Are You There, God? It’s Me, So-And-So.

Simon Blackburn reviews Edward Feser’s ‘Five Proofs of The Existence of God

From The Ignatius Press description of the book:

‘This work provides as ambitious and complete a defense of traditional natural theology as is currently in print. Its aim is to vindicate the view of the greatest philosophers of the past— thinkers like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, and many others— that the existence of God can be established with certainty by way of purely rational arguments. It thereby serves as a refutation both of atheism and of the fideism that gives aid and comfort to atheism.’

Blackburn, here in the Times Literary Supplement (link may not last):

‘Edward Feser, a Roman Catholic philosopher, disagrees. His book is an exercise in the drive to go where Hobbes, Hume and Kant said we could not go, finding something lying behind the world as we know it, something necessary and unchanging that sustains and in some sense explains the contingent, shifting, natural world and our capacity to think about it.’

and:

‘Edward Feser himself is not at all drawn to silent contemplation inside the monastery walls. He is a vigorous proponent of a morality of natural law, holding, for instance, that abortion is as bad as murder. His ancient exercises in logic are more than just intellectual amusements. They are preludes to the will to power, and if it were not for the Enlightenment, so little admired by John Gray, they would doubtless have continued to be preludes to persecutions and the auto-da-fé.’

Feser responds, here:

‘On the one hand, Blackburn must limit the powers of human reason sufficiently to prevent them from being able to penetrate, in any substantive way, into the ultimate “springs and principles” of nature.  For that is the only way to block ascent to a divine first cause – the existence and nature of which, the Scholastic says, follows precisely from an analysis of what it would be to be an ultimate explanation...

…On the other hand, Blackburn has to make sure that this skepticism is not so thoroughgoing that it takes science and Humean philosophy down too, alongside natural theology.’

On that note, on the profound and what I’d call ‘Will’ tradition nihilist skepticism of modernity, progress and high liberalism, as Blackburn also reviews John Gray’s new book ‘Seven Types Of Atheism

Blackburn on the book:

‘After this taxonomy the book is largely an indictment of misguided thinkers and writers since the Enlightenment, peppered with discreditable stories from their biographies. The examples are sad enough, and Gray uses them to support a general pessimism about human beings altogether, other people being just as bad as religionists. Woe to those who think that things have been or could be improved! Eventually the list becomes reminiscent of Monty Python’s “What have the Romans ever done for us?” substituting the Enlightenment for the Romans. We are all lying in the gutter, and the right things to look at are not the stars above, but the rubbish all around us. The only thing we progress towards is death’

If you’re interested, the below are from past related posts on this site:

Thomas Nagel review of John Gray’s previous book, ‘The Silence Of Animals,’ here.

Simon Critchley reviewed the book at the L.A. Times.

Nagel starts with:

‘John Gray’s “Silence of Animals” is an attack on humanism. He condemns this widely accepted secular faith as a form of delusional self-flattery.’

and:

The question Gray poses is of fundamental importance, so one wishes the book were better. It is not a systematic argument, but a varied collection of testimonies interspersed with Gray’s comments.’

Clearly humanism could use more serious critics and pushback.

Nagel finishes with:

‘Gray thinks the belief in progress is fueled by humanists’ worship of “a divinized version of themselves.” To replace it he offers contemplation: “Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.” Though he distinguishes this from the ideal of mystical transcendence toward a higher order of being, it, too, seems more like a form of escape than a form of realism. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.’

Gray discusses the book here:

While science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, Gray suggests things are learned but they don’t stay learned.

Are we rational beings?  Rational animals?

What about a Church Of England, somewhat Hegelian, defense of conservatism as a defense of that which one loves?:

In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.

In the final moments, Robert George also posits that Scruton’s four presented categories actually rather resemble Aristotle’s Order of Nature and three of them Aristotle’s Practical Reason.

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Ross Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’

Charles Murray is trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Steven Pinker curiously goes Hobbesian and mentions an ‘international Leviathan’…:   At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Maybe if you’re defending religion, Nietzsche is a problematic reference: Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy…… From The Access Resource Network: Phillip Johnson’s “Daniel Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ …Theodore Dalrymple In The City Journal: Atheism’s Problems.

Don’t immanentize the eschaton!: From The NY Times: ‘Atheists Sue to Block Display of Cross-Shaped Beam in 9/11 Museum’

Repost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn…Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…

Robert Bork had his own view of the 1960’s: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Link To Roger Scruton’s First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University

In the Q & A afterwards, Scruton receives about as pointed a post-lecture questioning on his metaphysics as I’ve seen.

In the final moments, Robert George also posits that Scruton’s four presented categories actually rather resemble Aristotle’s Order of Nature and three of them Aristotle’s Practical Reason.

Interesting presentation by an interesting thinker, indeed.

Below is some criticism of Scruton from a Kantian-Friesian line of thinking.

Is there a turn back towards the Hegelian ‘we’ from the Kantian ‘I?’

However attractive and practical Scruton’s deployment of the ‘lebenswelt’ in describing the day to day relationships in which we find ourselves (a tissue of contingencies, possibilities and ‘I’ ‘thou’ relationships); however useful the ‘lebenswelt’ might be providing robust criticism of the totalitarian ideologies and scientism of post-Enlightenment ideological utopians, are the Hegelian dangers to abstract, absolutize and collectivize still present?

‘Now, I think that this is an accurate and honest presentation of Wittgenstein’s thought, except perhaps for the notion of “an independent world,” which sounds like a metaphysical assertion; but it also makes it look like Roger Scruton has fallen into the same kind of dark well as the “nonsense machine” of post-modernism that he examined in his other book.

First of all, if we have decided that the “emphasis” of Frege on truth is now to be replaced with the “more fundamental demand” that our language conform to “correctness,” alarm bells should go off. There is in fact nothing more fundamental than truth, if we are talking about knowledge or logic (and not just “communication”); and “correctness” could mean anything, varying with the standard that is applied to judge it. But we quickly get what the standard of “correctness” is, and that is the “common usage” that has “created the rules,” outside of which we cannot “look,” to govern our linguistic practice. These are rules that the invididual cannot decide for himself but that somehow “we,” collectively, in our “form of life” have created.

Key points there are that the autonomous individual and the “independent world” have both dropped out of the treatment. Scruton, as we might suspect for a Hegelian, does not speak up for the individual, but even his explicit invocation of the “independent world” is immediately voided by the assertion that only language itself, in its practice, correctness, and form of life, determines what is going to stand as the equivalent of truth. Thus, the chilling absurdity is that “the ultimate facts are language,” while, naively, we might think that facts are characteristics of the “independent world” that determine truth, as the Early Wittgenstein himself had said. In an objective world without facts, language is the substitute (whose status is somehow established by facts about the world).’

What are some dangers of the projects of reason in the wake of the Enlightenment, or stretching post-Enlightenment reason into a replacement for God, tradition, and Natural Law: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Trolley Problems, Utilitarian Logic, Liberty, Self-Defense & Property

Leo Strauss tried to tackle that problem, among others with the reason/revelation distinction, did he succeed? How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Addition:  As a friend points out:  Strauss is trying to get around the 2nd Nietzschean crisis of modernity, and the cinching and tightening of moral, political, and philosophical thinking into only an Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment pursuit of truth under Reason alone.  The Natural Right and Natural Law Philosophies, including and a pursuit of the truth which can involve religion (Augustine?), or Greek conceptions of the good and the true as applied to the city-state vastly broaden and prevent the inherent nihilism in these waves of modernity as Strauss saw them…historicism being one of these Enlightenment pursuits, from political science to the social sciences to Hegelian and post-Hegelian historicism…the logic is followed to its inherently nihilistic ends.  This poses a threat to individual liberty among other things…

Repost-From Bloggingheads: Robert Wright And Robert P George Discuss Natural Law

Full diavlog here.

Mentioned:  Natural Law Theory (Greeks and Romans…Aquinas) Utilitarianism, Mill’s Harm Principle, Kant’s potential relation to Natural Law Theory and his deontologism)….

Where I very much agree:  George’s acknowledgment that there may be no fundamental way to determine, in the aggregate, the utilitarian maxim.

***As to politics and man, and political philosophy, the people most convinced of their reasons and their own moral and ideological lights, often seem the ones most attracted to power and influence.

Make a chair, a seat of scope and influence, and all the wrong sorts seem to gather around eventually, quite certain they should be the ones sitting down.  The decent, and what’s decent in people can easily become subjects.

Addition:  Has George made the case for natural law…that morality is somehow a law…and connected to nature and that which is beyond us?

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

On This Site:  Somehow, the idea of philosopher-kings, and a group of men who’ve left the cave, only to venture back in guiding everyone with their reason is a little problematic for me.  It was that whole gold/silver/bronze thing…and seeing all the problems of the ‘intellectuals’ and ‘vanguard’ these past few centuries… Sunday Quotation: From the Cambridge Companion To Plato-T.H. Irwin’s “Plato: The intellectual Background’

What are some dangers of the projects of reason in the wake of the Enlightenment, or stretching post-Enlightenment reason into a replacement for God, tradition, and Natural Law: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Trolley Problems, Utilitarian Logic, Liberty, Self-Defense & Property

Leo Strauss tried to tackle that problem, among others with the reason/revelation distinction, did he succeed? How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

What are some of the arguments for building a secular structure…or at least for deeper equality through the laws: : Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder…From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

As Gillespie points out, many libertarians are indifferent or even hostile to religion.  Napolitano, however, merges a common defense of individual liberties most libertarians can get behind with his life as practicing Catholic and an advocate of Natural Law (he’s pro-life).   He mentions a tradition he sees stretching from Aristotle to Aquinas to John Locke to Thomas Jefferson onward to the present day.  On his view, our freedoms come from our humanity, and our humanity is cast in God’s image.  God is free and so humans are free, and thus humans derive their free will from God and the Natural Law.  This freedom acts a strong line of defense against the interests of the anti-theists, and the oft state-building secular, progressive Left who will seek to enshrine their ideals within the power and expansion of the government (from abortion to public assistance to the growth of definitions of liberty that also include women and black folks).

Clearly our commonwealth and Constitution create no religious test for office, and do so in order to get around the constant religious strife and persecution going on in a Europe which so many fled (including the Puritans, the Calvinists, the Huguenots and the waves of 19th century onward Irish/Italian Catholic immigrants with which I’m more familiar).

Napolitano then ends up using a broader defense of liberty against both conservatives and liberals who seek State power to further their interests and who can violate due process, and probably brings him back around to the libertarianism he’s known for.

Surprisingly interesting discussion.

***And as regards making laws that enslave some, Napolitano mentions a higher law of Aquinas’ ‘right reason.’  Here’s a quote from J.S. Mill, whose utilitarianism is often used as the best argument I’ve heard for the freedom and opportunity of women and minorities:

“The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion.  And in general, those who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling, have left this condition of things unassailed in principle, however they may have come into conflict with it in some of its details.  They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals.  They preferred endeavoring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally.  The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here and there, is that of religious belief:…”

******I should add that I don’t view taxation as theft as long as those governing maintain the consent of the governed (which requires vigilance and participation on both sides).  I believe the government does have a role to play in the common defense, local government in local education, in some financial regulation, and in securing private property.  I don’t think it follows that such a defense naturally advocates the progressive vision (and more importantly what so often lies beneath it given human nature, especially in big cities: union bosses forcing membership, graft, waste, some corruption, federal bureaucrats in every localized educational setting, distorted markets and the distressing incentives of the Welfare State…it is a road to financial and political dysfunction we can’t afford).

Related On This Site:  Another Catholic, fighting Obamacare’s statism:  From Youtube Via Althouse-’Paul Ryan: Hiding Spending Doesn’t Reduce Spending’

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?…where black liberation theology and academic postmodernism meet religious impulses and Natural Law Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”Repost-William Stern At The City Journal: ‘How Dagger John Saved New York’s Irish’…more progressive silliness.Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘The Sidewalks Of San Francisco’

Leo Strauss and the philosophy of Natural Right (which includes some hermetic, Nietzschean baggage).  He will likly make you think about the consent of the governed and the threats to it, the uses and misuses of reason, and man’s relationship with nature.  Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’Via An Emailer: Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss?Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

I’m not sure the Chicago School has put its finger on many causes and problems of poverty quite like religion can, but they very much point out the mistakes and problems of the progressive, statist, and liberal banners of social justice and rights based governance which interferes with the individual.  Very much worth reading: A Few Quotations From F.A. Hayek’s: ‘Why I Am Not A Conservative’Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’Repost-From Fora Via YouTube: ‘Thomas Sowell and a Conflict of Visions’

Using J.S. Mill, moving away from religion?: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’…Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder

Singer takes utilitarianism and runs with it: Peter Singer discusses Hegel and Marx

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Repost-A Few Quotations: Leo Strauss On John Locke

A quick quotation.  Leo Strauss On John Locke:

‘Hobbes identified the rational life with the life dominated by the fear of fear, by the fear which relieves us from fear.  Moved by the same spirit, Locke identifies the rational life with the life dominated by the pain which relieves pain.  Labor takes the place of the art which imitates nature; for labor is, in the words of Hegel, a negative attitude toward nature.  The starting point of human efforts is misery:  the state of nature is a state of wretchedness.  The way toward happiness is a movement away from the state of nature, a movement away from nature: the negation of nature is the way toward happiness.  And if the movement toward happiness is the actuality of freedom, freedom is negativity .’

Strauss, Leo.  Natural Right And History.  Chicago:  The University Of Chicago Press, 1965. (Pg 250).

According to Strauss, the rational life for an individual, from Hobbes to Locke, is defined negatively, respectively as either a removal from fear or a removal from pain. And more broadly: Strauss has Locke remaking Hobbes’ more intrusive Leviathan into a smaller role for government:  to secure them in their lives, liberty and estate (property).   The key formulation of nature here, though, remains the same.

The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy elaborates:

‘Leo Strauss, and many of his followers, take rights to be paramount, going so far as to portray Locke’s position as essentially similar to that of Hobbes. They point out that Locke defended a hedonist theory of human motivation (Essay 2.20) and claim that he must agree with Hobbes about the essentially self-interested nature of human beings. Locke, they claim, only recognizes natural law obligations in those situations where our own preservation is not in conflict, further emphasizing that our right to preserve ourselves trumps any duties we may have.

On the other end of the spectrum, more scholars have adopted the view of Dunn, Tully, and Ashcraft that it is natural law, not natural rights, that is primary. They hold that when Locke emphasized the right to life, liberty, and property he was primarily making a point about the duties we have toward other people: duties not to kill, enslave, or steal. Most scholars also argue that Locke recognized a general duty to assist with the preservation of mankind, including a duty of charity to those who have no other way to procure their subsistence (Two Treatises 1.42). These scholars regard duties as primary in Locke because rights exist to insure that we are able to fulfill our duties.’

And of course, there’s this problem:

‘Another point of contestation has to do with the extent to which Locke thought natural law could, in fact, be known by reason.’

So what does Strauss offer instead as a possibility for man and nature?  Nature revealing itself to man without the use of his reason…or through his reason without a lot of Enlightenment metaphysics? Or through some return to Natural Right, or Platonic metaphysics? Through divine intervention or some unknown source?  He’s a fine corrective against those (and they are many) who seek to use reason to institute secular authority, but where does his thinking lead as a positive doctrine?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.  Here’s another quote:

 That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

From the Declaration Of Independence.

Addition:  Link sent by a reader.

Also On This Site:  Getting a better hold on Strauss. See the comments: Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Enlightenment project?:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

Hilary Putnam On The Philosophy Of Science:  Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On YouTube

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Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

Full diavlog here.

The church, and “subsidiarity”, as George defines it and makes the case (beginning at min 16:35), may be crucial in addressing the needs of people: as individuals, as families, as communities, and as a nation, while maintaining a focus on personal responsibility, economic opportunity, and perhaps preventing too much power from disassociating people from those they serve.   George is philosophically deep and offers a reasonable, practical philosophy extending from Natural Law.

Cornel West is still, in my opinion,…Cornel West.  He’s much concerned with poverty, black poverty, and the misery of poverty.  He is often more politically and philosophically left though he runs pretty deep.  He is an associative, literary/artistic type thinker, riffing, and in my opinion, a bit of a caricature of himself.

The two men work to find some common ground in this discussion.  Interesting.

Also On This Site:  From Bloggingheads: Robert Wright And Robert P George Discuss Natural Law

Where might libertarianism conflict with Martin Luther King’s thought… and does religious thinking still unite much more deeply than the current identity politics?:  Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution…the dangers of post Enlightenment reason?: Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Taking religion out of the laws, and replacing it with a Millian/Aristelolian framework?: Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder…From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

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