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:


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:


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.)


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