Monday, April 30, 2012

Reading Rosenberg, Part X

And now we reach, at long last, the end of our detailed critical look at Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.  In this final post I want to examine what Rosenberg has to say about a set of philosophical arguments he regards as “among the last serious challenges to scientism” (p. 228).  The arguments in question all entail that the realm of conscious experience -- what common sense says we know only “from inside” (p. 238), from a point of view “somewhere behind the eyes” (p. 222) -- cannot be accounted for in terms of neuroscience or physical science more generally.  In his treatment of these arguments, we get Rosenberg simultaneously at his best and at his worst.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

McInerny on TLS

D. Q. McInerny very kindly reviews my book The Last Superstition in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly.  From the review:

In his previous publications Professor Feser has shown himself to be a philosopher of the first rank, and in this work he has given us a document of singular importance.  Of all the books written in response to “the new atheists” … this one has to be counted among the very best. There are three principal reasons why this is so.  The first has to do with the style in which the book is written; it is direct, clear, forceful, and—no small matter—witty.  Secondly, the arguments which carry the substance of the book are of the highest quality; they are tightly constructed, masterfully controlled, and compelling.  Thirdly—and I take this to be the book’s strongest feature—there is the manner in which Professor Feser sets the phenomenon of the new atheism in a larger historical/philosophical context, and thereby gives it sharper identity and makes it more fully understandable.  He shows that the new atheism, and the secularism of which it is a particular manifestation, did not come out of the blue, but that it has its roots in our philosophical past; to know that philosophical past is to have a firmer grip on the philosophical present.

As I say, very kind, as is the rest of the review.  One correction, though.  Of the expression “New Atheists,” Prof. McInerny writes: “that designation, I believe, originates with Feser.”  In fact I cannot take credit for it.  I believe I first came across the expression “The New Atheism” in the cover story of the November 2006 issue of Wired magazine, around two years before my book appeared. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Steng operation

I recently linked to philosopher of physics David Albert’s take down of Lawrence Krauss’s book A Universe From Nothing.  (My own review of Krauss will soon appear in First Things.)  A reader calls my attention to this blog post in which Victor Stenger -- Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, and author of several atheist tomes -- rides to the rescue of Krauss against Albert.  (If only the other philosophically incompetent New Atheists had such a knight in shining armor!  O Dawkins, where is your Stenger?  O Coyne, where is your Victor?)

Review of Atkins and Feyerabend now online

You can read my recent Claremont Review of Books review of Peter Atkins’ On Being and Paul Feyerabend’s The Tyranny of Science here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bruce and Van der Vossen on private property

I recently called attention to my essay “Natural Law, Natural Rights, and Private Property,” which appears on Liberty Fund’s Library of Law and Liberty website.   Prof. James Bruce and Prof. Bas Van der Vossen each kindly wrote a critical response to my essay.  (Their responses can be found here and here.)  They raise important questions, and in what follows I want to reply to their objections.  (Naturally it will be helpful if you first read the three original essays before moving on to what follows.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Links of interest

Over at Public Discourse: William Carroll on chance and teleology in nature.

25 years later, Andrew Ferguson looks back on Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind.

An excerpt from Roger Scruton’s new book The Face of God.  And a Wall Street Journal interview with Scruton on the subject of conservative environmentalism.

Commenting on a recent post of mine, Matthew Anger discusses Fr. Ronald Knox’s views on paganism and Christianity.

Forthcoming in September from secular philosopher Thomas Nagel: Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.

Yet more on “the neuro industry” and its pretensions and dangers.  And more.

Reprints of several volumes of the Leonine edition of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas are now available

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reading Rosenberg, Part IX

Our long critical look at Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality now brings us at last to that most radical of Rosenberg’s claims -- the thesis that neither our thoughts nor anything else has any meaning whatsoever.  To the reader unfamiliar with recent philosophy of mind I should emphasize that the claim is not merely that our thoughts, actions, and lives have no ultimate point or purpose, which is hardly a novel idea.  It is far more bizarre than that.  Consider the following two sequences of shapes: “cat” and “^\*:”  We would ordinarily say that the first has meaning -- it refers to animals of the feline sort -- while the latter is a meaningless set of marks.  And we would ordinarily say that while the meaning of a word like “cat” is conventional, the meaning of our thoughts about cats -- from which the meaning of the word in question derives -- is intrinsic or “built in” to the thought rather than conventional or derived.  What Rosenberg is saying is that in reality, both our thoughts about cats and the sequence of shapes “cat” are as utterly meaningless as the sequence of shapes “^\*:”  Neither “cat” nor any of our thoughts is any more about cats or about anything else than the sequence “^\*:” is about anything.  Meaning, “aboutness,” or intentionality (to use the technical philosophical term) is an illusion.  In fact, Rosenberg claims, “the brain does everything without thinking about anything at all.”

Friday, April 6, 2012

Upcoming symposium

The Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D. C. is hosting the Thomistic Circles Symposium on Creation and Modern Science on Saturday, April 14.  The speakers are Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, William E. Carroll, and me.  I’ll be speaking on the topic “Neuroscience and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought.”

Easter Triduum

I wish all my readers a holy Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Those who have not seen them might find of interest my posts on “The Meaning of the Passion” and “The Meaning of the Resurrection.”  Also relevant to Good Friday are the themes of my post “Putting the Cross back into Christmas” and of a recent post on original sin.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fine on metaphysics and common sense

3:AM Magazine interviews metaphysician Kit Fine.  Fine remarks:

I’m firmly of the opinion that real progress in philosophy can only come from taking common sense seriously.  A departure from common sense is usually an indication that a mistake has been made.  If you like, common sense is the data of philosophy and a philosopher should no more ignore common sense than a scientist should ignore the results of observation.  A good example concerns ontology.  Many philosophers have wanted to deny that there are chairs or numbers [or] the like.  This strikes me as crazy and is an indication that they have not had a proper understanding of what is at issue.  By recognizing that these things are crazy we can then come to a better understanding of what is at issue and of how the questions of ontology are to be resolved.

Naturally, I agree, as any Aristotelian or Thomist would.  But why favor common sense?  Is this merely an ungrounded prejudice, an expression of bourgeois complacency, of discomfort with novelty, or a failure of imagination?  Or are there principled reasons for taking common sense seriously?