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Theoretical Philosophy » Intellectualist freedom » 12/26/2018 4:04 pm

Greg
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Well, at least on the surface Aquinas simply glosses free choice as the ability (or corresponding act) to do otherwise, exempli gratia. For that reason, while Aquinas of course thinks the beatific vision is superlatively great, the willing involved in it is not something he would call free. Choice is only of means, not ends, so free choice is only of means, not ends.

But here are some qualifications: That Aquinas glosses freedom as the ability to do otherwise does not on its own show that he is a libertarian rather than a compatibilist. For the question is what kind of modality is involved here, and he never articulates a conception of determinism against which a modern libertarian would define free choice as not determined. And I wouldn't deny that ultimately some kind of "freedom as excellence" conception of free will can be extracted from Aquinas, but I think this involves projecting a different use of "free" onto him; it's not the way he uses the term, I think because he does not have the anxieties of contemporary libertarians.

My own belief, stated dogmatically, is that Aquinas is a libertarian, because he thinks there are cases where precisely the same apprehension of competing goods can issue in diverse actions, but his ground for the view is not the principle of alternative possibilities, as it is for many contemporary libertarians, because he does not quite hold that principle.

I don't think Feser has fully staked out his views on the matter, but my sense is that he is sympathetic to the Dominican (Banez, Garrigou Lagrange) views on nature and grace, which turn out to be fairly compatibilist. But all of that is above my pay grade.

 

Theoretical Philosophy » Essentialism versus Structuralism » 11/30/2018 11:24 pm

Greg
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I would not think that indistinguishability would tend to disqualify some kind of entity from the honor of having an essence. On the contrary, if there is some one that we can say about each electron by virtue of nothing other than its being electrons, then we seem to have put our finger on its essence.

However, taking indistinguishability in its most straightforward sense, I am not sure it's what we want to say here. Electrons are not indistinguishable from each other. If they were, we should be in confusion as to whether there were more than one electron. Electrons rather seem to be, as Aristotle might put it, "one in being but different in number."

Theoretical Philosophy » A Question about God and Necessity » 11/30/2018 11:12 pm

Greg
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Welcome to the forum.

We can speak of necessity accruing either to facts or to descriptions/sentences/propositions. The latter are representations of the former; facts are something concrete.

When we speak of 'truths,' it's ambiguous between these two categories. Sentences, for instance, can be true or false, and when they are true, it makes sense to speak of the facts to which they refer as truths.

I think you're right that necessary truths in the sense of descriptions/sentences do not explain anything, but it may still be that the necessary facts which correspond to them do explain things. For instance, if God exists necessarily, then the fact that he exists is necessary and explains things. So I don't think it will be enough to rule out that necessary truths in the sense of necessary descriptions/sentences are explanatory (because your interlocutor's argument would be best if he meant something else) and I don't think it is possible to rule out that necessary truths in the sense of necessary facts are explanatory (because you want to show that one of them is).

I am not sure what to say. I would revisit the argument you are presenting and see whether it implies the existence of a being with some of the properties God has traditionally been taken to have; if it does, then you should be able to find some reply to your interlocutor.

I'd also note that there 'explanation' seems to be ambiguous, and we can't expect a principle of sufficient reason to hold for every sense of the word. The fact that a circle cannot be squared can, I think explain some things, like Bob's failure to square the circle. And arguably some mathematical truths (first mathematical principles, if there are such things) explain others. And in, e.g., scientific inquiry we speak of 'inference to the best explanation'--as though there were more than one! I personally suspect that if there is a defensible version of PSR, it will be appealing to a distinct though of course related sense of 'explan

Theoretical Philosophy » Is mercy really a virtue? » 11/23/2018 4:16 pm

Greg
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Yes, the situation you describe is a bothersome one. But that doesn't show that mercy is not a virtue, unless the king is showing genuine mercy.

Mercy involves pardoning someone even though justice does not require it. When someone is actually at fault and thereby in debt to you, you show mercy when you forgive him or forgive his debts. It wouldn't be mercy to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that he was not actually at fault.

The king in your example is deciding not to harm someone, but the person in question did not actually wrong him and there was no debt. The claim of mercy is either nakedly insincere, or metaphorical (as when one says that one sports team is "punishing" another), or rooted in delusion (it is common for unjust persons to think they have been wronged when they have not been, and thus they can also think they are showing mercy when they aren't).

Theoretical Philosophy » How Do I Refute This Utilitarian Argument? » 11/22/2018 10:31 am

Greg
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Brian wrote:

2) It's fairly clear that the good isn't pleasure in any standard way.  I can always ask, "Is this pleasure I am receiving good?"  Me asking that question demonstrates that, at least at a conceptual/linguistic level, we differentiate between pleasure and goodness.

This is G.E. Moore's argument, but I think it hangs on an intuitive but ultimately unsustainable understanding of meaning. One would think that if you know what "good" means and know what "pleasure" means, then you must know that they mean the same thing, if indeed they do mean the same thing. So then it would not make sense to ask the question of whether this pleasure I am receiving is good, because anyone who could understand this question (knew what the terms mean) would know that this is not an open question.

But I can intelligibly ask "Is Mark Twain Samuel Clemens?" and "Is this water H2O?" That an identity statement holds can be something I learn. It holds necessarily if both terms are rigid designators, but it is intelligible to ask whether it holds because I can use the terms knowledgeably without knowing that they rigidly designate the same thing.

Theoretical Philosophy » How Do I Refute This Utilitarian Argument? » 11/22/2018 10:21 am

Greg
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Calhoun wrote:

Good points, but still responses to POE might not essentially depend on Utiltitarianism but some of them seem to take notion of "greater good" along the same lines.

Partly I think theists responding to POE take on some of the assumptions involved in the problem itself. There are good reasons to do that, as it is best to reject as little as possible of the argument one is disputing. But it seems to me that some replies to POE presuppose utilitarianism because POE does. That is, POE claims that even if some goods are only possible because evil is possible (i.e., goods associated with free choice or salvation), the evil in the world seems to outweigh the good, or else that as much good could be produced without the evil. But that is a pretty utilitarian way of setting up the problem.

Calhoun wrote:

There was also an article named "God is a consequentialist" by an Atheist Philosopher/blogger I read a while ago.

I just quickly skimmed it. I don't think it is very good. The examples he adduces (the flood in Genesis and the 2004 tsunami) simply don't force a theist to hold that "God employs a consequentialist moral system". (Even setting aside the defects of his readings of those cases, he immediately adds the qualification: "God employs a consequentialist moral system with at least a great deal of actions". A "consequentialist moral system" is not a moral system in which some actions depend on consequences, it is a moral system in which all of them are. Even Kant holds that the consequences determine what one should do in a great deal of cases.)

Theoretical Philosophy » How Do I Refute This Utilitarian Argument? » 11/21/2018 1:36 pm

Greg
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Utilitarianism can take several forms, but I think there are a number of rather strong arguments against it. The breezy use of abstract terms like "the greatest good [sometimes: for the greatest number]" conceal the sheer number of options here and gloss over the fact that for utilitarianism to do what it's supposed to, a lot of arbitrary points have to be decided.

1) Incommensurability, as John mentioned. If we compare two goods, for instance, there needs to be an answer to the question of which one is better. This is not just a point about vagueness, that assuming these questions to be generally good, we might have cases where it is indeterminate which of two things is better. You can see this where the enjoyment of two goods is roughly quantifiable. Suppose the question is whether A or B is better. If it is suggested that the only reason we can't say is that it is vague (as saying which of two people, with slightly different hair patterns and hair lengths, has less hair, might be vague), then just consider whether A or C is better, where C is a prolonged enjoyment of B. If such comparisons are in fact quantitative comparisons, then such a device should be able to remove concerns about vagueness, but they don't, for there will be cases where the comparison between A and C is also impossible to make.

2) "The greatest good for the greatest number" contains a double comparative which requires disambiguation to single out a determinate state of affairs. For if you just choose the slightly better outcome for the most people, you can get what one would intuitively regard as result inferior to a far better outcome for a slightly smaller number of people. (this argument is due to Geach)

3) If you cut out "for the greatest number," and just try to talk about "the greatest good" or "the total of all goodness," then you will have to decide how this number is to be computed. The various options all seem to fit poorly

Chit-Chat » Metaphysical arguments and the apologetic failure » 11/15/2018 10:43 pm

Greg
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Increasingly I agree with Wittgenstein:

What makes a subject hard to understand - if it's something significant and important - is not that before you can understand it you need to be specially trained in abstruse matters, but the contrast between understanding the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things which are most obvious may become the hardest of all to understand. What has to be overcome is a difficulty having to do with the will, rather than with the intellect.

I wouldn't be misled by reading apologists talk about their yield. If you go to your local church's RCIA class, most of the people there will not have any strong opinion about arguments for God's existence, though they may or may not have a conviction that God's existence is clear. For most of the converts I know, it did not hinge on philosophy. I even find that belief in God is not uncommon among the non-religious. And the children of atheists and agnostics forms some of, if not the, demographics most likely to change their religious identification as they grow up.

Religious questions remain alive for most people, though they generally don't have a philosophical outlet. I think that inevitable and also ok. Not just classical theism but apologetics generally is a bit of a niche. Apologetics isn't pointless, and classical theism can probably contribute something to it if it is true, but it's isn't the main thing. The main point of studying classical theism is attaining what knowledge of God you can in this life. And the measure of whether you've done that is not whether you can persuade the typical secular layperson of God's existence and nature.

Chit-Chat » What was the biggest shift in your worldview and the reasons for it? » 11/04/2018 7:04 pm

Greg
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I became Catholic after spending my adolescence and teenage years as an atheist.

My 'reasons' included the witness of some Catholics I knew and of the Church throughout history, as well as a general dissatisfaction with my secular ethical outlook, which 'combusted' as it were as I was reading War and Peace and Ulysses.

Religion » Question about the resurrection » 10/29/2018 2:45 pm

Greg
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I think not. Faith is of things unseen. The evidence is precisely less than compelling.

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