Thursday, March 4, 2021

Preventive war and quarantining the healthy

A “preventive war” is a war undertaken proactively against a merely potential enemy, who has neither initiated hostilities nor shown any sign of intending imminently to do so.  The Japanese attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor is a famous example.  This is not to be confused with a “preemptive war,” which involves a proactive attack on an enemy who has shown signs of intending to initiate hostilities.  The Arab-Israeli Six-Day War is a standard example.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Smith and divine eternity

Quentin Smith, one of the most formidable of contemporary atheist philosophers, died late last year.  One of the reasons he was formidable is that he actually knew what he was talking about.  Most of his fellow atheist philosophers do not, as Smith himself lamented.  In his article “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism,” Smith opined that “the great majority of naturalist philosophers have an unjustified belief that naturalism is true and an unjustified belief that theism (or supernaturalism) is false.”  He thought that most of them held their opinion as a prejudice, and didn’t know or engage with the most serious arguments of the other side.  If that is true even of most atheist philosophers, it is even more true of atheists outside of philosophy – other secularist academics, New Atheist propagandists, Reddit loudmouths, et al.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Friday, February 12, 2021

Can a Thomist reason to God a priori?

A priori knowledge, as modern philosophers use the term, is knowledge that can be gained independently of sensory experience.  Knowledge of mathematical and logical truths – 2 + 2 = 4, ~ (p • ~ p), etc. – provide the stock examples.  Anselm’s ontological argument contrasts with arguments like Aquinas’s Five Ways by trying to reason to God’s existence in a manner that is a priori in this sense.  Aquinas begins with empirical premises (about the reality of change, the existence of causal chains in nature, etc.) and reasons to God as the cause of the facts described in the premises.  Anselm’s argument, by contrast, begins with a definition of God as the greatest conceivable being and an axiom to the effect that what exists in reality is greater than what exists in thought alone, and reasons to God’s existence as the logical implication of these a priori premises. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

What is religion?

The question is notoriously controversial.  Consider a definition like the following, from Bernard Wuellner’s Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy:

religion, n. 1. the sum of truths and duties binding man to God. 2. personal belief and worship in relation to God.  Religion includes creed, cult, and code.

By “creed,” what Wuellner has in mind is a system of doctrine.  A “cult,” in this context, has to do with a system of rituals of the kind associated with worship and the like.  The “code” referred to has to do with a system of moral principles.  So, the definition is telling us that doctrines, rituals, and moral principles are among the key elements of religion.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia on soul-body interaction

The letters exchanged between Descartes and Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia – especially their 1643 exchange on the interaction problem – are among the best-known correspondences in the history of philosophy.  And justly so, for they help to elucidate the true nature of that crucial problem and the inadequacy of Descartes’ response to it.  Though I think that in at least one important respect, Elisabeth errs in her characterization of the issue.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Koons on time and relative actuality

Rob Koons has reactivated his AnalyticThomist blog, which you must check out if you are interested in metaphysics done in a way that brings analytic philosophy and Thomism into conversation.  Rob was also recently interviewed on the What We Can’t Not Talk About podcast on the topic of Aristotle and modern science.  That topic is the focus of his recent work, and he has been especially interested in how Aristotelians ought to approach quantum mechanics and the nature of time. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Narrative thinking and conspiracy theories

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you” is one of the most famous lines from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.  I propose a corollary: Just because they’re after you doesn’t mean you’re not paranoid.

Friday, January 15, 2021

McGinn on the question of being

Colin McGinn is a philosopher whose work I always find interesting even when I disagree with it, which is often.  His book Philosophical Provocations: 55 Short Essays is made to be dipped into when one is in the mood for something substantive but not too heavy going.  And it is accurately titled, since on reading it I was indeed provoked – specifically, by the article on “The Question of Being.”

McGinn characterizes the issue as:

the question [of] …what it is for something to have being.  What does existence itself consist in – what is its nature?  When something exists, what exactly is true of it?  What kind of condition is existence?  How does an existent thing differ from a nonexistent thing? (p. 211)

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Gnostic heresy’s political successors

The Western world is the creation of the Church, and the crisis of the West is always at bottom the crisis of the Church.  This is especially so where the Church has receded into the background of the Western mind – where men’s plans are hatched in the name of progress, science, social justice, equity, or some other purportedly secular value, and make little or no reference to religion.  For liberalism, socialism, communism, scientism, progressivism, identity politics, globalism, and all the rest – this Hydra’s head of modernist projects, however ostensibly secular, is united by two features that are irreducibly theological.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Lawlessness begets lawlessness

As someone who is on record condemning lawlessness and sedition, I am appalled and horrified by what happened today in Washington, D.C.  It is indefensible and inexcusable, and the rioters and vandals ought to be prosecuted.  But then, the rioting and vandalism that occurred in Washington last summer – and in Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and other major cities – was also appalling, horrifying, indefensible, and inexcusable, and its instigators should have been prosecuted.  Yet some of the people who are now talking tough about law and order were then blathering on about “mostly peaceful protests,” “defunding the police,” and other such lunacy.  We are reaping what they sowed.  If you are going to tolerate and excuse left-wing political violence, you are opening the door to right-wing political violence.  But if you rightly condemn the latter, then to be consistent, you must condemn the former.  You must insist that all citizens respect law and order – your political allies no less than your political enemies.