Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sold out!

It seems that some people have had difficulty recently in getting a hold of a copy of Aquinas. Amazon.com appears to have been out of stock for several weeks now, and it looks like Philosophy of Mind (which has the same publisher) is sold out there as well (though you can still get a new copy of either book from one of the second hand dealers who sell through Amazon, or from your better Borders and Barnes and Noble outlets). While I am, needless to say, gratified to see that they are popular, I regret the inconvenience this situation has caused anyone. My publisher tells me that their U.S. distributor will be re-stocked with Aquinas by August 31st, and that they hope to have Philosophy of Mind readily available again within a month. In the meantime, you can read Ryan Anderson’s kind review of Aquinas in First Things to see what you’re missing.


  1. How about a Kindle edition? Paper is so 20th century! And I can promise you at least one purchase.

  2. Dr. Feser,

    I was wondering what your opinion is of Copleston's book on Aquinas published through Penguin/Pelican books? or if you have reviewed it elsewhere? Aquinas is something of a new discovery for me, and both Copleston's book as well as your own have contributed to my new and profound interest in him as a thinker. I felt like the two books compliment each other nicely, as Copleston discusses Aquinas in light of the empiricist/rationalist categories of Modern philosophy, and seems to discuss Aquinas from a more historical perspective while your own book is extremely helpful (not to mention enlightening, in a much truer sense of the word) in its treatment of Aquinas's place in our world today. I'm grateful for your book, and hope that with a good dose of Thomism we might be able to bring a little balance (and thus, sanity) back to our world.

  3. A UK-based company still has copies.

    They offer free world-wide shipping.

  4. I second the Kindle edition! I have both the Copleston and Feser treatments; those combined with Kreeft's Summa of the Summa and Maritain's Introduction to Philosophy have made a huge impact on my education.

  5. Heh! I recently bought Real Essentialism and Philosophy of the Mind. I went on vacation, came back, and found the first book in the mail, but the second one still hadn't arrived. So I checked my e-mail and found out they refunded my money saying they were unfortunately out of stock. I like holding books, carrying them around, and reading them wherever so I opted out of the Kindle edition and bought it through one of those second hand dealers you mentioned at a slightly higher price. I just got it yesterday. Dr. Feser, I love your blog!!! Thank you for teaching me so much. I was tempted to get Aquinas, but changed my mind. I'll consider it later once I read these two~

  6. I enjoyed Fr. Copleston's book, but Edward Feser's is undoubtedly more lucid and better presented. Copleston seeks to present Aquinas' thought in a general fashion without devoting too much space to either further elaboration or philosophical defense. Feser does both with stunning clarity. I would recommend Copleston's book to those who can read carefully and deliberately and who have no axe to grind against a particular philosophy.

  7. I was surprised at Copleston, inasmuch as his History is rather on the dry side, and almost presumes that you know what it is he is trying to explain. His Aquinas is of a different sort altogether. Very friendly and approachable. And, he both translates and explains the Latin, something that by its absence makes the History an often difficult read for the non-specialist.

    I'd say that for the modern reader, Dr. Feser's account is the way to go. But if you can pick up the former I'd do it. No telling how long it will be available.

  8. Professor Feser,

    Since a lack of "Aquinas: A Beginners Guide" texts is an obvious evil, I thought I'd ask you a question on this thread about the notion of evil as a privation. ;)

    Atheistic philosopher Stephen Law has developed what he calls the evil god challenge. As I understand it, Law argues that since we all intuitively think that the idea of an evil god is ridiculous, and since the idea of an evil god is as well supported by the traditional arguments for god's existence (and is as immune from challenges to his existence) as is the idea of a good god, it follows that the idea of a good god is ridiculous. For the moment I want to overlook the dubious notion that the traditional arguments do in fact support the conclusion that an evil god exists as well as the notion that a good god exists, and focus instead on the apparent incoherence, on Thomistic grounds, of the very notion of an evil god.

    As I understand it, god is pure act, evil is a privation (an absence of what ought to be), and privations are in potency, so an evil god would be pure act in potency, which is an obvious contradiction. Now I think it's easy to anticipate the sort or retort someone running Law's evil god argument would make to this response: (1) Why think god is pure act? and (2) Why think evil is a privation?

    I think you address (1) clearly and extensively in both "Aquinas" and "The Last Superstition," but I'm not sure about how you'd go about defending (2) in detail. I can't seem to find much on the web on this subject (the Catholic Encyclopedia article on 'Evil' says very little about it), so I was wondering if you could dilate a bit upon how and why evil is to be understood as a privation, and if you could direct me to some resources on this issue. (Incidentally, it seems to me as if the notion of evil as a privation presupposes teleology and thus final causation and the whole Aristotelico-Thomistic metaphysics; am I on the right track?)

  9. Hello all,

    Re: Copleston, I found him helpful way back when I was just starting to re-think the Five Ways, and yes, I recommend reading him. (I am also a fan of his mammoth History.) But as others have indicated, he may not be the best place to start for someone who knows some contemporary philosophy but who is acquainted neither with Thomism nor with how a Thomist would respond to the standard objections to Aquinas's arguments. (I don't think there are many good options on that score, which is why I wrote my book!)

    I'll look into the Kindle idea...

  10. Hello Eric,

    Law's argument evidently presupposes a "theistic personalist" or "neo-theist" notion of God and is therefore completely irrelevant to the classical theism of Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, et al., according to which God is not "good" in the way a human being is good, as if He and we both instantiated the same property; rather, He just is Goodness Itself, and anything less than that is (for a classical theist) necessarily other than God. Hence it is incoherent to suggest that God might be evil.

    Re: the analysis of evil as a privation, I would say that it is hard to makes sense of individual examples of evil on any other view, and hard to make sense of evil as an objective feature of the world at all -- which the atheist himself has to do if he's going to make arguments from evil stick -- except on the privation view. I would also say that the privation view naturally falls out as a consequence of a general classical realist metaphysics (whether Platonist or Aristotelian). In any event, whether the classical theist can argue for this analysis of evil to Law's satisfaction or not is irrelevant to the question at hand, because the analysis is integral to the classical theistic view of God and the world. Thus, if Law says that there might at least in principle be a (classical theist) God who is evil, then he either doesn't understand what classical theism means by "God" or is just begging the question against classical theism. Either way, as I say, his argument is irrelevant.

    Now, a critic might at this point say that he isn't familar with and doesn't understand all this stuff about evil as privation, God as pure act, God as Goodness Itself, etc. But if so, then that's the critic's problem, because in that case he doesn't understand classical theism itself and therefore shouldn't presume that he has raised any challenge to it.

    See, this is what annoys the hell out of me: The sort of atheist -- and this is the typical atheist, in fact -- who (if he is even aware of them in the first place) treats concepts like pure act, evil as privation, divine simplicity, the transcendentals, the distinction between per se and accidentally ordered causes, and all the other elements of the classical theistic tradition as if they were a bunch of oddities which the theist brings in in an an hoc way in order to patch up arguments that would otherwise have to be admitted to have been demolished by atheist criticisms; and as if he is under no obligation to try to understand them before judging that the traditional arguments fail. One wants to say: "No, dummy, these elements have always been integral to the tradition of philosophical theology, and if you don't know of or understand them, that only shows that you don't have the first clue about that tradition itself, and thus shouldn't be opening your mouth up about it." Which is, of course, what I often do say.

    Accordingly, most atheist arguments, even most of those presented by otherwise serious philosophers (rather than by the Dawkinses of the world), are simply irrelevant to the question of whether classical theism is true. In fairness, though, too many contemporary religious apologists and Christian philosophers of religion have little more knowledge of the classical theist tradition than the typical atheist does. They argue for what is in effect (and whether they realize this or not) a decadent "theistic personalist" or "neo-theist" conception of God, and thus open themselves up to arguments like Law's. But that only shows that, here as in so many other ways, we modern Christians are inferior to our forebears, and are paying the price for forgetting the tradition they tried to pass on to us, and have passed on to us if only we'd listen to them. It doesn't show that there is anything wrong with the tradition itself. And the sooner we re-learn that tradition, the better.

    OK, end of rant.

  11. BTW, Jonathan and others, many thanks for the very kind words. Virtual group hug, everyone!

  12. Professor Feser, thank you very much for the rant, er response! ;) That helped clarify the issue for me quite a bit. I've been thinking about how to approach Law's argument, which seems to be getting a lot of traction on the web, for some time now.

  13. Why settle for theistic personalism when classical theism is just so much cooler?

    It's no exaggeration for me to say that TLS and the subsequent Aquinas changed my worldview, and hence my life. Prior to it, I had to content myself with only the popular (rather boring) isolated arguments of the standard apologetics fare, with no underlying philosophical framework to ground them all and conceptually unite them all. As a result, I never felt that I possessed a complete theory of reality, only a very fragmented one, and so I felt as though my positions on any given issue were never adequately justified.

    Unfortunately, I do get the impression that A-T/classical theism and its accompanying modes of discourse will remain obscure to the general public for quite a long time, because it's simply overshadowed at the moment by the apologetics stuff put out by theistic personalist philosophers, theologians, IDers, etc., and this doesn't show any sign of significantly changing (if I'm off base here, please let me know). One reason I'm inclined to say so is that I myself only stumbled onto TLS by chance, and it's a shame that many people will never be exposed to classical theism and will thus never think about God, morality, politics, etc., in a more robust and intellectually interesting way.

  14. Anon,

    In fact there is a growing revival of interest in Aristotelian metaphysics, and by no means only among Thomists or philosophers of religion, but among metaphysicians and philosophers of science with no theological ax to grind. I suspect that Aristotelian ideas will become much more visible at least within academic philosophy over the next decade, and that this will have an impact on philosophy of religion. As to how this might eventually impact how the average educated non-specialist comes to see these issues, that's anyone's guess, but I would also predict that there will be a gradual return to the old stuff at least within Catholic circles.

  15. Given that "Aquinas" qualified for a place on the top shelf of my book case, I decided to get "The Last Superstition" as well. My copy just arrived today. Now, if I can only work it in around my class schedule...

  16. Yep, I'm waiting for my copy from Amazon now (and have been since early July). Looking forward to reading it.

  17. Fesser’s “refutation” of my evil god argument is awful:
    (i) it depends on the privation view of evil, which is wrong. (Why not flip this and say good is a privation of evil?!) Actually, *some* evils, like blindness, are best seen as privations of goods. But many appear not merely to be merely privations. And in fact in some cases it is more natural to see the good as a privation of evil (look up “peace” in the dictionary). That evil is in every case nothing more than a privation of some good is a myth that even many theists reject (philosopher Tim Mawson, for example). Fester is one of those theists who, when asked to justify the privation view, waffle and refer us to Aquinas, Aristotle, etc. Ask him him to explain, clearly, *exactly* what the argument is.
    (ii)in any case, the privation view is not obviously incompatible with the existence of an evil God (we are at least owed some explanation for why it is – this is particularly clear if we see good as an abstract Platonic Form, say. (Fesser at this point just seems to *define* God as good – well, that doesn’t establish the impossibility of an evil God!)
    (iii) even if the privation view were incompatible with an evil God, and it could thus be shown that an evil God was impossible, the evil God challenge can *still* be successfully run, as I point out in the paper. Perhaps Fesser should read it.

  18. '....Anselm, Aquinas, et al., according to which God is not "good" in the way a human being is good,'

    Is there only one God?

    Was Jesus God?

    Was Jesus good in the way a human being is good?

  19. Hi Dr. Law,

    You said:
    "Perhaps Fesser should read it."

    Perhaps you should read Aquinas by Feser.
    Saying that Dr. Feser just defines God as good isn't the case. Certainly not in the sense of arbitrarily saying "God is choosing to be good as opposed to bad.... and wants us to act accordingly".
    You seem to be expressing a view that Feser already addressed in his first comment about your argument.

    Also - any chance you can avoid comments like "Fester"?
    I don't really see how that does anything for anyone interested in this topic. And if you have to mock a person's name to get a point across - maybe you should focus more on your point.

    Take care.

  20. Professor Law,

    I don't think an appeal to the dictionary definition of the term "peace" says anything at all about what metaphysical conception of "evil" obtains. After all, if we're going to go the the dictionary to settle metaphysical questions, then the "Evil God Challenge" is a nonstarter, since the dictionary tells me that God is all good. Now I don't for a second think that this settles anything; rather, I'm addressing the irrelevance of your reference to the dictionary when a metaphysical question is at issue.

    But second, I think your misplaced reference to the dictionary actually makes Professor Feser's point for him. As my earlier post clear, I don't know much about the privation conception of evil, but I do at least know that the account distinguishes absences or mere negations from privations. As I understand it, a privation isn't a mere absence, but the absence of something that should obtain (that is, it interferes with a thing's final cause). Hence, it seems to me as if your 'peace' example shows that you know less about the privation conception of evil than I do -- and I know very little about it -- but you still confidently assert that it's wrong!

    Finally, given that privations are necessarily in potency, and given that the God of classical theism is pure act, it's not the case, as you say, that "the privation view is not obviously incompatible with the existence of an evil God," for an evil god would be pure act in potency, which is an obvious contradiction. You can of course question the privation account, or the account of God as pure act, but it does seem to me that it's clearly the case that *if* God is pure act, and *if* a privation conception of evil can be defended, then the idea of an evil god is incoherent.

  21. 'Finally, given that privations are necessarily in potency, and given that the God of classical theism is pure act,....'

    That is a meaningless sequence of words.

    I thought this god was supposed to be Goodness itself, and now we find that this god is pure act.

    Surely this god is sugar and spice and all things nice?

  22. "That is a meaningless sequence of words."

    Hi Steven,

    Saying that God is "Pure Act" means that there isn't the combination of Act & Potency.
    There is nothing more in God that needs to be actualized. There isn't some potential that needs to be actualized.

    Privations are indeed necessary in potency.
    Because the understanding of a privation would be something that is in the nature of a thing but which isn't actualized.
    Like "acting ethically/morally" - it's in the nature of man, but a given man not acting according to his nature.... therefore a privation.

    I don't really see how you view it as a meaningless series of words.

    And I don't see how God being "Pure Act" negates his essence being Goodness.
    But, there isn't anything to "see", because there's no contradiction.

  23. "I thought this god was supposed to be Goodness itself, and now we find that this god is pure act."

    Steven Carr, they (Goodness and pure act) have the same referent (though they have different senses). See Stump's "Aquinas" (pgs. 62 - 68). It's amazing how effectively a little study can remedy what at first glance appears to be a "meaningless sequence of words" for those who bother to take the time (ideally *before* rejecting a position, but hey...).

  24. If Pure Act is actualizing the coffee on my desk, did it also actualize massacres in Rwanda?

    If evil is the privation of good, where the highest good is the actualization of all potentials, wouldn't that imply only good potentials exist? Wouldn't the ability to harm someone be a potential for a human?