Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Since therefore grace does not destroy nature but perfects it, natural reason should minister to faith as the natural bent of the will ministers to charity… Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason…
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I.1.8
Here’s one way to think about the relationship between nature and grace, reason and faith, philosophy and revelation. Natural theology and natural law are like a skeleton, and the moral and theological deliverances of divine revelation are like the flesh that hangs on the skeleton. Just as neither skeleton alone nor flesh alone give you a complete human being, neither do nature alone nor grace alone give you the complete story about the human condition.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Commonweal magazine has published a symposium on Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, to which physicist Stephen Barr, biologist Kenneth Miller, and philosopher Gary Gutting have contributed. It’s temporarily available for free on the Commonweal website, here.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Natural law theory holds that a large and substantive body of moral knowledge can be had apart from divine revelation. Natural theology holds that a large and substantive body of theological knowledge can be had apart from divine revelation. Yet both secular and religious critics of natural law theory and natural theology sometimes accuse them of smuggling in the deliverances of revelation. For example, theologian David Bentley Hart, in his recent attacks on natural law theory (to which I responded here, here, and here), seemed to take the view that natural law arguments implicitly presuppose revealed or supernatural truths. Secular critics routinely accuse natural law theorists of rationalizing conclusions that they would never have arrived at if not for the teachings of the Bible or the Church. Critics of the Scholastic tradition in philosophy sometimes accuse it of constructing metaphysical notions ad hoc, for the sake of advancing theological claims. (My friend Bill Vallicella has made this complaint vis-à-vis the Scholastic notion of suppositum.) In every case the objection is that if an idea has an origin in a purported source of divine revelation, its status as a purely philosophical thesis or argument is ipso facto suspect.
One of the problems with such objections is that they overlook the distinction between what Hans Reichenbach called the “context of discovery” and the “context of justification” -- a distinction he applied within the philosophy of science, but which has application in other contexts too.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
No one denies that conspiracies exist. They occur every time two thugs decide to rob a liquor store together. When people dismiss “conspiracy theories,” what they are dismissing is not the idea that bad people conspire, or that they do so in secret, or that these bad people are sometimes government officials. Typically, what they are critical of is the sort of theory that postulates a conspiracy so overarching that the theory tends implicitly to undermine its own epistemological foundations, precisely by undermining the possibility of any sociopolitical knowledge at all -- something analogous to Cartesian skepticism in the sociopolitical context.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
I’m afraid I’m very much a latecomer to the pretentious commentary party vis-à-vis Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, since I only saw the flick after it came out on Blu-ray and even then have been too preoccupied with other things of late to comment. But it’s better than the reviews led me to believe, and worth a philosophical blog post. Plus, I need to do something to keep this site from becoming The Official Thomas Nagel and David Bentley Hart Commentary Page and Message Boards.
Monday, April 29, 2013
David Bentley Hart’s recent reply to me (to which I responded here) was not his only rejoinder to his critics. In the Letters section of the May issue of First Things, he makes a number of other remarks intended to clarify and defend what he said in his original article on natural law (which I had criticized here). The section is behind a paywall, but I will quote what I think are the most significant comments. Unfortunately, they do nothing to make Hart’s position more plausible, nor even much clearer.
Friday, April 26, 2013
Metaphysician E. J. Lowe discusses ontology, physics, Locke, Aristotle, logic, laws of nature, potency and act, dualism, science fiction, and other matters in an interview at 3:AM Magazine.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
In a widely discussed piece in the March issue of First Things, theologian David Bentley Hart was highly critical of natural law theory. I was in turn highly critical of his article in a response posted at First Things (and cross-posted here). Hart replied to my criticisms in a follow-up article in the May issue of First Things. I reply to Hart’s latest in an article just posted over at Public Discourse.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
As students of logic know, not every appeal to authority is a fallacious appeal to authority. A fallacy is committed only when the purported authority appealed to either does not in fact possess expertise on the subject at hand, or can reasonably be supposed to be less than objective. Hence if you believed that PCs are better than Macs entirely on the say-so of either your technophobic orthodontist or the local PC dealer who has some overstock to get rid of, you would be committing a fallacy of appeal to authority -- in the first case because your orthodontist, smart guy though he is, presumably hasn’t much knowledge of computers, in the second case because while the salesman might have such knowledge, there is reasonable doubt about whether he is giving you an unbiased opinion. But if you believed that PCs are better than Macs because your computer science professor told you so, there would be no fallacy, because he presumably both has expertise on the matter and lacks any special reason to push PCs on you. (That doesn’t necessarily mean he’d be correct, of course; an argument can be mistaken even if it is non-fallacious.)
Similarly, not every ad hominem attack -- an attack “against the man” or person -- involves a fallacious ad hominem. “Attacking the man” can be entirely legitimate and sometimes even called for, even in an argumentative context, when it is precisely the man himself who is the problem.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
I am pleased to announce that Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics, an anthology I have edited for Palgrave Macmillan’s Philosophers in Depth series, will be out this August.
Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics is a collection of new and cutting-edge essays by prominent Aristotle scholars and Aristotelian philosophers on themes in ontology, causation, modality, essentialism, the metaphysics of life, natural theology, and scientific and philosophical methodology. Though grounded in careful exegesis of Aristotle's writings, the volume aims to demonstrate the continuing relevance of Aristotelian ideas to contemporary philosophical debate.
Friday, April 5, 2013
The other day I was interviewed by Frank Turek for his show CrossExamined. The show will be broadcast tomorrow, Saturday April 6, at 10-11 am Eastern time. The podcast is also available at the American Family Radio website. Among the topics discussed is the argument from motion for an Unmoved Mover. (Frank had to cut me off at one point because I couldn’t hear the bumper music that would have alerted me that it was time to shut up!)
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
I’ve been meaning to write up a response to Thaddeus Kozinski’s post at Ethika Politika criticizing my recent piece on David Bentley Hart’s views about natural law. Brandon Watson has already pointed out some of the problems with Kozinski’s article, but it’s worth making a few remarks. Kozinski is the author of the important recent book The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism, and I have enjoyed the articles of his that I’ve read over the years. However, this latest piece seems to me to manifest some of the foibles of too much post-Scholastic theology -- in particular, a tendency to conflate a view’s no longer being current with its having been proved wrong; a failure to make crucial conceptual distinctions; and a tendency to caricature the views of writers of a Scholastic bent.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Resuming our series on the serious critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, let’s turn to Simon Blackburn’s review in New Statesman from a few months back. Blackburn’s review is negative, but it is not polemical; on the contrary, he allows that the book is “beautifully lucid, civilised, modest in tone and courageous in its scope” and even that there is “charm” to it. Despite the review’s now somewhat notorious closing paragraph (more on which below) I think Blackburn is trying to be fair to Nagel.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Here’s a conversation that might occur between grown-ups:
Grown-up #1: I haven’t read Nagel’s book or much of the positive commentary on it, but based on what I’ve seen in the popular press it all seems like a lot of absurd intellectual silliness based on caricature and sheer assertion.
Grown-up #2: Jeez, don’t you think you ought to read it before making such sweeping remarks? You’re hardly going to get a good sense of the content of a set of complex philosophical arguments from a couple of journalistic pieces!
Grown-up #1: Yeah, I guess so. Fair enough.
And here’s a conversation between a grown-up and Jason Rosenhouse:
Saturday, March 23, 2013
EvolutionBlog’s Jason Rosenhouse tells us in a recent post that he hasn’t read philosopher Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. And it seems obvious enough from his remarks that he also hasn’t read the commentary of any of the professional philosophers and theologians who have written about Nagel sympathetically -- such as my own series of posts on Nagel and his critics, or Bill Vallicella’s, or Alvin Plantinga’s review of Nagel, or Alva Noë’s, or John Haldane’s, or William Carroll’s, or J. P. Moreland’s. What he has read is a critical review of Nagel’s book written by a non-philosopher, and a couple of sympathetic journalistic pieces about Nagel and some of his defenders. And on that basis he concludes that “Nagel needs better defenders.”
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Let’s return to our look at the critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. New commentary on Nagel’s book continues to appear, and to some extent it repeats points made by earlier reviewers I’ve already responded to. Here I want to say something about Mohan Matthen’s review in The Philosophers Magazine. In particular, I want to address what Matthen says about the issue of whether conscious awareness could arise in a purely material cosmos. (Matthen has also commented on Nagel’s book over at the New APPS blog, e.g. here.)
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
My review of Ray Kurzweil’s recent book How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed appears in the April 2013 issue of First Things.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
In the cover story of the current issue of The Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson reviews the controversy generated by Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. Along the way, he kindly makes reference to what he calls my “dazzling six-part tour de force rebutting Nagel’s critics.” For interested readers coming over from The Weekly Standard, here are some links to the articles to which Ferguson is referring, with brief descriptions of their contents.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
This Friday, March 15, I’ll be speaking at California State University, San Bernardino on the topic “Is Capital Punishment Just?” Details here.
(The short answer, as my longtime readers know, is “Yes.” I’ve discussed the issue on the blog and elsewhere many times, such as here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. But the talk on Friday will address some fundamental issues about the grounds of punishment in general that are not discussed in these earlier articles and posts.)