The phenomenal Edward Feser. How does he do it? He teaches an outrageous number of courses at a community college, five per semester; he has written numerous books; he gives talks and speeches, and last time I checked he has six children. Not to mention his weblog which is bare of fluff and filler and of consistently high quality.
He writes with clarity, style, and wit, and you don't want to end up on the wrong end of his polemics, as Lawrence Krauss did recently who got himself deservedly tagged by Ed as a "professional amateur philosopher."
Ed is an embodiment of one of the truths of Quine's essay Paradoxes of Plenty, namely, that a paucity of free time is not inimical to productivity.
Ed's latest collects 16 recent essays in the areas of philosophy of nature, natural theology, philosophy of mind, and ethics. Start with "The Road from Atheism," his intellectual autobiography.
You can get the book from Amazon for a paltry $19.02. Amazon blurb:
In a series of publications over the course of a decade, Edward Feser has argued for the defensibility and abiding relevance to issues in contemporary philosophy of Scholastic ideas and arguments, and especially of Aristotelian-Thomistic ideas and arguments. This work has been in the vein of what has come to be known as “analytical Thomism,” though the spirit of the project goes back at least to the Neo-Scholasticism of the period from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth. Neo-Scholastic Essays collects some of Feser’s academic papers from the last ten years on themes in metaphysics and philosophy of nature, natural theology, philosophy of mind, and ethics. Among the diverse topics covered are: the relationship between Aristotelian and Newtonian conceptions of motion; the varieties of teleological description and explanation; the proper interpretation of Aquinas’s Five Ways; the impossibility of a materialist account of the human intellect; the philosophies of mind of Kripke, Searle, Popper, and Hayek; the metaphysics of value; the natural law understanding of the ethics of private property and taxation; a critique of political libertarianism; and the defensibility and indispensability to a proper understanding of sexual morality of the traditional “perverted faculty argument.”
One of the pleasures in the life of a bookman is the delight of the 'find.' As a reader reports:
I saw that your cat is named Max Black. You might appreciate this anecdote.
Twice a year here in Ithaca there is a three-week long used book sale. The price drops each week, so if you can hold out to the end you can make out with some really good deals. This past time I got Hempel's Aspects of Scientific Explanation and Peter Geach's Reference and Generality for 50 cents each! The best find of all, though, was a first edition of [Hans] Reichenbach's classic The Rise of Scientific Philosophy that bore the signature of its previous owner on the inside: Max Black!
Great story! Curiously, I acquired all three titles similarly and for pennies: either from used book bins or from former graduate students. Back in '76 or '77 in Freiburg, Germany, I found a book by Hans Lipps that had been in Heidegger's library and bore his inscription.
I have often regretted the books that I didn't snatch from the remainder bins. Or rather it is my not snatching them that I regret. My mind drifts back to my impecunious days as a graduate student in Boston, must have been '73 or '74. I was in Harvard Square where I espied Reinhardt Grossmann's Ontological Reduction, or maybe it was his early book on Frege. I didn't buy it and I still regret not doing so.
I have repeatedly had the experience of buying a book the subject matter of which did not particularly interest me at the time only to find that a year or ten or twenty later that very book was what I needed. My copy of C. L. Hamblin's Fallacies (Methuen 1970) was pulled from a used book den in Harvard Square in July of 1974. It sat on my shelf unread for four years until I devoured it while boning up to teach logic, one of my duties at my first job.
I searched for an image of Max Black and found this:
I did not name my cat after this acolyte of high culture. Here is the real Max Black, the philosopher after whom I named my cat, circa 1965:
I'd like to get my hands on a copy of Maria Reicher, ed., States of Affairs (Ontos Verlag, 2009). I didn't find it in the ASU catalog and so I headed over to Amazon.com where I found a used copy for the entirely reasonable price of $9,999.99 plus $3.99 shipping and handling. I kid you not. You might think they'd throw in free S & H on orders over $5,000.00.
Maybe it is like this. The whole world is Amazon's oyster, and in that wide world there are quite a few ontology freaks, your humble correspondent one of them, and probably a couple crazy enough to fork over $10 K for this collection of essays. So why not ask a ridiculous price? You just might get it.
Does anyone in Ontology Land have a copy of this collection that he or she is willing to part with?
I will put it to good use. I have been invited to contribute an essay to a volume commemorating the late David M. Armstrong. My essay is tentatively entitled "Facts: Realism, Anti-Realism, Semi-Realism." So I need to be en rapport with all the latest literature.
Update (9/3). My explanation three paragraphs supra is mistaken. See Mark B.'s comment for a much better one.
Occasionally, Robert Paul Wolff says something at his blog that I agree with completely, for instance:
To an extent I did not anticipate when I set out on life’s path, books have provided many of the joys and satisfactions I have encountered. I am constantly grateful to the scholars and thinkers who have written, and continue to write, the books from which I derive such pleasure, both the great authors of the past . . . and those less exalted . . . .
Gratitude is a characteristically conservative virtue; hence its presence in Wolff softens my attitude toward him.
As Wolff suggests, our gratitude should extend to the lesser lights, the humbler laborers in the vineyards of Wissenschaft, the commentators and translators, the editors and compilers and publishers. Beyond that, to the librarians and the supporters of libraries, and all the preservers and transmitters of high culture, and those who, unlettered themselves in the main, defend with blood and iron the precincts of high culture from the barbarians who now once again are massing at the gates.
Nor should we forget the dedicated teachers, mostly women, who taught us to read and write and who opened up the world of learning to us and a lifetime of the sublime joys of study and reading and writing.
Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (editiones scholasticae, vol. 39, Transaction Books, 2014) provides an overview of Scholastic approaches to causation, substance, essence, modality, identity, persistence, teleology, and other issues in fundamental metaphysics. The book interacts heavily with the literature on these issues in contemporary analytic metaphysics, so as to facilitate the analytic reader’s understanding of Scholastic ideas and the Scholastic reader’s understanding of contemporary analytic philosophy. The Aristotelian theory of actuality and potentiality provides the organizing theme, and the crucial dependence of Scholastic metaphysics on this theory is demonstrated. The book is written from a Thomistic point of view, but Scotist and Suarezian positions are treated as well where they diverge from the Thomistic position.
I thank Professor Feser for sending me a complimentary copy which arrived a couple of hours ago. So far, I have read the Prolegomenon (pp. 6-30) which is mainly a critique of scientism together with a rejection of the view of philosophy as mere 'conceptual analysis.'
Scientism is the doctrine that "science alone plausibly gives us objective knowledge, and that any metaphysics worthy of consideration can only be that which is implicit in science." (10) That is exactly what it is in contemporary discussions, although, for the sake of clarity, I would have added 'natural' before both occurrences of 'science.' Also worth noting is that scientism is to naturalism as epistemology to ontology: scientism is the epistemology of the ontological view according to which (concrete) reality is exhausted by the space-time manifold and its contents as understood by physics and the natural sciences built upon it such as chemistry and biology.
I won't repeat Feser's arguments, but they are pellucid and to my mind conclusive. The usual suspects, Lawrence 'Bait and Switch' Krauss and Alexander Rosenberg, come in for a well-deserved drubbing. Ed's prose in this book is characteristically muscular, but he keeps his penchant for polemic in check.
By the way, if you want to read a truly moronic article on scientism, I recommend (if that's the word) Sean Carroll, Let's Stop Using the Word "Scientism. Carroll thinks that the word is "unhelpful because it’s ill-defined, and acts as a license for lazy thinking." Nonsense. He should read Feser or indeed any competent philosopher's discussion of the topic.
Some hold that philosophy, because it is not science, can only be conceptual analysis. Ed makes a forking good point when he observes that this view is a variation on Hume's Fork:
The claim that "all the objects of human reason or enquiry" [Hume] are or ought to be either matters of "conceptual analysis" matters of natural science is itself neither a conceptual truth nor a proposition for which you will find, or could find, the slightest evidence in natural science. It is a proposition as metaphysical as any a Scholastic would assert, differing from the latter only in being self-refuting." (26)
I stumbled upon a good brisk read the other day by David Mamet in the genre, How I finally saw the light and stopped being a benighted leftist. The title is The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture (Sentinel, 2011). Here is a taste, from a footnote on p. 10:
*The Left and the Right, I saw, differ not about programs, but about goals -- the goal of the Left is a government-run country and that of the Right the freedom of the individual from Government. These goals are difficult to reconcile, as the Left cannot be brought to actually state its intentions, nor to honestly evaluate the results of its actions.
In his second sentence, Mamet makes two extremely important points. The first is that leftists employ a stealth strategy. They are not open about their ultimate goals. The gun-grabbers among them, for example, will rarely state openly that one of their goals is the banning of the private ownership of handguns. They know full well that an open espousal of their totalitarian agenda would incite the opposition of the 'tea-baggers' as they derisively call Tea Party members as well as that of the rest of the rubes of fly-over country. The second point it that leftists, as adherents of a quasi-religion, are committed to its nostrums whether or not they work out in reality. Are the public schools better than they were in '65? Obviously not. So throw more money at them while harrassing homeschoolers and blocking voucher programs.
But I must quibble with Mamet's first sentence. It is simply not the case that the goal of the Right is freedom of the individual from government. That is a goal of anarchists, but conservatism is twice-removed from anarchism. For between anarchism and conservatism lies libertarianism. Conservatives are law and order types. They believe in a strong national defense. They want the nation's borders to be secure. All of this requires local, state, and Federal government.
When leftists say as they repeatedly do that conservatives are anti-government, that is a lie and they know it. It is a mistake for Mamet to give aid and comfort to this lie. Conservatives are for limited government. It takes no great logical acumen to see that if one is for limited government, then one is for government. And even a liberal should be able to understand that it is a false alternative to suppose that the choice is between no government and totalitarian government.
Christopher Hitchens' NYT review of Mamet begins thusly: "This is an extraordinarily irritating book, written by one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason."
And as I read more of it, I am becoming irritated myself. Consider his answers to the questions put to him in an interview. The questions are serious, but he returns frivolous answers, e.g.:
You also wrote about hating “every wasted, hard-earned cent I spent in taxes.” What cent did you hate the most? All of them gall me the most.
Only a lunatic extremist would think every cent paid in taxes was wasted. And surely no conservative would maintain such an absurd position.
We don't need more extremists. Contemporary liberalism is a set of extreme positions. The answer, however, is not some opposite form of extremism. I believe it was Goethe who said that no one is more hostile to a position than one who once espoused it but has come to reject it. I paraphrase.
In partial answer to a reader's query, here are some good books about Communism. These are 'second-tier' books. First read Whittaker Chambers, Witness; Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism (three vols.); Cszelaw Milosz, The Captive Mind. What follows is a 1 August 2004 post updated and expanded from my first weblog.
I like reading books by and about Communists and former Communists. One reason is that I think it will give me some insight into the related phenomenon of Islamism, which would not be badly described as the Communism of the 21st century. Here are some out-of-the-way titles I have dug up recently. I have found them both enlightening and entertaining. Being ‘fair and balanced,’ as everyone knows, I read materials both sympathetic and hostile to Communism.
Vivian Gornick, The Romance of American Communism (New York: Basic Books, 1977). Consists of sympathetic biographical sketches of numerous American communists. A very enjoyable read for those who enjoy psychology and biography.
Aileen Kraditor, “Jimmy Higgins”: The Mental World of the American Rank-and-File Communist, 1930-1958 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988). An academic sociological study by a former commie, and Boston University professor “written from a conservative standpoint.” (Preface) Strongly recommended, and of course ignored by leftists. Note that I didn’t say,‘suppressed by leftists,’ because that is the silly way they talk. To ignore something is not to suppress it, any more than to refuse to sponsor or subsidize something is to censor it. Especially egregious is the use of 'voter suppression' by leftists to refer to common sense polling place requirements such as government-issued photo ID.
Bella V. Dodd, School of Darkness (New York: P. J. Kennedy, 1954) Bella Dodd’s idealism swept her up into the Communist Party, as did Whittaker Chambers' and and the idealism of so many of the best and brightest of their generation. But after wasting years of her life in the CPUSA, it spit her out. Disillusioned, she turned to Catholicism, taking instruction from none other than Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in New York City. She had come to the conclusion that the brotherhood of man is possible only under the fatherhood of God. Her book is available on-line here.
Ron Radosh, Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left, and the Leftover Left, Encounter, 2001. There are some juicy revelations about Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, on pp. 39-40. But I am too lazy to type them up. But I'm not too lazy to link to this great PP & M tune.
This is a really good collection of state-of-the-art essays that comes at the right time in my philosophical development. I thank Ed Feser, editor and contributor, for sending me a complimentary copy. (I didn't ask for one, and you shouldn't either.)
Would you please start a series of posts akin to the "Saturday Night at the Oldies" except about books? A few books presented every week, each with a one sentence description, from as wide a thematic range as possible -- fiction, history, philosophy, biography and others. I would profit from it immensely, as would many others.
An excellent idea. So, in keeping with my masthead motto "Study everything," here are (some of) my recent reads. Disclaimer: Much of what follows are quick bloggity-blog remarks scribbled mainly for my own use. They are not intended as balanced reviews.
1. Hugh J. McCann, Creation and the Sovereignty of God (Indiana University Press, 2012).
I am finishing a review article about this book for American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly. Three sentences from the introduction: "Hugh McCann is an old pro in action theory and the philosophy of religion whose expertise is well-displayed in the eleven chapters of his magisterial Creation and the Sovereignty of God. [. . .] McCann’s central conviction is that God is absolutely sovereign, so much so that God is not only sovereign over the natural order, but also over the moral order, the conceptual order, and the divine nature itself. [. . .] The book can be summed up by saying that it is a detailed elaboration in all major areas of the consequences of the idea that God is absolutely sovereign and thus unlimited in knowledge and power.
2. Greg Bellow, Saul Bellow's Heart: A Son's Memoir (Bloomsbury 2013). Held my attention to the end. A son comes to grips with his relation to his famous conservative father. I found the son's uncritical liberalism annoying in places.
3. Colin McGinn, Problems in Philosophy: The Limits of Inquiry (Blackwell, 1993). One-sentence summary: The central problems of philosophy have naturalistic solutions, but we are prevented by our cognitive architecture from ever knowing them. Here is Peter van Inwagen's review. (A tip of the hat to sometime MavPhil commenter, Andrew Bailey, for making PvI materals available online.)
4. Marcia Clark (with Teresa Carpenter), Without a Doubt (Viking, 1997). Marcia Clark was the lead prosecutor in the ill-starred O.J. Simpson trial. Simpson was accused of first-degree murder in the brutal deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, but acquitted. Clark's side of the story. I'm at p. 159 of 486 pp.
5. Dominick Dunne, Another City, Not My Own: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir (Crown, 1997). Another book about the Trial of the Century as Dunne calls it (the Simpson murder trial) by the late novelist, socialite, reporter, and gossip. Aficionados of that vast, sprawling monstrosity know as the City of the Angels will find this and the previous title of interest. I'm from there, so that helps explain my interest.
6. Aurel Kolnai (1900-1973), Ethics, Value, and Reality: Selected Papers of Aurel Kolnai (Hackett, 1978). I thank my young friend Kid Nemesis for bringing Kolnai's work to my attention. One of the ten papers collected here is Kolnai's seminal "Forgiveness" (orig. in Proc. Arist. Soc. 1973-74). David Wiggins and Bernard Williams co-author a useful introduction to Kolnai's life and work.
7. Josef Pieper, Hope and History: Five Salzburg Lectures, tr. D. Kipp (Ignatius, 1994, orig. publ. as Hoffnung und Geschichte by Koesel-Verlag in 1967). The German Thomist meditates on hope with the help of Kant, Teilhard de Chardin, Franz Kafka, and the Marxist Ernst Bloch. Pieper very politely criticizes Bloch's Marxist idiocies which cumlinate in the simultaneously outrageous and hilarious Ubi Lenin, ibi Jerusalem!
8. Ralph C. Wood, Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South (Eerdman's 2004). A study of themes from the work of a Catholic novelist in the fundamentalist South.
9. Daniel C. Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking (W. W. Norton 2013). Is Dennett a philosopher or a pseudo-philosopher? He is undoubtedly brilliant, as brilliant as he is sophistical, snarky, and unserious. I find the man and his works repellent. But Colin McGinn, atheist, naturalist, and apparently also a liberal, I find simpatico. McGinn is a real philosopher! You want to know my criteria? Some other time. My Dennett drubbings are here.
Correction. Monterey Tom correctly points out that " the title 'Trial of the Century' should go either to the Hiss Case or the Rosenberg case, both of which had social and political ramifications far beyond the mere sensationalism of the Simpson fiasco. The only reason why so few college graduates, even graduate students specializing in national security affairs, are familiar with the Hiss and Rosenberg cases is that both trials disprove one of the essential tenets of PC, namely that there never were any Communists in the first place. Of course, only a system as twisted as PC could require people to believe at the same time that while there never were any Communists they were good people."
We want to develop breadth of mind, to practice comparative study, to keep the horizon before us; these things cannot be done without much reading. But much and little are opposites only in the same domain. . . [M]uch is necessary in the absolute sense, because the work to be done is vast; but little, relatively to the deluge of writing that . . . floods our libraries and our minds nowadays.
[. . .]
What we are proscribing is the passion for reading, the uncontrolled habit, the poisoning of the mind by excess of mental food, the laziness in disguise which prefers easy familiarity with others’ thought to personal effort. The passion for reading which many pride themselves on as a precious intellectual quality is in reality a defect; it differs in no wise from other passions that monopolize the soul, keep it in a state of disturbance, set it in uncertain currents and cross-currents, and exhaust its powers.
[. . .]
The mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading, it is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production; it grows inwardly extroverted, if one can so express oneself, becomes the slave of its mental images, of the ebb and flow of ideas on which it has eagerly fastened its attention. This uncontrolled delight is an escape from self; it ousts the intelligence from its function and allows it merely to follow point for point the thoughts of others, to be carried along in the stream of words, developments, chapters, volumes.
[. . .]
[N]ever read when you can reflect; read only, except in moments of recreation, what concerns the purpose you are pursuing; and read little, so as not to eat up your interior silence.
A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods ( Catholic University Press, 1998), pp. 145 - 149.
I agree with the above, except for the extreme statement, "Never read when you can reflect."
Mortimer Adler, in How to Read a Book, pointed out that being widely-read does not mean one is well-read. I've enjoyed reading some of your old posts about reading and studying, so I wanted to know your opinion on this matter.
Should I aim to read a lot of books? Or is it better to read and reread a few good books? I know some people say one should read widely but read good books deeply. But I've found that a hard balance to maintain. For example, deeply reading an 800-page selection of Aquinas's writings several times would consume almost all of my reading for the next 1-2 months. Also, it's hard for me to switch gears, you might say. If I'm accustomed to reading most of my books through quickly without pausing much to think, then I easily fall into that mode of reading when I'm trying to read deeply.
I imagine you would have some interesting thoughts on this topic, since you have a few decades of reading behind you. Which type of reading benefited you the most?If you could go back and change what you read and how you read during your decades of scholarship, what would you change?
Although desultory reading is enjoyable, it is best to have a plan. Pick one or a small number of topics that strike you as interesting and important and focus on them. I distinguish between bed reading and desk reading. Such lighter reading as biography and history can be done in bed, but hard-core materials require a desk and such other accessories as pens of various colors for different sorts of annotations and underlinings, notebooks, a cup of coffee, a fine cigar . . . .
If you read books of lasting value, you ought to study what you read, and if you study, you ought to take notes. And if you take notes, you owe it to yourself to assemble them into some sort of coherent commentary. What is the point of studious reading if not to evaluate critically what you read, assimilating the good while rejecting the bad? The forming of the mind is the name of the game. This won't occur from passive reading, but only by an active engagement with the material. The best way to do this is by writing up your own take on it. Here is where blogging can be useful. Since blog posts are made public, your self-respect will give you an incentive to work at saying something intelligent.
To the foregoing, I would add, first of all, the magnificent observation of Schopenhauer: "Forever reading, never read." If you want to be read, then you must write. And even if you don't want to be read, you must write -- for the reason supplied in the preceding paragraph.
Now on to your questions.
Widely-read or well-read? You can be both. And you should be both. Switching gears can be difficult, but it can be done.
As for time that could have been better spent, I do not regret reading vast quantities of Continental philosophy, but some of the time spent on the more extreme representatives of that tradition, such as Derrida, was time wasted.
Re-reading these remarks, I realize they are rather trite. But they may be of some use nonetheless.
Robert Samuelson comments on Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 and finds some grounds for a measure of optimism. Conclusion:
America's distinctive beliefs and values are fading, says Murray. Maybe. But our history is that the bedrock values -- the belief in freedom, faith in the individual, self-reliance, a moralism rooted in religion -- endure against all odds. They've survived depressions, waves of immigration, wars and political scandals.
There is such a thing as the American character and, though not immutable, it is durable. In 2011, only 36 percent of Americans believed that "success in life is determined by outside forces," reports the Pew Global Attitudes survey. In France and Germany, the responses were 57 and 72 percent, respectively. America is different, even exceptional, and it is likely to stay that way.