Monday, January 20, 2020

Upcoming talks, etc.

On February 6 on Cameron Bertuzzi’s Capturing Christianity, Graham Oppy and I will resume the debate on the existence of God that we began last July.

On February 11, I will be giving a talk at Cornell University on the topic “What is Matter?”  The event is being hosted by the Thomistic Institute and will be at 6:30 pm in the Physical Science Building, Room 120.

On February 19, I will be giving a talk at UCLA on the same topic.  This event too is being hosted by the Thomistic Institute.  Keep an eye on the Thomistic Institute website for further details.

On March 6, I will be giving the Aquinas Lecture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.  Details to come.

On April 3, I will be giving the keynote address, on the topic of laws of nature, at the Science and Christianity conference at Harvard University.

On May 1, I will be giving the John Paul II Lecture at the University of Dallas on the topic of Aquinas on sex and gender.  Details to come.


  1. Hello,

    Please see following new proof that Supreme being necessarily exists, which is verified by programs, and based on higher order logic, and reasonable axioms.

    It is somewhat new paper but very interesting, please visit it at least once.

    And please let me know your thoughts if possible ��

    1. Anon,
      Let's hope Dr. Feser does not attempt to use your linked ontological argument for the existence of god in his upcoming debate on the subject. I would be embarrassed for him in that case.

      The ontological argument, like all published arguments for the existence of god, is unsound. The reasons are always easy to identify.

      In the case of the ontological argument, it suffers from the fallacy of equivocation, and is thus logically invalid and therefore unsound.

      In the ontological argument a logical possibility is equivocated with an existential possibility. Dr. Feser did a very fine job of illuminating the fallacy of concluding a structural reality from a logical representation in his recent post regarding Cundy and the A versus B theories of time.

      Just because a maximally great being can be represented in logical symbology in no way necessitates that such a being must therefore be structurally realistically possible. Thus, the equivocation fallacy of the ontological argument.

      Surrounding this equivocation fallacy with voluminous symbolic script and feeding it into a computer simply results in the classic bane of computer science:

      garbage in -> garbage out.

    2. Hi StardustyPsyche,

      Your comment is somewhat right, but problem is that for it, we have to be either skeptical of logic, or want to find axioms unreasonable.

      But if axioms are reasonable, proof is valid, means if axioms are true, proof will sound and it will necessarily case that Supreme being exists if we have we have good reason to believe in axioms, and no good reason to doubt logic. So we have good reason to believe in Supreme being.

      Axioms are as I see are reasonable, and it is if someone who doesn't have any bias against God, such reasonable people can accept axioms. And by accepting axioms, as proof is valid, conclusion will be holds.

      So, either one doesn't have to believe in logic, or want to find problem with axioms, because else proof is verified in programs.

      See axioms:

      "A1’ Self-identity is a positive property, self-difference is not.

      A2’ A property entailed or necessarily entailed by a positive property is positive.

      A3 The conjunction of any collection of positive properties is positive. (Technical reading: if Z is any set of positive properties, then the property X obtained by taking the conjunction of the properties in Z is positive.)"

      Or if one have problem with first axiom, author has given alternative to first axiom, which is:

      "An alternative to A1’ would be: The universal property (λx.>)
      is a positive property, and the empty property (λx.⊥) is not."

      If you see critics of Godel's proof, you will see that almost all critics focus on axioms, because else proof is valid, but author has removed some problem from Godel's proof and shown that new proof doesn't suffer from those problem, and it is more reasonable axioms, such as those previously doubted is not as but more reasonable axioms, which can be accepted by well informed reasonable person, and takes to conclusion as reasonable.

  2. That looks like a great speaking schedule of 2020! Hopefully most of the talks will be recorded =)

  3. But other than that are you busy?

  4. Thomistic institute talks should be up on their podcast within the week.

    It's that talk on sex and gender I'm really looking forward to@

  5. I really am puzzled by how easily Feser finds relevant comic panels for his post.Is there some sort of search engine?

    1. I've wondered that myself for years. I've always suspected he created them somehow...

    2. I'm pretty sure you've got it backwards. He posts about whatever topics he has good comic panels for.

    3. Is that an extremely early Fantastic Four? It looks like I remember them. And I quit reading comics in 1965 or 66, when the REAL Avengers came on TV.

  6. It's not an open thread (but it's open thread'ish)…
    any chance we'll get your comments on Matt Frad's interview with William Lane Craig?

  7. Looking forward to the second debate with Oppy!

  8. How's it going with your book on the soul? When will it be finished?
    Besides reason, universals and indeterminacy, will you discuss consciousness, and go into details on how minds can have a subjective experience of qualitative accidents?
    Will you also discuss free will, and the will in general?
    Might we expect a discussion of Aquinas's (often ignored) other argument for the immateriality of the mind, namely, that it can reflect on itself, think about itself?
    Will there be a section about the interaction problem? And about personal identity?
    Will there be a section about what might explain souls, I.e. how it all ties up with theism and philosophy of religion?

    I'm really looking forward to your book on the soul. Your work on philosophy of mind has always been good, and it's a very important topic that has a lot of relevance for philosophy of religion, too.

    1. Yeah, there are some things that at least from my, perhaps philosophically limited understanding, need explanation. Fro example I can't understand how adopting a hylomorphic POV explains the Hard Problem of Consciousness. Sure, you don't just have matter in a mechanistic conception moved around by "the laws of nature". You have final and formal causes as well and perhaps the line of argumentation that says that you can't do without them is pretty strong. Still, have you reached a new understanding? Consciousness remains as mysterious as always.

      A couple of other issues include:

      -The problem of interaction again. Sure, the soul is not a ghostly substance flying around, it's the form of the living body like sphericity is the form of a basketball. But the soul naturally vanishes with the death of the body, aside from the immaterial intellect that can grasp abstract concepts. Then this intellect that's separable from matter in a way that the ball's sphericity isn't and couldn't be and in a way that the human soul shouldn't be either how does it avoid the interaction issue? I thought it didn't exist for the same reason given for the ball's round shape and the ball, but if the intellect is separable, we have it again it seems.

      -A second one is that the bodily dependence argument, in my view the strongest argument for materialism still has a lot of force. The hylomorphist agrees that the intellect cannot function without phantasms. We also know from experience that we never have concepts without mental imagery of some sort (either images, words, letters, sounds or whatever) and it's really impossible to see how we could. Add to that the common everyday experience of bodily dependence we all have. For that we don't need any elaborate neuroscience, anyone who sleeps or has fainted knows it. Without a plausible account of how the intellect could function without a body and the phantasms and have concepts which for the sake of the argument (which is strong) have granted as being non material, we are left with "well, if Christianity is true, God does such and such and we can still work, miraculously". Sure, but I thought that the whole point was that amongst other things, the immortality of the soul and our survival after death could be shown through purely philosophical argumentation. And of course the materialist or the property dualist can get the upper hand again and say "Well, we have great trouble accounting for abstract concepts, but given that you have no plausible way the intellect can function without phantasms and given that all experience shows the mind's operation to depend on the body, your thesis is the least plausible one. Perhaps we can grant that the mind has immaterial aspects but they cease at death". It would seem then that the evidence, even having discarded the mechanistic worldview, is mostly in favor of our soul's mortality and we're just making more of deal than we should out of the abstract concepts issue.

    2. It solves the hard problem of consciousness by avoiding reductionism. Qualia can be a fundamental bedrock to the human form and not explained by additional mechanisms (although even qualia are partially explainable via mechanisms such as neurophysiology, but the point is they do not have to be reducible your it). It solves the unity of consciousness by making the human an integrated whole as opposed to a merely accidental aggregate of parts.

      The point of the immortality of the soul is not to prove the conscious awareness of the soul after death, but rather it’s existence. I believe most Thomists would believe in soul sleep (an existing but unconscious soul) without revelation or at least theological speculation. The consciousness of the soul after death (apart from the resurrection) is miraculous.

      Phantasms are necessary but not sufficient for intellection. Also it is not just universals, but also the determinacy of the intellect that requires immateriality. See Dr. Feser’s talks and articles on Ross, Kripke, and Immaterial Thought. Also see Dr. James Ross’ Thought and World for details.

      Also remember that death is not necessarily the separation of soul and body. It is the destruction of the body in which the soul persists. This is conveniently referred to as separation, but there are important differences. It is not as if the soul could separate from a healthy body as seen in a cartoon (or a Mortal Combat fatality). Rather, death is like a full body amputation. Just as a dog’s soul can persist when his leg is removed, a human’s soul can persist when his heart and brain are removed.

    3. Scott, how would qualia be a "fundamental bedrock"? My problem is that the Aristotelian makes some progress by grounding qualia in accidental features of material things. So yellow isn't just something our mind produces, it is actually a real feature of a banana, which is irreducible to its mathematized matter. We have qualitative forms in real things. The problem is:

      1- it still seems the link between these qualitative forms and their substances are contingent. In other words, inverted qualia worlds might be possible. Why should "yellowness" be present in the physical object we call a banana, instead of redness?

      2- more importantly, just locating qualia in real things as accidents of a more inflated notion of matter, doesn't (at least not obviously) account for how we have the power to subjectively experience these qualitative forms in first person. There is a world of qualitative features out there. But how can we actually experience these features, as a proper, first person conscious experience?

    4. I am still trying to wrap my head around certain aspects of Hylemorphic Dualism and the general arguments for it. I am still learning about the Aristotelian worldview, so my understanding of these things is very incomplete and it is difficult to piece it all together.

      If I'm understanding it all correctly so far, Formal and Final causes account for intentionality, while Act and Potency are said to account for Qualia, yes? That is to say, the color "red" objectively exists as a potency within a certain wavelength of light?

    5. Well it is important to remember that “yellowness” qua conscious experience does not actually exist in bananas. To say that it does is to admit panpsychism, which most (perhaps all) Thomists reject. Rather “yellowness” qua qualitative feature actually exists, however qua conscious experience it only exists virtually (insofar as it can generate conscious experience in a sensitive agent). Therefore, yellowness will be explained, in addition to its quantitative features (light frequency), but also by its qualitative features (ability to produce conscious experience in healthy agents).

      Remember also that color perception is not totally subjective. Leaving aside the question of color inversion, we do know that contrast is an objective feature of perception. You cannot have all colors be the same except switching blue and yellow, because then we would find that certain people cannot read blue text on a white background. But in reality, everyone finds it easy to read blue in white and difficult to read yellow on white.

      The argument against inverted color would be based on the universality of the human form. All healthy humans have the same fundamental characteristics. Parsimony would prevent us from positing unnecessary variation.

      However, I believe all Thomists would agree that there are minor variations of subjective experience from person to person, since perception is an accidental feature and would vary (within reason) as much as any “objective” feature of a person such as height and weight.

    6. But this doesn't address color inversion. The problem that leads to the possibility of color inversion is that all physical and bodily features of things do not entail the qualitative features; we could have a world in which yellow was blue and vice versa, and so on for all colors. And then if you wish, we could say this is due to another human form which is exactly like us in physical details, but with a different conscious power which leads to inverted qualia. They would be the hoomans. I don't see how we can argue that having eyes and a nervous system like that (with all that can be described mathematically) would entail having the conscious power that sees yellow as Yellow, and blue as Blue.

      And then we could have zombie humans as well, or zumans. Their form has all the same physically describable bodily functions as humans, but they lack consciousness. Their eyes receive light, their brain processes it, etc. But they do not receive the qualitative features in objects.

      Seems the explanatory gap remains.

    7. @Atno,

      Except the qualitative features are also aspects of the physical things. Even the assumption of "physical" features not "entailing" "qualitative" features as being a problem is incorrect. It's true that qualia as a feature are distinct from other features, but that's more trivial than important - weight is distinct from height as well, but nobody supposes one is problematic because the other doesn't "entail" it.

      The distnction between physical features and qualitative ones is also questionable insofar as it's still influenced by mechanism and reductionism that tries to separate qualia from physicality.

      The straightforward and natural view would be that qualia are just as much physical as other properties, since that is how we experience things.

      And so we have "qualia" in the sense of things having colors objectively independent of experience like all other properties, and consciousness is not to be identified with just qualia.

    8. Atno,

      Your problem is in trying to reduce the qualitative to the quantitative. There is a reason that Aristotle came up with ten categories and not one. I would argue that some categories (such as orientation) could be reducible to others (such as place), and perhaps others could be split off into multiple categories, but to say that the quantitative should be able to explain all other phenomena is probably what has led to the many problems in modern analytic philosophy.

      Therefore if all humans have the same form, we should expect similarities between conscious experiences (within reason). Color blind people could be described as “hoomans”, but that is because they have a defective sensory system. The point is that all of my colors cannot look like “black”, because then I would not be able to distinguish things of different color. If qualitative features had no basis in physical reality, that would be possible. Better then to reject that premise.

      As for zombies, the burden of proof is on the person who posits zombies to explain how an animal can make non-deterministic choices without a sensitive appetite (which implies conscious sensation).

    9. Thank you for the answer Scott.

      I think that I had something like that in mind, but phrased it poorly. That is to say, red or yellow exists in an object or in a wavelength of light in the sense that the object or wavelength of light has the potential to actualize a sensation of seeing color in a human or color sensitive animal?

      I still feel I am very confused, and have a lot to learn. But for now, there is one more question I wanted to ask:

      As I understand it, formal and final causes are said to account for intentionality. That is to say, with formal and final causes, we can see how a clump of neurons in my brain actually are "about" the city of Paris or a triangle that I am currently thinking about. However it is also said that conceptual thought must have an immaterial aspect, since that clump of neurons can be directed at a triangle, but not all triangles or some abstract that does not exist in a determinant material form.

      Now, if I'm following along so far, my question is why must concepts be immaterial but not sensory phenomenon? How can we say that a person's mind can be directed at an experience of red if the experience of red is not a material object that determinant exists? Or, why can we not say that reasoning and concepts are just the result of potentials within material things?

      I'm sure this sounds like complete nonsense. As I said, I'm very confused and still attempting to learn and fully understand.

    10. Michael,

      I think intentionality might be even harder than consciousness for the materialist. Whether or not consciousness can be naturalized (I'm still not convinced), intentionality appears to be a bigger problem, especially concepts.

      1) concepts must be immaterial on any view of matter, because they are inherently abstract. Your concept of circularity, for instance, is universal. It applies equally to all circles. It has no particular size, circumference, color, none or that; but if it were a particular or material circle, it would have all these features. Instead, your mind grasps a completely universal and abstract concept of circularity, which you can even understand through Euclid's definition. It's nonsense to suggest this concept could be material; if it were material, it would not really be the universal and abstract circularity we are thinking of;

      2) this is more controversial, but I think intentional thought is itself already immaterial, whether or not we focus on the universality (or semantic determonacy) of concepts. Final causes are almost entirely useless for "materializing" cognitive intentionality. This is because there is a vast abyss between your thoughts about your cat, and a match having a tendency to produce fire. The second involves causal dispositions. The first involves a type of sui generis event in which your cat (since we think about our cats, not about representations of them, and representations would be circular here) is somehow present in your mind. It cannot be present physically, of course, since your cat is somewhere else as an embodied individual. But it, that very cat, is somehow present in your mind. Not as a tendency of a causal disposition or any kind, but as a thought.
      Final causes can help account for some cases of mental intentionality - perhaps those associated with fears, sensible appetites, and so on. But not what I'm calling "cognitive intentionality", which is the aboutness of thoughts proper. You can somehow think of me, or of Edward Feser, and recognize him in a representation. This has nothing to do with mere causal dispositions which can be grounded in physical powers.

    11. Thank you for responding Atno!

      I agree in that intentionality in general is completely impossible for the strict materialist to account for. I am just now attempting to wrap my mind around opposing viewpoints, such as the aristotelian vs cartesian conceptions of matter, as well as the general argument from conceptual thought. I find the former worldview difficult to grasp since its definitions are all very interconnected and nuanced.

      In general, I'm still trying to comprehend why exactly experience can be material but conceptual thought cannot, and what this means in the long run.

      I am also still trying to fully reason out the idea of the conceptual thought argument and fully understand it. In particular, a common materialistic argument that I have heard for conceptual thought as a material process is that thought and reasoning is a process of "grouping". IE that our "concepts" are reducible down to "groups" of "images" with complex relationships. For example my concept of triangularity is really just a collection of memories of all the triangles I have seen in my life, and all the causal sequences I have observed for them. When I reason about triangles, my brain is essentially making matches between the groups of images I have witnessed before.

      I feel this argument doesn't work at all per materialism, because the first step of intentionality in general fails completely for materialism. But I am trying to fully understand why it does not work for the Aristotelian worldview.

    12. I also have a question hopefully one of you can help me out with. Regarding what Atno was talking about, we talk about circularity, triangularity etc has having applying to all physical instantiations of such circles and triangles. However, does it matter that there really isn’t a perfect triangle in the material world, nor a perfect circle. What does our intellect grasp if we never actually encounter a perfect circle or triangle. Say what we see as a circle is really a 10000 sided polygon. Why do we consider that to have more the form of a circle than what it is, a 10000 sided polygon? Where does the mind get the concept of a circle if it isn’t actually present in any material form.

      Also, if we detach the intellect from the senses, Is there any experience of “knowing”? When we grasp a things form, what is this “grasping”? Likewise, is there anything it’s like to be an angelic intellect? Thanks

    13. Michael,

      For the Aristotelian-thomistic view, one particular reason why the grasp of concepts involves immaterial powers is that concepts are based on forms. The intellect receives forms universally. Matter is the principle of individuating for the Aristotelian. Our minds basically receive forms, but if it received them within matter then we would have instantiation, such as your brain becoming a cat every time you thought of a cat, which is absurd.

      But regardless, concepts are necessarily immaterial because they are universal and abstract, as I said. And so there is a mismatch between the objects of thought and normal objects of sensation whether or not one is an Aristotelian.

      There seem to be many problems trying to reduce universals to groups with complex relationships. For one, some concepts have the same extension while being distinct. Your concepts of trilaterality and triangularity are distinct but apply equally to all such groups of images and experiences. Besides, to even be able to recognize those groups as being groups of X might require recognition of the universal. And in any case our phenomenological experience seems to point that we really do grasp abstract universal ideas; I can think of triangularity in the abstract and it is different from thinking about groups of triangles and such.

    14. Atno,

      Hmmm, you raise some interesting points. I think the trilateral/triangular extension could be a potent one (it recalls to my mind Feser's arguments based on indeterminacy of symbols and such), though I admit it's all very hazy in my mind still and will require more consideration. Thank you for the food for thought!

    15. Hey Scott,

      Well, honestly don't see how avoiding reductionism solves the problems of consciousness. How does that explain the private character of the qualia? The fact that unlike anything material they're only experienced from the first person point of view. Now matter how much or which way I may observe your brain, I won't see your experience of red or a feeling of pain. I will see you, I can potentially see your brain itself, I can see parts and wholes of the matter that makes you up, but your qualia are not accessible to me. How can they be material in any sense of the term? How does it address Descartes' "clear and distinct" argument?

      Concerning the postmortem and the soul as understood by the A-T tradition:

      -I'm not sure if it is correct to even say that under this view the "soul" survives, since it's only one of it's functions, namely the intellect or the intellect plus will that survives. So that generates a problem of its own. The aristotelian account of the soul recognizes as the form of the body. So, it would die weren't for this function. So, a part of it survives, thus making it divisible? That can't be. The whole survives? But how could it, given what is it? That's why I said that perhaps this account only gives us property dualism. The mind has immaterial aspect, but since they depend on matter they end with the body's death.

      -That leads me to my second point. A soul that can't think hardly has any meaning. It shouldn't be a cartesian ghost floating around, nor is it a substance of its own. So, in what sense does it exist unable to think and perceive? It seems that by philosophy alone, we can't show anything interesting about the soul.

    16. Unknown, I recommend you to read Feser's article on the immortality of the soul in the Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism.

      And a soul that can't think does have meaning. It's a soul. It's immaterial. It survives past the death of the body since its operations are intrinsically independent from the body. If it doesn't think after death, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist, especially as it would still be real and have real potencies.

      Property dualism is ruled out because the brain cannot produce such properties. The problem of emergence is what plagues property dualism.

      While we can't show much about the afterlife, we can know enough through philosophy to conclude there is an immaterial soul - whatever it is - and that it carries out operations that are intrinsically independent from the body, and can therefore subsist past the death of the body. This is interesting enough on its own, and has important consequences for philosophy of religion.

      But I agree wrt consciousness. And contrary to JoeD I don't think we can say a hooman who really has all the qualia we do, except properly inverted, would be a "defective human", or that a zombie human isn't possible, when the point is precisely how it seems there is no logical supervenience (and there seems to be an explanatory gap) between our bodily functions, all the physics, and our first person experience of qualitative features.

    17. And to make the point of how the hard problem of consciousnes remains even with hylemorphism, think of emotions. All qualia are problematic really, but think of emotions instead of colors. Notice how nonsensical it seems to suggest that "love", "joy" or "remorse" are accidental features (?????) of brain states. I don't see how to avoid dualism in this case.

  9. "Laws of Nature". Which ones? Will they be the real, original Natural Law? The metaphysical laws of nature, or something like the Law of Gravity?

    In the Greek milieu---there is NO difference between the phrase "Law of Nature" and "Natural Law". There is No difference. So, I'm curious what the subject of the "Laws of Nature" is. Because in the Catholic Church they make a distinction by saying the Natural Law is Morality---but the Greeks, the founders of the Laws of Nature did not make a distinction. I'm real interested what this "Law of Nature" that Catholics have discovered.

  10. Interested to hear the talk on sex and gender theory. Since sex is related to matter and individuation, it can be a pretty difficult subject I have found.