Saturday, August 31, 2013

A gigantic book royalty check from nothing

Robert Lawrence Kuhn and John Leslie have written up a gracious and substantive reply to my recent First Things commentary on their anthology The Mystery of Existence: Why Is There Anything At All?  It will appear at the First Things website soon, as will my response.

In the meantime, a reader asks about a less serious contribution to the debate: some remarks made recently by Lawrence Krauss in a video over at Big Think.  I’ve commented on Krauss in a review of his book A Universe from Nothing for First Things and in a couple of earlier posts, here and here.  Is there anything new to be said?  Well, not by Krauss, that’s for sure.  It’s the same superficial stuff, presented with the same arrogant and uninformed confidence, and as usual barely acknowledging, much less seriously answering, the objections that have been leveled against him by atheists and theists alike.  But for that reason alone it is worthwhile exposing his errors now and again, as long as there’s a single benighted reader out there still inclined to take him seriously.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Hitting Bottum

By now you may have heard that Joseph Bottum, reputedly conservative Catholic and former editor of First Things, has assimilated to the hive mind.  People have been asking me for a while now to write more on “same-sex marriage,” though I’ve been waiting for the publication of the full-length version of my new article on natural law and sexual morality -- of which the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly recently published an excerpt -- before doing so.  The reason is that I don’t think there’s much point in discussing the marriage issue without situating it within the context of the traditional natural law approach to sexual morality in general.  And all the usual, stupid objections to that approach are dealt with in the forthcoming piece.  Best to have it to refer to, then, when commenting on current events, so that time need not be wasted endlessly repeating myself answering the same tired canards. 

But I can’t help commenting briefly on the subject anyway, because Bottum’s article is just too much.  And it’s too much because there’s nothing there.  Or rather, while the article is verbose in the extreme, what’s there is almost entirely stuff that completely undermines Bottum’s conclusion.  Yet he draws it anyway.  Matthew Franck at First Things nails it:

At one point in this bloated, interminable essay, meandering hither and yon, Bottum allows as how the authors of the Manhattan Declaration were chiefly thinkers and not writers.  Never was it more obvious that the reverse is true of Bottum.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Out on the links

I called attention recently to the special issue of the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly devoted to the theme “Critiques of the New Natural Law Theory.”  The issue is now available for free download.  (Keep in mind that my own contribution to the issue is an excerpt from a forthcoming longer article.)

I notice that Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics, the anthology I edited for Palgrave Macmillan’s Philosophers in Depth series, is at the time of this posting selling at a whopping 40% discount on Amazon -- $57, down from the steep $95 list price.  Prices may change, so buy now!

The Catholic Center at New York University will be hosting a symposium this November 9 on the theme “Thomas Aquinas and Philosophical Realism.”  The speakers are James Brent, OP, John Haldane, William Jaworski, Candace Vogler, J. David Velleman, Edward Feser, and Thomas Joseph White, OP.  The event begins at 11 am.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mad dogs and eliminativists

As an epilogue to my critique of Alex Rosenberg’s paper “Eliminativism without Tears,” let’s take a brief look at Rosenberg’s recent interview at 3:AM Magazine.  The interviewer styles Rosenberg “the mad dog naturalist.”  So perhaps in his bid to popularize eliminative materialism, Rosenberg could put out a “Weird Al” style parody of the old Noël Coward song.  Or maybe he and fellow eliminativist Paul Churchland could do a re-make of ZZ Top’s classic Eliminator album.  Don’t know if they’re sharp-dressed men, but they’ve got the beards.  (I can see the video now: The guys, electric guitars swaying in unison and perhaps assisted by Pat Churchland in a big 80s hairdo, set straight some benighted young grad student who still thinks the propositional attitudes are worth salvaging.  Romance ensues, as does a job at a Leiter-ranked philosophy department…)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The director as demiurge

I’ve been reading Ian Nathan’s book Alien Vault, an agreeable account of the making of Ridley Scott’s Alien.  “Making of” books and documentaries make it clear just how many hands go into putting a movie together.  The director is not the God of classical theism, creating ex nihilo.  There has to be a screenplay, which is usually written by someone other than the director, and which is in turn often based on source material -- a novel or short story, say -- written by someone other than the screenwriter.  Good actors can salvage an otherwise mediocre film, and bad actors can ruin an otherwise good one.  The music, sets, and special effects depend on the artistry of yet other people.  So, why is it “Ridley Scott’s Alien” rather than “Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s Alien”?  Why is it “Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita” rather than “Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita”?  Why “Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window,” and not “Jimmy Stewart’s Rear Window”?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Eliminativism without truth, Part III

Now comes the main event.  Having first set out some background ideas, and then looked at his positive arguments for eliminativism about intentionality, we turn at last to Alex Rosenberg’s attempt to defend his position from the charge of incoherence in his paper “Eliminativism without Tears.”  He offers three general lines of argument.  The first purports to show that a key version of the objection from incoherence begs the question.  The second purports to give an explanation of how what he characterizes as the “illusion” of intentionality arises.  The third purports to offer an intentionality-free characterization of information processing in the brain, in terms of which the eliminativist can state his position without implicitly appealing to the very intentionality-laden notions he rejects.  Let’s look at each argument in turn.

Monday, August 12, 2013

NOW AVAILABLE: Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics

Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics, an anthology I've edited for Palgrave Macmillan’s Philosophers in Depth series, is now available.  The book is a collection of new and cutting-edge essays by prominent Aristotle scholars and Aristotelian philosophers on themes in ontology, causation, modality, essentialism, the metaphysics of life, natural theology, and scientific and philosophical methodology. Grounded in careful exegesis of Aristotle's writings, the volume aims to demonstrate the continuing relevance of Aristotelian ideas to contemporary philosophical debate.

The contributors are Robert Bolton, Stephen Boulter, David Charles, Edward Feser, Lloyd Gerson, Gyula Klima, Kathrin Koslicki, E. J. Lowe, Fred D. Miller, Jr., David S. Oderberg, Christopher Shields, Allan Silverman, Tuomas Tahko, and Stephen Williams.  Here are brief descriptions of each of the essays:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Eliminativism without truth, Part II

We’re looking at Alex Rosenberg’s attempt to defend eliminative materialism from the charge of incoherence in his paper “Eliminativism without Tears.”  Having set out some background ideas in an earlier post, let’s turn to the essay itself.  It has four main parts: two devoted to arguments for eliminativism, and two devoted to responses to the charge of incoherence.  I’ll consider each in turn.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Eliminativism without truth, Part I

Suppose you hold that a good scientific explanation should make no reference to teleology, final causality, purpose, directedness-toward-an-end, or the like as an inherent and irreducible feature of the natural order.  And suppose you hold that what is real is only what science tells us is real.  Then you are at least implicitly committed to denying that even human purposes or ends are real, and also to denying that the intentionality of thought and the semantic content of speech and writing are real.  Scientism, in short, entails a radical eliminativism.  Alex Rosenberg and I agree on that much -- he defends this thesis in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality and I defend it in The Last Superstition.  Where we differ is over the lesson to be drawn from this thesis.  Rosenberg holds that scientism is true, so that eliminativism must be true as well.  I maintain that eliminativism is incoherent, and constitutes a reductio ad absurdum of the scientism that leads to it.  I responded to Rosenberg at length in a series of posts on his book.

In his paper “Eliminativism without Tears,” Rosenberg attempts in a more systematic way than he has elsewhere to respond to the charge of incoherence.  Rosenberg kindly sent me this paper some time ago, and I note that it is now available online.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Links not to miss

I’ve been out of town for most of a week.  Regular blogging will resume shortly.  Until then, some reading material from around the web.

At the Telegraph, historian Tim Stanley has some advice for conservatives tempted to despair.

David Oderberg’s new article “Natural Law and Rights Theory” is available online.  (Follow the link from the Articles page at David’s website.) 

Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld’s Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience is discussed over at National Review.  But Slate wonders whether the age of neuro-hype is already over.

At The Catholic Thing, Brad Miner is critical of what some Catholic bishops have had to say about immigration.