Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stupid rhetorical tricks


In honor of David Letterman’s final show tonight, let’s look at a variation on his famous “Stupid pet tricks” routine.  It involves people rather animals, but lots of Pavlovian frenzied salivating.  I speak of David Bentley Hart’s latest contribution, in the June/July issue of First Things, to our dispute about whether there will be animals in Heaven.  The article consists of Hart (a) flinging epithets like “manualist Thomism” and “Baroque neoscholasticism” so as to rile up whatever readers there are who might be riled up by such epithets, while (b) ignoring the substance of my arguments.  Pretty sad.  I reply at Public Discourse.
 
Previous installments of my various exchanges with Hart can be found here.

223 comments:

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Thursday said...

A couple of years ago, for example, he wrote a critique of natural law theory entirely predicated on a failure to distinguish between the “new natural law theory” of John Finnis and Robert P. George and the “old natural law theory” of Russell Hittinger and Ralph McInerny.

Stop repeating this. Neither you nor anybody else has shown that Hart has done this. You've simply assumed it.

Hart's actual argument is that some things simply have to be seen and asserted, much like the aesthetic superiority of Dante over Nicki Minaj cannot be proven through argument, but can only be seen and asserted.

That argument may be right or wrong, or inappropriate when applied to the existence of final causes. But it pretty clearly takes aim right at Neo-Scholasticism.

Thursday said...

I should also note that Hart's position cannot be simply accused of fideism, just as asserting the aesthetic superiority of Dante over Minaj is not based on blind faith, but on perception.

Brandon said...

Stop repeating this. Neither you nor anybody else has shown that Hart has done this. You've simply assumed it.

It is simply false to say that he's simply assumed it; whether or not you agree with it, the argument was developed over at least three posts; Ed argued that when Hart was criticizing natural law he used concepts from both classical and natural law as if they were the same theory, pointing out his specific reasons for thinking so.

Carl said...

Edward, you take it for granted that the idea of God literally having eyes, eyelids, nostrils and lungs is absurd. Why?

Thursday said...

pointing out his specific reasons for thinking so

I read those posts. Those posts made a hell of a lot of unwarranted assumptions about what Hart was saying. Feser simply has not characterized Hart's position with any degree of accuracy.

Hart's not blameless here, as he refuses to clarify anything. But then Feser has not made much effort to give a fair summary of what Hart has been saying. So, Hart's dismissiveness is somewhat warranted. Why engage seriously with someone who is giving you a largely tendentious reading?

Thursday said...

OK, let's put what I think are some of Hart's arguments in clearer form:

1. There are a lot of at least superficially plausible arguments against natural law ethics (including the old version).
2. Most people, indeed most somewhat educated, hell most professional philosophers are going to be satisfied with the superficial arguments against natural law ethics and not going to really think their way through the issues for themselves, unless they are already intuitively in sympathy with natural law ethics to begin with or have some other really strong motivation.
3. Most people, for reasons that have little to do with trends in philosophy, have little sympathy with natural law ethics and no other motivation to look through the arguments.

If the above are even remotely true, then making arguments for natural law ethics in the public square is pretty useless as a way of changing many people's minds, or even changing many philosopher's minds.

------------

Usual objections:

1. "Well, I changed my mind because of reading this blog/some books on traditional metaphysics etc."

Congratulations, you're a very atypical member of the human race.

Also, you may have had at least some sympathies that way before hand.

2. "I know 5 guys who also changed theiry mind reading this blog/some books."

Congratulations, they are also extremely atypical members of the human race.

Also, they may have had at least some sympathies that way before hand too.

3. "Russell/Nagel/Quine made some concessions to traditional metaphysics."

They didn't become religious believers now did they? I'd say that if you can't convince people who know the metaphysical problems with modern philosophy, good luck with Joe Schmoe who doesn't give a rats ass about anything philosophical.

Thursday said...

So, what you've got to do is move people's sympathies, so they will consider the arguments. But if you move their sympathies, you almost don't need any arguments.

And for moving people's sympathies, you might as well just tell people what you see.

Arguments, then, can at best help with mopping up operations, but they aren't going to do the major work of changing people's minds.

Edward Feser said...

Thursday,

Done with your filibuster yet? Good. Now, how about some actual substance?

In five posts now you’ve merely made sweeping assertions, without giving a single actual example of how I have (as you claim) misrepresented Hart, made ungrounded “assumptions,” etc. (By the way, I’m not the only one to accuse Hart of conflating old and new natural law -- he had a lot of other critics of his stuff on natural law. So, who should we believe -- the various critics who actually cited what Hart has said in his various articles, chapter and verse? Or the combox troll who can’t back up his assertions?)

Furthermore, you quite obviously did not read the posts of mine in question, unless by "read" you mean "skim quickly and impatiently so I can get to the combox and complain that someone’s being mean to my hero D.B. Hart." Take a look e.g. at this post, which (s my other posts on Hart do) does exactly what you say I haven't done:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/04/discerning-thoughts-and-intents-of-hart.html

As you'll see, I there examine in tedious, dispassionate, non-polemical detail -- giving many quotes from Hart himself -- Hart’s second vain attempt to clarify his position on natural law, and I show how he's absolutely all over the place. You simply cannot get a coherent view out of him. And even you complain that he hasn't clarified his views -- which implies that even you agree that there is something there that needs clarifying.

And then you claim (falsely) that I give Hart a “tendentious reading” -- but excuse Hart for giving, in his latest piece, a tendentious reading (to put it mildly) of what I said. You can’t have it both ways.

Finally, what does all this have to do with Hart’s latest diatribe or my response to it?

Hmmm, filibuster, repetitive and unsupported assertion, failure to read an opponent carefully, incoherence, failure to stick to the subject… I can see why you’re a Hart fan!

Carl said...

There are certainly biblical references that *can* be interpreted as saying that God is incorporeal, but I wouldn't say that an alternate reading is absurd.

Daniel said...

First Things wants $1.99 for Hart's article which is $1.99 too much for me.

I'm of the opinion that the so called 'manuals' present a more lucid and satisfactory account of Thomism than Maritain, Gilson and company - at least they rely far less on oversexed Gallic rhetoric and more on old fashioned arguments.

a new golden age of Catholic systematic and philosophical theology.

Taking 'philosophical theology' to mean Natural Theology I'd be interested to know what Hart means by said 'Golden Age'. Of all the individuals he mentions earlier on the only strong philosopher amongst them was Lonergan who, despite leaving a steady group of disciples, attracted relatively little mainstream. From the 'sixties onwards the main developments in Natural Theology can almost exclusively from Protestant thinkers - it was only with the emergence of Analytical Thomism that Catholics began to occupy a notable place on the scene.

Cantus said...

Hello everyone,

Sorry to intrude on your peace, but the people of Ireland are going to the polls tomorrow to decide on whether or not they should allow same-sex "marriage". Please pray for them to support and uphold Christian marriage. Thank you.

Brandon said...

I read those posts. Those posts made a hell of a lot of unwarranted assumptions about what Hart was saying. Feser simply has not characterized Hart's position with any degree of accuracy.

This is obviously irrelevant; suppose that his account of Hart is highly inaccurate. But the point at hand is not Ed's interpretation of Hart's positive position, but whether Hart properly distinguished classical and new natural law theory in his criticism of natural law theory; and it takes very little more than basic skills in argument analysis to recognize that Ed doesn't need to be getting Hart's position exactly right in order to show that in his arguments he was not making a distinction between two different approaches -- a point on which Ed in fact provided specific evidence you pretended he hadn't.

Brandon said...

If the above are even remotely true, then making arguments for natural law ethics in the public square is pretty useless as a way of changing many people's minds, or even changing many philosopher's minds.

Since it is sophists, not philosophers, who think that the value of arguments is to be measured primarily by persuasion, thus subordinating reason to the will to power, this seems to be another one of your irrelevances.

Greg said...

@ Thursday

Stop repeating this. Neither you nor anybody else has shown that Hart has done this. You've simply assumed it.

The simple litmus test for this is the one that Professor Feser basically applied. Attempt to read Hart's original pieces as a critique of just one of either of the two theories. About half of his objections don't make sense in either case.

It doesn't make sense to complain against old natural lawyers that they assume that there is a lot of conceptual overlap between Thomism and modernity. It doesn't make sense to complain against new natural lawyers that they are relying on a conception of nature that moderns don't share.

That Hart was making this mistake, and has not attempted to answer it, appears to me beyond reasonable dispute. If I am misreading and you can read him as arguing against a specific theory, I would be interested to hear which you think it is.

I don't think your reconstruction is quite faithful to Hart. For he took his point to be about the Thomist conception of nature. If he wanted to make the argument you are attempting to ascribe to him, then there would have been no reason for him to restrict his point to natural law; for there are superficially plausible objections to every ethical (or, for that matter, philosophical) theory, and as a general rule, there are no arguments in philosophy that will convince everyone. It's not clear why that's an objection to natural law of either sort.

Glenn said...

Thursday,

Of using one's noodle to think straight and permitting one's noodle to be twisted into a variety of different shapes by the (at times insidious) sway of sympathies, the latter is easier and the former more rewarding.

My guess is that the person who recently said, "The presentation of classical theism on this site was certainly offputting, until I started to think through the ideas themselves," found thinking through the ideas themselves to be somewhat arduous, but also to be rather rewarding.

That rewarding experience might make him, on one account, a very atypical member of the human race. But since, on the same account, the typical member of the human race is held in a mocus state by the sway of sympathies, becoming a very atypical member of the human race seems likely to be a very good thing.

Thursday said...

Dr. Feser,

What I have done is given is a charitable interpretation of what Hart is saying. Unfortunately, you don't seem interested in engaging with any charitable interpretation of Hart.

-----------------

I'll give one example of an uncharitable interpretation on Dr. Feser's part:

Hart explicitly disavowed speaking in his own voice when advancing Hume's Is/Ought distinction. Perhaps he should be taken at his word. If he's not advancing Is/Ought himself, but in the voice of a modern, as he says he is, then he's doing something other than saying it's actually a good argument against natural law.

What Hart is saying, as far as I can tell (clarity is an issue), is that Hume's argument is a "good enough" argument for the purposes of muddying up the water. So, a modern is going to trot out "Hume destroyed the basis for natural law by showing you can't get an ought from and is" and not stick around for the rebuttal.

Natural law arguments really do rely on some fairly subtle distinctions. Unfortunately, most moderns, including most philosophy profs, aren't going to stick around long enough to listen to those distinctions unless they already have some sympathies that way.

Thursday said...

My guess is that the person who recently said, "The presentation of classical theism on this site was certainly offputting, until I started to think through the ideas themselves," found thinking through the ideas themselves to be somewhat arduous, but also to be rather rewarding.

I freely admit to being:

a. a highly unusual individual who likes philosophy and is capable of working through the arguments.
b. someone who was already somewhat sympathetic to classical theism.

I am about the worst possible example you could have given to make your point.

Thursday said...

If I am misreading and you can read him as arguing against a specific theory, I would be interested to hear which you think it is.

I have given my interpretation of Hart here in some detail.

Edward Feser said...

Thursday writes:

Unfortunately, you don't seem interested in engaging with any charitable interpretation of Hart.

There is no way you could have read even just the post of mine that I suggested you read, much less my whole series of posts on Hart and natural law, and say that with a straight face. I there bent over backwards to consider the various explanations he has given of what he meant and I show -- unlike you, I don’t merely assert, but show based on the textual evidence -- that he persisted in saying things that were not consistent with one another.

Then Thursday writes:

I'll give one example of an uncharitable interpretation on Dr. Feser's part: Hart explicitly disavowed speaking in his own voice when advancing Hume's Is/Ought distinction. Perhaps he should be taken at his word.

First, he “explicitly disavowed” that only in the later, follow-up pieces which tried to explain his original natural law piece after his critics accused him of endorsing Hume’s view. He didn’t disavow it in the original piece itself. And the original piece itself clearly comes across as if he endorsed that distinction. So, it is disingenuous of you to accuse me of reading his original piece uncharitably, on the basis of things he only said in later pieces written in response to his critics.

Second, in the post of mine that I suggested you read, I show that even given his later, explicit denial, he still also says things even in the later pieces that seem to imply an endorsement of Hume’s thesis.

So, your attempt finally to give an actual example of how I’ve been unfair in reading Hart fails.

Now, if a writer repeatedly tries to clarify himself and even after doing so leaves not only his critics baffled but even those who sympathize with him -- and even you now have twice admitted that “clarity is an issue” with Hart! -- then it is not uncharitable to conclude that said writer is being muddleheaded. That is just following the evidence where it leads.

In fact, in light of all this, it is obviously you who are being uncharitable in your reading of what I have written. I think that what is clearly going on with some of Hart’s fans is that they can see that he seems to have tied himself in knots over the natural law issue, and rather than just admit that he has done so, they would rather blame those who point this out. And now that he’s doing it again on the animals in Heaven issue, it’s too much too bear. Hence your swooping in here with post after post flailing about with groundless accusations of unfairness.

Am I warm?

Glenn said...

Thursday,

I am about the worst possible example you could have given to make your point.

It sounds like you're insistence that you prefer the above mentioned latter over the above mentioned former.

And if You enjoy the accompanying stupid rhetorical tricks, then permit me to indulge you with a requote:

I am about the worst possible example[.]

Glenn said...

(s/b "...insisting...")

Anonymous said...

If the apoktastasis is true, there will be Thomists in heaven...and their pets...)

Thursday said...

Such moral conclusions are, he wrote, “additional” and “adventitious” to the “facts” about nature, are indeed “supernatural” -- where he speaks throughout simply of “nature” or the “natural” (not of “modernity’s understanding of nature”), which gives the impression that he thinks that the natural as such cannot give us moral conclusions, that such conclusions can only come from outside the natural as such.

Hart seems to be saying, in a unclear way, something completely non-controversial: natural law doesn't make sense without God. Even Dr. Feser (in his book Locke) has written that purposes in nature, even built-in purposes, only make sense if they are the purposes of some sort of mind.

It is completely banal if his piece was directed at the classical or “old” natural law theory, for (as I noted in my earlier replies to Hart) “old” natural law theorists are all well aware that their position works only given classical metaphysics, that they need therefore to defend classical metaphysics if they are going to derive moral conclusions from premises about nature, and that doing so in the contemporary intellectual context is a tall order.

For a moment, Dr. Feser did grasp that what Hart was saying was was completely banal. Why not just stop there?

I suspect what really sticks in Dr. Feser's craw is that Hart thinks that reason in fallen man is a really weak faculty, very easily derailed, and therefore any sort of argument that relies on the most minimally subtle distinctions is going to be all but totally useless as an evangelistic tool, perhaps even when directed at professional philosophers.

The bottom line is this: philosophy is a shitty evangelistic tool.

Thursday said...

he still also says things even in the later pieces that seem to imply an endorsement of Hume’s thesis.

"Seem" is doing an awful lot of work there.

Bottom line: you don't actually give him the charitable interpretation.

Thursday said...

he “explicitly disavowed” that only in the later, follow-up pieces which tried to explain his original natural law piece after his critics accused him of endorsing Hume’s view

OK, then get off the Hume thing.

then it is not uncharitable to conclude that said writer is being muddleheaded

Wouldn't the more charitable interpretation be that he has expressed himself poorly, but disdains to reply to you because of personal animus over what he perceives, not unreasonably, as your uncharitable interpretations of him.

Your original article went after him with a pole axe. It wasn't an "if Hart is saying this, then here's why he's wrong" type of thing.

Thursday said...

Brandon, it matters a lot what Hart was saying about Hume.

Thursday said...

Since it is sophists, not philosophers, who think that the value of arguments is to be measured primarily by persuasion, thus subordinating reason to the will to power, this seems to be another one of your irrelevances.

It really seems to offend people when I (and Hart) state the bald fact that these arguments are not actually very persuasive, as if that means I am somehow in favour of bad arguments, or that I deny the arguments for natural law are true.

Scott said...

@Thursday:

[I]t matters a lot what Hart was saying about Hume.

Then perhaps Hart should have taken the trouble to say it in the first place—which, in the follow-up piece that you apparently still haven't bothered to read, Ed explains clearly and thoroughly that he didn't.

The "charitable" interpretation of Hart is that he isn't deliberately lying in his revisionist explanation of what he originally intended to say. Ed gives him that much.

Scott said...

@Thursday:

It really seems to offend people when I (and Hart) state the bald fact that these arguments are not actually very persuasive[.]

It's genuinely amazing how much of your own "arguments" consist of speculation about other people's motives rather than engagement with substantive points.

Glenn said...

Thursday,

I suspect what really sticks in Dr. Feser's craw is that Hart thinks that reason in fallen man is a really weak faculty, very easily derailed, and therefore any sort of argument that relies on the most minimally subtle distinctions is going to be all but totally useless as an evangelistic tool, perhaps even when directed at professional philosophers.

I think it safe to say that Dr. Feser likewise recognizes that reason in fallen man is a weak faculty. Nonetheless, and for some reason apparently unfathomable to some, he takes a tack which doesn’t involve heaving Victorian sighs, throwing up his hands, and saying, "It is ineffectual, and therefore mainly useless, to seek to encourage in people the right usage and proper development of that weakened faculty. So, alas and alack, we’ll just have to hook 'em by their sensitive appetites and drag 'em along."

Thursday said...

Ed gives him that much.

It's pretty clear that a much more charitable interpretation of Hart can be given. Why not interact with the strongest possible interpretation of what he said?

------------------

Again, I suspect that the reason Hart is such a whipping boy here is that he attacks the myth that philosophical arguments are particularly effective at changing minds on moral and religious issues.

Thursday said...

Nonetheless, and for some reason apparently unfathomable to some, he takes a tack which doesn’t involve heaving Victorian sighs, throwing up his hands, and saying, "It is ineffectual, and therefore mainly useless, to seek to encourage in people the right usage and proper development of that weakened faculty. So, alas and alack, we’ll just have to hook 'em by their sensitive appetites and drag 'em along."

Now whose the one using rhetoric to cover a terrible argument?

Scott said...

@Thursday:

It's pretty clear that a much more charitable interpretation of Hart can be given. Why not interact with the strongest possible interpretation of what he said?

If by "possible interpretation" you mean to include "interpretations based on what we fancy he might (or think he should) have meant rather than on the words he actually wrote," then the question pretty much answers itself.

Or at least it does for anyone who's not more concerned with speculating about motives than with engaging actual arguments. But as if to prove my point:

Again, I suspect that the reason Hart is such a whipping boy here…

That's all I need to see. I'm calling "troll."

Thursday said...

It is ineffectual, and therefore mainly useless

Ineffectual at what? Useless for what purpose?

I deny that philosophical arguments are particularly useful for changing people's minds in any significant way on controversial issues, but that doesn't mean I think they are utterly useless in every other way. You are relying rhetorically on an ambiguity.

I do think that there are other, at least somewhat more effective methods of changing people's minds.

Edward Feser said...

Thursday writes:

"Seem" is doing an awful lot of work there. Bottom line: you don't actually give him the charitable interpretation.

See, once again you are reading what I wrote uncharitably. I used the word “seem” here only because Hart later disavowed the Humean thesis. It wasn’t “doing any work” at all at the time I originally replied to Hart’s first natural law piece. Anyone just reading that piece at the time of its publication, before the later attempts at clarification, would say, not “Well, it seems he might be endorsing the Humean thesis -- I’m not sure,” but rather “Wow, Hume is endorsing the Humean thesis.”

OK, then get off the Hume thing.

What the hell are you talking about? I’m not the one who’s “on” the “Hume thing.” You brought it up. I haven’t attributed the Humean fact/value thesis to Hart for two years, not after he explicitly disavowed it. Since that time I’ve only continued to point out that he expresses himself ambiguously and that he has relentlessly conflated old and new natural law.

You’re quite a piece of work, Thursday.

Wouldn't the more charitable interpretation be that he has expressed himself poorly, but disdains to reply to you because of personal animus over what he perceives, not unreasonably, as your uncharitable interpretations of him.

That presupposes that I really did interpret him uncharitably, which you have persistently failed to establish. So, this remark of yours just begs the question. Furthermore, by admitting that Hart “expresses himself poorly” and is motivated by “personal animus” you are only strengthening my case, not yours or Hart’s.


Your original article went after him with a pole axe.

Complete BS, as anyone can verify by going back and reading it. I was very critical of him, but in no way polemical. Indeed, in the first several pieces I wrote about him, I went out of my way to express my respect for his other work (in particular, for his book Atheist Delusions).

The thing is, as time has gone on the foibles manifest in his original piece on natural law have only gotten more pronounced as he continues to make silly and gratuitous insulting remarks about Thomism expressed in purple prose, with pompous condescension, and riddled with logical errors, misrepresentations, etc. Naturally, my responses have gotten a bit snarkier. It would be foolish for me not to get a little snarkier in the face of such repeat offenses, because snark is the just and proportionate response to that sort of stuff.

Anyway, Thursday, if you want to continue this fool’s errand of defending Hart, you’re welcome to do so, but please stop crapping up my combox with post after post after post. Kindly decrease the quantity and work on improving the quality.

Thursday said...

If by "possible interpretation" you mean to include "interpretations based on what we fancy he might (or think he should) have meant rather than on the words he actually wrote," then the question pretty much answers itself.

Scott, Dr. Feser himself admitted that a more "banal" interpretation of Hart is possible.

"It is completely banal if his piece was directed at the classical or “old” natural law theory, for (as I noted in my earlier replies to Hart) “old” natural law theorists are all well aware that their position works only given classical metaphysics, that they need therefore to defend classical metaphysics if they are going to derive moral conclusions from premises about nature, and that doing so in the contemporary intellectual context is a tall order."

All I (and Hart) would disagree with is to change "a tall order" to "all but impossible."

Edward Feser said...

Correction: Obviously, “Wow, Hume is endorsing the Humean thesis” should read “Wow, Hart is endorsing the Humean thesis.”

Edward Feser said...

One more thing, Thursday. Spare us the "Hmmm, why are you guys so critical of Hart? Could it be because..." stuff. There's no mystery about it.

Hart does not express himself clearly (by your own admission and in part by his own admission), exhibits a personal animus against Thomists (by your own admission and certainly by his own admission), attacks straw men, commits basic fallacies, ignores what his opponents actually say and engages in ad hominem attacks instead, etc.

That's why he is being criticized. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Greg said...

@ Thursday

Again, I suspect that the reason Hart is such a whipping boy here is that he attacks the myth that philosophical arguments are particularly effective at changing minds on moral and religious issues.

Who was peddling this myth, again?

Thursday said...

Dr. Feser, you yourself have advanced a much more "banal" interpretation of Hart. Why not take that as the most likely, instead of repeatedly trouncing him for other possible interpretations?

Thursday said...

It would be foolish for me not to get a little snarkier in the face of such repeat offenses, because snark is the just and proportionate response to that sort of stuff.

Given that a much more "banal" interpretation, which you yourself advanced, is plausible, why not be more charitable and get away from the pissing match?

Chad Handley said...

Have we ever clarified exactly what we mean by "Heaven" in these discussions?



Thursday said...

As far as I can see, the conflation of old and new natural law theory is only relevant to this dispute if Hart is still advancing the Is/Ought distinction. By bringing that conflation up, I naturally assumed that you were still attributing the Is/Ought distinction to Hart. Apologies, if I misinterpreted you.

But if Hart isn't advancing the Is/Ought distinction, then the difference between old and new natural law wouldn't be an issue anymore.

Glenn said...

Thursday,

>> It is ineffectual, and therefore mainly useless

> Ineffectual at what? Useless for what purpose?

> I deny that philosophical arguments are particularly useful for changing people's minds in any significant way on controversial issues, but that doesn't mean I think they are utterly useless in every other way. You are relying rhetorically on an ambiguity.

It was to a characterization of a juxtaposition of Dr. Feser and Hart that I had responded (by offering an alternative characterization).

Greg said...

@ Thursday

That interpretation is banal in the sense that it makes it difficult to understand why Hart wrote the piece. Old natural lawyers don't assert that moderns will be persuaded by natural law arguments.

As I revisit Hart's original piece, it's striking how it really is impossible to tell who he thinks he is talking to. We could assume that he is writing to old natural lawyers. But then whence this statement?

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.

We could assume that he is writing to new natural lawyers. But then in the next paragraph we have this characterization:

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.

As one reads the rest of the piece, it is like sitting on a spring. Each view sentence seems to critique one theory on points that the other rejects anyway. (New natural lawyers even accept Hume's point about 'is' and 'ought'.)

I am not sure exactly what Hart's background in ethics is, but the most charitable interpretation of his writing on this topic might be: He is vaguely familiar with the Thomism of the manuals, and is familiar with the fact that there are 'Thomists' (the new natural lawyers) who write on public policy, though he has not actually read them. He assumed that they are basically the same thing, and thought he could berate the latter for relying on the metaphysics of the former.

Greg said...

@ Thursday

But if Hart isn't advancing the Is/Ought distinction, then the difference between old and new natural law wouldn't be an issue anymore.

Sure it would be. That is hardly the only point on which new and old natural lawyers disagree. It doesn't make sense for Hart to berate old natural lawyers for suggesting that their arguments are amenable to "modern political culture." It doesn't make sense for Hart to berate new natural lawyers for relying on outmoded teleology. Set aside 'is' and 'ought'; he remains impenetrable.

Edward Feser said...

Thursday,

First of all, I fail to see how reading Hart as saying something true but banal is a serious defense of Hart.

Second, I never said that one could account for everything Hart says about natural law on the "banal" interpretation. I said that some of what he says could in isolation be read in that "banal" way, but (a) other things he says do not fit that interpretation, and (b) clearly he did not intend to be saying something banal in any case. (Do you seriously suppose otherwise? Try running that by Hart himself. "You were just making a completely obvious and banal point, right D.B.?" "Exactly. I was devoting a long article and several follow up pieces to spelling out and defending a completely obvious, simple, trivial, banal point which no one would disagree with if only he understood it." Give me a break.)

Thursday, you're grasping at straws, flailing around wildly in order to find some way, any way, of salvaging Hart's natural law stuff (which, again, is not even the subject at hand here anyway). And accusing others of intellectual dishonesty at the same time. Really, you're not helping his case.

Edward Feser said...

By bringing that conflation up, I naturally assumed that you were still attributing the Is/Ought distinction to Hart. Apologies, if I misinterpreted you.

So let me get this straight. You swoop in here in high dudgeon accusing me of all sorts of things based on what you now admit might have been a misinterpretation of what I said.

And what was it you are so mad at me about? Accusing Hart of all sorts of things based on what (you claim) is my misinterpretation of what he said.

Suffer cogntive dissonance much?

Scott said...

@Thursday:

Scott, Dr. Feser himself admitted that a more "banal" interpretation of Hart is possible.

You mean the "banal" interpretation with which Ed goes on to point out the major problems that prevent us from fully accepting it? That "banal" interpretation?

I see Ed has already replied to you while I was composing this, so I'll leave it at that. But yikes.

Thursday said...

Glenn, I think most of us can agree that Hart is quite unclear, in the first article, and in the others.

I would disagree with Dr. Feser that Hart was giving off the. He said that Hume's Is/Ought distinction was "formally correct." He didn't say it was actually correct, which really leaves one wondering what the hell Hart really meant.

Old natural lawyers don't assert that moderns will be persuaded by natural law arguments.

Could you clarify what you mean by the term modern.

If you mean "people who continue to hold modern metaphysical positions" I would agree that old natural lawyers don't think they can be persuaded.

If you mean "people in our modern age more generally" I do think old natural lawyers, or at least Dr. Feser, think that modern people, or at least some significant number of them, can be persuaded. IIRC, he has written about how important it is for classical (specifically Thomist) philosophy to be revived, and not just because it is true, but because it will help turn the culture around.

I happy to agree that most Thomist arguments are true, but I don't think those arguments will be be particularly helpful in changing hearts and minds.

Thursday said...

So let me get this straight. You swoop in here in high dudgeon accusing me of all sorts of things based on what you now admit might have been a misinterpretation of what I said.

Well, what you said doesn't make much sense unless you were still attributing the Is/Ought distinction to Hart. I assumed you were making sense.

Greg said...

@ Thursday

If you mean "people in our modern age more generally" I do think old natural lawyers, or at least Dr. Feser, think that modern people, or at least some significant number of them, can be persuaded. IIRC, he has written about how important it is for classical (specifically Thomist) philosophy to be revived, and not just because it is true, but because it will help turn the culture around.

I happy to agree that most Thomist arguments are true, but I don't think those arguments will be be particularly helpful in changing hearts and minds.


Well, as I understand it (based on, for example, Professor Feser's talk "What We Owe the New Atheists"), the revival of Thomism is more crucial within the Catholic Church. Ultimately the hope is that it contributes to turning the culture around; but I don't think the idea is that same-sex 'marriage' will be reversed if only we can get Professor Feser on CNN.

John West said...

Edward Feser, What We Owe the New Atheists

Thursday said...

You mean the "banal" interpretation with which Ed goes on to point out the major problems that prevent us from fully accepting it? That "banal" interpretation?

The major objection to the "banal" interpretation was that is was so "banal" that Hart couldn't have meant that. I mean why would he write the article in the first place.

Well, Hart's main point was orthogonal to the philosophical issues you bring up. He was emphasizing how nigh impossible it is to convince almost anyone to change their mind on a controversial issue using philosophical arguments, unless they are intuitively sympathetic to the argument. Nigh impossible is a lot stronger than the mere "tall order" that Dr. Feser concedes it is.

Both new and old natural lawyers have made claims of varying degrees of strength that their arguments can be significantly persuasive in the public square.

I (and Hart) disagree that any sort of philosophical argument can be persuasive, absent a change in intuitive sympathies which tends to render arguments superfluous.

There is nothing wrong with stating a banal position if you're going to use it as a starting point to go somewhere else.

Edward Feser said...

Thursday admits:

I think most of us can agree that Hart is quite unclear, in the first article, and in the others...

Hart... said that Hume's Is/Ought distinction was "formally correct." He didn't say it was actually correct, which really leaves one wondering what the hell Hart really meant.

What I'm left wondering is what the hell you're wasting your time and our time for, given that you admit all that. If you allow that Hart's position on natural law is still unclear even after his several attempts to clarify it, then where do you get off accusing others of interpreting him uncharitably?

The problem is obviously with Hart's own statements, not with what his critics have said in response to them. You should be complaining to him, rather than blaming the messenger.

Edward Feser said...

I (and Hart) disagree that any sort of philosophical argument can be persuasive, absent a change in intuitive sympathies which tends to render arguments superfluous.

Said by someone who's desperately trying, here in this very combox discussion, to persuade through argument people who are not intuitively sympathetic with his position.

The comedy keeps comin'.

Daniel said...

Thursday is evidently an 'Ironist' - unfortunately for us mere non-'Ironists' he's just not a very entertaining one.

Thursday said...

Hart makes a whole lot more sense when you read him as attacking the idea that any philosophical argument, whether advanced by old or new natural lawyers, can be persuasive in the public sphere absent a prior change in people's sympathies.

He is not particularly interested in comparing the relative merits (in terms of either truth or persuasiveness) of new vs. old natural law positions, because both rely on philosophical arguments, which he thinks are almost entirely useless in the public square.

Carl said...

Still no answer to my earlier comment? I'm genuinely curious about why a literal reading of eg Isaiah and Job is automatically considered "absurd".

Thursday said...

Said by someone who's desperately trying, here in this very combox discussion, to persuade through argument people who are not intuitively sympathetic with his position.

Well, people who come here are at least ostensibly interested in rigourous arguments.

But you all do kind of illustrate my point.

Thursday said...

Anyone just reading that piece at the time of its publication, before the later attempts at clarification, would say, not “Well, it seems he might be endorsing the Humean thesis -- I’m not sure,” but rather “Wow, Hart is endorsing the Humean thesis.”

is different than

Hart... said that Hume's Is/Ought distinction was "formally correct." He didn't say it was actually correct, which really leaves one wondering what the hell Hart really meant.

The former, BTW, is an uncharitable interpretation of Hart. The word "formally" tips you off that this isn't a straightforward endorsment of Hume's distinction. Unclearness is, of course, conceded.

John West said...

Carl,

On the back of arguments like the First Way and others (and de fide Church teaching, but also historically the position of most theists, and all classical theists), God is absolutely simple. If God had lips, he would have parts and therefore not be absolutely simple. Hence, if God had lips, He would be absolutely simple and not-absolutely simple (a contradiction). Hence, if God had lips, an absurdity would result.

That's the short, rough answer to your question. If you search "Divine Simplicity" in the blog's search bar, I'm sure there is an article explaining in longer detail around here somewhere. Maybe someone else will think of a specific article.

Carl said...

Hmm. Can't seem to see the search bar from my phone, but I'll look from another computer later, thanks.

Greg said...

@ Thursday

He is not particularly interested in comparing the relative merits (in terms of either truth or persuasiveness) of new vs. old natural law positions, because both rely on philosophical arguments, which he thinks are almost entirely useless in the public square.

Although, new natural law arguments about marriage have had some impact on the public square. Some of the conservative Supreme Court justice's questions in the recent oral arguments were clearly inspired by What is Marriage?. What effect those arguments will have on the outcome remains to be seen.

The argument of What is Marriage? is actually pretty metaphysically modest. At its heart is the claim that there is a dilemma: Either the 'traditional' conception of marriage is worth enshrining in law, or no conception of 'marriage' is. Social liberals, from my point of view at least, often don't comprehend the point being made, and it is interesting to watch their responses, but I am not convinced that it is impossible for the arguments to influence the public square. I think it requires (in addition to argument) the right sort of advocacy and the right audience.

And I think that drives home how Hart's equivocation obscures things. Though they write a bit about their 'one-flesh union' and 'basic goods,' the arguments of that book do not really ride on the underlying metaphysics or philosophy of nature. It's basically just a regular argument in analytic style; I am not sure they even call it 'natural law'. Perhaps the reason it has prospects in the public sphere is that social liberals may still grasp the second horn of the dilemma, that marriage as a legal institution ought to be abolished. Insofar as it relies on liberals agreeing that some form of marriage is worth legally recognizing, perhaps it supports Aquinas's point in the prelude to the Five Ways, that where some premise is shared, some productive debate may ensue.

Edward Feser said...

Carl,

If God literally had arms, legs, etc. then he'd be a material object. He would thus (as John West notes) be composite rather than simple, and would also be a mixture of actual and potential (since to be material entails potentiality), and would be contingent (since any material thing exists only contingently), etc. And in that case he would need a cause of his own and thus not be the First Cause (since anything that is composite, or contingent, or a mixture of actual and potential, needs a cause). Indeed, he would be part of the very material world that he's supposed to be the cause of. In which case it's not really God we're talking about anymore.

Thus classical theists in general and mainstream Christianity in particular (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism) have always insisted that God cannot literally have body parts. But that is, incidentally, something even critics of classical theism (such as theistic personalists) would agree with. To attribute body parts to God is simply to give up any serious or defensible theism at all.

John West said...

Carl,

Hmm. Can't seem to see the search bar from my phone, but I'll look from another computer later, thanks.

Sorry about the lack of detail. Typing from a tablet myself.

Greg said...

I find it hard to read Hart as tempering his point by including the "formally". Look at the flanking paragraphs:

Thus, allegedly, the testimony of nature should inform any rightly attentive intellect that abortion is murder, that lying is wrong, that marriage should be monogamous, that we should value charity above personal profit, and that it is wicked (as well as extremely discourteous) to eat members of that tribe that lives over in the next valley. “Nature,” however, tells us nothing of the sort, at least not in the form of clear commands; neither does it supply us with hypotaxes of moral obligation. In neither an absolute nor a dependent sense”neither as categorical nor as hypothetical imperatives, to use the Kantian terms”can our common knowledge of our nature or of the nature of the universe at large instruct us clearly in the content of true morality.

For one thing, as far as any categorical morality is concerned, Hume’s bluntly stated assertion that one cannot logically derive an “ought” from an “is” happens to be formally correct. Even if one could exhaustively describe the elements of our nature, the additional claim that we are morally obliged to act in accord with them, or to prefer natural uses to unnatural, would still be adventitious to the whole ensemble of facts that this description would comprise.

The assumption that the natural and moral orders are connected to one another in any but a purely pragmatic way must be logically antecedent to our interpretation of the world; it is a belief about nature, but not a natural belief as such; it is a supernatural judgment that renders natural reality intelligible in a particular way. I know of many a stout defender of natural law who is quick to dismiss Hume’s argument, but who”when pressed to explain why”can do no better than to resort to a purely conditional argument: If one is (for instance) to live a fully human life, then one must . . . (etc.). But, in supplementing a dubious “is” with a negotiable “if,” one certainly cannot arrive at a categorical “ought.”


There's basically nothing to indicate that Hart only meant to say that the Humean conclusion follows from Humean premises. He even goes on to use the Humean conclusion to support a different conclusion that he rather likes, that the connection between the natural and moral orders "must be logically antecedent to our interpretation of the world."

Also: I find it hard actually to understand what is meant by "granting the Humean premises." Hume's point was formal, that if you start with premises with only 'is', you don't get to conclusions with 'ought'.

So even Harts clarification on the is/ought issue clarifies nothing for me. I can understand it as a shift in position, but I can't understand his original article in terms of what he later said.

Thursday said...

What effect those arguments will have on the outcome remains to be seen.

They are highly likely to lose in the courts now. If they don't lose now, they will in the very near future. The legal profession, even among "conservative" lawyers, is overwhelmingly in favour of gay marriage.

Thursday said...

The comedy keeps comin'.

I also argue for my position just because I think its true. Which is actually the best reason to do it.

Scott said...

@Greg:

Look at the flanking paragraphs:

Yep. Too bad Ed didn't, y'know, do exactly that in the post to which he's already referred Thursday.

Scott said...

@Carl:

John West writes: If you search "Divine Simplicity" in the blog's search bar, I'm sure there is an article explaining in longer detail around here somewhere. Maybe someone else will think of a specific article.

You know, that just might happen.

Carl said...

Well, I've read through the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on divine simplicity now. I note that Aquinas is referred to as a historical high point of the principle, and I know you tend to adhere to his ideas.

It does seem to be a theory, though, with roots primarily in Greek philosophy rather than Bible verses. So... are alternative views really "absurd"?

Thursday said...

Look at the flanking paragraphs

I too would advise you to take a close look at Feser's post Discerning the Thoughts and Intents of Hart. There are other things, besides the "formally", in Hart's original statements that seem to be incompatible with Hume. Hart was just plain unclear.

However, that blog post doesn't support some of Dr. Feser's stronger statements about Hart.

Edward Feser said...

Carl,

Scroll up to see my response to you above at 2:14pm. If you're asking whether it's absurd to attribute body parts like arms, legs, etc. to God, yes, it's absurd, for the reasons I gave there. And as I pointed out, this is not a matter of controversy. It is the standard view in Christian theology as much as in philosophical theology more generally. It is by no means merely some idiosyncratic Thomist view.

It is also, for that matter, something Hart would certainly agree with. So, he would not agree with any suggestion that the biblical passages I referred to which speak of God's nostrils, etc. should be taken literally.

Daniel said...

@Ed/ anyone else who wants to chip in about NL,

If you have the time could you opine as to whether Thomas Hurka's Perfectionist ethics count as a variation on Natural Law (the way Smith describes them makes it sound very much as if they do).

Carl said,

It does seem to be a theory, though, with roots primarily in Greek philosophy rather than Bible verses. So... are alternative views really "absurd"?

Unless the Bible happens to be talking about another entity from the God of Classical theism then answer is an emphatic 'Yes'

DNW said...

Carl said:

"Edward, you take it for granted that the idea of God literally having eyes, eyelids, nostrils and lungs is absurd. Why?"

Carl then said, regarding a God without arms and legs, :

"It does seem to be a theory, though, with roots primarily in Greek philosophy rather than Bible verses. So... are alternative views really "absurd"?


"Edward" said:

"If you're asking whether it's absurd to attribute body parts like arms, legs, etc. to God, yes, it's absurd, for the reasons I gave there. And as I pointed out, this is not a matter of controversy. It is the standard view in Christian theology ..."

And regarding just that, Jesus said:


"God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth."

Carl said...

Well, classical theology is, by definition, theology from a time period when Christianity was strongly influenced by Greek philosophy. So naturally, it's common to Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox thinking.

But does that consensus necessarily make an alternative viewpoint absurd? What if you took Greek philosophy entirely out of the picture, so that concepts such as being absolutely metaphysically ultimate are no longer considered to be necessary in describing God?

I'm not trolling here; I recognise that from a Catholic viewpoint, such is heresy, but you've also claimed that the same conclusions can be reached without Catholic teaching. I subscribe to quite a different view of God.

John West said...

Carl,

Well, if the contention is that Catholic teaching is too influenced by Greek philosophy, then clearly the conclusion can be reached without Catholic teaching (though I take issue with depicting careful reasoning as a somehow uniquely Greek animal.) Also, as Ed points out, protestants and Orthodox Christians would also say God does not have eyes, ears, etc. -- even theistic personalists, who deny divine simplicity, do.

I'm not trolling here; I recognise that from a Catholic viewpoint, such is heresy, but you've also claimed that the same conclusions can be reached without Catholic teaching. I subscribe to quite a different view of God.

Maybe heterodox. I'm not sure it's straight up heresy, but never mind that.

The real problem, I think, is that view of God as having ears, eyes, and a nose can be shown to yield straight forward contradictions using simple logic (see Ed's first reply, especially concerning God as First Cause -- surely, it's necessary to every species of Christianity that God is first cause and Creator of All.)

But let me also put in a good word for the Catholic and Orthodox churches. They're the ones who assembled the Bible from many documents. If we have reason to doubt the official, written-in-stone pronouncements of both those churches, then I think we also have reason to doubt the Bible itself. And so it seems to me that we ought to also give authority to the official pronouncements of at least one of those two churches.

John West said...

edit: "... who deny divine simplicity, [would agree]."

Edward Feser said...

Carl, I didn't say that attributing body parts to God is absurd because that would be at odds with Greek philosophy, Christian tradition, etc. I said that attributing body parts to God would be absurd because it would make God part of the very material world he is supposed to be the cause of, would entail that he must have a cause of his own, etc.

I don't know why you keep ignoring this key issue. And it isn't a problem you're going to solve by citing scripture.

fides quaerens intellectum said...

Carl,

The understanding of God common to the Orthodox and Catholic churches is held as doctrine, not because it is useful, or popular, but because it is true.

God being Creator of everything entails he cannot have body parts of any sort. Nor will it help to appeal to Jesus Christ, because that passage of Isaiah was written before He came, and in any case wasn't referring to Him.

Just curious, what other view of God do you subscribe to?

Carl said...

Edward, I agree that God can't be part of His own creation. However, I'm more sympathetic to the rest of your logical conclusions about Him - being material, complex, having potential, contingent, etc.

I view God as First Cause in a somewhat more local sense, I suppose. He created all things - that is, everything in the universe, everything that we could possibly interact with, observe, etc. For me, that doesn't preclude the idea that He may in turn have a cause. So yeah, from a Catholic standpoint, I'm probably heretic rather than heterodox.

As for who caused the cause? I claim an infinite regression. God calls Himself Father (we are His offspring, as Paul taught on Mars' hill, and He is the father of spirits, as mentioned in the epistle to the Hebrews). Why not then have a grandfather as well, and a great-grandfather?

For me, an infinite regression is actually easier to understand than what I have read about the concept of divine simplicity. Infinite regression is too vast for us to properly comprehend (as is the nature of infinity), but it does not run any risk of a contradiction in terms.

Carl said...

Actually, the point about God not being part of His own creation is pretty straightforward. It's similar to 1 Corinthians 15:27; "For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him." Obviously, when we say that God created all things, we do not mean that He created Himself.

Carl said...

The reason I point to Greek philosophy is that the contradictions only arise if you accept certain axioms - like God being metaphysically ultimate, or being uncreated, without potential.

I suggest that these axioms are to be found in reasoning, not Biblical pronouncements, and so a different school of reasoning might use different axioms.

Not that anyone has to agree with me. As I originally stated, what sparked my interest was the assumption that any such alternative must be absurd.

John West said...

For me, an infinite regression is actually easier to understand than what I have read about the concept of divine simplicity. Infinite regression is too vast for us to properly comprehend (as is the nature of infinity), but it does not run any risk of a contradiction in terms.

Speaking in my field for a second, it's simply not true that infinites are too vast for us to comprehend. From Cantor's work and following work, we have an excellent understanding of how infinites work and how to manipulate them. There is still some work to do, but we have an excellent understanding of infinites now.

I suggest that these axioms are to be found in reasoning, not Biblical pronouncements, and so a different school of reasoning might use different axioms.

As for rejecting axioms, we're talking about fairly banal stuff here, like identity and the law of non-contradiction. Moreover, if you throw out those axioms, you throw out all of science.

Worse, by rejecting the law of non-contradiction, you let in that it's possible that you can be a giraffe and hippopotamus as well as a human, at the same time, in the same respect.

Carl said...

No, John, I'm not throwing out the law of non-contradiction. I'm questioning the prepositions that are said to contradict my views, and that appear to be treated as axiomatic in classic theology (and I gave some examples of those prepositions).

John West said...

Since God being metaphysically ultimate isn't an axiom, but a conclusion, I hope you can understand my confusion.

John West said...

(Same with the other two examples).

Carl said...

For me, if God can observe everything and control everything, then to assume that he may occupy a specific space at a specific time does not limit Him in any important way - although Greek philosophy may object. And I would argue that such a view doesn't violate any passage in the Bible either.

Is it, then, "absurd"? And if so, what axioms does it contradict, and what makes them axiomatic?

Carl said...

Missed the last couple of comments, sorry.

OK, so God being un-created and without potential are conclusions, not axioms. What are the axioms, then?

John West said...

Carl,

OK, so God being un-created and without potential are conclusions, not axioms. What are the axioms, then?

The law of non-contradiction (LNC), the law of the excluded middle (LEM), the principle of sufficient reason (PSR: that everything that exists has an explanation for its existence).

I think it's been argued that all the others, like the causal principle follow from those three Principles.


*Though, I'm happy to be corrected if there's a fourth I'm missing.

Carl said...

Those don't seem to me like sufficient axioms to inescapably derive the conclusions. For example, how does the principle of sufficient reason lead you to conclude that there can be no reason for God's existence? An infinite regression seems to me like a plausible alternative.

Carl said...

*no explanation for God's existence

John West said...

[H]ow does the principle of sufficient reason lead you to conclude that there can be no reason for God's existence

That's not the conclusion though. The conclusion is that a world of contingent things could not exist unless there were a necessary being, that has of itself its own necessity. The explanation lay in the necessity of God's own nature.

It would, for example, be incoherent to say that Existence Itself doesn't exist (alternatively, that Being Itself doesn't be).

Brandon said...

If you have the time could you opine as to whether Thomas Hurka's Perfectionist ethics count as a variation on Natural Law (the way Smith describes them makes it sound very much as if they do).

Hurka's own perfectionism is, as far as I have ever been able to tell, a form of consequentialism (it's been a while since I've read any of his works, but I was in an ethics seminar by Hurka in grad school, so I have some broad familiarity with a lot of the features of his account); it just differs from utilitarianism in being pluralist about values to be maximized. But the pluralism itself is something that Hurka's perfectionism has in common with natural law theory, as does the grounding of it in human nature; and Hurka himself sees perfectionism as a broad family of ethics, and uses the term in a broad enough sense that he counts both Aristotle and Aquinas as perfectionists. (He also counts Nietzsche and Marx as perfectionists.) The basic tenets of perfectionism (broadly speaking) as Hurka understands it are:

(1) There are values that are good independently of the pleasure they cause;
(2) These values are rooted in human nature (thus the idea of perfecting);
(3) The morally right is always what most contributes to the development of these values.

(1) and (2) would certainly be held by any natural law theorist; I am less convinced that Aquinas, for instance, would accept (3) as Hurka understands it.

Carl said...

John, I'm still waiting for a reason why infinite regression is an insufficient explanation.

In fact, as far as I can see, it fits perfectly with the idea that there must be an explanation for everything that exists - including God.

You can think it's wrong - but what makes it absurd? What contradicts it?

Carl said...

Note that if we say that God does not work within time in the way we do - and I'm open to that idea - then it's a bit of a misnomer to refer to Him as 'First Cause', because for Him it doesn't make sense to speak of 'first'. It only makes sense if we speak from our own perspective - First Cause of our world, our galaxy, our universe, First Cause if we trace the origin of anything we see around us.

Given that, my suggestion of God being a local First Cause of our universe (and possibly others) fits in quite well.

Carl said...

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" - but obviously that's talking about our beginning, not God's beginning.

Given that, might not "First Cause" (which, by the way, is not a biblical term) likewise apply to our own perspective? We can look at anything around us, and ultimately we trace its origins back to God. That doesn't necessarily mean that God stops there - we do.

John West said...

An infinite regression seems to me like a plausible alternative.

One problem I have with infinite explanatory regresses is that I'm not sure how that could work without leading to a vicious circularity. Suppose we have an infinite series of explanations. Let P be the conjunction of those explanations. Let E be the conjunction of all the even numbered explanations. Let O be the conjunction of all the odd numbered explanations. So, O has the resources for an explanation of E. Yet, by the same reasoning, every conjunct of O has an explanation of E. So we explain E in terms of O and O in terms of E. (I'm thinking of Pruss's argument.)

The point can be made using chickens and eggs. Suppose we have an infinite series of chickens and eggs, each egg giving rise to a chicken and each chicken giving rise to a subsequent egg. The existence of all the chickens can be explained in terms of the set of all the eggs, and the existence of all the eggs can be explained in terms of the set of all the chickens. But this is circular. It fails to explain why there are chickens or eggs at all (the example is, again, from Pruss).

There is also a problem with infinite per se causal regresses.

Carl said...

That's true; we don't know why something exists instead of nothing. But it seems to me that a self-existent entity and a self-existent series would both explain the fact of our existence. I don't see that one is absurd and the other self-evident.

John West said...

Note that if we say that God does not work within time in the way we do - and I'm open to that idea - then it's a bit of a misnomer to refer to Him as 'First Cause',

These arguments aren't speaking of temporal series, but of logical series. For example, even if we ignore time, it's still logically such that if a mug is knocked off a table, something happened to bring that about (to cause it). Usually this type of thing does happen in time, but that's an irrelevant detail to the arguments. They deal in logical priority, not temporal priority.

Arguments about the PSR in particular don't need to have anything to do with temporality (I don't think I've ever seen a version that does).

And with that, I'm going to have to pick up on wherever this is tomorrow morning. It's late here.

John West said...

Just quickly. As for the point about absurdity. Ed's already explained that, so I would have to learn why his explanation is confusing before I could add meaningfully to it.

Carl said...

I don't see Edward's explanation as confusing. It's just that I also don't see it as inescapable. He points out the implications of a God with bodily parts, and my reaction to most of them is, "Yes, and?"

Good night :)

John West said...

Also, a quick edit of my post at 9:07: "... every conjunct of O has an explanation [in terms of] E."

rank sophist said...

Hmmm, filibuster, repetitive and unsupported assertion, failure to read an opponent carefully, incoherence, failure to stick to the subject… I can see why you’re a Hart fan!

This blog used to be better.

Edward Feser said...

Carl writes:

He points out the implications of a God with bodily parts, and my reaction to most of them is, "Yes, and?"

Well, I guess you're new to this blog and/or to Thomism (or classical philosophy and theology generally) or you'd know what the "and" is. So, briefly:

Thomists and other classical theists argue that even if the universe of material things had no beginning, it would still depend at every moment of its existence on a single conserving First Cause that is purely actual rather than a mixture of actuality and potentiality, utterly simple or non-composite, immaterial and unchanging, outside time and space, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, etc. That is to say, even if a temporal series -- a series extending backward in time -- might have no beginning, a non-temporal regress of causes exists here and now and at every moment which traces inevitably "downward" to a divine first member. (Cf. arguments like Aquinas's Five Ways, as I've expounded and defended them in various places, such as my book Aquinas. Arguments of this sort are discussed in many older posts at this blog.)

Now, what's true of an infinitely old universe would be no less true of an infinite temporal regress of corporeal "gods" each of whom has a father. This series too would depend at every moment of its existence on the single atemporal First Cause that is pure actuality, simple or non-composite, outside time and space, omniscient, etc.

So, the series you are postulating wouldn't really avoid an ultimate First Cause at all. And since even what you call "God" would be an effect of this ultimate cause, your "God" would really be part of the creation and thus worshiping him would be idolatry. It would be the ultimate First Cause alone that would be worthy of worship, since it alone is the true source of all things. Worshiping "God" as you conceive of him would be like worshiping Zeus or Odin or Quetzalcoatl, and taking the Bible to be the word of "God" as you are interpreting him would be no better than taking it to be a message from space aliens or the like a la Chariots of the Gods.

Now, if you can't see why that strikes the classical theist as absurd, I'm not sure what more could be said.

E.Seigner said...

Carl,

I don't see Edward's explanation as confusing. It's just that I also don't see it as inescapable. He points out the implications of a God with bodily parts, and my reaction to most of them is, "Yes, and?"

This means you don't care about logic and correct reasoning. The hint was already in your first comments when you touted Bible verses over Greek philosophy and you assumed that God being metaphysically ultimate was an axiom. Only a firmly convinced illogician can say such things.

Edward Feser said...

rank sophist writes:

This blog used to be better.

Really? A couple of snarky remarks about your hero Hart in a recent post or two and the whole blog has now gone down hill?

Face it, RS, it's Hart's writing (or his First Things column, anyway) that used to be better. His Captain Ahab-like obsession with Thomism has gotten the better of him and -- like our pal Thursday above -- you're blaming the messenger.

Carl said...

"Thomists and other classical theists argue that even if the universe of material things had no beginning, it would still depend at every moment of its existence on a single conserving First Cause"

Why do they argue this? What premise is it based on?

As mentioned previously, I accept the idea of God as the First Cause of everything in our material universe, and quite possibly universes beyond our own, but what about beyond them?

"that is purely actual rather than a mixture of actuality and potentiality, utterly simple or non-composite, immaterial and unchanging, outside time and space, omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, etc."

As above: if this is an axiom, then why must we hold it (specifically, why is any alternative absurd), and if it is a reasoned conclusion, then what axiom(s) is it based on?

"That is to say, even if a temporal series -- a series extending backward in time -- might have no beginning, a non-temporal regress of causes exists here and now and at every moment which traces inevitably "downward" to a divine first member."

Why is this inevitable? What prevents the regress of causes from being infinite?

"Now, what's true of an infinitely old universe would be no less true of an infinite temporal regress of corporeal "gods" each of whom has a father. This series too would depend at every moment of its existence on the single atemporal First Cause that is pure actuality, simple or non-composite, outside time and space, omniscient, etc."

Only if you assume the existence of such a non-composite First Cause. My whole point is that the infinite regression of causes is an alternative explanation of our existence.

I'm not a Thomist, and don't agree with his ideas about First Cause. That you are, and do, is fine, but I think that there can be alternatives to his views.

Carl said...

E. Seigner, surely in a discussion about God, anything extrabiblical - ie man-made - is subject to reconsideration and revision? Relying on the Bible first, and debating philosophy second, might make me less logical (although I disagree), but it seems to me that relying on philosophy first and the Bible second would make me less Christian.

Carl said...

Apologies, by the way, for those points people made that I haven't yet replied to. I'm trying to stick to two or three conversations at once :D

E.Seigner said...

Carl,

E. Seigner, surely in a discussion about God, anything extrabiblical - ie man-made - is subject to reconsideration and revision?

Not at all. The Bible is not the only book to say something about God and it's not the only book that claims to be scripture. If you want to take the Bible seriously (as is your right as a Christian, but many worshippers of God are Gentile), you have to carefully establish the status and contents of the Bible, e.g. how apocryphal writings relate to it and what makes them apocryphal, how the writings of the Church Fathers and of the Popes relate to it. This is a very philosophical discussion.

Moreover, the Bible itself invites us not to interpret it literally. For example, Matthew says that the prophecy about Immanuel was fulfilled when a man named Jesus was born. Doesn't this call for some "man-made" reasoning?

Anyway, the questions that you pose here are kindergarten questions. I bow out of this discussion now. Best regards.

Carl said...

Actually I agree with the part about other books claiming to be scripture. But Aquinas never made the claim, so however wise and helpful his reasoning might be, it is prima facie legitimate to have a completely different viewpoint.

Daniel said...

There's nothing wrong with Hart putting forward alternatives to the Thomist view such as arguments for animal immortality or a different account of the soul/body relationship - it's just that:

1. His actual arguments against the Thomist position have been few and a fair number of his objections are primarily rhetorical

2. He hasn't been very forth-coming with an alternative position of his own and arguments in support of said position.

Re Carl, he may be acting in complete good faith - if so I apologise for the following - but his description of God sounds curiously like the discussions of the Divine Designer in Hume's Dialogues on Natural Religion

@Brandon,

Thank you very much; that's most helpful (saved me having to spend yet more money on books!)

Anonymous said...

Time to lighten up, chaps!

There is only light.
Light is all there IS.
All that IS is light.
Light is inherently indivisible, non-separate, and one only.
The perfectly subjective nature of inherently indivisible light is self-existing or transcendental Being, and self-radiant Consciousness.
The perfectly subjective nature of inherently indivisible light is consciousness itself.
The perfectly subjective nature of inherently indivisible light is Real God, or Truth.
When inherently indivisible light, or Real God, is apparently objectified to itself, it appears as the cosmic display of all conditional worlds, forms, and beings.
Thus, inherently indivisible light utterly pervades all conditional worlds, forms, and beings.
All conditional worlds, forms, and beings thus inhere in, are lived or sustained by, are not other than, and can directly realize a state of inherently most perfect identification with, or indivisible oneness with inherently indivisible light, or Real God.
Inherently indivisible light, or Real God, is the literal or inherent condition, substance, reality, quality, and destiny of all conditional worlds, forms, and beings.

David T said...

"Thomists and other classical theists argue that even if the universe of material things had no beginning, it would still depend at every moment of its existence on a single conserving First Cause"

Why do they argue this? What premise is it based on?


A hint: You are going to get slapped down on this blog if you demand that basic Thomistic philososophy be rehashed for you from the ground up in a combox. The conversation assumes some familiarity with essential Thomistic tenets, and their philosophical justification, which can be found in Feser's books like Aquinas, many other sources, and earlier posts on this blog. The stuff isn't a secret. Demanding a personal seminar on the basics - and you are far from the first to do so - will likely provoke a sharp response.

David T said...

For instance, you might start here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/cosmological-argument-roundup.html

John West said...

It's not from Thomas, but one argument that ought to get more press comes from Plotinus via Lloyd Gerson.

Greg said...

@ Carl

I would second the recommendation that you read Aquinas, if you are really interested in whether your proposal is viable. Then, if you had to read one blog post, I would suggest this one.

The basic claim is not so much against infinte causal series but ungrounded ones. Where each member acts in virtue of its being acted upon, there is no explanation of any of the activity. So there must be something that "moves [others] without moving [itself]". Strictly speaking, it could be at the 'head' of a finite series, or it could 'stand outside' an infinite series.

So grant that the infinite series you posit is real, and that the God of the Bible is just one link in the chain. Then there is still a real First Cause apart from the series, and (Aquinas argues) it can be said to possess the various divine attributes. So in that case, the God of the Bible would be a creature created by this First Cause; the biblical injunction to have no god before God Himself would be something like a capo in the mafia demanding your undivided allegiance, even though he knows full well that he owes everything to the boss.

John West said...

Daniel,

Carl, he may be acting in complete good faith - if so I apologise for the following - but his description of God sounds curiously like the discussions of the Divine Designer in Hume's Dialogues on Natural Religion

It's also the mormon view.

John West said...

It's also the mormon view.

My only issue is with the untentionally left-handed tactic of pretending to champion scripture and saying, "But why not a grandfather?" You can either champion sola scriptura, or not. You can't have it both ways.

John West said...

[I really need to do a better job looking over my posts before publishing. Sorry, Ed.]

Carl,

That's true; we don't know why something exists instead of nothing. But it seems to me that a self-existent entity and a self-existent series would both explain the fact of our existence. I don't see that one is absurd and the other self-evident.

I had said I would comment on why your suggestion of accepting my conclusion but maintaining that there are infinitely many of that which is posited by the conclusion (I think that's the strongest way to construe this comment) doesn't work. Ed's explanation gives reasons and Plotinus's argument gives yet more.

But also, simply as a matter of good theorizing, Ockham's razor selects against it.[1] Since one God is sufficient to explain everything, the razor says we ought to dispose of the others as superfluous.

Your suggestion also leads to identity problems.[2] Since all such “beings” would be divinely simple, they can't be qualitatively distinct, or they wouldn't be divinely simple. What could be different? They don't exist in time and space either, so they also can't be numerically distinct, but if they aren't qualititatively or numerically distinct, then that means each entity is both identical as the others at the same time, and in every possible respect, and non-identical to them. This is a contradiction.

Ed's comment was enough, but I said I would reply.

[1]Though, I prefer Chatton's Anti-Razor in practice; I think on its own, Ockham's is ambiguous to apply and focusses too much on parsimony.
[2]Let's use something simple for identity. like, “Everything is identical to itself, and no more.”

Anonymous said...

In Feser's reply article, he says:

"... [that fact] that all of creation will be redeemed entails only that something of the corporeal and animal worlds will exist in Heaven."

I don't understand that. At first glance it looks like it's saying that "all of X" means "something of X" or "something of Y" where Y is a subset of X. Either way, it seems to be equating "all of" with something of".

Where am I going wrong?

John West said...

Anonymous,

I don't understand that. At first glance it looks like it's saying that "all of X" means "something of X" or "something of Y" where Y is a subset of X. Either way, it seems to be equating "all of" with something of".

Ed's taking the distinction between creation and individuals as a distinction between the whole and its parts[1]. Creation is the whole; the individuals are the parts. It doesn't follow from the fact that the whole is redeemed that all its parts are redeemed. So, for Ed, Y isn't a subset of X; Y is some collection of parts that belong to X.

To draw an analogy, it doesn't follow from the fact that a lawnmower—the whole—can drive unaided across my lawn, that one of its cogs—a part—can also drive unaided across my lawn. Similarly, it doesn't follow from the fact that I have my hair—a whole, so far—that I haven't lost some of my hairs—parts of the whole. My hair survives as a whole even though it loses some of its parts.

John West said...

Surely, most Christians don't even believe that every human in creation goes to Heaven. We can all, with a quick Google, find examples of incredibly despicable people, who spent their lives unrepentantly raping children and murdering them, utterly turning themselves away from God. Surely most Christians would hold that such a people do not go to Heaven.

John West said...

omit a: "... such people do not go to Heaven."

Scott said...

@Anonymous:

Similarly, perhaps: "All of the states of the U.S. survived the massive nuclear strike" doesn't mean that every individual citizen did.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous wrote:

At first glance it looks like it's saying that "all of X" means "something of X" or "something of Y" where Y is a subset of X. Either way, it seems to be equating "all of" with something of".

Not so. First, the "all of" in question was "all of creation." The "something of" in question was "something of the corporeal part of creation." So I was not equating "all of X" with "something of X."

Nor was I "equating" "All of X" with "something of Y," where Y is a subset of X. I gave an example in the article that shows why. If your stylist says that you will keep your hair, that doesn't entail that you will keep every single strand of hair. That would be a fallacy of division. You could lose many strands and still be said to keep your hair. But of course, this doesn't mean that you will keep your hair as long as you keep merely "something of" your hair, e.g. merely a couple of strands. Obviously, more than that would be required.

But the point is not necessarily quantitative, a matter of preserving some high percentage of the parts of a thing. E.g. even if every cell in your body dies and is replaced over time, your body still survives. Or, to take a different example, if a certain historically or architecturally significant building is entirely gutted and most of its parts replaced, we would still say that the building has been saved for posterity because the most important elements -- location, general appearance, certain key fixtures, etc. -- have been preserved even if most of the actual original parts have not. But here too, merely preserving any old "something of" the building would not suffice. E.g. if we saved only a single door and kept it in a museum on the other side of the country, it would be silly to say that we had preserved the building.

Now, my point was that to say that "all of creation" will be redeemed is naturally interpreted as entailing that the corporeal aspect of creation, and not just the more noble incorporeal aspect, will be redeemed. But it doesn't follow that every single part of the corporeal aspect will be redeemed, any more than saving one's hair entails saving every single strand. Nor does it follow even that a majority of the parts of the corporeal aspect will be preserved, any more than saving a body or building requires preserving a majority of its parts. Indeed, by itself the statement that "all of creation will be redeemed" doesn't really tell us a whole lot about any particular aspect of the corporeal realm. What does "redeeming" it involve, exactly? Would redeeming one part of the corporeal realm, as a representative sample of that part of creation, suffice? Especially given that we know that even some noble aspects of the corporeal order of things (e.g. marriage) will not exist in Heaven? Just saying "all of creation will be redeemed" by itselfdoesn't answer those questions.

Hence, for all we know just from that claim all by itself, that our bodies will be restored to us may suffice for the corporeal aspect of creation being redeemed. I was not asserting that that is in fact sufficient, but merely pointing out that you can't draw much in the way of specific conclusions (e.g. about animals) just from the thesis that all of creation will be redeemed.

Greg said...

It's worth adding, also, that people are happy to trot out the fact that "all of creation will be redeemed" to support the immortality of animal souls, but presumably the same is not claimed by plant souls or, for that matter, mountains and rivers. It'd be one thing to try to make a philosophical argument about the nature of animal minds, but that's an argument would be pointless if the naive reading of "all of creation will be redeemed" is sound. (And bear in mind that those philosophical considerations are closer to what many have cited as their motivation for believing in animal immortality, for animals can be affectionate in ways that trees cannot.) So much of the clamor for animal immortality seems to be a grasping for any shred of evidence without a concern for consistency.

Anonymous said...

@Ed:

Had the phrase been, "Creation will be redeemed" then I think I'd have seen the point. But the addition of "All of" muddies the waters for me.

Suppose we extend the hair analogy such that "your hair" is analogous with "the corporeal and animal worlds", "you as an embodied person" is analogous with "creation", and "survive after a makeover" is analogous" with "being redeemed" then it's easy to see that, "You will survive a makeover "does not entail that: "Every hair on your head will survive a makeover".

But what if the phrase was "All of you will survive a makeover"? What, if anything, is the significance of "All of"? Does "All of creation" means something different, in this context, from "Creation" and if so what is it?

thx.

Anonymous said...

@Scott:

'Similarly, perhaps: "All of the states of the U.S. survived the massive nuclear strike" doesn't mean that every individual citizen did.'

Yes, but the relationship between a state and its citizens seems to me to be different from that between creation and animals. Citizens "live within" a state, whereas animals "are component parts of" creation.

It just seems to me that if I want to refer succinctly to creation in its entirety -- animals, angels, hamburgers, all components, the lot -- then "All of creation" is a reasonable phrase to do that. If that's wrong, and "All of creation" allows for the exclusion of certain parts -- e.g. animals -- then why use the pfefix "All of"? Why not just say "Creation ..."?

John West said...

Anyone know what Hart's exact formulation of the premise was? I took it as Ed basically just reiterating one of Hart's premises.

Timocrates said...

I find it ludicrous that Hart thinks there's some strictly rational reason for imagining that animals will be in Heaven, when moderns don't even think they have the slightest reason for believing that even humans could in any way survive or continue to exist after death. So why on Earth does he point to modern "sobering studies" of animals?!? Doesn't that rather ridiculously give us reason to absolutely deny the very possibility of animals in any way existing after death?

Hart is an emotional sentimentalist. Because grandma believes that her kitties will be in Heaven, and grandma is Christian, therefore there will be animals in Heaven. A rather specious appeal, perhaps, to the sense of Faith. Add to that verses from the Scripture that would seem to portray people frolicking with animals in the world to come and, voila, you have your argument.

Of course, neither authority (from the sense of Faith or from Revelation) is known to reason. At best it could be Christian doctrine on the basis of the authority of the Church interpreting - but animals in Heaven as far as I know has never been a dogma for any Christian community to my knowledge.

Again. People largely believed in the after life strictly for humans on the basis of religious tradition until the early philosophers slowly began to develop better or worse arguments for the possibility of the soul's persisting through the death of the body and existing separately. But of course, not even Aristotle delved into the implications of this, largely because - outside of the already existing possibility and capacity to contemplate the divine that might persist - such an existence was just being human but in a much radically reduced state. Rather like imagining that being rendered limbless would be an improvement on one's well-being.

And professor Feser makes an excellent point that man's own bodily resurrection itself guarantees the redemption of Creation, as all Christian theologians have always known that man in himself in a way capitulates corporeal and animal Creation, combining this with spiritual being or existence. Indeed, there's something to say about modern science's seeing the present, organized corporeal material world as being materially just stardust: that would mean man in a way also incorporates into his being even the visible heavens.

Does Hart acknowledge that believing that animals existing after their death could only be credible on the basis of divine authority? That no thinker yet has - on the basis or reason or science - thought that there's any reason to imagine they even could somehow persist in being after their deaths? What are their souls presently supposed to be doing? Thinking about making tools, perhaps? What activity of any animal could possibly continue absent a body? It's terribly difficult to imagine even what man's soul is capable of doing without attachment to a corporeal body: our thoughts themselves are in a way enveloped in the corporeal, as we typically think or reason in audible words - and we get frustrated when we have an idea but can't remember or think of the right word for it.

Scott said...

@John West:

Anyone know what Hart's exact formulation of the premise was?

The full version of Hart's article is behind a paywall, but Ed quotes the relevant bit in his reply:

When it comes to the substance of our disagreement, Hart makes two main points. First, he defends the thesis that there will be animals in Heaven on the biblical grounds that “salvation is cosmic in scope and includes all creation.” He adds, incorrectly, a dismissive disclaimer: “not that Feser shows any interest in the scriptural issues.”

I agree with the premise that all of creation will be redeemed. But it simply doesn’t follow that there will be animals in Heaven. To make such an inference would be, among other things, a fallacy of division. (If your stylist assures you that you are not losing your hair, it doesn’t follow that you won’t lose a single strand.) For all Hart has shown, that all of creation will be redeemed entails only that something of the corporeal and animal worlds will exist in Heaven. That our bodies will be restored to us in the resurrection suffices to guarantee that much.


I took it as Ed basically just reiterating one of Hart's premises.

Yes, Ed is apparently just paraphrasing Hart's premise that "salvation…includes all creation."

John West said...

Scott,

Yes, Ed is apparently just paraphrasing Hart's premise that "salvation…includes all creation."

Well, that's embarrassing. I read the article before commenting in the thread, too. I should have again before asking. Ah well.

How long before the fued turns into a straight up fist fight.

Scott said...

Yes, but the relationship between a state and its citizens seems to me to be different from that between creation and animals. Citizens "live within" a state, whereas animals "are component parts of" creation.

No doubt the relationships are different, but I don't think this is why. A state that lost all of its citizens would cease to exist as a political entity (at least until it was "rebuilt" by acquiring some new citizens), even if it still existed as a geographic region. I would say that in the political sense, citizens are "components" of the state.

Scott said...

@John West:

Well, that's embarrassing.

No need for embarrassment; I doubt many of us have forked over the cash to read Hart's original article in full (I sure didn't), and I had to check Ed's reply to see whether he'd quoted Hart's original phrasing even though I'd read it before too.

Besides, you were right. So either you remembered less-than-fully-consciously, or you made a sensible conjecture.

Not only that, but you called attention to something that (in my view) directly addresses Anon's question and that I, at least, hadn't thought to consider.

I could use more embarrassment like that in my own intellectual life.

Robert Hill said...

Heaven will be more than earth, in a sense infinitely so; so animals won't surprise me, whereas lack thereof will.

Godspeed

Brandon said...

Robert Hill,

Whether there are animals in heaven or not, since no eye has seen nor ear has heard what God has prepared, one of the features of heaven about which we can be absolutely certain is that there will be a great many surprises.

Craig Payne said...

"How long before the feud turns into a straight-up fist fight."


If it was good enough for St. Nicholas vs. Arius, it's good enough for me.


I keep thinking of Alasdair MacIntyre as I'm reading--this reminds me of his discussion of two traditions talking past each other. On the one hand, you have A-T classical theism providing reason after reason after logical reason for its views. On the other hand, you have, "But this over here is what I want to believe, and so I will, and your arguments are unconvincing." The latter "argument" always seems to trump the first in today's society--even amongst Christians.

John West said...

Craig Payne,

On the one hand, you have A-T classical theism providing reason after reason after logical reason for its views. On the other hand, you have, "But this over here is what I want to believe, and so I will, and your arguments are unconvincing."

Well, whatever else Hart's done, he has poisoned the dialogue.

Anonymous said...

@Brandon said:

> ...since no eye has seen nor ear has heard what
> God has prepared, one of the features of heaven
> about which we can be absolutely certain is that
> there will be a great many surprises.

There should be a "Like" button for stuff like that.

Ed, 'bout time you moved off this old and worn out blogger technology, don't ya think!?

John West said...

I recommend against allowing any function measuring popularity into the comments of a philosophy blog.

Daniel said...

The ultimate problem here is that Hart is first and foremost a theologian, albeit a philosophically inclined one, and takes askance at those fellow theists who refuse to debate in such terms.

Scott said,

I doubt many of us have forked over the cash to read Hart's original article in full

Given some of the remarks about the system I'm almost tempted to. The paraphrase below makes Ed sound like something out of The Matrix.

According to Hart, my true motive for disagreeing with him about the immortality of animals is that I am “an adherent of The System.” Indeed, I am apparently one of the “guardians of The System” devoted to “attacking any deviation from the vision of reality [The System] promotes”—and, in Hart’s view that there will be animals in Heaven, I allegedly “perceive[ed] an offense against The System” and “assumed that nothing but The System was at stake.”

@John,

Re mormons, that's depressing.

Craig Payne said...

Rather than paying for the Hart article (which will irritate and prove unprofitable), how about simply subscribing to First Things (which is much more, and much better, than Hart alone)?

John West said...

Saving up to buy James Franklin's Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics. Sorry.

Daniel said...

@John,

I can top that I'm afraid - have had my eye on Keith Campbell's Abstract Particulars for months (not even raising my gaze to the financially blinding heights of Moreland's Universals, Qualities and Quality-instances

John West said...

Moreland's Universals? It's like sixteen quid.

The gargantuan expensive Abstract Particulars looks exciting.

John West said...

It turns out Moreland's Universals, Qualities, Quality Instances is a different book. That one's eleven quid.

Daniel said...

@John,

If only! That's the Amazon direct 'New' price God (literally) knows when it was last up for that. The only saving grace is that there are still better offers than the secondhand one there...

(I read Campbell's famous article, 'The Metaphysics of Abstract Particulars', the other wekk which was quite interesting - there he was fairly conservative as to whether property-instances really do allow for a new Nominalism as opposed to just being an entity that has a place in any reality-matching ontology along with universals. It's when they propose the 'Alphabet of Being' approach of concrete reality's being made up of nothing but tropes [regardless of whether tropes fall under universals] that the madness begins to start)

Gottfried said...

As a fan of Hart's, I've found this whole ongoing feud to be very sad indeed. I noticed years ago that he seemed to have a bee in his bonnet regarding Thomism. Having been genuinely stunned by the shallowness of nearly all the mainstream "critiques" of Aquinas that I looked at, I assumed I would finally hear some serious objections from DBH. I never found much more than passing digs and potshots at the outer walls of Thomistic philosophy, but the clear animus must, I thought, have some rational basis. So his incomprehensible attacks on natural law theory were disappointing, to say the least. And that latest salvo is just embarrassing.

I still maintain Hart is one of the greatest living Christian thinkers (though I wouldn't blame anyone who had only read his recent First Things articles for being skeptical of that claim). I find hope in the fact that he admits that his opposition to Thomism is “as much emotional as rational.” One might say he appears to be about half way there.

Prof. Feser, you must have some contacts at First Things? Any chance a more fruitful discussion or debate could be arranged? Admittedly it doesn't seem likely at this point that Hart would be interested, but I would like to believe that Christian charity and love of truth would prevail.

Mr. Green said...

Regarding the phrase “all creation”, it’s worth observing how Scripture uses it. It’s commonly applied in the same way we might use the word “world” in “The world and his dog were there”, or “The whole world’s gone mad”, or “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” — clearly not referring to plants and animals, nor to continental plates and molten cores. St. Paul refers in Col. 1:23 to the gospel “that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (cf. Mark 16:15: “preach the gospel to all creation”). It’s far from evident, then, that mentions of “all creation groaning”, etc., mean more than “all mankind”. (Of course, even if Paul did have only mankind in mind, that does't preclude a greater scope for the new Earth, but we can't take it for granted.)

Mr. Green said...

Thursday: Hart’s actual argument is that some things simply have to be seen and asserted, much like the aesthetic superiority of Dante over Nicki Minaj cannot be proven through argument, but can only be seen and asserted.

Except of course it is possible to argue for Dante without actually reading him. It may be more effective simply to see for oneself, or easier to show someone rather than find a way to put it into words, but Dante vs. Whosit is not merely a sensory difference to be experienced, but a rational superiority that has an explanation. But I’m being a bit pedantic — I do agree that it is important, indeed in certain respects more important, to exhibit Christianity rather than explain it. But I want to make a point:

OK, let's put what I think are some of Hart's arguments in clearer form:
2. Most people, indeed most somewhat educated, hell most professional philosophers are going to be satisfied with the superficial arguments against natural law ethics and not going to really think their way through the issues for themselves, unless they are already intuitively in sympathy with natural law […]
3. Most people, for reasons that have little to do with trends in philosophy, have little sympathy with natural law ethics


We must remember that most people are naturally sympathetic to natural law because it is ...well, natural. Westerns have largely been “educated” away from it by populate culture, and yet instinctive streaks remain. And it is vitally important that natural law not only be done but be seen to be done. People who are not particularly interested in doing the philosophy themselves still benefit from seeing that some of the views they hold naively do in fact have a strong intellectual defence, regardless of whether they can adequately lay out that defence off the top of their heads. The point is not to win over each individual in society with intellectual rigour (as much as we would wish it), but at least to provide a solid foundation that sits their doing its job in the background.

So I am all for Hart’s pushing for a greater manifestation of Christianity in whatever way; but it doesn’t make sense from that to attack the intellectual side of things. It’s not even as though those on the philosophical side were suggesting that such should not be the case, or were pushing rationalising too far.

On the other hand, I don’t think it’s so outrageous to suggest that Hart is, after all, devoting multiple articles to saying something completely obvious, simple, and trivial. Poets like doing that, as long as they say in a fancy way (and I have come to suspect that part of the problem here may be Hart’s desire to wax rhapsodic at the expense of analytical clarity). But he still has a bee in his bonnet about something, and I wish I knew what.

Yoni said...

As an avid reader of both Feser and Hart (though for DHB I'd probably qualify as a fanboy) I thought I'd share some of my thoughts. I still can't help but think they agree on far more than it seems.

Regarding Natural Law, I think Hart is only opposed to those explanations which relegate theology to the sidelines. He is a theologian through and through, and therefore any appeal to morality that isn't ultimately grounded in the Trinity is deficient. He is also extremely critical and pessimistic about modernity, and has absolutely no confidence in our (meaning those us whose philosophical presuppositions have been principally shaped by "modern" influences) ability to recognize the "good" in Natural Law. I think for him, Western culture is so depraved that the logic of Natural Law will mostly fall on deaf ears. Or perhaps he would say that appropriating Natural Law into the popular culture would still be a bug in the proverbial windshield of modernity.

In any case, I'd like to see the debate continue...iron sharpens iron as they say

Brandon said...

We must remember that most people are naturally sympathetic to natural law because it is ...well, natural.

Closely related to this: One of the most basic rookie mistakes with regard to natural law ethics is not recognizing that it, unlike its major modern competitors, is pluralistic in its reasoning. There is no single kind of ethical argument, the way there is with utilitarianism or Kantianism, because any practical consideration that bears on human common good is going to be at least somewhat relevant. The problem with utilitarianism from a natural law point of view, for instance, is not that it fails to identify a genuine kind of ethical consideration under natural law but that that it treats one consideration as absolutely determinative when it is not. You can have ethical arguments that are perfectly fine natural law arguments without any explicit appeal to natural law; someone who has never heard of natural law ethics will inevitably give some of them when talking about ethics at all. Modern thought deviates from natural law by excluding things that are relevant, not by coming up with anything completely different.

As I've noted before in discussions like these, natural law as understood by natural law ethics is just the logic of practical reason applied to human common good. Modernity has attacked both elements -- the idea that there is a logic of practical reason and the idea that there is any human common good, and when it hasn't attacked them, it has attempted to cut off parts; but this is an entirely different question from whether they can actually get along without them.And we see this in typical natural law critiques, which do not argue that people are getting everything wrong but that they are being inconsistent. If it became popular in a society to deny the principle of noncontradiction and all logic based on it, it wouldn't tell us anything about the state of logic in that society or how to approach questions concerning it, much less about actual intuitive sympathies.

Skyliner said...

I think the following quote might throw some light on Hart's point of view:

“In a world without beauty—even if people cannot dispense with the word and constantly have it on the tip of their tongues in order to abuse it—in a world which is perhaps not wholly without beauty, but which can no longer see it or reckon with it: in such a world the good also loses its attractiveness, the self-evidence of why it must be carried out. Man stands before the good and asks himself why it must be done and not rather its alternative, evil. For this, too, is a possibility, and even the more exciting one: Why not investigate Satan’s depths? In a world that no longer has enough confidence in itself to affirm the beautiful, the proofs of the truth have lost their cogency. In other words, syllogisms may still dutifully clatter away like rotary presses or computers which infallibly spew out an exact number of answers by the minute. But the logic of these answers is itself a mechanism which no longer captivates anyone. The very conclusions are no longer conclusive. And if this is how the transcendentals fare because one of them has been banished, what will happen with Being itself? . . . The witness borne by Being becomes untrustworthy for the person who can no longer read the language of beauty.”

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Seeing the Form (vol. 1 of _The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics_), p. 19.

Daniel said...

@Yoni and Gottfried

Which of Hart's writings would you consider representative of him at his best? From the few articles I've read he's clearly a perceptive, intelligent man not to mention a graceful writer, but I don't see a great amount of metaphysical work being done as it were. I have his Experience of God, which from reading sections looks worthwhile, particularly as it ranges beyond specifically Christian theologies, though perhaps covers a deal of the same ground as TLS. His other main metaphysical work is The Beauty of the Infinite correct?

.He is a theologian through and through, and therefore any appeal to morality that isn't ultimately grounded in the Trinity is deficient.

The problem here is that as an orthodox Christian Hart presumably holds that the Trinity can only be known with the aid of Revelation, in which case it might follow that morality can only be known through Revelation. Alternatively if he just means the Godhead and doesn't mind an indirect root for this grounding Ed would agree.

(At this point I wish to stress I myself don't endorse Natural Theory for a number of reasons, mainly that it reduces human ends to biological ends and that any account which does not make central the transcendence of the soul amongst other things is going be radically deficient. So I have no A priori reason to champion Ed in this battle)

He is also extremely critical and pessimistic about modernity, and has absolutely no confidence in our (meaning those us whose philosophical presuppositions have been principally shaped by "modern" influences) ability to recognize the "good" in Natural Law. I think for him, Western culture is so depraved that the logic of Natural Law will mostly fall on deaf ears.

I wouldn't deny this but could not one say the same for most philosophical knowledge though? As for appropriating Natural Law into popular culture that's more a statement about the practical consequences of a theory rather than the true value of the theory itself.

Re Dante verses Minaj,

Whilst our aesthetic intuitions have value and most people here would join me in endorsing objective aesthetic properties appealing to said intuitions alone doesn't take one very far. Intuitionists like Moore and co have to flesh out how and what it means to have such intuitions otherwise people can simply deny they apply to them.

Daniel said...

Man stands before the good and asks himself why it must be done and not rather its alternative, evil. For this, too, is a possibility, and even the more exciting one: Why not investigate Satan’s depths? In a world that no longer has enough confidence in itself to affirm the beautiful, the proofs of the truth have lost their cogency. In other words, syllogisms may still dutifully clatter away like rotary presses or computers which infallibly spew out an exact number of answers by the minute. But the logic of these answers is itself a mechanism which no longer captivates anyone. The very conclusions are no longer conclusive. And if this is how the transcendentals fare because one of them has been banished, what will happen with Being itself? . . . The witness borne by Being becomes untrustworthy for the person who can no longer read the language of beauty.

There is risk of a self-invalidating misprioritization here. One has to win back the being of Beauty (from Subjectivism, Relativism and their kin) with Truth first of all. If one does it the other way round then at best we have Nietzsche and really the psychologist incoherencies Frege and Husserl waged war on.

John West said...

He is also extremely critical and pessimistic about modernity, and has absolutely no confidence in our (meaning those us whose philosophical presuppositions have been principally shaped by "modern" influences) ability to recognize the "good" in Natural Law. I think for him, Western culture is so depraved that the logic of Natural Law will mostly fall on deaf ears.

Maybe I simply haven't read enough of Hart's work. But people in this thread have written quotes like this all suggesting Hart worries philosophical arguments are nearly useless for evangelism and therefore dislikes them.

But if Hart is so worried about evangelism, why then does he turn to scriptural arguments? Surely, those are even more obscure, involve even less common ground, and are even less likely to reach most people Hart would like to evangelize.

Yoni said...

@ Daniel

"The Beauty of the Infinite" is without question his most definitive work. I believe his biggest influences are Maximus the Confessor, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and especially Gregory of Nyssa. I also know he's a strong admirer of Erich Przywara.

I'm not sure Hart would say morality cannot be known apart from Revelation. I suspect he'd say rather that to devise a Natural Law apart from Christ or the Incarnation is to strip away it's ultimate form and significance. Perhaps it would be analogous to the relationship between Aristotelian and Mechanistic metaphysics. By abstracting away that which cannot be measured empirically, one can still produce an accurate description of reality. But the description will be incomplete and in a way "distorted", because it fails to capture the "essence" of reality. Likewise, to describe Natural Law without reference to Christ could be construed as a "distorted" explanation--not because it is inaccurate--but because it is incomplete and missing vital components. I think Hart also thinks too much is made of the "line" which separates the Natural from the Supernatural. For Hart the Natural is always already the Supernatural in some sense, such that to appeal to a "purely" Natural Law is to conjure a fiction.

That's just me speculating though. And like I said I'm not even sure Ed would disagree with any of that.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading both Feser and Hart and enjoy the stark contrast of their respective christian perspectives. I do respect (and get a kick out of) Feser's tenacious precision. In his last piece, he reminds us that "reason must always be in the driver's seat" and claims that Hart relies excessively on "rhetoric". Fair enough, but I just don't see the inexhaustible love of Christ and the beauty and grandeur of His promises reflected in the cold blooded, bulletproof logic that comprises Feser's speculations on Heaven. That's my "Pavlovian" take on this controversy.

In any case, as Saint Paul said, "we see as through a glass darkly".

God bless Feser, Hart and all of you.



Yoni said...

@ Anonymous

I also enjoy the contrast in styles. I think in some ways it's the classic "East vs. West" "Continental vs. Analytical" in which both sides are arguing about the same thing, but in different languages.

It wouldn't be fair to call Hart a "fideist" (a charge I've seen a few times). And nor is it fair to say Ed's theology is "coldblooded" or "heartless." Horses for courses, in my opinion.

I personally find Hart to be a more "profound" thinker, and his work has had more influence on my theology than anyone else. I'd consider Ed more of a specialist (that's not meant to be a criticism). His work on philosophy of mind, the cosmological arguments, and the intellectual bankruptcy of metaphysical naturalism have also had a great influence on me.


George LeSauvage said...

Some very elementary questions:

1. Why is it taken that "all creation is redeemed" must mean that all creation is everlasting? Certainly the principle doesn't work in reverse; the damned have eternal life, but are not redeemed. Since God is atemporal, what is the problem with His seeing that the world that was, is ultimately good?

2. I don't get the significance of Thursday's plumping for Hart, insofar is Hart argues that philosophy doesn't convert many. So what; who ever thought it did? St Thomas is not Chrysotom; we've always known that preaching and philosophizing are distinct. (Aristotle wrote, not only the Organon, the Ethics, and the Metaphysics, but also the Rhetoric.)

3. On scripture vs Greek philosophy, I've always found John I:1 to be pretty telling as an argument that the division is not so great as the fideists wish to make it. And after all, long before the Greeks could have polluted Hebrew thought, God answered Moses simply "I Am." I guess I'm just too simple to see how that is discordant with the First Way.

Gottfried said...

Daniel,

Yes, I believe "Beauty of the Infinite" is probably his most important work, but "The Experience of God" might be the best place to start since you already have it, it's a much easier read, and it's much more metaphysically oriented. And yes, it's not dissimilar in its agenda to TLS. "Beauty", on the other hand, might be described as an aesthetic defense of the Christian faith, though it's far more compelling than that probably makes it sound. It's an incredibly ambitious and original book, frequently dazzling, but also frequently over my head when I read it years ago. I really need to go back to it one of these days.

Besides Hart's (frankly, weird) animus against Thomism, I think the conflict here really amounts to a difference in emphasis or focus. Hart's project encompasses all of human experience, including aesthetic and spiritual experience, whereas Feser's focus is primarily logical argumentation alone. Hart would say that any attempt to describe human motivation or the pursuit of truth in purely logical terms can only end in failure. But I don't think Feser would deny this, or claim that he was providing a complete picture. Nor is Hart an irrationalist who would claim that subjective experience could somehow trump a logically sound argument. I'm sure he would affirm that faith and reason, properly understood, can never be in conflict.
As others have suggested, I really don't think their philosophical outlooks are ultimately all that different. Such, anyway, is my no doubt muddled take.

Edward Feser said...

Hello Anonymous, Yori, and George,

Anonymous wrote:

I just don't see the inexhaustible love of Christ and the beauty and grandeur of His promises reflected in the cold blooded, bulletproof logic that comprises Feser's speculations on Heaven.

Please keep in mind that I was by no means putting forward a general account of Heaven in any of these recent articles. I was merely addressing a very specific issue, viz. whether animals will be there. That's all.

Yori wrote:

I'd consider Ed more of a specialist (that's not meant to be a criticism).

I don't think that's quite right given the very wide range of topics I write on. (Just peruse the topics of the various books and articles listed at my main website -- which needs to be updated, BTW -- or the scroll through the archives of the blog.)

But the thing is this: Sweeping Big Picture treatments have their place, and I've done some of that (e.g. to some extent in The Last Superstition). But what's really needed these days is a complete reconstruction, brick by brick, girder by girder, of the entire edifice of natural theology, dogmatic theology, and moral theology not to mention metaphysics, philosophy of nature, and all the other prolegomena. You know, all the stuff that earlier generations of theologians used to do before people of the sort who invented mindless epithets like "Baroque neoscholasticism" made of theology the complete mess it is today.

Now, to carry that out requires books and articles which examine various special topics in some depth. But that's not "specialization" at level of one's work as a whole; quite the opposite. That's just patience and rigor.

So, when people ask me: "Ed, why don't your write more on [the Resurrection, the Trinity, soteriology, this or that topic in ethics or political philosophy, etc. etc.] the answer is: "Give me time."

George wrote:

I don't get the significance of Thursday's plumping for Hart, insofar is Hart argues that philosophy doesn't convert many.

Yes, it's quite bizarre, in three ways:

1. The idea that modern man is so corrupt morally and epistemically that he can't be reached by philosophical arguments -- but, somehow, not so corrupt that he can't be reached by flowery paraphrases of scripture -- is just too stupid for words.

2. Why does it have to be either/or? Why not both/and?

3. It's simply empirically false. I can't count the number of people who told me that they've given up atheism, or come into the Church, or stayed in the Church when they were considering leaving, because of stuff of mine they've read. I'm sure other people who write on the sorts of things I write on could say the same.

Edward Feser said...

Gottfried wrote:

"The Experience of God" might be the best place to start since you already have it, it's a much easier read, and it's much more metaphysically oriented. And yes, it's not dissimilar in its agenda to TLS.

Yes, very similar -- as I found out recently when I'd finally gotten around to reading it -- what with the pages and pages and pages going on about the "mechanical philosophy" and its implications, classical theism vs. theistic personalism, the relevance of both issues to evaluating ID theory, etc.

Why, you'd almost think Hart had been reading TLS and this blog.

Yoni said...

@ George LeSauvage

1. Why is it taken that "all creation is redeemed" must mean that all creation is everlasting? Certainly the principle doesn't work in reverse; the damned have eternal life, but are not redeemed. Since God is atemporal, what is the problem with His seeing that the world that was, is ultimately good?

Interesting that you mention that, because Hart is actually a Universalist. See here:

https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/david-b-hart-on-universal-salvation-and-human-freedom/

Jeremy Taylor said...

Isn't it part of the rhetorical toolkit of modernists, especially on issues like so called gay marriage, that there opponents are ignorant bigots who have no proper arguments? I don't know what it is like in America, but I have noticed the debate on issues like gay marriage in the media in England and Australia almost entirely leaves out arguments against the social liberal positions, or, at best, there is a little smattering of traditional claims that are dismissed quickly.

Jeremy Taylor said...

- their.

I should add that I mean that making philosophical and other well reasoned arguments against social liberal, and getting them out there, might go some way to dispelling the idea we have no argument, just prejudice and appeals to tradition and Scripture.

Yoni said...

@ Ed

I don't think that's quite right given the very wide range of topics I write on. (Just peruse the topics of the various books and articles listed at my main website -- which needs to be updated, BTW -- or the scroll through the archives of the blog.)

But the thing is this: Sweeping Big Picture treatments have their place, and I've done some of that (e.g. to some extent in The Last Superstition). But what's really needed these days is a complete reconstruction, brick by brick, girder by girder, of the entire edifice of natural theology, dogmatic theology, and moral theology not to mention metaphysics, philosophy of nature, and all the other prolegomena. You know, all the stuff that earlier generations of theologians used to do before people of the sort who invented mindless epithets like "Baroque neoscholasticism" made of theology the complete mess it is today.

Now, to carry that out requires books and articles which examine various special topics in some depth. But that's not "specialization" at level of one's work as a whole; quite the opposite. That's just patience and rigor.

So, when people ask me: "Ed, why don't your write more on [the Resurrection, the Trinity, soteriology, this or that topic in ethics or political philosophy, etc. etc.] the answer is: "Give me time."


Sounds good Ed, I'm looking forward to it already. Perhaps I unfairly had the "The Beauty of the Infinite" in mind, which is quite vast in scope. I would be very interested to know if you've read it, and if so, what your general thoughts were.

1. The idea that modern man is so corrupt morally and epistemically that he can't be reached by philosophical arguments -- but, somehow, not so corrupt that he can't be reached by flowery paraphrases of scripture -- is just too stupid for words.

I don't think that's Hart's point. It's not that he thinks philosophical arguments can't be persuasive to modern man, but rather that Natural Law divorced from it's particularly Christian context has no real logical or moral force. I said earlier that "I think for him, Western culture is so depraved that the logic of Natural Law will mostly fall on deaf ears" but upon reflection I think that mostly misses his main point. I really don't think he's trying to disparage "rational" evangelism in favor of "emotional" evangelism. It just wouldn't make sense considering his other works, and it's never been an argument I've heard him make.

2. Why does it have to be either/or? Why not both/and?

3. It's simply empirically false. I can't count the number of people who told me that they've given up atheism, or come into the Church, or stayed in the Church when they were considering leaving, because of stuff of mine they've read. I'm sure other people who write on the sorts of things I write on could say the same.


Horses for courses. We all respond to Truth in our own way. Like you said, both approaches can and should be used to supplement the other when appropriate. And again, I can't imagine Hart would disagree.

Carl said...

David, fair point that people aren't going to re-hash the whole of classical theology for me. I did start to read http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/cosmological-argument-roundup.html

...but I challenge point #1, so that didn't really help.

John, I don't agree that there needs to be a first cause outside the postulated series. The cause of the Creator at each stage is the Creator before; no meta-Creator is involved. Why would such a series exist? Well, because the prior steps in the series made it so...which may seem like a non-answer, but it is very much the same as explaining why a self-existent being exists.

I also don't view the Creators within this series as being simple - as my original question probably indicated. And I don't hold to the doctrine of sola scriptura either; I probably should have said extrascriptural rather than extrabiblical, and I don't think anything outside scripture is automatically wrong, just open to challenge.

Anyway, I'll acknowledge the validity of David's point by bowing out now. Thanks for the discussion!

John West said...

John, I don't agree that there needs to be a first cause outside the postulated series. The cause of the Creator at each stage is the Creator before; no meta-Creator is involved. Why would such a series exist? Well, because the prior steps in the series made it so...which may seem like a non-answer, but it is very much the same as explaining why a self-existent being exists.

If you scroll to my chickens and eggs post, you should see I've already replied to this. I also gave you a clear reason why a necessarily (not self-) existent Being would exist necessarily (as has Ed).

I also don't view the Creators within this series as being simple - as my original question probably indicated. And I don't hold to the doctrine of sola scriptura either; I probably should have said extrascriptural rather than extrabiblical, and I don't think anything outside scripture is automatically wrong, just open to challenge.

Ed has already answered the concerns about simplicity.

A theme, reoccuring like cobwebs through the thread, is the view that it matters whether someone agrees. I don't care whether you agree. I think the focus on evangelism, unless put in its proper place, poisons the whole project of theology. I care about what's true, and so should you.

Daniel said...

Let us suppose we have a question to ask, for instance 'Why is there something rather than nothing?'

Now we're told Tooley knows the answer, however when we ask him he answers 'Ask Millikan', we ask Millikan, he answers 'Ask Fales', we ask Fales, he answers 'Ask Oppy', we ask Oppy, he answers 'Ask Smart', we ask Smart, he answers 'Ask Gale', we ask Gale, he answers 'Ask Smith', we ask Smith, he answers 'Ask Potts', we ask Potts, he answers 'Ask Sobel', and the trend continues ad infinitum.

Now is the answer that the next person in the series provides an explanation really an explanation?

George LeSauvage said...

@John West: "A theme, reoccuring like cobwebs through the thread, is the view that it matters whether someone agrees. I don't care whether you agree. I think the focus on evangelism, unless put in its proper place, poisons the whole project of theology. I care about what's true, and so should you.

This is very good. (And, not that it matters, but I wholly agree.)

But it shouldn't should not obscure the point Jeremy Taylor touches on: "I should add that I mean that making philosophical and other well reasoned arguments against social liberal, and getting them out there, might go some way to dispelling the idea we have no argument, just prejudice and appeals to tradition and Scripture."

Hammering this into people's head can be hard work; many people simply cannot take it in that any moral view is other-than-subjective, and that any defense of traditional morals is based on something other than Leviticus. No matter what you say, they hear Cotton Mather.

Here, the very dryness of Aquinas's prose helps. But I find it easier to appeal to Aristotle; the word
"Saint" seems to be a trigger to withdraw into their shell. ("It's just religious dogma - bigot!")

Unfortunately, what Ed describes as modern man being so corrupt morally and epistemically that he can't be reached by philosophical arguments does seem true of many. And even worse, several of these are on the Supreme Court. For that reason, there is indeed practical and rhetorical reason to practice philosophy - making people realize there is more to these questions than they imagine.

Skyliner said...

Hey Daniel,

I think an argument that Hart and Balthasar would make is that beauty (which is just as much a constituent of reality as goodness and truth) must be *perceived*, and that it cannot simply be inferred. Logic is a tool, not a lens: it must be fed with reality before it has the capacity to pass judgment with regard to it, and the very capacity of perceiving that reality lies outside its own sphere.

I.e., what "modern man" really needs is to relearn how to *see*--how to be able to rightly behold *and appreciate* things.

Which leads to another point: with regard to the debate under discussion in this thread, I would argue that the most significant work of Hart's is his _Atheist Delusions_. In it, you find what is perhaps his most comprehensive and succinct treatment of the historical-cultural fragility of the sort of "perceiving" and "seeing" that I'm talking about.

Daniel said...

@Skyliner,

Thanks for the response

I have to say I find such arguments problematic, not is as much as they want to differ to some foundational experience but in that they tacitly require said experience to come with a guarantee of its own verdicality. Whilst some experiences i.e. the vision of God's essence as perceived in a mystical experience or in the next world may come packed with their own verdicality we cannot directly communicate that verdicality to another who has not had the experience. To base the notion of Truth on such an experience is to render it utterly subjective.

is in fact the only one of Hart's books I have read cover to cover. I found this coverage of various historical details interesting though the book didn't really set itself a difficult task (he wrote an article on the New Atheists which does the same thing in a far shorter space of time). Re 'historical-cultural fragility', in Experience of God there are persistent gripes and barbs directed at Analytical Philosophy for 'floating above the historical and cultural contingencies of ideas and words' - now I may be old fashioned in this respect but one if not the central goal of philosophy since Plato has been precisely to seek out eternal, immutable truths, truths above the flux of historical and social contingency.

In places Hart shows a disturbing sympathy for Continental Philosophy, which has for the most part attacked this Platonic idea of philosophy (to the point where Heidegger no longer wanted to call his work philosophy for fear of association).

I.e., what "modern man" really needs is to relearn how to *see*--how to be able to rightly behold *and appreciate* things.

It depends what this 'relearning' consists of. If by this he means we should reflect on our experiences of the world and of ourselves, peeling away the obscuring layers of linguistic convention and socio-cultural prejudices till we gain some insight into their essences then I'm in complete accord with him. However this kind of ‘old school’ phenomenological analysis is precisely what the Heideggarians and their successors in Continental philosophers spend most of their time attacking in the name of ‘ontotheology’, language, history, class prejudice et cetera.

I’m sorry if this all seems very harsh. I don’t think the above (a generalisation I admit though a more accurate one than his account of Analytical Philosophy) account of Continental Philosophy reflects Hart’s own views, only that in his attacks on Logic and such he veers dangerously close to them.

Daniel said...

*Should read 'Atheist Delusions is in fact the only one of Hart's books I have read cover to cover'

Glenn said...

Skyliner,

Logic is a tool, not a lens: it must be fed with reality before it has the capacity to pass judgment with regard to it, and the very capacity of perceiving that reality lies outside its own sphere.

You seem to be confusing logic with reason, as well as to be falsely pitting logic and perception one against the other.

It is true that perceiving, as you seem to mean 'perceiving', is outside the sphere of logic. But rarely is it the case that a person simply 'perceives' and that is that.

What is the usual case, instead, is that a person 'perceives', and then goes on to engage in reasoning based on what he 'perceived' -- even if he has not an immediate conscious awareness of his subsequent reasoning.

It is also true that logic is a tool. But it is also true that it is a tool for testing, judging or evaluating the correctness of reasoning -- including reasonings based on about what one has 'perceived' (or thinks he may have 'perceived').

Glenn said...

(s/b "...reasonings based on or about...")

Skyliner said...

Hey Daniel,

No worries about sounding harsh. While I appreciate Hart and believe him to be an exceptional writer (his vocabulary is perhaps in the exact sense of the word nonpareil), I share your concerns when it comes to logical precision and conceptual rigor. I'm fully on board with what he's trying to do, e.g., in _The Experience of God_, but I wish he had done it differently (= more clearly) at key junctures. Feser's Intro to Scholastic Metaphysics provides a nice contrast (though I confess to having reservations concerning him as well).

I agree that it's difficult to "prove" that one's ethical or aesthetic sensibilities are correct; it is unfortunate that one cannot arrive at their validation with the ease of a syllogism. But, I don't think we are completely in the dark when it comes to attempting to apprise others of the rightness of our own point of view on a given matter. E.g., a social darwinist might come to "see" the infinite dignity and preciousness of a child with Down's Syndrome when he sees that child being cared for, loved, delighted in, and treated with dignity by his family and friends. (I put the word 'see' in scare quotes, though I believe it to be the right one.) He could become awakened to that which, previously, he had previously been blind.

This, by the way, is the type of thing I had in mind when I talked about "relearning how to see." Recall the example of infant exposure in ancient Rome cited by Hart in Atheist Delusions. To us, such is obviously wrong; to those in ancient Rome, it was not. How did we get from there to here? Hart's answer is that it was the Christian Revolution of Western civilization. The Christ-event touched the heart's of those closest to him and awakened their minds; over time, the recognition of the infinite dignity and preciousness of every human being is something that can be taken for granted. (Sadly, my sense is that the contemporary West may well be on its way from "here" back to "there".)

(Also, part or the relearning would of course consist of the sort of spiritual purification articulated by the great masters in the Christian and other traditions--the mind is distorted so long as desire is uneducated.)

Skyliner said...

To Glenn:

My intention is not to confuse reason with one of the tools it employs; at worst, here, I would confess indirectly to taking aim at a rather desiccated notion of reason--a notion wherein reason consists quite exclusively of propositionality and inference, and is understood *as such* to be rather superior to affectivity *and that which is apprehended via* affectivity. In other words, w/caveats, I think Richard of St. Victor was on to something when he claimed, "ubi amor, ibi oculus."

It is also worth pointing out that *every single time* a person consciously and deliberately goes about "engag[ing] in reasoning" about anything whatsoever, they do so on the basis of an emotional provocation. Literally an infinite number of inferences can be drawn from any given fact or set of facts (e.g., you can tack on an infinite number of disjuncts to a given true proposition, and it will remain valid, regardless of how *irrelevant* we deem the disjuncts). Why pursue *this* chain of inferences rather than *that* one? It is specifically *emotion* which sets logic in motion, thereby assuring that its employment *really is* reasonable (rather than a "waste of time").

Affectivity and emotion, in other words, are another set of "tools" that I would include under the heading of "reason": they are means by which we apprehend the valuative dimensions of reality (and this is where all this becomes salient to the Feser-Hart debate) as well as the impetus whereby the self is provoked to engage reality in a given manner (to your point). (I would word that differently if I had more time, but I've got a barbecue to prepare for, it being Memorial Day and all . . .).

So, in short, not at all trying to disparage reason or logic; not trying to champion mere sentiment or fideism. Rather, what I'm shooting for is a dilation of our understanding of reason.

John West said...

My intention is not to confuse reason with one of the tools it employs; at worst, here, I would confess indirectly to taking aim at a rather desiccated notion of reason--a notion wherein reason consists quite exclusively of propositionality and inference, and is understood *as such* to be rather superior to affectivity *and that which is apprehended via* affectivity.

Sorry. Could you give an example of someone who actually holds this view?

John West said...

I know you were replying to Glenn, but one more comment:

It is also worth pointing out that *every single time* a person consciously and deliberately goes about "engag[ing] in reasoning" about anything whatsoever, they do so on the basis of an emotional provocation. Literally an infinite number of inferences can be drawn from any given fact or set of facts (e.g., you can tack on an infinite number of disjuncts to a given true proposition, and it will remain valid, regardless of how *irrelevant* we deem the disjuncts). Why pursue *this* chain of inferences rather than *that* one? It is specifically *emotion* which sets logic in motion, thereby assuring that its employment *really is* reasonable (rather than a "waste of time").

If I seek to know how many jelly beans there are when three jelly beans are added to two jelly beans, I add three jelly beans to two jelly beans. My reason for adding, instead of introducing pointless disjuncts, has nothing to do with emotion.

It doesn't follow from the fact that I have reasons for reasoning that those reasons reduce to emotions; nor, for that matter, would it follow that the sum of three jelly beans and two jelly beans is not five jelly beans even if I did reason about the jelly beans due to emotions. To imply the former begs the question without explanation (ie. Thomists put the intellect in the driver's seat); the latter, commits the ad hominem fallacy. So I'm not sure what you hope to accomplish with that rhetorical question.

Skyliner said...

Greetings, John:

To the question in your first post, it heartens me that you seem to see that construal of 'reason' as problematic; if I might probe further, why?

To your second post, you would only add two and three jelly beans (rather than adding together a random selection of carpet strands, blades of grass, objects in the room adjacent to you, number of hairs on your head, the sum of all the above, the sum of the first two divided by the second two, or any other number of things) if you found it *worthwhile for some reason* to do so--if you found it conducive to the procuring of *a valuable end*. And this even if the end in question is the excitement of the mind to resolve an instance of *curiosity* (an intellectual emotion).

Tying this back into the Feser-Hart controversy, I reiterate that I'm not trying to denigrate "reason," "logic," etc. We should go for perspicuity when possible, and logic gets us there. The point is simply that there is a dimension of reality--viz., the valuative dimension of reality--which must be *felt* in order to be known *as such*. Consider the attempt to convey the conceptual content of 'funniness' to one who has never been personally amused by *anything*. In this case (admittedly petty, but nonetheless illustrative, I think), *argument* is not what is needed; one must find a way of speaking to the *heart* (no pun intended) of one's interlocutor in order to awaken them to an aspect of reality to which their defective affections have rendered them blind.

John West said...
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Glenn said...

Skyliner,

Thanks for the response.

I notice that you first want to constrict reason, and then later want to dilate it. I also notice that you first complain about an alleged ascendancy of reason (in its constricted state) over affectivity and, presumably, emotion (AE), and then later go on to: a) not claim that AE should be ascendant over reason; or, b) that AE and reason should be on equal footing; but, c) that it is reason which ought to subsume AE. Needless to say, it is somewhat less than clear to me just what it is you mean to getting at.

In other words, w/caveats, I think Richard of St. Victor was on to something when he claimed, "ubi amor, ibi oculus."

I'll happily grant that St. Victor is on to something there.

But I'd also like to suggestion the following:

1. If someone loves truth, then that person's eye will be on truth.

2. It is not unlikely that a person with his eye on truth, because he loves truth, will be pained when he sees truth, or its purportedly reasoned support, being mishandled.

3. It isn't affectivity and emotion which Scripture tells us will set us free.

4. Although it is true that truth and reason are not one and the same thing, it is also true that of reason and emotion it isn't emotion which usually is the better or more reliable arbiter of what is actually true.

5. The persuasiveness of a line of reasoning may be judged according to whether its conclusion negatively or positively affects the emotions, but the rationality of that line is reasoning better determined by something else.

6. Rational people, or at least people when being rational, do not use emotions to bridle their impulsive reasoning, but use reason to bridle their impulsive emotions (one symptom of which happens to be impulsive reasoning).

John West said...

Skyliner,

To the question in your first post, it heartens me that you seem to see that construal of 'reason' as problematic; if I might probe further, why?

No, I'm just trying to clarify what you're talking about. Can you give me an example of someone who actually holds that view?

If you mean contemporary symbolic logic, then it's simply untrue that is what logicians think. For example, anyone who reads above the level of introductory symbolic logic texts quickly sees the deep paranoia logicians have, and try to instill, about reading unecessary axioms into systems (ie. In Modal Logics and Philosophy, Rod Girle constantly demands students solve in the weakest system possible.) Logicians talk of logics for a reason. It's tiresome to watch people beat on this introductory-level straw man.

To your second post, you would only add two and three jelly beans (rather than adding together a random selection of carpet strands, blades of grass, objects in the room adjacent to you, number of hairs on your head, the sum of all the above, the sum of the first two divided by the second two, or any other number of things) if you found it *worthwhile for some reason* to do so--if you found it conducive to the procuring of *a valuable end*. And this even if the end in question is the excitement of the mind to resolve an instance of *curiosity* (an intellectual emotion).

Assume some given argument Z. Frank gives that argument for reason Y. He holds reason Y for reason X. He may hold reason X for desire W. He holds desire W for reason V. What you're positing is that this regress terminates in an emotion “*every single time*”.

I'm telling you that I see no prima facie reason to believe that the regress is broken by emotions. Moreover, since Thomists argue the intellect is in the driver's seat in humans, to claim that the regress terminates in an emotion begs the question against any view that the regress does not terminate in an emotion.

So what's needed to make your view plausible is some argument or explanation as to why we should accept that the regress of reasons for argument Z terminates in an emotion and for, what seems to ultimately be, a voluntarist view of what humans are.

Skyliner said...

Hey Glenn,

I think I agree with you enough to not want to drag this out. Just to leave you with one final instance in illustration of the side of the truth I'm trying to emphasize, however, recall that one of the principle reasons in Scripture why people fail to perceive truth is because of "hardness of heart." I'm not saying that emotion, etc., sets us free; rather, when it is at its best, it enables us to be capable of perceiving things we couldn't perceive otherwise.

To John West:

An understanding of "reason" which distinguishes it from and denigrates affectivity/passion/emotion is quite prevalent in the Western philosophical tradition. E.g.,

“Emotion works like water that breaks through a dam; passion works like a river digging itself deeper into its bed. Emotion works upon health like a stroke of apoplexy; passion works like consumption or atrophy . . . Emotion is like an intoxicant that can be slept off; passion is to be regarded as an insanity which broods over an idea that is embedding itself deeper and deeper.”
Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, 156f.

To your other point, my claim is not that emotion dictates why a person *affirms* this or that, but why a person deliberately *chooses* to pursue a given line of inquiry. And, no, I'm not trying to go anywhere near voluntarism et al.

I would be interested in your response to my earlier question, by the way . . .

John West said...
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John West said...

To your other point, my claim is not that emotion dictates why a person *affirms* this or that

Then it's a good thing that's not what I wrote, when I wrote about reasons for making argument Z (if you prefer, pursuing the line of inquiry leading to the conclusion of argument Z).

I would be interested in your response to my earlier question, by the way.

I thought you would be able to tell from my comment. I don't accept the grammar of the question. But it heartens me that you're insecure enough in your view you need me to agree with it. May I ask why?

**You wrote: I would confess indirectly to taking aim at a rather desiccated notion of reason--a notion wherein reason consists quite exclusively of propositionality and inference, and is understood *as such* to be rather superior to affectivity *and that which is apprehended via* affectivity.

**I wrote: Could you give an example of someone who actually holds this view?

*An understanding of "reason" which distinguishes it from and denigrates affectivity/passion/emotion is quite prevalent in the Western philosophical tradition. E.g., [...] Kant 

It doesn't follow from the fact that Kant rejected emotion as part of reason that he (a) thought that "reason consists quite exclusively of propositionality and inferrence." or (b) even, necessarily, rejected that people begin lines of inquiry because of emotions. All it means is that he rejected that emotion is part of reason, but he could have easily held both (a) and (b) and rejected that emotion is part of reason.

If all you meant is that there are people in the Western tradition who rejected that emotion is properly classified as part of reason (and so even if they affirm (a) and (b), consider your "reason" an equivocation), fine. But that's not what your words conveyed, which is why I asked for an example.

Glenn said...

Skyliner,

I think I agree with you enough to not want to drag this out. Just to leave you with one final instance in illustration of the side of the truth I'm trying to emphasize, however, recall that one of the principle reasons in Scripture why people fail to perceive truth is because of "hardness of heart." I'm not saying that emotion, etc., sets us free; rather, when it is at its best, it enables us to be capable of perceiving things we couldn't perceive otherwise.

I won't disagree with that. (And I would have to consider myself a fool if I did.)

Since we're not going to drag this out, I'll leave off with two additional remarks from (or at least attributed to) Richard of St. Victor:

o Love from the heart is love that comes from deliberate consideration. (The very next sentence is: "However, to love with the soul is to love with emotion." Even so, it isn't "hardness of the soul" which is the principal reason given by Scripture for why people fail to perceive the truth.)

o In carnal desires, love from the mind often follows love from the heart: but in spirituals, we always love first from deliberation, and afterwards from affection.

Skyliner said...

Glenn,

Out of curiosity, would you happen to know the latin word which was translated as "emotion" in your first bullet point (in the parentheses)? Also, as an aside, I just recalled that, in the same gospel in which Christ claims that "truth" will set us free, he also identified himself as "the truth." Just something to think about.

John West,

To your first point, I apologize for having misunderstood what you said. My bad. That said, I stand by my claim that affect/emotion is that which sets the deliberate exercise of reason in motion. E.g., I'm assuming that the reason why you are responding to me and constructing arguments against my claims has been motivated by the fact that you take my position to be in err in some significant respect, that you love truth and find its distortion repugnant; similarly, the reason why we're not arguing about the rate at which different colors of paint can dry when mixed is due to the fact that we see no value in such a subject matter (and, as such, considering such does not obtain in a feeling-toned way).

I realize that this claim is counterintuitive for the Thomist/Platonic construal of the soul, but I don't see it as begging the question; rather, I see it as grounded in observation. To wit, give me a single example in which reason is deliberately exercised by a human being *without* being provoked by emotion/affect. (I want to mention, however, that I am for the most part on board with the classical understanding of the proper ordering of the faculties of the soul.)

I asked why you found the articulation of "desiccated reason" problematic because I was genuinely interested in knowing why. Let my try and put it a different way: How would you define reason? What does it comprise, and what is/are its object(s)?

John West said...

(however, that I am for the most part on board with the classical understanding of the proper ordering of the faculties of the soul.)

The problem is that the classical Aristotelian-Thomistic view of the faculties of the soul holds that only the intellect is immaterial, and that it is prior to the other faculties. If the intellect precedes the other faculties, then that implies that intellectual activity (like reasoning) precedes non-intellectual activity (like emotion).

To wit, give me a single example in which reason is deliberately exercised by a human being *without* being provoked by emotion/affect.

I mean, I don't provide answers to math problems because of some prior emotion—as I tried to demonstrate in my jelly bean example. My point there was that adding the jelly beans is useful, and practical, so I add the jelly beans. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and there is no deeper emotional impetus lurking in the background.

Since your response was to try to take a further step back in the regress and state that I must have had an emotion somewhere along the line, I suspect I can probably chase you all the way down the regress with no progress in the discussion. I don't think that line of exchanges will yield productive conversation.

So, instead, I'll just say that I think it plausible that even our emotions follow from past deliberation. For instance, we don't become brutely angry for no reason at all. It at least seems we become angry for a reason.

In contrast, on your emotionalist view, emotions precede every line of human inquiry. But if emotions precede every line of human inquiry, then one would expect humans' actions to proceed without any order, for on it each human is—at bottom—entirely driven by whatever mood or whimsy initially takes him (if there is something prior to the emotion, then that other thing breaks the regress, not the emotion). Hence, on your emotionalist view, one would expect humans' actions to proceed without any order. Yet, we observe that human actions do proceed with order. Society is for the most part orderly; people follow ordered routines in their daily lives; more academically, success in fields like game theory demonstrate that we can even successfully provide mathematical models for predicting how humans will act on the presumption they are rational decision makers. So, what one would expect if emotions precede every line of human inquiry conflicts with what we observe in societies and the success of models from fields like game theory. Given this conflict, the emotionalist needs to give some explanation of why humans, which they claim would at bottom be driven by whimsical emotions, appear to live in a for the most part orderly manner.

Also, as I stated earlier, it seems there are good reasons grounded in the metaphysics of the mind to hold that reason precedes emotion.

How would you define reason?

Well, a plain talk definition of reason is “the power to think, understand, deliberate, and form judgments.” When I'm at a computer instead of a tablet, I'll look at giving a more rigorous stipulative definition.

John West said...

... classical Aristotelian-Thomistic ...

I should probably just write "the classical Aristotelian view".

Skyliner said...

Hey, John,

Aquinas actually distinguished between passiones on the one hand (bodily hunger, thirst, pain, lust, etc.) and affectiones on the other (intellectual love, joy, delight, etc.). ST 1, q. 20, a. 1, ad 1. The former require a body, but the latter do not; as such, the latter are found in God. I understand the claim that affect is contingent upon knowledge (one must know a thing before desiring it), and while I think that there is an important truth in this position, I think that something is missing from it. E.g., at times, it seems to be the case that one doesn't fully *know* a thing until one *loves* it, i.e., is moved by its loveworthiness and preciousness. Consider the example I gave a few posts ago regarding the practice of infant exposure in ancient Rome. The guys who were doing it (usually to daughters they didn't want) would probably have claimed to have "known" the types of things they were exposing to death. For my part, however, I would claim that their knowledge was defective. It was not informed by a fitting appreciation of the value of the children--and that fitting appreciation obtains in a feeling-toned way.

On the regress issue, I think that your comments provide an example of what Michael Stocker refers to as "the invisibility of emotion," i.e., the fact that we are using it all the time while being unaware of it. The mathematician studies numbers because he is *fascinated* by their intelligibility, and fascination is an intellectual emotion. Again, I realize this is counterintuitive, but I believe that honest introspection will bear out my claim. Also, this is not to claim that emotion "trumps" reason; it's just to show the function it plays within its (reason's) proper exercise. Our moral and aesthetic sensibilities, as well as the desires arising from them, need to be educated, to be sure.

Emotion certainly can follow upon deliberation. It often does But, I think it can also take the form of something along the lines of perception--of the genuine apprehension of "that which is" (in this case, its valuative dimensions). Thus, at its best, anger is the manner in which the ought-not-be character of a given state of events is apprehended *as such*. (Cf. Augustine, on a happier theme, in On the Psalms 51:18). So, I would want to claim that, at times, it is affectivity which constitutes the fundamental datum of intellection: given the value which I affirm (and which I have apprehended via affectivity), I will therefore . . .

Scott said...

@Skyliner:

I realize that this claim is counterintuitive for the Thomist/Platonic construal of the soul, but I don't see it as begging the question; rather, I see it as grounded in observation. To wit, give me a single example in which reason is deliberately exercised by a human being *without* being provoked by emotion/affect.

I suspect that what you've "observed" is simply that someone's doing of something is ordinarily accompanied by a desire to do it.

I suppose I could pick nits about your claim to have "observed" other people's emotions. But more to the point, such accompaniment of goal by desire proves exactly nothing about which one, if either, "provoked" the other. And the Aristotelian account, at least as surely as yours and arguably more so, holds that deliberate choices are motivated.

Let's briefly consider your own example:

I stand by my claim that affect/emotion is that which sets the deliberate exercise of reason in motion. E.g., I'm assuming that the reason why you are responding to me and constructing arguments against my claims has been motivated by the fact that you take my position to be in err in some significant respect, that you love truth and find its distortion repugnant[.]

Is it your contention that the motivation to correct significant intellectual error is somehow prior to reason? Are you suggesting that reason is merely the handmaid of such dark, unexamined, pre- or sub-rational emotions as the desire to protect rationally apprehended truth?

John West said...

Skyliner,

On the regress issue, I think that your comments provide an example of what Michael Stocker refers to as "the invisibility of emotion," i.e., the fact that we are using it all the time while being unaware of it.

Even if this were true (and I'm not claiming it is), it doesn't follow from the fact that we're using emotion all the time that it causes anything. It would only follow that because we're using it all the time it correlates with some things (on logging into my account to post, I see Scott has put this more succinctly in the comment above).

Again, I realize this is counterintuitive, but I believe that honest introspection will bear out my claim.

But if after my argumentation, all you have to reply is though it's counterintuitive, people who will not affirm your claim are introspecting dishonestly*, then I think we're done here. Thank you for the conversation. It has been interesting.


*"If they are introspecting honestly, their introspection will bear out my claim" is logically equivalent to saying "if their introspection will not bear out my claim, they are not introspecting honestly." by contraposition.

Skyliner said...

To John West, again:

I wouldn't describe my own position as "emotionalist" simply because I am trying to highlight the cognitive significance of emotion, any more than I would describe you as a "rationalist" for rightly highlighting and defending the cognitive significance of reason. I'm not with Hume in claiming that reason is to be the slave of the passions; I'm not trying to replace the charioteer in Plato's analogy of the soul with sentiment. My claim that the deliberate exercise of reason by human agents is set in motion by emotion is simply meant to draw attention to the fact that we rationally deliberate upon a thing to the extent to which we are arrested by its value, significance, salience, import, etc.--the debatable claim I'm basing this on is that the latter are cognitively apprehended in a feeling-toned way. At any rate, once reason is set in motion, it must be guided by the beliefs one holds, and the values one affirms (and the logical entailments of both of these), with an ultimate intensity of conviction. As such, it is perfectly possible on my construal of emotion for a given emotional response to be overturned by rational deliberation. (E.g., the cheeseburger looks good, but is bad for me; given that my most deeply affirmed background beliefs and values show that . . . I will therefore not . . .)

I'm simply trying to say that affect/emotion plays a more significant role within our intellectual economy than is commonly realized.

Regarding the order of society, I would say that, even here, emotion plays a part. Emotions have a logical structure. Given that I value my new white carpet, I am glad when my wife brings in a new rug that compliments it, and become apprehensive when I see my kids running toward the house after playing outside on a rainy day, etc. What role does emotion play in providing order to society? Since I regard emotions as a perceptual (i.e., they are the means by which we cognitively apprehended the valuative dimensions of being), I would say that the reason why human society's get along decently well is because *they are operating under the assumption of a largely shared set of premises*--these things (most of us agree, to one extent or another) are *valuable*, ergo, let us . . .

I hope that none of this has come off as confrontational, by the way. I really am a sincere seeker after truth, and I really do realize that I'm wrong quite often (nine years of marriage will teach you that, as my wife constantly reminds me). I thank you for pointing out the weaknesses in my own position and helping me to clarify it for myself--it is a work in progress.

And, thank you for providing me with your definition of reason. I would not for a second disagree with anything you stated there. I myself would define it in terms of "the capacity to apprehend reality, i.e., that which is--and this through both the perception of it, as well as the ability to discern *more of it* on the basis of the application of logic to that which has been perceived."

I leave you with the last word; best in Christ.

John West said...

I leave you with the last word

I don't really have anything more to say than what I've said. I don't see anything left to address that hasn't already been addressed, except that I would be interested in your reply to Scott's question:

Is it your contention that the motivation to correct significant intellectual error is somehow prior to reason? Are you suggesting that reason is merely the handmaid of such dark, unexamined, pre- or sub-rational emotions as the desire to protect rationally apprehended truth?

Because in your most previous reply you seem to be backtracking (or softening, if you prefer) from your original statement:

It is also worth pointing out that *every single time* a person consciously and deliberately goes about "engag[ing] in reasoning" about anything whatsoever, they do so on the basis of an emotional provocation. Literally an infinite number of inferences can be drawn from any given fact or set of facts (e.g., you can tack on an infinite number of disjuncts to a given true proposition, and it will remain valid, regardless of how *irrelevant* we deem the disjuncts). Why pursue *this* chain of inferences rather than *that* one? It is specifically *emotion* which sets logic in motion, thereby assuring that its employment *really is* reasonable (rather than a "waste of time").

Have a good evening.

Skyliner said...

Pax tibi, Scott,

My claim is that affect is ingredient to reason--part of it (reason) when it is understood in its fullest sense as the organon by which we apprehend and engage the fullness of being. Not the whole of it, not the charioteer, but neither is it something that is to be set over against it. Thus, I would not immediately jump to such notions as "dark" or "sub-rational" on the basis of hearing words like "emotion," "love truth," "find its distortion to be repugnant," etc. I am with Aristotle in saying that deliberate choices are motivated. And, no, I don't find the desire to defend truth as irrational in any sense; the fact that emotion plays *a part* in such does not render it so.

E.g., were I to claim, "Aquinas' act-potency model of ontology was perhaps the single biggest mistake in the history of Western philosophy; act, when rightly understood, is simply a defective mode of potency," you would perceive the falseness of this claim, become indignant by virtue of both its falseness and the arrogant manner in which it is set forth, and therefore set about putting together premises which demonstrate my error and apprise me of the truth. But, if I said, "This paint will dry in ten minutes, given its physical properties and where I've placed the fan," you probably won't bother engaging my claim.

I give you the last word.

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