Friday, March 28, 2014

What’s around the web?

John Searle is interviewed at New Philosopher.  He’s in fine Searle form (and well-armed, as you can see from the photo accompanying the interview):  “It upsets me when I read the nonsense written by my contemporaries, the theory of extended mind makes me want to throw up.”

Jeremy Shearmur is interviewed at 3:AM Magazine about his work on Karl Popper and F. A. Hayek.  Standpoint magazine on Hayek and religion.

A memorial conference for the late E. J. Lowe will be held this July at Durham University. 

Steely Dan is being sued by former member David Palmer.  GQ magazine looks back on Steely Dan’s Aja, and The Quietus celebrates and cerebrates the 40th anniversary of Pretzel Logic.  Donald Fagen’s book Eminent Hipsters is reviewed in City Journal and in the New York Observer.
    
John Haldane discusses Alasdair MacIntyre, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis at Ethika Politika

In The New Atlantis, Roger Scruton on “Scientism in the Arts and Humanities.”

Philosopher of language Scott Soames is interviewed at 3:AM Magazine.  Soames discusses, among other things, his defense of a variation on the originalist approach to interpreting the U.S. constitution.  This is a subject explored in some of the essays in Soames’ new book Analytic Philosophy in America and Other Historical and Contemporary Essays, wherein he comments on Roe v. Wade and other crucial Supreme Court cases.

That Sony holds the rights to make Spider-Man movies has so far kept him from joining the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  But there are several ways it could still happen.

Elmar J. Kremer has just published Analysis of Existing: Barry Miller's Approach to God.  Bill Vallicella comments on the book

Some other recent books of interest: Stephen Boulter, Metaphysics from a Biological Point of View, “a defense of Scholastic metaphysical principles based on contemporary evolutionary biology”; Charlie Huenemann, Spinoza’s Radical Theology; Peter Adamson, ed., Interpreting Avicenna: Critical Essays (reviewed at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews); and Stephen Mumford and Matthew Tugby, eds., Metaphysics and Science (also reviewed at NDPR).

Some forthcoming books: From Brian Davies, Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae: A Guide and Commentary; and from Mark Anderson, Plato and Nietzsche: Their Philosophical Art.

When was the last time you heard the Thomist A. D. Sertillanges, or even Aquinas himself, being discussed on the radio?  For me it was (to my surprise) this afternoon after tuning in to The Hugh Hewitt Show.  Turns out that Lee Cole, who teaches philosophy at Hillsdale College, and Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale, have been discussing Aquinas with Hewitt in a series of shows.  You can find the show transcripts here.

56 comments:

Greg said...

Thanks for this. Lots of interesting (but expensive!) stuff to read. Speaking of expensive books (and of Kremer's book there), does anyone know if Barry Miller's From Existence to God is available anywhere for a reasonable price? It appears to be out of print, and my university doesn't stock it.

ccmnxc said...

Davies' book is looking pretty good, and $25 seems fairly reasonable for the content. Thanks for the heads up; I always need excuses to spend gobs of money on books.

Tom said...

Dr. Feser,

I don't know if either you or Dr. Parsons is taking requests, but your debate has left an excellent sequel hook: as it's ending, you're going in circles about whether terms like "pure actuality" or "his essence just is his existence" make any sense or whether he's truly self-explanatory or just a brute fact. A separate debate on these topics would be most enlightening. Thank you for the first exchange and thanks in advance for the second!

Mark Anderson said...

Thanks, Ed, for noting my forthcoming Plato and Nietzsche book. I am just going through the page proofs, and it should be availabe early fall (Amazon says October, but I expect it sooner). It covers some of the same topics as my previous work, Pure, but in a more "scholarly" mode and from a different angle.

Scott said...

Lots of good stuff there. Some of it is out of my current price range, but I think I'll have to pre-order Brian Davies's book.

@Mark Anderson:

Having very much enjoyed Pure, I congratulate you on your forthcoming Plato and Nietzsche and look forward to reading it. Unfortunately the current price of the hardcover edition forces me to place it on my wish list rather than into my shopping cart, but I'll be buying it eventually even if I have to wait for a paperback edition.

Scott said...

. . . and wow, fortieth anniversary of Pretzel Logic. I remember getting it when it was new (or nearly so).

Mark Anderson said...

Scott:

Thank you for the kind words regarding Pure. The price for PN is outrageous, I know. They say they'll bring it out in paperback more quickly if the sales are good, but of course the high price for the hardback almost ensures that the sales will be slow. Crazy logic. In any case, though PN is somewhat scholarly, I have written it with an intelligent non-academic audience primarily in mind.

Tom said...

And on a less scholarly note, I present to you all one of the absolute worst responses to Aquinas in history: http://bitchspot.jadedragononline.com/2013/02/20/taking-on-the-quinque-viae/

Look at him. Look at him and laugh.

Scott said...

@Tom:

Wow. Just wow.

Greg said...

I like how he says he has already "gone into detail" on one of Aquinas's Five Ways, while linking to a treatment of the kalam cosmological argument.

Tom said...

And the obligatory "I'm an idiot and am trying to cover my bases": The example about the rock and the ocean is wrong because things only have final causality if they can cause change (actualize a potential) in others, so that the rock itself doesn't have a final cause, but dropping the rock on the sand "points to" displacing the sand and the waves lapping up on the shore "points to" erosion of the shore, right?

Tom said...

And the obligatory "I'm an idiot and am trying to cover my bases": The example about the rock and the ocean is wrong because things only have final causality if they can cause change (actualize a potential) in others, so that the rock itself doesn't have a final cause, but dropping the rock on the sand "points to" displacing the sand and the waves lapping up on the shore "points to" erosion of the shore, right?

Scott said...

@Tom:

That example is also wrong because (e.g.) a rock exhibits final causation even in following what we ordinarily call physical laws. It's attracted to the Earth, for example, so there's something about it that's "directed" toward Earthwards motion. Final causation needn't be conscious or deliberate.

Tom said...

@Scott: Right, that makes sense, and I know that physical laws are usually describing causal powers under A-T metaphysics, so that checks out. Was I correct about the displacing the sand and the erosion examples of final causality?

Scott said...

@Tom:

Sure. A full causal explanation would be more precise, but the idea is right: there's something about a rock that's "directed toward" things like displacing sand, breaking windows, and so forth. Physics spells a lot of this out for us more thoroughly, but doesn't in any way undermine the basic metaphysical point.

Tom said...

@Scott: Thanks. Is there any particular reason why, according to A-T, that objects have the final causes that they do? Isn't it kind of arbitrary that certain things are flammable and certain things aren't? It seems like a bizarre question to me even as I ask it, but how does it all work out the way it does?

dover_beach said...

Sorry, but I stopped reading 'Bitchspot's post where s/he claims that the third premise of the First Way was unfalsifiable which was followed by the unembarrassed reference to the multiverse.

Scott said...

@Tom:

"Is there any particular reason why, according to A-T, that objects have the final causes that they do?"

Well, yes, but there's no guarantee that we'll ever find out what those reasons are. ;-)

In all seriousness, those questions really are empirical. We have a pretty good idea, for example, how opiates work: their molecular structure matches up in a certain way with that of certain neural receptors. We have a pretty good idea of how gravitation works: mass affects the shape of space in a certain way, and moving bodies not subjected to external forces tend to follow geodesics within that curved space. And so on. Those aren't complete explanations, but they're explanations as far as they go (on the implicit understanding that a full, all-the-way-down explanation exists metaphysically even if it's not available to us epistemologically).

Those explanations are all at the level of secondary causes—causes within Creation, explanations of "how things work in our universe." They also, according to A-T, have an explanation another level up: namely, God's decision to make this universe as He did, and endow things with the secondary causes they in fact have, in order that His purposes be fulfilled. But that's not a scientific explanation, and if offered in place of one, it's just a God-of-the-gaps pseudo-explanation. What we want in science is an explanation in terms of secondary causes, not the Prime Cause, which "explains" everything and therefore nothing.

Scott said...

@dover_beach:

"Sorry, but I stopped reading 'Bitchspot's post where s/he claims that the third premise of the First Way was unfalsifiable which was followed by the unembarrassed reference to the multiverse."

Yes, I was struck by that as well. What struck me, at least, was the apparent contradiction between the trust in human reason to establish the existence of the "multiverse," and the distrust of human reason to establish that you can't have an infinitely regressive causal series in any universe.

Catholicz said...

A direct question to Prof. Feser; do you take on challenges to Aquinas from Catholic sources? I know of a group doing just that at the moment concerning the five ways. I can email you with more details if you like.

dover_beach said...

Scott, that was exactly what struck me too, and the inequality between the two stopped further reading.

Michael said...

Wow, a Steely Dan reference on Edward Feser's blog. Awesome.

I read Eminent Hipsters and found it half-interesting and half-grouchy (Groucho?). In Donald's Dukes tour diary, he comes across as a disgruntled songwriter/performer seething with pessimism, ostracizing hotel staff, live audiences and seemingly everyone in-between. There are a few funny moments here and there but overall the book was disappointing, especially considering Donald Fagen's musical brilliance.

Scott said...

@Michael:

"Wow, a Steely Dan reference on Edward Feser's blog. Awesome."

If you liked that, you know what else you'll like? This and this.

Neil said...

Easily the funniest thing on bitchspot's post is recasting the fourth way as the ontological argument and then offering Gaunilo's objections. Brilliant.

Timotheos said...

@ Neil

Cause, you know, it's not like Aquinas rejected the ontological argument merely two articles before that on the same question of God's existence or anything. ;)

Mikhail Lastrilla said...
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Michael said...

@ Mikhail Lastrilla

The way I see it, final causality is a necessary component to make sense of efficient causality in the first place, it helps govern what possibilities are possible in changing things.

So it would seem that far from any kind of 'best explanation' it would have to be the 'only explanation'.

Of course there is final causality on the macro level as well, and I suppose that's where your question starts off from. I guess I would say at some level it is a necessary component in order to make sense of efficient causality and finite, changeable being.

Scott said...

@Mikhail Lastrilla:

"Supposedly, final causation is the best (if not only) explanation for the causal regularity we find in the world. But what explains the regularity of final causation?"

I'm not quite sure what you mean by the "regularity of final causation," but I'm going to take you to mean something like the regular presence of final causation or the fact that things regularly have final causes.

If that's what you mean, then there are two answers, both true but each at a different "level."

(1) At the level of secondary causation, things "regularly" have final causes because everything that exists has a nature or essence that "directs" it toward certain ends and not others.

(2) At the level of primary causation, things "regularly" have final causes because God makes them so. Indeed, Aquinas's Fifth Way is an argument that in order for things to have even "dumb" final causes (those not involving consciousness, volition, deliberation, and so forth), there must be a governing Intelligence that endows them with such.

Scott said...

@Michael:

"The way I see it, final causality is a necessary component to make sense of efficient causality in the first place, it helps govern what possibilities are possible in changing things."

I think this is essentially right. In order for something to function as an efficient cause, it must be by nature "directed" toward the production of certain effects. If gunpowder is the (or "an") efficient cause of an explosion, then there must be something in the nature of gunpowder that "aims at" such an effect, and "explosion" must be one of gunpowder's intrinsic final causes.

Tom said...

@Scott: Your answer about the laws of physics seems to lead to a vicious circle. Why are the final causes the way they are? Because of the laws of physics. But why are the laws of physics the way they are? Because of final causality.

Scott said...

@Tom:

"Your answer about the laws of physics seems to lead to a vicious circle. Why are the final causes the way they are? Because of the laws of physics. But why are the laws of physics the way they are? Because of final causality."

Well, that might be so if that had been my answer. ;-)

But I never said or implied, nor do I think, that final causes are the way they are because of the laws of physics. The laws of physics, in my view, are descriptions/summaries of the way things behave in accordance with their natures/essences. The rock doesn't fall in order to conform to a law.

Scott said...

. . . or, if there's some sense in which it does, it does so because a Lawgiver has endowed it with a certain nature.

Tom said...

@Scott: Forgive me if I sound like a generic stoner, but why do the laws of physics have to be what they are, and why do final causes have to work the way they do? Why does anything have to work the way it does? It all seems arbitrary.

Scott said...

@Tom:

"Forgive me if I sound like a generic stoner, but why do the laws of physics have to be what they are, and why do final causes have to work the way they do? Why does anything have to work the way it does? It all seems arbitrary."

I'm not sure what you mean by "have to" here. Newton's law of gravitation, for example, obtains in our universe because behavior in accordance with it in some way "flows from" the nature/essence of mass (even if we don't know how), so given the nature of mass, the law "has to" obtain. But God could have created a universe in which things behaved differently, so in another sense the law doesn't "have to" obtain.

In other words, our laws of nature "have to" obtain because things have the natures they do, and things have the natures they do because those are the things God decided to make so that the universe would fulfill His purposes. But had God decided differently, our laws of nature might not have obtained.

I'm not sure whether that addresses your question or not, though, because I'm honestly not quite clear what your question is.

Scott said...

At any rate I'm not seeing any circularity here. Final causes are the way they are because things have the natures they have, and things have the natures they have because God made them that way so that His purposes would be fulfilled. "Laws of nature" enter into it only as summaries or descriptions of the ways things behave because of their natures/essences.

Tom said...

@Scott: Thanks, my question seemed unclear to me even as I was asking it, but it boils down to why the purposes of God are what they are, and not something else. It's probably beyond our purposes on Earth to know what they are, but it's unsatisfying to all our explanations ultimately come down to "who knows?".

You are right, though, that there's no circularity. The question of why this world fulfills God's purposes in a way that others don't is what's ultimately confusing.

Scott said...

@Tom:

"It's probably beyond our purposes on Earth to know what they are, but it's unsatisfying to all our explanations ultimately come down to 'who knows?'."

Yes, for the most part I think that's right. But I think we can legitimately claim to know that God has the power to bring from any evil He permits a good sufficiently great to justify His permitting it.

"You are right, though, that there's no circularity. The question of why this world fulfills God's purposes in a way that others don't is what's ultimately confusing."

Yes, and I think in order to know that, we'd have to be God. I think the best we can do is to know/believe that there is an explanation even if we don't have it, and to follow the epistemically available explanations as far as we can.

Tom said...

@Scott: Does that same logic support the basic principles of logic and the things that support God's existence (changes in act and potency entailing pure actuality, etc.)? And is it just our belief that there are answers that will be available to us at some point in the future that separates this from atheistic "loluniverse" brute facts?

Anonymous said...

"...is it just our belief that there are answers that will be available to us at some point in the future that separates this from atheistic "loluniverse" brute facts?"

I'm not Scott, and he and anyone else can certainly correct my mistakes and/or clumsy phrasings. With that said, I think the word that should be noted in your question is 'just' in the phrase 'just our belief.' While there are no (as yet) scientifically demonstrable proofs that there are answers that we can look forward to, our belief that there are indeed answers is based on God's revelation of Himself and His creation, taught to us by the Church.

So, yes, what he have is our belief, which goes back to the words of Our Lord, who claimed to be The Way, The Truth, and The Life. (Neither does it quite end there, for He, in turn, asks us a question: Who do you say I am?)

That's how I understand it, at least :-)

Mikhail Lastrilla said...
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Brandon said...

But what accounts for the fact that final causes regularly aim toward the effects they have?

Final causes don't aim towards effects, though; that's a distinctive feature of efficient causes.

Scott said...

@Mikhail Lastrilla:

"But what accounts for the fact that final causes regularly aim toward the effects they have?"

As Brandon says, they don't; efficient causes do. And what accounts for that just is final causation. Where's the regress?

And I don't see the problem with invoking essences or natures. If a struck match sometimes "caused" fire, sometimes "caused" freezing, and sometimes "caused" the sky to rain mock turtle soup, why would we regard the match as the cause of any of those things? To say that a match as a match is "directed toward" an effect just is to say that "match-nature" is thus directed.

Michael said...

To prevent any confusion, I only posted once about Steely Dan. The Michael who posted afterward is not me.

Scott, thanks for the links.

Scott said...

@Tom:

"[I]s it just our belief that there are answers that will be available to us at some point in the future that separates this from atheistic 'loluniverse' brute facts?"

Well, not quite. It's not that we expect those answers to be available to us; that's an epistemic question, and the answer might well be "No." It's that we expect there to be a full explanation, whether or not it's available to us, and that's a metaphysical issue, not an epistemological one. What matters is that things can in principle be explained, not that we expect to be able to have a full explanation ourselves. And we have grounds for the belief that there is ultimately an explanation for everything, in particular (but not exclusively) the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

We've covered some of the relevant ground in the recent threads about "brute facts," so I'll leave it at that unless you want to discuss it further.

Scott said...

@Michael who is not the other Michael:

No problem; you're welcome. If you search the site for "Steely Dan" you'll find more references to them.

Tom said...

@Scott: What would it be like for something to be self-explanatory, as the PSR requires? Would you consider the basic laws of logic and mathematics (the laws of non-contradiction and the identity property of equality, for example) to be self-explanatory?

Mikhail Lastrilla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

@Mikhaila Lastrilla:

"Though perhaps the question can now be put this way: what accounts for the fact that final causes regularly work the way they do?

If we appeal to essences, then what accounts for the fact that essences regularly are the way they are?"

I think I've addressed this already. If you're not satisfied with my reply, tell me why and I'll try again.

Brandon said...

Mikhail,

The 'regularly' in both cases is otiose; that things happen regularly is final causation, so your first question is equivalent to "What accounts for the fact that final causes are final causes?" And essences aren't 'regularly' the way they are; at least, I don't know what it is supposed to indicate in this case, since 'regularity' usually indicates events rather than essences, which are necessarily, not merely 'regularly', what they are. One doesn't usually say that triangles regularly have three sides. There's probably a good question somewhere in both cases, but it's probably too general a level to say what it would be. Perhaps some of the confusion might be with the word 'regularity', though. How are you using the term?

Mikhail Lastrilla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brandon said...

It's still not clear -- in particular, it's not clear why you keep insisting on bringing in 'regularly' when it appears to be redundant in both cases -- all you seem to be asking is why final causes act the way they do and why essences are the way they are. I have no idea why you keep insisting on bringing in 'regularly'. I return a question to you so as to get a better idea what kind of answer you're looking for. What accounts for the fact that every natural number after one is regularly reached by adding 1 to a previous natural number? And how would the answer to this question differ if we just took out 'regularly'?

Mikhail Lastrilla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brandon said...

Setting aside for the moment the two important facts that (1) 'working the way it does' is not a property of final causes but just a vague re-description of final causation itself, so that A seems to be a tautology that has nothing to do with being regular or not, and (2) that you've changed your account of 'regularity' from "at least most times" to "every time", we still have the problem that (3) neither A* nor A** is a natural way of reading A or, indeed, anything structured in the same way as A. If I say,

(B) The glass pane has the property of being fragile,

I am not being ambiguous between

(B*) The glass pane has the property of being fragile at time t

and

(B**) For every time it exists, the glass pane has the property of being fragile

For one thing, B is quite clearly not quantifying over times, nor does it apparently need to in order to make sense, while both B* and B** are quantifying over times, making them rather different propositions. But more importantly, the specification in B* and B** involves quantifying over a modal situation. But there are infinitely many possible modal situations we could be quantifying over instead -- location, possible world, deontic situation, etc., etc. -- and it would be absurd to claim that B is ambiguous among them all. We need, in fact, some specific reason to think that time is relevant to analysis of fragility in order to have any good reason for dragging it in at all. Why, for instance, are we not claiming that B is ambiguous between

(B') The glass pane has the property of being fragile only under deontic conditions d

and

(B'') For all deontic conditions under which it exists, the glass pane has the property of being fragile,

and thus demanding explanations for the consistency of fragility across situations involving different obligations? The reason is that we haven't established that the property of being fragile is something affected by deontic conditions one way or another. Only if we have independent reasons to think that fragility is affected by time, on its own, so that having the property of fragility depended on some kind of time measurement, would it really make sense to specify (B) by (B*) or (B**).

But even if we assumed it did so, notice that there would be a fundamental distinction between giving an account of the property of fragility (why glass breaks the way it does) and any account of the time conditions for the property of fragility. Thus, for instance, explaining the time conditions for formal causation is always entirely trivial: the reason that essence (which are the what-it-is of something) is 'regularly' what it is, is that if it weren't, it would be something different from itself, which is a contradiction. The 'regularly' seems clearly redundant for essences: it appears to do no work whatsoever. And likewise it is still not clear to me why you think it would do any work at all in the final cause case: it seems either clearly irrelevant or else redundant. If there are final causes, regularity just is final causation; we actually even originally got the word 'regularity' from the fact that final causation can be described as the 'regulation' of effects so that they don't happen merely by chance.

So, in short, I'm still not sure what you are asking.

Mikhail Lastrilla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brandon said...

No, merely restating that you want an account of regularity doesn't help at all. Three ways in which it doesn't:

(1) The scope of your modality is unclear in each case. To what does 'at t1' &c. attach?

If it attaches to the proposition as a whole, which is the way modal operators are usually taken when there is no further explanation, then, contrary to your prior claim, the temporal indexing is entirely redundant and the answer to your question is, again, relatively trivial: what explains (a), (b), and (c) is simply the continued existence of the final cause FC.

If, on the other hand, it attaches to the terms, this raises other, different problems that you would need to clarify -- that is, it would then make the time-indexing for the existence of the final cause, or for the acting of the efficient cause.

(2) I've already pointed out why explanation of time conditions, which is how you keep characterizing regularity, is trivial in the case of essences; you have not given me any explanation whatsoever why this does not answer the question you are asking in that case.

Indeed, you keep responding to me by merely restating your question in different words rather than actually addressing any of the clarificatory issues I bring up. I'm not just raising these questions and problems for typing exercise; they do, in fact, touch on matters that you need to explain for your question to be coherent enough to admit of answer.

(3) You've changed your account of regularity for the third time. Originally it was defined in terms of 'at least most times' a thing existed; then 'every time' a thing existed; and now you've taken what seem to be three arbitrary time measurements, which we have no particular reason to think have anything to do with the duration of anything, and asked what explains what you get with the arbitrary time measurements. It's impossible to answer a question when the definition of the unclear term keeps changing every time you explain it.

Brandon said...

I should add:

(4) You have yet to explain why you think the time measurements in particular are relevant to final causation as such. When we talk about regularity in the case of efficient causes, for instance, this does not, in fact, reduce to series of temporal observations; even on a Humean account of causation causal regularity is not purely temporal -- e.g., counterfactual reasoning about causes, which is linked to what is usually meant by causal regularity, cannot be grounded on a temporal modality alone. None of the three different accounts of regularity you've given are even structurally parallel to the question of regularity in the efficient cause case -- you've pulled out the temporal measurements as especially important and insisted that they change the question in some important way so that 'At t1 FC does FC things' is somehow radically different, and in need of a different explanation than 'FC does FC things'. Why? There would seem to have to be several assumptions here that you've never actually stated, but which need to be known in order to know what you are asking.