Wednesday, March 29, 2017

David Braine (1940 – 2017)

Philosopher David Braine has died.  A very moving obituary by Alan Fimister has appeared at the Catholic Herald.  Braine was a longtime contributor to the analytical Thomist movement, and the author of many important articles and books.  The latter include The Reality of Time and the Existence of God (reviewed by W. Norris Clarke here), The Human Person: Animal and Spirit, and Language and Human Understanding (discussed by Peter Leithart here and reviewed by Nathaniel Goldberg here).

Monday, March 27, 2017

Inaugural open thread

Threadjacking is, of course, a sin, a mortal sin, a nigh unforgivable sin.  And yet, dear reader, perhaps I have enabled it by neglecting to provide a venue in which all the various topics which come up at this here blog may be discussed even when they are not the subject matter of the post du jour.  So, by way of experimentation, this will be the first of perhaps a series of occasional open threads.  Wanna talk about predestination?  Prestidigitation?  Pre-prandial potables?  Abelard and Heloise, Lee and Kirby, Fagen and Becker?  Practical reason?  Impractical Jokers?  Have at it.  Mi casa es su casa.

However, since mi casa is also mi casa, please use your common sense.  No flame wars.  Keep it classy.  Given the nature of this blog, discussions with at least some vague connection to matters philosophical or theological is preferred, even if not absolutely essential.  Naturally, I reserve the right to intervene violently to break up brawls and otherwise restore order.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Shea apologizes

In some recent posts, I have been objecting to some things Mark Shea has been saying when commenting on the forthcoming book on capital punishment I co-authored with Joe Bessette.  In an email and in a post at his own blog, Shea has now graciously apologized.  I am happy to accept his apology.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mark Shea’s misrepresentation of Catholic teaching on capital punishment

Among the outrageous calumnies that Mark Shea has flung at my co-author Joe Bessette and me is the accusation that we are “dissenters” from binding Catholic doctrine, on all fours with Catholics who dissent from Church teaching on abortion and euthanasia.  He mocks Catholics who oppose the latter but not capital punishment, accusing them of inconsistency and bad faith.  In his unhinged recent Facebook rant he repeatedly asserts that Joe and I “reject the teaching of the Magisterium,” that we “argue that the Magisterium is wrong,” that we are in the business of “fighting,” “ignoring,” “battling,” and “rebutting” the Magisterium.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A low down dirty Shea

Not too long ago, Catholic writer Mark Shea and I had an exchange on the subject of capital punishment.  See this post, this one, and this one for my side of the exchange and for links to Shea’s side of it.  A friend emails to alert me that Shea has now made some remarks at Facebook about the forthcoming book on the subject that I have co-authored with Joe Bessette.  “Deranged” might seem an unkind description of Shea and his comments.  Sadly, it’s also a perfectly accurate description.  Here’s a sample:

Yes. This needs to be the #1 priority for conservative Christian “prolife” people to focus on: battling the Church for the right of a post-Christian state to join Communist and Bronze Age Islamic states in killing as many people as possible, even if 4% of them are completely innocent. Cuz, you know, stopping euthanasia is, like, a super duper core non-negotiable and stuff.  What a wise thing for “prolife” Christians to commit their time and energy to doing instead of defending the unborn or the teaching of the Magisterium. How prudent. How merciful. This and kicking 24 million people off health care are *clearly* what truly “prolife” Christians should be devoted to, in defiance of the Magisterium.  Good call!

Friday, March 17, 2017


Sophistry is the attempt to persuade someone of some proposition or policy by the use of fallacious arguments.  What I have called meta-sophistry involves accusing others of fallacies or of sophistry in a manner that is itself fallacious or sophistical.  The meta-sophist cynically deploys labels like “sophist” as a rhetorical device by which he might smear and discredit an opponent.  Where the opponent’s arguments can easily be read in a way that involves no commission of fallacies, the meta-sophist will instead opt for a less charitable reading so as to facilitate the accusation that the opponent is a sophist.  Because the meta-sophist poses precisely as a foe of sophistry and fallacious argument and as a friend of reason, his brand of sophistry is especially insidious.  He is like the politician who makes the loud condemnation of sleazy politicians a useful cover for his own sleaziness.  (As I have documented many times over the years – e.g. here, here, and here – “New Atheist” writers are paradigmatic meta-sophists.)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Get linked

At The New York Review of Books, Thomas Nagel reviews Daniel Dennett’s new book From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds.

Charles Murray versus the campus brownshirts: His personal account of the Two Hours Hate at Middlebury.  Commentary from Noah Millman at The Week, Ronald Radosh at The Daily Beast, Peter Beinart at The Atlantic, and Peter Wood at The Federalist.

At Physics Today, physicist Richard Muller says that the flow of time is not an illusion.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Supervenience on the hands of an angry God

In his book Physicalism, or Something Near Enough, Jaegwon Kim puts forward the following characterization of the materialist supervenience thesis:

I take supervenience as an ontological thesis involving the idea of dependence – a sense of dependence that justifies saying that a mental property is instantiated in a given organism at a time because, or in virtue of the fact that, one of its physical “base” properties is instantiated by the organism at that time.  Supervenience, therefore, is not a mere claim of covariation between mental and physical properties; it includes a claim of existential dependence of the mental on the physical. (p. 34)