As promised yesterday, this is the kickoff of my analysis of and questions about Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. Yesterday, in the index post, I pasted in Feser’s summary of Aristotle’s Four Causes which you may want to refer back to. I’m interested in Feser’s book because he’s making the pitch that if you believe in moral order and some kind of telos for people, Christianity will follow inexorably. Since I fit the first part of his modus ponens, I want to take a look at the rest of his proof.
But before I can get into any of the nitty-gritty philosophy, I have a broader epistemological question. I like the four causes and I find them to be a useful way to clarify some questions, but I’m worried there’s a “map is not the territory” trap here. Just because Aristotle’s schema is a good framework for conversations doesn’t mean that they are an accurate portrait of the actual structure of the world. They may just be a good shorthand for whatever we already believe, and they might not add anything to our understanding of the world.
Feser seems to think that Aristotle’s map is isomorphic to the territory, so we can expand our understanding of the world by studying these causes in depth and trying to figure out what you have to presuppose to make them work. Feser is essentially bootstrapping his way up to metaphysics and theology by formalizing what he already knows and then accepting whatever is logically required to support his formalization. I can follow a lot of the arguments that happen at this stage, but, even if I find them to be coherent, I don’t necessarily believe that they’re true.
What’s the epistemological hurdle a theory should clear to be considered a reasonably accurate map of the world, not just a summary of my previously held beliefs? My usual standard is positive predictive value, but it’s hard to set up metaphysical experiments, and I’m reluctant to just give up and decide I can’t say anything substantive about these questions. How do you strike a balance?