In this paper I develop a novel challenge for sceptical theists. I present a line of reasoning that appeals to sceptical theism to support scepticism about divine assertions. I claim that this reasoning is at least as plausible as one popular sceptical theistic strategy for responding to evidential arguments from evil. Thus, I seek to impale sceptical theists on the horns of a dilemma: concede that either sceptical theism implies scepticism about divine assertions, or the sceptical theistic strategy for responding (...) to evidential arguments from evil fails. An implication of is that sceptical theism is at odds with any religious tradition according to which there are certain claims that we can know to be true solely in virtue of the fact that God has told us that they are true. This result will render conceding unattractive to many sceptical theists. (shrink)
Erik J. Wielenberg draws on recent work in analytic philosophy and empirical moral psychology to defend non-theistic robust normative realism, according to which there are objective ethical features of the universe that do not depend on God for their existence. He goes on to develop an empirically-grounded account of human moral knowledge.
Suppose there is no God. This might imply that human life is meaningless, that there are no moral obligations and hence people can do whatever they want, and that the notions of virtue and vice and good and evil have no place. Erik J. Wielenberg believes this view to be mistaken and in this book he explains why. He argues that even if God does not exist, human life can have meaning, we do have moral obligations, and virtue is (...) possible. Naturally, the author sees virtue in a Godless universe as different from virtue in a Christian universe, and he develops naturalistic accounts of humility, charity, and hope. The moral landscape in a Godless universe is different from the moral landscape in a Christian universe, but it does indeed exist. Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe is a tour of some of the central landmarks of this under-explored territory. (shrink)
Evolutionary debunkers of morality hold this thesis: If S’s moral belief that P can be given an evolutionary explanation, then S’s moral belief that P is not knowledge. In this paper, I debunk a variety of arguments for this thesis. I first sketch a possible evolutionary explanation for some human moral beliefs. Next, I explain how, given a reliabilist approach to warrant, my account implies that humans possess moral knowledge. Finally, I examine the debunking arguments of Michael Ruse, Sharon Street, (...) and Richard Joyce. I draw on the account of moral knowledge sketched earlier to illustrate how these arguments fail. -/- . (shrink)
It is tempting to think that, if a person's beliefs are coherent, they are also likely to be true. This truth conduciveness claim is the cornerstone of the popular coherence theory of knowledge and justification. Erik Olsson's new book is the most extensive and detailed study of coherence and probable truth to date. Setting new standards of precision and clarity, Olsson argues that the value of coherence has been widely overestimated. Provocative and readable, Against Coherence will make stimulating reading (...) for epistemologists and anyone with a serious interest in truth. (shrink)
Many believe that objective morality requires a theistic foundation. I maintain that there are sui generis objective ethical facts that do not reduce to natural or supernatural facts. On my view, objective morality does not require an external foundation of any kind. After explaining my view, I defend it against a variety of objections posed by William Wainwright, William Lane Craig, and J. P. Moreland.
In this paper I develop a novel challenge for sceptical theists. I present a line of reasoning that appeals to sceptical theism to support scepticism about divine assertions. I claim that this reasoning is at least as plausible as one popular sceptical theistic strategy for responding to evidential arguments from evil. Thus, I seek to impale sceptical theists on the horns of a dilemma: concede that either (a) sceptical theism implies scepticism about divine assertions, or (b) the sceptical theistic strategy (...) for responding to evidential arguments from evil fails. An implication of (a) is that sceptical theism is at odds with any religious tradition according to which there are certain claims that we can know to be true solely in virtue of the fact that God has told us that they are true. This result will render conceding (a) unattractive to many sceptical theists. (shrink)
One of the cornerstones of western theology is the doctrine of divine omnipotence. God is traditionally conceived of as an omnipotent or all-powerful being. However, satisfactory analyses of omnipotence are notoriously elusive. In this paper, I first consider some simple attempts to analyze omnipotence, showing how each fails. I then consider two more sophisticated accounts of omnipotence. The first of these is presented by Edward Wierenga; the second by Thomas Flint and Alfred Freddoso. I argue that both of these accounts (...) fail. Finally, I propose and defend a novel account of omnipotence. (shrink)
I challenge a cornerstone of the Gettier debate: that a proposed analysis of the concept of knowledge is inadequate unless it entails that people don’t know in Gettier cases. I do so from the perspective of Carnap’s methodology of explication. It turns out that the Gettier problem per se is not a fatal problem for any account of knowledge, thus understood. It all depends on how the account fares regarding other putative counter examples and the further Carnapian desiderata of exactness, (...) fruitfulness and simplicity. Carnap proposed his methodology more than a decade before Gettier’s seminal paper appeared, making the present solution to the problem a candidate for being the least ad hoc proposal on the market, one whose independent standing cannot be questioned, among solutions that depart from the usual method of revising a theory of knowledge in the light of counterexamples. As an illustration of the method at work, I reconstruct reliabilism as an attempt to provide an explication of the concept of knowledge. (shrink)
In a seminal book, Alvin I. Goldman outlines a theory for how to evaluate social practices with respect to their , i.e., their tendency to promote the acquisition of true beliefs (and impede the acquisition of false beliefs) in society. In the same work, Goldman raises a number of serious worries for his account. Two of them concern the possibility of determining the veritistic value of a practice in a concrete case because (1) we often don't know what beliefs are (...) actually true, and (2) even if we did, the task of determining the veritistic value would be computationally extremely difficult. Neither problem is specific to Goldman's theory and both can be expected to arise for just about any account of veritistic value. It is argued here that the first problem does not pose a serious threat to large classes of interesting practices. The bulk of the paper is devoted to the computational problem, which, it is submitted, can be addressed in promising terms by means of computer simulation. In an attempt to add vividness to this proposal, an up-and-running simulation environment (Laputa) is presented and put to some preliminary tests. (shrink)
I draw on the literature on skeptical theism to develop an argument against Christian theism based on the widespread existence of suffering that appears to its sufferer to be gratuitous and is combined with the sense that God has abandoned one or never existed in the first place. While the core idea of the argument is hardly novel, key elements of the argument are importantly different from other influential arguments against Christian theism. After explaining that argument, I make the case (...) that the argument is untouched by traditional skeptical theism. I then consider positive skeptical theism, arguing that while DePoe’s view might provide a response to my argument, it entangles the theist in worries about divine deception. Because traditional skeptical theism and DePoe’s positive skeptical theism constitute the most promising extant strategies for answering my argument, the argument constitutes a serious challenge for the Christian theist. My overall aim, then, is to draw on various strands of the skeptical theism literature to present a challenge for all Christian theists, not just those in the skeptical theist camp, while at the same time revealing some important limitations of skeptical theism. (shrink)
In a seminal book, Alvin I. Goldman outlines a theory for how to evaluate social practices with respect to their “veritistic value”, i.e., their tendency to promote the acquisition of true beliefs in society. In the same work, Goldman raises a number of serious worries for his account. Two of them concern the possibility of determining the veritistic value of a practice in a concrete case because we often don't know what beliefs are actually true, and even if we did, (...) the task of determining the veritistic value would be computationally extremely difficult. Neither problem is specific to Goldman's theory and both can be expected to arise for just about any account of veritistic value. It is argued here that the first problem does not pose a serious threat to large classes of interesting practices. The bulk of the paper is devoted to the computational problem, which, it is submitted, can be addressed in promising terms by means of computer simulation. In an attempt to add vividness to this proposal, an up-and-running simulation environment is presented and put to some preliminary tests. (shrink)
Epistemologists can be divided into two camps: those who think that nothing short of certainty or (subjective) probability 1 can warrant assertion and those who disagree with this claim. This paper addressed this issue by inquiring into the problem of setting the probability threshold required for assertion in such a way that that the social epistemic good is maximized, where the latter is taken to be the veritistic value in the sense of Goldman (Knowledge in a social world, 1999). We (...) provide a Bayesian model of a test case involving a community of inquirers in a social network engaged in group deliberation regarding the truth or falsity of a proposition $p.$ p . Results obtained by means of computer simulation indicate that the certainty rule is optimal in the limit of inquiry and communication but that a lower threshold is preferable in less idealized cases. (shrink)
A measure of coherence is said to be truth conducive if and only if a higher degree of coherence results in a higher likelihood of truth. Recent impossibility results strongly indicate that there are no probabilistic coherence measures that are truth conducive. Indeed, this holds even if truth conduciveness is understood in a weak ceteris paribus sense. This raises the problem of how coherence could nonetheless be an epistemically important property. Our proposal is that coherence may be linked in a (...) certain way to reliability. We define a measure of coherence to be reliability conducive if and only if a higher degree of coherence results in a higher probability that the information sources are reliable. Restricting ourselves to the most basic case, we investigate which coherence measures in the literature are reliability conducive. It turns out that, while a number of measures fail to be reliability conducive, except possibly in a trivial and uninteresting sense, Shogenji's measure and several measures generated by Douven and Meijs's recipe are notable exceptions to this rule. (shrink)
In his recent book Lack of Character, John Doris argues that people typically lack character (understood in a particular way). Such a claim, if correct, would have devastating implications for moral philosophy and for various human moral projects (e.g. character development). I seek to defend character against Doris's challenging attack. To accomplish this, I draw on Socrates, Aristotle, and Kant to identify some of the central components of virtuous character. Next, I examine in detail some of the central experiments in (...) social psychology upon which Doris's argument is based. I argue that, properly understood, such experiments reveal differences in the characters of their subjects, not that their subjects lack character altogether. I conclude with some reflections on the significance of such experiments and the importance of character. (shrink)
I present a novel argument for the position that a morally unsurpassable God must create the best world that He has the power to create. I show that grace-based considerations of the sort proposed by Robert Adams neither refute my argument nor establish that a morally unsurpassable God need not create the best. I conclude with a discussion of the implications of my argument for the ‘no-best-world’ response to the problem of evil. (Published Online February 17 2004).
The standard way of representing an epistemic state in formal philosophy is in terms of a set of sentences, corresponding to the agent’s beliefs, and an ordering of those sentences, reflecting how well entrenched they are in the agent’s epistemic state. We argue that this wide-spread representational view – a view that we identify as a “Quinean dogma” – is incapable of making certain crucial distinctions. We propose, as a remedy, that any adequate representation of epistemic states must also include (...) the agent’s research agenda, i.e., the list of question that are open or closed at any given point in time. If the argument of the paper is sound, a person’s questions and practical interests, on the one hand, and her beliefs and theoretical values, on the other, are more tightly interwoven than has previously been assumed to be the case in formal epistemology. (shrink)
It is a widely accepted doctrine in epistemology that knowledge has greater value than mere true belief. But although epistemologists regularly pay homage to this doctrine, evidence for it is shaky. Is it based on evidence that ordinary people on the street make evaluative comparisons of knowledge and true belief, and consistently rate the former ahead of the latter? Do they reveal such a preference by some sort of persistent choice behavior? Neither of these scenarios is observed. Rather, epistemologists come (...) to this conclusion because they have some sort of conception or theory of what knowledge is, and they find reasons why people should rate knowledge, so understood, ahead of mere true belief. But what if these epistemological theories are wrong? Then the assumption that knowledge is more valuable than true belief might be in trouble. We don’t wish to take a firm position against the thesis that knowledge is more valuable than true belief. But we begin this paper by arguing that there is one sense of ‘know’ under which the thesis cannot be right. In particular, there seems to be a sense of ‘know’ in which it means, simply, ‘believe truly.’ If this is correct, then knowledge—in this weak sense of the term—cannot be more valuable than true belief. What evidence is there for a weak sense of ‘knowledge’ in which it is equivalent to ‘true belief’? Knowledge seems to contrast with ignorance. Not only do knowledge and ignorance contrast with one another but they seem to exhaust the alternatives, at least for a specified person and fact. Given a true proposition p, Diane either knows p or is ignorant of it. The same point can be expressed using rough synonyms of ‘know.’ Diane is either aware of (the fact that) p or is ignorant of it. She is either cognizant of p or ignorant of it. She either possesses the information that p or she is uninformed (ignorant) of it. To illustrate these suggestions, consider a case discussed by John Hawthorne (2002). If I ask you how many people in the room know that Vienna is the capital of Austria, you will tally up the number of people in the room who possess the information that Vienna is the capital of Austria.. (shrink)
A problem occupying much contemporary epistemology is that of explaining why knowledge is more valuable than mere true belief. This paper provides an overview of this debate, starting with historical figures and early work. The contemporary debate in mainstream epistemology is then surveyed and some recent developments that deserve special attention are highlighted, including mounting doubts about the prospects for virtue epistemology to solve the value problem as well as renewed interest in classical and reliabilist‐externalist responses.
_Kexue_, or science, captured the Chinese imagination in the early twentieth century, promising new knowledge about the world and a dynamic path to prosperity. Chinese Buddhists embraced scientific language and ideas to carve out a place for their religion within a rapidly modernizing society. Examining dozens of previously unstudied writings from the Chinese Buddhist press, this book maps Buddhists' efforts to rethink their traditions through science in the initial decades of the twentieth century. Buddhists believed science offered an exciting, alternative (...) route to knowledge grounded in empirical thought, much like their own. They encouraged young scholars to study subatomic and relativistic physics while still maintaining Buddhism's vital illumination of human nature and its crucial support of an ethical system rooted in radical egalitarianism. Showcasing the rich and progressive steps Chinese religious scholars took in adapting to science's rising authority, this volume offers a key perspective on how a major Eastern power transitioned to modernity in the twentieth century and how its intellectuals anticipated many of the ideas debated by scholars of science and Buddhism today. (shrink)
There is an emerging consensus in the literature on probabilistic coherence that such coherence cannot be truth conducive unless the information sources providing the cohering information are individually credible and collectively independent. Furthermore, coherence can at best be truth conducive in a ceteris paribus sense. Bovens and Hartmann have argued that there cannot be any measure of coherence that is truth conducive even in this very weak sense. In this paper, I give an alternative impossibility proof. I provide a relatively (...) detailed comparison of the two results, which turn out to be logically unrelated, and argue that my result answers a question raised by Bovens and Hartmann’s study. Finally, I discuss the epistemological ramifications of these findings and try to make plausible that a shift to an explanatory framework such as Thagard’s is unlikely to turn the impossibility into a possibility. (shrink)
Jonathan Cohen has claimed that in cases of witness agreement there is an inverse relationship between the prior probability and the posterior probability of what is being agreed: the posterior rises as the prior falls. As is demonstrated in this paper, this contention is not generally valid. In fact, in the most straightforward case exactly the opposite is true: a lower prior also means a lower posterior. This notwithstanding, there is a grain of truth to what Cohen is saying, as (...) there are special circumstances under which a thesis similar to his holds good. What characterises these circumstances is that they allow for the fact of agreement to be surprising. In making this precise, I draw on Paul Horwich's probabilistic analysis of surprise. I also consider a related claim made by Cohen concerning the effect of lowering the prior on the strength of corroboration. 1 Introduction 2 Cohen's claim 3 A counterexample 4 A weaker claim 5 A counterexample to the weaker claim 6 The grain of truth in Cohen's claim 7 Prior probability and strength of corroboration 8 Conclusion. (shrink)
We reply to Christoph Jäger's criticism of the conditional probability solution (CPS) to the value problem for reliabilism due to Goldman and Olsson (2009). We argue that while Jäger raises some legitimate concerns about the compatibility of CPS with externalist epistemology, his objections do not in the end reduce the plausibility of that solution.
Knowledge is more valuable than mere true belief. Many authors contend, however, that reliabilism is incompatible with this item of common sense. If a belief is true, adding that it was reliably produced doesn't seem to make it more valuable. The value of reliability is swamped by the value of truth. In Goldman and Olsson (2009), two independent solutions to the problem were suggested. According to the conditional probability solution, reliabilist knowledge is more valuable in virtue of being a stronger (...) indicator than mere true belief of future true belief. This article defends this solution against some objections. (shrink)
In Robust Ethics, I defend a nontheistic version of moral realism according to which moral properties are sui generis, not reducible to other kinds of properties and objective morality requires no foundation external to itself. I seek to provide a plausible account of the metaphysics and epistemology of the robust brand of moral realism I favor that draws on both analytic philosophy and contemporary empirical moral psychology. In this paper, I respond to some objections to my view advanced by William (...) Craig, Mark Murphy, Tyler McNabb, and Adam Johnson. (shrink)
This article redescribes early modern European defenses of private property in terms of a theoretical project of seeking to establish the true or essential nature of property. Most of the scholarly literature has focused on the historical and normative issues relating to the various accounts of original acquisition around which these defenses were organized. However, in my redescription, these so-called “original acquisition stories” appear as methodological devices for an analytic reduction and resolution of property into its fundamental elements and axioms. (...) Through these stories, property is “created” in the form of the classical liberal paradigm of presumptively exclusive, private ownership of material things. The problem is that this project of “creation” is also a project which arbitrarily excludes or marginalizes other forms and systems of property, and especially usufructuary forms of common property. After critically explicating this early modern project of creation, I go on to argue that the classical liberal paradigm and its problems continue to inform property theory and discourse in the late modern era. (shrink)
I argue that the analysis most capable of systematising our intuitions about coherence as a relation is one according to which a set of beliefs, A, coheres with another set, B, if and only if the set-theoretical union of A and B is a coherent set. The second problem I consider is the role of coherence in epistemic justification. I submit that there are severe problems pertaining to the idea, defended most prominently by Keith Lehrer, that justification amounts to coherence (...) with an acceptance system. Instead I advance a more dynamic approach according to which the problem of justification is the problem of how to merge new information with old coherently, a process which is seen to be closely connected with relational coherence. (shrink)
The coherentist theory of justification provides a response to the sceptical challenge: even though the independent processes by which we gather information about the world may be of dubious quality, the internal coherence of the information provides the justification for our empirical beliefs. This central canon of the coherence theory of justification is tested within the framework of Bayesian networks, which is a theory of probabilistic reasoning in artificial intelligence. We interpret the independence of the information gathering processes (IGPs) in (...) terms of conditional independences, construct a minimal sufficient condition for a coherence ranking of information sets and assess whether the confidence boost that results from receiving information through independent IGPs is indeed a positive function of the coherence of the information set. There are multiple interpretations of what constitute IGPs of dubious quality. Do we know our IGPs to be no better than randomization processes? Or, do we know them to be better than randomization processes but not quite fully reliable, and if so, what is the nature of this lack of full reliability? Or, do we not know whether they are fully reliable or not? Within the latter interpretation, does learning something about the quality of some IGPs teach us anything about the quality of the other IGPs? The Bayesian-network models demonstrate that the success of the coherentist canon is contingent on what interpretation one endorses of the claim that our IGPs are of dubious quality. (shrink)
According to the so?called swamping problem, reliabilist knowledge is no more valuable than mere true belief. In a paper called ?Reliabilism and the value of knowledge? (in Epistemic value, edited by A. Haddock, A. Millar, and D. H. Pritchard, pp. 19?41. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), Alvin I. Goldman and myself proposed, among other things, a solution based on conditional probabilities. This approach, however, is heavily criticized by Jonathan L. Kvanvig in his paper ?The swamping problem redux: Pith and gist? (...) (in Social Epistemology, edited by A. Haddock, A. Millar, and D. H. Pritchard, pp. 89?111. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). In the present article, I defend the conditional probability solution against Kvanvig?s objections. (shrink)
Juan Comesaña and Carolina Sartorio have recently proposed a diagnosis of what goes wrong in apparently illegitimate cases of ‘bootstrapping’ one’s way toexcessively easy knowledge. They argue that in such cases the bootstrapper bases at least one of her beliefs on evidence that does not evidentially support the proposition believed. I explicate the principle that underlies Comesaña and Sartorio’s diagnosis of such cases and show that their account of what goes wrong in such cases is mistaken.
This essay addresses two popular worries about morality in an atheistic context. The first is a psychological or sociological one: the worry that unbelief makes one more disposed to act immorally than one would be if one had theistic beliefs and, consequently, widespread atheism produces societal dysfunction. This essay argues that the relationship between atheism and human moral beliefs and behaviour is complex, and that highly secularized societies can also be deeply moral societies. The second worry is philosophical in nature: (...) the worry that if there is no God or gods, then there are also no objective moral truths or facts. This essay make the case that the question of whether there are objective moral truths is independent of the existence or nonexistence of God. In the final section, the essay discusses the nature and possible grounds of objective morality in an atheistic context. (shrink)
William Lane Craig’s inuential kalam cosmological argument concludes that the universe has a cause of its beginning. Craig provides some supplementary reasoning to suggest that the first cause is God—a God that exists timelessly without the universe and temporally with the universe. I argue that Craig’s hypothesis about the nature of the first cause is impossible. In particular, it cannot be the case that God timelessly wills to create the universe and the universe begins to exist.