Philosophy Hurts Your Head

The blog of a cranky Philosophy PhD Student from Newcastle, Australia.

Archive for May, 2007

Fundamentalism and Literalism

Posted by Sam D on May 23, 2007

From the 47th Philosophers Carnival I had been giving some thought to The Philosopher Vs the Biblical Fundamentalist. I took Avery Archer to be arguing that to be a Biblical Literalist was a self contradictory position. I won’t get into the detail of his argument, you can read it for yourself. I have discussed this with members of the philosophy club and most agreed that not everything in the bible could be interpreted at face value, as some parts simply contradict each other. I say most, because one participant claimed to be a literalist shortly before stating that a certain passage was “clearly metaphorical”. This contradiction aside, it seems that many people, even those who claim to be interpreting the bible in a literal way, are picking and choosing where they interpret passages as literal rather than metaphorical, allegorical (other than where clearly denoted) or symbolic.

While Avery’s criticism might seem relevant, it misses the vast bulk of Christians. This is because they will simply admit that they are not literalists in the way that he defines, or they will admit the inconsistency, but argue that it is only an apparent inconsistency due to us not understanding the ‘mystery’ of God. I don’t know how to argue with someone who does not worry about being self-contradictory, I suspect that it would be a dead end. But those who are literal in some places and not in others are a worthwhile target for critique and investigation. There are plenty of people who are arguably ‘Fundamentalists’ who fall into this category, and the question of how they justify being Literalistic for some parts of the Bible and not others is a question worth answering.

John F Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry argues that Avery is too strict in his interpretation and that not all prophesies that a prophet makes have to come true for them to be considered a true prophet. And he might be right. But he never really deals with the fact that this renders the premise derived from Deuteronomy 18:22 and Jeremiah 28:9, that “If a prophet makes a prediction that does not come true, then that prophet is not sent by God” effectively false. And if this derivation is correct, then why do we get to ignore it?

Posted in Philosophy, Philosophy & Religion, Religion | 2 Comments »

The Ethics of Mercenary Academia

Posted by Sam D on May 17, 2007

Given something I heard recently I’m beginning to wonder how much actual integrity there is in some institutions, and if I’m somehow missing the point.

Decisions are made in the administrations of universities that have a profound effect on the experience and education of students, so careful consideration in these matters is essential.

But should not the first consideration in the decision making process be those of academic and educational integrity?

An example is credit, otherwise known as ‘exemptions’ or ‘advanced standing’, e.g. when a student comes into a certain Bachelors degree program having previously completed an Advanced Diploma in a similar field, they are exempt from having to complete certain subjects in the degree program.

Now of the following options which seems like the best basis for determining if a qualification entitles a student to these exemptions?

A: Marketing considerations. If we can offer more credit that our competitors then the students will come to us rather than go to them because they want the shortest possible route to a high paying job.

B: Academic considerations. Can the student achieve the outcomes of the subjects they are potentially exempt from or do they already have the information that we are trying to impart?

In some cases exemptions are given for subjects for reason ‘A’ when the previous study has not included any similar material or learning objectives or anything vaguely resembling reason ‘B’. Worse still this is deployed in the context of professional ethics components in some very expensive and prestigious technology degrees. Academics will argue that they can give certain exemptions because the students will never need to do certain things again. But the practice of professional ethics is not one of these things! I can’t guarantee that ethics can be taught. But for certain degrees, universities are legally obliged to at least try. Giving unfounded exemptions for professional ethics subjects in order to attract more (usually overseas full-fee paying) students is not only ethically and morally questionable, but it totally lacks academic integrity and devalues the degree in question.

It leads me to wonder: Under what circumstances can one justify not teaching ethics when one can also be sure that the student in question has not yet had these lessons?

The answer is of course: When you don’t really believe that even trying to teach ethics has any value.

I hope that this turns out to be nothing more than spiteful rumor and idle speculation. I’d be very disappointed to encounter this when I eventually become an academic.

Posted in Education, Ethics | Leave a Comment »