“All men by nature desire to know,” wrote Aristotle. Unfortunately, though, some who think they do just . . . don’t.

 

Aristotle as (who knows?) he might have appeared

 

As will quickly be seen, I’m going against express counsel in order to post this, but I had permission to do so.  Thus, the blame for any bad judgment is mine.  I just couldn’t resist it.

 

On Saturday, the Deseret News published a column about Aristotle that I had written with my friend and colleague Bill Hamblin.

 

Very quickly, a mostly atheistic anti-Mormon message board where I’m routinely derided and defamed erupted with extraordinarily harsh criticism, some of it coming from a person who purports to be an expert in philosophy.

 

He mocked the column as “literary pablum,” neither “thoughtful” nor “informed,” sneering that it came “with all the usual pretense of scholarship and intelligent writing but it fails to deliver on every front.”  “I know Deseret News isn’t exactly a shining example of informed commentary,” he wrote, “but when it employs a couple of PhDs in good faith to produce a short and insightful column, it should get that. Instead, Peterson and Hamblin just sort of make s*** up and don’t care about the consequences. It is a wonder why they got removed from NAMIRS.”  And he goes on to attack the substance of the article, suggesting that I know nothing about Aristotle.

 

(I think he actually intended to say “It is no wonder why they got removed from NAMIRS,” by which he meant BYU’s “Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.”  But he would be wrong even if thus amended, because, as a matter of precise accuracy, even to this day I haven’t been completely removed from the Maxwell Institute.  I was, it’s true, purged as editor of the Institute’s Mormon Studies Review, which I founded but which has now been suspended for the better part of a year.  However, I resigned as its director of advancement — basically as its public spokesman and fundraiser — and I remain editor-in-chief of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative [METI], which is currently housed within the Maxwell Institute but which I conceived and founded.  And Bill Hamblin?  He was never “removed.”  He resigned.  In protest.)

 

Anyhow, intrigued by this harsh criticism, which has since been echoed by two or three other critics (including one who teaches Roman history and Latin back east) on the strength of the first critic’s presumed philosophical authority, I asked a friend of mine, Professor Daniel W. Graham, for his reaction to the column.

 

Dr. Graham has published numerous books and academic articles, among which are Aristotle’s Two Systems (Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press and Oxford University Press, 1987); ed., Studies in Greek Philosophy, by Gregory Vlastos, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995); trans., Aristotle Physics Book VIII (Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press and Oxford University Press, 1999); with Victor Miles Caston, ed., Presocratic Philosophy: Essays in Honour of Alexander Mourelatos (Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002); Explaining the Cosmos: The Ionian Tradition of Scientific Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006); and, with Patricia Curd, The Oxford Handbook of Presocratic Philosophy (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

 

Recently, Professor Graham published The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics, 2 vols. (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), which author and critic George Steiner, writing in the (London) Times Literary Supplement, called “a monumental feat.”

 

Professor Graham knows something about ancient Greek philosophy, and here’s his response to the column and to the critic:

 

What you have said about the UM seems to be exactly right, and what “Servile Conformist” says seems to mistake Aristotle’s theory.  The UM is an unmoved mover because he, or rather it, inspires desire in the heavenly spheres.  The heavenly spheres consequently go around, and thereby cause the seasonal changes on the earth.  According to Aristotle’s four cause theory, which I know you know, but I’m not so sure about SC, the UM is purely a final cause.  SC seems to think that the fact that the UM moves things makes it an efficient cause.  But of course it doesn’t.  The physics for this is in Physics VIII, which also allows for only one-way causation.  And according to what Aristotle says in Met. XII, the UM just contemplates itself—as you said.  By Aristotle’s premises, it can’t think about anything inferior to itself, like you, me, and SC.  The UM is not a personal God in my conception of ‘personal.’  And while love makes Aristotle’s world go around, it is the love of the intelligences of the spheres for the UM.  The UM, whom Aristotle explicitly calls God, does not return the love of the spheres, or philosophers, or whoever might worship it, because it does not know we exist, or care. 

 

You are welcome to quote me.  But my suggestion is that you just ignore SC.  Having a blog gives one a forum to pontificate, but no credentials and no legitimacy.  And if one’s blog is anonymous—one is just Anonymus Blogensis.  I like the New Yorker cartoon that shows a dog at the keyboard who says to another of his species, “On the internet no one can tell you’re a dog.”  Don’t throw SC a bone.

 

I, too, am just blogging here, so you can take it for what it’s worth.  But I stand by that column.

 

 

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  • JohnH

    I am a little surprised that you said that about Thomas Aquinas and didn’t get a bunch of Catholics jumping all over you. It would seem relatively few Catholics of the Thomas Aquinas vein read the Deseret News. Not that I think you are wrong, I have said the same before, but I was fully expecting a ton of big impressive sounding Greek words that don’t actually mean a lot or address the point to get thrown at you.

    • danpeterson

      I’m actually a big admirer of Aquinas — one of my sons bears the middle name of “Thomas,” and that’s not a coincidence — but I think that attempted syntheses between the Aristotelian God and the biblical/Qur’anic God failed, and could never have succeeded.

      • JohnH

        I admit to not being that familiar with the Qur’an, and much less so with Islamic thought surrounding their idea of God. However, I was under the impression that Islam considered Christianity to be almost Polytheistic and to have deviated from the Monotheistic ideal of Aristotle. Is that a case, similar to some of the traditions of Roman Catholicism, where the scholars of Aristotle are given more weight then the words of the Qur’an on the subject of the nature of God, or where does that come from?

        Also, what do you know of literacy rates and common languages spoken by Jews in first century Galilee?

        • JohnH

          In regards to literacy rates, never mind. The usefulness of actual data, or statistics, or non-self-contradictory basic beliefs, or actually explaining beliefs is apparently highly overrated and very much caught up in the past.

          • JohnH

            Not a reference to you.

  • Darren

    “NAMIRS,” by which he meant BYU’s “Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship”

    LoL – I had to look up NAMIRS online to know what it stood for despite mine having seen it a few times in the past. (I humorously decripted it as “Non-American Mormons In Relief Society)”. This SC is nothing more than a pompous arse whose haughty self loathing of his own intellect shows the igonramus he is. His arguments exist only in a superficial bubble on the blogosphere. His arguments can only exist there as when open for scrutiny, they are decimated. Since this superficial bubble is a place dedicated to tear good men down, we’ll call this place Hades.

    • Jon

      Professor Peterson:

      What is your view of Darren’s description of “SC” as “nothing more than a pompous arse whose haughty self loathing of his own intellect shows the ignoramous he is”? Do you approve of this comment?

      • danpeterson

        I don’t know SC, have read scarcely anything that he’s ever written, and am not in a position to comment.

        What’s your view? Are you familiar with SC? Is the description accurate?

        • Jon

          I don’t know SC, but I would refrain from referring to him in those terms in any case.

          • Darren

            :)

          • Darren

            Main site:

            http://servileconformist.typepad.com/servile-conformist/2011/11/welcome-to-philosophy-carnival-134.html

            specific post:
            “Hamblin and Peterson: Might as well be a couple of rocks.”

            http://servileconformist.typepad.com/servile-conformist/2013/02/hamblin-and-peterson-might-as-well-be-a-couple-of-rocks.html

            “I hate literary pablum. I hate it even more when pablum is presented to a large audience in the place of thoughtful and informed writing. Bill Hamblin and Daniel Peterson gave the internet another steaming bowl of pablum with all the usual pretense of scholarship and intelligent writing but it fails to deliver on every front.”

            How pompous.

            “I’ve seen these two whine on Facebook about how they only have 800 or so words and that they can’t publish some detailed account of someone’s philosophy or belief.”

            What an arse.

            “Such whining is baseless, because that isn’t being asked of them. Is it so hard to express something interesting about Aristotle’s God in 800 words? Not really.””

            How pompous

            “PROTIP #2: Stop Being Illiterate
            PROTIP #3: Actually Read Aristotle”

            How pompous and a judgemental arse

            Yeah, he’s sooooo much better than Peterson and Hamblin, ain’t he? They are even illiterate and they have’t even read Aristotle when they wrote their article about Aristotle. Is any of this true? According to this main thread’s post, obvliously not.

            I will concede and alter my original statement to be more specific to the addressed topic at hand. Overall Servil Conformist, aka Pat, may not be a pompous arse but he conducted himself as one in response to Hamblin and Peterson ‘s Artistotle article.

            (How many words do I get on this blog? ;) )

          • Darren

            I forgot this shiny gem in Pat’s conclusion (editing mine):

            “I know Deseret News isn’t exactly a shining example of informed commentary, but when it employs a couple of PhDs in good faith to produce a short and insightful column, it should get that. Instead, Peterson and Hamblin just sort of make sh*t up and don’t care about the consequences. It is a wonder why they got removed from NAMIRS.”

            You know the two Servile Conformist descriptors which I’d use to describe this kind of commentary against Hamblin and Peterson’s Aristotle article but I’ll remain silent at this point (though not necessarily in the future) and allow others to scribe their own feedback about it.

  • Darren

    From Dan’s orginal Deseret News article on Aristotle:

    “The unmoved mover, endlessly contemplating itself because it’s the only thing in the universe worthy of its notice, seems unlikely to pay any attention to the sufferings of less worthy beings such as, say, humans.”

    And

    “Aristotle’s concept of God and that taught in the Abrahamic revelations are like oil and water.”

    Exactly. It is the natural man which is an enemy to God, not man himself. Man is an intelligence like God only God the Father is the highest intelligence and God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was “like unto God” from the beginning.

    All man, save Jesus, has chosen the natural way and thus has fallen from God but God is merciful and through His Son, who is, “like unto God”, who lived perfectly and made an innocent sacrifice for man to rescue him from his fallen state, we can become like God. And this is for the work and the glory of the Father. Modern-day revelation has restored this precious truth to man. God has moved things and is moved by things all for His glory.

  • http://rewinn10@gmail.com Randy Winn

    A constructive correction is often helpful, but a dark, hateful criticism is just ugly, and it exposes the writer as a little person.

    • Darren

      Lol – I assume you’re responding to my posts?

      XOXOXO

    • Mary Jane

      Or Dan’s posts, or saints&saint’s posts, or Graham’s comments or servile conformist’s posts or . . . its pretty much a circular stone throwing squad.

      • danpeterson

        YOu seem, Mary Jane, to think that truth is relative, and that all readings of Aristotle are equally valid. Is that your position?

  • http://www.jrganymede.com Adam G.

    I think you should take Professor Graham’s advice about not throwing bones. But this isn’t even a blog, its just a comment on a blog, so take it for what its worth.

  • Darren
  • Darren

    I wouldn’t say such harsh things about this critique:

    “While I would probably take issue with some points of the “lowly atheist’s” post, it seems that he agrees with me on my main point (that Peterson and Hamblin ought to have at least delved into one the many attempts at reconciliation between the two conceptions of God – for instance Aquinas, which I believe is one of the strongest). I wonder why Peterson’s expert friend didn’t mention the issue of later classical theist arguments in his analysis of the article? Or maybe he did and it didn’t get published. Now as far as the criticism of the writing style goes (why mention Galileo at all? etc.) I see that as of less importance. However, I unfortunately have to agree with the charge of the article being “pablum,” in the sense that it delivers very little substance or nourishment, but I must add the caveat that I have written plenty of pablum online too, including, probably this very post!”

    http://saintsandsaints.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/like-oil-and-water-part-2/

    (Linked from Conformist’s link in my last 2:05 post)

  • Darren

    Dan;

    My post from 2/14 @ 1:39 seems to still be under moderation. That’s fine with me if you don’t want to deal with it; but this is just a heads up in case it went unnoticed. Also, somebody seems to have cleaned up some of my poor grammar (which is my blogging fingerprint) so, thanks!!! :)

    • danpeterson

      Sorry. I don’t approve or disapprove all the posts here. There’s somebody at Patheos who also does it. Somehow, though, your post slipped through the net and was already on my “second page,” so I missed it.

  • Loran

    It would be interesting and refreshing indeed, if the vast majority of these people, who are so vociferous in there self-regard as serious intellectuals, and so keen on preening themselves in public regarding their intellectual abilities, would “stand and deliver” now and then.

    Alas, what I’ve seen there over many years is much more assertions of intellectual superiority than substantive demonstrations of it.

    Most of these folks are, not only apostate LDS, but militantly secular leftists who, almost by that definition, are only half-educated, mostly be design, and are, as the old Zepplin song says, “dazed and confused” by perspectives and ideas outside the tightly constricted, politically correct cubicle they understand as defining “smart.”

    One of the main reasons I finally left that place was precisely this air of suffocating, many times vulgar intellectual snobbery by people who might be far better served working on being much more widely read than they are rather than smirking at others who are equally or more educated than they, but who’s worldview does not comport with their own.


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