Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Summer open thread

It’s about time for another open thread, so here it is.  From violent crimes to medieval times to cringe-making rhymes, nothing is off-topic.  Still, as always, please keep it classy and keep it civil.

While I’ve got your attention, let me take this opportunity to make several comments about comments.  First, a few readers have complained recently that their comments are not appearing.  In fact, they are appearing.  What these readers do not realize is that after a thread exceeds 200 comments, you have to click on the “Load more…” prompt at the bottom of the comments section to see the most recent comments.  It’s easy to miss, but it’s there.  Click on it and you’ll no doubt find that comment that you thought had disappeared into the ether (and perhaps had needlessly re-posted several times).

Second, with open threads like this one, everything is on topic.  But on regular posts, I urge all my readers not to post off-topic comments and not to respond to people who do post them.  I find threadjacking extremely annoying, and I delete all this stuff as soon as I see it.  (Here’s a tip: If you are inclined to start a comment with the words “This is off-topic, but…,” then don’t bother finishing it or posting it, because I will delete it while uttering some choice cuss words.)  Again, open threads are the places to raise off-topic issues.  You might also try the Classical Theism Forum.

Third, some readers occasionally find themselves exasperated at the propensity of their fellow readers to keep feeding obvious trolls.  I feel their pain.  However, as longtime readers know, I try as far as I can to moderate with a light hand, so as to facilitate free discussion and – frankly – to spare myself work I really don’t need.  I’m way too busy as it is. 

Occasionally there are trolls whose behavior is so obnoxious, disruptive, and even psychotic that I have no choice but to ban them permanently.  (With some of these people, there is more to the story than what you’d know just from what appears in the combox.  Believe me, there are some real nuts out there.)  There are others who are just jerks who don’t get the message until I ban them temporarily, but who will more or less behave themselves afterward. 

Most trolls, though, aren’t quite as bad as that and needn’t be banned.  They are merely tiresomely banal, or can’t think clearly, or are oddballs, or otherwise have nothing of real interest to say.  As long as they refrain from dumping post after post after post into the combox, they are mild pests at worst.  Unless you feed them.  So don’t.  Don’t even post a short insulting response, however merited.  Just bite your lip and ignore them.  You will be doing both me and your fellow readers a big favor.  And if instead you keep feeding them, you will be complicit in wrecking a thread that might otherwise have been worth continuing.  Think before you post, and before responding to what others post.

Links to previous open threads can be found here.


  1. Is future an inherently good concept? I am arguing with someone that even though Warhammer 40k talks about the "grim darkness of the far future," or that TvTropes has a trope called "Bad Future"... it still seems to me that future is an inherently good concept. While grammatical English allows for "bad future," idiomatic English doesn't and requires the speaker to use "no future".

    Is the reason that idiomatic English requires "no future" for "that which is to come which is all bad" because future is an inherently good vincept?

    1. I don't think "future" is an inherently good concept in the ordinary sense, i.e. in a sense that "the future" without added qualifications implies something like "and good things will come to you then. Certainly "the future" encompasses people who will end up in hell by their future sins, and that's bad for them.

      On the other hand, in a metaphysical sense, for the satisfaction of justice with regard to the whole order of created being (the only kinds of being that have a "future" anyway), it is better that bad people be punished than that they get off without punishment, so the ultimate resolution of creation will, when viewed in its totality, be a good place. But I seriously doubt that has any significant part in forming the idiomatic usage of "the future" to imply something of good. I think it far more likely that the built-in mode of usage (in English) is that of an assumed optimism of possible good coming to you in the (or some) future. Thus "the future" allows for the term to be further qualified to mean a bad future, but without qualification it is basically indeterminate but leans toward optimism.

    2. @Tony,

      (Re-posting my latest reply to you since the previous thread swallowed the comment further down)

      So the Eckhartian thesis that God is the being of creatures is false, then?

      Keep in mind the thing I am asking about is whether or not the act of existence that creatures have is existence / God, not whether their essence is. The essence of a thing is distinct from God, but it's existence as predicated of it is what's important, since God is existence itself, and so to have existence finitely is to possess God finitely.

      But since you state that the claim (that God is the principle of existence for creatures - that to say something has existence is to say something has God, since God is it's existence because God is Existence) is false, this means God is not the being of creatures.

      This is very good, as this solves a number of problems and dilemmas, and clarifies a lot of things. For example, if the existence of creatures is like moonlight, this would mean the being of creatures is God's being reflected. So the being of creatures is Being Itself reflected.

      But that is pantheistic, or at least pan-en-theistic, and would entail the absurd consequence that whenever we enjoy any created good, we are essentially enjoying God / Goodness itself in a finite reflection.

      But, as you point out, that is false.

    3. I'd argue that "the future" is neither good or bad in itself.
      The future can be either good or bad depending on the present and how we develop and evolve.

      In addition, the "future" is a very long time and I would argue that it's hardly reasonable to think that we will ever reach an "unchangeable and immutable situation" - ignoring for the moment "post final judgement times".

      I mean just look at history. Look at Germany in just the XX century. It went from the WWI disaster, to a reasonably nice period in the Weimar Republic, to a hellish time in the Nazi period and WWII, to again a tense time during the cold war to finally a good period currently.

      So if someone in 1900 would ask "will the future of Germany be good"? The answer will be yes or no depending on the "slice" of the future you take.

      Now it's true that Science Fiction is either very optimistic, but more commonly very pessimistic. There is a reason for that: often such tales are cautionary tales. Orwell in 1984 is not saying that 40 years from his time the world will necessarily be like that, but it COULD be like that if we are not careful.

      Regarding games like W40K, ir fiction in general well... nice futures make for boring stories. Even in the "ultra-optimistic" future of Star Trek where humans live in a utopia, Rodenberry had to introduce "nasty aliens" to create drama. If Star Trek would have all been about how nice it is to live in the 22nd century, it would have never made it past the pilot episode. Drama is the spice of life and fiction.

    4. I do not know what "Is future an inherently good concept?" actually means. I assume you are not simply referring to the progressive superstition about "the arc of history" and the like. But other than that, I'm unclear what it could refer to.

    5. I don't think "future" is an inherently good concept in the ordinary sense, i.e. in a sense that "the future" without added qualifications implies something like "and good things will come to you then. Certainly "the future" encompasses people who will end up in hell by their future sins, and that's bad for them.

      1. Truth includes telling Timmy he has cancer and there is no hope for survival or a miracle.
      2. Timmy having cancer with no hope for survival or a miracle is bad.
      3. Therefore truth is neither good or bad in itself.

      But that is an absurdity! It is one of the bedrocks of scholastic theology that truth itself is goodness itself and therefore truth is good!

      I do not know what "Is future an inherently good concept?" actually means. I assume you are not simply referring to the progressive superstition about "the arc of history" and the like. But other than that, I'm unclear what it could refer to.

      What do scholastic theologians mean when they say birth of life is an inherently good thing?

    6. I do not know what "Is future an inherently good concept?" actually means. I assume you are not simply referring to the progressive superstition about "the arc of history" and the like. But other than that, I'm unclear what it could refer to.

      Let's look at the negative concept: something being an inherently bad thing, even though it results in something everyone would say is good.

      Someone is afflicted of a grueling, painful condition that causes unfathomable amounts of pain. Suddenly, that person dies and the pain ends.

      Death caused something very good to happen. Yet, as an opponent of euthanasia, you would never look at this and say "well, death is neither inherently good or bad in itself," you would say that "death is bad in itself."

  2. How a dominican friar study? What study skill they use? How St. Thomas Aquinas studied? What a medieval philosopher can teach us about reading?

    1. Medievals had a very interesting way of study, which could actually work well now.

      They had the more "plain" way of studying, basically reading texts, thinking about them, commenting them.
      From there usually develop further ideas from what you have assimilated.

      However they had also classes like "disputando sessions". Here you had students or bachelors who would basically discuss ideas and raise objections.
      The "magister", the tacher, might respond to the objections, but often he would remain silent and internalize those questions and objections and ponder about them later, and often provide his point of view after having thought about it a long time. That was basically an evolution of the Socratic Way: the Scholastic Way.
      In such a way not only the students learned, the teacher also learned.

      Thomas indeed studied and taught like this. He read Aristotle, commented it, developed his own ideas based on Aristotle.

      The Summa is typically the result of a "disputando", as Aquinas indeed starts with the objections first and answers them after having examined them.

    2. Good but HOW did they read?

    3. Out loud, maybe with their finger as a pointer. I tried reading the Lord of the Rings out loud last year and it was excellent. Speed reading and that has its place, but things worth reading are worth reading slowly, out loud, like chewing a nice piece of steak a little longer than the hamburger you breath in.

  3. What's the best available A-T treatments of the topics of philosophy of history and philosophy of mathematics?Right now respect to the former I am dealing with a lot of mid-century theologians who think that they've got to do a lot of work to save philosophy of history from Thomism, but their work is all entirely implausible and strange. I would like to see an alternative.

    1. I'm not up on A-T philosophy of history. What works do you have in mind?

      Granted, I am a total minimalist where philosophy of history is concerned. When it goes beyond questions like "What does it mean to do history?", I start muttering "BS."

    2. Newman on the development of doctrine, maybe? It's primarily theological, but from what I hear, it's got strong parallels to Thomistic accounts of language as actualization.

      My guess on mid century theologians is that they're all hegelian types, but I don't know so.

    3. There's relatively little work on philosophy of history in A-T circles; it just hasn't been a priority. The best work on philosophy of history from a Thomistic perspective is Maritain's set of lectures, On the Philosophy of History. It's short and tentative, but it makes an effort to be both cautious in argument while bold in proposal for further study.

      I suppose the most serious discussion of philosophy of mathematics from a generally Aristotelian perspective in recent times is James Franklin's An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics.

    4. I personally have some qualms with James Franklin book Brandon mentioned -- when he gets to infinitary mathematics his proposal is just baffling, but maybe I am just missing something.

      It may not be exactly what you want or need, but the River Forest school has produced what is probably the best treatment on mathematical physics in the phd thesis of B. Mullahy under the direction of De Konick -- I still have not managed to read it completely, but it looks pretty solid insofar as I am competent to judge such things (which I am really not, since I am a mathematician, not a philosopher). The thesis is called, surprise, surprise, "Thomism and Mathematical Physics" and is available online -- just google it. If by some chance you cannot get it, I can send it to you by email.

  4. Also what's the best book length A-T treatment of aesthetics?

  5. I'm curious how an A-T or other Scholastic might analyze the possibility (if it is a metaphysical possibility) from The Magician's Nephew where Aslan transforms the horse from our world into a talking, flying horse. Is Fledge still essentially a horse, or a new kind of thing (a pegasus, perhaps)? Is he the same individual animal he was before, whether a horse or something else?

    Also, the miracle of Balaam's donkey. How did that work?

    1. Unknown, being a fairy tail, I think that Lewis was just pulling our tails on the horse: it ain't possible while leaving the horse the same creature but flying AND talking. It's a clear change of nature, which implies a change of individual.

      As for the donkey, I would presume that God pulled a miracle out of the hat and simply caused it to seem to speak of its own capacity, but it was God's power superceding nature - God did not give the ass the power of speech of its acting. But I am open to being corrected.

    2. Is making Fledge rational a lot different that the creation of the other talking animals? All happen at the creation of Narnia*, and the other talking animals are created first, then separated from their kind and made rational. Is it inherently different than God's creation of a new soul for each human? Don't know.

      I'm not so sure that the flying is quite so big a substantial change. Yes, it's a power missing from the essence of real horses, but it doesn't seem as big a deal as making it rational. You get into the problem of where a metaphysical vs a biological species separates. Not sure how that would work.

      *OK, strictly the world of which Narnia is a part.

  6. Stephen Meyer has reappeared (on Youtube) after a hiatus of a couple of years or so.

    Looking at his videos, and going back over numerous ID related posts here, I noted that Ed doesn't appear to have engaged either with Meyer's own work, or with Meyer himself. Am I mistaken?

    Meyer seems to be the fellow who really founded and has driven the ID hypothesis. Dembski and others have their own ideas/variations. I'm wondering whether Meyer, as a philosopher of science, might be worth tackling, in that he may be more open to a discussion/debate on how ID could be formulated to avoid the obvious conflict with A-T truths.


    John Lane.

    1. I cannot answer for Prof. Feser, but my question is rather, does S. Meyer make any new arguments for ID?

      Now if these new arguments are "scientific" that's more a biology or physics professor field...

      If there are new philosophical arguments, then maybe Prof. Feser will perhaps respond in the future, but that's for him to answer.

    2. There's a good article by David Gerlenter published in the Spring 2019 issue of the Clairmont Review of Books and now available online called "Giving up Darwin." Gerlenter is not a theist as far as I can tell, but he writes about why he no longer believes in the validity of Darwinism as an adequate explanation for the origin of species. He credits Stephen Meyer's book "Darwin's Doubt" as key to his coming to see the deficiencies in the Darwinian thesis. The discussion is primarily science rather than philosophy, but I recommend the article. It's made me think that Dr. Feser's uniformly negative take on Intelligent Design is somewhat misguided. As an argument for God's existence, I agree with Dr. Feser's critique, but as an explanation of the scientific facts about life, both now and over time, Intelligent Design has a lot to offer.

  7. I’m not sure Meyer made many of the -old- arguments, actually. If you watch his videos he is very chaste in his presentation of his argument, unlike the kind of thing that Ed has answered here.

    The fact seems to be that Meyer’s ID constitutes an excellent refutation of Darwinism in its own terms, what I think people here have referred to as a “reductio.” It doesn’t seek to alter the standard philosophy of science except in one point, and this subsequent to its destruction of Darwinism - viz. that it proposes that in historical sciences divine agency be considered a valid potential cause. I don’t see that this, in its context, is objectionable. Our objection would arise only if ID, that is Meyer’s ID, did what Demski’s does, and put forth a philosophical framework which purports to be true in itself, rather than merely a means of meeting mechanistic minds on their own ground.

    John Lane

  8. Is there any way that Thomists can save one of Aquinas’ more popular arguments for the immateriality of the intellect from Robert Pasnau’s criticisms?

    To briefly summarize (I’d recommend reading Pasnau’s full paper on the content fallacy) the content fallacy is committed when we try to argue that when we intentionalize objects that that process retains the properties of those objects.

    For example, it’s fallacious to claim that my thought of a red apple is itself red or that my thought of a five pound weight is itself five pounds. Pasnau alleges that Aquinas commits the same fallacy when arguing that the abstractive process is itself immaterial given that universals are themselves immaterial.

    The interesting thing here is that Aquinas seems to use the ‘content fallacy’ towards a similar argument, where an objector claims that God’s knowledge of material individuals is itself material. It’s odd that Aquinas would be aware of a content fallacy in one area but not another.

    There is another problem that adds to this one. For Aquinas, the power/operation of vision doesn’t become ‘colored’ (even in a partial way). Why isn’t this the same case with the abstractive power? If the power of vision doesn’t take on the identity of what it perceives then why should the power of reason do the same?

    1. Which of Thomas' arguments are you saying he's referring to? This one:

      "By means of the intellect man can have knowledge of all corporeal things. Now whatever knows certain things cannot have any of them in its own nature; because that which is in it naturally would impede the knowledge of anything else. Thus we observe that a sick man’s tongue being vitiated by a feverish and bitter humor, is insensible to anything sweet, and everything seems bitter to it. Therefore, if the intellectual principle contained the nature of a body it would be unable to know all bodies. (ST I.75.2; cf. In DA III.7.680 and QDA 14)"

    2. Ironically, the response that our thoughts involving red apples or five pound weights themselves aren't red or five-pounds is one of the things suggesting the immateriality of the intellect.

      Consider the imagined picture of a red apple, taken from seeing a real red apple. The redness of the imagined apple is truly red, though distinct from the real apple's. But the concept of "red apple" is not red, yet at the same time it captures red apples correctly - so it cannot be material since it doesn't have any of the material properties of a red apple.

      Furthermore, what Pasnau's argument amounts to is essentially a denial of the universality of human thought, because remember - universality is a property that cannot be material by definition, and to say that our thoughts of universals aren't universal is to deny we know universals.

    3. JoeD

      I think I’m slightly confused by your second paragraph. Are you saying that my concept of a red apple is immaterial or that the concept of redness is immaterial? Because if you’re saying the former, I’d be inclined to deny that. The concept of a red apple is a product of the imaginative power as it makes use of various particulars (an apple, redness, etc) to form that image.

      Regarding your third paragraph, I’d be inclined to agree that Pasnau’s argument on its own would lead to denying the universality of human thought. I think that Dr. James Ross counters that sort of argument well in his article: “Immaterial Aspects of Thought” (though not directly a response to Pasnau).

      The problem though is that given Aquinas’ account of sensation, we’re left with the idea that someone could say that just like how the power of vision doesn’t become colored when taking in a colored object neither does the power of reason become immaterial when grasping universals. So in this sense, we can know universals without our intellects being immaterial.

    4. @Tulkas,

      I may have unfortunately mentioned an imagined red apple and then have spoken of a conceptual red apple in a way which would have confused which one I was talking about.

      But yes, I did say that the concept of red apple is not itself red - because the concept of a red apple is not the image in our imagination. It is the definition or principle that underlies all red apples. And as an abstract definition it is immaterial. Always keep in mind the all important distinction between imagination and intellect. The former deals with the senses, while the latter deals with the definitions and essences of things, which are immaterial.

      I don't know the exact account Aquinas gives of sensation (most likely he's talking about the imagination), but I speculate it's related to how a thing may take on the property of something without becoming that thing. You may sense a red apple, but your vision doesn't literally turn into that same red apple. You have the red apple without your senses becoming it. In a similar way, the intellect has the nature of a thing without becoming that thing. But in another way, the red apple your senses and imagination have is obviously still red. Similarly, the nature the intellect abstracts is still an actual nature.

      So to answer your third paragraph, just as you can't imagine a red apple without that image actually being red and apple-ish, so too you can't understand the concept and definition of a red apple without your intellect having it's universality and immateriality.

    5. Tulkas,

      I don't think the "content fallacy" charge is a good objection. There are, in fact, multiple ways for thomists to avoid it.

      Feser has explicitly responded to Pasnau in his article "Kripke, Ross, and the immaterial aspects of thought". You should take a look at that article. In a nutshel, Feser's reply is that Ross's (and Aquinas's) argument directly applies to thoughts, not just to the content of thoughts. Our very thoughts are determinate in the way no material things can be; our very thoughts are universal in the way material things can't be, and so on.

      There are other ways to avoid the content fallacy, too. Gyula Klima responds to Pasnau in his article "Aquina on the materiality of the human soul and the immateriality of the intellect" (I think that's what the article is called, at least). Klima's argument is quite simple and in its very form avoids Pasnau's charge. His point is that we can grasp universal concepts which are therefore immaterial. Sensory representations, by contrast, are necessarily singular because it is material: because the information of sensory representations are encoded by the spatio-temporal features of our material organs. For instance, spatial arrangements of distinct patches of color are encoded by specific spatial arrangements of neurons firing in our retina, etc. The particularity of sensory information is particular precisely because it is encoded by spatio-temporal features of organs. However, since we also grasp universal, immaterial concepts, these concepts must not have been encoded by spatio-temporal organs, otherwise the information would have been particularized in accordance with the specific spatio-temporal dimensions of our sense organs.

      David Oderberg's presentation of the argument is similar: he argues there is a "storage problem" for materialism. Concepts are universal and abstract, but brain events and regions are concrete, spatio-temporal entities, and it makes no sense to speak of a universal, abstract concept such as "circularity" being present qua universal concept in a chunk of matter. Matter would have to encode it in accordance with its own powers and dimensions, i.e., concrete, spatio-temporal features. But that's not what we have; we have real universal, immaterial, abstract concepts. These can't be meaningfully stored in spatio-temporal, confrete, material entities such as brains.

  9. Anglo-conservatism and Thomism are incompatible. Supremely confident of the truth of one's anglo-conservatism? Don't reply and be at peace. However, juxtaposing the two things is a permanent act of trolling for Catholicism. Those who have never realised this before should take the inevitable reactions in their stride. Feigning incredulity isn't an intellectually honest response. Pax et bonum.

    1. I'm not outraged by your comment, just amused. You talk about "Anglo-conservatism" as though it were just one thing, which is essentially incompatible with Thomism, which itself necessitates one approach to politics that all Thomists must agree on. If you qualify your statement to say, "Some elements of some versions of Anglo-conservatism are incompatible with some elements of some interpretations of St. Thomas," you would be absolutely, almost self-evidently correct. But that wouldn't have the air of excitement you want and wouldn't terribly upset anyone. Sometimes the truth is just boring, isn't it?

    2. The truth is exciting and dangerous. There may not be an Anglo-conservative version of Das kapital, but Reflections on the Revolution in France does just as well. Any Anglo-conservatism worthy of the name is derived from Burke. This author was full of naturalism, social evolutionism, rejection of dogma, and the political party and market as pseudo-natural social entities. Is there any prominent form of Anglo-conservatism that rejects Edmund Burke? If not, back to square one.

    3. I can't speak for the entire Anglophone world, but in America, the term "conservative" is applied to Libertarianism, Club for Growth-type economic conservatism, Pat Buchanan-type paleoconservatism, the religious right, Altar and Throne anti-liberals like Sohrab Amari, and probably a few others I can't think of off the top of my head.

      As for Thomism, there is the neo-scholastic Thomism of Leo XIII's Aeterni Patris, the existential Thomism of Gilson and Maritain, River Forrest Thomism, phenomenological Thomism, and the analytical Thomism of Haldane, Anscombe, et. al., just to name a few.

      So you have studied in-depth every tenet of every variety of American conservatism and determined each of those tenets is incompatible with every tenet of each variety of Thomism, which you have also studied in-depth? You're quite impressive. I suppose that kind of scholarship entitles you to make blanket statements that just sound silly to the rest of us.

    4. I think you'll find that these currents of conservatism share the basic tenets of Burkean ideology. Since Burke had positions that radically collide with anything resembling Thomism (for example in his rejection of dogma, of any practical application to politics of natural law as elaborated by reason, in his notion of a sovereign market, of social evolutionism determining our political and even religious truth) they can't be married in any form without some kind of adultery.

      While you are amused and not outraged by opposition to Anglo-conservatism, this hasn't always been the case on this blog. I have been the subject of a certain amount of hysteria and name calling with very little effort at refutation. What is even more strange is that people comment on this blog attacking and even ridiculing the existence of God or anything else without attracting the sort of bile that rejection of the Anglo-conservative/traditional Catholic cohabitation does...

    5. The reason why your comments might attract more negative attention than even atheistic trolling is because people are already weary of atheist trolls. But it is always worrisome when the Orthodoxy Police shows up and starts saying this or that is incompatible with Caholicism and so on; especially since the reasoning is almost always crude, bad, or incomplete. It is particularly worrisome because it risks scandalizing people away from the faith; a good, sincere conservative with some Burkean sympathies might end up getting a false and negative view of Catholicism by reading your posts, for example.
      Not necessarily your case, but I'm just mentioning it. In any case, it does seem like you read way too much into Anglo-conservatism. Burke, like most thinkers, obviously has problems. But Anglo-conservatives generally take from Burke a healthy skepticism of revolutionary politics and ideologies, which is perfectly fine and consilient with the Catholic's view against immanentizing the eschaton (to use another author who might be seen as a conservative, Voegelin).
      Talk of naturalism, social evolutionism, and so on simply miss the point. Most self-identified Anglo-conservatives don't really care for that stuff. They're just skeptical about big revolutionary projects, top-down attempts at changing society without consideration for its values and culture. They have a love for prudence as the guiding principle of politics, and think that we should also generally be respectful and mindful of the values of tradition for a healthy society, and that our oldest institutions in part deserve presumption in their favor from the fact that they have resisted the tests of time in turbulent human societies.
      Some anglo-conservatives might be a bit too enthusiastic of the market. But not all are like that. In general, it's just the case that anglo-conservatives value and typically prefer the free market against central planning and other models for economic development. Which is a perfectly sensible and reasonable position for Catholics to hold, even if one disagrees,
      So your criticism seems kinda unimportant. You keep attacking Burke, but most Anglo-conservatives aren't really Burke fanboys, and in any case don't care much for social evolutionism or naturalism or anything else; and even their skeptical tendencies against grand projects is generaly just a tendency, a healthy one at that which is dictated by prudence and need not be in principle contrary to applications of natural law in politics.

    6. I'm not sure what you mean by Burke rejecting dogma or the practical application of natural law. It is true Burke accepted much of the economic analysis of his fried Adam Smith (though Smith was not a free market fundamebtalist in the sense of a Friedman or Mises. He was more nuanced and insightful than that), unlike most early conservatives. However, modern Anglo-American conservatives doesn't get its own neo-liberal enthusiasm from Burke, but directly from liberal sources, like Friedman or Mises or Hayek (the latter himself is more nuanced and interesting than many free marketeers). Burke was just as much an influence on those distrustful of liberal economics and elements of industrialism - from Southey, Coleridge, and Disraeli, to Maistre and Bonald -as he was on more economically liberal conservatives.

    7. It also seems strange to run together the Burkean and the classical liberal, as you do. If anything, contemporary popular Anglo-American conservatism is more liberal than Burkean. Conservatives today often make sweeping appeals to personal autonomy, whether economic or personal, that is closer to J. S. Mill than it is Burke. This goes back decades. In the 50s and 60s, Meyer and Buckley were as much disciples of Mill as Burke. Only a minority of modern conservatives, like Russell Kirk, were truly Burkean.

    8. Your "anglo-conservative" is a straw-man. Atno gets close to the point. For example, all this going on about Burke; where are the anglo-conservatives talking about Burke? You see his name in libertarian circles, but I never heard any anglo-conservatives talk about him. And your moaning about republican ideas - outside of the United States, anglo-conservatives are monarchist to the T. Our Austrian economics are grounded in Thomist thought - even the anarcho-capitalists go to great pains to show the Angelic Doctor as the source of their thinking.

      I honestly can't think of a single political idea of mine that's contrary to Thomism.

      So I guess I'm less offended than incredulous. I honestly don't know what you're talking about.

    9. And I think the name-calling comes about because you're a troll, not because anybody is really offended you've finally shone a light on the contradictions between our philosophy and our political philosophy.

    10. I think you'll find that these currents of conservatism share the basic tenets of Burkean ideology.

      I think you'll find that some of the currents of your political thought share SOME of the basic tenets of all sorts of weird philosophies. Hey, suppose that communism accepts as a basic tenet the principle of non-contradiction, and the principle that the whole is greater than the part. There, you share TWO tenets with communism!

      Talk about a straw man. I don't know what you mean by "Anglo-conservatism", but the conservatism I learned at my father's knee was not Burkean. (I don't think anyone in modern America is a full-on, "pure" Burkean with no mixture from anyone else.) It may have been influenced by quasi-Burkean "conservatives", but then many of those quasi-Burkean conservatives were influenced by Thomist teachers of natural law. Now what - was my father's conservatism vitiated by learning natural law from quasi-Burkeans?

      If you have a bone to pick with the specific conservatism of X who professes to be a conservative, make that case. If you were to stop trying to fit an entire smorgasbord of political theories under a single, narrow hat you might get some traction.

    11. Didymus,

      I'm not sure that libertarians often invoke Burke. One of the issues here is that Cervantes can't seem to decide whether he is criticising Anglo-American conservatism for its liberalism for its classical liberalism or for its Burkeanism. The fact Burke was a fan of some of his friend Adam Smith's economic ideas allows some cover to Cervantes to fudge some crucial distinctions here. Burkean conservatism has liberal qualities, but it is clearly distinct from the rigid classical liberalism of a Mill or Mises. Russell Kirk, probably the leading Burkean conservative of the post-war American conservative movement, attacked Mill and dismissed what you Americans call libertarians as chirping sectaries. To the Burkean conservative, libertarians are ideologues of liberty, only marginally better than some other ideologues. Classical liberals and libertarians no doubt see Burkean conservatives and traditionalists in similarly doleful terms. Cervantes needs to make it clear just what he is criticising in Anglo-American conservatism and Burke.

      By the way, the Austrian School claims to derive their positions from Thomism seem to me highly dubious. Chris Ferrara wrote a good critique of the Austro-Libertarians entitled The Church and the Libertarian. It is usually Pope Murray they follow, not Catholic social teaching.

    12. Take Ben Shapiro as an example of a typical contemporary Anglo-American conservative. He isn't a Burkean. He's pretty much a textbook Meyer-esque fussionist. He may have traditional personal views, but in politics and economics he is a rigid follower of the classical liberalism of the likes of J. S. Mill and Mises. In other words, he an ideologue (of liberty, in this case), in Burkean/Kirkean terms, as Mill or Mises were. For the Burkean, liberty, especially in terms of personal choice is only one important political value and aim amongst others. For a classical liberal, it is the supreme and overriding political and social value.

    13. Atno, I wouldn't wish to scandalise any good sincere conservative away from the faith. However, I'm much more worried about good, sincere Catholics being coopted into an ideology that appeals to their better instincts yet is seriously flawed. Your overview of what most people understand by their conservatism is correct:
      "Most self-identified Anglo-conservatives [are] just skeptical about big revolutionary projects, top-down attempts at changing society without consideration for its values and culture. They have a love for prudence as the guiding principle of politics, and think that we should also generally be respectful and mindful of the values of tradition for a healthy society, and that our oldest institutions in part deserve presumption in their favor from the fact that they have resisted the tests of time in turbulent human societies... In general, it's just the case that anglo-conservatives value and typically prefer the free market against central planning and other models for economic development."

      The problems arose when Burke made these things an ideology, a system for understanding society and morality replacing the faith itself, which was demoted utilitarian status. By discarding the absolute (nobody really knows what Burke actually believed in), conservatism becomes an ideology of social evolutionism where what is true is what is produced by society over time (for ex. his claim that Hindu morality was correct in India).

      Your list of attitudes, which, if applied in Burkean fashion in pagan Rome, would have led to the rejection of Christianity as a destabilising, foreign creed. Social evolution in the classical world, did not lead to improvement but stagnation or decay.

      The conservative intuitively rejects Original Sin in his belief that a social organism if left to itself, will breed true - "the species is always right" according to Burke. Chesterton alluded to this with his comparison of conservatism to a white post that inevitably turns black if it not painted again and again, in the light of a fixed ideal, that is, dogma. For Burke, revolutionary dogma or Catholic dogma were wrong for the same reason: they were not evolutionary products of his society

    14. Tony, please let me know where I have trashed the principle of non-contradiction. As for not making the whole greater than the part I can only reply that I am not a nominalist. Things exist, and conservatism is one of them. History tells us that modern conservatism was fathered by Burke and that his progeny, whether they remember it or not, share basic essential characteristics with him (Do any important currents reject him? Why?). Some may emphasise the market, some the society but there are common ideas. Denying this is like denying the existence of socialism because of its unending ideological squabbles. It would be interesting to know if any important types of conservatism reject Burke and why. The whole movement is tarnished by his mentality and trying to tweak it from a religious point of view is a bit like Christian socialism.

      Burke, despite his sloganeering about religion, was part of the Enlightenment, and his squabbles with the revolutionaries were squabbles between Enlightenment true believers.
      In his Reflections, it is manifest that the Church is eliminated as a universal society independent from civil society, and natural law is discarded as having no relevance to political discourse, being "incapable of definition". While the revolutionaries believed religion was irrational and should be discarded, Burke agree about its irrationality but said it should be retained as a socially valuable legacy from the past.

      This mentality has continued to this day. Conservatism likes Christians generally, but doesn't "believe". We have been co-opted. At the same time Burke was attacking the French Revolution, he was justifying the traumatic economic revolution that uprooted English society causing injustice and famine. At the time he played a decisive part into bringing into being the ideologically-based political party. These two things have been responsible for untold destruction and murder in modern times, but because the rhetoric speaks of a bucolic past, generations have been fooled into siding with one side of the Enlightenment.

      The alternative is not central planning or a Christian utopia, but the discarding of ideology. Ideology has simply replaced the fixed ideal which was dogma and the Church. As long as ideologies take first place, the fixed ideal will be just a matter of opinion. I'm not saying Christians in politics should talk about religion all the time, but they should discard ideas that are incompatible with it.

    15. @Jeremy Taylor

      I don't know that any Austrian-school economist claim Thomism as an inspiration. Some medieval scholastics were forerunners of economic science, with ideas such as subjective value.

      That said, I don't see why Christians, Thomists, and similar types should be so hostile to economics. All that economics has done is demonstrate that there is an order to human society that arises from the nature of humans and human action (this is especially clear with writers such as Mises, but if you prefer a Catholic, there is also Bastiat). Economics also shows that it leads to bad outcomes, to say the least, when man tries to impose by force his own design on the natural order of society.

      Finally, you get our libertarian theology wrong - we say three hail murrays every night before bedtime, he is not our pope.

    16. Kristoff,

      Surely that is a very questionable idea of economics, though. Thanks know the Austrians like to act as if they speak for economics, but they sre a heterodox group. Even if one doesn't accept the right of the neoclassicals to speak for economics (and I agree that there are issues with neoclassical economics), why would one assume the Austrians, and not Veblen, Keynes, or the Post-Keynesians, for example, were the oracles of economic truth. As far as I can see Keynes, especially the post-marginalist Keynes, had a far better grasp of economic realities than Mises. Why on earth does Mises, rather than Keynes, speak for Economics, with a capital E?

      Also, it is surely a basic part of Catholic social teaching that there is no economic realm separate from ethical considerations. For example, it is Catholic doctrine that the market price or wage is not necessarily the markey one, and where at all feasible the just price or wage should be offered. This very idea would scandise Pope Murray and the rest of the Austrians, who vociferously maintain that not only should it be legally possible to offer less than the just wage or price, but it is morally licit as well, even when it is easily possible for a firm or individual to offer the just amount. So even if one accepted that Pope Murray speaks for the science of economics, he doesn't speak for the moral claims that arise out of our economic existence.

      Furthermore , Ferrara details the degree to which Austro-Libertarians are so loth to let Catholic scruples interfere with good libertarian doctrine. He quotes, for example, multiple ostensibly Catholic Austrians, including the (in)famous Thomas Woods, who seem loth to argue that abortion should be banned. They are so beholden to the liberal idea of autonomy that they can't countenance any state intervention. This is not the Thomistic or Catholic position.

    17. That should be that it the just price is not necessarily the market for, according to Catholic teaching.

    18. Miguel:

      Let's assume, for a moment, that whatever you describe as Anglo-Conservatism is accurate and exclusive (that there is no other American conservatism other than what you describe).

      And, let's assume for a moment that you are right in saying that there's a deep philosophical incompatibility between this Anglo-Conservatism and Catholicism and/or Thomism specifically.

      Even granting all that, a faithful Catholic will...
      (a.) vote in such a way as to give conservatives more victories and to deny as many victories as possible to Leftist of various stripes;
      (b.) participate in conservative political movements and organizations -- this includes educational institutions and institutions of popular media -- in order to prevent them being corrupted by leftism (keep Robert Conquest's laws of politics in mind!) and to gradually shift their internal logic to be more compatible with Catholicism and Thomism.

      He'll do that, because the alternatives are...
      1. Help the Left instead (makes no sense)
      2. Languish in ineffectual obscurity with zero connections to potentially-persuadable allies (unhelpful)

      In other words, even if we assume for the sake of argument that you have as strong a point as you believe you have, our correct course-of-action is: Do Pretty Much What We've Been Doing.

      When there's something bad in conservatism, we critique it gently in the hopes of correcting it, largely from the inside, and largely surrounded by a crowd of well-meaning and sane persons who're mostly-helpful much of the time, ranging from libertarians to Evangelical Christians, even if they suffer from some errors in political philosophy.

      But we save our full-throated condemnations (not to mention our derisive belly-laughs) for Leftism, because it's 100% worse, and its supporters are unhinged, and are frankly our enemies in an ongoing cold civil war.

      And as for the dying breed of live-and-let-live-liberals (who aren't yet in the conservative camp, but who're finally noticing that they've been excommunicated by the Left, and are increasingly hunted-down in Leftist purges), we gently introduce them to the notion of telos and allow them to see for themselves what totalitarians the Left have now become. You can't make them orthodox Catholics in a day, generally (that's up to the Holy Spirit), but through friendly conversation you can plant a seed that'll flower, a decade later, into non-hostility towards Christians and other living things.

      Miguel, I don't grant that everything in "conservatism" is as you say.

      But, presuming that it is, the observation doesn't really obligate those of us whose "Lesser Of Two Evils" voting practices lean conservative to do anything differently than we do now.

      Will you now show us "a more excellent way?" Feel free, but it'll be within the framework provided by present realities.

    19. Jeremy,

      I think you're right about most of that. I was using most of those terms, libertarian, Austrian, and so on, pretty loosely. There is a kind of libertarian that considers himself a classical liberal; their reading lists usually include at least something by Burke. That's what I was driving at. I never once heard of Burke in my years of work in actual Anglo-conservative politics. And obviously the Austrians are all over the place now - but even Murray Rothbard claims the Scholastics as the fountainhead, so to speak. I that's dubious, and I think he lost the plot, but I believe the original Austrians, von Mises in particular, could claim to be. They would have been classically educated in Catholic Austria.

      I think this thing Miguel does, acting like Anglo means American, it's very bizarre. You've heard of England, right? Britain? Ireland? Canada? Australia? South Africa? India? There's plenty of English speaking places with conservatives, and in a few of those places, we're traditionally anti-American, being loyalists of a sort.

    20. R.C., it seems that Catholics in English speaking countries have been doing that for over two centuries with the result that, in recent decades, almost any worldview apart from the conservatism in which they have been submerged in the hope of fighting off the greater evil has been lost. The salt has lost its savour.

      Well-meaning people? It's good as far as it goes but remember that conservatism and leftism are both children of the Enlightenment. The Popes have been pretty clear about it: all of the ensuing political and philosophical thought has been a disaster for the world and for religion.

      Muddling through is no longer an option. All we are doing is choosing an older or less obnoxious form of Enlightenment thought.

      This bit of Kristoffer Hansen's comment shows the results of working through movements of ideas that are incompatible: "Economics also shows that it leads to bad outcomes, to say the least, when man tries to impose by force his own design on the natural order of society." This is standard fare at any Anglo-conservative table yet it takes up one of the worst of Burke's errors; that the "market" is a natural pseudo-social force with "divine" laws of its own. In fact Burke's sovereign market was a revolutionary, artificial construct that violated Church and Thomistic teaching on justice.

      As with this issue, so too with the rest. By being co-opted, we not only lose the ability to voice the truth, but we ourselves slide into the errors professed by the ideologically conditione society engendered by the Enlightment.

      There is no magic solution but the first step is to stop supporting incompatible ideas - to discard all ideology. It's not necessary in politics for all active people to be Catholic, only that they not support false ideas and philosophies. Instead of trying to "crowd out" bad ideas by trying to put God alongside them, simply empty out the space occupied in so many minds by ideologies that explain the world without religion. Then religion can find its proper place. That's how minds worked when society was once Christian: people weren't really holier than now, but they didn't take alternatives seriously. Therefore, they believed. I hate blowing my own trumpet, but this is the society depicted in Don Quixote; a society of realists, believing in no ideology or myth, only in Relgion. Don Quixote is mercilessly rediculed as an ideologue and believer in myths, a man of the Renaissance finally forced to convert to reality by the Christian world of realism around him. The world that existed and was hegemonic when this book was written. It's worth a read.

      We have to laugh all these false ideas and philosophies out of existence, not take them seriously or temporise with them; certainly not compromise with them.

    21. @Jeremy T.,

      Economics is a very contentious science with many schools of thought. Saying one or the other is heterodox doesn't make much sense. However, the Austrians do have a better claim than most in my opinion to be the intellectual descendants of the classical economists - which would make them the orthodox group. But that's just wordplay, what matters is, who is right?

      No economist is an oracle, they all attempt to formulate theories that describe the real world. We obviously have very different ideas about which theory is correct, but this is a question that's open for rational inquiry. What makes you think Keynes, of all people, had a good grasp of economic realities? His books are almost impossible to make sense of, he was an avowed socialist, and his recommended policies were both immoral and resulted in disastrous consequences.

      I don't know that Austrian economists would disagree with the idea that there is no economic realm apart from ethical considerations. All they would say is that economics is a science separate from ethics. Ethics is about what man should do, what ends he should aim at; economics investigates the consequences of the fact that man acts, that he uses means to achieve ends. As for the just price, my understanding is that the scholastics taught that the market price was the just price, although they also admitted that the prince could set the price. However, I've never seen any reasoning justifying this, and I suspect that they simply accepted a "right" that princes claimed for themselves out of respect for the authority of Roman law. The better thinkers among them on economic matters realized that it was harmful for the prince to set a price at variance with the market price (e.g., Oresme).

      Finally, I'm not familiar with any Catholic libertarians who are not against abortion. I wouldn't trust Ferrara on this, he seems to have a personal vendetta against Woods. What I do know is that American pro-life libertarians have argued that the best policy, i.e., the most prudent, is to make abortion a matter for the states, not the federal government. This is, for instance, the position Ron Paul took.

      Finally, I'm scandalized that you continue to refer to him as Pope Murray, when I have already indicated to you that he occupies a position similar to Mary, not the popes.

      I think all Rothbard claimed was that the scholastics, especially the Spanish scholastics, were forerunners of economic science. This is not a uniquely Austrian position, I think everybody accepts that economic reasoning was first formulated in scholastic treatises on ethics.

    22. @Miguel Cervantes

      All economics claims is that social phenomena - prices, markets, money etc - are not random, but subject to causal laws. I'd like to see an argument against this claim, instead of speculations about Burke's role in imposing the market as an "artificial construct", when the simple fact is that markets have always existed. I also cannot recognize Burke as especially important in the history of economics - I'm surprised you settled on him, when you could make a better (but still wrong) argument for Hume as the great founding heresiarch of economics!

    23. Certainly. However, economics is not pure science. it's just as much morality and as such subject to the demands of religion, natural law, politics and what society wants. The economic system justified by Burke wasn't natural but contrived to benefit certain social sectors and it radically altered the state of affairs which had previously existed, often by means of legislation to enforce traumatic changes upon long lasting economic arrangements and social institutions. The same argument justifying upheaval within states was later applied globally, providing us with masses of cheap goods and massive unhappiness social dislocation and host of other problems. These are the fruits of economics as a stand-alone science.

    24. I thought Cervantes was banned. He’s such a weirdo.

    25. And such a troll. "Anglo-conservatives are X, Y, and Z," to which several anglo-conservatives respond, "We're not X, Y, and Z," to which he again responsed, "Anglo-conservatives are X, Y, and Z." And he continues on about Burke.

    26. Mr. Hansen,

      I think you're right. I read Rothbard when I was much younger. There was another Austrian, a living Spaniard, who wrote about money and drew heavily on the Scholastics, the Salamancans I think? It was all very interesting. I am,


    27. @Didymus,

      You're thinking of Huerta de Soto, I think. He's written extensively on the Spanish Scholastics and incorporates many of their insights in his book Money, Bank Credit and Economic Cycles.

    28. Kristoff,

      Mainstream economics is neoclassical economics. As someone interested in heterodox economics, I can still acknowledge the neoclassicals are certainly the current orthodoxy.

      I think Keynes, especially the post-marginalist, tried to look at the economy as it really is, as a dynamic, uncertain place. I think this is fat better than the equilibrium analysis of the neoclassicals or the off-equilibrium approach of the Austrians. I am not sure why you say the Austrians are the nearest successors to the classical economists. For a start, the classical economists weren't marginalists. The Sraffians strike me as closest to the classical economists. Another name for them is even the Neo-Ricardians.

      My understanding is that it is Catholic doctrine that the just price or wage is not simply the market one. As Msgr. Ryan noted, it is for the community, not those who alone who make the bargain, as they "are liable to form prejudiced estimates, and the stronger bargainer will be tempted to use his power at the expense of the weaker", but the community, according to the Schoolmen. And the community was not to set this amount arbitrarily, through the price mechanism, but according to objective factors. Ryan notes that when it comes to wages, St. Thomas affirmed,"as justice demands that a fair price be paid for a material commodity, so it demands that a fair should be given for human labour." As Heinrich Pesch noted, the medieval Schoolmen thought the just price didn't just rely of subjective factors, as the Austrians claim, but also objective ones, like "the qualitative capacity of goods for satisfying human wants", "the work and costs involved in producing and making the goods available", and "the general [objective] value estimation and officially set price." The Austrians claims about some late Scholastics agreeing with them are a distortion. For example, St. Antonino of Florence is left invoked, but he clearly taught, in keeping with Church teaching, there is a just price or wage separate from any particular prevailing market price, or the price of any particular 'free' exhange. When it comes to waged, my understanding is that, scandalous as it will seem to holy Austrian ears, the teaching of modern Popes, drawing on a consistent tradition going back to the Middle Ages and beyond, is that a man should be paid a living wage where possible, and that is enough to support a family. If the firm can't financially do such in its current situation, that is one thing, but if they can, there is a moral obligation for the owner to pay such a wage, even if he has to take reduced profits to do so (obviously he has a right to support his family too).

      To be fair to Ferrera, Woods is a very irritating, often sophistic guy. Anyway, Ferrara gives quotes of the social modernism of Catholic Austrians, including Woods. He quotes Jeffrey Tucker, who accepts gay marriage and even follows Pope Murray in suggesting a mother should be able to sell her children to homosexuals to adopt. Llewellyn Rockwell, an ostensibly Catholic Austrian wrote "The concept you are looking for, which allows righteous indignation against the practice of abortion, while not espousing that the practice should be defined as a crime, is individual sovereignty." He goes on to basically argue it is a woman's body, so her choice to kill her baby. This is standard pro-choice fare. Being rigid classical liberals, the Austrians, even Catholic ones, are easily led to the Mario Cuomo position of apparently personally disliking abortion, but defending its legality. This is because liberals affirm autonomy as the supreme political and social goal.

    29. That should have been it is the community who decide what the just price or wage is.

    30. Didymus,

      Yes, Rothbard's claims are definitely dubious. They rely on distortions of a few late Scholastics, who never ceased tl teach, for example, that the just wage or price is not necessarily the market one.

      Mises was, at times at least, quite vociferously anti-Christian and anti-Catholic. He claimed Christ had been responsible for seeds of socialism and claimed his words were full of resentment about the rich. Above all he saw the Church as an enemy to liberalism and its supreme concern for individual autonomy above all else.

      Ironically, Cervantes would a lot better if he concentrated on the very real issue of liberalism and its place in contemporary Anglo-American conservatism, instead of focuing on Burke so much. Burke was no classical liberal in the sense of Mill or Mises; he didn't believe liberty, especially in the sense of personal autonomy, was the supreme end and concern of politics, but, like the A-T tradition, one amongst several important political priorities.

    31. Mr. Hansen,

      Yes, de Soto is the one. Thank you for reminding me. And Jeremy, you may be right as well. I didn't read all of Mises' works and I'm sure I just ignored the anti-Catholic bits if I came across them.

      I think this arguing about Mises kind of pops Miguel's Burke-balloon, tho. If any of us were actual anglo-conservatives, he's all we'd argue about. I am,


    32. Jeremy Taylor,
      Burke was more interested in the liberty of the "species" than the liberty of the individual. However, this isn't really the antithesis of liberalism (let alone Thomism) because a given society is really just the extension of the ego. It is still the exaltation of nature against any absolutes or dogma. Conventional politics tells us the great divide is between individualism and communitarianism, but this is merely a dispute between offspring of the Enlightenment, and yet another instance of the continuing influence of Burke over conservatism today.

    33. Cervantes,

      One problem with your claims, apartm from those mentioned, is you take a very one-sided view of Burke. It is true that the place historicism versus natural law in Burke's thought is controversial, and some do think he favours the former, or at least doesn't probably integrate these. But you seem to simply assume the most pessimistic interpretation of his thought (from the perspective of someone who affirms natural law), without really arguing well for this interpretation. This is underscored by some of your frankly bizarre claims. For example, you use his speech against Warren Hastings, which along with his Tracts on the Popery Laws, is genuinely considered the work in which a natural law approach is most central, to claim he advocated relativism. You then cite his claims about Hindus having valid laws. But surely Burke is here affirming the natural law perspective. He is saying that there is in fact a rationally discoverable moral law, such as that Indian and Islamic societies were able to discover this and reflect it in their laws and societies, however imperfectly.

      Furthermore, you then assume that if Burke made mistakes in squaring historicism with natural law, it doesn't follow that this means all conservatives have made these mistakes. Contrary to what some have said above, I do think Burke is very important to Anglo-American conservatism. He was one of the first conscious modern conservatives, and he formulated many of the positions that have echoed amongst conservatives since then. That post-war conservatism has often been as liberal as Burkean is not, to my mind, a good thing. Mill or Mises were not conservatives. They were, in Kirkean terms, ideologues of liberty, and it is not a good thing many conservatives today can't tell the difference between conservatism and classical liberalism. Still, Burke is not holy writ, even to a Burkean conservative. He isn't treated like Marx or Rothbard to their followers. Many later Burkean conservatives have, indeed, spent a long time grappling with the issues involved in what I have called historicism versus natural law. But in the end, Burke did have some important insights. This is partly because he arose in the modern era, and had to engage with a mindset never seen before, at least on the same scale. Issues of social adjustment, growth, and cohesion are important. Burke was right. The challenge is how to combine such insights with an appreciation of natural law and God's law. Burke himself arguably offered some help here, though he no doubt made mistakes.

    34. Jeremy Taylor,
      If Burke's slogans are seductive for well-meaning Christians, as I believe they are, then it's understandable I am at this address to talk about why he's wrong. Of course he had insights, as did Luther and Marx. As one of the Popes wrote, Socialism had to arrive.

      In his speech against Hastings it is not the Thomistic idea of natural law that he refers to. Islamic and Hindu law, morality and religion are lumped together, the Koran and Hindu sacred literature cited as examples. In his mind, law, custom and religion are not elaborated by reason (nor is revelation mentioned anywhere); their validity is derived more from the fact that they constitute a complex tissue elaborated by society over time: "It is confirmed by all observation, that, where the Hindoo religion is established, that country is flourishing". He praised the religion religion for not seeking converts or to expand beyond national boundaries.

      In the speech, Burke referred to Christianity as "the best religion" and Protestantism as "an improved description of it", surely an example of relativism and allergy to dogma if ever there was:
      "But we think it necessary, in justification of ourselves, to declare that the laws of
      morality are the same everywhere, and that there is no action which would pass for an act of
      extortion, of peculation, of bribery, and of oppression in England, that is not an act of
      extortion, of peculation, of bribery, and oppression in Europe, Asia, Africa, and all the
      world over. This I contend for not in the technical forms of it, but I contend for it in the substance."
      What sounded encouragingly like a defence of universal natural law is the opposite, in fact. Burke isn't just saying there is a rationally discoverable law proper to human nature and potentially attainable to some degree everywhere; he says this law was already in effect in India, under the auspices of texts like the Koran. However, we know this couldn't
      possibly be the case. He speaks of a general law of God underlying all things, but this is a remote Great Architect who is a-confessional and unable to speak, except perhaps through things like the "sacred voice of the people", the House of Commons which Burke was addressing.
      More of his speech: "... in Asia as well as in Europe the same law of nations
      prevails, the same principles are continually resorted to, and the same maxims sacredly held
      and strenuously maintained..." And he points out that in India these institutions and practices are even more worthy of respect that those of Europe, because he believes they are so much older.

      For Burke, the connection to the divine in nature is through social evolutionism not speculation or revelation: “we... who have chosen our nature rather than our speculations, our breasts rather than our inventions.."(Reflections on the French Revolution). In the same work he goes on about the individual being foolish and the species wise. The English political system “is... the happy effect of following nature, which is wisdom without reflection, and above it”. I don't see how any of this squares with natural law as we understand it.
      Burke's notions of what validates a society's religious and social order would have made him a ferocious opponent of Christianity upon its arrival in the Classical world had he been alive then. For Christianity was foreign, dogmatic and intolerant and overturned a long existing religious environment. What strikes one is that way he looks at religion from the outside, for its socially useful effects, rather than as a believer

    35. It's true of course that there is much variety in conservatism, but Burke is a good point of reference. There was of course conservatism before "conservatism", in the sense that before the French revolution these ideas existed, as novelties themselves (for example the Whigs and the Ancien Regime and its ideology invented in the mid-seventeenth century). Burke represents the point where this preexisting mixture of post-Renaissance-Enlightenment thought would take form as a romanticist reaction to the rationalist facet of the Enlightenment that was the Revolution. The European conservatism represented by de Maistre acknowledged its debt to Edmund Burke.

      The best way to engage with these false ideologies was the Church's way: our "ideology" is the Faith, with a renewed insistence on Thomism. But any engagement leading to identification with Enlightenment ideas surely leads to what we see within the Church these days. Co-operating with conservatives for concrete objectives is one thing, but it shouldn't mean identification. Identification with conservatism is not even clever politically, because it shuts off entire sections of society that are instinctively opposed to much of conservatism (for very good reasons) and leaves them under the leadership of leftists. The precondition for good politics should be absence of ideology first and foremost surely. Anyway, that's what I think. Has it been tried anywhere lately?

  10. Anyone know where I can find a copy of Le Realism du Principe de Finalité by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange? I found a French .pdf online, but my French is weak haha!

    Also, any TNT fans out there? (Taylor Marshall and Timothy Gordon). I recommend people check out their podcast on iTunes, YouTube, etc. They are good guys.

    1. Timothy Gordon spoke very highly of Prof. Feser a fair number of times.

  11. I've asked this before. Has Ed ever written on "individual forms", that is the question of whether a form is itself a particular, or a universal. This has always been the first point at which I get antsy about some Aristotelians. (I commented on this in the last links post.) Of course, I have to add I cannot find my copy of Scholastic Metaphysics, which might help me here. TLS has also gone missing.

    Also, I haven't seen any real discussion - just a brief mention, of After Virtue. Did I miss it?

    1. My guess here: forms are not by themselves either, but are either depending on if they are considered apart from existents or as individual existents. No form exists by itself, but either as the form of a substance (individual), or thought of (universal).

    2. The way I understand Aristotelian metaphysics. Are that there are two broad metaphysical categories that get played around with: form and substance. Of course there are other categories, as mentioned in the Categories, but nobody knows how to apply these with the ubiquity we do with form and substance. Quality might be a minor exception.

      Form is not technically a Category, because form is deficient ontologically and cannot have potencies adhere in it, form properly adheres. However there is an exception with substantial form which Thomists like to bring up but that gets into angels and gets complicated. Essentially there are ways for pure form to behave like a substance and indeed be a substance.

      One other problem you may be running into is the fact that whenever someone in the ancient tradition runs across something spiritual they immediately shout "form!". Which is ok, if you understand form as not denoting one thing but as a buzzword for spiritual or mental figment/ object /whatever and which include the relatively well understood spiritual objects known as universals. Nevertheless Angels, while being pure "form", are most likely particulars.

  12. On John C. Wright's blog there is a long discussion going on about the atom bombs. I know Dr. Feser's position. What I can't shake should Truman have ended the war? It seems as if he had no options that were any more moral than the atom bomb. Even if you want to say that civilians wouldn't be killed in an invasion I don't think an invasion was even a real option. I'm not so sure the military would have done it.

    Is a blockade thst would have targeted civilians more moral? Bombing the rail lines and starving them out?

    I'm not sure Truman had a way out.

    1. This one is easy, he should just have sued for peace. Drop the insane unconditional surrender demand and the Japanese would have been more than willing to end the war.

    2. This isn't true. There were people who were willing to literally kill to keep the war going before any sort of surrender.

    3. Then it's pretty hard to explain why the Japanese did surrender at all. Or maybe the Japanese weren't the soulless fanatics that American propaganda made them out to be?

      There are two substantial points here, I think.

      1. The question is framed in a wrong-headed way - the correct question is not, how do we make the Japanese surrender?, but rather, on what terms can we conclude peace? It's evident that if peace was the goal, then the war could have ended much earlier.

      2. Even should unconditional surrender have been the only sensible war goal, does this justify the wholesale massacre of thousands upon thousands of civilians? An answer in the affirmative would entail that it is OK to commit grave evils in order to reach a desirable end. How does that square with natural law teachings and basic Christian morality?

      The atomic bombings, as well as the firebombings and terror bombings that preceded them, are testament to the depths of barbarism that all nations sank to during WWII. Anscombe was right - Truman was a war criminal, and if anyone sentenced in Tokyo after the war deserved to hang, then surely so did he and his minions.

    4. They surrendered at all because after the second bomb the Emperor, who was VERY unwilling to use this power, ordered it. He was unwilling tp order it because that officer then committed suicide. Your information is false.

      The death of thousands upon thousands of civilians was going to happen as a result of American actions.

    5. I don't understand what information of mine you refer to as false. The Japanese government only wanted a guarantee that the Emperor would remain on his throne, and accepted the terms of surrender even though they could not get an unambiguous guarantee of that.

      We agree about the second paragraph

    6. What I am referring to as false is the implication that they would have surrendered short of an atomic attack or a full scale invasion or destruction. Some in the government would have considered it, others would not, and outside of, say, an atom bomb, those in favor of surrendering would not have won out.

      That we granted the Japanese a request after surrender doesn't mean that's all it would have taken all along.

      My point is that so far as I can see America had been locked, partially due to the actions of Roosevelt, into a situation where every solution involved doing something immoral. I don't see what decision Truman could have made that was better morally.

    7. My understanding is that the major reason for the Japanese surrender was actually the Soviets sweeping through Manchuria and seeming to threaten the north of Japan. At least, my understanding, as uniformed as that is, is that this occupied council deliberations more than the atomic bombs. The Japanese government much preferred the idea of being occupied by the US, understandably. For a start, they assumed Stalin would get rid of the Emperor.

    8. You limit the options Truman had unnecessarily. There was no sane, let alone moral, reason to insist on unconditional surrender. That's the attitude of an Attila or Genghis, not a civilized man.

      Jeremy Taylor is right - in one week the Russians conquered all of Manchuria and were advancing into Korea, completely overwhelming the Japanese position there. That obviously influenced Japanese deliberations, just as the Atomic bombs did. That said, it's simply incorrect to say that the Japanese were unwilling to surrender - they were, given some basic conditions, although you're correct that there was opposition.

      I do not believe that a situation can ever arise where anybody is locked into a situation where only immoral choices are possible. All that means is that the person in question finds it too hard to do the right thing, as Truman and his predecessor evidently did. It's clear that it was very difficult doing the right thing, sitting in Washington, D.C., so far from any danger; only a St Louis or a Richard the Lionheart would have had the courage to pick up the phone and tell the generals to stop the slaughter. What a feat of bravery that would have been!

    9. Bellomy, my problem is even with Dr. Feser's position. In one blog post he says, "... it is intrinsically gravely immoral intentionally to massacre civilians, whatever the reason one is doing it." But I cannot agree.

      The Hebrews massacred the civilians of Jericho, then Ai, and much of Canaan, at the Lawgiver's command. The divinely inspired author makes it clear that the Canaanites were not always belligerent, and at times retreated behind their city walls in terror.

      Somebody might argue that this was justified for this or that reason... fair enough, but that means it's not intrinsically wrong to kill civilians.

      So, if Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Tokyo and Hamburg and Dresden are wrong, it's not because it's instrinsically wrong.

      I may be wrong, tho, and I'm happy to be pointed to the proper Thomistic source that shows as much. But I cannot accept assertions or appeals to common decency, not in the face of the Old Testament and medieval, uncondemned, history.

    10. Under that same post, one commentator says:

      Exactly. Or as I've heard it put: what is the difference between throwing 500 babies on a fire and dropping fire from airplanes on 500 babies? There is none.

      But one could ask just the same, what's the difference between any of that and killing likely more than 500 babies, and their mothers, and their fathers, and any siblings, and even the cattle with the sword?

    11. I do not believe that a situation can ever arise where anybody is locked into a situation where only immoral choices are possible.

      Absolutely correct. The nature of the universe, and of morality, are incompatible with there being a situation where a rational being has NO moral choice. You might as well try to claim the universe has a square circle.

      As for this problem: Truman could have bombed an uninhabited island to see if it had an effect. He could have tried for a conditional surrender. He could have JUST WALKED AWAY from Japan, and let them try to recover sanity on their own. He could have done thousands of other things none of which involved doing something inherently immoral.

      only a St Louis or a Richard the Lionheart would have had the courage to pick up the phone and tell the generals to stop the slaughter. What a feat of bravery that would have been!

      True enough. And if he had done so, how we would praise him today, instead of shaking our heads in sorrow over a basically good man succumbing to doing a basically horrific act.

    12. Secretary Forrestal, a Catholic, explicitly advised a principled, moral, approach, but his advice was not accepted until after the bombs were dropped. There was nothing moral about Truman's decisions, nothing whatsoever.

      This from Wikipedia, which is surprisingly good:

      Forrestal, along with Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Under Secretary of State Joseph Grew, in the early months of 1945, strongly advocated a softer policy toward Japan that would permit a negotiated armistice, a 'face-saving' surrender. Forrestal's primary concern was not the resurgence of a militarized Japan, but rather "the menace of Russian Communism and its attraction for decimated, destabilized societies in Europe and Asia," and, therefore, keeping the Soviet Union out of the war with Japan.[8] So strongly did he feel about this matter that he cultivated negotiation efforts that some regarded as approaching insubordination.[9]

      His counsel on ending the war was finally followed, but not until the atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The day after the Nagasaki attack, the Japanese sent out a radio transmission saying that it was ready to accept the terms of the allies' Potsdam Declaration, "with the understanding that said declaration does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a sovereign ruler." That position still fell short of the U.S. "unconditional surrender" demand, retaining the sticking point that had held up the war's conclusion for months. Strong voices within the administration, including Secretary of State James Byrnes, counseled fighting on. At that point, "Forrestal came up with a shrewd and simple solution: Accept the offer and declare that it accomplishes what the Potsdam Declaration demanded. Say that the Emperor and the Japanese government will rule subject to the orders of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. This would imply recognition of the Emperor while tending to neutralize American public passions against the Emperor. Truman liked this. It would be close enough to 'unconditional.'"

    13. "There was nothing moral about Truman's decisions, nothing whatsoever."

      "He could have done thousands of other things none of which involved doing something inherently immoral."

      Again, assertion after assertion, again and again. Maybe I'm playing the devil's advocate a bit, but I think there's got to be more than this.

      I just checked the Summa... and I'm not seeing this.

    14. The best part of the Summa is Aquinas demonstrating that deception in war is lawful. The source of authority? The Book of Joshua. So we can't dismiss this:

      "Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites."

      "Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in."

      "They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys."

      "Then they burned the whole city and everything in it..."

      Et cetera. Forgive the NIV translation; it's the auto on the website I use.

    15. I guess my position is that it's not intrinsically wrong to kill civilians. Maybe it's extrinsically wrong, maybe it's unwise, maybe it's motivated by evil impulses... but it's not intrinsically wrong to mean to kill civilians. That means it's about the reasons, was it justified in this instance. I don't see why not? Again, the Summa: "... in cases where a nation or city has to be chastised for having either neglected to punish the wicked doings of its people."

    16. @Didymus
      You seem to reject the fifth commandment, then.

    17. Mr. Hansen,

      The Fifth Commandment forbids the unlawful killing of people. Within a few years of giving Moses this commandment, the Lawgiver commanded Joshua and the Hebrews to kill a lot of civilians, up to nursing babies and calves. A few years early He had killed the firstborn son of every Egyptian, which undoubtedly included civilians. So killing civilians can't be intrinsically evil.

      Don't get me wrong: I'm not criticizing God for doing that. I'm not one of these that thinks the Church - WHICH IS ISRAEL, according to St. Thomas Aquinas - came into existence in the 60's. I think it was right to kill the civilians of Jericho, and Ai, and the Holy Land. It was right to kill the firstborn child of every Egyptian. I also think it was right to kill the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of Tokyo and Hamburg and Dresden, and so on and so forth. It certainly wasn't intrinsically wrong.

      Were you the same fellow, in that other place, that kept appealing to modern sensibilities re: executing homosexuals? The name seems familiar, but there's no picture of you smartly posing in front of a shelf of books. I am,


    18. This really puts a nail into the coffin of the idea that the bomb didn't encourage the Japanese to surrender, from the mouth of the Emperor himself:

      "Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization."

      So, if killing civilians is okay - see the book of Joshua - and the bomb helped end the war - see the Emperor of Japan - what's the problem?

    19. @Didymus,
      Can you point me to the revelation that proclaims Truman a new Joshua, and the U.S.A. a new Israel? Where is the divine command that the Japanese be slaughtered?

      Unless you can provide me with these references, the comparison to Joshua does not hold. You cannot seriously mean to put the actions of Roosevelt, Truman and their henchmen on the same moral level as those commanded directly by God, let alone those performed by God Himself or his angels.

      Killing civilians must be considered intrinsically evil, since they are unlawful. You must show that they are, not merely claim so.

      To my knowledge, I've never argued the morals of executing homosexuals, nor have I smartly posed in front of bookshelves.

      As for the Japanese capitulation, Aquinian has already provided you with a source showing that, even after the bombings, the surrender was in fact conditional. I don't see what point is made by showing that the emperor referred to the bombs in the public broadcast announcing the surrender.

    20. Mr. Hansen,

      By asking for said revelation, you're conceding that killing civilians isn't intrinsically evil. If it was, no revelation could exist for Truman OR Joshua doing as much. And that's exactly my point.

      God cannot command evil.

      God commanded the Hebrews to kill the civilians of Jericho, Ai, etc.

      Therefore killing civilians is not always -intrinsically- evil. That means if killing these civilians was wrong, it was wrong in these circumstances, not all circumstances.

      Now this is an argument, and I think it trumps assertions, such as: "Killing civilians must be considered intrinsically evil, since they are unlawful." So you've said, repeatedly. Where's the proof?

      And you really don't see the point in quoting the Emperor of Japan as to why he surrendered? This idea that surrender could've been brought about in another way, or that it was already coming because of the Russians, or whatever, is a pillar of this nonsense Catholic opposition to nuclear weapons. But here we have the Emperor of Japan himself saying that no, it was nuclear weapons that led him to surrender. I am,


    21. Ive heard in different places that nuclear weapons are intrinsically immoral. Is this just shorthand for the fact that mass killing of civilians is intrinsically immoral? Or do people hold the opinion that tactical nuclear warheads such as the Davy Crockett, even if they don’t kill civilians, are also intrinsically immoral?
      One other interesting question is, in the case of reasonable suspicion of genocide on loss of war, is it possible to justly target a fewer number of civilians than would reasonably be killed in the loss?

    22. @Didymus

      I think all agree that there can be circumstances where killing a human being is not in violation of the fifth commandment. But this precisely means that it is lawful, either because it is the express command of the lawgiver, as in the case of Joshua - we must after all think that God knows what he's doing, and that the Canaanites had lost their right to life; or because we can conclude from the principles of divine and natural law that such killing is just, e.g., in self defense or as just punishment for some crime.

      Killing that cannot be so justified is unlawful and must be considered murder. Unless you can prove that it was lawful, then killing civilians must be considered murder.

      I don't see the point in quoting Hirohito when it is an indisputable fact that the nuclear bombs were not the only factor influencing the deliberations of the Japanese government, although it certainly was a factor, and that furthermore the Japanese had been wanting peace long before August 1945. The only point in continuing the war and dropping the bombs was to force the braindead policy of unconditional surrender on the Japanese.

      @Bill Solomon
      I'd say that in theory it might be possible to think of a situation where the use of atomic bombs could be justified, but such situations are purely hypothetical. Maybe the closest to reality would be a use against installations in outer space.
      To be moral, as I see it, violent action must be targeted at combatants, not innocent bystanders; it must be reasonable to expect the action to lead to the wanted outcome; and it must be proportional. I think nuclear weapons fail on the first and last point. It is practically inconceivable to target a nuclear bomb so that civilians are not hit, and it seems completely out of proportion to kill hundreds of thousands of enemy combatants, even though it is in a just war.

      On your second point, that seems to me to fall in the category of committing a smaller evil in order to prevent a (expected) greater evil. And that cannot be considered just. I also have trouble seeing what scenario this could apply to - if you're fighting a genocidal enemy, what help is it to target civilians? Wouldn't you be better off to focus all efforts on the enemy?

    23. Mr. Hansen,

      I am not talking about killing another in general, I am talking about deliberately killing civilians in warfare. Bellomy, the original enquirer, references Dr. Feser's position, which as I understand it, is that deliberately killing civilians is intrinsically wrong. But I am arguing otherwise. I also happen to think that the circumstances in this event make it extrinsically right, lawful, whatever, but that's not my point. Maybe dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were wrong. My point is that it wasn't intrinsically wrong. That's the first step towards turning you lot from being apologists for Imperial Japan. ;)

      I quoted the Emperor of Japan only to give food for thought to those modern day Catholics who think they know the reason for his surrender - Russians, whatever - better than he did. I am,


    24. An excellent discussion as always, gentlemen. Thank you. I am,


    25. K Hansen wrote:

      To be moral, as I see it, violent action must be targeted at combatants, not innocent bystanders; it must be reasonable to expect the action to lead to the wanted outcome; and it must be proportional. I think nuclear weapons fail on the first and last point. It is practically inconceivable to target a nuclear bomb so that civilians are not hit

      What of using a nuclear weapon against an enemy task force at sea? That was part of our, and the Soviets', planning. Surely it passes all three tests. And that would mean they are not intrinsically immoral.

      Another problem I have with this argument is sieges. When conducting one, you are going to starve any civilians in the fortress, just as much as the combatants. And that WAS a big feature of warfare in St Thomas's day. It really isn't different in kind from blockade, that I can see.

  13. Any miracles out there for which you (anyone) feel there is overwhelming evidence for? Resurrection? Fatima? Any recommended books in particular that look at claims of miracles critically?

    Also, what are the best books (or articles etc) in your opinion that attempt to prove the truth of Catholicism?

    1. I find the life of Joan of Arc to be fascinating and compelling. Her case is unique in so many ways because she changed the course of Western History. Also, because of her multiple trials (heresy and post-Mortem trials), we know more about her than any other person in the history of the world until modern times. I think Lewis’ Lord, Liar, Lunatic trilemma can be applied to her life (obviously saint instead of Lord). How many 19 year old illiterate female virgins altered the course of history? Probably only one, and she is the Mother of God.

      Of course for sheer numbers, I think Fatima takes the cake. The secrets are also important reminders on the reality and seriousness of Hell.

      As for Catholicism, I think that Dr. Feser’s approach is key. In our age, we need to prove the Catholic natural philosophy first. Once that is done, other religions barely measure up to the historical veracity of Catholicism. So I would tend to read philosophy first to bolster your faith.

    2. I second St. Joan of Arc's life as an "argument"! I always thought that about her, years ago when I started reading more about her. It really is extraordinary how this illiterate peasant girl somehow managed to crown the King, do all she said she was going to do, and change the tides of battle and the course of history. And then her courage and wisdom when facing the trials are also impressive.

      There are also impressive cases of more recent saints like Padre Pio and all his miracles; or the life of a St. Gemma Galgani and all its mystical aspects, and just how virtuous and courageous that young woman was.

      Fatima's miracle of the sun is also quite impressive and well worth some research. I haven't seen much about Lourdes but I heard it can also make for a good case; even back in the day a Nobel prize-winning doctor converted because of Lourdes, if I remember well.

      There are some really good defenses of the Resurrection out there. Probably the best are by Timothy McGrew and Lydia McGrew. They are experts in probability and the argument from miracles. Instead of the typical "minimal facts" approach, they favor a "maximal facts" approach in which they use as much evidence as possible and then factor everything in a Bayesian analysis. They also revived the "undesigned coincidences" argument for the reliability of the Gospels.
      I recommend you read Timothy and Lydia's article on the argument from miracles in the Blackwell companion to natural theology; you can also google Timothy's presentation of Resurrection arguments and find lots of material.

      A very good argument for Christianity which does not depend on any miracle claim, by contrast, is that it arguably makes the best sense of theism. The idea that God would choose to become Incarnate to live a perfect life, give us an example, share fellowship with us, but also to share in all of our sufferings and misery, is very consilient with God's perfection, goodness, mercy, beauty.
      There is also the fact that Cheistianity can better solve stuff like the problem of evil, etc.

      Catholicism specifically can be argued for by being seen to make the best sense of Christianity.

    3. I found Craig Keener´s books "Miracles" very helpful. He is a well known historian in NT studies, so he stuck his head quite far out of the window. Although not always, due to the lack of deeper information, giving believable accounts, I´d say that there are at least a dozen cases cited in the book, with sources, where I would say that a fair minded critic would conclude that a miracle has occurred. One of my favourite examples is the healing of a little baby girl with a clogged foot, minutes before surgery after prayer from the pastor. We have his testimonies, as well as the testimony from the leading surgeon who was in the room at the same time. Accordingly, no surgery was required and the surgeon described how he saw the little foot open itself up after the pastor was laying his hands on the leg. Do with it what you want, but I´d say that these are strong examples. The sources are always at the bottom of every page. Cases are presented from all over the world and, although some are merely second- or third-handed, you should definitely find what you are looking for.

      For treatments of the miracles in the bible, take the work of Graham Twelftree or John Meier´s "A Marginal Jew: Vol. 2"

    4. Spitzer has some good articles on this site, including the Shroud of Turin, some various Marian or Eucharistic miracles, Near Death Experiences, or evidence for malevolent spiritual powers. Might be worth a look:

    5. Hi Albinus,

      Johannes here.

      I would say the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It has been given very thorough analysis by many scholars of different religious and non-religious background (eg the agnostic atheist New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, the atheist Gerd Ludemann etc) using the historical method. For example, Ehrman and Ludemann independently concluded that the disciples were trueful and sincerely believed they saw the resurrected Jesus. Though Ehrman and Ludemann then went on to say that the disciples did not realize they had hallucinations (such a hypothesis went beyond the evidence and represented a prejudice against a non-physicalist worldview, and would also fail because groups of people having the same hallucinations is as impossible as people having the same dream with same interactions with the same person).

      Recommended scholarly book that used the historical method and that has interacted with all the major relevant works:

      Licona, Michael R, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historical Approach. Illinois: IVP, 2010.

    6. Seconding Unknowns remarks, though I have something to add. First of all, another tremendous work is "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses", I´d argue the most important work in the field from the last two decades. Also Ehrmann, though hinting it, doesn´t officially subscribe to the hallucination hypothesis. In fact, most skeptiks don´t subscribe to any alternative theory at all, since there is nothing which strongly supports the hallucination or something similar, other than antisupernatural bias. The most important evidences against this hypothesis are the group appearances, as well as the fact that it was more than one time. ANd of course Pauls conversion

  14. It was jarring for me to realize that imagination and memory are powers belonging to animals as well as rational humans. I had always taken them to be among our uniquely higher functions.

    Where do emotions come into the picture? I have a vague idea that there might be "appetitious" emotions, like fear; and then maybe "joy" belongs to the will. Is there a systematic breakdown of emotions along those lines?

  15. Dr. Feser,

    I've been waiting for an open thread to share my work in progress on a comprehensive concept map of Scholastic Metaphysics. I have been working on this while I struggled to understand the several books of yours that have consumed my attention for the past few months.

    Thoughts enormously appreciated!

    1. Thanks, that was great! Putting scholastic arguments into other forms (Visio-esque diagrams, videos, etc) is something I'd do if I had the time.

  16. Dr. Feser,

    What are your thoughts on reading Genesis 1:2 as a description of the creation of prime matter?

    In favor of that view, I perceive that the descriptors "formless" and "void" as being right in line with that idea. "Formless", for obvious reasons, in that prime matter would, by definition, be without form. And "void", because as pure potentiality to take on form, it would have no actual existence.

    Furthermore, the use of watery language "the deap" and "waters" also points to prime matter. The reason is because one of the characteristic effects of water is renewal and refreshment. Just as the Bible says that light just is that which makes manifest (meaning that what we call "light" is just one instance of light), it may also be that what we call "water" is just one instance of that which renews. And what could be newer than initial creation?

    I'm having a hard time getting my hands on a copy of "Genesis and Cosmos" (, which looks like it compiles arguments from Justin Martyr and Origen for this sort of interpretation. Curious about your take in the meantime, while my request works its way through the library system.

    1. Hello @Jimmy Weiss,
      Just a quick clarification...
      "Potentiality" is not "nothing", but actually has a kind of real existence. As Dr. Feser has elucidated in many of his works:
      "It [Prime Matter] is not ACTUALLY any THING at all. But that does not entail that it is nothing, for between actuality and nothingness or non-being, there is potentiality, which IS a kind of being. That is what prime matter is -- the pure potentiality to receive form."
      -- Feser, "Aristotle's Revenge", pg 29

    2. Hi @ Tritium,

      I made note of that. I am a little bit confused, though, because I also noted in Aquinas, pg 97:
      "For matter considered apart from anything else, and in particular apart from form, is just "prime matter" or pure potentiality; and pure potentiality, since by definition it has no actuality, has no reality either, necessary or otherwise. Matter exists only insofar as it is combined with substantial form to comprise a substance."
      It was because of this conflict that I said the initial creation of prime matter would have no **actual** existence (because, as we say, potential existence is distinct from non-being).

    3. Hello @Jimmy Weiss,
      Well spotted, in regards to Dr. Feser's wording in "Aquinas". I think that we might have to chalk that up to some imprecise wording. In later works, Feser makes a clear distinction between "nothing" and pure potentiality (and prime matter). Furthermore, we can also refer to David S. Oderberg, on the matter. Here is an excerpt from his book "Real Essentialism". I added full capitalization, for emphasis:

      "and this is what the hylemorphist calls primordial matter,
      or prime matter.
      Hence we can truly say that a statue is made of bronze matter, a tiger is made of living flesh, a lump of gold is made of matter with a certain structure, and so on. But none of these are prime matter; rather, they are all what
      might be called sensible, or secondary, or proximate matter, since they are all already informed by the substantial form of the essential kind to which they belong. Prime matter underlies all of these kinds of matter. It is a pure passive potentiality, without any form whatsoever, nor subject to any privation
      (i.e. it does not lack some form that it needs, in the way that a blind person is deprived of sight), but it is wholly receptive of any form whatsoever.
      It is not something, in the sense of something or other, BUT IT IS NOT NOTHING EITHER. It is the closest there is in the universe to nothingness without being nothingness, since it has no features of its own but for the potential to receive substantial forms. (This potential includes that for spatiotemporal
      extension, as will be explained when I come on to the question of individuation in Chapter 5.4.) It is changeless, but is the support of all substantial change, and as such is subject to numerical identity, so that prime
      matter is conserved throughout substantial change."

      Hope this is helpful.

    4. @Tritium:

      That is very helpful! Thanks for helping me resolve that conflict.

  17. For hundreds of years the Scholastic and canonist tradition saw the mutuum contract as central to the doctrine of usury. For example, St Alphonsus in his Moral Theology uses De Lugo's definition of usury, "lucrum immediate proveniens ex mutuo" following his discussion of the mutuum contract. The studies of De Roover and Dempsey show that this was the universal belief from at least the 12th century on. Manuals and handbooks of moral theology in the 19th and early 20th centuries (e.g. Rickaby, McCallan, Zigliara, Bucceroni) acknowledge this as well seeking to define the mutuum as a contract distinct from others.
    Why do Catholic moral theologians and philosophers no longer speak of about the mutuum in reference to usury?
    Is this principally an Anglophone problem where "mutuum" is translated to "loan" and confused with bonds, savings account and the like?

    1. Well, are there Catholic moral theologians and philosophers today who are speaking of usury, and identifying it as an evil, without speaking of the mutuum?

    2. One cannot be orthodox without admitting usury is evil, though most I’ve read see usury as practically impossible except where rates are excessive.
      John Finnis discusses usury in his book “Aquinas.” He treats it as evil, though argues that it can be excused under broad conditions he attributes to Aquinas which he believes saves bonds, saving accounts, etc. from being usurious. However, these qua contracts differ specifically from mutua.
      Fr. Austin Fagothey’s “Right and Reason” takes usury to be evil, but broadly doesn’t occur under modern economic circumstances and does not discuss mutuum.
      Mary L. Hirschfeld mentions Aquinas’ position in “Aquinas and the Market” but speaks only of a "loan of money." (I don't have the book so I'm going off snippets) It’s not clear whether she sees it as evil, but does appear to see it as broadly licit under present conditions.
      Thomas Stork does discuss the mutuum in his article “Is Usury a Sin?” and makes use of the older theory of extrinsic titles to excuse profits on a mutuum. However, he sees savings accounts, bonds, home mortgages (as such) and other forms of “lending” as potentially usurious and thus does seem to conflate the English “loan” with Latin “mutuum.”

  18. Dear Prof Feser,

    Just a suggestion: How about having one blog post applying Aquinas’ understanding of form and matter onto Near-Death Experiences during which a person moves, perceives, communicates (with others), remembers etc while being separated from the body?

  19. Christ taught, in at least two occasions, that a faithful person will be able to verbally command a mountain to change its location, and it would be done. I am following a line of reasoning (which I omit for brevity) which leads to an interpretation of these verses as a promise of power, rather than a promise to perform.

    My question to you is, **How could the causal pathway of such an exercise of power be coherently characterized, without appealing to occasionalism (since an occasionalist account would have been better communicated as a promise to perform)?**

    The most obvious example that I can come up with seems absurd. It entails ascribing to the mountain dormant, but real passive potencies to hear and obey such a command. I would call this the “Living but Dormant World Theory”.

    Since this theory seems obviously absurd, I am seeking an alternative way to coherently characterize a causal pathway, which begins with the issuance of a verbal command (or, if we take the verbal command to be metaphorical, then something which would be just as easy as issuing a verbal command), and ends with a local motion event, the likes of which the world has never seen.

    As far as I can tell though, characterizing such a causal pathway seems to bottleneck at the same mind-to-body portion of the dualist’s interaction problem.

    1. Miracles and supernatural phenomena (such as grace) do not rely on the potencies in a thing. They merely rely on God’s causal power. Mary does not have a real potency to be Queen of Angels. However, God can elevate her status through grace to be higher than angels. So the mountain, when commanded to move by God, has a temporary superadded nature. Normally it has no potency to move (in the relevant sense), but once God elevates the mountain’s nature, the potencies go move are created directly by God. That is how I imagine it to work, anyway.

    2. Well, the mountain, being a pile of rock and dirt, has the potential to be elsewhere, and if it contained sufficient iron ore, gold, or other useful material, we would proceed to move it.

      But I agree that in principle a miracle does not depend upon the potency of the subject.

  20. Is it possible, in principle, for a being to have intellective and animal powers, but not nutritive powers?

  21. Here are two scenarios, with associated questions, about causation, family, and parenthood.

    Scenario 1: This is the typical situation where my wife and I procreate. We have a son.

    Question: In what senses of "cause" are I and my wife the cause of our son? Certainly efficient cause (we chose to procreate), and it also seems exemplary cause (his DNA is modelled on ours). Unless you're a traducian we aren't his formal cause.

    Scenario 2: Time for science fiction. An extratraterrestrial flies over my and my wife's home and scans our DNA. Back on his home planet, he creates a boy that has our DNA.

    Question 1: In what senses of "cause" are I and my wife the cause of this boy? We aren't the efficient cause, are we? We didn't freely choose to procreate him. This seems to be a necessary condition for his being our son. So, he's not our son. But, we are still the exemplary cause of this boy; his DNA is modelled on ours. And we are the principle of his being at all: if we hadn't existed, neither would he, since he wouldn't have been assembled from a scan of our DNA.

    What this seems to mean is that, even though he is not our son, he is still a member of our family. He has our DNA and we are, on some sense of the term, the cause of his existence.

    Question 2: Is this boy human? Seems like it. He is a rational animal. The only thing is that he's a human in my family who isn't my son, and this messes up the way we draw family trees.

    So help me out: Is there anything I'm missing here? Am I applying and understanding the meanings of "cause" and how they relate in the right ways here?

    1. Question 1: I´d say formal cause
      Question 2: I personally am fully convinced that there are other rational animals out there, though not on earth. I don´t think it is required that they´d have to be what we recognize as human, though, given convergent evolution, I´m fully convinced that they´d resemble us in great many ways. Your son, given his heritage would still be human, if he has the potentiality of being rational. The sheep which is given some human DNA for the right organs to grow, which we can use, is not human, it doesn´t have that potential.

  22. ATTN: Ed Feser

    If God transcends all categories, according to divine simplicity, then how can you say that there is exactly one God since the category of 'oneness' would be a more fundamental reality than God himself?

    On the same note, how does classical theism not ultimately lead to some sort of pantheism or at best panentheism since to say that God is outside of the physical universe would be to put God into a category and therefore restrict God. According to Fr. Robert Spitzer, God is the most unrestricted reality there is. So how would the world itself not in some way be a part of God or even identical to him?

    With best wishes,

    1. I would reply that oneness belongs to the strange category of properties of God. These are not fully descriptive of him yet analytic in a sense with the rest of his properties. The way this works out is that in the sense that it is not fully God to be simplistic yet being simplistic implies your God. -Hope that helps.

      On your second point limit is not all bad. Some limits can be good, not doing evil for instance.

  23. ATTN: Ed Feser or anyone willing to answer

    (1) Since God is omniscient, all-good, and all-powerful, then it logically follows that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

    (2) Since we live in the best of all possible worlds, then absolutely everything that happens in everyone's lives is allowed to happen by God because He knows that it is good for us.

    (3) Some things that happen in our lives are not good for us and even drive us away from God and make people become embittered.

    The above three statements cannot all be true. Since they cannot all be true, then isn't it possible that what we call God is really just a religiously neutral unmoved mover or the One of Plotinus?

    1. Your argument assumes that there are no worlds which are not susceptible to ex nihilo creation. This is demonstrably false, insofar as efficient causality is a real feature of any state of affairs of the world. Thus, there certainly are "possible" worlds which are not susceptible to ex nihilo creation.

      For example, I have proposed (but this is subject to criticism) that a person that consents to their intended nature is therefore more free than a person who simply has his intended nature imposed on him. Of course, since it is impossible for a person to consent to their initial nature (since in order to consent to anything, a person must exist; and if they exist, they must already have a nature of some kind in place), it is logically necessary that a "maximally free creature" begin with an initial nature which is distinct from their intended nature, and then consent to their intended nature.

      Now, consent turns on a matter of efficient causality. A person who is created, ex nihilo, with a false memory in place of having consented, has not actually consented to anything. This ex nihilo creation (in addition to entailing deception), would not accomplish the goal of creating the "maximally free creature".

      So, if God wants to create creatures who are both maximally free and morally perfect, it is logically necessary that God FIRST create an authentically free person which is not morally perfect. Then that person will need to render or withhold informed consent to their moral transformation.

      But it is also logically necessary that such a creature will both sin and become subject to sin in the process of generating that critical consent.

      Now, a "best possible world" must have no sin. Thus it becomes logically necessary for another world to bear that sin. A necessary, intermediate world, from which the "best possible world" is populated with maximally free, morally perfect creatures.

      And that's you and me. Of course, this scheme also necessitates that God would pay the price for our sins, otherwise the demands of justice would circumvent the purpose of the scheme. That is why, I believe, Christ is called the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world. In other words, this always was "Plan A".

      By the way, I made a post on reddit about this subject just the other day. The example I used there was "a cake that has been baked". Since this is a state of affairs that is logically impossible to create ex nihilo (insofar as a cake that was created ex nihilo is not "a cake that has been baked"), and yet it is a state of affairs that is logically possible, then it follows that there are logically possible states of affairs that cannot be directly created ex nihilo.

    2. Jimmy,

      By saying that God allows other forces, such as human nature, to determine partially the way the world is, then you are admitting that God is passible. God looks and sees how the world is a certain way and in this way He knows the world. Classical theism assumes a purely causal conception of God's knowledge. Even 'free' human actions would have to be caused by God directly. This is also why I think that Calvinism is the most logical conclusion of classical theology.

    3. @ Anon

      It seems that "Even 'free' human actions would have to be caused by God directly" entails occasionalism, which I think Dr. Feser rejects. I'm pretty sure this question was addressed directly in Aquinas. I'll see if I can find the quote.

      Also, by my understanding, the free actions of human beings is in no way contradictory to God's status as a sustaining, unmoved mover. Thus, to say that human beings, in some sense, determine partially the way the world is, is not necessarily to say that God is "passible".

    4. Jimmy,

      You said:

      "It seems that "Even 'free' human actions would have to be caused by God directly" entails occasionalism, which I think Dr. Feser rejects. I'm pretty sure this question was addressed directly in Aquinas. I'll see if I can find the quote."

      Okay, but just know that merely having been addressed by Feser and Aquinas does not in itself refute the point I made.

    5. This kind of statement about possible worlds comes from a naive notion of possibility and the good. In order to analyze potency God and freewill, one must start from a conception of the individual good as it is nearly impossible and wildly implausible to calculate the absolute good of all possibilities and what it would look like without taking steps toward prudential concerns for individual goods which lead towards the absolute good. One possible interpretation and I think the correct one individual goods have their own separate modal frames with potentialities for higher Powers such as demons and angels having vast influence over lower frames. Thus the best possible world for everyone includes some frames causing worse outcomes in other frames. Admittedly this is an over simplified counter example as I know next to nothing about what angels actual modalities are but it's still a counter example.

      (A frame is a graph of possible worlds as vertexes with accessibilities from one possible world to the next as edges) (think spider web intersections=vertex strand=edge)

    6. @jimmy one thing that Calvinists with a philosophical bent tend to contradict themselves on is the idea that for humans knowledge of God's grace is so immense that they have no choice but to accept. But for God knowledge of our sin means God is the only free actor. There is such a thing as God observing and not acting against our will. And there also is such a thing as humans having an opportunity for grace and rejecting it. The way I see it Calvinism is a tortured instance (if pressed far enough) of begging the question against free will. God must have free will in all cases of omniscience and omnipotence. And humans who are granted knowledge resign their free will. Of course you never stated you hold the human position but just take the God point, and forgive me for ranting against positions I've heard.

  24. (1) is wrong. God is under no obligation to produce "the best of all possible worlds" (which likely is an incoherent concept anyway). God is not under any obligation to produce any world whatsoever. A bad world would be inconsistent with God's existence; but any good world would not be, even if there were better ones.
    Here is an analogy. Beethoven's 4th symphony is not as good as the 7th symphony. But we are still better off for for Beethoven having written the 4th symphony.

    1. Disagree.

      You say that we are "better off for Beathoven having written the 4th symphony" in addition to the 7th symphony. This is true.

      Accordingly, imagine that God had chosen to make the world in such a way that it would be identical to the actual world in every way except this: Beethoven ends up creating his 7th symphony, but not his 4th.

      Since you agree that we are better off with both the 4th and the 7th symphonies, then for God to choose that world over this one, would be to choose to deny us of the 4th symphony. It would be to choose to make us worse off than we could have been. In short, it would be to choose evil, which would make God evil.

      The moral of the story is this: Any scheme is expressible in comparison to any other scheme. God, being omniscient, must be aware of every possible scheme, and therefore to choose a scheme which results in a less than best outcome, is to choose to deny creation the differential in goodness achieved. Thus, God must choose the best possible scheme. Not out of obligation, but because that is His nature.

    2. Tim Finlay,

      When you say that God is under no obligation to make the world a given way or any way at all, it is hard to distinguish this from meaningless babble. God is supposed to be identical with his will. When you say that God could have created the world in different ways, you are essentially saying there is potential in God; but classical theism denies that God has potential. He is supposed to be pure actuality.

    3. Absolutely correct. Not only there is no such thing as "the best possible world" (it would also entail modal collapse; I supposed that the argument is meant as a reductio so this is to be expected though) as the responses you have had are pretty weak sauce.

      (1) Jimmy Weiss's scenario assumes that such a world is possible. But outside of cheer assertion, there is absolutely no reason to believe this. And since there is no such thing as the best possible world, and every created world is good because all being is good, there is no obligation on the part of God to create world X over world Y, even assuming they are comparable as far as goodness goes (they need not be; possible worlds do not form a total order in the scale of goodness). Neither is God a moral agent, under a moral law, that binds him in any way at all.

      (2) As far as the objection Anonymous posed: the fact that there are different possibilities for creation does not entail any potentiality in God. This is simply a misunderstanding of what (passive) potentiality is.

    4. "Neither is God a moral agent" woah! just threw that one in there I see. I agreed with you up to that point and Im still not sure what you mean. Care to elaborate?

    5. @Anonymous,
      You are confusing God's Real properties, with what are "Cambridge Properties". Only God's Real Properties are identical (convertible). God's freely willed creation of the world is a Cambridge property, which requires no change in Him.
      In fact, if you had read the previous article, "Contra Mullins on divine simplicity", and followed Dr. Feser's link to his published rebuttal, you will find your objections completely addressed:

    6. @Bill Solomon:

      "I agreed with you up to that point and Im still not sure what you mean. Care to elaborate?"

      I understand that the phrase may be jarring and probably I could have worded it better. But it is really simple: whatever we say of God, we cannot predicate univocally that He is a moral agent like we are. For what we mean when we say that we, or more generally any *created* rational creatures, are "moral agents"? We mean an agent (has Free Will) that has before him choices that are either morally good or morally bad insofar as they conform to the moral law. But moral law first arises from nature, from the created order, as a sort of imitation of the divine law, that morally binds rational creatures to do good and avoid evil. But God does not have a nature like rational, created creatures do, neither there is a moral law that binds him in any way. He is already perfect in every way, being devoid of any potentiality, so there is nothing to "flourish". It is also meaningless to say that God is under any moral law since God is what grounds the moral law in the first place.

    7. @grodrigues would you say that there is good independent of a law? Goodness doesn't always imply ought. Take for example marriage its a good but it isn't obligated. (pointing out that what we might call the goodness function doesn't always take things to a law)

    8. @Bill Solomon:

      "would you say that there is good independent of a law?"

      In the way you are interpreting "law" (which I do not necessarily object) sure. But that is irrelevant for my points, which, to repeat, are (1) the moral law, whose first principle is "do good and avoid evil" arises because rational creatures, like every created being, are composites of potentiality and actuality, so there are perfections that they can actualize. And even though as you point out positive precepts cannot by their very nature be absolute, negative ones definitely are. But such does not happen to God, who is Actus Purus and (2) it is meaningless to say that for example, God is morally good or even a moral agent, because to say it, we would have to say that there is a moral law that stands above and beyond him, but there is no such thing since He is that which grounds everything in the created order, including the moral law. And if we do not say that (as we should not), then what the heck would we be saying? What does it mean to say to The Good Itself, "do good and avoid evil"? Nothing.

      There was or is no necessity in creating this world, or any other possible world for that matter; and since there is no such thing as the best possible world, and every possible world is in some measure good because insofar as it has being it is good, God could have created another world or even no world at all. Creation, freely willed, was out of pure love since The Good is by nature diffusive. Why he created this particular world is not a question we can have an answer, at least not on this side of life -- but I for one am pretty content since I got to be created, although if God were to ask me for advice I'd probably tell him to give me a rich family, no hassles of any sort and probably a life of silence and solitude. Slightly less facetious, even though we cannot know the reason why God permits certain particular evils in this particular world (or in any other possible world He would have actualized), we know that, because He is The Good, He only allows such evils because by His omnipotence He can draw some greater good. God willing, and once History has run its course, we will know such answers in full.

    9. @grodrigues so if I'm understanding you correctly you say God is not good he is the good.

    10. @Bill Solomon:

      "so if I'm understanding you correctly you say God is not good he is the good."

      Right. This is a consequence of divine simplicity (or of the inter-convertibility of the transcendentals, take your pick). He is not good, He is The Good, the Summum Bonum, the source and final end of all the created order.

  25. There have been some studies on the communication of prairie dogs in recent years (2018) that might be worth addressing. Do these, as some people suggest, prove (or at least support) the idea that animals can have rational language?

    1. No, absolutely not. Apes have been observed to be using instruments, which is very clever. Yet, they are not rational animals as humans are.

  26. Anyone care to square the circle of how you can be a presentist and also believe that God is timeless? Presentism says that only the present exists, which means that the future does not now exist, which in turn means that there are no facts about the future to be known. But if God is timeless and immutable, then his knowledge never changes. But if new moments of time come into existence, these would have to be new facts that God knows about.

    Yes, I understand that Aquinas was a presentist but I simply don't understand how you can be when you believe in divine timelessness and immutability.

    1. Does the future need to exist, in order to see where future events are going?

    2. Unknown,

      It seems that if God knew all future contingent events, then they would at least need to exist in the mind of God which, as far as I can tell, exists. So, yes the future needs to exist in some sense if God is timeless and immutable. --same guy

    3. I’ll bite. Presentism doesn't necessarily entail that the future “does not exist” full stop and that the future is the Parmenidean nothing that cannot be thought. But rather, it entails simply that the present is a privileged mode of existence, and that the present is the only temporal state that exists full stop, which is different from the position that the future “does not exist” full stop.

      So, God can think and reason, to the extent that God reasons, about the future in the normal way we think about things that don't exist. For thoughts on thinking about nonexistence turn to metaphysics book gamma.

  27. Hi, first time posting here. Just wanted to clarify a few things:

    1) In his Theopolis article, Peter Leithart says that "After all, we never encounter an essence that doesn’t exist, nor an existing thing that isn’t a what." He seems to be suggesting that the distinction between essence and existence is merely mental and not real. How would one respond to him?

    2) Has anyone taken a look at this a logical problem of evil (LPE) that J.L. Schellenberg is defending? He is essentially arguing that given God's unsurpassable greatness (UG), ontological independence from the world (OI), and prior purity (PP), and also given that the goods in the this world should model God's goodness, or that God is motivated to share his goodness with the world, there can be no evil in the world. He claims that this sidesteps Plantinga's defence to the traditional LPE. I've seen a few people in academia respond to him, but how would a Thomist respond specifically?

    I should also note that Ryan Mullins has responded to Professor Feser on Theopolis! Looking forward to a response soon.

    1. 1) universals are ontologically deficient they have or are, depending on your opinion, essences.

    2. sorry, i don't quite understand your response?

    3. something can be deficient in existence, i.e. universals. Universals are ontologically deficient in that potencies cannot adhere in them; and that they properly speaking only adhere in substances. Universals have essences. counterexample to 1)

    4. hmm ok, interesting reply. on a related topic, how would one defend the claim that universals are not mere mental abstractions? In other words, what would be the cost for someone to adopt an anti-realist view of universals?

    5. At that point does one even believe in essences?
      If you don't believe in universals, it's hard to imagine what an essence could consist of. An essence just becomes synonymous with the act of picking out the nature of a thing. And that certainly is distinct from existence in general, being a particular kind of existence.

      Another route you could go is phenomenologically essence and existence are non-identical, you could play around with the idea of a particular rational animal in your mind because the idea is an essence. But you can't fit an entire human body into your head and that's a significant part of a human existence.

  28. Re. 1) - define "encounter"? We certainly can think of an essence which does not exist. Any imaginative "creature" (Pegasus?) would fit that category. So does the essence of any extinct creature (the Dodo). So what could he possibly mean that is cogent?

    Re. 2) He needs to define "evil" - I suspect he sees it as a positive reality, rather than a mere absence of a due good. Also, if the physical liberty to choose were not granted, then moral good could not result, yet moral good is the greatest kind of good. But liberty necessarily entails the possibility of choosing wrongly, which in certain kinds of things is sin. Ergo, moral good entails the possibility of moral evil.

    The true nature of liberty needs to be grasped properly in order for this to make sense, however. A wrong choice is a defect in liberty, just as error is a defect in the intellect. Liberalism defines "liberty" so as to make error and sin essential to it, rather than seeing that they are merely results of the bad use made of it.

    1. Re. 1) - define "encounter"? We certainly can think of an essence which does not exist. Any imaginative "creature" (Pegasus?) would fit that category. So does the essence of any extinct creature (the Dodo). So what could he possibly mean that is cogent?

      Was about to write the same point. Unless I am misunderstanding the argument.We obviously know essences that don't actually exist.

    2. that was what i thought at first; it seems entirely coherent to say that i know exactly what the essence of a flying horse would be like, yet fail to know whether it had been concretized in reality. Perhaps Leithart means that even when we apprehend essences in our mind, they already "exist" in that sense, and so it is impossible for essence and existence to come apart. Since we cannot apprehend an essence without it also coming to exist in our minds, we have an counter-example against the claim that essence and existence are real parts/distinctions that need to be brought together by some external cause.

      But i am not sure this would be a legitimate move. Is there a relevant difference between an essence instantiated as a concrete articular and an essence "instantiated" in our minds? What do you all think?

    3. Also, re: my second question. Schellenberg seems to argue that the existence of free will in creatures is a "worldly good" given that it is not possessed by God (who is unable to choose to sin since He is the Good) prior to creation; consequently, a world with free will would be exceeded by a world with pure good that existed in God prior to creation (i.e. a world where creatures, like God, could not choose to sin). So, God would have no reason to create a world with goods that required evil for their actualization when He could have created a world closer to His goodness. If we concede the above, it appears that 1) moral good does not require free will, since God is just the Good,yet he does not have free will (to claim that creatures could exemplify a good God could not would seem to impugn the divine nature); and 2) Plantinga's free will defence does not resolve the problem of evil. As for evil as the "mere absence of a due good", how would that detract from Schellenberg's argument?

      Pardon all the questions I have, since I am just getting acquainted with Aquinas' worldview. I appreciate your responses!

    4. Perhaps Leithart means that even when we apprehend essences in our mind, they already "exist" in that sense, and so it is impossible for essence and existence to come apart.

      Well I don't really understand how that could be the case, unless we accept that what we have grasped in our minds is identical to a real being like a horse.I don't see how that could be the case.

    5. "Schellenberg seems to argue that the existence of free will in creatures is a "worldly good" given that it is not possessed by God (who is unable to choose to sin since He is the Good) prior to creation; consequently, a world with free will would be exceeded by a world with pure good that existed in God prior to creation (i.e. a world where creatures, like God, could not choose to sin)."

      No, and this is why you need to get the definition of liberty under your belt.

      God is free, and the reason He cannot sin is because He cannot err, He cannot mistake a relative good for a true good, etc. His liberty is therefore perfect. Ours is limited, and an essential consequence of that is the possibility of error and therefore sin.

      So, God had the choice either to create only non-rational creatures, or to create rational creatures, with the potential for error and sin. The good of the rational creature freely choosing Him is immeasurably greater than all of the evil that has ever been or will be. Ergo.

      St. Augustine deals with this, if memory serves. No doubt St. Thomas does too, but I have no idea where.

      John Lane.

  29. I'm debating with (what I take to be) a Hindu or Buddhist, who is seriously struggling with the idea that something can come into existence but have no end (namely, the human soul as Christianity envisions it). I'm no expert on this matter, so if possible could someone give me advice on how to respond to this?


    1. The reason this happens because God holds us in being forever; otherwise, it would not happen.

  30. So, Dr. William Lane Craig defends the view that God is atemporal if He not creates the world but temporal if He creates. A difficult i have with this(but not the only one) is what would happen if a multiverse existed, like in Marvel or DC. I do not believe in it, but Craig would probally agree that it is logically possible.

    The difficult is: Time is relative, so it would be possible to a universe to, say, be in evening and other in the morning, one with time passing faster and one slower, so how would the temporal God get changed by they?

    Would He get changed differently by each at the same time? Would every universe have its own God? Is temporal becoming a illusion?

    All of this options seems absurd, so it seems that God has to transcend time. I getting this right?

    I already sended this question to him. Hope he even sees it with the number of questions he receives every day.

    1. Bill Solomon,

      Here for instance:

  31. Question: Since this is an open thread, I struggle with grammar normally, but this tiny combox makes it much worse. Anyway to expand the size of the combox?

    1. Chrome has an option to resize text boxes (you drag the triangle on the bottom right of the box) but on this site this does not help much because the comment box is itself inside an iframe, which does not resize with it, meaning that you only get to see a small part of your then-larger combox.

      The best option, incovenient as it is, is to simply use another text box and then copy-and-paste onto here. If you are on your phone and do not have a Notes app for the purpose, I recommend this site:

  32. Question: Ed has explained before that one of the reasons that the lost cannot be saved is that after death, the soul lacks a body, and thus an ability to change; they are stuck forever with their attitude toward God for purely metaphysical reasons.

    But it seems from the Bible that the lost, no more than the righteous, are resurrected. So why can they not repent post-resurrection?

    1. In the Summa Contra Gentiles Aquinas says that after the Resurrection the lost will have their souls submitted to the pains of the body, so that it would be impossible for a soul to defy his passions and repent. And even if he did repent it would be after the manner of brute beasts and not signify a rational sorrow.

  33. Focusing only on the first way, why is existential cessation considered the default, rather than existential inertia? Thanks

    1. Hi Unknown,

      Existential inertia is false because every currently-existing conditioned entity’s ability to continue existing in the next moment is conditional on the fulfillment of conditions (not guaranteed) IN THE NEXT MOMENT. See my proof in the following:


      Step 1: Your existence depends continuously on the fulfillment of all the conditions in various different series of CONCURRENT conditions such as this example:

      you > biological cells > molecules > atoms > .......
      (in such a series, every entity is existing CONCURRENTLY with you NOW; your ability to exist at the next moment is conditional on the fulfillment of all these conditions in the next moment: the condition of biological cells existing, the condition of molecules existing, the condition of atoms existing and so on. Any one of the conditions failing to be fulfilled at the next moment would results in you ceasing to exist at that moment.)


      Step 2: If such a series comprises a never-ending quantity of conditions, then you would not be existing now because it is impossible to achieve fulfillment of a never-ending quantity of conditions. Hence the series has an ending, which means at the end of the series, a last entity exists now:

      you > biological cells > molecules > ... > last entity


      Step 3: If the last entity’s existence is conditional on some other condition, then it is impossible for it to exist NOW, because there is nothing after the last entity for it to be conditioned on. Since the last entity exists NOW (established in Step 2), the last entity’s existence is not conditional on any condition at all. It exists unconditionally now, as an Unconditioned Entity.


      At least one Unconditioned Entity exists. Its existence is not conditioned on anything at all, be it matter, energy, space, time or anything that is physical or non-physical.

      At least one Unconditioned Entity exists. Its existence is not conditioned on anything at all, be it matter, energy, space, time or anything that is physical or non-physical.

      (Note: At this stage, I have yet to claim that this Unconditioned Entity is God because I have not presented those additional steps that have proven there exists only one Unconditioned Entity, and that this is the one who is ultimately enabling the existence of everything else now and at every passing moment. Nevertheless even at this stage, if we think deeper, we can see that an Unconditioned Entity not being conditioned on anything at all would be an entity (a) that does not require space to exist in (astrophysics teaches us that once upon a time space was too small even for an insect to exist, and it has been expanding since then), (b) that is non-physical or non-material, (c) that is shapeless, (d) that would be existing even when the universe/multiverse had not yet begun to exist, and (e) that it would be existing even if the universe/multiverse ceases to exist.)ist, and (e) that it would be existing even if the universe/multiverse ceases to exist.)

      johannes from Asia

    2. Hi Unknown,

      Johannes from Asia here responding again with additional remark.

      Given what I said above, you should realize that there is no guarantee that every condition required for a conditioned entity’s existence will be fulfilled in the next moment. (A conditioned entity is any entity, such as you, whose existence is CONTINUOUSLY conditional on one or more conditions)

      The only entity that is guaranteed to exist in the next moment is that Unconditioned Entity.

      I have not presented the proof that this Unconditioned Entity is analogous to a mind, but assuming that I had done that, it means that Mind may not want to sustain one or more of the conditions which you (or some conditioned entity) required in order to continue existing in the next moment. In that case, you would cease to exist in the next moment. Notice that you were not destroyed by that Unconditioned Entity, but that you cease to exist only because one of those conditions your existence depends on happened to fail to be fulfilled in the next moment.

      To put it in terms of actuality and potentiality used by Aquinas:

      Your actualised existence is at every moment a conditional-actualisation. And every condition (except the condition of an Unconditioned Entity’s existence - call such an Unconditioned Entity “Pure Actuality”), which your actualisation depends on, is itself conditional on some other conditions being actualised in the next moment.

      Thus it seems metaphysically unavoidable that the actualisation If every conditioned entity requires CONTINUOUS actualisation.

      Hence existential inertia is false.

    3. "Focusing only on the first way, why is existential cessation considered the default, rather than existential inertia?"

      Existential inertia is at best an analogous concept, analogous with the mathematical notion of "inertia" used in physics. This notion, inertia in physics, is in turn only a description of a mathematical relation, not a thing in itself, but rather a convention for doing math so as to achieve practical ends. That is not to say that the math is false or that it does not correspond to reality in some way, but only that it is not describing physical things or facts as such, only the relations between them, abstracted within a convention.

      The point is that it is useful, for practical ends, to posit that a thing will continue to move unless opposed by a "force" contrary to its motion, but actually the notions employed in this kind of mathematical physics are essentially conventional, and don't tell us anything very direct about what's going on. The conventions are all related essentially to each other in a closed system, so that each defines the other. "Force" for example is the product of the math, not a thing with any other definitional content. "Inertia" is simply a convention which allows us to calculate "forces" on a "mass" in local motion.

      The way to see this really clearly is to ask what is moving something in local motion? A-T says that something is, for fundamental reasons, whereas modern physics says bodies just have that property of continuing to move once moving, without dealing with the underlying principles required to explain it. Likewise, A-T says there cannot be action at a distance, for fundamental reasons, whereas modern physics merely says there are "forces" and moves on, again without dealing with the underlying principle. This is fine if you're not interested in reality except and insofar as you want to get things done (i.e. make lots of clever new toys), but it's not telling you anything new really, and it's a huge mistake (made by most modern men) to imagine that these mathematical conventions correspond to physical reality, except in the very narrow sense mentioned above. Physics does not explain, and does not even pretend to explain, what gravity, magnetism, or electricity actually are. It's content to have found a way to abstract their mathematical properties as relations, so that it can get back to making toys. That's what the scientific revolution was really, essentially, about - man turned from wondering about everything, including God, to being obsessed with pleasure and ease. That's why he knows so much less today than he did before.

      Anyway, since there's no such thing as inertia except as a highly abstracted conventional notion which serves only a purely practical purpose, there can be no such thing as "existential inertia" either. Contingent things require a cause or they cease to be. That's what contingency is.

      John Lane.

    4. Thanks Johannes and John for your thorough replies. Much appreciated. You have given me a lot to mull over.
      John (like yourselves:))

    5. Unknown John

      I actually think existential cessation is absurd.
      Something is not nothing and it cannot become nothing either. Sure, things change all the time, but nothing ever really ceases to exist.

    6. Walter,

      This relates to discussion we on a previous thread. You are confusing the terms becoming nothing and ceasing to exist.
      There can not be any dynamic change without something ceasing to be.

  34. Please give me suggestions of good ethics books

    1. I assume you've already tried the Nichomachean Ethics and II, II of the Summa, both of which are available online. So, I've heard Anscombe is good, although I haven't actually read her.

    2. Also Josef Pieper has a short book on the Cardinal Virtues, recovering their original meanings,and why they're relevant to morality.

  35. This is a note about E.Feser and Intelligent design (ID). The ID proponents thought A-T philosophy was 'on their side', but it isn't. Since ID is trying to do science, not philosophy or theology, that's not surprising. But if ID folks had just asked for a "pass" like that given to straight evolution, they would get it, right?

    The real issue is the nature of humanity. Are A-T and science today even talking about the same animal? Is humanity different in kind (ID) or just degree (evolution) from an amoeba? Is the soul undetectable? If so, isn't that a form of gnosticism?

    1. It has to be distinguished. What A-T proponents reject is the sort of mechanical causation ID_theorists like William Dembski or Michael Behe have in mind. This notion is incompatible with the idea of teleology, since it proposes some kind of inherent tendency, which has no place in a mechanistic universe. People like Stephen Meyer or Egnor might be a different case, but I´m not that knowledgable in ID.

      Concerning the human nature: The fundamental claim here is that science has to presuppose some axioms which are also used in A-T metaphysics. One thing modern people often do not recognize is that materialism or dualism or whatever is not a scientific, but a metaphysical question. If materialism as a philosophical theory is fundamentally flawed, as I´d claim that it is, then no amount of interpretation of neuroscientific data within that framework will save that idea. So yes, I´d argue that of course, both are talking about the same human being. The scientific study concerns the material components and their relations/causal structures, while it is the philosophers task to say if that it all there is.

  36. This comment has been removed by the author.

  37. Reading Aristotle's ethics I sometimes wonder it's missing some notion of original fall. Otherwise, why do men not naturally follow their nature towards its end - why do they have to make an effort to be good? Does anyone know any literature on this? Thanks very much

  38. Are there any good books out there dealing with early Christian (till Augustine or so) political theology (insofar as they had one)?

  39. Do you have any thoughts on the decline of mainline Protestantism and what its long-term impact will be in the American landscape? At this point only 4.5% of those aged 18-35 identify with what was once America's dominant religious tradition.

  40. Does theistic personalism make more sense if you say that God is timeless?

    1. Explain how that provides advantages for the personalistic over the classical concept

    2. Anthropomorphic theism is a better term than theistic personalism. St. Thomas clearly defends a personal God (person taken analogically like all terms used when referring to God). Given that there are many errors that reject a personal God, calling anthropomorphism personalism can be very misleading.

  41. There is only a Single and Absolute Condition, Unspeakable in its Nature, Which people may not see, hear, experience over against themselves, but Which is their Very Condition Prior to all changes.
    The Perfect Domain is always presently existing, and It is the same as no thing, no disturbance, no craving, no separation, no birth, no event, no moment, no future, no time, no place, no suffering.

    It is also exactly the same as Love, as Fullness, as Delight, as Very Light, as Happiness Itself.

  42. How does Aristotle's notion of form relate to the modern theory of information as put forward by Claude Shannon?