Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Does Philosophy Provide Any Answers?

This question came up last week in one of my classes. In the context of discussing arguments for and against God's existence, a student claimed that after all of the arguments, objections, and rejoinders, no real progress has been made in determining whether or not God exists. This same response occurs when talking about morality (as discussed in a previous post on this blog about moral skepticism), human nature, the meaning of life, the nature of knowledge, and just about every major philosophical question. How should we deal with this?

It seems to me that we can point out the progress philosophers have made on these issues, even if it is slow and sometimes painful. In class last week I noted that the majority of philosophers agree that the logical problem of evil has been solved by Plantinga, which is a counterexample to the claim that philosophy makes no progress in providing answers to questions. Of course, I then pointed out that the discussion has shifted to the evidential problem of evil. I have some other ways of responding to this student's question, but I'd like to here what others think about this issue, and how they deal with it when it arises in both introductory and advanced courses.


  1. Perhaps one fruitful way to go with this would be to ask the student exactly what evidence he or she has to justify such a sense that there's been no "progress". Unless the student has a rather strong understanding of how many of these debates work -- i.e., the various arguments, responses to the arguments, responses to the responses, etc. -- then his or her sense that there's no progress is likely just a mere "opinion" with no support.

    One possibility (which I think is the actual truth) is that there has been some intellectual progress: on some issues, more people can better see which positions are better supported by good reasons or not. However, for a variety of non-intellectual factors -- sociological, psychological, economic, emotional, prudential, etc. -- some, many people have a hard time seeing this and accepting it.

    History can help. One of my favor essays, Tom Regan's “Patterns of Resistance” (from his Defending Animal Rights), presents some of the arguments that were given in defense of slavery in America, in defense of sexism, and against homosexuals. He shows that science and religion were often forces for evil (but he recognizes that they were also forces for good too, then and now).

    He gives some concrete cases of moral progress; probably your students would agree. The next challenge is then to see if there's anything we currently believe to be true or think is moral that hundreds of years down the road we will be appalled by.

  2. I'm glad that this question is up for discussion, since it -- along with the related criticism that "all we do is go 'round in circles" -- is a frequent one.
    Here, as with the topic of curving grades, it's probably vital to see whether we and our students are talking about the same things! So, I usually do some version of what Nathan suggests, and ask the students to describe what it is to "answer" a question or to make progress toward answering it. While that sometimes feels as though I'm simply stalling for time, I have also found that I get very interesting responses.
    Sometimes the criticism is a way of saying that the particular philosophical question should somehow go away; sometimes it's a way of saying that there ought to be one view (about, say, free will) that commands universal agreement; sometimes it's a way of indicating that they're unsatisfied by the answers that have been provided; etc.
    I think that Nathan is also right that without a sense of the history of a particular philosophical problem, it can be easy to feel that no one has "gotten anywhere", and that newcomers to any subject are unlikely to have that historical sense.
    (A related factor might be the way that material is presented in the student's other courses. If, in those subjects, the questions are presented as settled, and there's little discussion or reading of past and ongoing areas of disagreement within that subject, then philosophical questions and discussions will seem very different by comparison.)

  3. Bertrand Russell once claimed that when a question is one about which we can only speculate, it is treated as part of philosophy. When we discover a method to eliminate bad answers in favour of good answers, the question becomes part of a new branch of science. For the ancient Greeks, cosmology was part of philosophy, for us, it is a matter of science, and so on. In that case, it will appear as though there has been no progress in philosophy, because as soon as someone discovers a way of making definitive progress in some issue, it ceases to be seen as a philosophical question. In that case, the goal of philosophical research should always be to try to turn a philosophical question into a scientific one.

    Of course, this is not to say that philosophical speculation is sheer guess-work, without any thought. On the contrary, the philosopher should be always trying to find the best possible justification for their theory, in the hope that they will hit on the correct method.

    This vision of what it means to make philosophical progress underlies much of the best work in analytical philosophy, in my opinion. It provides a fine aspiration for postgraduate students. However, it must be admitted that such break-throughs are rare, and that, judged by these standards, most philosophy involves a trip down a blind alley. The history of philosophy is, for the most part, the history of the mistakes made by some of the greatest minds ever to have lived.

    However, at this point, I like to refer to a scene in the book Remains of the Day, famously filmed with Anthony Hopkins. A butler has devoted his life to the service of a British aristocrat. The aristocrat once had noble intentions of helping the German people recover from World War I. He became a puppet of the Third Reich, and a supporter of the policy of appeasement. Reflecting on his life-time of service, the butler says that his master was a good man at heart, but that he himself acknowledged that he had made some terrible mistakes. 'The tragedy of my life' says the butler 'is that I did not make my own mistakes.'

    The kind of breakthrough were one discovers the correct method for dealing with a philosophical issue is rare. But an individual can make progress in philosophy in the sense of attaining clarity and a certain amount of certainty about their own beliefs. This is the kind of progress we can all hope to achieve: reaching a stage where we know that whatever mistakes we make, at least they are our own.

  4. I'd be interested to hear from you, Mike, what pedagogical problems you think arise from students doubting that philosophy makes progress. It seems sensible that dealing with such doubts requires us to identify how those doubts undermine the learning goals we have for students. Mind you, I'm not skeptical that such doubts do give rise to pedagogical problems, but I'm unsure how to deal with these doubts until we have a picture of how such doubts impede learning. My own guess is that these doubts undermine student motivation, much in the same way that facile relativism can, with the result that students end up seeing philosophy as finger twiddling, logic chopping, or rhetorical one-upsmanship.

    One line of response: Echoing Ben, it seems to me that if philosophy has its own epistemology, then falsification is pretty central to it. By sheer probability, any given scientific hypothesis is likely to be wrong; so too any philosophical theory is likely to be wrong (or seriously inadequate on some score). So one thing to do is to point out to students that discarding foolish views and narrowing the range of reasonable rival answers is progress. I also like to give my students a hard time about their being products of the sitcom culture: Any problem you can't solve in 22 minutes isn't worth tackling. So part of the message needs to be one of humility, reminding students that they're really not entitled to the 'no progress' conclusion based on a few weeks' exposure to a philosophical problem.

  5. This comes up a lot in my courses. Engineers always want to know the answers. I have a couple of different responses. The one I believe the most is that philosophers don't end up finding answers so much as they end up finding ways of finding answers to a general field of problems. When we're really successful, the area tends to break off and become its own discipline. Hence, physics, mathematics, psychology, and so on all become examples of answer-generating systems. This also underlies a point I make all the time: that philosophy is less a body of knowledge than a skill.

    The second answer I have in my repertoire is that there are answers, even to philosophical questions (most people who have written dissertations or masters theses believe this), but it's just that the answers are relative to a certain set of higher-level assumptions. In philosophy we tend to be much clearer about these assumptions than in other disciplines, so the assumptions are easier to attack. So in this sense, philosophy is a lot like other disciplines.

    Finally, if all else fails I fall back on the idea that answers that aren't readily available tends to be a mark of a very hard problem. And philosophers just don't like the easy road. In this sense, we're not in a worse position than physicists involved in interpreting quantum mechanical results or string theorists.

    Now pedagogically, this doesn't reassure students as much as I'd like. I think this is because the hallmark for a question's being answered for students (and other non-philosophers) actually tends to be just agreement. What frustrates them about philosophy is that philosophers have been working for so long on problems and they still don't agree. That's a considerably harder lesson to teach, since to sow doubt about real agreement in the sciences is only going to make philosophy worse off. So philosophy then becomes a call to a standard of intellectual inquiry higher than "can't we all just get along?"

  6. I have two comments to make at this point in the discussion. First, one of the primary pedagogical problems is that when students believe philosophy makes no progress, they then take the following attitude: philosophy is a waste of time that never really gets anywhere, or accomplishes anything. This poses a problem for the philosophy instructor because that attitude is also often directed at the class itself, and perhaps at the instructor. If the attitude catches on, the instructor will be longing for the end of the semester.

    Second, though I will have to take the time to think about it more deeply in order to articulate why, I've always thought that there was something wrong with Russell's picture of the relationship between philosophy and science, as he describes it. At present, I'll have to leave that as a mere assertion, however.

  7. Two cents worth from outside philosophy:
    1) About God. Possibilities: A) He exists, and a) wants us to know he does,in which case he will 'reveal' or at least give some good clues; b) he does not want us to be sure; or c) he does not care either way.
    B) He does not exist -- i.e. God is a human invention. In this case, 'progress' could consist in clarifying the human motivations for making such an invention.
    Each possibility has different criteria for determining whether an answer is possible, and whether we have found it.
    2) Morality: given that we don't know the answer to (1), we do know that we are imbued (by God or some other way) with moral choices. I suggest that it might be a useful approach to consider this a design problem: We are given the task of designing ourselves, our lives, societies, environment, and the rules -- better: agreements -- that govern that. This may be uncomfortable compared to the option of assuming that God exists and has given us the rules (so that we can escape responsibility for the consequences and disagreeable implications by following those rules. But perhaps it is His intention that we accept such responsibility for our designs... And the only ways we have of determining whether there is 'progress' regarding (2) is to discuss our plans and designs with those who might be affected by them, and reach some agreement about whether they are good/acceptable/moral/ethical-- beautiful? -- designs.

  8. I have taught ethics for a few years now and I'm currently teaching the philosophy of human nature at a liberal arts college. My own view as a professor is that there are very few, if any, conclusive arguments in philosophy. By "conclusive," I mean that the argument results in all opposing viewpoints being invalidated (William Alston's definition of conclusive arguments) by an argument or series of arguments. Nevertheless, I try to convince my students that there may be other good reasons for studying philosophy besides finding conclusive answers. The discipline helps one to develop the art of clear thinking or lucid writing. Philosophy also broadens one's cosmic horizons.

    But as for philosophia itself, I tend to agree with Peter van Inwagen and Saul Kripke, who both express skeptical attitudes toward philosophical arguments or theories. Kripke writes (in Naming and Necessity) that all philosophical theories are wrong. However, I'm not fully sure what he means by this locution or whether he is right when he utters these words.

  9. To very briefly follow up on Mike's brief response to Michael, if students (or anyone, including some philosophy professors) comes to think various things along the lines of:

    - few, if any,(interesting) philosophical positions can be known to be true;
    - few, if any,(interesting) argument for an (interesting) philosophical position can be known to be sound or strong;

    and even:

    - few, if any, positions or argument can be reasonably believed (some semi-recent discussions of the "epistemology of disagreement" suggest this and advocate suspending judgment on many philosophical questions),

    -- then perhaps skepticism, pessimism, lack of interest, "what's the point?" etc. are warranted responses. All the above suggest that "success" -- on many understandings of what that would be -- is pretty well impossible, so the enterprise is futile. But maybe those understandings of what success is are just mistaken.

    On a more positive note, Gary Gutting has a neat book on the way about this kind of stuff: What Philosophers Know: Revolution and Argument in Recent Analytic Philosophy. If I recall correctly, he argues that philosophers have increased the collective philosophical knowledge, but it's basically an increase in knowledge of what the various positions are, what they imply, various other aspects involved in understanding, and knowledge how, i.e., skills at making distinctions, etc.

  10. Up to this point in my teaching career, I've dealt with this issue (in part) along the following lines.

    First, as I pointed out in the original post, I offer examples of conclusions in philosophy for which there is widespread agreement.

    Second, I've emphasized that given the nature of the questions at issue, we should expect progress to be slow. We are dealing with complex, abstract, and often emotionally-laden issues that cannot be resolved in a lab. Given this, and given how philosophy often forces us to confront some of our ultimate commitments in life, we should expect disagreement.

    Third, I argue that even though we may not know with certainty that some philosophical conclusion is true, we can come to have strongly justified beliefs via philosophical reflection, and this is enough to live a wise, decent life. We don't have certainty about much in life, but we still make choices, both small and large, based on good evidence. Philosophy can be seen as the search for and evaluation of that evidence. Among the fruit of philosophical reflection, then, is that it can enable us to choose after reflection, rather than on the basis of mere preferences.

    Fourth, I usually raise the point that this is not a problem unique to philosophy, but is true of most areas of intellectual inquiry. A brief survey of the shifts in different scientific theories in the past couple of hundred years is sufficient to demonstrate this last point.

  11. Pantinga's version of the Free Will response is right? I wouldn't have thought so!! Why is general agreement among philosophers any indication that there is progress?

    David Rosenthal once said that real philosophical progress is simply formulating the problems in a clearer way. I tend to think that somewthing like this is right...I mean, consider why the modern propositional calculus is an advancement over syllogistic logic.

    Also, I think it is nice to point out that what we call science is really just natural philosophy and so philosophy has made quite a bit of progress (though not that much, of one considers that there is still no consensus about what matter is...)

  12. Plantinga is right? Does Michael Martin, Kai Nielsen, Schellenberg, and W.L. Rowe agree? I think those philosophers who agree with P.'s fundamental premises certainly think he settled the question. But, of course, Kantians agree with Kant, Platonists are still around, Humeans abound, and they all have problems with each other. I doubt any questions are ever settled in philosophy. Also, everything depends on who you ask. Heidegger or Searle? Marxists or Rawlsians? You get the gist.

  13. I would like to express sympathy and support for the student's skepticism about philosophy.

    From what was originally suggested, the student said that after having discussed the arguments pro and con about God, it seemed that philosophers had made no progress in answering the important questions, like, is there a God or not.

    It was further noted that you could say the same thing about all the other major questions in ethics, epistemology, etc.

    But, instead of trying to see where the student would go, it seemed the commentators tried to justify all the efforts expended over the centuries. Well, philosophers have answered questions, but they are questions about personal development...They become better thinkers in making the effort. The questions may not be answered, but we understand what's being asked a whole lot better...

    I want to argue that the student is correct, philosophy hasn't progressed, and so...what? I am tempted myself to argue that there's something rotten about philosophy and that we should somehow stop doing it.

    I understand about the way that thinking about philosophical questions hones one's thinking ability. However, one part of the student's complaint might be that there are surely more important questions in life than the ones that philosophers have focused on.

    So, for example, People have been suffering from hunger, thirst, and lack of shelter for at least as long as there has been philosophy. All the effort spent on philosophy could have gone to, instead, figuring out how to keep people from suffering from lack of these necessities.

    Yes, one might say, there are politicians and social workers and great religions trying to figure out how that could be done, philosophers answer other kinds of issues.

    Then, one might try to examine just what interest philosophers have in these questions, if any.

    I think the student's frustration at the seeming futility of philosophical arguments is an understandable and not-uncommon response.

    So, Ramsey suggested that the unresolved debates in philosophy, a concern of his, might best be shaken up by trying to find and refute an unchallenged but fallacious presupposition held by both, or all the views considered. By challenging the as yet innocent but problematic assumption one might come up with a third or completely new position that solves the problem, or at least challenges the mistaken views we fought over in the beginning.

    The frustration that we're not getting anywhere is the impetus of many if not most change in philosophy, by my understanding of the way these debates work.

  14. Just to clarify, my claim was not that Plantinga is right, if that is interpreted as meaning that what he says is true in the actual world. But it is my impression that most agree that he has shown the logical consistency of God's existence with the existence of evil. Progress is made, then, by turning our attention from this to the evidential argument against God's existence from evil.

  15. I often pass out the following quotation from Russell's Problems of Philosophy to my students:

    "The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, and obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find…that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never traveled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect."

    I think it is important for us to remember that for many of our students, philosophy will not be their majors, and they may take at most one philosophy class in their college careers. When they begin to ask what the right answer is, or why no progress is being made, I try to get them to see that philosophy can be used by them to understand themselves and their ideas better; to see that many of their most cherished beliefs are hard if not impossible to defend conclusively, and that the proper response to this is not dogmatism, but is instead humility.

    It works for some; others ask again, "Yea, but what's the right answer?"

  16. I agree with the point in the Russell quote of Anon's comment: revealing other possibilities, eliminating an unhealthy dogmatism and cultivating humility, personal development/autonomy cultivation, etc.

    Two other helpful responses I've learned from others:

    i. Point out that this isn't a trade school they're attending; not everything they learn is intended to be translated into direct practical application in daily life or a future job. Rather, another goal of higher education is to broaden and cultivate the mind and ask "the big questions", and learn to think about them in a way that is more careful.

    ii. Part of what it is that makes us great is our ability to think of matters beyond the merely practical. To use a cliche that is nonetheless to the point: it's better to be Socrates' dissatisfied than a pig satisfied, after all.

  17. Thanks for this post, Mike. I've found this to be a profitable discussion. I have to say I don't have all that many students express the sentiment that philosophy is all Q and no A. I'm not sure why this is, except that I attempt at the beginning of a course (especially an intro course) to say something about what a philosophical question is (or what it is to approach a question philosophically) and why we should expect answers to them to be elusive. The 'philosophy has no answers' issue seems like more of a problem if students have been assuming all along that there will be answers (and that they'll come pretty readily). So I guess that's just to say this may be a problem best addressed by prevention (i.e., establishing the right kinds of expectations) rather than treatment after the fact.

    A couple of other thoughts: When I've encountered students with this attitude, I point out that it's a species of skepticism, and as such, it's a much discussed and contentious position within philosophy itself. Hence, to adopt this attitude doesn't really get you off the hook from thinking about philosophical questions.

    Lastly, I'm curious about issues of transparency or candor here: The question we should wrestle with here is not whether philosophy provides answers but the instructional consequences of students' attitudes toward that question. I'd be reluctant, even if I thought philosophy makes no progress, to endorse that view with students, since surely it's an essential assumption of teaching that students can make philosophical progress even if philosophy itself makes none.

  18. Plantinga has refuted the logical problem of evil?

    So is there any logical proof that I am not all-good?

    If nobody can give a proof that I am not all-good, why should I ever be punished for something people cannot prove?

    Plantinga's argument is just a 'saving the appearances' argument of the type used to show that logically the sun could go around the earth, even though the appearances of planets in the sky is not compatible with it.

    'Saving the appearances' type defenses are not convincing.

    Plantinga claims 1) God has created beings with free will that have never chosen evil (namely the angels in heaven) and also 2) God cannot create beings with free will that never choose evil.

    Something has to give.

    There are, of course, other holes in Plantinga's arguments.

    For one thing, his claims about Molinism are a) trivially true and b) unhelpful to his cause.

    Plantinga's defense is that even an all-powerful god cannot create people who always choose good, even though it is logically possible that such people exist, and it is Christian doctrine that god created beings with free will that never rebelled and were never thrown out of heaven.

    Plantinga's argument is as follows :-

    1) It is a fact about me that if placed in circumstances C1, I would choose good action GA1.

    And if placed in circumstances C2, I would choose good action GA2, if placed in circumstances C3, I would choose evil action EA3 , etc etc.

    There is a whole row of facts about what I would do in every conceivable set of circumstances. In some I choose good actions. In others I choose bad actions.

    This set of facts is what Plantinga calls 'counterfactual truths' about me. Not even God can change them.

    2) Different creatures have a different set of counterfactual truths to those I have in. Where I would choose good action GA200, when in circumstances C200, a different creature would choose evil action EA200 , when in circumstances C200.

    3) God considers the vast range of possible creatures he could choose and the vast range of possible circumstances he could put them in.

    4) Sadly, despite being able to choose exactly what creatures to make and exactly what circumstances to put them in, the 'counterfactual truths' about these creatures mean that every single one of them will choose an evil action in some set of circumstances that god can actualise.

    That is Plantinga's argument.

    It is just an extraordinary coincidence that the 'counterfactual truths' about every one of the virtually infinite number of possible creatures have this property, especially when Christians teach that god has created some angels which have never chosen evil.

    An almost infinite number of creatures who each and every one just happen to have a counterfactual truth that leads to them choosing evil? How likely is that?

    And, of course, Plantinga's claim is just wrong.

    Can a god create almost identical twins - creatures that behave very similarly , except in a few circumstances?

    The obvious and correct answer is 'yes.'.

    If there is a set of counterfactual truths about what I will do in every circumstance that I meet in the actual world, then logically, there is a possible human being - a near-twin of mine - who behave almost identically to me, except on a few occasions.

    On the occasions that I choose evil, this near-twin of mine chooses good.

    As it is obviously clear that near-identical twins are possible, Plantinga's argument falls apart.

    It is not even as though this near-identical twin has to have a set of 'counterfactual truths' that are always good. He does not have to have an angelic disposition.

    He could choose evil in the circumstances in which I choose good.

    Provided those circumstances never come to pass, no evil will occur.

    God need no more actualise my near-twin being in those circumstances than he need actualise me being in those circumstances.

    All god needs to do is create the near-identical twin of mine who chooses good when I choose evil, in the circumstances in which I actually do find myself.

    The result would be that no evil is chosen.

    So Plantinga's arguments are deeply flawed.


    But why is Plantinga's Molinism trivially true, and unhelpful to his case?

    Plantinga's Molinism is the claim that if a person is placed in a particular set of circumstances (which, of course, include the circumstance of there existing a god who infallibly knows what that person will freely choose), then a person will freely choose one particular way - namely the way that the all-knowing being knew he would freely choose.

    But, of course, when Plantinga describes the circumstances in which people make free choices , he always leaves god out of the description.

    This is because the dogma of libertarian free will means there are always 2 almost identical sets of circumstances in which we make a choice.

    They differ only in the content of God's knowledge.

    So if we choose evil in circumstances A, there is always an almost identical set of circumstances in which we choose good.

    And this set of circumstances can be actualised.


    Because the person's counterfactuals of freedom include the fact that he will freely choose good in all those circumstances where there exists a god who knows he will freely choose good.

    Which trashes Plantinga's claim that there may not be *any* circumstances in which we choose good.

    No wonder Plantinga never includes the content of God's knowledge when Plantinga describes the circumstances in which we choose.

    Here is the proof that Molinism is true. In fact, it is trivially true.

    What is Molinism?

    In every conceivable set of circumstances, free agents like us will choose one particular way.

    These free choices are out of God’s control.

    In a particular set of circumstances , that agent will choose that way, and that is all there is to it. Nothing can God do about it.

    How does this possibly work?

    As an example, take two different sets of circumstances that I can conceive of.

    1) I am sitting down to breakfast in an hotel at 8:30 am on 2/04/2007, and a waiter is asking me ‘Tea or Coffee’, and God has infallible knowledge that I will choose tea.

    2) I am sitting down to breakfast in an hotel at 8:30 am on 2/04/2007, and a waiter is asking me ‘Tea or Coffee’, and God has infallible knowledge that I will choose coffee.

    Clearly, I can conceive of both sets of circumstances, and they are both possible, and they are clearly different to each other.

    We can apply Molinism to each set of circumstances, and see if the claim is true that a person will freely choose one particular way in each set of logically possible circumstances that could occur in a real world.

    Molinism works perfectly here.

    In the first, I will freely choose one particular way, just like Molinism said I would. I will choose tea.

    In the second set of circumstances, Molinism is right again. I will choose one particular way. I will choose coffee.

    Of course, my choices are different in the two sets of circumstances, but I’m sure people will agree that free agents will choose differently in different circumstances, and it cannot be denied that the 2 circumstances are different.

    And Molinism is right once again that not even God can determine my choice in those 2 sets of circumstances. In set 1), I drink tea, and in set 2), I drink coffee, and there is nothing God can do to change the outcome of either set of circumstances.

    And, of course, this is all God's middle knowledge as neither of those 2 circumstances were actual.

    So how does this proof of Molinism even begin to show that God cannot actualise the circumstances in which I drink tea?

    Obviously God can actualise either of those circumstances.

  19. No questions are ever settled in philosophy as Carr demonstrates with respect to the claim: "But it is my impression that most agree that {Plantinga} has shown the logical consistency of God's existence with the existence of evil."

  20. Two things

    1) “Does Philosophy provide any answers?” I would argue yes, because philosophy helps tell us what things are not. For example, Socrates gently and eloquently proved that Justice cannot be defined as that which is in the interest of the strongest. Kierkegaard proved that we cannot demonstrate that God exists, for doing so is a paradox. So, in the least, philosophy can give us answers as to what things are not, which helps us build theories as to what things are.

    2) For your student who claims “that after all of the arguments, objections and rejoinders, no real progress has been made…” I would answer that looking at it existentially, the arguments, objections and rejoinders help an individual make the decisions they make as individuals. If progress is evaluated only on the level of the individual, then that which helps make a decision progresses one towards that decision, and thus progress is made.

    I’m glad I found your blog.

    John Dombrowski

  21. Plantinga has solved one puzzle in philosophy.

    We can now say 'No' to the question 'Did God create the world?'

    God weakly actualised the world.

  22. For the purposes of this blog, I think we should let the Plantinga discussion die, though if anyone would like to continue it I'd welcome an email discussion.

    With regard to students making progress, the excellent point raised by Michael, I've pointed out to them some of the benefits of frequent and full discussion of the truth pointed out by John Stuart Mill. So even if students retain false beliefs, they could still become more reasonable people through their experience with philosophy, learn to think more critically and creatively, and sometimes they might even change their minds about an issue (I've seen this happen, really!). So, philosophy can help students progress intellectually, which I take to be one of the great rewards of being a philosophy instructor.

  23. The idea of debate, argument and logic have astounded many of men for hundreds of years. Yet, the most basic questions still have not been answered. Why do we suffer? Why do we die? Philosophy merely states there aren't any answers. What if there are, what if they have been there all along? Where can they be found?


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