Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Upcoming conferences

St. Louis University will be hosting the American Catholic Philosophical Association annual meeting this year, on October 28 -30.  I’ll be presenting a paper on “The Medieval Principle of Motion and the Modern Principle of Inertia” at the session of the Society for Medieval Logic and Metaphysics.

The Franciscan University of Steubenville will be hosting a conference on the theme Can Science Inform Our Understanding of God?, on December 2-3.  Speakers include Stephen Barr, Michael Behe, William E. Carroll, Jay Richards, Alvin Plantinga, Benjamin Wiker, and me.  My paper will be on the theme “Natural Theology Must Be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature, Not Natural Science.”


Anonymous said...

"philosophy of nature"? what's that? how can philosophy accurately study the workings of the natural world?

ABS said...

Sounds like someone's already eager to hear you present your paper, Ed!

Looking forward to it.

Edward Feser said...


The philosophy of nature is the branch of metaphysics that studies the preconditions of there being an empirical world for natural science to study in the first place. Aristotle's theory of actuality and potentiality (or act and potency) is an example. In order for there to be any world of changing things at all (contrary to thinkers like Parmenides and Zeno, who deny the possibility of change) the things of our experience must be composites of potency and act. This is so whatever the specific empirical details turn out to be. Hence the philosophy of nature deals with questions that are deeper than those dealt with by physics, chemistry, biology, etc. because they are questions the answers to which any possible physics, chemistry, or biology must take for granted.

For the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, it is in these deeper truths about the natural world that natural theology -- which reasons from the natural world to God as cause of the world -- ought to be grounded.

Aquinas3000 said...

Ed, have to disagree there buddy.

The idea that the philosophy of nature is a branch of metaphysics is the Saurzian conception not the Thomistic one. However these Saurezian ideas had deeply penetrated many professedly Thomistic philosophers by the 20th century. It is Saurez that is chiefly responsible for the 'dryness' that many allege Thomism to have been. Saurez saw natural philosophy as part of metaphysics because of his incorrect notion of being as it is the object of metaphysics (i.e being as it abstracted by total formal abstraction not tertiary formal abstraction).

Natural philosophy is the study of moveable being as it is moveable. It includes cosmology (which is not the same thing as astronomy) and philosophical pyschology. The treatment of act and potency as such belongs to ontology which is part of metaphysics. Natural philosophy studies particular cases of it such as primary matter and substantial form as these are the principles of change of bodies.

Unfortunately few Thomists get this right these days. I am indebt to Dr Austin Woodbury who was one of Garrigou Lagrange's greatest (if not his greatest) student who was very alert to these distinctions (he used to go and attend the Saurzian and Scotist lectures in Rome as well given by the leading professors there so knew all the main systems inside out).

The treatment of motion and inertia for instance would belong to the study of natural philosophy (Woodbury has an excellent section on this topic in his 1040 page natural philosophy text).

Aquinas3000 said...

I made an error in my post. I should have said simply "total abstraction" not "total formal" - I was already thinking of the next part of my sentence.

david d said...

Ed just wondering if you know whether or not these lectures will be available for download at some point for those who cant make it? certainly hope so it looks fascinating

One Brow said...

I grew up about three blocks from St. Louis University, but I see the conference itself is at the Chase. Very nice hotel. It you don't mind a moderate walk, the Science Center and the skating rink are great places to visit.

I'd love to attend, but they don't seem ot offer day passes, and the admission price is just too high. Enjoy the trip.

SR said...

Why did Aristotle focus on change as that which needed explanation? Why not consider stability amidst constant change (that is -- why are there things, and not just chaos) as the initial question? (Or: why did Aristotle react to Parmenides and not Heraclitus.)

Dr. Evangelicus said...

Behe and Richards? Who let them in?

BeingItself said...

Awesome! I'll rally the troops from the the Wash U physics department and take a stroll across the park. Please leave plenty of time for Q & A.

Anonymous said...

The troops. ahahahaha.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Aquinas3000,

I'm aware of all that, but I'm using "metaphysics" in the looser sense in which it tends to be used in analytic philosophy -- and with which most readers are more likely to be familiar -- and not the narrower sense it often has in Scholastic literature. (In contemporary analytic philosophy, questions about the essences of material things, causal powers, and categorical vs. dispositional properties -- i.e. act vs. potency -- are routinely described as "metaphysical.") I was merely trying to give a brief answer to the question posed by Anonymous above, not a complete account of the different Scholastic schools and their relations to each other and to modern schools.

Intentionally offensive said...

The troops in question.

Michele Arpaia said...

I am sure we can organize something in Sydney, can't we?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,

I would be very interesting in reading something by you on the topic of your talk. In a paper I am writing, I would especially like to be able to cite whatever you have published on the topic, if anything. Is there a place in print where you have argued that natural theology should be grounded in the way the title of your talk suggests? (Any other readers of this comment, please feel free to answer if you are familiar with Dr. Feser's published work; it would be appreciated very much.) Or perhaps the talk itself will be published in some form.

That was my primary question, but I would venture to ask where else this argument has been made. I have found Maritain saying similar things in his Introduction to Philosophy, for example. (He says that the metaphysical principles upon which the Thomistic natural theological arguments rest are drawn from common sense, and that common sense trumps science as a source of knowledge such that common sense is to be favored if the two appear to conflict, and that common sense's deliverances cannot be overturned by the findings of science). Thank you very much, and best of luck with your presentations.

Aquinas3000 said...

Ok thanks Ed.

monk68 said...

Anonymous (8:49p)

Maritain discusses the relation of Philosophy of Nature to the emperiological sciences substantially in "Degrees of Knowledge"; arguing that the emperiometric and emperioschematic accounts of nature we encounter in the modern sciences presuppose fundamental metaphysical commitments which are largely taken for granted by modern physicists, chemists, and biologists in the field.

Consider for a moment the implications of the basic fact that much technical instrumentation used in the sciences are means by which to EXTEND the reach of the five senses (think microscopes and telescopes), and that the same "common" senses are depended upon to read, touch - gather - the metric data generated or reported by the most specialized instrumentation we currently employ.

To performatively use and/or extend the common five senses as the very means of carrying out scientific investigation, only to end up implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) denying some unavoidable metaphysical truth which obtains at the level of the "common" use of those same five senses [such as the real ontic unicity of being(s)encountered above the atomic or sub-atomic level of experience], based on the postulates of emperiometric models or forumlae whose very creation and interpretation presuppose the dependability of the five senses in the first place (not to mention frequent dependence upon the postulation of entities which have never been directly experienced at all - like quarks - but which MUST, ex hypothesis, exist in order to account for a model or forumla's predictive success)seems potentially self-destructive of the scientific enterprise itself.

In this regard, metaphysics should play a supervening, corrective role in alerting scientists when their ontology (usually incohate in theory-interpretation) has gone astray. And that is just one line of thought, among many, concerning the relation of modern scientific knowledge to the broader sphere of aggregate human knowledge generally.

Anyhow, the most profound writer I have encountered on this topic is Charles De Koninck, especially his dissertation work regaring the philosophy of the physicist Sir Authur Eddington, as well as De Koninck's work on indeterminism. Another more popular work would be "The Science Before Science" by physicist/philosopher Anthony Rizzi. Rizzi's work is not as tightly or elegantly argued as anything produced by Maritain or De Koninck; but it has the virtue of being a work entirely devoted to the proposition that modern scientific knowledge is actually second or third (or even fourth) order knowledge. Rizzi also does a good job showing the philosophical flaws in many of the ontic interpretations of specific modern scientific theories and models - such as the denial of causality based on "some" interpretations of quantum theory (without, of course, denying their genius and great predictive power).

IOW, the theories/models/formulae do a wonderful job explaining "how" things behave and interact. But given their often confused grasp of philosophical issues, scientists sometimes do a horiffic job of explaining "what" things are - in themselves - from an ontic POV. And this is primarily because scientists too often fail to recognize the legitimacy of differing modes of explanation. The ontic richness of the natural world extends far beyond what can be known or said about its quantitative dimension.



monk68 said...

BTW, I am attending the Science and Faith conference at Franciscan U. Looking forward to Dr. Feser's presentation. Anyone other combox folk attending?