Happiness from First Principles

Putting any theological or heterodox philosophical opposition aside, I am confident in saying; the only process that ‘designed’ the most fundamental biology and physiology of humans, was evolution. That is, all of our hardwired features exist–as if they had been designed by a god–to ensure survival in the environment in which our species developed. However, excluding some run-down areas in the north of England, the environment we inhabit today hardly resembles the prehistoric one our species developed in. We are hardwired to enjoy sugar because our ancestors would have needed its energy, we enjoy sex (even with contraceptives!) because our ancestors needed several kids in the hope that any would survive, and males find large breasts attractive because they are a reliable indicator of fertility–not because they are shallow. Continue reading

The New Age Atheist

Religion, for almost the entirety of human history has played a dominant role in society. Whether it is guidance of ethical issues or the instigation of mass wars, religion has always been involved. However, for all the faults of religion it does provide solid grounding and benefits to society, which is rarely seen elsewhere. Our society today, for all its modern outlooks and tolerance still remains fundamentally segregated into two parts, the believers and the non-believers. Atheism throughout history was something of a hushed idea due to the churches dominance especially in medieval society in which atheism was akin to blasphemy.

The boom of atheism in the 20th Century sparked vocal and often aggressive responses from both sides. Historically Christianity has spoken out against forms of atheism or agnosticism especially in America, which many non-believers were met with vocal hostility at their blasphemous ideas. Toleration has been the topic of this century in which some may say it has grown to an extreme where everyone fears everyone else for what they say. Today, while there is hostility towards atheists, the intellectual reverse is occurring. There have been some very vocal atheists who’ve pointed out, not just that religion is wrong, but that it’s ridiculous. This open incredulity towards religion has insighted a somewhat childish view of the entire concept, choosing to either accept it all or shun the system which essentially founded our nation. This view of blatantly showing faults in religion should be viewed as offensive as a believer who would state that an atheists beliefs are false.

Religion is so imbedded into our society that atheists, who perpetuate strong anti-religious views, are indoctrinated into taking part in many religious rituals possibly without their own knowledge. It is often the case that an atheist does not want to believe in something bigger than themselves as they may feel they lose control of their own lives. Alain de Botton spoke of the doctrines of the church being unbelievable but loving religious art of the Mantegna or the historic churches throughout the world. However, why is it that an atheist cannot enjoy both the aspects of religion; from the ritualistic and communal side to an atheist’s freedom of morality?

Education has been the source of our information and growth for hundreds of years and, in the 19th Century when the attendance at church fell many feared where people would go for moral guidance. The answer to some, was Culture. A diverse cultural setting will create the moral grounding a person can use for the rest of their life and if they do not get this direct implementation in society we must turn to education, more importantly university life. However, our educational system is not built to create well rounded people who independently think it is designed to pass test after test and implant streams of information in the desperate hope that one may remember it in the future. Although if one were to apply to any university on the sole basis of cultural and personal development they would likely be laughed away. A university, college or secondary education while officially perpetuating the development of the students into well round members of society is too rarely the case. Once we leave the doors of education their care for our wellbeing leaves with it along with any hope of maintaining what we learnt without personal and constant repetition.

This is where the ideals of religion first come into play, the policy of sermons in religion repeats and reiterates messages so fervently that many believers can recite passages of scripture but ask a graduate to recite what he learnt in school and they will respond with a blank incredulous look as if you were insane. It is this in which universities should aim towards, however we live in a society engrossed in wealth and income which causes personal needs to be shunned for the purpose of the overall goal. A sermon in a church will teach a person a message multiple times while a lecturer expects one lecture to be sufficient for you to then build your own understanding.

Calenders are a key concept in all religions, they provide set dates to remember events. Whether it is to reflect or to learn it will happen every year without fail thereby indoctrinating the message into all believers. Furthermore the ritualistic system of religion provides structure to many lives which atheism lacks. It allows set times for certain events and in the case of Orthodox Jews who will (every Friday) go to Mikveh in order to cleanse the body. Or to the messages instilled into each Saints day throughout the year.

To Freud, human society was naïve, in which it could not comprehend matters which were not quantifiable or deemed too great for our own understanding. Freud believed there was two exceptions in which religion could be tolerated. Firstly in juvenile societies and cultures in which the ideas of philosophy and contemplation were lacking, religion could be incorportaed to provide form and order to those societies. Secondly he stated that it creates the moral grounding in children necessary, while provides a relief upon parents in moral coding. Theroising that its use during childhood can be beneficial but “we may now argue that the time has probably come, as it does in an analytic treatment, for replacing the effects of repression by the results of the rational operation of the intellect.” In this he implies that once adult there is little requirements of religion as our moral codes have been institutionalised and ethics grounded.

Catholicism (as well as all major faiths) is not just a religion, it is a global organisation which pulled in $97 billion in 2010. This shows its power as a conglomerate in which it can, not only shape the face of the earth in politics but it has the power, money and inlfuence to essentially control large areas of society. This vast organisation, with its global prestige provides community and a sense of unity to all its followers. An idea which atheism is severly lacking. Sunday mass while being an excellent platform to preach messages allows local communities to come together and discuss not only moral issues but socialise as individuals. Atheist loose out on this communal gathering as we do not feel the need to gather and discuss, or more importantly there is nothing nudging us to go to events or groups in order to socialise. Many during there lives will very happily not be involved in group matters choosing to associate closer to home in their comfort zone. This is only as they have not broadend there horizons, which religion teaches one to do (to an extent). Finally there is no organisation of atheists, preaching how to be a good atheist or how to live ones life. This results in extremes occuring in which some who disregard God may also disregard ethics. Imagine if you will that atheism were to become a powerful and influential aspect of society in politics. It would become a form of philosophy which disregards any form of a Deity, stating how a good atheist should live there life. However, it is likely that these messages for a beneficial life will likely be not disimilar to religious message just without the concept of a Deity.

Therefore, our society which is ever increasing in atheism should learn to homogenise culture, religion and opinion in a world which is constantly evolving. Atheists should not aim to prove God wrong or to shun believers but to learn key messages religion teaches and adopt it as its own in order to indoctrinate atheism in to a pragmatic and ethical way of life.

Contributed by Luke Harvey-Smith

On balance capitalism is a better system for mankind than communism

Please note that the viewpoints put forward in this article to not necessarily represent my own and are for argument purposes only.

In this article I will address the benefits which capitalism brings to a society and why it is a better system upon which to base our societies on.
Capitalism is the voluntary exchange between one another. This occurs because both individuals believe that trade will benefit both parties. Trying to stop voluntary exchange from occurig taxes massive amounts of resources on enforcing the policy, as the war on drugs demonstrates.

1. The Social-Calculation Problem
In a Communist society there is no way to measure the value of goods and services. There is no way to figure out which goods and services should be produced, and which resources should be saved for capital use or future demand. Figuring out how to “calculate” the value of goods and services is also an impossible task, since all goods and services are intertwine with one another due to the many factors that affect prices and there’s also a lot of dispersed information which is nearly impossible to quantify and difficult for any one individual to make predictions on. For example: How many shovels should society produce? Well one would need to know who needs it, why they need it, the resources available to produce the shovels, and what the alternative use these resources can be used instead of making shovels. Knowing how each person values a good or service is also impossible since one cannot know an individual’s subjective preference.
Capitalism solves the problem through a monetary system, with a profit system. What this means is that producers produce more supply if prices increase and the opportunity for profit exists, while consumers consume more if prices decrease. This allows equilibrium to occur in which a quantity is produced at a specific price. Therefore, there are fewer problems with shortages and surpluses in a capitalist society, and people can obtain the good and services they desire based on their own budget. This system of supply equally demand allows welfare between producers and consumers to be maximized. This profit based-system produces information that can never be figured in a communist society. Producers know how much to produce because they are incentivizes to produce items that will create the most profit. If opportunities exist for a good or service to be produces that people demand, then entrepreneurs will take these opportunities in order to obtain a profit. Furthermore, these entrepreneurs can take advantage of specialized knowledge that planners do not know. Since anybody can be an entrepreneur, everyone can take advantage of their own specialized forms of knowledge.
Consumers will also cut down on consumption if the quantity decreases and increase consumption if the quantity increases. Therefore capitalism makes resource-management more efficient then a communist society ever could.

2. Empirical Evidence of the success of capitalism
Empirical evidence has shown that societies that have implemented capitalism have successful grown their economies. A few economic miracles have occurred: The economic miracle of Hong Kong and Singapore are two great examples. These nations were originally poor nation but have become industrialized due to implementing capitalism policies. If one looks at a graph comparing highly capitalistic nation, those nations that rank the best under the “economic freedom index” have higher gross domestic production then nations with low economic freedom and property rights.
Evidence of the social-calculation problem occurring also has empirical evidence. Massive famines and starvation has occurred in North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union. People waited in long lines just to get bread.While China remains more capitalistic, it still has communist elements to it. One result that has occurred is that China contains ghost cities which nobody inhabits.
Gross domestic production is a net benefit to society because it causes a lot of positive results that benefit society. People that live in wealthier nations tend to be happier. Life expectancy increase as gdp increases, since people have access to healthcare and nutrition. Higher gdp also correlates with a decrease in murders.
Some might believe that true communism has not been implemented so since there is no empirical evidence for its failure, one can speculate on why communism will be better. However, it is more likely that communism will not work out as predicted and lead to more suffering. This is because any proof that it will be successful, will be based on speculation. Speculation is likely to be wrong since it is difficult to predict how human motives will interact with one another in a complex world and there are more ways to be right then to be wrong. In order for this system to work, all assumptions and predictions would have to hold true, which is unlikely to be the case. Now we know that the system of capitalism has improved the lives of billion. Therefore, a priori we should accept capitalism as the better alternative to communism. The system we live in today is the result past suffering and experimentation throughout thousands of years of social engineering.

3. The Tragedy of the commons
The tragedy of the commons is the problem in which that if no individual owns property, there is no incentive to maintain the property. Thus property publically owned degrades quicker. A common example is a bunch of herders that commonly own a field. Each herder has an interest to put a cow on the land, however the quality of the land is damaged as a result and overgrazing occurs. If property is privately owned, then each individual has an incentive to maintain the land, because if they do not then it will lose its value while there is no incentive to maintain public land. As John Stossel notes, privately-held parks are better kept and maintained the public parks because the owner has a greater incentive to keep the area nice.

4. Innovation incentive and productive efficiency
Capitalism incentivizes innovation since those that innovate obtain the profit from their efforts, research and development, and investment they put into R&D. It also creates a system in which producers minimize cost of input while maximizing output through use of prices. Engineers and business administrators are taught how to reduce costs of good and service and how to maximize output. Such calculations would be impossible under communism due to lack of a price system, and since there is no profit system there is no reason to do these calculations in the first place.

Contributed by Shane Dunne

In Defence of the Cosmological Argument

The cosmological argument is often stereotyped and condensed into two premises and a conclusion: Everything has a cause. There must be a first cause. The first cause is God. This is then rigorously critiqued by the modern atheist to be of illogical reasoning, hence arguments such as; ‘why must we assume there has to be a first cause’ and ‘what caused God’ are formulated, seemingly rendering the argument wanting (as in the case of this argument there are no logical grounds to make an exception for God as the terminator of the infinite regress). This is seen as conclusive proof against all forms of cosmological argument, and prominent atheists such as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins would make no further comment on the topic. However if one is to be a philosopher, to love wisdom, one must search for the truth rather than create a fallacious straw man argument of all forms of cosmological argument, all of which cannot be simplified into the argument above. Perhaps the mistake is made in the first premise: ‘everything has a cause’ of which no prominent philosopher would argue, instead the premise: ‘every contingent being has a cause’ is perhaps sufficient if we are to even attempt to coalesce the different formulations.

Different versions of the cosmological argument approach this task in different ways. Aristotelian versions argue that change, the actualization of the potentials inherent in things, cannot in principle occur unless there is a cause that is “pure actuality”, and thus can actualize other things without itself having to be actualized. Neo-Platonic versions argue that composite things cannot in principle exist unless there is a cause of things that is absolutely unified or non-composite. Thomists not only defend the Aristotelian versions, but also argue that whatever has an essence or nature distinct from its existence, so that it must derive existence from something outside it, must ultimately be caused by something whose essence involves existence, and which existence or being itself need not derive its existence from another. Leibnizian versions argue that whatever does not have the sufficient reason for its existence in itself must ultimately derive its existence from something which does have within itself a sufficient reason for its existence, and which is in that sense necessary rather than contingent.

These arguments in the main can be associated with Aquinas’ third way, that is the argument from possibility and necessity, and this is the argument that we will evaluate in this essay with regard to Humean and Kantian critiques that among many are seen as conclusive in their refutation of the cosmological argument. However as we will ascertain, these critiques are not sound and to examine them at close proximity, especially the Kantian critique, reveals flaws that on the whole arise from a misunderstanding of the cosmological argument.

With regards to Kant, he wrongly draws parity of the cosmological argument with the ontological argument as first formulated by St Anselm, clearly to do so is a grave flaw as although it may appear prima facea, at first glance, that some aspects of Aquinas’ argument relate to existence being viewed as a predicate, it is certainly not the view of Aquinas that existence can be derived from the essence of God. Aquinas explicitly refutes this apriori concept in ‘Summa Theologiae’ and instead postulates: “If the existence of God were demonstrated, this could only be from his effects” aposteriori.

The argument as presented by Aquinas in his third way is known as the ‘Argument from Possibility and Necessity’ and it fundamental relies on a reductio ad absurdum from the principle that in nature every being is of possible ontology; in that it need rely on another for causation (contingency) and is of a finite and mutable nature. To assume thus that ‘everything is possible not to be’ would mean that at one point in time there would have been nothing in existence, and because: ex nihilo nihil fit, nothing from nothing, there would remain nothing for eternity. Furthermore nothing could ever have begun to exist due to contingent beings depending on external causation for existence. Therefore one must postulate a necessary being to explain the existence of contingent beings. This necessary being is seen to be of singular existence as Aquinas discards the idea of an infinite regress of necessary beings as absurd (perhaps using Occam’s razor this is a justifiable belief because; as only one necessary being is needed for the universe to exist, why postulate an infinite regress of beings). Therefore “we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another”, and this necessary being is God.

The first objection comes from Hume and is perhaps seen as the most famous, known as the ‘fallacy of composition’ Hume states that; assuming all beings in the universe are caused, it does not logically follow that, the universe has a cause. Observing Liebniz’s’ principle of sufficient reason Hume says:

“Did I show you the particular causes of each individual in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable should you afterwards ask me what was the cause of the whole twenty. This is sufficiently explained in explaining the parts.” – David Hume, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779)

Hume is essentially postulating that the twenty individual particles is a sufficient explanation of the whole and need no external explanation or cause. This is not entirely dissimilar to Russell’s famous analogy: “It is one thing to state that every human being has a mother, but one cannot move from this to say that there is a mother of the whole human race.” This fundamentally highlights the same fallacy as Hume but is not conclusive. Russell is maintaining that both the cause of the particular and the cause of the whole are fundamentally to be the same thing, the mother, however this is not what is being claimed in the cosmological argument, namely that every being has a phenomenal cause whereas the series of phenomenal causes has a transcendent cause (and not a further phenomenal cause). Further, even if this series is an infinite regress it still needs sufficient reason to explain it, and thus we need postulate a transcendent cause external to the series. However although Russell’s critique seems refutable, Hume’s, although similar, is of different nature and it is speculative as to its impact on the cosmological argument.

Hume suggests that the sum of the parts is a sufficient explanation of the whole and needs no external explanation. In answer to this a Thomist would deny this as being a sufficient explanation because every contingent being per se must be explained with external reference. Thus the universe, being a sum of contingent beings, is of contingent nature and requires a necessary being to explain its existence. However as shown in the Russell-Copleston debate of 1948 – “we seem to have arrived at an impasse” due to Humean philosophers refusing to accept the need for external sufficient explanation (Russell’s: “Brute Fact”).

Another of Hume’s arguments, outlined in ‘Dialogues concerning Natural Religion’, is in saying that “all existential properties are synthetic”, this I will combine with the main Kantian critique. Kant essentially attempts to highlight similarities between the cosmological and ontological arguments so as to conclusively refute two birds with one stone. Kant, Hume and Russell would say that existence is most definitely not a predicate and we cannot conclude of Gods existence from his essence. Here Russell gives the example of the “Existent round square”; a being that’s existence it would be contradictory to deny. This critique would of course be applicable to the ontological argument however it fails to refute the cosmological argument on the grounds that the idea of necessary existence is not the same thing as the idea of a being whose nature or essence includes existence. A being exists necessarily if it is impossible for that being not to exist. This need not involve the inclusion of a property of existence in the nature of the thing in question. Thus, one can accept that there is a necessarily existent being without accepting either premise of the simplified ontological proof.

Secondly, Kant would suggest that the cosmological argument exhibits the ‘logical fallacy of equivocation’. Kant argues that you cannot move from a concept to reality itself, merely to a concept of reality. In short: If God exists, he exists necessarily, not that he exists. For example a triangle must have three sides but if there is not the triangle there is not the three sides. Similarly with regards to God, if there is not a God there is not the predicate of necessary existence.

Russell mirrors this point in the debate on the argument from contingency stating that “analytic propositions come in rather late in the build-up of propositions”, one must have synthetic knowledge of a concept before one can analyse the said concept, indeed this is perhaps true of the empirical world, however it fails to have any impact onto the cosmological argument as; for the Thomist a necessary being is only postulated after a contingent being is shown to have reliance on external cause. That is the necessary being. Thus a necessary being exists of necessity otherwise one could not explain the existence of contingent beings. Therefore the analytic proposition is in fact late in the build-up of propositions as Russell suggests, and the argument: ‘God exists necessarily only if God is proven to exist’ is indeed adhered to as God is not defined into existence but is both proven to exist, on the impossibility of only contingent beings existing, and thus shown to exist necessarily.

In conclusion, having examined various critiques of the cosmological argument one can assert that most of the critiques are based on a misunderstanding or false classification of the argument, the most guilty being Kant. However Hume’s critique of the fallacy of composition seemingly still holds to some degree. Perhaps this can be circumnavigated when taking into account Thomist assumptions of causation being not a horizontal causation model, but rather from hierarchical cause. This discounts an infinite regress as well as having to postulate the universe as being a contingent object as such and thus needing a cause. Instead all causes must be traceable to the necessary being. Aquinas (perhaps) stipulates that God creates and sustains the universe all at one moment because all moments are one to him being atemporal and omniscient. Thus he causes the primary causes which in turn cause secondary and intermediate causes, which are of teleological nature. Further the secondary cause cannot exist if the primary cause ceased to exist so are entirely dependent on prior causation. If we regress to God, the first cause, he must continue to cause the universe (although raising the question of the eternality of matter/universe of which Aquinas appears to suspend judgement) from one moment. The hierarchical causation model is more coherent than the horizontal, accidental, causation model in which it is possible to reach an infinite regression of causes; however with the hierarchical causation model infinity is disproved. Thus having surpassed the main Humean critique and assuming my logic is of sound nature, one can conclude that the cosmological argument, in particular Aquinas’ hierarchical causation model of cosmology, has not been conclusively disproved as is popular modern assumption, further it has not been seen to be disproved in any manner and thus one must maintain that it is of sound nature until proven otherwise. 

Contributed by Tim Livingstone

Irrefutable Scepticism? The Agrippan Trilemma

Everyone is, apparently, sceptical in some way shape or form, whether one is sceptical of certain political promises, of the validity of a certain newspaper or of the authenticity of a piece of artwork, it can be said that everyone has their doubts. However, this form of scepticism should perhaps be regarded as ordinary incredulity rather than true scepticism in the philosophical sense. Regarding the latter, various epistemologies, although not founded in scepticism, still pertain of scepticism to a degree; a rationalist could be said to be sceptical about empirical knowledge, and vice versa, an empiricist would remain sceptical of all knowledge apriori. Indeed, true philosophical scepticism rests on propositions which cannot be verified as is the nature of scepticism as first proposed by Socrates,“I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance”, whereas ordinary incredulity can be removed by verification through finding the truth of some further proposition of the relevant type. For the sake of clarity, I would quote Wittgenstein; “A doubt without an end is not even a doubt.”

Having examined one form of scepticism in my previous article on Underdeterminism, we now turn our attention to the Agrippan Trilemma which, if correct, poses a threat to all theories of knowledge on a much broader scale. The Agrippan Trilemma was first formulated by Agrippa, the sceptic circa (1st century A.D.). Best known for his writings on the “Five tropes of doubt”, he propagated the idea that all knowledge was based on flawed grounds, fivefold due to relativism, epistemic dissent, progression ad infinitum, circularity and axiomatic assumption, with the latter trio consisting the Trilemma. In this article, we shall examine the logical claim that this argument makes and subsequently, question its validity.

The Argippan Trilemma has foundation in the principle of sufficient reason, as stated by Leibniz, which asserts that everything must have reason or cause why it is so. Hence, the Trilemma challenges any claim to knowledge repeatedly so until one of three outcomes are reached:

  1. The claim progresses ad infinitum
  2. The claim relies on circular reasoning
  3. The claim is based on axiom

Purportedly, all these outcomes are flawed. Concerning (1), infinite regression essentially does not admit of a first principle and thus, an endless regress of reason will not satisfy the claim to knowledge as subsequent question must be asked of given reasons ad infinitum. The argument based on (2) is equally weak because it relies on apriori reason to support aposteriori reason and vice versa. Thus, there is no order of reasons as such since both reasons are dependent on the other for recourse to explanation. With regards (3), it simply claims, of no logical reason, to halt the regression of sufficient reason at an arbitrary axiom. The whole argument is based upon untenable assumption. Therefore, all three horns in the Agrippan Trilemma end in fallacious fashion, and it seems that all knowledge per se is rendered inconclusive, or rather, fundamentally founded on illogical grounds.

To relate the Trilemma to modern epistemologies, we can clearly see of which illogical ground they are based on; with ‘infinitism’ purporting of (1) – based upon ad infinitum claims, advocates of ‘coherentism’ founding episteme on (2) – condoning reciprocal reasoning, and ‘foundationalists’ clearly leaning on (3) – basing knowledge upon arbitrary axiom.

However, the foundationalist, chief of whom was Descartes, would make conjecture in that they would claim axioms foundational to knowledge in fact contain the principle of sufficient reason intrinsically in their composition. Hume said of this (although Hume was by no means a foundationalist); that the sufficient reason for a whole was the sum of its parts. Thus, there is no need of external recourse for explanatory reason. Certainly in light of this, the foundationalist would claim that such axioms as the cogito are justified per se, intrinsically, perhaps with regards their “clear and distinct” conception.

Perhaps, a more convincing counter argument is one that turns the Agrippan Trilemma on its head, asking of itself the same question that it asks of all knowledge – why must this be so? Indeed, it is seen that the impossibility to prove of a certain truth is not, ironically, a certain truth. Intrinsically, for the Agrippan Trilemma to appertain conviction, it must have recourse to some axiomatic logical principles so no justification for the Trilemma can seemingly be given. Therefore, it seems that unless the sceptic would make exception to the rule, the Trilemma seems to refute itself at consummation. However, the sceptic would here so to speak, “bite the bullet”, in that although the Agrippan Trilemma is false of itself, it still has inevitable effect on all epistemology as thereof endorsing similar logical principles.

In the final analysis, unless epistemic exception can be found that passes the Trilemma, complete scepticism lingers as no claim is logically justified.

Contributed by Tim Livingstone

“There is no compelling reason to believe that objective moral facts exist.”

This essay will defend the ethical theory of moral nihilism. Moral nihilism is an ethical theory which expresses the proposition that moral facts do not exist. The only definition necessary is of “objective moral fact”: a moral truth (i.e. “human life is morally valuable”, “theft is wrong”) which is independent of the human mind and is categorically binding. An example of an objective non-moral fact is the equation 2 + 2 = 4. Even if there are no minds around to grasp and process this fact, it remains true. The argument for Moral Nihilism is comprised of three parts: 1) Normative Contingency, 2) Presupposition Problem and 3) Subjective Value Problem.

Normative Contingency

Normative contingency simply asserts that our moral judgments and normative theories are all contingent on whatever our ethical values happen to be. This is a fact which most everyone acknowledges; however, if we consistently apply this concept, we also see that moral values are themselves contingent, usually on one’s psychological states, personal interests, for example, and cannot therefore be regarded as objectively morally binding.

It should be pointed out that, though this argument may perhaps look similar to a fallacious appeal to motive, I am not discrediting moral propositions on the basis of values being psychologically or emotionally motivated; I am discrediting such propositions on the basis of values being fundamentally arbitrary propositions. There is no objective reason to assume that human life is morally valuable any more than there is a reason to assume that universal death is the ultimate value – such things are simply assertions which must be assumed in order to build a moral theory. Being assumptions, fundamental moral principles – upon which all secondary moral “facts” are contingent – are merely taken for granted (often collectively, as in the case of first principles such as “human life is valuable), rather than logically defended. Given that fundamental moral values are necessary arbitrary assertions, and thus, contingent on a subjective mental process, the nihilist position appears already to have a strong foothold.

Presupposition Problem

This argument points out that anyone arguing for moral truth must necessarily presuppose the existence of objective moral facts in order to assert their existence which leads to placing an unwarranted degree of necessity upon their existence. To even say that “murder is wrong” implies that objectively-binding values exist. This unspoken implication is the presupposition that, rather than discussing the issue of moral truth, we must take the existence of external values for granted so that we may commit ourselves to the sole task of determining the identity of such values.

To clear up any confusion, this differs from Normative Contingency in that the Normative Contingency problem addresses the specific identity of values (and the issue of their arbitrary nature), while the Presupposition problem addresses the presupposition that such values do exist in the first place, regardless of their particular identities.

Subjective Value Problem

Following the Presupposition problem, this argument addresses the possibility of objective moral values. The question is what it means for something to be a value. When one talks of the value of a commodity, for example, we note that the value accorded to it is entirely dependent on market forces. What are people willing to pay, and how much are people willing to accept? Does the value of a commodity outweigh the value that an agent accords to his financial resources? This is, of course, up to the subjective calculations of individual agents. Such is also the nature of values, as solely subjective. In other words, the attachment of value is solely the function of the mind: asking whether something is valuable brings up the questions “valuable to whom and for what purpose?”

Consequently, we cannot try to make objective the subjective value judgments of individual agents nor can we call such judgments universal simply because they may be imposed on others by force. At that point, we are simply substituting one’s values for another’s values – not establishing moral truth. As value is merely a subjective judgment – a product of the mind – we cannot logically call any value an objective, or mind-independent, property of an object.

It may be objected that there are universally-recognized values, such as human life, that suggest the existence of moral facts. However, there are two errors here. The first is simply a logical fallacy, affirming the consequent. The fallacy takes the following form: “If A, then B. B, therefore A.” In this case, the objection would be phrased as: “If X is an objective moral value, it will be universally-recognized. X is universally recognized, therefore it is an objective moral value.”

There are cases in which affirming the consequent can be a legitimate argument form yet those cases only occur when A is the only possible condition for B. Since objective moral truth is not logically the only possible condition for universal recognition, ergo, citing universal recognition is not sufficient grounds to claim objective moral values. This, of course, assumes the truth of the premise (that objective moral values would be recognized), which is itself quite debatable.

The second problem is that collective subjectivity is not the same as objectivity. Briefly stated, it is not necessarily the case that X (say, murder is wrong) is an objective moral fact merely because some number of individuals claim that it is. A mass ipse dixit is no less a bare assertion than a lone individual making the same claim. By the same logic, we would have to accept that the fact of pluralism – which is simply a descriptive statement about the plurality of different moral codes – indicates that there is no objective moral truth. Though some nihilists or relativists may stoop to this kind of argument, I will not, and will simply point out that the converse not only suffers from similar issues, but also hopefully makes the this potential objection easier to understand (and reject).

On three separate counts, it appears that nihilism makes a powerful case for rejecting the concept of objective moral truth, facts, values, or whatever you would care to refer to such as. Based on my analysis, and on the responses to potential counterarguments, I feel confident that any argument attempting to demonstrate moral objectivity will encounter challenging, if not insurmountable, obstacles.

Contributed by Shane Dunne

Hume’s Free Will

For over two millennia, philosophers have debated the nature of ‘choice’, and most crucially, asked if it exists at all, with the 18th century British philosopher David Hume referring to it as the ‘most contentious question of metaphysics’. Free will is classically defined as a person’s ability to rationally consider and choose their actions. It is a characteristic that is seen to set humanity apart from the animals yet its existence itself has been criticised for centuries. A key group for which free will is crucial is that of theistic believers. The vast majority of world religions believe in an eschatological reward and punishment concept, and this necessitates the existence of free will to avoid the existence of an arbitrary, cruel God.

The existence of ‘pure’ free will has been thought unlikely for centuries, with determinism becoming a more favoured view point. However, there have been attempts to synthesise these two polar opposites, forming a ‘compatabilist’ argument, the 1st and perhaps most famous of which was written by David Hume, who attempted to reconcile ‘libertarian’ and ‘deterministic’ views. Hume 1st redefines the term ‘free will’. Up to this point, free will has been assumed to mean that there was a set of alternative actions that one ‘could’ have chosen to perform, and was placed as opposed to determinism. Hume, in contrast, defines free will has ‘having chosen x’, without the need for an alternative option to have been presented, as the performing of action ‘x’ was still done in accordance with our choice to do so.  From this point, Hume’s argument rests of one of his key assumptions about the nature of causality. He argues throughout his work that causality cannot be observed and that it is merely a step of inductive logic that it will hold firm based on past observances that it has been so. He would claim that there is no way we can be sure that cause and effect will hold when you perform any action expecting a result. This lack of a ‘necessary connection’ between the cause and the effect of incidents leads Hume to claim that ‘Necessity’ is merely an expectation formulated by our imagination. Therefore, he argues that there is no necessity for any action to be done because necessity is a mental construct. As such, anything done in accordance to necessity is done of our own free will on the grounds that necessity itself cannot be said to exist. Thus, we make our choices depending on our assumptions of the effects these will have on ourselves and the world around us, making them our choices.

Hume’s argument, however, is heavily reliant on the assumption that there must be a necessary connection between all causes and effects, which cannot be observed, and thus, undermines causality. This empirical argument has been strongly critiqued by many, and is not viewed to hold much water today. It is an argument based in a fiercely particular view of the universe and makes the assumption that there is no connection between the cause and effect of an object before the interaction whereas it could in fact be argued that perception is a continuum, rather than a set of discrete perceptions. This would remove the necessity of Hume’s necessary connection, removing his refutation of hard determinism and endangering his compatabilist model.

Whilst it is not widely viewed as a coherent argument for the existence of free will today, Hume’s argument is one of the most well known defences of compatabilist thinking. It is one of many attempting to defend free will, though the success of these theories remains to be seen.

Contributed by Isaac Jarratt Barnham

Causal Determinism

Of the many types of determinism posited in today’s society, causal determinism is perhaps the most relevant to the scientific, empirical nature of modern life. It is the doctrine that states every event is necessitated by preceding events and the laws of nature, and thus sits well with scientific theory, which also could be said to hold this view of reality. It is an argument opposed to the concept of free will, that mankind has a say in determining its fate and may make choices concerning the future.

This view point is best described through the analogy of Pierre-Simon Laplace in the early 19th century, who devised an argument known as ‘Laplace’s demon’. In this analogy, Laplace postulates that if there were to be a vast consciousness capable of knowing the positions and velocities and understanding the laws of physics, it would be able to determine the future actions of the entirety of the universe. This argument is faced with strong criticism, but not, I believe, insurmountable criticism. One of the crucial major criticisms of determinism that has become progressively more heavily used in the last century is that of the anomalous nature of quantum physics when it comes to future prediction. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle, one of the key tenets of quantum physics, states that the more information known about one aspect of a particle, for example its position, the less that can be known about another aspect i.e. its velocity. This raises problems for the demon because it cannot exactly predict the actions of the particle. However, it could be argued that the field of quantum mechanics is very much an incomplete science and that this uncertainty might perhaps be resolved in the future.

Another opposition argument posited against causal determinism is the existence of ‘Chaos theory’, or the ‘Butterfly effect’. This is the observation that very small irregularities in the original conditions of an experiment can cause large variations in the results, and that these causes are too complex to be determined by the laws of physics. This however can be seen to be a purely anthropological problem. The assumption that because human science is unable to determine the nature of future events, they are not determinable is absurd. It is, I feel, a weak objection to determinism.

A much more credible criticism of the causally deterministic model is perhaps that of the nature of time. Causality depends on the directed and constant flow of time. The assumption that the future can be predicted is based on the knowledge of all that is occurring at time ‘T’, i.e. the time preceding the events you wish to predict. Under a linear, Newtonian model of time and space this would not pose a problem but following the creation of the relativity theories, a constant time frame is no longer guaranteed. Under Einsteinian physics, things do not occur simultaneously across the universe. The continuity of space time is limited by the ‘galactic speed limit’; the speed of light. This does not allow any single observer the possibility of knowing facts about the whole universe simultaneously.

This final objection therefore makes it impossible for the theory of causal determinism to every be verified on the grounds that predictions made by the theory will never be correct, owing to the impossibility of knowing facts about the whole universe which is due to the existence of the speed of light, and the universe’s inherent lack of ‘simultaneousity’, for want of a better term. This however does not mean that the future of the universe is not itself a predetermined fact due to a continuous causal chain. Rather, it simply means if that is the case, we will never know.

Contributed by Isaac Jarratt Barnham

The Cause of Sublimity (and its importance in a cheapening world)

The sublime emotion is an artistic phenomenon that has overwhelmed and eluded human comprehension throughout history, and it must be considered a constituent of what it is to be human – the sapphire of human experience. Trying to comprehend the thoughts and ideas that make up our identity must form a part of our enduring search to understand the human condition amidst the terrifying landscape of reality, and the understanding of the sublime thus assumes an importance that makes an enquiry worthwhile.

In reading Edmund Burke’s analytical discourse on “The Origins of our Ideas on the Sublime and the Beautiful”, the rationale behind Sublimity must be confronted – like all ideas, assimilated, developed or discarded. He proposes that terror is the chief cause of astonishment and awe, two primal emotions which develop in us to become the sublime, and proceeds to explain a long list of attributes that culminate in a sublime object, although I think this does little to further our understanding of it. Most of what he postulates can be held satisfactorily under the cold prism of reason, but I believe the real cause of this ephemeral flame of emotion can be rooted to a more artistic drive in human nature: the de-individuation of the individual, and the blissful annihilation of the self.

The pleasure of the sublime lies in the utter absorption of the individual’s consciousness into a subject of majesty and awe. The anxieties and afflictions of the self are forgotten in the face of something overwhelming and overpowering. The beauty of this feeling might seem to be something quite foreign in such a highly individualised a society as our own, but traces of communal instinct can be sensed in the intoxication of the crowds, the euphoria of conjoined emotion which we glimpse in the sports arena or the concert. This is something quite apart from the tyrannies of herd mentality; this is the primal joy of a unification of spirit. From the bacchic rituals of ancient Greece to the horror of modern-day rioting and the fascinating impulses of crowd behaviour, the desire to escape the self has haunted the history of cultured society – yet it is not always a negative influence. When tempered into a constructive form or understood alongside the higher virtues of culture, this unity can be the cause of the most passionate and most human emotions that we ever experience, and the fusion between this primal unification – a liberation from individuality – and transcendent beauty, a glimpse of something higher than ourselves, creates the overwhelming and almost spiritual power of Sublimity.

Vastness is a common cause of the sublime, but I do not think it would be wise to limit this experience to the power of the landscape. The destruction of the egoistic impulse can result from a being apotheosized or else transformed

into something quite above reality, or perhaps by an enchanting piece of art; the importance is that they are all utterly subjective experiences, and unless momentarily aligned with the mysterious web of personal experiences and memories that form each individual life, worthless – a difference between Sublimity and the almost-definable traits of beauty.

The importance of the sublime in our society is becoming increasingly apparent and pressing, because the sublime is one of the rawest, most powerful and most authentic emotions, and hence provides a rare glimpse into our primitive natures and the most visible reminder of our humanity in a world where most of what we experience has been blunted by the gentle paralysis of routine. The imitation of authentic emotion has become its own reality, and the shallow joys of instant entertainment have become the real emotions (today, love resembles the movies). An analysis into the origins of authentic emotion might serve to remind ourselves of the worth of life’s real experiences, and even if (as mine is) it is built only on the shaky grounds of introspection, it is hopefully a reminder that the sublime exists only just outside the confines of our urban neighbourhood, and only just outside the periphery of our comfortable every-day routine.

Contributed By Ben Gibbons

Is there room for freewill in a block universe?

Before the question can even be addressed, we have to understand precisely what is a ‘block universe’? Block universe theory takes the view that all points in time are equally “real”, as opposed to the presentist idea that only the present is real. This would mean that time is just another dimension, that future events are “already there”, and that there is no objective flow of time. Your past, present and future actions are all effectively set in stone. But does this concept contradict the notion of freewill? If your future actions are already set out, then how can we possibly have freewill?

Some people have suggested that the block universe model is incompatible with any notion of freewill. This is because, they would say, that the future appears to be set-in-stone in the block universe model and thus, we are never at liberty to change it by our choices. However, this is a misunderstanding of both freewill and the implications of the block universe. The misunderstanding arises because the notion of freewill is so poorly defined. We all think we know what “freewill” is, we have a feeling, but it is very hard to write down what the phrase actually means and implies. In the absence of a wholly satisfactory definition, I am going to define freewill as the ability to make decisions, a fairly unremarkable definition but nonetheless, apt.

This definition of freewill is completely compatible with the block universe model. The key thing is that only one course of action results when we make a decision. There is only one outcome. There is only ever one stream of events. For example, the sequence of events when we come to a fork in the road might be:

EVENT 1) You walk along the road and come to a fork in the road.
EVENT 2) You decide to turn to the left.
EVENT 3) You continue your journey along the left road.

This is just a sequence of three events, and that is all the block universe is: a sequence of successive events. So these three events can easily be incorporated into the block universe model.

In the block universe model, events are unchanging and “frozen-in-time”. But that does not mean that those events do not represent the expression of freewill. For instance, when we look back into the past, we consider those past events to be “frozen”, and nothing could change those events. However, we might also remember some of those past events as representing moments when we made decisions, i.e. expressed our freewill. So the notion of freewill is in no way incompatible with the block universe “frozen-in-time” representation of unalterable events.

We are free because, unlike a rock, we do many different things given the same context. And we have a will because our decisions are the product of an internal process guided by the complexity of our minds. Freewill is not an illusion: it is a fact that comes about because of our complexity.

Contributed by Shane Dunne

In response to: ‘The intrinsic probability of an afterlife’ with recourse to Underdetermination

In this essay, I intend to reply to Shane Dunne’s article: ‘The intrinsic probability of an afterlife’ which was so stimulating that I felt the need to continue discussion on the matter. I recommend you read it. The link is here: http://tiffinomics.com/the-intrinsic-probability-of-an-afterlife/.

Before embarking upon the critique, I would but first outline the main assumption I base my argument upon, namely, the principle of underdetermination. Underdetermination is commonly incited in the philosophy of science. A sceptical argument, it is used against a theory which has evidence not purely dependant on that theory alone, thus it appears applicable to all scientific hypothesis, or any such aposteriori argument. It is formulated in this way:

‘For any theory, T, and any given body of evidence supporting T, there is at least one rival (i.e., contrary) to T that is as well supported as T’ – Willard Quine

Underdetermination states that any theory containing of evidence must, as the process of scientific induction concludes only of the probable, have antithesis or various multiple hypothesis for which the evidence could quite equally support. Hence, the theory in question is said to be underdetermined by the evidence. To appeal to mathematical analogy; many lines of different gradients all may pass through the same point, likewise many opposing theories may all rely on the same evidence for support. If given, but a moment’s thought, one can make use of this argument to any modern theory, having especial applicability in the study of gravitational theory and in particular, quantum theory, where the evidence is so slight and the speculation so at variance.

Logical argument applied to the philosophy of science is given in the following manner:

P1) All empirical evidence underdetermines scientific theory ‘x’.
P2) Only empirical evidence is necessary for scientific theory ‘x’.
C1) Thus, there is no evidence for believing scientific theory ‘x’.

In the face of such sceptical argument, scientists may claim that we can locate the most probable hypothesis on the basis of heuristic techniques. For example, one may discern a particular hypothesis with application of Occams razor – “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”, or in the case of Copernicus – appealing to aesthetic beauty (when postulating his heliocentric cosmological model). However, principles thereof seem somewhat arbitrary and appeal to no logic per se; indeed ‘rule of thumb’ may be a simple elucidation of such concepts.

Therefore, in light of underdetermination, one must be wary when postulating arguments aposteriori. For instance, the father of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, posited a form of underdetermination when claiming that our assumption of reality is seemingly underdetermined by the facts, due to an apathetical conclusion pertaining of the same evidence. Descartes postulated that it was equally likely that an evil demon could be deceiving us, casting a veil of illusion over the subject. In this way, apparent intuitive concepts are seriously challenged by underdeterminism.

In much the same manner, the evidence of near-death experience does not wholly support the theory of eschatology; it seems to adhere to scientific hypothesis also such as I shall outline in due course. With this in mind, I fail to see that the ‘reasons to believe an afterlife far outweigh reasons given for the non-existence of an afterlife’. In fact, I see only that this proposition is underdetermined by the evidence. Take for example, as evidence, the appeal to religious experiences of an afterlife. Would Hume’s argument not clear up the matter somewhat? Hume claims that one should always believe the lesser miracle in proportion to the evidence. Now I am not calling the subjects in question liars. Merely I am suggesting that there are other possible scientific explanations that seem adequate. For example, one such experiment has found that by electrically stimulating the temporal lobe in the brain, the patient experiences some elements of near death experiences such as memories of the subjects’ life flashing past and of feelings of leaving oneself behind.

For further examples and critical discussion of the evidence, I recommend this link containing various scientific hypotheses for near death experiences: http://near-death.com/experiences/experts01.html

I am not by any means positing that this scientific explanation shows evidence against the concept of an afterlife. Rather, I am taking somewhat a more sceptical approach on this matter on the grounds that I see no clear evidence for concluding of an afterlife nor of apathetical evidence concluding of no afterlife.

Having observed underdetermination regarding the empirical evidence, one must not speculate on the concept of the afterlife in the absence of compelling evidence. I would here add Immanuel Kant’s qoute:

‘Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind’

In other words, Kant means one can only pertain of true knowledge through empirical evidence coupled with rationalism; this is known as apriori-synthetic knowledge. As there remains no probable empirical evidence to suggest an afterlife, one might be tempted to fall back onto pure speculative reasoning. Yet such reasoning is ‘empty’ and insufficient to explain the concept of an afterlife; for that which contains only pure reason apriori has also an antinomy – there exists no afterlife. By using pure reason alone, one fails to logically distinguish objectivity of either doctrine, the choice between thesis and antithesis is entirely of preference, that is: subjective.

The Kantian position is further supported by the modern logical positivist movement. Logical positivists such as A.J. Ayer would not give meaning to the idea of an afterlife because it is not analytic or synthetic statement. To further explain, the concept of an afterlife is neither true by definition or empirically verifiable.

“The disputants speak as if they are concerned with a matter of scientific fact, or of trans-sensual, trans-scientific and metaphysical fact, but still of fact and still a matter about which reasons for and against may be offered, although no scientific reasons in the sense of field surveys for fossils or experiments.” – A J Ayer

Although Ayer regards such statements as factually meaningless, he would give of them meaning subjectively. He says, “Perhaps when a man sings “God’s in heaven” we need not take this as more than an expression of how he feels.”

To conclude, I must reiterate that one cannot logically agree with the conclusion: ‘the reasons to believe an afterlife exists far outweigh reasons given for the non-existence of an afterlife.’ But I would rather state that this is a prime example of underdetermination, in that the evidence for the theory of an afterlife can be equally shown to fit within the context of a scientific theory, supporting physicalism. Furthermore, with the empirical evidence for an afterlife underdetermined, one cannot look towards pure rational argument for explanation as shown by Kant and Ayer. Therefore, it must be said that both empirically and rationally we find of no conclusive proof or of any such ‘intrinsic probability of an afterlife’.

I think that we have elucidated enough on this issue but I have recourse to part with the words of David Hume.

‘No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.’

To my mind, Hume’s words seem most pertinent.

Contributed by Tim Livingstone

A brief overview of Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell was a British philosopher who was primarily known for his contributions to humanism and rationalisations of atheism. However, he also made great contributions to mathematics such as the Principia Mathematica, which grounded all mathematic concepts in symbolic logic. His contributions to type theory would later be used in areas of computer programming. Russell was famous for the strength of his beliefs, having gone to prison during the First World War for actively campaigning for pacifism.

Russell was often controversialist in style, particularly with regard for his religious beliefs. His collection of essays “why I am not a Christian”, was published in 1927, a deeply traditional time, and he knew that it was likely to cause uproar. He was also noted for his description of Nazism and Communism as religions, as he felt they had many of the same aspects with regards to damaging human scientific and moral progress. His frankness was also a part of his style; he once said ‘I would never die for my beliefs, because I might be wrong’. He also made the analogy now known as “Russell’s Teapot” where if he claimed that an undetectable teapot orbited between Earth and Mars, he should be expected to prove it; however this would not be the case if belief in the teapot constituted a religion.

One vital contribution Russell made to philosophy was his work in the field of analytic philosophy. Russell felt that, in a similar way to mathematics, philosophy could be grounded on a language that was inherently logical. He famously considered the question of whether current imperfect languages actually allowed knowledge to be possible. Since it was argued that philosophy at the time had to be based on inferences (since it was not based on logic) and inferences could be incorrect, Russell argued that knowledge was theoretically impossible.

Russell’s opinions in this area were formed as a result of the ‘revolt against idealism’ which occurred in Britain in the beginning of the 20th Century. This ‘revolt’ called for the introduction of the scientific empirical method to philosophy, after the British Philosophy that was heavily influenced by German philosopher Immanuel Kant had begun to decline.

Russell was a campaigner for human rights in the latter half of his life. He heavily criticised both Hitler’s and Stalin’s governments, accusing Stalin in particular of being responsible for ‘the torture of millions’ .He later went on to campaign against the Vietnam war, as well as campaigning in favour of nuclear disarmament. He issued the Russell Manifesto, which called for peaceful resolution to international conflicts. It later became known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, as Einstein signed it days before his death in 1955. This later led to the Pugwash Conferences on nuclear disarmament, the first of which was held in July 1957.

Russell’s work in this area, as well as his concern with freedom of the individual in his philosophical works, led to him becoming the inaugural recipient of the Jerusalem Prize in 1963, given to writers who championed freedom of the individual. He had previously won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950, also because of his humanitarian and freedom-oriented philosophical writings.

Bertrand Russell died in 1970, aged 97.

Contributed by Julian Hewitt

The intrinsic probability of an afterlife

Throughout human history, individuals, who survived incidences of severe trauma and near death, have experienced other worldly experiences and brought back with them fantastic tales; common experiences include moving through tunnels, seeing bursts of lights, and meeting with deceased people. In the past, it would have been easy to attribute these as a coping mechanism, a way for the mind to avoid trauma while the body attempts to survive and recover. Yet, as medical science steadily advanced, the point has been reached in some cases where even as coping mechanisms near death experiences are useless. The huge scientific advances of recent decades have led to individuals recovering from experiences from which, in a state of nature, there is absolutely no chance of recovery, even in cases where the individual is declared clinically dead but, with the help of modern technologies, miraculously survives. And yet, the near death experiences continue to come.

Many opposed to the idea of an afterlife will try to argue that there are scientific explanations for these phenomena, and whilst these can be disproved, it skirts entirely around the central issue that there is no scientific reason for these occurrences. The fact that individuals suffering from naturally irreparable trauma do not always experience onrushing blackness or nothing at all, but rather wild and other worldly experiences is a phenomenon inherently without scientific or philosophical justification with the lack of an afterlife.

There is no scientific consensus on what exactly causes consciousness. Until an opponent of an afterlife shows that there is a logically coherent argument to illustrate that whatever causes consciousness can ever cease to exist, than we cannot affirm the resolution because we simply do not know. ‘Consciousness’ is a concept that has befuddled scientists and philosophers for millennia, so we need extremely compelling arguments that consciousness can simply end with the death of the body before we dismiss the possibility of an afterlife. We are viewing the issue initially with equal probability: until shown otherwise we assume that the likelihoods of the afterlife existing or not existing are equal so my opponent needs to give positive arguments for the death of consciousness, not just pre-emptive arguments.

I concur with a challenger of an afterlife that we cannot know for sure if the afterlife exists because we do not directly experience it until we are dead (near death experiences may dispute this premise, but I accept it here for the sake of argument). However, his own line of reasoning can be turned against him, as if we can never know anything outside of experience (like what lies beyond death) than the challenger fails to uphold his end of the burden of proof. He needs to present some kind of scientific or philosophical argument against the afterlife, because merely asserting that we cannot know if it exists, it does not affirm the proposition that the afterlife most likely does not exist. In fact, this is a negative argument; we can only guess based on evidence, not truly know and as such, the resolution cannot be affirmed.

Some criticise dualism for not providing an explanation as to how non-material entities such as a soul could interact with a body. This argument faces an insuperable objection in that there is no reason to believe that a soul in a body has to be consistently physical. It is not at all a stretch to believe that consciousness resides in a physical brain during life but continues in a non-physical state after death, especially given that scientists have never really explained what consciousness is physically. Moreover, they provide no explanation whatsoever for the experience of consciousness that we all feel and thus, you have no reason to believe that it does not continue after death. Until they do, they has no positive ground to stand on.

To conclude, the reasons to believe an afterlife exists far outweigh reasons given for the non-existence of an afterlife. Therefore, given my analysis, there is an intrinsic probability of an afterlife.

Contributed by Shane Dunne

Anti-realism and the Ontological argument.

Both Anselm’s and Descartes’ Ontological arguments, regarding the existence of God, have allegedly been refuted, most notably by Kant and his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’. However, the ontological argument may still have merit if we approach it from an anti-realist viewpoint. Norman Malcolm, who was a close friend of Ludwig Wittgenstein, attempts to address the ontological arguments from an anti-realist point of view. Malcolm considered that the first of Anselm’s arguments fails and goes on to re-state the first argument as follows:

  1. By definition, God is an absolutely perfect being possessing all perfections.
  2. Existence is a perfection.
  3. Therefore God must possess existence.

Malcolm, along with Hume and Kant, rejects the second premise by holding that existence is not a perfection. However, he goes on to develop Anselm’s second argument.

Anselm has two arguments. The first one occurs in the Proslogion II yet the more interesting one may be found in Proslogion III. Malcolm begins by stating that if God does not already exist, God cannot come into existence since this would require a cause and would make God a limited being, which by definition, God is not. Similarly, if God already exists, God cannot cease to exist. Once this is accepted, either God’s existence is impossible or necessary. Malcolm then argues that God’s existence could only be impossible if it were logically absurd or contradictory and, as it is neither, then God’s existence must be necessary. The statement “God necessarily exists”, therefore, can be held to be true. The argument can be explained in the following steps:

  1. Given the statement “God necessarily exists” there are only three possibilities about this statement. Either it is impossible, possibly true or necessarily true.
  2. There is no way of showing that the statement “God necessarily exists” is impossible. It would only be impossible if the statement contained a contradiction and it does not. Therefore, the idea of God’s existence being impossible is ruled out.
  3. The statement “God necessarily exists” cannot be possibly true. It is either true or it is false. Since God is defined as a necessary existent being, then God cannot just possibly exist. A possibly existent being is one which may or may not exist and this cannot apply to God as God is necessary. So therefore, the possibility of God existing is ruled out.
  4. Therefore the last assumption must be true, “God necessarily exists” must be a true statement.

This argument is rejected by John Hick who maintains that the most that can be said is that if God exists, then God exists necessarily. He maintains that if there is a triangle, it must have three sides, if there is a mountain, it must have a valley and if there is a God, the God must exist necessarily. It does not prove the existence of God, rather if God exists then he exists necessarily.

Hick, however, misunderstood Malcolm, mainly due to their misunderstanding of anti-realism. For the anti-realist God is real and God exists. God is not a being or substance and is neither wholly simple and timeless nor everlasting. Instead, God is an idea, a concept within the language shared by certain religious believers. For these people, God’s reality is unquestioned and undoubted. God is the centre of their world. God is that in which they live and move have their being, but God is merely an idea or concept which lies at the centre of the world which they have created and which gives meaning to their life. God has no independent existence outside this form of life. To those, therefore, within the religious form of life, “God necessarily exists” is a true statement, but to those who are atheists or agnostics, the statement is false.

The position of the anti-realist has several advantages. As the Dominican Gareth Moore puts it:

“What value is there in this approach, in seeing God as nothing, not a thing, not a part of the universe? To begin with it avoids all the difficulties and obscurities of the traditional ‘arguments for the existence of God’, and it avoids putting Christianity on such shaky foundations as might be established by these arguments”.

Because anti-realism rejects arguments for the existence of God and any appeal to revelation, it is held to be on firm ground.

“The question whether God exists is not a factual question, a question about what we might find. It is a question whether to adopt the concept ‘God’ into the language or to retain it. For me, the question of the existence of God is the question whether I can find a use for the word ‘God’ in my talk.”

God, for the anti-realists, is nothing but God still exists. God exists as a concept within the form of life of the religious believer. There is, anti-realists argue, no way of establishing correspondence between the statement “God exists” and either the wholly simple or the everlasting God and the answer lies in abandoning correspondence and instead, holding on to a coherency theory of truth. God, anti-realists claim, exists and is real, but only within the language of the community of believers. There is no being or substance called God, rather God is an idea within the religious form of life.

Contributed by Shane Dunne