Friday, November 21, 2014

Augustine on the immateriality of the mind

In Book 10, Chapter 10 of On the Trinity, St. Augustine argues for the immateriality of the mind.  You can find an older translation of the work online, but I’ll quote the passages I want to discuss from the McKenna translation as edited by Gareth Matthews.  Here they are:

[E]very mind knows and is certain concerning itself.  For men have doubted whether the power to live, to remember, to understand, to will, to think, to know, and to judge is due to air, to fire, or to the brain, or to the blood, or to atoms… or whether the combining or the orderly arrangement of the flesh is capable of producing these effects; one has tried to maintain this opinion, another that opinion.

On the other hand who would doubt that he lives, remembers, understands, wills, thinks, knows, and judges?  For even if he doubts, he lives; if he doubts, he remembers why he doubts; if he doubts, he understands that he doubts; if he doubts, he wishes to be certain; if he doubts, he thinks; if he doubts, he knows that he does not know; if he doubts, he judges that he ought not to consent rashly.  Whoever then doubts about anything else ought never to doubt about all of these; for if they were not, he would be unable to doubt about anything at all

Saturday, November 15, 2014

DSPT symposium papers online (Updated)

Last week’s symposium at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley was on Fr. Anselm Ramelow’s anthology God, Reason and Reality.  Some of the papers from the symposium are now available online.  In my paper, “Remarks on God, Reason and Reality,” I comment on two essays in the anthology: Fr. Ramelow’s essay on God and miracles, and Fr. Michael Dodds’ essay on God and the nature of life.  Fr. Ramelow’s symposium paper is “Three Tensions Concerning Miracles: A Response to Edward Feser.”

UPDATE 11/16: Fr. Dodds' paper "The God of Life: Response to Edward Feser" has now been posted at the DSPT website.  Also, a YouTube video of all the talks and of the Q & A that followed has been posted.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

DSPT interviews (Updated)

Back from another very pleasant and profitable visit to the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley.  Many thanks to my hosts and to everyone who attended the symposium.  The DSPT has just posted video interviews of some of the participants in the July conference on philosophy and theology.  John Searle, Linda Zagzebski, John O’Callaghan, and I are the interviewees.  You can find them here at YouTube.

Update 11/14: The DSPT will be adding new video clips weekly to its YouTube playlist.  This week an interview with Fred Freddoso has been added.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Walking the web

Bishop Athanasius Schneider is interviewed about the recent Synod on the Family.  On the now notorious interim report: “This document will remain for the future generations and for the historians a black mark which has stained the honour of the Apostolic See.” (HT: Rorate Caeli and Fr. Z

Meanwhile, as Rusty Reno and Rod Dreher report, other Catholics evidently prefer the Zeitgeist to the Heilige Geist.

Scientia Salon on everything you know about Aristotle that isn’t so.  Choice line: “While [Bertrand] Russell castigates Aristotle for not counting his wives’ teeth, it does not appear to have occurred to Russell to verify his own statement by going to the bookshelf and reading what Aristotle actually wrote.”

At The New Republic, John Gray on the closed mind of Richard Dawkins.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Voluntarism and PSR

Aquinas holds that “will follows upon intellect” (Summa Theologiae I.19.1).  He means in part that anything with an intellect has a will as well, but also that intellect is metaphysically prior to will.  Will is the power to be drawn toward what the intellect apprehends to be good, or away from what it apprehends to be bad.  Intellect is “in the driver’s seat,” then.  This is a view known as intellectualism, and it is to be contrasted with voluntarism, which makes will prior to intellect, and is associated with Scotus and Ockham.  To oversimplify, you might say that for the intellectualist, we are essentially intellects which have wills, whereas the voluntarist tendency is to regard us as essentially wills which have intellects.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Nudge nudge, wink wink

Suppose you go out on a blind date and a friend asks you how it went.  You pause and then answer flatly, with a slight smirk: “Well, I liked the restaurant.”  There is nothing in the literal meaning of the sentence you’ve uttered, considered all by itself, that states or implies anything negative about the person you went out with, or indeed anything at all about the person.  Still, given the context, you’ve said something insulting.  You’ve “sent the message” that you liked the restaurant but not the person.  Or suppose you show someone a painting and when asked what he thinks, he responds: “I like the frame.”  The sentence by itself doesn’t imply that the painting is bad, but the overall speech act certainly conveys that message all the same.  Each of these is an example of what H. P. Grice famously called an implicature, and they illustrate how what a speaker says in a communicative act ought not to be confused with what his words mean.  Obviously there is a relationship between the two, but they are not always identical.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Could a theist deny PSR?

We’ve been talking about the principle of sufficient reason (PSR).  It plays a key role in some arguments for the existence of God, which naturally gives the atheist a motivation to deny it.  But there are also theists who deny it.  Is this a coherent position?  I’m not asking whether a theist could coherently reject some versions of PSR.  Of course a theist could do so.  I reject some versions of PSR.  But could a theist reject all versions?  Could a theist reject PSR as such?   Suppose that any version of PSR worthy of the name must entail that there are no “brute facts” -- no facts that are in principle unintelligible, no facts for which there is not even in principle an explanation.  (The “in principle” here is important -- that there might be facts that our minds happen to be too limited to grasp is not in question.)  Could a theist coherently deny that?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Della Rocca on PSR

The principle of sufficient reason (PSR), in a typical Neo-Scholastic formulation, states that “there is a sufficient reason or adequate necessary objective explanation for the being of whatever is and for all attributes of any being” (Bernard Wuellner, Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy, p. 15).  I discuss and defend PSR at some length in Scholastic Metaphysics (see especially pp. 107-8 and 137-46).  Prof. Michael Della Rocca defends the principle in his excellent article “PSR,” which appeared in Philosopher’s Imprint in 2010 but which (I’m embarrassed to say) I only came across the other day.

Among the arguments for PSR I put forward in Scholastic Metaphysics are a retorsion argument to the effect that if PSR were false, we could have no reason to trust the deliverances of our cognitive faculties, including any grounds we might have for doubting or denying PSR; and an argument to the effect that a critic of PSR cannot coherently accept even the scientific explanations he does accept, unless he acknowledges that there are no brute facts and thus that PSR is true.  Della Rocca’s argument bears a family resemblance to this second line of argument.

Friday, October 3, 2014


While we’re on the subject of Steve Martin, consider the following passage from his memoir Born Standing Up.  Martin recounts the insight that played a key role in his novel approach to doing stand-up comedy:

In a college psychology class, I had read a treatise on comedy explaining that a laugh was formed when the storyteller created tension, then, with the punch line, released it... With conventional joke telling, there's a moment when the comedian delivers the punch line, and the audience knows it's the punch line, and their response ranges from polite to uproarious.  What bothered me about this formula was the nature of the laugh it inspired, a vocal acknowledgment that a joke had been told, like automatic applause at the end of a song...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Thomas Aquinas, Henry Adams, Steve Martin

In his conceptual travelogue Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres -- first distributed privately in 1904, then published in 1913 -- historian Henry Adams devoted a chapter to Thomas Aquinas.  There are oversimplifications and mistakes in it of the sort one would expect from a non-philosopher interested in putting together a compelling narrative, but some interesting things too.  Adams rightly emphasizes how deep and consequential is the difference between Aquinas’s view that knowledge of God starts with sensory experience of the natural order, and the tendency of mystics and Cartesians to look instead within the human mind itself to begin the ascent to God.  And he rightly notes how important, and also contrary to other prominent theological tendencies, is Aquinas’s affirmation of the material world.  (This is a major theme in Denys Turner’s recent book on Aquinas, about which I’ve been meaning to blog.)  On the other hand, what Adams says about Aquinas and secondary causality is not only wrong but bizarre.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

DSPT Symposium

God, Reason and Reality is a new anthology edited by Anselm Ramelow.  In addition to Fr. Ramelow, the contributors include Robert Sokolowski, Robert Spaemann, Thomas Joseph White, Lawrence Dewan, Stamatios Gerogiorgakis, John F. X. Knasas, Paul Thom, Michael Dodds, William Wainwright, and Linda Zagzebski.  The table of contents and other information about the book can be found here.

The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, CA will be hosting a symposium on the book on November 8, 2014.  The presenters will be Fr. Ramelow, Fr. Dodds, and me.  Further information can be found here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Review of Jaworski

My review of William Jaworski’s Philosophy of Mind: A Comprehensive Introduction appears in the latest issue (Vol. 88, No. 3) of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly.  You can find a preview of the review here, though unfortunately most of the article is behind a paywall.  (I also say a bit about Jaworski’s approach to hylemorphism, and related contemporary approaches, in Scholastic Metaphysics.  See especially pp. 187-89.)

Friday, September 19, 2014


The Catholic Church makes some bold claims about what can be known about God via unaided reason.  The First Vatican Council teaches:

The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason…

If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.

In Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII reaffirmed this teaching and made clear what were in his view the specific philosophical means by which this natural knowledge of God could best be articulated, and which were most in line with Catholic doctrine:

[H]uman reason by its own natural force and light can arrive at a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, Who by His providence watches over and governs the world…

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The straw man that will not die

What’s more tiresome than reading yet another brain-dead atheist attack on the “Everything has a cause” straw man?   Having to write up a response to yet another brain-dead atheist attack on the “Everything has a cause” straw man (as I did not too long ago).  It’s like being Sisyphus on a treadmill stuck in reverse.  It’s like that annoying Alanis Morissette song.  It’s like that annoying parody of the annoying Alanis Morissette song.  It’s like swimming through a sea of confusion, on a dead horse you’re flogging with a hoe in a tough row of run-on mixed metaphors.  ‘Til the clich├ęs come home.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Try a damn link

Mike in/on motion: Michael Flynn is working through the Aristotelian argument from motion at The TOF Spot, with three installments so far (here, here, and here).  (Some bonus coolness: Mike Flynn covers from Analog.)

“New Atheist” writer Victor Stenger has died.  Jeffery Jay Lowder of The Secular Outpost recounts his disagreements with Stenger. 

What was the deal with H. P. Lovecraft?  John J. Miller investigates at The Claremont Review of Books.

At Philosophy in Review, Roger Pouivet (author of After Wittgenstein, St. Thomas) reviews Robert Pasnau’s Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671.  (You can find the current issue here and then scroll down to find a PDF of the review.)