2009 Fall Proseminar Student Statements
For our last class, I'd like to invite each of you to make put one or two ideas from the semester in front of the group for discussion. You can upload a paper that you like from this semester (or another) or you can respond in a screenfull or two of text to one of the following prompts:
1. Something new in philosophy that I found this semster and thought interesting (and why).
2. Something new about philosophy that I found this semster and thought interesting (and why).
3. A particular philosophical argument that you found especially good or bad or just challenging.
(You can suggest a prompt to add if you'd like. Also, feel free to use the email utility on the Course Website if you prefer not to post this to a web page.)
- 1 Shantrice Anderson
- 2 Joe Anderson
- 3 Militza Balcheva
- 4 Ashley Gales
- 5 Eric Hanson
- 6 Michael Kwasniewski
- 7 Michael McClain
- 8 Aileen Murphy
- 9 Son Nguyen
- 10 Colin Pickett
- 11 Kyle Ratuiste
- 12 Andrew Regalado
- 13 James Sydnor
- 14 Lissande Tokorcheck
- 15 Dale Tuckerman
- 16 Clinton White
- 17 Taylor Wilkinson
- 18 Sean Williams
There have been a couple of things during my time as a philosophy major that I have really enjoyed. The history sequence, and faith and reason. The last meeting Dr. Bradley touched on the importance of the history sequence in the major and I think he was right on the money. If you jump into contemperary philosophy discussions without any knowledge of the vast tradition throughout the years, it's very likely your not going to adequatley understand the issue at hand or your argument might already have been shown to be inadequate. An example could be the postmodern critiuqe on the problem left by Kant: we can't know a thing in itself. If I would have heard of Kant saying that before taking any philosophy, I would have thought he was insane. While I agree with the postmodern critique and think that Kant is incorrect on the issue, I am coming from a position of understanding why he came to that conclusion and what problems he was attempting to solve. With that in mind, rather than unfairly, and unreflectivly writing him off as insane, I've come to see him as a brilliant philosopher who I disagree with. A lot of my criticims come from other philosophers from the history sequence (such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas)as well as others who I think are right to hold we can know a thing in itself.
I've found the history sequence to be very helpful in viewing the issue of faith and reason. I find a lot of contemperary problems dealing with faith and reason are very similar to problems encountered during the medieval times. A big one today has been trying to reconcile the evolutionary paradigm--in which modern biolgoy is commited--with Christianity. There is a position that holds what is going on today with evolution and Christianity is very similar to the medieval period where the works of Aristotle were translated into latin. The Greek science of the day held the maxim: "from nothing, nothing comes." This seemd to be in direct contradiction to the Church's doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Thomas Aquinas was able to synthesize these two views into an integrated whole that I think does justice to both faith and reason and can also be applied to the contemperary debates today.
The issue between faith and reason is a prevelent "hot-button" issue. There have been the debates about what should be taught in Science between "Darwinists" and Intelligent Designers." There was a "Nova" episode on PBS that covered the conflict in Dover Pennsylvania. There was a documentary about the topic called "Expelled" which covered the same conflict but made the issue more about academic freedom rather than one theory over the other. There is another documentary titled "Collision" where Christopher Hitchens (an avowed atheist) debates Doug Wilson (a pastor) about whether Christianity has been good for the world. The issue also came up during the last Presidential election in the "Saddleback Presidential Forum." The faith/reason topic is prevelant in our culture and I think both sides would be well served to know that this issue has historical significance and this significance is useful in clarifying the topic. I think jumping into the discussion without any kind of understanding of whats being discussed is much like me refering to Kant as being insane without knowing why he holds the views he does. I feel extremely blessed and fortunate that I have been able to be exposed to these philosophic aspects as a result of being a philosophy major at Gonzaga.
Some of the material we covered in the faith and reason class peaked my interest. Particularly the idea that faith is a "non-overlapping magisterium" to reason. I think that the Cosmological Argument is a great example of the way that they are shown to be overlapping and harmonious, so I wrote an essay (for another class) on how compelling the argument is:
History seems to show no favorites as to what religious traditions great thinkers started from. Ancient philosophers for the most part started from a polytheistic view of the world, with some exceptions. Medieval Philosophers in the western tradition by and large began from a theistic point of view (mainly Islam, Christianity, and Judaism). At the beginning of modern period of philosophy, philosophers started from a theistic model, but as time went on, they migrated more and more into a mixed group of pantheists, theists, atheists, and agnostics. Emphasis on the atheistic viewpoint seemed to gain strength as the philosophical landscape continued to change into that of our contemporary time.
However, despite this strong history of varied religious backgrounds of great philosophers, if one is inclined to see progress towards better thinking through time, then it may seem that the atheism and agnosticism that has become so prevalent of late is part of a trend that is leading us towards better reasoning. What, then, is the reasoning behind the still strong theistic tradition in philosophy and science? Brian Leftow writes that more than half of American scientists consider themselves theists, and hundreds of theists he himself has met are among the intellectual elite of the world (194 Leftow). Are these educated people standing in the way of progress of reason towards truth?
No, these theists are not standing in the way of reason, but rather standing firm in reason's own solid tradition. One of the reasons that theism is not only a viable philosophy, but that it is in fact a solid foundation upon which philosophy should start from is the Cosmological Argument for God's existence. Examination of this theistic reasoning for God's existence and existence itself will make it apparent that it is not only a reasonable explanation, but a convincing and unshakable one. Counter arguments to this position will then be considered and responded to, followed by a brief analysis of where all of these arguments, taken together, leave us.
The theistic tradition of philosophy grounded in the Cosmological argument for God's existence (a philosophical tradition traceable all the way back to Aristotle) rests on the observation that we live in a world of conditioned realities. Conditioned reality is anything that which is dependent upon something else (a condition) for its existence. If we take for example, as Robert Spitzer does in his book New Proofs for the Existence of God, something as common as a cat, we can see that that cat is dependent upon the cells that make it up. These cells are in turn dependent upon their molecular structure, which are dependent upon atoms, which are dependent upon sub-atomic particles, and so on (Spitzer 85). These conditioned realities require an unconditioned conditioner for them to exist, that unconditioned conditioner, as Thomas Aquinas points out is a reality “that everyone calls 'God'” (Summa Theologica 1.2.3).
All conditioned realities must be ultimately conditioned by and unconditioned conditioner because they cannot be argued to be conditioned by an infinite series of conditioned conditioners nor by a finite series of only conditioned conditioners. If conditioned realities are said to be conditioned by an infinite series of conditioned conditions, then nothing conditional can exist. An infinite series is by definition incomplete (unless you consider a complete infinity, which has a host of problems with contradiction in our universe – see Spitzer 5.IIIB), and since each conditioned reality requires that its condition be fulfilled for it to exist, and therefore its condition's condition to be fulfilled, and so on, then no condition's condition is fulfilled – meaning no conditional reality can exist!
Similarly, if there is a finite number series of conditioned conditions with no unconditioned reality conditioning them, then they cannot exist. Obviously, if there is a linear relationship between the series on conditioned realities in question, then the first reality cannot exist since it's conditions are not fulfilled, thus collapsing the whole chain into nothingness. Likewise, if the series is made to be circular, none of them can come into existence, since for a conditional reality to exist, it must have a preexisting condition, then a circular series would require that that conditional reality preexist itself (since it would be in the chain of conditions required for its own existence), which is of course absurd.
Are we left then with a necessary unconditioned conditioner to explain the existence of anything? Not according to Bertrand Russell, who claims that we cannot ask such a question about something that we cannot experience like the universe (Reichenbach 3.2). For Russell, it is over extending ourselves to claim that we can apply the idea of contingency to the whole of existence, for him the universe is “just there, and that's all” (qtd. in Reichenbach 3.2). Also, Hume's observation that our idea of cause and effect (and so contingency) seem to be merely a habit that we have, certainly not an a priori idea with necessity, would undermine the first premise of the argument if it is to claim a priori status. At the very least, Hume's observation strengthens Russell's assertion that we cannot apply contingency to something we have not (possibly cannot) experience, since the argument for contingency would have to be inductive.
These arguments against the Cosmological Argument seem to be far from fatal. The adoption of Hume's rejection of causal necessity would make the universe unintelligible, which is arguably absurd - against everything we experience. If cause and effect are not necessary, then it would be likely for us to experience effects happening without cause. If we found it likely that effects would happen from no cause, then we would not trust science, or at the least we would not consider it to be as solid as we do. But, as shown by our trust in and progress in science, we do not find it likely that effects come about without causes. This being the case, it does not seem so unreasonable (though perhaps it should be done with due consideration of its possible non-necessity) to apply the idea of contingency on even those things that we cannot experience.
The Cosmological Argument is a sound start for philosophy in that it is a firm argument for why anything exists. It is a long-standing argument with much force behind it. Ultimately, however, it does stand on a principle that is susceptible to Humian skepticism – but it should be noted that most of our physical science which we put so much trust in relies upon this same critique. This being the case, the seeming trend of degrading theistic philosophy seems to be less of an implicit call for theists to get out of the way of reason, as philosophy moving away from the sure path of reason it claims to follow.
Certainly there are other philosophical objections to theism - it is the same with every philosophical ideal that exists. However, as Brian Leftow argues, this by no means requires that theism should be rejected (Leftow 197). In fact, as has been shown, the Cosmological Argument serves to make theism a solid starting point for philosophy to begin at (a coherent explanation of existence). I would even argue that this foundation for existence is so compelling and without equal that it serves as a challenge to philosophies that oppose theism. These philosophies opposing theism sometimes claim to have 'progressed' in their thinking past theism – progressed on a basis as reasonable as that shown theism has? I have yet to see such a foundation. However, even if such a foundation was to be put forth, it would find itself against more than just the arguments found here, for, as Spitzer points out, the contemporary progress of physics only seems to be giving more and more credence to this long-standing philosophical foundation of theism (Spitzer 2).
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica.
Leftow, Brian. “From Jerusalem to Athens.” God and the Philosophers: The
Reconcilliation of Faith and Reason. Ed. Thomas V. Morris. New York: Oxford University Press. 1994. 189-207
Reichenbach, Bruce. “Cosmological Argument.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Sept. 2008. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/> 19 Nov.2009.
Spitzer, Robert J., S.J., Ph.D. New Proofs for the existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. (Awaiting Publication in April 2010)
What has gripped me throughout all of our many topics and widespread discussions is not necessarily the content itself (although the content has been stimulating and indeed extremely useful in broadening my philosophical horizons) but more important is the significance of philosophy itself—as a practice—as way of living life. Many hold that philosophy is useless—saturated with obscure academic blathering and squabbling with questions like “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” as the poor scholastic philosophers have endured as a (tongue-in-cheek) criticism. In one sense, stepping just a little bit out of my “philosophy student” shoes I can see how somebody outside our circle could see our practices as “out there” and impractical.
Many times I have come out of philosophy classes bewildered after trying to work through philosophical claims only to end up shrugging my shoulders and leaving it for a mess of cluttered “extraterrestrial” thoughts. But more often than not, I have come out of class with a “philosophical high” as if I have had my eyes opened and truth has revealed itself. These are the moments I live for as a philosophy major, this is why I endure the sometimes out-of-this-world claims and dense rationales by men (and women) exponentially more brilliant than I could ever hope to be. Of course the philosophical high only lasts a week or two and at very most a month, as all good things must come to an end.
I started my studies as a Platonist, then an Aristotelian, then a Thomist, a Humean, a Kantian, so on and so on. It seems that every new philosopher we cover in the history series I subscribe to their school of thought (there are a great many exceptions of course, like Berkeley, I’m not a fan of him, or rather his philosophy). I am sad to say that I have not yet found “my people” in philosophy with any great solidity. I of course realize that I am somewhat of an infant (albeit an increasingly informed one) in my philosophical pursuit. I stand in the “blooming, buzzing confusion”, as William James famously stated (this is taken out of its context, but it’s catchy and works for my emphasis). But given my philosophical homelessness do I give up my pursuit? No way. I in fact embrace it. I do try to find the solid ground on which I can stand through the hurricane of the oft-overwhelming and vast landscape of literature that we delve in to.
I am very (and quite uncomfortably) close to the end of my structured studies here, and I plan on continuing this pursuit without the helping hand of the professors at Gonzaga University. My quest, however, will not be a shallow hobby since I do in fact believe that “the love of wisdom” has important—if not outright practical use that is invaluable to the development of my character. After all, “the life unquestioned is not worth living” so says our father Socrates. He was, and is, dead right. Humans are “philosophical animals”, and not pursuing some sort of philosophy is like leaving your legs to atrophy while playing the soccer game of life (stupid analogy, but you get the point). I cannot imagine life without all the big questions, and the brave quest that we take on to find the answers; as sappy as it is, perhaps it’s more about the journey than the destination, and the journey only ends via the great equalizer of our mortality.
Indeed, philosophy is “practicing for death”—the preparation and beautification of the soul before it departs the confusion of the world. So in our preparation we must adhere to the Socratic method of “following the evidence wherever it leads”. This is a lifelong maxim to stand by, and most definitely a worthwhile one. Antony Flew, known as one of the most prolific and steadfast atheists of our time has followed the Socratic principle his entire life; and at the ripe old age of 81 he “converted” to deism. This is illustrative of the fact that Philosophy (like any academic endeavor) is certainly a lifelong pursuit that can change one’s worldview in dramatic and important ways.
So what really have I learned from this pro-seminar, and by extension my philosophical studies during my time here? I have learned the methods, the logic, and the critical rigor required of one to flesh out the rationales of the great authors of philosophy as well as the great authors to be. These tools are necessary for understanding content—the real meat of philosophy—so that I may follow the argument wherever it leads “all by myself” just like the big boys. A benefit (beyond the ones mentioned) is also an awareness of my philosophical maturation, as well as my weaknesses. I have not yet found “my people” but I am confident that I will find somebody to adopt me, being the orphan that I am in this philosophical world. And to those lingering critics of philosophy—my great practical answer to them is stolen from Socrates: I am preparing myself for death, duh! --Twilkinson 09:24, 2 December 2009 (UTC)