Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Geach on Hell

Let’s take another trip into the philosophical and theological gold mine that is Peter Geach’s book Providence and Evil, and this time consider his chapter on Hell.  At first I wondered whether it was appropriate to close out the year with a post on a subject so grim and unpleasant.  But on second thought it occurred to me that it is an ideal topic.  What better preparation for forming New Year’s resolutions than a reminder of where we are all headed if we do not repent of whatever sins we remain attached to?

Saturday, December 25, 2021

The still, small voice of Christmas

A great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Among the lessons of Christmas is the truth of the principle illustrated by this famous Old Testament passage.  We often expect, or at least desire, special divine assistance to be instant and dramatic, like a superhero swooping to the rescue in a Marvel movie.  And we lose hope when that doesn’t happen.  But God only rarely works that way, and such dramatics have to be rare lest grace smother nature.  Special divine assistance is in the ordinary course of things subtle and gradual – a still, small voice rather than a whirlwind, earthquake, or fire – but nevertheless unmistakable when the big picture is kept in view.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Catholic middle ground on Covid-19 vaccination

I commend to you Catholic philosopher Josh Hochschild’s recent EDIFY video addressing the question “Are Vaccine Mandates Ethical?”  His position is that those who wish to take one of the Covid-19 vaccines can do so in good conscience, but also that vaccination must be voluntary.  As regular readers of this blog know, that is also my own position.  More importantly, it is the teaching of the Church.  I also highly recommend the article “Using Abortion-Derived Vaccines: A Moral Analysis” by Fr. Ezra Sullivan and Fr. Leon Kuriakos Pereira, which appears in the current issue of Nova et Vetera.  It is the most thorough defense of the Church’s teaching on this subject that I am aware of.  It is also a salutary antidote to the fanaticism that has unfortunately taken deep root on both sides of this issue, among those who insist that everyone must refuse to take the vaccine and those who insist that everyone must be required to take it.  Both positions are contrary to reason and charity.  This is a matter about which the individual conscience ought to be at liberty.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Western cultural suicide as apostasy (Updated)

In his classic book Suicide of the West, James Burnham famously characterized liberalism as “the ideology of Western suicide.”  I’ve been meaning for some time to write up an essay on the book.  This isn’t it.  But Burnham’s thesis came to mind when reading Michael Anton’s essay “Unprecedented” in the latest New Criterion, because the phenomena Anton cites clearly confirm Burnham’s analysis. 

Ours is a civilization in decline, and at a rapidly accelerating pace.  That isn’t new in human history.  But the precise manner in which it is disintegrating seems to be unprecedented, which is the reason for the title of Anton’s essay.  What has effectively become the ideology of the ruling classes, which goes by many names – political correctness, “wokeness,” “critical social justice,” the “successor Ideology,” the baizuo mentality, and so on – manifests a perverse self-destructiveness and nihilism that, as Anton argues, appears sui generis.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Dissident Philosophers

Rowman and Littlefield has just published the anthology Dissident Philosophers: Voices Against the Political Current of the Academy, edited by T. Allan Hillman and Tully Borland.  (The hardcover version is expensive, but the publisher’s website indicates that there is also a cheaper eBook version.)  My article “The Metaphysical Foundations of Conservatism” appears in the volume.  The other contributors are Francis J. Beckwith, John Bickle, Marica Bernstein, Daniel Bonevac, Jason Brennan, Rafael De Clercq, Dan Demetriou, Michael Huemer, Eric Mack, J. P. Moreland, Jan Narveson, Michael Pakaluk, Neven Sesardić, Steven C. Skultety, William F. Vallicella, and Robert Westmoreland.  In his blurb for the book, Prof. Thomas Kelly of Princeton University writes: “An interesting and at times fascinating glimpse into the thought of a group of heterodox intellectuals.  In addition to the clear presentation of well-developed philosophical views that challenge left-wing orthodoxies, their personal experiences and reflections on what is involved in being a professional philosopher who dissents from those orthodoxies makes for compelling reading.”

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Geach on original sin

Recently we dipped into Peter Geach’s book Providence and Evil.  Let’s do so again, looking this time at what he has to say about the doctrine of original sin.  Geach says that the doctrine holds that human beings have “inherited… [a] flawed nature,” and indeed that:

The traditional doctrine is that since the sin of our first parents, men have been conceived and born different in nature from what they would have been had our first parents stood firm under trial.  As C. S. Lewis puts it, a new species, not made by God, sinned itself into existence. (pp. 89-90)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

MacIntyre on human dignity

Recently, Alasdair MacIntyre presented a talk on the theme “Human Dignity: A Puzzling and Possibly Dangerous Idea?” at the Fall Conference of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame.  You can watch it on YouTube.  It has gotten a lot of attention even beyond academic circles, which is not surprising given MacIntyre’s stature together with the question he raises in the title.  What follows is a summary of the talk followed by my own comments.  I’m only going to cover MacIntyre’s main themes; there are various details (such as MacIntyre’s comments on specific historical examples) for which you’ll have to listen to his talk.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Feast of Christ the King

Today Catholics celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, which makes it an appropriate time to remind ourselves of what the Church teaches the faithful about their duty to bring their religion to bear on political matters.  “But wait,” you might ask, “hasn’t the Church since Vatican II adopted the American attitude of keeping religion out of politics, and making of it a purely private affair?”  Absolutely not.  Even Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican II’s famous declaration on religious freedom, insists that it “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ” (emphasis added). 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Geach’s argument against modernism

Catholic philosopher Peter Geach’s book Providence and Evil is interesting not only for what it says about the topics referred to in the title, but also for its many insights and arguments concerning other matters that Geach treats along the way.  Among these passing remarks is a brief but trenchant critique of those who propose a “denatured” brand of Christianity in the name of “man’s evolution and progress” (p. 85).  Theirs is the view that Christian tradition is “mutable,” so that “with the progress of knowledge a doctrine hitherto continuously taught in one sense now needs to be construed in another sense” (pp. 86-87).  Geach doesn’t use the label “modernism,” but that is what he is talking about.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Aquinas on the relative importance of pastors and theologians

In his book Thomas Aquinas: His Personality and Thought, Martin Grabmann notes:

In a passage of his… [Aquinas] touches upon the question, whether the pastors of souls or the professors of theology have a more important position in the life of the Church, and he decides in favor of the latter.  He gives the following reason for his view: In the construction of a building the architect, who conceives the plan and directs the construction, stands above the workmen who actually put up the building.  In the construction of the divine edifice of the Church and the care of souls, the position of architect is held by the bishops, but also by the theology professors, who study and teach the manner in which the care of souls is to be conducted. (p. 5)

Thursday, November 4, 2021

The politics of chastity

Chastity is the virtue governing the proper use of sexuality.  My article “The Politics of Chastity” appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Nova et Vetera.  It is part of a symposium on Reinhard Hütter’s book Bound for Beatitude: A Thomistic Study in Eschatology and Ethics, which includes an essay on the subject of chastity and pornography that inspired my own article.  The article addresses the nature of chastity, vices contrary to chastity, the effect such vices (and in particular pornography) have on society at large, and the implications all of this has for political philosophy and in particular for the question of integralism. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Neo-Aristotelian Metaphysics and the Theology of Nature

Routledge has just published the new anthology Neo-Aristotelian Metaphysics and the Theology of Nature, edited By William M. R. Simpson, Robert C. Koons, and James Orr.  My article “Natural and Supernatural” appears in the volume.  Here is the abstract for the article:

The “supernatural,” as that term is traditionally used in theology, is that which is beyond the power of the natural order to produce on its own.  Hence it can be produced only by what has causal power superior to that of anything in the natural order, namely the divine cause of the natural order.  Insofar as the natural order depends on this supernatural cause, the supernatural is metaphysically prior to the natural.  However, the natural is epistemologically prior to the supernatural, insofar as we cannot form a conception of the supernatural except by contrast with the natural, and cannot know whether there is such a thing as the supernatural unless we can reason to its existence from the existence of the natural order.  A proper understanding of the supernatural thus presupposes a proper understanding of the natural order and of the causal relation between that order and its cause.  This chapter offers an account of these matters and of their implications for theological issues concerning causal arguments for God’s existence, divine conservation and concurrence, miracles, nature and grace, faith and reason, and the notion of a theological mystery (viz. what is beyond the power of the intellect to discover on its own).

Friday, October 29, 2021

Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part VI: Schopenhauer

Our series has examined how atheists of earlier generations often exhibited a higher degree of moral and/or metaphysical gravitas than the sophomoric New Atheists of more recent vintage.  As we’ve seen, this is true of Nietzsche, Sartre, Freud, Marx, and even Woody Allen.  There is arguably even more in the way of metaphysical and moral gravitas to be found in our next subject, Arthur Schopenhauer.  Plus, I think it has to be said, the best hair.  So let’s have a look, if you’re willing.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Untangling the web

David S. Oderberg and others on free speech, in the new anthology Having Your Say: Threats to Free Speech in the 21st Century, edited by J. R. Shackleton.

In First Things, William Lane Craig in quest of the historical Adam.  Christianity Today interviews Craig about his new book on the subject.

At Rolling Stone, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen on the release of two live albums and the prospect of a new album.  Fagen is interviewed at Variety and the Tablet.  The Ringer on the Dan’s new following among millennials.  Elliot Scheiner on engineering Gaucho.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Truth as a transcendental

Last June, I presented a talk on the topic “Truth as a Transcendental” at the Aquinas Philosophy Workshop on the theme Aquinas on Knowledge, Truth, and Wisdom in Greenville, South Carolina.  You can now listen to the talk at the Thomistic Institute’s Soundcloud page.  (What you see above is the chart on the transcendentals referred to in the talk.  Click on the image to enlarge.  You'll also find a handout for the talk, which includes the chart, at the link to the Soundcloud audio of the talk.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

From Socrates to Stock

Socrates is a model for all philosophers, not only because he pursued the truth through rational argumentation, but because he did so uncompromisingly, even at the cost of his life.  And he was executed, not by religious authorities and not by a dictator, but by democratic, egalitarian, purportedly tolerant Athens.  This would lead his student Plato to warn us, in the Republic, that the unruly passions spawned by egalitarianism are by no means the friends of reason and philosophy.  Woke politics and cancel culture provide the latest confirmation of this thesis.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Covid-19 vaccination should not be mandatory

In a recent post, I argued that a Catholic can in good conscience take one of the Covid-19 vaccines, but also that such vaccination should not be mandatory.  In a follow-up post, I expanded on the first point.  Let’s now expand on the second.

Thomistic natural law theory and Catholic moral theology are not libertarian, but neither are they statist.  They acknowledge that we can have enforceable obligations to which we do not consent, but also insist that there are limits to what government can require of us, and qualifications even where it can require something of us.  In the case of vaccine mandates (whether we are talking about Covid-19 vaccines, polio vaccines, or whatever), they neither imply a blanket condemnation of such mandates nor a blanket approval of them.  There is nuance here that too many hotheads on both sides of the Catholic debate on this issue ignore.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Covid-19 vaccines and Jeffrey Dahmer’s nail clippings

Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered in prison almost thirty years ago.  Suppose that, before his body was removed from the crime scene, a prison guard had clipped off some of his fingernails as a ghoulish souvenir.  Suppose further that this guard dabbled in genetics and cloning as a hobby.  And suppose he somehow figured out a way to make exact copies of the fingernails, so that he could sell them on eBay to people interested in serial killer memorabilia.  Now suppose that almost thirty years later, you develop a novel nail clipper design.  You work up a prototype and test it – using one of the cloned Dahmer fingernails as your test material.  They work great, and you go on to manufacture and market the clippers.  Suppose they are so successful that all the other nail clipper manufacturers go out of business.  If people want to clip their nails, they need to buy your product.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Covid-19 vaccination is not the hill to die on

What should Catholics think about the Covid-19 vaccines and about vaccine mandates?  I keep getting asked about this, so a post devoted to the topic seems in order.  As I have said before, I think that the statement on these subjects issued last year by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) gets things exactly right.  The vaccines can be taken in good conscience, but authorities ought to keep them voluntary rather than making them mandatory.  (For those who are wondering, yes, I’ve been vaccinated, as have several other members of my family.) 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

It’s the next thrilling open thread!

Please keep in mind, dear reader, that if you’re inclined to begin a comment with “This is off-topic, but…” then you shouldn’t post it.  Certainly I won’t approve it.  Wait for a post where it will be on-topic – such as this one, the latest, exciting open thread, where everything is on-topic.  From logic gates to interest rates, from CRT to CBD, from Charlemagne to House of Pain – the field is wide open.  Just keep it civil and keep it classy, as always.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The “first world problem” of evil

Suffering, atheists frequently assure us, is not what we would expect if God exists.  You might suppose, then, that where there is greater suffering, there will be fewer believers in God, and where there is less suffering there will be more believers in God.  But that appears to be the reverse of the truth.  As a friend pointed out to me recently, it is a remarkable fact that though life was, for most human beings for most of human history, much, much harder than it is for modern Westerners, they were also far more likely to be religious than modern Westerners are.  It is precisely as modern medicine, technology, and relative social and political stability have made life easier and greatly mitigated suffering that religious belief has declined. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Lao Tzu’s negative theology

Among the most interesting things about Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (fl. 6th century B.C.) is that he did not exist.  Or at least, that’s what some modern scholars tell us.  I’m skeptical about his non-existence myself, and so will refer to him in what follows as if he were a real person.  In any event, that existence and non-existence are both attributed to Lao Tzu is oddly appropriate given what his classic work Tao Te Ching says about the ultimate source of things: “All things in the world come from being.  And being comes from non-being” (II, 40, Wing-Tsit Chan translation).  What does this mean?

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Ioannidis on the politicization of science

Like other academics, I first became aware of John Ioannidis through his influential 2005 paper “Why Most Published Research Findings are False.”  That essay was widely praised as a salutary reminder from one scientist to his fellows of the need for their field to be self-critical.  With the COVID-19 pandemic, Ioannidis would become far more widely known, this time for expressing skepticism about some of the scientific claims being made about the virus and the measures taken to deal with it.  His warnings were in the same spirit as that of his earlier work, and presented in the same measured and reasonable manner – but this time they were not so warmly received.  In a new essay at The Tablet, Ioannidis reflects on the damage that has been done to the norms of scientific research as politics has corrupted it during the pandemic.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Make-believe matter

Materialism can at first blush seem to have a more commonsensical and empirical character than Cartesian dualism.  The latter asks you to believe in a res cogitans that is unobservable in principle.  The former – so it might appear – merely asks you to confine your belief to what you already know from everyday experience.  You pick up an apple and bite into it.  Its vibrant color, sweet taste and odor, feel of solidity, and the crunch it makes all make it seem as real as anything could be.  Anyone who says that all that exists are things like that might, whether or not you agree with him, at least seem to have the evidence of the senses in his corner. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Aquinas on humor and social life

In Summa Theologiae II-II.168.2-4, Aquinas discusses the essential role that play and humor have in human life.  They are necessary for the health of the individual, insofar as in their absence the mind becomes weary and tense.  And they are necessary for the health of social life, which would be similarly strained without the ability to laugh and play together.  The virtue of wittiness is the character trait that facilitates this human need.  Naturally, as in every other area of human life, we can sin by excess, as when we joke in an inappropriate manner or at an inappropriate time, or are in our general manner of life insufficiently serious about serious matters.  But we can also sin by deficiency, by being insufficiently pleasant and willing to engage in play with our fellows.  Aquinas writes:

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Confucius on our times

What is essential to a well-functioning society?  In a famous passage from The Great Learning traditionally attributed to Confucius (551-479 B.C.), the philosopher says:

The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their own states.  Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families.  Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons.  Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts.  Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts.  Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge.  Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Oppy and Feser after-party

After the first exchange Graham Oppy and I had on Cameron Bertuzzi’s show Capturing Christianity two years ago, Cameron hosted an after-show Q & A for his patrons.  He has now made it available to the general public on YouTube.  It runs for over half an hour and ranges over a wide variety of topics – the laws of logic, fundamental particles, divine simplicity and modal collapse, divine freedom, the “what caused God?” objection, dualism versus materialism, the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Thomism versus theistic personalism, potentiality versus actuality, and even capital punishment.  Check it out.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Sterba on the problem of evil

Recently my article “The Thomistic Dissolution of the Logical Problem of Evil” appeared in the journal Religions.  It was part of a special issue devoted to critical responses to James Sterba’s book Is a Good God Logically Possible?  Sterba has now replied to his critics.  What follows are some remarks about what he says about my own contribution.  (Keep in mind that what I have to say below presupposes my earlier essay and that I’m not going to repeat here everything I said there.)

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part V: Woody Allen

So far in this series we’ve considered Nietzsche, Sartre, Freud, and Marx.  None of them is exactly a laugh riot.  So let’s now take a look at the lighter side of atheistic disenchantment and nihilism, in the work of that most philosophical of American comic filmmakers, Woody Allen.  We’ve noted how one of the features that distinguishes the New Atheism from the Old is its shallow optimism.  New Atheists typically refuse to see any good in religion at all, and thus can foresee no loss whatsoever in the prospect of its disappearance.  Allen is as free of that sophomoric attitude as any Old Atheist, which gives him at least some of the relative sobriety of the members of that club.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Oppy on Thomistic cosmological arguments

My article “Oppy on Thomistic cosmological arguments” has just been published in the latest issue of the journal Religious Studies.  (It’s behind a paywall, sorry.)  It is a reply to all of the criticisms Graham Oppy has leveled over the years against arguments of that sort, not only in his Religious Studies article on my Aristotelian proof, but also in his books Arguing about Gods and Naturalism and Religion and elsewhere.  (Regular readers will recall the two YouTube exchanges I had with Oppy on the program Capturing Christianity, which you can view here and here.)

Friday, July 30, 2021

Anaximander and natural theology

The idea of natural theology is the idea of knowledge of God’s existence and nature that is attainable through purely philosophical arguments, entirely independently of any special divine revelation.  (This is usually contrasted with revealed theology, which is knowledge of God’s existence and nature attainable through some special divine revelation – for example, through a prophet sent by God whose veracity is backed by miracles.)  In Western philosophy, natural theology goes back to the very beginning, to the Greeks – and not just to Plato and Aristotle, but to the Pre-Socratics.  Arguably it begins with the second of them, Anaximander of Miletus (610 – 546 B.C.).

Friday, July 23, 2021

Pope Francis’s scarlet letter

Consider two groups of Catholics:  First, divorced Catholics who disobey the Church’s teaching by forming a “new union” in which they are sexually active, thereby committing adultery.  And second, traditionalist Catholics attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (i.e. the “Latin Mass”), some of whom (but by no means all) hold erroneous theological opinions about the Second Vatican Council and related matters.  In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis radically altered the Church’s liturgical practice in order to accommodate the former group.  And in Traditionis Custodes, he has now radically altered the Church’s liturgical practice in order to punish the latter group. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Pope Victor redux?

The Quartodeciman controversy of the second century A.D. had to do with the date on which the resurrection of Christ ought to be observed.  Churches in Asia Minor preserved the custom of tying this observance to the date of the Passover, whatever day of the week that happened to fall on.  The Roman practice was instead to observe it on a Sunday, since that was the day Christ was resurrected.  The eastern practice was defended by St. Polycarp, who appealed to the authority of none other than his teacher St. John the Apostle.  Pope St. Anicetus tried unsuccessfully to convince Polycarp to adopt the Roman practice, and they agreed to disagree.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Aquinas on bad prelates

What attitude should a Catholic take toward cruel and arbitrary prelates – for example, those who endlessly stir up division and then shamelessly blame the division on those who note and bemoan the fact?  In Quodlibet VIII, Aquinas makes some relevant remarks when addressing the question whether “evil prelates” should be honored.  You can find the passage in the Nevitt and Davies translation of Thomas Aquinas’s Quodlibetal Questions, from which I quote:

Monday, July 12, 2021

The metaphysical presuppositions of formal logic

By “logic” we might mean (a) the rules that determine the difference between good and bad reasoning, or (b) some formal system that codifies these rules in a specific way, such as the systems of propositional and predicate logic that contemporary students of analytic philosophy learn as a routine part of their education.  These are not the same thing, and it is fallacious to confuse them. 

Most philosophers have at least a vague awareness of this.  For instance, they know from standard textbooks that traditional and modern logic differ in their interpretation of categorical propositions, the repercussions this has for their understanding of the square of opposition, and so forth.  They know that there has been much debate in contemporary philosophy over the status of modal logic, not to mention even more exotic systems like quantum logic.  They may be at least dimly aware that systems of logic were developed in the history of Indian philosophy that differ from those familiar to Western thinkers.  And so on.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Schmid on existential inertia

At his blog, Joseph Schmid has replied to my recent post about his criticisms of the Aristotelian proof.  The reply is extremely long.  Now, I often write long blog posts myself.  Indeed, my previous post on Schmid was, at over 5,000 words, pretty long.  But by my count (via cutting and pasting into MS Word), Schmid’s reply clocks in at almost 40,000 words – all written up and posted within just two days after my post!  And even the cursory look I gave it shows that it raises a variety of issues that go well beyond anything I talk about in my post.  Into the bargain, it also summarizes and links to myriad other blog posts, articles, and YouTube videos of Schmid’s which, he indicates, we ought to check out if we want to have a better idea of his views about the matters under discussion! 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Schmid on the Aristotelian proof

A fellow named Joseph Schmid has written a number of articles and blog posts critical of various ideas and arguments of mine, such as the Aristotelian proof defended in chapter 1 of my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  Until this week, I hadn’t read any of this material, though for some time now I’ve been getting an increasing number of requests that I comment on it.  Many of these have been anonymous and weirdly insistent or adulatory toward Schmid, which made me suspect sock puppetry rather than genuine widespread interest.  My attention in recent months has, in any event, been focused on the book on the soul that I am working on and which is way behind schedule (as well as on other existing writing commitments, most of which have deadlines).  I also have an article forthcoming in Religious Studies responding to Graham Oppy’s objections to the Aristotelian proof, and after working on that I was inclined to give the topic a rest for a while.  Hence my neglect of Schmid.  But the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  So, in hopes of appeasing the Schmid enthusiasts, this week I read his recent article “Stage One of the Aristotelian Proof: A Critical Appraisal.”  Let’s take a look at it.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

A whole lotta links

At Substack, philosopher Michael Robillard explains how he left academia, and how academia left him.

Anna Krylov warns of the growing politicization of science, in the Journal of Physical Chemistry.  Nautilus on the sometimes contradictory scientific literature. 

At Rolling Stone, hear David Crosby sing Donald Fagen’s new song “Rodriguez for a Night.”

The Spectator on a new biography of Kurt Gödel. 

At the Claremont Review of Books, Joseph M. Bessette on Barack Obama’s latest memoir.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Curiosity damned the cat

Aquinas tells us that curiosity is a vice.  Before you clutch your pearls, dear village atheist reader, know that Aquinas was not condemning the pursuit of knowledge as such.  On the contrary, he refers to such pursuit as “studiousness,” and he regarded it is a virtue, not a vice.  “Curiosity,” as Aquinas uses the term, refers instead to intellectual pursuits that are disordered in some respect.  (Compare: The sin of wrath is not anger, but the indulgence of disordered anger; the sin of lust is not sexual desire, but the indulgence of disordered sexual desire; and so on.  In each case, it’s not the thing, but the abuse of the thing, that is condemned.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Indeterminacy and the comics

When I was seventeen, I wanted to be Al Williamson, the legendary science-fiction and adventure strip comic book artist.  Williamson is best known for his work on titles like Weird Science and Weird Fantasy for EC Comics in the 1950s, though in his later years he would be associated with the Star Wars newspaper strip and comic books.  (That was a tough one for me, since I love Williamson but can’t stand Star Wars.)  The uncolored original art for the classic opening panel from EC’s “Space-Borne!” (which you see to the left) gives a good sense of the Williamson style – elegant, lush, heroic.

For a larger sample of Williamson’s work , you might check out his adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” for EC’s Weird Science-Fantasy; the amusing “The Success Story” from Warren’s Creepy magazine; his adaptation of the movie Blade Runner for Marvel Comics; and “The Few and the Far” from Pacific Comics’ Alien Worlds.  A new book, Al Williamson: Strange World Adventures, offers a pleasing overview of the cartoonist’s career, with a great many pages of original art reproduced on large pages in black and white so that the details of Williamson’s pen and ink work are all visible.

Five Proofs in Spanish

My book Five Proofs of the Existence of God is now available in a Spanish translation.  It has for some time been available also in German.

For anyone interested in other translations of my books: The Last Superstition has been translated into Portuguese, French, and GermanPhilosophy of Mind is available in German.  A book of some of my essays is available in Romanian

Saturday, June 12, 2021

An exegetical principle from Fortescue

In his book The Early Papacy: To the Synod of Chalcedon in 451, Fr. Adrian Fortescue argues that the essential Catholic claims about the authority of the pope can all be found in patristic texts from the period referred to in the title.  You may or may not agree with him about that, but the papacy is not my topic here.  What I want to call attention to instead is a general exegetical principle Fortescue appeals to at the start.  He writes:

Before we quote our texts, there is yet a remark to be made.  Nearly all these quotations are quite well known already.  This does not affect their value.  If a text proves a thesis, it does not matter at all whether it is now quoted for the first or the hundredth time…  Naturally, people who deny [what we believe]… also have something to say about them.  In each case they make what attempt they can to show that the writer does not really admit what we claim, in spite of his words… The case is always the same.  We quote words, of which the plain meaning seems to be that their writer believed what we believe, in some point.  The opponent then tries to strip his words of this meaning… The answer is that, in all cases, we must suppose that a sane man, who uses definite expressions, means what he says, unless the contrary can be proved.  To polish off a statement with which you do not agree by saying that it is not meant, and leave the matter at that, is a silly proceeding.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Aquinas and Hayek on abstraction

Common sense and Aristotelian philosophy alike take it that we first know particular individual things (this triangle, that dog, etc.) and only afterward arrive at abstract ideas (triangularity, dogginess, etc.).  F. A. Hayek, who was a philosopher of mind as well as an economist and political philosopher, argued that this gets things the wrong way around.  The theme is most fully developed in his essay “The Primacy of the Abstract” (in his New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas).  Thomas Aquinas, naturally, upholds the Aristotelian position.  However, though his views differ from Hayek’s in several crucial ways, there is a sense in which he allows that abstractions do have a kind of priority.  A compare and contrast seems worthwhile.  Let’s start with Hayek and then come back to Aquinas.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Dave’s armstronging again

Longtime readers might recall Dave Armstrong, a Catholic apologist who, to put it gently, has a tendency to stretch the truth in bizarre ways.  His odd behavior has even inspired a definition:

armstrong, verb.  Boldly but casually to insinuate a falsehood in the hope that others will go along with it.  “Dave tried to armstrong me into a debate.  Can you believe that guy?”

Well, Dave “Stretch” Armstrong is at it again.  Apropos of nothing, he posted an article at his blog the other day suggesting that I have claimed that “Pope Francis favors divorce.”  That’s a pretty serious charge, but of course I have said no such thing.  Like other people, I have said that Amoris Laetitia is problematic insofar as its ambiguities seem to permit divorced Catholics living in adulterous relationships to take Holy Communion under certain circumstances, which would conflict with traditional Catholic teaching.  And like others (including Armstrong himself!), I have criticized the pope for not answering the dubia, and thereby making it clear that that is not what Amoris is meant to teach.  But that is a far cry from accusing the pope of actually favoring divorce.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

A reply to Dreher

Rod Dreher has responded to my recent post about him and Steve Skojec.  What follows is a reply.  Let me start by saying that I appreciate the good sportsmanship evident in his response.  Dreher has made his own personal spiritual crisis central to his writing about his understanding of Christianity and his reasons for leaving the Catholic Church.  There is simply no way one can disagree with him, however gently, without opening oneself up to the cheap and unjust accusation that one is being insensitive to the suffering he underwent.  Dreher does not play that game, which is to his credit.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Do not abandon your Mother

In Catholic theology, the Church is not to be identified with a mere aggregate of her members, not even those members who happen to hold ecclesiastical office at any particular moment.  She is an institution which existed before any of her current membership did and will continue to exist when they are gone.  But more than that, she is a corporate person, who can be said to think and to will, and to have rights and duties and other personal characteristics.  Even more specifically, she is a person of a feminine nature, the Bride of Christ and the Holy Mother of the faithful, nourishing them through sacrament and doctrine in a way analogous to a human mother’s nourishing of her children.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

The trouble with capitalism

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  (Matthew 19:24)

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  (Mark 8:36)

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)

When people use or hear the word “capitalism,” some of the things they might bring to mind are:

1. The institution of private property, including private ownership of the basic means of production

2. Market competition

3. The existence of corporations as legal persons

4. Inequalities in wealth and income

5. An economic order primarily oriented to the private sector, with government acting at the margins and only where necessary

Friday, May 14, 2021

Intellectuals in hell

It is by virtue of our rational or intellectual powers that we are made in God’s image and have a dignity nothing else in the material world possesses.  As Aquinas writes:

Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. vi, 12): “Man's excellence consists in the fact that God made him to His own image by giving him an intellectual soul, which raises him above the beasts of the field.” Therefore things without intellect are not made to God's image…  It is clear, therefore, that intellectual creatures alone, properly speaking, are made to God's image.  (Summa Theologiae I.93.2)

And again, a couple of articles later: “Man is said to be the image of God by reason of his intellectual nature” (Summa Theologiae I.93.4).

Monday, May 10, 2021

Grisez on balancing health against other considerations

Now that millions have been vaccinated, bogeyman Donald Trump has departed, and life is starting to get back to normal, some people are getting some critical distance on the health crisis of the last year – which was caused by the reaction to the virus no less than the virus itself.  Liberal magazine The Atlantic criticizes “the liberals who can’t quit lockdown.”  On Real Time, Bill Maher challenges his fellow left-wingers to own up to their exaggerations and misinformation on the subject of COVID-19.  On Daily Clout, feminist Naomi Wolf interviews Stanford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, who says that the lockdowns were “biggest public health mistake we've ever made” and caused harms “worse than COVID.”

Monday, May 3, 2021

The idols of the mind

Thomas Harper is one of the great forgotten Neo-Scholastic writers of the nineteenth century.  I discussed his wonderful little book The Immaculate Conception in a blog post many years ago.  He is especially notable for his unusually rigorous and thorough treatment of abstract topics in metaphysics, in works such as the massive three-volume The Metaphysics of the School.  Harper will sometimes interrupt a sustained exercise in abstract reasoning with a non-technical aside, as he does in the course of discussing the metaphysics of truth in Volume I.  He there offers (at pp. 461-466) a commentary on Francis Bacon’s “idols of the mind” which is even more relevant now than it was in Harper’s day.