Friday, June 29, 2012

Reply to Steve Fuller

As I noted in a recent post, the Spring 2012 issue of Theoretical and Applied Ethics contains a symposium on Ethics, Atheism, and Religion, with a lead essay by atheist philosopher Colin McGinn.  I wrote one of the responses to McGinn’s piece, and one of the other contributors, Steve Fuller, wrote an essay with the title “Defending Theism as if Science Mattered: Against Both McGinn and Feser.”  What follows is a reply to Fuller.  (Readers who have not already done so are advised to read McGinn's essay, mine, and Fuller’s before proceeding.  They're all fairly brief.)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sentient plants? Part II

Gene Callahan responds to my recent criticisms of his view that plants are sentient.  (Some plants or all?  Gene seems to think all of them are, though the evidence he appeals to would show at most only that some of them are.)  Recall that I had noted three reasons Aristotelians deny that any plants possess conscious awareness.  The first is that plants lack the specialized sense organs we find in animals.  The second is that plants lack the variability of response to stimuli that animals possess.  And the third is that sensation together with appetite and locomotion form a natural package of capacities, so that since plants lack locomotion they must lack sentience as well.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sentient plants?

Economist Gene Callahan (a friend of this blog) calls my attention to this article, which claims that plants are capable of “sensory” responses to their environments, and even that they “talk and listen to one another.”  Gene concludes that “contrary to Aristotle, plants are active and communicate to each other, with sounds among other methods” so that “neo-Aristotelians ought to drop the idea that plants lack sensations.”  And while Gene allows that “this certainly does not invalidate all of Aristotle's metaphysics,” it does in his view show that Aristotelians should be wary of once again “ma[king] the mistake of tying Aristotelian metaphysics to Aristotelian natural science.”

But (no disrespect to Gene intended) as usual with these breathless journalistic “Science has shown that…!” stories, the actual facts are far less exciting than the sensationalistic packaging would suggest.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

McGinn on atheism

The Spring 2012 issue of Theoretical and Applied Ethics contains a symposium on Ethics, Atheism, and Religion.  The lead essay is by Colin McGinn and is followed by responses from me, Steve Fuller, Ted Peters, and Robert Sinclair.  All the essays can be read online, so go take a look.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Philosophy of nature and philosophy of [fill in the blank]

A reader of my recent post on the philosophy of nature asks some excellent questions:

I wonder, where does the philosophy of physics and in general the philosophy of science fall in between the scheme of metaphysics and philosophy of nature?...

Also, where does the discussion on the topic of the laws of nature belong?  Is that also philosophy of nature? 

Let’s start with the question of how the philosophy of science is related to the philosophy of nature.  Recall from my recent post that as the middle ground field of the philosophy of nature gradually disappeared off the radar screen of modern philosophy, the disciplines on either side of it -- on the one hand, metaphysics and on the other, empirical science (in the modern rather than Aristotelian sense of “science”) -- came to seem the only possible avenues of investigation of reality.  Recall also that the methodology of metaphysics came to seem a matter of “conceptual analysis,” while any study with empirical content came to be identified as part of natural science.  The very notion that there could be a middle ground field of study with empirical foundations but arriving at necessary truths, thus transcending the contingent world described by physics, chemistry, etc. and pointing the way to metaphysics -- as Aristotelian philosophy of nature claims to do -- was largely forgotten.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ray Bradbury (1920 - 2012)

When Ray Bradbury was twelve years old, he went to a carnival and encountered Mr. Electrico, a performer who sat in an electric chair with current running through him so that his hair stood up and an electrical sword he held would glow.  Touching the sword to the young Bradbury’s head, Mr. Electrico exclaimed: “Live forever!”  Alas, Mr. Electrico’s command has gone unheeded, for Bradbury died last Tuesday at 91 -- long-lived, to be sure, but well short of forever.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Oerter on motion and the First Mover

George Mason University physicist Robert Oerter has completed his series of critical posts on my book The Last Superstition.  I responded to some of his remarks in some earlier posts of my own (here and here, with some further relevant comments here and here).  In this post I want to reply to what he says in his most recent remarks about the Aristotelian argument from motion to an Unmoved Mover of the world.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Color holds and quantum theory

When figuring out how many human beings of average weight can be carried on an airplane, engineers deal with abstractions.  For one thing, they ignore every aspect of actual, concrete human beings except their weight; for another, they ignore even their actual weight, since it could in principle turn out that there is no specific human being who has exactly whatever the average weight turns out to be.  This is perfectly fine for the specific purposes at hand, though of course it would be ludicrous for those responsible for planning the flight entertainment or meals to rely solely on the considerations the engineers are concerned with.  It would be even more ludicrous for them to insist that unless evidence of meal and movie preferences can be gleaned from the engineers’ data, there just is no fact of the matter about what meals and movies actual human beings would prefer.