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.