Monday, December 31, 2012

Aquinas versus Newton?

Does Newton’s law of inertia undermine Aquinas’s First Way?  The short answer is No.  I gave a longer answer at pp. 76-79 of Aquinas.  I give a much longer answer still in my paper “The Medieval Principle of Motion and the Modern Principle of Inertia,” which I presented last year at the American Catholic Philosophical Association meeting in St. Louis and which is now available online in Volume 10 of the Proceedings of the Society for Medieval Logic and Metaphysics.  Follow the link to read the paper, which is followed by a response from Michael Rota and my rejoinder to Mike.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Trabbic on TLS

Philosopher Joseph Trabbic kindly reviews The Last Superstition in the latest issue of the Saint Austin Review.  From the review:

[This] is no ordinary book of apologetics.  Edward Feser is a professional philosopher of an analytic bent whose main body of work is in the fields of philosophy of mind, moral and political philosophy, philosophy of religion, and economic theory.  Thus, alongside a number of scholarly articles, Feser has published introductory volumes to contemporary philosophy of mind, John Locke, Robert Nozick, and, most recently, Thomas Aquinas.  He has edited the Cambridge Companion to Hayek (the Austro-British economist and philosopher) as well.  Feser’s qualifications allow him to prosecute his case with a philosophical sophistication that is not found in many apologetic treatises.  One might say that as a Christian apologist Feser is overqualified

Monday, December 24, 2012

Nagel and his critics, Part VI

We’ve been looking at the critics of Thomas Nagel’s recent book Mind and Cosmos.  Having examined the objections raised by Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg, Elliott Sober, Alva Noë, and John Dupré, I want to turn now to some interesting remarks made by Eric Schliesser in a series of posts on Nagel over at the New APPS blog.  Schliesser’s comments concern, first, the way the scientific revolution is portrayed by Nagel’s critics, and second, the role the Principle of Sufficient Reason plays in Nagel’s book.  Most recently, in response to my own series of posts, Schliesser has also commented on the status of naturalism in contemporary philosophy.  Let’s look at each of these sets of remarks in turn.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Claremont Christmas Reading

The Claremont Institute has posted its annual recommended Christmas reading list, to which I’ve contributed.  You can read my recommendations here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Nagel and his critics, Part V

Our look at the critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos brings us now to philosopher of science John Dupré, whose review of the book appeared in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.  The review is pretty harsh.  At his kindest Dupré says he found the book “frustrating and unconvincing.”  Less kind is the remark that “as far as an attack that might concern evolutionists, they will feel, to borrow the fine phrase of former British minister, Dennis Healey, as if they had been savaged by a sheep.”

The remark is not only unkind but unjust.  At the beginning of his review, Dupré gives the impression that Nagel is attacking neo-Darwinian evolutionary biology per se.  Dupré writes: 

Darwinism, neo- or otherwise, is an account of the relations between living things past and present and of their ultimate origins, full of fascinating problems in detail, but beyond any serious doubt in general outline.  This lack of doubt derives not, as Nagel sometimes insinuates, from a prior commitment to a metaphysical view -- there are theistic Darwinists as well as atheistic, naturalists and supernaturalists -- but from overwhelming evidence from a variety of sources: biogeography, the fossil record, comparative physiology and genomics, and so on.  Nagel offers no arguments against any of this, and indeed states explicitly that he is not competent to do so.  His complaint is that there are some explanatory tasks that he thinks evolution should perform that he thinks it can't.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Review of Gazzaniga

My review of Michael Gazzaniga’s recent book Who’s In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain appears in the Fall 2012 issue of the Claremont Review of Books.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Haldane on Aquinas, Anscombe, and much else

3:AM Magazine has posted a long and highly substantive interview with Analytical Thomist philosopher John Haldane.  Lots of interesting stuff in it, so give it a read.  (The discussion of idealism in the second part of the interview recapitulates some important points Haldane has made about Berkeley elsewhere, and which I commented on in the course of my talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville last year.)

The interviewer characterizes John as "the P Daddy of the philosophy of religion" -- and here we all thought he was a Madness fan! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gonzaga lectures online

Back in February of 2011, I gave a pair of lectures at the Faith and Reason Institute at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA.  I had no idea until just the other day that the lectures are available on YouTube and apparently have been for some time.  (I thank the anonymous reader who called this to my attention.)  You can view them here:

Friday, November 30, 2012

Nagel and his critics, Part IV

Continuing our look at the critics of Thomas Nagel’s recent book Mind and Cosmos, we turn to philosopher Alva Noë’s very interesting remarks over at NPR’s 13.7: Cosmos & Culture blog.  Noë’s initial comments might seem broadly sympathetic to Nagel’s position.  He writes:

Science has produced no standard account of the origins of life.

We have a superb understanding of how we get biological variety from simple, living starting points. We can thank Darwin for that. And we know that life in its simplest forms is built up out of inorganic stuff. But we don't have any account of how life springs forth from the supposed primordial soup. This is an explanatory gap we have no idea how to bridge.

Science also lacks even a back-of-the-envelop [sic] concept explaining the emergence of consciousness from the behavior of mere matter. We have an elaborate understanding of the ways in which experience depends on neurobiology. But how consciousness arises out of the action of neurons, or how low-level chemical or atomic processes might explain why we are conscious — we haven't a clue.

We aren't even really sure what questions we should be asking.

These two explanatory gaps are strikingly similar… In both cases we have large-scale phenomena in view (life, consciousness) and an exquisitely detailed understanding of the low-level processes that sustain these phenomena (biochemistry, neuroscience, etc). But we lack any way of making sense of the idea that the higher-level phenomena just come down to, or consist of, what is going on at the lower level.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cardinal virtues and counterfeit virtues

The cardinal virtues are wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice.  They are so called because they are traditionally regarded as the “hinge” (cardo) on which the rest of morality turns.  We find them discussed in Plato’s Republic and given a more given systematic exposition in Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae.  

For Plato, these virtues are related to the three main parts of the soul and the corresponding three main classes in his ideal city.  Wisdom is the characteristic virtue of the highest part of the soul -- the rational part -- and of the highest class within the city, the ruling philosopher-kings.  Courage is the characteristic virtue of the middle, spirited part of the soul, and of the soldiers who constitute the second main class in the city.  Moderation is the characteristic attribute of the lowest, desiring part of the soul and of the lowest, productive class of the city.  Justice in turn is the proper ordering of the three parts of the soul and the city, each doing its part.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Nagel and his critics, Part III

In the previous installment in this series of posts on Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, I looked at some objections to Nagel raised by Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg.  I want now to turn to Elliot Sober’s review in Boston Review.  To his credit, and unlike Leiter and Weisberg, Sober is careful to acknowledge that:

Nagel’s main goal in this book is not to argue against materialistic reductionism, but to explore the consequences of its being false.  He has argued against the -ism elsewhere, and those who know their Nagel will be able to fill in the details.

Sober then goes on to offer a brief summary of the relevant positions Nagel has defended in earlier works like his articles “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” and “The Psychophysical Nexus.”  As I emphasized in my previous post, keeping these earlier arguments in mind is crucial to giving the position Nagel develops in Mind and Cosmos a fair reading.  Unfortunately, however, having reminded his readers of these earlier arguments of Nagel’s, Sober immediately goes on to ignore them.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Letters, I get letters

It’s time, I think, to repeat something I’ve said before.  I get lots of reader feedback -- in the form of emails, combox remarks, letters, and so forth -- and (apart from the scribblings of the occasional nasty crackpot) I appreciate all of it.  But I’m afraid that I am able to respond to very little of it.  I get long and detailed emails asking various philosophical and theological questions, people requesting that I read manuscripts or help them get something published, people raising detailed criticisms of my work and asking for a response, people asking for advice about which books to read or which academic programs to consider entering, people requesting spiritual or other personal advice.  In one case a got a request for help in getting a movie made; in another I had a reader turn up in my classroom out of the blue wanting me to sign a book.  I also get people in the blog combox asking me to answer various questions or to respond to various objections.  Sometimes I feel like Harry Tuttle.  It is simply humanly impossible for me to respond, in detail or even at all, to most of these requests.  I’m sorry, I wish I could, but I simply cannot.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Review of Plantinga

My review of Alvin Plantinga’s recent book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism appears in the latest (December) issue of First Things.  Also in the issue are articles by John Haldane on Thomas Nagel and Thomas Aquinas, Stephen Barr on chance and design, and lots of other interesting stuff.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Deep breath

Yes, the election was a disaster and does not speak well of the state of the country.  But just as 1980, 1984, 1988 and 2004 were not guarantees of perpetual Republican hegemony, neither were 1992, 1996, 2008, or 2012 harbingers of a Democratic Thousand Year Reich.  R. R. Reno’s very wise advice is (among other things) to calm down and don’t over-interpret the results.  Megan McArdle also offers some useful reflections.

UPDATE: The election saved ObamaCare, right?  It's not that simple, says John C. Goodman, who argues that the "flaws in ObamaCare... are so serious that the Democrats are going to have to perform major surgery on the legislation in the next few years, even if all the Republicans do is stand by and twiddle their thumbs."

The Incompetent Hack

You might recognize the name of atheist blogger Chris Hallquist, who styles himself “The Uncredible Hallq,” from an earlier post.  I there characterized him as “unliterate” on the grounds that while he is capable of reading, he does not bother to do so.  (Hallquist had egregiously misrepresented something I had written in an earlier post, and made some silly and false remarks about what was and was not covered in my book Aquinas while admitting that he hadn’t read more than 15 pages of it.)  But it seems that was not quite right.  It may be that, like Otto in the movie A Fish Called Wanda (to borrow an example I used in The Last Superstition), Hallquist does read; he just doesn’t understand.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Chief Justice Ockham

So, it’s time for recriminations.  Whom to blame?  I nominate Chief Justice John Roberts.  Not for Obama’s victory, but for ensuring, single-handedly, that the consequences of that victory will be as devastating as possible.  For the future of Obamacare now seems assured.  The Affordable Care Act is the heart of the president’s project of radically transforming the character of the American social and political order.  As Justice Kennedy put it, the Act “changes the relationship of the Federal Government to the individual in [a] very fundamental way.”  It was rammed through Congress in an act of sheer power politics, without bipartisan support and against the will of the American people.  It is manifestly unconstitutional (Roberts’ sophistical attempt to show otherwise notwithstanding -- more on that presently).  It is a violation of the natural law principle of subsidiarity that will exacerbate rather than solve the problems it was purportedly intended to address, and it has opened the door to an unprecedented attack on the freedom of the Catholic Church to carry out its mission.   And it will massively increase the already staggering national debt.  Roberts, a conservative and a Catholic who no doubt personally opposes the Act, had the power to stop it, the constitutional basis for stopping it, and indeed the moral right and duty to stop it.  And instead he upheld it, leaving the election of a new president the only realistic alternative way of stopping it.  Now that path too is closed.