Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Web of intrigue

Analytical Thomist John Haldane has been appointed to the J. Newton Rayzor Sr. Distinguished Chair in Philosophy at Baylor University.

At The Times Literary Supplement, Galen Strawson argues that it is matter, not consciousness, that is truly mysterious.

At Aeon magazine, philosopher Quassim Cassam investigates the intellectual character of those drawn toward conspiracy theories.

At Public Discourse, William Carroll defends the reality of the soul against Julien Mussolino, author of The Soul Fallacy.

Fr. C. John McCloskey puts forward a traditional defense of capital punishment at The Catholic Thing.

The “iThink”: Philosopher Charlie Huenemann on how to understand, and teach, the nature of Descartes’ philosophical revolution.

A new paper from James Franklin: “Uninstantiated Properties and Semi-Platonist Aristotelianism,” from the Review of Metaphysics.

Augustine's Confessions: Philosophy in Autobiography, a new anthology edited by William E. Mann, is reviewed at Notre Dame Philosophical ReviewsAlso reviewed is another anthology, edited by Tad Schmaltz: Efficient Causation: A History.

Tuomas Tahko announces a new volume on the theme Aristotelian Metaphysics: Essence and Ground.

The University Bookman reviews two books arguing for the rehabilitation of the reputation of General Douglas MacArthur.

At Public Discourse, “new natural lawyers”  John Finnis and Robert P. George reply to Gary Gutting’s recent criticisms of the natural law approach to sexual morality.  

Aquinas and the Nicomachean Ethics, edited by Tobias Hoffmann, Jörn Müller, and Matthias Perkams is reviewed in the Claremont Review of Books


  1. While I of course sympathize with William Carrol's argument, isn't pointing to the mind in man and the fact that it knows (or even just can know) universal, eternal truths still an intuitively more profound way for arguing for the immateriality of human souls?

    While it might seem a Platonism in the worse sense, I still think that pointing to the reality of the idea of things - especially substances - helps people appreciate forms.

    When a child, for instance, playing with his or her friends pretending to be, say, dogs, what they are doing is striving after an essential idea that just is the internal logic of that kind of thing. Imagining children arguing in an attempt to imitate dogs is an oddly straight forward way of seeing the intellect at work and also noticing that living things especially posses this intrinsic dynamism that just is their nature: when they argue about the realism of how a dog might act or what it might do, they are arguing about dogness, so to speak.

    In especially animals there is this internal logic or intrinsic operation that is hardly reducible to its empirical, sensible qualities - which is exactly why even little children can pretend to act and behave like (or as if they were) dogs or whatever animal. What noises the animals make or how they act or react is really just a showing forth of this intrinsic logic to the thing (and indeed just is the thing): the expression of its underlying natural reality. From this we can even intuit when an animal is sick exactly because it is not acting or behaving as it ought. Granted, thinking of it as an idea might make it seem too static; still, and again, watching little kids pretend to be animals for the sake of fun shows that it is at once a single, rational idea that notwithstanding is dynamic; and it is really this, and not any empirical or sensible property that makes, e.g., a dog or dog; it is also by this that we determine defect or counterfeits (an artificially made imitation of a dog, say). Are dogs material? Of course. Are they just material? Of course not. In the abstract, a perfect physical imitation of a dog that, notwithstanding, neither acted/reacted or behaved like a dog wouldn't be a dog at all.

  2. Dr. Feser do you mind doing a post on how we should reconcile God's omnipotence with his good will? I don't mean this as a problem of evil thing, just as a weirder question about how certain things can happen in the face of God's omnipotence. Like for instance, does God actually "want" everyone to be saved? Is his "will" in this regard somehow ineffectual (which I'm pretty sure is supposed to be impossible) or is it that he doesn't really want "everyone" to be saved and is only actually interested in "those who want to be saved" or something. Or for instance, doesn't God want me to have exactly as much "good" as I currently have since that's what he's given me? Like wouldn't him wishing me any extra good pretty much automatically result in me having more good? I don't find any of this to be problem of evil type philosophy (which I never really found that convincing anyways), but more like "are we sure God likes us that much?" kind of thing. The Bible certainly indicates a lot of love from God, but I am a little confused how it squares with his omnipotence since even if he wanted something even "just a little" (if that even makes sense) if would be literally infinitely easy for him.

  3. Very well, let there be random Scholastic linkage:

    On the subject of Universals, Necessary Truths and the Divine Mind I recently chanced upon this very interesting PHD thesis on the subject by James Stone, The Foundation of Universal and Necessary Propositions in Select Writings of St Thomas Aquinas. Has anyone here seen it?

    I'm very pleased to discover that the late E.J. Lowe was a defender of the Ontological Proof. Two papers of his on the subject are available online:

    I've recently read Peter Weigel's Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry on Divine Simplicity; it has to be the most eloquent and accessible introduction to that topic I've ever seen, far better than Davies' essay in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophy. Does anyone have an opinion on his full length work on Aquinas and Simplicity?

  4. Daniel,

    I'm very pleased to discover that the late E.J. Lowe was a defender of the Ontological Proof. Two papers of his on the subject are available online:

    ... I didn't even know Lowe was a theist, never mind an ontological argument defender. I thought he was just a neo-Aristotelian. Cool.

  5. @John,

    Nor did I until recently. I assumed from his work that he has was a naturalist (lowercase n) who considered the existence of a necessary being a possible avenue for best explanation. He gives himself as leaning towards Theism on in his contribution to a PhilPapers Survey though.

    (Survey also features shows the interesting fact that Laurence Bonjour identifies as an atheist despite being an avowed Anti-Naturalist and proponent of Intellectual Intuition Platonism and substance dualism).

  6. Since Ed beat me to posting Dr. Franklin's recent paper, here is Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra's What is the Problem of Universals?. I stumbled over it researching the dark art of resemblance nominalism.

  7. Hi Sami,

    I like your questioning. My take on it is that God "wants" us (if God could possibly be said to desire anything - very human terminology here) to be in Heaven enough that He gave a Divine sacrifice that would allow us to achieve that which we could not achieve on our own, namely the sacrifice of Christ. That is a result of His perfect love for us, even in an imperfect state. The end result is that we are cleansed of our sins and that makes it possible for us to go to Heaven.

    Doesn't exactly answer your questions, but it keeps me from getting headaches over it.

  8. On a completely different note, does anyone here know of any neo-scholastic critiques of Heidegger? Some Thomists (Gilson & Co.) are open to a Thomism in dialogue with Heidegger, and I was wondering if any of the Thomists "of the strict observance" had anything to say of him.

  9. @John,

    Thanks for the link. I'm planing to do a good deal of reading on Universals soon so that essay can join the que.

    I was pleased to find they have D.C. Williams famous 'Elements of Being' up online. There's another of his essays, 'Dispensing With Existence', which would be interesting to have discussed here as it in part draws on earlier Scotist arguments against the Real Distinction.


    Maurice Hollowway mentions him in his An Introduction to Natural Theology though only to say that he is an atheist. Sorry if this is not very helpful (it isn't).

  10. @ Daniel:

    Just read through [most] of the James Stone piece. It's quite good and I would like to thank you for mentioning it, since I happened to be looking for good material on just that topic.

  11. I liked Brandon's take on the Cassam article. Intellectual vices are indeed the problem, but those vices are very different from the ones that Cassam pinpoints. This whole thing, especially the reply from Brandon, reminds me of a passage from G. K. Chesterton:

    [T]he madman (like the determinist) generally sees too much cause in everything. The madman would read a conspiratorial significance into those empty activities. He would think that the lopping of the grass was an attack on private property. He would think that the kicking of the heels was a signal to an accomplice. If the madman could for an instant become careless, he would become sane. Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

  12. Dear Mr. Feser

    you may want to take a look at this:

    This is I think an interesting challenge to your worldview in general.

  13. What's interesting about Carrier is not original, and what's original is not interesting.

  14. Hmm, so Carrier starts out by insisting that "supernatural" be defined and understood in a way that tracks both actual usage and genuine metaphysical distinctions—and then turns around and defines "supernaturalism" as the view that "at least some mental things cannot be reduced to nonmental things."

    That's not interesting even in its own right, let alone as some sort of "challenge" to Ed's or anyone else's "worldview in general."

  15. Copying a post I made from the link to Brandon's blog post and would like some opinions.

    I really am struggling to see the 'other side' from my admittedly CT mindset. If CT's dedicate more time to study and research, who is better equipped to hypothesize? Does a doctor consult a plumber to diagnose an illness? Would a doctor be relying on 'insane self-reliance' if he consulted a second opinion from another doctor?

    At the root of it we have an emphasis on testimony, and as a CT I admit I place much weight on it. My most cherished belief is based on a book of eye witness testimony, that being the Bible and the entire account of the resurrection.

    And c' can't say it's the 'truthburns11@yahoos' but dissociate it from being gullible. That WOULD make me gullible. Once again, I place belief in the evidence and testimony of persons I feel qualified to make an opinion. In the case of 911, it would be the videos and testimony of professional structural engineers. What's so unreasonable about that?

  16. @ Anon (March 30, 2015 at 11:15 AM )

    There's nothing unreasonable about it; and as I said in the blog post you linked to, it's often the authorities themselves that are to blame for conspiracy theories in the first place.

    For instance, I never once questioned for a moment the fundamentals of the 9/11 story until I actually read the 9/11 Commission Report. What bothered me about it was that I kept going back to the very first page as there was something about it that bothered me and made me feel like reading it was in a way a waste of time. And the reason is because the Commission was charged with proving and establishing that religious extremists planned, carried out and were entirely and exclusively responsible for 9/11. It was begging the question writ large. No alternative view was even in principle allowed to be considered by the Commission. So glaring was this defect that the whole report became in my stomach (as it were) a kind of insult to academia and reason and what was supposed to be standard Western beliefs and practices. You can hardly blame someone for reading and interpreting such a biased and selective investigation for wondering just how much of it was, ironically, just government paranoia or insecurity about the subject.

    That decision by U.S politicians undermined their own credibility and made the 9/11 Commission Report almost worthless as it refused to address anything it felt couldn't be exclusively blamed on the actions of select religious extremists or "terrorists", such as the mysterious collapse of building 7.

    Now it hardly follows from this that any of the conspiracy theories are true or that there was a conspiracy (well, technically speaking U.S authorities necessarily conspired to produce a dogmatic narrative that fixed the fundamentals of what happened on 9/11 before even investigating the claims as such). Still, I have to role my eyes when politicians all smart-@$$ like dismiss conspiracy theories or theorists out of hand, seeing as they are partly responsible for them.

  17. Peter Hankins has a post regarding the non-computable nature of mind you might find of interest:

  18. Peter Hitchens likes to point out that conspiracies genuinely happen in politics, though I think he has in mind, generally, something less organised and overreaching than many conspiracy theorists have in mind.

  19. Thanks for the links, Dr Feser. Your old sparring partner, Jason Rosenhouse, has taken aim at the Finnis and George article over at his blog. Care to comment on it?

  20. shenpen,

    I can't speak for anyone but myself, but this statement from the blog you mention is very wrong:

    "The underlying mechanics of quantum phenomena might be physically beyond all observation and therefore untestable, but no one would then conclude that quantum mechanics is supernatural."

    I would direct the blogger to this link:

    Dr. Henry was an atheist until 2004 when, as he points out, he became convinced by quantum mechanics that God exists. He avoids the use of the word "God" because he was so brainwashed by materialism (like Anthony Flew, he is a deist), but has since come to use it. Dr. Henry understands the subject QUITE well. I think Mr. Carrier does not.

  21. For a far better link than the one I shared with shenpen, above, please click here (also):

  22. Daniel,

    Of Topic but I don't suppose anyone would have a PDf text of Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol II to hand would they? Specifically I need to get hold of the Leftow and Brower articles

    Bergmann and Brower. I'll see if I can find Leftow when I can get to a proper computer.

  23. @John,

    Great, many thanks! I'd checked Brower's website a while ago when his book on Hylemorphism was mentioned but found it totally bare.

  24. Daniel,

    I wasn't able to find a copy of Leftow's God and the Problem of Universals. For what it's worth, though, I was able to read most of it (minus a few pages) on Google Books: Leftow on Google Books

  25. Daniel,

    Have you listened to Bill Craig's podcast this week? I don't normally, but checked last night. If you haven't heard it yet, he makes some comments about Scholastic Realism that you may find amusing.

  26. (Though I also agree with one or two of said comments)