Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Long list o’ links


You’ve long longed for a list of links.  And it’s been a long time since I listed any links.  So here’s a long list of long longed-for links. 

Chris Kaczor is interviewed at National Review and America magazine about his new book The Gospel of Happiness.

At Nautilus, philosopher Roger Trigg explains why science needs metaphysics.

Sexual ethics and the modern academy: a Princeton Anscombe Society panel discussion with John Haldane, Candace Vogler, Roger Scruton, and Robert P. George.

The Wall Street Journal on how Steely Dan created “Deacon Blues.”

At The University Bookman, Robert Koons reviews R. J. Snell’s Acedia and its Discontents.


Thinking of getting a Ph.D.?  Maybe you should first read Charlotte Allen’s piece in The Weekly Standard.  And Gabrielle Girgis’s in Public Discourse.  (However: If you can overcome both of the obstacles described in these articles, we desperately need you in academia.)

We Catholics are living in interesting times.  Commentary from R.R. Reno, Ross Douthat, and Damian Thompson. And there's a theme song.

Philosopher Paul Symington on Aquinas on prime matter.

Also at The University Bookman: David Seed’s new book on Ray Bradbury is reviewed.

At New York magazine, Jonathan Chait explains why it’s time to take political correctness seriously.

And as if to illustrate the problem, Germaine Greer is under fire for stating the bleeding obvious.

The second volume of Peter Adamson’s “history of philosophy without any gaps” has just come out.  So has his book on Islamic philosophyAdamson’s blog and his history of philosophy homepage will keep you up to date on the project and on his podcasts.

For what it’s worth: Richard Dawkins’ interview with the late Christopher Hitchens, in New Statesman.

New in Thomism: Fred Freddoso on Thomism and the philosophy of mind in Acta Philosophica; David Oderberg on divine premotion in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion.


At The American Conservative, Don Devine mourns the army he knew.

Conservative philosopher Roger Scruton on Catholicism and Anglicanism, at the Catholic Herald

St. Peter Damian’s The Book of Gomorrah is now available in a new translation.

Swastikas!  Pornography!  And… the Latin Mass?  The absolutely bizarre story of the “Latin Mass Society.”  More details from Fr. Z.

Can materialism account for truth?  Philosopher Douglas Groothuis says No.

A 24-volume Neo-Scholastic theology and philosophy collection is available.  Register and make a bid at Logos.com.

103 comments:

Anonymous said...

So Ed what did you think of the up-and-coming "intellectual" of the Republican party trashing philosophy and the humanities in general in the Republican debate?

http://theweek.com/speedreads/588149/marco-rubio-wants-more-welders-less-philosophers

Justin said...

It does seem like the Republicans Party in general could use some good philosophers to help them form arguments in a witty manner to counter some of the more illogical ideas they say they are against.

I still go back and watch the clip of Milton Friedman laying waste to Phil Donahue when Phil was questioning the morality of capitalism. Talk shows today wouldn't have such an intellectual discussion these days, but Phil's audience seemed to understand Milton just fine, but that was 1979. Probably a smarter talk show audience then.

FM said...

The interview between Dawkins and Hitchens is like seeing two men fondling each other improperly...

Funny how also they are convinced that in Europe no one really believes anymore... I guess they should just walk one meter out of their comfort zone for a second. Well Dawkins... for Hitchens it's a bit too late.

Billy said...

Anon, I don't think Rubio "trashed" philosophy and the humanities. Rubio said we need less philosophers, not that we don't need them.

Anonymous said...

Billy, his implication in that remark and similar remarks he has made in the past is that college should be about job training and studying such subject as philosophy is a useless waste of time and money. I can understand him not wanting more philosophy majors because a thinking populous probably wouldn't be supporting philistines like him for President. If more people studied philosophy and scrutinized these ridiculous presidential candidates a little further, I doubt we would be in the fix we're in.

Peter Smith said...

From Fr. Z's blog, a prayer before connecting to the Internet:
http://wdtprs.com/blog/a-prayer-before-connecting-to-the-internet/

The Frenchman said...

A long-longed list that sure is gonna help !


Also, i (finally) received both Aquinas and The Last Superstition.

So far, it is just as i expected : two well-written masterpieces.


Sincerely, thousands of thanks for your work, professor !

Glenn said...

1. Roger Trigg (in the article linked to by the OP):

Technology cannot keep pace with theoretical predictions about subatomic reality coming from physics. The same applies to our ability to observe the far reaches of the universe. Theory outstrips data and can become more extravagant with the claims it makes about the character of a reality. Theories are more underdetermined by empirical results than ever, but scientists are reluctant to admit that the arguments they put forward are philosophical and metaphysical.


2. Robert M. Pirsig (in his 1974 Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (in which he refers to his younger self as "Phædrus")) (quotation is rather lengthy; but it is for non-profit, educational purposes, so (the claim is that) "fair use" applies):

Phædrus had finished his first year of University science at the age of fifteen. His field was already biochemistry, and he intended to specialize at the interface between the organic and inorganic worlds now known as molecular biology. He didn't think of this as a career for his own personal advancement. He was very young and it was a kind of noble idealistic goal.

The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshipper or lover. The daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart.

If Phædrus had entered science for ambitious or utilitarian purposes it might never have occurred to him to ask questions about the nature of a scientific hypothesis as an entity in itself. But he did ask them, and was unsatisfied with the answers.

The formation of hypotheses is the most mysterious of all the categories of scientific method. Where they come from, no one knows. A person is sitting somewhere, minding his own business, and suddenly...flash!...he understands something he didn't understand before. Until it's tested the hypothesis isn't truth. For the tests aren't its source. Its source is somewhere else...

Phædrus' break occurred when, as a result of laboratory experience, he became interested in hypotheses as entities in themselves. He had noticed again and again in his lab work that what might seem to be the hardest part of scientific work, thinking up the hypotheses, was invariably the easiest. The act of formally writing everything down precisely and clearly seemed to suggest them. As he was testing hypothesis number one by experimental method a flood of other hypotheses would come to mind, and as he was testing these, some more came to mind, and as he was testing these, still more came to mind until it became painfully evident that as he continued testing hypotheses and eliminating them or confirming them their number did not decrease. It actually increased as he went along.

At first he found it amusing. He coined a law intended to have the humor of a Parkinson's law that "The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any given phenomenon is infinite." It pleased him never to run out of hypotheses. Even when his experimental work seemed dead-end in every conceivable way, he knew that if he just sat down and muddled about it long enough, sure enough, another hypothesis would come along. And it always did. It was only months after he had coined the law that he began to have some doubts about the humor or benefits of it.

If true, that law is not a minor flaw in scientific reasoning. The law is completely nihilistic. It is a catastrophic logical disproof of the general validity of all scientific method[.]

If the purpose of scientific method is to select from among a multitude of hypotheses, and if the number of hypotheses grows faster than experimental method can handle, then it is clear that all hypotheses can never be tested. If all hypotheses cannot be tested, then the results of any experiment are inconclusive and the entire scientific method falls short of its goal of establishing proven knowledge.


cont...

Glenn said...

About this Einstein had said, "Evolution has shown that at any given moment out of all conceivable constructions a single one has always proved itself absolutely superior to the rest," and let it go at that. But to Phædrus that was an incredibly weak answer. The phrase "at any given moment" really shook him. Did Einstein really mean to state that truth was a function of time? To state that would annihilate the most basic presumption of all science[.]

But there it was, the whole history of science, a clear story of continuously new and changing explanations of old facts. The time spans of permanence seemed completely random[, and] he could see no order in them. Some scientific truths seemed to last for centuries, others for less than a year. Scientific truth was not dogma, good for eternity, but a temporal quantitative entity that could be studied like anything else.

He studied scientific truths, then became upset even more by the apparent cause of their temporal condition. It looked as though the time spans of scientific truths are an inverse function of the intensity of scientific effort. Thus the scientific truths of the twentieth century seem to have a much shorter life-span than those of the last century because scientific activity is now much greater. If, in the next century, scientific activity increases tenfold, then the life expectancy of any scientific truth can be expected to drop to perhaps one-tenth as long as now. What shortens the life-span of the existing truth is the volume of hypotheses offered to replace it; the more the hypotheses, the shorter the time span of the truth. And what seems to be causing the number of hypotheses to grow in recent decades seems to be nothing other than scientific method itself. The more you look, the more you see. Instead of selecting one truth from a multitude you are increasing the multitude. What this means logically is that as you try to move toward unchanging truth through the application of scientific method, you actually do not move toward it at all. You move away from it[.] It is your application of scientific method that is causing it to change[.]

What Phædrus observed on a personal level was a phenomenon, profoundly characteristic of the history of science, which has been swept under the carpet for years. The predicted results of scientific enquiry and the actual results of scientific enquiry are diametrically opposed here, and no one seems to pay too much attention to the fact. The purpose of scientific method is to select a single truth from among many hypothetical truths. That, more than anything else, is what science is all about. But historically science has done exactly the opposite. Through multiplication upon multiplication of facts, information, theories and hypotheses, it is science itself that is leading mankind from single absolute truths to multiple, indeterminate, relative ones. The major producer of the social chaos, the indeterminacy of thought and values that rational knowledge is supposed to eliminate, is none other than science itself. And what Phædrus saw in the isolation of his own laboratory work years ago is now seen everywhere in the technological world today. Scientifically produced antiscience...chaos...


cont...

Glenn said...

No one that Phædrus talked to seemed really concerned about this phenomenon that so baffled him. They seemed to say, "We know scientific method is valid, so why ask about it?"

Phædrus didn't understand this attitude, didn't know what to do about it, and because he wasn't a student of science for personal or utilitarian reasons, it just stopped him completely...

And so Phædrus, who at the age of fifteen had finished his freshman year of science, was at the age of seventeen expelled from the University for failing grades. Immaturity and inattention to studies were given as official causes.

There was nothing anyone could have done about it; either to prevent it or correct it. The University couldn't have kept him on without abandoning standards completely.

In a stunned state Phædrus began a long series of lateral drifts that led him into a far orbit of the mind, but he eventually returned along a route [which led back] to the doors of the University itself...

I talked about Phædrus' lateral drift, which ended with entry into the discipline of philosophy. He saw philosophy as the highest echelon of the entire hierarchy of knowledge. Among philosophers this is so widely believed it's almost a platitude, but for him it's a revelation. He discovered that the science he'd once thought of as the whole world of knowledge is only a branch of philosophy, which is far broader and far more general. The questions he had asked about infinite hypotheses hadn't been of interest to science because they weren't scientific questions. Science cannot study scientific method without getting into a bootstrap problem that destroys the validity of its answers. The questions he'd asked were at a higher level than science goes.
**


3. pck on the proper pecking order, vis-à-vis a particular something:

o The mechanics of (part of) what makes thought possible can indeed be shed light on by studying the brain. But that is a completely different undertaking than clarifying what thought is (as an experience and/or human ability). Studying the brain to find out what "thought" means is like studying road asphalt and car engines to find out what a journey is. (Here.)

o Here are the facts: 1) Our ordinary meaning of "thought" and other terms which express 1st person experiences is what we want to clarify in philosophy. 2) What must happen on the material level in order to make human experiences possible must be examined by science. 3) It was ever thus. (Here.)


- - - - -

** This is just too good to resist:

Now, "Stop reading Pirsig and try reading some real philosophy, my man." -- Anonymous, November 28, 2009 at 12:24 PM

Anonymous said...

That "interview" of Hitchens by Dawkins was very disturbing. What a bunch of pompous pricks. I can't help but laugh when New Atheists point to Chris Hitchens as some authority on anything religion related (or anything else for that matter). He was professional amateur in everything literary. The only thing he was a professional at was having a foul mouth and getting drunk off his ass in public.

Anonymous said...

To the anon above:
Yes it makes me laugh to because they claim to be freethinkers yet only listen to people who tell them what they want to here. It's actually kind of sad. But I guess that's how things are today. Just say something "criticizing" or "insulting" religion and your an instant intellectual giant. I mean do you know how many people think that guys like Bill Maher, Stephen Fry, Seth Macfarlane, Rowan Atkinson, and George Carlin are actual sophisticated critics of religion who are intellectual gurus about the topic.

Billy said...

Anon,

"Billy, his implication in that remark and similar remarks he has made in the past is that college should be about job training and studying such subject as philosophy is a useless waste of time and money. I can understand him not wanting more philosophy majors because a thinking populous probably wouldn't be supporting philistines like him for President. If more people studied philosophy and scrutinized these ridiculous presidential candidates a little further, I doubt we would be in the fix we're in."

Please give some quotes here if possible, especially that he said or implied that "philosophy is a useless waste of time and money". He didn't say or imply that in the Republican debate, as far as I can see.

James Bonaire said...

Woah...
I was just coming here to ask Feser if he ever read any Walker Percy.
I click on the link up top where it says: "Leslie Marsh has the coolest looking blog I’ve ever seen."
And I see "Walker Percy" come up in the first blog post of hers.

laubadetriste said...

(Ahem) I suppose it falls to my lot to defend the the often-wrong-but-never-uncertain Hitch. Let me concede at the outset, so as to forestall confusion, that he said a great number of intemperate, pigheaded, and grossly ignorant things about religion, faith, and God. (On this point I trust I need not elaborate. Others here will do that for me.)

Nor will I dwell overmuch on pomposity. Few of us would would like the truth of our claims to be judged by the tone in which we made them, especially at our worst moments. Also, I would claim that there is a great deal of good to be had from a competent hatchet job. (While I'm at it let me add, in the spirit of Barbara Holland, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, G. K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, and diverse others, that bacon tastes good, intoxication is a rare and often ennobling pleasure dating back past even the *Symposium* and the *Rig Veda*, smoking looks cool in movies, and profanity serves as an excellent literary punctuation when well deployed.) But those are several conversations, each for another day.

Instead, let me mention just a couple reasons why some people admire Christopher, or the Hitch--"[N]ever 'Chris'—a mistake that would evoke either annoyance or a circumcision joke about snipping his name[.]"--Rabbi David Wolpe--, and why we might take him to have some authority on some things, including, yes, some religion-related things; and also why he might well be classed as a freethinker.

(What a parallel in method between the overbroad insults hurled by the Hitch, and the overbroad derision of Anonymous the first. "How religion poisons everything." Everything? Really? *Everything?* "...anything religion related (or anything else for that matter)." Anything? Really? *Anything?*)

laubadetriste said...

First note, as I did once before in a similar context, that Hitch reported from "Baghdad, Banja Luca, Basra, Beirut, Belfast, Belgrade, Bombay, [and] Bosnia," just to keep to the Bs. These are all places, not to put too fine a point on it, where religion had not an unmixedly benign influence. He sheltered Salman Rushdie in his own home during the Satanic Verses episode, and so exposed himself directly to the sovereign threat of assassination. And he faced his own painful death from cancer in a way which reminds me of nothing so much as Adam Smith's letter on the death of Hume. He was in short a man of great personal courage, who had seen first hand vile religious and other evils, which makes some criticism of him seem fatuous. (I sometimes have the urge to ask people, So how often have *you* been beaten up in Beirut by fascist thugs?)

Aquinas does say that proof from authority is the weakest sort of proof, but in the interest of brevity let me employ the authority of Salman Rushdie, Kingsley Amis, Robert Conquest, Clive James, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, James Fenton, and Julian Barnes to insist that Hitch had some skill in "everything literary." I submit that one or two of them may have known about such things. (Or perhaps I should recall that the word "amateur" derives from the Latin for "lover," and that the *professional* is not always a friend of literature. MFA programs forfend!)

Permit me to quote myself on Hitch as a freethinker: "When re-reading Hitchens, the affinities seem clear. What more like are those moments of beautiful humanism, than the speeches of Robert Ingersoll? The pop science, than the gushing of Annie Besant about the evolution of the eye? The partisan history, than the philippics of Joseph McCabe? The Whig philosophy, than the triumphalism of Chapman Cohen? The defense of the rights of secularists, than the efforts of Charles Bradlaugh? The biblical criticism, than the indignation of Thomas Paine? The proud moral stands, than those episodes of French history, from the Calas case to J'accuse? Indeed, re-reading Hitchens is very like strolling through the historical section of the Secular Web library."

Or perhaps you did not mean to employ "freethinker" to mean *freethinker*--perhaps you meant an etymological insult of implied departure from the ideal, as when someone says "unchristian." If so, let me remind you that this is the same Hitch who parted from three decades of friends and colleagues on the Left over the Iraq War, and suffered for it.

"...only listen to people who tell them what they want to here."

And this is the same Hitch who took a tour through the Bible Belt, debated with his brother, sat down for discussions with Andrew Sullivan... Which is to say, I call bullshit.

Edward Feser said...

James Bonaire,

Leslie is a "he," actually.

laubadetriste said...

Apropos recent article: "Is the New Atheism Dead?":

"Stephen Bullivant, a senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St. Mary’s University at Twickenham and co-author of The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, believes the detente might be a result of intentional efforts on behalf of both sides. 'The New Atheists proper... were very important in attracting attention, and galvanizing, that wider constituency,' Bullivant explained in an email to the New Republic, 'but even in the early days of [New Atheism] it was quite common to hear atheists (as well as the more broadly 'nonreligious'—most nones aren't actual atheists, of course) express appreciation of Dawkins et al., while being quick to qualify it.' For example, they would affirm their atheism, but maintain they had respect for religious people. Bullivant pointed out that many popular atheist texts produced since the rise of the original New Atheists have had a more conciliatory tone, including books by Chris Stedman, Greg Epstein, and Alain de Botton. / 'There have also, of course, been moves from the religious side of things too,' Bullivant added."

Anonymous said...

William Lane Craig (an actual scholar) sums up his experience debating Hitchens here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYyKmOCMBSs

laubadetriste said...

↑Cool video. Admirable Midwest Standard accents. I especially liked the parts where the host and WLC both mention Hitch conceding that some of his objections had been met; not trying to bluster his way past having lost a debate; and having wanted to come to the States to "interact with all these Christians who had been emailing him and flaming him." From whom, of course, he received a generally cordial welcome. Also, how much they enjoyed just listening to him, due to his rhetorical skill.

Ce-le-brate good times, come on! ba-dum ba-dum, ba--dum-dum-dum, ba-da!

Peter Smith said...


laubedetriste,
"believes the detente might be a result of intentional efforts on behalf of both sides."

That might have played some role but I think the bigger part was revulsion at the tactics of New Atheists.
1. they used excessive and ugly polemics;
2. their forums became slime pits of nastiness;
3. they used every legal opportunity to restrict religious expression;
4. they used plainly bad arguments and philosophy;
5. many atheists disavowed their tactics;
6. their arguments have been strongly criticised for being philosophically unsound;
7. the religious response has been generally graceful and thoughtful.

I think that New Atheism has largely been to our benefit:
1. it has made us re-examine our faith, clarify our beliefs and sharpen our arguments.
2. it has prompted reforms in the church;
3. it has revealed the unappealing side of atheism;
4. it has re-invigorated our defence of our faith.

The numbers of atheists and non-religious has grown somewhat but the reason is more likely a toxic combination of hedonism, narcissism and consumerism. Contented, self-satisfied narcissists are unlikely to go to church.

On the other hand we have seen the remarkable recovery of religion in Russia and China despite what is probably the most savage repression of religion ever recorded.

Closer to home we are seeing that spiritual yearnings are always present, to the dismay of New Atheism. We can see this in the appointment of secular chaplains, the attempts to create secular churches and the rash of books about finding the sacred in nature(for example, Ursula Goodenough and Stuart Kauffman).

The New Atheist dream of destroying religion is a vain hope.

laubadetriste said...

@ Peter Smith:

Seems mostly fair. Phrased in a partisan fashion, but as I said I find that often genuinely valuable, and so--mostly fair. I concede all points but one, and add one reminder myself.

The reminder is regarding your number 7. And that is that the New Atheists took up their pens in response to events in the world which they took to have an essential religious element. (WLC noted this in the YouTube video, above. And Vaal was harping on about it a bit ago, on another post.) I gently suggest that it is at least somewhat cheeky to take pride in one's measured response *after* the fact, when a (perhaps the) major claim had been precisely what was going on *before* (and on the part of others, and elsewhere).

The point I do not concede is that "The numbers of atheists and non-religious has grown somewhat but the reason is more likely a toxic combination of hedonism, narcissism and consumerism. Contented, self-satisfied narcissists are unlikely to go to church." The reflections by various people on this blog's recent "Repressed knowledge of God?" threads are much more penetrating, philosophically, scripturally, and sociologically.

(*Interesting* how often I am told that atheists disbelieve because they are lost/never had fatherly love/are dissolved in the acids of modernity, etc.--*and* because they are surfeited by television/perfectly happy as catamites, etc. Why, I have seldom felt so pitied *and* envied, and with such indecisiveness!)

Anonymous said...

William Lane Craig a scholar - LOL!

Daniel said...

Aquinas does say that proof from authority is the weakest sort of proof, but in the interest of brevity let me employ the authority of Salman Rushdie, Kingsley Amis, Robert Conquest, Clive James, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, James Fenton, and Julian Barnes to insist that Hitch had some skill in "everything literary."

If anything such associations should make one very sceptical of his purported literary abilities (the phrase 'trawling the sewers of Anglo-Modernism's second-childhood' comes to mind). Not having read a great deal of Hitchens' work I couldn't really say whether this damnation by association goes ahead - he seemed at least to have a reasonably developed prose style, which is more than can be said for the rest of the New Atheists.

Taylor Weaver said...

Interesting that someone (hiding under anonymity, of course) would scoff at the use of 'scholar' regarding WLC.

Maybe they should, at the least, search his name using an engine such as EBSCOhost. He is quite well published in peer-reviewed journals. And no, not just journals that deal with NT studies or theology. His work is pretty well-respected. Oh yeah, WLC also has two PhD's from well respected universities under some of the most important scholars in their respective fields from the 20th century (John Hick and Wolfhart Pannenberg).

Ah, but what's the fun in admitting that someone you disagree with is competent? Guess it is much more enjoyable to put one's head in the sand and ignore evidence to the contrary.

laubadetriste said...

@Taylor Weaver: "Interesting that someone (hiding under anonymity, of course) would scoff at the use of 'scholar' regarding WLC.... Ah, but what's the fun in admitting that someone you disagree with is competent? Guess it is much more enjoyable to put one's head in the sand and ignore evidence to the contrary."

Excellent point! *And* one that is so very generalizable...!

Btw, I remember that you were the one who posted about William Cavanaugh's Myth of Religious Violence, which, although I haven't had the chance to read it yet, I did go get after you recommended it. Seems like it would be relevant right around here.

(Does it develop a denial of "religion" as a genuine category? I was reminded that Lewis said once, "I'm not religious. I'm a Christian.")

Daniel Carriere said...

Can anyone explain to me what the heck Paul Symington was talking about in his discussion on Aquinas on prime matter?

Good golly! What a mouthful! I've been looking for a good defense of prime matter, especially because it seems to tie in so closely to modern physics.

Thanks,
Daniel

James Bonaire said...

"William Lane Craig a scholar - LOL!"

Amazing criticism. Full of depth and insight. Who would have thought than an "LOL" could be used so effectively.

laubadetriste said...

@Daniel Carriere:

In the spirit of Uncleftish Beholding:

'We'd like to have a simple and elegant account of prime matter--the metaphysical equivalent of having a little black dress, or of being able to prepare a nice ratatouille. We want our account to hang together well, and without too much fuss. I think Aquinas's *De Ente et Essentia* gives us that. For centuries people thought the account in that book was incoherent, and anyway Aquinas admits that prime matter itself is unintelligible, so what's the point? You might as well wear some crazy runway extravagance to your cocktail party, or try to eat a dollop of foamed wasabi at one of those molecular gastronomy places. Who gets a good meal out that, am I right? But I'm gonna argue that prime matter as Aquinas used it has been misunderstood, and that it's best to think of it like a logical genus, especially in the way in which a logical genus is a relation. So remember the Porphyrian Tree? So the different levels are concepts, and they're ordered like Russian nesting dolls. And many of the levels are both genera and differentia, depending upon which way you go, up or down. So "animal" is a "differentiam" of "body," but it's also a "genus" of "rational." And if you go down, you narrow down what you're talking about, but if you go up you include more of the stuff you could talk about. [4:26-5:37: Overview of Aquinas's metaphysics, skipped.] Now, what's it mean for prime matter to be a "substratum"? That means it's the thing that keeps things the same when they change. So say you had a green leaf on your desk, and you came back in a few days and it was brown. Now, what's the relevant difference between that *same* green leaf having turned brown while you weren't looking and, say, me coming in between classes and switching your green leaf for a different brown one? Well, the "substratum" is the thing that is the ground of the leaf being the same, even though the color changed, and the shape changed, and in general everything we can tell about it changed. [Example from *The World of Parmenides.* Apologies to Popper.] Now, people put prime matter at the bottom of the tree because there it's closest to numerical individuals, which it's supposed to individuate; but I think it should be put at the top of the tree, because I take it like a "limit" in math (which in math, remember, you continually approach to as near as you like, but never actually get to). So Rex the dog, for example, fits under "animal"; but "animal" includes lions and tigers and bears, and when I say Rex is an animal, I'm not saying he's a lion or a tiger or a bear, even though those animals are in there too. In that sense, "animal" is *indeterminate* in relation to Rex.

laubadetriste said...

And so on up the ladder: I'm saying that prime matter is the conceptual limit of including all the things. So Rex also fits under "body" even though "body" includes mountains and molehills, and I'm not saying Rex is one of them either, even though they're in there. Take all those indeterminacies to the limit of all the things, and that's prime matter. Now, obviously "animal" is intimately related to "dog," and "body" is intimately related to "mountain"; they're relations; so you can't just say "dog" is "tacked on" to "animal"; that's silly. Likewise prime matter as substratum doesn't just have stuff "tacked on" to it. Now, there are some misconceptions I run into about all this. First, that since prime matter is pure potentiality, therefore it's not actuality at all. But I just talked about that. It's a *relation,* at the limit, so saying it's not actuality at all is like saying of "animal" that, merely because it is indeterminate regarding lions, tigers, bears, and dogs, therefore there are no dogs which are animals. Second, because the levels of the tree are concepts, therefore they don't exist outside your head, anymore than you can, say, see "animal" when you look at Socrates. What's actually there is the individual that is every level right up to the top, and it’s all really just one thing--Socrates who is a "human" who is "rational" who is a "body," etc. But that individual, a substantial form, should be thought of as the other pole together with prime matter which between them generate the tree of genuine extramental levels. So "animal" is a genuine indeterminate, extramental object in the middle of the tree, which allows for potentia such as the rational animal Socrates changing into some other kind of animal. Prime matter doesn't seem like it could work as an individuator, because as such it leaves out mention of properties and accidents and such. But I'm not talking about an individuator in an epistemological sense, as in how we can *tell* something is not something else. I'm talking about an ontological sense, like a haecceity, so we don't need all that. Third, people say prime matter is unintelligible because it is not one of these concepts, and we make things intelligible under concepts. But remember, prime matter is at the top as a limit of *indeterminacy,* so we should instead be thinking of this along the lines of Aquinas in the *Summa Theologiae,* where he talks about something coming towards you, and at first you can see it's a body, and then you can tell it's an animal, and then, Hey, there's Rex the dog!

laubadetriste said...

Now the change was not in the *intelligibility,* but in the *determinacy.* That's like walking down the tree, so to speak, towards form, which again is the other pole or limit. Prime matter at the top here is associated, not with greater generality, but with greater and even maximal universality, or vagueness. Towards the top, all you've got is, so to speak, a "this" or a "thing in itself," without a clue about what it is you're talking about. Could be anything. That's why I like my interpretation of prime matter as a principle of individuation. You can see how the "this" would work together with the concepts on the tree to pick out which thing something is, together with what it is. So take Max Black's famous sphere counterexample to Leibniz's Law of the Identity of Indiscernibles: Suppose there's a universe where the only two things there are are two identical spheres, with nothing else at all. Now, by properties or accidents you couldn't tell them apart. They're not different shapes. Each is in the exact same orientation to the other as the other to itself, and neither has any different relation to anything else. So if two things which are indiscernible are identical, are there really two spheres? That's where the "this" comes in that is at the limit of indeterminacy. The concept "sphere" won't help individuate the two spheres--they're *both* spheres. And so with all other concepts. But this sphere is *this* sphere, and that sphere is *that* sphere, and you can see how the vague "this" (but what is it?) comes in handy after all. Fourth, this seems boring. Shouldn't the principle of individuation be something exciting, like the je ne sais quois that singles out one's lover above all other people? Nope, that's thinking like prime matter is at the bottom of the tree, going the direction of more and more differences. Fifth, prime matter is "stuff." But it's not. "Stuff" is the stuff Dr. Johnson knocked his toes against when objecting to Bishop Berkeley, but this is more vague than that--it's the principle of individuation at the limit of indeterminacy of all the things. "Stuff" is a mass noun, like "water"; but since “prime matter” is individuating, it is a count noun like "cups." So for example, prime matter works with the concepts “five,” “cup,” and "water" to pick out *these* five cups of water. You can see why I'm excited, because this explains how things can change and still be the same things. [29:40-50:40 delves into semantics and identity and responds at length to a particular objection. I got bored, and it seems the meat was in the first bit.]'

laubadetriste said...

Computer people: why does my damn copy-and-paste keep including the URL of this blog when I copy *some other URL*? By now I triple-check, but every other time my link fails because this blog's URL has been inserted before the URL I copied-and-pasted.

Glenn said...

laubadetriste,

Computer people: why does my [Amster]damn copy-and-paste keep including the URL of this blog when I copy *some other URL*?

1. Good link to Google.

2. Bad link to Google.

Difference?

3. Good link has "http://" before "www.google.com", bad link does not.

Daniel Carriere said...

Thank you very much laubadetriste. It reminds me of the discussion that Aquinas gives in the Summa Contra Gentiles on whether God is the formal being of things. He differentiates esse commune from esse divinum:

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles1.htm#26

[11] The second cause leading them to this error is a failure of reason. For, since that which is common is specified or individuated through addition, they thought that the divine being, which receives no addition, was not some proper being but the common being of all things. They ignored the fact that what is common or universal cannot exist without addition, but is considered without addition. For animal cannot be without the difference rational or the difference irrational, although it is considered without these differences. What is more, although a universal may be considered without addition, it is not without the receptibility of addition; for, if no difference could be added to animal, it would not be a genus. The same is true of all other names. But the divine being is without addition not only in thought but also in reality; and not only without addition but also without the receptibility of addition. From the fact, then, that it neither receives nor can receive addition we can rather conclude that God is not common being but proper being; for His being is distinguished from all the rest by the fact that nothing can be added to it. Hence the Commentator says in the Book of Causes that, out of the purity of its goodness, the first cause is distinguished from the rest and in a manner individuated.

On this reading, esse commune might be a candidate for prime matter. Or maybe I'm associating two things that don't go together.

Anyway, I appreciate the help in clarifying what he was saying. The image of the Porphyrian Tree really helped me visualize what he was trying to talk about.

Cheers,
Daniel

daurio said...

To some of the posters above regarding Rubio's comment-

I think what bothered me most was his use of "less" instead of "fewer."
And really, how many philosophers are even out there? The sociology majors are the real problem. (I'm going to go out on a limb by assuming no reader will find this offensive, but to anyone who has a sociology degree, you've redeemed yourself by reading Feser's blog).

I'm glad Dr. Feser included Chrisopher Kaczor on this list. Kaczor's work on abortion was one of the best I've read. I'm also glad I'm never going to watch the Hitchens=Dawkins interview.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Why did he pick philosophy as the paradigm example of a useless degree (remember, usefulness to a philistine like him is what leads to making a lot of money)? I can think of university majors that seem to be a lot more useless than philosophy. Don't you think you'd rather employ somebody with a philosophy degree over someone with, say, a woman's studies degree?

laubadetriste said...

@Glenn:

Thanks! I'll keep an eye on that.

@Daniel Carriere:

You're welcome. Can't help you with esse commune. We must wait to hear from the Thomists how accurate I was, and whether you're on the right track. :)

laubadetriste said...

Seems Rubio's misstep was mentioning a class of people guaranteed to think long and hard about whether it was right that they be mentioned. His was the dialectical equivalent of heckling a comedian, or throwing a punch at a boxer.

pck said...

laubadetriste said...

So if two things which are indiscernible are identical, are there really two spheres? That's where the "this" comes in that is at the limit of indeterminacy. The concept "sphere" won't help individuate the two spheres--they're *both* spheres. And so with all other concepts.


This is an important point about determinacy. Physics is notoriously incapable of talking about anything absolute. "This chair", "this planet we live on", have no expression in the language of science. Taking the case of the chair, what all the descriptive tools of physics/chemistry/math/etc. taken together can at best speak of is some assembly of wooden or plastic parts located in some place (x,y,z), but one does not escape the need for another "this" or "there" to specify the real-world location of the origin of the coordinate system used. Scientific methods can (at best) give maps of (aspects of) reality but they cannot as well specify how to correctly apply them. No map contains the method of projection which was used to create the map. Nor can the method of projection be inferred from it.

(Also, thanks for the link to "Uncleftish Beholding". As a native speaker of German I felt right at home.)

daurio said...

I think what bothered me most was his use of "less" instead of "fewer."


I had the exact same reaction. At least show us the courtesy of proper grammar if you are going to put us down without knowing what you're talking about. At least we were spared a "the abolition of philosophy will fall to the plumbers and I". As for Rubio's motivations, he was probably trying to score points with pragmatists. (Not the philosophical school but the guys who everyone is supposed to want to have a beer with.) Or perhaps he is afraid of having his own depths plumbed by professionals.

DNW said...


Rule 20 of the "Latin Mass Society of the U.S. and Canada"


"Thou Shalt Obey and Honor All Superiors Even If the Head is Lucifer.

The site's blasphemous melding of autobiographical fiction, New Agism, and parody is obviously a publicity tool cooked up by a morally deranged someone looking to cause a stir.

Or someone just deranged and bitter.



Anonymous said...

It's lamentably lame that we've let ourselves be so long lost in longing, literally, for a long, and lucid list of links. Never the Less, laudato si' for liberating us (from longing) and letting us look on such a list.

itsonlyphotos said...

Hey all. I was wondering if anyone checked out the link Dr. Feser provided on truth and materialism by Doug Groothius. I have no training as a philosopher and don't consider myself versed in it at all. My only real exposure to it is on various websites and in a rather old introduction to western philosophy book published by TAN that I've been working through the last few months as a means of introducing very basic concepts (my interest in this was piqued by learning of some of the scientistic attacks on philosophy in recent years, which to me is quite bizarre, given that scientism seems to be something of a philosophical worldview). I noticed that in some of the comments on Groothius's argument, was the charge that a straw man version of materialism had been presented. I'm a bit confused by this because the way I understand materialism - that all that exists is matter and energy and physical laws - may be a complete misrepresentation of the concept. Perhaps there are different schools of materialism, but one of the reasons I find materialism so wanting in explaining how the mind works is that it seems to be premised on the idea that matter and energy fix all the facts of reality. The way I thought I understood the materialist view of reality is that everything we observe in reality - including our thoughts - is the result of the movement and interaction of particles and energy operating subject to physical laws. One of the reasons I find materialism so lacking is because it doesn't seem to follow that there could be anyway of thinking about something and communicating about something coherently if all of existence was just the dance of matter and energy because a thought would then not necessarily correspond to anything true, but to that dance of physical stuff. I'm sure that's elementary stuff to a lot of people here, but I apologize if I'm butchering the explanation. I guess I'm confused then because it seems hard to justify materialism as explaining the mind unless we expand our understanding of matter to include some form of awareness or sentience. Some of the commenters seemed to take issue with Groothius description of materialism as crude. I can't help but to feel confused about this because the people expounding on materialism as explaining reality - Dennett, Rosenberg, Dawkins, Krauss, Coyne, Carroll, et al - there seems to be this idea that everything is determined by the dance of matter and energy (I understand four of these guys are scientists, although they seemed to be treated as sages these days, rather unjustifiably if I may say so). Certainly I don't want to mischaracterize materialism, but I can't help but feel this way of thinking of materialism is most consistent with how various scientistic people represent reality. It seems strange to me that the way they characterize the totality of things would allow me to, say, remember on command the infield of the '99 Mets or the last year a Canadian team won a Stanley Cup. Any thoughts? I'm a philosophical novice, so maybe that's why I found his argument compelling.

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Carriere: What a mouthful! I've been looking for a good defense of prime matter, especially because it seems to tie in so closely to modern physics.

I haven't listened to Symington's talk, only Laubadetriste's masterful summary — er, lordly run-down — but I've seen questions about prime matter's possible relation to particle physics before, and don't think there is a lot to it. I guess the thinking is that as we reduce material objects down to the subatomic level, we get closer to almost-nothing, to the minimum that it takes to be matter all... so almost to prime matter. Except that reduction is surely along one axis, the physical, while matters of prime matter primarily lie on a different axis, the metaphysical. On a Thomistic (rather than Scotist multiplicity-of-forms) view, a substance is a substantial form applied to prime matter, with nothing in-between, whether the substance is an electron or an electric eel. Of course, perhaps you had something else in mind.



Glenn: Good link has "http://" before "www.google.com", bad link does not.

We might say that the "http://" is the most general principle of individuation, identifying a link as this URL (and not [part of] some other), while yet giving no formal specification as to which URL it is.

Daniel Carriere said...

Hi Mr. Green,

I guess the reductive materialist mindset is so fixed in my brain that it is difficult for me to resist defining things in a such a way.

This metaphysical way of describing things has a very interesting jargon. It reminds me of Ed's discussion in Scholastic Metaphysics, between a real distinction and a logical distinction (page 72 to 73).

A real distinction reflects an extra mental reality.
A logical distinction reflects only a difference in the ways of thinking about an extra mental reality.

But a logical distinction can also be divided into the following:

Purely logical: This is when the logical distinction is purely verbal, without any foundation in reality. Human being and rational animal is one example. I suppose most synonyms fall under this category.
Virtual: This is when the logical distinction has some basis in reality. For example, rational animal is one thing, but the concept of animal can be separated from rationality and there are non rational animals. Still you can consider the real being from either aspect. They are aspect grounded in reality.

I suppose, maybe what Symington is arguing is that prime matter is a sort of virtual logical distinction. Or perhaps a relation is not exactly the same thing as a distinction. They certainly seem similar.

Its so fascinating how this approach presupposes the unity of the substance that is being studied as opposed to physics that breaks things down into smaller and smaller bits. It is such a powerful mindset to break out of! I remember Daniel Dennett once reported a neuroscientist as saying "If you study one neuron, you are doing neuroscience. If you study two neurons, you are doing psychology."

Cheers,
Daniel

Daniel Carriere said...

Looking back over Scholastic Metaphysics, so much seems to depends on whether act and potency are distinct and separable. Specifically, the idea of a virtual but perfect distinction such as animality and rationality being united in human beings, but not being united in non-rational beings such as animals.

When talking about whether there is a real distinction between essence and existence on page 242, Ed says

As we saw in chapter 1, Scotus and Suarez maintain that in created things a distinction can be real only where it entails separability. We also saw that, accordingly, they deny that the distinction between potency and act is a real distinction. In Scotus's view it is merely a formal distinction, while Suarez regards it as a virtual distinction. Since essence and existence corresponds to potency and act, it is no surprise that they deny a real distinction here as well. Scotus regards it too as a formal distinction and Suarez as virtual. But as with the distinction between act and potency, Aquinas and Thomists follow him, who deny that a real distinction entails separability, insist that the distinction between essence and existence is a real one

So I guess that means Thomists would regard the differentiation of essence from existence as a real distinction or a real relation, not a virtual one. I wonder what the implications are to this argument is esse is realy esse commune, which is prime matter - that pure potentiality or receptivity for form?

Cheers,
Daniel

Daniel Carriere said...

...if esse is...

Glenn said...

Mr. Green,

Glenn: Good link has "http://" before "www.google.com", bad link does not.

We might say that the "http://" is the most general principle of individuation, identifying a link as this URL (and not [part of] some other), while yet giving no formal specification as to which URL it is.


Nice.

(And it kills two birds with one stone, so that too is nice. Thanks. (Failure to pay heed to the principlce of individuation can lead to all manner of muddlings. By the time I realized I had made the mistake, however, other comments had been posted, so I just let it be.))

laubadetriste said...

@itsonlyphotos:

Welcome to the thunderdome!

I'm sure a bunch of us checked out the link. I did not *also* read the comments on it, so I'll rely on your report and ask, Were any of the commenters there more specific in the way in which a straw man version of materialism was claimed to have been presented? It is true that the presentation of that argument by Doug Groothius covered a lot of ground in brief compass; and it is also true that there are very sophisticated defenses of materialism out there; but of course from those facts it does not follow that that argument was against a straw man (as opposed to, say, a distillation to its essential elements).

"I'm a bit confused by this because the way I understand materialism - that all that exists is matter and energy and physical laws - may be a complete misrepresentation of the concept."

I suggest that that may not be so much a misrepresentation, as merely the preliminary sketch of what is a richer picture. Materialists might, say, develop an account which reduces all other seeming things to those things you mentioned (understood to be as they are in the best of our contemporary science). Non-materialist might ask, say, just what are the implications of there being laws as such--is there a lawgiver? Etc. And this all can of course be taken in many directions materialist, idealist, monist, and dualist.

"I'm sure that's elementary stuff to a lot of people here, but I apologize if I'm butchering the explanation."

Seems like a good start to me. :) If I may be so presumptuous as to suggest a few places from here to continue, based upon what I found helpful when I was newer to reading philosophy, and had a more precarious footing on the ground:

laubadetriste said...

Generally, Bryan Magee's *The Great Philosophers* is a superlative overview of philosophy, because it is the record of a gifted amateur (in the etymological sense), talking with some of the best of contemporary philosophers, about most of the great philosophers. Hence it is passionate, and nontechnical without being unsophisticated, and addresses not just what the great philosophers were on about, but *why* they were on about it. (Leaving the *why* out being the soporific secret of most textbooks I have read.) The videos upon which the book was based are also on YouTube. And Magee's autobiography, *Confessions of a Philosopher*, is marvelous at showing the intimate involvement of philosophy in the life of a man who is aware, even before he becomes a man, and even before he reads any philosophy.

Bertrand Ruseell's *The Problems of Philosophy* is a perennial favorite, because of its beauty, clarity, and brevity. It is available for free online. How suggestive that a man so intimidatingly brilliant that even Virginia Woolf said she would like to ride around in his head for a few days could write something so simple!

Getting more specific to your question, Dr. Feser's work is the reason why we're all here. Really, do go back on the blog and read as much as you can about what he says about materialism. Perhaps you could start with the Mind-body problem roundup and the Rosenberg roundup. Or if you prefer something from a naturalist perspective, John Searle's *The Rediscovery of the Mind* is every bit as good as Dr. Feser said it is--perhaps even it is better! And it is short.

And I would be remiss if I did not encourage you to go back to the classics and read a lot of Plato, perhaps starting with the *Gorgias*, or the three works on the last days of Socrates (one of which directly addresses materialism). As Lewis said:

"There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire."--Introduction to Athanasius’ *On The Incarnation*

laubadetriste said...

@Glenn:

Aaaayyyyy, both the links seem to have worked!

@Mr. Green:

"...— er, lordly run-down —...is an electron or an electric eel...We might say that the 'http://' is the most general principle of individuation...

I was reading too your fantasia on that other post, in reply to Don Jindra. What a delightfully inventive pen!



Glenn said...

laubadetriste,

@Glenn:

Aaaayyyyy, both the links seem to have worked!


Both links do work in the sense that each link leads to another web page. But the first link leads to Google, which a clicker should expect; and the second link leads to a page on this blog with the message, "Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist", which a clicker shouldn't expect.

The mistake I made was in treating "link" as if it were synonymous with "URL". I should have said (maintaining the telegraphic speech), "URL of the good link has 'http://' before 'www.google.com', URL of the bad link does not."

laubadetriste said...

@Glenn:

:) No, I got that. I was saying both of *my* links worked, thanks to your advice, which was helpful. Thanks again!

Glenn said...

Ha. Good!

pck said...

@itsonlyphotos

Two more books with what I think are helpful criticisms of AI and materialist / reductionist thinking:

Computers, Minds and Conduct by Graham Button, Jeff Coulter, John Lee

and

Brain, Mind, and Human Behavior in Contemporary Cognitive Science: Critical Assessments of the Philosophy of Psychology by Jeff Coulter, Wes Sharrock

The latter is unfortunately not available at a civil price, but if you have access to a university library you might be lucky to find it there.

pck said...

@itsonlyphotos

You could also watch this as an appetizer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M-vnmejwXo

pck said...

itsonlyphotos said...

Certainly I don't want to mischaracterize materialism, but I can't help but feel this way of thinking of materialism is most consistent with how various scientistic people represent reality. It seems strange to me that the way they characterize the totality of things would allow me to, say, remember on command the infield of the '99 Mets or the last year a Canadian team won a Stanley Cup. Any thoughts? I'm a philosophical novice, so maybe that's why I found his argument compelling.


You're definitely on the right track here. One example Coulter/Sharrock (see post above) use is Beethoven's birthday, which is definitely nothing physical (it cannot be described as a spatio-temporal distribution of particles), but no science has ever proved that Beethoven did not have birthdays (surprise). Reductionists will claim that the concept of B.'s birthday is "represented" by neural structures in the brain but that is logically impossible (discussed (admittedly very briefly) here.

Grant Sutherland said...

Dr. Feser, could you please write a Thomistic critique of Molonism and counterfactual knowledge?

Paul said...

Reading the Hitchens-Dawkins' discussion was like watching a teenaged couple who's so in love that they have to tell everyone about how great the other is.

Mr. Green said...

Laubadetriste: I was reading too your fantasia on that other post, in reply to Don Jindra. What a delightfully inventive pen!

That's most kind of you. I don't know what I'd do without that pen. I'd have to use this rather dull pencil instead. (Hm, I suppose I could always try sharpening it....)


Glenn: The mistake I made was in treating "link" as if it were synonymous with "URL".

I didn't register that as a mistake. Surely it qualifies as metonymy or synecdoche. (The Greeks had an RFC for it!)

...and, sure enough, there was Mr. Green, Tracer of Lost Understandings.

Brought to you by Oughttaknows, the mentifrice that safely and gently removes unsightly material from your intellect!

Scott said...

Mr. Green:

Surely it qualifies as metonymy or synecdoche.

Ah, but the URL is neither a part nor an attribute of the link. Strictly speaking no URL is even needed as a causal condition for a working link; the <a> tag's href attribute can just be "xxx" or some such nonsense. The link won't go anywhere useful, but it's still a link.

Glenn said...

Mr. Green / Scott,

Aha, I knew I was right. About two hours after the fact, whilst mulling over, pondering and contemplating (not to mention thinking) about something completely unrelated, a small thought sauntered in through an unprotected port, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "You messed up back there." "Huh? What? No, I didn't. Did I? Yeah, I did. Oh boy, Scott's gonna be annoyed." ;) It was because I'm aware that Scott had once called attention to the distinction between a link and a URL, that I considered the matter more as one in which a mistake had been made, and less as one in which a metonym had been employed. (Not that I think there's anything wrong with figures of speech, mind. No, sir. As a matter of fact, I used to get a thrill out of diagramming sentences.)

Miriam McCue said...

I went to Leslie Marsh's blog link. I ended up watching a 15 minute cat video . What the?

Anonymous said...

I am agnostic about God but I still can't figure out who annoyed the crap out of me more with their inane arguments and comebacks: Hitchens or Dawkins. Atheism can do so much better than these two sophistic blowhards.

Edward Feser said...

Miriam,

Don't know anything about any cat video. It does look like Leslie's completely changed the design of his blog over the last week, though -- it no longer looks at all the way that led me to comment on it.

Anonymous said...

I disagreed with much of what Hitchens said, but had liked how he said it, and thought I liked his intellect. But then I saw him debate John Haldane (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pflU-nnY4MA) and was amazed at how much he relied not on intellect but on rhetoric and clumsy rhetoric at that. I was so disappointed.

One of the most telling parts starts at 39:23 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pflU-nnY4MA&feature=youtu.be&t=39m23s) where Haldane (re)explains his position on the ground of morality. Hitchens clear surprise -- his "It's not!?" -- shows how shallow his understanding of the area is. And Haldane's polite and simple "no" in reply, is a measure of his manners in the face of someone acting like a street blowhard. I doubt many would have criticized Haldane had he responded with a more spicy "No, you arsehead, of course not. Weren't you listening? Have you done no study whatsoever on this topic? Are you a *complete* waste of space, or do you perhaps have something of substance to add?"

The one thing I would still credit Hitchens with, however, was sheer balls. To be able to stand up in that environment, pitted against a mind like Haldane's, took some gumption.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think Hitchens was at his best when he was debating the sort of "Paster Bobs" who really weren't philosophically inclined and whom Hichens could make appear quite stupid. When Hitchens faced somebody like a Haldane or a William Lane Craig it became more and more obvious that he was a superficial intellect high on rhetoric and low on understanding. I think he even found himself in some trouble against Dennis Prager here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pR43wRoJjMw

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous 10:19 PM: "I was so disappointed."

Yes, quite. I remember feeling the same, when I first saw that one--and also being quite taken with Haldane. I had been impressed before by Haldane's books--notably his own debate with JJC Smart--but I had not known that the man had urbanity of manner to match the penetration of his thought.

@Anonymous 11:30 PM: "Yes, I think Hitchens was at his best when he was debating the sort of 'Paster Bobs' who really weren't philosophically inclined and whom Hichens could make appear quite stupid. When Hitchens faced somebody like a Haldane or a William Lane Craig it became more and more obvious that he was a superficial intellect high on rhetoric and low on understanding."

I suggest that if you think that, then either you must have missed most of his debates, or else you must admire rather the wrong things about them. For of course, making someone appear stupid is not half so powerful as revealing someone to be stupid; and anyway, combatants on the stage, so to speak, are best when matched with equals. You imply that Hitch had a certain advantage over Pastors Bob, and similarly that WLC and Haldane had each an advantage over him. But surely, those sorts of mismatch put no one at their best, anymore than would matching a heavyweight against a bantamweight?

No, Hitch was at his best other than in highly trafficked YouTube videos (www.youtube.com/watch?v=pflU-nnY4MA: 434,381 views). As someone "philosophically inclined" yourself, who perforce values truth over tribal feeling, I know you will be eager to learn that, not only did Hitch engage in many written debates over the last thirty years, in both magazine and book format, but also that there are on YouTube such things as debates between him and his wonderful brother Peter on the abolition of Britain (27 views) and on Bosnia, etc. (158 views) I am sure that in a couple months you will report back on how you have incorporated these into your opinion of Hitch's intellect and understanding, not excepting your strictures regarding his opinions on Cyprus, Lermontov, and the European Common Market.

Anonymous said...

I quote John Haldane who I think has it right here( http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2012/01/05/christopher-hitchens-set-a-challenge-for-catholics/ ):

"His fluency made him a compelling speaker to listen to, but it also raised a question: was his an acute analytical mind, dissecting and composing reasoned arguments, or was he a rhetorician sustaining a mellifluous but often merely associative flow of words? Doubtless the truth lies between these, but I think it moved steadily closer to the latter.

As I write, I have in front of me a copy of God Is Not Great open at the title page on which is inscribed: “To John Haldane, well met in Oxford, Christopher Hitchens.” The occasion to which this refers is a debate we had in the university’s Sheldonian Theatre in 2010 on “Secularism and Faith in the Public Square”. One notable feature of the occasion and the commentaries following it was the presence in force of secular humanists, for whom there is no serious question but that religion is false and that the only attitude to take to it is denigration. To such people Hitchens was a hero and the question of analysis and argument is of little interest. In this respect they are the counterparts of evangelical fideists for whom the only task in debate with religious sceptics is conversion or defeat.

Interestingly, Martin Amis, Hitchens’s closest friend and occasional rival, is disposed to agnosticism, rejecting the certainties of believers and unbelievers in favour of a questioning attitude to the universe and human existence. I think that in his heart Hitchens recognised that this was the position to which such “philosophical” reflection as he might ever have practised should have taken him. Had it done so he would have been more open to serious, probing discussion. But he was not, and that I think indicated a certain intellectual dishonesty. Like believers who keep themselves busy in social causes or ornate liturgies and make these the locus of their religion, Hitchens was unwilling to face the deepest questions or was in flight from them. In his case, I think this had to do with the practice of polemical journalism, and later public speaking, and with the success and popular following these brought him.

I first read and admired his work in the 1980s and enjoyed his study of Anglo-American political and cultural relationships, Blood, Class and Nostalgia. But by stages (and probably from the beginning) he showed an undisciplined mind and one that required the reactions of an audience. Discursive interaction is older than Socrates but in the latter it took the form of probing and intricate argument. Hitchens was less interested in dialogue than theatrical monologue accompanied by cheers or jeers, and he needed both to maintain him. Also, he did not open himself to serious intellectual questioning. Indeed, in this regard his vice was the common one among the once precociously bright, namely mental laziness..."

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous 10:38 AM:

There we go, that's more like it! Pity one of the Anonymi did not write it, for there were have an example of Haldane's virtues--a thoughtful, careful, and even charitable assessment, that does not dismiss beauty as mere rhetoric, and makes analogies with the similar deformations of thought on the part of some of Hitch's opponents, and suggests an etiology for Hitch's complacency originating outside of typical Christian identifications, *and* shows some historical awareness! Well, I am not surprised, but merely pleased. Thank you for sharing that.

I will now reset my watch to see how long it takes until someone ignores Haldane's example and, in a pique of ressentiment, delivers up a thinky-thought about the Hitch. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi...

Leslie Marsh said...

Hey Ed,

Thanks so much for the plug as "coolest looking" site. It just so happens that of late I've been having technical problems with it so I reverted to a more conventional design (blistering barnacles, cat vids??!!!). I hope that it still retains some aesthetic appeal :) I also hope that your readers will find some substantive value there as well, though I'd never claim to be in your league. I'm very pleased that one of your readers was about to ask you about Percy. I've been bugging you for a while to read some Percy and Toole's Confederacy of Dunces.

Anyway, I hope all is well and that you keep up the good work in your writing and blogging -- you are without doubt one of the most civilized and distinctive minds out there. Drop me a line in private as to who you think would be suitably qualified to review Neo-Scholastic Essays.

Cheers,

L.

Mr. Green said...

Scott: Strictly speaking no URL is even needed as a causal condition for a working link; the <a> tag's href attribute can just be "xxx" or some such nonsense.

But is a link that isn't linked to anything still a link? Or is the "xxx" linked to a destination in potentia that just happens to be non-existent at the moment? Of course, in casual speech a link refers not to an anchor tag, but to a relationship or connection, literal or figurative. A URL isn't a link in that sense either, it's a name; but it is the name of one endpoint of a connection, of the thing related to, so as long one isn't intending to speak technically, I would argue that it qualifies as metonymy and synecdoche.


Glenn: Aha, I knew I was right.

The nice thing about admitting a mistake is that if you were wrong, then you're right; and if you were right, then, well, you're right.

[...] I considered the matter more as one in which a mistake had been made, and less as one in which a metonym had been employed. (Not that I think there's anything wrong with figures of speech, mind.

I figured you'd say that. I bet you never met a nym you didn't like!

Anonymous said...

@laubadetriste, ditto. Haldane's observations on Hitchens were, well, frighteningly accurate. I doubt had Hitch heard them he would have been moved, but it would have been nice to see that happen if it had. But yes, Haldane's is just all the more palatable because he directs some of his critique at the other side.

And I hesitate to do so, but I have to point out that the following could perhaps be useful advice for our very own Prof. F. to consider (emphasis mine):

"Hitchens was unwilling to face the deepest questions or was in flight from them. In his case, I think this had to do with the practice of polemical journalism,..."

I wish, wish, wish, Ed would desist from the negative retorts. They are unarguably fun to watch, and probably to write too, but they weaken the force of his arguments and they are very important arguments.

Glenn said...

Mr. Green,

I figured you'd say that. I bet you never met a nym you didn't like!

Phor shame!

Scott said...

Mr. Green:

But is a link that isn't linked to anything still a link?

The purported link with "xxx" where the URL should be does link to something in at least the sense that the user who clicks on it gets taken to another page. So I'd say that at worst it's a defective link rather than not a link at all.

Or is the "xxx" linked to a destination in potentia that just happens to be non-existent at the moment?

Well, the page to which it takes the user does exist at the moment in question, even though it's probably not a page intended by whoever wrote the page code. But this mention of what's "intended" suggests another possibility.

Of course, in casual speech a link refers not to an anchor tag, but to a relationship or connection, literal or figurative.

In this context it refers to an HTML object on which a user can click to be taken to another HTML document. However, one could argue that such a link (that is, a hyperlink) by nature possesses derived intentionality and that, via this intentionality, it "expects" a URL even when none is provided.

The lack of such a URL would then constitute the "defect" I mentioned above. (And in that case a "link" might still qualify as a defective link even if its <a> tag lacked an href attribute altogether.) In that case we could perhaps say that the association of the <a> tag's href attribute with a URL is a property that flows from the essence of the link even though it's not perfectly manifested in the defective link with "xxx" where the URL should be…

A URL isn't a link in that sense either, it's a name; but it is the name of one endpoint of a connection, of the thing related to, so as long one isn't intending to speak technically, I would argue that it qualifies as metonymy and synecdoche.

…and therefore that the URL is, though perhaps not a true "part" of the link, nevertheless closely enough associated with it by implication or entailment (via the link's nature specifically as an intentional object) that we can allow a URL to be called a "link" informally by metonymy or synecdoche.

(It's an interesting question which would be the more appropriate term. Metonymy seems at first look to be the closer fit, because it doesn't require a whole-part relation. However, the association seems to work in the wrong direction here; calling a URL a "link" is like calling a crown a "king" rather than vice versa. Synecdoche can work in either direction; it's fine, for example, to refer to Cleveland's football team as "Cleveland." But the problem is that, again, the relation between a URL and a link isn't strictly whole-part.)

Scott said...

(I see that in my penultimate paragraph I've parenthetically, and sloppily, used the phrase "intentional object" in a sense other than its usual one. What I mean, of course, is an object possessing (in this case derived) intentionality.)

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous 11:47 PM: "I wish, wish, wish, Ed would desist from the negative retorts. They are unarguably fun to watch, and probably to write too, but they weaken the force of his arguments and they are very important arguments."

Do you really think so? (As opposed, say, to your being a very gentle person?) I rather think his manner adds to the force of his arguments.

Mencken said that a horse-laugh is worth ten-thousand syllogisms, which is true in rather the way that a picture is worth a thousand words--which is to say, not always, but often.

James Bonaire said...

I'm on the pro "Bring Leslie Back!!" side.

I wanted to see more of his Walker Percy posts.

Anonymous said...

@laubadetriste I rather think his manner adds to the force of his arguments...

That's probably the heart of the problem. Clearly his manner actually has nothing to do with the force of his arguments. But it appears to, in just the same way that Hitchens' bravado fools some people into thinking his "arguments" were sound.

And maybe it is just me -- although I don't think it's any gentleness on my part is the source -- but my "bullshit" detectors go off whenever I hear arguments being boosted -- intentionally or not -- by excessive sarcasm, snide comments directed towards an opponent, and so on, and my respect for the speaker, and his argument, drops. In Feser's case, I then catch myself, make allowances for him having his fun, and remind myself that his arguments are robust *despite* him being so negative.

Actually, it really isn't me. I've often found that after I direct an acquaintance to Ed's stuff, they come back to me asking "that guys is obnoxious, why did you recommend him?". In fact, it happens so often, I've taken to pre-empting by warning them "Look, you're going to find him obnoxious. But you have to look past that to his actual arguments."

So at very least I'll plead with him to desist if only to make my job (of directing people to read his stuff) easier. But really, it goes much further than that. I am convinced that Ed reaches fewer people and does less good than his work potentially could, and it's simply because he so easily resorts to negativity. Fewer people than otherwise would hear the valuable things he is saying, or return to Catholicism or recover from atheism and the like, and more people than otherwise would are driven from unnecessarily-shaky theistic positions into the open arms of the New Atheists, all because Ed contaminates his brilliance with bile. It's a shame. Romans 12:14, 1 Corinthians 4:4-7 an' all that.

All that said, he's still doing a lot more good in this area than I am, so I'll shut up now.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

Fewer people than otherwise would hear the valuable things he is saying, or return to Catholicism or recover from atheism and the like, and more people than otherwise would are driven from unnecessarily-shaky theistic positions into the open arms of the New Atheists, all because Ed contaminates his brilliance with bile....

All that said, he's still doing a lot more good in this area than I am, so I'll shut up now.


Does that mean that he's driving fewer people into the warm, fuzzy and pacific embrace of the New Atheists than you are?

;)

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous 8:32 PM: "Clearly his manner actually has nothing to do with the force of his arguments. But it appears to, in just the same way that Hitchens' bravado fools some people into thinking his 'arguments' were sound."

Ah, I think I see. Since you mentioned *soundness,* perhaps I may seem to have said that Dr. Feser's manner adds to the *logical* force of his arguments. Of course you are right to say it does not. But that is not what I meant.

I am earnestly curious about your opinion on this point, as it seems so singular. Perhaps you regard my opinion with a like puzzledness. :)

"...by excessive sarcasm, snide comments directed towards an opponent..."

Of course whether the sarcasm is *excessive* is precisely what I would question. So too whether Dr. Feser's manner becomes *snide.* (I would deny that it does, at least since TLS.) But set those particular cases aside for the moment. For my curiosity, let me depart the subjects of religion and philosophy and ask, if you consider some of the great broadsides of the past--*J'Accuse* or *Common Sense* or *A Modest Proposal* or *Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses*, as you will--does it seem to you similarly that their manner weakens their arguments?

It has been my experience that we all have a sort of inertia of opinion that is not always strictly logical, and that a good argument sometimes needs an extra something to be swallowed. Sometimes that is sugar. Sometimes it is cayenne pepper.

Anonymous said...

@laubadetriste, you're pretty much summarizing my view in your final statement about argument sometimes needing more than logic. An important consideration then is to understand what constitutes "cayenne" and how often should it be used.

For a start I think 2 Tim 2:24-25 is apt:
"...a servant of the Lord must not engage in quarrels, but must be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient. He must be gentle when he corrects people who oppose him, in the hope that God may give them a change of mind so that they recognise the truth..."

I think that applies pretty much 100% to situations such as public debate with quarrelsome and unkind opponents, and is effectively stipulating an argumentation diet high in sugar and low in cayenne.

That notwithstanding, where I'd agree there is scope for cayenne is in the context of a relationship in which one has first built the rapport and trust to allow such tough love to work. Raising children is one example. Coaching -- e.g. in sports, or even in business. In a pastoral context, among Christian brothers is another. But even there, cayenne, or tough love or whatever we call it, is *still* love. Patient, kind, holding no record of wrong, and so on.

Of course, one of the problems in raising this kind of thing is precisely that I do not have, with Ed, the kind of rapport and trust that would allow me to say:

"Ed, you have a brilliant mind brother, and you are doing sterling work to help people understand the Truth. But sometimes you can be a bit of an arse-head."

So I won't. :-)

There is one other angle on this which I find useful to bear in mind. When participating in the kind of public debate Ed does, and with the kind of opponents involved, it can require a formidable level of self-control to stay positive when those opponents quite frankly walk right into some things. Developing such self-control can constitute an important form of spiritual practice.



Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: because Ed contaminates his brilliance with bile.

But Ed isn't remotely bilious. He is sometimes witty and sarcastic, but he'll attack something one said infrequently and only if it's really daft. Sure, some people who have a thin skin or no sense of humour or harbour anti-intellectual tendencies about positions they don't like will easily be put off by this... but those very people are the least likely to be genuinely interested in the arguments in the first place. And even if there are a few people who are intellectually honest but cannot get past a bit of mockery, there are at least as many people who are sympathetic to Ed's arguments but would be put off if he were to be undeservedly gentle, being led to suspect that his arguments were so weak that he dare not call an obvious spade a spade.

In terms of the condimental metaphor, some people (despite the trend in packaged foods of ever-increasing salt and sugar) do not like dinner to taste like dessert. A good chef does not drown the dish in hot sauce, but nor does he turn every meal into candy.

Anonymous said...

@Mr. Green,

Bile is in the eye of the beholder and I'm pretty sure that Ed's opponents would disagree with you.

But 'nuff said on this by me, Mr. I-Want-You-On-That-Wall-I-Need-You-On-That-Wall.
Ed, bile or no bile, keep up the excellent work.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

I have to say that whenever I hear this "Gee whiz Ed, why be so mean, you will turn people off" stuff, I have to roll my eyes, for three reasons:

First, by far most of what I write is not polemical. Of all the books I've written or edited, exactly one, The Last Superstition, is polemical. My academic articles are not polemical. Most blog posts here are not polemical. Anyone who's really worried about whether to give something I've written to some bed-wetting-hyper-sensitive-devoid-of-a-sense-of-humor atheist or Christian can easily find something inoffensive of mine to use. Don't want to give someone The Last Superstition? Fine, give them my book Aquinas instead. No polemics in that one. Something for everyone.

Second, your objection seems to presuppose that polemics are never called for, are always merely a matter of indulging some base impulse, are always incompatible with charity, etc. And that is simply false. Certainly it begs the question, because I have, many times, given arguments for the legitimacy and even necessity of polemics in some (not all, but some) cases. Maybe you haven't seen those arguments, but until you have and have come up with some response to them, your comments here are not a good use of time (yours or others'). You can find therm here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/06/can-philosophy-be-polemical.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/01/walters-on-tls.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/02/tone-deaf.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/08/briggs-on-tls-and-tone.html

Third, and related to the first two points, if you are worried that posts like (say) my recent posts on Jerry Coyne are not likely to change the minds of their targets -- Coyne in this case -- then you are right, but you are also entirely missing the point. Of course people like Coyne, Krauss, Dawkins, et al. are not going to be convinced by polemical pieces. But they aren't going to be convinced by non-polemical pieces either. They aren't going to be convinced by anything, because they aren't rational, don't want a serious debate in the first place, etc. They are thugs and blowhards, who get whatever hearing they have entirely because of their eminence in other fields (biology and physics, in these cases) coupled with their supreme self-confidence. The point of abusing them as I do is not to convince them, but rather to show other people what fools they are. If you treat a buffoon like Coyne as anything other than a buffoon, then you dignify his ridiculous arguments and lend them a credibility they don't deserve. Nothing less than a polemical tone will effectively convey that point.

But anyway, as I say, I've defended the use of polemics in the posts linked to, so take a look.

Anonymous said...

@Ed, thanks for the reply.

Yes, most of what you write is not polemical. That's the shame, because the abusive stuff gets more attention that it's volume suggests it should. But you *know* this Ed. Good grief, it's Human Communication 101. It's a form of availability heuristic and your being held back by it.

"The point of abusing them as I do is not to convince them, but rather to show other people what fools they are."

Abuse (not polemics per se): do you really think that *abuse* shows anyone needing convinced that your opponents are fools? I can answer that because I was that person needing convinced. Your abuse absolutely undermined *your* arguments for me. Now for my part, I am a persistent and argumentative b*st*rd and so could do the work to see past the abuse, but many others do not. You lose them at the first "buffoon!"

"If you treat a buffoon like Coyne as anything other than a buffoon, then you dignify his ridiculous arguments and lend them a credibility they don't deserve. Nothing less than a polemical tone will effectively convey that point."

I'm not saying you have to treat him like an philosophical equal. I think it would be impossible to engage his arguments at all without him quickly looking silly. But your counter arguments are sufficient. They don't *need* the abuse, and in fact are hurt by it. At least acknowledge that you pay some rhetorical cost when you treat him like a buffoon. There exist New Atheist civilians out there who you are making *less* receptive to your ideas because of your style.

"Of course people like Coyne, Krauss, Dawkins, et al. are not going to be convinced by polemical pieces. But they aren't going to be convinced by non-polemical pieces either. They aren't going to be convinced by anything, because they aren't rational, don't want a serious debate in the first place, etc."

Bollox. What a brain-dead, arse-headed piece of nonsense, especially from a so-called philosopher. No wonder you are still only at a Community College. Dawkins may be well be a lost cause to you, but hundreds of thousands are listening to him, while you rant in an obscure corner of the web, supported only by sycophantic yes men who hover around your blog comboxes to try to be first with another dollop of "Oooh, wonderful article. We lurvv you Professor Eddie". And Krauss is not a lost cause, and neither is Coyne. But no doubt that won't get through your boney skull because you are so in love with your own cutting wit and logic that you cannot see that you are dealing with other p-e-o-p-l-e.

See? Were you more or less likely to give the above the time of day, given its abusive tone?

One of the best examples I've seen of what I'm talking about in action was a televised dispute between a British supporter of Palestinian rights, and an Israeli ambassador. I began listening fully in support of the Palestinian case, and with little sympathy for the Israeli one. The Brit began and was eloquent and had an armful of powerful arguments, but he spiced them with abuse and vitriol. Then it was the Israeli lady's turn. Within a sentence of her rebuttal, focusing on the facts only and gently steering around her opponents barbs, she had me on the edge of my seat. I realized I was in the (virtual -- it was TV) presence of a master of rhetoric and diplomacy. Nothing the angry Brit threw at her stuck, precisely because of her dignity. He threw an insult. She declined to retaliate in kind, relying only on her calm, consistent presentation of the facts and interconnection logic. In fact I was reminded of her when I listened to John Haldane against Christopher "Mr Angry Drunk" Hitchens. Both the Israeli lady (I wish I knew her name) and Haldane *make their opponents listen to them*.

You could learn a thing or two from either of them.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, I had read those posts. I was intrigued by Briggs' comparison of you with Patton. I'd offer a different one.

If John Haldane is Royce Gracie, then Edward Feser is Tank Abbott. I wouldn't choose to meet either on a dark street, but for honed fighting ability, technical precision, and overall combat effectiveness, Royce has the edge. :-)

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous writes:

do you really think that *abuse* shows anyone needing convinced that your opponents are fools? I can answer that because I was that person needing convinced. Your abuse absolutely undermined *your* arguments for me.

Etc. etc.

First point: You don't really answer the arguments of the posts I linked to, but just repeat here your dislike of the polemical style. Again, not a good use of time.

Second, the key words in the sentence of yours quoted above are "for me." You don't go for polemics, and neither do some other readers of similar temperament. Fine. What you don't take account of are all the readers who do respond well to that approach. And judging from the feedback I've gotten over the years, there are quite a lot of them.

You need to stop projecting your own circumstances onto the whole readership. Not everyone is in your situation, has your background and tastes and sensitivities, etc. You also need to keep in mind that there is simply no one style or approach that works for everyone. Any approach is going to appeal to some people and turn others off. That's just human nature. It's a good thing that not everyone approaches things the way I do, and it's also a good thing that some people do approach things the way I do. Thousand flowers blooming, and all that.

But third, your claim that the polemics "absolutely undermined" my arguments for you does ring somewhat hollow given that... well, here you are, reading the blog and mostly praising it. Evidently it can't have been all that traumatic for you.

I think what you need is to mellow out, have a good stiff drink, and try to have more of a sense of humor about these things. That you've been going on about this now for five days here in the combox does rather suggest a bit of over-sensitivity on your part, no?

Anonymous said...

Mellow out; a drink; a sense of humour; don't "go on about" it. Ah the good old Kenneth Clarke rebuttal (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1993/may/13/criminal-justice#S6CV0224P0_19930513_HOC_149)

So when push comes to abusive shove, apparently you're not that much different from Coyne, Dennet, Harris and the rest after all, are you?

Sigh. I hate it when yet another hero's vulnerability is revealed. Dang. :-(

Edward Feser said...

Mellow out; a drink; a sense of humour; don't "go on about" it...

So when push comes to abusive shove, apparently you're not that much different from Coyne, Dennet, Harris and the rest after all, are you?

Sure, 'cause saying "Mellow out, have a drink etc." is just really, really nasty stuff. Positively Coyne-like, that.

Sigh. I hate it when yet another hero's vulnerability is revealed. Dang. :-(

Mmmm, yes, and said more in sorrow than in anger, of course. We all know this routine, Anon. Next you'll tell me to cancel your subscription or some such.

Look, let's cut the crap. For the third time, I've given arguments, in the posts linked to above, for why polemics are in some cases justified. You say you have read them, but you have yet actually to respond to any of them. Until you do, then all this "Please stop the polemics, and stick to the arguments" stuff is just blowing smoke. I've been asking you to stick to the arguments, and you refuse to do that.

laubadetriste said...

@Mr. Green: "In terms of the condimental metaphor, some people (despite the trend in packaged foods of ever-increasing salt and sugar) do not like dinner to taste like dessert. A good chef does not drown the dish in hot sauce, but nor does he turn every meal into candy."

Yup. Dr. Feser of course doesn't need my help here, but I'll throw in a few more pennies anyway, as I think my perspective is rather outnumbered on this blog, and so may prove interesting.

I note that Anonymous 6:31 PM did not reply to my query, what he thought of some notable past broadsides. The point of me bringing them up is that the negative/positive, sweet/hot dichotomy misses what is truly important, which is whether anyone's allegedly excessive polemics are competent *as polemics.* One can be as "negative" as can be, without demerit, so long as one is in fact also being (e.g.) insightful, witty, revealing, and so on. And of course this takes both genuine intelligence and command of language. I said once, on another post, that I was disappointed in TLS, not because it was "negative" in tone--although of course it sometimes was--but because I thought the jokes could have been better. I added that Dr. Feser has since improved (and I did *not* mean by that that he has gotten more positive or some such silliness).

(Let me add that TLS had much delightful history and argument in it which was not only not disappointing, but really every bit as exciting and suggestive as, say, Popkin's *History of Scepticism from Savanarola to Bayle.* Which is high praise, for those who have not read it.)

Anonymous 6:31 PM adds, "Abuse (not polemics per se): do you really think that *abuse* shows anyone needing convinced that your opponents are fools? I can answer that because I was that person needing convinced. Your abuse absolutely undermined *your* arguments for me." Well, as someone else who was "that person needing [convincing]", I can only rejoin that Dr. Feser's (mild) abuse did no such thing for me. In fact, I quite relished it, even when it was deployed against--how shall I say--*my side.* In fact, in my immediate circle of friends I can identify three atheists, one Protestant, and one Greek Orthodox person, who have each been to one degree or another moved by Dr. Feser, polemics and all. None of us bother about his abuse. All of us rather enjoy the performance, *and* find it illuminating.

laubadetriste said...

Now, that Anonymous will likely agree with me that "the plural of anecdote is not evidence." Who is to say whether his friends are more representative, or mine? But Dr. Feser is right to reply, that "*You* don't go for polemics, and neither do some other readers of similar temperament. Fine. What you don't take account of are all the readers who do respond well to that approach. And judging from the feedback I've gotten over the years, there are quite a lot of them." For Dr. Feser has in fact demonstrated that genuine intelligence and command of language I spoke of. And so--even when I disagree with him--I listen, *the more so* when he is being "negative" or *polemical* or *abusive.*

"Bollox. What a brain-dead, arse-headed piece of nonsense [...] you cannot see that you are dealing with other p-e-o-p-l-e."

I can tell that this Anonymous is in fact a gentle person, because "bollox" is usually spelled "bollocks." He is unfamiliar with much abuse. :)

(Btw, that is a compliment, not an insult.)

This is an example of what I spoke of. For of course, it is not competent *as polemic.* Dr. Feser would have written much better abuse. As did Twain, France, Paine, Swift, de Maistre, Mencken, Tynan, Jarrell, Kraus, Amis, Jonson, Johnson, Nietzsche, Shaw, Vidal, Hitchens, Mill, Waugh, Voltaire, Bierce, Cyril Connolly...

"Bile is in the eye of the beholder and I'm pretty sure that Ed's opponents would disagree with you."

What? Here we are on a *philosophy* blog, and Anonymous tries to reduce something to mere individual taste? Why, that's like taking one's toys home from the sandbox...

Gottfried said...

Anon,

I'm guessing you would say that calling your adversaries white-washed sepulchers or a brood of vipers would be waaay over the top?

laubadetriste,

I note that Anonymous 6:31 PM did not reply to my query, what he thought of some notable past broadsides. The point of me bringing them up is that the negative/positive, sweet/hot dichotomy misses what is truly important, which is whether anyone's allegedly excessive polemics are competent *as polemics.* One can be as "negative" as can be, without demerit, so long as one is in fact also being (e.g.) insightful, witty, revealing, and so on. And of course this takes both genuine intelligence and command of language. I said once, on another post, that I was disappointed in TLS, not because it was "negative" in tone--although of course it sometimes was--but because I thought the jokes could have been better. I added that Dr. Feser has since improved (and I did *not* mean by that that he has gotten more positive or some such silliness).

For what it's worth, I completely agree. TLS changed my perspective on the world in a way that few books have, but I thought the jokes sometimes fell a bit flat. Dr. Feser has written things since that are both much funnier and much more pointed.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

There ya go again (though this time with brevity rather then verbosity):

Yes, most of what you write is not polemical. That's the shame,

Anonymous said...

@laubadetriste said ...
"I can tell that this Anonymous is in fact a gentle person, because "bollox" is usually spelled "bollocks." He is unfamiliar with much abuse. :)

(Btw, that is a compliment, not an insult.)

It's simply shorthand, in this case for "What utter stale semen, you cunt-faced, wank-stained, fuck-witted nob-segment". But that's a bit longer than "bollox". (Also, it's unclear, now as then, whether that'll get past any comment spam filtering.)

Btw, that is a demonstration, not an insult.

Anonymous said...

Blogger Edward Feser said...
Look, let's cut the crap. For the third time,...

Indeed. Unusual to see you engage for so long so far down the combox. Again, thanks for taking the time.

Now I wonder, is it possible for me to haul myself out of the pit into which I appear to have thrown myself, and plead for at least temporary respite from the jaggy sticks a bunch of y'all are poking me with?

Let's see, shall we. Let me address those articles of Ed.

Actually, since I seem to be getting more into discussion here than I'd originally intended, I should probably get an ID set up so I can dispense with the Anonymous crap.

I'll be right back.

Glenn said...

Soon not to be Anonymous,

Btw, that is a demonstration,

Of what? Of the "self-control [which] can constitute an important form of spiritual practice"? The passive agression of one who seeks to counsel another? A latent hostility which isn't dissipated by quoting from the Bible? That preaching is easier than practicing?

You made a point. It's not the first time it's been made, and it's not likely it won't be made again. The point has been responded to. It's not the first time it has been responded to, and it's not likely it won't be responded to again.

Oh well.

Anders said...

> I'll be right back...

So. Reminder: plea for mercy, or at least enough space to properly hang myself.

OK, so to Ed's articles. Now, since we're in a combox I'm not going to cover every point, certainly not in one go. So I'll pick the first (or only if there is only one) point in each. I'll give a quote for each, to indicate which one, and then say my bit.

Article #1:
"G. E. M. Anscombe famously held that there are some positions in ethics that are so odious that in many cases the proper way to respond to someone who holds them is, not to discuss his error with him, but rather to refuse to discuss it."

Ed develops that to argue that there may be situations where the depravity while not *so* bad as to make engaging a bad idea, is bad enough that you must not merely point out argumentation mistakes. Rather, polemics may be required to try to "shake people out of a complacent decadence". So the argument is that in certain situations, a "Shun Or Slag" (SoS) approach is warranted.

I'm not sure that SoS is never warranted. Then again, I can see situations where it looks tempting but is a bad idea. Singer is an example. I used to think his "speciesism" arguments excellent. And although I didn't *like* the lemmas condoning bestiality, I couldn't see why they were wrong. But *now* I see why he's wrong, but only because I've seen counter argumentation. Had everyone used SoS I may have been left unable to argue when the inevitable arises and there's a push for "Same Number Of Legs" marriage.

What of Coyne?

1. Most obviously, Coyne simply isn't promoting odious ethical positions. He's just saying stupid things of the form "well what caused God then?" So there's no case being made for the SoS approach with Coyne.

But I'll look more generally at the argument in play.

2. I have to weigh Anscombe's/Ed's position against the comment I heard from (my new BFF) John Haldane, when he was arguing a different point with Hitchens; viz the question, "Who is the better friend of tolerance: the believer in absolute truth, or the believer in relativism?" I think his answer also applies in this case, namely that if we value truth, then since we know we're fallible, we need to value debate.[1] This is not a slam dunk objection, but it means we need to take great care when deciding that SoS is warranted. Given how fallible we humans are, I'd think wisdom is on the side of erring very much away from SoS.

(To be continued. Not sure why because I'm pretty sure the total character count is under 4096).

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pflU-nnY4MA&feature=youtu.be&t=55m43s

Anders said...

(from previous)

3. Even when the Slagging form of SoS is justified, I see an argument for *attacking* immorality -- i.e. pointing out sin or whatever -- but I see no argument for using *abuse* per se to do that. In fact, I think there's a danger of abuse being misinterpreted. Despite several comments about, I'm not proposing gentleness, or softness. My concern is with rudeness, abusiveness, and so on. Calling a sin a sin is fair game. Let "yes" be "yes" etc.

4. If a key reason for SoS is to avoid becoming "complicit in lending credibility to the making of such proposals.", there is an opposing concern for the effect that SoS may have on *bystanders*. My worry is that when Ed says "yah boo sucks" in response to Jerry calling him a poopy head, some poor civilian who has not read Anscombe misses *what* Ed is saying because of *how* he is saying it. Now obviously this is a judgement call and there may be a reverse effect from avoiding SoS. But plain old experience tells me that negativity in such things gets way more attention than positivity, such that if there is a *net* effect, it's going to be to push people away from Ed's position, not towards it.

OK, turns out it took me more text than I thought for only the first point in Article #1 so I'll leave it there for now, and if it turns out I'm being given a second chance I can explore others.

cheers,
Anders

Anders said...

@Glenn said...

"[A demonstration of] what?"

Of the fact that, contrary to what laubadetriste suggested, whatever is behind my position -- "gentleness", manifest as an apparent inability to say cuss words (e.g. "bollox" as opposed to "bollocks") -- isn't part of it.

Anders said...

Oops, misplaced emdash.

"Of the fact that, contrary to what laubadetriste suggested, whatever is behind my position -- "gentleness", manifest as an apparent inability to say cuss words (e.g. "bollox" as opposed to "bollocks") -- isn't part of it."

should have been:

"Of the fact that, contrary to what laubadetriste suggested, whatever is behind my position, "gentleness" -- manifest as an apparent inability to say cuss words (e.g. "bollox" as opposed to "bollocks") -- isn't part of it.

laubadetriste said...

@Anders: "Of the fact that, contrary to what laubadetriste suggested, whatever is behind my position -- 'gentleness', manifest as an apparent inability to say cuss words (e.g. 'bollox' as opposed to 'bollocks') -- isn't part of it."

No, not an inability to *say* curse words; to *spell* them as prevailingly spelled (the inability, in one passing case, which I took to be indicative of an unfamiliarity with them, as representing a more general unfamiliarity with abuse). And while your run at cursing was indeed more pungent and inventive than before, I did not stipulate curse words as markers of competent polemics, and I doubt you would do so either. And so, after a bit of surprise--I do hope those expletives stay up there, given the context--it seems what I claimed, and Gottfried may have seconded, still stands. And I remain curious what you would say about notable broadsides of the past, especially ones which are no longer part of live disputes (and hence, which may now be seen with eyes less clouded by tribal feeling). For...

"My worry is that when Ed says 'yah boo sucks' in response to Jerry calling him a poopy head..."

...is very much not what was said, even given the license of caricature.

"Btw, that is a demonstration, not an insult."

Why yes, yes it was. You do not curse like the "persistent and argumentative b*st*rd" you claim to be. But as I have little riding on my ascription of gentleness, or upon my teasing urological example, let me concede for the sake of argument that on the contrary you are as vile as you please, and no doubt as we speak tying a buxom blonde to railroad tracks and twirling your waxed mustache. And also that at your bedside, instead of a Bible, you keep for practice copies of *Shakespeare's Bawdy,* *Trainspotting,* and *A Clockwork Orange.*

Anders said...

To Laubadetriste: Eloquently put! I can't help suspecting you're actually Stephen Fry. Or at least, that's how I hear you (Jeeves, specifically). Do you write? If not, perhaps consider it? On "My Swearing Is Viler Than Your Swearing" rutting: overall, I consider myself a well-mannered person, but I'm of Celtic descent, so swearing is more common among "my people" than the average. I think. I don't actually take it to be too correlated with mannerliness or gentleness.

To Gottfried: well played. Your counterexamples ("white-washed sepulchers or a brood of vipers") to what could have been seen as my implicit exhortation of, "For fuck's sake Ed, Jesus wouldn't have been so nasty! Why don't you remove your head from your own arse and be more like Him!" were very damaging to my case. In fact I'd tried to concede as much in my recent discussion of Ed's article, but I was fighting a 4096 character limit.

To Ed: since I think the chances of you modifying your style based on what I've been saying are effectively zero, let me try a different tack, in the spirit of not sinking the ship for a ha'penny of tar. If it could be arranged, how would you feel about debating one of the NA crowd? I think it would be next to impossible to get Dawkins, but Harris might consider it. Better still, Sean Carroll. It wasn't fun to watch, but I do think he kinda beat up old WLC. Based on everything of yours I've read and watched, I don't think he'd have laid a finger on you. Seriously, with the exception of (rarely) Haldane and maybe John Lennox, most of the theist side is ... well, punching well below its weight. No? Trash talk not only allowed, but enthusiastically encouraged.

To Glenn: wanker.

Also to Glenn: ;-)

laubadetriste said...

@Anders: "Eloquently put! I can't help suspecting you're actually Stephen Fry. Or at least, that's how I hear you (Jeeves, specifically). Do you write? If not, perhaps consider it?"

Why, thank you. I used to write, when my literary faculties were precocious and my critical ones undeveloped. But then my critical faculties caught up, and I saw I was not so good a writer as I had thought I was, nor so good as I wished to be. And so I took Mencken's advice to aspiring authors: "Don't."

(Which path left untaken I do not regret. I have aspiring writers in my family, and I fear terribly that the condition may be heritable.)

Please do not let this quick reversion to marzipan and ganache prevent you from continuing your reply to Dr. Feser's previous arguments. You have only just started, and it looks promising. If it would prove welcoming, I will sheathe my jaggy sticks. If you also refrain from blowing sunshine up my ass, then we may find a happy medium.

A Celt, eh? This may not be at all accurate, but now you have me picturing you as Frankie Boyle (of whom I am in fact quite fond, as you may imagine).

"Better still, Sean Carroll."

Ooh, that *would* be good! I don't know much about him, but I remember being intrigued after seeing him in conversation with Cara Santa Maria.

"To Glenn: wanker."

See? *That* was funny. There's hope for you yet. "Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats."--Mencken, "The New Poetry Movement"