Summer Productivity

Last year at Paradise Valley Community College we hosted eight lectures in our Public Philosophy Lecture Series. Out of that effort, a few philosophy professors and I developed the Public Philosophy Society (PPS), a professional organization for students, scholars, and patrons to further pursue discussion together. We have been meeting live, online, for two months and we are enjoying the dialogue.

In addition to starting the PPS, we also started the Journal of Public Philosophy (JPP). I am the General Editor for the JPP and had the delight of putting together the first issue this summer. There were challenges, mostly typographical, but I am proud to say that yesterday the JPP became available for the general public and may be purchased here. I hope readers will enjoy this issue as much as I enjoyed putting it together. We hope to publish a second issue this Winter.

What is the Public Philosophy Society?

I am one of the founding members of the Public Philosophy Society. It is a professional organization growing naturally out of the public lectures that have been held at PVCC and ASU West over the last two years. A group of like-minded philosophers in the Phoenix area wanted to keep the conversation going, so we created PPS. The society is for students, scholars, and the educated public.

Check out our Patreon page and a short video about what we do at the Public Philosophy Society. Patreon is where you can become a member of the Society.

Official meetings of the PPS take place live online using Zoom. A link to each meeting will be shared with members. Our first meeting of the Fall 2019 semester is Tuesday, August 13, 2019, at 5:00 pm Pacific time. Dr. Owen Anderson and Dr. Kelly Burton will discuss “What is Common Ground for Public Discourse?” Meetings will be video recorded for members of the society to view again later.

I would like to invite you and your friends to join the PPS and the conversation.

Reason and Proper Function: A Response to Alvin Plantinga

My new book, published by Public Philosophy Press, Reason and Proper Function: A Response to Alvin Plantinga, has been released. The book may be ordered on Amazon or from any book retailer. Here is a blurb from the back of the book.

Philosopher, Edmund Gettier, famously challenged the sufficiency of the justified true belief (JTB) formulation of knowledge with his 1963 paper “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”. The “Gettier problem” has been a potential source of skepticism for many students of philosophy. Alvin Plantinga, seeking in part to address the fallout from the challenge Gettier poses to contemporary epistemology, proposes that there is an error with the way we have been envisioning what knowledge is.

Plantinga, in his three-volume set on Warrant, argues that justification is not necessary for knowledge. Instead, what he offers is warrant, where a true belief becomes knowledge by virtue of its being formed by cognitive faculties functioning properly in an appropriate environment and according to a good design plan. Plantinga’s new formulation of knowledge does not avoid skepticism.

Kelly Fitzsimmons Burton, in this small volume, provides critical analysis of the element of “proper function” in Plantinga’s reformulation of the definition of knowledge. She argues that reason in itself, as the laws of thought, cannot malfunction, nor can our cognitive faculties, or our use of reason. She argues that we should retain the original JTB account of knowledge with an added “carefulness criterion” to address some legitimate concerns raised by the Gettier problem.

 

Reason and It’s Other

This is an outline of my talk for the Sixth Annual Aquinas Leadership International Congress on May 3, 2019.

Reason and It’s Other: The Cognitive and Non-Cognitive

  1. Introduction: The meaning of the title is inspired by a book I have been reading on post-Enlightenment German philosophy. Here is a quote from that book:

“The issues raised by the German receptions of the new French thought are complex, and the controversies continue. In far-ranging discussions, the status of reason, science, the Enlightenment, modernity, and progress have all been called into question. There have also been various attempts to rehabilitate the significance of the body, desire, nature, art, and religion as “Others” of reason.”[1] The truth is, post-modern thinking has called into question not only reason but the very foundations of the West, which is founded upon reason.

  • Why the topic is important
    1. Philosophy requires reason: Reason is the tool for understanding what is.
    2. Public philosophy requires reason as one component for common ground. We are all rational beings and have common recourse to the authority of reason.
  • Retrieving Reason: A book that I am writing inspired by a handout I received 25 years ago in Dr. Gangadean’s Introduction to Philosophy course. It has been the most valuable piece of learning in my whole career.
  • Reason in itself: The Laws of Thought /
    1. Human beings are rational animals (body/soul)
    2. It is self-evident that we think
    3. The laws of thought are self-evident first principles
      1. Identity
      2. Non-contradiction
      3. Excluded middle

Copi on the laws: Irving Copi, in his Introduction to Logic, says of these laws:

Those who have defined logic as a science of the laws of thought have often gone on to assert that there are exactly three fundamental or basic laws of thought necessary and sufficient for thinking to follow if it is to be “correct.” These have traditionally been called “the principle of identity,” “the principle of contradiction” (sometimes “the principle of noncontradiction”), and “the principle of excluded middle.’”[2]

 

  • The laws of thought are not fallible (Aristotle quote)

Let this, then, suffice to show that the most indisput­able of all beliefs is that contradictory statements are not at the same time true … But on the other hand, there cannot be an intermediate between contradicto­ries, but of one subject we must either affirm or deny any one predicate. This is clear, in the first place, if we define what the true and the false are. To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false….[3]

 

  • Reason in its use: Reasoning
    1. Reasoning is fallible (“human” reason). It is why we take Logic and have to learn to think critically. We are inclined to neglect, avoid, resist, or deny reason in light of what is clear to reason.
    2. Reason is used to form concepts, judgments, and arguments (the logos). Let us call this one aspect of the descriptive use of reason.
      1. Logos and language: Concepts are expressed by words/ logos. Concepts grasp the essential nature of a thing. We can more or less grasp what is. We can grasp more or less meaning.
      2. Logos and truth: Judgments are about what is/the logosin things (genus). But we may make false judgments.
      3. Logos and knowledge: Arguments tie down true belief with a logos. But an argument may be unsound. So, we need more.
  1. Reason is a test for meaning. Meaning is more basic than truth. Let’s call this the normative aspect of the use of reason: we ought to think critically. We ought to be careful to be sure the words we use express meaning, the judgments we make are true, and the arguments we make are sound. There is a moral obligation in our use of reason. Have we tested the meaning of our basic beliefs?
  2. Reason is used to interpret our experiences in light of our basic belief. We have experiences of the external world, of our thought world, our emotional and volitional world. We must make sense of all of these experiences because they are not self-certifying. Reason is used to interpret or give meaning to our experiences. Dr. Redpath recently said in an interview “We reason with our senses and we sense with our reason.” What I think this means is that we are constantly having experiences and we are constantly interpreting them.
  3. Reason is used to construct our world and life view. This is where our use of reason is systematic, culturally, and is historically situated. There is something systematic to the use of reason. There is something cultural and historical to the use of reason. But it is not the whole story.
  4. Reason in us: Rationality/ Rational
    1. Reason in us as human beings is natural. It is not cultural, not conventional. Because it is natural it is universal and a source of common ground.
    2. Reason in us is ontological (the logos). It applies to being as well as to thinking. Aristotle discusses the laws of thought at the beginning of his Metaphysics because reason is about being. It is not mere abstraction or logic. Reason, the laws of thought, tells us what cannot be, such as a square circle, or uncaused event, or being from non-being. Reason applies to the highest being, including the being of God. God cannot be both eternal and non-eternal.
    3. Reason is transcendental. It is the highest authority, to which all other authorities are subordinate. It cannot be questioned, but it makes questioning possible.
    4. Reason is fundamental. It is basic to other aspects of the human soul. It is basic to the emotions and to the will. Its use is the source of our greatest good – meaning, truth and knowledge. Its denial is the source of our deepest misery – meaninglessness, falsehood, and ignorance.
    5. Humans not irrational but may be non-rational: We consistently neglect, avoid, resist, and deny the use of reason in light of what is clear to reason. Why is that?
  1. Problems with Reason: Misuse and Misconceptions
    1. We may make a split between theoretical and practical reason (Plato vs. Aristotle vs. Pragmatists). Plato and Aristotle disagreed over whether one can know the good but not do the good.
    2. Rationalism: We may use reason constructively (system building) without using reason critically to examine the basic beliefs upon which we build.
    3. Logic (inductive/ deductive): We may divorce the laws of thought from being and create formal systems that do not touch reality.
  2. The “Other” of Reason: Non-Cognitivism. When we neglect, avoid, resist, or deny reason we must turn to the non-cognitive, or the other of reason, since we are rational beings that must give an account of what we think, feel, and do. There are many ways we turn aside.
    1. Emotion/intuition/feeling: We may appeal to non-cognitive feelings as a claim to knowledge or to justify our actions or to motivate others to act.
    2. Poetry/ the spirit of the artist/Sophistry: Philosophy becomes the “play of language,” but what does language represent? Signs about other signs unendingly? Aristotle addresses this in Metaphysics There cannot be an infinite number of predicates.
    3. Nature: Is reason opposed to nature? Or is reason fundamentally fitted to grasp the meaning of nature/ the logosin the world?
    4. Mysticism: We may claim to “go beyond” reason in an internal mystical experience as a source of knowledge and fail to recognize that all experience must be interpreted in light of our basic beliefs. Similar mystical experiences may be interpreted differently based upon our beginning assumptions about the nature of reality.
    5. Will/pragmatism/instrumentalism: We may appeal to non-cognitive volition as a claim to knowledge or to justify our actions or motivate others to act.
    6. Empiricism/scientism/common sense: We may appeal to external experience as a source of knowledge and fail to recognize that we always interpret our experiences in light of our basic beliefs.
    7. Informal fallacies/ rationalizations: We may reason poorly and think that we have reasoned well or we may come up with poor excuses thinking that they are reasons. Reason is a test for meaning and can help us in this area.
    8. Critique/ Logocentrism/ The Patriarchy: Some may say that “reason” is a product of white male colonial privilege. Some may say that the West is caught in logocentrism (valuing the spoken word/ dialogue over the written word). Some may say that reason is only useful as a form of critique and rooting out our assumptions. But if reason is natural and universal it cannot possibly be restricted to the “Patriarchy,” or to a particular class, race, culture, or civilization. To suggest so is dehumanizing. Both the spoken word and written word are expressions of concepts, which are universal, so logocentrism is a misnomer. Reason used as critique is one aspect of the use of reason, and those using Critique are generally uninterested in the most interesting use of critique, that is the critical examination of metaphysical assumptions.
    9. Madness (Nietzsche and Derrida): Madness is the result of the failure to use reason to find meaning. Madness, at least as in Nietzsche’s case, is the result of the denial of the use of reason at the basic level and the use of reason at the constructive level to follow the implications of assumptions. Nietzsche both failed in the use of reason (critically) and excelled in the use of reason (constructively). One must use reason critically and constructively to find meaning and to continue to grow in meaning.
    10. Skepticism is one aspect of anti-reason. It assumes (uncritically and without reason) that nobody can really know by reason.
    11. Fideism is another aspect of anti-reason. It assumes (uncritically and without reason) that nobody can really know by reason, but one must believe (blindly) anyway.
    12. Others: The body, miracles, chaos theory, etc.
  • Conclusion
    1. We must retrieve reason for the sake of the individual seeking meaning, for the sake of the future of philosophy, for common ground, for the culture, for Western Civilization, and for the global future/ kingdom of God.
    2. Questions, comments, concerns and critique are welcome
  • Future work
    1. Retrieving Reason: A Critical Analysis of the Sources of Skepticism
    2. A Syntopicon of Reason
    3. The Logos of History and the History of the Logos

 

[1]Freundlieb, Dieter and Wayne Hudson. Reason and Its Other: Rationality in Modern German Philosophy and Culture. (Oxford: Berg Publishers; 1993).

[2]Copi, Irving M. and Carl Cohen. Introduction to Logic, tenth edition. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998), 389.

[3]Jonathan Barnes. The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Ox­ford Translation(Princeton: Princeton University, 1984) MetaphysicsIV.6.1011b 13-15 & 23-24, 1597.

Announcing the Public Philosophy Society

As an undergraduate philosophy student, one of my favorite things to do was to discuss difficult topics with likeminded people, whether it be fellow students, my professors, or random people at Starbucks. I can remember attending a conference at Arizona State University with Owen Anderson where Alvin Plantinga and Earnest Sosa were speaking. Owen and I, along with some other friends, discussed that conference for weeks afterward. The combination of friendship and philosophy was an early experience for us and continues today. We just thought attending lectures and conferences was normal, now we call them “co-curricular” events. Since our undergraduate days, I have been involved with numerous conferences and professional organizations.

As a graduate student and adjunct professor, I became the Philosophical Society faculty advisor for our campus club. I have been the advisor for about 15 years. We have had some really great discussions together. I wondered, why do these discussions only happen within the context of the campus? How can we take these discussions outside the walls of the academy?

I have been involved in thinking about public discourse of difficult topics for many years and wrote my dissertation intending to outline a model for how to discuss difficult topics such as metaphysical assumptions, ethics, religion, and politics. I spent a year revising the dissertation and shopping for a publisher. I didn’t find a publisher that I thought would be fitting for the kind of writing I wanted to do. I want to engage the public in philosophical topics, but what I found were academic publishers interested in marketing my book to other academics. After a lot of thinking and research, I started Public Philosophy Press, LLC. I didn’t want to merely self-publish, I wanted to create an opportunity for others with a desire to engage the broader educated public with philosophical topics to also publish. PPP has been up and running since July 2018, and we just released our third book and a fourth is soon to be published. We have several manuscripts that are being worked on in various stages of the process and hope to release more soon. I love books, and I love bringing books to life. So, keep an eye out for more.

Last year, in collaboration with other local philosophy professors, such as Dr. Anderson, we started hosting public philosophy lectures. I started a lecture series at my college. We have had eight talks so far, and they have all been well attended and of high quality. We built public-philosophy.com to advertise local events and to host video and audio recordings of those events. We have had excellent feedback. Out of the talks that have been given we have invited each speaker to submit a formal paper to be published this summer in the first annual Journal of Public Philosophy. The first edition of JPP will be released in Summer 2019 with a fine collection of essays.

The journal, publishing company, public lecture series, and involvement in campus clubs were the catalysts for a group of philosophy professors in the Phoenix area to create the Public Philosophy Society (PPS). The PPS is a professional organization that invites students, scholars, and members of the educated community to join in an ongoing philosophical dialogue. Details about membership dues and qualifications can be found at our Patreon page.

The PPS will host a monthly live virtual meeting using Zoom meeting technology open to all members. There will be a host for each meeting and a philosopher who will discuss a particular topic for the evening. The philosopher will present on a theme for about 20 minutes, and then those in attendance of the virtual meeting will have an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the topic at hand. Members will have access to a private Facebook page where they may continue the discussion. In addition to the regular meetings and private Facebook page, the Scholar level membership will receive a digital copy of the Journal of Public Philosophy, and the Patron level will receive a print version of the journal. As we learn the ropes, we plan to also host special topic meetings, seminar discussions, and smaller group discussions open to select membership levels. We hope to host a conference in the future.

PPS membership is on a month to month basis rather than the yearly dues expected of other professional organizations. Monies collected from dues will be used for website hosting, audio and video production and equipment, stipends for guest speakers, the print version of the Journal of Public Philosophy, and in the future a conference.

If you love philosophy and enjoy public philosophical discourse, if you are committed to common ground, then we invite you to join us on this new and exciting adventure. Please help us to get the word out about the Public Philosophy Society. We can be found at public-philosophy.com; on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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