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Sunday, March 27, 2022

Unjust war and false masculinity

I commend to you three excellent articles by traditionalist Catholic scholars on the grave injustice of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: historian Roberto de Mattei’s “Russia's War and the Message of Fatima”; philosopher John Lamont’s “Putin’s Attack on Ukraine”; and theologian Pater Edmund Waldstein’s “The War in Ukraine in the Light of Just War Principles.”  There is a reason why I emphasize that the injustice is grave, as I have in my earlier commentary on the war.  Few among those who have expressed sympathy with the Russian side in the conflict have claimed that the invasion meets just war criteria (unsurprisingly, since it manifestly does not).  They have tended instead to emphasize Putin’s purported virtues and the vices of Zelensky and his Western supporters – as if these somehow balance out the destruction of cities and the deaths of thousands of human beings.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Conspiracy theories, spontaneous order, and the hermeneutics of suspicion

Nobody denies that conspiracies occur.  They happen every time two or more people collude in order to secure some malign end.  When people criticize “conspiracy theories,” it is a particular kind of conspiracy that they find implausible.  I’ve written several times before about some of the marks of conspiracy theories of this dubious kind.  They tend to be grounded in “narrative thinking” rather than a rigorous and dispassionate consideration of the merits and deficiencies of all alternative possible explanations.  They tend to violate Ockham’s razor, posit conspiracies that are too vast and complicated to be psychologically and sociologically feasible, and reflect naiveté about the way modern bureaucracies function.  The vastness of the posited conspiracy often has implications for the reliability of news media and other sources of information that make the theory epistemically self-defeating and unfalsifiable.  (For simplicity’s sake, from here on out I’ll use the expression “conspiracy theories” to refer, specifically, to theories having vices like these – acknowledging, again, that there are conspiracies of a more plausible kind, and thus conspiracy theories of a more plausible kind.)

Monday, March 14, 2022

Chomsky’s “propaganda model” of mass media

A common mistake people make when evaluating a theory is to fail to keep in mind the distinction between the theory itself, its application to particular cases, and the auxiliary assumptions an advocate of the theory makes when developing that application.  People will often reject a theory because they find some particular application problematic, where if they thought about the matter more carefully they would see that the problem is only with that application and/or with the auxiliary assumptions, and not with the theory itself. 

Friday, March 4, 2022

Just war theory and the Russo-Ukrainian war

One of the striking features of the catastrophe in Ukraine is how unambiguously the principles of just war doctrine seem to apply.  On the one hand, Russia’s invasion cannot be justified given the criteria of just war theory.  On the other hand, NATO military action against Russia cannot be justified either.  Here are the criteria for just military action as set out in section 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

At one and the same time:

- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

- there must be serious prospects of success;

- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.  The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

End quote.  I submit that Russia’s invasion clearly fails to meet the first, second, and fourth criteria, and NATO military action against Russia would clearly fail to meet the second, third, and fourth criteria.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Taylor on cognition, teleology, and God

In his book Metaphysics, a classic brief and lucid introduction to the subject, Richard Taylor devotes a chapter to the topic of God.  Most of the attention philosophers have paid to it seems to focus on his version of the cosmological argument, which is indeed a fine brief exposition and defense.  But Taylor also presents a second argument, of a broadly teleological sort.  It is decidedly not a variation on Paley’s design argument (of which, as longtime readers know, I am not a fan).  It is much more interesting and metaphysically deep than that, and at least in a general way closer to the spirit of Aquinas’s Fifth Way (even if it is not quite the same as Aquinas’s argument either).

Monday, February 21, 2022

Sex and metaphysics

My essay “The Metaphysical Foundations of Sexual Morality” appears in The Palgrave Handbook of Sexual Ethics, edited by David Boonin.  You can view the anthology’s table of contents and other information about it at the publisher’s website.  The book is, unfortunately, as expensive as academic books tend to be, and thus hard to get hold of for those without access to an academic library.  But you can at least read a big chunk of it via the preview at Google Books.

Friday, February 18, 2022

The failure of Johnson’s critique of natural theology

At the Reformed Baptist Blog, Jeffrey Johnson has responded to my First Things review of his book The Failure of Natural Theology: A Critical Appraisal of the Philosophical Theology of Thomas Aquinas.  He makes nine points, none of which is any more convincing than the book itself is.  What follows is a point-by-point reply. 

Friday, February 11, 2022

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

McDowell’s Aristotelian near miss

John McDowell’s paper “Singular Thought and the Extent of Inner Space” made a big impression on me in graduate school, around the same time his influential book Mind and World was published.  Like a lot of philosophers, I thought there was something deep going on in McDowell’s work, though (also like a lot of philosophers, I think) I was not quite sure what to make of it.  Part of this has to do with the difficulty of McDowell’s style, but that difficulty reflects, at least in part, the difficulty of the subject matter.  The nature of thought and of experience is so close to us – like the tip of one’s nose, always in one’s field of vision, and thus rarely noticed – that it can be, precisely for that reason, harder to get hold of than the extra-mental world is. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

If you’ve been missing links

David S. Oderberg asks “Is Prime Matter Energy?” in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy.  Also, Oderberg on the “Principle of Sufficient Reason,” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Religion, edited by Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro.

At the Claremont Review of Books, Joseph M. Bessette sets out a critique of the Eastman memos.

Aidan Nichols on the Herbert McCabe he knew, at The Lamp.

At UnHerd, Thomas Fazi and Toby Green make the left-wing case against vaccine mandates.  At The Tablet, Alex Gutentag on the continual, unacknowledged, shifts in expert opinion about Covid-19.  “Mandatory panic”: Freddie deBoer on Covid as the liberal 9/11.  A Johns Hopkins University study concludes that lockdowns did no good and caused much damage.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Hell is not empty

We’ve been talking about Balthasar’s view that we may at least hope that all human beings are saved.  Now, Balthasar was a Catholic theologian who was careful to try to avoid contradicting definitive Church teaching on the subject.  That is why he does not endorse the universalist view that all must and therefore definitely will be saved, which is heretical (as is shown here and here).  But it is also significant that in the title of his famous book on the subject, he is careful to frame his question: “Dare we hope ‘that all men be saved’?”  In other words, he’s asking about whether all human beings might be saved.  He’s not asking whether all creatures with intellect and will, including fallen angels, might be saved.  Indeed, in the book he says, of demonic powers:

Let it be said at the outset that theological hope can by no means apply to this power.  The sphere to which redemption by the Son who became man applies is unequivocally that of mankind[O]ne cannot agree with Barth’s claim that the angels had no freedom of choice and that the myth of a “fall of the angels” is thus to be rejected absolutely[T]he doctrine of a fall of the angels, which is deeply rooted in the whole of Tradition, becomes not only plausible but even, if the satanic is accepted as existent, inescapable. (pp. 113-14)

Friday, January 21, 2022

A fallacy in Balthasar (Updated)

In his influential book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?”, theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar gives the following argument:

If it is said of God that: “God our Savior … desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:4-5), then this is the reason for the fact that the Church should make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings … for all men” (1 Tim 2:1), which could not be asked of her if she were not allowed to have at least the hope that prayers as widely directed as these are sensible and might be heard.  If, that is, she knew with certainty that this hope was too widely directed, then what is asked of her would be self-contradictory.  (pp. 23-24)

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Barron on “diversity, equity, and inclusion”

In a recent Word on Fire video, Bishop Robert Barron comments on the currently fashionable chatter about “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (or DEI, as they are commonly abbreviated).  In much political and cultural debate and institutional policy, these have come to be treated as fundamental and absolute values.  Indeed, as Bishop Barron notes, the trio has come to have the status that liberty, equality, and fraternity had for the French revolutionaries.  But like the latter notions, DEI rhetoric is not as innocuous as many suppose.  As the bishop argues, diversity, equity, and inclusion can have only relative and derivative rather than absolute and fundamental value, and some forms of them are bad.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Geach on authority and consistency

If the reader will indulge me, here is one more post inspired by Peter Geach – specifically, this time, by some themes in his book Truth and Hope.  Among the topics Geach covers are logical consistency, believing something on the basis of authority, and the relationship between authority and consistency.  The points he makes are by no means purely academic.  Indeed, they are relevant to understanding current ecclesiastical and political crises.  For among the reasons so many people today have come to distrust authorities in the Church, government, science, media, etc. is these authorities’ lack of consistency.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

New Year’s open thread

Dear reader, let’s open up the discussion this year by letting you open it up.  It’s time to get that otherwise off-topic comment of yours that I keep deleting out of your system at last.  For in these open thread posts, everything is on-topic, from Marshall McLuhan to Malcom McLaren, from Duke Ellington to Beef Wellington, from Plato to Play-Doh.  Just keep things civil and constructive, please.  Previous open threads archived here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Geach on Hell

Let’s take another trip into the philosophical and theological gold mine that is Peter Geach’s book Providence and Evil, and this time consider his chapter on Hell.  At first I wondered whether it was appropriate to close out the year with a post on a subject so grim and unpleasant.  But on second thought it occurred to me that it is an ideal topic.  What better preparation for forming New Year’s resolutions than a reminder of where we are all headed if we do not repent of whatever sins we remain attached to?

Saturday, December 25, 2021

The still, small voice of Christmas

A great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Among the lessons of Christmas is the truth of the principle illustrated by this famous Old Testament passage.  We often expect, or at least desire, special divine assistance to be instant and dramatic, like a superhero swooping to the rescue in a Marvel movie.  And we lose hope when that doesn’t happen.  But God only rarely works that way, and such dramatics have to be rare lest grace smother nature.  Special divine assistance is in the ordinary course of things subtle and gradual – a still, small voice rather than a whirlwind, earthquake, or fire – but nevertheless unmistakable when the big picture is kept in view.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Catholic middle ground on Covid-19 vaccination

I commend to you Catholic philosopher Josh Hochschild’s recent EDIFY video addressing the question “Are Vaccine Mandates Ethical?”  His position is that those who wish to take one of the Covid-19 vaccines can do so in good conscience, but also that vaccination must be voluntary.  As regular readers of this blog know, that is also my own position.  More importantly, it is the teaching of the Church.  I also highly recommend the article “Using Abortion-Derived Vaccines: A Moral Analysis” by Fr. Ezra Sullivan and Fr. Leon Kuriakos Pereira, which appears in the current issue of Nova et Vetera.  It is the most thorough defense of the Church’s teaching on this subject that I am aware of.  It is also a salutary antidote to the fanaticism that has unfortunately taken deep root on both sides of this issue, among those who insist that everyone must refuse to take the vaccine and those who insist that everyone must be required to take it.  Both positions are contrary to reason and charity.  This is a matter about which the individual conscience ought to be at liberty.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Western cultural suicide as apostasy (Updated)

In his classic book Suicide of the West, James Burnham famously characterized liberalism as “the ideology of Western suicide.”  I’ve been meaning for some time to write up an essay on the book.  This isn’t it.  But Burnham’s thesis came to mind when reading Michael Anton’s essay “Unprecedented” in the latest New Criterion, because the phenomena Anton cites clearly confirm Burnham’s analysis. 

Ours is a civilization in decline, and at a rapidly accelerating pace.  That isn’t new in human history.  But the precise manner in which it is disintegrating seems to be unprecedented, which is the reason for the title of Anton’s essay.  What has effectively become the ideology of the ruling classes, which goes by many names – political correctness, “wokeness,” “critical social justice,” the “successor Ideology,” the baizuo mentality, and so on – manifests a perverse self-destructiveness and nihilism that, as Anton argues, appears sui generis.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Dissident Philosophers

Rowman and Littlefield has just published the anthology Dissident Philosophers: Voices Against the Political Current of the Academy, edited by T. Allan Hillman and Tully Borland.  (The hardcover version is expensive, but the publisher’s website indicates that there is also a cheaper eBook version.)  My article “The Metaphysical Foundations of Conservatism” appears in the volume.  The other contributors are Francis J. Beckwith, John Bickle, Marica Bernstein, Daniel Bonevac, Jason Brennan, Rafael De Clercq, Dan Demetriou, Michael Huemer, Eric Mack, J. P. Moreland, Jan Narveson, Michael Pakaluk, Neven Sesardić, Steven C. Skultety, William F. Vallicella, and Robert Westmoreland.  In his blurb for the book, Prof. Thomas Kelly of Princeton University writes: “An interesting and at times fascinating glimpse into the thought of a group of heterodox intellectuals.  In addition to the clear presentation of well-developed philosophical views that challenge left-wing orthodoxies, their personal experiences and reflections on what is involved in being a professional philosopher who dissents from those orthodoxies makes for compelling reading.”

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Geach on original sin

Recently we dipped into Peter Geach’s book Providence and Evil.  Let’s do so again, looking this time at what he has to say about the doctrine of original sin.  Geach says that the doctrine holds that human beings have “inherited… [a] flawed nature,” and indeed that:

The traditional doctrine is that since the sin of our first parents, men have been conceived and born different in nature from what they would have been had our first parents stood firm under trial.  As C. S. Lewis puts it, a new species, not made by God, sinned itself into existence. (pp. 89-90)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

MacIntyre on human dignity

Recently, Alasdair MacIntyre presented a talk on the theme “Human Dignity: A Puzzling and Possibly Dangerous Idea?” at the Fall Conference of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame.  You can watch it on YouTube.  It has gotten a lot of attention even beyond academic circles, which is not surprising given MacIntyre’s stature together with the question he raises in the title.  What follows is a summary of the talk followed by my own comments.  I’m only going to cover MacIntyre’s main themes; there are various details (such as MacIntyre’s comments on specific historical examples) for which you’ll have to listen to his talk.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Feast of Christ the King

Today Catholics celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, which makes it an appropriate time to remind ourselves of what the Church teaches the faithful about their duty to bring their religion to bear on political matters.  “But wait,” you might ask, “hasn’t the Church since Vatican II adopted the American attitude of keeping religion out of politics, and making of it a purely private affair?”  Absolutely not.  Even Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican II’s famous declaration on religious freedom, insists that it “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ” (emphasis added). 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Geach’s argument against modernism

Catholic philosopher Peter Geach’s book Providence and Evil is interesting not only for what it says about the topics referred to in the title, but also for its many insights and arguments concerning other matters that Geach treats along the way.  Among these passing remarks is a brief but trenchant critique of those who propose a “denatured” brand of Christianity in the name of “man’s evolution and progress” (p. 85).  Theirs is the view that Christian tradition is “mutable,” so that “with the progress of knowledge a doctrine hitherto continuously taught in one sense now needs to be construed in another sense” (pp. 86-87).  Geach doesn’t use the label “modernism,” but that is what he is talking about.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

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In his book Thomas Aquinas: His Personality and Thought, Martin Grabmann notes:

In a passage of his… [Aquinas] touches upon the question, whether the pastors of souls or the professors of theology have a more important position in the life of the Church, and he decides in favor of the latter.  He gives the following reason for his view: In the construction of a building the architect, who conceives the plan and directs the construction, stands above the workmen who actually put up the building.  In the construction of the divine edifice of the Church and the care of souls, the position of architect is held by the bishops, but also by the theology professors, who study and teach the manner in which the care of souls is to be conducted. (p. 5)

Thursday, November 4, 2021

The politics of chastity

Chastity is the virtue governing the proper use of sexuality.  My article “The Politics of Chastity” appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Nova et Vetera.  It is part of a symposium on Reinhard Hütter’s book Bound for Beatitude: A Thomistic Study in Eschatology and Ethics, which includes an essay on the subject of chastity and pornography that inspired my own article.  The article addresses the nature of chastity, vices contrary to chastity, the effect such vices (and in particular pornography) have on society at large, and the implications all of this has for political philosophy and in particular for the question of integralism. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Neo-Aristotelian Metaphysics and the Theology of Nature

Routledge has just published the new anthology Neo-Aristotelian Metaphysics and the Theology of Nature, edited By William M. R. Simpson, Robert C. Koons, and James Orr.  My article “Natural and Supernatural” appears in the volume.  Here is the abstract for the article:

The “supernatural,” as that term is traditionally used in theology, is that which is beyond the power of the natural order to produce on its own.  Hence it can be produced only by what has causal power superior to that of anything in the natural order, namely the divine cause of the natural order.  Insofar as the natural order depends on this supernatural cause, the supernatural is metaphysically prior to the natural.  However, the natural is epistemologically prior to the supernatural, insofar as we cannot form a conception of the supernatural except by contrast with the natural, and cannot know whether there is such a thing as the supernatural unless we can reason to its existence from the existence of the natural order.  A proper understanding of the supernatural thus presupposes a proper understanding of the natural order and of the causal relation between that order and its cause.  This chapter offers an account of these matters and of their implications for theological issues concerning causal arguments for God’s existence, divine conservation and concurrence, miracles, nature and grace, faith and reason, and the notion of a theological mystery (viz. what is beyond the power of the intellect to discover on its own).

Friday, October 29, 2021

Adventures in the Old Atheism, Part VI: Schopenhauer

Our series has examined how atheists of earlier generations often exhibited a higher degree of moral and/or metaphysical gravitas than the sophomoric New Atheists of more recent vintage.  As we’ve seen, this is true of Nietzsche, Sartre, Freud, Marx, and even Woody Allen.  There is arguably even more in the way of metaphysical and moral gravitas to be found in our next subject, Arthur Schopenhauer.  Plus, I think it has to be said, the best hair.  So let’s have a look, if you’re willing.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Untangling the web

David S. Oderberg and others on free speech, in the new anthology Having Your Say: Threats to Free Speech in the 21st Century, edited by J. R. Shackleton.

In First Things, William Lane Craig in quest of the historical Adam.  Christianity Today interviews Craig about his new book on the subject.

At Rolling Stone, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen on the release of two live albums and the prospect of a new album.  Fagen is interviewed at Variety and the Tablet.  The Ringer on the Dan’s new following among millennials.  Elliot Scheiner on engineering Gaucho.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Truth as a transcendental

Last June, I presented a talk on the topic “Truth as a Transcendental” at the Aquinas Philosophy Workshop on the theme Aquinas on Knowledge, Truth, and Wisdom in Greenville, South Carolina.  You can now listen to the talk at the Thomistic Institute’s Soundcloud page.  (What you see above is the chart on the transcendentals referred to in the talk.  Click on the image to enlarge.  You'll also find a handout for the talk, which includes the chart, at the link to the Soundcloud audio of the talk.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

From Socrates to Stock

Socrates is a model for all philosophers, not only because he pursued the truth through rational argumentation, but because he did so uncompromisingly, even at the cost of his life.  And he was executed, not by religious authorities and not by a dictator, but by democratic, egalitarian, purportedly tolerant Athens.  This would lead his student Plato to warn us, in the Republic, that the unruly passions spawned by egalitarianism are by no means the friends of reason and philosophy.  Woke politics and cancel culture provide the latest confirmation of this thesis.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Covid-19 vaccination should not be mandatory

In a recent post, I argued that a Catholic can in good conscience take one of the Covid-19 vaccines, but also that such vaccination should not be mandatory.  In a follow-up post, I expanded on the first point.  Let’s now expand on the second.

Thomistic natural law theory and Catholic moral theology are not libertarian, but neither are they statist.  They acknowledge that we can have enforceable obligations to which we do not consent, but also insist that there are limits to what government can require of us, and qualifications even where it can require something of us.  In the case of vaccine mandates (whether we are talking about Covid-19 vaccines, polio vaccines, or whatever), they neither imply a blanket condemnation of such mandates nor a blanket approval of them.  There is nuance here that too many hotheads on both sides of the Catholic debate on this issue ignore.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Covid-19 vaccines and Jeffrey Dahmer’s nail clippings

Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered in prison almost thirty years ago.  Suppose that, before his body was removed from the crime scene, a prison guard had clipped off some of his fingernails as a ghoulish souvenir.  Suppose further that this guard dabbled in genetics and cloning as a hobby.  And suppose he somehow figured out a way to make exact copies of the fingernails, so that he could sell them on eBay to people interested in serial killer memorabilia.  Now suppose that almost thirty years later, you develop a novel nail clipper design.  You work up a prototype and test it – using one of the cloned Dahmer fingernails as your test material.  They work great, and you go on to manufacture and market the clippers.  Suppose they are so successful that all the other nail clipper manufacturers go out of business.  If people want to clip their nails, they need to buy your product.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Covid-19 vaccination is not the hill to die on

What should Catholics think about the Covid-19 vaccines and about vaccine mandates?  I keep getting asked about this, so a post devoted to the topic seems in order.  As I have said before, I think that the statement on these subjects issued last year by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) gets things exactly right.  The vaccines can be taken in good conscience, but authorities ought to keep them voluntary rather than making them mandatory.  (For those who are wondering, yes, I’ve been vaccinated, as have several other members of my family.) 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

It’s the next thrilling open thread!

Please keep in mind, dear reader, that if you’re inclined to begin a comment with “This is off-topic, but…” then you shouldn’t post it.  Certainly I won’t approve it.  Wait for a post where it will be on-topic – such as this one, the latest, exciting open thread, where everything is on-topic.  From logic gates to interest rates, from CRT to CBD, from Charlemagne to House of Pain – the field is wide open.  Just keep it civil and keep it classy, as always.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The “first world problem” of evil

Suffering, atheists frequently assure us, is not what we would expect if God exists.  You might suppose, then, that where there is greater suffering, there will be fewer believers in God, and where there is less suffering there will be more believers in God.  But that appears to be the reverse of the truth.  As a friend pointed out to me recently, it is a remarkable fact that though life was, for most human beings for most of human history, much, much harder than it is for modern Westerners, they were also far more likely to be religious than modern Westerners are.  It is precisely as modern medicine, technology, and relative social and political stability have made life easier and greatly mitigated suffering that religious belief has declined. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Lao Tzu’s negative theology

Among the most interesting things about Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (fl. 6th century B.C.) is that he did not exist.  Or at least, that’s what some modern scholars tell us.  I’m skeptical about his non-existence myself, and so will refer to him in what follows as if he were a real person.  In any event, that existence and non-existence are both attributed to Lao Tzu is oddly appropriate given what his classic work Tao Te Ching says about the ultimate source of things: “All things in the world come from being.  And being comes from non-being” (II, 40, Wing-Tsit Chan translation).  What does this mean?

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Ioannidis on the politicization of science

Like other academics, I first became aware of John Ioannidis through his influential 2005 paper “Why Most Published Research Findings are False.”  That essay was widely praised as a salutary reminder from one scientist to his fellows of the need for their field to be self-critical.  With the COVID-19 pandemic, Ioannidis would become far more widely known, this time for expressing skepticism about some of the scientific claims being made about the virus and the measures taken to deal with it.  His warnings were in the same spirit as that of his earlier work, and presented in the same measured and reasonable manner – but this time they were not so warmly received.  In a new essay at The Tablet, Ioannidis reflects on the damage that has been done to the norms of scientific research as politics has corrupted it during the pandemic.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Make-believe matter

Materialism can at first blush seem to have a more commonsensical and empirical character than Cartesian dualism.  The latter asks you to believe in a res cogitans that is unobservable in principle.  The former – so it might appear – merely asks you to confine your belief to what you already know from everyday experience.  You pick up an apple and bite into it.  Its vibrant color, sweet taste and odor, feel of solidity, and the crunch it makes all make it seem as real as anything could be.  Anyone who says that all that exists are things like that might, whether or not you agree with him, at least seem to have the evidence of the senses in his corner. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Aquinas on humor and social life

In Summa Theologiae II-II.168.2-4, Aquinas discusses the essential role that play and humor have in human life.  They are necessary for the health of the individual, insofar as in their absence the mind becomes weary and tense.  And they are necessary for the health of social life, which would be similarly strained without the ability to laugh and play together.  The virtue of wittiness is the character trait that facilitates this human need.  Naturally, as in every other area of human life, we can sin by excess, as when we joke in an inappropriate manner or at an inappropriate time, or are in our general manner of life insufficiently serious about serious matters.  But we can also sin by deficiency, by being insufficiently pleasant and willing to engage in play with our fellows.  Aquinas writes: