Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In Defence of Scholasticism


My article “In Defence of Scholasticism” appears in the 2015 issue of The Venerabile (the cover of which is at left), which is published by the Venerable English College in Rome.  Visit the magazine’s website and consider ordering a copy.  Among the other articles in the issue are a piece on religious liberty by philosopher Thomas Pink and a homily by Cardinal George Pell.  The text of my article, including the editor’s introduction, appears below:

Editor's note: Two of the Second Vatican Council's documents dating from 1965 - Gravissimum Educationis, the declaration on Christian education, and Optatam Totius, the decree on priestly training - recommend the doctrine and method of St Thomas Aquinas to the Church. While the former contains an explicit call for "questions... new and current [to be] raised and investigations carefully made according to the example of the doctors of the Church and especially of St Thomas Aquinas" (§10), the latter insists that those training for the priesthood investigate the mysteries of salvation "under the guidance of St Thomas" (§16). As the Church marks the fiftieth anniversary of these conciliar texts, Edward Feser presents a defence of the Scholastic tradition.

Scholasticism is that tradition of thought whose most illustrious representative is St Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274) and whose other luminaries include St Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), Bl. John Duns Scotus (c.1266-1308), and Francisco Suárez (1548-1617), to name only some of the most famous. By no means only a medieval phenomenon, the Scholastic tradition was carried forward in the twentieth century by Neo-Scholastics like Désiré-Joseph Mercier (1851-1926) and Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877-1964), and Neo-Thomists such as Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) and Etienne Gilson (1884-1978).

The theological roots of Scholasticism are Augustinian, and this inheritance brought with it a heavy Neo-Platonic philosophical component. However, the philosophical core of the mature Scholastic tradition, at least in its dominant forms, is Aristotelian, with the surviving Neo-Platonic elements being essentially Aristotelianised.

The Scholastic approach

Scholastic thinkers emphasise a healthy respect for tradition, in two respects. First, they are keen to uphold Catholic orthodoxy. Second, they tend to regard the history of Western thought from the Pre-Socratics through to the medievals as, more or less, progressive. On this picture, Thales, Heraclitus, Parmenides, the ancient atomists and the other Pre-Socratics introduced most of the key problems and offered erroneous but instructive solutions; Socrates, Plato, and (especially) Aristotle set out at least the outlines of the correct solutions; later thinkers from various traditions - pagans like Plotinus, Christians like Augustine, Jews like Maimonides, and Muslims like Avicenna - built on this foundation and contributed further key insights; and the great Scholastics, such as Aquinas, finally combined these elements in a grand synthesis, preserving what was best, weeding out error, and adding yet further new features of their own. The result was a well worked-out general account of fundamental metaphysical notions such as change, causation, substance, essence, and the like; of lines of argument concerning the existence and nature of God, the immateriality and immortality of the human soul, and the natural law basis of ethics and politics; and, where sacred theology is concerned, an application of these philosophical results to Christian apologetics and to the explication and defence of the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the relationship between nature and grace, and so forth.

The history of modern philosophy, on this view, has largely been a gradual unravelling of the fabric of this hard-won achievement, and a return to one or the other of the errors of the Pre-Socratics, whether Parmenides (in the case of Spinoza, say), or Heraclitus (Hume), or the atomists (modern reductionist materialism). The intellectual and moral pathologies of modernity reflect these errors, and their cure requires a recovery of the wisdom of the best classical and medieval thinkers.

It would be a deep mistake, however, to conclude from this that the Scholastic approach is simply dogmatically to reiterate the views of certain favoured writers of the past. As the summary just given itself indicates, the Scholastic attitude is to look for and appropriate truth wherever it is to be found, including a wide variety of non-Christian sources. Nor does the Scholastic suppose that even the greatest thinkers of the past solved every problem, got everything right, or cannot still be improved upon even where they did get things right. The idea is not to keep the tradition frozen in the form it took at some particular point in the past (the thirteenth century, say). The idea is rather that you have to master the tradition before you can improve it, apply it to new and unforeseen problems, and then hand it down to future generations for yet further novel applications and improvements. The Scholastic regards the tradition he inherits as a plant to be cultivated and occasionally pruned, not a fossil to be stuck in a museum display case.

Then there is the heavy emphasis that the Scholastic tradition puts on rational argumentation. It is no good, for the Scholastic - contrary to a common caricature - simply to take a view because Aristotle, or Aquinas, or anyone else happened to hold it. (Aquinas himself famously regarded arguments from human authority as the weakest of all arguments.) One must provide a rational justification, or yield to rival views which do have such a justification. Thus, vigorous disputation has always been a key component of Scholastic method, with arguments from all sides of a particular issue carefully weighed before a position is staked out. And a good Scholastic knows that his own argumentation for that position ought to involve the gathering of evidence from all relevant domains of knowledge, the making of careful distinctions, precision in the use of words, the setting out of explicit lines of reasoning, and adherence to canons of logical inference.

In terms of both its content and its method, then, the Scholastic tradition claims to provide genuine knowledge of a philosophical and theological sort - knowledge which might be systematised and presented in formal treatises, and was so presented in works from Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae down to the manuals of the Neo-Scholastics. The function of such works is not only to pass on the tradition to future generations of philosophers and theologians, but also to acquaint natural scientists, social scientists, and other academics with the philosophical and theological prolegomena essential for a proper understanding of every other field of inquiry, and to provide the seminarian with the philosophical and theological formation he will need as a priest. The Scholastic manualist thereby aims faithfully to respond to the commission set out in papal documents from Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris to St. John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio.

Critics of Scholasticism

In the years after Vatican II, however, the Scholastic tradition went into an eclipse from which it is only now starting to emerge. Indeed, that tradition has, among Catholic intellectuals of a certain generation, been routinely denounced - sometimes even by people who are otherwise theologically conservative - with epithets like “Baroque Neo-Scholasticism,” “sawdust Thomism,” and “manualism.” Usually the denunciation is treated as if it were self-evidently correct, with little explanation given of exactly what is wrong with the tradition being denounced. When reasons are given, they are uniformly weak.

Let’s examine them. Recently, Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart rehearsed some of these stock objections, alleging, on the one hand, that the Thomist tradition from the sixteenth century to the twentieth represents “an impoverished early modern distortion of the medieval synthesis.”1 On the other, he assured his readers that:

Thomas was a dynamically original thinker, who today would make as avid a use of Darwin and Bohr as he did of the Aristotelian science of his day; Thomism, by contrast, is a school, which too often clings to its categories with the pertinacity of a drowning man clutching a shard of flotsam.

Notice first the incoherence of these charges. Hart claims that modern Scholastics have “distorted” or departed from the tradition, but also that they dogmatically “cling to” and “clutch” the tradition. So which is it? Such contradictory accusations are very commonly flung at Neo-Scholasticism. On the one hand, Neo-Scholastics are accused of having an inflexible “fortress mentality,” and of being insufficiently sensitive to the concerns of “modern man” or the findings of modern science. On the other hand, they are accused of selling out to modernity in various ways, such as by adopting a modern “Wolffian rationalist” theory of knowledge, or by adopting a “two-tier” conception of nature and grace that allegedly paved the way for modern philosophical naturalism and even atheism.

Neither sort of accusation is just. For one thing, far from sticking their heads in the sand in the face of modern science, the Neo-Scholastics and Thomists of the twentieth century were keen to show how its discoveries are fully compatible with the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition (as evidenced by the unjustly neglected works of writers like Vincent Edward Smith, Henry Koren, Andrew van Melsen, James Weisheipl, and William A. Wallace). Nor have modern Scholastics been dogmatic reactionaries in the practical domain. Building on the work of Robert Bellarmine, Francisco Suárez, Francisco de Vitoria, and Bartoloméo de Las Casas, they have argued that Thomistic natural law theory is compatible with individual rights, democracy, and limited government.

The peremptory and sweeping charge that modern Scholastics “distorted” Aquinas is also entirely tendentious and partisan. The usual bases of this charge concern several areas where the interpretation of Aquinas’s views has been a matter of controversy. For example, it is sometimes claimed that Thomas de Vio Cardinal Cajetan (1469-1539) misinterpreted Aquinas’s teaching on the analogous use of language, and passed this misunderstanding on to the later Thomist tradition. But whether this is so is by no means a settled matter - Cajetan has his defenders to this day - and in any case it hardly marks a dividing line between Neo-Scholastics on the one hand and faithful interpreters of Aquinas on the other. (The late philosopher Ralph McInerny was both a Neo-Scholastic admirer of the manualist tradition and a critic of Cajetan.)

The precise grounds for the accusation of “Wolffian rationalism” are seldom made very clear, but the idea seems to be that Neo-Scholastics have somehow departed from Aquinas’s view that knowledge comes through our sensory experience of the real world, and adopted the modern rationalist tendency to ground knowledge in an order of “essences” grasped a priori. But there is nothing in the work of Neo-Scholastics that entails this. It is true that they have made use of the rationalist’s Principle of Sufficient Reason, according to which all reality is intelligible. But far from being a distortion of Aquinas, this principle is itself implicit in Aquinas, insofar as it follows from Aquinas’s well-known thesis that being (objective reality as it is in itself) and truth (reality as it is known to the mind) are convertible with one another, the same thing looked at from different points of view.

As to the allegation that the Neo-Scholastic understanding of nature and grace paved the way for modern atheism, it is simply aimed at a ludicrous caricature. The charge is that Neo-Scholastics sealed off the “two tiers” of nature and grace in a way that made the former entirely self-contained, so that man has no natural need of God. But this presupposes that the Neo-Scholastic understanding of “nature” is the same as that of the modern philosophical naturalist or materialist, which it most definitely is not. On the contrary, for the Neo-Scholastic, rational demonstration of the existence of God is something of which natural reason is capable, and the knowledge and worship of God is thus part of our natural end. Hence the Neo-Scholastic conception of nature, far from entailing atheism, positively excludes it. It is the conception of nature affirmed by thinkers like Aristotle and Plotinus - pagan theists who regarded the knowledge and service of God as the highest end of human life - and not the desiccated “nature” of a David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, or Richard Dawkins. What grace adds to nature properly understood is the promise of the supernatural, “face to face” knowledge of God entailed by the beatific vision. And in emphasising the distinction between nature and grace, Neo-Scholastics were concerned, as Pope Pius XII was in Humani Generis, to counter theological doctrines which would “destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order” by collapsing grace into nature. A number of important recent works have begun at last to rehabilitate this unjustly maligned aspect of the Scholastic tradition.2

Where matters of ethics are concerned, the Scholastic tradition has been accused of “legalism.” The suggestion is that a law-oriented approach to morality of the sort one finds in Scholastic manuals is a holdover from the nominalism and voluntarism of William of Ockham. Yet law has always been at least a component of a biblically-grounded morality - Moses was hardly an Ockhamite! - and there is bound to be a “legal” aspect to any workable system of ethics. If there are objective moral principles, we need to know how to apply them to concrete circumstances, and working this out carefully and systematically entails that casuistry will be a part of any serious moral theory. There is also the fact that the priests for whom the ethics manuals were largely written needed guidance in the confessional, as did their penitents. That means, inevitably, a way of telling mortal sin from venial sin - grave matter from light matter, sufficient knowledge from insufficient, sufficient consent from insufficient, in all the areas of human life where we find ourselves tempted. This too inevitably gives rise to a system of casuistry. Hence, it is not Ockhamism or “legalism” that leads us to the approach of the manualists, but rather the very nature of the moral life, and also the Catholic sacrament of penance.

Then there are complaints to the effect that the Scholastic approach is “ahistorical” and “out of date.” Such assertions are ambiguous. Is it being claimed that truth is relative to historical epoch and that in the current era Scholastic claims no longer hold true? If so, then this merely begs the question against the Scholastic, who would deny that truth is or could be relative in this way. Is it merely being claimed instead that Scholastic ideas are no longer as widely accepted as they once were? If so, what does that matter? What counts is whether the ideas in question are true. If they are not true, then that would be enough reason to reject them, and their popularity or lack thereof would be irrelevant. But if they are true, then we ought to defend and promote them, and if contemporary intellectuals do not accept them, then it is their views which ought to change, not those of the Scholastic.

Moreover, the claim that Scholastic ideas are “out of date” in this latter sense is itself out of date. Recent decades have seen a revival of interest in Aristotelian and Thomistic ideas within mainstream academic philosophy. While Aristotelianism and Thomism are still definitely minority positions, they are getting a hearing in contemporary philosophy in a way they have not been since the 1950s.3

Finally, it is often remarked that Scholastic works are too “dry” and “ready-made” in their systematicity, lacking sufficient excitement and creativity. (This alleged dryness is the source of the “sawdust Thomism” epithet.) But the complaint is frivolous. Again, what ultimately matters is whether what such works have to say is true, and whether the ideas they convey really are related to one another in the logical and systematic way in which they are presented. No one objects to textbooks of chemistry or history on the grounds that their orderly and systematic presentation of the facts they discuss makes them too “dry” and “ready-made.” How can anyone who believes the Catholic Faith to be true object to there being manuals or textbooks which present the Church’s doctrine in a similarly systematic way?

The need for Scholasticism

In fact, such manuals are crucially needed, now more than ever. As Catholic theologian R. R. Reno has written regarding the abandonment of Scholastic manuals in recent decades:

The Church is not a community of independent scholars, each pursuing individualised syntheses, however important or enriching these projects might be. The Church needs teachers and priests to build up the faithful. To do this work effectively, the Church needs theologians committed to developing and sustaining a standard theology, a common pattern of thought, a widely used framework for integrating and explaining doctrine…

[T]he Church can no more function like a debating society that happens to meet on Sunday mornings, forever entertaining new hypotheses, than a physics professor can give over the classroom to eager students who want to make progress by way of freewheeling discussions… [B]elievers need a baseline, a communally recognised theology, in order to have an intellectually sophisticated grasp of the truth of the faith…

The collapse of neoscholasticism has not led to [a] new and fuller vision... We need to recover the systematic clarity and comprehensiveness of the neoscholastic synthesis, rightly modified and altered by [later] insights… We need good textbooks… in order to develop an intellectually sophisticated faith.4   

It is no secret that catechesis has collapsed in many parts of the Church, and that outside the Church its doctrines are often dismissed as a hodgepodge of irrational prejudices. The neglect of the Scholastic tradition is a large part of what got us into this mess. Its rediscovery will help to get us out of it.

Endnotes

1 David Bentley Hart, "Romans 8:19-22", First Things, June/July 2015.

2 See e.g. Lawrence Feingold, The Natural Desire to See God according to St. Thomas Aquinas and His Interpreters (Ave Maria, FL: Sapientia Press, 2010); Steven A. Long, Natura Pura: On the Recovery of Nature in the Doctrine of Grace (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010); and Bernard Mulcahy, Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac: Not Everything is Grace (New York: Peter Lang, 2011).

3 See e.g. John J. Haldane, ed., Mind, Metaphysics, and Value in the Thomistic and Analytical Traditions (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002); C. Paterson and M.S. Pugh, eds., Analytical Thomism: Traditions in Dialogue (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006); Tuomas E. Tahko, ed., Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Ruth Groff and John Greco, eds., Powers and Capacities in Philosophy: The New Aristotelianism (London: Routledge, 2013); Daniel D. Novotný and Lukáš Novák, eds., Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics (London: Routledge, 2014).

4 R. R. Reno, "Theology After the Revolution", First Things, May 2007.

67 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Feser, will a Kindle version of 'Neo-Scholastic Essays' available? Thank you.

Sobieski said...

Dr. Feser, thanks for the work you are doing to defend and revive interest in Scholasticism and Thomism in particular. As one who has experienced these caricatures in academic and religious circles (along with other friends), I am very appreciative to see someone cogently and forcefully respond to the naysayers and vindicate the tradition.

Anders said...

"The history of modern philosophy, on this view, has largely been a gradual unravelling of the fabric of this hard-won achievement,..."

If this is true (and I'm inclined to agree that it is) then we seem to have an unmitigated disaster on our hands. It's really quite shockingly bad; as bad as if science got all the way from Newton to Heisenberg, and then did an about face and ended back at alchemy. A few questions spring to mind:

1. What caused the unravelling?
2. Can it be placed within an overall moral decline into nihilism?
3. Is it being overly pessimistic to predict that the damage is probably unfixable for society at large? I ask because if fixing the damage means accepting the theistic conclusions of scholastic metaphysics, and accepting such conclusions is simply going to be to much to swallow for most modern, liberal, secular thinkers, then it seems that we're collectively screwed.

Glenn said...

Anders,

1. What caused the unravelling?

A possible answer (well, it is an actual answer; but one which only possibly points to a core truth of the matter):

Trusting primarily, if not solely, in the authority of human reason, and/or its (by-)products.

o Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me. Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know. -- Isaiah 47.10:11

If that does indeed analogically / metaphorically point to a core truth of the matter, then one ought refrain from going on to mistakenly think that human reason primarily is without value. Not so. At least not unqualifiedly so. All depends on how it's used, the use(s) to which it is put, and the extent to which its superior, the intellect, might have been co-opted by a usurping will.

Glenn said...

Anders,

I ask because if fixing the damage means accepting the theistic conclusions of scholastic metaphysics, and accepting such conclusions is simply going to be to much to swallow for most modern, liberal, secular thinkers, then it seems that we're collectively screwed.

Well, mathematical truth obtains no matter how many people fail their math tests, or hate math. And there's always a not insignficant portion of the populace who manage to, if not ace those tests, at least recognize, respect and appreciate the value of mathematical truth.

ralspaugh said...

In college I became a huge fan of de Lubac and von Balthasar--not through my professors, but through my fellow theology geeks. Garrigiou-Lagrange was, grudgingly, better than Monty Python's Torquemada--but not by much. It's Balthasar who hammers the Thomas vs. Thomism thing, although I'm not sure who originated the claim.

I've spent the last 10 years realizing what a mistake that narrative was, in part thanks to Prof. Feser. Still a fan of some Nouvelle Theologie, plenty of de Lubac and von Balthasar on my shelf...but I'll pass on the Evil Neo-Scholastic Narrative. Long live the manual tradition, the only progressivism worthy of the name.

Josh said...

Notice first the incoherence of these charges. Hart claims that modern Scholastics have “distorted” or departed from the tradition, but also that they dogmatically “cling to” and “clutch” the tradition.

The point is that a living tradition needs non-identical repetition--not that you somehow must overcome the contradiction of departing and not departing from the tradition. Hart notes (rightly) that Aquinas creatively integrates and transforms the metaphysical and theological categories he inherits from pagan Greek, Latin Christian and Arabic sources. A dead tradition is one that merely applies categories axiomatically, i.e. as rules for a game rather than creative transposition (Lonergan's Verbum essays being exemplary for the latter).

You're probably right to suggest that this "manualism" charge is overblown, but it's not incoherent.

DNW said...

"1. What caused the unravelling?"

You could probably make the case that epistemological skepticism, which oddly (superficially at least) seems a by-product - or natural consequence of a thoroughgoing empiricism - is in significant measure responsible.

Empiricism then, reflexively undermining the very faculties it purports to rely on, ultimately devolves into utilitarian pragmatism, understood as a kind of inescapable subjectivity. Society becomes the jostling of the appetite things, as they bump more or less blindly around their environment devouring and expelling.

What then, under that system of interpretation, that "anthropology", can people really "know", but their feelings, their "sovereign" welling urges? And what in intellectual acquiescence and assent is that, ultimately, other than nihilism?

Or, as I said, I think that you could make that case.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

"The precise grounds for the accusation of 'Wolffian rationalism' are seldom made very clear, but the idea seems to be that Neo-Scholastics have somehow departed from Aquinas’s view that knowledge comes through our sensory experience of the real world, and adopted the modern rationalist tendency to ground knowledge in an order of “essences” grasped a priori. But there is nothing in the work of Neo-Scholastics that entails this. It is true that they have made use of the rationalist’s Principle of Sufficient Reason, according to which all reality is intelligible."

One fairly detailed account of this sort of Wolffian rationalism is that of John Gurr in his book "Principle of Sufficient Reason in Some Scholastic Systems, 1750-1900" (Marquette Univ. Press: 1959). If I recall, Joseph Owens touched on the issue in less detail in his series on the "Causal Proposition."

lukebarnes said...

You say: "the philosophical core of the mature Scholastic tradition, at least in its dominant forms, is Aristotelian, with the surviving Neo-Platonic elements being essentially Aristotelianised."

I've read Aquinas, Last Superstition and Scholastic metaphysics (thought I'm not a philosopher), so I thought I was beginning to understand all this.

But I've been also reading "Metaphysics: The Creation of Hierarchy" by Adrian Pabst, who I think would disagree with your claim. Platonism is alive and well in Aquinas. In particular, he says:

"In perceiving sensible objects, we perceive the 'double act of being' which actualizes the substantial form or soul and produces its proper accidents. Aquinas however is no hylomorphist. The individuation of composite substances is not determined by form alone. Material embodiment, far from being accidental or arbitrary, defines the particularity of things that receive their particular form according to a specific mode of being. "the principle of that mode of existence, namely the principle of individuation, is not common, but differs in each individual: for this particular thing is individualized by this matter, and that one by that matter. "

I then reread the section on hylemorphism (different spelling) in Aquinas, and am totally confused.

Thoughts on Pabst? What remains of Plato in Aquinas?

kyle coffey said...

Hi ED,
I know it is off topic, but for a beginner interested in authentic thomistic philosophy, is the work of Dr. Dennis Bonnette and Dr. Ralph Waters trustworthy material? http://www.aquinasphilosophy.com/index.html

Craig Payne said...

Dear lukebarnes: I am a bit confused as well. For Aquinas, both form and matter make up the human being. The form is not the substance, and neither is the matter, but both together and individuated make up the substance, which is "a human being." This is Aquinas, but this is also hylomorphism. So I'm not sure what the author you quote is talking about. To me it is rather apparent that Aquinas is a hylomorphist.

Craig Payne said...

p.s. I should add that the soul is an "intellectual" substance and the substantial form of the body, but neither one makes the substance of "a human being" by itself.

Aloysius said...

Good to see that Professor Pink's work on religious liberty and Dignitatis humanæ is getting out there more! His interpretation of DH is marvelous, and has me convinced that it is indeed the correct way in which to reconcile the teaching of Vatican II with the magisterium of the popes extending into the centuries before.

For those who haven't yet read it, his article on religious liberty and DH is here. Everyone should read it:

https://www.academia.edu/639061/What_is_the_Catholic_doctrine_of_religious_liberty

I am actually very curious as to whether Dr. Feser has read it, and what his thoughts on it are.

Anonymous said...

Massive materialist review of TLS over at Atheism and the City. Any thoughts on it.

Anonymous said...

Massive materialist review of TLS ..

(FWIW, here's a clickable link: http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2015/11/an-atheist-reviews-last-superstition.html

A very quick scan sees it fall over within a few paragraphs:

"...what if it turns out to be that we're just complex arrangements of matter and energy governed by the fundamental forces described by the laws of physics, with no free will of our own? This is after all what science is showing us more and more everyday."

There are two basic but huge problems with that.

First, science is showing no such thing. I'd like to see even one, a single one, example of a scientific experiment that reports on the ontological status of us, the "do-ers" of those experiments. One, just give me one. And none of the Libet-style experiments does close.

Second, science *cannot* show us such a thing. Ever. The reason is that science Just Is an activity performed by conscious beings to describe, explain, and model the *interaction* between Whatever Is Out There and themselves. The existence of, and non-physicality of consciousness is prior to the existence of "complex arrangements of matter and energy". Ignoring that, and instead treating the physical as primary is like trying to describe how a painter is constructed of parts of his painting.

As I say, just an initial glance. But if it continues along those lines it's not going to be pretty.

ccmnxc said...

I notice the above TLS review also trots out the oft-addressed claim that there are no essentially-ordered causes, because simultaneous causation is supposedly impossible. I'm guessing much of what the review has done is lay out at length the same objections that have been hashed out here over and over, though in fairness, I certainly haven't read it all.

If you have any particular points that you want addressed, feel free to ask (should Ed decide is it not too OT), but I don't think anyone here has the time or patience to do a full-blown takedown of everything the guy writes on regarding TLS.

laubadetriste said...

@Anonymous December 3, 2015 at 6:29 AM: "Massive materialist review of TLS over at Atheism and the City. Any thoughts on it."

I haven't read the latest posts, but I read what was there in August, and thought it was blinkered and mediocre in rather the expected ways. Good of the guy to attempt the read, though, and also the extended reply. He seems earnest. Some other stuff on the blog is fruitful.

@ccmnxc: "If you have any particular points that you want addressed, feel free to ask (should Ed decide is it not too OT), but I don't think anyone here has the time or patience to do a full-blown takedown of everything the guy writes on regarding TLS."

Funny you should mention, as I almost did, those few months ago. Seemed like it would be fun. But then I decided to watch the new *Fantastic Four.* In retrospect, still likely the better choice.

Were someone to do it, it would best be several someones.

JohnD said...

This article ended too quickly! It was getting good and I thought there would be more, and then it just ended! Looking forward to more good posts from Ed.

Anonymous said...

laubadetriste, you are very polite. The reviewer is well meaning but some of his hangers on, like Mike D (who has his own site), seem less interested in actual intellectual discussion and more interested in the most confused and ill founded dismissals of anything that is not materialist.

Female philosopher said...

Dear professor Feser, this off-topic comment is to ask you about Thomist philosopher JT Bridges, who defends intelligent design based upon the metaphysics of hylemorphism:

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2015/02/hylomorphism_as093831.html

Bridges' doctoral dissertation (available in his website) defends this compatibility between A-T and ID.

Bridges also familiar with your work, he quotes you often, as seen for example in the recent and very interesting dialogue between Bridges, Peter van Inwagen and William Lane Craig on abstract objects (available in youtube).

Your comments on Bridges' position would be appreciate.

Tony said...

Aquinas however is no hylomorphist. The individuation of composite substances is not determined by form alone.

@ lukebarnes:

I suspect you find the selection from Pabst confusing because it is, itself, confused. Anyone who could even imagine that it might have been part of the Aristotelian / Thomist doctrine that "individuation of composite substances is determined by form alone" seems to have gone off their rocker on what "form" means to begin with. That's my guess. And dictating that Aquinas is no hylomorphist is surely to ignore what, by convention, the word was cobbled together to mean.

Cantus said...

One thing I ought to say, though, is that I was glad that there were capable Thomists in the comments section of Atheism & The City, addressing the points and objections that the reviewer raised.

Tony said...

The point is that a living tradition needs non-identical repetition--not that you somehow must overcome the contradiction of departing and not departing from the tradition. ... A dead tradition is one that merely applies categories axiomatically, i.e. as rules for a game rather than creative transposition

Josh, I would take issue with this way of putting it, or at least insist on added distinctions and qualifiers.

To some extent, yes, living tradition DOES INDEED need identical repetition. That's just what it needs. Let me give an example. In copying and passing down the Scriptures, the Hebrew scribes were extremely attentive to ensuring they changed not one letter of the original they had received. They had a whole regimen built around ensuring letter-by-letter accuracy.

On the other hand, the rabbinic development of teaching, was a living tradition by which the earlier interpreters and explainers of Scripture gave a backdrop in which the later teachers could mold new, more complete, richer explanations of the very same Scriptures, or adapt the practical application of the Scriptures to new circumstances. Undoubtedly, the application of the Mosaic Law looked different during the time of judges, the time of the kings, and the time of Babylonian exile.

In the Church, we rely on both the written Scriptures and on the unwritten Tradition of the Apostles, both handed on to the Fathers, and we NEED these sources passed on to us via identical repetition. The point of teaching in a living tradition is not, in FIRST instance, to alter what you had received, but to pass on what you had received. After you have passed on what you had received, you may then hope to address yourself to developing that teaching still further by, for example, adapting the teaching to new social circumstances - a "creative transposition", if you will. But the roots remain identical. This is how it remains traditional rather than just progressive alteration.

It is - as the Prof says - a gross mischaracterization to accuse the manualists that they "merely applies categories axiomatically". Only those who read their manuals from OUTSIDE the tradition would arrive at such a thought. A true reading of the manuals accepts that by taking the principles delineated by Thomas and his successors, and adapting them to concrete application in the specific circumstances of a later time, the manualist was not merely jamming pegs into round holes regardless of the shape of the pegs. In adapting principles of marriage to changing environments - from a picture where "what the Church approved" constituted "the law" regarding each individual marriage including that a marriage had been contracted, to a new picture where the state demanded a role in allowing or denying permission for a marriage to be contracted - required, of necessity, a return to the roots and principles and working out, anew, the effects of those principles under new realities.

It is all very well to say to a man "you should live for God with love and act out of that love, not simply because a rule says to act so." But a man who has made a mistake by acting not out of love but out of selfishness STILL needs to know, in the concrete, whether he must first go to confession before approaching the altar, and thus he still needs to think about how the PRINCIPLE of acting out of love comes down to the concrete practice of whether "to love" in this case is best fit by "do not receive communion without confession" or by "receive communion without having received confession". He has to act in the particular, and only one of them best fits the principle of acting with love. Prudence is one of the essential virtues because a man acts in the concrete, not in general. The manuals exemplify the considerations of prudence.

Anonymous said...

Just an addendum to the review at Atheism and the City. The reviewer has been going through the book chapter by chapter and while it may appear that from the current chapter he is merely giving a review, earlier he states how much he hates the Catholic Church. Ergo his motivation is not lily white.

Anders said...

> Ergo his motivation is not lily white.

Not necessarily. Maybe the reason he hates the Church is precisely because he has read TLS and decided it is weak. That wouldn't necessarily be a good reason, but still it allows for his review to be causing, and not caused (or influenced) by, his hate.

Thomas M. Cothran said...

Luke:

I'm not sure of the context for that particular passage in Pabst's "Metaphysics", but Pabst doesn't contest that, for Aquinas, there is a composition of prime matter and substantial form. What he's probably saying in that passage is that a thing is not simply a composition of matter and form. The matter and form together constitute an essence which stands in potency to the act of being.

Which points to some of the ways in which Aquinas opts for the Platonist tradition over Aristotle. Whereas Aristotle rejected real participation, Aquinas--drawing heavily on the Platonist tradition mediated through the likes of Augustine and the pseudo-Dionysius--puts participation at the center of his account of things. A thing only has its act of being by virtue of participating in subsistent being. Pabst talks about this, but it's hard to follow. A clearer account of these issues can be found in John Wippel's "Metaphysical Thought of Aquinas."

Taylor Weaver said...

I could ask Pabst to clarify, if you all want. He teaches at my university and is one of my supervisors....

Tony said...

But would the clarification help, or hurt?

Craig Payne said...

Dear Taylor Weaver: If he would do so, that would probably be better than all of us guessing what he might have meant.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser,
You mentioned a while ago that you were writing a book on natural theology. When exactly should we expect the book to be released? Also what kind of arguments for the existence of God will be there? Will it just be the 5 ways of Aquinas or will it include others such as Plato's argument from self-motion, Plotinus's argument for a divine simple being, Avicenna's argument from contingency, the kalam cosmological argument, the argument from eternal truths, and Dun Scotus's argument(which is one that I really would like to see tackled as I have not yet seen a good presentation of the argument as it is incredibly complex)? Will you in the book also go up the point of Descartes and the moderns in natural theology or stop at the medieval philosophers?

boru said...

Anders says, above

[[Ergo his motivation is not lily white.

Not necessarily. Maybe the reason he hates the Church is precisely because he has read TLS and decided it is weak. That wouldn't necessarily be a good reason, but still it allows for his review to be causing, and not caused (or influenced) by, his hate.]]

In his review of Ch 3 the author states

There's also something about serious Catholics that I really don't like. I've always hated Catholicism. . .

Note the "always".

Anonymous said...

Regarding the atheism and the city fellow: just read his post on if he was aborted and you'll see where he's coming from immediately.

Robert

Anonymous said...

To be fair, his motivation isn't that important. What matters is his arguments.

GoldRush Apple said...

>>I've always hated Catholicism.

What a charming fellow. A bigot with a capital B.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the guy doing the review at atheism and the city is a trained philosopher and not some scientism obsessed gnu atheist. Considering that he thinks neuroscience can undermine Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics its probably the 2nd one. What do you guys think?

Anonymous said...

Other Anon said: "To be fair, his motivation isn't that important. What matters is his arguments."

Perhaps I should have said, "just read his post on if he was aborted and you'll see what he is trying to do."

Perhaps you'll have better luck in dialogue with him. I found him to be unwilling to consider theists' positions outside of the caricature he has constructed in the one instance that I engaged him (specifically, about God's providence and free will and their compatibility or incompatibility).

Robert

Anonymous said...

The author of A in the C is an IT specialist, or computer programmer. Likely trained in practical applications of mathematics, but I would guess not an academic philosopher, Historian, or scientist. Certainly he makes no claims to be. Fair enough. However if I may indulge in the same sort of (bigotry?) that someone who "Hates Catholicism" does, I would venture that a lot of the "Ideas" coming out of thr IT camp tend towards synopsis of other thinkers rather than primary sources since I suspect few read Latin, Greek, or Hebrew, ancient or modern. Having said that at least he seems to be reading TLS even if he is a bit disingenuous when he accuses Theists of advancing arguements towards a pre-decided position. This is not only obviously untrue (Plato and Aristotle), but essentially what he admits to in his background. He says the idea of God seemed nonsense to him at the age of 6! Wow that's a well read kid!

P.S. Sorry about he capitalized Historian my iPad keeps doing that...though I am an Historian and Lawyer by profession.

Anonymous said...

Robert, I have been in a discussion with some of his interlocutors before, such as Mike D, and I have read some of his blog entries. I agree that his way of arguing is not very good.

Scott said...

This is way off-topic but I know some of you will want to know that I (and the others in my RCIA group) underwent the Rite of Welcoming yesterday. Thank you for your prayers and support.

laubadetriste said...

Congratulations, Scott!

Scott said...

Thank you, laubadetriste!

daurio said...

Wonderful to hear, Scott!

Scott said...

Thanks, daurio. And I suppose it's not entirely off-topic in view of the role Ed's overall "defence" of Scholasticism (and of course especially Thomism) played over the last few years in preparing me for the grace of faith.

(I was actually making a post to this very forum at the moment when I realized that I had finally received that grace. I was chatting with machinephilosophy about something or other involving intrinsic teleology and final causes, and I happened to notice that I was believing something the Church taught, not just because I agreed with the Church, but precisely because the Church taught it. I was on the phone to the priest pretty soon afterwards.)

I don't want to sidetrack the thread any further, so please, everyone, be assured that I'm well aware of and grateful for your prayers and good wishes. If you think there's any possibility whatsoever that you helped in any way, then it's a virtual certainty that you did, so if you think I mean you, I do.

Anonymous said...

@Scott
Congratulations man!
With regards to the atheism and the city reviewer I think his main problem is a misunderstanding of hylomorphism. He seems to thinks the matter hylomorphism talks about is the one composed of fundamental particles such as quarks. But quarks as Dr. Oderberg has argued undergo substantial change and thus cannot be the matter that hylomorphism is talking about. Still I can understand this mistake as couldn't there be in principal a fundamental particle that science discovers that does not undergo substantial change which would render Aristotelian matter/prime matter irrelevant/wrong. In a blog post I can't remeber Dr. Feser says this cannot be the case but why does he say so?

Daniel Joachim said...

If I recall correctly, Aristotle himself was ambivalent to whether "prime matter" is a thing that could really exist in itself. Devoid of form, that is.

I think we should be careful to identify it with the yet most fundamental particle known to modern physics.

@Josh

The point is that a living tradition needs non-identical repetition--not that you somehow must overcome the contradiction of departing and not departing from the tradition. Hart notes (rightly) that Aquinas creatively integrates and transforms the metaphysical and theological categories he inherits from pagan Greek, Latin Christian and Arabic sources. A dead tradition is one that merely applies categories axiomatically, i.e. as rules for a game rather than creative transposition (Lonergan's Verbum essays being exemplary for the latter).

You're probably right to suggest that this "manualism" charge is overblown, but it's not incoherent.


That was my first thought as well. If, as it may seem, the charge is that the "real" tradition has been distorted, while it is this distorted tradition that is being dogmatically clinged to, then there doesn't seem to be any straight-forward incoherence?

Anonymous said...

But isnt there a difference between Aristotelian matter(not prime matter) in hylomorphism over modern day definition of matter such as quarks? Could the Aristotelian version be overtaken by the modern version if fundamental particles that do not undergo substantial change are discovered thus rendering hylomorphism false?

Brandon said...

Could the Aristotelian version be overtaken by the modern version if fundamental particles that do not undergo substantial change are discovered thus rendering hylomorphism false?

Substantial change clearly indicates that there is a matter (Aristotelian sense) for the change; but having matter does not guarantee substantial change -- if anything doesn't undergo substantial change, it is still possible for it to be material in the Aristotelian sense. Historically it was assumed that the heavenly bodies were like this; in the scenario you are suggesting, what the medievals thought of the heavenly bodies would in reality be true of the fundamental particles in question. So such a discovery would not render hylomorphism false; hylomorphism has always allowed for such possibilities. It would make a number of things less straightforward, but it is not an issue for hylomorphism.

Presumably a fundamental particle that was like this could neither decay nor be the result of a decay nor combine with other particles to create new particles.

Miriam said...

Speaking of bigots & people who hate. These are not synonymous. Some people hate things for rational or emotional reasons. To hate evil is good. I surmise that a bigot is a person with an irrational emotional hatred .

dover_beach said...

"This is way off-topic but I know some of you will want to know that I (and the others in my RCIA group) underwent the Rite of Welcoming yesterday. Thank you for your prayers and support."

Oh, this is fantastic news!

Daniel D. D. said...

Anonymous,

There is a major difference. In fact, I found the Thomist conception of matter hard to understand at first precisely because I tried to conceive and imagine it in an mechanicalist framework. I am too closed minded, it seems.

I'm not sure if the modern physicist has an insightful understanding of matter. I find that he often is still trying to fit the 20th and 21st century scientific discoveries into an unconscious Newtonian (mechanicalist) understanding of matter.

Ohh, and congratulations Scott. Now you get to be part of those secret Satonic rituals that weird fundemnetalists speculate we Catholics do ;-)

Christi pax.

Daniel D. D. said...

Mariam,

Isn't hate an emotion?

Christi pax

Anonymous said...

@Daniel
Do you know any resources that properly explains the difference between the 2 conceptions online? In his books Aquinas and Scholastic metaphysics does Dr. Feser also explain the difference as I ordered them awhile ago.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know any powerful arguments for hylomorphism and against materialism

Anonymous said...

A spaniard in the group-think works that inform this blog.!
Personally I find all of the speculative blather written by the advocates of Scholasticism pretentiously boring. None of it is based on real experience.
What does the cover of the current issue of the featured journal communicate?
Does it have anything to do with living with deeply informed real discriminative intelligence in the quantum world of the "21st century"?
By comparison why not check out the reference Time Space and Knowledge by Tarthang Tulku whose "philosophy" etc is based on his first hand experience.

Anonymous said...

Are you nuts! One of the major points of Scholasticism, and A-T philosophy is that it IS based on real experience and the default position of trusting ones own senses. It is materialism etc...that is ultimately based on not trusting real experience.

Gottfried said...

Do you ever wonder if all these comments by Anonymous are really made by one guy with a serious dissociative disorder?

Gottfried said...

I just noticed I have a leaky faucet in my bathroom. Does anyone have a Spaniard I can borrow?

Gottfried said...

I'll be here all week people!

Glenn said...

Gottfried,

My Spaniard's membership in the group-think expired last week, and hasn't been renewed just yet. If that's not a problem, I'll be happy to lend him to you.

laubadetriste said...

At least it wasn't a spaniel. Whatever you may think of Spaniards, they certainly provide more mechanical advantage than spaniels. The opposable thumbs, you see.

@Anonymous December 10, 2015 at 2:31 AM: "Does it have anything to do with living with deeply informed real discriminative intelligence in the quantum world of the '21st century'?"

Yes.

"By comparison why not check out the reference Time Space and Knowledge by Tarthang Tulku whose 'philosophy' etc is based on his first hand experience."

Hmn. So is his "philosophy" based upon first-hand experience, or is his philosophy based upon first-hand experience? You can think about that for a bit, and then let us know if you want to leave the kiddie table.

Craig Payne said...

"His advocacy of pretentiously boring speculative blather was lifelong." I think I have found what I want on my tombstone (except I think the stone would have to be about five feet wide). It's either that or a description I heard of Socrates: "He was not only physically ugly, but extremely irritating." Rest in peace.

laubadetriste said...

@Craig Payne:

"The way I shall take, gentlemen, in my praise of Socrates, is by similitudes. Probably he will think I do this for derision; but I choose my similitude for the sake of truth, not of ridicule. For I say he is likest to the Silenus-figures that sit in the statuaries' shops; those, I mean, which our craftsmen make with pipes or flutes in their hands: when their two halves are pulled open, they are found to contain images of gods."--Alcibiades, according to the *Symposium* 215a-b

Tony said...

"No good. I have known too many Spaniards."

None of it is based on real experience.

See, Aristotle's philosophy rests on a rejection of the experience of "change", unlike the great Parmenides before him. ("What exists is uncreated and imperishable for it is whole and unchanging and complete.") Only science based on the Super-Duper Hyper-Hadron Impossible Totalizing Collider (SHITc) is based on "real" experience.

Glenn said...

1. Anonymous said of Scholasticism that, "None of it is based on real experience."

2. The self-same Anonymous also said, "By comparison why not check out the reference Time Space and Knowledge by Tarthang Tulku whose 'philosophy' etc is based on his first hand experience."

3. I did check out the reference, and discovered that Mr. Tulku wrote the following in that reference, i.e., in his Time Space and Knowledge: "As a matter of fact, experience is not a thing[.]"

4. Now, a few things may be worth taking note of:

a) if experience is not a thing, then experience is no thing;

b) if none of Scholasticism is based on experience, and experience is no thing, then none of Scholasticism is based on no thing -- which implies that Scholasticism is based on something; and,

c) if Mr. Tulku's 'philosophy' is based on experience, and experience is no thing, then it follows that Mr. Tulku's 'philosophy' is based on no thing.

5. The very same Anonymous also intimated that Scholasticism hasn't anything to do with living with a "deeply informed real discriminative intelligence" in this the 21st century, and that, by comparison, Mr. Tulku's 'philosophy' does.

6. One wonders how rejecting that which is based on something, and accepting in its stead that which is based on no thing, might be an act which, in some relevant way, might be indicative of a "deeply informed discriminative intelligence" (in any century).

pck said...

Anon.:
Does it have anything to do with living with deeply informed real discriminative intelligence in the quantum world of the "21st century"?

The purpose of putting "21st century" in quotes is of course to communicate to the world in the clearest possible terms that one is not afraid to question anything and everything. Concepts of time are so last century now that we know that everything is an illusion. In my daily experience of the quantum world (I'm a squatter in a rarely inspected part of the CERN collider ring) it is displays of courage like this which make my day.

Antiquated ways such as exercising "logic", as Glenn did above, must surely "count" as "being" nothing but "pretentiously boring". (How cutting edge am I for putting in all those quotes? I'd wear a glitter beard if it didn't interfere with the Higgs experiments.)

A Spaniard in the Works is a book from 1965 by John Lennon. The book consists of nonsensical stories and drawings [...]

Moonfall said...

I'm very late to the party here, but, some folks were asking in December, "what caused the unraveling?" One possibility, it see,s to me, is the broad adoption of a nominalist world view by many, even (and maybe especially) when they are barely conscious of it.