Monday, May 25, 2015

D. B. Hart and the “terrorism of obscurantism”

Many years ago, Steven Postrel and I interviewed John Searle for Reason magazine.  Commenting on his famous dispute with Jacques Derrida, Searle remarked:

With Derrida, you can hardly misread him, because he's so obscure.  Every time you say, "He says so and so," he always says, "You misunderstood me."  But if you try to figure out the correct interpretation, then that's not so easy.  I once said this to Michel Foucault, who was more hostile to Derrida even than I am, and Foucault said that Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism of obscurantism).  We were speaking French.  And I said, "What the hell do you mean by that?"  And he said, "He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he's saying, that's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, 'You didn't understand me; you're an idiot.'  That's the terrorism part."

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stupid rhetorical tricks

In honor of David Letterman’s final show tonight, let’s look at a variation on his famous “Stupid pet tricks” routine.  It involves people rather animals, but lots of Pavlovian frenzied salivating.  I speak of David Bentley Hart’s latest contribution, in the June/July issue of First Things, to our dispute about whether there will be animals in Heaven.  The article consists of Hart (a) flinging epithets like “manualist Thomism” and “Baroque neoscholasticism” so as to rile up whatever readers there are who might be riled up by such epithets, while (b) ignoring the substance of my arguments.  Pretty sad.  I reply at Public Discourse.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lewis on transposition

C. S. Lewis’s essay “Transposition” is available in his collection The Weight of Glory, and also online here.  It is, both philosophically and theologically, very deep, illuminating the relationship between the material and the immaterial, and between the natural and the supernatural.  (Note that these are different distinctions, certainly from a Thomistic point of view.  For there are phenomena that are immaterial but still natural.  For example, the human intellect is immaterial, but still perfectly “natural” insofar as it is in our nature to have intellects.  What is “supernatural” is what goes beyond a thing’s nature, and it is not beyond a thing’s nature to be immaterial if immateriality just is part of its nature.)

Friday, May 8, 2015

A linkfest

My review of Charles Bolyard and Rondo Keele, eds., Later Medieval Metaphysics: Ontology, Language, and Logic appears in the May 2015 issue of Metaphysica.

At, Thomist theologian Steven Long defends capital punishment against “new natural lawyer” Chris Tollefsen.

In the Journal of the American Philosophical Association, physicist Carlo Rovelli defends Aristotle’s physics.

At Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Christopher Martin reviews Brian Davies’ Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae: A Guide and Commentary.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Animal souls, Part II

Recently, in First Things, David Bentley Hart criticized Thomists for denying that there will be non-human animals in Heaven.  I responded in an article at Public Discourse and in a follow-up blog post, defending the view that there will be no such animals in the afterlife.  I must say that some of the responses to what I wrote have been surprisingly… substandard for readers of a philosophy blog.  A few readers simply opined that Thomists don’t appreciate animals, or that the thought of Heaven without animals is too depressing.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Animal souls, Part I

Here’s a postscript, in two parts, to my recent critique in Public Discourse of David Bentley Hart’s case for there being animals in heaven.  In this first part, I discuss in more detail than I did in the original article Donald Davidson’s arguments for denying that animals can think or reason in the strict sense.  (This material was originally supposed to appear in the Public Discourse article, but the article was overlong and it had to be removed.)  In the second part, I will address some of the response to the Public Discourse article.  Needless to say, those who haven’t yet read the Public Discourse article are urged to do so before reading what follows, since what I have to say here presupposes what I said there.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review of Mele

Over at the online edition of City Journal, I review Alfred Mele’s recent book Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Toner and McInerny on Scholastic Metaphysics

Two new reviews of Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction.  First, in the Spring 2015 issue of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Prof. Patrick Toner (pictured at left) kindly reviews the book.  From the review:

This is an excellent little survey of scholastic metaphysics, written more or less from the perspective of “analytic Thomism”…

The refutation of scientism is elegant and thoroughly successful…

Feser explains the rationale behind [the] principle [of causality], distinguishes it from the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and defends it against many objections, including a standard from Hume, as well as more recent worries, from Newton, and from quantum mechanics.  Very useful material.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Back from Princeton

This past Saturday, I gave the Princeton Anscombe Society’s 10th Anniversary Lecture, on the subject “Natural Law and the Foundations of Sexual Ethics.”  Prof. Robert George was the moderator.  The Daily Princetonian covered the event, and the Anscombe Society has posted some pictures.  Video of the lecture has also been posted at YouTube.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Hart jumps the shark

In the April issue of First Things, David Bentley Hart takes Thomists to task for denying that some non-human animals posses “irreducibly personal” characteristics, that they exhibit “certain rational skills,” and that Heaven will be “positively teeming with fauna.”  I respond at Public Discourse, in “David Bentley Hart Jumps the Shark: Why Animals Don’t Go to Heaven.”

Friday, April 3, 2015

The two faces of tolerance

What is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.

Herbert Marcuse

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

H. L. Mencken

Given current events in Indiana, I suppose it is time once again to recall a post first run on the old Right Reason blog in March of 2007, and reprinted on this blog in December of 2009.  Here are the relevant passages, followed by some commentary:

Albertus Magnus Center summer program

The Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies is sponsoring a two-week summer program in Norcia, Italy, from July 12-25.  The theme is Aquinas’s commentary on I Corinthians.  Details can be found here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Was Aquinas a materialist?

Denys Turner’s recent book Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait is beautifully written and consistently thought-provoking.  It is also a little mischievous, in a good-natured way.  A main theme of the book is what Turner characterizes as Aquinas’s “materialism.”  Turner is aware that Aquinas was not a materialist in the modern sense.  And as I have emphasized many times (such as at the beginning of the chapter on Aquinas’s philosophical psychology in Aquinas), you cannot understand Aquinas’s position unless you understand how badly suited the standard jargon in contemporary philosophy of mind is to describe that position.  Turner’s reference to Aquinas’s “materialism” is intended to emphasize the respects in which Aquinas’s position is deeply at odds with what many think of as essential to a “dualist” conception of human nature.  And he is right to emphasize that.  All the same, as I have argued before, if we are going to use modern terminology to characterize Aquinas’s view -- and in particular, if we want to make it clear where Aquinas stood on the issue that contemporary dualists and materialists themselves think is most crucially at stake in the debate between dualism and materialism -- then “dualist” is a more apt label than “materialist.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Web of intrigue

Analytical Thomist John Haldane has been appointed to the J. Newton Rayzor Sr. Distinguished Chair in Philosophy at Baylor University.

At The Times Literary Supplement, Galen Strawson argues that it is matter, not consciousness, that is truly mysterious.

At Aeon magazine, philosopher Quassim Cassam investigates the intellectual character of those drawn toward conspiracy theories.

At Public Discourse, William Carroll defends the reality of the soul against Julien Mussolino, author of The Soul Fallacy.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Pigliucci on metaphysics

At Scientia Salon, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci admits to “always having had a troubled relationship with metaphysics.”  He summarizes the reasons that have, over the course of his career, made it difficult for him to take the subject seriously.  Surprisingly -- given that Pigliucci is, his eschewal of metaphysics notwithstanding, a professional philosopher -- none of these reasons is any good.  Or rather, this is not surprising at all, since there simply are no good reasons for dismissing metaphysics -- and could not be, given that all purported reasons for doing so themselves invariably embody unexamined metaphysical assumptions.  Thus, as Gilson famously observed, does metaphysics always bury its undertakers.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Reasons of the Hart

A couple of years ago, theologian David Bentley Hart generated a bit of controversy with some remarks about natural law theory in an article in First Things.  I and some other natural law theorists responded, Hart responded to our responses, others rallied to his defense, the natural law theorists issued rejoinders, and before you knew it the Internet -- or, to be a little more precise, this blog -- was awash in lame puns and bad Photoshop.  (My own contributions to the fun can be found here, here, here, and here.)  In the March 2015 issue of First Things, Hart revisits that debate, or rather uses it as an occasion to make some general remarks about the relationship between faith and reason.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Anscombe Society event

On April 11, I’ll be giving the Princeton Anscombe Society 10th Anniversary Lecture, on the subject “Natural Law and the Foundations of Sexual Ethics.”  Prof. Robert George will be the moderator.  Details here.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Capital punishment should not end (UPDATED)

Four prominent Catholic publications from across the theological spectrum -- America magazine, the National Catholic Register, the National Catholic Reporter and Our Sunday Visitor -- this week issued a joint statement declaring that “capital punishment must end.”  One might suppose from the statement that all faithful Catholics agree.  But that is not the case.  As then-Cardinal Ratzinger famously affirmed in 2004, a Catholic may be “at odds with the Holy Father” on the subject of capital punishment and “there may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about… applying the death penalty.”  Catholic theologian Steven A. Long has issued a vigorous response to the joint statement at the blog  (See also Steve’s recent response to an essay by “new natural law” theorist and capital punishment opponent Christopher Tollefsen on whether God ever intends a human being’s death.) 

Apart from registering my own profound disagreement with the joint statement, I will for the moment refrain from commenting on the issue, because I will before long be commenting on it at length.  My friend Joseph Bessette is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.  Joe and I have for some time been working together on a book on Catholicism and capital punishment, and we will complete it soon.  It will be, to our knowledge, the most detailed and systematic philosophical, theological, and social scientific defense of capital punishment yet written from a Catholic perspective, and it will provide a thorough critique of the standard Catholic arguments against capital punishment.