Thursday, October 26, 2017

Around the web with Five Proofs


At The Secular Outpost, atheist Bradley Bowen inaugurates what promises to be an interesting series of posts on Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  His verdict so far:

Unlike the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft, Feser’s case is NOT a Steaming Pile of Crap, and it is a great pleasure to consider a case that at least has the potential to be a reasonable and intelligent case for God.

End quote.  As they say, read the whole thing.  “Feser’s case is NOT a Steaming Pile of Crap” may be my favorite book review ever.

Meanwhile, in two podcasts at The Word on Fire Show (here and here), Bishop Robert Barron and Brandon Vogt discuss Aquinas’s Five Ways and, along the way, what Bishop Barron kindly refers to as my “fine new book” Five Proofs as well.

At the blog After Aristotle, philosopher Richard Hennessey comments on Five Proofs, which he says “commands serious reading.”    

And at Pagan Bloggers, Steven Dillon comments on the book from a polytheist perspective.  He’s disappointed that I didn’t say more about that subject.  I would have thought that giving arguments for the unity of God (which I do at some length in the book) counts as addressing that topic.  But see for yourself.

39 comments:

  1. That should have been a quote on the book jacket:

    "NOT a steaming pile of crap."
    -Bradley Bowen, The Secular Outpost

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  2. I will shamelessly repost my previous comment on to this thread, in hopes that more people can eventually answer me -- maybe even Feser. Also, I think I realized that there might be a further problem with the idea of neutral "common natures" that are held by both Aquinas and Scotus.

    Universals exist and we think of universal concepts. We use them in thought and they are necessary for valid reasoning, even. But how do we come to know universals? I find the theory of abstraction to be very problematic when it comes to explaining our knowledge. It cannot be that the intellect somehow "extracts" the universal from particular beings by attending to what is common and essential to all of them, because, as Peter Geach argues, in order for our intellect to selectively extract what is the essential F in a being, leaving aside its accidents X, it must *already* be able to identify F in opposition to X. Abstraction of the essential pressupposes that the intellect already knows what is going to be essential (to be picked out) and what is going to be accidental. Geach argues that Aquinas's view of abstraction in his mature thought is not like that, but more akin to a light that creates the concepts. But I cannot find any clear exposition or explanation of this process.

    Duns Scotus's own account of abstraction revolves around the idea that the intellect does not "extract" the universal from a particular being, but rather that it "universalizes" the "common nature" in a particular being (and that occurs concurrently with the provision of the "common nature" by a particular image). The common nature in itself is neither universal nor particular. What the intellect does is universalize the common nature.

    One problem I have with this is that to me, it seems like common natures *must* be universal. I don't quite understand how it can be neutral between universal and particular. But it seems to help with abstraction, as in this case it's the intellect that universalizes a (otherwise) netural nature, instead of universalizing a particular (??) or somehow selectively extracting universals from particulars without first knowing the universals.

    Some authors argue that Aquinas also thought essences in themselves were neither universal nor particular. This thought goes back to at least Avicenna. It just seems strange to me. There is yet another problem that seems pressing to me: even if the common nature is not in itself universal, isn't it "determinate" -- in the sense James Ross uses? That is, the common nature of human being is "rational animal" and this is a completely determinate description, not indeterminate with content. But isn't determinacy coextensive with universality?

    I really don't want to hold to a Divine Illumination theory. I'd rather not invoke God as a direct explanation for our knowledge, if possible. But I can find no clear discussion of this problem.

    Please share your thoughts and reading recommendations.

    (And thanks to OA Police for the recommendation in the previous post)

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    1. Miguel, my five cents on how do we know universal is a "reformed" platonic solution from the realistic phenomenology (circle of Monaco, Hildebrandt, Reinach). Intellect don't abstract the universal but as taking cognition from the intelleggible that is from, and in, the object itself. As example take color red. Red isn't in the matter but it's a property of a substance, from perception we receive the sensible of red, the intellect doesn't abstract the red from the sensible (sense are not red) but from the sensible take cognition of the Idea, the universal of red and with an act of synthesis we experience the red as red.

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    2. A small point. When Aristotle spoke of "abstraction", he wasn't saying we abstract the universal (form) from the particular substances. Rather, it worked the other way around. What we abstract away are the accidents; from several dogs of different breeds, we abstract away, not just size, but also things like the shape of the ears, tails, legs, the color of the tongue, habitual behavior peculiar to the breed, etc. The form or essence of dog is that which we cannot abstract away, without losing the recognition that they are all dogs.

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    3. Thanks for the point George, but even in the correct "form" of abstraction seems present the "problem" of how we can abstract what is not universal if we don't have a cognition of the universal?
      Take the experience of the red color, where's the red from? Science says that the physical is colorless, so what makes red the red?

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    4. A friend of mine, Rodrigo, has convinced me that the objection does not work against the intellect. Basically, abstraction is not a conscious process in which we are "trying to separate" F from X, in which case we'd already have to be in possession of F to distinguish it from what is accidental. Intellection is not a conscious process like that. Rather, the intellect is already constituted so as to grasp only what is universal, whilst grasping no particular accidents. It's just how it works, it's its constitution: it is directed to grasp the universal, the essential, not the particular.

      Consider our bodily senses, for example. The eye (and the internal visual organs) doesn't have to "differentiate" between red and blue before being able to see them as distinct; the eye just so happens to be constituted to see color spectres of light. The eye doesn't have to differentate between the light and sound wave frequencies -- it is simply that which is constituted to grasp the first kind of information whilst ignoring the second kind. The ears, by contrast, are constituted to hear frequencies of sound waves. The intellect is constituted to grasp F specifically, and not X, just like the ears hear frequencies of sound waves and not color spectres of light.

      So the objection doesn't work. In fact, I think now that Geach's objection works only against "abstractionism" as understood by materialists -- in which we somehow just have to grasp what is common between things by "attending" to them in our experience --, not against an immaterial faculty which is specifically directed to encode essential informations while being incapable of encoding material, particular information. Maybe it was the materialist abstractionist that was Geach's target after all.

      Thanks to all who contributed, though.

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    5. «Rather, the intellect is already constituted so as to grasp only what is universal, whilst grasping no particular accidents»
      Just two quick notes. One thing is "how different waves of data are specifically received", another is "how from a specific wave we take cognizance of a universal, or a eide". I call the first one "the problem of the sensible" (SP), the second "the problem of the universal" (UP). SP is, in my opinion, well explained by science, UP has to be explained by philosophy since a universal can't be, from my point of view, a data from the senses even if we need data from the senses in order to take cognizance of a universal. I think that the Geach's objection should be read in this "sense": how we can abstract an unknown universal from an known abstracted sensible data if the knowledge of the universal should be the _result_ of the abstraction?. This is problematic, a possible solution is a phenomenologically, in the realistic assumption (Hildebrand), corrected form of the platonic ideas: we take cognizance of the universal, we see it, we receive it as we receive the sensible that extra-mentally comes from a thing that receive the form from the same universal. Please take care that in my point of view the essence is something that also the accidents, relations, values have. Therefore there's a universal for the red. The eye of the body receive the red as a "sensible data" (the red as wavelength for a human person) this data cause the taking cognizance of the "universal data", the red as red for a human person. Human not humean :)

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  3. Getting a thumbs-up from Robert Barron, the "Hollywood Bishop," is very cool. Congrats on that.

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  4. Gentiles for Moses called it "the most important book on the subject since Hume's Dialogues."

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    1. I know that remark was meant as a compliment but it highlights the tremendous ignorance even a lot of theists have when it comes to Philosophy of Religion.

      Alternatively the atheist bar is set disturbingly low.

      Atheist: 'ZOMG Existence is not a predicate, What Caused God? Bambi's mother died in the Holocaust'

      Theist: 'Look that atheist is not ranting incoherently about female circumcision, Free Speech, Flat-Earthers and Darwin! He must be an intellectual giant of his field - let us do him honour'

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    2. What "tremendous ignorance" are you talking about?! Hume's book WAS a watershed (albeit for the opposite reason). Please elaborate ...

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    3. Hume's arguments are by and large bad ones. Both atheists and theists should stop talking about that book as if it is some intellectually as opposed to historically significant work. Theists should cease wasting time rebutting Hume's arguments and intellectually honest atheists should cease wasting time propounding them.

      Re tremendous ignorance, 'casual' readers, those who have sufficient philosophical background knowledge to understand the arguments put forward in Aquinas, Scholastic Metaphysics or Five Proofs, have an alarming tendency to neglect substantial atheist philosophers commentary. This is a shame because it means most of the time they are shooting against the weakest target. Although these people are obviously interested in Natural Theology they don't seem very interested in Philosophy of Religion.

      As for atheists, well even the polite ones who challenged Ed tend to go in for the 'Teh Sciencez Teh Quantum' Stardusty Psyche type stuff.

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    4. Also: for all its considerable merit it would be hyperbolic to compare Five Proofs to works like The Nature of Necessity, Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument book, Pruss' PSR book, Mackie's Miracle of Theism or Swinburne's corpus.

      *Don't get me wrong Ed's work is far more philosophically cogent than Swinburne or Mackie.

      Part of this is to do with the format: Ed sets out to present historical arguments in a way that contemporary thinkers, both lay and philosophical, cannot simply dismiss. This he does crisply and clearly (very pleased he is actually using point by point outlines). I think Ed's most original and interesting work is actually in philosophy of mind (so I naturally look forward to his work on the soul).

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    5. I was perusing your posts here: http://classicaltheism.boardhost.com/search.php?search_id=1174728000

      Why the heck aren't you blogging?

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  5. Interesting. Do you plan on responding to Bowen's reviews if you find them interesting, kind of like you did with Robert Oerter and others?

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  6. Based on my reading from Bowen he completely misinterpreted the case the intent of Kreeft and Geisler. He seems not to have realised that the works he cited were intended as a summery, not an exhaustive case.

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  7. Sometime in the future I will be undertaking a detailed critical review of Five Proofs, though what format this shall be in has yet to be decided. Although I certainly wouldn't claim all the proofs fail the tone will be primarily critical, as I think it's important that Thomists pay more attention to the criticisms other theists and naturalists of the non-flat-footed variety* might raise.

    *Let's face it kicking the Dennett types is an important task but it's hardly an intellectualy rewarding one. I'd far rather see Ed debate an atheist Aristotelian like Mumford or Fales.

    (The most valuable part of the book is probably the section on the PSR Cosmological Argument and the Proof from Eternal Truths. The criticisms of Natural Theology section is oddly lacking - Ed actually deals with far more important problems e.g. Grimm's animadversion against Omniscience, in discussion of the proofs themselves, thus leaving that section to deal with New Atheist rubbish)

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    1. Where will you be posting such review?

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    2. With regards to the PSR section, were Feser's points original to him? Because, for whatever reason, I don't think I've ever come across an indirect argument for the PSR before reading that section.

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    3. Atheist Aristotelians? Obviously an Aristotelian doesn't have to subscribe to Christianity or any revealed religion, but doesn't philosophical theism (the unmoved mover) pretty much follow from Aristotelian metaphysics and philosophy of nature?

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    4. One can - as in fact the majority of modern Aristotelians do - endorse the major points of that philosophy (Powers theory, dispositional properties, physical intentionality) without accepting the specific formulation Aristotle & Thomas gave. Ed defends against some of these in General Scholastic Metaphysics but doesn’t perhaps acknowledge how widespread they are. Most contemporary thinkers of that school would reject the Thomist account as being unacceptably ontologically fulsome. The big exception is Mumford who goes as far as to style himself an ‘Atheist Thomist’ – surely just the right fellow to debate Ed!

      With regards to the PSR section, were Feser's points original to him? Because, for whatever reason, I don't think I've ever come across an indirect argument for the PSR before reading that section.

      Pruss briefly gestures to such arguments in his study of the PSR but out of all the philosophers I’ve read on that topic Ed far and away spends the most time unpacking the implications of PSR denial for epistemology of belief.

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    5. OA, opinion on Feser's reductio argument for the PSR and whether Keith Parson's reply has any bite?

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  8. I am so happy to see your work reaching more and more people. Your balance of thoroughness and accessibility is exactly what is needed, and it's bringing people to God.

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  9. Professor Feser,

    I tried to contact you via the contact form but no dice. I was wondering if you could weigh in, either with some pre-conciliar authority, or by applying Thomistic principles, to the morality of "survival cannibalism?" In a discussion here: http://thetradforum.com/index.php?topic=90.0 some have claimed that such is immoral, citing St. Thomas. But I'm not so quick to buy the argument. I won't bog down the comments section any further, as the objections to its immorality are detailed well enough at the link above. And I love your work, will be buying your new books soon.

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  10. I wonder what Ludwig Wittgenstein or Bertrand Russell would think of the book

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  11. Anyone who would say that about Geisler is a huge idiot is the thing

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  12. Dr. Feser, great to hear your book is receiving the attention it deserves!

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  13. Thanks for linking my post Ed. I think polytheists could benefit from reading your thoughts on henadology, especially as explicated through the works of Edward Butler. My post was more of an invitation than anything.

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  14. A quick aside: I know they are personally friends but much more would be gained were Ed to attack William Vallicella's strident and aggressively proclaimed metaphilosophical skepticism.

    ("Look Socrates, that other person is disagreeing we - we should go away and do something else as these questions are obviously unanswerable")

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  15. I don't know what is wrong with Keefe? What is the bug up this guys arse?

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    1. From what I've read of him, we was too simplistic and jumps around with big conclusions without establishing the basics.

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    2. Well he does write for a Popular audience. So that is to be expected.

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  16. Dr. Feser, I got a serious question that's been on my mind for quite some time now -- What does it mean for a thing to have an explanation for itself in its nature?

    I've read your Five Proofs, and noticed you mention it several times, but you never seem to go in much detail about it.

    This is important because since God is the only necessary being, only he can have an explanation of himself in himself. But what does that mean? And is that not circular reasoning? You understand the danger of such a claim, i'm sure as any atheist will retort that you are just masking God being a brute fact behind clever words.

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    1. A brute fact is a fact that has no explanation. But God does have an explanation - found in God's very nature rather than something external to God.

      If the atheist accuses us of masking God being a brute fact behind clever words, the atheist is completely ignoring the very argument at hand.

      For something to have its explanation in its own nature does not equal a brute fact. The atheist would basically be asserting that something can only ever have an external explanation or else it would be a brute fact, in which case the atheist is just begging the question against our very arguments!

      For a thing to have an explanation in its own nature just means it is something the essence of which is identical to existence; something that just is pure actuality and not actualized by any other; something that could not possibly fail to exist; necessary, rather than contingent etc.

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    2. I think I can live with this answer. Thanks!

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  17. I posted this at the Secular Outpost on their abuse of Kreeft and Geisler. They took it down. LOL!

    >The first thing that Feser gets right in his case for God is the length of his case:


    You are comparing a book length defense of five specific historical philosophical arguments to one chapter each in two separate books that are basically summery arguments? That is like saying a chapter in my 7th grade biology text book on evolution is "a streaming pile of shit" because it doesn't go into enough scientific detail and argument as my College Text Book that deals exclusively with Evolution?
    I don't want to be mean here but you are not filling me with confidence with this type of fallacious reasoning.

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  18. Since Bradley Bowen's cirtique of Geisler or Kreeft IS a big stinking pile of crap, I doubt he will do a good job.
    We'll see.

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