Sunday, September 18, 2011

Introduction to Robert C. Roberts View of Emotions

Robert C. Roberts is a philosopher who engages in the contemporary discussion concerning the nature of emotions. His scholarly work defending his position may be found in his book Emotions: An Essay in Aid of Moral Psychology. He has also written a work titled Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues which elaborates on how his view of emotions assists the Christian in his or her spiritual walk. In this post, I simply want to offer a sketch of his view. However, before I sketch his view I want to give a little background on the way in which Roberts approaches the study of emotions.

In ancient and medieval philosophy, emotions were usually spoken of within the context of a broader philosophical anthropology. Aquinas, for example, differentiates the various types of souls into the natural (vegetative) soul, the sensitive soul, and the rational soul. Rational souls have the powers of the lower sensitive and natural soul; however, in addition to those powers the rational soul also has the power of reason. Aquinas locates emotions in the sensitive part of the soul. In particular, he situates them in the sensitive appetite. (Note: At this point, I do not think that the modern term “emotions” is the equivalent of Aquinas’ terms “passiones” or “affectiones”.)

By contrast, the contemporary debate makes use of neuroscience, experimental psychology, evolutionary biology, etc... Some researchers believe they have found interesting results as they study brain states and their corresponding emotional states. Others think that experimental psychology is more helpful in arriving at the nature of emotions. Anthropologists might draw their conclusions about emotion by comparing those emotions that seem to cross cultural boundaries with those that seem to be unique to a particular culture.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Aquinas on Impassibility: SCG (Q.89-90)

I have been meaning to read, and understand, Aquinas’ reasons for his doctrine of impassibility for a while now.  To that end, I want to offer my thoughts on questions 89 and 90 of book 1 of Aquinas’ work Summa Contra Gentiles.  I am aware that these are not the only passages that speak to this doctrine.  I am just biting off this small chuck for this post.

In SCG question 89, (sections 1 – 7) Aquinas argues that passions are excluded from God by reason of their genus.  Ultimately, passions are excluded because they are passive potencies.  Since God has no passive potency, it follows that God has no passions.

In that same question (sections 8 – 15) Aquinas argues that some passions are excluded, not merely because their genus, but on account of their species as well.  His first example is sorrow and pain.  They can’t be found in God because “its subject is the already present evil”.  So the nature of certain passions themselves implies some evil or some lack in the subject, which for Aquinas, means that they are not befitting the nature of God.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

1 Corinthians 12 - Sermon

If you want to watch the video of this sermon, click here.

This morning, we will be looking at the book of 1 Corinthians.  In addition to being one of the most quoted books by the early church fathers, the book of 1 Corinthians also happens to be one of my favorite books in the New Testament.  This morning we will be focusing primarily on chapter 12.

Initially, I liked the book because it’s the largest available treatise on spiritual gifts.  Being raised in the Charismatic / Pentecostal church, I tended to focus almost entirely on chapters 12 through 14.  I remember being both delighted and frustrated at Paul’s comments that we should “desire spiritual gifts…”  After all, during that time of my life, one of the most important things for me was the obtaining of the gifts of the Spirit.  I wanted to be able to prophecy or perform miracles.  Many of you might find this desire to be odd; however, given my goals and circumstances, this desire was a natural one.

As a teenager, I remember having a very strong desire to be “the best Christian I can be”.  Since I, and those around me, thought that the pinnacle of one’s spiritual life is to obtain spiritual gifts, naturally I sought them so that I could be spiritually fulfilled.  The logic was simple
  1. I desire to be as spiritual as possible.
  2. Obtaining the gifts of the Spirit is the mark of someone who is advanced in his or her spirituality. 
  3. Therefore, I desire to obtain the gifts of the Spirit.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Kant and the Theistic Arguments

Immanuel Kant thought that arguments for the existence of God fell into one of three categories. Logically speaking, all classical arguments could be reduced to a form of the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, or the teleological argument (physico-theological argument). His rejection of the first two arguments was primarily due to his rejection of the ontological argument. He maintained that the cosmological argument depended on the ontological argument, such that a destruction of the ontological argument entailed the destruction of the cosmological argument.

Kant’s refutation of the ontological argument stemmed primarily from a single criticism. He denied that existence added anything to the essence of a thing. In other words, the concept “exist” does not contribute to one’s knowledge of what that thing is. The defenders of the ontological argument thought that God must have all positive perfections, including the perfection of existence. Kant rejected this because he thought that what a thing is may be properly understood without illicitly adding the property of existence. This meant that, even if the idea of God necessarily entailed the possession of all positive perfections, existence itself could not be listed among those positive perfections.

The Kantian Synthesis

Like many of the modern philosophers, Immanuel Kant became disillusioned with the philosophers before him. During his early years he was very sympathetic to the Leibnizian school. Eventually he was exposed to the writings of David Hume, and this helped him to see the weaknesses of rationalism and the importance of the empirical approach to philosophy. Rather than accepting the skeptical conclusions of Hume, Kant sought to save science and philosophy. He did not want to see the entire modern philosophical and scientific projects demolished.

Kant admired the certainty found in mathematics, but he also admired the scientific advances in physics (championed by Sir Isaac Newton). He realized that if he sided with the rationalists, he would have to minimize the importance of the physical sciences and hence the importance of the advancements made by recent scientists. If, on the other hand, he sided with the empiricists, he would have to give up certainty along with God and morality. Rather than siding with one school or the other, Kant created his own Copernican revolution in philosophy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Psychology in the Spirit: A Book Review

This book review can be found in the "Christian Apologetics Journal" as well.

Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology. Coe, John H., & Todd W. Hall. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2010. 446 pages. (Paperback), $30.00. ISBN 978-0-8308-2813-5.

I recall taking Psychology in the Spirit off of the shelf of our seminary library and thinking “Excellent, another work on psychology from Christian thinkers who are well-acquainted with psychology, theology, and philosophy!” I thought that it would be a book that lays out different theoretical models of how to integrate the above mentioned disciplines. Additionally, I expected to see a book that sketches the author’s theoretical ideas and how those ideas are practically worked out in a clinical setting. Psychology in the Spirit does these things, but it wasn’t as technical as I expected. On the contrary, it was surprisingly accessible.

While different views of integration are presented, an in-depth analysis of these models is not the primary thrust of the book. Rather than debating the fine points of each conceptual model, Dr. Coe and Dr. Hall present their breed of a “transformational psychology” in a holistic fashion, emphasizing the person, process, and product of their model of psychology.