Monday, January 5, 2015

Best of 2014


At Catholic World Report, a panel of contributors lists the best books they read in 2014Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction was named by three of them: Mark Brumley, President and CEO of Ignatius Press; Christopher Morrissey, Professor of Philosophy at Redeemer Pacific College (who reviewed the book in CWR not too long ago); and Fr. James V. Schall, SJ, Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University.  Very kind!

2014 is over but scholastic metaphysics is forever and Scholastic Metaphysics is still available.  Some other reactions to the book:

“Wonderful.  [Feser’s] a very clear writer [and the book] tells a compelling story” Stephen Mumford, Professor of Metaphysics in the Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham

“An excellent overview of scholastic metaphysics in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas… [and] an effective challenge to anyone who would dismiss scholastic metaphysics as irrelevant” William Carroll, Thomas Aquinas Fellow in Theology and Science at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford and member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion of the University of Oxford

“A welcome addition for those interested in bringing the concepts, terminology and presuppositions between scholastic and contemporary analytic philosophers to commensuration” Paul Symington, Associate Professor of Philosophy , Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

56 comments:

  1. I had planned on doing one of these. :(

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  2. I am eagerly awaiting anything that might hit the press from your keyboard in 2015.

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  3. Monkey's UncleJanuary 5, 2015 at 11:53 AM

    Feser,
    how about you give us the books that you enjoyed? Fiction and non-Fiction....

    Or else *cracks knuckles*

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  4. http://irishthomist.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/rediscovering-theism.html

    You'll want to read article Prof. Feser - mentions you in a very good light.

    Now one wonders if the book was SM or an early book.

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  5. @Monkey's Uncle

    Well I imagine comics will be on that list.

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  6. Monkey's UncleJanuary 5, 2015 at 12:13 PM

    Here's my bold prediction for Feser's faves:

    "Edge of Evolution" Behe
    "The Design Inference" Dembski
    "Darwin on Trial" Johnson

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  7. @Monkey's Uncle

    Now I know your a'trollin.

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  8. @Irish Thomist:

    "Now one wonders if the book was SM or an early book."

    Probably TLS.

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  9. @Scott

    Yes that makes the most sense.

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  10. So, it's not available in a metaphysical edition? :)

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  11. Why don't we each post our best three books read in 2014? For one thing surely we must be able to come up with some better literature, Catholic or otherwise than G.K. Chesternon...

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  12. *edit* or G.K. Chesterton even...

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  13. @Daniel

    I happen to quite like G.K.C. even if he doesn't always argue as well as he could.

    So for me obviously My Battle Against Hitler.

    Scholastic Metaphysics

    Socrates Meets Marx (yes more a popular book)

    This

    http://irishthomist.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/would-you-baptize-extraterrestrial.html

    Maybe a few more. I have a long list of books needing read and bought.

    Donate reading lists to me please!


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  14. For my top three books of 2014 I suppose I would say:

    Analysis of Existing
    Anarchy, State, and Utopia
    Scholastic Metaphysics

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  15. Greg I may be tempted to get two of those books....

    Actually the problem is if people start listing good books I will start emptying my account as a consequence. Ah well.

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  16. I strongly recommend against getting Analysis of Existing if you do not have access to an academic library.

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  17. @Greg

    I don't have access to one but I have a mini library of my own.

    Sounds like a good book but why is that an issue?

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  18. References and interacts with all sorts of other material.

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  19. It's really expensive and if you're going to pay for it yourself, then there are probably a lot of other books it would be worth getting first.

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  20. Ah, money.

    Also:

    In the Light of Logic, Solomon Feferman
    On the Plurality of Worlds, David Lewis
    Realism in Mathematics, Penelope Maddy

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  21. Well, I have to give pride of place to Scholastic Metaphysics and Oderberg's Real Essentialism. I'd have a hard time choosing just one as my third, but it's probably something by Brian Davies, or perhaps Jeffrey Brower's new book.

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  22. Out of curiosity, what kind of presence do you guys see for theistic philosophy books in libraries around you? I can almost never find any of the books recommended here at any library I can access (excepting Aquinas and TLS).

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  23. @Scott

    My list looks eerily the same (so I had to write this comment, forgive my silliness), with the exception of the latter book (which I bought, am excited about, but sadly yet to finish, as it's not accessible via Kindle for Windows 8 for some reason, hopefully a temporary problem). It looks and reads great, though.

    And if I'm not mistaken I have you to thank for discovering A.C. Cotter, S.J!

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  24. I agree with Irish Thomist. Whatever Chesterton's very real flaws, both in style and argument, I would argue he had tremendous strengths in these areas as well.

    Apart from Dr. Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics and his Philosophy of Mind, the works that I most enjoyed last year were collections of Peter Simple's columns. First rate satire for the arch-Tory.

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  25. What do you think about the challenge of (philosophical) peer disagreement about metaphysical questions?

    I suppose someone might point out various ways in which her peers’ views are influenced by non-rational factors (e.g. wishful thinking grounded in a fear of the moral, social, and political consequences of Aristotelian–Thomistic metaphysics). But is this approach, if taken to completely or significantly undermine the challenge posed by peer disagreement, in fact a double-edged sword?

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  26. "2014 is over but scholastic metaphysics is forever and Scholastic Metaphysics is still available. Some other reactions to the book:"

    The Kindle edition isn't available through amazon.com. Strangely, it is available in Europe. This is unfortunate, as it means not that US residents can't purchase the ebook but also that many around the world can't, as the US site provides global services (e.g. to Israel, my country).

    Personally, I would have long-ago bought the book if it was available for me to do so in ebook form, but would never purchase the physical book. I hope you will act to make the ebook available through amazon.com.

    Yair

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  27. I don't deny Chesterton wrote some decent stuff* and was personally a nice fellow; it's just that my heart sinks whenever I hear him trotted out as the doyen of Catholic or even Christian literature: I have a quasi-absurdist satirical sketch in which six Catholic and six Protestant philosophers of Religion are seated in a room and asked their favourite writers: the Catholics all answer Chesterton and the Protestants C.S. Lewis. J.K. Huysmans, Paul Claudel, Sigrid Undset, Dante, Walker Percy even Tolkien with his later works; surely these have more to say for themselves than Chesterton (and we’re not even getting in to non-Catholic writers like Tolstoy or Thomas Traherne).

    *Having said that I think his flippant Edwardian style is far inferior to the often brutal candor of Belloc. It stemmed from an innocent and childlike (he would have seen that as a positive and I don't deny it) love of exoticism and fantasy but he had a tendency to set up other cultures as self-consciously exotic and 'other', a tendency which led to some almost New Atheist like dismissals: Mohamuts? Cruel princes who have lots of wives and don't drink huh hah huh hah, Hindos? Why a lot of them are vegetarian huh hah huh hah, and so forth. 'Plato was the father of all faddists' is a Dawkins worthy objection to Platonic Realism.

    An honest question: as Catholics with a reverence for the Church how can people not find remarks like ‘The Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar’ at best silly and at worst offensive? I find it so and I'm not even a Catholic. This is an honest question btw not a rhetorical one.

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  28. @ Daniel

    An honest question: as Catholics with a reverence for the Church how can people not find remarks like ‘The Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar’ at best silly and at worst offensive?

    Well, it is silly. I am not sure why I would find it offensive. Catholics aren't averse to making jokes. Nor, for that matter, are they Puritans. That is the aim of the similar Belloc rhyme:

    Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
    There’s always laughter and good red wine.
    At least I’ve always found it so.
    Benedicamus Domino!

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  29. @Greg,

    I know, both Belloc and Machen wrote stuff of that kind often with the idea of Catholicism as a kind of mystical intoxication standing opposed to Protestant dourness.

    With Chesterton though it’s not the example itself, which could after all be taken as another example of all good things come from God, but that it smacks of being chosen for an association of homeliness*, of cosy sub-Victorian normal (masculine) pleasures. The implicature is 'The Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar whilst something else e.g. Theosophy is like ginger beer and nut cutlets and other strange cranky things'. Shades of Aristotle's philosophy is 'just the thought of the man on the street'.

    *There’s another passage I remember about God being like a friendly giant who cut of one of his arms in order to shake hands with it which captures this – can’t remember where it was save that it’s in The Everlasting Man.

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  30. Daniel,

    An honest question: as Catholics with a reverence for the Church how can people not find remarks like ‘The Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar’ at best silly and at worst offensive? I find it so and I'm not even a Catholic. This is an honest question btw not a rhetorical one.

    Catholic humor surprised me the first time I visited a largely Irish Catholic Church. The Gallicans I knew growing up were less humorous (though I was not then even an "Inquirer").

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  31. @ Daniel

    I see.

    For what it's worth (I know that quote is not your only beef - pardon the pun), the American Chesterton Society is unable to source that quote.

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  32. @Greg,

    That is because I misremembered and it is in fact from Orthodoxy. Here we are:

    'The oriental deity is like a giant who should have lost his leg or hand and be always seeking to find it; but the Christian power is like some giant who in a strange generosity should cut off his right hand, so that it might of its own accord shake hands with him.'

    I'll try to do something more useful and post about good reads of 2014 soon.

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  33. Well, I have to give pride of place to Scholastic Metaphysics and Oderberg's Real Essentialism. I'd have a hard time choosing just one as my third, but it's probably something by Brian Davies, or perhaps Jeffrey Brower's new book.

    Where would you say Ashley's book fits on the list, as I recall you and others discussing it back in early 2014.

    Re. Chesterton: Being a Catholic myself, I will admit to not being terribly enamored with Chesterton. I feel like too much of what he wrote was too clever and that upon closer inspection, a lot of what he says wouldn't stand scrutiny. I realize there is a certain hyperbole to Chesterton's writings, however and that he could get the "common man" to think about certain assumptions some make. Still, the way he is elevated among Catholics makes me feel like a bit of an outcast.

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  34. I don't think Chesterton was a bad man or even a bad writer just that, frankly, you Catholics have done a lot better.

    @Greg,

    My apologies - just released I'm probably flagrantly misreading your last post. You were referring to the 'beef and cigar' one right?

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  35. @ccmnx:

    "Where would you say Ashley's book fits on the list, as I recall you and others discussing it back in early 2014."

    Oops, forgot about that one—I'd been thinking I'd read it (or at least started reading it) in 2013, but nope, it's this year. Yeah, that one's near the top of the list as well.

    @Daniel:

    "You were referring to the 'beef and cigar' one right?"

    Yes, he was. Follow his link.

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  36. (Oops. That should be "ccmnxc.")

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  37. You could certainly criticise some Catholics for revering Chesterton a little too much. But then that sort of thing happens a lot. Some Protestants revere C.S Lewis a little too much.

    I agree with Daniel about Chesterton's comments on foreign religions and cultures. The same is true for his comments on past cultures as well. You cannot look to Chesterton for accuracy on such details. But behind often dubious details and flawed arguments lies interesting and even profound insight. Chesterton had a nose for such intuitive insight and could communicate it to all sorts of people.

    His style is far from perfect, but it can be a genuine joy to read, combining a zest for life, a homely, comfortable tone, and great humour. I own a few fifty year old collections of great English essays. Some of Chesterton's essays (and Belloc's) are in all of them, alongside Bacon, Addison, and Stevenson. I think he deserves such a place.

    Though there are huge differences, he does remind me in some ways of Dr. Johnson and Cobbett, both of whom he admired greatly. I have a soft spot towards Chesterton partly because he introduced me to Cobbett, and because he is a member of that English Tory radical tradition which stretches from Cobbett to Chesterton and on to Massingham and beyond.

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  38. The Death of Christian Culture, by John Senior

    The Restoration of Christian Culture, by John Senior

    A Catechism of the Crisis in the Church, by Fr. Matthias Gaudron

    Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the Twentieth Century, by Romano Amerio

    Open Letter to Confused Catholics, by Abp. Marcel Lefebvre

    Revolution and Counter-Revolution, by Plinio Correa de Oliveira

    Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence: The Secret of Peace and Happiness, by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure and Saint Claude de la Colombière

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  39. Happy Christmas to anyone on the Julian calendar.

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  40. @Alphonsus Jr.

    So you're a RadTrad then?

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  41. @Jeremy Taylor:

    "Though there are huge differences, he does remind me in some ways of Dr. Johnson and Cobbett, both of whom he admired greatly. I have a soft spot towards Chesterton partly because he introduced me to Cobbett, and because he is a member of that English Tory radical tradition which stretches from Cobbett to Chesterton and on to Massingham and beyond."

    I absolutely love Dr. Johnson, he being a sort of intellectual hero of mine, and likewise, my intense admiration for Chesterton stems from some of the similarities with The Bear.

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  42. @Jeremy,

    Are you a fan of Coventry Patmore's essays by any chance? Nowadays he's usually only mentioned in order to lambast for the silly 'Angel in the House' but some of the material in The Rod, The Root and the Flower is really quite good, elegantly written and enjoyable asides and aphorisms on mysticism and modernity.

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  43. No time to read through this thread for relevance or repeat - just putting up what is always a topical link around here, in case whoever it is that usually links to the site below, hasn't already.

    Apologies for the repetition, if any. See:

    "What Would Confucius Say
    New Atheism and the Rectification of Names

    Peter Berger

    The term “new atheism” gained currency in the early 2000s and is still much discussed. But is it anything but new—and is still a rather childish reflex. ..."

    http://www.the-american-interest.com/2015/01/07/new-atheism-and-the-rectification-of-names/

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  44. @DNW:

    I do like it that an article devoted to the "rectification of names" refers to the author of God is Not Great as "Christopher Hutchins."

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  45. Scott said...

    @DNW:

    I do like it that an article devoted to the "rectification of names" refers to the author of God is Not Great as "Christopher Hutchins."
    January 8, 2015 at 1:37 PM


    Didn't notice that. A certain comic irony.

    Given Berger's age, it could have been a brainfart substitution; and Robert Hutchins probably already has a pretty sizable file in Berger's mental cabinet.

    Or, since the "i" key is next to the "u" key he may have just struck the wrong letter and never noticed it while proofing.

    I also like, and in no ironic sense, how he, a well known writer on the social construction of reality, draws some limits.

    I haven't reread "The Social Construction of Reality" or "The Sacred Canopy" in years and could not now quote even one passage.

    But I recall being impressed with his writing and ideas, even though the texts were well over a decade old at the time I read them, and I am not in general sympathetic to that school of thought.

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  46. Why not really broaden ones understanding of the nature of Reality by checking out some leading edge philosophers and scientists who begin their investigations completely outside of the confines of Thomism.
    For example
    Fred Alan Wolf
    Amit Goswami
    William A Tiller
    Bruce Lipton
    Ervin Laszlo

    And the deceased Franklin Merrell-Wolff a remarkable American philosopher who seldom gets mentioned in any of the earnest essentially futile debates about the nature of Reality that Christians and atheists get so hot under the collar about. Or by academic philosophers too.


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  47. Anonymous said...

    Why not really broaden ones understanding of the nature of Reality by checking out some leading edge philosophers and scientists who begin their investigations completely outside of the confines of Thomism.
    For example
    Fred Alan Wolf
    Amit Goswami
    William A Tiller
    Bruce Lipton
    Ervin Laszlo

    And the deceased Franklin Merrell-Wolff a remarkable American philosopher who seldom gets mentioned in any of the earnest essentially futile debates about the nature of Reality that Christians and atheists get so hot under the collar about. Or by academic philosophers too.


    January 8, 2015 at 10:08 PM"



    I'm not Feser's spokesman, or even a "follower", but you do understand do you not, that Feser appears to have "begun" with the likes of Russell and Searle?

    Certainly neither are Thomists; and Russell's association with neutral monism evinces at least some of the leanings you seem to be driving at.

    And then too, there is an important distinction - and I do not refer to the men you mention because I do not know anything of their work myself - between physicists or intellectuals speculating about reality on the one hand, and the work of analytic philosophers rigorously subjecting speculation and "viewpoints" to logical and conceptual analysis, on the other.

    Much of what you apparently refer to here as futile debate, involves just that critical philosophical project of unpacking scientistic assumptions, intellectual fads, and in no small part, a preening vainglory.

    That said, I can't imagine why anyone would not want to take at least a look at the names you mention.

    They can't be any worse than Gurdjieff or Ouspensky, eh?

    Theosophists with physics degrees and all that ...

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  48. @Greg

    One of those books deals with why PSR is not required of a Theist doesn't it?

    I've been thinking... maybe supporting Edward on that line isn't where I should be on the PSR issue. I mean I thought it could tie in nicely with my epistemology of faith but I am not sure that PSR is completely necessary as it is formulated.

    What did the book say or would I need to get something it references?

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  49. Daniel,

    I had never heard Patmore. Looks interesting. I have been reading William Barnes at the moment.

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  50. Wow - I have to recommend to anyone who has taken the time to read through Scholastic Metaphysics, to go back and read through Aquinas and the chapter on the five ways. It is so much more understandable now. The introduction to Aquinas' metaphysics in chapter 2, for a complete newbie (like me), is not enough to prepare one for a very deep appreciation of what is explained in the chapter on the five ways. I suppose that is unavoidable in an introduction to Aquinas. And as an added bonus, re-reading the chapter on the five ways is sending me back to Scholastic Metaphysics for further clarity on things I may have missed there.

    What I found interesting is how many of the five ways gets back to God's efficient causality as a sustaining cause but from very different starting points. And this is primarily because the different starting points reflect the convertibility of the transcendentals. I feel like I need to read through it another few times to really grasp the differences in the five ways though, but it is getting much clearer for me.

    Cheers,
    Daniel

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  51. @ Irish Thomist

    Yes, Barry Miller's argument does not appeal to PSR. But most of his argument consists in establishing the claim that there is a sustaining cause of the existence of every contingent thing. He does so by analyzing the predicate 'exists'.

    Much of his view on existence is expressed in his articles "'Exists' and Existence" and "Why Ever Should Any Existing Individual Exist?".

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  52. Does anyone know of any books or articles written about the modal problem of evil, specifically how a thomist would respond? See http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/2015/01/03/the-fundamental-problem-of-evil/

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  53. @ Anon

    I honestly do not find the modal problem of evil particularly more imposing than the evidential problem of evil.

    Thomists will understand modality differently. What can possibly exist is understood in terms of the potencies of existing substances as well as those forms that could have been or could be created by God but are not. There are not reams of abstract possible worlds that exist in any sense. Granted that God exists and is good, it is the case that for each possible world W, God (would) will W's existence because of W's goodness.

    If someone claims to have conceived of a possible world that is inconsistent with this, then his modal intuitions are simply off, or are not taking account of the fact that he has granted God's existence in order to show that it is in some way challenged by the possibility of evil. If he claims that there is a possible world where there only exists a single being suffering pointlessly for a few hours, then what he is claiming (given the Thomist understanding of modality) is: It is possible that God willed that a single being suffer pointlessly for a few hours. That is to beg the question; the fact that the state of affairs appears consistent doesn't tell us whether it is actually possible.

    While I don't think the modal problem of evil is even that threatening for other sorts of theism, the advantage of Thomism here is that what is possible will depend on God's existence and nature, whereas theistic personalists often admit a Platonic realm of abstracta apart from theistic considerations. As such, it is perhaps tougher for them to say how possibility is restricted by God's nature.

    Some other problems: Thomists can argue for God's existence and goodness from causality. A theist who gives a modal argument may be harder pressed to challenge the pre-theistic modal intuitions that he must use in his modal argument.

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  54. Granted that God exists and is good, it is the case that for each possible world W, God (would) will W's existence because of W's goodness.

    I should say:

    It is the case that for each possible world W, if W exists, then God wills W's existence because of W's goodness.

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  55. Sorry for the glut of posts.

    Possible gratuitous evil is no less a challenge for theism than actual gratuitous evil, since God exists in every world and has the divine attributes in every world.

    Here is a place where I think the theist personalist could object. The theistic personalist, even if he holds that all possible worlds exist as abstract entities of a sort, could deny that possible worlds are on all fours with the actual world. For theistic personalists, creation is often described as God's choosing of a world to actualize.

    So the theistic personalist could grant, perhaps, that there are possible worlds containing states of affairs that God would not have a reason to actualize; he claims that God simply doesn't actualize those. That still leaves a range of possible worlds that God does have reason to actualize. Those worlds God does not actualize are within his power in a broad sense even though he would not (the theistic personalist says) choose to actualize them.

    It might be objected that this is tantamount to denying the possibility of such worlds, since God would never actualize them. I think the point is well-taken, but it doesn't vindicate the modal problem of evil if the theist has such a principled basis for denying the possibility of the worlds to which the modal POE must appeal.

    Honestly, it seems like the modal POE must rely on this conception of modality and creation: There are many possible worlds, constrained by nothing more than logical and metaphysical consistency. God really could have selected any one of these possible worlds.

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  56. @Greg
    Thank you. That was very informative

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