Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Shinkel on Neo-Scholastic Essays

At The University Bookman, Ryan Shinkel reviews my book Neo-Scholastic Essays.  Titling his review “Last Scholastic Standing,” Shinkel writes:

Early modern philosophers such as René Descartes and Francis Bacon rejected… the teleology of the Scholastics…

Against this degeneration stands the Thomist philosopher Edward Feser… He has taken a route in metaphysics (the study of ultimate causes) similar to that of MacIntyre in moral philosophy…

[Feser’s] method… works well in a wide range of areas including cosmological arguments for the existence of God, the hard problem of consciousness, and property rights… [The book is] recommended [as an] introduction to Feser’s larger [body of] work… [and] would particularly benefit graduate philosophy students who aspire to the older framework of Aristotle and Aquinas.

End quote.  Shinkel also raises an objection to what I have to say in the book about questions of ethics.  Appealing to the Aristotelian distinction between theoretical and practical reasoning, Shinkel notes that while an Aristotelian approach to ethics does indeed make use of theoretical knowledge about human nature, it also holds that practical reasoning is of a different kind than theoretical reasoning.  Hence (to use Shinkel’s example), while theoretical reasoning might ask “What is justice?”, practical reasoning asks “What is the just action for this situation?”  Accordingly, Shinkel says, “theoretical reasoning is necessary but not sufficient: insights from human experience also prove necessary.”  However, he also suggests, “[Feser] suppos[es that] Thomist metaphysics are exclusively sufficient” for ethics, so that I do not (he thinks) provide an adequate account of the Aristotelian approach to ethics.

But Shinkel has here confused a difference in emphasis with a difference in principle.  It is true that in the articles in the book that are concerned with moral questions (about property rights and sexual morality, for example) I have a lot to say about general principles and about the relevant theoretical considerations concerning human nature, but less to say about how contingent circumstances determine how to apply the general principles to particular cases.  But that is only because (a) these are essays rather than book-length treatments of their subject matters, and (b) it is the general principles and background metaphysical considerations about human nature that are the most widely misunderstood today, and thus in most immediate need of discussion and defense.  I nowhere claim to be answering every question that might arise about these subjects,  and I certainly never say (and never would say) that every such question can be answered by way of a priori deduction from general theoretical principles.

All the same, Shinkel raises an important issue, and I thank him for his kind review.  (Earlier reviews of Neo-Scholastic Essays are discussed here and here.)


  1. Ed Feser, I don't know how reliable your email is (I once sent you one near the beginning of 2016, but you never responded), so I would like to ask you a question here and now.

    I was reviewing the Leibniz contingency argument, which I feel is powerful, and I even thought I understood it, but I realized that perhaps there might be more to it.

    Intuitively, we feel as if the fact that there is something instead of nothing is a contingent fact, and we feel as if it could be possible that, in another possible world, there could have been only nothing. However, how do we know that it is not metaphysically necessary for there to be something rather than nothing? Intuitively, we feel that it is not necessary, hence it must be contingent not only on a necessary being, but on a necessary being that chose to bring it into existence.

  2. Tomislav,

    Please understand that I get TONS of email, not to mention blog comments like this one, asking me to respond to various philosophical and theological questions, requesting career advice and other personal advice, asking me to suggest reading lists and study programs, etc. And sometimes much weirder stuff than that. I have no idea why people think I have time to respond to such inquires, but in fact I have time to respond to almost none of it. Hence most of it goes unanswered.

    Since I discuss the Leibnizian argument at length in my forthcoming book Five Proofs of the Existence of God, I'll direct you to that. (More information on that book before long. BTW, some people seem to think it's a book about Aquinas's Five Ways. It's not. Been there, done that already.)

    I've also addressed these issues before here and there, and I imagine other readers can direct you to the relevant posts and articles.

  3. I have no idea how he does it but every time I have emailed Noam Chomsky (who must get hundreds of emails a day), he replies. I know it must be tedious as hell answering the same questions repeatedly but it can be done. I guess it depends where your priorities lie.

  4. Noam Chomsky also doesn't have a family of six(?) kids to care for.

  5. He's 87 years old and probably spends as much time napping as Ed does caring for his kids

  6. Anonymous, don't be a goofball.
    Feser has 6 kids... Noam has to decide what to mix in with his farina.

    So save your breath to cool your porridge. You go have 2 kids and tell me how much free time you have.

  7. I own Neo-Scholastic essays and highly recommend it. For anyone looking into getting it, the first portion of the book with the essays on Final Causality and Teleology will repay careful study. If you can master that material, you can be an authority on that subject because so many people misunderstand it OR think modern science has shown we don't need it.

    Also, Ed, it's been a bit since you've teased "Five Proofs . ." -- I'm excited.

  8. ccmnxc and Tim,

    Yes, six kids, a five class per semester teaching load (with 5 preps to boot), very heavy committee work last semester, a blog to keep up to date (with on average one long article-length post per week), a book project in progress (three book projects up until recently, when two were completed), various book review, article, and conference presentation deadlines, increased family obligations given the death of a close family member and the major illness of another, etc. And yet this ignorant, unbelievably rude and presumptuous jackass Anonymous causally suggests that I could answer more email if I really wanted to.

    I was actually pretty annoyed until I realized that "Anonymous" is almost certainly identical to our psychotic and recently banned troll Gerard O'Neill. And suddenly I was no more angry than I would be angry at a rabid dog or at dry rot.

    All the same, I told you to get lost Gerard, so get lost and stay lost.

  9. Tomislav Ostojich,

    I know Dr. Feser has discussed the Leibnizian argument in his talk “Natural Theology Must Be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature, Not in Natural Science”:

    There is also some additional information in the post:

    He also discussed the Leibnizian argument in his paper:

    "The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument" Midwest Studies in Philosophy, vol. 37 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013)

    Also, both of these are in the Neo-Scholastic Essays book.

    I’m sorry, I’m not sure if these address your specific question, but I hope they are of some help to you.

    Dr. Feser,

    Just thought I would say thanks very much for all your hard work. I know many of us really appreciate it. I’ve learn so much from your work, especially Aquinas and this blog, which I am extremely grateful to you for. Like JohnD, I’m also excited for your upcoming Five Proofs book, I imagine that’s my Christmas present sorted!

    Steve Mc

  10. Ed, my thoughts and prayers for you and your family. Is there anything we can do to help? Something other than not engaging trolls? For example, can you delegate the comment moderation out to a regular and trusted reader?

  11. My prayers are with Dr. Feser and his family, too.

    I think people are very afraid because our culture is loaded down with absurdities. People are now divided into heroes and villains, oppressed and oppressors. People need a reference frame from which to order their lives and our current cultural one is based on Joseph Campbell's Hero cycle. Current fiction gives us a framework where we are at the center of the story, as the hero, and we are to follow hero's path in our own lives.
    This bit from Babylon 5 is my favorite example of why that doesn't help much:

    Londo: "Vir, do you believe in fate?"

    Vir: "Well, actually, I believe there are currents in the Universe. Eddies and tides that pull us one way or the other. Some we have to fight, some we have to embrace. Unfortunately, the currents that we have to fight look exactly like the currents we have to embrace. The currents that we think are the one that's gonna make us stronger, they are the ones that are going to destroy us. And the ones that we think are going to destroy us, they are the ones that are going to make us stronger. Now, the other current--"

    Londo: "Vir! Yes or no?"

    Vir: "Yes! You know, somewhat, why?"

    -- Londo and Vir in Babylon 5:"The Geometry of Shadows"

    I think that the reason people ask so much of Dr. Feser is that they are looking for a way out of that maze. So, I thank him, too, for all his efforts.

  12. Dear Dr. Feser,
    It would be a good opportunity to thank you for everything - the blog, the great books, and for the passion for reason. Thanks a lot.

  13. Ed;

    Many thanks indeed for your books, blog, lectures, etc. My family and I will keep you and your family in our prayers.


  14. Dr Feser,

    The day I stumbled upon your blog was one of the most significant days of my life. To cut a long story short - as a young man from down under, over the last few years I've been quite disillusioned with what has always appeared to me as specious and vacuous atheist rhetoric and literature that is pervading 'culture'. Two years ago, I slowly got into theism and theistic literature, moving beyond my 'self-evident' affirmation of God; and of course found Dr Craig and others. I had become quite good in refuting common atheist assertions, knew some arguments which seemed okay - but my conception and perception of God felt lackluster.

    In our household, we own the entire set of the 'Great books of the western world'(thanks to my Greek parents who love wisdom) - 54 volumes including Augustine, Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Descartes etc.. - and I began reading Aristotle and Aquinas - of all authors. For some reason, those two jumped out at me - not knowing the theological significance. I thought I understood them in part, but recognized my comprehension of such works was going to be a long work in progress.

    Forward a year - and I stumbled upon your blog (around 5 months or so ago). Wow. A whole new perspective - the icing on the cake! Your posts enabled me to start considering the classical works in a new light - properly above all! Suddenly my conception of God was radically transformed. I never felt comfortable with the 'personalist' vibe given by modern philosophers, and in part rejected it but couldn't properly conceive of God. I soon purchased your book 'Aquinas' (a classic), and in short...Now my theism is richer! I cannot wait to purchase your other books (likely all at the same time). I can now read my summa theologica with a greater understanding.

    As you rightly note, so much of the so-called 'problems' in modern philosophy have answers...but it seems the ideological motivations of those in high places seem to override the truth. I hope and pray for a revival in classical theistic thought and the supporting metaphysical framework. And I have already begun doing my part in enlightening others to it - I aim to be as relentless as you.

    All the very best and thank you for everything!

  15. Dr Feser
    I'm a long time lurker here and reader of your books.
    Just so you know reading this blog and your books especially your book on Aquinas was pivotal to my return to the Catholic faith.
    Your work is most definitely not in vain.
    My prayers for you and your family.

  16. Yet another lurker here - I too want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude. I have been regularly following your blog and reading your books for the last few years Dr. Feser. I cannot thank you enough for the time and energy you've poured into your work. The Last Superstition was the first real (effective and enjoyable to read) introduction to classical western philosophy I'd ever encountered. It opened up world that I scarcely understood, and my life hasn't been the same since. Brilliant men like Aristotle and Aquinas change the way we look at the world - but they aren't easily accessible to laymen like myself. You've bridged that gap for myself and countless others. Your hard work is most definitely not in vain.

    I will keep your family in my prayers. God bless.

  17. I have six kids too, all under the age of 11. Having so thoroughly enjoyed Lock, Aquinas, The Last Superstition, and Scholastic Metaphysics, I am eagerly awaiting a helpful scholastic guide to parenting six kids, having a good relationship with my wife, and holding down a decent job. Can you please provide a few blog posts or a 300 page book on the subject?

    No pressure!!! :) LOL

    All joking aside, I am amazed at all you manage to get done. I know how difficult it is.

    God bless!

  18. Agnostic Would Like to Get ThomasAugust 4, 2016 at 12:45 PM

    "Five proofs of the existence of God", right ? I shall buy that book.

  19. Agnostic Would Like to Get ThomasAugust 4, 2016 at 12:51 PM

    Also, Professor Fesah.

    What do you think of the five arguments you're going to be talking about in your next book ?

    I know you're especially convinced by *Aquinas'* arguments... But what about these five *non-Thomistic* arguments ?

    Just curious.

  20. Hello all,

    Many thanks for the very kind words! I appreciate them very much.

  21. Hello Agnostic Would Like to Get Thomas,

    Yes, they are all arguments I endorse. I don't mean to imply that there is no overlap at all with Aquinas's arguments -- there is some -- but only that it is not a book about the Five Ways per se.

    To say only the minimum for the moment, the five arguments are what I'm labeling the Aristotelian proof, the Neo-Platonic proof, the Augustinian proof, the Thomistic proof, and the Rationalist proof. As these labels indicate, the arguments have obvious historical antecedents, but I'm not using any particular writer's text as a springboard nor doing any exegesis, but rather spelling out what I take to be the key thrust of each of these lines of argument in a modernized form. The book contains by far the most lengthy and detailed presentation and defense of these arguments of anything that I've written, and also the most lengthy and detailed defense of all the key divine attributes that I've written. Also it contains the most detailed and systematic replies to all objections to these arguments of anything I've written. It's a big book with lots of new stuff in it. And it's finished (I've now moved on to work full speed ahead on the philosophy of nature book).

    Anyway, more details to come in due time.

  22. Yet another lurker here - may Mary bless your work dear Ed.

  23. Agnostic Would Like to Get ThomasAugust 5, 2016 at 5:09 AM

    Wow, sounds great !

    Absolutely sure I'll buy that book, now. Thank you for your answer.

  24. I am very much looking forward to reading Dr. Feser’s book. My son directed me to this website last week and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve been waiting to see an organized approach to refuting the materialists. It was all in such disarray 30 years ago when I first began looking into it and there was so much despair about it. But, I've always had a lot of hope that a new approach would eventually finally come around.

    I think that the advent of quantum mechanics was not the point (as is often said) that philosophers could no longer keep up with advances in science, but rather the point at which scientists had reached the limits of observable science. We are physically limited in our ability to understand the inner workings of the physical universe. We're seeing this played out with warnings over some big theories that may collapse from too much imagination and not enough observational confirmation(ie String Theory).

    You don’t need higher math skills to realize that scientists today are very much in need of a firmer grounding in philosophy to get back on track – both metaphysically and scientifically.

  25. Not to criticize Feser at all, who is obviously swamped ( and besides, I am a lousy email correspondent and can't criticize anyone), but Chomsky must live in several,parallel universes to have the time he spends responding to letters. I wrote him a snail mail one in the late 80's making what I thought was a constructive suggestion. He wrote back several pages rejecting the suggestion. I replied. He replied again, at length. I, a complete nobody, gave it up. He wore me out.


  26. @ Anonymous above,

    Noam is also retired. His kids are old enough to take care of themselves.

    Noam is a rare breed and I hope his influence is lasting. It's a shame he's avoided like the pest by mainstream discourse and media, perhaps because they fear his intellect and, I think, the fact that he always argues substantively, addressing ideas and not resorting to character assassination or making appeals to popularity. I wish his influence was greater especially on the left these days because Chomsky really can and does address the substance of issues, rather than resorting to vacuous slogans ("but love is love" kind of nonsense) or making emotional appeals or otherwise thinly veiled threats of being socially anathematized for holding unorthodox, uncommon or unpopular ideas or beliefs.

    I disagree with Chomsky on a lot but I respect him nonetheless. He at least gives the impression that he truly is open to persuasion and ready to acknowledge the veracity of ideas.

  27. Professor Feser, perhaps you aren't able to divulge this info yet, but are we talking a "ready in time to be put under the Christmas tree" release date?

  28. Jason, I will make an additional suggestion for you, which I picked up from a recommendation on this blog or some other Fesersource: The Three Ages of the Interior Life by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

    Located online here:

    You'll know whether you want it by just reading the introduction. My guess is you'll pick up a hard copy as soon as you can after reading that.

    Could not thank Professor Feser enough for what he does.

  29. Donald,

    1. From

    All requests, invitations, questions, and general correspondence should be directed to Professor Chomsky’s MIT email address, available at:


    Since Professor Chomsky receives literally hundreds of e-mails per day, however, we ask that correspondents exercise responsibility and discretion before writing him.

    A rhetorical question:

    Why might a potential correspondent be asked to exercise responsibility and discretion before attempting to correspond with someone who receives literally hundreds of e-mails per day?

    2. Francis Crick in the preface to his The Astonishing Hypothesis (1994):

    I shall be grateful to readers who write to me to point out factual mistakes. I am less enthusiastic about corresponding on more general matters. Most people have their own ideas consciousness, and not a few feel compelled to put them on paper. I hope I may be forgiven for not reading everything sent to me on the subject. My normal practice is to consider only those ideas that have already been put forward in a refereed journal or in a book published by a reputable publisher. Otherwise the constant clatter of other people's suggestions makes it impossible for me to think effectively.

    3. Dr. Feser:

    a) has not asked people not to contact him or ask questions;

    b) has not said that he has a policy of ignoring requests and questions sent via email or posted on his blog; and,

    c) has, as he usual does one or more times per calendar year, explained that constraints on his time account for why most requests and questions are not responded to.

    - - - - -

    4. Generally speaking, people who do hear back from Dr. Feser frequently are too busy being pleased with or thankful for the clarification(s) received, so forget to feel impressed that a 'somebody' responded to a 'nobody', or to make a permanent note that a 'somebody' managed to wear out a 'nobody'.

    Just sayin'.

  30. Just like to add my thanks to the indefatigable Dr F for his huge contribution - all the more remarkable, given the pressures on his time - and in particular for his consistently illuminating and eloquent blog, from which I have learned (and continue to learn) an enormous amount.

  31. @James Wilson


    Even though I'm still agnostic-theist (in between if you will, cause I know this can sound pretty confusing)... I have to say we definitely all learn a lot of things thanks to P. Feser.

    Which is why I'd also like to thank him for it.

  32. I'd like to thank Dr. Feser also, for his stunning work. It has certainly had a major influence for my thinking. So thank you Ed! And it's really amazing how you find time for everything. Phenomenal, like Bill Vallicella wrote a while ago. And lastly, I must tell how excited I am about your new book on God's existence, I'm like a kid waiting for Christmas on that one!

  33. @Dr. Feser,

    Thank you for taking the time from your hectic schedule to respond to me anyway. It really means a lot.

    It's such a shame that you're so busy. You sound like the last reasonable man on planet Earth.

  34. I eagerly await the philosophy of nature book!

    How long will it take for your current book to get to bookstores?

    Have you ever considered a book that names all the themes, schools of thought and areas of debate within Thomism? Not in any detailed sense (but broadly) as a teaching aid?

  35. Anonymous,

    I don’t know if this covers quite what you are looking for, but Dr. Feser has done a couple of blog posts giving a brief overview of the history of Thomism:

    These might be a useful place to start if you are interested in the different schools of thought within Thomism. Hope this is of some help to you.

    Steve Mc

  36. Thank you Steve.

  37. Dr. Feser, if I remember correctly, did once respond to me with a quick thank you when I told him that I was briefly referencing him in one of my stories in the collection "God, Robot". That was cool.

    He also once responded - again, with about a sentence - when I asked him a few years ago if I did the right thing by refusing to have a conversation about gay marriage with angry zealots and instead directing them to "The Last Superstition" (the answer he gave was yes). I was in high school at the time.

    That was nice of him.

  38. @ malcolm,

    That was smart. As you noted, the angry zealots have been emotionally manipulated such that only the appearance of a dialogue or discussion is produced. Pointing them to a book where they have to address ideas is likely the smartest thing to do in that situation and having their world view so clearly challenged can have the effect on people of surprisingly reawakening their own personal dignity, even if they dislike those ideas. It liberates people from the emotional dogmatism of the ages of "masses": where we are looked upon as figures and statistics and where appeal is made constantly to our lowest common denominator, which results in a self-fulfilling prophecy and encourages a Pavlovian treatment of people. But in works like TLS, "their" (or your or our) *thoughts* suddenly become actually important and it becomes plain to many that we had been steam rolled most of our ostensibly intellectual lives into a kind of cartel of thinking. The bitterness this produces is often projected onto and against those who refuse to conform.

  39. "Anyway, more details to come in due time."

    That can't come soon enough for me. I love the insightful clarity of your writing.

  40. For the record, Ed has responded with great patience and politeness to emails I sent him.

  41. I wanted to hop in and tell Dr. Feser thanks again. I run a business and have children and couldn't imagine trying to maintain a blog, much less be as active in the comment section. As a side note, autocorrect on an iPad is frustrating. No, Apple, it's Feser, not Dr. Fewer or Dr. Fester.

    Thanks, Dr. Feser. This site is a blessing.