A Level Philosophy Exam 2018

So the exam is tomorrow. Remember there will be 4 questions and you answer 3. They will be marked out of 40, 16 marks for AO1 and 24 for AO2, which means you must be evaluative and have an answer which is driven by answering the question rather than reciting a list of views. The questions could be from year 1:

Plato and Aristotle

Mind, Body and Soul

Arguments for God from experience

Arguments for God from reason

Religious Experience

Problem of Evil

or from Year 2:

Religious Language – traditional approaches

Religious language – 20th Century approaches

Nature of God

As this is the first year of this exam I have nothing to go on for a prediction as no areas have come up yet. However, I think it would be odd if they didn’t have at least 2 questions from the second year, perhaps even three. In that case there is likely to be a question on God’s nature, and one on religious language. So here we go, here are my four guesses – no idea if anything like this will come up, but it’s always good to have a focus, and as I say, there should be something in at least a few of these areas.

“The conflicts between the divine attributes make belief in the classical view of God impossible” Discuss.

Critically assess non-cognitive approaches to religious language.

“Tillich’s view of Symbol is incoherent” Discuss.

To what extent can teleological arguments be defended from the challenge of chance?

Update: The questions were:

Boethius on eternity and free will

Hume on arguments from observation

The Cataphatic Way

Corporate Experiences

 

OCR AS Ethics Exam 25th May

Edit 20/5 – I have amended some of my questions as the ones I posted before were not quite right – I thought Kant hadn’t come up but he came up last year.

Well after the success of my last post in which I accurately predicted the three areas that would come up…

Actually let me burst my own bubble a bit here; as it is a new specification and there has only been one set of three questions for philosophy last year OCR would be unlikely to have questions on the same three topics again as they would want to make sure other areas of the spec were covered. So if three out the 7 topics came up last year that means I had a choice of 3 out of 4 possibilities this year, so it was pretty easy to pinpoint the general area.

If we apply the same logic to Ethics we can make these predictions:

2017: Natural Law

Kantian Ethics

Business Ethics

Thus 2018: Situation Ethics

Utilitarianism

Euthanasia

This of course comes with a massive caveat – there is no guarantee this will be the case.

So, my theoretical questions this time are:

1. To what extent does situation ethics’ lack of moral absolutes undermine moral decision-making?

2. “It is not possible to measure good or pleasure” Discuss

3. Critically examine natural law approaches to the question of euthanasia.

Have a go at doing these between now and the exam – set yourself half an hour and attempt without notes. That is a really good way of revising even if you don’t get it all in the essay, as you can then read it back with notes/textbook next to you and add in what you didn’t get.

Also don’t forget the examiners tip – don’t list everything you know in the AO1 – be specific and answer the question. And in the AO2 make sure you don’t do sweeping generalisations.

My students use a format in which they make sure that every paragraph has a back and forth between explanation, evaluation, counter evaluation and then link back to the question. For example, a paragraph for question 1 might look like this:

Fletcher emphasises the role of what he calls agape in every situation. The key question to ask being “what is the most loving thing to do in this situation?”. Fletcher’s rejection of legalism and emphasis on loving action means that the only guiding light in a moral decision should be what kind of consequences it will produce. As a consequentialist, relativist theory situation ethics is therefore open to some fairly strong challenges: for instance, what criteria do we have for deciding that one course of action is the most loving? W D Ross filled out some of the gaps here, but Fletcher’s theory is seriously lacking in detail on this point. It seems clear already from this that one of the key weak points when it comes to moral decision making is Fletcher’s emphasis on agape.

OK, good luck!

Old Spec Philosophy of Religion AS predictions 2017

Here we go, at last I have caved to pressure after weeks of people asking for predictions for the old spec AS exams – I almost expected people to start knocking on my door and asking me to do this! Sorry about the wait! Yes, they are similar to a certain other blogger’s predictions – we often have similar guesses, because it usually possible to see where there have been gaps in previous years which makes prediction easier. As usual the disclaimer: These are by no means bound to come up and you only have yourself to blame if you only revise these and none of the topics come up!

 

1 a) Explain the relationship between concepts and phenomena in Plato’s thought

b) ‘Plato’s theory of Forms is unnecessary – the world makes more sense without it’ Discuss

 

2 a) Explain Hume’s criticisms of the cosmological argument

b) To what extent was Hume successful in his critique of the cosmological argument?

 

3 a) Explain how the Bible shows God as craftsman involved with his creation

b) ‘It is impossible for God to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent’ Discuss

 

4 a) Explain theistic views of evolution

b) To what extent is evolution compatible with theism?

 

1a has not come up as a question but it is on the spec – I will post more on that. Question 2 I have lots on Hume and cosmolgical argument on the site – see these old posts here and here. God as creator with this emphasis has not come up before. Science and Religion could well come up too.

Part 2 – There will always be more plausible explanations for religious experience than God. Discuss.

In my last post I proposed some ways of looking at this question, and tried to unpack what I thought it was asking you to do. I discussed the sceptical challenge which forms the basis of the question – that other explanations for religious experience will always be more plausible because they would have more empirical backing – this is essentially a reductionist challenge: “Nowadays we know that science can explain all that”, as Caroline Franks Davies puts it.

But can science explain all that? We need to take a step back into epistemology to work out the answer to that. Swinburne’s principle of credulity (it is a principle of rationality that if it seems to a subject that x is present, (in the absence of special considerations) then x probably is present) makes experience innocent until proven guilty and thus turns the table on the sceptic. Notice that it is a principle of rationality. All experience is subsumed under this principle – we just find we must operate as if it were the case – no philosopher has yet managed to provide inductive justification for our confidence in our experiences, memories and reasoning processes, but that is no reason to become sceptical about them. Notice also that there can be no proof for such a principle of rationality, because any attempt to prove it would use just the processes and experiences which are under consideration, and thus would be viciously circular. So the principle of credulity, as a principle of rationality, operates somewhat like an axiom does in maths, in that we have to assume its truth in order to get anywhere.

Now all this means is that the sceptic cannot just dismiss all religious experiences out of hand as not having inductive evidence to back them up like normal experience – as all experiences which generate beliefs are initially granted credulity. If we decide later to discount an experience because it could be shown that such an experience was unreliable, then that is not a problem – therefore things like dreams and hallucinations have become known to be unreliable and so we apply what Swinburne calls the special considerations.

So the principle of credulity is not a license to be gullible – just a placing of the onus on the sceptic to show why an experience is not veridical, rather than an assumption that because an experience doesn’t meet certain criteria of validity, it cannot therefore be veridical.

Swinburne recognises certain limitations on the principle of credulity called subject-related challenges – these include reductionist and conflicting claims challenges. These special considerations include things such as; the subject has been shown to be unreliable in the past, or was in a certain state, or had a certain cultural background or psychological mindset such that it is very unlikely experiences under those circumstances were veridical, or that it is very likely the subject would have had the experience whether the supposed percept (the thing perceived) was there or not.

It is worth noting that when it comes to reductionist challenges, they are recognised as presenting problems for arguments from religious experience. Caroline Franks Davies doesn’t think a pragmatic approach like James works either – she says

the ‘fruits not roots’ approach to religious experience is not so successful, since the way an experience is caused and its veridicality are inextricably linked. An argument from religious experience cannot be built on experiences which have therapeutic value but no evidential force”

However, she doesn’t think reductionist challenges present insuperable difficulties for arguments from religious experience. She examines various reductionist explanations for religious experience such as hypersuggestibility, deprivation, sexual frustration, regression and mental illness, and concludes that there is not enough evidence to conclude that any of these are correlated with religious experience. She concludes that such reductionist challenges are unlikely to succeed on their own.

On Renunciation, Liberation, Sin and Death

This follows on from my previous post, which was a simple expression of desire and yearning for liberation in the song Fisherman’s Blues by the Waterboys. But liberation from what? What are the chains which hold you fast? It is the big question – and different religions answer in different ways. Religions such as Buddhism usually characterise those chains as ones of ignorance and desire and suffering. In Hinduism the word Moksha expresses the idea of freedom from these marks of reincarnation. In Christianity the emphasis is more moral – the chains are ones of sin and thus death. As often happens, the reading I was doing today was saying a lot about this yearning for liberation, and the entrapment of the human being. For A2 students perhaps wondering what this has got to do with the exam – stay with me to the end!

As usual I have been doing one of my favourite things – reading about Tolkien! In particular the excellent ‘Tolkien’s Sacramental Vision’ by Craig Bernthal. I have based much of what I say here on his chapter ‘Penance, Reconciliation and Their Refusal’ in that book.

For Tolkien evil is something by which we are caught. There is a strong element of addiction in all those who are caught by evil in The Lord of the Rings – not just those who are caught by the Ring, but for instance Pippin with the Palantir etc. This is something especially fresh to me at this moment because in preparation for Lent – and hopefully beyond it – I have decided to try and break my dependence on mobile devices and social media by selling both my smartphone and my tablet.

This may seem extreme – ‘haven’t I got any self-discipline?’, people have said to me; ‘just stop checking them so much, there’s no need to go that far.’ My answer to that is – would you say to an alcoholic ‘just have a little glass of whisky – have you no self-control?’ Of course they haven’t, that’s the point, and whilst I don’t think my compulsion to check my phone and go on social media is quite that bad yet, I have become aware over the last few months of a rather negative impact of all these things on my life. Quite apart from the fact that I have not really read any actual books for years, when I used to a lot, (no time to – I have twitter to check!) my sleep was cut down because I would be on my phone until the early hours, I found myself forced by Facebook into a projecting a distorted version of myself and recognised rather a lot of ego investment and pride in what I was doing, which sometimes made my interactions with others negative. These are probably just some of the negative effects of having constant access to social media on mobile devices. I’m sure there are limited positive effects, but for me they have been massively outweighed by the downside mentioned above.

I mention all this not to further mire myself in pride – look how abstemious I am! – but to give a practical example of the results of effectively chosen renunciations. I have been more productive, at peace, calmer and happier this week than I have for a long time, all by giving stuff up. It will become more difficult as I realise that I cannot rely on things like Google Maps or Kindle on journeys! But as renunciation goes this has been fairly easy! I’m not quite ready for the hair shirt and bread and water yet!

My point is it is very easy to become caught in the technological age. You find whole hours have gone by just staring at your phone. For many people this is fine. They are happy playing candy crush saga or whatever. But I have too much that I want to do. I don’t want to obliterate myself, to numb my awareness. I want to stay awake. I need to stay awake – to be vigilant in a moral sense, but also to create – you cannot create without life making some kind of sharp and shocking splash against your skin every now and again. Those who create, be it art or poetry or whatever, I would guess have found working ways of allowing life to sabotage their carefully planned and controlled creative environments, but not sabotage too much. It’s a tightrope walk, creativity.

But once you remove the external traps that are there to catch you, it is not all plain sailing. A subtler form of trap lies in wait within, a tendency which the external technological traps were just there to exploit once it manifested. This is the inner disposition of restlessness. This is a much more difficult trap to renounce. [see Josef Pieper – Leisure; the Basis of Culture]

Returning to the Biblical basis of this, the Old Testament Covenant was a life or death choice. The choice of evil meant you were ensnared by death, and as Bernthal points out St. John says much the same thing: “He that loveth not, abideth in death” (1 John 3:14)

“Death is a condition you enter while alive, and you abide in it – you accept it, you don’t struggle, and your conscience grows numb” – The way Bernthal puts it echoes my fear that midway on my life’s journey I begin to blunder off the path, being full of sleep:

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
About those woods is hard–so tangled and rough

And savage that thinking of it now, I feel
The old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter.
And yet, to treat the good I found there as well

I’ll tell what I saw, though how I came to enter
I cannot well say, being so full of sleep
Whatever moment it was I began to blunder

Off the true path.

Dante, Inferno, Canto I

The entrapment, the capture, is a slow process; you don’t presumably realise where you have started to go wrong until it’s too late. Persistence in sin makes you go spiritually blind, as Feser puts it here (Sex Part II – Aquinas on the daughters of lust), which explains a lot.

That abiding can be turned around – he that loveth, abideth in life, clearly, and this is the ‘life to the full’ that Jesus speaks of, which comes from drinking of the waters of eternal life that He gives us. Graham Ward says:

“The goal of contemplation is a mutual discerning – to know even as I am known. The knowing is a condition of being, a condition in the Johannine texts that is often described as abiding (‘meno’ – to stay, to stand, but transitively, to await, to expect.)”

The paradigmatic case in all Tolkien’s work of this abiding in death is Smaug. This dragon is possessed by what he possesses: his hoard of gold. He abides with death – a reign of pure quantity as Guenon put it – every last gold piece counted, and unable to rise from the hoard in case something goes missing. He is therefore bound to the tomb of his cave. This grasping or appropriation Tolkien uses as an analog of our epistemological appropriation, our inability to let the known be known without somehow attempting to make the known into an image of ourself, is a reverse case of that ‘knowing as we are known’ which is abiding in love. We must constantly practise renunciation in order to allow things to be as they are, not what we want them to be.

Heidegger takes the moment of death, cutting as it does across all our plans and intentions, as a spiritual opportunity, as it presents us with the possibility of absurdity and therefore invites us to live life authentically. At least, this is what I take him to be saying! Heideggerians correct me if I’m wrong! When life is lived ‘as rite not as flight’ then we are learning how to die well, which is surely the aim of a good life.

In the Silmarillion, men, when rejecting death, enter into a deeper spiritual death. They lose vibrancy and joy. The mark of being captured by evil is joylessness, lack of merriment or gaiety. How do we avoid this? Interior battle is Tolkien’s answer – look at how many battles there are in the Lord of the Rings – but most of them go on in the inner forum of conscience of the characters. We need all the spiritual weapons we can muster for these battles – waybread, the phial of galadriel, the elven rope – all of these gifts which save Frodo and Sam are sacramental or prayer related. We have been given help in the battle.

To go back to Dante, in the Inferno, the negative gravity of sin pulls him into hell – he cannot ascend the hills he has come down, and must go through hell to escape. ‘Sin creates a proclivity to sin’. In the Catholic tradition, this is why confession is so important. Herbert McCabe:

“The fire of hell is God. God is terrible and no man can look upon him and live, he is a consuming fire. To be safe in the presence of God you must yourself be sacred, you must share in God’s power and life. To have come into the presence of God without this protection is damnation. That is one picture of hell, the fundamental biblical one…

But hell is also the inability to accept death. The damned man is he who does not die in Christ, for whom death is therefore not a means of resurrection to new life. He is not able to make the act of self-sacrifice required of him. He is unable to see why he should. I picture the damned as spending their time continually justifying themselves to themselves, constantly showing how right they were and why they have no need to repent…

All the souls in hell, I think, are quite convinced that they have been damned unjustly. The analogy I find most useful is that of the child who has lost his temper and is sulking. He wants of course, to return to the affection of his friends, but he is blowed if he is going to apologize, his pride keeps him out even though he wants very much to return. Everybody is fully prepared to have him back if he will only make the gesture of returning, but this he finds himself unable to do. He cannot perform the self-abandonment required. He is unable to die.

Anyone in hell who was sorry for his sin would of course instantly be in heaven; the point of hell is that this does not happen.”

The Little Onion

In a previous post I discussed the philosophical problems with belief in an afterlife, and ended with a parable from Dostoevsky about an old woman and an onion. I was asked what I thought would have happened if she hadn’t kicked out, shaking off the hangers-on, and whether it would conflict with traditional notions of afterlife reward and punishment.

I think the first thing to say is that in the Christian tradition we can never talk about simply ‘my’ salvation – it is always our salvation – so the old woman was wrong to think that she could be justified in kicking the others off – she is not the one to decide how God might work with that one good action of hers – or rather if she does set herself up as the arbiter of that she will be sinning – and equally our bad actions have consequences that we cannot foresee. I think this can be seen in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘forgive us our sins and deliver us from evil’, and I think this is a key part of what Father Zosima means when he says of man:

“But when he knows that he is not only worse than all those in the world, but is also guilty before all people, on behalf of all and for all, for all human sins, the world’s and each person’s, only then will the goal of our unity be achieved. […] Only then will our hearts be moved to a love that is infinite, universal, and knows no satiety.” (The Brothers Karamazov 4.1.2)

Certainly this was also Von Balthasar’s view. It is our salvation not my salvation – it is also our sin, not other’s sin – which is a temptation we all know well, to point the finger of blame – in fact Zosima goes further even than this:

“make yourself responsible for all the sins of men […] by shifting your own laziness and powerlessness onto others, you will end by sharing in Satan’s pride and murmuring against God.” (6.3.g)

If we do not take seriously Christ’s injunction to “judge not, lest ye be judged, for as ye mete out, in the same measure it will be meted to you” and keep constant vigil on our thoughts, we will end up cooperating with evil. It is not enough just to follow the laws. This interconnectedness of all humans on the moral level is taught by all the great saints and mystics, as well as by Christ himself.

What does this mean then for the old woman? She could have brought people out of hell with her one little onion. The fact that she did not remain still and started selfishly kicking indicates that if you spend a lifetime nourishing mean-spirited habits, those habits will eat into any spark of goodness and grace that you have offered in your life, such that, whilst that single act of generosity would be enough to save not just one but many, it would be overcome by the darkness of habitual sin – such is the gravity of accumulated vice – or karma as it is known in the East.

Looking in more depth at the kicking out at the hangers on – I think this act of violence was as Rowan Williams says “the determination to distinguish dimensions in the other that exceed what is chosen and granted”.

Because the giving of the one small onion, even in its finitude and apparent paltriness as a moral action, nonetheless reflected the absolute gratuity of the universe as gift, it was strong enough to pull out many when received back as gift from the angel.

But the old habitual ‘instrumental mentality’ takes over, and as soon as the old woman makes the decision about what can or cannot be granted to the other, the fragility of that same gift in relation to freedom is revealed.

To end with some more from Rowan Williams:

“Because all of them [the issues that arise in Dostoevsky’s fiction] are in one way or another grounded in the question of what we owe to each other, they are all of them connected to the problem of lack of depth [what Charles Taylor calls the ‘buffered self’] and the instrumental mentality which flows from this. Owing something to another is a recognition that what my relation with that other properly involves cannot be reduced to what I decide, to what I choose to “grant” to the other. And the inexpressible or inexhaustible hinterland of the other is precisely what exceeds my choice and has no need of my license.

For Dostoevsky one of the characteristic motives in planned violence, individual or political, is the determination to extinguish dimensions in the other that exceed what is chosen and granted. And the contemporary cultural scene is one which strongly suggests that there is more than one style of violence directed against these rebel dimensions in humanity: to take the most obvious example, the global economy works on the assumption that local solidarities and patterns of shared meaning are all accidental to the fundamental practice of human beings in the world, which is the unrestricted exchange of commodity and currency. All particulars are levelled or assimilated to each other on the principle that everything has an exchange value that can be clearly determined. And the principle is applied equally to objects and to practices and skills: hence it becomes possible to quantify quite strictly the value of activities that were formerly regarded as given meaning by their intrinsic human worthwhileness, and surrounded accordingly by informal cultures and disciplines. The point at which the activity of nursing the sick can be expressed in terms of a producer supplying a customer is the point at which the culture of nursing the sick begins to disappear. It is replaced by contractual negotiations of power between the two interests represented, producer or supplier and consumer: whose will is going to be secured and protected? What do I need to concede in negotiation so as to secure the maximum amount of liberty for my future choices? And when such contracts cease to be satisfactory, there is no relation left; the other has ceased to be properly instrumental to my will and can be safely discarded.”