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.

The idols of the mind are four persistent sources of error which Bacon took to stand in the way of intellectual progress.  He discusses them in The New Organon and labels them the idols of the tribe, the idols of the cave, the idols of the marketplace, and the idols of the theatre.  The idols of the tribe are biases resulting from the limits of human nature, such as our tendency to be fooled by the surface appearances of things.  The idols of the cave are biases deriving from an individual’s temperament, experiences, education, etc.  The idols of the marketplace are biases stemming from the habitual ways of describing and conceptualizing things that we pick up from our social context.  The idols of the theatre are biases deriving from unexamined philosophical assumptions.  Harper elaborates on each of these, especially the second and third, in illuminating ways.

Idols of the tribe and the theatre

It is somewhat ironic that an unreconstructed Scholastic like Harper should treat Bacon’s account in a sympathetic way, given that the Scholasticism of Bacon’s own day was one of Bacon’s targets.  But then, it is typical of a good Scholastic to look for whatever truth there is to be found in a view, and Bacon’s general points are well taken even if one can disagree with his application of them to certain specific cases.

As I discussed in an earlier post, in their own elaboration on the idols of the tribe, Bacon and his early modern successors took what a Scholastic is bound to regard as an excessively skeptical view of the deliverances of perceptual experience.  But Harper does not discuss this issue.  In his own treatment of the errors deriving from the limits of human nature, he emphasizes instead the Aristotelian theme that though the human intellect can arrive at knowledge of universal natures, it must (unlike angelic intellects, which are entirely separated from matter) abstract them from particulars known through the sense organs.  This opens the door to all the sorts of intellectual mistakes that might result from the incompleteness and admixture of error to which perceptual knowledge is prone (even if the Aristotelian will not agree with early modern proponents of the primary versus secondary quality distinction about the specific ways in which perception can lead us into error).

In his treatment of the idols of the theatre, Harper identifies idealism and materialism as the two main philosophical errors to which thinkers in the nineteenth century were prone.  Naturally, your mileage may vary, but Harper (like yours truly) is looking at things from an Aristotelian-Scholastic point of view.  And from that point of view, as Harper points out, idealism tends to overemphasize the abstract and speculative and materialism tends to overemphasize the concrete and practical.  The metaphysical implications of each tendency are, of course, that idealism absorbs all reality up into mind and materialism drags all reality down into matter.

I would submit that postmodernism and scientism in their various guises are the contemporary heirs to the two tendencies Harper identifies, and degenerate heirs at that.  Postmodernist views essentially absorb all reality into the contingent cultural and linguistic products of the human mind, specifically – a far cry from, say, the Absolute Spirit of Hegel.  And the scientism of contemporary celebrity scientists and New Atheist types is, as I have chronicled on this blog over the years, philosophically so shallow that it makes even the materialism of Marx look sophisticated by comparison.

Anyway, Harper does not say more about the idols of the tribe and those of the theatre – which are, respectively, the most concrete and most abstract of the sources of error.  His focus is on the other two, middle ground, idols.

Idols of the cave

Of the idols that reflect individual temperament and formation, Harper identifies two as of special interest.  The first he labels with the wonderful old-fashioned and forgotten term “viewiness.”  The viewy personality type is that of someone overly impressed with an idea because it is original, bold, or paradoxical, even if it is half-baked at best.  Such a person is intellectually lazy and superficial, unwilling to examine the idea critically and rigorously and to consider how it might need to be refined or even faces serious difficulties.  The fanciful idea instead becomes the lens through which everything is viewed.  As Harper writes, such people “do not master their idea; the idea masters them” (p. 462).  The “viewy” sort of thinker, Harper says, is inevitably interesting but also unsafe as a guide.

When one considers currently fashionable claims to the effect that there are dozens of “genders,” that the police should be “defunded,” that “white supremacy” lurks under every bed and around every corner, and other harebrained ideas light on evidence or argumentation but put forward with maximum dogmatism and shrill intolerance, it is evident that “viewiness” has in recent years reached pandemic proportions. 

The other idol of the cave discussed by Harper represents an extreme opposite from that of viewiness.  It is associated with the personality type who is immersed in minutiae, endlessly cataloguing a variety of particular facts but unwilling to rise to a unifying systematic view of the whole.  Those familiar with the history of philosophy during the last century or so will recognize “viewiness” to be the occupational hazard of continental philosophy (which is the ultimate source of so many of the bad ideas associated with the “Critical Social Justice” movement).  And they will recognize the inability to rise above minutiae to be the occupational hazard of analytic philosophy. 

(This is, of course, an oversimplification.  Continental philosophy is the source of many deep insights about particular phenomena closely observed – for example, Husserl on perception and Merleau-Ponty on embodiment.  And analytic philosophers can be guilty of viewiness, the philosophical naturalism uncritically assumed by so many of them being the prime example.  But then, I am not saying that all continental or analytic philosophers are actually guilty of the sins in question.  The point is merely to note errors to which each approach is prone if one is not careful.)

Idols of the marketplace

It is the sources of error deriving from the manner in which ideas are propagated in the public square that Harper has the most to say about.  He identifies no less than seven distinct varieties.  The first he calls “passivity of thought,” which is the tendency to treat mass media (newspapers, pamphlets, and the like being the examples he had in mind) as consumer goods that one might choose to serve as the providers of one’s stock of information and range of possible opinions.  To use a modern term for what Harper has in mind, the consumer essentially “outsources” his thinking and thereby becomes prey to whatever sophistry or partisanship determines the content of his favored source of ideas.  The contemporary relevance is obvious.  The far greater diversity today of types of mass media, and the rise of social media, have made it even easier now than it was in Harper’s day for people to confine themselves to echo chambers (or indeed to sub-chambers within echo chambers) of either a left-wing or right-wing kind.

The second source of error is what Harper calls “the critical temper.”  This is the kind of mentality that is reflexively hostile to the inheritance of the past.  As Harper points out, this mindset has infected Western thought since the rise of early modern philosophy, and it has permeated our culture much more deeply in the near century-and-a-half since he wrote.  It is evident in the Marxian and Foucauldian “hermeneutics of suspicion,” in popular culture’s relentless celebration of the rebel and the innovator, in moronic slogans like “think different,” and in the kneejerk tendency to dismiss traditional moral attitudes as mere “bigotry” or otherwise to presume them guilty until proven innocent.  (The correct attitude, as every Aristotelian natural law theorist and Burkean conservative knows, is to presume them innocent until proven guilty.  Notice that, contrary to a common caricature, that does not entail that they never are guilty.  The issue has to do with where the burden of proof lies.)

The third modern idol of the marketplace identified by Harper is what he calls the “unreality of thought.”  What he has in mind is an attitude that makes of intellectual life a kind of mental onanism, where things are puzzled over simply for the sake of doing so, rather than for the sake of discovering reality.  As Harper writes, with thinkers of this mindset, “in their judgment, all the value is in the search; not in the discovery” (p. 464).  This is echoed in the stupid contemporary slogan “It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.”  In fact, of course, the search or journey is literally pointless without a destination.  And as Harper notes, this mentality tends to blind one to the reality, or at least the knowability, of truth.  (I would suggest that the prevalence of this attitude toward the life of the mind is one of the many incoherencies to which the modern neglect of final causality has led us.  For the intellect has a natural end no less than our other faculties do, and it is precisely the attainment of truth.)

A fourth and related source of error is the neglect of what Harper calls “the responsibility of thought.”  Here he is thinking of the presumption that everyone is morally at liberty to express whatever views he wants to, no matter how poorly thought out and potentially damaging to society.  It is the attitude of demanding the right to expression without recognizing the duties that go along with rights – in this case, the duty carefully to think through the implications and defensibility of one’s opinions before giving expression to them. 

Note that the problem here is distinct from, even if related to, the question of how extensive the legal right to express one’s views ought to be.  Naturally, the idea of putting limitations on that right raises problems that I am not addressing here.  The point is that, even someone who favors a nearly unrestricted legal right to free speech ought to see the reality of the problem Harper is calling attention to.  Favoring free expression without concerning oneself about the quality of what is expressed makes no more sense than favoring eating without concerning oneself about the quality of the food eaten.  The exchange of ideas, like the consumption of food, has a teleology that determines its proper use.

A fifth idol of the marketplace is “literary venality.”  Here Harper has in mind the tendency for writers and thinkers to be guided by considerations of commercial gain or partisan advantage rather than the disinterested pursuit of truth.  This is, of course, just old fashioned sophistry, which is a potential problem in any society and for any political persuasion.  But as Plato taught, it is something to which democracies are especially prone. 

The sixth of the idols falling into the present category, says Harper, is “aversion… [to] the abstract and difficult.”  This is the attitude of the person who sees himself as practical and down-to-earth and who lacks patience for what he regards as the hair-splitting of metaphysicians.  Now, some of the examples of bad thinking that I have cited so far have been left-wing.  But Harper notes that in modern times, a philistine aversion to abstract and difficult reasoning stems in part from “the materialism engendered by our devotion to trade and commerce” (p. 465).  Hence it has what today would widely be regarded as a “right-wing” provenance, and people strongly drawn to business and money-making do indeed often lack sufficient interest in or appreciation for abstract philosophical matters.

The seventh and last idol of the marketplace is what Harper calls “neglect of moral preparation.”  In particular, it is the failure to subordinate appetite to reason, so that the latter does not become the servant of the former.  This is perhaps Harper’s most important insight, even though – or rather, I should say, precisely because – it is the one to which contemporary readers are bound to be most resistant.  From Plato and Aristotle to Augustine and Aquinas, ancient and medieval thinkers knew that excessive love of pleasure is corrosive of rationality.  They would agree with Harper’s judgement that “it is impossible for a man who is the slave of his passions to be a true philosopher” (p. 465).

That even the mildest disagreement with the ever more expansive agenda of the sexual revolution is now routinely met, not with dispassionate argumentation, but instead with shrill denunciation and threats, only proves the point.  Nor is it only extreme sexual perversion that has clouded our society’s collective reason.  From the expansion of drug legalization, to the non-stop absorption in entertainments of various kinds, to the imbecilic “foodie” phenomenon, our culture is now thoroughly “sensate” in Pitirim Sorokin’s sense.  Hence, vast swaths of intellectual life have been marshalled to serve as a kind of apologetics for vice, the concocting of ever more absurd rationalizations for the indulgence of disordered passion. 

The lowest of the appetites now have, as it were, their fetish boot on the neck of the intellect.  As Harper prophesied: “When the eye of the understanding is clouded over with the film of irregular desires; then false philosophies are most hopeful of triumph” (p. 466).


  1. Harper a 19th century Scholastic Man who predicted the 21st century's current problems better than Hari Seldon predicted the fall of the Galactic Empire (in Asimov's FOUNDATION_.

    It is eerie. Great Post Professor Feser.

  2. Dr. Feser, was Harper a Thomist, specifically? I have this strange memory of reading that he was not on board with scholastic realism about universals, but I think I am misremembering and possibly have someone else in mind.

    [I can't help but mention how weird it was to see this post tonight, as I very recently sent an email with a reader's question wherein I mentioned Harper and his three-volume manual!]

    1. A quick once-over of his three-volume manual doesn't seem to turn up with anything. Perhaps we can go over that.

    2. Hi Archstanton, I imagine that what you might have in mind is that Harper rejects the Thomistic real distinction between essence and existence. That is something else he discusses in Volume I.

    3. Yes, that must've been it! Then I guess he's not exactly a card-carrying Thomist. His work does seem stellar, regardless.

  3. I'm not a foodie, and I find foodies boring, but I always feel a bit guilty about this. How is it any different to an appreciation of the fine arts? (I also feel guilty that I'm bored by classical music.)

    1. That your tastes aren't super-refined isn't some kind of moral failing. It just means that "high culture" (or at least, those versions of it) aren't to your liking. There's no shame in preferring what's more lowbrow in popular culture, so long as you admit that it is lowbrow. The problem comes from trying to declare that what's lowbrow is somehow highbrow or trying to pretend to like high culture for the sake of pretentiousness.

      I would suggest, to alleviate your guilt, to research why foodies and classical music fans love what they love. If you can understand and appreciate why they love what they love, you can at least appreciate what those things are, even if you ultimately disagree with them.

    2. It seems to me the real issue is one of excess vs moderation. Nothing wrong with being a foodie as long as you do it in moderation and not to excess to the point where is it disordered.

      This applies to all pleasures. I like Rock Music and classic Heavy Metal. I know Feser likes Steely Dan. Nothing wrong with that.
      But you know moderation. I don't see Feser at least these days (nor myself) going to a concert and smoking a blunt or drinking to excess and macking on chicks.

      It's nor right. It's not sound........

    3. Son of Ya'kov

      How old are you? Sounds like you are well past it, but it also sounds like you enjoyed yourself with the booze, illicit drugs and 'macking' in the past.

      What bands are you into? Dio and Judas Priest are classic heavy metal - check 'em out, especially 'Holy Diver' by Dio.

      I was an '80s US hardcore punk kid myself. Now really into Sleaford Mods - check 'em out. Fizzy!

    4. >Twice now I've had to delete long strings of off-topic stuff or pointless insults and the like. For goodness' sake, guys, if it's not relevant to the post or it's just gratuitous insults, don't post it. Is basic impulse control really that hard?

      You heard Dr. Feser.

      BTW I am not interested in talking to anybody who posts anonymously unless you ask something super interesting.

      And you haven't. So good day. Go in peace.

    5. Yakov 6.50PM

      So why did you immediately post the above then? Read what Feser said and take control of yourself.

  4. Twice now I've had to delete long strings of off-topic stuff or pointless insults and the like. For goodness' sake, guys, if it's not relevant to the post or it's just gratuitous insults, don't post it. Is basic impulse control really that hard?

    1. @Prof Feser

      Geez what happened after I went to do laundry? It must have been bad.

      Sorry boss if my post didn't make the cut or started something.

      It's all good.

      Cheers sir


      >"unreality of thought.” What he has in mind is an attitude that makes of intellectual life a kind of mental onanism, where things are puzzled over simply for the sake of doing so, rather than for the sake of discovering reality.

      So is there no such thing as what might be called Pure Philosophy? Just exploring things for the sake of looking into it. I am analogously thinking of a philosophical counterpart to what is called "Pure Science"?

      So is doing thought experiments for the sake of doing them always wrong or is it just a matter of moderation vs Excess.

      If you could share yer thoughts that would be lovely. If not its cool.

    2. Hi Son of Ya'Kov,

      I think that what you're describing is perfectly legitimate and healthy and not what Harper was criticizing. Because what you are describing does indeed have a point, which is arriving at truth and deeper understanding, which are indeed good in themselves.

      What Harper has in mind, I think, is rather the sort of attitude that is indifferent to truth but just likes to play around with ideas -- so as to seem clever and show off, or because it's entertaining and one's fun would be spoiled by finding out the right answer, or whatever.

      In his book The Plato Cult, David Stove has a hilarious and quite mean essay on Robert Nozick that accuses Nozick of this sort of attitude. One could argue about how fair it is to Nozick, but Nozick was certainly a brilliant guy who also often seemed to develop ideas well beyond the point where they were plausible or interesting, as a kind of clever intellectual exercise. I wrote a post on what he says about the metaphysics of "nothing," which I think exhibits this tendency:

      I also think a lot of what he says about relativism in his book Invariances is like that. Endless hair-splitting to look at every possible interpretation of a view well beyond what is plausible or interesting, and that Nozick doesn't even end up endorsing.

    3. Hey boss,

      >What Harper has in mind, I think, is rather the sort of attitude that is indifferent to truth but just likes to play around with ideas -- so as to seem clever and show off, or because it's entertaining and one's fun would be spoiled by finding out the right answer, or whatever.

      That is the subtle but profound. Because it seemed to me if you are merely playing with ideas for fun or to just show off (trying to impress the philosophy chicks etc) it seems to me the fun would be magnified if you accidentally stumbled on the right answer.
      It makes it even more fun and I am not against fun and I personally agree with author Taylor Cladwell who said Hell is pain and boredom and boredom is the most monstrous of pains so that the other pains serve as a merciful distraction by a Benevolent God.

      So what it comes down to is you either love truth or you don't really care about truth.

      Cheers boss.

  5. I noticed you have taken down my post, Dr Feser. It was not a pointless insult in questioning whether your ardency or fervour for all things Thomist did indeed make it "impossible for a man who is the slave of his passions to be a true philosopher”. The question was neither off-topic nor insulting. It was a quote taken directly from the text of the OP and applied as a question of significant relevance to the discussion.

    So I can only conclude that the defacing of my comment must have fallen under the less defined, "and the like".

    I questioned your motives and you need to respond to them. Deleting comments with the click of a button is the easy part, and the laziest; it is whether you have the intellectual integrity to understand there are people, genuine people out there who do not subscribe to the Thomist notion of metaphysics and the arguments to date have been less than convincing of its relevance in a contemporary sense.

    I am currently finishing Gunther Laird's, "The Unnecessary Science". And there is much that has been robustly challenged and countered in your assertions and understanding of 'the natural law' underpinning Thomism.

    Laird along with so many philosophers, both Christian and non-believers, have successfully offered an alternative perspective or a full rebuttal to the assertions you have proposed.

    However, if you wish this site to be a closed echo-chamber replete with Sons of Ya'Kov and Mr Geocons, so be it.

    1. Papalinton,

      You post an enormous number of comments and I can't recall the last time I deleted one of them. And they are often pretty similar in content to the one I deleted today. And as you surely know, I let most of the other stuff that other people direct against me to stand as well, as long as it's on-topic and not simply egregious in vituperation. So, it's rather rash to suppose that my motivation was to construct an "echo-chamber," no?

      The reason I deleted your original comment was in part because it was only barely on-topic -- your attempt to tie your standard shtick in to the content of my post was a real stretch -- but mainly because it had generated such an unedifying flame war that I judged that it was better just to delete the whole thread.

    2. Look, Paps... if you just offered up your objections and reasoned arguments for them rather than relying on fallacies (begging the question and appeal to majority are two you often use), you'd be a lot more interesting and fun to talk to.

      My question to you would be this: what kind of responses are you expecting to your posts? Do you want dragged-out slapfights where everyone is yelling at each other? Socratic dialectic, where each point is vigorously questioned and discussed? A chorus of agreements? Do you think at all before you post?

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Dr Feser
      I'm sorry I missed the flame war. Different world time zone and all. I'm sorry a flame war resulted. I might have been able to damp down some of the ensuing responses and place a context around why I wrote as I did. It was not meant to be incendiary but rather a polemic which I was sure you would have appreciated; with your being somewhat partial to a good piece of polemic. Not having seen the responses this is as far as I can make useful comment.

      Thanks for responding. It is very difficult to gauge the level of discourse when one side is deleted without comment or explanation.

      There has got to be an explanation why it is that Thomism seems not to have inspired a broader acceptance in society generally outside Catholic-specific sentiment. The Great Schism saw the so-far irreconcilable splitting of the original church into two and the Protestant Reformation put paid to universal Catholicism. This is despite and in addition to centuries of combatting innumerable variants of Gnosticism besetting the Church.

      Thomism therefore, seems to have little transferability to other forms of theological belief, so I think it is useful to understand why.

      Why do you think Thomism struggles to find universality as a philosophical foundation for most if not all of the western Christian traditions?

      I can understand why Harper would think Thomism legitimate. But a one-person (barring you, of course) conversion is not a premise on which its bona fides is best founded. More broadly, religion, the main carrier of, and around which the Thomist message is most tightly wound, is waning. THIS IS the challenge you are facing.

    5. Geocon 7.53PM

      You ask of Papilinton - ' What kind of response are you expecting to your posts? Do you wamt dragged-out slapfights where everone is yelling at each other? Do you think at all before you post?'

      So, you are blaming Papalinton for the manner in which some people respond to his posts. No Geocon, that is a matter for them, and any shortcomings entirely their own fault. Do I need to point out that people are quite at liberty not to respond at all?

      The problem here is that you have an unstable, impulsive and socially gauche in house idiot who makes abusive attacks even on those he considers to be 'gentle souls'. It says a great deal about you that you cannot bring yourself to even acknowledge the fact.

    6. Papalinton,

      The reason why Thomism is not popular is simply because powerful people are not backing it, and the reason for that is because Thomism is not a useful tool for their political project. This is a slight against the political project, not against Thomism.

    7. I don't want a shit fight. So I deleted my last and I simply want to say I agree with what Geocon said to Paps.

      Paps I have in my day encountered atheists on various blogs who offered up objections and reasoned arguments for Atheism or against Classical Theism rather than relying on fallacies. I love those people. It was a pleasure to debate them. Nay an honor.

      So why not just do what Geocon says? I think that will be a good move for you. Disbelieve all ye like but make a real argument.

      Peace be with you.

      PS Dr. Feser just leave this for paps and leave geocon's last post.

      I will not continue this thread other than to express brief gratitude or disappointment to his response.

    8. Geocon 9.47PM

      You say that Thomism is not popular because it is not a useful tool for the furtherence of the political projects of powerful people. What rot!

      University philosophy departments are hardly tools of capitalism and the hegemonic class, and contain specialist ethicists of many stripes who are generally critical of power and the manner in which the moral and socioeconomic world is organised. What they do not contain though is many Thomists. Theologens too are hardly a tool of the elite, yet although you claim that Thomism is self evidently correct , that fact seems only to have been appreciated by a minority of them.

      So cut your persecution complex. Could it possibly be that Thomism is just not as convincing as you imagine it to be, and that is why professional ethicists and theologens are not exactly flocking to it?

    9. WCB

      "What are the philosophical views of contemporary professional philosophers?
      We surveyed many professional philosophers in order to help determine their views
      on thirty central philosophical issues."
      8. God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%

      Going by philosophers, religious philosophers seem to be a minority. And of those I suppose Catholic philosophers only a part of that. And religious philosophers who make Thomism a key foundation of their philosophy even smaller.

      As far as larger society, I suspect most Catholics in the Pews are not there for Thomist neo-Scholasticism and would probably have their eyes glaze over with it all.

      It is not one of those things like Darwinian evolution, or Einsteinian relativity that gets taught in schools in basic science classes.

      I suspect the average American would have as little interest in Thomist metaphysics as they would in L.Ron Hubbard's Dianetics theories. It is an alien sounding sort of religion.


    10. Anonymous,

      First, the reason "professional ethicists and theologians" don't find it convincing is because their presuppositions are the very ones most would find post-Enlightenment.

      Second, more to the point, do you think that ideas become popular just because they are correct? That the best ideas are the ones that the majority of so-called intellectuals are attracted to? That seems to be a rather naïve point of view.

      When it comes to the propagation of ideas, what determines how far an idea can go is power (so, in our financialized society, money). I know from experience that the majority of university academics are not socialists, but center-leftists. They want mixed economies with an increase in state power. The socialists that exist in academic departments are mainly to be found in "soft" disciplines, and their socialism is a lot more roundabout, more race- and gender-focused than class-focused. This, too, is a product of "the hegemonic class." To see this, I'd take a look at this article here. It shows that a lot of the modern identity movements on the Left that have replaced working-class movements, though staffed by self-avowed Marxists, are funded entirely by what you'd call "the capitalist class." It doesn't stake much of an imagination to see why those evil capitalists would want to subvert class-based socialism with diversity- and inclusion-based issues.

      Mind you, this isn’t unique to left-wing movements. Take any idea that is popular or has been popular, and, more often than not, you’ll find that that idea was patronized by someone with money and power. This isn’t some ridiculous proposition. Leftists point this out all the time with ideas that they don’t like, such as right-wingers being paid by big oil to defend fossil fuels. I’m just extending this rule to everyone. Whether the patrons are sincere believers or cynical actors doesn’t matter; either way, they are the drivers behind these ideas. But those ideas that are institutionalized are always the ideas that are supported by those with power and money. Ideas can become popular for other reasons besides their truth value.

      If you want to disprove this idea, you’d need to give some proofs that there is such a thing as a free market of ideas whereby the best ideas tend to rise to the top, and that academics have no incentives, ideological or financial, to promote what ideas that they do.

    11. Papalinton,
      Thomism is one branch of what Lloyd Gerson labels "Ur-Platonism." Characterized negatively, Ur-Platonism consists of anti-materialism, anti-mechanism, anti-nominalism, anti-relativism, and anti-skepticism. Branches of the Ur-Platonist tradition include Islamic thinkers such as al-Kindi (died 870), al-Farabi (died 950), Ibn Sina or Avicenna (died 1037), and Ibn Rushd. To be continued (I have tasks to perform), but there may be an Ur-Platonist revival in the future despite the skeptics, materialists and relativists holding all the power at the moment.

    12. Papalinton,
      I continue the topic of Ur-Platonism, and Ed has a blog on Gerson and Ur-Platonism from 2019 which you can read.
      Ur-Platonism includes the thought of Philo, Saadia Gaon and Rambam (Maimonides) in Judaism, the Cappadocian Fathers and John of Damascus in the East, Athanasius and Augustine from Africa, Anselm and Aquinas from Europe, followed largely by the Protestant Scholastics (although some of them were not anti-nominalists, influenced by Ockham in the Roman Catholic tradition). Proclus, Porphyry, and Plotinus and their followers form another branch of the Ur-Platonist branch.
      The acids of modernity have indeed been pervasive in Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. These acids have led to the absurdum that males can win women's athletic competitions, that a Christian in the U.K. can be arrested for homophobia for preaching from the Bible but that someone preaching the same doctrine from an Islamic source would not be etc.
      There has already been a reaction to this hard postmodern absurd way of thinking in Hungary and other Eastern European countries, and there are signs that it may happen in U.S.A. and elsewhere. It would not surprise me to see a large scale revival of Ur-Platonism. It would also not surprise me to see the decadent West collapse and China to dominate the world for a period. Arguing that because a particular ideology (used in a neutral sense) is not popular at the present age it must be wrong is a very weak argument.

    13. Papalinton,

      I'm sorry I missed the flame war. Different world time zone and all... It is very difficult to gauge the level of discourse when one side is deleted without comment or explanation.

      Fair enough, no worries.

      But a one-person (barring you, of course) conversion is not a premise on which its bona fides is best founded.

      ?? Where did I say that Thomism is legitimate simply because some particular person was convinced by it?

      More broadly, religion, the main carrier of, and around which the Thomist message is most tightly wound, is waning.

      I have no idea why you are so in love with the (famously fallacious) argumentum ad populum.

      You might find this difficult to understand, but as a philosopher I really only care about one thing: Is what I am saying true? If I think it is true, I will say it and really don't care whether anyone else agrees. If someone has a reasoned criticism to make, then naturally I want to hear it out. But if it's just "Yeah, but most people don't agree," then so what? Most people can be, and often are, just wrong (as you yourself think when the majority happens to believe something different from what you do).

    14. And also, yes, what Tim Finlay said. If Chesterton's "democracy of the dead" is permitted to speak, then the majority is on my side, not yours, Papalinton. But again, numbers are at the end of the day not what matters.

    15. I think some people labor under the assumption that philosophical knowledge and accuracy progress as time goes on, much like the natural sciences. And supposing this, they'll go on to reason that the popular views of today have the presumption in their favor by virtue of being more recent, especially as they stand in contradiction to waning older ideas. But this underlying assumption is not necessarily as safe and assured as some people believe, and there may be good reason to believe that philosophical knowledge does not advance in the same manner as natural science. To gain a true knowledge of the way philosophy waxes and wanes down the ages, one should consult those who are true students of philosophy's history:

    16. And of course, one should also have an appreciation for the differences between philosophy and natural science concerning their respective natures, if he is to accurately predict how each will progress as time goes on. For there's the question of whether a given enterprise has a natural tendency to progress or not, and under what conditions.

    17. Dr Feser
      "You might find this difficult to understand, but as a philosopher I really only care about one thing: Is what I am saying true? If I think it is true, I will say it and really don't care whether anyone else agrees. If someone has a reasoned criticism to make, then naturally I want to hear it out. But if it's just "Yeah, but most people don't agree," then so what?"

      No, I don't find it difficult to understand. It is the same premise of truth, I too, subscribe to. But a point must come, in your deliberations, at which time due diligence in asking the question becomes an important factor in whether to continue supporting a proposition, like Thomism, in the context of meshing with philosophical ideas that have meaning in today's society. It there a place for it, mindful of the deluge of competing but equally compatible ideas that people are subjected to today.

      To make an analogy, as crude as it is, truth values are only relevant if they resonate in meaningful ways in today's world. As a scientist might establish a 'new' truth about us or the world we live in, it is not by virtue of its popularity that it is believed. Rather it is because a number of others, and independent others at that, researchers, have tested and retested the premise only to conclude it to be true. The consequence, most if not all people then subscribe to that finding. So, any old understanding is relegated to history. The outcome then is not a punt to argumentum ad populum. The premise stands as true.

      So I reject your assertion that I am "so in love with the (famously fallacious) argumentum ad populum."

      You say: "If I think it is true, I will say it and really don't care whether anyone else agrees."

      These are the exact words that Donald Trump and Kevin McCarthy are now articulating.
      At what point does truth become 'truth'? Clearly, we must never leave our discerning and discriminating guard down, ever, because rubbish and fallacy spread faster than wildfire. As you know, truth is hardly 'self-evident'. It needs to be substantiated.

      As you cast your eye over the broad spectrum of contemporary philosophy, as a philosopher, do you ask yourself the question whether what you are doing is indeed advancing our collective understanding of metaphysics and contributing to bettering or improving the human experience? After all, what on-going purpose philosophy? Have you asked yourself, why is it that so many philosophers fail to appreciate the incontestable nature of Thomism?

      I understand the good fight you make. Thomism will stand or fall on whether it is seen as relevant into today's world. My sense, is that it may well result into a party of one.

    18. Second paragraph - should read:

      Is there a place for it, mindful of the deluge of competing but equally compatible ideas that people are subjected to today?

    19. Papalinton
      Your statement that truth values are only relevant if they resonate in meaningful ways in today's world is patently false.
      Mathematicians working on some obscure branch of Artin ring theory, zoologists studying species that only a fraction of even biologists have heard about or even studying extinct species, grammarians giving lectures on dead languages etc. all care about truth values whether or not their work resonates in meaningful ways in today's world.
      You value "relevance" over truth; not everyone else does.

    20. Also, Papalinton, you are naive if you think that science is believed solely because it is impartially proved and tested repeatedly. This is at *best* a highly idealised picture of what science *should* be. In practice, scientists are every bit as human as the rest of us, and just as capable of being swayed or corrupted by power. A scientific result that confirms and buttresses the biases of the elite will receive praise, acclaim, monetary rewards, and pride of place in journals, while one that challenges them will be met with scorn, derision, funding cuts, and possibly just having the results of their work buried. Money and power don't determine the truth of scientific claims, but they do affect how popular and widely-accepted they can become, as much as they do any other kind of idea. Science is not, as you imagine, uniquely immune to this.

    21. Tim
      Mathematicians, zoologists and grammarians do indeed seek to find truth values in the work they do, to be sure. But you are wrong about the outcome. Whatever truth values they discover or uncover, all would care about the truth values and that they would veritably resonate in meaningful ways in today's world, regardless of the fraction of size or the extinct nature of species or language.

      To Thomists, Thomism is apparently true. We all know what Thomism is and we all understand the claims it makes. But there are many if not most people, including erudite philosophers, who either reject or set Thomism aside as largely tangential or extraneous. It is not me saying this. There are many (with far greater intellect and knowledge than I) that are saying this.

      I do not think anyone can rightly deny that organised religion as we know it, and in this case Catholicism, around which Thomism is so tightly and inextricably bound, is in deep generational decline in the West.

      What is causing this?

    22. Papilinton

      Oooh you are so ignorant. Didn't you know that the dearth of Thomist ethicists and philosophers generally in academia is due to the power that elites ( presumably economic ones ) and hegemonic actors have over which ideas are supported and become popular? I mean, there may be a sizeable fraction of Kantians and other deontologists, virtue theorists, non-materialists in the philosophy of mind and entire departments of 10001 varieties of theologen, but Thomists? No, they have made little inroad because of THE CONSPIRACY, as their ideas are uniquely too inconvenient to power to be ALLOWED to prosper. Or so thinks Mr G.

      I thought that you would know that!

    23. Papalinton,
      The reasons why Christianity is in generational decline in the West at the moment but has grown exponentionally in China and some other non-Western countries are undoubtedly complex and not my area of expertise. There were periods of apostasy and periods of revival (under Hezekiah and Josiah for example) in Old Testament times. The truth-value of YHWHism (or Christianity or Thomism) does not depend on how many people believe it.
      Here is a question for you. If you are so convinced that Thomism will become extinct, as you keep on repeating, then why are you so obsessed with this blog? If Thomism is going to result in a party of one, as you put it, why waste your time on this blog?

    24. @Anonymous,

      Kantians and their related deontologists are also products of the Enlightenment, whereas Medieval Philosophy is taught extremely poorly if at all, often being presumed to have been falsified so long ago that no argument against it is necessary. Acting as if all positions going against the prevailing wisdom are identical is foolish. And by the way, why haven't you picked a screen name by now? It would help to identify you and prevent you getting confused with other posters.

    25. Cantus

      I would have thought that if Thomism was so self evidently true and can stand independently of theology, it would be quite popular among moral realists regardless of its medieval pedigree. Its non-Enlightenment origin should be quite irrelevant to huge swaithes of theologens of course. No, despite your excuse makihg, specialists in relevant fields tend not to be bowled over by your ideas, which is surely indicative and worth noting.

      As to me being anonymous, that suits me very nicely thank you.

    26. Anonymous @ 3.43AM

      "Kant and other deontologists"

      Thanks for the heads-up. I didn't know Kant was in town attending the annual dental technicians conference. ;)

    27. Papalinton,

      It's not as though Thomists don't interact with other belief systems. There's a lot of Thomistic material out there.

    28. @Anonymous

      Who mentioned anything about "self-evident"? Hardly any serious philosophy is self-evident, and requires extensive argumentation in its favour. The assumption that theologians would be any more immune to this tendency is also foolish - only Catholic theologians would be likely to seriously consider it in the first place, due to biases against "Catholic" philosophy among Protestants (not that Protestant Thomists are nonexistent, just very rare). Theologians also have their own trends and tendencies just like any field, and sadly this includes tendencies towards irrational biases about Scholasticism being "old-fashioned". Despite how many times you repeat it, the fact that Thomism isn't popular amongst the intelligentsia proves nothing. It is not the case that they have all thoroughly investigated it and have rationally concluded to its failure - most of them either don't know about it at all or only know of it through caricature. This is true even of university professors, so what hope do the students have?

    29. To simplify everything I've been saying here - both Anon and Papalinton seem wedded to the irrational notion that if Thomism were really true, it would surely be more popular than it is. This relies on a combination of naive faith in the quality of our intellectual class and an appeal to popularity fallacy. These arguments would only carry weight if it could be demonstrated that specialists in the intelligentsia regularly give extensive, fair-minded, and thorough study to a wide array of topics, including niche ones and points of view contrary to the zeitgeist of the times. In practice, this is uncommon even within a field, much less in other, unrelated fields of study.

  6. "in popular culture’s relentless celebration of the rebel and the innovator"

    A local university advertises on billboards that they are "Educating agents of change" and shows some guy in a lab coat staring intently at a beaker filled with some sciency looking fluid.

    Another local school has their motto painted on the wall in the student union that says their goal is to teach their students "to become Christian leaders who empower others, promote justice and initiate change."

    Wank, wank, wank. Sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher. What are they even talking about? Why not just educate chemists, and mathematicians, and accountants? Why do they need to educate endless changers? It's insulting to even read it.

    There is no such thing as progress until you settle what it is you wish to progress toward. And it is exactly this that they refuse to settle.

    “Progress is a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.” --G.K. Chesterton

    1. Folks endorse the mantra of "change" so habitually these days, it's almost as if they equate change as such with progress, ignoring the important fact that change can also be regress. Of course they're capable of recognizing this when they want to, but then they shouldn't rely on such lazy and loaded sloganeering.

    2. Is it Arch Stanton as in the grave next to "Unknown" in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly?

    3. "You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig."

    4. Good life lesson right there.

  7. Son of Ya'Kov
    Are u the Ben Yakov of 2011 on this blog?

    1. Yes he is. Ben the Scott.

  8. What would you say to people who see any and all abstract thought that doesn't have immediate practical benefit to be nothing more than "unreality of thought"? It seems to me that a lot of the people who fall for the sixth idol do so while trying to avoid the third. How do we strike a balance between the two?

    1. I am not Dr. Feser, so my answer is necessarily weak sauce, but I've tried to articulate my thoughts on a possible answer to this question as it relates to Mathematics specifically and is here. The answer has about 10 years but I would not change very much about it.

    2. I read it, and it's an excellent on the kind of "everything must be practical" mindset, a defense of things like the liberal arts. But I don't see the part where it talks about striking a balance between the two idols.

  9. WCB

    Ed Feser:
    "A fourth and related source of error is the neglect of what Harper calls “the responsibility of thought.” Here he is thinking of the presumption that everyone is morally at liberty to express whatever views he wants to, no matter how poorly thought out and potentially damaging to society. It is the attitude of demanding the right to expression without recognizing the duties that go along with rights – in this case, the duty carefully to think through the implications and defensibility of one’s opinions before giving expression to them."

    One wishes this could be explained to the people who run Fox News, OANN, NewsMax, Sinclairs broadcasting et al. To the MAGA and Trump supporting GOP Congressmen bellowing lies and balderdash to pass voter suppression laws for political power grabs et al. And perhaps all the religious leaders who are supporters of such far right nonsense. Pope Francis has denounced climate change denial in his encyclical Laudato Si and that has been ignored by America's right winged politicians.

    The Most Good For The Most People
    - Francis Hutcheson


  10. Anonymous,
    The Most Good For The Most People
    - Francis Hutcheson

    Nice little touch.

    1. Yep I knew you couldn't change Paps. Gonna stick to yer kneejerk argument ad populum.

      I am disappointed.

    2. WCB

      Also echoed by J.S Mills and Jeremy Bentham. Utilitarianism. A rational ethical goal that is worth adopting.

      And now back to Socrates. What is good?


  11. Good to see that the weird self-talker seems to have taken a short rest. The efforts at character-deepening verisimilitude became almost self-harm in the last thread (May 1, 2021 at 8:47 AM). Now if the incessant trolling against three commenters could stop too it would be great.

    1. 'The efforts at character-deepening verisimilitude became almost self harm'.

      Oooh, you old skeptic and cynic you.

    2. Anonymous at 3:37

      The comment referred to by you above was addressed to me, due to the offense alluded to, I have to ask:
      your evidence for the Unknown and me being the same individual, and hence the weird self-talker mentioned by Dr. Feser in the latest open thread, is what, precisely?

      In fact, this comment seems very similar to comments commonly made by the notorious sockpuppeteer and occasional troll Miguel Cervantes, who has been caught doing this recently.

      If you’re not him, but subscribe to his theory at least to some extent, please share you reasons. He never does, and with him being the only named proponent of it, this seems to undermine it. Nobody seems to be buying it.

    3. Hello

      I looked back through the last thread and thought that I found a comment from me at the time and date specified, though I could have been in error I suppose. I took the post above as referring to me, though I did not fully understand it. I supposed though that it was being alleged that I was trying to build up a supposedly true character or personality by way of deception, hence my quip -' Ooooh you old skeptic and cynic you'. I have apparantly made a mistake here. I was conversing with you on the previous thread at the time indicated but I was not thinking of you when posting above.

      Hope the above makes sense to you!

  12. I think another important aspect of the story is a proper understanding of the nature of the idolater, so to speak. We are rational animals. We are a composite of reason and passions. And in order to know truth, the ancient tradition is that we must clear our minds from sensible appetites as much as possible in our ascent to truth. This idea is contained in the tenets of Buddhism as well. Cravings, desires or attachments lead to suffering and a tumultuous mind, which clouds our ability to reason properly.

    Now, I think (actually, I know) that you could, in principle, be a foodie, or enjoy sex, or experience most or all of earthly pleasures without succumbing to a disordered excessive passion for these. There is true beauty and goodness in the world to be enjoyed, after all. But it is the excessive enjoyment of these pleasures that leads to the corruption or clouding of rationality.

    I think what is required is what Aristotle called the golden mean which is the desirable middle between the extremes of excess and of deficiency.

    And I think this holds true for the extremes of Idealism and materialism (aka Postmodernism and Scientism) - We need to seek the middle ground that does not deny our physical embodiment or neglect our intellectual capacities.

    1. Interesting quote on the asceticism of Plotinus in relation to its being too extreme compared to A/T:

      "His conceptions of both God and the soul need to be corrected in an Aristotelian-Thomistic direction (or so we A-T types would contend). His ethics, like that of all Platonists, is excessively rigorist because of its failure to see that the soul is the form of the body, and thus that man is an essentially embodied creature. For the Platonist, “each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails and rivets the soul to the body,” as the Phaedo memorably puts it. But from the A-T perspective – though itself too austere from the point of view of the modern liberal – this is a touch melodramatic. Pleasure must always be subordinated to intellect, and to the knowledge of God which is our natural end, but it has its place in a normal human life. For A-T, you can enjoy your top sirloin, martini, and tobacco, then retire to the bedchamber with the wife, all in good conscience. Some asceticism now and then is a good thing for everyone. And an entire life of asceticism is indeed a higher form of existence for those called to sacrifice lower goods in the interests of a single-minded pursuit of the highest one. But the lower goods remain goods, and those who do not have the calling in question are guilty of no moral failing for pursuing them in moderation."

    2. Daniel 10.12AM

      You can enjoy your tobacco in good conscience? Even though we know that it damages the lungs and respiratory tract, and over time hugely increases the chance of one developing cancer of the lungs - a particularly dangerous form of the disease. Isn't smoking tobacco to play Russian roulette with ones health and life, which has obvious implications for loved ones too, particularly dependents? Still, it does not pervert the natural end of the lungs I suppose, which is inhalation of oxygen and exhilation of carbon dioxide, so that's okay then.

    3. Hey Anonymous,

      The CCC has a pretty nuanced view of our duty to personal health. It isn't absolute. I think its an example of the golden mean.

      "Respect for health

      2288 Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good.

      Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living-conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance.

      2289 If morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value. It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports. By its selective preference of the strong over the weak, such a conception can lead to the perversion of human relationships.

      2290 The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others' safety on the road, at sea, or in the air."

    4. Don't be silly. It is not possible to other than abuse tobacco as nicotine is so addictive, so that very soon consumption becomes habitual and not under volitional control. It then, over time, causes highly predictable diseases of the mouth, lungs and respiratory tract.

      Anyone using tobacco other than on the first few occasions is clearly endangering their own safety, and over time that of those around them too.

      I take it that you are a smoker Daniel ( or perhaps a snuff sniffer, though that is less likely ). Still, there is no problem with that as your CCC rule book says it's OK, so no need to worry about your health and that of your family.

    5. I take your point. As our knowledge of the harm of smoking grows, it becomes less and less justifyable a habit. I am not a smoker, but I do know some. They tend to smoke outside of the home so as not to cause health problems for their loved ones. I think most would wish they had never started the habit in the first place.

      The CCC is updated from time to time as mores evolve. This particular passage has probably remained the same since it was written back in the early 1990s.

      I think the principle of moderation applies. And if, as you claim, smoking is absolutely addictive, then I can see a time when it should be completely banned.

    6. Daniel

      Well, there is obviously variation between individuals, but in general nicotine is highly addictive, and the strong tendency is for a habit to build up which is very difficult to kick.

      It would be very difficult for the CC to make a stand on this issue as huge numbers of people are addicted to nicotine globally , it is so culturally entrenched and does not produce inebriation or immediately dangerous behaviours, so such a stand would be hugely unpopular and largly ignored. However, considering the harm that smoking does we might expect the one true church with its hotline to God to have a rather more critical attitude.

    7. The church reacts to scientific developments, it does not do science itself. It sees itself as an authority in the realm of faith and morals. Where scientific developments impact morality, it may change some of its previous stances. The same thing is true for scientific developments. Truth cannot contradict truth.

    8. Daniel 12.47PM

      Just to persue this a little further, the harmful effects of tobacco smoking have been demonstrated for over half a centuary now, and the scale of the medical and personal catastrophy that it represents has become ever clearer. Also, the fact that nicotine is addictive is obvious and has been known about since humans first consumed the drug. So isn't the churches laxity about this addictive, personally destructive behaviour a moral failing on its part as you would see it, and an indication that it is a human institution influenced by social norms and conventions, not divinely inspired and guided even in matters of morality?

    9. Hey Anonymous -

      So there is no doubt in my mind that the church is both a human and divine institution. Our first pope betrayed Christ at the crucifixion and was accused of hypocricy by the Apostle Paul in the matter of associating with Jews, against his avowed principles descided on for the entire church at the Council of Jerusalem described in Acts 15. The church is not impeccable. She is flawed.

      "827 "Christ, 'holy, innocent, and undefiled,' knew nothing of sin, but came only to expiate the sins of the people. The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal." All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners. In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time. Hence the Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ's salvation but still on the way to holiness:"

      As such what the church teaches about itself is that it is infallible when teaching Ex Cathedra on matters of faith and morals.

      "891 "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed," and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith." This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself."

      As you can imagine, acts such as these happen only rarely in the life of the church. It typically acts in such a way when something has become clearly held by the body of the faithful over a long period of time and a fairly constant tradition can be traced back to support such an act. Matters of medical health, such as smoking, are not on the top of the list for such infallible statements by a long shot. The church is less concerned about physical health and more concerned with spiritual health.

      Having said that, the church has not stood still in such issues. Pope Francis, for example, in 2017, banned the sale of cigarettes in Vatican City.

      And in 2002, John Paul II also enacted some reforms:

      "And in 2002, John Paul II signed a law making it “forbidden to smoke in closed public places, places frequented by the public, and workplaces, situated in the territories of The Vatican, the areas beyond the borders of this State [that is, Vatican offices in other countries], and in public transportation means.” A fine of 30 Euros was set for violators."

      And the church is happy to be led on these issues by other social institutions, such as the WHO or the CDC, where the competency and responsibility for health statements such as belong.

  13. Miguel CervantesMay 5, 2021 at 7:12 AM

    It's incongruous to mention natural law and Burkean conservatism in the same breath. Burke wasted a lot of ink disputing the universal and rational nature of natural law. His whole tendency was to highlight its local and evolutionary character, something very far indeed from the essence of natural law, but very close to naturalism.

    1. MC,

      You need to get over this simpleminded idea that if a person is wrong about one thing, then he is wrong about everything and must never be cited positively in any fashion. Not to mention your tendency to lose your bearings anytime something related to "Anglo-Conservatism" is mentioned.

      Yes, there are problematic aspects of Burke, as I have said myself in other contexts. But it doesn't follow that the arguments he gave for tradition having a presumption in its favor are without value.

    2. The irony of MC's argument, I can't help but notice, is that he missed what was said at the beginning of this blog post about Thomas Harper.

      "It is somewhat ironic that an unreconstructed Scholastic like Harper should treat Bacon’s account in a sympathetic way, given that the Scholasticism of Bacon’s own day was one of Bacon’s targets. But then, it is typical of a good Scholastic to look for whatever truth there is to be found in a view, and Bacon’s general points are well taken even if one can disagree with his application of them to certain specific cases."

    3. Miguel CervantesMay 5, 2021 at 11:38 PM

      Edward Feser, Mister Geocon,
      I don't think Burke (or anyone) is wrong about everything, and I agree that like most talented conservative spokesmen, he was able to make good arguments for preserving tradition, most of which are quite valid. It's true that a people, in its traditions, has always been a great keeper of truths, usually something it has been taught, if you go back far enough. But it's also true that the main criterion for validating something is not its "standing the test of time"; the Aztecs thought that applied to human sacrifice, and primitive cultures and confucians thought the same of abortion and even exposure of babies.

      My point was that he was wrong to reject a universal and rationally established natural law. Anglo-conservatism refers to a difference that exists between conservatism in English-speaking countries and European conservatism. The former emphasises the sovereign market and the latter the modern state, but both these things are contrived institutions that replace more natural and organic ones in practice, whatever the rhetoric.

  14. WCB

    ...did indeed make it "impossible for a man who is the slave of his passions to be a true philosopher”.

    To be a true philosopher one must have a great passion to be a true philosopher. A great passion for doing philosphy right. To avoid building air-fairy castles on empty assertions. To have the willingness to critique one's own favored ideas honestly and competently. To admit it when favorite ideas are on shaky logical grounds or lack evidence.

    "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool."

    Richard P. Feynman


    1. WCB

      Feynman's first principle applies to us all of course, but should particularly be heeded by those personally committed to religious belief systems , where the belief is strongly reinforced by feelings of loyalty ,devotion and commitment ( so doubt engenders guilt ) and fear, nay terror ( unbelief or apostacy may lead to hell ). In fact, considering how reinforcing these emotions are, it is a wonder that anyone who seriously commits to belief systems like RC ever escape from them again.

    2. WCB

      I strongly suggest that if one wants to do philosophy, one should start with Sextus Empiricus, "Outlines of Pyrrhonism".

      Works of Greek thinkers such as Isocrates and Plato warning against sophistry and word games are good to read also.

      Schopenhaur's "The Art Of Controversy" is also a good read. Doing philosophy right is duty.


    3. "Feynman's first principle applies to us all of course, but should particularly be heeded by those personally committed to religious belief systems , where the belief is strongly reinforced by feelings of loyalty ,devotion and commitment"

      The "particularly" above jumps out at me. I've seen that in most cases for skeptics and freethinker types, the same phenomenon applies. In my milieu, the most dogmatic and sensitive-to-in-group-status people have been those who are the most evangelistic about their purported liberation from oppressive religious systems of thinking.

      The sort of observation made by the OP is really a universal acid applying to both sides.

      I don't disagree with the gist of the statement, but the "particularly" sort of betrays a perception that those not personally committed to religious belief systems are somehow in some sort of privileged state of knowledge compared to those in religious belief systems. Sometimes yes, sometimes no; it isn't universal. More info is needed to broker the issue.

    4. Eric Vestrup 2.16PM

      Your quote from me was incomplete. Not only will significant doubts create guilt in the heart of a religious believer ( as they will fear betraying a deep personal commitment to a transcendant other ), but real fear too ( as to get things wrong is to risk eternal damnation ). Now I agree that it is not psychologically cost free for a committed atheist or free thinker to change sides so to speak, but there is nothing like the guilt and terror and soul searching that must take place for the converse to happen. In that sense I believe that I have more freedom to change my mind than many of the theists contributors on this blog, as it would be psycholigically much less costly.

    5. Unknown,

      The same would apply to everyone who holds any ultimate beliefs with conviction, whether its religion, or simply morality, truth, or what have you.

      I would think it a bit insulting to the non-religious to say they don't live their lives with any serious conviction, simply by the mere fact of being non-religious.

    6. Billy

      Your ultimate convictions come with a feckin BIG stick mate.

    7. Some comments here would make Kierkegaard* laugh.

  15. Yes, my quote was incomplete --- I'm not sure how it got chopped but surely it was an error on my end.

    I agree that, were I to deconvert, there would be the "what if I'm wrong?" sort of thoughts in my head. But I've seen them in people who begin to reject atheism as well.

    However, so much of popular culture now is based on an explicit rejection of Christianity and the implications it makes. For example, somebody who thinks that Christianity may well be true will experience many negative effects, e.g., loss of in-group status, loss of friends, a soft ostracism, and perhaps ridicule. When your identity is tied up in your (say) academic prestige or perception as some sort of public intellectual, the loss of that and subsequent replacement of it by ridicule or whisper strikes me as being just as terrifying as the thought of permanent separation from God would be for a Christian.

    I just don't see how a blanket statement such as "nothing like the guilt and terror and soul searching" can be made. Sometimes it is true, but I know personal-world counterexamples to it as well.

    I think what I'm trying to say, and maybe failing to be clear, is that I don't see how either side really has an advantage in this area.

    My comments FWIW.

  16. The first he calls “passivity of thought,” which is the tendency to treat mass media (newspapers, pamphlets, and the like being the examples he had in mind) as consumer goods that one might choose to serve as the providers of one’s stock of information and range of possible opinions. To use a modern term for what Harper has in mind, the consumer essentially “outsources” his thinking and thereby becomes prey to whatever sophistry or partisanship determines the content of his favored source of ideas. The contemporary relevance is obvious. ...

    ‘Outsourcing’ one’s thinking seems to some extent unavoidable (no one has the resources or ability to investigate everything for himself), but outsourcing it to newspapermen seems an especially destructive choice given the very nature of the ‘news’. By focusing on the things that go against type (“man bites dog”), favoring the ephemeral to the exclusion of the more permanent, and with its bias of neutrality, the news cannot help but give one an extremely distorted picture of the world.

  17. I would submit that postmodernism and scientism in their various guises are the contemporary heirs to the two tendencies Harper identifies...

    The late Zippy had an interesting thesis regarding postmodernism and scientism (or more broadly, positivism): that postmodernism is positivism carried to its logical conclusion.

    Positivism insists that the meaning of a text or the interpretation of a set of empirical facts can be derived solely from the text itself or from the empirical facts themselves. The positivist refuses to recognize that there can be multiple interpretations that are all consistent with the text or data set, and rejects that there must be some source outside of the text/data itself to help determine its meaning from among the multiple interpretations. If knowledge cannot be obtained solely from the text or empirical facts, then the positivist says that real knowledge cannot be obtained.

    Postmodernism recognizes that positivism is incoherent. But instead of rejecting its premise, it follows its premise to its logical conclusion: if true knowledge is only that which can be completely determined by the formalism itself, and this is impossible in principle, then therefore there is no knowledge or meaning whatsoever.

    1. That would explain the state of current Gnu Atheist anti-religious polemics.


    2. I remember Zippy. He used to piss me off. But he was a good egg. Shame he went out like he did. I will never ride a bike as long as I live. God rest his soul.

    3. Son of Ya'kov

      Someone used to 'piss you off'? You don't say.

      I take it that Zippy enjoyed riding a bike. Take heart - if your world view is correct, he will now be riding his bike alongside God on his, somewhere in the sky.

    4. I don't know why yer still talking to me? In the past I tried to be civil to you but you acted like a first class twat.

      Yer a sociopath leftist troll who advocates violence. You even threatened Prof Feser.

      I have nothing to say to you. Please be human and bugger off.

    5. Son of Ya'kov

      The first time I interacted properly with you you ended up outrightly calling me a pedophile! If that was you trying to be civil towards me i'd hate to catch you on a bad day!

      I post many serious pieces, but like to have fun with you. Frankly you are a troll's wet dream ( not that I am a troll per se, but I suppose I am a bit sometimes with you as you can be so outrageous - it's nothing personal though as I like you really ) - I mean, after replying to me yet again - callong me a sociopath leftist troll - you announce 'I have nothing to say to you'! LOL

    6. Son of Ya'kov

      This guy Zippy, just trying to place him. Did he knock about with Jeffry, Bungle and George?

  18. On the note of the "unreality of thought", I think a theme in fiction that seems to becoming increasingly popular as opposed to the “It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.” mentality is a kind of nihilism: rather than the journey itself being all that there is or all that matters, there's a kind of 'discovery' of sorts by the end of a given story that there *couldn't* be a destination to begin with.

    This probably sounds a little half-baked so to give an example consider *No Country for Old Men*. The film seems to almost be a struggle between more-or-less good man trying to make ends meet (for those who haven't seen the film it's basically about an impoverished man trying to get away with some money he comes across in the desert from a drug deal that went bad with basically no survivors on either side) and a sociopath serial-killer hired by the mob who kills people but only according to the arbitrary rules he sets for himself.

    You would think the film is ultimately going end in some grand fight between the protagonist and his assassin, but the protagonist is ultimately killed anti-climactically off-screen by some arbitrary third party, while the serial killer later goes on to murder the lead character's wife, get in what seems to be a karma-induced car-crash, but ultimately walks away from it without any serious injury.

    The film wraps up with a monologue by cop who recounts a dream where his father his leading him somewhere through the dark, but the dream ultimately ends without him getting anywhere.

    What the film seems to be implying is that in spite of whatever brief internal respite we have, in spite of whatever small moments we find meaning in our lives, ultimately we're not "going anywhere", and all that seems to be awaiting us is an "end to the dream" (not that I believe any of this).

    What I'm trying to get at here is that in addition to the sort of "bottom-up" nihilism present in philosophical systems like eliminative materialism which tries to assert that whatever is at the bottom of reality is ultimately arbitrary and as such life has no meaning, there also seems to be a kind of "top-down" nihilism in fiction that seems to go from portraying the seemingly abrupt, never-ending and ever-complicating problems of life to the conclusion that there ultimately there's nothing "in" any of it; that, putting aside any conversation on nature and so forth, in an ultimate sense, life is pointless.

    Maybe this sounds like a lot of muddle-headed gibberish, but I can't help that there's some kind of link (and hopefully a kind of shared solution) between the two other than where they seem to point people.

    1. I remember when serious and thoughtful Atheists would post here trying to challenge Classical Theist thought with rational argument(such as they could muster. They always made the same presuppositional mistakes but they tried). They presumed truth was at the end of their critiques and they presumed justified disbelief in gods was at the end of it.

      Those where some fun battles.

      But this current crop post Antifa and post riots. They are all contra intellectual nihilists. It is not about rational argument for those folks its just about trying to shut down rational arguments.

      Their "arguments" which don't merit the label have no meaning. Worst then that even if you try to help them make a rational case against you (it is hard not to feel sorry for them) they prefer their bad arguments to the goods one you propose.

      We have it seems raised a generation of what Mike Flynn once called "Techno Serfs". Persons who are generally ignorant of rational thinking but have just enough knowledge to operate the technology of social media so they can serve its machine.

      Such a society must eat itself to death and colapse. Which will require the Church to rebuild from the ashes as Cardinal George once said. Like She has always done.

  19. WCB

    If atheists do post reasonable and rational arguments, Ya'Kov gets upset. Such as demonstrating the claim God is not a moral agent is self contradictory. Arguments that seem to have been deleted on the open thread.

    Now, back to the OP subject at hand. Maybe the subject of God's moral obligations to us can be debated some other day.


    1. WCB,
      Your arguments have the following structure:
      The Bible says that God has property P; therefore, God is a moral agent.
      The argument commits either a non sequitur fallacy or a hidden premise fallacy. It does not follow from the fact that the Bible says that God has property P (you will not find the claim "God is a moral agent" in the Bible), that God is a moral agent. For any of your arguments to work, you need the premise that a passage saying the God has property P should be read not in apophatic manner, nor in analogical manner, but in a univocal manner.
      There are several important thinkers in medieval and in modern times that argue for this sort of premise. I encourage you either to present a case why you think that their arguments are sound or to develop your own argument for the univocal predication of attributes to God and humans. If you do that, people here will take your arguments seriously. Otherwise, they commit obvious fallacies.

    2. Surely you can understand how desperate it appears to insist on reading the Bible in apophatic or analagous manner whenever a plain reading would suggest that God is a moral agent? A cynic would say that it is done simply to avoid embarrassment at the problems that taking the Biblical language seriously pose in the form of the problem of evil. Indeed, ordinary believers and many religious scholars do accept the univocal predication of morally significant attributes to God and humans ( eg goodness, benevolance, compassion, love, mercy etc ), which is why the need for theodicy arises. Why should we take your contrived escape route seriously? And is there no limit to the extent to which you will claim that a predicate is being used analagously, as at some point the univocal and analagous senses are going to be so different as to mean completely different things, at which point the move becomes dishonest and disreputable. In fact, many would claim that this has already happened in your anslysis and that your picture of God is unbiblical.

    3. WCB

      Claim. God is not a moral agent.

      Reply. God is said to be omnipotent, all powerful. If God could act to eliminate horrendous moral evils and does not act, this is an act of moral agency. Just not good moral agency.

      This God is not a moral agent, championed by Brian Davies in his book "The Reality Of God And The Problem Of Evil", collapses under the logical entailment that refusal to act as a moral agent is an act of moral agency.

      Thus that is not a viable solution to the Problem of Evil. Feser has written in his reply to James P. Sterba that he agrees with Davies.

      This problem is univocal. It is not metaphor, analogy, allegory. Failure to act when that act is within one's power is an act.

      There is more.


    4. Tim WCB is a troll I explained this to him over three months.

      I suspect both Anon above are him. His second tactic is to ad hoc adopt Lutheranism. Specifically Luther's Perspicuity doctrine and to ad hoc declare fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible are the only corrects one.

      In one ear oot the other.

      The guy is a troll and not a smart one.

    5. Son of Yakov

      You are a paranoid lune Yako. So I am WCB now am I, as well as Papallintom, StarDuaty and Ghostman?

      The way you abuse those who disagree with you and impugn their motives is disgraceful. If you do not wish to interact with someone can't you just keep yer gob shut and butt out ????

    6. >So I am WCB now am I, as well as Papallintom, StarDuaty and Ghostman?

      Unknown switching yer name to Anon doesn't change the fact yer a sociopath. BTW I get why you didn't deny yer Unknown. Feser can see yer IP and he tell you multi post under different profiles.

      Now run along a continue being a sociopath.

      >The way you abuse those who disagree with you and impugn their motives is disgraceful.

      Unless you do it sociopath.

      Why are you here buddy? To convert us to leftism? Nope you only justify our fear of that demented fascist ideology.
      Nobody cares about yer Nihilism buddy.

  20. Replies
    1. WCB

      If God could act to eliminate horrendous moral evil and fails to act, that refusal to act is an act of moral agency.

    2. A reader who could read Davies and does not do so acts as a Davies reader. Just not a good one.

      No meaning....

    3. WCB

      Let's read Brian Davies.

      Brian Davies - The Reality Of God and The Problem Of Evil - 2006
      Chapter Four - God's Moral Standing.

      By the same token, so I am arguing, we have reason to deny that God should be thought of as morally good or bad and we therefore have reason to deny that God is a moral agent.
      Page 104

      There! That wasn't hard was it? Now all we have to do is examine Davies' claim to see if it reasonable, rational and true or false.

      Does this hypothesis solve the long standing Problem Of Evil? God cannot escape being a moral agent.

      Anothe point here is that a close reading of Aquinas shows Aquinas did not write anything like this. Davies ransacks Aquinas's writing and takes a bit here, a bit from there are creates his claim in a manner that is not something Aquinas directly and unmistakably claims.


    4. "If God could act to eliminate horrendous moral evil and fails to act, that refusal to act is an act of moral agency."

      Quite apart from whether and how we should construe God as a moral agent, this objection is literally meaningless tripe. It cannot be said coherently of God that He fails to act, whether in response to real, existing evil, or anything else whatsoever. And of course, not because of any limitation in Him, but precisely because there are no limitations in Him.

  21. Hello Profeser, hello fellow Thomists,

    I'm a newly appointed teacher in AI - rather, as I'd call it, "statically emerging function calculus" - who's always having to face new students chittering and blabbering Kurzweil's and other technoscientismists' wet dreams.

    Is there any good criticism of Strong AI that I can read that would be easily explained ? I'm looking for criticism on Connectionnism. I know of Searle and Fodor, but they're mostly fighting Functionnalism and Behaviorism...

  22. Anonymous at 3:15 p.m.,
    Do you take as univocal the language in the Bible talking about God's eyes, God's arm, God walking etc?

    1. Tim he doesn't care. He literally told me he thinks the serpent in Genesis was suppose to be a literal talking snake and not the Devil.

      He is not gonna argue with you or engage yer arguments. He is not gonna debate you in good faith.

      He don't care. He is not even, I think, a serious Atheist. He is just a mental nihilist.

      He acts like the demonically possessed Dr. Weston from that C.S. Lewis novel Perelandra.
      He has no real use for intelligent argument except as a smoke screen to befuttel not argue or enlighten. He is also just as inane. He takes trolling seriously but not in any intellectual persurts. I pity him.


    2. Son of Ya'kov

      You are such a gobshite. It is you who should be pitied. Always getting into a punch up down the shops and pub no doubt.

  23. WCB

    Tim Finlay
    "Do you take as univocal the language in the Bible talking about God's eyes, God's arm, God walking etc?"

    This has nothing to do with the proposition that God is not a moral agent. That claims is the issue.

    In the Council of Trent - Session Four, the claims is made that God authored the Bible. In the Bible it is claimed explicitly that God IS just. God IS fair. God IS Merciful. God IS compassionate. God IS righteous. God IS love.

    There is the related claim that God owes us no moral obligations. But to be compassionate and to be merciful is to accept moral obligations.

    The Bible tells us God not only has these sub-goodnesses, but that God loves justice, mercy et al. And gives plenty of examples of what that means. So there is no mistake. See for example Isaiah 1.

    These twin claims God is not a moral agent and that God owes us no moral obligations are simply false.

    These claims, made to solve the Problem Of Evil, fail to be a solution to that.

    Not very good religious apologisms are another idol of the mind to be wary of. Philosophy, good philosophy, and theology is taking these sorts of propositions seriously and taking them to their logical conclusions with total honesty.


    1. So basically yer just gonna cut/paste every silly post you made to me that I debunked and keep repeating till what?

      You convince the Thomist here to convert?

      Let me know how that works out for you.

    2. WCB,
      You acknowledge (I think) that when the Bible talks about God's eyes, God's right arm etc. that it is not using univocal language but you claim that when it talks about God being just, fair, merciful etc. it is using univocal language. What is your criterion for distinguishing between univocal and analogical language to discuss God?

    3. Tim Finlay 10.02PM

      You ask-

      'What is your criterian for distinguishing between univocal and analogical language to discuss God?'

      Well, what is yours? Seems to me that it is expediency in getting you out of philosophical and theological difficulties. Personally, I would decide on a case by case basis, looking at the context, the genre of language being used and what exactly is being said, among other things. When this is done there is no good reason to think that moral predicates are not frequently being applied univocally to God in the Bible. If they are never meant in this sense and your God really exists, don't you think that he would have made the meaning of the language very clear and explicit to avert the inevitable misunderstandings and endless theological arguments and debates- and schisms?

    4. Anonymous at 10:02,
      You ask an excellent question. As a biblical exegete, when considering the meaning of a particular passage, I do examine the context, consider the genre (I am writing a book on genres of the Hebrew Bible that is now over 1,000 pages), look up lexicons and grammars for rare words and constructions etc. So that approach is very good. But metaphysical presuppositions are also very important. I believe that there are sound arguments for the proposition that everything in the cosmos depends upon the metaphysically ultimate BEING, pure Actuality, the One who IS and always will be which is what YHWH means. As such, YHWH is not limited in any genuine sense. [That YHWH cannot do the logically impossible such as create a rock he cannot lift is not a genuine limitation; the law of non-contradiction is an absolute presupposition for all of us to know anything at all.]

      One standard criterion for understanding predication about God, which I accept, is that any predication about God must not be understood in such a way as to imply a genuine limitation on God who is metaphysically ultimate. For example, to suffer anguish is a genuine limitation--it implies that one is not in as good a condition as one might be. The biblical language is full of expressions of God's anguish, but Jewish and Christian theology asserts that God is impassible for metaphysical reasons. To answer your second question, which is also excellent, will require another post, and I shall try to do this later this morning.

  24. WCB

    Aquinas -Summa Theologica
    Question 62 - The Theological Virtues
    Pars Prima Secunda Part 1

    And these principles are called theological virtues, not only because
    (a) they have God as their object, but also because
    (b) they are infused in us by God alone and because
    (c) these virtues are made known (tradunt ur) to us only through divine revelation, in Sacred Scripture.

    If God, and only God can grant us these "theological virtues" and does not, is that an act of moral agency? If God grants Jane great "theological virtues", but does not grant John "theological virtue", is that an act of moral agency?

    If God could grant all mankind maximum virtual virtues and does not, is that an act of moral agency? Why would a perfectly good God not do this which is in his power?

    If a theologian uses Aquinas to create a hypothesis, is that theologian obligated to not pick some claims and ignore others that call his hypothesis into question when doing this?

    Brian Davies ransacks Aquinas for little nuggets to create his "God is not a moral agent" while ignoring other bits of Aquinas that are problematic for his theological hypothesis.

    Is accepting less than successful theology uncritically an "idol of the mind"?


    1. See what I mean? He I suspect he is using an essay bot or something?

    2. WCB,
      This conversation is not advancing at all. I have told you how to improve your arguments and all you do is repeat your old fallacious ones. If you think that you have a strong argument, why don't you send it to a journal that is also skeptical of God's existence and see if they think that your argument helps the skeptic/atheist position? I don't think many of them will be impressed, but perhaps I am wrong and they will think it a strong argument.

    3. Tim Finlay

      Thank you for your civility and restraint in this exchange. It is an example of how things should be done , and I am sure that when you feel that it is no longer productive to continue you will withdraw. It is an example which gobshite Son of Ya'kov would do well to follow.

      Incidentally, contrary to Yakov's delusions I am not WCB , StarDusty, Papalinton or Ghostman. If you have time to respond to the couple of posts I addressed to you above I would appreciate it.

    4. Hey WCB,

      To answer your post, as per Aquinas, God is the emminent cause of all moral agency. The term emminent here is used as part of the concept of proportional causality. Now if God were the formal cause of all moral agents and all moral agency, then your claim that these traits in God must be understood by us univocally would be granted. But Aquinas always uses the term emminent.

      Have you looked up the concept of proportionate causality in Ed's books yet? It may not get you to the point where you can say that God is not a moral agent at all, because I agree that this is going a bit too far. But he is certainly not a moral agent like human beings are moral agents. He is the creator and sustainer of all being, after all.

      "Job 38:31 "Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion's belt?"

      The book of Job is where this difference ... this question of the otherness of God is looked at fairly squarely in the face. Job treates God as though he had a moral obligation to give him an easy life, given all the good things he had done.

      Ultimately your question is about whether we have a right to judge God at all. If you are an atheist, the answer is clearly yes. We do have a right to judge God and further more, we have a right to reject him. The answer of the believer is no, we do not have the right to judge God. Further more, for the believer, the primary proof of God's love is not that he comes down to earth and does away with all of our problems and sufferings, but that he comes down to earth, becomes incarnate, and shares our human condition, even tasting death on the cross, although haveing the power to Thanos snap his way out of death's grasp. He does not. Not untill three days had passed.

      Now the athiest will look at evidence for the resurection and say, that this is just a convenient excuse. Why not use the thanos snap and make everyone live eternally now? This is just a fable. A lark.

      The believer looks at Jesus and sees in him the promise of eternal life and judgement. We are not the ones who can judge God, rather, He is the one who will judge us.

      We have two choices, we who face death here on earth:

      1-be like the bad thief on the cross to the left of Jesus who sneers at him and goads him and berates him for not saving them.
      2-be like the good thief on the cross to the right of Jesus who humbly admits his sins, but asks to be admitted to Christ's kingdom anyway.

      I think this language of not being a moral agent at all is similar to the concept of God not being a being at all. Well, in a certain sense that is true, but to those outside of the full intellectual ediface they are speaking from, it is missleading.


    5. Anonymous at 12:01 a.m.,
      I have now addressed one of your excellent questions above and shall address the other one later this morning.

    6. Tim Finley

      Thank you for your response to mý first question. I would caution you however not to assume that the metaphysically necessary being ( the unactualised actualiser, ground of being, subsistant being itself etc ) is necessarily YAHWEH, even though that might be the best available fit in the known religions of the world. At least be open to the possibility that your belief system is a mixture of genuine philosophical insights and human invention. A self-consistant intellectual edifice ( if that is what you have ) is not made correct by that characteristic.

      I was just wondering, do you hope to get your book published, because at over 1000 pages long it could probably do with some editing! In such a specialised area it would probably not have a large print run and so be extremely expensive, but I imagine that it is intended for academics and so institutions, so that would probably not matter.

    7. Anonymous,
      Regarding the book, I have sent my publisher the chapters as I complete them. It may end up being published in two volumes; I don't know.
      I concede that the existence of the unactualised actualiser does not entail the truth of the Bible which needs to be established in addition. That was not the issue WCB was raising however. WCB raised the issue of whether what the Bible said about God entailed that God was a moral agent. Christians believe, contrary to Aristotle, that God created the cosmos ex nihilo, and that everything in the cosmos is a creature (whether a living creature or a non-living creature). God does not owe it to any creature to make that creature living, or to make it animate, or to make it rational, or to give any creature theological virtues. The Creator is not morally obligated to the creatures. When one reads the Bible against that metaphysical background, and one adopts the principle that anything predicated of God cannot indicate a genuine limitation, then WCB’s arguments fail.

    8. >Incidentally, contrary to Yakov's delusions I am not WCB , StarDusty, Papalinton or Ghostman.

      I notice you didn't say Unknown? Stop being a sociopath.

    9. BTW Tim yer doing a good job here and if yer publishing a book I would like to read it.

    10. Ps


      Pick a nickname and stick with it ya wee troll.

    11. Daniel

      Yer interpretation of Job is worthy of Brian Davies himself.

    12. Thanks Son of Ya'Kov - I haven't read his stuff. I know Ed and other quote from him a great deal. I'll definitely add him to my reading list.

    13. Son of Ya'kov 8.33am and 8.41am

      Go fuck yourself.

    14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    15. I wish this thing as a edit function.


      Brian Davies is a good read. People might get confused by his language because while he is a Thomist he is from the analytical school not the Traditional School or even the Neo Scholastic but there is enough crossover between the schools to compare.

      Brian Davies says God is NOT compared to creatures univocally or wholly equivocally but by way of analogy.

      Thus when he says "God is not a moral agent or "God is not morally good" he means in the univocal way a maximally virtuous rational creature would be.

      He explicitly explains his language saying by denying God is a moral agent or morally good he is not denying God is something like a morally good person or what a moral agent is.

      But he uses modern and analytical language to explain old scholastic concepts.

      But transitive logic applies (if a=b & b=c then it is no stretch claiming a=c even if the later is left unsaid).

      The whole post enlightenment Judeo Christian western tradition assumes God has no obligations to us by nature other than what He has willed Himself to do.

      The idea God has obligations to us is clearly from the testimony of history a post enlightenment view.

      Davies books are awesome. They literally saved my soul. I know God by nature doesn't own me anything and I owe Him everything. Ergo I cannot coherently or rationally be mad at Him when I don't get what I want.

      I love it!!!! It is so liberating not believing in this Theodicy nonsense the moderns believe in.

      Love it!

      Cheers brother Daniel & God be with you.

      PS there is no way on a plain reading of Aquinas anybody with a rational brain can claim Aquinas believe is a moral agent like we are moral agents.

      But you and I Daniel are rational. Unlike some people.

    16. Anonymous,
      Here is the beginning of an answer to your second question. The beginning is all I have time for at the moment. The language in the Bible is such that in can benefit people at different levels of understanding. As children, we understand the crude anthropomorphic language about God literally, thinking that God has arms, eyes etc. I thought this until I was in my mid-20s. One can be at that level and learn much about Christology, soteriology, God's covenant relationship with Israel etc. One can be saved and grow spiritually while still understanding God anthropomorphically. Then there are levels of understanding between that level and the level of "classical theism." Many people do not switch from a crude anthropomorphic understanding of God to classical theism overnight. They might understand anthropomorphic language applied to God as analogical but anthropopathic language as univocal, for example. They can benefit from the Bible at this level also. Classical theism integrates philosophy into the systematic analysis of passages that affirm God's unity, omnipotence, immutability, aseity etc. Even the level of classical theism acknowledges the limits of its own theology. Mishneh Torah or Summa Theologica can only take you so far. Mysticism, which is a rigorous intellectual and spiritual enterprise, is performed in the hope of God granting the mystic a greater insight into the divine nature than can be attained by classical theism. The Bible is foundational for this level also, but now goes beyond the plain meaning of the text. The kabbalists know Torah and Talmud at an amazing level and they explore hints provided by unusual morphological or syntactic phenomena, gematria (the numerical equivalences of letters, words, and phrases) etc. Similar things happen in Christian mysticism also. Marvin Pope's commentary on Song of Songs gives you a good flavor of Jewish and Christian mystical understanding of that book. The Bible can operate beneficially at many levels of understanding.

    17. edit There is not way on a plain reading of Aquinas that he believes God is a moral agent the way we are moral agents. Ergo God is not subject to our moral evaluation and thus it cannot be denied God is the Supreme Good.

    18. Tim Finlay 10.51AM

      Thanks for your second thoughtful reply to my questions. You would not expect me to agree with or be convinced by everything that you say, but it is an interesting take on things which I will consider further.

      Hope that things work out well with your book.

    19. Anonymous,
      I should have qualified the statement "God is not a moral agent" in the way that Daniel referred to above. I definitely do not hold to a version of Divine Command Theory where law is dependent solely on God's arbitrary will. God creates various kinds of creatures and God's will is for those creatures to act according to what is appropriate for their nature. All creatures participate in the eternal law of God but in different ways. Psalm 148, one of the five Hallelujah psalms that together function as a doxology for book 5 of the Psalms, commands all manner of creatures from non-living things through plants, lower animals, humans, and angels to praise God. Obviously, "praise" is not used univocally for these different types of creatures but is used analogically.
      What I should have said is that, given the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, one should not predicate "moral agent" univocally of God and humans.

    20. Anonymous,
      Thank you for your kind words.
      I wish you all the best also.

  25. WCB

    This is a discussion about theological claims, assertions, propositions and if these are true and rational or not.

    You never engage in any of these debates on the merits of anything. You only engage in bullying and gaslighting.

    Deal with the arguments. Or admit you have no rational counter arguments.

    A God that could act to eliminate horrendous moral evil and will not do so is indeed a moral agent. Just not a good one.

    This is the issue I have proposed here. If you have nothing of substance to write here with this proposition, admit it and stop gaslighting us all.

    Son of Ya'Kov

  26. Ed has mentioned Critical Race Theory in a number of recent posts, but often in a general sort of way. I'd love to read any essays where he or other Thomistic philosophers engage directly with some of the primary texts. Can anyone direct me to something like that?

    I'm wondering how much of the criticism of critical race theory is really directed at misrepresentations of the theory in popular culture and how much is endemic to it.

    1. I've read a fair bit of it and have something forthcoming on the subject. There is no misrepresentation. It is awful, toxic stuff, intellectually frivolous and morally corrupting.

    2. WCB

      "... I'd love to read any essays where he or other Thomistic philosophers engage directly with some of the primary texts. Can anyone direct me to something like that?"

      Here is Pope Francis on racism.

      Greeting in English

      I greet the English-speaking faithful joining us through the media.

      Dear brothers and sisters in the United States, I have witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest in your nation in these past days, following the tragic death of Mr George Floyd.

      My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognise that “the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost”.

      Today I join the Church in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and in the entire United States, in praying for the repose of the soul of George Floyd and of all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism. Let us pray for the consolation of their grieving families and friends and let us implore the national reconciliation and peace for which we yearn. May Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America, intercede for all those who work for peace and justice in your land and throughout the world.

      May God bless all of you and your families.

      - Pope Francis


    3. Jordan didn't ask about George Floyd, he asked about CRT, and the two things have absolutely nothing to do with one another.

      The suggestion that if you condemn what happened to Floyd, you must therefore embrace CRT, is about as manifest and moronic a fallacy as could be imagined. The fact that CRT types routinely commit it shows how extremely intellectually flimsy the whole CRT fraud is.

    4. >is about as manifest and moronic a fallacy as could be imagined.

      ROTFLOL! Well said sir.

      But Gnus are not like the more Philosophically competent Atheists. They are basically wee fundies without god belief and twice as silly.

      But least anyone think I am atheist bashing I say God bless philosophically knowledgeable atheists and may God forgive the Gnus for their crimes against reason.

      Cheers boss!

    5. WCB

      Pope Francis:
      Today I join the Church in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and in the entire United States, in praying for the repose of the soul of George Floyd and of all those others who have lost their lives as a result of the sin of racism."

      Racism is a sin. The chronic and systemic racism in America gave birth to CRT. Work on the racism problem and the CRT issue is no longer as important and issue to clutch our pearls over.

      Pope Francis has spoken out on the sin of racism. We have seen in the recent years a rise in anti-Semitism,violence againts Asian Americans, Hispanics, and black Americans.

      Meanwhile, fewer Americans go to church than those who do not, and young cohorts of Americans are leaving organized religion to become Nones. Trumpian politics is a turn off. Nitpicking CRT and not strongly dealing with America's racism problem seems to be something that needs attention from America's religious leaders.

      If you were God, would you be happy with systemic racism?

      Something here about straining at gnats but swallowing camels.

      Not to be rude, but racism is tearing America apart.


    6. Son of Ya'kov 11.01AM

      Your obsequiousness towards Feser is utterly nauseating. Pardon me while I vomit.

    7. Thanks Ed. I look forward to reading your work as always.

      To clarify, I wasn't implying you were misrepresenting CRT. Rather, proponents of CRT seem to be misrepresenting it. But I haven't read enough of the primary texts to have a fully informed view on that.

    8. WCB

      CRT has become a new boogy man for the far right. Booga Booga Booga! CRT gonna get yer Momma! It gets misrepresented by a lot of far right conspiracy mongers. This has become a stock boogy man on Faux news for example. CRT foloows the legal status of race and race issues in the US.

      The second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence starts as follows: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

      Well, of course, not if you were a slave, an Indian, or a woman. EWe had the horrors of President Jackson and the trail of tears. The rise of racism after reconstruction, Jim Crow, anti-Asian racism, anti-Irish racism and more. Lynchings, The Red Summer of 1920 with numerous black communities being torched by White Mobs. The battles of civil rights and desegregation. Nixon's repugnant Southern Strategy to use race to move Dixiecrats to the GOP. And now we see the New Jim Crow from the GOP to steal votes. And more. The legal issues used to aid and abet these sorts of things is what CRT studies. Google for Critical Race Theory to start with to get a bearing on what it is and when it was created and what it does.

      To be sure, Feser can probably find a few stupid things CRT supporters have said, but to hold these as the heart and soul of cRT is no more likely to be the whole story than pointing to some swastika wear white power clown and telling us this is what conservationism is all about.

      Hold your opinion on check until you can find out how much of CRT is reasonable, and if a lot of the outrage about CRT is from the usual Far Right media noise machine. You do not have to choose sides until you have done your intellectual due diligence in looking carefully into the issue.


  27. WCB

    Imagine you are a person of color and see the efforts of the GOP to make it harder for people to vote. The New Jim Crow of Georgia, Texas, Florida and more. Plus to other systemic racism of the US.

    It is obvious the problem in the US is not CRT, but racism. Which is only getting more brazen and open with the Trump era. And the GOP. We have had a number of quotes from GOP VIPs, starting with Trump that if we had fair elections and made it easy to vote the GOP would never win another election. So we have massive organized GOP cheating. Does this bother you Mr. Feser? CRT is a reaction to open racism fanned and flamed by Trump, right winged media and the GOP.

    A senior Republican ally of Trump has warned that there will never be another Republican
    president if lawmakers don't "do something" about mail-in voting.

    Lindsey Graham, the Senate Judiciary Committee chair who last week was re-elected the
    senator for South Carolina, told Fox News on Monday: "Networks that do polling that's way
    off — we're ought to call them into Congress and ask them how they do it.

    "Mitch McConnell [Senate Majority Leader] and I need to come up with an oversight of
    mail-in balloting. If we don't do something about voting by mail, we are going to lose the
    ability to elect a Republican in this country."

    So they have to cheat to win and are openly doing so.


    1. WCB,

      If you're going to sign your name at the start and end of each comment, why not just pick a screen name already?

    2. Also, Colorado already has stricter voter registration laws than the ones Georgia just put in. Is Colorado run by the KKK Priesthood of Phineas or something?

    3. Colorado does not go out of it's way to make it as hard to register to vote. Colorado does not have punitive laws to make it as hard as possible for organizations to register voters. Colorado has not passed laws to shorten the early voting period. Nor does Colorado make voting by mail as absolutely hard as possible. Or make it illegal to hand a bottle of water to somebody who has been waiting in line to vote for three hours. And on and on and on like this. All of this nonsense about Colorado is disinformation from the right wing outrage machine. it isn't true.

      "The Republican Party will not be able to reclaim the White House as long as universal
      mail-in balloting remains in place, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., claimed on Fox Business
      Network's “Lou Dobbs Tonight" Monday."

      Here is what it is all about. Cheating to win. Cheating, cheating, cheating.

      I am down here in Houston, Texas. Houston is the fourth most populous metropolitan area in the US. And the second largest county, Harris county excepting Oklahoma City. Houston is a blue area in a red state. In the last election cycle, we had the pandemic and early voting had lots of voters trying to avoid crowds because covid-19. Our GOP governor, the lovely Greg Abbot wrote s governor's executive order limiting Harris county to one, count them one early voting drop off box. In a metropolitan area with 4 1/2 million people.

      A federal court voided that order, but we can see here what the GOP does, given a change. Oh yes, Houston has a large Hispanic and black population. Texas just passed voter laws modeled on Georgia's.

      It isn't about voter suppression of POC in voting booths voting Democratic. Really! My brother lives in a majority Hispanic neighborhood. In the last presidential election he had to wait five hours in line to vote.


  28. WCB
    I like how you write and what you write. Keep it coming.

    1. Speak Softly and carry a big clue stick.
      Thanks for the cookie!


    2. Yer thanking yerself?


    3. WCB



    4. WCB

      And stop clowning around, Son of Ya'Kov.


    5. I thanked WCB, Ben Yakov or Son of Ya'kov. But I like you too, when you stick to philosophy and don't use all that Scottish scatology.

    6. WCB

      I am a different Anonymous ( the one who keep,s calling out Son of Ya'kov for being a jerk ), and I too would like to thank you for your informed comments about racism in the US ( I live in the UK ). They will be needed even more when Feser gets around to publishing his thoughts ( bile? ) about CRT . Please stick around.

  29. As I read through the comments that have opened up the various threads on this article, be it about the Parker contribution itself, about Thomist metaphysics, about Thomism more broadly, about 'The Natural Law', about CRT, about racism, about voter suppression (or more correctly, voter nullification), about social justice (about BLM), the pushing of 'The Big Lie' in conservative politics, along with the range of defences and advocacy for these by many if not most of Feser's supporters, it becomes increasingly evident and so much easier to understand why it is the Catholic Church and the catholic religion, in this case, no longer resonate with anywhere near the power and authority among people in the community it once commanded. It has sadly become a dog's breakfast. Organised religion has failed to progressively meet the challenges of highly mobilised and eclectically diverse communities we now live in. Much of what Dr Feser believes in, about 'wokeness', the wrongness of homosexuality, the role of women, abortion, same sex marriage, the defence of CRT, largely on the basis of 'the Natural Law', is a losing game. His advocacy of the tenets behind why he sees these as 'bad', 'corrupting', 'sinful', 'immoral' and against 'the natural law', simply does not add up. The WALL he is facing is real, powerful, and meaningful. AND THIS IS IT.

    Dr Feser and other Thomists must find answers to this growing commitment of communities to find better and improved ways to support the tide of humanity facing the big challenges into the future.

    The day when religion commandeered and commanded every aspect of our lives is coming to a close. There is little doubt about that change. Even if we in the future are confronted by world conflict (happenstance forbid) the community will not ever fully or largely return to the comfort of organised religion in a time of post crisis. I feel reasonably confident of that outcome, as I think we are almost at a tipping point in the maturation of the human mind that many people (a lot more sophisticated, educated and knowledgeable than our predecessors), understand that if we don't, it will only end in the perpetuation of destruction after the event as tribal loyalties and separateness kicks in. Organised religion perpetuates that deep instinctual primitive tribalist urge, and I live in hope that the decline of religion in our everyday lives reflects our wider and broadening understanding of the need for greater social inclusiveness and acceptance of human diversity.

    If we don't learn the lessons of the past we are bound to repeat them.