Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Antony Flew (1923-2010)

Philosopher. Hume scholar. Conservative. Atheist-turned-deist. RIP. Obituaries in The Guardian, The Telegraph, and The Times. Some recollections from David Gordon and Sean Gabb.

9 comments:

feser_fan said...

Well I guess in the end after all the debating, Flew's 'conversion' of sorts to deism was sincere, even if his understanding of all the philosophy behind it may have somewhat deteriorated.

I read "There is a God" and I must say the arguments in it are not particularly compelling Dr. Feser; Flew claimed that Aristotle played a significant role in his 'conversion' but the arguments you present in TLS are much more engaging and provide much more material to consider than those in Flew's book. Flew's lifelong treatment of the existence of God as a 'scientific' question (which you do such a good job critiquing) seems odd to me.

I guess in the end I must concede that while I somewhat agree with Flew (being a Christian rather than a deist) and his 'conversion' is rather inspiring and demonstrates his character well, to me it doesn't seem to have been done for the right philosophical reasons. I can see then, why people like Dawkins or Carrier (as irritating and arrogant as they are) complain.

Crude said...

I don't think "There Is A God" was meant at all to be the sort of book TLS is. It was more a personal intellectual account of conversion rather than a rapt presentation of arguments of why someone should convert. And read that way, the book comes across as it should, to me.

Anonymous said...

Sad news, but at least he lived a long fufilling life. RIP Mr. Flew.

As for the book, I'm leaning more towards what Crude said. I don't think TIAG was meant to be a scholary assesment of his conversion, rather it's meant to play to an entry-level crowd. Still I can understand some of the backlash from the atheist community, outside of the book he still didn't really take time to give a detailed explanation of his conversion so it can be seen as rather vague, but this stuff about how he was duped by Christians or going senile I think were just ridiculous... I seriously doubt he was just name-dropping Conway's "Rediscovery of Wisdom".

Benyachov said...

Forgive me "feser_fan" but I too must agree with Crude. I've been reading some of the books flew recommended in TIAG including Conway and "The Wonder of the World" they are fantastic. As for Dawkins or Carrier I have zero sympathy for those phonies. Flew didn't believe in an afterlife so on the practical level he was no better off in a Deistic Universe then an Atheistic one. so why complain?

Anonymous said...

Flew didn't believe in an afterlife so on the practical level he was no better off in a Deistic Universe then an Atheistic one. so why complain?

A rather shallow look at the importance of truth, don't you think?

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) said...

>A rather shallow look at the importance of truth, don't you think?

I reply: No, why?

feser_fan said...

"I don't think "There Is A God" was meant at all to be the sort of book TLS is. It was more a personal intellectual account of conversion rather than a rapt presentation of arguments of why someone should convert. And read that way, the book comes across as it should, to me."

I guess that's a good point, maybe he was at the place where he didn't feel like delving into it too much anymore. I could see how after eighty years of writing papers supporting Atheism (or any position) and then changing one's mind, one might not be inclined to go back and explain why one now discounts every single argument made in all of those papers.

I read Conway's "Rediscovery of Wisdom" (the damn thing cost me 160 bucks off Amazon) and I can definitely see why Flew would have found it so compelling. I guess I was just surprised he didn't delve into that aspect more in TIAG, that's all.

Oh well, RIP Professor Flew.

Anonymous said...

Feser Fan, was Conway's book worth the $160? Everywhere I look, the book is only being offered at prices upwards of $200.

Ridiculous. You would think that a book which played a major role in the conversion one of the most famous atheists of the 20th century would be more widely available than this.

feser_fan said...

Anon 3:02-

Sadly in an economic sense, I must say no the book was not worth 160 dollars when I got it. Don't get me wrong, Conway is a genius and the book was monumental (I truly believe that as Theistic, Classical-based philosophy continues to grow and evolve in the future, Conway's book will be remembered as important a work in our tradition as, for example, Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" has been for modern philosophy). But that being said, the only reason I say it wasn't worth the cost is because by the time I bought it most of the arguments present in it had already filtered into other literature and I had read them before (Conway makes several of the same good points that Ed does in TLS for instance). But considering that Tony Flew read it shortly after its publication, I can see why he would have found it so compelling.

I think what Conway does that really gets the job done is he responds to every one of David Hume and Immanuel Kant's objections to Theism, and points out that their understanding (particularly Kant's) of the classical tradition of philosophy that extended through the middle ages was in many ways shallow or downright wrong. Kant and Hume are the standard names to rattle off when someone doesn't feel like listening to an argument for the existence of God, funny enough with almost this sort of authority complex about them (i.e. "David Hume showed that's false" without actually explaining or in any way understanding supposedly how). Conway did away with all of their objections, which is what Tony Flew said he found so convincing, and what I think every modern analytic philosopher should see.

But that being said, if you've read a lot of the contemporary Theistic literature, particularly from philosophers like Ed, then you've already read significant advances and improvements on Conway's work. Again, it's a great book to have as a sort of classic and historic work for modern, classical-based Theistic philosophy, but aside from that, it's already been improved upon.

And by the way, I think the reason it's so expensive is because Conway originally published it for a relatively small academic audience, and after Flew's "conversion" the general public was much more desperate to read it.