Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nagel and his critics, Part VIII

Resuming our series on the serious critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, let’s turn to Simon Blackburn’s review in New Statesman from a few months back.  Blackburn’s review is negative, but it is not polemical; on the contrary, he allows that the book is “beautifully lucid, civilised, modest in tone and courageous in its scope” and even that there is “charm” to it.  Despite the review’s now somewhat notorious closing paragraph (more on which below) I think Blackburn is trying to be fair to Nagel.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Rosenhouse keeps digging

Here’s a conversation that might occur between grown-ups:

Grown-up #1: I haven’t read Nagel’s book or much of the positive commentary on it, but based on what I’ve seen in the popular press it all seems like a lot of absurd intellectual silliness based on caricature and sheer assertion.

Grown-up #2: Jeez, don’t you think you ought to read it before making such sweeping remarks?  You’re hardly going to get a good sense of the content of a set of complex philosophical arguments from a couple of journalistic pieces!

Grown-up #1: Yeah, I guess so.  Fair enough.

And here’s a conversation between a grown-up and Jason Rosenhouse:

Saturday, March 23, 2013

EvolutionBlog needs better Nagel critics

EvolutionBlog’s Jason Rosenhouse tells us in a recent post that he hasn’t read philosopher Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos.  And it seems obvious enough from his remarks that he also hasn’t read the commentary of any of the professional philosophers and theologians who have written about Nagel sympathetically -- such as my own series of posts on Nagel and his critics, or Bill Vallicella’s, or Alvin Plantinga’s review of Nagel, or Alva NoĆ«’s, or John Haldane’s, or William Carroll’s, or J. P. Moreland’s.  What he has read is a critical review of Nagel’s book written by a non-philosopher, and a couple of sympathetic journalistic pieces about Nagel and some of his defenders.  And on that basis he concludes that “Nagel needs better defenders.”

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Nagel and his critics, Part VII

Let’s return to our look at the critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos.  New commentary on Nagel’s book continues to appear, and to some extent it repeats points made by earlier reviewers I’ve already responded to.  Here I want to say something about Mohan Matthen’s review in The Philosophers Magazine.  In particular, I want to address what Matthen says about the issue of whether conscious awareness could arise in a purely material cosmos.  (Matthen has also commented on Nagel’s book over at the New APPS blog, e.g. here.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ferguson on Nagel

In the cover story of the current issue of The Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson reviews the controversy generated by Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos.  Along the way, he kindly makes reference to what he calls my “dazzling six-part tour de force rebutting Nagel’s critics.”  For interested readers coming over from The Weekly Standard, here are some links to the articles to which Ferguson is referring, with brief descriptions of their contents.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Capital punishment lecture

This Friday, March 15, I’ll be speaking at California State University, San Bernardino on the topic “Is Capital Punishment Just?”  Details here.

(The short answer, as my longtime readers know, is “Yes.”  I’ve discussed the issue on the blog and elsewhere many times, such as here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  But the talk on Friday will address some fundamental issues about the grounds of punishment in general that are not discussed in these earlier articles and posts.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

The whole man

My recent review of Michael Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain is now available online at the Claremont Review of Books website.  And while you’re on the subject of philosophical anthropology, you might also take a look at William Carroll’s recent Public Discourse article “Who Am I? The Building of Bionic Man.”

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Spare not the Rod

David Bentley Hart’s First Things article on natural law, which I criticized a few days ago, got some positive responses elsewhere in the blogosphere.  One of its fans is Rod Dreher at The American Conservative, who wrote:

If you don’t believe there is any cosmic order undergirding the visible world, and if you don’t believe that you are obliged to harmonize your own behavior with that unseen order (the Tao, you might say), then why should you bind yourself to moral precepts you find disagreeable or uncongenial?  The most human act could be not to yield to nature, but to defy nature.  Why shouldn’t you?  Or, to look at it another way, why should we consider our own individual desires unnatural?  Does the man who sexually and emotionally desires union with another man defying [sic] nature?  Well, says Hart, it depends on what you consider nature to be.

Well, yes, it does.  This is news?  Who, exactly, are the natural law theorists who have ever denied this?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Philosophy on radio (UPDATED)

I’ll be appearing later today on Catholic Answers Live, at 4:00 pm (Pacific time).  Today’s show is billed as an “Open Forum for Atheists,” so have at it.  Links to some previous radio interviews can be found here.

UPDATE: The podcast of the show is now available here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Christian Hart, a Humean head

Note: The following article is cross-posted over at First Things.

In a piece in the March issue of First Things, David Bentley Hart suggests that the arguments of natural law theorists are bound to be ineffectual in the public square.  The reason is that such arguments mistakenly presuppose that there is sufficient conceptual common ground between natural law theorists and their opponents for fruitful moral debate to be possible.  In particular, they presuppose that “the moral meaning of nature should be perfectly evident to any properly reasoning mind, regardless of religious belief or cultural formation.”  In fact, Hart claims, there is no such common ground, insofar as “our concept of nature, in any age, is entirely dependent upon supernatural (or at least metaphysical) convictions.”  For Hart, it is only when we look at nature from a very specific religious and cultural perspective that we will see it the way natural law theorists need us to see it in order for their arguments to be compelling.  And since such a perspective on nature “must be received as an apocalyptic interruption of our ordinary explanations,” as a deliverance of special divine revelation rather than secular reason, it is inevitably one that not all parties to public debate are going to share.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Back from Lafayette

Back today from Lafayette, Louisiana, where I gave a talk (available for viewing via Vimeo -- or, alternatively, on YouTube) at Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Catholic Student Center, adjacent to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  I thank my host Fr. Bryce Sibley and the other folks at the Church and Center for their warm hospitality.  The fine group of guys you see above are some readers with whom Fr. Sibley and I had a nice evening of gumbo, whiskey, and philosophical and theological discussion.