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Breakthroughs in Natural Theology and hostile receptions.

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  • Breakthroughs in Natural Theology and hostile receptions.

    The 20th and 21st centuries saw a number of breakthroughs in natural theology - a lot of them were regaining old ground lost to Humean confusions but some of them were genuine advancements e.g. the work done by Godel and Maydole on modal perfection arguments or by Gale and Pruss on the PSR. It concerns me however that a certain segment of the classical theist tradition are hostile to developments in natural theology, preferring instead to limit natural theology to some 'canonical' work like the Summa. For them natural theology was a finished project, and all that remains with modern philosophy is a way of further harmonizing their preferred systems with the findings of contemporary science. What is the reason for this atavism? It goes a long way to support the atheist narrative that natural theology is constantly on the defensive.

  • #2
    Some natural theologians have axes to grind on other topics too, like ethics and philosophy of mind. In some cases, I am sure, it is felt that one can argue for, e.g., the entire Thomist system by arguing that it's the only way forward in natural theology.

    Less cynically, there might be doubts about how neutral the tools of the trade of analytic philosophy are.

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    • #3
      Greg, can you elaborate on this? "Less cynically, there might be doubts about how neutral the tools of the trade of analytic philosophy are."

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      • #4
        What improvements for the PSR do you think Gale and Pruss have made? I'm not saying that there isn't, but I'm not sure what exactly what was new in their approach on the cosmological argument.
        (By the way, I would say that the better novelty which came for the ontological argument is more the up-bottom approach that Nagasawa developped in his last book.)


        That said, I'm not sure how the "Muh, theistic personnalism..." crowd has much incidence on modern philosophy. Also, to be on defensive isn't always a problem; it can also show that the foundations are already there, and solid. If atheist want to push some narrative, they should show how ancient argument aren't good anymore; and did they truly did that? We can reasonably doubt it, right?

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Brian View Post
          Greg, can you elaborate on this? "Less cynically, there might be doubts about how neutral the tools of the trade of analytic philosophy are."

          I am putting it vaguely because analytic philosophy has taken a variety of forms since its inception and what counts as its "toolbox" has changed over time. One example of what I have in mind are classical-theist worries about whether, e.g., Aquinas's notions of modality can be captured in the language of possible worlds. Another would be whether Aristotelian logic has been simply superseded by Fregean. Another would be whether theory-building should proceed as a sort of fitting of a curve to some range of cases about which one has intuitions (which is related to the question of whether we should accept. Quine's guidelines for adjudicating ontological disputes). (I don't think these cases are obvious. In each of them it could be replied that the tension isn't there or could be overcome if one were careful, or that it doesn't bear on natural-theological questions, or that indeed classical views are more in line with recent ones than it might be thought.)

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Greg View Post
            I am putting it vaguely because analytic philosophy has taken a variety of forms since its inception and what counts as its "toolbox" has changed over time. One example of what I have in mind are classical-theist worries about whether, e.g., Aquinas's notions of modality can be captured in the language of possible worlds. Another would be whether Aristotelian logic has been simply superseded by Fregean.)
            I was going say it's bait and switch if 'classical theism' is just used as a synonym for Thomism - I mean there are classical theists both before and after Thomas who would be more than happy to use a different notion of modality (Scotus, Leibniz et cetera). I didn't bring up the Thomism thing specifically as I had David Bentley Hart and some of his followers in mind when making this post.

            Originally posted by Ouros View Post
            What improvements for the PSR do you think Gale and Pruss have made? I'm not saying that there isn't, but I'm not sure what exactly what was new in their approach on the cosmological argument.
            Bringing in the idea of agent causation as self-explanatory in response to the modal collapse problem and devising weaker modal variants on the argument

            Originally posted by Ouros View Post
            (By the way, I would say that the better novelty which came for the ontological argument is more the up-bottom approach that Nagasawa developped in his last book.)
            Different arguments though.

            Originally posted by Ouros View Post
            That said, I'm not sure how the "Muh, theistic personnalism..." crowd has much incidence on modern philosophy. Also, to be on defensive isn't always a problem; it can also show that the foundations are already there, and solid. If atheist want to push some narrative, they should show how ancient argument aren't good anymore; and did they truly did that? We can reasonably doubt it, right?
            What do you mean by this? Aside from snarky perjorative the work of Plantinga and co have had a revolutionary effect on philosophy of religion, for instance defending and better articulating modal concepts after decades of annoying modal skepticism, with works on free will and with the problem of evil. Not all of these responses were new by any means (hello Molinism) by those that aren't have received the most considerable development since the end of the Middle Ages.

            The term 'theistic personalism' has long out-lived its usefulness and is fast on the way of becoming a thought terminating cliche.
            Last edited by DanielCC; 01-14-2019, 10:04 AM.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by DanielCC View Post
              What do you mean by this? Aside from snarky perjorative the work of Plantinga and co have had a revolutionary effect on philosophy of religion, for instance defending and better articulating modal concepts after decades of annoying modal skepticism, with works on free will and with the problem of evil. Not all of these responses were new by any means (hello Molinism) by those that aren't have received the most considerable development since the end of the Middle Ages.

              The term 'theistic personalism' has long out-lived its usefulness and is fast on the way of becoming a thought terminating cliche.
              Oh, but I fully agree with you. Sorry if I wasn't clear: my remark was directed for the ones who more-or-less uses this "classical theist/theistic personalist" distinction for their own metaphysical assumptions.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by DanielCC View Post
                I was going say it's bait and switch if 'classical theism' is just used as a synonym for Thomism - I mean there are classical theists both before and after Thomas who would be more than happy to use a different notion of modality (Scotus, Leibniz et cetera). I didn't bring up the Thomism thing specifically as I had David Bentley Hart and some of his followers in mind when making this post.
                It's not being used as a synonym. I did assume you had Thomists in mind, but I was using it as an example because some Thomists are indeed guilty of some of the same tendencies.

                It is also worth noting that historically classical theists have not had allegiance to mere classical theism. They have all been systematic philosophers/theologians. Where they agree in a form of words, they will generally disagree on the meaning. It is not as though all classical theists should find recent developments in natural theology congenial because some of them do.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by DanielCC View Post
                  It concerns me however that a certain segment of the classical theist tradition are hostile to developments in natural theology, preferring instead to limit natural theology to some 'canonical' work like the Summa.
                  Is there somebody in particular in your mind who annoys you most? Could it be Feser?

                  Originally posted by DanielCC View Post
                  For them natural theology was a finished project, and all that remains with modern philosophy is a way of further harmonizing their preferred systems with the findings of contemporary science. What is the reason for this atavism?
                  If you really meant Feser, I suspect some political motives on his part. I have noticed him associating with Dominicans a lot. I guess they sponsor him to a considerable extent, which is why he speaks from the kind of perspective that he does.

                  There is a rather natural attraction between Feser and Dominicans. Feser is thomistically inclined by his nature. I do not think his ambitions stop at being a classical theist philosopher; he might be aiming at becoming something of a doctor of the RC church.

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                  • #10
                    I have read that John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and others have blamed Duns Scotus for helping to start what they view as many of the evils of the Enlightenment and later. Esp. Scotus' doctrine of the univocity of being. Is this true, both of Milbank/Pickstock et al and of Scotus?

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by ficino View Post
                      I have read that John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and others have blamed Duns Scotus for helping to start what they view as many of the evils of the Enlightenment and later. Esp. Scotus' doctrine of the univocity of being. Is this true, both of Milbank/Pickstock et al and of Scotus?
                      Brad S. Gregory, a historian, wrote a whole book attempting to sketch the intellectual history: Scotus caused Ockham, Ockham caused the Protestant Reformation, the Protestant Reformation caused the Enlightenment. Scotus is an addition to the more familiar narrative of decline which begins with Ockham (which you can find in its purest form in Richard Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences).

                      I generally don't think highly of Scotus's innovations, and I think Ockham was a natural philosophical/theological response. But I think the narratives are contrived and attribute too much importance it the history of ideas.

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