• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Scholasticism vs. Scientism: An Interview with Dr. Edward Feser

FeserBanner

Dr. Edward Feser is one of today's foremost Catholic philosophers who specializes in Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics and the philosophy of religion. He's an associate professor of philosophy at Pasadena City College and the author of several published articles and books, including The Last Superstition, Aquinas, and Philosophy of Mind (A Beginner's Guide). He's also written several articles here at Strange Notions.

Dr. Feser's newest book, which I'm discussing with him today, is titled Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Editions Scholasticae, 2014). The book offers a general overview of Aristotelian/Thomistic ideas like causation, substance, essence, modality, identity, persistence, and teleology, and has already been hailed as an important contribution to the understanding of Scholastic thought.
 


 
BRANDON: The title of your book is Scholastic Metaphysics. How do you define "Scholastic", and how is "Scholastic" metaphysics distinct from others?

DR. EDWARD FESER: As the term was originally used, a “Scholastic” was the master of a school in the Middle Ages. The label came to be applied to professors in medieval universities, and, ultimately, to anyone who adhered to the way of thinking that dominated the medieval universities.

Scholastic MetaphysicsThat way of thinking is difficult adequately to adequately and concisely summarize, but essentially it involved the development and application of ideas and arguments derived from classical, and in particular Platonic and Aristotelian, philosophy. The aim was in part to provide a philosophical statement and defense of Christian theology, but medieval Scholastics were (and contemporary Scholastics are) naturally also interested in philosophical and scientific issues for their own sake. In some Scholastic thinkers, such as St. Anselm and St. Bonaventure, Platonism as filtered through writers like Plotinus and St. Augustine was the dominant tendency. In other and especially later thinkers, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham, Aristotelianism took center stage. Methodologically, Scholastic writers also came to value precision in the use of language, rigorous argumentation, and systematic thinking.

This emphasis on linguistic precision and argumentative rigor differentiates Scholastic thinking from more literary and unsystematic approaches to philosophy and theology. It also makes Scholastic thought comparable in some respects to contemporary analytic philosophy. On the other hand, the emphasis on classical, and especially Aristotelian, metaphysical ideas differentiates Scholastic thinking from most contemporary philosophy. There is, to be sure, a revival of interest in Aristotelian metaphysical ideas -- concerning the nature of causality, essentialism, substance, and so forth -- even in contemporary mainstream analytic philosophy, and that is in fact one of the themes of my book. But it is still at this moment a minority tendency.

BRANDON: Who did you write this book for? Is it a book for absolute beginners or those with some philosophical background? Would atheists benefit from it?

DR. EDWARD FESER: It is not a book for absolute beginners. The aim of the book is to introduce key Scholastic ideas and arguments in metaphysics to those who have some familiarity with contemporary philosophy, and also to introduce the neo-Aristotelian tendencies in contemporary mainstream analytic philosophy to those who have some familiarity with Scholastic thought. As I show in the book, Scholastic ideas and arguments are not only defensible within the context of modern analytic philosophy, they are to a large extent in fact already being defended by contemporary philosophers who have no theological ax to grind. The ideas are being rediscovered because they are essential to making sense of what we know from modern science and to the solution of philosophical problems that secular thinkers, no less than religious ones, are interested in.

Atheists with a taste for philosophy -- and any serious atheist had better have a taste for it, because the dispute between theism and atheism is at bottom a philosophical dispute and not a scientific one -- would definitely benefit from my book. You cannot properly understand the arguments of thinkers like Aquinas -- whether they are arguments for God’s existence, or for the immortality of the soul, or natural law arguments in ethics, or whatever -- unless you understand the background metaphysical ideas about the nature of causation, the nature of material objects, what it is for a thing to have an essence or nature, and so forth, that the arguments presuppose. Most atheist critics of Aquinas and other major theistic philosophers have no familiarity with these background metaphysical ideas, and so they usually badly misunderstand the arguments they are criticizing.

To be sure, my book does not have a lot to say about arguments for God’s existence, or about the soul or ethics. I have addressed those issues elsewhere, such as in my books The Last Superstition and Aquinas. What the new book does is set out the metaphysical background ideas at far greater length and in much greater depth than I have elsewhere.

BRANDON: In the book's opening chapter, titled "Prolegomenon," you write, "The Aristotelian theory of actuality and potency provides the [book's] organizing theme." What is this theory, and how do we know it's true?

DR. EDWARD FESER: Well, chapter 1 and indeed the book as a whole provides the answer to that question! But, very briefly: Pre-Socratic thinkers like Parmenides and Zeno put forward some very odd but also clever arguments purporting to show that change and multiplicity are illusions. The arguments assume, among other things, that change would require a transition from non-being to being, from sheer nothingness to something. Aristotle pointed out that that’s not the case. For there are two kinds of being: being in actuality (as when an acorn is actually small) and being in potentiality (as when an acorn, though actually small, is at the same time potentially a very tall tree). And change involves, not a transition from nothingness to something or non-being to being, but rather from one kind of being to another, namely from potentiality to actuality.

Scholastic writers argue that there is no way to account for change other than by recognizing that potentiality is as real a feature of the world as actuality, and they also argue that the existence of change cannot coherently be denied. Hence we know that actuality and potentiality are both real features of the world. Now, the implications of this are many and wide-ranging, as I show in the book. The theory of actuality and potentiality determines the correct way to think about causation, teleology, the nature of material substance, what it is for a contingent thing to exist, etc. It also forms the starting point for one of Aquinas’s key arguments for God’s existence, namely the First Way.

The vast majority of contemporary atheists know nothing at all about the theory of actuality and potentiality. That is one reason they generally deeply misunderstand the arguments Aquinas and other Scholastic writers present for the existence of God, and many other arguments as well.

BRANDON: You spend several pages engaging scientism. How do you define this notoriously controversial term? Why is scientism popular today, and why do you think it's self-defeating?

DR. EDWARD FESER: This too is addressed in the book at length. Briefly, scientism is the view that science alone gives us knowledge of reality. Of course, that just raises the question of what we mean by “science.” One problem with scientism is that if you define “science” narrowly -- so that it includes physics and chemistry, say, but not philosophy or theology -- then scientism ends up being self-refuting, because it is not itself a scientific claim but a philosophical one. On the other hand, if you define “science” broadly enough so that it avoids being self-refuting, then it becomes vacuous, because it now no longer rules out philosophy, theology, or pretty much anything else adherents of scientism want to be able to dismiss without a hearing as “unscientific.”

A second problem with scientism is that science cannot in principle give us a complete description of the world, both because science takes for granted certain assumptions it cannot justify in a non-circular fashion (such as that perception is reliable, that there is order in the world that is really there and not just projected onto it by the mind, etc.), and because the methods of science of their nature can obscure as much as they reveal. For example, as the philosopher Bertrand Russell -- who was no friend of Scholasticism or of religion -- often emphasized, the methods of physics give us only the abstract mathematical structure of physical reality, but do not and cannot tell us the intrinsic nature of whatever is the underlying reality that has that structure.

A third problem is science cannot in principle provide a complete explanation of the phenomena it describes. Science explains things by tracing them down to ever deeper laws of nature. But what it cannot tell you is what a “law of nature” is in the first place and why it operates. It really is amazing how unreflectively atheists and advocates of scientism appeal to the notion of “laws,” given how deeply philosophically problematic the very notion is. Earlier generations of scientists were aware of the philosophical puzzles raised by the nature of scientific explanation, and some contemporary scientists (such as Paul Davies) are also sensitive to the puzzles raised by the very idea of a “law of nature” (which is actually a holdover from an idiosyncratic theology to which Descartes and Newton were committed, but which Aristotelian and Scholastic philosophers reject just as much as atheists do).

But most contemporary scientists tend not to have the general education that figures of the generation of Einstein, Schrödinger, and Heisenberg did. They don’t know philosophy well, and they also don’t know what they don’t know.   This goes double for the more aggressively atheistic ones among them -- people like Lawrence Krauss, Peter Atkins, Richard Dawkins, and Jerry Coyne. Hence they repeatedly commit very crude philosophical mistakes but also refuse to listen or respond when these mistakes are pointed out to them.

Anyway, the main reason scientism has the following it does is probably that people are, quite rightly, impressed with the technological and predictive successes of modern science. The trouble is that this simply gives us no reason whatsoever to believe scientism -- that is to say, it gives us no reason to believe that science alone gives us knowledge. To draw that conclusion you need to assume that if something is real, then it will be susceptible of a precise mathematical description that will make strict prediction and technological application possible. Now that is itself a philosophical or metaphysical assumption, not a scientific one. But it is also an assumption that there is not only no reason to believe, but decisive reason to reject, as I argue in the book.

What the mathematically-oriented methods of modern physics do is to focus on those aspects of nature which can be strictly predicted and controlled and to ignore anything that doesn’t fit that method. As a result, physics tends brilliantly to uncover those aspects of reality that fit that method, and which can therefore be exploited technologically. But it simply does not follow that there are no other aspects of reality. To think otherwise is like the drunk’s fallacy of assuming that his lost car keys must be under the street lamp somewhere, because that is where the light is.

BRANDON: Many atheists maintain that contemporary science -- specifically quantum mechanics and special relativity -- has refuted Scholastic metaphysical concepts like cause and effect. Is this the case?

DR. EDWARD FESER: It is not the case, and the arguments for this claim tend to commit the same fallacy I just referred to, of assuming that if something is left out of the description of things that physics gives us, then it is not real. That is like a pencil artist saying that since he cannot capture color in the black and white artistic materials he has available to him, it follows that color is not real. Again, physics captures what is susceptible of capture via its mathematical mode of description. If something is real but not susceptible of capture via such methods, physics will not capture it. That merely reflects the method, though, not the reality the method is only partially describing. The trouble is that, as the historian of science E. A. Burtt once pointed out, advocates of scientism have fallaciously confused method with metaphysics. Instead of judging their method by reference to reality, they judge reality by reference to their method.

There are other problems too with the claim that physics has somehow undermined the notion of causality, and I discuss them in the book. For one thing, people who make this claim often confuse what is really just one kind of causality -- deterministic causality -- with causality as such. They also fail to realize that the only way we can make sense of the idea that observation and experiment give us a rational justification for believing physical theory is if we suppose that our perceptual faculties are causally related to external reality (which is something else that Bertrand Russell emphasized). And so forth.

BRANDON: You argue that, for the Scholastic, "metaphysics is prior to epistemology." What does this mean and why is it important?

Metaphysics is the rational investigation of the general structure of reality and the ultimate causes of things. Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge and of its scope and foundations. Modern philosophers have often criticized specific metaphysical ideas and even the very possibility of metaphysics on the basis of epistemological assumptions. They have claimed that the way knowledge actually works rules out our having the kind of metaphysical knowledge that Scholastics and other traditional metaphysicians say we have. Advocates of scientism essentially take this view.

The trouble is that this gets things precisely backwards. All epistemological claims make metaphysical assumptions -- assumptions about what a mind is, how it is connected (or not connected) to external reality, and so forth. Criticisms of metaphysical claims put forward in the name of epistemology themselves thus implicitly presuppose various metaphysical claims. Metaphysics is absolutely fundamental -- the most fundamental discipline of all, more fundamental than epistemology, physics, biology, or any other philosophical or scientific discipline. Attempts to show otherwise always implicitly confirm this, insofar as they always surreptitiously presuppose some metaphysical position, rather than eliminating metaphysics or relegating it to a secondary status.

BRANDON: How is the Scholastic metaphysical framework helpful for defining God or demonstrating his existence? Is it true that the old Scholastic arguments for God have been mostly refuted?

It is not only helpful but absolutely crucial, because the key traditional arguments for God’s existence all rest on certain specific metaphysical analyses of cause and effect, change, the nature of material substances, and so forth. And these analyses begin with what any possible natural science must take for granted, so that they deal with a level of reality that is deeper than science and untouched by it. And no, the old Scholastic arguments for God’s existence have not been refuted. As I have said, most people who criticize them don’t even understand them, because they know nothing about the metaphysical ideas that underlie them. Among the things my book does is to show how these metaphysical ideas are not only still defensible today, but in fact are being defended (sometimes unknowingly) by contemporary academic philosophers who have no interest or stake in the theological applications Scholastic writers made of the ideas.

 

Amazon-Scholastic

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Loreen Lee

    Well, this article at least puts into perspective the 'probable' cause of my confusion regarding yesterday's 'argument'. Yes, I appreciated especially the analysis of scienticism. And some time ago I talked about the difficulty, (a critique of Bertrand Russel) in arguing top down, as I believe is the case with Scholastic philosophy and theology generally.
    On the question of epistemology and metaphysics, recently Heidegger has re-established the priority of the latter, however, changing the name to 'ontology'. There still remains for me the dichotomy, however, between mind and body, (although I do understand that even within the philosophy of Descartes and Berkeley, an appeal is made to God, in order to provide a unity).
    That was my question in yesterday's post. If unique is defined as some sort of 'unity', it is difficult to find a coherent perspective between not only science and philosophy (what have you), mathematical and dynamic ideas as in Hegel, and my question yesterday, how do you explain a God that is both transcendental and immanent. In my case, I had to note yesterday my lack of perfection.
    Although it is considered, my understanding, that this lack places the burden of 'proof' on myself, (but doesn't God give the saving grace), I still cannot understand how and why the God of Spitzer's proof could still be the unity when, even if it is my fault, I am because of my imperfection, somehow excluded from the whole. It also raises the question again, for me, as to how and why (out of love?) God created something that was less perfect than the absolute in the first place. I realize these questions sound naive to many people, but really, what comes first? epistemology or top-down metaphysics, or self-centered ontology? Oh and yes, the analytic philosophers I have long compared in jest to the scholastics. Yours truly, an amateur 'philosopher' still somewhere between naturalism and religion..

    • It may be time for you to investigate Wittgenstein. I think a lot of what is going on in these metaphysical argument are the kind of language games he criticized.

      • Loreen Lee

        Thanks Brian. Yes, I have attempted to read -and understand- Wittgenstein. The difficulty is that with such concepts (even that of 'language games') there are many possible interpretations, many possible contexts. I understand you are associating this term with thinking that is unrelated to physical/empirical 'evidence'. But, after his first thesis that language is pictures of 'reality'? , i.e. representative thinking, it could also be interpretated that language, even within the context of empirical associations, within even conversation, is ever varied and never -complete. It is possibly his way of characterizing or 'defining' just what language 'is' by an analogy that somehow places it within the context of never truly being 'definitive' In this respect you might consider the metaphor of a game,as an interesting way to describe it. (My interpretation, merely). Haven't the time to check up on it. Wish I had been asked such definition questions when it was actually reading it.

        • Basically my experience here has been frustrating because I think much of what we are doing here is debating over semantics and definitions.

          • Loreen Lee

            You know Brian. Tomorrow I'm going to celebrate the American side of my family by ordering Feser's book. I believe I have little read understanding even of 'how' I proceed with argument, and indeed dialogue generally. Meaning and definition is a large part of the formal element of debate. But I can't help but feel there are other factors involved which determine which meanings and which definitions are 'strived' for. Often even unconsciously.
            For instance, I think there can be basically two ways to generally argue a point. The first is to take the opposite position, something that is assumed to be the basis of argument between the 'evidence' seekers and the 'truth' !! seekers on this site. The other, is to 'get inside' of the other person's position, and discover the limitations and contradictions as part of the process of discovering more about the territory.
            The distinction above I believe is one factor which possibly distinguishes all the philosophical atheists I have read, (well a lot of them) and the new atheists. But perhaps the same holds on the 'other side of the fence'. I am often astonished to think that it might be possible to adopt a position taken from one's adversary to one's own advantage in promoting an 'opposite' viewpoint. Thus there would be less possibility of feeling the situation is futile, because of the possible outcome that something could be learned on both sides.
            I also like a little story telling, and personal context (not ad hominem), but this is just my prejudice!!!!
            But to close this dialogue, what would you like to see as the object of a discussion. I presume that you are inferring that there is little 'evidence' or concrete basis to what is being said here.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Isn't that what you would expect though? Given that there seem to be plenty of reasonable and decent people on both sides of the debate, we can only assume that the root of many (not all !) of our disagreements is semantic in nature. If we ever got to a point where there was some reasonable agreement on the meaning of words (e.g. agreement that God means "truth", or that God means "pure being"), then we could move on to more contentious issues like whether pure being was revealed through Jesus of Nazareth.

          • Greg

            I don't think most philosophical disputes resolve to disputes over definitions. This is a view you hear online often, but if you crack open a text written by a professional, it is rather easy to bypass that problem, because professional philosophers (in the analytic and scholastic traditions, at least), are pretty good about defining terms and being clear. Understanding where atheists and theists differ is pretty simple. They won't agree on a definition of 'truth', but they can have their own and understand what their opponent's is.

            Unfortunately philosophical disagreement runs deeper.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I didn't mean to imply that most disputes come down to just semantics, only that many disputes do, and that in any cross-cultural exchange, one should expect a lot of time to be spent on this.

      • Loreen Lee

        Gee, maybe that makes Wittgenstein some kind of nominalist, possibly in keeping with the skepticism within post-modernism. But there has to be a dialectic, yes. For if these pluralistic, skeptical theories have a truth, then they are no longer merely a form of nominalism. It might just be that the language, per se, does not, or cannot 'capture' the 'reality'. (Just attempting to think these things through for 'myself'. Even if I only run across one little puzzle like this a day. !!!)

      • Loreen Lee

        And then there are 'language games' !!!

        But perhaps this idea can be seen within a context of quote in one of the above com boxes:

        teo

        Was it St. Thomas who said, "...his greatest gift was he understood everything he ever read"?

        What am I to make of this: an assertion that is at least in some way opposite to Socrates 'lack of belief' in his knowledge? Shall I be quick to judge, saying it is perhaps a mark of arrogance. What will be the chosen or accidental context in which I place these words? What of the connotative as well as the denotative possibilities?

        Wittgenstein also talked about the 'end of philosophy' - as a goal or cessation or even a growing out of the possibility for systematic philosophy? He also talked about language as a 'life form', suggesting that 'even if lions could talk we could not understand them'.

        So it is perhaps also with persons, (as relevant to the quote by Aquinas). In a skeptical mood I could even suggest that we don't really understand anyone but our self, and even that may be a premature conclusion, gin grin.

        But one of the reasons I have left my passionate interest in reading the greats of philosophy and just take what comes, ad hoc, (in the good sense) with some help from Google searches, is that (even following Wittgenstein), I see the value in developing personal interaction within 'debate/dialogue', etc. I believe it is important that an individual place a priority in developing his/her - self. And this in a way is a method of placing ontology before epistemology, to my understanding. And yes, in this regard I appreciate the Personalism of Aquinas. In this respect I can even accept a form of nominalism (Wittgenstein) which suggests that I live only on the 'surface', but that yes, the possibility of infinite depth can be or is the 'background' for even the daily talk of trivialities, in which the 'games' of life and language are played out. This latter remark is directed to the puzzlement that can be found in Aquinas' statement that he had been given the 'gift' to understand all that he read. The search for meaning/understanding is perhaps a theological/philosophical quest by definition. But language, understood as a 'game', can only raise for me the question: did he really understand what he 'meant'? Yes descriptive metaphysics, factual information etc. etc. should be priorities not only in conversation but in debate. I believe I agree with what I 'understand you to 'mean'' !!!!

        Have you read Derrida on language: the trace theory etc. etc. Indeed with the pragmatists, and now the post-moderns, language theory has replaced to a certain extent interest in metaphysics, etc. etc. It's an interesting world. Thanks for your time.

      • Loreen Lee

        Been Googling. This summary of Wittgenstein may convince you that I now 'understand your point' a bit better. Of course, (my point) the 'investigations' are never 'complete'.

        Two implications of this diagnosis, easily traced back in the Tractatus, are to be recognized. One is the inherent dialogical character of philosophy, which is a responsive activity: difficulties and torments are encountered which are then to be dissipated by philosophical therapy.
        In the Tractatus, this took the shape of advice: “The correct
        method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing
        except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science …
        and then whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his propositions” (TLP 6.53) The second, more far-reaching, “discovery” in the Investigations “is the one that enables me to break off philosophizing when I want to”
        (PI 133). This has been taken to revert back to the ladder
        metaphor and the injunction to silence in the Tractatus.

  • teo

    Was it St. Thomas who said, "...his greatest gift was he understood everything he ever read"?
    What a gift! Thanks for the interview Brandon. The interview convinced me it will be too deep for me but at least I enjoyed the post.

    • Loreen Lee

      Me too. One of the reasons why I can consider myself 'justified' in saying that I am an agnostic. I like it when I run across the rare religious type who says that we cannot know the absolute and 'means' it, by not assuming that indeed, in one shape or form, he 'does'..

  • Okay, but I am familiar with this philosophy and I do not agree with scientism. I don't agree with Feser's metaphysical arguments.

    I would say that the question of the existence of any gods is of obvious interest to anyone interested in philosophy. Certainly Russell, Dennet, Grayling are and were not ignorant of Aquinas. This is not to say that Feser is wrong, but he seems to imply that once you really understand his argument, it is irrefutable. I doubt that given that highly respected philosophers who are deeply engaged in the question of god's existence just aren't bothering to read their Aquinas properly.

    • "Certainly Russell, Dennet [sic], Grayling are and were not ignorant of Aquinas."

      I don't think that's at all certain. I suggest you read (or re-read) Dr. Feser's earlier posts here which clearly show how Russell and Dennett are in fact ignorant of Aquinas' core arguments for God:

      Bertrand Russell --> https://strangenotions.com/if-everything-requires-a-cause-what-caused-god/

      Daniel Dennett --> https://strangenotions.com/cosmological-argument/

      I doubt that given that highly respected philosophers who are deeply engaged in the question of god's existence just aren't bothering to read their Aquinas properly."

      As Dr. Feser showed in his post, "If Everything Requires a Cause, What Caused God?", this seems to be precisely the case:

      https://strangenotions.com/if-everything-requires-a-cause-what-caused-god/

      • I recall those passages and I also recall thinking that Feser was wrong.

        • Recalling thinking someone is wrong does not mean they are wrong. Feser quoted clear examples from the published work of Russell and Dennett that confirm they badly misunderstand Aquinas's cosmological arguments. To me, it's indisputable.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I read the article. I don't see a single time when Feser quotes Russell.

            It is not fair to suggest that Russell's only or most devastating objection to the cosmological argument was "what caused God." For instance, Russell believed that the cosmological argument committed the fallacy of composition. Just because all the parts of the universe has a cause does not imply that the universe itself has a cause.

          • Greg

            I believe Brandon was referring to another article by Feser, not the present article.

            "What caused God?" was Russell's only objection in his early lecture 'Why I Am Not A Christian'. He demonstrated more understanding in his debate with Father Copleston, though I don't think that the fallacy of composition falls too far upstream of "What caused God?" on the devastatingness scale, since Aquinas never infers that the universe has a cause from the fact that its parts do. He rather argues that there is a purely actual first cause for each contingent thing, and later argues that those 'causes' would really just be one cause. (Though, in fairness to Russell, he perhaps did not attempt to raise the fallacy of composition as an objection to Aquinas, but rather to some generalized cosmological argument.)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I was referring to the linked article.

            Aquinas's arguments implicitly invoke the premise that what is true of parts must be true of the whole. This is why the argument falls to the fallacy of composition.

          • Greg

            Actually, they don't, and I've spelled out why they don't need to.

            Moreover, the fallacy of composition is an informal fallacy. Like an ad hominem, composition is not always fallacious. If two bricks are two pounds each, it is fallacious to infer that the two bricks composed are two pounds each. But if the two bricks are each red, then it is not fallacious to infer that the two bricks composed are red. Prima facie the properties relevant to cosmological argument are more like redness than like weight; if each brick individually requires a cause outside of itself, then the two bricks composed will as well (even if one brick is the cause of the other--all that would have to be argued against is the possibility that each brick causes the other). So someone asserting that an argument commits the fallacy of composition, since it is an informal fallacy, has to show that in the particular case the inference is fallacious.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Prima facie the properties relevant to cosmological argument are more like redness than like weight; if each brick individually requires a cause outside of itself, then the two bricks composed will as well (even if one brick is the cause of the other--all that would have to be argued against is the possibility that each brick causes the other).

            It is not obvious that the composition of everything (the universe) requires a cause.

            So someone asserting that an argument commits the fallacy of composition, since it is an informal fallacy, has to show that in the particular case the inference is fallacious.

            Actually, you are shifting the burden of proof. We know that in many cases reasoning from the parts to the whole can cause an error. It is your job to show that the cosmological argument does not commit this error.

          • Greg

            My point was not that it is "obvious that the composition of everything (the universe) requires a cause." It was that if the constitutents of a whole have a property P, it is not always fallacious to infer that the whole has property P. It depends on what is property P. Again, prima facie, in the case of cosmological arguments, there is no problem in inferring from objects A and B must have a cause outside of themselves to the fact that the mereological sum {A, B} must have a cause outside of itself. Why would this break down on the level of the universe? Nobody knows, because typically the objector doesn't say.

            Now, am I shifting the burden of proof? Of course I am! But you are the one claiming that an argument commits a fallacy of composition even though it is not the case that all compositions are fallacious. Lest your objection misfire, it remains to be shown that composition is fallacious in this particular case.

            Another example would be an argument from authority. It is not the case that all appeals to authority are fallacious. They are fallacious when there is no reason why the person to whom appeal is being made should have the correct opinion on the matter. But other appeals to authority need not be fallacious. (For example, citing a scientific authority on a scientific matter.) As such, a person who wants to accuse someone else of a fallacious appeal to authority has to show that this particular appeal to authority was fallacious (i.e. why the person is not in fact a relevant expert).

            You have not met this requirement in raising the objection of the fallacy of composition.

            Moreover, I conceded that "in many cases reasoning from the parts to the whole can cause an error." I provided an example. But I also provided an error where the inference is sound, and suggested that the property "being in need of an external cause" is more like the latter.

            This is all a red herring, of course, since Aquinas's argument does not rely on composition, fallacious or otherwise, for reasons I have laid out without response (besides the nebulous claim that Aquinas's "implicitly invoke" the fallacy).

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Lay out the premises that avoid the fallacy of composition.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The following article does a good job of summarizing why it is reasonable for us to reject the contingency argument on the basis of the fallacy of composition.

            http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/2014/05/contingency-and-fallacy-of-composition.html

          • Greg

            Not a terrible article. It is a better attempt at responding to Feser than I have ever seen from an atheist reader from this site. Nevertheless:

            1. As far as saying that it is "not always a fallacy" going, the charitable way to read my comments is as conceding that new premises relevant to the property in question need to be added (but may be implicit). For example, if someone appealed to a scientist X on a scientific topic Y, but did not add the premises "X is a relevant expert on Y" and "Relevant experts on Y are probably correct", it would still be improper to accuse that person of engaging in a fallacious appeal to authority.

            2. I gave an argument by analogy to redness, but I also suggested that the inference is sound in the case of contingency and needing-a-cause. (Since the claim that a mereological sum of contingent things requires a cause, in general, is just as plausible as the claim that the contingent things require a cause. One can supplement this by consideration of causal chains and by arguing for the impossibility of vicious circles. I leave this as an exercise to the reader.)

            But most importantly...

            3. Aquinas's argument from contingency never makes this move, fallacious or otherwise. The argument in that article is, of course, a straw man designed specifically to be fallacious. This is the kind of crap Feser has taken issue with: on how many other philosophical topics, would you critique a class of arguments without quoting anyone, by appeal to a general argument form that is formally invalid? Literally no one would do that.

            I spelled out why Aquinas's argument does not need to infer from the contingency of things in the universe to the contingency of the universe above. But I'll repeat myself. Each individual contingent thing (it is argued) has a purely actual cause. It is furthermore argued that any 'two' purely actual causes would in fact be the same (Aquinas has three arguments for this.) So each contingent thing in fact has the same purely actual cause. No inference made from the contingency of the objects in the universe to the contingency of the universe itself.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Each individual contingent thing (it is argued) has a purely actual
            cause. It is furthermore argued that any 'two' purely actual causes
            would in fact be the same (Aquinas has three arguments for this.) So
            each contingent thing in fact has the same purely actual cause. No
            inference made from the contingency of the objects in the universe to
            the contingency of the universe itself.

            You have to precisely define what you mean by contingent and purely actual cause. What is the purely actual cause of the universe and how do we know that the universe belongs to the set of things that must have a purely actual cause?

          • Greg

            I am not going to define 'contingent' and 'purely actual cause' here since we are talking about the fallacy of composition and (as I made it clear) that is not a full spelling-out of the argument. (But 'contingent', here, will mean something other than what many logicians would mean by that term. What is meant by a purely actual cause is, I think, best spelled out in a presentation of the argument along with the theory of act and potency. Feser's book on Aquinas would touch on those topics, for example.)

            I really don't care to say that "the universe belongs to the set of things that must have a purely actual cause." I care to say that the universe is the mereological sum of natural substances, and each of those natural substances (where those, also, are understood in scholastic terms) has a purely actual cause, which is in fact the same purely actual cause in each case. That is, in my view, a sufficient sense of "creator of the universe".

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The reason I ask is that in the arguments that I have seen presented thus far, there is a flaw in the reasoning somewhere. For instance, in the series that is going on currently, it was argued that finite set of conditional beings need an unconditional being to exist. I pointed out that a set of contingent beings say A, B, and C could loop around so that A is contingent on B, B is contingent on C, and C is contingent on A. I was told that the contingent circle would also be contingent on something. This seems to commit the fallacy of composition.

            Secondly, when it was shown that an infinite regress is impossible, one assumes a finite regress to show that the infinite regress is impossible.

            I cannot make a substantial comment on your arguments without knowing what they are. I have seen enough of these cosmological arguments to have a general idea of what you are saying, but I am often told that when I reject a cosmological argument, I am rejecting a caricature.
            What do you mean when you say "theory of act and potency"? Is this a testable theory that we could falsify with a counterexample from the physical universe? I'm told that realities have the potential to change (actualize), and they are only actualize by other realities. In big bang nucleosynthesis, what actualized the electons, protons, and neutrons potential to bond? To me it seems like a case of self-actualization.

          • Greg

            Feser does argue against a loop of causes (kind of), but not on the basis that if you group them together they will still need a cause. It is rather that a vicious circle is not actually explanatory. (I qualify because it is not the circle or the infinite regress itself that is claimed to be problematic in Thomistic arguments, but rather the lack of explanation. Granting that there is an explanation, a Thomist would not deny that such things are possible.)

            I am not sure about the other cosmological arguments you've vetted, but as far as the cosmological argument on the page you linked is concerned, it was designed to commit a fallacy, so that the fallacy could be called out. I know there might be a bit of bad blood over this example, due to the harshness of the language in some of Feser's blog posts that were reposted here, but it is like refuting the argument with the premise "Everything has a cause". I actually wouldn't be surprised if internet atheists had seen that argument defended by a theist somewhere, but certainly it hasn't been defended historically or professionally. (Well, actually, the modern rationalists, i.e. Descartes, Spinoza, and I think Leibniz, did defend arguments with that premise, and they claimed that God was 'self-caused', and that any other thing would could not be self-caused.)

            I don't defend the argument here because it is pointless to defend in a combox when there are better treatments elsewhere, though I sympathize with the desire to see it. No one likes blank checks.

            I am referring to the same theory of act and potency to which Feser refers in this article and which he defends in his book(s). It isn't a testable theory in the sense that theories in the natural sciences are. (Hence Feser's arguments against scientism.)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I am not sure about the other cosmological arguments you've vetted, but as far as the cosmological argument on the page you linked is concerned, it was designed to commit a fallacy, so that the fallacy could be called out.

            I have been commenting on SN since the summer. We have probably had a cosmological argument every other week - I usually comment on those articles. SN is currently running a 6 part series on a contingency argument. I have voiced my issues with the arguments in every article. These are the cosmological arguments that leave me unconvinced.

            I know there might be a bit of bad blood over this example, due to the harshness of the language in some of Feser's blog posts that were reposted here, but it is like refuting the argument with the premise "Everything has a cause".

            The problem with Feser is that he asserts that the reason people like myself are unconvinced with the cosmological argument because we do not understand it. I don't find that to be very productive, especially whenever I ask questions about the argument I am given assertions and hand waving. Also, I find it rather irritating when says that Russell was ignorant of X instead of just saying that Russell was wrong about X and this is why.

            I don't defend the argument here because it is pointless to defend in a combox when there are better treatments elsewhere, though I sympathize with the desire to see it. No one likes blank checks.

            The problem with this is that the better treatments still leave unanswered questions. This is why I like forums like this one. If someone proposes an argument, I can ask the arguer for clarification for something I am unsure about. Let me ask you this. Do you think that the cosmological arguments prove the existence of an immaterial first mover?

            I am referring to the same theory of act and potency to which Feser refers in this article and which he defends in his book(s). It isn't a testable theory in the sense that theories in the natural sciences are. (Hence Feser's arguments against scientism.)

            Before Feser told me that I misunderstood the Cosmological arguments, I would have rejected them in two ways. Firstly, I would have noted that things can move without having a mover. According to Newtonian mechanics, an object continues on its path unless some impetus is given to change that path. Aristotle and Aquinas believed that an objects natural state is rest. Therefore, when they see objects in motion, they believe that something must have moved it away from its natural state of rest. This is incorrect. An object could just move in a straight line forever.

            Secondly, I would note that Quantum Mechanics calls into question the theory of actuality and potency. The theory of act and potency arose from observations of the external world. Observations on motion and change. It is not a metaphysical principle immune to counterexample.

            As far as I know, nobody actually believes the Scientism that Feser is attacking. I have been accused of being a believer in Scientism a few times on this forum and I find the scientism attack is usually leveled in place of actual arguments:

            https://strangenotions.com/orwellian-analytics-christians-atheists-and-bad-statistics/#comment-1620360143

            However, I am not a believer in scientism. Personally, I don't believe that nature neatly demarcates herself into the branches of metaphysics and science. Some problems are purely philosophical, but to say that truths discovered scientifically should not inform our philosophy would seem to do a great disservice to our philosophy .

          • Greg

            "The problem with Feser is that he asserts that the reason people like myself are unconvinced with the cosmological argument because we do not understand it. I don't find that to be very productive, especially whenever I ask questions about the argument I am given assertions and hand waving."

            Well, for example, I said, "Aquinas never infers that the universe has a cause from the fact that its parts do. He rather argues that there is a purely actual first cause for each contingent thing, and later argues that those 'causes' would really just be one cause." You responded, "Aquinas's arguments implicitly invoke the premise that what is true of parts must be true of the whole." So I sketched why Aquinas argument doesn't (and doesn't need to) invoke the premise, and you then told me (without any citation of the argument) that it does. Now, in hindsight, it looks a lot like you were told by that article on Outshine the Sun that contingency arguments in general are structured like that one in that article (which explicitly invokes the premise you claimed Aquinas's invokes).

            "The problem with Feser is that he asserts that the reason people like myself are unconvinced with the cosmological argument because we do not understand it."

            I don't think that is what he asserts. Take, for example, his 'Cosmological Argument Roundup', which makes some claims that sort of resemble the ones you cite here. I'll quote him at length:

            "Most people who comment on the cosmological argument demonstrably do not know what they are talking about. This includes all the prominent New Atheist writers. It very definitely includes most of the people who hang out in Jerry Coyne’s comboxes. It also includes most scientists. And it even includes many theologians and philosophers, or at least those who have not devoted much study to the issue. This may sound arrogant, but it is not. You might think I am saying “I, Edward Feser, have special knowledge about this subject that has somehow eluded everyone else.” But that is NOT what I am saying. The point has nothing to do with me. What I am saying is pretty much common knowledge among professional philosophers of religion (including atheist philosophers of religion), who – naturally, given the subject matter of their particular philosophical sub-discipline – are the people who know more about the cosmological argument than anyone else does.

            "In particular, I think that the vast majority of philosophers who have studied the argument in any depth – and again, that includes atheists as well as theists, though it does not include most philosophersoutside the sub-discipline of philosophy of religion – would agree with the points I am about to make, or with most of them anyway. Of course, I do not mean that they would all agree with me that the argument is at the end of the day a convincing argument. I just mean that they would agree that most non-specialists who comment on it do not understand it, and that the reasons why people reject it are usually superficial and based on caricatures of the argument. Nor do I say that every single self-described philosopher of religion would agree with the points I am about to make. Like every other academic field, philosophy of religion has its share of hacks and mediocrities. But I am saying that the vast majority of philosophers of religion would agree, and again, that this includes the atheists among them as well as the theists."

            So if you lump yourself in with people who have not taken to studying the argument in much depth, then perhaps he is saying that "people like you" (on average, roughly) don't understand the argument. He isn't saying that that is necessarily why you are not convinced by it; he is acknowledging that there are smart atheists who do understand the argument and reject it.

            Read through, for example, Edward Feser's debate with Keith Parsons. Some of their older exchanges were a bit hostile and would probably turn you off; but recently they engaged in a debate on much friendlier terms. Some of the posts can be found here:

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/search?q=parsons&updated-max=2011-01-12T18:33:00-08:00&max-results=20&start=4&by-date=false

            "Do you think that the cosmological arguments prove the existence of an immaterial first mover?"

            I do.

            Though I should note, over time, I have been more inclined to favor arguments from finality like Aquinas's Fifth Way, as well as something like Barry Miller's contingency argument. I think that Aquinas's First Way is sound, but more controversial ground clearing is necessary to present it. I think, for example, that the objections from inertial motion and quantum mechanics that you mention are answerable, but for those other two arguments, they need not be answered.

            "As far as I know, nobody actually believes the Scientism that Feser is attacking."

            The authors he critiques do: Ross and Ladyman, Alex Rosenberg, Lawrence Krauss. Some of them explicitly adopt the label scientism and explicitly make claims of the sort posters here hasten to disavow. (This is a common move in philosophy; soften one's position to be merely epistemic. But it's one that Feser critiques in his book.)

          • "I read the article. I don't see a single time when Feser quotes Russell."

            He links to a direct quote from Russell's classic, "Why I Am Not a Christian", in which he wrote:

            "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument."

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, "Why I Am Not a Christian" is a small essay/lecture that deals with various arguments for god other matters in three of four paragraphs. One can't expect Russell to give his deepest thinking on all of these subjects, in what amounts to a very short essay.

            Secondly, in the essay that Feser references, Russell brings forth two other objections to the Cosmological argument. He says that the notion of cause has changed and that there is no reason to suspect that the universe is not the uncaused cause.

            Also, I think that it is preferable to say that Russell was wrong about argument A because of reason B, rather than Russell was ignorant of Aquinas.

          • "The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, "Why I Am Not a Christian" is a small essay/lecture that deals with various arguments for god other matters in three of four paragraphs."

            The size of the book doesn't change the fact that he displays little understanding of Aquinas' argument. You can misunderstand a position, and misrepresent it, in two sentences as easily as two chapters. The fact remains: Russell displayed no clear understanding of Aquinas' arguments.

            "One can't expect Russell to give his deepest thinking on all of these subjects, in what amounts to a very short essay."

            Of course not. But one should expect that Russell at least represent arguments accurately, even if he addresses them in only a few sentence.

            In the end, you've failed to provide any reason to suppose that Russell accurately understood, or represented, Aquinas' cosmological arguments.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            In the end, you've failed to provide any reason to suppose that Russell
            accurately understood, or represented, Aquinas' cosmological arguments.

            The problem is that I am not sure, which cosmological argument accurately represents Aquinas. I have read a few different arguments on this site, and not all of them are the same and I do not know which one accurately describes Aquinas's arguments. When I read the five ways, I think the cosmological arguments presented commit the fallacy of composition and falsely claim that movement requires a mover or that there are effects without a cause. However, I am not particularly interested in Aquinas's arguments, as I am more interested in the modern arguments put forth by modern philosophers, as these arguments are aware of any objections that Russell or Hume may have had and can thus try to avoid any premises that have been shown to be questionable.

            Whether or not Russell understood Aquinas is not really a main concern of mine. I am more concerned about whether or not modern cosmological arguments avoid Russell's objections. You could be completely right in your belief that Russell misunderstood Aquinas - I have not read enough of either to know one way or the other. I personally have liked Russell's work on logic, philosophy of mathematics, and his book on the problems of philosophy. I don't remember him talking about the cosmological arguments very often, but it has been awhile since I have read him, so I could be mistaken.

          • Papalinton

            "Just because all the parts of the universe has a cause does not imply that the universe itself has a cause."

            Precisely. One of the best counter analogies illustrating the nonsense of the theological cosmological argument is: "All novels have an author; Literature consists of all novels; Therefore, does that mean that Literature has an Author?"

          • ben

            1. I find the word "nonsense" offensive. If you consider the opposing views nonsense, by bother to visit?
            2. Literature is not a thing in itself but, rather, a collection of things, each of which requires an author. Name a novel brought into being by "literature". Novels are examples of conditioned realities - they don't and cannot bring themselves into existence. The author is the cause...
            3. Literature is not a thing in itself, can do nothing and is the cause of nothing.

          • Papalinton

            Finding a word offensive is being a little petulant and self-indulgent, no?. C'mon, don't be so thin-skinned. Why call it 'nonsense'? Because one has to call it for what it is.
            In regard to your second and third points, you are playing semantic games. Goodness! What is the universe if not a collection of things? And who is to say there is only one universe? And who is to say there is only one god?

            By my last recollection of historical fact, there are literally hundreds of thousands of gods known to humanity. Who [You?] is to say the old testament god or the christian god is not a just a character in the novel of judaism, or not the imaginative construct of the authors of the anthology of christian short stories, that collection of pamphlets under the general heading of 'christian literature'.

            The one thing about which we could not be clearer, jesusgod is simply the central character in christian literature, a wholly-owned and trademarked creation of the authors of the christian compendium. The great irony of course is that the new testament authors did not have the intellectual capacity nor individual creative juices to create their own genre. Rather they had to appropriate, as if their own, the literary works of an earlier collection of novellas on which to append their sequel. I do not know of one Muslim that considers jesusgod as THE one true god. I'm pretty sure Hindis don't acknowledge jesusgod as the one true god either. How do you explain in some meaningful way to these few billion people [Muslim, Hindu and all those other people outside the christosphere] that they've got it all wrong? Good luck with that one.

            No Ben, You have to do better than trotting out trite, tired and time-worn pablum if there is to be elevation in the level of discussion on the role and place of religion in contemporary society.

          • ben

            **self-in·dulgent**
            adjective
            characterized by doing or tending to do exactly what one wants, especially when this involves pleasure or idleness.

            ** PETULANT**
            1 insolent or rude in speech or behavior

            **THIN-SKINNED**
            2: unduly susceptible to criticism or insult

            Judgemental insults: Why call it 'nonsense'? Because one has to call it for what it is. :...playing semantic games...."

            "... christian ..." insult by spelling with lower case "C"
            "... judaism ..." insult by spelling with lower case "J",
            Bible reduced to : short stories, that collection of pamphlets under the general heading of 'christian literature'.

            "... jesusgod. ..." insult by (deliberate) mis-spelling and lower case

            Writers of the Bible are stupid: the new testament authors did not have the intellectual capacity nor individual creative juices to create their own genre.
            Insult: The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament): ...an earlier collection of novellas...
            Notice that "Hindis" is spelled with a capital!
            Notice, again the capitals used for: "Muslim, Hindu" ...
            We're back to lower case here: "christosphere"

            Personal, condescending insults and name calling: ...You have to do better than trotting out trite, tired and time-worn pablum..."

          • Papalinton

            Lighten up, ben. Don't take your beliefs so seriously. They are after all only beliefs, not reality. And humour is a pretty good tonic.

            And so, what is your substantive beef? From the tenor of your comments you seem to experience a degree of existential anxiety when the merits of your panoply of religious beliefs are rightly and quite properly challenged. Relax.
            I also smile a little at your proclivity toward a conspiracy theory about the purpose of my user name 'specifically designed' to besmirch catholics and the catholic church. Oh! If only that were true. Alas no, No conspiracy. Just simply a figment of your imagination. Indeed my user name is what my 4 beautiful grandchildren call me, Papalinton, as Linton is my name.

          • Papalinton:

            So far as I'm aware, Aquinas doesn't ever make that argument.

            Perhaps the reason is that if we suppose that a universe can exist without a cause (i.e., a reason for its existence, and for its being this way rather than some other way), some pretty silly consequences follow. It would be possible, for example, that the entire Star Wars universe could come into existence for no reason at all. It would be possible that the universe came into existence two picoseconds ago with the appearance of being older and with our collective false memories intact. And so on.

            I'm not sure I'm aware of any philosophical objection that descends so quickly into absurdity, save denying the principle of non-contradiction.

          • joshgl

            Aquinas' argument is not that the universe has a cause. The first way doesn't even presuppose that the universe has a beginning.

          • Papalinton

            "Perhaps the reason is that if we suppose that a universe can exist without a cause (i.e., a reason for its existence, and for its being this way rather than some other way), some pretty silly consequences follow."

            Thomas, I could not have said it better. Jesus H Christ, along with the examples you give people could also start imagining that a god popped the universe into existence simply by thinking about it.

            Some pretty silly consequences could follow, couldn't it?

          • Paplinton:

            My initial comment assumed you were interested in debating the issue. Generally, the level of the atheist commentators here is quite good, compared with other sites. But I've read your comments and I'm not interested in trading ill-informed insults. That's all I'll say--I'm assuming the moderators will be deleting the comments that flagrantly violate the site rules anyway.

    • Greg

      I don't know how one could be familiar with Thomism and think that Russell, Dennett, and Grayling have properly addressed his arguments. I'm not denying that there are atheists who understand Aquinas (Smart, for instance, perhaps Oppy, Sobel, or Gale). But those three don't strike me as the best representatives of the class "highly respected philosophers who are deeply engaged in the question of god's existence."

      This also isn't to suggest that, if you sat Russell, Dennett, and Grayling down, and forced them to read Feser's exposition of Aquinas, they'd come to their senses and see the light. Philosophical disagreement doesn't work that way. Certainly you couldn't force Peter Hacker to believe Kripkenstein--even if Kripkenstein is right.

      • Well said, Greg. I totally agree.

      • Sure I just get the feeling from Feser that he feels these philosophers are being wilfully blind or are just ignorant. I think there is a genuine disagreement here among scholars. Also, since I generally only hear this argument from Catholics, in something of a theological context, I tend to think this view of cosmology is a minority among scholars.

        What we don't get from Feser is a statement talking about how widely accepted his views are in the greater philosophical community. I get the impression that they are not shared widely outside his own theological persuasion.

        • Greg

          Well, it's hard to figure out how to interpret them besides willfully blind or ignorant. All three are professional philosophers, but as far as anyone can tell they did not attempt to crack open any secondary sources. I think Russell can probably be excused more easily than Dennett and Grayling, since, at least when he delivered "Why I Am Not A Christian", there were not analytic philosophers defending Aquinas's arguments, and he seems to have just drawn directly from Enlightenment caricatures.

          This isn't really a matter of deciding to accept Aquinas's arguments. It's just exegesis. Perhaps part of the problem with Dennett and Grayling is that they committed themselves to the position that theism is obviously ridiculous and all arguments in support of it must be blatantly fallacious, so that delving into secondary sources or the particulars of the arguments would defeat their general thrust.

          As far as the prevalence of Feser's views in the greater philosophical community, theism is not a majority position, and neither is Thomism. One of the themes of Scholastic Metaphysics, though, is that neo-Aristotelian approaches to essence, disposition, and finality have developed independently of Thomism among non-theistic analytic metaphysicians and philosophers of science (E.J. Lowe, Stephen Mumford, Nancy Cartwright, Brian Ellis). So the book highlights the continuities and discontinuities of those authors with the scholastic position. (There is also an argument, derived from those of Kit Fine but extended by some Thomists, that the scholastic act/potency apparatus provides a better account of essence than the modalism of Saul Kripke and Hilary Putnam, since it doesn't take possible world semantics for granted.) Realism and systematic, unapologetic metaphysics in general are much more accepted in the philosophical community than they were half a century ago.

          But however prevalent Feser's views are, I am not sure what sort of criticism that is. There are almost no philosophical positions that generate consensus in the greater philosophical community. It is only theism that is held to such a standard.

          • I don't hold theism to that standard, and I continually point out the flaws in Feser's argument from my point of view. But here, as elsewhere there seems to me to be a bit of arrogance at play. Rather than identify the issues in dispute between philosophies, such as theists maintain that mental aspects have a form of non-material existence and materialists do not credit these mental aspects with any independent existence beyond their matter, Feser seems to just accuse his detractors or being ignorant.

          • Greg

            Well, this was an interview on a very specific topic (scholasticism and Feser's book on scholastic metaphysics, scientism), and Feser was answering the questions he was asked. He wasn't asking about philosophy of mind. But he has written about philosophy of mind (on that specific question) in multiple books (not Scholastic Metaphysics), on his blog (particularly his exchange with Robert Oerter), and in published articles.

            As far as Feser's accusations go, I can identify four points where Feser accuses atheists of being ignorant of Aquinas in the interview. Much of the rest is answering Brandon's questions and, in doing so, "identify[ing] the issues in dispute between philosophies," saying this is what these folks believe and this is why I argue against it in the book.

            In my judgment, Feser has good inductive evidence for the proposition that many critics of Aquinas's arguments miss the mark. (And this is not particularly surprising. Cosmological arguments are generally lumped together. Also in many universities you will only find the scholastics addressed in a couple classes, if that. The arguments are translated into English but it isn't immediately apparent to someone without a background in Aristotelianism that some of the terms are technical. Et cetera.) You evidently disagree, but I confess I am not a regular here so I'm not familiar with the flaws you have revealed in Feser's arguments.

  • I am an empiricist. I am fine with not knowing the ultimate of absolute nature of the cosmos, because I think it is clear that we can never have anything approaching certainty on this.

    I think the mistake is to think that empiricists like myself think we have or can have all the answers. I don't. Let's take the theory of gravity. Through careful observation and calculation, we develop a theory that all mass attracts other mass. We don't know why, or really how, and we know that our theory does not cover all observation. Empricists like me support further investigation, perhaps we can learn more. But we will never know for certain. But I think empirical enquiry into this subject has given us quite a lot to go on. I would say there is something like a natural law at play here.

    Feser notes that this line of inquiry can not tell us what the law is or where it came from. But what does theology and philosophy add other than labels. What is the law of gravity on a theological perspective? Part of gods nature or plan? Other than relabelling it, this tells us nothing. It doesn't say what gravity is, it doesn't tell us how it fits with quantum mechanics. It just places all of our questions about it in the God category and says this somehow accounts for it.

    • "I am an empiricist."

      I'm curious how you define empiricist. What does this label entail for you?

      "I am fine with not knowing the ultimate of absolute nature of the cosmos, because I think it is clear that we can never have anything approaching certainty on this."

      This seems to suggest that unless we can answer a question with certainty, we should complacently ignore it. But this would render every field of scientific inquiry inept. Can you provide some examples of scientific questions you think can be answered with certainty (or at least "approaching certainty")? Why complacently ignore the biggest questions about existence and the universe but eagerly concern yourself with secondary questions if neither can be answered with certainty?

      • Not "only through experience" and I am not sure how you are using "knowledge". But I would say there needs to be some basis in observation for information upon which to reach conclusions.

        I do not mean to say that we can answer any questions with certainty. I certainly did not say and do not think science has answered anything with certainty. I phrased this poorly.

        I am fine with no knowing answers to ultimate questions at all. I don't see how we can reach any level of confidence about these things. All i have seen in these pages is a labeling of our ignorance.

        What has theology added to our understanding of nature or natural laws. We keep hearing that these provide meaning and ultimate answers, but I haven't heard any.

        Concluding that there are ultimate moral standards tells us nothing about what these standards are or how to apply them. Concluding that there is a first cause or an unmoved mover tells us nothing about how physics works or the nature of the cosmos or the origin of the universe. Stating that God exists, loves me and has a purpose for me does not tell me what that purpose is, why he loves me, what love is, or why I should love him back.

        • Phil

          Hey Brian,

          But I would say there needs to be some basis in observation for information upon which to reach conclusions.

          I think your point on defining your empiricism goes back to Dr. Feser's thoughts about scientism. Because if one holds that true knowledge can only come if one has external observations, the natural question is--where is your external observational evidence that true knowledge can only come through external observation?

          But if one defines it more widely, where one simply needs evidence from human experience, then this opens wide the doors to both philosophy and theology. In the end, neither philosophy or theology say anything that is not based on human experience, both external and internal.

          Concluding that there are ultimate moral standards tells us nothing about what these standards are or how to apply them. Concluding that there is a first cause or an unmoved mover tells us nothing about how physics works or the nature of the cosmos or the origin of the universe. Stating that God exists, loves me and has a purpose for me does not tell me what that purpose is, why he loves me, what love is, or why I should love him back.

          Actually the purpose of philosophy and theology in not only to show that there are objective moral values, but how we determine what these values are (this is called "ethics" in philosophy, and "moral theology" in theology).

          Concluding that it is reasonable to believe in a first cause or unmoved mover actually makes it reasonable to do physics in the first place and to assume that the cosmos actually has a "nature". (This is trying to point out that philosophy comes before, and grounds, physics and the other physical sciences as Feser pointed out above.)

          The purpose of theology is not only to understand why it is reasonable to believe that God does love all persons and has a purpose for their creation, but it also sheds light upon what one's purpose is and why one ought to love God.

          What has theology added to our understanding of nature or natural laws?

          You seem to assume here that theology is a study of nature of natural laws, as such. If this is the case, you might be confused on what theology actually is.

          But if your point is that we should only be interested in things that help us understand nature or natural laws, I think your own life would refute this (as well as rational argument). Obviously, you are interested in things on a day to day basis that have nothing to do with a deeper understanding of nature or natural laws.

          On rational basis--your statement seems to implicitly propose that the only thing worth studying is that which leads to a deeper understanding of nature and natural laws. The issue is where did you get your support for this statement, from nature and natural laws (which would be an obvious circular argument). No, the evidence has to come from philosophy since this is a philosophical statement.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think your point on defining your empiricism goes back to Dr. Feser's thoughts about scientism. Because if one holds that true knowledge can only come if one has external observations, the natural question is--where is your external observational evidence that true knowledge can only come through external observation?

            Nobody says that true knowledge can only come through external observation. What we do say is that the scientific method is very efficient at systemizing external observations and selecting the appropriate pattern that future observations will follow.

            But if one defines it more widely, where one simply needs evidence from human experience, then this opens wide the doors to both philosophy and theology. In the end, neither philosophy or theology say anything that is not based on human experience, both external and internal.

            Science doesn't just take any old observation and make a model with it. The observation needs to be repeatable, free of bias, and the theory needs to be able to make predictions that later experiments can verify.

            I don't think this opens the door to theology. Theology makes far to many unwarranted assumptions.

            Concluding that it is reasonable to believe in a first cause or unmoved mover actually makes it reasonable to do physics in the first place and to assume that the cosmos actually has a "nature". (This is trying to point out that philosophy comes before, and grounds, physics and the other physical sciences as Feser pointed out above.)

            This is not true. One cannot divide our sources of knowledge into neat piles (physics and philosophy) and expect one to be completely prior to the other. Physics informs philosophy and philosophy informs physics. Physics can give us clues as to whether or not our conceptions of causality hold in the material world. Physics (and mathematics) gives us a standard of rigor that we can try to apply to our philosophical arguments. Knowledge is not separated neatly into two categories, in which one grounds the other.

            The purpose of theology is not only to understand why it is reasonable to believe that God does love all persons and has a purpose for their creation, but it also sheds light upon what one's purpose is and why one ought to love God.

            And how does it do that? What is the method of theology?

            On rational basis--your statement seems to implicitly propose that the only thing worth studying is that which leads to a deeper understanding of nature and natural laws. The issue is where did you get your support for this statement, from nature and natural laws (which would be an obvious circular argument). No, the evidence has to come from philosophy since this is a philosophical statement.

            The evidence could come from an observation that we have so far observed that everything of value that we have learned comes from a study of nature and the natural laws. The evidence for philosophy comes from observation and intuition. It would be grounded philosophically. I disagree with this observation and could give a few examples to the contrary, but it is not enough to say that atheist X is incorrect because he has not done proper philosophy. You actually have to identify the error of reasoning or provide a counter example.

          • Phil

            Hey Ignatius,

            I'll point you towards Ye Olde Statistician's reply below. He did a much better job, and in a much more concise manner, than I could do.

          • DonJindra

            Concluding that it is reasonable to believe in a first cause or unmoved
            mover actually makes it reasonable to do physics in the first place and
            to assume that the cosmos actually has a "nature".

            There's no reason to think the cosmos has a nature only if that nature has a first cause.

          • Guest

            Can you further explain your point, Don? I apologize as I don't quite understand it.

          • DonJindra

            Can you further explain your point, Don? I apologize as I don't quite understand it.

            No problem. I'm not sure anyone understands much of this stuff.

            If the cause in question is efficient cause, we have no experience with a first cause. We can trace no efficient cause back to a first cause. Some people may want to believe there is such a first cause but that's their business. It has no effect on those of us who see plenty of cause without believing in that first cause. Nature keeps working no matter what we believe, and we keep seeing cause no matter what a philosopher says we're missing.

            But an Aristotelian might be talking about a material cause, not an efficient cause. We get a similar problem. We might say wood composes the chair, but in reality billions of wood cells compose the chair, and more billions of atoms compose the cells, and more sub-atomic particles compose those atoms. IOW, the deeper we look, the more in numbers we find. We're not moving toward one "first cause" but toward infinite causes. No scientist needs to believe nature changes this trend from more and more to suddenly, puff -- One Cause. And even worse, none of this digging finds one case of the "keeping in existence" we need for a Prime Mover. The subatomic particles are merely rearranged. That's the nature we find. There's no reason to believe anything else prior to observing what's there to observe.

          • Not sure what you mean by true knowledge. I don't say we can have true knowledge.

            The apparent uniformity of nature makes it reasonable to do physics, this has nothing to do with a first cause. No model of physics contains a first cause that I am aware of.

            You are missing the point of my comment. Feser notes that science cannot tell us what the laws of nature are or why they operate. I am saying it is not as if theology or philosophy can.

          • Phil

            Feser notes that science cannot tell us what the laws of nature are or why they operate. I am saying it is not as if theology or philosophy can.

            I would argue, and I have good reason to believe that Dr. Feser would as well, that philosophy actually can discuss the underlying nature of the laws of nature and ultimately why/how they operate. That is the purpose of metaphysics. And without a proper meta-physics, physics becomes incoherent.

            (Note: What I'm not trying to say is that philosophy is supposed to explain what the physical laws actually are, that is the job of physics--but philosophy is capable of explaining why/how we observe the things we call "laws".)

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          I would say there needs to be some basis in observation for information upon which to reach conclusions.

          So far, you are in agreement with Aristotle and Aquinas, who said that "nothing is in the mind unless it is first in the senses." The problem comes with stopping there and not abstracting. For example, the empirical thing is the falling body. "Gravity" is a story we tell ourselves to explain how the bodies fall. But gravity itself has no empirical existence, let alone species, natural selections, and the like.

          That's why strict empiricism leads to physical unrealism and the instrumentalism of Mach and others.

          What has theology added to our understanding of nature or natural laws?

          Whatever "natural laws" are. But why is theology supposed to add to knowledge of nature and natural laws? -- unless one subscribes to scientism and holds that all attempts at knowledge are merely failed attempts at scientific knowledge? What has natural science added to our understanding of art appreciation?

          • I do not stop at empirical observation. I also think, reflect, infer and conclude.

            My comment addresses Feser's statement that all science can do is describe natural laws, as if theology can add something useful. I do not see what theology adds to anything.

          • Feser notes that science cannot tell us what the laws of nature are or why they operate. As if this is an insufficiency, as if theology or philosophy can. I am saying they cannot.

        • DonJindra

          What has theology added to our understanding of nature or natural laws?

          Better yet, what has theology add to our understanding of anything? And how would we know?

          • Greg

            There are mathematical subdisciplines that serve no apparent interdisciplinary purpose. They add to our understanding of mathematics--external justification is not required. This was the case for much of number theory until recently, when it has been found to be very useful in computer science, but certainly its seriousness as a discipline did not depend on that.

            So theology, at the very least, contributes to our understanding of theology. Additional justification is not required. How would we know? It depends on the soundness of the arguments. (The same would be true of mathematics. Again, there are those branches that don't have applications. But moreover, the soundness still has to be evaluated apart from application, even in disciplines that have been confirmed through application, like analysis or differential equations--since the results can be applied fruitfully, if true, even if the arguments leading to them were invalid and unsound.)

            Of course, theology could also contribute to to our understanding of precisely those things of which it claims to contribute to our understanding: the fabric of reality and humanity's relation to it.

            And of course, this is true of physicalism as well. If physicalism is true, then it is plausible that methodological naturalism in the sciences, without input from a completed theory of physicalism, is sufficient to teach us all that we could want to apply. (And if physicalism is true and someone formulates a theory of it coherently, it remains doubtful that even an appreciable amount of physicalists would come to hold the theory, given the nature of philosophical disagreement.) But if physicalism is true, then physicalism certainly would contribute to our understanding, even if philosophers could not be brought to agreement on it through some iterative method.

          • DonJindra

            Mathematics is a modeling language. Theology is not mathematics. But you've given me an idea: Theology as a modeling language; modeling the unknown, modeling awe, authority, submission, morality, separation, infinity, eternity, love and hate. I feel an essay coming on.

            Sure, mathematics can drift into the esoteric. Any language can. I'm not convinced the esoteric really gives us a better understanding of the language, though. Even if I agree it can, what sort of understanding is it? A circular one?

            Let's apply your mathematics analogy to vampirology. If I claim vampirology contributes, at the very least, to our understanding of vampirology, what sort of understanding is that? I don't think that sort of "understanding" makes much sense. There's no meat to it.

            It could be said, though, that vampirology touches on ethics, fear, eternal life and our humanity. Perhaps vampirology is a proxy for giving us better understanding of the "fabric of reality," like theology. Again, I would have to ask, How do we know? What about vampirology grounds any of its findings in truth? How would disputes between vampirologists be settled? By convention or creed only, just as in theology.

            So I ask of theology, How would we know if it hit upon a truth? By what objective standard? A nebulous "soundness" doesn't seem to me to be adequate. Historically it's been totally inadequate. The exploding number of sects convinces me of that. Even if we agree on a truth (thou shall not murder, life is beautiful) how can we know theology is any better at arriving at a truth than the "soundness" of vampirology? Or sociology? If it's more convincing on an emotional level, then great. Good for it. But I don't think many theologians would be comfortable with a theology demoted to art measured by its salutary effects.

          • Greg

            "Mathematics is a modeling language."

            I don't think this is a plausible account of mathematics. Some mathematics is used for modeling. Much of it is not. (Particularly the sort of mathematics I was referring to, i.e. apparently useless number theory, is not for 'modeling'.)

            "Sure, mathematics can drift into the esoteric. Any language can. I'm not convinced the esoteric really gives us a better understanding of the language, though. Even if I agree it can, what sort of understanding is it? A circular one?"

            Are you suggesting that swaths of contemporary mathematics research is circular?

            "If I claim vampirology contributes, at the very least, to our understanding of vampirology, what sort of understanding is that?"

            If vampirology had true first principles for which one could offer arguments (perhaps dialectical arguments rather than deductions), then yes, vampirology could be a knowledge-meriting science (a science in the classical sense, that is). But it doesn't, or at least contemporary practitioners of vampirology do not claim as much, whereas Feser does claim as much for his natural theology.

            "So I ask of theology, How would we know if it hit upon a truth? By what objective standard?"

            The same way you would attempt to settle disputes in, for instance, philosophy of language or philosophy of mathematics: by offering arguments for your positions. I don't claim that this would command the agreement of all philosophers, just as no theory in philosophy of language or philosophy of mathematics commands the agreement of all philosophers. (But that is no criticism of those fields.)

            I made an analogy between natural theology and a completed physicalism, which you did not dispute. You now would like to make an analogy between vampirology and theology. (Let us ignore the difficulty that there is no serious vampirology in existence.) The transitivity of analogy in this case is plausible, so whatever your critiques of vampirology are, they appear to apply to a completed physicalism as well: certainly the completed physicalism will inherit all of the problems associated with philosophical theories, viz. that a majority of thinkers likely would not accept it even if it were true. (We can ignore reliance on the transitivity of analogy here, for the analogy between physicalism and vampirology will hold up anyway. A physicalism, unlike physics or biology, cannot be tested and will not have a reliable iterative method for convincing all rational persons to accept it.)

          • DonJindra

            I didn't respond to your physicalism analogy because it wasn't clear to me. So I want to understand this first. You write:

            A physicalism, unlike physics or biology, cannot be tested and will not have a reliable iterative method for convincing all rational persons to accept it.

            IMO, all of biology and physics is composed of "physicalisms." So what do you mean by that term and how does it differ from a law of physics?

          • Greg

            A physicalism is a physicalist theory. There are multiple physicalist theories (and I doubt anyone would predict that there will not always be multiple physicalist theories). Since there are multiple physical theories, I don't think it would be possible for them to be constiutents of biology or physics. While natural sciences may be variegated in some sense, they certainly are not variegated as competing theories. (Indeed, since two different physicalist theories will have to disagree somewhere, for biology and physics to be composed of [multiple] physicalisms would be for biology and physics to be internally inconsistent, and that is not what you meant.)

          • DonJindra

            I'm still trying to piece together what you're saying about physicalism(s) so I may be getting some of this wrong. You seem to be using physicalism as a science in itself whereas I see it as a basic assumption. We're on a search for truth. Physicalism tells us where we should look. It doesn't tell us how to look. Modern sciences like biology and physics start with a physicalist assumption. I don't think it matters much which type of physicalism they assume, they're still looking in the same places. Their "how to look" is the same no matter the type of physicalist assumption. Physicalism itself is not a method.

            So I'm having a hard time seeing how your analogy works. We may be able to compare theology to biology to mathematics. All three are about "how to look." All three purport to be looking for knowledge. Can we compare theology to biology to mathematics to physicalism? I don't think we can. Physicalism is not about "how to look." It's not a science or art that purports to look for knowledge. It's a basic assumption or item of interest in that search. So I think your analogy would be like comparing theology to biology to integers. That doesn't work.

            Nevertheless, your analogy doesn't have to work since I now think I understand what your claim is: A seeking of knowledge rooted in physicalism has the same problems as a seeking of knowledge rooted in a dualism. In context, most theologies include a non-physical, dualist dimension. Your claim seems to boil down to this:

            1) There is not 100% agreement in modern science, therefore physicalism hasn't helped resolve differences any more than theology.

            Advances in modern science (being 100% physicalist in assumptions), having more and more demonstrable agreement over the decades, have shown this claim has no merit.

            2) Even if physicalsts agreed, they'd still be advancing only the physicalist internal doctrine, similar to mathematics or theology.

            The physical world is not doctrine. It really does objectively exist. It doesn't have to be proven (although some misguided philosophers have thought differently). It needs no Aquinas to posit Five ways to prove the Universe. It precedes human thought of any sort. It serves as a touchstone for truth in theology as well as a physicalist science. That's why knowledge gained by a physicalist science is likely to be eventually adopted by a theologian within his system while the reverse isn't likely. So I would disagree that physicalism is arbitrary and merely internally consistent in the way chess rules are arbitrary and internally consistent. OTHO, I would argue that big portions of theology are arbitrary -- or at least highly subjective -- and merely (at best) internally consistent.

          • Greg

            "You seem to be using physicalism as a science in itself whereas I see it as a basic assumption."

            No, physicalism is a philosophical theory. I do not think it is a basic assumption of the natural sciences since the natural sciences developed their methods independent of physicalism.

            "1) There is not 100% agreement in modern science, therefore physicalism hasn't helped resolve differences any more than theology."

            No, I do not hold this. I grant that the natural sciences perhaps converge to truth. What I am saying is that physicalism, as a philosophy that (roughly speaking) attempts to give absolute precedence to the results of the natural sciences in a way that is less naive than scientism, will nevertheless not generate consensus, even if it is true. (So if the inability of theology or philosophy of mathematics or ethics to generate consensus is a problem, it is also a problem for physicalism, which leaves the more extreme versions of scientism to defend. That is, one would be committing oneself to the position that a complete philosophy will just be the completed natural sciences, and that is the crasser version of scientism from which many people here have attempted to distance themselves. They have, in fact, suggested that Feser, in attacking that version of scientism is attacking a straw man. Though I qualify: Feser has targeted other more nuanced versions of scientism and physicalism as well, i.e. Ross and Ladyman, and Rosenberg, so he is not just attacking this naive scientism I describe here. Also I do not know whether or not you would disavow the naive scientism I describe.)

            Anyway, I think we are talking past each other, so I will leave you with the last word if you'd like.

          • DonJindra

            I think an attempt to separate modern science from physicalism is hard to justify. Therefore I see that convergence in modern science as highly integrated with physicalism and headed to the same point. Any "extreme form" of physicalism will tend to approach the same point. While it's true there will always be disagreement even in the sciences, I don't see that as anything like the disagreements in theology, which are diverging, not converging.

            My approach to scientism is that our best, most compelling knowledge comes from the scientific method. But we must depend on other knowledge -- knowledge rarely if ever being certain. So we must do the best with what little knowledge we have that's unfortunately beyond current science. It sounds worse than it really is.

          • re: But I don't think many theologians would be comfortable with a theology demoted to art measured by its salutary effects.

            No too few theologians view it as moreso a practical than a speculative science, ordered more toward affective and contemplative rather than theoretic purposes. Either way, though, theology, while going beyond the rational, would best not go without it, so building its heuristic infrastructure, establishing its epistemic parity with competing interpretive stances, is no small task.

          • In all the great traditions and many indigenous religions, too, the practical sciences of liturgical, sacramental, pastoral and moral theology, when properly approached and suitably practiced, foster and sustain human authenticity. Participants can find themselves nurtured, healed, empowered and liberated by being properly oriented to the cosmos and lovingly dedicated to others. The fruits are right belonging, right desiring, right behaving.

            Truth (e.g. understanding) is but one of life's higher goods, those we can enjoy without moderation, beyond all measure. Others include beauty, goodness, unity and freedom (not the license to do what we merely want but the liberty to do what we clearly must).

            Faith involves an existential disjunction, a "living as if" reality, at bottom, is friendly, is beautiful and good, in the end. That entails some amplification of epistemic risks, to be sure, in hope of value augmentations. Pragmatically, one hopes to cash out more value in terms of beauty, goodness, unity and freedom. To the extent one's existence is more richly textured and that one experiences these values more deeply, one might not unreasonably suspect that truth would not be too far away, as it flies in in the wings of beauty and goodness.

            Pragmatic and reductio criteria are not robustly truth conducive, but they are weakly truth indicative, so, one can hope, not without reason. As far as the dogmatic creedal content of our traditions, much involves myth, which, while not literally true, evokes an appropriate response to ultimate reality (we hope). The great traditions via their practices and disciplines (largely nonpropositional) thus ortho-doxically foster an essential authenticity or soteriology (nuturing and healing people). Via their mythic orientations, which are largely affective and contemplative, they foster our being-in-love, poly-doxically, each in its own way, relating us to self, other, cosmos and ultimate reality, which is necessary to sustain authenticity. (cf. Bernard Lonergan re: authenticity and conversions)

            This may all be too difficult to gauge via social metrics but there are those who, in each tradition, most earnestly practiced same. They are worth a read. They don't provide QED re God but they might raise one's sneaking suspicions.

            At any rate, faith is largely existential, relational, practical and evidential in that regard vis a vis augmented human value-realizations. It's a way of relating to reality writ large, not mostly processing it via our cognitive map-making (although some, philosophically, as a preamble) but navigating it via our participatory imagination.

            How do I know? I don't. That's why it's called faith. But I am certain, for ALL practical purposes, that it has provided me more beauty, goodness, unity and freedom and is worth the living. If there's a reality more beautiful, good, loving and free than that embodied in the Good News of Jesus, I'm certainly not afraid of that!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What do you think theology is?

          • DonJindra

            Wikipedia says, "Theology is the systematic and rational study of concepts of God and of the nature of religious truths." I'll go with that except "rational" in this case is too limiting.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The Wikipedia definition is good. But I don't understand what tool you could possibly use besides reason. Are you confusing religion with theology or a particular religion with a particular theology?

            In Catholic theology, the object of rational study is (1) God and (2) man as can be known through creation and revelation.

            What kind of other understandings are you demanding that Catholic theology should have?

          • DonJindra

            I didn't mean to be unclear. By "limiting" I wasn't suggesting theology should use tools other than reason, I meant that it does use tools other than reason. Specifically I was thinking of emotion and faith. I'm not even suggesting that's wrong. I do suggest it makes theological knowledge suspect.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know what you mean by saying that Catholic theology uses emotions and faith.

          • DonJindra

            I don't know how you couldn't know. :)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Please explain.

          • DonJindra

            I'll put it this way. It's hubris, not reason, that leads a person to claim he has proof of the existence of an all-powerful supernatural being. The humble and smart ones admit there is no proof. Believing is an act of faith.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Maybe you are confusing religion with theology. Theology studies the content of a religion. Many of its premises might be based on faith, but the work itself is one of reason.

            As far as your hubris comment goes, St. Paul would disagree with you, as would 2000 years of Catholic thinkers.

          • DonJindra

            No confusion on that issue. I mean exactly theology -- a theology like that of Aquinas (& his Five Ways) and promoted by Feser. Two thousand years of error does impress me but not in a favorable way. Honestly, though, Aquinas has a fairly good excuse considering the ignorance of the time.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Why do you think theology or philosophy are trying to say something about gravity or quantum physics?

      • I am responding to Dr Feser's statement that science cannot tell us what laws of nature are or why they operate. As is theology or philosophy could.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Feser notes that this line of inquiry can not tell us what the law is or where it came from. But what does theology and philosophy add other than labels. What is the law of gravity on a theological perspective? Part of gods nature or plan? Other than relabelling it, this tells us nothing. It doesn't say what gravity is, it doesn't tell us how it fits with quantum mechanics. It just places all of our questions about it in the God category and says this somehow accounts for it.

      Well stated.

    • Phil

      Feser notes that this line of inquiry can not tell us what the law is or
      where it came from. But what does theology and philosophy add other
      than labels. What is the law of gravity on a theological perspective?
      Part of gods nature or plan? Other than relabelling it, this tells us
      nothing.

      Theology and philosophy, working together with science, would come to what Ye Olde Statistician was pointing out below.

      In regards to gravity here is what science can tell us:
      1) Objects interact in a regular and quantifiable manner that we can predict with great accuracy. We call this interaction "gravity". And that's it. That's all that science can tell us about gravity. It can get better and better at explaining/predicting this interaction. But that's it (there is nothing shabby about this though).

      In regards to gravity here is what philosophy can tell us:
      1) Philosophy helps us to understand that this thing we call "gravity" is not something floating out there in all of, or in certain parts of, reality.

      2) Why objects act in a regular way that we call "gravity" can be more completely explained with the Aristotelian metaphysical terms of "formal cause" and "final cause". Without formal and final cause, science alone would be left to believe that this "gravity" thing is some kind of magic voodoo. (Most scientists implicitly believe in some kind of formal and final causes without calling them that, or ever really studying philosophy.)

      3) Gravity is simply objects acting in accordance with their nature (i.e., formal cause) in being directed towards a certain "end" by their final cause. This is not simply a "relabeling", but a deeper understanding of the nature of gravity that science can not come to.

      4) Philosophy can stop there, or it can then ask the deeper question of how objects even have certain natures that act in accordance with certain final causes--this then eventually leads to the unmoved mover and uncaused cause.

      5) We can see now that there is a great harmony between science and philosophy, each with slightly different way of investigating reality, but both coming to objective and harmonious truths about it.

      -----
      Finally, in regards to theology. We must understand first that it is a bit of a different beast than philosophy or the physical sciences. Theology takes into consideration not only the findings of both philosophy and science, but also divine revelation--first and foremost through the person of Jesus Christ. While both science and philosophy rely heavily upon natural human reason, theology understands that there are things about reality that go beyond reason, but do not undermine it. In other words--there are truths about reality that are supra-rational but not irrational.

      Our theology must never undermine reason, but at the same time we must understand that it can never all be explained by reason alone. In other words, theological principles of the Catholic faith are very reasonable to believe, but if one tries to explain them all via reason alone s/he will hit a dead end very quickly.

      • Right, philosophy and theology cannot tell us what the laws of nature are or why they operate either..

        • Phil

          See my last response to you--as that is actually one of the jobs of philosophy: To tell us how and why we can actually observe the natural laws we do, and what laws actually are.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      BGA, I think you are confused about what metaphysics is and what theology is.

      There is no such thing as a theological perspective on gravity. Theology does not purport to explain the relationship between gravity and quantum mechanics. (Neither does metaphysics, by the way.)

      Metaphysics is the rational study of the most basic aspects of being. It investigates things such as what, deep down, is change.

      Metaphysics can form the basis for the study of the physical world, because, for example, it holds that everything is intelligible, even if we can't understand the reason for it.

      Metaphysics can also form the basis for reasoning to the existence of God, and a natural theology can be built from it.

      • No, I understand all that. As long as we are clear although science cannot tell us what the laws of nature are or why they operate, neither can philosophy or theology.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I reread what Feser wrote. Science does tell us what the laws of nature are. What science cannot tell us is what "law" in itself is. That is where philosophy comes in.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Philosophy and theology can't tell us what the physical laws of nature are (like gravity or chemical reactions). However, they can tell us about ethics and morality, which science cannot do.

  • Krakerjak

    Dr. Edward Feser is one of today's foremost Catholic philosophers who
    specializes in Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysics and the philosophy of
    religion.

    Is there the possibility of getting other non Catholic academically inclined philosophers to chime in here who may have a different understanding of metaphysics and the philosophy of religion. Just for the sake of balance?

    • Sure! I'm open to recommendations. I've actually asked a handful of respected atheist philosophers to do an interview, but most didn't think it worth their time (or just ignored my requests.)

      • Krakerjak

        Thanks for attempting to find suitable interviewees.
        Since you are open to recommendations, I think the following person would make a great interview if you can get her to do it, and at the same time would provide a woman's perspective to balance the gentleman's club of the Four Horsemen of the New Atheists.

        Jennifer Michael Hecht teacher, author, poet, historian, and philosopher.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kkq152424SI

        Contact:We'd love to hear from you. Contact Jennifer Michael Hecht at the following address:

        JenniferMichaelHecht@gmail.com
        http://www.jennifermichaelhecht.com/contact/

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I'm getting a lot out of this book but I don't have any background in analytic philosophy so I pretty much skip the parts that that refer to it.

  • Dawkins, Dennett, Harris & Hitchens represent a philosophically uninteresting Enlightenment Fundamentalism, as compared to Feuerbach, Freud & Marx's vacuous notions, as further compared to those of Camus, Nietzsche & Sartre. Meaningful metaphysical questions still beg regarding - not only primal & ultimate realities, but - proximate & temporal realities.

    Many metaphysical stances remain obviously too strong to prove, but not necessarily too strong to defend. The best scholastics continue to raise interesting philosophical questions and to offer eminently reasonable theological defenses, all Q.E.D. aside. Over against the vulgar absurdists, their stances, at least, enjoy a certain existential actionability.

  • GCBill

    Briefly, scientism is the view that science alone gives us knowledge of reality. Of course, that just raises the question of what we mean by “science.” One problem with scientism is that if you define “science” narrowly -- so that it includes physics and chemistry, say, but not philosophy or theology -- then scientism ends up being self-refuting, because it is not itself a scientific claim but a philosophical one. On the other hand, if you define “science” broadly enough so that it avoids being self-refuting, then it becomes vacuous, because it now no longer rules out philosophy, theology, or pretty much anything else adherents of scientism want to be able to dismiss without a hearing as “unscientific."

    I take issue with this definition. Few people who get accused of "scientism" actually believe that "science alone can give us knowledge of reality." Very often, they disagree about the roles and limitations of science and philosophy, or about how the two should interact. For instance, they might think that scientific discoveries should dictate the way we do metaphysics. I have Ladyman & Ross' newest book (which, full disclosure, I have not finished), in which they effectively argue for this position.

    I've seen philosophers accuse people who make similar claims of practicing "scientism." Yet claiming that science ought to influence metaphysics is not a vacuous claim, nor is it obviously self-refuting. And if it is self-refuting, it's not self-refuting in the same wholly obvious way that Dr. Feser's stated definition is. It would take additional work to show how the particular metaphysical assumptions that science was trying to revise were actually presupposed in some way by science. One couldn't just point out that these forms of scientism are empirically unverifiable and then call it a day.

    Taking scientism to mean that only scientific knowledge is legitimate (and not that it is merely privileged, or highly relevant to all other domains of knowledge) leaves very few actual adherents and maps poorly onto the actual discourse. And taking it to have other broader meanings ensures that Feser's proposed criticisms won't always work. That's not to say there aren't other good critiques of other "scientistic" positions (I agree with much of what Massimo Pigliucci says in the piece I just linked). It just means that Feser has not made them.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      What is an example of a metaphysical claim that science has refuted?

      • GCBill

        Some interpretations of quantum field theory entail the falsity of atomism.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Please explain. What is the metaphysical claim and what is its refutation?

          • A metaphysical claim: physical reality is made up of indivisible constituents: particles.

            Scientific refutation: Quantum field theory is a harmonic perturbation theory on the vacuum; fields, not particles are fundamental in the theory.

          • GCBill
          • Kevin Aldrich

            Well, particles physics and quantum physics are physics, not metaphysics.

          • GCBill

            Atomism was part of philosophy long before it was adopted by physicists.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            That is because "natural philosophy" was what we now call science.

          • GCBill

            Not really. AFAIK the original atomists didn't use anything analogous to the scientific method to reach their conclusions. They were only later verified (and then later falsified) by science.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I didn't mean the Ancient Greek atomists used the scientific method but that they were reasoning about the physical world. The "new" atomists Chalmers writes about began in the same place but now had the scientific method to test their ideas.

          • GCBill

            "Reasoning about the physical world" still counts as metaphysics if it is about the nature of physical objects. The atomist thesis – physical objects are clusters of smaller, indestructible, basic units of matter – attempts to provide a general answer to the question of what these objects are.

            Atomism pertains to the same entities that physics studies, and provides a(n apparently false) background for understanding physical theories. But these facts cannot remove it from the domain of metaphysics. Questions such as "What are minds?" and "What is life?" pertain to the entities that the fields of psychology and biology study in an analogous sense, and I'm willing to bet most Catholics here consider those metaphysical questions.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You say that if one tries to answer the question of what the nature of physical objects are, that is metaphysics. Paul Rimmer wrote that the nature of physical things is quantum fields. So *that* is a metaphysical claim? I don't think so.

          • GCBill

            I think it's a metaphysical claim that is now supported by an interpretation of scientific findings.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't think that is a metaphysical claim.

          • Kevin is right. Saying, "Physical reality is made up of indivisible [physical] constituents: [physical] particles" is to make a physical claim, not a metaphysical claim.

          • Contemporary philosophers seem to disagree (see, e.g., http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atomism-modern/ )

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Chalmers makes the claim at the beginning and end of this article that atomism started as a metaphysical claim, but I don't see how he means any more than that atomism began as a theoretical speculation.

          • Do you think that when he says "metaphysical" he doesn't mean "metaphysical"?

            How do you define "metaphysical"? Maybe, with that definition, we can find out whether science informs metaphysics or not.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Ye Old Statistician answers it over on the anti-SN site:

            > Metaphysics makes claims about physics: for example, what it means to "test" "results" against "reality" or what it means to "pass" or "fail." It does not create "theories" in the sense that physics does. (It is yet another example of scientism to suppose that it must be trying to do so.)

            Of the three great domains -- Physics, Mathematics, and Metaphysics -- the former is more fully immersed in phenomena and operates only at the first abstraction. For example, it abstracts "dog" from the concrete particulars of Fido, Spot, and Rover. The abstraction is done by removing all the particulars of this dog or that dog in order to grasp the essence of dog in general. Physics reasons inductively from facts about the world to theories that seem to explain those facts. (And if you have a faulty metaphysics, you run into things like Hume's "problem" of induction, et al.)

            Mathematics is the second abstraction and divests the object of matter. It reasons deductively from postulates to theorems.

            Metaphysics is the third abstraction and deals with being (existence) as such; thus, with what causation, motion, life, and other things are, while physics deal with particular instances and changes in them. Like physics, it reasons from empirical experience, but unlike physics (and like mathematics) it reasons deductively from those facts. That is, physics induces upward while metaphysics deduces downward.

            [That is all one quote, but Disqus would not let me put it in block quotes.]

            http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/2014/11/guest-post-geena-safires-response-to.html#comment-1712115623

          • Although physics does not say what existence is as such, it does suggest that physical things as things are not composed of atoms. This seems to perfectly fit YOS's definition of metaphysics, and it seems physics informs our present understanding of metaphysics in this case: atomism doesn't work.

            Studying life, biology, should inform the metaphysics of "what life is". The study of motion, which is part of physics, should inform the metaphysics of "what motion is."

            I think it goes in both directions, although I'm not generally interested enough in the "metaphysics" side to commit very strongly on how the two are related. I personally tend to find the "physics" side far more interesting.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree with you that what is really going on in the physical world must inform metaphysics, since whatever is in our intellects must be first in our senses and our senses are what detect the physical world, even if only very indirectly through instruments.

            You'd better find the physics side more interesting, otherwise you'd be a pretty unhappy astronomer!

            However, I have to believe you find the metaphysics side of some interest, because you are interested in knowing if God exists, and the rational way for that is through metaphysics.

          • I'm definitely also interested in the metaphysics side of things. That's true.

          • Krakerjak

            Ye Old Statistician answers it over on the anti-SN site:

            Would it not have been more diplomatic and more "Christian" to have simply said that YOS answers it over on the Estranged Notions site...
            http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.ca/

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I was being scientific.

            SN matter.
            EN antimatter.

          • Michael Murray

            Surely EN posters tend to be materialists and SN posters non-materialists. So don't you have it the wrong way around ?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. Catholics LOVE material reality, because "all that is, is good."

          • Michael Murray

            Don't worry. We atheists are tough. We can stand the snark, the sarcasm, the caricatures. Just as long as nobody ... (shudder) prays for us.

          • In my view, science and metaphysics both grapple with reality's givens employing positivist-descriptive methods with no absolute methodological demarcation. These disciplines distinguish themselves, instead, in degrees of generality.

            Metaphysics considers reality's givens with the broadest of conceptions - searching for root metaphors - to describe putative primal and ultimate realities, musing about their initial, boundary and limit conditions. Most of its concepts remain in-negotiation (heuristic concepts). Many remain non-negotiated (dogmatic concepts). Most of its inferential musing involves abductive hypothesizing and deductive clarification with little inductive testing. Certain metaphysical concepts remain non-negotiable (semiotic concepts) and indispensable, presuppositionally, to ongoing inquiry (various first principles, not all uncontroversial).

            Science considers reality's givens with narrower conceptions to describe more proximate realities, employing more negotiated concepts (theoretic concepts), relying on our indispensable semiotic concepts and a great deal more inductive testing to complement its abductive and deductive inferential musings. Its objects of inquiry yield a lot more falsifiability and verifiability.

            For any given methodological probe of reality, we can assess varying degrees of 1) conceptual negotiation (how many theoretic, semiotic, heuristic and dogmatic concepts employed); 2) inferential cycling (how much inductive testing cycles into what might otherwise be nonvirtuous abductive-deductive wheel-spinning); 3) conceptual generality (the broadness of the categories considered). How much value humankind can cash out of various
            conceptual frameworks, for all practical purposes, is likely related to differences in degree of conceptual negotiation and inferential cycling.

            Thus, not all metaphysics enjoy the same degree of normative impetus. The rules of evidence are the same for everyone and every enterprise, methodologically, but the burdens of proof variously decrease or increase commensurate with how much coercion/freedom is at stake, in other words, with what one plans on doing with one's (often so-called) conclusions, proofs, evidence, etc

            These descriptive (positivist) sciences are methodologically autonomous from our normative (philosophic) sciences, asking distinctly different questions of reality, but they are axiologically integral, which means no value
            can be realized without these methods working together. Epistemology gets nowhere without
            certain metaphysical presuppositions and, for their part, our descriptive sciences are inherently normative. Those presuppositions aren't necessarily decisive, ontologically, but they certainly can be suggestive, worthy of serious consideration.

  • SententiaeDeo

    The Essence & Topicality of Thomism by Fr. Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., is also organized based on the "Aristotelian theory of actuality and potency". He says:

    The excellence of Thomism, from the philosophical point of view, comes secondly from its resolving all great problems through the division of being into potentiality and actuality, admitting the primacy of actuality.

  • SententiaeDeo

    "metaphysics is prior to epistemology" or "logic is prior to epistemology"?

    It reminds me of Division and methods of the sciences:

    9. Again, that science on which others depend must be prior to them. Now all the other sciences depend on divine science because it is its business to prove their principles. Therefore Boethius should have placed divine science before the others.

    Reply to 9. Although divine science is by nature the first of all the sciences, with respect to us the other sciences come before it. For as Avicenna says, the position Or this science is that it be learned after the natural sciences, which explain many things used by metaphysics, such as generation, corruption, motion, and the like. It should also be learned after mathematics, because to know the separate substances metaphysics has to know the number and disposition of the heavenly spheres, and this is impossible without astronomy, which presupposes the whole of mathematics. Other sciences, such as music, ethics, and the like, contribute to its fullness of perfection. Nor is there necessarily a vicious circle because metaphysics presupposes conclusions proved in the other sciences while it itself proves their principles. For the principles that another science (such as natural philosophy) takes from first philosophy do not prove the points which the first philosopher takes from the natural philosopher, but they are proved through other self-evident principles. Similarly the first philosopher does not prove the principles he gives the natural philosopher by principles he receives from him, but by other self-evident principles. So there is no vicious circle in their definitions. Moreover, the sensible effects on which the demonstrations of natural science are based are more evident to us in the beginning. But when we come to know the first causes through them, these causes will reveal to us the reason for the effects, from which they were proved by a demonstration quia. In this way natural science also contributes something to divine science, and nevertheless it is divine science that explains its principles. That is why Boethius places divine science last, because it is the last relative to us.

  • Doug Shaver

    All epistemological claims make metaphysical assumptions -- assumptions about what a mind is, how it is connected (or not connected) to external reality, and so forth.

    OK. And what about metaphysics itself? Do metaphysical claims make any assumptions about what a mind is, how it is connected (or not connected) to external reality, and so forth?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I think so, but the assumptions in metaphysics are either self-evident or can be demonstrated through reason. For example, the principles of non-contradiction and sufficient reason.

      • Doug Shaver

        You and I are not using the same dictionary. If you think any assumption can be demonstrated through reason, then you don't mean the same thing I mean by "assumption." And I do not regard the axioms of logic (e.g. noncontradiction) as having anything to do with metaphysics.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Feser presents the discussion among philosophers of whether something like the principle of sufficient reason is a self-evident assumption or whether it can be proven.

          • Doug Shaver

            OK, it's something philosophers discuss. And therefore, what?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            That assumptions (or first principles) are part of metaphysics.

          • Doug Shaver

            I could stipulate that for the sake of discussion, but if someone tells me I should assume some proposition P, or treat P as a first principle, I can still ask "Why should I?" And that looks to me like an epistemological question.

          • The principle of sufficient reason (PSR) looks to me precisely like stipulations (both epistemological and metaphysical) for the sake of discussion, for the sake of inquiry.

            One thing I take away from it is that, when one gets stumped during an investigation, one best assume that they are only being thwarted methodologically and temporarily and should be able to inquire anew as soon as new tools or methods become available. And another corollary take-away, for me, would be that it makes no sense to otherwise assume, a priori, that one's been stumped due to some, in principle, ontological occulting, which no tools or methods, however new and improved, will ever successfully penetrate. That's all methodological, epistemological. Not terribly controversial as a somewhat weak claim?

            It sounds like others make further, stronger claims, though. Cosmological arguments seem to flow, if one imagines, for example, that concepts like "nothing" and "necessity" successfully refer to reality (they might) and that, merelogically, the universe as a whole thus requires, epistemologically, an explanation (it might), and, metaphysically, a cause (maybe, maybe not)?

            Best I can figure, reality's intelligibility only requires three modal categories: possibilities, actualities and probabilities, but not the fourth, necessities. It's intelligibility does also require noncontradiction (PNC) and excluded middle (PEM) but these hold or fold per modal category, where for possibilities, PEM holds but PNC folds, for actualities, both hold, and for probabilities, PNC holds but PEM folds. This refusal to apply PNC, modally, is not a denial of the principle.

            The practical take-away would be that, for epistemology to successfully model ontology, we only need sufficient regularities in a rather local region of the space-time-mass-energy plenum. That's success defined in terms of survival and adaptation vis a vis evolutionary epistemology. Reality's intelligibility doesn't, to me, imply either its utter comprehensibility or
            thoroughgoing regularities, asymptotically approaching necessities? In fact, the closer we get to t=0 near the Big Bang, the more we approach that ontological occulting, even if not in principle, or over against our epistemic stipulations, then, for all practical purposes, due to entropic erasures.

            Metaphysics well frames our questions but doesn't of necessity deliver our answers. It provides indispensable probes but not incontrovertible proofs of reality. The many tautological metaphysical stances (proofs) regarding primal realities may well be true, but they haven't provided new information. It is not unimportant to me that, when well articulated,
            they at least establish epistemic parity with competing models. PSR, to me, means principle of sufficient regularity. It reminds me of Raisin Bran not creatio ex nihilo.

          • Doug Shaver

            I agree with much of that. To discuss the points of our disagreement would, I think, constitute a serious derailment of this thread.

          • be well!

  • Doug Shaver

    Setting aside for a moment whether some philosophical issue ought to be classified as metaphysical, epistemological, or whatever, should not the first thing we ask about any proposition be: Why should we believe that?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Yes. Or even more basically: Is it true?

      • Doug Shaver

        In terms of how I answer the question, how does "Is it true?" differ from "Should I believe it?"

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think the difference is that some truths can be known (so no belief need be involved) while other things we hope are true (and so, believe). So, propositions can either be demonstrated or evidence can be brought forward in their favor.

          • Doug Shaver

            The notion that belief is uninvolved in knowledge seems incoherent to me. I sometimes hear people say, "I don't believe it, I know it." I think those people are talking nonsense.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You don't "know" geometrical proofs? You only believe or hope they are true?

          • Doug Shaver

            I believe everything I know. When you talk about only believing, the key word is "only." If I know something, I do believe it, but I do not only believe it.

        • The principle of sufficient reason (PSR) looks to me precisely like stipulations (both epistemological and metaphysical) for the sake of discussion, for the sake of inquiry.

          One thing I take away from it is that, when one gets stumped during an investigation, one best assume that they are only being thwarted methodologically and temporarily and should be able to inquire anew as soon as new tools or methods become available. And another corollary take-away, for me, would be that it makes no sense to otherwise assume, a priori, that one's been stumped due to some, in principle, ontological occulting, which no tools or methods, however new and improved, will ever successfully penetrate. That's all methodological, epistemological. Not terribly controversial as a somewhat weak claim?

          It sounds like others make further, stronger claims, though. Cosmological arguments seem to flow, if one imagines, for example, that concepts like "nothing" and "necessity" successfully refer to reality (they might) and that, merelogically, the universe as a whole thus requires, epistemologically, an explanation (it might), and, metaphysically, a cause (maybe, maybe not)?

          Best I can figure, reality's intelligibility only requires three modal categories: possibilities, actualities and probabilities, but not the fourth, necessities. It's intelligibility does also require noncontradiction (PNC) and excluded middle (PEM) but these hold or fold per modal category, where for possibilities, PEM holds but PNC folds, for actualities, both hold, and for probabilities, PNC holds but PEM folds. This refusal to apply PNC, modally, is not a denial of the principle.

          The practical take-away would be that, for epistemology to successfully model ontology, we only need sufficient regularities in a rather local region of the space-time-mass-energy plenum. That's success defined in terms of survival and adaptation vis a vis evolutionary epistemology. Reality's intelligibility doesn't, to me, imply either its utter comprehensibility or
          thoroughgoing regularities, asymptotically approaching necessities? In fact, the closer we get to t=0 near the Big Bang, the more we approach that ontological occulting, even if not in principle, or over against our epistemic stipulations, then, for all practical purposes, due to entropic erasures.

          Metaphysics well frames our questions but doesn't of necessity deliver our answers. It provides indispensable probes but not incontrovertible proofs of reality. The many tautological metaphysical stances (proofs) regarding primal realities may well be true, but they haven't provided new information. It is not unimportant to me that, when well articulated,
          they at least establish epistemic parity with competing models.

          In case the above was too dense, here's the precis: PSR, to me, means principle of sufficient regularity. It moreso reminds me of Raisin Bran, less so creatio ex nihilo.

  • Mike

    Thanks for this; very interesting and helpful for someone like me who is not that comfortable with the terms often used in these discussions.

  • MilkywayAndromeda

    1) I had been reading the article and the comments.

    2) I am pleased that so many ground based inputs were shared in such polite way.

    3) I have not the deep knowledge as many (all) of you demonstrated.

    4) I would like to enrich my perspectives with your teachings and thoughts, please.

    a) However, we have an high level of cognitive complexity because or not when we compare with other animals. We are not capable of understand what we do not know. How to understand what is a color (red, yellow...) if I was born blind?
    How to understand quantum chemistry if I even do not understand quantum mechanics?

    b) The cognitive revolution is very recent event (70000 years?). With it came the possibility of us to play and be amused with intangible concepts (stories) such power, God(s), money, state, nation, public limited company, science...
    How can we master the use of such recent tool?

    c) We switched off the mechanism of evolution by natural selection at least for the population of the planet that belongs to "haves" and in some parts of the "have nots" (China´s one child policy for example).

    d) We are having capabilities of producing homo sapiens sapiens with AI (artificial intelligence).

    So my questions are:

    I) How will be the transition phase between the emerging of new homo sapiens sapiens (those with AI) and extinction of us?

    II) What stories will guide us?

    III) And the classical one, why is all of this?

  • joe ho

    lol.

    so many word games. so much decadent theo-philosophizing.

    as dawkins says, there's not one jot of credible evidence for the existence of a supernatural deity.

    all of this is pathetic navel-gazing and intellectual contortionism.