All posts tagged: philosophy

Let’s Not Ignore Scientific Faith

The great project of modern scientific positivism has been to establish all that can be known with absolute certainty—to isolate that knowledge which is purely objective and provable by experiment, and to hold this alone as truth. Michael Polanyi explains this clearly in The Tacit Dimension: “The declared aim of modern science is to establish a strictly detached, objective knowledge. Any falling short of this ideal is accepted only as a temporary imperfection, which we must aim at eliminating” (20). Ideally, this knowledge is not in any way influenced by human personality—despite the fact that it might be discovered and articulated by humans, it stands entirely on its own. Such a project has been and generally continues to be held as unquestionably valid and worth pursuing. And, if academia has begun to reject this positivist project, it still lingers on in government, media, education, and the popular imagination. The seemingly obvious question that often goes unasked is whether such a project was ever even possible. On what basis can it be assumed that science might …

The Eschatological Marian Image

In sharp contrast to the multiple-viewpoint technique and elongated figures dominating the old, Byzantine-influenced paintings, the new Western 15th century religious images are distinguished above all by an “increasing realism” embedding conspicuous moments in biblical narrative within landscapes or interiors of great spatial and symbolic complexity. Moreover, the increased availability of panel paintings and, by the mid-15th-century, woodcuts, naturally facilitates their acquisition as quasi-spiritual tokens for the purpose of private devotion. Hans Belting writes: “Individual citizens did not want an image different from the public one so much as they needed one that would belong to them personally. They expected the image to speak to them in person.” Jeffrey Hamburger notes that the transition from aniconic to an image-based vision is characterized by “the increasingly important role of corporeal imagery in spiritual life.” In this development, spanning from the late 13th through the 15th century, “the process of vision is detached from the process of reading [Scripture].” Less the focus of sustained exegesis or affective vision than a deposit of possible allusions and increasingly fungible …

The Virgin Mary, Birth, and Philosophy

Everything begins with the question that Nicodemus asks Jesus: “how can a man enter anew into the womb of his mother and be born?” (John 3:4). It is an excellent question, if not the best question that could be asked. For Nicodemus is not one who fails to understand the “birth from above,” but rather he understands perfectly that one cannot understand the “birth from above” without relating it to the “birth from below.” It is in coming back and describing the significance of “being born from the womb of his mother” (by means of paths “from below”) that one will be able to decipher what it means “to be reborn by water and spirit” (by means of paths “from above”). It is not a question of thinking that Christ’s response is an opposition—“that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6)—but rather thinking of it as an analogy: just as that which is born of flesh is flesh, so that which is born …

The “Gift” of Modernity

It takes just a little education, perhaps an education that involves a nod to Plato and perhaps a wink in the direction of modern French philosophy, to realize there are at least two senses of “gift” currently in operation. There is the ordinary straightforward sense of gift being something good, so that when someone uses the phrase “the gift of modernity” we have good reason to believe that modernity is being construed positively as an unqualified good bringing benefits to us that are plausibly different in extent to what was provided in the pre-modern world and perhaps also different in kind. The referendum would then be on: you could either accept or reject the claim. Acceptance or rejection might simply be an index of personality: you are a sunny type and well-disposed to the commonplace diktats of how wonderful it is for us to enjoy such material comfort and to have such a fabulous menu of choice in and through which to construct a life. Or, you are more brooding and choleric (which may or …

The Exemplary Clarity of the Five Proofs of the Existence of God

Edward Feser has a definite gift for making fairly abstruse philosophical material accessible to readers from outside the academic world, without compromising the rigor of the arguments or omitting challenging details. As scholarly virtues go, this is one of the rarer ones—in part because it takes considerable patience both to acquire and to practice, and in part because it requires a genuine desire to entrust difficult ideas to those from whom they are typically withheld. Perhaps the best example of this gift in action hitherto was his 2006 volume Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner’s Guide (at least, speaking for myself, I have both recommended it to general readers and used it with undergraduates, in either case with very happy results). But this present volume, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, is no less substantial an achievement. In it, Feser has undertaken to explain and defend several of the most demanding traditional arguments for the reality of God, as thoroughly as possible, in a way that communicates their internal coherence to readers who may have no …

Could Dialogue Between Science and Religion Be the Disease Rather Than the Cure?

During the past year I had the privilege of working with the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s Science & Religion Initiative at the University of Notre Dame. Recognizing that polling data consistently indicates that the apparent conflict between “science” and “religion” is the leading cause of young people leaving the Catholic Church, the McGrath Institute developed this initiative with the goal of aiding high school teachers in both fields re-imagine curricula that would explore the relationship between science and religion and challenge the notion that the two are fundamentally opposed. In the course of my interactions with the participants, I was amazed at their expertise in their given field, their willingness to thoughtfully engage core concepts and thought patterns from different fields, and their commitment to their vocation as educators. I am sure that I learned far more from them than they did from me in the course of our time together. Perhaps the most important insight I gained from the experience of facilitating the online forum, in which participants reflected on various attempts to …

MacIntyre’s Philosophy of Mercy’s Clandestine Work in a Secular World

Alasdair MacIntyre is most well-known for his scathing critique of liberalism and modern moral philosophy, contrasting this mode of thought with the classical tradition of the virtues found especially in the works Aristotle and Aquinas and in communities embodying this ethos. But what is less well known is a second, but more far-reaching critique of the entire Western tradition of moral philosophy for failing to take seriously the facts about disability, vulnerability, and dependence that are part and parcel of the human condition. Overlooking this strand of MacIntyre’s thought obscures important insights concerning both his politics and the relationships between philosophy and theology in his work. What this account makes apparent is how MacIntyre offers a genuinely Christian but non-sectarian politics of mercy, an account that speaks directly to the contemporary political crisis. A noteworthy passage from Dependent Rational Animals[1] captures this second critique: [T]wo related sets of facts, those concerning our vulnerabilities and afflictions and those concerning the extent of our dependence on particular others are so evidently of singular importance that it might …

Why Can’t Both Sides of the Abortion Debate Settle on a Definition of What a Person Is?

However unwelcome the contributions of writers like Michael Tooley and Peter Singer may be to their fellow positionists, they have performed an inestimable service in clarifying the implication of the ultra personalist foundation of rights. The Definition of Person as Depersonalization Quite simply they have acknowledged what few were prepared to admit: that there is no essential difference between abortion and infanticide. The reason why the controversy over partial birth abortions has caused such discomfort is because the debate made the same connection factually clear. Late-term abortions are only possible if the fetus is actually killed before full delivery from the uterus. Yet it is one thing to acknowledge such painful medical details and another to declare they are morally permissible. Tooley and Singer have even gone further. They have conceded that the same moral arguments justify infanticide for the first couple of months. The implication is advanced without the slightest hint of irony, unlike Swift’s modest proposal to alleviate poverty by making babies available for consumption. Tooley and Singer have not set out to shock …

The Language of Autonomy, Especially in the Abortion Context, Robs Autonomy of Its Most Serious Connotations

The much-agitated issue of abortion persists because it is couched in terms that are irresolvable. Rights of persons, the mother or the fetus, are posed on either side and with an absoluteness that cannot be compromised. This is in the nature of rights claims. It is not simply that rights are abstractions and inherently unlimited, although that may be a part of the problem. The real difficulty lies in the character of personal prerogatives. A person is a whole, a world unto himself or herself, defined by self-determination untrammeled by outside interference. One cannot exercise partial self-determination, for any mitigation is tantamount to the surrender of control to some other source. No, there is something unassailable in the modern clarification of what is owed to persons as such. Unless one is fully responsible for oneself one can hardly be counted as claiming one’s humanity. Even obedience to the law of God requires the free exercise of decision if it is to have any value, for conformity without inward agreement is of little worth. It is because …