Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Science et Esprit on Aristotle’s Revenge
In the latest issue of the journal Science et Esprit (Vol. 72, Nos. 1-2), René Ardell Fehr kindly reviews my book Aristotle’s Revenge. Judging it a “fine work,” Fehr writes:
Feser’s book attempts to support the broad Aristotelian metaphysical structure and its interpretation of modern science as the interpretation, while at the same time defending that structure from the attacks of philosophical naturalists and attacking the metaphysical assumptions of said naturalists. It is a credit to Feser that he sees the inherent danger in such a project; throughout Aristotle’s Revenge he insists that he is not attacking modern science itself. Feser writes: “I am not pitting philosophy of nature against physics. I am pitting one philosophy of nature against another philosophy of nature.”
Addressing the contents of the book, Fehr says:
Aristotle’s Revenge is comprehensive in that it covers a vast array of arguments, objections, and replies. Often the reader will find Feser dividing objections against his position into different types and treating them all in turn. Objections will be raised to his replies to previous objections, and in like turn they will be dealt with. The sheer number of different positions it confronts is impressive… Those already familiar with the academic work of Feser will be pleased to find the same degree of rigor and the tight argumentation in Aristotle’s Revenge for which he is well known. On display too is the ease of readability which so often characterizes Feser’s work.
Fehr’s main criticism of the book is that, precisely because of the vast amount of ground it covers, some topics could have been pursued at even greater depth, and there are further moves that critics of the various positions I take might make that I do not address. Still, he says:
[This] is an inevitable byproduct of the number of positions and arguments with which Feser grapples… [and] if nothing else his book does an excellent job of alerting the reader to a particular counter-point of view, and to what a preliminary reply might look like.
I thank Fehr for his kind words and for his criticism, which has some merit. In my defense, I would say three things. First, some dangling threads were indeed simply unavoidable in a book of this scope, yet a book of this scope was nevertheless needed. Too many neo-Aristotelian works at most suggest vaguely what an Aristotelian might say about this issue in physics or about that topic in biology. A truly comprehensive and fairly fleshed-out account of what a general Aristotelian interpretation of nature and of modern science would look like was needed. But there is no way that one book, however long, could address every issue to the satisfaction of every critic.
Second, despite that, and as Fehr acknowledges, the book does still cover a vast amount of ground and interacts with an enormous body of literature. Naturally there are further arguments and works with which I could have engaged, and will engage in future work. As with any academic treatment of any subject, one has to make a judgment call about whether a particular topic treated has been treated at sufficient depth for the particular purposes of a particular book. I think I do the job I am trying to do in Aristotle’s Revenge about as well as it could have been done, though of course it is just possible that I may be a little biased.
Third, I do warn readers at the outset about both the scope and the limitations of the book. As I acknowledge in the preface, much more could be said about every topic I address, and ultimately what we need are book-length Aristotelian treatments of the philosophy of physics, book-length Aristotelian treatments of the philosophy of time, book-length Aristotelian treatments of the philosophy of biology, and so on. And I am confident that the rising generation of neo-Aristotelian and Thomist philosophers is going to produce just such works. Aristotle’s Revenge is intended as a roadmap for that larger long-term group project, and as a set of (sometimes tentative) suggestions about the different ways it might be carried out.