Thursday, December 6, 2012

Haldane on Aquinas, Anscombe, and much else

3:AM Magazine has posted a long and highly substantive interview with Analytical Thomist philosopher John Haldane.  Lots of interesting stuff in it, so give it a read.  (The discussion of idealism in the second part of the interview recapitulates some important points Haldane has made about Berkeley elsewhere, and which I commented on in the course of my talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville last year.)

The interviewer characterizes John as "the P Daddy of the philosophy of religion" -- and here we all thought he was a Madness fan! 


  1. That is some nice motto right there: Whatever it is, we are against it.


  2. Two good points from the interview which have not been strangers to this blog (though they have been strange to some vistors to it):

    o While this argument may be contested it is a purely metaphysical one and does not rest on particular empirical claims and hence is not refutable by appeal to scientific discoveries.

    o These structures correspond to Aristotelian-Thomistic forms and far from being superseded by science they are presupposed by the sciences as when biologists or chemists or physicists taxonomise things and processes according to their structures and natures.

  3. (And I think the second of the two quotes renders the earlier defense and vindication of certain of Mr. Green's comments rather, er, formidable.)

  4. What about the wonderful world of enzymes? The biochemical activity, or function, of an enzyme depends on its 3-d shape, and its 3-d shape depends on its amino acid sequence. The freshly synthesized linear protein either folds spontaneously into its natural, functional form, or receives some help in folding from other protein structures. This might sound anecdotal, but in my Biochemistry Lecture a few semesters back, all I heard about enzymes was "structure and function," "structure and function."

  5. For me, the most interesting and indicative line from the entire interview:

    "In an effort to find out more I hunted through books and journals but it was only when I explored the basement of the Catholic Central Library then adjacent to Westminster Cathedral that I discovered a storehouse of scholastic material and became fascinated with this other world, quite unlike that I inhabited as a student, and began to teach myself ‘Thomism’"


  6. What does he mean by there's no medium or phenomenology of thought? That they are not emotions? But that's not surprising. That we don't truly experience our thoughts? Seems bizarre.

    In the second page, there's a couple of paragraphs where he goes from that since realism implies things existing that we can't possibly know or think about, to that there actually is someone who does this, namely God.
    I don't understand this either, so help me out with these things, pretty please (*_*)

  7. Perhaps you will have to read his work...

    or maybe someone could simply pop up and answer you that n_n!!!!

  8. WHAT? I just like, read an ENTIRE article. o( ><)o

  9. U_U then do like me and just stick around HOPING someone will enlighten you.

    Actually you will be doing better than me since I have no idea what I am expecting.

  10. From Haldane's comments: Matter is not as such intelligible rather it is the potentiality for the actualisation of form, and it is the form of an empirical object that renders it knowable.

    That caused an explosion of light in my brain!

    You can't know anything about an object by studying its quantum makeup but you can know much about it by studying its form.

    OK... back to reading.

  11. I liked this interview, and it's impressive that a liberal indie journal like this would interview a guy like Haldane. One of my favorite parts was his response to the (legitimate) question regarding the corruption of American churches. I'm largely sympathetic toward both of their comments on the issue.


    What does he mean by there's no medium or phenomenology of thought? That they are not emotions? But that's not surprising. That we don't truly experience our thoughts? Seems bizarre.

    Wikipedia defines phenomenology as "the philosophical study of the structures of subjective experience and consciousness." This requires that there be a subjective-objective split, of the kind envisioned by post-Kantian philosophers. That is, you've got your interiority and your exteriority, and never the twain shall meet. Otherwise, you can't study your own perceptions of noumena: you study the thing itself. The problem is that this generally cashes out as subjective representationalism, which is incompatible with Thomism. Haldane is summarizing Aquinas's truly radical view regarding thought, which is that the thing known is literally in the knower. A thing's form, through the work of the active intellect, comes to take on a new mode of immaterial existence by latching on to the endless potentiality of the speculative (or "passive") intellect. The knower himself is expanded and perfected by this unity, and afterwards gains direct access to mind-independent things. In some ways, it brings to mind Heidegger's Dasein more than it does the Kantian Ego, seeing as it unbreakably unites the individual to its history and removes all representational barriers. It's debatable that all phenomenology is ruled out by this system, seeing as it is (in my view, at least) a bit Heideggerian and as Heidegger was a phenomenologist of a sort. The 20th century existentialist/phenomenologist/Thomist Bernard Lonergan might bridge the gap, although I've never read his work directly.

    I apologize if this comment was difficult to understand, but there's not really a simple way to talk about continental philosophy.

  12. There's no simple way to talk about continental philosophy for the simple reason that continental philosophy is obscure, impressionistic, Zen-like nonsense. Are we really expected to believe that these philosophers have delved into a resplendently deeper, richer world of truth that can only be conveyed to us meager rubes by twisting and mutilating human language beyond recognition, and that this mutilation represents some sort of novel and fundamental "logic"?

    For shame, Hegel, for shame! And you too Heidegger: get thee behind me!

  13. Thanks, sophist, I think I get it..

  14. Hi Dr. Feser, I wonder if you might be able to expand on Haldane's remark that 'if intellectual powers are non-material so too is the subject to which they belong and whose nature they express; hence the intellectual subject, the thinker, is an immaterial entity.'

    Specifically, in what sense this differs from a Cartesian view. Haldane's suggestion seems to be that the human is composed of a thinking thing (res cogitans?) and an informed body. Does this preclude identifying the unified human being as the subject of thought?

  15. Hi Dr. Feser! I just want to share with you that the St. Thomas Aquinas page on facebook recently featured your book Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide in one of their recent wall posts. It comes highly recommende by those who replied (including myself). Here's the fb page for St. Thomas Aquinas on facebook: ~ Mark

  16. Mark again: And here's the post about your book:

  17. Rank Sophist,

    Whilst I agree that that was part of Aquinas' epistemology, I'm unsure why you suggest it is a radical conclusion of Aquinas' when it is the general epistemological view of Platonism and all its offshoots (including Aristotelianism). Indeed, I believe the link between knowledge and being in Western thought goes back, in discursive form at least, to Parmenides.

  18. Note however that when the interviewer asked whether modern logic (frege, etc.) renders Aquinas' arguments invalid, Haldane dropped the ball and took the question as if it were saying that modern science invalidated Aquinas. But that wasn't the question, which is a serious one.

    As usual, its impossible to beat the word verification system. Here goes the third try.

  19. so what exactly developed in logic that could fundamentally change Aquinas arguments ???

  20. that's my question as well, Eduardo,which is why I wanted Haldane to answer it. For a hint, read the Maverick philosopher's Aquinas posts; he often criticizes Aquinas from a fregean perspective.

  21. that's my question as well, Eduardo,which is why I wanted Haldane to answer it. For a hint, read the Maverick philosopher's Aquinas posts; he often criticizes Aquinas from a fregean perspective.

    1. Sometimes he criticizes Aquinas from a fregean perspective:

    ...For these reasons I do not find the argument from De Ente et Essentia compelling. It is based on confusions that the great logician Gottlob Frege was the first to sort out.


    2. Sometimes he criticizes attempts to read Fregean doctrines back into Aquinas:

    There is another huge problem with reading Frege back into Aquinas, and that concerns modes of existence (esse). A form in the intellect exists in a different way than it does in things. But if Frege is right about existence, there cannot be modes of existence. For if existence is instantiation, then there cannot be modes of existence for the simple reason that there cannot be any modes of instantiation.

    I'll say more about this blunder in another post.

  22. Hi Ed. Would you be so kind as to point me to the sources where Dr. Haldane speaks about Berkeley and idealism?

  23. Take a look at his 2003 ACPQ article "Common Sense, Metaphysics, and the Existence of God."