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


  1. "Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False"

    Wow, that's a quite blunt and direct denial of the materialist "common wisdom," even for Thomas Nagel!

  2. @Prof. Feser:

    Thanks a lot for the link to James Franklin article. Will read it ASAP. As a mathematician and an adept of Aristotelian-Thomism I was curious to see what were the responses of AT to the modern developments in mathematics and its philosophy, but never found anything. Do you happen to know of any other resources?

  3. Here's a link to the audio files of Scruton's Gifford Lectures (on which the book, "The Face of God," is based).

  4. Good Lord.

    Reading the most recommended comments to that sensible Intelligent Life article (second neuro link) made me despair. Or did I choose to despair?

    "No! The burden of proof is on those who assert free will!"


  5. Prof. Feser,

    I apologize that this is slightly off-topic, but I'd like to know if you would recommend any contemporary Neo-Platonist authors and/or bloggers. I've noticed from a few of your off-hand remarks about Neo-Platonism that you have a very high opinion of it (not shared by David Oderberg, whose excellent Real Essentialism I purchased after seeing your praise for it on this blog), and I'm wondering if anyone on that side of the fence has written worthwhile modern defenses of their system, akin to what Oderberg and yourself have done for A-T. If you don't have time to respond, I understand.

  6. The referenc to James Franklin's papers: priceless. Thank you sooo much!


  7. Nagels' book should be interesting. Even more would be the responses from the usual atheist anti-intellectualists who will probably do the good ol' ad hominem trick.

    One thing however makes me wonder. In the overeview of Nagel's book (both on the link as well as on Amazon - they seem to be the same overview) the following was stated:

    "Nagel's skepticism is not based on religious belief"

    Why on earth would someone need to state that? Did anyone state that Kripke's Naming and Necessity was not based on religious belief? Did Kant's critique of pure reason for example require a qualifier that is not based on religious belief?

    Why then does one need to state that his critique of the nonsense of materialism and the empty dogma (see fodor for more details) of darwinism is not based on religious belief?

    Is it perhaps that darwinism has reached the status of a religion or is it perhaps due to the inability of its adherent's to answer many of the objections raised consequantly lead to the usual idiotic derisions against anyone who is skeptical of it?

    It's quite alarming seeing people preface their critique of darwinism with "this is not a religious critique" as if any critique against this specific belief/dogma is destined to be driver by a religious sentiment.

    Anyone else notice this trend?

  8. I thought the second neuro article was pretty stupid. No matter what your opinion is on free will, I find it hard to see how the development of better brain imaging technology can affect it. That is, we know there are mechanical processes going on in the brain right now, even if we can't view them in great detail. And presumably nobody would doubt that they are strongly related to mental events, even if we disagree on the exact nature of that relationship.

    So how is the free will debate going to be different once we get the ability to, say, monitor millions of individual neurons simultaneously?

  9. Anon @ 2:27,

    Neoplatonism isn't strictly separable from Thomism, which is, pace Feser's oft used characterization of Thomism as Aristotelian-Thomism (A-T), a synthesis of Neoplatonic, Aristotelian, and Patristic modes of thought. To be criminally oversimplistic, Aquinas makes use of Aristotelian natural philosophy and metaphysics to get to the divinely simple God of the Neoplatonists, albeit by using different characterizations given his Aristotelian approach, e.g. "Pure Act" as opposed to, but interchangeable with, "Oneness." In fact many of the distinctions that Thomas makes, between essence and existence for example, are Neoplatonic in origin rather than strictly Aristotelian. Another example would be his description of the analogia entis, the analogy of the finite creation to the infinite creator, which is inspired by his readings of more platonic texts. As such, I find it quite inaccurate to characterize Thomas as an Aristotelian. His system was really something very new and Aristotle would not have recognized much in it.

    The more traditional Neoplatonic philosophers from Plotinus onward read Aristotle differently than the Medieval Muslims, Jews, and the later Western Christians. They made use of the principle of harmony to reconcile Aristotle's writings to Platonic thinking; in other words, they treat Aristotle as a Platonist who merely expanded Plato's thinking, rather than as opposed to Plato in his later thinking. This view was handed down to the Church Fathers in the East, to Augustine (though there are only a few traces of Aristotle in his thought), and to the Byzantines. In fact, this is one reason why the Byzantines never experienced a crisis similar to that of the West despite having Aristotle's corpus on the shelf the entire time. They merely understood him differently, while the West, on the other hand, received Aristotle in the 12th and 13th centuries (save for some of the logic and a few other texts, which they inherited from Boethius) and read him from outside the Byzantine context, but rather took their starting point from the Muslim and Jewish commentators of Aristotle. To their credit, the Western Medieval view of Aristotle is similar to the dominant one today, which is that Aristotle began as a Platonist and changed his mind later; nonetheless, some Classicists, such as Lloyd P. Gerson, argue against this view and in accord with the Neoplatonic approach.

    continued . . .

  10. . . . continued

    The result of this is that there is much overlap between Neoplatonism and Thomism. The main differences, to be brief, are doctrinal (the theory of the forms, the soul and human psychology, and the nature of virtue), dispositional (less naturalistic and rational with a much greater focus on the union of the soul with God), and methodological (the underlying unity of disciplines as opposed to a strict division between the disciplines of theology and philosophy, which originates with Albert Magnus and Thomas). Naturally, this leads to disagreements on such things as the nature of the soul and natural law, as well as a difference of emphasis. Nevertheless, a Neoplatonist could certainly affirm elements of Thomism, such as the analogia entis, the four causes, at least some of the five ways, etc.

    There are plenty of Platonic Christians that you could read: the Cappadocian Fathers, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, Pseudo-Denys, and a wide variety of what is known in the West as "mystics" (the Eastern Church does not make a distinction between theologians and mystics), both Eastern and Western. If you want something more scholastic, read Bonaventure, who represents the height of medieval Augustinianism and Platonism. For 20th century figures, you could read the Nouvelle Théologie types, who led the ressourcement movement that led to Vatican II. (Feser and other Thomists tend to dislike them for, inter alia, their treatment of nature and grace.) Finally, you could even consider someone like David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Christian and a self-avowed Platonist as well as a scholar of Gregory of Nyssa. However, if you want a logically rigorous system along the lines of Aquinas, you won't find one. It should be clear now as to why: for them the point of philosophy and theology is union with God, so the emphasis is different and their style is more literary and rhetorical. But it isn't clear that one would need a systematic defense akin to Thomism because, as already noted, Platonic types will be able to meet Thomism halfway.

  11. Thanks for the detailed response, JA. I'll use this as a guide for future reading--Bonaventure in particular leaps out at me.

    But I find it kind of shocking that Neo-Platonism doesn't have any contemporary defenders against (for example) the kind of criticism Oderberg levels against it in Real Essentialism. I was really hoping to read rigorous philosophical arguments in support of that system as an alternative to A-T or modern philosophy generally.

  12. Read the Carroll piece. The usual theistic-evolutionist groveling.

  13. Ed,

    A great list for us bird dogs, and an excellent article by Ferguson. The denials of or arguments against fixed points always have their own fixed points that are never mentioned but are required to be believed. The means for making sure everyone obeys is what Rand called the Argument From Intimidation. "If you don't understand, I couldn't possibly explain it to you" is a typical substitute for argument if you challenge any disparagement of Bloom in academia, and this tactic has apparently been appropriated by the gnu atheists. (Surprise, surprise, surprise!)

    . . .

    If you're going to be an atheist, at least read Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.

    And if you're going to be a philosopher or cultural critic (and we need more of those, to put it mildly), at least read The Closing of the American Mind.

  14. Anonymous - "Even more would be the responses from the usual atheist anti-intellectualists who will probably do the good ol' ad hominem trick."

    Cute. Engaging in ad hominem by preemptively accusing people of ad hominem. :)

  15. Actually he critized a possible action that might be taken, and perhaps it will, since there is people with all sorts of positions in this world and within atheistic world view.

    Ray Ad Hominem is trying to refute a argument by attacking the person that does the argument ... Is not the same as criticizing some one. Although .... nothing have happened yet XD

  16. machinephilosophy,

    Browsing Amazon after searching the books you suggested brought me to this wonderful gem: The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason.

    I just can't imagine how a scholar could come to the conclusion that the church was detrimental to intellectual progress and rational thought during the Middle Ages. The 1 star reviews are far too forgiving, and I'm sure the Thomistic readers here would find at least one of them especially silly.

    Sorry for the off-topic.

  17. Ah, my fellow anon, that would be the work of the retired high school teacher Charles Freeman playing at being a historian. See Tim O'Neill's caustic takedown of Closing of the Western Mind here:


  18. To the anonymous asking about Platonism,
    http://henadology.wordpress.com/ is a website run by a current neo-platonist philosopher that you might find interesting.

  19. Re: Scruton, I highly recommend this.

  20. Every time the history of the world is taking a real step forward and getting over an awkward bit of the road, a team of extra horses comes forward: the celibates, the solitaires, who live only for an idea.


    I think of the history of Catholic philosophers and contemplatives when I read this. Safeguarded philosophy through some of the darkest periods since Christ, in spite of whatever else may or may not be true in the history of the organization.

  21. Recommend a good philosophy book, machinephilosophy? I have quite a few, but they are either too smart for me or too dumb. I read this blog regularly, but I still don't have a good enough grasp of things like essence, form, matter, substance, matter, etc. I am particular interested not just in an explanation of them but how they are demonstrated and are defended against by critics.

  22. If you really want a modern "defense" of platonized Christianity, read Hart's "Beauty of the Infinite." Unlike most Thomists, his target is Continental philosophy, which he considers the proper form and end of contemporary philosophy, rather than analytic philosophy.

  23. Brian,

    I would just read Ed's Superstition and Aquinas over and over, which is what I'm going, and after mastering those, take on Gilson, Phillips, and others.

    I'd like to see a "Thomism Kit" bibliography from Ed, in a recommended order of reading, to take people like us from beginner to advanced.

    For a definitive work by Gilson, it would be hard to beat his The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, which I read bits at a time.

    For anyone studying Thomism, I would strongly suggest (as I've mentioned before on this blog) a detailed parallel reading of Francis Parker and Henry Veatch's monumental Logic as Human Instrument, one of the best logic textbooks ever written, and a deeply philosophical one at that. Both authors are Catholic theists, and Veatch is one of the greatest Aristotelean scholars of all time. Prices currently start at $70, but this work simply cannot be over-emphasized. Here's two important samples from the 26-chapter (422 pages btw) outline of the Table of Contents:

    . . .
    Chapter 2. Concepts and Categories
    2-1 The Distinction Between Substance and Accident
    2-2 The Various Categories of Accident
    2-3 The Pertinence of the Categories to Logic
    2-4 Current Skepticism Concerning Substance

    Chapter 3. Concepts as Universals
    3-1 Universals as Products of Reason
    3-2 The Problem of Universals
    3-3 Solution of the Problem: Moderate Realism

    Chapter 4. The Structure of Concepts
    4-1 Concepts as Relations of Identity
    4-2 Comprehension and Extension of Concepts
    4-3 Relations Among Concepts: The Predicables
    . . .
    Chapter 17. Argument and the Dilemma of Tautology or Non Sequitur
    17-1 The Syllogism as Either a Petitio Principii or a Non Sequitur
    17-2 Induction as Either a Tautology or a Non Sequitur
    17-3 The Import of These Cricitisms for Modern Science
    17-3.1 The Problem of Induction or "Scientific Method"
    17-3.2 The Problem of Deduction or Scientific Prediction

    Chapter 18. Universality and the Escape from the Dilemma
    18-1 Nominalism as the Source of the Dilemma
    18-2 Universality Reapplied; Nominalism Repudiated
    18-3 Differing Standards for Induction and Deduction

    Hope this helps.


  24. With the assumption in mind that this particular thread is a kind of intermission between critiques of various and sundry aspects of the 'neuro industry'...

    It just so happens that I am in possession of anecdotal evidence supporting both the notion that there is not any such thing as 'free will', at least not as might be commonly understood, and the equally enlightening notion that there is not any real thing worthy of acknowledgement as a 'self'.

    It is raining outside; thundering and lightening too.

    But some lame-brain brain, heeding not the delusional notion of common-sense manufactured by an illusory self, impels something out the door. After sloshing through numerous nautical miles of puddles, rivulets and wanna-be streams, this something--a 'body', I believe it may be called--smacks into the non-existent, mythical wall.

    Each part of the body, eyeballs unexcepted, frantically petitions the brain to pretend to a capacity for compassion. Though I myself do not exist, I too, somehow, manage to join the fray. I beg and beseech, plead and implore, "No more! No more!"

    But the brain--against the will my non-existent self has not, and discounting either or both the veracity or relevance of furiously streaming input from countless body parts in heightened states of protestation--propels the wet and whiny fabrication onward and onward.

    Oh, but were there such a thing as free-will (as I said, the fabrication is whiny), and were I fortunate enough to (exist so I'd have a chance to) be in possession of some measure of it, I might be able to successfully instruct the brain to instruct the body to stop punishing this non-existent self.

    'tis wishful thinking and nothing else, alas, for brain and Mother Nature are competing: which is fittest, and which shall last. But torment or torrent, it matters not; for that there is a me which might notice is a bunch of rot.

    Now, I like to look on the bright side, so here's the thing--since there is no me, I need not worry I might be struck by lightening. Why the brain should have put itself in a position to be, however, is somewhat of a mystery.

  25. @machinephilosophy

    The book you recommended: Francis Parker and Henry Veatch's monumental Logic as Human Instrument

    is out of print :-(

  26. That does not mean that there are not copies floating out there, Anon. I just bought one from Amazon.

    Thanks for the recommendation, machinephilosophy.

  27. Thanks for recommending reading, machinephilosophy. Love your work, BTW.

  28. Glenn,

    The problem with denying either free will or the self is that you end up assuming what you deny, as well as giving the denial itself a free ride.

    To deny the self assumes a self in the process of carrying out the denial. All you can do is not use the term "self", but you'll still be stuck with the implied vantage point and implications of the denial itself, which on determinism is equally problematic, however hidden it might be behind Oz's curtain.

    To deny free will is to assume it in the nature of the denial itself, the status of determinism as itself anything beyond its own causally reductive factors, including "known", "ought" to be believed, "true" as opposed to "false", and so on.

    To counter either the existence of the self or free will, necessarily ignores the equally-determined (and therefore equally true) status of belief in both, and assumes all the features of both in their denials.

    Hence, the ways in which both self and free will are discussed by determinists end up getting the same treatment as the self and free will, while being exempted from the implications that determinism originally alleges against both.

    That's why those who deny free will or the self necessarily end up cognitively acting out a belief in both in spite of themselves, as well as treating their own denials as some kind of intellectually-obligating gospels, complete with all the same rhetoric of that which they deny.

    A rose, by any other name---or no name at all---is still a rose.

  29. From the Oxford site on Nagel's forthcoming book:

    - Author is a renowned philosopher
    - Makes a controversial argument
    - Engages in the heated contemporary debate over whether materialism and neo-Darwinism can explain the mind-body problem.

    This is gonna be me when that book comes out.

  30. I read Glenn as poking fun at the idea myself...

  31. I agree with Aquinas3000.

    Anyway, machinephilosophy, I take it you're also a 'fan' of Gilson, so, in an oblique way, I'm surprised I don't see you cite Lonergan or use "retortion". Or maybe I've missed it.

  32. Hey Codgitator,

    This is anon from the semiotic discussion. I emailed you as per your request. Looking forward to hearing back from you!


  33. A rose, by any other name---or no name at all---is still a rose.

    'tis true what you say, yes indeed. OTOH, parody by some other name might be burlesque, or farce, or mockery... or even ludicrousness.

    Glad you enjoyed it.

  34. I'm not sure everyone should get so enthusiastic about the Franklin paper.

    I e-mailed a Thomist friend (with decades of experience) and he wasn't over impressed. His comment isn't detailed but he said:

    "Thanks for the email and the attachments. Franklin has a desire to defend the common sense realism of Aristotle's concept of Mathematics but in my view he has poor grasp of the nature of mathematical abstraction (second degree) and hence tends to see the object of mathematics as more "real" than it is. What he is talking about mostly is quantity as it exists in the object of physical abstraction (first degree). It is a sort of half way position - much like his attempt to reinstate natural law ethics."

    The ethics comment is referring to another thing Franklin wrote. He disagreed with the Pope on condoms, married people etc and thinks that that sort of reasoning would mean human's can't fly planes. That's just basic ignorance of the Aristotelian distinction between the artificial and the unnatural. I don't think Franklin is really that much to get cracked up about.

  35. I posted a new comment in the Rosenberg part X combox, but it may go unnoticed, so I'll repost it here:

    In the wake of this discussion, I thought this link was ironically apt. Remember how gip called Rosenberg's views a caricature, even though Feser explicitly declined going for the obvious "the idea of EM is that there are no ideas"? Well, it turns out the ovarian Churchland agree *that* would be a caricature, but then denies EM has anything to do with metaphysics. I'm dying to read a Churchland's review of Rosenberg OR VICE VERSA.


    "‘It’s a position most people know only in caricature, and so they take the straw man version and attack that,’ she argues. The view gets dismissed as something silly like the belief that there are no beliefs, or the denial of the existence of consciousness, but Churchland claims that really nothing is eliminated — the view is about explanation, about conceptual re-organization, not metaphysics. So why call it ‘eliminative materialism’?"

  36. Sorry to be that guy, but...

    Comment moderation seems to have kicked in on the long "What is a soul?" combox, and I'm not sure Dr. Feser will see it or have time to approve it, so I'll post another comment here as well:

    Ray Ingles:

    A big reason grodrigues is done with you on philosophy of mind and physicalism is this:

    A. The question is, "What accounts for the (putative) fact that humans correctly i. perceive, ii. cognize, and iii. respond their envrionment?"

    B. Your reply is effectively, "Well, since we all know that the mind tracks reality like a glove on the hand, let me now provide an entirely naturalistic account of the human mind."

    C. Cue "the Forest Whitaker eye" of wounded stupefaction in





    Until you rectify this, Ray, I'ma have to call you something like Baby Plantinga or Lil' Alvin.

  37. "What accounts for the (putative) fact that humans correctly i. perceive, ii. cognize, and iii. respond their envrionment?"

    I'm not trying to establish they do, though. In point of fact, it's clear that they don't, often enough. I'm working on the the much less difficult proposition that they can.

    Assuming arguendo that it's possible can act as a 'seed crystal' to help that gel, so to speak. (One could assume the converse, of course - but no one ever does.)

  38. jk.

    It is an Aristotelian axiom of the first rank that ability follows power, behavior follows nature, potential follows act. So, "the thing which can by nature rationally track nature" is the thing which does so. Deny the latter and you deny your own former. Humans can follow nature because we DO. Humans cultivate lesser virtues by courage, which is only seen with the fruition of lesser virtues: nature follows perfection.

    Capisce, Lil' Alvin? (No, but this is a safe place, so we welcome you and me alike.)

  39. Codgitator - Right, it's an axiom, a premise. And A-T is allowed to have that premise, but A-T's won't allow naturalists to have it?

  40. Ray:

    No, we kind of, like, WANT naturalists to begin with our axioms. Cuz the rest of our views, like, fall out from it as reasoning pogresses. Aristotle was *a naturalist*, just not an idiot like most cancerous-naturalists these days, which is why I keep saying (or at least feeling) you're closer to the "kingdom" than you realize.

  41. Does Feser EVER reply to comments or to questions addressed explicitly to him? To manifest or not to manifest himself...that is the question.

  42. Does Feser EVER reply to comments or to questions addressed explicitly to him?

    He does, but it's hit or miss and without any pattern discernible to anyone but him.

    Basically, if when I first see a comment I can answer it fairly quickly and either (a) don't have some pressing matter to attend to (deadlines, grading, a blog post to finish, family stuff, etc.) or (b) am attending to such a pressing matter but need a momentary break, then I will often do so. But those circumstances hold only sporadically, and if they don't hold at the moment I first see the comment, I'm likely to forget about it.

    Same with reader emails, incidentally -- unless I can answer such an email quickly and immediately, I most likely will never get to it.

    I really wish I could respond to more comments and emails, but I'm afraid it's humanly impossible.

  43. And I will add to what Feser writes and say he has replied to my emails, but not every one of them. I am extremely busy, so I appreciate the fact Professor Feser simply doesn't have time to answer every question. However, my advice is to email him, and if you don't get an answer, try again in a few days. His replies are superb.

  44. "Fall and Rise of Aristotelian Metaphysics in the Philosophy of Science."


    John Lamont
    (FSSP Mass goer :-)
    John Henry Newman scholar.

  45. ^I posted the above. It looks signed by Prof. Lamont himself (late night sorry)