Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pagden on the Enlightenment

Prof. Anthony Pagden’s recent book The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters has much to say not only about the Enlightenment itself but also about the Scholasticism against which it reacted.  My review of the book appears today at Liberty Fund’s Online Library of Law and Liberty website.


  1. A follow-up book by Dr. Edward Feser is much needed!

  2. Talking about knocking things out of the park. What would you say to the following Ed ; "This kind of Aristotelian analysis of causation was cutting edge stuff 2,500 years ago. Today we know better. Our metaphysics must follow our physics. " Sean Carroll

    It was a comment made in this debate -




  3. as above and below

  4. The Irish Thomist,

    Ed has a lot to say about scientism (which is the whole justification for Carroll's argument there) in his recent book, Scholastic Metaphysics. He's also said a lot about it on this blog. Without a commitment to scientism, the idea that metaphysics has to follow physics cuts no ice, and physics does not eliminate some alternative account of causation.

    SM also argues for Aristotelian causation at some length.

  5. Greg,

    To be fair to Sean Carroll he is competent in the rhetorical sense. He knows his physics, he has (at least tried) to understand the philosophy - more so than some others (he fails mind you - but does a good job pretending he understands what he is talking about - he clearly doesn't have a clue judging by the video below).

    He is however quite dishonest with his physics and he pokes a bit at William Lanes Craig's ignorance by sometimes not naming the actual theories he alludes to etc. if my memory serves me right.

    Well lets ask what M-theory has predicted or where it has been verified? How exactly can a multiverse be verified any more than God. PLeasit not untestable, unobservable and unverifiable? At least where is the actual evidence apart from wishful thinking that the weight of evidence for the Big Bang can just be ignored because it doesn't suit ones a priori belief that any answer to the origin of the universe must be one to bolster atheism! Somehow I think they are a little confused about what is within the realm of science and what is philosophy!


  6. Rough, but not unwarranted.

  7. One thing which I find highly amusing is that the kind of ‘metaphysics which follows physics’ is inappropriate not only because of the fundamental issue that one can never get beneath Being (the laws of Logic for instance) but because the very presumptions the sciences make were shown to be unjustifiable without further philosophical insight by, will you be surprised, Hume himself! Society has passed the horizon of stupidity when it fails to remember that coupling the term ‘scepticism’ with ‘science’ is like coupling ‘right-angle’ with ‘circle’. ‘Scientific scepticism’ is an entity one might encounter on a Meinongian safari.

  8. Competence in the rhetorical sense doesn't mean all that much in philosophy (though I agree it gets much worse than Sean Carroll). His argument is scientistic at its core: "This kind of Aristotelian analysis of causation was cutting edge stuff 2,500 years ago. Today we know better. Our metaphysics must follow our physics." The important question if that's what we do know better today. Another important question would be whether, even if our metaphysics were to follow our physics (which doesn't have to be conceded, if Ed's arguments against scientism succeed), it's not clear that the result would be that Aristotelian accounts of causation would be eliminated. Philosophers like Cartwright, Molnar, and Mumford might disagree, for instance, that different aspects of the account could be eliminated, in many cases because of what physics has disclosed.

  9. The Irish ThomiastJune 24, 2014 at 1:47 PM

    Sean is a bit, lets say, confused about the role of metaphysics in general. He thinks a physics in motion stays in motion after being given the go ahead by a first metaphysical justification/push. Wrong, wrong, wrong!!!! Physics and every other natural science works WITHIN a metaphysical framework (and there are other important areas of philosophy too - but lets not write the full book to through at him!)!!! He just doesn't get how 'it' works. He seems a good physicist mind you (ignoring any bias towards atheism and ideas that prove what he already believes). He also doesn't seem full of ad hominem to a lawrence krauss degree (which granted would be rather hard from one of the 'discussions' I saw him have with WLC).

  10. Oops: "The important question [is] if that's..."

  11. Another important question would be whether, even if our metaphysics were to follow our physics (which doesn't have to be conceded, if Ed's arguments against scientism succeed), it's not clear that the result would be that Aristotelian accounts of causation would be eliminated.

    I'm sorry, this sentence is also a mess, but I think my meaning is clear...

  12. Guys. Threadjacking. Not good.

    I'll get to Carroll soon enough.

  13. William Lane Craig's KCA is 'logically' bulletproof (almost ;) ) - that however doesn't mean (as I suspect several of his arguments might)that the premises won't hit a wall at some point.

    So here we go; join us -

    Join the 'Dark Side'

    What I have written I have written.

  14. Back on topic. The book 'God's Philosophers' by James Hannam conveys much of what Ed was saying in his review. All be it from a slightly different angle.

    Also useful would be this

  15. Well, regarding the Enlightenment... at least it was named well. It's too bad the schoolmen didn't pick such a narcissistic label for themselves.

  16. Keen Reader,
    What would you want from such a follow up book if Ed were (as a thought experiment) to do one? As you suggest.

  17. I second the recommendation of James Hannam's book. Prospective buyers should be aware, though, that it's sold in the US under the title The Genesis of Science. I didn't pay attention and accidentally bought it twice.

  18. A brutal takedown. I found the side discussions of late scholasticism very interesting, as well.

    I'll ask sometime to correct me if I'm wrong, though, but I thought that Aquinas did believe in innate ideas of a kind. That is, in order for anyone to learn anything, they must already possess the principles from which it derives. If I remember correctly, he deduces the innate knowledge of first principles based on this.

  19. More on topic, hopefully, but...

    Could the resident Thomists and scholastics tell me what they think of the wikipedia entry for the enlightenment? I'm honestly curious - I imagine it would be critical to say the least.

  20. Dr. Feser,

    Great book review. I have one question. You mentioned in the piece how many historians of philosophy have noted that Hume was not very original and was actually prefigured by some medieval figures. I was wondering if you and your readers could point me in the direction of some solid works on the history of philosophy concerning the medievals in general and also pre-figurments of enlightenment figures and ideas. Would E.A. Burtt's "The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science" be a good place to start? Thanks!

  21. Christian, the obvious one that comes to mind would be Copleston's History of Philosophy, volumes 2 & 3 in particular for the Medievals and Scholastics and volumes 4-6 with regards to the Enlightenment. Though I'm guessing that recommendation might be too obvious to even mention.

    Also, are you looking more for a text the focusses on the thinkers (like the Copleston volumes) or more on the history in which the thinkers found themselves?

  22. On the subject of the Enlightenment, albeit focussing more on cultural and existential issues rather than ‘hard’ metaphysics, I would heartily recommend James H. Billington’s Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith and Eric Voegelin’s History of Political Ideas (Volume VIII) Crisis and the Apocalypse of Man.

  23. From Feser's article:

    " It is about excluding those people from the ever-widening circle of inclusion, and keeping their ideas off the freethinker’s limitless menu of options."

    Chesterton level quotability.

    This quote goes well for progressivism in general.

  24. What disturbs me somewhat about Anthony Pagden's book (or at least the representation of it from Ed's review) is his obvious blindness to the problems caused by the enlightenment in terms of the philosophy of mind. That seems to be the real show stopper or Achilles's heel when it comes to the enlightenment parade. And when you become aware that these problems all stem back to the enlightenment, it can lead one to reconsider scholastic philosophers. Does Pagden show any awareness in his book of such issues stemming from the enlightenment or attempt to respond to them in any way? Does he advocate dualism, materialism, behaviorism, functionalism, computationalism, eliminativism, or epiphenomenalism? His "embarrassingly incompetent" mistake about innate ideas being the foundation of scholastic philosophy shows me that he has no background in these questions.

    For myself, anyway, the strongest critique of the enlightenment comes from the philosophy of mind. And I don't think it is possible to fully understand the weakness of enlightenment positions except from that starting point.

    Do others have different experiences?


    (FYI - I always sign my posts with "Cheers, Daniel" to distinguish me from all the other Daniel's who post here).

  25. @ Anonymous Daniel

    I agree. It is actually pretty surprising. I've had a professor speak glowingly about Descartes' "innovations" in philosophy of mind. In large part they were novel, all right. But he also held ridiculous ideas, ie. that animals are automatons. And that sort of rigid internalism stuck with philosophy for ages.

    There are all sorts of ad hoc patch-ups in modern philosophy. Hence the occasionalist impulse.

  26. But Pinker endorsed his book! How can he have made such a massive mistake if it was endorsed by the Steven Pinker? I don't think it possible.

  27. That review cuts to the chase - perhaps the throat. Glad to read it.

  28. Edward Feser writes,

    "Pagden claims that former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft asserted, in a speech at Bob Jones University, that “we have no king but Jesus” and that the separation of Church and State is “a wall of religious oppression.” This attempt to paint Ashcroft as a shrill theocrat — Pagden alleges that Ashcroft favors “a fusion of Church and State” — is a disgraceful mixture of libel and bad scholarship. While the first phrase quoted from Ashcroft was used in the speech in question, the second comes from a different speech and a different context. (The Bob Jones University speech can easily be found online, but Pagden evidently didn’t bother to read it. Instead he cites an article by Garry Wills as his source for Ashcroft’s remarks.) In the “religious oppression” speech, Ashcroft in fact affirmed the separation of Church and State as something “designed to protect the church,” and criticized those secularists who would make of it an excuse for oppression. In the Bob Jones University remarks, Ashcroft was citing a Revolutionary War-era slogan meant as an expression of resistance to the British Crown. In neither case was there any suggestion whatsoever that the Church should be dictating to the State."

    Mere, "bad scholarship"?

    If this is accurate, then it describes an incredibly shameful, even contemptible, violation of a canon of historical practice any 3rd year history major would have had drilled into his head for the previous two years.

    If true, then Pagden is likely either dishonest or stupid. Not a very pleasant choice.

    On the other hand, that Pagden appears to rely on Garry Wills to do his interpretation for him, a man who was himself infamously caught out polemically shilling for the academic fraud Michael Bellesiles (in the pages of the NYT as well as in his book "A Necessary Evil"), may lead one to conclude that both alternatives can be endorsed.

  29. For those who had almost forgotten the instance of slavering intellectual malpractice to which I was referring:


  30. For more on the Ockham-Hume connection, check out the relevant chapter in Etienne Gilson's _The Unity of Philosophical Experience_. It's as if Hume copy-pasted entire passages of Ockham's work.

    Other than that, I envy the doctor's art of savaging an opponent!

  31. See this book: Critics of the Enlightenment, edited and translated by Christopher Olaf Blum.

  32. That review should have trigger warning. Brilliant.

  33. The review was good. If I have a quibble, though, it was that one could come away from the review thinking that Dr. Feser accepts the usual litany of modern progress - liberalism, secularism, democracy, and so on - in their more or less mainstream forms. He just disagrees with Pagden and a lot of our contemporaries that it was the enlightenment which was largely responsible for them. I'm not sure this is Dr. Feser's position, and he could have perhaps made it clearer what his position is.


    Ashcroft was a Bush administration official. I think a lot of historians and other academics think you can say what you like about Bush administration cabinet ministers.


    I second the recommendation of Blum's work. In particular, any traditionalist and traditional Christian is likely to gain by reading Viscomte de Bonald's work. So far as the political and social aspects of the enlightenment are concerned, there are few more powerful critics than Bonald. He even managed a compelling defence of monarchy, partially drawn from the Schoolmen.

  34. DS Thorne,
    Great. I need to read that passage.

    Dr. Feser like many others makes the point that atheism (today's atheism especially) has its own mythology - much of which goes back to the enlightenment and early moderns. I'm not saying that was the thrust of this review but I'm sure I've picked up that vibe from reading his books.

    There is the tendency to pretend all their ideas were new and unique. This is not true of course and where they invented something novel it was very wrong, far off the mark - for the most part. Newness for newness sake (or because they didn't 'like' the old ideas).

  35. For the purposes of serious philosophical activity I think there is a lot to be said for methodologically bracketing the being of the USA, at least as a governmental or cultural entity (naturally this can be equally applied to over countries – probably extending it to the entire of the modern Western world might be an idea). It is a sad fact but if one were to judge by popular internet age culture one would come back with the impression that the implicit philosophy of much of America was a kind of naturalised Empedoclianism with Love being remain ‘the Democrats’ and Strife ‘the Republicans’.

    (In case anyone thinks I am guilty of Euro-snobbery I would add that in Britain this kind of thing passes without word. Assuredly my home nation must feel very proud of itself for giving the world St Newton, Adam Smith, Social Darwinism, Plain Langue Philosophy and A.C. Grayling)

  36. @ ccmnxc

    Sorry for the belated response, the last few days have been fairly busy. I thank you and others for your very good recommendations!! As for your question. I would prefer a volume on the thinkers themselves, though I wouldn't pass up a book or two on the historical situations either.

  37. "We have no king but Jesus," is almost certainly not a Revolutionary era slogan. John Ashcroft is not a historian and neither is Edward Feser.


  38. That is interesting, anon. I always thought it was a silly slogan and doubted its historical provenance. Of course, the fact that it's bunk doesn't affect Feser's point in the slightest.

  39. The main point in the Ashcroft part was, "In neither case was there any suggestion whatsoever that the Church should be dictating to the State."

    That the "no king" slogan probably has no connection to the revolution is interesting, but not really the main point and it's presence here as a kind of "gotcha!" looks to the fair-minded like petty caviling.

  40. Anonymous said...

    "We have no king but Jesus," is almost certainly not a Revolutionary era slogan. John Ashcroft is not a historian and neither is Edward Feser. "

    As a guess?

    Certainly sounds like a revolutionary slogan ... from a Roundhead or the like, circa the Glorious Revolution.

    If so, it would have been likely known to the literate and historically minded among the American Revolutionists.

    I'm not sure that Googling will settle this one.

  41. A quick Internet search of Archive texts shows that it was a slogan of an English group styling themselves Fifth Monarchy (or Kingdom) men; many of whom were members of anti-Royalist forces; and who were cultivated, apparently, by Cromwell.

    You know the English Civil wars, the interregnum, Cromwell, the republic and the protectorate and eventually the Glorious Revolution, the landmark which led to the English Bill of Rights, etc, etc ...

    Page 42 ...


    Also in general,

    So what's the problem again?

    Somebody think Ashcroft is literally a Fifth Kingdom Man?

  42. I thought we had dispensed with this epochal view of history but I guess it doesn't apply to the glorious Enlightenment.

  43. What do you guys think of this post of philophers and whether you should trust expert consensus?

  44. @Obsidian: It's the UncredibleHallq! Everybody point and laugh! In all seriousness, check this very blog's posts on the caricatures of the cosmological and teleological arguments, not to mention the ignorance of classical theism generally, that are popular even among philosophers. And then check the posts on Hallquist (just search for him and the two will pop up.

  45. From the last pargraph of the link:

    To review: John Adams seems to have been included in the narrative by mistake for Samuel Adams.
    Neither John Adams nor John Hancock (nor for that matter Samuel Adams) was present at the time the alleged statement was supposed to have been made.
    Jonas Clark, who was there, and according to an earlier version of the story, may have actually made the statement, says nothing of it in his account.
    Nobody seems to have written anything of this statement until John Ashcroft misquoted the No governor but Jesus line in a 1999 speech at Bob Jones University.
    In 2001 it turns up grafted onto an account of the opening of the Battle of Lexington at the Truth in History website. John Adams is mistakenly substituted for Samuel Adams in this version, but the No king but Jesus slogan is attributed to Jonas Clark or one of his associates.
    In 2006 the same account turns up word-for-word at the Eads Home Ministries website with John Adams and John Hancock substituted for Jonas Clark or associate.
    The next year the story starts turning up in printed books. (At least one of them credited the Truth in History website as its source for the story.)
    The sequence of events seems relatively clear. Not only did John Adams and John Hancock not say it, nor Jonas Clark nor an anonymous minuteman, it is quite possible that nobody said it at all in connection with the American Revolution until John Ashcroft threw it into a short speech at Bob Jones University.

  46. Back on the main subject of the Enlightenment and with due respects to Ed There’s only so much that can be gained from talking about its historiographical malpractices: whilst the thought of a Heidegger or a Wittgenstein might well overall the philosophical newcomer or novice it very soon becomes apparent, even to those ideologically well-disposed to them, that the ‘philosophies’ of Diderot, Voltaire, the philosophes as a whole, Hobbes, Locke and co are at grotesquely simplistic and at best ‘incidentally correct’.

    (If it makes them feel any better are welcome to wheel out that Quentin Smith [who, had he paid attention to his own advice, would never have named his journal that] quote from Philo Ed likes]

  47. I was wondering about the issues in that link.
    Normally we take the cpnsensus of experts as evidence for something, why not take the philosophers seriously when they say there is no God?
    I'm thinking that soem philosopher may not have expertise in teh relevant areas and have not heard the arguments of good theistic philosophers.

    Also if you want a laugh , a serious philosopher (Paul Draper) made an argument about how moral agency can't fit in with natuuralism and supports theism.
    Jerry Coyne attempted a response
    Its as bad as you'd expect.

  48. Because one of the first things anyone remotely interested in philosophy has drummed into them is that they are supposed to think critically and not merely accept arguments based on tradition or authority? And let’s face it many of the main criticisms of theistic arguments prominent in the 18th to 19th century and still frequently seen in pop-atheist work today e.g. ‘Existence is not a predicate’, ‘the Cosmological Argument involves a Fallacy of Composition ‘, ‘What caused God’ and so forth, are based on misunderstandings and sent to be so by those learned in the subject as soon as they appeared.

    More seriously I would add that there is a strong sense of dissonance evident in a culture which prides itself on ‘Science’, by which it usually means Physics or Biology, and at the same time gleefully leaps forward to deny the PSR and propose the Universe and other things are matters of ‘Brute Fact’.

    On an irreverent note: I hope that, should pop Atheism ever becomes more mainstream, appeals to Brute Facts will be allowed in courts of law.

  49. Also I wonder if professional Atheist philosophers like Oppy or Gale are faced with perennial rage and existential despair over how their informed criticisms are based over in silence in favour of the Coyne’s and Rosenhouse’s of the this world?

  50. @Obsidian: Yes, that's a large part of the argument that's been made here over the last few years.

    And @Daniel, I can only imagine that they're reaction is rather like the reaction of Christian philosophers seeing the nonsense peddled in fundamentalist circles.

  51. @Obsidian

    I thought Draper was an atheist. He debated WLC some years ago.

  52. @Anonymous

    Draper's an agnostic , but he's really even handed with the arguments.
    The paper is really interesting , because he admits naturalism can't really make sense of moral agency , but still thinks moral eil counts against theism

  53. We take expert consensus seriously when it tends to represent advancing knowledge. In many ways this simply is not the case for philosophy. There are some areas where philosophical knowledge has advanced, even in a linear progressive sense reminiscent of natural science, but there are many areas, too, where past philosophical thinkers, schools of thought, and eras represent a higher level of philosophical knowledge.

    I'm a philosophical rank amateur, but if you take an interest in philosophy with an eye to the history of thought, you quickly learn it is not like physics or biology or even history and you can't just accept the majority opinions of contemporary analytical philosophy as especially likely to represent the pinnacle of philosophical knowledge. Hallquist's comments betray no real grasp of the distinct nature of philosophy or understanding of the history of thought, in the West or outside it. That part of his post is just silly.

    I would go as far as to say that this lack of aggregate progress in philosophy is just as true in atheistic philosophy as anywhere else. I would still say that the work of Hume and Nietzsche contains just about all the theist ever needs to grapple with atheistic thought.

  54. THE IRISH THOMIST said… “Dr. Feser like many others makes the point that atheism (today's atheism especially) has its own mythology - much of which goes back to the enlightenment and early moderns.”
    Overall "norms and worldviews" as METAPHYSICAL DISCOURSE, are needed. Religion posing as science or science posing as religion (i.e., Dawkins saying you can lead a "better life" as an atheist - where does he get "better" from? Ethics should be derived from [metaphysical] reality as in Aristotle, not some emotional wish-world outside reality) are then – in that case - BOTH ridiculous.

  55. Primum objectum est ens ut commune omnibus. - John Duns Scotus