Friday, April 19, 2024

Daniel Dennett (1942-2024)

Prominent philosopher of mind, apostle of Darwinism, and New Atheist writer Daniel Dennett has died.  I have been very critical of Dennett over the years, but he had two great strengths.  First, he wrote with crystal clarity, no matter how difficult the subject matter.  Second, as even we critics of materialism can happily concede, he could be very insightful on the distinctive nature of psychological modes of description and explanation (even if he went wrong when addressing how these relate metaphysically to physical modes of description and explanation).  It is also only fair to acknowledge that of the four original New Atheist tomes (the others penned by Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens) his Breaking the Spell, despite its faults, was the one that was actually intellectually interesting.  RIP

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Two problems with Dignitas Infinita

This week the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) published the Declaration Dignitas Infinita, on the topic of human dignity.  I am as weary as anyone of the circumstance that it has now become common for new documents issued by the Vatican to be met with fault-finding.  But if the faults really are there, then we oughtn’t to blame the messenger.  And this latest document exhibits two serious problems: one with its basic premise, and the other with some of the conclusions it draws from it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Western civilization's immunodeficiency disease

Liberalism is to the social order what AIDS is to the body.  By relegating the truths of natural law and divine revelation to the private sphere, it destroys the immune system of the body politic, opening the way to that body’s being ravaged by moral decay and ideological fanaticism.  I develop this theme in a new essay over at Postliberal Order.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Ed Piskor (1982-2024)

This week, cartoonist Ed Piskor committed suicide in the wake of the relentless online pillorying and overnight destruction of his career that followed upon allegations of sexual misconduct, of which he insisted he was innocent. Piskor’s work was not really to my taste, but I often enjoyed the Cartoonist Kayfabe YouTube channel he co-hosted. I was always impressed by the manifest love, respect, and appreciation he showed for the great comic book artists of the past. These are attractive and admirable attitudes to take toward those from whom one has learned.

The illusion of AI

My essay “The Illusion of Artificial Intelligence” appears in the latest issue of the Word on Fire Institute’s journal Evangelization & Culture.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Wishful thinking about Judas

In a recent article at Catholic Answers titled “Hope for Judas?” Jimmy Akin tells us that though he used to find convincing the traditional view that Judas is damned, it now seems to him that “we don’t have conclusive proof that Judas is in hell, and there is still a ray of hope for him.”  But there is a difference between hope and wishful thinking.  And with all due respect for Akin, it seems to me that given the evidence, the view that Judas may have been saved crosses the line from the former to the latter.

Jesuit Britain?

Did Spanish Scholastic thinkers influence British liberalism? You can now access my Religion and Liberty review of Projections of Spanish Jesuit Scholasticism on British Thought: New Horizons in Politics, Law, and Rights, edited by Leopoldo J. Prieto López and José Luis Cendejas Bueno.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Mind, matter, and malleability

Continuing our look at Jacques Maritain’s Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau, let’s consider some arresting passages on the conception of human nature the modern world has inherited from Descartes.  Maritain subtitles his chapter on the subject “The Incarnation of the Angel.”  As you might expect, this has in part to do with the Cartesian dualist’s view that the mind is a res cogitans or thinking substance whose nature is wholly incorporeal, so that it is only contingently related to the body.  But it is the Cartesian doctrine of innate ideas and its implications that Maritain is most interested in. 

Friday, March 15, 2024

The metaphysics of individualism

Modern moral discourse often refers to “persons” and to “individuals” as if the notions were more or less interchangeable.  But that is not the case.  In his book Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau (especially in chapter 1, section 3), Jacques Maritain notes several important differences between the concepts, and draws out their moral and social implications.

Traditionally, in Catholic philosophy, a person is understood to be a substance possessing intellect and will.  Intellect and will, in turn, are understood to be immaterial.  Hence, to be a person is ipso facto to be incorporeal – wholly so in the case of an angel, partially so in the case of a human being.  And qua partially incorporeal, human beings are partially independent of the forces that govern the rest of the material world.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

When do popes speak ex cathedra?

Consider four groups that, one might think, couldn’t be more different: Pope Francis’s most zealous defenders; sedevacantists; Protestants; and Catholics who have recently left the Church (for Eastern Orthodoxy, say).  Something at least many of them have in common is a serious misunderstanding of the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility – one which has led them to draw fallacious conclusions from recent papal teaching that seems to conflict with traditional Catholic doctrine (for example, on Holy Communion for those in invalid marriages, the death penalty, and blessings for same-sex couples).  Some of Pope Francis’s defenders insist that, since these teachings came from a pope, they must therefore be consistent with traditional doctrine, appearances notwithstanding.  Sedevacantists argue instead that, given that these teachings are not consistent with traditional doctrine, Francis must not be a true pope.  Some Protestants, meanwhile, argue that since Francis is a true pope but the teachings in question are (they judge) not consistent with traditional Christian doctrine, Catholic claims about papal infallibility have been falsified.  Finally, some Catholics have concluded the same thing, and left the Church as a result.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

What counts as magisterial teaching?

Popes speak infallibly when they either proclaim some doctrine ex cathedra, or reiterate some doctrine that has already been taught infallibly by virtue of being a consistent teaching of the ordinary magisterium of the Church for millennia.  Even when papal teaching is not infallible, it is normally owed “religious assent.”  However, the Church recognizes exceptions.  The instruction Donum Veritatis, issued during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, acknowledges that “it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies” so that “a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions.”  Donum Veritatis explicitly distinguishes such respectful criticism from “dissent” from perennial Church teaching.

Monday, February 19, 2024

A comment on comments

Dear reader, if it seems your comment has not been approved, sometimes it actually has been approved even if you don’t see it.  The reason is that once a combox reaches 200 comments, the Blogger software will not show any new comments made after that unless you click “Load more…” at the bottom of the comments page.  The trouble is that this is in small print and easily overlooked.  In the screen cap above, I’ve circled in red what you should look for.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Avicenna, Aquinas, and Leibniz on the argument from contingency

Avicenna, Aquinas, and Leibniz all present versions of what would today be called the argument from contingency for the existence of a divine necessary being.  Their versions are interestingly different, despite Aquinas’s having been deeply influenced by Avicenna and Leibniz’s having been familiar with Aquinas.  I think all three of them are good arguments, though I won’t defend them here.  I discussed Avicenna’s argument in an earlier post.  I defend Aquinas’s in my book Aquinas, at pp. 90-99.  I defend Leibniz’s in chapter 5 of my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God.  Here I merely want to compare and contrast the arguments.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

The heresy with a thousand faces

In a new article at Postliberal Order, I discuss the disturbing parallels between the woke phenomenon and the medieval Catharist or Albigensian heresy, a movement so fanatical and virulent that the preaching of the Dominicans could not entirely eliminate it and Church and state judged military action to be necessary.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Immortal souls at West Point

Had a great time visiting the United States Military Academy at West Point this week for a Thomistic Institute talk on the theme “Do You Have an Immortal Soul?” Thank you TI and cadets!

Monday, January 22, 2024

Voluntarism in The Vanishing

The reputation of 1993’s The Vanishing has suffered because critics judge it inferior to the 1988 Dutch movie of which it was a remake.  But considered on its own terms, it is a solid enough little thriller.  Jeff Bridges is effectively creepy as the oddball family-man-cum-kidnapper Barney Cousins.  I had reason to re-watch the flick the other day, and was struck by what I take to be an underlying theme of the contrast between voluntarist and intellectualist conceptions of human action.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Avicenna’s flying man

Peter Adamson’s new book Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna): A Very Short Introduction is an excellent primer on the great medieval Islamic philosopher.  After a biographical chapter, it treats Avicenna’s views on logic and epistemology, philosophical anthropology, science, and natural theology, and closes with a discussion of his influence on later philosophy and theology.  Among the things readers will find useful is the book’s discussion of Avicenna’s famous “flying man” argument.  Let’s take a look.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Progress report

My friends, it exists. More news later.

Jesuit Britain?

My review of the anthology Projections of Spanish Jesuit Scholasticism on British Thought: New Horizons in Politics, Law, and Rights, edited by Leopoldo Prieto López and José Luis Cendejas Bueno, appears in the Winter 2023 issue of Religion and Liberty.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

New Year’s open thread

Let’s open the New Year with an open thread.  Now’s the time at last to bring up that otherwise off-topic comment that keeps getting deleted, or anything else you like.  From Art Nouveau to Art Blakey, from presidents to presentism, from sci-fi to Wi-Fi to hi-fis, everything is on topic.  Just keep it civil and classy.  Previous open threads collected here.