Friday, May 1, 2020

Joe Biden Superstar

For something lighter as you go into the weekend, have a listen to songstress Hannah Hoffman’s “You Know the Thing,” a setting to music of Joe Biden’s deep thoughts on the foundations of human rights.  This promises to become something of a new genre, given that we’ve already had The Gregory Brothers’ now-classic Biden-penned hit “Hairy Legs.”  Certainly you can take it to the bank that Biden will keep providing us with interesting lyrics.

While you’re at it, you should check out also the jazzy Ms. Hoffman’s philosophical tunes “Euthyphro,”  “Fallacy Funk,” and “The Trolley Problem.”


  1. That was actually more coherent than his philosophy of #metoo.

  2. Because you're so good at political philosophy Dr. Feser, there's a question that hasn't been asked yet concerning a well-known stereotype.

    Why are ancoms/libertarian lefts stereotyped as joyful on the political compass/libertarian diamond? No other quadrant has this stereotype. And despite the "40% of trans kill themselves!" statistic the genderqueer ancoms are stereotyped as the happiest of them all.

    1. Where do you see this stereotype? Because I've never come across it.

  3. This is the best, Legend of Cornpop

  4. Is it doctrinally permissible for a Catholic to hold with Plato that the sensory forms of animals are also immortal and survive death, even if they aren't rational?

    Rational forms in this account are still obviously categorically higher and superior to animal forms, and only rational forms can have the Beatific Vision, but animals too can be resurrected and their beings don't cease to completely exist after death either.

    1. Well, Trent Dougherty (who is Catholic) has argued for animal immortality, and much more. In his book "The Problem of Animal Pain" he defends the rather radical idea that some animals will be deified and granted powers of reason in heaven, becoming rather like Narnia-esque animals, becoming able to make sense of the suffering they endured on Earth. And he does interact with scholasticism, the Bible, etc.

    2. Does he talk about animal immortality being a property of their very substances, without developing or having rationality, that continue to exist after death?

      Or is the Narnia option the only one that he focuses on?

      Though I'd guess that if even something as radical as Trent Dougherty's position is perfectly compatible with Catholicism, then so would the sensory-though-non-rational immortality position also be.

    3. Interestingly enough, if the sensory forms of animals were also immortal - that is, they survive death - this would likely mean that the generation of every or most animal forms also necessarily requires God creating it ex nihilo.

      Which then implies that it's impossible to turn a rock into, say, a dove simply by transmuting the form, since sensory forms aren't completely material, and such an action requires the co-operation of God.

    4. I don't remember exactly, but I think he at least argues for the possibility of animals having natural immortality due to their having animal souls/consciousness, and I would agree. Especially since (as I've argued before) I think consciousness really is immaterial, and this may well entail immortality just like abstract thinking does.

      I'm not an expert but I don't think any of it contradicts Catholic teaching, so long as we maintain that human beings are still (in some way) categorically superior to brute animals. As we clearly are. If animals have a natural immortality, it is different from ours, as animals are still irrational and not moral agents called to the beatific vision.

    5. Is it doctrinally permissible for a Catholic to hold with Plato that the sensory forms of animals are also immortal and survive death, even if they aren't rational?

      Well, you would have to remember that Plato thought of the world of Forms as a world of eternal Beings, each Form standing real though apart from matter. In that case, of course it would be true that the form "Horse" would be "immortal" because it is eternal.

      Because Plato did not have (as far as I can recall, but my undergrad days are far, far behind me) a fully worked out plan of how an individual horse, Bucephalas, would "have" or "instantiate" the form Horse, while another individual horse, Secretariat, might also "have" or "instantiate" the form Horse (even at the same time) other than in hand-waving over the words that "the form is 'in' the matter", I don't know that Plato would claim that anything of Bucephalas or Secretariat would survive death OTHER than the eternal form Horse.

      It is not clear to me that, using Plato's idea of Forms, it even makes any sense to refer to individual animals existing after death (much less whether it can or can't happen).

      I haven't read anything by Trent Dougherty, so I can't speak to his theory. I do know that just because "a Catholic has held the theory" doesn't mean that the theory is compatible with Catholicism. Lots of ignorant and/or heretical Catholics hold all sorts of errors that are incompatible with Catholicism, including such non-starters as that the Eucharist is only a sign of Jesus Christ, that Baptism does not confer grace, that there are no objective moral norms, etc. I believe that it is very, VERY difficult to speak of official Catholic teaching about "form and matter" because, while the Catholic Church has not formally adopted the Aristotelian theory on form and matter as a de fide or infallible teaching, it is effectively impossible to adhere to a number of her definitive infallible teachings without using such distinctions to express them.

      As a matter of debate, I would suggest that if individual animal souls (as distinct from Platonic forms) are immortal, this would be pretty good grounds for denying to man the right to use animals as anything other than as, say, pets, and especially not allowing that man should use animals for food. Hence (I would argue) that God's stating to Noah that man may use animals for food implies that animal souls are not immortal.

      Also, the argument for the immortality of the rational soul runs directly through universals being immaterial, and logic being immaterial from the very nature of what it is and does. So, Atno, can you make an equally strong argument that perceptual awareness itself (such as animals have) must involve an immaterial reality?

    6. I think the Knowledge argument and Zombie/Inverted Qualia arguments establish that there is no logical supervenience or metaphysical necessitation between matter and consciousness. Consciousness is an irreducible perfection which must be added on to substances in addition to all their material configurations.

      I think it's very possible that animals are immortal, but that doesn't necessarily give them a dignity comparable to that of human animals. It just means that animals will also enjoy a heaven of natural pleasure.

    7. And of course I also think that hylemorphism does almost nothing to change that conclusion wrt consciousness; I don't think it is a "bodily power" except in the sense that it may be extrinsically dependent on sensory organs. We use our ears to hear, but we don't hear Beethoven's 9th symphony simply because of our ears.

    8. I think the Knowledge argument and Zombie/Inverted Qualia arguments establish that there is no logical supervenience or metaphysical necessitation between matter and consciousness.

      That went by me a little fast. Are you referring to an argument made somewhere or other that the standard immateriality of the soul argument through universals does not depend on universals being immaterial? Or perhaps that animal consciousness exhibits characteristics that equally can be shown to involve something immaterial? If so, where is that argument?

      If the argument depends on an assumption that animal consciousness is "like" our own sufficiently that we can speak to it with enough assurance as to what animal consciousness involves and entails, I am puzzled why we should accept such an assumption. If, alternatively, it is based on some kind of empirical evidence, I am puzzled as to how we obtained the wherewithal to assemble the empirical data into categories that we can confidently apply to animals' consciousness WITHOUT relying on our reflection on our own perceptual experience ... which seems to be tinged with an immaterial aspect riding alongside. It just seems very difficult, to me, to say we can know enough with confidence about what an animal's experience is like.

    9. Yes, I am referring to arguments for the immateriality of the mind which do not depend on the universality or semantic determinacy of concepts. Arguments that revolve around phenomenal consciousness. Are you familiar with them?

      I think the Knowledge Argument is stronger, but the Zombies one works fine as well. Here's a simple defense of the zombie argument:

      The issue with Phenomenal Consciousness doesn't depend on conceivability, however, but a recognition of how there is no logical supervenience of metaphysical necessitation between consciousness/qualia and physical facts. Just like how there is a radical ontological mismatch between universal, abstract concepts and particular, concrete physical entities, there is a radical ontological mismatch between conscious, first-person properties and unconscious third-person properties. A bunch of particles of dust in motion don't feel or experience anything; changing the patterns of movement of dust won't make any difference; having salts and electricity instead of dust also won't change anything by itself. There is a categorical difference between consciousness and non-consciousness. The capacity for experiencing the world as a first-person subject is a perfection. It cannot magically emerge from any form of unconscious material elements or motions. Like our capacity for reason, our phenomenal consciousness may well be (naturally) extrinsically dependent on bodily organs. But its operation is not itself bodily.

      I think animal consciousness is definitely very similar to ours. We have very good evidence that they have phenomenal consciousness. I don't think they have any grasp of universal, abstract and determinate concepts however; they don't reason, properly speaking. I think they also probably don't have self-consciousness like we do. But they sure enough feel pain, pleasure, dream, have an "inner movie" of things going on in their heads, are experiencing subjects (even if without self-reflection). At least the higher animals do. Of course, we all infer this based on their behavior, and the problem of other minds is a thing, but I think it's very plausible that they are indeed conscious. They're not zombies. Descartes (if I remember correctly) believed consciousness was immaterial, and wanting to reject the idea that animals are immortal, adopted the weird position that animals are unconscious, "living machines". I assume you don't wanna reject that animals are conscious.

      So I don't think it's implausible that (some) animals might be naturally immortal. Their life after death won't include the Beatific Vision or other intellectual joys (unless Dougherty's Narnia-like hypothesis is true), but they'll enjoy suitable natural pleasures and happiness.

      It would also not put them on par with humans. As rational animals capable of abstract thought, reasoning, self-reflection, free will, etc., humans have much more dignity and inherent value, and are called for the Beatific Vision. Animals must still be cared for, in any case; we have an obligation to not be cruel to them, to treat them well whenever possible, etc. It is not immoral to eat them (though we should seek better and more humane conditions for raising livestock and so on). None of that changes with animal immortality

    10. By the way, I think animal immortality greatly helps with the problem of animal pain for theists.

    11. Thanks for the reply. I will have to look into the arguments you referenced. I admit that the position for consciousness implying a non-material soul is attractive, but I haven't looked into it thoroughly.

    12. I've injured my arm so I have trouble typing. But quickly, is not this related to the question of how much perception is physical and how much spiritual. A few months ago that came up, and I - taking a physicalist view of AT - got corrected. I was oversimplifying.

    13. @Atno,

      But isn't there a difference between why abstract reason is immaterial and why consciousness is supposed to be immaterial?

      Abstract reason is immaterial because it's objects are immaterial - universals, forms, definitions, eternal ideas, necessary truths etc. are all clearly non-material objects or ends. Abstract reason spends it's time in an atmosphere of immateriality, and is fully made for it.

      But consciousness by itself doesn't have immaterial objects - conscious awareness is awareness of the concrete world and the things of it, or of one's self (which is a particular thing). If we strictly consider the objects of consciousness, it's not obviously immaterial.

      The argument for consciousness being immaterial is that it is categorically distinct from third-person non-conscious matter. So while there is obviously a definite categorical distinction between non-consciousness and consciousness, this doesn't by itself entail immateriality.

      Life, for example, is categorically distinct from non-life, and even Feser IIRC is skeptical that life could have arisen from non-life. At the very least, he says that non-living matter that CAN give rise to life must have non-mechanistic final causality and inherent potency to make life.

      Either way, many people also hold that it is impossible for life to have arisen from non-life (this includes plants, fungi, microbes, and animal life with no phenomenological consciousness, so the difference there isn't just about consciousness and non-consciousness) due to the categorical difference and vast gap between them, and that an intelligent cause (i.e. God) must have independently caused life to exist as another category of being.

      But nobody believes that life is therefore partially substantially immaterial just because it is radically, categorically distinct from non-life such that it couldn't have come from non-life.

      Something similar might be the case with consciousness - it's radically different and superior to non-conscious beings, to the point where independent creation might have been required to create it, but that doesn't mean it's partially substantially immaterial.

    14. @Tony,

      I recall Jimmy Akin being asked about this, and stating that while the substantial immateriality of human beings alone is a widely held theologoumenon, it's not at all Catholic doctrine. So from that it seems that substantial animal immateriality is technically permissible to hold, and it can't be treated as an obvious heresy unless it can be demonstrated how it contradicts anything in the definitive deposit of faith.

      As for Plato holding sensory forms to be immaterial, I do specifically recall this being in the context of how the Scholastics only believe humans to be substantially immortal and how Plato also held that the very sensory forms of animals were also substantially immaterial, so unless I misread that it's not that the eternal universal Form of animals is immaterial, but the particular form of each animal is.

    15. JoeD, the argument for immortality (from concepts) is that the soup carries out an operation that is entirely independent from the body, and therefore must also be able to subsist without the body (agere sequitur esse). If an operation of the soul is intrinsically independent from bodily functions, it doesn't simply disappear once the body is over with.

      The objects of consciousness may be concrete (but they are not the material things per se, rather, they are the qualitative forms of things, which Aquinas also thinks has a sort of immateriality). But the power of being able to consciously experience the world as a subject, with first-person properties, seems entirely irreducible to material things and their third-person properties. It is therefore intrinsically independent. Even if you take consciousness to be a distinct aspect of material things, it will be a *distinct aspect* and, for all we know, only the public, material aspect is destroyed.

      Intellect carries out its own independent operation when it thinks. Consciousness also carries out an operation that is independent from the body; it's not any bodily organs that magically create an experiencing self. I think if the intellective soul is immortal, the conscious soul is also likely to be immortal.

    16. @Atno,

      1) "the argument for immortality (from concepts) is that the soup carries out an operation that is entirely independent from the body, and therefore must also be able to subsist without the body"

      But the nature of the operation of something is at least partially determined by the objects it is oriented towards. One of the main reasons why the operations of the intellect are intrinsically independent of the body is because the objects are also, and to bring these objects into act within itself and to actualise itself in relation to them it must also be immaterial, and so the means must also be suitably proportioned to the end.

      2) "The objects of consciousness may be concrete (but they are not the material things per se, rather, they are the qualitative forms of things, which Aquinas also thinks has a sort of immateriality"

      A sort of immateriality isn't immateriality per se. Aquinas may describe how imagination and sensing tend toward immateriality in an analogous way, but he still admits that they aren't absolutely immaterial. The same goes for qualitative forms - they may tend toward immateriality in a really symbolic way, like light is more "immaterial" than other material substances due to it's various unique properties, but this is because all created substances reflect God in some way, and some do so more than others.

      But reflecting the nature of the immaterial in analogous ways doesn't mean you actually are immaterial absolutely speaking.

      3) "But the power of being able to consciously experience the world as a subject, with first-person properties, seems entirely irreducible to material things and their third-person properties. It is therefore intrinsically independent."

      Well, your argument could also be used to say that the operations essential to life are also carried out independently from the body because they are irreducible to non-life. Irreducibility may not necessarily always entail independence in that case.

      4) "Even if you take consciousness to be a distinct aspect of material things, it will be a *distinct aspect* and, for all we know, only the public, material aspect is destroyed."

      Well, this is technically possible, but if these are just two distinct aspects of the material, then the proportional dependence we see between them makes this unlikely. When you damage the third-person aspects such as the body you also damage the first-person aspect of consciousness, and such a relationship should also mean that if you destroy the third-person aspect you also destroy the first-person aspect.

      Also, just a friendly heads up, if you want to highlight your text on blogspot, you should put certain brackets at the beginning and end of the highlighted text. For example, if you want to bolden the text you should put < b > at the beginning and < / b > at the end after. I added spaces inside the brackets so that it doesn't bolden the text here and to make the command explicit. To make it italic you just make it an i instead of b. You can also use both higlighters for a text such as this: < b > < i > text < / b > < / i >

    17. 1- Sure, but I take it that the proper objects of consciousness are qualitative forms, not matter. So the objects are immaterial.

      Although I also hold that intentional thought about particulars (such as an individual person) is immaterial. I depart from traditional thomism here;

      2- I said "a sort of immateriality" to be faithful to Aquinas, but I admit that I have never fully understood his position there. It makes no sense to me since something cannot be more or less immaterial. The qualitative forms are not matter, period. I think his usage of the term however is to highlight that qualitative forms might not exist by themselves, but only in a substance (there is no blueness, just, say, a blue shirt). Though that begs the question against the qualitative forms being immaterially present in consciousness, and, in any case, I don't find it relevant for the arguments - since if it is established that there is an operation of mind which is intrinsically independent of the body, then immortality does follow. At least that's how it goes for the grasp of universals; we hold the soul to be immortal because it has an operation (intellection) which is independent. But consciousness would also be independent in the same sense. So immortality follows;

      3- I'm not sure of that, since the issue isn't as clear with life for me. Life might be irreducible but still be limited insofar as its objects just are physical operations. Consciousness is not like that; consciousness concerns the grasp of qualitative forms of colors, melodies, emotions, feelings, and other first-person properties that are essentially distinct from material things. But even if it did, I would rather bite the bullet and hold that plants have immortal souls (life being always a sign of immortality) than think my body produces my feeling of love or experience of Beethoven. The suggestion just makes no sense to me.

      4- The point is that IF these are distinct aspects of the material, we cannot hold that destruction of third-person aspects would entail destruction of first-person aspects, precisely because of how different they are. The only thing we might have are psychophysical laws which connect the two, but that would also work for our abstract reasoning as well. Abstract reasoning is extrinsically dependent on raw material data. You might say that intellect is another aspect of matter, a very different aspect of the same material substance, like consciousness is a very different aspect. "But that makes no sense" but then neither would it make sense with consciousness.
      There is a radical ontological mismatch between universal, abstract concepts and particular, concrete material things.
      There is also a radical ontological mismatch between conscious, first-person properties and unconscious third-person matter.
      Intellect reasons all by itself, it is not a material organ that grasps universals. Consciousness experiences all by itself, it is not a material organ that experiences love or Beethoven.

      I see a strong parallel.

    18. @Atno,

      1-2) I think what Aquinas meant with the seeming gradation of immateriality is to point out analogous similarities of imagination and sensation to immateriality - for example, the imagination contains images of material things without becoming that thing or being just the image alone, similar to the intellect having the form without becoming transformed into it.

      It is more or less "immaterial" in that sense, insofar as it reflects certain aspects of it without being actually immaterial. Kind of like how light is more analogous to immateriality since it doesn't have mass and can shine through material things. It's subtility reflects immateriality, but without being itself an immaterial substance.

      As for qualitative forms, I think one important difference between qualitative forms and intellective forms is that qualia may have a form of it's own - two red things share the form of redness, for example. In that case, qualia would be material since it is not its own form, and is composed of matter and form - even if it is a very unique category of matter distinct from third-person matter. And so the qualia experienced in consciousness aren't the forms of the qualia as such, but particular instantiations of them.

      3) In that case, the main issue is whether or not consciousness is immaterial and in what way. It's possible life could be an irreducible higher mode of being, but not substantially immaterial.

      4) But if these two distinct aspects of the material are connected, and in such a way that both can be damaged together if you damage one of them, then it's likely to say the other can be destroyed when the other is destroyed. Again, all of this is IF consciousness is a distinct aspect of matter (or a distinctly higher grade or mode of matter), rather than immaterial. If it's not a distinct aspect then dependence wouldn't be absolutely intrinsic.

      The same doesn't go for the intellect since it's not an aspect of matter in either case.

    19. 1-2) I think it's implausible to treat qualitative forms as material in this sense, it would seem to (weirdly) imply that qualitative forms can be substances, properly speaking, if they are hylemorphic composites. Besides, if we go that way, we remove ourselves so much from what an ordinary notion of "material" is that we'd just be better off accepting that qualia are immaterial. And here, I insist, we can argue for immortality because consciousness is a power that, on its own, operates perfectly independently from any bodily organs. The same arguments for immortality from universals can be given parallels, only with consciousness;

      3) as I said, I think the two questions are distinct, but if it came to a point where we had to accept a parallel for life I would bite the bullet and hold that life is immaterial. Seems better to me than to hold consciousness is material;

      4) the same would go for the intellect. And I would say that if you think it makes no sense for the intellect, neither does it make sense for consciousness.

      5) finally, there's one more point: we should at least agree that consciousness is a perfection, irreducible to rearrangements of shapes, motions, etc. If that is so, God should also have consciousness, since all perfections come from Him, though in a much more perfect way and (a good thomist would say) unchanging, a purely actual interiority and experience of all reality and all qualia. But then at least one type of consciousness is purely immaterial, since God is purely immaterial. It is therefore more probable, simple and elegant to hold that all consciousness is immaterial, instead of suggesting that some consciousness is material.

      (A related point is that we have conscious experience of reasoning and universal concepts, so THAT consciousness is immaterial, but then it seems to be the same perfection as any other consciousness).

  5. Good stuff. But personally I find Alex Jones a greater source of lyrical profundity:

  6. 26 comments on that video as of now, 3 mention Feser sent them with one comment top with the most likes.

    With great power comes great responsibility