Friday, September 13, 2019

A further reply to Glenn Ellmers


At Law and Liberty, Glenn Ellmers has replied to my response to his review of my book Aristotle’s Revenge.  He makes two points, neither of them good.

First, Ellmers reiterates his complaint that I am insufficiently attentive to the actual words of Aristotle himself.  He writes: “This where Feser and I part.  He thinks that it is adequate to have some familiarity with ‘the broad Aristotelian tradition’ – a term of seemingly vast elasticity.  I do not.”  Put aside the false assumption that my own “familiarity” is only with the broad Aristotelian tradition rather than with Aristotle himself.  It is certainly true that my book focuses on the former rather than the latter.  So, is this adequate?

Friday, September 6, 2019

Review of Smith’s The AI Delusion


My review of economist Gary Smith’s excellent recent book The AI Delusion appears today at City Journal.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Friday, August 30, 2019

Gage on Five Proofs


I’ve been getting some strange book reviews lately.  First up is Logan Paul Gage’s review of my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God in the latest issue of Philosophia Christi.  Gage says some very complimentary things about the book, for which I thank him.  He also raises a couple of important points of criticism, for which I also thank him.  But he says some odd and false things too. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Scotus on divine simplicity and creation


In my exchange with Ryan Mullins on the doctrine of divine simplicity, I noted that one of the problems with his critique of the doctrine is that he pays insufficient attention to the history of the debate about it.  Hence he overlooks what should be obvious possible responses to his criticisms, such as Aquinas’s appeal to the distinction between real relations and logical relations.  He also makes sweeping attributions of certain views to all defenders of divine simplicity, overlooking crucial differences between proponents of the doctrine.  Other critics of divine simplicity also often make these mistakes.  A consideration of the views of John Duns Scotus further illustrates the range of issues with which any serious general critique of divine simplicity must deal.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Aquinas on creation and necessity


While we’re on the subject of divine simplicity and creation, let’s consider a closely related issue.  In the Summa Contra Gentiles, Aquinas argues that God wills himself, that he does so necessarily, that what he wills he wills in a single act, and that he wills other things besides himself.  Doesn’t it follow that he also wills these other things necessarily?  Doesn’t it follow that they too must exist necessarily, just as God does?  No, neither of these things follows.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A further reply to Mullins on divine simplicity (Updated)


UPDATE 8/25: David Mahfood replies to Mullins at Eclectic Orthodoxy.  I've got a couple of followup posts, here and here.

UPDATE 8/24: Brandon Watson and John DeRosa also respond to Mulllins.

UPDATE 8/21: Look out!  The Scotist Meme Squad has entered the fray.

At Theopolis, Ryan Mullins has now replied to those of us who had commented on his essay criticizing the doctrine of divine simplicity.  (The other commenters were Peter Leithart and Joe Lenow.)  What follows is a response to what he has to say in reply to my comments on the essay, specifically.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Summer open thread


It’s about time for another open thread, so here it is.  From violent crimes to medieval times to cringe-making rhymes, nothing is off-topic.  Still, as always, please keep it classy and keep it civil.

While I’ve got your attention, let me take this opportunity to make several comments about comments.  First, a few readers have complained recently that their comments are not appearing.  In fact, they are appearing.  What these readers do not realize is that after a thread exceeds 200 comments, you have to click on the “Load more…” prompt at the bottom of the comments section to see the most recent comments.  It’s easy to miss, but it’s there.  Click on it and you’ll no doubt find that comment that you thought had disappeared into the ether (and perhaps had needlessly re-posted several times).

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Contra Mullins on divine simplicity


The Theopolis Institute website is hosting a conversation on divine simplicity, with an opening essay by Ryan Mullins criticizing the doctrine and responses so far from Peter Leithart, Joe Lenow, and me.  More installments to come over the next couple of weeks.  You can read my own response to Mullins here.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

McCabe on the divine nature


Herbert McCabe was one of the more important Thomists of the twentieth century, and a great influence on thinkers like Brian Davies.  Not too long ago, Davies and Paul Kucharski edited The McCabe Reader, a very useful collection of representative writings.  Among the many topics covered are natural theology, Christian doctrine, ethics, politics, and Aquinas.  McCabe’s style throughout is lucid and pleasing, and the book is full of insights.  What follows are some remarks on what McCabe has to say about one specific theme that runs through the anthology, and about which he was especially insightful – the divine nature.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism


Those who weren’t able to read it when it was behind a paywall might be interested to know that my recent Claremont Review of Books essay “Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism” is now accessible for free.

As I noted before, the essay is a companion piece of sorts to my recent Heritage Foundation lecture on “Socialism versus the Family.”  My recent post on post-liberal conservatism is relevant too.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Debate with Graham Oppy


Yesterday on Cameron Bertuzzi’s Capturing Christianity program, I had a very pleasant and fruitful live debate with Graham Oppy about my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  The debate lasted about an hour and a half (and was followed by a half-hour Q and A for Capturing Christianity’s Patreon supporters).  You can watch the debate on YouTube.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Review of Tallis


My review of Raymond Tallis’s excellent recent book Logos: The Mystery of How We Make Sense of the World appears in the July 26 issue of The Times Literary Supplement. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The latest on Five Proofs


Tomorrow, Thursday July 25, Cameron Bertuzzi’s Capturing Christianity program will be hosting a live discussion between atheist philosopher Graham Oppy and me about my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God

Philosopher Stephen L. Brock briefly reviews the book in The Review of Metaphysics.  From the review:

Friday, July 19, 2019

Psychoanalyzing the sexual revolutionary


When someone makes a claim or presents an argument and you pretend to refute it by calling attention to some purported personal shortcoming of his (such as a bad character or a suspect motive), then you’ve committed an ad hominem fallacy.  The reason this is a fallacy is that what is at issue in such a case is the truth of the claim or the cogency of the argument, and you’ve changed the subject by talking about something else, namely the person making the claim or argument.  But as I explained in a post from a few years ago, not every criticism of a person making a claim or argument is an ad hominem fallacy, because sometimes the topic just is the person himself.  For instance, when a person is prone to committing ad hominem fallacies and persists in them despite gentle correction, it is perfectly legitimate to note that he is irrational and maybe even morally defective in certain ways – for example, that he is in thrall to the vice of wrath, or has a willful personality, or is guilty of a lack of charity toward his opponents.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Interview on Aristotle’s Revenge


UPDATE 7/17: Part 2 of the interview has now been posted.

Recently Michael Egnor interviewed me about my book Aristotle’s Revenge for the Discovery Institute.  The interview will be posted in three parts, spread across the Institute’s ID the Future and Mind Matters podcasts, and today the first part has been posted.  (I’m critical of Intelligent Design theory in the book, so the Institute is showing good sportsmanship in hosting the interview!)

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The metaphysics of the will


Last month, at a conference at Mount Saint Mary’s College in Newburgh, NY on Aquinas on Human Action and Virtue, I presented a paper on “The Metaphysics of the Will.”  You can listen to audio of the talk at the Thomistic Institute’s Soundcloud page.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Speaking (what you take to be) hard truths ≠ hatred


Suppose I was driving past you and you stopped me to warn that a bridge was out up ahead and that I was risking my life by continuing in that direction.  Suppose I reacted indignantly, accusing you of hating me and hoping that I drove off the bridge to my doom.  This would no doubt strike you as a most bizarre and irrational response.  Obviously, there is nothing whatsoever in what you said that entails any ill will toward me.  On the contrary, if anything, what you said is evidence of concern for me. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Norman Geisler (1932 – 2019)


I am sorry to report that philosopher and theologian Norman Geisler has died.  Geisler stood out as a Protestant who took a broadly Thomist approach to philosophy and theology, and as an evangelical who vigorously defended the classical theist conception of God against the currently fashionable anthropomorphism he aptly labeled “neo-theism” (and which Brian Davies calls “theistic personalism”).  Those of us who sympathize with these commitments are in his debt.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Frege on what mathematics isn’t


Mathematics is an iceberg on which the Titanic of modern empiricism founders.  It is good now and then to remind ourselves why, and Gottlob Frege’s famous critique of John Stuart Mill in The Foundations of Arithmetic is a useful starting point.  Whether Frege is entirely fair to Mill is a matter of debate.  Still, the fallacies he attributes to Mill are often committed by others.  For example, occasionally a student will suggest that the proposition that 2 + 2 = 4 is really just a generalization from our experience of finding four things present after we put one pair next to another – and that if somehow a fifth thing regularly appeared whenever we did so, then 2 and 2 would make 5.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Just say the damn sentence already


Suppose you are a Catholic who thinks the death penalty ought never to be applied in practice under modern circumstances.  Fine.  You’re within your rights.  Whatever one thinks of the arguments for that position, it is certainly orthodox.  However, that position is very different from saying that capital punishment is always and intrinsically wrong, wrong per se or of its very nature.  That position is not orthodox.  It is manifestly contrary to scripture, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and the consistent teaching of the popes up until at least Benedict XVI.  The evidence for this claim is overwhelming, and I have set it out in many places – for example, in this article and in this book co-written with Joe Bessette.  Attempts to refute our work have invariably boiled down to ad hominem attacks, red herrings, question-begging assertions, special pleading, straw man fallacies, or other sophistries and time-wasters.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Links for thinkers


David Oderberg’s article “Death, Unity, and the Brain” appears in Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics.

Nicholas Maxwell at Aeon calls for a revival natural philosophy.  Gee, maybe someone ought to write a book on the subject.

Philosopher Kathleen Stock on gender dysphoria and the reality of sex differences, at Quillette.  At Medium, philosopher Sophie Allen asks: If transwomen are women, what is a woman?

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The bishops and capital punishment


A group of five prelates comprising Cardinal Raymond Burke, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Cardinal Janis Pujats, Archbishop Tomash Peta, and Archbishop Jan Pawel Lenga this week issued a “Declaration of the truths relating to some of the most common errors in the life of the Church of our time.”  Among the many perennial Catholic doctrines that are now commonly challenged but are reaffirmed in the document is the following:

In accordance with Holy Scripture and the constant tradition of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, the Church did not err in teaching that the civil power may lawfully exercise capital punishment on malefactors where this is truly necessary to preserve the existence or just order of societies (see Gen 9:6; John 19:11; Rom 13:1-7; Innocent III, Professio fidei Waldensibus praescripta; Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. III, 5, n. 4; Pius XII, Address to Catholic jurists on December 5, 1954).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Augustine on capital punishment


In his book On Augustine: The Two Cities, Alan Ryan says that Augustine’s “understanding of the purpose of punishment made the death penalty simply wrong” (p. 82).  That is a bit of an overstatement.  In The City of God, Augustine writes:

However, there are some exceptions made by the divine authority to its own law, that men may not be put to death.  These exceptions are of two kinds, being justified either by a general law, or by a special commission granted for a time to some individual.  And in this latter case, he to whom authority is delegated, and who is but the sword in the hand of him who uses it, is not himself responsible for the death he deals.  And, accordingly, they who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, “You shall not kill.” (Book I, Chapter 21)

Friday, June 7, 2019

A clarification on integralism


Talk of integralism is all the rage in recent weeks, given the dispute between David French and Sohrab Ahmari and Matthew Continetti’s analysis of the state of contemporary conservatism, on which I commented in a recent post.  What is integralism?  Rod Dreher quotes the following definition from the blog The Josias:

Catholic Integralism is a tradition of thought that rejects the liberal separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal. Since, however, man has both a temporal and an eternal end, integralism holds that there are two powers that rule him: a temporal power and a spiritual power. And since man’s temporal end is subordinated to his eternal end the temporal power must be subordinated to the spiritual power.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Continetti on post-liberal conservatism


At the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti proposes a taxonomy of contemporary American conservatism.  Among the groups he identifies are the “post-liberals.”  What he means by liberalism is not twentieth- and twenty-first century Democratic Party liberalism, but rather the broader liberal political and philosophical tradition that extends back to Locke, informed the American founding, and was incorporated into the “fusionist” program of Buckley/Reagan-style conservatism.  The “post-liberals” are conservatives who think that this broader liberal tradition has become irredeemably corrupt and maybe always has been, and thus judge that the fusionist project of marrying a traditionalist view of morality, family, and religion to the liberal political tradition is incoherent and ought to be abandoned.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Rist slapped (Updated)


UPDATE 5/31: Commentary from Fr. Joseph Fessio, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, and Phil Lawler.

LifeSite reports that Prof. John Rist, one of the signatories of the recent open letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy, has abruptly been banned from all pontifical universities – which he learned one day by finding himself suddenly denied permission to park his car at the Augustinianum, where he had been doing research.  Read the whole thing for the sorry details of the episode.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Popes, heresy, and papal heresy


In an interview at National Catholic Register, philosopher John Rist defends his decision to sign the open letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy (on which I commented in an earlier post).  At Catholic Herald, canon lawyer Ed Peters argues that the letter fails to establish its main charge.  Properly to understand this controversy, it is important to see that a reasonable person could judge that both men have a point – as long as we disambiguate the word “heresy.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism


My essay “Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism” appears in the Spring 2019 issue of the Claremont Review of Books.  (It’s behind a paywall at the moment.)  From the article:

Nor will one find in [Hayek’s] work the chirpy optimism with which many libertarians and Reaganite conservatives ritualistically defend the market economy.  Hayek’s case for free enterprise doesn’t fit any of the usual simplistic stereotypes.  He not only explicitly and persistently rejected laissez-faire, but could write as eloquently about the moral downside of capitalism and the emotional attractions of socialism as any left-winger.  In an era in which – young socialist chic notwithstanding – global capitalism appears to have swept all before it, it is the triumphalist defenders of the free market rather than its critics who have the most to learn from Hayek’s cautious, nuanced apologia…

Saturday, May 11, 2019

More on presentism and truthmakers


The esteemed Bill Vallicella continues to press the truthmaker objection against presentism.  I remain unimpressed by it.  Can we break this impasse?  Let me try by, first, proposing a diagnosis of the dialectical situation.  Then I will respond to the points Bill makes in his latest post.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Some comments on the open letter


What should we think of the recent open letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy, signed by Fr. Aidan Nichols, Prof. John Rist, and other priests and academics (and for which Prof. Josef Seifert has now expressed his support)?  Like others who have commented on it, I think the letter overstates things in its main charge and makes some bad arguments, but that it also makes many correct and important points that cannot reasonably be dismissed merely because the letter is seriously deficient in other respects. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Open the thread!


It’s your opportunity lawfully to indulge your impulse to make those off-topic comments I’m constantly having to delete.  Do so in good conscience, because nothing is really off-topic in this, the latest open thread.  From Donald Fagen to Ronald Reagan, from the Black Dahlia to papal regalia to inverted qualia – discuss whatever you like.  As always, just keep it classy and civil and free of trolling and troll-feeding. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Aristotelians ought to be presentists


Presentism holds that within the temporal domain, only the present exists and the past and future do not.  Alex Pruss thinks that Aristotelians shouldn’t be presentists.  That would be news to Aristotle, Aquinas, and other presentist Aristotelians.  I agree with them rather than with Alex, and I think that presentism is in fact the natural view to take if one starts with an Aristotelian view of the nature of physical reality, and of the nature of time in particular.  I spell all this out at length in Aristotle’s Revenge.  Here I will just try briefly to convey the general idea.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Vallicella on existence-entailing relations and presentism


Bill Vallicella continues his critical response to my defense of presentism in Aristotle’s Revenge.  In the first part of his critique (to which I responded in an earlier post), Bill raised the influential “truthmaker objection” against presentism.  In his latest post, he rehearses another popular objection, which appeals to the nature of relations.  I don’t think this objection is any more formidable than the truthmaker objection, but here too Bill disagrees.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Vallicella on the truthmaker objection against presentism


Among the many ideas defended in Aristotle’s Revenge is the A-theory of time, and presentism in particular.  Relativity, time travel, the experience of time, and other issues in the philosophy of time are treated along the way, and what I say about those topics is crucial to my defense of presentism.  (See pp. 233-303.)  My buddy Bill Vallicella objects to my response in the book to the “truthmaker objection” against presentism.  Let’s consider Bill’s misgivings.

Presentism is the thesis that only the present exists, and that past and future events and objects do not.  To be more precise, it is the thesis that in the temporal realm, only present objects and events exist.  (For one could also hold – as I do, though other presentists might not – that in addition to what exists in time, there is what exists in an eternal or timeless way and what exists in an aeviternal way.) 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Can you doubt that 2 + 3 = 5?


In his first Meditation, Descartes famously tries to push doubt as far as he can, in the hope of finding something that cannot be doubted and will thus provide a suitable foundation for the reconstruction of human knowledge.  Given the possibility that he is dreaming or that an evil spirit might be causing him to hallucinate, he judges that whatever the senses tell him might in principle be false.  In particular, the entire material world, including even his own body and brain, might be illusory.  Hence claims about the material world, and empirical claims in general, cannot in Descartes’ view be among the foundations of knowledge.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Artificial intelligence and magical thinking


Arthur C. Clarke famously said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  Is this true?  That depends on what you mean by “indistinguishable from.”  The phrase could be given either an epistemological reading or a metaphysical one.  On the former reading, what the thesis is saying is that if a technology is sufficiently advanced, you would not be able to know from examining it that it is not magic, even though in fact it is not.  This is no doubt what Clarke himself meant, and it is plausible enough, if only because the word “sufficiently” makes it hard to falsify.  If there was some technology that almost seemed like magic but could be shown not to be on close inspection, we could always say “Ah, but that’s only because it wasn’t sufficiently advanced.”  So the thesis really just amounts to the claim that people can be fooled into thinking that something is magic if we’re clever enough.  Well, OK.  I don’t know how interesting that is, but it seems true enough.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

New volume on philosophers and Catholicism


Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism, an anthology edited by Brian Besong and Jonathan Fuqua, will be out next month.  You can pre-order at Amazon.  My essay “The God of a Philosopher” appears in the volume, and recounts how I came to reject atheism for Catholicism, specifically (rather than some other religion or a purely philosophical theism).  Other contributors to the volume include Peter Kreeft, J. Budziszewski, Candace Vogler, Robert Koons, Francis Beckwith, and several other philosophers.