Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Interview with the metaphysician


Recently I was interviewed by two different websites about Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction.  Both interviews have now been posted.  The first interview is at Thomistica.net, where the interviewer was Joe Trabbic.  The second interview is at Strange Notions, where the interviewer was Brandon Vogt.  The websites’ respective audiences are very different, as were the questions, so there isn’t any significant overlap between the two interviews.

144 comments:

Tom said...

Well, the Strange Notions comment section was better than usual, a pleasant surprise. In other news, you all ready need to see this.

Trust me, it will only take two seconds of your time and is well worth it.

Scott said...

@Tom:

It's bloody well about time somebody introduced a line of Scholastic Action Figures!

Scott said...

Now I'm waiting for the Ockham Sock 'em Robots…

RM said...

Does the Scotus action figure sport a dunce cap?

Tom said...

The complete collection can be found here. No Ockham Sock 'em Robots, but we do get St. Anselm, made for play none greater than which can be conceived!

Scott said...

And can we look forward to Jesse Bonaventura?

Scott said...

Ha, "Faith seeking to beat understanding into its enemies." That's just priceless.

Glenn said...

Were there to be
Ockham Sock'em Robots
I'd nominate John Punch
As the referee

Glenn said...

Excerpt (from the first interview):

"If you want to know why theology is in such a mess today and secularism in such a position of strength, I would say that it has in large part to do with the fact that Catholic intellectuals have largely lost the intellectual muscle that Scholasticism used to provide.

"It is amazing how thoughtlessly people repeat the clichés about the manuals, including people who should know better. More than once I’ve had people tell me, to my face and pretty much in the same breath, both how much they like my work and how bad the old manuals are -- evidently without noting the cognitive dissonance!"

Clarification (from Thomas Aquinas, Henry Adams, Steve Martin):

"So thoroughly has the nouvelle theologie caricature of Neo-Scholasticism and traditional Thomism permeated the intellectual life of the Church that you will hear it parroted in the most unexpected contexts. For instance, during lunch at a conference some time ago, a couple of well-meaning conservative Catholic academics matter-of-factly remarked how awful the Neo-Scholastic manuals were, how you couldn’t learn Aquinas from Thomists, etc. -- even as they praised my own work and the high-octane Thomism I was defending during the conference! I thought: 'Where the hell do you think I got it from?'"

Irish Thomist said...

@Tom

I love Brandon but I gave up on SN. Theists are waaayyyy too outnumbered.

About the action figures. One of the links at the bottom brought us here - http://consc.net/phil-humor.html

Maybe I should do something along this line. Ed did a few funny posts quite a while back as it happens. I have one planned but it is going to be tough (you'll see what I mean if I get it finished and up).

Nice to see some positive feedback on the book.

Irish Thomist said...

@Edward Feser

Ever thought about a book to interact with personalist schools of thought now this one is out of the way? I think it would be interesting to read your thoughts on that. Now I know the pitfalls myself (well some at least) but I do think a healthy synthesis is possible that avoids certain dodgy underpinnings from certain philosophers... enough said.

Greg said...

Strange Notions does not look so unbalanced now that several of the atheists have migrated to their own peanut gallery. It looks like the OFloinn is engaging them beautifully!

It is interesting to read their comments. Just to quote something that is representative and got a few upvotes:

But whatever the state of scientific knowledge people like Feser will assert that it is in accord with Thomistic metaphysics. We may discover that the Big Bang was wrong. No worry, that can be explained just as easily as explaining the Big Bang. The nature of matter will change, but it will always agree with their theology. Life may be found, or never found on other planets. No worry, Thomistic metaphysics can accommodate both. It can never be falsified, it never changes in being true, it just changes what it confirms.

Thomistic metaphysics, of course, are not there to "confirm" the Big Bang or quantum mechanics, as though every finding of science either confirms or falsifies every other proposition out there. (Likewise, David Lewis's modal realism is consistent with the Big Bang or not-the Big Bang.)

Then there are general patterns of uttering things like: "But if this were true, what would it be useful for?" Or: "I disagree with this theory." In other words, they accept rather glib 'refutations' of anything related to theism. (And I do not blame them too much for that. It is bound to happen in any topical combox, including here.) I think that many atheists also commit to the position that theism is on its face ridiculous, and when confronted with a more sophisticated theism, try to argue that it really reduces to the funny theism of new atheist ridicule. I think there is a lot of opportunity for profitable engagement, if smart theists continue to jump into the fray. But it's a lot of work. (I wish it were blogger and not Disqus. That software is so unwieldy.)

It'd be nice too if some of them would join in over here.

Also check out this post on teleology. It contains gems like this:

Aristotelian apologists will sometimes respond to criticism of final causes by pointing to physical tendencies, such as objects falling under gravity. This is a vacuous concept because it adds nothing to our understanding of the situation: once we know the laws of motion and gravitation, we can predict where a falling object will end up with more reliability than any argument about final causes could provide. To use Aristotelian terminology, the final cause in this sense is nothing more than the sum of all the efficient causes in operation.

JohnD said...

Dr. Feser,

In the interview at strange notions, you affirm that metaphysics is "absolutely fundamental". Does this make you a philosophical dogmatist? A year or two ago I heard a lecture from the Reformed Christian apologist/philosopher Greg Bahnsen in which he explained two competing views: methodism (i.e. epistemology is prior to metaphysics) and dogmatism (i.e. metaphysics is prior to epistemology). Bahnsen goes on to argue that both approaches are deficient and that one comes to a worldview in "one stroke" which will simultaneously entail metaphysical and epistemological commitments.

Does your affirmation of the "absolutely fundamental" nature of metaphysics entail that classical theists/Thomists should be dogmatists if they are to be consistent?

Irish Thomist said...

@Greg

You see that's exactly what happens when you rule out God or the supernatural in an a priori fashion.

Brandon is a lovely guy and I had seen why people got the boot before. Totally justified. He was far too lenient if anything.

People simply ignored the rules to keep the discussion balanced and honest. They make out that they 'couldn't take it' somehow and made a big fuss elsewhere. I find a lot that happened there very arrogant and childish.

Irish Thomist said...

@JohnD

I've actually never heard that use of terminology like that. Is this purely his own invention?

Irish Thomist said...

@Greg

Some people want to win an argument and feel they are smarter more than they want the truth. Those type of people (from my point of view - both religiously and philosophically) need prayers more than arguments (although preferably both in some way).

I don't quite get why so many atheists just can't figure out Aristotle or whomever as soon as it comes to topics of Go.

We all remember Santi. I was a little too frustrated with his misunderstanding and ready fire mentality. If he cut down the volumes maybe on a blog like this we could at least help him learn even if he were not to have agreed.

That was never an easy thing to do on SN.

Anyway I digress from the OP.

Irish Thomist said...

*God

Irsh Thomist

Edward Feser said...

JohnD,

I don't know why you think what I said has anything to do with "dogmatism." Compare: Biology is more fundamental than ichthyology, since its scope is more general and the explanations it is seeking run deeper. Nothing the least bit dogmatic in pointing that out. Similarly, to say (as I did) that metaphysics is the most fundamental discipline of all (given that its scope is widest and the explanations it seeks are the deepest) is in no way dogmatic.

Certainly you've said nothing to show that the remark is dogmatic, but just asserted it.

Hmmm, that sounds... rather dogmatic of you!

Brandon said...

I suppose 'dogmatism' here is just being used in a very idiosyncratic sense? It's been a long time since I've read anything by Bahnsen, and I don't recall anything in which he used this terminology, but I suppose the distinction is (roughly) between positions that start with a 'way to know things' and positions that start with 'things that are known'; that, at least, would make some sense of saying that one has to do both at once.

Daniel said...

I don't see how at the most fundamental level Ontology (I prefer this term to Metaphysics in context), Logic and Epistemology can be treated separately. After all if we ask 'what is it to know and does one do it' or 'how does the knowing subject come in contact with the known object' we are asking about how things are, about the Identities of things. To what degree Logic is objective and mind-independent is absolutely vital for any coherent epistemology as is the answer one gives to the Problem of Universals. In the end if a philosopher attempts to describe the way reality is or might be he is engaging in the problem of Being.

I take Dogmatic in the Kantian sense to mean any position that does not provide justification for itself and just claims to be the case - a paradigmic example would be blankly asserting the reality of Causation from common experience when that was just what Hume had called into place. In some ways I am all in favour of starting with the epistemic question providing the first points are kept in view - it seems an area where the shortcomings of 'Scientism' are likely to be made manifest very quickly (since the Scientism defender cannot appeal to 'the external evidence of science' against the sceptic since that is exactly what the sceptic calls into question). Also the great majority of pop Secular morality is dogmatic in the purest sense, and ought to be shown as much.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser, slightly off-topic, but what small works/anthologies/selections by Aquinas would you recommend for a beginner before tackling the big works? The Summas by themselves seem daunting to me.

Daniel said...

If I might answer in lieu of Ed for a moment I would recommend the Cambridge University Texts in the History of Philosophy series Summa Theologiae, Questions on God which comes with handy introductory material by Brians Leftow and Davies.

Peter Kreeft has edited a compendium called A Summa of the Summa which is meant to be good though I can't speak for it myself.

For the epistemological/psychological side of Thomas' thought there is a nice standalone volume of the relevant part of the Summa titled Treatise on Human Nature from St Augustine Press.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

For additional suggestions, see here.

And, of course, there is Dr. Feser's Aquinas (A Beginner's Guide).

John West said...

The most persuasive rhetorical argument against atheism is watching some of atheists at SN argue. My goodness.

John West said...

some of the*

Tyrrell McAllister said...

There is a version of scientism that I don't see addressed in Feser's Strange Notions interview or in his Scholastic Metaphysics. It is a weaker version than most of the ones that I've seen articulated, but I don't think that it is self-negating or obviously wrong. Yet neither do I think that it is vacuous. Indeed, I disagree with it. Nonetheless, I think that it is a compelling view that should be acknowledged.

This version of scientism agrees with the AT claim that (IIUC) all knowledge somehow "grows out of" experience. While we can claim knowledge about things beyond experience, that knowledge must nonetheless be compelled by experience, not necessarily in the sense of "deducible from experience", but in the sense of "not coherently deniable, given our experience". That is, to validate a metaphysical claim about how things are, we have to show that they must be that way if our experience is to be intelligible.

For example, hylemorphists claim that prime matter and substantial form must be related in the way hylemorphism describes because, otherwise, our experience of substances, such as animals, wouldn't make sense.

Scientism (of one kind) agrees with this. What distinguishes scientism is this:

Scientism holds that scientists are the best judges of whether a certain metaphysical claim is necessary to make sense of experience. If our experiences were unintelligible without a given metaphysical framework, then physical scientists would feel this unintelligibility most keenly. After all, the argument goes, it is business of a physical scientist to make a very sophisticated and rigorous kind of sense of our experience within his specialized domain. If there were some conceptual obstacle to his doing this, then he would be the first to notice.

For example, if our experience of animals is unintelligible without hylemorphism, then, according to scientism, we should expect this unintelligibility to be evident to those who experience animals in the most careful, precise, and systematic way — namely, zoologists and wildlife biologists. That's not to say that hands-on experience is the point. A wildlife trainer who spends every day working intimately with animals isn't necessarily the person to ask about what is needed to render animals intelligible. Rather, the people tasked with constructing theories of animal, theories that are, at every point, empirically tested for conformity with our actual experience of animals, these people are the relevant experts. If the zoologists are able to go about their business without, say, the hylemorphic understanding of animals, then hylemorphisms must just not be as necessary as the hylemorphists claim.

[To be continued]

Tyrrell McAllister said...

[Continuing]

So, scientism (of this kind) is not the view that all valid metaphysical claims about, say, animals must have testable consequences that zoologists can detect. Rather, scientism holds that denying valid metaphysical claims about animals should make our experience of animals unintelligible in a way that zoologists, as theorizers, can detect. Indeed, if unintelligibility really results from denying a metaphysical claim, then the zoologists among us are the best equipped to detect this. If the zoologists tell us that they are getting by just fine without hylemorphism, then we should reject the arguments for hylemorphism.

Personally, I am not convinced of this view. I agree with the philosophers who say that, sometimes, domain experts are not always in the best position to recognize that some particular way of thinking about their domain is unintelligible. For example, I am a mathematician, but I agree that the best person to tell us what math "is about" is not necessarily a mathematician. A philosopher of mathematics will have a lot to contribute to any discussion about the meaning of mathematical statements. Working mathematicians often think about the objects of their discipline in ways that haven't been tested by much reflection at all. Nonetheless, these same mathematicians are able to get by just fine constructing highly sophisticated and effective theories about these objects, whatever they are.

Despite my disagreement, I don't think that this kind of scientism is obviously wrong. It is not philosophically incoherent to think that the experts in domain D are best positioned to be the experts in the metaphysics of domain D, especially when expertise in D already requires a great deal of theoretical sophistication about its objects, as all of the special sciences do. And yet this kind of scientism is not vacuous either, since I, at least, manage to disagree with it.

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

"Scientism [of one kind] holds that scientists are the best judges of whether a certain metaphysical claim is necessary to make sense of experience."

I think I agree with you that this view, while not in fact correct, is at least neither vacuous nor just obviously wrong, nor are Ed's arguments against scientism designed to address it.

But I have to ask, because I genuinely don't know the answer and it seems pertinent: Has anyone ever actually called this view "scientism"?

John West said...

"Scientism holds that scientists are the best judges of whether a certain metaphysical claim is necessary to make sense of experience."

I think scientism holds that scientists are the only judges of whether metaphysical claims are true, rather than the best judges.

Daniel said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't this rather like the 'Scientism' propounded by Quine? Hence his allowing abstract objects in the form of Sets because of their necessity for making Mathematics and thus Physics possible.

Surely one could challenge this type of Scientism on the basis that in order for us to make sense of scientific praxis e.g. Zoology we must first make sense of the 'pre-scientific' experience the activities of the scientist presupposes e.g. if cannot make sense of change, causation without reference to Matter and Form and Final Causality then we must accept them even if Zoology itself need make no explicit reference to them.

John West said...

Actually, Quine also popped into mind on reading it, but it's less rigorous than Quine's epistemology. Also, Quine was concerned with our best scientific theories, rather than scientists per se.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Scott.

There's a post at Scientia Salon that enumerates a bunch of kinds of scientism:

https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/spelling-out-scientism-a-to-z/

I think that what I described is closest to the type labeled "M" on that page:

"M. A thing can’t have any reality unless it can be theoretically confirmed by one of the biological or natural sciences."

(I might add, "... or social and psychological sciences.")

To line this description up with mine, call an entity "theoretically confirmed" if scientists find it necessary to posit the entity for their best theories to make sense to themselves, as judged by themselves.

So, on this view, numbers are real, even if the study of numbers is not itself a science and our knowledge of them is nonempirical, because scientists find that they need numbers to do their work. A scientist who tried to understand her domain without talking about numbers would notice a conceptual obstacle blocking her efforts.

In contrast, physicists feel no need for something like prime matter. On the view that I describe, if not positing prime matter made physical things unintelligible, then physicists would notice a conceptual obstacle to their efforts, and they would see that prime matter solves their problem. Since physicists don't report that this is the case, we should reject the arguments for prime matter.

John West said...

Incidentally, I would be interested to learn how many of the basic principles behind Scholasticism, and Thomistic arguments, are necessary to make our best scientific theories work.

John West said...

Ah, that is very Quinean, though Quine would have reduced the best theories into his canonical language to see what he needed to quantify over.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@John West:

I think that you're right. Now that you point it out, I see that my formulation was probably heavily influenced by Quine.

At any rate, it goes to show that I didn't just make it up!

Tyrrell McAllister said...

(Oops, rather, now that Daniel has pointed it out...)

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Daniel: Surely one could challenge this type of Scientism on the basis that in order for us to make sense of scientific praxis e.g. Zoology we must first make sense of the 'pre-scientific' experience the activities of the scientist presupposes e.g. if cannot make sense of change, causation without reference to Matter and Form and Final Causality then we must accept them even if Zoology itself need make no explicit reference to them.

The story I'm describing would go something like this:

The zoologists need causation for their theorizing. They notice that their understanding of causation is inadequate for their purpose, which is to understand the varieties of animal life. Hence you get things like Mayr's 1961 Science article "Cause and effect in biology". They recognize that there are puzzles here that need solutions, and they debate whether various solutions suffice.

But whether a proposed solution suffices to solve the zoologists' problems is best judged by the zoologists. That doesn't mean that the solutions have to be home-grown. They could be imported. Maybe some zoologists decide that they should just borrow ideas of causation from other domains, such as physics, or even from Aristotelian metaphysics, if anything there looks worthwhile.

But the moral is that, if zoologists use causation without understanding it, then (a) they will notice this and (b) they will feel that their lack of understanding is a problem. Moreover, (c) they will be the best judges of whether a proposed solution solves their problem.

John West said...

Tyrell McAllister,

"(Oops, rather, now that Daniel has pointed it out...)"

Indeed.

John West said...

Tyrrell McAllister,

This formulation suggests that the most useful assumption is always the most likely to be true. Wouldn't this imply a dubious pragmatism?

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

@John West:

"Incidentally, I would be interested to learn how many of the basic principles behind Scholasticism, and Thomistic arguments, are necessary to make our best scientific theories work."

On that general subject, you'll probably find Fr. Benedict Ashley and William Wallace helpful.

Anthony Rizzi is pretty good too.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@John West: This formulation suggests that the most useful assumption is always the most likely to be true.

Only if "useful" is understood in a very broad sense that includes things like "necessary for our theories to make sense".

John West said...

Scott,

I'm ordering them shortly. Thank you.

John West said...

Tyrrell McAllister,

So you would say, only if the assumption is indispensable?

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@John West.

Yes, an assumption that is indispensable is an assumption in which we should be most highly confident. (I'm not positive that that exactly answers your question.)

John West said...

Tyrell McAllister,

"(I'm not positive that that exactly answers your question.)"

No, I think I've clarified it now.

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

I'm not sure what sort of "scientific" test there could be for such indispensability, but as long as this version of "scientism" doesn't insist on such a test's being "scientific," I don't see any reason why A-T would be too concerned to pick a fight with it. (Ed identifies his target clearly in Scholastic Metaphysics, and that isn't it.)

I'd expect most of the argument to be about whether this or that specific assumption/premise/axiom is "indispensable." Then again, that argument might in the end come down to an argument about whether a physicist qua physicist was really more competent than a metaphysician at determining whether, say, the Principle of Non-Contradiction was presumed by quantum mechanics even when the latter appears (to the physicist) to deny the former.

Greg said...

@ Tyrell

Here is your original characterization of that flavor of scientism:

Scientism holds that scientists are the best judges of whether a certain metaphysical claim is necessary to make sense of experience. If our experiences were unintelligible without a given metaphysical framework, then physical scientists would feel this unintelligibility most keenly.

Here is M:

"M. A thing can’t have any reality unless it can be theoretically confirmed by one of the biological or natural sciences."

(I might add, "... or social and psychological sciences.")

To line this description up with mine, call an entity "theoretically confirmed" if scientists find it necessary to posit the entity for their best theories to make sense to themselves, as judged by themselves.


So what is supposed to distinguish this from garden-variety scientism is that it can allow metaphysical claims, as long as scientists hold them to be necessary for the theory? If so, then I think the requirements that scientists hold them to be necessary is a bit ad hoc.* If not, then it would appear to just be garden-variety scientism, since the entities scientists find it necessary to posit will be nothing that wouldn't crop up in the natural sciences anyway. (I lean toward this latter interpretation, since I imagine the author probably meant by "theoretically confirmed by one of the biological or natural sciences" that the entity was confirmed by the methods of the biological or natural sciences. While I admit that the theory you have enumerated could be called scientism, I doubt that there is so much latitude in the term "theoretically confirmed".)

*For example, the physicist Wolfgang Smith has argued that the Thomist metaphysical apparatus is necessary for contemporary physics. Is Thomism now a viable theory according to this rubric? (And given that a physicist does endorse it, so that it is possible for a physicist to endorse it, what ever was the barrier to non-physicists defending it?) If there is some need for broad consensus, I am not sure how it would work out, since many scientists (i.e. those of the Feynman "shut up and calculate" crowd) don't even entertain metaphysical questions. (And this isn't surprising, given the nature of the sciences and how they are taught. I remember in an introductory college biology class, a professor dragged us through a Chi-squared calculation and told us how to interpret the result. There are interesting theoretical issues surrounding probability, but we could ignore them for our purposes. Or one might consider the issues surrounding the interpretation of quantum mechanics, perhaps the prime example of physicists engaging in philosophy. And of course, there is disagreement. So in this version of scientism it appears that one couldn't maintain that consensus-generating natural science can be the model toward which philosophy ought to tend. (So it abdicates the main selling point of scientism.)

Greg said...

Also, much of Real Essentialism would basically be an argument against that position. Oderberg argues explicitly that at some points the natural sciences must defer to metaphysics.

Scott said...

@Greg and Tyrrell:

Honestly, I wouldn't get too distracted by that specific article. The author expressly states that his list isn't intended to set out the true meaning of "scientism," just to canvass a broad range of views that people who use the term sometimes attack or defend.

That said, though, I do agree with Greg that Shook's M is narrower than Tyrrell's.

John West said...

Though, I suspect most scientismists would be very, very unhappy having ontological commitment to all the entities that are indispensable to our best scientific hypotheses.

John West said...

theories*

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Scott:

In principle, there needn't be a fight. After all, in principle, the physicists could be convinced by Feser's arguments that prime matter is necessary to make sense of physical things.

But, in practice, there is likely to be a fight. The view that I'm describing maintains that the best way to establish whether prime matter is exists is to

(1) become a physicist,

(2) grapple directly with empirical evidence in the way physicists do,

(3) using the methods that modern physicists use, try to come up with theories that make sense of this empirical evidence (where "theory" is used in the sense of "modern scientific theory", and "makes sense" means, "resolves whatever seems puzzling about your experiences to you, qua modern physicist"), and, finally,

(4) see whether your best theories invoke the concept of prime matter.

In particular, the view licenses a fair amount of condescension on the part of physicists towards prime matter. If you, as a physicist, read an account of prime matter, and it doesn't even look to you like the kind of thing that would ever find its way into a good theory of physics of the sort sought by your peers, then you are entitled to dismiss prime matter without further thought. And this is exactly the attitude that we see in, say, Lawrence Krauss.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Greg: So what is supposed to distinguish this from garden-variety scientism is that it can allow metaphysical claims, as long as scientists hold them to be necessary for the theory? If so, then I think the requirements that scientists hold them to be necessary is a bit ad hoc.* If not, then it would appear to just be garden-variety scientism, since the entities scientists find it necessary to posit will be nothing that wouldn't crop up in the natural sciences anyway.

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "a bit ad hoc". At any rate, the view I'm describing does hold that "the entities scientists find it necessary to posit will be nothing that wouldn't crop up in the natural sciences anyway." But, these entities might include things like numbers and relations of cause and effect.

The natural scientist, on the view that I'm describing, should feel a need to understand what numbers are, or what number-talk is about. The view doesn't pre-judge whether numbers will be found to be physical entities or abstract entities or nominalistic fictions or whatever.

However, more controversially, the view also holds that physical scientists are the best judges of whether a particular theory about numbers in fact resolves the puzzles that need to be solved for the physical theories to make ultimate sense.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@John West: Though, I suspect most scientismists would be very, very unhappy having ontological commitment to all the entities that are indispensable to our best scientific hypotheses.

On the view that I'm describing, they get to be the judges of what counts as indespensable, so they probably won't be so unhappy.

Greg said...

@ Tyrell

However, more controversially, the view also holds that physical scientists are the best judges of whether a particular theory about numbers in fact resolves the puzzles that need to be solved for the physical theories to make ultimate sense.

Wait, are the physicists generating the theories or just judging whether they think they are good?

John West said...

Tyrrell McAllister,

The scientists or the scientismists? There are quite a lot of adherents of scientism that have probably never even had a conversation with a scientist.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Greg: For example, the physicist Wolfgang Smith has argued that the Thomist metaphysical apparatus is necessary for contemporary physics. Is Thomism now a viable theory according to this rubric?

Provided that his argument is valid, yes. The scientism of the kind that I'm describing would, in that case, admit Thomism as "part of the package" of contemporary physics. But, of course, this would be conditional on Thomism's really being as necessary as Smith claims.

Scientism of this kind accepts the accusation that scientists presume all sorts of metaphysical claims in their work. For example, if scientists are accused of presuming materialism, they'll reply, "Yeah, exactly. That's why we're so confident that materialism is true. We don't see how to make sense of our best theories without it. Adding nonmaterial minds, say, to our physical theories looks to us like it creates far more puzzles than it resolves. And, by the way, we're the physicists, we're the experts on these theories, so we're going to be pretty skeptical if an outsider tells us that our intuition is wrong here. You're free to try to convince us, but don't be surprised if we quickly conclude that your ideas aren't worth our time."

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@John West.

Sorry, the scientists. I'm sure that many science fans would revolt if their favorite scientists started saying that, say, positing God is necessary to make sense of the physical world.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Greg.

See my November 29, 2014 at 4:14 PM comment to Daniel.

John West said...

Tyrrell McAllister,

Right. Yeah.

Though, I must be in a geographic area heavily influenced by the shut-up and calculate crowd. I can't help but think the few friends I have doing science PhDs would spit and cuss at this idea.

John West said...

"So we're going to be pretty skeptical if an outsider tells us that our intuition is wrong here."

Wait, we're relying on their intuition?

Greg said...

@ Tyrell

Hmm, I see. It is an interesting theory, but since scientists will likely be no better than philosophers at generating consensus over philosophical issues (cf. quantum mechanics), it appears, as I said before, to abdicate the main selling point of scientism, i.e. that philosophical disputes will eventually reduce to scientific disputes resolvable by application of the scientific method.

Smith claims Thomism works. Some other scientists claim materialism is all that is necessary. Unless we are just giving the scientists a vote, that dispute has to be hashed out philosophically. And then you'd just have physicists rather than philosophers doing philosophy... and insofar as they devote enough time to defend their preferred theories expertly, they will become philosophers rather than physicists.

Greg said...

By the way: There is an interesting conversation in the Estranged Notions combox. They are debating whether the proposition "Ockham's razor is rational [to apply]" is knowledge prior to science. One fellow seems to be defending the position that we apply Ockham's razor because we have figured out that it works, and our holding that it is rational is provisional: "It's rational in the sense that it work, but this is, like scientific conclusions, a provisional position."

That position appears to be false. Surely no one has looked at scientific development and figured that the most parsimonious theories are generally the most correct. In fact I'm not sure that's true, since scientists have (more or less) always aimed at parsimony but have constantly overturned their theories! And they probably will continue to do so in the future. Indeed, even if we found that our earlier parsimonious theory was incorrect and a more complex theory better fit with the data, we might say that we were more rational to posit the more parsimonious theory. Ockham's razor could not be confirmed or falsified.

Thomas H. said...

test

John West said...

Reading the conversation to which Greg linked, and since I first started paying attention to the atheism/theism debate more generally, it occurs to me that a lot of people in the scientistic, atheist camp severely devalue mathematics. I'm surprised.

Irish Thomist said...

@JohnD

No reply for Ed?

Irish Thomist said...

@John West

In a general sense I must disagree. I think there is a tendency to turn everything into some form of algebra or calculus among some atheists who think only the scientific method is of any use to learn about the world.

Although I am feeling the sense you meant something in particular. I am interested to hear about what you've noticed in more detail. Thank you.

Irish Thomist said...

@Tyrrell McAllister

Can you give examples of people who hold this view?

I haven't followed the whole conversation but is it something like science coming prior to metaphysics in an epistemological sense? Do we read our metaphysics through physics?

If so doesn't Sean Carroll hold this view or one like it?

The problem is a lot of people make assumptions that are unwarranted from the word 'meta-physics'. Which (maybe I'm wrong?) was applied to the topic later. Metaphysics is in fact prior to physics in the sense of epistemological priority.

John West said...

IrishThomist,

I think it stems from their desire to reject all a priori knowledge's applicability to reality. For instance, elsewhere I had a fellow insist to me, vociferously and often, that "Mathematics cannot provide us with any knowledge of reality" until we empirically verify it. But why think that? I know that two plus three of any equal proportion yield five of those, I don't need to go verify it empirically.

It may not reflect the whole movement. I may have gotten a biased sample. Certainly, atheists like Russell valued mathematics. But these online atheists I encounter seem to simply abhore the idea that a priori thinking can have any applicability to the real world.

Irish Thomist said...

@Greg

Then again wouldn't the person have to establish that that particular philosophy of science has value and is the most advantageous to begin with? Who says that one day a scientist might not just get it completely right?. Doesn't the 'it is just a placeholder' always mean that in the end we know nothing with any certainty?

I also take issue with people throwing falsifiability around as if it were anything but a methodological tool. In the end the truth (lets say in metaphysics) might be unfalsifiable precisely because it is true. That presents are very substantial problem I find to such overuse of the scientific method.

Irish Thomist said...

@John West

:O [shock]

Did you just point out that the position is a little comical to ask for quantifiable data (empirical) if mathematics is false. That would be the charitable and short version of whats went wrong there.

Poor people. It makes one sad to think such damage can be done by the spread of incoherent ideas. I mean not believing numbers to be real (and I'm not arguing in any sense such as platonic or whatever). That's depressing.

John West said...

More or less, yeah. I also dredged up a bunch of quotes from theoretical physicists like Weinberg about the eerie applicability of math to reality from an intro philosophy of math text - the equivalent of scientism's high clergy.

Irish Thomist said...

*Just to qualify a statement

When I was talking to Greg I meant the problems of seeing the Scientific method as applicable to everything or being perfect. I wasn't saying it wasn't useful 'as is' per se.

I am not sure falsifiability is necessary in any dogmatic sense as part of the scientific method for example. I can also see how it might come in useful as a 'just to be sure' safeguard.

John West said...

Incidentally, I think one may concede too much by saying there's not even, possibly, a mathematical representation of God. People said the same about infinites. Who says I can't have a God set?

Unless, is there some metaphysical reason?

JohnD said...

Dr. Feser (CC: Irish Thomist),

You said: Compare: Biology is more fundamental than ichthyology, since its scope is more general and the explanations it is seeking run deeper. Nothing the least bit dogmatic in pointing that out. Similarly, to say (as I did) that metaphysics is the most fundamental discipline of all (given that its scope is widest and the explanations it seeks are the deepest) is in no way dogmatic. Interesting. Disregard the "dogmatism" label since the use in Bahnsen's lecture may have been idiosyncratic. The conundrum Bahnsen raises in said lecture (sorry, it was a random old audio file I purchased so I can't link to it) is this: if you place metaphysics logically prior to epistemology ("dogmatism") or epistemology logically prior to metaphysics ("methodism") you run into serious issues.

So, on the Scholastic view, is metaphysics logically prior to epistemology? That is, before we can answer the question "how do we know" do we first have to grasp some of "what there is"? Or, is it backward, that is, before we can answer "what is there?" do we need to grasp some of "how do we know?". OR, as Bahnsen argued is the case, is it neither, since the two disciplines are part of a worldview that a person comes to in one stroke?

Perhaps I will still need to flush things out a bit to refine the question, but I originally meant to ask if (1) Feser is a "dogmatist" (in this idiosyncratic sense) and (2) Is "dogmatism" common to Thomists in general?

Peace,
John D.

Scott said...

@JohnD:

"So, on the Scholastic view, is metaphysics logically prior to epistemology? "

On the most commonly held Scholastic view, metaphysics is prior to epistemology in the order of being (ordo essendi), but epistemology is prior to metaphysics in the order of knowledge (ordo cognoscendi). We have to know something about how we know before we can know what there is, but what there really is (independently of our knowledge) also determines what we can know and how we know it.

I'd frankly advise chucking this idiosyncratic use of the term "dogmatic" altogether.

Step2 said...

@John West
People said the same about infinities. Who says I can't have a God set?

There is a long history between the two ideas.

Matt Sheean said...

This has gone on a bit, so I hope I am not commenting too late, but it seems to me that one of the arguments available to the A-Tist, and one that Dr Feser has made, is that so far it has not been possible to do science without reference to formal and final causes.

On another note, a while back one Kantian Naturalist posted a link to a paper by Walter Freeman, in which he argued that a Thomistic account of mind best "fits with the new findings in nonlinear brain dynamics." To make a long story short, It seems to me that if everything were left to the scientists, then the neuroscientists would say one thing was indispensable, the physicists another, the biologists yet another, and so on. Somebody would then have to decide which science was to have the last say, and at that point, I'd think, the point would have been conceded to the metaphysicians.

Scott said...

@Matt Sheean:

"[I]t seems to me that one of the arguments available to the A-Tist, and one that Dr Feser has made, is that so far it has not been possible to do science without reference to formal and final causes."

I think that's entirely pertinent, and it's especially pertinent to the claim (which, for the record, Tyrrell McAllister is not making) that scientists themselves are the best judges of the metaphysical principles without which their theories would become unintelligible. It might well be, for example, that some scientists invoke the equivalent of formal and final causes without being aware that they're doing so, as so many scientismists do.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Matt Sheean: To make a long story short, It seems to me that if everything were left to the scientists, then the neuroscientists would say one thing was indispensable, the physicists another, the biologists yet another, and so on. Somebody would then have to decide which science was to have the last say, and at that point, I'd think, the point would have been conceded to the metaphysicians.

Followers of scientism would say that these disagreements will just have to be settled by dialogue among the sciences. There is no vantage point outside the special sciences from which one would be entitled to adjudicate these disputes. It's just a sad fact of life that no human can gain professional-grade expertise in all of the special sciences. But lack of such expertise always hampers one's ability to evaluate metaphysical claims. Hence, those who lack all professional-grade expertise in the special sciences (as most professional philosophers do) have an especially low ability to evaluate metaphysical claims. This is the essence of scientism.

Suppose that two sciences fall into a dispute about whether a particular metaphysical notion is indispensable. For example, suppose that the biologists say that causation is indispensable, while physicists say that causation is reducible to properties of dynamical systems. Then these sciences will have to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue. If that fails to settle the matter, then they will have to create a "bridge discipline", in which a community of experts is built up to study the issues related to the dispute by applying as much expertise from the two sciences as possible.

If still no resolution is possible, then this may just be one of those subjects that the human intellect cannot fully comprehend. (Dawkins, for one, has suggested that the solutions of some scientific mysteries may be beyond human comprehension, just as General Relativity is beyond a dog's power of comprehension.)

But the thing that makes this scientism is that at no point in the process are non-scientifically-trained philosophers likely to be of any use. If mysteries remain, the solution is more science, more scientists thinking the way scientists do.

Recall the well-worn allegory of the elephant and the five blind men. One man is feeling the ears, another the side, another the legs, another the trunk, another the tail. Each man generates a different theory about the elephant's structure. To get a complete picture of the elephant's structure, the men will just have to compare notes. What they shouldn't do is to ask someone who is so far away that the elephant looks like a blurry gray blob. That is how followers of scientism view the prospect of asking metaphysicists to give an account of causation that solves all of the puzzles about causation that arise in the different special sciences.

John West said...

Step2,

I knew nothing of the history between the two. Cool. Thanks.

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

"What they shouldn't do is to ask someone who is so far away that the elephant looks like a blurry gray blob. That is how followers of scientism view the prospect of asking metaphysicists to give an account of causation that solves all of the puzzles about causation that arise in the different special sciences."

That is a very apt characterization of scientismists' view(s) of metaphysicians. However, I think it's a mistake on their part to think that metaphysicians (especially A-T metaphysicians) offer their account(s) of causation as solutions to all of the puzzles that arise in the natural sciences. Any A-T metaphysician worth his/her salt is going to leave it to the empirical sciences to tell us how causation works in this or that particular instance; s/he'll merely insist that any such account will be properly describable in terms of material, efficient, formal, and final causes.

Thomas said...

Dr. Feser,

You have mentioned in one of these interviews that you are not particularly keen on Personalism. I know many neo-scholastics are not fond of it, but do you think there is something metaphysically wrong about it, or is it just not suited to your temperament or focus?

Matt Sheean said...

"But the thing that makes this scientism is that at no point in the process are non-scientifically-trained philosophers likely to be of any use. If mysteries remain, the solution is more science, more scientists thinking the way scientists do."

What it is for a thing to be a mystery and what it would be to explain it is, I would think, a question for the metaphysician. To be sure, he does not consider this in a vacuum - what is simple is known from what is composed and all that.

Matt Sheean said...

Tyrrell,

I should add that I'm not trying to argue with you, just the view that you have represented here. I am trying to make my own thoughts about it clear to myself.

Glenn said...

Suppose that two sciences fall into a dispute about whether a particular metaphysical notion is indispensable... Then these sciences will have to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue. If that fails to settle the matter, then they will have to create a "bridge discipline", in which a community of experts is built up to study the issues related to the dispute by applying as much expertise from the two sciences as possible.

If still no resolution is possible, then this may just be one of those subjects that the human intellect cannot fully comprehend.


A recalcitrant attitude can lead to a variety of interesting conclusions, including the one just mentioned.

Irish Thomist said...

@Thomas

As a Thomistic 'personalist' I would say you are correct about some types of personalism (which isn't one school of thought really). I would also caution against a type of Thomism that is too rigid to accept advances in Thomas Aquinas thought - they are the real 'dogmatists'.

I think we can have the two and build a personalism from within Thomas Aquinas own thought. I also think great care must be taken or else a relativist army might enter via a large subjective wooden horse.

- that last line was slightly more amusing than intended.

Anonymous said...


"If you want to know why theology is in such a mess today and secularism in such a position of strength..."

I would think that's because theology has produced absolutely nothing of note since it's inception besides apology. Science may not provide answers to "true" reality or such things but theology doesn't either, even if it thinks it can.

Glenn said...

"If you want to know why theology is in such a mess today and secularism in such a position of strength..."

I would think that's because theology has produced absolutely nothing of note since it's inception besides apology. Science may not provide answers to "true" reality or such things but theology doesn't either, even if it thinks it can.


Science is no better than theology at providing answers to "true" reality, but it does produce things of note whereas as theology seems not to? An interesting, albeit not overly clever, way of saying that science is better at captivating the natural senses. Ho hum.

Scott said...

@Thomas:

"Dr. Feser,

You have mentioned in one of these interviews that you are not particularly keen on Personalism. I know many neo-scholastics are not fond of it, but do you think there is something metaphysically wrong about it, or is it just not suited to your temperament or focus?"

Ed has explained many times on this blog—for example, here, here, and here—exactly what he thinks is metaphysically wrong with theistic personalism. For more, search this blog for the phrase theistic personalism.

Greg said...

Hey, a couple questions:

Where is a good place to start on E.J. Lowe's metaphysics texts? He has so many and they all look the same to my untutored eyes.

Also, has anyone read John Peterson?

Greg said...

I mean the John Peterson who wrote this and this.

Thomas said...

@Scott

I understand that. I was referring to the Personalism of Fr. Norris Clarke, Peter Kreeft, St. JPII, and to a certain extent Benedict XVI. They all thought that a kind of realist phenomenology and personalism could be synthesized with Thomism. They tended to follow Gilson, however, in his "existentialist thomism" and I am wondering if Dr. Feser thinks this would be possible or not from a more of a neo-scolastic approach.

Scott said...

@Greg:

"Where is a good place to start on E.J. Lowe's metaphysics texts?"

The Four-Category Ontology is a good place.

I haven't read Peterson but those books look interesting.

Greg said...

Thanks, Scott.

It looks like Bill Vallicella has taken a look at Peterson's work. I don't really have the stamina to work through that post at the moment.

Greg said...

Another book that I would love to take a look at, but which I can't seem to find for sale anywhere, is John O'Callaghan's Thomist Realism and the Linguistic Turn: Toward a More Perfect Form of Existence.

Irish Thomist said...

@Scott

I think Thomas was referencing more the 'personalism' forms of philosophy rather than theistic personalism. As I see he has now clarified himself.

I would add that even classical theistic metaphysics can possibly be improved upon. While I'm not sure I take the same stand as Luis de Molina SJ I certainly think it can be helpful to consider whether or not the mystery of God can be even better understood than it is now. Building upon what seems to be correct in what we already have come to understand.

I think a Thomisitc Personalism that grows from the inside would be a good way to develop such an understanding.

Scott said...

@Thomas:

"I was referring to the Personalism of Fr. Norris Clarke, Peter Kreeft, St. JPII, and to a certain extent Benedict XVI."

Ah, that makes better sense, and I'd have realized it if I'd reread the interview before replying. Sorry about that.

Irish Thomist said...

@Thomas
In a way I follow a more 'Lublin Thomism'(as Edward has called it [although my angle is probably branching off a little from the mainstream L-T/T-P]) myself Thomas so I see where you are coming from. Is there anything you want me to discuss back at my blog? I notice Edward doesn't cover this branch of Thomism much. I embrace Edwards A-T emphasis so I suppose that's one way in which I might differ from similar Thomistic types of the 'Lublin' variety?

Thomas said...

@Irish Thomist

Gilson tends to claim with Fabro and the rest that, among other things, Aquinas was not an Aristotelian, and that the scholastics after St. Thomas radically changed the "existential" (or focus on ens rather than esse) nature of Thomism to something broadly called "essentialism" (Not the same as Feser's or Olsberg's essentialism.) This is considered by Gilson and others to be a concession to the rationalism of the enlightenment (or endarkenment). I am by no means an expert, but while I stand with Feser and the rest of the neo-scholastics in denying these charges, it seems to me that to build a personalism on this base might be imprudent. While I would very much like a new synthesis, I would first like to know if this Personalism is comparable with a traditional A-T approach. For more information on this debate, you could turn to Gilson's "Being and Some Philosophers" and Fr. Thomas Joseph White's rebuttal in "Wisdom in the Face of Modernity." Also helpful is Ralph Mcinerny's "Praeambula Fidei."

Daniel said...

@Greg,

I share your pain with Thomist Realism and the Linguistic Turn - it's one of my most wanted modern titles in Epistemology. I've been waiting for an ex-library copy to surface for ages.

I will take a more controversial position with Lowe and suggest his The Possibility of Metaphysics. Talking of Lowe does anyone know if there is any page containing links/ public PDFs of his essays up online? His personal page is no longer accessible on the Durham website.

Ed has mentioned Peterson's Introduction to Scholastic Realism somewhere (perhaps in the notes to the Universals section of TLS?). He also wrote a short book, may have been a cleaned up version of a thesis, contrasting Moderate Realism and Logical Atomism which is available for nearly nothing.

If we're throwing random names and books into the fray might I ask if anyone has read and/or has any opinions on Laurence Bonjour's In Defense of Pure Reason? It's meant to contain an interesting though probably quite un-Thomist analysis of our perception of Universals.

Thomas said...

@Irish Thomist

Sorry, "comparable" = compatible

It just seems to me that (apart from Norris Clarke, whom I have not read enough to speak of) the major figures who push for the synthesis tend to agree with Gilson and that makes me want to do a bit more research before I begin to synthesize von Hildebrand et all with the A-T's.

John West said...

Daniel,

I'm unsure how to write these links as "links", perhaps someone can tell me for future reference:

E. J. Lowe's Four-Category Ontology:

http://cdn.preterhuman.net/texts/thought_and_writing/philosophy/four%20category%20ontology.pdf

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"If we're throwing random names and books into the fray might I ask if anyone has read and/or has any opinions on Laurence Bonjour's In Defense of Pure Reason? It's meant to contain an interesting though probably quite un-Thomist analysis of our perception of Universals."

I read it a decade or so ago and based on my recollections I'd highly recommend it. His main theme isn't so much universals as a defense of a moderate (and fallibilist) version of a priori justification, but I do recall that he had some interesting things to say about universals.

I also wouldn't say it's entirely non-Thomistic. One point I particularly remember (in part because I used it in my own book) is one he made in passing: that if two thoughts are both about some object, it could be because the nature of that object somehow enters into the thoughts themselves. That sure sounds an awful lot like the receiving of a form by the intellect.

My copy is quite literally within arm's reach, so if you'd like to know anything more about it, just let me know.

John West said...

Metaphysics as the Science of Essence:

http://ontology.buffalo.edu/06/Lowe/Lowe.pdf

The Metaphysics of Abstract Objects:

http://web.mit.edu/~shaslang/www/courses/221/lowe.pdf

Scott said...

@John West:

"I'm unsure how to write these links as 'links', perhaps someone can tell me for future reference[.]"

Happy to oblige. If you type this:

<a href="http://cdn.preterhuman.net/texts/thought_and_writing/philosophy/four%20category%20ontology.pdf">Here's some text.</a>

what will come out is this:

Here's some text.

Note that there are double quotation marks around the URL in (what's called) the href attribute of the a tag.

John West said...

Test:

Lowe, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind

Thank you, Scott.

John West said...

Laurence Bonjour, In Defense of Pure Reason

Irish Thomist said...

@Daniel

Try https://archive.org/web/web.php to fish out documents on old websites. I'm not sure if it pulls PDF's and other documents off websites when it spiders the web but who knows.

Irish Thomist said...

@Thomas

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=The+Thomistic+tradition

Check out parts one and two.
Transcendental Thomism might be more what you are thinking of. I hold to A-T Metaphysics.

Irish Thomist said...

@Thomas

*I meant Existential Thomism, not Transcendental Thomism.

Scott said...

@Irish Thomist:

"Try https://archive.org/web/web.php to fish out documents on old websites. I'm not sure if it pulls PDF's and other documents off websites when it spiders the web but who knows."

I do: if the Wayback Machine has a snapshot of a now-defunct website from a given time, it has all the files from that website at that time, whether PDFs, images, or what have you. Unfortunately, searching it for such content (at least when you don't know the URL of the site that may have hosted it) is a pretty hopeless task.

Thomas said...

@Irish Thomist

That is what I am saying though. All of the big names who argue for synthesis (Gilson, Kreeft, St. JPII) are Existential Thomists, and I (we) hold to A-T metaphysics. Is it then possible for someone who holds A-T positions to argue for unity? Is it essential to hold to existential metaphysics for the synthesis to happen? If so, why?

Glenn said...

Scott,

I do: if the Wayback Machine has a snapshot of a now-defunct website from a given time, it has all the files from that website at that time, whether PDFs, images, or what have you.

Well, it's supposed to have all the files from that website extant at the time of capture. Alas, it does not always work out like that; it either doesn't capture everything, or it eventually loses some of what it captured. Case in point (when the site is not offline for maintenance).

Unfortunately, searching it for such content (at least when you don't know the URL of the site that may have hosted it) is a pretty hopeless task.

To say that it is a pretty hopeless task is to put a positive spin on the matter. ;)

(Btw, I've used the WayBack Machine to save certain special things I want a permanent record of, without having to worry about disaster prevention or guarding against recovery at my end. To do that, I'd set up a website using one of those dinky, freebie website providers, and then submit the ULR to the Wayback Machine for archiving (see lower right-hand corner here). Once archived, and after checking that everything was properly captured, I'd take down the website.)

Glenn said...

( "...guarding against recovery"? Yikes.)

Scott said...

@Glenn:

"Alas, it does not always work out like that[.]"

Ah, but with respect to its derived intentionality, that's a privation. ;-)

Scott said...

"I've used the WayBack Machine to save certain special things I want a permanent record of, without having to worry about disaster prevention or guarding against recovery at my end."

That is clever. Possibly not a bad way to make an extra backup of a website qua website, either.

Glenn said...

Possibly not a bad way to make an extra backup of a website qua website, either.

'natch. But if one wants to save something that may come in handy down the road re potential copyright disputes, and may easily enable one to circumvent claims that one has somehow cleverly managed to back-date things on his own computer... ;)

Ah, but with respect to its derived intentionality, that's a privation. ;-)

Indeed. And one may become timorous over the removal of such material.

Mr. Green said...

Matt Sheean: so far it has not been possible to do science without reference to formal and final causes.

Well, it’s not possible without having formal and final causes. One need not explicitly refer to them, naturally, during the course of performing science. I’m an expert in the gravitational and energy-producing aspects of the sun, insofar as if it suddenly disappeared, I’d know about it, within minutes, because I absolutely cannot get by without it for activities in which I have a lifetime of experience… such as being alive. And yet it does not follow from this that I am an expert in stellar fusion or cosmology. In order to believe a zoologist when he tells us he’s getting by without hylomorphism, we’d first have to believe that he’s an expert in articulating it, not merely using it.

Of course, the whole point of the scientific method is that scientists don’t have to understand what they’re doing: what is the scientific method, after all, other than an assembly-line technique for turning out mass-produced science? And like any good tool, it enables the user to do a job without necessarily understanding how the tool works. You don’t need to be a mechanic to drive a car; you don’t need to know how to fabricate integrated circuits in order to play Pac-Man; you need never have passed astronaut training to drink Tang. Er, anyway, the point is that the scientific method bundles up a set of conceptual tools so that a scientist can successfully do Science without having to be an expert in natural philosophy or metaphysics. The philosopher has to understand what substances are, and that they have natures, and that all instances sharing the same form will behave in a certain way according to their common essence, and so forth; the scientist need merely remember that “repeatability” is something he’s supposed to do. (And the moment he steps outside the science lab and tries to wave around something like, oh, say, “falsifiability”, he just might reveal how poor is his grasp of what it actually means.)

Daniel said...

@John west,

I owe you one ;)

@Scott,

Many thanks for that tantalising info. I assumed it was at least in part about Universals since of it was mentioned in connection with questions of the A Priori and because J.P. Moreland discusses Bonjour’s stance on cognition of Universals in his book of that name (pages 122 to 126). My reasons for saying it was probably un-Thomistic was because I, admittedly from secondary literature, understood him to be a proponent of 'strong' intellectual intuition as apart from sense perception and a Foundationalist of a Cartesian Internalist stripe. I would be interested in reading his Introduction to Epistemology and debate with Sosa on that last point.

@Irish Thomist and Thomas,

Thomistic Personalism and Phenomenological Thomism require no stance either for or against Gilson's 'Existential Thomism' which is really a question textual exegesis more than anything else. Though some Existential Thomists did good work, particularly on analyzing On Being and Essence as an 'Ontic Second Way', one often gets the impression that the whole movement amounted to little more than Gallic effusions over 'esse' and insults and dire warnings at virtually all other philosophies for being too 'essentialist'*. It is rather repulsive to see certain individuals aping the pejorative insinuations of Nietzsche and the French Existentialists against Plato, Aristotle and virtually the whole Classical Tradition, and then proudly puffing out their chest and claiming ‘we are the real existentialists’. Ironically Personalism seeks to address existential concerns in a way 'Existential Thomism' never did.

*The great irony of course being that when Metaphysics returned to prominence in the Analytic tradition it was precisely due to questions of essence.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

"[I] understood [BonJour] to be a proponent of 'strong' intellectual intuition as apart from sense perception and a Foundationalist of a Cartesian Internalist stripe."

Well, you're not far off on the first bit; he's a proponent of what he describes as a moderate rationalism. The phrase "apart from sense perception" is a bit ambiguous, though, and he certainly doesn't defend a view of a priori justification that makes it independent of having had sensory-perceptual experience.

At the time he wrote that book he was a coherentist, but he's since changed his mind and I don't know much about the sort of foundationalism he now supports.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

I've just now pulled out the book to refresh my memory, and I'm happy to report that on pp. 183ff. he expressly defends Aristotle's and Aquinas's view of thought (according to which forms and/or properties of the objects of thought are literally present in our thought though no in the same way as in the objects). He engages in further discussion and refinement but his basic claim is that this view is very much in the right direction.

I did glance back over his remarks on universals, but they're brief and in some cases between the lines; "universals" isn't even an entry in the index.

Scott said...

@Daniel:

I just pulled out Moreland's book too, and I'd say his brief summary of BonJour's view is fair and accurate. Just bear in mind that BonJour's primary aim isn't to give a full account of universals; it's to defend a certain view of the nature of thought that is compatible with his moderate rationalism. Of course he does say some interesting things about universals on the way, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how all employ the term scientism.

In many cases, it seems to me to commit a category error, conflating normative and descriptive methods, treating provisional methodological stipulations as decisive ontological demonstrations (e.g. methodological naturalism necessarily implicates metaphysical naturalism).

In other cases, scientism disvalues the dialectic between abductive and deductive inference, imagining that nothing of epistemic virtue can emerge from a cycle of abductive hypothesizing and deductive clarifying, as if it yields only a priori, rationalistic notions. At the same time, then, it overvalues inductive inference, suggesting that no epistemic value derives unless inference cycles triadically.

While abductive inference does conjecture, still, it proceeds a posteriori, from known effects/properties, reasoning about unknown causes/objects. This makes it much weaker than inductive inference and very much weaker than deductive inference. So, we properly DEvalue but don't entirely DISvalue it.
The abductive-deductive dialectic yields tremendous heuristic value, greatly enhancing our modeling power, providing our indispensable methodological stipulations and metaphysical presuppositions.

To be sure, host of other normative criteria determine which heuristics ordinarily work the best, but any who wholly disvalue metaphysics will, in the process, necessarily eviscerate science, as philosophy buries its undertakers.

Of course, many OVERvalue abductive inference, but that's another story about naive realism.

johnboy sylvest

Anonymous said...

I followed your link to the Peanut Gallery and dipped my toes into the water. The substance of what's going on there is that many folks, who are properly suspicious of common sense, are trying to subvert the intuitive with the counterintuitive, but don't see the irony in their own over-reliance on mere plausibility. This suggests to me that, much deeper, they are not primarily engaging the pro-positions of our descriptive sciences and normative philosophies (trust me, they want you to do all of their remedial homework, so unfamiliar are they with anything but caricatures) but are displaying the evaluative dis-positions of our disenchanted cultures. Folks like that need prayers and hugs more than arguments. I shall leave them alone.

johnboy

Matt Sheean said...

Mr Green,

just to pick this nit further...

I (think I) should say that an explanation, in scientific terms even, is not possible without reference to formal and final causes. If, for instance, I am giving an account of some cognitive activity in terms of the goings-on in the brain, I might think that I have explained the activity by reference to some merely efficient causal relations between this chemical here and that neuron there, without having the good sense to note that the reason "the brain" limited the scope of my study was that I thought that there was such a thing as a brain and something as well that it was for.

The difficult thing for me, in my amateurish state, is articulating just why this is a metaphysical matter - of course someone could be wrong about the formal and final causes, for instance, but they could not provide an explanation of this phenomenon or that without that explanation being the fourfold causal account. I think the scientismists often get caught on the possibility of error, and fail to see where that very possibility just reinforces the form that explanation must take. I hope that makes sense, or that sense can be made of it.

Greg said...

@ Daniel

I guess I'll be competing with you for that ex-lib copy of O'Callaghan's book, if it ever shows up! Thanks for the Lowe suggestion.

Peterson's books are in the bibliography section of Scholastic Metaphysics. (But Peterson isn't mentioned in-text.) Ed also plugged Aquinas: A New Introduction once on this blog. I don't have TLS on hand at the moment, though. I am planning to take a look at Realism and Logical Atomism at some point as well, probably before I try getting a hold of the other two.

Daniel said...

@Scott,

Again thanks for the info. I will be sure to get hold of copies of his books when my reading takes me back to more Analytically orientated epistemological questions. Looking through the Moreland I suspect my reason for thinking him a supporter of 'strong' intellectual intuition was due to Moreland's mentioning his name in connection with arguments to the effect that intuition of universals should not be treated as an analogon to perceptual experience (not that these arguments entail such a position).

@Greg,

In which case may the best man win!

Despite having sworn not to buy yet another introduction to Thomas I might try Peterson's Aquinas since from the table of contents at least it looks to focus more on the ontological and epistemological aspects. I really want to find an in-depth Analytical account and defence of Thomas’ epistemology (not philosophy of Mind) comparable to what Oderberg does with Philosophy of Nature.

Greg said...

Hmm. I didn't get the impression that it was on epistemology in particular. ('epistemology' does not appear in the index.) Or do you just mean that it touches on 'Truth' and 'Universals'?

Greg said...

Ah, I see, he does mention epistemology in the introduction, which is visible via Amazon.

Greg said...

Another gem from Outshine the Sun.

Scott said...

@Greg:

Priceless. I can't offhand think of anyone at all who has ever argued that the physical universe must be contingent just because each part of it is so.

Nor, for that matter, can I think of anyone who has argued that the argument from contingency contains a fallacy of composition who has also successfully argued that we can't infer the contingency of the physical universe from the contingency of its parts. Indeed, if "the physical universe" is something over, above, and beyond the sum of its "parts," then I'd expect the arguments to that effect to be basically Aristotelian and therefore to lead straight to the God of classical theism.

John West said...

Someone should write a metaphysics version of fashionable nonsense. This Andrew G guy uses the lingo of metaphysics, and modality, but clearly has no clue what he's talking about.

That said, some people assume the only way one could arrive at a principle - like the PSR - is by composition, or at least inductive reasoning. They then go on to assume that the PSR premise is developed in this manner.

Greg said...

@ Scott

I can't offhand think of anyone at all who has ever argued that the physical universe must be contingent just because each part of it is so.

What are you talking about?! It's right on that page:

5. Everything in the physical universe is contingent.
6. Therefore the physical universe itself is also contingent.


All of the cosmological arguments are doing it!

John West said...

Oh, yeah. Or it's a straw man. Sorry, read too fast and gave the author too much credit.

Greg said...

I suppose, in fairness, he only said that "the" argument from contingency includes that inference, when it is "sketched out."

Scott said...

@Greg:

"All of the cosmological arguments are doing it!"

Fair enough; if Andrew G. says it, it must be so.

I guess we'll just have to ignore the inconvenient facts that (a) the Third Way doesn't depend on any such inference, and that (b) those who (try to) refute that argument don't appear to be claiming that the physical universe as a whole somehow accounts for the existence of each of its parts.

John West said...

Fair enough.

Daniel said...

Scott said Indeed, if "the physical universe" is something over, above, and beyond the sum of its "parts," then I'd expect the arguments to that effect to be basically Aristotelian and therefore to lead straight to the God of classical theism.

Strangely I was thinking about something very similar to this re alleged Fallacies of Composition whilst out for a walk earlier. I don’t know what people think they mean when they say the Cosmos is a ‘Whole’ when it’s clearly a collective term, there is no whole standing above its parts unless the critic wants to posit a world-soul or Hegelian Absolute. Hume might be read as arguing than just because all the entities we are familiar with are material and thus contingent ergo in need of a cause it doesn’t mean there might not in theory at least be an entity which isn’t like this – to which of course the Aristotelian would reply that Hume is quite right, there is in fact a being which is devoid of matter, non-contingent and thus Pure Actuality.

I was trying to set out a couple of Mereological axioms of Compositions that might be useful for making clear common sense points about Composition. From memory I had:

1. From a Formal Whole X having as its Parts Y1, Y2,Y3… we are not entitled to affirm or deny that X has the property Z from Y1, Y2,Y3…’s having it without making reference to the Material contents in question. (‘Material’ is of course to be taken as opposed to ‘Formal’).

And standard Euclid:

2. If the Parts Y1, Y2,Y3… have the property A, where A refers to Spatial Extension in terms of Magnitude, then the Whole X cannot possess this Property.

(Yes, that latter is hardly original)

Brandon said...

In fairness, I have come across similar arguments in various places, although there's no particular reason why one would consider it to be a premiere argument for refutation.

What I find more interesting, since I've done some work on fallacies, is how he manages to bungle the account of fallacies of composition despite having rigged everything in his favor to begin with. Setting aside the amateur (but natural) mistake of assuming that one can identify fallacies independently of a particular logical method or system (what counts as fallacious in propositional logic is not the same as what counts as fallacious in predicate calculus, nor the same as what counts as fallacious in a nonmonotonic system of logic), he ruins his attempt to insist on fallaciousness by treating legitimate composition arguments as enthymematic -- which can be done with any apparently invalid argument that does not already contain a provable contradiction, thus leading to the conclusion that virtually all supposed fallacies of composition are in fact valid. (It doesn't help that he fails to fill out the enthymeme properly. The key requirement of the argument is that the surface color of the wall is nothing other than the composition of the outer surface colors of all of its outer parts, which is not stated. The failure is itself a failure to grasp the key issue in fallacies of composition and division -- how the parts relate to the whole.)

And this doesn't even get into his handling of the sorites objection, in which he makes a claim equivalent to saying that on the assumption that all parts of the universe are contingent, one part could nonetheless be noncontingent (because it's the last part). He explicitly recognizes that the question is how to get from the parts all being contingent to the whole being contingent, so that we are for the moment assuming that all parts in the universe are contingent; he explicitly recognizes that contingency of parts implies the possibility of removal of those parts in stating the argument, and yet he still manages to fumble in trying to find one of the reasonable answers to it.

John West said...

Since Quine and indispensability arguments came up, I thought people who haven't already read James Franklin's Indispensability Without Platonism might find it interesting.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Scott: Priceless. I can't offhand think of anyone at all who has ever argued that the physical universe must be contingent just because each part of it is so.

Doesn't Copleston do that in his debate with Russell? According to the transcript here, Copleston argues:

"If you add up chocolates you get chocolates after all and not a sheep. If you add up chocolates to infinity, you presumably get an infinite number of chocolates. So if you add up contingent beings to infinity, you still get contingent beings, not a Necessary Being. An infinite series of contingent beings will be, to my way of thinking, as unable to cause itself as one contingent being. ...

[T]he series of events is either caused or it's not caused. If it is caused, there must obviously be a cause outside the series. If it's not caused then it's sufficient to itself, and if it's sufficient to itself, it is what I call necessary. But it can't be necessary since each member is contingent, and we've agreed that the total has no reality apart from the members, therefore, it can't be necessary."

Russell suggests that this is a fallacy of composition:

"I can illustrate what seems to me your fallacy. Every man who exists has a mother, and it seems to me your argument is that therefore the human race must have a mother, but obviously the human race hasn't a mother -- that's a different logical sphere."

Copleston replies that his argument is not analogous:

"Well, I can't really see a parity. If I were saying 'every object has a phenomenal cause, therefore, the whole series has a phenomenal cause,' there would be a parity; but I'm not saying that; I'm saying, every object has a phenomenal cause if you insist on the infinity of the series -- but the series of phenomenal causes is an insufficient explanation of the series. Therefore, the series has not a phenomenal cause but a transcendent cause."

In particular, Copleston says that "the series of phenomenal causes is an insufficient explanation of the series", and he earlier defined "contingent" as follows:

"[A] 'contingent' being is a being which has not in itself the complete reason for its existence."

Is this not a case of someone who has "argued that the physical universe must be contingent just because each part of it is so"?

Scott said...

@Tyrrell McAllister:

"Doesn't Copleston do that in his debate with Russell?"

Well, that's not really the point of Fr. Copleston's argument, is it? He does at one point expressly deny that he's saying the "universe" is anything over and above the sum of its constituents, but that's surely a bit of a side issue. At bottom he's simply arguing that we don't get to necessity by stringing together even an infinite series of contingencies.