/ Philosophy Department


Plenary Speakers

“ʻNot Only Do the Mouths Singʼ: Religious Practice and the Sanctity of Life in Black Thought”Vincent Lloyd, Villanova University
The Caribbean poet Aimé Césaire suggests that Black colonial experience can provide privileged access to the sanctity of life by putting in relief forces of domination that distort life’s holiness. In the Christmas liturgy, he writes, “Not only do the mouths sing, but the hands, the feet… and your entire being liquefies sounds, voices, and rhythm.” What would it mean to take Césaire’s suggestion as the starting point of a philosophical argument about the relationship between the sanctity of life and religious practice?
“Minds, Bodies and Selves After Split-Brain Surgery”Elizabeth Schechter, Indiana University Bloomington
There’s been a lot of philosophical literature (some of it by Christian philosophers) on what happens to the unity of consciousness and self after split-brain surgery. I do argue that the surgery divides consciousness and even leaves two psychological beings in place. But because they are so substantially co-embodied, they cannot distinguish themselves from each other, and in this sense are not distinct self-conscious beings of the sort persons necessarily are, and thus continue to be subpersonal parts of one person.

Friday, September 13

Session 1

“Skeptical Theism Proved”Perry Hendricks, Purdue University
Skeptical theism is a popular response to arguments from evil. Many hold that it undermines a key inference often used by such arguments. However, the case for skeptical theism is often kept at an intuitive level: no one has offered an explicit argument for the truth of skeptical theism. In this article, I aim to remedy this situation: I construct an explicit, rigorous argument for the truth (of one version) of skeptical theism.
“Has God Indeed Said?: Skeptical Theism, Moral Commitment, and Scriptural Hermeneutics”Michelle Panchuk, Murray State University
In this paper I argue that the epistemic assumptions needed to support skeptical theism (ST) undermine the use of moral commitments as guiding hermeneutical principles in interpreting apparently reprehensible divine commands. Although the use of pre-theoretic moral commitments as guiding hermeneutical principles is most obvious within theological frameworks such a feminist, womanist, and other liberation theologies, I demonstrated that they play a less explicit but no less important role within other theological frameworks. Thus, if we endorse ST, we are not justified in denying that God has commanded the many horrors that religious scriptures have been supposed to commend.
“The Objective Brokenness of Purpose: Karl Barth’s Theological Anthropology in Philosophical Perspective”Jacob Thielman, Calvin Theological Seminary
Karl Barth’s anthropology in Church Dogmatics III/2 situates his thought against the backdrop of contemporary philosophy and its theological heirs. Here he gives a detailed account of human being not as a cosmological construction, but as the concrete product of God's determining will. Barth’s particularistic mode of argument, with its strong aversion to generalization and abstraction, provides some unique insights into how human purpose works and the conditions under which we can give an account of it. Drawing on Kevin Diller’s recent coordination of Barth with Alvin Plantinga, I will argue that Barth is pointing us towards a concrete way of talking about purpose as a dialectic of determination and acknowledgement.

Session 2

“NeoAristotelian Epistemic Normativism: How the Beatific Vision Grounds Epistemic Normativity”Paul Blaschko, University of Notre Dame
Epistemic normativity shares two distinctive features with practical and ethical normativity, and we need an account of it that can: (a) explain why it has these features, and (b) distinguish it from these other species of normativity in by specifying the special role truth plays in grounding it. Where others have failed in the attempt to provide such an account, I will succeed, but in a somewhat surprising way: it turns out that our best account of the source, grounds, and nature of epistemic normativity essentially involves recognizing the beatific vision (and, specifically, the good of contemplating a God identical with truth) as the ultimate end of human life.
“Knowing, Acting, and Making”Bob Bishop, Florida State University
As it’s traditionally understood, practical knowledge has three distinctive features. First, practical knowledge is the cause of what it understands. Second, practical knowledge is non-observational. Third, practical knowledge involves some criterion of success. While each feature is independently plausible, tension arises when we consider the two features together. Often, practical knowledge’s success is only known by observation, rather than known non-observationally by the agent: if I close my eyes after shooting, I will not know if my free-throw goes in. I argue that a distinction in practical knowledge, inspired by Aristotle, preserves all three features of practical knowledge.
“Finding Meaning in Horrendous Evils: The Influence of Emotion and Community”Maria Altepeter, Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, MO)
This paper considers what it takes, psychologically speaking, to defeat evil for a given sufferer. I investigate what goes into seeing one’s life as meaningful in the midst of ‘horrendous evils’, and what the role of attention narrowing/broadening is in this process. I consider Brady’s (2018) argument for the epistemic benefit of suffering, along with empirical literature on meaning making, suggesting that decentering from suffering can facilitate one’s personal defeat of evil. Based on these empirical considerations, I give a practical upshot for the Church’s role in helping those who are trying to defeat evil in their own lives.
“The Multiverse, Skepticism, and Creation Ethics”John Pittard, Yale University
The prospect of a divinely created infinite multiverse provides the basis for a powerful theodicy. Arguably, the standards of acceptability that a possible universe must meet to be worthy of creation are significantly laxer if God can create an infinite number of universes than in a hypothetical scenario where God can create just one universe. But this insight also raises skeptical concerns. Given the laxity of relevant standards, God arguably has reason to create “epistemically inhospitable” universes that, while good overall, are inhabited by creatures who are radically mistaken in their beliefs. This paper assesses responses to this skeptical problem.
“What Happens When People Worship”Benjamin Parviz, University of Missouri-St. Louis
What makes liturgical actions worth doing? Is it valuable for Christians to participate in Christian liturgy if it is done “for the wrong reasons,” or “in the wrong mindset”? This paper seeks for answers to these questions from confessional Lutheran liturgical theology, with the help of J. David Velleman’s distinction between full-blooded human action and defective action. Within the Lutheran understanding that all acts of worship are caused by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of preserving and strengthening faith, the author argues that liturgical actions performed alongside faith are always worth doing irrespective of the worshipper’s reasons or attitudes.
“Rituals of Ultimacy”Jeff Porter, The Catholic University of America
Neurotheology is a methodology promoted by Andrew Newberg for bringing into dialogue two disciplines normally considered at odds with one another: neuroscience and theology. Following Newberg’s neurotheological methodology, this article argues that recent neuroscientific research not only supports James K. A. Smith’s post-secular account of liturgy, but also helps construct a practical theology of formation. Rejecting the primacy of cognitive accounts of religious formation, dialogue between the two disciplines can also help in the critique and dismantling of unwarranted hierarchies of personal identity, worldview, knowledge, and learning.

Session 3

“Creatures of Animality, Sociality, and Desire: A Critique of Anthropologies of Rationality”Cameron Hepola, Holy Apostles College and Seminary
In this paper, it is argued that the prominent anthropological understanding of rationality is a deficient understanding of the human person and does not seriously take into consideration the existence of those with mental disabilities. Instead, it is argued that the human person should be defined as a created animal whose primary distinctions lie within two areas: 1) creatures of desire and 2) creatures who both desire and require community, connection, and relationship with other humans.
“Empathy and the Recovery of Moral Knowledge: A Revised Prospectus”Nathan Mueller, Baylor University
In his book, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge, Dallas Willard argues that the loss of publically accessible moral knowledge in our day has left individual and group life morally adrift in the sea of desire, force, and chance. A return to moral knowledge, argues Willard, must begin with the recognition of the unique shape of moral knowledge and then work to make the subject of moral theorizing the good person, the moral exemplar. In this paper I offer a Willardian prospectus for a return to moral knowledge which is rooted in the phenomenological account of empathy defended by Edith Stein.
“Brain Death and Matters of Conscience”Adam Omelianchuk, Clemson University
I argue against the provision of religious exemptions to declarations of death based on “whole-brain” criteria for two reasons. The first is that they fail to protect anyone from acting against their will, which is what religious exemptions are supposed to do. Secondly, our death statutes are neutral with respect to religious teaching, advance significant government interests, and substantially promote those interests, and therefore, should not be brought under strict scrutiny. I end by offering a suggestion for how providers can move forward in sensitivity to those who disagree with a brain-death declaration in a way that respects religious belief.
“Psychological Continuity Theory and Branching”James Elliott, Purdue University
This short paper suggests a version of the psychological-continuity theory of personal identity (“PCT”), building off Parfit’s (1984) influential view, that gets around a heretofore popular and troublesome objection to PCT — branching scenarios, otherwise known as “division” or “fission” scenarios. Focusing on the concept of the phenomenological subject as a time-indexed limit, my view accommodates branching scenarios in a way that is neither ad-hoc (like Parfit’s and Shoemaker [2008]’s) nor problematic and unintuitive (like Ehring [1987], Wright [2006], Cerullo [2015], and Demarest’s [2016]). What results is a tentative account of PCT that makes sense of branching scenarios.
“Liturgy and Reconciliation: Liturgical Responses to Religious Harm”Heidi Giannini, Houghton College
Recent philosophical work has called attention to the phenomenon of religious harm, but little attention has been paid to resources for repairing that harm. In this paper, I argue that liturgy is a natural place to look for such resources. More specifically, I argue that liturgy can facilitate the repair of religious harm that results in an individual’s alienation from the Church, with particular attention to liturgical practices of repentance.
“Liturgy as a Way Into Faith”Morgan Flannery, New York University
Contemporary philosophical and theological treatments of liturgy do not provide a systematic analysis of the kind(s) of value distinctive to liturgical activity and of the contribution(s) it makes to a well-lived life — specifically Christian or otherwise. In my paper, I address these gaps in the literature by (1) developing a systematic account of the distinctive epistemic, formational, and symbolic value of liturgical activity; (2) showing how each of these functions may strengthen a particular mode of theistic faith; and (3) arguing that liturgical activity is valuable from a non-theistic standpoint as well as a theistic one.

Session 4

“Intrinsic Value Pantheism”Scott A. Davison, Morehead State University
This is an essay about the relationship between God and that which is intrinsically valuable. Some theists are hesitant to say that anything is intrinsically valuable, but I show that theists are committed to the existence of intrinsic value — at least with respect to God. I summarize the conclusion (defended elsewhere) that everything that exists has some degree of intrinsic value, and ask what we should say about God's relationship to the property of being intrinsically valuable (if there is such a thing). One way of thinking about this suggests a kind of pantheism: if God is identical to the property of being intrinsically valuable, then everything else that exists is a part of God, in some sense.
“Why Truthmaker Theory Cannot Save Divine Simplicity”Dean Da Vee, Cornell University
In this paper, I will argue that Jeffrey Brower’s defense of divine simplicity requires an implausibly ad hoc account of truthmaking. This is because it requires that essential intrinsic predications about God are made true by God alone, rather than by God’s having any essential properties. I will argue, however, that there are reasons to think that, in general, essential intrinsic predications are made true by an object’s having essential properties. My argument for this claim will rest on applying a plausible principle about causal explanation to cases where distinct essential intrinsic predications about an object have different causal histories.
“Causal Time Loops and the Immaculate Conception”Jeremy W. Skrzypek, University of Mary
A causal time loop occurs when some later event is a cause of some earlier event which is also a cause of the later event. In this paper, I argue that anyone committed to the doctrine of the immaculate conception, according to which Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived without the stain of original sin as a result of the redeeming effects of Jesus’s later passion, death, and resurrection, is committed to the existence of at least one causal time loop. Along the way, I also address a concern about the freedom of causal agents existing within this loop.
“Stoic Mixture Theory and the Hypostatic Union”Timothy Kleiser, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
This paper considers the Stoic influence on patristic formulas of christological perichoresis. I begin with a summary of the etymological basis for perichoresis in order to show that the term has always carried the sense of ‘interpenetration.’ I then show how the term was first used by the Stoics and how the patristic fathers adapted and developed the term to describe christological perichoresis which later gave rise to trinitarian perichoresis. In short, I will argue that patristic theologians developed christological perichoresis by adapting the Stoic understanding of krasis/perichoresis as a continual process of “mutual interpenetration” that results in “mutual constitutiveness” and “mutual integrity.”
“Embodied Virtue and Recalcitrant Desire”Marshall Thompson, Florida State University
As embodied creatures we face a problem of practical disunity. Out bodily desires are recalcitrant to the judgement of reason (e.g., even the perfectly temperate would be hungry when fasting during a famine). This problem of practical disunity is a serious obstacle to establishing the rationality of virtue, and thus, views which solve the problem have a strong explanatory advantage. I argue in this paper that theists have unique resources to resolve the problem by seeing the recalcitrance of desire as a moral disordering that resulted from the fall and as something that will be solved in the new creation.
“Bodily Identification and Disidentification: A Phenomenological Approach”Ysabel Vandenberg, Saint Louis University
Death, disease, malady, and other threats to bodily integrity have long been conceptualized in the Christian tradition as results of the fall, but how does a theology of fallenness affect subjective experiences of bodily self-understanding? Is an individual meant to understand a particular physical phenomena as a neutral or positive instance of bodily diversity, or as something ‘wrong’ which was not meant to occur? This talk will focus on developing the concept of bodily identity and articulating modes of bodily identification and disidentification, leaning heavily on the work of feminist theorists, particularly Gail Weiss, and phenomenologists to establish this understanding.

Saturday, September 14

Session 1

“Was Your Mother a Part of You?  A Challenge for Elselijn Kingma”Hilary Yancey, Baylor University
Elselijn Kingma (2018) argues fetuses (and embryos) are parts of maternal organisms prior to birth. Plausibly she means that the fetus is a body part of the mother. In this paper I deny Kingma’s claim. On the view of (human) bodily parthood I defend, body parts are defined by their performing (in part or wholly) essential biological functions for the human being in question. But on this definition, it is better to say that the mother is part of the fetus. But, I argue, since this is false, it is also false that fetuses are body parts of their mothers.
“Perdurantists Shouldn’t Be Animalists”Nolan Whitaker, Biola University
Animalism says you are identical to a human animal. Perdurantism says you persist by way of temporal parts. While animalism is consistent with perdurantism, arguments for animalism are unsuccessful given perdurantism. Given perdurantism, Olson’s Thinking Animal Argument has a false premise. Further, Bailey’s argument from the interlocking interests of human persons and human animals fails, as the perdurantist inherits the personite problem; the personite problem is that there are many person-like entities that overlap and share parts with the person. Because personites have different interests than their person, practical reason of the kind Bailey’s argument assumes is upended. So perdurantists shouldn’t be animalists.
“An Episodic Model of the Trinity”Justin Mooney, University of Massachusetts Amherst
I present and motivate Ned Markosian’s (2008 and 2010) episodic account of identity under a sortal, and then use it to sketch a new model of the Trinity. I show that the model can be used to solve at least three important Trinitarian puzzles: the traditional ‘logical problem of the Trinity’, a less-discussed problem that has been dubbed the ‘problem of triunity’, and a problem about the divine processions that has been enjoying increased attention in the recent literature.
“Ways of Being the One God: Co-Realized Possibilities Trinitarianism”Simon Babbs, Loyola University of Chicago
According to this new model of the Trinity, the Persons are eternally co-existent realized possible ways of being the one God. The Athanasian Creed implies this model, provided that the phrase ‘is God’ in the affirmation that “the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God” is interpreted as meaning, at least, “is a realized way of being God.” Imaginative musings provide an “intuition pump” for grasping and defending the model. The model provides a metaphysical reason whereby the Persons necessarily agree regarding all things. It also affords an account of the Trinitarian Processions.
“Moral Luck, Responsibility, and Making a Difference”Philip Swenson, College of William & Mary
I defend a particular response to the problem of resultant moral luck. I then defend the claim that we are only responsible for what we could have avoided. I argue that one's degree of responsibility is immune to moral luck but the scope of events for which one is responsible is subject to luck. I then argue that this view allows us to explain away certain intuitions about responsibility and overdetermination (as well as similar intuitions regarding Frankfurt Cases). As a result, the claim that we are only responsible for what we could have avoided becomes significantly more plausible.
“What does it take to represent?”Vince D. Jacobson, Purdue University
If representation really is (strictly speaking) proper to mental things, then photographs, paintings, propositions, and sentences can’t represent mind-independently. But it seems obvious that photographs (to pick just one example) can represent mind-independently: a long-forgotten photo of Amelia Earhart doesn’t cease to represent her. So, representation isn’t proper to mental things after all. I criticize the second premise of this argument. For a photograph to represent mind-independently, it must have a certain purpose mind-independently. But (I argue) it’s not clear how a photograph could have this purpose without the help of a mind. The same goes for some other purportedly mind-independent representations.

Session 2

“Aquinas and the Rehabilitation of Agape and Philia: Metaphysical Foundations”Robert M. Frazier, Geneva College
Kierkegaard contends that one should “admit in the defense that Christianity has thrust erotic love and friendship from the throne in order to establish spiritual love (agape) in its place.” Further, he claims that the “praise of erotic love and friendship belong to paganism.” In this paper, I assert that St. Thomas provides rapprochement. In the Summa, he identifies caritas (agape) with friendship. He writes that “charity is a kind of friendship and we may consider charity from two standpoints: first, under the general notion of friendship… (which) implies union.” I explore the idea of the union of caritas and friendship and the metaphysical foundations that Aquinas asserts supports this rapprochement.
“Kant’s Theological Treatment of the Sublime”Andrea Thornton, St. Louis University
Kant’s philosophy centers on epistemic limits. In this way, Kant shares, though somewhat obliquely, in the tradition of apophatic discourse. His work on the “Analytic of the Sublime” in the Critique of Judgment opens a space in his philosophy for the mystical experience of a higher power even though knowledge of that power is limited. I argue that this work is theological and that it presents an aesthetic mode appropriate to worship; furthermore, I argue that his analytic method, which departs from apophatic tradition, is appropriate to create space for the experience of apophasis, suggesting the integral relationship of apophasis and cataphasis.
“Can God Be Trusted?”Jonathan D. Parsons, College of DuPage
If God allows certain evils to occur knowing full well that 1) such instances of evil will strike us as apparently gratuitous or horrendous; 2) we lack the epistemic capacities to see that those evils are not actually gratuitous or horrendous; 3) allowing those evils will likely erode our confidence that God can be trusted and may even be seen as a betrayal of trust, God’s allowing such evils to occur does not bode well for continuing to trust God or for initially placing trust in God. So, even if those evils may not justify atheism, they may justify apostasy.
“Does Theism Make a Difference for Self-Defense?”Blake Hereth, University of Arkansas
If theism is true, would that make a difference for self-defense? I defend a positive answer with two arguments. First, if theism is true, then the narrow proportionality constraint would be violated even in otherwise justified cases of self-defense, since God would ensure that the deaths of murderers would be worse than the deaths of murder victims. Second, if theism is true, then the wide proportionality constraint would be violated even in otherwise justified cases of self-defense, since God's omnisubjectivity entails that God experiences the psychological harms of both the would-be victim and the murderer. After defending both arguments, I defuse several objections.