Friday, July 28, 2023

Stove and Searle on the rhetorical subversion of common sense

One of the stranger aspects of contemporary political and intellectual life is the frequency with which commentators put forward extremely dubious or even manifestly absurd claims as if they were obvious truths that no well-informed or decent person could deny.  Examples would be woke assertions to the effect that women have penises or that everything from professionalism to exercise to disliking body odor to getting a good night’s sleep is “racist.”  In his book The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies, David Stove characterized a similar rhetorical move sometimes made by philosophers as “reasoning from a sudden and violent solecism” (p. 142).

Monday, July 24, 2023

A comment on the Lofton affair

For any readers of my recent reply to Michael Lofton who have not been following events at Twitter and YouTube, Lofton has, over the course of the last few days, posted a series of tweets at the former and a series of videos at the latter strongly taking exception to my article.  I have to say that I am mystified at the number and vehemence of these responses.  But Lofton seems especially angry about my characterization of his initial video as “defamatory” and “libel.”  What follows are some brief remarks that I hope will put his mind at ease and allow us to move on from this affair.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Lofton’s YouTube straw man (Updated)

There’s a popular mode of online intellectual discourse that I rather dislike, which might be labeled “the extended YouTube hot take.”  It involves a talking head riffing, for an hour or so, on something someone has written on a complex philosophical or theological topic (an article, a book, a lecture, or whatever).  My impatience with this kind of thing is no doubt partly generational, but there is more to it than that.  The written form is more conducive to intellectual discipline.  A good article on a philosophical or theological topic, even when written for a popular rather than academic audience, requires the careful exposition of ideas and lines of argument, both the writer’s own and those of anyone he’s responding to.  It also has to be clearly written and well-organized.  You can’t achieve all this by simply pouring out on the page whatever pops into your stream of consciousness.  It takes time, and as a writer tries to whip a piece into shape, he’s likely to mull over the ideas and come to see flaws in interpretation and reasoning he would otherwise have overlooked.  A video, because it is so much quicker and easier to make, is for that very reason likelier to be of considerably lower intellectual quality. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

What is classical theism?

Recently, I was interviewed by John DeRosa for the Classical Theism Podcast.  The focus of our discussion is my essay “What is Classical Theism?,” which appears in the anthology Classical Theism: New Essays on the Metaphysics of God, edited by Jonathan Fuqua and Robert C. Koons.  We also address some other matters, such as the book on the soul that I’m currently working on.  You can listen to the interview here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Archbishop Fernandez’s clarification

Recently, it was announced that Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernandez would become the new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF).  As I noted in an article last week, Pope Francis has stated that he wants the DDF under the new prefect to operate in a “very different” way than it has in the past, when “possible doctrinal errors were pursued.”  The archbishop himself has said that he wants the DDF to pursue “dialogue” and to avoid “persecutions and condemnations” or “the imposition of a single way of thinking.”  He also indicated that he took this to mark a difference from the way the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (as the DDF was known until recently) has operated in recent decades.  As I argued in the article, the logical implication of the pope’s and archbishop’s words seemed to be that the DDF would largely no longer be exercising its traditional teaching function. 

Friday, July 14, 2023

Cardinal Newman, Archbishop Fernandez, and the “suspended Magisterium” thesis

St. John Henry Newman famously noted that during the Arian crisis, “the governing body of the Church came short” in fighting the heresy, and orthodoxy was preserved primarily by the laity.  “The Catholic people,” he says, “were the obstinate champions of Catholic truth, and the bishops were not.”  Even Pope Liberius temporarily caved in to pressure to accept an ambiguous formula and to condemn St. Athanasius, the great champion of orthodoxy.  Newman wrote:

The body of the Episcopate was unfaithful to its commission, while the body of the laity was faithful to its baptism… at one time the pope, at other times a patriarchal, metropolitan, or other great see, at other times general councils, said what they should not have said, or did what obscured and compromised revealed truth; while, on the other hand, it was the Christian people, who, under Providence, were the ecclesiastical strength of Athanasius, Hilary, Eusebius of Vercellae, and other great solitary confessors, who would have failed without them.

Friday, July 7, 2023

The vice of insensibility

Temperance or moderation is the virtue governing the enjoyment of sensory pleasures.  In particular, and as Aquinas says, “temperance is properly about pleasures of meat and drink and sexual pleasures.”  These pleasures reflect our bodily nature (which is why angels, unlike us, neither need the virtue of temperance nor exhibit the vices opposed to it).  Specifically, they reflect our needs for self-preservation and for preservation of the species.  Eating and drinking exist in order to meet the first need and sex exists in order to meet the second.  The pleasures associated with these activities exist in turn so that we will be drawn to carrying them out.  And temperance is needed so that the pleasures will perform that motivating task successfully.  In short, temperance exists in order that we will be drawn to the right kinds of sensory pleasures and to the right degree; those pleasures exist for the sake of encouraging eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse at the right times and in the right ways; and those actions exist, in turn, in order that the individual and species will carry on.