Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Oderberg updated

David Oderberg has revamped his website and given it a new location.  Update your bookmarks accordingly.  Take note also of his new Metaphysica article, “Hume, the Occult, and the Substance of the School.”  Here’s the abstract:

I have not been able to locate any critique of Hume on substance by a Schoolman, at least in English, dating from Hume's period or shortly thereafter.  I have, therefore, constructed my own critique as an exercise in ‘post facto history’.  This is what a late eighteenth-century/early nineteenth-century Scholastic could, would, and should have said in response to Hume's attack on substance should they have been minded to do so.  That no one did is somewhat mysterious.  My critique is precisely in the language of the period, using solely the conceptual resources available to a Schoolman at that time.  The arguments, however, are as sound now as they were then, and in this sense the paper performs a dual role—contributing to the defence of substance contra Hume, and filling, albeit two hundred years or so too late, a gap in the historical record.


  1. Ah, I read that article some time ago when David sent it to me. Quite entertaining!

    The new website looks good too.

  2. Both Dr. Feser and Oderberg make reference to Crawford Elder in terms of conventialism about essences being self-defeating.

    I do not understand, exactly, what Dr. Feser means when he says that we have to exist as a species in order to form conventions (Aquinas pg. 91), or what Dr. Oderberg means whe he says that if conventionalism were true,our conventions would have have to be logically prior to us(R. Essentialism pg. 44).

    Can someone clear this up?

  3. Pg. 61 from Aquinas instead of 91.

  4. I think they're saying that distinctions between essences have to have some objective grounding, that there must be real differences in order for us to distinguish between them, as opposed to merely inventing distinctions based on subjective preference or social convention. So humans have to actually exist with a distinct essence in order for us to notice the distinction in the first place.

    I have to say its pretty easy to see some of the consequences of taking it the other way around.

  5. So, they are saying that even if you reduce essences to mere convention, you are still in fact acknowledging objective differences between species, which is itself an implicit affirmation that essences are objectively real?

    That makes sense, but it seems to me like Dr. Feser is saying that the forming of conventions presupposes our existence as a species (and therefore the having of an essence). Dr. Oderberg seems to be implying the same thing when he says that if conventionalism were true, our conventions would be logically prior to us, which he acknowledges not to be the case.

    I guess I'm not seeing how conventionalism would entail that our conventions would be logically prior to us.

  6. I guess I'm not seeing how conventionalism would entail that our conventions would be logically prior to us.

    If those conventions were accurate, then reality would have to obey the conventions. I think the point is to show that conventionalism is an absurdity.

    If we were truly free to choose any conventions whatsoever, and conventionalism were true, those conventions would have to then come before whatever it is we're describing in order to be accurate. It's absurd, a bit of getting the cart before the horse.

    It seems anti-realistic, but I'm a novice just learning about all of this terminology, so I could be incorrect.

    It smells of relativism to me, and the consequences, especially with respect to human essence, seem to be that by social convention we could simply decide that people with in comas, the elderly, the bald, rich, poor, or people with different skin color or even different beliefs could be simply defined out of what it means to be human.

    The only conventionalism that I could see is the conventions of descriptive symbols and language in defining objective realities. Cat could have meant dog, 4 could represent 2, but the essence of the two would not change. That's about the extent you could push it. Beyond that and some absurdities seem inevitable.

    Again, the disclaimer that I'm new to all of this and just entering the discussions so I can learn more.

  7. @Anon:

    According to conventionalism, two things belong to the same type if the convention-makers collectively decide that they do, and they do so with the force of a convention. (which is typically defined in accord with David Lewis [1969])

    But, if conventionalism is true, then the individuals who constitute the human species, i.e. those individuals who make conventions- is itself determined by a matter of convention.

    So we cannot even specify which collection of individuals it is who determines what the convention even is unless there is already some convention in place by which we can identify the convention-makers.

    Hence, the conventions would have to be prior to the convention-makers, because according to conventionalism it is a matter of convention who gets to be counted as one of the convention-makers.

  8. "So we cannot even specify which collection of individuals it is who determines what the convention even is unless there is already some convention in place by which we can identify the convention-makers. "

    Why must this be true?

  9. What's this about there being no criticisms of Hume in English? Is he not aware that the Scholastics wrote in latin?

  10. Anonymous,

    I think that Untenured explained it well. It is a matter of simple observation that it is humans who make conventions. Stones, say, or horses, don't.

    But what counts as "humans"? According to conventionalism, it is a matter of convention. But who made *that* convention? Errrm... humans, perharps? But what entities count as humans? A matter of convention, of course. :-) But who made the convention? Etc, you get the idea...

    So, conventionalism offers at best a circular explanation: you use a species (human) to explain existence of certain convention, and than use this same convention to explain what counts as species.

    But it is incoherent, too. If humans are the ones that make conventions, they must first exist - as humans - to make a particular convention. But for them to exist as humans (determinate species), according to conventionalism there must first be a convention that makes them humans. So, convention must exist before it can exist.

  11. Let me make one remark about Oderberg. He is, no doubt, very good philosopher, but - with no ofence to David - I must admit I find his writings a bit difficult and grueling. Well, at least to someone who is not a professional philosopher. (In contrast with, for example, dr. Feser's writings, with which I have no problems at all; I even find them enjoyable). Am I the only one?

  12. Here is one way to look at it.

    (1) In order to establish a convention, there must be someone to do the establishing.
    (2) That someone would have to be identified, as part of their essence, as having the capability of establishing conventions.
    (3) Conventionalism says that there are no essences, but only conventions.
    (4) Therefore, there is no essence that includes the establishment of conventions possible.
    (5) Therefore, conventionalism entails that there is and isn’t someone whose essence is establishing conventions.

    And thus, conventionalism is incoherent. In other words, the establishment of a convention requires being able to identify who establishes the convention, and this cannot just be a convention. Otherwise, it would be the case that it is a convention that conventions are established.

  13. And conventions about what conventions even are, too.

  14. So, conventionalism entails that there is a convention that determines who the convention-makers are, but why can't the convention-makers be the ones who create this convention?

  15. Anonymous:

    So, conventionalism entails that there is a convention that determines who the convention-makers are, but why can't the convention-makers be the ones who create this convention?

    When you say “the convention-makers”, who are you referring to? Either you are referring to someone real with essential properties of being convention-makers, or you are just using a convention, which does not capture anything truly existing in reality. If the former, then there are truths – i.e. the existence of convention-makers – independent of conventions, and thus conventionalism is false. If the latter, then you cannot even identify any real convention-makers to make conventions, and thus are stymied from the beginning.

    Does that help?

  16. It does. So, since the existence of convention-makers presupposes the existence of conventions, it can't in turn be the conventions that determine the convention-makers.

    I think Oderberg thinks along the same lines when he says that our implementation of principles according to comparative similarity presupposes our existence, and thus, it can't be implemented principles of comparative similarity that determine who we are.

    I guess the real difficulty lies in seeing how a professional philosopher would overlook something as fundamental as this..

  17. That first part was backwards. The existence of conventions presupposes the existence of convention-makers.

  18. I guess the better question might be: why must the convention-makers be identified?

  19. Oh yeah, let Anonymous set all the conventions : P

  20. Hi all.

    This might be a good place to ask a question I've been thinking about. Oderberg argues for the reality of substances in the Hume paper, and he argues for the reality of essences in Real Essentialism. What EXACTLY is the difference between substances and essences? Also, how does form fit into them? Are substance, essence, and form all distinct ideas? Or are they synonymous? When I try and define them, I basically thinking of them as interchangeable, but I think this only points to my sloppy metaphysics. Any answers would be much appreciated. Thank you.

  21. @Saturn:

    They don't have to be "identified" in the epistemic sense. i.e. We don't need to be able to know, except in an idealized sense, who counts as a convention-maker and who doesn't. Rather, this is about whether there are, objectively, any things that count as convention-makers in the first place. If there aren't, then there is no fact of the matter about whether any particular p belongs to any type T, because there would have to be a convention, relative to no convention-makers, which determines that some agents are themselves convention-makers. And that is just flat-out incoherent.

    @anon 3:21:

    How could this have been overlooked? With apologies to Steely Dan, I submit the following paraphrase of a line from their song "Show Biz Kids":

    "PGR-50 thinkers writing papers 'bout themselves, you know they don't give a f____ about anybody else"

  22. How could this have been overlooked? With apologies to Steely Dan, I submit the following paraphrase of a line from their song "Show Biz Kids":

    "PGR-50 thinkers writing papers 'bout themselves, you know they don't give a f____ about anybody else"

    Untenured, that is an all-time classic, and I'm annoyed that I didn't think of it. I think we could do the whole song. Here's what could replace the "lost wages" background chorus:

    They go to APA meetings...
    Give insincere Smoker greetings...

  23. Prof. Feser, or anyone, sorry for putting this question here.

    Is there an Thomistic answer to the question "why people struggle with change?"

    Funny how having a child can change your priorities:
    I think I would consider myself an atheist, but I have such an odd struggle with any kind of change that it makes me think there's something more going on.

    Now I just recently had a child with my wife and something just doesn't seem right. I am so overwhelmed by the change of having a kid (thinking of how different things are going to be now - how so far from my youth I am) that I almost at times wish I would just die.

    My atheism would tell me (or, better I would tell someone else who was struggling) "just deal with it. LIfe is cold and meaningless. You want it to be different than you change it".

    But that just doesn't cut it for me anymore.

    Are there any books that address why people struggle with change?
    I'd think an A-T answer would be the best because it focuses on the nature of a human. So something must be out of accord. Because every great once and awhile I get a glimpse of what feels like true happiness.... and then quickly it shrivels up and looks nothing like what I thought it was.
    But it does give me hope to remember that at a moment it seemed real.

  24. Wandering lost...

    Have you read Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics?

    It gave a friend of mine hope and a propelling desire in life; direction based on considerations of what it means to be human.

    Take care,

  25. Michael,
    thank you so much for the recommendation. I haven't read it yet, but I'm going to!!

  26. wandering lost,

    You might also consider Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy. Boethius is Neoplatonist, but like all Neoplatonists of his day, he draws pretty heavily on Aristotelian ideas; and he's an influence on Aquinas, as can be see by the fact that the questions on happiness in the Summa Theologiae are basically Boethius made more thoroughly Aristotelian. And 'the little golden book' has a famously long and good track record at helping people who are struggling with questions of meaning and happiness.

    If you aren't too picky about scholarly p's and q's, David Slavitt's translation is quite good -- it's a very colloquial and sometimes loose translation, but very readable, and close enough to give the gist of the argument without getting bogged down in the more technical details. If you like stricter translations, Joel Relihan's translation, put out by Hackett Press, is useful there.

  27. T: I find his writings a bit difficult and gruelling.

    No, you're not the only one. I certainly can't say that Oderberg is a bad writer; his writing is not complex or convoluted or cumbersome. In fact, his individual sentences are quite good, and yet when I put them together I do sometimes find myself struggling to fit them in the exact context he's trying to communicate. (Guess that just goes to show the whole isn't merely the sum of its parts!)

    Of course, difficult topics will be difficult to understand, but as you also observe, the Profeser writes sentences and paragraphs and whole books that are proportionally easy and enjoyable to read. I can only hope that he finds enough free time to write Aquinas: an Intermediary's Guide and Aquinas: an Expert's Guide.

  28. Bobby,

    according to A-T philosophy an individual substance is a compound of essence and actus essendi (act of existence). In turn, its essence is composed of form/actuality and matter/potentiality.

  29. This paper is a horrible read and I couldn't go much past the first pages. It goes on and on without saying much and I hope someone else would give a review or rewrite that cuts to the chase and doesn't use 50 cent words where 5 cent words would do.

  30. I think people in the beginning spoke a bit what they got from the paper Mark.

  31. @ 21st Century Scholastic,

    Isn't this idea that an essence is form/actuality and matter/potentiality the same as a process that continually changes it's state from potentiality to actuality, from possible "forms" to actual experiences? It sounds almost like a process philosophy.

  32. someone could reply to that reductionist paper Mark linked last time. U_U I kind of wanted to see what would happen.

  33. @ Eduardo,

    Well if you liked that then you will love this.

    "Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter"

  34. Eduardo,

    While not a direct response (I'm not sure what paper you refer to), the book referred to underwent an interesting interview here. by an atheist neuroscientist.

  35. Eduardo,

    Also, I think you're barking up the wrong tree asking for a response to Mark's previously linked paper here. Thomism/Aristotileanism isn't process metaphysics. In fact, the one time we had someone sympathetic to process thought around here, they were really hostile to Aristotileanism.

  36. Well I sort of supposed that everybody was on the same page XD I am sorry really, my personal noobility in the whole matter

    OKAY ... NOW THIS TIME AROUND ... someone could reply to Mark XD this time. I know is threadjacking but Feser is a philosopher of mind and that seems profoundly related.

    Overall I have to study to my recuperation tests U_U, is kind of hard to think thing while you got equations going through your head.