Ed Feser’s temper tantrums

This post ties in with the post series I’m writing on arguments for the existence of God, but I don’t consider it a part of the post series proper. Rather, I want to pre-empt a problem I suspect I may have to deal with with the next post. The problem is this: Catholic philosopher Ed Feser has basically made a career out of throwing temper tantrums about things atheists do, and I don’t want to feed that.

For example, here’s a long quote from a post by Jason Rosenhouse describing Feser’s ridiculous behavior:

Edward Feser has posted a reply of sorts to my two essays from last week (Part OnePart Two.) Turns out he’s pretty touchy about people who are dismissive of the cosmological argument. The post is quite long and only a small portion of it is directed specifically at me. Since most of that portion is just a temper tantrum about the lack of respect shown to the philosophy of religion, I feel no desire to respond in detail.

But there is one place where the magnitude of Feser’s rudeness is so out of proportion to the strength of his argument that I do think some response is called for. In Part One of my earlier post I wrote:

If the cosmological argument is the best theology has to offer then we atheists do not need to worry that we have overlooked a good argument for God’s existence. Feser seems rather taken with it, but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature. Off the top of my head, I found Mackie’s discussion in The Miracle of Theism and Robin Le Poidevin’s discussion in Arguing for Atheism to be both cogent and accessible.

Feser had much to say about this, most of it silly. For example:

Does Rosenhouse really think that we defenders of the cosmological argument aren’t familiar with Mackie and Le Poidevin? Presumably not. But then, what’s his point? That is to say, what point is he trying to make that doesn’t manifestly beg the question?

My point was simply that I think the cosmological argument is not very good, and that I think Mackie and Le Poidevin provided cogent and accessible refutations of it. How could I have been clearer? I have no idea what question I was begging by expressing those particular opinions.

Feser continues:

After all, what would Rosenhouse think of the following “objection:”

Rosenhouse seems rather taken with the materialist view of the mind, but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature. Off the top of my head, I found Foster’s The Immaterial Self and the essays in Koons’ and Bealer’s The Waning of Materialism to be both cogent and accessible.

Or, while we’re on the subject of what prominent mainstream atheist philosophers have said, what would he think of:

Rosenhouse seems rather taken with Darwinism, but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature. Off the top of my head, I found Fodor’s and Piatelli-Palmarini’s discussion in What Darwin Got Wrong and David Stove’s discussion in Darwinian Fairytales to be both cogent and accessible.

Rosenhouse’s answer to both “objections” would, I imagine, be: “Since when did Foster, Koons, Bealer, Fodor, Piatelli-Palmarini, and Stove get the last word on these subjects?” And that would be a good answer. But no less good is the following answer to Rosenhouse: Since when did Mackie and Le Poidevin have the last word on the cosmological argument?

Actually, it would not even occur to me to reply as Feser suggests. I would not take either of his hypothetical objections to mean that he thinks defenders of Darwinism or of a materialist view of mind are simply stunned into dumbstruck and embarrassed silence by the arguments in the books he recommends. I would take them to mean simply that in his opinion the authors he cites have provided good arguments against Darwinism and materialist views of mind.

With respect to the objection about Darwinism I would reply simply, “I have read both Stove and Fodor and Piatelli-Palmarini, and I don’t think their major arguments are strong at all.” As for the one about materialist views of mind, my reply would be, “The philosophy of mind is not an interest of mine, but if I ever decide to start writing about it I will be sure to check out those books.” But I certainly would not reply, “How dare you beg the question by recommending a couple of books you liked!” In fact, I would consider it downright weird to respond in such a way.

Downright weird is right. Like Jason, it would just never occur to me to respond in the way Feser did. In a similar vein, about a year ago, I wrote a blog post mentioning that I had bought Feser’s book Aquinas but didn’t plan on finishing it because it didn’t seem to contain much in the way of arguments that Aquinas’ views were actually true. Feser responded to the review with this comment:

Chris,

I must say that your comments baffle me. I spend a long chapter of the book (chapter 2) explaining and defending the general Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical picture of the world. That is, I argue that we have good reason to think that that picture is true. Then I spend a second long chapter (chapter 3) explaining how the Five Ways show that, given those background metaphysical theses, the existence of God follows. And yes, I respond to various misunderstandings of the arguments, but the point of that is to show that the standard attempts to block the theistic conclusion all fail.

Now that sounds to me like “trying to show Aquinas was right” and like an attempt to “show the view is correct.”

I know you’ve admitted to not reading the whole book, but jeez, how much did you read? The back cover, maybe? Obviously not enough to give a credible representation of what’s actually in it. Trying to justify the adjective in your blog’s title, perhaps?

To which I responded:

@Edward,

I’ve read the first four parts of chapter 2 (i.e. pp. 8-23), and what I see is lots of exposition of the metaphysics, with a fair amount of examples and responses to objections. The closest thing I can find to an argument is in the middle paragraph of p. 18 where you say:

“unless a cause were inherently directed towards a certain effect or range of effects, that is to say, unless that effect or range of effects were the cause’s own final cause – there would be no reason why it should bring about just that effect or effects.”

I can see how this would be a premise in an argument for final causation–but even understanding that, I don’t see a clear reason to think the premise is true.

At first, I thought maybe the structure of the chapter would be exposition/argument in favor, but based on a quick skim ahead that doesn’t seem to be true.

I think maybe you think the AT metaphysical picture is just obviously true, so that just explaining the view makes for a sort of argument for it. But I don’t find the AT metaphysical picture so obviously true.

Feser didn’t respond to that comment, but he did later cite the post and comment as evidence that I am “unliterate.” To which I think again: weird. If I saw someone post something online saying they had bought my first book, but didn’t finish it because after a couple dozen pages and a bit of skimming it didn’t look like it would be worth their time, it wouldn’t make me happy but it would not even occur to me to call them “unliterate.”

But for the record, I did go and read the rest of chapter 2 of Aquinas, and my impressions of the book are unchanged. In fact, none of the main ideas were a surprise to me. Probably because the material was basically identical to material also found in one of Feser’s other books The Last Superstition (which I did read cover to cover), or maybe I read more of it than I realized in my previous skim.

Now, there are many places in the chapter of Aquinas where I can see maybe Feser thinks he’s making an argument: there are various places where he gives some example for illustrating Aquinas’ view of something, and then declares it’s obviously the right view of the example, and some material declaring we need Aquinas to avoid various philosophical problems. But these look more like declarations than arguments to me; I’m obviously not sure what there is there to refute.

Probably Feser will either not respond to this post or respond with another one of his temper tantrums. In which case I’ll ignore him; merely making this post was giving in a bit to his nonsense, but I don’t plan on giving in any further. What I’d like to see him do, though, is pick just one of his arguments for one of Aquinas views from chapter 2 of the book and explain why he thinks he actually showed Aquinas is right. (In other words, as I said to someone else in a recent thread, evidence or GTFO.)

 

  • Karla

    As if atheists don’t throw temper tantrums! chuckle.

    That would be OK, though. It the stinking sniveling threats from the biggets pricks on the planet that make me sick.

    • Nathair

      As if atheists don’t throw temper tantrums! chuckle.

      Tu quoque pointing towards the entire population of atheists? No wonder you chuckled.

      It the stinking sniveling threats from the biggets pricks on the planet that make me sick.

      I’m curious, was that supposed to be “biggest pricks” or “bigot’s pricks”? (Or is the Bigget some kind of cryptid like El Chupacabra but with a threatening prick?)

  • Karla

    nd s Jw I m sck f ltst bgts lk Dwkns nd hs cosprcy btchng bt “th ntrs Jwsh Lbby” tht cntrls th cntry nd th ant smtc bgtry f slf htng Jws lk Hrrs wh sys Jw r “t blm fr thr wn vctmhd” nd th dd swn lk Htchns wh sd tht f th Jws hs bn wpd t n th ncnt wrld w “cld hv bn sprd th whl thng”.

    r slf htrs lk Cyn wh whn abt th Bbl wrttn by JWS.

    Hws tht fr tmpr tntrm y pssy mn?

    Disemvowelled for total irrelevance – Hallq

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    Yikes! Hide the troll-food…

  • mnb0

    If anyone wants to make the cosmological argument look plausible he/she has to address at least two problems, one of which was already mentioned by Bertrand Russell more than 60 years ago:

    1. Why would the chain of cause and consequence have a beginning? Why can’t the chain be circular?
    2. Why should we assume that causality is the fundamental principle of the Universe? Quantummechanics and Evolution Theory (as far as mutations go) suggest otherwise.

    I bet Feser doesn’t address this. If my guess is right his writings are a waste of time.
    If you intend to spend a chapter on the cosmological argument I recommend you to read a bit about quantumfluctuation and the pulsating universe theory. In both cases Wikipedia is a decent start.
    Btw you’re on a roll.

    • Brian

      And why can’t a chain of cause be infinite? There is no problem of infinite regression. To try and shoe horn a previous cause before infinity is to treat infinity as finite.
      But let’s just say the unverse is eternal. We can only see as far back as the big bang, but the universe has always been. After all, if believers are entitled to call their god’s existence eternal and uncaused, we’re entitled to say the same of the universe. And at least we all agree the universe exists.

      The second objection is the fallacy of composition. If the whole wall is made of bricks, then the wall is a brick. Or some such.

      • Bison Grass

        But Feser says, in this review, http://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/05/not-understanding-nothing : “But Krauss simply can’t see the ‘difference between arguing in favor of an eternally existing creator versus an eternally existing universe without one.’ The difference, as the reader of Aristotle or Aquinas knows, is that the universe changes while the unmoved mover does not, or, as the Neoplatonist can tell you, that the universe is made up of parts while its source is absolutely one; or, as Leibniz could tell you, that the universe is contingent and God absolutely necessary. There is thus a principled reason for regarding God rather than the universe as the terminus of explanation.”

        So you’re not entitled to claim that the universe is eternal, because the universe is neither absolutely one, unchanging or absolutely necessary! >_<

        • Brian

          But that’s just an assertion. Feser has no idea if the universe isn’t eternal or not. It’s using a statement of faith, that god is eternal and the universe isn’t to declare that the universe is contingent. That is, he’s begging the question.

        • Brian

          What is the augment that the universe isn’t necessary? That we can imagine it not existing? Well, I can’t imagine no existence personally, but in any case, I can imagine an eternal universe that changes, but was always going to be this way, and no god ever existing.
          On a side note, Aristotle thought it necessary that there were many gods, not one.

          • Justin

            Brian,

            What is the augment that the universe isn’t necessary? That we can imagine it not existing? Well, I can’t imagine no existence personally, but in any case, I can imagine an eternal universe that changes, but was always going to be this way, and no god ever existing.

            The argument rests on the nature of material objects, which are a mix of act and potential. So anything material seems to be composed of actuality and it’s potential states, the potential states only becoming actualized by something actual, so that you could have an eternally existing universe, but as long as it was all material, it would require something outside of it to actualized it. To stop the regress, it would need to be something that was purely actual, with no potentiality.

            On a side note, Aristotle thought it necessary that there were many gods, not one.

            I think Aristotle thought the unmoved mover was one, not many.

          • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

            In book 12 of the metaphysics, Aristotle seems to say that there is an unmoved mover for each celestial sphere. Though little in the interpretation of Aristotle is straightforward.

          • Brian

            So, the argument requires you to buy into Thomistic metaphysics.
            Well, no thanks. :)

          • josh

            @Justin

            “The argument rests on the nature of material objects, which are a mix of act and potential.”

            The thing is, there’s a reason we tend to group this kind of talk off as ‘metaphysics’. That’s because it’s bunk as physics. (The term meta-physics just comes from ‘after Physics’ and probably refers to the traditional arrangement of Aristotle’s works.) Material objects are not a mix of act and potential. We don’t go out and measure the act to potential ratio of a physical object. In fact, thinking of something ephemeral as a distinct object is usually a heuristic at best which breaks down as a valid description at some level. Cause and effect doesn’t work the way Aristotle, or most casual users of the terms, thought it did. Similarly, the notion of an unmoved mover is at odds with the way reality actually works, in terms of reciprocity (Newton’s 3d law) and relativity.

            These are ideas that remain forever stuck as historical footnotes (and the obsessions of a few cranks) because they don’t really work well as a description of the universe we find ourselves in. They are understandable attempts for people living thousands of years ago, but they never built up a complete or compelling system and it’s foolhardy to try and draw grand conclusions about existence from them.

  • Kevin

    Feser….ew.

    Bloviation is not argumentation. Nor is it philosophy.

  • http://bensix.wordpress.com BenSix

    I’m not that why Feser’s critiques of atheists can be described as “temper tantrums”. True, I haven’t read “Aquinas” or “The Last Superstition” but his blogposts have always seemed calm and substantive. (Which is not, of course, to say their arguments are right). That which Rosenhouse describes as “rude” doesn’t seem particularly impolite to me, and that which described you as “unliterate” was, perhaps, a bit snarky but, then, given that it was in response to a post in which you’d called him “Ed boy” and described him as a hypocrite and bigot this is not, I think, a charge by which to damn him.

    • josh

      Feser can’t really handle the fact that some people don’t find him very intelligent, and his response is to slag them off while trying to appear as erudite as possible. He comes off as a belligerent hypocrite with narcissism issues and no real insight to justify his entitlement. See R. Joseph Hoffman for a nominally atheist example of the same pathology.

    • Patrick

      Feser long ago committed himself to the idea that Augustinian metaphysics are self evident. He seems to really and truly believe this. So he interacts with people in two ways. 1) Patiently explaining what Augustinian metaphysics is, in the apparently belief that if he just explains in sufficient detail, people will have an “Aha!” moment and come around. 2) Railing at them in rage because, in spite of all his explanations, they refuse to admit that Augustinian metaphysics are self evidently true. Obviously, since Augustinian metaphysics are self evidently true per hypothesis, the only explanation for someone’s refusal to admit that they’re true is either astounding stupidity and ignorance, or else a willful and culpable refusal to publicly admit what they know to be true.

      Read him for a while. You’ll pick up on it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

        You mean “Thomistic” Patrick, but otherwise you’re right. Feser constantly makes bizarre demands on other people. And when someone fails to follow his bizarre ideas about how they ought to behave, this is a “brutal fact” or whatever nonsense about them.

  • rank sophist

    All bluster and no content, as usual. Care to present an argument for once, Hallq? Perhaps you could man up and try to beat a few of Feser’s points? Undermine the system of philosophy he’s outlining, maybe? That would be a whole lot more impressive than your cries of “YOU’RE WRONG, YOU’RE WRONG, NEENER-NEENER.”

    • Brian

      Why undermine it? What motivation is there for even believing it is true, except, I need god in my life, I can’t handle being born in an indifferent universe?
      I’d hope, that given the hundreds of years that Thomists have had to work on the system they borrowed from Aristotle, gutting the part about many gods of course, they can at least have made it internally consistent. But internally consistent is not the same as true.

      • rank sophist

        In other words, “YOU’RE WRONG, YOU’RE WRONG, NEENER-NEENER.” Very impressive.

        • Brian

          Obviously you’ve come here to sneers, as your nym would suggest. Hence why I sneered back at your petulance.

          But here’s a small, but important, point of logic. A system that is internally consistent, is not necessarily true. Why should I say, ‘OK, let’s say this is true, let’s say God is eternal (in doing so, I’ve admitted god exists without argument) and the universe is contingent (something admitted again without argument), and then because certain things follow from those axioms, say that it is true that those things follow?
          Why should we accept the Thomistic framework. It’s not obvious that it explains anything as well as accepting that the universe in some form or another has always existed, and what we call the big bang isn’t the beginning of the universe, but just as far back as we can see. And it’s a fair more parsimonious and has a much higher probability of being true. It doesn’t require disembodied persons, unchanging minds making choices, etc.

          • Brian

            say that it is true that those things follow?
            I meant: say that those things that follow are true. Not just follow by virtue of a valid argument.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1405051812 richardnorris

            Brian, The problem here is that the notion that God is eternal is not an unargued assumption, but is instead supported in the works of Aristotle, Aquinas, and other philosophers who follow in the same classicaly theistic vein. The idea of an eternal universe in no way eliminates God’s role as an agent of change, and again, this is argued extensively in the literature. Encounter the actual argument instead of pre-supposing what he argument entails, or get the hell out of theisms way, because you are obviously not serious.

          • Brian

            I didn’t say they were unargued. You need to read better, or I need to express myself better. I said if I accepted these premises, then yes, those conclusions my very well follow (internal consistency). That is, if I accept god exists and is eternal and the universe is contingent (all which may or may not have been argued, but conclusions from one argument can be used as premises for other arguments). But as I don’t accept those premises – e.g. I don’t accept that any fact in the universe has a more likely explanation in a god, it’s superfluous – and I don’t see why you would, unless you needed to erect some scaffolding around your existing belief in god. Aquinas was a believer before he was a philosopher, and he was searching for support for his beliefs. And all Catholics are required to believe that Thomistic philosophy is true, whether it is true or not. After all, it’s been revealed. Hardly the road to truth, when the result is already decided beforehand.

            But I’ll get out of your way, as your in such a hurry. :)

          • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

            Brian,

            You seem to be trying to use psychology to assess the arguments here instead of philosophy, and as these are philosophical arguments that’s generally a bad idea.

            Look, the same charge could be made against Hawking and Krauss, that they were atheists before they came up with their ways to show how something can come from nothing without any notion of a god and so it’s no surprise that they come up with an explanation that does just that. Even in your comment you could be accused of starting from an assumption that a god explanation will be superfluous and then dismissing any possibility that it might not be. But in philosophy, that’s not acceptable. You have to go and look at the actual arguments and see if it holds even if one isn’t biased in one direction or another. For Hawking and Krauss, it turns out that you can easily demonstrate that their arguments actually miss the point of the “Something from nothing” argument and so they don’t actually address it (they need to posit something existing that while they consider it “nothing” the philosophical argument would consider it “something”). The same thing needs to be done to Feser’s arguments and the arguments of what Feser seems to reasonably labal as “classical theism”. Simply saying “Well, they wanted there to be a god, so it’s not surprise that they found one, and so I don’t have to look at the arguments” is absolutely and completely wrong-headed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      No, I don’t care to. Feser’s shtick is throwing a tantrum when people don’t give him and his beloved Aquinas the attention he thinks they deserve, and I’m not giving into that nonsense.

      • rank sophist

        That kind of cowardice (exhibited by Dawkins no less than by you) is one of the many reasons people laugh at Gnus. Good luck with that.

        • revaaron

          People laugh at Gnus for the crime of not assenting to everything Aquinas stated? I bet.

          • Jon Hanson

            Come on man, all the cool kids are arguing about Aquinas!

        • josh

          Yeah, Aristotelian Thomism is all the rage. The only reason no one outside of Feser cares about it is because we’re cowards afraid of how OBVIOUSLY TRUE it is!!!

          • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

            Oops. Yeah, that’s basically it.

    • revaaron

      Methinks you need to read the post again- the complaint was that Feser failed to present any actual arguments, instead just seeing and expounding his evidently presupposed viewpoint. Is Hallquist supposed to refute Feser by refuting all of Aquinas as a precondition to any discussion?

      • jonathangray

        Is Hallquist supposed to refute Feser by refuting all of Aquinas as a precondition to any discussion?

        Is a creationist actually supposed to understand what Darwin said before dismissing Dawkins?

        Feser could very reasonably say he’s just a humble populariser of Aquinas. He’s not posturing as a great philosopher. He’s saying “look at Aquinas!” not “look at me!”.

        • josh

          revaaron: “Is Hallquist supposed to ,refute Feser by refuting all of Aquinas as a precondition to any discussion?”

          jonathangray: “Is a creationist actually supposed to understand what Darwin said before dismissing Dawkins?”

          If you want to hoist someone with their own petard, it helps to use something at least close to their own petard.

  • Pingback: One more point about Feser | The Uncredible Hallq

  • tom torwin

    One of the world’s most distinguished atheistic philosophers, Graham Oppy of Monash University in Australia, recently invited Ed Feser to contribute a chapter to an anthology he is editing.
    I can assure you he would not have done so if he did not consider Feser to be an accomplished philospher.

    Both mem, while they each have profound philosophical differences, nevertheless respect one another as professional philsophers.

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