Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hugon’s Cosmology

Editiones scholasticae is publishing an English translation of Cosmology, an important manual written by the Thomist philosopher and theologian Édouard Hugon (1867-1929).  The translation was made by Dr. Francisco Romero Carrasquillo (who also runs the blog Ite ad Thomam, a useful resource for those interested in Thomism).  The publisher’s description of the book can be found here.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Avicenna’s argument from contingency, Part I

The medieval Islamic philosopher Ibn Sina or Avicenna (c. 980 - 1037) is one among that myriad of thinkers of genius unjustly neglected by contemporary philosophers.  Useful recent studies of his thought include the updated edition of Lenn Goodman’s Avicenna and Jon McGinnis’s Avicenna.  More recent still is McGinnis’s essay “The Ultimate Why Question: Avicenna on Why God is Absolutely Necessary” in John F. Wippel, ed., The Ultimate Why Question: Why Is There Anything at All Rather than Nothing Whatsoever?  Among the topics of this essay is Avicenna’s version of the argument from contingency for the existence of a divine Necessary Existent.  Let’s take a look.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Neither nature alone nor grace alone

Since therefore grace does not destroy nature but perfects it, natural reason should minister to faith as the natural bent of the will ministers to charity… Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason…

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I.1.8

Here’s one way to think about the relationship between nature and grace, reason and faith, philosophy and revelation.  Natural theology and natural law are like a skeleton, and the moral and theological deliverances of divine revelation are like the flesh that hangs on the skeleton.  Just as neither skeleton alone nor flesh alone give you a complete human being, neither do nature alone nor grace alone give you the complete story about the human condition.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Nagel and his critics, Part IX

Returning to my series on the critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, let’s look at the recent Commonweal magazine symposium on the book.  The contributors are philosopher Gary Gutting, biologist Kenneth Miller, and physicist Stephen Barr.  I’ll remark on each contribution in turn.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Commonweal on Nagel

Commonweal magazine has published a symposium on Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, to which physicist Stephen Barr, biologist Kenneth Miller, and philosopher Gary Gutting have contributed.  It’s temporarily available for free on the Commonweal website, here

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Context isn’t everything

Natural law theory holds that a large and substantive body of moral knowledge can be had apart from divine revelation.  Natural theology holds that a large and substantive body of theological knowledge can be had apart from divine revelation.  Yet both secular and religious critics of natural law theory and natural theology sometimes accuse them of smuggling in the deliverances of revelation.  For example, theologian David Bentley Hart, in his recent attacks on natural law theory (to which I responded here, here, and here), seemed to take the view that natural law arguments implicitly presuppose revealed or supernatural truths.  Secular critics routinely accuse natural law theorists of rationalizing conclusions that they would never have arrived at if not for the teachings of the Bible or the Church.  Critics of the Scholastic tradition in philosophy sometimes accuse it of constructing metaphysical notions ad hoc, for the sake of advancing theological claims.  (My friend Bill Vallicella has made this complaint vis-à-vis the Scholastic notion of suppositum.)  In every case the objection is that if an idea has an origin in a purported source of divine revelation, its status as a purely philosophical thesis or argument is ipso facto suspect.

One of the problems with such objections is that they overlook the distinction between what Hans Reichenbach called the “context of discovery” and the “context of justification” -- a distinction he applied within the philosophy of science, but which has application in other contexts too.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Epstein on conspiracies

No one denies that conspiracies exist.  They occur every time two thugs decide to rob a liquor store together.  When people dismiss “conspiracy theories,” what they are dismissing is not the idea that bad people conspire, or that they do so in secret, or that these bad people are sometimes government officials.  Typically, what they are critical of is the sort of theory that postulates a conspiracy so overarching that the theory tends implicitly to undermine its own epistemological foundations, precisely by undermining the possibility of any sociopolitical knowledge at all -- something analogous to Cartesian skepticism in the sociopolitical context.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The theology of Prometheus

I’m afraid I’m very much a latecomer to the pretentious commentary party vis-à-vis Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, since I only saw the flick after it came out on Blu-ray and even then have been too preoccupied with other things of late to comment.  But it’s better than the reviews led me to believe, and worth a philosophical blog post.  Plus, I need to do something to keep this site from becoming The Official Thomas Nagel and David Bentley Hart Commentary Page and Message Boards.