Monday, May 25, 2015

D. B. Hart and the “terrorism of obscurantism”


Many years ago, Steven Postrel and I interviewed John Searle for Reason magazine.  Commenting on his famous dispute with Jacques Derrida, Searle remarked:

With Derrida, you can hardly misread him, because he's so obscure.  Every time you say, "He says so and so," he always says, "You misunderstood me."  But if you try to figure out the correct interpretation, then that's not so easy.  I once said this to Michel Foucault, who was more hostile to Derrida even than I am, and Foucault said that Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism of obscurantism).  We were speaking French.  And I said, "What the hell do you mean by that?"  And he said, "He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he's saying, that's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, 'You didn't understand me; you're an idiot.'  That's the terrorism part."

Now, David Bentley Hart is hardly as obscure as Derrida, and I would hardly call him a “terrorist.”  (Foucault’s expression here is characteristically over-the-top.)  Still, I can’t help but think of Searle and Foucault’s description of Derrida’s method of dealing with his critics when reflecting on the way Hart tends to respond to his critics.

First example: Take Hart’s now notorious attack on natural law theory of two years ago.  As I showed in my initial reply to Hart, there are a number of serious problems with that piece.  But as I have also by now pointed out many times, the most serious -- indeed, the fatal problem -- is that Hart relentlessly conflates “new natural law” theory and “old natural law” theory.  His central thesis, which he not only presented in his original article but has reiterated in several follow-up pieces, is that natural law theorists both (a) appeal to formal and final causes inherent in nature but also (b) are blithely unaware of the fact (or at least downplay the fact) that most of the modern readers they are trying to convince firmly reject the very idea of formal and final causes.  And the trouble is that there are no natural law theorists of which this is true.  For (a) is not true of “new” natural law theorists, and (b) is not true of “old” natural law theorists.  Hart is thus attacking a straw man. 

Certainly Hart has, in the original piece, in three different follow-up pieces now, and in two further brief references to the debate, failed to offer a single example -- not one -- of a natural law theorist whose work actually fits his description of natural law theory.  Indeed, he has explicitly refused to name any names, even though doing so would instantly defuse the main objection his critics have raised against him.

(For the record, these follow-up pieces are: Hart’s first reply to his critics in his column in the May 2013 First Things, to which I responded at Public Discourse; Hart’s lengthy further response to his critics in the letters page of the same issue, to which I responded here at the blog; and what he characterized as his final response in his August 2013 column in First Things, to which I also responded here at the blog.  Hart then briefly revisited the debate in his column in the March 2015 First Things, to which I responded here; and he briefly referred to it yet again in his June/July 2015 First Things column, to which I recently responded at Public Discourse.)

Even more bizarrely, though Hart has addressed other objections head on, he has, in those three lengthy follow-up pieces and two briefer remarks -- five occasions total -- not even acknowledged, much less directly responded to, the central objection just summarized, even though it has been repeatedly raised against him.  He could very easily say: “I have been accused of conflating new and old natural law theory, but here is why that charge is mistaken…,” or: “Let me give you a specific example of a natural law theorist who is guilty of doing what I say natural law theorists in general are guilty of.”  But he doesn’t.  Why not?  It can’t be because he has judged that answering his critics is somehow not worth his time; again, he has revisited the debate five times now.  So, obviously he does want to try to answer his critics.  And yet he never acknowledges or directly responds to their central criticism.  Why is that?

Then there is the obscurity in what Hart does say in reply to his critics.  If you read my responses, linked to above, to his three lengthier attempts to reply to those critics, you will see that I there show -- documenting my analysis with many quotes from Hart -- how difficult it is to find a clear and consistent position in what he says.  As I demonstrate in those pieces, just when you think you’ve finally nailed down what Hart means, he says something else that conflicts with that reading.  Hart himself confesses in one place to some “obscurity,” and in another that he “may have been guilty of a few cryptic formulations” and “should have been clearer.”

And yet despite admitting himself to being sometimes “obscure” and “cryptic,” and despite failing repeatedly even to acknowledge much less answer the main objection leveled against him -- where, if only he would do so, he might finally clarify things in a single stroke -- Hart claims that it is my criticisms of his remarks on natural law that are “confused,” “simplistic,” and guilty of “fallacies,” and that our dispute over natural law “largely involved Feser furiously thrashing away at what he imagined I was saying” (where the latter remark was embedded in the larger context of ad hominem remarks about my purportedly robotic and dogmatic adherence to “The System” of “Baroque neoscholasticism,” “manualism,” “two-tier Thomism,” etc.).

Now that, I submit, comes pretty close to what Foucault and Searle call “the method of… [the] terrorism of obscurantism.”

Second example: Hart’s March 2015 column in First Things is primarily devoted to the question of the relationship between faith and reason.  As I noted in my March 13 blog post commenting on that column:

Hart objects to the charge that he is a fideist, arguing that both fideism and rationalism of the seventeenth-century sort are errors that would have been rejected by the mainstream of the ancient and medieval traditions with which he sympathizes.  With that much I agree. 

I also noted several other things Hart says in the column with which I agree, and indeed I said that they are “points whose importance cannot be overemphasized.” 

I also noted, however, that certain other things Hart says there seem, whatever his intentions, to imply a kind of fideism.  For example, he says that even reason “arises from an irreducibly fiduciary movement of the will” (emphasis added), and indicates that he rejects the view that reason is “capable of discerning first principles and deducing final conclusions without any surd of the irrational left over” (emphasis added).  That certainly makes it sound as if he thinks that in all our attempts rationally to justify our beliefs, there is always at bottom some “surd of the irrational” and that it is “the will,” in an “irreducibly fiduciary movement,” which decides upon first principles.  And that is a view of the sort that would commonly be regarded as a kind of fideism.  Still, I did not say that Hart is a fideist, full stop.  I said that his position is ambiguous and can be read in different ways. 

Incidentally, you’ll find a similar ambiguity in Hart’s recent book The Experience of God.  On the one hand, he argues (quite rightly in my view), that any materialist account of our rational thought processes can be shown to be self-undermining, and that the very logic of explanation when pushed through consistently leads inevitably to affirming the existence of a divine necessary being as the only possible explanation of why the world of contingent things exists.  That certainly evinces a very optimistic view of what reason can accomplish vis-à-vis the dispute between theists and philosophical naturalists. 

On the other hand, Hart also says in that book that he has “begun to vest less faith in certain forms of argument” (p. 84), and that it is good to “let all complexities of argument fall away as often as one can” in favor of a “moment of wonder, of sheer existential surprise” (p. 150).  He suggests that “our deepest principles often consist in nothing more -- but nothing less -- than a certain way of seeing things” and that “every form of philosophical thought is itself dependent upon a set of irreducible and unprovable assumptions” (p. 294).  He wants to remind us of “the limits of argument, and of the degree to which our most cherished certitudes are inseparable from our own private experiences” (Ibid.).

Does this mean that all attempted rational justifications come down at the end of the day to “private experiences,” “moments of wonder,” or the like?  Is there, after all, no common ground by which the theist might rationally demonstrate to the naturalist that the latter’s position is mistaken?  Are there just irreducibly different possible “movements of the will,” any of which involves a “surd of the irrational”?  If so, why wouldn’t this amount to fideism?  Or is there some other way to read Hart’s remarks here?  The problem is not the way Hart answers these questions.  The problem is that Hart doesn’t even address them, much less answer them, at least not in The Experience of God or in the column on faith and reason.  It just isn’t clear what he would say.

Now, a reader recently called my attention to a recent combox discussion at Eclectic Orthodoxy, to which Hart contributed and in the course of which he made the following remark:

[W]e are all so prone to thinking in the rather arid categories of (for want of a better word) analytic correspondence that we regard the entire tacit dimension of knowledge (which is the foundation of all knowledge) as somehow either merely inchoate or merely emotional. If one is not careful, one ends up with the barren dialectic of “rationalism” or “fideism,” and one ends up like a certain popular Thomist I know of, unable to think in any other terms than that.

Well, I’m sure we’re all wondering who the “popular Thomist” in question is.  But one good reason for thinking that it isn’t me -- or rather, for thinking that it shouldn’t be me -- is that my views simply don’t correspond to those attributed by Hart to this “popular Thomist.”  For one thing, and as I explicitly said in my post on Hart’s faith and reason column, like him I reject what he called, in the column, “the Scylla and Charybdis of ‘rationalism’ and ‘fideism’ [which] seems like such a tarnished relic of the seventeenth century (or thereabouts).”  For another thing, I have written quite a bit, and quite sympathetically, on the “tacit dimension of knowledge.”  (See, for example, my defense of Burke’s and Hayek’s account of the indispensable role that tradition, habit, and inexplicit rules play in moral and social knowledge.)  It’s just that I don’t think that this tacit knowledge has anything to do with “movements of the will,” a “surd of the irrational,” or the like. 

Now, if some man assures us with vehemence that he is not a bachelor, but also denies with equal vehemence that he is or ever has been married, never explains to us how both these things can be true but also dismisses with contempt our suggestion that maybe he really is a bachelor after all (accusing us of applying “arid categories” and a “barren dialectic,” no less)… if someone does all that, then we are hardly the ones being unreasonable.  Nor would it be reasonable for his defenders breathlessly to protest “But he said he’s not a bachelor!  You’re not interpreting him charitably!” 

Similarly, though Hart insists that he is not a fideist, but nevertheless also says things that would normally be taken to be fideistic positions, and does not explain how he can reconcile these claims while at the same time dismissing his critics as being simplistic and misunderstanding him… well, once again, that seems pretty close to what Foucault and Searle call “the method of… [the] terrorism of obscurantism.”

Diagnosis: So, just what is Hart’s deal, anyway?  Why this resort to obscurantisme terroriste?  Let’s consider the following:

Item one: As a stylist and a thinker, Hart’s strengths and predilections lie in rhetoric rather than rigor, and he has a clear animus against writers of the opposite tendency.  Hence his confession that he “delight[s] in casual abuse of Thomists,” and his regular glib dismissals of anything he takes to smack of “neoscholasticism.”  Hence his equally condescending remarks about analytic philosophers in The Experience of God.  Hence his explicit refusal, in the same book, actually to set out and defend in any detail the arguments against materialism and for the existence of God that he endorses.  Explicit, step-by-step arguments, the dispassionate weighing of lists of possible objections and possible replies to those objections, the making of fine distinctions and careful definitions of key terms, and so forth -- the sort of thing typical of a Scholastic or an analytic philosopher -- are not the sort of thing for which Hart seems to have much patience.

What Hart really likes are grandiloquent pronouncements and the big picture.  A sense of his style and interests is given by the titles and subtitles you’ll typically find in a Hart book or article: “Being, Consciousness, Bliss,” “The Veil of the Sublime,” “The Mirror of the Infinite,” “A Glorious Sadness,” “The Practice of the Form,” “The Terrors of Easter,” “The Doors of the Sea,” “The Violence of Metaphysics and the Metaphysics of Violence”… that kind of stuff.  The sort of thing sure to prompt an “Oooh!” or an “Aaaaah!” as you dip into Hart while sipping brandy.  Grand Rhetoric and Grand Themes, and hold the argumentational minutiae please.  That’s Hart’s shtick, and he’s shtickin’ with it.  You can see how an analytical Thomist who posts comic book panels on his blog might get under his skin.

Item two: Whether or not you want to call it “fideism,” the view that what we take to be rational argument always comes down at the end of the day to “movements of the will,” “personal experiences,” “ways of seeing things,” “moments of wonder,” and the like tends inevitably to put the accent on the character of a person giving an argument rather than on the argument itself.  If your conclusions are mistaken, perhaps that’s because you haven’t had a “moment of wonder,” or have had the wrong “personal experiences,” so that your overall “way of seeing things” is off kilter.  Or perhaps the “movements of your will” are simply corrupt. 

Of course, sometimes the problem really is with the character of the person giving an argument.  Sometimes people really are arguing in bad faith.  Furthermore, Hart’s view doesn’t entail that all errors are a consequence of some deficiency of character.  It is consistent with some errors just being a result of mistaken inferences or getting the facts wrong. 

Still, if you are someone who is inclined to emphasize “the limits of argument,” and the role that “movements of the will” and the having of the right “personal experiences” play in ensuring a sound overall “way of seeing things,” then there is bound to be a strong temptation to jump too quickly to the ad hominem, to look straightaway for a deficiency in your critics and not just in their criticisms. 

And Hart does indeed sometimes suggest that deficiencies of background experience or personal motivation underlie his critics’ resistance to his views.  Hence, in his most recent response to me in First Things, Hart laments that “Feser [was not] fortunate enough to be catechized into Orthodoxy rather than The System.”  And rather than focusing on the actual arguments I gave against there being animals in Heaven (which was the subject of our dispute), he put the emphasis on what he alleged were my true motives for taking the view I did (viz. to uphold “The System”). 

Kidding on the square, Hart also suggests in The Experience of God that a preference for analytic philosophy reflects “some peculiarity of temperament or the tragic privations of a misspent youth” (p. 344). 

Furthermore, in one of his replies to critics of his article on natural law, Hart says:

I am in the end quite happy for believers in natural law theory to continue plying their oars, rowing against the current (so long as they do so in keeping with classical metaphysics), but I do not think they are going to get where they are heading; so I shall just watch from the bank for a while and then wander off to the hills (to look for saints and angels).

And in reply to one critic in particular, he says:

As to what “other approach” he should take to “modern moral life,” I encourage Mr. Kainz to pursue classical natural law theory (which was not the topic I addressed), if he likes. The Great Commission also comes to mind. (Do what you think best.)

The insinuation is obvious.  If what motivates you is Christ’s Great Commission and if you value the teachings of saints and angels over those of worldly men, then you’ll agree with Hart.  And if you don’t agree with Hart, well…

(I say more about these two passages in my analysis from two years ago of the piece from which they are quoted.)

So, with this in mind, consider the scenario in which Hart not infrequently finds himself.  A Grand Man makes a Grand Point about a Grand Theme, in Grand Style.  And then some yutz analytic philosopher or neoscholastic comes along logic-chopping and ruining the moment.  The temptation is strong to conclude that there’s got to be something wrong with the critic and not just with whatever his silly criticism is.  He just hasn’t got the character or education to see all the Grandness. 

Conclusion: On the one hand, then, we have a strong predilection for rhetoric and an impatience with rigorous argumentation.  That’s a recipe for the first half of obscurantisme terroriste.  And on the other hand, we have a strong tendency to look for volitional, experiential, moral, and spiritual deficiencies -- personal deficiencies -- in those who have the wrong opinions.  That’s a recipe for the second half of obscurantisme terroriste.  Thus, a temptation to deal with critics via what Searle and Foucault call “the method of… [the] terrorism of obscurantism” is, I would suggest, bound to be an occupational hazard of the Hart style of theology.

And this is an analysis even Hart should love.  “The Terrorism of Obscurantism” sounds just like a Hart chapter title, no?

316 comments:

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Thursday said...

That certainly evinces a very optimistic view of what reason can accomplish vis-à-vis the dispute between theists and philosophical naturalists.

I don't think any of this follows from the fact that Hart makes arguments. There are lots of reasons to make arguments without expecting them to be broadly effective in reaching out to non-believers, even within those within the philsophical community: because they're true, because you might pick up the occasional straggler, because you will make Christians already sympathetic to your views more confident in their faith.

Thursday said...

are blithely unaware of the fact (or at least downplay the fact) that most of the modern readers they are trying to convince firmly reject the very idea of formal and final causes

I don't think the dispute is here. The dispute seems to be over how effective philosophical argumentation is at moving people to change their position on controversial issues.

Thursday said...

And yet he never acknowledges or directly responds to their central criticism. Why is that?

Perhaps he thinks that his critics aren't even addressing the real issue he is getting at, and he rather haughtily disdains to make things easy for them.

That isn't entirely his critics fault though, as he has been unclear/sloppy in his use of language.

Hart ain't sinless in all this.

Edward Feser said...

Thursday,

First, please do not start clogging the combox again with comment after comment. I'll start deleting them if you persist in doing that.

Second, let me note for the record -- and this time in defense of Hart -- that it seems to me that you are attributing to him a more unambiguously fideistic position than he really holds.

As I've said, I don't claim that he is a fideist, full stop. Rather, I think his position is ambiguous. On the one hand, he does really seem to think that some the of arguments Scholastics and other classical theists would give for the existence of God and against materialism are decisive -- and decisive on purely philosophical grounds, not on grounds you'd accept only if you're already a Christian, Jew or Muslim. That's pretty clear from what he says in The Experience of God when he discusses these particular arguments.

On the other hand, he also says these things I cited in the main post that sound fideistic. And even with respect to the theist and anti-materialist arguments, here and there in The Experience of God he kinda-sorta implies that maybe an atheist or materialist could kinda-sorta avoid the arguments if he's willing kinda-sorta to bite the bullet and be an irrationalist -- as if embracing irrationalism were a way of being logically consistent and thus avoiding being bested in argument by one's theistic opponent! In fact, of course, what it is is admitting defeat. (Certainly an Alex Rosenberg, Daniel Dennett, or Richard Dawkins would not regard a frank retreat to irrationalism as a way of saving their positions from philosophical refutation.)

My guess would be that what is happening is possibly in part that Hart is worried about sounding too much like a mere apologist and thus losing credibility with academic readers. Hence partly for that reason -- perhaps -- he fudges just a little bit on how conclusive the theist and anti-materialist arguments really are.

But the main reason for the fudging, I think, is that Hart is worried about sounding too much like a Scholastic, and also has a tendency toward voluntarism and mysticism that makes him wary of conceding too much power to reason. So, he says these fideist-sounding things out of the other side of his mouth because of his larger theological commitments.

Because he has both inclinations, and because he knows that there are problems with the usual views that go under the labels "rationalism" and "fideism," he assumes that what he's got is some third position that is neither. But what he's really got -- as far as I can see -- are just two inclinations that he hasn't clearly reconciled. Saying "I'm not A and I'm not B; instead I'm this third thing, call it C" is no good unless you can tell us exactly what C is and how it differs from A and B.

Thursday said...

In any event, steelmanning is always the best policy.

Beating up on Hart for his obscurity doesn't seem to be advancing us anywhere.

Thursday said...

Second, let me note for the record -- and this time in defense of Hart -- that it seems to me that you are attributing to him a more unambiguously fideistic position than he really holds.

I have never characterized Hart's position as fideistic in any way, nor can my position remotely be characterized as fideistic.

Thursday said...

here and there in The Experience of God he kinda-sorta implies that maybe an atheist or materialist could kinda-sorta avoid the arguments if he's willing kinda-sorta to bite the bullet and be an irrationalist -- as if embracing irrationalism were a way of being logically consistent and thus avoiding being bested in argument by one's theistic opponent! In fact, of course, what it is is admitting defeat. (Certainly an Alex Rosenberg, Daniel Dennett, or Richard Dawkins would not regard a frank retreat to irrationalism as a way of saving their positions from philosophical refutation.)

The assumption here seems to be that people, hell, even philosophers, are actually going to think things through logically. That seems to me an unwarranted assumption, even among people who proclaim themselves devoted to reason. People, including philosophers, somehow manage to hold all sorts of incompatible things in their head at the same time.

So, yes, the only way a knowledgeable, aware, intellectually honest materialist could defend their position is by embracing irrationalism. But, unfortunately, you can't force people to be knowledgable, aware and intellectually honest. That's the problem!

Edward Feser said...

In any event, steelmanning is always the best policy.

The problem, Thursday, is that it isn't steelmanning that you are in favor of. What you are in favor of is ignoring clear and consistent positive evidence that Hart's position is simply incoherent. As I note in the post above, he has addressed the natural law issue six times now -- in his original article, and in five follow ups -- and still has not resolved (or even directly addressed) the ambiguity vis-a-vis new versus old natural law theory. No intellectually honest person could possibly deny that that is at least a strong reason to suspect that Hart's position on natural law can't be made coherent.

On your apparent interpretation of the "steelman" principle, we could never conclude that any claim is false or any argument bad. We would always have to say "Well, there must be some way of reading it on which it is reasonable. Steelmanning is always the best policy, after all. So let's keep looking, forever if we have to."

Nor do you even apply this principle yourself. You have been quite happy in earlier threads to make sweeping remarks about how wrong I am about Hart. You don't say "Well, steelmanning is the best policy. So, let me come up with some way to interpret Feser on which he is not guilty of the errors I've been accusing him of."

But then, it is obvious that the principle you are actually committed to is not "Steelmanning is always the best policy," but rather "Defending Hart is always the best policy."

Rob said...

Prof. Feser writes: please do not start clogging the combox again with comment after comment.

Thursday immediately resumes clogging the combox with comment after comment.

Edward Feser said...

Yes, Rob, and of course if I now follow through and delete Thursday's comments I'll no doubt be accused by some of censoring Hart defenders.

Look, Thursday, instead of this intermittent line by line commentary of yours, why don't you save up whatever remarks you have to make and post them in one comment?

Thursday said...

What you are in favor of is ignoring clear and consistent positive evidence that Hart's position is simply incoherent.

I've laid out what I think is Hart's real point at some length, which you've then proceeded to ignore.

I've said it before: the main reason for the original dispute between you and Hart (not the one over animals) is that you two aren't even addressing the same issue.

Hart's said a bunch of really unclear, highly disputable things by the by. You can keep beating him up for that (often quite rightly), but, really, what's the point? You aren't even addressing the same issue.

Thursday said...

I'll leave it at that here.

Daniel said...

For example, he says that even reason “arises from an irreducibly fiduciary movement of the will” (emphasis added), and indicates that he rejects the view that reason is “capable of discerning first principles and deducing final conclusions without any surd of the irrational left over” (emphasis added). That certainly makes it sound as if he thinks that in all our attempts rationally to justify our beliefs, there is always at bottom some “surd of the irrational” and that it is “the will,” in an “irreducibly fiduciary movement,” which decides upon first principles. And that is a view of the sort that would commonly be regarded as a kind of fideism.

He suggests that “our deepest principles often consist in nothing more -- but nothing less -- than a certain way of seeing things” and that “every form of philosophical thought is itself dependent upon a set of irreducible and unprovable assumptions” (p. 294). He wants to remind us of “the limits of argument, and of the degree to which our most cherished certitudes are inseparable from our own private experiences”

So when all said and done he's a Nietzschean who realised the original Nietzsche’s reasons for disliking Christian Theism were just a matter of arbitrary aesthetic preference that didn’t tally with his own. In other words he’s just another ‘Ironist’.

Lebuinus said...

Does this mean that all attempted rational justifications come down at the end of the day to “private experiences,” “moments of wonder,” or the like?"

Not exactly, but as another well-known critic of neo-scholasticism, Card. Ratzinger, explained: "[H]uman reason is not autonomous in the absolute. It is always found in a historical context. The historical context disfigures its vision (as we have seen). Therefore, it also needs historical assistance to help it cross over its historical barriers.
I am of the opinion that neo-Scholastic rationalism failed because — with reason totally independent from faith — it tried to reconstruct the pre-ambula fidei with pure rational certainty. All attempts that presume to do the same will have the same result. Yes, Karl Barth was right to reject philosophy as a foundation of the faith independent from the faith. If it were such, our faith would be based from the beginning to the end on changing philosophical
theories.
But Barth was wrong when, for this same reason, he proposed the faith as a pure paradox that can only exist against reason and totally independent from it. It is not the lesser function of the faith to care for reason as such. It does not do violence to it; it is not external to it; rather, it makes it come to itself. The historical instrument of the faith can again liberate reason as such, so that by introducing it to the path it can see by itself once again. We must make efforts toward a new dialogue of this kind between faith and philosophy because both need one another reciprocally. Reason will not be saved without the faith, but the faith without reason will not be human."
(The Essential Pope Benedict XVI, p.239)

Could this be more or less what Hart is trying to convey?

John West said...

Not exactly, but as another well-known critic of neo-scholasticism, Card. Ratzinger, explained: "[H]uman reason is not autonomous in the absolute. It is always found in a historical context. The historical context disfigures its vision (as we have seen). Therefore, it also needs historical assistance to help it cross over its historical barriers.

How do you know Cardinal Ratzinger's vision wasn't disfigured by his historical context when he wrote that?

Lebuinus said...

How do you know Cardinal Ratzinger's vision wasn't disfigured by his historical context when he wrote that?

It would be, except for the Faith. That’s the whole point. And as he said elsewhere: “[I]ch rufe auch die Heiligen an. Ich bin mit Augustinus, mit Bonaventura, mit Thomas von Aquin befreundet.“ I’m not going to try to explain Thomism to a personal friend of Aquinas himself...

Keen Reader said...

Perhaps "Thursday" is not able to string a series of thoughts together and so must post tiny snippets individually before he forgets them.

John West said...

It would be, except for the Faith. That’s the whole point. And as he said elsewhere: “[I]ch rufe auch die Heiligen an. Ich bin mit Augustinus, mit Bonaventura, mit Thomas von Aquin befreundet.“ I’m not going to try to explain Thomism to a personal friend of Aquinas himself...

A lot of Popes have said a lot of things, many of which would disagree with Cardinal Ratzinger's statement. Since Cardinal Ratzinger made no de fide pronouncement to the effect of this quote, it's ultimately just a bald assertion—a self-refuting one at that.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Lebuinus,

Well, even Jove nods.

Some brief points: First, there are at least two separate claims in that passage from Ratzinger: one about historical context, and one about the context of faith. These must not be confused.

Furthermore, there are various senses of "faith" he or others who make similar claims might have in mind: the Christian faith specifically, religious faith more generally, faith as an attitude of trust, faith as the acceptance of revealed truth, etc. And there are various things one could have in mind by a reference to "history": circumstances that might seem a permanent part of the human condition but are not, premises that are true but not widely accepted in some cultural context, issues that are especially pressing within a particular cultural context, etc.

Now, depending on how one parses all this, there may be some sense in which all philosophical arguments depend on "history" and/or "faith," but there will also be other senses in which they do not depend on "history" and/or "faith." The trouble is that it is rarely if ever made clear by people who say things like this exactly what senses of the crucial terms they have in mind. The issues are all run together and sweeping claims are made.

There is also the fact that "Neo-Scholasticism" is usually represented in a rather simplistic way, as if it were a monolith and as if the least plausible reading one could give of certain claims made by, or seemingly accepted by, certain key Neo-Scholastics were "the Neo-Scholastic view" full stop. And the word "rationaism" is also often thrown around somewhat loosely.

So, is there some truth in the view Ratzinger was expressing here (a view common among theologians of his generation)? I'm sure there is. But is it correct to say flatly that "Neo-Scholastic rationalism failed"? I would say: No, it most definitely is not.

Anyway, as should go without saying -- but I suppose that for some readers I'll have to say it anyway -- Cardinal Ratzinger's opinions as a private theologian are in no way binding on Catholics, nor do they have any special authority for theologians.

But then, Ratzinger -- Pope Benedict -- would be the first to agree. And as a private theologian, as head of CDF, as pope, and as a man, he is in my view extremely generous, fair-minded, and broad-minded, and not in any way given to polemic or the attacking of crude caricatures. He happens to be my favorite pope in the decades since Pius XII -- no surprise there, I suppose.

But on this issue I disagree with him.

Timocrates said...

@ Thursday,

Take a quick review of Western history after the so-called Enlightenment philosopher period. What you will see and find is an almost irresistible trend and tendency to the necessary logical conclusion and consequences of those theories and philosophies - or rather ideologies - including, unfortunately, all the painful, damaging consequences of adhering to them, up to and including outright warfare, even total warfare of annihilation. See also in the intellectual sphere an ever increasing tendency to proclaim and adhere to what is outright ridiculous and absurd, such as the position of extreme reductionists. Now all this was but implicit in the earliest new philosophies and philosophers - no one was yet willing to boldly or explicitly proclaim the kind of reality where those who were supposed to be the brightest among us would proclaim what is manifestly or self-evidently false or contradictory. Yet we are seeing it now.

In other words or to make a long story short, we are powerfully inclined to follow out the logical consequences of our beliefs. To be sure, there is plenty of cause for being slow or even simultaneously resisting that trend or tendency when it becomes more clearly problematic or absurd or dangerous or painful either psychologically or physically. So while you are quite correct that we tend to hold all sorts of contradictory and irreconcilable beliefs or opinions, we do notwithstanding also hold certain primary beliefs or beliefs that have priority and govern all the others; and this perhaps exactly because we desperately need some sort of more or less clear rational basis for our goals and actions, beliefs and opinions.

Ireland is supposed to have recently overwhelmingly voted in popular referendum to approve of so-called "gay marriage". The CBC even pitted this fact directly against the Catholic Church, later re-writing the headline in a much more tempered tone, from "Ireland Approves SSM: Reality Check for Catholic Church" to "Ireland Awakens to New Reality" (http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/same-sex-marriage-ireland-awakens-to-new-reality-1.3085515). Now, of course, the article wrongly gives the impression that Irish voters actually accepted that reality as a true or positive one; whereas, it is clear the motive of most Irish voters was rather based on a desire not to be or be seen as intolerant or oppressive - a different motivation than the impression that Irish voters thought or believe there was no difference between the union of a man and a woman and a homosexual union. Still, this change does show us how certain beliefs, once accepted, tend to cause people to accommodate their consequences, however difficult.

Hence a reduction to a movement of the will would seem quite misguided given modern and present history. People ultimately follow rather the logic, which as it were informs and moves the will.

Lebuinus said...

Professor Feser,

But on this issue I disagree with [Ratzinger].

As G. Weigel in “God's Choice : Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church” explains, Ratzinger’s beef was with Neo-scholastics who reduced revelation to “the propositions that result from God’s self-disclosure” whereas he thought that “Revelation (...) has a subjective or personal dimension, in that there is no “revelation” without someone to receive it. As Ratzinger would later put it, ‘where there is no one to perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed.’”
I’m an admirer of Mercier, Coffey e.a., so I’m more or less with you. But probably there were a whole bunch of not so inspiring Thomists around in Germany in the 50’s (and in Argentina in the 60’s).

Timocrates said...

@ Lebuinus,

"
Could this be more or less what Hart is trying to convey?"


I don't think so. Hart is contrasting the will and human reason; the Cardinal, reason and Faith.

Nor is there anything inconsistent with Catholicism in the Cardinal's statement: Faith and Reason is a well known belief of the Church.

Faith does not come through Reason. It is rather strengthened, helped or supported by reason. Faith is not a strictly rationalistic conclusion, as all the best theologians know perfectly well that much of what we are to believe cannot be concluded to from human reason alone, but really does require a trust in the One Who reveals. I think what the Cardinal was trying to correct was any attempt to reduce the Faith entirely to a necessary rational consequence or conclusion; or, in other words, remove the Faith aspect from Faith and Reason.

Further, that "the historical context disfigures [human reason's] vision" is without doubt perfectly truly. And here especially it seems to be the Cardinal's point that Faith comes to the aid of Reason. Thus it is not one-sided: Reason can aid in Faith but Faith also aids in Reason and this, arguably it would seem from the Cardinal's remark, is in a way more certain than reason insofar as the vision of Faith is not said to be disfigured by historical contexts (though I admit this is not explicitly claimed in the Cardinal's remarks you quoted).

Lebuinus said...

Timocrates

It seems to me you interpret Cardinal Ratzinger correctly. The passage before the one I quoted is “The indigence of philosophy, the indigence to which paralyzed positivist reason has led itself, has turned into the indigence of our faith. The faith cannot be liberated if reason itself does not open up again. If the door to metaphysical cognition remains closed, if the limits of human knowledge set by Kant are impassable, faith is destined to atrophy: it simply lacks air to breathe.
When a strictly autonomous reason, which does not want to know anything about the faith, tries to get out of the bog of uncertainty ‘by pulling itself up by its hair,’ to express it in some way, it will be difficult for this effort to succeed.”

Greg said...

Unfortunately, obscurantism has become very common among Christians. Today it damages Christianity more than 'rationalism'.

I think it's borne of the idea that you aren't a mystic until your peers can't understand you. (The historical mystics would be horrified.)

Well, a bit more seriously, I think there is a lot of nervousness over the issue of how seriously a secularizing world will take Christianity. And too many people decide to hide in obscurantism, perhaps hoping that people will response. IMO it's the wrong move, and the last 50 years have shown that people don't respond to it.

(I don't know if that's what Hart is doing, though.)

Timocrates said...

@ John West,

"How do you know Cardinal Ratzinger's vision wasn't disfigured by his historical context when he wrote that?"

It was sharp of you to see clearly the possibility of a contradiction there; however, as Lebuinus rightly pointed out, there is no contradiction on account of the distinction between the vision of Faith and the vision of (human) Reason.

I would also add that the Cardinal's remarks on revelation also seems to save the positive reality of communion. Indeed, it should be easy to see a difference between knowing something, believing something and, further, believing something on account of believing someone. Even the devils are said to believe, fear and tremble; however, their belief is not that of trust or Faith. The devil "knows" that his time is short; he would therefore seem very much to believe that God will be true to his Word and promise that this age and present order will definitely come to an end, and so will the devils "time". But of course, if the devil had anything like Faith in God he would not do what he does.

Cardinal Ratzinger speaks of "the historical instrument of the faith". This would then seem to be what he means when he says, "[human reason] also needs historical assistance to help it cross over its historical barriers." What could be this historical assistance? The faith, it would appear, as faith too exists in the historical context along with human reason, guiding it and purifying it.

This would also appear to be why it is proper for the Church firstly and above all to preach rather than philosophize. In preaching the Word, Christ is in a way made present to the people: Christ is revealed to them. In the context of preaching the faith, then, this would also seem to be the reason for emphasis on encounter. There is perhaps much to be said for insisting that human reason does not safely proceed without guidance from the faith.

One might argue that attempting to construct the preambles of faith without faith comes dangerously close to a Cartesian style method of proceeding. Indeed, it may just be the very temptation of rationalism - to build or proceed not on the foundations of faith but rather upon the sands, as it were, of shifting history.

John West said...

Timocrates,

Before I even begin to reply, I'm going to have to get you to give a stipulative definition of "Faith".

Timocrates said...

@ Lebuinus,

"As G. Weigel in “God's Choice : Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church” explains, Ratzinger’s beef was with Neo-scholastics who reduced revelation to “the propositions that result from God’s self-disclosure” whereas he thought that “Revelation (...) has a subjective or personal dimension, in that there is no “revelation” without someone to receive it."

And to be sure, the fact that the propositions were the results of something else should not be overlooked. The propositions result, or flow from, the believer's believing. To be sure, revelation is something not only just received by a personal subject, but an action upon or transformation of that same subject, certainly at least for any further propositions to result from the revelation. Revelation is therefore an action and event that very much takes place in, and necessarily changes or transforms something in, history.

Crude said...

Greg,

Well, a bit more seriously, I think there is a lot of nervousness over the issue of how seriously a secularizing world will take Christianity. And too many people decide to hide in obscurantism, perhaps hoping that people will response. IMO it's the wrong move, and the last 50 years have shown that people don't respond to it.

I wonder if it's a hope that people respond, as opposed to a hope that they'll be able to maintain and talk about their views without really having to defend them. I think there is a common thread between a certain class of Christian obscurantists, New Agers, and other groups - they like to talk about 'love', they like to advocate and promote certain things, but they head for the hills when a rational discussion is expected on those topics. Being vague and mystical is a way to avoid that from the outset.

Side-stepping reason and logic as much as possible actually seems like a pretty popular approach to the world in general nowadays, and it's paid off in spades for some. So long as a person is /passionate/ and uses the right buzzwords and gestures, they can go a long way.

Anonymous said...

I think Ed's point, in a nutshell, is that Hart is the Doctor Warren Fingeroot of Theology. Doctor Fingeroot may be seen here.

http://youtu.be/T6xJzAYYrX8

Timocrates said...

@ John West,

Faith would be an active virtue in which one entrusts oneself to another, such that it even forms a habit or disposition, again of trust. Capital 'f' Faith would be that faith wherein one wholly and completely entrusts oneself to another, which of course would be foolish in the case of any creature. It is an entrusting of oneself to another and even to the will of another.

For practical illustration, I would point to a man who philosophizes not abandoning or in any way setting aside faith and trust in God, but in that light always. Here, rationalism would be the temptation to set aside the gift of faith and rely rather upon one's owns strengths or powers. Of course, from the spiritual point of view, this would be very much to even a fallen angel's advantage, as their intellectual power far surpasses our own. We may therefore say that it is quite wrong for a Christian to philosophize absent a living faith and trust in God to guide and lead him or his reason in ascertaining what is right or true. Further, we might also say that for Catholics, when we say, "Faith and Reason," we mean that reason does always stand in need of help or guidance from faith if it is to succeed and gain - as the Cardinal said - something like a pure vision. It is as to say even to the philosopher, "only with faith can your aim become true."

That, at least, is my thinking on this point thus far.

Timocrates said...

@ Greg, Crude,

Accepting Christianity is easy. However, from my short life's experience, men are paradoxically inclined to prefer and accept the hardest route. Psychologically this makes sense: it's a vain attempt to atone for one's own sins.

Where we Catholic converts tend to sin is that we play the bishop; moreover, we try to rationalize everything, which is impossible. One cannot rationalize, for example, one's own coming into existence. It was a gift. Pure and simple.

Christianity is easy and impossible at the same time. This is no poetic device or attempt to cheaply romanticize the faith. We all naturally yearn to trust and forfeit those powers and natural gifts we know all too well are finite and conditional; at the same time, we all want the world of happiness. The latter is, for us, impossible: even when we come close to attaining it we acquire new reasons to lose it.

Being Christian is not fun. You lose everything but at the same time you re-acquire everything. You believe, once again, in goodness, love, etc. Your sense of justice is rekindled.

I am not a happy Christian; however, I am glad I have a certain vision of happiness that can't be taken away. I know that I can love. And that is, at the end of the day, true philosophical realism.

Greg said...

@ Crude

I wonder if it's a hope that people respond, as opposed to a hope that they'll be able to maintain and talk about their views without really having to defend them.

Quite right, I think. Then there is the related death by qualification, wherein the Church figure affirms Church teaching and then proceeds to make sure that no one feels threatened by the implications that that teaching, on the first reading, would seem to have regarding one's conduct.

Instances of this are easy enough to find. I believe these sorts of obscurantism are one of the biggest problems facing the Church. I don't mean that merely as a traditionalist outcry. I think that one is apt to qualify oneself in this way when one is too embarrassed to speak unqualifiedly; I know how that is, for that's how I often behave with more liberal friends. You can find explicit confirmation of this tendency in a certain cardinal's recent statements about how, if he were Jesus, he would have instituted the priesthood as both male and female - though he's not disputing the Church teaching.

Timocrates said...

@ Greg,

I feel your pain, brother. But fear no evil. The protestant revolt started out of Rome's far too ridiculous indulging in the age of the time. Rome's attempts to be contemporary always seem silly. But it is yet an expression of the Church's universality and openness to human creativity.

John West said...

Timocrates,

To keep everything in order, the statement I replied to was: Not exactly, but as another well-known critic of neo-scholasticism, Card. Ratzinger, explained: "[H]uman reason is not autonomous in the absolute. It is always found in a historical context. The historical context disfigures its vision (as we have seen). Therefore, it also needs historical assistance to help it cross over its historical barriers.”

Moreover, the post was a reply to the statement: “Does this mean that all attempted rational justifications come down at the end of the day to 'private experiences,' 'moments of wonder,' or the like?” So, what we're arguing about is whether the historical context disfigures human reason in the case of Cardinal Ratzinger making the general statement to that effect. What we're not arguing about is the communion, or the devil.

It does not follow that because Fa is true about the communion that the general statement Fx is true. Additionally, if the general statement is true, then it's true in all instances including Cardinal Ratzinger's. If that truth means the reliability people's reasoning is undermined, then the reliability of Cardinal Ratzinger's reasoning is also undermined, including when he states Fx.[1]

Leaving aside the invalid Fa, therefore Fx type moves, what you seem to want to say by bringing faith into the picture is that, while normally we would not be able to trust Cardinal Ratzinger's statement, in this case the statement is anchored by his belief in God and Christianity.

But there seems no good reason to hold to this view. As has been pointed out twice now, Cardinal Ratzinger did not make the statement as an official de fide pronouncement in his capacity as Pope. He made the statement in his capacity as a person like you or I, and it therefore holds no special weight. So I'm not sure why we should think that “The historical context disfigures [human reason's] vision.”, or if it does and it allows us to cast skepticism on reason, why we shouldn't also cast skepticism on Ratzinger's general statement.

What's more, Christianity can be perfectly true—as other, more Scholastic-leaning Popes have likely agreed—completely apart from whether Cardinal Ratzinger's general statement is true. So there seems no reason to hold that the general statement “The historical context disfigures [human reason's] vision.” is specially anchored in truth by Faith, or faith.


[1]Also, the laws of logic (ie. non-contradiction) that adjudicate on the validity of arguments are anchored in the immutable Divine Nature. So there is no dichotomy between God and reason here (and we really need to get away from acting like might be.)

John West said...

More properly, that footnote should read: “Also, the laws of logic (ie. non-contradiction) that adjudicate on the validity of arguments are [grounded] in the immutable Divine Nature.”

One might argue that attempting to construct the preambles of faith without faith comes dangerously close to a Cartesian style method of proceeding. Indeed, it may just be the very temptation of rationalism - to build or proceed not on the foundations of faith but rather upon the sands, as it were, of shifting history.

If something is necessarily true, it's true at every point in history whatever the circumstances. Principles—like the PSR and the Causal Principle—are all necessarily true. Therefore, they are true at every point in history whatever the circumstances. Moreover, they are inferred on the basis of observations about nature so general that if things exist, you can infer them.

The first two premises are completely uncontroversial.

As for the third premise that the principles are inferred on the basis of nature so general that if things exist, you can infer them, I think that's also not very controversial. For example, causation is so general an observation about nature that even children quickly accept it. If a child punches another child, child A doesn't think child B just happens to be in pain at the same time. He knows he brought about that pain by punching child B, and it seems at least prima facie plausible that all children acting as child A would have accepted that they brought about the pain of child B in every place and at every time. In short, causation seems to be the natural understanding of what we observe when things interact. And Aristotle wouldn't have had his metaphysics any other way. As I understand, he was incredibly concerned that his Principles were the natural, obvious conclusions from anyone's most general observations about nature.

John West said...

Obviously those "Fx"'s should read (x)Fx.

John West said...

Greg,

And when secularists yell, “Christianity is irrational” and people who are supposed to be brothers and sisters yell back, “Yes, we are irrational!”, it undermines the the persuasiveness of the scholastic case.

It's always seemed to me a culture focussed on generating nominal Christians. People who don't actually take it seriously.

Crude said...

Timocrates & Greg,

I do not think what we're discussing here is a Christian problem. It's culture-wide, at least in the west. People want the passion of believing X or Y (and therefore thinking of themselves as / presenting themselves as noble, outspoken, passionate people) but actually knowing what they're talking about is secondary. Even the halfway point - 'I am not totally informed about X, but given what I know, this is what I think' - doesn't appeal. Who wants to admit ignorance? Who wants to qualify their beliefs? How fun is that?

And I suspect that the very people who really do have a deeper knowledge, who really do study issues and appreciate their complexity, end up breaking into camps: pragmatists who go 'I know it's not nearly as simple, but if I admit that it will sabotage me and my side, so I'm going to endorse and promote the superficiality as a means to an end', and the thoughtful ones who sincerely appreciate the complexities they're dealing with, along with any limitations (possible or real) to their knowledge... and therefore are easy to ignore or pick off.

It's not just Christianity. It's just about everything. It's a mix of cowardice and ignorance, mob mentality and worse.

DNW said...

Your parents or grandparents might remember this.

We don't need words to communicate, it's empathicalism.

I feel a hostile vibration!

DNW said...

Nothing like a misfired joke.

Looks like YouTube insists on its pound of flesh, or its 15 seconds of advertising, for a weak laugh from an old clip. It played without it when I tested. Too bad.


At least the instructions I got there on embedding links worked well. Thanks. And my elderly parents - or mother - enjoyed the movie; or much of it.

What is needed is a flash clip embed akin to the Bob Hope Democrat/Zombie excerpt, one sees around.

Or maybe not since this is a serious philosophy blog owned by another, and not my personal plaything.

John West said...

Well, I'm not sure most people now even accept that man is a rational animal. I constantly run into the view that man is a cultural animal, or a social animal, or anything but a rational animal, really.

DNW said...

Blogger John West said...

Well, I'm not sure most people now even accept that man is a rational animal. I constantly run into the view that man is a cultural animal, or a social animal, or anything but a rational animal, really.

May 26, 2015 at 9:44 AM


It seems people have concluded that the process of having an "authentic" or "actualized" life is more or less synonymous with experiencing maximal emotional satisfactions; the will being the more or less conscious driving force to actualize such impulses; and reason, the mere calculating instrument of the will.

They've come to believe that whereas you may be mistaken about facts or inferences, you can never be wrong about what you feel. Feeling becomes the bedrock of their life process. The rest is just jockeying, or "negotiation".

They never ask regarding, and in many cases think it proper to rule out of court, any interrogation of the moral status of those feelings. Unless of course the particular feeling or feelings "in question" are the feelings of some social segment whose suppression they seek. In those instances, the rhetorical formulation of "no rational basis" is accorded a certain liturgical dignity which the underlying belief system employing it, cannot not itself justify.

Any genuinely substantive questions as to the reasonability of any given impulse, must be avoided, since the very posing of such questions introduces a framing conducive of deriving essentialist or realist conclusions.

This is the spot Santi got himself into ... trying to figure out how to stake claims on the basis of X's having y organic impulses which somehow supposedly entailed that y should be satisfied for X; while at the same, time trying to avoid staking claims based on a "nature" which would let realism's brutal head in the door.

Which is why he is forced to drift into Eastern mysticism and trot out his "LOVE INC" meme; lest it be noticed his claim structure is no more than the empty tautology it really is.

The progressive, then, must manage the trick of employing reason to simultaneously dethrone man's defining anthropological faculty of reason, while (1) somehow appearing to preserve as valuable those aspects of the evaluative process which enable or justify whatever appetite or impulse it is that is being uncritically celebrated, and (2) which adds a rhetorical veneer of rationality to the process of establishing a social hegemony for those very preferences. Preferences which Rorty himself admits cannot, on his own terms, be established through rational valuation.

Matt Sheean said...

"And when secularists yell, “Christianity is irrational” and people who are supposed to be brothers and sisters yell back, “Yes, we are irrational!”, it undermines the the persuasiveness of the scholastic case."

I've found it difficult to agree on what "rational" means when in conversation with, for instance, sola scriptura types. I have conservative protestant family members who are very educated and stalwart in their faith, but when the conversation turns to the warrant for this or that belief, a demand for rational justification is inevitably seen as nothing more than a practical question (for instance, that it might be a way to convince someone else of that belief).There are a lot of Christian folk who see reason as something fundamentally human and decrepit, rather than as something that decrepit humans are blessed to grasp from time to time. I think that is a bit of a problem - at least, I find it frustrating, since it often results in a refusal to discuss certain things, or to treat any sort of rational discussion over nearly any issue of importance as, at worst, entirely vain, and, at best, an activity that might advance a worthy interest. This isn't to say that rational discussion does not occur, but the limits of reason are always set too short. Reason helps us exegete what has been revealed, for instance, but can't get us to any first principles (like the PSR or LNC). A pretty clear picture of this sort of thinking can be found in Luther's disdain for Aristotle expressed in his letter to the German Nobility.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I found this interesting talk on Aquinas' take on Romans 1:20.

http://flashmedia.stthom.edu/videos/levering_aquinas_lectureSP12.html

For those of you who just want the highlights, here they are:

1-Human knowing of God takes place through material things, so God is clearly known through things that are made.
2-This natural knowing is insufficient by itself and is fulfilled in Faith and ultimately in heavenly union with God.
3-Worship of God has a bodily component.
4-Fallen humans need to be purified from the cleaving to creatures which is the root of so many sins.
5-Jesus Christ himself is the prime example how we come to know God through creatures. The sacraments also, especially the Eucharist.

I like the part where he says the theological virtue of faith presupposes the natural knowledge of God in the same way grace presupposes nature, and although natural knowledge of God does not equal faith, it does remove an obstacle to faith. This just makes sense. How can faith even get off the ground unless we have some solid rational arguments for the existence of God?

Cheers,
Daniel

Scott said...

@Daniel:

How can faith even get off the ground unless we have some solid rational arguments for the existence of God?

I have a good friend (raised Catholic, now Mormon) who once posted a link on Facebook to a book giving a number of arguments for the existence of God, with the comment that he didn't understand for whom the book could possibly have been written: atheists wouldn't accept the arguments anyway, and people who already believe in God allegedly don't want arguments because those would weaken their "faith."

I pointed out that the religion in which he was brought up, which accounts for some two-thirds of contemporary Christendom, officially believes and teaches that the existence of God can be demonstrated by reason alone and isn't a matter of (only) faith. He professed not to understand what I was getting at.

So a week or three later I posted a link to this. He shared it almost at once, with the comment "MIND = BLOWN!" I replied wryly that it didn't appear to have weakened his faith; quite the contrary. He replied in turn, "La la la la la, I can't hear you." ;-)

Lebuinus said...

@ John West & Timocrates

Sorry for intruding, but since it was my original reply which started the whole discussion...

[Ratzinger] made the statement in his capacity as a person like you or I, and it therefore holds no special weight.

It was an address to the presidents of the Doctrinal Commissions of the Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America in his function as prefect of the CDF (Guadalajara, may 1996). This doesn’t make it infallible of course, but it isn’t a statement in his capacity as a person like me neither. My magisterial status is null.

But this discussion is a non-starter. I’m to blame because I just clipped and pasted too much context. Don’t forget the (as we have seen) in the first paragraph. Ratzinger is arguing here against a certain type of historical-critical exegesis of mainly Kantian inspiration. That is the strictly autonomous reason, which does not want to know anything about the faith. If you want to read the whole address, you’ll find it here.

His condemnation of rationalism is uncontroversial. Rationalism was condemned by Pius IX.

John West said...

Lebiunus,

But this discussion is a non-starter. I’m to blame because I just clipped and pasted too much context. Don’t forget the (as we have seen) in the first paragraph. Ratzinger is arguing here against a certain type of historical-critical exegesis of mainly Kantian inspiration. That is the strictly autonomous reason, which does not want to know anything about the faith.

Fair enough. Okay.

John West said...

It being some rather specific thing, I have no truck with Kant. I don't even find his work that interesting.

AlanD said...

I'm sorry, but as someone who has been reading Hart's work, technical and popular, for about 15 years, I feel I have to note that Feser's selection of passages is so lacking in an understanding of the context of Hart's thought that he does not know what they are actually saying, and his attempt to explain them is worse than caricature. Yes, Hart agrees with Ratzinger. Yes, he is speaking about faith and reason, not will and reason. Yes, he has an Augustinian and Cappadocian understanding of memory, intellect, and will, but no, not a voluntarist one. There is no obscurantism in recognizing an initial fiduciary act at the ground of reason, because he is clear that it a rational act of trusting the transparency of being and the acuity of intellect, and of being drawn toward being by love of God, as a final end. Irrationalism would be refusing to trust and trying to establish reason and reality from the ground up, like Descartes and everyone since. This means that Hart is Platonic or patristic or ancient rather than Cartesian or modern or analytic. He believes intentionality is simultaneously intellect and trust (just like Gabriel Marcel, Jean-Francois Courtine, and Maurice Blondel), but not a blind exertion of will. And he is also right to note that certain kinds of argument do not have the power to persuade those who do not have a prior ability or willingness to see reality with eyes awake to the wonder of being. Jeez, don't we know people like that everywhere? He's critiquing modernity, man.

This whole post is weird. It's like Feser is obsessed with Hart because Hart isn't all that impressed by him, or because he's more famous, or something. It's still weirder in that it makes it seem Feser can't be bothered to read intelligently remarks that, in context, are pretty darn clear and inoffensive. Abd it makes me wonder how well Feser knows the wider range of Christian philosophy outside Thomist circles. I know Hart is a continentalist and not half-analytic and half-Thomist like Feser, and I know he believes that philosophical reasoning is only a fragment of the full realm of rational existence, but I have never found him obscure or obscurantist. So Feser got a few bruises arguing with a really clever guy who writes better than he does and who comes from a different philosophical tradition. That's no excuse for not reading intelligently. Oh, and Hart is right about eschatology too. Maybe Feser should read the Bible intelligently also.

Stephen Gelt said...

DBH is a brilliant fellow and the most amazing professor I ever had. Who the hell knows all those languages (including Sanskrit and Chinese)? Edward Feser is good at certain things. What he's really bad at is understanding or explainig DBH. I hope Feser keeps fighting the good fight in areas where he knows what he's doing. But if you want to understand DBH Feser is not the man to read.

Someone mentioned Ratzinger. That's very much Hart's neighborhood. Hamann, Bulgakov, Blondel, and then a lot of Maximus Confessor, will get you nearer. But maybe DBH does have a sharper sense of reasons dependence on language and culture because of all the languages and cultures he knows. But he isn't any kind of obscurantist. And he is a very deep thinker, from whom Feser might learn if he weren't just a kneejerk Thomist half the time

Greg said...

@ Stephen

But if you want to understand DBH Feser is not the man to read.

The complaint is that apparently, if you want to understand DBH, then DBH is not the man to read either.

Brandon said...

This whole post is weird. It's like Feser is obsessed with Hart because Hart isn't all that impressed by him, or because he's more famous, or something. It's still weirder in that it makes it seem Feser can't be bothered to read intelligently remarks that, in context, are pretty darn clear and inoffensive.

Setting aside the fact that this is based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever and is a transparent attempt to poison the well, other defenders of Hart have already more than once insisted that Hart is not always being "pretty darn clear", so refusing to acknowledge that is somewhat less than ingenuous.

Andy3 said...

I don't know about poisoned wells, but I do find Feser's tone and longwindedness kind of suspect. Then again, I hear he's always over the top in his attack mode. Of course the dumb photoshop jokes are so juvenile that it makes it hard to take him seriously. But it does seem like Feser goes out of his way not to understand some pretty clear and pretty uncontroversial statements. Like the column from First Things. All Hart says is that the modern pop opposition of faith and reason would be absurd to someone like Anselm, and that Anselm thought of all reasoning as always already faith seeking to understand. The first moment of the mind is a desire for God and a faith in the clarity of being and the power of the mind to reflect reality. It's one movement, perfectly rational and also a necessary (and rational) act of trust. I thought that column was so clear that no one could misunderstand it. So, yeah, with AllenD I have to wonder if Feser doesn't understand it because he doesn't want to. For myself, I've never found Hart obscurantist. I'm always amazed at how well he can make difficult philosophical ideas crystal clear. He wrote an essay on Heidegger for First Things that in five pages or so made me understand things about Heidegger's that three different professors in three different graduate seminars never got me to see. And there are some really beautiful turns of phrase in it, like the one about the post-Hegelian European philosopher's need to achieve "transcendental belatedness." But I won't try to add poison to any well. I'll just say that Feser's article here is pretty silly, and nothing he quotes from Hart is baffling, especially in its context, and none of it tends towards irrationalism or obscurantism or whatever. He should stick to writers he's read carefully and over time.

Edward Feser said...

AlanD and Stephen Gelt must be the most comically un-self-aware commenters here since the last time a Jerry Coyne fan showed up. Either that or they are doing satire. AlanD, though accusing me of caricaturing Hart, curiously says nothing at all about exactly how we're supposed to resolve the now two-year-old Hart ambiguity on natural law. And on faith and reason, he just repeats rather than explains Hart's views with some additional obscure phrases thrown in ("rational act of trusting the transparency of being," "intentionality is simultaneously intellect and trust," etc.) which, rather than clarifying anything, just offer further examples of exactly the sort of stuff that cries out for clarification.

Their remarks boil down to:

1. Feser just misunderstands Hart, but

2. We're not going to bother to explain exactly how he's got Hart wrong, but

3. Anyway, Feser's real motive for criticizing Hart is that he's has some personal grudge against Hart, plus he's just a kneejerk Thomist anyway, and for that matter he just lacks the vast Hart knowledge base and thus can't understand the vast deepities of the vast Hart oeuvre, and

4. Anyway, Hart is just really brilliant and really deep and knows a lot of languages and is really profound and is really amazing and Grand.

In short, they exhibit exactly the pattern I describe in the original post.

Cut it out guys, or people will think I'm sock-puppeting hecklers just to make Hart look bad!

Andy3 said...

I forgot to say, Hart's position on natural law was perfectly clear too. Feser just didn't actually pay attention to what he was saying. He keeps wanting Hart to delineate old from new, which he did, but which doesn't matter BECAUSE HE REJECTS BOTH. Feser never took up Hart's challenge to offer a natural law argument that could not be easily torn apart by someone who simply refuses to grant the fundamental premises Feser clearly TAKES ON FAITH (like the idea that the very idea of moral obligation needs to be granted by someone from a purely natural perspective). (Sorry for the CAPS but I have limited keyboard capacities here.). You know, even Russ Hittinger, a close friend of Hart's, understood the argument Hart was making. So why doesn't Feser?

Edward Feser said...

Of course the dumb photoshop jokes are so juvenile that it makes it hard to take him seriously

Ah, see? There is is, folks. Andy3's real motive for attacking the post is that he's just jealous 'cause he doesn't know photoshop!

Andy3 said...

That's it, throw in a cheap jibe. Best way to seem like you're winning. I still maintain that his columns on natural law were crystal clear. God, even Russ Hittinger found them totally coherent. I literally dont know what you dont get. The first column was clearly about modern natural law. You challenged him and in the second one he admitted he finds neither the old nor the new theory convincing, or at least persuasive for a culture that has a purely post-Darwinian perspective on nature, and he gave reasons that I thought were so clear that, really, I still dont know what else you think he should say. Or anyone else. You just keep repeating the same accusation of incoherence over and over again, but it's clear you're the one not following the argument. And his third column made it even clearer.

If it will make you happier with Hart I can tell you he recently defended you. He's been dangerously ill from alung and nervous system infection for the last year and a half and doesn't follow things online. But I called his attention to your Public Discourse article about his animals column. I'm afraid I was angry and said you were basically just the Thomist Jerry Coyne, but he replied that that was a foolish remark, and that you're not a fool, and that he thought your book on philosophy of mind was very good and that he would use it for his students if he gets well enough to teach again. But he also admitted that it is sort of fun to try to get your goat, because unlike his Thomist friends you seem to have no sense of humor about such things. But, as I say, he said something nice about you,

But, man, I still don't know why you think his natural law columns were clear and complete. And sont tell me, because Ive read your remarks several times, and I still dont get why you dont get it. Ask Hittinger.

Andy3 said...

Werent clear I mean to say. Mi dont see why you think they werent clear. Time for bed.

Edward Feser said...

Andy3 wrote:

But he also admitted that it is sort of fun to try to get your goat, because unlike his Thomist friends you seem to have no sense of humor about such things.

See, Andy3, this is exactly the utter lack of self-awareness among Hart's defenders that I'm talking about. You say that Hart says it's "fun to try to get [Feser's] goat" and you're OK with that and you and Hart think I should have a "sense of humor about such things." But if I tease Hart a little, then you object to my "tone," complain that I'm being "juvenile," etc. You can't have it both ways. If it's OK for Hart to have a little fun at my expense -- and of course it is, I'm a big boy and have taken a helluva lot worse than anything he's ever said about me -- then surely he can take a little ribbing in response, no? After all, everything I've written about Hart has only been in response to some snarky thing he's said about Thomists in general or me in particular. He can sure dish it out. Surely he's big enough to take it.

So, lighten up.

Re: Hart's health, I am very sorry to hear that and I wish him well and will pray for him.

Re: comments on my book Philosophy of Mind, naturally I appreciate them. You should also know that I have often praised Hart's work (including here on the blog), particularly Atheist Delusions and also The Experience of God.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it shouldn't, but this post reminds me of: a. St Thomas' pronouncement concerning his work and straw; and b. the mistake Sam Harris (of all people) says Douglas Hofstadter made of Douglas Harding's "On Having No Head". According to Chesterton, there's little if anything we can know about what St. Thomas meant by the straw comment, and why he said it, but it smacks very much of the kind of supra-rational experience of God as seen in John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, and so on.

Triangulating in off such contemplatives, with help from some Buddhist philosophy (as Thomas Merton did), there appear to be (at least) two connections we can make with the Divine. One -- scholasticism being an example -- is analogous to a deaf but expert musicologist's relationship with music. The other is analogous to the musically unsophisticated child, with their full range of hearing, being exposed to the first time to something like Gustav's Holst's Jupiter theme.

Both are to be commended, but experts in each (I'd guess that Hart -- although I don't know the man -- is less of an expert in the mystical than Feser is in scholasticism) should be aware of the limits of each, and benefits of the other.

P.S. Yes, if we're not careful this provides an excuse for obscurantism. Care (and compassion) will go a long way to deal with that. And it could be worse -- have you ever tried talking logic to a Zen practitioner!?

Andy3 said...

Doc Feser, Ed, Ed-baby,

Look, you're right, Hart doesn't mind the jabs and jibes. He seems to think it's all part of the game, or something like that. But don't tell me to lighten up unless you're willing to do the same. You accuse Hart of lack of rigor, and say in his recent book he doesn't defend the classinc theistic arguments he raises. What? He pretends just to be describing classical theism, sure, but he then lays out the case step by step and keeps cutting off every route of escape for the naturalist, and the whole time doing it in a beguiling prose that may be over Jerry Coyne's head (what isn't) but that a lot of us gind makes the argument easier to follow. Was it Haldane who said the book was the best philosophical assault on naturalism in English and yet is written like a poem? For us weaker vessels, style helps. That diagnosis of naturalism as just so many versions of a "pleonastic fallacy" was like daybreak for me. Suddenly I saw the whole thing.

But back to lightening up: You quote Hart making a joke about analytic philosophy but you don't mention he is actually recommending and praising the work of an analytic philosopher there. You take snippets where he confesses his doubts about the power of philosophical arguments by themwelves to convince hardened naturalists but leave out the fact that the only option he leaves open for naturalists is a complete embrace of total irrationalism (and I got the irony even if you didn't). You mention him taunting Thomists, among whom he has lots and lots of friends by the way, but never mention how brilliantly he uses Thomas's metaphysics of esse in answering Heideggerean and postmodern critics of Christian metaphysics. I don't care about your disagreements with him one way or the other, but this business about him eschewing rigor is nonsense. Maybe his style hides it for people who have different tastes, but for some of us, it is the style that makes us see it. I mean, those pages on Plantinga's version of the ontological argument made me see the problems with the argument with a clarity I had never had before on it: I hadn't seen the inevitable theistic personalism in it, I hadn't noted the unexplained leap from metaphysical to logical necessity, I hadn't grasped the reversibility of the argument. To me those pages are a perfect example of how to make a rigorous philosophical argument in prose that draws a curious but limited dunce like me right into the heart of the issue.

Yeah, you two have completely different styles and approaches and whatever else. But the rhetoric-over-rigor thing is nonsense. And I hear you mention Hittinger a lot. Ask him his opinion of Hart's gifts in argument.

Thanks for your prayers. I'll let him know about that.

David T said...

It's still a mystery why Hart or his defenders will not answer, or even acknowledge, the central charge Feser has made against Hart:

His central thesis, which he not only presented in his original article but has reiterated in several follow-up pieces, is that natural law theorists both (a) appeal to formal and final causes inherent in nature but also (b) are blithely unaware of the fact (or at least downplay the fact) that most of the modern readers they are trying to convince firmly reject the very idea of formal and final causes. And the trouble is that there are no natural law theorists of which this is true. For (a) is not true of “new” natural law theorists, and (b) is not true of “old” natural law theorists. Hart is thus attacking a straw man

Whether or not we Thomists fail to see the greatness and depth of Hart, those of you who can should be able to explain why Feser's charge fails. Feser is either wrong that Hart holds a) or wrong that he holds b) or wrong that there are no Thomists out there who hold both a) and b).

My suspicion - well, probably everyone's suspicion - is that Hart or his followers can't actually rebut the charge, but probably think it is small potatoes in the context of the overall grandness of Hart's vision. Well, fair enough. In that case, admit the charge is true and then explain why it is trivial.

Vasco Gama said...

I am an admirer of both Hart and Feser (their books are among the best that I have read in the last few years), and I find the harshness of this debate disturbing and regrettable.

However I have to side with Feser on this dispute.

I fail to understand Harts casual dismissal of (old) Natural Law and Thomism.
(It may be the case that Hart has reasons to do so, but the thing is that he took it for granted and systematically refused to provide a convincing reasoning, as if it was obvious or trivial and there was no need to address it).

Best regards to all

Jeremy Taylor said...

I think Hart and Thursday do bring up a good point - the limits of reason and philosophical argument to sway both individuals and especially society as a whole. The problem is they do not really explore this and such issues as the role of sentiment, assumed cultural beliefs, imaginative pictures of the world, patterns of life (maybe it is because I have just been reading Massingham's The English Countryman and The Tree of Life, but I can't help but thinking the way we live in society, such as our relationship to nature and the soil, has a not insignificant effect on our beliefs about life and the universe), and so forth. I am inclined to agree that philosophical argumentation alone will have little effect on the contemporary world, and that traditional Christians and other moral and cultural traditionalists are in for a hard time for the foreseeable future in the West, though, as Stephens put it, that we are being swept away by the stream is no reason to sing hallelujah to the river god.

That said, I can't imagine that any revival will come without having a reasoned, philosophical core. If we lack persuasive arguments, we are at a huge handicap, even if we are thinking simply in terms of some PR, rhetorical strategy. As I mentioned in the last comments section, one of the first thing that strikes me when I see the media coverage of the gay marriage issue, at least in Britain and Australia, as well as much talk such as on social media, is the anti-SSM side are assumed to have no arguments, except appeals to tradition and the Scriptures (and they don't even present the best versions of these), and just be hiding bigotry and prejudice. At best, a few points about the family and children are given, in such a way as to suggest they are specious and ad hoc. There is no real debate on these issues in Britain or Australia. The one thing conspicuously missing is any space for respectable arguments against the social liberal position.

Skyliner said...

Ed,

I recall that, a while back, you engaged in a moderated debate with an atheist on this website, and the exchange was cordial--true benevolent disputation. This has probably been suggested already, but have you considered inviting Hart to do the same--a series of exchanges on a shared forum on a select number of themes? You are both shining lights in contemporary Christian intellectual culture, you both seem to regard these subject matters as worthwhile, and, I don't think I'm alone in wishing that things went better between the two of you.

Best in Christ

E.Seigner said...

Skyliner,

This has probably been suggested already, but have you considered inviting Hart to do the same--a series of exchanges on a shared forum on a select number of themes?

I suspect that Hart is anti-debate. Definitely anti-formal-debate.

I sort of understand Hart's position. He has a preference for intuition and mysticism over intellectual analysis. The issue here, in my view, is that intuition and mysticism must also be exercised with rigour (any monastic handbook tells us this much) and it's quite possible to give a coherent argument from/for experience. This is the minimum Hart could do: This would be (perhaps almost) enough to explain him.

David T said...

I sort of understand Hart's position. He has a preference for intuition and mysticism over intellectual analysis.

And that is all well and good. And if Hart were merely expounding his own intuitive/mystical take on morality and philosophy, there would be nothing to say. But his original piece was an explicit attack on Thomistic natural law thinking, and in that attack he owes it to Thomists to at least understand their positions correctly. Ed's original criticism that Hart was attacking a strawman has not been answered, and it's no excuse to fall back on an "intuitive" understanding of Thomism as a way to avoid pointed rebuttal - unless, of course, Hart only means to criticize his own intuitive Thomism rather than the Thomism that Thomists actually hold.

Andy3 said...

Thiese are silly comments now. Hart doesn't advocate mysticism instead of reason, and his columns on natural law were perfectly rigorous. The point was so clear in the second one that i'm beginning to think that some people simply can't read what they don't want to. Saying Hart has yet to explain himself is hilarious. His second column said all he wanted or needed to say. Natural Law theory convinces people in times when certain basic premises of reason and moral truth are accepted. Modern nihilist culture has not just rejected the arguments but the premises, There is no such thing as the good, there is no such thing as the common good, there is no such thing as the will, I don't need to think the good as such is more important than the good of my appetite, there is no such thing as natural order, and if there is it isn't moral order, etc. so modern nihilism is now a whole world view and a complete way of looking at things. so, sadly, natural law arguments will not convince society on anything at all, unless you restore the premises. And if you think any law theory has the power to do that, you're living in cloud cuckoo land.

But how hard is this?

Yoni said...

I don't think it's fair to suggest DBH is lacking a certain philosophical rigor. The fact that he does not lay out his arguments in a clear, concise, step-by-step manner does not entail that he is skipping steps or cutting corners to make grand pronouncements without doing the hard work to get there. And as another commentor noted above, his style can have the effect of illuminating ideas and arguments that are really hard to understand otherwise. And that's probably why as a reader I always get the impression that Hart is in total command of his subject material.

E.Seigner said...

David T,

Ed's original criticism that Hart was attacking a strawman has not been answered, and it's no excuse to fall back on an "intuitive" understanding of Thomism as a way to avoid pointed rebuttal...

No. Hart has been consistent (or, from Ed's point of view, consistently wrong) all along, so there's no falling back. Anyway, I agree that Hart should not be so anti-debate as to not, as a minimum, give a name of the specific Thomist he had in mind when he wrote the first piece.

But the thing is, it was most likely Ed himself that Hart had in mind, so it can only be embarrassing, because he would have to explain his misreadings. He'd have to say something like "Ed's this position implies that" the same way as Ed is saying here that such-and-such implies fideism. But this would be rather direct debate, and Hart is evidently keeping away from this.

Yoni said...

@Andy3

I agree with much of what you're saying, but you're coming off as a troll. You can make your points without an exasperated tone that suggests you're the only one with reading comprehension skills.

Incidentally I think your most recent post summarized Hart quite well. It's almost impossible to convince people of an argument when they won't even entertain the truth of the premises. But Thomists like Feser already know this. They know they have an uphill battle, and they know most people will have to "unlearn" everything they know about philosophy and nature. For intellectual curious people this is possible. And since Feser was himself "converted" by the power of the arguments, you could understand why he is considerably more optimistic about his efforts.

David T said...

so, sadly, natural law arguments will not convince society on anything at all, unless you restore the premises.

Well, duh. Where are the Thomists who deny that?

No one has ever denied that, including Ed. That's why he writes books like The Last Superstition and Aquinas, because he understands that the task of cultural renewal involves at bottom a philosophical renewal - a long and arduous task(and a view shared, at least, by JPII). Hart doesn't seem to think this philosophical renewal is possible, or at least possible the way Ed is doing it. Fair enough. But to pretend that guys like Ed are naive enough to believe they will walk out into the public square, proclaim the Natural Law, and all will immediately fall before it is, to use your word, silly.

Crude said...

Yoni,

And since Feser was himself "converted" by the power of the arguments, you could understand why he is considerably more optimistic about his efforts.

I think what Hart fails to appreciate here is this: even if he was correct about the state of understanding and rationality among people generally (and I think in large part he is), it doesn't mean that the approach Feser has is wrong or ineffective. For some people - in fact a good number of them - dealing with metaphysics, philosophy and natural law simply works. Even if it doesn't persuade them in some Eureka moment, a number of people can and will go 'You know, okay, I didn't realize there was actual argument and understanding behind all this'.

Hart makes a dig about the futility of the thomists trying to row against the current while he and his like go off among the mountains in search of saints. My question is: how's that working out? Is there a newfound appreciation for mysticism out there? Because as near as I can tell, people generally aren't enthralled with that either.

Gottfried said...

Let me be clear, I think Hart bears the most guilt in this little row. I agree that he was conflating new and old natural law in his initial article, and rather than admit to such an embarrassing mistake he resorted to obfuscation to try to make it go away. I don't like that interpretation but I can't come up with any other that makes sense. And Hart has written some stupid and insulting things about Feser, so I wouldn't blame him for being angry. But it seems to me Feser is now being almost equally unfair to Hart. I count both men among my intellectual heroes, so it's an odd feeling to want to grab them both by the ear and tell them to stop acting like children.

I'm by no means an authority on Hart, but I don't think he is a fideist. I think he would unreservedly affirm that reason can lead us to the truth, that a valid argument with true premises will lead to a true conclusion, and that that conclusion will be true regardless of the historical circumstances or dispositions of those to whom it is presented. I think what he is questioning is the capacity for human beings to recognize the truth of an argument when their will or desires are leading them in a different direction. Is that controversial? I would think that a cursory glance at our contemporary culture, even (or perhaps especially) at our "educated" classes, should awaken us to the sad fact that generally speaking people will believe what they want to believe.

I think when Hart talks about the importance of "a moment of wonder, of sheer existential surprise" in our pursuit of truth, we need to keep in mind the unity of the transcendentals, which he often invokes. It is not any kind of subjectivist New Age pap. I think all classical theists would affirm that Truth, Beauty, and Goodness cannot ultimately be separated. Logical reasoning is one road to the truth, certainly, but it is not the only way. And logic is a tool, but it is not a motivator. It is an interest in and desire for being (such as that which we feel when confronted with beauty) that leads us to reason and seek the truth in the first place. And all being finally points to Being Itself.

Look at the gospels. They contain very little philosophy. They don't ask us to follow a line of argument, but to recognize the goodness and beauty in the words and actions of Christ. Or look at the saints. I suppose many or most of them would say they were certain of the existence of God. I would also wager that many or most of them would be unable to give a perfect recital of the Five Ways. Would we want to say their faith was unfounded?


Greg said...

@ Andy3

The first column was clearly about modern natural law.

Well, it's 'clear' from this sentence:

My chief topic here is the attempt in recent years by certain self-described Thomists, particularly in America, to import this tradition into public policy debates, but in a way amenable to modern political culture.

But not so clear from the sentence that follows:

What I have in mind is a style of thought whose proponents (names are not important) believe that compelling moral truths can be deduced from a scrupulous contemplation of the principles of cosmic and human nature, quite apart from special revelation, and within the context of the modern conceptual world.

Then in the next paragraph, he goes on to characterize "classical natural law," ascribing to it several theses which new natural lawyers explicitly and emphatically reject in almost everything they write:

Classical natural law theory, after all, begins from the recognition that the movement of the human will is never purely spontaneous, and that all volition is evoked by and directed toward an object beyond itself. It presupposes, moreover, that beyond the immediate objects of desire lies the ultimate end of all willing, the Good as such, which in its absolute priority makes it possible for any finite object to appear to the will as desirable. It asserts that nature is governed by final causes. And, finally, it takes as given that the proper ends of the human will and the final causes of creation are inalienably analogous to one another, because at some ultimate level they coincide (for believers, because God is the one source in which both participate). Thus, in knowing the causal ends of nature, we should be able to know many of the proper moral ends of the will, and even their relative priority in regard to one another.

Have you read any of the new natural lawyers? They would deny (or substantially qualify) almost every sentence of that characterization.

As I've said (I think in another comment thread), the most plausible interpretation of Hart is that he intended to critique new natural law, but was not really familiar with it and assumed that it handles philosophy of nature similarly to old natural law. If he had just named, say, Grisez, Finnis, Boyle, and George instead of saying "names are not important," this whole thing would have been cleared up immediately: It would have been apparent that he was straw manning new natural law. The dispute also would have been clarified if he had gone on to name the philosophers he had in mind. But instead, as Professor Feser has shown, the later pieces do not clarify anything.

You, of course, deny this; but then you also think that his first piece was clear. I am forced to the same dilemma. The only way you could believe that the first piece mounted a clear argument against new natural law is if you have no idea what new natural law is.

Thursday said...

But to pretend that guys like Ed are naive enough to believe they will walk out into the public square, proclaim the Natural Law, and all will immediately fall before it is, to use your word, silly.

This is a straw man version of my (and presumably Hart's) position. We're not saying that any natural lawyers (new or old) are quite that naive about the power of philosophical argument. But we are saying that they are still being way too optimistic about its power.

BTW, I would never deny that philosophical argument can be of significant help in picking off a few stragglers for our side. But those numbers are extremely small.

Yoni said...

@Crude

I think what Hart fails to appreciate here is this: even if he was correct about the state of understanding and rationality among people generally (and I think in large part he is), it doesn't mean that the approach Feser has is wrong or ineffective. For some people - in fact a good number of them - dealing with metaphysics, philosophy and natural law simply works. Even if it doesn't persuade them in some Eureka moment, a number of people can and will go 'You know, okay, I didn't realize there was actual argument and understanding behind all this'.

You might be right, but I think Hart was more dismissive of a sentiment which might go something like this " The critics of Christianity are always going on and on and on about our supposed "faith" and how it lacks any sort of evidence, whereas atheism/agnosticism is the only rational position to hold because that's what "science" tells us is true. By making our case in a predominantly "rational" manner, through an appeal to a perfectly logical and coherent philosophy of nature that is actually consistent with science, Christianity could potentially gain some legitimacy among secular institutions."

Whether or not this is actually a popular sentiment would be up for debate.

I'd like to think that Hart would concede that "Feser-style" argumentation has it's benefits, because it's quite clear that is effective for at least SOME people.

Hart makes a dig about the futility of the thomists trying to row against the current while he and his like go off among the mountains in search of saints. My question is: how's that working out? Is there a newfound appreciation for mysticism out there? Because as near as I can tell, people generally aren't enthralled with that either.

Keep in mind Crude that Hart never actually said or implied that his style is more effective than Feser's. And that's because Hart has an unrelentingly bleak outlook on modernity. My impression is that he probably thinks there is nothing we can do but pick up the pieces when the building finally collapses upon itself.

David T said...

This is a straw man version of my (and presumably Hart's) position. We're not saying that any natural lawyers (new or old) are quite that naive about the power of philosophical argument. But we are saying that they are still being way too optimistic about its power.

And what has Ed written that leads you to the conclusion that he is overly optimistic? I've never heard him be either optimistic or pessimistic. He just makes the arguments as best he can and leaves the rest to God, as far as I can tell. Isn't that what a Catholic philosopher is supposed to do?

Crude said...

Yoni,

Keep in mind Crude that Hart never actually said or implied that his style is more effective than Feser's. And that's because Hart has an unrelentingly bleak outlook on modernity. My impression is that he probably thinks there is nothing we can do but pick up the pieces when the building finally collapses upon itself.

Maybe - but then, I think Ed's approach IS 'picking up the pieces'. People say that the number of people who can be persuaded by reason and logic and natural law arguments are few. No doubt. But, let me put in a word for the minority here: they're still important. And I think it's questionable that Hart thinks a proper response to the people who put in this effort, sincere and well-meaning, is 'mock them and discourage them.' What exactly does -that- accomplish?

I can tell you directly that I think natural law arguments don't have major popular application. Hell, I've written repeatedly (in my tiny corner of the internet) that I think the very idea that the world has gone through changes that have much to do with rationality and reason is a joke, and it's not a problem specific to Christianity, or even religion.

So, for as much as I like Hart, at times he comes across as someone mocking the monks for copying and preserving Greek works. What's the point? It's a scattering of men in robes in the wilderness preserving paper and words no one cares about, in a world where hardly anyone is literate to begin with. What impact could that possibly have?

John West said...

Maybe - but then, I think Ed's approach IS 'picking up the pieces'. People say that the number of people who can be persuaded by reason and logic and natural law arguments are few. No doubt. But, let me put in a word for the minority here: they're still important. And I think it's questionable that Hart thinks a proper response to the people who put in this effort, sincere and well-meaning, is 'mock them and discourage them.' What exactly does -that- accomplish?

I'll add to Crude's statement that a lot of these wider changes start in large part from change in the culture of the academy, and that the type of people to which these arguments appeal are probably more likely to become academics.

Greg said...

A few additional points about Hart's first piece...

If his points are supposed to be taken as a challenge to old natural law, then would it not be helpful to mention someone like MacIntyre, who addresses very directly the issue of tradition and prospects of modernity for receiving natural law?

If his points are supposed to be taken as a challenge to new natural law, then the raising of the is-ought issue is perplexing, since new natural lawyers endorse the is-ought gap, and often invoke it when they are responding to old natural law.

David T said...

Crude,

You beat me to it... if Yoni is right about Hart's outlook then what he is providing is a counsel of despair. It reminds me of Chesterton's analysis of the pessimist in Orthodoxy. Just because you have a bleak outlook as a strategic analyst doesn't justify a bleak outlook as a recruiting sergeant.

(Chesterton also provides a psychological analysis of the pessimist as someone who secretly enjoys being the bearer of bad news... but I'll not go there right now.)

Crude said...

David T,

It reminds me of Chesterton's analysis of the pessimist in Orthodoxy. Just because you have a bleak outlook as a strategic analyst doesn't justify a bleak outlook as a recruiting sergeant.

I recall that Ed himself has said that things can, and likely will, get a lot worse before they'll get better. So the idea that Ed's running around saying 'The world can be saved by Natural Law!' just doesn't add up.

But there's also the flipside problem: critics of Natural Law, I think, go way too far in giving credit to people. The idea that everyone nowadays is a conscious, willing nihilist, who has systematically run down each and every one of the natural law premises and ticked off a box saying 'Nope, I reject this' is equally naive. What metaphysical and philosophical inclinations they have tend not to be thought through at all - these are not people who find Hume's views about nature compelling. They aren't even aware of those views - the only Hume they know of is on Fox News. Their interaction with the issues is a whole lot more primitive than that.

Thursday said...

But there's also the flipside problem: critics of Natural Law, I think, go way too far in giving credit to people. The idea that everyone nowadays is a conscious, willing nihilist, who has systematically run down each and every one of the natural law premises and ticked off a box saying 'Nope, I reject this' is equally naive. What metaphysical and philosophical inclinations they have tend not to be thought through at all - these are not people who find Hume's views about nature compelling. They aren't even aware of those views - the only Hume they know of is on Fox News. Their interaction with the issues is a whole lot more primitive than that.

No, critics of natural law (or at least I) tend to see all but a teeny tiny number of people as ignoring all arguments on either side. Arguments haven't gotten us into this mess, and they won't get us out.

Crude said...

No, critics of natural law (or at least I) tend to see all but a teeny tiny number of people as ignoring all arguments on either side.

And yet here you are, trying to persuade a teeny tiny number of people. If it's really that pointless, why show up?

You can look in this thread about the talk about nihilism and 'rejecting the premises' of natural law - as if most people, even most critics of it, can name those premises if they had to.

As for whether arguments got us into this mess - they've gotten us into some. And some 'teeny tiny number of people' have had serious impact too. If the response is 'Nothing can help, we're doomed!', then fine - go off into the wilderness and enjoy the hermit's life. But the people whose prediction of doom seem to go hand in hand with trying to discourage the people they supposedly sympathize with don't seem sincere.

Scott said...

[C]ritics of natural law (or at least I) tend to see all but a teeny tiny number of people as ignoring all arguments on either side.

An argument doesn't have to persuade millions. It only has to persuade a teeny tiny number who will influence millions.

Yoni said...

@Crude

Maybe - but then, I think Ed's approach IS 'picking up the pieces'. People say that the number of people who can be persuaded by reason and logic and natural law arguments are few. No doubt. But, let me put in a word for the minority here: they're still important. And I think it's questionable that Hart thinks a proper response to the people who put in this effort, sincere and well-meaning, is 'mock them and discourage them.' What exactly does -that- accomplish?

I can tell you directly that I think natural law arguments don't have major popular application. Hell, I've written repeatedly (in my tiny corner of the internet) that I think the very idea that the world has gone through changes that have much to do with rationality and reason is a joke, and it's not a problem specific to Christianity, or even religion.

So, for as much as I like Hart, at times he comes across as someone mocking the monks for copying and preserving Greek works. What's the point? It's a scattering of men in robes in the wilderness preserving paper and words no one cares about, in a world where hardly anyone is literate to begin with. What impact could that possibly have?


That's a great point that in a way Ed *is* picking up the pieces.

I would agree that it does no good to simply mock the efforts of Feser or other Thomists. They do great work, valuable work that if nothing else improves our own self-understanding and strengthens our faith.

I'll speculate here as to why Hart might be "attacking" the Natural Law arguments with respect to their effectiveness in secular institutions (apart from the fact that he clearly enjoys poking the bear). One of the major themes of Hart's work concerns just how radically the "goods" of modernity differ from the "goods" of Christianity. For him they are nearly polar opposites, with modernity inevitably culminating in nihilism whereas Christianity ends in Theosis. Perhaps he fears appeals to reason without revelation will "reconcile" the two in a way that "softens" the inherent nihilism of modernity?

Skyliner said...

A few things:

First, I don't think Hart is as opposed to direct debate as one might assume given the nature of his writing style. A few years ago, I heard him have a live one-on-one exchange with an atheist on a radio show, and he handled himself quite well. At any rate, Ed, I really would love to see you extend that olive branch. Friendship is possible, and it is better than animosity.

Second, I wanted to let Gottfried know that I appreciated his most recent post.

Third, I think that Hart and Feser are both going for the same thing (viz., making clear the truth of the Gospel to contemporary intellectual culture), but they are speaking from different backgrounds. Feser (I assume) has been primarily in dialogue with analytic philosophers, so he constructs arguments that speak to that crowd. As a trained theologian, however, Hart's principal interlocutors would have been chiefly of the postmodern and continental variety (his Beauty of the Infinite above all else has the likes of Derrida, Caputo, Levinas, Deleuze, et al. in its cross-hairs). He doesn't give up on truth and reason (see the last word in the sub-title of the above mentioned tome); rather, he attempts to articulate the beauty of truth, and believes that that beauty itself has the capacity to persuade the rational mind. (Here, it is important to keep in mind what Gottfried said above. This isn't an appeal to mere sentiment. For Hart, the transcendental terminations of being--viz., Goodness, Beauty, and Truth--are integrated, a unity. Beauty is an objective aspect of reality--that which is--and as such is a fitting object of reason.)

On this point, I reiterate the claim I made in another thread that, given the current debate between Feser and Hart, the best place to go for understanding Hart's take on the role of reason in the Christian attempt to speak to contemporaneity is to be found in his brief Atheist Delusions, for it is there that we see him lay out his vision of the emergence of the premises shared by contemporary intellectual culture. A few years back, I wrote a brief review of it for a small academic journal which provides a decent summary of its central claims:

http://mtprof.msun.edu/Fall2009/paulrev.html

John West said...

Jeremy,

as Stephens put it, that we are being swept away by the stream is no reason to sing hallelujah to the river god.

Nice phrase.

I ended one of our recent conversations writing, “resurgences aren't everything.” What I meant by that was that if the claims of natural law are true (as Ed argues), then people have good duty-based and probably virtue ethic-based reasons to teach, argue and publically argue for natural law completely apart from consequentialist concerns. This is one reason I think it's so important to get the priority of truth over evangelism the right way around. Possibly, we can fall into the trap of becoming too coldly consequentialist.

Edward Feser said...

Andy3 writes,

I literally dont know what you dont get. The first column was clearly about modern natural law. etc.

Andy, everything you say on this subject here in the combox is stuff I've answered many times, in my articles and posts on Hart on natural law. Hart goes on and on and on about the way that the classical metaphysics that traditional natural law theory rests on is simply not thought plausible by most modern people and thus can't be taken for granted by natural law theorists. And the problem with that is that "new natural law" theorists would say: "Right, exactly. That's why from Grisez onwards we have deliberately and explicitly avoided grounding our case in that metaphysics, and instead have come up with an alternative approach to natural law." And the "old natural law" theorists would say: "Right, exactly. That's why we don't take anything for granted and realize that to defend natural law requires defending that background classical metaphysics too. And we are well aware that that is a herculean project and entails that natural law arguments are not going to be an easy sell to most people." "New natural law" theorists do think natural law arguments can have some force in the current public square, but precisely because they don't appeal to the controversial metaphysics. "Old natural law" theorists do appeal to the controversial metaphysics, but precisely for that reason, they don't think natural law arguments will have much force in the current public square. (You might have noticed, for example, that the prominent natural law theorists dealing with the "same sex marriage" debate are all "new natural law" guys.)

Hence there is, as far as I can see, literally no one who is actually open to Hart's objection. Certainly Hart has never given a single example. (You claim Hittinger thinks well of Hart's stuff on natural law. Well, that's interesting. So does Hittinger say "Yes, Hart has got me pegged exactly!" Somehow I doubt it. Or does Hittinger say "Yes, the new natural law guys presuppose classical metaphysics?" He certainly would not say that either.)

It's really getting tiresome having to make this simple point again and again, but as long as Hart's defenders keep alleging "You've got Hart all wrong!" without actually responding to this simple point, I'll have to keep making it. If you guys want me to stop raising this objection, then just respond to the damn objection already. (And "responding to it," by the way, does not involve simply asserting yet again that I've got Hart all wrong, that it's obvious what he meant, that I've got some personal grudge against him, etc.)

Edward Feser said...

Hello Skyliner,

Well, I would have no problem with such a debate, but I'm not sure how it would work logistically. Parsons, like me, is a blogger, which made our exchange easy to arrange. But Hart seems to prefer sticking to print media.

BTW, as a Charlie Barnet fan from way back, I must say I love your moniker.

Edward Feser said...

BTW, Andy3, re: my photoshop stuff being "juvenile": Personally, if some critic photoshopped my head onto a Reed Crandall drawing from an old E.C. Comics cover, I'd love it.

Andy3 said...

Yeah, Ed, because you do get him wrong. It's very simple at one level. Natural law theorists tell us over and over that they can make their arguments from nature etsi deus non daretur, but even Hittinger agrees with Hart that classical ideas of lex naturalis assumed a religio naturalis that sees nature not just as an order, but as a rational and moral order. Hittinger has no truck with practical reason natural law, as he calls it. And Hittinger admits that the basic problem of modernity comes before the things natural law theory can establish on its own. Hittinger might not say Hart has him "pegged," but they know and respect and understand one another, while you really really really don't understand him, because you a t like he's making a Humean argument (just cause he mentions Hume once) or that he understands revelation as extrinsic to natural reason. You say we have not demonstrated that we get your objections? You have yet to demonstrate that you get the argument. And you just keep repeating yourself too, with photoshop images tossed in. He's probably too sick for this, but you could invite him to a civil debate on your site. He enjoys those too.

And just to recall who the real enemies are:


http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-25-Jun-2011-Atheist-delusions-David-Bentley-Hart-vs-Terry-Sanderson

http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/The-Experience-of-God-David-Bentley-Hart-Richard-Norman-Unbelievable

David T said...

And Hittinger admits that the basic problem of modernity comes before the things natural law theory can establish on its own

Which is exactly what "new" natural law theorists would say, so... ahhh, what's the point?

Edward Feser said...

Andy3 writes:

Natural law theorists tell us over and over that they can make their arguments from nature etsi deus non daretur, but even Hittinger agrees with Hart that classical ideas of lex naturalis assumed a religio naturalis that sees nature not just as an order, but as a rational and moral order.

Really, Andy, it's hard to know what to make of you. You are simply making exactly the conflation I referred to without explaining why it is any less fallacious when you do it than when Hart does it. At first you speak sweepingly of "natural law theorists tell[ing] us over and over..." when what you have in mind there are clearly "new natural law" theorists, specifically. But then you qualify what you say with "but even Hittinger admits..." -- Hittinger being, of course, an "old natural law" theorist.

It's like saying that "religious people tell us over and over that God is Three divine Persons, but even Muhammad agreed that a unitarian conception of God was correct." This only makes the views of "religious believers" sound fishy because it fails to make the crucial distinction between religious believers who are Christian and those who are Muslim. And your remarks make what "natural law theorists" say sound fishy only because you persist in failing to make the crucial distinction between "new" and "old" natural law theories.

Honestly, I'm starting to wonder whether Hart and his fans really even know the difference.

Also, I have no idea why you bring Hume up, since the Hume issue is completely irrelevant to the specific point I summarized above. Yes, in my first response to Hart I noted how he seemed to have endorsed the Humean fact/value dichotomy. I've also discussed his later remarks about that subject in later responses to Hart. But that's a completely separate issue from the one I raise here (the conflation of "new" and "old" natural law). Stick to the subject.

Until you actually address the issue, just repeating that I "really really really don't understand" Hart rings hollow, and would do so no matter how many further "reallys" you throw in.

Edward Feser said...

David T writes:

ahhh, what's the point?

I know how you feel. It's like the Hart fans here are trying to prove by example the futility of rational discourse!

Andy3 said...

Simple question: as a proponent of old natural law theory, do you believe you can make moral arguments successfully with your atheist contemporaries without forcing them to acknowledge a supernatural source of value? If yes, there is the problem, because it don't work. If no, there is no disagreemnt. So answer that and everything will be clear.

It is a question Aquinas never asked, btw, because it was not necessary in the 13th century.

And Hart did distinguish between the new and old. but you seem to think his second and third columns were about a theory of natural law with which he disagreed. He was stating a simple truth about modernity that makes both the notion of nature and the notion of law so different from any scheme that can put the two together that continuing to argue within an artificial sphere of the natural over aginst the supernatural will prove fruitless.

I am beginning to think it is you and your followers who don't understand the difference between what he was saying and what you're talking about. I suspect you are trying to demonstrate by example the truth of how impervious Thomist dogmatists are to real rational debate. See, we can go on trading that same stupid insult over and over again. But it was you and your admirers who started it.

Again, why not ask him. Send an email to his SLU address. He's usually willing to discuss things. But just repeating over and over that he failed to distinguish between new and old, when a) that's false and b) that's irrelevant is not actually a display of rigor.

Greg said...

@ Andy3

But just repeating over and over that he failed to distinguish between new and old, when a) that's false and b) that's irrelevant is not actually a display of rigor.

You claimed that his meaning in the first article was clear. Several posts above (May 27, 2015 at 7:50 AM) I attempted to discover that meaning. Could you clarify where I go wrong?

Andy3 said...

Another name for it is nouvelle theologie, recall? I should not have said over against. I should have said, an artificial wall between nature and supernature, as if that were a real distinction, or even a proper formal distinction, rather than a modern (15th century) revision of what Nature and supernature meant.

This is head-banging, I guess. You're not interested in that whole realm of Catholic thought, I suspect, and so the very vocabulary is equivocal between us.

Crude said...

Andy,

Simple question: as a proponent of old natural law theory, do you believe you can make moral arguments successfully with your atheist contemporaries without forcing them to acknowledge a supernatural source of value? If yes, there is the problem, because it don't work. If no, there is no disagreemnt. So answer that and everything will be clear.

I won't speak for Ed, of course. But I will say this: I've seen 'atheist' converts on this very combox. People who at the very least said that they were atheists, but after encountering the explanations Ed offered, had to admit that he not only raised valid points, but offered some compelling solutions. Some dug in their heels on particular points of morality. Others were moved further. Still others, of course, rejected it all.

But you say 'atheist contemporaries'. Do you divide the world into a unified bloc of 'People who are Christian or openly/traditionally religious' and 'Hardcore atheists of the Dawkins variety'? Because if so, I think you've got the intellectual lay of the land wrong - and I think the argument you're making here requires that wrong evaluation. The atheists are a sideshow to the nominally irreligious, and the people who are dead set against anything 'supernatural' are a sideshow compared to people who either A) just don't care, or even B) accept 'the supernatural' but have some bizarre quasi-fideist 'whatever makes people happy is what God wants' view.

Andy3 said...

Greg,

The first post was about the new natural law only. He admitted that, because he did not want to go after his friends in print, he let that get obscured by one paragraph. But otherwise it was nice and clear: it was just, in the modern world, if you concede the modern categories that the new law theorists concede, you won't get the results you want, because, hey, they'll go on being modern and just say, "OK, let's just change the definition of x." (Babies, marriage, whatever). That was actually an argument FOR classical rather than new natural law.

When Feser challenged him, he admitted that he does not believe even classical natural law theory can convince moderns, even though it is metaphysically correct, because modern nihilism, unlike plain old village atheism, has a cosmology and a metaphysics, with a story. So to recover the power of natural law arguments we should probably rethink how we're dividing nature and supernature, and whether it is coherent, and find a way to communicate that nature as a realm of final ends is also necessarily intentional and rational and moral. It wasnt even an attack on natural law. It was an attack on arguments for natural law that don't take modernity 's nihilism seriously enough to see its roots in an early modern view of the two-tier nature-supernature distinction. Why is that confusing? Is it just that Thomists dont pay attention to later debates in Catholic thought and so dont see that Blondel and others might have had a point?

Maybe Im talking Russian and you're talking Basque, but I still don't see how that's hard to follow or why Ed here cant distinguish that from a rejection of old natural law. Now on cue he'll say again that his basic critique has nit been answered. Well, neither has the question "How heavy is the color blue?" Cayegory errors seem to be everywhere here, but only on Feser's side.

For the record, Hart had us read Hittinger in his seminar and he thinks Russ H. Is the best natural law theorist around.

Thursday said...

And yet here you are, trying to persuade a teeny tiny number of people. If it's really that pointless, why show up?

I've pointed this out several times already, including in the very first comment in this thread: there are other reasons for arguing.

James said...

Don't really have time to get into it at the moment, but for what it's worth I'll add myself as someone who was largely convinced via argumentation that something like Thomistic classical theism is probably in some sense true. As if that weren't sufficiently qualified I also have to add that I've never really been convinced that any particular revelatory religious claims are at all true, so I remain unreligious, but there ya go.

David T said...

It wasnt even an attack on natural law. It was an attack on arguments for natural law that don't take modernity 's nihilism seriously enough to see its roots in an early modern view of the two-tier nature-supernature distinction.

The cultural force of modernity is real but very shallow. The other night my college age daughter had a friend over who is an atheist and interested philosophically in religion. Over the table we began a conversation and I made a few simple points about the cosmological argument and also some elementary arguments for the natural law. Although she had taken some philosophy in college, the (simple) arguments I gave her were new to her and struck her like a revelation. It had never occurred to her (or, apparently any of her philosophy instructors) that one could think that way. Of course she wasn't immediately convinced, but I had definitely punctured the confidence she had in what she had learned and, I think, opened her mind to the exploration of classical philosophy.

Most of our contemporaries, even the so-called educated ones, are too ignorant to be true nihilists. Crude is right: Don't give them so much credit. Again to paraphrase Chesterton, it's not that classical philosophy has been tried and found wanting, it's just never been tried, and when people actually try it, they like it. So why the need for despair? The harvest is ripe but the workers are few.

Crude said...

I've pointed this out several times already, including in the very first comment in this thread: there are other reasons for arguing.

"because they're true, because you might pick up the occasional straggler, because you will make Christians already sympathetic to your views more confident in their faith."

Are you hoping to make Christians more confident in their faith? Are you trying to pick up atheistic stragglers? And devoid of any positive effect (in which case, what is this hoped-for effect), how does 'it's true' provide a reason to argue in and of itself? You could justify talking to a wall if the truth of an argument was sufficient to act.

But that gets to the point: if Hart accepts that classical theism/Thomism is true, then what's the end game for either your criticisms or his own? Irritation that some people would dare try to reason with the mob, rather than Pray the Modernism Away?

Thursday said...

precisely for that reason, they don't think natural law arguments will have much force in the current public square.

I want to make sure you understand that we understand this perfectly well:

1. Old natural lawyers think that the classical metaphysical foundations have to be argued for first.
2. Only, once the classical metaphysical foundations have been established, or at least made plausible, can old natural lawyers begin to make their case on controversial moral issues.
3. This is different than the new natural law position that you don't need argue for the classical metaphysical foundations first, but can make natural law arguments on controversial moral issues now even with some modernist metaphysical assumptions.

I, on the other hand, am saying that arguing for the classical metaphysical positions is not going to work either.

I agree that the modernist metaphysical assumptions came first, and if you could somehow get people to change their metaphysical assumptions, then they would be more sympathetic to, for example, traditional Catholic positions on sexual ethics.

However, we disagree on how people got those metaphysical assumptions, and whether or not you can change their metaphysical assumptions through argument. I would say that people, even intellectuals, weren't argued into their current modernist metaphysical assumptions, and they aren't going to be argued out of them.

Thursday said...

And devoid of any positive effect (in which case, what is this hoped-for effect), how does 'it's true' provide a reason to argue in and of itself?

Do I really need to argue to someone with supposedly classical metaphysics that speaking the truth because it is true is a good thing?

Thursday said...

Anyway, I'll leave off before the host gets pissed at me again.

Crude said...

Do I really need to argue to someone with supposedly classical metaphysics that speaking the truth because it is true is a good thing?

You do when the truth you're claiming is 'you're wasting your time speaking the truth to these people, because they won't listen to you, so why bother'.

In fact, just to satisfy my curiosity - you're active online, clearly. Can you show me a conversation of yourself engaging those atheists and moderns you think must be handled in a different way? Let's see how you handle it.

Edward Feser said...

Andy3 writes:

Simple question: as a proponent of old natural law theory, do you believe you can make moral arguments successfully with your atheist contemporaries without forcing them to acknowledge a supernatural source of value? If yes, there is the problem, because it don't work. If no, there is no disagreemnt. So answer that and everything will be clear.

Well, you’re implicitly running together different things here. What do you mean by “supernatural”? As I noted in my earlier pieces on Hart, Hart seems in his articles on natural law to conflate “presupposing a supernatural source” and “presupposing classical metaphysical categories.” These are not the same thing. Nor does even “appealing to God” entail “supernatural,” since we can have some knowledge of God via natural theology. “Supernatural” in this context entails, specifically, appeal to some special divine revelation, knowledge of God that would not even in principle be available via natural theology.

But with those distinctions in place, what I would say , briefly, is this. (I’ve addressed the question at length elsewhere, in various posts on this blog and in the ethics chapter of my book on Aquinas.)

First, if the question is: Can you make a successful moral argument at all without an essentialist and teleological metaphysics of a classical sort? I would answer: No way. Hart is absolutely right about that. But all “old natural law” theorists already know that. We hardly needed Hart to tell us.

Second, can you make a successful moral argument without appealing to God? Well, yes and no. Yes insofar as, once the classical essentialist and teleological metaphysics is in place, you can to some extent derive moral conclusions just from the study of human nature, understood in light of that metaphysics. And you could do that even if you didn’t affirm God’s existence, since you can know human teleological features just by studying human nature in light of classical essentialism.
But No, insofar as teleology itself, though it has a proximate ground in the natures of things, has its ultimate ground in the divine intellect’s directing things towards their ends (for the reasons Aquinas gives in the Fifth Way). And also because the obligatory force of the moral law, though it has a proximate ground in the will’s inherent directedness toward the good, has its ultimate ground in God’s will qua lawgiver. So, a complete account of the nature and content of our obligations under natural law requires bringing God into the picture. (Again, I explain all this in the Aquinas book.)

Third, does that get us to a “supernatural” source? No, because the knowledge of God required here is the sort we can get via arguments in natural theology and does not depend on special revelation.

(continued below)

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

So, fourth, is natural law reasoning possible if one’s interlocutor is an atheist? It depends. If said atheist is committed to a modern, anti-essentialist and anti-teleological conception of nature, then No, of course not (contra “new natural law”). But if said atheist is willing to acknowledge teleology immanent to nature -- even if he wants to resist explaining that teleology in terms of a divine directing intelligence -- then yes, to some extent natural law reasoning would be possible. (Nor are such atheists merely a theoretical possibility. Thomas Nagel flirts with the idea of immanent teleology without God, as does Monty Ransome Johnson in his book on Aristotelian teleology, as does Daniel Fincke, whose views I’ve discussed here on the blog.) And of course, if such an atheist is willing to hear out the arguments for classical natural theology, then a deeper conversion -- to the whole “old natural law” package, which includes natural theology as well as essentialist and teleological metaphysics -- would be possible. Though of course in that case he’d have to give up his atheism.

But this has nothing to do with the “supernatural” in the sense of an appeal to special divine revelation of a Christian sort. And that’s precisely why it’s natural law we’re talking about here.

Of course, you will no doubt dismiss this as “two-tier Thomism” etc. But (a) flinging such epithets has zero value as an actual argument, and (b) whether or not “two-tier Thomism” is correct is completely irrelevant to the specific question about whether Hart conflates “new” and “old” natural law.

The rest of the stuff you say in these recent comments simply begs the question against what I’ve said elsewhere. I’ve demonstrated in the earlier articles that Hart’s statements, when they are all considered instead of cherry-picked, are by no means as straightforward as you claim. Neutral readers can either accept Andy3’s unsupported assertions here, or go back and look at the actual chapter-and-verse quotes from Hart I set out in those earlier articles.

Greg said...

@ Andy3

But otherwise it was nice and clear: it was just, in the modern world, if you concede the modern categories that the new law theorists concede, you won't get the results you want, because, hey, they'll go on being modern and just say, "OK, let's just change the definition of x." (Babies, marriage, whatever).

Here is Hart's original article. Could you quote where he actually argues this?

Setting aside that issue, I think I am starting to see what sort of interpretation you are proposing. In the second paragraph, he announces that he will be handling new natural law. When he goes on to speak about "classical natural law theory," he is not talking about the same thing; he is contrasting new natural law theory, the content of which he never states, with the classical form.

Well, maybe one could say that he is characterizing new natural law when he says this: "What I have in mind is a style of thought whose proponents (names are not important) believe that compelling moral truths can be deduced from a scrupulous contemplation of the principles of cosmic and human nature, quite apart from special revelation, and within the context of the modern conceptual world." But new natural lawyers deny that moral truths (or first principles of practical reason, on which moral truths are founded) are (or could be) "deduced" from any philosophy of nature.

Likewise, on this reading, I suppose he would be commenting on new natural law here:

But insuperable problems arise when - in part out of a commendable desire to speak to secular society in ways it can understand, in part out of some tacit quasi-Kantian notion that moral philosophy must yield clear and universally binding imperatives - the natural law theorist insists that the moral meaning of nature should be perfectly evident to any properly reasoning mind, regardless of religious belief or cultural formation.

But then I know of no new natural lawyer who would say that their conclusions are based on a "moral meaning of nature."

Then there's the question of why he raises the is-ought gap as an issue to new natural lawyers, who often explicitly endorse the is-ought gap. They do claim (contra Hume) that the is-ought gap does not imply that one can only arrive at hypothetical imperatives; but Hart, on this reading, ignores their position on the issue.

...

Greg said...

...

Consider a couple more selections:

In abstraction from specific religious or metaphysical traditions, there really is very little that natural law theory can meaningfully say about the relative worthiness of the employments of the will. ...

The truth is that we cannot talk intelligibly about natural law if we have not all first agreed upon what nature is and accepted in advance that there really is a necessary bond between what is and what should be.

It seems like Hart assumes that old and new natural lawyers agree on almost everything besides how receptive the modern world is to natural law. To talk about "natural law theory" as something essentially committed to cosmic order and final causes is already to beg the question against the new natural lawyer. New natural lawyers aren't trying to defend old natural law in the public square; they deny that 'natural' in 'natural law' pertains to "the idea of nature as a realm shaped by final causes, oriented in their totality toward a single transcendent moral Good." (You can find explicit denials by, i.e., Finnis and George of that; Finnis has even said that the term 'natural law' is unfortunate.) If Hart is critiquing new natural law, then he is critiquing it without using any of its phraseology; he is in fact adopting (something like) the terminology of old natural law and assuming that it should map onto new natural law in a way that all reasonable minds will understand. Or am I totally off base here?

Maybe Hart had not read any of the major new natural lawyers and had only read Hittenger's critique of them. (For what it's worth, though I am far more sympathetic to old natural law, I don't think Hittenger's book leaves much of a dent in new natural law. It raises some issues where the early new natural lawyers were inconsistent, i.e. on the 'basic good' of religion. But I think it's anything but a death blow.)

Anonymous said...

@Ed wrote:

Third, does that get us to a “supernatural” source? No, because the knowledge of God required here is the sort we can get via arguments in natural theology and does not depend on special revelation.

Verging off topic, can you (either here, or via pointing at one of your books) give any canonical examples of knowledge of God the reaching of which requires more than natural theology? It seems that one can quite easily believe in a Thomistic God using only reason (and the observation of motion etc). But can one be a Christian with only natural theology? A Catholic?

Tim Finlay said...

Anonymous said...
Verging off topic, can you (either here, or via pointing at one of your books) give any canonical examples of knowledge of God the reaching of which requires more than natural theology? It seems that one can quite easily believe in a Thomistic God using only reason (and the observation of motion etc). But can one be a Christian with only natural theology? A Catholic?

One example would be "God brought Israel out of the land of Egypt." That truth is only known by specially revealed theology. One cannot be a Christian with only natural theology, but many of the foundational tenets of Christianity are part of special revelation, not natural theology.

ANdy3 said...

Greg,

All right, I'll give up after this. Robbie George does talk about natural law as deducing principles from nature, and he is a new natural law theorist. What he means by nature is not what the classical theorist might mean, but don't say he doesn't use that language. But Hart might be influenced by Hittinger's critique more than he should be. As for the is-ought thing, he said it's formally correct to say what Hume says, which it is. If you think about nature in a certain way, you can't bridge the gap, and if you try to make your arguments appealing to modern practical reason (as Robbie George does) then the gap stays in place.

Ed,

Last try: you are using the word "supernatural" in a way Hart doesn't. It's not a misunderstanding on his part; he just thinks you're wrong and he said why. The same with the word "revelation," and the word "nature." The thing you missed, and that he did explicitly say, was that he was making bigger claims about the power of reason than you were. When he denied that natural reason has its limits in nature and then must be supplemented by revelation, he meant that rational spirit is always already in the supernatural sphere and can reason its way all the way to God (though, admittedly, it takes more than just philosophical argument to do this, and so he treats all the other things he mentioned, like aesthetics, as modes of one unified movement of rational appetite). This is just pure Blondel and Ratzinger and Bulgakov, so it's not exotic or strange. Where he would disagree with you, clearly, is that natural teleology will yield any moral conclusions at all before the reason assents to the inevitable reality of God. Then you can start the arguments about the difference between creation and fallen creation, and the difference between natural and gnomic will, or maybe affectio commodi and affectio iustitiae.

To be continued...

Andy3 said...

Anyway, as I say, I'm done, because of something someone sent me a little while ago. I paste it below. It's not complimentary to you, but given the tone of the post these comments are attached to that's not a surprise. But I apologize in advance.

"I don’t know why you’re bothering with this. Yeah, I read DBH’s Column #2 and that Feser-guy’s reply, and obviously Feser was all out at sea. But DBH probably was hoping for that anyway, given how much he likes provoking people. What you’ve got here, basically, is what I’d call a “philosophy of religion type of Thomist” trying to make sense of a “philosophical theology continental type of idealist/phenomenologist.” Feser is thinking in terms of neat categories of nature/ supernature, nature/ grace, natural reason/ revelation, while DBH (like you and me and most Catholic and Orthodox intellectuals in our circle) thinks those are all the oppositions that have to be torn down. So of course they’re talking past each other. Hart is in the same arena with all those Russian Orthodox guys, like Bulgakov and Evdokimov, and with de Lubac, Blondel, Danielou, Rahner, Balthasar, Lonergan, Ratzinger, Przywara, Ratzinger, Brague, Spaemann, and all those phenomenologists. That’s just not the kind of philosophy Feser does, and Feser obviously isn’t going to know all the theological debates of the 20th century on these things. So Feser will think DBH is being needlessly fancy and obscure and artsy and unrigorous, and DBH will think Feser is an unrigorous, crude, simplistic, unreflective hack (I would guess).
Of course the “rhetoric rather than reason” stuff is garbage, just a petulant tantrum, embarrassing to read and disgraceful to write, and watching Feser quote a bunch of titles of things he hasn’t read reminds me of J. Coyne attacking DBH’s book without reading it. When it comes to difference of style between these two, let’s be honest, the real gap is a big difference in culture. And you know what I mean by that. You know DBH, and it’s pretty clear that Feser and he come from two completely different cultural worlds."

But I'm done. Hart doesn't need me talking for him. And his book sales make his point of view pretty evident to a lot of people, I suppose.

John West said...

Feser is thinking in terms of neat categories of nature/ supernature, nature/ grace, natural reason/ revelation, while DBH (like you and me and most Catholic and Orthodox intellectuals in our circle) thinks those are all the oppositions that have to be torn down [...] DBH will think Feser is an unrigorous, crude, simplistic, unreflective hack (I would guess).

Wait. In what way can purposefully not drawing distinctions be rigorous?

John West said...

Unless Hart also claims he isn't rigorous, but just doesn't think Ed is either, I guess.

The original Mr. X said...

Thursday:

However, we disagree on how people got those metaphysical assumptions, and whether or not you can change their metaphysical assumptions through argument. I would say that people, even intellectuals, weren't argued into their current modernist metaphysical assumptions, and they aren't going to be argued out of them.

Not necessarily. Sure, somebody who's emotionally attached to their metaphysical beliefs -- say, because they want to do so-and-so without feeling guilty, and so have a vested interest in excluding any sort of morality from the sphere of objective reality -- can be very hard, if not outright impossible, to reason with. But, I think that most people probably just absorb their metaphysical views from the wider culture without really thinking about it, or even realising what's happening. Such people are often more open to reason, especially once you show them that the philosophical commitments they had taken as self-evident are in fact highly contestable and historically contingent.

Anonymous said...

@Tim Finlay said:

One cannot be a Christian with only natural theology, but many of the foundational tenets of Christianity are part of special revelation, not natural theology.

Did you mean to say exactly that? The phrasing makes it sound like you meant either:

One can be a Christian with only natural theology, but many of the foundational tenets of Christianity are part of special revelation, not natural theology.

or

One cannot be a Christian with only natural theology, since many of the foundational tenets of Christianity are part of special revelation, not natural theology.

Edward Feser said...

Andy3,

Yikes. Seriously, you do Hart no credit, and I imagine he would agree. (Shorter Andy: "In closing, let me quote some further bitchy remarks some other anonymous guy I know made about you. Also, Hart sells a lot of books. So there.")

Pretty cringe-making. Can't imagine Hart himself reading such stuff and not thinking "Oh jeez, Andy, just shut up already."

Finally, "So-and-so does not agree with X" doesn't entail "So-and-so doesn't understand X" or "So-and-so has not read X." I know that's a standard obscurantisme terroriste move, but it's fallacious all the same.

Greg said...

@ Andy3

Robbie George does talk about natural law as deducing principles from nature, and he is a new natural law theorist.

No, on new natural law, the first principles of natural law (i.e. those stating that the 'basic goods' are worth pursuing) and the first principles of morality are not deduced from anything. That is a point George is absolutely emphatic about in In Defense of Natural Law. There is probably no greater disagreement between NNL and ONL than on this point.

What he means by nature is not what the classical theorist might mean, but don't say he doesn't use that language.

I wish I had a copy of his book on hand. But: Yes, he speaks of 'nature' sometimes. He is generally clear about what he means, and what he means is not what Hart takes him to mean.

As for the is-ought thing, he said it's formally correct to say what Hume says, which it is. If you think about nature in a certain way, you can't bridge the gap, and if you try to make your arguments appealing to modern practical reason (as Robbie George does) then the gap stays in place.

What I'm saying is that the new natural lawyers embrace this point (well, the one in the first sentence); you will find George defending the is-ought gap in his book. The first principles on NNL are underived; they are not conclusions of arguments with 'is' premises.

For that matter, if the is-ought gap is taken to be a point about syllogistic derivation, then you can find old natural lawyers agreeing with it too. The first principles of natural law are underived according to ONL as well; they (I have Steven Jensen in mind here) just argue that the first principles depend epistemically on philosophy of nature in another way.

(I don't think it's really fair to say that NNL makes arguments appealing to "modern practical reason," whatever that is. If that's meant to be the sort of desire-belief action theory that is predominant among most analytics, then it's simply false that NNL relies on it.)

Edward Feser said...

Oh, and this:

When it comes to difference of style between these two, let’s be honest, the real gap is a big difference in culture. And you know what I mean by that.

In other words, as I put it in the OP: "He just hasn’t got the character or education to see all the Grandness."

Keep on making my points for me, fellas, and I can retire early!

Jeremy Taylor said...

Thursday writes,


This is a straw man version of my (and presumably Hart's) position. We're not saying that any natural lawyers (new or old) are quite that naive about the power of philosophical argument. But we are saying that they are still being way too optimistic about its power.

But what is your point? At the moment it looks very vague and ill-supported. What role do you actually see for reason and philosophy? How do you think society tends to change its moral and spiritual beliefs? And do you think that philosophy and reasoned argument will not have some role to play in these social beliefs? You seem to be implying an either/or perspective, as if perceptions of the rational quality of a position will not effect its general acceptance, especially in the modern world.

Thursday said...

But, I think that most people probably just absorb their metaphysical views from the wider culture without really thinking about it, or even realising what's happening

We are formed by our practices, and the practices of a technological society will inevitably emphasize efficient and material causes. You're basically going up against the entirety of the way we do things now.

Edward Feser said...

A final point. Andy3 says:

you are using the word "supernatural" in a way Hart doesn't. It's not a misunderstanding on his part; he just thinks you're wrong and he said why. The same with the word "revelation," and the word "nature." The thing you missed, and that he did explicitly say, was that he was making bigger claims about the power of reason than you were. When he denied that natural reason has its limits in nature and then must be supplemented by revelation, he meant that rational spirit is always already in the supernatural sphere

Well, what I said is that he speaks in a way that seems to blur the distinction between the supernatural, on the one hand, and classical metaphysics and its view of nature and natural theology on the other. And when you say that "natural reason has its limits in nature and then must be supplemented by revelation, he meant that rational spirit is always already in the supernatural sphere," what is that except an expression of exactly the sort of thing I was talking about?

Furthermore, you approvingly quote your email buddy as saying:

Feser is thinking in terms of neat categories of nature/ supernature, nature/ grace, natural reason/ revelation, while DBH (like you and me and most Catholic and Orthodox intellectuals in our circle) thinks those are all the oppositions that have to be torn down.

In other words, if this is right, then you, Hart, and Mr. Anonymous here all think we should blur exactly the distinction I say that Hart seems to blur.

So, how exactly did I miss what Hart was saying?

See, this is why I say you guys are all over the place. One moment you seem to be saying "How dare you say that Hart claims X! He obviously doesn't!" The next moment it's "How dare you disagree with Hart when he says X! X is obviously true!" So which is it?

AlanD said...

John West,
Hart draws different distinctions, doesn't he? And is criticizing distinctions he thinks incorrectly drawn. Why don't you actually look at what he does say.
Feser is hilarious. He writes a column just basically attacking Hart's style and the titles of his works (Doors of the Sea? Why would a theologian use a scriptural quote for a title, even if it exactly fits the book? Veil of the Sublime? WHy would a book about aesthetics, in a chapter about postmodern analytics of the sublime, quote a postmodern phrase by Jean-Luc Nancy about the sublime? Beauty of the Infinite? Why would he call his book by a title that exactly describes its theme? How f-ing pretentious!). Why does he do this? Because he's angry that he gets roughed up by Hart in a way he's accustomed to roughing other people up, and Hart is funnier? Can't tell. But, JC Almighty, this whole column is just a pointless exercise in abuse, bitching about...nothing...just the guy in general. And why exactly are we supposed to pretend that he isn't behaving like a barbarian when he is? There is literally no reason for this column except that Eddy got dissed. Aww.
What a great philosopher. What a credit to Thomism. What a master of Photoshop.

Skyliner said...

There is (I think) a genuine divergence between the philosophical backgrounds and assumptions of Feser and Hart, but I think it would be more promising to see the manner in which they might prove their respective points of view to be mutually enriching. Hart is not an irrational fideist, and Feser is not a Thomistic fundamentalist. Both are first-rate intellects who are passionate about speaking to contemporary culture in order to awaken it to the truth, goodness and beauty of the Gospel. Both are also eminently readable, which renders them uniquely suited to this task.

Can't we do better? I have learned from, admire, and at times disagree with both. In both cases, however, the engagement has proven fruitful--from each of them, I have gained new insights into truth, and new tools for apprehending and defending it. Concord and new insights are an open possibility; so too is the previous manner of exchange. Assuming that the former is to be preferred and is a good worth pursuing, how do we get there? I mean, seriously, this is Feser and Hart we're talking about. Both of them have proven effective in leading unbelievers towards the truth, and both of them have fortified the faith of believers who struggle with doubts, questions, and uncertainties. They are both brilliant lights in contemporary Christian intellectual culture, and my sense is that it is highly unlikely that the aspects of truth upon which their respective points of view are based prove to be, in the end, irreconcilable. We are all human and imperfect, and all of us stand to benefit by gaining new insights and disabusing ourselves of misconceptions (as Newman stated, for those of us here below, to be perfect is to have changed often). And, I think that both Feser and Hart have much to provide by way of insight and correction.

Is this the best we can do?

DB Hart said...

Alan, Andy,
Thanks for sending me this link, but please stop. If you want to argue about Natural Law theories, do so, but please stop defending my honor. I appreciate the sentiment, but I prefer to make my own arguments and my own jokes in my own time, and in print (because I like getting paid for what I write). If it simply becomes a matter of trading insults, and not very witty ones, then no one looks good, and God knows I want to look good. Really, I do not care about this right now and you should not either. What does it matter if Feser and I do not think each other very rigorous in argument? Whom does that really inconvenience?
I wish everyone well, and in future I will write titles without any metaphors in them. All right? Go Orioles. Pray for me.
DB Hart

DB Hart said...

By the way, I thought Feser's book on philosophy of mind a very good introduction to the topic, and one that actually gets right how important the problem of intentionality is. When I was writing a bibliographical essay for my last book, I almost despaired of finding such a text, and so I owe him some thanks for having produced one. I do not like his style of writing any better than he likes mine, but I genuinely liked that book. And I liked his remarks on Anthony Kenny's Aquinas book in his intro to Thomas, but he could have been more aggressive. Kenny's Fregean take on Thomas's ontology is just silly.

Anonymous said...

Is this the best we can do?

What's the problem? Hart has provoked so burning a passion for the love of Christ in his admirers that we're seeing the fruits of his labors right in this combox. Isn't this the best endorsement of his approach to God we could hope to see?

Granted, it's hard to tell the difference between them and the worse specimens of New Atheism that have shown up here. But no doubt this behavior's justification is made evident to the true disciples of Hart's wisdom.

E.Seigner said...

DB Hart,

(because I like getting paid for what I write)

I must work better on my hunches.

Scott said...

Verging off topic, can you…give any canonical examples of knowledge of God the reaching of which requires more than natural theology? It seems that one can quite easily believe in a Thomistic God using only reason (and the observation of motion etc). But can one be a Christian with only natural theology? A Catholic?

I suppose the standard (though far from the only) examples would be the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement. Aquinas, at least, didn't think these (or any other parts of sacred doctrine) can be known via natural reason alone, though once they're revealed, natural reason can be used to argue that they aren't contradictory or repugnant to reason.

A less significant example, again according to Aquinas, is the creation ex nihilo of the natural universe and its having a beginning in time. Aquinas saw nothing contradictory in the universe's having always existed, but thought that we know via revelation that it isn't the case.

John West said...

AlanD,

Hart draws different distinctions, doesn't he? And is criticizing distinctions he thinks incorrectly drawn. Why don't you actually look at what he does say.

Does he?

I considered that, but the jibe at "neat categories" in the section of the comment I quoted

Feser is thinking in terms of neat categories of nature/ supernature, nature/ grace, natural reason/ revelation, while DBH (like you and me and most Catholic and Orthodox intellectuals in our circle) thinks those are all the oppositions that have to be torn down [...] DBH will think Feser is an unrigorous, crude, simplistic, unreflective hack (I would guess).

suggests he rejects any distinction, since "neat categories" is what we create when we draw distinctions. So I ribbed the anonymous sender for it.

Edward Feser said...

Hello and welcome Prof. Hart,

Thank you for your comment, and for its graciousness considering the heat of our dispute.

As you may know, we have a lot of readers in common, and for good reason. We probably agree about more than we disagree about, so that the differences can stand out more than the agreement. But the agreement is real. And among the things we can agree about are the general excellence of your work. That I also think you are gravely wrong about a couple of things -- such as natural law -- doesn't change that. And I thank you for the kind words you make about my book Philosophy of Mind in The Experience of God.

Anyway, since I've poked a little fun at your metaphors, feel free to poke a little fun at my admittedly quite ridiculous Photoshopped comic book panels, or any other stylistic quirks of mine of your choice.

I am very sorry to hear about your health problems, and you have my prayers, not only for that reason, but also for the continued success of your work. And like you, I could always use prayers as well.

Best,
Ed Feser

Thursday said...

Agree with Hart. Locke was solid, Last Superstition excellent in parts, Aquinas very good all the way through, but the little Philosophy of Mind book was simply brilliant.

Edward Feser said...

Re: Kenny on Aquinas, what I say about that in Scholastic Metaphysics is a lot more thorough, though maybe not more aggressive. The style of that book may not be to your taste either, but only because it's mostly sawdust-Thomist dry. I save the pop culture and snarky stuff for the blog (well, and for The Last Superstition.)

John West said...

Scott wrote: I suppose the standard (though far from the only) examples would be the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement. Aquinas, at least, didn't think these (or any other parts of sacred doctrine) can be known via natural reason alone, though once they're revealed, natural reason can be used to argue that they aren't contradictory or repugnant to reason.

On the subject of whether natural reason can establish the Trinity, Plotinus's argument is also worth reading (see also parts 2, and 3).

DB Hart said...

Thanks. All in the family, after all. I
My health these days does limit my reading, so I did not know that you had published a new book on scholastic thought. I will read it. The Kenny book annoyed me greatly, and even if you are not more aggressive about it in the newer book, I hope you linger over it a bit. He is a great scholar and usually very sharp on the details, but you simply cannot judge a philosopher at all, whether he is a scholastic or a German idealist or a poststructuralist, if you are not willing to understand him within the terms and categories he uses, and in the context of his thought and that of his contemporaries. To state the obvious. The Swiss theologian Martin Bieler wrote a lovely riposte to Kenny some time ago, but I cannot remember where.
I will not look in again right away, so I will say that the philosophy of mind book is one that I intend to use with students in future if I get a chance. Every little royalty helps, after all.
And thanks for kicking Coyne in the shins. Someone sent me that. I was going to write a satire of his "critique" of my book, but that was just when I was falling ill.

Skyliner said...

To Anonymous,

On my take, the problem is that we indeed can do better. To insult other people is fun, but not productive. We can learn from and grow in humility through others, come to a deeper understanding of truth by virtue of the criticisms of others, and grow in Christ by means of our (at times, difficult, for us) engagement of others. Lots of good things can happen by means of engaging other peoples' points of view; lots of bad things can happen, too. My point is simply that the good is possible, and that we should strive for it. It is so easy to let things get in its way; we don't have to let them. Even if, in the end, one's interlocutor seems to to be an obstinate idiot, one should remain civil and strive to force oneself to be motivated by charity so as not to prove a stumbling block to their potential grasp of that aspect of truth which one has, and they don't . . . at least not yet.

All this in light of the fact that, here, specifically, we are talking about two of the brightest lights in contemporary Christian intellectual culture--people who, in their respective ways, speak to people in such a way as powerfully to motivate their assent to the truth of the Gospel. Neither of these guys are idiots, and a whole lot of good stands to come from a more charitable exchange of ideas between them and their fans.

Skyliner said...

Good heavens. Prayers aloft, Dr. Hart--in abundance. And, though I'm an adamant Giants fan, I'll make it a point to root for the Orioles going forward (so long, of course, as they aren't playing the Giants).

Best in Christ, and, do keep your head up!

Crude said...

Well, this is an unexpectedly pleasant development.

Tim Finlay said...

Anonymous,
Yes I made a typo. I meant that one cannot be a Christian on only natural theology BECAUSE (not but) "many of the foundational tenets of Christianity are part of special revelation, not natural theology."
I am delighted at the fine and gracious exchange between Hart and Feser at the end--that really makes me smile.

Edward Feser said...

Hi Tim!

The original Mr. X said...

@ Thursday:

We are formed by our practices, and the practices of a technological society will inevitably emphasize efficient and material causes.

Why's that?

young and rested said...


“…we should not mistake every pronouncement made in an authoritative tone of voice for an established truth. Regarding the ultimate nature of reality, at least, neither the general consensus of a culture nor the special consensus of a credentialed class should be trusted too readily, especially if it cannot justify itself except by reference to its own unexamined presuppositions. So much of what we imagine to be the testimony of reason or the clear and unequivocal evidence of our senses is really only an interpretive reflex, determined by mental habits impressed in us by an intellectual and cultural history. Even our notion of what might constitute a “rational” or “realistic” view of things is largely a product not of a dispassionate attention to facts, but of an ideological legacy. To some extent, something of the sort is true of most of our larger convictions about the world. If we examine the premises underlying our beliefs and reasoning honestly and indefatigably enough, we will find that our deepest principles often consist of nothing more – but nothing less – than a certain way of seeing things, an original inclination of the mind toward reality from a certain perspective. And philosophy is of little use here in helping us to sort out the valid preconceptions from the invalid, as every form of philosophical thought is itself dependent upon a set of irreducible and unprovable assumptions. This is a sobering and uncomfortable thought, but also a very useful reminder of the limits of argument, and of the degree to which our most cherished certitudes are inseparable from our own private experiences.”

Can someone please explain to me what they see as being wrong about this quote (the bold is what Prof. Feser quotes)? I must admit that this seems to me almost obviously true. I don’t know of anyone who would argue that we don’t ultimately rest all of our philosophy on certain unprovable assumptions. Would anyone say that our own private experiences do not influence our base-level assumptions about reality?

I guess I’m just kinda confused as to what counts as fideism. Is it fideistic to assert that we need to make assumptions? I would say that we need to make assumptions and that to some degree or another divine revelation is needed here (whether that is scripture, conscience or whatever), but from there philosophical argumentation is our only proper way forwards. Is Prof. Feser arguing that that “first principles” can be uncovered using entirely rational means without assuming anything? If so, then I really need some clarification on what is meant by “first principles”.

Maybe I’m just not following some of this dispute correctly. Is Hart being criticized for saying that our experiences influence our assumptions and that all philosophy requires “irreducible and unprovable assumptions” or is the issue that he uses this to argue that philosophy is useless in persuading people?

Sorry if I’m not adding anything here or just showing my ignorance, but I’d appreciate it if someone could offer a few comments for me.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Coyne, has anyone happened to read his very recent book, Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible? I hear it's quite good.

young and rested said...

I finally read the last comments on this page and I'm glad to see a good measure of civility. I haven't read a ton of either Feser or Hart, but I always thought that they were more or less rowing in the same direction. Looking at the recent disputes made me wonder if they were enemies of some sort. It's encouraging to see it acknowledged that neither one thinks the other to be an idiot and that the vast areas of agreement are recognized.

I do wish that in-house disputes could be handled with more brotherly love and less snark, but I suppose that wouldn't be as entertaining and fun (priorities...)

In any event, I'll remember to pray for Prof. Hart in the coming days. He has been a major influence in my life just through The Experience of God, which helped pull me from the clutches of a Fundamentalism induced depression. For that I am grateful; regardless of where my intellectual sympathies ultimately end up.

agellius said...

Wow. Such great writing.

Scott said...

@young and rested:

I do wish that in-house disputes could be handled with more brotherly love and less snark[.]

My opinion doesn't carry any sort of authority here, but it doesn't seem to me that snark necessarily implies lack of brotherly love, or even disrespect. At any rate I've certainly never had the impression that Ed disrespects or dislikes Hart, and the disagreements on both sides have stuck to the subject at hand as far as I can recall. That's just what I'd expect from brotherly love. Such love surely doesn't, after all, rule out well-meaning rebukes; if anything, it enjoins them, no?

I'm sorry to learn that Hart has been ill and I wish him the best. From our lips to God's ears, as they say.

Anonymous said...

I hear it's quite good.

lol

John West said...

It's important to draw a distinction between conflict and violence or animosity, between enemies and rivals.

John West said...

Though that should probably be the other way around:

It's important to draw a distinction between conflict and violence or animosity, between [rivals] and [enemies].

young and rested,

Is Prof. Feser arguing that that “first principles” can be uncovered using entirely rational means without assuming anything? If so, then I really need some clarification on what is meant by “first principles”

Yes, basically. If there were assumptions more basic than first principles, then they would not be first principles.

But this is too brief a response. When I have a chance, I'll reply in lengthier detail.

John West said...

Even better, between opponents and enemies.

young and rested said...

@John West

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but I'm gathering that "first principles" are essentially akin to axioms in mathematics. At least that's what it sounds like when you say that "if there were assumptions more basic than first principles, then they would not be first principles".

If that is correct, then first principles are in fact assumptions, right? Thus, by definition they cannot be proven. We can provide reasons for believing them to be true, but in some fundamental sense they can never be rigorously proved. For example, it cannot be proven that there exists an infinite set, but we assume it in mathematics because of its usefulness in terms of calculation and conceptual clarity (among other things). We can use rational methods to rule out many potential axioms, but we can never say that we've proved such-and-such set of axioms.


Thanks for your feedback.

Scott said...

@young and rested:

I know you were asking John West, but I have a mathematical background too so I'm butting in.

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but I'm gathering that "first principles" are essentially akin to axioms in mathematics.

Well, you are wrong here, so as per your request, I'm correcting you. ;-) In mathematics, an axiom can be any sort of postulate, logical or otherwise; it needn't be a proposition whose falsehood would make reason impossible, and it needn't be self-evidently true. In epistemology, an axiom is self-evidently true and reasoning couldn't proceed without it.

If that is correct, then first principles are in fact assumptions, right? Thus, by definition they cannot be proven.

Well, it isn't correct, but never mind that now; assumption is also not equivalent to proposition that cannot be proven. That one and only one line can be drawn parallel to a given line through a point not on that line (Euclid's fifth postulate) is not foundational to reasoning and might be (and in non-Euclidean geometries is) false without making reason itself impossible; with respect to any piece of mathematical reasoning, it could be called an "assumption," and it's possible to reason without relying on that "assumption" (as in Riemannian and Lobachevskian geometries).

The Principle of Noncontradiction (PNC) is different. It can't be proven either, but that's because without it, the entire concept of "proof" simply fails to make sense and collapses.

We can use rational methods to rule out many potential axioms, but we can never say that we've proved such-and-such set of axioms.

This is true, strictly speaking, but that doesn't in any way suggest that first principles like the PNC are in any way arbitrary or open to our choice. Although the PNC can't be "proven" in the strict sense (because, short of begging the question, we can't assume that its truth precludes its falsehood), but it's possible to argue (by "retorsion") that any attempt to refute it, or even to reason without it, nevertheless relies on it as a principle.

Scott said...

(Delete "but" from the final sentence of my previous post.)

Glenn said...

young and rested,

“…we should not mistake every pronouncement made in an authoritative tone of voice for an established truth. Regarding the ultimate nature of reality, at least, neither the general consensus of a culture nor the special consensus of a credentialed class should be trusted too readily, especially if it cannot justify itself except by reference to its own unexamined presuppositions. So much of what we imagine to be the testimony of reason or the clear and unequivocal evidence of our senses is really only an interpretive reflex, determined by mental habits impressed in us by an intellectual and cultural history. Even our notion of what might constitute a “rational” or “realistic” view of things is largely a product not of a dispassionate attention to facts, but of an ideological legacy. To some extent, something of the sort is true of most of our larger convictions about the world. If we examine the premises underlying our beliefs and reasoning honestly and indefatigably enough, we will find that our deepest principles often consist of nothing more – but nothing less – than a certain way of seeing things, an original inclination of the mind toward reality from a certain perspective. And philosophy is of little use here in helping us to sort out the valid preconceptions from the invalid, as every form of philosophical thought is itself dependent upon a set of irreducible and unprovable assumptions. This is a sobering and uncomfortable thought, but also a very useful reminder of the limits of argument, and of the degree to which our most cherished certitudes are inseparable from our own private experiences.”

Can someone please explain to me what they see as being wrong about this quote...?


I'll mention three things I find interesting about the comment (which isn't necessarily to say I find these things to be wrong about it):

(cont)

Glenn said...

1. “…we should not mistake every pronouncement made in an authoritative tone of voice for an established truth.

This sounds like a corollary of a statement by a famous logician made in a work of fiction. While the actual statement came out of the mouth, so to speak, of the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, the words of that statement themselves were put in his mouth by the famous logician. What statement might that be? In his The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, Raymond Smullyan had Mr. Holmes say, "Conviction, no matter how firm, is not always a guarantee of truth."

(It so happens that Mr. Holmes uttered that statement with seeming conviction, so one might rightly wonder whether 'twould be wise to take Mr. Holmes as having -- at the behest of Mr. Smullyan -- given utterance to a statement of truth. One might also wonder whether the logician’s statement and the theologian's corollary might constitute: a) an interesting coincidence; b) a case of a theologian borrowing from a logician; c) a case of a logician anticipating a theologian; or, d) something else.)

2. Even our notion of what might constitute a “rational” or “realistic” view of things is largely a product not of a dispassionate attention to facts, but of an ideological legacy. To some extent, something of the sort is true of most of our larger convictions about the world. If we examine the premises underlying our beliefs and reasoning honestly and indefatigably enough, we will find that our deepest principles often consist of nothing more – but nothing less – than a certain way of seeing things, an original inclination of the mind toward reality from a certain perspective.

This has a 'subliminal advertising' look and feel about it, in that it seems to be suggesting that "an original inclination of the mind toward reality" comes from "an ideological legacy".

Also, if an inclination of the mind toward reality is from an "ideological legacy", or just a "certain perspective", then that inclination, if original, certainly is not original vis-a-vis the mind itself.

3. If we examine the premises underlying our beliefs and reasoning honestly and indefatigably enough, we will find that our deepest principles often consist of nothing more – but nothing less – than a certain way of seeing things, an original inclination of the mind toward reality from a certain perspective.

It is hardly surprising that one always begins from, with or at one or another starting point. Surely this cannot be news (at least not of the hot-off-the-press type).

Glenn said...

(Obviously, s/b "...about the quote...")

John West said...

Young and rested,

I draw a distinction between whether we know what is true and what is true. If the law of non-contradiction (LNC), the law of the excluded middle (LEM), and the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) are truths about reality, then they are true completely apart from whether we can know they are true. So, even if it were possible for you to be influenced by your culture such that you did not come to know these first principles (and, as I began to indicate above, I'm not sure this is realistic for the first principles), it doesn't matter insofar as whether those first principles do in fact hold—the old distinction between epistemology and metaphysics. So this idea that we're just sort of talking about "systems" such that we're swapping between loose fictions that's popular among some doesn't check out.

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but I'm gathering that "first principles" are essentially akin to axioms in mathematics. At least that's what it sounds like when you say that "if there were assumptions more basic than first principles, then they would not be first principles".

If that is correct, then first principles are in fact assumptions, right?


Well, what I was trying to avoid was suggesting that we don't have reasons for axioms. For example, if the LNC is not true, then it can be both true and untrue at once. In addition, it allows that you can be a human, a hippopotamus, and a giraffe at the same time, in the same respect. So, we have good reason to hold that the LNC is true.

In contrast, assumptions are often looser and have other connotations we ought to avoid when talking of axioms. Too often, when people talk of axioms they talk of them as if they are somehow brute fact-like, somehow strange, reasonless imaginings. I've been waging a private war against this misconception at every opportunity.

So, axioms can't be proven, but properly they also aren't assumptions. “Assumption” has connotations “axiom” lack; also, we have reasons for axioms.

Scott wrote: That one and only one line can be drawn parallel to a given line through a point not on that line (Euclid's fifth postulate) is not foundational to reasoning and might be (and in non-Euclidean geometries is) false without making reason itself impossible; with respect to any piece of mathematical reasoning, it could be called an "assumption," and it's possible to reason without relying on that "assumption" (as in Riemannian and Lobachevskian geometries).

Well, also, for people worried about the possible limited reliability of geometric intuitions, we can point to the arithmetical foundations of analysis instead, which are much less controversial.

I know you were asking John West, but I have a mathematical background too so I'm butting in.

I never mind people butting in.

Alan L. said...

@Anonymous: Anything/Everything Coyne writes violates his own basic principles re: the non-existence of free will.

Skyliner said...

Just wanted to throw this in regarding the line of inquiry recently opened up by Young and Rested. It comes from Dietrich von Hildebrand's _Ethics_ (102f.) in a context in which he's arguing for the objectivity and irreducibility of value (a hobby horse of mine):

"Thus the modern concept of an axiom, denoting something arbitrarily presumed or at best a mere hypothesis, has replaced the self-evident as a starting point. Forgotten is the fact that the power which a proof or any argument has in making something intelligible, is ultimately rooted in the possibility of linking a proposition with other propositions either self-evident or firmly established through self-evident principles. If self-evidence were really not the climax of all intelligibility and the ultimate source of all absolute certitude, then all proof would be deprived of its intelligibility [. . .] Once we have grasped that the self-evident possesses an intelligibility higher than any explanation ex causis, and that the entire intelligibility and guaranteeing power of a proof is based on the intelligibility of the self-evident, that equation collapses which identifies intelligibility with being proved by arguments or reasons. To continue asking for proofs when faced with something evident, to continue asking why it is so, is not the sign of thirst for a deeper intelligibility but, on the contrary, the sign of incapacity to understand the nature of evidence as well as the nature of intelligibility. It is an intellectual obstinacy which begins by confusing a certain type of intellectual procedure with intelligibility as such, and ends by being blind to the source of all intelligibility."

Or, to paraphrase Aristotle, the person who says it is okay to beat his parents doesn't need argument; rather, he needs correction.

John West said...

I think part of what happens when a lot of people talk about "systems" (not Young, he's just inquiring) that include these axioms, is that they're tacitly presuming fictionalism about all such "systems"*. The word “system” can be used in a realist context, but that's usually not such people are using it. You also see it in turns of phrase like “We posit it because it's useful.”—a useful fiction. It seems to be in the air with some groups of people right now; though, it seems, not so much people working in the relevant fields.

Incidentally, excepting only the LNC and possibly the LEM, I think we do have arguments for all the other first principles including the PSR. So not only are these eminently self-evident, we have arguments for them too. I'm not sure we need the arguments, but we have them.

Glenn said...

Skyliner,

Unless I'm very much mistaken -- and I don't think I am (at least not very much so -- von Hildebrand concludes the preface to his _Ethics_ as follows:

o May this work, by means of a philosophical analysis appealing to reason, clear the path and be helpful for finding "the True Light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world."

Just sayin'.

;)

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

Hey, Glenn,

Yes, that is how his preface ends. Furthermore, I myself would endorse every word of it. Hildebrand, however, held to a very high view of affectivity and regarded it as ingredient the the rational apprehension of reality and the individual's engagement of reality. His most focussed treatment of this matter is to be found in his _The Heart: On Human and Divine Affectivity_. But, if you have _Ethics_, just see ch. 17.

A concatenation of citations from _The Heart_ arranged by J. Crosby can be found here:

http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/a-philosopher-with-heart

And, again, I want to reiterate that in arguing for the cognitive significance of affectivity, I'm not trying to say that it "trumps" reason. I don't see the two as competetively inter-related; rather, I see affectivity, when properly functioning, as ingredient to reason, with the object of the latter being understood as "that which is." I don't, in other words, subscribe to the notion that reason tells us what is the case, and that affect/emotion merely tells us *how we feel about it.* I don't regard (all instances of) affectivity as mere subjective add-ons to what is otherwise to be regarded as an objective and disinterested cognitive stock-taking of reality. On my view, affect/emotion can be a bearer of cognitive content in its own right, and is ingredient to rationality.

Yes, affectivity can go wrong. There is a significant sense in which reason should hold the reigns. But, reason (when understood in what I would argue is an impoverished sense) can also go wrong--I'm sure you're familiar with Chesterton's chapter, "The Maniac." (As to why I think "reason" is here understood in an impoverished sense: he claims that the maniac's problem is that, in his case, "reason" is "operating in the void"--but, this seems to assume a merely mechanical conception of reason [i.e., "reason" = "the application of the laws of logic"], as though reason needed *something else* in order to be rational. I think that we would both agree, however, that reason is the organon by which the fullness of reality is apprehended by the human mind, and that, if it was rightly used in all of its fullness, it *couldn't* operate "in a void," for there is nothing outside of its scope. I'm not claiming, by the way, that Chesterton himself subscribed to an impoverished conception of reason--I myself regard him as one of the sanest intellects of the 20th century, and I think he saw his rationalist interlocuturs as the one's with a defective understanding of "reason.")

The literature on emotion in contemporary philosophy is enormous; if you'd like, I can provide a selected bibliography in a later post. For my own part, I find an especial degree of affinity with the positions of Nicholas Lombardo (whose summary of Aquinas emphasizes the teleological nature of emotion), Robert C. Roberts (who, within the context of a virtue ethics position, defines emotions as "concern-based construals," with the genuinely virtuous person being the one who construes and feels rightly), and Mark R. Wynn (who, amongst other things, argues that there are certain dimensions of reality that cannot be known apart from emotion).

At any rate, do let me know if you're interested in the contemporary literature.

Skyliner said...

To clarify:

I realize that I have been guilty of equivocation in the previous post. At times, I seem to be arguing that affectivity, when rightly understood, is ingredient to reason, when rightly understood. But, then, I go on to claim that "reason should hold the reigns," as though the two were wholly distinct.

I should have put 'reason' in this and similar passages in scare quotes, so as to denote *an aspect* of rationality, abstracting its affective component, which (it seems to me) is usually seen as comprising *the whole* of its reality--viz., its capacity to discern the entailments of propositions. Why, in this sense, should "reason" "hold the reigns?" Because, so often, our emotional responses to things gets them wrong. We absolutely *need* that aspect of reason which is a disinterested and objective sovereignty over, arrangement of, and inference from premises. But, in its fullest sense, I would argue that reason includes affectivity (when properly functioning). "Every person is to be regarded as an end in themselves, and never as a mere means." Yes, absolutely. Let's accept that as a foundational premise. But, what is the *conceptual content* of my notion of the "preciousness" of human beings? The feeling-toned way in which, at times in my experience, I have been *floored* by that preciousness. When, e.g., I look at my adorably chubby three year-old daughter--with her cheeks so full as though it looks like she has a plumb in each side of her mouth--and everything inside me exults and says, "yes, it is good that such is the case, I rejoice in its presence, and dedicate myself to its reality and flourishing." I think that, in such cases, we *just are* apprehending the objective value of the thing in question--when affectivity is properly functioning, it constitutes the means whereby we apprehend a primal datum which constitutes a premise from which arguments are to be derived.

By the way, that Hildebrand thought that the significance of affectivity had been largely unappreciated can be found (e.g.) in _Ethics_, 203ff.

Glenn said...

Skyliner,

From Chapter 17 of von Hildebrand's 1953 Ethics:

"Thus we can state: All responses necessarily presuppose cognitive acts; they are essentially based on cognitive acts. This fundamental truth has been expressed in the scholastic philosophy thus: Nihil volitum misi cogitatum (Nothing is willed unless it be thought). Volitum is here the general term for all responses, cogitatio the general term for cognitive acts."

He goes on to say that there are three different basic responses: theoretical, volitional and affective.

If all responses necessarily presuppose cognitve acts, i.e., if all responses are essentially based on cogntive acts, and one type of response is the affective response, then the affective response necessarily presupposes, and is esssentially based on, one or more cognitive acts. And if the affective response necessarily presupposes, and is essentially based on, one or more cognitive acts, then... well, fill in the blank: _____________________________.

By the way, [...] Hildebrand thought that the significance of affectivity had been largely unappreciated[.]

Fine.

Acknowledge the truth, then go on to make a point (about, say, the affective response having been, or being, un(der)appreciated).

If instead the truth is denied or distorted in order to make a point (about, say, the value of the affective response), the point may fall on deaf ears, and someone's credibility may be weakened.

No big deal.

Anonymous said...

Scott,

Thanks for the PDF link to Christian Ethics. All I had was a text file littered with a gazillion scan errors. For example, one instance of what the context clearly indicates should be 'moment' is -- drawing on an inexact memory here -- something like 'x1f$^ent'.

Scott said...

Thanks for the PDF link to Christian Ethics.

You're welcome. Just as you were posting, I was deleting my own post as off-topic and irrelevant, but here's the link again in case anyone else wants it.

Glenn said...

Scott,

Yes, that Anonymous was me.

(And your original post was far from being off-topic or irrelevant. I won't go into details, but will say that your antennae hadn't twitch without good reason.)

Skyliner said...

Glenn,

Again, I do not place the cognitive and affectivity in opposition; rather, I see the latter as a mode of the former, and as ingredient to reason in its fullest sense.

What, after all, is wrong with that? Do I seem to be implying something along the lines of, "If it feels good, then do it?" Or, "it must be that way, since you feel it?"

Yes, it is true that Hildebrand's formulations at times seem to imply an "add-on" theory of affect; at other times, however, they move beyond it, and it is undeniable that he regarded affectivity as absolutely ingredient to rationality and the human spirit's fulfilled engagement of reality.

To your point, however, by "cognitive acts" he seems to mean something like "intellectual dispositions towards reality under a given aspect" (theoretical: x is the case; volitional: may x be the case; affective: the x-ness of that which is the case merits assent/disapproval). E.g., I see my daughter's bright blue eyes and radiant smile, and the result in my consciousness is a joyful affirmation of that which I perceive. I see my seven year old son playing hoops in the parking lot and trying to be the next Steph Curry, and I rejoice and endorse his striving for excellence. In these cases, I am responding to the value of realities which I perceive; the perception of the value in question is apprehended via the feeling-toned way in which it is perceived. That feeling-toned perception, I would argue, is the sort of primordial datum that Hildebrand argued is the genuine point of departure for genuine inference. (Recall the examples he constantly calls to mind as instances in illustration of the primordial datum of rational inference: the law of non-contradiction, moral value, the dignity of human lives.)

Go on a few pages--"We have seen before that all responses presuppose as their basis a cognitive act. But the value response presupposes not only knowledge of the object to which it is directed, but also awareness of its value." In what way can "knowledge of the object" be distinguished from "awareness of its value?" He clearly assumes that such a mis-step is possible; but, he also clearly affirms the objective reality of value. What manner of cognitive defect is involved in the case of the lack of "awareness of value"? The ancient Roman has a "knowledge of" his two-day old daughter, but nevertheless deems her an inconvenience which merits extinction (sees her yawn, grasp after his finger, and perhaps even sees her smile; even so, tosses her). Did he have an "awareness of [her] value?" Had he cognitively apprehended it?

In other words, I think you might be assuming that the words like 'cognitive' necessarily imply some sort of opposition to affectivity. I don't. I think that affect, when properly functioning, is ingredient to reason, when understood in its fullness. I really don't see why all this should prove so problematic. Does reason necessarily become degenerate if affectivity is not so bad a thing as we had supposed? But, as I've said before, I'm often wrong. Please do help me to understand things more fully and accurately.

Arthur said...

'Principles—like the PSR and the Causal Principle—are all necessarily true.'

I've gotten into debates before with people who don't think that the PSR or causality are necessary and consider them to be merely 'rules of thumb'. They asked me how I know those principles apply outside the universe or apply to whatever specific problem.

Now, personally, I think that's a hopelessly paranoid approach to using those principles. You might as well ask 'The Sun has always risen every day before, but how do *really* know it'll rise tomorrow specifically?'

I'm less interested here in convincing myself and more about convincing others. What can you say to someone who doubts the necessity of these principles?

young and rested said...

@Scott & @John West

Thanks for helping to clarify things for me. Let me try one more time at putting some things in my own words to see if I'm getting it.

First principles are those ideas whose denial would amount to the abandonment of reason. They are similar in some ways to axioms in mathematics though fundamentally different in that they operate in every logical system as opposed to merely being a defining element in a specific system. While it is true to say that they are "unprovable", this is essentially a trivial point because without them, the terms proof or prove are vacuous.

Again, please correct me if I'm wrong, but assuming the preceding paragraph is accurate I have a few more questions.


Would it be fair to say that first principles don't really inform us of much on their own? I guess what I mean by this is that in order to get anywhere in philosophy don't we still need a specimen to examine under the microscope of logic and reason; whose nature may not be self-evident or discernable by purely analytical means?

At present, it seems indisputable to me that somewhere along the chain from first principles to grand conclusions about God, reality, truth and such; that there must be a link that is either purely or partially composed of something unprovable and non-self-evident (an object of faith perhaps).

What I think I'm stuck on at present is the denial of Hart's claim that there is always some "surd of the irrational" in our philosophy. Maybe I'm misunderstanding that phrase, but I took it to mean that there's always something we don't know, maybe even that we cannot know, but we use it anyways. I'm skeptical of the idea that reason alone is sufficient, but I'm unclear about how to define a position between fideism and rationalism without simply taking pieces of both an mashing them awkwardly together.

Thanks again for the help everyone.

Scott said...

@young and rested:

Would it be fair to say that first principles don't really inform us of much on their own?

I'd say yes, in the sense that knowing that e.g. according to the PNC the same surface can't be both red and green all over doesn't tell us which (if either) it is. Generally, we reason in accordance with such principles, not from them; the PNC doesn't ordinarily appear as a premise in our arguments and we don't derive conclusions from it.

That doesn't, however, support the claim that there's always a "surd of the irrational" in anything, if that claim means that reality itself contains an unintelligible element. (I don't know whether that's what Hart means by it or not.) The PNC is a law of being and not just a law of thought; if it weren't the former, it couldn't be the latter. And that does mean that all of being is in principle intelligible at least in the minimal sense that it's not contradictory, even though it doesn't mean that we ourselves are intellectually capable of understanding it, still less that we can derive all truths about it from a handful of axioms.

Scott said...

@young and rested:

At present, it seems indisputable to me that somewhere along the chain from first principles to grand conclusions about God, reality, truth and such; that there must be a link that is either purely or partially composed of something unprovable and non-self-evident (an object of faith perhaps).

Well, I certainly think this is eminently disputable; as a matter of fact I also think, more strongly, that it's false.

But (e.g.) the cosmological argument doesn't begin with self-evident first principles and nothing else and go on to demonstrate the existence of God by deriving it from those principles; it begins with the (empirical, if you like, but that word no longer means what it used to mean) facts that change occurs, that some things are caused by other things, that some things exist only contingently, and so forth. Those facts are not objects of faith, but you could, if you insist, call them "unprovable"; they're pretty obvious to anyone who has had even a single moment of conscious experience (and in that sense might be said to be "self-evident"), but they're not derived from first principles.

So if we read your statement along those lines, then I think there is a sense in which it's true (though still not indisputable)—just probably not the sense you intended.

young and rested said...

@Scott

Thanks again. I guess that perhaps what seems indisputable is kind of what you said when you wrote:

"And that does mean that all of being is in principle intelligible at least in the minimal sense that it's not contradictory, even though it doesn't mean that we ourselves are intellectually capable of understanding it, still less that we can derive all truths about it from a handful of axioms"

When I wrote that some things are "unprovable and non-self-evident" in our chain of reasoning, what I meant was that they are not that way to US. e.g. that we can't prove them in a universally compelling way and that not everyone sees them as self-evident. Otherwise, I don't see how there could ever be a dispute over any of it.

You'll have to forgive me for my lack of rigor in formulating my ideas, since I don't have any training here. I think that what I'm trying to say may be closer to what you're saying than it came across as (leaving open the possibilty that I'm simply misunderstanding everything). I think I'm on board with the notion that everything is intelligible at least in principle, but I'm not optimistic about us being able to prove every claim we make about God, reality, truth in such a way that they can only be denied on pain of irrationality.

I'm a tad confused at the moment about what sort of role faith or revelation are supposed to play here. Maybe that's the whole point of all this natural law/natural theology stuff though...that many 'religious' claims need not be accepted on faith.

young and rested said...

@Scott @John West

Was my post 2 above this one reflective of a better understanding of first principles at least?

Sorry if i'm being a pain, but I really do want to gain some understanding.

young and rested said...

As a side note, I think I'll stop using words like "indisputable" for a while. That should keep me from embarassing myself.

I've never said anything indisputable in my entire life (there's a good self-refuting statement for you...)

Skyliner said...

Hey, Young and Rested (and, my apologies in advance if I'm intruding into a conversation in which I'm not particularly welcome),

I think that you've grasped Hart's main point correctly, and that you are right in affirming that there is a very real sense in which he indeed has a point. But, I also sympathize with Scott's (and others') point that Hart's formulation is problematic.

Hart is right that, for reason to get going, certain things simply have to be taken for granted--things which themselves cannot be proven by recourse to the application of the laws of logic to data of experience *that are more obviously true than themselves*. E.g., how do I *prove* that I existed one second ago without having popped into existence at the present moment with an inbuilt and false memory? By pointing out that I *remember* what I did yesterday? But, the validity of memory is itself what is here being called into question. By appealing in some way to reason? But, every act of reason (here, understood as inference) requires at least two moments and the application of memory. But, again, the reality of the past and the reliability of the deliverances of memory are here precisely the types of things being called into question.

Every argument which doesn't employ a non-sequitur is circular. The better argument, I think, is the one with the wider circumference--the one that has the capacity to comprehend the greatest number of data that we affirm with an ultimate intensity of conviction. We can't "get behind" the primordial data upon which our acts of reasoning are based. But, before throwing them (the primordial data) into question, it would perhaps be more rational to ask why we need to.

I think that Hart's point, although obvious in certain respects, really does prove momentous in others (e.g., with regard to our ethical sensibilities--if, that is, it really is the case that some things really are right and other things really are wrong and people ardently disagree, who's to say who is right?). That said, I think his point would have been expressed more felicitously and effectively had avoided reference to "a surd of the irrational." Yes, some people perceive things more adequately than others and therefore have more solid premises upon which to base their arguments. But, the fact that some things aren't *proven by* the application of the laws of logic to the data of experience (for their obviousness only becomes transparent in *a different and more direct way*) doesn't thereby render them "irrational." So long as "reason" includes "genuine perception" and we indeed *can* come to perceive things more adequately, one isn't necessarily in every case a fideist, and the circle in which one argues need not be a vicious one.

Scott said...

@young and rested:

Just a quick reply on one point as I'll be busy shortly.

I'm a tad confused at the moment about what sort of role faith or revelation are supposed to play here. Maybe that's the whole point of all this natural law/natural theology stuff though...that many 'religious' claims need not be accepted on faith.

Yep, that's pretty much the point. The official teaching of the Catholic Church is that certain doctrines specific to Christianity, like the Trinity and the Incarnation, can be known only through faith, but that (e.g.) the existence of God can be rationally demonstrated to and by natural reason alone. That may not be how most people in fact come to the knowledge that there is a God, but if it weren't possible even in principle, faith would be logically foundationless.

So if you count the existence of the God of classical theism as a "religious" claim, then it's a religious claim that need not be (though it can be and often is) accepted on faith.

Vasco Gama said...

“The existence of God can be rationally demonstrated to and by natural reason alone”

That is correct, but that demonstration is grounded on a certain perception of reality (it requires the acceptance of some metaphysical principles), if someone denies principles (such as PSR for instance, or denies free will, or… (as just doesn’t like the world we live in, as Thomas Nagel).

I think that if was the case that the failure to believe in God would be irrational, humans wouldn’t be free, as we are.

John West said...

Arthur,

I've gotten into debates before with people who don't think that the PSR or causality are necessary and consider them to be merely 'rules of thumb'. They asked me how I know those principles apply outside the universe or apply to whatever specific problem.

One problem is that they are assuming the PSR is inductively reasoned: “Everything of which we know has an explanation; hence, probably, everything that exists has an explanation.” But the PSR isn't a piece of inductive reasoning. The PSR is a deductive principle—a universal generalization (ie. crudely, “(∀x)(if x exists, x has an explanation of its existence)”), and so if the PSR holds, it holds in every instance.

Now, personally, I think that's a hopelessly paranoid approach to using those principles. You might as well ask 'The Sun has always risen every day before, but how do *really* know it'll rise tomorrow specifically?'

Right. But this is another example of slipping into inductive reasoning. The whole notion of reasoning from universal generalizations—from Principles—is foreign to a lot of people now. We're used to it in mathematics, but even there it's typically ignored in the standard curriculum until university. They don't teach logic in most schools, either.

John West said...

I'm less interested here in convincing myself and more about convincing others. What can you say to someone who doubts the necessity of these principles?

I'm going to assume the skepticism doesn't extend to the LNC (in which case it could both hold and not hold outside the universe). So already we have some things that hold inside the universe and some that do not.

On the matter of specific instances, denying the PSR entails radical skepticism about perception. If the PSR is false, there may be no reason whatsoever for our having the perceptual experiences we have. There may not even be a connection between our perceptual experiences and the external objects we suppose cause those experiences. Moreover, since objective probabilities are grounded in the objective tendencies of things, if the PSR is false we don't even have grounds for claiming that such a radical disconnect between perceptions and external reality is improbable. So if the PSR is false, we have no justification for trusting the evidence of our sensory perception—even for very simple perceptions.

But the empirical sciences are grounded in the evidence of our sensory perception. Hence, if the PSR is false, we can have no justification for trusting the empirical sciences.

In Scholastic Metaphysics, Ed takes this line of reasoning even further to point out that rejecting the PSR undermines the possibility of any rational inquiry.

I think this line of reasoning can be extended to outside the universe too. If the PSR were false, it would literally cripple fields in cosmology where people seek to learn how the universe began. Could you imagine walking into a conference of such people and telling them many of the objects of their study are not even in principle intelligible? Not just possibly not-comprehensible to limited human minds, but in principle unintelligible? They would either laugh you out of the room, or have you dragged out.

At bottom, what the PSR says is that reality is rational. It is irrational to suppose reality to be irrational. Hence, it is irrational to deny the PSR.


[1] I would also point out that what the atheist hopes to claim is that if we don't know anything outside the universe, then the outside of the universe is in principle unintelligible. But even if they were right about the antecedent of that conditional (see below why not), we don't really have any reason for this believing that the consequent follows from it. Insofar as we can tell, reality behaves exactly as you would expect it to if the PSR were true, and so right from the start, it's not enough for the PSR defender to just wave their arms and assert. They have all their work ahead of them.

Scott said...

@Vasco Gama:

I think that if was the case that the failure to believe in God would be irrational, humans wouldn’t be free, as we are.

Do you also think that if it was the case that the failure to believe that 2 + 2 = 4 would be irrational, humans wouldn't be free?

John West said...

"see below why not" should probably read "see [above] why not".

There is a lot more to be said here. Unfortunately, I'm short on time right now. So I'll only add that if you find it difficult to argue positively for the PSR, you might try reflecting on or arguing against brute facts—against facts that are not even in principle intelligible—instead. They're very objectionable things, these brute facts.

If no brute facts exist, then the PSR holds.

John West said...

Sorry: "So already we have some things that hold inside the universe and some that do not." should read "So already we have some things that hold both inside and 'outside' the universe." I changed the sentence part way, and forgot to clean up the other half.
.

Glenn said...

Skyliner,

I have only now taken the time to read the concatenation of citations from von Hilderbrand's The Heart to which you had earlier linked. Having done this, I will now readily acknowledge that I have been viewing your comments through a particular lens -- a lens according to which, as von Hilderbrand put it, "The entire affective area...has been seen in the light of bodily feelings, emotional states or passions in the strict sense of the term." (I have left out, i.e., replaced with an ellipsis, "and even the heart" for the reason that to say the same thing of my view of the heart would be to mischaracterize my view of it.)

That said, if one accepts that there is, in addition to the two 'spiritual centers' of intellect and will, a third 'spiritual center' of the heart, then, and just as there seems to be good reason to be cautious in claiming that the intellect or reason is ostensibly a function of the will, there seems to be good reason to be cautious in claiming that the intellect or reason is ostensibly a function of the heart.

As I have seen quoted from The Heart,

If, for example, a man who wants to ascertain a fact does not consult his intellect, but instead claims that his heart tells him what the fact is, he has opened the door to all kinds of illusions.

In such a case, instead of letting his intellect decide whether a deed is morally wrong, he relies on his "feeling guilty" or "feeling not guilty." He supposes the affective experience of feeling to be a univocal criterion for an objective fact. This is a key point for a spiritual person to be aware of when dealing with difficult moral issues. Am I letting my heart take the place of my intellect or indeed vice versa?


And as is included amongst the concatenated citations:

An affective experience which is not justified by reality has no validity for the truly affective man [my emphasis]. As soon as such a man realizes that his joy, his happiness, his enthusiasm, or his sorrow is based on an illusion, the experience collapses. Thus what matters primarily is not the question, "Do we feel happiness?" but rather, "Is the objective situation such that we have reason to be happy?"

If intellect or reason were ostensibly a function of the heart, then it would be the first question, rather than the second question, which would be primary to the matter.

Glenn said...

(I initially had emphasized 'truly' in 'truly affective', but then removed the emphasis while failing to also removing the bracketed noted.)

young and rested said...

@Skyliner @Scott

Many thanks to the both of you. To be frank, my head is still spinning a bit but I think this is a good thing. I'm trying to shake out some misconceptions and learn how to think all over again. As I've mentioned in prior threads, I'm a recovering fundamentalist kid in need of a few kicks in the head. As such, I have an unfortunate habit of making confident sounding pronouncements on topics of which my knowledge is more illusory than substantial. Thanks for helping me out.

Skyliner said...

Hey Glenn,

Actually, I myself would endorse your reservations, depending on how one carves out the intellect. When I made the notorious claim in a previous post that "emotion sets reason in motion," alls I basically meant was that we deliberately choose to reason about those things which we deem worthy of such--that which is salient, interesting, curious, etc. I would include such under the heading of affectivity (with 'affectivity' understood loosely in terms of "mentation that obtains in a feeling-toned way": as such, this definition would include moods [which typically lack an object], bodily emotions [such as pain, lust, fear, etc.] and intellectual emotions [love, delighting in the good as such, being indignant at injustice as such, etc.]). Furthermore, I believe it to be the case that, in some instances, it is via affectivity that we *just are perceiving* certain aspects of reality (Hildebrand seems to imply something like this at times, but, at others, he sees affectivity as a response to a cognition of reality that has already been accomplished)--a disputable and counterintuitive claim, I know.

But, if (as I take it your position assumes) things like curiosity, fascination, regarding as salient and worthy of further attention, etc., belong to reason not affect, and reason is distinct from rather than includes affect, then I'm with you. Keep reason in the driver's seat.

I'll let you have the last word. Thanks for the charitable and insightful exchange. Perhaps if Ed writes on emotion and its relationship to reason in the future, I'll return and try to flesh out my own position more fully. For now, however, I give you the last word.

John West said...

Oh, and I do plan to see if there is anything I can add in reply to your earlier comment to me when I have a moment, Young and rested.

John West said...

Pah. Another huge typo from my earlier post: [1] I would also point out that what the atheist hopes to claim is that if we don't know anything outside the universe, then the outside of the universe is in principle unintelligible. But even if they were right about the antecedent of that conditional (see below why not), we don't really have any reason for believing that the consequent follows from it. Insofar as we can tell, reality behaves exactly as you would expect it to if the PSR were true, and so right from the start, it's not enough for the PSR [opponent] to just wave their arms and assert. They have all their work ahead of them.

Skyliner said...

Hey, Young and Rested,

Just wanted to let you know that, for my part, I've found all of your posts extremely intelligent and well-presented (in addition to exemplifying civility).

Btw, Chesterton's _Orthodoxy_ is always nice if one feels that the world just isn't making sense anymore.

Vasco Gama said...

Scott,

«Do you also think that if it was the case that the failure to believe that 2 + 2 = 4 would be irrational, humans wouldn't be free?»

I don’t understand what you are trying to say. What has freedom have to do with “2+2=4”, there is no freedom to deny that “2+2=4”. It is not a matter of belief. The denial of “2+2=4” could only be due to irrationality, excluding the possibility of ignorance (which is not relevant for the case).

young and rested said...

@Skyliner

Thanks again. I read Chesterton's Orthodoxy once before and found it insightful in many ways. Maybe I'll dust it off again.

Scott said...

@Vasco Gama:

I don’t understand what you are trying to say.

I'm asking a question in order to clarify your meaning. You said that, in your view, if failure to believe in God were irrational, humans wouldn't be free. You're claiming, in other words, that the rational demonstrability of some propositions would impede our freedom in some way. I'm trying to find out how generally you think that principle applies.

Not very generally, it seems:

What has freedom have to do with “2+2=4”, there is no freedom to deny that “2+2=4”. It is not a matter of belief. The denial of “2+2=4” could only be due to irrationality, excluding the possibility of ignorance (which is not relevant for the case).

So why is belief that God exists different? If the fact of God's existence is rationally demonstrable, then according to what you've just said, denying it is irrational, and "freedom" has nothing to do with it.

You're pretty clearly not claiming that rational demonstrability poses a general threat to "freedom." So why would the irrationality of denying God's existence do so? Assuming, that is, that God's existence is rationally demonstrable, why would the irrationality of denying that proposition pose a threat to "freedom" not similarly posed by the irrationality of denying such other rationally demonstrable propositions as "2 + 2 = 4"?

John West said...

Young and rested,

To be frank, my head is still spinning a bit but I think this is a good thing. I'm trying to shake out some misconceptions and learn how to think all over again.

In the same way we use a yardstick to measure a stalk of wheat or a length of rope, we use logic to measure the quality of an idea. And so, you may find an introductory logic text helpful. It helps, when trying to sort through ideas, to have the tools to measure them.

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