Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Was Aquinas a materialist?

Denys Turner’s recent book Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait is beautifully written and consistently thought-provoking.  It is also a little mischievous, in a good-natured way.  A main theme of the book is what Turner characterizes as Aquinas’s “materialism.”  Turner is aware that Aquinas was not a materialist in the modern sense.  And as I have emphasized many times (such as at the beginning of the chapter on Aquinas’s philosophical psychology in Aquinas), you cannot understand Aquinas’s position unless you understand how badly suited the standard jargon in contemporary philosophy of mind is to describe that position.  Turner’s reference to Aquinas’s “materialism” is intended to emphasize the respects in which Aquinas’s position is deeply at odds with what many think of as essential to a “dualist” conception of human nature.  And he is right to emphasize that.  All the same, as I have argued before, if we are going to use modern terminology to characterize Aquinas’s view -- and in particular, if we want to make it clear where Aquinas stood on the issue that contemporary dualists and materialists themselves think is most crucially at stake in the debate between dualism and materialism -- then “dualist” is a more apt label than “materialist.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Web of intrigue

Analytical Thomist John Haldane has been appointed to the J. Newton Rayzor Sr. Distinguished Chair in Philosophy at Baylor University.

At The Times Literary Supplement, Galen Strawson argues that it is matter, not consciousness, that is truly mysterious.

At Aeon magazine, philosopher Quassim Cassam investigates the intellectual character of those drawn toward conspiracy theories.

At Public Discourse, William Carroll defends the reality of the soul against Julien Mussolino, author of The Soul Fallacy.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Pigliucci on metaphysics

At Scientia Salon, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci admits to “always having had a troubled relationship with metaphysics.”  He summarizes the reasons that have, over the course of his career, made it difficult for him to take the subject seriously.  Surprisingly -- given that Pigliucci is, his eschewal of metaphysics notwithstanding, a professional philosopher -- none of these reasons is any good.  Or rather, this is not surprising at all, since there simply are no good reasons for dismissing metaphysics -- and could not be, given that all purported reasons for doing so themselves invariably embody unexamined metaphysical assumptions.  Thus, as Gilson famously observed, does metaphysics always bury its undertakers.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Reasons of the Hart

A couple of years ago, theologian David Bentley Hart generated a bit of controversy with some remarks about natural law theory in an article in First Things.  I and some other natural law theorists responded, Hart responded to our responses, others rallied to his defense, the natural law theorists issued rejoinders, and before you knew it the Internet -- or, to be a little more precise, this blog -- was awash in lame puns and bad Photoshop.  (My own contributions to the fun can be found here, here, here, and here.)  In the March 2015 issue of First Things, Hart revisits that debate, or rather uses it as an occasion to make some general remarks about the relationship between faith and reason.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Anscombe Society event

On April 11, I’ll be giving the Princeton Anscombe Society 10th Anniversary Lecture, on the subject “Natural Law and the Foundations of Sexual Ethics.”  Prof. Robert George will be the moderator.  Details here.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Capital punishment should not end (UPDATED)

Four prominent Catholic publications from across the theological spectrum -- America magazine, the National Catholic Register, the National Catholic Reporter and Our Sunday Visitor -- this week issued a joint statement declaring that “capital punishment must end.”  One might suppose from the statement that all faithful Catholics agree.  But that is not the case.  As then-Cardinal Ratzinger famously affirmed in 2004, a Catholic may be “at odds with the Holy Father” on the subject of capital punishment and “there may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about… applying the death penalty.”  Catholic theologian Steven A. Long has issued a vigorous response to the joint statement at the blog Thomistica.net.  (See also Steve’s recent response to an essay by “new natural law” theorist and capital punishment opponent Christopher Tollefsen on whether God ever intends a human being’s death.) 

Apart from registering my own profound disagreement with the joint statement, I will for the moment refrain from commenting on the issue, because I will before long be commenting on it at length.  My friend Joseph Bessette is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.  Joe and I have for some time been working together on a book on Catholicism and capital punishment, and we will complete it soon.  It will be, to our knowledge, the most detailed and systematic philosophical, theological, and social scientific defense of capital punishment yet written from a Catholic perspective, and it will provide a thorough critique of the standard Catholic arguments against capital punishment.

William Wallace, OP (1918-2015)

Fr. William A. Wallace has died.  Wallace was a major figure in Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy of nature and philosophy of science, and the author of many important books and academic articles.  Still in print are his books The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis (a review of which can be found here), and The Elements of Philosophy: A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians.  Among his many other works are his two-volume historical study Causality and Scientific Explanation, the classic paper “Newtonian Antinomies Against the Prima Via” which appeared in The Thomist in 1956 (and is, unfortunately, difficult to get hold of if you don’t have access to a good academic library), and a collection of some of his essays titled From a Realist Point of View.  An interview with Wallace can be found here, and curriculum vitae hereHere is the text of a series of lectures by Wallace on philosophy of nature, and here is a YouTube lecture.  Some of Wallace’s articles are among those linked to here.  RIP.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Nyāya arguments for a First Cause

As I noted in an earlier post, arguments for a divine First Cause can be found in Indian philosophy, particularly within the Nyāya-Vaiśeșika tradition.  They are defended by such thinkers as Jayanta Bhatta (9th century A.D.), Udayana (11th century A.D.), Gangesa (13th century A.D.), and Annambhatta (17th century A.D.).  Translations of the key original texts and some of the most important studies in English are not easy to find, but useful discussions are readily available in books like Kisor Kumar Chakrabarti’s Classical Indian Philosophy of Mind: The Nyāya Dualist Tradition, Ben-Ami Scharfstein, A Comparative History of World Philosophy, and Parimal G. Patil’s Against a Hindu God: Buddhist Philosophy of Religion in India.