Tuesday, December 4, 2018

COMING SOON: Aristotle’s Revenge (Updated)

My new book Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science will be out early next year from Editiones Scholasticae.  More information forthcoming, but to whet your appetite, here are the cover copy and the detailed table of contents:

Actuality and potentiality, substantial form and prime matter, efficient causality and teleology are among the fundamental concepts of Aristotelian philosophy of nature.  Aristotle’s Revenge argues that these concepts are not only compatible with modern science, but are implicitly presupposed by modern science.  Among the many topics covered are the metaphysical presuppositions of scientific method; the status of scientific realism; the metaphysics of space and time; the metaphysics of quantum mechanics; reductionism in chemistry and biology; the metaphysics of evolution; and neuroscientific reductionism.  The book interacts heavily with the literature on these issues in contemporary analytic metaphysics and philosophy of science, so as to bring contemporary philosophy and science into dialogue with the Aristotelian tradition.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Opening the thread

It’s the latest open thread.  This is the time to get your off-topic comments off your chest, and to give your threadjacking impulses free rein.  From iPhones to I, Claudius, from D-list celebs to Eugene Debs, from the A-theory to Blossom Dearie – discuss whatever you like, within reason.  Just keep it civil, classy, and troll-free.

I should perhaps clarify for some readers that these open threads are not “Ask Ed anything” posts.  Sorry, I just don’t have time to respond to most questions.  Think of them instead as “Ask each other anything” posts.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Byrne on why sex is binary

At Arc Digital, philosopher Alex Byrne defends the proposition that there are only two sexes, while suggesting that this has no implications one way or the other for transsexuality, gender dysphoria, and related issues.  Let’s consider both claims.

Byrne argues that it is a mistake to suppose that one’s sex is fundamentally a matter of what chromosomes one has or even what sorts of genitals one has.  Hence it is also a mistake to point to examples such as individuals who have male chromosomes but female external genitalia, or people who have only an X chromosome or XXY chromosomes, as evidence against the thesis that sex is binary.  In fact, Byrne suggests, chromosomes and genitalia are reflections of a deeper distinction, and the nature of that distinction is not captured by a mere description of the chromosomes and genitalia:

Friday, November 16, 2018

The latest on Catholicism and capital punishment

At First Things, Joseph Bessette, Michael Pakaluk, and Fr. Brian Harrison comment on Steven Long’s recent article on capital punishment and the change to the catechism, and Long responds.

Parkland shooter suspect Nikolas Cruz has assaulted a prison guard, illustrating the continuing danger murderers pose even after incarceration.

In the October 2018 issue of the magazine New Directions, Fr. Richard Norman reviews By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment.  Fr. Norman says that he is “prudentially opposed” to the death penalty, yet still judges that:

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Thomas Pink on “official theology” (Updated)

At the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin recently interviewed philosopher Thomas Pink on the subject of the failure of the Church’s leaders to teach and defend her doctrines.  (The interview is in two parts, here and here.)  Pink is interesting and insightful as always, and in general I agree with the substance of his analysis.  However, it seems to me that the way he expresses his main point is potentially misleading and could needlessly open him up to unfair criticism.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Violence in word and action

Bernard Wuellner’s always-useful Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy defines violence as “action contrary to the nature of a thing.”  Readers of Aristotle and Aquinas will be familiar with this usage, which is reflected in their distinction between natural and violent motion.  Some of their applications of this distinction presuppose obsolete science.  For example, we now know that physical objects do not have motion toward the center of the earth, specifically, as their natural end.  Hence projectile motion away from the earth is not, after all, violent.  But the distinction itself is not obsolete.  For example, trapping or killing an animal is obviously violent in the relevant sense.  It is acting contrary to the natural ends of the animal.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Capital punishment on The Patrick Coffin Show

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Patrick Coffin on the subject of capital punishment and the recent change to the Catechism.  You can now watch the interview either at The Patrick Coffin Show website or at YouTube.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

By Man on radio

Last week on The Catholic Current radio show, I was interviewed by Fr. Robert McTeigue about By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed and the recent change to the Catechism’s treatment of capital punishment.  The interview lasted an hour and you can listen to the podcast online.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The voluntarist personality

A voluntarist conception of persons takes the will to be primary and the intellect to be secondary.  That is to say, for voluntarism, at the end of the day what we think reflects what we will.  An intellectualist conception of persons takes the intellect to be primary and the will to be secondary.  For intellectualism, at the end of the day, what we will reflects what we think.  The two views are, naturally, more complicated than that.  For example, no voluntarist would deny that what we think affects what we will, and no intellectualist would deny that what we will affects what we think.  But the basic idea is that for the voluntarist, the will is ultimately in the driver’s seat, whereas for the intellectualist, the intellect is ultimately in the driver’s seat.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Caught in the web

Many of you will have heard the awful news already.  Longtime blogger Zippy Catholic has died.

David Oderberg’s new book Opting Out: Conscience and Cooperation in a Pluralistic Society has just been published by the Institute of Economic Affairs.

At the Daily Intelligencer, the liberal Andrew Sullivan on the dangerously illiberal tendencies currently unfolding within the Democratic Party. 

At Five Books, Peter Hacker on the best books on Wittgenstein.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Five Proofs on Fox News Radio (Updated)

Some time back I was interviewed by Lauren Green about my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God for her Fox News Radio show Lighthouse Faith.  You can now listen to the podcast online. [UPDATE: If you are having trouble with that link, some other options can be found here and here.]

Monday, September 24, 2018

10th anniversary open thread

While there are still a few days left to September, I should note that this month marks the 10th anniversary of this blog.  It was initially started in part to serve as a kind of online supplement to The Last Superstition, which was published around the same time.  Of the eleven books I’ve written, co-written, or edited, seven of them (including TLS) have appeared during the last ten years.  We’ll see if I can keep up the pace during the next ten years.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Reply to Blackburn on Five Proofs

In the September 7 issue of The Times Literary Supplement, Simon Blackburn reviewed my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  The following response appeared in the TLS letters page in the September 14 issue:

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The latest on Catholicism and capital punishment

Recently at Public Discourse, John Finnis defended the thesis that the Catholic Church could adopt the position that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral.  Naturally, I disagree with him.  My reply to Finnis has now been published at Public Discourse.

At First Things, Catholic theologian Steven A. Long criticizes the “magisterial irresponsibility” of the recent change to the Catechism.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The latest on Five Proofs (Updated)

UPDATE 9/16: On Friday I was interviewed about the book on the Stacy on the Right radio show.  You can listen to the interview at the show's Facebook page.
Some months back I was interviewed by Doug Keck of EWTN Bookmark about my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  The episode airs today on EWTN, and you can also watch it online either at the show’s website or at YouTube.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Why Archbishop Viganò is almost certainly telling the truth

There are five considerations that seem to me to make it very likely that Archbishop Viganò’s testimony is truthful.  To be sure, given how numerous and detailed are the claims he makes, it would not be surprising if he has gotten certain particulars wrong.  And perhaps in his passion he has inadvertently overstated things here and there.  But the main claims are probably true.  I certainly do not believe he is lying.  The reasons are these:

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Five Proofs on The Ben Shapiro Show

Recently I was interviewed by Ben Shapiro for an episode of The Ben Shapiro Show Sunday Special.  The subject is my recent book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  You can watch the interview either at YouTube or at the show’s website at The Daily Wire.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Finnis contra Francis

Prof. John Finnis is the most eminent living “new natural law” theorist, and a longtime opponent of capital punishment.  Indeed, like other NNL writers, he regards capital punishment as always and inherently wrong, and believes that the Church could adopt this novel teaching.  You might think, then, that he would approve of Pope Francis’s recent revision to the catechism.  Not so.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Hubris meets nemesis? (Updated)

UPDATE 8/29: More from the Cupich interview.  Has to be seen to be believed.

The pattern is by now familiar.  Serious criticisms are leveled by serious people against the pope; the pope ignores them; and his associates and defenders disregard the substance of the criticisms while flinging ad hominem attacks at the critics.  This happened during the doctrinal controversies over Amoris Laetitia and capital punishment, and it is happening again in the wake of Archbishop Vigano’s astonishing testimony.  The pope refuses to answer the charges against him.  The Usual Sycophants try to smear the archbishop and his defenders as disgruntled reactionaries.  Among Uncle Ted’s boys, Cardinal Cupich leapt almost immediately for the bottom of the rhetorical barrel: “Quite frankly, they also don’t like [the pope] because he’s a Latino.”

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Immateriality of the Mind

At the Society of Catholic Scientists meeting at Catholic University of America last June, I gave the keynote address on the topic “Arguments for the Immateriality of the Mind.”  You can now watch the lecture via YouTube.  (For anyone who is wondering, Prof. Karin Öberg, one of the conference organizers, is the one you’ll see introducing me.)  Some of the other conference talks can also be seen at the SCS page at YouTube.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Review of Pinker’s Enlightenment Now (Updated)

UPDATE: The review has now been unlocked and can be read for free at the CRB website.

My review of Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress appears in the Summer 2018 issue of the Claremont Review of Books.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

An Open Appeal to the Cardinals of the Church

An international group of 45 Catholic scholars and clergy has signed an appeal to the cardinals of the Catholic Church, calling on them to advise Pope Francis to retract the recent revision made to the Catechism, on the grounds that its appearance of contradicting scripture and traditional teaching is causing scandal.  The appeal and list of signatories has been published today as an open letter at First Things.

As LifeSiteNews is reporting, over 30 further Catholic scholars, clergy, and professionals have also added their signatures to the appeal.  This longer list can be viewed there.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Three problems with the change to the Catechism (Updated)

UPDATE 8/13: The Stream recently interviewed me about the change to the Catechism.

In a new article at Catholic Herald, I analyze the recent revision to the Catechism in greater detail.  I argue that there are three serious problems with it.  

An op-ed on the revision by Joseph Bessette, my co-author on By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed, appears at The Wall Street Journal.  

Joe and I were recently interviewed by LifeSiteNews.  Today I did a Skype interview on the subject with Michael Knowles at The Daily Wire.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Pope Francis and capital punishment

Pope Francis has changed the Catechism’s teaching on capital punishment so that it now flatly rules out the practice as “inadmissible” on doctrinal, and not merely prudential, grounds – apparently contradicting two millennia of clear and consistent teaching to the contrary.  I comment on this development in an article at First Things.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Tugwell on St. Albert on negative theology

Negative theology is a crucial component of classical theism.  To a first approximation, the idea is that at least with respect to some aspects of the divine nature, we can say what God is not rather than what he is.  But again, that is only a first approximation, and a potentially misleading one at that.  In his long and substantive introduction to the spiritual theology of St. Albert the Great in Albert and Thomas: Selected Writings, Fr. Simon Tugwell makes some important observations about the matter.  I want to call attention to four of them.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Friday, July 20, 2018

Fallacies physicists fall for

In his essay “Quantum Mechanics and Ontology” in his anthology Philosophy in an Age of Science, Hilary Putnam notes that “mathematically presented quantum-mechanical theories do not wear their ontologies on their sleeve… the mathematics does not transparently tell us what the theory is about.  Not always, anyhow” (p. 161).  Yet as Putnam also observes:

The reaction to [such] remarks of most physicists would, I fear, be somewhat as follows: “Why bother imposing an ‘ontology’ on quantum mechanics at all?... [Q]uantum mechanics has a precise mathematical language of its own.  If there are problems with that language, they are problems for mathematical physicists, not for philosophers.  And in any case, we know how to use that language to make predictions accurate to a great many decimal places.  If that language does not come with a criterion of ‘ontological commitment,’ so much the worse for ‘ontology.’”…

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Crane and French on science and Aristotelianism

I called attention recently to the new anthology Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science, edited by William Simpson, Robert Koons, and Nicholas Teh, to which I contributed an essay.  (If the price of the print version puts you off, you might consider the much more affordable electronic version.)  Tim Crane reviews the book in the latest First Things.  As I also noted recently, Steven French has reviewed it at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Laws of nature at Fermilab

Recently I spent a day at Fermilab and gave a talk on the topic ”What is a Law of Nature?”  I had a wonderful time and thank the kind folks at Fermilab for their hospitality.  You can now watch the video of the talk at the Fermilab website.  Abstract of the lecture here.  The handout to which I refer in the course of the lecture can be found here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The ad hominem fallacy is a sin

An argumentum ad hominem (or “argument to the man”) is the fallacy committed when, instead of addressing the merits of an argument someone presents you with, you attack the person himself – his motives, some purported character defect, or the like.  This disreputable tactic has, of course, always been common in public controversies, but resort to the fallacy seems these days nearly to have eclipsed rational public discourse.  A large segment of the country has made it a matter of policy never to engage its political opponents at the level of reason, but only ever to demonize them and shout them down.  Even in the Church, recent years have seen the ad hominem routinely deployed against even the most respectful and scholarly critics of Pope Francis’s doctrinally problematic statements concerning divorce and remarriage, capital punishment, and other matters.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Around the web

Stephen French reviews William Simpson, Robert Koons, and Nicholas Teh’s anthology Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science, at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray is reviewed in Nature.  Excerpt from the book at Scientific American.  An interview with Hossenfelder.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Gödel and the mechanization of thought

At the recent Society of Catholic Scientists conference, Peter Koellner gave a lucid presentation on the relevance of Gödel’s incompleteness results to the question of whether thought can be mechanized.  Naturally, he had something to say about the Lucas-Penrose argument.  I believe that video of the conference talks will be posted online soon, but let me briefly summarize the main themes of Koellner’s talk as I remember them, so that the remarks I want to make about them will be intelligible.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The two Cartesian worlds

The “interaction problem” is traditionally regarded as the main objection to Descartes’ brand of dualism.  I’ve discussed it many times here at the blog, and of course it is addressed in my book Philosophy of Mind.  The problem concerns how a res cogitans or “thinking substance” and a res extensa or “extended substance” can possibly have any causal influence on one another given the way Descartes characterizes them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Talk amongst yourselves

We’re due for another open thread, so here goes.  That threadjacking comment of yours from two weeks ago that got deleted?  Repost it here, where it will be welcome and on topic.  ‘Cause whether its ontology or mixology, Ed Wood or the Form of the Good, Saul Bellow or Yello, everything’s on topic.  As always, keep it classy and troll-free.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Musical chairs brains minds

Comics, like science fiction, can be a great source for philosophical thought experiments.  Recently I’ve been re-reading one of the classic Marvel storylines from the 1970s, the “Headmen saga” from The Defenders, by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema.  Gerber, who was among the best writers ever to have worked in comics, famously specialized in absurdist satire, and this storyline is a prime example.  More to the present point, it contains an interesting twist on a scenario familiar from discussions of the philosophical problem of personal identity.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Church permits criticism of popes under certain circumstances

Fathers have the authority to teach and discipline their children, but this authority is not absolute.  They may not teach their children to do evil, and they may not discipline them with unjust harshness.  Everyone knows this, though everyone also knows that there are fathers who do in fact abuse their children or teach them to do evil.  Everyone also knows that it is right for children under these unhappy circumstances to disobey and reprove their fathers, while still acknowledging their fathers’ authority in general and submitting to his lawful instructions.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Aquinas on the human soul

My article “Aquinas on the Human Soul” appears in the anthology The Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism, edited by Jonathan Loose, Angus Menuge, and J. P. Moreland and just published by Wiley-Blackwell.  Lots of interesting stuff in this volume.  The table of contents and other information are available here.