Special Issue: Philosophical Perspectives on the Self and the Search for Meaning

October 14, 2011
By

This special issue of In Pursuit of Truth contains four philosophical papers delivered at the Philosophy Symposium of the C.S. Lewis Summer Institute, Oxbridge 2008: The Self and the Search for Meaning. Oxbridge 2008 was the 7th meeting of this Summer Institute, a triennial event produced and convened by the C.S. Lewis Foundation. The conference was held in the cities and universities of Oxford and Cambridge, England, July 28-August 8, 2008.

These Summer Institutes, probably the largest and most complex conferences seen in the cities and universities of Oxford and Cambridge, offer a unique and intentional blend of worship, scholarship, and the arts in a “mere Christian” context for scholars, clergy, professionals, and laypersons around the globe.  Academics serving in Christian and secular institutions report that these Summer Institutes rank among the very finest of conferences, experiences that have transformed their approach to their work and their life in the academy.

The theme of the Oxbridge 2008 Philosophy Symposium was Self, Soul, and the Imago Dei: Philosophical Perspectives on the Search for Meaning. The symposiasts who attended this event discussed theological and philosophical issues of the sort that C.S. Lewis addressed: What does it mean to say that human beings are created in the image of God? Can naturalistic philosophies do justice to the religious dimension of human nature? Does a meaningful life require self-sacrificial love? Does atheism allow for meaningful lives? If so, could existence in a Godless world be as meaningful as life in a world created by God? Is morality relative to human conventions or does it require a transcendent divine reality? What account of the soul and its relation to the body allows for the continuation of life after death?

The four essays published here are representative of the larger collection of papers presented and discussed at the Symposium. The authors of these four articles are each Christian philosophers who teach at a university, college, or seminary in the United States or the United Kingdom. Their papers address different aspects of the Oxbridge 2008 Philosophy Symposium theme.

John Cooper is Professor of Philosophical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary. His article is entitled, “The Image of God, Religion, and the Meaning of Life: Toward a Christian Philosophical Anthropology.” Cooper argues that the scientific naturalism of the New Atheists and others is both unfounded and inadequate to account for the religious nature of human existence. He draws on Scripture and Christian theology to formulate an account of the image of God that makes this property central to the meaning of human life. He then employs this conception of the imago dei to develop a philosophical anthropology that, he argues, is more adequate to the religious nature of human beings than a purely scientific and naturalistic view could be. He calls the theory of human nature he favors “dualistic holism.”

Kevin Kinghorn, Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Asbury Theological Seminary and Philosophy Tutor for Undergraduates at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, is the author of “The Human Search for the ‘Good Life.’” In this essay, Kinghorn identifies our pursuit of meaning with the search for “the good life.” He argues that a good life can be experienced only through a self-giving love that focuses on the welfare of others. He then critically discusses C.S. Lewis’s case in The Four Loves for the value of alternative kinds of love that do not necessarily involve a desire to benefit others. After arguing that Lewis does not show that a “welfarist” approach to the good life is incorrect, Kinghorn suggests that Lewis’s own account of agape love would be improved by reconstruing the natural loves in welfarist terms.

The author of the third essay is Scott Shalkowski. He is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Leeds. In his article “Self, Meaning, and the World,” Shalkowski provides a thorough argument against the ethical relativist claim that morality is determined by human beings (that “Man is the measure of all things” as the ancient philosopher Protagoras put it). His case is aimed primarily at recent attempts by ethical relativists to account for moral objectivity without appealing to moral facts that exist independent of human attitudes. Among Shalkowski’s objections to relativism are that it cannot explain moral disagreement, moral reformers, or moral progress. He concludes by defending theistic accounts of morality from the classic “Euthyphro Dilemma” and by arguing that theism explains morality better than naturalism can.

I, James E. Taylor, am a Professor of Philosophy at Westmont College, and I am the author of “Physicalism, Dualism, Death, and Resurrection.” I reply to Christian physicalist claims that the attitudes in Scripture about death and resurrection make more sense from a physicalist perspective than from a dualist one. Physicalists claim that physicalism makes death a greater evil and resurrection a greater good than dualism does. I argue that it is reasonable to doubt these claims on the grounds that, for all we know at present, (1) the dualist scenario of post-mortem disembodiment may be at least as bad as the physicalist consequence of temporary annihilation, and (2) resurrection may be at least as good given dualism as it is given physicalism.

Readers of this journal acquainted with Lewis’s work will recognize some of his primary philosophical and theological concerns in these four essays. Collectively, they involve both a critique of viewpoints antithetical to the Christian worldview – primarily naturalism and relativism – and an affirmation of central Christian values – especially self-giving love and eternal life. Clearly, the pursuit of truth in which Lewis was engaged continues to inspire others to follow his lead.

 

Comments are closed.