Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Notes On Edward Feser's 2014 book "Scholastic Metaphysics".

I have felt for some years now that Thomistic metaphysics describes reality. This fascinating combination of idea and reality promises (or at least suggests) a method of grasping natural knowledge of all areas, levels and degrees of reality (at least to the degree those levels of knowledge are demonstrated as knowable by the method). In other words, pretty exciting stuff: neo-Thomism promises reality with a capital-T for "Truth". 

Last April 2014 Edward Feser published a book laying out the arguments for this daring proposition. The book is called Scholastic Metaphysics, and I have been looking for it to review in university libraries all around the country today. In my search I have found a lot more information about the book, so here I propose to gather what I've found:

The author Edward Feser writes:

Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction provides an overview of Scholastic approaches to causation, substance, essence, modality, identity, persistence, teleology, and other issues in fundamental metaphysics.  The book interacts heavily with the literature on these issues in contemporary analytic metaphysics, so as to facilitate the analytic reader’s understanding of Scholastic ideas and the Scholastic reader’s understanding of contemporary analytic philosophy.  The Aristotelian theory of actuality and potentiality provides the organizing theme, and the crucial dependence of Scholastic metaphysics on this theory is demonstrated.  The book is written from a Thomistic point of view, but Scotist and Suarezian positions are treated as well where they diverge from the Thomistic position.
0. Prolegomenon
0.1 Aim of the book
0.2 Against scientism
0.2.1 A dilemma for scientism
0.2.2 The descriptive limits of science
0.2.3 The explanatory limits of science
0.2.4 A bad argument for scientism
0.3 Against “conceptual analysis”
1. Act and potency
1.1 The general theory
1.1.1 Origins of the distinction
1.1.2 The relationship between act and potency
1.1.3 Divisions of act and potency
1.2 Causal powers
1.2.1 Powers in Scholastic philosophy
1.2.2 Powers in recent analytic philosophy Historical background Considerations from metaphysics Considerations from philosophy of science Powers and laws of nature
1.3 Real distinctions?
1.3.1 The Scholastic theory of distinctions
1.3.2 Aquinas versus Scotus and Suarez
1.3.3 Categorical versus dispositional properties in analytic metaphysics
2. Causation
2.1 Efficient versus final causality
2.2 The principle of finality
2.2.1 Aquinas’s argument
2.2.2 Physical intentionality in recent analytic metaphysics
2.3 The principle of causality
2.3.1 Formulation of the principle
2.3.2 Objections to the principle Hume’s objection Russell’s objection The objection from Newton’s law of inertia Objections from quantum mechanics Scotus on self-motion
2.3.3 Arguments for the principle Appeals to self-evidence Empirical arguments Arguments from PNC Arguments from PSR
2.4 Causal series
2.4.1 Simultaneity
2.4.2 Per se versus per accidens
2.5 The principle of proportionate causality
3. Substance
3.1 Hylemorphism
3.1.1 Form and matter
3.1.2 Substantial form versus accidental form
3.1.3 Prime matter versus secondary matter
3.1.4 Aquinas versus Scotus and Suarez
3.1.5 Hylemorphism versus atomism
3.1.6 Anti-reductionism in contemporary analytic metaphysics
3.2 Substance versus accidents
3.2.1 The Scholastic theory
3.2.2 The empiricist critique
3.2.3 Physics and event ontologies
3.3 Identity
3.3.1 Individuation
3.3.2 Persistence Against four-dimensionalism Identity over time as primitive
4. Essence and existence
4.1 Essentialism
4.1.1 The reality of essence
4.1.2 Anti-essentialism
4.1.3 Moderate realism
4.1.4 Essence and properties
4.1.5 Modality
4.1.6 Essentialism in contemporary analytic metaphysics
4.2 The real distinction
4.2.1 Arguments for the real distinction
4.2.2 Objections to the real distinction
4.3 The analogy of being
 Next specimen, then.

Here's an erudite attempt to contort neo-Thomist metaphysics to match up with Calvinism. He does a good job connecting the square peg of Thomism with the round hole of Calvinism, but the summary is the best thing. Here it is applied to (my field of interest) ethics:

"This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) ‘ideologies’, all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves.
Scholastic metaphysics provides the alternative to rebellion in the theoretical register. My survey of Dr. Feser’s book above highlighted one section where he derived from his metaphysics a method for investigating essences; in effect, when applied to the realm of the human essence, this is the foundation of accurate ethical theory. We can discover the essence, and so the purpose, of the human being by observation and reasoning, and from there determine what kinds of conditions and behaviours prevent us from reaching that end. In this way we can discover and acknowledge the entirety of the human good, and therefore avoid arbitrariness and gross immorality in our ethics."

Finally, for your enjoyment, here is a hearty defence at the hands of the Imaginative Conservative of scholastic truth:

"One of the pleasures of this book is that Dr. Feser is locked in argument with those who seek to explain reality but whose examination of it often leaves out something important. He is not afraid to say that an argument is “bogus” or “absurd” or “incoherent,” nor is he afraid to explain why. Dr. Feser says these things only after he shows the point that grounds his judgment. And lest we forget, philosophy is about judgment. Truth is in a judgment—we say of what is that it is and of what is not that it is not. What is particularly good about this book is its order. Truth is reached by critically examining observations and explanations that do or do not explain reality.

"In this sense, Dr. Feser’s book is quite the opposite of the “fuzziness” of the modern mind that claims that nothing is true or that all is relative. But once said, the truth of the position that nothing is true is open to judgment. This judgment is what Dr. Feser provides in this book. In this sense, it is one of the most refreshing books I have come across in years. Who else is willing to make a case, to articulate in the name of scholasticism, a cohesive case, for teleology, analogy, prime matter, causality, substance, common sense, esse et essentia, and the validity of the mind’s knowing powers?

"Dr. Feser is aware of many good philosophers who, like himself, are working their way through the modern mind. They discover, often surprising themselves, that their pursuit leads them to Aristotle, Aquinas, and the scholastic tradition."

This book thinks about reality: "Each section of the book—1) act and potency, 2) causation, 3) substance, and 4) essence and existence—carries the reader through the experience of actually thinking of these issues, of why they make sense. Thus, it restores that awareness of philosophic immediacy", of truth as "the self-manifestation and state of evidence of real things," as Josef Pieper writes in his 1960 book Scholasticism.

For scholasticism, "truth is something secondary, following from something else. Truth does not exist for itself alone. Primary and precedent to it are existing things, the real. Knowledge of truth, therefore, aims ultimately not at ‘truth’ but, strictly speaking, at gaining sight of reality."

Inspiring stuff!

Conservatism vs Liberalism, A Way Forward.

"[T]he dominant political tradition of modernity did not simply discover a pattern laid up in heaven to contemplate. Rather, Enlightenment liberalism was a project that set out to transform the world. Moreover, this multigenerational project was aimed against a particular enemy—namely, the Church and, with it, the social world that Christianity had brought into being in Europe. Thus, the famous “state of nature” that grounds liberal argument is a cunning substitute for the biblical account of Eden. The bourgeois virtues of the commercial republic, in turn, are meant to supersede the classical and Christian virtues, which in some cases now assume the character of vices. The sovereignty of the people as the sole legitimating principle of the liberal regime places in question the sovereignty of God. "

Comment: the heart of the problem is authority, and it is a solvable problem. We can simply ask "Who is the positive author of human affairs?" to find the truth. It's not enough to ask who is the passive or negative source of authority - passive or inactive laws have no power to excite human passion and instinctive allegiance. No; we must decide on what are the active, activating, and enacting sources of personal, social and political authority, if we are to resolve the distinction between conservative and liberal.

"[T]he Enlightened builders of the liberal regime were quite certain that they had discovered principles of political right that were universally applicable—and that in time might be applied beyond politics to the sphere of morals. Burke, in contrast, was guided by a kind of certainty in (traditional) morals, by an immediate intuition of the human good, while he viewed with the deepest skepticism speculative theories of political right. Whereas the Enlightenment “builds down” from politics to morals, the conservative “builds up” from morals to politics. Perhaps it would be fair to say that the liberal tradition, even today, has not yet generated a credible account of moral life. Perhaps it would be similarly fair to say that the conservative tradition has not yet generated a credible account of political life. "

What would such a (hitherto unthought-of) conservative account of politics look like? I have reason to believe it would look a lot like the work of Mortimer J. Adler in his books on politics and ethics. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Problem Solving In Systems

It's not the person that is the problem, but the system.

What does this mean?

It means "I am not the problem".

Is this denying personal responsibility?

It can mean that. But personal responsibility means solving the problem, and if the problem is part of the system, then it cannot be personally solved; the problem must be solved through and in the system!

It means most problems are the system.

A system is abstract, not a thing in itself. So an abstract system is the problem itself. The problem is not separate from the system. The system and the problem are one. If the system is the problem, there is no place for adversarial relations. 

On the other hand, if the problem is the person, then adversarial relations are required. Indeed, they are one's duty. But these are uncommon.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Greek Tragedy It Aint: On Watching the Movie "Prometheus".

The Alien movies, of which Prometheus is a prequel, made no pretense to high art. They were horror, pure and simple. At their best, in the James Cameron masterpiece "Aliens", they are the blend of suspense and science fiction, showing humans at their worst (greedy) and best (maternal).

I think what explains the power of the Aliens franchise so much is their use of feminine tropes of protection, nurturance, and childbirth in perverse and violent ways, highlighting thereby the shadow side of feminist aspirations. 
The old Alien franchise captures a turning point moment of Western culture where the feminine was on the ascendant.

But Prometheus goes further to includes the whole family in the general bloodbath. It uses the theories of Freud like an alcoholic uses gin - straight from the bottle. The family constellation is the theme of this entire movie. It is the Götterdämmerung of the idealistic view of the family. Idealists of all stripes are smashed, mashed, pulped, and generally incinerated in a Sadean tableau of the most horrible things that can happen to a true believer. Even abortion is turned into a horrifying trope for the will to survive. 

And the absurdity of the ending is beyond a joke. The heroine and the headless robot take off in an alien ship. Where do they get food and life support from for the journey? It just doesn't make sense.

Anyhow, a fascinating installation of a really gross film franchise performing autopsy on what they imagine to be the dead body of Western Culture. Prometheus' take on family sin includes only nihilist and emotionalistic sentiments of death and destruction, and fails to include any meaningful reference to any saving grace. Greek tragedy it aint. 

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