Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge

In 2018, Routledge Press will release The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge by the late Dallas Willard and edited by Steve L. Porter,‎ Aaron Preston,‎ and Gregg A. TenElshof. Dallas Willard was a Professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, USA from 1965 to 2012. Steve L. Porter is Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Biola University, USA and Scholar in Residence at the Biola University Center for Christian Thought. Aaron Preston is Associate Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Valparaiso University, USA. Gregg A. Ten Elshof is Professor of Philosophy at Biola University, USA and Scholar in Residence at the Biola University Center for Christian Thought.

From the publisher's description of The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge:
Based on an unfinished manuscript by the late philosopher Dallas Willard, this book makes the case that the 20th century saw a massive shift in Western beliefs and attitudes concerning the possibility of moral knowledge, such that knowledge of the moral life and of its conduct is no longer routinely available from the social institutions long thought to be responsible for it. In this sense, moral knowledge―as a publicly available resource for living―has disappeared. Via a detailed survey of main developments in ethical theory from the late 19th through the late 20th centuries, Willard explains philosophy’s role in this shift. In pointing out the shortcomings of these developments, he shows that the shift was not the result of rational argument or discovery, but largely of arational social forces―in other words, there was no good reason for moral knowledge to have disappeared. The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge is a unique contribution to the literature on the history of ethics and social morality. Its review of historical work on moral knowledge covers a wide range of thinkers including T.H Green, G.E Moore, Charles L. Stevenson, John Rawls, and Alasdair MacIntyre. But, most importantly, it concludes with a novel proposal for how we might reclaim moral knowledge that is inspired by the phenomenological approach of Knud Logstrup and Emmanuel Levinas. Edited and eventually completed by three of Willard’s former graduate students, this book marks the culmination of Willard’s project to find a secure basis in knowledge for the moral life.
As a preview of part of the book's argument, enjoy this two-part video presentation by Dallas Willard at the University of California-Irvine:

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Philosophical Contributions to Christian Spiritual Formation: An Interview with Steve Porter

We recently interviewed Steve Porter about his own journey, about philosophical contributions to Christian spiritual formation literature, and the tenth anniversary of the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care (JSFSC). Steve's role [among other things] includes teaching theology and philosophy for Talbot School of Theology's Institute for Spiritual Formation and Rosemead School of Psychology. He is also the Managing Editor of the JSFSC. Currently, he is also a scholar-in-residence for Biola's Center for Christian Thought.

At this point in your journey, who or what has most shaped your own thought, sense of calling and work as an apprentice of Jesus?

​Very early in my life (around age seven) I began to have rather undeniable (even if rare) experiences of God's presence. I had never heard of the possibility of such experiences in my church experience. While I had heard the stories of Moses' burning bush and Elijah's still small voice, I didn't know those were the sorts of ways God still operated with his people. So within a Christian tradition that did not emphasize an experiential relationship with God, I came to know otherwise. I also knew that such experiences of God's presence and love were transformational--mainly at an attitudinal level (e.g., joy). In junior high I came into contact with a pastor that helped me understand more fully what I was experiencing. But I did not encounter anyone who had a theory of how to follow Jesus in such a way that transformation was the norm. I pretty much thought you just went from experience to experience hoping for another fresh outpouring of the Spirit and that you tried really hard not to sin in the meantime.

Who helped guide you?

J. P. Moreland was the first one, I think, that began to put some theory around the spiritual life. He taught and lived it passionately, which was so helpful for me. And he kept talking about Dallas Willard, whom I really didn't appreciate at first. I thought Spirit of the Disciplines smacked of legalism. I just wasn't ready for it when I first read it at about twenty-years old. But eventually myself and a few other folks in graduate school got together and started doing some reading. Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Thomas Kelly, M. Robert Mulholland, EugenePeterson, and eventually back to Willard. Then, we thought we should hear more from some of these people so we went on to plan three spiritual formation conferences at Biola University in the mid-1990s which featured folks like Willard, Brennan Manning, James Houston, Glandion Carney, Emilie Griffin, LarryCrabb, and others. Rubbing shoulders with these folks really enlivened me to the realistic possibility of spiritual formation in Christ. And doing all of this in community with these friends was essential.

What were you coming to notice about you and the Spirit?

On my own I don't think I would have noticed as clearly what the Spirit of God was up to. I could see him at work in the others in ways that I was blind to myself. I should also say that somewhere along the way I was exposed to "pop" psychology and good Christian psychotherapy. Being in therapy has been a discipline for me on and off for close to thirty years. While I am sure God would have his way with me without therapy, having seen God use it so powerfully in my life I can't imagine my journey without it.

And you would eventually go study under Dallas Willard.

Yes, I did my Ph.D. at USC under Dallas' supervision. Again, it's hard to even imagine how I could have gotten along without my times with Dallas. He embodied the kingdom reality of God in a powerful way that I had never seen before or since. I have a book chapter entitled "The Evidential Force of Dallas Willard." He was a force to be reckoned with because Dallas, along with Paul, was "struggling with all [Christ's] energy that he powerfully works within me" (Col 1:29).

Academic and devotional writings on 'spirituality' among evangelicals tends to focus on one's interior - e.g., 'inner transformation.'   How has the Journal sought to address issues of Christian spirituality  in a more 'whole-life' sense?

Right, there has often been a perceived tension between "inner" and "outer" in Christian spirituality. Jesus was fairly insistent on the need to change the inner--cleaning the inside of the cup (Mt 23), the healthy tree produces healthy fruit (Mt 7), "For from within, out of people's hearts..." (Mk 7), etc. I think the importance is to see that the inner life is inherently connected with the entire person and the whole of a person's life. Perhaps we could say that the whole of life includes the inner as the pivotal dimension of the person. But it is this sort of discussion that is ripe for scholarly investigation and the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care seeks to host this sort of discussion. I will say that over our ten years of publishing we have had many articles and essays that focus on those dimensions of persons that are often neglected in contemporary evangelical spirituality. For instance, we did a special issue on the theme "Spirituality and Mission" in Spring 2013 and we had another curated discussion on the theme of "Embodied Spirituality" in Spring 2014. Articles from those issues are some of our most sought after publications. ​

The Journal recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary with the release of the Spring and Fall 2017 issue. What stands out to you about the journal's contribution thus far?

​When I look at the twenty issues we have published over the last ten years, I think of the many e-mails we've received or in-person conversations expressing gratitude for this or that article. And then I think that there is a good chance the article in question wouldn't exist apart from the existence of the Journal. There simply are not many places to publish scholarly work on Christian spirituality, let alone an evangelical approach to Christian spirituality. Over the summer I was at a small town church where one of the elders was referencing the Journal and the help that one of the articles had been for their congregation. You just don't hear that kind of thing very often--a scholarly journal article helpful to a small town congregation?! That's amazing. So, one thing we've done well, I think, is to help bridge the academy and the church.

Since its inception, the Journal has intentionally sought to foster an interdisciplinary conversation on issues of Christian spirituality. Why does that interdisciplinary orientation matter for the Journal and the 'state of the literature'?

​One way to get at this is to realize that sanctification is a lived doctrine. Not all doctrines are lived. We don't live the incarnation (Jesus did), we don't live eschatology (at least not yet), we don't live God's omniscience (we live in light of it). But we actually live out our theology of sanctification--what I believe about sanctification makes a difference for what I do when I wake up and how I go through my day (at least it should). So that makes the study of sanctification--or Christian spirituality--an interdisciplinary affair. Part of what other disciplines get at is the existential nature of the spiritual life. Sociology investigates what spiritual life looks like in particular groups and settings. Psychology investigates the psychological dynamics of life in the Spirit. History investigates the ways of the Spirit as it has been exhibited across the lifespan of the church. Philosophy investigates the evidential basis for these sorts of claims as well as the metaphysical, epistemological, and moral matters that lie at the foundations of spiritual formation. These and other disciplines come into play to help get at the particularities of the Jesus way of life. ​
What might be some important meta-questions that philosophers should consider taking-up in the Journal's pages, including 'philosophy of spirituality' questions?

​Well, first, I think there are some fairly developed philosophically-oriented views of Christian spirituality already in existence that deserve careful attention. Of course, Dallas Willard's works have all sorts of places of entry into the discussion for philosophers. Paul Moser's recent works on religious epistemology [see also "Christ-shaped philosophy" project] are a gold-mine for further philosophical research as are James K. A. Smith's books.​ Lesser known are philosophers like Thomas R. Kelly and Douglas V. Steere who developed philosophically rich accounts of Quaker spirituality. When you look at philosophers such as these the meta-questions that repeatedly arise have to do with the metaphysics of spiritual reality, the nature of virtue formation, and overall accounts of soteriology that make sense of the place of spiritual formation in the Christian life.

Some examples of these questions?

For instance, what is the nature of spiritual reality and what are the conditions under which persons can come into contact with spiritual reality?; what is the best way to conceptualize the role of spiritual life in our overall understanding of the human person?; how is it that life in the Spirit brings about changes in human psychology that give rise to virtues?; what is the role of the body, mind, will, emotions, etc. in Christian virtue formation?; what sort of soteriology best explains and accounts for Christian formation in the way of Jesus?; etc. Speaking of Jesus, I should say that Jesus' teachings are the best place for philosophers to start when it comes to understanding spirituality. What Willard did so well was take a teaching of Jesus and really get to the bottom of it in terms of the way of life in the kingdom he prescribed.

By design, the JSFSC has encouraged Christian philosophers to contribute to its pages. As a historical snapshot for our readers, what has tended to be the focus of those articles?

​O.k., here is a snapshot of some Christian philosophers who have contributed to the journal. Mike Austin (Eastern Kentucky University) wrote an article on sports as a type of spiritual exercise. J.P. Moreland (Talbot) has written on Willard's ontology of the person and its implications for formation. Dan Speak (Loyola Marymount University) responded to an article written by Willard on the will and the flesh. Gregg Ten Elshof (Biola University) addressed Willard's interpretation of the Beatitudes. Paul Moser (Loyola University Chicago) wrote an essay on philosophical reflection and formation. And Brandon Rickabaugh (Baylor University) addressed knowledge of God as a type of knowledge by acquaintance. These and other contributions to the journal by philosophers are some of our best publications.

What are some common areas of spirituality, spiritual formation or questions of soul care that merit greater philosophical attention?

​I think any question of Christian spirituality can benefit from a philosophical approach. For instance, marshaling evidence for various claims of Christian formation is urgently needed. I know folks who try to argue for the importance of spiritual direction in their local churches and they just get eaten alive because they do not have well-formed biblical, theological, and philosophical arguments. Alternatively, looking carefully at the evidential base for spiritual principles and practices (e.g., certain forms of contemplative prayer) can bring about much-needed qualifications as well as an appropriate intellectual humility to proponents of these practices. Whether it's a stereotype or not, it does seem that many persons involved in spiritual formation are driven by their own experience and therefore they often appeal to their own and others' experience. But that only goes so far and it never goes far enough. Philosophers, for better and for worse, bring a more objective, logical mind to these questions. While that can lead to an unhealthy critical attitude, it can also lead to a more grounded and nuanced understanding of Christian spirituality.

Is there one common area that merits greater philosophical attention?

If I were to pick one, it would be the nature of the Divine-human relationship. For instance, a philosophical conceptualization of how human minds interact with the Divine mind is sorely needed, including the criteria whereby one can know that God is influencing one's thoughts (see 1 Cor 2–3). Jesus seemed keenly aware of the presence and will of his Father (e.g., see John 8:29). If we are going to imitate Jesus we need to imitate the way of life he led with his Father by the Spirit. But, unfortunately, many folks either don't think about the nature of God's presence at all or, what might be worse, they think of it operating like magic or in overly romantic categories (i.e., a felt sense of God's love). The other prevalent view is to reduce God's presence to beliefs one has about God. There is simply a conceptual desert for many when it comes to thinking about life in interactive relationship with God. Philosophers could really help fill in this absence with well-formed biblical and theological concepts. 

You have a Special Issue coming out in Fall 2018 on the theme, "Christian Spiritual Formation: Teaching and Practice." What might be some philosophical questions/interests to be addressed in that theme?

​This special issue [deadline for CFP is February 28th!] is particularly focused on what can be done and has been done regarding spiritual formation in educational settings--particularly the church and university. Of course, there has been a lot of work in virtue epistemology and virtue ethics on the question of whether virtue can be taught. This goes all the way back to Plato's Meno but more recently Robert Adam's A Theory of Virtue ends with a chapter on whether virtue can be taught. Linda Zagzebski's recent Exemplarist Moral Theory and Nancy Snow's work is relevant here as well. All of this to say, this special issue is crying out for some submissions on issues related to the teaching of virtue. What role does direct instruction on the virtues have in virtue formation and formation by the Spirit? What role does exposure to exemplars have? How about spiritual practices? There is also a lot of empirical, psychological work on virtue acquisition that is relevant here and much of that work has been profitably discussed by philosophers (see, e.g., Christian Miller's recentbooks). It would be wonderful to have some submissions engaging this material.

Dallas Willard's philosophical and theological assumptions are an important pathway into certain aspects of the Journal's contributions. For those interested in the 'Willardian corpus' and its significance, what do you see as some yet-to-be-fully-realized contributions from Dallas's insights applied to issues of Christian spirituality?

​Great question! First, I think we need to make sure we understand Willard's own views. I often find that my first take on what Willard is saying is completely wrong. My second take is closer to what he actually held, but it really takes three or four approaches to Willard to get at the nuanced way he addresses these issues. Even still, I sometimes worry whether I am understanding him correctly. So that is a project in and of itself. What actually is Willard's view of this or that aspect of spiritual formation? After that is clear, we need folks to develop some of Dallas' insights more fully. Critical evaluation and emendation is needed as is developing the arguments for some of Dallas' views more fully than he did. Then there is the work of implications.

What might be a Willardian philosophical foundation to build on?

This all has to start with Willard's realist epistemology and that includes his understanding of concepts. Philosophia Christi published an article in vol. 1, no. 2 in which Dallas offers his clearest presentation of these issues. The first and last couple of chapters of Knowing Christ Today apply this realism to his understanding of faith and knowledge of God/Christ. All of that is great fodder for further philosophical reflection. Then one should turn to Willard's understanding of the nature of God and God's kingdom, Jesus as providing access to and a way of life within God's kingdom, and finally how it is that intentional engagement with such a way of life is transformational. I think all of this is ripe for further philosophical analysis. Willard is one of those philosophers the investigation of whom brings about great rewards. Also, sometime in this current year Willard's posthumous book, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge, will be published by Routledge. This book is a history of 20th century ethics with an eye to the failure of moral theory to ground moral knowledge and a brief positive case for the possibility of moral knowledge. All of this is foundational to Willard's work in spiritual formation as it puts forward views that provide the basis for his sort of optimism and confidence regarding knowledge of spiritual life.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Homo Religiosus?: Exploring the Roots of Religion and Religious Freedom in Human Experience

In 2018, Cambridge University Press will release Homo Religiosus?: Exploring the Roots of Religion and Religious Freedom in Human Experience, edited by Timothy Samuel Shah and Jack Friedman.  Shah is Research Professor of Government at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion. He is also Director for International Research at the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and Senior Director of the South and Southeast Asia Action Team with the Religious Freedom Institute. Jack Friedman is pursuing his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Maryland. He is a former project manager at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, and a former research assistant for the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. He is also co-editor of Religious Freedom and Gay Rights: Emerging Conflicts in the United States and Europe (2016).

From the publisher's description of Homo Religiosus?
Are humans naturally predisposed to religion and supernatural beliefs? If so, does this naturalness provide a moral foundation for religious freedom? This volume offers a cross-disciplinary approach to these questions, engaging in a range of contemporary debates at the intersection of religion, cognitive science, sociology, anthropology, political science, epistemology, and moral philosophy. The contributors to this original and important volume present individual, sometimes opposing points of view on the naturalness of religion thesis and its implications for religious freedom. Topics include the epistemological foundations of religion, the relationship between religion and health, and a discussion of the philosophical foundations of religious freedom as a natural, universal right, drawing implications for the normative role of religion in public life. By challenging dominant intellectual paradigms, such as the secularization thesis and the Enlightenment view of religion, the volume opens the door to a powerful and provocative reconceptualization of religious freedom.
  • Features chapters by authors presenting opposing viewpoints on the 'naturalness' of religion, the rationality of materialism, the relationship between religion and health, and the implications of scientific views of religion for religious freedom rights. 
  • Examines the centrality of religion to human experience through multiple disciplinary perspectives, including cognitive and evolutionary science, anthropology, sociology, political theory, and epistemology.
  • Discusses the political implications of the centrality and naturalness of religion to human experience, with particular reference both to early Enlightenment critics of religion and to modern 'anti-essentialist' critics of the conceptual frameworks of religion and religious freedom.

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 2018, Harvard University Press will release To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Tommie Shelby and Brandon M. Terry. Tommie Shelby is Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy at Harvard University. Brandon M. Terry is Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies and of Social Studies at Harvard University.

From the publisher's description of To Shape a New World:
Martin Luther King, Jr., may be America’s most revered political figure, commemorated in statues, celebrations, and street names around the world. On the fiftieth anniversary of King’s assassination, the man and his activism are as close to public consciousness as ever. But despite his stature, the significance of King’s writings and political thought remains underappreciated. 
In To Shape a New World, Tommie Shelby and Brandon Terry write that the marginalization of King’s ideas reflects a romantic, consensus history that renders the civil rights movement inherently conservative―an effort not at radical reform but at “living up to” enduring ideals laid down by the nation’s founders. On this view, King marshaled lofty rhetoric to help redeem the ideas of universal (white) heroes, but produced little original thought. This failure to engage deeply and honestly with King’s writings allows him to be conscripted into political projects he would not endorse, including the pernicious form of “color blindness” that insists, amid glaring race-based injustice, that racism has been overcome. 
Cornel West, Danielle Allen, Martha Nussbaum, Robert Gooding-Williams, and other authors join Shelby and Terry in careful, critical engagement with King’s understudied writings on labor and welfare rights, voting rights, racism, civil disobedience, nonviolence, economic inequality, poverty, love, just-war theory, virtue ethics, political theology, imperialism, nationalism, reparations, and social justice. In King’s exciting and learned work, the authors find an array of compelling challenges to some of the most pressing political dilemmas of our present, and rethink the legacy of this towering figure.
Read an interview with co-editors Tommie Shelby and Brandon Terry about King’s legacy as a political philosopher at the Harvard Gazette.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Epistemological Skyhook: Determinism, Naturalism, and Self-Defeat

In 2016, Routledge published The Epistemological Skyhook: Determinism, Naturalism, and Self-Defeat by Jim Slagle, as part of their Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy series. Jim Slagle is Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Portland and George Fox University in Oregon. He has published articles in several journals, including Philosophia and Logique et Analyse. 

From the publisher's description of The Epistemological Skyhook:
Throughout philosophical history, there has been a recurring argument to the effect that determinism, naturalism, or both are self-referentially incoherent. By accepting determinism or naturalism, one allegedly acquires a reason to reject determinism or naturalism. The Epistemological Skyhook brings together, for the first time, the principal expressions of this argument, focusing primarily on the last 150 years. This book addresses the versions of this argument as presented by Arthur Lovejoy, A.E. Taylor, Kurt Gödel, C.S. Lewis, Norman Malcolm, Karl Popper, J.R. Lucas, William Hasker, Thomas Nagel, Alvin Plantinga, and others, along with the objections presented by their many detractors. It concludes by presenting a new version of the argument that synthesizes the best aspects of the others while also rendering the argument immune to some of the most significant objections made to it.
Enjoy Part One and Part Two interview with William Nava of the "Who Shaved the Barber?" podcast.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis

In 2016, Brazos Press published Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis by Chris R. Armstrong.  Armstrong is the founding director of Opus: The Art of Work, an institute on faith and vocation at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Formerly professor of church history at Bethel Seminary, he is also senior editor of Christian History. 

From the publisher's description of Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: 
Many Christians today tend to view the story of medieval faith as a cautionary tale. Too often, they dismiss the Middle Ages as a period of corruption and decay in the church. They seem to assume that the church apostatized from true Christianity after it gained cultural influence in the time of Constantine, and the faith was only later recovered by the sixteenth-century Reformers or even the eighteenth-century revivalists. As a result, the riches and wisdom of the medieval period have remained largely inaccessible to modern Protestants.
Church historian Chris Armstrong helps readers see beyond modern caricatures of the medieval church to the animating Christian spirit of that age. He believes today's church could learn a number of lessons from medieval faith, such as how the gospel speaks to ordinary, embodied human life in this world. Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians explores key ideas, figures, and movements from the Middle Ages in conversation with C. S. Lewis and other thinkers, helping contemporary Christians discover authentic faith and renewal in a forgotten age.

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Thomas Hobbes and the Natural Law

In 2018, the University of Notre Dame Press will release Thomas Hobbes and the Natural Law  by Kody W Cooper. Cooper is assistant professor of political science and public service at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.

From the publisher's description of Thomas Hobbes: 
Has Hobbesian moral and political theory been fundamentally misinterpreted by most of his readers? Since the criticism of John Bramhall, Hobbes has generally been regarded as advancing a moral and political theory that is antithetical to classical natural law theory. Kody Cooper challenges this traditional interpretation of Hobbes in Thomas Hobbes and the Natural Law. Hobbes affirms two essential theses of classical natural law theory: the capacity of practical reason to grasp intelligible goods or reasons for action and the legally binding character of the practical requirements essential to the pursuit of human flourishing. Hobbes's novel contribution lies principally in his formulation of a thin theory of the good. This book seeks to prove that Hobbes has more in common with the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition of natural law philosophy than has been recognized. According to Cooper, Hobbes affirms a realistic philosophy as well as biblical revelation as the ground of his philosophical-theological anthropology and his moral and civil science. In addition, Cooper contends that Hobbes's thought, although transformative in important ways, also has important structural continuities with the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition of practical reason, theology, social ontology, and law. What emerges from this study is a nuanced assessment of Hobbes's place in the natural law tradition as a formulator of natural law liberalism. This book will appeal to political theorists and philosophers and be of particular interest to Hobbes scholars and natural law theorists.

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