Monday, 30 May 2016

Philosophers gone wild

(Cross-posted from my facebook)

So for the past week or so, I've been reading an essay collection edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder entitled "The Evidential Argument from Evil". The book's contributors include some of the most important names in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion from both camps (theist and atheist/agnostic)- Al Plantinga, William Rowe, Paul Draper, Peter van Inwagen, William Alston, Eleonore Stump, Steve Wykstra, and so on. Most of the essays are technical and require an understanding of probability theory (at least Bayesian probability), modal logic, epistemology, as well as the general debate surrounding the Problem of Evil and its different varieties. The essays are incredibly substantive, sharp as a knife's edge. It is, without a doubt, one of the most important works in contemporary philosophy.

I want to draw your attention to an essay in the volume by Richard Gale. In critiquing Peter van Inwagen's extreme modal skepticism, he comments-

I not only disagree with van Inwagen's modal intuitions but fear that he suffers from a serious modal affliction, in spite of his being an excellent philosopher from whom I have learned much. In On the Nature and Existence of God, I tried to resolve my modal disagreements with the likes of van Inwagen and Phil Quinn through my modal intuition bowl, but it proved a bust. The networks dropped us because there wasn't enough violence, just a bunch of out-of-shape guys, with the exception of Al Plantinga, who looks like he can jump tall mountains in a single bound, staring at each other and emphatically asserting back and forth, "It is possible that p," "No it isn't!"

I have decided to take a more radical, therapeutic approach and have founded the EMDS (Extreme Modal Deficiency Syndrome) Foundation. EMDS is no respecter of rank or philosophical orientation- even tenured analytic philosophers have come down with it. It is tragic to realize that there are people like Peter (my poster person) who cannot modalize as normal people do, or, as we at the Foundation prefer to say, are modally other-abled. I plead with you to fight EMDS with a checkup and a check. First, be on the lookout for the seven warning signals of EMDS; for example, if you answer "Yes" to the question "Is it possible that God couldn't create a world with a different causal structure than that of the actual world?" or if you aren't puzzled by the name of the TV show "Mission Impossible," you've got it bad. . .

And on he continues about the threat EMDS presents to our society and specific imaginary instructions the readers would have to follow to donate-

Your generosity will make it possible not only for research to continue on the cause and hopefully the prevention or cure of EMDS but also for us, in the meantime, to keep Peter comfortable in our EMDS Foundation Hospital by piping soothing Mantovani music into his room, putting him in the sun for an hour each day, and, most important, carefully screening his reading material so that he won't come upon a sentence such as "It is possible that all human beings always freely do what is morally wrong". . .

Peter van Inwagen wasn't willing to let this pass, of course, so in his second essay of the volume he has the following choice passage for Gale.

I once heard Keith Lehrer say, speaking of the late and much lamented James Cornman, "You either love him or you hate him. I love Jim Cornman."

I love Richard Gale.

No, honestly, Richard, I really mean it. You're a great guy and a good philosopher, no matter what everyone says.

But seriously, folks . . .

Richard (chapter 11) has learned from Stephen Potter, or has perhaps discovered independently, the following trick of disputation: "to say something so absolutely inappropriate on about five levels simultaneously that it seems hopeless even to try to answer back." (The respected music critic, in cocktail party conversation, admits that he isn't really too keen on Wagner; Potter's colleague induces "conversational paralysis" by replying, "But Wagner's worth five hundred of your modern jazz saxophonists.") This technique is displayed with particular brilliance in Richard's final section on theodicy. . .

Philosophy is fun, folks. Let no one ever tell you otherwise.


1 comment:

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