Peter van Inwagen

Peter van Inwagen (/væn ɪnˈwɑːɡən/; born September 21, 1942) is an American analytic philosopher and the John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is also a Research Professor of Philosophy at Duke University each Spring.[2] He previously taught at Syracuse University and earned his PhD from the University of Rochester in 1969[3] under the direction of Richard Taylor.[4] Van Inwagen is one of the leading figures in contemporary metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and philosophy of action. He was the president of the Society of Christian Philosophers from 2010 to 2013.[5]

Peter van Inwagen
BornSeptember 21, 1942 (age 76)
Alma mater
Era20th-/21st-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Doctoral advisorRichard Taylor
Main interests
Philosophy of religion
Philosophy of action
Notable ideas
Consequence argument
No forking paths argument[1]


His 1983 monograph An Essay on Free Will[6] played an important role in rehabilitating libertarianism with respect to free will in mainstream analytical philosophy.[7] In the book, Van Inwagen introduces the term incompatibilism about free will and determinism, to stand in contrast to compatibilism - the view that free will is compatible with determinism.[8]

Van Inwagen's central argument (the Consequence Argument) for this view says that "If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of those things (including our present acts) are not up to us."[9]

Van Inwagen also added what he called the Mind Argument (after the philosophical journal Mind where such arguments often appeared). "The Mind argument proceeds by identifying indeterminism with chance and by arguing that an act that occurs by chance, if an event that occurs by chance can be called an act, cannot be under the control of its alleged agent and hence cannot have been performed freely. Proponents of [this argument] conclude, therefore, that free will is not only compatible with determinism but entails determinism."[10]

The Consequence Argument and the Mind Argument are the two horns in the classic dilemma and standard argument against free will.[11] If determinism is true, our actions are not free. If indeterminism is true, our actions are random and our will can not be morally responsible for them.[12]

Van Inwagen concludes that "Free Will Remains a Mystery."[13] In an article written in the third person called "Van Inwagen on Free Will,"[14] he describes the problem with his incompatibilist free will if random chance directly causes our actions.[15] He imagines that God causes the universe to revert a thousand times to exactly the same circumstances[16] that it was in at some earlier time and we could observe all the "replays." If the agent's actions are random, she sometimes "would have agent-caused the crucial brain event and sometimes (in seventy percent of the replays, let us say) she would not have... I conclude that even if an episode of agent causation is among the causal antecedents of every voluntary human action, these episodes do nothing to undermine the prima facie impossibility of an undetermined free act."[17]

In a paper submitted to The Journal of Ethics entitled "How to Think about the Problem of Free Will," Van Inwagen worries that the concept "free will" may be incoherent. He says "There are seemingly unanswerable arguments that (if they are indeed unanswerable) demonstrate that free will is incompatible with determinism. And there are seemingly unanswerable arguments that ... demonstrate that free will is incompatible with indeterminism. But if free will is incompatible both with determinism and indeterminism, the concept 'free will' is incoherent, and the thing free will does not exist."[18]

In his book Material Beings,[19] Van Inwagen argues that all material objects are either elementary particles or living organisms. Every composite material object is made up of elementary particles, and the only such composite objects are living organisms. A consequence of this view is that everyday objects such as tables, chairs, cars, buildings, and clouds do not exist. While there seem to be such things, this is only because there are elementary particles arranged in specific ways. For example, where it seems that there is a chair, Van Inwagen says that there are only elementary particles arranged chairwise. These particles do not compose an object, any more than a swarm of bees composes an object. Like a swarm of bees, the particles we call a chair maintain a more or less stable arrangement for a while, which gives the impression of a single object. An individual bee, by contrast, has parts that are unified in the right way to constitute a single object (namely, a bee).

Van Inwagen gave the 2003 Gifford Lectures; the lectures are published in his The Problem of Evil.[20] There Van Inwagen argues that the Problem of evil is a philosophical argument and, like most philosophical arguments, it fails.

In recent years, Van Inwagen has shown an interest in the afterlife debate, particularly in relation to resurrection of the body. In his unpublished article, "I Look for the Resurrection of the Dead and the Life of the World to Come," Van Inwagen concludes that Christians must account for some sort of physical continuity in their account of existence of the same person after death. In particular, Van Inwagen notes, this is a problem for the Christian materialist, one who believes that human beings are physical substances.

Awards and honors

He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005[21] and was President of the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association in 2008/09. He was the President of the Society of Christian Philosophers from 2010 to 2013.[5]

He has delivered important named lectures including:

  • The F.D. Maurice Lectures, three lectures delivered at the University of London in March, 1999
  • The Wilde Lectures on Natural Religion, eight lectures delivered at Oxford University in Trinity Term, 2000
  • The Stewart Lectures: three lectures delivered at Princeton University, October 2002
  • The Gifford Lectures, eight lectures delivered at the University of St. Andrews, May 2003
  • The Jellema Lectures: two lectures delivered at Calvin College, March 2004
  • The Münster Lectures in Philosophy, including a student colloquium at the University of Münster, November 2015

In May 2011 it was announced that he is to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of St Andrews, Scotland.[22]


  • Thinking about Free Will. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2017. ISBN 978-1-107-16650-9.
  • Existence: Essays in Ontology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2014. ISBN 978-1-1076-2526-6.
  • The Problem of Evil. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006. ISBN 978-0-19-924560-4.
  • Ontology, Identity, and Modality: Essays in Metaphysics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2002. ISBN 978-0-521-79164-9.
  • The Possibility of Resurrection and Other Essays in Christian Apologetics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 1998. ISBN 978-0-8133-2731-0.
  • God, Knowledge and Mystery: Essays in Philosophical Theology. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1995. ISBN 978-0-8014-8186-4.
  • Metaphysics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 2002. ISBN 978-0-8133-9055-0.
  • Material Beings. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1990. ISBN 978-0-8014-8306-6.
  • An Essay on Free Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1983. ISBN 978-0-19-824924-5.

Personal life

Van Inwagen lives in Granger, Indiana, with his wife Elisabeth. Van Inwagen converted to Christianity in 1980.

See also


  1. ^ Arguments for Incompatibilism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  2. ^ "Faculty | Department of Philosophy". Archived from the original on 2015-03-05. Retrieved 2015-07-02.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-10-03. Retrieved 2015-10-03.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "Peter van Inwagen". The Gifford Lectures. 2014-08-18. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-08-02. Retrieved 2015-10-03.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983)
  7. ^ Robert Kane, A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will, Oxford (2005) p.23
  8. ^ Indeed some philosophers suggest free will must be compatible with determinism otherwise we could not be responsible for our actions. R. E. Hobart, Free Will As Involving Determination and Inconceivable Without It, Mind, vol.43, (1934) 1-27
  9. ^ Essay, v
  10. ^ Essay, 16
  11. ^ "The Garden of Forking Paths". Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  12. ^ J. J. C. Smart, "Free-Will, Praise and Blame," Mind, July 1961, 291–306
  13. ^ Philosophical Perspectives, vol. 14, 2000, p.14
  14. ^ Chapter 10 in Freedom and Determinism, ed. Joseph Keim Campbell, et al., MIT Press 2004
  15. ^ "Chance NOT the Direct Cause of Human Action". Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  16. ^ "Exactly The Same Circumstances". Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  17. ^ "Van Inwagen on Free Will," p.227
  18. ^ Peter van Inwagen (2008). "How to think about the problem of free will". The Journal of Ethics. 12 (3–4): 327–341. doi:10.1007/s10892-008-9038-7. A pdf file can be found here.
  19. ^ (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995)
  20. ^ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)
  21. ^ Dame, Marketing Communications: Web // University of Notre. "Philosopher elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences". Notre Dame News. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  22. ^ "St Andrews to honour David Attenborough". University of St Andrews. Retrieved 20 May 2011.


External links

2014 in philosophy

2014 in philosophy

Agnostic existentialism

Agnostic existentialism is a type of existentialism which makes no claim to know whether there is a "greater picture"; rather, it simply asserts that the greatest truth is that which the individual chooses to act upon. It feels that to know the greater picture, whether there is one or not, is impossible, or impossible so far, or of little value. Like the Christian existentialist, the agnostic existentialist believes existence is subjective.

Consequence argument

The consequence argument is an argument against compatibilism popularised by Peter van Inwagen. The argument claims that if agents have no control over the facts of the past then the agent has no control of the consequences of those facts.The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives the following syllogism of the argument:

No one has power over the facts of the past and the laws of nature.

The events of the past and the laws of nature entail every fact of the future (i.e., determinism is true)

Therefore, no one has power over the facts of the future.

Or in van Inwagan's own words, in An Essay on Free Will:

If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequence of laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it's not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us. (p. 56)

Dean Zimmerman

Dean W. Zimmerman is an American professor of philosophy at Rutgers University specializing in metaphysics and philosophy of religion.

Eddie Tabash

Edward Tabash is an American lawyer and political and social activist. He is an atheist, a proponent of the Establishment Clause. He chairs the Board of Directors for the Center for Inquiry. Tabash has represented the atheist position in debates against several world-renowned religious philosophers and apologists, including William Lane Craig, Peter van Inwagen, J.P. Moreland, Greg Bahnsen and Richard Swinburne.

Fear of ghosts

The fear of ghosts in many human cultures is based on beliefs that some ghosts may be malevolent towards people and dangerous (within the range of all possible attitudes, including mischievous, benign, indifferent, etc.). It is related to fear of the dark.

The fear of ghosts is sometimes referred to as phasmophobia and erroneously spectrophobia, the latter being an established term for fear of mirrors and one's own reflections.

Libertarianism (metaphysics)

Libertarianism is one of the main philosophical positions related to the problems of free will and determinism, which are part of the larger domain of metaphysics. In particular, libertarianism, which is an incompatibilist position, argues that free will is logically incompatible with a deterministic universe and that agents have free will, and that, therefore, determinism is false. One of the first clear formulations of libertarianism is found in John Duns Scotus; in theological context metaphysical libertarianism was notably defended by Jesuit authors like Luis de Molina and Francisco Suárez against rather compatibilist Thomist Báñezianism. Other important metaphysical libertarians in the early modern period were René Descartes, George Berkeley, Immanuel Kant, and Thomas Reid. Roderick Chisholm was a prominent defender of libertarianism in the 20th century, and contemporary libertarians include Robert Kane, Peter van Inwagen and Robert Nozick.

List of American philosophers

This is a list of American philosophers; of philosophers who are either from, or spent many productive years of their lives in the United States.

List of Closer to Truth episodes

Closer to Truth is a continuing television series on PBS & public television originally created, produced and hosted by Robert Lawrence Kuhn. The first premiere series aired in 2000 for 2 seasons, followed by a second series aired in 2003 for a single season.

The current / third series of the program, Closer to Truth: Cosmos. Consciousness. God, launched in 2008, with 18 full seasons to date. Robert Lawrence Kuhn is the creator, executive producer, writer and presenter of the series. Peter Getzels is the co-creator and producer / director.The show is centered on on-camera conversations with leading scientists, philosophers, theologians, and scholars, covering a diverse range of topics or questions from the size and nature of the universe (or multiverse), to the existence and essence of God, to the mystery of consciousness and the notion of free will.

List of metaphysicians

This is a list of metaphysicians, philosophers who specialize in metaphysics. See also Lists of philosophers.

Mereological nihilism

Mereological nihilism (also called compositional nihilism, or rarely simply nihilism) is the mereological position that objects with proper parts do not exist. Only mereological simples, those basic building blocks without proper parts, exist. Or, more succinctly, "nothing is a proper part of anything". Mereological simples can be both spatial and temporal. Mereological nihilism also asserts that objects existing in time do not have any temporal parts.


Meta-ontology is a term of recent origin first used by Peter van Inwagen in analyzing Willard Van Orman Quine's critique of Rudolf Carnap's metaphysics, where Quine introduced a formal technique for determining the ontological commitments in a comparison of ontologies.

Natural-law argument

Natural-law argument for the existence of God was especially popular in the eighteenth century as a result of the influence of Sir Isaac Newton. As Bertrand Russell pointed out much later, many of the things we consider to be laws of nature, in fact, are human conventions. Indeed, Albert Einstein has shown that Newton's law of universal gravitation was such a convention, and though elegant and useful, one that did not describe the universe precisely. Most true laws are rather trivial, such as mathematical laws, laws of probability, and so forth, and much less impressive than those that were envisioned by Newton and his followers. Russell wrote:

"If you say, as more orthodox theologians do, that in all the laws which God issues he had a reason for giving those laws rather than others -- the reason, of course, being to create the best universe, although you would never think it to look at it -- if there was a reason for the laws which God gave, then God himself was subject to law, and therefore you do not get any advantage by introducing God as an intermediary. You really have a law outside and anterior to the divine edicts, and God does not serve your purpose, because he is not the ultimate law-giver. In short, this whole argument from natural law no longer has anything like the strength that it used to have."The argument of natural laws as a basis for God was changed by Christian figures such as Thomas Aquinas, in order to fit biblical scripture and establish a Judeo-Christian teleological law.

Society of Christian Philosophers

The Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP) was founded in 1978. Past Presidents include William Alston, Robert Merrihew Adams, Alvin Plantinga, Marilyn McCord Adams, George I. Mavrodes, Peter van Inwagen, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Eleonore Stump, C. Stephen Evans, Robert Audi, Linda Zagzebski, and Michael C. Rea. Michael Bergmann of Purdue University is currently President of SCP, Justin McBrayer of Fort Lewis College is Executive Director, and Kevin Timpe of Calvin College is Treasurer.

The society is open to anyone interested in philosophy who considers himself or herself a Christian. Membership is not restricted to any particular "school" of philosophy or to any branch of Christianity, nor to professional or academic philosophers.

Meetings of the society are regularly held in conjunction with the American Catholic Philosophical Association, the Eastern, Central, and Pacific Divisions of the American Philosophical Association, and the Canadian Philosophical Association, and at the World Congress of Philosophy.

The society also publishes a quarterly journal, Faith and Philosophy, which addresses philosophical issues from a Christian perspective.

The Harvard Ichthus

The Harvard Ichthus is a journal of Christian thought and expression published at Harvard University. It was founded in 2004. It has featured contributions by notable thinkers such as Jim Wallis, James Schall, Stanley Hauerwas and Peter Van Inwagen.

In June 2009, The Ichthus staff started a blog, The Fish Tank. New posts appear each weekday. In 2010, The Fish Tank won the Collegiate Network's New Media Award for its regular, thoughtful posts.

The Ichthus's faculty advisers are J. Mark Ramseyer, Wesley Jacobsen, and Marla Frederick. Rev. Peter J. Gomes was adviser until his death in 2011.

The Journal of Ethics

The Journal of Ethics is a philosophical academic journal focusing on ethics. Its editor in chief is J. Angelo Corlett.

The journal was established in 1997 and is published by Springer Netherlands. Notable contributors are Simon Blackburn, G. A. Cohen, Ronald Dworkin, John Martin Fischer, Harry Frankfurt, Ted Honderich, Christine Korsgaard, Martha Nussbaum, Peter Singer, and Peter van Inwagen.

Theological noncognitivism

Theological noncognitivism is the position that religious language – specifically, words such as "God" – are not cognitively meaningful. It is sometimes considered synonymous with ignosticism.

Thomas J. McKay

Thomas McKay is an American philosopher currently Professor of Philosophy and Director of Graduate Studies at the Department of Philosophy of Syracuse University. He was chairman of the Department there from 1995-2002. He received his B.A. from Swarthmore College in 1969, his M.A. from University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1972, and his Ph.D., also from the University of Massachusetts, 1974, for a dissertation on "Essentialism and Quantified Modal Logic: Quine's Argument and Kripke's Semantics"

His work has primarily concerned the philosophy of logic and language. In 2006, Oxford University Press published his book, Plural Predicates a, in which he gives an account of a semantics for a plural logic. In particular he develops a Russellian account of plural definite descriptions.

He is also the author of the following textbooks:

Modern Formal Logic (Macmillan, 1989; second edition, Thomson, 2006),

Reasons, Explanations and Decisions (Wadsworth, 2000)and the following journal articles:

"Essentialism in Quantified Modal Logic," Journal of Philosophical Logic 4 (1975), 423-438.

"Counterfactuals with Disjunctive Antecedents," with Peter van Inwagen, Philosophical Studies 31 (1977), 353-356.

"The Principle of Predication," Journal of Philosophical Logic 7 (1978), 19-26.

"Natural Kind Terms and Standards of Membership," with Cindy Stern, Linguistics and Philosophy 3 (1979), 27-34.

"On Proper Names in Belief Ascriptions," Philosophical Studies 39 (1981), 287-303.

"On Showing Invalidity," Canadian Journal of Philosophy 14 (1984), 97-100.

"Critical Review of Michael Devitt's Designation, Noûs 18 (1984), 357-367.

"Actions and De Re Beliefs," Canadian Journal of Philosophy 14 (1984), 631-635.

"On Critical Thinking," American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy, Spring-Summer 1985, 19-20.

"His Burning Pants," Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 27 (1986), 393-400.

"Lowe and Baldwin on Modalities," Mind 95 (1986), 499-505.

"he himself: Undiscovering an Anaphor," Linguistic Inquiry 22 (1991), 368-373.

"Representing de re Beliefs," Linguistics and Philosophy 14 (1991), 711-739.

"Analogy and Argument," Teaching Philosophy, 20 (1997), 49-60.

"A reconsideration of an argument against compatibilism," Philosophical Topics, 24 (1996), 113-121. (Actually published in late 1997.)He also wrote the encyclopedia chapters on "Modal Logic, Philosophical Issues," for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and "Propositional Attitude Reports," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2000, 2005. (2005 version co-authored with Michael Nelson), and many book chapters and other presentations.

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