Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Empirical science and the transcendentals

As James Ladyman notes in Understanding Philosophy of Science, “many scientists intuitively regard simple and unifying theories as, all other things being equal, more likely to be true than messy and complex ones” (p. 83).  In the minds of some prominent scientists, this simplicity criterion is tied to aesthetic value.  Einstein is often quoted as saying that “the only physical theories that we are willing to accept are the beautiful ones.”  Paul Dirac went so far as to opine that “it is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.”

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The problem of Hume’s problem of induction

In the context of discussion of Hume’s famous “problem of induction,” induction is typically characterized as reasoning from what we have observed to what we have not observed.  For example, we reason inductively in this sense when we infer from the fact that bread has nourished us in the past that it will also nourish us in the future.  (There are, of course, other ways to characterize induction, but we can ignore them for the purposes of this post.)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Goldman on Dreher’s The Benedict Option

People have been asking me to comment on David Goldman’s review of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option.  The reason is that among Goldman’s criticisms of Dreher (some of which I agree with) are a set of objections to metaphysical realism, which has its roots in Plato and Aristotle, was central to the thought of medieval philosophers like Aquinas, and was abandoned by nominalists like Ockham – an abandonment which prepared the ground for some of the aspects of modernity Dreher rightly deplores.  (I’ve discussed the nature and consequences of this philosophical shift myself in several places, such as The Last Superstition.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

David Braine (1940 – 2017)

Philosopher David Braine has died.  A very moving obituary by Alan Fimister has appeared at the Catholic Herald.  Braine was a longtime contributor to the analytical Thomist movement, and the author of many important articles and books.  The latter include The Reality of Time and the Existence of God (reviewed by W. Norris Clarke here), The Human Person: Animal and Spirit, and Language and Human Understanding (discussed by Peter Leithart here and reviewed by Nathaniel Goldberg here).

Monday, March 27, 2017

Inaugural open thread

Threadjacking is, of course, a sin, a mortal sin, a nigh unforgivable sin.  And yet, dear reader, perhaps I have enabled it by neglecting to provide a venue in which all the various topics which come up at this here blog may be discussed even when they are not the subject matter of the post du jour.  So, by way of experimentation, this will be the first of perhaps a series of occasional open threads.  Wanna talk about predestination?  Prestidigitation?  Pre-prandial potables?  Abelard and Heloise, Lee and Kirby, Fagen and Becker?  Practical reason?  Impractical Jokers?  Have at it.  Mi casa es su casa.

However, since mi casa is also mi casa, please use your common sense.  No flame wars.  Keep it classy.  Given the nature of this blog, discussions with at least some vague connection to matters philosophical or theological is preferred, even if not absolutely essential.  Naturally, I reserve the right to intervene violently to break up brawls and otherwise restore order.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Shea apologizes

In some recent posts, I have been objecting to some things Mark Shea has been saying when commenting on the forthcoming book on capital punishment I co-authored with Joe Bessette.  In an email and in a post at his own blog, Shea has now graciously apologized.  I am happy to accept his apology.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mark Shea’s misrepresentation of Catholic teaching on capital punishment

Among the outrageous calumnies that Mark Shea has flung at my co-author Joe Bessette and me is the accusation that we are “dissenters” from binding Catholic doctrine, on all fours with Catholics who dissent from Church teaching on abortion and euthanasia.  He mocks Catholics who oppose the latter but not capital punishment, accusing them of inconsistency and bad faith.  In his unhinged recent Facebook rant he repeatedly asserts that Joe and I “reject the teaching of the Magisterium,” that we “argue that the Magisterium is wrong,” that we are in the business of “fighting,” “ignoring,” “battling,” and “rebutting” the Magisterium.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A low down dirty Shea

Not too long ago, Catholic writer Mark Shea and I had an exchange on the subject of capital punishment.  See this post, this one, and this one for my side of the exchange and for links to Shea’s side of it.  A friend emails to alert me that Shea has now made some remarks at Facebook about the forthcoming book on the subject that I have co-authored with Joe Bessette.  “Deranged” might seem an unkind description of Shea and his comments.  Sadly, it’s also a perfectly accurate description.  Here’s a sample:

Yes. This needs to be the #1 priority for conservative Christian “prolife” people to focus on: battling the Church for the right of a post-Christian state to join Communist and Bronze Age Islamic states in killing as many people as possible, even if 4% of them are completely innocent. Cuz, you know, stopping euthanasia is, like, a super duper core non-negotiable and stuff.  What a wise thing for “prolife” Christians to commit their time and energy to doing instead of defending the unborn or the teaching of the Magisterium. How prudent. How merciful. This and kicking 24 million people off health care are *clearly* what truly “prolife” Christians should be devoted to, in defiance of the Magisterium.  Good call!

Friday, March 17, 2017


Sophistry is the attempt to persuade someone of some proposition or policy by the use of fallacious arguments.  What I have called meta-sophistry involves accusing others of fallacies or of sophistry in a manner that is itself fallacious or sophistical.  The meta-sophist cynically deploys labels like “sophist” as a rhetorical device by which he might smear and discredit an opponent.  Where the opponent’s arguments can easily be read in a way that involves no commission of fallacies, the meta-sophist will instead opt for a less charitable reading so as to facilitate the accusation that the opponent is a sophist.  Because the meta-sophist poses precisely as a foe of sophistry and fallacious argument and as a friend of reason, his brand of sophistry is especially insidious.  He is like the politician who makes the loud condemnation of sleazy politicians a useful cover for his own sleaziness.  (As I have documented many times over the years – e.g. here, here, and here – “New Atheist” writers are paradigmatic meta-sophists.)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Get linked

At The New York Review of Books, Thomas Nagel reviews Daniel Dennett’s new book From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds.

Charles Murray versus the campus brownshirts: His personal account of the Two Hours Hate at Middlebury.  Commentary from Noah Millman at The Week, Ronald Radosh at The Daily Beast, Peter Beinart at The Atlantic, and Peter Wood at The Federalist.

At Physics Today, physicist Richard Muller says that the flow of time is not an illusion.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Supervenience on the hands of an angry God

In his book Physicalism, or Something Near Enough, Jaegwon Kim puts forward the following characterization of the materialist supervenience thesis:

I take supervenience as an ontological thesis involving the idea of dependence – a sense of dependence that justifies saying that a mental property is instantiated in a given organism at a time because, or in virtue of the fact that, one of its physical “base” properties is instantiated by the organism at that time.  Supervenience, therefore, is not a mere claim of covariation between mental and physical properties; it includes a claim of existential dependence of the mental on the physical. (p. 34)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How to be a pervert

We’ve been talking of late about “perverted faculty arguments,” which deploy the concept of perversion in a specific, technical sense.  The perversion of a human faculty essentially involves both using the faculty but doing so in a way that is positively contrary to its natural end.  As I’ve explained before, simply to refrain from using a faculty at all is not to pervert it.  Using a faculty for something that is merely other than its natural end is also not to pervert it.  Hence, suppose faculty F exists for the sake of end E.  There is nothing perverse about not using F at all, and there is nothing perverse about using F but for the sake of some other end G.  What is perverse is using F but in a way that actively prevents E from being realized.  It is this contrariness to the very point of the faculty, this outright frustration of its function, that is the heart of the perversity.  (See the paper linked to above for exposition, defense, and application of the idea.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mired in the roiling tar pits of lust

As I note in my essay on the perverted faculty argument, not all deliberate frustrations of a natural faculty are gravely immoral.  For example, lying involves the frustration of a natural faculty and thus is wrong, but it is usually only venially sinful.  So what makes the perversion of a faculty seriously wrong?  In particular, why have traditional natural law theorists and Catholic moral theologians regarded the perversion of our sexual faculties as seriously wrong?  (The discussion that follows presupposes that you’ve read the essay just referred to – please don’t waste time raising objections in the combox unless you’ve done so.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Foundations of sexual morality

The foundations of traditional sexual morality, like the foundations of all morality, are to be found in classical natural law theory.  I set out the basic lines of argument in my essay “In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument,” which appears in my book Neo-Scholastic Essays.  The title notwithstanding, the perverted faculty argument is by no means the whole of the natural law understanding of sexual morality, but only a part.  It is an important and unjustly maligned part of it, however, as I show in the essay.  Along the way I criticize purported alternative approaches to defending traditional sexual morality, such as the so-called “New Natural Law Theory.”  Anyway, you can now read the essay online.  After you’ve done so, you might follow up with some other things I’ve written on the subject of sexual morality.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Science, computers, and Aristotle

If you think that the brain, or the genome, or the universe as a whole is a kind of computer, then you are really an Aristotelian whether you realize it or not.  For information, algorithms, software, and other computational notions can intelligibly be applied within physics, biology, and neuroscience only if an Aristotelian philosophy of nature is correct.  So I argue in my paper “From Aristotle to John Searle and Back Again: Formal Causes, Teleology, and Computation in Nature,” which appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Nova et Vetera.  You can now read the paper online.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Immaterial thought and embodied cognition

In a combox remark on my recent post about James Ross’s argument for the immateriality of thought, reader Red raises an important set of issues:

Given embodied cognition, aren't these types of arguments from abstract concepts and Aristotelian metaphysics hugely undermined?  In their book Philosophy in the Flesh Lakoff and Johnson argue that abstract concepts are largely metaphorical.

End quote.  In fact, none of this undermines Ross’s argument at all, but I imagine other readers have had similar thoughts, and it is worthwhile addressing how these considerations do relate to the picture of the mind defended by Ross and by Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophers generally.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Revisiting Ross on the immateriality of thought

The late James Ross put forward a powerful argument for the immateriality of the intellect.  I developed and defended this argument in my essay “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought,” which originally appeared in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly and is reprinted in Neo-Scholastic Essays.  Peter Dillard raises three objections to my essay in his ACPQ article “Ross Revisited: Reply to Feser.”  Let’s take a look.