Friday, January 28, 2011

The competition

Let’s celebrate this Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas the American way – by spending money!  To that end I thought I might call attention to some recent general works on the Angelic Doctor other than my own: John Peterson, Aquinas: A New Introduction; Fergus Kerr, Thomas Aquinas: A Very Short Introduction; Stephen Loughlin, Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae: A Reader’s Guide; and Peter Eardley and Carl Still, Aquinas: A Guide for the Perplexed.  And on the horizon is Brian Davies and Eleonore Stump, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas.  The latter has a price tag worthy of the Dumb Ox, so start hoarding those pennies now.

34 comments:

Blue Devil Knight said...

Where can I find the best intro to form/matter , act/potency and such, with an eye toward metaphysics and epistemological ramifications?

Edward Feser said...

Hello BDK,

Naturally I am partial to my own book Aquinas, where you will find in chapters 2 and 4 a treatment of the issues that you are interested in. I have tried to make them as accessible as possible to someone coming to the ideas from scratch, while at the same time showing how they bear on contemporary controversies in metaphysics and philosophy of mind. (The book's subtitle "A Beginner's Guide" is a bit misleading, and was not part of the original title. The publisher added that for marketing reasons after deciding to fold it into their "Beginner's Guides" series. While I think a sharp beginner could handle it, it's actually pitched at an intermediate level.)

If you want a more in-depth and advanced treatment after getting a sense of the lay of the land from my book, the next step is to look at David Oderberg's Real Essentialism.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks! I read some of his book online and it seems like a nice overview especially in the context of contemporary analytic philosophy.

mpresley said...

For beginners? The back of mine says that it's "useful and easy to read." I agree, but that does not mean the ideas contained within are necessarily easy to understand. Maybe for some, but others may find that it takes a bit of work in order to get used to all the arguments. They are not simple, and cannot be approached in a simple way.

On the other hand, there are some intangibles. Book size is ideal; not too big, but not too small-easy to manipulate. The binding appears better than the usual run of things in the popular price category, and the paper is bright white with a natural appearing font. Chapters are well spaced.

Maybe that is what the reviewer meant by easy to read?

I did not like the idea of a gooey ball, although I'm not sure why. Also, I would have chosen another president than Bush. Kennedy was at least supposed to have been Catholic. Otherwise I would have gone with Nixon, for some reason.

My suggestion: read it once quickly, put it down for a while, and then go through it again once one has had time to reflect. The material on this site makes a good supplement I believe.

Juan Tolentino said...

I borrowed "Real Essentialism" from the library and actually found it /too/ difficult, especially for someone like me not trained in the analytic tradition (the chapters on life and speciation, however, were excellent). Perhaps something a little lower perhaps?

Domini Canes said...

@Juan Tolentino:

Oderberg develops the basic ideas of Real Essentialism in a short, accessible 2001 article. You might want to check it out.

Aloysha said...

Dear Dr. Feser,

The people @ID website Evolution News and Views issues a challenge to you to consider whether Darwinism: "really fit with the entire corpus of Thomas's thought" on Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. They have an article there for you to consider. I guess the ball is in your court now. This will be an interesting exchange.

James Drake said...

Can you recommend an inexpensive translation of the Summa Theologica itself?

hylemorphist said...

Thanks for the heads up on those books! Davies' and Stump's book looks particularly juicy. As for ID vs Darwinism vs Thomism... Meh, who cares, Darwin was a teleologist and his view of natural selection echoes Aristotle's formal and functional (a type of final causality) causality. It can be argued that Darwinism is wedded to a mechanistic view (which makes it incompatible with Thomism but compatible with ID strangely enough) or view laws from a regularist point of view instead of a necessitarian view, or is anti-essentialistic. Thing is no-one really knows what Darwinism really means these days and what kind of metaphysics it is supposed to draw from. Heck, it can even be argued that today's obsession with anti/dys/non-teleological explanations is not compatible with Darwin's views since he was a teleologist.

Evolution is just biological change and Thomism has got the necessary apparatus to explain change in terms of substantial change, accidental change and change as the reduction of potentiality to actuality etc. etc. Essentialism (metaphysical, not biological) is not incompatible with evolution or Thomism.

Who cares if Thomism is incompatible or compatible with Darwinism, Thomism is not incompatible with biological change, and that is what evolution is.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Feser, could you please make a facebook share button on your page so I may share some of your articles on facebook? Thanks! By the way, about your book on Aquinas, I mentioned it to the local (and excellent) bookstore here that they should get it on stock (I'm from Metro Manila, Philippines). I can't find it anywhere, and I don't like buying from the net. By the way, I'm also Catholic :-)

Anyway, thanks again for the consistently awesome articles you make! God bless you and your family with good health and happiness!

~ Mark

Gregory the Eremite said...

After following Dr. Feser's advice has left you penniless, here's some free stuff courtesy of your friends in York:

http://readingthesumma.blogspot.com/

George R. said...

hylemorphist:
"Darwin was a teleologist and his view of natural selection echoes Aristotle's formal and functional (a type of final causality) causality."

Darwin wasn't a teleologist. His view of natural selection doesn't echo Aristotle in any way, shape or form. And formal causality is not a type of final causality. But aside from that your statement's fine.

Anonymous said...

@hylemorphist

Ignoring other people's argument and insight that is often leveled against the New Atheists (rightly so) is exactly what held back discussion and source of laughter in this combox. Please do not descend to their level.

George R. is right, Darwin was never a teleologist and his works focused on crushing Paley's teleology and we can safely infer his reaction to Thomist's teleology if he was aware of it.

And of course your kind of stance is also examined in the article. I am not saying that I fully agree with ID, but hand waving is not the way.

Nick said...

I loved Dr. Feser's newest book. I'd like to show it to our pastor so our church can do a book study of it.

Brandon said...

Re the comments of George R. and Anonymous@4:17:

(1) Darwin was a teleologist; he explicitly set out to be and was seen by all the major Darwinians as being one. He was anti-Paleyan; but he was extending Cuvier, and it's Cuvier's limited but real account of teleology as conditions of existence that makes him a teleologist. You can only deny he's a teleologist by arbitrarily restricting the meaning of the term. James Lennox has some interesting papers discussing this.

(2) Hylemorphist didn't say that formal causality was a kind of final causality, so where that came from I don't know.

(3) We don't know what Darwin would have thought of Aquinas, but we do know what he thought of Aristotle: he liked him, famously saying both that Aristotle was one of the greatest biological observers in history and (to William Ogle, who had sent him a translation of Aristotle's Parts of Animals) that "Linnaeus and Cuvier have been my two gods, though in very different ways, but they were mere schoolboys to old Aristotle." Gotthelf had an interesting article on the subject some years back in the Journal of the History of Biology, called "Darwin on Aristotle," in which he noted that Darwin's interest in Aristotle started early and became thorough admiration by the end of his career.

Sure, Darwin wasn't an Aristotelian; by hylemorphist's argument didn't require that he was.

hylemorphist said...

I think my reply was swallowed by the spam filter so here goes again. Apologies for the repeat posts, links etc. :).

In order to understand why I would support the arguments of others as to why Darwin's view of natural selection is teleological, read the following:
1) Darwin was a Teleologist (also read the exchange between Lennox and Ghiselin)

Hylemorphist said...

2) Platonic and Aristotelian Roots of Teleological Arguments in Cosmology and Biology

Hylemorphist said...

Also check out Functions: new essays in the philosophy of psychology and biology for other interesting essays on functions and teleology

Hylemorphist said...

Sure, Darwin might have dealt a blow (some might even argue a death blow) to Platonic teleology but that is basically what the ID movement is trying to show is not true. But Darwin's teleology is not Platonic, but resembles Aristotele's teleology. From Ariew's article (2 above):

QUOTE:
How is natural selection a teleological "force"? I see remnants of two sorts of teleology operating in Darwin. The key to seeing both is within Darwin's concept of natural selection which can be summed up as follows: as a result of individuals possessing different heritable abilities striving to survive and reproduce in local environments, comes an explanation for changes in trait composition of populations through time. Traits become prevalent in populations because they are useful to organisms in their struggle to survive. Aristotle's functional teleology is preserved through the idea that an item's existence can be explained in terms of its usefulness (Lennox 1993). What makes a trait useful is that it provides certain individuals an advantage over others in their own struggle to survive and reproduce. Secondly, the concept of individual striving to survive and reproduce plays the fundamental role in Darwin's explanation for the origins of organic diversity. The same concept reminds us of Aristotle's formal teleology - the striving for self-preservation./quote

So, at least from Ariew's and Lennox's points of view (and I agree), Darwin's view of natural selection echoes Aristotle's formal and final teleology (with functional teleology being a type of final cause I would argue, not a formal cause).

Of course Darwin was no Aristotelian, but the point is that his teleological views related to natural selection is not really compatible with the materialistic-cum-mechanistic views of many of today's so-called "Darwinists".

So perhaps there is an argument that the dysteleological versions of Darwinism are incompatible with Darwin :p.

Hylemorphist said...

Oh, I see Brandon has already basically said the same... Thanks :p.

Hylemorphist said...

A recent paper that is quite interesting and relevant to musings around Darwin's teleological views:
Darwin teleologist? Design in The orchids.

(I hope this time it goes though the filter)

George R. said...

Brandon:

"Darwin was a teleologist; he explicitly set out to be and was seen by all the major Darwinians as being one. . . You can only deny he's a teleologist by arbitrarily restricting the meaning of the term."

Well I’m certainly not going to expand the meaning of the term to include someone who held the theory of natural selection. Natural selection maintains that the various species and their attributes are the result of contingent events, and I’m sorry, that just ain’t how teleology works. Teleology is the cause of contingent events, not the effect. And what’s more, it doesn’t even cause contingent events immediately, but it first causes the substances along with their attributes (i.e., the species), which in turn are the proximate causes of contigent events. Therefore, contigent events are last in the pecking order; they are completely dependent on teleology and substances. Teleology is in no way dependent on them, and substances only depend on them accidentally.

In short, a teleology that depends on contingent events is quite unintelligible.

More Brandon:

"We don't know what Darwin would have thought of Aquinas, but we do know what he thought of Aristotle: he liked him, famously saying both that Aristotle was one of the greatest biological observers in history and (to William Ogle, who had sent him a translation of Aristotle's Parts of Animals) that "Linnaeus and Cuvier have been my two gods, though in very different ways, but they were mere schoolboys to old Aristotle.""

Interesting, but not relevant.

All I said was that Darwin’s view of natural selection does not echo Aristotle, which is undeniable, especially since Aristotle explicitly rejected the same natural-selection theory of Empedocles in Book II of the Physics. I wonder what the Aristotle-worshipping Darwin thought of that.

Brandon said...

George R.,

All I said was

Mmm, no, what you said was, and I quote: "Darwin wasn't a teleologist. His view of natural selection doesn't echo Aristotle in any way, shape or form." It's nice to see that you're toning down your statement by dropping the "in any way, shape, or form" bit, though. They may be fairly slight, but there are ways, shapes, and forms of echoes.

And as the comment made perfectly clear, not all the points in the comment were addressed to you.

Brandon said...

In short, a teleology that depends on contingent events is quite unintelligible.

This statement is unintelligible; so you don't think computer programs, cars, books, etc., exhibit teleology? They obviously depend on contingent events: all artifacts do.

George R. said...

Brandon:
“This statement is unintelligible; so you don't think computer programs, cars, books, etc., exhibit teleology? They obviously depend on contingent events: all artifacts do.”

I was talking about teleology with respect to nature, not artifacts. My point was that teleology can’t depend on contingent events, because contingent events are posterior to nature, while teleology, being the cause of nature itself, is necessarily prior to it. Of course, artifacts, being posterior to nature, will depend on contingent events, as will the particular natural things that come into being.

But just an artifact exhibits a purpose that is necessarily prior to the artifact itself, and the cause of its being made, so does nature exhibit a purpose that is prior to all of nature.

Hylemorphist said...

Perhaps a big problem with Darwinism is the bait and switch with regards to natural selection. On the one hand, people see natural selection as some sort of prior cause or force (as Darwin did) that "maximizes, modifies, shapes, operates, drives, favors, maintains, pushes or adjusts" etc. and on the other hand some see it as and effect or the necessary outcome of discernible and often quantifiable causes (e.g. Will Provine and John Endler). I think the latter definition is the orthodox version of modern Darwinism and I think it is better to understand natural selection as an effect and not a prior cause.

Still, you get explanations of biological change in terms of "because of natural selection" or "as a result of natural selection" certain traits persist, as if natural selection is some prior cause to the persistence of traits. It is not, it is merely the outcome of environmental, genetic, epigenetic, metabolic etc. causes.

It should be repeatedly drummed in that natural selection is NOT a prior cause and JUST and effect or necessary outcome of discernible and often quantifiable causes. Maybe then people will start to see the bait and switch as well as start thinking in terms of causality again. That's just my 2 cent opinion anyway.

machinephilosophy said...

Eleonore Stump also has a book just called Aquinas (2003), in Routledge's Arguments of the Philosophers series, and it's available in an electronic edition (ISBN: 0203928350) as well as print (0415029600). Although I have the book, I'm still going to read Dr. Feser's book first.

MMcCue said...

Ok. already.. In the last two weeks I bought three of your books. ! My fave so far is "Last Supersitition" that is because it says what I have been thinking for years and years.. AND NOBODY listens to me ! . Especially those in my family who unpolitely tell me, "I can't take anymore of this, Grandma. It hurts my head."

Daniel Smith said...

So the "Product Description" on Amazon for Aquinas: A Guide for the Perplexed says this:

The only country in Islamic world to be formed in the name of Islam and a nuclear power, Pakistan today is struggling for its very existence and is at war with itself. Pakistan's Quagmire focuses on the insurgency in Pakistan...

I'm guessing that's a mistake?
;)

machinephilosophy said...

The mistake is that it's not Dr. Feser's book. At amazon.com type in its ISBN, 1851686908.

Daniel Smith said...

machinephilosophy: "The mistake is that it's not Dr. Feser's book."

No mistake. It's one of the books Dr. Feser linked to.

machinephilosophy said...

Sorry, I guess I misunderstood you to mean you thought that was his book, not one he merely linked to. A strange blurb for sure, for a book of that title.

Ismael said...

I have Feser's "Aquinas" and I think that is indeed very well written.

I agree that the "a beginner's guide" addition to the title certainly does not mean that it's a book 'for dummies'.

It's a book that one must ponder upon in order to assimilate the essence of Aquinas thoughts (no pun intended :P) and philosophy.

This is not surprising... a 'beginner's guide' in a complex subject such as Thomas Aquinas work can never be a breeze.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Jackson has some good articles in The Guardian regarding Thomas Aquinas. Thought you might enjoy reading them:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/thomas-jackson