Monday, November 4, 2013

Around the web

Was the twentieth-century Thomist Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange unduly influenced by Leibnizian rationalism, as followers of Etienne Gilson often allege?  No, argues Steven Long, over at  (Be sure to read the discussion in the comments section as well as the original post.)

The debate over Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos never ends.  Raymond Tallis reviews the book in The New Atlantis, and Jim Slagle reviews it for Philosophy in Review.

You’ve read Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story and checked in regularly at its companion blog.  Now brace yourself for Blake Bell and Michael J. Vassallo’s The Secret History of Marvel Comics, which has a blog of its own.  It’s a look at the seamier, pulp magazine side of the company’s early history.

Natural law philosopher J. Budziszewski has a new website: The Underground Thomist.
At the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, Kevin Vallier offers a primer on contemporary Christian philosophy.  In another post, he links to an important video clip in which F. A. Hayek comments on the relationship of his work on social justice to that of John Rawls.

The debate about Nothing is another that, it seems, nothing can stop.  Tyron Goldschmidt’s edited volume The Puzzle of Existence: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? is reviewed over at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagen has just published Eminent HipstersHere’s an interview about the book from the Chicago TribuneAnother interview, with Fagen and Dan co-founder Walter Becker.  (Bonus link: Fagen’s top ten favorite flicks from The Criterion Collection.) 

Is science self-correcting?  Not to the extent people often suppose, says The Economist.

A recent book you may have missed: James Madden’s Mind, Matter, and Nature: A Thomistic Proposal for the Philosophy of Mind; and another that is forthcoming: Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum’s Causation: A Very Short Introduction.


  1. Thanks for these interesting links. The book alerts are particularly helpful.

  2. The Slagle review of Nagel is particularly good; it specifically highlights one of the things that has baffled me about much of the criticism of Nagel, namely, that the critics refuse to acknowledge that practically everything he has said in recent times follows almost directly from the arguments that made him a big name in the first place, and that, while he's developed details, he's been arguing for the broad outlines for decades.

  3. Jim Madden is a good friend of mine. Thanks for linking his book!

  4. Taking a look at the Madden book!

  5. Lots of good stuff in those links, but yeah, the Madden book looks especially good. Anybody here read it yet?

  6. Doc Feser, did you read Madden's book?

    Looks like he's critical of Intelligent Design too. Came across an article of his on it.

  7. Cool. He was going back and forth with Howard Van Till:

  8. Did someone say Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange?

    I'm so there.

  9. @Alan Aversa:

    If I recall correctly, Leibniz himself spelled it with the tz and the spelling with just the zis a more recent standardized version based on modern German orthography. It's not too terribly unlike what we've done with Shakspere.

  10. I'm not quite following Garrigou-Lagrange's indirect argument for his version of the PSR, may someone please give me a refresher.

  11. Scott,

    i'm reading Madden's book at the moment. it's excellent so far.

  12. Is it (the Madden) worth getting if one has read the good blog owner’s Philosophy of Mind?

    On the subject of Philosophies of Mind I note that William Jaworski has an introduction to the topic which covers Hylemorphism in some detail. I have yet to fully read the volume but there appears to be a slightly unpleasant suggestion that he views it as a kind of Physicalism (‘Gilbert Ryle was a Hylemorphist’).

    What is really needed is a full book length study of Hylemorphic Dualism and a new beginners introduction or companion to Philosophy of Mind which focuses on other forms of Dualism, and, perhaps more controversially, on Idealistic theories. The title? ‘Independent Minds’.

  13. I'm interested in reading Madden's book now.
    Not familiar with that name though. Is he a newer Thomist on the scene?

    But I have to say, Feser's "Aquinas" is probably THE best introductory book on it though.

    But.... Madden's cover does look pretty cool :)

  14. mashsha'i,
    Is Madden's book more like "Philosophy of Mind" or "Aquinas" by Feser?

  15. Me: "Hey guys, I just got the latest edition of Madden!"
    My friends: "Too cool! Have you played your way to the Super Bowl yet, or are you just trying to build up your skills first"
    Me: "Wait, what are you guys talking about?"
    My friends: "What are you talking about?"

  16. Is it (the Madden) worth getting if one has read the good blog owner’s Philosophy of Mind?

    From what I can tell, after a cursory scan, Madden's book goes into a bit more detail and looks more like a textbook (it is longer), while Feser's is a short introduction to the subject. That said, they both seem to cover similar topics/thought experiments and have similar structure. Each of them spend the bulk of the book introducing arguments for/against more common forms of dualism and materialism, and towards the end introduce hylomorphism as a "third way." Hylomorphism seems to get about 60 out of 280 pages in Madden's book.

    It seems like Feser's book is meant to be more neutral - until the end you can't quite tell what Feser's position is - while Madden's seems to be more direct that the purpose of the book is to propose hylomorphism as a solution to the problems of philosophy of mind. This is just my speculation, given that Madden's book is called a "Thomistic proposal" in its title, and begins with what looks like a very brief critique of naturalism in chapter 1.

  17. @mashsha'i:

    Good to know. Thanks.

  18. Oh great. Another book by a thomist who gets naturalism wrong.
    Yeah, I'll be sure to get Maddens book right after I'm done reading William Dembskis latest.

  19. "Oh great. Another book by a thomist who gets naturalism wrong."

    Oh do enlighten us O wise one.


  20. Anon, don't fall for the other Anon's bait.

  21. Oh great. Another comment by a smart-ass Anon who gets thomism wrong.
    Yeah, I'll be sure to read the rest of his comments right after I'm done reading Daniel Dennett's latest.

    Hey look, I can play this game too!

  22. I've been previewing Madden's book on Amazon (in particular his discussion of hylemorphism) and it really does look very good—basic and introductory, which not everyone will need (and technically neither do I, but I often find such presentations quite helpful all the same), but solid and informative. I've just ordered a copy and thanks to my Amazon Prime membership I'll have it on Saturday. If anybody wants to know more about it after that, let me know and I'll tell you what I can.

  23. Scott,

    I would welcome your summary and assessment of Madden's book once you are finished reading it.


  24. @ Insightful Anonymous, many thanks for your comments on Mind, Matter and Nature.

    I have a great fondness for the blog owner’s Philosophy of Mind since, aside from providing a lucid analysis of the field particularly with regards to Intentionality, it also served as my entry point into Contemporary Analytical Philosophy (until then I had confined my attention to the Continental scene). The brief section on Conceivability and Kripke’s Loose/Rigid Designators has since proved invaluable too.

    @Scott, thank you. Yes, if you encounter anything interesting in your reading of the volume do let us know. I’ll probably get a copy as, although I’ve read a lot of Neo-Scholastic stuff on Psychology, it’s nice to something which engages with more up-to-date trends in Neurophysiology.

  25. Thanks, monk68; I'll let you know.

    One point that has already struck me in previewing his presentation of hylemorphism is his stress that "form" and "matter" are functional concepts, which reminds me quite a lot of Mr. Green's approach. He wants us to think of "form" as whatever it is that, in any particular instance, functions in a certain way in a process of change, and in particular he wants us to avoid thinking of "form" as nothing more than a sort of abstract "shape" or "organizational structure." That works fine, he says, for statues and desks (at least if these count as physical objects), because shape alone is enough to account for the difference between a potential desk and an actual one. But it makes the claim that the human intellectual soul is a "form" look like rank confusion if not a sort of bait-and-switch.

    For him, "form" is fundamentally just whatever it is in an object that accounts for its being one way rather than another, for its actually becoming this rather than that. And it's because the human being needs something more than "organizational structure" to account for its embodiment-transcendent powers that we have to attribute to us a substantial form that includes, e.g., intellect.

    Obviously that's an important point for his philosophy of mind and one that plays a key role in his claim that Aristotelian hylemorphism doesn't have a mind-body problem the way other versions of dualism do. And his exposition of it is clear and deft.

  26. I'm in fact the Jim Madden who penned Mind, Matter and Nature. My friend Tim, who I think frequently posts here, told me that you are discussing my book, and I just couldn't resist chiming in! I don't mean this post as a bit of shameless self-promotion, and I really am indebted to Edward for even mentioning my book.

    As to one of the earlier "Anon" commenters, my book is definitely not neutral, and indeed it's explicitly partisan. I'm trying to make a case for Thomistic hylomorphism. There are a number of books out there that do as much, and rather well at that. (Indeed, Edward's books are fine examples.) My emphasis, however, is that we first need to understand hylomorphism as a broad philosophy of nature or a metaphysics of material substance, before we apply it to the philosophy of mind. Throughout the first six chapters of the book, I argue that the problems in the philosophy of mind arise because of a defective (mechanistic) account of material substances. Once we understand how better to think about material substances (i.e., adopt a very robust version of hylomorphism, which I discuss in chapter 7), the problems in the philosophy of mind simply don't arise (which I discuss in chapter 8). Moreover, by understanding hylomorphism as first and foremost a philosophy of nature, I contend we can easily answer the "Isn't this just fancy Cartesian Dualism?" objections one often hears from folks like William Hasker.

    As to the later "Anon" commenter regarding another Thomist who misunderstands naturalism, all I can do ask that you take a look at my first chapter and point out where exactly I get naturalism wrong. In fact, chapter 1 isn't a critique of naturalism, but really a careful outline of what it seemingly claims, and why a confrontation with naturalism is central to the philosophy of mind. (The critique comes later.) I would find any specific criticisms you might have very helpful.

    To Scott, I too would very much like to hear your assessment after you read Mind, Matter, and Nature. Thanks so much for buying the book.

    Once again, I appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to consider my work. If you ever have any questions, or better yet criticisms, regarding the book, please don't hesitate to contact me.

  27. @Daniel: Thanks for your interest as well. (Your post appeared while I was composing mine.) Once I actually have the book, I'll post a few more comments and try to answer questions about it for people who might be interested in acquiring or recommending it.

  28. @Jim Madden:

    Hello, and welcome. Looks like a fine book you've written there, and you may as well have a look at my brief comments above to make sure I've taken your point correctly. Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading it all.

  29. From JDM
    @Scott, I'd say you are getting me dead right. You might want to chase down some of the references to Jeff Brower's work on form that I have in the footnotes. I think Jeff has done the most to develop form as a functional notion (not to be confused with functionalism!).

  30. @Jim:

    Thanks, glad to hear it. And I'll definitely follow up on those references.

  31. By the way, for anyone who's interested, Jim Madden's book arrived yesterday and I'm reading it now.

  32. I'm nearly done with James Madden's book and it's excellent throughout.

    The basic structure is as follows: In the first chapter he gives a short account of naturalism and its current place in the philosophy of mind. In the following five chapters he gives a very fair summary of the main options in the naturalistic philosophy of mind (dualism, materialism, and emergentism) and the strongest arguments for and against each. He then takes a step back into the philosophy of nature, devoting a chapter to the basics of Aristotelian hylomorphism. The payoff is in his final chapter, in which he explains why Aristotelian hylomorphism helps to avoid the pitfalls of the philosophies of mind founded on naturalism. The exposition is clear, thorough, and as deep as space permits given the large number of topics he has to cover.

    At the moment I have nothing specific that I want to point out beyond what I've said earlier in the thread, but I'll post further as things occur to me and of course I'll be happy to answer questions.

  33. Madden's book will be going on my Christmas wishlist.

    Thanks for the breakdown.

  34. One more....
    is the book more like a text book?

  35. "[I]s the book more like a text book?"

    In some limited ways, yes. It's written at about the level of an introductory book on the philosophy of mind (I'd say about midway between Ed's and E.J. Lowe's books on the same subject), and because it covers so much, it has to deal only cursorily with matters that would be dealt with much more deeply in an advanced work. (It also includes lots of useful references for people who want to follow up on this or that.) Those things are fairly typical of a textbook.

    But mostly, no. It doesn't have "exercises for the student" at the ends of the chapters or anything, and the chapters aren't purely isolated introductions to their subjects; the tone is that of sustained exposition and argument across the whole book. Someone already familiar with most of it (as many of Ed's longtime readers will be) will still find it profitable reading because of its well-organized structure, the fresh light it sheds even on familiar topics, and the overarching case it makes for a return to Aristotelian philosophy of nature as a precondition for a sound philosophy of mind.

  36. @Scott, thanks for your detailed prĂ©cis of the volume. Arguments for a return to a broadly Aristotelian philosophy of Nature are most welcome, though perhaps of less interest to me as the phrase ‘preaching to the converted’ comes to mind. At the moment I am very interested in the Scholastic Logic of Intentions, the relations and processes of the mind expressed as Ens Rationis in relation to Ens Reale, as it pre-empts the Kantian project and jumps ahead 500 years to clasp hand with Phenomenology. Having said that I probably will get a copy of this book after all.

    A lot of difficulties re Hylemorphism are due to the fact that strictly speaking there is no Matter/Mind binary in school metaphysics: Matter does not occupy a parallel place to that of Form as it only exists in and through the latter as a principal of individualisation and change. If one approaches the subjects solely with modern pre-conceptions one risks coming away with a mistaken impression with said metaphysics is a Monism and then having to flail randomly in deciding which variety it is. Even then a lot of professional philosophers come off badly as statements like ‘the intellectual alone has being’, when taken apart from the concept of Prime Matter as Pure Potentiality not to mention the distinction between objects of First and Second Intention which one will not garner from Aristotle’s works alone, would rather lead one to suppose Idealism rather that Materialism. At bottom these metaphysics are systems of Holism and dynamic unity and cannot be made to conform to Post-Cartesian Procrustianisms.

    The interesting point to make is that one could easily be both a Hylemorphist and a Substance Dualist, as were St. Bonaventure and many other medieval philosophers who upheld a forma corporalis theory. In fact a number of Bonaventure’s tenets could well have been part of the inspiration for Leibniz Pre-Established Harmony theory. One might of course claim that it is extravagant to appeal to a specific Divine Act to explain ther Mind/Body relationship, however to this the Hylemorphic Harmonist might claim that since we can establish the Divine Existence by independent reasoning and we already conceded that the creation of new soul derives from the Deity is it really so unreasonable to assume said soul might not be created in sync so to speak? Of course, the Pre-Established Harmony Theory runs into difficulties of its own, not least those involving free will, but it’s something to think about.