Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sullivan’s cavils


I thank The Smithy’s Michael Sullivan for his two spirited further installments (here and here) in his series of posts on my book Scholastic Metaphysics.  (I responded to the first of his posts here.)  Sullivan says some very kind things about my book, which I appreciate.  He also raises some criticisms which, though I disagree with them, are reasonable.  But unfortunately, some of his remarks are unjust and intemperate.  Let me comment on those first.

In his most recent post, Sullivan accuses me of “casually dismissing” brands of Scholasticism other than Thomism, comparing my treatment of them to the superficial objections to the cosmological argument one finds in New Atheist writers and of which I’ve often been so critical.  In the course of the combox discussion that followed my previous reply to him, he also speaks of my purported “dismissal of the genuine scholastic tradition,” and accuses me of holding that “there's no point in taking non-Thomism seriously.”  He even compares me to P. Z. Myers.  And of my treatment of one area of dispute between Thomists and Scotists, he writes:

There's… really no difference between what Feser does in this instance and Bertrand Russell saying in his history of philosophy that Aquinas wasn't really a philosopher because the Church told him what to think, so we needn't bother studying him.

This is all quite outrageous.  It is true, of course, that I am a Thomist, and that my book reflects that fact and takes a Thomist position rather than a Scotist or Suarezian one on issues where there is a disagreement between the schools of thought.  It is true that I do not treat the disputes between Thomists and other Scholastics in depth sufficient to convince advocates of those other schools (since, as I explained in my previous reply to Sullivan, the book is not about intra-Scholastic disputes but rather about the dispute between Scholasticism in what I take to be its strongest form on the one hand, and modern and contemporary philosophy on the other).  But though the rival views are neither agreed with nor treated at the length that would be required to turn a Scotist or Suarezian into a Thomist, they are nevertheless discussed respectfully.  There is no polemic whatsoever against Scotist and Suarezian views, nor the least suggestion that those views are unserious or unworthy of study.  This is all in Sullivan’s mind, not on the page. 

The reason it is not on the page is that it is simply not my view of Scotism and Suarezianism.  On the contrary, though I think some of their views are seriously wrong, I regard Scotus and Suarez with reverence, and highly recommend the study of their work and that of their followers.  I gave my book the title Scholastic Metaphysics rather than Thomistic Metaphysics precisely out of solidarity with other Scholastics, including non-Thomist Scholastics -- precisely to make it clear that Aquinas is not the only great figure in the tradition.

This brings me to something else that is entirely in Sullivan’s mind.  On the one hand he acknowledges that:

Feser admits in the book that scholasticism is more than Thomism and neo-Thomism, and… does in fact claim as part of the goal of the book to discuss non-Thomist ideas to the extent that they diverge from Thomism.

and:

[I]n the very first sentence of Feser's book he recognizes that Scholasticism is that tradition of thought which includes not only Aquinas, but Scotus, Ockham, Suarez, etc etc.

But then he also says that:

Once that recognition has been made it's already tendentious to go on to say that Scholaticism = Thomism and that those other thinkers are only worthy of mention when they "depart" from Thomism.

and:

[M]y main point, which I'm going to stop repeating ad nauseum, is that it's factually untrue that scholasticism = Thomism.

and:

[I]n practice he seems to waffle between the view that scholasticism=Thomism or that Thomism is the default or the only view worth considering on the one hand, and the view that Thomism is simply the best or most convincing of the scholastic systems on the other hand, but these two views are not at all the same.

But there is no “waffling” in the book at all, because nowhere in the book do I say or imply that “Scholasticism = Thomism,” nor does Sullivan quote any passage to that effect.  Indeed, as Sullivan admits, I explicitly say that that is not the case.  Rather, I merely maintain (as Sullivan puts it) that “Thomism is simply the best or most convincing of the scholastic systems.”  That is what is actually on the page, and Sullivan at least sometimes sees that that is what is on the page.  But when he is unhappy about some criticism I make of Scotus or Suarez, he projects onto the page the thesis that “Scholasticism = Thomism” and then invents an inconsistency.  The waffling between these views is not mine, but his.  He shifts between seeing what is on the page and seeing the “Scholasticism = Thomism” straw man that exists only in his mind. 

I think it is clear enough what is going on.  As I noted in my previous post, every so often one finds at The Smithy expressions of annoyance at the tendency to treat Aquinas as the Scholastic gold standard.  It is obvious from the history of that (excellent) blog and from various remarks in Sullivan’s latest posts that he has had one too many encounters with Thomists who are insufficiently respectful of or knowledgeable about Scotus and other non-Thomist Scholastics, or too quick to try to settle the dispute between Thomists and other Scholastics with an appeal to ecclesiastical authority.  While Sullivan says that he is not accusing me of such Thomist “triumphalism,” I think his long-standing grievances with other Thomists have nevertheless colored his perceptions of my book, and he’s decided to use his review as an opportunity to vent.  He’s got a bee in his bonnet; he’s got a hair trigger; he’s got issues.  He comes off like Robert Conrad in that old Eveready battery commercial, apparently keen to have the chip on the shoulder replace the dunce cap as the contemporary Scotist’s accessory of choice.

The problem is not really philosophical, then, but attitudinal.  And the remedy is as dry, bracing, and agreeable to a refined palate as a page of Scotus: I recommend to Sullivan a glass or two of good Scotch, in honor of the Subtle Doctor.  I’ll buy it for him if we’re ever at the same conference or the like. 

Some substantive issues

Let me now say something about Sullivan’s other criticisms.  One of them goes like this:

One general observation is a tendency throughout to present the Thomist position on a topic while putting off actually arguing for it. Over and over again the reader encounters remarks to the effect that "my position is this, but the reasons for it depend on something I'm going to say in a later chapter"; this gives the impression of getting the run-around, as though the good deep arguments are always just around the corner. I emphasize that Feser does not always do this; but he does it enough for it to be frustrating.

Here too I think Sullivan exaggerates.  “Over and over again”?  Not really.  But I do occasionally defer a more detailed treatment of an issue until later in the book.  The reason is that given the tight interconnections between many Scholastic notions, it is sometimes necessary to do a fair bit of exposition before one can set out the complete case for some particular claim or respond to all the objections a critic might raise against it.

What Sullivan does not do is offer an example of where I fail to make good on a promise later on to revisit the reasons for some claim.  The closest he comes is complaining that I do not provide arguments for all the many distinctions I draw in the section on “Divisions of act and potency” (subjective versus objective potency, first act versus second act, etc.).  That is true, but I also don’t promise to provide arguments for all of those distinctions.  The reason is that many of them are irrelevant to the specific metaphysical issues that the book does focus on and the debate between Scholastics and analytic philosophers that is its main concern.  That section is merely intended to give the reader a sense of how complex the theory of act and potency is when fully worked out.  You could write a book just on the divisions of act and potency, but my book, which has a lot of other ground to cover, is not that book.  (It is worth noting that, as it is, I went significantly over the page limit that the publisher proposed when inviting me to write the book.)

Here again Sullivan can’t seem to decide what he wants to see on the page.  On the one hand he acknowledges that we need to “[keep] in mind that it is an introduction and that we shouldn't expect an exhaustive treatment of any given topic.”  But on the other, he criticizes me in this instance for not providing a more exhaustive treatment than is called for given the specific aims of the book.  Once again I think his manifest annoyance with certain other Thomists is leading him into an uncharitable reading.  He isn’t attacking a straw man this time, but he is nitpicking.    

More interesting is Sullivan’s criticism of the structure of the book:

In my opinion there are also some structural problems. For instance, in my opinion the treatment of causality is pretty seriously defective… [Feser begins] his discussion of causality with final vs efficient causes, which is a misstep. Material and formal causality are put off until the following chapter, under the discussion of substance. The result is that the nature and force of the reasons for accepting the reality of final causality always remain somewhat obscure, because final causality is unintelligible without formal causality… The proper way to get back to final causality is to reinstate the robust notion of form; and this is, by the way, the order the causes are treated in in the standard neo-Thomist manuals I'm familiar with. In taking things backwards I think the clarity and rigor of Feser's exposition suffers.

End quote.  Note first of all that whereas elsewhere Sullivan complains that I too slavishly follow “the standard neo-Thomist manuals,” here I am to be blamed for departing from them.  I can’t win!

There are, in any event, reasons why I covered things in just the order I did.  It was quite deliberate.  Consider first that it is, after all, final cause and not formal cause which Aquinas regards as “the cause of causes.”  And there is a good reason for that.  Though the substantial form of a thing is the ground of its finalities, a thing’s finalities are in turn essential to understanding its substantial form.  For a thing’s substantial form is the intrinsic principle of its operations or activities.  But for the Scholastic, operations or activities are understood in terms of the ends toward which they are directed.  Moreover, substantial forms are best explained by contrast with accidental forms, and accidental forms are most easily understood in terms of the extrinsic nature of the ends with which they are associated.  Hence my frequently used example of a liana vine, which has a substantial form insofar as it is intrinsically directed toward operations like taking in water and nutrients; and of a hammock made out of liana vines, which has an accidental form insofar as the end of serving as a comfortable place to take a nap is extrinsic or imposed from without.  The distinction between substantial and accidental forms thus seems to me best explained once the notion of finality, and the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic finality, have already been hammered out.

For another thing, it seems to me that contemporary analytic philosophers have come farther in the direction of recovering the notion of final causality than they have in recovering the notion of substantial form.  The contemporary analytic literature on powers and dispositions is enormous, and much of it at least takes seriously the idea that powers are “directed toward” their manifestations in a manner that is described as “physical intentionality” or “natural intentionality.”  This is very close to the Scholastic idea of intrinsic finality, and many contemporary writers see the connection.  By contrast, while there is also talk of natures and essences in contemporary analytic philosophy, the link to Scholasticism is not as clear.  There is a greater tendency to connect this sort of talk to notions that Thomists would have serious reservations about, such as the idea of possible worlds. 

So, approaching formal causality by way of final causality rather than the other way around seemed to me the best way to go.  Of course, a reasonable person could disagree with this approach.  But it is not the simple “misstep” Sullivan says it is, and he completely fails to consider that I had reasons for doing things the way I did.

Scotism versus Thomism

Naturally, Sullivan also has specifically Scotist complaints about some of what is in the book.  Regarding my characterization of Scotism, Suarezianism, et al. relative to Thomism, he says:

To represent the thought of Scotus, Ockham, etc., as "departures from Thomism" is total bunk. It assumes that Thomism is normative and the default position without having to do any work to establish it. In my pretty wide experience it's a good bet that anyone who thinks this way has not made any serious effort to read and understand any non-Thomistic scholastics on their own terms… Gilson also had to revise his views on Scotism as a critique and departure from Thomism once he learned something about the actual sources of Scotus' views. Hint: Scotus was usually not even thinking of Aquinas at all.

Once again I’m afraid that Sullivan seems to want to have his cake and eat it too.  On the one hand he protests, against what I said in my previous reply to him, that he “specifically said that a historical treatment was unnecessary.”  Yet here he complains that I do not pay sufficient attention to whether, as a matter of historical fact, Scotus was reacting against Aquinas, specifically.  So which is it?

After all, nowhere in my book do I make any claim about what Scotus had before his mind when he formulated (say) the notion of the formal distinction.   When I talk about “departures from Thomism” I am not making a historical claim to the effect that Scotus consciously thought: “I now hereby depart from what Aquinas said.  Here goes…!”  I’m talking about conceptual relations between the ideas in question, not historical ones.  Compare the fact that historians of philosophy have disagreed about whether Parmenides was responding to Heraclitus or Heraclitus was responding to Parmenides, or whether they were writing independently -- and that at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter substantively.  Scholastic writers often treat Parmenides and Heraclitus as representing two extremes and Aristotle as having found the sober middle ground between them.  Parmenideans and Heracliteans might not agree with this approach, but quibbling over whether one was responding to the other as a matter of historical fact is neither here nor there.  Same with the dispute between Thomists and Scotists. 

We Thomists also tend to think of Thomism as the best way of synthesizing what was of lasting value in the Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic traditions that preceded it, and that Bonaventurean, Scotist, and Suarezian approaches are inferior and have elements that tend to lead to the dissolution of what the various Scholastic schools have in common.  Again, we are not making a claim about how, historically, people in fact tended to see things.  History is always much messier than the conceptual relationships between systems of ideas are.  We are well aware that other Scholastics did not see themselves merely as either precursors or successors to Aquinas.  We know that most thinkers didn‘t regard themselves as mere guest stars or extras on The Thomas Aquinas Show.   We’re talking about what we think is in fact the relative weight of the various systems of ideas. 

Bonaventurean, Scotist, and Suarezian mileage will of course vary.  But as I have said, the aim of the book was not to settle various intra-Scholastic disputes.  The aim of the book was to present what I take to be the most powerful form of Scholasticism and pit it against contemporary analytic philosophy.  Nor, contrary to what Sullivan implies, is there anything the least arbitrary about calling the book’s position Scholastic rather than merely Thomistic.  Sullivan says that “when you separate [Thomism, Scotism, etc.] out you see that ‘scholasticism’ includes a lot of positive theological content they all share, and practically no philosophical content they all share.”  But that’s just silly.  The Scholastics are all operating within a conceptual landscape defined by essentially Platonic and Aristotelian boundaries.  The landscape is very broad and some thinkers fall far to one side of it rather than to the other; some even appear to end up falling off this or that edge of it.  But that this landscape constitutes their common framework distinguishes them from the moderns, who have all decided to step out of it.  (To be sure, some of the moderns stick a toe or even a foot back into it, but they do so from a position essentially outside the framework.) 

Hence when I characterize the position of my book as “Scholastic” and not merely “Thomistic,” I am, again, indicating precisely that I am trying to bring what all or at least most Scholastics have in common to bear on contemporary disputes in analytic metaphysics -- albeit with a strongly Thomistic emphasis and despite the fact that I agree with the Thomist position when it differs from the other Scholastic views.  I mean precisely to include the other Scholastic positions in the debate, not exclude them.  And I can certainly imagine someone like Sullivan writing a book with the exact title mine has and more or less the same organization too, but with Scotism taking the starring role and Thomism given secondary status.  While I would of course disagree with many of the details, I would not be offended about the title or the approach.  Indeed, it would be very useful if Sullivan or some other Scotist wrote such a book. 

Finally, Sullivan is very critical of my treatment of the dispute between Thomists and Scotists vis-à-vis the theory of distinctions.  He accuses me of attacking caricatures of the Scotist position and of inconsistency and begging the question in defending the Thomist view.  Yet his own response involves inconsistency, caricature, and begging of the question.  For example, he writes:

Feser says that it's hard to see how the formal distinction can avoid collapsing into either a real distinction or a virtual or logical distinction. The short answer to this is that Thomists play a shell game with the notion of real distinctions: sometimes they act as though separability is an obvious criterion and sometimes as if it isn't. The Scotist position is that a fully real distinction in general is one to which the separability criterion applies (with a very few special exceptions), and that the formal distinction is a species of lesser real distinction to which the separability criterion does not apply. It's not a virtual or logical distinction because, to take Feser's example, animality and rationality are really non-identical prior to and aside from any consideration of the intellect. (Emphasis added.)

If Sullivan wrote this with a straight face, that can only be because that chip on his shoulder got too heavy for him to crack a smile.  If a Thomist “sometimes… act[s] as though separability is an obvious criterion and sometimes as if it isn't,” that, we are told, is a “shell game.”  But if a Scotist says that “in general… the separability criterion applies” but that there are “a very few special exceptions” and that there is a “lesser real distinction to which the separability criterion does not apply,” then that, we are assured, is not a “shell game.”  Get it?  Me neither, but then we can’t all be Subtle Doctors.

But do Thomists really play the “shell game” in question?  Well, no, they don’t.  They don’t say that “sometimes separability is an obvious criterion and sometimes it isn’t.”  It’s always an obvious criterion; if A and B are separable, then they are really distinct.  It’s just not the only criterion.  That’s a very different claim.  Nor is the distinction between the claims very subtle, which is perhaps why Sullivan the Scotist misses it.

Then there is the fact that the claim that “animality and rationality are really non-identical prior to and aside from any consideration of the intellect” is precisely something the Thomist would deny, in which case Sullivan can hardly appeal to it as a premise in a criticism of the Thomist account of distinctions.  Like “shell games,” begging the question is apparently OK when Scotists do it.

Sullivan goes on at length about the dispute between Thomists and Scotists concerning real, logical, and formal distinctions, and its relevance to issues like the relationship between essence and existence.  And what he has to say is hardly less tendentious than what I have to say about these matters in my book.  He surely realizes that Thomists would simply not agree with the assumptions that lie behind his arguments, nor with his insinuation that they have no principled but only ad hoc grounds for rejecting those assumptions.  Yet Sullivan writes as if the burden of proof were on me or other Thomists to establish the superiority of our position to the Scotist one, rather than on Scotists to establish the superiority of theirs.

It’s hard to see how such a presumption in favor of the Scotist view could be justified.  It is, after all, hardly as if the Scotist position, with its famous (some would say notorious) subtlety and abstraction, were somehow more intuitive or obvious than the Thomist one.  But put that aside.  The main point is that while it would be reasonable to expect me to have pursued these matters at greater length if my book had been intended as a neutral account of intra-Scholastic debate, in fact -- as I keep saying -- that is not what the book is about.  It is, again, intended rather to bring analytic philosophy into conversation with what I take to be the strongest version of Scholasticism (while noting some of the key disputes among Scholastics along the way).

At the end of the day, Sullivan’s beef is that he just doesn’t agree with me that Thomism is the strongest version of Scholasticism.  Well, fine.  He should write his own book.  I’d buy it. 

75 comments:

Daniel said...

May I suggest you and the good people at The Smithy each write a series of 5000+ word essays on this topic? When you've finished they can be published together in book format a la Smart and Haldane or Lane and Smith (and lets face it Scotists are far more interesting than Smith or Smart). A really indepth debate on Scholastic distinctions would be of far more value in the long run than run-of-the-mill Coyne squishing.

Mr. Green said...

Indeed, it would be very useful if Sullivan or some other Scotist wrote such a book.

It really would, even to the point of repeating all the common or shared material, because it's worth repeating and different authors always bring out different shades of understanding. Frankly, I fully appreciate the irritation felt by knowledgeable Scotists... Scotus is an underrated genius (and the whole "dunce" thing really rankles). I also greatly sympathise that the esteemed Doctor is very subtilis, and that even getting the documents available, let alone translating them, is a real issue. However, the fact is that when folks like me read a passage saying, "(Thomists think this distinction doesn't wash.)", we don't think, oh, if Thomists say so then so much for Scotus! We're more likely to think, oh, this is probably one of those questions where Scotus says something that I'm just smart enough to recognise is really really clever but not quite enough so to know what it means. Anyway, even if it's something that may not quite be realistic as of today, you can definitely add me to the list of people who would lap up a hypothetical Feser-like website dedicated to the Scotist point of view.

Daniel Joachim said...

"A really indepth debate on Scholastic distinctions would be of far more value in the long run than run-of-the-mill Coyne squishing."

I partly agree. It would surely be more interesting, but Feser's popularity is also due to his interaction with pop culture. Me, among others, was attracted to his work for some ideas on how to respond more accurately to the claims of even the most villageous (©Me) of atheists, that you'll surely meet in both universities and media.

Sounds like a balance of focus could attract even more people to initially become interested in a thomist point-of-view, before getting into some depth.

Daniel said...

@ Daniel,


'I partly agree. It would surely be more interesting, but Feser's popularity is also due to his interaction with pop culture.'

I agree and long may he continue to do so (though perhaps focusing the fire on professional atheist philosophers of Religion would be fun). It's just that an alternative now and then would be nice, and would probably cover ground not went over in the more pop debates. One gets the impression that at the end of the day a lot of atheism is based on 'political' prejudices and thus ultimately imperveus to rational objections.

Greg said...

Regarding the treatment of final & efficient causes before formal & material: D.Q. McInerny makes the claim that final & efficient are generally treated in metaphysics while formal & material fall more under philosophy of nature (or provide a transition, at least). I am not familiar enough with neo-scholastic manuals to evaluate that, but it would be one reason.

What I also like about Feser's approach is that he stresses beginning from act/potency in a way some other authors do not, and it seems like it is more straightforward to root final causality in potency and use that to develop form.

Feser did not respond to Sullivan's comment that Thomists are muddling things by correlating essence with potency, but form with act. At times that has struck me as odd as well. But by developing final causality and its relation to potency first, one can I think make sense of it. (For to say that essence is correlated with form, form is correlated with act, and essence is correlated with form, is not to say that they are all correlated in the same sense. And the oddness would only arise if the relation were transitive.)

I would love to see a lengthier (even book length) exchange between Feser and Sullivan or some other Scotist. A lot of the quirks of the systems aren't discussed as much when one is engaging atheists. But they are interesting topics.

Obsidian said...

@Daniel
Do you mean W.L. Craig and Smith?

Daniel said...

Yes I do. My mistake - can never remember if he's Lane Craig or Craig Lane.

DavidM said...

Sullivan's got some chops, which makes this an enjoyable debate. But it seems clear to me that Feser (like Aquinas compared to Scotus) is a better, clearer writer, with better arguments, and, I would say, a better grasp of the overall history of philosophy, and therefore of philosophy itself. Sullivan talks too much like a radical historicist, who wants to emphasize all of the massive disagreement that exists between every single (significant)individual thinker that you can look at. Yeah - baloney. You simply can't present a big picture, at all, with this approach. And if you can't present a big picture, at all, then history of philosophy is doomed. If you insist on all or nothing, then you'll be stuck with nothing (that's a strict entailment from the limitations of the human intellect). And if you effectively (even if not formally) insist on all or nothing, you've also shown yourself to be a lousy metaphysician, whatever might be said for your merits as a casuistical historian.

Case in point: the charge that it is total bunk to represent Scotus' views as departures from Thomism. Seriously?? Surely that is false, both historically, and for the reasons Feser gives. I don't know Scotus well, but the last article I read specifically treating his thought was an article by Jan Aertsen, where Aertsen specifically analyzes Scotus' rather inept critique of St. Thomas' view of the proper object of the intellect. So whaddya think, Sullivan? Is Aertsen just full of bunk too?

DavidM said...

[Aersen's article, which I referred to: "Hoe kan een theoloog en filosoof zo iets leren? Duns Scotus’ Kritiek op Thomas van Aquino,” Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, 68/2005]

Scott said...

It appears that Scholastic Metaphysics will be back in stock on Amazon in a couple of days.

Daniel said...

Well, at this point they’re not yet having a technical philosophical debate so one cannot really weigh either’s capacity as a philosopher just from this. The central criticism, i.e. that Scholasticism is an umbrella term covering a number of quite disparate movements, just as Analytical and Continental are, is completely justified though at this juncture identification of modern Scholasticism with Thomism has become so well bedded-in that one wouldn’t expect otherwise (it would be like taking people up for using the term sceptics when referring to atheists).

One of the reasons for the heavy stress on historical scholarship from the gentlemen at the Smithy is due their holding that the full intellectual legacy of Scholasticism and its intellectual relevance for today has barely been explored by ‘mainstream thinkers’ due to the paucity of texts and their being only available in Latin. That some prominent representatives of the Neo-Scholastic movement gratuitously misrepresented Scotus and others is a sad historical fact, however – one loses count of the times Scotus is referred to as a Voluntarist, Pantheist, Kantian, Nominalist Platonist.

The exchanges thus far suffered from some unfortunately vague phraseology – the ‘save in few cases’ clause re: the Formal Distinction is a case in point. Really, the first thing to do would be to establish what we mean by Logical, Virtual, Real and Formal Distinctions; something few Thomist books seem to do.

@ David M, I lack the necessary language for the article in question as it appears to be in Dutch but is the debate in question over whether the proper object of the intellect is Being or the Quiddity of a material thing? If so it would seem largely pointless as Thomas grants the former in the second volume of Summa Contra Gentiles.

DNW said...

I wonder if the name Robert J. Kreyche is familiar to anyone.

Came across a copy of "First Philosophy" in a used book store quite awhile back, and bought it for a dollar or two.

After an Internet check it appears he was at one time a president of the American Catholic Philosophical Association.

As was apparently, the Wolter fellow mentioned in these exchanges. [Of course Julius Weinberg cited Wolter extensively as regards Scotus, in his little tome on the history of Medieval philosophy. As I was recently reminded when I blew the dust of my college copy.]

Anyway the immaculately preserved Kreyche text sits more or less unread nearby my much shabbier copy of Bernard Lonergan's "Insight"; another book store deal and impulse buy which I have yet to successfully engage.

This topic - metaphysics or even any one perspective - is too big to cover comprehensively and conveniently in any one tome by any one man. I cannot imagine Feser ever thought otherwise.

DavidM said...

@Daniel: "I lack the necessary language for the article in question as it appears to be in Dutch but is the debate in question over whether the proper object of the intellect is Being or the Quiddity of a material thing? If so it would seem largely pointless as Thomas grants the former in the second volume of Summa Contra Gentiles."

You got it. Aertsen's argument, however, is that it is not at all pointless, as you seem to think, since Scotus' (and apparently your) reading of passages like the one you mention is one-sided and ignores the subtleties of Aquinas' actual (fully developed) view. And in relation to issues like this, Sullivan's supercilious tone - the whole "Aquinas is great as a pedagogical touchstone for beginners, but if you're ever ready for some real subtlety, some really profound metaphysical inquiry, then you need to move on to Scotus"-bit - seems really rather embarrassingly hubristic. You should first give some clear convincing arguments, then brag about how great they are and how they ought not to be ignored. I'll keep looking, but I have yet to see this from a Scotist.

DavidM said...

@Daniel: I misread your "former" for "latter." That said, I'm not sure what your claim about pointlessness was supposed to be based on. Aertsen's point was that the Subtle Doctor's reading of St. Thomas was not in fact very subtle.

Daniel said...

'Aertsen's argument, however, is that it is not at all pointless, as you seem to think, since Scotus' (and apparently your) reading of passages like the one you mention is one-sided and ignores the subtleties of Aquinas' actual (fully developed) view'...

'You should first give some clear convincing arguments, then brag about how great they are and how they ought not to be ignored'...

DavidM said...

I agree on both counts. ;)

Daniel said...

The why not favour us with a precis of said arguments? Alternatively point out an English source - surely this miracle of Thomistic reasoning cannot have gone unnoticed for hundreds of years. I know Aertsen has a book on Thomas - might it feature in there?

On another note I have access to a masterful refutation of Thomas arguments for the primacy of the Intellect but unfortunately it's originaly in Sanskrit and I have not the time to translate.

DavidM said...

"Well, at this point they’re not yet having a technical philosophical debate so one cannot really weigh either’s capacity as a philosopher just from this." So are they having a "non-technical philosophical debate"? (What is the point/meaning of such a distinction?) And why can one not really weigh their "philosophical capacity" from this? (Maybe I'm deceiving myself, but I think I'm really doing so, and so far I think Feser's got more weight.)

DavidM said...

"The why not favour us with a precis of said arguments? Alternatively point out an English source - surely this miracle of Thomistic reasoning cannot have gone unnoticed for hundreds of years. I know Aertsen has a book on Thomas - might it feature in there?"

Because that is not relevant to my point. Here's the (sometimes painful) English abstract of Aertsen's article:

"Already in the Middle Ages the honorary title Doctor communis was conferred on Aquinas, but in fact he was never "the common teacher". About twenty-five years after his death (1274), the Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus voiced an uncommonly severe criticism: he cannot imagine a theologian and a philosopher maintaining that which Aquinas teaches. The conflict between these thinkers of stature is the subject of this essay. (1) We first describe the epistemological problem, that of the "adequate object of the intellect", from which Scotus develops his criticism, and than analyze (2) his theological and (3) philosophical objections to Aquinass position. But something is to be said against the analysis of the Doctor subtilis: (4) his criticism proves to be one- sided and departs from suppositions, not shared by his opponent."

But so what? Why do the details matter? Do you really think that my point about the vacuity and hubris of Sullivan's critiques of Feser crucially depend on communicating an understanding of Aertsen's arguments? Or are you claiming that even if Jan Aertsen wrote an article about Scotus' critique of Aquinas on a particular issue, this is an insufficient proof of the (apparently obvious anyway) claim that Scotus' views sometimes constitute departures from Thomas'? Shuurr, if you say so.

"On another note I have access to a masterful refutation of Thomas arguments for the primacy of the Intellect but unfortunately it's originaly in Sanskrit and I have not the time to translate."

Good for you, dude. You're very special, I'm sure; but beyond your specialness, what would be the point of this random reference to your arcane but apparently irrelevant erudition? And what would it have to with anything I've said?

Anonymous said...

got my copy of SM just yesterday. thank the good Lord.

Michael Sullivan said...

I have a response to this post up here: http://lyfaber.blogspot.com/2014/06/doffing-my-dunce-cap-to-feser.html

Sullivan talks too much like a radical historicist, who wants to emphasize all of the massive disagreement that exists between every single (significant)individual thinker that you can look at. Yeah - baloney. You simply can't present a big picture, at all, with this approach.

DavidM seems to really have it out for me. I won't respond to the insults, but I will say that I don't recognize this as my position at all. In fact I pointed out explicitly that Feser and I and Scotus and Aquinas are on the same side in the "big picture" - the gigantomachia Plato recognized in the Sophist. In the Big Picture there's plenty we can say for "our side" - Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Scotus, etc etc. - against "their side" - Democritus, Epicurus, Hobbes, Hume, Dawkins, etc etc. But that's not what the current discussion has been about.

The exchanges thus far suffered from some unfortunately vague phraseology – the ‘save in few cases’ clause re: the Formal Distinction is a case in point.

This is true, but frankly I didn't want to get into Trinitarian issues.

Sullivan's supercilious tone - the whole "Aquinas is great as a pedagogical touchstone for beginners, but if you're ever ready for some real subtlety, some really profound metaphysical inquiry, then you need to move on to Scotus"-bit - seems really rather embarrassingly hubristic.

My post in which I said something to this effect was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, if that wasn't clear. On the other hand, there is a serious point here. Aquinas makes it quite clear in his prologue that the Summa is a work for beginners, not the last word, and yet there's an undeniable tendency among partisans to take it as the last word. Similarly his Aristotelian commentaries are fantastic pedagogical tools, but they do remain at a certain level. I'm not sure who's supposed to show hubris here: Scotus (and others) for going far beyond an introductory discussion of difficult issues, or me for pointing it out.

you should first give some clear convincing arguments, then brag about how great they are and how they ought not to be ignored. I'll keep looking, but I have yet to see this from a Scotist.

Maybe this also sounds like hubris, but my co-blogger and I at The Smithy have spent years presenting various arguments from lots of scholastics on lots of subjects, but no one ever seems to notice unless we say something explicitly about Thomism. And there are, you know, books about a lot of these issues. I wonder how much looking you've actually done.

DNW, I haven't heard of Kreyche. I admire Lonergan's Insight a good deal. I read it several times as an undergraduate and it made an enormous impact on me at the time (before I had expanded my scholastic horizons beyond Thomism). It's an impressive achievement, though there's much in it I couldn't endorse.

Anonymous said...

FYI: Amazon delivered my copy, today.

Anonymous said...

"My post in which I said something to this effect was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, if that wasn't clear. On the other hand, there is a serious point here. Aquinas makes it quite clear in his prologue that the Summa is a work for beginners, not the last word, and yet there's an undeniable tendency among partisans to take it as the last word. Similarly his Aristotelian commentaries are fantastic pedagogical tools, but they do remain at a certain level. I'm not sure who's supposed to show hubris here: Scotus (and others) for going far beyond an introductory discussion of difficult issues, or me for pointing it out."

Ed has pointed out in different places that often people criticize the five ways in the summa as though they were being given the complete argument, when in fact Aquinas works out many of the details, objections, and answers in his more advanced works. They are a summary that beginners can look at, but for the full explanation one should look at those other works.

One does not have to go to Scotus for advanced arguments. One just has to look at Aquinas' other works.

You seem to be implying here that all of Aquinas' works are somehow at a less advanced level than Scotus.

There you go being supercilious again. LOL :)

Cheers,
Daniel

Obsidian said...

I was just thinking (inspired by Daniel's comment) , someone (more computer savy than me) needs to make a "Best of Feser" compilation pdf/epub like they do on lesswrong.

Tom Gilson did something similar once. He blogged a critique of Boghossian , compiled it into a giant pdf so people could read on their ereaders.

I think his series on teh mind-body problem and Rosenburg would be a prime one for this kind of treatment.
So much of Feser's stuff is absolutely classic.
Feser's "So you think you understand the cosmological argument" should be required reading for everyone in philosophy.
Too many critics (even guys like Grunbaum who should know better) make one of the errors on the list

Robert Coble said...

"On another note I have access to a masterful refutation of Thomas arguments for the primacy of the Intellect but unfortunately it's originally in Sanskrit and I have not the time to translate."

It would appear that the Sarcasm language is even more difficult to translate than Sanskrit. Perhaps we need a Sarcasm font...

DNW said...

"DNW, I haven't heard of Kreyche. I admire Lonergan's Insight a good deal. I read it several times as an undergraduate and it made an enormous impact on me at the time (before I had expanded my scholastic horizons beyond Thomism). It's an impressive achievement ..."

I've taken a couple of half-hearted cracks at it. The last time, on a hunting trip.

Woke up sometime later with my drink resting on my chest and the book splayed on the floor.

In my opinion, "What is Called Thinking" reads like a novel in comparison.



"... though there's much in it I couldn't endorse."

I'd offer my own opinion, but despite the title, I can't quite figure out what it is really about.

Tom said...

"One general observation is a tendency throughout to present the Thomist position on a topic while putting off actually arguing for it. Over and over again the reader encounters remarks to the effect that "my position is this, but the reasons for it depend on something I'm going to say in a later chapter"; this gives the impression of getting the run-around, as though the good deep arguments are always just around the corner. I emphasize that Feser does not always do this; but he does it enough for it to be frustrating."

The Smithy comes dangerously close to Hallqing up (so it comes from the Hogan variety of Hallqs, as opposed to Incredible, Uncredible, Unliterate, or Incompetent ones. Close enough)in this quote.

And a hearty endorsement to all the suggestions of a series of posts between this blog and The Smithy. The exchanges with Keith Parsons (did he ever post his last response, by the way? I check a while ago and saw nothing) were fine reading and, as fun as it is to mock the various hacks and debate the more learned atheists out there, an discussion between Scholastics would be most edifying, even if it is a bit advanced for hacks like me.

BenYachov said...

My copy is late coming in the mail & I am not sure who's side I am on in this debate?

Granted I am a Feser Fan boy but that doesn't mean anything.

Personally thought I seem to lean toward the Traditional Thomist view over and against the Scotus view as I understand it & I don't hold that opinion with the force I might hold the doctrines of the Trinity.

Christian said...

"Get it? Me neither, but then we can’t all be Subtle Doctors."

This line is pure solid gold and had me in stitches.

Daniel said...

@ Obsidian, yes the Cosmological Argument Round-up stuff is a good example, as are the series of posts he did on the relationship between Aristotlianism and Intelligent Design. It would be nice to see a series of longer exchanges though.

One could happily admit that a lot of Scotus’ work is more technical than Thomas without in any way claiming it is superior. The material in Thomas’ Disputed Questions is often more advanced and in depth than that of any of the Summas so if one wishes to judge Thomas against Scotus one should do so on the basis of these.

Insight, and Lonegan’s work in general, is something I’ve long wanted to check out, partly because the Transcendental Thomists annoyed Gilson so and more seriously because I’ve heard more than one philosopher that I admire refer to it as one the best analysis of human understanding ever written.

George R. said...

I'd like to apologize to Michael Sullivan for busting his chops in some of my previous comments. I had suggested that he hadn't made any arguments in favor of Scotus's major theses against those of Thomas. I have since read his criticisms of Ed's book, and I have found that this is not true. He made some good points (along with some not so good). Nevertheless, I would add that Ed's responses were quite effective in neutralizing some of Michael's main points.

Imo, when all is said and done, the entire Scotist-Thomist debate rests on whether the Scotist thesis of formal distinctions has a basis in reality. If it does, then the Scotist position ought not be considered defective with respect to Thomism. If it doesn't, then Scotism ought to be considered an untenable system that, nevertheless, makes some good points here and there.

Michael is correct when he says that the crucial issue is the understanding of what form is. The problem is, imo, that in Scotus's system, all forms seem to dissolve into an infinity of constituent forms, and the bottom, as it were, seems to fall out of being itself. The Thomist system, on the other hand, preserves unity at the expense (seemingly) of accounting for the distinctions that obviously belong to substances per se.

I think Ed does a good job arguing the Thomist position on this issue.

malcolmthecynic said...

I think the point is somewhat being missed here. This whole essay wasn't about arguing Thomistic over Scotist views. Dr. Feser is simply saying that the point of the book wasn't to address Scotist views at all anyway.

Aquinas makes it quite clear in his prologue that the Summa is a work for beginners, not the last word, and yet there's an undeniable tendency among partisans to take it as the last word. Similarly his Aristotelian commentaries are fantastic pedagogical tools, but they do remain at a certain level. I'm not sure who's supposed to show hubris here: Scotus (and others) for going far beyond an introductory discussion of difficult issues, or me for pointing it out."

See, Dr.(?) Sullivan, this is where you lose me. The implication here is that Aquinas doesn't go past introductory discussions of issues. This is simply not true, and Dr. Feser has done a great job pointing this out throughout the blog.

Or perhaps you're just saying that you're pointing out that most people don't look past Aquinas's most basis thoughts. But this is also unfair. For one thing, you're critiquing Dr. Feser, who does just that all the time.

For another, the criticism just as easily applies to Scotus. So he goes beyond an introductory discussion of issues. Okay, so does Aquinas. Now what do you think the people first discovering Scotus are going to read?

The hubris comes in when your "big point" in that whole passage is that Scotus is somehow doing something Aquinas never did, which is of course false.

DavidM said...

Michael Sullivan wrote: "DavidM seems to really have it out for me. I won't respond to the insults, but I will say that I don't recognize this as my position at all. In fact I pointed out explicitly that Feser and I and Scotus and Aquinas are on the same side in the "big picture" - the gigantomachia Plato recognized in the Sophist. ..."

First, what insults? Second, sure you explicitly pointed some stuff out, but then that stuff you explicitly point out ends up not actually harmonizing with the overall tenor of some of your intemperate and question-begging critiques of Feser's book... So the "explicitly pointed out" stuff turns out to be not so compelling, I'm afraid.

"My post in which I said something to this effect was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, if that wasn't clear. On the other hand, there is a serious point here..."

It seems to me that it wasn't clear there, and it isn't clear here (you seem to be, "on the other hand," contradicting yourself).

"Maybe this also sounds like hubris, but my co-blogger and I at The Smithy have spent years presenting various arguments from lots of scholastics on lots of subjects, but no one ever seems to notice unless we say something explicitly about Thomism. And there are, you know, books about a lot of these issues. I wonder how much looking you've actually done."

I haven't done much and I intend to do more, but my immediate point is that the critical arguments you have actually offered in the present critique of Feser's book seem to be pretty weak and non-substantive. So maybe your supercilious tone is all tongue-in-cheek, but, "on the other hand," it still seems inappropriate and unearned, that is, given the immediate context here, not with reference to all of the other things you've ever written, which might well be of better quality (and if they are, then perhaps you should strive for greater consistency, especially when you are criticizing the writing of an excellent writer and generally speaking rather bright fellow like Feser).

DavidM said...

@Robert: "It would appear that the Sarcasm language is even more difficult to translate than Sanskrit. Perhaps we need a Sarcasm font..."

It would be more important to recognize that sarcasm is not a relevant feature of Daniel's Sanskrit comment. The point of it was that it was supposed to be analogous to what I had said and show the absurdity of it. (It was, however, not at all analogous.)

BenYachov said...

Forget it! I am not getting in the middle of this.

Daniel said...

Well I was being sarcastic but I didn’t intend that as a stance either way in favour of the article’s worth. I would be genuinely interested in reading more of Aertsen actually as I have one of his books on Transcendentals, I hope someday to get hold of the other. I presume his book on Thomas has been discussed here?

Scotus is more technical than Thomas; to what degree he’s right is a completely different question.

DavidM said...

Daniel: "Well I was being sarcastic but I didn’t intend that as a stance either way in favour of the article’s worth."

Right. A reductio argument or argument by analogy can be posed sarcastically or not, but this is irrelevant to the soundness of the argument. (But if you're going to go the sarcasm route, you should at least have an argument that makes sense.)

"I presume his book on Thomas has been discussed here?"

I do not know (but note that he does have more than one).

Anonymous said...

There is a special level in Hell for philosophers who call names instead of addressing criticisms.

Tom said...

Somebody came up with a brief summary of the cosmological argument, New Atheists, the Bible, and the middle ages in a comic. It's all things Feser in comic form: http://sweetheartsseekingsanctity.blogspot.com/2014/05/why-god-exists-rational-proof.html I had to share the link here.

Nolan said...

Celebrity boxing match between Feser and Sullivan....
loser has to switch to the other Scholastic camp.

Scott said...

@Tom:

Nice; thanks for sharing. Here it is as a live link.

Tom said...

@Scott: Thank you again for the live link. How does one do that, so you don't have to keep posting after me with working ones?

Scott said...

@Tom:

It's just basic HTML. Here's the format:

<a href="http://www.yourlink.com">your text here</a>.

BenYachov said...

MY COPY OF SCHOLASTIC METAPHYSICS CAME IN THE MAIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


JOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I can't wait to get home to read it.

Scott said...

@BenYachov:

You won't be disappointed.

Timotheos said...

I second what Scott said!

John Stamps said...

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
My copy just arrived in San Hosay!

Anonymous said...

I must admit that the pic looks great. I had never seen the face of Professor Sullivan before ( I take it is him). The fact that he's looking at you sternly in a chiaroscuro setting and the battery on his shoulder makes him like a person you shouldn't mess mess with.

Sullivan looks at you with dark, piercing eyes, "come on, I dare you, Thomist."

Now, we only need a pic of brother lee Faber's face with a 'Hannibal' mask ready to bite Thomists.

Keep it up, show the Thomists that there's more to Catholicism than Aquinas.

Anonymous said...

In a more serious note, I've been disgusted by the childish responses from some of the people in Feser's blog.

Fortunately, there have been readers open to the position that Feser and/or Aquinas are wrong.

Take David M. and George R, their behavior has been shallow and childish... "the critical arguments you have actually offered in the present critique of Feser's book seem to be pretty weak and non-substantive."

Talk about being superficial...the point is less about wether an author is superficial as to wether one philosophical point view is *correct*.

But I highly doubt that these superficial "philosophers" will spend time reading Scotus to refute him.

Bill said...

Whether or not Scotus was correct on this or that point is not the object of this thread. Sullivan's critique is off target.

Scott said...

For anyone who's interested: New Advent has a great deal on. (I went for the download option myself.)

Ty said...

@Anon (9:37)

George R has cooled down considerably. Don't be too quick to count him out :P

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in a response to how Todd Bates says many misrepresent Scotus in his opening pages (Eg James Moreland) Duns Scotus and the Problem of Universals (Continuum Studies in Philosophy)

Anonymous said...

Posters in this combox...
I picked up Feser's "Philosophy of Mind" as well as Madden's "Mind, Matter, and Nature: A Thomistic Proposal for the Philosophy of Mind"

Which one is more of an introductory work?
If both are introductory... which one is the better one to start with?

Thanks

Daniel said...

I would recommend you begin with Philosophy of Mind, its fast paced as there’s a lot of material to be covered but overall it is a lucid and accessible introduction to the subject. Madden’s book is by all accounts more advanced as more space is taken up explicating the hylemorphic dualistic option.

If you still want material on the field after those two you could try E.J. Lowe’s introductory textbook An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind. Just avoid William Jaworski’s book as what it means by Hylemorphism is something quite different from what one usual understands by the term (‘Ryle was a Hylemorphist’).

Daniel Joachim said...

@Daniel

Interesting. I've read Feser's PoM and Madden some while ago, and was planning to read Jaworski this summer. It's looking at me now from the bookshelf.

What is wrong with its account of hylemorphism, and how does it differ from Madden and Feser? Can it still be trusted for a fair review on the dualist and materialist views?

Btw Anon: I agree that you should start with PoM, and continue with Madden. You'll be able to understand much more indepth of the thorough discussion in Madden, if you've already got the background from PoM. :)

Obsidian said...

I'll drop in a recommendation for "The Soul Hypothesis" , which takes more of an empirical approach.

Obsidian said...

Just an out there question.
Is there a unique A-T perspective on the existence of natural evil?

Or maybe on the issue of divine hiddeness?
Or are both of those (mostly) in line with what guys like Swinburne and Craig would say

Daniel said...

@ other Daniel,

He (Jaworski) speaks of Form as though it were largely a matter of the organisation of material parts. Its relation to Aristotlian ontology and the fact that Hylemorphists like Haldane, whom he namechecks as a modern example, interpret it as a kind of Dualism are passed over virtually in silence. There is an alarming tendency to find comparisons with Behaviourism. Interestingly, both Feser and Oderberg have mentioned this misinterpretation recently, the former on page 187 of Scholastic Metaphysics and the latter in his article ‘Is Form Structure?’

‘…Can it still be trusted for a fair review on the dualist and materialist views?’

Well, the section on Dualism proper is a bit hurried and dismissive though it goes into some depth on some kinds of Physicalism and Property Dualism. These are probably the most useful things about the book. It also has a brief chapter on Idealism which despite being jejune is more than can be said for most guides to Philosophy of Mind. To be fair on him, the book probably aims for width rather than depth so to speak.

Ironically, the very best section, his chapter on Persons and Mereology, is not included in the published book though can be found on line at his website.

Georgy Mancz said...

@Obsidian

Not wanting to divert the discussion topic too much, for a Thomist view of evil (both natural and moral) I'd recommend Fr. Brian Davies', O.P. book "The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil".
http://www.amazon.com/The-Reality-God-Problem-Evil/dp/082649241X

It's a brilliant book and it deals with the whole issue of treating God as a moral agent in the sense we take ourselves to be, which Fr. Davies, rightly, in my view, considers blasphemous and wrong.

I have to confess I never quite got what the issue of divine hiddenness is. In fact, I believe that both this and "the problem of evil" are instances of testing God. Classical theism states that God has "revealed" Himself through Creation to know that we can come to know Him as Being Itself, the cause of all contingent being, Supreme Intelligence etc. Christianity says that God has in fact revealed Himself in history.
If both are correct, statistical arguments citing the existence of non-belief as arguments against theism (or Christianity) seem to beg the question, as we are in no position of making making inferences about something God is positively obligated to do.
God cannot contradict Himself and He keeps promises, but apart from that..

Greg said...

The three "hylemorphist intros" all differ in certain ways.

Feser wrote Philosophy of Mind a while ago, and I believe he has said somewhere that his presentation of hylemorphism there was more Cartesian-influenced than it would be if he wrote the book now. Madden and Jaworski both endorse (at least to an extent) the contemporary arguments against qualia, for example. Feser on the other hand seems to think that those arguments are pretty good in Philosophy of Mind, though more recently, perhaps it could be said that Feser's position on qualia is that they pose an issue for materialism despite not being particularly strange for the Aristotelian.

Madden actually suggests at one point that Feser slips into regarding form as structure in Philosophy of Mind, which I do not think that Feser would do today.

Feser and Madden are both interested in presenting hylemorphism as a sort of dualism. I don't think Madden wants to call it a dualism, but it is clear that he wants to present it as a view on which the human intellect is immaterial.

Jaworski does not present an argument for the immateriality of the intellect; he does not seem particularly interested in that topic. As noted, he tends to treat form as structure, and he characterizes hylemorphism as something of a strong version of emergentism plus causal pluralism. (And he thinks a large part of the advantage of Aristotelian causal pluralism is that it can be invoked to avoid the causal closure of the physical, with which standard emergentism struggles.) Jaworski doesn't really refer to any of those who would come to mind as hylemorphists--Haldane, Feser, Oderberg.

I'd say Feser is probably the best play to start, although Madden is pretty accessible as well. Jaworski's book isn't bad, but I found his writing style really redundant and tedious by the end of it... he repeats himself a lot, belabors points about the logical structure of arguments, etc. In that respect it is very much an introductory work. It goes into a lot of depth and covers a lot of topics, but they are presented at a level that one might find boring after reading Feser and Madden. (I believe there was an Amazon reviewer who liked this quality of Jaworski's book, though, so to each his own.)

Greg said...

There is an alarming tendency to find comparisons with Behaviourism.

I have my issues with Jaworski on hylemorphism, but I don't think comparisons with behaviourism is quite an issue. David Braine draws a lot from the behaviourists (well, more Wittgenstein, Ryle, and Austin, who he argues shouldn't be interpreted so simply as behaviourists) in his formulation of hylemorphism, which has much to recommend it.

I think Jaworski is right to stress that philosophy of mind is an externalist philosophy of mind. Since the soul is the form of the body, one can "observe" a person's mind by watching him behave. That doesn't give you a complete account of his mind, of course, but the insight is on the right track, if it does not get derailed.

Scott said...

I concur with Daniel's recommended reading order (including Lowe, but I don't know anything about Jaworski) and Georgy's recommendation of Davies.

@Greg:

"I think Jaworski is right to stress [that] that philosophy of mind [i.e. hylemorphism] is an externalist philosophy of mind."

Did I parse that correctly?

Greg said...

@ Scott

Did I parse that correctly?

Yes--thank you. I mean "hylemorphism" as an externalist philosophy of mind.

Georgy Mancz said...

I'd like to mention another merit of Fr. Davies' work - the use of his cat Smokey for philosophical demonstration.
Not that I think that honoring the tradition of employing Socrates is something to be done away with - certainly not.
It's quite similar to choosing between Gothic and Baroque architecture...


A small point regarding a topic that came up in this discussion.
As a Catholic living in an Eastern Orthodox majority country I think it's somewhat naive to suppose that switching to the alternative Scholastic approach that is Scottism (not that I think it should be done) is somehow key to mending the schism, especially given the widespread condemnation of Scholasticism as such. The issues of ecclesiology and moral docrine (remarriage, contraception etc.) are in my reckoning certainly much more central, and there's nothing peculiarly Thomist about that (not to mention the tired objections to the filioque).
And when it comes to questions of ethics and "Catholic constitutional law/politics" Thomism is most useful.

Greg said...

@ Obsidian

I'd echo Davies. John Haldane takes a similar approach in his portion of Atheism and Theism (coauthored with J.J.C. Smart). The book is mostly not about the problem of evil, though.

BobJones said...

Edward, didn't you used to have j.budziszewski blog "The Underground Thomist" linked?

Daniel said...

I’ll probably post this again in a fresher thread but whilst we’re on the subject of random recommendations: would any one care to name any representatives of Phenomenological Thomism? I already have Karol Wojtyla, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Josef Seifert and the University of Lublin crew...

Anonymous said...

Davies has another book, Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil, which is a straightforward exposition of Aquinas's views on the subject.

I can't think of anyone who has addressed the problem of divine hiddenness from a Thomist perspective. My hunch is that Thomists wouldn't recognize it as a problem at all. Aquinas allows for a great deal of natural knowledge of God, so I imagine that Thomists would think that the arguments of natural theology would be enough to dissolve the problem. However, I think that the problem of divine hiddenness has some real force behind it, and it would be interesting if someone writing from a Thomist perspective engaged in the debate.

Greg said...

I can't think of anyone who has addressed the problem of divine hiddenness from a Thomist perspective. My hunch is that Thomists wouldn't recognize it as a problem at all. Aquinas allows for a great deal of natural knowledge of God, so I imagine that Thomists would think that the arguments of natural theology would be enough to dissolve the problem. However, I think that the problem of divine hiddenness has some real force behind it, and it would be interesting if someone writing from a Thomist perspective engaged in the debate.

I am not aware of any Thomists that have treated the question either.

Perhaps there are a few tentative answers that Catholics in particular are able to give. On Aquinas's theory of justice, living in an immoral society can gravely impact ones soul; scandal is very real. (Eleanore Stump has a good treatment of his theory of justice in Aquinas.) So Catholics might be able to give an account of the epistemology of religious belief stemming from the early Church and the continuity of authority, and then go on to characterize departures from it (the Protestant Reformation, secularism, etc.) as instances of scandal, so that free actions of humans are the reason that public confidence in the Church has waned (so that someone in today's world, who is not raised Catholic, is in ignorance as a result of another's error). Whether the person left in ignorance as a result is culpable is unanswerable in general.

There is an issue here with cultures that have not come into contact with Christian revelation, but the Catholic Church seems on relatively solid ground, as it admits that those who have not been able to hear the Gospel message are not condemned for that.

All of that would be pretty controversial from the historical perspective, of course, but if it is construed as a "defense" then it doesn't have to be true, just plausible. (The epistemology of religious belief is also far from trivial.)

Greg said...

(so that someone in today's world, who is not raised Catholic, is in ignorance as a result of another's error)

By this I mean to reduce divine hiddenness to the problem of evil in general.

DavidM said...

"In a more serious note, I've been disgusted by the childish responses from some of the people in Feser's blog.

Fortunately, there have been readers open to the position that Feser and/or Aquinas are wrong.

Take David M. and George R, their behavior has been shallow and childish... "the critical arguments you have actually offered in the present critique of Feser's book seem to be pretty weak and non-substantive."

Talk about being superficial...the point is less about wether an author is superficial as to wether one philosophical point view is *correct*.

But I highly doubt that these superficial "philosophers" will spend time reading Scotus to refute him."

Dear anonymous @9:37 on June 14,

Your whole line of reasoning here is so stupid and off-base that I will simply take note of the fact and leave it at that.

Glenn said...

DavidM,

"...Take David M. and George R..."

Dear anonymous @9:37 on June 14,

Your whole line of reasoning here is so stupid and off-base that I will simply take note of the fact and leave it at that.


Oh, come now. If it is possible that others sometimes miss your point(s), it is also possible that you sometimes miss the point(s) of others. Besides, it seems rather evident that not everyone found Anonymous' reasoning to be what you think it is. For example, George R seems to have taken heed of what Anonymous had said, and, as Ty has already noted, "cooled down considerably". Now, George R is a unique individual, true (well, who isn’t?); but not so unique, I don't think, that only he is capable of cooling down. Indeed, I myself have been known to do so now and then. ;)

Pat Robertson said...

Ed, is Thomasim as stupid as you make it sound?

What I mean to say is, is it even stupider than Christianity in general.

You know, the belief in god/human hybrids that trot around among ancient goat sacrificing lunatics for the purpose of allowing themselves to be offered up as blood sacrifices.

Is Thomism stupider than that?

Actually, is anything stupider than that?

Including yourself, of course.

Gary C. Moore said...

No one is a unique individual. Merely our circumstances are "unique" in the same way as only one person can see through my eyes. This is the only real "uniqueness" about me. Otherwise I am the history of my language more or less recorded more or less reliably from my birth. The historical structure of my language is "my self". But like books on a self, each book is a different text or context even possibly having different authors. The only real, material unity is that they are on the same shelf. Another way to say the same thing, you supposed uniqueness completely shifts the whole context of there language use according to the person addressed, hence the expression, "Do you use that same mouth when you talk to your mother?" And what is evil in one language context can be neutral or good in another language context.This is NOT the whole scope of the matter. This is shallowly expressed on my part but I hope the point is clear.

Gary C. Moore