Saturday, December 8, 2012

Review of Gazzaniga


My review of Michael Gazzaniga’s recent book Who’s In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain appears in the Fall 2012 issue of the Claremont Review of Books.

67 comments:

Christian Daru said...

Hello Dr. Feser,

I have been meaning to get Aristotle's Physics. I was wondering if you had any preference as to which translation you think to be the most useful?

Thanks.

George R. said...

Christian,
I suggest you get Aquinas's Commentary on Aristotle's Physics at Dumb Ox Books online. It has the whole text of the Physics broken up into small portions which are followed by Thomas's explanation of each portion. It's definitely the way to go.

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser, this is off-topic, but I'd like to make a request for a future post. I'd love to hear a modern Thomist's take on women. Aquinas himself made the claim, following Aristotle, that women are "misbegotten" men. He stated that men are superior at all tasks other than childbearing--his sole justification for the creation of Eve, rather than merely a second man. I'm wondering if this is also the modern view. I'd also be very interested in reading a modern Thomistic account of marriage, such as whether it's necessary according to metaphysics that the man be the breadwinner and the woman the child-rearer, or if these roles may be reversed or made more fluid. Same goes for who's "in charge". I understand that you're busy, but I think that these are important topics, particularly for a modern audience.

Tim said...

I like how when one is interested in denigrating motherhood and the traditional view of marriage they'll say something like, "in the traditional manner the woman ONLY has to bear and rear the children".

Then a comment follows on how it would be nice if they were 'allowed' to do more.


As if bearing and rearing isn't THE most important job.

Anonymous said...

rank sophist December 8, 2012 9:41 PM

John Paul II wrote reflections on marriage and the position between man and woman. His philosophical view has been labeled by the term "phenomenological Thomism". He has been criticized by some traditionalists though.

In Wojtyla's view (later became pope JP II) we cannot comprehend humanity and image of God except in its masculinity and femininity. Wojtyla doesn't dismiss the child-rearing aspect of femininity because it would derange and scorn something that is so fundamentally part of being the image of God (even if we don't beget children in heaven but he has argued why so)

I'm not any sort of specialist but gave a hint if you're interested. Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart has written something about JP II's reflections on here: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-anti-theology-of-the-body

Eduardo said...

I guess people don't see raising children as particulary important... maybe women have done the job so well we think it is just some standard simple job with nothing to it XD.

U_U but fear not my minions, now we cuck at everything we do, so in two to 3 decades the population will be so crappy that we will realize that raising children is very important... as soon as pop science and the typical political guru stop saying that you shouldn't really raise your children in your ways but in his ways, which is just ... the crappy ways.

Although being over extremely hardcore may cause people to be pretty bad too, maybe.

√Čamonn said...

@Rank Sophist: Have a look at some of work of the late J M Nolan on the topic of woman as a misbegotten man, available via http://www.morec.com/nolan.htm. Specifically the opening line of his article on this subject in The Thomist 64 (2000): 21-69 might be of interest.

"One of the commonplaces of the contemporary reading of Aristotle is the belief that he holds that "a woman is a defective male." He is also believed to hold that the female, both animal and human, is passive whereas the male is active, and that the male human embryo receives a rational soul earlier than does the female. The same positions are attributed to the heirs of his philosophy, notably Aquinas.

In point of fact, Aquinas rejects the suggestion that "a woman is a defective male" no fewer than six times."

rank sophist said...

I find it amusing that Tim thinks I'm "denigrating" something or other.

Anon,

I never said anything about "dismissing or scorning" child-rearing. I asked if it was necessary that men be breadwinners and women be child-rearers, without exception. In any case, thanks for the JPII material, although it doesn't seem to be the straight metaphysics I was hoping to get from Prof. Feser.

Eamonn,

Thanks for that material. However, it still doesn't answer all of my concerns. For example, it doesn't address this line:

"It was necessary for woman to be made, as the Scripture says, as a 'helper' to man; not, indeed, as a helpmate in other works, as some say, since man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in the work of generation."

rank sophist said...

One other thing.

I am aware that the "misbegotten" man comment results from Aquinas's metaphysics regarding act/potency and efficient/material causation. However, even though many writers point to recent scientific discoveries about reproduction to invalidate his view, it's not clear that the underlying philosophy of nature is any different.

Eduardo said...

You mean that Y modifies the body that WOULD be a female???

Anonymous said...

It must be remembered some of our views on the 'traditional' roles of men and women are more Victorian than actually traditional.

Sexuality is one of the most obvious areas where this occurs. Victorian mores tended to hold up woman as almost desexualised; it was men who were assumed to be the more sexual. Whereas, traditionally this simply wasn't the case as women were viewed as at least as sexual as men. Dorothy Sayers somewhere notes how some of the oldest, and most constant, jokes are about insatiable wives. In classical Greek culture it was considered more feminine, because weaker and less resistent to desire, to be promiscuous.

When it comes to working, women often worked in pre-Victorian/pre-Industrial times, so being solely housewives is not necessarily a part of traditional gender roles. However, their primary responsibility was still the house and children.

It is interesting, if you read the Genesis account, that man is created before male and female. This has sometimes been read as a reminder of the originally androgynous nature of humanity. A reminder, indeed, that the male and female aspects of man are ultimately united (which is one of the purposes of marriage).

One of the universal qualities of woman is passivity, not in the sense of complete slavelike obedience, but simply that a certain passivity and receptivity is in the nature of feminity. In Platonic influenced views of gender this is ultimately because the female symbolises and is linked to the substantial or material pole of existence, whereas masculinity is linked to the essential or formal aspect of existence (though this identification is not complete - as each are part of a united man formed from both).

I find it interesting that traditional gender roles are almost completely lost in the West. Even most conservatives do not try to defend them in much of a concerted or intellectual way.

Anonymous said...

Here is an interesting article on gender from Dr.Nasr. It is from an ostensibly Islamic perpsective, but Dr.Nasr must rank as one of the foremost traditionally minded philosophers alive today (with Stratford Caldecott, David Bentley Hart and perhaps Dr.Feser himself). Its underpinnings are essentially traditionally realist and Platonic (of which I would count Aristotelianism and Thomism as a branch of offspring) and is well worth a read.

http://www.studiesincomparativereligion.com/uploads/ArticlePDFs/351.pdf

"Furthermore, the difference between the two sexes cannot be only biological and physical, because in the traditional perspective the corporeal level of existence has its principle in the subtle state, the subtle in the spiritual and the spiritual in the Divine Being Itself. The difference between the sexes cannot be reduced to anatomy and biological function. There are also differences of psychology and temperament, of spiritual types and even principles within the Divine Nature which are the sources in divinis of the duality represented on the microcosmic level as male and female. God is both Absolute and Infinite. Absoluteness and Majesty, which is inseparable from it, is manifested most directly in the masculine state, and Infinity and Beauty in the feminine state. The male body itself reflects majesty, power, absoluteness, and the female body beauty, beatitude, and infinity. But these principles are also reflected in all the intermediate realms of existence which, in each type of microcosm, male and female, separate the corporeal state from the Divine Presence."

Tim Lambert said...

Then my apologies, rank.

It just seems like many times when this issue comes up that it's a matter of "women aren't 'winning the bread', they're only raising children."

What job could possibly be more fulfilling and important than raising children?
I work at JPMorgan Chase. A few years back when Chase merged with Bank One the CEO of Bank One (Jamie Dimon) and the CEO of Chase (William Harrison) were co-CEOs.
A short while later Dimon became the only CEO and Harrison left.
If I ask the employees at Chase who was the CEO along with Dimon I can assure that 99% will have no idea who William Harrison is. As soon as you leave the corporate world you're forgotten. So even at the peak, when you step down you're a fleeting memory.

But your children? They'll remember you. They'll tell the stories to their children of who you were and what you did. Your grand children, great grand children, great great grand children will likely be amazed to hear stories of you. It will maybe even help them make sense of who they are in this world.

The company you leave? At best you become a piece of trivia for the very few who could even give a damn about past employees.

Crude said...

I will say that, whatever one thinks of what a 'proper role' for a woman in a relationship is, the modern view of motherhood is pretty horrible from all angles. A baby is now a parasite, a pregnancy is now a tragedy, being a mother is now a liability.

Tim Lambert said...

Anyone read the amazon reviews for for Gazzaniga's book?

Check out this beauty:

"ike Francis Collins, Gazzaniga is a favorite of the religious conservatives and a likely Templeton prize winner; and he reasons just as well as Francis Collins and his ex-boss, George W, do.
Gazzaniga's arguments in this book only make sense to those who thought his ex-boss, Dubya, made sense.
This book, Who is in charge? and the science of the brain, is pseudo-science to try to support religion and conservatism against the clear reasoning found in books such as Sam Harris' "Free Will" book.
Just look at the list of those recommending this book : WSJ, Reason.com, Salon.com, etc. Only Faux News and Ham Rove are missing from the list. No wonder Mr. Gazzaniga was the chosen "scientific" advisor of the George W Bush administration which gained World wide shame for its obstruction of climate scientists, stem cell research, and science in general."

Posted by a: A. Alberto Sanchez "a thinking human"

He actually has "a thinking human" as part of his name.

Possibly so, but a thinking human who does what he needs to in order to prevent others from thinking on their own.

Anonymous said...

I was once in an argument with a scientistic materialist over the question of free will. One argument I put up was that our free will is a fundamental part of our experience. Therefore, it to try and debunk it based upon a long series of deductions from our experiences of the external world seems to threaten to overturn the very basis with which we gather empirical knowledge of the external world. His response was basically that as we don't have experience of the opposite of free will then this proves nothing. I was rather perplexed by this response. Obviously, my argument wasn't meant to prove that because we feel we have free will then we must have it. It was more a skeptical threat argument (obviously it is not the only, or even central, argument for free will by any means) that amounts to a brain in a vat kind of situation. I simply don't think that his response deflates this point: it seems like suggesting we can't rule out we're in the matrix no experience of a situation where we can. I wonder if anyone else has come across this argument?

Brandon said...

Rank Sophist,

In the passage you quote, the Latin seems to be much weaker than the translation you are quoting; the point in context is that, given Adam's being created first, which is assumed, why was a woman needed at all. And Aquinas points out that this can't simply be for help in general, because it can be appropriate for a man to be helper to another man; there is, however, a particular kind of help that a man cannot give to another man. It has no further implications, as far as I can see.

Translations are a serious problem on this point. I once did a study of Aquinas on precisely this point, and repeatedly found mistranslations, often quite obvious, of the relevant passages in several translations. Some of them were intelligible -- e.g., translating 'deficiens' as 'defective' when the context clearly requires that it be understood in the (also common) meaning of 'unfinished' or 'imperfectus' as 'imperfect' rather than (as it usually be translated anyway in scholastic Latin, since 'perfect' in our sense is later and derivative) 'incomplete' -- some are a bit harder to see the point of, like translating 'occasionatus' as 'misbegotten' when it clearly means something closer to 'occurring by chance' (i.e., something that occurs 'occasionally', in the older sense in which it meant that it arises only from particular details of the example). And as Eamonn notes, even Aquinas's using phrases like deficiens et occasionatus is quoting the Latin translation of Aristotle, and whenever he does he explicitly insists that this cannot be understood in any other sense than as a mere description of a biological process (since in Aristotelian biology the idea is that males and females are generated by the same process, but females result when the process breaks off sooner). I have actually come to the conclusion that the problems here are often of the modern translators reading their own issues into the text -- translations of Augustine on sex are ofen even more atrociously bad.

Aquinas on women is a very difficult question; he says many different things and (IMO) is not entirely consistent. But it's notable that, despite accepting uncritically some of the assumptions of his day, he often tones them down. To take just one example, he accepts that women should be subject to men, for instance, but also explicitly insists that this is only in the context of marriage, primarily with regard to the raising of children, and that husbands have no actual coercive authority -- they have only the right to admonish. That's not egalitarian by any means, and cannot be read as such, but it's also a more nuanced idea than would have been common in his day. This is one reason why it's difficult to pin down Aquinas's actual view on the subject -- he considers these issues only in a piecemeal way, and what he says in one place he often qualifies in another, until the qualifications mount up high enough that it's difficult to see what he could actually mean. As I suggested before, my view is that this is a point on which Aquinas is not fully coherent; but here, if you're interested, is a partial look at some of what I've found on the subject.

Anonymous said...

I found another interesting piece, this time by a traditionalist (albeit, I believe, Sedevacantist) Roman Catholic on the subject of Catholic marriage.

http://www.the-pope.com/maresayc.html

I think the fundamental issue is feminity and masculinity, and certainly not simply obedience in marriage. Indeed, I see no reason why such obedience should be either a central concern or harsh. I also think that in the past the dignity of women, and their true spiritual equality, has too often been obscured. It is simply the case that this is not remedied by modern dismissal of the true differences between men and women.

Some interesting quotes from Popes are included in that article:

From Pius XI- "This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity of a wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on the level with persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is customary not to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love."

"Again, this subjection of wife to husband in its degrees and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglects his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family. But the structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact."



Brandon, I'm not sure if I'm reading you right or not, but you do appear, in one place at least, to be using the term egalitarian, with the modern connotations of basic interchangability between the sexes, as the obvious standard for how traditional Christians should view gender and marriage. Is this a correct interpretation?

I would also hesitate against any rushed attempt to ascribe Aquinas' opinions to the opinions of his day. Aquinas, inspired and brilliant as he was, does not stand alone as the great Christian thinker of the Middle Ages. There is a mass of Christian from the Scriptures and Apostolic Fathers onwards from which he could draw, and indeed from which his time was able to draw. Therefore, that he accepted ideas of gender and sexuality current at the time is not necessarily a mark these ideas were lacking in depth and Christian truth.

Anonymous said...

The modern view of motherhood is pretty horrible from all angles.

Except, of course, from the standpoint of the mother herself. Which is the whole point. Modernity lets women be in control of motherhood rather than the other way around, which is very upsetting to traditionalists.

Eduardo said...

Which means ..... that mothers today can kill their child simply because they don't want to face the consenquences of their acts, and because their life would be easier if they kill their children???

That doesn't seem like any type of improvement, that seems more like a ticket to be reckless and have no responsibility for one's acts.

Which of course is the embodiment if society...

Crude said...

Except, of course, from the standpoint of the mother herself.

Not at all. Maybe you mean 'from the standpoint of people who disagree' - but, no duh.

Modernity lets women be in control of motherhood rather than the other way around,

Not really. Yes, I know, that's the mantra and the popular lip service paid to the modern view - but at the end of the day, the child is a parasite, getting married and having a child sans career is viewed by many as throwing one's life away, etc.

Sure, you can shove your head in the sand and somehow explain away all the newfound social and cultural pressures on women as a big step forward, to say nothing of the general downgrading of the role of mothers and fathers generally (Is a mother instrumental to raising a child? Is she essential at all? Is the child worse for not having a mother? The modern answer is 'no' on all counts.) But at the end of the day, everything I said holds. At best, you just happen to regard a baby being seen as a parasite and an inconvenience as a *good* thing.

And hey, you're welcome to that. It's merely ridiculous, along the lines of people who alternately talk about the importance of people being free to choose things of their own will, while at the same time arguing that free will is an utter delision.

Crude said...

Which means ..... that mothers today can kill their child simply because they don't want to face the consenquences of their acts, and because their life would be easier if they kill their children???

Oh, more than that.

It means fathers don't have to face their responsibility either. The only worry on their end is legal, at best - nothing to do with morality or purpose.

It means a father who says 'Either get the kid aborted or I'm leaving you' isn't really doing anything immoral. Parasite, remember. It's 'her choice', but he - and society - are entirely capable of providing their input to her choice.

And so on, and so on.

But hey, so long as the sacrament can be administered at any point in the nine months, the holy writ is being upheld and all is right in the world.

Eduardo said...

Well let's think through the nice angle!

Our worthless society will kill it's new culture and will live in a new era of the brotherhood OF MANDKIND!
OR... maybe not.

Eduardo said...

I ... err haven't thought of that.

You know it will be interesting telling children they are... well worthless and that they have no right to their life until of course society says they have... this is starting to sound like some kind of Dystopian society coming from some sci-fi book =_='

Anonymous said...


"Except, of course, from the standpoint of the mother herself."

Not at all. It is simply the case that it is the nature of motherhood not to want to slaughter your children. If a modern mother feels differently then it is she who has lost her grasp on what it means to be a mother and a woman, to a degree at least.

To be in control, to be autonomous, to be free is nothing unless we use our liberty properply. Like Burke I think it best to wait to see how someone uses their freedom before I congratulate them on being free.

rank sophist said...

Tim,

It just seems like many times when this issue comes up that it's a matter of "women aren't 'winning the bread', they're only raising children."

That wasn't my concern. In fact, I'd say that child-rearing is the more difficult of the two roles. I have nothing but respect for good mothers, and I hate the view you're quoting as much as you do. It's done serious damage.

My question related to the possibility of men and women switching roles in a marriage on a limited or permanent basis, if both agreed that it was the best course of action. If the wife already has a good job and the husband is naturally good with kids, for example, is it still necessary that they toss all of this aside and go with the traditional family unit?

The company you leave? At best you become a piece of trivia for the very few who could even give a damn about past employees.

I agree with you, on that point. But, as some of the other posters here probably remember, I'm no proponent of big business myself. The woman could be a journalist, maybe, or a teacher--or a musician. Something that would take up enough of her time that the husband would need to take on a child-rearing role, unless they went the (very wrong) route of babysitters and nannies.

Brandon,

I really appreciate the detailed response. It's a relief that the original Latin doesn't present the blatantly sexist view that the New Advent translation does, but your blog post shows other, similar problems in Aquinas's thought. I was curious if Thomism held to the idea that women were "less rational" and "more emotional", or that men were superior in general--and it seems that it did, at least in its earliest form. This is another point I'd like Prof. Feser to clarify, if he has time in the future.

Also, on a slightly related note, I was a bit baffled to see that Aquinas tossed aside the patristic interpretation of Gen 2:18 and re-envisioned it as purely sexual. I understand that this fits with a few of his other commitments, but still.

seanrobsville said...

@ Anonymous
Regarding scientific materialism and free will:
There is no material basis or mechanism for free will and never can be.

If any mechanism for ethical choices were shown to exist, then the will would be deterministic and predictable from purely physical causes - "Not guilty, your honor! My genes/hormones/neural hard-wiring made me into a mass-murderer!"

Free will, to be truly free, must be a mystery beyond the capability of physical, logical and procedural analysis and understanding.

Brandon said...

Also, on a slightly related note, I was a bit baffled to see that Aquinas tossed aside the patristic interpretation of Gen 2:18 and re-envisioned it as purely sexual. I understand that this fits with a few of his other commitments, but still.

Well, I am not sure he's reinterpreting Genesis 2:18 itself as purely sexual, in the sense that women can only be helpers in generation; rather, he's considering the specific question of why it is that women in particular are created as helpers, rather than more men, and it is because there is one way they help that cannot be done by men at all. So it's not really a full discussion of Genesis 2:18 -- I don't think Aquinas really has any such discussion; another example of the way in which this whole area is underdeveloped in Aquinas. But it does seem that Aquinas might not have agreed with the Stein/Wojtyla interpretation.

Brandon said...

Anonymous,

Yes, I am an egalitarian about the sexes. Marriage is a distinct issue, since I do think there are often reasonable asymmetries in role, and not just biology, arising from the difference between fatherhood and motherhood, but for most practical purposes I am in fact egalitarian there, too: The single most important fact on the table is the equality of men and women with respect to the image of God; everything else is secondary.

Anonymous said...

Brandon,

Well, everyone should be an egalitarian when it comes to spiritual dignity and equality before God. Equality here is a complex topic though.

I think that the view decision of traditional Christian is that, besides this basic spiritual equality, there is a fundamental difference between men and women such as that alluded to by the quote from Dr.Nasr above.

How do you argue for your position? Do you rely on traditional Chrisitan accounts or do you use modernist perspectives?

Should there be female priests? Surely there should if there is no fundamental difference between male and female?

rank sophist said...

Anon,

To my knowledge, the issue of female priests has nothing to do with sex--it's the result of tradition. The disciples were men, and their successors were men. Women in the ancient church had a fairly serious role aside from that. Consider the female followers of Jesus, or the early church position (now lost) of deaconess.

Anonymous said...

Well, I do not think that there is anything in the message of Christ, especially anything so central as who are the disciples and priests, that is simply a matter of arbitrary convention. All such traditions have a meaning. After all, in today's society, to simply say that there are no women priests because it has always been that way has little chance of sustained defence. I believe there are already Catholic Priests in some places, Austria for example, trying to ordain women.

The point is not that women do not have an important role in the Church. Women are half of humanity. The point is more that traditionally it has been thought different to men. One way in which the priestcraft was understood was, as St.Paul, puts it, "Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ." What is being said he is essentially, as it has been understood, is, amongst other things, the nature of masculinity and feminity. The husband is essentially a type of Christ and the wife a type of the Church. This is one reason, and the eternal spiritual verities represented by the sexes, why it is more the role of men to be priests, to form the sacramental chain, and for women not to.

As the Apostle to the Gentiles puts it:

“For the Church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all thing. Husbands love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it: that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life. …so ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself… This is a great sacrament.”

We are all human of course, the identification of each sex with different spiritual qualities is not complete. Women may have majesty and authority as well as men, and may certainly take an important role in the Church and Christian life, but still the more normal qualities of woman are beauty and passivity.

Anonymous said...

I also think what must be at the centre of all these debates is a truth that Chesterton expresses eloquently when he says, "Nothing is important except the fate of the soul".

Too often the discussion of gender and women is too focused on the world and on a worldly orientated view of what is worthwhile in life. So, sexual license, held up as freedom, is preached as if worldy pleasures and experiences were the true end of life.

Brandon said...

Anonymous,

Taking your points in order:

(1) Equality is not a complex topic at all; it is as straightforward as can be.

(2) There are both philosophical and theological reasons for the egalitarian point of view, yes. I have no idea what you mean by 'modernist perspectives' on the subject.

(3) There are female priests already; that's the whole point of Baptism and Confirmation, to seal believers with a priestly seal, because the other sacraments are so holy that only a people consecrated as priests can even receive them. This priesthood is quite explicit in both Scripture and the teaching of the Church and is not some legal fiction.

The reason we don't give women Orders has nothing to do with priesthood as such, nor does it have anything whatsoever to do with any kind of inequality between men and women, but solely has to do with the peculiar needs of sacramental symbolism and in particular with what the Church can establish definitively and without doubt about the apostolic succession.

(4) I think you are reading into St. Paul things that go way beyond what the Apostle is actually arguing in context. It's salutary on points like this to read St. Augustine's related discussion in De Trinitate of Paul's comments about the image of God. Augustine does an excellent job of showing that any reading of Paul on this kind of subject has to be sensitive to context, to nuances and allusions in the Apostle's discussion, and to the place of the passage in relation to the whole of Scripture. And he also does an excellent job showing that while everything the Apostle says teaches an important lesson about eternal things, it is a mistake to ignore the fact that he is teaching those lessons in terms his immediate audience could understand, and not all those terms have an essential and necessary connection to the eternal things he was using them to teach.

rank sophist said...

After all, in today's society, to simply say that there are no women priests because it has always been that way has little chance of sustained defence.

That doesn't mean there's a deeper reason. Plus, I never said that tradition should be changed. Many aspects of the Catholic and Orthodox churches are maintained for the sake of tradition alone. Even the Bible is placed in the context of this tradition, defying the Protestant urge to read it in isolation. The point of Christianity is this tradition and the events that have occurred within it. So, when I say that the lack of female priests is a matter of "tradition", don't think I'm trying to make the issue seem ephemeral.

Anonymous said...

(1.) We have already seen that it is complex. Neither of us disputes the ultimate spiritual equality and dignity of men and women. To say it is simple then you must simply be ignoring any other differences, which would seem to beg the question.

(2.) I would like to hear your reasons; but it is important you do not conflate the basic spiritual equality and dignity of the sexes with other forms of differences or lack of difference without showing satisfactorily why you have done this.

(3.) Can you explain to what you mean by sacramental symbolism here? What is a sacrament and what is a symbol? What pecular sacramental symbolism is being denoted, what does it involve, and where it come from?

(4.) What would the relations of those passages to the whole of Scripture be? Surely such a challenge invites us to ask two important questions: how Scripture should be read and how the writers of Scripture, especially those of the New Testament and St.Paul thought and saw the world?

Anonymous said...

Rank Sophist,

Again, I would question whether the way in which Christ, the Apostles, and the early Church approached the world that they would establish traditions based on arbitrary convetion.

How was sacred tradition thought of in the past? Was it thought of simply as convention or custom, immemorial usage. Or rather was it thought of as inspired and positive, a sort of prolongation of revelation?

Anonymous said...

I should perhaps add an interesting way I once heard sacred tradition described. It was a sort of ripple in a pond. The original revelation is the the centre of the ripples and the sacred tradition was ripples themselves. If such a figure was correct, it would show a definite relationship of sacred tradition to Christ's message and count against any merely conventional framing of that tradition.

Brandon said...

(1) Differences do not of themselves complicate questions of equality at all; they either are not relevant to those questions or they eliminate equality entirely by introducing a difference relevant to equality, which is to say, an inequality. That is all.

(2) No such conflation is required, again, because mere difference has no relevance to the question.

The reasons are rather extensive, and I really don't know enough about you, Anonymous, to make a selection that would make much sense in the narrow confines of a comment box.

(3) I'm a little puzzled by your questions here, and I suppose I was assuming from your comments about women priests that you were Catholic. Sacraments are themselves signs and symbols by nature and therefore in order to stay the same have to maintain their essential significations and symbolism; they can't be arbitrarily changed, and can be modified at all only in conformity with their underlying principles and only to the extent that this is clearly in the spirit of the original institution and the long custom of the Church.

The only purpose of the ordained priesthood in the Catholic Church, and the only difference between a Catholic priest and any lay Catholic, is that the Catholic priest is specifically consecrated by a special sacrament, Holy Orders or Ordination, to carry on the Apostolic sacramental ministry, i.e., to be a successor of the Apostles in sacramental ministry. Historically, this has always been something given only to men, and the official position of the Catholic Church is that it cannot guarantee that any change on this point would not violate the spirit of the original institution and the custom of the Church, and therefore could not make the change even if there were other good reasons for doing so.

Anything a priest does, however, that is not done in this very specific capacity can in principle be done by any lay person, including women, although in practice some of them (like preaching in certain contexts) are sometimes done only by priests in order to avoid confusion about the sacramental ministry. A lay woman in the Catholic Church can in principle exercise all the functions of, say, a Baptist minister -- and while it's rare, it does happen, since lay persons, including women, are sometimes made pastors of Catholic Churches in areas with a severe shortage of priests.

(4) Augustine, again, is a better source than myself on this point, and does more than just talk about it in the abstract, since he actually provides an extended example of how to do it.

Anonymous said...

For (1) and (2) I think that we should probably have defined better what exactly we were discussing. Equality can mean many things. We are, I believe, discussing the whole issue of the nature and role of the sexes. Equality can mean their spiritual equality and dignity alone, but it can also, as moderns tend to use it, also refer to a basic interchangability (whether in the household or the workplace or society in general). However, I would say that equal but different is more true of these differing roles. We both agree in the essential spiritual equality of the sexes. What is your view of the difference between the sexes?

The looming question which has been left out of the discussion so far is why, from the traditional Christian point of view, there are two sexes in humanity. Surely this so fundamental a division of humanity by God must be based upon quite meaningful differences. The Scriptures, and the basic mindset of traditional Christianity, would seem to reject the idea that the differences are merely biological.

Indeed, we can add to this evidence a near-universal belief in signifanctly different attributes and roles for the two sexes, and as Dr.Feser himself has written "Since human nature is, on this view [the traditional realist view], objective and universal, long-standing moral and cultural traditions are bound to reflect it and thus have a presumption in their favor."

(3) I'm a highly disatisfied high church Anglican thinking of joining an Orthodox Church. My questions were more Socraticif I can be so bold, meant to stimulate our thoughts on this subject.

I once heard a Catholic say that a sacrament symbolises what it does and does what it symbolises. Would you agree with this?

What, in your view, goes to make the sign and symbol of the sacrament? Is there qualities in the very nature of the things that are used as symbols that make them symbols (wine for example)? Or is it just the conventional usage that gives them any sacramental power?

In particular, why did Christ choose men only as his Apostles? and why did the Church carry on this tradition? It doesn't seem like a trivial aspect of the Sacred Tradition, are we really saying it was merely conventional? That Christ just happened to stumble on 12 worthy men before any worthy women or that it was simply the society of the times? Or is there a deeper reason?

(4) What about Dante, as a source. Dante famously gives his four levels of intepreting Scripture, which are a summation of the ways many authorities had often read Scripture before him. I certainly respect St.Augustine, but I think it would take more than reading him to come to a conclusion about just how to read Scripture.

This is important, as it is clear, for example, that many Protestants take little time to think how those writing the Scriptures actually thought and lived. That they were, for example, essentially realists, men who, to quote C.S Lewis, "believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt", is not even thought of by many Protestants in their interpretation of Scripture, despite their keeness the bible alone as a guide.

Anonymous said...

I think it may be useful to ask whether you agree with the quotes I gave above: those from Dr.Nasr and Pius XI.

From Dr.Nasr:

http://www.studiesincomparativereligion.com/uploads/ArticlePDFs/351.pdf

"Furthermore, the difference between the two sexes cannot be only biological and physical, because in the traditional perspective the corporeal level of existence has its principle in the subtle state, the subtle in the spiritual and the spiritual in the Divine Being Itself. The difference between the sexes cannot be reduced to anatomy and biological function. There are also differences of psychology and temperament, of spiritual types and even principles within the Divine Nature which are the sources in divinis of the duality represented on the microcosmic level as male and female. God is both Absolute and Infinite. Absoluteness and Majesty, which is inseparable from it, is manifested most directly in the masculine state, and Infinity and Beauty in the feminine state. The male body itself reflects majesty, power, absoluteness, and the female body beauty, beatitude, and infinity. But these principles are also reflected in all the intermediate realms of existence which, in each type of microcosm, male and female, separate the corporeal state from the Divine Presence."

http://www.the-pope.com/maresayc.html


From Pius XI- "This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity of a wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on the level with persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is customary not to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love."

"Again, this subjection of wife to husband in its degrees and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglects his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family. But the structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact."

Chris said...

Anonymous,

I noticed that you quoted Seyyed Nasr- is your perspective rooted in the Perennialist school of Guenon, Coomaraswamy, and Schuon?

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the off topic:

I LOLed yesterday. In the Japanese animated film "From up on Poppy Hill" a coming of age story which deals with the issue of children and fatherhood, two side characters were having an argument over a girl. The Nietzsche studying high school philosophy club president told a chemistry club member that they were only a bunch of "alchemists" while they retorted that "at least they did experiments while there was no evidence for his position".

:-)

Eduardo said...

u_u oh it is okay Nietzsche, couldn't care less for evidence since everything is utterly meaningless and worthless... I mean why would care if the do or don't do experiments!

You shouldn't ... it is a waste of time... not that this argument has any value TOO!

Although the Chemistry member XD does make an interesting point... although doing experiments is not necessarily having evidence for anything.

Know what I am lookins way too deep into this.

Anonymous said...

Chris,

My position is rooted in Platonism and traditional Christianity, though I can claim no expertise in either of these fields. I'm still a novice, as is evident.

The Perennialists have a perspective essentially rooted in Platonism (with additions, and with further influences from Sufism and Advaita Vedanta). They, especially Schuon, are phenemonal metaphysicians and philosophers. They have certainly influenced me, especially in my understanding of symbolism (although in the main they simply bring together and articulate the Platonic and related viewpoints). I have a respect for much in the great religious traditions of the world, and I'd say I wasn't an exclusivist, but I leave what the Perennialists refer to as the transcendent unity of religions aside: I have my tradition of Christianity and largely focus on that.

Moi said...

Dr. Feser, have you ever considered adding a subscription box to your blog so we can follow you by email? Getting your posts delivered to my inbox would be epic :D

Anonymous said...

The contemporary notion of a "performative utterance" can help explain what sacraments are -- essentially the same idea is found in Aquinas, though he doesn't use the phrase.

A performative utterance is a saying which is also a doing, and the doing is done by the very saying. For instance, when I say, "I promise to meet you at noon", not only have I said something, "I will meet you at noon", but the very saying of the whole expression *binds me* morally to do it. Signing a contract functions in the same way -- your signature *says* you are doing the signing and the signing binds you legally to do what the contract says.

As to the sacraments, they involve saying something plus doing something as a sign (e.g., "I baptize thee in the name . . . " plus pouring water on the person's head as a sign of the cleansing the soul. The words plus the physical act of pouring *do something* to the person's soul: it makes the person a sibling of Christ and a Chrisitan.

According to St. Thomas the sacraments are signs which do something, and it would be appropriate, I think, to call them performative utterances too. He was waaaay ahead of his time. The Church calls them "efficacious signs", meaning that the signs cause something.

The linguistic analyst who developed the idea was John Austin in "How to Do Things with Words". Great little book.

Anonymous said...

In that case is there anything objective in the media through which the signs operate? Is there a particular meaning or relationship that means water is used for baptism?

What is being performed through a sacrament? Who performs it, through what, and for what purpose?

Is not a sacrament transformative? Does it not mark a transformation and a relationship?

Anonymous said...

I don't like modernism and its consequences on several fronts but this right here:

I will say that, whatever one thinks of what a 'proper role' for a woman in a relationship is, the modern view of motherhood is pretty horrible from all angles. A baby is now a parasite, a pregnancy is now a tragedy, being a mother is now a liability.

Is just a ridiculous generalization. The vast majority of women I know today, who are by no means traditional, do not think like that at all. In fact, I've only run into a handful of individuals (males and females) that actually eschewed parenthood.

Anonymous said...

Eduardo,

oh it is okay Nietzsche, couldn't care less for evidence since everything is utterly meaningless and worthless... I mean why would care if the do or don't do experiments!

You'd be surprised just how useful nietzsche is in arguing again materialists/atheists. You can pretty much refute them simply by referencing him.

And don't forget, he might have proclaimed that it's all meaningless, but that didn't stop him from "constructing" a false sense of meaning with his will to power proclamations. After all, "the world is the will to power and nothing besides"... In case you're out of time, just point to the meaningless materialist that all his "scientific" efforts are reduced to are a power struggle and show him that they are no different than claiming that Native American totems have magical powers. When he starts preaching about the success of science (because that's the only thing they can appeal to) point to the fact that scientific pragmatism is itself a will to power. Namely, human will dominating the workings of nature.

Lock them into this inescapable loophole and watch them self-immolate. ;-)

Another Anon said...

"The vast majority of women I know today, who are by no means traditional, do not think like that at all. In fact, I've only run into a handful of individuals (males and females) that actually eschewed parenthood."

Do you believe that there is a moral obligation to care for one's offspring?

Crude said...

Is just a ridiculous generalization. The vast majority of women I know today, who are by no means traditional, do not think like that at all. In fact, I've only run into a handful of individuals (males and females) that actually eschewed parenthood.

I don't think most people would put it so bluntly, no. Nor do I think their attitudes are without complexities. You don't have to literally say 'I eschew parenthood!' to eschew parenthood, or to have attitudes that ultimately cash out in ways identical or close to the stark way I put it.

Eduardo said...

Anon

To be quite sincere, I find the little I know about Nietzche quite amazing in terms of coherence with certain principles I believed atheists had. I sort of realized that there was more in there XD, there were other options in atheism then I thought in the beginning but I was so used to listening to the same thing over and over again (I can thank Dawkins and Co. for that) that I concluded that wow, being atheist is just following what Nietzche say sort of.

Now the funny thing is ... yeah I reached that conclusion more or less XD! Actually was reading this blog with one guy where he realized how worthless life is in his worldview that he said it felt bad to think that everything has no value at all and that maybe Hitler was justified in his acts! But it is okay he found value by going to the cemetery and watching stuff happen before his eyes and concluded through brain delusions that Death is a BLISS and we should be happy and should look forward to it!!!! even though after death we don't feel a thing, you should look forward to not feeling a thing at all! ... man seriously I felt bad for him, usually I am the depressive guy but he was just nutz xD!

I also loved when he just quoted Epicurus, which pretty much said CARPE DIEM, don't worry about death since it is not here YET! I mean I do understand the idea to enjoy until the end, if that had any value to it but it doesn't! Is just clinging to something that is totally meaningless and completely devoid of any reason to do it! This reminds of the guy in that movie that they had to restart the Earth's Core and before he dies he starts recording his thoughts, then he realizes that nobody would listen to them, because the recorder would be lost, he starts laughing when he realizes how irrational was his decision ... and then he died! the recording died too U_U!

btw lol poor people, self destroy them XD with their own ideas is just cruel XD.

Eduardo said...

Wait they eschewed so they ran away from parenthood, isn't this sort of agreeing to that generalization?

Anonymous said...

In that case is there anything objective in the media through which the signs operate? Is there a particular meaning or relationship that means water is used for baptism?

Moi --

I was speaking of signs in general -- there is no necessity for a sign insofar as it is a sign to be like what it signifies in any way. Sometime, however, it seems to be useful for a sign to be similar to what it signifies.

My field is philosophy, not theology. You'll have to ask some theologians about any similarities among the physical sign-elements of the sacraments, their meanings and their effects. I can see, however, that metaphysically sacraments are quite complex..


Eduardo said...

Anon(Philosopher)

I Think you confused stuff there, Moi didn't say hat XD was the other ANON

Anonymous said...

I should say I used the term sign carelessly. I meant a symbol in the traditional sense, not a sign in the sense of post-modern semiotics or whatever.

In my opinion the theology of the Icon is representative of the traditional doctrine of the symbol. As Holy Basil says of Icons, ""The honor shown the image passes over to the archetype". Christ's own identification of the thing's of Caesar with Caesar through Caesar's image is the prototype of this Christian symbolism. In the theology of the Icons there is nothing arbitrary about the symbolism used. A sign is not simply a sign by convention in this field.

Anonymous said...

Do you believe that there is a moral obligation to care for one's offspring?

Of course.

Anonymous said...

Eduardo,

Few have taken atheism to its logical conclusion. One of which was nietzsche. Well, he actually took it as far as he could, yet by the end, still desired a re-evaluation of values (in other words created a new atheistic religion - based on Dionysian impulses) so not even he had the guts to face the real face of nihilism. The endless meaninglessness. The other one I've seen take atheism close to its logical conclusion is alex rosenberg. That's about it... maybe camus too, maybe...

Compound that with the fact when you're interacting with atheists, especially militant ones, it's always over a debate pertaining to God, Ultimate Reality, etc, and the irony is staggering. Excuse my French but why the fuck in this abyss of meaninglessness does the atheist want to assert his beliefs in the first place? What meaning, purpose of significance does it have (beyond a pompous preaching underpinned by an empty will to power)? Absolutely none! That's the comical irony of a debating atheist. Not only is he preaching a lie the act of his very preaching is devoid of all and any meaning. If I were an atheist (Thank God, I am not) I would never debate anyone about it, simply because debating it is a form of stupidity in itself.

Wait they eschewed so they ran away from parenthood, isn't this sort of agreeing to that generalization?

Yes, but if you noticed, I only said only a handful did that. In other words, most do not. Hence why the generalization fails.

Eduardo said...

I sincerely thought about being an atheist, I mean for realz I am not talking about this stupid watered down version of atheism we have created through time, I am talking about being true to atheism as my choice and follow it to the end... like Nietzche XD.

But the atheist in me is such an asshole U_U I just couldn't live with him XD!

Actually was the utter meaningless that made me doubt the atheistic choice, I knew exactly where I was going with it all. I mean I still think the atheistic world-view isn't incoherent but it is so fucked up, that it is hard to absorve it all and pretend it was nothing XD.

What I find funny about certain atheists, the Dawkinius type, is how they preach about not deluding ourselves, which I quite sincerely think it is a nice virtue or moral standard to live by, but at the same time throw all morality, all meaning, all value out in the trash can and follow a morality they created out fo nowhere in their heads and GO: YOU MUST FOLLOW MY WAYS!
even though his ways are just as bullshit as your old ways, so much for the virtue of not deluding oneself XD
(just an brain delusion to make you feel nice in the morning XD)
That was one thing I could never understand and it is funny to see how they simply cling to subjectivity while glorifying their objectivity about all matters!

Tor Hershman said...

Greetings, Prof. Feser,
Was Jesus Christ the Antichrist?
I mean, who better...from a satanic perspective.

[Video on the subject]
youtube.com/watch?v=dLGJXo8gshg

Stay on groovin' safari,
Tor

Eduardo said...

??? errr wha ???

Wow, when you think you have seen enough xD.

Eduardo said...

Atheist trolls: Trolling you since... I don't know when, but trolling you just the same


XD!!!

Anonymous said...

Eduardo,

I pretty much agree with everything you said. My only objection (if you want to call it that) would be this:

I still think the atheistic world-view isn't incoherent

I don't think atheism is coherent in as much as it is irrational, leads to contradictions and effectively refutes the very things it claims (reductio ad absurdum). I do think however that it's conceivable. Maybe that's what you actually mean?

In other words, one can imagine an atheistic world, so long as he doesn't investigate the assumptions he makes in the process. Furthermore, I am of the understanding that in an atheistic world, human thought (as experienced in this world) would be impossible. This was the first great obstacle I encountered when I investigated my own pre-conceived materialistic assumptions. The very first thing I questioned were my own thoughts... Am I thinking? Am I thinking that which I believe I am thinking or is all this experience (my inner world) an illusion that has no relation to the world. At the time, I had very little philosophical background and this thought haunted me for quite some time. How do you think yourself out of problem, when one of the most fundamental things that you are questioning is your own thoughts?

I was fortunate (maybe blessed) to have kept my inquiry into the nature of reality dispite its seeming impossibility, until I eventually (with the help of a lot of reading and contemplation) out of the "swamp of nothingness" (to use of of nietzsche's terms).

To bring it back to our discussion, I believe the reason why atheism is conceivable (as opposed to coherent - based on the distinction I've made) is due to the fact that we find ourselves in a Theistic world. It is that and only that, which allows us to conceive of atheism as a possibility and the problem with atheism is that they confuse conceivability of it - while living in a Theistic world - with the fact that it is actually coherent.

It's like that old Van Tillian analogy of the little girl sitting on her daddy's lap and slapping him on the face. She can only do so BECAUSE she's sitting on his lap. Without it, it would be impossible.

I hope I'm not sounding too didactic by the way. That's not my intention. ;-)

PS. I believe the atheists have been trolling since the days of Protagoras and the ancient Greek atomists. God bless them, for if you don't take them seriously, they are quite comical.

Anonymous said...

*pulled out of the swamp

Eduardo said...

Well since I was always more biased towards epistemology XD, my fundamental questions were all about process, methods, limits of inquiry so I never asked myself THOSE questions XD.

Well personally I think you can conceive any world if testing assumptions is not part of one's philosophy XD.

Well I haven't taken many conclusions coming from atheism, but you said sort of reminds me of Descartes argument for G*d, I have to read that nutzor work XD.

*I love crazy people btw XD*

Girl Games said...

Is just a ridiculous generalization. The vast majority of women I know today, who are by no means traditional, do not think like that at all. In fact, I've only run into a handful of individuals (males and females) that actually eschewed parenthood.

I don't think most people would put it so bluntly, no. Nor do I think their attitudes are without complexities. You don't have to literally say 'I eschew parenthood!' to eschew parenthood, or to have attitudes that ultimately cash out in ways identical or close to the stark way I put it.