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Religious Studies Essay Prize

Submissions are invited for the Religious Studies Postgraduate Essay Prize, which is sponsored jointly by Cambridge University Press and the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion. The winning entry will be published in Religious Studies, and the winner awarded £300.

The Prize is an international prize, and open to all those who, at time of the deadline, are registered for a postgraduate research degree. The topic of the essay should be in the philosophy of religion and must be no longer than 10,000 words in length. The judges reserve the right not to award the Prize if no submission of sufficient merit is received.

Essays should be submitted in hard copy only (not through the journal's electronic submission system), in duplicate, and clearly marked 'Religious Studies Essay Prize', with the author's name and contact details in a covering letter but not on the essay. The closing date for entries is 1st December, 2011, and they should be sent to:

Prof Robin Le Poidevin
Editor, Religious Studies
Department of Philosophy
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT

Reposted from Prosblogion

On the Practicality of Metaphysics

Cupid_And_PsycheJeff Mason writes a pretty good blog post for Talking Philosophy on the practical implications of metaphysics. There are not a few academics (and others) who aggressively are attempting to push philosophy under the hard sciences or trying to get rid of it altogether (the recently claims by Steven Hawking is just one, more prominent instances. Here’s another, and another.). Mason focuses on belief in God as one example where metaphysics has practical implications. But his article is interesting in that he doesn’t really argue for the practicality of a metaphysical entity (in this case, God) but of the practicality of belief in a metaphysical entity like God.

The idea is that believing in God may have certain psychological advantages for the believer even if God as a metaphysical being doesn’t exist. As such, discussions about God’s existence and the like are important and practical, he argues, because of the impact belief can have on behavior. He writes,

“The case of God is perhaps the most urgent issue in practical metaphysics, for the simple reason that religious beliefs have the widest ranging practical implications. Such beliefs involve many aspects of life, including emotional responses and moral judgments….There is a kind of psychic economy here. I give up my burdens to God, and God buoys me up. This is a widely reported experience. There are many things that are out of an individual’s control. Misfortune is always a possibility, no matter how well you manage what is within your power. It is a real comfort to think that there is a benign power loving and caring for each of us.”

I’m confident that he’s right about this and oddly even some atheists tend to agree. But there is a difference between saying belief in God is psychologically advantageous and saying that God as real, existent, metaphysical entity impacts the lives of human beings in a practical way. It’s not clear to me whether Mason is making this distinction. If he isn’t, I don’t think he’s really dealing with metaphysics but is focusing more on epistemology. If we move the discussion to physics, this point becomes clear. The belief that I have just eaten something may give me some kind of psychological comfort of some sort (let’s suppose I’m starving and need to find a way to endure until I’m able to be nourished) but we can’t really say we’re discussing physics at this point. Only real food will provide the practical, physical outcome I need. And this is a pretty hard-and-fast rule.

Such a distinction doesn’t appear to exist when it comes to the case of God’s existence. Many—and perhaps Mason is included here—seem to hold that when you talk about belief in God’s activities, you’re talking about God’s activities. Yet even the most ardent believers I know still see a doctor and take medication when they’re sick, go to work each day to provide for their families, seek comfort from friends and family when they’re in distress, lock their doors at night, attend school to learn about the world and so on. Many claim that God provides (in a real, physical sense) for all these needs and desires. But, to me, this claim seems like little more than a statement about what they believe rather than a claim about the activities of a real, metaphysical being whose actions have a practical impact on their lives. So (at least in this case) it seems odd to say that those who make such claims are talking about practical metaphysics. Epistemology seems like the more appropriate label.

I suppose it could be argued that all the real work God does has to do with the psyche (I think something like this is behind an argument by Paul Moser in which he claims that without a real relationship with God, it would be impossible to truly act selflessly—see here). If this were the argument then it would be somehow misguided to think that God would do any work that doesn’t involve belief (like heal the sick or, as Woody Allen requested, deposit a large sum of money in your bank account). But it’s not clear that’s what Mason is arguing.

Read Mason’s article here.

I wrote an article which explored ideas similar to Mason’s here.

Basil Mitchell: 1917-2011

wp9f9cb77e_05I just learned from The Prosblogion that Basil Mitchell passed away this summer. I first encountered Mitchell in the mid-90s (that’s 1990s for you youngsters out there) as a contributor to Antony Flew’s excellent New Essays in Philosophical Theology. Flew’s book was deeply important to my intellectual development and I recall Mitchell as a respondent to Flew’s highly influential “Theology and Falsification.”

The write up at The Prosblogion is worth the read.

CFP: Formal Epistemology Festival

Call for Papers
Fourth Formal Epistemology Festival
Konstanz, June 4-6, 2012

Organized by Rachael Briggs (Sydney), Kenny Easwaran (USC), Franz Huber (Konstanz), Jonathan Weisberg (Toronto).
Speakers include Jeff Barrett (UCI/Konstanz), Joe Halpern (Cornell/Konstanz), and the organizers.

Despite its name, the Fourth Formal Epistemology Festival will not be exclusively formal or epistemological. These mismatches between sign and signified will be compensated for on the third front, festiveness.

Please submit full papers prepared for blind-review to: by November 30, 2011. Notification of acceptance: December 31, 2011.

Speakers have a total of 90mins to present their papers (including Q&A) and will be reimbursed for travel and lodging expenses.

Reposted from Certain Doubts

The Ad Hominem

A description of what is and is not an instance of the ad hominem argument. Apparently this has been around for a while and has been discussed at length. I’m not sure all the examples the author cites as ad hominems are ad hominems (for example, B’s reply, “Yet another ad hominem argument. Ignore this one, folks.” isn’t really attacking A but is attempting to divert the attention from the actual argument A is making and so might be more of a straw man argument (or perhaps an ignoratio elenchi)). But in general, the author’s point is a good one. An ad hominem ignores the actual argument being made and attempts to undermine the conclusion of the argument by attacking the person.

Thanks to Andrew Smith for the pointer.

CsFP on Experimental Philosophy and Epistemology

These two news items come from Certain Doubts.

Oxford University Press has started up the new series Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy. Each volume will consist of a series of new papers in the field of experimental philosophy.

The Call for Abstracts for the first volume is now available. If you are interested in contributing, all you need to do is send in a brief (less than 1,000 word) abstract by Dec. 15. Papers can present new experimental findings or examine the philosophical implications of existing studies. Criticisms of experimental philosophy are always welcome.

The last few years have seen a surge of interesting experimental studies in epistemology, including studies about contextualism and interest-relativity, about differences between demographic groups, about whether knowledge entails belief, and about the impact of moral judgments on knowledge ascriptions. (Links to these papers are available here.) It would be wonderful to see further work on some of these topics in this new volume!

The 2nd annual Edinburgh Graduate Epistemology conference is being held on June 8th-9th 2012. The keynote speakers will be John Greco and Crispin Wright. There is also a call for papers. For more details, see the website here.

Workshop and Conference on Teaching Philosophy

The American Association of Philosophy Teachers

St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas
July 25 – July 29, 2012

Proposals for interactive workshops and panels related to teaching and learning philosophy at any educational level are welcome.  We especially encourage workshops and panels on the following topics:

  • innovative and successful teaching strategies
  • professional issues connected to teaching
  • how work in other disciplines can improve the teaching of philosophy
  • engaging students outside the classroom
  • innovative uses of instructional technologies
  • the challenge of teaching in new settings
  • methods to improve student learning


Send Submissions, via email, to Russell Marcus:  Submissions should be received by Monday, January 9, 2012.

Each submission must contain, as attachments, both a proposal and a cover sheet in Word (.doc or .docx), PDF (.pdf), or WordPerfect (.wpd) format.  Please label attachments with your name (e.g., Doe-Proposal.doc and Doe-Cover.doc).

The Proposal should include:

  • the session title
  • a one-to-three page description of what the presentation will cover, what participants will do during the session, and what the session seeks to achieve
  • a list of references, especially to relevant pedagogical literature
  • descriptions of any useful handouts to be provided
  • a list of equipment needed
  • To facilitate blind review, no identifying information should appear in the Proposal.

The Cover Sheet should include:

  • the session title
  • a 100-200 word abstract for use in the printed conference program
  • each presenter’s name, institutional affiliation (if any), and contact information
  • the length of the presentation (60 or 90 minutes)
  • the format of the presentation (workshop, panel, discussion, or demonstration)

Visit for additional information about AAPT or the workshop-conference.

Philosopher Spotlight

Conversations with philosophers, professional and non-professional alike.
Visit our podcast section for more interviews and conversations.

Interview with

Dr. Robert McKim
  • on Religious Diversity
  • Professor of Religion and Professor of Philosophy
  • Focuses on Philosophy of Religion
  • Ph.D. Yale

Interview with

Dr. Alvin Plantinga
  • on Where the Conflict Really Lies
  • Emeritus Professor of Philosophy (UND)
  • Focuses on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Religion
  • Ph.D. Yale

Interview with

Dr. Peter Boghossian
  • on faith as a cognitive sickness
  • Teaches Philosophy at Portland State University (Oregon)
  • Focuses on atheism and critical thinking
  • Has a passion for teaching in prisons
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