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.

Aquinas on the meaning of life

My article “Aquinas and the meaning of life” appears in the anthology The Meaning of Life and the Great Philosophers, edited by Stephen Leach and James Tartaglia and just published by Routledge.  Lots of interesting stuff in this volume.  The table of contents and other information are available here.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Capital punishment at Church Militant

Recently, I did a Skype interview with Michael Voris of Church Militant on the subject of By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed.  It’s available at the CM website, though it looks like you have to be a subscriber to watch the full interview.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

NCR on Five Proofs

At National Catholic Register, Clare Walker kindly reviews my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  From the review:

Professor Edward Feser has a rare gift: the ability to make esoteric philosophical arguments accessible to lay readers. With charm and wit, Feser summarizes five arguments for the existence of God, based on Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas and Leibniz.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Gödel and the unreality of time

In 1949, in a festschrift devoted to Einstein, Kurt Gödel published a very short but profound paper titled “A Remark About the Relationship Between Relativity Theory and Idealistic Philosophy.”  It has since become well-known as a defense of the possibility in principle of time travel in a relativistic universe.  But in fact that is not exactly what Gödel was trying to show.  He was trying to show instead that time is illusory.  He was using Einstein to revive the timeless conception of reality defended historically by thinkers like Parmenides and McTaggart.

Claremont Center

The recent exchange between Bishop Robert Barron and William Lane Craig was sponsored by the Claremont Center for Reason, Religion, and Public Affairs, with which I am associated.  The Center’s website has just gone live, and will give you more information about the Center and its associated scholars and activities.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

SES podcast on classical theism

While at Southern Evangelical Seminary last week, I recorded a podcast with Adam Tucker on the topic of classical theism and theistic personalism.  You can listen to it here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Cooperation with sins against prudence (and chastity)

Last month I gave a talk on the theme “Cooperation with Sins against Prudence” at a conference on Cooperation with Evil at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.  You can now listen to the talk at the Thomistic Institute’s Soundcloud page. 
Prudence is the virtue by which we know the right ends to pursue and the right means by which to pursue them.  Aquinas argued that sexual immorality tends more than other vices to erode prudence.  The erosion of prudence, in turn, tends to undermine one’s general capacity for moral reasoning.  Hence, when we facilitate the sexual sins of others, we tend thereby (whether we realize it or not) to promote their general moral corruption.  In the talk, I develop and defend this theme and apply it to a critique of the views of Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Fr. James Martin.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Best T-shirt ever

Just back from a very enjoyable visit to Southern Evangelical Seminary, where I gave a lecture last night on classical theism.  Many thanks to the very kind folks at SES for their hospitality.  And thanks also for what is probably the best T-shirt I’ve ever seen – SES’s Act and Potency T-shirt, emblazoned with an image of Aquinas together with the first of the Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses.  You can pick one up via the SES store website, where I see they also have a matching Act and Potency coffee mug and Act and Potency poster.  Amaze your friends, or at least baffle them!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Does God have emotions?

An accusation sometimes leveled by theistic personalists against the classical theism of thinkers like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas is that their position makes God out to be “unemotional” or “unfeeling” and thus less than personal.  Is the charge just?  It is not, as I’ve argued many times.  So, does God have emotions?  It depends on what you mean.  On the one hand, as Aquinas argues in Summa Contra Gentiles I.89, it is not correct to attribute to God what he calls “the passions of the appetites.”  For passions involve changeability, and since God is purely actual and without passive potentiality, he cannot change.  Hence it makes no sense to think of God becoming agitated or calming down, feeling a sudden pang of sadness or a surge of excitement, or undergoing any of the other shifts in affect that we often have in mind when we talk of the emotions.  On the other hand, no sooner does Aquinas say this than he immediately goes on in SCG I.90-91 to argue that there is in God delight, joy, and love.  And of course, delight, joy, and love are also among the things we have in mind when we talk of the emotions.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Upcoming speaking engagements

Just back from a very enjoyable speaking engagement at Baylor University.  Here are the next few scheduled talks:

On Thursday, April 19, I will be speaking on the topic of classical theism and the divine attributes at Southern Evangelical Seminary near Charlotte, North Carolina.  More information here.

I will be speaking at the Society of Catholic Scientists conference on The Human Mind and Physicalism which will be held at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. from June 8-10.  More information here.

On June 27, I will be speaking at Fermilab near Chicago, Illinois, on the topic “What is a Law of Nature?”  More information here.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Chalk on Five Proofs, etc.

At The American Conservative, Casey Chalk recounts some of the public controversies I’ve been party to over the last few years, and judges them a model of how academic debate ought to proceed.  (David Bentley Hart drops by to comment in the TAC combox.)  Meanwhile, at The University Bookman, Chalk kindly reviews Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  From the review:

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Five Books on Arguments for God’s Existence (Updated)

Five Books is a website devoted to in-depth interviews with leaders in a wide variety of fields – philosophy, politics, science, literature, and so forth – about five books in their fields that they would recommend.  Recently I was interviewed for the site on the subject of five books on arguments for the existence of God.  It’s a pretty long interview (and conversational in style insofar as it was conducted by telephone).

Friday, March 30, 2018

Holy Triduum

I wish all my readers a holy Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Some Triduum-related posts from past years: