Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dominicans Interactive reviews Aquinas

Dominicans Interactive is a new online initiative of the Irish Dominicans.  (Check out their Facebook page and website.)  Today the website reviews my book Aquinas.  From the review:

The chapter on natural theology deals with all five of Aquinas’s proofs for the existence of God… as well as containing a short treatment of the divine attributes (God’s simplicity, perfection, goodness, immutablity, and so on).  The reader will encounter in this chapter one of the most robust defences of the validity of every one of the arguments for the existence of God (Five Ways) available in the English language… This chapter is a tour de force and bears witness to Feser’s deserved reputation as a master of natural theology.  Both students and established scholars ought to acquire a copy of the book for the sake of this chapter alone.

Very kind!  The review also warns: “[A] note of caution: Feser’s book, while it ought to be required reading for any introductory course on Aquinas’s philosophy, is nonetheless very challenging for the neophyte.”  That’s worth emphasizing.  The book’s subtitle “A Beginner’s Guide” is a bit misleading.  It was not part of the original title when the book was contracted, and writing a “beginner’s guide” was not something I had in mind when working on it.  What happened is that after the book was finished the publisher decided to fold it into their “Beginner’s Guides” series.  In fact most readers will find it more challenging than The Last Superstition, though not as challenging as Scholastic Metaphysics.


  1. Would you say that "Philosophy of Mind" is not suitable for the neophyte as well?

  2. Titus Didius TacitusMay 14, 2014 at 1:54 AM

    It's not as awful as all that. I found it pleasant reading and enormously helpful.

    If there was a better starting point available (preferably on Kindle), what was it? And if there isn't one, this is the beginner's guide, isn't it?

  3. In my view, it's about as readable as a somewhat thorough introduction to Aquinas could be.

  4. Edward (not Feser)May 14, 2014 at 5:37 AM

    How does Scholastic Metaphysics compare to Oderberg's Real Essentialism? My copy (of SM) in the post as we speak...

    (Real Essentialism is absolutely not for beginners, by the way.)

    Has anyone read Fr Thomas Crean's Answering Dawkins? That's supposed to be quite a good beginner's guide to scholasticism too. Fr Crean is also a Dominican (and says the Old Rite daily, I believe).

  5. Scholastic Metaphysics is much easier reading than Real Essentialism. I am really surprised Feser managed to do that given the technical nature of the subject matter.

  6. Or perhaps I should say "impressed" rather than "surprised".

  7. I'm eager to get my hands on *Scholastic Metaphysics* but Amazon is saying it "[u]sually ships within 1 to 2 months." Anybody else running into this?

  8. Yes, I'm having exactly the same issue.

  9. Just finished The Last Superstition, and found it almost completely comprehensible. I'll be picking up Aquinas when work starts at the beginning of June and there's some money to be spent.

  10. I ordered a copy of Scholastic Metaphysics off of Amazon and it said it usually ships in 1-2 *months*.

    What's up with that Dr. F?

  11. I didn't even read the above comments when I posted that.

  12. I wouldn't regard that Amazon estimate as set in stone. (Don't forget that the originally posted release date at Amazon was May 31, while the actual release date was April 1.) Apparently the first batch of copies they had sold out right away. The publisher -- which is in Germany -- told me a few weeks ago that Amazon put in a big order, so I expect it will arrive soon and Amazon will start shipping them out and revise its delivery estimate.

  13. Would you say that "Philosophy of Mind" is not suitable for the neophyte as well?
    Yes and no. It is not easy reading for someone just entering the field on account of the fact that philosophy of mind is notoriously difficult for beginners. However, if there is an easier introduction to the topic, I am not aware of it.

  14. Dr. Feser,

    Any idea if there will be a Kindle edition of Scholastic Metaphysics?

  15. I got my SM from Amazon pretty much on their predicted schedule. As for comparisons to Oderberg's RE, well...

    Not to be uncharitable to Oderberg, one of my most admired philosophers, but I believe that SM deals with much the same subject matter at a similar level of technical rigor, while being much much easier to read.

    That being said, I recognize that many of Ed's more challenging posts, or thematically linked sequences of posts, were where he was working out a lot of the material that ended up, fully polished, in SM. Which means, if I'm right, that Ed was working his drafts out through this site, which means in a medium, and for an audience, that both demanded (and deserved?) an exceptionally clear, lucid style.

    And yet, even more than with Aquinas, I'll read a page or a passage and go, "Hold it. I've got to go back and re-read that." Make no mistake. Ed has a real gift for clear, active, almost propulsively forward-thrusting language. But SM is dense, technical, and difficult. It needs to be taken slowly.

    But in a good way!

    In my opinion, this is Ed's best work yet.

  16. I've been waiting a few weeks for my copy of SM as well. Hopefully it won't be too much longer!

  17. My Amazon update email says the new book will ship before June 19th.

  18. Dr. Feser. Would it be possible to tell me of a good intro to Thomistic and Aristotelian and then a nice sized list of authors or books that develop on that intro?

  19. Personally, I thought that The Last Superstition and Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide were both very readable, even for beginners to philosophy. It was really just a matter of keeping track of certain terms and ideas, I think--kind of like studying for an exam. However, I did find his Philosophy of Mind book particularly challenging (not saying that's a bad thing or anything!)--though I might be guilty of reading it too fast or not keeping track of things. I look forward to reading Scholastic Metaphysics!

  20. Dr. Feser, thank you for your work. I just finished Aquinas and The Last Superstition, and am looking forward to Scholastic Metaphysics (hopefully available for the Kindle).

    This is a bit off topic, but I would appreciate very much if you could speak about the role of conscience with regards to morality. What it is, what it does, etc. I often hear it used ("even an erring conscience binds") in such a way to justify moral relativism (and, in a Catholic context, heresy).

    Thanks in advance if you do decide to write on it, and thank you again for your writings. They've had a profound impact on me.

  21. Now Amazon is no longer directly selling Scholastic Metaphysics, but is directing buyers to an outside seller offering it for 86 bucks?!

  22. Anon,

    Relax. When a book sells out but orders keep coming in, Amazon's computer seems to shift its status around (from "takes 1 -2 months to ship" to "currently unavailable" to "check these sellers" etc.) A new batch is on its way to Amazon from the publishers.

    This happened when Aquinas first came out, especially after First Things reviewed it. Demand was way higher than Amazon anticipated, the book was unavailable for a while after the first batch sold out, and it took a while for them to re-stock. But then they did and things went back to normal.

  23. Phew! Thanks, professor.

  24. If anyone is interested there is a copy of Scholastic Metaphysics available through a second party seller (based in Germany) at Amazon UK. There were two but, well, I bought the other.


    On a hopeless aside, is anyone here up on Phenomenology? I want to run my definition of Categorical Intuition past someone more familiar with that branch of thought.

  25. Friends, I need some help with causal series *per se*. Here are some of the things that puzzle me. “Simultaneous series” strikes me as a contradiction in terms. “The drawing of the line is simultaneous with the line’s being drawn.” strikes me as wordplay. I may be trying to *imagine* some effect happening at the same time as its cause when I should be *conceiving* it. But then what, precisely, is the concept of simultaneity at work here?

  26. I am reading Aquinas myself and find I have to re-read frustratingly often. I'll probably have to re-read the whole thing as a whole too. I have to keep reminding myself -- the words in this context don't mean what you think they mean. It isn't a Tom Clancy novel, but if an old engineer can get through it, it probably counts as a beginners' guide although I understand not wanting the subtitle.

  27. @Paul Amrhein:

    (1) "Simultaneous" here doesn't mean "at the very same dimensionless instant." If the power station shuts down, my alarm clock stops running—not instantaneously, but simultaneously with the loss of power. It's okay if there's a slight time delay.

    (2) I don't see why "simultaneous series" is a contradiction in terms. Not all series are temporal. If I stack a deck of cards in order, they form a series.

    (3) Yes, the difference between, say, the rock's breaking the window and the window's giving way to the rock really is just one of "wordplay" (descriptions); that's the point. They're one and the same event looked at from two different point of view: that of the rock, which is doing something, and that of the window, which is having something done to it.

    That's about all I can say without any more details about what trouble you're having. Hope it helps.

  28. (1) Doesn’t that imply that such a series could be arbitrarily long, even years, and still be called “simultaneous”? If not, why not?

    Or let me put it this way. Show me the part of the finger’s motion that does not precede the causally relevant part of the sand’s motion (when drawing a line in the sand). Isn’t there always a lag between the two? If we can agree that there always is such a lag, my puzzlement as to what is simultaneous with what, and how, remains.

  29. @Paul Amrhein:

    In principle it could be even weirder than that, as Ed explains in an earlier post.

    Don't get too hung up on simultaneity; that's just the paradigmatic example/illustration. The key point to understand about a per se causal series is that each of the intermediate elements is in some way acting as the "instrument" of the one before it and passing along a causal power it receives from that one. If any element stops passing along that causal power, the end result stops too, as a song ends when a singer stops singing.

  30. @Scott

    Ah. Reminds me of what what another thinker calls “vertical” causality. Well, I have some reading to do. Thanks for the help.

  31. @Paul Amrhein:

    Yes, "vertical" vs. "horizontal" causality is very much on point here. You're welcome.

  32. @Scott

    “(2) I don't see why "simultaneous series" is a contradiction in terms. Not all series are temporal. If I stack a deck of cards in order, they form a series.”

    Can a a thing, a series say, be both non-temporal or eternal AND simultaneous? If so, how? That is, if simultaneous means “at the same *time*” it cannot also mean “eternal” or “non-*temporal*.” Or can it?

  33. @Paul Amrhein:

    "Can a a thing, a series say, be both non-temporal or eternal AND simultaneous? If so, how?"

    Doesn't the deck of cards provide an example? The cards are all present at once (i.e., simultaneously), and they form a series—ordered, but not ordered temporally.

  34. @Scott

    I’m not sure about the cards. I think we need the act versus potency distinction here.
    The cards, considered all at once, do not form an *actual* series. The sitting deck, ordered or shuffled, is a combination. An actual series is, I think, always a temporal event, a permutation. (PS I appreciate your patience here.)

    Does the proof based on causal series *per se* strike you as related to what they’re calling the proof from contingency? It does me. Contingent things do not move themselves (in a broad sense of “motion”). A universe of contingent things must have something outside of it to move it.

  35. @Paul Amrhein:

    "The cards, considered all at once, do not form an *actual* series."

    They don't form an actual causal series (except possibly in the sense that, when they're stacked, each one holds up the one above it), but I don't know why that matters. To form a "series," in general and in the sense at issue here, just means to be ordered in some way.

    That's a bit of a sidetrack now, though, as long as we've settled the relevant bit about per se causal series. So I'd say never mind.

    "Does the proof based on causal series *per se* strike you as related to what they’re calling the proof from contingency?"

    Oh, absolutely. Aquinas's Five Ways are all pretty closely related, but the first three in particular are very much so.

  36. @Scott
    I think I’ve been forgetting to interpret the illustrative examples as symbols. If a symbol resembled what it signifies in every respect it would no longer be a symbol, but the thing itself. St Thomas’ example of the hand/stick/rock is meant to illustrate the dependence of the later elements on the first. To object by pointing out that the hand, unless it is the hand of God, is itself dependent on other things would be to miss the point.
    Vertical causality is an elusive thing. “The rock’s breaking the window is the same as the window’s being broken.” My objection “Show me that part of the motion of the brick that does not precede the causally relevant part of the motion of the window pane.” misses the point. The point of the illustration is, I think, to hint at something that is otherwise extremely difficult to elucidate.
    Years ago I read something on the philosophical consequences of Bell’s theorem. They were trying to understand how two particles, in this case photons, can seem to signal one another faster than light. The suggestion that I liked they called “relational holism.” This, now that,I’m reading into St Thomas and Aristotle, strikes me as very much akin to formal causality. I’m going to interpret causal series *per se* that way, as relating to formal rather than efficient causality.
    And thanks again for the help.

  37. @Paul Amrhein:

    "St Thomas’ example of the hand/stick/rock is meant to illustrate the dependence of the later elements on the first."

    Exactly. Cheers.

  38. @Scott
    An objection to Hume’s account of concept formation.
    Repetition is not given in sense experience. Every “stimulus” is different. Hume acknowledges this. How does the brain or mind, never "stimulated" in exactly the same way twice, recognize a repetition?
Hume does not answer this. This is, I believe, a serious lacuna in his epistemology, in his account of concept formation.
    PS Perhaps this is not the place for this topic. Let me know if you’d like to discuss it elsewhere, perhaps somewhere else on this blog.

  39. @Paul Amrhein:

    I agree (and it's not only Hume who's affected by this problem), but discussing this further would take us pretty far off-topic so let's just wait and see whether it comes up somewhere else more suitable.

  40. @Scott
    If you’re fed up with this just ignore. If not, you’re invited to discuss it on my blog at “graalbones.wordpress.com.” But I would like to see if I can get through this blind spot. I have a feeling it may have to do with epistemology versus ontology.
    Let’s say that melodies are serial and chords synchronous. The deck, considered all at once, is like a chord, however it may be arranged. Imagine playing then holding each note of a chord in ascending order. Now imagine playing the notes in no particular order, but holding each. In either case the notes will all be sounding simultaneously at the end. Now, listening to the notes all at once, or considering the cards all at once, let us ask what series of notes or cards is present. No actual series, or at least no melody, is present. Many potential series are present. Until or unless some act of sorting is performed, no actual series is present.
    All the notes of a melody may be present at once on the page. To what degree is the melody on the page actual? Is it as actual as the sung melody? It seems there is a relation of potency to act between them, the sung melody being the more actual. All the cards of a series may be present at once in a deck. To what degree is the series in the deck actual? Is it as actual as the series we read off in an act of sorting? I think that the series found in the act of sorting is more actual than the series in the sitting deck.
    What is the point of all this? It may seem as if I’m defending an obvious mistake out of stubbornness. I hope that’s not the case. It’s just that “simultaneous” is a pretty huge idea here. No, it’s not the cardinal idea in the proof. But it bugs me. Maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I’ll just have to get over it, or get to the library to chase down the discussion Professor Feser references in the passage on simultaneity in SM.

  41. @Scott
    I think I have found the right language for this. The series is in the deck virtually, not actually, the way hydrogen or oxygen are in water.

  42. This comment has been removed by the author.

  43. @Scott
    “The cards are all present at once (i.e., simultaneously), and they form a series—ordered, but not ordered temporally.” Said Scott.
    Being present at the same *time* is a way of being temporal. And, the cards do not form an actual series, but a virtual one.
    So, I stand by my remark to the effect that “simultaneous series” is a contradiction in terms. The members of an actual series cannot be synchronous.
    Unless I hear back, that’s it from me on this. Be well.

  44. Thanks for clarifying that "Aquinas: A Beginners Guide" is really not for beginners. I actually thought it was more difficult than "The Last Superstition". While I'm aware of my intellectual limitations, I was worried that perhaps they were greater than I realized.