how the soul came into being, (ii) God’s creation of the soul (intervention either directly or indirectly) and (iii) the soul’s relation to all of the natural world. Having begun with a brief exegesis of evolutionary theory and the Catholic Church’s reaction to its findings, she moves onto argue that the classificatory division—extending back to Ancient Greece in Plato, flourishing in the Early Modern era with Descartes—between ‘soul’ and ‘matter’ is subject to formidable objections. While Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) would want to preserve human dignity and uniqueness in the positive ontic status of the soul, Rop would suggest that his worries—alongside the worries of Pius XII—can be plausibly answered without adopting the solutions they propose, namely, by adopting a dualistic model positing ‘materiality’ and ‘immateriality’ as separate, distinct spheres of reality. As she puts it, the basic idea presented initially was whether “we can say that the human body shares its origin with all other creatures” but that “the human soul must come from a divine source whence it receives its unique dignity.” (Rop 8). Rop presents alternative models which she finds untenable for either philosophical, theological or scientific reasons. She critiques the Christian materialist on the grounds that “it cannot fully account for the human experience.” (Rop 8). Following what she takes to be unanimity between some theologians and scientists, Christian materialism, in being reductive, cannot account for (i) human rationality, (ii) “subjectivity or freedom in thought” (Rop 8), (iii) ways in which truth and falsehood can be properly demarcated and (iv) the emergence of the mental at all, since materialism is best situated in a fully deterministic framework. (This is the thesis of Gerard M. Verschuuren).[2] She then moves on to critique ‘Interventionist Theologies,’ arguing that the “over-literal interpretation of Genesis” (Rop 9) notwithstanding, interventionist theologies—requiring special, direct divine action in the world—are intrinsically problematic. Adopting Rahner’s critique of interventionist theologies, she argues that the two problems are that interventionist theologies require God to become an agent similar to other agents in the world (thus reducing God’s transcendence as Ultimate Being), as well as “extraordinary cases” which would make it apparently strange for God to create the human soul i.e., pregnancy through rape.

Rop then argues that there is a more successful way to reconcile the tensions aforementioned, and that is by adopting an emergent soul theory. According to this view, the goal is to “expand our concept of matter in such a way that would allow for an immaterial soul to emerge from matter without losing its inherent, God-given dignity.” (Rop 10). Rop—questionably, as I will explain later—then makes it clear that this view is much more in accord with scientific findings, and that this is a necessary condition of a theological picture of the soul. On her view—motivated by the work of Karl Rahner and John Haught—by suggesting the emergence of the soul from matter, we nuance our contemporary understanding of ‘matter’, and likewise preserve human dignity. Using Kelly Clark’s analogy of the ‘magnet field’, Rop explains that the matter conglomerated into a specifiable biological complexity goes beyond its material constituents when this complexity results in—under God’s immanent presence—the human being comes about, under the “trajectory of God’s one, continual act.” (Rop 10). In this sense, the following can rightly be said: “…we can say that the human soul is an “immediate” creation of God: it has emerged through the ongoing process of self-transcending creation, which God sustains through His immediacy.” (Rop 10). To alleviate the age-old paradox of how ‘immateriality’ arises from ‘materiality’, she uses the ontological backdrop of ‘spiritualized matter’ derivative from Rahner. As such, “God’s immediate presence allows creation to transcend itself continually until this ‘frozen’ matter thaws into spirit…this power to create souls originates from God’s dynamism, which is present and active in the self-transcendence of matter” (Rop 11). Thus, “matter and spirit” are “intrinsically inseparable.” (Rop 11). From this, we can provide an ontological picture of the world according to which biological complexity maps the degree to which something has a soul—the human being, naturally, has the most biological complexity and is therefore the most “intense exemplification” of the soul. Given this model, both living and non-living materiality is in a sense spiritual, that is, immaterial in a certain respect, since all materiality is in a sense immateriality. Since much of the main worldviews held converge on this point—that from the beginning ‘immateriality’ has been present—we should conclude that this model not only resolves the tensions traditionally persistent, but it solves them successfully without a binary opposition between ‘materiality’ and ‘immateriality.’

I will now begin by evaluating the critique Rop made of existent theories of the origin of the soul, beginning with interventionist theories (since I regard her critique of Christian materialism as essentially correct).[3] Her argument is two-fold (both following Rahner): First, special divine action in the world limits God as Primary cause and Ultimate being; secondly, there are complexities in extraordinary cases which would make special divine action relatively uncomfortable. As to the first, I have three critiques. First, God’s causal activity in the finite world is not analogous to the acts of those finite creatures themselves. God is omnipotent, that is, all-powerful, and thus His actions are always as an omnipotent God. I have two comments. First, it is not a priori true that just because a finite human being does x, that when God does x, and it is with the same method, that God is limited. For instance, human beings exercise their will so as to bring about causal effects in the natural world. God does likewise, since He merely wills and brings about causal activity i.e., in creating some finite object. Thus, even if it were true that they are analogous, it is not clear that this undermines God’s transcendence. Secondly, there is a dis-analogy since the nature of God is changeless, while He Himself can change in virtue of some of His actions i.e., in creating the world, God acquires the property of having the property of creating the natural world. Thus, God’s special action in the world does not change His absolute transcendence since it is an essential property of God’s (and thus no act of His can change this, including acting specially in the world). The second critique I would make is along the lines of God’s being Primary cause. Rop assumes that if God acts in an interventionist fashion, that therefore God changes places from being Primary Cause, to mere secondary cause. This, though, is unfounded. If God intervenes in the natural world specially, He does so as Primary Cause, and thus simultaneously acts in the world while maintaining His supremacy as God-over-all. In fact, it would be less than God to not have the capacity to bring about special action in the world while preserving His status as Primary Cause. Thirdly, God, by acting specially in the world, does not make Himself “just another inertial force acting within creation.” (Rop 10). While ‘inertial force’ remains mysteriously vague, if it is meant to mean a natural law i.e., God’s activity is another force similar to a natural law, then this is surely incorrect, since natural laws are acausal, that is, are without causal efficacy—while God does have causal efficacy. If, instead, Rop opts for ‘inertial force’ to mean causal law—like the law of gravitation, for example—then this is still mistaken, since God’s action—even if analogous to some other causal law or force—doesn’t undermine His transcendence. If this did undermine His transcendence, then this God would be closer to the Muslim conception of God, or to a Deistic conception of God, whereby God’s transcendence absolutely precludes any form of ‘undermining’ or ‘lessening’—very different from the self-giving God in Christianity Who does lower Himself to human flesh out of unconditional love. Thus, the first critique of special divine intervention plausibly falls short of its conclusion. However, the second critique still stands.

The second critique involves extraordinary cases in which it is not clear how God acts given the interventionist model. For instance, Rop asks, does God perform special action in the creation of twins to “create an extra soul” (Rop 9)? Or what about a child who results out of the moral atrocity of rape or test tube fertilization? She writes: “As soon as the soul is said to be added to the human body at a particular time, things become complicated.” (Rop 9). I worry that this is a serious problem for the interventionist. I say this for two specific reasons. First, it is not clear how this would be a serious theological problem for the interventionist. Given biological complexity, it is not inconceivable that God would perform different actions in different material situations. If twins resulted in the womb of a mother, God would create unique, individual souls for each of those twins. It is not that there is a theological incoherence present, since God is under no external constraint in His causal interacting with the material world. God would not be, for instance, acting arbitrarily, since He has sufficient reason for giving each of those persons individual souls, namely, because they are two separate persons. In the case of rape, too, it is very mysterious why it would be theologically problematic for God to endow the fetus with a soul; it seems, contrarily, that it would be unloving of God to deprive the developing fetus of a soul in virtue of the circumstances in which he or she was brought into the world. Secondly, it is not required of the interventionist to give a response for all the hard cases which one could offer. The way in which interventionism is rightly interacted with is by denying it on theological grounds—as the first of Rop’s arguments attempted—or show how it would be inconsistent with pre-existent knowledge i.e., if there were no soul to a human person—nor would they need one, hypothetically—then God would not intervene to create one (we are supposing). From the aforementioned critique, I do not see how this objection from extraordinary cases undermines the interventionist position.

Before continuing onward with my analysis, I would like to make two brief comments regarding Rop’s critique of interventionism generally. First, a God too ontologically distant from His natural world—like on Deism—seems to me to be untenable if God is personal. While emergent theories deal with this problem (and rightly so), it is not clear that interventionism is inadequate with respect to how God interacts with the natural world, since it posits that He is causally involved in creation at given moments in time. As I will eventually suggest, it might be possible that God’s general activity throughout the natural world might be as emergentism describes, but that with respect to the creation of the soul it is as the interventionist describes. Secondly, the critique of interventionism that is made is inconsistent with God’s performing miracles, a central teaching of Christianity. While emergentism might deal with this problem by suggesting that “the event of creation was not a one-time event” but “an ongoing process” (Rop 9), the problem is that (i) this requires a model of how God works in this way as well as (ii) a model in which, for example, prayer has direct causal effectiveness. It is not inconceivable that such a model is possible; however, until this is provided, Rop’s favoring of emergentism—in light of her critique of interventionism—cannot be regarded as successful. This being said, I have yet to deal specifically with her model she proposes.

Rop wants to challenge three basic contentions to make the epistemic space for her model:

(i) The strict, ontological and classificatory distinction between ‘materiality’ and ‘immateriality’

(ii) ‘Reduction’ requires (a) epiphenomenalism with respect to persons, (b) a loss of dignity and (c) human beings are no more than their constituent materiality

(iii) ‘Immateriality’ from ‘materiality’ requires that they are intrinsically distinct categories

I will begin by analyzing the success of (i)-(iii). Let us begin with (i). I have three comments to make here. First, it is not clear what ‘immateriality’ and ‘materiality’ amount to. While prima facie definitions present themselves, it is difficult to make sense out of how these terms are used within the domain of Rop’s usage, and therefore hard to test consistency.[4] Secondly, by giving way to the distinction, Rop comes strikingly close to a view in the philosophy of mind called panpsychism, the view that matter has within it mental properties. The problems of panpsychism, then, i.e., the problems from the constitution and unity of consciousness, arise just as much of panpsychism as Rop’s view. Since she does not deal with these, it is an open question whether her view is either identical to—or close enough to have the same problems generated from—panpsychism. Third, by rejecting (i), Rop argues that this is in line with a movement in society which has as its aim to “come to embrace this art of dismantling binaries to better fit our experience of reality…[a] model [more] attractive to those who are intrigued by queer theory…” (Rop 11). I would say two things here. First, this sociological phenomenon is philosophically irrelevant to the truth of (or falsehood of) binaries (which I think Rop recognizes); however, it should be noted that it is not logically valid to falsify a perspective in virtue of its sociological effects i.e., the separation of gender, persons, et cetera.[5] As Nietzsche pointed out, there are ugly truths—by this, though, I do not mean that binaries are ugly truths which we are stuck with in our ontology; rather, I mean that truth—whether ugly or beautiful—is truth nonetheless, and cannot be falsified on any grounds other than its corresponding to the way things are. Secondly, the interventionist model—which she doesn’t consider here—answers this “age-old paradox” very nicely, since it offers a simple model in which God brings about the immateriality into the materiality of the natural world via His causal activity. I will now move onto (ii).

While I in large part agree with her thoughts on (ii), I would only like to make one comment I think significant for consideration. The adoption of an emergentist view to show how human beings are not just their materiality—as Kelly’s magnetic field illustration shows—overlooks the presupposition on which it is based, namely, that biological complexity maps degrees of having a soul. There are deep philosophical worries here, and let me list four with respect to human beings alone (I will leave out the problems associated with holding a view in which non-living materiality is in a sense spiritual). First, this perspective runs close to the view known as ‘functionalism’ in the philosophy of mind. While there are obvious differences i.e., Rop isn’t making claims for/against the constitution of personhood, problems arise. For instance, on Rop’s premises, the more biological complexity the more soul a given thing has. Thus, one human can literally have ‘more’ of a soul than another. If the reason a human being is the best exemplification of a soul is because it maps God’s image and likeness, then it is inexplicable why we are the best exemplification of God’s image and likeness since it is easy to conceive of far more sophisticated (computationally and biologically) creatures who would in that sense be a better exemplification. So, the response from us resembling God’s image and likeness cannot work and thus the degrees of having a ‘soul’ remains paradoxical since it corresponds to biological complexity. Secondly, if my first critique is correct, then it seems that it is a category mistake to speak of souls in this hierarchical fashion. For our adoption of ‘more/less’ to the concept of ‘soul’ seems to be an incorrect usage of terms. Third, it is not clear that biological complexity brings about—factually speaking—such immateriality. The properties of material objects and their material constituents involve interactions described by contemporary quantum physics; if materiality brings about immateriality, though still under the discretion of God, we should expect to see this sort of thing happen at the fundamental level. From the fact that we don’t see this happen, I suggest that it is not that God isn’t active in the creation of the soul, but that it is not through the methodology the emergentist describes. Fourth, a serious problem with this view is that is significantly less simple—simplicity understood as an epistemic virtue of a philosophical theory—than the interactionist theory. While this does not show that the interactionist theory is correct, it shows that the plausibility of interactionism is higher than emergentism in virtue of its having the epistemic virtue of simplicity.

As to (iii), I would like to make two critiques. First, Rop’s argument that the distinction between ‘immateriality’ and ‘materiality’ is not ultimately legitimate since it is predicated on the notion that they are two distinct spheres, is itself predicated on the notion that reality is best understood as both material and immaterial. To be fair, the Christian in this respect should maintain that the world is material and immaterial, and the motivation is very clear i.e., life after death requires immateriality. However, what is required of immateriality is not that it is fundamental to the fabric of reality, but that God is fundamental to the fabric of reality. If God wanted to create a world of only material beings (or only immaterial beings), no theological incoherence arises[6]; but, if God wanted to create a world of both sorts of beings, it is not clear why it would be more acceptable to do so by instilling into the fabric of reality immateriality, rather than bringing it about Himself in certain contexts i.e., the souls of human beings. Secondly, the distinction between ‘materiality’ and ‘immateriality’ should not be given up even if Rop’s model is correct. While Rop herself accepts this, it should be noted that God’s essential nature is immateriality, and thus the way in which we think of ourselves should be in both material and immaterial terms, without reducing ourselves to either of the two completely—for while we cannot be reduced to matter, we cannot be reduced to immateriality either, since our nature is essentially embodied—but this lies beyond the scope of this paper. What I should like to conclude in this paragraph, though, is that the ‘oneness’ of the human person identified by Rop as a worry on interventionism really amounts to pushing towards—on interventionism—a better, more holistic account of the human person despite the distinction between materiality and immateriality. What this all speaks to, I suggest, is the need for a more clear methodology in how we approach the question of the human person’s soul, and this will take the space of my concluding remarks.

What Rop has done is provided a model of the soul in which interventionism and Christian materialism are rejected, and the motivations underlying each are preserved. While there certainly are merits to the model, I have identified both the problems of her critique of interventionism as well as her acceptance of emergentism. However, in this final concluding paragraph, I want to make explicit two tensions I found in her thesis. First, the tension between scientific and theological consistency occupies an interesting role in her paper. Take the following two lines:

“Before diving into theologies of the emergent soul, let us consider the perspective of neuroscience lest these theologies be dismissed as blind, outlandish conjecture.” (Rop 10). (Italics mine).

“Although we have no evidence from scientific research scouring matter for any hint of immateriality (and rightly so, since the immaterial is outside the realm of science), we can see evidence of convergent thought in native spirituality.” (Rop 12). (Italics mine).

The tension in the two lines should be relatively explicit: It is not clear how we are to deal with the questions of science and theology, and their respective relationship with one another.[7] In one sense, science doesn’t have a whole lot to say when it comes to the immateriality of persons; on the other hand, a theological model of the soul cannot be without scientific consideration. While there is no explicit contradiction, my interpretation of this tension is that what is decisive is the theological grounds on which these models are based. Scientific consistency changes with historical context and thus our work in theology needs updating from time to time; however, the truth of the matter—even if science deepens our knowledge of it—does not change. In this way, the theological and philosophical grounds on which these theories are held should be taken up much more significantly than they have. The second tension is regarding the dignity of human beings. Having agreed that even non-living materiality is in a sense immaterial, the dignity of human beings becomes difficult to account for. Put in question form: Why would a human being (amounting to biological complexity resulting in the human soul) have dignity over lesser non-living things? If the answer is biological complexity and therefore the human soul, this would be circular or at least begging the question. If the ‘stuff’ of the world is no different than the ‘stuff’ of human beings, it is not clear that Christian materialism is less preferable than the emergentist model—all that would be needed is a lack of determinism and then emergentism reduces itself uncomfortably close to Christian materialism. Rop’s model should be counted as a contribution to the discussion, but which ultimately requires additional justification for its veracity.

[1] Rops, Rianne. “Searching for the Human Soul in an Evolutionary World”, King’s Undergraduate Research Journal (2007): 7-13.

[2] I should like to mention that although this idea taken up by Verschuuren, a highly sophisticated version of it is taken up in the work of Alvin Plantinga titled the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). Similarities should not be underestimated, though the formulation by Verschuuren is more similar to C.S Lewis’ rough and ready formulation in his Miracles.

[3] While I regard it as correct, I would like to make a few correctives. First, one of the most prominent Christian materialists Peter van Inwagen goes unnoticed in her paper. While it would have no doubt exceeded the bounds of her paper, it should be recognized that his defense of Christian materialism is of the highest quality, albeit its theological difficulties. Secondly, asides pointing out the “over-literal interpretation of Genesis”, Rop does not mention the theological problems—textual and exegetical, ultimately—of Christian materialism made very clear, for example, in J.P Moreland’s The Soul: How we Know Its Real and Why it Matters. Lastly, her analysis would have been strengthened by an incorporation of atheistic philosophers who point out the difficulties of materialism generally, so as to make Christian materialism untenable both from a Christian perspective, and an atheistic perspective (this would support her argument, though it is not, strictly speaking, necessary).

[4] This is important when we understand the cornucopia of terms used on this score. On the one hand there is soul, ego, immaterial thing, substance, self, et cetera; then there are body, bodily thing, substance, physical object, et cetera.

[5] As W.L. Craig rightly points out.

[6] While there is strictly speaking no theological incoherence, it should be noted that God’s creation of the soul as well as the body have independent—and inter-dependent—purposes which should not go unnoticed (regardless of one’s view). For instance, the body is the primal method of communication and knowledge between persons, a great human good (as C.S Lewis pointed out). The soul is the guarantor of the logical possibility of life after death, among many other things. There are many reasons why we would expect God to create a world—in whatever way He desires—that involved both materiality and immateriality (though if it was one or the other only, it is not theologically incoherent).

[7] The way in which these subjects interact, too, is a deep philosophical question. Moreland and Craig specify many ways. For instance: (Find quote for this).

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Three Book Manuscripts

Here are three works which I wrote this last year. They are all rough copies–and so please read them as such (they are by no means polished works). They are–besides the last of the three–sketches at what I have been thinking about for some time now, and they formalize, even if only roughly, some of my thoughts on particular topics. Below is the link as well as a brief indication of what each philosophical text is about.

Introduction to Analytic Christian Philosophy

This text “Introduction to Analytic Christian Philosophy” is an introduction to a movement which began in the 1950s which marks a revolution in anglo-American philosophy of religion. The material in this book should be treated as notes, and not necessarily a ‘book.’ They are my notes, and in this sense represent important insights rather than a clear historical analysis of the movement. It is a book in Christian apologetics, philosophy of religion and the history of analytic Christian philosophy.

Josef Pieper: An Anthology

This work is a compilation of short passages from the work of 21st century, German philosopher Josef Pieper. Himself a Thomist and Western traditionalist, his insights are clear and accessible, and this work particularly seeks to bring to those either beginning in philosophy or those who want to engage more with philosophical thinkers, a clear explication of the profound insights of a modern philosopher.

An Outline of Socio-Phenomenological Acedia

This very small work is a series of brief chapters regarding what is typically called the sin of ‘sloth.’ While the term ‘sloth’ is often obscured in modern English, by going back to the original ‘acedia’ we see the profound difference that it makes and why it matters. Having done this, I, in this work, seek to extend and construe this concept of ‘acedia’–in the modern world–to be a modern sociological and phenomenological problem. I suggest that this sin is much worse than mere ‘laziness’, and find the re-apprehension of beauty to be a powerful way in which socio-phenomenological acedia can be overcome. This work is also a defense of evangelization by beauty, and the book ends on a more evangelistic note (bringing the philosophical discussion into the realm of the practical application).

*Should anyone enjoy any of the works–or not enjoy them–I would love to receive feedback on any relevant feature i.e., argument, syntax, formation of ideas, et cetera.

Enjoy!

 

A Prelude to Exegetical Philosophy: A Theological Exemplar

The most daunting goal for the beginner of philosophy is choosing a first book. This, though, seems unproblematic, given the diversity and sheer amount of texts available today. Though I am certainly fond of introductory texts to philosophy, very clear insights are often glossed over for the sake of either clarity or readability. Introductory texts, too, have the problem of bias—like any work; however, a good introductory text gives both sides of the argument and lays each out fairly (though the author might portray, implicitly, which side has more merit). This notwithstanding, I want to, in this brief note, provide what I take to be an acceptable introduction to how philosophy works at the exegetical level. By this, I simply mean how philosophy works at the level of textual analysis, that is, of analyzing a text. If one works topically or historically, one still deals critically—paradigmatically—with philosophical texts. In this brief note, then, I will lay out what I take to be a wonderful case in philosophical studies where in close exegesis, we begin to see the fruit of careful analysis.

Let us take an example of a passage prima facie (at face value):

“Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are heirs of the grace of life, in order than your prayers may not be hindered.” (1st Peter 3:7 RSV)

“Οἱ ἄνδρες ὁμοίως συνοικοῦντες κατὰ γνῶσιν ὡς ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει τῷ γυναικείῳ, ἀπονέμοντες τιμήν ὡς καὶ συνκληρονόμοις χάριτος ζωῆς, εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐνκόπτεσθαι τὰς προσευχὰς ὑμῶν.” (1st Peter 3:7 Nestle GNT 1904)

We will be primarily concerned with “Οἱ ἄνδρες ὁμοίως συνοικοῦντες κατὰ γνῶσιν ὡς ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει τῷ γυναικείῳ”. On first reading, there is one thing which stands out, which no doubt—at first glance—looks beyond problematic, namely, the admission of women as the weaker sex and the men as the noble, more important sex. This is a case in which it seems we have (i) a clear message, (ii) implication and (iii) analysis within the quote itself. In this way, no additional supplementary notes need be added. Thus, this seems to constitute a problem for those wanting to ascribe to the truth of the Biblical data since it involves a very difficult passage to accept. However, this judgement of 1st Peter 3:7 as involving the depreciation and devaluation of women is exegetically unsound, and uncareful. Let us look into the matter more deeply.

As Rev. J. Howard B. Masterman explains in his The First Epistle of S. Peter:

“The acceptance of subjection involves a claim to consideration and protection. In the words ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει there is a germ of nobler chivalry than that of the middle ages. συνοικέω is the nearest equivalent in Greek to our English expression “making a home for.” The participle carries on the thought of the ύποτάγητε of ch. ii. 13. κατὰ γνῶσιν refers either to spiritual knowledge or to recognition of the weakness (not the inferiority) of women. For σκηυήες compare 1 Thess. iv. 4. Cp. Also 2 Tim. ii. 21. It is probable that the Apostle has specially in view the “marital rights” of the husband (1 Cor. vii. 3-5), which are to be exercised not selfishly, nor for mere gratification of appetite, but κατὰ γνῶσιν, in the light of the ennobling of truth that our bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. iii. 16; vi. 19).

There are two lessons from such an exegesis. First, it is not legitimate—philosophically—to evaluate a text out of historical context, that is, in isolation from other texts and the historical happenings of the time period in question i.e., Rev. Masterman points out that we cannot keep 1st Thessalonians out of an exegesis of 1st Peter 3:7. Secondly, we see that there is a distinction to be made between an exegesis of a text in its original language, as well as a translation. While translations are helpful for those who do not know foreign languages, examples like 1st Peter display the sort of problems which are derivative from working at a text out of its original language. While this is sometimes unproblematic, if the truth of a claim is in doubt over its translated meaning, it might be worth inquiring whether the original preserves the same—or relevantly similar—meaning. Both these points serve to undergird the fundamental point that exegesis is an important endeavor which cannot be taken lightly or faint heartedly. Engaging with a text might involve learning another language, reading the text in light of the surrounding body of knowledge and so forth—this, though, might just be exegesis. One may well wonder, though, where this leaves the beginner. To this, I only suggest that the considerations I have made should not discourage a reader from doing reading translated philosophical texts. I have simply pointed out that a degree of humility should be set forth in critical analyses, and the considerations from 1st Peter 3:7 highlight what exactly this means.

In this brief note, I have laid out an informative and telling message from evaluating 1st Peter 3:7. What seemed a sexist passage turned out to be, in the end, nothing more than what we should expect from the Bible—an affirmation of the value of women. For the beginner in philosophy—or the beginning student of philosophical analysis—this should be pertinent to remember: A philosophical text requires diligence, patience and, most importantly, a sense of humility despite one’s own philosophical and theological convictions.

Normative Judgements and Dividing Experiential from Propositional Knowledge: ‘No Uterus, No Opinion’ Re-Visited

The following is a very commonly used phrase (in outline):

(1) If you yourself have not experienced E (some event), then you are not entitled to give your opinion O.

I have always had an intuition that (1) is designed either as a derogatory comment, or a conversation stopper. It seems that there is a suppressed premise—to use Simon Blackburn’s term—lingering in (1). Let’s try to add it in:

(1*) If you yourself have not experienced E, then you are not entitled to give your opinion O since experiential knowledge of E cannot be had in any other way.

This is rather abstract. Let me give an example (inspired by recent events). If a pro-choice advocate (man or woman) says that a man ought not to hold any opinion about the pro-life/choice debate because one is a man, there is at least three (fatal) problems with this, philosophically speaking. Let me identify them. First, it is not clear that experiential knowledge excludes propositional knowledge. Suppose that you meet someone, your mother, for instance. And suppose that you meet her through meeting her; that is, you have experienced what it is like to meet your own mother. This is one way of knowing something, namely, one’s mother. But, suppose that I have not met my mother (for whatever reason i.e., private or closed adoption). If I am in this predicament, I can be told that I have a mother. For instance, I could learn that ‘your biological mother is not the mother who raised you.’ This would be sufficient for knowing your mother propositionally. Sure, they’re not the same thing, but they are two ways of knowing the same thing nonetheless—one through a proposition, the other through experience. So, when the pro-choicer suggests that a man should not make any claims about what a woman ought to do with their unborn child, if we have propositional knowledge of the situation they are in, that seems to be good enough a reason for having an opinion. But suppose I am wrong: What if there is a knowledge peculiar to the woman, which cannot be had even propositionally by the man? While I am very skeptical of this type of knowledge (what would it consist in?), let me suppose that this is true, and that there is a ‘special knowledge.’ There is an even more fatal problem with (1*). There is a difference between the argument, and the person giving the argument (as philosopher W.L. Craig nicely notes in many places). The person I am is independent of any argument I give; if I am a Catholic, my argument holds whether myself, the Pope, the local convenience store owner or the librarian nearest to me holds it. There is no truth-indicative relationship between the person who gives an argument, and the argument itself (I suppose this does not apply to God, though i.e., if He gives an argument, in virtue of being God, He will be correct). Back to the example, though: If I say for instance:

(2) Science tells us with great plausibility and precision that human life begins at conception

this has nothing to do with me—rather, it has to do with the deliverances of science. The attempt to conflate together the person and the argument is not only antithetical to truth, but actually commits—and this is the third reason why (1*) does not work—the fallacy of an ad hominem. Why would it do this? This is so inasmuch as one tries to falsify the claim of a person by attacking their character i.e., not possessing certain body parts (a uterus, for example), one is merely attacking a person and not the argument. So we have here three reasons why we should reject (1*): (i) there are many ways of knowing not limited to experiential knowledge, (ii) even if (i) is false, we still face the problem of conflating the person with an argument and they are, in fact, separate and (iii) we have good grounds for thinking that the conflation of the person with an argument commits the fallacy of ad hominem. But, let me (for the sake of argument), suggest that I am wrong about all of this, and that I have mis-interpreted the claim altogether. Consider it once more:

(1*) If you yourself have not experienced E, then you are not entitled to give your opinion O since experiential knowledge of E cannot be had in any other way.

Maybe instead of treating this as a logical proposition, I have instead missed that it was a normative moral judgment. For perhaps (1*) prescribes an action which ought to be taken i.e., not giving an opinion on E (some event) iff (if and only if) one has not experienced it. There are still manifold problems. Let me list two. First, we should think of normative moral judgements as prescribing a form of action towards another person or oneself. So, when we say ‘rape is a moral wrong’, we mean that (i) rape is wrong and (ii) we have a duty not to do it (or even let it happen socio-culturally). Why is this relevant? (1*) suggests that we should limit what we judge to what we have ourselves experienced; however, if I have not experienced E, why is it not morally permissible to give an opinion O? Loaded within (1*) is a technical presumption which I want to make explicit. The technical presumption is that we have an opinion to share, and not a claim about reality. In effect, (1*) can become a sort of mask for subjectivism in many cases: “Truth is relative to persons and so your opinion should not be given since I have my opinions, and you have yours.” (Of course, this is a self contradiction i.e., it is absolutely true that you should not give your subjective opinions). Interestingly though (1*) I think is often a statement of a self-contradictory subjectivism. But let me (again) suppose I am wrong.

(1*) suffers an even more devastating problem, namely, we can run counter-examples. There are many people who have not smoked crack cocaine before, but who think that human beings should not do it. There are people who are not effected by rape (directly or indirectly) but who advocate for a culture where rape is unthinkable. There are even people who advocate for religious freedom, even if they themselves are not religious. These are examples where a person has not experienced the thing in question, but where we think one should not have their opinion restricted. So, a philosophical question is looming: Why is the cases in which we say ‘if you are not P, then you cannot say O’ selective, in that we say them in some contexts but not in others? I have two answers. First, it seems likely that it is because we already agree in many cases of the wrongness of the action. For instance, we are all agreed (minus some apathetic persons) that smoking crack cocaine is bad i.e., it ruins the body, relationships, right conduct towards one’s own body, et cetera. So, when one advocates for not using them, we do not (as a sociological fact) say ‘you shouldn’t give your opinion unless you yourself have experienced it.’ Secondly, and more importantly, the desire to not allow people to give their opinions because of qualities which they may or may not have is just a projection of emotion. It is not ‘nice’ (whatever that means) at times to have someone give their opinion on something they themselves have not experienced. This I think is an important point. Let me make it relevant to the pro-life/choice debate.

Men will not experience pregnancy. They will not experience rape. They will not even experience delivering a rapists’ child. These things are correct; however, does this mean we should ignore questions of right and wrong, good and bad, because one will not experience the thing in question? While I think men ought to have the sincerest sympathy and love for all women who are in any of the aforementioned situations, I think we should rightfully separate the person from the argument, the goodness or badness from the action from the person who speaks of it. So the claim that ‘no uterus, no opinion’, ‘men should not have any say over what a woman does with her body’ or even ‘you will not have to experience motherhood, pregnancy, or in the worst case rape, so you aren’t allowed to give an opinion’, is in the long run not merely logically fallacious, but is just an emotional rejection of the truth, namely, the truth that all human beings are entitled to give their insights, despite what qualities or features they may or may not have. (1*) might have an even more awful consequence: If we accept (1*), men should not give their opinion on the badness of rape itself since the man will not experience it (as a woman)—this conclusion is not merely morally problematic and shows how the use of (1*) is often inconsistently used, it is a reductio ad absurdum!

Philosophical Methodology: Thoughts on Meta-Philosophical Holism

Consider the following premise*:

(1) Philosophy ought to consider the deliverances of science i.e., physics.

This is a normative judgement on how philosophical methodology ought to proceed. It is a normative judgement, since it aims to prescribe how philosophy ought to proceed as a discipline. But, (1) can be reconstrued into a subjunctive conditional:

(1*) If philosophy’s goal is reality, philosophy must consult the deliverances of science.

The virtue of (1*) is that it takes philosophy’s consultation of science as a logical implication of the definition of philosophy. Why should philosophy consult science? Because if it did not consult science, it would be cease to be philosophy one is doing. I prefer (1*). Objection: Why think that science must be consulted for every problem? It does not; however, a philosophy being done independent of science seems to be weakened since human beings are multi-facet creatures, within a multi-faceted reality. Perhaps we can even weaken the claim here: Philosophy’s object (reality), since multi-faceted, is best done when it takes all the human data into consideration to “not leave anything out” (Pieper). Objection: We would then not be able to solve anything since we don’t have all the information about a single thing at a given time. I think to this I would suggest that it does not have to be perfect knowledge we are after; rather, we merely have to remember that without consulting other disciplines, we run the risk of missing important information. Objection: For instance, neuroscience does not study memory; it hasn’t even located where memory is in the brain. Sure. This doesn’t imply much though. Just because in one case it doesn’t give us much fruitful information for our philosophy of mind i.e., studying memories or beliefs as neurophysiological structures, doesn’t mean in other places it either does not or will not in principle. Consider the following. Science has a lot to say about localizability and whether the world is local or non-local. John Bell’s experiments shows us plausibly that the world is non-local. What follows from this (if correct)? It means that when we do philosophy and talk about concepts like simultaneity i.e., God’s bringing the universe into being simultaneously with the universe’s coming into being, science has a lot to say here. Take a non-theological example. Zeno’s paradoxes suggested that things were in principle infinitely (potentially infinite, that is (WLC)) divisible; however—as van Inwagen notes—high-energy physics tells us that there is actually a point at which further divisibility stops. Maybe we could have gotten there without science—maybe not. This is not to reject philosophy nor science; rather, it suggests a holistic approach, one which does not reject science nor thinks of it as its bedrock—it suggests that reality as a whole should be taken into consideration. Maybe you disagree that philosophy’s object is reality—but if it is not that, I’m not sure what one is doing (pseudo-philosophy?).

Postscript

What about this objection: In philosophy, philosophers of mind are often divided by tradition. For instance, phenomenological and existential philosophy looks at the mind from an introspective approach; whereas analysis philosophy of mind focuses on what we mean by key terms i.e., sensations, perceptions, memories, thoughts, desires et cetera. It is not even clear that they are talking about the same thing. This seems correct; however, as I have been told elsewhere, there is often two ways of looking at the same thing (anonymous name). So, perhaps a belief is something one affirms or doesn’t affirm introspectively, is what phenomenologists call an introspective assent or dissent, is something which has content (as analytic philosophers i.e., Plantinga, are apt to point out), and which has a neurophysiological structure in the brain. This is a consistent picture, it seems to me. Are we talking about the same thing? Maybe, maybe not. Are there many ways of looking at the same thing? Probably yes. But of course the domain of the universal quantifier here is restricted over which objects this principle applies to. Objection: Let’s suppose that we are not talking about the same thing. Why does one discipline need to consult the others? Sure, psychology does not have to consult philosophy; but the problem is that philosophy does have to consult psychology (and yes, cognitive science and artificial intelligence). This does not mean that psychology and cognitive science will or does have anything fruitful to say, but philosophy regardless should consider the information found there. Last thought: If—as St. Aquinas, Pieper, Plato, Aristotle—thought that the most important quality or feature of the philosopher is the spirit of wonder, why would the philosopher not open herself to the world as a whole? I think this view is best called meta-philosophical holism (with its greatest defender being Josef Pieper, whom I will defend in another post).

*This post is largely based on a discussion had with a few people yesterday; all the ideas here are not ‘necessarily’ original to me ex. many of the objections, examples, et cetera. (I will keep the names anonymous).

 

 

Top Five Favourite Quotes?

Recently, my sister asked me for my top favorite quotes. While this was painfully difficult, I think I have five which I think paradigmatic to my thinking (or at any rate to what I take to be most important in philosophy). Here they are! (References available upon request!)

“[It is] always one thing which makes for happiness:…the capacity to feel ‘unhistorically’”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

“This is the basis for the joy of love…; we feel that our existence is justified.”

-Jean-Paul Sartre

“Love alone makes it possible for contemplation to satiate the human heart with the experience of supreme happiness.”

-Josef Pieper

“The hidden life of love is in the most inward depths, unfathomable and still has an unfathomable relationship to the whole of existence.”

-SØren Kierkegaard

“The least insight that one can obtain into sublime things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge of lower things.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas

“Philosophical Thinking”: What does that mean?

For most of my philosophical studies, I have been told the following: “Philosophy allows you to think better.” (This, and other variants of it). I had never understood what this meant, I think, until today. Philosophers, for those reading who aren’t necessarily sure, work not merely on concepts, words and ideas, but arguments. Arguments are premises (statements) which, when used properly with logical rules, bring about a certain conclusion. I had never put the idea of ‘think better’ and ‘arguments’ together before—until today, as I was (and currently am) cleaning out my coffee maker—there is no causal link between the two (it is just when it happened).

Here is what I thought. Take a good or bad argument—the one I will present will be a good one:

  1. If the universe began to exist, then it has a transcendent cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a transcendent cause. [1]

There are many ways in which this can be dealt with, especially from a philosophical standpoint. Let me lay out the two basic ways. (1) Deny the soundness (the truth of one or more of the premises), or (2) deny the logical inference from premises to conclusion (this is denying validity). How would we deny premises or the logic used? The latter is very often not even attempted. For those of you do not know the logical structure, it is thus (where the variables represent statements or propositions):

  1. If P, Q.
  2. P.
  3. Q.

This inference—modus ponens—is very often not challenged (for we can provide a truth-table proving that it is a valid method of inference) [2]. What about the first method? How could we show one or more of the premises to be false? Let’s try premise 2.

  1. The universe began to exist.

Here are some ways we could deal with it—if we wanted to falsify it:

  • Provide contrary evidence for the claim.
  • Show how the scientific evidence is at best inconclusive.
  • Show that the philosophical arguments do not work i.e., accepting Hilbert’s Hotel as non-absurd.
  • Deny its logical possibility i.e., 4-D Ontology/B-Series of Time (this would make temporal becoming an illusion of human consciousness).
  • Show how we have equi-good reasons on both sides i.e., Kantian Antinomy—and so no reason to affirm one over the over on evidential grounds.
  • Combine it with some other principle/premise which would make it inconsistent i.e., naturalism (at least a consistent naturalism which says that space-time reality is all there is—if the naturalist wants to deny this, she must also accept coming into being out of nothing (which is a hopeless philosophical principle).
  • Show how its not possible for there to be evidence for or against the claim i.e., this is implausible, but for instance if there was a temporal stage in the universe that prevented any detection of evidence for/against the beginning i.e., if the Red-Shift or Expansion evidence was not accessible to our spatio-temporal location.

While I think these methods of dealing with (2) are hopeless (in terms of the truth of (2)), these are just some ways in which we could deal with (2) reasonably.

In this sense, philosophy just is, as Plantinga suggested, thinking hard about things.

[1] For more information on the argument, and for a defense of it, visit reasonablefaith.org.

[2] images.png

http://www.cogsci.rpi.edu/~heuveb/teaching/CriticalWisdom/Deduction.htm (Accessed January 2017).