Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Walking the web

Bishop Athanasius Schneider is interviewed about the recent Synod on the Family.  On the now notorious interim report: “This document will remain for the future generations and for the historians a black mark which has stained the honour of the Apostolic See.” (HT: Rorate Caeli and Fr. Z

Meanwhile, as Rusty Reno and Rod Dreher report, other Catholics evidently prefer the Zeitgeist to the Heilige Geist.

Scientia Salon on everything you know about Aristotle that isn’t so.  Choice line: “While [Bertrand] Russell castigates Aristotle for not counting his wives’ teeth, it does not appear to have occurred to Russell to verify his own statement by going to the bookshelf and reading what Aristotle actually wrote.”

At The New Republic, John Gray on the closed mind of Richard Dawkins.

Recently published: J. Budziszewski’s new Commentary on Thomas Aquinas's Treatise on LawDetails at his website (and while you’re there, check out his blog).

Stephen Read is interviewed at 3:AM Magazine on the subject of medieval logic.

In the Claremont Review of Books, Michael Uhlmann on Catholicism and economics.

Eleven years since the last Steely Dan album.  Something Else! notes that a fine new album could be assembled just from outtakes from previous albums and other rarities.  (“The Second Arrangement” and “The Steely Dan Show” are already classics in my book.)

Several new books of interest reviewed at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews: Lloyd Gerson’s From Plato to Platonism; Andrea Lavazza and Howard Robinson’s anthology Contemporary Dualism: A Defense; and Michael Ferejohn’s Formal Causes: Definition, Explanation, and Primacy in Socratic and Aristotelian Thought.

There might be a movie coming out over the next five years that isn’t a Marvel movie.  But I wouldn’t bank on it.  SNL comments in a now famous spoof.


  1. Dr Feser,

    Given that you seem such a huge fan of comic-books, I have to ask, what is your opinion of Captain America: The Winter Soldier? I think it's Marvel's best adaptation, but then, that could merely be my huge Steve Rogers bias coming into play.

    Also, a not-unrelated query: given a "perfect" brain, would intellection be affected at all? All other material operations of the mind (sensation, imagination, memory, estimation) would be enhanced, I believe. Do you care to provide some comments? Just curious.


  2. Hi Dr Feser
    I've been reading your Aquinas, and the discussion of the Fifth Way reminded me of a book I read by a philosopher at Vanderbilt named Lenn Goodman. I don't know if you are familiar with any of his work, but he wrote a book (Creation and Evolution) in which he made many of the same points about teleology in nature that you have on the blog and in Aquinas. For instance:

    "Explicitly or tacitly biologists posit interests, ends that organisms pursue, elaborate, and, increasingly, direct and make their own. To purge such assumptions robs evolution of its dynamic. To retain them destroys one advertised outcome of Darwin's work. Many reductionists keep the postulates but try to keep them quiet, hooded in their cages" (p. 141).

    I think you would enjoy the book.

  3. For some reason, I was always under the impression that Budziszewski was a new natural lawyer. But apparently not.

  4. For those who are interested in James Franklin's work on Aristotelian realist philosophy of mathematics, there's an interesting YouTube debate between Franklin and the mathematician Norman Wildberger on infinity in mathematics. The two also have some brief discussion in the comments.

  5. Very interesting, Brandon. Thanks for the link.

  6. @Brandon

    I saw Franklin getting accused of being "too Platonist" in his Aristotelian account.

    And that makes me wonder: Is Philosophy of Mathematics the branch where the Thomist leans more heavily on its Neoplatonist roots, than its Aristotelian? Isn't it harder to be a realist about numbers and geometry, without somehow entering the route of a more extreme realism? Well, compared to traditional forms at least.

  7. Brandon,

    I had noticed the link in the comments to the Scientia Salon article, opened the link in a new tab for subsequent viewing, and made a mental note to mention it when I got further down to the comments here. When I finally got down to the comments here, "Aha..."

  8. On Aristotelians' account, is there even enough universe to have a sufficient amount of instantiated math to do useful mathematics?

  9. Glenn,

    I didn't even notice it in the comments there until you mentioned it; I had it on my tabs already because I occasionally keep up with Wildberger's YouTube account. I suppose it was a natural convergence....


    It's not a side of Thomistic thought I'm especially well read in, but my own view is that there are several different ways a Thomist could go, and that Thomists have, in fact, gone.

  10. Worth remembering that on the Scholastic account universals do have an Ideal as well as immanent aspect as exemplars in the Divine Intelligence; therefore Mathematical Truths hold for all possible worlds even if there is no entity in which properties pertaining to them are instantiated.

    @Daniel Joachim,

    And that makes me wonder: Is Philosophy of Mathematics the branch where the Thomist leans more heavily on its Neoplatonist roots, than its Aristotelian? Isn't it harder to be a realist about numbers and geometry, without somehow entering the route of a more extreme realism? Well, compared to traditional forms at least.

    I would say no in as much as there is no reason why the number Four should be treated as a Platonic free-floating Abstract entity than, say, the universal of a naturally occurring substance - it's just that the inadequacies of Nominalism become apparent far quicker if one tries to explain the former along those lines than the latter.

    @John West,

    On Aristotelians' account, is there even enough universe to have a sufficient amount of instantiated math to do useful mathematics?

    That shouldn't make a difference since from the essences which we do obtain we via abstraction we can go on to conceptually grasp more complex and abstract essential structures. There are loads of mathematical essences - the essences of 'perfect shapes' for instance - which we grasp only through eidetic variation.

    Random off-topic question (just call me Santi):

    Aside from his debate with Smart what titles by John Haldane are worth buying for someone primarily interested in metaphysics and epistemology? Haldane frustrates me in as much as it seems his main articles - 'A Thomist Metaphysics, The Mind-World Identity Theory' et cetera - are scattered about in various anthologies and thus not easy to obtain in any financially viable way. None of his full length works strike as very interesting though (has anyone any opinions on Reasonable Faith and Faithful Reason).

  11. Haldane's Practical Philosophy is pretty good. I enjoyed Faithful Reason and Reasonable Faith as well, but they are a bit limited. He picks out interesting topics and writes about them but doesn't do anything particularly systematic. (Also, Faithful Reason in particular is mostly on "theological" topics from a philosophical perspective, so it would depend on how interested in that you are.)

  12. Thanks Greg,

    Isn't Practical Philosophy a selection of writings on Ethics and Politics? If so it's not for me - I'm after his metaphysics and philosophy of mind stuff

  13. I am puzzled why otherwise reasonable people think Dawkins is a thinker worth taking seriously. In Sam Harris Top Ten best books on atheism guess which comes in first place? And he studied philosophy in college (Harris)?

  14. Who are these people who take Dawkins seriously, and yet who are otherwise reasonable?

  15. Yeah, Practical Philosophy is on ethics and politics.


  16. Edward de Bono complained that Aristotle sent us in the wrong direction and that we would have achieved more, sooner if Aristotle had not existed. But de Bono is basing this opinion on factually incorrect information about what Aristotle wrote. It is de Bono, not Aristotle, who is tailoring his evidence to his conclusion.

    Reading de Bono's original article ( I can't help thinking that his understanding of logic is very superficial. In my view, creativity and logic are not opposed, if rightly understood. Logic is about making connections and moving from premises to consequences; the truth of the premises are irrelevant. A creative idea is only recognized as creative if it is also "valid" (at least if it is to be of practical use), so you cannot separate logic from creativity. Logic is often seen as square, stodgy, "black and white" or "yes or no" thinking, and that's exactly how De Bono characterizes it in his books and courses on thinking.

    The wikipedia entry on De Bono includes these criticisms of his approach:

    In the Handbook of Creativity, Robert J. Sternberg writes, "Equally damaging to the scientific study of creativity, in our view, has been the takeover of the field, in the popular mind, by those who follow what might be referred to as a pragmatic approach. Those taking this approach have been concerned primarily with developing creativity, secondarily with understanding it, but almost not at all with testing the validity of their ideas about it." Sternberg continues, "Perhaps the foremost proponent of this approach is Edward De Bono, whose work on lateral thinking and other aspects of creativity has had what appears to be considerable commercial success."[11]

    Frameworks For Thinking is an evaluation of 42 popular thinking frameworks conducted by a team of researchers. Regarding Edward De Bono they write, "[he] is more interested in the usefulness of developing ideas than proving the reliability or efficacy of his approach. There is sparse research evidence to show that generalised improvements in thinking performance can be attributed to training in the use of CoRT or Thinking Hats tools. An early evaluation of CoRT reported significant benefits for Special Educational Needs (SEN) pupils.... However, in a more recent study with Australian aboriginal children (Ritchie and Edwards, 1996), little evidence of generalisation was found other than in the area of creative thinking."[12]

  17. "In my view, creativity and logic are not opposed, if rightly understood."

    Most mathematicians I know would agree.

  18. I'm starting to believe Sam Harris is the most reasonable of the "new atheists". That really says something about their competence huh?

  19. About the Bishop Schneider interview:

    With all due respect to Catholics and to the Catholic Church which I respect immensely some of the rhetorical motifs used therein are rather silly.

    All the talk of 'Neo-Pagan ideology', 'the insipid neo-pagan world', 'the corrupt and pagan main stream morality of our time' is most bizarre - what is it about modernity which is 'neo-pagan'? Thankfully Epicureanism never became the mainstream philosophical view of Pagan Rome which remained for a long time a watery mix of Stoic ethics and simplified Platonic theism (or maybe deism). It’s ironic that Christians who want to add an extreme flavour of fear to their polemics often compare secular society to ‘Paganism’ fail to see that the modern situation is intellectually much worse: were the modern world pagan then the great barriers to restoring Classical Theist thought to prominence would by-and-large be non-existent and the farce that is called Naturalism a minor annoyance. Christians ought to avoid taking up that whole Church vs the world game since it can potentially do great damage to the public’s understanding of the Classical Theist bedrock on which Christianity rests.

  20. C. S. Lewis has an awesome poem, "Cliche Came Out of Its Cage", which is worth adding to Daniel's criticism (the image of Bertrand Russell sacrificing to the gods makes the poem, I think).


  21. Pope says Pagan Christians are enemies of the Cross.

    Pope St. John Paul II bagged on the "Culture of Death" now it's all about the Paganism and how un-cool it is.

  22. @All

    Context might help.

    I take for granted the use of paganism as you have stated isn't in relation to actual paganism but rather Godlessness or an anti-Christian/post-christian mindset and so forth. I suppose how Paganism was superseded by Christianity serves as analogous language when talking about the loss of an 'orthodox' (with a small 'o') Christianity in the West.

  23. One of the commenters on the "Rescuing Aristotle" piece linked to this essay, which I think is quite good as a defense of Aristotle's physics.

  24. To be fair most of the time when people use the term 'paganism' in such a way in conversation what they are really referring to is a perceived pagan morality typified by Algernon Swinburne's famous lines to the effect 'thou hast taken all Galilean, but these thou shalt not take, the laurel the paean and the breasts of the nymph in the brake’, the sort of paganism Gore Vidal gushed over in his novel about the Emperor Julian. Yet as David Bentley Hart makes a very good job of demonstrating in his Atheist Delusions, an otherwise lack-lustre book, such a view has virtually nothing to do with historical truth.

    Arthur Machen wrote a very good short essay on this, ‘On Paganism,’ as an introduction to a collection of prose pieces entitled Afterglow (about which yours truly wrote a rather jejune essay for a literary journal at one point).

    Anyway the basic point is the usage of the term 'paganism' in such contexts is most often inaccurate and risk making Christianity sound foolish.

  25. (By coincidence, about ten minutes after my previous post, my copy of this arrived.)

  26. (However, I'm sorry to have to report that, although the book is quite good so far on its main subject, it does rather a hatchet job on both Plato and Aquinas and is pretty unsympathetic to philosophy generally. No surprise, really, but one always hopes.)

  27. Well, what goes around today disguised as secular and neutral is really an informal non-Christian religion with a set of unwritten but undeniably ubiquitous creedal articles. Some of which are: 1. Truth is relative. 2. The end justifies the means. 3. Pleasure (especially sexual pleasure) is the greatest good while suffering and restraint (especially sexual restraint) the greatest evils.

    Whether that can be fairly described as "neo-pagan" or not seems to be straining at gnats.

  28. Anonymous,

    I agree, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best Marvel movie so far, the best comic-book adaptation so far. I'm not a fan of the genre. Nevertheless, this one surprised me. But for a better villain than any comic, I've got to plug the best movie of the year: Whiplash.

  29. 3:am is pumping them out at present: powers, aristotle and the incarnation -

  30. Daniel said...

    About the Bishop Schneider interview:

    With all due respect to Catholics and to the Catholic Church which I respect immensely some of the rhetorical motifs used therein are rather silly. ..."

    Well, I think that you would agree that for at least since the 60's it has been pretty common for left-leaning academics to use the term "pagan" in their casual writing - and with a certain amount of satisfaction implied - when describing the mentality of the majority of their students.

    I doubt if anyone takes them for saying that their students are leading rams up Olympus for sacrifice: just more or less what Scott W has described, with whatever contemporary details or analysis you might wish to add to it in the way functional distinctions between say, the Christian supernaturalist's moral predicates and those of the monist materialist of the bonobo enthusing type.

  31. @DNW,

    Whilst I confess I do my upmost to avoid reading anything post-sixties left-leaning academics write the tendency to use the term 'pagan' to describe some nebulous materialistic hedonism seems more of a late Victorian/Edwardian thing.

    Chronological quibbles aside even if academics should use the phrase in that sense there's no reason why other should adopt a blatantly fraudulent practice any more than we should teach that the Cosmological Argument states 'Everything has a cause' or that Thomas claimed to prove that the universe had a beginning in time. To allow language to be degraded in such a way is to breed vague thinking.

  32. @Daniel @DNW

    I think I summed up why it might be a valid use of the word i.e. analogous language. Used literally it is of course a little inaccurate... however we can't overlook the various practices that took place before Christianity became the dominant religion such as eating ones own dead parents or sending ones future wife out to get money for the marriage via prostitution etc. I mean these were not 'fringe' happenings in certain pagan cultures - they were part of it.

  33. I am going to have to take the hardline linguistic purist side here.

    For one thing when the term 'Paganism' is used in such a way it is almost always associated with the polytheistic religions of the Classical world. If one is a Metal music fan one may well talk of 'Paganism' in terms fighting wolves and spilling blood in the name of Odin but somehow I don't think this is what people mean when they use it in this context.

    I mean these were not 'fringe' happenings in certain pagan cultures - they were part of it.

    Whilst that’s true it doesn’t change the inaccuracy of the general statement - in fact it's akin to one calling the Soviet Union 'Neo-Christian' because it at least theoretically included in its ethical tenants salvation for the poor and oppressed and love for one's fellow man. Or, to stick with the original example, to claim that since the Cosmological Argument involves things having causes ergo it’s okay to say it claims everything has a cause

  34. Language is so obscure these days.

    Pope Francis no doubt means "godless" & "immoral" when he refers to "Pagan Christians". Not the high philosophical thoughts of Plato or Aristotle.

    That is the natural meaning given the context and themes of His Papacy.

    If I said Pope Francis, Edward Feser, Brandon, Scott, Crude, Irish Thomist etc where a bunch of "gay" men.

    The immediate conclusion would be I was slandering their sexuality or casting aspersions on the manhood of these fine gentlemen.

    That would be the natural meaning.*

    Obscurely I could have merely meant to say they where a bunch of happy dudes!
    Given that gay means happy.

    Of course to be clear I would never really call any of the guys I just mentioned "gay".

    But I will say they are happy dudes.

    *PS Of course given my past use of the term "gay" here and elsewhere I use it to mean either a homosexual or to something really lame.

    I never use it to mean happy.

    When I want to call it happy I say it is FABULOUS!;-) :D

  35. I have been stepping up the gay jokes as a way to rebel against the government going after Christian business people who refuse to attend gay weddings and get sued for it.

  36. Does anyone recommend any specific books on Pythagoreanism, or neo-Pythagoreanism?

  37. This comment has been removed by the author.

  38. @John West:

    I have (and like) Algis Uždavinys's collection The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy.

  39. I just ordered it. Thank you very much.