Friday, March 30, 2012

What is a soul?

To be more precise, what is a human soul?  Or to be even more precise, what is a human being?  For that is really the key question; and I sometimes think that the biggest obstacle to understanding what the soul is is the word “soul.”  People too readily read into it various erroneous notions (erroneous from an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, anyway) -- ghosts, ectoplasm, or Cartesian immaterial substances.  Even the Aristotelian characterization of the soul as the form of the living body can too easily mislead.  When those unfamiliar with Aristotelian metaphysics hear “form,” they are probably tempted to think in terms of shape or a configuration of parts, which is totally wrong.  Or perhaps they think of it in Platonic terms, as an abstract universal that the individual human being participates in -- also totally wrong.  Or they suspect that since it is the form of the living body it cannot coherently be said to subsist apart from that body -- totally wrong again.   So let us, for the moment, put out of our minds all of these ideas and start instead with the question I raised above.  What is a human being?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Radio Free Aquinas (Postponed)

I’ll be on The Frank Pastore Show on KKLA radio on Friday, March 30 (tomorrow) at 6pm PST to discuss Thomas Aquinas.  (You can find a podcast of my earlier appearance on the show here.)

UPDATE: Sorry, Frank has had to postpone at the last minute -- I'll announce the new date of the interview once it's rescheduled.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Kitcher and Albert on Rosenberg and Krauss

In The New York Times, philosopher of science Philip Kitcher is critical of Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.  In the same paper, philosopher of physics David Albert takes apart Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe From Nothing.  I suppose it needs remarking, for any ill-informed, kneejerk ad hominem-prone New Atheist types out there, that neither Kitcher nor Albert is known for being an apologist for religion.  (I reviewed Rosenberg’s book in First Things a few issues ago, and have been going through the book with a fine-toothed comb in a series of posts since then.  My review of Krauss’s book is forthcoming.) 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Scruton on “neuroenvy”

We’ve had several occasions (e.g. here, here, and here) to examine the fallacies committed by those who suppose that contemporary neuroscience has radically altered our understanding of human nature, and even undermined our commonsense conception of ourselves as conscious, rational, freely choosing agents.  In a recent Spectator essay, Roger Scruton comments on the fad for neuroscientific pseudo-explanations within the humanities, labeling it “neuroenvy.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Unliterate Hallq

“Unliterate” is a neologism used to refer to someone who is able to read but doesn’t bother to do so.  Atheist blogger Chris Hallquist, who calls himself “The Uncredible Hallq,” might consider adopting it as a replacement for his current adjective. “The Non-credible Hallq” would be a good choice too.  About my recent post on the Reason Rally, Hallquist writes: “Ed Feser has a post up denouncing the Reason Rally on the grounds that it is a mass gathering and all mass gatherings are bad.”  He then accuses me of “hypocrisy” for not similarly denouncing the Catholic Mass and Catholic World Youth Day.  He suggests that “it should be obvious that Feser started with his conclusion (atheists are evil) and then set out in search of a way – no matter how lame – to justify it.”  But did I really say that all mass gatherings are bad?  Did I hypocritically make an exception for rallies for causes to which I am favorable?  And did I say that the reason I objected to the “Reason Rally” is because its participants are atheists, or that all atheists are evil?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Natural law and the right to private property

My essay “Natural Law, Natural Rights, and Private Property” has just appeared over at Liberty Fund’s new Online Library of Law and Liberty website.  Also posted there are two responses to the essay by philosophers Bas Van der Vossen and James Bruce.  Give them a read, and while you’re there take a look at the rest of the website, where you’ll find lots of interesting stuff.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

“Reason Rally”: Doubleplusgood newspeak for groupthink!

There is a view of life which conceives that where the crowd is, there also is the truth, and that in truth itself there is need of having the crowd on its side.  There is another view of life which conceives that wherever there is a crowd there is untruth, so that (to consider for a moment the extreme case), even if every individual, each for himself in private, were to be in possession of the truth, yet in case they were all to get together in a crowd -- a crowd to which any sort of decisive significance is attributed, a voting, noisy, audible crowd -- untruth would at once be in evidence.

For a “crowd” is the untruth.

Søren Kierkegaard, “That Individual”

One of the symptoms of groupthink is the members’ persistence in conveying to each other the cliché and oversimplified images of political enemies embodied in long-standing ideological stereotypes…

When a group of people who respect each other’s opinions arrive at a unanimous view, each member is likely to feel that the belief must be true.  This reliance on consensual validation tends to replace individual critical thinking and reality-testing.

Irving Janis, Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, Second edition

I have always hated mobs.  Thus I dislike mass demonstrations with their slogans and banners, marches and sit-ins, and all the rest of the obnoxious apparatus of modern protest.  Usually the cause is bad, and the participants are ignorant yahoos.  But I dislike such rallies even when the cause is good and the participants well-meaning.  They may sometimes be necessary, but they are always regrettable and to be avoided if possible.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Reading Rosenberg, Part VIII

And now, dear reader, our critical look at Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality brings us to the pseudoscience du jour.  Wittgenstein famously said that “in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion” (Philosophical Investigations, II, xiv, p. 232).  He might as well have been talking about contemporary neuroscience -- or, more precisely, about how neuroscience becomes distorted in the hands of those rich in empirical data but poor in philosophical understanding.  Every week seems to bring some new sensationalistic claim to the effect that neuroscience has “shown” this or that -- that free will is an illusion, or that mindreading is possible, or that consciousness plays no role in human action -- supported by arguments notable only for the crudeness of the fallacies they commit.  

Tyler Burge has given the label “neurobabble” to this modern intellectual pathology, and Raymond Tallis calls it “neurotrash,” born of “neuromania.”  I’ve had reason to comment on it in earlier posts (here and here) and an extreme manifestation of the disease is criticized in the last chapter of The Last Superstition.  M. R. Bennett and P. M. S. Hacker subject neurobabble to detailed and devastating criticism in their book Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, and Tallis does a bit of housecleaning of his own in Aping Mankind.  Neurobabble is a key ingredient in Rosenberg’s scientism.  Like so many other contemporary secularists, he has got the brain absolutely on the brain, and maintains that modern neuroscience vindicates some of his more outrageous metaphysical claims.  In particular, he thinks that so-called “blindsight” phenomena establish that consciousness is irrelevant to our actions, and that neuroscientist Benjamin Libet’s experiments cast doubt on free will.  (Jerry Coyne, in a recent article, has made similar claims about free will.  What I’ll say about Rosenberg applies to Coyne as well.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Links of interest

Mark Brumley has had enough of philosophically ill-informed scientists going on about nothing.  So has William Carroll.

Philosopher Paul F. Symington takes an Aristotelian approach to the moral quandary posed by Sophie’s Choice.

Very few Catholics follow their Church’s teaching on contraception, right?  Not so fast.  Our friend Lydia McGrew looks at the data and begs to differ.

Who’s to blame for the Obama administration’s attempt to impose its liberal values on Catholics?  Well, the Obama administration, of course.  But the Catholic bishops must also bear their share of the blame, say Paul Rahe and Rorate Caeli.  (Sounds familiar.)

Academic apologists for baby-killing -- or, as they call it, “after-birth abortion.”  No, it’s not a story from The Onion.  William M. Briggs has the lowdown on these lowlifes.

Is it only a matter of time before something like China’s One Child Policy is mandated under Obamacare?  Fr. John Zuhlsdorf dares you to call him crazy for thinking so.

Fr. Z is not crazy, of course.  Connect the dots: The Obama administration has already shown itself quite happy to force Catholics and others to pay for abortifacients.  As Fr. Z notes, the administration has also made it clear that it regards a reduction in the birthrate as a desirable goal of health care policy.  The legitimacy in principle of “after-birth abortion” is already implicit in existing arguments for abortion, and has been defended by other “ethicists” -- the article cited by Briggs isn’t that novel.  The premises are already in place.  All that is necessary is to draw the conclusion.  It won’t be drawn under this administration, but as with “same-sex marriage,” what is unthinkable today will tomorrow be the “progressive’s” idea of common sense.

If they call you crazy for saying so, that’s a matter of tactics.  Ten or twenty years from now they’ll call you crazy for opposing mandatory abortion (or rather, for opposing it in those cases where the “public good” or “women’s health” or “overpopulation” or some such thing “requires” it).  Count on it.  And remember, I told you so.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Levering on TLS

Esteemed theologian Matthew Levering kindly reviews The Last Superstition in The Thomist.  From the review:

In the preface to this marvelous book, Feser makes clear that he is seeking to reach a general audience with a simple thesis: the modern rejection of Aristotelian philosophy was a grave mistake whose consequences continue to escalate… 

His account of the rise of mechanistic modern philosophy—the rejection of formal and final causality (and thus also of efficient causality linked with final causality)—is a tour de force… 

[The book] subjects to a withering and wonderful critique the view that modern science has outmoded formal and final causality.