Sunday, November 10, 2019

Two popes and idolatry


How bad can a bad pope get?  Pretty bad.  Here are two further examples from history.  Marcellinus was pope from c. 296 – 304.  During his pontificate, Emperor Diocletian initiated a persecution of the Christians, requiring the surrender of sacred texts and the offering of incense to the Roman gods.  Marcellinus and some of his clergy apparently complied, though Marcellinus is also said to have repented of this after a few days and to have suffered martyrdom as a result.  Some claim that by virtue of his compliance he was guilty of a formal apostasy that resulted in loss of the papal office, though his purported repentance and martyrdom also led to his veneration and recognition as a saint.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Cambridge Companion to Natural Law Ethics


My article “Natural Law Ethics and the Revival of Aristotelian Metaphysics” appears in The Cambridge Companion to Natural Law Ethics, edited by Tom Angier.  You can find out more about the volume at the Cambridge University Press website and at Cambridge Core.

Monday, November 4, 2019

The strange case of Pope Vigilius


The increasingly strange pontificate of Pope Francis is leading many Catholics into increasingly strange behavior.  Some, like the emperor’s sycophants in the Hans Christian Anderson story, insist with ever greater shrillness that nothing Pope Francis does is ever really in the least bit problematic.  If your eyes seem plainly to be telling you otherwise, then it is, they insist, your lying eyes that are the problem.  Others, incapable of such self-deception, are driven into a panic by the pope’s manifestly problematic words and actions.  They overreact, either beating a retreat into sedevacantism or judging that the claims of Catholicism have been proven false and that the only recourse is Eastern Orthodoxy.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

New from Editiones Scholasticae


Editiones Scholasticae, the publisher of my books Scholastic Metaphysics and Aristotle’s Revenge, informs me that both of them will within a few days be available in eBook versions.  Also new from the publisher is a German translation of my book Philosophy of Mind.  (Previously they had published German translations of The Last Superstition and Five Proofs of the Existence of God.)  Take a look at Editiones Scholasticae’s new webpage for further information, as well as for information about other new releases from the publisher.  You will find both new works by contemporary writers in the Scholastic tradition, and reprints of older and long out of print works in that tradition.  (The original webpage is still online as well.)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

John Paul II in defense of the nation and patriotism


In chapters 11-15 of his last book Memory and Identity, Pope St. John Paul II provides a lucid exposition of the idea of the nation as a natural social institution and of the virtue of patriotism, as these have been understood in traditional natural law theory and Catholic moral theology.  The relevance to current controversies will be obvious.

What is the nation, and what is patriotism?  John Paul begins by noting the connection between the nation and the family, where the former is in a sense an extension of the latter:

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Masculinity and the Marvel movies


Some time back, John Haldane gave a Thomistic Institute talk here in Los Angeles on the theme of evil in the movies and in the movie industry.  During the Q and A (at about the 40 minute mark, and again after the 1:16 mark) the subject of superhero movies came up, and Haldane was critical of their current prevalence.  In developing this criticism, he draws a useful distinction between fantasy and imagination.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Around the web


At The Catholic Thing, Fr. Thomas Weinandy on the studied ambiguity of Pope Francis.  In his new book Conciliar Octet, Fr. Aidan Nichols on the hermeneutic of continuity and Vatican II.

At Medium, philosopher Kathleen Stock on gender theory versus academic freedom in the UK.  At Inside Higher Education, twelve prominent philosophers defend the right to free inquiry on matters of sex and gender. 

Philosopher Daniel A. Kaufman on the “woke” fanatics increasingly infesting academic philosophy, at The Electric Agora.  Richard Marshall interviews Kaufman at 3:16. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Transubstantiation and hylemorphism


One of the key themes of the early modern philosophers’ revolt against Scholasticism was a move away from an Aristotelian hylemorphist conception of the nature of physical substance to some variation or other of the mechanical philosophy.  The other day I was asked a very interesting question: Can transubstantiation be formulated in terms of a mechanistic conception of physical substance rather than a hylemorphic one?  My answer was that I would not peremptorily say that it cannot be, but that the suggestion certainly raises serious philosophical and theological problems.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Harvard talk (Updated)


This Friday, October 4, I will be giving a talk at Harvard University, sponsored by the Abigail Adams Institute.  The topic will be “The Immateriality of the Mind.”  The event will be in Sever Hall, Room 103, at 7:30 pm.  You can RSVP here.

UPDATE 10/11: Some photos from the talk have been posted at Facebook.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Aristotle’s Revenge and naïve color realism


The American Catholic Philosophical Association meeting in Minneapolis this November 21-24 will be devoted to the theme of the philosophy of nature.  On the Saturday of the conference there will be an Author Meets Critics session on my book Aristotle’s Revenge.  It will be chaired by Patrick Toner and the speakers will be Robert Koons, Stephen Barr, and myself.

While we’re on the subject, I’d like to call your attention to a couple of very interesting responses to Aristotle’s Revenge, the first from Nigel Cundy at The Quantum Thomist and the second from Bonald at Throne and Altar.  Both writers know the relevant science and both are open-minded and knowledgeable about the relevant philosophical ideas too.  Both seem largely sympathetic to the book but also raise serious criticisms.  They cover a lot of ground (since the book itself does) so there’s no way I can respond to everything they say in one post.  So this will be the first in a series of occasional posts responding to their criticisms.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Fastiggi on the revision to the Catechism (Updated)


UPDATE: The conversation continues.  Prof. Fastiggi has responded to this post in the comments section over at Catholic World Report. I have cut and pasted his responses below, under the text of my original post, together with my replies.  Scroll down to take a look

In the comments section under my recent Catholic World Report article “Three questions for Catholic opponents of capital punishment,” theologian Prof. Robert Fastiggi raises a number of objections.  What follows is a reply.  Fastiggi’s objections are in bold, and I respond to them one by one.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Three problems for Catholic opponents of capital punishment


What is left to say about Pope Francis and capital punishment?  Plenty, as I show in a new Catholic World Report article titled “Three questions for Catholic opponents of capital punishment.”  Those who appeal to the pope’s statements on the subject in order to justify the claim that Catholics are now obligated to oppose capital punishment face three grave problems.

Friday, September 13, 2019

A further reply to Glenn Ellmers


At Law and Liberty, Glenn Ellmers has replied to my response to his review of my book Aristotle’s Revenge.  He makes two points, neither of them good.

First, Ellmers reiterates his complaint that I am insufficiently attentive to the actual words of Aristotle himself.  He writes: “This where Feser and I part.  He thinks that it is adequate to have some familiarity with ‘the broad Aristotelian tradition’ – a term of seemingly vast elasticity.  I do not.”  Put aside the false assumption that my own “familiarity” is only with the broad Aristotelian tradition rather than with Aristotle himself.  It is certainly true that my book focuses on the former rather than the latter.  So, is this adequate?

Friday, September 6, 2019

Review of Smith’s The AI Delusion


My review of economist Gary Smith’s excellent recent book The AI Delusion appears today at City Journal.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Friday, August 30, 2019

Gage on Five Proofs


I’ve been getting some strange book reviews lately.  First up is Logan Paul Gage’s review of my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God in the latest issue of Philosophia Christi.  Gage says some very complimentary things about the book, for which I thank him.  He also raises a couple of important points of criticism, for which I also thank him.  But he says some odd and false things too. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Scotus on divine simplicity and creation


In my exchange with Ryan Mullins on the doctrine of divine simplicity, I noted that one of the problems with his critique of the doctrine is that he pays insufficient attention to the history of the debate about it.  Hence he overlooks what should be obvious possible responses to his criticisms, such as Aquinas’s appeal to the distinction between real relations and logical relations.  He also makes sweeping attributions of certain views to all defenders of divine simplicity, overlooking crucial differences between proponents of the doctrine.  Other critics of divine simplicity also often make these mistakes.  A consideration of the views of John Duns Scotus further illustrates the range of issues with which any serious general critique of divine simplicity must deal.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Aquinas on creation and necessity


While we’re on the subject of divine simplicity and creation, let’s consider a closely related issue.  In the Summa Contra Gentiles, Aquinas argues that God wills himself, that he does so necessarily, that what he wills he wills in a single act, and that he wills other things besides himself.  Doesn’t it follow that he also wills these other things necessarily?  Doesn’t it follow that they too must exist necessarily, just as God does?  No, neither of these things follows.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A further reply to Mullins on divine simplicity (Updated)


UPDATE 8/25: David Mahfood replies to Mullins at Eclectic Orthodoxy.  I've got a couple of followup posts, here and here.

UPDATE 8/24: Brandon Watson and John DeRosa also respond to Mulllins.

UPDATE 8/21: Look out!  The Scotist Meme Squad has entered the fray.

At Theopolis, Ryan Mullins has now replied to those of us who had commented on his essay criticizing the doctrine of divine simplicity.  (The other commenters were Peter Leithart and Joe Lenow.)  What follows is a response to what he has to say in reply to my comments on the essay, specifically.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Summer open thread


It’s about time for another open thread, so here it is.  From violent crimes to medieval times to cringe-making rhymes, nothing is off-topic.  Still, as always, please keep it classy and keep it civil.

While I’ve got your attention, let me take this opportunity to make several comments about comments.  First, a few readers have complained recently that their comments are not appearing.  In fact, they are appearing.  What these readers do not realize is that after a thread exceeds 200 comments, you have to click on the “Load more…” prompt at the bottom of the comments section to see the most recent comments.  It’s easy to miss, but it’s there.  Click on it and you’ll no doubt find that comment that you thought had disappeared into the ether (and perhaps had needlessly re-posted several times).

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Contra Mullins on divine simplicity


The Theopolis Institute website is hosting a conversation on divine simplicity, with an opening essay by Ryan Mullins criticizing the doctrine and responses so far from Peter Leithart, Joe Lenow, and me.  More installments to come over the next couple of weeks.  You can read my own response to Mullins here.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

McCabe on the divine nature


Herbert McCabe was one of the more important Thomists of the twentieth century, and a great influence on thinkers like Brian Davies.  Not too long ago, Davies and Paul Kucharski edited The McCabe Reader, a very useful collection of representative writings.  Among the many topics covered are natural theology, Christian doctrine, ethics, politics, and Aquinas.  McCabe’s style throughout is lucid and pleasing, and the book is full of insights.  What follows are some remarks on what McCabe has to say about one specific theme that runs through the anthology, and about which he was especially insightful – the divine nature.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism


Those who weren’t able to read it when it was behind a paywall might be interested to know that my recent Claremont Review of Books essay “Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism” is now accessible for free.

As I noted before, the essay is a companion piece of sorts to my recent Heritage Foundation lecture on “Socialism versus the Family.”  My recent post on post-liberal conservatism is relevant too.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Debate with Graham Oppy


Yesterday on Cameron Bertuzzi’s Capturing Christianity program, I had a very pleasant and fruitful live debate with Graham Oppy about my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  The debate lasted about an hour and a half (and was followed by a half-hour Q and A for Capturing Christianity’s Patreon supporters).  You can watch the debate on YouTube.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Review of Tallis


My review of Raymond Tallis’s excellent recent book Logos: The Mystery of How We Make Sense of the World appears in the July 26 issue of The Times Literary Supplement. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The latest on Five Proofs


Tomorrow, Thursday July 25, Cameron Bertuzzi’s Capturing Christianity program will be hosting a live discussion between atheist philosopher Graham Oppy and me about my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God

Philosopher Stephen L. Brock briefly reviews the book in The Review of Metaphysics.  From the review:

Friday, July 19, 2019

Psychoanalyzing the sexual revolutionary


When someone makes a claim or presents an argument and you pretend to refute it by calling attention to some purported personal shortcoming of his (such as a bad character or a suspect motive), then you’ve committed an ad hominem fallacy.  The reason this is a fallacy is that what is at issue in such a case is the truth of the claim or the cogency of the argument, and you’ve changed the subject by talking about something else, namely the person making the claim or argument.  But as I explained in a post from a few years ago, not every criticism of a person making a claim or argument is an ad hominem fallacy, because sometimes the topic just is the person himself.  For instance, when a person is prone to committing ad hominem fallacies and persists in them despite gentle correction, it is perfectly legitimate to note that he is irrational and maybe even morally defective in certain ways – for example, that he is in thrall to the vice of wrath, or has a willful personality, or is guilty of a lack of charity toward his opponents.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Interview on Aristotle’s Revenge


UPDATE 7/17: Part 2 of the interview has now been posted.

Recently Michael Egnor interviewed me about my book Aristotle’s Revenge for the Discovery Institute.  The interview will be posted in three parts, spread across the Institute’s ID the Future and Mind Matters podcasts, and today the first part has been posted.  (I’m critical of Intelligent Design theory in the book, so the Institute is showing good sportsmanship in hosting the interview!)

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The metaphysics of the will


Last month, at a conference at Mount Saint Mary’s College in Newburgh, NY on Aquinas on Human Action and Virtue, I presented a paper on “The Metaphysics of the Will.”  You can listen to audio of the talk at the Thomistic Institute’s Soundcloud page.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Speaking (what you take to be) hard truths ≠ hatred


Suppose I was driving past you and you stopped me to warn that a bridge was out up ahead and that I was risking my life by continuing in that direction.  Suppose I reacted indignantly, accusing you of hating me and hoping that I drove off the bridge to my doom.  This would no doubt strike you as a most bizarre and irrational response.  Obviously, there is nothing whatsoever in what you said that entails any ill will toward me.  On the contrary, if anything, what you said is evidence of concern for me. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Norman Geisler (1932 – 2019)


I am sorry to report that philosopher and theologian Norman Geisler has died.  Geisler stood out as a Protestant who took a broadly Thomist approach to philosophy and theology, and as an evangelical who vigorously defended the classical theist conception of God against the currently fashionable anthropomorphism he aptly labeled “neo-theism” (and which Brian Davies calls “theistic personalism”).  Those of us who sympathize with these commitments are in his debt.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Frege on what mathematics isn’t


Mathematics is an iceberg on which the Titanic of modern empiricism founders.  It is good now and then to remind ourselves why, and Gottlob Frege’s famous critique of John Stuart Mill in The Foundations of Arithmetic is a useful starting point.  Whether Frege is entirely fair to Mill is a matter of debate.  Still, the fallacies he attributes to Mill are often committed by others.  For example, occasionally a student will suggest that the proposition that 2 + 2 = 4 is really just a generalization from our experience of finding four things present after we put one pair next to another – and that if somehow a fifth thing regularly appeared whenever we did so, then 2 and 2 would make 5.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Just say the damn sentence already


Suppose you are a Catholic who thinks the death penalty ought never to be applied in practice under modern circumstances.  Fine.  You’re within your rights.  Whatever one thinks of the arguments for that position, it is certainly orthodox.  However, that position is very different from saying that capital punishment is always and intrinsically wrong, wrong per se or of its very nature.  That position is not orthodox.  It is manifestly contrary to scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the consistent teaching of the popes up until at least Benedict XVI.  The evidence for this claim is overwhelming, and I have set it out in many places – for example, in this article and in this book co-written with Joe Bessette.  Attempts to refute our work have invariably boiled down to ad hominem attacks, red herrings, question-begging assertions, special pleading, straw man fallacies, or other sophistries and time-wasters.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Links for thinkers


David Oderberg’s article “Death, Unity, and the Brain” appears in Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics.

Nicholas Maxwell at Aeon calls for a revival natural philosophy.  Gee, maybe someone ought to write a book on the subject.

Philosopher Kathleen Stock on gender dysphoria and the reality of sex differences, at Quillette.  At Medium, philosopher Sophie Allen asks: If transwomen are women, what is a woman?

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The bishops and capital punishment


A group of five prelates comprising Cardinal Raymond Burke, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Cardinal Janis Pujats, Archbishop Tomash Peta, and Archbishop Jan Pawel Lenga this week issued a “Declaration of the truths relating to some of the most common errors in the life of the Church of our time.”  Among the many perennial Catholic doctrines that are now commonly challenged but are reaffirmed in the document is the following:

In accordance with Holy Scripture and the constant tradition of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, the Church did not err in teaching that the civil power may lawfully exercise capital punishment on malefactors where this is truly necessary to preserve the existence or just order of societies (see Gen 9:6; John 19:11; Rom 13:1-7; Innocent III, Professio fidei Waldensibus praescripta; Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. III, 5, n. 4; Pius XII, Address to Catholic jurists on December 5, 1954).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Augustine on capital punishment


In his book On Augustine: The Two Cities, Alan Ryan says that Augustine’s “understanding of the purpose of punishment made the death penalty simply wrong” (p. 82).  That is a bit of an overstatement.  In The City of God, Augustine writes:

However, there are some exceptions made by the divine authority to its own law, that men may not be put to death.  These exceptions are of two kinds, being justified either by a general law, or by a special commission granted for a time to some individual.  And in this latter case, he to whom authority is delegated, and who is but the sword in the hand of him who uses it, is not himself responsible for the death he deals.  And, accordingly, they who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, “You shall not kill.” (Book I, Chapter 21)

Friday, June 7, 2019

A clarification on integralism


Talk of integralism is all the rage in recent weeks, given the dispute between David French and Sohrab Ahmari and Matthew Continetti’s analysis of the state of contemporary conservatism, on which I commented in a recent post.  What is integralism?  Rod Dreher quotes the following definition from the blog The Josias:

Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that rejects the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Continetti on post-liberal conservatism


At the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti proposes a taxonomy of contemporary American conservatism.  Among the groups he identifies are the “post-liberals.”  What he means by liberalism is not twentieth- and twenty-first century Democratic Party liberalism, but rather the broader liberal political and philosophical tradition that extends back to Locke, informed the American founding, and was incorporated into the “fusionist” program of Buckley/Reagan-style conservatism.  The “post-liberals” are conservatives who think that this broader liberal tradition has become irredeemably corrupt and maybe always has been, and thus judge that the fusionist project of marrying a traditionalist view of morality, family, and religion to the liberal political tradition is incoherent and ought to be abandoned.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Rist slapped (Updated)


UPDATE 5/31: Commentary from Fr. Joseph Fessio, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, and Phil Lawler.

LifeSite reports that Prof. John Rist, one of the signatories of the recent open letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy, has abruptly been banned from all pontifical universities – which he learned one day by finding himself suddenly denied permission to park his car at the Augustinianum, where he had been doing research.  Read the whole thing for the sorry details of the episode.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Popes, heresy, and papal heresy


In an interview at National Catholic Register, philosopher John Rist defends his decision to sign the open letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy (on which I commented in an earlier post).  At Catholic Herald, canon lawyer Ed Peters argues that the letter fails to establish its main charge.  Properly to understand this controversy, it is important to see that a reasonable person could judge that both men have a point – as long as we disambiguate the word “heresy.”