Thursday, August 21, 2014

Science dorks

Suppose you’re trying to teach basic arithmetic to someone who has gotten it into his head that the whole subject is “unscientific,” on the grounds that it is non-empirical.  With apologies to the famous Mr. Parker (pictured at left), let’s call him “Peter.”  Peter’s obviously not too bright, but he thinks he is very bright since he has internet access and skims a lot of Wikipedia articles about science.  Indeed, he proudly calls himself a “science dork.”  Patiently, albeit through gritted teeth, you try to get him to see that two and two really do make four.  Imagine it goes like this:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Carroll on Scholastic Metaphysics

Edward Feser’s latest book gives readers who are familiar with analytic philosophy an excellent overview of scholastic metaphysics in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas…

Feser argues that Thomistic philosophy can expand and enrich today’s metaphysical reflection. His book is an effective challenge to anyone who would dismiss scholastic metaphysics as irrelevant.

Those familiar with Feser’s many books and lively blog will recognize his characteristic vigor and his wide-ranging reading of contemporary and medieval sources. This book is particularly aimed at those trained in the Anglo-American analytical tradition, repeatedly referencing contemporary debates in this tradition…

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

You’re not who you think you are

If I’m not me, who the hell am I?

Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in Total Recall

If you know the work of Philip K. Dick, then you know that one of its major themes is the relationship between memory and personal identity.  That is evident in many of the Dick stories made into movies, such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (which was adapted into Blade Runner, definitely the best of the Dick film adaptations); “Paycheck” (the inferior movie adaptation of which I blogged about recently); and A Scanner Darkly (the movie version of which is pretty good -- and which I’ve been meaning to blog about forever, though I won’t be doing so here). 

Then there are the short stories “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (the first part of which formed the basis of the original Total Recall and its pointless remake), and “Impostor” (the basis of a middling Gary Sinise movie).  These two stories nicely illustrate what is wrong with the “continuity of consciousness” philosophical theories of personal identity that trace to John Locke.  (Those who don’t already know these stories or movies should be warned that major spoilers follow.)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Around the web

Back from a very pleasant (but exhausting!) week in Princeton.  While I regroup, some reading to wind down the summer:

Andrew Fulford at The Calvinist International kindly reviews my book Scholastic Metaphysics.  Stephen Mumford tweets a kind word about the book.  Thanks, Stephen!

It’s bold.  It’s new.  It’s long overdue.  It’s The Classical Theism Project.  Check it.

At NDPR, Thomas Williams reviews Thomas Osborne’s new book Human Action in Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Haldane on Nagel and the Fifth Way

Next week I’ll be at the Thomistic Seminar organized by John Haldane.  Haldane’s article “Realism, Mind, and Evolution” appeared last year in the journal Philosophical InvestigationsThomas Nagel’s book Mind and Cosmos is among the topics dealt with in the article.  As Haldane notes, Nagel entertains the possibility of a “non-materialist naturalist” position which:

would explain the emergence of sentient and then of rational beings on the basis of developmental processes directed towards their production.  That is to say, it postulates principles of self-organization in matter which lead from the physico-chemical level to the emergence of living things, which then are further directed by some immanent laws towards the development of consciousness, and thereafter to reason for the sake of coming to recognize value and act in response to it, a state of affairs which is itself a value, the good of rational life. (p. 107)

As the phrases “directed towards” and “immanent laws” indicate, what Nagel is speculating about is a return to a broadly Aristotelian notion of natural teleology.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Logorrhea in the cell

In a recent post I commented on a remark made in one of the comboxes by a reader sympathetic to “Intelligent Design” (ID) theory.  At the ID website Uncommon Descent, Vincent Torley has responded, in a post with the title “Hyper-skepticism and ‘My way or the highway’: Feser’s extraordinary post.”  The title, and past experience with Torley, led me to expect that his latest piece would be short on dispassionate and accurate analysis and long on overheated rhetoric and misrepresentation.  Past experience with Torley also led me to expect that it would simply be long, period, indeed of gargantuan length.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Marvel Team-Up: Spider-Man and The Patriarchy

It isn’t news that fathers are often portrayed as doofuses in pop culture.  An interesting aspect of the Spider-Man movies is how aggressively they buck this trend.  The theme of fatherhood and its responsibilities absolutely permeates the series.  The noblest characters are almost all either father figures or those who honor father figures.  When father figures are portrayed negatively, it is always because they have failed to live up to the responsibilities of fatherhood, which the series clearly honors.  Indeed, once you first note this aspect of the series, you start seeing it everywhere.  The Spider-Man movies constitute one big patriarchy-fest.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Signature in the cell?

In the combox of my recent post comparing the New Atheism and ID theory to different players in a game of Where’s Waldo?,  a reader wrote:

One can run a reductio against the claim that we cannot detect design or infer transcendent intelligence through natural processes.  Were we to find, imprinted in every human cell, the phrase "Made by Yahweh" there is only one thing we can reasonably conclude.

I like this example, because it is simple, clear, and illustrative of confusions of the sort that are rife in discussions of ID.  Presumably we are all supposed to regard it as obvious that if this weird event were to occur, the “one thing we can reasonably conclude” is that a “transcendent intelligence,” indeed Yahweh himself, had put his “signature in the cell” (with apologies to Stephen Meyer -- whose own views I am not addressing here, by the way).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Where’s God?

Here’s an analogy that occurs to me as a way of thinking about some of the main issues debated here on the blog over the years.  Suppose you’re looking at a painting of a crowd of people, and you remark upon the painter’s intentions in producing the work.  Someone standing next to you looking at the same painting -- let’s call him Skeptic -- begins to scoff.  “Painter?  Oh please, there’s no evidence of any painter!  I’ve been studying this canvas for years.  I’ve gone over every square inch.  I’ve studied each figure in detail -- facial expressions, posture, clothing, etc.  I’ve found plumbers, doctors, dancers, hot dog vendors, dogs, cats, birds, lamp posts, and all kinds of other things.  But I’ve never found this painter of yours anywhere in it.  No doubt you’ll tell me that I need to look again until I find him.  But really, how long do we have to keep looking without success until people like you finally admit that there just is no painter?”

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Back from Berkeley

Got back last night from the very fine DSPT conference on the relationship between philosophy and theology in Berkeley.  The main presenters were Msgr. Robert Sokolowski, Linda Zagzebski, Fr. Michael Dodds, John Searle, Fr. Michał Paluch, Allred Freddoso, John O’Callaghan, and me.  Responses to these talks were given by Fr. Richard Schenk, Fr. Bernhard Blankenhorn, Fr. Simon Gaine, Steven Long, Fr. Michael Dodds, Matthew Levering, Fr. Thomas Joseph White, and Fr. Michael Sherwin.  There were also many excellent talks given during the breakout sessions.   

My paper was titled “From Aristotle to John Searle and Back Again: Formal Causes, Teleology, and Computation in Nature.”  Some photos taken during the talk can be found here.  Photos from the other talks can be found by scrolling down here.  My understanding is that conference papers will be published in a forthcoming volume.  Fred Freddoso’s paper “The Vindication of St. Thomas: Thomism and Contemporary Anglo-American Philosophy” is available at his website (along with a great many other works by Fred that you should read).  Many thanks to the Dominicans for their warm hospitality!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I link, therefore I am

This week: DSPT conference on philosophy and theology in Berkeley.  See you there.

John Searle, who will be speaking at the conference, is interviewed by Tim Crane.

Does Darwinism eliminate teleology and intentionality, or does it explain teleology and intentionality?  Some major naturalist philosophers hash it out in a new anthology reviewed at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Philosopher Stephen Mumford tweets that he is “really enjoying” and “finding it hard to put down” my book Aquinas.  Thanks, Stephen!  (Stephen’s book Laws in Nature, to which he refers in one of the tweets, is highly recommended.)

Less than three weeks left until Guardians of the Galaxy.  Here’s the extended trailer.  And the flick’s got a cool soundtrack.  (But it’s not all fun and games.  Check out “The Glory and Tragedy of Rocket Raccoon” for the sad story of Rocket’s co-creator Bill Mantlo, who could use all the help his family can get.)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Clarke on the stock caricature of First Cause arguments

W. Norris Clarke’s article “A Curious Blind Spot in the Anglo-American Tradition of Antitheistic Argument” first appeared in The Monist in 1970.  It was reprinted in his anthology The Creative Retrieval of St. Thomas Aquinas: Essays in Thomistic Philosophy, New and Old, which was published posthumously in 2009.  I only just read the essay, and I did so with embarrassment and gratification.  Embarrassment because I found that something I’ve been harping on for a few years now had already been said by Fr. Clarke over 40 years ago.  Gratification because I found that something I’ve been harping on for a few years now had already been said by Fr. Clarke over 40 years ago.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Carroll on laws and causation

People have been asking me to comment on the remarks about causation made by atheist physicist Sean Carroll during his recent debate with William Lane Craig on the topic of “God and Cosmology.”  (You’ll find Craig’s own post-debate remarks here.)  It’s only fair to acknowledge at the outset that Carroll cannot justly be accused of the anti-philosophical philistinism one finds in recent remarks by physicists Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Indeed, Carroll has recently criticized these fellow physicists pretty harshly, and made some useful remarks about the role of philosophy vis-à-vis physics in the course of doing so.

Monday, June 30, 2014

SCOTUS and Oderberg

Today, with Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court of the United States has partially redeemed itself after its disgraceful 2012 Obamacare ruling.  Readers of this blog will be particularly interested to learn that the work of the esteemed David Oderberg (specifically, his article “The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing”) is cited in footnote 34 of the decision.  Also cited are two other, older works of traditional Thomistic natural law theory: Thomas Higgins’ Man as Man: The Science and Art of Ethics and Henry Davis’s Moral and Pastoral Theology.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pagden on the Enlightenment

Prof. Anthony Pagden’s recent book The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters has much to say not only about the Enlightenment itself but also about the Scholasticism against which it reacted.  My review of the book appears today at Liberty Fund’s Online Library of Law and Liberty website.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The last enemy

There are two sorts of people who might be tempted to think of death as a friend: those who think the nature of the human person has nothing to do with the body, and those who think it has everything to do with the body; in short, Platonists and materialists.  Protestant theologian Oscar Cullmann summarizes the Platonist’s position in his little book Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? as follows:

Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer web surfing

My Claremont Review of Books review of John Gray’s The Silence of Animals is now available for free online.

Keith Parsons has now wrapped up our exchange on atheism and morality at The Secular Outpost.

The latest from David Oderberg: “Could There Be a Superhuman Species?”  Details here.

Liberty Island is an online magazine devoted to conservatism and pop culture.  Music writer extraordinaire (and friend of this blog) Dan LeRoy is on board

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sullivan’s cavils

I thank The Smithy’s Michael Sullivan for his two spirited further installments (here and here) in his series of posts on my book Scholastic Metaphysics.  (I responded to the first of his posts here.)  Sullivan says some very kind things about my book, which I appreciate.  He also raises some criticisms which, though I disagree with them, are reasonable.  But unfortunately, some of his remarks are unjust and intemperate.  Let me comment on those first.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Judging a book by what it doesn’t cover

In his encyclical Aeterni Patris, Pope Leo XIII called for a “restoration of Christian philosophy.” He was quite specific about what he had in mind:

[D]aily experience, and the judgment of the greatest men, and, to crown all, the voice of the Church, have favored the Scholastic philosophy.

Indeed, he was even more specific than that:

Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas

We exhort you, venerable brethren, in all earnestness to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas, and to spread it far and wide for the defense and beauty of the Catholic faith, for the good of society, and for the advantage of all the sciences… Let carefully selected teachers endeavor to implant the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas in the minds of students, and set forth clearly his solidity and excellence over others.  Let the universities already founded or to be founded by you illustrate and defend this doctrine, and use it for the refutation of prevailing errors.

Review of Gray etc.

Readers of the Claremont Review of Books may want to look for my review of John Gray’s book The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths in the Spring 2014 issue.  At the moment the review is behind a pay wall, but subscribing will fix that problem.

On another matter, readers keep asking me how to get hold of Scholastic Metaphysics, which was released on April 1, somewhat ahead of schedule.  Apparently the book sold out very quickly because supply could not meet all the pre-orders and Amazon has been out of stock for some time.  I have been told that a new shipment arrived at the U.S. distributor’s warehouse a week or so ago and that the book should once again be available from Amazon this week.  So, sit tight, and many, many thanks for your patience and interest.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Sexual cant from the asexual Kant

Kant never married and apparently died a virgin.  He is sometimes described as having had a low opinion of sex, on the basis of passages like this one from his Lectures on Ethics:

[S]exuality is not an inclination which one human being has for another as such, but is an inclination for the sex of another… The desire which a man has for a woman is not directed towards her because she is a human being, but because she is a woman; that she is a human being is of no concern to the man; only her sex is the object of his desires. Human nature is thus subordinated. Hence it comes that all men and women do their best to make not their human nature but their sex more alluring and direct their activities and lusts entirely towards sex. Human nature is thereby sacrificed to sex. (Louis Infield translation, p.164)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Linked in

Two new papers from David Oderberg: “Is Form Structure?” and “The Metaphysics of Privation.”

Donald Devine and I have been debating the merits of John Locke for years.  Don offers his latest thoughts at The Federalist in “The Real John Locke -- And Why He Matters.”

Stratford Caldecott -- Catholic writer, G. K. Chesterton Research Fellow at St. Benet’s Hall, Oxford, and Marvel Comics fan -- has cancer.  Marvel has stepped up to grant him a dying wish, and the stars of the Marvel movies have given him a touching tribute.  Fr. Z has the story, as do The Independent and the Catholic Herald.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

This is philosophy?

This is Philosophy is a new introduction to the subject by Prof. Steven Hales.  A reader calls my attention to the book’s companion website, which contains links to some lecture slides keyed to topics covered in the book, a dictionary of terms, exercises, and so forth.

I’ve got a little exercise of my own for the reader, which has three steps.  Here’s how it goes:

 Step 1: Read this blurb from the website:

The text’s scholarship is as noteworthy as its hipness. Hales clearly explains important philosophical ideas with a minimum of jargon and without sacrificing depth of content and he consistently gives a fair and accurate presentation of both sides of central philosophical disputes.

Step 2: Read this set of lecture slides on the cosmological argument, holding before your mind the highlighted words from the blurb while doing so.

Step 3: Try not to laugh.

Ha!  Knew you couldn’t do it!  Me neither.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

New Scholastic books

The old Scholastic manuals of the first half or so of the twentieth century are often hard to find, though fortunately many are now being made available again by Editiones Scholasticae, Wipf and Stock, and TAN Books, as well as by public domain reprint publishers like Kessinger, HardPress, and Literary Licensing.  Still, many remain out of print, and many have never been translated into English.  For some reason, the large older manuals of Catholic dogmatic theology seem harder to find than the philosophy and moral theology material.

Fr. Kenneth Baker has undertaken the project of translating Joseph Dalmau’s mammoth Sacrae Theologiae Summa (or Summa of Sacred Theology), originally published in 1955, into English.  It is being published by Keep the Faith, which puts out The Latin Mass magazine.  The first volume was recently published and advertised in the magazine.  Appearing out of sequence, it is Sacrae Theologiae Summa IIA: On the One and Triune God.  At the moment I do not see it advertised on their website, but I imagine that if you contact them by email you can find out how to order a copy.   (I ordered one after seeing the magazine ad -- the price was $35 -- and it arrived yesterday.)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pre-Christian apologetics

Christianity did not arise in a vacuum.  The very first Christians debated with their opponents in a cultural context within which everyone knew that there is a God and that he had revealed himself through Moses and the prophets.  The question, given that background, was what to think of Jesus of Nazareth.  Hence the earliest apologists were, in effect, apologists for Christianity as opposed to Judaism, specifically.  That didn’t last long.  As Christianity spread beyond Judea into the larger Mediterranean world, the question became whether to accept Christianity as opposed to paganism.  Much less could be taken for granted. 

Still, significant common ground for debate was provided by Greek philosophy.  In Book VIII of The City of God, Augustine noted that thinkers in the Neoplatonic tradition had seen that God is the cause of the existence of the world; had seen also that only what is beyond the world of material and changeable things could be God; had understood the distinction between the senses and their objects on the one hand, and the intellect and its objects on the other, and affirmed the superiority of the latter; and had affirmed that the highest good is not the good of the body or even the good of the mind, but to know and imitate God.  In short, these pagan thinkers knew some of the key truths about God, the soul, and the natural law that are available to unaided human reason.  This purely philosophical knowledge facilitated Augustine’s own conversion to Christianity, and would provide an intellectual skeleton for the developing tradition of Christian apologetics and theology.