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.

Hugh McCann’s recent book Creation and the Sovereignty of God is reviewed at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.  In Mind, Tuomas Tahko reviews John Heil’s recent book The Universe As We Find It.

The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles William Lane Craig.  Craig will be debating Lawrence Krauss in Australia this month.

Gyula Klima has substantially revised his Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on “The Medieval Problem of Universals.”

Anthony Kenny on the work of C. S. Lewis, in the Times Literary Supplement.

Alex Rosenberg is interviewed at 3:AM Magazine.  While you’re at it, check out Rosenberg’s paper “Eliminativism without Tears.”  I’ll be commenting on it here on the blog before long.


  1. Hello, Edward Feser!

    I am a Brazilian Computer Scientist student, but I really like some subjects of Philosophy of Religion and Theology. I mantain a blog about the former subject, and I want to translate and use some of your posts to put them in my blog. Can I do it?

    Sorry my bad English...

  2. Hi Prof. Feser! I am a regular reader of your blog, and positively influenced by it, and for that I'm very grateful. Having the time (and I know that it is very dificult!!), I would like Prof. Feser dedicate a post to the "hiraclitean" views of Prof. Patrick Lee Miller Again, thank you so much for your blog. (Sorry my english, I´m from Portugal!)

    João Gabriel

  3. If Alex Rosenburg says, "[Eliminativism] only denies that the words you are now reading are symbols, have meaning, express propositions, have truth-values" (pg 3), does that mean his article is meaningless and lacks truth-value?

    The very bottom of page two and the top of page one sounds like a form of behaviorism: mind states are reducible to behavior.

  4. Rosenberg’s paper “Eliminativism without Tears.”

    It's the tears of *laughter* inspired by eliminativism that Rosenberg really needs to deal with.

  5. Re Lewis and Anscombe. while some of Lewis's conclusions may have been hasty, his argument certainly lives on in the form of Plantinga's EAAN. It would be sad to think a brilliant and influential man spent the last few years of his life in grave doubt regarding his intellectual esteem. Ultimately though, I think he had a much greater peace than one awarded by scholarly pursuits.


  6. @ credulo

    I once emailed Feser with same request (just not portuguese), he never answered :O ... maybe he never checks that (hotmail) email

  7. @GW:

    Lewis's argument also lives on directly in Victor Reppert's excellent book C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea. Reppert also nicely debunks the notion that Lewis was all that humiliated by Anscombe. (Anscombe herself certainly didn't think so.)

  8. @Credulo and Anon at 6:09 AM:

    It is indeed good manners to ask and I can't claim to speak for Prof. Feser, nevertheless I really think it's just fine if you do it. After all, these are free blog articles and not some scholarly works behind a pay-wall. If you do your best in the translation and provide a reference to the original at the beginning or at the end, then I see no reason why the good Prof. here would be mad about it.

  9. The key words in Danielius's post are "I can't claim to speak for Prof. Feser." As a matter of copyright law, the only person in the world who can give anyone permission to publish translations of Ed Feser's writings is Ed Feser.

  10. Well, I do remember a commenter asking about translating whole books, but this is about a blog post translation of a blog post (not book fragments or journal articles) with proper and clear reference to the original? Maybe I'm missing some important considerations here, but it seems to me very similar to the common practice of quoting others and then proceeding to comment on it. Do some other rules apply when the quotation is preceded by a single introductory line or translated? Is a statement that the works are Public Domain necessary in this case? I freely admit that I don't know.

    I tried searching the blog for words "license" and "copyright", if this issue hasn't been already addressed, but I found nothing. ( A testament to the growing exposure of the good work being done here? :-) I don't think it searches comments though, so it may have been addressed there. ) Anyway, I wouldn't want to give out a bad advice and our little off-topic discussion here is probably enough to notify Prof. Feser of the requests, so lets just wait for clarification.

  11. I'm a twenty-three-year veteran of the publishing industry and a nonpracticing lawyer with a specialization in intellectual property. Ed's posts are automatically protected by copyright as of the moment he writes them, and producing and posting translations of them (even if they're properly attributed) requires his permission, not somebody's guess that he probably won't mind. He may be perfectly willing to give such permission, but that's for him to say, not you or me or anyone else.

  12. And yes, reproducing parts of a post for comment and criticism is a different matter from wholesale reproduction. For one thing, translating an original work involves the creation of what in copyright law is called a "derivative work," and control over the creation of such works is one of the rights of the copyright holder. A translation produced and distributed without the author's permission is unambiguously an infringement of his or her copyright, and that includes publishing it on the Internet.

  13. Well, that is a clear cut verdict on the matter.

    And I was just about to post a last question about reproducing parts of the original and if its unproblematic, but I see you have addressed it already, Scott. So, thank you (for the previous clarifications and corrections as well)! :-)

  14. No problem. I hope my clarification/correction didn't come across as overly stern; I just don't want people to think they can just start posting translations of Ed's stuff without his okay. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what can and can't legally be done with original works posted on the Web, and they can lead to inconvenience and hard feelings even when they don't lead to actual lawsuits.

  15. One last point, addressing the final question you were going to ask:

    Reproducing parts of the original is okay if it falls under what's called "fair use," but such reproduction is rarely just flat-out 100% unproblematic. There's a four-part test the courts use to determine what is and isn't fair use (which you can look up if you're interested), and it's not at all clear where the precise boundaries lie. It's generally settled that quoting parts of a paper in a review or critical reply is okay, at least up to a point; it's also generally settled that simply publishing a translation of the entire work for all and sundry to read is not. In between, things get messier.

  16. It appears Credulo has already been translating articles, so asking forgiveness instead of permission is a better strategy.

  17. Yikes, including the first two chapters of the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. I rather think Wiley-Blackwell might have a problem with that even if Charles Taliaferro and Alexander Pruss don't.

  18. @Credulo

    Credulo, bom ver mais um brasileiro lendo os trabalhos do Prof. Feser, e mais ainda querendo contribuir para melhorar o desastre intelectual que é o nosso país. Como outros já disseram, é problemático você ir traduzindo o blog sem permissão, e é proibido fazê-lo com obras como o "Blackwell Companion" e outras do tipo. Pode até te dar uma dor de cabeça com a lei. Te sugiro que dedique o teu blog a resumos e comentários sobre as obras originais, que daí, apesar do conteúdo ser derivado, serão claramente da tua lavra. Abraço!


    Credulo, it's good to find another Brazilian reader of Prof. Feser's works, and better still one that wants to help better the intellectual disaster that is our country by translating them. However, as others have said, it's problematic for you to translate Feser's blog without permission, and forbidden to do so with the "Blackwell Companion" and other such works. You may even have trouble with the law for it. I suggest you fill your blog with summaries and comments on the original pieces, because in this case, even if the ideas are derived, the result is clearly your own work. Best,

  19. The Telegraph writer expresses his admiration for ritual suicide as a response of conservatives to modernity. Go for it!

  20. "The Telegraph writer expresses his admiration for ritual suicide as a response of conservatives to modernity. Go for it!" -- Anonymous, 10:56 PM

    From Stanley's piece:

    Mishima's example gives us both the wrong and the right answer. The wrong thing is literal or figurative suicide. ... But what Mishima did get right was his writing. I've reached the conclusion that traditionalists should reject politics and focus on art. ... [W]e should not accept our fate as mere critics of civilisation (the figurative version of Mishima's suicide) but instead become the architects of a new one.

    Something else one can add to the list of things to lament about the modern age: the death of reading comprehension.

  21. I just must be stupid. It seems that Rosenberg's entire argument comes down to saying "since science, as currently practiced, ignores matters like intentionality, therefore eliminationalism is true, as we don't find intentionality in scientific descriptions."

    Exactly what are the grounds for ruling out, entirely, introspection, as inevitably mistaken? I don't mean this rhetorically; I'd like to know.

    I understand that his point is ultimately, at the end of the day, science will give us an internally consistent account of human life. But it still looks like an account of MacBeth which ignores the fact that MacBeth is written in blank verse. Yes, the plot and characters are accounted for, but that doesn't mean it's a full account, any more than Ryle's university bursar's account was complete. Rosenberg's answer would seem to be "don't ask about that."

  22. Jmhenry,

    "Something else one can add to the list of things to lament about the modern age: the death of reading comprehension."

    It's *because* of modernity that most of us can read at all.

  23. The Kenny review interests me, in part, because Kenny was one of the influences in my abandoning full-bore Platonism for a kind of ad hoc Aristotelianism. (I've since moved more toward full A-T views, within my limits.) And the issue here was specifically mind and will. The arguments involved were similar to those Anscombe used against Lewis. It was not so much that naturalism was self refuting, as that it missed the point, by attributing all to one kind of cause.

    To my reading, Lewis remained ultimately a Platonist (partly filtered through 19th C idealism, as was natural given his education) in the mind-body question. Of course, on this view Aslan's "incarnation" is much more plausible, than it would be for A-T. (Although I've never understood the argument that a lion COULDN'T be rational, any more than that there couldn't be a primate just like man physically, but non-rational. It'd be a different sort of lion, of course, in the same sense that the latter would be a different sort of man than we. Note this applies to all speaking Narnian lions.)

    I don't see why we should think Lewis's arguments haven't "worn well". Simply taking the deus aut malo homo (which I, like Lewis, first read in Everlasting Man), I've tried to see where it is actually refuted. N T Wright, for instance, rejects it, but to my eyes, what he is doing really comes down to giving a highly nuanced account of how Christ's divine claims were couched in terms associated with the Temple. I can not for the life of me see where this makes for a refutation. To me, this is more literary than philosophical or theological analysis. Again, I suppose I'm just stupid.

    Kenny's right that it's a shame so few people read Lewis's professional work. His overarching intent was to see what earlier writers thought and believed, and it is very impressive. Of course, this heresy in the modern academy. (Perhaps it might help if it were pointed out that, in Experiment in Criticism, he anticipates the switch of focus from text to readers and readings, although in a clearly delimited way.) It is my own view that the introduction to the OHEL volume should be simply mandatory reading, annually, in the schools.

    One problem with both McGrath and Kenny is seen in this:

    " There is one character who illustrates “the gluttony of Delicacy”. Whatever is offered to her never seems to be quite to her taste. Her requests may be very modest; yet they are never met, and she is never satisfied.... McGrath plausibly sees this as indicating Lewis’s concern about Mrs Moore’s fussiness and fixations at this period. His book contains many similar identifications of clues to the background of the great man’s writings."

    This shows a failure to understand what fiction is. Evelyn Waugh addressed this in "People Who Want to Sue Me."

    ""If only the amateurs would get it into their heads that novel-writing is a highly skilled and laborious trade. One does not just sit behind a screen jotting down other people's conversation. One has for one's raw material every single thing one has ever seen or heard or felt, and one has to go over that vast, smouldering rubbish-heap of experience, half stifled by the fumes and dust, scraping and delving, until one finds a few discarded valuables.

    "Then one has to assemble these tarnished and dented fragments, polish them, set them in order, and try to make a coherent and significant arrangement of them. It is not merely a matter of filling up a dustbin haphazard and emptying it out again in another place."

    And that brings up a final point, that position in the Stanley piece ends up looking very much (to my eyes, anyway) Waugh's approach. The only thing a reactionary writer can do is create some order in his work, in a wholly disordered world. (Interestingly, I can find no evidence that Lewis and Waugh ever mentioned the other.)

  24. George,

    This shows a failure to understand what fiction is.

    Not to mention that they are apparently ignorant that Lewis was simply repeating an idea with nearly two thousand years of history within Christianity. It dates back to Gregory of Nyssa and it continued through Aquinas, as anyone who's read ST IIb q148 a4 would know. It's still around today in discussions about gluttony. I was disturbed to see a scholar like Kenny miss such an obvious fact.

  25. George,

    Where could I find that Waugh column?

  26. Josh: I couldn't find it online, just a site which quoted enough for my purposes. I'm not sure which book it came from; I have the collected essays, which I've almost tattered with use. The title, again, is "People Who Want to Sue Me."

  27. Many thanks, George; I'll pick up the Essays.

  28. @George and Josh:

    The Waugh piece is actually not from a book at all but from a letter to the Daily Mail (published 31 May 1930). It's included in this collection, which I'm sure is the collection you're both thinking of.

  29. Credulo is a modern day Robin Hood!

  30. It's *because* of modernity that most of us can read at all.

    And yet, given Anonymous's comment, I often doubt that modernity has really even accomplished that much. When one does not comprehend -- perhaps willfully -- a simple article with a simple point, I wonder whether most people truly do know how to read. This is common.

    The modern person (like Anonymous) is in such a rush to be clever that he doesn't understand what he reads.

    Perhaps it's the case that modernity is simultaneously responsible for the spread of literacy, and the decline in the ability of people to stop admiring their own cleverness long enough to even understand what they read.

  31. Krauss vs. Craig again? The first was painful. Hopefully, this time Krauss won't waste precious minutes of his rebuttal period trying to show off his mathetmatically dubious T-shirt.

  32. George,

    No, you're not stupid. I studied Wright quite a bit in grad school and have had long discussions with a good PhD friend about Waugh, and you are speaking way over my head.

    But I will maybe defend Wright here a bit. I don't think that's all he's doing. That is, I don't think it's just a literary criticism. I think it's more of a historical criticism. That, assuming that Christ's divinity was made up by others and did not come from statements actually said by Christ himself, the trilemma doesn't really exist. Wright doesn't actually take this position, that Jesus didn't say what he said, but I think he's saying, "Well, these historical Jesus fellows might be on to something, so refutation has to be on their terms." And a huge part of Wright's whole academic project is to argue that of course what Jesus said made sense.

    I don't know which of Wright's stuff you're referring to when you say that Wright refutes the argument. I'd imagine, though, that he'd say that it's not really an argument about Jesus' divinity without there first being a lot, lot of background in place. In other words, instead of the argument being, "He has to be God because he said these things," it becomes, "IF he said these things, he has to be God." For someone who doubts his divinity (or even his existence), their response is more, "Well, that's what we're arguing about in the first place!" I think this is all Wright is getting at, but again, I'm not sure which of his work you're referring to.

  33. It seems there are more brazilians reading Dr. Feser than I could imagine! Cool! Greetings from Recife - Pernambuco!


  34. It's *because* of modernity that most of us can read at all.

    Just not well.

  35. I've always found Mishima's death both fascinating and heroic. In its own perverse way, it's one of the great conservative artistic statements of our time – a kind of Right-wing "happening".

    I believe that a lot more than the writer's attempts to dissociate himself from his true feelings.

  36. Joe K, thanks for the comments about Wright. I haven't read much by him, just a few articles. And you're right, "historical" is better than "literary"; I was being sloppy in thought, word, and deed, there.

    But I had trouble with him in part because he never seems to get to a "therefore". It's a lot of interesting analysis of Christ's words, which may be true. But if he ever came out with a conclusion, it was too subtle for me.

    Of course, in any historical argument, there's always more to dig through. (Although I'm always a bit skeptical of people who think they've hit on something everyone else missed for centuries.) But if that's what Wright means, then it's not a refutation, but just laying the ground. Which is fine.

    I'm not sure what you meant about Waugh.


  37. I believe that a lot more than the writer's attempts to dissociate himself from his true feelings.

    And how lucky we are to have you as an oracle of the true feelings of your political and cultural opponents - even when they appear to express directly contrary sentiments!

  38. "Only the indomitable free will of the human agent, with her tendencies toward evil as well as good, could make it possible for entrenched violations of the natural law to exist." -- Oderberg link, p381

    That sentence posits a 'free will' that's frivolous -- in fact, it posits a 'free will' that's counterproductive. That 'free will' has no purpose, no end, no natural reason to exist. It also implies a fundamental conflict with the theory. Where there is an obvious 'natural' purpose for bones, for lungs, for sexual organs, there is none for will. If will cannot legitimately counter other 'natural' ends, it serves no purpose. Ants would seem to be morally perfect creatures because they have no 'free will' and therefore always behave in support of the common good. Human will is a flaw at best. So why has nature saddled us with it?

    We can't merely claim some vague 'supernatural' purpose for human will (like a choice to worship God). 'Supernatural' is by definition outside natural law's own standard of judging. Where there are no observable results in nature there can be no connections to natural law. Otherwise we may as well call it supernatural law theory.

    So I suggest classical natural law theory cannot explain free will, or more simply, will. If will has no positive function, it has no natural reason to exist. And if we agree nature works towards ends, and there's no reason for 'free will', it shouldn't exist. The thing that the theory seems most concerned to regulate is not even within its theoretical scope.

    But I believe (as I think most, including Oderberg, do) that 'free will' does exist. I suggest it exists because nature has 'decided' nature isn't always right. It's a hedge against itself. Sometimes it's good to go beyond nature, even defy nature. This is what will is. It's the Olympic marathoner who pushes his body when every fiber of it tells him to stop. It's the test pilot and explorer who ignore fear to push boundaries ever farther. It's the novelist who wills worlds into his mind that don't exist and will never exist. It's even the religionist who creates hope out of hopelessness. In short, it's a powerful trait that helps makes us humans instead of ants. It's what makes us explorers and creators who push past natural boundaries. It gives many of us feelings of accomplishment and identity. It's probably the best, most noble quality about our species and, I think, is often an end in itself.

    So when we speak of will we are speaking of nature every bit as much as when we speak of sexual organs. If the two oppose each other, it's nature opposing nature. What should win in that struggle? That's not easy to answer -- certainly not as easy as Oderberg believes. I think we can reject Oderberg natural law. It doesn't encompass all of our nature. It's therefore dismissive of who we really are.

    Just had to get this off of my chest.

  39. @donjindra:

    You do have a point, but it is effective against what Oderberg says, and not against natural law theory, per se. When he refers to "tendencies toward evil as well as good", if taken literally (as you do), then he contradicts St Thomas.

    Aquinas held that the will does not tend toward evil as an end. Rather, it tends to a mistaken or lesser good. Evil, itself, has no real existence, being rather a lack of good.

    That means that the Thomist notion of free will is not frivolous, as it is still seeking some natural, real, good. It just got it wrong, in cases where it errs, by mistaking a lesser good for a greater.

    Therefore the flaw you see lies not in our possession of free will itself, but elsewhere, in the flaws of our character.

  40. Hey, there are a bunch of Portuguese-speakers here too!

    Well, about the Blackwell, in fact I have decided to put it in "privative", so that I am the only who can read the posts. Maybe it won't be a problem anymore.

    About the blog, in fact it has the intention to be a place to put translations of good articles about Philosophy. Even doing the "better to beg forgiveness than ask permission" way is not so good, the translations are in some sense "necessary" - the vast majority subjects Feser discuss here in your blog are inexistent in Brazil.

    Anyway, sorry about the legal and moral slips!