‘Metaphysics: The Fundamentals’ by Robert C. Koons and Timothy Pickavance

1405195746Fresh out this month, Metaphysics: The Fundamentals gives students and instructors a comprehensive survey of the whole of analytic metaphysics. Includes introductions to the metaphysical work of particular figures (contemporary and historical), and explores all the key questions. See more.

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Reviews:

 “Robert C. Koons and Timothy H. Pickavance have mastered the art of succinct and non-technical digression. They are to be commended for their clear summaries. And, most important, they write in a way that invites readers to make up their own minds without attempting to conceal their own conclusions. As a result they have written a refreshingly different introduction to metaphysics, which I highly recommend.”

Peter Forrest, University of New England

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“A superb overview of the central issues in contemporary metaphysics, written with clarity and rigor, exploring both particular issues and deep structural divides. ”

Alexander R. Pruss, Baylor University

Do we need adjusting or can we deal?

The latest movie I’ve seen is The Adjustment Bureau. Moving past the cliched love story, it circles around the concepts of Determinism and Free Will. The movie is a an interesting adaptation of Philip K. Dick short story infused with suspense and imagination. Let’s start with the line I consider to be defining:

Thompson : We actually tried free will before. After taking you from hunting and gathering to the height of the Roman empire, we stepped back to see how you’d do on your own. You gave us the Dark Ages for five centuries until finally we decided we should come back in. The Chairman thought that maybe we just needed to do a better job with teaching you how to ride a bike before taking the training wheels off again. So we gave you raised hopes, Enlightenment, scientific revolution. For six hundred years we taught you to control your impulses with reason. Then in nineteen ten, we stepped back. Within fifty years you’d brought us World War One, The Depression, Fascism, The Holocaust and capped it off by bringing the entire planet to the brink of destruction in the Cuba missile crisis. At that point the decision was taken to step back in again before you did something that even we couldn’t fix.

Atrack and don’t deviate. They are the helpers of a Chairman (we might assume this is another name for God). So, this rekindles the problem of Free Will vs. Determinism that has puzzled philosophers for thousands of years. On the level of conscience, liberty can be defined as the possibility to choose. The principles used in the movie can basically be found in Leibniz’s doctrine: God predetermined broadly all the actions of the human beings, but leaves them with the choice of little things such as what to wear, what to eat, etc.  He believes that the universe is created by God according to a divine plan and that freedom and determinism are compatible with each other. People have  freedom, but they are  limited by their imperfection and passions.

Using the idea of freedom as spontaneity, Leibniz argues that our reliance on voluntary action by a chain of causes does not exclude a wonderful spontaneity. To exercise one’s free will means to act under one’s own wishes and inclinations, regardless of outside influences. Since the divine order prescribes classes of acts and not particular acts, we is free. However, this freedom of action manifests itself on God’s predetermined territory.

Deviating a little from Leibniz, but in the same area of subject: Did you knew that if people are told that free will doesn’t exist, their brains will follow?

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The Real Problem of Evil

The 17th century German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz famously argued that this world of ours is “the best of all possible worlds”, and in doing so founded the philosophical study that he named ‘theodicy’ – the attempt to answer the question of why we suffer in a world supposedly watched over be an all-powerful and benevolent God. The scenes of devastation created by the tsunami that recently hit the east coast of Japan make these kinds of proclamations hard to swallow to say the least. Some philosophers after Leibniz made a point of how blindly indulgent and insensitive such claims can seem in the face of these reminders of the relentless and destructive powers of nature. Voltaire’s famous literary lampoon Candide: Or, the Optimist mocked the academic sophistry of such arm-chair speculation about suffering, and fellow German Schopenhauer, philosophy’s eternal pessimist, was perhaps the most damning of them all, saying once that:

 

…I cannot here withhold the statement that optimism, where it is not merely the thoughtless talk of those who harbour nothing but words under their shallow foreheads, seems to me to be not merely an absurd, but also a really wicked way of thinking, a bitter mockery of the unspeakable sufferings of mankind. Let no one imagine that the Christian teaching is favourable to optimism; on the contrary, in the Gospels world and evil are used as synonymous expressions. Continue reading “The Real Problem of Evil”

Leibniz, freedom, and the problem of evil

Gottfried_Wilhelm_von_LeibnizMisery is all around us.  You don’t even have to look away from The Philosopher’s Eye to learn how hazardous the world is: we’ve discussed on this blog how the deadly swine flu is becoming even more virulent and how 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day.

The fact that there’s so much suffering is already bad enough.  But it poses a special problem for theists who believe in an omnipotent and good God.  How could such a God allow so many people to suffer so much?  This is the (or a) Problem of Evil.  Leibniz‘s famous, deeply counterintuitive answer to the Problem of Evil is to argue that, despite appearances, we inhabit the best possible world.  Over the weekend, philosophers Jan Cover and Michael Murray appeared on Bloggingheads.tv to discuss this strange idea.

Continue reading “Leibniz, freedom, and the problem of evil”