Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How Hylomorphism Solves the Mind-Body Problem

Oxford University Press recently published, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind: How Hylomorphism Solves the Mind-Body Problem (2016) by William Jaworski, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University. From the publisher's description:
Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind is the first book to show how hylomorphism can be used to solve mind-body problems--persistent problems understanding how thought, feeling, perception, and other mental phenomena fit into the physical world described by our best science. Hylomorphism claims that structure is a basic ontological and explanatory principle. Some individuals, paradigmatically living things, consist of materials that are structured or organized in various ways. Those structures are responsible for individuals being the kinds of things they are, and having the kinds of powers or capacities they have. From a hylomorphic perspective, mind-body problems are byproducts of a worldview that rejects structure. Hylomorphic structure carves out distinctive individuals from the otherwise undifferentiated sea of matter and energy described by our best physics, and it confers on those individuals distinctive powers, including the powers to think, feel, and perceive. A worldview that rejects hylomorphic structure lacks a basic principle which distinguishes the parts of the physical universe that can think, feel, and perceive from those that can't, and without such a principle, the existence of those powers in the physical world can start to look inexplicable and mysterious. But if mental phenomena are structural phenomena, as hylomorphism claims, then they are uncontroversially part of the physical world, for on the hylomorphic view, structure is uncontroversially part of the physical world. Hylomorphism thus provides an elegant way of solving mind-body problems.
From a recent review in the Notre Dame Philosophical Review, observing "a lively and growing strand of modern hylomorphism, more or less beholden to Aristotle but aiming not to present an historical analysis of a superannuated doctrine but rather a serious metaphysical position addressing current philosophical problems," reviewer William Seager (University of Toronto) puts Jaworski's book in a particular context:
Modern hylomorphists regard the recalcitrance of a range of philosophical problems, such as those of material composition and the mind-body problem, as symptoms of deep errors in the modern tradition which only the radical metaphysical reform promised by hylomorphism can address. While modern hylomorphism may offer promising answers to some pressing metaphysical worries it must struggle to dispel the cloud of obscurity and evident disconnection with the scientific outlook which bedevils the historical version, while avoiding collapse into a view merely verbally distinct from physicalism.

William Jaworski's book is a splendid addition to this revival of hylomorphism, notable for its clarity, thoroughness of presentation and depth of analysis. It resolutely advances an avowedly anti-physicalist view which deserves the hylomorphic label. Yet it also attempts to be entirely naturalistic in the sense that it 'accord[s] to empirical sources a privileged role in determining what exists, and it takes the sciences as paradigmatic examples of such sources' (p. 19). Jaworski spells out the details of a wide ranging metaphysical picture of the world which underpins his hylomorphism. He presents this picture by explicitly contrasting it with alternative views and does this in a way that is incidentally a wonderful guide to a host of views and arguments about substance, properties, modality and ontology. No matter what a reader's ultimate judgment about hylomorphism might be, this aspect of his book is an unalloyed success
Regarding the book's contribution to the mind-body problem, Seager appraises the book in the following way:
Hylomorphism generates an interesting approach to a number of aspects of the mind-body problem. There is space here only to look briefly at the problem of consciousness. One reason philosophers have gone looking for approaches beyond those vouchsafed by standard physicalism is the severe difficulties we have had integrating consciousness into the scientific physicalist picture of the world. Jaworski's hylomorphism aims to endorse the dual claims that phenomenal conscious states are absolutely necessitated by the subject's basic physical constitution and that physicalism is nonetheless false. Again, the logical space for this position depends on a very strong reading of physicalism which is that everything is explicable in basic physical terms without mention of structure. We have already discussed the explanatory side of Jaworski's hylomorphism so let's look at whether hylomorphism offers a new approach to the problem of consciousness. Phenomenal consciousness is a real thing and does not seem to be itself an individual so it must be a property, one of the structure-induced powers that genuine individuals possess. Various popular lines of argument suggest that phenomenal consciousness could vary across physically identical individuals. This sort of argument asks what it is about physical structure that makes it impossible for such modal variance to occur. Jaworski's theory has a straightforward answer to this question: all properties of individuals are absolutely necessitated by the physical properties of their constituents.

Why is this so? The hylomorphist holds, as few but substance dualists would deny, that our material constitution in the actual world, once structured into our human form, does support or generate phenomenal consciousness. Jaworski's trope-based view of properties as particular powers (or sets of powers) holds that wherever there are different powers there must be different properties. So any genuine duplicate of our world would have to duplicate its properties and hence its powers and hence in any such duplicate world consciousness would be generated once the appropriate material structures appeared. There is nothing particularly hylomorphic about this argument and it can be and has been advanced by thinkers from other schools of thought who endorse a metaphysics that identifies properties with powers. But it does dovetail nicely with Jaworski's naturalistic hylomorphism.

However, anyone who advances such a view will have to explain why there could not be another set of powers which share with the actual powers all the same basic physical features as outlined, say, in the standard model of physics and general relativity (a few basic kinds of matter, fields and the four forces of gravity, electromagnetism, plus the strong and weak nuclear forces) but which, when structured as a human being, fail to generate consciousness. In the absence of this explanation one is left with the suspicion that the problem of consciousness has only been 'solved' by conceptual fiat without giving us any understanding of the relation between the fundamental physical features of the world and consciousness. The talk of structures as embodying a novel 'ontological principle' remains especially mysterious in this case, and the old worries about the intelligibility and non-triviality of hylomorphism seem to return.

Jaworski is not unaware of these sorts of difficulties and my remarks barely skim the surface of his deep and thorough discussion of these and many more issues. His book will richly repay study by anyone interested in the mind-body problem and metaphysics in general.
Support the work of the EPS by purchasing Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind: How Hylomorphism Solves the Mind-Body Problem.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Knower and the Known: An Interview with Stephen Parrish

We recently interviewed Stephen Parrish about his book, The Knower and the Known: Physicalism, Dualism, and the Nature of Intelligibility (St. Augustine's Press, 2013). Stephen Parrish is Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University, Wisconsin. In 450 pages, Parrish provides a powerful compendium of arguments and advances to discussions and critiques of physicalism. To learn more about the benefits of his book, please click here. Enjoy a 25% discount courtesy of the publisher, by going to www.StAugustine.net, and using code KNOWER&KNOWN in the checkout. Expires: December 31, 2016. 

What is distinct about the framing of your critique of physicalism?
What is most distinct is that I attempt to put my critique of physicalism in the context of a theistic ontology.  That is, I try to show that mind body dualism fits in with a theistic view of things, while physicalism does not.  God is the source of all reality and a personal being.  Reality is ultimately personal, and thus ultimately explicable in personal terms.  Human beings are also persons, and thus are finite analogs of God, and this fact is the basis for much, including our ability to understand.  I should also add; the book contains one of the most thorough critiques of physicalism of which I am aware.  
Your argument in this book is not strictly the result of the tools of analytic philosophy of mind. It also utilizes the tools of phenomenology when discussing the so-called "mind-body problem.” How do both tools enhance understanding of your topic?
I was trained in analytic philosophy, appreciate the rigor of it, and that is the methodology I try to use.  However, I had been reading about Husserl’s phenomenology for several years, and thought that he had developed insights into what knowledge is, what concepts are, and the relation they have to consciousness that went along with the approach I was using.  God is a personal being, and all concepts exist in his mind.  Our minds are made in the image of God’s, and thus we also can know reality.  So, for me it was not so much a matter of the limitations of each; rather the subject is vast and each has developed insights that, when put together, helped in thinking through the issues involved.
What is your view of human embodiment and how does it relate to your critique of physicalism?
Human beings are meant to be embodied.  We cannot function without them; we need them to operate in the universe that God has made. What could one do without a body?  Possibly one could think; but one could not interact with any physical object or move in any way, or even perceive external reality. At least, it is difficult to understand how we could do these things. However, dualism allows one to think, and also believe that we are not just matter in motion, machines that are made of meat and bone, and that we can survive death.
How might your argument contribute to discussions about the problem of “God and Abstract objects?
The position that I take is that abstracta are actually ideal objects in the mind of God.  Or, one might say, that is what abstract objects really are.  This position allows that everything, including abstracta, is dependent upon God for its existence.  It also seems to me to be a position that allows theists to explain abstracta for “free.”  God is by definition necessarily omniscient, and therefore knows everything so that all concepts necessarily exist in his mind.  It seems to me there is no reason to posit the existence of anything beyond that regarding abstract objects.
As more work continues on the mind-body problem, what are some areas of focus you wish more physicalists and dualists would pay attention to?
One area that needs exploration is the interface between world and mind. How does the neuronal activity in the brain cause us to have the perceptions that we do?  This is an issue for both dualists and physicalists.  Of course, they will give very different answers.  The dualist needs think in terms of something that can ”translate” brain activity to conscious states, and vice versa.  The physicalist has the more demanding task of seeing how they are in one way or another identical.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Gordon R. Lewis (1926-2016), an Integrative Theologian

Last night we received notification of the passing of noted evangelical philosopher and theologian, Dr. Gordon R. Lewis:
Gordon R. Lewis, went to be with the Lord on June 11, 2016. He was born November 21, 1926 to Fred C. Lewis and Florence Winn Lewis in Johnson City, New York. He was married to Doris Berlin in 1948. She passed away in 1999. He married Willa Waddle in 2001. He is survived by Willa Waddle Lewis, Nancy & (Alan) Carter, Cindy & (Jim) Clark, and Scott Lewis, five grandsons Halden & (Ginny) Clark, Caleb & (Marlys) Clark, Daniel & (Ashlie) Clark, David & (Kaci) Clark, and Ian Carter, eight great-grandchildren and a niece and nephews.

After graduating from Johnson City High School in 1944, Gordon studied at Baptist Bible Seminary in Johnson City, New York, earned a BA at Gordon College in Boston and an MDiv at Faith Seminary in Wilmington, Delaware, where he was a student pastor of People's Baptist Church. While teaching at Baptist Bible Seminary in Johnson City from 1951-1958, he earned an MA and Ph.D in philosophy at Syracuse University.

He and his family moved to Denver, CO in 1958 when he joined the faculty of Denver Seminary as Professor of Theology and Philosophy. He retired from full-time teaching in 1993. He also served as interim pastor in several churches and helped start Foothills Fellowship Baptist Church where he was currently a member and senior elder.

During a sabbatical in 1973, he taught at Union Biblical Seminary in India. He interviewed national and missionary leaders in several Far Eastern countries on similarities and differences of the eastern and western mind. He published seven books and many articles in academic journals. His major work, co-authored with colleague Dr. Bruce Demarest, is Integrative Theology in three volumes, published by Zondervan in 1996. It presents a distinctive method to help people to discover truth when facing conflicting claims in a diverse world.

The memorial service for Professor Gordon Lewis will be held at Denver Seminary Chapel, June 15, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. Donations may be given to "The Gordon Lewis Centre for Christian Thought and Culture", c/o Denver Seminary, 6399 S. Santa Fe Drive, Littleton, CO 80120
Dr. Lewis's work included contributions that spanned into areas of theology, apologetics, and spirituality. In apologetics, perhaps he was most known for his survey handbook, Testing Christianity's Truth Claims: Approaches to Christian Apologetics (1980). In at least article form, he wrote about issues of biblical infallibility and spirituality, and sometimes both, such as when discussing the value of propositional revelation for spiritual formation.

Serving as both past presidents of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Evangelical Philosophical Society, along with his tenure as a theology, philosophy and apologetics professor at Denver Seminary, his leadership shaped both "minds" and "hearts," of both scholars and practitioners alike. Gordon Lewis earnestly sought to enable disciples of Jesus to be learners of Bible, Theology, and Apologetics. Philosophy, including his own training and that of the discipline, was a servant not a colonizer of this endeavor.

My own encounter with Dr. Lewis's work began with his Integrative Theology, and that was also the first time, in 1998, that I was significantly exposed to the work of "contemporary evangelical theology." Lewis and Demarest's work molded my first impressions of how evangelical theology could done in such a rigorous, faithful and fruitful way. I thank my friend and professor, Michael Gurney, for exposing me to Lewis's work as a result of his Introduction to Theology course at then Multnomah Bible College. Lewis and Demarest's work sought to bring the many "tongues" of historical, biblical, systematic, apologetic and practical theology to sing together as "one voice" on crucial questions of theology.  

Integrative Theology sought to "equip the equippers." Lewis was not content for the work of theology to be simply left and limited to the seminary classroom or left only for the professional(ized) theologian, philosopher or apologist. His Decide for Yourself: A Theological Workbook is evidence of that intent. Originally published in 1970 by Intervarsity Press, it sought to equip younger Christians, and indeed future leaders of the church in the U.S. In a particular way, Lewis did theology as apologetics and world-and-life view formation; a demonstration of the truthfulness and livability of Christianity as a body of knowledge, wisdom and understanding. As he wrote in the Preface of Decide for Yourself,
Jesus Christ calls his followers to a disciplined life - morally and intellectually. Lord of our minds as well as our hearts, he challenges us to grow, not in grace only, but also in knowledge.
And then from Integrative Theology, we have an extension of the above point applied to the task of doing theology:
Developing a theology that relates biblically revealed truth to humanity and nature is not an elective for Christians who believe in the Lord of all, but a requirement. God knows, sustains and gives purpose to all that is. God provides a focal point not only for our limited personal experiences or special interests but for all thought. The question for Christians is not whether they will relate all their fields of knowledge to God's purposes, but whether they, as stewards of God's truth, will do so poorly or well.
In a 2006 article for Philosophia Christi, titled, "Jesus's Uses of Language and their Contemporary Significance," he concluded his paper with this prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank you for having spoken to us in these last days through the effective relationships and true affirmations of your Son. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for lovingly witnessing to the truth the Father gave you, even unto death. Thank you, Spirit of truth, for raising up the members of the Evangelical Philosophical Society to witness, as Jesus did, to loving relational fellowships grounded on loving propositional revelation, even unto death. Amen.
May God bless the influence, stewardship and leadership of Dr. Gordon R. Lewis!

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Public Faith: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity

This month Brazos Press releases Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School and founder and director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. Ryan McAnnally-Linz is an associate research scholar at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. From the publisher's description:

Christian citizens have a responsibility to make political and ethical judgments in light of their faith and to participate in the public lives of their communities--from their local neighborhoods to the national scene. But even in countries where Christians are free to engage in public life, it can be difficult to discern who to vote for, which policies to support, and how to respond to the social and cultural trends of our time.
This nonpartisan handbook explains that Christians need to develop habits of wise reflection if they are to engage faithfully with their political communities. To do so, they need to identify the key commitments of their faith that connect with contemporary public issues, understand the roots of those commitments, and learn what sorts of questions to ask when applying those values to the concrete realities of their contexts.
Following Volf's successful A Public Faith, this book offers Christians practical guidance for thinking through complicated public issues and faithfully following Jesus as citizens of their countries. Public Faith in Action focuses on enduring Christian commitments that should guide readers in their judgments--not only for the next election, but beyond--and encourages legitimate debate among Christians over how to live out core values. The book also includes lists of resources for further reflection in each chapter and "room for debate" questions to consider.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Christianity as a Wisdom Tradition

This month Eerdmans published Christian Practical Wisdom: What it is, Why it Matters by Dorothy C. Bass [director emerita of the Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith], Kathleen A. Cahalan [professor of theology at Saint John's School of Theology and Seminary, Collegeville, Minnesota], Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore [E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture at Vanderbilt University], James R. Nieman [president of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago], Christian B. Scharen [vice president of applied research at Auburn Theological Seminary, New York]. From the publisher's description:

In this richly collaborative work, five distinguished scholars examine the oft-neglected embodied practical wisdom that is essential for true theological understanding and faithful Christian living. After first showing what Christian practical wisdom is and does in several real-life situations, the authors tell why such practical wisdom matters and how it operates, exploring reasons behind its decline in both the academy and the church and setting forth constructive cases for its renewal.

Christian Practical Wisdom is ripe for further philosophical and interdisciplinary reflection from Christian philosophers. Theologically attentive philosophers will find opportunities to reflect on issues of epistemology, ethics and moral-spiritual formation in these pages. Fruitful pairings with this book could include works from Esther Meek, Dru Johnson, Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, and James K.A. Smith.

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Assessing Contemporary Virtue Ethics

In 2015, the Catholic University of America Press published Before Virtue: Assessing Contemporary Virtue Ethics by Jonathan Sanford. Sanford is professor of philosophy and associate vice president for academic affairs at Franciscan University of Steubenville. From the publisher's description:

Classical virtue ethics, exemplified by Aristotle (d. 322 BC), asked: what can we know of human nature and the virtues by which it is perfected in order to live well? Dominant ethical theories today generally avoid the question of human nature, taking deontological (non-metaphysical) or utilitarian (maximizing perceived social benefit) approaches. Elizabeth Anscombe's 1958 article "Modern Moral Philosophy," sparked a revival of virtue ethics. She critiqued contemporary ethical theories and exhorted her readers to recover central features of an Aristotelian approach.

Jonathan Sanford finds that despite the common origins of contemporary virtue ethics in Anscombe, the literature varies widely not just in its scope but in its basic commitments. What exactly is contemporary virtue ethics? In Before Virtue, Sanford develops strategies for describing contemporary virtue ethics accurately. He then assesses contemporary virtue approaches by the Anscombean dual standard which inspired them: the degree to which they avoid the pitfalls of modern moral philosophy and the extent to which they exemplify a successful recovery of an Aristotelian approach to ethics. Sanford finds the results to be mixed. But an underlying and unifying theme emerges: an adequate virtue theory must incorporate at least preliminary answers to the questions of the nature of human beings, our ends, and the principles by means of which our ends are best pursued. It is only in light of recognizing the significance of those questions to moral philosophy that one can begin to appreciate the contribution of Aristotelian ethics. Ultimately, Anscombe's judgment about the need to eschew what she designates as modern moral philosophy is vindicated through a recovery of Aristotelian ethics that goes further in addressing those more basic questions than has most contemporary virtue ethics. The concluding chapters of this book contribute to that recovery.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Self-Evident Truths in American Law

Cambridge University Press recently published, The Declaration of Independence and God: Self-Evident Truths in American Law by Owen Anderson. Anderson is associate professor of philosophy and religious studies in Arizona State University's New College. From the publisher's descriptions:
“Self-evident truths” was a profound concept used by the drafters of the American Declaration of Independence to insist on their rights and freedom from oppressive government. How did this Enlightenment notion of self-evident human rights come to be used in this historic document and what is its true meaning? In The Declaration of Independence and God, Owen Anderson traces the concept of a self-evident creator through America's legal history. Starting from the Declaration of Independence, Anderson considers both challenges to belief in God from thinkers like Thomas Paine and American Darwinists, as well as modifications to the concept of God by theologians like Charles Finney and Paul Tillich. Combining history, philosophy, and law in a unique focus, this book opens exciting new avenues for the study of America's legal history.
  • Offers readers unique insights on one of America's founding documents
  • Situates current debates about separation of church in state in historical context
  • The multidisciplinary approach will be of use to students and scholars in law, philosophy, history and religious studies.
Owen Anderson is also a contributor to the EPS website.

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