Apologetics, Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Thomism

The Growing Philosophical Influence of Edward Feser, Thomism, & Neo-Scholasticism

During my time in RCIA I spend many hours discussing philosophy and theology with a great priest named Fr. Joseph. At one point in the conversation we were discussing the issues surrounding modern atheism and in this context he recommended that I read a book titled, The Last Superstition, by Edward Feser. I had no idea who Edward Feser was nor was I even remotely familiar with the philosophical tradition of Thomism. As a Protestant my interaction with Christian philosophy and apologetics was basically through the dominating methods of William Lane Craig and mere evangelical defenses of theistic rationalism. Hopeful that this reading suggestion might be a fresh take on the issue of the new atheist movement, I followed Fr. Joseph’s direction and bought The Last Superstition.

I began reading the book as soon as it was delivered and I couldn’t put it down. Never had I read anything so devastating to atheism generally and to the new atheist movement specifically. Not only does Feser totally dismantle the claims of the new atheists, he clearly articulates the appropriate Thomistic metaphysical framework from which a coherent Christian philosophy makes sense. Moreover, the arguments presented introduce the reader to certain knowledge of God’s existence rather than an evidentially probabilistic argument that only results in opening the door to fideism.

The Last Superstition was written in 2008, and since then Feser has added many great works to his resume. Some of these titles are Aquinas, Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics, Scholastic Metaphysics, Neo-Scholastic EssaysBy Man Shall His Blood Be Shed, and Five Proofs of the Existence of God.

Feser’s most recent works, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed and Five Proofs, have garnered quite a lot of attention and well-earned publicity. The fact that these titles are getting so much attention is in many ways a testament to the veracity of their claims and argumentation.

If you are looking for great Thomistic literature from the Neo-Scholastic tradition that is formidable in its articulation of truth and unrelenting in its refutation of error, then Edward Feser’s work will be a necessary addition to your bookshelf.

Here is The Socratic Catholic’s book review of By Man Shall His Blood Be ShedThe Catholic Church & Capital Punishment 

Here are some of the articles recently written by Feser in reply to some of his critics on the death penalty:

The Pope’s Remarks on the Death Penalty Need to be Clarified

On Capital Punishment, Even the Pope’s Defenders are Confused

McClamrock on By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed

Pope Seems to be Contradicting Traditional Teaching on the Death Penalty

Here are some videos of Feser discussing the thesis of his book on the death penalty:

 

Here are some recent interviews of Feser discussing his work in The Last Superstition, Five Proofs:

 

Here are The Socratic Catholic’s posts highlighting the first three arguments made by Feser in Five Proofs:

The Aristotelian Argument

The NeoPlatonic Argument

The Augustinian Argument

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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5 thoughts on “The Growing Philosophical Influence of Edward Feser, Thomism, & Neo-Scholasticism

  1. Jim Given says:

    Dear Lucas,
    I understand and agree with your advocacy of Ed Feser’s works as defenses of Catholic apologetics, as responses to the atheists, the socialists, and the reductionists. But I also agree with Mike Sullivan that Feser’s version of Scholasticism is standard neo-Thomism:
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/06/sullivans-cavils.html

    I also see it as being largely uninformed by the twentieth century, by the splintering of neo-Thomism into a large number of mutually exclusive variants, from the Toronto School to the transcendentals to the Neo-Platonist mystics. I claim that, at this time, a simple defense of neo-Thomism is of very limited value, because the critiques of Thomist thought in the twentieth century both reveal its already extensive corruption in the 18th and 19th centuries, by rationalism and Idealism, and make it unclear which version of Thomism is being defended. What must be done in this era is a careful reconstruction of the Scholastic tradition, taking into account all the major Scholastic philosophers, and the ensuing commentary. Catholic philosophy awaits a careful synthesis, independent of traditional parochialism (Dominicans vs Franciscans vs Jesuits).

    Since you mention William Lane Craig, I note that, informed by his Calvinist concerns, Craig does valuable work toward the type of synthesis I describe. In his long intellectual history of the concept of will, divine and human:
    The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge and Future Contingents from Aristotle to Suarez (Brill: 1988),

    Craig surveys Catholic philosophical developments of this topic, and develops Molinist and Scotist aproaches as the most viable. I consider this to be a valuable constructive step toward the type of synthesis that Catholic philosophy requires.

    Jim Given

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    • Jim,

      Thanks for you thoughtful comment. I would agree that Feser expresses a kind of Neo-Thomist/Neo-Scholastic view of Thomism.

      However, that is where my agreement with your statement ends. I think most of what you said after that is problematic, especially the idea that Feser is uninformed of the developments of criticisms against “Neo-Thomism” in the 20th century. This is false simply based on the fact that Feser has spoken quite a bit about it and made arguments as to why it was mistaken to abandon the veracity of the Neo-Scholastic tradition as a whole. It might be the case that many of those who dwell on these 20th century criticisms fail to recognize the numerous Thomistic scholars who are working to demonstrate that these criticisms were ill-founded.

      I would also strongly disagree with your views on William Lane Craig. I would contend that Craig’s views and methods represent a problematic trend of reduction to bare analytics that has actually been detrimental to Christianity and the defense of the Gospel. Craig subordinates revelation to method and modern science. This is the opposite of what the apologist is called to do. The last thing Catholic philosophy needs is to follow the lead of a evangelical who rejects classical theism and the Catholic faith.

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  2. Jim Given says:

    Lucas,
    I believe that you and I are talking past each other rather than disagreeing about anything specific. I apologize for failing to be as clear in writing my previous post as I intended.
    I am profoundly interested in Scholastic metaphysics qua natural theology in particular, and also as metaphysics. I am not concerned to address Catholic or Christian apologetics per se. My main point was that the history of philosophy since the middle Scholastic era has made it quite problematic to speak of Thomistic philosophy as a unified adequate development of Catholic philosophy in the Aristotelian tradition. Aquinas was a genius, but he made only – in my opinion- a good beginning on the vast endeavor of harmonizing classical philosophy a la Aristotle with Catholic teaching. The attempts to complete this endeavor are disparate, even before the added challenges, provided by the intervening centuries, of accounting for the ontological and metaphysical nature of conscious, phenomenological experience; and of accommodating the major success of mathematical physics as explanatory paradigm. This makes it inadequate to attempt to maintain, as do many followers of Gilson, that Catholic philosophy since Aquinas has misunderstood him, and that one must return to Aquinas original intent. I take twentieth century efforts to provide such an original intent via a Gilsonian emphasis on esse, or subsequent efforts by Fabro et al to centralize Participation, to be failures in the project of grounding natural theology. I maintain that history shows that they lead rather to a growing split between faith and reason, a tendency to minimize Aristotelian philosophy within the Church, and a grounding of theology entirely upon a combination of Revelation and Neo-Platonist mysticism.
    Twentieth century Catholic philosophy has revealed the extensive corruption of 18th and 19th century Catholic philosophy by philosophical Rationalism. This also renders problematic any neo-Thomist reliance upon Thomism as received and taught e.g. in Catholic manuals circa 1900.
    In brief, I do not understand what one might mean, in the early 21si century, by reference to Thomism or Aristotelian Thomism as providing an adequate detailed basis for natural theology. As a development of the case that Catholic philosophy has largely failed to understand or respond to the philosophical challenges of the past several centuries, I quite like the book, “Post-Modernity’s Transcending: Devaluing God,” by Laurence Paul Hemming, a devout Catholic scholar. He rejects the philosophical claims of the Post-Modernists, while recognizing the very genuine difficulties in the Catholic philosophical tradition.

    The genuine challenges to the Catholic philosophical tradition come from twentieth century Continental thought. For example, Heidegger’s critique of Western metaphysics, including the Catholic philosophical tradition, as presented in his later lectures, e.g. in Freiburg, are incisive and important. I do not find analytic or atheist challenges to be interesting in a metaphysical sense.

    This is not a criticism for Edward Feser per se. I simply don’t find in his work a development of Catholic metaphysics that acknowledges the issues I describe here. I see major shortcomings and inadequacies in the work of Thomas Aquinas, taken as a complete metaphysics. Many great Catholic scholars in the past 500 years have recognized these remaining challenges and responded to them. I don’t see that Edward Feser does this. I largely agree with the second part of Mike Sullivan’s criticism, in The Smithy blog, of Feser’s book, “Scholastic Metaphysics”:
    http://lyfaber.blogspot.com/2014/06/fesers-scholastic-metaphysics-book_4.html
    I take this critique to be making a similar point concerning Feser’s work as offering an inadequately well-developed explanation of Aristotelian-Thomist metaphysics. Again, I don’t claim anyone else provides a modern foundation for natural theology. But I don’t find Feser’s work helpful in this specific endeavor. I repeat, I do not here discuss his apologetics.
    Finally, I am not at all recommending the apologetics of William Lane Craig. I recommended Craig’s scholarly review of the development of an adequate Catholic metaphysical approach to issues of free will. Again, I favor a Scotist approach will Craig favors a possible-worlds form of Molinism. But that it is not material here – I merely credit Craig’s framing of the issues involved in a way conducive to the development of an adequate Catholic philosophical position. I also credit Craig’s development of these questions as covering Dominican, Franciscan and Jesuit historical contributions, which I take to be essential to attempts at adequate development. As Mike Sullivan notes, Feser seems sympathetic to such a synthetic approach in principle, but his development of Scholastic philosophy does not make any allowance for it.
    Jim Given

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  3. Vandy says:

    “Again, I favor a Scotist approach will Craig favors a possible-worlds form of Molinism. But that it is not material here – I merely credit Craig’s framing of the issues involved in a way conducive to the development of an adequate Catholic philosophical position.”

    Interesting. I watched a video once in which Craig made the claim that Thomas was actually a nominalist. Forgive me for doubting his ability to frame any issue that would be helpful to scholasticism.

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  4. Jim Given says:

    As a Catholic, I disagree with Craig in basic ways. I did defend a particular historical review of his, one discussing various treatments by philosophers of the coexistence of Divine omniscience and human freedom. I offered this as an important resource in discussing Catholic vs. Calvinist belief, and in particular, as a resource in adequately presenting Catholic belief. But I will not enter a wide-ranging battle over the writings of WL Craig. In general, I do not find basic errors of fact in his writings, whether about science, or religion, or the relation between them. Accusing Aquinas of nominalism would be such an error. Can you find this error in print?

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