Friday, February 28, 2014

An exchange with Keith Parsons, Part III

Here I respond to Keith Parsons’ third post.  Jeff Lowder’s index of existing and forthcoming installments in my exchange with Prof. Parsons can be found here.

I’d like to respond now, Keith, to your comments about Bertrand Russell’s objection to First Cause arguments.  Let me first make some general remarks about the objection and then I’ll get to your comments.  Russell wrote, in Why I Am Not a Christian:

If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause.  If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument.  (pp. 6-7)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

An exchange with Keith Parsons, Part II

Here I respond to Keith Parsons’ second post.  Jeff Lowder is keeping track of the existing and forthcoming installments in my exchange with Prof. Parsons here.

Keith, thanks for these remarks.  The question we are now considering is: Why would the material universe or anything in it (an electron or a quark, say) require a cause to conserve it in existence?  Your view is that the supposition that it requires one is “gratuitous.”  You write: “Is there anything missing from an electron that would have to be filled in or supplied from outside?  There is nothing in our physical theories that indicates such a lack.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

An exchange with Keith Parsons, Part I

Prof. Keith Parsons and I will be having an exchange to be moderated by Jeffery Jay Lowder of The Secular Outpost.  Prof. Parsons has initiated the exchange with a response to the first of four questions I put to him last week.  What follows is a brief reply.

Keith, thank you for your very gracious response.  Like Jeff Lowder, you raise the issue of the relative amounts of attention I and other theistic philosophers pay to “New Atheist” writers like Dawkins, Harris, et al. as opposed to the much more serious arguments of atheist philosophers like Graham Oppy, Jordan Howard Sobel, and many others.  Let me begin by reiterating what I said last week in response to Jeff, namely that I have nothing but respect for philosophers like the ones you cite and would never lump them in with Dawkins and Co.  And as I showed in my response to Jeff, I have in fact publicly praised many of these writers many times over the years for the intellectual seriousness of their work.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Descartes’ “preservation” argument

In previous posts I’ve critically examined, from a Scholastic point of view, some of Descartes’ best-known arguments.  Specifically, I’ve commented on Descartes’ “clear and distinct perception” argument for dualism, and his “trademark” argument for God’s existence.  We’ve seen how these arguments illustrate how Descartes, though the father of modern philosophy, in some respects continues to be influenced by the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition, even as in other respects he abandons it.  It’s the novelties, I have suggested, that get him into trouble.  This is evidenced once again in what is sometimes called his “preservation” argument for God’s existence.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Four questions for Keith Parsons [UPDATED 2/21]

Keith Parsons’ feelings are, it seems, still hurt over some frank things I said about him a few years ago (here and here).  It seems to me that when a guy dismisses as a “fraud” an entire academic field to which many thinkers of universally acknowledged genius have contributed, and maintains that its key arguments do not even rise to the level of a “respectable philosophical position” worthy of “serious academic attention,” then when its defenders hit back, he really ought to have a thicker skin and more of a sense of humor about himself.  But that’s just me.

Lowder then bombs

Atheist blogger and Internet Infidels co-founder Jeffery Jay Lowder seems like a reasonable enough fellow.  But then, I admit it’s hard not to like a guy who writes:

I’ve just about finished reading Feser’s book, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New AtheismI think Feser makes some hard-hitting, probably fatal, objections to the arguments used by the “new atheists.”

Naturally Lowder thinks there are better atheist arguments than those presented by the “New Atheists,” but it’s no small thing for him to have made such an admission -- an admission too few of his fellow atheist bloggers are willing to make, at least in public.  So, major points to Lowder for intellectual honesty.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The metaphysics and aesthetics of plastic

There’s a passage at the beginning of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction novel Foundation’s Edge which I’ve always found delightfully preposterous.  Referring to Seldon Hall on the planet Terminus, Golan Trevize says:

Is there any structural component visible that is metal?  Not one.  It wouldn’t do to have any, since in Salvor Hardin’s day there was no native metal to speak of and hardly any imported metal.  We even installed old plastic, pink with age, when we built this huge pile, so that visitors from other worlds can stop and say, ‘Galaxy!  What lovely old plastic!’

The very notion of “lovely old plastic” seems absurd on its face, and I imagine Asimov wrote the passage with tongue in cheek.  Aged wood, stone, or metal structures or furniture can be aesthetically appealing, but aged plastic only ever seems shabby at best and positively ugly at worst.  Now, why is that?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A world of pure imagination

Let us fix our attention out of ourselves as much as possible; let us chase our imagination to the heavens, or to the utmost limits of the universe; we never really advance a step beyond ourselves, nor can conceive any kind of existence, but those perceptions, which have appear'd in that narrow compass. This is the universe of the imagination, nor have we any idea but what is there produc'd.

David Hume

Come with me and you'll be
In a world of pure imagination
Take a look and you'll see
Into your imagination

Willy Wonka

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Studia Neoaristotelica

Readers not already familiar with it should be aware of Studia Neoaristotelica: A Journal of Analytical Scholasticism.  Recent issues include articles by Nicholas Rescher, Richard Swinburne, Theodore Scaltsas, William Vallicella, James Franklin, Helen Hattab, and other authors known to readers of this blog.  Subscription information for individuals and institutions can be found here.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

2014 Thomistic Seminar

The 9th Annual Thomistic Seminar for graduate students in philosophy and related disciplines, sponsored by The Witherspoon Institute, will be held from August 3 - 9, 2014 in Princeton, NJ.  The theme is “Aquinas, Christianity, and Metaphysics” and the faculty are John Haldane, Edward Feser, John O’Callaghan, Candace Vogler, and Linda Zagzebski.  The application deadline is March 15.  More information here.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Heavy Meta

My new book Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction will be out this May.  I’ve expounded and defended various aspects of Scholastic metaphysics at some length in other places -- for example, in chapter 2 of The Last Superstition and chapter 2 of Aquinas -- but the new book pursues the issues at much greater length and in much greater depth.  Unlike those other books, it also focuses exclusively on questions of fundamental metaphysics, with little or no reference to questions in natural theology, ethics, philosophy of mind, or the like.  Call it Heavy Meta.  Even got a theme song.

To whet your appetite, here’s the cover copy and a detailed table of contents: