Search Results for: R. Scott Smith

Interview with R. Scott Smith: In Search of Moral Knowledge

In this interview, R. Scott Smith discusses the implications of his latest book, In Search of Moral Knowledge (IVP Academic), including how the Enlightenment has shaped our thought-patterns and how a common taproot has animated both ‘postmodern epistemology’ and ‘philosophical naturalism’:

In Search of Moral Knowledge is born out of your own teaching experience. What are you called to teach graduate students in the foundational areas that your book also addresses?

I wanted to give grad students (and upper division undergrads, too) a good handle on the crucial factors affecting us in ethics today. I wanted to give a good grounding in moral theory, before we turn to address our many applied ethical issues today.

Ever since I studied with J.P. Moreland, I realized the importance of understanding morals in terms of metaphysical and epistemological issues. E.g., how we come to know which moral properties (principles, virtues) are valid depends upon what kind of thing they are metaphysically. Yet, for a lengthy time now, in western academia, we have suffered a breakdown in knowledge. How can we make good on our various claims? This is nowhere seen more than in ethics, and religion and theology. Yet, as I came to see while studying with Dallas Willard, this breakdown in epistemology is due fundamentally to a breakdown in metaphysics. Specifically, I think it is due to a loss of essences, including universals. We simply cannot know any universal moral truths if there are no universals. And if there are no universals, then we are left with just particulars, including our many particular claims in ethics and religion, which is exactly how many people see things today.

So, how do we make good on our various moral claims (not to mention religious ones), especially in today’s pluralistic setting(s)? 

Many have proposed their answers, yet very few people get down to what I think is the root problem – i.e., a metaphysical one about the rejection of essences, with its enormous theological implications. And, not just any epistemology will allow us to have knowledge, or so I think. I think our abilities to have knowledge of reality depend upon the reality of essences and our being a unity of body and soul.

If the various philosophical and cultural/historical moves rejected essences and instead embraced permutations of nominalism, and these led to a breakdown in being able to make good on our various moral theories and claims, then we need to revisit those moves, to see to what extent they are justified. And, perhaps we need to recover an earlier view that had been rejected. This is why, having seen Willard’s example, I think we need to understand these moves made in the history of ethics (and epistemology, metaphysics, and theology).  For what if those earlier moves were mistaken? We need to examine them, to see just what we ought to conclude, to understand how (and why) we ought to live now.

In this, I think we should find that the Christian God, and Christianity, understood as embracing essences, a robust body-soul dualism, and universals, is the best explanation for what morals are, and how we can know them. So my book serves also as a full-blown argument for the existence of the Christian God.

In recent years, you’ve published two other books that have some overlapping interest with your new book: Virtue Ethics and Moral Knowledge (Ashgate, 2003) and Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality (Ashgate, 2012). In general, how does In Search of Moral Knowledge extend the argument that you’ve developed in these other books?

In Search of Moral Knowledge updates my understanding and assessment of the postmodern turn from Virtue Ethics, particularly in the works of Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas. In the earlier book, I understood their views more along the lines of how we construct our “worlds” by how we use language in our respective “forms of life.” I based that view on MacIntyre’s understanding of how concepts are embodied in the social world, and how Brad Kallenberg expressed a Wittgensteinian view as language and world being internally related. However, in light of a letter from MacIntyre, and a separate critique from James K.A. Smith, I came to see the “postmodern turn” more along the lines as Jamie states it; i.e., that everything is interpretation. So, I update and alter my earlier understanding, and then I assess that “new” understanding.

My assessment of naturalistic ethics in In Search of Moral Knowledge is an extension of my overall argument in Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality. In Naturalism, I argued that on the basis of the ontology of naturalism, we cannot know reality. In the new book, I summarize and apply that argument to naturalism and ethics, to help show that the fact side of the fact-value dichotomy is false.

Sometimes accounts of ‘postmodern epistemology’ simply begin with a ‘linguistic turn’ in philosophy. But part of your contribution to this discussion has been to show how the ontology and epistemology of philosophical naturalism has been influential here. Why should someone understand the conditions and contours of postmodern epistemology from the standpoint of philosophical naturalism as a historically developed set of a ideas?

There is at least one reason why the virtue ethics of Aristotle and Aquinas has had great staying power. In Virtue Ethics, and here, too, I try to show that a metaphysical view that has no place for essences will undermine virtue ethics. At least in terms of historical development, I think postmodernism is a further development in the same overall trajectory of naturalism, and even nominalism. I do not think there is room for essences on any of these views, and postmodernism now takes that stance and applies it to words and their meanings. Derrida, and Dennett and Quine too, realize that without essences, there is no “deeper fact” to what a text means; it simply points on, beyond itself. It leaves the meaning of a text as just a matter of interpretation, without any definitive stopping point. This is due fundamentally to a loss of any place for essences.

In Part One of the book, you offer a “short history of Western ethics.” What do you find to be the most consequential ways for how the “the Enlightenment period” has shaped the fact-value dichotomy?

In that overall period, several factors came together. There had been a series of events in history and science, such that science came to be seen as the paradigm of how we have knowledge. There was great pressure and impetus (especially in the states) for theology to be done scientifically. Along with that emphasis came the stress upon empirical methodologies to give us knowledge. Plus, ontologically speaking, the view was becoming more commonplace that the universe (and humans) are mechanisms.

While not necessarily entailing a denial of the reality of immaterial entities (God, souls, mental states, essences, universals, etc.), these emphases also fit with Bacon’s scientific method, in which he focused on just material and efficient causes, not formal or final ones. These views were worked out in that period along with empiricism (the view that all knowledge comes by way of the five senses) and nominalism (the view that there are no universals, but only particulars, and so without essences, it seems). These views helped set the stage for the rise of naturalism.

So, the view of science that we have inherited from the Enlightenment’s influences (and some before then) have led us to understand scientific knowledge (which is the basis for the facts we know) in terms of empirical methods, and that is often understood in terms of an ontology that is devoid of immaterial realities. Or, if they exist, we cannot know them as such – they play no role in our having knowledge. And without essences, morals and spiritual claims to knowledge really are but particulars, not universals, and subjective, not objective.

In terms of ‘idea grip,’ as Dallas Willard would say, can we really ‘overcome’ the fact-value dichotomy without overcoming some significant ideas from the Enlightenment? 

I do not think we can without doing what you suggest. To help overcome the fact-value dichotomy, several factors will be necessary, I think. In part, it will involve refuting the fact side, that knowledge uniquely comes by way of the sciences. Thus, scientism is one such idea, whether in a strong or weak form, that will need to be repudiated. Another key will be to show that there is more to what is real than what is empirically observable (due to the loss of essences from naturalism and nominalism).

We also need to show that we can, & often do, have knowledge in ethics (and religion, theology). But I think this two-pronged approach will require a refutation of naturalism and anti-essentialism, including nominalism. This book, along with my Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality, are attempts to do just that.

Lately, though, I have been bringing in more lines of thought, including the effects of the “split” upon evangelicals, especially in the states. Our evangelical predecessors in the 1800s and thereafter placed a strong emphasis upon having knowledge of objective truths in all aspects of life by “common sense,” which was thought simply would confirm Scripture. Objective truth was preferred over the subjective, which is a deep legacy of the Enlightenment.

Now, knowledge is important, in that, as J.P. Moreland has said many times, Christianity is a knowledge tradition. We need knowledge, but we need that in conjunction with an intimate relationship with Jesus. That is, we are to live in a deep heart and mind unity with Him, with His heart and mind. His word is to abide not only in us, but we also are to abide in Him (Jn 15:5). We are to love Him with all our being – including both our minds and our hearts. But the “split” discourages and even undermines that unity. By stressing knowledge of reality as the desired goal, while relegating ethics and religion to the realm of the subjective, the “split” undermines the relational aspect of Christianity, instead pressing us to understand the Christian life along the lines of knowledge of objective truths, yet abstracted from a deep, intimate relationship with Him.

So, in western cultures, where we tend to see ethics and religion as personal, subjective, and a matter of opinion, Christians, having been influenced by the “split,” often tend to see their relationship with Jesus as something to be based on believing (& obeying) objective truths. But while that appeals to the mind, it does not necessarily (or easily) touch the heart. That is, it is all too easy for Christians to live out of their “heads” than out of both their minds and their hearts. Yet God wants us to be deeply united with both His heart and mind. If we are not deeply abiding in Him, in relationship with Him (which, out the very nature of relationships, must involve many subjectivities), then we will tend to not be truly abiding in Him. But that is a disaster, for then we will tend to be living in our own strength, not His; and apart from Him, we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). To the extent we live in our own self and strength, we will undermine the fullness of His Spirit in us, and we also will give room to the influences of Satan in our thoughts and hearts. I think a grave danger we face as western Christians today is to value knowledge over relationship with Jesus, even though in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3), and we have been given the mind of Christ (and access directly thereto, 1 Cor 2:10-16).

Not only that, He wants our hearts and minds to be deeply united within ourselves, lest we live as bifurcated individuals. God wants us to be whole, well-integrated people, who do not live merely out of just either our hearts or our minds. If we go to seed on the mental, we can know all sorts of truths, but without hearts of compassion, love, kindness, and even power. In that way, we may have knowledge of truth, but not in its fullness. If we tend to emphasize the heart over the “head,” we can value experience at the expense of knowledge, but that too can lead to all sorts of errors. We need both mind and heart unity – in ourselves, which comes from Him, and with Him. (I think this also dovetails closely with reading and practicing God’s written word (Scripture), and listening to His voice, in relationship with Him.)

If moral knowledge is best accounted for by an ‘essentialist’ framework., how can a post-/anti-/non- essentialist view of knowledge, persons, and morality, etc. motivate/justify their claims? 

There are various ways thinkers have advocated for ethics to be based on such frameworks, whether that be Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Bentham, Mill, Rawls, Korsgaard, or naturalists, relativists, or postmoderns. Some, for instance, try to shift knowledge to be a matter of something we have from a particular standpoint, or context, as with MacIntyre or Hauerwas. Knowledge then becomes a matter of what we know from our situated standpoints.

What I think is interesting is that in each of these cases and people I just listed, none of them have any place (or use) for essences, or universals. All embrace, or presuppose, nominalism. Yet, they too have to try to come up with some way(s) to account for moral “phenomena,” such as 1) human life involves morality, however that is to be understood; and 2) there are various morals we all seem to know, such as justice and love are good, and rape and murder are wrong. In the cases of these various theorists, how we know what is moral trades upon how they have defined what kind of things morals are. So, they have to come up with some ways to know these and other facets of morals that will square with nominalism. In some way or another, since there are no essences on such views (or, at least, they play no role in them), these views must be forms of constructivism. Without an essence, there is no defining quality, thereby leaving morals up to us. (And that’s a major reason why I think the fact-value split is so attractive to us; it allows us to think we can live out Gen 3:5 – that we can be like God, defining good and evil, and even reality.)

How does the Christian tradition provide ‘resources’ for overcoming the fact-value dichotomy?

Despite some attempts to conceive (or reconceive) the Christian tradition along nominalist, physicalist, or postmodern lines, I think all these fail, for a number of reasons I have raised in this book, my Naturalism book, and other essays. I think Christianity is best understood as supporting substance dualism, the existence of irreducible mental properties, and universals. (On the latter, see also my essay in Philosophia Christi 15:2). I think this enables us to make sense of many, many important facets of reality, along with Scripture’s claims. E.g., I think that because concepts are universals, many people literally can have the same concept in mind. Because there are essences, there is a fact of the matter of what I meant when I wrote this book, or this sentence. Not just any interpretation goes.

There also can be facts of the matter of the nature of the fetus, the infant, and even the elderly. If there are essences, like humanness, which is instantiated in particular souls, there can be intrinsic properties, like moral worth. I see that as being grounded in our bearing (metaphysically) the image of God. Also, due to the reality of a universal human essence, God the Son really could take on a fully human nature (yet without sin), and thus be able to substitute for us and atone for our sins.

Indeed, if there are universals, there really can be universal morals. And if we all share in a common human nature (as image bearers), then these morals can apply to each of us. Plus, universals as just abstract entities that exist as brute facts (Plato’s view, e.g.) does not really explain why these morals apply to us, or why we should obey them. But their being grounded in God’s character does accomplish that.

Moreover, due to this common human nature, there are some morals we all know to be so, whether by general revelation (such as in Rom 1, 2), or Scripture. There also are some spiritual truths we know – such as that God truly exists (which we may suppress). If so, then there are facts to be known in these areas, and the “split” is false.

R. Scott Smith is Associate Professor of Ethics and Christian Apologetics, Biola University. Previously at, Naturalism and our Knowledge of Reality was discussed by Paul Gould and EPS President Angus Menuge.

An Assessment of R. Scott Smith’s Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality

From the 2012 EPS annual meeting, in a panel discussion devoted to R. Scott Smith’s book, Naturalism and our Knowledge of Reality, Angus Menuge argues that naturalism presents itself as a world view founded on scientific knowledge, which seeks to reduce or eliminate various recalcitrant phenomena such as consciousness and moral values.

Most critiques of naturalism focus on its inability to do justice to these phenomena. By contrast, in Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality (Ashgate, 2012), R. Scott Smith argues that naturalism fails to account for our ability to know reality, thereby undercutting its alleged scientific foundation.

Michael Rea and Robert Koons have argued that, on naturalism, there are no well-defined objects of knowledge. Smith complements this critique by showing that, even if such objects exist, subjects will be unable to know them as they are.

Smith’s threefold argument can be understood as the intellectual revenge of Berkeley, Kant and Husserl on naturalism. At the end of the paper, Menuge suggests a couple of ways proponents of naturalized epistemology would likely respond.

To read the full-text of this article, please click here (updated with correction on 12/7).

Welcome, R. Scott Smith!

At least in the EPS, Scott Smith embodies one of the finest representations of what it means to be a gentleman and a scholar. Even more, his devotion to Jesus is to be imitated.

With gratitude, I am pleased to announce that Scott be joining us as a contributor to the EPS blog. His first post is already available to read, and it offers a helpful, initial acquaintance with some of his recent work.

Read: “Ontology of Knowledge: An Introductory Inquiry.”

Scott Smith has served in the EPS in a variety of ways. Perhaps most notably he is the Treasurer of the EPS and a member of the EPS Executive Committee. He has also been a frequent contributor to Philosophia Christi, including most recently, his Summer 2011 article: “Finitude, Falleness, and Immediacy.”

In January, Ashgate will be releasing his stimulating book, Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality, which you can also learn more about by reading his blog post here.

Of his forthcoming book, E.J. Lowe says:

Whether or not one agrees with all of the far-reaching conclusions of this interesting and enjoyable book, it cannot be denied that it raises deep and probing questions concerning the ability of any purely naturalistic system of ontology to account adequately for the intentionality of mental states and the very possibility of our knowledge of the natural world. All self-proclaimed naturalists, as well as their opponents, would do well to reflect on its arguments.

Scott is a diligent analyzer of both the nature and consequence of ideas.

Dallas Willard notes:

Scott Smith brings out the fact that knowledge of reality, including knowledge of knowledge, cannot be accounted for within an ontology that only admits entities from the physical world. This means that such an ontology–call it “Naturalism”–itself is not knowable. Yet it fights desperately to be the only authority on knowledge and to have the right to dictate social and governmental policy. Smith relentlessly and cogently argues that Naturalism does not have the conceptual resources to defend its position: that, indeed, it undercuts itself. The issues here are not only of abstract philosophical interest, but are also vitally related to the direction of human life. This book should be widely read for the light it casts on many current cultural quandries. 

Stay tuned at the EPS blog for more coverage of Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality. In the meantime, we welcome your comments on Scott Smith’s latest blog post.

Scott Smith: Christian Philosophers Should Care about Naturalism’s Effect on the Church

Longtime EPS member and Philosophia Christi contributor, Biola’s Scott Smith, applies his philosophical arguments against naturalism and Christian physicalism to discerning the effects of naturalism on the church. See his recently released video:

Moreover, in his Summer 2018 release of Authentically Emergent, not only does Smith provide an updated response to ’emergent church’ advocates and their progressive Christianity but he offers a word to fellow conservative evangelicals in the West, especially in the U.S.: be alert to how we have become ‘naturalized’ or ‘de-supernaturalized’ in our thinking and practices.

Scott’s various academic books have sought to address the problems of naturalism on knowledge, and especially moral knowledge (see, for example, In Search of Moral Knowledge; Naturalism and our Knowledge of Reality).

Writing recently at his website about Authentically Emergent and his response to emergent church views, Smith writes:

Importantly, I think they [emergent church advocates] miss the mark in two subtle, yet deeply important ways: first, I think they do not realize a root problem in all too many conservative churches. I think that these churches have been unwittingly, yet deeply, shaped by naturalism, in the sense that, practically, God has become irrelevant for their lives in various ways and to various, yet significant, extents. That means that in those regards, they live in the “flesh” – their own sinful propensities. This can be described as a practical atheism.  

So, one thing I do [in Authentically Emergent] is show how many historical, cultural, philosophical, scientific, and other factors have shaped Christians in the west, and the US In particular, so that in various ways many Christians don’t really expect God to show up in their lives – in many ways, such faith has been de-supernaturalized. But, second, and ironically, I think that McLaren, et al. don’t realize that they are advocating a kind of Christianity that also has been deeply naturalized.  

Instead, I argue that that the real solution both groups need is to embrace the fullness of Christ, in fullness of Spirit and truth, as Paul describes in Ephesians. That way, Jesus Himself can be powerfully manifested in Christians’ lives, which is so desperately needed today.

The importance for all Christians to take seriously the empowering present of the Spirit has been an important theme and motivation for Scott Smith’s philosophical and theological work. In a 2016 article he wrote:

Surely God is at work doing many things in the United States, and evangelicals have been trying to hold to the doctrinal truths of Christianity. Moreover, Christians are to be marked by God’s presence and power. Nevertheless, it seems that, overall, evangelicals do not have much influence, especially given the promised power of the gospel and the risen Lord Jesus, and His promised presence. So, where is the power and presence of the Lord?  

With this in mind, I have been impressed by how often Paul mentions the fullness of the Lord in his letter to the Ephesians. I think this emphasis is not minor; rather, it is one of vital importance to the Christian life. But, I also think too many Christians, particularly in the states, do not really appreciate it. Paul explains how we, even in the increasingly secular west, can know and experience God’s amazing power and presence.

Writing in a 2017 issue of the Christian Scholar’s Review [CSR], Smith calls Christian scholars to embrace a way of doing scholarship, teaching and worldview integration that is attuned to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in light of how academic disciplines [and often Christian practice toward those disciplines] have become naturalized.

The goal of this paper is to help flesh out more contours of a biblical theology of the Spirit, with a view toward the roles and work of the Spirit in integration, teaching, scholarship, and formation in Christian higher education. I will start with a development of that model. Then, I will shift to survey, as well as assess, how our understanding of the Spirit’s role in our profession has been shaped by the influences of modernity and postmodernity. Finally, I will apply this model to real-life issues and case studies, to help show how it works in practice.

For Scott Smith, simply being a Christian who does excellent philosophical work is not sufficient for producing work that is full of life [whether for the academy or the church or wider culture].

Scott’s own experience models the power of learning to abide in Jesus as the fount of all life, wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. And it is not about merely ‘getting’ something from Jesus via the Holy Spirit (e.g., insights, or specific knowledge of a problem] or instrumentalizing communion with Him for the sake of scholarship Scott cautions in his 2017 CSR article, “Toward a More Biblical (and Pneumatological) Model for Integration, Teaching, and Scholarship”:

If we do not go to [God], on his terms, for his insight and wisdom, including for what is not given directly in Scripture, then a danger of idolatry looms. For I think it would be all too easy to act (even unconsciously) as though we are our own god. How? Since Scripture does not give us detailed knowledge about all the various disciplines, then just like Adam and Eve in Gen. 3:5, we too would be tempted to think we could de- fine reality in all these disciplines, without having to depend utterly upon, and listen closely to, the voice of the Lord. That means that at least to some extent, we would be elevating their own hearts and minds over his, which is our default sinful mindset, an attitude that opens us up to the suggestions from Satan and cannot please God. But, if we do seek and abide in him in the ways Scripture indicates, then I think there is a rich, bountiful treasure we can receive from the Lord as we allow him to mentor us in our disciplines in evangelical higher education.

The Virtues of Capitalism: Interview with Scott Rae (part two)

Below is part two of our interview with Scott Rae about his latest book (with co-author Austin Hill), The Virtues of Capitalism: A Moral Case for Free Markets (Northfield Publishing, 2010).

Noted sociologist Daniel Bell wrote in his influential 1976 book, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, about how capitalist systems are constituted by distinct yet related social systems: the moral/cultural, the economic, and the political. How are these systems and their institutions interrelated?

I agree that these three systems function to provide checks and balances for the others. Typically, when the moral/cultural system fails to provide moral limits to the economic system, then the law steps in. And the frequency with which the law is involved testifies to the relative weakness of the moral/cultural system. I think the financial meltdown is a good example of the failure of both the law and morality to rein in excesses on Wall Street—but both are reacting, mostly appropriately.

What are the “virtues of capitalism”?

The virtues that are both required and nurtured by participation in the market system are things like service, trust, promise-keeping, truthtelling, diligence, thrift, and what might be called “entrepreneurial traits,” such as innovation, creativity, etc.

As you know, University of Southern California philosopher, Dallas Willard, has been working on a book length project concerning “the disappearance of moral knowledge.” In the absence of moral knowledge, in what sense, if any, can the virtues of capitalism expect to thrive, let alone survive?

I would suggest that even though moral knowledge is on the wane, there is still a reservoir of some shared values, sufficient to make the economic system function. Think for example of how many transactions are completed that are based on trust—most credit transaction fit that description. In the absence of moral values, capitalism becomes Darwinian, and then it becomes essentially state-sponsored, as the law steps in to regulate more and more, analogous to what exists in China.

What do you take to be the most substantial criticism of capitalism? How might it be considered and answered?

That capitalism does not distribute the goods of society in an entirely equitable way. Capitalism is very good at creating wealth, but distribution is another matter. I don’t have a problem with merit being a primary basis for distribution. And I believe that the economy is not a zero-sum game—that the rich can get richer without it being at the expense of the poor. But I am troubled by the increasing gap between rich and poor and worry about what that might do to social stability if that’s a long-term trend.

What do you take to be the most prevailing misunderstanding of what capitalism is and what it does?

That it is based on greed. Michael Moore called capitalism a system of “legalized greed.” Adam Smith said nothing of the sort in The Wealth of Nations. He distinguished between greed and self-interest (which the Scripture does too) and maintained that the social virtues of compassion and justice moderated the pursuit of self-interest. Scripture commends self-interest (Phil. 2:4—look out not only for your interests, but also for the interests of others).

Could capitalism, as an economic system, fail to adequately work, in some sense and in some way, if a culture is driven by the satisfaction of desire as an end?

You get people in business without ever thinking about what they are in business for, other than making money and advancing their careers. This is why people can’t wait to retire, because their work has become divorced from any meaningful purpose. Capitalism will not cease to work—it’s just that the market will reflect those values, as it is already beginning to do.

You can learn more about The Virtues of Capitalism by visiting the book’s Facebook page. Part three of our interview with Scott Rae continues here.

The Virtues of Capitalism: Interview with Scott Rae (part one)

The morality of capitalism is one of the most pressing moral issues that Christian philosophers and theologians need to address today. Toward that end, we interviewed Scott Rae about his just released book (with co-author Austin Hill), The Virtues of Capitalism: A Moral Case for Free Markets (Northfield Publishing, 2010). Scott is professor of Christian ethics and the chairperson of the philosophy of religion and ethics department at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. Below is part one of our multi-part interview with Rae.

How did this book come about?

The book came out of a long journey that my writing partner, Austin Hill, had experienced that began with his studies here at Talbot in the Philosophy program—a course he took with me on “Faith and Economics” and an Acton Institute seminar that he attended while a student here. More recently, in his job as a radio host he had been reading about the broadsides that capitalism had been taking as a result of the meltdown of the financial system—particularly an article in a UK newspaper entitled, “G20 Nations Must Make Moral Case for Capitalism.” Shortly after reading that article, he called me and insisted that we needed to write this book—and now!

Are you trying to recover a particular moral, philosophical and economic tradition?

We are advocating the kind of capitalism that we believe was originally intended by Adam Smith and has been more recently very ably articulated by the Catholic theologian Michael Novak. We hold that Smith intended that the market be regulated by both political and moral restraints. Specifically, Smith argued that the pursuit of self-interest was moderated by what he called the “social virtues” of compassion, justice, benevolence, etc. Smith was neither a libertarian nor an ethical egoist—he held that there was a place for government and for morality in providing restraints on self-interest.

In chapter one, the book tries to address the attitude, “I only care about the moral issues,” which, arguably, tends to persist among so-called American “faith-based” groups and individuals, especially evangelicals. Why is there often a disconnect between morality and economics, whether among the so-called “Religious Left” or the “Religious Right”?

There is less of a disconnect among the religious left than the right, in our view. What’s assumed is that the most pressing and clearest moral issues are the ones related to life—abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, etc. Those have been at the top of the agenda for some time, and justifiably so. Economics by contrast, is often viewed as morally neutral—that the market is simply a system that reflects the values of the culture, but doesn’t shape values.

The other reason for the disconnect is that issues of economics are so often overlapping with contentious and divisive political issues—immigration, for example, that we tend to shy away from addressing them.

A further reason for the disconnect is that applying the Bible to matters of economics is hermeneutically tricky because of the major differences in economic life and structure between the ancient world and today. It’s not enough to say that since materialism is a matter of the heart and the heart hasn’t changed, the Bible’s message can be applied easily. Those premises are true, but the conclusion is not—applying the Bible to economic life is very tricky, especially the Old Testament. Many of the laws that gave people a fresh start economically (Jubilee, redemption of land, etc.) would be very difficult to apply today—or at least it’s not clear how to apply such laws today.

What is an economic system and what should it try to accomplish in light of one’s view about what it means to be a human being?

An economic system is the way in which exchanges are structured among individuals and institutions—it has moral implications because it’s about how we order our lives together in community. An economic system should provide adequate opportunity for self-support and a safety net for those who cannot support themselves. The Bible is clear that those incapable of self-support are entitled to a share of the community’s goods.

Chapter two attempts to show how the Bible offers consistencies with “capitalist principles” (20) What are those principles?

The fundamentals of the market system include freedom, initiative, creativity and provision for the poor. We hold that that the entrepreneurial traits necessary for success in economic life are actually important Christian virtues. Further, we hold that the responsible wealth creation of the market system is how an economist would capture the biblical notion of human dominion over creation from Genesis 1.

What do you think are the most compelling biblical evidences for your claim about capitalism, as an economic system, to be the “preferred choice” among its competitors because it “best honors the human person, and is the way in which we can most productively order our lives together” (20).

I’m not sure there’s a chapter and verse for this—but more broadly speaking the biblical principles that uphold human dignity, creativity, and initiative. The Bible upholds the pursuit of self-interest (“look out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of others,” Phil. 2:4) and even mandates it in places (where Paul cautions the Thessalonians that “if you don’t work you don’t eat,” and that if you don’t take care of your family, you’re worse off than most people. There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of self-interest, moderated by concern for others, and nothing wrong with being successful, moderated by generosity. We also hold that the mandate to care for the poor suggests that capitalism, properly functioning, is the best hope for the poor around the world. Since 1970 roughly 1.2 billion people have been elevated out of poverty into the middle-lower middle class. Granted, there’s a long way to go, but it is widely attributed to be the case that most of the intractable poverty is in sub-Sahara Africa, where we would suggest that the market as Adam Smith envisioned has yet to be implemented.

How you hold the authority of the Bible in this book, especially in chapter two, is suggestive of an important methodological consideration relevant to how scripture integrates with other areas of knowledge. The book seems to bank on the fact that scripture is not just a source of one’s religious beliefs, perhaps one’s doctrinal beliefs, but the Bible is actually a source of knowledge about reality. Is that correct? If so, can you possibly elaborate on that point and how it might be relevant to how various publics (religious and non-religious) interact with scripture and economics?

You’re right about our view of the Bible—we see it as a source of knowledge, not just opinions about our beliefs. This is a broader philosophical question of epistemology—we reject the contemporary notion that the only stuff that counts for knowledge is that which we can verify with our senses or by science—that’s the hubris of empiricism that has worked its way into our culture and educational system. We hold that the integration of the bible with economics is a critical task for scholars today, but it must take into account some of the hermeneutical difficulties mentioned above given how different economic life was in the ancient world.

How might scholars working in philosophy, biblical studies and theology, or at any of their intersections, do further integrative work that would contribute thinking about economics and capitalism?

This is a great question—most of the most contentious issues concern not the ends of economics, but the best means to accomplish those ends. The Bible is clear on the ends and most people agree on the ends—it’s the means that constitute the differences. And the means involves a variety of disciplines—economics, political philosophy, social sciences, theology, etc. One example that could really use some work is the issue of immigration—that has all the above disciplines, and then some, that have a bearing on that issue. The Bible has a lot to say about immigration—but applying that takes skill and discernment since the political landscape in biblical times was so different from today.

You can learn more about The Virtues of Capitalism by visiting the book’s Facebook page. You may also be interested in Michael Novak’s 2004 speech, “Wealth and Virtue: The Moral Case for Capitalism.”

2008 EPS Papers (Smith)

R. Scott Smith

Naturalism, Our Knowledge of Reality, and Some Implications for Christian Physicalists

Abstract: One of ontological naturalism’s greatest perceived strengths is our ability on that basis to know reality. Several naturalists (e.g., Tye, Dretske, and Papineau) argue that we reality directly. Yet, they realize that they must given an account of intentionality, which for many has been considered the hallmark of the mental. They even grant much of what dualists say must be true of intentionality. But, they argue that intentional states are reducible to brain states, yet brain states may be conceptualized as intentional. Alternatively, Daniel Dennett thinks intentionality is just attributions we make of certain physical systems from the intentional stance.

Here, we may learn an important lesson for naturalism: without any intrinsically intentional states, nothing will be given to us; all experience, and all knowledge, will be our taking things to be certain ways, without any way to get started or know how reality truly is.

There are implications for Christian physicalists, too. If they leave no place for intrinsic intentionality, the lessons will be the same. Suppose though that someone allows for emergent, irreducibly intentional states that simply are of their objects. But, I shall argue that this move will be sufficient for us to know reality.

A Spiritual Issue with the ‘Disappearance of Moral Knowledge’

Dallas Willard argues in his new, posthumously published book, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge, that due to various philosophical and institutional factors, we have lost a body of moral knowledge in the West.

This paper considers one institution, the church, and a related, spiritual aspect to the loss of moral knowledge. The paper then explores what Christians can do about that particular aspect.

The full-text of this paper is available for FREE by clicking here. For more of Scott Smith’s reflection on Dallas Willard, see his remarks at the EPS blog.

To learn more about The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge, please visit and also learn more about the Moral Knowledge Initiative being led by Dallas Willard Ministries.

Web Project: Philosophical Discussions on Marriage and Family Topics

Instructions for Submitting a Paper Proposal

Purpose: For scholars interested in ethics, theology, and philosophy work on ‘marriage and family’ topics, we invite carefully-honed papers that advances discussion of any of the below areas of the Potential Paper Topics.

If you are interested, please contact our project coordinator and editor Michael Austin (info below). Michael is seeking to coordinate all potential contributors and their topics for this endeavor. When you pitch your possible contribution, please provide the following:

  • Your name, institution and contact info.
  • Title and description of your proposal (e.g., 100 words).
  • Reasons for how your contribution will help advance the purpose of this project.

We are looking for papers that a) argue for a perspective on a marriage and family topic, or b) casts a vision for more work to be done in a particular area or c) offers a literature review and assess what seems to be ‘under-developed’ work.

Length: 1,500 to 2,000 total words (minimum). You are welcome to work with the Project Editor on length issues.

Deadline: TBD by the project coordinator

Project Coordinator and Editor
Michael Austin
Eastern Kentucky University
Department of Philosophy

Priority will be given to those papers that offer a perspective on questions and problems that especially hone in on what have been ‘under-represented’ in this theme for Christian philosophers. Please seriously consider developing paper topics with the below examples in mind. We encourage papers that will be of interest not only to the ethics scholar but also to the epistemologist, metaphysician, theologian, etc.


Find this Project interesting? See these other EPS Web Projects

Potential Paper Topics

Developed by Michael Austin (Eastern Kentucky University) & Joe Gorra (Veritas Life Center).

Much has been addressed by Christian philosophers on questions related to bioethics, reproductive technologies, and so on. But some under-represented ‘marriage and family’ topics include the following:

Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Issues in Marriage and Family Studies: If philosophy and theology are understood as ‘second-order’ disciplines, how might they contribute to the work and contributions of ‘first-order’ disciplines like sociology, psychology, economics, cultural studies and their accounts of marriage and family? How might ideas and images shaped by these disciplines enable and clarify the work done by philosophers and theologians? We strongly encourage contributions from Christian philosophers who have understanding of the ‘meta-‘ issues involved with philosophy’s contribution to interdisciplinary discussions. We also encourage Christian non-philosophers to propose papers that are attentive to philosophical issues and concepts that converge with their discipline and areas of expertise. Co-authored proposals from philosophy and non-philosophy scholars are welcomed.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Ethics of religious upbringing of children: how to share, model, and influence our children for Christ in ways that honor God and respect them as well. Defenses of the morality of a Christian upbringing in the face of challenges at a popular level (e.g. Dawkins and “child abuse” claims) as well as at the scholarly level. How might philosophical accounts of ‘harm’ and ‘interest’ (of children, parents, etc) contribute to clarifying what is often a legally vague idea of ‘Acting in the best interests of the child.’

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Metaphysics of the Family: What is a family? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a family, on Christian theism? What biblical, theological, and philosophical data are relevant to this question? How important is genetics or biology to this definition? Or what value is there with respect to a biological connection of some sort between parent and child? Who is a father or a mother? How might a vocational account differ from strictly a biological account? How might we reflect upon ‘step-parenting,’ ‘foster-care parenting’ and ‘surrogate parenting’ in light of Christian theological accounts of adoption and hospitality of God? How might we think about the nature of parenting and family in light of the genetic modification of children and the technological possibilities of creating babies from three or more parents? And what implications do our answers to these questions have for the current cultural debates about same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting? From a political philosophy standpoint, what are strong, non-religious arguments for why a ‘secular state’ has an interest in protecting the family?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Metaphysical and Epistemological issues in Gender, Sexuality and Identity: What are necessary and sufficient conditions for defining ‘gender,’ ‘sexuality’ and ‘human identity’? On what basis are such distinctions drawn? In what sense and on what basis are these terms considered social constructions? ‘Self-identification’ of one’s experience as x, y, or z often populates studies in this area. Is this knowledge from a first-person perspective? Is it simply one’s construal? How might we understand the ‘authority’ of such claims relative to the authority of tradition, history, social institutions, etc.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Moral-Spiritual Formation of the Family: How does this occur, for both parents and children? What theological and philosophical resources can we bring to bear on this? How can parents be intentional about such formation for themselves and their children in the family? What does the Bible have to say that is relevant to such questions? And what do psychology, sociology, and other disciplines have to contribute to this? Is virtue formation and spiritual maturation in a family interconnected with being the roles of a mother and a father? What is the role of ecclesial communities in such matters of formation? Does the ‘Christian family’ exist primarily for the interests of the ‘household of faith’?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

  • For ‘ethics and family’ treatments, see Julie Rubio, Family Ethics: Practices for Christians (Georgetown University Press, 2010); Michael W. Austin, Wise Stewards: Philosophical Foundations of Christian Parenting (Kregel Academic, 2009).
  • For some work on the vocation of the family, see Gene Edward Veith and Mary J. Moerbe, Family Vocation (Crossway, 2012).
  • For recent article examples on philosophy and spiritual formation integration, see from the (Fall 2014) Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, Steve Porter, “A Call to Philosophy and Spiritual Formation” (248-257), and “Philosophy and Spiritual Formation: From Christian Faith to Christian Philosophy” (258-269); and also from JSFSC’s (Spring 2014), see Brian Brock, “Discipleship as Living with God, or Wayfinding and Scripture,” 22-34.

Non-Religious Arguments for Marriage and the Family: What are the opportunities and limitations for using ‘natural moral law arguments’ in public and pluralistic contexts? Are such arguments mostly useful for ‘consoling the faithful’? How are ‘secularists’ compelled by such arguments, if they are compelled at all? How might such arguments be retooled in light of changing plausibility structures in Western societies, which increasingly view Christian accounts of marriage and family to be contestable and not believable? How might sociological, psychological and economic reasons and evidences be more persuasive to most secularists than natural law arguments?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Moral Vision of Flourishing ‘Families’ in a Pluralistic Society: Culturally speaking, the experience of marriage and family is no longer a homogenous kind of experience in Western societies. Increasingly, we have ‘pluralist’ accounts recognized by law, legitimized by cultural pressures, and encouraged by various social institutions.

Drawing from Christian Social Thought, how might Christians envision a society that attends to our differences, even contradictions, regarding marriage and family flourishing? Is such a society possible? What conditions or values should shape how we are bound together? How might Christians think societally about such issues like ‘gay adoption,’ government assistance for unwed mothers, illegal immigration and deportation of parents, youth incarceration and single-parent homes, etc? What society should be built by Christian thought and leadership influence given the particularities of our cultural moment? We encourage constructive responses that seek to minister to each person made in the image of God, and seeks to uphold the social order.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

‘Health,’ ‘Well-Being,’ and ‘Holiness’ of Marriage and Family: Innumerable scientific studies have been written about the health and happiness of individuals, their family and affects on society. ‘Health,’ though, is usually given a reductive account: a scientific or medical question about an organism. Similarly, ‘happiness studies’ usually assume a psychological account about someone’s mental outlook on life. Is there a thicker account of ‘health’ and ‘well-being’ that includes but is not reduced to the hard or soft sciences? Moreover, Christians have historically understood marriage and family as sacred or holy, set apart for the glory and purposes of God’s work in the world. Is there ‘health’ and ‘well-being’ entailed by that sacred, perhaps even ‘sacramental vision’ of marriage and family? How might we recapture a more holistic understanding of eudaimonia as a collective, relational phenomenon, in family, church and state.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

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