Thursday, October 15, 2020

Lockdowns versus social justice

The phrase “social justice” has a long and honorable history in Catholic social thought going back to the nineteenth century, but is now typically deployed in defense of policies that are diametrically opposed to social justice as the Church and its thinkers have always understood it.  And unfortunately, this is true even in the case of many Catholics, who lazily adopt various leftist attitudes and policies simply because they are falsely but relentlessly presented as concomitants of “social justice.” 

Last April, Fr. John Naugle argued in an important article at Rorate Caeli that indefinite lockdowns violate the natural human right to labor in order to provide for oneself and one’s family, and thus are deeply contrary to social justice.  He revisits the issue in a follow-up article.  Some Catholic defenders of the lockdowns are people who, in other contexts, claim to stand up for the rights of workers and to oppose consequentialist thinking.  But as Fr. Naugle points out, their rationalizations for the lockdowns are precisely consequentialist in character – pitting the alleged benefits of lockdowns against inviolable natural rights – and harm workers far more than any other segment of society.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Church embraces Columbus

We saw in a recent post how the Scholastic theologian Bartolomé de Las Casas vigorously defended the rights and dignity of the American Indians against the cruelty of Spanish conquistadors.  Las Casas in no way minimized the extent of this cruelty.  On the contrary, he is commonly accused of exaggeration and overzealousness.  So what did Las Casas think of Columbus?  Did he condemn him as an initiator of oppression?

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Joe Biden versus “democratic norms”

No one who claims to favor Biden over Trump on the grounds of protecting “democratic norms” can, at this point, be speaking in good faith.  They are either culpably deceiving themselves or cynically trying to deceive others.  Packing the Supreme Court would be as radical a violation of “democratic norms” as any president has ever attempted.  It would destroy the independence of the judiciary, making of the court a dictatorship for the party in power.  Yet Biden and Harris persistently refuse to say whether they favor court-packing.  Biden has now said that voters “don’t deserve” to know his position on this absolutely crucial issue before the election – even though he acknowledges that “it’s a great question” and says he doesn’t blame people for asking it!  Can you imagine the hysteria that would ensue if Trump gave such a lunatic answer to a question that momentous?  This is reason enough not to vote for Biden, whether or not you vote for Trump. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Weigel’s terrible arguments

In his article “Truman’s Terrible Choice” at First Things, George Weigel defends the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I respond at Catholic Herald.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Aquinas contra sedition and factional tyranny

As Aquinas teaches, “the chief concern of the ruler of a multitude… is to procure the unity of peace” (De Regno, Book I, Chapter 3).  All other social goods are subordinate to that, because they all presuppose it.  Without peace, no social good is secure.  Without unity – and in particular, without a shared commitment to a common set of laws, procedures, cultural norms, and the like – no peace is possible.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Aquinas contra globalism

In Book Two, Chapter 3 of his little work De Regno (or On Kingship), Thomas Aquinas addresses matters of trade and its effect on the material and spiritual well-being of a nation.  On the one hand, and at the end of the chapter, he allows that:

Trade must not be entirely kept out of a city, since one cannot easily find any place so overflowing with the necessaries of life as not to need some commodities from other parts.  Also, when there is an over-abundance of some commodities in one place, these goods would serve no purpose if they could not be carried elsewhere by professional traders.  Consequently, the perfect city will make a moderate use of merchants.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The rule of lawlessness

As Aristotle and Aquinas teach us, human beings are by nature rational social animals.  Because we are a kind of animal, we need to be safe from violent attack and we need the freedom to acquire food, shelter, clothing and other material goods and to be able to rely on stable possession of them.  Because we are social animals, we need the cooperation of others in order to acquire these material goods, and we also need the warmth of human relationships and a sense of belonging and loyalty to a larger whole – to a family, a community, a nation.  Because we are rational animals, we need for others to appeal to our reason in order to persuade us of their opinions and favored policies, rather than resorting to intimidation and violence.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Scholastics contra racism

Condemning racism (or “racialist prejudice,” as he referred to it), Pope St. Paul VI affirmed that:

The members of mankind share the same basic rights and duties, as well as the same supernatural destiny.  Within a country which belongs to each one, all should be equal before the law, find equal admittance to economic, cultural, civic and social life and benefit from a fair sharing of the nation's riches.  (Octogesima Adveniens 16). 

This suggests a useful definition of racism, which is best understood as the denial of what the pope here affirms.  In other words, racism is the thesis that not all races have the same basic rights and duties and/or supernatural destiny, so that not all races should be equal before the law, find equal admittance to economic, cultural, civic and social life, or benefit from a fair sharing of the nation's riches.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Open thread (and a comment on trolling)

We’re long overdue for another open thread.  Now is the time for you to post that otherwise off-topic comment I’ve had to delete.  From Being Itself to mental health, from Mickey Spillane to John Coltrane, from Dada to Prada, in this post everything is on-topic.  Naturally, the normal rules of decency and civility still apply.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Separating scientism and state

Scientism transforms science into an intolerant and all-encompassing ideology.  Bad as it is when it issues in crackpot philosophy, it can be even worse when used to rationalize destructive public policy – as with the increasingly idiotic and oppressive lockdowns that have been imposed across much of the world.  Now perhaps more than ever we need the corrective provided by the late, great philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994), who argued trenchantly for a separation of scientism and state.  I offer a primer in a new article at The American Mind.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The particle collection that fancied itself a physicist

I haven’t done a “Physicists say the darndest things” post in a while.  People usually ask me to write one up every time a Lawrence Krauss, Sean Carroll, or Stephen Hawking (well, lately not Hawking) publishes a new “gee whiz” pop philosophy book masquerading as a pop science book.  I find the genre extremely boring.  It’s always the same dreary, sophomoric PBS-level stuff: We’re all just heaps of particles, but golly this really increases rather than decreases the wonder of it all, and here’s some half-baked amateur metaphysics and life lessons that even hardcore materialist philosophers would regard as fallacious and banal.  The only variable is whether the crap philosophy in these $30 time wasters is coupled with clueless arrogance (cough, Krauss) or at least presented with some humility. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Russell’s No Man’s Land

In his History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell famously characterized philosophy as follows:

Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something intermediate between theology and science.  Like theology, it consists of speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so far, been unascertainable; but like science, it appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that of revelation.  All definite knowledge – so I should contend – belongs to science; all dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology.  But between theology and science there is a No Man’s Land, exposed to attack from both sides; and this No Man’s Land is philosophy.  Almost all the questions of most interest to speculative minds are such as science cannot answer, and the confident answers of theologians no longer seem so convincing as they did in former centuries. (p. xiii)

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The links you’ve been longing for

At Medium, David Oderberg on the prophets Orwell, Huxley, and Bradbury.

3:16 interviews Thomist philosopher Gaven Kerr.

At Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Kerr reviews Timothy Pawl’s book In Defense of Extended Conciliar Christology.

Honest criticism or cancel culture?  At Persuasion, Jonathan Rauch on six signs that you’re dealing with the latter.  At The New York Times, Ross Douthat offers ten theses about cancel culture.

If aliens really exist, where the hell are they?  Michael Flynn surveys 34 possible answers.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Popes, creeds, councils, and catechisms contra universalism

One more post on the topic of universalism before we give it a rest for a while.  Whatever other Christians might think, for the Catholic Church the matter is settled.  That it is possible that some will be damned forever is the de fide teaching of the Church, so that the thesis that it is necessary that all will eventually be saved is heretical.  This is why even Hans Urs von Balthasar and Catholics of like mind argue only that we may hope that all will be saved, not that we can know that they will be, much less that it is necessary that they will be.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

A statement from David Bentley Hart

NOTE: David Bentley Hart and I have had some very heated exchanges over the years, but I have always found him to be at bottom a decent fellow.  That remains true.  During our recent dispute over his book on universalism, the one thing I took great exception to was the accusation of dishonesty on my part, and I let David know this privately.  He sent me the following statement to post here, for which I thank him.  I would also like to reaffirm my longstanding admiration for much of his work, such as his books Atheist Delusions and The Experience of God.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Scripture and the Fathers contra universalism

A rhetorical game that universalists like to play is to suggest that in the early Church there was from the beginning a robust universalist tradition running alongside the standard teaching that some are damned forever, and that the latter view simply became dominant at some point and pushed aside the former.  Indeed, they claim, this non-universalist view is rooted in only a handful of scriptural passages, in illustration of which they will quote two or three of the best-known texts explicitly threatening everlasting punishment.  They will then claim that there is, by contrast, a mountain of scriptural passages implying universalism.  Origen, on this narrative, was simply giving expression to what was already clearly there in the tradition, indeed what was perhaps the dominant tendency in the New Testament itself.  This is standard David Bentley Hart shtick, both in his book That All Shall Be Saved and in earlier work.

Friday, July 24, 2020

No urgency without hell

A common argument in defense of the eternity of hell is that without it, there would be no urgency to repent or to convince others to repent.  Call this the “argument from urgency.”  One objection to the argument is that it makes true virtue impossible, since it transforms morality into a matter of outward obedience out of fear, rather than inward transformation out of sincere love of God.  Another is that it adds a cynical scare tactic to the moral teaching of Christ, the beauty of which is sufficient to lead us to repentance when it is properly presented.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Hart, hell, and heresy

Well, yikes, as the kids say.  Hell hath no fury like David Bentley Hart with his pride hurt.  At Eclectic Orthodoxy, he creates quite the rhetorical spectacle replying to my review of his book That All Shall Be Saved.  In response, I’ll say only a little about the invective and focus mainly on the substance.  Since there’s almost none there, that will save lots of time.  And since Catholic Herald gave me only 1200 words to address the enormous pile of sophistries that is his book, I would in any case like to take this opportunity to expand on some of the points I could make in only a cursory way in the review.

Monday, July 20, 2020

The experts have no one to blame but themselves

The Week’s Damon Linker frets about the state of the “American character,” citing an emergency physician’s wife he knows whose friends ignore her frantic pleas on Facebook to take COVID-19 more seriously.  The Hill reports that the “experts” are exasperated that people aren’t responding to their warnings about the virus with sufficient urgency. 

Well, of course they aren’t, because so many experts, journalists, and politicians have, on this subject, proven themselves to be completely full of it. 

Computer campus

As you know, academic life has largely gone online this year.  My own classes at Pasadena City College this fall will be entirely online.

The Thomistic Institute has also adapted to the circumstances with its series of online Quarantine Lectures.  I will be giving one of them this Thursday, July 23, on the topic “The Metaphysics of the Will.”  Details here.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Plato predicted woke tyranny

What we are seeing around us today may well turn out to be a transition from decadent democratic egalitarianism to tyranny, as Plato described the process in The Republic.  I spell it out in a new essay at The American Mind

Monday, July 13, 2020

Review of Hart

My review of David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation appears in the latest issue of Catholic Herald.  You can read it online here.  (It’s behind a paywall, but when you click on the link you will see instructions telling you how to register for free access.) 

Here are some earlier posts that explore in greater detail some of the issues raised in the review:

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Other minds and modern philosophy

The “problem of other minds” goes like this.  I have direct access to my own thoughts and experiences, but not to yours.  I can perceive only your body and behavior.  So how do I know you really have any thoughts and experiences?  Maybe you merely behave as if you had them, but in reality you are a “zombie” in the philosophy of mind sense, devoid of conscious awareness.  And maybe this is true of everyone other than me.  How do I know that any minds at all exist other than my own?

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The virtue of patriotism

Patriotism involves a special love for and reverence toward one’s own country.  These days it is often dismissed as sentimental, unsophisticated, or even bigoted.  In fact it is a moral virtue and its absence is a vice.  Aquinas explains the basic reason:

A man becomes a debtor to others in diverse ways in accord with the diverse types of their excellence and the diverse benefits that he receives from them.  In both these regards, God occupies the highest place, since He is the most excellent of all and the first principle of both our being and our governance.  But in second place, the principles of our being and governance are our parents and our country, by whom and in which we are born and governed.  And so, after God, a man is especially indebted to his parents and to his country.  Hence, just as [the virtue of] religion involves venerating God, so, at the second level, [the virtue of] piety involves venerating one’s parents and country.  Now the veneration of one’s parents includes venerating all of one’s blood relatives... On the other hand, the veneration of one’s country includes the veneration of one’s fellow citizens and of all the friends of one’s country.  (Summa Theologiae II-II.101.1, Freddoso translation)

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The popes against the revolution

The Church has consistently condemned doctrinaire laissez-faire forms of capitalism and insisted on just wages, moderate state intervention in the economy, and the grave duty of the rich to assist the poor.  Everyone knows these things because they are frequently talked about, and rightly so.  But the Church has also consistently and vigorously opposed socialism in all its forms and all left-wing revolutionary movements, for reasons grounded in natural law and Christian moral theology.  This is less frequently talked about, but especially important today, when much of what is being done or called for in the name of justice is in fact gravely immoral. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

ACPQ symposium on Aristotle’s Revenge

The American Catholic Philosophical Association meeting in Minneapolis last November hosted an Author Meets Critics session on my book Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science.  The proceedings have now been published in the Summer 2020 issue of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly.  In the first essay I provide a précis of the book.  In the second essay, philosopher Robert Koons addresses what I say in the book about the A-theory and B-theory of time, and argues that the latter is easier to reconcile with an Aristotelian philosophy of nature than I suggest.  In the third essay, physicist Stephen Barr puts forward some criticisms of my views about method, space, and substantial form.  In the final essay, I respond to Koons and Barr.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Envy cancels justice

Envy is often mistaken for anger at injustice, because both can issue in hatred.  But the hatred that issues from a desire for justice is righteous, whereas the hatred that issues from envy is wicked.  How can we know the difference?  One telltale sign is the object of one’s hatred.  Is it what a person does?  Or the person himself?  Aquinas writes:

It is lawful to hate the sin in one's brother, and whatever pertains to the defect of Divine justice, but we cannot hate our brother's nature and grace without sin.  Now it is part of our love for our brother that we hate the fault and the lack of good in him, since desire for another’s good is equivalent to hatred of his evil.  Consequently the hatred of one's brother, if we consider it simply, is always sinful.  (Summa theologiae II-II.34.3)

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Apt pupil

Justice Neil Gorsuch was a student of John Finnis, foremost proponent of the “New Natural Law Theory” (NNLT).  Is that relevant to understanding the Bostock decision?  It might seem not, given that NNLT thinkers like Robbie George (here and here) and Ryan Anderson have strongly criticized Gorsuch’s reasoning.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Locke’s “transubstantiation” of the self

Locke’s agnosticism about substance led him to treat the self as essentially a bundle of attributes.  Given his empiricism, he takes it that the most we can say of a substance – whether material or immaterial – is that it is a “something, I know not what” that underlies attributes.  And that is too thin a conception to lend confidence to the thesis that the self qua substance can survive death and be rewarded or punished in the afterlife.  What to do?  Locke’s solution was to ignore substance as beside the point.  What matters for Locke is that one’s consciousness, and in particular one’s memories, can carry over after the death of the body, whether or not there is a soul for them to inhere in.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Great minds on wokeness

If you want to understand woke totalitarianism, I recommend reading Plato on democracy, Aristotle and Aquinas on envy, and Nietzsche on ressentiment.
Or you could just watch a few minutes of John Cleese, Seinfeld, South Park, and Family Guy.   (But do it soon, before it’s all removed.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Theology and the analytic a posteriori

Philosophers traditionally distinguish between analytic and synthetic propositions.  An analytic proposition is one that is true or false by virtue of the relations between its constituent concepts.  A stock example is “All bachelors are unmarried,” which is true because the concept of being unmarried is included in the concept of being a bachelor.  A synthetic proposition is true by virtue of something beyond the relations between its constituent concepts.  For example, the proposition “Some bachelors are lonely” is true by virtue of a contingent empirical relation between being a bachelor and being lonely, rather than a necessary conceptual relation between them.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Pod people

With woke fanatics suddenly overrunning The New York Times, the public health profession, peaceful protests, and even the knitting community (!), life in these United States is starting to look a little like the 1978 sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  If you’re looking for something timely to watch this evening, I recommend it.  (It’s a great flick anyway.) 

The metaphor is near perfect.  People are transformed into robotic pod people only after first falling asleep and (get this) waking up.  One moment they’re polite fellow citizens, the next they are all gaping maws, shrieking at you so as to summon the rest of the mob over for reeducation or a beat down.  After their transformation, even longtime friends and loved ones suddenly turn on you.  And in a nice touch, much of the focus of the movie is on the pod people’s commandeering of… the local health department.

If you want to turn it into film festival, next rent The Last Emperor and check out its chilling portrayal of the Maoist Red Guard.  (Some of our wokesters have apparently seen it, and thought it a “How to” video.)

And then, to see where this mentality leads if unchecked, The Killing Fields

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

What “the science” is saying this week (Updated)

Andrew Sullivan calls our attention to epidemiologist Tara C. Smith, who moves with that curious herd of “experts” suddenly not terribly concerned about social distancing when the protesters filling the streets are left-wing rather than right-wing.  Writes Sullivan: “The message to normies: going outside is killing grandma. The message to woke kids: never mind!”

So which is it?  Were people like Smith lying before about the danger of spreading the virus, in order to promote a political agenda?  Or being honest about it but now willing to endanger countless lives, in order to promote a political agenda?

Friday, May 29, 2020

Metaphysical taxidermy

I’ve often emphasized that the reason consciousness poses such a persistent problem for materialism has less to do with consciousness itself than it has to do with the desiccated conception of matter that we’ve inherited from early modern philosophy and science.  Barry Dainton makes the same point a couple of times in his book Self.  For example, he writes:

Friday, May 22, 2020

The lockdown is no longer morally justifiable

As I have said before, I think that the lockdown that was put in place in the United States two months ago was morally justifiable given the circumstances at the time.  In my opinion, under current circumstances, it is no longer morally justifiable.  To be sure, I am not denying that some social distancing measures are still justifiable and even necessary.  I am also not denying that a more modest lockdown may still be defensible in some localities.  But the draconian total lockdown that was put in place across most of the country is at this point no longer defensible, and state and local authorities who are relaxing it are right to do so.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Oderberg on the hierarchy of being

In February, David Oderberg gave a lecture in Oxford on the theme “Recovering the Hierarchy of Being.”  You can now watch it on YouTube.  Be sure also to check out David’s new book The Metaphysics of Good and Evil (about which you can find information at the publisher’s website).

Friday, May 15, 2020

The lockdown and appeals to authority

Here are two things every serious student of logical fallacies understands.  First, if what is at issue is the soundness of an argument, then the motives and expertise of the person giving the argument are completely irrelevant.  To fail to see this is to commit an ad hominem fallacy of “poisoning the well.”  Second, if what is at issue is the credibility of expert testimony, then the motives and expertise of the person giving the testimony are highly relevant.  To fail to see this is to commit a fallacy of “appeal to authority.”

Friday, May 8, 2020

Presentism and analogical language

Terms are used univocally when they are used in the same sense, as the word “bat” is in both “The baseball player swung the bat” and “The cricket player swung the bat.”  Terms are used equivocally when why are used in completely unrelated senses, as the term “bat” is in “The baseball player swung the bat” and “A bat flew in through Bruce Wayne’s window.”  The analogical use of terms is a middle ground kind of usage.  I gave an example when discussing Aristotelian realism in my recent First Things review of William Lane Craig’s book God Over All:

Friday, May 1, 2020

Joe Biden Superstar

For something lighter as you go into the weekend, have a listen to songstress Hannah Hoffman’s “You Know the Thing,” a setting to music of Joe Biden’s deep thoughts on the foundations of human rights.  This promises to become something of a new genre, given that we’ve already had The Gregory Brothers’ now-classic Biden-penned hit “Hairy Legs.”  Certainly you can take it to the bank that Biden will keep providing us with interesting lyrics.

While you’re at it, you should check out also the jazzy Ms. Hoffman’s philosophical tunes “Euthyphro,”  “Fallacy Funk,” and “The Trolley Problem.”