Sewanee Senior Honors Theses 2005


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    On the Coherence of Sartre’s Defense of Existentialism Against the Essentialist Charge of Ethical Relativism in His “Existentialism and Humanism”
    (2005-04) Cherry, Brad
    Although its slim volume may suggest otherwise, Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism and Humanism” treats a wealth of existentialist themes. Indeed, within its pages, Sartre characterizes many of the hallmarks of existentialist thought, including subjectivity, freedom, responsibility, anguish, forlornness, despair, and so on. Perhaps most importantly, however, Sartre’s “Existentialism and Humanism” occasions a defense of existentialism against its most frequently dealt criticisms, particularly the essentialist charge that existentialism necessarily gives rise to ethical relativism. And while this defense may seem convincing at first, in many places, it also seems to abandon, for the sake of its project, the fundamental commitments of existentialism, at least as Sartre understands them. Thus, in this essay, I critically examine the coherence of Sartre’s defense of existentialism against the essentialist charge of ethical relativism. To the extent that that defense relies largely upon his espousal of an existentialist ethics, I examine, in particular, whether that ethics coheres with the fundamental commitments of existentialism as he understands them. Following this examination, I conclude that (a) the fundamental commitments of existentialism preclude Sartre from coherently positing objectively valid normative ethical statements, that (b) because he nonetheless posits such statements in his espousal of an existentialist ethics, his defense of existentialism against the essentialist charge of ethical relativism breaks down, and finally, that (c) although this incoherence presents a substantial problem for Sartre, one may still defend his attempt to espouse an existentialist ethics.
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    (2005-04) Guptill, Chris
    Since the Nativity of Jesus of Nazareth, sages, scholars and ordinary men and women wondered, and continue to wonder, at how the Word, the Son of God, could become man. At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Church Fathers set out the formula that defines orthodoxy even today: Following therefore the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of a rational soul and body, the same in being with the father as to the divinity and one in being with us as to the humanity, like unto us in all things but sin.... We confess that one and the same Lord Jesus Christ [...] must be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion or change, without division or separation.... He is not split or divided into two persons, but he is one and the same Only-begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ… (The Christian Faith, 2001: 227-8) At first glance, the doctrine makes a very simple claim: Jesus of Nazareth, who is called the Christ, is both fully God and fully Man, “like unto us in all things but sin” (The Christian Faith, 2001: 227). Yet, on further examination we find a doctrine apparently riddled with problems logical, metaphysical and psychological. We will consider the specific guidelines this statement sets forth for any orthodox Christology in the next section. Before we do so, however, we must consider the ramifications of this doctrine. As we will discuss in a moment, the Chalcedonian definition contains a number of difficulties. These difficulties generally fall into one of three categories: the logical, the metaphysical and the psychological. Most theologians since Chalcedon readily admit to these difficulties and attempt philosophical explanations that move toward alleviating some, or all, of these problems. These philosophical accounts fall under one of two basic strategies. The goal of both is the same: to arrive at a unified Christ. But their methods differ drastically: the first strategy works by “thinning out” the semantic content of the Chalcedonian definition, the second by “thinning out” the traditional properties of Christ’s divine or human nature. The reduplicative strategy of St. Thomas Aquinas exemplifies the first strategy, and deals explicitly with the logical and metaphysical problems presented in the next section. Robert Feenstra’s kenotic account and Thomas Morris's “two-minds” theory exemplify the second strategy. Like Aquinas, these theories deal with the logical and metaphysical problems; unlike Aquinas, they also deal with the psychological problem. My goal in this paper is to show that Aquinas’s strategy, which does not deal with the psychological problem explicitly, has the tools to deal more effectively with the psychological problem than either the kenotic or two minds accounts. In section I, I outline the three major Christological problems I allude to above. Section II outlines the basic argument of Aquinas’s reduplicative strategy. Section III gives the accounts of Feenstra, and Morris, with a specific eye toward their solution to the psychological problem. From the successes and failures of these accounts I hope to develop a set of guidelines for Aquinas’s treatment of the psychological problem and his subsequent solution, which I present in section IV.
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    Nietzsche: Christianity and Truth
    (2005-04) Bermel, Nicole
    Nietzsche, as a self proclaimed “godless anti-metaphysician,” (GS, 344)[1] is one of the most interesting and perplexing philosophers of the nineteenth century. Many modern philosophers believe, however, that Nietzsche’s works are inconsistent. They argue that Nietzsche’s perspectivism is guilty of a self-referential paradox because it seems to assert its own truth while rejecting the existence of objective truth. In her book, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy, Maudemarie Clark proposes that, despite this seeming inconsistency, one can make sense of how Nietzsche proposes his perspectivism as ‘truth’ by recognizing that Nietzsche redefines truth as that which satisfies our cognitive interests.[2] She argues that early in Nietzsche’s works, when he rejects the real world, he inconsistently presupposes a transcendental reality. In his later works, however, Nietzsche revaluates his own theory and corrects this problem by rejecting the distinction between the real and apparent worlds and recognizing that truth is limited to our experiences. I argue, however, that Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity poses fundamental problems to Clark’s project. Nietzsche’s ethical critique of Christianity charges that Christianity encourages the ascetic ideal and is, thus, life denying. Nietzsche, therefore, appears to attack the ascetic ideal as being life-denying because it is delusional. Clark nonetheless maintains that in his last six published works[3], he has rejected metaphysical claims and contends that the ascetic ideal is merely untrue according to his new definition of truth. I believe, however, that Clark’s explanation of Nietzsche’s new truth does not ultimately overcome a Christian’s objection to it. Clark’s consistent reading of Nietzsche has little textual support, and her explanation of what he means by truth fails to resolve what critics call an incommensurability problem because it is unable to compare two utterly different perspectives.