Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Natural theology, natural science, and the philosophy of nature

Physicist Robert Oerter has added some further installments to his series of posts on my book The Last Superstition, including a reply to some of my criticisms of his criticisms of the book.  I will respond to his latest remarks in a forthcoming post, but before doing so it seemed to me that it would be useful to make some general remarks about certain misunderstandings that have not only cropped up in my exchange with Oerter and in the combox discussions it has generated, but which frequently arise in disputes about natural theology (and, for that matter, in disputes about natural law ethics and about the immateriality and immortality of the soul).  In particular, they tend to arise in disputes about what we might call classical natural theology -- natural theology grounded in philosophical premises deriving from the Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, and/or Scholastic traditions.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cinematic representation

What makes it the case that a picture of Grandma represents Grandma?  That it looks like her, you might say.  But that can’t be the right answer, or at least not the whole answer.  The picture might look like any of several people; still, it represents only Grandma.  Or it might not look much like her at all -- consider a bad drawing, or even a photograph taken at an odd angle or in unusual lighting or while the subject is wearing a very unusual expression -- yet still represent her.  Indeed, that resemblance of any sort is neither sufficient nor necessary for representation is about as settled a philosophical thesis as there is.  (The reasons are many.  An object might resemble all sorts of things without representing them.  Resemblance is a symmetrical relationship, but representation is not: If a certain picture resembles Grandma, Grandma also resembles the picture; but while the picture might represent Grandma, Grandma does not represent the picture.  There are many things we can represent in thought or language -- the absence of something, a certain point in time, conditional statements, disjunctions, conjunctions, etc. -- without these representations resembling their objects, either pictorially or in any other way.  And so forth.  Chapter 1 of Tim Crane’s The Mechanical Mind provides a useful discussion of the issue.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

John Paul the Great Academy

John Paul the Great Academy in Lafayette, Louisiana is a fine Catholic college preparatory institution promoting the classical curriculum, the Thomistic intellectual tradition, and fidelity to the teaching of the Church.  Unfortunately, the Academy is suddenly facing the prospect of closure and is urgently in need of the prayers and financial assistance of those sympathetic to its mission.  Take a look at the school’s website to find out more about the Academy, and please consider making a contribution.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Oerter contra the principle of causality

The Scholastic principle of causality states that any potential, if actualized, must be actualized by something already actual.  (It is also sometimes formulated as the thesis that whatever is moved is moved by another or whatever is changed is changed by another.  But the more technical way of stating it is less potentially misleading for readers unacquainted with Scholastic thinking, who are bound to read things into terms like “motion” or “change” that Scholastic writers do not intend.)

In an earlier post I responded to an objection to the principle raised by physicist Robert Oerter, who has, at his blog, been writing up a series of critical posts on my book The Last Superstition.  Oerter has now posted two further installments in his series, which develop and defend his criticism of the principle of causality.  Let’s take a look.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Aquinas on audio

Your print copy of Aquinas is dog-eared.  You’ve worn out your Kindle reading the e-book version.  If only you could give your eyes a rest!  And avoid the car accidents you’re risking by flipping though the book on the way to work!  Well, you’re in luck: Aquinas is now available in an audio version

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review of Krauss

Something of a latecomer to the ecumenical Lawrence Krauss-bashing that has been taking place across the Internet, my review of A Universe from Nothing appears in the latest (June/July) issue of First Things.  You can read it online here.  More on this unusually awful book anon.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Oerter on universals and causality

George Mason University physicist (and author of The Theory of Almost Everything) Robert Oerter is writing up a series of posts on my book The Last Superstition over at his blog.  Oerter is critical but he engages the book seriously and in good faith.  He’s presented a couple of objections so far, and they merit a response.  So, here’s a response.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Kripke contra computationalism

That the brain is a digital computer and the mind the software run on the computer are theses that seem to many to be confirmed by our best science, or at least by our best science fiction.  But we recently looked at some arguments from Karl Popper, John Searle, and others that expose serious (indeed, I would say fatal) difficulties with the computer model of the mind.  Saul Kripke presents another such argument.  It is not well known.  It was hinted at in a footnote in his famous book Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (WRPL) and developed in some unpublished lectures.  But Jeff Buechner’s recent article “Not Even Computing Machines Can Follow Rules: Kripke’s Critique of Functionalism” offers a very useful exposition of Kripke’s argument.  (You can find Buechner’s article in Alan Berger’s anthology Saul Kripke.)

New from Editiones scholasticae

I called attention some time back to Editiones scholasticae, a new German publishing venture devoted to publishing works in Scholastic philosophy, including reprints of works which have long been out of print.  Three new reprints are set to appear, which will be available in the United States this August via Transaction Publishers:

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Contemporary Scholasticism

Ontos Verlag, the international publisher in philosophy and mathematical logic, is pleased to present the new book series:


Edward Feser • Edmund Runggaldier


Brian Davies, Fordham University, U.S.A.
Christian Kanzian, University of Innsbruck, Austria
Gyula Klima, Fordham University, U.S.A.
David S. Oderberg, University of Reading, U.K.
Eleonore Stump, Saint Louis University, U.S.A.

Contemporary Scholasticism is a new book series providing a forum for the growing community of philosophers who are interested in applying insights drawn from the Aristotelian and Scholastic traditions to current philosophical debates.

The first volume of this new series, Metaphysics: Aristotelian, Scholastic, Analytic, has now been published.  Edited by Lukáš Novák, Daniel D. Novotný, Prokop Sousedík, and David Svoboda, the volume is the fruit of the conference of the same name held in Prague in 2010, and contains many of the papers there presented.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rosenberg roundup

Having now completed our ten-part series of posts on Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, it seems a roundup of sorts is in order.  As I have said, Rosenberg’s book is worthy of attention because he sees more clearly than most other contemporary atheist writers do the true implications of the scientism on which their position is founded.  And interestingly enough, the implications he says it has are more or less the very implications I argued scientism has in my own book The Last Superstition.  The difference between us is this: Rosenberg acknowledges that the implications in question are utterly bizarre, but maintains that they must be accepted because the case for the scientism that entails them is ironclad.  I maintain that Rosenberg’s case for scientism is completely worthless, and that the implications of scientism are not merely bizarre but utterly incoherent and constitute a reductio ad absurdum of the premises that lead to them.