Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Ellmers on Aristotle’s Revenge

Last week at Law and Liberty, Glenn Ellmers reviewed my new book Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science.  It’s one of the weirdest book reviews I’ve ever gotten.  Today my response appears at Law and Liberty.


  1. The review begins positively: "Edward Feser’s Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science can be seen as a welcome attempt to recover and strengthen the philosophical underpinnings of American constitutionalism."

    It goes on to make criticisms. But the venue is not an internationally recognized, peer-reviewed organ of the philosophy profession. So let's wait for the reviews in the serious, professional philosophy journals.

    1. Are the last two sentences satire? If not, why not?

      This is neither science nor history. Why should anyone care, in evaluating arguments, whether the venue is peer-reviewed or the rest. They stand or fall on their own, regardless of who makes them.

    2. I gather that you are a hobbyist and not a professional academic.

    3. I'd accept neither label. But a superstitious belief in peer review does seem to be characteristic of today's academics. I'll stick by my last sentence. Arguments are NOT right or wrong because of who makes them. Yet that is what you really are implying. Gross fallacy.

    4. "Philosophy profession" is a contradiction in terms. There is no such profession and cannot be, no matter what the bureaucrats at University, Inc. say. "Professional academic" is similarly offensive.

  2. You might say Ellmers doesn't know metaphysics from Metamucil.

  3. Dr. Feser, does Aristotle's view of teleology really differ as much from the Thomistic view you defend as Ellmers claims it does? Is Ellmers even correct to say that "it isn’t Aristotle’s" view that "everything with a regular or predictable effect, including inanimate substances, also has a final cause directing it to that outcome"? And further, isn't final causality of even the most basic kind relevant to goodness, even if not moral goodness specifically?
    Also, does "the doctrine of natural right articulated by the American Founders" really make reference to the notion of teleology or depend on it? Maybe I am mistaken, but I was under the impression that the Founders generally were operating with a Lockean view of natural law and right which eschewed the notion of intrinsic teleology and instead focused on the notion of God's ownership over us.

    1. I thought that the most interesting part. Strictly, it's a question of history of philosophy rather than philosophy itself, but of course it's a legitimate point. But I said in my comment below, the language he uses makes me wonder if he sees teleology as involving conscious intent, rather than Brentano-style "intentionality". If so, it's odd that Aristotle himself did not argue from this to God. That he did not would seem to imply that his meaning was a bit different. Or is that too esoteric?

    2. As far as I can tell Aristotle considers the four causes to be general rather than there being say three causes for most things but a fourth cause for some things. He also does not seem to think that say rocks deliberate or in any way proceed as if alive about having their end towards the Earth. those two facts being the case it is a rather simple deduction to hold that Aristotle holds more or less what is here being called aquinas's view. I know there are other cases like this and Aristotle where it isn't explicitly stated what he holds and you have to go ahead and infer it but that does not mean he doesn't hold it.

    3. That's a good point. Of course some of the problem is no doubt caused by the fact that inanimate objects (other than artifacts) are not like animate ones, which are the paradigm case. Note the examples given in the review were phosphorus and iron, IIRC. But we rarely encounter them, in themselves, in nature. No one points to "a phosphorus". (Of course Aristotle had a different conception of elements, too, which may add to the problem.)

  4. Your response is spot on.

    Despite the irrelevance of the point, I did find his comments about Ian a rather amusing way to make it.

    1. I'm undecided.

      On the one hand, it struck me as the most bizarre part of a bizarre 'review'. But on the other hand, I wondered if Ian is a proponent of Ism or Ity.

  5. Read it yesterday. I'd read the original Ellmers review, and it puzzled me, largely for the reasons you cite.

    One thing I noted in his review (and in the comments) is that often teleology was referred to in terms implying conscious intent. It made me wonder if there might be an ID - type view underlying it. At least as an implicit assumption. And anyone who reads Feser has to know that is not his meaning.

    The other thing that struck me (aside from the attempt to tie it to politics somehow) was the lack of a distinction between science and philosophy. It seems very common, the assumption that Ed's arguments for A-T entail his saying "You're doing physics wrong!"

    That's not it. The arguments are directed against those in, e.g., Kenny's on the 5 Ways - which argue that science has somehow invalidated A-T metaphysics.

    As an addendum, I do think the "Ian" point was odd, coming from a Straussian - note the ending - and especially a West Coast one. Not that there's anything wrong with being a Jaffa-man, but if you put Lincoln at the center of understanding Publius, why object to putting Aquinas in a similar position relative to Aristotle? (BTW, has Ed ever discussed Jaffa's book on St Thomas and the Ethics?)

  6. I hope Dr.Feser reviews Hart's new book on universalism.

    1. Or Tom Talbott's book on universalism ("Inescapable Love of God"), or Talbott's contributions to the 2003 volume "Universal Salvation? The Current Debate" (edited by Parry and Partridge), or Robin Parry's book "The Evangelical Universalist" (under pen name Gregory MacDonald), or Reitan and Kronen's 2011 book "God's Final Victory: A Comparative Philosophical Case for Universalism."

      These provide among the best philosophical and Biblical arguments for Christ-centered universalism.

    2. I second this. As someone who thinks that universalism may be a solid possibility and it indeed can fit into a AT framework. I'll be interested to see an exchange. If it's anything like last time, it will be entertaining.

    3. Has Feser addressed universalism previously?

    4. He has addressed an article by Hart before as well as written a lot of blog posts on the topic.

    5. Red, I wouldn't say that Feser has "written a lot of blog posts on the topic" as he hasn't engaged the gentlemen I mentioned, and they're the best of the contemporary universalists. It's OKAY though; I don't expect Prof Feser to cover *everything* :)

    6. Patreeka.
      Yes, maybe not a lot but there are numerous posts describing his own view on hell and universal salvation.

  7. It read like someone forced him to write the review and he was irritated about it.

  8. From the combox at the original review, this may be of note:

    CJ WOLFE says
    August 29, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    Apart from your critique of Feser on teleology of inanimate objects Glenn, it seems to me that your main disagreement is with the WAY Feser argued. I think you might belong to a different audience than the one Feser typically aims to persuade however. He usually has either the Analytic philosophy crowd or the Catholic philosophy crowd in mind, not so much the political philosophy or hard science crowd.

    Feser’s use of arguments from the scholastic manuals makes sense given the Catholic philosophy audience (and the fact, I might add, that many of the scholastic manuals contained fascinating arguments that have been unfairly dismissed).

    Feser’s arguments having an overall effect “like paging through a diner menu” is because that’s the way analytic philosophy people argue, at least since David Lewis. Philosophy for them literally is a menu of options, with trade offs. Here is a very famous line from the introduction to Lewis’ Collected Papers Volume 1 (1984):

    “‘The reader in search of knock-down arguments in favor of my theories will be disappointed, and this because philosophical theories are only rarely, if ever, refutable by knock-down arguments. What we learn from the objections advanced against our theories is the price that we will have to pay, the philosophical commitments that we will have to take on board if they are to escape refutation. The question then is ‘which prices are worth paying’ and ‘On this question we may still differ.’ What weight we give to each of our philosophical beliefs and linguistic intuitions and what weight we give to each of our philosophical opinions is up to us. Once the menu of well-worked-out theories is before us, philosophy is a matter of opinion.”

    That may or may not be relativism at the end of the day, but it’s how analytic philosophers today argue

    August 29, 2019 at 6:16 pm

    Fair enough.

    1. It's of course true that Ed's writing has some stylistic similarities to that of mainstream analytic philosophy, but it also shouldn't be understated that Ed's approach to philosophy is markedly more foundationalist than someone like Lewis's. There are a number of theses which Ed defends by simply putting his foot down and arguing that the contrary is unintelligible, and I do not think he would say that he does not have knock-down arguments.

    2. Greg:

      In foot stomping of banging the table, do you regard Feser, then, as a dogmatist on key things? Or is he someone choosing among competing intellectual goods and arriving at what he judges to be the most plausible, satisfactory, and least freighted conclusions?

      Lewis, for example, argues that God is akin to a demon if hell exists. Does Feser thus regard hell as something that burdens his confidence that Catholicism is true--but he nevertheless takes up the belief anyway?

  9. Here is an actually serious critique on some issues related to time,space,mathematics and physics.

    1. Hi Red:

      That's a wonderful article on some of the physics quandaries discussed in Feser's book. Thanks for sharing.

      My own take is that contemporary quantum physics seems to leave us with basically a choice between just two broad existential chess moves: either act locally, think multiversally or relax into non-locality.

      In other words, either give up locality or living in a single universe.

      But neither of these options seems to incorporate itself especially well into the Aristotelian-Thomistic language game. AT philosophers would seem (as best I can tell) to have to resort to some sort of collapse theory of the quantum (a retread of the old Copenhagen interpretation of physics, which seems outdated and unsatisfactory to a lot of contemporary theoretical physicists).

      If one is going to be a rationalist of some sort, would one say that these physics interpretation options track better with Spinoza as opposed to Aquinas? And what about modal realism? Are there followers of Aquinas who are also modal realists? I don't know.

    2. Go away. No one cares about your barely coherent drivel, especially when you flood the place with multiple posts.

    3. I am not sure if this post was really related to quantum physics although it does mention it .Your points might be relevant but I am more interested in issues related with philosophy of time and physics which that post discusses.

  10. Having read Aristotle's Revenge earlier in the summer, I agree the review was incompetent, but the conservative politics of the book are indeed a sublimated presence everywhere.

    In other words, in their interests and projects, contemporary biologists and physicists track strikingly well with the political and pop cultural commitments of liberals insofar as both are committed to systems thinking.

    Systems thinking is everywhere in our collective Zeitgeist--and conservatives tend to not want it foregrounded, emphasizing wall building and individual responsibility instead.

    Feser, for instance, in a book on the philosophy of biology, does not flesh out what Aristotle might imply for ecology, though that is the logical stopping point for such a book--as it is for all contemporary biology texts.

    Systems thinking—critical reflection on the evolutionary history and function of dynamic cycles, patterns, and structures within and around individuals, making sense of them—is the flip side of the coin of the Aristotelian-Thomistic emphasis on where "potentiality" resides.

    Here's Feser on potentiality (page 21): "The determinable substratum of potentiality is what in Aristotelian philosophy of nature is meant by the term 'matter,' and a determining pattern that exists once the potential is actualized is called a 'form.'"

    One of Feser's favorite examples of potentiality-actuality in the book is H2O, with hydrogen present only virtually or potentially in water. This is from page 335: "[I]f the water contained actual hydrogen, we should be able to burn it...".

    Of course, a contemporary scientist would simply say in response that "the determinable substratum of potentiality" is dispersed into the structure and behavior of dynamic systems. Hydrogen's potential to burn is dependent, not on hydrogen qua hydrogen in isolation, but hydrogen in relation to other things. Hydrogen doesn't burn in heated water because of the way it binds to oxygen. The potential is in the way the relation is set up.

    It's a matter of perspective, emphasis, and attention, with liberals and scientists speaking one way about the world and conservatives and Thomists another. It's a matter of competing vocabularies. Which one is more useful, and to what end?

    Science advances through the linking of individuals to systems of reduction and emergence--providing one with, as it were, an evolutionary cosmic address between the reductionist micro and the emergent macro. Human beings are less an isolated thing with "powers" and more an event--a hippie happening--embedded in a dynamic system of relations.

    Aristotelian-Thomistic language works at fracturing this hippie system of reduction-emergence-evolution, though I doubt that Aristotle himself would have been opposed to ecological thinking. Get the Thomistic gloss off of Aristotle, and you might find an environmentalist.

    1. I think it might be wrong to think that some prior social and ethical intuitions are guiding metaphysical views rather than the other way around. Similar views defended by contemporary analytical philosophers prove counter-example to this claim I think.

      And I think discussion Dr.Feser has regarding structuralism would be relevant to these claims too.

    2. Hi Red:

      I don't mind the reversal, with scientists influencing the culture, and not the other way around. But generations, in retrospect, do seem to have an identifiable Zeitgeist that bleeds across boundaries between the arts, the sciences, etc.

      Our contemporary Zeitgeist is characterized by dynamic (evolutionary) systems thinking in politics, pop culture, and every university discipline, including math and the sciences--and as a conservative counter to that, Feser's book is an example of an attempt to bracket such habits of thought, at least for certain purposes.

      So I'd be very interested in Feser's metaphysical analysis of ecological science issues, which I felt naturally tracked into his recent book, but was, alas, not present.

      From the Gaia hypothesis to population, it would be interesting to hear Feser's Aristotelian-Thomistic take on such matters.

      If we posit, for example, that reproductive sex organs are "for" reproduction, and that reproductive sex alone is "natural" for a species, then what does this tell us about what to do about overpopulation?

      From insects in a bottle to humans on Easter Island--species seem designed for crashing ecosystems; for taxing resources to their limits where given the chance. They do this until its population suffers a catastrophic collapse. What might this imply for contemporary reflections on population control among Thomists--if such questions are even at issue?

      Claims about what's natural have enormous implications for ecological politics. Gay equality politics is arguably a subset of ecological politics. It reaches to the heart of essentialist vs. systems thinking: what's natural, what do variants mean, what causes a thing to be, etc. And Aristotle was a holistic thinker in key respects. So shouldn't ecology have been part of a book on philosophy of biology and physics in relation to Aristotle?

    3. If we posit, for example, that reproductive sex organs are "for" reproduction, and that reproductive sex alone is "natural" for a species, then what does this tell us about what to do about overpopulation?

      Nothing at all. The digestive system is for taking in food, but that doesn’t mean we should stuff our faces constantly and eat 30,000 calories a day. The reproductive system is for reproducing the species, but that doesn’t mean we should all have twenty children. Nothing in Aristotle, or Aquinas, or any of their sane followers, commits anybody to the view that a natural faculty must be used to the maximum extent physically possible.

    4. It would be nice if people didn't feed trolls.

    5. Santi.
      You might be right but like I said this simply ignores any other reason we might have for favoring certain metaphysical views. Do you see the arguments in the books stated in the form, if scientific/metaphysical view X is true then
      it supports the ethical or political view Y, therefore X is true?

    6. Having experience with Santi in the past, and reading his current offerings, I fear Anonymous is correct about him.

      Still, I do wonder in these kinds of conversations, who people like Santi think todays liberals are. Arguably, liberalism has changed a lot in the last twenty years. Who are the representatives of liberalism today? Are they classical liberals, who today are just as likely to call themselves conservatives as liberals; are they the so called intellectual dark web and other refugees from identity politics; are they so called TERFs; are they self proclaimed socialists; are they the woke-scolds or, their apotheosis, the guys who like to dress in black masks and hit those whom they disagree with over the head with bike locks?

    7. Hi Tom, Red, and Jeremy:

      As to Tom's emphatic "nothing at all" observation, it sounds akin to Hume's (nature doesn't speak, we speak). I agree, but aren't feminism, masturbation, the education of girls for professions in the polis as opposed to the oikos, condoms, birth control, abortion, and homosexuality all being banked upon by demographers as future curbs on human population growth--and aren't these problematic for natural law advocates?

      Don't these thus intersect with ecology, and therefore philosophy of biology?

      As for Red, you make a good point. No, I don't see the form of argument you describe in Feser's latest book, but here's Feser on page 25: "[A three-legged dog] would be a damaged or defective instance of a dog...we need to consider the paradigm case, what that kind of thing is like when it is in its mature and normal state."

      Damaged. Defective. Normal. These are loaded, value words. Clearly, an alternative, liberal way of saying it is to introduce variation and evolutionary history into the equation of "essence." A dog lacking appendages at the back may be on its way to becoming something akin to a seal. A fin behind, on a dog, might be a sui generis form, pointing to this particular dog's own inner logic of being, not to be judged by the "paradigm case" of what a dog "is" or "ought" to be. Normality talk is not innocent of politics.

      My question, Red, is whether Aristotle can be put to work for liberal values. Who owns Aristotle? Did medieval religionists hijack him, distorting him? Perhaps conservatives, by speaking of philosophy of biology without including ecology, are suppressing aspects of Aristotle that would make him attractive to liberals.

      As for Jeremy on who liberals are, I would say that they are people who doubt themselves regularly and doubt what others say as well; that they realize their commitments entail competing goods, and thus don't try to suppress this knowledge from themselves; that the Enlightenment and Anglo-French revolutions were generally a good thing, and aristocracy generally a bad thing.

      Liberals also dislike cruelty and like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the separation of powers (church-state separation, an independent, oppositional press and judiciary, etc.)

      Libertarians and center left people are in the liberal tradition; populists (left and right) and nostalgists for aristocracy (Nietzsche) and tradition (Feser) are in the anti or post-liberal traditions, rejecting Locke, etc.

    8. That's not really too much of a help because you largely ignored the most important areas in which dominant strands in contemporary left-liberalism diverge from the left-liberalism of even fifteen or twenty years ago. What about radicals and what about identity politics? Liberals, even left-liberals, used to want to maximise autonomy and to treat people as individuals. Increasingly, though not without resistance, many on the mainstream left today seem to draw more from radical traditions that see people simply as group members, that very much wish to control people's lives, and that are quite intolerant. It used to be that liberals cherished Voltaire's maxim about fighting to death for free speech rights. Increasingly dominant portions of the mainstream left today wishes to restrict free speech quite significantly - just look at my own country, Britain, where clumsy or silly jokes can see you up before the magistrate (who will be sure to lecture you like a wokescold).

    9. Hi Jeremy:

      As to identity politics, I'm at ground zero. What do you want to know?

      My wife is British and we both teach at a college in Southern California that has a very diverse religious, political, and racial population, so we navigate this territory in real time every day.

      At one level, I think the whole debate surrounding identity politics amounts to whites angry with other whites. Liberal whites are angry at whites who disrespect outsiders, and conservative whites resent smug lectures from liberal whites to be nicer.

      We all know we're navigating our way into an ever more connected world and that white males will need to power share over the next century more than they have in the past. How to get from point A to B without demonizing people along the way is the Los Angeles experiment.

      What has evolved in LA thus far is a multicultural civic language with some taboos (no use of the n-word, etc.). If conservatives think another language would work better, move to a city and try it out. Most cities--and large companies selling to diverse markets--seem to drift toward "woke multicultural speak" of some sort because it's a natural grease for actually getting past people's differences and to their individuality--the very thing conservatives say they want, in any event.

      In real time, getting along in Los Angeles means sending signals to people that, however apparently lunatic their cultural practices, we're all variants weirdos and can love each other.

      One makes an effort to go have lunch with a Muslim or talk online with Catholics, etc. Interacting with otherness is the work.

      Do you know who Ram Das is? He's a model for whites, in my view. He's eccentric; he's syncretistic (he blends global traditions). He's a beloved hippie guru from the 1960s. You know why so many people love him? Because he accepts others just as they are. He rides the waves of global change with calm and humor.

      The debate in some of these threads about whether God redeems all is a sublimated debate about multiculturalism. Is God more like Ram Das and Pope Francis--or Savonarola? Do we--and by extension, God--ultimately embrace people as they are--or are there castes of insiders and outsiders?

      Exclusion is a big issue going forward. It impacts how we interact emotionally with others. One reason it's more relaxing to be around Hindus and Buddhists in Los Angeles than fundamentalist monotheists is that they aren't consigning you to eternal torture. You are not being silently pitied, but respected as an equal. Your otherness is a part of God.

      I wonder if hell talk can pragmatically survive this century, for that reason. I'm looking forward to David Bentley Hart's new book, and the debate it generates. The debate about it is likely to be a trope foreshadowing our political future.

    10. Damaged. Defective. Normal. These are loaded, value words. Clearly, an alternative, liberal way of saying it is to introduce variation and evolutionary history into the equation of "essence." A dog lacking appendages at the back may be on its way to becoming something akin to a seal. A fin behind, on a dog, might be a sui generis form, pointing to this particular dog's own inner logic of being, not to be judged by the "paradigm case" of what a dog "is" or "ought" to be. Normality talk is not innocent of politics.

      Whatever else is wrong with this , this just validates my point.There is no prior political or ethical considerations that are competing here,its only one kind of scientific/metaphysical theories compared with others based on the intellectual virtues of these disciplines.

      My question, Red, is whether Aristotle can be put to work for liberal values. Who owns Aristotle? Did medieval religionists hijack him, distorting him? Perhaps conservatives, by speaking of philosophy of biology without including ecology, are suppressing aspects of Aristotle that would make him attractive to liberals.
      I don't find this very interesting question or very relevant to Dr.Feser's book.Whatever the answer to this is.There doesn't seem to be any "suppressing" going on.Principles which seem plausible to somebody are simply picked up.
      A lot of what you are meaning by 'liberal' view is Kantian in flavor yet Kant himself was against many things proponents of such view value, He was against suicide and from what I know he can be seen as extremely homophobic.

    11. And next time I look at a dog I would really laugh knowing I can create a fish by cutting off its legs.

    12. Hi Red,

      I agree that both sides--evolution vs. Thomism--have "intellectual virtues." But in working out a 21st century ethics from the implications of evolutionary variation or essentialist "normalcy," the language of variation strikes me as more readily inclusive, the Thomistic language more exclusive.

      I wondered if ecology might bring Darwin and Aristotle closer together. Perhaps Aristotle applied to ecological ethics could make Feser's project more attractive to liberal readers of his book.

      If you read his "Aristotle's Revenge," you know that the book trails off at the end, not really concluding in a clean way. Addressing ecological holism might have helped with that.

    13. Jeremy,

      "Increasingly dominant portions of the mainstream left today wishes to restrict free speech quite significantly - just look at my own country, Britain, where clumsy or silly jokes can see you up before the magistrate (who will be sure to lecture you like a wokescold)."

      In Britain I wonder if the growing left authoritarianism is fear at the potential situation that controversial immigration policies of the recent past may give rise to, or whether the immigration policies were an instrument to provide a justification for the authoritarianism, in which case it is the result of some kind of long term, long range hard-left plan to modify politics and society in a deep way.

    14. "We all know we're navigating our way into an ever more connected world and that white males will need to power share over the next century more than they have in the past."

      The controversial part here is that this is a process in which white men (and white women) will have to give up power within countries that were formerly their ancestral homelands, when the opposite process is happening in many other places (non-whites becoming more ethnocentric, less willing and with no need to share power with any out groups).

    15. Ugh. The usual Santi wall of text that doesn't really answer the question. But I take it you aren't really a liberal then. The point about identity politics is that its antecedents are mostly radical, not liberal. The liberal is loath to treat anyone except as an individual, whereas identity politics is all about treating people primarily as members of groups (classes), in a pseudo-Marxist sense. If you are rejecting post-liberal conservatism, then either you are embracing liberalism or radicalism, but you can't embrace both of the latter. They are mutually exclusive. Of you are defending liberalism then you must reject natural increasingly strident radical left attacks on individual freedom, autonomy, and equality based on pseudo-Marxist ideas of group rights. Even with multiculturalism, there is liberal multiculturalism, which celebrates diversity, but leaves it up to individual to define themselves and decide for themselves how to live; or radical versions, that wish to treat individuals as intrinsically members of different ethnic groups and is willing to restrict individual rights for the sake of an idea of social justice between the groups. Even in the use of inclusive language, the difference is obvious. Many true liberals might frown on politically incorrect speech against minority groups, but they will defend forthrightly anyone's right to make such speech. Radicals increasingly wish to silence dissent from their ideas of ethnic and othet inclusiveness. In Britain, again, people have been arrested for criticising Islam stridently, for example, including just reading from one of Churchill's books. That is not liberal, nor does it answer to your idea of liberals as open and questioning. You are behind the times in your idea of liberalism. Today, left-liberals need to think out exactly what they understand their ideology to be.

    16. Stop feeding the troll.

    17. Santi.

      You seem to just insist upon judging metaphysics by its Political or Ethical implication but again those are NOT the only reasons anyone can have accepting such theories,that once again is my point.So I don't think Dr. Feser in his book needs to show how everything "Liberals" value follow from his defended principles to make it more plausible. It can be seen as right/wrong based solely on principles of subjects it discusses.

    18. Jeremy:

      We can all walk and chew gum at the same time. We can protect offensive speech, affirm Voltaire, etc., and also make personal efforts at signalling to people that their public expressions of identity as Jewish, gay, Christian, Muslim, atheist etc. do not exclude them from kindness, interaction, and dialogue in the broader community. They don't have to closet themselves to be accepted.

      The problem (as I see it) is how to bring the intolerant and exlusionist into this goal. The resentment that many conservative Christians and Muslims feel is that--because they are historically exlusionist--they themselves are now implicitly looked down upon and excluded from full participation in the liberal secular order.

      Conservative monotheists affirm that not all people go to heaven, that women and gays are excluded from participation in key roles within their religions, etc.--and this generates a tension with the broader, general aims of inclusion in the corporations and secular governments they interact with.

      David Bentley Hart's new book is likely to bring out these tensions in theological language, putting exclusionists on the defensive yet again, and from within, implying that God himself cannot be good if he excludes.

      Inclusion is a powerful concept in the age of globalization. I affirm it completely. Inclusion and incorporation of "the Other" is the hope of the world. Believing this is part of what makes me a liberal.

      Society has to figure out a way for both monotheists and homosexuals (for example) not to be closeted; to let people have their say and express their identities in a civil manner. Nobody is going away. Muslims aren't going away. Catholics aren't going away. Gays aren't going away. We have to get along. LA, by long practice, is good at navigating this territory.

      One person who I think captures this tension well in video form is the evangelical who made the 2008 documentary--"Lord, Save Us from Your Followers"--which is probably readily located on YouTube, etc.

      The most extreme exclusionists (anti-Semites, misogynists, racial segregationists, etc.) create the greatest difficulty for free speech, but as a monthly contributor to, and member of, the ACLU in the United States, I completely affirm their First Amendment rights.

    19. Red,

      I don't think it's wholly honest to pretend that the reasoning put forward in a book like "Aristotle's Revenge" is unmotivated by pre-existing commitments. A target is being drawn around an arrow that has already landed.

      If you're a conservative Catholic, Feser's book explains to you how your AT metaphysics has, say, a logically possible route or two, via Nancy Cartwright's work or a particular interpretation of Copenhagen, to track with quantum theory, etc.

      In other words, Feser is demonstrating various ways that Aristotle's ideas can be treated as plausible and logically compatible with ideas in contemporary biology and physics, etc.

      But there are enough hints of Aristotle's holism in Feser's book that a liberal reader like myself is naturally going to ask what Feser then makes of bringing Aristotle to ecological ideas and values.

      If the game of--"Aristotle can be made compatible with"--is being played, then why stop at medieval Catholicism? Or quantum physics? Why not ecology as well?

      Historically, it dawned on monotheists of the medieval period that Aristotle could be read in such a manner that his ideas could be read out to Christian conclusions. Where the fit was not obvious, logically possible reconciliations were contrived, however strained. (How does one reconcile Aristotle's simple deity that contemplates only itself with the trinity and the anthropomorphism found in the Bible, etc.?)

      When Fritjof Capra wrote his famous book, "The Tao of Physics," he tried to give solace to people who meditate. Ancient authors of the East could be reconciled with quantum physics. They got there first. They used only their reason and close observation of their phenomenological experience of the world to tease out the quandaries that science arrived at much later. Feser's book is of the same basic genre--but he's deploying it in application to a Western author.

    20. Santi, thank you again for not really grappling with the issue, which is the relationship of older liberalism to the kind of increasingly dominant radicalism on the left.

      Also, no wonder people don't take you seriously, looking at your responses to Red. He is far too charitable. You are engaged in the rankest sophistry. What matters is Feser's arguments, not what motives you attribute to him. That is literally an informal fallacy - it makes no difference to the validity and strength of his arguments.

      Of course, you will respond to this with a wall of Santi-trademark gibberish. In that case, let me warn you I probably won't respond, and you are wasting everyone's time. Try to actually think things through properly for once.

    21. Jeremy, you actually asked me two questions: "What about radicals and what about identity politics?" I thought I pretty explicitly addressed the identity issue, framing it as navigating inclusionism vs. exclusionism--and linking that to the problem of people closeting themselves in public. I also linked it to an interest in reading David Bentley Hart's new book, which is the ultimate inclusionist argument.

      My shorthand for radical censorship was to emphasize my agreement with you about Voltaire.

      As for "grappling," I'm not especially worried about left populist rhetoric at the moment because I live in a state dominated by progressive Democrats and the water has always been fine. No Castro's Cuba here. If Democrats wrest power from Trump next year, I assume Republicans will still control the Senate.

      As for Feser, his aim is evident, and sometimes made explicit, as at the conclusion of his section on evolution: "[Here] are the two points I have been arguing for: that an Aristotelian philosophy of nature does not as such rule out evolution; and that, in any event, evolution itself requires rather than undermines Aristotelian essentialism and teleology" (p. 432).

      In other words, it isn't as catchy, but Feser might just as well have titled his book "Aristotle's Compatibilism."

      Here's another example (p. 265): "There is a sizable philosophical literature on the issue of how relativity might be reconciled with A-theory"--the theory Feser endorses. Please observe the word "might."

      Einstein has always rendered presentism dicey, at best.

      Another example is Feser's attempt to reconcile Aristotle with quantum physics: "[M]ore in the spirit of traditional Aristotelian philosophy of what Koons calls pluralistic quantum hylomorphism, which is informed by Nancy Cartwright's...pluralistic interpretation of quantum mechanics" (pg. 322).

      That's a pretty narrow peg on which to hang Aristotle's most natural compatibility with quantum physics. No "revenge" there.

    22. Blah, blah, blah. Anonymous is entirely right about you. You are tedious, and show not the slightest concern or ability to follow a chain of reasoning. I was a fool to ignore the warnings and my own experience with you in the past.

    23. Seriously, why even respond to him at all. Don't feed the trolls!

    24. Santi,

      Do you understand the difference between drawing inferences from a view and motivation by which that view is put forward?

      Let me just ask you, do you even believe its possible to establish scientific or metaphysical views without previously having the kinds of commitments we are discussing?

      Hypothetically if I showed you how none of the metaphysical views you currently accept entail any of your values and imply the opposite would you change them?

      And in reply to your rest of the comment I would simply repeat my point.The book does NOT need to show how everything of value to Liberal Politics in your particular sense of the term follow from his philosophy of science and metaphysics to make it plausible, similarly he need not engage in every single field through which such views could be said to follow to make it plausible.

    25. Jeremy:

      You're fogging. ("Blah, blah, blah" is fogging.) And you came into this thread affirming in the abstract free speech, and I answered you civilly and engaged directly with your questions to me, and yet you appear to be exiting the thread displaying no desire to engage in an actual exchange of free speech with someone who sees it differently from yourself.

      As for Anonymous, I would ask you to think about the exclusionary nature of talking past someone you know is in the thread, as if they are not there, and to realize that speaking of me as a "troll" and "infection," etc. is dehumanizing and exclusionary. In the meantime, peace.

    26. Hi Red,

      With regard to your first question, if we aim at a target (I'll support atheism in argument, or Thomist philosophy, or whatever), our motives, whether made explicit or implicit, may be excellent, as I think Feser's is.

      We may have concluded in advance of the argument that our position is true and good. We thus deploy rhetoric for persuasion or recite to others how we arrived at what we take to be a true position.

      My point, Red, is that we shouldn't forget that Feser's book does both. It's title, for example, is rhetorical posturing.

      But if we step back a bit, we realize that the best one can really do with a complex issue like the interface of science with religion and metaphysics is to show some ways they might be coherent with one another--or ways they might not be. I think Feser's book, in practice, mostly does this. It's not as emphatic as the title--nor could it reasonably be.

      A posture of excessive confidence in advance of the actual state of play of the facts is incautious, at best, as I think Feser's book title is.

      As for "establish[ing] scientific or metaphysical views without...the kinds of commitments we are discussing," I do think it's possible, yes. Focus on the word you chose: "establish." What does it mean to establish something with certainty?

      One can be the possessor of the truth, having "established" it in advance. If this is the case, one will posture as confident and certain, and essentially interact with others from the vantage of a monologue, not real dialogue.

      If one is less certain--if one has not established anything--one will come to questions seeking dialogue, hoping others will expose one's blind spots.

      In other words, you are trying out arguments. You see the competing goods at work in the arguments, and the price paid for going one direction in argument as opposed to another. You're not fooling yourself; you're doing your best to tamp down confirmation bias. You are being cautious and careful. Galileo's telescope is always pointed to the heavens for you, and you are ready to change on new data points.

      So yes, if you showed me contrary arguments and data, I believe I have the capacity for change because I really do try to come at the world with doubt as opposed to confidence.

      As to your political point, I agree that Feser was under no obligation to address ecology. It's his book.

    27. Santi, have you ever wondered why you get this response a lot? Far from all naturalists here do. It is the reaction that SP, Counter Rebel and other trolls get. Instead of lecturing others, you could consider your own posting style and contents.


    28. We may have concluded in advance of the argument that our position is true and good. We thus deploy rhetoric for persuasion or recite to others how we arrived at what we take to be a true position.

      Right,and it seems that to you,that is just what philosophical reasoning is. That would explain the particular form of your posts.
      In any case there is enough of substantive argumentation in Feser's work to tell that this isnt true of it. even though you might not see any difference yourself.

      As for "establish[ing] scientific or metaphysical views without...the kinds of commitments we are discussing," I do think it's possible, yes. Focus on the word you chose: "establish." What does it mean to establish something with certainty?

      I meant it in a really clear and simple way, showing that something ought to be believed. There was no need of such lecture.In any case your answer here is in contradiction with your overall view.

      So yes, if you showed me contrary arguments and data, I believe I have the capacity for change because I really do try to come at the world with doubt as opposed to confidence.

      I don't think you understood my point here. I would just tell you to read it again.

      As to your political point, I agree that Feser was under no obligation to address ecology. It's his book.

      But importantly, it is in no way rendered less plausible as you suggest.

    29. Ignore Santi he is in fact a troll. If Dr. Feser would let me I would respond to his blather by questioning his sexual orientation or whatever counter troll stuff I could come up with (& you all know me I can come up with a lot).

      There is no point to him so ignore him.

    30. Son of Ya'Kov, Anonymous 2, and Red:

      I suppose it's easier to go after a person's sexuality when you live in Russia or do it from behind the curtain of a moniker.

      As for self reflection, it's a two-way street. How people react to others says something about them as well, does it not? I think it can corrode one's character to get dopamine hits from disrespecting others. To your credit, you communicated your opinion to me, Anonymous 2, without resort to either, and I'm listening.

      As for Red, your points are taken, but I am concerned about rational confidence levels.

      Scientific models are fallible, but they are less fallible than models from disciplines outside of the sciences.

      The most distorted "funhouse mirrors"--a term Feser deploys against physics (pg. 304)--are more in disciplines outside the sciences.

      Philosophy is among the non-empirical disciplines. It seems incautious therefore to correct the sciences with Aristotle, Hegel, or any other philosopher's competing "funhouse mirror."

      You could, for example, write a book titled, "Parmenides's Revenge," and throw your lot in with those physicists who support a block universe--but what would be the point?

      Scientific languages and models generally work well. They have their own inner logic and methods of correction. Overlaying them with an inherently less certain, unverifiable metaphysical system serves what end, exactly?


      I don't think it would be wise, for example, for a physicist to give up on pursuing time travel on the advice from a philosopher that it is, quite simply, metaphysically impossible.

      The level of certainty that we can generally attach to philosophical claims and models is just not high enough to speak of them as fixing--or achieving "revenge" upon--the "fun house mirrors" of science.

      The most sensible move is simply the following: "This philosophical system can be made to cohere with x scientific theory if we think of it this way..."--but that's about it.

      But in the end, no "Tao of Physics," no "Aristotle's Revenge." Just physics. Just biology. The self correcting methods and inner logic of these are in no need of inherently less certain metalanguages.

      And even if they were, how could we know with confidence greater than the sciences themselves whether these metalanguages were true?

      We might find ourselves tweaking and producing an elaborate metaphysical system that is akin to a correlation-causation fallacy. We've got all our dials adjusted in such a way that they fit with current science just so. This still might produce no more than a poetic relation to the world.

    31. Yeah, Santi hasn't changed much, and is still a massive troll. Look at his lack of concern for any rigor or conciseness in his arguments. Instead of actually trying to significantly improve, he's back to his most self-indulgent, longwinded, and silly. Son of Yakov, have at him, I say. We need you to help rid of us of this noxious troll. Troll feeders please knock off!

    32. @Anon

      Well ok I'll do a little counter Trolling. BTW if Prof Feser takes my post down I understand completely and apologize for thread jacking. (I only hope ya all get a laugh out of it).



      You are so completely and totally gay right now & I should point out that by "gay" I don't mean in the awesome, fabulous, beautiful and entertaining sort of gayness of Milo Yiannopoulos, Nor the intellectually rigorous gayness of a Tammy Bruce with her keen political insight. Or the fantastic free speech gayness of a Dave Ruben.

      No sir, yours is the sad creepy gayness of Uncle Ernie from the TOMMY movie or the criminal narcissistic gayness of Jussie Smolet or the airhead gayness of Ellen Page.

      You are just so very gay right now and not in the fun Milo way.

      Gay I say!

    33. Son of Ya'kov
      Please act responsibly and maturely brother. There no need of disrespecting a man;even the one who you think is a troll.

    34. Santi,
      If you paid attention you would see that I havent't shown some concerning levels of confidence or anything like that as you suggest.I was making a pretty straightforward claim, not sure why you choose to quibble with particular term and you no longer are engaging particular point we were discussing.
      Rest of you post deals with relationship between science and metaphysics. I am not sure your comments and questions are directly relevant to previous discussion, I dont wish to engage with them right now,maybe would do in future.I would simply say that your view here is seriously wrong from what I can tell.

    35. Red, stop feeding trolls. Whatever you think of Son of Yakov's methods, it should be completely obvious by now that you aren't going to get anything sensible out of him. He is incapable or totally unwilling to argue and discuss things in a rational and concise manner. We should all wish him to go away. You are encouraging him to stay around.

    36. Out of Santi, I mean.

    37. You can see why Santi seems like a Troll in his September 12, 2019 at 1:12 PM post.

      A lot of the content of Feser's blog is metaphysics. Anyone familiar with issues in metaphysics knows there are ways it is inevitably closely bound up with the interpretation and understanding of the results of scientific investigation.

      Santi writes a lot but seems to have little interest in this kind of thing.

      This is a pattern with troll-like contributors (like SP), posting plenty of stuff with marginal relevance to the subjects being discussed because of a lack of interest in philosophy.

    38. Don't feed the trollsSeptember 13, 2019 at 4:40 AM

      BTW, that's a different anonymous to me (the first).

    39. @Red

      >Please act responsibly and maturely brother.

      I must decline yer kind offer my brother.

      >There no need of disrespecting a man;even the one who you think is a troll.

      Respect is earned as well as the loss of it. Santi has earned the later not the former with moi.

      He is so gay in the non-Milo way till further notice. I have spoken all Hail me!

      God bless.

    40. Gentlemen:

      All my life I've learned from people's otherness. Otherness has always struck me as a gift. Argumentative otherness--testing ideas on those who see things from a radically different vantage from me--is an especially useful gift.

      I am genuinely bewildered as to why my otherness is not of value to some of you; why you would want my sort of otherness to go away. I've learned from the oddball people I've met. It has never failed.

      I have no idea as to where my own intellectual life might evolve over time. I could remain an agnostic, or become a Thomist, or perhaps a Spinozan or Buddhist.

      I might even become an Eastern Orthodox person akin to David Bentley Hart, whose views on hell are deeply appealing to me. I'm stunned that the arguments he makes in his new book sound exactly like arguments I've made in recent threads here--and been called an idiot for making them. He even brings up Auschwitz. (I've read about 140 pages into the book.)

      If I were to become Christian, I think it would be after the manner of Dr. Hart.

      So if I go on chiming in at future threads--which is never a certainty--at worst you might see my name, feel a twinge of annoyance, and pass by without reading.

      But occasionally you might want to engage with my otherness. My otherness is a gift. Is it a temperamental thing not to see that? Not to want that around?

      I see your otherness as a gift to me. I've learned an enormous amount interacting with Thomists, reading Feser's books, etc.

      I grew up Catholic, and at this stage in my life these threads are a roundabout way to see what language I left behind as a teen.

      This thread is about a fellow who wrote an incompetent review, but his otherness spurred surprising directions for thought in me. His otherness was not a waste. Feser learned from him; he learned from Feser.

      It may be that we're just having a clash of temperaments between inclusives and exclusives. I personally chalk it up to evolutionary variation--how people react to me--which makes it all the more fascinating. Humans are interesting.

    41. I'm gratified to know that my incompetent review had some incidental benefit. Every ice cube has a final cause of cooling (so I'm told) and every feckless review has a silver lining, I suppose.

    42. Glenn:

      I think your second response is a bit better than your first, so you're on a learning curve. You're apparently experiencing the buzz saw of encountering Thomistic culture for the first time, which is prickly and argumentative.

      You might find these folks to be your tribe, and join them. I'm more of a David Bentley Hart partisan, as I'm discovering in reading his new book.

      I would note that numerous atheists/agnostics like myself--Jerry Coyne, etc.--on first interacting with Feser and Thomists, run into the same problem you have. Thomists have a very worked out language/tradition. They deploy it at a high level, and they are temperamentally impatient with people making simple pawn moves in their chess game.

      Few or no agnostics/atheists have the patience to stick around for the learning curve and hazing, and give up. But since you're already a Christian, you might find the language more worthy of an extended visit. But make no mistake. On Thomistic premises, your second response is not really all that much better than the first.

    43. Well, I’m not a Thomist and have no wish to be. I feel confident I know Aristotle (the actual philosopher and his actual writings) better than Dr. Feser, however, and I’m prepared to stand my ground there.

    44. "I might even become an Eastern Orthodox person akin to David Bentley Hart, whose views on hell are deeply appealing to me. I'm stunned that the arguments he makes in his new book sound exactly like arguments I've made in recent threads here--and been called an idiot for making them. He even brings up Auschwitz. (I've read about 140 pages into the book.)"

      I believe you were called an idiot for trying to bring discussion of Auschwitz into a thread about whether divine simplicity is compatible with divine creation and whether it leads to modal collapse.

      People even commented that the points you were making might be interesting in a discussion about the problem of evil, just much less so in arguments about the viability of divine simplicity.

      Living in a majority Russian Orthodox country I find David Bentley Hart is not exactly representative of everyday Orthodoxy even though he has written some interesting books.

    45. Don't feed the trollsSeptember 13, 2019 at 5:57 PM

      Santi, you are lying, or at least being dishonest. This is the internet, so there's plenty of terseness and lack of patience, but it just isn't true that Feser or those here treat all agnostics, atheists, and other critics and skeptics as they do you, SP, or Jerry Coyne. You lot are ignorami in the literal sense, yet you presume to go on and on about what you don't understand. You and SP at least are totally incapable of conciseness or proper discussion. But have a look around. You will see that it is only a select few treated like you and SP.

    46. Santi is gay and not in the fun Milo way. Both traps and Santi are gay.

      There I'm done and that was minimal effort. Anybody wants me I'll be over at EVE ONLINE trying to run the Tama Gatecamp. Internet Spaceships are a serious business.

  11. Hey Feser, why don’t you make a post about Aristotle’s poetics?? Also, I have read your book on Aquinas (great book by the way) but one thing that I felt you should have discussed on it is beauty as a transcendental. I have been curious to know what is your opinion on this debate (whether beauty is a transcendental in its own right). You could address both in a future post.

  12. Liberty and Law has granted me the opportunity to write a “brief” reply (although Ed’s response was longer than my review!). It should run next week.

  13. @Glenn

    Well then, Glenn, my may have some scrambling to do. Yes, I am being a bit cheeky. However, Prof. Feser's rebuttal was rather devastating, on a point by point basis, to your primary criticisms, IMHO.

    1. His rebuttal was longer than my review. I was only allowed 800 words to respond. So it was impossible to answer point by point. (It will appear on Friday, I am told.) On the main question of how to understand teleology, I am working on something that I plan to publish elsewhere.

    2. I’ll post a link when it runs tomorrow. I think it would be inappropriate to post it here before it appears at Law & Liberty.

  14. Here is my brief response (this was all the space they would allow me) to Professor Feser:

    1. @Glenn

      And Feser has replied to your reply on this website.

      You now have the opportunity to engage him directly if you continue to object to his criticisms. Based on what I've read, your review of his book is extremely shoddy and your reply is equally so.