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Stephen Sullivan

Position: Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania


  • Member, American Philosophical Association, 2004-present
  • Member, PASSHE Interdisciplinary Association for Philosophy and Religious Studies, 2005-present


  • Ph.D., Philosophy, Cornell University, 1990
  • M.A., Philosophy, Cornell University, 1984
  • B.A., Philosophy, University of Toronto, 1979 (with distinction)
  • Catholic University of America, 1974-1976

Academic Appointments:

  • Assistant Professor, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (2004- ) (tenured 2009)
  • Assistant/Associate Professor, University of Southern Indiana (1996-2004)
  • Adjunct Instructor, Seton Hall University (Spring 1996)
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Illinois Wesleyan University (1994-1995)
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Illinois State University (1992-1993)
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech (1990-1992)
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Rice University (1988-1990)


  • Nominated for Educator of the Year in Spring 2009
  • Nominated for Advisor of the Year in Spring 2009

Professional Affiliations:

  • American Philosophical Association (2004- )
  • PASSHE Interdisciplinary Association for Philosophy and Religious Studies (2005- )

Recent Publications:

  • "A Critique of One Unnaturalness Objection to Gay Sex," American Philosophical Association Newsletter (forthcoming Spring 2010).
  • Review of William J. Wainwright, Religion and Morality, Secular Web, Fall 2009.
  • "Christian Morality and Slave Morality," Philo (Fall/Winter 2009).
  • "Nietzsche's Anticipations of Russell," Bertrand Russell Society Quarterly (Spring 2009).
  • Review of Jostein Gaarder, Sophie's World: A Novel on the History of Philosophy, Janua Sophia (2008).
  • "The Special Rights Fallacy," PASSHE Values Newsletter (Fall 2007).
  • "Science, Morality, and Religion: A Reply to Herman E. Daly," Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly (Summer/Fall 2006).
  • "Absolutism, Relativism, and Abortion: A Reply to Gillespie," PASSHE Values Newsletter (Fall 2006).
  • "Adams's Open-Question Argument Against Ethical Naturalism," Secular Web (2006).
  • Review essay on Robert Merrihew Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods, Secular Web (2005).
  • Review of Roger-Pol Droit, How Are Things? A Philosophical Experiment, New Humanist Update (December 6, 2005).
  • "Social Conservatism, Sexual Morality, and Ethical Relativism," PASSHE Values Newsletter (Fall 2005).
  • "By Virtue of Being White" [Letter], Teaching Tolerance (Spring 2007).
  • "The 'Dark Side' of Catholic Colleges" [Letter], Chronicle of Higher Education, June 20, 2008.
  • A 'Safe Space' for Students in Campus Offices" [Letter], Chronicle of Higher Education, January 18, 2008.
  • "Believing in the Liberal Arts" [Letter], Chronicle of Higher Education, July 21, 2006.
  • "Keep 'Moral Certainties' Out of the Classroom" [Letter], Chronicle of Higher Education, January 13, 2006.

Manuscript reviews:

  • forthcoming work by New York University cognitive psychologist Gregory L. Murphy (Summer 2009)
  • Journal of Value Inquiry (Spring 2009, Fall 2008, Spring 2007, Fall 2004)
  • Janua_Sophia (2004-2009)
  • Secular Web (Fall 2007)
  • Secular Web (Fall 2007)
  • Oxford University Press (Summer 2007)

Published on the Secular Web

Modern Library

A Sympathetic Critique of a Socratic Argument for Atheism

Does God command what is morally right because it is right, or is it right because God commands it? If God commands what is right because it is right, then rightness appears to be determined by moral standards that are independent of God's commands, and that God himself is morally required to obey, calling into question his status as Supreme Being. On the other hand, if what is right is right because God commands it, then there are no moral constraints on what God commands, rendering morality completely arbitrary: even horrific actions would be deemed right. This modernized Euthyphro dilemma can be converted into an argument against the existence of the God of traditional monotheism, a sovereign creator. Although this Socratic argument does not refute God's existence as a Supreme Being, it nevertheless underscores a serious challenge to theists who argue that morality requires the truth of theism.

Review of God Bless America

Karen Stollznow's God Bless America: Strange and Unusual Religious Beliefs and Practices in the United States teaches us quite a bit about fundamentalist Mormonism, Amish and Mennonite Protestantism, Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity, Afro-Caribbean religions, exorcism and Satanism, Scientology, New Age spirituality, and Quakerism. But it also has countless substantive, stylistic, and even grammatical flaws, and it is doubtful that she succeeds in providing her intended "sensitive but factual" and appropriately critical portrayal of the groups that she discusses. But despite these flaws, it is informative enough, interesting enough, and occasionally perceptive enough to be worth reading.

Review of Practicing Catholic

Former Catholic priest and Boston Globe columnist James Carroll's Practicing Catholic enlightens us about the evolution of Catholic teachings on salvation for non-Catholics, the growing support for progressive Catholic attitudes under Pope John XXIII, and the reactionary backsliding that has occurred under John Paul II and Benedictus XVI (Joseph Ratzinger). But Carroll barely defends his own pro-life stance on abortion and ignores altogether the moderate position that Catholic liberals have defended for decades. In theology, his view that God is unknowable conflicts with his claim that evidence-transcendent faith can count as knowledge, and he never explains (without begging the question) how faith that willfully goes beyond available evidence can be cognitively rational, let alone constitute knowledge. Nevertheless, though his faith is not cognitively rational because it is not well-grounded in evidence, it may well be practically rational to the extent that it plays an important role in his own overall well-being.

Review of Religion and Morality

In Religion and Morality, Christian philosopher William J. Wainwright provides a thorough, thoughtful, and generally rigorous and fair-minded discussion of the relationship between religion and morality. He considers moral arguments for God's existence, divine command theories of morality, and possible tensions between "human morality and religious requirements," among other things. In this review Stephen Sullivan focuses his remarks on several of Wainwright's debatable claims concerning the divine command theory of ethics and the Euthyphro question, offering a few additional criticisms about Wainwright's methodology.

Adams’ Open-Question Argument Against Ethical Naturalism

In Finite and Infinite Goods, Robert Merrihew Adams offers an interesting variation on G. E. Moore's famous open-question argument against ethical naturalism. In giving causal-explanatory reasoning the last word in ethical inquiry, he says, ethical naturalists negate a critical stance that permits us to raise evaluative questions about any ethical judgment, no matter how well-supported empirically. But Adams's version of the open-question argument is deeply confused. First, modern science shows that the relevant critical stance is quite compatible with giving causal-explanatory reasoning the last word. Second, ethical naturalists need not treat any ethical judgments as immune to criticism. Finally, if Adams's argument were sound, it would undermine his own case for a divine-command theory of ethics.

Review of Finite and Infinite Goods

In Finite and Infinite Goods Adams gives his defense of a modified divine command theory its fullest elaboration, defending it against a number of standard objections. This material is essential reading for anyone interested in whether morality does or could depend on religion. Moreover, Adams thoughtfully argues for the need for several forms of moral faith, including faith that morality "is not a massive socially induced delusion." Along the way, he also offers a striking defense of liberty of conscience and church-state separation, with an emphasis on the value of critical thinking in both ethics and religion. Although Sullivan finds much to agree with here, he offers two particular criticisms of Adams's version of divine command theory. Nevertheless, Sullivan concludes that intelligent nonbelievers and believers can only benefit from carefully and critically working their way through this important book.
Kiosk Video

Interview with Stephen Sullivan on Divine Command Theory

Check out the latest Freethinker Podcast interview with host Edouard Tahmizian for his roughly hour-long discussion with philosopher Stephen J. Sullivan about whether the position that God made us—and therefore he owns us—is a viable response to objections to classic (Plato-inspired) divine command theory, whether atheists can ground 'ought' statements (or at least moral duties) in the power of moral reasoning without need for a divine moral lawgiver, the role on biblical inconsistencies in countering ad hoc responses to objections to classic divine command theory, existentialist atheists like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, how fundamentalist Christians deal with the free will vs. determinism (or predestination) issue, and whether less conservative Christians are able to concede that the Bible is not inerrant without generating logical inconsistencies. Tune in for some deep insights from a moral philosopher who has thought about these topics for decades!