Thursday, September 26, 2013

Natural law or supernatural law?

When you blur a real distinction between any two things A and B, you invariably tend, at least implicitly, to deny the existence of either A or B.  For instance, there is, demonstrably, a real distinction between mind and matter.  To blur this distinction, as materialists do, is implicitly to deny the existence of mind.  Reductionist materialism is, as I have argued in several places (such as here), really just eliminative materialism in disguise.  There is also a clear moral distinction between taking the life of an innocent person and taking the life of a guilty person.  To blur this distinction, as many opponents of capital punishment do, is to blur the distinction between innocence and guilt.  That is why opposition to capital punishment tends to go hand in hand with suspicion of the very idea of punishment as such.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Some questions on the soul, Part I

In a recent post I spoke of the soul after death as essentially the human being in a “radically diminished state.”  The Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical reasons for this characterization were set out in an earlier post.  A reader asks how I would “answer [the] challenge that it appears the Bible suggests our souls in communion with God are better off than those of us here alive in this ‘vale of tears.’”  After all, St. Paul says that “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord,” and Catholics pray to the saints, who are obviously in a better state than we are.  Isn’t this clearly incompatible with the claim that the soul after death is in a “radically diminished state”?  Furthermore, wouldn’t the conscious experiences that Christian doctrine attributes to the saved and the damned after death be metaphysically impossible on an Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of the soul?  Wouldn’t a Cartesian view of the soul be more in harmony with Christianity?  Do we have here a case “where Aristotelian philosophy is just at odds with revealed Christian truth”?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Midwest Studies in Philosophy

My article “The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument” appears in Volume 37 of Midwest Studies in Philosophy.  The theme of the volume is “The New Atheism and its Critics” and the other contributors are A. W. Moore, Michael Ruse, David Shatz, Gary Gutting, Kenneth A. Taylor, Andrew Winer, Richard Fumerton, Jonathan L. Kvanvig, Gregg Ten Elshof, Massimo Pigliucci, and Alister E. McGrath. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Man is Wolff to man

As a follow-up to my series of posts on the critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, let’s take a look at philosopher Robert Paul Wolff’s recent remarks about the book.  Wolff is not nasty, as some of the critics have been -- Nagel is Wolff’s “old friend and one-time student” -- but he is nevertheless as unfair to Nagel as some of them have been. 

Most of his post is not about Nagel at all, but consists of an anecdote about Edward O. Wilson and some remarks about the wealth of knowledge Wolff has found in the biology books he’s read.  The point is to illustrate how very meticulous good scientists can be, and how much they have discovered about the biological realm.  All well and good.  But so what?  What does that have to do with Nagel?

Monday, September 9, 2013

The return of final causality

I commend to you the late historian of philosophy Paul Hoffman’s paper “Does Efficient Causation Presuppose Final Causation?  Aquinas vs. Early Modern Mechanism.”  The paper appeared in the 2009 volume Metaphysics and the Good: Themes from the Philosophy of Robert Merrihew Adams, edited by Samuel Newlands and Larry Jorgensen, and I am pleased to find that it is available online.  It is part of a growing number of works by contemporary thinkers outside the Thomistic orbit which sympathetically reconsider or even defend (as Hoffman does) something like an Aristotelian conception of teleology.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Churchland on dualism, Part V

Paul Churchland has just published a third edition of Matter and Consciousness, his widely used introductory textbook on the philosophy of mind.  The blog Philosophy of Brains has posted a symposium on the book, with contributions from Amy Kind, William Ramsey, and Pete Mandik.  Prof. Kind, who deals with Churchland’s discussion of dualism, is kind to him indeed -- a little too kind, as it happens.  Longtime readers will recall a series of posts I did several years ago on the previous edition of Churchland’s book, in which I showed how extremely superficial, misleading, and frankly incompetent is its treatment of dualism.  Prof. Kind commends Churchland’s “clear writing style and incisive argumentation” as “a model for us all.”  While I agree with her about the clarity of Churchland’s style, I cannot concur with her judgment of the quality of the book’s argumentation, for at least with respect to dualism, this new edition is as bad as the old.