Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Year-end open thread

Let’s bring this annus horribilis to an end with an open thread.  That annoyingly off-topic comment of yours I keep deleting?  It’s now on-topic, so bring it.  From Richard Rorty to Get Shorty, from Bend Sinister to Yes Minister, from Tanqueray to Ricky Jay… nothing now stands in your way.  Apart from basic blog etiquette, naturally.  Trolls are still kindly invited to get lost.  (Previous open threads archived here.)


  1. The Pure Nature Tradition and the Nouvelle Theologie:

    Neo-Thomists and the Pure Nature Tradition are concerned to maintain that grace must be distinct and extrinsic to human nature. If grace were claimed to be intrinsic, this would mean that man could achieve the beatific vision by his own efforts by merely fulfilling his own nature (debitum naturae) and would destroy the supernatural character of Christian faith.

    As true as that is, I believe the Pure Nature Tradition fails to take into account the full meaning of the hypostatic union as taught by the early Church Fathers and the teaching on justification in the sixth session of the Council of Trent that stated that justification is ‘Divine sonship’ whereby the justified become “partakers of the Divine Nature” (2 Peter 1:4, et. Al.). Once the second person of the Trinity becomes man, human nature (even prior to justification) is altered to have the beatific vision as its appropriate end.

    That the incarnation indelibly changes post-lapsarian human nature is seen in the following ways: it is taught by the early fathers; it is taught by the Second Vatican Council (1); baptism requires a human nature; the loss of grace is not just an absence but a privation; and limbo has arguably been officially abandoned. The gratuitous act of the incarnation makes partaking of the Divine nature the proper end for the human person and vindicates de Lubac and the Nouvelle theologian’s contention that grace is intrinsic and yet remains gratuitous: the gift of the incarnation grants the “right” (so to speak) to become children of God.

    As Matthias Scheeben puts it in The Mysteries of Christianity, “Faith and baptism do not establish the simple union of the body with Christ; rather they presuppose its existence.” (2)

    (1) Gaudium et Spes number 22 et. al.
    (2) Mysteries of Christianity pg. 375

    1. Yeah, Thomism kind of had to punt on this one. All potencies that a being has arise from its nature; except humans now must have a potency to receive grace that doesn't come from their nature. La nouvelle theologie won the argument, and all Thomists could do was pound the table and say how no one has the "right" to the Beatific Vision.

    2. This misunderstands, I think, the dispute. Everyone agrees that grace is extrinsic in the sense that it does not derive from nature itself; it would be incoherent to say otherwise. And everybody agrees that grace gives 'rights' beyond nature, and that the human nature taken on in the Incarnation must be human nature itself -- not a 'changed' human nature. What's usually called the Thomistic view (although the dispute was in great measure a dispute over how to interpret Aquinas himself) held that this is accounted for by obediential potency. God is always our proper end; the Incarnation doesn't change this, but moves us to God in a particular way, namely, to dwell in God as our end by partaking the divine nature. This latter is a specification of a capacity we have by nature; it's just that this particular specification requires an act that goes beyond anything human nature could possibly provide on its own. That we can be elevated is due to obediential potency, our passive capacity to be moved to higher act by divine power, which we have through our dependence on God as Creator. The worry raised by de Lubac and Gilson was whether this made grace a mere superaddition. And this is pretty much the entire essential nerve of the dispute, although there are the inevitable secondary disputes related to this one.

      From the 'Thomistic' point of view, there would be an ambiguity in your description, "human nature (even prior to justification) is altered to have the beatific vision as its appropriate end." They would deny that it needed to be altered; it already had the purely passive potential for it. It would be like saying that the moon alters the nature of water so that we get tides; it's not really true -- a sea of water has the potential for tides by nature, because that is just a very precise specification of a way water can move. The moon doesn't change an old kind of water into a new kind of water; water by nature has the potential to be affected so as to have tides. But this potential is purely passive; it takes another power beside the sea to make the sea tidal.

    3. It always takes another power to reduce a potency to act. So your example with the sea really shows nothing. The potency of water to move is a real potency due to its nature. Just like it's a real potency for it to be hot, even though it can't heat itself. The point is that Thomists have to make up a third category of being ("obediential potency") beyond potency and act to get around the objection.

      Now either the Beatific Vision is something we are capable of enjoying by nature, or it is not. If it is, then it is our natural final end. If it is not, then the only way we can get there is by way of miracle (like a dog talking). I don't see that a dog has an "obediential potency" for language just because God could work a miracle and get it to talk. But maybe that's just what you mean by "obediential potency"?

    4. GoneFishing,

      Again, I don't think you understand the position you are attacking. Obediential potency is not "beyond potency and act"; it is, as the name says, potency, and it is a real passive potency. This is all very explicit in the Thomists you pretend to know something about. And even if it weren't, your objection is incoherent; the obediential potency account of the elevation of our nature *just is* the Thomistic account; your objection has the Thomists making up the Thomistic account in order to reply to an objection to the Thomistic account, which is irrational.

      Likewise, your second paragraph shows again that you don't understand the position you are attacking. All Thomists hold that the Beatific Vision is something we are *capable of enjoying* by nature; that's the very thing the obediential potency of an intellectual creature to the first mover is put forward to explain. On the Thomistic account we are not, however, capable of *attaining the Beatific Vision* by nature, and the natural tendency of the intellectual creature toward God is only activated *so as to attain the Beatific Vision* by the specific grace for it. All Thomists hold that *God* is our natural final end; the Beatific Vision is on their view *one particular way* God can be attained by an intellectual creature. Thomists don't assume that it's the only possible way an intellectual creature can rest in God; they don't think God is as limited in His options as you do. On their view, the Beatific Vision is the particular way of attaining to God that God has, purely graciously, chosen for us.

      Your argument about the miracle is odd. Obediential potency is also used by Thomists to explain miracles, and de Lubac argued that the account over-assimilated the Beatific Vision to miracles. Indeed, this is one of his primary arguments! Of course, Thomists don't think obediential potency functions in the same way in miracles as in the Beatific Vision, because in (say) the case of Balaam's ass, the ass is being moved to an act outside its natural ends, whereas in the Beatific Vision, the creature is being moved to an act within its natural ends but infinitely higher than any of its active powers could ever reach. But there is much more room to argue this question than there is to make the argument you are making.

    5. Brandon,

      “the dispute was in great measure a dispute over how to interpret Aquinas himself”.

      I agree with that, and I think it may be fair to say that the theorizing about nature apart from grace got out of control—for which the nouvelle provided a much needed corrective. But it’s call **pure.** **nature.** tradition for a reason.

      “This latter is a specification of a capacity we have by nature;”

      If that were non-controversial, limbo would have never been a thing.

      Again, if it’s just a matter of the theorizing about nature apart from grace just went to far, fair enough. But the malignant treatment de Lubac received, the charge by some that Vat II is heretical, and the blaming of the advance of humanism on N.T. betrays the issue as more than just a semantic faux pas.

    6. "You don't know what you're objecting to" is pretty much the stock answer of Thomists when called on their absurdities. Portraying your opponents as complete ignoramuses is a little more difficult to pull off in the Internet age though. I know precisely what I'm objecting to.

      Here's a good explanation of obediential potency. (And plenty other references available via Google search.)

      "In its broadest sense obediential potency means the openness of every creature to the Creator's power to effect in it something beyond the powers of ordinary natural causes; it is the very being of an existing creature as obedient, subject, or as some hold, positively ordered to God's power to act in it." The article then goes on to apply this to miracles and then to the supernatural, complete with references to Scripture, Thomistic theologians, and other theologians, including nouvelle theologians.

      This is not an Aristotelian potency. The article makes it quite clear. "..although the creature has no positive capacity or exigency to be changed miraculously, its being is subject or obedient to what God wills to do in it beyond the activity of ordinary causes so long as no contradiction occurs." Wine has a positive capacity to be heated. It does not have a positive capacity to be transformed into the Blood of Christ. Indeed, to maintain this is a real potency would be to say that God exists in potency in wine, which is clearly absurd.

      "All Thomists hold that the Beatific Vision is something we are *capable of enjoying* by nature; that's the very thing the obediential potency of an intellectual creature to the first mover is put forward to explain."

      Except it doesn't explain it. If it is a mere obediential potency, then it is NOT something we are capable of enjoying by nature. For that to be the case it would need to be a real potency.

      " On the Thomistic account we are not, however, capable of *attaining the Beatific Vision* by nature, and the natural tendency of the intellectual creature toward God is only activated *so as to attain the Beatific Vision* by the specific grace for it. "

      Another absurdity. You are saying that a natural tendency needs something beyond nature to be reached, and thus natural creatures are intrinsically frustrated.

      "All Thomists hold that *God* is our natural final end; the Beatific Vision is on their view *one particular way* God can be attained by an intellectual creature. "

      Not true. Thomists hold that the Beatific Vision is different not only in degree but also in kind from mere natural knowledge of God, and man's intellect unaided is simply incapable of the Beatific Vision, for it is seeing God as He is.

      "the creature is being moved to an act within its natural ends but infinitely higher than any of its active powers could ever reach..."

      Again, this is an absurdity. It means that a miracle is required for a creature to reach its natural end.

      Look, Thomism is right in insisting upon the gratuity of the supernatural order. There are possible worlds in which God creates rational creatures and yet does not call them to the Beatific Vision. Yet, having in fact called creatures to the Beatific Vision, something must change in their nature (it's been elevated) such that the capacity to receive grace is a real potency and not a mere obediential one. Other absurdities such as I have pointed out above result.

    7. Brandon,

      “All Thomists hold that the Beatific Vision is something we are *capable of enjoying* by nature; . . . we are not, however, capable of *attaining the Beatific Vision* by nature”

      That claim requires some explanation as regard to pre or post lapsarian man, and what the incarnation/redemption accomplished.

    8. So stop me if I'm wrong but it seems the question is about whether obediential potency is real or not. I don't see a problem with it being real. Mankind has lots of potencies including a potency to obey orders. It seems to me that obediential potency towards God is just a special case of that.

      Of course that is separate from the question as to whether this potency is universal enough to spark a change in nature. Miracles are generally governed by Strongholds or Virtues. So I would argue that miracles in general require a potency activated through the flesh alone such as in the donkey who gained speech temporarily and corruptibly. However God in his ability to not "quench a wick" can create from a potency, that is not in a proportional relationship with its future power, a new nature.

    9. Brandon,

      Also, depending on what you mean by "*capable of enjoying* by nature", I would ask how a Thomist (I consider myself one) could claim that a natural end could, without injustice, be incapable of satisfaction given the debitum naturae.

    10. That the incarnation indelibly changes post-lapsarian human nature is seen in the following ways:

      Perhaps I just don't understand what you are claiming, TN, or perhaps you have mis-stated the point. If human nature is changed in nature, then Adam and Abraham were different kinds of beings than St. Irenaeus. Indeed, St. Joseph and Mary would be different in nature from all later saints. Which seems absurd on any number of fronts.

      If different not in nature but in character, i.e. something added to nature: what character? And more particularly, why then is baptism needed? If the mere FACT of receiving human nature from your parents is enough to produce this new character, then on what basis is it that people have not the effect of baptism merely from being conceived?

      it is taught by the early fathers;

      Please cite the Fathers in their teaching that this character is something received by being conceived and not through baptism and the other sacraments.

      I would ask how a Thomist (I consider myself one) could claim that a natural end could, without injustice, be incapable of satisfaction given the debitum naturae.

      As I understand it, the problem is not isolated to humans, it bears on angels as well. Angels cannot see God as he is in Himself merely through the natural operation of their intelligence unaided by a superadded grace. (I:62:2) The problem comes from being created and not The Uncreated One: no created being can rise to divine knowledge of God by nature, its nature, being created, is not sufficient unto the Cause. All created natures, then, must be raised up by something distinct from their natures to achieve it. That end is PER SE supernatural, it cannot be natural to any created nature. (I:12:5)

      It is not an injustice because God so deigned by Providence that EVERY SINGLE rational being could receive the possibility of being raised up to achieve its supernatural end through His raising it up (separately from giving it its nature). In angels, God created them all in sanctifying grace. In humanity, God created mankind (in Adam) in sanctifying grace. When "all sinned" in Adam, God rectified the loss in Christ, but the rectification is not applied through merely being conceived (as we were intended to receive sanctification from Adam) but by the sacraments.

    11. That end is PER SE supernatural,

      I meant to say, ACHIEVING that end is Per Se supernatural.

      Also: since Christ did not take on angelic natures, on what basis is it that angels are raised to the BV which is beyond their natures?

      and limbo has arguably been officially abandoned.

      Can you cite such? As I understand it, Limbo has been UNofficially abandoned, but there are at least as good arguments it its favor as any recent arguments against it, so that a "battle of the arguments" alone comes out at best a draw. I have also seen strong claims that it has been taught infallibly by the Ordinary Magisterium; if so, any non-magisterial arguments from recent times are out of order.

    12. Again as I understand it: St. Thomas is saying that in virtue of being rational, both for men and for angels, the BV is theoretically possible to such beings: that is, a man can be in the state of having the BV without his ceasing to have human nature (prescinding from how he GOT in that state. This is fundamentally different from all non-rational creatures: a dog cannot be in the state of the BV without changing the dog out of its nature of "dog" into something with a rational nature. It cannot remain "dog" and have the BV.

      Hence, the kind of "raising up" necessary to both angels and men to enable them to achieve the BV is not a change that interrupts their natures as such and makes them into utterly different kinds of beings: they remain angels and men. They are angels and men with that participatory share in God's life that constitutes the preliminary requirement to be in the state of BV.

      However you wish to explain men coming to have this condition or character, it better also apply to angels, or you have merely played whack-a-mole with "the problem", you haven't solved it. If you intend to say it is the Incarnation, simply and solely, then you have an insurmountable problem.

    13. @tony I was using nature very broadly. Scripture says we are a new creation. And I meant a change about as broadly as that. I realize nature is somewhat of a technical term meaning something like the singular end of one's substance but that was not how I was intending to use it.

    14. Tony,

      Most of your posts deal with obediential potency, of which I said nothing, and have no disagreement with you about. No small amount of attention was given to the subject above, but that is not even the issue; the debitum naturae is the issue.

      I think you would agree that the Incarnation/Redemption did more than merely restore man to his original status, it elevated man to be a “partaker of the Divine nature” (as I wrote in my O.P.). Does that mean that “Adam and Abraham were different kinds of beings than St. Irenaeus”? I'd say no (because of the hypostatic union), but you tell me.

      It’s true that this “partaking of the Divine nature” does not happen by virtue of being born with a human nature—it happens, as you said, by participation in the sacraments—but only a human being is capable of receiving the sacraments: you can’t baptize a dog, or deck furniture. Therefore, my quote from Mattias Scheeben: “Faith and baptism do not establish the simple union of the body with Christ; rather they presuppose its existence.”

      You wrote: “Please cite the Fathers in their teaching that this character is something received by being conceived and not through baptism and the other sacraments.”

      If it’s now clear that neither I nor the Church Fathers claim that the effects of baptism are affected by birth as a human being, but instead claim that human nature conveys—as its ‘natural’ (so to speak) end—the partaking of the Divine nature, I could offer a large number of citations, particularly from the Eastern Fathers, to substantiate the claim. Scheeben gives many examples in the 14th Chapter of The Mysteries of Christianity:

      “From the whole of human nature, to which was joined divinity, arose, as the first fruit of the common mass, the man who is in Christ, by whom all mankind was united to divinity.” Gregory of Nyssa, commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:28, as cited by Scheeben pg. 368.

      “The Son of God assumed the nature of flesh common to all; and having thus become the true vine, He contains within Himself the entire race of its offspring.” Hilary of Poitiers as cited by Scheeben, p.g. 367.

      Scheeben writes on pg. 367: “The whole human race becomes the body of the Son of God when one of its members is embodied in the Son of God. Indeed, it becomes one body with Christ in a far higher and fuller sense than it does with Adam.”


      In his 1981 “Ratzinger Report”, then Cardinal Ratzinger stated that limbo was a theory, not a dogma. The Catechism does not mention limbo, and in paragraphs 1257-1261, it explicitly denies the tenets necessary to establish limbo. And, finally, a theological commission appointed by JPII denied limbo in 2007.

      Finally, if man has a purely natural end apart from participation in the Divine nature (e.g. limbo as one option), then you are claiming a third realm apart from heaven and hell. This third option is required by the debitum naturae. Are you sure you want to do that?

  2. Best wishes for the new year to you Ed, your family and to other readers.

    Kiel, Sydney

  3. HOW SHOULD THE PERVERTED FACULTY ARGUMENT BE PRESENTED? Should I begin with the notion of the good or with the notion of teleology? How do I explain it to someone who doesn't know much about philosophy?

    1. I think it is important to present the main 2 points classical natural law theory works on, mainly it is essentialist and teleological. With the PFA one must incorporate that telelogy is that of the fullfillment of human nature and that an act contrary to these is perverted. Try to present both since they come in a package but I will recommend to start with essentialism then with teleology and then with the content of the good and to end with human action oriented toward happiness( aka teleology again).

    2. As with everything in philosophy try using examples, like ones of the eyes made for seeing and the like.. analogies may be imperfect but they help illustrate and elucidate conceptual thinking. ALWAYS give good examples!!!

    3. Well, you could start by explaining in what way refusing to act according to your essential human nature is not perverted.

      Or you could try to explain exactly which bad consequences follow from "perverting" your faculties.
      So far, all the Perverted Faculty Argument really establishes is that if you define evil as perverting your faculties, then perverting you faculties is evil.
      That is not a very impressive argument unless you can show actual harm (in whatever way) that follows from perverting your faculty.

    4. If you don't accept the Perverted Faculty Argument, then it would seem odd indeed if your suggestions for how to make the argument successfully would be useful suggestions.

    5. Who said anything about suggestions for how to make the argument successfully?
      The question was how the PFA should be presented, not how it should be defended.
      I have no suggestion for how to defend the argument, because I don't think it can be defended.
      I may be wrong of course, but I have yet to see any serious defense that is not ad hoc or question-begging.

    6. So you think Ed's PRESENTATION and DEFENSE of the argument is not serious?

    7. I think it fails because it is ad hoc and he isn't consistent in his application of
      Natural law.
      Timothy Hsiao's defense fails for the same reasons..

    8. @walter,

      What do you mean by "it is ad hoc" How it is ad hoc? and where do you think Ed is not consistent in his application of it? I'm legitimately curious.

  4. Purely a personal gripe of mine. I find the doctrine of the Real Absence to be beyond the pale. I'd sooner believe in a flat earth than believe that bread can stop being bread without undergoing significant changes to its atomic structure.

    1. Well on a hylemorphic account, substances are not reducible to a bundle of properties (or a bundle of accidents). Rather, they are something that stands under and is the cause of the properties.

      The children’s story of The Princess and the Frog is a good analogy. Do you believe that an omnipotent God could turn a prince into a frog (while retaining the rationality of the prince)? If so, then why couldn’t Christ turn Himself into a piece of bread such that it was really Christ but with all of the appearances (molecular and otherwise) of bread. But if Christ can change His accidents to those of bread, why couldn’t He change the substance of a piece of bread into Himself while retaining the accidents of bread?

      All of this is of course supernatural, but it is not logically impossible or even ontologically impossible to God.

    2. Because that's like saying that this liquid is H2O but it's not water. I do not believe that it is metaphysically possible even for God to make something water but not H2O.

      And any definition of bread that is independent of its atomic structure is a false one. It's the same kind of reality denial as transgenderism.

    3. Another way of putting it: words mean things. Any definition of bread which divorces its essence from its atomic structure is akin to arguing that black is white.

    4. But the atomic structure of a corpse is very similar to the atomic structure of a human, and those are two radically different things.

      Are you saying that water is reducible to H2O? That does not jive well with hylemorphism or quantum field theory. Dr. Nigel Cundy at the Quantum Thomist has even said that the mathematical expression of the energy states of water (the Hamiltonian) is not a linear combination of the mathematical expressions of two hydrogens and an oxygen. That is to say that water is not mathematically reducible to H2O. Although H2O is certainly the material cause of water.

      Furthermore, if essential properties can be added or cease in a substance, such as sight or blindness in humans, that stands to show that there is a real distinction between substance and accident in created realities.

      Also, if you believe in Revelation, you believe that the substance of Christ’s body can take on supernatural accidents that defy the laws of physics such as walking on water and passing through closed doors, and Christ can multiply loaves of bread, convert water to wine (transubstantiation). Many of these things would likely seem inexplicable at the molecular level as well. So why can’t Christ do that at mass every day in the Eucharist?

    5. I think you may want to read St. Thomas on this closely... as it is a shockingly bizarre but completely coherent account (illusory accidents without a substance - essentially, a mirage is created for the senses which covers the substance actually present, through a change of the old substance). What else would we expect from the utterly strange and yet perfectly coherent fact of the Incarnation, the true Bread from Heaven - the true Manna - the true "What Is It"???

    6. I agree with Saul Kripke that anything that is liquid H2O is water. To argue that something can be liquid H2O but not water, or vice versa, is just to give up on objective meaning. "Experts" who say otherwise are simply wrong, and invoking their testimony is no argument.

      I don't get what you mean by essential properties being added to a substance. Sight and blindness are not essential properties for a human. The inability to walk on water is not an essential property of a human.

      Converting water to wine is perfectly coherent, so long as there is a physical change in the atomic structure of the thing. If it's pure H2O beforehand, and pure H2O afterward, then it didn't change from water into wine.

      Can God make a square circle? Can God tell a true lie? Can God create a stone he can't lift, and then lift it? Can God make something both true and false in the same time in the same sense?

      I don't believe so. Not because of a lack of God's power, but because such terms are blathering meaningless nonsense, and so is the claim that bread can cease to be bread while retaining its atomic structure. You might as well claim that the Prime Minister is a prime number.

    7. @Drew: No, if you are going to talk about atomic structure, surely you’re just talking about the accidents (in Thomist terms)?

      This is the common problem we get from people coming from a science background, they think science sits in a metaphysics free land. In reality, the metaphysical assumption you seem to be working from is physicalism. That’s fine, but you then have plenty that becomes a bit absurd. Firstly you have conscious experience appearing from matter. The brain can in many ways be abstracted to plumbing - there are pipes and taps. What physicalism says, is that once you have enough pipes and tapes organised in the right way, it becomes conscious. Do you believe that?

      Next you have free will. Physicalism is innately deterministic. So you can’t have free will, its just an illusion that you have any choice in anything at all. All YOU are and do, is simply electrical and chemical reactions in your brain. Do you believe that?

      Then there is quantum mechanics. It’s too much to go into here, but unless you accept supersymmetry (all the books on your shelves were effectively written at the time of the big bang), or “many worlds” (even more absurd), then it seems as if the physical world only exists as part of a subjective observation. There are debates about what this agent of observation is, but for you to claim that bread is just atoms that make up molecules is not a trivial statement. Just as in relativity, physical reality is not independent of the observer. In QM the whole idea of any third person view of reality goes out of the window.

      The church doesn’t insist on an Aristotelian interpretation of transubstantiation as far as I’m aware, but it commonly uses it when using a Thomist metaphysics. What you can’t do is ridicule concepts framed in one metaphysical conceptual framework from a completely different one. If you don’t like Thomist metaphysics that’s your choice, but whichever metaphysics you use, remember that we call transubstantiation a mystery because we don’t fully understand it. We believe in it, and anyone who does eucharistic adoration on a regular basis has good reason not to doubt the fact of the matter.

  5. So, i see exactly how Aristotle Active Intelect explain our knowledge of universals in general. But how exactly does it explains something like substance, time, space, casuality etc? I don't understand how it could abstract these things from sense experience, for they don't seems to be "in" the thing like dogness or treeness is.

  6. Dr. Feser, what is your position on postpartum sex - i.e., non-vaginal sex following the roughly four to seven weeks after childbirth? I will note that I fully agree with your version of the Perverted Faculty Argument (PFA). But could this be one of the few exceptions to the PFA?

    1. No exception. If you follow through with that act, the penalty is eternal damnation

    2. An important thing to note is that it seems that God intentionally designed human nature such that we would have to occasionally check our passions, even in marriage. If you do NFP, you have to avoid sex for eight to twelve days every month. If you have children, you get about a one year fee for all between trying to conceive and nine months of pregnancy, but then you have to abstain for four to seven weeks.

      No one said that Natural Law was easy, but neither is good diet and exercise. If it is difficult, it is probably right.

    3. Love for your wife and a desire to facilitate her physical recovery should be enough for you to be continent for a few months.

      Also, if you're helping care for a newborn along with your wife, I doubt you'll feel rested enough to get busy those first few months.

    4. Why would it be an exception?

    5. Post-partum sex is actually quite fertile, if memory serves, but even if it wasn't how is that any different than intentionally having sex during the non-fertile periods of your wife's monthly menstrual cycle? Or am I misunderstanding your objection?

    6. Sorry, I read "post-partum sex" as being vaginal (since apparently some couples still the marital act that during that time!) and missed your "non-vaginal" clarification.

    7. Thank you to all who replied to so far. My reply is this:
      Anonymous: You're a troll (even if you're right).
      Scott: You made an assertion and offered no reason for your position.
      Anonymous: You're assuming it was primarily my idea to be sexually active during this time - which it wasn't. And I've been doing a great job taking care of my wife and newborn over Christmas break.
      Billy: Good point - but that's why I asked the question. I haven't thought through why exactly my "predicament" would be an exception to the PFA. Perhaps it is this. To paraphrase Feser, the PFA depends on this key moral principle of natural law sexual ethics: One cannot actively frustrate the realization of an end contrary to nature’s prescribed end of that thing. The natural end of the penis - pardon my language - as Feser notes in his article, is to deposit semen in the vagina - that's it. The following examples that frustrate the natural ends of male and female genitalia, as Feser notes, are: contraceptive devices; masturbation; pornography; homosexuality; and beastiality. Feser also notes that the PFA "is not as strict as you might think." This phrase is what I'm wondering about. Our hospital, websites, and friends told us not to have sex for a while after childbirth because of the danger a new pregnancy would put on my wife - e.g., a potential hole in here uterus. My point is this: women are unable to practice the natural planning method in their postpartum condition (I think) and so the danger of having vaginal sex would place my wife at risk of medical complications for our next child (e.g. birth defects, growth restrictions in the baby, preterm birth, etc.). I suppose my problem is ultimately this: does the danger of postpartum vaginal sex allow for other forms of sex? Or does the fact remain: P in the V - no exceptions?
      Kyle: To be sure, I read your second post. My wife is unable to have vaginal sex during these 4-7 weeks because of the damage done during childbirth - hence, "alternative options." Normally, we practice the natural planning method by working with her cycles to know when she is fertile or not. The PFA and Feser approve of this last point, and I agree.

    8. Anonymous: It means no exceptions because the ends don’t justify the means just as abortion cannot be justified because a woman has hyperemesis gravidarum. It is very challenging. If you became a quadriplegic and could no longer have sex (I know some quadriplegics can have sex, but not all can), your wife would be called to a life of celibacy. That is extremely difficult. You may fail to live up that standard. That is what confession is for. No one here is set out to judge you, and many of us have failed to live up to that standard ourselves. But the first anonymous is right. The just punishment is hell for certain sins. God may have mercy on us, and we may be sufficiently inculpable such that we remain in a state of grace after committing such an act, but that is not something that I would want to gamble on.

      I do recommend being the best husband that you can be in the meantime. Know that this is a much bigger challenge for your wife, whose hormones (and consequently sex drive) are probably all over the place, than for you. Be a helpful dad, especially in the middle of the night. And a good way to show physical affection to your wife in the meantime is foot massages. Keep at it and God will give you the grace. I’ll say a prayer for you.

      P.S. I didn’t argue my point because I assumed natural law and perverted faculty argument. Dr. Feser has excellent posts and articles defending those. So I would direct you to those.

    9. If you think that undesirable consequences create exceptions to PFA, then you have simply not understood PFA. Same with lying - just because it avoids a great evil, it is not thereby justified.

      Frankly... if it is too difficult to practice some self-discipline for a few weeks... well, that is not so healthy.

    10. Well, as a Catholic, you can always confess your "sinful" act later. Years later.

    11. To "Anonymous" (the original post-author):

      I suspect you're confusing two categories, when you call other forms of stimulation-to-orgasm as "other forms of sex."

      This is one of those times when we should not adopt the popular usage of a word ("sex"). We should insist on a sort of clinical accuracy so as to maximize clarity: "Oral sex" (if completed) is not a species of sex (coitus); it is, rather, a species of masturbation. (When completed, I mean. If not completed, it is a species of foreplay.)

      Let's distinguish between sexually stimulative acts that end in orgasm and satiation. We should ask: "If the woman were fertile, would this act produce a child?" If the answer is "yes," then that act is "coitus" (and if we like, we can also call it "sex"). It the answer is "no," but the act still produced orgasm/satiation, then that act was a species of masturbation, not coitus (and not "sex").

      Admittedly, oral "sex" (that is, mutual masturbation achieved orally) is not so lonely an affair as self-stimulation to orgasm. But it remains disordered, inasmuch as any sexual pleasure derived therefrom is diverted away from the specific (familistic) goods for which that category of pleasure is designed as a reward. (Remember: The pleasure of a deep breath, the pleasure of a good meal, and the pleasure of coitus are all different from one another. Each species of pleasure exists as a reward for satisfying a different instinct; and each different instinct is directed towards a different set of "goods" for the individual or the family. To turn it away from the goods towards which it is directed -- its telos -- is the origin of the word "perversion.")

      So you should not think of yourself as asking a question about different kinds of "sex." You should think of yourself as asking whether, in cases where coitus is inadvisable but you'd very much like to experience sexual pleasure and relaxation (which God invented specifically to reward the coital act), is it okay to engage in mutual masturbation, to get the coital pleasures, while skipping the coitus?

      Put that way, it's easier to see that the answer is, "No, it isn't okay; it's technically a form of perversion, a willful misdirection of a natural power away from its telos."

      I don't bring up the word "perversion" to shame you, by the way! I have wrestled with that same temptation myself, under much the same circumstances. I know what it's like, and I don't condemn you for experiencing the temptation.

      In referencing the word "perversion" I'm merely being etymological. In Latin, per ("away") and vert ("turn") aptly describe what we're doing when we try to "have our cake and eat it too." Playing tricks on your body like that isn't good for you.

      So I recommend you do like all of us married men have had to do, from time-to-time: Be patient about it. Keep calm and carry on. Buckle down and wait manfully, and in the meantime walk around wearing a silly grin when you think of your wife. Ask God to honor your earnest willingness-to-obey with extra graces to help you obey, and don't give in to the temptation to steal the coital pleasures. Patiently anticipate the day when you may obtain those pleasures in the proper way.

      ("Come in by the gold gates or not at all; Take of my fruit for others or forbear: For those who steal or those who climb my wall, shall find their heart's desire and find despair." -- Chapter 13, The Magician's Nephew)

      All the best to you. Hang in there.

    12. I am going to add to R.C.'s good remarks a small suggestion: don't think about the act as "having sex" but as "making love", and then re-constitute your idea of what it means to be "making love" by the LARGER picture: the two become one flesh. At first, they become one flesh in a sense as that momentary quasi-joining of flesh for the transmission of semen, but (in some cases) they become one flesh in a literal sense, in that their act conceives a new (unified, integral, single) human being. The act is DEFINED in the latter terms, that specifies its telos, and its telos specifies its character, condition, and elements. Non-vaginal "completion" isn't actually "completion" according to that telos.

      "Making love" as above described is actually still incomplete as a description: I have given its superficial description, according to the physical aspect. Its moral and spiritual context is still more important: the act of love-making is (first) an act of making present (again) the promise of the spouses to unconditional love each other until death, and then it is generative in that it includes the promise of permanent unconditional love to the new person (should God grant that to occur) - an outcome with eternal implications since a new person will live with God forever. Any stallion can sire a colt through physical mating: it takes a human man to become a FATHER by intentionally and willingly making that promise of permanent unconditional love. (That love being, not-merely-coincidentally, the initial analogy for the child of the love of the Father.) Thus the moral and spiritual context of the act of making love re-writes the meaning of the physical act so that the physical act is merely one dimension of the act of a conscious, mature human willingly cooperating with God in the formation of a new person destined for love.

      And yes, like others, I have not always lived up to that high vision of sexual love: it's difficult, and we all fall sometimes.

    13. As with many things, the church sets the ideal that we should aim for to be perfect. In reality, none of us are perfect. The closer we get to it, the more easily we stay in God’s grace. In many cases I think people fall out of god’s grace by trying to force everyone else into it. I often need to remind myself about the plank in my eye :)

  7. Just wondering if there are any good reasons why Christians tend to be dualists, other than historical ones and tradition. A monist ontology is clearly more parsimonious, and idealism fits all the empirical facts in a way that physicalism does not.

    It seems to me that Christianity could easily be cast in an idealistic framework, and in addition to being more ontologically parsimonious , this would make more intelligable the notion of creation ex nehilo. Perhaps it would look a lot like Berkley's system, with God as the metamind. Ofcourse, other idealistic systems are possible, such as Kastrup's, in which 'Mind at Large ' has undergone dissociation into many alters, which are the centres of consciousness in the world.

    Would not a Christian idealism be a big intellectual improvement to the faith?

    1. All else equal, I have a big problem with Kastrup's views. One of his central ideas is that egoism led to the development of several centers of consciousness. I don't know at which point this was supposed to have happened. If consciousness was one, then surely it was not "egoism" for it to split into several. If anything, the opposite is true. Did "egoism" set in being afterwards, when several centers already existed. But why would that be "egoistic" when it's obviously what the initial unified consciousness wanted?

    2. Sure, at the cost of the commonsense belief in that there's a real world that exists outside your head.

    3. Anonmymous 6.07AM

      On idealism the shared world of experience is real, but it is not physical.

      I was wondering if there were any scriptural or theological objections to idealism in Christianity, or if within Catholicism, there were objections from church teaching or tradition.

      It seems to me that if the shared intersubjective world was 'mental' and generated/co-ordinated in finite minds by God , that would not necessitate any changes to the basic theology of Christianity. Is this so?

    4. Obviously, this in part depends on how you define monism or idealism. But the ideas of creation and covenant are central to both Jewish and Christian theology. The question would be, could you define monism or idealism in such a way as to avoid pantheism and therefore preserve the idea of God as creator and covenant partner. Any kind of idealism or monism which dissolved the creator/creature distinction would go against the basic idea of the God revealed in Scripture, who "created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1), did not do so "of things that existed" (2 Macc 7:28), and therefore can say, "I alone am God! There are no other gods; no one is like me" (Isa 46:9) and "I will not share my glory with another." (Isa 42:8) This goes back to the whole praxis of Christian worship. In Christianity (as opposed to, say, many forms of Hinduism), I do not realize my identity with God, but rather my basic creatureliness.

      Now, it may be that your idea of monism can find some way to preserve the creator/creature distiction, creatio ex nihilo, and God as covenant partner. But those are all non negotiables from a Biblical point of view, and therefore essential to Christianity.

    5. Anon said:

      "Sure, at the cost of the commonsense belief in that there's a real world that exists outside your head."

      As an immaterialist, I would argue that materialism is not the common-sense view. How is it common-sense to posit something (matter) that I have never seen/sensed, have no explanatory need to posit, and which does not even have a firm definition. Moreover, the materialist's claim of what the real-world is--namely, objects composed of tiny particles with space between them--is nothing like what common-sense shows us (solid singular objects). And so the materialist view (whether theistic or not) is no more commonsensical than the immaterialist view.

      The fact is, the only thing that common-sense shows is that objects exist, but it does not show us what they are composed of (whether matter or thoughts/information). But since both materialist and immaterialist views equally account for our experiences, and since the latter view is simpler (and better accounts for many other things in our experience), then it is the better view. Or so I would argue.

      Not to mention that I know that a thinking thing exists (for that is undeniable, since to have this discussion, something needs to think), but I do not know that matter exists. And so the burden is on the materialist to prove that matter exists, not on me to refute it.

      Happy New Year!


    6. For anyone interested in idealism (immaterialism) and Christianity, I would recommend the following volumes:

      - Idealism and Christian Theology: Idealism and Christianity Volume 1

      - Idealism and Christian Philosophy: Idealism and Christianity Volume 2

      Thank you.


    7. This is something I’ve been thinking about. Kastrup puts the objective world as “Mind at Large”. He has admitted that there may be hierarchies behind this, all the way to the “Godhead”, which potentially leaves you with something like the Tree of Life in the Kabbalah, and I guess it’s possible to have a Christian equivalent of that. In most cases, people who are attracted to Kastrup see Mind at Large as god, which is clearly wrong from a Christian perspective.

      A more natural approach seems to me to be along Platonic lines. The universe is a creature or an organism, with the demiurge being the logos. I think it’s possible to have a Thomo-Platonic Idealism, but that’s way beyond my competence.

      Another highly speculative option I’ve thought about is things in the bible like “sun and moon bow down before him”, or St Francis’s “brother sun and sister moon”. Perhaps at an idealist level, heavenly bodies have some kind of equivalent to earthly bodies. Terrible mixing of biology and physics from a materialist perspective, but not quite so strange from a Platonic-Idealist perspective :)

    8. If paranormal phenomena really exist, they are readily explicable ( in principle at least ) on idealism, but not at all on physicalism. If in addition , what necessarily exists is 'mind at large', then different models of its structure might be experimentally testable in parapsychological experiments involving telepathy, clairvoyance etc. This is a very exciting possibility. Peter B Lloyd , auther of two books on Berkleys metaphysics, has suggested that it is time that we attempted to experimentally investigate and back engineer 'the mind of God'.What stops us from doing this, in his oppinion, is an irrational commitment to physicalism in the sciences.

  8. A theological question I'm struggling with: How should we interpret Jesus saying that he will come back 'this generation'?

    1. My preferred interpetation is that he wasn't saying he would come back in this genreration. Those narratives (e.g. Mark 13) are referring first and foremost to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. That's what Jesus was saying would happen within a generation. Because the Temple was itself a symbol of the cosmos as a whole, its destruction in AD 70 then pointed forward to the final coming of Christ at the end of the world. Prophecy often works this way: Isaiah 7 ("behold, a virgin shall conceive"), for instance, refers in the first instance to Hezekiah's birth, but in a fuller and final sense to the virgin birth of Jesus by Mary.

    2. He did come back in that generation. He comes back every time we celebrate mass :)

      The kingdom of god is being built through the saying of the “Our Father”, made real in the mass which is a reflection of, a participation in, the heavenly liturgy.

      I’m not suggesting that this is his ‘coming in glory’, but from all of our individual perspectives, we may as well treat this as our death (which could come at any moment). In reality there will be a time when the universe will be folded back up, the seals broken in heaven, and all men will see his glory, but there is nothing we should do differently for that than being ready for our own death.

      Maybe from God’s perspective, we are all part of the apostles generation?

  9. Sorry to spam this again, but just wanted to put it out here. Only doing so, because I respect your opinion on this.

    Prof. Feser

    This is somewhat related given his work defending Platonism, but did you hear about the death of the contemporary analytic atheist philosopher Quentin Smith? He tragically passed away recently. Both William Lane Craig and Bill Vallicella posted tributes to him. I remember you mentioned him on your blog frequently as a serious atheistic thinker who respected Theism deeply and whose work should be wrestled with. I'm sure you are aware of his landmark paper "The Meta-philosophy of Naturalism" where he launched an incisive critique against many of his fellow Naturalists and Atheists in philosophy for not taking Theism seriously in the philosophy of religion. His sentiments have echoed a lot of your work in the past about getting others to take the philosophy of religion seriously. One quote of his that I found entertaining:

    "If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith,” although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate."

    I was wondering if you were planning to write a brief tribute to him yourself, just as you did with Prof. J.H. Sobel? Your thoughts on Smith's work would be appreciated as well. Another question I had is that on your brief tribute to Sobel, you had written that "serious philosophical atheists seem very thin on the ground indeed". With Quentin Smith now passing away, I'm wondering which Atheist philosophers now left do you still consider serious thinkers. Are Graham Oppy and Paul Draper the only ones left now? If so, it does seem then that contemporary analytic atheist philosophy is pretty much in shambles.

    Smith's obituary is here:

    1. I corresponded with Smith years ago. He was eccentric but brilliant. Although he remained an atheist, he said all the best work in the philosophy of religion was being done by theists.

  10. Protestant Christians hardly ever mention the 'natural law ', but only divine commands as revealed in scripture, and are often happily in violation of it themselves. For example , they have no compunction in using artificial birth control within marriage. Are such protestants destinated for hell upon death, and if not, why not?

    1. Yes.They are headed for eternal hell. So are most people.

    2. Most protestants are... not that smart*, so we should not condemm they that fast. Picking up birth control, for instance, most protestants today likely never even heard someone say that these are not okay, let alone arguments against it. So they are mostly doing what is perceived as normal by pretty much anyone they know.

      One can argue that these are clearly wrong to everybody and that they that look ignorant actually supress the truth, but that seems very bizarre and do not seems to be the right reading of the texts usually cited to suport this claim, so i think that most protestants are in error by sincere ignorance really.

      *like in every other group, of course

    3. Talmid, the acceptance of birth control within marriage extends pretty universally to protestant philosophers, theologans and apologist, who will be well aware of the Catholic position. These include all the better known evangelical ones, such as William Lane Craig and Norman Geisler . The latter was heavily influenced by Thomism I believe, and wrote extensively about Catholicism from a protestant perspective. They are hardly sincerely ignorant of the position, but just do not agree with it, and almost certainly practice artificial birth control themselves.

      Will these people be damned?

    4. We don't know if these people will be damned. Catholics cannot say whether they will be damned.

      In general, Catholic theology and natural law can tell us when a certain kind of act is an act which, by its nature, is of the sort that is grave enough to constitute matter for mortal sin. Contraception is one of them. In its own character, it is gravely evil.

      But in order for a person to be damned, he has to be sufficiently aware of its being wrong to make his act have the essential character of the evil of that evil act, i.e. so that "evil" now bears on his will as being guilty itself of that evil as fully, gravely evil. Those who have been taught that contraception is "perfectly fine", at least often, will not be sufficiently aware that the act is evil to have its grave evil becomes the characteristic state of their will. Such persons may not incur damnation through committing the sin.

      Although there are many places in the Gospels where Jesus indicates the road to Hell is easy with many followers and the one to Heaven is hard, He does not give us final, definitive information that allows us to determine the proportion of those saved versus those damned ultimately. For example a person can be on the "easy road" to Hell most of his life, and convert just before death and go to Heaven. That he was in the more common condition during 99% of his life does not determine his final damnation.

    5. To be aware that something is evil, i would suggest that one has to either feel that it is so viscerally ( and it actually be so ), or one must have an intellectual understanding of and belief in some theory that shows it to be so ( both of these possibilities can co-exist of course ). Now Craig, Geisler and other evangelical philosophers and theologens clearly do not feel viscerally that contraception is evil ,and although they are presumably well aware of the Thomistic theory that claims that it is, they do not intrllectually acceed to it, but to a Divine Command Theory of morality. It is hard to see how they are culpable then. Their wills are not conciously and complicitly alligned with evil, so how can they merit damnation?

    6. @Anon right after me

      I don't think that even most protestant philosophers and theologians can be culpable for their aproval of artificial birth control. Even if they know the catholic position they just do not agree with it, so you can't say that they are willing to do what they know is a grave evil. As Tony said, if you don't know that what you are doing is a mortal sin them you can't be doing a mortal sin, you need to know it and be like: "yea, still doing it".

      Of course, this leads us with the question about their ignorance being invincible or not. St. Thomas Aquinas teached that if one did not know the right thing to do that he could have know because he choose to be ignorant them they would be culpable. If the protestant is not convinced by the arguments because he deliberaly did not tried to understand they them they can't plead ignorance.

      But real persons are confusing, so i don't think we can establish with 100% certitute that even this disdain is culpable in a individual, for a lot of protestants grow up being taught that catholicism is a joke, so they don't know that they should take things serious. Not to mention, God can still try to reach these people at everytime before death, so who knows.

      In the end, the judment thing is too hard, thank God He is the one in charge of that. So while we should aways try to lead people to the truth and should never ignore hell, we should not try to judge individuals much, things are too messy.

    7. Can a Roman Catholic be sent to Hell for pride in presuming to know the mind of God regarding Protestants and/or arrogantly mocking their intelligence?

  11. Are there any duties associated with the second amendment rights? And if the 2A is God given, why don't any clergy ever discuss it? If it was added to the Bill of Rights as a protection against tyranny, I'd like to know how to use it without putting my soul in danger.

    1. I strongly suspect that all "rights" bear with them responsibilities - at a minimum, to USE the "right", rightly. To use it well, for not all uses are right uses.

      There is no particular reason to think that the 2A is "God given" in the same sense as, say, the right to life, or the right to assemble. At the time and under the conditions of the formation of the US, it made a great deal of sense, and still does. But in other situations it might not.

      Like you, I think it would be worthwhile to have pastors talk about the right ways to stand up against tyranny, for assuredly there are WRONG ways, that imperil a person's soul. I fear that most pastors are unable to speak to the question well. Few that I know have considered the problem sufficiently.

    2. God may well not be an American :)

  12. Relevant to previous blog post, but going beyond it as well, Lacanian psychoanalysis and the pre-Socratics:

    'Recalling, in his very first seminar, that the relation between the concept and the thing is founded on the pairing of identity and difference, Lacan adds: “Heraclitus tells us – if we introduce absolute mobility in the existence of things such that the flow of the world never comes to pass twice by the same situation, it is precisely because identity in difference is already saturated in the thing”. Here we see how Lacan contrasts the eternal identification of differences according to the fixed point of the Idea – as in Plato – with the absolute differential process constitutive of the thing itself. The Lacanian conception of the relation between identity and difference – and therefore, in the thing, between the one and the multiple – finds support, contra Plato, in the universal mobilism of Heraclitus.

    In fact, what Heraclitus allows us to think – and what Plato, on the contrary, prohibits – is the death drive. The Platonic effort to identify difference through the Idea leaves no room for it; Heraclitean discord, on the other hand, anticipates its every effect...The Pre-Socratics, then, provide ample material from which to reconstruct, from its origins, a far-reaching disorientation of Plato. In this sense, they form part of the polemical genealogy of psychoanalysis.'

  13. I have never seen a good explanation for how we can determinate the principal result for a final cause, versus the results that are incidental, in order to make a determination about whether a particular usage is perverted. Something beyond "it's obvious", that is.

    1. You can use your lungs to cough, and to breath, but you can't tell which is the principal purpose of your lungs?

    2. So once again, the principled method of determination is to pronounce one of the alternatives to be obvious!

    3. Anonymous,
      You can use your lungs to cough, and to breath, but you can't tell which is the principal purpose of your lungs?

      Offering an example where the outcome is obvious doesn't offer a test where the outcome is not obvious.

      What's the final purpose of the human appendix?

    4. Sometimes the final cause of an organ is difficult to discover. Any good explanation for an organ should have a final cause though. We are left dissatisfied with simply asserting it has no final cause. That leads us to ask, did it have a final cause at some time in the past that was superceded by another organ? Rather than think that it had no final cause whatsoever, we keep on looking for answers.

      With regard to the perverted faculty issue, I wonder if it even applies to organs not under our direct conscious control?

    5. The appendix is a built in reservoir for the bacteria that aid digestion.

    6. Daniel,

      I feel that supports the notion that there is no teat for a final purpose.

      Tim the White,

      We all know that organs do things that are not their final purpose.

    7. Hey One Brow - not sure what you mean... no teat... Is that a typo?


  14. Feser holds the view that the inhabitants of hell willingly and voluntarily reject God. The people of hell are there by their own choice. However, this seems to conflict with certain passages in the Bible, like the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13 and the Parable of the Narrow Door in Luke 13:22-30. In both these stories, it shows people asking to be let into the Kingdom of God, but God refuses to let them in. These passages seem to imply that at least some of the inhabitants of hell actually do want to enter Heaven.

    1. The world contains many caring and loving people, who live sacrificial lives and by ordinary human standards are very good people indeed. Many of these are 'spiritual' ( tbough not all by any means ), but have ( by the lights of Feser ) acquired the wrong theological beliefs and commitments in life. That such a caring, altruistic, spiritually devout individual 'chooses' damnation ( in a sense that does not do violence to its common meaning ) is, I would sugggest, clearly not the case.

    2. The will engages by degrees.
      You can have wishes, desires, and choices.
      You can wish one or several things - even contradictory things- and yet desire only one, or none of them.
      Example: I wish I could have every flavor of ice cream, but strawberry is my favorite.

      You can desire several things -even contradictory things- and chose one, or none.
      Ex. Which guy will I go out with? I have a crush on both of them! Oh, my cat is sick! I'll decide next week.

      You have to make choices from among your desires, but that doesn't mean a given desire goes away if you choose something that contradicts it. This is similar to limerence.

      People who know about Heaven and Hell and God's goodness usually desire Heaven, the love of God and eternal life.
      Everyone also has sinful desires. These two categories of desires are contradictory.
      People who wisely choose God and let their sinful desires lie, will realize the good fruits of their choice.
      People who choose the sinful desires, allow the flame of Divine charity (good will-good choice) to go out; leaving or reducing their place in Heaven to a mere desirable possibility. For those in Hell who knew God better than others, this lingering desire (limerence?) now justly increases their punishment.

    3. If you make enough distinctions, the problem disappears. Of course everyone wants Heaven in various ways... and people are "good" in various ways too (!)... but we also observe the fact in normal life that many people also just plain want to be miserable by wanting what is causing them to be miserable, even if they would prefer not to want it.

    4. Many of these are 'spiritual' ( tbough not all by any means ), but have ( by the lights of Feser ) acquired the wrong theological beliefs and commitments in life. That such a caring, altruistic, spiritually devout individual 'chooses' damnation

      This is a fraudulent (and, frankly, foolish) mis-characterization of Feser's position. He, along with Catholics generally, admit that there are good people who are non-Catholics who may well be saved (i.e. may go to Heaven).

      The more reasonable characterization is that those who go to Hell do so because, while in some sense knowing some action X is evil, they choose it anyway. They may well not know about Jesus Christ or any Catholic theology, but it is not the ignorance of Christ nor the rejection of poorly explained Catholic theology that damns them as such, but the choosing of what they knew, in some sense, was evil.

  15. According to the "Real Atheology Podcast", a "philosophy of religion podcast exploring, defending, and promoting contemporary analytic atheist philosophy," all of conservatism is nothing but hatred of liberalism.

    "From Integralists to Thomists, from Ed Feser to Patrick Deenen. From G.K. Chesterton to Donald Trump. From Clarence Thomas to Roger Scruton. From Nick Fuentes to Turning Point USA, all I see in conservatism is hatred," they said in a recent Tweet.

    Thoughts on this?

    1. Was Edmund Burke a conservative or liberal? It's not an easy question to answer. The Declaration of Independence and our Constitution are an expression of classic liberalism. IMO, a true American conservative wants to conserve that liberal tradition. Somewhere down the road both liberalism and conservatism lost their way. It's not clear to me what those words mean anymore. Those who say conservatism is about hatred are looking for easy answers. They lie to themselves and others. I'm tired of easy answers. They're created by people who don't care about understanding anything. They just want to judge.

    2. That sounds about right. IMO the difference between a conservative and a liberal has to do with metaphysics and the natural ends of humans.

    3. There is a concerning amount of irony once you analyze his assertions.

      God help those falling prey to the conclusions of people with rational faculties damaged to such degree that they'd make an assertion as radical & extreme as they have done.

    4. "Thoughts on this?"

      Projection (perhaps too simple of an explanation, but likely in the ballpark).

    5. Hello,

      Really? I went over to their twitter, and I didn't find that tweet. Unless, they deleted it. Still, if they did say that then that's a bummer. I expected more than that. Like some pointed out, contemporary American conservatives could be categorized as classical liberals. While people like Dr. Feser, DC Schindler and Legutko could be considered as "conservative" post-liberals.

    6. MB,

      Here, I took a screenshot and posted it on my Twitter:

    7. Yeah, that's pretty disappointing; the Real Atheology guys are usually quite respectable. Perhaps they thought better of the gaffe and removed it.

    8. Hello,

      Oh, I see. They posted an opinion column from the Washington Post. This explains a lot, so much for scrutinizing. Anyways, thank you.

    9. ccmnxc,

      Yeah, that's pretty disappointing; the Real Atheology guys are usually quite respectable.

      The thing is, for a lot of people in this country (I'd say the vast majority of those in our chattering classes that consider themselves "liberal"), this is a respectable opinion. That's what that Tweet said to me, in any case.

    10. Of course it isn't true. It's pure hogwash, almost certainly written by someone who knows nothing about conservatism.

      Addressing Don Jindra's comment: it is understandable that there is confusion about what conservatism "really is", since its roots pre-dated liberalism but its strongest manifestations occurred after the onset of liberalism with the Modern era, and to a certain degree became characterized as resistance to the errors of, say, the mainstream of liberalism. To that extent, because mainstream liberals were often opposed by more restrained, more cautious liberals, some people think conservatism is nothing but an early, stuck-in-the-mud variety of liberalism. This too isn't true, but there it is. Even these ideas, though, would not justify a thesis that conservatism if formed by hatred of liberalism - that's just stupid, facile, puerile nonsense.

      You can try this link
      and that link to consider a deeper look at what conservatism is and why it pre-dates liberalism.

      You may have to add "http" to those addresses.

  16. Thoughts on this?

    Predictably dumb opinion from someone with an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Who cares?

    1. John,

      Because they have more reach than most philosophers/academics (especially among the young) and most people are convinced by rhetoric/emotions, not analytic arguments. Hence, we should care very much, and fight their rhetoric with better rhetoric. The fact that we have not is one reason the New Atheists/the left have been winning the cultural battle for the last decade.

    2. It seems to be the mainstream opinion held by a lot of people.

  17. Dr. Feser, can you make a contribution to the morality of using the different COVID vaccines? There are on one hand the increasingly permissive statements from the Pontifical Academy for Life (which isn't magisterial, even if the theologians are picked by the pope) and on the other hand, Fr. Copenhagen, Bishops Strickland, Schneider et al. and Fr. Ripperger. The PAFL isn't addressing the argument the other side puts forth that the cell lines constitute ongoing theft and that, as Fr. Ripperger puts it, might still remain remote material cooperation but requires very grave cause to use. And I think Bishop Schneider and Strickland would say we can never take these vaccines.

    What is your take? Never a better time than now to put it forth.

    1. I second this request.

      On the one hand, we have to this day no less than four (2005, 2008, 2017, 2020) official documents from the Holy See affirming that vaccines produced with cell lines whose provenance is tainted by abortion can in some circumstances be licitly administered by health professionals and received by patients. That would surely count for something.

      On the other hand, a number of faithful bishops, some of whom cardinals, have implied otherwise.

      Many trads are siding with the latter, however, the FSSPX have said the vaccines may be used (leave aside for now the question of their canonical status, which I concede is problematic; the point is they're not exactly known for being accommodating with respect to modernism and moral relativism). Also, I know many people associated with these movements really aren't experts on moral theology and the other aspects of the rational foundations of the Faith (which I consider unfortunate, as I am a trad myself), but it's not like as of late the Vatican has been full of role-model theologians either.

      In addition, if such vaccines are licit at least under some circumstances, then presumably other kinds of drugs would be as well. The big problem here being that many breakthrough drugs nowadays are developed and manufactured with recourse to said cell lines. So, in effect, this moral conundrum isn't just some rare, distant matter that applies only to a couple infectious diseases which aren't that deadly anyway; no, at this rate, a few decades from now people will routinely have to choose between cooperating in the perpetuation of the abortion industry and literally dying.

      Sure looks like martyrdom is coming right at us in more ways than we ever expected... Yes, of course I know mankind didn't have access to anywhere near this level of medical care for most of its existence. But we are so much weaker today. (Well, at least I am... :-( )

    2. I think the church has been very clear? If you’re going to apply the Bishop Strickland etc version of theology, then you need to apply the same principled to everything you buy or use.

      This will essentially mean becoming self sufficient in everything.

  18. Hello professor

    Have you found time to vet prospective posts now then, in which case have we seen the last of the tiresome trolls? The reason I ask is that my posts are no longer appearing in real time , and batches of posts seem to be going up at once, with large periods of inactivity between.

  19. I was recently struck by something Jordan Peterson said in a discussion with Ben Shapiro. I'm not a Peterson devotee, but I have appreciated some of his insights. Along with Feser, he's on my list of people who attempt to seek and speak the truth, and do not BS.

    One of Peterson's biggest themes is our moral obligation to "extract the best out of the chaos of potential by speaking the truth." The chaos/order dichotomy and the role of the mythic hero in exploring chaos to create order is all over his early work. He connects "speaking the truth" to the Logos, John 1:1, and Genesis. He also emphasizes how we are all made in the image of God, and how revolutionary of an idea that is.

    What struck me is how neatly all of these ideas seem to harmonize with Aristotelian/Scholastic thought. As pure actuality, God creates reality (order) from potential (chaos). As beings made in the image of God, our moral obligation is to participate in that same process of creating reality from potential.

    Language seems to play an important role in this process, but I'm fuzzy on precisely how. I see two clear connections: 1. the moral imperative to tell the truth; 2. the oneness of the transcendentals of truth, existence, and goodness. It is good to speak the truth to create existence...? Is there a relationship between the Word of God and our own truth-speaking, potential-mining ability and duty? Is this profound or facile?

    Going further "out there", perhaps this relates to a reason why nominalism is false: we can't just employ words arbitrarily, but must use them in accordance with THE Word.

    1. I'd be interested in hearing a discussion between Dr. Peterson and a traditional Aristotelian scholar. Peterson comes at things from a Jungian view, though I do find that his views mesh quite nicely with a traditionalist, conservative view of the world.

  20. Going back to Smith and Craig, what are people's thoughts on the necessity of a presentist account of time for a Kalam argument. Is efficient causality holding in terms of the beginning of the universe contingent on the A theory?

    1. There is a episode of the Classical Theism Podcast where they discuss that:

      You can also find there a paper from the guest about that. I think that his argument does work in B theory. I wonder if the First Way can work in B theory...

  21. If Zippy Catholic's (God rest his soul) thesis regarding usury is correct (as I think it is), and considering the Church has remained silent about it for so long, to the point that otherwise faithful priests and bishops no longer even know what usury actually consists of, how can we Catholics maintain the indefectability of the Church? I don't feel my faith is threatened by this difficulty, but any light shed on the issue would be welcome.

    A somewhat related request: can anyone indicate me faithful Catholic references on the morality of financial investing? I suffer from scrupulosity and this is giving me a lot of headaches. For example, would it be a mortal sin to invest in stocks from most S&P 500 companies? Some cases are obvious, like pharmaceuticals, which are almost always directly involved in the contraception and abortion industry, so of course they're a no-go. But other than that, what level of cooperation with evil is acceptable, and how do I evaluate it?

    1. A book I would recommend is by Frank J Hanna, titled What Your Money Means. Hope this helps! God bless you!

    2. Regarding indefectability, even John T. Noonan, the usury and contraceptive apologist, admits that the formal teaching on usury has never been repudiated by the Church. She has remained silent which is a grave scandal and worse has proposed damnable "pastoral" practices. However, She has not taught error.

    3. Regarding investing, I apply the principle of remote material cooperation with evil to justify investing in the S&P 500. About 13% of my investments are in the financial industry, and I assume half of that has more to do with investing than interest bearing loans. I personally think that having a fund tainted ~5% by usury is fine. I intend on donating about 5% of my 401k to remove any gains made through usury.

      My general rule is to not donate to specific credit card or mortgage companies, but if these companies make up a small portion of a fund, you can invest in the fund as long as you donate your ill-gotten gains.

    4. @Jim

      Thanks for the book recommendation. Will definitely check it!


      Thanks for your reply. I agree that the Church hasn't formally repudiated the traditional teaching. That's one part of the reason why I don't feel threatened in my faith; the other is that it's certainly plausible that there have always remained some bishops who understand the teaching correctly, even if they don't talk about it anymore. But indeed, this silence has lasted for centuries now, even though it concerns a currently ubiquitous damnable practice... What if, after all, no bishops know the correct teaching anymore?


      Thanks for sharing your personal experience. I like that strategy, but I would still wonder: are you sure that's remote material cooperation and not proximate material cooperation? Because when you buy stock from a company you become its co-owner, and even if you buy shares from a fund that owns that company, you're still a co-owner at the end of the day. In addition, even when material cooperation is remote, it's not automatically legitimate; the motive has to be sufficiently strong. And I'm not sure whether investing your savings to help secure your family's future, or even to donate to charity, is a sufficiently strong reason to allow remote cooperation with companies that are directly or indirectly involved with extreme evils like usury, the contraception and abortion industry, the LGBT movement, etc., which nowadays is most of them really, if not all. It would be great to find a trained and faithful moral theologian who addresses these matters with rigorous arguments.

      Once again, thank you to everyone who has contributed. God bless you and have a Happy New Year!

    5. First, a great many companies available on the stock market do no lending, so it should be easy to invest in a way that does not directly implicate you at all in usury.

      With the number of mutual funds out there: is there really none that avoid investing in banks and such lending institutions? I suppose it is possible, but it seems worth looking for some. Seems to me that there are at least a couple of funds started by faithful Catholics specifically to AVOID investing in morally troublesome stocks.

      Thirdly, it has only been about 180 years since the Church has been, effectively, silent on usury: the 1840's is when the Vatican's office of the Penitentiary told pastors not to unduly burden the souls of those who did not engage in the more outrageous forms of usury. (They parsed it more cautiously than that.)

      Fifthly: while Zippy Catholic had a very good attempt at understanding the usury issue, his attempt was also incomplete in important ways (in my opinion, that is). I strongly suspect that there are a couple of critical distinctions still to be made which probably will relieve much lending of the kind of "in principle" moral reprobation usually applied under the traditional usury theory - while leaving the root condemnations true but not widely applicable. I have some hope that there will be new material out on this.

  22. Has there been adequate answer to eastern perspectives on philosophy, theology, etc. from the Feser/A-T crowd? I'm shaken in my faith by reading folks like Palamas, Cyril, Basil, and contemporary writers like Florovsky and Seraphim Rose absolutely floor me. I can't find any serious challenges to them. Apologists like Ubi Petrus are nobodies from my cloistered perspective, and yet they are completely deconstructing Western perspectives on ecclesiology, etc.

    I've been scouring this blog and similar, and see many similar questions, and many mentions of Eastern perspectives, yet *literally* zero responses. I'm an academic and I think I'll be laughed out of my job if I open up about these concerns of mine. ADS doesn't as tenable these days, St. Aquinas' shortcomings are magnified in my mind, and the whole Western canon just has been torn open to me in this past year. I don't see any literature for people like me, and I certainly don't have anyone in my life who would be good to open up to about this.

    The East openly and opaquely snubs (with exceptions, and only to a degree) the philosophy that I've centered my life around, and yet their arguments against it are compelling, strong, seemingly unchecked, and, dare I say, beautiful.

    1. -C.R. I'm not too confident in your assessment, as anyone familiar with Thomism knows the TI has done talks addressing the "Eastern" ADS objections, Fradd has had some guests to answer said questions also (there's only a handful of podcast of his with TI members so should be easy for you to find).

      As Dr Feingold showed in his debate with Jay Dyer: Saying "We don't accept those metaphysics" (aka Act/Potency) when it doesn't suit adopters of Palamas'/eastern position isn't an argument.

    2. Hi Ortzi,

      Thanks for your response. I've seen just about everything you mentioned, and read/written extensively on these topics both passionately and professionally. I don't mean to suggest that A-T metaphysics or Thomism are indefensible, and in fact I think they're brilliant traditions. I believe in them, and they're the aspects of my worldview I'm wavering least in (other than mere Christianity itself, to be clear). However, your references to YouTube dialectics overshadows a millennium's worth of work that is absolutely compelling to those who dig into it.

      Moreover, the Matt Fradd debates against EO folks always have been, by my estimation, unconditional knockouts by the Orthodox side. Dr. Feingold is brilliant but nobody watching that debate could come to too many rational conclusions towards either side because Dyer, to put it kindly, is a generally effective but exclusively antagonistic debater.

      I'm very confident in my assessment, and I worry what this spells for the Church when such little attention is being paid to the Eastern tradition.

    3. CR

      If the arguaments against the philosophy that you have centred your life around are 'compelling, strong, unchecked and beautiful', maybe you should accept them? A bit of intellectual honesty and integrety might be called upon here.

    4. Hi Unknown,

      You're both needlessly rude and caught in simple misunderstanding-- an ugly combination.

      I don't wish to repeat myself at length, but to put it shortly, the Orthodox seem to answer certain theological questions very strongly. While A-T metaphysics still holds clear primacy in my mind, things are getting complicated on that side of the spectrum, too. The lack of strong responses to the East is uniform, by my estimation, though I appreciated the YouTube/podcast references supplied by Ortzi.

      At this point I'm trying to find more reading, and consistently coming up short. Mainly trying to find direct challenges to Palamites and Cappadocians or A-T apologetics oriented towards the East, though anything somewhat relevant could be helpful.

    5. I did not intend to be rude. However, having encountered challanges to the philosophy around which you have centered your life, you are now searching for ways to shore it up. This is perfectly reasonable , as it would be foolish to jetteson a position for no good reason, only to adopt it again later. All that I am saying is that you should be open to the possibility that you have been in error, and that your dearly held positions and perspectives are baloney and bunkum. Do not assume that you will find the answers you are searching for.

  23. Is bondage a licit sexual activity within marriage (assuming it terminates in vaginal sex)? What about bondage without sex outside of marriage?

    My gut instinct is that both are immoral but I'm curious what others think. They seem like instances of prioritizing pleasure over procreation which Aquinas presents as the definition of lust.

    1. I think what people, myself included in my earlier years, fail to realize is that “sex outside of marriage” is more than just “put the one into the other.” Being thoroughly consistent with final causality sheds more light on the subject. Things quickly become sexual if actual sex is the final cause of the activity. How you’re kissing your girlfriend/boyfriend could be a special act reserved for marriage due to its intrinsic teleology towards sex (i.e. Its the kind that gets you all riled up). This is a less obvious break or chastity but still one nonetheless. It’s the first stages of sex and it’s final end is procreation all the same. Depending on your own physiology and psychology, you may be sinning through actions not usually sinful, but which make you aroused due to years of porn consumption, say. If you’re playing cops and robbers with your girlfriend (an innocent game intrinsically) because it reminds you of your favourite bondage porn (with intent to activate arousal which should be reserved for marriage due to teleology) then you’re sinning gravely all the same. “Whoever so looks at a woman with lust...” it’s adultery in an analogous way to physical sex.

      Further, bondage within marriage sacrifices the bonding aspect of sex (ironically lol). Sex, not only is ordered towards procreation, but also intense emotional bonding. This is violated by sexual acts within marriage that portrays the act as an instance of assault.

      Also, what are you really desiring when you want to tie someone up and perform such acts? Such an act seems analogous to high assault and should not be acted upon. You should not desire in anyway to assault people sexually. It’s at the very least an offence against charity, by which we should give ourselves to our spouse, not see her as a subject of my own pleasure, or even a mere partner in mutual stimulation.

  24. Hi Tony, Talmid and others who may be interested,

    Previously when I presented my older version of ontological argument, Tony and Talmid have given critiques and comments. (Thank you Tony and Talmid). Since then I have drafted two very different versions below. Please let me know if any premise is false or if any logic form is invalid in the two new versions below. Thank you :)

    Version 1

    Let E be an unconditionally/necessarily existing non-abstract entity.
    P0: The idea of E contains no intrinsic self-contradiction and hence E is not a logical impossibility but a logically possibility that may or may not exist extra-mentally in our actual world.
    P1. It is logically possible that E necessarily exists now.
    (Since “logically possible” = “not that it is logically impossible”, P1 entails P2)
    P2. It is not that it is logically impossible that E necesarily exists now.
    (Since “logically impossible that...” = “logically necessarily not that...”, P2 entails P3)
    P3. It is not that it is logically necessarily not that E necessarily exists now.
    (Since “it is logically necessarily not” entails “it is not”, P3 entails P4)
    P4. It is not that it is not that E necesarily exists now.
    (Since “It is not that it is not” = “It is” due to double negation, P4 entails P5)
    P5. It is the case that E necessarily exists now.
    Therefore E necessarily exists now.


    Version 2

    Let E be an unconditionally/necessarily existing non-abstract entity.
    P0: The idea of E contains no intrinsic self-contradiction and hence E is not a logical impossibility but a logically possibility that may or may not be exemplified in our actual world.
    P1: It may or may not be possible that E is NOT existing extra-mentally now in our actual world.
    (hence P1 is agnostic on whether or not E actually exists)
    P2: Conceptually, any entity that is not actually existing extra-mentally now is not an unconditionally/necessarily existing non-abstract entity.
    P3: If E is not existing extra-mentally now, then E, which by definition is conceptually an unconditionally/necessarily existing non-abstract entity, is also conceptually not an unconditionally/necessarily existing non-abstract entity by virtue of E’s actual non-existence.
    P4: Hence the idea “E is not actually existing non-abstractly now” entails the logical contradiction that E is conceptually being and not being an unconditionally/necessarily existing entity at the same time in the same sense.
    P5: Hence it is logically impossible that E is not actually existing non-abstractly now in our actual world.
    Therefore E is actually existing non-abstractly now in our actual world.




    johannes y k hui

    p.s. Any idea of an entity that does not intrinsically involve being A and not A at the same time in the same sense is not an intrinsic contradiction. That would mean such an idea is not a logical impossibility. Anything that is not a logical impossibility is a logical possibility, regardless of whether it exists or does not exist outside our minds in our actual world. An unicorn would thus be such an example. An unicorn is logically possible to exist though it does not actually exists extra-mentally in our actual world.

    1. It is good that i helped before! The language here confused me*, so my initial advice is to try to put things more clearly, but i will try to help a bit:
      (Note that i can't coment much about the actual formulations)

      I read your two arguments as boiling down to something like this:

      E is either necessary, contingent or impossible

      E is not impossible or contingent

      Therefore, E is necessary

      Therefore, E exists.
      (You can correct me if i'am reading wrong)

      Now, the problem here is that i don't think you can go directly from logical possibility(what is possible in language) to metaphysical possibility(what is possible in reality). A thing beggining to exist uncaused is not logically impossible, but it is metaphysically impossible, for instance. So you can't go from E logical possibility to E being metaphysically possible, that is a response i usually see to Plantinga argument actually.

      You could defend that E is metaphysically possible, of course, either by point out that, since there is no shown contradiction(logical or metaphysical) on the concept we should assume that it is possible or by using cosmological arguments to argue for there being possible worlds where E exists and creates things(Dr. Josh Rasmusen does a argument like that). You also could use something like this:

      So i give two advices: try to use a more easier language and be prepared to defend that E is metaphysically necessary, do that and you are good!

      *but them again a'am a layman, so maybe analitical philosophers can read that easily

    2. Thanks Talmid again for always being able to offer your comments. Much appreciated.

      Yes my Version 1 is difficult to read. I guess Version 2 is much easier.

      I agree with you that what is logically possible may not be metaphysically possible.

      However my two arguments are not equivalent to arguing “it is logically possible to exist and therefore it is metaphysically possible to exist”.

      What I argued is equivalent to “it is logically necessary to exist and therefore it is metaphysically necessary to exist”.

      What is metaphysically necessary may not be logically necessary, but what is logically necessary must be metaphysically necessary.

      So both my arguments
      (1) start with logical possibility, and
      (2) then they lead to logical NECESSITY, and
      (3) then ontological/metaphysical necessity.



    3. Take what you will from this criticism:

      Logical possibility is not the same as metaphysical possibility. Which is to say that simply being without any obvious logical contradiction does not imply that a certain thing or event is metaphysically possible.

      Case in point: it appears logically possible for there to be a horrifying world full of completely gratuitous evil. Such as a world that consists of nothing but a planet in which little children are mercilessly tortured continuously and eternally, in extreme agony, for no reason. It seems there is nothing logically contradictory with such a horrible idea. And yet, us theists hold that such a world would in fact be metaphysically impossible, because God would never create or allow such a thing. Such is the "modal problem of evil".

      So, logical possibility, seeming internal consistency, is not sufficient for real metaphysical possibility.

      I have no problem whatsoever with an ontological argument that moves from metaphysical possibility. But you'd have to argue for the possibility premise.

      You could say logical possibility gives us defeasible evidence of metaphysical possibility, but it's just not demonstrative.

    4. I strongly suspect that materialists will object to P0 right up front: whether an idea is "logically possible" or not is not always a manifest mental determination. It turns out that it is logically possible to have a rectilinear plane triangle with angles adding up to more than 2 right angles, but such result is by no means manifest from the definition of triangle. So, right off the bat, it is (they would insist) epistemically UNCERTAIN whether the idea of E involves a logical impossibility.

      Furthermore, I suspect that many materialists would explicitly claim that the idea of E DOES involve logical impossibilities. In their books, a "necessary" being is per se nonsense, it is simply meaningless. Whether they are right or not, they would raise the objection.

      Finally, I strongly suspect that the set of "things that are logically possible, even if not metaphysically impossible" is not a well-defined set. We know of SOME things that are logically impossible, because we can POINT to the illogic. But there being a well-defined set of them seems to entail that there be well-defined solutions to all paradox theses, such as the old question of whether "This statement is false" is true or false. And, while one may propose that there "must be" solutions for all of them, one then has the epistemic burden of establishing that as definitively true AND in such a way that it lead to a result that all logically possible things can be KNOWN (by us) that they are logically possible - not something at all easy to establish.

      That is to say: that we can disprove for some things "X is logically possible" by showing the illogic, the ability to give SOME counterexamples to assertions of the form "X is logically possible" is not logically equivalent to the claim "if X is logically possible, then we can establish definitively that X is logically possible." It took centuries to prove the 4-color map theorem, it took centuries to prove that there ISN'T a solution to the general 5th degree equation.

    5. Darn: It is NOT logically possible to have a rectilinear plane triangle...

    6. @Reasonable

      "What is metaphysically necessary may not be logically necessary, but what is logically necessary must be metaphysically necessary."

      Not really. Take for instance BF or Brute Fact, which is defined as "something that is not necessary but has no cause of its existence".

      Now, BF is clearly logically possible, there is no internal contradiction here. I think that you agree that by this definition it is logically necessary that BF has no cause,for if we change "bf" to "that which has no cause" and try to say that BF has a cause we get "that which has no cause has a cause", which is clearly logically contradictory.

      Does BR having no cause being logically necessary entail that it is metaphysically necessary? I don't think so, for i believe that a weak PSR is true, therefore non-necessary beings aways have causes of its existences. Your oponent could agree that "E exists" is a logical necessity, but say that this does not means this says anything about reality.

      I don't think i said more that the others above, but that is the problem i have with these arguments. You need to have a way to jump from logical to metaphysical necessity. But i believe it can be done(i did talked about some means before), so good luck with the ontological arguments!

    7. Hi Atno,

      Thanks Atno for your contribution.

      You mentioned: “Logical possibility is not the same as metaphysical possibility. Which is to say that simply being without any obvious logical contradiction does not imply that a certain thing or event is metaphysically possible.”

      But my two proofs is NOT claiming that E is logically possible to exist and therefore E is metaphysically possible to exist.

      My proof is moving along this line:

      (1) E is logically possible
      and then
      (2) E is logically necessarily to exist
      and therefore
      (3) E is metaphysically necessary to exist.

      While what is metaphysically necessary may not be logically necessary, what is logically necessary is metaphysically necessary.


      johannes y k hui

    8. Hi a Talmid,

      Thanks for following up on the conversation.

      You disagree with my statement that “What is metaphysically necessary may not be logically necessary, but what is logically necessary must be metaphysically necessary."

      The claim made in my above statement is actually agreed by most philosophers, according to Alex Pruss. I quote him from his blog:

      “For it is WIDELY ACCEPTED that if there is a distinction between metaphysical and narrowly logical necessity, the narrowly logical necessity is stronger of the two.“ [emphasis mine]
      - Alexander Pruss

      Regarding your example of Brute Fact:
      There is a difference between these two kinds logical necessities:

      (1) Logical necessity in meaning: It is a logical necessity that a BF Composite Entity means something that has no cause.
      (2) Logical necessity in existence: It is NOT a logical necessity that a BF Composite entity exists as a reality. You would need to design a sound deductive argument to prove that a BF composite entity exists if you want to use as it a parody to my arguments.
      (Since PSR is true, and since there are so many sound deductive arguments that proved that a BF composite entity does not exist, I do not think anyone can design any valid and sound deductive proof to prove the existence of a BF composite entity.)

      Hence logical necessity in what BF means
      does not entail there is any logical necessity for BF to exist. One type of necessity does not entail the other type of necessity.

      In contrast, the relevant kind of logical necessity used in my two proofs is about the logical necessity in existence.

      My argument is that E logically necessary exists extra-mentally (eg see P5 of my both versions).

      Once I established in P5 that it is logically necessary that E exists extra-mentally, then that means E metaphysically necessary exists extra-mentally.

      If you run through the easier-to-read version (Version 2), you can see that the deductive steps lead you to establish the result of P5: “It is logically impossible for E not to exist extra-mentally now.” This is equivalent to “It is logically necessary for E to exist extra-mentally now”.

      As Alex Pruss said, it is widely accepted by philosophers that logical necessity is stronger than metaphysical necessity. So since I established in P5 that it is logically necessary that E exists extra-mentally, then it is also metaphysically necessary that E exists extra-mentally.

      If you try to use my Version 1 to construct a parody by replacing my E with a brute-fact composite entity, the argument would be defeated even at P1! In Version 1’s P1, if E is replaced by entities such as “Brute Perfect Island” or “Perfect Ball” or any entity that is not equivalent to “Unconditionally/Necessarily Existing Entity” in P1 of my Version 1, then P1 would become false!!!

      One key to understand ontological arguments is to understand WHY all parodies such as those using Perfect Island, Perfect Spherical Object, Perfect Pizza, etc would fail to be sound deductive arguments, and WHY only an entity equivalent to Necessarily/Unconditionally Existing Being can succeed as a sound argument.

      It is impossible for such a premise to be true:

      “It is logically possible that a Perfect Island or a Brute-Fact Island necessarily exists extra-mentally now”.


      johannes y k hui

    9. Thanks Tony for your comment too. I will read your comment tomorrow. Gotta rush off to do various work now.


  25. Reasonable

    Before you can state that an unconditionally/necessarily existing non-abstract entity contains no intrinsic self-contradiction, you will have to define what exactly this entity is.
    Until you do this, P0 is not justified.

    Another problem is that even if it is true that an unconditionally/necessarily existing non-abstract entity contains no intrinsic contradiction, this entity can still be just about everything.
    Does the idea that one completely inert necessary entity exist contain any intrinsic contradiction?
    if not, then, according to your argument that kind of necessary entity does exist, and no other non-abstract necessary entity exists.

    1. Thanks Walter for your comment. My responses:

      a. The entity is simply an entity whose existence is unconditional on anything else. The entity’s essential feature is simply to exist. If you like, the entity is Existence per se. In other words, the entity has only one feature. Anything that has only one feature is impossible to have any intrinsic contradiction because for there to be any intrinsic contradiction, at least two features are needed. Therefore the entity whose feature is simply to exist, or whose feature is Existence per se, would not have any intrinsic contradiction. And hence the idea of an entity whose feature is simply Existence per se (ie Unconditionally Existing Entity) is an idea that does not involve any intrinsic contradiction. See also my “ps” in my previous message that explains something about intrinsic contradiction. Only when an idea involves something to be A and not-A at the same time in the same sense then can the idea be an intrinsic contradiction.

      b. The idea E cannot be just about anything. It cannot be anything that does not exist unconditionally. That already ruled out all the things which we can see or touch such as birds, bees, rocks, trees, human beings, etc. If there is no false premise and if there is no invalid logic form, then the deductive conclusion is sound which means E exists extra-mentally now. Only after that then we analyze further on what E entails. Such an analysis would lead to the further conclusion that E is unique (ie there is one and only one E), E is simple (ie not composed of any kind of parts), E actively sustains all other existing entities’ existence from moment to moment, E is not causally inert, etc. So E cannot be inert. And in the end the further analysis would show that E is what all classical theists understand to be God.



      johannes y k hui

    2. Johannes

      The problem is that, following your logic, you should be able to present an intrinsic contradiction in an inert E. Until you do, an inert E is possible and hence exists.
      Inert e not actively sustaining all other entities is an external contradiction.

    3. Hi Walter,

      The two proofs I presented only prove the existence of E. So the two proofs leave open to whether or not E is simple, or E is unique, or E is causally active or inert.

      So at the end of each of the two ontological proofs, one would have yet to show whether E is causally active or inert.

      As I mentioned in my responses, it would be on further analysis that E would be shown to be causally active instead of causally inert.

      At this stage, my concern is with whether each of the conclusion (in the two proofs) is sound. If there is nothing false with the premises and nothing invalid in the logic structure, then the conclusion that “E exists extra-mentally now” would be necessarily true.


      johannes y k hui

    4. Johannes

      Your proofs conflate necessity with contingency.
      If "non-inert E" is necessary then "inert E" cannot be necessary, but your proof doesn't establish this. Instead you go from a contingency ("is sustaining other entities") to a necessity ("is necessarily able to sustain other entities"). But you can't do that, because it doesn't follow from "we observe that E is blue" that E is necessarily blue.
      You can only establish that E is necessarily blue by showing that "E is any other colour" is internally contradictory.
      Likewise, you can only show that R is necessarily non-inert by shwowing that "E is inert" is internally contradictory.

    5. Hi Walter,

      As mentioned, my two proofs have nothing to do with demonstrating whether E is causally active or inert. The scope of two proofs is only about proving the extra-mental existence of E.

      For that, one would have to wait to see what has yet to be presented: a second stage of analysis that would demonstrate that E is impossible to be inert.


    6. Hi Walter,

      The above response is from me. I forgot to sign in before replying you just now.


    7. Johannes

      Your two proofs demonstrate that both an inert E and a non-inert E are necessary entities, because there is no intrenal contradiction in either of them.
      But of course, it is impossible that both A and ~A are necessary, so there must be something wrong with your argument.

      Before you can claim that your argument proves the extra-mental existence of E, you have to argue that E is not internally contradictory and that E is also not externally contradictory.

    8. Hi Walter,

      No, my proofs do not prove that both both an inert E and a non-inert E are necessary existing entities.

      My proofs only proved that E exists, without claiming whether E is or is not inert.

      To prove that E is impossible to be inert would require the next stage.

      As I have already explained, intrinsic contradiction cannot exist for an entity having only one essential feature. It takes two features for there to be any possibility of intrinsic contradiction. Since E has only one feature, E cannot have any intrinsic contradiction.

      There are two and only two ways for a deductive argument to be unsound: wrong premise(s) or invalid logic form. Otherwise the conclusion of a deductive argument is necessarily correct.

      It would be for others to attempt to come out a deductive proof to contradict the conclusion of my two proofs, bearing in mind that the conclusion of my two proofs did not claim whether E is or is not inert. So the only kind of deductive conclusion that can be an extrinsic contradiction to my two proofs’ deductive contradiction would be that “E does not exist extra-mentally”, because my proofs’ conclusion is “E exists extra-mentally”.

      Reminder again: E is not defined as either inert or causally active. E is simply an entity with only one essential feature which is Existence per se. If we add on a second feature (eg inert, or not inert) to our definition then there is a chance of intrinsic contradiction.

      Another reminder: The only kind of deductive conclusion that can be an extrinsic contradiction to my two proofs’ deductive contradiction would be that “E does not exist extra-mentally”. No other deductive conclusion can be an extrinsic contradiction to my two proofs’ conclusion that “E exists extra-mentally”.



    9. Johannes

      I agree that there are two and only two ways for a deductive argument to be unsound: wrong premise(s) or invalid logic form.
      And i hold that your P0: The idea of E contains no intrinsic self-contradiction and hence E is not a logical impossibility but a logically possibility that may or may not be exemplified in our actual world is wrong, for the reasons i explained.
      You cannot establish whether E is internally contradictory or not without knowing what E is and knowing what E is requires knowing whether it is inert or not.
      Your P0 is wrong because internal consistency is not sufficient to establish the logical possibility of a necessary entity. It also requires that E does not contradict another necessary truth. And so far, your argument may still lead to the necessary existence of both A and ~A, and that contradicts a necessary truth.

      Now, this will be my last post on this subject, so you can have the final word on this if you like.
      Thank you for the interesting discussion.

      All the best in 2021.


    10. Hi Walter,

      1. The proofs already defined what E is. As defined, E is an entity with only one essential feature: Existence per se. E’s essence is simply to exist. No other essential feature. So we do know what E is.

      2. By knowing that E has only one essential feature, it is impossible for there to be any intrinsic contradiction because it takes at least two essential features for there to be any possibility of intrinsic contradiction. Hence there is no intrinsic contradiction in the idea of E because of the impossibility of intrinsic contradiction in a one-feature entity.

      3. Hence we know what E is because of what I said in Point 1, and we have established E cannot have any intrinsic contradiction because of Point 2.

      4. So P0 is established to be true because of Point 3.

      5. The only way to create any extrinsic contradiction to my two Proofs’ conclusion is to come out with a deductive argument that proves that “E does not exist extra-mentally”. I am confident it is impossible to come out with any such proof. I stand ready to defeat any such argument by pointing out false premise(s) or invalid logic form. I hope to be proven wrong by seeing someone designing a deductive argument that shows “E does not exist extra-mentally”.

      Have a good 2021 too.


      johannes y k hui

  26. Hello everyone!

    I hope that everyone is doing fine!

    Do you guys know some Neo-Aristotelian/Scholastic book talking about refutations on Buddhism? Because we have (as Christians) a good amount of opus about Hinduism, Islam and some older pagan thoughts, but I couldn't find nothing about Buddhism.

    I think a good discussion about this would be on the topics about the self (from the Neo-Aristotelian or A-T perspective against the anattma/non-self, or even about essence x emptiness.

    (I tried to use the book Real Essentialism from Oderberg to see our perspective of things since I believe that we are right about it)

    But I wounder if someday Thomism will get on this debate (especially contra non-self views, since our perspective of soul is totally different from Hinduism).

    Well, if someone know a book talking about this topic give me a heads up please (or if Feser could make a blog post about this would be equally great too)

    If someone is interested in this theme I do recommend Scholastic's Metaphysics and Aristotle's Revenge to make an analysis and comparison about the problems I said above.

    Dominus Vobiscum.

    Regards from Brazil.

    1. The trouble is that there is not a single Buddhist metaphysics. From my perspective, much of what the Buddha spoke about self was a method of teaching, not him describing an ontology. The aim was to stop people associating themselves with their meta-cognitive thoughts, and as soon as you say “the real self”, people automatically create an abstracted “real self” which is clearly just another thought. So instead he just talked about “no self”, so that people would stop creating false meta narrative’s as the self.

      This formless emptiness has made it’s way into postmodernism etc as some kind of transcendent truth, which in some ways is what you expect with any metaphysics that doesn’t have god, for nothing has any being anymore :)

      However I don’t think we should dismiss Buddhism as some kind of foolishness. Many of its core principles of detachment from the things of the world, being truthful, compassion etc are all characteristics of our great saints. So whilst there are many unsurmountable differences, we can learn something from them of the ‘how’ in spirituality, even if the ‘what’ is very different. There is a book I read a long time ago called “The path to no self” by a nun, and writers such as Thomas Merton and John Main contain insights which are not so different from Buddhism.

    2. Hi Simon!

      Yeah, I'm aware of that. But the core arguments from the non-self thing comes from the same argument (in casu Emptiness, composition of parts etc.) And all those arguments can't withstand in an analysis from our experience and even from data science.

      The problem with the "false self" is not only because it became a monster on the hands of new-agers and Sam Harris, but because it is ultimate incoherent.

      Because of course we have a lot of thoughts that came from potential to actual everyday, but that does not imply that you are not the same person from back then (and of course you are not your thought, since you are the human being as a whole). And that implication that you are not the same person just beg's the question. We have thoughts and they are part of us and our life, but the "self" that we create from our thoughts never really leaves our lives, since we have memory, habitus, that sustain that identity over the time of our lives.

      So for me to believe that we have "no self" (whatever that means) someone would have to disprove that I got memory (not just from childhood, but memory from even being able to form a proposition), and that I am not the same one from yesterday that is alive participating once again in my life experience and once again awake from the early night over and over.

    3. Hi Vinicius

      You will have to forgive any very amateur thomism, but isn’t the self in some ways analogous to potential? Yes the whole soul includes the history of the actuals, but where do the thoughts come from? What is the ‘ground’ of the potentials?

      I’m not too worried about the likes of Sam Harris as he has a physicalist metaphysics which is always going to be blind to substances that are not material - perhaps you could say it’s actual accidents all the way? :)

      Having spent some very small portion of my life meditating under a mainly Buddhist context, you do get some insights into different layers of your sense of “I”. At first it’s your thoughts in your head, at one stage it feels like your whole body, at another you feel like its centred in the heart, but it’s a but like “negative philosophy” where you end up confident that its not the things that can be easily described. It’s not material, and the thinking part is a bit like a self referential loop, but there is something like a screen onto which our thoughts and our lives are projected, the screen that perceives.

      I’m happy to now be doing eucharistic adoration instead, which is this most amazing gift we have in the church, like an open secret. But I don’t see the problem of the ‘actuals’ constantly changing. “I” can step into a river twice, I am that which had the potential to chose to step into it each time, and the river likewise has a reality to its form beyond the changes in time.

      Anyway I hope you can bear through my poor mixing of metaphysics!

  27. I was just rereading Ed's Philosophy of Mind book on the section about the indivisibility and simplicity of mind argument as presented by Descartes.

    But a mind is simple, not composed of parts and thus not divisible into further, smaller units. By this Descartes doesn't mean that we can't distinguish various aspects of the mind - its distinct capacities for reason, sensation, emotion and so forth - but rather that these aspects are, unlike aspects of a physical object, aspects of a kind of thing that cannot be divided into further things of the same kind.

    Ed mentions dual personality as a possible counter argument to Descartes' claim and briefly mentions demonic possession as a possible more traditional claim for multiple personality disorder. Ed acknowledges that this is a controversial position to use to disprove MPD, and that there are better points to make against MPD.

    But I wanted to explore this idea a bit further than Ed does in his book. What does demonic possession imply about the mind body problem, if we were to take seriously the claims of demonic possession? Claims such as:

    1-Knowledge of languages unknown to the possessed.
    2-Ability to levitate.
    3-Superhuman strength.
    4-Direct knowledge of the exorcists inner thoughts. For example, the demons in the movie the Exorcist knew about Father Damien's fears about his mother's fate after death and about his struggles with the faith. The demon basically seems to have knowledge of Damien's first person private world of introspection. Or at least is making really good educated guesses about Damien’s inner thoughts.
    5-Ability to take over the body of the subject. Does this not prove a sort of substance dualism?

    Feel free to make whatever points you want. I’d be interested in any skeptical takes on demonic possession as well. How does not account for demonic possession on a naturalistic point of view? Are there any good arguments that can be made against claims of 1 and 2, for example? 3 could be caused by a drug high, I suppose.


    1. Every naturalist i saw talking about possession just dismissed it a priori, so i don't think i know how eould one answer it. Just passing here to coment in this:

      "Ability to take over the body of the subject. Does this not prove a sort of substance dualism?"

      I don't see why it would prove it, aristotelians have no problem with our control of the body being lost by natural means, so this case does not seems anormal. The demon could just, by some way, disrupt the possessed contact with the body, like sleeping and brain damage does, and them start to moving it like they do with normal objects.

    2. Or, alternatively, overcome a person's own control of his body in much the same way a strong person can physically force you to move your arms, though perhaps more intimately (i.e. exercising similar control over ALL of your limbs instead of just one or two). We don't find any difficulty in allowing a demon (or angel) causing material stuff to move, (say, a rock, or a plant or a fish), so on what grounds would a demon be UNable to do the same to your arms and legs and tongue?

    3. Hey Talmid - Good point. Neurosurgeons can stimulate bodily motion with electrodes, so its not much of a stretch to think that a demon could do the same in a much broader way that modern science can already do.

      Good point Tony. In principle there is no good reason why a demon could not take over a person's mind.

      I think these points also apply to 3-Superhuman strength - there is no reason why a demon could not put a person's strength into overdrive in the same way that a person might experience hightened strength with various drugs.

      For 2-levitation I suppose this is just an external power created by the demon to make the body float. No implication for mind body problems.

      For 1-learning a new language... Does the demon program language into the person's brain like I might download java libraries on my PC? Then the demon uses the java libraries (or Greek, or Latin, or Japanese) to code together sentences? Doesn't seem to be the case. Because the possessed does not retain knowledge of these languages after the possession. The language libraries do not remain on the brain's hard drive, so to speak.

      Interesting to speculate on.


  28. Has there been a Thomist (or other Scholastic or Classical Theist) response to Gregory Dawes' work? Especially his book on God and Explanation and his defenses of naturalism?

    I don't have access to the book but from reading reviews it seems not to interact with the main Thomistic arguments very well, so I wanted to see if anybody has looked at it systematically.

  29. Hello Ed,
    are you familiar with Joe Schmid's critique of your/St Aquinas' five ways? If so, do you plan on doing a response, or have you already responded?

  30. [Part 1]

    Dr. Feser:

    Hello! I am currently working through what you identify as the Aristotelian Proof of God's existence in your excellent book Five Proofs of the Existence of God. As I have worked through the argument, the one step I am stuck on is step seven: "The existence of S at any given moment itself presupposes the concurrent actualization of S's potential for existence" (pg. 35). The other steps, I think, all go through. Step seven is the one hang-up for me. My worries are with thinking of existence as a potential and the warrant for rejecting existential inertia.

    My first concern is with thinking of existence as a potential. In order for a substance to exist, it must, of course, actually have existence. Now, could a substance ever have potential and not actual existence? It seems not. Assume for reductio that there is a substance S that has the potential for existence that has not been actualized. But a substance exists if and only if it has actual existence. Thus, S does not exist. So, there exists a substance S that does not exist. But this is absurd. Thus, it must not be possible for there to be a substance S that has the potential for existence that is unactualized. But if it is not possible for there to be a substance S that has the unactualized potential for existence, then it must be that a substance S that exists necessarily exists. But this is absurd. Surely there are contingent substances. So, maybe there is something wrong with the concept of existence being a potential.

    But this seems like a fallacious inference. It seems to commit a modal operator shift fallacy. It’s not that if S exists, then it necessarily exists; rather, it’s that necessarily, if S exists, then it exists, a triviality. And there’s nothing unique about existence here. Consider the potential to be a donkey. Obviously, no donkey can have the unactualized potential of being a donkey. Necessarily, if S is a donkey, then S is actually (and not merely potentially) a donkey. If this reasoning is right, then there doesn’t seem to be anything incoherent about existence being a potential after all.

    Another problem with this reasoning is perhaps in thinking that S’s potential for existence is grounded in S as a whole instead of (perhaps) in a part of S. On hylemorphism, for instance, I think we would want to say that S’s potential for existence is rooted in the prime matter that constitutes S. On this view, when we say that S has the potential to exist, we mean this as shorthand for saying that prime matter has the potential to exist as S. And this potential is actualized by the prime matter being conjoined to a substantial form. But, wouldn’t this just push the problem back a stage? For now we can ask about the potential of existence in prime matter. What would ground the potential for prime matter to exist? Is it even proper to speak of prime matter having the potential of existence full stop? Or does it only make sense to say that prime matter has the potential to exist as some substance or another? Given that prime matter is pure potentiality, I would assume the latter.

    [Continued in Part 2]


    1. You mentioned: “ Now, could a substance ever have potential and not actual existence? It seems must not be possible for there to be a substance S that has the potential for existence that is unactualized.”

      Would the following line of thinking help you to solve the problem?

      A tree has the potential of being made into a table. Before that table’s existence is actualised, it is coherent to say that there is a potential for the table (that can be made from that tree) to exist even though that table has not begun to exist.

      So the potential for the existence of that table lies in the tree. Or there is a potential for the tree to become a table. In this sense, there exists the potential of a table to come into existence even though the table has not yet come into existence.

      The potential of that table’s existence also lies in the mind of a carpenter as the carpenter looks at the tree and plans the design of the table using that tree.

      Another example:

      Before a chick has come into existence, it is coherent to say that there is the potential for a chick to come into existence from a fertilised egg.

      So if we look at a fertilised chicken egg and think of the idea of a chick that is able to come into existence from that egg, it is coherent to say that the IDEA of chick has the potential to be actualised to exist extra-mentally in our actual world, even though the chick has not begun to exist yet.

      Similarly for the earlier example of the tree and the table:

      Before the table existed, it is coherent to say that the IDEA of a table (that can be made from that tree) has the potential to be actualised to exist extra-mentally in our actual world.


      johannes y k hui

  31. [Part 2]

    My second concern is with our warrant for rejecting the thesis of existential inertia. It seems obviously correct that for a substance S to begin to exist, its potential for existence must be actualized. But why would that potential have to be continually actualized? Why, for instance, couldn’t the following be true? A substance S can exist only if its existence is actualized. Once its existence is actualized, S will remain in existence until its potential for nonexistence is actualized. On page 233 of Five Proofs you state the following:

    “One problem with this thesis is that its proponents never explain exactly what it is about a material object or any other contingent thing that could give it this remarkable feature. It is merely suggested, without argument, that things might have “existential inertia”, as if this were no less plausible than the claim that they are conserved in being by God. Another problem with the thesis is that no material thing, nor any other contingent thing possibly could have such a feature. The reason is that, as we have seen, all such things are composite, and in particular are mixtures of actuality and potentiality and of essence and existence, and anything that is composite in such ways requires a sustaining cause.”

    I certainly concur that we want some explanation of how a substance S can persist in existence without a sustaining cause. But it seems like the suggestion above does offer at least a minimal explanation: S persists in existence because its potential for nonexistence remains unactualized. This may not sate all our curiosity, but it is at least an explanation. In fact, one might think that the thesis that S will cease to exist all on its own without an actualizer keeping it in existence would itself violate the principle that the actualization of a potential requires an actualizing cause. For in such a case, S’s potential of nonexistence would be actualized without an actualizer.

    On page 26 of Five Proofs, you state the following (talking about the existence of coffee):

    “Now what makes it the case that the coffee exists? Obviously someone made it by pouring hot water through coffee grounds, but that’s not what I’m asking about. I mean, what makes it true that the coffee exists here and now, and at any particular moment that it exists? What keeps it in existence?”

    You go on to say that it is no good to explain how the coffee came into being nor is it any good to talk about how the coffee might go out of being. But it does seem like these things have a role to play in explaining how it is that the coffee exists here and now. In line with this, the above explanation would seem to be a viable explanatory option. Maybe the coffee exists here and now because the potential for its existence has been actualized and its potential for nonexistence has not been actualized. And, again, wouldn’t the claim that a substance would go out of being “on its own” without an actualizer contradict the principle that the actualization of a potential always requires an actualizer?

    At this point, we could bring into the discussion the distinction between a thing’s essence and its existence that is centerstage in the Thomistic Proof; however, making this move would mean that the Aristotelian Proof would no longer be an independent proof of God’s existence. In the interest, then, of rendering the Aristotelian Proof an independent proof of God’s existence, it seems like we would want to be able to rule out existential inertia by way of reference to actuality and potentiality alone, without having to import the essence/existence distinction.

    [Continued in Part 3]

    1. I propose this: The thesis of Existential Inertia in actualised entities (eg a cup of hot coffee existing on my table now) is wrong because the actualisation of such entities is CONTINUOUSLY a conditional actualisation.

      For example, the actualised existence of my cup of coffee is CONTINUOUSLY conditional on the actualised existence of water molecules.

      The actualised existence of water molecules is in turn CONTINUOUSLY conditional on the actualised existence of oxygen atoms.

      The actualised existence of oxygen molecules is in turn CONTINUOUSLY conditional on the continuous actualisation of the existence of protons.

      And so on.

      We have such a series of CONTINUOUS dependency that terminates in an Unconditionally Existing Actualiser:

      coffee beverage > H2O molecules > O atoms > ... > Unconditionally Existing Actualiser

      So the coffee beverage in my cup does not exist unconditionally at every moment because its CONTINUATION in existence is CONTINUOUSLY conditional on the fulfillment of many other conditions, such as the CONTINUATION in existence of water molecules, while the CONTINUATION in existence of water molecules is CONTINUOUSLY conditional on the fulfillment of many other conditions, and so on and on.

      Hence the coffee beverage does not have existential inertia in the sense that its CONTINUATION in existence at every moment is CONTINUOUSLY conditional on being actualised by the fulfillment of other conditions.

      An explanation of how the coffee beverage began its existence as coffee beverage (eg somebody pouring hot water into a cup containing coffee powder) is different from an explanation of how the coffee beverage is enabled to continue to exist as coffee beverage.


      johannes y k hui

  32. [Part 3]

    In your article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways”, you lay out an argument along an alternative route against the thesis of existential inertia as follows:

    1. A cause cannot give what it does not have to give.
    2. A material substance is a composite of prime matter and substantial form.
    3. Something has existential inertia if and only if it has of itself a tendency to persist in existence once it exists.
    4. But prime matter by itself and apart from substantial form is pure potency, and thus has of itself no tendency to persist in existence.
    5. And substantial form by itself and apart from prime matter is a mere abstraction, and thus of itself also has no tendency to persist in existence.
    6. So neither prime matter as the material cause of a material substance, nor substantial form as its formal cause, can impart to the material substance they compose a tendency to persist in existence.
    7. But there are no other internal principles from which such a substance might derive such a tendency.
    8. So no material substance has a tendency of itself to persist in existence once it exists.
    9. So no material substance has existential inertia.

    At first blush, premise 7 seems challengeable. Perhaps prime matter on its own gives a substance no tendency to persist in existence, and perhaps substantial form on its own gives a substance no tendency to persist in existence (as stated in premises 4 and 5); nevertheless, perhaps prime matter and substantial form jointly give a substance a tendency to persist in existence. But the composite of prime matter and substantial form just is a substance (according to premise 2). So the explanation of why a substance S has existential inertia is that the composite of prime matter and substantial form has existential inertia? But that is the same thing as saying that S has existential inertia because it has existential inertia! 7, therefore, actually seems to be secure, at least so long as premise 2 is true. Premise 1 is the principle of proportionate causality, which I find quite plausible. Premise 3 is true by the definition of existential inertia. Premises 4 and 5 are true given the natures of substantial form and prime matter. Therefore, I think everything ultimately hinges on premise 2, which is an affirmation of hylemorphism.

    But, in a footnote on page 28 of Five Proofs, you state that hylemorphism is not necessary to the Aristotelian Proof. On the one hand, if hylemorphism is correct, then this is kind of a moot point; however, on the other hand, it would be preferable if the argument did not have to be dependent on hylemorphism, given its controversial status. So, I’m wondering if existential inertia can be refuted by the actuality/potentiality distinction alone or if it does, in the end, have to be combined with either the essence/existence distinction or the form/matter distinction of hylemorphism. At the moment, I’m not seeing that it can be.

    I would highly value your insights on these issues as I continue to work through the argument.

    Happy New Year!

    1. See my response to your Part 2. Over there I attempted to show that without relying on hylemorphism (or on the distinction between essence and existence), we can argue that any entity that lacks intrinsic existence (ie any entity whose existence is CONTINUOUSLY conditional on the fulfillment of other conditions) would not have existential inertia.


      johannes y k hui

  33. Anonymous
    That's a very long comment which Dr Feser is unlikely to answer. He's very busy. Email Prof Christopher Martin at the University of St.Thomas in Texas. He's a brilliant philosopher and he might engage with you. Some of the faculty members at Notre Dame or the University of Dallas may also.

    1. Thanks for the lead! I understand Dr. Feser is very busy. I figured I would give it a try but also expected some responses from other kind folks like yourself. God bless!

  34. Tanquery is barely passible, maybe only served best for a G&T Even though it is stricktly speaking not a London Dry,drink Plymouyth for best Martini. It's also all around general best mixer / workhorse gin.

  35. Could retroactive prayers be efficacious? For example, praying for the salvation of those who have already died (by far the most important matter for which this issue is relevant).

    Please let me make it clear that I'm *not* asking whether God can change the past. That definitely cannot be done. (I've searched around to check whether other people had ever asked the same question and, sure enough, they did; but it turned out that oftentimes people attempting an answer misunderstood the question to mean this instead.) The point is rather, since God is outside of time, he knows from all eternity that at some specific point in time I will pray for such and such to have occurred at some earlier point in time, and thus He can apply the respective merits before I actually obtain them.

    The Church doesn't teach it explicitly, and it'd definitely be reasonable to expect her to if that were possible. However, Saint Padre Pio is said to have offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for past events, and it would appear to me that Sacred Scripture is in accord with this possibility, as in Isaiah 65:24:

    "And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will hear; as they are yet speaking, I will hear."

    1. When I've been asked about this, I don't try to explain that God is outside of time, and that therefore ideas like "already" don't limit Him -- I just say, "God was obviously aware, while that person was still alive, of what my prayer today would be."

    2. Thomas P. Flint has a discussion of this in his book Divine Providence: The Molinist Account. Scott A. Davison has also done a significant amount of work on this question. He has a discussion of it in his book Petitionary Prayer: A Philosophical Investigation. Those are two great resources you could check out.

  36. Hello, Dr. Feser -- I can't logically accept the idea that the lives of animals have no sort of sequel; that "The dog is dead" closes the dog's story entirely. You've heard the argument before, of course, but -- animals such as dogs, cats, horses, etc. are conscious (as opposed to anaesthetized), don't sin, and suffer, sometimes horribly. Aquinas, at least, has said that they don't have souls. Okay -- how's this? It's certainly arguable that in Heaven we'll see the real Pacific Ocean, of which the one we're aware of is a shadow on Plato's cave wall; same with our mountains, the sun, the other stars (and I admit I may be thinking a bit of Aslan's Country). So -- Heaven being infinite -- why shouldn't there be the real version of my cat Toby, of which the cat I knew was a shadow on Plato's wall? -- Tim Powers

    1. I believe that the idea is that since the irrational animals have no imaterial souls, when they die there is nothing left of they to unite with their bodies at the end of the world. This means that if God creates another Toby in heaven he will be a diferent animal, for there is no continuity between both.

      Ed did write about it before, take a look:

    2. Dogs and other animals are not persons and are therefore not unique, except in their physical attributes, which are irrelevant for any dogs in a heavenly setting. They won't really matter much to anyone in possession of the Beatific Vision anyway.

      Or put another way, Toby is one of many shadows of the Cat Form that either need not / will not, exist/matter much for people who have God.

    3. “ 9I have no need for a bull from your stall
      or goats from your pens,
      10for every beast of the forest is Mine—
      the cattle on a thousand hills.
      11I know every bird in the mountains,
      and the creatures of the field are Mine”

      I don’t agree with Aquinas on this one, any more than I agree with him on the four elements. Brilliant though he was, and as much of a fan I am, I don’t think he captures the fullness of what animals represent in creation.

    4. Simon, you mean he didn't capture your feelings right

    5. I appreciate that I didn’t put forward a reasoned argument.

      I’ll ask a question instead maybe. Where do memories reside? Are they in the matter of the brain? In some element of the soul only accessible to that individual? Something else?

  37. Dr. Feser,

    Could you please open a Patreon or SubscribeStar (or even a Substack) account so that we can support your blog writing financially? Your blogs are well-worth supporting for $5.00 a month and I would love to do so, so that you do not just have to rely on book revenue.

    Please consider it.

    Thank you.


  38. Hi Tim Powers. Happy New Year. My first post here, or maybe first in many years. For what it is worth:

    Aquinas would not say that animals are without souls. He would not even say that rice or rhododendrons are without souls. I think he would agree that the soul is the principle of life in a material being. Are human, animal, and vegetable souls of similar quality? Are all animal and even vegetable souls made in the image of God? Do they all have free and able to merit heaven or hell for their actions for or against their Creator? These are questions that lead Catholic theologians to dismiss the idea of dogs and horses being capable of experiencing the Beatific Vision or the damnation of exclusion from the same. To experience the Beatific Vision would be to cease to be a dog or a horse!

    Thanks for your consideration...

    Not Prof. Feser. But I doubt he would have much with which to disagree.

    Rory McKenzie

    1. Hi, Rory --It just seems like bad justice-math. Anybody who's owned a dog knows that they're each unique in personality, and have feelings toward us and one another. They play, sulk, figure things out. I just can't see the symmetry of undeserved suffering being left hanging in the big equation. (And yes, happy new year! I look forward to being in a crowded bar again one day.)

    2. The soul is simply the form of the body.

  39. Just a quick question about Molinism, which I take to be the view that God knows the truth or otherwise of all counterfactuals involving libertarian creaturely freedom, so that for example, he knows how I would have chosen through life if born into different cultural and historical circumstances. Molinists such as William Lane Craig employ the view quite widely in their theology. For example, they believe that God so providentially ordered the world that either all will be saved, or all those who do not exhibit transworld depravity will be, or a maximum feasible number will be ( if this is not everyone ).

    Now as God is omnipotent, I take it that he possesses so called 'middle' or counterfactual knowledge if it is logically possible for him to do so, but is it? Is Molinism correct, and if not why not?

    1. Sorry, at 9.47PM I meant omniscient of course!

    2. Unknown,
      Molinism is just another incoherent attempt to assign mutually exclusive traits to god by inventing a term that is defined as the combination of those mutually exclusive traits.

      Omniscience is mutually exclusive with free will of any kind in any being. God cannot logically be omniscient and also possess free will of any sort. Man cannot possess free will of any sort if god is omniscient.

      Inventing an incoherent term, such as Molinism, solves no logical problem and merely serves to mask the incoherent thinking of the proponent.

      Free will requires that things could be otherwise, that Alice could choose A or she could choose B.

      Omniscience of god requires the absence of real free choice. On omniscience all apparent choices must be mechanistic, like a computer choice, deterministically choosing the outcome based on the input mechanistically but never freely.

      Once god knows every detail of the future at time t=0 then all events and all states and all processes in future times must proceed and transpire precisely as god knows they will at t=0. Therefore if Alice is to choose B she must choose B and there is zero probability or zero possibility she will choose A

      Alice may have the personal experience of feeling like she freely chose B but on the omniscience of god that personal feeling is necessarily illusory since at t=0 choice B was perfectly foretold in the book of the future that is god’s mind.

      Stories of a god that somehow exists outside of time and merely observes free choices made inside time are also incoherent assertions. God acts inside our time and through our time so the term “god exists outside of time” is just another incoherent assertion.

      Prophesies demonstrate how the notion of god merely observing free choices is wrong. God tells the prophet that in the future Alice will choose B, and the prophet writes down in a real book in our time that Alice will choose B. Then the prophet dies, many years transpire, until Alice is born, grows, and at the prophesized time Alice must choose B, since she has no possibility to choose A, lest the prophet and therefore god be wrong, which is impossible. Alice can have the illusion that she freely chose B, but because it was prophesized she therefore had no real choice other than to chose B, all other choices being of zero possibility, making Alice’s choice pre-determined, deterministic, and therefore not really free at all.

    3. The notion of libertarian free will is incoherent too , as there is literally no accounting for why one choice is taken rather than others - the choice is not determined - yet the agent is meant to be responsible for it as if it had some kind of genuine control. Giving a clear and coherent account of what is meant to be going on here has defeated non-naturalistically inclined philosophers, who end up saying something along the lines that the 'agent' uses its 'agent powers' in a fundamental act of 'agent causation' to make a choice. This is all just made up of course. There is no evidence at all to support the existance of such an ill defined form of causation. It is just magical thinking , brought forth in the service of metaphysical and theological belief.

      What say you StarDusty?

    4. StardustyPsyche argues that divine foreknowledge of libertarian free choices is impossible, while Anonymous takes a dim view of the very notion of libertarian free will itself. But for those of you out there who think that we do have libertarian free will, and that God can foreknow our free choices, is it logically possible for God to know counterfactuals involving creaturely freedom, ie what someone would do in circumstances other than those that pertain? I have a problem seeing where even God could get this information from ( involving as it does a libertarian choice in an imagined world - God being outside time would not help here! ).Also, how would God know that he had the correct information, as there would be no 'truth conditions' making it so?

    5. Anon,
      The notion of libertarian free will breaks down under several sorts of analysis.

      As for an "agent" with "agent powers" a self drive car or an AI robot could be an agent with agent powers, yet clearly such systems have no free will.

      Indeed, what exactly is this "agent"? What is it made of? By what mechanisms does it function? Simply asserting a sort of ethereal black box has no explanatory power.

      The feeling of agency and the sense of responsibility are very real human experiences, but their ultimate reality breaks down upon detailed analysis.

      While free will is, ultimately, an illusion, a code of responsibility is a useful social construct, and a valid mechanism for members of a deterministic social species to influence each other's behaviors.

    6. Re libertarian free will: doesn't Plantinga argue that it is not incompatible with God's omniscience, since the truth of a self-contradictory proposition cannot be known? On this argument, the conjunction of "Alice freely wills to do P" and "X foreknows that Alice will freely will to do P" entails a contradiction. So if Alice freely chooses to do P, no mind can foreknow that Alice will freely choose to do P. This is along the lines of theistic rejoinders like "it's self-contradictory to demand that God pick up a rock that is so heavy that an omnipotent being cannot pick it up."

      I don't know enough about Plantinga's argument against the Logical PoE to be sure whether he'd argue that not even God can foreknow freely-willed acts (since if He did, they wouldn't be freely willed).

      Whether this leaves a leg to Molinism would then be a further problem.

    7. I don’t see the problem here. God as the ‘simple’ beyond all human categories is not constrained by time. Just as someone in a helicopter above a carnival procession can see the front, the middle and the end of the procession at the same time, does not take away agency from those in the procession, why should there be a problem? There is a big overlap between will and consciousness, both of which are given to us by god, part of us being in his image.

      Other creatures are not meta-conscious in the same way we are, maybe analogous to our fall from primal innocence, However other creatures still have both conscious experience and will to some extent, and I don’t even see a problem with that (even if instincts play an even greater role).

    8. @Simon Adams, I was asking about Plantinga's argument against the logical PoE, not about Aquinas' "man looking from a height at travelers on a road" analogy.

    9. Apologies ficino, I should have made it clear that I was replying to this from SP;

      “ Stories of a god that somehow exists outside of time and merely observes free choices made inside time are also incoherent assertions.” ...

    10. Simon is a moron; God doesn't know by observation.

  40. Random fact: Interestingly, Hitler was a huge fan of Karl May’s Winnetou books and saw Germans as the “Indians of Europe.”

    ‘In his contribution, Frank Usbeck analyzes the interrelations between German nationalism, new spiritualism, and the German euphoria for Native Americans, in the context of the eventual appropriation of this euphoria for Nazi propaganda. Focusing on these interrelations, he argues that the Nazis pragmatically utilized popular tropes of Indian imagery to portray Germans as the Indians of Europe and to present National Socialism as the political and spiritual manifestation of natural law. Around 1900, nationalist constructions of an idealized Germanic tribal past informed concepts of social reform groups which tackled the negative effects of secularization, urbanization, and industrialization. Mystifying nature, and (re-)discovering a holistic worldview, these reformers borrowed heavily from popular German Indian imagery. The Nazis eventually portrayed both Germans and Indians as indigenous peoples who protected both their cultural integrity and their natural environment against the onrush of Western ideas and the destruction of their homelands by international capitalist greed.’

  41. Dr. Feser, I'm sure you have to shift through a large volume of comments per blog post to make sure trolls and off topic rants don't go through. Have you thought about setting up a moderator or two to do some of the menial work and save you some time since you're incredibly busy? Maybe there are a few members that can be fair and faithful.

    1. Interesting to notice that this post followed almost immediately after StarDusty made his contributions, though in fact they were reasonabke onex, and the second a response to a direct question put to him.

      No doubt Constable Taliban wanting to be censor in chief again.

    2. Although trolls and off topic rants can derail a thread, that is largly because some people persist in engaging with them. Although annoying, the rest of us can just 'read around' the offending sections though.

      I would urge Professor Feser not to enlist the help of censors, whether readers of this blog or otherwise
      - actually, especially not readers of this blog, where biases and petty prejudices might well creep into the proceedure )- as it is by no means an easy thing to define what a troll is and then identify them with any certainty, and injustices would inevitably follow. Also of course, a troll might learn through time , grow in their understanding of the faith and eventually recant of their practice.

  42. Any good resources on critical theory and social constructivism from a conservative perspective, or anything similar? I'd also like to ask if anyone knows of fiction works that integrate Thomism somehow.

  43. Is AT/scholasticism boring?

  44. Hi everyone,

    I don't know if people over here have heard about this book, but you'd be well-advised to read it, as it's well-written, wide-ranging and non-polemical in tone, and its criticisms are substantive:

    "The Unnecessary Science: A Critical Analysis of Natural Law Theory" by Gunther Laird (Onus Books, 2020)

    More details here:

    Laird's book (which, by the way, is his first) could be aptly described as the skeptic's answer to "The Last Superstition," although I should point out that Laird has read all of Feser's books, and many of his blog posts, too. By the way, I'll be reviewing his book over at The Skeptical Zone in a couple of weeks. Cheers.

    1. Natural law theory is the "unecessary science". Would I be right if I guessed that it's another book about how we want to simply assume all the things we deny with words?

  45. 2020 demonstrated the wisdom of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the Society of St Pius X in their dealings with post-Conciliar Popes. This wisdom has contrasted with the antics of Archbishop Vigano over the last year.

    The premise is how to respond to Popes whose liberal and modernist influences cause them to damage and even scandalise the Church. It is a profound contradiction which has led to various responses, from mindless conformity to sedevacantism. Archbishop Lefebvre's position on the legitimacy of these pontiffs was that whatever the doubts raised, they were never sufficient to alter the SSPX's stance of recognising, but not following such pontiffs on those occasions where their worldly ideologies seemed to have taken precedence. For this, Archbishop Lefebvre was condemned for many years by conservative prelates who insisted these Popes were above criticism.

    Over the last year, Archbishop Vigano has "come out" as a traditionalist. However, far from recognising Pope Francis, he claims "Bergoglio" is the "false prophet" of Apocalyptic biblical interpretation, (La Verita, 19/12/2020) here to collaborate with the "Antichrist" (who he informs us is probably not Biden). He claims ex-President Trump was the only thing holding back the Son of Perdition etc. He has joined the ranks of Lutheran-type nutters who see Rome as the whore of Babylon and has made the crisis of the post-Vatican Catholic Church one and the same struggle as the recent United States election. He makes common cause with yesterday's Rome-haters and their anti-Catholic conspiracy nonsense.

    Meanwhile the Society of St. Pius X continues its ministry in the sure knowledge that, as Vatican I defined, the See of Peter would always be there to guide the Church, and that, far from becoming the cradle of Christ's enemies, it will get its act together eventually, as it always has. It appears conservatives are waking up to Vigano. The sooner the better.

    1. Perhaps it will not 'get its act together eventually', but will continue to change in response to liberal and modernist influences, so that it does become "The Cradle of Christ's enemies.' No option then Cervantes than for you to be part or a schism.