Sewanee Senior Theses 2000


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    Did Hawkins Reveal a Blind Watchmaker?
    (2000-04) Hoffman, Michael
    Over the last two thousand years, Christians, as well as other theists, have attempted to prove the existence of God. The motivations and expectations of these proofs have varied. In the Enlightenment, people believed that they could prove God's existence in the same way that I could prove that the three angles of a triangle equal one hundred and eighty degrees. They did not only think that these proofs could succeed. Some even believed that a logical proof was a necessary foundation for the Christian religion. Today, theologians are more concerned with showing the probability or plausibility of the belief in an omnipotent being, in order to defend themselves from modern skeptics. A good proof for the existence of God can show that theistic religions are not illogical absurdities, but logically defensible positions. There are many different types of proofs for the existence of God, but the form that I find most promising is the argument from design. The most famous version of the design argument was formulated by William Paley. Basically, it claims that the complexity of different aspects of the universe, especially in biology, demands a creator. Many philosophers, like Hume and Kant, criticized this argument, but the design argument faced its most formidable opponent after 1859 with the publication of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Darwin's theory of evolution claims that complexity found in organisms is the result of physical forces. Therefore, the obvious conclusion is that if complexity is caused by blind forces, then it was not created by higher being. Darwin alludes to this conclusion, but Richard Dawkins clearly presents that sort of argument in his two works, The Blind Watchmaker and "The Improbability of God". Dawkin's basic thesis is that the complexity found in organisms is the product of natural selection and, therefore, not the work of a creative "watchmaker." In this paper, I am going to examine Dawkins' project and eventually conclude that he fails. I am not necessarily arguing against evolution, but criticizing Dawkins' attempts to show the plausibility of evolution and discredit all belief in an omnipotent creator.
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    Christianity and Liberalism: A Call for Change from Stanley Hauerwas
    (2000-04) Clendenin, Nathan C
    The fundamental call of Christianity is a call to surrender control of one's life to the lordship of Jesus Christ. In surrendering, one acknowledges life as a gift from God. Since the Enlightenment, Christianity as a whole has moved away from acknowledging life as a gift. The Enlightenment project to provide a completely rational basis for morality has infiltrated the Christian ranks, making our religion incapable of speaking to a secular world. The church needs to once again surrender ourselves to the forming power of the gospel of Christ, which enables us to recognize life as a gift, for as Christians, we should recognize that only through the power of the gospel do we find true freedom. Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of theology at the Duke University School of Divinity, offers a challenging critique of modern liberalism, the foundational philosophy of American government. His critique exists throughout his works, but I will focus on arguments found in the following texts and essays: After Christendom?, A Community of Character, Resident Aliens, "Preaching as Though We had Enemies," and "Honor in the University." In characterizing his project, it will be important to clarify to some extent the subject of Hauerwas' critique, namely modern liberalism. His arguments against liberal definitions of freedom and justice will be presented, in an effort to set the stage for explaining why the church should abandon the liberal presuppositions it has adopted over time. Hauerwas' alternative vision of the church as a community with a craft-like notion of morality formed by the gospel will be presented, followed by a critique provided in Martha Nussbaum's, "Recoiling From Reason?" Finally, I will explain how Hauerwas can escape Nussbaum's criticism, and conclude that Hauerwas' project is largely successful and convincing. What is Modernity? In an essay entitled, "Preaching as Though We Had Enemies," Hauerwas suggests that modernity's goal was to produce a people without a specific story. He writes: ...the project of modernity was to produce people who believe they should have no story except the story they choose when they have no story. Such a story is called the story of freedom and is assumed to be irreversibly institutionalized economically as market capitalism and politically as democracy.1 In other words, modernity is what taught us that freedom means having no specific story or viewpoint. This 'freedom' is fostered by the institutions of democracy and market capitalism which give us a 'free' choice over what we consume and who governs us. In terms of ethics, Hauerwas thinks the goal of modernity since the enlightenment has been to create a morality that is autonomous. He quotes Charles Taylor who describes the enlightenment goal to, "achieve the fullness of disengaged reason and detach ourselves from superstitions and parochial attachments."2 The type of reason Taylor describes is supposedly autonomous, and is free from any sort of prejudice or preconceived notions. The foundational principles on which the United States is built presuppose our ability to achieve autonomous reason such as Taylor describes. Our basic assumptions about morality and ethics appeal to a universal reason or common sense. These presuppositions about reason and its application to morality constitute what we call liberalism in America. Based on this definition of liberalism, Hauerwas can be said to attack any ethical theory which attempts to speak from a neutral standpoint, claiming an autonomous reason as its method and criterion of understanding.
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    Nietzsche's Philosophy of Affirmation: A Paradox Avoided
    (2000-04) Spiller, John David
    Yirmiyahu Yovel claims that "the need is growingly felt to consider Nietzsche not as a critic or a 'negative' reformer merely, but [also] to take his role as an affirmative thinker more seriously. [For] Nietzsche insists that his Dionysian message is fundamentally an affirmation, a new kind of 'yes'" (ix). The implicit idea that Nietzsche's critical endeavors coexist with or run parallel to or, perhaps, are intimately connected with some sort of affirmative ideal, to such an extent that it would be negligent or insufficient to concentrate "merely" on the former instead of the latter, is particularly interesting. For, in even the most casual of glances, one may nevertheless detect a basic tension between the no or negation of critical philosophy and the yes of affirmative philosophy. For Nietzsche to espouse both, as Yovel indicates, means that he argues in essentially different directions. The Gay Science, first published in 1882, pulls most greatly in these different or, better, opposite directions: indeed, in this book Nietzsche both claims that God and the divinely purposed world are dead (108-109) AND that some day he wishes "to be only a Yes-sayer" (276)1 - in other words, he is extremely negative regarding Christian metaphysics and morality and at the same time idealizes a sort of universal affirmation or yes-saying that ostensibly applies to Christianity and everything else. Just how these opposite directions within The Gay Science fit together is an important question. For on the one hand, Nietzsche says, "But the ability to contradict, the attainment of a good conscience when one feels hostile to what is accustomed, traditional, and hallowed - that is still more excellent and constitutes what is really great, new, and amazing in our culture" (297) - hence his own "contradiction" of, for example, Christianity. And on the other hand, he says, For the new year - ... Today everybody permits himself the expression of his wish and his dearest thought; hence I, too, shall say what it is that I wish from myself today, and what was the first thought to run across my heart this year - what thought shall be for me the reason, warranty, and sweetness of my life henceforth. I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer. (276) That Nietzsche "wishes" this "yes-saying" ability for others, particularly those higher and more advanced souls, is implicit. And so we see two contradictory philosophies emerge from within the same book of The Gay Science: the philosophy that one should not affirm everything but criticize "what is accustomed, traditional, and hallowed" AND the philosophy that one should try to affirm everything and accuse or criticize nothing, not even those who are critical themselves. Further examination reveals that this second philosophy may itself encompass the original two and demonstrate their contradictory nature. For consider the proposition "You should affirm everything," the basic proposition of section 276, summing up Nietzsche's wish "to be only a Yes-sayer" even regarding nay-sayers or "those who accuse." The proposition "You should affirm everything" we will call P. Now, "You should affirm everything" is expressed in opposition to "you should not affirm everything" or "it is not the case that you should affirm everything," which we will call ~P. Indeed, "you should" is a contrastive concept that has meaning only by contrast with "you should not": when Nietzsche says "I wish to be only a Yes-sayer," the "only" is meant to exclude or reject nay-saying. So, there is a sense in which "you should affirm everything" does mean rejecting positions that do not affirm everything. And yet, if you do take P seriously and affirm everything, perhaps you cannot avoid affirming ~P ("You should not affirm everything"), as Nietzsche indicates with his statement that he "does not even want to accuse those who accuse." But, indeed, for P to lead on to ~P seems both logically absurd and counter to Nietzsche's being "only a Yes-sayer": for (1) one cannot affirm both P and ~P at the same time without arriving at an absurdity according to the rules of logic and (2) thinking that affirmation is the "only" way to go surely entails that non-affirmation is not the way to go (and thus P denies or rejects ~P). Obviously, given that P seems both to reject and to affirm ~P, there exists an unresolved tension and thus incoherence or paradox in this expressed ideal of universal affirmation captured by P, and this incoherence reflects the basic tension between nay-saying and yes-saying. In this paper, I will examine Nietzsche's philosophy of affirmation, which takes its birth in The Birth of Tragedy and surfaces again and again throughout all of Nietzsche's major works. In doing so I will trace the background ideas that lead Nietzsche to this New Year's resolution and wish in The Gay Science; I will then offer a detailed explication of philosopher Wolfgang Muller-Lauter's arguments concerning such universal affirmation and its basic incoherence, arguments along the lines of that I have just given. Though Muller-Lauter aptly characterizes such an incoherence or paradox in Nietzsche's model of universal affirmation, I will offer arguments as to why Muller-Lauter's negative evaluation of Nietzsche's most mature affirmative philosophy is itself unsuccessful, thereby defending the ultimate coherence of Nietzsche's philosophy of affirmation.
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    Truth and Metaphor
    (2000-04) Berryman, Natascha
    Mark Johnson and George Lakoff in Metaphors We Live By and Johnson in The Body in the Mind, argue for a complete paradigm shift in the way we view human understanding, meaning, and truth. Johnson and Lakoff reject the objectivist view that truth and meaning can be understood as a purely propositional matter without human beings and the subjectivist view that meaning and truth are a purely individual matter. Instead they advise us to accept the theory that meaning emerges from bodily experience, non-propositional structures, and the activity of the imagination, which allows us to create sense out of the world and our experience. They also embrace metaphor as an example that demonstrates that we understand truth in a different sort of way than the objectivist and subjectivist theories propose. They write: We view issues having to do with meaning in natural language and with the way people understand both their language and their experiences as empirical issues rather than matters of a priori philosophical assumptions and argumentation. (Lakoff and Johnson 210) Rather than attempting to find truth by looking for what is true without man interpreting it, Johnson and Lakoff intend to find truth by investigating what we mean when we, as humans, speak of truth. Johnson argues that we ought to shift our paradigm to his new one because the old, essentially objectivist paradigm has too many problems and cannot account for the finding of new studies, whereas his paradigm of imaginative understanding and the bodily basis of truth can. While Johnson does provide sufficient evidence that we need a new paradigm, the paradigm he endorses has problems explaining the pervasiveness of metaphor and the origins of bodily bases. Ultimately I think we ought to follow Ludwig Wittgenstein and change the way we investigate the problem of metaphor and truth, turning from psychology to natural history.