Thursday, July 12, 2018

Crane and French on science and Aristotelianism


I called attention recently to the new anthology Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science, edited by William Simpson, Robert Koons, and Nicholas Teh, to which I contributed an essay.  (If the price of the print version puts you off, you might consider the much more affordable electronic version.)  Tim Crane reviews the book in the latest First Things.  As I also noted recently, Steven French has reviewed it at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
 
Crane’s review does not actually say much about the essays in the book, but rather gives an overview of some aspects of the neo-Aristotelian revival that has occurred in contemporary analytic philosophy in recent years.  This is a reasonable approach to take given the audience Crane is addressing – namely, educated general readers rather than professional philosophers.  General readers won’t have the knowledge of contemporary analytic metaphysics that the essays presuppose, and may be surprised to learn that there even is such a thing as a neo-Aristotelian revival within academic philosophy.  Hence it is not a bad idea to focus on bringing them up to speed.

French does discuss the essays in some detail (and of course, his audience does consist of professional philosophers).  He is not sympathetic to the overall project of the volume, but he engages with it seriously and raises some interesting points.  

French’s main reservations have to do with the extent to which Aristotelian metaphysics departs from naturalism, and the Aristotelian notions of potentiality and substantial form are what give him greatest pause.  It seems to me that, at least to some extent, French’s concerns here are question-begging.  For the naturalist, a sound metaphysics is one that is implicit in natural science, with natural science interpreted in a mechanistic way (which, these days, essentially means a way that is non-teleological and that gives ontological priority to the microphysical level).  Philosophical concepts are considered well-articulated and well-motivated when they can be assimilated to this naturalistic framework.

But of course, the Aristotelian rejects this set of assumptions.  For the Aristotelian, the methods to which modern science confines itself give us only what C. B. Martin has called a “partial consideration” of nature, and must be supplemented by, and interpreted within, a metaphysical framework which at least to some extent stands or falls independently of anything the natural sciences have to say.  So, a criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics on the grounds that it does not conform to the strictures of naturalism simply assumes precisely what is at issue between the naturalist and the Aristotelian.

However, it would not be fair to French to attribute all of his reservations to a begging of the question in favor of naturalism.  He also judges that the metaphors or analogies some of the volume’s authors use to elucidate notions like substantial form are insufficiently clear or helpful.  Suppose for the sake of argument that French is right about this.  How significant would that be?

French takes it to be fairly significant, no doubt because he is skeptical about Aristotelian notions like substantial form and is looking for reasons to take them seriously.  He interprets the metaphors and analogies in question as purported reasons of the sort he is looking for and, finding them wanting, concludes that the authors haven’t made their case.

I don’t myself take the (alleged) deficiency of these particular metaphors and analogies to be very significant, though, because I think there are already ample independent philosophical grounds to endorse notions like substantial form – grounds of the sort one can find set out at length in my book on general Aristotelian metaphysics, or Oderberg’s book on the subject, or in some of the essays in anthologies like the Tahko volume, or the Groff and Greco volume, or the Novotny and Novak volume.  

Mind you, I am not blaming French for not engaging here with such books – he’s simply writing a book review, and on another book, after all.  The point is just that if he is looking in the present volume for a general defense of notions like substantial form (and maybe he’s not), I think he is looking in the wrong place.  I don’t see the Simpson, Koons, and Teh volume as primarily concerned with that.  Rather, I take it that its aim is primarily to take general Aristotelian notions that have already been defended at length elsewhere in the neo-Aristotelian literature, and apply them to specific issues that arise in the context of natural science.  That’s a more limited aim, and the book should be judged in light of that aim.

And to some extent that is exactly what French does – as, for example, in his remarks about Alex Pruss’s essay on the “traveling forms” interpretation of quantum mechanics.  It’s a great essay, and anyone interested in the relationship between Aristotelian philosophy of nature and quantum physics should study it.  (They should also study Rob Koons’s excellent recent work on this, including Rob’s essay in the volume under discussion.)  French suggests, however, that working out the “traveling forms” model might entail significant revisions of traditional Aristotelian views about material substance.  (That is also a concern of mine.  But I don’t think Alex is as old-fashioned an Aristotelian as I am, so I don’t think such revisionism would bother him much.)

Commenting on my own essay on Aristotelianism and relativity, French notes that I endorse an epistemic structural realist view of physics, on which there is more to the nature of physical reality than physics can tell us – which opens the door to the Aristotelian metaphysician, who claims to fill in at least some of the gaps left by the physicist.  Not unreasonably, French asks:

[W]hy this kind of metaphysics and not some other?  Or why any such extra metaphysics at all in this particular case, given that various accounts of how the impression of temporal passage can be reconciled with relativity theory are currently 'on the table'?

But, for one thing, I thought I answered that in the essay.  I argue that change, as the Aristotelian understands it, cannot coherently be eliminated from our picture of nature.  At an absolute minimum, it cannot coherently be denied that the scientist himself qua conscious subject undergoes change in the Aristotelian sense.  But such change entails the distinction between actuality and potentiality; and in something embodied (as I take the conscious subject to be) the distinction between actuality and potentiality in turn entails the distinction between substantial form and prime matter.  So, I take the incoherence of denying change to lead, on analysis, to hylemorphism.  By itself that still leaves it open exactly how far the substantial form analysis can be applied within nature – here we have to go case by case – but that it has some application I take to be unavoidable on general metaphysical grounds.

For another thing, once we have real change, we also have (given the Aristotelian conception of time as the measure of change with respect to succession) temporal passage.  And I mean actual temporal passage, not merely what French calls “the impression of temporal passage.”  So, contrary to what French seems to imply, it is not enough for the non-Aristotelian to appeal to some account of how our “impression” that temporal passage is real can be reconciled with relativity.  An adequate metaphysics, and an adequate interpretation of physics, must account for the fact that there really is such a thing as temporal passage.

(Much, much more on all these matters to come in my forthcoming philosophy of nature book Aristotle’s Revenge.  Stay tuned.)

79 comments:

  1. Kiel's RevengeJuly 12, 2018 at 5:37 PM

    Ooooh, Aristotle's Revenge. Nice! Can't wait to see the cover art!

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  2. How is being skeptical of a position, "Begging the question"?

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    1. @Anon Re-read the paragraph. Being skeptical of the Aristotelian position on the grounds that it does not fit in with a naturalistic framework is question-begging (since Aristotelianism rejects a non-teleological, reductionistic/atomistic world-view). Simply being skeptical of Aristotelianism on its own merits would not be question begging.

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    2. Dear Scott Lynch: I like it when quick and short questions get quick and short (but sufficient) answers. Thanks.

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  3. Did you just slip the title of your upcoming book? Or was that info previously released? Either way I am pretty excited to get my mits on it!

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    1. Yeah, but you don't know the subtitle yet... ;-)

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    2. Is it "Naturalist Philosophers be a cryin'"?

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    3. There is allot of potential there, but does it really matter?

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  4. Nice Post and cool title for your new book.
    I do hope you engage with French and his fellow OSR-ists work in more detail in the future, as this seems like most plausible rival and alternative view to the A-T one. Although I haven't read his Structure of the world, from what I've see n, he does get into detail about how Aristotelian notion of causal powers and disposition can be "done away with" in science , there is a video on youtube on that too.

    And on your article in the book, I think your point is correct that physics have little say on correct theory of time if we have good philosophical arguments. And I think you do engage and refute the "just an illusion" response to your argument that change can't be denied but what about the response that we don't experience change in the first place? I've seen that response by several philosophers, don't know what to make of it.

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    1. All this stuff is in the book. It's a long, thorough book.

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    2. Does that mean it's going to be sinfully expensive?

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    3. No, it won't be especially expensive.

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  5. I like "Aristotle's Revenge" already :)

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  6. Supernatural means "not possible according to the laws of nature." Ultra high-definition photographs have lighting that cannot be produced naturally and therefore are literally supernatural.

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    1. Whoever sets the terms wins the debate. Did anybody define supernatural, and check for counterexamples to that definition? No? Then are the naturalists saying anything meaningful to begin with?

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  7. Hello Dr. Feser,

    How do we know that matter itself is contingent? How do we know matter itself, not just arrangements of matter, have the potential for non-existence? And even if they did, how do we know this potential has to be actualized (not only in the past, but also right now)? We only ever observe the arrangement of matter having a sufficient reason for its existence, such as a cause. But we never see this in the case of the existence of matter itself. Take, for example, a penny. When a penny begins to exist, it is merely a re-formulation of pre-existing matter. We never see such a thing in the case of matter itself. So, how do we know matter, or physical substance, is contingent? I hope you get the chance to read this! Thanks!

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    1. Important question, What do you think matter is

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    2. Anon, I am sure you will do better by reading Prof. Feser's book, when it comes out, but to tide you over until it's available: first, you have to separate out the difference between accidents OF a substance, and the substance itself. The shapes of a lump of copper, whether as a ring, as a long wire, or as a penny, are accidents OF a substance, and the substantial reality persists through the changes to the shape. It remains a lump of copper throughout all of those changes in shape. It's "copper-ness" doesn't change. That is to say, there is an underlying reality of a substantial nature that allows it to remain one and the same individual entity, whether it is extruded into a wire, or stamped into a coin. The what that persists is a given, real, individual THING that has the same nature before and after the change in shape. Thus the change is to an accidental aspect of it, i.e. to an aspect that is layered on top of its being and nature. It's shape is not its very nature.

      But there are also changes in substantial reality itself. When a wolf eats a rabbit, the rabbit as an entity ceases to exist at all, and the wolf grows larger but remains the same individual entity it had been before it ate the rabbit. But what was rabbit ceases to be rabbit at all, and becomes wolf. This means that while there is indeed a some what that persists through the change, it is not a what which persists in either the same underlying nature, nor a what that persists in the same individual entity or being: what the Aristotelian means by "matter", as the underlying stuff that persists through such substantial changes, is a mode of "being" that is not properly speaking "A being", but only "what CAN BE being" when it has a substantial form giving it some specific nature. When you consider what must be true of such matter, i.e. such "stuff" as is only potential-to-be-the-substrate-of-a-thing and not, of itsef, actually a thing, you see that it is incoherent to speak of it as necessary rather than contingent. For it is "being" only in the imperfect and partial sense of "being" that refers to potential-to-be, and it is precisely in virtue of, or by reason, of a superior mode of actuality that a thing is necessary rather than contingent.

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    3. If matter can be submited to "arrangements", then it has potency, and so it's contingent, by definition. Otherway, "matter itself" (in other words: matter considered apart from their actual 'arrangements' or 'substancial form') -- in aristotelian jargon called 'prime matter' -- cannot actually exist appart from an association (contingent itself) with a substancial form, since the power to serve as stuff to other things, taken by itself, express a pure potency, that cannot exist without some actual power (given by the refered association with a form).
      What's necessary cannot 'change' (or 'vary'), in any aspect.

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    4. Dr. Feser goes over this in depth in “Aquinas” when discussing Aquinas’ Third Way. You may find it helpful.

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    5. If you think matter is necessary, then this entails that matter must be either necessary through God, or be God. This is because if we rule out the former, then necessity must be inherent to the nature of matter. As a result the nature and necessary existence of matter would be one in the same. We would have something that is not composed of parts because to make those parts distinct would require that they not all have necessity inherently otherwise they would be numerically identiical. It must be the only thing that is inherently necessary for a similar reason. Because of that, it would also have to be the cause of everything else since everything else will be contingent (or necessary through that which is inherently necessary). Because of that, it must have the power to bring about all contingent things and thus all powerful. Do you see where this is going?

      Much more could be said but I hope you get the idea.

      Feser addresses this much more in-depth in a couple of his books.

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  8. Does not Pruss hold to a B-theoretical or at least non-Presentist account of time which takes its direction (the so called 'arrow of time') as parasitic on the direction of causation? Recall him talking about that on his blog a few years ago.

    This of course doesn't mean we should take up said view but that there's such divergence of opinions even among Aristotelians should give comfort to those who worry that position will saddle them with a priori commitments re interpretations of General Relativity.

    And of course congrats on the philosophy of nature book ;)

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    1. Yes, he is a b-theorist.

      https://philpapers.org//profile/27127/myview.html

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  9. Dr. Feser, I hope that in the forthcoming Aristotle's Revege you'll cover one of the thing that quizzled me, a naive platonic who look forward to be also AT, about act and potency in the change of concrete material substances, namely the ontological status of the potency. As a potency isn't in act yet but it cannot be not existent in the concrete material substance. So this "to be or not to be" I still can't digest it yet :)

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  10. Dr. Feser covers a lot of this in his essay "Existential Inertia and the Five Ways"—it's in Neo-Scholastic Essays if you want to check it out. In summary, matter itself is entirely potential except when united with a form. In the same way it doesn't make sense to consider a hunk of Play-Doh except in some sort of shape, matter cannot exist separate from form—even if we can form a picture of amorphous blobs and "title" it "matter without form," what we're really envisioning is matter united with that specific form of the amorphous blob. Matter without form is thoroughly potential (and thus in no way actual, and thus nonexistent), and matter united to forms is contingent for the reasons you mentioned above.

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  11. If Aristotle's Revenge is your philosophy of nature book . . . Let's just say I've been looking forward to this for two years, when I bought your scholastic metaphysics and you hinted at it.

    How's that book on the soul coming, Prof. ?

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  12. Finally a book on the philosophy of nature from Feser. He has only touched on it in his other work--I'm excited to see what a book length treatment of it will turn out to be. Hopefully it will be geared towards a more philosophically-
    nuanced audience. While I appreciated Five Proofs, at times I felt like I was going over the basics. This is understandable, however,given the fact that that book was intended for a more general audience.

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  13. I know it's Richard Carrier, but I'd like to see the reaction to this article..

    https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/14282

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    1. I love his arguments... they are based on God doing this or doing that because it is convenient for Carrier that a Necessary Being operate this or that way XD.

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    2. I have never been fond of the "qualia" argument in favor of a non-material soul, so his arguments leave me cold. Feser's arguments based on the aboutness of propositions and arguments are much more robust: there can never be a sufficient basis for claiming this material entity (or process) is about that material entity (or process), in a way that justifies the conclusions of an argument being true because of the premises. But, of course, the science by which Carrier finds his conclusions for mind being brain processes consists in just that - conclusions based on premises, or (on his own basis) these material processes merely following preceding those processes.

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    3. The interesting thing is that in his book Sense and Goodness Without God Carrier calls himself a hylomorphist. The 'mind is the form of the body', etc. I guess he has the modern functionalist reading of Aristotle in mind when he says this.

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    4. A soul, being a form, is necessarily immaterial, I would have thought.
      And also don't animals possess sense organs, eyes, ears etc that provide them with quale?

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  14. Dr. Feser, could you please write a response to the article which challenges the PSR called "The Paradox of Sufficient Reason", linked blow:

    https://www.academia.edu/18591080/The_Paradox_of_Sufficient_Reason

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    1. It doesn't seem to be that much of a problem.

      Bur maybe Grodrigues may have a say on that, since he is Mr Logic. (his math knowledge is scary XD)

      But it seems that are extra considerations in G that solve the paradox.

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    2. Damn, let me tell you what I thought.

      1- You have the Conjoint of all Contingent truths, and there must be an explanation for that Conjoint. Good

      2- If you have all the contingent truths Conjoint C, the explanation of the whole of realiy will be contingent? Maybe yes maybe no.

      4- But if you yes, this ultimate truth is contingent you fall in the paradox.

      5- But if the Explanation is God, just like Leibniz has argued for, Then you have a necessary explanation for C, the big G (Most Fitting XD)

      6- SO really, all rationalists should be Theists! There is nothing wrong with PSR.

      -------------------------------------

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    3. I've liked that paper since it first came out a couple of years ago, and having read it again more recently, still like it; it's excellent, and should be more widely known. But it is a mischaracterization to say that it challenges the PSR; it (correctly) notes that one can have reason to doubt a key idea in a common objection to PSR (namely, the idea that you can have a conjunction of all contingent truths), and then explores what rejecting that idea might mean on various other assumptions.

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  15. From the OP: "It seems to me that, at least to some extent, French’s concerns here are question-begging. For the naturalist, a sound metaphysics is one that is implicit in natural science, with natural science interpreted in a mechanistic way (which, these days, essentially means a way that is non-teleological and that gives ontological priority to the microphysical level). Philosophical concepts are considered well-articulated and well-motivated when they can be assimilated to this naturalistic framework.

    But of course, the Aristotelian rejects this set of assumptions. For the Aristotelian, the methods to which modern science confines itself give us only what C. B. Martin has called a “partial consideration” of nature, and must be supplemented by, and interpreted within, a metaphysical framework which at least to some extent stands or falls independently of anything the natural sciences have to say. So, a criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics on the grounds that it does not conform to the strictures of naturalism simply assumes precisely what is at issue between the naturalist and the Aristotelian."

    If the A-T proponent criticizes naturalistic metaphysics on the grounds that it does not conform to the strictures of A-T metaphysics, how is he not assuming precisely that which is at issue between himself and the naturalist? And since the A-T metaphysical framework at least to some extent stands or falls independently of anything the natural sciences have to say, how are the naturalist and the A-T metaphysician going to establish a common store of first principles from which one can establish that the other's metaphysical system is false?

    I need to be convinced that the A-T metaphysician does not beg the question when he attacks the naturalist, and that the naturalist does beg the question when he attacks the A-T chap. It does not sound as though Prof. Feser's criticism of French is limited to French; he seems to be saying that all naturalists beg the question when they criticise A-T, while A-T guys do not beg the question in their turn.

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    1. Putting in a simple way.

      You have no idea what Begging the Question is.

      Begging the question is to Assume which you want to proof.

      You have 2 possibilities, but you implicitly assume one of them in the hopes of refuting the other, Which is the case here.

      Seriously what is up with you people and not being able to read XD.

      "I need to be convinced..." 9_9'

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    2. I was expecting, not an answer to what I wrote, but some form of derision. And so it is. Seriously, what is up with you people and not being able to read.

      "Assume which you want to proof..."

      You are not even writing standard English.

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    3. >You are not even writing standard English.

      Are you bro?


      Feser did say "Mind you, I am not blaming French for not engaging here with such books – he’s simply writing a book review, and on another book, after all. The point is just that if he is looking in the present volume for a general defense of notions like substantial form (and maybe he’s not), I think he is looking in the wrong place."

      That seems to be his point and it is unremarkable nor is it answering question begging with question begging IMHO.

      Cheers.

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    4. I think you need to read the post again ,Ed didn't say French was completely beg the question and he did to some extent answer your point about first principles.

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    5. I'm not really sure what your issue is. I don't think the A-T metaphysician is criticizing naturalism simply on the grounds that it violates A-T metaphysics. After all, Aristotelians actually give arguments (that they think are sound) why A-T is the right framework. Whether you think the arguments work or not is a different question.

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    6. And also ficino, some of your concerns require some detailed look at OSR which will require addressing it at some length but in the end I think one can go past mere accusation of question begging on both sides, We can ask questions like , is it really coherent to deny objects ? we can examine different arguments given for it like Under-determination by physics etc..

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    7. @ Anonymous: my issue is that I think it needs to be demonstrated that French's review is vitiated by one or more argument in which he commits a fallacy of begging the question. If he is NOT, then what does it mean to say his concerns are "to some extent at least question-begging"? If French IS committing a fallacy of petitio principii in his review, we will all profit by seeing the relevant lines quoted and the fallacy in his argument identified and exposed.

      I do not deny that Aristotelians actually give arguments for their metaphysics. But French has published plenty of works in which he actually gives arguments for the framework he adopts, hasn't he?

      For French to say, "I don't find A-T convincing, I find naturalism convincing, so I don't find many (or any) of the conclusions of papers in the volume convincing" does not amount to begging the question.

      Beyond this is the bigger question, on what grounds do we conclude that the arguments given in defense of a particular metaphysical system - and in denial of other systems' truth - are sound? I get the sense from proponents of A-T that we need A-T in order to assess evidence and evidential claims rightly, not the other way round - because without A-T, reality remains fundamentally unintelligible. I'm not sure where are the truths more fundamental than the claims of a metaphysical system, except those of logic, and our observations. Scientists discover heaps of things w/o being Aristotelians. So I hesitate to sign on.

      But perhaps proponents of A-T make more modest claims than this. Anyway, maybe there's no reply except, "reread Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics." Which I have read once and shall soon reread.

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    8. "Scientists discover heaps of things w/o being Aristotelians. So I hesitate to sign on."

      -----------------------------------------

      It's pretty simple Ficino, let's say that you do say that the external world, is impossible to know anything about it.
      Now Scientists Theorize a heap of things about it.
      Are they right? Nope...
      They are just doing Conceptual analysis, playing around with worthless concepts, and doing meaningless experiments that help in nothing to understand the world.
      But it is so reallll!!!!11Eleven!!!

      Yeah but they are still wrong.

      Correct beliefs about reality are not necessary to make experiments in said reality or create explanations for it, isn't necessary for Engineering, as long as you build something that works, it is all set and done, none of your theories need to be true.

      You see apparently people don't really get what is happening when someone does Science, they assume that whichever concept seems to "explain" a certain "phenomena" must be correct.

      But how do you know that?

      Oh yeah, by circular reasoning of course, because it is Science!

      Well but what makes the concepts of Science real?

      Now the question is, can you be a scientist without even having any correct beliefs about the world? Sure, of course you can. You can easily believe that every experiment you ever did was a delusion, and has nothing to do with the ACTUAL REALITY and you would still be a scientist. Just publish your delusions and hey, maybe other people have the same set of delusions and you can all have a nice talk about the similarities.

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    9. The Moral of the argument:

      There is something before we engage in Science, that might tell us what truth is.

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    10. Hi, ficino-4ml. Here's why the question begging does not run in both directions.

      Let's suppose the naturalist makes a claim such as, "Scientific, lab-verifiable knowledge is the only true type of knowledge there is." (To give them credit, most naturalists would not make this claim.)

      A-T responds, "No, there are other types of knowledge" and gives examples.

      The naturalist responds, "Those examples do not exemplify real knowledge, because they are not scientifically lab-verifiable; therefore, they are not true knowledge."

      THAT is begging the question. And it doesn't run in the other direction because the A-T position is not the one making the exclusive claim.

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    11. Oops. My reply was supposed to go way up there, by ficino-4ml's first post. Ah well; hope he sees it.

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    12. Hello Craig, I agree with most of yours. Can you think of a scenario in which an A-T metaphysician might beg the question against a naturalist?

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    13. @Brandon:
      (1) You wrote: “'petitio', which meant (among other things) making an assumption ... What you immediately go on to describe is French's assumptions, so he is making some. So the only question is whether any of these assumptions are, are part of, or overlap the point under dispute.”
      If you wish to withdraw your statement that a meaning of ‘petitio’ was ‘making an assumption’ I’m fine with that. I did not deny that you gave “beg/ask” as one of its meanings. I’ll note that in those scholastic discussion of petitio principii that I have read, the verb for “assume” is supponere, not petere.
      The point of my remarks after my first post was to contest your characterization of my first post as “bizarre." As you say, discussions of petitiones comes from traditions of disputations in philosophical schools, in which a dialectical situation is presupposed. In the De Fallaciis, written during Aquinas’ lifetime, for example, the moves that can be made by a disputant are classified into five species of “petitio principii.” When originally I spoke of an interlocutor, it didn’t matter whether French’s interlocutor is a flesh and blood disputant or just an implied reader.
      But I think we’ve clarified enough about the genesis of the term.

      Thank you for the references to Browne and Whately. I have read about them but have not read works of theirs.
      In what you say about Browne, you summarize his explanation so: “ whose definition of petitio principii is assuming, in proof of a conclusion, a principle that is not conceded in the dispute.” As I have said, I don’t see French doing in his review that which Browne defined as committing petitio principii. In some passage of the review, does French, from the premise, naturalism is true, deduce the conclusion that A-T is false? So far I have not seen you or other commentators isolate a part of the review where French is guilty of this move.

      I am looking at begging the question from the framework of Douglas Walton: “... begging the question is essentially the same fault in argument as arguing in a circle. However, unfortunately, the phrase ‘begging the question’ seems to be used in popular tradition, and even in logic textbooks, in various other ways. In some cases, the alleged fault of ‘begging the question’ is taken to mean simple lack of evidence in argument. Similarly, the fallacy of question-begging epithet (question-begging appellative, question-begging term) is often used to refer to cases where a loaded term has been used in argument. This can be a misnomer, because the use of a loaded term in an argument does not necessarily imply that the argument is circular.” Informal Logic (2nd ed. 2008) 296.

      When Ed wrote, “It seems to me that, at least to some extent, French’s concerns here are question-begging,” he seemed to commit himself to the criticism that at least one petitio principii argument is found in the review. But perhaps Ed meant “question-begging” in a weaker sense.

      On skepticism, see what I wrote to David Ezemba. I agree that French is not a skeptic about naturalism. He pretty clearly includes himself among “naturalistically inclined metaphysicians of science”, as he says in the review. When he writes, “those not yet signed up to the neo-Aristotelian project might well feel that it is beginning to sail a little too far from the shores of naturalism,” he is not constructing an argument to demonstrate that A-T is false. He is telling us he does not agree with it, has “not yet signed up to” it.

      Perhaps there is more ambiguity about “skeptic” than I had considered. If I say, I am skeptical about a claim, I’m not asserting that it is false or that I can so demonstrate. I’m not committing myself to accepting the claim because I think more investigation (skepsis/episkepsis) would be needed.

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  16. I've reread French's review and Ed's OP. I was aware that Ed said that French was only "at least to some extent begging the question," since I quoted those and other words.

    French is not "begging" his reader to grant him the premise that A-T metaphysics is false and then drawing the conclusion that A-T metaphysics is false. He's clearly committed to a naturalistic framework, as Ed notes. French is merely declining to jettison his framework and to see reason to sign on to A-T. To be skeptical that P is true does not amount to deducing P's falsity from a (begged) premise that P is false. I get the impression French actually thinks that A-T metaphysics relies too much on poorly defined concepts (e.g. his comments that some locutions amount to metaphor) to provide scientists much of a bonus over the starting points that they're using already. If someone replies, "Well, they are already using A-T starting points without realizing it," I'm not sure I know enough science to see where to go from there.

    On another board I was discussing with a theist the question, on what basis can we evaluate a metaphysical system? What in principle would be defeaters, other than violation of the basic laws of thought. We both agreed that a metaphysical system's tenets could be falsified by observations (e.g. if you say that everything is really one thing and I smack you upside the head...) But we didn't manage to unpack things further than that.

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    1. The charge of begging the question is only to the extent that in review it is assumed A-T is problematic particularly because its not naturalistic enough(which is a requirement A-T rejects).

      Of course Ed is aware that French has written on this topic elsewhere too.

      being skeptical of P because of T which P-ist would reject does amount to deducing falsity from begged premise.

      As for how discussion can "move forward" from this Ed does elude to this in the post and I also explain, it can be done.

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    2. French is not "begging" his reader to grant him the premise that A-T metaphysics is false and then drawing the conclusion that A-T metaphysics is false.

      This is a bizarre response; begging the question doesn't require begging the interlocutor to do anything -- 'begging' is just a very literal translation of 'petitio', which meant (among other things) making an assumption. What you immediately go on to describe is French's assumptions, so he is making some. So the only question is whether any of these assumptions are, are part of, or overlap the point under dispute. But Ed goes on immediately to say why he thinks some of them do, and none of them have to do with being skeptical but with what he takes French's assumptions about well-motivated metaphysics to be.

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    3. @Brandon: you are wrong. Read Aristotle. We use the word "beg" when we say someone "begs the question" because it was Aristotle who clarified that this move in an argument is an instance of αἰτεῖσθαι. The person who begs the question demands/begs for himself, or takes, λαμβάνειν, the initial premise from the interlocutor. It is up to the interlocutor to spot this move and refuse to grant the "begged" premise, the αἴτημα.

      Try simply asking or supplying something rather than leading off in your first sentence with slurs like "bizarre response." The arrogance of you guys is a bore - not the fun kind of arrogance like Milo's.

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    4. Your opinion about my arrogance is irrelevant to the question, which is established by the facts of language.

      'Begging' in English is in fact a translation of the Latin, not the Greek, and neither the English, nor the Latin it is translating, involve any assumption of an actual demand or request. This has been true for at least since Whately, who explicitly treats petitio principii as a material fallacy involving assumptions, and explicitly notes that the assumptions need not be stated.

      Thus your entire response is indeed bizarre and provably so, since it requires insisting that Ed was using an English phrase in a sense that it does not generally have in English.

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    5. Who dares invoke Milo? That is my Shtick!
      ;-)

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    6. @Red: you seem to say that being skeptical of P entails deducing falsity. No, to deduce that P is false (validly or invalidly) is to make an assertive claim. To declare skepticism is merely to decline to affirm that P is true. You suspend judgment. As far as French goes in his review, he does not offer an argument to demonstrate that any of the authors of the volume reached conclusions that are false. He just says, in effect, I'm a naturalist, and we naturalists don't find much of this A-T stuff convincing.

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    7. @Brandon, as to the lexical question, neither Lewis and Short nor the OLD supplies "make an assumption" as a definition of "petitio." If you can produce an authority that "make an assumption" is attested as a sense of "petitio," I shall be glad to see the reference.

      As to what it means to say that a reviewer "is to some extent begging the question," I have no idea. I should think either French committed a fallacy of petitio principii or he did not. If he did, it would help us all if you or someone else would cut and paste the offending words from his review and demonstrate that he commits that fallacy.

      To declare skepticism about a metaphysical system does not itself amount to declaring that system false, let alone to deducing that system's falsity from a "begged" premise.

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    8. ficino4ml,

      I will lay it out more slowly.

      (1) I did not claim that 'making an assumption' was the translation of petitio; I explicitly said that 'begging' was translating petitio. I said this very explicitly (twice!); you have no excuse for making up something completely different.

      (2) Petitio principii is a late medieval and early modern term of art; it derives ultimately from translations of Aristotle, but became widespread independently. One cannot assume that late medieval and early modern translations in technical terms are understood strictly in the way the Greek would be; they tend, in fact, to be more generalized.

      (3) Even setting aside that Latin terms translating Aristotle tended to be generalized to a broader set of problems, as a matter of semantic shift, technical terms that become widespread tend to be applied more loosely.

      (4) When the English phrase 'begging the question' begins to become common about 16th-century-ish, it is as a translation of the Latin, as a part of the phenomenon of 'learned English' used by lawyers, scholars, and the like. As it spreads, it also tends to be applied more loosely, which, again, is a very common phenomenon. It, like its Latin counterpart, is used in any kind of case that involves assuming what is under dispute, as well as stricter cases. As a quasi-technical term spreading through everyday speech, it tends to be treated as an idiomatic figure of speech, not as a strict description. A major influence on the term spreading was probably Thomas Browne, whose definition of petitio principii is assuming, in proof of a conclusion, a principle that is not conceded in the dispute.

      (5) English usage her, as throughout most of informal logic, becomes more completely standardized with Richard Whately's work on logic in the nineteenth century, which was not only bestselling its own right, but was a major influence on other manuals discussing the question. Whately is quite clear that petitio principii arises in cases where something is assumed that is under dispute, and that the assumption doesn't even need strictly speaking to be stated.

      (6) Etymological influence is not strictly transitive; Aristotle's usage does not tell how the term is generally used in common English, despite the fact that the latter ultimately derives from the former.

      (7) You can easily look up the phrase 'begging the question' in OED or other dictionaries yourself, and get a wide variety of definitions dealing with making assumptions that do not require any explicit statement, demand, or request.

      As there is no evidence that Ed was using the phrase in a highly technical sense, your pedanticism, as pedanticisms tend to do, is interfering with reasonable exegesis.

      Moreover, as I explicitly noted, Ed himself goes on immediately to give his reasoning for why he said it, which gives the primary guidance in how to interpret it. Ed does not give as his reasoning that French was declaring skepticism, despite your repeated assertions that this is how to interpret him. (And he even briefly addresses the 'to some extent' point, although its ambiguous in the post whether the issue is that the Aristotelian framework to some extent is independent of what French is assuming or or that French's discussion to some extent involves other things that don't fall under begging the question, both of which are said.)

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    9. Ficino4ml

      Could it be that you’re equivocating on the meaning of skepticism?

      On the one had you equate skepticism with doubt when you say “To declare skepticism is merely to decline to affirm that P is true. You suspend judgment. [emphasis added]

      But doubt takes two forms – a positive doubt sees reasons for and against assent; a negative doubt sees no reasons for either side. And when you describe as your position, and French’s, as “[…]I'm a naturalist, and we naturalists don't find much of this A-T stuff convincing[,]” it fits neither form of doubt.

      It is more fitting to describe that statement as an opinion, ie: a state of mind pronouncing a judgment – as opposed to suspending judgment – but not without fear of error. The motives for assenting to the judgment “this AT stuff is not convincing” would be that French is, and you are, “to some extent begging the question,” by expecting AT to conform to the scriptures of naturalism.

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    10. @ David Ezemba: I type lots of dumb things, so I may have misused the term "skepticism" or just not said all that I could have said. I didn't say French is a skeptic about naturalism. I was responding to a post in which someone - Red? - seemed to be equating skepticism with seeking to prove that a given position is false. I was trying to say simply that in the review, I don't see French formulating arguments to demonstrate that A-T is false, let alone assuming that naturalism is true and then deducing ipso facto that A-T is false. The stance he takes in the review seems consistent with that of a person who says, "I hold naturalism, and I don't see arguments in the volume that persuade me to abandon it and adopt A-T."

      But no, French is not a Pyrrhonian skeptic toward both naturalism and A-T. As I have said in other posts on this thread, French is solid in his commitment to naturalism.

      As to your last paragraph, we may be saying the same thing in different ways. French can't "expect A-T to conform to the scriptures of naturalism" AND to remain A-T. But I don't think he expresses such an expectation.

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  17. Ed,

    I’m late to the party, as always. I just started reading some of your literature (I’m an exJW and currently in the agnostic camp); TLS. You sir, are a certified badass. I’m really enjoying the material so far and the argument seems pretty darn bullet proof.

    As a JW, we were taught such a negative view of Catholicism, that I honestly had no idea there were even Catholic thinkers of your caliber. Again, like I said; im always late to the party.

    Take care Ed and thanks for your published offerings.

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    1. Hi, I'm also a former JW, in the evangelical camp.

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    2. Right on. Ever since I’ve broken away from the JW’s (itself, somewhat of a traumatic experience), I have been kind of stuck in limbo. I’m just not sure what to believe! Thankfully, “The Last Superstition” is proving to be a rather delightful, and at times challenging read, but I’m able to follow the gist of what Ed is arguing and am rather entertained by it!

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  18. Aquonas, philosophy of mind, Nozick, Locke, capital punishment, natural theology, philosophy of nature - is there anything you **will not** wrote about, Professor Feser?

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  19. Will Aristotle's Revenge be polemical?

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  20. Is there such thing as a discussion board out there frequented by those of a Thomist bent? I've searched for Reddits and Discords and found... r/CatholicPhilosophy, which is cool I guess, but I think a Discord channel would make a fine community.

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    1. classicaltheism.boardhost.com/index_mobile.php

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    2. The latter in particular is frequented by a lot of really well known Thomists.

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  21. You will want to check out both the classical theism forum and the Thomism Discussion Group. Between the two of them, you will find what you're looking for.

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  22. Dr Feser, have you ever heard of the blog Atheism and the City? There’s a lot over there about eternalism and it’s implications causality(among other things), and I was wondering if you had ever seen it or interacted with it(if you have then I’m sure you’ve had to wade through some of the author’s behavior that’s on par with an edgy teen).

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    1. That guy is nuts.
      Read this instead. Eternalism is an ill defined concept as is the whole A vs B theory time scheme. This graduate of MIT with a degree in physics will explain it all too you.

      http://www.arcaneknowledge.org/philtheo/temporal/temporal.htm

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    2. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately and I really don’t think eternalism(the block universe) poses any threat to Thomism, so I don’t see much use in arguing for or against that.

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    3. Well Anon from my observations from reading and watching the debates. "Eternalism" is an ill defined ambiguous concept and shooting at it is like shooting at a moving target. Sometimes I see it as a placeholder for the metaphysics of Parmenides which obviously would be 100% against Thomism. OTOH if any version of it allows real change in some sense at some level then obviously not.

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    4. The guy on that blog says eternalism does not deny change, so no, he says it’s not like what Parmenides defended.

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