Monday, September 30, 2019

Harvard talk (Updated)

This Friday, October 4, I will be giving a talk at Harvard University, sponsored by the Abigail Adams Institute.  The topic will be “The Immateriality of the Mind.”  The event will be in Sever Hall, Room 103, at 7:30 pm.  You can RSVP here.

UPDATE 10/11: Some photos from the talk have been posted at Facebook.


  1. I have a theory. Not sure it is right. But if it is it may be significant.

    Good is relative to the nature of something. In other words, what is good for somethings is always defined in terms of it’s nature and what it has to do to be a good instance of it’s kind.

    What does it means then to say that the object of the will is Universal Goodness?? The will qua appetite desires what is good for the substance of which it is a power. Then it is only intelligible to say that te will desires Universal Goodness if there is some element on the intellectual nature that requires Universal Goodness to be satisfied, but what that would be?

    What I said above may seem a little bit obscure for those who don’t have familiarity with Thomistic metaphysics (the will being a power of an intellectual substance, specifically, the will being how we call the appetite of a intellectual substance)

    So, there has to be something in the substance of which the will is a power (intellectual substance) that aims at and needs universal goodness to be be perfect as the type of substance it is.

    The substance of which the will is a power is an intellectual substance. That defines both the nature of the will (as being intellectual appetite as opposed to sensitive appetite) and its objects, the way sensitive appetite points at reproduction and nutrition for example. Nutrition and alimentariam reflect the type of substance an animal is, that’s why they are good for what ever has that nature. If we work it backwards and assume that what the object of the will is universal goodness we are lead to analyze the intellectual nature so as to see what accounts for that goal (Universal Goodness)

    What defines a intellectual substance is, clearly, the intellect. The intellect works by gaining knowledge and using this knowledge to generate more knowledge (Socrates is man, man are mortal, therefore Socrates is mortal). The intellect aims at knolegde then. But knowledge is not merely propositions. Through propositions we know reality as Aquinas says. To know is to possess reality in some sense. So what is good for the intellect is knowledge, but knowledge is to possess reality, therefore what is good for the intellect is to possess reality (through concepts and proositions as Aquinas teaches).

    So what is good for the intellect is the contemplation of reality. But the more perfect something is, the more it conforms to what it is the more real it is. Therefore the intellect wants to contemplate things that are the most perfect. There is no qualification in tha desire of the intellect, it wants just reality.

    The will then desire Universal Goodness inasmuch as what satisfies the nature of the intellect is Univeral Goodness. Each type of good has it’s way of being possessed, food is possessed by eating it. The goodness which the will desires is possessed through contemplation then. It is this contemplation of goodness, of reality that is the final happiness of the mind.


    1. This seems illuminating in many respects, to name just three:
      1-It makes us understand what beauty is. Beauty is that pleasure of their intellect in contemplation. Beauty is being as pleasing, but pleasure comes from the possession of the good. It seems natura then to say that the happiness of the intellect in possessing what it yearns it aims for (reality);
      2- It is makes sense Teologically because it means that the contemplation of God is our highest happieness. It seems that it makes a lot of sense of the Beatific Vision, inasmuch as it is God umiting himself to a created intellect and that intellect contemplating God’s Infinite Beauty forever
      3-It helps us see that philosophy is not just some “conceptual analysis”. Not is that happiness which philosophy tries to achieve merely that of “solving a puzzle” but is rather the happieness of seeing the world and contemplating the perfections of reality.

      I have been thinking about this for a while now and much more could be said. I know some from Aquinas which seems to make more sense if this theory is true. Any thoughts?

      Just to add something, we are still waiting your review of Hart’s book Feser

  2. Whether prof. Feser should record his talk?

    Objection 1: It would seem that Feser should not record his talk. The process of recording the talk is complicated and takes a lot of time which prof. Feser does not have.
    Objection 2: Further, prof. Feser already spoke on the subject and similar recordings already exist. So there is no need to record this talk.
    Objection 3: Since the topic is complicated and prof. Feser is just giving a lecture, there exists the real danger of misunderstanding by a broader audience.

    On the contrary: Justin Martyr says: "I will tell you what seems to me; for philosophy is, in fact, the greatest possession, and most honorable before God, to whom it leads us and alone commends us; and these are truly holy men who have bestowed attention on philosophy." Philosophy is concerned with Divine things, and by the possession of the immaterial intellect, we are made in the Image of God. Therefore, it is fitting to share this great knowledge to the world.

    I answer: The answer is self-evident. These lectures would produce immense good to the world without bringing any bad effect, so it would be fitting that these lectures are recorded. Imagine for example, that we had lectures by Reginald Lagrange, they would be enormously useful; so too, Feser's lectures will be enormously useful to us who exist now and to those who will live after us.

    Reply to objection 1: The process of recording is not complicated, for one just needs to open his phone and turn on an application for audio recording which is about 15 seconds. Also, putting audio online is not complicated, it maximally takes about 20 minutes. And the good that will come out from hearing these lectures by us who are alive, and those who will live after us, is immense, so it would be a shame not to capture such a great lecture.
    Reply to objection 2: It is good to remember knowledge which is already possed. Also, there may be good questions and answers which will give new knowledge into the matter. Also, some points may be more clearly presented.
    Reply on objection 3: This is absurd. Prof. Feser is brilliantly clear without oversimplifying the topic, so there does not exist any probable danger in listening to his lecture.

    1. Whether this comment should be elevated to the status of "best comment"?

      Objection 1: Internet points are intrinsically worthless.

      On the contrary: My personal dopamine levels rise at the mere prospect of elevating a comment on Ed Feser's blog to the status of "best comment".

      Reply to objection 1: In this day and age intrinsically worthless internet points are all that matters.

    2. @ColinG, Hahaha xD. I hope that we make prof. Feser at least chuckles a little. He deserves it. He made such a contribution with his books and helped many of us to be able to defend the truth. We will be forever in his debt.

    3. Funny idea, though the grammar could be improved. The objections are not strong enough, however, which is why this seems like such a no-brainer when, in fact, if it were, then it surely would be recorded.

      One real reason the lecture is unlikely to be recorded is so that the people who watch it live, as well as the paying host, have exclusive access to it, thereby raising the value of the lecture. However, since there seems to be no price of admission and I think it is unlikely that Feser charges more for recorded lectures, this is unlikely to be relevant here.

      Another reason could be simply that recording is complicated; recording on your phone, with awful sound quality, may be tantamount to not recording at all.

  3. Hi Dr. Feser,

    Off-topic, but Melissa Moschella has written two articles for Public Discourse in which she argues for the New Natural Law approach to sexual ethics (in part I here); and criticizes the Old Natural Law approach (in part II here), specifically critiquing your 2013 article "The Role of Nature in Sexual Ethics" in The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly.

    I was curious if you plan on responding to her arguments.

    1. The things the NNL theory says about right and wrong actions are often very good - at the practical level, anyway. It's when you dig under the surface and get into the meat of the theory that it's a problem. Ever since I read a couple of essays by Grisez on the foundational underpinnings (well, tried to read them - gave it the old college try, at least) I have doubted the validity of the entire body of work. My feeling was that nobody would approach trying to read St. Thomas the way he tried to if they weren't reacting to other bad philosophy like Kant, Hegel, and Hume. That is to say, trying to read Aquinas while sub-consciously trying to prevent the kinds of objections those other guys would have made to Aquinas. My sense was that he ended up mis-reading Aquinas on account of that.

      Naturally, that's my own opinion, and I'm not a professional philosopher. But Aquinas was read by over 6 centuries of really good thinkers without any of them coming up with anything at all like Grisez's take on it.

      That's aside from the mack-truck sized difficulties with the positive theory itself: e.g. there is no solid agreement between the practitioners of NNL as to what constitutes the list of "basic" human goods, and after you have listed about 5 or 6 of them, the list begins to feel pretty ad hoc anyway: there is nothing that orders them, or tells you when you have them all. That, too (the lack of any ordering principle) is another huge strike against it: Aquinas was famous for insisting on all created good as falling within a hierarchy of goods, ordered according to the principles of hierarchical good.

      Prof. Feser has taken a couple of swipes at some NNL arguments, but I don't recall if he has taken on a critique of the basic premises and methodology that sits at the bottom of NNL. That would be a good thing to see.

  4. Always glad to hear you're staying busy with things like this! You're a great man!

  5. What the hell is going on with the forum?

    1. Don't know but they've apparently been having problems with their server, and then they got hacked.

    2. It was probably hacked the first two times as well. There will be an announcement about it on the old forum, at, within the next few days.