Can Aquinas’ Cosmos Still Be Our Cosmos?

Paradiso_Canto_31When returning to learn from the great thinkers of the past, especially with an eye for what they can contribute to our discernment of what the modern age claims as true or to be believed, a balance must be struck so that, on the one hand, the truth from prior ages is not so emaciated in the transfer that the only connection it has with its original proponent is its author’s name, which we tack on as a helpful label to remind ourselves why it is made by that association important, and, on the other hand, that those truths from bygone eras are not weighed down by cultural and scientific baggage that encumber the truth still lurking within the work’s yellowed pages. Good intentions can lead to errors on either end, and this seems especially true when history reports that a thinker is one to be revered. St. Thomas Aquinas is frequently subjected to this. For instance, a recent short essay by Paul Krause claiming that “Thomas Aquinas’ cosmology and doctrine of the soul are vitalistic” is an example of the latter extreme, despite the good intentions of the essay’s author.

Continue reading Can Aquinas’ Cosmos Still Be Our Cosmos?


First part of review essay published

9788432149160Just out in the journal Scientia et Fides is the first part of a three-part review essay, which I coauthored with Geoffrey Woollard, of Naturaleza creativa. The abstract of this first installment follows:

The short monograph Creative Nature (Francisco Javier Novo, Rubén Pereda, and Javier Sánchez -Cañizares. 2018. Naturaleza Creativa. Madrid: Rialp. ISBN: 978-84-321-4916-0. 196 pp. Paperback, €14.25) is a welcome contribution to the philosophy of nature that arose from interdisciplinary conversations between authors who are both up-to-date in the scientific literature and deeply grounded in the western intellectual tradition. The authors draw from modern physics, biochemistry, evolutionary biology, developmental biology and ecology to argue that nature is creative in the sense that an “open future” of our evolving world lies ahead. In this review essay, divided into three parts, we offer a chapter-by-chapter summary covering Nature, Life, Change, Limits, Functions and Creativity. In conclusion, we offer some pedagogical possibilities. The second part proposes certain points for deeper reflection.

A Genius in Rome & the Genius of Rome

The engraved frontispiece of Galileo Galilei’s Dialogue of the Two Chief World Systems, published 1632; showing (left to right) Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Copernicus.

The following essay is a reflection based upon William R. Shea and Mariano Artigas’ Galileo in Rome: The Rise and Fall of a Troublesome Genius (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2003). (Originally posted, 28 December 2012.) Continue reading A Genius in Rome & the Genius of Rome

Waldstein on Integralism

b5d968115bd99222b5e78b7297b9e281.jpgFor those interested in a deeper, theological and metaphysical defense of integralism, consider Pater Edmund Waldstein’s recent essay at Church Life Journal, “Integralism and the Logic of the Cross.” It is in response to an earlier CLJ essay by Timothy Troutner, “The Integralist Mirroring of Liberal Ideals.” Troutner himself cites an earlier essay by Pater Edmund at CLJ, “What Is Integralism Today?”

Most especially helpful was the use that Pater Edmund makes of the centrality of St. Benedict’s Rule as an exemplar cause of even secular order in the Middle Ages—no surprise there, coming from a Cistercian. A sampling of the newest essay:

Troutner accuses integralists of uncritically accepting everything about Christendom that liberals reject, thus blinding their eyes to the errors of Christendom. But integralists have always distinguished abuses of power in Christendom and its proper uses. It is Troutner who uncritically accepts liberal rejections of the use of temporal power for spiritual ends an sich. Troutner manifests here a view of temporal power as so deformed by libido dominandi that it can never be used for good ends. On Troutner’s view, grace does not heal, elevate, and perfect man’s political nature, rather it replaces it with an inclination to a vague and inconsistent anarchism. Moreover, Troutner’s contention that integralists promote a worldly understanding of power not formed by Christ’s kenotic love, misunderstands both the form of power in Christendom and (more importantly) Christ’s love. Christ self-emptying in the Incarnation and the Crucifixion is meant to restore and elevate the hierarchy of creation wounded by sin, not to replace it with egalitarianism. Nor was the Church’s juridical understanding of herself in Christendom an imitation of worldly power, unaffected by Christ’s kenosis. In fact, the very opposite is the case: the form of temporal politics in Christendom was a conscious imitation of the hierarchy of the Church and the rules of the monastic orders. And the ruler was always understood as an image of Christ, bound to give himself for the common good of his commonwealth just as Christ offered himself for the Church.

Online First: World Enough and Form

The Horsehead Nebula (credit: Wikimedia Commons, D. O’Donnell; detail)

Now online at Synthese is an article developed as part of my postdoctoral work: “World Enough and Form: Why Cosmology Needs Hylomorphism.” It is part of the special issue, “Form, Structure, and Hylomorphism,” guest-edited by Anna Marmodoro and Michele Paolini Paoletti.

You can read a complete online-only version here.

An abstract:

Attending to its recent developments, and taking a long view of the history of the discipline during the twentieth century, it is no longer wise to ask whether modern cosmology has need of philosophy and answer in the negative. Cosmology needs philosophy. More controversially, however, cosmology needs a particular philosophy, the one that defends hylomorphism. Hylomorphism is a general account of changing and changeable beings that appeals to a complementary pair of explanatory principles of change: a determining form (morphe) and determinable matter (hyle). In what follows, we offer a systematic blueprint for the hylomorphic foundation of cosmology. This hylomorphic foundation grounds the possibility of global regularities and structures, the regularity of global regularities, and the existence of the global as such. We obtain these results by arguing that the universe is a whole whose members are substances; that the universe at the global scale exhibits law-governed behaviors; and that the universe is not merely an aggregate of substances but a system, a unity of order.

The original proponent of hylomorphism noted that in order to articulate a philosophical topic well, the matter at hand must be clarified in itself, done so in a way “so as to solve the difficulties” that belong to the topic, and lastly one must “[make] apparent the cause of the perplexity and of the difficulties about it. For thus most beautifully would each thing be shown” (Aristotle 2004; 211a7–12). We adopt this method in proposing an affirmative answer to our question: Does cosmology need hylomorphism?