Review: Reason, Metaphysics, Mind

This might be a series of essays in honor of Alvin Plantinga, but few of the essays have anything to do with Plantinga.  Some are extremely technical and it’s not always clear what is going on. Nevertheless, there are a few fine pieces. Zimmerman’s account of simple foreknowledge, Stump’s Thomistic view of the atonement, Peter Van Inwagen’s “Causation and the Mental,” and Wolterstorff’s fun “Then, Al, and Now.”

Reason, Metaphysics, and Mind by Kelly James Clark

Molinism starts off interestingly enough, but the discussion takes a strange turn over the

Plantingian middle knowledge: God knows what free creatures might do in circumstances that would never be actual (5).

  • Natural knowledge: knowledge God has by virtue of being God (think divine simplicity, where God’s mind is an ontological “=” sign to everything in God).
  • The Molinists accounts (Thomas Flint, rejoinder by Thomas Crisp) question whether we have counterfactual power over the past.  I’m just not sure how to approach that.
  • Free knowledge: God’s choices, like to create or not to create the world.

Stump contrasts the Anselmian account of the atonement with the Thomist one.  She says the Anselmian falters because his account, due to its objectivity, cannot address past shame. So what if Jesus died for my sins if others don’t want to associate with me?  Well, she doesn’t say it that crassly and to be fair, that might not even be her position. She might mean something like, “Yeah, the sin problem is taken care of but not the life part.”

In response, EJ Coffman points out that Christ’s work also deals with the effects of interpersonal shame. In any case, Stump’s account isn’t all that convincing.

Peter Van Inwagen: Causation and the Mental

  1. An object is concrete iff it can enter into causal relations and is abstract iff it cannot enter into causal relations (Van Inwagen 153).  PVI adjusts this to where concrete objects are substances and abstract objects are relations-in-intension.
  2. PVI is willing to say that causal relations exist, but not causality.  

The whole essay was kind of odd.  PVI did do a fine job surveying problems in phenomenology of mind (cf Jaegwon Kim).

Dean Zimmerman Simple Foreknowledge

Molinism: contingently true conditionals about what every possible individual will, or would freely do in each circumstance (175).  There are “conditionals of freedom” (CF)

Simple foreknowledge view: affirms libertarian foreknowledge yet rejects Molinism. The main difficulty with this is that God has no more control over the future than what one would find in Open Theism.

Difficulties the Libertarian (or LFW) faces:

* Zimmerman wants to affirm that God takes risks (177).

The most pressing difficulty with simple foreknowledge is what Zimmerman calls “The Metaphysical Principle:”

MP: It is impossible that a decision depend on a belief which depends on a future event which depends on the original decision (179).

He avoids this fallacy by comparing God to a “time traveler.”   I am not sure this really helps his argument.

Nicholas Wolterstorff gives a semi-autobiograpical account of his and Al’s grad-school years together.  But humor aside, Wolterstorff explains how analytic philosophy has developed in the 20th century, and how bold Plantinga’s project really was.

  • Logical positivism almost erased “real-talk” about God, yet Plantinga’s God and Other Minds threw down the gauntlet and cheerfully spoke about “justification for belief in God.”
  • David Lewis’s possible worlds semantics provided the groundwork for Plantinga’s Nature of Necessity.
  • And then, of course, Plantinga’s Warrant Trilogy.

 

The book is expensive and not every essay is equally good.

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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