Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Surfing the web

At First Things, R. R. Reno concludes that Francis’s papacy is failing.  Cardinal Gerhard Müller issues a “manifesto of faith” to address the current theological crisis.  Meanwhile, Robert Fastiggi buries his head deeper into the sand.  (And wastes his time.  I already refuted Fastiggi’s position months ago.)

Jeremy Butterfield reviews Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math and Hossenfelder responds.  A review by Donald Devine at The Imaginative Conservative

Magician and actor Ricky Jay has died.  Reminiscences at The Federalist, Vulture, and NPR.  A personal remembrance by Jay’s friend David Mamet.

In the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Ryan Proctor argues that Catholic judges are not obligated to recuse themselves in capital cases.

Stanley Corngold discusses his new book Walter Kaufmann: Philosopher, Humanist, Heretic at the Princeton University Press blog.

Campus follies: Catholic Herald on the attempt to get John Finnis sackedThe Weekly Standard on the grievance studies hoaxThe Guardian and the British Educational Research Association on the transgender activist threat to academic freedom.

At Quillette, Spencer Case on how certain academics have inflated the meaning of terms like “violence.”

Theologian Matthew Levering is interviewed on Cars, Coffee, Theology.

Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding, a history of science fiction’s golden age, is reviewed by Gary K. Wolfe at the Chicago Tribune and by Scott Bradfield at the Los Angeles TimesBig Think recommends ten golden age science fiction novels.

Jacob Hamburger, at The Point, asks: What was the New Atheism?  The Guardian notes its passing.  But Jerry Coyne and some other New Atheists beg to differ.

At Medium, Ellie Murray offers a review in cartoon form of Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum’s book Causation.  

They don’t make Democrats like they used to.  City Journal on Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan and on Pat Caddell.

Geoff Dench on the decline of men, also at Quillette.

The Atlantic on the increase in cases of alleged demonic possession

At Politics/Letters, Peter Ludlow notes that fascism doesn’t actually work the way Jason Stanley says it does.

Toto’s classic song “Africa” will play forever via an art exhibition in the Namibian desert, reports CNN.

Einstein, Hume, and relativity, at the Telegraph.

James Matthew Wilson on James Chappel’s book Catholic Modern, at The Catholic Thing.

At the Institute of Art and Ideas, physicist George Ellis and philosophers Nancy Cartwright and Hilary Lawson discuss the relationship between mathematics and physical realityWired on mathematics and causality.

Anthony McCarthy on protecting sex from liberalism, at Public Discourse.

Was it Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, or both?  John Morrow’s new book on the debate over who created the Marvel Universe.

At The Wanderer, philosopher Jude Dougherty looks back at F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Alan Wolfe looks back at Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History, at The New Republic.

Dennis Bonnette on free will and the principle of sufficient reason, at Strange Notions.

Walter Ott and Lydia Patton’s edited volume Laws of Nature is reviewed by Heather Demarest at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

At Law and Liberty, Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl remember the Aristotelian radical Henry Veatch.

At 3:AM Magazine, Alex Rosenberg suggests that neuroscience might be a bigger threat than artificial intelligence.

Amazon’s Man in the High Castle will get a fourth – and final – season.  Netflix has cancelled the last of its Marvel shows, Jessica Jones and The Punisher – though any or all of them could return in some form on Disney’s forthcoming streaming service, which will feature other new Marvel shows.

Thomas Pink on John Finnis, religious liberty, and the Council of Trent.

Anthony Kenny’s Brief Encounters: Notes From A Philosopher’s Diary is reviewed at The Church of England Newspaper.

At Scientific American, philosopher of physics Tim Maudlin on progress in philosophy.


  1. I read Cardinal Gerhard Müller's "Manifesto of Faith" when it was first published, like I am sure many of you did. I have to say, what a wonderfully written and succinct summary of orthodox Catholic Faith.

  2. What a lot of interesting thoughts being expressed out there (thank you for bringing them to my attention :-)

  3. Not entirely sure exactly how Rosenberg's piece comes to it's conclusions. Maybe he was just getting his name out again to promote his newest book?

    1. Maybe... but that's the logic of extreme reductionist like Rosenberg, Harris or Dennett, that deny the existence of any form of consciousness.

    2. If you are going to make a statement like that, one that goes against Dennett's own statements to the contrary you'd better at least back it up with some argument. Dennett has a book called Consciousness Explained! You might not like his explanation but he most certainly does not deny consciousness.

  4. The Reno article is interesting. Am I the only one who thinks the Jesuits need to be suppressed? Again. This time, permanently.

    1. Now large part of the order has been corrupted by the spirit of modernism, broadly understood as the urge to submit Catholic truths to modern interpretations (be it Karl Rahner's idealism or others' liberation theology).
      Their charisma and mission resides in the Spiritual Exercises, but also these have been used as a tool in order to shape minds and souls in every trendy directions.
      They have to be reformed, for sure, but the question is: who would be the reformer? The current Pope is smashing all the foundations and the church is being "built" on sand. Practically, you have almost as many different Catholicisms as priests: Quot capita, tot sententiae.

    2. Yes, absolutely, suppress the Jesuit Order and then declare Clement XIV a Saint.

  5. Jason Hamburger's piece was interesting, although it could have done without lazy, left-liberal use of the term alt-right. For quite a few on the left, the term alt-right seems to be a means to hint, or sometimes just state, those one disagrees is associated with the far-right. Anyone who thinks Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, or Dave Rubin have anything meaningful in common with the far-right is nuts.

    Also, Hamburger downplayed the degree to which the contemporary left has just gonw crazy. Who would have thought even five years ago that Harris would seem eminently sensible in comparison?

    Finally, I'm not an expert, but the hints that Charles Murray is some kind od beyond the pale raicalist seem misplaced.

    1. Finally, I'm not an expert, but the hints that Charles Murray is some kind od beyond the pale raicalist seem misplaced.

      I don't understand what's the difference between racialist and racist except that the former is softer and more polite ( m'racialist). The dictionary says that a racist is "one who believes that a particular race is superior to another" and believing in racialist differences in intelligence is an admission of superiority. It's like how Terry Pratchett pointed out that magical realism was a polite way of saying fantasy.

    2. I think the late blogger Zippy had a good definition of racism: injustice motivated on the basis of race.

      Contra the left, a great many things that get called racist today are not in fact racist. Contra some on the right, racism is a real existing thing.

      Racialist on the other hand I take to describe someone who thinks that race is important. But that wouldn't by itself entail that such a person was also a racist, although it of course wouldn't preclude it either.

    3. Racialism is just an old-fashioned alternative for racism. My preference for it is influenced by Peter Hitchens. I tend to agree with him it is preferable because it is harder to fling at people in a knee-jerk fashion. But I mean the same thing as racist.

      I'm not an expert, and it's not an area I'm much interested in, but as far as I know, Charles Murray is a bona fide academic, whether you agree with him or not. The Guardian article is (predictably) worse on this.

    4. The problems with Charles Murray are all summarized here:

    5. That doesn't look like the most promising source, although it could be worse. I will read it, thanks.

    6. The Left are also wrong to insist that racism requires an alleged "power imbalance." The idea that a man could be tortured, simply for being white, and that this wouldn't count as a racist act because he is white, is ridiculous. Racialism, I would say refers to the idea that race isn't just "skin deep" and that there are real significant differences between races, such as IQ, etc. Not inherently racist, but racists will look to racialism for support for their racism. Those who are sensitive to the threat of racism, will be wary of racialism, because of the risk of giving fuel to actual racists.

    7. Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson promote debunked Race/IQ pseudo-science and either hang out with the alt-right, defend them or support their views. They deserve the label completely at worst and at best are gateways into the alt-right. Charles Murray not only promotes said race/IQ pseudo-science but makes absurd claims like we should envision the view of "equality" as thought by the Founding Fathers of the USA (which held black people as sub-human and inferior along with Indigenous people) and says things like "black cultural achievements are almost negligible". It only gets worse from there. His work is shoddy, intellectually dishonest and poorly researched and is incredibly racist that I'm not even sure the word is strong enough to describe it.

    8. If the definition of racist is one who thinks that one race of people is superior to another, then a lot hangs on the word "superior." If I thought (I don't) that Japanese people were genetically predisposed to be better, on average, at playing video games, but I didn't think this trait was valuable, would I be a racist?

      Obviously, on the one hand I'm saying that the Japanese are superior (they're *better* at playing video games) but on the other hand I'm not (it's *not* a valuable trait to better at playing video games).

      I ask this because the point of The Bell Curve was *not* that whites are, on average, likelier to be more intelligent than blacks for genetic reasons. The point of the Bell Curve was that we should not endorse meritocracy, because there is a cognitive stratification coming, and it will be very bad if we say that people who are smarter are more valuable to society than people who are not smart. The reason this will be very bad is that if we say this, we will have a cognitive aristocracy, one that is based on luck (it's a matter of luck whether you're intelligent), and one that will be cruel to the less intelligent.

      In other words, Murray was trying to say that we should not lionize intelligence as a valuable trait -- at least, we should not say that if X is smarter than Y, then X is better than Y. But he feared we were saying that.

      Maybe I'm wrong about Murray. Maybe he didn't say any of that. But pretend he did. If he had, would he be racist?

  6. @Unknown the dictionary definition of racism is "one who believes that a particular race is superior to another." It's not enough for a black group to torture and kill a white person because he's white. They also have to do it because they believe black people are superior.

    1. In common usage, racism encompasses any kind of racial prejudice.

    2. Tom, the dictionary is wrong. And Anonymous is right: in common usage, "racism" is an attitude (which may ALSO encompass a belief but need not) in which a person justifies his actions toward another based solely on his race. Torturing a white solely because of his skin color is fully within that notion. The dictionary's addition that it run with a claim of superiority is a frequent add-on but not at all necessary. Even if a black were fully convinced that blacks were inferior to whites, his choosing to torture a white solely on account of his race would be an act of racism.

    3. Tom, the dictionary is wrong.


    4. Tomislav, for whatever reason, has only included one of a number of different definitions dictionaries give. Merriam-Webster includes this definition:

      "racial prejudice or discrimination."

      Most online dictionaries include something like this as one definition of racism. This is the most general common usage.

    5. @Tony because of Anonymous l, I guess I was wrong.

  7. Dr. Feser,

    I know that you have spoken on the problem of evil before and how it is an emotional argument against God, one that fundamentally cannot affect the quality of metaphysical proofs for God. I completely agree with this analysis. However, I'd like to know if you've ever thought of making a similar post about the evolutionary expansion to the problem of evil, as argued for by people like Beth Anne Seacord, a PhD. from the University of Colorado-Boulder. (Here is her thesis on this matter, in case anyone wants to skim it.

    I have looked into this thesis (which is extremely lengthy!) and didn't find it particularly convincing. The essay literally ends with this statement: "Unless the theist has recourse to some very strong argument for the existence of an
    all-good God, I argue that based on the evidence we have of millennia of animal suffering one
    should not believe in the God of classical theism," which almost precisely states that you've said before about the problem of evil not being able to affect metaphysical arguments. For instance, if any of Aquinas' Five Ways is logically valid and accurate to real life, then God is real- no matter the seeming strength of the problem of evil! Nevertheless, I've seen this argument enough that I think it might be worth approaching solely due to its popularity. I'd also like to hear if anyone else has comments on this problem.

    1. As a preliminary comment, I would say that God is not obligated to prevent animal or human suffering. Nor is it clear that humans have obligations to treat animal lives as inalienable, as we do for fellow humans. Therefore a fortiori, God isn't obligated to prevent causing animal suffering provided some good comes out of it, and evolution and the nutrition of other animals are such goods.

    2. You could even take the approach that B. Kyle Keltz does in his various essays on the subject, of noting that the vast majority of the pain animals go through is not evil, as physical and mental pain are not evil in their own right- they are actual created things by God, not the privation of a good. Hence, most of the suffering of animals is not actually even evil in the actual sense, further emphasizing that God is not obligated to stop animal suffering.

    3. @GermyClean

      I'm not sure I can agree with that view. In any case, it seems to me that much of her argument (as far as I've read it) depends on animals having moral status like humans because they are conscious. But her case for animals having conceptual thought is weak, and critiques of such claims have been made by Marie George and Dennis Bonnette.

      One thing that strikes me is that this attitude towards animals as if they were persons is largely a feature of modern Western culture. As a non-Westerner, I am unable to relate to such intuitions.

    4. @Sri Nahar,

      We do know that there were studies done on dolphins to see if they could comprehend language.

      Louis Herman was the main marine biologist who decided to test language comprehension in dolphins by inventing an artifical langauge and seeing if dolphins could understand it.

      Apparently, they can put things into categories, and aren't limited to finite state slot syntax:

      On the other hand, the same results were replicated in sea lions as well...

    5. @JoeD,

      On perusal of Herman's paper on dolphin learning, I think that as is usual with such biologists, they engage in anthropomorphizing. As Bonnette argues, language in animals is an artefact, not something that occurs naturally in them, unlike with humans. Take for example Herman's claim that the dolphins he studied understood reference just because they could "answer" yes/no questions. Instead of explaining their behaviour in terms of understanding the _concepts_ of existence and non-existence, one can just as easily explain the same in terms of learned behaviour in the presence or absence of this or that concrete object. And in general, the fact that animals can react in expected ways to certain symbols doesn't mean that they see the symbol as a symbol.

    6. @Sri,

      While it is true that humans have mastered language as a natural attribute, it is also true that there are feral humans who don't use language because they haven't been taught it.

      So language is only natural as a potential capacity to be mastered. Peoplr who would ascribe language to animals would say that language isn't an artifact but, like in feral humana, an undeveloped potential these animals have.

      I do think your explanation of yes/no answering in terms of learned behavior is a likely explanation.

      But their training didnt merely consist of learning a small set of answers. Herman claims that they tested them for language comprehension, and used never before heard sentences to see if they could generalise and thus grasp abstract concepts. And since you've already read Herman's paper, what are your thoughts on the linguistic aspect of the study?

      Plenty (likely a majority) of marine biologists agree that dolphins were able to grasp abstract concepts because of Herman's tests. We may not have found any evidence of dolphins using concepts in their natural habitat, but many believe these tests showed they could when taught.

    7. @JoeD

      The issue with "feral" humans is that their condition is unnatural. Humans are social animals by nature, and feral human beings have spent their formative years outside society. Plenty of studies have demonstrated that neglect leads to stunted neurological development in a child. The pitiable condition of a child who lived in the wild with no human contact whatsoever needn't be elaborated upon. Dolphins, chimpanzees et al, on the other hand, are not like feral children; they are in their natural setting. Therefore if dolphins had a natural capacity for abstract thought, we would have seen it already.

      As for Herman, I would say that he confuses between the fact that dolphins engage in behaviour which we do using conceptual thought, to the conclusion that they do the same. For example, he writes in his paper What Laboratory Research has Told Us about Dolphin Cognition of experiments wherein a dolphin which was taught the meaning of "ball" and "touch" separately was seen to touch the ball when "ball" and "touch" were said together. This is mentioned under the heading of 'concept learning', but one wonders what this has got to do with conceptual knowledge -- both words involve concrete objects and concrete actions, and saying "ball" and "touch" together will certainly lead to the animalsa attention to be directed to that object, and when it is asked to touch, it will touch it. Herman seemed to think this involved knowledge of concepts, but this only requires a well-developed memory and imagination, viz., the ability to integrate sense-data together to yield an instruction the animal can 'comprehend'. The same goes for other experiments -- the fact that they were able to try to follow modified forms of syntactically irregular sentences doesn't mean they actually thought in terms of syntax or grammar.

      In general, Herman leaps from the fact that the dolphins could perform behaviour which we would perform using concepts, to the conclusion that grasping those concepts is _necessary_ in order to perform the same. But that is unwarranted.

    8. @Sri,

      1) I agree with you on the feral children, as well as the naturality of language in humans in the social context.

      But I do think there is one more way someone could try to undermine the naturality of language in humans in order to defend potential language in animals.

      Namely, if it were possible for there to be parents who don't use language to successfully raise a child without language. In that case at least, the social character would remain intact, and only the language would be missing.

      Unless a lack of language for humans is something damaging to us in any context, then that option is something a defender of animal language could use to try to open the possibility of animals who are potential language users even though they don't use it on their own.

      2) I also agree with your analysis of Herman's arguments and alleged evidence of dolphin rationality. It obviously looks like all of the behaviour exhibited is a simple command prompt that simply doesn't require or prove conceptual thought.

      Another thing that may be in favor of your analysis is the fact that Herman's methods were used on sea lions, and were just as successful with good results. Most likely meaning that rationality simply isn't necessary to accomplish what Herman thinks requires abstract thought. Either that, or sea lions are also potential language users and rational animals.

      Which just doesn't seem likely, at least prima facie.

      The only other animal I could think of that was smart enough to convince people it had abstract thought would be the famous case of Alex the Parrot. Here is the wiki page highlighting his achievements:

      Here is an useful youtube video as well:

      Among the accomplishments Alex is best known for include:

      - Using different pronouns for himself and others, suggesting a concept of "I" and "you".

      - Not only learning the names of various colors and shapes, but to tell that the difference between things was their color and shape, thereby allegedly showing awareness of the concepts of color and shape

      - Being the first and so far only animal to ask a question, namely about his own color. He even answered his trainer Pepperberg's questions with his own questions

      - Getting frustrated when asked the same question multiple times, showing parrots like children get bored

      - Showing awareness of the concept of zero or none when being asked the difference between identical objects

    9. @JoeD,

      Regarding the hypothetical scenario you described, one wonders if this is even feasible -- can a child's parents truly refrain from all linguistic communication in the presence of the former? But even if that were the case, surely the child's ability to process language would suffer, for their Broca's area, the brain region where language processing takes place, would not develop as it ought to. And given that the human brain does have such a region, I don't see how one can resist the conclusion that language is natural in humans.

      Also, thank you for pointing me to the studies on sea lions, could you please give me a citation?

      As for the case of Alex the parrot, I would say that we shouldn't be surprised that animals have the ability to abstract natural qualities like colour and shape away from the objects they're instantiated in. The same goes for quantity -- given that differences in quantity can be perceived with the senses, it should not be surprising that animals can be trained to perform basic counting. Likewise for differences in colour and shape and so on -- a set of similarly coloured or shaped objects will have a "pattern" that will not be present with sets of differently coloured objects, and an animal can be trained to respond with the word "none" on being shown sets of the former type.

    10. @Sri,

      1)When I formulated this example, I also stated that the parents didn't have language either. It's not that they have language but will refrain from using it, it's that they don't have language at all as well.

      This is similar to how later-stage hominids may have had the capacity for language, but simply didn't learn how to use it, and thus were functionally without a language.

      2) Well, I can't give you an exact study, but here is the wikipedia page that mentions sea lion research in some detail:

      Here are the relevant links that wikipedia lists:

      There is also another paper by Robert Gisiner and Ronald Schusterman called "Sequence, syntax, and semantics: Responses of a language-trained sea lion (Zalophus californianus) to novel sign combinations" which supposedly shows the sea lions understand logical relations, which they call equivalence relationships, and equivalence relationships are already used by the sea lions in the wild such that they "use the reasoning skills associated with equivalence classification in order to make important decisions that can affect their rate of survival (e.g. recognizing friends and family or avoiding enemies and predators)."

      Unfortunately, the links wikipedia uses seem defunct, at least to me.

      3)What do you mean by "abstract natural qualities"? Surely it's not an admission of rational thought, so I think you mean to say they generalise qualities using their sense organs.

    11. @Sri,

      Actually, looks like I found the original paper!


      It's very interesting as it contains what the authors think is evidence of a precursor of language in sea lions, and even understanding of logicla relationships.

    12. @Sri,

      Here is yet another paper that wikipedia mentions:

      The authors claim that this means sea lions can understand logical relationships, symmetry and transitivity, which is supposed to be proof of abstract reasoning in these animals.

      What do you think?

    13. @JoeD,

      Are you a Christian? I'm enjoying the dialogue, but knowing this would give good context on the conversation. I'm also looking forward to seeing Sri's responses to these points.

    14. @Germy,

      I am a Christian, yes.

    15. I'm aware that Gerald is too. My question, then, is: how would you respond to the problem of animal suffering? I think we clearly all believe that God is real and Christ raised from the dead, so there must be a solution to the problem. Is it not a solution we can know until after death? Or, will animals be with us in Heaven, as David Bentley Hart says?

    16. @Germy,

      It depends if animal suffering is on the same level as human suffering. If it isn't, then animal suffering isn't a serious problem to begin with.

      If it is, then we can expect some recompense somewhere down the line. Just as God will bring a greater good out of every instance of human suffering, so too will He do the same with animal suffering.

      Here's an analysis which might help as well:

    17. It depends if animal suffering is on the same level as human suffering. If it isn't, then animal suffering isn't a serious problem to begin with.

      Isn't it quite obvious that its not on the same level?
      At least judging from certain moral intuitions. If we were in a situation in which we could either save a little girl or ten dogs from horrible suffering, it seems quite obvious that we are obligated to save the girl.

    18. I think some atheists would respond that we're just naturally inclined to save our own species over others, not that we're objectively superior to them.

      I think that, as much as possible, we should try to preserve the idea that we have rational souls that animals do not. What the exact distinction is, I do not know, though I can say it would make sense for crows to be able to solve puzzles since it could (and almost certainly does) use those tactics to find food and break out of tough situations. This would contrast to our natural ability to reason just for the sake of reasoning and finding truth, which is fundamentally different from what animals do!

    19. I guess you have some sort of evolutionary debunking argument against certain moral principles or something like that in mind.
      Well many Atheists generally try to resist those.

    20. So if suffering is Good on earth, is it not possible that there will be suffering, disease, natural or supernatural disasters in heaven?

      No, because suffering isn't good in itself and isn't intended by God. Only permitted.

    21. @GermyClean,

      «I'm also looking forward to seeing Sri's responses to these points.»

      As flat as I am by your kind words, let me preface my responses with the caveat that I am but a layman, I am neither a philosopher nor a zoologist.


      I should have been more careful in parsing your example, I hadn't noticed that you had used the qualifier "without language" for both the parents and the child. But my objection to its feasibility remains, nonetheless -- for how can two human beings relate to each other without (spoken, written or signed) language? Especially if they engage in the very difficult task of raising a child. And as I had said before, given that the human brain has a region where spoken, written and sign language is processed, this would strongly indicate that we are natural language-users.

      Coming to the sea lions, the papers seem to conflate two things -- the fact of their behaviour in ways which we would describe in terms of symmetry and transitivity, and the understanding of those behaviours in terms of the same relations. In other words, the researchers are blatantly anthropomorphizing, but they may be excused, we have a long tradition of doing that. Schopenhauer, for example, argued in his The Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason that causality, rather than being grasped by the intellect from sensory data or derived from the laws of logic, is the condition of sensation. A dog which turns to look behind it on being touched from behind, he argued, did so because it has the idea that the sensation it experienced must have had a cause. But surely this is confused; whilst the dog does seek out the cause of its sensation, that doesn't mean it seeks it _qua cause_.

      The same applies to the sea lions' behaviour -- it learned to associate objects in such a way that its behaviour instantiated the transitivity relation, i.e., it learned to associate A with B and B with C, and then learned to associate A, B and C together. But this itself doesn't require grasping entailment or equality or any other such notions, merely a habit of the memory and imagination which is an artefact. And this is another thing that sets us apart from sea lions and chimpanzees and cetaceans: the ability to impose meaning upon animal behaviour and create new animal behaviours.

    22. No, if you are an evolutionist the only logical conclusion is that God permitted, intended, and design suffering from the very beginning. Suffering is therefore independent of sin and evil.

      Well I do have some doubts over evolution but I don't see how all that follows necessarily.
      Some suffering might be independent of sin but that won't itself mean that God intends it for its own sake.
      This also ties into the discussion above whether all suffering has same moral property.

    23. @GermyClean,

      I also thank you for pointing me to Kyle Keltz's papers, especially his God's Purpose in the Universe and the Problem of Animal Suffering. Whilst I agree with his general argument, it seems strange to say that not every privation is evil (inasmuch as the natural death is a privation). Surely it is evil _for the animal_, but not absolutely, inasmuch as an animal's life is not inalienable for itself as human life is.

      As for the so-called problem as such, Keltz is spot on: God has no moral obligations to any creatures, inasmuch as His goodness is "metaphysical" (I believe he means to say that it is axiological) as opposed to moral.

    24. (Erratum from the first comment):

      "As flattered* as I am..." as opposed to flat*.

    25. Dr. Feser, you might want to clean up some logorrhoea here.

      Let's refrain from playing with the Pet Troll.

    26. @Sri,

      1) Point about human language taken.

      2) As for the sea lions, the paper mentions that the lions were skillful enough to place stimuli that were dissimilar, yet interrelated, into the same class. And that this is what they call an equivalence relation, which also shows the sea lions are skilled in syntax and symbol manipulation.

      They then claim that this is a pre-cursor to language, and a condition for it, and is also evidence for abstract thinking, and to further support their claim they show how such an ability is useful in the daily lives of sea lions.

      While I do understand that this is easily replicable with mere imagination and memory, I still have to ask:

      If such behaviour need not indicate abstract thought, then what exactly would indicate abstract thought, in a way that rules out mere use of sensation?

      If some animal really had abstract thought, how would we test it for sure, if we could test it?

    27. Language. The animal would possess language in its natural settings, if it is a rational creature, and would be able to converse with us like one of us after learning our language.

    28. @Sri Nahar,

      That seems like the most reasonable way to determine the intellect of a species to me. If they could naturally speak, then they'd also be able to tell us about their experiences (i.e., suffering from predation), which would help us prevent from anthropomorphizing their feelings!

    29. @Sri,

      There are still a few unanswered things though, as relates to Alex the Parrot.

      For example, you haven't tackled his ability to use different pronouns when refering to himself and others, thereby seemingly showing a concept of "I" and "you".

      As well as his being the first animal to ever ask a question, namely, what color he was when he looked at himself in a mirror (though IIRC that happened in the context of it being the same day his owner started teaching him about color by asking "What color", and the owner repeated the answer "gray" to him 6 or 7 times before he responded back by saying "gray" himself).

    30. @GermyClean,


      Surely all higher animals have some sense of self -- without it, how can they defend themselves from predators or parasites?

      As for Alex, parrots in general are excellent mimics even in their natural environment. This particular parrot was taught through the model/rival method, which is quite well-suited for animals like Alex. For instance, he learned to say "I'm going away" in order to express the desire to leave the test area after he saw his testers saying the same thing before they left. It is no stretch to surmise that he could have picked up on how to use "I" and "you" through mimicry. So the question is whether mimicry requires or involves the _conceptual_ (as opposed to a sensual) grasp of the self/other distinction. I don't see why the former is the case -- all that an animal needs to do is mentally separate its memory of an event from its memory of the agent who performed that event, and replicate that event. But this can be done by imagination.

  8. Is it just me or do any others also miss Gerald Haug? The OP begins on a depressing note (for Catholics, at least) and is about the Holy Father. Surely some comic relief is warranted.

    1. Please do not call such a plague down upon our heads.

    2. He's a plague only if one takes him seriously, but that is entirely unwarranted. If it were me, I'd keep him as the Pet Troll of this blog. Too bad Dr. Feser doesn't want that. Oh well.

    3. Keeping him as a pet would be fine if he didn't tend to leave so many large droppings in the combox. And I'm the one who'd have to clean them up. No thanks.

    4. What have you done, Sri Nahar?!?! Speaking of the Devil...

    5. Looks like Dr. Feser would have to get the pet troll housebroken.

  9. > Meanwhile, Robert Fastiggi buries his head deeper into the sand. (And wastes his time. I already refuted Fastiggi’s position months ago.)

    Why does it have to be either/or? If anything Cardinal Muller is the middle ground between Francis and the Dubia Cardinals.

  10. @Sri Nahar,
    I have spent several weeks just lurking on the sidelines to see if there was any interesting or intelligent banter. All I can say it was boring and pedestrian.

    I do not need to unleash a plague on your heads because Pope Francis is already doing this with aplomb. I did enjoy the blathering of R.R Reno (A Failing Papacy), who in typical academic style said a lot and said NOTHING at the same time. Reno seems to be a hero in Catholic circles, but I must question any "Christian" who marries a "Jewish" woman. One of the most basic tenets of Christianity is not being unequally yoked. If a person is so foolish to do this, I would not put much stock in what he says. However Reno does have one nugget when he says that Pope Francis "governs with gestures, slogans, and sentiments."

    That totally describes the Catholics that I meet. The pious male Catholic loves to suckle at the teat of Father Baron who consoles with gestures and slogans but provides very little theological nourishment. The women and mama-boys love the sentimentalism of Catholicism by fantasizing that they are in communion with the Early Church. Yes, continuity with the apostate church of the early second century, but blindly forgetting that the Earliest Church is the church of first century. Only Evangelical Protestants have continuity to the first century church and they can PROVE it both by theology and history. Yet the sentimental Catholic, who knows neither dogma nor doctrine would rather appeal to the 'law of large numbers' than do the heavy lifting of REAL history.

    This is why I don't have to unleash a plague on Catholics. In Revelation 22:18 says: "If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll." The plague against Catholics for adding novel doctrine, since 125 AD, to the Scriptures awaits on the Day of Judgment.

  11. Oh for goodness' sake, Gerald, just shut up and go away. Or go away, anyway -- you're welcome to spew this blather at some other site, for all I care. Just not here.

    1. Thank You, Thank You, Dr. Feser!! This yahoo troll is just polluting your combox with anti-Catholic vitriol, deceits and mis-truths. He completely hijacked your 12/23/2018 article on "Christmas Every Day".

      It would be one thing if he was cordial and respectful, and was actually engaged in reasonable discourse, which includes listening to rebuttal. Unfortunately, the troll simply makes hackneyed, time-worn anti-Catholic assertions which many of us (at least initially) responded with historical facts and citations from Scripture and the Early Church Fathers. However, it quickly became apparent he had an agenda, and was not participating in good faith.

    2. Do you think Gerald runs a 1990’s style website somewhere with a black background and bold neon green flashing headers that say things like “THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IS THE WHORE OF BABYLON!!!!” with advertisements popping up all over for a bunch of Jack Chick tracts? Then if you click enough hyperlinks you’ll eventually wind up in a 9/11 conspiracy theorist website that somehow pins terrorist activity on the Papacy?

      I’m just getting this vibe...

    3. @Scott Lynch,

      I wonder if this person is putting on an act. There is this caricature I have in my head of the Western Evangelical Fundamentalist™, one which might be unjustified for all I know, given that I haven't personally interacted with many Westerners, Evangelicals or fundamentalists. But Gerald Haug fits this caricature so well that I'm asking myself whether he/she is parodying that group. Surely no one can actually have so much ignorance coupled with attention-seeking behaviour, right?

    4. @Sri,

      I don't know if it is was an act or not, honestly. The carnival side-show world of American fundamentalist protestantism is filled with characters like this, and most American Catholics have at least one experience of being harangued by people like him. These people are dogged, extremely self-confident, and utterly ignorant of church history and philosophy. They have absolutely no sense whatsoever that their strange brand of Christianity is in fact a historical aberration, and one that would have been utterly unrecognizable to the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout history.

    5. Sri,

      No I think Gerald is serious. I also once thought that these ridiculous caricatures surely could not be the sincere beliefs of people. But I have since learned that stereotypes exist for a reason.

      I remember in the early 2000-teens when the transgender movement was starting to gain significant ground in the United States, my friends showed me some blogs written by some LGBT activists. I thought that they had to be trolls. But lo and behold, here we are in 2019 where the main-stream agenda makes those early bloggers look tame.

      I’m still betting on the 1990’s style website for Gerald, though. If he does not run one, it is at least in his favorites tab somewhere.

  12. Holy Spirit, you who makes me see everything and shows me the way to reach my ideal, you who gives me the divine gift to forgive and forget all the wrong that is done to me and you who are in all instances of my life with me. I, in this short dialogue, want to thank you for everything, and affirm once more that I never want to be separated from you no matter how great the material desires may be. I want to be with you and my loved ones in your perpetual glory. To that end and submitting to God's holy will, I ask from you..(mention your favour). Amen

    This prayer should be said for 3 consecutive days. After the 3rd day, your sincere wish will be granted no matter how difficult it may be. Promise to offer thanksgiving by sharing it and expressing it on granting of your favour. The idea is to spread the wonder of the Holy Spirit.

  13. I would like to take a moment to point out that St. Peter Damian's idea to title a tract that censures same-sex practice in monasteries "The Book of Gomorrah" is hilarious.

  14. Gerald Haug,

    I told you to get lost. You are no longer welcome here. I just deleted today's gigantic pile of logorrhea from you, and any further posts from you will also be deleted.

    1. Hey, Ed!

      Respond to this popular YouTube channel about the Unmoved Mover Argument!

      Clearly your work with Shapiro has gotten the attention of the atheist community, time to capitalize!

  15. That clown can't be real and he isn't an Evangelical. I bet he is just a S**t poster.

    Geez I turn my back for a second and the blog is invaded by fundies, atheists and weirdos.....

    Anyway you da man Doc F.

  16. What's everyones thoughts on the Maudlin article concerning progress in philosophy?

  17. Just wanted to say that Ryan Proctor’s article on Catholic judges and their application of the death penalty was pretty darn good. Of course, for about 90% of the article he repeats the same info that Prof Feser and Joe Bessette give us in “By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed”, but the truth is true and bears repeating.

    He does, however, have a few flaws. Minor ones. In the main, he gives too much credit to those who argue for abolition of the DP:

    At the same time, Catholic citizens should not lightly dismiss the prudential arguments against the use of capital punishment in modern society.

    Actually, Catholics SHOULD lightly dismiss the prudential arguments against the use of capital punishment that are truly crappy arguments, the ones that can’t even come close being plausibly valid. This would cover the ones that CLAIM to be prudential in nature, but run with a disguise that looks and feels like they only work as objections to DP in principle, such as:

    (1) That the DP “perpetuates the cycle of violence”. Note that Pope Pius XII dispelled the notion that punishment properly understood falls under the category “violence” at all. Also note that instead of using the phrase “cycle of violence”, the phrase “violates the dignity of the human person” does no better, for it relies on just the same underlying philosophical mistake. So when a bishop or priest sounds off against the DP using this argument, you should just tune him out.

    (2) Likewise, when an American bishop uses terms like “cruel” and “inhuman” to characterize the DP, or near-synonyms like “abhorrent”. In penal practice in the US, “cruel and inhuman” have a specific legal character (because of the Constitution), and claims that DP is “cruel” thus carries its weight further than it otherwise would. The position relies on the normal person’s revulsion against both death in general and against the kind of pain that was typically associated with execution – i.e. sentiment. But the position is unfounded and irrational at all events: (a) it is perfectly possible to execute a person without a shred of pain via an overdose of morphine, (b) there is no valid principle that says we must not visit upon a convicted criminal pain that is commensurate with the penal evil to which he is sentenced, and (c) the normal person’s revulsion against death in general fails to take into account the specifically penal nature of a penalty: an evil imposed as a corrective.

    Ultimately, we have a positive duty to dismiss the arguments (even of bishops and priests) of those who try to argue that the DP is wrong in principle – because such an argument contradicts clear doctrine, and we should stop pretending that the doctrine is still in doubt. And we are on good ground to dismiss arguments (even by Catholic prelates) of a prudential nature that are made in bad faith or which contradict firm teaching about DP and its good uses and rationale.

  18. When will Aristotle's Revenge be available to purchase? Amazon always says "not available."

    1. It's available already via European outlets like It should be available through and other U.S. outlets any day now. U.S. availability has been delayed because the publisher is in the middle of changing U.S. distributors. I'll make an announcement when Amazon starts carrying it, which (again) I expect to be very soon.

    2. Ed, I've read LTS and "Five Proofs" with no trouble, but found Scholastic Metaphysics rather heavy going (I don't have any background in formal philosophy). I'm guessing Aristotle's Revenge is aimed at a similar audience? What are the "prerequisites" for getting the most out of it? Thanks.

  19. Fukuyama's End of History was widely misread. It was not so much a prediction as a warning. He was worried we were headed toward a bland world where heroes were impossible -- a world inhabited by Weber's "specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.” He was probably wrong about how we would get there, but he may have been ultimately right. We do still seem to be going that direction even if by other means.

    1. That seems to be a reprise of C.S. Lewis's Screwtape's complaint - that we are producing sinners in greater numbers than ever, but of such mediocre quality! No truly outstanding sinners, of the caliber of Alcibiades, or Henry the VIII.

      But it does appear that we still have outstanding sinners, in abortionists who make it out to be a sacrament rather than a bitter pill, in serial rapist-murderers, etc.

      And, not to put too fine a point on it, in a world which is (a) still persecuting Christians to death in certain areas (Saudi Arabia, China), and (b) looking to gear up to persecute Christians everywhere else (e.g. states and countries passing laws making it illegal to teach Christian doctrine on homosexuality to your kids, and attempting to make it illegal for priests to retain the secrecy of the confessional), the kind of heroism that resides in saints who resist such persecution even unto death seems not to be gone just yet.

  20. Hey Professor Feser.
    Have you ever heard about a popular atheist channel on YouTube called “Rationality Rules”??
    He just posted a video “debunking” the Unactualized Actualizer. The video got almost 100.000 views in 1 day, so this means that Ben Shapiro’s defense of your argument really made it more known among atheists, which is good of course.
    Either way I’m posting this because you seem to have some interest in debunking bad “debunks” of your argument (i’m thinking about Richard Cartier of course). Also I want Classical Theism and Phylosophy in general to become more popular and less misinterpreted, so if you reply to him he will probably reply your reply in his channel, since he said he would also refute the arguments to call the Unmoved Mover: God.
    Please Feser, don’t let this opportunity of making Classical Theism a lot more popular and less misinterpreted pass!!

    1. Mathoma has now uploaded a video response:

    2. Hey look, there's that Jacob hater again. Guy sure doesn't miss a chance to propagate his question-begging, point-missing, self-defeating, sophistical crackpottery.

    3. Why would Feser bother to respond to someone who clearly hasn't even bothered to read the full argument, let alone understand it?

  21. Since this post is about surfing the web, what do you guys think about Cardinal Pell jury process?

    1. This sums up what I think of the entire thing:

      Yep, he's a staunch public defender of the Catholic Faith, so obviously he bad, rite?

    2. I agree.I feel really sad.

      I don't defend priests charged of child sex abuse collectively but I do individually as in this case.

      Let's pray for him

  22. I know that. It was a great reply!!!
    Unfortunately he does not have enough views so that his wonderful reply can really be effective in showing how much the video was wrong.

    I have the hope that maybe if Ed himself reply to the video this may get more attention and maybe the guy will even make a video entirely focused in replying to Ed’s reply, and of course: te more videos we get about Classical Theism, the more popular it will become. I even hope that this will generate a big enough debate so that other people in YouTube start talking about Classical Theism, and this may be a gigantic step in making Classical Theism known by people and not just an almost completely ignored topic by most people who “talk about religion”, like it seems to be now(please correct me if i’m wrong on this).

    I really see a big opportunity now, specially since the guy from the video said that he would post more on the topic. But I also think that Ed’s reply would be crucial to this, and he should already have posted it by now.

    I fear such a great opportunity may pass without we making good use of it����

    1. I also would like to add that given Ed’s past interest in Richard Carrier and Jerry Coine, I really think this is a polemic/debate that he would he interest in be a part of. After all, wasn’t making Classical Theism accessible for people and to try to make it popular the primary pirou-se of The Last Superstition?? Wasn’t this how all of this begun?? I think this is finally the time who achieve the goal for which Ed’s has fight a lot for the entire last decade, so I have to admit: I will be sad if Ed does not reply to the video.

    2. I am not so sure about all this, With books like Scholastic Metaphysics and Upcoming Aristotle's revenge focus seems to more on interaction between contemporary analytic metaphysics,philosophy of science and Scholastic tradition. How to best interpret or revise it in light of current trends and controversies.