Wednesday, 15 August 2018


The ancient sceptics labelled their opponents 'dogmatists'. The word 'dogmatist' in contemporary English has a pejorative tone – it hints at an irrational rigidity of opinion, a refusal to look impartially at the evidence. In its ancient sense the word lacked that tone: a dogmatist was simply someone who subscribed to dogmas or doctrines. We shall use the word in the ancient sense. The disadvantage of this practice is off-set by the convenience of having a short label for all those who are not sceptical philosophers.

Julia Annas and Jonathan Barnes, The Modes of Scepticism.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

From the Mailbag: The Modes of Aenesidemus

I've been asked to say more about ancient skeptical arguments. An old friend, Charlie Black, writes:

I was wondering when you planned to write more on skepticism. In particular, I am interested in the modes in the early part of Sextus Empiricus' Outlines and whether you can update them into analytic idiom.

Part of the reason I've avoided writing more about the skeptical arguments (in spite of some past posts) is that many are fairly bad.1 This, for me, makes them less exciting than if they were good. I'm still mainly interested in advancing the lot of philosophy or, at least, showing that it can't be advanced.

Monday, 13 August 2018

The Thoroughly Empirical Science

Metaphysics is the thoroughly empirical science. Every item of experience must be evidence for or against any hypothesis of speculative cosmology, and every experienced object must be an exemplar and test case for the categories of analytic ontology.

Donald Cary Williams. “The Elements of Being”. Principles of Empirical Realism, 1966, pp. 74–75.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

The Method of Subtraction

The method of subtraction is simply a useful dodge when attempting logical analysis. In order to see whether a certain condition c is, or is not, a necessary condition for the occurrence of a certain sort of situation s, try conceiving of cases of s where it is given that c does not hold. It may turn out to be fairly clear that the notion of s without c is an incoherent conception, and so fairly clear that c is necessary for s. This simple technique, which resembles the method of reductio ad absurdum in mathematics and logic, and the 'method of difference' in empirical research, can be astonishingly fruitful. The neglect to apply it can lead to a lot of unnecessary beating about the bush.

D. M. Armstrong. Belief, Truth and Knowledge, Cambridge University Press, 1973, pp. 81–82.

Monday, 23 July 2018

The Metaphilosophy of Religion: Classical Theists versus Theistic Personalists, II

Whilst debates over the nature of simplicity are important, the polemical emphasis on them has served to obscure a more fundamental dispute in early analytical philosophy which threatened to leave us with a concept of God so radically different from the historical understanding as to call all ultimacy claims into question. The divine attribute under fire here was not simplicity or personhood but divine necessity—God’s status as a necessary being.

Almost all classical theists hold that God’s existence is necessary; indeed this claim is so fundamental that before modernity few philosophers, atheist or theist, thought to dispute it. Necessary here is meant in the strongest sense, that of logical necessity—for every way reality could be that way includes God’s existence6. That the Divine is that for which it is impossible not to be is one of the most ancient tenets of Western metaphysics dating back to Parmenides7. This intuition has been central to our notion of God for centuries before thinkers had the conceptual tools to explicate it within a particular logical framework—indeed it has been one of the prime motivations in philosophers’ seeking additionally sophisticated ways to articulate modal truths.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The Metaphilosophy of Religion: Classical Theists versus Theistic Personalists, I

A certain narrative pervades natural theology, particularly in Catholic quarters. This narrative is that analytical philosophy of religion, though greatly beneficial in resuscitating the intellectual respectability of theism, has lead philosophers down a blind alley by introducing a substantially false understanding of God termed by critics ‘theistic personalism’. This position, held by the majority of analytical theists, especially Protestants, stands opposed to and serves to obscure the traditional understanding of God known as ‘classical theism’, which has been standard from Plato to the early modern period. I hold that excess focus on this narrative has obscured a more fundamental dispute within early analytical treatments of God.