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.
 
Embedded commenting is enabled in order to facilitate this experiment.  Let’s see how it works out…

210 comments:

  1. Hi Ed,

    I have a quick question for you. On the AT view, there are both active and passive powers. But both powers are potentialities. So the active power like the passive power needs to be actualized (or moved to act). But how does this not make the active power into a passive power? The general worry here being that the AT view just ends of being what Ellis calls a passivist view of nature.

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    1. 'Active potency' is a power, but 'passive potency' is potentiality in the strict sense. (Discussed in Scholastic Metaphysics p.39).

      A being composed of act & potency, to exercise its active potency (ability to affect another), must be actualized by another (affected by another) to do so. But this does not mean its active potency is a passive potency - they are not identical.

      E.g. An active potency of a knife is to cut; and the passive potency of the knife is to be able to be caused by another so as to cut. But cutting and being caused so as to cut are not the same: the former (cutting) is the power, the latter (being able to be caused to cut) is the passive potency. That is, the former pertains to the knife's acting on another, the latter pertains to the knife's being acted upon by another.

      This does not entail passivism. The passivist, from what I understand, affirms that things do not possess the tendencies to act as they do inherently. The A-T proponent affirms that things have certain natures, by virtue of which their actions flow E.g. because a seed is the way it is, it can become a tree etc. Aquinas notes that “For everything, in so far as it is in act, acts and tends towards that which is in accordance with its form”

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  2. Dr. Feser,

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Apparently I am the one responsible for all the bruises on your forehead from the repeated desk collisions. Please accept my apology. :(

    >>This is off-topic but I'm hoping you'll see and respond to this before this comment section gets too large.

    As a father of 4 college and graduate-aged kids in southern CA, I have observed more atheism around this age group than when we were that young. When I say "more," I mean ALARMINGLY more. It's frightening. And it appears only to be getting worse.

    While speaking to these young adults, I realized that we need theistic apologetic resources that are more simplified than what's currently out there. What I'm trying to say is that the overwhelming number of people out there are not philosophically trained, like myself, and need help building the arguments for God in less technical methodologies. This just seems so difficult to accomplish however. (I posted a question on the Classical Philosophy forum asking if anyone can offer some simplified arguments for the mind's immateriality and it was terribly challenging.)

    You seem to be one of the leading "apologists" in this arena and I merely wanted to share with you this observation that there is a REAL need for these resources in the Catholic/Christian market. It reminds me of the late 1980s-early 1990s when the likes of Karl Keating and Scott Hahn arose. They literally were Godsends to those of us who needed practical guidance, arguments, responses and "how to's" in building the case for Catholicism and overcoming anti-Catholic arguments. I believe YOU are the apologist who can actually teach us today how to build the case for God. <<

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    1. Joe,
      I think you would find On Guard, by William Lane Craig, edifying. Dr. Craig is a research philosopher and theologian at Biola University specializing in the philosophy of religion, and has a wealth of free online materials for an unspecialized audience. He has done some great work popularizing arguments for the existence of God, the rational warrant of personal religious experience, and much more.

      He and many others are keenly aware of just what you have realized, and he wrote On Guard for the specific purpose of educating Christians in providing the intellectual permission to others that is necessary for their finding Christianity a viable option.

      He builds on Norman Geisler's strategy, whereby the case for Christianity is developed from basic principles so that there is no room for confusion--not as something to rehearse before an atheist, but to know for yourself in order to best respond to their objections and questions. First, establish that truth is possible and that it bears the quality of objectivity, making it inherently distinguishable it from opinion, followed by the possibility of miracles, the foundation for moral truth, and so on. Also, note that, in answering a question you should be honest about what you do and don't know--using these resources to offer them recourse:

      See Reasonablefaith.org, the youtube channels Dr.CraigVideos and Reasonablefaith.org, and be sure to check out their Q&A archive.

      On the historicity of the gospels:

      An article by Peter S. Williams(http://www.bethinking.org/is-the-bible-reliable/archaeology-and-the-historical-reliability-of-the-new-testament)

      An article on the historicity of the New Testament by J.P. Moreland(http://www.bethinking.org/is-the-bible-reliable/the-historicity-of-the-new-testament)

      Audio resources by Dr. Timothy McGrew (philosopher and historical apologist (http://www.apologetics315.com/2012/11/audio-resources-by-tim-mcgrew.html)

      An essay on the well corroborated resurrection of Jesus Christ, explicated with the Bayesian theorem of probabilities (http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Resurrectionarticlesinglefile.pdf)

      After establishing the general reliability of the NT, Lewis's "trilemma" as applied to Paul and Jesus may be of interest to you. Keep in mind that even if one dissents from the interpretation that Christ called Himself God, you need only point to the several other radical claims He made of Himself.

      Knowledge and Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga is a more approachable book abridging a trilogy of his that develops a very important epistemological theory which provides warrant to belief in God substantiated entirely through the personal experience of Him.

      It is also vital to develop a sound theological view and to also understand the scholarly disagreement that divides the existing prominent hermeneutical systems. Hope that helps!

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    2. Oh, and On Guard Students'Edition

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    3. There are also two books on the historical reliability of the Gospels and for the NT generally, aimed at a semipopular level. I think the author, Craig Bloomberg, puts it like this, 'An educated lay person who had no prior learning in the field can follow the arguments.' They're, 'The Historical Reliability of the Gospels' and 'The Historical Reliability of the New Testament.'

      Also since Jo F mentioned an article by Lydia McGrew, she has a book that just came out, 'Hidden and Plain Sights' which explains and builds upon older undersigned coincidence arguments in favor of the Reliability of the NT. Also her husband, Tim McGrew has a 6 part (well really 9 part) video series on YouTube about the historicity of the resurrection, the historical reliability of the Gospels. Each part is about an hour long if I recall, and that's worth listening to.

      Another good book is Michael Rita's 'Taking Pascal's Wager.' He goes over why he thinks Pascal's wager is wrongly maligned. He goes for a fine tuning argument and argument for the historicity of the resurrection to argue that, at least, God's existence is at least 51% likely, though, it is clear he thinks that such arguments establish the epistemic probability to a much greater degree.

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    4. Wonderful! Thanks Jo -- I really appreciate the guidance here.

      I watched a couple of Dr. Craig's debates and they were helpful generally but not for the purpose I needed. When you sit down to have a conversation with an atheist who is not looking to debate but to discuss, such as a friend, and you want to walk them through the reasoning for theism (and ultimately later to the Christian God), we need help in that approach.

      Honestly, I'm struggling to explain what I'm looking for although I know in my mind what it is -- just having difficulty articulating it.

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    5. I have a post on Atheism and Skepticism that you might find helpful. Short but a bit too long to post here. http://truthseeker-lamont.blogspot.com/2012/11/atheism-and-skepticism.html

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    6. Joe,

      I think there are several things to keep in mind here:

      (1) Note Richard Baxter’s comment in *Reasons of the Christian Religion*:

      “I find that it is a difficult task which 1 have undertaken, to be the instructer of such men: if I be large and copious, their laziness will not suffer them to read it: if I be concise, I cannot satisfy their expectations; for they think nothing well proved, if every objection be not answered, which idle, cavilling brains can bring; neither have they sufficient attention for brevity, nor will their ignorance allow them to understand it: the contradictory vices of their minds do call for impossibilities for the cure: their incapacity saith, It must be a full explication, or I cannot apprehend the sense or truth: their aversion and slothfulness say, it must be short, or I shall be tired with it, or cannot have time to read it. I cannot answer both these expectations to the full; but though the greatness of the matter have made the book bigger than I intended, the nauseating stomach of most readers hath persuaded me to avoid unnecessary words. And as large as the book is, I must tell the reader, that the style is so far from redundancies, though somethings be often repeated, that if he will not chew the particular words, but swallow them whole, and bestow his labour only on the sentences, I shall suppose that he hath not read the book.”

      (2) Advance conversations productively using questions – “Can you explain that?” “How did you arrive at that view?” &c.

      (2) Find alternative ways to map out the arguments – see e.g. J. P. Moreland’s representation of the kalam cosmological argument using a tree format (~2 minutes):

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUspDPxXKmM

      I will sometimes represent the case for the resurrection of Jesus like this. I can go into mere detail if you like.

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    7. Hey, Joe. If you're looking for a conversational-style apologetic, there's no one quite as good as Prof. John Lennox. Lennox has engagaged in several public discussions as a guest of the Veritas Forum. Lennnox had also engaged in public debates, but they tend to be less formal than Craig's debates are. Look him up on YouTube. Other resources might include 'Letters from a Skeptic', an edited publication of a private discussion between Dr. Gregory Boyd and his father - his father was originally a skeptic. The problem with this book is that Boyd as an Open Theist, a view of God that tends to lead to several significant errors. Another interesting book might be Todd Moody's 'Does God Exist? A Dialogue on the Proofs of God's Existence, 2nd Edition', though this book does focus more on contemporary arguments (e.g. design argument, moral argument) than classic ones. Of course, if you are engaging in conversation, I think that Dr. Craig's comments that people are more likely to understand and engage with something like the moral argument more readily that Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways, which require some substantial philosophical understanding to discuss properly.

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    8. Thanks gents for all the links and resources!

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    9. Tom (and anyone else interested),

      I like the approach of "mapping out" that you mention. The conversations that have come up Were not actually about the creation of the universe or what's sustains existence and so on (e.g., about Aquinas' First or Second Ways) but more so about their own experience, i.e., their fear of death, post-death possibilities, etc. Any suggestions on how to map out the existence of God relative to the immaterial aspects of human beings, e.g., having a spiritual soul, an immaterial mind, how immaterial things like that came into being, how they don't go out of existence, etc.

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    10. Joe,

      // Any suggestions on how to map out the existence of God relative to the immaterial aspects of human beings, e.g., having a spiritual soul, an immaterial mind, how immaterial things like that came into being, how they don't go out of existence, etc. //

      Can you give an example of an argument or conversation you've had on the subject?

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    11. Tom,

      The reason this has come up is my interlocutor is my wife's estranged, terminally ill, uncle. He has lived alone and isolated for years after retiring as a forest ranger in AZ. We just began to get to know him a couple years ago. Between cancer and Parkinson's, he became unable to care for himself. So we brought him into our home.

      His name is Dave and he's an atheist. His parents were strict German Lutherans who would not permit him to question his faith and he left home, never to reconcile. Anyhow, as we've cared for him over the past couple of months, we have small conversations that I'm hoping will lead to more profound talks about theism. From what I understood about his past, he prided himself on his reason and logic in atheism (how ironic) and mocked the illogical, groundless faith of Christians.

      So in my conversations I noticed something potentially to build on. It's not First Cause or The Unmoved Mover or other classic arguments that will appeal to him initially. Rather, it's his realization that death is coming, hopefully not imminently, but certainly inevitably. And I sensed that he fears death -- and he especially was afraid of dying alone. He could not believe it when we told him that we'd like to bring him to our home and care for him. So, I think there may just be a kernel there.

      To me, and here's where my gut may be wrong, as a "rational atheist," he should not fear death, let alone, dying alone. But I'm betting there's something in him questioning whether he will, in fact, simply cease to exist at death. If I'm even a tiny bit right, then I want to lead him to the possibility that we have an immaterial component to us that doesn't just vanish when our matter stops functioning. If I can get him to acknowledge that the intellect/mind is not material, or better yet, that we have some sort of life force (soul) that is not material, then maybe we can start having richer conversations.

      I may just be taking a wrong route honestly. I pray that I'm not. Regardless, our family has decided that even if we can't rationalize God to him, perhaps he will recognize Christ somehow through our caring and love.

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  3. If beauty is a transcendental, then to be beautiful a thing must be actual, yet a piece of music is never actual as such, as it only exists as a series of independent, temporarily actual, differing sounds, the intelligible form of which can only be understood by the intellect, so I would think, with the faculty of memory.
    Yet I find this hard to swallow, as I must admit my reluctance to deny the beauty of the great composers of centuries past.
    How might one solve this query?

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    1. The movement of the air is actual, so music is mind independent and received into our exterior senses first.

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    2. But the whole piece of music is never actual in the air. Only a given note or set thereof. A peice of music is only ever known as such through memory.

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    3. There is also the consideration of things in a state of change or motion - the movement towards some perfection. In this sense the music could be a unity within the quantitative parts of air.

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  4. Thank you to Craig, Sobieski & Jo F for your responses on the previous thread!

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    1. It wasn't your fault, Joe. I understand that people have questions they don't know where else to post, and threadjacking (however well-meaning) has been a problem I've been hoping to do something about for a while. I think the open thread idea might be the solution. I'll try to post them frequently enough that people can be confident that any question they raise there has a good chance of being seen. Maybe every few weeks or so -- we'll see.

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    2. JoeMarch 30, 2017 at 3:20 PM
      Dr. F:

      I've run into this question a couple of times and I'm ill-equipped to respond properly to it: "HOW is it that we can KNOW that plants (and animals) do not possess a rational intellect?"

      Besides scoffing and saying that's preposterous, I actually don't know how to reply!

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  5. Hello guys, good stuff right out of the gate. I'll see if I can reply to some of these questions as time permits. In the meantime, note that embedded comments are now enabled so that you can reply directly to any particular comment you are interested in and thereby create sub-threads within this larger thread. That will make the various discussions in the open thread combox much easier to follow. Just hit "Reply" under a given comment if what you want to do is respond directly to that particular person's comment and continue that particular sub-thread. Otherwise you can just post a regular comment and create a new sub-thread.

    As usual, anyone who wants to offer some helpful thoughts in reply to any question put to me is welcome to do so. As you know, it's hard for me to get to many of them given my schedule.

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    1. Dr Feser,

      I have wanted to understand Father RGLs concept of "sufficient grace" for some time, but no matter how much I read the mystery still comes off as a contradiction. I've found that Suarez and Congruism make more sense. The problem? I can't find any modern congruist people to learn from! Do you know of any? Or perhaps even a solid work from an old congruist thinker? I can't find anything and it's frustrating

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    2. Hi Ed! I just want you to know that you've been a major influence on me, and I am so grateful that I came across your blog (by accident) a few years ago. I've been following your posts, and you've ignited a deep interest in Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy in me. Thanks a lot.

      I'm a sort of newbie Catholic, since I started to take the faith seriously only a few years ago, and so far I've been keen about the Catholic intellectual tradition. There's a book I've always wanted your thoughts on, by a professed A-T Spanish philosopher Leonardo Polo. Here's a draft copy of his book "Ethics: A Modern Version of its Classic Themes," translated into English: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B42M1Kb2bk1IVW5rZ3Y2cEtIazg

      Really hope to hear your thoughts, Ed. His thought may be a promising gold mine.

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  6. I'll throw something in as well. First, a little background info so my questions make sense (trust me, they're down there).

    Near the beginning of Fred Sommer's "An Invitation to Formal Reasoning," he talks about how material expressions have meaning and also about vacuous terms. He makes the following claims about a material expression:

    It expresses a sense or characterization
    It denotes something to which the characterization applies
    It signifies a characteristic

    He then provides two examples of a vacuous term, the first of which I think I understand but not the second.

    The first is that the term "mermaid" has an expressive meaning of BEING A MERMAID but does not characterize anyone or anything because nothing in the extra-mental world posseses the characteristic of being a mermaid. Thus it fails to denote/signify. He notes that no meaningful term is expressively vacuous (despite it not denoting anything) and then asks the following question: "Can a term be vacuous by signifying nothing?" (15).

    Here, the example is the term "perfect." Like the term "mermaid", he states that "perfect" expresses a characterization but fails on the other two accounts. He further remarks that there is an "ancient dispute about characteristics that nothing possesses" (15). Here he contrasts a Platonic realist who believes the term signifies because it exists in the realm of forms (even though no thing actually possesses that characteristic) with his own postion, a "Conceptual Realist" (I'm not sure exactly what that means) who thinks the term vacuous because it neither denotes nor signifies.

    Finally to my questions. Would an Aristotelian/Thomist say the term "perfect" signifies because, even though no one actually possesses the characteristic, it exists in a state of potency? If that is the case, it seems to me that one might naturally wonder "What is it that is holding us back from realising that potential perfection." A lot of answers can be and have been given to that question. Am I right in thinking the Aristotelian (and the Platonic??) position(s) would lead to that question, or am I simply missing something really basic here? Any help would be appreciated. Apologies for the length of the post.

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    1. In Summa Contra Gentiles Aquinas says that God is perfect and earthly perfection is simply a degree of closeness to God.
      It's not exactly radically different from what could be a Platonic position since Aquinas closely followed Augustine in many things.
      Of course I could be simply have misread Aquinas, I'll check the relevant chapter up later.

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    2. Thanks for the reply; that's an interesting point. Part of my confusion stems from the fact that Perfection admits of degrees in a way that Mermaid doesn't, so that we can talk of something "having been perfected" to some such degree and in relation to some thing. Seems to me that this usage does signify some characteristic. Unless I'm confusing two senses of the word, I don't see how you can separate Perfected from Perfect in such a way that if Perfect doesn't signify full stop, then Perfected seems to not signify as well.

      What you said helps clear up part of my confusion, I think, but I have another question about the relative aspect of the term. If something can be perfected in relation to its own nature, and everything in relation to God, how does A/T distinguish those relationships? Is one direct and the other indirect/remote? Or should a different kind of distinction be used?

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  7. Hi Ed. thanks for opening this thread. My question concerns a comment by David Goldman. I thought you had probably already addressed his argument somewhere/sometime. David Goldman, reviewing Dreher's book on the benedict option, writes: "It wasn’t William of Occam who overthrew the medieval order, though, but Leibniz and Newton, who demonstrated -- against Aristotle -- that there are indeed objects in our mind that are not in our senses that nonetheless are provably real: for example, the arbitrarily small (“infinitesimal”) increments of movement of cannonball in flight that the Calculus can sum up into a positive number." https://pjmedia.com/spengler/2017/03/26/book-review-the-benedict-option-by-rod-dreher/

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    1. "It wasn’t William of Occam who overthrew the medieval order, though, but Leibniz and Newton, who demonstrated -- against Aristotle -- that there are indeed objects in our mind that are not in our senses that nonetheless are provably real: for example, the arbitrarily small (“infinitesimal”) increments of movement of cannonball in flight that the Calculus can sum up into a positive number."

      First, Aristotle does not claim anywhere that every object that is in the mind is also in the senses -- that, to put it bluntly, is just rubbish. Second, in what sense are the infinitesimals "provably real"? What logical or metaphysical principle allows you to jump from the fact that some piece of mathematics can be used in the formal apparatus of some physical theory, to the fact these mathematical objects are "provably real", presumably extra-mental? Some pieces of mathematical physics need non-constructive mathematical principles (with varying strength). From one such relatively weak principle, the Banach-Tarski paradox follows, that is, you can decompose a ball in finite number of pieces, move them around and reassemble them into two balls. Is this also "provably real"? In what sense?

      It is a matter of historical controversy what exactly Leibniz accomplished, but infinitesimals were only made fully rigorous in the 1960's in the work of Robinson (once again, using non-constructive principles, e.g. the existence of free ultrafilters in w), so Leibniz and Newton have demonstrated exactly squat.

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    2. The differentials are but "the ghosts of vanished quantities."

      Then, too, there is the chilliagon, the 1000-sided polygon, which the sense cannot perceive, but the intellect can conceive.

      However, I think they give Aristotle too short a shrift. Conception starts in the senses, but it does not end there. Differentials start with rather larger increments of ΔX and the imagination simply "zooms in" as they get smaller. What we see, I think, is Aristotle's dictum that we start with what is more fully known and proceed toward what is lesser known. There are darned few mathematical concepts that are sensible in the restricted sense. We've never seen an irrational number, nor smelled a topology.

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    3. My reaction to reading Goldman's article is that he is assuming the identity of sense and intellect; that is, reading a modern concept of mind back on Aristotle.

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    4. It wasn’t William of Occam who overthrew the medieval order, though, but Leibniz and Newton,

      Ummmm, what about Bacon, Descartes, and Locke. They didn't refute Aristotle any more than Leibniz or Newton, (or Occam), but they did insist on starting their works by ignoring Aristotle out of the playing field. Before Leibniz and Newton did it.

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    5. I'm confused. Is Goldman suggesting it is the fact that Leibniz and Newton did not accept Aristotle's sensism that marks the cut off from the medieval and the modern? There were many non-Aristotelian medieval, such as Platonists and Augustinians, and many empiricist moderns who would accept sensism (and in fact go much further).

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    6. I am in the process of reading Leibniz's Discourse on Metaphysics and unless I'm misreading him, he takes Descartes to task for wholesale rejection of Scholasticism. He seems to see Descartes as throwing the metaphysical baby out with the scholastic bathwater. So it seems to me Leibniz sees value in Scholastic metaphysics. What am I missing?

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  8. Dr. Feser:

    How do you answer the Novus Ordo types who claim that scholasticism is inadequate for a philosophy of history or the issue of "historical consciousness"?

    Blessings,
    Karl

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    1. Karl, the best first level of answer is that scholasticism isn't intended to be adequate for a philosophy of history because it isn't about history, it's theological and philosophical about other things than history.

      At the same time, probably any scholar specializing in "historical consciousness" is barking up the wrong tree, because trying to form a "science" out of "how people have looked at history" is unlikely to go anywhere. The subject matter is too contingent for a science, and almost certainly cannot be rendered more intelligible through true principles that are more known than the contingent data.

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  9. Ed,

    In your new book Five Proofs, will you be touching on how an immutable God can intervene on an A Theory of time? I know in a post on WLC that you mentioned a defence of classical theism more specifically. Also, does Brian Davies touch on this objection in "An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion"?

    I have Aquinas, TLS, Scholastic metaphysics and Neo Scholastic essays with philosophy of mind due today (hoping this name dropping provokes a reply you see!) As Five Proofs and philosophy of nature is some time away, I was thinking of Locke next. Does Locke examine and critique Empiricist metaphysics?

    At this rate, if Aristotle is The Philosopher I may have to call you The Professor!

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  10. Hi Dr.Feser

    Don't know if its my computer but the comments look kind of weird, I think you need to adjust the width of your blog a little.

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  11. Nice illustration of the perverted faculty argument. Or do I have a dirty mind?

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    1. Have you read Fr. Rippegers book "The Metaphysics of Evolution"? He believes Evolution is impossible given A-T metaphysic. Arguments are outlined in this interview. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=52678iaRarI

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  12. OMG, this is like a Godsend for me right now!Now I already got somewhat of an answer to my previous question from Vincent Torley, so I'm gonna ask about something different.

    So recently I've been researching philosophy and science, and I came across a certain apologetics for Christianity basing itself on science (basically to try to prove God exists using pure science).

    These arguments have to do with quantum mechanics and an interpretation of Quantum Gravity theories and String theory which lead to the idea that the universe is simulated.

    Now after watching several videos on this subject, I've become rather intrigued by this attempt to scientifically prove that the universe is absolutelly contingent and is being simulated in the mind of God.

    Here are the relevant videos (they are a bit long BTW):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2Xsp4FRgas
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2Xsp4FRgas

    So what these videos basically say is that there is evidence the universe is a virtual reality, and that it is being simulated in the mind of God.

    And another thing, these videos use the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness to explain what consciousness is, and then go on to show that the entire wave-function of the universe is being collapsed by an integrated information state. In other words, God.

    I encourage you all to watch these videos all the way through if you have the time as to get a good idea of what these arguments are saying.

    And then there is this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-rEhqrdD1c

    The video is only 8 minutes, so it's certainly watchable and digestable.

    The summary of the video in the description is:

    "A derivation of the Trinity within our rational comprehension."

    In other words, the video attempts to rationally prove the doctrine of the Trinity using science.

    Now I know that under A-T, we can only rationally deduce that God exists, not that he is a Trinity as that can only be known via special revelation.

    So what should we make of the video above that tries to rationally prove the Trinity without special revelation?


    And also: What do you guys think of the simulation argument?

    What are the implications for Aristotelianism and Thomism?

    What do you think of the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness?

    What are the implications for Christian apologetics, as it seems we no longer have to rely on metaphysics to prove God exists, but can do so through a purely scientific manner?


    I would really appreciate your answers.

    Thanks!

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    1. Hi JoeD,

      Had a look at the videos that attempt to prove the existence of God. Bad news: they're based on bad physics. Space and time are probably not digitized, according to physicist Sabine Hossenfelder. Here's her blog article, "No, we probably don't live n a computer simulation": http://backreaction.blogspot.jp/2017/03/no-we-probably-dont-live-in-computer.html

      I also had a look at the Trinity video. It's a bit far out, at first, but I think the author may be onto something. His argument is that any non-trivial statement in propositional calculus requirements a minimum of three terms which are inter-defined. He proposes that the same holds within the Mind of God. This is an interesting proposal, but it's not a proof of the Trinity. It assumes that propositional calculus applies to God (which I have no problem with, but I don't think an A-T would accept), and that what holds mathematically for terms also holds for personal identities within the Mind of God. The latter assumption is possible, but might strike many as a bit iffy. Hence the argument can only serve to make the Trinity plausible, not certain. Hope that helps.

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    2. What about the claims space and time are not fundamental, but information is?

      And what about the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness?

      Here is another relevant video about this subject:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1LCVknKUJ4

      There is also another argument he makes that I would like to know your opinion on.

      A so-called logically irrefutable proof for theism and idealism:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWatbkSngDU

      And his presentation as to How God Exists?:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds4q-Qmaj5s

      So what do you think?

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  13. Dr. Feser, I've thoroughly enjoyed your published works as well as this blog. One of my friends (and intellectual sparring partner) is an atheist who is persuaded by the Kantian idea that talk of anything transcendental is just beyond our intellect (or meaningless). You have a great deal to say about Hume in your published work, but not much to say about Kant. Would you suggest an approach, or a resource for such a dialogue?

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  14. anything? How do you know that your reason is valid?

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  15. Hi, I wonder if Dr. Feser or others could explain a little about the implications of an Aristotelian-Thomist approach for prayer. e.g. I think Dr. Feser says some where on this blog that the A-T approach means that God does not get angry etc.so I presume He does not listen to or answer prayers, so with what understanding are people meant to pray? Thank you

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    Replies
    1. I would highly recommend Eleanor Stump's response to this question. Do a quick search of youtube and you should find some of her material.

      The short of it is, because of God's timelessness, he can and does answer prayer.

      Delete
    2. When we think of existence at a higher level, a greater dimension, eternity, etc... we tend to simplify and minimize. We understand through reason that we must remove the concept of time from God, but since we can't fully imagine what it is like to exist eternally, we tend to also take away aspects of personhood from God along with time, or extension, or material. When really removing these concepts are removing limits or imperfections, and so in truth, God is more perfectly personal because he is timeless, changeless, etc.

      There is a reason God reveals himself in scripture in anthropomorphic terms. It's important to hang on to his revelation when we seek him relationally.

      If we were all perfect at grasping philosophical concepts we could more easily combine the revealed character of God with natural theology's concept of God. But we tend to suck at that. (Did you ever read Flatland?)

      Delete
    3. JC,
      Aquinas answered your question in discussing the will of God. ST.I, Q.19, a.9. God's will never changes but God can and does will contingent things to happen contingently. So prayer does not change God, rather God wills from all eternity that certain things do not happen unless you ask for them through prayer.

      Delete
    4. Thanks very much for the helpful replies, especially the reference to Dr. Stump. I found a YouTube lecture by her called "The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers" which explains a lot I didn't understand properly in asking my question.

      Delete
  16. "I reserve the right to intervene violently to break up brawls and otherwise restore order."
    -- Sounds like a plan.

    Regarding freedom of the will:
    1. To make sense of life we have to believe in free will. We have no choice!
    2. Of some may prefer to deny free will. That's their choice.
    3. I recently saw #1 attributed to Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Yiddish writer. #2 is my own addition.

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    Replies
    1. Does 1 apply only to the Compatiblist or to the Libertarian as well?

      Delete
  17. I am doing research on the differences between the sexes:

    1. Does anyone have any reading suggestions on the difference between men and women?

    2. Does anyone have any reading suggestions on the subject of substances, artifacts and instruments?

    3. Does anyone have any reading suggestions on how properties are not essence but flow from essence? I am particularly interested in how women often have very different suites of personality and other traits which still serve the same end.

    -----

    Books, articles and chapters/excerpts from books all appreciated.

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    Replies
    1. I'd recommend you stay away from Testosterone Rex:

      https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/old-t-rex/

      When Greg Cochrane savages a book, it is almost as good as Professor Feser!

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    2. I'm very familiar with the science end of things. I'm looking for philosophical analysis.

      Thing is the statistical tendencies of the two sexes don't themselves add up to a difference in essence. They're not even absolute. There's lots of overlap between men and women even where statistical tendencies diverge. Rather these statistical tendencies reflect essence. But how? Looking for that kind of work.

      Delete
    3. Samuel Johnson, who produced his own dictionary of the English language in 1755, was asked by a lady to "define the difference between a man and a woman."
      Johnson's quick response" "Madam, I cannot conceive. Can you?"

      Delete
  18. I am wondering why it is wrong for a human to frustrate their own natural end, though contraception/homosexual acts etc., but not wrong to frustrate the natural end of non-human substances?

    I get why it is fine to frustrate the end, so to speak, of non-substances.

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  19. The Masked ChickenMarch 28, 2017 at 10:42 AM

    Dear Joe,

    A Summa of the Summa is a nice simple introduction to Thomism. Among the Evangelicals, Should Old Aquina Be Forgot, by Norman Geisler is not a bad introduction that is not technical (but, also, not informed by Catholic sensibilities). There are some older books by Dominicans from the 1940's (Garrigou-Lagrange, perhaps) that might be useful. A book on living the Thomistic life for married folk might not exist, but there may be a secular Dominican group near you, who are laymen who love the Dominican charism in the world. They may have resources.

    The Chicken

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    1. The Masked ChickenMarch 28, 2017 at 10:48 AM

      Sorry, Joe. The book by Geisler is, Thomas Aquinas: an evangelical appraisal. I gave you the blurb on the front cover, by mistake.

      The Chicken

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  20. The Masked ChickenMarch 28, 2017 at 10:55 AM

    Dear Ed,

    The comment box is acting funky for me. I am using the name/url choice to sign in. Is this a mortification for Lent :). I have to keep pressing, edit, in order to make corrections as I type. Sometimes, the box will simply stop receiving input from my tablet and I have to hit, edit, again. Is this a Blogger bug?

    The Chicken

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  21. Dr. Feser,

    Did you ever read Professor Mark C. Murphy "real identity" thesis, namely the attempt to conciliate a traditional natural law metaphysical ethics with the new natural law tradition? What do you think about it?

    ReplyDelete
  22. What are some Christians Platonists, and why do some people think penal substitution is a good idea?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Obviously I meant "Why".
      I am also clearly talking about Non-Thomist philosophers and Protestant theologians.

      Delete
    2. Penal substitution attempts to capture certain gaps in the other theories of atonement. Specifically, nothing else really comes close to capturing the sense of verses like, 2 Cor 5:21, and Gal 3:13.

      Delete
    3. So what about the catholic view? People often caricature all Christians as holding one view (a Protestant theology) - this is especially an issue when the left approach the issue of Catholicism.

      Delete
  23. Dr Feser can you please tell me the difference between the grave sin of pride and philosophical nominalism?

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  24. Ed,

    Have you ever considered a youtube channel or some other platform? There are lots of new atheists on youtube that run fairly unchallenged despite most of them not having so much as a basic grasp of classical theism much less basic Catholic theology. They're just waiting to be answered by someone like yourself.

    For a counter example, lots of conservative commenters like Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, and Milo have largely built their following on youtube. They draw in viewers with their provocative titles and challenges to mainstream liberalism. A lot of it's low-hanging fruit though, and you could probably get views if you go after more advanced stuff. There's just a lack of any visible thomistic presence - and really, Catholicism - on youtube outside of Bishop Barron, God bless him. But the Rubin Report was great exposition.

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    1. I agree 100%. A YouTube channel would be a very effective way of spreading Thomistic thought more widely than those few who follow such out-dated communication platforms as blogs. There's a need for serious and deep philosophy that is also accessible which can reach many people. Dr Feser's work is just the ticket. Even something as simple as a slideshow or images accompanying a narration of his blog posts would do very well.

      I highly encourage him to consider it.

      Delete
    2. I'd subscribe to a Feser podcast...

      Delete
  25. Is using masculine pronouns for girl who thinks that she is a boy a lie, or can it be said using a broad mental reservation? Does it make any difference if a team of doctors have officially directed you to use masculine pronouns in the name of her mental and emotional well-being?

    I know people whose job depends upon this question, alas.

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    Replies
    1. Good point. I know people who can get fired if they don't thread this needle correctly.

      My best guess is that using mental reservation here is morally acceptable. I.E. saying "he" in the sense of " 'he' as this society has now legally taken to mean the word".

      I am also good with using the new name the person is insisting on. It is perfectly normal to call a person by a name that they tell you they would prefer: "call me 'Cowboy' ', or "I go by 'Buckshot' ". And once they change their name legally, it would be downright bad manners to call them by their old name (except by accident).

      What you don't have to do is like it. Nor treat her as if she were a boy other than where the law demands it. And screw the "team of doctors".

      Delete
  26. Is an idealist version of the world compatible with Aristotelianism?

    I mean, if the mind was more fundamental than matter, and if Aristotelian prime matter was actually something like "mind stuff" as well, would that be compatible with, say, hylemorphic dualism?

    Or does this lead to a type of monism incompatible with A-T?

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    1. In AT mind is more fundamental than matter, in that form is more fundamental than matter. Something has the matter it does, because of its form.

      Matter in itself is actually very difficult to conceptualize.

      Delete
    2. In the Colloquium “Mind, Soul, World” organized by the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study University (very interesting stuff, you can find the videos on youtube, here's the first) I remember somebody saying that idealism is compatible with Thomism, or even that the best way to understand Thomism is within the broader idealistic framework. My memory is uncertain about the exact words.

      Now I don't myself understand A-T metaphysics, but I understand idealism. Given that what we really know is factual experience it seems to me that any metaphysics based exclusively on reason should be compatible with idealism. Not necessarily fit naturally with idealism but certainly conceptually co-exist with it.

      Delete
    3. Depends on what you mean. Kantian and some post Kantian idealisms (e.g. Fichte)? No.

      I've however long tried to figure out if Hegel might be compatible in some way with the old metaphysics. Because of the way idealism was handled in the 20th century, I'm in no way convinced that we have good readings of the Germans.

      Delete
  27. Dr. Feser and others,

    I had two questions I wanted to raise.
    1) Given the doctrine of divine simplicity, it seems to follow that God does not have a real relation to creation. Do you think this is correct? If so, how can we make sense of it?

    2) What are your thoughts on the traditional Thomistic understanding of predestination? As a corollary to this, do you think the physical premotion is compatible with divine simplicity? It seems to me to be hard to distinguish from an accident in God. That said, I have never really understood what physical premotion was.

    Thanks!
    TJ

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    Replies
    1. Yes I would be very interested in any answer to your first questions too. It seems even if we somehow assign analogical predicates to this inert deity,there just doesn't seem to be any real content in this ..relationship?(even if we can intelligently call it that)..this seems to be biggest problem(among many others)for classical theism. I can see why William Hasker calls divine simplicity Vice from which theology must be liberated...

      Though Feser had many exchanges with other theologians on this topic..you might want to check them out..

      I also posted a related question on Classical theism forum

      Delete
    2. In what sense would analogical predication preclude real content in this relationship? It would seem that this is a relationship.

      The problem with anything short of divine simplicity is it tends to make it hard to understand how God could be the ultimate explanation of all things?

      What kind of relationship is being talked about? An anthropomorphic one, as if God were Zeus or something? What does this have to do with the Christianity of the Fathers?

      Delete
    3. In what sense would analogical predication preclude real content in this relationship? It would seem that this is a relationship.

      Not sure what you mean by that, I didn't say that its the analogical predication that precludes it, I said that it is inadequate to make sense of it..

      The problem with anything short of divine simplicity is it tends to make it hard to understand how God could be the ultimate explanation of all things?

      well most theist don't care, and its far from obvious why simplicity has to be a perfection, thats one of the first point ..most theologians make when criticizing DDS..

      Delete
    4. What do you mean by most theists don't care? Most theists are are classical theists.

      Your point seems to be that only anthropmorphic notions of this relationship count. This doesn't make much sense.

      If you get rid of divine simplicity then God is not the ultimate explanation of all things because he isn't a full unity. Seems pretty important to theism to me.

      Delete
    5. What do you mean by most theists don't care? Most theists are are classical theists.

      I haven't done any head count..but it seems clear to me that most of them are not classical theists..

      If you get rid of divine simplicity then God is not the ultimate explanation of all things because he isn't a full unity. Seems pretty important to theism to me.

      Go tell this to some process theist or some Open theist or just any general monotheist ..he would tell you that its neither possible nor desirable for God to be like that ..why does God need to be anything like that? Just because its your intuition about what perfect being theology should be doesn't mean everyone has to share It...any feature of reality that can make religious experience or theological desire veridical can be appropriately divine..

      Delete
    6. Given the doctrine of divine simplicity, it seems to follow that God does not have a real relation to creation.

      Bellow I explain why I have no problem with this question, let me see if I make any sense:

      God is the metaphysical ultimate, the first mover in the Aristotelian sense, and thus God is simple (with no parts) and immutable (not amenable to change). But “God is the metaphysical ultimate” does not imply “God is nothing but the metaphysical ultimate”. The greatest conceivable being is the metaphysical ultimate but is also a lot more than that. So God is an all-good all-powerful all- knowledgeable person who creates the world for a reason, who loves and cares for us, who incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth, who throughout history takes part in creation through special providence. A very beautiful and rather complex being not at all easy to understand.

      I see not the slightest conceptual difficulty with the above view. I wonder if anybody here sees any.

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    7. I see not the slightest conceptual difficulty with the above view. I wonder if anybody here sees any.

      See Ryan Mullin's "The Case Against Divine Simplicity" its of the most recent and elaborate one.. as he argues their indeed are a lot of difficulties with the above..

      Specifically he argues for the point that there is no sense in which simplicity is a possible perfection ..I do advise to check that out..

      Delete
  28. Professor Feser, what is the position of the church on usury? I see many asserting that the church allows charging at an interest in some circumstances, but not quotes from the magisterium or encyclicals to support those claims.

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    1. Usury is still a sin, but not all interest constitutes Usury. Blogger Zippy has put together an extensive FAQ on it here: https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/usury-faq-or-money-on-the-pill/

      Delete
  29. First, thank you for this thread!

    I'm a Protestant who's recently been exploring Thomist ideas, mostly through Ed's work. I've already asked some questions on this site, and will welcome the opportunity to ask more for as long as the community tolerates it. My questions are all intended as friendly; Protestant though I be, I find much compelling about Thomism. But also much confusing.

    So, here is my current question. As Ed elaborated in "Why is there Anything at all? It's simple," classical theism is meant to provide explanation for everything, or at least to assert the existence of an explanation (perhaps unknown to us). As he says there, "Note that on the classical theist view of ultimate explanation, there are no inexplicable 'brute facts.'"

    Now, I'm just reading and thinking about the first way in "Aquinas," and I'm confused in the following sense. Something moves, and there is a series of instrumental causes, and there must be a first cause, which must be God. So far, so good. But God, of course, was free in whether or not to create the universe. Whatever else that means, it must mean (as Ed discusses here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/05/davies-on-divine-simplicity-and-freedom.html ) that nothing internal to God or his nature compelled him to cause the particular event (say, Socrates' coming into existence), nor does logic or the like.

    But then is not Socrates' existence, after all, a brute fact? It seems that it is not explained by anything outside God, and it likewise is not explained by anything about God, either (even about something that is true, but to which we have no access). This seems to undermine the promised provision of explanatory resources for everything.

    I will be grateful to anyone who clarifies my confusion!

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    1. Isn't Socrates's existence explained by his parents' conceiving him? Which would be one event in a chain of accidental causes, namely begettings in the line of Socrates's ancestors.
      His conception would also be part of a chain of essential causes acting at that moment with the first cause having the causal power in that chain.
      In other words, Socrates's existence is explained by the motion of material bodies, which are dependent on God but have some causal role, and is explained by the action of God as first mover and creator of each individual soul at conception.

      Delete
    2. Chris,

      Thank you very much for shedding some light on my mental obscurity!

      To take up the context where you helpfully left it, perhaps the question, then, is this: why is this particular universe created/sustained in existence? God, as the first cause, cannot have the reason within Him (for he is free), and nor can it be without him.

      I think of Dr. Feser's post about time loops and infinite regresses. The *content* of those loops has to be explained somewhere outside themselves. So also -- doesn't the *content* of this universe have to be explained? Why THIS universe? Is that due to a property of God or to something else?

      Thank you for any further light you may shed!

      Delete
  30. I've got a question of my own. I'd invite readers to have a look at this article: "The importance of relating to others: why we only learn to understand other people after the age of four" at https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/news/2017/03/the-importance-of-connecting-why-at-the-age-of-four-we-learn-to-understand-other-people . What puzzles me is how an Aristotelian-Thomist can account for the fact that our ability to recognize that other people's view of the world is different from our own (Theory of Mind) depends on two specific regions of the brain becoming connected, which doesn't happen until the age of four:

    "The maturation of fibres of a brain structure called the arcuate fascicle between the ages of three and four years establishes a connection between two critical brain regions: a region at the back of the temporal lobe that supports adult thinking about others and their thoughts, and a region in the frontal lobe that is involved in keeping things at different levels of abstraction and, therefore, helps us to understand what the real world is and what the thoughts of others are. Only when these two brain regions are connected through the arcuate fascicle can children start to understand what other people think."

    If it isn't my brain but my immaterial intellect that thinks and imputes mental states to others, then why should the formation of a connection between two specific regions of the brain be a pre-requisite for my being able to impute different beliefs and desires to other individuals?

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    1. We, being the kind of being we are, need a sufficiently mature brain to think, but we also need an immaterial intellect.

      Delete
    2. I'll try and formulate the problem more clearly. In order to have a thought about someone else's beliefs and desires, there are certain physical preconditions that need to be satisfied: I need to be able to sense that person, or I won't be aware they exist in the first place. So if the regions of my brain relating to vision and hearing (for instance) were badly damaged, then it would hardly be surprising that I might not have such thoughts. But on the A-T account, there's no obvious reason why a connection between regions X and Y (neither of which have anything to do with sensing) should be required in order for me to entertain a thought about another individual's beliefs or desires.

      But if, on the other hand, regions X and Y store representations of other individuals and their beliefs, then the absence of a connection between the regions might impair my ability to integrate my knowledge about individual I with my knowledge of his/her beliefs.

      But if the brain is able to store representations of people and their beliefs (and desires), then that lends support to a materialistic account of mind. In short: we have a striking fact which is readily explained on the materialist hypothesis, but not so readily on the immaterialist hypothesis. Hence my perplexity.

      In the end, I believe the materialist and A-T accounts of the mind must be able to make experimental predictions which would serve to distinguish them. Otherwise an account which piggybacks an immaterial activity of the soul's faculty of intellect on top of the brain's activity will be redundant.

      Delete
    3. From my (limited) understanding of A-T philosophy-of-mind arguments, proponents are going to be extremely resistant to any suggestion that only an empirical test could distinguish materialist and A-T accounts. Surely the point is that materialist accounts are supposed to be incoherent per se, and unable even in principle to account for various abilities (such as abstract thought), in which case our ability to think abstractly is already a definitive refutation of materialism? Of course, it's possible those arguments are wrong, in which case (if all of them are) already A-T has nothing going for it. But if they're right, then no amount of further empirical evidence can change the state of affairs. Right?

      Personally, I don't find the instant example to be too troubling (vis-a-vis A-T thought), though perhaps you'll be able to correct me and show me that I should. There are a few reasons for this. In the following, I'll write like I just accept A-Tism, instead of just being sympathetically considering it, since that will make the writing less cumbersome.

      (1) Representations of other individuals are not representations of abstract entities (I don't think?) so on that side, there is no problem if the brain can represent them.

      (2) Independent of point one: even supposing these were *both* (for convenience) abstract ideas, there is nothing in ATism to suggest that the brain is not integral in processing abstract ideas; just that it is not sufficient. For example, already it is known that the mind cannot do math well if certain regions of the brain are damaged, and ATism has no problem with this. Now, if representations of people and of their ideas are abstract (arguendo), and if thus representations of the people AND the ideas are abstract, then that could just be another abstract thing that the brain needs to help in processing. It should be no particular surprise -- should it? -- that the processing in question should involve both regions, and even connections between them? (For example, it would be no surprise if doing geometry turned out to involve both regions of the brain implicated in logic and those implicated in spatial reasoning, and connections between them, notwithstanding fairly strong arguments that materialism cannot be the whole story in abstract geometric reasoning).

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    4. Hi SMack,

      Thank you for your response. Just to be clear: I wasn't arguing that only an empirical test could distinguish materialist and A-T accounts; all I was asserting is that there should be a test that can distinguish them. When you think about it, this makes sense, as the pattern of dependence of thoughts on underlying physical processes is different for the two hypotheses: on materialism, thoughts are intrinsically dependent on physical processes in the brain, whereas according to A-T, they are merely extrinsically dependent. That being the case, there should be empirical predictions which A-T makes and which materialism does not, or vice versa.

      For instance, I could imagine an Aristotelian-Thomist arguing that the reason why a connection between the two regions of the brain mentioned above is required for a child to have a theory of mind is that in order to have such a theory, one must be able to integrate one's language about individuals with one's language about beliefs and desires. That being the case, A-T would predict that language development drives brain maturation, in a top-down fashion, and that children whose language development is well ahead of schedule would also form a connection between the two regions much earlier than other children. A materialist, on the other hand, would have no reason to make such a prediction. See what I mean? Thomists really need to develop their own specific "take" on the findings of neuroscience. As far as I can tell, they don't seem to be trying very hard.

      You suggest that even on an A-T account, the brain may be integral in processing abstract ideas. But how can that be, if such ideas are immaterial? And how can there be regions of the brain involved in logic, if reasoning is a non-bodily activity, as Thomists insist?

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    5. But how can that be, if such ideas are immaterial? And how can there be regions of the brain involved in logic, if reasoning is a non-bodily activity, as Thomists insist?

      Reasoning is non-bodily in the sense that the essential act of reasoning is an operation which matter/motion is insufficient to perform. That doesn't mean that everything at work in an act of reasoning is itself non-bodily; we are embodied beings, who make use of our bodily senses to take in, and even to store, information. This isn't denied by the A-T philosopher.

      You also seem to be forgetting that A-T is not just the addition of 'this immaterial stuff' to an equation, and otherwise we have this 'material' stuff which is just like the materialist's stuff. For the A-T view, the material is pretty different from the material as materialists consider it, which frankly seems to have less and less content to it as the years go by, other than "not supernatural, whatever that means."

      I'd suggest that you ask yourself, "How does a dog's mental behavior, such as it is, differ between the A-T view and the materialist view, despite dogs not being capable of reasoning the way a human does?" If your answer is, "Well without the intellect they'd be exactly the same," you have to go back to the drawing board, because you're missing a whole lot about the A-T view of mind.

      Delete
    6. Vincent,

      Again, I'm a dilettante, and hesitant to answer in case I'm keeping anybody more knowledgeable from getting involved.

      But to my way of thinking, it would be something of a mistake for ATists to flesh out more robust empirical claims. I simply don't think the point of their theory is more empirical claims -- it's perfectly compatible with just waiting to see where the evidence points after the science is done, and incorporating whatever theory comes out of that. Instead, ATism gives conceptual tools to analyze *whatever* the picture is, and offers arguments that, no matter what that picture may be, it cannot entail a fully physical embodiment of rational thought. Trying to flesh out some kind of "model" and associating it with ATism when in fact ATism has little to say about neurology would be (in my view) a big mistake, and likely to lead to embarrassment.

      Moreover, it has not been my understanding that Thomists claim that brain processes play NO role in rational thought; only that rational thought cannot be wholly physical. The arguments for this have already been given. Are they good arguments or not? If they are, why does ATism need anything more? If not, why even bother to try to save it?

      As for your last question -- the brain can be integral in processing abstract ideas because the AT arguments, at least those I've seen, only claim to show that abstract thought is not *wholly* physical, not that it does not (in humans) have a necessary physical component. (I may be wrong about this, though). Feser recently posted an article about Searle and Aristotle where he pointed out that, on a Thomistic view, there actually is no problem viewing the brain as (in some sense) a sort of computer for the mind -- precisely because the fact that a Thomist *does* believe in a non-corporeal element to the mind undercuts the usual good arguments against the brain being just a computer. But if this is the case, then that surely offers at least one model for answering your question. Even if my thought is immaterial, my actual PC is very necessary for me to answer certain types of questions (difficult mathematical ones, say), even though I can think and it cannot. That's despite the fact that mathematics is abstract. Similarly, the brain, as the mind's computer, could be highly necessary for all kinds of abstract thought, even though the brain itself would be completely insufficient to carry on any abstract thought at all.

      No?

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    7. Vincent, I don't really see the point here. It seems to me that your suggestion entails a Cartesian or ghost in the machine view of the mind. But AT sees the soul as being the form; that is, the physical substance involves both form and matter. Therefore I don't see how there would be a sense in which an empirical test could discover anything. What am I missing?

      Delete
    8. Hi George,

      I'm certainly not arguing for a Cartesian view of the mind. Thomists don't hold that mind and body are two things. They do, however, hold that thinking (unlike sensing, remembering or imagining) is a totally immaterial act. That being the case, no neural process can be identified with an act of reasoning. At best, all it could be is a store of data and/or images utilized in the act of reasoning. The reasoning itself is a purely spiritual act.

      To give you an idea of what an empirical test could discover, think of the research conducted by the late Wilder Penfield. He found that when he stimulated people's brains, he could make them raise their arms, but they always said to him, "I didn't do that. You did." Score one for dualism. See what I mean? Nowadays, the picture is a little more complicated: neuroscientists have found that they can induce in a patient a sudden urge to raise their arm, but when they do so, they don't seem to know why they raised it, so they cover their embarrassment by making up a story (confabulating). In other words, neuroscientists can't make a patient reason about why they should raise their arm, by stimulating their brain. If they could do that, it would be curtains for any kind of dualism.

      SMack,

      Your suggestion that the brain serves as the mind's computer is an interesting one, but it doesn't strike me as being compatible with A-T philosophy. If the brain is a computer, there has to be an "I" outside it, interpreting its computations. That's Cartesian dualism.

      DDT,

      Interesting question about the dog. A-T philosophy credits the highest non-rational animals with common sense (the ability to compare different sensory modalities), imagination, memory [but not recall] and estimative abilities. These are the four internal senses. I see no reason why a materialist could not impute the same abilities to a dog. I'm sure Darwin would have happily done so, for instance, judging from what I've read of his "Descent of Man."

      Delete
  31. Any good Thomistic critiques of Calvinist theology?

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    1. See Norman Geisler's Chosen but Free.

      Geisler is a Thomist Evangelical, and he gives a great but digestible analysis of Calvinism in that book.

      Delete
  32. Tomislav OstojichMarch 29, 2017 at 3:52 AM

    Ed, What do you think of the claim by EMs that EM is not self refuting if one holds a deflationary theory of truth?

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  33. Dear Dr. Feser,

    would you say that the idea that human beings have a nature (however that idea is spelled out) is currently unpopular among contemporary philosophers, generally speaking? Do you have happen to know any papers or books off the top of your head that deal explicitly with a rejection of the notion that human beings have a nature?

    Thanks!

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  34. Are the Elon Musks of the world correct in assuming that A.I. could ultimately surpass humans? Surely this is a philosophical question, not just a technical question? Wonder if you have thoughts...

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    1. Much of the public's recent interest in the topic of an AI with superhuman intelligence has been the result of Nick Bostrom's 2014 book "Superintelligence". Musk has mentioned this book on several occasions, so it is likely that his interest in the topic was a result of the book as well. Bostrom is a philosopher (he's at Oxford), so "Superintelligence" would be a good source for a philosophically informed discussion of the topic; I found it to be quite interesting. Like you I would also be very interested to hear Dr. Feser's thoughts on the topic.

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  35. Ed, thanks for the thread. I enjoy reading your blog and dream someday of meeting you for lunch to discuss lots of things.

    I am in a debate with someone who favors occaisionalism rather than a powers-based philosophy of nature. I would like to know if there are any good arguments against occaisionalism. The articles on this blog concerning this topic indicate that occaisionalism leads to a pantheistic view of God , but this does not count as an argument against occaisionalism. Thanks.

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  36. Here's an odd question I heard from an atheist: if God permitted Adam and Eve's children to have children together, doesn't that conflict with Jewish/Christian teachings against incest? Isn't incest intrinsically immoral?

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    1. According to the Bible, incest became immoral long after Noah's day. See Leviticus 18 for the first explicit mention.

      Incest is prohibited because of its harmful effects. Specifically, genetic defects are more likely to manifest in a person. If I reproduce with someone who has dissimilar genetics than I do, it's far less likely that the defects I have will manifest.

      Adam and Eve, being created perfectly, would not have any defects. So there would be no danger in Cain marrying his sister. Similarly, in Noah's day the gene pool had not degraded very much in the handful of generations since Creation. Look up, Genetic Entropy for more info.

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    2. http://tofspot.blogspot.fr/2011/09/adam-and-eve-and-ted-and-alice.html?m=1
      Mike Flynn, famous author and regular visitor to these pages, has a different view on the Adam and Eve story that gets my nihil obstat and I guess avoids the problem of incest.

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  37. Hello, Professor Feser! Well, I am just a regular "ghost reader". Now with an open thread I will make my question :)

    I know you sometimes read some arguments on Craig and discuss them on A-T grounds. In that sense, in a recent Q&A [L1] Craig talks about dependency upon a metaphysical system for each of your most famous arguments.
    Basically, Craig respons that he uses so little as possible of each metaphysical basis of each argument.
    My question is: can that patchwork be ultimately self-contradictory? Or maybe it will necessitate an entire metaphysical system independent from those of the original arguments?


    L1: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/are-my-theistic-arguments-dependent-upon-a-metaphysical-system

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  38. Thanks for the thread Dr. Ed. Just a question for y'all: if BELIEF in God isn't necessary for salvation, then what the (waitforit) HELL are we doing? Take Pascal's wager and add a third option: don't commit (read all about theism and Christianity, physics and ontology-just don't get emotionally involved) and if God is real, He will draw close to you. If not, then pursue more validated/non religious forms of "spirituality" like mindfulness(hate that word). It seems clear to me that spiritual experiences (unitive, self-transcending) can be completely divorced from religion, as evidenced by the multiple religions and secular quasi spiritualists(like Tara Brach, Joseph Goldstein, and Sam Harris). We can pile up all the corroborative evidence we want, but we will never truly know until we have encountered God in a definitive experience. I've never felt any "pull" or "presence", suffer from mental illness blah blah blah very bitter and all the rest, but seriously I went from discerning the priesthood to absolute despair. I occupy too many rooms in my head (Apologist, atheist, pervert, puritan, satanist, stoic, liberal, conservative, God-fearing theist, zen secularist, etc), and I fear the Catholic one is about to burn down forever. Any help? Sorry to dumb down the thread with my whiny, existential bull.

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    1. if God is real, He will draw close to you.

      Says who? And there actual good arguments and good reasons to believe in God, much more than to deny God.

      If not, then pursue more validated/non religious forms of "spirituality"

      Why? Why does God need to 'draw close to me' in order for me to pursue religion? It's not like Harris or the rest have any authority.

      Any help?

      You seem to be looking to sacrifice your will and the burden that comes with being a rational being, yet wanting to do so by looking for complete and utter certainty in a world where you can't even rule out Last Thursdayism decisively.

      You're doomed to uncertainty. That said, you said 'mental illness', so really - maybe focus on that first and foremost.

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    2. I never said there weren't good arguments, in fact I said to read all about theism, metaphysics, etc- but a comfortable level of uncertainty (hell, maybe even certainty who knows heheh) can only be reached by an encounter (so don't commit, hold onto your cards). If you actively pursue truth, and read A-T and other apologetic literature, and even pray, and search and search and search then God should draw close to you Hello, "Seek and you shall find"-come on. As far as your second point goes, practicing the more validated/non religious variety of "spirituality" allows one to reap the benefits of the contemplative aspect of religion without....religion, so it seems. And the authority I derive from Harris and other Eastern practitioners is the unity of experience they have, all the same qualities seem to underpin their experiences. Many Western mystics report similar experiences as well but there aren't as many and they're mostly recent (the Eastern literature that concerns itself with unitive, self-transcending experiences predates the likes of Thomas Keating and Richard Rohr by a good many centuries). And I don't find it unreasonable to want God to draw close to me before I commit myself to Catholicism. Why? It may have something to do with hearing others talk about their "RELATIONSHIP" with God, something that implies conversation of some sort (oh, and an introduction of course) and a slightly more comfortable level of uncertainty..like when thinking about the love a friend or spouse has for you. And when I said "Any help?", I was just asking for advice lol not abandoning my ability to choose or be rational. And yes, I know I'm doomed to uncertainty. Appreciate the feedback.

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    3. Well, we're doomed to psychological certainty, but not pure uncertainty.

      After all, we may not be able to rule out Last Thursdayism decisively, but we can still point out problems with it and why it's so unlikely as to be readily dismissable.

      We can also trust in the Mathematics, even though we cannot absolutely prove mathematics actually works.

      It's unproovable.

      We also cannot prove the faculty of reason is reasonable, as that would require using reason.

      Yet we still have (extremely) good reasons for why we hold that math actually works and reason works and Lastu Thursdayism is false and so on.

      We can't get absolute certainty of these things, but we can get close to it.

      It seems to me this issue has a very real psychological thread that also needs to be looked at.

      Because after all, certainty is also related to a psychological standing in the mind, as well as a rational one.

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    4. Spirituality as experience is all very well -- as experience -- but what *beliefs* about the world are you thinking of replacing Christianity with? (Or which seem more rationally compelling as a system?)

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    5. Harris isn't an Eastern practitioner and there is no such thing as Zen secularism. It is fundamental to Madhyamika thought that there is a non-dual spiritual reality discoverable not through discursive reason but through intellectual intuition. In fact in Buddhism in general, and Mahayana in particular, religion is a necess for spirituality. The Tathagata is a necessary intermiediatr between samsara and nirvana (cf the three bodies of Buddha as well). Buddhist naturalism and secularism make no sense.

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    6. Also, there certainly are a lot of Western mystics stretching back millennia. If we say that Eastern Christians are Western then there is even an order of Western mystics in the Hesychasts. In western Europe, there are plenty of mystics, such as Meister Eckhart.I have a lot of time for Eastern mysticism, but St. Symeon the New Theologian or Eckhart are rivals to any of them.

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    7. I meant agnostic, thanks for catching that (zen agnostic probly doesn't make much more sense either, just trying to illustrate a general sense of confusion). Shoulda used the word "enthusiast" for Harris, thanks again. I only mentioned him because I figured others would be familiar. Thank you for...oh god.....enlightening me.

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    8. You reply fast. Eckhart and the others never seemed to be exemplary of popular Christian spirituality (usually because their insights bordered too closely to Eastern verbiage). I have to look into St. Symeon, thanks. Even still, I've always been suspicious of the God-object spiritual 'model'. Isn't that crazy, I want a relationship with God but I'll always be afraid that it's all coming from me?

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    9. Dear Anonymous,

      The problem with trying to combine a "don't commit until God acts" approach and a "seek till you find" attitude is that they are incompatible. The seeking Christ speaks of is obviously not just a cognitive exploration without practical implications, but an intention to follow the truth. That is a moral as well as an intellectual commitment, albeit an initially open-ended one. If the "search" is provisional, partial or reserved, it can never be seeking till you find.

      You might reply that you are willing to commit to the "search" fully, but that you will not be sure of having "found" till God is experienced mystically. But, as you have noted yourself, even real experiences may not convince. More to the point, the commitment to seek is also a commitment to accepting that you cannot set conditions for what finding is or isn't a priori.

      Your proposal that mysticism without religion might be the best compromise, so to speak, suffers from fundamental misunderstandings. You seem not to realise that the mystical feelings that cross religious (and non-religious) boundaries are not even a proximate spiritual goal of great significance. The Faith and common sense tell us that transitory feelings are secondary, and that what matters more are active love and the unselfish heart that underlies this love. Also, if a religious search is intentionally a search for emotional satisfaction or reassurance, or a sense of the numinous, it is a search that has already implicitly blocked out the possibility that the truth we need to find involves our obligations to God being prior, not our perceived "needs".

      My advice is to keep praying, let God choose his mode of response, and focus on searching for what Christ wants from you rather than what you feel you need from Him.

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    10. Matthew,

      Thanks for that, helped a good bit.

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  39. While I enjoy many of the questions and replies, some of you have horrid cases of logorrhea. And I mean, HORRID. Ya keep having to hit the old porcelain bus, over and again.

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  40. Best Steely Dan album: Tie between Aja and Can't Buy a Thrill.

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  41. W. Lindsay WheelerMarch 29, 2017 at 2:11 PM

    I would like to bring up the crisis of immigration in this country. George Irbe in April 2000 wrote an article "Genocide, when necessary" and in that article wrote that the Soviet Union engaged in three forms of genocide, (a) physical extermination, (b) suppression of language and culture, (c) ETHNIC DILUTION, which is about moving other nationalities into another nation's territory.

    Since the Catholic Church in engaging in pro-immigration, sanctuary cities, and protecting illegals--is the Catholic Church engaging in genocide by ethnic dilution? Does not the Bible condemn the Tower of Babel?

    I think we have a major situation here. The moral order is Duty to God, then Duty to Country. It is ensconced in the virtue of righteousness. What is the Church doing? Is not Treason and Genocide being committed by the Christian Church both Catholic and Protestant, and who is going to talk about it?

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    1. I have the same question W. Lindsay Wheeler has.

      Maybe the question is too hot to touch. Maybe if you are smart, you will ignore it. Maybe allowing oneself to get drawn into it would prevent one from working on anything else. Nevertheless, it is the chief question to which I would like a genuine Scholastic answer.

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    2. There is another form of genocide taking place, Genocide by Deracination, i.e. existential genocide. I lay it out in this article that is written to Catholic methodology of the seamless use of Scripture and Philosophy. https://www.academia.edu/14904951/The_Tower_of_Babel

      The first thing that a philosopher is, is one who is Obedient to the Logos embedded in the Natural Order. A true philosopher is one who is a cosmopolitan--one who is obedient to the Natural Law; one who is obedient to the politiea of the cosmos. The Natural Law teaches the same thing as Scripture because they both have the same source, Jesus Christ.

      What we are witnessing here in America is Genocide by Ethnic Dilution, Genocide by Deracination (i.e. saying that [a] there is no such thing as race, [b] calling something racist, [c] calling a person racist, [d] labeling 'racism' as evil.) and Genocide by suppression of culture--the destruction of Confederate monuments and the removal of Confederate names.

      Does not a true philosopher, call for obedience to the Logos? What's going on?

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    3. W. Lindsay WheelerApril 4, 2017 at 4:16 PM

      We are surrounded by death, treason and genocide, and what we are discussing on this thread is ---- How many angels can dance on the head of a pin!

      What good is scholasticism if it can't even address the issues of the real world? Yes, We will discuss how many angels dance on the head of pin, while Rome burns!

      Talk about useless.

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    4. I agree with you about the political and social crisis of the world today. However, discussion of Scholastic philosophy is not irrelevant or useless. Practically all the terrible political and social errors of today were introduced using philosophy - bad philosophy - to justify them. None of it would have been possible if true scholastic philosophy had not been abandoned. The answer is Thomistic realism and the rejection root and branch of all the modern bourgeois philosophies, from Descartes to the so-called analytical philosophers. What man does with his hands is in his mind first!

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  42. I have a question.
    Act and potency is a complete division of being....
    How do we show act and potency are real features of the world and not merely handy tools for explaining things like change, becoming, composition...?

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  43. Dear Prof. Feser,



    I too, have a question about logic and metaphysics. Garrigou-Lagrange in his book “Reality” explains that Thomism is based on the logical and metaphysical principle of [non-]contradiction.



    But Prof Graham Priest has written an extremely interesting article about Buddhist logic that challenges the A-T principle of contradiction. I don’t know if this is a good comparison, but I was reminded of Euclidean geometry: until the 19th c everyone thought it was totally sound and complete, until non-Euclidean geometries were discovered.



    I am not qualified to interpret the challenge of Buddhist logic, but it seems formidable. Would you please comment?



    Thank you.



    https://aeon.co/essays/the-logic-of-buddhist-philosophy-goes-beyond-simple-truth

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    1. I think the comparisons he makes between Madhyamika and other issues a little tendentious. The heart of the Madhyamika system is that discursive reason, when used for metaphysics, fails. Essentially, as the Buddha himself had said, there are four positions on questions like the existence of substance/atman: affirmation, negation, both affirmation and negation, and neither affirmation nor negation. The Madhyamika position is each of these views, on all the major philosophical/theological issues that preoccupied the schools of Indian philosophy, is beset with problems. The end point is to dispense with discursive reason, whose concepts are seen as the fuel of ignorance and suffering. It is more or less a sceptical position so far as discursive reason is concerned, but affirms knowledge, through intellectual intuition, of a transcendent, divine, non-dual reality - nirvana- not all that different from the advaita Brahman, Tao, or or Platonic One.

      I don't know it is quite correct to say Buddhists allow contradiction in their logic. And, of course, what matters is the soundness of arguments against things like substance or causation. I would think an Aristotelian, for example, would question them.

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    2. Also, one has to be careful what one means when one talks about Buddhist logic. There is the Abhidharma classification of the elements (dharma) of empirical existence. This is more like Buddhist psychology. Then there is the Madhyamika, which is a philosophy (or as close as the radically apophatic Buddhism can get to philosophy), which affirms the relativity of the dharmas or elements, as against some Hinyana systems that seem to see them in a quasi-realist way. And then there is Buddhist logic itself, developed by the Yogacara (who are influenced by the Madhyamika system but affirming consciousness as non-dual ground of relatively, as opposed to the orthodox Madhyamika reluctance to equate sunyata with anything in the phenomenal world), which is a merging of the Nyaya logic with Buddhist theory of elements. That author doesn't seem to pay much attention to this kind of Buddhist logic.

      Interestingly, in the Buddhist syllogism, like the Nyaya one, form alone is not enough to guarantee the validity of a syllogism.

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    3. Interesting comments. I haven't explored this topic thoroughly and it seems that a non-expert cannot really even identify the most pertinent questions to start with, that's why I ask.

      In addition to the theory of four or five truth relations, talking about the ineffable inevitably makes me think of Aquinas' theory of analogy, and of his stance that natural reason by itself can only discover rather what we don't know about God than what we can positively know of Him.

      This is a different topic, but there is the remarkable claim by Nagarjuna that, put in western terms, seems to deny essence, or nature itself. Again, I am not qualified even accurately to restate his position, let alone to challenge it. But since (a) he is a thinker deserving serious attention and (b) his position challenges A-T, it seems worth exploring.

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    4. In a sense, that is precisely the meaning of the ineffability in question. It is the apophatic approach to knowledge of the ultimate reality. It is just Buddhism is radically apophatic.

      I'm not sure if Nagarjuna himself made that argument. He was mostly concerned with those Buddhists who seemed to give a realist interpretation to the Buddhist dharmas or elements. But his method was quite naturally used against other Indian sects, such as those who affirmed the existence of substance or that causes contain or prefigure their effects. But it must be remembered the Madhyamika also argued against the contrary of positions like this. They also pointed out what they saw as fatal flaws in the denial of substance/atman and causation.

      I agree that there may be some interest for classical theists in the West to explore Madhyamika philosophy. Nagarjuna, alongside Shamkara, is one of the towering giants of Indian thought.

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  44. Prof. Feser,

    Long time lurker, first time poster. To make a long story short, I want to thank you for playing a key role in my return to the Catholic faith after several years of being, basically, an apathetic deist.

    As for a comment, I'd love it if you wrote more "metaphysics of music" posts like the one you wrote about Thelonious Monk however long ago. As a professional jazz trumpeter and composer, that article really changed how I view jazz (and music) as a whole.

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    1. Many thanks, dcx -- that means a lot! I will make a point of writing more such posts (which I especially enjoy doing).

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  45. In the Modern Biology and Original Sin post on this blog we read that the “...penalty of original sin was a privation, not a positive harm inflicted on human beings but rather the absence of a benefit they never had a right or strict need for in the first place”... “The penalty was the loss of the supernatural gifts they had been given and that their descendants would have been  given, and a fall back into their merely natural state, with all its limitations”... “This is the situation Adam, Eve, and their descendants would have been in had God left the human race in its purely natural state”.
    However nowhere does St. Thomas Aquinas seem to refer to the consequences of original sin as non-positive damage. Instead he uses the terms wounding, corruption etc. St. Thomas terms it an habitus. There is also something very strange about the idea that Adam and his descendants might “fall back” into or "be left in" their merely natural state, as if this state - which has always been called man after the fall, could have existed chronologically before the fall at some stage. But man was created in the state of justice. Is there something missing here? 


    This section of the Summa seems at odds with the post:   http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum222.htm :
    “Whether weakness, ignorance, malice and concupiscence are suitably reckoned as the wounds of nature consequent upon sin?” His reply “...all the powers of the soul are left, as it were, destitute of their proper order, whereby they are naturally directed to virtue; which destitution is called a wounding of nature” ... “Accordingly these are the four wounds inflicted on the whole of human nature as a result of our first parent's sin.”

    On whether the benefits of original justice were needed or not, he also differs.
    “...we must observe that the form of man which is the rational soul, in respect of its incorruptibility is adapted to its end, which is everlasting happiness: whereas the human body, which is corruptible, considered in respect of its nature, is, in a way, adapted to its form, and, in another way, it is not...”  “But God, to Whom every nature is subject, in forming man supplied the defect of nature, and by the gift of original justice, gave the body a certain incorruptibility, as was stated in the FP, Q[97], A[1]. It is in this sense that it is said that "God made not death," and that death is the punishment of sin.”
    As St. Thomas says elsewhere, quoting the Old Testament, God made man right. In saying that the human body is in a way not adapted to its form, and that in order to “make man right”, God remedied the defect of nature, he implies that the benefits of original justice did in fact correspond to a kind of need.
    The analogy in the post about the vinyard is so far from what St. Thomas has to say on the subject. On one had we have the terms used in this section and many others in the Summa. On the other, it would seem that all that the only not so cheerful thing passed on to us by our First Parents is an empty Christmas stocking.

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  46. Miguel, the way I understand it is that f ma were simply "like the animals", the corruptibility and the conditions of weakness, ignorance, and concupiscence would not be counted as wounding at all, they are just the natural conditions of animals. Whereas, because man is called by his rational nature to know and adhere to Being Itself, the one highest good apprehended in Himself as such, corruptibility and ignorance are in a sense unnatural to man, as distinctly unfitting to man. In another sense, of course, ACTUALLY knowing God as He is in Himself, (not through creatures) is beyond human nature because it is natural only to God Himself, it is beyond the capacity of any created nature. Hence, what is "natural" to man (in a very odd sense) is that God raise man above his natural (created) limits to the conditions in which apprehending Him as He is in Himself is possible - the state of sanctifying grace in which God Himself inhabits the soul (there's your habitus), along with another gift as being specially fitting to that condition: original justice, in which his lower faculties are raised up beyond their "animal-like" conditions so that they conform to incorruptibility and non-concupiscence and so on. And in that condition, man's lower faculties are fittingly suited to the state of grace, which state is the only state in which man can attain his proper (but supernatural) end.

    The loss of original justice is the loss of a fitting gift that is in one sense beyond man's nature, while in another sense right with man's nature. Compared to the end, the "lack" of non-concupiscence is indeed a wounding, but compared to animals it is merely a non-gift.

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    1. Hello. The habitus to which St. Thomas was referring was the state of disorder and wounding he sees in fallen man. He talks about positive and non positive habitus and makes it clear which kind this is. I don't think St. Thomas believes the faculties which have been impaired are animal faculties, and original justice is not the raising of an animal to a higher state, nor is our present state that of an animal however irrationally we behave at times.

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    2. Miguel, I fear I must have failed to explain myself if you think I was referring to "animal faculties" full stop, or that original justice raised up an animal to a higher state. Sorry about that. Not sure I can do a lot better, but...

      Man is a strange creature in that God gave him an ultimate end - to know God as He is in Himself - that cannot be obtained via natural powers, i.e. through powers that inhere in the nature of man. Hence, God by design but not by nature intended for man to be imbued with those supernatural aids whereby he would be able to act for his end properly: sanctifying grace. In a sense, then, by design but not by nature man is intended to have sanctifying grace, he ought to have it, and if he fails to have it he is wounded in being unable to direct his actions to his proper end. The disorder in his will in being unable to act out of charity is coordinate with the ancillary disorders of his not having the fitting but not-by-nature gifts of original justice in which ordered his lower (hence "animal" but not animal simply) faculties to his higher. Thus concupiscence is a disorder in man in the sense of contrary to God's design that man have the gifts stated but not constituting a loss of what was NATURAL to man.

      Any talk of man in his "merely natural state", with all its limitations but also without any history of sin is a a purely hypothetical consideration, because God never intended to allow man to exist in his purely natural state without the supernatural gifts and their fitting accompaniment in the preternatural gifts - both of which exceed nature, and so the only way one could ever find men without those gifts would be where sin had occurred. That is, we could NOT ever have found natural ungifted men that existed chronologically before the fall at some stage, given God's fixed design to elevate men by the gifts so he could act properly for his end, a design which would never leave man bereft of those aids except by Adam's sinful rejection of them.

      I think that the critical phrase in the St. Thomas quote you gave is "destitute of their proper order, whereby they are naturally directed to virtue"

      In man, all virtue is coordinate to the one most essential of the virtues, charity, and there can be no true virtue where there is no charity (see ST, Ia IIae, Q 65, A2). But charity can only exist where there is the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace, and the proper (ultimate) ordering of all the acts and thus all the virtues to God is an ordering that reflects and could only ever exist with the supernatural gifts, not in any (hypothetical) state of nature. And so when Thomas speaks of the "natural" ordering he means the ordering that man's nature CALLS for but does not (by itself) give, an ordering that is GIVEN only by gifts over and above his nature.

      At least, that's the sense I had of what St. Thomas said.

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    3. Thanks very much for your comment Tony. Fair enough - but I'm right back where I started as far as the contradictions between the Modern Biology post and Thomas Aquinas are concerned.

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    4. Nowhere does the Church or St. Thomas characterise the whole original sin drama as the arrival of "ungifted man". The refusal of this comment to address directly the contradictions I have mentioned makes me more and more troubled. My initial thoughts are confirmed.

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  47. Does anyone have any suggestions on what one might say to an ex-Catholic who claims that his disdain for the faith started at age seven, when his sister died in an accident and he was told that it was "God's plan"? It seems to me that most of his trouble came from the dual problems of the implication that 1)God had "murdered" his sister and 2)being mentally tormented by the worry that she might have been in Hell.

    Just off the cuff, he also mentioned that his family were lapsed Catholics who didn't mind if their son skipped Mass to play videogames, so it's quite possible that he was taught a false idea of the faith by people who didn't know how to properly respond to suffering.

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    1. When someone is bound to resentment, there's nothing you can say by way of argument that will be effective and you are just casting pearls. Prayer, good example, and suffering and sacrifice are your main tools.

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    2. One of the consequences of A-T is that God is blamed for killing people. A-T leads to a corrosive spirituality and that is why I and many others reject it. A-T was first promoted by Muslim, who are functional fatalists in their theology. Many Catholics are functional fatalists as well. This is why Catholicism says that Muslims and Catholics worship the same God. So the only way to help people is to show that Catholics and Muslims worship a false god, and this is NOT the God of the Bible.

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    3. What? How is God being blamed for killing people at all a consequence of A-T philosophy?

      A-T realism and the primacy of the intellect lead to the exact opposite tendency of Islamic voluntarism which is the cornerstone of many Protestant sects. After all, Catholics hold that works are involved in salvation...something unecessary for those Protestants and Muslims that believe that their own will is solely moved by God. In light of the focus on good works by Catholics, please explain/justify your ridiculous assertion that Catholics are in some way Islamically fatal in their outlook and actions.

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    4. Cantus,

      God does not will anyone to hell or to die. He creates the laws of nature so that the consequences of our free will are actual consequences, for others as well as ourselves. This woman's death was the consequence of nature (if accidental) or of man (if intentional), and not God. The suffering and misery found in the world are the price we pay for free will (and potential salvation).

      Scott W. is probably right though, it does seem like the raw power of emotions and long held misconceptions usually win in these scenarios, but I myself came back from a lapsed state because of rational explanation of the truth (much of it, Dr Feser's, thanks Ed).

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    5. Given that your probably is 1)resentful and 2)ill catechised and that both of these go hand in hand, in my humble opinion you should do both. Gently explain what is true in the right circumstances in the right way. But lot's of prayer and good example is warranted as well. Seems both the intellect and will need a remedy. Peace

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  48. If we "have" natural rights, how do we "have" them?

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    1. "MazzMarch 30, 2017 at 8:32 AM

      If we "have" natural rights, how do we "have" them?"


      The same way you have any other right or rights; within a context of assumed law, and by inference.

      What you "have" in the manner you indicate when you bracket the term "have" is natural powers.

      Hobbes I am informed, was the first to try and establish a "natural right" independent of a context of natural law or individual teleology.

      Didn't work: a fake anthropology shaping a defective surmise.

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    2. No offense, I think that is an unsatisfactory answer.

      It seems to me that I "have" positive rights only when those rights are actually enforceable. By enforceable I mean (a) violations of those "rights" are punishable, or (b) some power can compel someone to "respect my rights" (e.g. specific performance).

      Positive rights, I think, can fairly be said to be accidentally possessed, and that they are of the nature of a relationship. However, I don't see how the potential for that "relationship" is "actualized" by anything other than the existence of (a) an actual law and (b) an enforcement mechanism wielded by a legitimate authority. (What I’m getting at is that we have extant ancient written laws that aren’t enforced anywhere because they have either been abrogated, or derive from a sovereign not our own, traditionally or otherwise).

      Natural rights, on the other hand, flowing from natural law, are what? A relationship between you, the law, and other persons? How is that relationship a “real” relationship sans an enforcement mechanism (regardless of whether the enforcement mechanism is applied, or imperfect)?

      Let’s say A makes a promise to B, but then breaks that promise to B. Is “A” guilty of violating a right possessed by B because A is breaking a promise? At law, courts enforce some promises (contracts), but not others (illegal contracts, simply promises). And contracts are enforced as they are taken to create private rights between individuals against each other. But promises aren’t so held.

      It’s doubtful a court in most countries would enforce the following promise: A promises B via e-mail to swing by next Saturday to help B move out of B’s apartment. (A and B are friends).

      A court in most countries will likely enforce the following: A promises to buy B’s home for $250k.

      What’s the difference? What creates the “right” in the latter example? The only difference I can see (other than degree) is that the latter example involves an enforcement mechanism, or at least an authority that sees and can correct injustices (such as detrimental reliance).

      So when it comes to natural rights, why is the moral wrongness of murder necessarily tied to a “right”? How is that “right” made real outside of the implementation of a positive law creating that right in such a way that the right has actual force (e.g. is enforceable and is enforced)?

      Here’s another difficulty: do we have a natural right to private property? If so, do infants have an actual right to private property, or is it a potential right? If potential, how is that right actualized?

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    3. I think at several points here you are going too quickly.

      (1) E.g., a natural law account of law (and thus rights as a result of them) involves the rejection of the claim that law depends on sanction or compulsion; the claim that rights require the latter is a positivist rather than a natural law account of rights. On a natural law account, of course, laws and rights depend on reason, not compulsion. This gets into more fundamental questions than you are asking.

      But it also seems to be an error to assume that reason has no power to enforce at all; obviously it does, even if one regards it as a very limited enforcement power.

      (2) On your promise/contract example -- it's also a standard natural law view that immoral promises have no force -- this follows directly from the natural law account of obligation, which requires consistency with common good. Human courts, not being pervasive like reason itself is, are, however, limited in what they can address; no human court is competent to evaluate every kind of promise-breaking, even if we could trust a human court with that kind of jurisdiction, which we quite reasonably don't.

      (3) Claims of a natural right to private property, simply speaking, are not actually common among natural law theorists.

      So a number of your questions seem really to spring from a point upstream. rather than at the level you are asking them.

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    4. Brandon,

      Yes, you instantly noticed that the discussion was not only prone to going immediately off the rails, but did so.

      Mazz's scant initial framing, and bracketing of the possessive transitive verb makes it predictable.

      But, as we notice, his definition of satisfactorily having a so-called 'right', ultimately builds on the same substrate conceptual category of 'possessing a power', as does the natural law version. It simply anchors the power in a different context. The difference being that in the natural law case, one infers a behavioral right based on an individual's ability to ordinately exercise a natural power absent undue interference (what Obama calls a negative liberty); whereas Mazz, embracing positivism out of the box, defines "having" a right in terms of a socially validated and assisted exercise of power or coercion; rather, than as previously stated, as an ordinate claim - a right - to naturally exercise a personal power.

      In the case of the natural law, it would make sense to say that someone had a right to breathe without physical interference by another regardless of the absence of statutes of precedents. What a positivist would say, if I smothered his grandmother outside of any known jurisdiction, is less obvious.

      What is therefore interesting about the radical positive rights schema, is that the so-called 'right' there suffers from the same (and redounding) potential positivist objection to it's real-ization as does the natural law right: for example if no one can be found to enforce the paper the positive right is written on.

      I say to Joe Schmoe, your judge Blowhard's writ doesn't run here ... stuff it; I am keeping your cattle. And then, if I can kill all of judge Blowhard's emissaries who try and help Schmoe get his cattle back, then we must - if we take positivism seriously - conclude that Schmoe really "has" no right to them.

      And of course rights like "gay rights" exist only de novo, birthed out of thin air or from the mere appetites of the desiring; and never as universal moral revelations or objective advancements. They exist as mere transformations and have no intrinsic moral value one way or another. And as such are only rights until they are successfully suppressed; rights then, only until the paper they are written on, is burned, or successfully ignored.

      A proponent may say of a new right that it's an 'evolution' but if so, it's the kind of evolution that can be undone just as easily and as well, and in principle as 'justly' as it can be done up in the first place.

      It's just a permission of and enabling by power; in the particular positive law case, of some collection of presumptively titled persons, or those purporting to speak for them.

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    5. DNW, can you tease out a little more what you mean by what I think is your definition of a right:. "an ordinate claim - a right - to naturally exercise a personal power."

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    6. It's probably not necessary to explain the meaning of the term "personal power". Or, it probably would not be if we were operating off of the same set of initial anthropological assumptions. Which I admit we are probably not.


      Nonetheless, assuming for the moment we are not going down the road which sees all manifestations of the individual's activities as associatively oriented, enabled, or occasioned, and therefore somehow as socially liable all the way down, the residual question is what is meant by 'ordinate' claim and use.

      And thus, given that we are, in the instance of natural law as classically understood, necessarily in the realm of a teleological worldview and interpretive schema, the idea of 'ordinate' should come into focus pretty clearly.

      Now, if you find any mention of natural ends or intentions in law difficult to process (and even Herbert Hart admitted they were a necessary element for making sense of the law) then what is left is of course not much more than command and force and some platitudinous mumbo jumbo tinsel about rule-making apart from ends.

      However, the extreme legal positivist's position, as well as leading to absurd and incoherent intellectual positions, is, as I earlier pointed out, susceptible to impeachment on its own assumptions: as right and law are reduced either to empty formalities or power relations alone; and there are no objective grounds outside the system for deciding which or either or both are necessary in order to have a 'real' law or real right.

      If the powers to which social law refers as arbiters of validity do not stand in some way outside of the process itself, then the system is simply a self-referential domain in which anything may go.

      If you try to escape this by saying [as per, say Roscoe Pound during his positivist phase] that the point of the law is the preservation of the system itself i.e., society, one can simply ask: why it is that that society should be preserved? The social end conceived of as the preservation of a reified entity, doesn't work. The lower level of preserving "society", that is of preserving the field of associations for individuals, takes us outside of the system in order to justify the system. Something most modern progressives resist doing: even if Marx himself subhuman shitbag that he was, duly (in this case) warned against hypostatizing "society".



      Nothing like the pure command theory of law eh:

      You have the right to keep your mouth shut.

      You are commanded by authority to jump 7 feet vertically whenever you hear the word "special".

      That which is not forbidden is permitted, but it is forbidden that you do anything which is not explicitly permitted. Ignorance of the complete contents of the Federal Register in its weekly emendations, is no excuse.

      As Brandon has pointed out though, your domain of focus is considerably downstream of the historical natural law's conception of "having".

      Obviously we cannot really define terms in a mutually acceptable manner until we arrive at at least some agreement on first principles.

      On my view, probably also on the view of leftists, and even of legal positivists if only implicitly, this entails at least some agreed upon anthropology.

      Otherwise we do not even know we are talking about the same object.

      And it is pretty clear that when one is talking law and rights with leftists or positivists, that the reason it is so difficult to decide what rights are had, and what law is just, is because we are talking about different kinds of presumed objects, i.e, entities subject to the law, without admitting it.

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    7. @ Brandon (if you're still reading), all your points on my initial post are fair, and I'll address them eventually (hopefully). I didn't come here to peddle an idea, but to work something out.

      @ DNW

      (1) You think I'm a positivist for asking a question, and expressing some difficulties, regardless of how well expressed, that I see with natural rights theory. I'm not a positivist, or a legal positivist.

      (2) I've read a good bit of Aristotle, but I'm not familiar with his use of the term "ordinate", or St. Thomas Aquinas' use of that term. So "ordinate claim" or "ordinate use" makes zero sense to me from my limited understanding of Aristotle and Aquinas.

      (3) Do you think we have "rights" absolutely? Rights, seem (and I'll say it again) to be a relationship. (I'm not sure if you're familiar with Aristotle's categories, they can be found in his book "The Categories"). If "possessing a right" cannot more generally be said to be "possessing a relationship", then what is it? Are we possessing a substance? Clearly not. A quantity (which the term "ordinate" ordinarily deals with)? Clearly not. Is a right a place, a time, an affect, or an action? Is it a posture of some sort? I don't think you'd say it was any of these things, or any other accidental being other than that of a "relationship". So, insofar as my thinking is concerned at this moment, it must be a sort of relationship.

      (4) Let's pretend that Adam and Eve existed (something I happen to believe). Before Eve's creation, did Adam have natural rights? I'm curious as to what you think about that. Because unless you want to argue that, given a Catholic understanding of God, Adam had rights as against God, I don't see how Adam could have had "natural rights" as we understand them. Or Robinson Crusoe on Thursday, for that matter.

      (5) Lastly, just because one possesses an obligation not to, say, murder, does not mean that the person he does not murder has some sort of "natural right" to life. Think about it, we'd say more often "you have no right to kill me!" And maybe rarely, "I have a right not to die!"

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    8. Hi Mazz,

      No, I do not assume that you are a positivist for asking a question.

      But there are a limited number of options when it comes to analyzing how one "has" a right. And the first distinction, I would take it, is between intrinsically, and extrinsically. Though leftists with collectivist species-being anthropologies would probably dispute that binary approach

      My reading of Aristotle has been selective; if protracted and in some cases repeated. What comes to mind is that I have been through De Interpretatione, The Topics, Prior and Posterior Analytics, Metaphysics, Politics, and Nichomachean Ethics.

      The Categories was covered in class room work in a general fashion; but I spent no more than half a semester on Aristotle exclusively. Nonetheless many of the same themes and formulations were covered in Scholastic Metaphysics, and Medieval Philosophy.

      So, though I have some background in this area I am still unable to relate your point, or your question relating to "having" a right, to Aristotle's Categories with any definiteness which would clearly bear on the law. Though, in reviewing the categories in order to try and figure out your angle of approach on this I note that recent descriptions of # 8 substitute "having" for habitus; though I am not certain that "to have" in the sense of being shod, helps much in understanding how one has a right as an inference from his nature: in which case category #3 would seem to be most useful.

      My views on the nature of rights and law have been shaped more by studying the debates between Lon Fuller and Herbert Hart, and the writings of postivists , logical and otherwise,[some Austin, some Kelsen] than Aristotle, Aquinas, or Suarez.

      Just so you know where I am coming from ...

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  49. Here is a very basic question in Thomist metaphysics and the nature of "form" that keeps me confused. If I can get clarification on this, it would be enormously helpful.

    Suppose that in the future, we develop the ability to build things up atom-by-atom. Suppose that we then build up -- atom-by-atom -- an amoeba, starting from just the inorganic atoms themselves. Would the amoeba then be alive, and would it act like an ordinary amoeba?

    If the answer is no, then why on earth not? Everything we know about biochemistry, microbiology, etc., suggests that when atoms are put in these particular configurations, then just by acting on their own natures, they cause an amoeba to exist and act.

    If the answer is yes, then how is Thomism different from reductionism?

    Thank you!

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    1. The answer is yes, but things dependent on matter for their being can act independently of matter in some aspect of their function, since there is more than just a material cause.

      A thing is not reducible to its matter, and even if it were, matter is dependent on prime matter and substantial form.

      What might need further research is the area of the virtually present constituents of a living thing, and issues of rapprochement with modern physics and biology. Though these issues are not essential but nevertheless useful to your question.

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    2. Thank you, PM!

      Two follow-up questions, if you don't mind.

      You say that things can act independently of their matter. Where does that fit in the picture with modern physics, since anything that the thing does (once in its configuration) will presumably be not only consistent with those laws, but (in principle) predicted by them? Or is that not the case?

      And second, is the "formal cause" of the amoeba essentially the same thing as the configuration of its atoms? Or is there more to it than that?

      Thank you.

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    3. unfortunately I am quite busy at the moment. It is also a question I need to read up on a little bit more myself.

      The problem is that this question intersects metaphysics, natural philosophy and modern science all at once.

      1. Yes the form needs to retain its disposition, for by corruption it ceases to be the thing it is.

      2.No, it is more than that. The formal cause must be understood as a metaphysical concept that links as first act related to and coming into existence as actualizing and perfecting prime matter.

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  50. Hi Dr. Feser,

    I wonder if you (and/or others) would not mind commenting on a cosmological argument I've been working on, which takes the notion of a 'brute fact' as its point of departure. Link is at the bottom, but the argument goes as follows:

    1) If appeals to brute facts are ever justifiable, then they are justifiable only in cases where there is in principle no possibility of explanation.
    2) But there is a possible explanation for the existence of the universe, namely, God.
    3) Hence, it is not justifiable to appeal to a brute fact as an explanation for the existence of the universe.

    In defense of premise 1, consider that unless we have a reason to justify appealing to a brute fact to explain some desired phenomena, we could arbitrarily appeal to brute facts as an explanation for anything. What’s to stop one from doing so? Why not simply say that it is just a brute fact that the Principle of Sufficient Reason is true — in which case there could be no such thing as a brute fact?

    One could push the above argument further, in the direction of a cosmological argument:

    4) Hence, the existence of the universe requires a cause.
    5) The cause of the existence of the universe cannot be the universe itself, since causa sui is false.
    6) Hence, the cause of the existence of the universe must be extrinsic — that is, ontologically prior — to the universe.

    PS: The "possible explanation" of P2 does not even need to be God at this point of the argument.

    https://medium.com/@Analogia_Entis/brute-facts-and-a-cosmological-argument-950c2f157f72

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    1. Hi Paulo,

      The key premise in your argument is premise 2: But there is a possible explanation for the existence of the universe, namely, God.

      It all depends on what you mean by "possible." Do you mean:

      (a) it is conceivable (epistemically possible, or possible for all we know) that there is an explanation for the existence of the universe; or

      (b) it is logically possible (i.e not logically impossible) that there is an explanation for the existence of the universe; or

      (c) it is metaphysically possible (or possible in reality) that there is an explanation for the existence of the universe?

      Only (c) warrants the conclusion that there is a God. However, a skeptic would reply that all we can say about the universe is (a): for all we know, it might have an explanation. Perhaps we could make a case for (b), insofar as there appears to be no obvious absurdity in supposing that there is an explanation for its existence. But how on earth does one get to (c)?

      Thomists typically fall back on the essence-and-existence argument at this point - an argument which other Scholastic philosophers have criticized. The fact that I can know what something is without knowing whether it exists doesn't prove that "what it is" is distinct from its existence; it merely proves that "what" is not the same as "whether."

      My own method of getting to (c) is to pose the following questions: (i) do things in this universe possess purely descriptive properties or do they also possess prescriptive properties? (ii) does it make sense to impute prescriptive properties to a thing with no "good-of-its-own" (e.g. a quark)? I'd argue for (i) on the grounds that if there are no prescriptive properties, we have no justification for expecting the laws of Nature to hold in the future. As for (ii), I can see how it makes sense to say what a living thing "ought" to be, but the only way one could impute "oughty" (prescriptive) properties to non-living things is to suppose that they embody rules, because they were designed by a Transcendental Rule-maker. But if anyone has a better argument, I'm all ears.

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    2. The fact that I can know what something is without knowing whether it exists doesn't prove that "what it is" is distinct from its existence

      If you not what the thing is but need not include its existing necessarily then existing is not a necessary part of the nature of the thing in question; and to be sure, there is nothing in modern physics that needs to exist, except relative to and as explanation of other things actually existing.

      Atomic and sub-atomic particles like electrons and quarks are highly composite beings. They have a material-corporeal aspect and also an electromagnetic aspect that makes them alterable (at least potentially) from contact with other bodies or by exposure to EM forces or fields. Indeed, it's the EM aspect of atomic and sub-atomic particles that seems to be the most important and almost principle if not formal cause of their existence because it is these forces that are necessary for atomic being as understood by chemistry: take away the strong force and the atoms would presumably be destroyed as electrons and protons would rapidly and powerfully collide.

      I think one of the most interesting questions and areas of study in physics right now is electromagnetic fields as they seem to be what gives form, structure and order to the atomic and sub-atomic universe.

      Personally though, I am not satisfied with atomism. I do not believe atomism can or even in principle could (at least in its present form) explain life much less mind or will. The scientific account of color right now is also curious and is a good place to start to see some of the problems science has with even basic, mundane things like color (as near as I can tell the modern scientific account of color just begs the question, trying to deny the reality of color as inhering in anything actually but also explaining it by its actual inherence in some part or other of the eye).

      I would also add that while we are great at explaining things mechanically as to how something works we don't always give account of the actuality; seeing is not the eye nor the mechanical operations of the eye, for example. While sight is certain an effect of the corporeal and material operations of the eye, it is not the same thing as the eye or its operations.

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  51. I'm interested in links to, or a summary of, an AT response to utilitarianism, specifically rules utilitarianism.

    For example, do all forms of utilitarianism commit the naturalistic fallacy (and how does AT avoid it)?

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  52. Hi Ed,

    Thanks for the open thread! Here is my question:

    When doing apologetics one on one regarding marriage, is it best to cut the snake off at the head and tackle the issue of sodomy, or should we try and separate the immorality of sodomy from same-sex marriage (like George, Anderson, and Girgis do) and stick with arguments about the purpose of marriage? Thanks

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    1. Would you not be much better dealing with the positive argument for the ends of marriage (the openness to creating and raising of children) and the unitive and procreative function of marriage. Sodomy is only indirectly relevant as the absence of the final ends and purpose. Also, you want people to know the issue isn't your distaste at some action but rather the broadening of a definition that empties the thing of its meaning and is thus harmful to a caring and merciful society. People err in their sexual actions, but that isn't the crux of the argument since in the end you want them to receive mercy, rather than justice if possible.

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    2. Prime Matter

      Thanks for the thoughtful response!
      I am actually pretty open to either approach. I have listened to many talks by Anderson, George, and Girgis on this topic and it always seems that they end up saying something like: "people should be allowed to live and love as they choose" when the person on the other side questions their motivations etc. which to me is a false statement, even if made for convenience sake.

      Personally, I think the reasoning on marriage of many opposite sex attracked people goes like this: "I and the culture at large engages in masturbation and sterile sex, whether be oral or anal, both inside of and outside of marriage. If I am doing that then why should I be against someone doing essentially the same acts but with someone of the same sex? I am married and my marriage is almost completely sterile, what is wrong if theirs is? I would be hypocritical if I was against same sex marriage."

      At the root of the problem, I think, is sexual immorality, people's agnosticism on sexual ethics.

      Also, I would see the fraternal correction of someone on sexual ethics as an act of mercy, not justice.

      For me, the question is: Is tackling sodomy in the marriage debate too big of a chunk to bite off in any apologetical conversation. What is most likely to have the greatest chance of success? Although that is just for the marriage discussion. If we don't go deeper than that and have a cultural change in sexual ethics, things like same sex marriage, abortion, single parenting, divorce etc will always be here.

      Perhaps the we should skip the marriage debate all together and focus on sexual ethics? (probably not a good option)
      Or, we could do both (which might be too big of a task in any one conversation)
      Or, we can (just like debating same sex marriage and abortion) do both, but in separate conversations.

      Sorry if that is too much, but I would for sure like to hear your thoughts on this.

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    3. I forgot to finish a point in my previous post!

      "reasoning on marriage of many opposite sex attracked people goes like this:....."

      These are the reasons why the majority is often in favour of same sex marriage. They see no difference in the sexual practices of opposite sex attracted and same sex attracted people and thus no difference in the marital relationships.

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    4. Another thing. (will be my last before you respond!)

      One could possibly take the position that if people's perceptions on marriage become more traditional (through just being taught about the nature and purpose of marriage and not the sexual immorality of sodomy)then, like becoming pro-life on the issue of abortion, that could be a gateway to a more traditional sexual ethics and conversion to the Faith. Thoughts on this?

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    5. Kyle, I would think that if apologetics is your primary objective, sexual ethics and marriage ethics is way, way down on the list of topics to cover. Given our cultural degeneracy, most people need to have a far better reason to credit even the possibility of the Church being a font of truth and wisdom than "is it's position on sex defensible". For one thing, it's position on sex really makes much more sense from a wholistic perspective of the human person, which includes his ultimate orientation to God, and his derivative orientation to the love of other persons in communities of love. (And, eventually, explains why sexual love is designed to be fruitful.) I would think that only AFTER a person is at least inclined to think "hey, the Church really was established by God to be a source of grace and protector of truth" would it be time to tackle the Church's perspective on sexual ethics. In order for a typical person to take seriously something that is SO FAR opposed to the common culture, he needs a strong motive of belief outside of the specific arguments the Church uses, to offset the built-in skepticism that his worldly view will generate.

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    6. I think sexual ethics is low down the list and counterproductive in most cases, and I think theology is almost completely off the table.

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    7. Tony and Prime Matter,

      Just for clarity, are you guys saying that George et al have embarked on a failed enterprise?

      If a "none" or agnostic/athiest person comes to me and asks: "Kyle, how are you against gay marriage?"

      What should I do? First attempt to explain the purpose of marriage and/or the reasoning on sexual ethics? Or go straight to (however far back as is necessary) even arguing for why Catholicism is right or even back to arguing for the existence of God?

      I agree that if the person accepts the Christian God and believes that people are made for God, it would then make much more sense. But I was thinking that marriage and sexual ethics, like abortion which can be argued successfully for on non-religious grounds, could be argued for on rational grounds (although I did already know it was a harder case to make).

      So your view is that while abortion could be approached with reason, the worldview gap is too wide to do the same for sexual ethics and marriage?

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    8. Kyle, there are (potentially) other routes to opposing gay "marriage" than through the Church's formal doctrines. Personally, I would try to determine whether they have the perfectly normal and healthy inward revulsion to sodomy and gay "marriage" (even if they can't justify these to their own minds) and build on that toward a justified revulsion of these things. This would be a pathway to accepting the natural law on the topic even if you don't present it as "the natural law". This could be tied in with a sociological argument that social norms built into 99% of human societies MIGHT reflect something critical to human nature (but probably not call it "nature") and it is highly experimental - and plausibly dangerous - to simply ASSUME that society can embark on repudiating that without harm.

      Even an attempt to argue for "the natural law" as a whole, specifically in order to justify opposition to sodomy and gay marriage, is unlikely to bear fruit if the person isn't already fairly well inclined to embrace the natural law theory.

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    9. Thanks Tony, that helps. I haven't had to converse on this topic, yet, but I want to be prepared when the time comes to share the truth in the most efficacious way possible. God bless!

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    10. I can't say I agree with Tony, although I haven't read the entire thread.
      An appeal to revulsion assumes that the persons would find something unpleasant, which they might not. This argument seems subjective. If you want to go down that line of argumentation I would appeal to the ends and consequences, but I wouldn't encourage this argument necessarily.
      The argument I would use would be to do with the distinction of various types of relationships and their different dynamics based on modern research. I also am concerned about the redefinition of marriage because of how it will affect children, how it is an injustice in regards to a normal relationship with their natural parents and how many in the LGBT lobby only want to redefine marriage so as to use it as a legal hammer to harass anyone who dares to think outside of their worldview. Really if you look into the history of the whole redefinition of marriage the whole thing takes on a very sinister tone. Think about it, did they not have the same status with civil unions already? The claim becomes a bit odd wouldn't you say that they did not have "equality" when you consider that. Also equal dignity and sameness are two different things.

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  53. Hey finally figured out that Barrytown is about 'fear of immigrants'. That only took, like, 30 years.

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  54. Dr. Feser,

    I would like to ask how A-T philosophy views the agent-structure debate among social scientists. In particular, does the idea of emergent social structures seem plausible in an A-T framework?

    I tend to think this question would hinge on the status of 'social structures' as not true substances in their own right. I would greatly appreciate your take on the subject of the plausibility of social science in general.

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    1. Maybe the individual -> family -> regional -> national concept of society and Thomistic Jurisprudence ideas might help you begin an interdisciplinary study of the topic?

      Also the Catholic Church is a community but in some way a unity in Christ and by the Holy Spirit. true this is theological, but the Thomistic tradition contributed to the metaphysical understanding.

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    2. What I mean of course is an understanding of the metaphysics of Catholic ecclesiology is an obvious starting point for a consideration of social structures as substances.

      The Lublin tradition offer more in the way of philosophical anthropology if that is of any use to social sciences? Then of course there are a lot of research papers on the ethics and economics of which a reasonable amount approach the issue from a Thomistic perspective.

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  55. It Came from Outer SpaceApril 2, 2017 at 2:51 AM

    How far are you with your philosophy of nature book and what authors and previous work is there out there on the topic in English (or French)?

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  56. Ed,

    May have already been discussed, but "Disqus" might be an option as a "Comment as: Disqus Account" Not sure if that's feasible.

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  57. Are there any good works relating to Thomism and psychedelic drugs such as LSD (in contrast to drugs like weed which inhibit reason)? I've been in debates with friends and come away feeling like some prejudiced know-nothing on the issue, where the retort is that at least some of these psychedelic drugs do not inhibit reason but just allow you to reason differently/be open to other ideas. As such it does not seem to obviously run aground against the perverted faculty argument and the like. Any thoughts?

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  58. Hi all -

    I appreciate the open thread. I would like to seek a clarification on how the A-T idea of human essence (the soul; the intellect and the will) differs substantially from ID theory. What I've gathered from Ed's writings on ID theory is that it stems from a basic metaphysical misunderstanding of the nature of reality and creation. But if the A-T viewpoint proposes that God is the author of the immaterial soul, does this not constitute God's "interference" in his creation in much the same way that ID theorists claim?

    If it's possible to demonstrate that the mind is, in fact, immaterial, then how can the A-T understanding of the soul avoid devolving into an ID-like theory? It's very probable that I'm missing something basic here, and I'd appreciate any clarification anyone can offer. Thanks.

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    1. ID is not a metaphysical claim despite its cosmological ramifications. It is largely mathematical.
      It is the intellect and reason that are immaterial, not all of what might be termed "mind" because A-T proponents do not deny that the brain has a real and necessary function in human cognition and sense experience. Although even material forms can act with some independence of matter.

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  59. Hello, Ed:

    Have you said or are you going to say anything about transgender as such, since that seems to be the direction which liberal progressivism (because labels are fun) is going next? I'm not a veteran of your work, so if you have made relevant points, please point me to them.

    Thanks,
    Alexander

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  60. f: If it's possible to demonstrate that the mind is, in fact, immaterial, then how can the A-T understanding of the soul avoid devolving into an ID-like theory? It's very probable that I'm missing something basic here, and I'd appreciate any clarification anyone can offer. Thanks.

    What do you take ID to be? For me it's the concepts of irreducible and specified complexity, empirical "design detection" and probabilistic argumentation related thereto. Given the doctrine of divine simplicity, A-T cannot devolve into that.

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  61. In the Modern Biology and Original Sin post on this blog we read that the “...penalty of original sin was a privation, not a positive harm inflicted on human beings but rather the absence of a benefit they never had a right or strict need for in the first place”... “The penalty was the loss of the supernatural gifts they had been given and that their descendants would have been  given, and a fall back into their merely natural state, with all its limitations”... “This is the situation Adam, Eve, and their descendants would have been in had God left the human race in its purely natural state”.
    However nowhere does St. Thomas Aquinas seem to refer to the consequences of original sin as non-positive damage. Instead he uses the terms wounding, corruption etc. St. Thomas terms it an habitus. There is also something very strange about the idea that Adam and his descendants might “fall back” into or "be left in" their merely natural state, as if this state - which has always been called man after the fall, could have existed chronologically before the fall at some stage. But man was created in the state of justice. Is there something missing here? 

    This section of the Summa seems at odds with the post:   http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum222.htm :
    “Whether weakness, ignorance, malice and concupiscence are suitably reckoned as the wounds of nature consequent upon sin?” His reply “...all the powers of the soul are left, as it were, destitute of their proper order, whereby they are naturally directed to virtue; which destitution is called a wounding of nature” ... “Accordingly these are the four wounds inflicted on the whole of human nature as a result of our first parent's sin.”

    On whether the benefits of original justice were needed or not, he also differs.
    “...we must observe that the form of man which is the rational soul, in respect of its incorruptibility is adapted to its end, which is everlasting happiness: whereas the human body, which is corruptible, considered in respect of its nature, is, in a way, adapted to its form, and, in another way, it is not...”  “But God, to Whom every nature is subject, in forming man supplied the defect of nature, and by the gift of original justice, gave the body a certain incorruptibility, as was stated in the FP, Q[97], A[1]. It is in this sense that it is said that "God made not death," and that death is the punishment of sin.”
    As St. Thomas says elsewhere, quoting the Old Testament, God made man right. In saying that the human body is in a way not adapted to its form, and that in order to “make man right”, God remedied the defect of nature, he implies that the benefits of original justice did in fact correspond to a kind of need.
    The analogy in the post about the vinyard is so far from what St. Thomas has to say on the subject. On one had we have the terms used in this section and many others in the Summa. On the other, it would seem that all that the only not so cheerful thing passed on to us by our First Parents is an empty Christmas stocking

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  62. It'd be interesting to see the take on Richard Carrier's attack on Reppert's Argument from Reason

    https://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/reppert.html#afmc

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    1. Thanks for the link. "Argument from reason" is not based on sound reason, rather, a series of false assertions. Carrier does a fine job accounting for 9 propositions on the naturalistic view and then applies those accounts to show how the arguments from reason are thoroughly unsound.

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    2. Well, I can guess how Feser and other Thomists here would respond to some of Carrier's points. His talk of universals as 'patterns', his dependence on cognitive science (with its talk of 'virtual models') his claim that reason is 'just computation', etc. I was hoping for their take on the way Carrier specifically makes his points.

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  63. Dr. Feser,

    I've got a question about death. Melissa Moschella wrote an interesting article in JMP in 2016 in which she argues that "total brain death" is death because it indicates the complete loss of the material basis for the capacity of self-integration and sentience, meaning that the body is no longer suitable for rational ensoulment. But as a Catholic, I can't help but hear the words of Pius XII regarding the neurological criteria for determination of death and cautioning physicians to err on the side of life. Moschella's argument makes sense, but I am not sure if it can sufficiently dispel the arguments against the neurological criteria based on reasonable doubt (the neurological criteria are debated by some within the medical community, albeit a smaller number than those who advocate for it). What are your thoughts on this?

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  64. I’m wondering if anyone here can give me some feedback on some ideas that have crossed my mind that have to do with analogical predication and Jesus

    Here’s the basic thrust of it. When we speak of God properly, we acknowledge that what we say is true analogically and doesn’t apply to God in the same sense that it applies to us. So when I say that God is wise, what I really mean is that God has (or better, is) that which our wise-ness participates in. Whatever Divine wisdom is, it is not simply what we call wisdom multiplied by infinity. Now when I speak of Jesus, if I say that he is wise must I also be speaking analogically? I feel like I’m stuck with saying that Jesus is wise both univocally and analogically at the same time. It doesn’t feel right to say that he was wise univocally in his humanity and wise analogically in his divinity because that seems to tear the hypostatic union in two.

    I guess then that my basic question is what mode of predication do we use when we speak of Jesus as God-man? After that, I wonder what value there is in speaking of those aspects of Jesus that we can rightly speak of univocally. That the man Jesus was kind, wise, passionate, humble, etc. in our senses of the words must mean something (if indeed we can speak of him in those ways). At the least, the humanity of Jesus gives us something to relate to while we are under the limits of an earthly life.

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    1. @ pity,

      St. Augustine and St. Thomas account that Jesus had a human rational soul with a human intellect, as well as having the divine intellect:

      On the contrary, Augustine [Fulgentius] says (De Fide ad Petrum xiv): "Firmly hold and nowise doubt that Christ the Son of God has true flesh and a rational soul of the same kind as ours,...
      Secondly, it is inconsistent with the purpose of Incarnation, which is the justification of man from sin. For the human soul is not capable of sin nor of justifying grace except through the mind. Hence it was especially necessary for the mind to be assumed. Hence Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii, 6) that "the Word of God assumed a body and an intellectual and rational soul,"


      So, I think that in respect of His divine intellect, His wisdom is analogical to ours. In respect of His human intellect, His wisdom is said univocally with ours. It seems strange, but the mysterious hypostatic union keeps them straight.

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    2. I think that my hang-up is probably centered on not having an understanding of what the hypostatic union is. If I’m getting this correctly, then it is ok to speak separately of the God and man aspects of the God-man without necessarily pulling the union apart. Divinity and humanity did not synthesize into some third category that is neither human nor Divine. Instead, they blended into something that is all at once both Divine and human.
      This is hard for me to grasp or even know where to begin. It would seem that something that is both human and Divine would also be neither. But that is blatantly contradictory and leads me to assume that my understanding of any of the terms/factors in play here has not risen above my pre-analytic assumptions. Can someone recommend a good beginner’s resource for understanding the hypostatic union? If the answer is “start with a 101 course in theology and get to this stuff later” then that works too! 

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  65. Matt, you can try St. Thomas's account of the union.

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4002.htm

    Without pretending to speak for Thomas, certain things are clear, even though we cannot claim to comprehend this (it is a mystery, and we shouldn't expect to get too far).

    There is only one subsistence in Christ. Normally, when a human person is generated, there is a human subsistence and a human nature which is the nature of that individual person. (The definition of "person" is "an individual subsistence of a rational nature.") With the generation of Christ's humanity, though, instead of the creation of a new subsistence, Christ's already existing divine subsistence (the second Person of God) took on human nature. Hence Christ is not a human person, he is a divine Person, but in 2 natures.

    The amazing thing about the union is that both natures remain DISTINCT without remaining separated. Christ's human nature is full and complete: a human body and a human soul, with a human mind and will. That will has its proper acts, which are intimately joined to the acts of the Divine will, but distinct.

    Whatever was in the human nature of Christ was moved at the bidding of the Divine will; yet it does not follow that in Christ there was no movement of the will proper to human nature, for the good wills of other saints are moved by God's will, "Who worketh" in them "both to will and to accomplish," as is written Philippians 2:13. For although the will cannot be inwardly moved by any creature, yet it can be moved inwardly by God, as was said in I:105:4. And thus, too, Christ by His human will followed the Divine will according to Psalm 39:9; "That I should do Thy will, O my God, I have desired it." Hence Augustine says (Contra Maxim. ii, 20): "Where the Son says to the Father, 'Not what I will, but what Thou willest,' what do you gain by adding your own words and saying 'He shows that His will was truly subject to His Father,' as if we denied that man's will ought to be subject to God's will?"

    One aspect of this position is important for Christ as our example: it was necessary for Christ to be truly human, in order to set an ideal example for us. If by the union of humanity to the divine He became some other kind of thing, all we could say about his actions is that "they are proper for that sort of entity, but not necessarily for humans." But as he is in his human nature fully and entirely human, with human soul, intellect, will, sense, appetites and passions, his human actions speak directly to proper human behavior.

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  66. Thanks Tony,

    I've got some reading to do! I wasn't aware of the nuances between nature, person, suppositum, hypostasis, etc. I have a dictionary of Scholastic philosophical terms and Dr. Feser's book on Aquinas sitting at home so hopefully I can 'decode' some of the section from the Summa that you linked to.

    I'm just beginning to glimpse the complexities involved with the incarnation. In order to understand what it means for God to become man, you first need to understand what it means for God to be God (something we can never fully do) as well as what it means for us to be human. Then you need to find some way to account for how those two things can become one while retaining the fullness of what they are separately. Quite a task indeed! As one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith, I should have assumed that it would be a very deep well.

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  67. Dear Prof. Feser,

    I have greatly enjoyed reading your blog and your book Philosophy of Mind. I am about to order The Last Superstition. For someone unacquainted with medieval and ancient philosophy and their contemporary "revivals" this is all very fascinating to me.

    But there is one thing that I think you have, perhaps, not explored quite as much as might be warranted, namely the issue of drugs. It seems to me that you offer no justification for the categorical immorality of the use of certain substances. There are several reasons for why I see this as problematic:

    1.There is nothing inherently traditional about an anti-drug attitude. Indeed, banning intoxicating substances is actually a relatively modern phenomenon. And in several cases, it had more to do with the specific users and their background: For example, the laws against opium in late 19th century California were targeted against Chinese immigrants, and the reasons had more to do with economic and labor struggles than the drugs themselves. Same with the "cocaine negro fiend" stereotype and the Mexican pot smoker later on, not to mention the expanded war on drugs later on in the 60s and then later in the 80s. The point is, I see nothing in tradition, natural law or revealed religion to warrant the outright ban or the categorical condemnation of the use of any substances. Throughout most of human history, this would have seemed absurd to most people. Indeed, even in Victorian England, opium in oral form was legally available to everyone widely used for all sorts of purposes, while problematic use was actually at very low levels: Maybe this had something to do with the character of the people at the time?

    2.The issue of what a "drug" is in the first place. For example, we now know that, with the exception of alcohol, we already naturally produce opiates, cannabinoides, etc, which are actually very similar to those drugs that are ingested. So when someone is talking about drugs, there is usually much conceptual confusion.

    3.Perhaps the main issue is that *how* a drug is used is a lot more important than any essential characteristic of the drug itself. See, for example, Norman Zinberg's Drug, Set and Setting, where he described the drastically different consequences that can result even from the use of the same drug, depending on the individual and on the social context.

    Any thoughts on this?

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  68. I have recently been re-reading Dr. Feser's exchange with Stephen Law (and others) as regards classical theism, theistic personalism and, particularly,the issue of whether classical theism has been the mainstream view of God in in theology. Dr. Feser noted that classical theism is the mainstream view within Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, but there seemed to be some question as to whether this has also been the mainstream view within Protestantism. Law and Co. seemed to be exploiting this loophole a little by implying that classical theism is a bit geriatric to be taken seriously. More out of curiosity than anything (I m not a Christian myself), I've done some research and found that classical theism is also the mainstream view among major Protestant theologians, as well, insofar as one might regard view as 'mainstream' within Protestantism. John Calvin was definitely a classical theist, and one of the most influential Protestant thinkers of all time. Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield (three of the greatest theologians to come out of Princeton University) were all classical theists, though Warfield and Hodge seem to be more influenced by Cartesian epistemology that Scholasticism. Furthermore, classic doctrinal statements of Protestantism, such as the Belgic Confession (1561), the Westminster Confession (1646) and the Baptist Confession (1689) also assert the classical theistic view of God. So, within Protestantism, as well as within Orthodoxy and Catholicism, classical theism has been the mainstream view right up until the beginning of the twentieth century. I suspect that the reason for the rise of theistic personalism within Protestant churches is because, in the twentieth century particularly, focus on Confessions or statements of faith declined dramatically - in favour of a more populist preaching. The Charismatic churches, and the prosperity gospel churches, which are incredibly popular and influential (even subtly influencing versions of Protestantism that reject both explicitly), don't really focus on careful indoctrination in the Christian faith, relying on emotion, and even regarding 'indoctrination' as a kind of brainwashing. This is not true of all Protestant churches, but it seems to be true of 'mainstream' churches or megachurches. In such an emotion-controlled atmosphere, it is not surprising that there is an emphasis on God as 'like us', and a rejection of philosophical descriptions of God as 'inhuman' - and therefore not appealing.

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    1. I should add that, among contemporary Protestant theologians, there are two who are classical theists and admirers of Thomas Aquinas' philosophical theology (though, obviously, not of his Catholicism): Dr. Norman Geisler and Dr. R.C. Sproul. Interestingly, each of the individuals I've mentioned (in this post and the last) seem to have been Calvinists of one or another variety. The Augsburg Confession (1530), the Lutheran confession, also affirms classical theism. So Lutheran, Calvinist and Baptist theologies are all explicitly adherent to classical theism.

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