Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ross’s Thought and World

For readers interested in a detailed and rigorous contemporary defense of Aristotelian metaphysics written from a point of view informed by analytic philosophy, I have several times recommended David Oderberg’s excellent Real Essentialism. I am pleased to be able now to recommend another book as well, namely James Ross’s recent Thought and World: The Hidden Necessities. Ross’s 1992 Journal of Philosophy article “Immaterial Aspects of Thought” is in my view one of the most important papers ever written in 20th century philosophy of mind, and gets to the heart of why a naturalistic account of the mind is in principle impossible in a way other recent critics of materialism have not. Ross’s article “The Fate of the Analysts: Aristotle’s Revenge” is also important. The themes of both articles are developed at length in the new book (and the “Immaterial Aspects” paper more or less appears as chapter 6). As Bill Vallicella has said, Ross “is not easy to read, in part due to the difficulty of the matters he discusses and in part due to his own intricate and idiosyncratic mode of expression; but he is worth the effort.”


Anonymous said...

I'm about to work through a lot of Ross' work, but one thing that strikes me: Man, that guy looks like Dawkins.

the Cogitator said...

w00t! Your blog just got ___ cooler cuz you blogged on Ross! Aristotle's Revenge and all the other goodness!

You might find this amusing:

the Cogitator said...

Oh and I speak from personal experience when I say his "Immaterial Thoughts" has been instrumental in at least two "conversions" to full time philosophy as a vocation. One being my own, the other that of my friend at UCLA. I adore that essay. Ross has made quite an impact in my own writings, as search of my blog will reveal. You might like to know that Dr. M. Liccione, at Sacramentum Vitae and Philosophia Perennis (blogs) got his PhD under Ross and told me (in response to this post at the latter blog ) that Ross had convinced him of the thesis of "Immaterial" by the early 90's and it just signaled we should be blogging together, heheh. It's a shame Ross gets less "air time", much as I think has happened to Fr. Stanley Jaki. Just skim the index of any books in analytic metaphysics and history or philosophy of science, and see how (scandalously) little Ross and Jaki pop up, respectively.

the Cogitator said...

And, of course, by early 90's, I mean 1988.

Neil Parille said...

If Stanley Jaki were a little less polemical and opinionated he'd get more attention.

the Cogitator said...


Tell me how this soundds.

"If Dawkins and Dennett were less polemical and opinionated they'd get more attention."

Oh, wait. ;)

Matt Beck said...

Hello Prof. Feser,

Your blog posts and the links you provide have been a wonderful resource. I very much enjoyed reading Ross's paper. It came as a great affirmation to me, as I have argued something similar in an article of my own. I have reproduced that article on my blog for those interested in checking it out:

Meanwhile, following up on immaterial aspects of thought, I was wondering what you thought of Galen Strawson's thesis laid out in his book Consciousness and its place in Nature: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism? I wonder if "panpsychism is simply the Western intellect's attempt to grope its way through the Cartesian fog back toward the notion of substantial forms.

Anonymous said...

As an aside - one of the things which caught me most offguard in TLS (as well as in one of these Ross papers) was the suggestion that 'computational' views of mind (And even the strong AI view itself) either was Aristotilean, or only made sense on an Aristotilean view of the world.

I've always suspected that there was something seriously amiss with the comparison of minds to software running on hardware/brains.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Matt,

Yes, there's much truth in that. The strength of the Russellian approach to the mind-body problem recently explored by people like Strawson, Lockwood, and Chalmers -- an approach I once favored myself, BTW -- is that it recognizes that the modern conception of matter is even more problematic than the modern conception of mind. The trouble (IMHO) is that instead of reconsidering the rejection of hylemorphism that led to this problematic conception of matter, it merely trades one modern error (materialism) for another (a quasi-Berkeleian idealism).

(Like Lockwood, I always sought to avoid the idealist or panpsychist implications, BTW. See my article on Hayek cited below in my post on Searle. But these days I reject the entire modern conception of matter that leads to this set of problems in the first place.)

Hello Anonymous,

One of the interesting things about Ross's book is that he also seems to think that the implications of the "software" idea are Aristotelian, at least if it is meant as more than a metaphor. (See also his talk of "softwre everywhere" in his "Aristotle's revenge" article.)

Edward Feser said...

Whoops, stupid me -- I see that you caught the software reference in "Aristotle's Revenge."

the Cogitator said...

This might be of some interest to readers here, as well as to the blog host: I welcome any corrections and/or supplements to my brief treatment of the issue.


the Cogitator said...

Allan F. Randall claims in "Quantum Miracles and Immortality":

"Strong AI adopts the Aristotelian-Thomistic view of the soul, as the 'form' of a conscious being. The form of a thing is, in modern terms, the in-form-ation required to completely describe (or simulate) the thing. The formalistic conception of the soul was the most widely accepted view of the soul in the Roman Catholic Church at the end of the Middle Ages. The Christian doctrine of resurrection of the body is based on it: God can resurrect you because he is omniscient and knows your form."

As I cited him in this post: