Saturday, March 9, 2013

Spare not the Rod


David Bentley Hart’s First Things article on natural law, which I criticized a few days ago, got some positive responses elsewhere in the blogosphere.  One of its fans is Rod Dreher at The American Conservative, who wrote:

If you don’t believe there is any cosmic order undergirding the visible world, and if you don’t believe that you are obliged to harmonize your own behavior with that unseen order (the Tao, you might say), then why should you bind yourself to moral precepts you find disagreeable or uncongenial?  The most human act could be not to yield to nature, but to defy nature.  Why shouldn’t you?  Or, to look at it another way, why should we consider our own individual desires unnatural?  Does the man who sexually and emotionally desires union with another man defying [sic] nature?  Well, says Hart, it depends on what you consider nature to be.

Well, yes, it does.  This is news?  Who, exactly, are the natural law theorists who have ever denied this?

As I noted in my response to Hart, what natural law theorists of either of the two main contemporary stripes (“old” and “new”) maintain is that there are objective moral truths that can be known through purely philosophical arguments, entirely apart from divine revelation, scriptural authority, or ecclesiastical diktat.  They do not deny that the philosophical arguments in question are controversial and sometimes difficult for the average person to understand. 

In this respect, natural law arguments are no different from the arguments of Rawlsian liberals, utilitarians, libertarian economists, feminists, or what have you -- all of which are, needless to say, also controversial and sometimes difficult for the average person to understand, but all of which also make no reference to revelation, scripture, etc.  And that is the point.  If these other arguments have a place in debates over public policy despite their controversial nature, then there are no grounds for excluding natural law arguments.  In particular, the moral conclusions the critics of natural law don’t like -- concerning abortion, “same-sex marriage,” or whatever -- cannot be excluded on the assumption that they have no justification other than an appeal to religious authority.  For that assumption is false.

Now Dreher is right to maintain that the specific philosophical theses that natural law theory rests on, however rationally defensible, are going to meet a great deal of resistance in a culture in which materialism, individualism, and allied doctrines are widely and lazily taken for granted.  That is one reason why, in my own work, I have emphasized that it is the entire set of false metaphysical assumptions (about causation, substance, essence, etc.) that have come to define modern thought that the defender of natural law (and of natural theology and traditional philosophical anthropology, for that matter) has to challenge.  There is no short cut. 

But that entails only that the work of the natural law theorist is more difficult than it would have been in previous generations, not that it isn’t worth doing.  And there are at least three reasons why it must be done.  The first and most important reason is that natural law theory (in its “old” version, anyway) is true.  And the truth has a right to be heard, especially in a cultural context in which it is little known and unlikely to be well received. 

The second reason is that the liberal, who claims to favor intellectual pluralism in the public sphere, needs constantly to be forced to put his money where his mouth is.  If you press against him natural law arguments against abortion, “same-sex marriage,” etc., then you thereby compel him either seriously to engage with those who object to his social liberalism, or to reveal himself as a hypocrite.  But if you fail to press such arguments, you cannot blame him if he dismisses opposition to the liberal social agenda as without a rational foundation -- and if he is also able to convince the fence-sitters that it lacks one.

That brings us to the third reason, which is that it takes an idea to beat an idea.  Again, Dreher is right to point out that the individualist and materialist sensibilities that prevail in contemporary social life make it difficult for natural law arguments to get traction.  But those sensibilities are there in part precisely because of generations of liberal and secularist argumentation.  Dreher writes:

This is why I don’t have any faith in the natural-law-based arguments against same-sex marriage.  It’s not that I disagree with them necessarily; it’s that a) they are hard for ordinary people conditioned by our culture’s modes of thought to grasp, and b) partly because of this, they (understandably) prompt a, “So what?” response.

But suppose the liberals or secularists of generations past had taken a similar attitude.  Suppose that, in light of the conservative and religious sensibilities then prevalent, a liberal or secularist in 1970, 1980, or 1990 had written:

This is why I don’t have any faith in [feminist, Rawlsian, utilitarian, libertarian, or gay liberationist] arguments [in favor of abortion, acceptance of homosexuality, or] same-sex marriage.  It’s not that I disagree with them necessarily; it’s that a) they are hard for ordinary people conditioned by our culture’s modes of thought to grasp, and b) partly because of this, they (understandably) prompt a, “So what?” response.

Obviously, had such an attitude won the day and the liberal arguments in question not been relentlessly propagated by the intelligentsia -- in academic journals, in the classroom, and in the simplified journalistic form that ultimately influences popular culture and electoral politics -- then the sensibilities Dreher identifies would never have come into being in the first place.  As Keynes famously wrote:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood.  Indeed the world is ruled by little else.  Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.  Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.  I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.

Dreher writes that “as long as the will remains unconverted, and unwilling to consider conversion, reason is mostly powerless to change things.”  But the will can be won over to some proposition only if reason first perceives it to be true, only if it would be contrary to reason for the will not to accept it.  Hence, while an appeal to another’s reason is not sufficient for converting him, it is necessary

It is ironic, then, that in his defense Dreher cites, of all books, Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences.  Note that Weaver’s title is not Prevailing Cultural Sensibilities Have Consequences, or The Will to Believe Has Consequences, or Leaps of Faith Have Consequences.  His remarks about the will (quoted by Dreher) notwithstanding, Weaver is appealing to our intellects, to our heads rather than merely to our hearts. 

Folks of The American Conservative stripe like to complain that contemporary mainstream conservatives have lost sight of the ideals of the founders of the modern American conservative movement -- of men like Weaver, Frank Meyer, and the young William F. Buckley.  But those men knew that the struggle between the Right and the Left just is, ultimately, a war of ideas, and cannot fail to be given that man is a rational animal.   Without an actual argument to back it up, the cri de coeur or leap of faith Hart and Dreher seem to be commending to us is just an appeal to emotion or sheer willfulness.  It is, in short, a further manifestation of the modern disease they want to fight, not a cure -- a conservative subjectivism, perhaps, but subjectivism all the same. 

137 comments:

MarcAnthony said...

Yeah, these arguments (Harts and co, not yours) seem odd. Isn't this just another way of saying there is no natural law?

I mean, technically, no. There could be. But practically, yeah. This pretty much means conservatism should just be abandoned in so far as it is based on natural law principles (as it should be).

It just strikes me as an odd attitude.

Thursday said...

sometimes difficult for the average person to understand

That "sometimes" is doing a heck of a lot of work here. The plain fact is that the basics of utilitarianism are damn easy to for the average person to understand, too damn easy in fact. Working out those kinds of theories in detail may take you into some pretty difficult arguments, but you are starting with easy to understand axioms.

Something of the opposite is true for natural law. It takes a heck of a lot of technical arguments to even establish that there is a valid basis for natural law. That's even before you start trying to apply it in detail.

Thursday said...

But those sensibilities are there in part precisely because of generations of liberal and secularist argumentation.

How exactly do you know that arguments played any role at all? Quoting Keynes doesn't cut it.

Thursday said...

Obviously, had such an attitude won the day and the liberal arguments in question not been relentlessly propagated by the intelligentsia -- in academic journals, in the classroom, and in the simplified journalistic form that ultimately influences popular culture and electoral politics -- then the sensibilities Dreher identifies would never have come into being in the first place

I really doubt that the arguments of liberal philosophers had anything to do with this? The actual arguments used, such as they were, were crude appeals to utilitarian sentiment.

Thursday said...

In summary, the top to bottom, "trickle down" theory of intellectual history is extremely dubious, and as a philosopher our host here has no special authority in this area.

Jeffrey S. said...

Ed,

I already left a couple of comment for Rod at his post, but since I just finished Weaver's book alongside your magnum opus (The Last Superstition), I thought it worthwhile to comment on the amazing degree to which Weaver prefigures some of your themes.

Right from the start, as Weaver explains the purpose of his book ("This is anoher book about the dissolution of the West."), he places the cause of our problems right where you place them:

"Like Macbeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals. [maybe Ed would say final causes!] The powers of darkness were working subtly, as always, and they couched this proposition in the seemingly innocent form of an attack upon universals. The defeat of logical realism in the great medieval debate was the crucial event in the history of Western culture; from this flowed those acts which issue now in modern decadence."

Edward Feser said...

On the contrary, Thursday, I would submit that historically speaking, the average man on the street has had no difficulty understanding the idea that there is something perverse about positively frustrating nature's ends. That's why liberals have for generations endlessly harped on the moral irrelevance of our natural tendency to find certain things disgusting.

Not that natural law theory has ever been grounded in our feelings of disgust per se -- that's a straw man. The point is rather that the liberal critic has had to characterize the man on the street's inchoate attitudes about what is contrary to nature and what is not as if they reduced to nothing more than subjective affective reactions.

The reason natural law arguments can be hard for contemporary readers to understand is that they have to unlearn all the Humean and scientistic propaganda that's been shoveled at them for decades now. It's exactly parallel to the situation with countless "educated" people who "know" that Aquinas's Five Ways rest on the premise that "everything has a cause," that Aquinas was trying to prove the world had a beginning, etc. The difficulty comes from having to get people who are absolutely certain they know what they are talking about to see that in fact they don't have a clue.

Thursday said...

I would submit that historically speaking, the average man on the street has had no difficulty understanding the idea that there is something perverse about positively frustrating nature's ends.

Yes, most people used to have an intuition that frustrating natural ends was wrong. It wasn't in the slightest bit based on Aristotelian arguments though. Now, however, they don't have that intuition. So, you're left with just Aristotle and Aquinas' reasoning, which hardly anybody can understand, and which nobody has much of an intuitive sympathy for anyway.

I have maintained here that the reason for these changes in intellectual fashion is that there was first a change in people's intuitions, first among elites and then among the common people. What causd this? Well, people seem to revert to some mix of utilitarian and Rawlsian intuitions when they live in a safe, prosperous, predictable, and man made environment. That's just about everybody in the West now. Unless the average innate tendencies of people in the West change, or the environment changes, natural law arguments are dead in the water, no matter how correct.

Scott said...

@Thursday:

"I really doubt that the arguments of liberal philosophers had anything to do with this? The actual arguments used, such as they were, were crude appeals to utilitarian sentiment."

Unless you're implying that appeals to sentiment are bound to fail, your reply here seems to be a non sequitur. Feser's point is clearly that such arguments had effects, not necessarily because they persuaded rationally, but because they were made at all.

If you're acknowledging that the arguments in question had effects as "appeals to utilitarian [or any other] sentiment," then you're acknowledging that they did have effects.

Scott said...

@Thursday:

"Unless the average innate tendencies of people in the West change, or the environment changes, natural law arguments are dead in the water, no matter how correct."

I imagine that if people in the West forget how to do simple mathematics, arguments based on arithmetic will also fall on deaf ears. And? Does the fact that some are deaf imply that sound is unreal?

Scott said...

@Thursday:

"Yes, most people used to have an intuition that frustrating natural ends was wrong. It wasn't in the slightest bit based on Aristotelian arguments though."

Which is exactly what those very same "Aristotelian arguments" would have said. People didn't get hungry because of "Aristotelian arguments," either. Does that make hunger less a part of our nature?

Thursday said...

The reason natural law arguments can be hard for contemporary readers to understand is that they have to unlearn all the Humean and scientistic propaganda that's been shoveled at them for decades now.

As you well know, people have been banging on with these arguments since the pre-Socratics. None of them made a damn bit of difference in the past, and they wouldn't have made a difference in the modern world if there hadn't been a change in people's intuitions which made them more receptive to those ideas.

I'd also note that there are lots of things that the left has been relentlessly propagandizing, and at which they have utterly failed at convincing the public of. Propaganda can't go against human nature.

Thursday said...

I imagine that if people in the West forget how to do simple mathematics, arguments based on arithmetic will also fall on deaf ears. And? Does the fact that some are deaf imply that sound is unreal?

Most people, even educated people, have never adopted natural law conclusions based on reasoning. Most were never even capable of it. They did so based on intuition. Now those intuitions are gone, they have abandoned the morality based on them.

Boru said...

Let's face it - if everybody believes that the Sun is going round the Earth, then there's no way you're ever going to persuade them that the Earth is going round the Sun.

Thursday said...

Does that make hunger less a part of our nature?

People's moral intuitions have changed.

(And for reasons that are hardly at all related to modern philosophical argument.)

Thursday said...

you're acknowledging that they did have effects.

Because people's intuitions changed, appeals to those (now different) intuitions would work, obviously. The point is that the actual reasoning didn't matter.

Scott said...

@Thursday:

"Most people, even educated people, have never adopted natural law conclusions based on reasoning. . . . The point is that the actual reasoning didn't matter."

(a) Feser's point doesn't depend on any claim that the "actual reasoning" did matter, and (b) the standrad natural-law argument is precisely that people don't need "arguments" in order to have a basic sense of good, bad, right, and wrong.

Am I missing something here, or are you just trying to stir up a little trouble?

Thursday said...

I'll repeat something I said in the Hart thread. Philosophical arguments about morality have only the most minimal effect on society at large, and anyone who thinks otherwise is just fooling themselves. Note that I didn't say no effect, just _extremely_ minimal, even on intellectuals. My own thoughts are that modern philosophy is largely the result of (and an attempt to justify) a change in intuitions and sentiments, not the other way round.

Scott said...

@Thursday:

"I'll repeat something I said in the Hart thread."

Why? Feser's point here obviously has to do with propaganda and not with rational persuasion.

Brandon said...

Thursday,

All of your argument so far is pretty much useless without an actual account of how you are using the term 'intuitions' and why reasoning has nothing to do with them. 'Intuitions' is not an explanation in intellectual history; it's too vague a label covering too many very different things. You'll have to be more precise, and say exactly what the social psychology of intuitions to which you are appealing is supposed to be.

Thursday said...

I'd also note that in the Muslim world, where the religious authorities have been opposed to natural law theories of morality for centuries, they don't seem to be having any trouble maintaining the line against gay marriage and such, nor have we seen a decline in religious faith. Something else is happening.

Thursday said...

Brandon:

People have gut reactions of the type: "This is wrong."

Brandon said...

'Gut reactions' is also not an explanation of anything, and doesn't automatically rule out reasoning being a contributing factor. This is not a point on which you can be lazy and just wave your hands: you've made some strong claims about how massive portions of life are governed by intuitions and their change, and how this is, in some way you have not actually explained, uninfluenced by reasoning; you need to back it up with an actual account, not the Urban Dictionary.

Mr. Green said...

Thursday: Something of the opposite is true for natural law. It takes a heck of a lot of technical arguments to even establish that there is a valid basis for natural law.

Nah. People are instinctively natural lawyers. It just takes a lot of work for philosophers to spell out the details. It also took Russell and Whitehead a lot of work to get to proving 1+1=2, but the average person seems to have no trouble with it. Utilitarianism and consequentialism are just dumbed-down forms of natural law anyway.

Propaganda can't go against human nature.

See? You're a natural lawyer too!

Scott said...

Brandon:

"This is not a point on which you can be lazy and just wave your hands: you've made some strong claims about how massive portions of life are governed by intuitions and their change, and how this is, in some way you have not actually explained, uninfluenced by reasoning; you need to back it up with an actual account, not the Urban Dictionary."

I agree, but I also don't think it's a point with any obvious relevance to the issue(s) at hand. As far as I can see, nothing in the point Feser was making depended in any way on the precise "mechanism" (heh) by which individualism and materialsm acquired their dominance in present-day society. So I think we also need some explanation of why any of this matters to the current topic—again, unless I'm missing something.

Thursday said...

'Gut reactions' is also not an explanation of anything, and doesn't automatically rule out reasoning being a contributing factor

Well, you and others here made some strong claims about how reasoning is a strong factor. And the social psychology research is most definitely not on your side. Reason is a minimal contributing factor.

Thursday said...

People are instinctively natural lawyers

Now days they are instinctive utilitarians.

As far as I can see, nothing in the point Feser was making depended in any way on the precise "mechanism" (heh) by which individualism and materialsm acquired their dominance in present-day society.

I'm pretty sure he thinks the actual arguments matter.

Brandon said...

Well, you and others here made some strong claims about how reasoning is a strong factor. And the social psychology research is most definitely not on your side. Reason is a minimal contributing factor.

Actually, as Scott has pointed out, this is not the case. Ed has said that education and propaganda are factors; others in the comments have pointed out that reasoning is a factor. You are the only one here who has made any strong claims about the role of reasoning.

And you still dodge the question, still vaguely waving your hands, and thus still fail to give any explanation. Again, you need either an account of what intuitions are that shows how they can have the effects to which you attribute them and why they rule out reasoning as a significant contributing factor.

Thursday said...

The reason natural law arguments can be hard for contemporary readers to understand is that they have to unlearn all the Humean and scientistic propaganda that's been shoveled at them for decades now.

Only a tiny minority of people have ever been able to understand the metaphysical arguments necessary to establish natural law as true.

Scott said...

@Thursday:

"I'm pretty sure he thinks the actual arguments matter."

I'm pretty sure he does too. But I'm also pretty sure his point doesn't require those arguments to be decisive, even if they're contributing factors. (Brandon has covered this point as well.)

Brandon said...

Only a tiny minority of people have ever been able to understand the metaphysical arguments necessary to establish natural law as true.

Yes. As everyone keeps pointing out to you, this is completely irrelevant.

Scott said...

@Thursday:

"Only a tiny minority of people have ever been able to understand the metaphysical arguments necessary to establish natural law as true."

That's probably true of pretty much any philosophical view whatsoever. And? What in the present discussion depends on anyone's abilities to understand metaphysical arguments?

Thursday said...

still fail to give any explanation.

Any person with half a brain knows what I am talking about. I'd suggest the problem is with you.

Brandon said...


Any person with half a brain knows what I am talking about. I'd suggest the problem is with you.


You're free to suggest that. It still doesn't change the fact that you have not actually provided any explanation, just repeated the word intuition a lot, a word that is used in vastly different ways, and have provided no clarification of the underlying psychological mechanism or feature you mean beyond giving a common colloquial synonym of it. I find it rather amusing, though, that you fall back "Oh, anyone intelligent can read my mind despite my repeated failure to explain myself when requested to do so" defense.

Scott said...

[Edited version of a now-deleted post.]

Any person with half a brain knows what I am talking about. I'd suggest the problem is with you.

We all know what you're talking about. What we don't know is why you're talking about it.

But I'm not going to waste any more bandwidth on this unless there turns out to be more to it than there's been so far.

Anonymous said...

I certainly accept Natural Law, so talking in this way I find a little strange, but if we are to talk, shall we say, tactics, I suppose it must be done.

I will say I agree with Dr.Feser to the degree that it is clearly essential social and cultural conservatism have an intellectual core, and, indeed, that they have an intellectual core of the depth and broadness of classical Natural Law. As Dr.Feser seems to argue in his essay on Realist Conservatism, only a conservatism built around universal principles will maintain any kind of consistency and coherency and not be swept along by the tide of change. I would also add that this sort of intellectual core is also necessary for conservatism to truly answer to the immediate and the ultimate ends of man, and link these together reasonably well.

Where I would somewhat diverge from, or at least expand upon, Dr.Feser's approach is I would emphasis the complexity of society and culture and the place of ideas and morality within them. Reason is essential, but so is imagination, so is sentiment, so is habit, so is tradition, so are social institutions, so are intuitions. The conservative has to integrate and give right order to all these aspects of social morality. Russell Kirk's notion of Moral Imagination, to me, captures the sort of complexities inherent in this area rather well (even if Kirk, like his great influences, Burke and Babbitt, was sometimes overly hostile to discursive reason).

To express myself in a more concrete and specific way, I would note that the great lack of influence for Christian conservatism in cultural productions, both in high culture and popular culture, is almost as important a cause for the problems of Western civilisation than our lack of influence in the intellectual sphere.

I think there is even a case to be made that, whilst scrupulously avoiding any reduction of the issues to materialistic determinism, to a degree material, socio-economic, demographic, and social organisational factors influence the moral and spiritual beliefs and behaviours of individuals. As T.S Eliot wrote, "The more highly industrialised the country, the more easily a materialistic philosophy will flourish in it, and the more deadly that philosophy will be." Or, as Russell Kirk himself wrote,"veneration withers on the pavements." Again, it is important to avoid any materialistic reductionism, but it is certain that things like centralisation or uncautious and thoughtless industrialisation and urbanisation have been one of the many reasons for the decline of religion and morality in the West.

Thursday said...

something perverse about positively frustrating nature's ends.

I want to make something clear. In the Hart thread our host argued that natural law follows from metaphysical principles like act, potency etc. It is those particular arguments that most people cannot follow.

I suspect that at least a fair number of reasonably educated people can understand the argument that if it is wrong to frustrate a natural function, and, say, artificial birth control frustrates a natural function, then it is wrong to use artificial birth control. Unfortunately, they don't necessarily agree with the premise that it is necessarily wrong to frustrate a natural function.

So, to get them to agree to that premise, they've either got to have an intuition that it is true, or they've got to follow a long difficult chain of metaphysical arguments to get there.

Unfortunately, most people don't have the gut reaction "frustrating a natural function is wrong" anymore. Additionally, most people are also incapable of following the chain of reasoning that is needed to demonstrate it philosophically. So, most people are simply not going to grant a major premise of natural law arguments. Hence, utterly useless in the public square.

Thursday said...

only a conservatism built around universal principles will maintain any kind of consistency and coherency and not be swept along by the tide of change

The Muslims don't seem to have any problems with social liberalism, despite adhering to a philosophical position much closer to Ockham than Aquinas.

John Burford said...

I think when people make the "prosperity inevitably makes people more liberal" argument, they have historical tunnel vision. Yes, since roughly 1960 you could say that that's been the case in almost all advanced nations. But there are certainly counter-examples.

Consider the Victorian Era in the 19th century--rapidly increasing prosperity coincided with extreme moral conservatism (they covered up bare table legs because they were too scandalous).

Another example: in the US from 1930 to 1960, the country got more socially conservative by most measurements (higher church attendance, higher percentage of people getting married, higher fertility rate, etc.) while the country got much more prosperous.

There have been many historical periods during which increasing prosperity and increasing moral conservatism happily coexisted--some of them quite recent. The key is isolating the reasons why that has not been the case for the last 50 years.

Thursday said...

I'd suggest taking a look at this article (and the papers it refers to):
http://www.forbes.com/sites/willwilkinson/2011/03/28/the-moral-default-setting-liberal-or-conservative/

John Burford said...

@ Thursday

I would say that the very basics of natural law are just as easy to establish as the very basics of utilitarianism. "Penises are meant to go in women's vaginas--therefore you shouldn't put a penis in a man's anus" is just as easy to understand as "The greatest good for the greatest number."

Natural law in a convenient soundbite: if you know what a thing IS and what it DOES, you can know what you SHOULD DO with it.

Thursday said...

the Victorian Era in the 19th century--rapidly increasing prosperity coincided with extreme moral conservatism

I'll take your point, but also note that philosophical liberalism made giant strides during the Victorian era. Kind of how social liberalism actually made giant strides during the Reagan era.

in the US from 1930 to 1960, the country got more socially conservative by most measurements

Hate to break this to you, but the sexual revolution started in the early 50s. People may have been outwardly observant, but not practicing.

rank sophist said...

John,

Not to mention that the ideas of "liberalism" and "conservatism" only date back roughly 400 years, to the dawn of classical liberalism. Liberalism has spread in recent times as other countries have accepted capitalism, which coincides with monetary prosperity (and moral destitution).

Thursday said...

Natural law in a convenient soundbite: if you know what a thing IS and what it DOES, you can know what you SHOULD DO with it.

This may make intuitive sense to you, but it doesn't to most modern people. Like Hume, they will want to know why is implies ought.

So, you must establish the basis of natural law using a long and intricate series of metaphysical arguments that very few people can or care to follow.

Fail.

Thursday said...

The Victorian era was also an era of complete social upheaval, including multiple revolutions on the continent, not a lot of a social safety net, and vast extremes of poverty and wealth in places like Britain. The occasional moral counter-insurgency (Victoria, Reagan) aside the general trend seems pretty clear.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I am missing something, but it seems to me that Hart and Feser are simply speaking past one another. That is, Feser is arguing about philosophical merit (which Hart on balance concedes), and Hart is arguing about rhetorical effectiveness (which Feser on balance concedes).

In Hart's defense (not that he needs it), manifestations of divine power (e.g. miracles), personal witness (e.g. martyrdom), signs of contradiction (e.g. asceticism), works of mercy (e.g. penitential suffering), etc. are usually far more effective than discursive argument.

In Feser's defense (not that he needs it), the fact that contemporary culture might reject first principles does not detract from their truth or from the obligation to defend them and their implications.

Anonymous said...

This may make intuitive sense to you, but it doesn't to most modern people. Like Hume, they will want to know why is implies ought.

No, not "like Hume", because at least Hume tended to think things through. Most people do not.

Stop lecturing people as if you're an expert on the intuitions of the common man. You'd actually have the beginnings of an interesting argument here if you weren't giving off such a wharblegarble sensation of "OMG PEOPLE DISAGREE I CAN'T STAND THIS AAAAUUUUUUGGGHHH", which is precisely why Brandon and company keep spanking you.

Now, relax. I know I just pointed out (not suggested; pointed out) that you're looking like a fool here. In comes that reflexive need to respond and defend yourself and attack me. This time, skip that. Take stock of your approach. Realize what mistakes you are making. Adjust accordingly.

You're welcome.

Thursday said...

that contemporary culture might reject first principles does not detract from their truth or from the obligation to defend them and their implications.

Right. Defending Thomism might be the right thing to do, even if it doesn't have much in the way of consequences.

Thursday said...

This is why I don’t have any faith in [feminist, Rawlsian, utilitarian, libertarian, or gay liberationist] arguments [in favor of abortion, acceptance of homosexuality, or] same-sex marriage. It’s not that I disagree with them necessarily; it’s that a) they are hard for ordinary people conditioned by our culture’s modes of thought to grasp, and b) partly because of this, they (understandably) prompt a, “So what?” response.

The more I ponder this passage, the more I think this is exactly what a liberal would say. For the past 200 plus liberals have been throwing out stuff to see what will stick. So, they worked on appealing to peoples feelings, not their reason. (Rawls is for the classes, and Will and Grace is for the masses.)

So, gay rights have caught on, and raising children apart from their mothers has not (see the history of Israeli kibbutzes), even though both follow equally from liberal principles.

Crude said...

You know, I'm sympathetic to one of the anons here. But I think this whole subject is more complicated.

I don't think that the 'common people' are reflexive humeans or natural law theorists or anything other than the most skin-deep way nowadays. I agree with the idea that natural law arguments are not going to persuade the average person, only because the average person doesn't seem to really care to give their views very much thought, period. Not when they're liberal, not when they're conservative, and usually not when they're some other thing.

But I think natural law arguments do contribute to the debate, because intellectual arguments can have a trickle-down effect in terms of sentiment. I also think that base rhetoric can be crafted in ways that push people's emotions towards natural law conclusions. Communication is heady, complicated stuff. I absolutely agree that gay rights (to give one example) haven't been advanced by liberal arguments, or arguments at all. I disagree with Thursday in large part, but in a way, I think a single episode of Family Guy addressing some topic is equal to dozens of well-written, well-thought-out articles that same topic. (Or, in the other direction - one 'you cute little cupcakes can't be trusted to use a gun to fight off an attacker' uttered by a politician in favor of gun control is equal to ten well-placed NRA ads.)

So what really is being argued here? That natural law arguments alone, even if correct, are not the silver bullet for persuading the public at large on social issues? But who's saying that? Or is it that there's no way to advance a public sentiment against gay marriage or in a broadly natural law sympathetic direction? Again, that seems hard to justify.

Thursday said...

That natural law arguments alone, even if correct, are not the silver bullet for persuading the public at large on social issues?

I am arguing the position that natural law arguments are incapable of having any but the most minuscule effect on the public square.

I am also arguing against the idea that they could make anything but the most minuscule contribution to a multi-pronged effort. I am arguing against the "middle of the road" position too.

Or is it that there's no way to advance a public sentiment against gay marriage or in a broadly natural law sympathetic direction?

I am arguing that arguments will have almost no effects against gay marriage nor in pushing things in a natural law sympathetic direction.

A descent by the West into poverty or an increase in the number of children with inborn religious tendencies would probably do the trick though. Our host's having had a ton of kids has no doubt done more to help advance natural law arguments than all of his papers and books combined.

Crude said...

I am arguing the position that natural law arguments are incapable of having any but the most minuscule effect on the public square.

How are you evaluating that? Hell, how do you measure this? Gut instinct? Extrapolating wildly from the paper you linked?

Are you saying that if you take 100 people and expose them all to rigorously argued natural law arguments that there will be no effect? Are you saying that most people just plain don't pay attention to intellectual arguments, natural law or otherwise?

I am also arguing against the idea that they could make anything but the most minuscule contribution to a multi-pronged effort. I am arguing against the "middle of the road" position too.

Great. Same questions apply.

I am arguing that arguments will have almost no effects against gay marriage nor in pushing things in a natural law sympathetic direction.

Alright. Do you think other arguments have major effects? Is it there just something special about natural law arguments where no one's going to listen to an hour of someone talking at length about natural law, but gosh, they'll eat up an hour of arguments about occasionalism?

Thursday said...

Do you think other arguments have major effects?

No.

Crude said...

No.

Alright, so this isn't a "natural law" thing. This is a "the average person does not grasp arguments that require a fair amount of thought - and natural law arguments fall into this category" thing.

Accurate summary of your view?

Thursday said...

How are you evaluating that?

How are you evaluating the opposite hypothesis? Why should we assume that arguments have any effect, even a trickle down effect, on how most people think (give or take a few outliers)?

I do believe everything I've said here, but I'd be totally satisfied if I only convinced the people here that they have no basis for their assertions either and that they should look into this in much more detail than they have.

Thursday said...

Accurate summary of your view?

Yes, with the addition that I think "average person" in this case includes most college educated people.

Crude said...

How are you evaluating the opposite hypothesis?

What does that matter? You're making a claim about arguments and what they can accomplish, so I'm asking how you evaluate their effectiveness. If you have no answer (or no answer other than 'well that's just my feeling'), that's that. My own view here is that the large-scale effectiveness of arguments is a very complicated question and gets off into some shady territory.

I'd be totally satisfied if I only convinced the people here that they have no basis for their assertions either

So you're saying you have no basis for your assertions, but you don't think others here do either?

And what assertions? You're sounding as if you think Feser is saying that the world will be easily converted by natural law arguments. I don't see him or anyone else saying that.

See, I happen to agree that in a popular sense, natural law arguments themselves can probably only go so far. I think emotional appeals, easy to understand ideas, etc are essential. But I'm not about to say 'arguments do nothing, they're useless for most people'. I think culture and societies are too complicated to easily pass judgments like that with confidence.

Crude said...

Yes, with the addition that I think "average person" in this case includes most college educated people.

Great. I agree in large part with that sentiment. But I still don't feel comfortable dismissing the utility of arguments the way you seem to be doing, for the reasons I've stated.

Thursday said...

I do have reasons for what I believe, but it would take a long time with many cites. You can start by reading Jonathan Haidt (and the many papers he refers to). Haidt has many papers available on his website. Unfortunately, this kind of topic isn't terribly suited to combox argument.

'arguments do nothing, they're useless for most people'

But by doing this aren't you just assuming that arguments do have significant social effects. Why do you believe that?

Thursday said...

Here's a good paper to start, but don't stop there:
http://www.motherjones.com/files/emotional_dog_and_rational_tail.pdf

His papers are here and available for free via automated email:
http://people.stern.nyu.edu/jhaidt/publications.html

I'd also advise you to really dig into his references.

Crude said...

But by doing this aren't you just assuming that arguments do have significant social effects. Why do you believe that?

No, I'm not assuming they do. I don't have to assume they do in order to fail to assume they don't.

Now, I have my suspicions based on personal experience, what I've read on this subject, etc. One problem is that your position seems to assume that all that really matters is some immediate mass population numbers game: if an argument doesn't convince most common people, it's useless. If it appeals primarily to intellectuals, it's useless.

Except A) some individuals are in positions where they can influence more people than themselves, and B) rhetoric, emotional appeals, etc aren't verboten to the Thomist. To use an extreme example, an argument that convinces exactly one person sounds like a damn weak argument. If that one person happens to be a SCOTUS judge, then it's going to have dramatic effects - and the fallout of that may be to make more people sympathetic to the argument's conclusion or even assumptions.

NoshPartitas said...

Thursday,

"Unfortunately, this kind of topic isn't terribly suited to combox argument."

I don't know, have you seen some of the combox exchanges by dguller and rank sophist?

Giving people essays and books to provide your arguments for you is a cop-out (unless asked, of course). I see this on the internet too often. If someone is curious enough and wants to read more behind some position you hold, then sure, a link will suffice. But you're being asked to defend a position as a result of a discussion you started.

Crude said...

At a glance, Haidt's papers don't seem like they're going to knock down Ed's position, much less mine, for some reasons already stated. He's emphasizing the importance of culture and social influences in typical decision-making. I can accept all this without having to sacrifice anything with regards to viewing arguments as having an important role in changing culture.

What Haidt is saying and what Feser is saying seems like an apples and oranges comparison. If you want to connect the dots, feel free.

Thursday said...

If that one person happens to be a SCOTUS judge, then it's going to have dramatic effects

"Th’ Supreme Coort follows th’ election returns"

Thursday said...

No, I'm not assuming they do.

OK, good. But I will throw the question out to others: Why do you believe arguments can have significant social impact, even if only through a sort of trickle down effect? What evidence do you have for that?

Crude said...

"Th’ Supreme Coort follows th’ election returns"

I don't think that's much of a response, really. I gave that expressly as an example of how an argument can have impact even without 'most people' accepting it or even understanding it. The examples could be easily multiplied.

OK, good. But I will throw the question out to others: Why do you believe arguments can have significant social impact, even if only through a sort of trickle down effect? What evidence do you have for that?

Don't you think this is kind of unfairly turning stuff around? You're the one who's been aggressively arguing about the impact arguments can have on society, but it seems like you absolutely don't want to justify that.

And more than that - what does this matter to you? Is it that you think Thomists should be doing such and such other thing that would be more effective at convincing people gay marriage is wrong?

Anonymous said...


The Muslims don't seem to have any problems with social liberalism, despite adhering to a philosophical position much closer to Ockham than Aquinas.


Which Muslims? Islam is an extremely broad and diverse religious and cultural tradition.

The Muslims are in a rather different position to us in the West, but I wouldn't say they are not troubled by social liberalism. After all there is an element of reaction against Western, post-Enlightenment thinking in Islamic fundamentalism. Secularists and rather crude and limited, sometimes even savage, fundamentalists are neither of them especially positive forces in the Islamic world, but both are very strong.

Where Islam was not threatened by social liberalism, it was in a pre-modern position and is very much not comparable to our situation in the West. The fact that many of the most important Ash'ari were drawn towards Sufism and were even Platonists who attacked Islamic Aristotelian should give us pause for thought on the issue, when trying to compare it with the Western situation. Fakhr al-Din Razi and Shihab al-Din Umar Suhrawardi, not to mention Ghazali himself, were fierce critics of Islamic Aristotelianism and yet drawn towards mysticism in some degree.

The point remains, anyhow, that in the modern West an intellectual core is necessary to the defense of social and cultural conservatism, at the pain of lacking coherency, consistency, and being swept along by the trends and flux of modernity, as well as providing the sort of depth and broadness to counter modern errors effectively and gain the respect of the intellectually curious, who might otherwise consider conservative Christians as lacking any philosophical and intellectual standing (as is commonly the case today: many consider our positions on things like homosexuality as the result of sheer unthinking and unexamined bigotry).

I'm not saying that it has to be Aristotelian-Thomistic Natural Law that plays this role. But it is surely one of the best contenders.

Thursday said...

Don't you think this is kind of unfairly turning stuff around?

Absolutely not. Our host an others have thrown out arguments based on a lot of unsupported assumptions. They are most certainly not entitled to those assumptions.

Crude said...

Absolutely not. Our host an others have thrown out arguments based on a lot of unsupported assumptions. They are most certainly not entitled to those assumptions.

The problem is, you seem to have done that very thing.

Also, can you show me where Ed said that natural law arguments, directed at common people, will suffice to turn the population against gay marriage? I don't see either that or words to that effect in his post.

And I'd still like to know what your goal here is. Convincing thomists to use rhetorical appeals against gay marriage, etc? You're trying to help us be more effective at undermining gay marriage, violations of natural law, etc?

Thursday said...

what does this matter to you?

A dislike of intellectual uncleanliness. (I'm no doubt guilty of this myself in this thread, so I ask for forgiveness.)

Is it that you think Thomists should be doing such and such other thing that would be more effective at convincing people gay marriage is wrong?

Have lots of kids. Make great art. Form small religious communities. Pray. Argue a bit too, but do it for the love of truth not because it's necessarily going to change the world.

Thursday said...

Also, can you show me where Ed said that natural law arguments, directed at common people, will suffice to turn the population against gay marriage?

I am well aware that he has put forward a sort of "trickle down" theory of how philosophical arguments can affect public opinion. I don't think that works either.

The best version of the trickle down argument seems to be that the common people will conform to whatever those with higher status and authority say. Except that doesn't seem to be true. The masses don't particularly like most classical music and a majority of them still think that the earth is 7000 years old, despite the execration heaped on them for this by the classes.

The problem is, you seem to have done that very thing.

I think we're getting into "You did it first," "No, you did it first" territory.

Thursday said...

Sometimes the masses actually dislike something because the elite is into it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this applies to homosexual activity among the Greeks.

Crude said...

I am well aware that he has put forward a sort of "trickle down" theory of how philosophical arguments can affect public opinion. I don't think that works either.

Okay - where did Ed say even this? Seriously. My recollection of Ed's writings is that he nowhere has talked about the capability of these arguments to change the culture at large. At most he's sketched, in TLS, historical trends in though and the philosophical views they were attached to.

I think we're getting into "You did it first," "No, you did it first" territory.

I'm questioning whether one side here has done it at all, not second.

Thursday said...

I am aguing against this:

But those sensibilities are there in part precisely because of generations of liberal and secularist argumentation

So, our host's argument either has to be that philosophical arguments have some direct effect on public opinion, or there is some trickle down effect from convincing people in the elite. He may be arguing the first, but I am giving him the benefit of the doubt that it is the latter, as it seems more plausible.

But the will can be won over to some proposition only if reason first perceives it to be true, only if it would be contrary to reason for the will not to accept it. Hence, while an appeal to another’s reason is not sufficient for converting him, it is necessary.

This sure sounds like our host thinks philosophical arguments have some direct effect on people, perhaps even all people. Maybe I'm wrong. But if that's what he's arguing, then I think he's crazy. The vast, vast majority of people don't just have difficulty with the arguments, they are totally incapable of understanding the arguments necessary to establish natural law is true. So, I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he is arguing for more of a trickle down approach where most people accept things on authority from the elite.

Thursday said...

Our host's endorsement of the quote from Keynes too seems to argue against me misinterpreting him.

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else.

I strongly disagree with this statement, at least when it comes to philosophers.

Thursday said...

My recollection of Ed's writings is that he nowhere has talked about the capability of these arguments to change the culture at large.

He does seem to be saying that philosophical arguments can change the culture. See the quotes above. Perhaps not on their own, and perhaps through a mediating elite, but I do think he is saying that.

Anonymous said...

Thursday is not entirely incorrect. It perfectly true that reason is not the sole, or even main, arbiter of what many people believe or do. However, that is not to say that it is not important. Most people are not entirely blind to the importance reason. They will not quite allow themselves to follow their fancy or assumptions wherever they lead. Nor can we say that the views of the elites, more (but far from completely) generally based on reason, especially the intelligensia, than the common man's, have no effect on social thought, assumptions, and morality. Far, far from it.

Thursday has mentioned intuitions, but as he seems to suggest these change across time and place, it is hard to understand exactly what he means by them or how they change (presumably philosophical arguments have no role to play).

Lazarus said...

The suggestion that natural law arguments should be avoided in the public space misses the point that much of the 'progressive' case in favour of same sex 'marriage' etc is also based on claims about human nature and what is objectively good/bad for it. For example, I doubt that SSM would have been successful as a campaign if so many people hadn't bought into the idea that homosexuality was as natural as gender and that to frustrate the flourishing of homosexuals as homosexuals was wrong. Much of liberalism is founded not on a rejection of arguments from human nature, but of a rejection of a particular (traditional) conception of human nature.

Crude said...

This sure sounds like our host thinks philosophical arguments have some direct effect on people, perhaps even all people. Maybe I'm wrong. But if that's what he's arguing, then I think he's crazy. The vast, vast majority of people

See, here's the thing. I'm positive Ed thinks philosophical arguments can have a direct effect on some people - and you'll have no shortage of people, even in this thread, testifying to that effect.

But "the vast, vast majority of people"? That's a different claim entirely, and one I have never seen Ed make. There's a big gulf between holding a given argument will compel rational people who think about the argument, and holding that it will compel vast majorities of people.

Perhaps not on their own, and perhaps through a mediating elite, but I do think he is saying that.

He's saying that ideas have a tremendous effect on the culture. And they do - even if people don't understand those ideas or those arguments. How many people understood dialectical materialism, or even investigated it at length? How many lives were affected by it?

rank sophist said...

I do want to mention one thing.

That is one reason why, in my own work, I have emphasized that it is the entire set of false metaphysical assumptions (about causation, substance, essence, etc.) that have come to define modern thought that the defender of natural law (and of natural theology and traditional philosophical anthropology, for that matter) has to challenge.

Something can be false in two ways, in this case. The first way is that it offers a view contrary to the one truth of Christianity, as when we talk about Pelagianism, Arianism, Gnosticism or some form of paganism being "false": the sense of "false gods", "false idols" and so forth. The second is that it is logically false. To claim that the entire set of modern metaphysical assumptions is logically false, if this is indeed what Prof. Feser means, is not possible. Obviously, materialism is logically false, but there are countless modern metaphysical structures that are not logically false. Take, for example, subjectivism. Its conclusions, while contradicting common sense, do not contradict their premises. In that sense, it can't be called logically false.

Crude said...

Lazarus,

For example, I doubt that SSM would have been successful as a campaign if so many people hadn't bought into the idea that homosexuality was as natural as gender and that to frustrate the flourishing of homosexuals as homosexuals was wrong.

I think they 'buy into that idea', but only in a vague, watered down sense of the term. I think few people even give thought to the idea of "the flourishing of homosexuals as homosexuals" or the like. Far more buy into 'will this make my friend happy/will I be seen as a good person by the right people?'

I really think a sizable portion of the populace can be swayed by what amounts to asking "what is making these people I know scream their ****ing heads off? If we do that, will they stop for a bit? Will the world be engulfed in a cataclysm immediatley if we do it? No? Do it, now. Clearly it's important and the right thing to do."

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

I hate to sound pessimistic, but I don't think there'll ever be any rollback on gay rights in the West. The reason is that increasingly, tolerance towards gays is becoming enshrined as one of the defining virtues of Western civilization, as this article on the Queen signing an historic pledge to support gay rights makes clear: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2290824/Queen-fights-gay-rights-Monarch-makes-historic-pledge-discrimination-hints-Kate-DOES-girl-means-equal-rights-throne.html

I also think the influence of transhumanism is a growing menace: people now think they can transcend their natures, so it's hard to get them to accept the notion that something might be wrong because it's unnatural.

I'd just like to ask people here: have any of you ever changed someone's views on gay marriage? If so, how? Or for that matter, have you ever heard of a former supporter of gay marriage coming to reverse his/her views? If so, what changed them? Just curious.

Daniel Smith said...

It seems to me that appeals to Natural Law fail to convince the modern person because the popular definition of "Nature" has changed.

The modern person has been bombarded with Darwinian theories of nature that overwhelmingly portray "Nature" as an undirected, happenstance, stumblin' bumblin' sequence of events that just happened to get us to where we are now. Everything from planetary formation to the origin of species is portrayed as haphazard.

Given this arbitrary view of nature, why would anyone assign any weight to it? I mean if a cell in the distant past had zigged instead of zagged, evolution would have taken a completely different path and "human nature" would be something else entirely (or so we're told).

So appeals to Natural Law carry no weight when Nature itself is suspect.

NoshPartitas said...

Rank,

"Take, for example, subjectivism. Its conclusions, while contradicting common sense, do not contradict their premises. In that sense, it can't be called logically false."

I would take issue with this. I may be mistaken, but it seems impossible to actually cash out the subjective thesis in terms that aren't infinitely regressive. Oderberg gives an argument along these lines:

A statement 'X is wrong' or more generally (for our discussion) 'X is true' can be assessed as true or false by relativizing it to person P.

So P saying 'X is wrong' or 'X is true' is equivalent to 'I disapprove of X' or 'X is true for me.'

According to Oderberg, the proposition given by person P 'X is wrong' just means 'P disapproves of X.' In other words, the former is analyzed in terms of the latter.

The problem with this, claims Oderberg, is that (I'll just quote him here): "But 'P disapproves of doing X' cannot, on this analysis, be equivalent to 'P believes that doing X is wrong', since 'Doing X is wrong' is precisely what the relativist seeks to give the meaning of; in which case the analysis would be circular."

He goes on to say that the relativist may accept this and instead attempt to analyze the embedded sentence 'Doing X is wrong' in 'P believes that doing X is wrong' as 'P believes that doing X is wrong' for every instance of the embedded 'Doing X is wrong." This is of course an infinite regress and does not actually give us an analysis of "Doing X is wrong."

Based on this criticism, unless the relativist/subjectivist has a response to Oderberg's objection, it would appear that subjectivism has serious problems with being logically valid, as it faces circularity and/or infinite regress. Unless circularity and logical fallacies do not invalidate an argument...

So I know this is long-winded, but I have a good reason for bringing it up. It's not necessarily clear that many of these modern metaphysics are logically valid. Now, I grant you that some are bound to be, but we've got to seriously consider them before we ambitiously assume that they are. Subjectivism being a case in point. It's just not clear that they can even logically analyze 'Doing X is wrong' or 'X is true' in terms of relativizing it to person P. There are other problems with subjectivism, but they're not relevant.

Brandon said...

I find a worrying tendency throughout this discussion (the broad discussion, not just here) to conflate natural law theory with that which natural law is about; this comes especially in phrases like "appeals to natural law" or "arguments based on natural law". It is entirely possible for people to use reasoning that natural law theorists recognize as natural law reasoning without their being natural law theorists. If someone says, "We should not do this because this would endanger our children," this is reasoning that natural law theorists recognize as legitimate natural law reasoning: it conforms to the first precept of natural law (good is to be done/made and sought, and bad is to be avoided); it recognizes something as bad in a way appropriate to a human being; and it attributes some kind of obligation or at least normative force attaches to reasoning about things that are bad in this way. Natural law theory recognizes, and gives reasons for regarding, this reasoning as lacking nothing, assuming there aren't any other major goods or bads left to be considered -- it does not even require explicit recognition as natural law reasoning in order to be good natural law reasoning. Even if the conclusion were utterly wrong, natural law theory is consistent with there being natural law reasoning to false conclusions, in exactly the same way that logic is consistent with there being perfectly logical reasoning to false conclusions.

Natural law theory purports to be an account of human practical reason, both how it works and what is required for it to be consistent. And by that very fact, it follows from natural law theory that most people most of the time they are reason practically make legitimate appeals to natural law, even if they do not recognize that they are doing so, even if it is very crude reasoning, and even if they do so in a confused or inconsistent way. You can have a society of people who have never heard of natural law theory, know nothing about its vocabulary, and yet day to day, and perhaps even minute to minute, reason in ways that are perfectly in accordance with natural law, and appeal to principles that natural law theory recognizes as natural law.

In other words: the purpose of natural law theory is not to make natural law theorists, but to account for good practical reasoning regardless of the circumstances in which it is found.

Of course, if it is successful, it can then be used, in the same way any account of reasoning can be, to help us identify weaknesses and strengths in our reasoning and refine it. This applied natural law theory is what people often mean by 'appeal to natural law'. But this is quite a secondary issue. (Nonetheless, one of the important things that is being overlooked in Ed's argument here is his point that people, when they reflect on the question of why their practical conclusions are good or bad, spontaneously will begin to produce rudimentary analyses that can be regarded as simple versions of bits and pieces of natural law, and that is not difficult to find examples of this. Thus the problem is not merely that people aren't listening to natural law theorists; part of it is also that people often spontaneously produce good natural-law-theory analyses, even if expressed in ways that need refinement and development, but are attacked when they do.)

Lazarus said...

@ Crude

I'm sure you're right about the 'vague, watered down' endorsement of arguments from human nature from the 'progressive' side, but they are still regularly offered in the public space and I think have to be met on those terms.

One of the big problems with natural law arguments or any sort of extended philosophical reflection in public is that if it doesn't fit into a few minutes on a TV slot and isn't immediately comprehensible to ill-educated public, it isn't going to have much practical effect. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't refer to those arguments in brief presentations (so, eg, mentioning that Catholics don't do morality simply by faith but also based on reflection about human nature)or use them in those (increasingly rare) spaces where more extended reflection is possible.

The 'homosexuality is natural' sort of argument is in fact quite frequently mentioned. I don't see much point in ignoring it, even if a) I suspect few people are listening to the reply; and b) even if they were to accept the reply, their commitment to the action (eg on introducing SSM) is such that they would find an alternative reason for endorsing it.

Generally, I think we should treat people as being philosophically serious, even if we suspect they're not.

Reader said...

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Is “Natural Law” Anti-Nature?

http://occamsrazormag.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/is-natural-law-anti-nature/


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Neil Parille said...

I don't think the Supreme Court's upcoming ruling on same sex marriage will have anything to do with the election. All of the justices (perhaps Anthony Kennedy excepted) I'm sure made up their minds long ago what would happen if the issue came before them.

I think opposition to SSM is declining. California would probably vote differently now. Maine did.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Jeff (i.e. Jeffrey S.),

Sorry, your comment got stuck in the spam filter and I only just saw it -- feel free to re-post it.

Eduardo said...

Natural as defined by A-T is of course anti-natural when natural is defined by mechanism.

Apparently the maiun point of reader's post is that... welllll... natural law doesn't take biology in account, when biology is immersed in mechanism that gives no reason for morality at all.

....seriously why I read the trolls...

Crude said...

Lazarus,

I'm sure you're right about the 'vague, watered down' endorsement of arguments from human nature from the 'progressive' side, but they are still regularly offered in the public space and I think have to be met on those terms.

I agree entirely. In fact, I think the entire direction of SSM opponents and critics of sodomy, etc, needs a massive rewrite. This is an issue I think about a lot, because the entire situation is so fascinating to me. I think it says a tremendous amount about western culture, and I think this general area of debate is key to reversing a whole lot of negative trends in the west. If we learn our lesson here, we'll have learned on lesson on just about everything.

Crude said...

VJT,

I hate to sound pessimistic, but I don't think there'll ever be any rollback on gay rights in the West.

Ever? Like, over the course of eternity?

I disagree, at least in terms of potential. I do think success is not easy, because to have any hope of success, the current approaches need to be largely rewritten - and that's hard to pull off.

I'd just like to ask people here: have any of you ever changed someone's views on gay marriage? If so, how? Or for that matter, have you ever heard of a former supporter of gay marriage coming to reverse his/her views? If so, what changed them? Just curious.

Yes, I have. I've also had some personal (so hey, anecdotes) success changing the views and attitudes of people regarding opponents of SSM. It's only been a few people, but I've learned a lot from the interactions.

You can't convert the person who is just supremely hostile to SSM criticisms of any kind for any reason of course. Just like you can't convince the president if Perrier that it's almost impossible to tell the difference between Perrier and tapwater - if there's that huge emotional investment, that's that. Most people don't have that investment, and I doubt more than a bare few ever will.

I know you asked 'how you did it', but that's a complicated subject. But absolutely topping the list? You have to realize and act as if there is a difference between 'gay people/people who have same-sex attraction' and 'LGBT lobbying groups'. In fact, that's important in a Christian sense, not just a 'rhetorical strategy' sense. You have to know exactly what you're opposing, and focus on it. You have to offer a vision of society, you have to offer 'secular' reasoning. And you have to realize the difference between 'an argument that is correct', 'a claim that is supported by data' and 'something that will persuade your audience'.

Nathan said...

A bit more here from DBH which might be relevant to these discussions:

http://wingedkeelandcrumpet.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/natural-law-bentley-hart-feser-et-al/

rank sophist said...

According to Oderberg, the proposition given by person P 'X is wrong' just means 'P disapproves of X.' In other words, the former is analyzed in terms of the latter.

That's an interesting argument. I've never seen someone try to attack subjectivism.

The problem with this, claims Oderberg, is that (I'll just quote him here): "But 'P disapproves of doing X' cannot, on this analysis, be equivalent to 'P believes that doing X is wrong', since 'Doing X is wrong' is precisely what the relativist seeks to give the meaning of; in which case the analysis would be circular."

This supposes that "P believes" catches out to "P believes proposition Y". It's Y that Oderberg is using to attack, since he claims that one cannot believe something without it being about some proposition. However, the subjectivist works from the sole axiom "I exist", which is the basis of every one of their further claims. A subjectivistic belief is never a belief in an analytic proposition, since analytic propositions are not grounded in the axiom "I exist": they are fundamentally externalistic--"objective". Thus, the subjectivist must use a different definition of belief.

As monk said in the other combox, a position like this ultimately recasts every belief, ethical idea or decision in terms of the will-to-power. As a result, the subjectivist could object to Oderberg's claim by saying, "I believe that X is wrong because I will to do so." Arbitrary? Yes. Circular? No. The justification for the subjectivist's every belief is the axiomatic "I", which escapes the circular loop of saying "I disapprove of X because I belief X to be wrong because I disapprove of X." Instead, all we have left is "I do this because I do this", which is tautological but, because it gets its meaning by directly referring to an axiom, not irrelevant.

So I know this is long-winded, but I have a good reason for bringing it up. It's not necessarily clear that many of these modern metaphysics are logically valid. Now, I grant you that some are bound to be, but we've got to seriously consider them before we ambitiously assume that they are.

I agree with you. Obviously, certain (if not many) parts of modern metaphysics have to be false. But to make a sweeping claim like the one Prof. Feser made is far too extreme. It seems like he supposes that only pre-modern metaphysics (and perhaps, out of those systems, only Aristotelianism and Thomism) are capable of being coherent.

rank sophist said...

Nathan,

Great find. I think this is important reading for people who misunderstood Hart's essay.

Jeffrey S. said...

VJT,

You asked earlier,

"I'd just like to ask people here: have any of you ever changed someone's views on gay marriage? If so, how? Or for that matter, have you ever heard of a former supporter of gay marriage coming to reverse his/her views? If so, what changed them? Just curious."

I'll follow-up Crude with an ancedote -- my own personal conservsion. I used to support SSM and many other socially liberal positions and then I was convinced of the truth of orthodox Christianity and changed my mind.

Since then, people like Ed have been very helpful in getting me to understand why I was wrong -- but to be honest, I took the leap of faith first (in the sense that I was convinced of the central truth claims of Christianity first) and then knew that I needed to figure out why I was wrong about my socially liberal beliefs.

In other words, if you become convinced (though rational argument) that Christ really did die and was resurrected for our sins, then a lot follows from these basic facts of history.

So in one sense I'm closer to Hart's position in that I had a "conversion" first, but in another sense I reject his argument because my conversion itself depended on rational arguments and as I said before, once I was converted I wanted arguments FOR the truths of Christianity to help me explain what I now believed (and to be an effective missionary to the wider secular culture around me).

Anonymous said...

"Is “Natural Law” Anti-Nature?

http://occamsrazormag.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/is-natural-law-anti-nature/"

Does this post actually quote arguments from the opposition?

No, it does not.

TheOFloinn said...

"Only a tiny minority of people have ever been able to understand the metaphysical arguments necessary to establish natural law as true."

That's probably true of pretty much any philosophical view whatsoever.


Heck, it's even true of mathematics.

NoshPartitas said...

Rank,

I honestly hadn't considered a response along those lines. I would just like to say, presumably there are subjectivists, especially when speaking of moral subjectivism/relativism, who would desire to cash out their position analytically, and to whom Oderberg's criticism would still be applicable. After all, most modern philosophers are of the analytic tradition, and would not take such an extreme position as you outline here (and elsewhere). I frankly find what you're saying to be incredibly foreign (regarding what is presumably an extremely voluntaristic approach), and have a hard time making sense of it. Indeed, this whole dispute has been incredibly difficult to follow. It will take a while to process. Does Hart discuss this aspect of modern philosophy in his book "Beauty of the Infinite?"

Anonymous said...

The "Is “Natural Law” Anti-Nature?" blog post that has linked to is clearly nonsensical. It ignores any of the metaphysical and philosophical context of natural law theory. It also begs the question by assuming a naturalistic/evolutionary answer to what human nature is against a deducitve, Aristotelian view of human nature (which is not properly discussed). Finally, his understanding of Aristotle is absurdly ignorant. It is certainly true Aristotle had a far more empirical than Plato, and far more interested in natural science. But Aristotle was still part of the ancient philosophical tradition. And, like almost all ancient philosophers, he was no naturalist and, as Pierre Hadot and many others pointed out, interested in guiding man, as a rational and non-naturalistic being, to the good life.

On subjectivism;

The first way to refute a subjectivist like those Rank is talking about is to say "I believe I should hit you with a stick".

Also, the belief that I exist clearly carries with it the claim that being is. It would seem that the subjectivists being referred to are just playing the most infantile games of sophistry.


Anonymous said...

-That should have been almost all ancient philosophers of Aristotle's time.

Whether the Epicureans were naturalists in any modern sense is debatable, certainly, but they came after Aristotle anyway.

rank sophist said...

Nosh,

I would just like to say, presumably there are subjectivists, especially when speaking of moral subjectivism/relativism, who would desire to cash out their position analytically, and to whom Oderberg's criticism would still be applicable.

I would agree with you here.

After all, most modern philosophers are of the analytic tradition, and would not take such an extreme position as you outline here (and elsewhere). I frankly find what you're saying to be incredibly foreign (regarding what is presumably an extremely voluntaristic approach), and have a hard time making sense of it. Indeed, this whole dispute has been incredibly difficult to follow. It will take a while to process. Does Hart discuss this aspect of modern philosophy in his book "Beauty of the Infinite?"

It seems foreign because, if you're an American, it pretty much is. What I've been describing lately is continental philosophy, which gave birth to post-modernism. I would disagree with you that most philosophers are analytic, though. You'd be surprised at how large the continental tradition is: Fichte, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Foucault, Lacan, Lyotard, Deleuze, Levinas, Derrida and, most recently (and least impressively), Žižek. Many important Catholic thinkers have been influenced by this school of thought as well, like Lonergan, Rahner, Balthasar and JPII. Hart is firmly within this tradition, although, as with the Catholics mentioned before, he rejects its nihilistic tendencies.

I agree that it's difficult to understand at first: after all that analytic philosophy I'd been reading, it was like learning a new language. And yes, Hart talks about it at length in The Beauty of the Infinite, in which he attacks and/or builds off of many of the continental thinkers I listed above. This, I might add, is a big reason why Prof. Feser was incorrect in his criticism of Hart. Converting continental philosophy into analytic terms is about as worthwhile as converting analytic philosophy into continental terms, which is to say that it is mostly impossible and a waste of time. What Hart said was correct, but it can't really be translated into the language used by Analytic Thomists like Prof. Feser and many of the posters here--hence the widespread confusion about what exactly Hart was trying to say.

Anonymous said...

As a beginner, where can I read about the difference between "continental" and "analytic" philosophy?

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"Analytic Thomists like Prof. Feser and many of the posters here . . ."

I don't want to reopen previous debates, but I wouldn't describe Feser (or any of the other posters here, at least among the ones I've met) as an "analytical Thomist." That description is best applied to philosophers like Geach, Anscombe, Kenny, and Haldane, and it's singularly inappropriate when applied to, say, Feser or TheOFloinn.

Of course, if all you mean by "analytic" is "not continental," you're right, but frankly that way of carving up the pie isn't very helpful or accurate. As Bernard Williams remarks somewhere, it's like classifying cars as either "four-wheel drive" or "made in Japan."

rank sophist said...

Anon at 8:38 PM,

I'm sorry to say that I can't think of a recommendation, aside from the Wikipedia articles on the two subjects. Most of my learning about the traditions has happened "in the trenches", so to speak. I learned analytic and continental philosophy by diving into the material and reading until I understood it. Perhaps dguller could offer something--he's into both traditions and has read far more books than I have. Sorry.

Scott said...

@Anon:

"As a beginner, where can I read about the difference between 'continental' and 'analytic' philosophy?"

Try Simon Critchley's Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction and Hans-Johann Glock's What Is Analytic Philosophy?

rank sophist said...

One more post.

I don't want to reopen previous debates, but I wouldn't describe Feser (or any of the other posters here, at least among the ones I've met) as an "analytical Thomist." That description is best applied to philosophers like Geach, Anscombe, Kenny, and Haldane, and it's singularly inappropriate when applied to, say, Feser or TheOFloinn.

Prof. Feser's work is most definitely of an analytic bent. When he discusses intentionality, he refers to Searle; not Husserl. When he writes about 70s and 80s philosophy, he talks about Kripke and Putnam; not Derrida or Deleuze. The Last Superstition could have been a long dissertation on the bankruptcy of post-modernism, but it is instead an attack on analytic ideas like scientism, materialism and so forth. I happen to find analytic philosophy fascinating, so none of this should be taken as an insult. I'm just saying that you aren't likely to see an article by Prof. Feser about the "worlding of the world", but you have seen him discuss quus. Likewise, Hart probably could not tell you the first thing about quus, but he's very well acquainted with the worlding of the world.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"Prof. Feser's work is most definitely of an analytic bent. . . . The Last Superstition . . . is . . . an attack on analytic ideas like scientism, materialism and so forth."

I thank you for saving me the trouble of refuting you. ;-)

Answer said...

^lol.

The Deuce said...

VJT:

I hate to sound pessimistic, but I don't think there'll ever be any rollback on gay rights in the West.

I would just like to point out that we've been here before.

It implied then the same thing that it does now: a deeply corrupt society, and a especially decadent and corrupt elite, that has lost its grip on reality and is due to suffer the consequences of it. It's not simple coincidence that gay marriage is coming to a head in the West at the same time we're undergoing demographic collapse, and drowning in uncountable debt while flailing about helplessly to make it go away without having to pay the piper. All of these things come down the fact that we foolishly believe that we can simply ignore reality, and redefine nature according to our whims of the moment. Reality, however, always bites back, and will reassert it one way or another whether we like it or not (as, indeed, it is already beginning to do).

Anonymous said...

"Worlding of the world"? Why not "catting of the cat," or "appling of the apple"? It sounds like someone just started talking pure gibberish one day, and to stave off criticisms simply gave it the dignified title of "continental philosophy." All decent arguments must have a valid logical structure and true premises documented with evidence, and so any rigorous argument must by its very nature be analytical. Why can't we just admit that continental philosophy is literally illogical nonsense?

DNW said...

Feser writes:


"The second reason is that the liberal, who claims to favor intellectual pluralism in the public sphere, needs constantly to be forced to put his money where his mouth is. If you press against him natural law arguments against abortion, “same-sex marriage,” etc., then you thereby compel him either seriously to engage with those who object to his social liberalism, or to reveal himself as a hypocrite. But if you fail to press such arguments, you cannot blame him if he dismisses opposition to the liberal social agenda as without a rational foundation -- and if he is also able to convince the fence-sitters that it lacks one."


This is probably, above all else what so enrages the hedonic-left materialist about the presence of teleologically themed reasoning in the public square, in the first place.

In order to engage and rebut natural law on any supposedly objective grounds, while simultaneously maintaining their claims to existential consideration or forbearance, they find themselves willy-nilly adopting the same mode of argument as do natural law advocates: merely arguing over the exact hierarchy of objective ends; but, while denying that any such ends are intellectually defensible. Incoherent hypocrites, as Feser notes.

If they admittedly try to argue without recourse to objective ends, they are revealed - as many others have mentioned here - as will-to-power disciples, who at present at least, would likely be losers should there develop a no-holds-barred contest wherein preferential push, came to physical shove.

Whether the run of the mill left-wing disciple of materialism is explicitly aware of this problem or not, it's clear that the vanguard class is. And it has been for some time now scurrying to formulate grounds for persuading the productive mass to yield up what they want from it, other than appeals based on some "discovered" standard. They can only so long preach a gospel they think ridiculous in order to reap its benefits, before the hoi polloi catch on.

That smug shrugging nilhilsm, delivered from positions of academic security and comfort, those appeals to pleasure as an end in itself, and that comic blather about solidarity and evolution are just forensic stopgaps meant to buy time political time.

For future trends, my money is on the same spot as Vincent Torley's.

I think transhumanism, is the only way an "appetite without a reason" has to go.


Of course the promise of a utilitarian shaped end of "perpetual bliss" is just as susceptible to a dose of "so-what?" acid, as any other.

But I reckon that they figure the notion of becoming Gods too is so glittering a prospect that careful consideration of what is means is unlikely.

On their own terms [these advocates] of course, they are nothing more, ultimately, than meaningless organic bags of appetite. Congeries really, of urges or tendencies.

Their problem, at least while they lack the unrestrained power of life and death over others, is to persuade you to respect what is on their own terms meaningless: their own lives and urges.

DNW said...



Add a dash/hyphen between "buy time", and "political time".

Supertradmum said...

I thought that one of the facets of natural law philosophy was that all humans had a common natural moral framework by nature and not by nurture from which to judge actions or thoughts.

If we make natural law philosophy into something which is esoteric, capable of being understood only by the intelligentsia, or not, as the case may be, are we not denying the simplicity of the idea that to be human is to share with all humanity a natural law because we are human?

If the child on the playground knows instinctively that pushing a playmate into the mud, or stealing someone's lunch money is not quite right, can we not start with a more primitive definition? Can we say that to be human is to share in this natural law and to be subhuman is to deny a natural conscience, which is encouraged by religion and focused on love in Christianity, but there without established religion?

Can we engage the liberal in a discussion as to what it means to be human? And, therefore,that some actions are beneath the dignity of humans? Or, in 2013, are so many people incapable of knowing what it is to be human that this discussion cannot even begin?

Anonymous said...



Here's a recent article by Ron Unz, "How Social Darwinism Made Modern China,"

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/how-social-darwinism-made-modern-china-248/

that everyone is going to be talking about.



It seems to make similar claims as a recent article by Geoffrey Miller, "Chinese Eugenics":


http://www.edge.org/response-detail/23838



...

rank sophist said...

"Worlding of the world"? Why not "catting of the cat," or "appling of the apple"? It sounds like someone just started talking pure gibberish one day, and to stave off criticisms simply gave it the dignified title of "continental philosophy." All decent arguments must have a valid logical structure and true premises documented with evidence, and so any rigorous argument must by its very nature be analytical. Why can't we just admit that continental philosophy is literally illogical nonsense?

And continental philosophers believe that analytic philosophy is a meaningless power play that uses words in an attempt to subjugate reality. There is a mutual contempt between the two schools. However, I think that any version of Thomism that hopes to represent Aquinas's beliefs needs to use both continental and analytic techniques.

(Also, the "worlding of the world" does mean something, although, like with quus, you need to do a lot of groundwork before it makes any sense.)

Anonymous said...

Why can't any decent Thomism use neither analytical and continental techniques?

Thomism, like most traditional schools of philosophy I' aware of, always had rigour and always aimed at precision. Therefore it lived up to the only legitimate aims of analytical philosophy (better than it ever did) without any of the narrowness and verbosity.

Thomism had far more of the broadness of mind and attempt at profundity than continental philosophy has ever been able to achieve.

Thomism might gain from drawing more from Platonism; from the Fathers, especially the Greek ones; and from Hesychasm and the Christian mystical tradition. It is hardly likely to gain anything but incorporating aspects of analytical or continental philosophy. I certainly have never read a Christian thinker who was much improved by making these schools of thought important elements in his writing.

MarcAnthony said...

I used to support gay marriage. My family didn't, and I always had a vague uncomfortable feeling about the concept probably for that reason, but I absolutely supported it.

You know how I was converted? Dr. Feser.

To just fatalistically believe that views on gay marriage will never change seems to forget one fundamental idea: to get to this point, views had to change.

To assume that they won't assumes a lot.

Crude said...

MarcAnthony,

To just fatalistically believe that views on gay marriage will never change seems to forget one fundamental idea: to get to this point, views had to change.

Exactly.

I think the response will be that they didn't change due to arguments. And I'd agree with that. One major difference between many social conservatives and many social liberals seems to come down to the following:

SoCon: I tried X, Y and Z to convince people of my position. It didn't work, in fact it only dissuaded people. Clearly I should either give up, or keep trying X, Y and Z until it works.

SoLib: I tried X, Y and Z to convince people of my position. It didn't work, in fact it only dissuaded people. Clearly I should try A, B and C next.

Anonymous said...

You were kind not to bring up their Orthodoxy.

rank sophist said...

Anon at 4:35 PM,

I'd just like to clarify that I'm in full agreement with you. What I meant was that Aquinas himself endorsed a broad set of ideas, and that our current philosophical language is incapable of adequately describing them. Continental and analytic language must be combined to get at the full range of his thought. In order to explain his essentialism and the nitty-gritty of his metaphysics, we need thinkers with roots in analytic philosophy, like Oderberg or Prof. Feser. In order to explain his ontology, theology and ideas about the self, we need thinkers with roots in continental philosophy, like Rahner and Hart (who discusses Aquinas regularly). These aspects were united in Aquinas, but the way people talk and think has changed and divided since then.

I agree that analytic and continental philosophy have nothing to add to Thomism or Christianity generally in terms of content. They merely provide us with a way of formulating and discussing that content. Just look at JPII's use of phenomenology. I also agree that Thomism could learn from, as you said, "Platonism; from the Fathers, especially the Greek ones; and from Hesychasm and the Christian mystical tradition." I personally have been trying out a mixture of Thomism and these elements, and I find it to be very fulfilling.

I just wanted to clear up any misunderstanding.

Anonymous said...

Rank Sophist,

Are you aware of the writings of Henry Corbin?

Stratford Caldecott and Philip Sherrard also fascinating figures.

rank sophist said...

Can't say that I've heard of those guys, Anon. Any book recommendations?

Anonymous said...

I would recommend Caldecott's Beauty for Truth's Sake. I would also recommend Corbin's Alone with the Alone.

When it comes to Sherrard his Sacred in Life and Art and Christianity: Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition, are well worth reading.

rank sophist said...

Thanks. I'll look into them.

Aquinas3000 said...

Interesting that Thursday spent so much of his time arguing on the internet when he does not believe arguing is effective...

DavidM said...

Thursday asked: "Why do you believe arguments can have significant social impact, even if only through a sort of trickle down effect? What evidence do you have for that?"

Seems to me that prevalence of socially liberal views is positively correlated with higher degrees of education, i.e., greater exposure to leftie arguments. I think that *anybody* who is moderately intelligent and resolves to be open-minded *will* change their mind from the default PC view on SSM if they are given a competent presentation of the argument for the opposing position - that default PC main-stream media view is just too dumb to withstand any honest scrutiny.

"Have lots of kids. Make great art. Form small religious communities. Pray. Argue a bit too, but do it for the love of truth not because it's necessarily going to change the world." -- Yes, for the love of truth, but we *must* believe that the love of truth cannot fail to change the world.

DavidM said...

Thursday,
Another way of putting my point: Which arguments your professor presents and how he presents them *will* definitely affect the beliefs that you end up with at the end of your course with that professor. Do you doubt that? If you do, then you must doubt that students learn what they are taught.

Anonymous said...

I think that *anybody* who is moderately intelligent and resolves to be open-minded *will* change their mind from the default PC view on SSM if they are given a competent presentation of the argument for the opposing position...

You are delusional.

Or, if you are right, since the pendulum is swinging towards acceptance of SSM, the people presenting arguments against it must be truly incompetent.

Anonymous said...

An ad hom and a perhaps a non sequitur.

DavidM said...

I am right (I think!) but the consequence you point to is indeed a non sequitur. Should be obvious why if you go back and read (*carefully* this time) what I wrote.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Feser, are you planning to write a response to T. Kozinski?

Tony said...

SoCon: I tried X, Y and Z to convince people of my position. It didn't work, in fact it only dissuaded people. Clearly I should either give up, or keep trying X, Y and Z until it works.

SoLib: I tried X, Y and Z to convince people of my position. It didn't work, in fact it only dissuaded people. Clearly I should try A, B and C next.

Well, OK, but Crude are you in danger of treating "X, Y, and Z", as well as "A, B, and C" as arguments? Because it wasn't arguments that did it. More than any one thing, it was propaganda in the form of TV shows, movies, stories, etc. Culturally modeled modes of thought, feeling, speaking, without ever making an argument. The gay agenda has never moved forward by argument, because (as DavidM correctly says) the arguments cannot stand up to examination. That they do "stand" in a sense is from the fact that people don't WANT to examine them - people have a just-so story to believe in given to them by TV and movies and books, and they have no stomach for pursuing a rigorous argument, and they won't challenge that story. Few come out of college with the intellectual virtues needed for rigorous intellectual examination, much less the starting premises by which to sift well.

Scott said...

This seems somehow vaguely relevant here: http://www.cato.org/multimedia/media-highlights-tv/penn-jillette-discusses-new-pope-cnns-piers-morgan-tonight.

Tony said...

But to make a sweeping claim like the one Prof. Feser made is far too extreme. It seems like he supposes that only pre-modern metaphysics (and perhaps, out of those systems, only Aristotelianism and Thomism) are capable of being coherent.

Rank, there is more than one sense of "coherent", and you are using one where I think others here would use the other. I can dream up a mathematical system in which the only "number" 5 and the only "sentence" allowable is "5<>5". Such a system may be internally "coherent", but the coherence is that of pure logic alone: given certain premises, certain conclusions can be drawn.

In a metaphysics that purports to be (hopes to be) the valid metaphysics of THIS world, some other things are "givens" besides the ones that you want to hypothesize for a logically pure system. Human experiences of sensation, of feeling and emotion, of knowing and willing, are givens. In the world of ALL the real givens, there is one fully true metapysics, and every other metaphysics either approaches to that one true one more closely or falls away by being more wrong. Feser and other Thomists claim that Aristotelian metaphysics is true, and all other metaphysics that disagree with Aristotle's (as opposed to expand upon and extend, or explain wholly other facets of the givens of experience without disagreeing with) Aristotle's perforce fall away from the true metaphysics and are incoherent from the perspective of some (many) of the givens that are supposed to constitute the premises of metaphysics.

Anonymous said...

I live in Australia, so I can give some information on how social liberalism works in a land where it completely dominates. When it comes, for example, to so called gay marriage, it is popular in polls. However, most people support it not because they have really thought about the arguments, most wouldn't even know of natural law arguments, but because they have imbibed certain socially liberal assumptions about sexuality, virtue, and human nature.

Arguments are no doubt important, but it is not them which will sway the masses directly.

Also, multiculturalism and mass immigration are not good for social conservatism. They allow secularists and social liberals to say we cannot have any religious or traditional morality because all these others cultures wouldn't accept it and we are now a multicultural country. This is worse in Australia than even Britain, where I'm from, as Australia has turned its back on its British heritage and therefore has precious little historical identity to contrast to the new multiculturalism.

Rupert said...

Where's the best place to read a defence of natural law theory?