Sunday, December 30, 2012

J. D. Walters' Review of The Last Superstition

A book I got for Christmas, which I have been enjoying. Here.

44 comments:

BeingItself said...

It's a fun read, no doubt. But anyone with a rudimentary baloney detector will find the arguments laughably feeble.

BenYachov said...

But everyone knows you didn't read it BI. Indeed you spent weeks over at Feser's Blog with feeble attacks on Thomism complaining we had to prove Thomism was worthwhile to you before you would consent to read it.

BeingItself said...

"before you would consent to read it."

Got evidence?

I've read it.

B. Prokop said...

Riffing off of Feser's criticism of contemporary philosophy, I myself often wonder whether future generations will see all of "Modernity" as an aberration in the large-scale history of human thought. There seems to be a pervasive trend toward disintegration that doesn't really become visible until one takes an overview of all aspects of culture.

Examples:

Art mutating over time from realism to abstractionism to non-objectivism.

Music evolving from harmony and tonality to cacophony and noise.

Architecture abandoning any pretense of beauty and turning out Big Boxes.

Literature devolving from epic poetry to internet blogs and twitter.

Sculptors no longer depicting the human form, but constructing mere shapes.

So is gnu atheism so surprising in such an environment?

(By the way, I love "modern art" - Rothko is one of my favorite painters. But my observation stands.)

BenYachov said...

>Got evidence?

>I've read it.

Your pathological ignorance of philosophy in general is all the proof we need.

You haven't read it you are lying.

Dan Gillson said...

I understand why Bob laments the current state of arts and culture; however, let me put a less cynical spin on (some of) his examples of devolution. Personally, I see postmodernism as an experiment in expression without forms: Is communication still efficacious without forms? Can it be? Is expression fated to be forever intertwined with tradition, or a semblable of it? When we look at Bob's examples as expressions of such questions, gnu atheism, by comparison, stands out like a sore thumb. It's just atheism for the uncultured.

Eric said...

Victor, do you plan on posting your thoughts/impressions/judgments/opinions of the book after you've read it?

B. Prokop said...

Oh, I'm not lamenting it. I'm rather making a (perhaps bold) prediction that modernity is ultimately a passing phase. There's only so far one can go by stripping away everything from form before you're left with content-less impressions. There will inevitably be a reaction.

As for gnu atheism, I think it fits the pattern quite well. We've come from Thomism to Bertrand Russell to a rejection of philosophy itself (scientism).

Dan Gillson said...

1.) True, there is only so far one can go; but I wasn't arguing for postmodernism, merely arguing that postmodernism isn't a cultural regression as a matter of perspective.

2.) That's an awfully selective history of philosophy. (I'd be suspicious of any history that proceeded so linearly.) I also think your claim that we've come to point in history where we have rejected philosophy is suspect.

B. Prokop said...

We haven't rejected philosophy - the gnus have. They've done so repeatedly and explicitly on this website.

Dan Gillson said...

Can't argue with that, I guess.

Eric said...

"I wasn't arguing for postmodernism, merely arguing that postmodernism isn't a cultural regression as a matter of perspective."

Dan, I appreciate your point, but I have to disagree. I don't think that you can reject (indeed, repudiate) forms, especially traditional forms, without rejecting knowledge, for knowledge is embodied in such forms. To the extent that rejecting forms can be identified with a rejection of knowledge, then, postmodernism is cultural regression par excellence. As you move from among works by Euphronius or (copies of works by) Praxiteles, or Guernico and Titian, to Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol, it's difficult (for me, anyway) not to conclude that art, and the culture it reflects, has indeed 'regressed' in an epistemic and perhaps a moral sense as well.

The New Atheists, however, to a man reject postmodernism, as far as I can tell. They are modernists to the core.

B. Prokop said...

Dan,

Well, that's settled.

Everyone,

Happy New Year!!! I absolutely loathe New Year's Eve parties, so I plan to spend the evening as I do each year, by watching the Russian film "The Irony of Fate" (Ironiya Sudby) and munching on popcorn.

ingx24 said...

I'm honestly pretty skeptical of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy as a whole. I personally don't see why substantial forms and final causes are necessary to explain the natural world, and in my opinion the whole "soul as the form of the body" thing comes way too close to materialism for comfort (as far as I know A-T sees emotions, mental images, sensations, etc as fully material, and only rational thought as immaterial). Now, I haven't read TLS (although I have read a ton of Edward Feser's blog and tried to be sympathetic to his point of view, since he's so good as a critic of materialism), but from what I do know about A-T I'm pretty skeptical of it.

Dan Gillson said...

Eric (whose well informed contributions here I generally appreciate) raises some good discussion material that I unfortunately cannot respond to now. (I am working in the New Year). I'll get to it tomorrow.

Happy New Year!

grodrigues said...

@Dan Gilson:

"Is communication still efficacious without forms? Can it be?"

No.

"Is expression fated to be forever intertwined with tradition, or a semblable of it?"

Yes. The massive weight of tradition is both our glory and our despair. Those who deny it end up being fourth rate mediocrities. Those who confront it (Joyce, Elliot, etc.) have a chance to carve a clearing for their own voice amidst the cacophony of the Magnificent Dead.

Antonin Artaud cried "Let the dead poets make way for others" but that is precisely what the dead will not consent in doing. No amount of wishful thinking (or resentment) will make them go away.

B. Prokop said...

Grodrigues,

Interesting point. I'm trying to see how Walt Whitman (one of my favorite poets) fits in here. He's continually calling for a sweeping away of the past in Leaves of Grass whilst simultaneously heaping praise upon praise on its accomplishments. There's a real tension there, but in his case he's such a good poet that he pulls it off. A lesser talent just ends up sounding shallow.

But the real issue here is something Lewis or Tolkien would have been able to address (and in fact, they did), which is just how heavily dependent our very language is on myth, tradition, old stories, history, past usage, etc. No word and no idea exists independently or in a vacuum. Each and every one is always at the center of a huge web that stretches back to the dawn of time and around the globe.

We can say nothing in isolation from all that has been said before.

Eric said...

Ack, that should be *Euphronios and *Guercino...

Happy New Year!

BeingItself said...

There are good reasons why AT metaphysics has been abandoned by the overwhelming majority of philosophers: it's almost certainly false.

Sure, just like any dogmatic belief, the believer can special plead and add on ever more unjustified and complex assumptions to maintain the belief.

B. Prokop said...

Beingitself,

You're a bit confused here. People don't believe in philosophy - they use it. For you to say someone doesn't believe in Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy is like saying someone doesn't believe in a socket wrench. Philosophy is a tool, not a dogma.

BeingItself said...

So when folks use AT metaphysics to "prove" that their god exists, these folks don't believe that god exists?

Of course they do!

People use metaphysical principles that they believe are true statements about reality in order to make arguments.

Sure, philosophy is tool.

But people also believe their particular philosophies are true. You have set ups a false dichotomy. In other words: you're doing philosophy wrong.

B. Prokop said...

I stand by what I wrote. No false dichotomy there.

If I use a hammer to knock together a bookshelf, it's the bookshelf that I will be setting my books on - not the hammer.

If I use philosophy to prove the existence of God, then it is God I believe in - not the philosophy.

You can believe in the efficacy of a particular philosophy, but that's a far cry from believing in said philosophy.

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"Interesting point. I'm trying to see how Walt Whitman (one of my favorite poets) fits in here. He's continually calling for a sweeping away of the past in Leaves of Grass whilst simultaneously heaping praise upon praise on its accomplishments. There's a real tension there, but in his case he's such a good poet that he pulls it off. A lesser talent just ends up sounding shallow."

Although I am deeply moved by Whitman's lament for Lincoln "When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd", I am somewhat indifferent to the rest of the "Leaves of Grass". We all have our numerous blind spots and Whitman is one of mine. But you did pick out one of the most splendorous examples of innovation, in which something new seems to be have been begotten and not created. Outrageous as this must sound, even to me who much prefers the astonishingly difficult and original Emily Dickinson, American poetry is practically the story of Whitman's influence on his heirs. He practices a superficially easy free verse and maybe because of that, many take him to be the folk, vagabond poet of democracy and freedom, with a bushy beard and a fiery staff roaming the starry night, a sort of precursor to professional rebels like Ginsberg, but at heart he is a prophet, but answering to no god and with himself as the subject of his prophecies.

Pick up a volume of 20th century American poetry and you will find Whitman's accent and prophetic, highly individual drive practically everywhere, even as it lurches towards an almost solipsist loneliness, both in the strong poets that have managed to find their own voice, and the many scores of his mediocre emulators (I just named one in the previous paragraph. Grin).

He shares this much with William Blake; his form is simple at the surface, but both cognitively and imaginatively, he is hermetic, a veritable sect of one.

B. Prokop said...

"He practices a superficially easy free verse"

Well said. Just as a diving catch in the outfield looks easy when a professional ballplayer does it (just try it yourself!), Whitman's verse seems at first glance to be casually unstructured, when it is the furthest thing from it. Again, just try and copy his style! Not easy at all, is it?

It's OK that he's not your Cup o' Tea. I have my own literary blind spots (Faulkner, for instance). For myself, I never seem to tire of Whitman - I'm always discovering something new in him no matter how many times I read his work, and there are darn few writers I can say the same for. Charles Williams and T.S. Eliot come to mind as two others.

Syllabus said...

There are good reasons why AT metaphysics has been abandoned by the overwhelming majority of philosophers: it's almost certainly false.

Care to share your über-enlightened refutation with us ignorant barbarians?

He practices a superficially easy free verse

Free verse is easy to do, and nearly impossible to do well. Only people like T S Eliot or Yeats can do it with any great skill.

B. Prokop said...

"Only people like T S Eliot or Yeats can do it with any great skill."

And Charles Williams.

Syllabus said...

And Charles Williams.

I haven't read enough of his works to know that one way or the other, so I'll defer to your greater knowledge.

B. Prokop said...

If you like poetry, start with Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars - but be prepared for a wild ride. His poetry is by no means deliberately obscure, but incredibly dense, in the sense that it is packed solid with literary allusion and an assumption that the reader has at least a passing familiarity with Mallory, Wordsworth, Dante, Virgil, Medieval history, the Arthurian Legends, Milton, Saint Paul, ancient Roman festivals (e.g., Lupercalia), the Kabbala, Islamic mysticism, astrology, T.S. Eliot, and maybe a few other things I've missed.

But he's way more than worth the effort! If you'd prefer to start with one of his theological works, I'd suggest either The Figure of Beatrice or He Came Down From Heaven.

Syllabus said...

If you'd prefer to start with one of his theological works, I'd suggest either The Figure of Beatrice or He Came Down From Heaven.

It comes to me now: why has no one ever attempted to make a poetic theological work - perhaps a meditation upon Christian aesthetics, done in the blank verse of Tennyson? I digress.

Thanks for the recommendations. I'll try and get my hands on them.

B. Prokop said...

Hmmm... wouldn't you consider Milton's Paradise Lost to be a poetic theological work? Also, a good case could be made for Eliot's Four Quartets being a poetic theological meditation. His Ash Wednesday certainly is.

Come to think of it, I've read literary scholars call Dante's Divine Comedy a poetic exposition of Thomism.

BenYachov said...

>Care to share your über-enlightened refutation with us ignorant barbarians?

You will wait forever. BI hasn't read TLS nor any Philosophy. This is typical of his MO when he would troll over at Feser's blog. He in essence treats Philosophy as Theology spelled with a "P".

You are talking to somebody who is more ignorant than Paps on Philosophy only without Paps' sense of humor such as it is.

Syllabus said...

wouldn't you consider Milton's Paradise Lost to be a poetic theological work?

Only indirectly, though I will admit that it contains some of the most telling representations of futile pride that human literature can muster. It surely contains theological themes, but they aren't, so far as I can see, the point of the work.

If we're speaking of indirect meditations, I'd call "Ozymandias" Shelley's version of Qoheleth, only without the somewhat positive bits that the latter contains.

Come to think of it, I've read literary scholars call Dante's Divine Comedy a poetic exposition of Thomism.

Hrm... perhaps I'll re-read it with that in mind.

Syllabus said...

Oh, and happy preemptive New Year to one and all.

B. Prokop said...

I celebrate New Year's by Greenwich Mean time... don't have to stay up so late that way.

By the way, when I lived in England, I learned that they don't watch any ball drop at midnight - they watch Big Ben toll out the hour on BBC. I understand that in Russia they do much the same, only there it's the great clock in the Kremlin tower.

BenYachov said...

Happy New Year!

12:05am for me. The Ball dropped in Time square.

I love New York!

Bilbo said...

I agree with the reviewer's opinion that the tone of Feser's book was much too abrasive. I did find Feser's summary of Ancient Greek philosophy to be very good, and would recommend his book for that alone.

But Feser first argues for Platonic forms, then for Aristotle's rejection of Platonic forms as existing independently from the physical world, then for Scholastic inclusion of Platonic forms in the mind of God. I presume he prefers the Scholastic view, which means that at bottom he thinks Aristotle was wrong about this issue. So when Feser claims to be an Aristotelian, he doesn't include this issue as part of what it means to be one.

Feser's rejection of ID depends upon the notion that things have an inherent final cause to become whatever it is that they become, without the need of some external force that makes they become it. But so far, at least, we haven't discovered what things have an inherent final cause to become living things from non-living things. And it is at least debatable whether living things of one kind have an inherent final cause to become living things of a different kind. An empirical approach would be to ask the question whether or not any non-living thing has the inherent ability to become a living thing, or whether some sort of external force was needed to causer it to become a living thing. Feser's insistence on Aristotelian final causes means a rejection of an empirical investigation of this question. I consider that to be a weakness of his view.

ingx24 said...

Speaking of which: I'm not sure how final causes are supposed to explain intentionality. Final causes are tendencies to produce certain effects if I'm not mistaken. I don't know how you get from that to explaining how a state of the brain can be "about" something. I don't know if I'm misunderstanding Ed Feser's position on this, but from what I've read of his blog he seems to think that accepting final causes allows for a "materialist" account of intentionality (and also qualia, which I'm even more doubtful of - how does colors/sounds/smells/etc being part of the physical world explain why we have any experiences at all? It only seems to explain why our experiences have the specific qualities they do).

ingx24 said...

I should clarify: Ed doesn't say that final causes explain qualia - he says that allowing colors/sounds/smells/etc to be part of the material world instead of projections of the mind allows for a "materialist" account of qualia. Still, this doesn't make sense to me. It doesn't explain why we have any experiences at all, only why our experiences have the specific qualities they do.

Dan Gillson said...

Eric,

I can appreciate the point that form is the expression of knowledge, i.e., knowledge requires form if it is to be expressed; however, I disagree with you that the necessity is biconditional, i.e., I disagree that one must reject knowledge if one rejects forms, and therefore I disagree that postmodernism is a cultural regression. The forms of knowledge's expression are defeasible--they can be subject to repudiation, termination, or annulment. In repudiating form, especially traditional form, postmodernism sought some sort of excendence (to borrow from Levinas) from the inherited media of expression, i.e., they sought some sort of 'freedom' or 'escape' from religion, humanism, modernism, and all the other forms that bind and placate the expression of humanity, i.e., of being human. Postmodernism was a failed experiment, for sure, but I hardly think it the attempt to excend ourselves constitutes a regression.

grodrigues said...

@ingx24:

"Final causes are tendencies to produce certain effects if I'm not mistaken."

You are mistaken.

grodrigues said...

@Bilbo:

"Feser's rejection of ID depends upon the notion that things have an inherent final cause to become whatever it is that they become, without the need of some external force that makes they become it."

No, this is not quite correct.

From the horse's mouth: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.pt/2010/05/id-versus-t-roundup.html

I (together with commenter Holopupenko) attempt a clarification here: http://www.thinkingchristian.net/2011/11/plantinga-theres-no-good-argument-for-design-but-who-needs-one/

Starting at #15, then #43. The discussion eventually branches to other things like Aquinas' views on Analogy. Warning: there are some imprecisions and slight mistakes in what I wrote, but for what I knew at the time it is not a completely botched up job.

"And it is at least debatable whether living things of one kind have an inherent final cause to become living things of a different kind. An empirical approach would be to ask the question whether or not any non-living thing has the inherent ability to become a living thing, or whether some sort of external force was needed to causer it to become a living thing. Feser's insistence on Aristotelian final causes means a rejection of an empirical investigation of this question."

Actually you gave an example -- the appearance of life -- that *is* a matter of controversy even within the Thomist camp, because every Thomist will tell you, and argue the case, that there is a difference in kind, not just in degree, between non-life and life, so it is not at all clear whether there is a need for an appeal to a special creative act of God or nor; some think it does, some do not. Once again, straight from the Horse's mouth: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.pt/2012/12/nagel-and-his-critics-part-vi.html

Start in the paragraph that starts as "Leibniz promoted least action principles". It is not directly about life, but the comments about teleology apply verbatim and should give the gist of what I am trying to get at.

Eric said...

Hi Dan, thanks for the response.

Perhaps we could help move the discussion along by looking at some specific examples. Do you have any paradigm case instances of attempts at excendance in mind that you would take to preserve (or affirm) knowledge while repudiating form?

(Sorry for the delayed response -- just getting over the flu!)

Dan Gillson said...

Eric,

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any examples were form itself was repudiated, merely instances of form, i.e., "form--or 'forms'--of … " So I wouldn't say that those cases are instances of repudiating knowledge itself, merely instances of what we knew or thought we knew. I can think of some instances where certain thinkers have been lead to some sort of existential crisis over how form, or forms, are inextricably human, e.g., Sartre in his novel Nausea, but that isn't an outright repudiation of knowledge itself or form itself. I'd have to go through my library to find specific cases to examine with you, and, quite honestly, I think I'd come up empty.

city said...

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