Stanley Tweyman on “What is Philosophy of Religion?” part 2

stweyman-cStanley Tweyman is University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at York University, Canada. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

The topic of God’s benevolence is discussed in Parts 10 and 11 of David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion[i]. Cleanthes is the speaker who, in Part 10, seeks to establish God’s benevolence in conjunction with God’s infinite power, or (when this hypothesis runs into difficulties) in conjunction with God’s finitely perfect power in Part 11. Philo is the one who argues against these views. While Philo argues against each hypothesis, where God’s benevolence is conjoined with some consideration of God’s power, nowhere in the text does Philo provide a proof that God is not benevolent. In this blog, I intend to show that Philo does, in fact, have such a proof, although the proof is not to be found directly in the actual words spoken by Philo in these two Parts of the Dialogues. Allow me to explain by way of analogy.

Pentimento is an art form, in which an underlying image has been painted over[ii]. In this blog, I propose to show that there is a Pentimento-type structure in Parts 10 and 11 of the Dialogues, and that it is only when we go to the underlying structure of the text that we discover Hume’s proof that God is not benevolent. Of course, Hume is not painting a picture, and, therefore, there is no underlying image. However, there is an underlying logical structure to Hume’s argument, and it is here that we learn Hume’s proof denying divine benevolence. This is the Pentimento effect in Parts 10 and 11.

The aim of the Dialogues is to determine whether the design of the world enables us to infer anything about the attributes of the divine designer. In Part 10, Cleanthes maintains that the best hypothesis for explaining the moral character of the world is that the designer is infinitely powerful and benevolent. Philo argues against this hypothesis, maintaining that an infinitely powerful benevolent designer would produce a world that is all good, and, therefore, totally devoid of evil. However, all speakers agree that evil does exist in the world, as well as good[iii], thereby forcing a shift in Cleanthes’ position in Part 11.

Cleanthes is adamant about supporting divine benevolence throughout the discussion, but in Part 11 he is willing to give up the claim of God’s infinite power, and conjoin divine benevolence with God’s finitely perfect power: “A less evil may then be chosen, in order to avoid a greater: Inconveniences be submitted to, in order to reach a desirable end: And in a word, benevolence, regulated by wisdom, and limited by necessity, may produce just such a world as the present”. (D.161) On this account, natural evil is due to the interactions of natural objects and forces, even  though the latter were put into the world by the God for good: in short, God permits evil to occur, rather than causing evil to occur. God designs the best world He is able to design, but given that God’s power is limited, that some evil will enter the world is unavoidable. Further, since God is never an underachiever in producing good in the design of the world (God is finitely perfect), whatever evil does exist in the world, God is unable to remove or correct, as any attempt at removing or correcting the evil in the world, would actually make the world worse, not better. Philo strongly disagrees with Cleanthes’ position, by arguing that the four natural causes of evil in the world – the introduction of pain into the world; conducting the world by general laws; the great frugality, with which all powers and faculties are distributed to all sensible creatures; the inaccurate workmanship of all the springs and principles throughout nature – are neither necessary nor unavoidable[iv]. In Part 10, Cleanthes gives up the claim of God’s infinite power to save the hypothesis of God’s benevolence; in Part 11, Cleanthes is prepared to give up the claim of God’s finitely perfect power to save the hypothesis of God’s benevolence.  But, at no point in his analysis, does Philo provide an argument for denying divine benevolence. As stated earlier, my view is that Philo does have a proof that God is not benevolent, which is based on his critique of Cleanthes’ two hypotheses of divine infinite power and benevolence and divine finitely perfect power and benevolence, and which can be discerned, once the logic of these positions is understood. This is the philosophical equivalent of the Pentimento strategy I introduced at the beginning of this blog.

Using ‘B’ to stand for ‘God is benevolent’ and ‘I’ to stand for ‘God’s power is infinite’, the following captures Cleanthes’ position at the conclusion of Philo’s critique of his positions in Parts 10 and 11, namely, Philo has established that no consideration of God’s power, when conjoined with the claim of God’s benevolence, can account for the good and evil in the world. And since Cleanthes insists on God’s benevolence, Cleanthes must give up any consideration of God’s power in accounting for the good and evil in the design of the world.

Logically, employing modus ponens, we get the following:

B ⊃ ~ (I ∨~I)

B

∴~ (I ∨~I)

Since ~ (I ∨~I) is self-contradictory and (I ∨~I) is necessarily true, we can construct the remainder of Philo’s argument against Cleanthes’ view of divine benevolence by employing modus tollens:

B ⊃ ~ (I ∨~I)

(I ∨~I)

∴~ B

Notice that these logical proofs are not found in the text, but rather they constitute the logical underpinning of Philo’s argument against divine benevolence. This is the Pentimento- like effect in these two Parts of the Dialogues. It should be clear that Hume has not offered a free standing proof that God is not benevolent. The proof that God is not benevolent follows from Cleanthes’ insistence on the benevolence of God, and his willingness, in the light of Philo’s criticisms, to deny that God possesses either infinite power or finitely perfect power.

Part of the nature of the philosophy of religion involves putting forth arguments about God, and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of these arguments. But our analysis in this blog reveals an additional feature in the area of philosophy of religion, namely, to determine the consequences of a position that is put forth about God – consequences which the proponent of the original position does not welcome. In this blog, I have shown that Parts 10 and 11 of the Dialogues can be understood as possessing an underlying logic, which, ultimately, can be used against Cleanthes’ position regarding divine benevolence. But we can go further than this in the case of the Dialogues: in fact, the structure of the Dialogues generally involves examining the consequences of Cleanthes’ position, although this examination does not always involve a Pentimento-like approach. In this regard, it is worthwhile noting, in a passage in Part 2, what Philo says to Demea (the third speaker in the dialogue) about his, i.e. Philo’s, objections to Cleanthes’ position: “You seem not to apprehend, replied Philo, that I argue with Cleanthes in his own way; and by showing him the dangerous consequences of his tenets, hope at last to reduce him to our opinion.”(D.111) In short, Hume’s Dialogues, as a whole, can be seen as exemplifying this approach in philosophy of religion.

[i] All references to David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, are taken from David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, (from the original handwritten manuscript), edited and with an Introduction by Stanley Tweyman, Routledge (London and New York), July 1991. Revised Second Edition, issued by Caravan Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan, by arrangement with Routledge, 2000. Third edition, re-issued by Routledge, as part of their Philosophy of Religion Series, February 2012. This book will also be reissued in paperback as part of the Routledge Paperbacks Direct programme, and as an e-book.

[ii]We need not discuss possible motivations of the artist for painting in this style.

[iii] See, especially, pages 152-56.

[iv] For purposes of our discussion, we need not elaborate on Hume’s analysis of the four causes of evil in the world, and why God is unable to increase the quantity of good in the world, and diminish the amount of evil.

 

Eric Steinhart on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”

Steinhart_Eric

Eric Steinhart

Eric Steinhart is Professor of Philosophy at William Paterson University. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

Philosophy of religion evolved out of the religions of the first Axial Age. At least in the West, it has evolved into reasoning for or against Abrahamic theism, mainly Christianity. But religion is changing rapidly, and we may even be in a second Axial Age. As religion evolves away from its past into the future, philosophy of religion will evolve with it. Thinkers like Schellenberg have pointed to this futurity.

Although philosophy has long been dominated by white men with European roots, it is growing more diverse. It is easy to imagine a future in which Hispanic philosophers write analytically about Santeria. Perhaps the indigenous peoples of the Americas will use modal logic to study the visions they get from ayahuasca or peyote. As more women do philosophy, they may leave the Abrahamic traditions. Women may lead the way in developing new religions, and new ways of reasoning about them.

But the data point to deeper changes. If the ARIS 2013 survey is right, then only one third of American college students are theists. Another third are irreligious or secular, while the final third is spiritual but not theistic. Similar surveys, done by Pew in the US, show young people rapidly rejecting the Abrahamic traditions. Religions are born; they mutate; and they can go extinct. To paraphrase Foucault, the Abrahamic deity may vanish “like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea”. New generations of nontheists will become spiritual, and religious, and they will philosophize.

Continue reading

Stanley Tweyman on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”, part 1

Tweyman_Stanley

Stanley Tweyman

Stanley Tweyman is Professor of Philosophy at York University, Canada. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

Philosophers have traditionally held that there are three ways to attempt to gain knowledge of God – through revelation, through reason (e.g. the Ontological Proof), and through Nature (e.g. through Natural Religion).In this essay, I want to point to a fourth way, which has not been widely recognized, namely, the proof put forth by Rene Descartes in his third meditation.[1]

In the Replies to the Second Set of Objections, Descartes informs us that the aim of his Meditations on First Philosophy is to provide the first principles of human knowledge, i.e. what must be known before anything else can be known. Because these principles are first principles, they cannot be established deductively, but rather they are self-evident, and must, therefore, be grasped through intuition. In the Replies to the Second Set of Objections and elsewhere, Descartes urges that there are two requirements in order to enable us to intuit these first principles – the first is the removal of all sensory prejudice (the influence of the senses), and the second is that we give full attention to what Descartes has written in his Meditations to guide us to the relevant innate ideas, through which these first principles can be intuited. In his third meditation, Descartes maintains that before anything can be known, he must know that God created his mind, and that God is not a deceiver. Given that, at this stage, he does not know anything beyond his existence as a thinking thing, Descartes attempts to establish what he needs to know about God through the innate idea he has of God.

Continue reading

Donald Blakeley on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”

Blakeley_Donald

Donald Blakeley

Donald Blakeley is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at California State University, Fresno. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

The question “What is philosophy of religion?” invites reflection on the nature of philosophy as well as religion. I will suppose that philosophy includes analytic concerns (logic, conceptual analysis, functions of language) and constructive (speculative, systematic) concerns (metaphysics, epistemology, value theory). The two have been combined historically, although the speculative part has for some time come under criticism for attempting to deal with matters best handled by scientific disciplines.

Continue reading

Felix Ó Murchadha on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”

ÓMurchadha_Felix

Felix Ó Murchadha

Felix Ó Murchadha is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the National University of Ireland, Galway. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

Any answer to the question, what is the philosophy of religion, will depend implicitly at least on how philosophy is understood. To me philosophy is the radical questioning of everything, including and especially itself. To practice philosophy is to be uncertain whether one is actually doing philosophy at all. This is a highly paradoxical situation to be in! With respect to religion what this means is that a philosopher does not come with a ready-made tool kit to investigate religion, anymore than she does with respect to art, science or anything else. The philosophical engagement with religion is one which seeks to allow religion to speak to it, in a manner which is challenging and fruitful – but challenging and fruitful to philosophy not to religion. As a philosopher I don’t see myself as having any responsibilities to religious people or communities, neither in the sense of respecting their sensibilities nor in the sense of critically challenging them. So philosophy of religion is in that sense not about religion at all, it is about what if anything religion can tell us or challenge us regarding the practice of philosophy.

Continue reading

Ilaria Ramelli on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”

Ramelli_Ilaria

Ilaria Ramelli

Ilaria L.E. Ramelli is Professor of Philosophy at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Italy. We invited her to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

Philosophy of Religion is the branch of Philosophy that investigates Religion, and religions, philosophically. Thus, it is a philosophical discipline—the philosophical discipline that comes closest to theology (albeit rigorously from within Philosophy), after Philosophy and Theology have become two distinct sciences, with different methodologies and objects, in our post-Kantian philosophical culture. In antiquity and late antiquity, however, the two were not distinct: theology itself was a philosophical discipline, arguably the highest part of philosophy, the peak. The study of divinity was the culmination of philosophy.

Continue reading

Nicholas Rescher on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”

Rescher_Nicholas

Nicholas Rescher

Nicholas Rescher is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

The philosophy of religion is a domain of intimidating magnitude. The whole of the space available for the present discussion could be filled with questions belonging to the field. What is a religion? What sorts of religions are possible? What is it to have or to belong to a religion? Why it is that people should (or perhaps even need) to belong to a religion? Is having a religion a matter purely of accepting beliefs or are behavioral ramifications (such as prayer or ritual) necessary? Can the existence of God be demonstrable?—And if not, can belief in God possibly be validated by other, non-demonstrative means? The list goes on and on.

Being a religious person is no prerequisite for a philosopher of religion. There are a great many theoretical issues regarding religious matters about which an atheist can ably deliberate. (One interesting example is the hypothetical question: “What sort of God, if any, would a reasonable person want to have if they could have their own way in the matter—and just why this particular sort?”) Nor, contrawise, need a committed believer necessarily engage with philosophical issues arising in this sphere. (Rustic faith is nowise illegitimate.) With religion as with other human enterprises, the relationship between the venture itself and its philosophical ramifications can be complex. Even—and indeed especially—atheism occupies a place in the spectrum of alternative philosophy-of-religion positions.

But why take a stance one way or the other on religious issues? Continue reading

Leigh Vicens on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”

Vicens_Leigh

Leigh Vicens

Leigh Vicens is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Augustana College. We invited her to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

Since I teach philosophy within a religion department at a Lutheran college, where many students study Christian theology as well as world religions before taking my class in philosophy of religion, I find it helpful to begin the semester by discussing how what we will be doing together in that class differs from what they may have done in other classes before.

Continue reading

David McNaughton on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”

McNaughton_David

David McNaughton

David McNaughton is Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

Is there such a subject as philosophy of religion? The answer to this question is not as obvious as it might seem. I am not, of course, claiming that there is something improper about claiming expertise in this area on your CV. What I question is whether the very disparate practices, attitudes, and beliefs that come under the heading of ‘religion’ have sufficient coherence to count as a unified topic for enquiry of any kind, whether philosophical, sociological, psychological, historical, or some mixture thereof. If I am right then, though there are many interesting specific questions that can be raised within the field traditionally called philosophy of religion, there is no topic or question common to all these enquiries in this area because the notion of religion itself lacks any unifying theme.

Continue reading

Jack Mulder on “What is Philosophy of Religion?”

Mulder_Jack

Jack Mulder

Jack Mulder is Professor of Philosophy at Hope College. We invited him to answer the question “What is Philosophy of Religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.

Philosophy of Religion is a fascinating area in the study of philosophy. Part of the reason it is so interesting is that it can encompass philosophy theology, philosophical a-theology, and philosophical inquiry into the meaningfulness of those very categories. Let me try to explain.

Continue reading