Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Catholicism, conservatism, and capital punishment

Catholic teaching on the death penalty – or rather, yet another simplistic and misleading presentation of the Church’s teaching – is in the news again.  I plan to write up a blog post on this latest controversy, but in the meantime I thought it would be worthwhile reprinting the lengthy treatment of the subject I wrote for the old Right Reason group blog back in 2005.  (The original post and the combox discussion it generated can still be found here via the Wayback Machine.  But Wayback Machine links are temperamental, so it will be useful to give the post a new home.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Heads ID wins, tails you lose

Having returned to the debate over Aristotelian-Thomism (A-T), “Intelligent Design” (ID) theory, and William Paley so as to answer some recent criticisms of my views on the subject (here and here), I want to devote one more post to the theme before mothballing it again for a while.  ID defender Jay Richards recently edited a volume on God and Evolution.  One of the essays he contributed to it (“Separating the Chaff from the Wheat”) is in part devoted to responding to me.  Like Vincent Torley, Richards is a good guy who makes a serious attempt to respond to my arguments and to show that A-T and ID really are compatible after all.  And like Torley, he fails miserably.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Inevitable Scholasticism

In the latest issue of First Things, Fr. Thomas Joseph White reviews Ulrich Leinsle’s Introduction to Scholastic Theology.  You can find the CUA Press page for the book here, and the book’s table of contents here

Friday, March 18, 2011

Unhinged Dissent

Over at Uncommon Descent, Vincent Torley is not happy with my recent post on Aquinas and Paley.  He had originally given his critique the inflammatory title “Heresy hunter!” – complete with exclamation point, and my picture alongside that of an Inquisitor and his crew “getting medieval” on some guy (William Dembski, I suppose).  This rather left the impression that if you criticize ID on theological grounds, you are akin to Torquemada – which is, needless to say, a little over the top.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thomism versus the design argument

Defenders of “Intelligent Design” theory sometimes accuse their Thomist critics of overstating the differences between Aquinas and William Paley.  As we have seen before, their use of Aquinas’s texts is highly dubious.  Passages are ripped from context and the general metaphysical assumptions that inform Aquinas’s thinking, and which would rule out the readings the ID theorist would like to give the texts, are ignored.  This is not surprising given the ad hoc character of so much ID argumentation.  More surprising is Marie George’s strange article about me in the most recent issue of Philosophia Christi.  George, like me, is both an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) philosopher and a critic of ID.  Yet she too objects to my dissociating Aquinas’s Fifth Way from Paley’s design argument.  Why?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pasnau on the history of philosophy

Some wise words from Prof. Robert Pasnau to prospective grad students in philosophy:

The discipline of philosophy benefits from a serious, sustained engagement with its history. Most of the interesting, important work in philosophy is not being done right now, at this precise instant in time, but lies more or less hidden in the past, waiting to be uncovered. Philosophers who limit themselves to the present restrict their horizons to whatever happens to be the latest fashion, and deprive themselves of a vast sea of conceptual resources.

If you think you have original philosophical thoughts in you, they can wait – indeed, it’s better to let them wait until you’ve had the chance to develop the philosophical breadth and depth to make the most of them…

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Razor Boy

Will you still have a song to sing
When the razor boy comes
And takes your fancy things away?

Steely Dan, “Razor Boy”

If Descartes was the father of modern philosophy, the medieval philosopher William of Ockham was the great grandfather.  Superficial histories of thought would attribute this meta-paternity to the so-called “Ockham’s razor” principle.  But there was nothing distinctively Ockhamite about that, and nothing terribly revolutionary in it either.  On the one hand, the basic idea is as old as Aristotle and can be found in various medieval authors.  On the other hand, the specific formulation usually associated with Ockham – “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity” – first appears centuries after Ockham’s time, and the label “Ockham’s Razor” appears only in the nineteenth century.  (See William Thorburn’s article “The Myth of Ockham’s Razor”)  And while the old Razor Boy did cut away the foundations of medieval thought, it was not (contrary to what Christopher Hitchens thinks) on the basis of some kind of proto-scientific rationalism, but rather in the name of an anti-rationalist authoritarian theology.

Beckwith contra Forrest

We had occasion some time back to take note of Prof. Barbara Forrest’s shameful hatchet job on Frank Beckwith in the pages of Synthese.  Beckwith has now published a response to Forrest in the same journal, excerpts from which you can read at his blog.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Scientism roundup

In several recent posts we have dealt at least indirectly with scientism, the view that the only real knowledge is scientific knowledge.  Scientism is an illusion, a bizarre fantasy that makes of science something it can never be.  Seemingly the paradigm of rationality, it is in fact incoherent, incapable in principle of being defended in a way consistent with its own epistemological scruples.  It should go without saying that this in no way entails any criticism of science itself.  For a man to acknowledge that there are many beautiful women in the world does not entail that he doesn’t think his own wife or girlfriend is beautiful.  Similarly, to say that there are entirely rational and objective sources of knowledge other than science does not commit one to denying that science is a source of knowledge.  Those who cannot see this are doubly deluded – like a vain and paranoid wife or girlfriend who thinks all women are far less attractive than she is and regards any suggestion to the contrary as a denial of her own beauty.  Worse, like an already beautiful woman whose vanity leads her to destroy her beauty in the attempt to enhance it through plastic surgery, scientism threatens to distort and corrupt science precisely by exaggerating its significance.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Liberal neutrality update

Liberalism, we are told, is neutral between the diverse moral, religious, and philosophical points of view competing within a pluralistic society.  Or at least, it is neutral between the “reasonable” ones.  And which views are the “reasonable” ones?  Why, the ones willing to conform themselves to liberalism, of course!  As I’ve argued in several places, such “neutrality” is completely phony, though you don’t really need much in the way of argument to see that – it is blindingly obvious to everyone except liberals themselves.  (You can find my fullest statement on this issue here.  The immediate target of the paper linked to is one particular version of liberalism – libertarianism – but as its discussion of Rawls makes evident, the points it makes apply to liberalism generally.  See also, from National Review, my reviews of Amy Gutmann’s Identity in Democracy and of David Lewis Schaefer’s Illiberal Justice: John Rawls vs. the American Political Tradition.)