Thursday, 5 June 2014

Desiring to Believe and Self-Deception

What happens when you desire to believe something? Or when you are invested in a belief or committed to it?

If you were to let that desire, investment or commitment have full reign, would it compromise your rationality? Are the demands of desire for belief and the demands of rationality at odds with one another? Do you need to curb back that desire - take a more distanced, 'neutral' stance - in order to be rational?

I think that an analysis of self-deception suggests that the answer may be 'no'. That is, whole-hearted commitment to or desire for a belief may actually call for adherence to the demands of rationality. I am toying around with the idea that properly worked-out belief commitment and desire will lead one to be rational, rather than, as conventional wisdom would have it, irrational.

I sketch a suggestive argument for thinking that to be true in this short post on the Philosophy @ University of Birmingham blog (the university I'm doing my MA through): 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Can Life Have Meaning Without God?

Last Sunday (18/05/2014) I gave a talk (with Q&A) at Wantage Baptist Church on the topic, 'Can Life Have Meaning Without God?'

A good quality audio recording was made and can be found below:

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Stuff People Say: "Empathy Explains Morality"

Does empathy explain morality?

Here is my latest 'Stuff People Say' Chrysolis article addressing that question.


Sunday, 23 February 2014

Bennett Helm on the Problem of Both Inventing and Discovering our Values

"On the one hand, a person's values are at least in part up to her, and are in this sense subjective: she can have a say in creating or inventing the kind of person it is worth her being. To be able to invent ourselves in this way is to have a kind of freedom that is distinctly human: a freedom not merely to control our actions but more fundamentally to govern ourselves; call this freedom "autonomy". Thus it is inconsistent with our autonomy that the source of the norms at issue in the kind of person it is worth our being be wholly external to us; rather, to be autonomous is for the source of those norms to be at least partially within one's understanding of who one is to be. In being autonomous, therefore, we can choose certain values, and by making these choices we determine our reasons.
On the other hand, there seems also to be an element of objectivity in what values a person holds in that she can deliberate about them correctly or incorrectly. Deliberation is a matter of choosing for reasons, thereby making possible the articulation of why one course of life is better than another, so that it is not intellectually arbitrary which values we choose. Hence through deliberation we can discover the values things really have and so the kind of person it is worth our being, potentially overcoming delusions or misunderstandings about ourselves. The possibility of such discovery means that there are rational constraints on which values we can autonomously choose.

... The problem is that such talk of rational discovery seems to leave no room for autonomous invention, and vice versa. How can we make sense of the possibility of getting our values (objectively) right or wrong when we are the ones (subjectively) determining the standards of correctness? This difficulty, which I shall call the apparent paradox of simultaneous autonomous invention and rational discovery, seems to undermine our best attempts at getting clearer on the kind of deliberation at issue here."

HELM, B. W. (2001). Emotional reason: deliberation, motivation, and the nature of value. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press. pp.13-14.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Stuff People Say: "I do Jesus, not theology"

I run a monthly feature on the Chrysolis blog taking a deeper look at "Stuff People Say" about religion, philosophy, and culture.

My latest contribution examines a popular Christian sentiment; "I do Jesus, not theology."


Sunday, 29 December 2013

Quick Life/Blog Update

Here’s a general update on what’s going on...
I’m working at the moment as an assistant to the full time tutors at the OCCA (Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics). I’ve been in the role for a little over a year now. I relocated to Oxford and now stay in Wycliffe Hall, an ordination college for the Church of England. (No, I’m not becoming a priest, I just live there!) The job has been an immense blessing. Perhaps not surprisingly, I love Oxford. Having only lived in Northampton and Stoke-on-Trent previously, it is refreshing to live somewhere that is actually beautiful. I mostly do ‘behind the scenes’ administration and organisation but I’ve also had the chance to do things like edit videos, research, write for the ministry magazine, and even teach an optional class or two. The best part of my whole ‘Oxford experience’, though, is getting to participate in the community of OCCA/Wycliffe staff and students. So many thoughtful, dedicated followers of Christ from all around the world.

Since October, while maintaining my full-time job, I have also enrolled on a part-time, distance learning MA in the Philosophy of Health and Happiness from the University of Birmingham. Surprised that I’m not studying philosophy of religion? I am still, of course, deeply interested in philosophy of religion but I found that the kind of questions I wanted to explore about religion were not the typical kind usually put under the ‘philosophy of religion’ label. And a more experienced friend advised me to acquire expertise in some field outside of philosophy of religion and then bring that expertise to bear on religious matters. That struck me as good advice. That said, there is some philosophy of religion as part of the course. Over the past term, I have handed in essays assessing the view that moral wrongness just is breaking God’s commands and assessing the implications of certain recent theories of religion from the cognitive sciences. Next term I get to look into the philosophy of health and happiness directly and also the philosophy of psychiatry.

As you have probably figured out, full-time job plus part-time education leaves little room for much else. I won’t be making any lengthy blog posts for a while – not till Summer break at least. I hope to not leave this place totally dead though. I have agreed to submit a very small monthly column to called 'Stuff People Say'. My first contribution (here) is on the common saying that faith is belief without reason or evidence (and how apologists might accidentally reinforce that belief!) I will link to future contributions. Besides that I might post intriguing quotes and snippets from items that come up in my MA research. It is also plausible that I could finish the series on the philosophy of romantic love by then seeing as I just need to re-work pre-written material for that.

In other news, I’m also now a contributor at I intend to post some things there that might have more of a niche apologetic, rather than more general, interest. I believe that the only contribution of mine I have not re-posted is a piece (here) on whether science has proved that things can begin to exist without cause. Oh, I also posted there a stand-alone reworking (here) of the article on anxious religious doubt I wrote as part of a series on doubt earlier in the year. Obviously, further posts on the Christian Apologetics UK blog will be on hold too.

The only other thing is to give kudos to Spence for the new blog banner image. What, you don’t know who Spence is?

Friday, 29 November 2013

Charles Taylor on the Desire for Eternity

"Now the implication of much atheist discussion of Christian or in general religious ideas of eternal life is that it is another facet of the childish attitude which takes its wishes for reality, that growing up means abandoning this. Death is final ("an eternal sleep", in the words of a French revolutionary dechristianizer). We have to start from here in order to direct our attention to this world, and making it fit for humans.

This dismissive attitude often assumes that our desire for eternity is simply one to live on, not to have our lives stop. It is this kind of desire which the famous Epicurean reasoning is supposed to still: as long as you're aware of the problem, you're alive; when you're dead, it will no longer be a problem for you. But there is something shallow about this understanding of what's wrong with death.

If we could separate happiness as a thing of the moment from any meaning, then we could enjoy some great moments now, and after pass on to some great moments later; rather as we enjoy good meals. Maybe in the old days, there was another kind of cuisine. We regret mildly its passing. But there is good food now, so let's tuck in.

But that's just the problem. The deepest, most powerful kind of happiness, even in the moment, is plunged into a sense of meaning. And the meaning seems denied by certain kinds of ending. That's why the greatest crisis around death comes from the death of someone we love.

Alle Lust will Ewigkeit; not just because you might want it to go on and on, as with any pleasant experience. Rather, all joy strives for eternity, because it loses some of its sense if it doesn't last.

And when you look back on your life together, those happy moments, those travels in the sun, were bathed in the awareness of other years, other travels, which seemed to come alive in the present one. This is the Great Return, the real "ewige Wiederkehr"; not just the recurrence of something similar, but the return of what was undying in that moment. This is what Proust seems to reach to, and not just the recall of what is lost forever.

But even just holding in memory is akin to keeping the time alive; even more if you can write about it, capture it in art. Art aspires to a certain kind of eternity, to be able to speak to future ages. But there are also other lesser modes or substitutes for eternity. One can make the eternal be the clan, the tribe, the society, the way of life. And your love, and the children who come from it, have their place in the chain; as long as you have preserved, or better enhanced, that tribe or way of life, you've handed it on. In that way, the meaning continues.

This just shows how joy strives for eternity, even if all that is available is a lesser form of it; and even if something is left out that matters to us highly individuated moderns, as the particular things that meant most to us are gradually lost in the general impact we've made. And of course, this eternity can't preserve those who are really forgotten, or those who haven't left their mark, or those who have been damned, excluded. There is no general resurrection in this "eternity" of grateful posterity. This is what exercised Benjamin, the unfilled need to rescue those who were trampled in history.

Now all this doesn't show that the faith perspective is correct. It just shows that the yearning for eternity is not the trivial and childish thing it is painted as. The Epicurean answer copes with (some faces of) "la mort de moi", but not at all "la mort de toi", or the death of meaning.

And so what? Doesn't the fact that this is a serious, an unstillable longing just show up even more the courage you need to be a clear-sighted atheist? Perhaps, but it also shows how the yearning for eternity reflects an ethical insight, the one expressed in the Nietzschean phrase, which could be put negatively, that death undermines meaning. Something important is lost when one forgets this."

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007. Print. pp.721-722.