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The Road from Atheism: Dr. Edward Feser’s Conversion (Part 1 of 3)

Road
NOTE: Today we share the first part of Dr. Edward Feser's conversion story from atheism to theism. We'll post Part 2 this Friday and Part 3 on Monday.

We'd also like to note that Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his own blog, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.
 


 
As many friends and readers know, I was an atheist for about a decade—roughly the 1990s, give or take. Occasionally I am asked how I came to reject atheism. I briefly addressed this in The Last Superstition. A longer answer, which I offer here, requires an account of the atheism I came to reject.

I was brought up Catholic, but lost whatever I had of the Faith by the time I was about 13 or 14. Hearing, from a non-Catholic relative, some of the stock anti-Catholic arguments for the first time—“That isn’t in the Bible!”, “This came from paganism!”, “Here’s what they did to people in the Middle Ages!”, etc.—I was mesmerized, and convinced, seemingly for good. Sola scriptura-based arguments are extremely impressive, until you come to realize that their basic premise—sola scriptura itself—has absolutely nothing to be said for it. Unfortunately it takes some people, like my younger self, a long time to see that. Such arguments can survive even the complete loss of religious belief, the anti-Catholic ghost that carries on beyond the death of the Protestant body, haunting the atheist who finds himself sounding like Martin Luther when debating his papist friends.

But I was still a theist for a time, though that wouldn’t survive my undergrad years. Kierkegaard was my first real philosophical passion, and his individualistic brand of religiosity greatly appealed to me. But the individualistic irreligion of Nietzsche would come to appeal to me more, and for a time he was my hero, with Walter Kaufmann a close second. (I still confess an affection for Kaufmann. Nietzsche, not so much.) Analytic philosophy would, before long, bring my youthful atheism down to earth. For the young Nietzschean the loss of religion is a grand, civilizational crisis, and calls for an equally grand response on the part of a grand individual like himself. For the skeptical analytic philosopher it’s just a matter of rejecting some bad arguments, something one does quickly and early in one’s philosophical education before getting on to the really interesting stuff. And that became my “settled” atheist position while in grad school. Atheism was like belief in a spherical earth—something everyone in possession of the relevant facts knows to be true, and therefore not worth getting too worked up over or devoting too much philosophical attention to.

But it takes some reading and thinking to get to that point. Kaufmann’s books were among my favorites, serious as they were on the “existential” side of disbelief without the ultimately impractical pomposity of Nietzsche. Naturally I took it for granted that Hume, Kant, et al. had identified the main problems with the traditional proofs of God’s existence long ago. On issues of concern to a contemporary analytic philosopher, J. L. Mackie was the man, and I regarded his book The Miracle of Theism as a solid piece of philosophical work. I still do. I later came to realize that he doesn’t get Aquinas or some other things right. (I discuss what he says about Aquinas in Aquinas.) But the book is intellectually serious, which is more than can be said for some books written by the “New Atheists.” Antony Flew’s challenge to the intelligibility of various religious assertions may have seemed like dated “ordinary language” philosophy to some, but I was convinced there was something to it. Kai Nielsen was the “go to” guy on issues of morality and religion. Michael Martin’s Atheism: A Philosophical Justification was a doorstop of a book, and a useful compendium of arguments. I used to wonder with a little embarrassment whether my landlord, who was religious but a nice guy, could see that big word “ATHEISM” on its spine when he’d come to collect the rent, sitting there sort of like a middle finger on the bookshelf behind me. But if so he never raised an eyebrow or said a word about it.

The argument from evil was never the main rationale for my atheism; indeed, the problem of suffering has only gotten really interesting to me since I returned to the Catholic Church. (Not because the existence of suffering poses a challenge to the truth of classical theism—for reasons I’ve given elsewhere, I think it poses no such challenge at all—but because the role various specific instances of suffering actually play in divine providence is often really quite mysterious.) To be sure, like any other atheist I might have cited the problem of suffering when rattling off the reasons why theism couldn’t be true, but it wasn’t what primarily impressed me philosophically. What really impressed me was the evidentialist challenge to religious belief. If God really exists there should be solid arguments to that effect, and there just aren’t, or so I then supposed. Indeed, that there were no such arguments seemed to me something which would itself be an instance of evil if God existed, and this was an aspect of the problem of evil that seemed really novel and interesting.

I see from a look at my old school papers that I was expressing this idea in a couple of essays written for different courses in 1992. (I think that when J. L. Schellenberg’s book Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason appeared in 1993 I was both gratified that someone was saying something to that effect in print, and annoyed that it wasn’t me.) Attempts to sidestep the evidentialist challenge, like Alvin Plantinga’s, did not convince me, and still don’t. My Master’s thesis was a defense of “evidentialism” against critics like Plantinga. I haven’t read it in years, but I imagine that, apart from its atheism and a detail here or there, I’d still agree with it.

I was also greatly impressed by the sheer implausibility of attributing humanlike characteristics to something as rarefied as the cause of the world. J. C. A. Gaskin’s The Quest for Eternity had a fascinating section on the question of whether a centre of consciousness could coherently be attributed to God, a problem I found compelling. Moreover, the very idea of attributing moral virtues (or for that matter moral vices) to God seemed to make no sense, given that the conditions that made talk of kindness, courage, etc. intelligible in human life could not apply to Him. Even if something otherwise like God did exist, I thought, He would be “beyond good and evil”—He would not be the sort of thing one could attribute moral characteristics to, and thus wouldn’t be the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. (Richard Swinburne’s attempt to show otherwise did not work, as I argued in another school paper.) The Euthyphro problem, which also had a big impact on me, only reinforced the conclusion that you couldn’t tie morality to God in the way that (as I then assumed) the monotheistic religions required.

Those were, I think, the main components of my mature atheism: the conviction that theists could neither meet nor evade the evidentialist challenge; and the view that there could be, in any event, no coherent notion of a cause of the world with the relevant humanlike attributes. What is remarkable is how much of the basis I then had for these judgments I still find compelling. As I would come to realize only years later, the conception of God I then found so implausible was essentially a modern, parochial, and overly anthropomorphic “theistic personalist” conception, and not the classical theism to which the greatest theistic philosophers had always been committed. And as my longtime readers know, I still find theistic personalism objectionable. The fideism that I found (and still find) so appalling was, as I would also come to see only later, no part of the mainstream classical theist tradition either. And while the stock objections raised by atheists against the traditional arguments for God’s existence are often aimed at caricatures, some of them do have at least some force against some of the arguments of modern philosophers of religion. But they do not have force against the key arguments of the classical theist tradition.

It is this classical tradition—the tradition of Aristotelians, Neo-Platonists, and Thomists and other Scholastics—that I had little knowledge of then. To be sure, I had read the usual selections from Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Anselm that pretty much every philosophy student reads—several of Plato’s dialogues, the Five Ways, chapter 2 of the Proslogium, and so forth. Indeed, I read a lot more than that. I’d read the entire Proslogium of Anselm, as well as the Monologium, the Cur Deus Homo, and the exchange with Gaunilo, early in my undergraduate years. I’d read Aquinas’s De Ente et Essentia and De Principiis Naturae, big chunks of Plotinus’s Enneads, Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, Augustine’s Concerning the Teacher, and Bonaventure’s The Mind’s Road to God. I’d read Russell’s History of Western Philosophy -- hardly an unbiased source, to be sure—but also a bit of Gilson. I read all this while becoming an atheist during my undergrad years, and I still didn’t understand the classical tradition.

Why not? Because to read something is not necessarily to understand it. Partly, of course, because when you’re young, you always understand less than you think you do. But mainly because, to understand someone, it’s not enough to sit there tapping your foot while he talks. You’ve got to listen, rather than merely waiting for a pause so that you can insert the response you’d already formulated before he even opened his mouth. And when you’re a young man who thinks he’s got the religious question all figured out, you’re in little mood to listen—especially if you’ve fallen in love with one side of the question, the side that’s new and sexy because it’s not what you grew up believing. Zeal of the deconverted, and all that.

You’re pretty much just going through the motions at that point. And if, while in that mindset, what you’re reading from the other side are seemingly archaic works, written in a forbidding jargon, presenting arguments and ideas no one defends anymore (or at least no one in the “mainstream”), your understanding is bound to be superficial and inaccurate. You’ll take whatever happens to strike you as the main themes, read into them what you’re familiar with from modern writers, and ignore the unfamiliar bits as irrelevant. “This part sounds like what Leibniz or Plantinga says, but Hume and Mackie already showed what’s wrong with that; I don’t even know what the hell this other part means, but no one today seems to be saying that sort of thing anyway, so who cares...” Read it, read into it, dismiss it, move on. How far can you go wrong?

Well the answer is very, very far. It took me the better part of a decade to see that, and what prepared the way were some developments in my philosophical thinking that seemingly had nothing to do with religion. The first of them had to do instead with the philosophy of language and logic. Late in my undergrad years at Cal State Fullerton I took a seminar in logic and language in which the theme was the relationship between sentences and what they express. (Propositions? Meanings? Thoughts? That’s the question.) Similar themes would be treated in courses I took in grad school, at first at Claremont and later at UC Santa Barbara. Certain arguments stood out. There was Alonzo Church’s translation argument, and, above all, Frege’s wonderful essay “The Thought”. Outside of class, I discovered Karl Popper’s World 3 concept, and the work of Jerrold Katz. The upshot of these arguments was that the propositional content of sentences could not be reduced to or otherwise explained in terms of the utterances of sentences themselves, or behavioral dispositions, or psychological states, or conventions, or functions from possible worlds, or anything else a materialist might be willing to countenance. As the arguments sank in over the course of months and years, I came to see that existing naturalistic accounts of language and meaning were no good.
 
 
Originally posted at Edward Feser's blog. User with author's permission.
(Image credit: Daemen)

Dr. Edward Feser

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Dr. Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton. He is author of numerous books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustines Press, 2010); Aquinas (Oneworld, 2009); and Philosophy of Mind (Oneworld, 2007). Follow Dr. Feser on his blog and his website, EdwardFeser.com.

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  • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

    I understand Dr Feser to be saying that he took it for granted that philosophers he had not read or evaluated, had disproved a straw man of a God.

    He read many other philosopher's works but did not really read them fairly or critically. He then learned about the philosophy of language and logic and realized where he went wrong, ie that the "existing naturalistic accounts of language and meaning were no good".

    What we do not have in this article is what he believes the god he believes in is, what he might mean by "exists", and what reasons he gained to believe. I look forward to his next two parts and hope that he presents his thinking in this regard.

    Of course even if it is a fact that the "existing naturalistic accounts of language and meaning were no good", it does not entail that supernatural accounts are "good".

    • Moussa Taouk

      I understood the point to be that he realised that materialism/reductionism/naturalism aren't adequate. That there is another layer of reality behind these, or at least complementary to these.

      • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

        Adequate for what? As an explanation for "meaning"? They are adequate for me. Except reductionism, of course. He needs to explain why in plain language, please.

        • Moussa Taouk

          Not adequate for explaining all that is knowable by the human mind in terms of matter.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            I might agree with that, but we are back to my original point. I don't see that this would entail anything about supernature.

  • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

    There was Alonzo Church’s translation argument, and, above all, Frege’s wonderful essay “The Thought”. Outside of class, I discovered Karl Popper’s World 3 concept,
    and the work of Jerrold Katz. The upshot of these arguments was that
    the propositional content of sentences could not be reduced to or
    otherwise explained in terms of the utterances of sentences themselves,
    or behavioral dispositions, or psychological states, or conventions, or
    functions from possible worlds, or anything else a materialist might be
    willing to countenance.

    This is the most interesting part to me of this first third of the article because it's the only part not bound up in his personal history. (I'm not saying Feser's personal history is boring; I just mean that it's sufficiently different from my own that there's little profit in me delving into it.) This post is aimed only at identifying source material to consider. I'll respond to it with my actual questions after I've had a few moments to let the arguments sink in.

    FWIW, the link to the Frege essay is broken at the time this comment is being written. You can find an online version of the original paper here. I tend toward a more "American pragmatist" view of language, which is anything but philosophically sexy, so it'll be interesting to see Frege's approach and how that started to put chinks in Feser's atheism.

    The source Wikipedia article on Popper's World 3 concept doesn't provide anything that hints at the argument Feser references, and neither does Googling it, with one exception: Feser made an argument on his blog using Popper's Three Worlds. I'm not sure it was wholly honest to attribute Feser's thoughts about Popper's idea to Popper.

    A discussion of some relevant source material for Jerrold Katz can be found here.

    OK, I'll be back before long with actual questions!

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Thanks for the heads up, Noah! I've updated the links.

      • Stjepan Marusic

        So we are not going to be allowed to even discuss (let alone get an explanation for) the recent slew of bans with no prior warning and retroactive deletion of months of people's posts? I notice you are simply deleting all comments that (mostly extremely politely) inquire about the bans and deleted posts.

        I was somehow hoping that you personally were not aware of this, and would try to set things right once you got online, but it seems you are here, posting, aware of the situation, and don't feel the need to comment. It seems that censorship and retroactive revision of history by deleting months of comments is official policy now, and that it of course includes censorship of any mention of censorship.

        Well, thanks for the heads up, Brandon! I've updated my bookmarks to no longer include Strange Notions.

        I'm a bit sad though, because this could have been a great thing. Still, I congratulate you on a brave attempt, even if I am likely to remain forever mistified as to why you decided to do something as ridiculously Orwellian as this.

        Cheers!

        • Gary Bararona

          It's amazing, isn't it? I was expecting some lame excuse blaming this on Disqus but not completely ignoring the elephant in the room. Every time I think this place hits a new low, they keep on digging.

      • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

        (The original Frege link is back up now and is probably a better choice.)

    • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

      OK, the meat of Feser's reading of Popper's Three Worlds is essentially the insight that the world doesn't necessarily have to be reductionist. That's hardly a surprising insight, so I suppose it should be taken as indicating the sort of mindset Feser views himself as having possessed at the time, "fallen in love with one side of the question" rather than thinking skeptically.

      Katz came up with a "non-Fregean intensionalism", a variation or "upgrade" to Frege's notion of intension that some readers viewed as being more satisfying. Since Katz's work is derivative and not much accepted by other philosophers, the most charitable way to take it is as a reminder to work with the steel man version of Frege's key points, rather than nitpicking.

      For Frege I resorted to reading this summary and various encyclopedia entries. Much of the material is just carefully distinguished definitions of different aspects of language. I think the key statement is that "Thoughts belong to a third realm apart from the inner [subjective] and outer [objective] worlds", which relates it clearly to Feser's Popper blog post.

      That "third realm" claim is presumably what was for Feser a chink in Feser's atheism when he encountered it because it didn't fit neatly into any natural category that he had available for it. While it's an interesting worldview, it's not compelling since there wasn't any attempt to give reasons that the "third realm" can't be natural. I think there's at least one nice, very natural explanation ready and waiting, probably more, and that we're free to use any of them pending better reasons. For me specifically, the "third realm" is just the naturally learned associations in the brain. Let me explain:

      It seems to me that the problem starts with Frege trying to define important words, to say what they really mean. To me, trying to define a relationship between a word and its referent without mentioning what it causes a person to think, feel, and do is like trying to explain the relationship between a road map and the roads without saying anything about how and why people made the map and use it. Something's always going to be missing in the explanation. So a perceptive philosopher could notice the incomplete feeling and give it a mysterious name like "intensionality". Instead, I'd take a much more pragmatic approach and say the meaning-to-you of a proposition you read is just what it makes you think, feel, and do; the meaning-to-me of a proposition I write is what I wanted it to make people think, feel, and do; and the meaning-in-general of a proposition, if we think of it as being neither directed to nor from anyone, probably doesn't exist. The "intensionality" isn't in the proposition. It's in the person. Do y'all get any feeling of something missing from that?

      • BrianKillian

        "the meat of Feser's reading of Popper's Three Worlds is essentially the insight that the world doesn't necessarily have to be reductionist. That's hardly a surprising insight"

        It is actually, since materialists here are constantly claiming that the mind is *necessarily* the brain.

        Also, the third realm *is* natural, it just isn't material.

        • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

          "materialists here are constantly claiming that the mind is *necessarily* the brain"

          So that we can be discussing the same thing, can you link to two or three of these cases you mention?

          • BrianKillian

            Like here: http://www.strangenotions.com/the-opening-of-the-scientific-mind/#comment-1209919191

            "If I interpret the soul as the mind I think it is ultimately reducible to matter."

            To say that A is reducible to B is to say that A=B.

            If A=B, then necessarily A=B, by the law of identity (for all X, X=X).

            So to say that the mind is ultimately reducible to matter is to say that the mind is necessarily matter, which is to say that there's no possible world in which mind exists, where it isn't matter.

            That's why it's a surprising insight that there is a possible world (perhaps this actual one) where something exists that is not reducible to matter. Because that implies that reductionism is false.

          • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

            To say that A is reducible to B is to say that A=B.

            Well, that's a fairly straightforward fallacy. You can tell easily by noting that "=" and "identity" go both ways: if A=B, then B=A. But you can't similarly reverse "is reducible to". If we grant that the mind is reducible to matter, it doesn't follow that matter is reducible to the mind. More specifically, if we grant that the mind is reducible to the brain, it doesn't follow that the brain is reducible to the mind. So clearly the interpretational choice of substituting "=" and "identity" was hasty.

            A fortiori, from "Michael claims the mind is reducible to the brain" we can by no means validly conclude that "Michael claims the brain is reducible to the mind", nor "Michael claims the mind is identical to the brain", nor "Michael claims the mind is necessarily identical to the brain."

            So, a bit more pointedly this time: When you claimed that "materialists here are constantly claiming that the mind is *necessarily* the brain", was that claim based on the actual claims of materialists here? If so, please post some example and we'll rip them apart. :) If not, well, then please be more careful about spuriously attributing beliefs to other people, and about basing conclusions on evidence you don't yet know to exist.

          • Michael Murray

            Well I thought I had left but I'd better drop back in for this.

            "If I interpret the soul as the mind I think it is ultimately reducible to matter."

            You will notice I put a "I think it is" in there not "has to be" or "necessarily" or "is". If you want a more detailed statement it would be that "I have not seen any convincing evidence that would make me think that mind is anything thing other than physical particles and fields". I didn't spell it out like that because that post was more about how being a reductionist doesn't meant that you think that all explanations need to be given at the level of particles and fields even if you believe that they could in some theoretical sense be reduced to that.

            Notice that it's not an article of faith I hold to it's just a case of how much evidence I think there is at the current moment in time. Or more precisely (as clearly we need to be precise!) how much evidence I think the experts in this field thing there is based on my rather naive reading.

          • Sample1

            Come home Michael. Take my flipper if you must. It's time. :-j

            Mike

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bG6b3V2MNxQ

          • Michael Murray

            lol

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think this is a remarkably reasonable statement, MM.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            It is more that we accept that the brain is matter, and that seems be be all there is in terms of a mind, in fact there seems to be no evidence for a separate mind, much less a soul.

  • Loreen Lee

    This response of mine follows suit with the other comments, in that it will/would take me much time to read through all the links you have provided. But I'm interested in two arguments. l. The natural language argument. I understand that 'propositions' have a specific logical reference/context, and that they are held to be 'eternal' in the sense that mathematics is 'eternal'. i.e. always applicable. Propositions however are like tautologies - empty. Kant: The concept without the precept is empty; the precept/intuition without the concept is blind. My only speculation here is that
    God would, in his simplicity, not be 'empty'. (I try). 2. Classical theism vs. Personalism. Am just getting more 'knowledgeable' of Aquinas though in this regard. Surely, Personalism is at the root of the conception of the Trinity. Whether theism, we are made in God's image, or 'a-theism/naturalism' we make God according to our image-ination, I believe Personalism is an intricate and substantial part of Catholic thought. The father - Will, the Son- Logos, or even stretching it to natural law, and what is rarely discussed the possibility that the Holy Ghost, could be identified with 'Judgment'. I am following the paradigm of Kant's Critiques here. The Holy Ghost, as represented by tongues of fire, the dove, and even the pagan 'pneuma' of the soul, could then be consistently related to the various possibilities, of intuition, inference, feeling and emotion, and even as with Kant's Power of Judgment, to teleology I keep attempting to find coherence among the tripartite concepts. The only work I have read on simplicity is Leibniz I do not feel intuitively, that there is the need to exclude one of these perspectives. But if I understand you, the simplicity would 'transcend' or be the 'unity' of the trinity, whereas Will, Logos and Judgment would have some relation to the naturalist 'world' or 'cosmos'. As stated earlier, I have not yet read your links. Am looking forward to reading this series. Thank you.
    .

    • Colin Gormley

      >Surely, Personalism is at the root of the conception of the Trinity.

      This is an equivocation on the term "personalism". In the Trinitarian Doctrine, a Person is a unique entity with the ability to reason. Theistic Personalism is the attribution of human attributes to God. Under this view God is essentially a super-human ala the Pagan Gods. Classical Theism maintains that God is entirely different in nature to the point where we experience the attributes of God in an analogous sense.

      • Loreen Lee

        Thanks Colin. I believe I did acknowledge what I believed to be a conflict here between the 'simple' classical God, and the Trinity. But is not the Trinity the subject of much Theology. And I understand theology to be the search for identity/unity. The -the- in contrast to the an/a in the term analogy. (This is just my attempt to find 'meaning', please excuse). But are you suggesting that the theological study of the Trinity is necessarily achieved only through analogy. (I actually believe that this is the method). I also understand that since Nietzsche, the basis of language is considered to rest on metaphor/analogy. It is 'dynamic' form in contrast to mathematical/identity form. (my understanding). Please help, but I find agreement between what I attempted to say and your comments. .
        Also: In the Trinitarian Doctrine, a Person is a unique entity with the ability to reason. Is it not possible that the 'image' (either which way) assigns personhood to each individual aspect of 'reason' - theoretical reason, practical reason, and judgment-teleology, as per Kant. There must be analogy involved, for indeed we only characterize the Holy Ghost for instance as 'being' like a tongue of flame, the dove, etc. Your use of the word 'attributes' in this context, in a relationship to a transcendental unity, may 'miss the mark', but at the moment I cannot think of a better term. Thank you.

        • Colin Gormley

          > I believe I did acknowledge what I believed to be a conflict here between the 'simple' classical God, and the Trinity.

          And my point was that it is a false conflict because we have to separate how the terms are used in relation to what is being discussed.

          In Theology esp in relation to the Trinity Doctrine, Person has a specific definition that cannot be applied outside of its context. It defines an entity in the Trinity that possess the ability to reason (and even this is not precise enough). As such the excess "baggage" we get from the term Person causes confusion without the understanding that Person has a specific meaning. Once we define Person clearly, the conflict goes away.

          Thesitic Personalism has little to do with the Trinity properly understood.

          >. Is it not possible that the 'image' (either which way) assigns personhood to each individual aspect of 'reason'

          Reason in its fullness is only found in God. Our individual ability to reason is analogous to God's by nature of who we are. And again you are using personhood in a way that applies to humans to describe God, which is a non-starter.

          • Loreen Lee

            Again, I thank you for your clarification. I think I am attempting to make a distinction between what I have learned today as the Classical definition of God. i.e. God as simplicity, (and I imagine unity) and the Trinitarian perspective. I am merely speculating that the latter might define our relation to God, as Will/Creator, Reason, and Truth/Logos, and Life, (in an attempt to be 'simple'!!!!) or Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, or Truth, the Way and the Life. And surely we almost cannot help it when we think of God to think of ourselves in relation to that God. But I think now of Leibniz's monads, (a little hesitantly, because the possible implications at the moment, I find a little terrifying, for the first time), when it comes to simplicity, unity etc. which I think would describe a Transcendent God in contrast to the Immanence suggested by the Word made Flesh. Simplicity/'union would call to my mind at least, the Hebrew conception of God who(what is it- can I say cannot be 'known', without getting into difficulty). Thus the name of God is 'never said'. Yet, I am 'that' I am, suggests to me the Divine simplicity that is being discussed. Leibniz' monads, by the way, were windowless,which suggests to me that there is no 'relationship', I assume. But, as I said, I am finding it difficult to tackle Leibniz' speculative thought.
            Thank you again. I merely toddle along trying to 'make sense' of things!

  • gwen saul

    "The upshot of these arguments was that the propositional content of sentences could not be reduced to or otherwise explained in terms of the utterances of sentences themselves, or behavioral dispositions, or psychological states, or conventions, or functions from possible worlds, or anything else a materialist might be willing to countenance. As the arguments sank in over the course of months and years, I came to see that existing naturalistic accounts of language and meaning were no good."

    you should have taken a linguistic anthropology course. I'd suggest a study of Saussure, Goffman, Sapir and Whorf.

    • gwen saul

      I just tried to delete my own post and see it refuses to be deleted. I would like it to be deleted as my original words were censored without my knowledge or permission.

      • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

        In general, Disqus handles deleting your post ungracefully. It's better to edit it, and maybe use strike-through text to mark retractions.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    "I don’t even know what the hell this other part means, but no one today seems to be saying that sort of thing anyway, so who cares...”

    This cracked me up because I've read more than a few passages that way myself!

  • Danny Getchell

    a modern, parochial, and overly anthropomorphic “theistic personalist” conception, and not the classical theism to which the greatest theistic philosophers had always been committed.

    This is exactly what I would like to see more discussion of from the Catholic cohort here on this site.

    My take (as I've expressed more than once) is that the somewhat detached, dryly logical musings upon the existence of God presented by the Catholic writers here is as different from the intensely "personalist" Catholicism preached in millions of traditionalist parishes and believed in by hundreds of millions of the faithful, as are chalk and cheese.

  • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

    As was pointed out over on Estranged Notions, Feser chose to list exclusively philosophical influences on his changes of opinion through the years.

    Do any of the non-professional-philosopher Catholics here have an opinion about that narrowness of outlook? I'm not inclined to think it's wrong to focus so narrowly on philosophical abstractions. Of course from the view of skeptics we consider it unacceptably risky to rely overmuch on a thing so demonstrably biased and error-prone as human ideation. But I'm also inclined to think that it doesn't feel like the Christian ideal, which tends to prefer to be earthy rather than abstract. e.g. Jesus was supposed to have been a flesh-and-blood carpenter/stoneworker, born of a woman, living in community, dying by bloody execution - not a remote mountain guru or ethereal spirit of wisdom. So what do y'all think: is pure philosophy a prudent approach or an imprudent approach to finding truth? What safeguards are useful?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      There are many different ways people come to a decision on what they think the ultimate truth is. It seems perfectly reasonable that a philosophy student uses philosophy.

      • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

        Oh, I agree that philosophy is acceptable to use. But what of the questions: Is pure philosophy a prudent approach or an imprudent approach to finding truth? What safeguards are useful?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think each person uses *everything* he has available. No one is a pure philosopher.

          • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

            You didn't answer either question. I take your response to mean that you think the first of the two questions, taken in its strictest sense, is irrelevant. Fine; I agree. But words are squishy and rarely point in precisely the intended direction. So let's try again to aim toward the same thing:

            Is it prudent or imprudent to rely, to some significant degree, on philosophy as a method to find truth? I say it's imprudent because philosophy has a track record of leading astray generally worse than other methods, and that it leads people astray so often for reasons psychologists label as cognitive biases. (Of course, imprudence can be justified sometimes, such as in trivial matters, emergencies, or situations without better options.) Do you agree, or do you hold the opposite opinion, that relying significantly on philosophy is a prudent choice?

            What safeguards would you pick for the use of philosophy? I'd pick a wariness and social disapproval of acting on any philosophical conclusion unless it's trivial, an emergency, or there's no better method available.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            As a Catholic who accepts the judgments of the Magisterium of the Church, I think it is prudent to accept what Catholic philosophers call "perennial philosophy," that strain of philosophy which began with Plato and Aristotle and passes through St. Thomas and neo-Scholasticism. There are other solid and related philosophies but I think they are all based on trying to reach "the real."

            Wouldn't prudence dictate testing a philosophy against its consequences? Are the consequences of the philosophy ethical and do they tend to make people happier?

            Prudence is an interesting virtue. Sometimes it requires taking a long time to make a judgment because so much information needs to be accounted for. Other times, as you say, there is little time or information, but a decision must be made.

    • Moussa Taouk

      I'm a fan of beginning somewhere. I don't think the view of not taking a position is attractive or practical. Fence-sitting is ok in some instances, but more often than not a person needs to choose his parth and walk it.

      I see philosophy as (at least) the starting point. It's the human being seeking truth because he has a certain love for truth. Hence this business of thinking through things gets the person going down a road that seems, as far as the person can see, to be the road of truth.

      Then along come other ways of knowing, and these can supplement the person's philosophical enquiry. Perhaps what he once thought was correct is proven conclusively either by other philosophers or particularly by scientific demonstrations to be incorrect. So the seeker adjusts his position accordingly.

      If a person refuses to acknowledge or take on board revelations of reality made through anything other than philosophy, then I agree with you that it would be indeed a narrow field of vision this person has. But if, in taking everything into account, and through philosophical enquiry one deduces God's existence, then I should think that's not at all imprudent or narrow. If anything, it's flexible and broad because the person is willing to consider all methods available (rather than stopping at scientific demonstrations).

      • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

        So IIUC, you would say that deliberate rejection of extra-philosophical approaches is problematic, but that mere neglect of them is not? That's interesting to me because the consequences are the same, so the important difference would have to be non-consequentialist. The likeliest candidate to my mind is the "open" or "closed" mindset of the searcher -- though I'll let you say what criteria you were thinking mattered.

        [I'd appreciate it if the moderators ceased editing my posts when they do not fall afoul of the commenting guidelines. If you have decided that Estranged Notions is a Place That Must Not Be Named, then just do the honest and ethical thing and say so in the commenting guidelines.]

  • http://bywayofbeauty.com/ Matthew Becklo

    A confession: I may have twisted Brandon's arm to get him to post this conversion story. It's very long (thus the three parts), somewhat technical, and probably a little a-typical - but I think it's an important contribution to Strange Notions, especially for the philosophers out there.

    This is my favorite part in this third - a good lesson for all of us, I think:

    Because to read something is not necessarily to understand it. Partly, of course, because when you’re young, you always understand less than you think you do. But mainly because, to understand someone, it’s not enough to sit there tapping your foot while he talks. You’ve got to listen, rather than merely waiting for a pause so that you can insert the response you’d already formulated before he even opened his mouth.

  • Pancho Panpsy

    Here's an excerpt of a project I'm working on that I think pretty much nails it. If anyone cares to read the whole thing as it is developing, look for Universal Communism on FB.

    "First of all, the mind-body problem comes down to the logical impossibility, in our subject-object relation, for objective knowledge (science) to reach that which makes it possible: the subject, the mind, consciousness. In other words, the spacetimeless experience that we call consciousness cannot be known in the same scientific way we know every spacetime element that causes it (which is simply saying that the objective knowledge of the hardware will never be objective knowledge of the Internet). Objective knowledge of consciousness will always come in the form of the actual experience of consciousness. And science, again, doesn't have access to this experience, even just to confirm objectively that it is happening. To illustrate this matter, we have a neuroscientist in our days claiming that consciousness arises within any sufficiently complex, information-processing system. This panpsychic scientist, by the name of Christof Koch, holds that all animals, from humans on down to earthworms, are conscious, and that even the Internet could be conscious. And the only thing that keeps his claim from being an objective truth is, again, the mind-body problem.

    But the idea I'm trying to get across here is about the logical impossibility for religion, philosophy and science to surpass the mere assumption of God, the Being and consciousness, respectively. This shows that the claim of a spacetimeless experience, whether it's God, the Being or consciousness, will be arbitrary (an oxymoronic act of faith, if you will) as long as it is done from spacetime, dualism, plurality or the subject-object perspective. In any case, a scientist would be on better grounds for his arbitrary claim based on both the experience of consciousness and the example of the Internet as results of the interaction of a plurality of neurons and computers; whereas the religious spacetimeless God and the philosophical spacetimeless Being will always be nowhere to be observed or experienced in order to be explained as consequences of the spacetime plurality we're living.

    Therefore, the question if science will ever explain the universe as a spacetimeless experience can only have a negative answer, because science can only confirm if the criteria is met for that experience to happen (Koch's theory of consciousness). But the moment science tells us that every element in the universe is interacting with one another, the moment we will have a scientific explanation of the universe as to suppose the spacetimeless experience of consciousness, God, the Being, whatever."