Friday, August 28, 2015

The comedy keeps coming

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but while we’re on the subject of humor, here’s another mistake that is often made in discussions of it: failing to identify precisely which aspect of the phenomenon of humor a theory is (or is best interpreted as) trying to explain.  For instance, this is sometimes manifest in lists of the various “theories of humor” put forward by philosophers over the centuries.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dragging the net

My recent Claremont Review of Books review of Scruton’s Soul of the World and Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence is now available for free online.

Should we expect a sound proof to convince everyone?  Michael Augros investigates at Strange Notions (in an excerpt from his new book Who Designed the Designer? A Rediscovered Path to God's Existence).

Intrigue!  Conspiracy!  Comic books!  First, where did the idea for Spider-Man really come from?  The New York Post reports on a Brooklyn costume shop and an alleged “billion dollar cover up.”

Then, according to Variety, a new documentary reveals the untold story behind Roger Corman’s notorious never-released Fantastic Four movie.  (I’ve seen the new one.  It’s only almost as bad as you’ve heard.)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Is it funny because it’s true?

In a recent article in National Review, Ian Tuttle tells us that “standup comedy is colliding with progressivism.”  He notes that comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Gilbert Gottfried have complained of a new political correctness they perceive in college audiences and in comedy clubs, and he cites feminists and others who routinely protest against allegedly “sexist,” “racist,” and/or “homophobic” jokes told by prominent comedians like Louis C. K.  In Tuttle’s view, the “pious aspirations” of left-wing “moral busybodies” have led them to “[object] to humor that does not bolster their ideology” and “to conflate what is funny with what is acceptable to laugh at.”

Religion and the Social Sciences

Check out the recently published Religion and the Social Sciences: Conversations with Robert Bellah and Christian Smith, edited by R. R. Reno and Barbara McClay.  The volume is a collection of essays presented at two conferences hosted by First Things on the work of Bellah and Smith.  (My essay “Natural Theology, Revealed Theology, Liberal Theology” is included.)  The publisher’s website for the book can be found here. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Marriage inflation

When everyone is somebody, then no one’s anybody.

W. S. Gilbert, The Gondoliers

Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion

If you printed a lot of extra money and passed it around so as to make everyone wealthier, the end result would merely be dramatically to decrease the buying power of money.  If you make it easier for college students to get an “A” grade in their courses, the end result will be that “A” grades will come to be regarded as a much less reliable indicator of a student’s true merit.  If you give prizes to everyone who participates in a competition, winning a prize will cease to be a big deal.  In general, where X is perceived to have greater value than Y and you try to raise the value of Y by assimilating it to X, the actual result will instead be simply to lower the value of X to that of Y.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Unintuitive metaphysics

At Aeon, philosopher Elijah Millgram comments on metaphysics and the contemporary analytic philosopher’s penchant for appealing to intuitions.  Give it a read -- it‘s very short.  Millgram uses an anecdote to illustrate the point that what intuitively seems to be an objective fact can sometimes reflect merely contingent “policies we’ve adopted,” where “the sense of indelible rightness and wrongness comes from having gotten so very used to those policies.”  And of course, such policies can be bad ones.  Hence the dubiousness of grounding metaphysical arguments in intuition.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Empiricism and sola scriptura redux

After my recent series of long posts on sola scriptura (here, here, and here), I fear that you, dear reader, may be starting to feel as burned out on the topic as I do.  But one final post is in order, both because there are a couple of further points I think worth making, and because Andrew Fulford at The Calvinist International has now posted a rejoinder to my response to him.  And as it happens, what I have to say about his latest article dovetails somewhat with what I was going to say anyway.  (Be warned that the post to follow is pretty long.  But it’s also the last post I hope to write on this topic for a long while.)

Following Feyerabend, I’ve been comparing sola scriptura to early modern empiricism.  Let’s pursue the analogy a little further and consider two specific parallels between the doctrines.  First, both face a fatal dilemma of being either self-defeating or vacuous.  Second, each is committed to a reductionism which crudely distorts the very epistemic criterion it claims zealously to uphold.  Let’s consider these issues in turn.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fulford on sola scriptura, Part II

Let’s return to Andrew Fulford’s reply at The Calvinist International to my recent post on Feyerabend, empiricism, and sola scriptura.  Recall that the early Jesuit critique of sola scriptura cited by Feyerabend maintains that (a) scripture alone can never tell you what counts as scripture, (b) scripture alone cannot tell you how to interpret scripture, and (c) scripture alone cannot give us a procedure for deriving consequences from scripture, applying it to new circumstances, etc.  In an earlier post I addressed Fulford’s reply to point (a).  Let’s now consider his attempt to rebut the other two points.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fulford on sola scriptura, Part I

At The Calvinist International, Andrew Fulford replies to my recent post on Feyerabend, empiricism, and sola scriptura.  You’ll recall that the early Jesuit critique of sola scriptura cited by Feyerabend maintains that (a) scripture alone can never tell you what counts as scripture, (b) scripture alone cannot tell you how to interpret scripture, and (c) scripture alone cannot give us a procedure for deriving consequences from scripture, applying it to new circumstances, etc.  Fulford says that these objections “essentially rely on a caricature of the teaching,” and offers responses to each point.  Let’s consider them in order.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Feyerabend on empiricism and sola scriptura

In his essay “Classical Empiricism,” available in Problems of Empiricism: Philosophical Papers, Volume 2, philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend compares the empiricism of the early moderns to the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura.  He suggests that there are important parallels between them; in particular, he finds them both incoherent, and for the same reasons.  (No, Feyerabend is not doing Catholic apologetics.  He’s critiquing empiricism.)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Aristotle’s four causes versus pantheism

For the Platonist, the essences or natures of the things of our experience are not in the things themselves, but exist in the Platonic “third realm.”  The essence or nature of a tree, for example, is not to be looked for in the tree itself, but in the Form of Tree; the essence of a man is not to be looked for in any human being but rather in the Form of Man; and so forth.  Now, if the essence of being a tree (treeness, if you will) is not to be found in a tree, nor the essence of being a man (humanness) in a man, then it is hard to see how what we ordinarily call a tree really exists as a tree, or how what we call a man really exists as a man.  Indeed, the trees and men we see are said by Plato merely imperfectly to “resemble” something else, namely the Forms.  So, what we call a tree seems at the end of the day to be no more genuinely tree-like than a statue or mirror image of a tree is; what we call a man seems no more genuinely human than a statue or mirror image of a man is; and so forth.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Caught in the net

Some of the regular readers and commenters at this blog have started up a Classical Theism, Philosophy, and Religion discussion forum.  Check it out.

Philosopher Stephen Mumford brings his Arts Matters blog to an end with a post on why he is pro-science and anti-scientism.  Then he inaugurates his new blog at Philosophers Magazine with a post on a new and improved Cogito argument for the reality of causation.

Speaking of which: At Aeon, Mathias Frisch discusses the debate over causation and physics.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Marriage and The Matrix

Suppose a bizarre skeptic seriously proposed -- not as a joke, not as dorm room bull session fodder, but seriously -- that you, he, and everyone else were part of a computer-generated virtual reality like the one featured in the science-fiction movie The Matrix.  Suppose he easily shot down the arguments you initially thought sufficient to refute him.  He might point out, for instance, that your appeals to what we know from common sense and science have no force, since they are (he insists) just part of the Matrix-generated illusion.  Suppose many of your friends were so impressed by this skeptic’s ability to defend his strange views -- and so unimpressed by your increasingly flustered responses -- that they came around to his side.  Suppose they got annoyed with you for not doing the same, and started to question your rationality and even your decency.  Your adherence to commonsense realism in the face of the skeptic’s arguments is, they say, just irrational prejudice.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

There’s no such thing as “natural atheology”

In his brief and (mostly) tightly argued book God, Freedom, and Evil, Alvin Plantinga writes:

[S]ome theologians and theistic philosophers have tried to give successful arguments or proofs for the existence of God.  This enterprise is called natural theology… Other philosophers, of course, have presented arguments for the falsehood of theistic beliefs; these philosophers conclude that belief in God is demonstrably irrational or unreasonable.  We might call this enterprise natural atheology.  (pp. 2-3)

Cute, huh?  Actually (and with all due respect for Plantinga), I’ve always found the expression “natural atheology” pretty annoying, even when I was an atheist.  The reason is that, given what natural theology as traditionally understood is supposed to be, the suggestion that there is a kind of bookend subject matter called “natural atheology” is somewhat inept.  (As we will see, though, Plantinga evidently does not think of natural theology in a traditional way.)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Love and sex roundup

Current events in the Catholic Church and in U.S. politics being as they are, it seems worthwhile to put together a roundup of blog posts and other readings on sex, romantic love, and sexual morality as they are understood from a traditional natural law perspective. 

First and foremost: My essay “In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument” appears in my new anthology Neo-Scholastic Essays.  It is the lengthiest and most detailed and systematic treatment of sexual morality I have written to date.  Other things I have written on sex, romantic love, and sexual morality are best read in light of what I have to say in this essay.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Cross on Scotus on causal series

Duns Scotus has especially interesting and important things to say about the distinction between causal series ordered accidentally and those ordered essentially -- a distinction that plays a key role in Scholastic arguments for God’s existence.  I discuss the distinction and Scotus’s defense of it in Scholastic Metaphysics, at pp. 148-54.  Richard Cross, in his excellent book, Duns Scotus, puts forward some criticisms of Scotus’s position.  I think Cross’s objections fail.  Let’s take a look at them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review of Wilson and Scruton

In the Spring 2015 issue of the Claremont Review of Books, I review Edward O. Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence and Roger Scruton’s The Soul of the World

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Neo-Scholastic Essays

I am pleased to announce the publication of Neo-Scholastic Essays, a collection of previously published academic articles of mine from the last decade, along with some previously unpublished papers and other material.  Here are the cover copy and table of contents:

In a series of publications over the course of a decade, Edward Feser has argued for the defensibility and abiding relevance to issues in contemporary philosophy of Scholastic ideas and arguments, and especially of Aristotelian-Thomistic ideas and arguments.  This work has been in the vein of what has come to be known as “analytical Thomism,” though the spirit of the project goes back at least to the Neo-Scholasticism of the period from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Religion and superstition

The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, edited by Graham Oppy, has just been published.  My essay “Religion and Superstition” is among the chapters.  The book’s table of contents and other details can be found here.  (The book is very expensive.  But I believe you should be able to read all or most of my essay via the preview at Google Books.) 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Aristotle watches Blade Runner

You can never watch Blade Runner too many times, and I’m due for another viewing.  In D. E. Wittkower’s anthology Philip K. Dick and Philosophy, there’s an article by Ross Barham which makes some remarks about the movie’s famous “replicants” and their relationship to human beings which are interesting though, in my view, mistaken.  Barham considers how we might understand the two kinds of creature in light of Aristotle’s four causes, and suggests that this is easier to do with replicants than with human beings.  This is, I think, the reverse of the truth.  But Barham’s reasons are not hard to understand given modern assumptions (which Aristotle would reject) about nature in general and human nature in particular.

Monday, May 25, 2015

D. B. Hart and the “terrorism of obscurantism”

Many years ago, Steven Postrel and I interviewed John Searle for Reason magazine.  Commenting on his famous dispute with Jacques Derrida, Searle remarked:

With Derrida, you can hardly misread him, because he's so obscure.  Every time you say, "He says so and so," he always says, "You misunderstood me."  But if you try to figure out the correct interpretation, then that's not so easy.  I once said this to Michel Foucault, who was more hostile to Derrida even than I am, and Foucault said that Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism of obscurantism).  We were speaking French.  And I said, "What the hell do you mean by that?"  And he said, "He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he's saying, that's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, 'You didn't understand me; you're an idiot.'  That's the terrorism part."

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stupid rhetorical tricks

In honor of David Letterman’s final show tonight, let’s look at a variation on his famous “Stupid pet tricks” routine.  It involves people rather animals, but lots of Pavlovian frenzied salivating.  I speak of David Bentley Hart’s latest contribution, in the June/July issue of First Things, to our dispute about whether there will be animals in Heaven.  The article consists of Hart (a) flinging epithets like “manualist Thomism” and “Baroque neoscholasticism” so as to rile up whatever readers there are who might be riled up by such epithets, while (b) ignoring the substance of my arguments.  Pretty sad.  I reply at Public Discourse.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lewis on transposition

C. S. Lewis’s essay “Transposition” is available in his collection The Weight of Glory, and also online here.  It is, both philosophically and theologically, very deep, illuminating the relationship between the material and the immaterial, and between the natural and the supernatural.  (Note that these are different distinctions, certainly from a Thomistic point of view.  For there are phenomena that are immaterial but still natural.  For example, the human intellect is immaterial, but still perfectly “natural” insofar as it is in our nature to have intellects.  What is “supernatural” is what goes beyond a thing’s nature, and it is not beyond a thing’s nature to be immaterial if immateriality just is part of its nature.)

Friday, May 8, 2015

A linkfest

My review of Charles Bolyard and Rondo Keele, eds., Later Medieval Metaphysics: Ontology, Language, and Logic appears in the May 2015 issue of Metaphysica.

At, Thomist theologian Steven Long defends capital punishment against “new natural lawyer” Chris Tollefsen.

In the Journal of the American Philosophical Association, physicist Carlo Rovelli defends Aristotle’s physics.

At Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Christopher Martin reviews Brian Davies’ Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae: A Guide and Commentary.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Animal souls, Part II

Recently, in First Things, David Bentley Hart criticized Thomists for denying that there will be non-human animals in Heaven.  I responded in an article at Public Discourse and in a follow-up blog post, defending the view that there will be no such animals in the afterlife.  I must say that some of the responses to what I wrote have been surprisingly… substandard for readers of a philosophy blog.  A few readers simply opined that Thomists don’t appreciate animals, or that the thought of Heaven without animals is too depressing.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Animal souls, Part I

Here’s a postscript, in two parts, to my recent critique in Public Discourse of David Bentley Hart’s case for there being animals in heaven.  In this first part, I discuss in more detail than I did in the original article Donald Davidson’s arguments for denying that animals can think or reason in the strict sense.  (This material was originally supposed to appear in the Public Discourse article, but the article was overlong and it had to be removed.)  In the second part, I will address some of the response to the Public Discourse article.  Needless to say, those who haven’t yet read the Public Discourse article are urged to do so before reading what follows, since what I have to say here presupposes what I said there.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review of Mele

Over at the online edition of City Journal, I review Alfred Mele’s recent book Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will.