Search Results for: Michael W. Austin

On Open-Mindedness

Jason Baehr, Associate Professor, Loyola Marymount University, offer the following contribution in an ongoing series of sketches from contributors of Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life, co-edited by Michael W. Austin and R. Douglas Geivett (Eerdmans, 2012). More info can be found at www.beinggoodnews.com.

On Open-Mindedness

Many Christians are wary of open-mindedness. They worry that it amounts to a kind of intellectual wishy-washiness, cowardice, or foolishness. But these misgivings about open-mindedness betray a misunderstanding of its basic nature and structure. In its most basic form, open-mindedness is a willingness and ability to transcend a certain way of thinking in order to “take up” or “take seriously” some distinct way of thinking. And it is rooted in or flows from a “love” of epistemic goods like knowledge, truth, and understanding.

When conceived of in this way, Christians have good reason to think of open-mindedness as an intellectual excellence or virtue. It comports well with the value that the Old and New Testaments place on truth and wisdom. It is obviously useful in the context of education and in “intramural” theological disputes. And it fits well with—and indeed may be required by—the kind of neighbor-love, enemy-love, and humility that Christians are called to by Jesus himself.

A question remains whether Christians should be open-minded about matters pertaining to their own Christian faith. Arguably they should, since the alternative would amount to being intellectually dishonest. That said, there limits on the sort of open-mindedness that can reasonably be expected of Christians. For instance, they can be expected to, say, modify or give up one of their Christian beliefs only if, from a settled, all-things-considered perspective, the evidence demands it.

Becoming open-minded is not a matter of direct or immediate choice. Rather, it requires intentionality, placing oneself in certain environments and avoiding others, self-reflection, and, for the Christian in particular, a rich and meaningful spiritual life.

Issues for further inquiry:

  1. The chapter provides some indication of when or with respect to what beliefs or ideas it is appropriate to be open-minded. But much more could be explored and said along these lines. For instance, exactly what considerations govern when an exercise of open-mindedness would be intellectually virtuous and why?
  2. It is fairly obvious that many Christians could do a better job of being (appropriately) open-minded in the context of public debate or discussion with persons with whom they disagree. Here as well it can be asked: when, in the context of public debate, is open-mindedness called for? How can and should it be balanced with other virtues like intellectual courage? And what exactly would greater open-mindedness look like in this context? The articulation of some guiding principles on these matters would be illuminating and practically beneficial.
  3. There is something paradoxical about the idea that a person might have distinctively Christian reasons for altering or even giving up one of her Christian beliefs. For it looks as though, once she gives up the belief, she might lose the very reasons she had for doing so! On the other hand, it seems unreasonable (for reasons discussed in the chapter) to think that Christians should only be open-minded about their non- or a-Christian beliefs. How, then, can we make sense of these competing considerations?
Enjoy more of our ongoing series of “sketches” by going here!

A Brief Sketch On Wisdom

An Ongoing Series of Sketches from the Contributors of Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life, co-edited by Michael W. Austin and R. Douglas Geivett (Eerdmans, 2012). More info can be found at www.beinggoodnews.com.

Today in American society it seems the last thing on people’s minds is wisdom. From Hollywood to Wall Street, we are preoccupied with wealth, entertainment, and social status.  And even where wisdom is generally acknowledged as a noble aim, genuine devotees of this virtue are rare.  Yet the biblical exhortation to wisdom is clear, as the proverb says wisdom is “more precious than rubies” (Prov. 8:11).  But what exactly is wisdom?  What is it about this trait that makes it so valuable?  And what practical steps can one take in order to become wise?  Is it a matter of simple dedication in study, or are there other things involved in the attainment of wisdom?  In my chapter I address each of these questions.

Generally speaking, wisdom is a kind of practical moral insight.  So it appears to be both a moral virtue and an intellectual virtue.  For the wise person has knowledge of what is the best conduct in particular situations, and this knowledge is manifested in good conduct.  So you might say that wisdom is a sort of “governing” virtue that is necessary, to some degree, for the development of all other virtues. This is why wisdom is especially important and perhaps why we find such a strong biblical emphasis on it.

How does one become wise?  Is it just a matter of study and cognitive reflection?  While we usually think in terms of beliefs determining behavior, Scripture suggests that the causal dynamic runs the other direction as well.  The Old Testament wisdom literature tells us that God makes wise the simple and grants understanding to those who humble themselves (see Psalm 19:7, Psalm 25:9, Prov. 1:4, and Prov. 11:2).  And some New Testament passages underscore the critical role of behavior when it comes to belief formation (e.g., Rom. 1:18-32, Eph. 4:18-19).

Alvin Plantinga has provided some insights regarding how vice undermines wisdom.  He notes that cognitive faculties are like any other aspect of human beings, in so far as they were designed for a purpose (to form true beliefs) and that they function properly only under certain conditions.  Like any physical organ, such as lungs or eyes, cognitive processes can malfunction because of corrupting influences.  And moral vice, such pride, resentment, or the habitual indulgence in perverse behavior, is a major cause of cognitive malfunction.  In other words, sin compromises a person’s capacity to form true beliefs, particularly regarding moral and spiritual matters.

Psychological studies have shown that, when faced with a conflict between their personal beliefs and behavior, people will often reconcile this conflict by changing the way they think about their behavior.  Rather than alter their conduct, they will take the less demanding route and search for some way to rationalize it.  This response is almost always unconscious, which of course makes for a morally insidious dynamic in contexts involving vicious behavior.  These moral-psychological insights appear to confirm the Apostle Paul’s remarks in Romans 1:18-32 where he describes how wicked behavior leads to futile thinking.

So sinful behavior undermines the quest for wisdom.  But on the positive side, virtuous living leads to wisdom.  By living rightly we diminish the corrupting impact of sin on the mind.  Consequently, our cognitive processes can function properly, and we are more likely to form true beliefs about moral and spiritual issues.  So those who faithfully obey God will grow wiser, just as Scripture tells us.

While Plantinga and others have done some helpful work in exploring the negative dynamics of moral psychology when it comes to cognition, more work needs to be done to understand the positive impact of virtuous living.  What are the specific moral-psychological causal dynamics involved?  What role might the spiritual disciplines (e.g., prayer, fasting, sacrifice, etc.) play in maximizing cognitive health?  And what specific implications might there be here for Christian educators and scholars, for whom proper cognitive function is especially critical?

James S. Spiegel
Taylor University

A Brief Sketch On Love

An Ongoing Series of Sketches from the Contributors of Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life, co-edited by Michael W. Austin and R. Douglas Geivett (Eerdmans, 2012). More info can be found at www.beinggoodnews.com.

A philosophy of love is defended in which love has two aspects.  The most important is beneficent love, which is when the lover desires the good or well being of the beloved.  The second aspect of love is unitive love, the desire of the lover to be united with the lover.  In responding to some cases when it appears that a person may love someone too much, it is argued that true love cannot be in excess.  In other words, you cannot love a person too much –especially if the love is truly beneficent.  It is further argued that the love of another requires some self-love, and while it may be good to love the love of another, this is very dangerous.  It would mean that if the beloved withdraws her love, the object of love no longer exists.

Belief in a loving, Triune God offers an enhanced, richer understanding of love and its endurance than in a secular context.  Some of the pressing issues that Christians face in thinking about love (some, but not all of which are addressed in the chapter) is the primacy of agape (selfless or unconditional love) versus loves that are particular (the love one has for one’s spouse or child rather than a stranger).  When is impartial love to be preferred to particular loves (for example, in a Christian community is it important to love others impartially or is and when is preferential treatment good)?  When should love be unconditional?  Is love usually a response to value (the good of the beloved) or can love in some way create value?  Is love under your control?

Some Christian philosophers today (Richard Swinburne, Stephen Davis) believe that the three highest loves are self-love, love of another, and the love of two for a third, and they see this (following the philosopher Richard of St. Victor) as part of the glory of God as Triune.  I believe they are right and am working on an account of love that would fill out this position.  If you enjoy the chapter, you might check out a book I wrote on love called: Love. Love. Love. And Other Essays (Cowley Press, 2005).  The title comes from the last essay in which I relate the last three words my father told me when he died at the age of 95; he held my hand and said “Love. Love. Love.”

Charles Taliaferro

St. Olaf College

A Brief Sketch on Humility

An Ongoing Series of Sketches from the Contributors of Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life, co-edited by Michael W. Austin and R. Douglas Geivett (Eerdmans, 2012). More info can be found at www.beinggoodnews.com.

Given its popular association with being deferential and submissive, what place does humility have in our present day world? And indeed, in the light of the many achievements of humanity, why should we be humble? What can humility do for us except inhibit our efforts to excel? Is it not better to strive for greatness, to reach for the stars rather than crawl in the dust?

In my chapter of Being Good, I argue that not only is humility compatible with greatness, and even with an acknowledgement of one’s own greatness, but that it is a precondition of the only true and lasting greatness. Humility’s importance, however, is most readily perceived by examining what is wrong with its opposing vice, namely pride. The four traditional marks of pride are:

(a) ascribing an excellence to oneself that one does not possess;

(b) thinking that one has acquired for oneself some excellence that one has received as a gift;

(c) thinking that some excellence that one has received as a gift is due to one’s own merits;

(d) thinking that some excellence that one possesses is greater insofar as others do not have it.

Humility opposes all these forms of pride, but has a unique importance in Christianity because the excellence offered is a personal relationship with God. This supernatural goal is utterly inaccessible to any unaided natural human capacity. The pride by which a person attempts to make himself like God, to seize participation in the divine nature, is not only insane but is incompatible with that divine friendship that alone makes such participation possible.

Given its importance, how then can we become humble? Since the very nature of humility disposes us to receive God’s gifts as gifts, I argue that it is not, in fact, within our power to acquire humility for ourselves as if humility itself is not a gift. A self-help book entitled How to be Humble or Teach Yourself Humility would miss the entire point.

The whole history of Christianity suggests that God forms humility in his people in a most unusual way, constantly disrupting the apparent but false association that reason tends to make between natural powers and supernatural fruitfulness. Indeed, he often entirely inverts the natural order of strength and weakness in such things, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree” (Luke 1:52).

So while it is true that God sometimes makes use of a person’s exceptional natural gifts, such as intelligence or political ability, God can just as easily make use of someone’s simplicity, weakness or foolishness. Indeed, he frequently seems to make someone weak, or allow a person to fall, precisely to bring about the disposition of trusting in him alone. It is only when Peter has betrayed Christ and been forgiven that he is humble enough to be the leader of the church; it is only when Paul has persecuted Christ to the point of murdering his followers that he is conscious enough of his own failures to be the greatest of all missionaries. Humility properly disposes us to receive God’s gifts as gifts – and even that disposition is itself the fruit of God’s grace.

If you enjoy this chapter, I invite you to explore the works of other philosophers who have written on this theme and whose writings are referenced in the chapter. I also invite you to examine a book I have just published that explores these themes further, The Second-Person Perspective in Aquinas’s Ethics: Virtues and Gifts (Routledge, 2012).

The unusual emphasis on humility in Christianity, as well as the many other non-Aristotelian virtues examined in Being Good, has led me to conclude that we need a radically new way of conceiving of a ‘virtue’. In this new book, I argue that the key is to be found in so-called ‘second-person relatedness’. A fitting metaphor to understand the life of grace and the infused virtues is that these dispositions remove a person’s ‘spiritual autism,’ enabling the kind of second-person relatedness with God manifested vividly in Augustine’s Confessions. For additional work on second-person relatedness, especially applied to the problem of suffering, I also recommend Stump, Wandering in Darkness (OUP, 2011).  Over the next few years, I am keen to develop further the idea of a specifically second-person virtue ethics and I invite you to join me in this enterprise.

Andrew Pinsent
Oxford University

Being Good: Sketches of Christian Virtues for Everyday Life

Contributors to Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life participate in an EPS web series that highlights their contribution to the book and its value to a broader context of literature on the topic. More info about the book can be found at www.beinggoodnews.com

The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful: Extended Reflection on Football, Fame and Fortune

In 2010, philosopher Mike Austin (recently interviewed by me here) wrote an article for The Other Journal, “Football, Fame, and Fortune,” which set-off a discussion among friends and associates regarding the connections between football (and sports, in general), virtue, human flourishing, and ethics. Specifically, discussions ensued between Austin and philosophers Matthew Roberts and Jim Spiegel on the matter. For the sake of further discussion, we asked if this discussion could be “formalized” for public attention at the EPS website. We asked Doug Groothuis to contribute (HT: Lenny Esposito) because of his thoughtfulness in this area and he was already writing on the topic at his blog.

Here is a snapshot of the discussion as represented in our Library area:

Virtue, Vice, and Violence
Dr. Matthew Roberts, PhD

Matthew Roberts argues that football possesses certain intrinsic bads which are both perpetuated by its extrinsic goods and perpetuate vice in some of its participants. As a means to the inculcation of virtue, football, like most sports, provides ample opportunity. But, other non heavy-contact sports are to be preferred over football when considered as a means to the inculcation of virtue.

Further Benefits of Sports
Dr. James S. Spiegel, PhD

In addition to the potential of sports to help build virtue in athletes, there are many other benefits as well. In this piece Spiegel discusses some of these, which are social, aesthetic, and even theological in nature. And he notes how these benefits extend beyond athletes to spectators

Football, Baseball, and the Culture of Violence

Dr. Douglas Groothuis, PhD

Groothuis argues that football is morally objectionable because it is intrinsically violent and thus is conducive to vice in both its players and its fans. By way of contrast, he argues that baseball is only contingently violent, that it is not based on violence, and that it is, as such, a morally superior sport.

The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful: My Response to Matthew Roberts, Jim Spiegel, and Doug Groothuis
Dr. Michael W. Austin, PhD

Michael Austin consider the points raised by Professors Spiegel, Roberts, and Groothuis concerning the moral, physical, intellectual, and aesthetic value of football in particular, and sports in general. He considers how one might appropriate their points as a fan, participant, and parent of children involved in sports. He argues that there are ways in which the follower of Christ can and should seek to redeem life in the sporting realm.

You can enjoy all of these fine contribution by clicking here.

The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful: My Response to Matthew Roberts, Jim Spiegel, and Doug Groothuis

Dr. Michael W. Austin, PhD

In 2010, Austin wrote an article for The Other Journal, “Football, Fame, and Fortune,” which set-off a discussion among friends and associates regarding the connections between football (and sports, in general), virtue, human flourishing, and ethics. Specifically, discussions ensued between Austin and Matthew Roberts and Jim Spiegel on the matter. For the sake of further discussion, we asked if this discussion could be “formalized” for public attention at the EPS website. Doug Groothuis was also asked to contribute because of his thoughtfulness in this area and was already writing on the topic at his blog.

Thus, in this paper, Michael Austin consider the points raised by Professors Spiegel, Roberts, and Groothuis concerning the moral, physical, intellectual, and aesthetic value of football in particular, and sports in general. He considers how one might appropriate their points as a fan, participant, and parent of children involved in sports. He argues that there are ways in which the follower of Christ can and should seek to redeem life in the sporting realm.

Read his contribution by clicking here.

2008 EPS Papers (Wednesday)

Here is a summary outline of who presented on Wednesday morning and afternoon of the annual EPS conference. The links are to posts that feature abstracts about the papers. Please feel free to comment.

Adam Barkman (Yonsei University, South Korea)
C. S. Lewis’s Pseudo-Manichean Dualist Phase

C. Donald Smedley (Rivendell Institute)
Hare on Divine Command Theory and Natural Law

Mark Liederbach (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary)
Natural Law, Common Ground, and the Problem of Postmodern Epistemology

Robert Larmer (University of New Brunswick)
C. S. Lewis’s Critique of Hume’s Of Miracles

Gregory Ganssle (Yale University)
God of the Gaps Arguments

Paul Copan (Palm Beach Atlantic University)
With Gentleness and Respect — and a Few Other Things: Suggestions and Strategies for
Christian Apologists

Steve Cowan (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary)
The Metaphysics of Subordination: A Response to Rebecca Merrill Groothuis

Justin Barnard (Union University)
Compatibalism, Wantons, and the Natural Consequences Model of Hell

Walter Schultz (Northwestern College)
Dispositions, Capacities, and Powers: A New Analysis

Shawn Graves (Cedarville University)
Is Genuine Religious Inquiry Incompatible with Christian Commitment?

Michael S. Jones (Liberty University)
Is Cognitive Humility a Sound Foundation for Religious Tolerance?

Stephen G. Shaw (California State University, Long Beach)
Religion as Narrative, Faith as Recontextualization: Lyotard and Rorty Meet Kierkegaard

Garrett Pendergraft (University of California, Riverside)
Divine Deliberation (or Lack Thereof)

Jeremy Carey (University of California, Berkeley)
Agent Causation, Reasons, and Empirical Data

Mark Coppenger (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
The Aesthetic Argument and Darwinism

Michael W. Austin (Eastern Kentucky University)
The Nature and Practice of Compassion

J.B. Stump (Bethel College, Indiana)
Natural Theology Stripped of Modernism

EPS Reception with Scott Smith

Taking Persons Seriously and Bioethics

In June 2024, Pickwick Publications released the notable volume, Taking Persons Seriously: Where Philosophy and Bioethics Intersect, co-edited by EPS members and Philosophia Christi contributors, Mihretu P. Guta and Scott B. Rae.

From the publisher’s description:

This volume attempts to show why ontology matters for a proper grasp of issues in bioethics. Contemporary discussions on bioethics often focus on seeking solutions for a wide range of issues that revolve around persons. The issues in question are multi-layered, involving such diverse aspects as the metaphysical/ontological, personal, medical, moral, legal, cultural, social, political, religious, and environmental. In navigating through such a complex web of issues, it has been said that the central problems philosophers and bioethicists face are ethical in nature. In this regard, biomedical sciences and technological breakthroughs take a leading role in terms of shaping the sorts of questions that give rise to ethical problems. For example, is it ethical to keep terminally ill patients alive on dialysis machines or artificial ventilators? Is it ethical to take someone’s vital organs upon death and transplant them into another person’s body without any prior consent from the deceased person? Reproductive techniques also raise complicated ethical issues involving in vitro fertilization, contraceptives, prenatal testing, abortions, and genetic enhancements. Moreover, biomedical issues raise ethical problems regarding research on human subjects, stem cell research, and enhancement biotechnology. The beginning and end of life issues bring up their own complicated ethical conundrums involving, among other things, terminating life support and euthanasia. This book approaches such complex bioethical questions by engaging in ground-level debates about the ontology of persons. This is a nonnegotiable first step in taking steps forward in seeking a plausible solution(s) for the complex ethical problems in bioethics.

Current EPS President, Michael Austin, says of the book, “To reach sound conclusions about bioethical issues, we need a proper understanding of the nature of human persons. This collection of essays will be helpful to anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of what human persons are, why they matter, and the ways such an understanding should guide our approach to theory and practice in bioethics.”

Gupta currently teaches philosophy at Biola University and Azusa Pacific University. He is an associate fellow of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity at Trinity International University. Rae is senior advisor to the president at Biola University, dean of faculty, and professor of Christian ethics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He is a fellow of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and the Wilberforce Forum.

Join the EPS membership today for as low as $25/yr and receive an annual subscription to the Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Philosophia Christi.