Feser’s book is definitely not letting me down. Not only is he cracking more sarcastic “jokes” and more rants about the New Atheists, but he’s getting pretty philosophical, and I likey.
So after his discussion of Plato and his theory of forms, Feser turns to the importance of Aristotle and his philosophical contributions. This is no minor issue. Feser has very strong feelings about the importance of Aristotelian philosophy and the consequences of abandoning such a philosophy. I found it funny how he wrote out his feelings about the abandonment of Aristotelianism. Funny because of the ironic manner in which he framed and answered the question, but I ultimately think he’s right. So Feser asks, ”How significant is Aristotle?”, and his lamenting answer is, “Well, I wouldn’t want to exaggerate, so let me put it this way: Abandoning Aristotelianism, as the founders of modern philosophy did, was the single greatest mistake ever made in the entire history of Western thought” (51 Feser’s emphasis).
His lament doesn’t end there. It just begins, and it continues for a whole page. From the “disintegration” of “rational justifiability of morality and religious belief”, evolution vs ID controversy, abortion, same-sex marriage, to the “mind body problem”, skepticism, and relativism, Feser suggests that our cultural decay has been in a steady and slow (now rampant) decline as a result of the abandonment of Aristotelianism, which “provided the most powerful and systematic intellectual foundation for traditional Western religion and morality [...] that has ever existed” (51-52).
No doubt these are very strong claims. He even anticipates how some of his readers might ask or think that he’s somehow joking. But he readily admits that he isn’t, and he adds a number of qualifiers. I really do look forward to how his responses play out and how he will weave them together to back up his claims. He goes as far as admitting that he is indebted to the reader by making these grand assertions. Luckily, he asserts that he will jump into the metaphysics and “pay off [his] debt to the reader” (52). Feser does seem very confident in the power behind Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy.
With this confidence, he launches off into discussions on potentiality and actuality, form and matter, and the four causes. All these are pertinent to understanding Aristotelianism and Feser makes sure his readers understand its importance and applicability. To illustrate the concept of potency and act, Feser uses his famous little bouncy ball example (which I’ve employed myself since this illustration is the best way for people to understand it). The ball’s potency is basically those ways in which the ball can be, e.g., green if you paint it, flat if you pound it down with a hammer or something, and/or “gooey” if you melt it. Actuality is the way the ball actually is: a blue bouncy ball is actually blue, bouncy, round, and hard.
A few more distinctions are needed. Something in act cannot potentially be just anything. The ball cannot potentially be a toothpick or a leather chair. Its potentialities are such that they are grounded in the nature of the thing in act. Furthermore, something goes from potential to act only if something else in actuality acts as an efficient cause on it. Feser explains that for a rubber ball to actualize its potential and become goo, it requires something external that’s in act (heat) to melt the ball.
As an aside, I really didn’t intend to go on and summarize all of the concepts that Feser explains. I’m only doing this because it helps me understand it better as I explain it to an audience.
Anyways, so Feser goes into great detail explaining these concepts and the rest of them. Feser does explain how some of modernistic philosophy has become crap when he criticizes Hume’s problem of cause and effect and demonstrates how these problems only arose as a result of abandoning the aristotelian notion of explaining things, i.e., the four causes. He uses an example of a breaking a window with a brick to demonstrate. The “problem” is that the break being thrown is one event and the window being shattered is another event (65). Who’s to say that the first event caused the second? Feser says that there is no problem and the problem only arises because of Hume’s wrongheaded position in the first place. Simply put, “things are causes, not events” (66). So with regards to the brick and the window, Feser explains that “the key point in the causal series would be something like the pushing of the brick into the glass and the glass’s giving way[...] these events are simultaneous” (66). There’s a lot more technical jargon involved in his explanation. So Feser doesn’t just trout out a simplistic answer like I’ve framed it, but he does go into detail at how this event is explained and why Hume got it wrong.
Next to the act/potency distinction, the four causes is the chief cornerstone to Aristotelianism. But Feser observes how modern science claims to have buried the hatchet and made formal and final causes obsolete and false. Feser’s response to this was…well, you can see for yourself:
Let me be very clear about something. However widely accepted, these claims are, each and every one of them, simply untrue. They are false. Wrong. Mistaken. Erroneous. Non-factual. Not the case. And this is putting it too mildly: If one were to use the proper technical jargon common in traditional Australian philosophy [...] one would characterize them as ‘bullshit.’ (71)
Fesers response is basically that modern science never came close to disproving the four causes. All they did was drop the usage of two of them and moved on. This hardly counts as a refutation. Because of this move, Feser continues, philosophical problems arose and things have just been getting worse and worse. Once again Feser makes the promise that these things will get fleshed out later on in the book (and I’m inclined that this is true since he does have a chapter that’s titled “Descent of the Modernists”). I certainly hope he doesn’t leave his readers with not enough to fill them up. But I have faith in the guy.
I’ve already started reading the third chapter, and the book is just getting better and better. I’ll save my thoughts and some discussion on it for another post.