Monday, December 30, 2013

Da Ya Think I’m Sphexy?

Sphex is a genus of wasp which Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel Dennett, and other writers on cognitive science and philosophy of mind have sometimes made use of to illustrate a point about what constitutes genuine intelligence.  The standard story has it that the female Sphex wasp will paralyze a cricket, take it to her burrow, go in to check that all is well and then come back out to drag the cricket in.  So far that might sound pretty intelligent.  However, if an experimenter moves the cricket a few inches while the wasp is inside, then when she emerges she will move the cricket back into place in front of the burrow and go in to check again rather than just take the cricket in directly.  And she will (again, so the standard story goes) repeat this ritual over and over if the experimenter keeps moving the cricket.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A complex god with a god complex

I thank Dale Tuggy for his two-part reply to my most recent remarks about his criticisms of classical theism, and I thank him also for his gracious remarks about my work.  In Part 1 of his reply Dale tries to make a biblical case against classical theism, and in Part 2 he criticizes the core classical theist doctrine of divine simplicity.  Let’s consider each in turn.  Here are what I take to be the key remarks in Part 1 (though do read the whole thing in case I’ve left out something essential).  Dale writes:

As best I can tell, most Christians … think, and have always thought of God as a great self…

For them, God is a “He.” They think God loves and hates, does things, hears them, speaks, knows things, and can be anthropomorphically depicted, whether in art, or in Old Testament theophanies. And a good number think that the one God just is Jesus himself – and Jesus is literally a self, and so can’t be Being Itself.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Peter Geach (1916 - 2013)

Commonweal reports that Peter Geach -- philosopher, one of the fathers of “analytical Thomism,” husband of Elizabeth Anscombe (with whom he is pictured in a famous photo by Steve Pyke), and Catholic father of seven -- has died.  A list of some of Geach’s publications can be found at Wikipedia.  I had reason to examine some of Geach’s ideas in a recent post. RIP.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Zombies: A Shopper’s Guide

A “zombie,” in the philosophical sense of the term, is a creature physically and behaviorally identical to a human being but devoid of any sort of mental life.  That’s somewhat imprecise, in part because the notion of a zombie could also cover creatures physically and behaviorally identical to some non-human type of animal but devoid of whatever mental properties that non-human animal has.  But we’ll mostly stick to human beings for purposes of this post.  Another way in which the characterization given is imprecise is that there are several aspects of the mind philosophers have traditionally regarded as especially problematic.  Jerry Fodor identifies three: consciousness, intentionality, and rationality.  And the distinction between them entails a distinction between different types of zombie.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Churning out links

At First Things, philosopher Patrick Toner takes issue with a recent biography of painter Norman Rockwell.

David Oderberg’s article “The Morality of Reputation and the Judgment of Others” appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Practical Ethics.  (Don’t miss the accompanying podcast.)

Metaphysician Stephen Mumford blogs about pop culture and the arts at Arts Matters.  Check out his posts on his preference for paper over digital books, and on comic book artist Jim Steranko.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Present perfect

Dale Tuggy has replied to my remarks about his criticism of the classical theist position that God is not merely “a being” alongside other beings but rather Being Itself.   Dale had alleged that “this is not a Christian view of God” and even amounts to “a kind of atheism.”  In response I pointed out that in fact this conception of God is, historically, the majority position among theistic philosophers in general and Christian philosophers in particular.  Dale replies:

Three comments. First, some of [Feser’s] examples are ambiguous cases. Perfect Being theology goes back to Plato, and some, while repeating Platonic standards about God being “beyond being” and so on, seem to think of God as a great self. No surprise there, of course, in the case of Bible readers. What’s interesting is how they held – or thought they held – these beliefs consistently together. Second, who cares who’s in the majority? Truth, I’m sure he’ll agree, is what matters. Third, it is telling that Feser starts with Plato and ends with Scotus and “a gazillion” Scholastics. Conspicuous by their absence are most of the Greats from early modern philosophy. Convenient, because most of them hold, with Descartes, that our concept of God is the…idea of a Being who is omniscient, omnipotent and absolutely perfect… which is absolutely necessary and eternal.” (Principles of Philosophy 14)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Back from Cologne

Back today from an excellent conference on the theme “New Scholastic Meets Analytic Philosophy” hosted by the Lindenthal Institut, with cooperation from the publisher Editiones Scholasticae, in Cologne, Germany.  (Since the best return flight option required staying an extra day, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Cologne Cathedral and the tombs of Albertus Magnus and Duns Scotus.)  An impressive group of students from KU Leuven attended the conference.  David Oderberg and I are pictured with them above.   

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dude, where’s my Being?

It must be Kick-a-Neo-Scholastic week.  Thomas Cothran calls us Nietzscheans and now my old grad school buddy Dale Tuggy implicitly labels us atheists.  More precisely, commenting on the view that “God is not a being, one among others… [but rather] Being Itself,” Dale opines that “this is not a Christian view of God, and isn’t even any sort of monotheism.  In fact, this type of view has always competed with the monotheisms.”  Indeed, he indicates that “this type of view – and I say this not to abuse, but only to describe – is a kind of atheism.”  (Emphasis in the original.) 

Atheism?  Really?  What is this, The Twilight Zone?  No, it’s a bad Ashton Kutcher movie (if you’ll pardon the redundancy), with metaphysical amnesia replacing the drug-induced kind -- Heidegger’s “forgetfulness of Being” meets Dude, Where’s My Car? 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics

My article “Being, the Good, and the Guise of the Good” appears in the volume Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics, edited by Daniel D. Novotný and Lukáš Novák and forthcoming from Routledge.  The other contributors to the volume are Jorge J. E. Gracia, William F. Vallicella, E. Jonathan Lowe, Gyula Klima, Michael Gorman, Michael J. Loux, David S. Oderberg, Edmund Runggaldier, Uwe Meixner, James Franklin, Robert Koons, William Lane Craig, and Nicholas Rescher.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Nietzschean natural law?

Some years ago, at an initially friendly dinner after a conference, I sat next to a fellow Catholic academic, to whom I mildly expressed the opinion that it had been a mistake for Catholic theologians to move away from the arguments of natural theology that had been so vigorously championed by Neo-Scholastic writers.  He responded in something like a paroxysm of fury, sputtering bromides of the sort familiar from personalist and nouvelle theologie criticisms of Neo-Scholasticism.  Taken aback by this sudden change in the tone of our conversation, I tried to reassure him that I was not denying that the approaches he preferred had their place, and reminded him that belief in the philosophical demonstrability of God’s existence was, after all, just part of Catholic doctrine.  But it was no use.  Nothing I said in response could mollify him.  It was like he’d seen a ghost he thought had been exorcised long ago, and couldn’t pull out of the subsequent panic attack.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Averroism and cloud computing

The Latin followers of the medieval Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd or Averroes (1126 - 1198), such as Siger of Brabant, famously taught the doctrine of the unity of the human intellect.  The basic idea is this: The intellect, Averroists (like other Aristotelians) argue, is immaterial.  But in that case, they conclude (as not all Aristotelians would), it cannot be regarded as the form of a material body.  It is instead a substance entirely separated from matter.  But matter, the Aristotelian holds, is the principle by which one instance of the form of some species is distinguished from another.  Hence there is no way in which one human intellect could be distinguished from another, so that there must be only a single intellect shared by all human beings.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

FORTHCOMING: Scholastic Metaphysics

I’ve had a number of book projects in the works for a while, one of which, my edited volume Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics, appeared last summer.  Next on the schedule is Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, which will be out next year from Editiones Scholasticae/Transaction Publishers.  You can read a little about it here.  More information to come.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Aquinas’s Fifth Way in Nova et Vetera

My article “Between Aristotle and William Paley: Aquinas’s Fifth Way” appears in the latest issue (Vol. 11, No. 3) of Nova et Vetera.  The article is fairly long and is by far the most detailed exposition and defense of the Fifth Way I’ve yet given, going well beyond what I say about it in The Last Superstition and Aquinas

Monday, November 11, 2013

Some questions on the soul, Part III

In some recent posts I’ve been answering readers’ questions about the Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) understanding of the soul.  One more for the road, from a reader who is unclear about why mind-body interaction, which is notoriously problematic for Cartesian dualism, is not also problematic for A-T.  The reader writes:

[U]nless something like dualist interactionism is true, I don't see how… immaterial thoughts and - in particular - the will - could possibly cause me to do something as simple as typing this e-mail…

Science would seem to say that the efficient cause of this was certain electrochemical reactions in my body.  The material cause would be the physical events happening in my body.  It seems that A-T philosophy would hold that the final cause was getting an answer to a philosophical question, and I agree.  My soul would then be the formal cause, but I guess that notion is incoherent to me… And, unless the immaterial mind somehow interacts with my body (through quantum physics, maybe?), I don't see how my thinking about something in my immaterial intellect could cause my body to do anything.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bloggers in arms (Updated)

Back today from the “Thomas Aquinas and Philosophical Realism” symposium in NYC.  While there I had the great pleasure of meeting blogger and statistician to the stars Matt Briggs and blogger and science-fiction scribe Mike Flynn -- names which will be known to many longtime readers of this blog.  The three of us are pictured above.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Oerter is a mensch

Physicist Robert Oerter and I have been having an exchange over James Ross’s argument for the immateriality of the intellect.  In response to my most recent post, Oerter has posted a brief comment.  Give it a read.  I have nothing to say in reply other than that Oerter is a good, honest, decent guy and that if we’re ever in the same town I owe him a beer.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Around the web

Was the twentieth-century Thomist Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange unduly influenced by Leibnizian rationalism, as followers of Etienne Gilson often allege?  No, argues Steven Long, over at  (Be sure to read the discussion in the comments section as well as the original post.)

The debate over Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos never ends.  Raymond Tallis reviews the book in The New Atlantis, and Jim Slagle reviews it for Philosophy in Review.

You’ve read Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story and checked in regularly at its companion blog.  Now brace yourself for Blake Bell and Michael J. Vassallo’s The Secret History of Marvel Comics, which has a blog of its own.  It’s a look at the seamier, pulp magazine side of the company’s early history.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Upcoming speaking engagements

This Saturday, November 9, I’ll be speaking at a symposium on “Thomas Aquinas and Philosophical Realism” which will be held at the Catholic Center at New York University.   The other speakers are James Brent, Candace Vogler, J. David Velleman, Thomas Joseph White, John Haldane, and William Jaworski.  More information here.

On Saturday, November 23, I’ll be speaking at a Catholic Apologetics Academy event at the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Alhambra, CA.  More details here.

On Saturday, December 7, I’ll be speaking at a colloquium on the theme “New Scholastic Meets Analytic Philosophy” at the Lindenthal-Institut, Cologne, Germany.  The other speakers are David Oderberg, Edmund Runggaldier, Erwin Tegtmeier, Stephen Mumford, and Uwe Meixner.  More information here

On Friday, January 31, I’ll be giving the Aquinas Lecture at Ave Maria University in Florida.  More information here.