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.


  1. I have thoroughly enjoyed your Revenge, before this I mostly have relied on Maritain's Degrees of Knowledge. Nice to have such a seminal work to provide a much needed fraamework.

  2. Prof. Feser,

    Thank you for addressing my review. Aristotle's Revenge was truly informative and enjoyable to read - no small feat, especially in metaphysics!

    I am glad that you have rightly noticed that my "main criticism" of your book was not intended to be especially... critical. Indeed, as the closing line of my review notes: "it is no small praise for a book to wish that there was more of it."

    Congratulations on the positive attention that your book is receiving; it is well deserved. I look forward to your future publications.

    In Christ,

    René Ardell Fehr

  3. I think a fair description would be that the book addresses an incredibly large breadth of issues but that the depth of issues varies by topic. The vartinh depths actually mirror those areas where science raises the sharpest issues with Aristotelian philosophy. So, as Ed gas encountered in his work in natural theology, physics (and perhaps time in particular) are where the friction most common arises. In return, Ed focuses more on these areas.

    The road map is a good analogy. Some areas are pretty well tread by Aristotelians. Most will full pretty comfortable with modern biology and at least know the questions it's raises and possible responces well.

    I'd say a book like this needs to focuses on more scientific areas than others. It's a strength.

  4. So you're saying you're going to turn each chapter into it's own 400page plus books, and by next week, too! Excellent.

    1. Gee, give him till after the holidays, OK? A man's got to take a day off here or there.

  5. High level academic reviews are fine and all, but in my opinion, the value of this book (and all Feser's efforts) is that it puts useful and easily accessible tools in the hands of non-specialists on the front lines of the battle against scientism and a world gone crazy.

    If the academics happen to like it too . . . well, I guess that's tolerable (sarcasm).

    1. Imo the point when all went downhill in academia is when scientists became scientists and ceased to be natural philosophers. Books by Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Bohr and Dürr are infinitely more valuable than what is written by the vast majority of modern physicists

    2. Indeed! Thanks for the reply.

      Perhaps it’s just a personality flaw, but I’m hopelessly drawn to those who are today considered the pariahs in their fields—a pariah being anyone who, at a minimum, acknowledges the value of intellectual modesty. No doubt tenure and the drive to get published heavily motivates people, especially in a field like particle physics which hasn’t had much in the way of new developments for decades now.

      I just picked up “Lost in Math” by Sabine Hossenfelder after hearing her interviewed. Her thesis is that the cocksure attitudes amount physicists about what physics should look like is what is holding us back from making any actual progress (my paraphrase). And yet so many would be scientific saviors are completely oblivious to the disastrous effects of their own presumptions.