Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kenny on TLS in TLS

Sir Anthony Kenny very kindly reviews The Last Superstition in the July 22 issue of The Times Literary Supplement.  From the review:

Edward Feser’s book The Last Superstition sets out to give a definitive death blow to all of [the New Atheists] at once.  

In this good cause he does not hesitate to use the same weapons as his atheist adversaries: tendentious paraphrase, imputation of bad faith, outright insult.  Fortunately, the book contains far more argument than invective, and in order to keep the reader’s attention Feser has no need to descend to vulgar abuse, because he has the rare and enviable gift of making philosophical argument compulsively readable.  The book fascinates because of the boldness of its metaphysical claims combined with the density of the arguments offered in their support.  One of its major merits is to present a forceful revisionist picture of the entire history of Western philosophy.

There is a popular master-narrative of the history of philosophy… Feser rightly rejects this entire story.  He tells us that abandoning Aristotelianism, as the founders of modern philosophy did, was the single greatest mistake ever made in the entire history of Western thought… It was the abandonment of Aristotelianism, he claims, that threw up the pseudo-problems that still haunt us… 

In preparation for his thesis, Feser takes the reader through the history of philosophy from the Presocratics to Aquinas.  He moves at such a steeplechase gallop that an informed reader constantly expects him to be unhorsed at some of the major fences of ancient and medieval metaphysics; but no, he keeps in the saddle despite the obstacles, and never seriously misleads the reader…

It is sometimes thought that Darwinism gave the final death blow to teleology; but that, as Feser stresses, is the opposite of the truth.  Darwinian scientists have not given up the search for final causes.  On the contrary, contemporary biologists are much more adept at discerning the functions of structures and behaviour than their ancient, medieval, or Cartesian precursors … [Darwin’s] successors propose to translate final causes into efficient causes… Feser ingeniously argues that this translation is not possible…

Feser also presents dense and plausible versions of the First and Second Ways [of Aquinas], but each of them, I believe, is ultimately fallacious… 

But Feser has serious reasons for all of his assertions.  Unlike many of the other contributors to the recent theism-atheism debate, he is always well worth arguing with.

The publisher’s blurb tells us that this book has been widely hailed as the strongest argument ever made against the New Atheists.  Having read and reviewed quite a number of other similar books, I concur with this judgment.  (The Last Superstition, in fact, is something rather more than that, and while reading it at times I felt it would have been a better book if it had never mentioned Dawkins and co at all.)  But though Feser offers decisive criticisms of the arguments for atheism, his own forceful arguments for theism, I have maintained, are less than conclusive.  The default position, after as before the debate, is surely one of agnosticism.

I am honored by and grateful for Prof. Kenny’s review.  In defense of his rejection of Aquinas’s proofs for God’s existence, Prof. Kenny refers us to arguments he has defended in his book The Five Ways and summarizes a point he defends in Aquinas on Being -- books I have profited from and which Prof. Kenny does not need me to recommend to others.  (I recommend them anyway.)  For readers who are interested, I respond to Kenny’s criticisms of Aquinas in my later book Aquinas

67 comments:

Martin said...

As well as Prof. Oderberg's reply to Kenny: 'First premise of the First Way' as part of a Festschrift for him.

P.s.
I knew I had good taste :)

I own:
2 X TLS
1 x Aquinas (pilfered have to buy another)
1 X Locke
1 X Philosophy of Mind

Looking forward to your latest book.

Perhaps Mr Cothran is right. You might do what, was it Burtt, Balfour, Whitehead wanted to do?

Godbless.

Jonathan said...

Bravo, Prof. Feser!

Mike A Robinson said...

Excellent. I found TLS’s entertaining and witty element is only surpassed by its educational component; one of my favorite quotes of suitable mockery: “…Dawkins – a writer of pop science books who evidently wouldn’t know metaphysics from Metamucil – or Vanity Fair boy Hitchens, who probably thinks metaphysics is the sort of thing people like Shirley MacLaine start babbling about when they’ve lost their box office cachet. But such ignorance is simply disgraceful in the case of Dennett and Harris, who are trained philosophers. One would never guess from reading any of the “New Atheists” (not to mention the works of countless secularist intellectuals) that the vast majority of the greatest philosophers and scientists in the history of Western civilization … including Descartes, Leibnez, Locke, Berkeley, Boyle, Newton, and on and on – have firmly believed in the existence of God, and on the basis of entirely rational arguments” (TLS, p. 4). I personally gained the most from the section “What Aquinas Didn’t Say” (pp. 75-89).

some kant said...

Yeah, it's a pretty good review.

My collection is just like Martin's, except for the one on Locke. Gotta check that one out.

Anonymous said...

Great book! Sadly not popularised well enough by the publishers.

John Farrell said...

High praise, Ed!

Will said...

Well-deserved praise, particularly Kenny's calling your arguments against atheism 'decisive'. I even ordered a copy of TLS for the library of the school at which I teach.

Has anyone read Kenny's New History of Western Philosophy ?

Aaron said...

A great review from a great philosopher!

Speaking of Anthony Kenny, I highly recommend anyone here who's interested in his criticisms of the 5 Ways to read David Oderberg's paper "Whatever is Changing is Being Changed by Something Else", which I believe is available on his website. (Oh, and I think I heard somewhere that Ed has written a thing or two about the 5 Ways, if only I could recall the names of the books...)

Bobby Bambino said...

"Looking forward to your latest book."

Latest book? I thought TLS was his latest book, Martin... is Prof Feser writing a new book?

Ismael said...

Interesting.

My compliments to you Prof. Feser and my compliments to Sir Kenny for his intellectual honesty and fair review.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations!

Untenured said...

Wait a minute wasn't this book all about sperm?

TheOFloinn said...

which I believe is available on his website

http://www.reading.ac.uk/AcaDepts/ld/Philos/dso/papers/Whatever%20is%20Changing%20is%20Being%20Changed%20by%20Something%20Else.pdf

some kant said...

Wait a minute wasn't this book all about sperm?

LOL it's got one or two paragraphs on that. Look at the section on Natural Law.

Untenured said...

@some kant:

Can't tell if you got the joke. To recap: there is a leftist legal philosopher who is pathologically obsessed with the professional pecking order in academic philosophy. He is, however, much further down in the pecking order than Sir Anthony Kenny. This review is surely a severe blow to him and his ilk. He thought he could get away with smearing this book as a bigoted rant against non-procreative sex on his high-traffic blog, because at that time Feser was relatively unknown and he knew that none of his knee-jerk leftist readers would bother to follow up. And now he looks like a complete fool, because it is apparent to anyone paying attention that TLS is not a bigoted rant, and that it is the kind of book that will motivate lots of intelligent conservative Catholics and sympathetic Christians to go into philosophy and start kicking some secular atheist ass. Rock. On.

some kant said...

Oh, I see. DAS BIGOTDDD :'(

~deal with it~

Papania said...

Untenured: "it is the kind of book that will motivate lots of intelligent conservative Catholics and sympathetic Christians to go into philosophy and start kicking some secular atheist ass. Rock. On."


Dunno about this. Most people of a conservative temperament tend to value financial security, marrying relatively young and having stable marriages, having control over their destinies (e.g. where they live), etc., and given that the job market in the humanities is currently quite horrible and that our country is rapidly swirling down the plughole of economic chaos, I'm fairly pessimistic about the idea that the shape of secular atheist academia will be significantly altered by the next generation of bright Christians.

PhilR said...

I knew this guy Feser was on the money.I told anyone who would listen....this will help the cause!

Josh said...

I'm fairly pessimistic about the idea that the shape of secular atheist academia will be significantly altered by the next generation of bright Christians.

Me too, as many believers I meet show little interest in philosophy or the reunification of Faith and Reason, and it doesn't seem Catholic education is any better on that front. But there's always hope!

Anonymous said...

@Untenured:

I take it you're referring to Leiter? If so, "rock on" yourself! It's high time that bully was exposed for the needy, partisan/ideological hack that he is.

Anonymous said...

Kenny >>> Leiter

Tap said...

Anyone looking for the full review read it here (LINK). Sir Kenny also has a "mini-review" of the book Atoms and Eden: Conversations on Religion and Science toward the end, a book whose contribution he calls negligible

Pattsce said...

I'll first confess that I do not really know who Kenny is---aside from the mentions in "Aquinas," etc. I read the Wikipedia article Prof. Feser linked, and I came across this:

"Although deeply interested in traditional Catholic teaching and continuing to attend the Catholic mass, Kenny now explicitly defines his position as an Agnostic, explaining in his What I believe both why he is not a theist and why he is not an atheist."

Keep in mind that I really have not read anything by him, specifically his "What I believe," but there is something about this that rubs me the wrong way---assuming it's true, of course.

And it's not just that he's not Catholic; that's a side issue. There's just something cowardly and possibly disrespectful? about continuing mass despite his beliefs. I don't think any Catholic has to be absolutely sure of all of his beliefs, but this seems entirely different, especially considering what follows:

"He defends the rationality of an agnostic praying to a God whose existence he doubts, stating "It surely is no more unreasonable than the act of a man adrift in the ocean, trapped in a cave, or stranded on a mountainside, who cries for help though he may never be heard or fires a signal which may never be seen."

There's something wrong, or, as I mentioned, cowardly, about throwing hail mary's with religion with nothing behind it but "I hope something's there; just in case, you know? I mean, I can't know there's Not something there, right?" It takes something like the virtue of faith and turns it into something pathetic.

Maybe I'm off, though. Has anyone read the aforementioned book, or does anyone have an opinion about this?

tolkein said...

Well, I enjoy reading TLS and learning more philosophy along the way. A question for Prof. Feser.

I'm reading "More Proofs for the existence of God" ed Robert Spitzer. I follow the science OK (the first 2 chapters) and wonder if I'm agreeing with the metaphysical arguments in the next 4 chapters, because I already believe, rather than because of the quality of the argument. What does the good prof think, please? I've also enjoyed reading JP Moreland's "Scaling the Secular City".
PS How is the new baby and your wife getting on? Children are a blessing from God.

Josh said...

Pattsce,

And it's not just that he's not Catholic; that's a side issue. There's just something cowardly and possibly disrespectful? about continuing mass despite his beliefs.

I know a guy who continues to go to his Presbyterian church simply for continuance of community with the people there; I guess I could understand that, but I see your point with Kenny. I could see a Catholic who attends mass alongside Kenny getting annoyed that a guy who doesn't really think Christ is present is "going through the motions," so to speak.

Jinzang said...

will motivate lots of intelligent conservative Catholics and sympathetic Christians to go into philosophy

That's a hard charge to lay on any man. As if Moses led the Israelites west to perish in the Sahara.

Daniel Smith said...

Kenny: "Aristotle did not believe that the world was created; for him teleology was a basic fact about the cosmos, and no extracosmic designer was needed to explain it.

"It was Aquinas who formulated the argument from purpose to design...

"Feser opts for Aquinas's view that teleology can only be explained if there is a supreme divine intelligence.

"With respect to the... position... of Aristotle, he is both too lenient and too demanding. He is too lenient in accepting Aristotle's claim for the ubiquity of teleology, too demanding in rejecting Aristotle's idea that teleology is a basic fact of the universe...

"Feser's argument is that what does not yet actually exist (for example, a house) cannot bring about an effect unless it already exists somewhere, and the only place in which it can exist is in someone's intellect (for example, the architect's). But surely this is to treat final causes as if they were efficient causes: for it is only of such causes that it is true that an effect cannot precede its cause."

I'm extremely interested Ed, in your response to Kenny's objection that you are too lenient on Aristotle - especially the part about efficient causes being the only type that must precede its effect.

How does he get that?

And how do you respond to the "too lenient" charge?

George R. said...

Kenny:
"But surely this is to treat final causes as if they were efficient causes: for it is only of such causes that it is true that an effect cannot precede its cause."

(sigh)

I sometimes think that those of us who hold that causes are necessarily prior to their effects are like those old Japanese soldiers who were still fighting WWII twenty years after it was lost.

TheOFloinn said...

Back in the far-off days, my BA degree in mathematics required that I take, inter alia, four courses in theology and four in philosophy. One was Philosophy of Man, which was taught out of Brennan's book, Thomistic Psychology.

machinephilosophy said...

Ed,
Congratulations. Impressive coming from Kenny. I'd like to see you write a book on nominalism, btw.

Anyone who does not read The Last Superstition is missing one helluva white-knuckle ride, and for most (like me) it will be the -first- time they have read a really clear (and competently stylistic) exposition of Aristotelian Thomism.

Cheers

Crude said...

Has anyone read the aforementioned book, or does anyone have an opinion about this?

I actually don't see the problem here. And I think "going through the motions" better describes a person who is doing something while A) not believing what they're doing, and B) not emotionally invested, much less hopeful, regarding what they are doing. At least given that treatment, it doesn't seem to apply to Kenny.

I'd disagree with Kenny on other points, but this sounds similar to accepting Pascal's Wager, which I admit I think is very defensible.

Anonymous said...

Too bad this review came in a bit too late! You could've put a quote from it on the cover of the paperback edition!

awatkins69 said...

Kenny's Aquinas on Being is a joke. Apparently St. Thomas isn't a good enough Fregean.

Damien S said...

Congrats Ed!

I agree TLS is a fabulous work and the compliment from Kenny is a massive bonus!

Untenured said...

@Papania:

You are right, in that most Christian conservatives tend to become adults about 10 years ahead of their secular liberal counterparts, and don't have the patience for the extended adolescence that comes with grad school. But they don't need to go into academic philosophy to have an impact on the culture. If people outside academe start informing themselves about their intellectual heritage, this cannot fail to shift the center of gravity in the culture at large.

Will said...

From Kenny's What I Believe (Continuum, 2006, p.52-3):

'If we are to attribute intelligence to any entity - limited or unlimited, cosmic or extra-cosmic - we have to take as our starting point our concept of intelligence as exhibited by human beings: we have no other concept of it. Human intelligence is displayed in the behaviour of human bodies and in the thoughts of human minds. If we reflect on the active way in which we attribute mental predicates such as "know", "believe", "think", "design", "control" to human beings, we realize the immense difficulty there is [in] applying them to a putative being which is immaterial, ubiquitous and eternal. It is not just that we do not, and cannot, know what goes on in God's mind, it is that we cannot really ascribe a mind to God at all. The language that we use to describe the contents of human minds operates within a web of links with bodily behaviour and social institutions. When we try to apply this language to an entity outside the natural world, whose scope of operation is the entire universe, this web comes to pieces, and we no longer know what we are saying.'

Now, who wants to go first?

DNW said...

Will said...

From Kenny's What I Believe (Continuum, 2006, p.52-3):

'If we are to attribute intelligence to any entity - limited or unlimited, cosmic or extra-cosmic - we have to take as our starting point our concept of intelligence as exhibited by human beings: we have no other concept of it. Human intelligence is displayed in the behaviour of human bodies and in the thoughts of human minds. If we reflect on the active way in which we attribute mental predicates such as "know", "believe", "think", "design", "control" to human beings, we realize the immense difficulty there is [in] applying them to a putative being which is immaterial, ubiquitous and eternal. It is not just that we do not, and cannot, know what goes on in God's mind, it is that we cannot really ascribe a mind to God at all. The language that we use to describe the contents of human minds operates within a web of links with bodily behaviour and social institutions. When we try to apply this language to an entity outside the natural world, whose scope of operation is the entire universe, this web comes to pieces, and we no longer know what we are saying.'

Now, who wants to go first?"


As far as I know, among Christians the Pseudo-Deni(y)s went first. But he was not I take it, an Aristotelian.

But whatever you make of it, and I couldn't make much, C.E. Rolt's introduction certainly made for interesting, or at least reflection provoking reading, ... in parts.

some kant said...

Haven't read much from the Pseudo-Denys, but he isn't precisely easy. Besides the Neoplatonist bent, his language is sometimes odd. In fact, I was reminded of certain passages from his Mystical Theology when the subject of Kenny's actual beliefs was brought up here. The Pseudo-Denys was a proponent of agnosia and probably the first to discuss the difficulty of attributing things to God in an affirmative sense:

[...] But why, you will ask, 'does the affirmative method begin from the highest attributions, and the negative method with the lowest abstractions?' The reason is because, when affirming the subsistence of That which transcends all affirmation, we necessarily start from the attributes most closely related to It and upon which the remaining affirmations depend; but when pursuing the negative method to reach That which is beyond all abstraction, we must begin by applying our negations to things which are most remote from It.

Obviously Aquinas was very well aware of this. He was a fan of apophaticism. Negative logic permeates his work.

Jinzang said...

in that most Christian conservatives tend to become adults about 10 years ahead of their secular liberal counterparts, and don't have the patience for the extended adolescence that comes with grad school.

To give credit where credit is due, it's secular liberals who built the modern Internet. They weren't getting a third degree with daddy's money at Berkley, they were putting together business proposals for venture capitalists. The stereotype of the nerd hiding is his mother's basement may be entertaining, but it's hardly accurate.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Congratulations! I hope Kenny's review gives your book the recognition it deserves.

Aquinas3000 said...

A friend of mine has written a critique of Kenny on the first way as well which can be found here:

http://www.cts.org.au/2000/thefirstway.htm

Kenny simply doesn't understand the arguments. It seems he investigated them without a sufficient understanding of them. It does not mean he is not a smart fellow, Saurez was smart too - but wrong. It does mean he isn't good at understanding Thomism however.

The English in general are not very good at philosophy - it is their common sense that saves them!

Anonymous said...

The English in general are not very good at philosophy - it is their common sense that saves them!

I know this is a sweeping generalization, but for some reason I've always associated Anglo people and their culture with empiricism.

Maybe there's some truth to it, I just don't know.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

You really need to get this book (and Aquinas and all your other books) out on Kindle and/or Nook!

awatkins69 said...

anon 8:34: That's exactly right. For one reason or another Britain has been a very empiricist nation. It's supported by the history of philosophy. Just look at Roger Bacon, Ockham, Francis Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Smith, Bentham, Mill and then later Ayer. I think the same holds in other places like economics, religion, music, etc. I guess it's just a part of their national character. We Americans have retained some of these tendencies I think, from the Revolution to today.

Aquinas3000 said...

Yes, it is a generalisation. There are some things that being in that environment means they have trouble getting their head around.

I remember reading recently the Catholic apologist Arnold Lunn. When he got to discussing the fourth way he skipped over it saying he did not understand it. That typifies the situation.

Daniel Smith said...

I thought Kenny raised an interesting objection and I'm a little curious (OK a lot curious) how a Thomist treats the Aristotelian claim that teleology is not mind-dependent?

I've read Dr. Feser's Teleology A Shopper’s Guide but it raised more questions than answers.

The conclusion I've come to is that, when it comes to teleology, Aquinas was a Platonist!

Am I in need of correction?

George R. said...

Daniel Smith,

The answer to your problem is that Aristotle never argued that teleology was not mind-dependent. The notion that he did is just an urban legend that has evidently gone viral in the monkey-see-monkey-do world of academic philosophy. Marie George, on the other hand, in her criticism of Ed’s paper argued that not only did Aristotle not deny that teleology was dependent on the divine intellect, but that he taught the exact opposite. Her argument was right on the money.

But read, also, Ed’s response to Marie George’s assertion that Aristotle taught that teleology depended on a divine intellect. It's a real jaw-dropper:

“For example, Aristotle says in the Eudemian Ethics that 'the divine is not an ordering ruler, since he needs nothing, but rather is that for the sake of which wisdom [!] gives orders.' Of course, Aristotle does take God Himself to be the ultimate end of things, but that is different from saying that He “orders them” to their end in the sense of putting the inclination towards their end into them in the first place. That it is there is, for Aristotle, just a basic fact about them given their natures.”

So let me get this straight. Aristotle argued that teleology in nature is not mind-dependent because it is caused by something called “wisdom.” Is this the argument? If so, it doesn’t seem very cogent, to say the least.

Oh, but Ed might say, “Well he’s at least saying the teleology in nature is not caused by God.” But is he? Notice that Aristotle states that God is “that for the sake of which wisdom gives orders.” But everyone here should know by now that that for the sake of which something is done is the FINAL CAUSE of it’s being done. And, as Aquinas says, the final cause is the cause of causes, and, more to the point, the cause of the causality of the efficient cause, which in this case is “wisdom.” So what Aristotle in effect was saying was, “God is the cause of wisdom’s causing the teleology found in nature.” And this is the guy modern philosophers like to believe denied that teleology depends on either God or mind.

awatkins69 said...

@Daniel Smith: Aristotle definitely held that teleology is independent of the human mind, at least as regards natural substances, though maybe not as far as human-created artifacts go. If you're interested in a more in-depth study on this I have a long dissertation you can read. You can find my e-mail by clicking my name, and I'll send it to you as a pdf attachment.

Daniel Smith said...

George R,

Thanks for that.

I'm wondering how that view is reconciled to what Ed says in the paper I linked to above:

"Aristotelian teleological realism holds that teleology or final causality is intrinsic to natural substances, and does not derive from any divine source. Aristotle did of course believe in a divine Unmoved Mover. But he thought that the existence of the Unmoved Mover followed from the fact of motion or change, not from the existence of final causes, which he regarded instead as simply a basic fact about the world. The acorn points beyond itself to the oak—not because it was made that way, but because it just is that way by nature, simply by virtue of being an acorn. It does not do this consciously, of course, since acorns are totally unconscious. The whole point of the Aristotelian view is to insist that goal-directedness does not require a mind which consciously intends the goal. Hence, pace many adherents of the Platonic approach to teleology, there is on the Aristotelian view no necessary connection between teleology and theism." (Emphasis mine)

Ed's paper was my first encounter with this take on Aristotelian teleology. I'd be interested in how others here see it as well.

Thanks!

Daniel Smith said...

awatkins69: "Aristotle definitely held that teleology is independent of the human mind"

Thanks, but I'm not talking about teleology re:the human mind, but rather teleology re:the divine mind.

Anonymous said...

If, as George claims, teleology is not independent of the divine mind, then isn't a Platonic conception of teleology closer to the truth than originally thought?

Edward Feser said...

Daniel,

Aquinas's position is a middle ground view between Aristotle and Paley. For Aristotle, the reason natural things are directed to such-and-such ends is in his view precisely because they are natural -- that is, it's their nature to be so directed, and there is nothing more that need be said.

Paley and other moderns, who dissolve the distinction between natural objects and artifacts, see teleology as no more intrinsic to natural objects than it is intrinsic to a clock. It exists only relative to the "designer's" mind, just as the function of a clock exists only relative to our minds and is in no way inherent to the metal or plastic parts of the clock.

Aquinas's position is that teleology really is intrinsic to natural things themselves, but also that natural teleology must be sustained at every instant by a divine intellect.

The view is analogous to Aquinas's view on universals, which is neither a pure Aristotelian view nor a Platonist view. For Aristotle, universals exist only in things themselves and in the finite minds which abstract them. For Plato they exist in a third realm completely apart from any mind. For Aquinas, they exist in the things themselves and as abstracted by finite minds, but they also preexist in the divine mind. That view is not exactly Aristotle's but neither is it Plato's. It's essentially an Aristotelian view moved a bit in an (Aristotelianized) Platonic direction by making God rather than a third realm the ultimate ground of universals.

Similarly, Aquinas's view of teleology is a modified Aristotelian one. Like Paley (and indeed like the Plato of the Timaeus) he does think that the divine intellect is the ultimate source of teleology, but he does not go so far as to make teleology entirely extrinsic, which would be radically un-Aristotelian and (as we'll see below) metaphysically and theologically dangerous. He still thinks it is in things by virtue of their natures. It's just that those natures can't operate unless God keeps them operating, inclination toward ends and all.

(continued below)

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

Another way to see the middle ground nature of his position is on analogy with efficient causation. For the occasionalist, God is the only true cause of things and there are no genuine secondary causes in nature. The other extreme view -- deism in effect -- is to say that things have causal power totally independent of God. Aquinas rejects both extremes: For him all causal power derives from God as first cause but natural objects still have true causal power of their own, even if it is derivative. Secondary causes are real.

Similarly, teleology really is intrinsic to things (as Aristotle says) even if it ultimately derives from God (as Paley says). Moreover, this middle ground position must be maintained on pain of collapsing into either occasionalism or deism, because final causality and efficient causality are, from a Thomistic point of view, inextricably linked. If you deny that things have intrinsic final causality -- if you say that their finality is totally extrinsic, like that of a watch -- then you are ultimately denying that they have intrinsic efficient causality and thus that they have true causal power. You've fallen into occasionalism. On the other hand, if you say that their teleology in no way depends on God, then neither does their efficient causal power, and you've fallen into deism.

There are also moral consequences. To say that the teleology of natural things is totally extrinsic to them is also to deny that they really have natures in the Aristotelian sense. Thus there is nothing in them that defines the good for them. This undermines traditional natural law theory and opens the way to an Ockhamite divine command approach to ethics and all the problems Thomists see in it. (See my post below on God and ethics.)

So, Aquinas's middle ground position -- and the rejection by Thomists of Paley's approach -- is no mere academic quibble. It has far-reaching metaphysical and theological consequences. I develop all of this at great length in a forthcoming paper on the Fifth Way which I'll announce when it is due to appear.

Daniel Smith said...

Ed,

Thank you for the detailed response.

"Aquinas's position is a middle ground view between Aristotle and Paley."

Paley? This is one of the things that confused me about your Teleology - A Shopper's Guide paper; the fact that you started off talking about Plato and suddenly made the leap to Paley. Although Paley may have been a Platonist, I don't get how Platonism leads to arguments from complexity?

"For Aristotle, universals exist only in things themselves and in the finite minds which abstract them."

That sounds a lot like the positions many atheists take today - except that they usually say that universals only exist in the finite minds that abstract them.

"For Plato they exist in a third realm completely apart from any mind."

But I thought Platonism was consistent with the idea that the "third realm" could be the divine mind? Is that not the case?

"For Aquinas, they exist in the things themselves and as abstracted by finite minds, but they also preexist in the divine mind."

I guess I'm stumbling over the term "exist" here. How can the same thing 'exist' in three distinct places? (Actually more - if you count the number of human minds where these universals exist.)

I'm starting to understand though, that the Fifth Way argues for the source of teleology and not for where it exists. Is that correct?

"I develop all of this at great length in a forthcoming paper on the Fifth Way which I'll announce when it is due to appear."

I'm really looking forward to that!

DNW said...

"Paley and other moderns, who dissolve the distinction between natural objects and artifacts ..."


Professor Feser, this is probably one of the most sociologically pregnant observations I have seen repeated here.

And you could probably write a very good and interesting book just on the intellectual process and motivations behind that conceptual move, and the implications of it with which we live now.


One being that "the null hypothesis" is that humans are - literally as near as I can decipher their meaning and definition - machines. http://www.edge.org/memberbio/rodney_a_brooks


Excuse me, I hear a spar mill crying out for oil and a vertical machining center protesting that it doesn't want to go to bed.

Phosphoros99 said...

Gnu Atheists seem only comfortable defeating straw-men and, by restricting comments ,hope to bury their heads in the sand with regard to the incoherence of their position.
They are most comfortable talking with themselves.
I've had restricted access to posting on WEIT. Individuals on the site scream about the evil of the Bible in relation to the punishnment of the Midianites, Canaanites and the use of stoning as a means of capital punishment.
In response I asked how with no God, no free-will and Game theory determined morality could anything be "simply evil" but this was not posted.
I also raised the question of the purpose of morality and why the Jews social order, which individuals at WEIT deem to be excessively evil, allowed them to survive and the Canaanites have not but this was not vetted by the moderator. To me this should be a most important question for evolutionists but apparently not so at WEIT.

Phosphoros99 said...

A correction

"I also raised the question of the purpose of morality and why the Jews social order, which individuals at WEIT deem to be excessively evil, allowed them to survive and the Canaanites have not but this was not vetted by the moderator."

I posted the above question on WEIT on 2 occassions. It was posted but not answered on the first occasion and was not vetted for posting by the moderator on the second occasion

Jonah said...

"I guess I'm stumbling over the term "exist" here. How can the same thing 'exist' in three distinct places? (Actually more - if you count the number of human minds where these universals exist.)"

Not everything that exists is limited spatially. Think of omnipresence, after all. Moreover, that essentially just is the point of abstract objects. If they do exist, they are able to exist in more places than one--in fact, it doesn't literally make much sense to say that they exist in 'more places than one', but it's almost unavoidable given that we are so used to equating existence with a specific, spatial location.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Leiter, apparently he's now trying to wreck the career of an extremely bright, up-and-coming Catholic PhD student at Princeton University for the crime of writing a paper against "gay marriage":

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/07/3585

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2011/06/chapell-on-the-latest-bit-of-anti-gay-bigotry-dressed-up-in-philosophy.html



I never knew Leiter was so low as to try to publicly shame a young, 20 something kid. Disgusting.

Phosphoros99 said...

Professor Feser,

I would love to know your thoughts on the fact that atheists, who believe that human beings are accidents of the laws of physics and chemistry,criticize biblical Jewish morality / social organization as evil when, it would seem, that the Jews may well owe their survival to said morality/social organization. The Jews have not only survived but have substantially out-performed their ancient contemporaries.
Could you also comment on how atheists determine anything to be good or evil ?

Anonymous said...

I never knew Leiter was so low as to try to publicly shame a young, 20 something kid. Disgusting.

You know bullies never pick on bigger guys...

DNW said...

Anonymous 8/2 @ 12:57 said...

" Speaking of Leiter, apparently he's now trying to wreck the career of an extremely bright, up-and-coming Catholic PhD student at Princeton University for the crime of writing a paper against 'gay marriage' ..."

I followed links to the grad student article and to Leitner's linked "rebuttal" apparently by one, Chapell.

And therein we find this interesting bit of reasoning to complement the observation already noted here the rebuttal does not even include an acknowledgement that the traditional marriage argument even merits serious consideration,


"Methodologically speaking, I find the "metaphysics first" approach to public policy rather bizarre. For example, when instituting an intellectual property regime, the core question is not "what is intellectual property?" (as if there were some pre-legal fact of the matter), but something more like, what values are at stake here and what policies/laws would best serve these values?"

Facts follow upon values apparently, especially when we are talking instituting "public policy" or law.

Thus, you should concern yourself as a citizen - as should the legal system with its energies - with the fallout and outcomes of the pseudo-conjugal squabbles of imitation marriages, as if they fall under the rubric of traditional marriages, because you should be so committed.

Values, you see. Values trump teleology.

They want, therefore, you must provide. Please don't ask why. It's a matter of community values, you see.

Daniel Smith said...

"Paley and other moderns, who dissolve the distinction between natural objects and artifacts"

I posted some thoughts on this on my blog.

Nature: God’s Artifact

I'd be open to discussion either here or there on the subject.

Daniel Smith said...

Jonah: "Not everything that exists is limited spatially. Think of omnipresence, after all. Moreover, that essentially just is the point of abstract objects. If they do exist, they are able to exist in more places than one--in fact, it doesn't literally make much sense to say that they exist in 'more places than one', but it's almost unavoidable given that we are so used to equating existence with a specific, spatial location."

I agree with you about "where" abstract objects exist. My objection didn't really raise the point I was going for - that immaterial abstract concepts such as universals are hard to talk about in terms of "existence".

I guess my question sould be rephrased: "How can we accurately know where universals exist?"

Just another mad Catholic said...

Pattsce

Even though he may be an apostate I'm glad the Kenny still goes to Mass, gives me hope for his soul.

trini said...

I do not know why this blog seems to have ground to a halt.

I would like to praise Edward Feser unstintingly. See my reviews (on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com (USA)) of Feser's The Last Superstition, and Aquinas.

For very relevant further comment from me on the issues raised in these two books, see also my amazon reviews of Anthony Kenny's Philosophy in the Modern World (Vol 4 of his history), and also Spitzer's New Proofs for the Existence of God, and Fergus Kerr's Theology after Wittgenstein, and Brian Davies's An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. My reviews strongly deprecate the reduction of modern 'philosophy' largely to language 'games' by such as Wittgenstein and AJ Ayer (going back to Frege and Russell), and the wrong-headedness of such as Dawkins and Hawking when they leave their fossils and microscopes and try to philosophize.

See my review of Hawking's The Grand Design. I am halfway through Edgar Andrews's marvellous Who Made God: Searching for a Theory of Everything, written a year or two before Hawking's The Grand Design, which (Hawking, not Feser) ludicrously claimed in the subtitle to the British edition that it would provide "New Answers to the Ultimate questions of Life", which it totally failed to do. Curiously this subtitle was omitted from the book cover of the US edition. Feser's books undercut Hawking in advance.

Why not really have fun, and 'see all my reviews' on amazon.

trini said...

I should have made the point, in my just-previous comment, that I value Feser's books (as I do make clear in my reviews of them), not only for debunking the New Atheists, but also and especially for re-validating Aristotle and Aquinas (with much stress on Aristotle's four causes and Aquinas's Five Ways.