Friday, November 27, 2015

Spelman to Talk on Moral Luck

Everyone be sure to check out our colloquium next week (after Thanksgiving)!  Our very own alumnus, Jonathan Spelman, will be delivering a talk on moral luck.  Click on the link for more details!

Philosophy Colloquium to be Held at Ashland University


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Metaphysics and Science

The relationship between Philosophy and Science has been less than ideal since the 18th century.  Their love affair survived distance, infidelity, and numerous other challenges, and if we are to believe the tabloids, they're heading for a rocky divorce, justified by "irreconcilable differences."  In his short blog entry reproduced below, Michael Egnor focuses on one significant point that, were it understood and taken seriously, might help us heal the relationship that actually emerged between these two disciplines.


Metaphysics Is Prior to Science

Over the past couple of days I have been commenting on the modern debate about philosophy of the mind (see here and here). What follows are some thoughts on scientific versus philosophical discussions of the mind and other matters.

I was at a conference recently and was asked by friends who are quite sympathetic to the immaterial understanding of the mind if I could discuss some of the scientific evidence for it and not rely as heavily as I otherwise do on philosophical reasoning. It's an understandable request, and one that I hear often from allies and adversaries alike. 

Indeed there is much scientific evidence that the mind cannot be explained adequately in material terms, especially if one understands matter according to modern mechanical philosophy. I have an aversion to the use of scientific arguments to bolster claims that are inherently logical and metaphysical. Such recourse to scientific, rather than logical and metaphysical, arguments are the mainstay of materialist arguments about the mind, about biology, and about many aspects of physics. 

The difficulty with using raw scientific evidence, untethered from a valid metaphysical framework, is that it gives free reign to ideological bias. In that sense our metaphysical framework -- whether explicit or implicit -- is analogous to train tracks, where the trains are our scientific investigations, and the destination is the truth. Our scientific investigations are restricted to the tracks that the trains run on, and if we are to understand the truth of our science we must understand the tracks that constrain our work. If our metaphysical framework is materialistic, the destination of our inquiries will always be materialistic -- we can do no other.

Metaphysics is prior to science, and science goes horribly wrong if we have an error in metaphysics. An obvious example of profoundly misguided science that arose from metaphysical error is Francis Bacon's abandonment of teleology in the 17th century in favor of a mechanical understanding of nature. Evolution of living things is understood quite readily in a teleological framework -- the nonsensical invocation of tautology (survival of survivors) in the Darwinian fallacy is the direct consequence of the abandonment of teleology in natural science.

Another metaphysical error for which we have paid dearly is the abandonment of the concept of potency and act which is at the heart of Aristotelian metaphysics. Our misunderstanding of the "strangeness of quantum mechanics" such as the existence of myriad indeterminate quantum states that collapse to a single actual state upon observation is the direct consequence of the abandonment of Aristotelian potency and act with the rise of mechanical philosophy in the 17th century. Quantum indeterminacy confounded Bohr and Einstein and Schrodinger, who were trapped in mechanistic Newtonian metaphysics.

Aristotle wouldn't have blinked an eye at quantum indeterminacy -- the collapse of the quantum waveform is a simple manifestation of reduction of potency to act. Heisenberg, who understood Aristotle, understood this.

The use of scientific arguments for things for which they are not suited is a hallmark of scientism, and it is among the most pernicious errors of modern thought. It is important that we who oppose materialism and scientism don't employ scientistic arguments to refute scientism.

So my arguments about the mind are strongly metaphysical, with only occasional reference to clinical experience and to neuroscience. It is not true that neuroscience supports materialistic understandings of the mind; neuroscience in fact only makes sense if one sets aside modern mechanical metaphysics and looks instead to the classical hylomorphic metaphysics of Aristotle and the Scholastics. Bennett and Hacker have made this point in their profoundly important work to rid neuroscience of its philosophical junk.

Wholly materialistic models of the mind are wrong for logical and metaphysical reasons. Only when we understand those metaphysical errors can we properly interpret the scientific evidence.

Modern science is a metaphysical wasteland. Our sad state of affairs is that we moderns have much more scientific evidence than we have metaphysical insight with which to make sense of that evidence.

Image: Francis Bacon, by Frans Pourbus the younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Spring 2016 Classes!

A scientist and an English professor walk into a bar.
The philosopher following them was careful to duck

Check out these great Spring 2016 courses!

Phil 314: 19th Century History of Philosophy
Dr. William Vaughan [M 6:30--9:15 pm]
The 19th century remains one of the most volatile episodes in the history of philosophy, with revolutionary movements of thinking emerging in rapid succession. The first half of the century is marked by philosophical system-building, embodied by the efforts of German Idealism. We will look at Kant and Hegel as representatives of this endeavor. The second half is marked by system-destroying, that any philosophical ‘system’ of thought necessarily suffocates and suppresses human being. We will look at Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Marx, and Nietzsche as representatives of this task. After their explosive efforts, some have concluded that any efforts to construct a comprehensive philosophical system are fruitless. We will explore whether or not this is the case. Note: This course does NOT satisfy a core Humanities requirement, but non-majors can still get a lot out of this class.

Phil 317: Philosophy of Religion
Dr. Louis Mancha [TTh 12:15--1:30 pm]

Traditionally, it is claimed that the God of Western monotheism has certain distinct properties. God is said to be all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and all-good (omnibenevolent), for example. The significant worry is this: Are those properties consistent? In other words, is God really a possible being? If God is not a possible being, then is it even rational to believe in God? Many philosophers and theologians have developed problems and paradoxes that appear to result from a deeper analysis of these properties. The purpose of this class is to address and respond to these issues. We will study what it means to say that God has certain perfections or properties, and what is implied by them. We will also analyze some of the paradoxes and apparent inconsistencies that philosophers have observed in connection with these properties, and attend to some possible solutions to those paradoxes. Satisfies a Humanities core requirement.

Phil 330: Readings in Philosophy (C.S. Lewis)
Dr. Mark Hamilton [MWF 10--10:50 am]

Is Christianity reasonable?  What are the best arguments to confirm Christianity’s truth claims?  Do you know anything about the author of The Chronicles of Narnia?  This is a course on the most vital and most important Christian writer of the Twentieth Century, C.S. Lewis.  Lewis, an Oxford scholar, wrote marvelous works of fiction on unseen worlds and challenging books defending issues like the validity of miracles and the problem of suffering, along with popular essays probing life’s great mysteries.  Lewis has boundless insight to the historical and philosophical issues emerging in the Twentieth Century. Enjoy a course that will be explicitly Christian while addressing questions every non-believer asks concerning God. Satisfies a Humanities core requirement.

  COMPLETE YOUR CORE with these other Spring offerings!

Math/Logic:     Phil 220: Practical Thinking, Dr. Mancha
Humanities:     Phil 210: Phil. of Human Nature, Dr. Tiel
Phil 215: Ethics, Dr. Hamilton, and Dr. Mancha
Phil 280A: Sports Ethics, Dr. Hamilton
Phil 280B: Environmental Ethics, Dr. Vaughan

Bring your ‘A’ game to all your classes, whatever your major!
Learn to think philosophically.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

10 Amazing Illusions

When thinking about the ancient problem of scepticism, what kinds of issues would have weighed heavily on the mind of the sceptic?  As Cicero conjectures, there's the problem of the bent oar, or the pigeon's neck, or judging the size of the moon using its visual dimensions.  No doubt the senses deliver to us conflicting information, they claim, so there's no reason to believe that we can have certitude about any impression or phantasia they deliver.

So let's enjoy these moments...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Unique Scholarship/Study Abroad Program

The Davies-Jackson Scholarship provides a unique opportunity for graduating seniors with exceptional academic records who will graduate with a 3.7 or higher overall grade point average. To be eligible for the Davies-Jackson Scholarship applicants must be graduating seniors enrolled in one of the private liberal arts colleges and universities on the list of eligible institutions (Ashland is on the list!). The applicant should be among the first generation in their family to graduate from college, that is, the applicant’s parents should not have graduated from a four year college or university, or the applicant should not have benefitted from their parent’s academic achievements.

The Davies-Jackson Scholar will be admitted to Cambridge as an Affiliated Student.  An Affiliated Student is a graduate holding an approved degree from another university who is admitted to work for the Cambridge BA degree.  As this is essentially a second BA, Affiliated Students take the more advanced parts of a Cambridge degree course and qualify for the degree in two years instead of the usual three.  As a result of its academic rigor, the international travel opportunities that are available, and the overall preparation that the course of study provides towards a career, the “Cantab” degree is usually considered to be the equivalent of a Master’s degree in the United States.

For all the details and forms for this unique program, go to the main website HERE.

Details for this program are also on Facebook.

Undergraduate Publishing Opportunities

Many of our philosophy students do great research and write wonderful papers for our classes.  However, many students are not aware of the vast opportunities they have to show off their work and gain the recognition they deserve.

For anyone who has written a philosophy paper and is looking to try and get some recognition for it, be aware that there are undergraduate journals to which you can submit your work! Here are a few:

1. Phi Sigma Tau has an undergraduate journal, and you do not have to be a member to submit work!  It's called Dialogue:

2. Another regional journal called Episteme is run out of Denison University:

3. Lastly, there's Stance, out of Ball State:

For a list of even more journals and publishing opportunities for undergraduates, you can peruse the following site (courtesy of Luther College):

List of undergraduate philosophy journals


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Do you love your Children? Teach them Philosophy...

All too often, students and parents alike question the value and purpose of a philosophical education.  They think that philosophy is either too theoretical or impractical, and believe falsely that it does not provide people with realistic skills for the changing job market.

However, a report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities on Liberal Arts Majors and Employment explains that employers give hiring preferences to college graduates that are innovative, can think critically, have strong written and verbal communication skills, can solve complex problems, and have good ethical judgment.  Studying philosophy can offer you these skills, and more.

 For the full report, click [HERE].

Further, these critical thinking skills should be developed much earlier in life.  The recently released year long study by the Education Endowment Foundation found that children practicing philosophy saw an improvement in their reading, writing and math skills: (

Whether you're a teacher or a parent, you can begin teaching your children thinking strategies with Peter Worley's book "40 Lesson to Get Children Thinking"!  It's rich new resource with step-by-step lesson plans any teacher can implement straight away. Due for a October release, you can now pre-order a copy from Bloomsbury Publishing for 30% less than the RRP! Also available for pre-order through Amazon:

For more information on teaching philosophy to children, you can find a wide variety of resources, studies, articles, and advice from the Philosophy Foundation, both on Facebook and the Web.