Wednesday, July 8, 2020
The “problem of other minds” goes like this. I have direct access to my own thoughts and experiences, but not to yours. I can perceive only your body and behavior. So how do I know you really have any thoughts and experiences? Maybe you merely behave as if you had them, but in reality you are a “zombie” in , devoid of conscious awareness. And maybe this is true of everyone other than me. How do I know that any minds at all exist other than my own?
Saturday, July 4, 2020
Patriotism involves a special love for and reverence toward one’s own country. These days it is often dismissed as sentimental, unsophisticated, or even bigoted. In fact it is a moral virtue and its absence is a vice. Aquinas explains the basic reason:
A man becomes a debtor to others in diverse ways in accord with the diverse types of their excellence and the diverse benefits that he receives from them. In both these regards, God occupies the highest place, since He is the most excellent of all and the first principle of both our being and our governance. But in second place, the principles of our being and governance are our parents and our country, by whom and in which we are born and governed. And so, after God, a man is especially indebted to his parents and to his country. Hence, just as [the virtue of] religion involves venerating God, so, at the second level, [the virtue of] piety involves venerating one’s parents and country. Now the veneration of one’s parents includes venerating all of one’s blood relatives... On the other hand, the veneration of one’s country includes the veneration of one’s fellow citizens and of all the friends of one’s country. (Summa Theologiae II-II.101.1, Freddoso translation)
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
The Church has consistently condemned doctrinaire laissez-faire forms of capitalism and insisted on just wages, moderate state intervention in the economy, and the grave duty of the rich to assist the poor. Everyone knows these things because they are frequently talked about, and rightly so. But the Church has also consistently and vigorously opposed socialism in all its forms and all left-wing revolutionary movements, for reasons grounded in natural law and Christian moral theology. This is less frequently talked about, but especially important today, when much of what is being done or called for in the name of justice is in fact gravely immoral.
Thursday, June 25, 2020
The American Catholic Philosophical Association meeting in Minneapolis last November hosted an Author Meets Critics session on my book Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science. The proceedings have now been published in the Summer 2020 issue of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly. In the first essay I provide a précis of the book. In the second essay, philosopher Robert Koons addresses what I say in the book about the A-theory and B-theory of time, and argues that the latter is easier to reconcile with an Aristotelian philosophy of nature than I suggest. In the third essay, physicist Stephen Barr puts forward some criticisms of my views about method, space, and substantial form. In the final essay, I respond to Koons and Barr.
Monday, June 22, 2020
Envy is often mistaken for anger at injustice, because both can issue in hatred. But the hatred that issues from a desire for justice is righteous, whereas the hatred that issues from envy is wicked. How can we know the difference? One telltale sign is the object of one’s hatred. Is it what a person does? Or the person himself? Aquinas writes:
It is lawful to hate the sin in one's brother, and whatever pertains to the defect of Divine justice, but we cannot hate our brother's nature and grace without sin. Now it is part of our love for our brother that we hate the fault and the lack of good in him, since desire for another’s good is equivalent to hatred of his evil. Consequently the hatred of one's brother, if we consider it simply, is always sinful. (Summa theologiae )
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Justice Neil Gorsuch was a student of John Finnis, foremost proponent of the “New Natural Law Theory” (NNLT). Is that relevant to understanding the Bostock decision? It might seem not, given that NNLT thinkers like Robbie George (here and here) and Ryan Anderson have strongly criticized Gorsuch’s reasoning.
Saturday, June 13, 2020
Locke’s agnosticism about substance led him to treat the self as essentially a bundle of attributes. Given his empiricism, he takes it that the most we can say of a substance – whether material or immaterial – is that it is a “something, I know not what” that underlies attributes. And that is too thin a conception to lend confidence to the thesis that the self qua substance can survive death and be rewarded or punished in the afterlife. What to do? Locke’s solution was to ignore substance as beside the point. What matters for Locke is that one’s consciousness, and in particular one’s memories, can carry over after the death of the body, whether or not there is a soul for them to inhere in.
Friday, June 12, 2020
If you want to understand woke totalitarianism, I recommend reading Plato on democracy, Aristotle and Aquinas on envy, and Nietzsche on ressentiment.
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Philosophers traditionally distinguish between analytic and synthetic propositions. An analytic proposition is one that is true or false by virtue of the relations between its constituent concepts. A stock example is “All bachelors are unmarried,” which is true because the concept of being unmarried is included in the concept of being a bachelor. A synthetic proposition is true by virtue of something beyond the relations between its constituent concepts. For example, the proposition “Some bachelors are lonely” is true by virtue of a contingent empirical relation between being a bachelor and being lonely, rather than a necessary conceptual relation between them.
Saturday, June 6, 2020
With woke fanatics suddenly overrunning The New York Times, the public health profession, peaceful protests, and even the knitting community (!), life in these United States is starting to look a little like the 1978 sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If you’re looking for something timely to watch this evening, I recommend it. (It’s a great flick anyway.)
The metaphor is near perfect. People are transformed into robotic pod people only after first falling asleep and (get this) waking up. One moment they’re polite fellow citizens, the next they are all gaping maws, shrieking at you so as to summon the rest of the mob over for reeducation or a beat down. After their transformation, even longtime friends and loved ones suddenly turn on you. And in a nice touch, much of the focus of the movie is on the pod people’s commandeering of… the local health department.
If you want to turn it into film festival, next rent The Last Emperor and check out its chilling portrayal of the Maoist Red Guard. (Some of our wokesters have apparently seen it, and thought it a “How to” video.)
And then, to see where this mentality leads if unchecked, The Killing Fields.
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Andrew Sullivan calls our attention to epidemiologist Tara C. Smith, who moves with that curious herd of “experts” suddenly not terribly concerned about social distancing when the protesters filling the streets are left-wing rather than right-wing. Writes Sullivan: “The message to normies: going outside is killing grandma. The message to woke kids: never mind!”
So which is it? Were people like Smith lying before about the danger of spreading the virus, in order to promote a political agenda? Or being honest about it but now willing to endanger countless lives, in order to promote a political agenda?
Friday, May 29, 2020
I’ve often emphasized that the reason consciousness poses such a persistent problem for materialism has less to do with consciousness itself than it has to do with the desiccated conception of matter that we’ve inherited from early modern philosophy and science. Barry Dainton makes the same point a couple of times in his book . For example, he writes:
Friday, May 22, 2020
, I think that the lockdown that was put in place in the United States two months ago was morally justifiable given the circumstances at the time. In my opinion, under current circumstances, it is no longer morally justifiable. To be sure, I am not denying that some social distancing measures are still justifiable and even necessary. I am also not denying that a more modest lockdown may still be defensible in some localities. But the draconian total lockdown that was put in place across most of the country is at this point no longer defensible, and state and local authorities who are relaxing it are right to do so.
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Friday, May 15, 2020
Here are two things every serious student of logical fallacies understands. First, if what is at issue is the soundness of an argument, then the motives and expertise of the person giving the argument are completely irrelevant. To fail to see this is to commit an ad hominem fallacy of “poisoning the well.” Second, if what is at issue is the credibility of expert testimony, then the motives and expertise of the person giving the testimony are highly relevant. To fail to see this is to commit a fallacy of “appeal to authority.”
Friday, May 8, 2020
Terms are used univocally when they are used in the same sense, as the word “bat” is in both “The baseball player swung the bat” and “The cricket player swung the bat.” Terms are used equivocally when why are used in completely unrelated senses, as the term “bat” is in “The baseball player swung the bat” and “A bat flew in through Bruce Wayne’s window.” The analogical use of terms is a middle ground kind of usage. I gave an example when discussing Aristotelian realism in of William Lane Craig’s book God Over All:
Friday, May 1, 2020
For something lighter as you go into the weekend, have a listen to songstress Hannah Hoffman’s “You Know the Thing,” a setting to music of Joe Biden’s deep thoughts on the foundations of human rights. This promises to become something of a new genre, given that we’ve already had The Gregory Brothers’ now-classic Biden-penned hit “Hairy Legs.” Certainly you can take it to the bank that Biden will keep providing us with interesting lyrics.
Thursday, April 30, 2020
I have argued both that to the Covid-19 crisis, and that , and listened to more earnestly the longer the lockdown goes on. who argues that it has gone on long enough and should be eased up. Is he right? Maybe, though I don’t have the expertise to answer with certainty, and I’m not addressing that question here anyway. What I am sure of is this much: The burden of proof is not in the first place on him and people of like mind to show that the lockdown should be ended. The burden is on defenders of the lockdown to show that it shouldn’t be.
Thursday, April 23, 2020
Thomas Osborne’s new book Aquinas’s Ethics, part of the Cambridge Elements series, is available online for free for a month.
How should a Thomist deal with a pandemic? Robert Koons proposes some general principles, at Public Discourse.
At Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Thomas Nagel reviews Richard Swinburne’s Are We Bodies or Souls?
Sunday, April 19, 2020
Thursday, April 16, 2020
At First Things, Fr. Thomas Joseph White the Covid-19 lockdown, whereas Rusty Reno . As , I agree with Fr. Thomas Joseph but I also believe that reason, charity, and the common good require serious engagement with skeptics like Rusty – and that this is more true, rather than less, the longer the lockdown goes on. Meanwhile, at The Bulwark, conservative lockdown defender Jonathan V. Last that he won’t link even to Fr. Thomas Joseph’s article, let alone Rusty’s. The reason is that Fr. Thomas Joseph’s article “made matters worse, not better” by granting “legitimacy” to the idea that “there are really two sides to the issue, and that reasonable and intelligent people can disagree.” He compares Rusty’s skepticism to that of flat-earthers and anti-vaxxers.
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
Sunday, April 12, 2020
The lesson of the Resurrection is that the significance of our bodily life and its sufferings should be neither overstated nor understated. It is to see the middle ground between materialism and Platonism. In our decadent sensualist age, the anti-materialist message is perhaps the more obvious one. The secularist can see no fate worse than unfulfilled earthly ambitions, unhappy marriages, unpaid bills, poor health, and the deathbed. And no greater good than the avoidance of such things. Woody Allen captures the mindset well: “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.”
Friday, April 10, 2020
I commend to you Fr. Thomas Joseph White’s First Things essay on the COVID-19 situation and the bishops’ response to it. It exhibits his characteristic good sense and charity. First Things editor Rusty Reno, with whom Fr. Thomas Joseph disagrees, exhibits his characteristic magnanimity and intellectual honesty in running it. My sympathies are with Fr. Thomas Joseph’s views rather than Rusty’s, but I have been appalled by the nastiness of others who have responded to Rusty (who is a good man and a serious thinker and writer who deserves to be engaged with seriously). Our situation calls for patience with one another and the calm exchange of opposing views, for the sake of the common good. Too many have instead treated the debate over COVID-19 as an extension of hostilities that pre-existed the crisis. This is gravely contrary to reason and charity.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Here’s a narrative we’re all by now familiar with. Call it Narrative A:
Those who initially downplayed the dangers of COVID-19 were guilty of wishful thinking, as are those who think the crisis can be resolved either easily or soon. This is what the experts tell us, and we should listen to them. Even though those most at risk of death from the novel coronavirus are the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions, this is a large group. Moreover, many people who won’t die from the virus will still suffer greatly, and even those with mild symptoms or none at all can still infect others. Draconian measures are called for, even at the risk of massive unemployment, the undoing of people’s retirement plans, and the depletion of their savings. Better safe than sorry. To resist these hard truths is to be guilty of “coronavirus denialism.”
Monday, March 30, 2020
At YouTube, mathematician and philosopher James Franklin, author of An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics, offers a brief introduction to the subject. Also check out the website he and some others have devoted to Aristotelian realism, as well as Franklin’s personal website.
A public lecture on mathematics and ethics that Franklin is scheduled to give on April 2 will, in light of the COVID-19 situation, be pre-recorded and posted online.
Saturday, March 28, 2020
For our philosophically inclined readers who are interested in divine aseity and Platonism, here's a great little philosophical exercise: Where does this review by Ed Feser go wrong? (Hint: do I hold that mathematical truth is conventional? Why think I should?)
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Friday, March 20, 2020
Presentism holds that, in the temporal realm (that is to say, apart from eternal and aeviternal entities), only present objects and events exist. Now, if statements about past events and objects are true, then there must be something that makes them true. But in that case, the “truthmaker objection” to presentism holds, past objects and events must exist. I’ve argued in that this objection is greatly overrated. Indeed, for the reasons I gave there, I can’t myself fathom what all the fuss is about. William Lane Craig seems to agree. In his book (which I reviewed recently ), he has occasion briefly to address the issue. Craig writes:
Sunday, March 15, 2020
For reasons most of which have to do directly or indirectly with the COVID-19 coronavirus situation, none of the remaining public lectures for the first half or so of the year that I had announced a couple of months ago will occur. (There are still events planned for the latter half of the year, which I will announce closer to the time.)
Also, in light of the situation, my college, like many others, has abruptly transitioned to online teaching. The resulting new workload promises to be as heavy as it was sudden and unexpected.
I fully intend to keep this blog going to doomsday and beyond, but if things temporarily get a little slower here in the next couple of weeks as I adjust to this new reality, that is why!
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
My review of William Lane Craig’s book God Over All: Divine Aseity and the Challenge of Platonism appears in the April 2020 issue of First Things. You can read it online here.
Sunday, March 8, 2020
Folks, please don’t post off-topic comments in the comboxes. I will delete them, and any responses to them, as soon as I see them, and (since I don’t always see them immediately) sometimes that means that a long thread will develop that is destined to end up in the ether. Remember, if your comment begins with something like “This is off topic, but…,” then it isn’t a comment you should be posting. And remember too, there is always that remedy for concupiscence known as the open thread. Here’s the latest. This time, everything is on topic, from acid jazz to Thomas Szasz, from Family Guy to Strong AI, from the coronavirus to Miley Cyrus.
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Rod Dreher on the U.S. deal with the Taliban to withdraw, at long last, from Afghanistan. He writes: “The Taliban whipped… the United States… We simply could not prevail. The richest and most powerful nation in the world could not beat these SOBs.” Well, that’s obviously not true in the usual sense of words like “whipped” and “beat.” Suppose you effortlessly beat me to a bloody pulp and I fall to the ground, desperately panting for air and barely conscious. You put your boot on my neck and demand that I cry “Uncle.” I refuse, despite your repeated kicks to the gut, and after fifteen minutes or so of this you get bored and walk away. It would be quite absurd if, wiping the blood off my face and pulling myself up to my wobbling knees, I proudly exclaim: “Did you see how I whipped that guy?”
Thursday, February 27, 2020
Aquinas’s First Way is also known as the argument from motion to an Unmoved Mover. The most natural way to read it is as an argument to the effect that things could not change at any given moment if there were no divine cause keeping the change going. But some Thomists have read it instead as an argument to the effect that changing things could not even exist at any given moment if there were no divine cause keeping them in being. That’s the reading I propose in my book and my ACPQ article and it’s a line of argument I develop and defend in greater depth in chapter 1 of .
Friday, February 21, 2020
At The Imaginative Conservative, Prof. Jason Morgan kindly reviews my book Aristotle’s Revenge. From the review:
In 456 very well-written pages… (followed by a treasure trove of a bibliography), Dr. Feser shows in Aristotle’s Revenge that, point for point, Aristotle got science right, or as right as he could given the limitations in instrumentation and communication with other researchers during his time. Scientists since the so-called Enlightenment have been trying to detach Aristotle’s greatest insight, the telos of things, from the world around them. But the telos is the linchpin of the material world, so without it, everything, as is apparent from most philosophy lectures one attends nowadays, or nearly any philosophy book one reads, falls apart…
Saturday, February 15, 2020
Hobbes famously characterized his Leviathan state as a mortal god. Here’s another theological analogy, or set of analogies, which might illuminate the differences between kinds of political and economic orders – and in particular, the differences between socialism, libertarianism, and the middle ground natural law understanding of the state.
Recall that there are three general accounts of divine causality vis-à-vis the created order: occasionalism, mere conservationism, and concurrentism (to borrow ).
Saturday, February 8, 2020
At the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, philosophers Petter Sandstad and Ludger Jansen my book . From the review:
Feser’s book adds to a growing body of literature on neo-Aristotelian approaches in metaphysics and the philosophy of science. However, Feser stands out from other analytic neo-Aristotelians with his in-depth knowledge and discussion of 20th and 21st century neo-Thomistic literature, and one can learn a lot from reading this book…
Thursday, February 6, 2020
Earlier today on Cameron Bertuzzi’s Capturing Christianity program, I had a very pleasant and fruitful live exchange with Graham Oppy. You can watch it on YouTube. This is the second exchange Oppy and I have had on the show. The first was last July, and you can still watch that on YouTube as well. In that earlier exchange we discussed my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God. The book comes up in the latest exchange as well, as does Oppy’s Religious Studies article “On stage one of Feser’s ‘Aristotelian proof.’”
Tuesday, February 4, 2020
Friday, January 31, 2020
Natural theology is traditionally distinguished from revealed theology. Natural theology is concerned with knowledge about God’s existence and nature that is available to us via the use of our natural cognitive faculties, such as by way of philosophical arguments. It does not require an appeal to any special divine revelation, whether embodied in scripture, the teachings of a prophet backed by miracles, or what have you. There might happen to be teachings in some source of special divine revelation that overlap with the deliverances of natural theology, but what makes something a matter of natural theology is that it can at least in principle be known apart from that.
Thursday, January 23, 2020
I have never been remotely attracted to Marxism. Its economic reductionism, vision of human life as a struggle of antagonistic classes, hostility to the family, and the hermeneutics of suspicion enshrined in its theory of ideology, are all repulsive and inhuman. Other elements, such as the theory of surplus value and prophecies about the withering away of the state and the idyll of life under communism, are sheer tosh. These flaws are grave and real whatever one thinks about capitalism. Indeed, opposition to Marxism is in my view a prerequisite to being a serious critic of capitalism, for Marxism contains none of the good that is in capitalism, much of the bad that is in it, and adds grave evils of its own to boot.
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
The Thomistic Institute has added to the great work it is already doing by introducing Aquinas 101, “a series of free video courses… that help you to engage life’s most urgent philosophical and theological questions with the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas.” Here are four brief and lucid examples: Fr. Dominic Legge on the problem of evil, Fr. James Brent on the principle of non-contradiction, Fr. Thomas Joseph White on the abiding relevance of Aquinas, and Fr. Gregory Maria Pine on how to read the Summa Theologiae. Check them out and enroll today!
Monday, January 20, 2020
On February 6 on Cameron Bertuzzi’s Capturing Christianity, Graham Oppy and I the debate on the existence of God that .
On February 11, I will be giving a talk at Cornell University on the topic “What is Matter?” The event is being hosted by the Thomistic Institute and will be at 6:30 pm in the Physical Science Building, Room 120.
On February 19, I will be giving a talk at UCLA on the same topic. This event too is being hosted by the Thomistic Institute. Keep an eye on the Thomistic Institute website for further details.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
At Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Monte Ransome Johnson my book . Prof. Johnson is an Aristotle scholar and historian of philosophy, which is relevant to understanding his review. He says some nice things about the book, singling out my discussion of Aristotle and computationalism as “interesting” and writing:
Feser's book could be useful to those interested in defending anti-reductionist positions in various disputes in philosophy of science… Feser's impressive grasp of this anti-reductionist literature makes him a formidable polemicist, able to sift the avalanche of philosophy of science literature and find the concepts he is looking for.
Sunday, January 12, 2020
The Guardian reports that conservative philosopher I vividly recall the first time I became aware of Scruton. I was an undergraduate philosophy major in the late 1980s, and a professor had posted on the bulletin board near his office an article about Scruton, on which he’d scrawled the words: “Mrs. Thatcher’s favorite philosopher.” It was not intended as a compliment. But since I was a conservative as well as an aspiring philosopher, it attracted rather than repelled me. During the many hours I spent in bookstores in those days, seeing Scruton’s name on the spine of a book became a reason instantly to pull it off the shelf and take a look. And actually reading Scruton soon gave reason to seek out everything else he’d written. Which, as every Scruton admirer knows, could become a full time job..
Saturday, January 11, 2020
Thursday, January 9, 2020
I’ve often argued that contemporary philosophers too often think only within the box of alternative positions inherited from their early modern forebears, neglecting or even being ignorant of the very different ways that pre-modern philosophers would carve up the conceptual territory. One of the chief ways this is so has to do with the rationalist/empiricist dichotomy, as filtered through Kant. It has hobbled clear thinking not only about epistemology, but also about metaphysics.
Friday, January 3, 2020
Joseph Bessette on , at Public Discourse.
The Catholic Thing on the late, great Michael Uhlmann. Requiescat in pace, Mike.
, Benjamin Liebeskind reviews .
At The Spectator, at an annus horribilis.
Jez Rowden’s Ultimate Classic Rock on . will be released next month.