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.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism

My essay “Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism” appears in the Spring 2019 issue of the Claremont Review of Books.  (It’s behind a paywall at the moment.)  From the article:

Nor will one find in [Hayek’s] work the chirpy optimism with which many libertarians and Reaganite conservatives ritualistically defend the market economy.  Hayek’s case for free enterprise doesn’t fit any of the usual simplistic stereotypes.  He not only explicitly and persistently rejected laissez-faire, but could write as eloquently about the moral downside of capitalism and the emotional attractions of socialism as any left-winger.  In an era in which – young socialist chic notwithstanding – global capitalism appears to have swept all before it, it is the triumphalist defenders of the free market rather than its critics who have the most to learn from Hayek’s cautious, nuanced apologia…

Saturday, May 11, 2019

More on presentism and truthmakers

The esteemed Bill Vallicella continues to press the truthmaker objection against presentism.  I remain unimpressed by it.  Can we break this impasse?  Let me try by, first, proposing a diagnosis of the dialectical situation.  Then I will respond to the points Bill makes in his latest post.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Some comments on the open letter

What should we think of the recent open letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy, signed by Fr. Aidan Nichols, Prof. John Rist, and other priests and academics (and for which Prof. Josef Seifert has now expressed his support)?  Like others who have commented on it, I think the letter overstates things in its main charge and makes some bad arguments, but that it also makes many correct and important points that cannot reasonably be dismissed merely because the letter is seriously deficient in other respects. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Open the thread!

It’s your opportunity lawfully to indulge your impulse to make those off-topic comments I’m constantly having to delete.  Do so in good conscience, because nothing is really off-topic in this, the latest open thread.  From Donald Fagen to Ronald Reagan, from the Black Dahlia to papal regalia to inverted qualia – discuss whatever you like.  As always, just keep it classy and civil and free of trolling and troll-feeding. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Aristotelians ought to be presentists

Presentism holds that within the temporal domain, only the present exists and the past and future do not.  Alex Pruss thinks that Aristotelians shouldn’t be presentists.  That would be news to Aristotle, Aquinas, and other presentist Aristotelians.  I agree with them rather than with Alex, and I think that presentism is in fact the natural view to take if one starts with an Aristotelian view of the nature of physical reality, and of the nature of time in particular.  I spell all this out at length in Aristotle’s Revenge.  Here I will just try briefly to convey the general idea.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Vallicella on existence-entailing relations and presentism

Bill Vallicella continues his critical response to my defense of presentism in Aristotle’s Revenge.  In the first part of his critique (to which I responded in an earlier post), Bill raised the influential “truthmaker objection” against presentism.  In his latest post, he rehearses another popular objection, which appeals to the nature of relations.  I don’t think this objection is any more formidable than the truthmaker objection, but here too Bill disagrees.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Vallicella on the truthmaker objection against presentism

Among the many ideas defended in Aristotle’s Revenge is the A-theory of time, and presentism in particular.  Relativity, time travel, the experience of time, and other issues in the philosophy of time are treated along the way, and what I say about those topics is crucial to my defense of presentism.  (See pp. 233-303.)  My buddy Bill Vallicella objects to my response in the book to the “truthmaker objection” against presentism.  Let’s consider Bill’s misgivings.

Presentism is the thesis that only the present exists, and that past and future events and objects do not.  To be more precise, it is the thesis that in the temporal realm, only present objects and events exist.  (For one could also hold – as I do, though other presentists might not – that in addition to what exists in time, there is what exists in an eternal or timeless way and what exists in an aeviternal way.) 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Can you doubt that 2 + 3 = 5?

In his first Meditation, Descartes famously tries to push doubt as far as he can, in the hope of finding something that cannot be doubted and will thus provide a suitable foundation for the reconstruction of human knowledge.  Given the possibility that he is dreaming or that an evil spirit might be causing him to hallucinate, he judges that whatever the senses tell him might in principle be false.  In particular, the entire material world, including even his own body and brain, might be illusory.  Hence claims about the material world, and empirical claims in general, cannot in Descartes’ view be among the foundations of knowledge.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Artificial intelligence and magical thinking

Arthur C. Clarke famously said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  Is this true?  That depends on what you mean by “indistinguishable from.”  The phrase could be given either an epistemological reading or a metaphysical one.  On the former reading, what the thesis is saying is that if a technology is sufficiently advanced, you would not be able to know from examining it that it is not magic, even though in fact it is not.  This is no doubt what Clarke himself meant, and it is plausible enough, if only because the word “sufficiently” makes it hard to falsify.  If there was some technology that almost seemed like magic but could be shown not to be on close inspection, we could always say “Ah, but that’s only because it wasn’t sufficiently advanced.”  So the thesis really just amounts to the claim that people can be fooled into thinking that something is magic if we’re clever enough.  Well, OK.  I don’t know how interesting that is, but it seems true enough.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

New volume on philosophers and Catholicism

Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism, an anthology edited by Brian Besong and Jonathan Fuqua, will be out next month.  You can pre-order at Amazon.  My essay “The God of a Philosopher” appears in the volume, and recounts how I came to reject atheism for Catholicism, specifically (rather than some other religion or a purely philosophical theism).  Other contributors to the volume include Peter Kreeft, J. Budziszewski, Candace Vogler, Robert Koons, Francis Beckwith, and several other philosophers.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Five Proofs on radio

Recently, John DeRosa interviewed me for the Classical Theism Podcast.  You can listen to the interview here.  We discuss my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God and Simon Blackburn’s criticisms of it, my conversion to Catholicism, my new book Aristotle’s Revenge, and other matters.  If you listen all the way to the end of the interview, John explains how you can enter to win a free copy of Aristotle's Revenge.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Wrath darkens the mind

A straw man fallacy is committed when you attack a caricature of what your opponent has said rather than addressing his actual views.  Hypocrisy involves blithely doing something that you admit is wrong and criticize in others.  But what do you call it when you bitterly criticize someone else for doing something you approve of and praise in yourself and others?  I don’t know if there’s a label for that.  “Being an unhinged weirdo” is about the best I can come up with, and I’ve got a couple of examples.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

2019 Aquinas Lecture

In January I gave the 2019 Aquinas Lecture at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, on the theme “Classical Theism and the Nature of God.”  Before the lecture I was kindly awarded the Order of St. Thomas Medal by the Center for Thomistic Studies.  You can watch the video of the lecture at the CTS website.  (Click on the “Aquinas Lecture Series Videos” link.)  That’s the medal you’ll see me wearing.  The waiter joke at the beginning makes reference to something said in Steve Jensen’s opening remarks, which are not in the video.

Monday, March 4, 2019

ORDER NOW: Aristotle’s Revenge (Updated)

UPDATE 3/9: A reader points out that another option, for readers anywhere in the world, is to order through Book Depository.  You can now also order through Barnes and Noble.  The other options, to remind you, are and Casemate Academic (for U.S. orders) and Eurospan,, and Amazon's other European sites (for European orders).
UPDATE 3/7: At the moment, Amazon is accepting pre-orders again.  These things tend to fluctuate, so check back periodically if the pre-order option temporarily disappears again.  As noted below, you can also pre-order through the U.S. distributor.  European readers can also order through Eurospan.

UPDATE 3/5: Looks like Amazon's pre-order stock sold out right away.  If you don't want to wait for Amazon to re-stock, it looks like you can also pre-order via the U.S. distributor.

Amazon has the U.S. release of my new book Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science scheduled for March 22.  You can pre-order now.  The book has already been available for a few weeks at and other European outlets.   

Some pre-publication reactions to the book:

Friday, March 1, 2019

Byrne on gender identity

What is it to have a “gender identity”?  At Arc Digital, Alex Byrne examines some proposed definitions of the concept and common assumptions about it, and finds them problematic.  In earlier posts, we looked at Byrne’s views about whether sex is binary and whether sex is socially constructed.  As his earlier articles did, Byrne’s latest piece brings the cold shower of sober philosophical analysis to a discussion that is usually overheated and muddleheaded.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Surfing the web

At First Things, R. R. Reno concludes that Francis’s papacy is failing.  Cardinal Gerhard Müller issues a “manifesto of faith” to address the current theological crisis.  Meanwhile, Robert Fastiggi buries his head deeper into the sand.  (And wastes his time.  I already refuted Fastiggi’s position months ago.)

Jeremy Butterfield reviews Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math and Hossenfelder responds.  A review by Donald Devine at The Imaginative Conservative

Magician and actor Ricky Jay has died.  Reminiscences at The Federalist, Vulture, and NPR.  A personal remembrance by Jay’s friend David Mamet.

In the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Ryan Proctor argues that Catholic judges are not obligated to recuse themselves in capital cases.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Abortion and culpability

Yesterday at The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru responded to a reader who criticizes opponents of abortion who express special outrage at late-term abortions.  If all direct abortion amounts to murder, the reader says, then it is only a cynical political tactic to speak of late-term abortions as if they were especially odious.  I more or less agree with Ponnuru’s reply to this (give it a read, it’s brief), but I would add a clarification and a qualification.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The latest on Five Proofs

My book Five Proofs of the Existence of God is briefly reviewed by Christopher McCaffery in the March 2019 issue of First Things.  From the review:

Addressing contemporary and historical objections, Feser explains the logic of each proof with impressive clarity… Five Proofs is a useful resource for anyone seeking an introduction to historical arguments about God’s existence and their relationship to contemporary philosophical scholarship.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Socialism versus the family

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Heritage Foundation on the topic “Socialism versus the Family.”  You can watch the lecture on YouTube or at the Heritage website.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part III: Freud

Our sojourn among the Old Atheists was briefer than I’d intended.  To my great surprise, I see that the previous installment in this series dates from roughly the middle of 2016!  So let’s make a return visit.  Our theme has been the tendency of the best-known Old Atheists to show greater insight vis-à-vis the consequences of atheism than we find in their shallow New Atheist descendants.  This was true of Nietzsche and of Sartre, and it is true of Sigmund Freud.  So lay back on the couch and light up a cigar.  And before you start speculating about what hidden meaning lay behind my sudden return to this topic, remember: Sometimes a blog post is just a blog post.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Early 2019 speaking engagements

I recently got back from Blackfriars in Oxford, where I gave talks on classical theism and cooperation with evil.

This Thursday, January 31, I will be giving the 2019 Aquinas Lecture at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.  

On February 11, I will be speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on the topic of socialism versus the family.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Bizarro world of left-wing politics

I have only a little to add to what others have already said about the Kafkaesque Covington affair.  There were, as you all know by now, three main parties involved.  There was the group led by Nathan Phillips, who is now known to be a liar and rabble rouser who appears to have been trying to provoke a confrontation.  There were the “Black Hebrew Israelites,” classified by the SPLC as a hate group and who have been captured on video instigating the whole mess by shouting things that any left-winger would normally denounce as the worst sort of racist, sexist, homophobic, and fundamentalist bigotry.  And there are the Covington Catholic school teenagers, who were there waiting for a bus and got caught in the middle of these two groups of lunatics. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Washburn contra the “new natural lawyers”

I highly recommend theologian Christian Washburn’s excellent article “The New Natural Lawyers, Contraception, Capital Punishment, and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium,” from the latest issue of Logos.  Is there anything new to say about the “new natural law” (NNL) position on capital punishment?  There is, as Washburn shows.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Materialism subverts itself

A naïve understanding of materialism attributes to it a naïve understanding of matter.  Matter, common sense says, is more or less the way it appears to us in ordinary experience.  It is solid, colored stuff that always tastes, smells, sounds, and feels a certain way.  Materialism, on a naïve understanding, is the view that everything that exists is like that.  Even unobservable particles are assumed to be tiny solid, colored objects that have their own tastes, smells, sounds, and feels to them.  Like little stones or marbles.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Finnis on capital punishment (Updated)

John Finnis holds that the Catholic Church could reverse her traditional teaching that capital punishment can be legitimate in principle.  I criticized his position in the course of an exchange at Public Discourse several months ago.  Last month Finnis replied in an article at Public Discourse.  Today I respond to Finnis’s reply in an article at Catholic World Report.

Meanwhile, at Denver Journal, Ben Crenshaw kindly reviews By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment.  From the review:

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The sexual revolution devours its children

In two recent posts, we looked at philosopher Alex Byrne’s criticisms of claims made by some transgender activists to the effect that sex is not binary and that it is socially constructed.  Byrne is by no means the only philosopher alarmed at the increasingly bizarre claims being made by such activists – and the shrillness with which they are making them.  Kathleen Stock worries that such ideas will cause harm to women.  Daniel A. Kaufman warns that they threaten nothing less than the end of civil rights.  Nor are these philosophers conservatives who are hostile to the sexual revolution.  They are progressives concerned about extremism and anti-intellectualism in their own ranks.  And as if to prove the critics’ point, some of the activists have in response tried to get the critics fired and otherwise to silence them.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas every day

A Protestant friend once asked me what the point is of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.  Why is it so important to think that Christ is really present under the accidents of bread and wine?  What is the cash value of this idea?  The answer I gave him is best understood in light of the meaning of Christmas.

Christmas is about Emmanuel, God with us.  In particular, it is about the second Person of the Trinity entering the material world by taking on flesh.  He did so by entering into Mary’s womb, and that is why Mary had to be without sin, whether original or actual.  She was, in the most intimate way possible, the tabernacle of God.  And the tabernacle of God must be spotless. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Immateriality in Rome

Earlier this month I gave a talk on “The Immateriality of the Intellect” at a conference on neuroscience and the soul held at the Angelicum in Rome.  Video of the talk has now been posted at YouTube.

Links to other recent talks of mine can be found at my main website.