Friday, October 11, 2019

Around the web

At The Catholic Thing, Fr. Thomas Weinandy on the studied ambiguity of Pope Francis.  In his new book Conciliar Octet, Fr. Aidan Nichols on the hermeneutic of continuity and Vatican II.

At Medium, philosopher Kathleen Stock on gender theory versus academic freedom in the UK.  At Inside Higher Education, twelve prominent philosophers defend the right to free inquiry on matters of sex and gender. 

Philosopher Daniel A. Kaufman on the “woke” fanatics increasingly infesting academic philosophy, at The Electric Agora.  Richard Marshall interviews Kaufman at 3:16. 

Peggy Noonan on transgender Jacobinism, at The Wall Street Journal.  At YouTube, video of an indoctrination session.

Jacob Howland on Borges’s Library of Babel, at The New Criterion.

At New Statesman, John Gray on Tom Holland on the Christian origins of modern secular liberal values.  More reviews at The University Bookman and at Literary Review.

At Quillette, Benedict Beckeld diagnoses Western self-hatred or oikophobia.

Donald Fagen interviewed on Paul Shaffer Plus One.

Kay Hymowitz on the sexual revolution and mental health, at The Washington Examiner.

John DeRosa of the Classical Theism Podcast interviews Thomist philosopher Gaven Kerr on the topic of Aquinas and creation.

New books on Aquinas: Aquinas and the Metaphysics of Creation, by Gaven Kerr; The Discovery of Being and Thomas Aquinas, edited by Christopher Cullen and Franklin Harkins; The Human Person: What Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas Offer Modern Psychology, by Thomas Spalding, James Stedman, Christina Gagné, and Matthew Kostelecky.

At the Institute of Art and Ideas: Philosopher of physics Tim Maudlin on quantum physics and common sense.  Physicist Subir Sarkar and philosophers Nancy Cartwright and John Dupré discuss physics and materialism.

Philosopher Dennis Bonnette on the distinction between the intellect and the imagination, at Strange Notions.

Philosopher of time Ross Cameron is interviewed by Richard Marshall at 3:16.

Duns Scotus in focus at Philosophy Now and Commonweal. 

Tim Maudlin on Judea Pearl on causation versus correlation, at the Boston Review.  Maudlin’s book Philosophy of Physics: Quantum Theory is reviewed at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Charles Styles interviews Peter Harrison on the subject of the best books on the history of science and religion, at Five Books.

Matias Slavov on Hume and Einstein on the nature of time, at Aeon.

At Catholic World Report, philosopher Joseph Trabbic on Aquinas and political liberalism.

Boston Review on post-liberal academic political philosophy.  The Chronicle of Higher Education on post-liberal Catholic political philosophy. 

Blue World, an album of lost John Coltrane tracks, has been released.

It’s a thing.  The Huffington Post reports on millennials who are becoming nuns.

Scott Alexander on LGBT as a new civil religion, at Slate Star Codex.  C. C. Pecknold on the phony neutrality of post-Obergefell liberalism, at Catholic Herald.


  1. Dr Feser, dare we ask - will you be reviewing David Bentley's new book on universal salvation?

  2. David Bentley Hart's even, such is my anticipation:-)

  3. Just watched the podcast interview with Kerr. It's a good one—I especially liked his exposition of the chapter on God's intellect, will, and power.

    1. Yes, I also enjoyed the exposition of that chapter! The actual chapter is really rigorous. His book is definitely worth getting on inter-library loan and diving into for a couple of weeks.

  4. I love LGBT people and believe that I have a duty to relieve their oppression by society.

    1. Here's where we need that Tom Hardy meme: "That's bait"

    2. Two things can be true at once, as Ben Shapiro likes to put it: homoexuals are made in the image of God, as is every human, and shouldn't be oppressed or generally discrimated against*; but homosexuals acts are sinful, unnatural, and immoral, and there can be no such thing as same-sex marriage.

      Love the dinner, not the sin may be clichéd, but it's pretty accurate.

      * Obviously what constitutes true oppression and illegitimate discrimination is a complex and controversial area.

    3. @Anonymous I don't think that there's anyone on these many comboxes (past, present, and let's be honest, probably future) that was outside of your extremely narrow criteria of acceptable philosophy and political science that you haven't dismissed as a troll. The fact that you're anonymous but I can immediately recognize you universally by your grousing does not reflect well on you.

      Pace the consensus present, the LGBT movement is not motivated by being a mindless cult. The LGBT movement is a rational and intelligent response to extreme hatred. And why Feser would look highly upon the opinions of a hotbed of Christ-Mythers like Slate Star Codex is an enigma. They're the true mindless cultists who are projecting on LGBT people to ameliorate (even though it is futile) their intense hatred, both of God and neighbor.

    4. Huh. I'm the second anonymous. I am different from the first. I have never got the impression that there was a small number of anonymi here. I'd careful of concluding that.

    5. Presumably our friend Tomislav was talking about me, the first anon. I have no idea what he's talking about though. Just pointing out that obvious baiting is obvious baiting.

    6. Yes Anonymous, it isn't possible for a Catholic to affirm gay marriage or gay sex without also eviscerating any authority the church has. If any doctrine can change then what is even the point of the Church existing? If the Church annulls its teaching on gay sex then the Church will just become like Shintô: a non-doctrinal religion that depends on administered rituals (sacraments) and a source of good luck for exams.

      But that's a very different claim than what SSC, which is that the reaction of LGBT people in general is irrational and can only be viewed as a mindless cult.

    7. Don't feed the trollsOctober 12, 2019 at 9:44 PM

      Balanced, I am the guy I think think you are talking about. I often tell compulsive troll-feeders lime yourself to knock it off and trolls to go away. I'm separate from any of these other anonymous posters. I also think it's worth pointing out that, contrary to your misleading claims, I don't call all or most non-religious, non-conservative posters trolls. I pretty much have only called Santi, SP, and Counter-Rebel trolls, maybe there was one or two more I don't recall. And does anyone seriously doubt they aren't trolls and that aren't a malign presence here? Feser has told each of these to get lost (certainly the last two, anyway). Are you say Stardustypsyche was really a serious and worthwhile interlocutor that should have been kept around?

    8. Here is the thing. The acts which LGBTists support are immoral therefore they should be stoped. Striving to stop what you consider unethical =/= oppression.

    9. Counter-Rebel was a loutish brute looking to engage in a linear combination of primal therapy (nota bene primal therapy is for animals) and playing games. SP thought in free association and verbiage and Santi was SP as a FIDE GrandMaster. You were right to tell them to get lost.

      I just wanted to distinguish between "LGBT people have a just cause" and "God's Church need to admit they made a mistake on foundational and Biblical teaching." You can affirm the former while understanding how horrific the latter is.

    10. @Red,

      In light of the fact that nobody has changed the sex they are attracted to without causing grave repression and emotional castration, saying "we need to stop immoral behavior," while correct, would necessitate ending their lives or life incarciration unless you are aware of a pathway of hope. To do anything else in light of the immutability of sexual (dis)orientation is inhumane.

    11. Balanced, I suppose it depends on what you mean by no one changing (i.e., unconscious change versus conscious striving), but I believe a significant minority of those partly or even mostly attracted to the same-sex in adolescents are fairly normally straight in orientation by the time they reach their mid-20s.

      Conversion therapy is a very broad term. It conjures up images of electric shock therapy and the like, but it is applied even to basic counseling to confused adolescents that leaves open the possibility the person will turn out straight and supports them in considering this option. It's even applied to therapeutic approaches to gender dysphoria in children that we explore the possibility the child can come to accept their bodily sex and live normally as a member of that sex, despite the fact that 80-95% of children with gender dysphoria grow out of it by adulthood (if they don't take puberty blockers, etc. - those who do are far less likely to, although there is little evidence it is only the strongest cases that receive such 'treatment').

    12. People who watch porn a lot tend to start drifting toward more and more extreme forms of it. There are some out there who claim that if you are drawn to more extreme kinds, you are merely finding out what you are "in to". But that isnt true. If they simply stopped watching, what most people are "in to" will begin returning back to something more normal.

      Exposing yourself to certain things actually strengthens their appeal for you.

      People who are same sex attracted could just not give their inclinations any air time. Dont act on it, dont watch it, dont entertain the thought of it. It may not get rid of the inclination, but it will radically reduce the pressure of the inclination.

      Part of the reason they are having such a hard time with it is because we live in such a hyper sexualised culture, and the LGBT community, particularly the male side, is at the pinnacle of that. The perfect example is that we now have young boys dancing in gaybstrip clubs while having money thrown at them. In the past, this would be deemed unthinkable, but if you keep pushing the sexual envelope, it will incline you toward exposure and acceptance of the more and more extreme.

    13. In light of the fact that nobody has changed the sex they are attracted to without causing grave repression and emotional castration,

      Just. Not. True. This is a meme propagated and disseminated by the KGB-TLQVZDNGB, not by science or other unbiased observers. In addition to what Captain A pointed out, there are some people (e.g. some members of Courage) who have changed, and who appear (to so far as any evidence shows) now (after changing) to live well-balanced lives married to a person of the opposite sex, attracted to their spouse. There may be FEW of these, that I think is a fair point, but it's not zero.

    14. Two claims should also be distinguished: on the one hand, that sexual orientation is immutable; on the other, that we lack reliable means of altering sexual orientation. It is quite false that sexual orientation is immutable, especially but not only in women. The idea that it is immutable was politically serviceable for a time and still widely believed, but people most invested in the LGBT movement recognize that it's not true at all.

      The second claim may be true, but it does not imply that the only alternative to implementing pro-LGBT policy (such a redefining marriage, fining religious orphanages out of existence, etc.) is killing or incarcerating LGBT people.

      It is true that young people identify with nonstandard sexual orientations and gender identities at higher rates than older people. There are at least two hypotheses for explaining this. One is that they are simply more liberated, whereas older people are repressed. The other is that (while the first may to some extent be true) the LGBT movement is in large part a social movement and people's self-identifications are affected by considerably more than their innate characteristics.

      I think there's considerable merit to the latter explanation. The LGBT movement is basically a religious movement, and by identifying as L, G, B, or T, you become a member of its priestly caste.

    15. "Born this way" was always just a tool to avoid criticism of the LBGTOFES lifestyle (HIV/AIDs in homosexual males, drug abuse, etc) once news spread.

      Same-sex attraction might be deeply rooted to a point, but as the likes of Foucault point out homosexuality is contingent and not some eternal floating state of being. Even heterosexuality is rather modern notion.

    16. Haven't the Alphabet people always implicitly recognized that orientation is mutable? They have just implied people go from straight to bisexual or homosexual, not the other way around.

  5. The Impoverished LastsOctober 12, 2019 at 10:42 PM

    Ed, do you have any thoughts on this Amazonian Synod?

    Seems like the bishops are quite fine with doing away with priestly celibacy and happy to ordain women as deacons (just the first step to the priesthood, admitted one bishop in an interview)

  6. So this is my first time commenting here, and it seems like this combox is a relatively open forum, so...

    I wanted to ask a question about Feser's criticisms of Eliminative Materialism. When the Eliminativist denies the existence of intentionality, Feser tends to respond with some variation of the "Knowledge Argument": that is to say that if intentionality and the like do not exist, than we have no reason to trust the logic that lead us to this conclusion in the first place.

    But it seems to me (and admittedly, I'm no philosopher, which is why I'm asking here) that an even stronger conclusion can be drawn. If intentionality doesn't exist, which is to say that my thoughts and experiences aren't actually "about" anything, then does it not follow that I am not thinking or experiencing anything at all? And if I am not thinking or experiencing, does it not follow that I do not exist? Eliminative Materialism seems to me to lead to the incoherent conclusion that we are all p.zombies of a sort, that there is no more mind or experience within my brain than there is in a bucket of water.

    However I don't see Feser making this argument, so perhaps I've misunderstood the nature of intentionality? Or perhaps it's because Feser is an A-T Philosopher, and within that metaphysical framework p.zombies are not a valid concept. But within the framework and premises of materialisim, it seems to me a valid argument against eliminativism and materialism itself if intentionality cannot otherwise be demonstrated.

    Unless I've misunderstood the concept of intentionality. I admit, I find it difficult to wrap my mind around qualia, intentionality, and the differences between these concepts.

    1. You're right, it is part of eliminative materialism that you are not thinking or experiencing anything; there are no thoughts or experiences (though certain corresponding successor concepts might replace these and not be empty). So minds do not exist, and if you can only exist if minds do, then you do not exist.

      But eliminative materialists openly admit all of that. And, so far forth, it is not incoherent to say that some thing or other is not minded. It's not contradictory. We seem to understand what is being claimed.

      Feser's argument is that those suppositions lead to something which is problematic, namely that if there are no thoughts to be expressed, then there is no argumentation (for instance, there is no argumentation in favor of eliminative materialism).

      As regards the distinction between intentionality and qualia, a mental state or activity is intentional, roughly, if it is about something. When I think of the Eiffel Tower, what I am thinking about is the Eiffel Tower, that thing in the world. Accordingly a mark of intentionality (some would say the whole of it) is that ascriptions of intentional states form intensional contexts. When you say what I believe, the truth of the ascription depends on how you describe the content of my belief. If Paris is the largest city in France (I do not know whether it is), then "The Eiffel Tower is in Paris" implies "The Eiffel Tower is in the largest city in France". But it would not be the case that "Greg believes the Eiffel Tower is in Paris" implies "The Eiffel Tower is in the largest city in France".

      Qualia are supposed to be the intrinsically qualitative aspects of certain mental states. Intuitively, there seems to be such a thing as experiencing the color red, as when you look at a red apple in a well-lit room. A quale is supposed to be that 'experience', or that raw feel, or that sense datum, or something like that.

      Different mental states tend to serve as better or worse exemplars of intentionality and qualia. Belief, desire, and intention are typical examples of intentional states. The sensation of red and pain are typical examples of qualia. And while there are some philosophers who have argued that some states can have both (for instance, there sensation can have a kind of intentionality), there do seem to be mental states that have one and lack the other. For instance, there is no qualia associated with belief. There is nothing it is like to believe something.

    2. Thank you for the response!

      "You're right, it is part of eliminative materialism that you are not thinking or experiencing anything; there are no thoughts or experiences (though certain corresponding successor concepts might replace these and not be empty). So minds do not exist, and if you can only exist if minds do, then you do not exist.

      But eliminative materialists openly admit all of that. And, so far forth, it is not incoherent to say that some thing or other is not minded. It's not contradictory. We seem to understand what is being claimed."

      Ah, I see. I had figured that when people like Dennet claimed that "consciousness is an illusion" that they were just using very obscurantist definitions of "consciousness" and "illusion". IE that conciousness exists but that it's not as indivisible or reliable as people think it is, and that it is illusionary not in the sense that it doesn't exist but that the content of conciouesness is a sort of flawed mental reconstruction of the world around it, etc.

      What a strange philosophy, then! It seems to violate the basic reasoning of "I think, therefore I am", although I suppose that applying the "knowledge argument" is in this case re-applying the same essential logic to it.

      "As regards the distinction between intentionality and qualia..."

      Thank you for the rundown!

      In my primitive understanding of the philosophy, I had always understood intentionality as the sort of "meaning" of a physical symbol. That is to say, a certain chemical reaction or electrical impulse might occur both in my brain as well as in a highschool chemistry lab. The one in the lab is structurally identical but means nothing, while the one in my brain somehow means "I should go to the store". The problem as I see it is how the physical symbol (the electrical impulse or chemical reaction) could objectively and determinantly mean "I should go to the store".

      I suppose what confuses me about qualia is that it seems that every mental state should have both qualia and intentionality, and that perhaps both should be regarded as part of one whole conception of "being". That is, I experience every mental state and every mental state is determinant and about something. I find it hard to imagine a certain mental state having one but not the other, or have them in different degrees.

      But then I still have much to learn. Thank you again for the well written reply!

    3. Thank you for the response!

      You're welcome!

      I had figured that when people like Dennet claimed that "consciousness is an illusion" that they were just using very obscurantist definitions of "consciousness" and "illusion". IE that conciousness exists but that it's not as indivisible or reliable as people think it is, and that it is illusionary not in the sense that it doesn't exist but that the content of conciouesness is a sort of flawed mental reconstruction of the world around it, etc.

      Dennett in "Quining Qualia" says that he means to admit that people have conscious experiences but deny that they are qualia, as philosophers have understood qualia. He has also said that consciousness is an illusion. It is probably most appropriate to put it this way: he thinks that there is no consciousness in the sense in which philosophers and even ordinary people have frequently took there to be; it is an illusion because it can seem that there is. But he thinks that there is a respectable concept with which we can replace 'consciousness'. There is such a thing as making discriminating perceptual judgments, for instance, and such a thing as describing them. That would be enough for human beings to get on, for instance.

      I suppose what confuses me about qualia is that it seems that every mental state should have both qualia and intentionality, and that perhaps both should be regarded as part of one whole conception of "being". That is, I experience every mental state and every mental state is determinant and about something.

      Well, take belief. Five minutes ago, you believed that Donald Trump is president of the United States of America. But you were not experiencing anything by or in believing that. There does not seem to be something it is like to believe that Donald Trump is president of the United States.

      Of course belief is some kind of disposition to speak, think, and act in certain ways. But I don't even think the actualization of belief in, e.g., thinking or reflecting on Donald Trump's being president has a qualitative character. Of course, picturing Donald Trump might be part of my thinking about him, but it doesn't have to be. Remember, our model for qualitative experience is the sensation of red, or pain. There's nothing like that which characterizes the consideration of a proposition, as far as I can tell. And it would be remarkable if there were something like that, but it were not obvious what it were!

      In the other direction (qualia without intentionality), the stock example might be something like an afterimage, or dreaming of something which does not exist.

    4. "Of course belief is some kind of disposition to speak, think, and act in certain ways. But I don't even think the actualization of belief in, e.g., thinking or reflecting on Donald Trump's being president has a qualitative character."

      Could it not be said, that "there is something it is like" to be me as I contemplate the fact that Trump is president? Would the "something there is like" to be me when I am not thinking about my beliefs not be qualitatively different than the "something there is like" to be me when I am?

      I suppose my confusion might be that the concept seems to be focused on raw sensory feels to some extent, whereas I am tempted to think in more general terms of experience or awareness. IE that I can experience an abstract thought even if it has no sensory feeling associated with it.

    5. Well, I think there's the broad, non-philosophical use of 'experience' in the sense of 'something that happened to me'. So I can report to experience of going to the water park, which may include a description of what I did there, what I saw, and what my thoughts and emotions were, among other things. In some cases like this, the locution 'something it is like' also finds its grip; it's not so natural to say there was something it was like to go to the water park, but I might say that there was something it was like to win the big race. (This is what Aristotle means by ἐμπειρία.)

      Then there are the 'experiences' of which early modern philosophers spoke: the experience of, e.g., a red patch. It is experience in that sense that we mean by 'qualia' today.

      In the former sense, there certainly might be something it is like to think about Donald Trump, at least in a particular instance. (Your blood pressure may rise, or it may fall.) But there is certainly no one experience which characterizes thinking about Donald Trump, and it is not clear that there need be any experience to it, besides what we would describe as "the experience of thinking about Donald Trump": that is something you did, or were saddled with. But in that sense the experience is not a quale.

      But mightn't there be one, one which is simply distinct from the familiar, easily nameable sensory qualia? Since this is philosophy, there are of course some people who think so. (The topic falls under the heading of 'cognitive phenomenology'.)

      I personally do not think so. I take it that the proposal would have to be that there is some particular quale which characterizes that particular thought, for if it only had to be some quale or other, we would have to ask by what right we identify any particular experience as an experience associated with the thought. Mere accompaniment would not be enough. That is to say, there is, for each thinking that p, the thinking-that-p quale.

      I think that introspection indicates no such thing, and as I said above, if there are such qualia, that would be quite remarkable, given how readily we name the other qualia. On the contrary, I think it's important to recognize the sense in which there is nothing in common, experientially, between a seven year old's multiplying 7 and 5, and the seasoned mathematician's doing so. I am not sure I have an argument against the insistence that there is some experiential common factor here, justifiably called a quale, but I simply don't see it.

      I would also add, "It shews a fundamental misunderstanding, if I am inclined to study the headache I have no in order to get clear about the philosophical problem of sensation" (Philosophical Investigations, §314). What the empiricists have bequeathed to us the idea that, if we want to understand whether there is an experience associated with thinking about Donald Trump, we should think about him, and try to pay attention to what we feel. But that tells us only whether there is an experience associated with thinking about Donald Trump and trying to pay attention to what we feel, which is not, generally, what we do when we think about Donald Trump. One thinks about Donald Trump, e.g., when one catches his name on the news and immediately recognizes it, or when one uses his name in a conversation. We need to find the experience common to such cases as well. I don't think there is one.

    6. "But there is certainly no one experience which characterizes thinking about Donald Trump"

      This makes a lot of sense, I can see that and it clears it up a bit.

      So perhaps we are always experiencing a sort of definite first person perspective that is unique to us, but only some of our individual experiences are distinct enough to be called Qualia?

    7. It's just Cartesianism. The "elimative materialist" as you call him accepts the stance of Descartes whether he admits to it or not.

  7. Feser speaks of "woke fanatics"--but what is a fanatic, exactly, but someone extreme and monomaniacal--and what is prone to be more extreme and monomaniacal than essentialism itself?

    In other words, the essentialist locks-in on the self-same nature of a thing, and walls it up into the category of a singular species, holding it in prison there.

    But if one is a nominalist, one can unlock the prison door. One can relax into complexity, multiplicity, and change. One is not urgent to reduce something to one thing, but can be open to experiencing the world as what the physicist Carlo Rovelli calls "events in relation." One disperses a thing's "powers" into the play of systems, macro and micro.

    The world is let out for play.

    The nominalist's plurality of perspective functions to tamp down fanaticism. It names to pragmatic taste, not getting too hung up as to what a thing is "really." The nominalist, by exercising imagination and emphasizing the particular, can even observe things as sui generis. (In other words, something can be seen as one of a kind; an alcove with its own inner logic within the cosmic cathedral, subject to no final reduction to a singular species category.)

    So relaxation in definition loosens the doors of the heart and the grip of essentialist, monomaniacal fanaticisms, such as antisemitism.

    The biographer of St. Thomas, GK Chesterton, was an antisemite, for example. He argued that the essential nature of Jews is to be alien, and thus Jews could never really be British. Not essentially. Chesterton actually proposed different clothing for British Jews, so that they could be readily identified by others, as to their essential nature.

    So the woke women that Feser links to, insofar as they are fanatics--and I think that they are fanatics--are fanatics because their definition of feminism is too essentialized and narrow (not imaginative enough). They are locked-in on treating opposing articles by feminists as essentially alien to their own articles and feminism, not really belonging together alongside them in the play of signifiers--exactly like Chesterton perceived British Jews in relation to British Gentiles.

    Non-ironic essentialism brings on fanaticism.

    For those, by the way, who think I'm making up Chesterton's antisemitism, I refer you to Adam Gopnik's New Yorker piece on Chesterton, which rehearses his antisemitism pretty thoroughly:

    1. The Impoverished LastsOctober 17, 2019 at 11:23 AM

      You're intentionally confusing intellectual assent with fanaticism... that's a sophomoric thing to do: conflate one with the other to sully a position instead of actually addressing.

    2. Don't feed the trollsOctober 17, 2019 at 1:23 PM

      Impoverished Last, that's he's notorious troll and sophist. It's best not to feed him.

      Santi, go away.

    3. Don't feed the trollsOctober 17, 2019 at 1:25 PM

      *because he's notorious troll

  8. Impoverished Lasts:

    Do you then think William Blake was wrong to associate essentialism with narrowness and religious fanaticism, as when he wrote, in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the following aphorism:

    "If the doors of perception were cleansed then everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."

  9. Since this is kind of an open thread:

    Feser's attempt to "naturalize" consciousness/qualia by inflating matter with the notion of qualitative formal causes does not answer the Hard Problem of consciousness. Sure, we now have an account that locates the yellowness of a banana in the banana itself. The redness of the apple, as well as its texture, are qualitative forms in the apple itself, which has a formal cause which goes beyond the mere bundles of atoms and quantifiable structures which science reveals. But this does nothing to explain why any material body would have the power to experience these formal causes as subjective, qualitative *experiences*.

    We could have a zombie world that is full of qualia. The qualia are all neatly located and grounded in formal causes of objects. But no one ever experiences anything. The physical structure remains the same; the zombies are just like us in every physical detail, identical bodies. But they do not experience any qualitative states. They just mechanically interact with the non-qualitative aspects of objects.
    So the hard problem remains. We have all the physical facts, all bodily configurations, and still it doesn't follow that the bodies would develop the ability to *perceive* and *experience* the world with qualia.

    1. The Aristotelian view is that the world is made up of substances, composed of matter and form. These substances have certain capacities, given the kind of substance they are, which is defined by the form. Some substances has sensitive capacities. What's the problem?

      The hard problem only occurs if you accept the radical distinction between mind and matter. Aristotelians dont make that mistake.

    2. The problem is you are simply saying "animal substances have the capacity to experience qualia", and this doesn't really explain how it works. We want to know why and how animal substances have this capacity which is so utterly different from the powers of every other substance - particles, rocks, plants, water, etc.
      A naturalist could likewise say that brains just have the capacity to experience qualia. But the question is *how* does the brain do that? How do such and such brain functions and other spatiotemporal movements produce an awareness, a subjective experience of qualia? We could even have zombie worlds, so there is no logical supervenience there.

      So now we have formal causes, too. And how does that help us? What about the form of a brain (or any body) would necessitate and produce consciousness - the capacity to have subjective, qualitative experiences, to experience qualia. If this power cannot be derived from, or reduced to, any physical features of brain states then consciousness would still be something additional to brain structures. And, like the zombie argument goes, we could have other human-like creatures which are exactly like us in all their physical functions and structure, but they nevertheless lack consciousness. You might even say they embody the form of zombies, if you wish.

      Remember, thomists believe that reasoning is something non-physical; it is a non-physical power that is additional to our extended, spatiotemporal bodies and powers. Because reasoning is the storage of, and interaction with, universal and determinate concepts which are immaterial, non-spatiotemporal, unextended, etc. Bodies or material things cannot store and interact with such concepts. So the human intellect is immaterial.

      But consciousness also appears to be something additional to our bodily powers - even if extrinsically dependent on them, like reason is. Because there is nothing about the physical facts of our brains, etc. that necessitate conscious experience. Why is it that such and such formal arrangement of neurons and brain parts give rise to conscious experience? A first person, subjective experience still seems to be radically ontologically different from third person properties. And remember, locating qualia in the forms of objects - colors being real accidents of things, for instance -, inflating matter with forms of qualitative features, is all well and good. But it doesn't explain why or how some physical beings have the CAPACITY to EXPERIENCE these qualitative features.

    3. Another interesting question is where the capacity of consciousness would come from. It is a sui generis power, even if grounded in a form. Where did this first form come from? Could consciousness come from non-consciousness? Even if it's a naturalizable power (unlike reason), it would seem irreducible to other natural powers and events. Like life. How do you get life from non-life? It seems even more problematic for consciousness; how do you get consciousness from non-consciousness? At one point you only had forms that did not involve consciousness, then all of a sudden you have conscious substances. What natural explanation could we give?

    4. This has been on my mind for a while too. As interesting as the Thomist perspective is, I can't help but wonder if it is too quick to declare intellectual reasoning as the *only* immaterial aspect of the mind.

    5. My understanding is that, for an Aristotelian, the 'experiencing' of a color just is the intentional existence of a sensible form in a sense organ. Non-sentient beings lack organs capable of receiving sensible forms, so they do not sense. Any other specifically human being would have sense organs and would be able to receive such forms intentionally, that is, experience, e.g., color.

      I don't think that is or is intended to be an 'explanation' of consciousness in the sense in which philosophers who believe there is a 'hard problem of consciousness' are seeking one, because such philosophers are literally looking for a mechanism. They think a mechanistic explanation is obviously available for the other aspects of our mentality, and the problem is just finding one for consciousness, while Aristotelians do not even think such is available for plant life. Insusceptibility to mechanistic explanation is not sufficient for immateriality for a Thomist.

    6. But again, what is it about the formal structures of our organs that give rise to this power of intentionally receiving sensible forms? No other substances have that; only animals. There is nothing in the constitution of a rock that could give rise to an intentional power to receive sensible forms. But then why is it that when we rearrange atoms, particles, etc., into a different material form (such as a human body), that all of a sudden we have conscious experience?

      It seems that lack of a mechanistic explanation does, in fact, point towards immateriality. The reason mechanism was (and remains) popular is because it does capture an important ontological difference between physical entities and mental entities. We can describe physical facts in accordance with mechanism; we cannot do the same with mental facts. The Aristotelian is right to point out the limits of mechanism, but the ontological differences that even allowed for such a distinction in the first place would remain, and are still relevant.

      What about the basic physical facts of animals give rise to the power of "intentionally having sensible forms"? Is such a potency already present in inanimate entities? In virtue of what about the basic physical entities would there be such a potency? Couldn't there be zombie versions of these?

      Again it seems the power of "intentionally having sensible forms" is something additional to the physical facts; merely structuring particles into a human body would not suffice to bring about consciousness. It's a higher power that cannot emerge from just a different formal arrangement of the same entities shared by plants, minerals, etc.

      It might be that life is also like that. At the very least it seems life is also something that could not arise naturally, without divine intervention - it seems that the power of self-motion is categorically different and cannot originate from beings that lack it.

    7. It seems that lack of a mechanistic explanation does, in fact, point towards immateriality.

      Yet in the same post you also suggest that life/self-motion may resist mechanistic explanation, as you also said earlier:

      Where did this first form come from? Could consciousness come from non-consciousness? Even if it's a naturalizable power (unlike reason), it would seem irreducible to other natural powers and events. Like life. How do you get life from non-life? It seems even more problematic for consciousness...

      If your hunches here are all correct, then it follows that plants are immaterial in the sense in which reason and (you are suggesting) consciousness are.

      You're welcome to use the term 'immaterial' however you like, in particular wherever mechanistic explanation fails. There would be some sense in that. It would be the sense there is in saying that form is not matter. But that use is a stipulated one. It is not what Aristotle or Aquinas mean when they say that there is something immaterial about intellect as distinct from sensation and life generally. (I am not certain that they both do put the point that way, but suppose they did.) What they mean is that intellect lacks an organ (and Aquinas also thinks this implies it is subsistent). That's it. Whether everything immaterial-in-the-sense-mechanistically-inexplicable is also immaterial-in-the-sense-organless is a further question, and I don't think the answer is yes.

      You seem to me to regard the demands of naturalism as eminently reasonable, indeed as constitutive of true understanding. I do not really see any promise in grafting Thomistic theses onto such a philosophical outlook. The distinction between reason and other animate powers was never supposed to be that the latter are "naturalizable" while the former is not, and Feser has not attempted to "naturalize" qualia.

      Frankly, I think that without regarding a certain form of holism as a prephilosophical datum, hylomorphism is a hopeless doctrine. It is difficult to say in what sense this is true, but let me provide an analogy. One of the recurring objections to libertarian free will is that whatever is not physically determined must be random. If you try to zoom in on what is physically happening at the moment of choice, it looks like there will be no freedom to find there, unless one can find some way to be a compatibilist. And one still might feel this worry, even after appreciating that there is logical space for rejecting the dichotomy "determined or random". And I think one should feel the worry, as long as one thinks that understanding freedom should involve seeing how what goes on at the microphysical level amounts to freedom. But why should it? The account we give of our own actions is that we act for reasons, which we do not (generally) perceive as determining us (as evidenced by, e.g., our admission that sometimes we equally might have chosen something else, and by our practices of assigning praise and blame--so the libertarian might argue). A philosophical account of this need not be crypto-scientific speculation about what the molecules are doing when one acts. We will rather give an account of what practical reason and will are, what their objects are, what their activities are (choice, deliberation, etc.). But in giving such a description-explanation of a power, we are doing so in coordinate terms. We are never trying to reduce the human to something non-human.

      Likewise when we coordinate the power-activity-object tried sight-seeing-color. We may say, as Aquinas and Aristotle do, that, to receive a form such as color, it is necessary that the organ of sight be itself uncolored. But the question of reconstructing sight out of non-sight is never in the offing, and is not what is involved in giving the formal and material causes of sight in the first place.

    8. Plants will not be immaterial in this case; they will have an immaterial aspect to them which is not reducible to their bodies, much like is the case with humans. If life cannot be reduced to, or emergent from, the parts or the formal arrangement of parts that make up the body of a plant, then life is something additional to this structure, and will therefore be immaterial in a relevant sense. That is if life is like that. I am not arguing for it, though I am not particularly opposed to it either - as I said, I think it might make sense, after all.

      I do think this is the case with consciousness. And it could indeed be the case that there is no organ of consciousness, either. Conscious experience could be extrinsically dependent on sense organs and their activities, much like how reasoning appears to be with brain states, and still be immaterial in much the same robust way reasoning is. After all, what does an organ do in order to produce consciousness - or to intentionally grasp qualitative forms in a way that gives rise to a subjective experience of these forms? We can understand the emergence of solidity and liquidity out of chemical compositions, but consciousness - or the power to "intentionally have sensible forms" (notice the apparent irreducibility of such a description) - seems ontologically distinct.

      Mechanistic explanations are a real thing, and by recognizing this one does not reject have to reject the holistic tendencies of Aristotelian philosophy. The thing is that mechanistic explanations are real and can make a lot of sense (even if incompletely) of many phenomena in the world. But when they can't make *any* sense of a given thing, then that suggests this thing is ontologically different from the things which can be given mechanistic explanations and descriptions.

      Basically, how do substances develop the power to intentionally possess sensible forms? You might reply "by developing sense organs and a sense structure". But then by virtue of what does the bodily sense organ give rise to this new power? Its parts do not have this potency. Their formal arrangement must include something that is additional and categorically different from other formal arrangements of molecules. This "additional" element itself distinguishes the power of consciousness from the potencies that other material substances have. But then consciousness is something additional to formal arrangements of matter. You could rearrange molecules, unify them with different forms, and this still wouldn't be sufficient to give rise to consciousness. You could have zombies.

      The molecules do nothing to produce consciousness, and any formal rearrangements of these molecules into other hylemorphic substances will not give them this power; it is something they (and any body) simply cannot have, much like reasoning: no body can receive a universal form except by instantiation, so thinking is not something carried out by bodies. Likewise, no body can receive a qualitative, sensible form *as a first person, subjective experience*, only by instantiation (like when a blue wall is painted red). You can rearrange the body and its parts in every possible way, and it could still be a zombie; there is no logical supervenience between conscious experience/power of intentionally receiving sensible forms and the activities of bodies.

    9. To put it differently, we still have an epistemological gap about mental facts when we know the physical facts about humans. Hylemorphism doesn't change this; imagine we can find an alien substance in another planet; it is a hylemorphic substance like any other, it is prime matter informed by a certain essence. Still, we can know all the physical facts about that substance, and we still won't *know* whether it is conscious or not. It might even have what (appear to be) sense organs, complex structures which react to stimuli much like how our eyes do, and so on. And we still won't *know* whether this alien creature is conscious or not simply from observing its physical (informed) substance - we'll only know or assume it is conscious because of induction and our own experience with similar beings.

      For all we know from that informed substance, it could either have an animal soul (one which includes sense powers) or just a form which causes all its physical acts and reactions, but without sense powers. But then it is obvious that the sense power of animal souls is something additional, and which simply does not follow from the physical acts of the substance.

    10. Plants will not be immaterial in this case; they will have an immaterial aspect to them which is not reducible to their bodies, much like is the case with humans.

      Well, since a plant's being is its living, yes, its form will turn out to be through and through 'immaterial' on your view.

      To put it differently, we still have an epistemological gap about mental facts when we know the physical facts about humans. Hylemorphism doesn't change this...

      I don't know why you think I have been arguing that it does. The question is why (non-)reduction to physical facts occupies such a privileged place in your model of philosophical understanding. On an Aristotelian understanding, non-reducibility to physics is not especially distinctive. And yes, there is such a thing as mechanistic explanation. It is not the only kind, and it is certainly not the gold standard. (I do not know what it means to say that failure of mechanistic explanation is a special indication of 'ontological difference'. I already knew, e.g., that slingshots and cactuses were ontologically different, as are camcorders and powers of sight.)

      You need not advert to the example of an alien hylomorphic substance to make your point. You can just point out that, on your conception, we do not know whether other animals or our fellow humans are conscious either.

      And it could indeed be the case that there is no organ of consciousness, either. Conscious experience could be extrinsically dependent on sense organs and their activities, much like how reasoning appears to be with brain states, and still be immaterial in much the same robust way reasoning is. After all, what does an organ do in order to produce consciousness - or to intentionally grasp qualitative forms in a way that gives rise to a subjective experience of these forms?

      But again, the argument that there is no organ of thought does not proceed by simply marveling at the idea that any organ could produce the activity in question. That is never in the offing. The 'matter' which is correlate to 'form' is not itself described in terms intelligible apart from the hylomorphic unity. (The matter of a human being is its body, not the corpse that is left over when it dies. And not, I might add, the particles which compose it.) The idea is rather that if the intellect needs to receive all corporeal forms so as to know them (as an eye needs to receive all colors so as to see them), it could not have an organ with any one of those corporeal forms already (as, if the lens of your eye were red, everything would look red to you). There seems not to be anything parallel in the case of consciousness, though I suppose I cannot anticipate how you will attempt to shoehorn consciousness into one of the familiar argument forms.

      I note, in general, your noncommittal shotgun approach: "It could indeed be the case that there is no organ of consciousness... Conscious experience could be extrinsically dependent on sense organs and their activities ... After all what does an organ do in order to produce consciousness...?" Why not take a position? Why not ask why Aristotle and Aquinas think intellect is distinctive and work out in some precise way how consciousness is analogous? You seem just to be very impressed with the qualia literature and think that its implications for Thomism are obvious.

      Since your posts are long and scattershot and I am busy, I do not anticipate I'll be replying again if it is just more insisting that physical facts don't tell us everything about human minds.

    11. I don't see an argument for how an organ could produce consciousness, and how we can understand "animal soul" as anything beyond a mere categorization that trivially tells us that this formal arrangement of matter somehow has the power of consciousness. My question is how we could know that from the form, and we can't. There is an epistemological gap, so it is something additional to the formal structure of matter; something that could also be missing, as seen in the possibility of zombies.

      Yes, in my view, we cannot *know* our fellow humans and other animals are conscious merely by learning about the formal arrangement of their body. We do, of course, know other people are conscious, but this knowledge doesn't come from analyzing the form like that, and so the epistemological gap remains. So consciousness is an immaterial power, even if extrinsically dependent on sense organs. God could have made zombie humans instead.

      I do take a position, I have presented it. I just used a more noncommittal language in an attempt to try to make you at least think that *maybe* consciousness could indeed be an immaterial power comparable to that of reason. I see a lot of thomists confidently asserting it isn't, but I see no adequate answer to the hard problem as I defended it.

      Further discussion of this topic would be good, since hylemorphism remains pretty much ignored in the literature (which is unfortunate).

  10. This is why I would say there is a deep affinity between the outlook of Aristotle and philosophers like Wittgenstein and Ryle. (The fact that all three philosophers are non-Cartesian, I consider to be a superficial affinity, and hardly distinctive, though that is what 'analytical Thomists' are most inclined to go on about.) Wittgenstein and Ryle attempt to legitimate simply taking our human mindedness at face value. We can go on to describe our powers and activities in a lot of detail. But a certain form of explaining them is simply unavailable.

    1. (This was supposed to be a follow up to my
      October 19, 2019 at 12:34 PM reply to Atno.)

    2. Seems to me that this attempt to take human mindedness at "face value", at least in the case of Wittgenstein and Ryle, end up as little more than an attempt at brushing wonder under the rug. There is something wondrous about consciousness, and especially about how "a certain form of explaining it is simply unavailable". Consciousness is in a weird place in our world; so weird that it took Wittgenstein a lot of effort to write his books.

      It is extremely weird how at one point we have plants and other material substances which function "in the dark", and then later on we have other material substances which still function in the same descriptions as those earlier substances, except with the addition that they have an "inner movie" accompanying all their functions. "Oh well, they have the power to intentionally grasp sensible forms" yes, and this power is very weird, we got ourselves a Cartesian theater.

    3. Wittgenstein's difficulty in writing had nothing to do with consciousness per se. He had just as much difficulty in writing about logic (and, anyway, even his later work was mostly not about consciousness). The problem was just that he was a perfectionist and hated the idea of publishing anything half-thought out.

    4. If you think it was only due to perfectionism, and it was really a breeze to just take our mindedness at face value, okay. I disagree, but that was just a small comment.

      The biggest issue is that consciousness remains an extremely weird addition to material substances, and I see no decent explanation for how it could emerge from any formal arrangement of matter.

    5. Atno, aren't you just assuming a Cartesian/mechanistic framework? Why is conscious any more, or less, weird than anything else in nature?

      Also, is it really true that a mechanistic explanation is even a full one of non-living things, let alone living or conscious ones.

    6. Because nothing about spatiotemporal acts and relations seems able to explain consciousness or necessitate its emergence; we can have all physical facts and still no knowledge whatsoever of qualia. As I said, we can even come across an alien substance (it goes for any substance, really) with organs very similar to ours, and still from observing such organs and their functions we would not *know* whether they are really conscious or not - we'll just assume they are based on induction, abduction, etc. But nothing about the physical facts necessitates consciousness. How do we get the power to subjectively experience qualitative features from a formal arrangement of matter? By virtue of what?

      I think mechanicism probably doesn't give us full explanations of non-living things either (we need notions such as final causality, forms, and so on), but it at least gives us some explanations. When it comes to analyzing consciousness, however, mechanicism seems utterly ineffectual, and this suggests a relevant ontological difference between first person properties, consciousness, and material substances.

    7. What do you mean by spatiotemporal facts? Isn't it controversial whether these include or exclude qualia?

      Aren't you just observing that consciousness is different from non-consciousness? That isn't reducible to the non-consciousness.

      I think the failure of mechanism certainly suggests consciousness can't simply be reduced to non-conscious elements. Consciousness is distinct from non-consciousness. But whether consciousness can't be a material property would seem to depend on how we define the material.

      Isn't the hard problem of consciousness about explaining the production of consciousness and qualia from the non-conscious elements of the brain? But it assumes a reductionist framework. There's no hard problem of consciousness for the idealist or even the Cartesian, whatever other issues these positions may have. You're right that consciousness might still be a very interesting and rare property, but that isn't the same as the hard problem of consciousness.

    8. A final remark about Wittgenstein: I did not say he found it easy to write about philosophical psychology. Part of his being a perfectionist was that he found every topic difficult. The point is that in this respect he found sensation and consciousness no different from the 'picture theory' of the proposition, logical constants, ostensive definition, or rule following. This is not my opinion. His life is very well documented. He and Russell frequently butted heads over Wittgenstein's perfectionism while they were working on logic.

    9. Anonymous,

      Reread my very first post here. It's super cool that we can redefine the "material" in such a way as to include qualitative features in substances: the apple has a form of redness, the banana a form of yellow, and so on. But this does absolutely nothing to explain how and why a material substance would give rise to first person, subjective experiences of these qualitative features.

      Idealists and Cartesians take consciousness to be a fundamental property of the universe which doesn't arise naturally from extended, unconscious bodies. This is how they avoid the hard problem. An Aristotelian recognizing that consciousness can't be given a mechanistic explanation still has to account for how it would arise (in a non-mechanistic way) from properly formed material substances, unless he also recognizes consciousness is a fundamental, immaterial act, like reasoning is. So there is still a hard problem.

      And here hylemorphism does almost nothing to explain it. Why is it that this formal arrangement of molecules has the power of consciousness, while this other formal arrangement (of a plant, say) doesn't? Simply saying "it's the form! It's an animal form!" doesn't explain anything, it just names the phenomenon we want to explain as being one specific characteristic of that kind of form. Compare that to how we can actually explain why the substance of water is liquid, from the formal arrangement of its chemical composition. As I said in my example, we could think of zombie humans - substances that are very similar to us but nevertheless lack consciousness. The epistemological gap indicates the ontological difference.

      As William Seager says, in his review of Jaworski's hylemorphism book, "anyone who advances such a view would have to explain why there could not be another set of powers which share with the actual powers all the same basic physical features as outlined, say, in the standard model of physics and general relativity (a few basic kinds of matter, fields and the four forces of gavity, electromagnetism, plus the strong and weak forces) but which, when structured as a human being, fail to genrwte consciousness. In the absence of this explanation one is left with the suspicion that the problem of consciousness has only been 'solved' by conceptual fiat without giving us any understanding of the relation between the fundamental physical features of the world and consciousness. ..."

    10. But isn't it the term arise that is the issue here. The Thomist doesn't believe that consciousness arises out of material things in the sense of being reducible to them. That's the materialist's position, and leads to the hard problem. In a sense, doesn't the Thomist think that consciousness simply can be an irreducible aspect of some material things. Is this any more mysterious than any other aspect of the world. We could as soon say why we do live in a world with these laws of nature or with bears and not unicorns. It isn't something we can answer.

      Surely Seager's point can be responded to by denying that such beings could exist.

    11. But it seems like such beings *can* exist, and surely there is an epistemological gap between all these physical facts and the facts of consciousness. The same problem that haunts mechanistic views doesn't go away when we simply - by conceptual fiat, as it is - say that the power of consciousness is characteristic of a certain form (animal, sensitive forms) without ever accounting for the relationship between that power and the basic physical features, unlike how we can do with the wetness and liquidity of water, for example.

      Of course this is way more mysterious than why these laws are true or why there are no unicorns. We can make sense of laws and unicorns by examining material substances and basic physical effects. Consciousness, by contrast, is not like that; there is an epistemological gap (as in the Knowledge Argument and Zombie Argument), and no P supervenience between physical facts and consciousness; so no account of how conscious power could derive from a certain formal arrangement of matter. Seeger's point (and mine) remains unanswered.

      It seems consciousness is immaterial.

      (On a related note: consciousness being immaterial would also arguably make better sense of the relationship between consciousness and reason. We know reasoning is immaterial, but I also think there can be something it is like to reason (*can* be because there is also unconscious reasoning too), and so consciousness must be able to interact with concepts in a manner similar to that of the intellect. I might be wrong about there being qualia of reasoning, though. But I don't discard it so quickly, and if I'm right about that then there's another reason to take consciousness to be immaterial in a robust sense).

  11. Why was Duns Scouts beatified? I know he is significant in formulating the immaculate conception, but according to the two readings linked on this post he was a dedicated voluntarist...

    1. Because he was a holy religious man.

    2. From what I have read there was a cult surrounding his holiness, but we know very little about his life. It is just interesting that we would beatify a man Who's thought lead to such a philosophical mess. I just read the Benedict XVI defends him as not a voluntarist. It just seems like a beatification is the Church encouraging research into a man's works, and it seems like that is not something that should be done now.

      But I would love to hear redemptive qualities of his Scholasticism

    3. He was a pious Franciscan who also famously defended the Immaculate Conception of Mary; his moral theory included a beautiful, passionate attack on slavery; his proof of the existence of God is extremely interesting and a pioneers certain notions of modal logic, arguing a First Cause from the mere possibility of effects; he also had logically cerives charity and love of neighbor from the love of God in a beautiful argument about how we must desire for others to enjoy public goods, and so on. And to this day there are good Catholic scotist philosophers.

      It is a little bizarre to me to suggest a man shouldn't be beatified just because his philosophy had some mistakes, even some egregious ones. Though even the charge of voluntarism is controversial; some scotists will tell you that it is not true.

  12. Wow thanks for the great information! I wasn't intending to attack him, it just seems like Ockham and Scotus are commonly lumped together, usually under the pretext of here goes the inversion of intellect and will. Can you name any of those philosophers by any chance? I would love to read an essay on Scotus that explains some of his contributions to Catholicism

  13. Kaufman's article is interesting, and appropriately acerbic. A political philosopher, whose name I forget unfortunately, commented at the end of the last century that the politically correct have twisted our natural affinity towards fair play and politeness into a method of censuring their opponents.

    They are also like missionaries, and I say this as a Christian who attends a pretty fundamentalist missional Protestant church (it's not a denominational thing, it's just an excellent local church). SJWs have gone out with the purpose of changing their society by colonising the committees and taking over the official roles of the institutions we built to promote critical thinking. There aren't many academics willing to fight them, because they hold institutional power.

    I honestly don't know what is to become of the university, particularly in Europe where they are usually publicly owned. The only organisations I see standing up to this are often Christian organisations, but the problem with them is that they are not the natural home of those atheists who would like to stand up to it as well.

  14. (36:47) Cartwright: "If we didn't have the systematicity, we couldn't have science."

    Smith: "So I'm wondering where systematicity comes from...."

    Classical theist: "...............ahem...(excuse me)........"