Philosophy 3600 - Philosophy of Religion
Study Guide for Exam #1
Exam #1 will take place on Friday, September 29 in class. It's a bluebook exam so you must bring a blue book. You must also bring (and write your exam in) blue or black ink (no red ink, no pencil).
Exam #1 is an essay exam. You will be required to write one or two essays having to do with the concept of God, omnipotence, and//or God and morality.
To prepare, focus on our handouts. For each item on the handout (whether a thesis, a definition, an argument, or whatever), be sure you have total mastery of it. If it if a thesis, for example, be sure you totally understand what it is saying -- so much so that you could get a friend of yours who knows nothing about philosophy to understand what it is saying. Obviously, this includes being able to define any philosophical technical terms in it.
If the item is an argument, be sure you get each step of the argument; be sure that for every premise of the argument, you fully understand what it is saying; be sure that for every premise of the argument you fully understand why a defender of the argument would think it is true (notice that this is importantly different from just knowing what the premise is saying). If the conclusion of some argument is something other than that some claim is false (e.g., if it is a conditional claim), be sure you can explain why this conclusion is significant. Also be prepared to give your own evaluation of all of our arguments. I'm most impressed when someone challenges an argument in a novel and plausible way. Whenever you challenge an argument you must pick a line -- i.e., you must identify some premise as the false premise, and explain why you take it to be false. If you can't tell which premise of the argument your objection is supposed to undermine, then you don't understand your objection.
If you think some argument is sound, you can still be impressive by presenting some potential objection to the argument in a convincing way, and then showing why you think this potential objection ultimately fails.
Another way to prepare for this exam is to write out answers to these questions below. I'm not saying any of these exact questions will be on your exam, but they give you a good idea of the kind of thing I'm looking for.
- Explain why it is important that we agree on a conception of God before we investigate the reasons for or against thinking God exists. Illustrate this via a brief discussion of the God is love argument.
- Explain our "guiding principle" in constructing our concept of God. Explain why, given this guiding principle, it makes sense to include omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness in our definition of God.
Explain why, given our guiding principle, it seems to make more sense to define God not just as having these attributes, but as having them essentially. In doing this, first explain what it is for a thing to have some attribute essentially (as opposed to accidentally). It would be a good idea to illustrate this distinction by way of some examples.
Finally, can you think of a reason why we might actually want to deny, given our guiding principle, that God has His moral perfection essentially? Discuss this, and defend your own view about it.
- State the Absolute Account of Omnipotence and explain, in your own words, what it is saying. Explain why, at least initially, it appears to be an attractive account.
Present and explain the argument against the Absolute Account that we discussed in class. Be sure you don't leave out any important steps in the argument. Be sure you give the rationale behind each step of the argument. Be sure to make clear what conclusion this argument is supposed to establish, and what is significant about it.
Finally, evaluate this argument. This is where you say whether you think the argument is successful. If you think it is not, identify where you think the argument fails, and why.
- State the Possibility Account of Omnipotence, and explain the way in which it is ambiguous, according to Aquinas. Be sure to identify the ambiguous term in the definition and the two things it might mean, according to Aquinas. Illustrate these two meanings with some examples.
Refute the one disambiguation of this account that we called the Relative Possibility Account of Omnipotence.
- State the Thomistic Account of Omnipotence and explain, in your own words, what it is saying. (This will require explaining the distinction between relative and absolute (or metaphysical) possibility.) Illustrate Thomas' account by means of some examples.
Explain why the Thomistic Account appears to be an attractive account. Do this by showing how it affords solutions to some of the puzzles about omnipotence, e.g., the puzzle of divine suicide, or the paradox of the stone (obviously, if you want to show how the account solves some puzzle, you'll need first to present and explain the puzzle in question).
Present and explain the argument against the Thomistic Account based on the idea of divine wrongdoing.
Finally, evaluate this argument. This is where you say whether you think the argument is successful. If you think it is not, identify where you think the argument fails, and why. Even if you think this argument is sound, can you (i) discuss a response someone might make to this argument on behalf of the Thomistic Account, and (ii) explain why you don't find this response plausible?
- State Clarke's Account of Omnipotence and explain, in your own words, what it is saying. (This will require explaining the distinction between relative and absolute (or metaphysical) possibility.) Explain why one might be motivated to prefer this account to Aquinas's account. Illustrate Clarke's Account by means of some examples.
Present and explain the argument against Clarke's Account based on Plantinga's case of Mr. McEar.
Do you think Clark's Account is equivalent to the Relative Possibility Account of Omnipotence? (To say that two accounts of omnipotence are equivalent is to say that, for any conceivable being, the accounts agree over whether that being is omnipotent.) If you think the accounts are equivalent, show that they are. If you think they are not, describe a case about which they disagree.
- State Wielenberg's Account of Omnipotence and explain, in your own words, what it is saying. Illustrate the account by means of some examples.
Explain what Wielenberg's Account implies about: (i) metaphysically impossible states of affairs; (ii) divine wrongdoing, and (iii) the case of Mr. McEar. Does it provide plausible answers to each of these kinds of case?
Here's a topic we didn't discuss in class: past states of affairs. Consider the following state of affairs: Nixon's winning the 1968 presidential election. Now consider this question: Does God now have the power to bring it about that this state of affairs didn't occur? How do you think Wielenberg's Account answers this question? Does this make a problem for his account? Do any of the accounts of omnipotence that we looked provide a clear and satisfying answer to this question? Discuss.
- Present and explain the Divine Command Theory (as an account of right and wrong action). Discuss some reasons why this might be an attractive moral theory.
Is DCT logically compatible with atheism? If not, explain why they are incompatible. If you think they are compatible, explain what follows from the combination of DCT and atheism.
Present and explain one of the arguments against DCT I called "inconclusive." Explain why I think it a weak argument. Am I right? Explain.
- Present and explain Plato's Euthyphro Argument against the Divine Command Theory. Needless to say, this involves quite a lot (such as, e.g., Socrates's question, the two Horns and what each is saying, the main reasons Plato would reject what we called Horn 1, the reason why Horn 2 is not an option for the Divine Command Theorist, ... ).
Evaluate Plato's argument. Do you think is successfully refutes the DCT. If not, where does it go wrong? Even if you think it does refute the DCT, discuss an interesting objection to Plato's argument and explain why you think the objection fails.
- <some question on the Moral Argument>