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« Feser's superstitions, chapter I | Main | Recommended Post »

July 31, 2010


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Thanks for this review.

After I read "it is not up to us to decide that the angles of a triangle should add up to 38 degrees instead of 180", I found it difficult to read another word of the book, although I continued to slog away to the end.

The pig-ignorance of that statement cannot be over emphasized. In addition to the existence of non-euclidean geometries, Feser also does not know that the units of Euclidean geometry ARE completely arbitrary. We could very easily decide that the angles add up to 38, in which case a right angle would be 19. The depth of Feser's ignorance is really astounding. And then he compounds the problem by referring to triangles throughout the rest of the book. What an idiot.

And besides that, Feser's ignorance of scientific facts leads him to make howling blunders throughout the book.

Feser and his book serve as excellent examples of the Dunning–Kruger effect.

Rob Gressis

Hi Aaron,

You wrote, "But Feser gives an odd argument for mathematical Platonism, saying, for example, that 'it is not up to us to decide that the angles of a triangle should add up to 38 degrees instead of 180.' I assume that he has heard of non-Euclidean geometries, so I am curious as to exactly what he means when he says this is not up to us. Why isn't it up to us whether we adopt a Euclidean geometry or a hyperbolic geometry? What forces one choice rather than another? Or does Feser have some view on the relationship between the two which explains this?"

I would guess that what Feser means is that, _given the axioms of Euclidian geometry_, it's not up to us whether the angles of a triangle add up to 180 or 38 (Rob's point in the comments is not a point against Feser, but just a strangely aggressive way of pointing out that we could call 180 degrees 38 degrees; but as even Rob admits, if we did so, we'd have to call right angles 19 degrees rather than 90 degrees. The point is, the relationship between the total number of degrees in a triangle and the number of degrees in each of its angles is constant and not up to us).

I'm sure Feser would accept that it is up to us whether we accept a Euclidian or non-Euclidian geometry, and that which one we accepted would depend on our purposes. But again, given the axioms of one, certain things just follow, and it's not up to us which of them follow. As for how this fact relates to mathematical platonism, surely it's simply the old argument for platonism, which is: what grounds the truth of certain mathematical statements, or relationships among those statements? Obviously, not everyone is convinced by the arguments for mathematical platonism, but a lot of philosophers of math are. And even if you're not a platonist about mathematical objects, you can still be a realist about universals, which is Feser's main goal anyway.

You also wrote, "Feser defends a realism about categories against nominalism and conceptualism by claiming that our practicies implicitly assume realism, and that nominalism and conceptualism couldn't do the job. He waves his hand at the (entirely adequate) reply available to modern nominalists and conceptualists, namely an evolutionary story of concepts (Millikan has done especially impressive work in this area). His criticism is that we need concepts to engage in evolutionary explanation in the first place, and that on this story the concepts we get from evolution have no "objective validity." Unfortunately, this is only true if "objective validity" is defined in such a way that nothing has it. The evolutionary story provides a perfectly adequate account of the origin of concepts, including providing us with reasonable justification for relying on the concepts produced by that process."

I don't understand this part of your post, which seems to me to be crucial. What is the evolutionary story of concepts, and how does it constitute an adequate reply to realist criticisms of nominalism?

As for your criticisms of Feser on act/potency, form/matter, etc., I think these are good. Just because they are good, though, doesn't mean they're dispositive. I think part of the problem is this: Feser is writing his book in the vein of _The God Delusion_. That is, he is polemical, tries to write in an engaging style, and tries to work the brain of his reader. His reader isn't intended to be the professional philosopher; rather, the educated layperson. Now, of course, Ed thinks he's right, and he doesn't bring up certain criticisms that you may think are obvious. But it's not as though he thinks he's right just because he doesn't bring up and respond to the criticisms. He points time and again to David S. Oderberg's _Real Essentialism_ as a place one can explore for a more philosophically nuanced discussion of these issues, and it's a book with which he largely (or even entirely) agrees.

That said, it's important for you to bring up your criticisms, just as it's important for people like Gary Gutting to bring up his criticisms of Dawkins.

I think you hit the nail on the head with your characterization of Aristotelean notions of causation being rejected because

"...[t]he early nominalists and conceptualists decided that no explanation at all was better than the comforting pseudo-explanation offered by realism (in the tradition of Socrates' view that wisdom is knowing when you don't know something), and so they rejected realism even before there were rival explanations."

Better to have no presuppositions at all than misleading ones.

It seems that the Thomist project is rather like trying to salvage the 'pure circular orbits' of early astronomy by adding ever more epicycles to a theory based on a fundamental mistake. The whole thing smells of an adventure in ad hockery.

Sure it keeps academics employed, but it turns out that just going back to the blackboard and starting over again was a more fruitful approach.

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