Friday, October 14, 2011

Weekend reading

A few articles worthy of your attention: R. J. Stove, conservative writer and son of the late conservative atheist philosopher David Stove, writes movingly of his parents and of his conversion to Catholicism.

Some Aristotelian metaphysics: David Oderberg’s article “Essence and Properties,” from the latest issue of Erkenntnis.  

More metaphysics: A review of philosopher Crawford Elder’s important new book Familiar Objects and Their Shadows, a defense of commonsense realism.

In his recent book Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity, atheist polymath philosopher Raymond Tallis takes out the “neurotrash” that passes these days for the scientific study of human nature.  One response to Tallis cited in the Chronicle article stands out for its sheer comedy value: 

Perhaps the harshest reaction comes from [Daniel] Dennett, an influential U.S. philosopher whose books square human life with science.  He sympathizes with Tallis's concerns.  But what every philosopher should know is that any philosopher—Plato, Hume, Kant, take your pick—"can be made to look like a flaming idiot if you oversimplify and caricature them," Dennett tells me.

"Tallis indulges in refutation by caricature," says Dennett, a professor of philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.  "He's not taking his opponents seriously.  He's sneering instead of arguing.  He's ignoring the complexities of the arguments.  So he's not really doing philosophy.  He's doing propaganda." 

Why, one would almost think Dennett was talking about the author of Breaking the Spell -- who, as someone once showed, has nothing to offer in the way of criticism of the philosophical arguments for theism except oversimplification and caricature. 

This sort of hypocritical whining is nothing new from Dennett.  He may just be the most self-unaware human being on the planet.


  1. Woe there Dr. Feser, the most self-unaware? I think he and Paul Krugman may be neck and neck on that one.

  2. Dr. Feser,

    I'm currently reading Tallis' new book, and these remarks from Dennett cannot be further from the truth. It's obvious from the first chapter that Tallis intends to give the subject a fair hearing.

    Interestingly, early on he refers to neuroscience as the "queen of the natural sciences", which agree or disagree, shows his admiration for the subject matter (I mean, he IS a neuroscientist, so who better to examine the field's current standing?).

    Also, just picked up 'The Last Superstition' which I've been thoroughly enjoying!


  3. I enjoyed Wieseltier vs. Dennett in their little spat over "Breaking the Spell"

  4. Well, now I have to get Tallis' book. If it provokes THAT reaction from Dennett, it's worth reading.

    My God, the hypocrisy there is breathtaking. Dennett is legendary for that kind of crap.

  5. LOL.... D. Dennett is like "the pot calling the kettle black", although I think the old Arabian saying is more appropriate: "The camel cannot see the crookedness of its own neck"

    I suppose Dennett is just bitter because his own work is made to look ridiculous being full of neurotrash itself... and he knows it!

  6. 21st Century ScholasticOctober 15, 2011 at 8:56 AM

    I've read Oderberg's article some days ago. It is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. It cleared away many misconceptions i had about metaphysics and presented important concept that were not in his book. Very highly recommended.

  7. Just wanted to second what 21st Century said,

    Oderberg's article on properties and essences is excellent (read it about a week ago). It clarifies some ambiguities (at least from my POV)which held over from "Real Essentialism".



  8. Man, that article by Stove's son was extremely sad. Worth the read, though.

  9. Just read RJ Stove's conversion.
    It sounds like even David Stove was considering a conversion of some sort. Shame he committed suicide. I have no idea what it is like to suffer through what he had to with what happened to his wife. Prayer for God's mercy on Dr. Stove tonight!!

  10. Having heard of Bartels and Zeki's work I was rather interested in what the research said (rather then what Tallis claims they said).

    After reading their report "The neural basis of romantic love" the only bit I can gather is that Tallis read about their research in the NY Times (or some other rag) then actually reading their research.

    "The combination of these sites differs from those in previous
    studies of emotion, suggesting that a unique network of areas is responsible for evoking this affective state. This leads us to
    postulate that the principle of functional specialization in the
    cortex applies to affective states as well."


    "Given the uniqueness of the pattern of activity evoked, it is not unreasonable to suppose that other unique emotional states will correlate with activity in other functionally specialized subsystems of the brain."

    From NeuroReport 11:3829±

  11. All ought to read RJ Stove's story.

  12. Even if Dennett is a hypocrite, that does nothing to show his criticism of Tallis is false or dubious. Tu quoque, you know.

  13. Many thanks, Dr. Feser, for linking to my article. I was unaware until today that this link existed; hence my failure to acknowledge it, and to express gratitude for it, before now.