Monday, 9 June 2014

Book Review: Longing to Know

As a pretty convinced atheist, I am not the target audience for Longing to Know, by Esther Lightcap Meek, which seeks to explain a view of knowledge in general, but in particular of how we might come to know God. When it was nominated for discussion by my philosophy reading group, I hoped that I would at least get some interesting discussion of epistemology out of it, and to an extent I did, but my experience of the book could be more broadly characterised by frustration and a Longing to Go (away and do something else).

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Ontological Argument

A frustrating interruption of Internet service has rendered me unable to work, so I might as well put my time to good use by catching up on blogging on the assumption that I will be able to upload this text at some later time. It also means, unfortunately, that I am unable to use references as I write. As such, I might get some things wrong.

The issue I want to address is the so-called Ontological Argument for the existence of God as first proposed by St. Anselm almost a thousand yeasrs go and further developed and promoted by Muslim and Christian philosophers, including relatively recent versions by Alvin Plantinga, Kurt Gödel and others.

I was asked to write about this some time ago by a fellow commenter on Massimo Pigliucci's (now no longer active) blog 'Rationally Speaking', and I said I would. However I have been slow to do so for a couple of reasons (in addition to the usual procrastination!). The first is that the argument is so obviously nutty that it seems to be scarcely worth the time to address it. The second is that it is actually quite difficult to point out precisely what is wrong with it!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Moral Landscape Challenge

This is my entry to Sam Harris's Moral Landscape Challenge. Needless to say, it didn't win, but I'm reasonably happy with it nonetheless.

The Moral Landscape (TML) is engagingly written and cleverly argued. Harris starts with the assumption that morality concerns maximising the well-being of conscious creatures (let’s call this Harris’s axiom). Much of what follows is laudable, but there are unavoidable philosophical problems with the notion that science can determine human values. Yes, science can in principle give us answers we can use to improve the human condition. Fully embracing Harris’s axiom, this is the application of science to standard consequentialism and subject to all the same philosophical criticisms.

It is also a relatively trivial idea, and hardly new. If we are to take TML seriously, we must assume it makes a more profound claim: that there are usually objectively correct answers to moral dilemmas and that science can find them.