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. 


  1. Please tell me your new book will be out within the year. Would make a nice Christmas gift.

  2. Hi Dr.Feser, I was wondering what you new book will be about? I'm looking forward to seeing be published soon. Thanks! -Varin from Upstate NY

  3. "In his previous publications Professor Feser has shown himself to be a philosopher of the first rank..."

    First rank? I don't know, that's a pretty high rank.

  4. "First rank? I don't know, that's a pretty high rank."

    Black belt in philosophy.

  5. "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."

    I believe that that is one of the professor's significant strengths as a philosopher. Not all who grasp the history of philosophy do so from the inside so to speak, and not all who do so from the inside, claim to be themselves philosophers.

    Copleston, would probably be an example of the latter. Gilson, arguably, as one who was both an historian of philosophy (from the inside) and a philosopher as well.

    Heigegger's deep knowledge of continental philosophy probably surprises many who have first taken a look at Being and Time and tossed it aside as unfathomable; whereas the lucid and congenial Ayer's admitted ignorance of the complete corpus of Plato's work probably comes as an equal surprise.

    It's enjoyable to read essays by someone who can place current philosophical developments in their intellectual context and doesn't imagine that critical thinking only began in 1905 or fashionable nihilism in the 1980s.

  6. To have first diagnosed the New Atheism would be quite an achievement...!

    I suppose then the scramble would be to discover when and where the Old Atheist virus mutated.

  7. On the last chapter of the excellent TLS; my mind is being blown!

    A quick heads up on an current article you might find interesting:

  8. The essay at Standpoint is a complete load of drivel! It would be given an F triple minus at any half-way decent Philosophy 101 course in any reputable university. Including Christian ones which promote rigorous intellectual and scholarly standards.

    Put in another way. If that is what is promoted as informed comment on the great matters of human culture by the so called conservative side of the culture wars in the UK in 2012, then what now remains of what might be called culture in the UK is in deep trouble.

  9. The Last Superstition is indeed a very good book. However, I will never be a Thomist for one damning reason: Thomism asserts that I will never see my pet chocolate labrador in Heaven, and I take massive offense to that. I loved that animal for years and years, yet lost him to a storm surge that, following the hurricane that made landfall along my coastal town, hit my home while I was not there. His body was never found. Without a reunion with my dog, "Heaven" wouldn't be worthy of the name to me.

  10. @Conan

    Re: your dog, you may be interested in this post in a related blog:


  11. Conan, it is of no use to you to ignore a truth simply because you dislike it. Either it is true or it is not. But think about this: it is kind of an insult to God and the state of blessedness that is the Beatific Vision to say that heaven would not be worthy of the name without your dog. Just a little.

  12. Regarding UK culture, I highly recommend Theodore Dalrymple's books, such as Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass, and Our Culture: What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses.

    Also, for some interesting insights into contemporary culture generally and parallels with gnu atheism specifically, check out Without Conscience by Robert Hare.

  13. Machinephilosophy,

    I've been reading Life At the Bottom, but noticed that most of the essays were written in the 90s. Has the state of Britain's underclass changed substantially since then?

  14. I doubt it. Probably has gotten much worse. Britain is doomed.

    He's published a number of books since then, including last year's Anything Goes. I'm reading the two I mentioned first, and then going on to the more recent ones.

    Dalrymple (Daniels) is similar to Ed in that once you read anything by him, you simply must read everything else he's written. He also writes articles for City Journal.

    If you click on Dalrymple's name when you look at any book of his on amazon, then click the "(see all books)" link right after where it says "Books by Theodore Dalrymple", you can sort the resulting page by publication date and get a quick idea of everything he's written since Life at the Bottom.

  15. @Conan: Actually, although you will not see your dog in heaven, you will most definitely enjoy the same pleasure that you got from your dog, and infinitely more. That's Thomistically correct, since heaven consists in the Beatific Vision, the intuitive vision of God, and God is infinite goodness. So His goodness transcends and encompasses any goodness which can be found in created things, including your dog. Consequently, you will derive such pleasure from the Beatific Vision that will transcend and encompass any pleasure you could have derived from any created thing, including your dog. Your desire for your dog will be satisfied in heaven.

    I like to remember that fact: whatever heartbreaking disappointments I may encounter in this life will be utterly and completely reversed a thousandfold in heaven, if I get there. There are no exceptions. God is transcendent and infinite perfection, He contains within Himself all the perfections of creation, and more, united together.

    And remember what Chesterton's Fr. Brown once said: "I always like a dog, so long as he isn't spelled backward!"

  16. I thought that a Christian's final destination is the marriage of Heaven (God's realm) and Earth, in what is sometimes called the New Earth. How does this fit in with the "Beatific Vision" eschatology that you Thomists are talking about?

  17. Anon, Thomists as Thomists, have nothing to say about the Beatific Vision. That is, the BV is not something the philosophy of Thomism can demonstrate since it is a truth of Revelation. Just thought I should point that out.

  18. @Anon, I don't think the "New Earth" would affect any of the principles I mentioned about the Beatific Vision. The Beatific Vision is the essence of man's final end, but there are accidental aspects to it too, one of which would be the New Earth.

    @Brian, but given revelation, can't we, as Thomists, further expound on philosophical principles which can be developed from Revelation? That's basically what theology would be, isn't it? Thomistic theology. Anon's question doesn't really demand that we demonstrate the Beatific Vision philosophically, but that we expound on its meaning, having already been given Revelation. That's how I see it.

  19. @Brian, Thomas principally a theologians and there is such thing as a Thomist position on many theological matters. Of course to accept that need only be Catholic regardless of how they describe themselves philosophically or theologically!

    But someone not accepting something simply because they don't like it makes no sense.

  20. Sorry, typing too fast "Thomas was principally a theologian"

  21. Dr. Feser: Judging by your blog, you are a fan of comic books. Suppose someone were to commission from you a script for a comic book explanation of the Five Ways.

    1. How many pages would it take for each of the Five Ways? We'd need to know how many pages to commission from the artist we end up with.
    2. How much money would you want? I wouldn't dare suggest you do this for free, nor would I let you. The laborer deserves just wages.

    If you're game, this could be a serious proposal. I'm thinking Kickstarter for the money, and aggressive marketing among Catholic blogs for the Kickstarter campaign.

  22. Hey Ed,

    Krauss is on the defensive (apparently after Dennett nipped at his heels), so I thought you may be interested in his latest response to the heaps of criticism his book is receiving.

  23. Just to whet the appetites of any curious about what Krauss may say, here's a great quote:

    It may be true that we can never fully resolved the infinite regression of ‘why questions’ that result whenever one assumes, a priori, that our universe must have some pre-ordained purpose. Or, to frame things in a more theological fashion: ‘Why is our Universe necessary rather than contingent?’.

    I'm not a philosopher - I just enjoy reading some philosophy. So I'd appreciate an actual philosopher's input on this: didn't Krauss just absolutely mangle the question in multiple ways? ("A priori assumption the universe has a purpose" - "Why is the universe necessary rather than contingent"? Really?)

  24. Crude,

    That quote reads like a socially oblivious nerd's attempt at philosophical standup comedy while on acid.

    Come'on, admit it: you're a philosopher.

  25. That quote reads like a socially oblivious nerd's attempt at philosophical standup comedy while on acid.

    To me, it sounds like a guy trying to sound informed about philosophy by having spent 5 minutes googling, and he's throwing around terms he doesn't understand. And honestly, I'd like to think Krauss knows more than THAT.

    It's like having some knowledge of programming and watching someone try to talk about the topic as if they were knowledgeable, and their only experience with it was watching the computer scenes from Independence Day.

    Come'on, admit it: you're a philosopher.

    I'm not qualified. Among other things - no facial hair. Ed aside, I'm pretty sure a beard is almost mandatory.

  26. Next weekend I'm finishing up a study on church fathers with Aquinas. I'm not qualified but when there are 6 people in the group you do what you can! I'll be finishing it up w/ the First Way.

    I get this: why in any in-the-moment chain of causality, there must be an primary cause.

    Could there in the primary cause some other attribute, irrelevant to that causal chain, that is changing or could change? Would that in some way imply that it wasn't primary in that chain?

    Why would there only be one primary cause, ever? I think it relates to that a prime mover can't have any potentials; but why must a primary cause have no potentials?

    Then I think we get to how it, having no potentials, must be omnipotent, omniscient, etc.

    Anyone's welcome to reply. I'll be researching this over the coming week. (I did read both TLS and Feser's Aquinas, and have a copy of Aquinas handy, but didn't find these particular answers.) If I find the answers, and anybody cares, I'll post them.

    TIA to anyone and everyone --

  27. Machine, I have the facial hair (and not the silly little pseudo beards that are on one day and off the next, mine is of almost 3 decades standing), but I still cannot make the claim to be a philosopher. I do make the claim that I studied with truly good Catholic philosophers, and just a smidgen of it rubbed off, I hope.

    Conan, absolutely nothing in St. Thomas's philosophy and theology categorically rules out pets as the "New Earth" part of the "New Heavens and New Earth" of the eschaton. We just don't have enough revelation to make such categorical pronouncements, and St. Paul's comments on the topic are daunting to anyone who would attempt doing so.

  28. Here's is Krauss's most fatuous comment (in my opinion):

    One answer to this latter question can come from physics. If all possibilities—all universes with all laws—can arise dynamically, and if anything that is not forbidden must arise, then this implies that both nothing and something must both exist,

    First of all, he knows damn well that the first "if" is still needed because physics has done nothing more than posit, as a hypothesis, a multiverse, and has done nothing to prove it. The second "if" is even more needed, because the statement isn't even a statement IN physics, it is a hypothesis that comes (from whacked out brain dead has-beens who are trying to do something and ex-post-facto call it philosophy) out of other inquiries, not out of physics. It is neither proven nor provable, and is decidedly unrealistic as a premise for any current question.

    And then the last comment - both nothing and something must exist - compounds and raises to the nth degree his incredible buffoonery with equivocations. To say "nothing exists" in the same sentence as "something exists" is to make a direct and complete mockery of the word "exists", and of all of the associated verbal cognates of "to be". Hey, Krauss, it would be just as useful for you to tackle the physics behind Zeus's hurling lightening bolts, and Circe's turning men into pigs, and and Cinderella's pumpkin turning into a coach, because those "things" exist one hell of a lot more than nothing "exists."

  29. Tony,

    More than that, I'm pretty sure Krauss' particular version of the multiverse there is Max Tegmark's. The 'any possibilities that can be, occur' one. That leads into some wild areas - and it still doesn't suffice to disprove the cosmological arguments, as I understand them.

  30. Read this recently: "Heard Krauss on the radio shouting 'philosophers know NOTHING', which, for Krauss, must mean they know something."

  31. Will said,I did read both TLS and Feser's Aquinas, and have a copy of Aquinas handy, but didn't find these particular answers.
    Will, you need to read a little more carefully. Feser directly addresses the necessity of monotheism on pages 97-98 and 108-109.

  32. Will, I forgot to mention that you'll find it in TLS. He also addresses it in Aquinas, but I don't have it in front of me.

  33. I will look that up, Anonymous, as soon as I can get to the library tomorrow. But if it addresses the necessity of monotheism, unless it also addresses whether a primary cause must be without potential and therefore unique, it's not quite what I'm looking for. I'll still look it up to see if it covers both. Thanks.

  34. Aquinas does not address this in his First Way. I've been searching and found a summary or two of Aristotle's argument, but it seems to rely on there being an ultimate *efficient* cause, which Feser emphasizes is not part of Aquinas's First Way argument. Will keep looking.

    1. Will, Feser describes why the Unmoved Mover is Pure Act on pages 95 & 96 of TLS.

  35. Will, I've finally pulled out my copy of Aquinas and find that Feser deals extensively with the necessity of God being Pure Act in his discussion of the First Way (pp. 65 through 81).

    Feser then shows how the Second Way is related to the First and then again addresses the Act/Potency distinction and shows how God must be Pure Act (pp. 84-86).

    I hope this helps.

  36. Why would there only be one primary cause, ever? I think it relates to that a prime mover can't have any potentials; but why must a primary cause have no potentials?

    There's only one primary cause because two or more would be indistinguishable from each other.

    A primary cause could have no potentials because it would then not be primary, but simply passing along excess potential from its being effected by some ontologically prior cause, which in turn would imply that it is itself neither primary nor perfectly actual.

    That may not be correct, as I'm just trying to give an explanation from what seems to be the thomistic view from my limited reading of it.

  37. Thanks, Anonymous, for your help, in particular the TLS reference, which I did use in the study tonight. (MachinePhilosophy, I saw your note too late.)

    Ultimately the answers I gave were:

    Why only one? Because time is continuous, and motion is continuous -- motion is "one," in Aristotle. Source is Aquinas's commentary on Aristotle, and _Being and God in Heidegger and Aristotle_, esp. p 86, . If there were multiple primary causes, there would be discontinuities in all motion, but some motion is continuous; so there must be the same primary cause from moment to moment, and place to place, that is, everywhere and always.

    Why no potentials? Because if there's only one primary cause and it's unchanging with respect to all chains of causality, then it's unchanging, period. (This is my filling in of the blanks, but it makes sense.) No change means no potentials.

    Used TLS's train analogy, which I think helps us with "why is there no infinite sequence of essential causes."

    Done. I look forward to going back to something easy, like the intricacies of computer programming.