Friday, May 22, 2020

The lockdown is no longer morally justifiable


As I have said before, I think that the lockdown that was put in place in the United States two months ago was morally justifiable given the circumstances at the time.  In my opinion, under current circumstances, it is no longer morally justifiable.  To be sure, I am not denying that some social distancing measures are still justifiable and even necessary.  I am also not denying that a more modest lockdown may still be defensible in some localities.  But the draconian total lockdown that was put in place across most of the country is at this point no longer defensible, and state and local authorities who are relaxing it are right to do so.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Oderberg on the hierarchy of being


In February, David Oderberg gave a lecture in Oxford on the theme “Recovering the Hierarchy of Being.”  You can now watch it on YouTube.  Be sure also to check out David’s new book The Metaphysics of Good and Evil (about which you can find information at the publisher’s website).

Friday, May 15, 2020

The lockdown and appeals to authority


Here are two things every serious student of logical fallacies understands.  First, if what is at issue is the soundness of an argument, then the motives and expertise of the person giving the argument are completely irrelevant.  To fail to see this is to commit an ad hominem fallacy of “poisoning the well.”  Second, if what is at issue is the credibility of expert testimony, then the motives and expertise of the person giving the testimony are highly relevant.  To fail to see this is to commit a fallacy of “appeal to authority.”

Friday, May 8, 2020

Presentism and analogical language


Terms are used univocally when they are used in the same sense, as the word “bat” is in both “The baseball player swung the bat” and “The cricket player swung the bat.”  Terms are used equivocally when why are used in completely unrelated senses, as the term “bat” is in “The baseball player swung the bat” and “A bat flew in through Bruce Wayne’s window.”  The analogical use of terms is a middle ground kind of usage.  I gave an example when discussing Aristotelian realism in my recent First Things review of William Lane Craig’s book God Over All:

Friday, May 1, 2020

Joe Biden Superstar


For something lighter as you go into the weekend, have a listen to songstress Hannah Hoffman’s “You Know the Thing,” a setting to music of Joe Biden’s deep thoughts on the foundations of human rights.  This promises to become something of a new genre, given that we’ve already had The Gregory Brothers’ now-classic Biden-penned hit “Hairy Legs.”  Certainly you can take it to the bank that Biden will keep providing us with interesting lyrics.

While you’re at it, you should check out also the jazzy Ms. Hoffman’s philosophical tunes “Euthyphro,”  “Fallacy Funk,” and “The Trolley Problem.”

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The burden of proof is on those who impose burdens (Updated)


I have argued both that the lockdown was a justifiable initial reaction to the Covid-19 crisis, and that skeptics ought nevertheless to be listened to, and listened to more earnestly the longer the lockdown goes on.  Here’s one front line doctor who argues that it has gone on long enough and should be eased up.  Is he right?  Maybe, though I don’t have the expertise to answer with certainty, and I’m not addressing that question here anyway.  What I am sure of is this much: The burden of proof is not in the first place on him and people of like mind to show that the lockdown should be ended.  The burden is on defenders of the lockdown to show that it shouldn’t be.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Links for the lockdown


Thomas Osborne’s new book Aquinas’s Ethics, part of the Cambridge Elements series, is available online for free for a month.

How should a Thomist deal with a pandemic?  Robert Koons proposes some general principles, at Public Discourse.

At Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Thomas Nagel reviews Richard Swinburne’s Are We Bodies or Souls?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Kremer on classical theism


At YouTube, philosopher Elmar Kremer provides a useful multi-part introduction to the dispute between classical theism and theistic personalism, as part of the Wireless Philosophy video series.  Here are links to each of the installments:

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The lockdown’s loyal opposition


At First Things, Fr. Thomas Joseph White has defended the Covid-19 lockdown, whereas Rusty Reno has criticized it.  As I said last week, I agree with Fr. Thomas Joseph but I also believe that reason, charity, and the common good require serious engagement with skeptics like Rusty – and that this is more true, rather than less, the longer the lockdown goes on.  Meanwhile, at The Bulwark, conservative lockdown defender Jonathan V. Last tells us that he won’t link even to Fr. Thomas Joseph’s article, let alone Rusty’s.  The reason is that Fr. Thomas Joseph’s article “made matters worse, not better” by granting “legitimacy” to the idea that “there are really two sides to the issue, and that reasonable and intelligent people can disagree.”  He compares Rusty’s skepticism to that of flat-earthers and anti-vaxxers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Review of Scientism


My brief review of the anthology Scientism: Prospects and Problems, edited by Jeroen de Ridder, Rik Peels, and René van Woudenberg, appears in the December 2019 issue of Review of Metaphysics.  (The preview you see in that link leaves out only the last paragraph and a half or so of the review.)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The lesson of the Resurrection


The lesson of the Resurrection is that the significance of our bodily life and its sufferings should be neither overstated nor understated.  It is to see the middle ground between materialism and Platonism.  In our decadent sensualist age, the anti-materialist message is perhaps the more obvious one.  The secularist can see no fate worse than unfulfilled earthly ambitions, unhappy marriages, unpaid bills, poor health, and the deathbed.  And no greater good than the avoidance of such things.  Woody Allen captures the mindset well: “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.” 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Some thoughts on the COVID-19 crisis


I commend to you Fr. Thomas Joseph White’s First Things essay on the COVID-19 situation and the bishops’ response to it.  It exhibits his characteristic good sense and charity.  First Things editor Rusty Reno, with whom Fr. Thomas Joseph disagrees, exhibits his characteristic magnanimity and intellectual honesty in running it.  My sympathies are with Fr. Thomas Joseph’s views rather than Rusty’s, but I have been appalled by the nastiness of others who have responded to Rusty (who is a good man and a serious thinker and writer who deserves to be engaged with seriously).  Our situation calls for patience with one another and the calm exchange of opposing views, for the sake of the common good.  Too many have instead treated the debate over COVID-19 as an extension of hostilities that pre-existed the crisis.  This is gravely contrary to reason and charity.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Damnation denialism


Here’s a narrative we’re all by now familiar with.  Call it Narrative A:

Those who initially downplayed the dangers of COVID-19 were guilty of wishful thinking, as are those who think the crisis can be resolved either easily or soon.  This is what the experts tell us, and we should listen to them.  Even though those most at risk of death from the novel coronavirus are the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions, this is a large group.  Moreover, many people who won’t die from the virus will still suffer greatly, and even those with mild symptoms or none at all can still infect others.  Draconian measures are called for, even at the risk of massive unemployment, the undoing of people’s retirement plans, and the depletion of their savings.  Better safe than sorry.  To resist these hard truths is to be guilty of “coronavirus denialism.”

Monday, March 30, 2020

Franklin on Aristotelian realism and mathematics


At YouTube, mathematician and philosopher James Franklin, author of An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics, offers a brief introduction to the subject.  Also check out the website he and some others have devoted to Aristotelian realism, as well as Franklin’s personal website.

A public lecture on mathematics and ethics that Franklin is scheduled to give on April 2 will, in light of the COVID-19 situation, be pre-recorded and posted online.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Craig, conventionalism, and voluntarism


At his personal Facebook page and also at the Reasonable Faith Facebook page, William Lane Craig briefly comments on my First Things review of his book God Over All.  Bill says:

For our philosophically inclined readers who are interested in divine aseity and Platonism, here's a great little philosophical exercise: Where does this review by Ed Feser go wrong? (Hint: do I hold that mathematical truth is conventional? Why think I should?)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Aquinas anticipated everything


So notes a friend who sent me this image of the cover of a dissertation from the 1950s.  (No doubt the author was using the phrase in a different sense than has now become familiar.  Any guesses as to the true subject matter?)


Friday, March 20, 2020

Craig contra the truthmaker objection to presentism


Presentism holds that, in the temporal realm (that is to say, apart from eternal and aeviternal entities), only present objects and events exist.  Now, if statements about past events and objects are true, then there must be something that makes them true.  But in that case, the “truthmaker objection” to presentism holds, past objects and events must exist.  I’ve argued in previous posts that this objection is greatly overrated.  Indeed, for the reasons I gave there, I can’t myself fathom what all the fuss is about.  William Lane Craig seems to agree.  In his book God Over All (which I reviewed recently in First Things), he has occasion briefly to address the issue.  Craig writes:

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Coronavirus complications


For reasons most of which have to do directly or indirectly with the COVID-19 coronavirus situation, none of the remaining public lectures for the first half or so of the year that I had announced a couple of months ago will occur.  (There are still events planned for the latter half of the year, which I will announce closer to the time.)

Also, in light of the situation, my college, like many others, has abruptly transitioned to online teaching.  The resulting new workload promises to be as heavy as it was sudden and unexpected. 

I fully intend to keep this blog going to doomsday and beyond, but if things temporarily get a little slower here in the next couple of weeks as I adjust to this new reality, that is why!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Review of Craig’s God Over All


My review of William Lane Craig’s book God Over All: Divine Aseity and the Challenge of Platonism appears in the April 2020 issue of First Things.  You can read it online here.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

On-topic open thread (and a word on trolls)


Folks, please don’t post off-topic comments in the comboxes.  I will delete them, and any responses to them, as soon as I see them, and (since I don’t always see them immediately) sometimes that means that a long thread will develop that is destined to end up in the ether.  Remember, if your comment begins with something like “This is off topic, but…,” then it isn’t a comment you should be posting.  And remember too, there is always that remedy for concupiscence known as the open thread.  Here’s the latest.  This time, everything is on topic, from acid jazz to Thomas Szasz, from Family Guy to Strong AI, from the coronavirus to Miley Cyrus.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The other way to lose a war


Rod Dreher comments on the U.S. deal with the Taliban to withdraw, at long last, from Afghanistan.  He writes: “The Taliban whipped… the United States… We simply could not prevail.  The richest and most powerful nation in the world could not beat these SOBs.”  Well, that’s obviously not true in the usual sense of words like “whipped” and “beat.”  Suppose you effortlessly beat me to a bloody pulp and I fall to the ground, desperately panting for air and barely conscious.  You put your boot on my neck and demand that I cry “Uncle.”  I refuse, despite your repeated kicks to the gut, and after fifteen minutes or so of this you get bored and walk away.  It would be quite absurd if, wiping the blood off my face and pulling myself up to my wobbling knees, I proudly exclaim: “Did you see how I whipped that guy?”

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Agere sequitur esse and the First Way


Aquinas’s First Way is also known as the argument from motion to an Unmoved Mover.  The most natural way to read it is as an argument to the effect that things could not change at any given moment if there were no divine cause keeping the change going.  But some Thomists have read it instead as an argument to the effect that changing things could not even exist at any given moment if there were no divine cause keeping them in being.  That’s the reading I propose in my book Aquinas and my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways,” and it’s a line of argument I develop and defend in greater depth in chapter 1 of Five Proofs of the Existence of God.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Morgan on Aristotle’s Revenge


At The Imaginative Conservative, Prof. Jason Morgan kindly reviews my book Aristotle’s Revenge.  From the review:

In 456 very well-written pages… (followed by a treasure trove of a bibliography), Dr. Feser shows in Aristotle’s Revenge that, point for point, Aristotle got science right, or as right as he could given the limitations in instrumentation and communication with other researchers during his time.  Scientists since the so-called Enlightenment have been trying to detach Aristotle’s greatest insight, the telos of things, from the world around them.  But the telos is the linchpin of the material world, so without it, everything, as is apparent from most philosophy lectures one attends nowadays, or nearly any philosophy book one reads, falls apart

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The socialist state as an occasionalist god


Hobbes famously characterized his Leviathan state as a mortal god.  Here’s another theological analogy, or set of analogies, which might illuminate the differences between kinds of political and economic orders – and in particular, the differences between socialism, libertarianism, and the middle ground natural law understanding of the state.

Recall that there are three general accounts of divine causality vis-à-vis the created order: occasionalism, mere conservationism, and concurrentism (to borrow Fred Freddoso’s classification).

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Sandstad and Jansen on Aristotle’s Revenge


At the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, philosophers Petter Sandstad and Ludger Jansen review my book Aristotle’s Revenge.  From the review:

Feser’s book adds to a growing body of literature on neo-Aristotelian approaches in metaphysics and the philosophy of science.  However, Feser stands out from other analytic neo-Aristotelians with his in-depth knowledge and discussion of 20th and 21st century neo-Thomistic literature, and one can learn a lot from reading this book

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Discussion with Graham Oppy


Earlier today on Cameron Bertuzzi’s Capturing Christianity program, I had a very pleasant and fruitful live exchange with Graham Oppy.  You can watch it on YouTube.  This is the second exchange Oppy and I have had on the show.  The first was last July, and you can still watch that on YouTube as well.  In that earlier exchange we discussed my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  The book comes up in the latest exchange as well, as does Oppy’s Religious Studies article “On stage one of Feser’s ‘Aristotelian proof.’”

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Review of Kerr


My review of Gaven Kerr’s excellent book Aquinas's Way to God: The Proof in De Ente et Essentia appears in the current issue of The Thomist (Vol. 83, No. 2).

Friday, January 31, 2020

Preternatural theology


Natural theology is traditionally distinguished from revealed theology.  Natural theology is concerned with knowledge about God’s existence and nature that is available to us via the use of our natural cognitive faculties, such as by way of philosophical arguments.  It does not require an appeal to any special divine revelation, whether embodied in scripture, the teachings of a prophet backed by miracles, or what have you.  There might happen to be teachings in some source of special divine revelation that overlap with the deliverances of natural theology, but what makes something a matter of natural theology is that it can at least in principle be known apart from that.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part IV: Marx


I have never been remotely attracted to Marxism.  Its economic reductionism, vision of human life as a struggle of antagonistic classes, hostility to the family, and the hermeneutics of suspicion enshrined in its theory of ideology, are all repulsive and inhuman.  Other elements, such as the theory of surplus value and prophecies about the withering away of the state and the idyll of life under communism, are sheer tosh.  These flaws are grave and real whatever one thinks about capitalism.  Indeed, opposition to Marxism is in my view a prerequisite to being a serious critic of capitalism, for Marxism contains none of the good that is in capitalism, much of the bad that is in it, and adds grave evils of its own to boot.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Aquinas 101


The Thomistic Institute has added to the great work it is already doing by introducing Aquinas 101, “a series of free video courses… that help you to engage life’s most urgent philosophical and theological questions with the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas.”  Here are four brief and lucid examples: Fr. Dominic Legge on the problem of evil, Fr. James Brent on the principle of non-contradiction, Fr. Thomas Joseph White on the abiding relevance of Aquinas, and Fr. Gregory Maria Pine on how to read the Summa Theologiae.  Check them out and enroll today!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Upcoming talks, etc.


On February 6 on Cameron Bertuzzi’s Capturing Christianity, Graham Oppy and I will resume the debate on the existence of God that we began last July.

On February 11, I will be giving a talk at Cornell University on the topic “What is Matter?”  The event is being hosted by the Thomistic Institute and will be at 6:30 pm in the Physical Science Building, Room 120.

On February 19, I will be giving a talk at UCLA on the same topic.  This event too is being hosted by the Thomistic Institute.  Keep an eye on the Thomistic Institute website for further details.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Johnson on Aristotle’s Revenge


At Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Monte Ransome Johnson reviews my book Aristotle’s Revenge.  Prof. Johnson is an Aristotle scholar and historian of philosophy, which is relevant to understanding his review.  He says some nice things about the book, singling out my discussion of Aristotle and computationalism as “interesting” and writing:

Feser's book could be useful to those interested in defending anti-reductionist positions in various disputes in philosophy of science… Feser's impressive grasp of this anti-reductionist literature makes him a formidable polemicist, able to sift the avalanche of philosophy of science literature and find the concepts he is looking for

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Scruton’s virtues


The Guardian reports that conservative philosopher Sir Roger Scruton has died.  I vividly recall the first time I became aware of Scruton.  I was an undergraduate philosophy major in the late 1980s, and a professor had posted on the bulletin board near his office an article about Scruton, on which he’d scrawled the words: “Mrs. Thatcher’s favorite philosopher.”  It was not intended as a compliment.  But since I was a conservative as well as an aspiring philosopher, it attracted rather than repelled me.  During the many hours I spent in bookstores in those days, seeing Scruton’s name on the spine of a book became a reason instantly to pull it off the shelf and take a look.  And actually reading Scruton soon gave reason to seek out everything else he’d written.  Which, as every Scruton admirer knows, could become a full time job.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Review of Swinburne


My review of Richard Swinburne’s recent book Are We Bodies or Souls? appears in the February 2020 issue of First Things.  You can read it online.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The rationalist/empiricist false choice


I’ve often argued that contemporary philosophers too often think only within the box of alternative positions inherited from their early modern forebears, neglecting or even being ignorant of the very different ways that pre-modern philosophers would carve up the conceptual territory.  One of the chief ways this is so has to do with the rationalist/empiricist dichotomy, as filtered through Kant.  It has hobbled clear thinking not only about epistemology, but also about metaphysics.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Links for a new year


Joseph Bessette on criminal sentencing laws and retributive justice, at Public Discourse.

The Catholic Thing on the late, great Michael Uhlmann.  Requiescat in pace, Mike.


At The Spectator, Roger Scruton looks back with gratitude at an annus horribilis.

Jez Rowden’s Steely Dan: Every Album, Every Song will be released next month.  Ultimate Classic Rock on the great Eagles/Steely Dan cross-reference.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Overestimating human responsibility


One of the many pernicious aspects of modern political life is the tendency, every time something bad happens, to look for someone to blame – or, where someone is to blame, to try to extend the blame to people who can’t reasonably be held responsible.  “It’s the Republicans’ fault!” “It’s the Democrats’ fault!” “It’s the NRA’s fault!”  “It’s the environmentalists’ fault!” “It’s the government’s fault!” “It’s the corporations’ fault!” “We need new legislation!”  “We need an investigation!”

Friday, December 20, 2019

Cundy on relativity and the A-theory of time


One of the many topics treated in Aristotle’s Revenge is the relationship between Aristotelian philosophy of nature and contemporary debates in the philosophy of time.  For example, I argue that, while at least the most fundamental claims of an Aristotelian philosophy of nature might be reconciled with the B-theory of time, the most natural position for an Aristotelian to take is an A-theory, and presentism in particular.  Thus was I led to defend presentism in the book – which requires, among other things, arguing that the presentist view of time has not been refuted by relativity theory.  Nigel Cundy disagrees.  A physicist with a serious interest in and knowledge of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy, he has posted a detailed and thoughtful critique of this part of my book at his blog The Quantum Thomist.  Cundy thinks that presentism cannot be reconciled with relativity, and that other A-theories of time at least sit badly with it.  What follows is a response.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

New from Oderberg


Fans of David S. Oderberg have long been looking forward to a new book from him, and now it is here – just in time to fill Christmas stockings.  The Metaphysics of Good and Evil is out this month from Routledge.  Details can be found at Routledge’s website.  From the cover copy:

The Metaphysics of Good and Evil is the first, full-length contemporary defence, from the perspective of analytic philosophy, of the Scholastic theory of good and evil – the theory of Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and most medieval and Thomistic philosophers. Goodness is analysed as obedience to nature. Evil is analysed as the privation of goodness. Goodness, surprisingly, is found in the non-living world, but in the living world it takes on a special character. The book analyses various kinds of goodness, showing how they fit into the Scholastic theory. The privation theory of evil is given its most comprehensive contemporary defence, including an account of truthmakers for truths of privation and an analysis of how causation by privation should be understood. In the end, all evil is deviance – a departure from the goodness prescribed by a thing’s essential nature.

Science et Esprit on Aristotle’s Revenge


In the latest issue of the journal Science et Esprit (Vol. 72, Nos. 1-2), René Ardell Fehr kindly reviews my book Aristotle’s Revenge.  Judging it a “fine work,” Fehr writes:

Feser’s book attempts to support the broad Aristotelian metaphysical structure and its interpretation of modern science as the interpretation, while at the same time defending that structure from the attacks of philosophical naturalists and attacking the metaphysical assumptions of said naturalists.  It is a credit to Feser that he sees the inherent danger in such a project; throughout Aristotle’s Revenge he insists that he is not attacking modern science itself.  Feser writes: “I am not pitting philosophy of nature against physics.  I am pitting one philosophy of nature against another philosophy of nature.”