Philosophy 3600 - Philosophy of Religion
Study Guide for Essay Exam 1
Essay Exam 1 will take place on Wednesday, February 13th 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).
Essay 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 your notes from lecture and the lists of topics covered on each day (which you will find on the "What We Did Each Day" page ). For each item on these lists (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 step of the argument, you fully understand what it is saying and, moreover, 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). 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. If you think some argument is sound, you can still be impressive by presenting some interesting potential objection to the argument in a convincing way, and then showing why you think this potential objection ultimately fails.
But the best 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. Just looking over these questions and thinking about them is nowhere near as helpful as actually writing out answers. We often don't know what we understand until we try to express it in writing.
- Explain our "guiding principle" in constructing the traditional conception of God. Explain why, given this guiding principle, it seems to make 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, you will of course need to 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.
If you have any other interesting ideas about the traditional conception of God (e.g., why it's a sensible conception of God, why it's a bad approach to defining God, that it has some implications we might not have expected it to have), explore your idea. Explain it in detail. Defend it against objections.
- State the Absolute Account of Omnipotence and explain, in your own words, what it is saying. Explain why, at least initially, it might appear 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 get to give your own opinion about the argument. If you think it is not successful, identify where you think the argument fails, and explain your reasons. If you think the argument is successful, present some objection that an opponent of it might give, and then explain why you think that objection fails.
- In considering the idea that to be omnipotent is to be able to bring about any possible state of affairs, Aquinas notes that this idea is actually ambiguous between two different ideas. What is the ambiguous term in the idea above? What are the two things it might mean, according to Aquinas. Illustrate these two meanings with some examples.
One disambiguation of this idea is what we called the Relative Possibility Account of Omnipotence. Explain why this is not a good 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. When you do so, present it as forcefully and persuasively as you can, just as an advocate of the puzzle would.)
Present and explain the argument against the Thomistic Account based on the idea of divine sin.
Finally, evaluate this argument. This is where you get to defend your own view about it. If you think it is not successful, identify where you think the argument fails, and why. If you think this argument is sound, discuss a response someone might make to this argument on behalf of the Thomistic Account and 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.) Illustrate Clarke's Account by means of some examples. Explain how Clarke's Account is different from Aquinas'. What is the main reason to prefer Clarke's Account to Aquinas's Account? Explain this in detail.
Present and explain the argument against Clarke's Account based on Plantinga's case of Mr. McEar (or else on an analogous case of your own invention).
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.
- Present and explain the Divine Command Theory in ethics. Illustrate the theory by means of some examples. Critically discuss some reasons why this might be an attractive moral theory (you may discuss some of the ones we discussed in class, some of the ones alluded to in the Craig/Sinnott-Armstrong reading, some of your own reasons, or some combination of all of these). When I ask you to "critically discuss" some of the allegedly attractive features of DCT, I am wanting to hear your own opinions about them (after you introduce and explain them in as charitable a light as you can). Is the feature really attractive? Is the DCT really better suited than other approaches to deliver this allegedly attractive feature?
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 (or why one might think) it is 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 reasons to reject what we called Horn 1 [this itself involves quite a lot], the reason why Horn 2 is not an option for the Divine Command Theorist, ... ).
Evaluate Plato's argument. Do you think it 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. (Another option: do you think there is an ethical theory that avoids Plato's objections but that is nonetheless divine-based in some important and interesting way? If so, explain all that in detail.)
- Many theists are reluctant to embrace Horn 2 of Plato's dilemma (hence rejecting the DCT) because they believe that doing so would be to diminish God in some way. Write an essay in which you:
(i) try to explain and motivate this idea (i.e., that accepting Horn 2 would be to diminish God in some way). Even if you don't accept it, put yourself in the shoes of an advocate for it and explain it, making it sound as plausible as you can;
(ii) explain what Aquinas' theory of omnipotence implies about whether God is omnipotent if we accept Horn 2 and its idea that moral truths are not up to God;
(iii) critically evaluate one of the (other) alleged reasons we discussed in class for why God's omnipotence is not threatened by Horn 2; in doing this, say whether you accept or reject it; if you reject it, explain why; if you accept it, think of an interesting objection to your position, and explain why that objection fails.