Fans of David S. Oderberg have long been looking forward to a new book from him, and now it is here – just in time to fill Christmas stockings. The Metaphysics of Good and Evil is out this month from Routledge. Details can be found at Routledge’s website. From the cover copy:
The Metaphysics of Good and Evil is the first, full-length contemporary defence, from the perspective of analytic philosophy, of the Scholastic theory of good and evil – the theory of Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and most medieval and Thomistic philosophers. Goodness is analysed as obedience to nature. Evil is analysed as the privation of goodness. Goodness, surprisingly, is found in the non-living world, but in the living world it takes on a special character. The book analyses various kinds of goodness, showing how they fit into the Scholastic theory. The privation theory of evil is given its most comprehensive contemporary defence, including an account of truthmakers for truths of privation and an analysis of how causation by privation should be understood. In the end, all evil is deviance – a departure from the goodness prescribed by a thing’s essential nature.
I was waiting for that one.ReplyDelete
List of upcoming books to look forward to:
David Oderberg - The Metaphysics of Good and Evil
Alexander Pruss - Norms, Natures and God
Edward Feser - A new book about the soul and philosophy of mind (get back to writing it, Ed)
Any good ones I forgot to add? Write them down, people
Edward Feser - a new book about sexual moralityDelete
Edward Feser - a new book of Catholic apologetics
Edward Feser - a new book against Modernism in particular
$130??? Dr. Feser, are you going to be publishing coupons for your fans? You know, Christmas and all.ReplyDelete
I say we all chip in to buy one copy. Then we pass it along to each other after we have read it.Delete
I'll second that!Delete
Steep price, but I guess a philosopher has to eat too. It will be on my reading list in the future.ReplyDelete
Do they have to eat steak and caviar? This sounds like a college textbook price (i.e. grossly inflated for students who are forced to buy it). I'll wait for used copies to appear.Delete
Do they have to eat steak and caviar?Delete
I wish. Believe me, authors have nothing to do with the pricing of these books, and in fact all academic authors would prefer that their books be marketed at much cheaper prices, precisely so that more people will buy them. No one's getting rich from these high prices, precisely because they are high.
In this case, the pricing reflects, not the student market (since monographs like this one are not going to have anywhere near the level of classroom use that a textbook would) but rather the small print run and the academic library market (since libraries, unlike most individuals, can afford the higher cost).
Hopefully a paperback edition will appear at some point. In the meantime, as you'll see from the links, there is an e-book version that is much more affordable.
I have often wondered how it actually works, Ed.Delete
"Believe me, authors have nothing to do with the pricing of these books, and in fact all academic authors would prefer that their books be marketed at much cheaper prices, precisely so that more people will buy them."
Why do they choose to publish via these academic channels?
Are there no other options? Could you not self-publish, which does not have the cachet, but if your work is good, who cares? Are there no publishers who offer print-on-demand but with the publisher's imprint, so you get some credibility plus low costs?
Oderberg's book is written in academic style for academics. He wants it to be recognized by academics and to have an impact on their scholarship. It would not be if it were not published by a reputable academic press.Delete
And presses for a wider audience would not publish the book as is. It would have to be made a lot more accessible. For most of what is published on academic presses, there is not sufficient non-academic interest to consider publishing for a wide audience.
The reality is that even outside of academia, self-publishing doesn't look good. You'll also miss out on the editing and promotion you get with a publisher.
This is why it's important to have popularizers. A lot of academic work is unfortunately inaccessible to most people - and not just because of technical background knowledge and dense language, but also because of practical matters such as pricing, print, and so on.Delete
It's a shame that Oderberg's work is pretty much entirely confined to academics. The same goes for Alexander Pruss.
This is part of why Feser's work is so important. He has written academic books and has made his own original contributions to these debates, but he is also a popularizer and has written accessible and introductory books. We really need more philosophers who are willing to engage general public.
Writing my letter to Santa right now!ReplyDelete
Give me Santa’s address!Delete
I'm confused by the phrase "obedience to nature" for a definition of goodness. I've always thought that a truly moral person is actually pushing back against nature; suppressing natural inclinations towards lust, gluttony, etc. and that this would be a common attitude among Catholics.
Perhaps to truly understand what he means I'll have to read his book but I'm sure someone here can point me in a better direction.
When a thing is naturally ordered to it's end (eye ordered to sight) it is good and healthy, when disordered it is deprived (privation is evil) or sick etc.Delete
Another layperson here: we probably need to distinguish philosophical ideas from theological ones. Philosophically, goodness for a thing is for it to act in accordance with its nature.Delete
When we come to theological matters, and specifically Christian theological matters, we start from the premise that human nature is itself corrupted. Human nature was intended to be perfect but that perfect nature which was possessed by Adam before the Fall exists now only in Christ, though it is available eschatologically to all who are being perfected in him.
A truly moral person is therefore one who is pushing back against the corruption of human nature and seeking, by grace, to live in accordance with human nature as restored in and by Christ.
That's well said Jonathan. I suspect my disconnect lies in the differences between "good" in this context and "moral" in the human context.Delete
Oderberg would not, I suspect, consider inclinations to gluttony and lust to be natural. They are unnatural distortions of human nature (which is not to say that they are uncommon).Delete
Sounds awesome, but oh so expensive....ReplyDelete
Curious how an organism's essential nature can be squared with the theory of evolution. Specifically, at which point did our (humans) essential nature diverge from the essential nature of all the animals we descended from?ReplyDelete
I wouldn´t expect that in this work. Read Oderbergs "Real Essentialism" for that. For a short answer I would say that the vast majority of our properties are accidental. To answer the point about us diverging from other animals I think this can in big parts be answered by evolutionary biology and perhaps archeology since that gives us an indication as to when the Homo sapiens seemed to have become a rational animal.Delete
Oderberg's position on Evolution is not very clear. He is trying on that book to argue whether essentialism would be compatible with the theory, but he does not claim he accepts it. If anything, he raises quite a few metaphysical issues that evolution faces, but doesnt give us the answers to those obstacles. I couldn't find any text of his who explores these objections. For example he says:Delete
"For instance, it is at least worth questioning whether anything sentient could have evolved
from anything vegetative, though the reverse is more plausible given that it
would involve the loss of a higher power, viz. awareness, rather than the
gain of one from a species that did not have it."
"It is also worth considering whether any organism with a phenomenological
awareness, such as mammals, could have descended from any species
lacking phenomenology. The reason is again the general metaphysical
one of how a species could bestow what it did not possess, no matter how
much its genotype mutated."
I would like to see his answers to his own objections.
Oderberg has a paper "Synthetic Life and the Bruteness of Immanent Causation" in which he argues against the possibility of abiogenesis. I'd suspect that he in fact takes the objections you cite to be decisive (were they to be developed). Just as the organic cannot emerge from the inorganic, the sentient cannot emerge from the insentient, and the rational cannot emerge from the non-rational.Delete
In response to Unknown's original question, I should add that where humans are concerned, I think there's no question that Oderberg does not think evolution is a sufficient explanation. I don't know if he defends that in print anywhere, but that is the view of basically every religious Thomist, however much they wish to maintain the possibility of evolution in regard to non-human life.Delete
Greg, so what do you think is Oderberg would say about these "evolutionary events" then (if there is such a thing). By these, I mean the evolution of locomotion, awareness and phenomenology. Would evolution need a miraculous intervention from God? How about the evolution of diversity, besides these metaphysical jumps? I'm still not entirely sure how God can create through evolution, and I haven't been convinced by any of the arguments of Thomists pro-evolution. Maybe I'm just lacking a basic understanding of Thomism. Can someone explain to me how God guides things to their final cause? How God creates? I don't think I quite grasp this idea of giving existence to things.Delete
He does not say positively, in the article I cited, what he thinks caused the emergence of life. I suspect he would say that it was a miracle. It required action from God akin to that required to change water into wine. And if I am right that he regards the change from merely vegetative life to animal/cognitive/appetitive/locomotive life the same way, then I suspect he would say the same about that transition. (A difference between these two cases and the non-human-to-human case is that Thomists believe that the ensoulment of every human requires special divine action, a miracle, whereas Oderberg is fine with the idea that it is naturally intelligible for plants to beget plants and animals to beget animals.)Delete
Again, Oderberg does not come out and say it, but the sense one gets from reading his paper with this issue in mind is that he is open to the possibility that evolution might explain the diversification of plant life and the diversification of animal life, just not the emergence of categorically different forms of powers, like sensation, appetition, locomotion, and rationality. That is not to say that there is no philosophical problem on Thomism to explaining mere speciation. It seems to me that there are problems. But they are different problems.
One problem I see is this. If one wants to say that the ancestral species and the new species have distinct forms, then one needs to say how the speciation ostensibly explained by natural selection is compatible with the principle of proportionate causality. Ultimately it will look like random mutations caused novel forms to appear.
One also might worry about this: Natural selection generally occurs gradually, of course, but in principle it could occur all in one generation. Suppose some population exhibits diversity: for some feature F, some members are F, and some members are not F. Were we to observe this population, we would (say) judge that they are all members of the same species, and that F is not essential to that species. But suppose then the F-members are selected for; every non-F member, and every member which could produce new non-F members, is killed. Might it be the case that, had we observed the population at this point, we would have judged that F is essential to the species? But the F-members are just the ones who were alive when we issued our earlier judgment that F is not essential. Surely the killing of some individuals cannot alter the form of others. So what are we to say?
I think it is not obvious how to resolve these worries. I have some ideas but it would be complicated to get into them. I do think Thomists can be a bit cavalier about the compatibility of Thomism and evolution.
If these 'jumps' are understood as miracles, then we should not describe them simply as creation. God's creation is God's causing things to exist at each moment that they do exist. Whether God creates something is a question distinct from whether it has a cause in the order of nature. God creates even what does have a cause in the order of nature. A miracle is an event which has no cause in the order of nature. Miraculous jumps in biological history would be jumps for which all natural causes offer incomplete explanations. There is a remainder which is just creation.
I don't know how to answer the question of how God guides things to their final causes or how he creates. There are no means by which God does those things. Whereas our activity is inherently structured by means and ends, God does not create by any means but does so immediately. What he creates are guided by their final causes because it's part of the logic of creation that it is form-conferring and it is part of the logic of form that it involves tendency to an end (the form itself).
(Mind you, I have not read the paper on abiogenesis in years and where I mention it am reporting my retained impressions. The link to the paper on Oderberg's website does not work, but he would presumably send you a copy if you emailed him.)Delete
I think I remember Oderberg criticizing abiogenesis in Real Essentialism. I think it would make sense though, since his view is anti-reductionistic.Delete
I've defended that consciousness is immaterial before, but whether or not one accepts this, it seems that the capacity for being aware, for consciously grasping qualitative forms, is a perfection of sorts, which cannot be reduced to more complex arrangements of living organisms.
The same goes for life, I think, since the power of self-motion associated with life appears to be a perfection that is categorically different from, and irreducible to, complex arrangements of inorganic powers and motions.
Greg: Surely the killing of some individuals cannot alter the form of others. So what are we to say?Delete
I imagine we are to say that biology is not an exact science; sometimes we just get it wrong. If we start with a population of Fs, and an evolutionary process gradually changes the population until it’s full of Gs, then I don’t see any problem in saying that we just don’t know exactly where the cutoff between the two species lies.
Dear Feser, or anyone who is willing to answer,ReplyDelete
Is anyone of you familiar with the philosopher Christopher Austin and his book "Essence in the Age of Evolution"?
I was told by some folks here in Oxford that he is a competent Aristotelian, but it seems to be he is not religious, or has any sympathy to scholasticism. I may be wrong of course. I was wondering if any of you guys read the book, and if it contains fundamental errors. Since I'm still fresh on the subject of metaphysics, I don't think I would be able to tell apart metaphysical "heresies" if they are subtle.
Dr. Feser, are you familiar with the series of blog posts on you by 'A Tippling Philosopher'?ReplyDelete
For those wishing for a cheaper version, you can write Routledge (or Oderberg's publishing agent) expressing interest in a paperback print run. There just needs to be sufficient interest; with Ed's large following, I think we could generate it.ReplyDelete
For the abbreviated version, Oderberg's Being and Goodness is a very good read (American Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 51, Number 4, October 2014).ReplyDelete
Academic books are high priced. But you can always order it from Amazon, read it, and return it.ReplyDelete
The Metaphysics of Good and Evil could be a good start to persuade you that this is wrong.ReplyDelete