Sunday, August 28, 2016

Learn it, live it, link it


The Best Schools has posted its list of the 50 most influential living philosophers.

New from R. R. Reno: Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society.  A podcast with Reno about the book at National Review, a video interview at YouTube, and a print interview at Christian Post.

Is the brain a computer?  Philosopher of biology John Wilkins answers “No.” And physicist Edward Witten doesn’t think science will explain consciousness.  Scientific American reports.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Is Islamophilia binding Catholic doctrine?


Catholic writer Robert Spencer’s vigorous criticisms of Islam have recently earned him the ire of a cleric who has accused him of heterodoxy.  Nothing surprising about that, or at least it wouldn’t be surprising if a Muslim cleric were accusing Spencer of contradicting Muslim doctrine.  Turns out, though, that it is a Catholic priest accusing Spencer of contradicting Catholic doctrine. 

Cue the Twilight Zone music.  Book that ticket to Bizarro world while you’re at it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part II: Sartre


Having surveyed the wreckage of modern Western civilization from the lofty vantage point of Nietzsche’s Superman, let’s now descend to the lowest depths of existential angst with Jean-Paul Sartre.  So pour some whiskey, put on a jazz LP, and light the cigarette of the hipster girl dressed in black reading Camus at the barstool next to you.  Let’s get Absurd.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Review of Harris on Hume


Just back from a very enjoyable week at the Thomistic seminar in Princeton.  Regular blogging will resume shortly.

In the meantime, my review of Hume: An Intellectual Biography by James A. Harris appears in the Summer 2016  issue of the Claremont Review of Books

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Shinkel on Neo-Scholastic Essays


At The University Bookman, Ryan Shinkel reviews my book Neo-Scholastic Essays.  Titling his review “Last Scholastic Standing,” Shinkel writes:

Early modern philosophers such as René Descartes and Francis Bacon rejected… the teleology of the Scholastics…

Against this degeneration stands the Thomist philosopher Edward Feser… He has taken a route in metaphysics (the study of ultimate causes) similar to that of MacIntyre in moral philosophy…

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Liberalism and the five natural inclinations


By “liberalism” I don’t mean merely what goes under that label in the context of contemporary U.S. politics.  I mean the long political tradition, tracing back to Hobbes and Locke, from which modern liberalism grew.  By natural inclinations, I don’t mean tendencies that that are merely deep-seated or habitual.  I mean tendencies that are “natural” in the specific sense operative in classical natural law theory.  And by natural inclinations, I don’t mean tendencies that human beings are always conscious of or wish to pursue.  I mean the way that a faculty can of its nature “aim at” or be “directed toward” some end or goal whether or not an individual realizes it or wants to pursue that end -- teleology or final causality in the Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) sense.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Last Superstition in Brazil


My book The Last Superstition, having appeared a few years back in a German translation, will soon be available in Brazilian Portuguese.  The publisher is Edições Cristo Rei, and the book is being kicked off by way of a crowdfunding campaign.  The book cover can be seen above.  (Yes, that’s me they’ve drawn in front of the blackboard.  You can guess who the other guys are.)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Capital punishment at Catholic World Report


UPDATE: The second installment of the article has now been posted at CWR

Over at Catholic World Report today you’ll find “Why the Church Cannot Reverse Past Teaching on Capital Punishment,” the first installment of a two-part article I have co-authored with Joseph M. Bessette, who teaches government and ethics at Claremont McKenna College.  Joe and I recently completed work on our book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of the Death Penalty, which is forthcoming from Ignatius Press.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bad lovin’


To love, on the Aristotelian-Thomistic analysis, is essentially to will the good of another.  Of course, there’s more to be said.  Aquinas elaborates as follows:

As the Philosopher says (Rhet. ii, 4), “to love is to wish good to someone.”  Hence the movement of love has a twofold tendency: towards the good which a man wishes to someone (to himself or to another) and towards that to which he wishes some good.  Accordingly, man has love of concupiscence towards the good that he wishes to another, and love of friendship towards him to whom he wishes good.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

I am overworked, therefore I link


Physicist Lee Smolin and philosopher Roberto Unger think that physics has gotten something really important really wrong.  NPR reports.

The relationship between Aristotelian hylemorphism and quantum mechanics is the subject of two among a number of recent papers by philosopher Robert Koons.

Hey, he said he would return.  At Real Clear Defense, Francis Sempa detects a revival of interest in General Douglas MacArthurThe New Criterion reviews Arthur Herman’s new book on MacArthur, while the Wall Street Journal and Weekly Standard discuss Walter Borneman’s new book.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Prior on the Unmoved Mover


William J. Prior’s Ancient Philosophy has just been published, as part of Oneworld’s Beginner’s Guides series (of which my books Aquinas and Philosophy of Mind are also parts).  It’s a good book, and one of its strengths is its substantive treatment of Greek natural theology.  Naturally, that treatment includes a discussion of Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover.  Let’s take a look.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Aquinas on capital punishment


Audio versions of many of the talks from the recent workshop in Newburgh, New York on the theme Aquinas on Politics are available online.  My talk was on the subject of Aquinas on the death penalty (with a bit at the end about Aquinas’s views about abortion).  I say a little in the talk about the forthcoming book on Catholicism and capital punishment that I have co-authored with political scientist Joseph Bessette.  More on that soon.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Nagel v Nietzsche: Dawn of Consciousness


While we’re on the subject of Nietzsche: The Will to Power, which is a collection of passages on a variety of subjects from Nietzsche’s notebooks, contains some interesting remarks on consciousness, sensory qualities, and related topics.  They invite a “compare and contrast” with ideas which, in contemporary philosophy, are perhaps most famously associated with Thomas Nagel.  In some ways, Nietzsche seems to anticipate and agree with points made by Nagel.  In other respects, they disagree radically.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part I: Nietzsche


Atheism, like theism, raises both theoretical and practical questions.  Why should we think it true?  And what would be the consequences if it were true?  When criticizing New Atheist writers, I have tended to emphasize the deficiencies of their responses to questions of the first, theoretical sort -- the feebleness of their objections to the central theistic arguments, their ignorance of what the most important religious thinkers have actually said, and so forth.  But no less characteristic of the New Atheism is the shallowness of its treatment of the second, practical sort of question.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Four Causes and Five Ways


Noting parallels and correlations can be philosophically illuminating and pedagogically useful.  For example, students of Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) philosophy are familiar with how soul is to body as form is to matter as act is to potency.  So here’s a half-baked thought about some possible correlations between Aquinas’s most general metaphysical concepts, on the one hand, and his arguments for God’s existence on the other.  It is well known that Aquinas’s Second Way of arguing for God’s existence is concerned with efficient causation, and his Fifth Way with final causation.  But are there further such parallels to be drawn?  Does each of the Aristotelian Four Causes have some special relationship to one of the Five Ways?   Perhaps so, and perhaps there are yet other correlations to be found between some other key notions in the overall A-T framework.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Linking for thinking


Busy week and a half coming up, but I’d never leave you without something to read.

Nautilus recounts the debate between Bergson and Einstein about the nature of time.

Preach it.  At Aeon, psychologist Robert Epstein argues that the brain is not a computer.

A new Philip K. Dick television anthology series is planned.  In the meantime, gear up for season 2 of The Man in the High Castle.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Self-defeating claims and the tu quoque fallacy


Some philosophical claims are, or at least seem to be, self-defeating.  For example, an eliminative materialist who asserts that there is no such thing as meaning or semantic content is implying thereby that his own assertion has no meaning or semantic content.  But an utterance can be true (or false) only if it has meaning or semantic content.  Hence the eliminative materialist’s assertion entails that it is itself not true.  (I’ve addressed this problem, and various futile attempts to get around it, many times.)  Cognitive relativism is also difficult to formulate in a way that isn’t self-defeating.  I argue in Scholastic Metaphysics that scientism, and Hume’s Fork, and attempts to deny the existence of change or to deny the principle of sufficient reason, are also all self-defeating.  This style of criticism of a position is sometimes called a retorsion argument.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Putnam and analytical Thomism, Part II


In a previous post I examined the late Hilary Putnam’s engagement with the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition on a topic in the philosophy of mind.  Let’s now look at what Putnam had to say about Aristotelian-Thomistic ideas in natural theology.  In his 1997 paper “Thoughts Addressed to an Analytical Thomist” (which appeared in an issue of The Monist devoted to the topic of analytical Thomism), Putnam tells us that while he is not an analytical Thomist, as “a practicing Jew” he could perhaps be an “analytic Maimonidean.”  The remark is meant half in jest, but that there is some truth in it is evident from what Putnam says about the topics of proofs of God’s existence, divine simplicity, and theological language.

Putnam is not unsympathetic to some of the traditional arguments for God’s existence, such as those defended by Aquinas and Maimonides. He rejects the assumptions, common among contemporary secular academic philosophers, that such arguments are uniformly invalid, question-begging, or otherwise fallacious, and that it is absurd even to try to prove God’s existence.  He notes the double standard such philosophers often bring to bear on this subject:

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Putnam and analytical Thomism, Part I


Hilary Putnam, who died a couple of months ago, had some interest in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, even if in part it was a critical interest.  One area where this interest manifested itself is the philosophy of mind; another is the philosophy of religion.  I’ll address the former in this post and the latter in a later post.  Let’s consider in particular an exchange between Putnam and the analytical Thomist philosopher John Haldane in the volume Hilary Putnam: Pragmatism and Realism, edited by James Conant and Urszula Zeglen.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Aristotle, Searle, and computation in Nova et Vetera (UPDATED)


My article “From Aristotle to John Searle and Back Again: Formal Causes, Teleology, and Computation in Nature” appears in the Spring 2016 issue (Vol. 14, No. 2) of Nova et Vetera.  There is also a response to the article by Fr. Simon Gaine.  These papers were presented at the symposium on the theme What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem? that was held at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley in July of 2014, and the issue contains all the other plenary session presentations (by Fr. Michael Dodds, Alfred Freddoso, John O’Callaghan, Fr. Michał Paluch, John Searle, Fr. Robert Sokolowski, and Linda Zagzebski), along with the responses to those presentations.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Friday, May 6, 2016

Islamophilia and falsification


Not too long ago I discussed the relationship between liberalism and Islam.  More recently I discussed the logic of falsification.  Let’s now combine the themes.  Former federal terrorism prosecutor Andrew McCarthy recently wrote:

Last year, Americans were horrified by the beheadings of three Western journalists by ISIS. American and European politicians could not get to microphones fast enough to insist that these decapitations had nothing to do with Islam.  Yet within the same time frame, the government of Saudi Arabia beheaded eight people for various violations of sharia -- the law that governs Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Apologia interview


I am interviewed at some length in the Spring 2016 issue of The Dartmouth Apologia on the subjects of Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, classical theism, and related matters.  You can read the interview and the rest of the issue here.  And while you’re at it, check out the Apologia’s main website, where you’ll find past interviews and other features from the magazine.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Spiering on Neo-Scholastic Essays


In the March 2016 issue of The Review of Metaphysics, philosopher Jamie Spiering reviews my book Neo-Scholastic Essays.  From the review:

Feser has found that Aristotelian-Thomistic teaching is a strong, coherent system that can provide clarity and answers in vexing contemporary debates… Feser writes admirably, with a clear, direct style that is polemical but not uncharitable or contentious… These would make excellent texts to offer to students... The clarity may also be appreciated by professional readers as a refreshing change from the sometimes fusty level of detail in recent work on natural theology -- instead, Feser allows us to refocus on perennial issues…

Feser has a gift for seeing the heart of a problem, as well as a gift for clear expression and high-quality, fair polemic -- these factors, together, offer the best reasons to read anything written by him, and this work is no exception.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Craig on divine simplicity and theistic personalism


A number of readers have called my attention to a recent podcast during which William Lane Craig is asked for his opinion about theistic personalism, the doctrine of divine simplicity, and what writers like David Bentley Hart and me have said about these topics.  (You can find the podcast at Craig’s website, and also at YouTube.)  What follows are some comments on the podcast.  Let me preface these remarks by saying that I hate to disagree with Craig, for whom I have the greatest respect.  It should also be kept in mind, in fairness to Craig, that his remarks were made in an informal conversational context, and thus cannot reasonably be expected to have the precision that a more formal, written treatment would exhibit.

Having said that…

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Review of Hart


My review of David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God appears in Pro Ecclesia, Vol. XXV, No. 1 (the Winter 2016 issue).  (Yes, the book has been out for a while, but the review was written almost a year ago.  The review doesn’t seem to be online at the moment, unfortunately.)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Lofter is the best medicine


New Atheist pamphleteer John Loftus is like a train wreck orchestrated by Zeno of Elea: As Loftus rams headlong into the devastating objections of his critics, the chassis, wheels, gears, and passenger body parts that are the contents of his mind proceed through ever more thorough stages of pulverization.  And yet somehow, the grisly disaster just never stops.  Loftus continues on at full speed, tiny bits of metal and flesh reduced to even smaller bits, and those to yet smaller ones, ad infinitum.  You feel you ought to turn away in horror, but nevertheless find yourself settling back, metaphysically transfixed and reaching for the Jiffy Pop.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The smell of the sheep (Updated)


Being insulted by the pop atheist writer John Loftus is, to borrow Denis Healey’s famous line, like being savaged by a dead sheep.  It is hard to imagine that a human being could be more devoid of argumentative or polemical skill.  Commenting on my recent First Things exchange with atheist philosopher Keith Parsons, Loftus expresses bafflement at Parsons’ preference for the Old Atheism over the New Atheism.  Unable to see any good reason for it, Loftus slyly concludes: “Keith Parsons is just old.  That explains why he favors the Old Atheism.”  He also suggests that Parsons simply likes the attention Christians give him.

Well, as longtime readers of this blog will recall from his sometimes bizarre combox antics, Loftus certainly knows well the reek of attention-seeking desperation.  Sadly, being John Loftus, he tends to misidentify its source.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A note on falsification


Antony Flew’s famous 1950 article “Theology and Falsification” posed what came to be known as the “falsificationist challenge” to theology.  A claim is falsifiable when it is empirically testable -- that is to say, when it makes predictions about what will be observed under such-and-such circumstances such that, if the predictions don’t pan out, the claim is thereby shown to be false.  The idea that a genuinely scientific claim must be falsifiable had already been given currency by Karl Popper.  Flew’s aim was to apply it to a critique of such theological claims as the thesis that God loves us.  No matter what sorts of evil and suffering occur in the world, the theologian does not give up the claim that God loves us.  But then, what, in that case, does the claim actually amount to?  And why should we accept the claim?  Flew’s challenge was to get the theologian to specify exactly what would have to happen in order for the theologian to give up the claim that God loves us, or the claim that God exists.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

So, what are you doing after your funeral?


There is, among contemporary Thomists, a controversy over the metaphysical status of human beings after death.  Both sides agree that the human soul is the substantial form of the living human body, both sides agree that the human soul subsists after death, and both sides agree that the body is restored to the soul at the resurrection.  But what happens to the human being himself between death and resurrection?  Does a human being in some way continue to exist after death?  Or does he cease to exist until the resurrection?  Which answer do the premises that both sides agreed on support?  And which answer did Aquinas himself support?