Course in April

As part of the last stages of my postdoctoral project here in Chile, I’m happy to announce a course that I’ll be teaching this April at Universidad Gabriela Mistral: Dios y la Filosofía. The course is an overview of the fundamentals of natural theology, especially in view of modern science, following a classical Thomistic approach to the subject.

Dios y la filosofía

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Scholastic “cosmologies”

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The long history of the Thomist revival and its various idiosyncrasies is difficult going. Part of my research focuses upon the fruits of the tradition of scholastic “cosmology,” which nowadays we call the philosophy of nature. A new page collects and makes available some resources as part of that ongoing project.

Currently available is a draft translation of the prefaces and introduction, with some notes and other items, of Petrus Hoenen’s Cosmologia (5th ed.). Of particular interest are these words from Hoenen’s exordium:

Does one not at times pity the philosopher upon whom is inflicted the duty of teaching scholastic cosmology? For—as is suitable and particularly befitting for a peripatetic—if he wishes to diligently consult the sciences (which have accomplished much through their experiments), and if (so that he might follow them) he interrogates the physicists so as to have a great number of their answers, these contradict the scholastics, originating as they do from mechanistic philosophy. However, if he neglects them, apart from the fact that he in doing so denies also Aristotle and the great scholastics, that splendid atomic theory will always be reckoned against him, whose discussion he wishes to avoid and which, in its essential parts confirmed to a remarkable degree, will remain a possession forever.

Hoenen sought to avoid what he called a “concordism” between the Thomistic tradition and the modern natural sciences. That is, “concordism,” as I understand it, is his allusion to a method of scriptural exegesis, especially when interpreting the six days of creation in Genesis, which method attempts to broker an interpretive peace between the discoveries of the sciences and the literal text of the Bible by proposing various metaphorical or extended readings of certain passages or terms. This relates to attempts to understand the perennial philosophy of nature in relation to the modern sciences when one attempts a “facile concordism” between the two (in Maritain’s words). This analogy, as near as I can tell, was first used by Paolo Gény, “Metafisica ed esperienza nella Cosmologia,” Gregorianum 1.1 (1920): 95.

New essay: The CRISPR Conundrum

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Over at Arc Digital, a new essay of mine about CRISPR. An excerpt:

The Cartesian project of the mastery and possession of nature—now embodied by CRISPR—would recognize no boundaries of a Stoic “Nature.” The prospect of vast amounts of money to be earned and power to be gained from procuring and selling CRISPR technology impels many no less vehemently than the prospect of ending human suffering, disease, and aging itself. So where will the limits be?

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.

New essay on CRISPR

Over at Crisis Magazine, a new essay on gene editing and CRISPR. An excerpt:

There is no single “switch” for a higher IQ. Relationships between individual genes are “epistatic,” that is, “the effect of one gene . . . is dependent on the presence of one or more ‘modifier genes’.” Furthermore, Kozubek adds, the expression of genes is driven in part by the environment with which an organism of a certain type interacts. Genes, organism, and ecosystems form a “triple helix” of interactions.

This leads us to question the simplistic word-processor metaphors that are used to describe CRISPR. If CRISPR scientists are the newsroom copy-editors, Nature is still the editor in chief, determining through organism and environment what actually goes to press.

Yet this does little to allay one’s ethical concerns. Will not the proponents of genetic modification, in the face of the news that we cannot surmount Nature’s complexity, reply with a simple “Not yet, but we will!” and urge us to press on?

Essay at Thomistica.net

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Recently published at Thomistica.net is an essay of mine, “Some Mistakes Due to What Is Per Accidens.” The essay discusses four philosophical mistakes when what is per accidens is taken to be what is actually per se to something. This logical error was discussed with lucidity by Dr. Duane Berquist in his lectures on logic, and hence I dedicate the essay to his memory. Any of the logical errors in the essay must be imputed, of course, to the author and not to the author’s teacher.

Online First: World Enough and Form

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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?