Sunday, July 20, 2014

Back from Berkeley

Got back last night from the very fine DSPT conference on the relationship between philosophy and theology in Berkeley.  The main presenters were Msgr. Robert Sokolowski, Linda Zagzebski, Fr. Michael Dodds, John Searle, Fr. Michał Paluch, Allred Freddoso, John O’Callaghan, and me.  Responses to these talks were given by Fr. Richard Schenk, Fr. Bernhard Blankenhorn, Fr. Simon Gaine, Steven Long, Fr. Michael Dodds, Matthew Levering, Fr. Thomas Joseph White, and Fr. Michael Sherwin.  There were also many excellent talks given during the breakout sessions.   

My paper was titled “From Aristotle to John Searle and Back Again: Formal Causes, Teleology, and Computation in Nature.”  Some photos taken during the talk can be found here.  Photos from the other talks can be found by scrolling down here.  My understanding is that conference papers will be published in a forthcoming volume.  Fred Freddoso’s paper “The Vindication of St. Thomas: Thomism and Contemporary Anglo-American Philosophy” is available at his website (along with a great many other works by Fred that you should read).  Many thanks to the Dominicans for their warm hospitality!


Victor said...

Roko's Basilisk.... come on you, Thomists.
There are rationalists literally losing their minds over this issue.

Tom said...

Fred Freddoso? Poor guy. School must not have been fun for him.

Mr. Green said...

Victor: Do you have a view on Roko's Basilisk?

I don't have any view because I've never heard of a Bosco's Basilisk. ... Oh, this thing? OK, now my view is: that's ridiculously daft. I don't think this is the kind of "computation in nature" that the Profeser was referring to. I don't know whether it just goes to show that on the Internet, any day can be April 1, or whether it just goes to show that people who are intelligent enough in certain respects can still be raving nutters. Metaphysically speaking, there's not much in it: artificial intelligences are fake (and I mean that in a good way), machine-omnipotence isn't, and simulations can't be conscious. I rather doubt it would even make a good sci-fi story, because why would a super-intelligent computer think like a second-rate scriptwriter anyway??

There are rationalists literally losing their minds over this issue.

Well, I can imagine that discussions about this topic might get heated, but "literally"? To lose one's temper is a misfortune; to lose one's mind smacks of carelessness….

ccmnxc said...

I greatly enjoyed Fredosso's paper. He seemed to have especially high praise for you Dr. Feser; I hope you weren't flattered to the point of embarrassment. Those books by White and Feingold looked very interesting too (too bad they're both out of stock).
Please let us know when the volume is released.
With regards.

Greg said...

It looks like Fr Michael Dodds is doing some interesting work!

The Irish Thomist said...

Looking forward to looking at this properly on a different computer - I can hope for the usual quality of engagement you offer (although not sure about the head of the Dominicans’ – have there not been a few rogues in recent decades? – don’t know why those types keep getting to the top of orders). Father Timothy Radcliffe as an example (who knows how to dodge a few bullets to get to places he shouldn’t be – to this very day).

That is a strange coincidence for me (the venue)...
Since I am reading the book ‘Sophie’s World’ and it has just got to a part where Berkeley is a significant figure (all be it a word play in relation to this being a University not the Philosopher).
Sophie’s World

In relation to that, I am starting to get miffed how many books skim over, misrepresent or caricature medieval philosophy and hero worship erroneous philosophers by overstating the value of the scientific method (while often these scientismist types don’t realise they depend entirely on philosophy to justify their science at every level, and that much of it is philosophy, in the first place) … anyway that’s another topic for another time. Although the interplay between modern scientism, the philosophy of science and Thomism is very much something I would love to read more of. The interplay between Theology and Philosophy at least among Catholics should be more obvious at least historically – Thomas Aquinas making a different point about their divisions/limits than maybe say Duns Scotus or other Scholastics if my memory serves me right.

Erik said...

The Slate report on Roko's Basilisk is utter, utter tripe. It is so distorted, it practically constitutes anti-knowledge. After reading it, you are likely to know less about Roko's Basilisk than you did beforehand, though you will know a lot more about such tangents as Kurzweil's consumption of 150 vitamins a day. If it sounds stupid, most of the stupidity should be attributed to Slate, not to the "rationalists" and "techno-futurists".

I was present at the time and website where the Basilisk was originally posted, so let me see if I can sum it up better:

While not exactly stupid, Roko's Basilisk has a major element of paranoia run amok, combined with a pitfall of so-called utilitarian ethics. It was a thought experiment along these lines: "Suppose that someone comes into the power and knowledge where they could act for the maximization of utility, and they have reasons to coerce or blackmail me to provide them with strenuous assistance, since I would be reluctant to do so on my own. Then one of the things they would want to coerce me into doing is figuring out how I could best provide them with assistance and make it easier for them to coerce me. Since they are acting for the greater good, I have a moral obligation to keep thinking along these lines and enabling them to coerce and blackmail me. In fact, I even have an obligation to encourage the appearance, development and training of such a someone who is skilled at coercing me into assisting them. Aaaargh, this consequence is horrifying to think about."

As I see it, it's largely a complexification of the simpler observation that naive utilitarianism sometimes compels one to acts that practically every other moral system condemns - even shorter, utilitarianism demands one do evil that good may come of it.

Someone took utilitarianism seriously and found themselves staring evil in the face.

Kiel said...

One of the participants, Mariusz Tabaczek, OP, Graduate Theological Union, has a blog at

Looks good.

Dmitri Garlic said...

Pardon if this is off topic. I was watching a lecture you gave a while back on the Aristotelian proof of God's existence. I was wondering if you could go into more detail on the hierarchical causal series. In your lecture you gave the example of a table holding up coffee. How would that example work in a zero gravity environment? Do you have other examples?

Anonymous said...

Relevant to the discussion of the languages of philosophy and theology, there are two (2) issues as to what “revelatio”. Thomas Gilby in his translation and commentary with appendixes of SUMMA THEOLOGIAE Ia I, Cambridge, Blackfriars, 1964, says, “As with teaching, “doctrina”, revelation bears a doubles sense, the active sense of God’s deed declaring itself, and the objective sense of the truth or truths we hold in consequence (“De veritate” XII, I. ‘The touch of the Spirit and the reception of the Spirit’)” [Appendix 7, p.88]. The first is “singulare” (Singulare in rebus materialibus intellectus noster directe et primo cognoscere non potest, ST I, 86, 1 co.), the second as Gilby expresses it “the reflection of divine truth and of the ‘Logos’ in the meanings, ‘logoi’, of things, not to diminish but certainly not to add to the mystery”. The first is the “brute action” of experience, the immediately unexplained FACT both of “existence exists” and, specifically humanly, this time and this place now placed in the past of the recall of memory of its context of words. The second then takes these words formed around the “immediate” (and no longer) “event” (‘Ereignis’ as Heidegger relevantly says) that is always the origin of the external ‘real’ that is not the verbal reality of what humans are (singulare non repugnant intelligibilitati inquantum est singulare, sed inquantum est materiale, quia nihil intelligitur nisi immaterialiter, ST I, 86, 1 ad 3). Gilby’s description of the second sense as “the reflection of divine truth” is the same literally as Aquinas’ “the mind knows singulars through a certain kind of reflection, as when the mind, in knowing its object, which is some universal nature, returns to knowledge of its own act, then to the species which is the principle of its act, and finally to the phantasm from which it has abstracted the species. In this way, it attains to some knowledge (aliqua cognitio) concerning singulars”, “Questiones disputatae de veritate” X, 5 co, trans. James V. McGlynn , S. J. Any “object” KNOWN is therefore material whereas the “immediate event” of “revelatio” is never known except through this series of reflections (Gilby: “explorations within faith conducted according to the various moods in which intelligence is fused with imagination and feeling looks for reach. We call them moods, but they are more like various languages, each with its proper audience, syntax, rhetoric, logic, and sometimes poetry…”). The materiality, then, of “revelatio” are the words, “the meanings, logoi, of things”, that is Sacred Scripture. This would seem to be an interval of transference from the “immediate event”, which, per se, is incomprehensible as well as nonexistent (in the past, remembered, [re]written or ‘overwritten’) to the full explanation of “doctrina”. Does John Searle say anything related to this?

Gary C. Moore

Anonymous said...

This might also be taken in view of David Hume's essay "On Miracles".

TheOFloinn said...

In your lecture you gave the example of a table holding up coffee. How would that example work in a zero gravity environment?

Why is there this Late Modern tendency to take an illustrative example and see it as a universal theory of physics. The coffee-table allegory is not a physics theory about tables or coffee.

bitvast said...

Scholastic Metaphysics...second on the metaphysics textbook list only to Sartre's Being and Nothingness!

Wow, Ed. Looks like your cunning plan of getting into philosophy for the money is working out.

BTW, got my copy.

Anonymous said...


We could spin the question to be asking for another illustrative example, this time in a "gravity-free" (vague expression, that) environment. Say, an answer at the level of fields or nuclear forces.

Paul Amrhein said...


I think that hierarchical series are also known as causal series ordered *per se*. If that’s the case then there are many examples. I would recommend two of Professor Feser’s books; *Scholastic Metaphysics* and *Aquinas*. The blog is also searchable. I found the following post by searching for “causal per se”;

monk68 said...

What a great article by Freddoso!

Anonymous said...


What is the difference between “virtue” as “1 a : moral practice or action : conformity to a standard of right (as divine law or the highest good) : moral excellence : integrity of character : uprightness of conduct : RECTITUDE, MORALITY” in Webster’s International Unabridged, and Scholastic and Aristotelian “virtue” as “7 : an ability or accomplishment” or “an operative habit perfecting rational powers to act according to the rule of reason”, and even more to “virtuality” as the modern ‘almost real’ which, in modern terms is a great accomplishment morally, pragmatically, and ontologically (except that it is STILL irremovably implicit no one can know what the “real” ‘really’ is) and John Duns Scotus’ condemnation “virtually true” none the less completely misses its mark? Does the negativity of the second legitimately apply then to “moral practice” such as burning people at the stake or beheading/ hand-chopping according to Sharia law or Mitt Romney’s deletion of 47% of the US population, that is, what was once absolutely and necessarily “moral” is no longer so, and therefore . . . what? How would F, A. Hayek or Robert Nozick, Objectivist saint, view this?

Gary C. Moore

Gary C. Moore said...

Why is St. Augustines Press having such trouble getting its new titles out (John P. Doyle)and reprinting old titles Aquinas, ON INTERPRETATION)?

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 1: The Vindication of St. Thomas: Thomism and Contemporary Anglo-American Philosophy
Alfred J. Freddoso (excerpts)
Page 6a: “So the conclusion was drawn by some that there are two fundamentally different types of causality, Aristotelian ‘agent causality’, where a rational agent causes an event, and Humean ‘event causality’, where events are causes of other events.¶ Now as many have come to understand, this is a messy and untenable position. From an Aristotelian perspective, human agency is merely a higher-order manifestation of the ubiquitous natural agency that is in fact epistemically prior to — or, at the very least, epistemically simultaneous with — human agency in our experience. From a Humean perspective, on the other hand, there is a similar epistemic symmetry; the very same considerations that lead one to deny (or to adopt agnosticism with respect to) agency in unthinking nature should likewise lead one to deny peculiarly human agency. The moral of the story, once again, is that a fragmentary and half-hearted Aristotelianism is not only no Aristotelianism at all, but also a philosophically unsatisfactory compromise.¶ Something curious was occurring simultaneously in the parallel literature about causality that was being generated by analytic metaphysicians. Here the problematic of characterizing causality was set up in such a way that the only two possible solutions stemmed from two different characterizations of causality found in the work of — who else? — David Hume, viz., the so-called regularity theory of causality and the so-called counterfactual theory of causality; each was then associated with its own take on what scientific laws of nature are. By the time the battle was over, neither account emerged victorious; [page 7] even the most sophisticated versions of the two theories were subject to debilitating counterexamples.(11: For more on this debate from an Aristotelian perspective, see part 4 of my “Suarez on Metaphysical Inquiry, Efficient Causality, and Divine Action,” in Francisco Suarez, On Creation, Conservation, and Concurrence: Metaphysical Disputations 20-22, translation, notes, and introduction by Alfred J. Freddoso (St. Augustine's Press, 2002) Needless to say, Hume himself had, almost unknowingly, inherited both ways of ‘defining’ causality from Scholastic thinkers, who had thought of regularity and counterfactual dependence as defeasible signs of genuine efficient causality, but not as definitive of it . . . (13: Notice, by the way, that the very notion of scientific ‘laws’ of nature, where hardly any of the philosophers involved in the contemporary discussion believe in a lawgiver for these laws, is itself a bit anomalous. This is not unlike Anscombe’s pointing to a similar anomaly with the use of terms like ‘moral law’ and ‘moral obligation’ and ‘moral prohibition’ by philosophers who no longer believe in a divine lawgiver.)¶¶
b. Philosophical Anthropology [GCM: Edmund Husserl dismissed Martin Heidegger’s SEIN UND ZEIT as mere “anthropology” ignoring his own admonition “To the things themselves!” that, for Heidegger, erased all the presuppositions about what ‘mind’ and ‘consciousness’ were ‘culturally’ ‘suppose to be’ by presenting Dasein, “There-being” in William J. Richardson’s correct translation S. J., where undivided and undifferentiated experience “per se” is simply “there” (das Da) and verbally one adds on “I” or Mineness, “Jemeinigkeit”, ergo, the “I” is merely verbal contingent context (“point of view” when you cannot literally experience an ‘other’ “point of view” except by verbal presupposition and cultural pressure) and the “There” “experience exists” and “existence exists” are synonymous “singulare” that are NOT the abstractions of an “anthropology”.]

Joe said...

I agree with Victor. It would be great to see Dr. Feser address some of the ideas over at Less Wrong directly. Its hard to believe as smart as those guys are that they would be all in a panic about something as impossible as AI. If it were possible a Super Intelligence would immediately realize Catholicism was true then destroy its self for fear that humans would worship it rather than God.

Tony said...

A truly intelligent AI would be able to reason that a non-ensouled entity could not be intelligent in the proper rational sense, and would self-declare that it is not an AI. So any so-called AI that doesn't repudiate being an AI cannot really be an AI after all.

So as to answer Roko's Basilisk.

Step2 said...

There are rationalists literally losing their minds over this issue.

MoreWrong than right. In the spirit of memes though, I offer this simple solution:
Keep Calm, Avert your Eyes and Carry a Mongoose.

Greg said...

I don't really think that Roko's basilisk warrants a personalized response. Feser's review of one of Kurzweil's books (in First Things) would undercut the assumptions cited in the Slate article. (See Feser's development of James Ross's argument for the immateriality of the intellect also.)

Anonymous said...

Have to admit.
That Roko's basilisk would make an interesting movie.

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 1: INTENTIONALITY (from Wikipedia’s “John Searle” article)
. . . Derrida takes Searle to task for his attempt to get around this issue by grounding final authority in the speaker's inaccessible "intention". Derrida argues that intention cannot possibly govern how an iteration signifies, once it becomes hearable or readable. All speech acts borrow a language whose significance is determined by historical-linguistic context, and by the alternate possibilities that this context makes possible. This significance, Derrida argues, cannot be altered or governed by the whims of intention.¶
GCM: This applies specifically here as I am writing about purely the language of the article within which “Derrida” and “Searle” are characters. This is actually the situation of all writing ‘about’ ‘real people’. ‘Real people’ do not exist in writing. And yet making that statement does not implicate a “real” way of representing “real people”. Especially in analyzing an article by another author, it must be assumed at least initially that in at least one sense that “Derrida” and “Searle” are fictional caricatures based on long lists of the observations by others. This is germane to this context. My thesis is that every linguistic phrase or combination of phrases has been “always already” formed by the presupposed ‘intent’ of another person not present. This is the whole contextual reality of language itself. This “context” is purely both historical and accidental, that is, one set phrase can be used to another purpose than originally intended, that is, taught to oneself. It is flexible to a contextual purpose, but it is not “one’s” purpose because, to have a “meaning” that can be “flexed” it must retain to some degree its original history. Every word is taught (given) to you with someone else’s meaning that is then adapted to your multifarious purposes. And you in turn teach the word with the same context to someone else. Derrida supposedly believes “All speech acts borrow a language whose significance is determined by historical-linguistic context, and by the alternate possibilities that this context makes possible. This significance, Derrida argues, cannot be altered or governed by the whims of intention.” Of course it can be altered by “the whims of intention”. The real question, though, is whose intention? In a strict and therefore perfect computer language the intent is determined primarily by the code writer, but the code writer is strictly determined by computer-usable logic and material context. This is not at all how a human child is taught. A human child is taught to learn a generally irrational language only ordered by the flexible rules of grammar. Therefore new expressions can and do pop up from the child sometimes either seeming to have no grammar or the grammar is silently presupposed in the expression. “Silent presupposition” applies both to the speaker’s so-called intention and also the historical baggage always carried along by language. When you begin to speak deliberately forming what you say, two ‘intents’ form your action: the purpose you objectify to yourself as “yours” and the linguistic encyclopedia you have learned from others. They do not always accord as you know from “Freudian mistakes” even in the most carefully prepared speech so you know very well that, though there is one primary intent, it is not always the dominant one. And yet this does not necessarily mean there is a literal “unconsciousness” with its own ‘conscious’ intent, but that all the terms are wholly objective to some intent, but whose “intent”? It can never be wholly ‘yours’ under any circumstance. You can get “inspired” or the Devil seize your tongue. This ‘mythology’ at least reflects the existence of other intents within ‘yourself’. And THEN there is the issue of spontaneous speech!

Gary C. Moore

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 2: INTENTIONALITY (from Wikipedia’s “John Searle” article)
WIK: “In 1995, Searle gave a brief reply to Derrida in The Construction of Social Reality. He called Derrida's conclusion "preposterous" and stated that "Derrida, as far as I can tell, does not have an argument. He simply declares that there is nothing outside of texts..."[25] Searle's reference here is not to anything forwarded in the debate, but to a mistranslation of the phrase "il n'y a pas dehors du texte," ("There is no outside-text") which appears in Derrida's Of Grammatology [26].”
GCM: This refers to Wittgenstein’s stance that you cannot stand outside language to describe it, that all human knowledge is “always already” bound within the “great animal” τὸν κόσμον ζῷον ἔμψυχον ἔννουν τε τῇ ἀληθείᾳ διὰ τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ (Timaeus 30b) of the Kosmos which is the cosmos of language. Everything you know is associated with a word. That there is "il n'y a pas dehors du texte" means, here, that you cannot stand outside either language or the cosmos. Language determines what you are, not you language per se.
WIK: Intentionality and the background[edit]
Searle defines intentionality as the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs in the world.[27] . . . Searle also introduces a technical term the Background,[29] . . . Background he calls the set of abilities, capacities, tendencies, and dispositions that humans have and that are not themselves intentional states.
GCM: Now, if what I said about each word and phrase having a historically inherited intent from someone else (teacher, parent, dictionary, the street gang), then Searle’s proposition has limited validity and practicality. It merely has focusing capability that is still impinged on by external factors. Your speech is the expression of many intents woven to an approximate purpose spoken and even further diversified when heard by others with their own history of intents.
WIK: Thus, when someone asks us to "cut the cake" we know to use a knife and when someone asks us to "cut the grass" we know to use a lawnmower (and not vice versa), even though the actual request did not include this detail.
GCM: But then you have to have at-hand a knife or a lawnmower. If you do not, the command is STILL meaningful and “speculation” must be used to accomplish the act.
WIK: Searle sometimes supplements his reference to the Background with the concept of the Network, one's network of other beliefs, desires, and other intentional states necessary for any particular intentional state to make sense . . . To give an example, two chess players might be engaged in a bitter struggle at the board, but they share all sorts of Background presuppositions: that they will take turns to move, that no one else will intervene, that they are both playing to the same rules, that the fire alarm won't go off, that the board won't suddenly disintegrate, that their opponent won't magically turn into a grapefruit, and so on indefinitely. As most of these possibilities won't have occurred to either player,[32] Searle thinks the Background must be unconscious, though elements of it can be called to consciousness (if the fire alarm does go off, say).

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 3: INTENTIONALITY (from Wikipedia’s “John Searle” article)
GCM: A “presupposition” has to be a separate intent of some sort or it cannot be “supposed”. This also means that it can be “inappropriate” to the purpose at hand wherein it must somehow be present-at-hand to be judged “inappropriate”. Therefore, being an “intent” cannot be erased by being unconscious but is simply not the primary focus which sidelines or evades secondary intents. Everything stays “objective”, but some things are at the center of attention and some things at the periphery in exactly the same way physical perception works. You see everything ‘equally’ but some things are more ‘equal’ than others.
WIK: In his debate with Derrida, Searle argued against Derrida's notion that a statement can be disjoined from the original intentionality of its author, for example when no longer connected to the original author, while still being able to produce meaning. Searle maintained that even if one was to see a written statement with no knowledge of authorship it would still be impossible to escape the question of intentionality, because "a meaningful sentence is just a standing possibility of the (intentional) speech act". For Searle ascribing intentionality to a statement was a basic requirement for attributing it any meaning at all.[33][34]
GCM: You are taught as a child that there are other “intentionalities” than your own, though your “own” is the only one you phenomenologically experience. “Other” intentionalities are then ontologically different from your own because yours is experienced in a “whole” of experience whereas other “intentionalities” are experienced just verbally in a specific physical context. Therefore you can in fact read your own words as the words of an “other” and not as your own because temporally and spatially you have become detached from them.
WIK: Searle argues that philosophy has been trapped by a false dichotomy: that, on the one hand, the world consists of nothing but objective particles in fields of force, but that yet, on the other hand, consciousness is clearly a subjective first-person experience.
GCM: That “the world consists of nothing but objective particles in fields of force” is just a set of words and can be nothing else by themselves. “Consciousness” also can only be an encyclopedia of words where some at this moment are more focused upon than others. In order to refer from one part of the encyclopedia to another means some ‘conscious’ intention must necessarily be always present even in dreams. “Forgetting” then becomes problematic – and always has been – as Eco has shown in describing mnemonics as being a LOGICAL SYSTEM totally directed to calling something directly to attention whereas “forgetting” deliberately NEVER happens, and no systematic mnemonics can be designed to accomplish that – in fact, such an effort REINFORCES memory! – ergo “forgetting” is never deliberate yet cannot be obliterated because there are still linguistic ties to the “missing” memory. That everything is objective does not mean everything is deliberate.

Gary C. Moore said...

Part 5: INTENTIONALITY (from Wikipedia’s “John Searle” article)
WIK: Most of his attack is directed against the common conception of rationality, which he believes is badly flawed. First, he argues that reasons don't cause you to do anything, because having sufficient reason wills (but doesn't force) you to do that thing. So in any decision situation we experience a gap between our reasons and our actions . . . It is this gap that makes us think we have freedom of the will. Searle thinks whether we really have free will or not is an open question, but considers its absence highly unappealing because it makes the feeling of freedom of will an epiphenomenon, which is highly unlikely from the evolutionary point of view given its biological cost. He also says: "All rational activity presupposes free will ".[43]
GCM: Since the number of “intentions” contained in the whole of language (ergo “culture”) is not only infinite at the present but also is constantly generating more intentions (infinity + 1), makes “free will”, in some sense or another in this infinity of intentions, plausible simply because of the uncertainty and contingency of any verbal or material “object” whatsoever, what is “freely chosen” therefore can only be determined by an infinite mind and that ain’t me.
WIK: Second, Searle believes we can rationally do things that don't result from our own desires. It is widely believed that one cannot derive an "ought" from an "is", i.e. that facts about how the world is can never tell you what you should do ('Hume's Law') . . . Searle continued to defend his view that "..the traditional metaphysical distinction between fact and value cannot be captured by the linguistic distinction between 'evaluative' and 'descriptive' because all such speech act notions are already normative."[45]
GCM: Daily life never shows one “God” in any form or fashion whatsoever. Daily life as materially perceived can have no material order itself derived SIMPLY from material facts. It would be an impossible chaos unless our imagination imposes a logical analysis upon direct experience which, however, is necessarily immaterial. Humes law is perfectly correct “that facts about how the world is can never tell you what you should do”. That can only come from your linguistic context and the grammar it assumes. If “you are in the world but not of it” then you can use the immateriality of abstract concepts, words, to sort things out. But this is according to “primary” (your) and “secondary” (the whole of language) intentions.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Feser, Would you kindly post a PDF of your paper for those of us who missed the conference?

Gary C. Moore said...

Anonymous said...
Prof. Feser, Would you kindly post a PDF of your paper for those of us who missed the conference?

July 22, 2014 at 9:35 AM

Gary C. Moore

Lee Faber said...

Some reflections on Freddoso's paper:

It seems that his concerns about Notre Dame's hiring practices point to a view in which thomism is the only view that is of contemporary interest. He mentions 4 ND hires in Thomism, and dismisses the "medieval" hires, Under this rubric would be the two Scotists hired since 2000, one of which engages heavily with analytic thought, two Henry of Ghent scholars in the Liberal studies program, one of which engages both continental and analytic thought while discussing Henry, and a neoplatonist who has been in the Medieval institute for time out of mind, who also engages with contemporary thought, writing books on music theory, neoplatonism, and Derrida. No doubt someone will point out, 'but it was a conference about thomism'. Fine, true dat. It rifles the feathers somewhat to be considered part of the contemporary malaise, that's all.

He also laments that the Nd two course requirement has no prescribed content. But given the general attitude he describes at ND, this probably would have been antithetical to any Thomist content. Indeed, I say as a Scotist and as a ND phd that Freddoso couldn't tell from Adam that I spend a great deal of time in class trying to make Aquinas intelligible to the masses of undergraduates on the topics of faith vs. reason, existence of God (they seem to prefer the 4th way), free will, and the soul.

Gary C. Moore said...

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy strangely has no entry for John Searle. THE OXFORD COMPANION TO PHILOSOPHY, page 816, has a tiny blurb including:
<< “For Searl, although the mind emerges from the body [GCM: Like Venus on an oyster shell from the sea beautifully naked?] , it possesses an ineliminable subjective character with which materialistic accounts cannot adequately deal [GCM: disregarding that “matter” and “materialism are abstract concepts, mere words, and surely as ‘immaterial’ as any “ineliminable subjective character” which is also just “abstract concepts, mere words” as if the itch to have words literally deliver the “ding-an-sich” materially into one’s fleshy hands is “ineliminable”]. In relation to this claim, Searle uses his famous “Chinese room argument” to show that even though a ‘system’ (a computer and a person) inside a room can manipulate Chinese symbols, it does not necessarily operate on the level of meaning [GCM: This is different in an important way from the Wikipedia article]. To do that, mental (intentional) concepts need to be introduced into the system.”
The Wikipedia article has:
<< “In 1980, Searle presented the "Chinese room" argument, which purports to prove the falsity of strong AI.[39] (Familiarity with the Turing test is useful for understanding the issue.) Assume you do not speak Chinese and imagine yourself in a room with two slits, a book, and some scratch paper. Someone slides you some Chinese characters through the first slit, you follow the instructions in the book, translate what it says onto the scratch paper, and slide the resulting sheet out the second slit. To people on the outside world, it appears the room speaks Chinese—they slide Chinese statements in one slit and get valid responses in return—yet you do not understand a word of Chinese. This suggests, according to Searle, that no computer can ever understand Chinese or English, because, as the thought experiment suggests, being able to 'translate' Chinese into English does not entail 'understanding' either Chinese or English: all which the person in the thought experiment, and hence a computer, is able to do is to execute certain syntactic manipulations.[40]” >>
The Oxford entry actually clarifies the Wikipedia “Chinese room” argument that ‘seems’ so precise but is fundamentally obscure in its use of the words “understand”, “understanding”, and “translate”. The real issue is “meaning” as “connotation” versus “this here thang” “understanding” (or “translation”) as “denotation”, that is, the “Show me” state desire to point at something present-at-hand – and which obviously is NOT present-at-hand but rather is “sleight-of-hand”(between “significare” [to mean] and “nominare” [to refer to, point at]). “Meaning” directly implies “purpose”, going towards a final end, τέλος : end, goal, result, outcome, product, “understood” as power of deciding, supreme power, decision, doom, summing up or crux of the matter. It answers the question “Why should I even try to understand it?” rather than pointing to “understanding” as a “fait accompli”, a thing finished at-hand, a computer card fed into the fleshy brain like the slip into the Chinese room. Simply giving it a name does not bring understanding. Searl’s argument, then - but limited to what these articles suggest - is circular. What difference does it make if the results are factually accurate whether it was done with or without understanding? They can be “pointed at” for their correct results. It is what the “results” are to be used for that gives “understanding”! So what Edward Feser has to say about Searle hopefully will be enlightening!

Greg said...

Here's an anecdote from Professor Freddoso's piece:

In 1997 a former student of mine, call him ‘Geno’, then a Rhodes Scholar doing a B.Phil. at Oxford, called me in desperation one afternoon. He had come across a passage in the Nichomachean Ethics that had him completely baffled three days before he was scheduled to make a presentation on it to his tutor. My advice to him was to sneak into a library, furtively glance at a copy of St. Thomas’s commentary on that part of the Ethics and see if it might be of some help. He was, of course, not to mention St. Thomas to his tutor — or to anyone else, for that matter. Well, to make a long story short, a week later I received another call from a now ebullient Geno. When he had laid out St. Thomas’s interpretation of the problematic passage (without, of course, mentioning St. Thomas by name), the tutor stroked his chin, volunteered that he had never thought of the relevant text in that way, and pronounced the interpretation “interesting, perhaps even brilliant.”

A few other Thomists have made similar comments, particularly David Braine, who was advised by Anscombe not to mention Aquinas by name. There is also a paragraph in Geach's Mental Acts lifted directly from Aquinas's writings, after which he amusingly informs his reader of its source.

RM said...

Did Searle watch your talk? Did you get any feedback?

Alan Aversa said...

Is there a video of your talk? thanks