Interview with Blake Ostler

There’s a podcast interview with Blake Ostler at Mormon Discussion.1 While I disagree with Blake on a few things (primarily the King Follet Discourse) I think he’s been a tremendously important voice within Mormon theology. He’s raised very important ideas such as the idea that inspired commentary was added as part of the Book of Mormon translation process. Agree or disagree with him but he’s always a must read.

What’s best about what Blake has done is to actually publish his arguments in an easy to access format so people can engage with them. There have been lots of great ideas and thinkers out there. But often the arguments are lost as they simply don’t get distributed broadly. Anything we can do to fix that is helpful.

On a related note Ben Huff told me that SMPT’s Element will be widely available on the SMPT site. (I’ll post more on this later when I have more time)

  1. I don’t know much about this podcast, and haven’t listened to the interview yet.

Russell on Abortion

Russell Fox has a great post up at his blog on abortion. I always love reading Russell. I frequently disagree with him even if our aims are pretty similar. But I find how he thinks through an issue always makes me think about it differently. 

This post is a reaction to a back and forth debate between Damno Linker and Ross Dothat. The real issue is less abortion though than the role repugnance ought play in our reasoning. I suspect this can be seen as a practical manifestation of the fact/value breakdown that pragmatists so often see as important.

What’s interesting to me is that a lot of the analysis is really a claim for systematic thinking. That’s interesting to me since system thinking has come to have such a bad reputation the past few years. Partially that’s due to the rejection of epistemological foundationalism. But there were a lot of other reasons why say systematic theology or philosophy fell out of favor. I think it’s part of an overall suspicion against grand narratives. 

I think repugnance and other reactions are significant even if logically certain other analysis come to different analysis. I think our repugnance suggests differing degrees of wrongness, even if not done in a systematic way. That said, I suspect how I balance that sense of repugnance will be more conservative than Russell. (Unsurprisingly)

The Problem of Will in Free Will

There was a great two part episode of Partially Examined Life interviewing Eva Brann about her book Un-Willing: An Inquiry into the Rise of Will’s Power and an Attempt to Undo It. She basically traces the genealogy of the notion of will, locating the origins of modern philosophical notions in Augustine and Aquinas. The discussion they had was fascinating. Especially the second part where they critique the very notion of free will. 

I went to buy the book but inexplicably it’s only available in paperback with no Kindle or iBook version. I must confess I was pretty shocked by that in this day and age. Oddly her other books were available. 

One of the more interesting critiques was that it’s a problem to equate will with choice the way the contemporary free will debate tends to do. I confess the discussion really played to my own biases. I’ve long been quite skeptical of the way the debate has proceeded within philosophy. My own view is that if the concepts and intuitions don’t work such that we have freedom eventually what will change will be those very concepts. Brann’s book seems to play to this by noting the very different conceptions of will that have developed through the history of philosophy. Why do we pick one above others?

Continue reading The Problem of Will in Free Will

On the Logic of Seerstones

I spent far too much time commenting in the various blog posts about the new Ensign article about Joseph Smith’s seer stone. I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback about the reaction. Even knowing that blogs are about as far from representative of the Church as possible I was surprised. I won’t repeat all the various discussions. Richard Bushman’s post at BCC probably gets at the basic reason people are bothered. Basically people just have a difficult time with things their culture aren’t used to. Within Mormonism outside of the temple we basically adopt low church Protestant approaches to religion. That is subdued worship with very little ritual or trappings. Other than the bread and water in the sacrament (which everyone is used to) the only other non-temple trapping is olive oil for blessings. Yes we have garments, but again within Mormonism we’re used to them no matter how odd they appear to non-Mormons.

That said, moving away from gut reactions and emotion, the logic of critiques always seemed odd to me. In all LDS literature the Urim and Thummim are mentioned. They are always described as two rocks attached with a bow-like rod. (e.g. JSH 1:35) No one seems to have problem with that. Then people find out that a different rock was used after these were taken away after a delay in translation due to Joseph losing part of the translation. They freak out. Yet in terms of objects all that has changed is instead of two rocks there’s one rock. Why is this rock harder to accept than the traditional story?

Continue reading On the Logic of Seerstones


I mentioned earlier in the discussion on James and Peirce the pragmatic maxim which is a type of verification principle. I mentioned Cheyrl Misak’s book Verificationism: Its History and Prospects as a good book that discusses the distinction between the pragmatic maxim and later verification theories such as the infamous ones of the positivists. Here’s a brief overview, largely told via quotes.

From the introduction.

Continue reading Verification

Pierce vs. James on Truth

Central to pragmatism is a concern with the meaning and nature of truth. Now as regular readers know I’m extremely influenced by the work of C. S. Peirce, much of which really has only come to be investigated and appreciated in recent decades. Peirce’s focus was on logic but logic for Peirce was much broader than most usually conceive of it as. Typically what Peirce called logic we’d today call semiotics. His logic thus expanded into many questions of philosophy of language, epistemology and to a degree even metaphysics. With his logic he sought to describe the way humans in practice reason and the standards we follow. He then tried to understand which of these were rational and how good reasoning would lead us to truth. It’s easy to see from this fragmentary overview that logic for Peirce ended up being quite subtle and complex.

Continue reading Pierce vs. James on Truth

Joseph as Seer

The Ensign has a nice historical discussion of seership in the early Church focused on Joseph. It even has a photo of his seerstone. That should put to rest some bloggers complaints. I’m glad they’re putting these articles explaining more academic issues back into the Ensign. Frankly the Ensign had gone downhill for a number of years. It used to be great back in the 80’s but started changing in the early 90’s. I loved it when there were a ton of articles like this on topics ranging from history to theology to exegesis and apologetics. Let’s hope this marks a permanent change back to how the Ensign used to be.


Apologies for falling behind in posts. Things just got busy again. So back to a few of the epistemological questions over the next few weeks. I think rather than make it an introduction I’m just going to dive into the deep end and see if I can’t get to what the fundamental issues of Mormon epistemology actually are.

Part of this is to just cut to the chase and try and get at some of the Peircean approaches to LDS thinking. As such this will definitely be thinking through ideas rather than having finished relatively defensible thoughts.

2015 SMPT

The 2015 Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology will be at BYU this year from October 8th – 10th. The theme of the conference is “Doers of the Word: Believe and Practice.”

That cries out for a Peircean or at least pragmatic take on Mormonism. However I’m not sure I’ll have time to put one together. We’ll see. 

Papers should be around 3500 words (25 – 30 minutes in length) and should be sent to Ben Huff.

Musings on Science, Religion, Phenomenology and More