Neo-Aristotelian Thomist Philosophical Theology.
July 23, 2010 — 13:26

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Uncategorized  Comments: 39

Having recently noted the passing of James Ross–one of the early luminaries of what came to be known as “Analytic Thomism”–I got to thinking about the growth of this movement (which was greatly accelerated by the formation of the Society of Christian Philosophers).
In my lifetime, I’ve noticed a real swelling of interest in the titular subject of this post. I got it in high school from reading Geisler, and then later from Haldane and the Analytic Thomist movement (by the way, see Haldane’s new book here which is a follow up to this one).
A lot of my Peeps at the at the Society for Catholicism and Analytic Philosophy would consider themselves analytic Thomists. I would say that my colleague Alex Pruss is one, though he’d be uncomfortable with the “Thomist” part, though I read that pretty broadly. SLU’s Jonathan Jacobs would count in my book too, though I’d want to add the same caveat.
Setting aside any debate about the extension of “Thomist,” Pruss and Jacobs seem clearly to be in the Neo-Aristotelian camp in several ways. I’m wondering what other writers you think fit this bill or how many people want to say Amen! to it or something rather less complimentary. It might be good to think about what some tenets are. I’ve been thinking of an anti-Platonism and a focus on powers as pointing in the right direction, but it’s more complicated than that.
Taxonomy’s may not have much intrinsic philosophical relevance, but they can help us think better about the discipline and even issues when we do them right. So I’m wondering what people think about this.
I’d also like to network folks interested in this, so I’ve added “analytical thomism” to my interests in Academia.edu and I encourage others to do so as well.
Book of Essays
Wikipedia Entry
Monist Issue Table of Contents
List of Some Analytic Thomists
Society for Catholicism and Analytical Philosophy (Yahoo! Group)

Comments:
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    I’d by happy to count myself an analytic Thomist by courtesy, if the real analytic Thomists will have me!
    Quickly, and off the top of my head, some others: Eleonore Stump, Tim O’Connor, Michael Gorman, Tom Sullivan, Jeff Brower, Mike Rae, Rob Koons, Mike Rota, Tim Pawl. (Obviously, I’m thinking of metaphysicians.)
    As for a definition, that’s tough. Roughly, and speaking only about metaphysics, I would count someone as an analytic Aristotelian/Thomist if she is analytic and defends a broadly Aristotelian or Thomist (prefix them with “neo” if you must) position on at least one of the following topics: properties, substance, causation, laws, modality, mind, agency. Not very helpful, is it?
    With that definition in mind, though, there is a whole array of philosophers who don’t write in philosophy of religion and who may not even be theists who would count as analytic Aristotelian/Thomist. In metaphysics, a good place to start is the participants in the upcoming “Putting Powers to Work” conference to be hosted here at SLU next spring. (Stephen Mumford, for example, recently told me he considers himself a Thomist, since he accepts the Thomist account of modality.)

    July 23, 2010 — 14:43
  • Anthony

    A few more..
    David Oderberg, Robert P. George, Christopher Tollefsen, Hilary Putnam & Martha Nussbaum

    July 24, 2010 — 10:19
  • For the record, I am quite comfortable with the “Thomist” part.

    July 24, 2010 — 21:12
  • Andrew

    I’ll give this an “Amen”…

    July 24, 2010 — 21:49
  • I started out as a doting Thomist and then hit the harder stuff. 🙂

    July 25, 2010 — 13:14
  • Is that what you call if Frank? 😉

    July 25, 2010 — 17:00
  • Does George do metaphysics? I suppose Oderberg kind of does. Nussbaum???

    July 25, 2010 — 17:17
  • Hi Trent & Anthony,
    “Does George do metaphysics?”
    Yes, but only tangentially. See his and Patrick Lee’s “Body-Self Dualism” for what I mean. Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Body-Self-Dualism-Contemporary-Ethics-Politics/dp/0521882486
    “I suppose Oderberg kind of does.”
    Why only “kind of”? If authoring Real Essentialism doesn’t solidly count as doing metaphysics, what does?
    “Nussbaum???”
    Question mark is right. She is an Aristotelian insofar as her “capabilities approach” to human flourishing counts as Aristotelian, but I fail to see how she is an Analytic Thomist Anthony. How are you determining that she is?
    Best,
    RM

    July 25, 2010 — 23:19
  • Thanks for the comments. These are not people I read, so I only have the slightest idea of what they do. George I read in First Things, but not otherwise. There’s no question each discipline entails claims in ontology, and sometimes they are addressed specifically.

    July 26, 2010 — 10:22
  • Anthony

    Rinku and Dr. Dougherty,
    I really should have qualified my post, sorry about that.
    Nussbaum wrote a paper with Putnam called “Changing Aristotle’s Mind” in which they defend hylomorphism against Myles Burnyeat’s attack in “Is an Aristotelian Philosophy of Mind Still Credible?”
    I didn’t mean to suggest that she is a Thomist, rather I had in mind Dr. Jacob’s broader definition of an Aristotelian. For what it’s worth, Nussbaum and Putnam give Aquinas a thumbs up towards the end of that paper.
    Thanks for pointing out the metaphysics George has done, Rinku. He also has a short chapter on dualism in his “Embryo” book.
    It is indeed misleading to say that Oderberg “sort of” does metaphysics. He has written two book on metaphysics and edited another. Just glancing quickly at his website, I’d say that at least half of his papers are on metaphysics.

    July 26, 2010 — 10:45
  • “It is indeed misleading to say that Oderberg “sort of” does metaphysics.”
    That is misleading. I’m just only familiar with him from some ethics stuff and a logic book.
    I’m always glad when an ethicist looks into the metaphysical foundations of ethics. Now I’m more glad than I was before I put up this post.

    July 26, 2010 — 11:31
  • p. toner

    If we’re thinking of prominent analytic Aristotelians, then there are some pretty important folks who haven’t been mentioned yet (sticking with those who are still with us, and leaving aside some of the giants who’ve left us): Geach, Finnis, Loux, Freddoso, Zagzebski, Kenny, Braine, Klima, Lisska, Gracia, Garcia (x2), Moreland, Hershenov, Koslicki. Brian Ellis also comes to mind here, though his connection to Aristotle seems much more distant, and less warm, than the connection exemplified by those mentioned earlier.
    In a much more broad sense, someone like Paul Humphreys might be counted by some as an Aristotelian. His account of emergence winds up looking pretty similar to Aristotle, if you kind of squint when you look at it. And according to Freddoso’s introduction to Suarez’s disputations On Creation, Conservation and Concurrence, Humphreys’s work on causation has an Aristotelian feel to it, as well. Freddoso also mentions van Inwagen’s _Material Beings_ as smacking of Aristotle. (I think Loux also connects van Inwagen with Aristotle.) I myself would be disinclined to describe either van Inwagen or Humphreys as an Aristotelian, though. Perhaps this is because I’d rather reserve that noble name for those who do see themselves as disciples of Aristotle, whatever, exactly, that means.

    July 26, 2010 — 12:00
  • Joshua Rasmussen

    Some Aristelianish people: Peter Simons, E.J. Lowe, Barry Miller.

    July 26, 2010 — 14:02
  • Anthony

    Kit Fine describes himself as neo-Aristotelian and claims a commitment to hylomorphism in “A Puzzle Concerning Matter and Form.”

    July 26, 2010 — 16:24
  • I’ve heard him talk about this, but as I recall, his hylomorphism is defined over mereological summing. That seems to lack the kind of unity Aristotle was looking for, but, still, worth noting.

    July 26, 2010 — 16:30
  • Anthony

    You’re probably right. I haven’t finished reading the paper, but he says this early on in the article:
    “For with the advance of science, we know there is no special force or principle which binds together the different parts of the body and yet is not operative in the universe as a whole.”
    I guess that’s why he says he’s a neo-Aristotelian and not an Aristotelian. How many theses, or parts of theses, do you have to reject before you slip into the “neo” camp, I wonder?

    July 26, 2010 — 23:27
  • Hello again Trent & Anthony,
    “I’m always glad when an ethicist looks into the metaphysical foundations of ethics.”
    Ditto. You’ll be happy, then, Trent to read Oderberg’s ‘The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Law’, in Holger Zaborowski’s “Natural Law and Contemporary Society,” wherein he challenges the anti-essentialistic assumptions of Finnis, Grisez, and George in their version of Natural Law Theory.
    “Thanks for pointing out the metaphysics George has done, Rinku.”
    No problem Anthony. And thanks for the clarification regarding Nussbaum.
    I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the work of Edward Feser: particularly, his defenses of hylomorphic dualism in his “Philosphy of Mind” and traditional Natural Law Theory. Readers of this site will find useful his blog series on “Thomism,” part two of which is a discussion on Analytic Thomism.
    Link: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/10/thomistic-tradition-part-ii.html
    Best,
    RM

    July 27, 2010 — 4:27
  • Mark Murphy

    This is tangential, but the view that Finnis, Grisez, Boyle, and George somehow make “anti-essentialist” assumptions in their moral theory is a false view. Often repeated, but nevertheless false. Just one example, from Finnis’s Natural Law and Natural Rights: “The basic forms of good are opportunities of being; the more fully a man participates in them the more he is what he can be. And for this state of being fully what one can be, Aristotle appropriated the word physis, which was translated into Latin as natura” (p. 103).

    July 27, 2010 — 13:21
  • Sounds like metaphysics to me…

    July 27, 2010 — 13:34
  • Hi Mark,
    Straigtforwardly stating that it is false to characterize the New Natural Law moral theory as “anti-essentialist” is inaccurate and elides an important disspute between traditional and new natural law theorists. Oderberg captures what I mean by the charaterization when he writes,
    “Here confusion must be avoided. Even on the traditional natural law theory, human teleology is not independent of human goals and purposes, since they enter into the analysis of human nature that makes moral theory possible. What the traditional theorist denies, by contrast, is that human nature, including all human activities connected with the formulation of goals, plans,
    projects and so on, is revealed to us exclusively or even primarily by reflection on the structure of our practical reasoning as opposed to reflection informed by metaphysical anthropology. It is this that primarily separates traditional theorists from the Grisez-Finnis school of ‘new natural law’
    .” (see footnote 10 of his paper, “Teleology: Inorganic and Organic).
    Another way to see why the characterization is apt is to note that while Traditional Natural Law theorists affirm, New Natural Law theorists deny, that an “ought” can be validly inferred from an “is”. This is so precisely because the former set of theorists affirm the reality of Aristotelian Forms and Essences, while the later either deny or remain agnostic about the reality of these objects.
    But by “anti-essentialst” I don’t mean to imply that the New Natural Law-yers consider that their moral theory is detached from human nature. They most certainly do not, as your quote from Finnis testifies. But whether the NNL-theorists are correct in their self-perception is as yet unsettled in my view.
    Hope that clarifies what I meant, Mark.

    July 27, 2010 — 22:33
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    It’s worth noting an interdisciplinary volume edited by my colleagues John Greco and Ruth Groff that Routledge will put out, _Powers and Capacities in Philosophy: The New Aristotelianism_, with contributors from metaphysics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics, and social and political philosophy. Exciting time to be a Neo-Aristotelian!

    July 27, 2010 — 22:50
  • “Exciting time to be a Neo-Aristotelian!”
    Totally agree Jonathan. Take a look at the line up of a recent conference on metaphysics that Feser mentioned at his blog: http://www.skaut.org/metaphysics/speakers.htm.
    Best,
    RM

    July 27, 2010 — 23:08
  • Mention should be made also of Tuomas Tahko’s forthcoming CUP volume Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics. You can read about it here:
    http://ttahko.net/blog/contemporary-aristotelian-metaphysics/
    Re: the Prague conference, there will be at least one and maybe two volumes coming out of that as well:
    http://www.skaut.org/metaphysics/

    July 28, 2010 — 17:42
  • I’m glad you mentioned that. He should have been mentioned right after E.J. Lowe. Tuomas is a great guy. I love that his name is pronounced essentially “Thomas Taco.” I’m going to name my next son that.

    July 28, 2010 — 18:20
  • I love that his name is pronounced essentially “Thomas Taco.”
    Ha! If you’re reading this, Tuomas, Trent D. said it, not me. I only thought it. 😉

    July 28, 2010 — 18:46
  • Daniel D. Novotny

    Dear Trent,
    this is Daniel, the ex-Buffalonian :-), nice to “meet” you after a long time and thanks for the post!
    From the historical point of view it would be better to speak of Analytic Scholasticism rather than Analytic Thomism for there are other traditional scholastic schools of thought, such as the Scotists or the (heterogeneus) nominalistically-oriented school(s) of the Jesuits. In fact, in the Baroque period the Thomists were only a small and not very significant scholastic minority. (For more, I can send you my paper “In Defense of Baroque Scholasticism”).
    In the Czech republic Stanislav Sousedik has been doing analytic scholasticism since 70s or 80s (he got it from Kenny).
    BTW: There is a Czech-based journal that Sousedik established a few years ago, which has analytic-scholastic dialog as its main objective:
    http://agora.metaphysica.skaut.org/sn/obsah-e.htm
    The subtitle of the journal is “A Journal for Aristotle-oriented Christian Philosophy” but probably it would be better to call it “A Journal of Analytic Scholasticism”
    I am a candidate for the position of the editor-in-chief of this journal. We would like to make it more English-based – any help or suggestions on how to improve it will be most welcomed!

    July 29, 2010 — 8:36
  • OOohhh, Tuomas and I have history…

    July 29, 2010 — 9:55
  • Hi Daniel!
    Sure, I see the point about “scholasticism” vs. “thomism” it’s just that that’s not really what my post was originally about. But that’s fine, I’m glad it got (much) broader than I ever intended. It’s a good conversation.

    July 29, 2010 — 9:57
  • Kevin Timpe

    For what it’s worth, Eleonore’s told me that she doesn’t like the label ‘Analytic Thomism’, in general but especially as applied to herself, because she thinks that such labels are almost always divisive and very rarely helpful.

    July 30, 2010 — 11:47
  • I only came across this interesting discussion now.. although it seems to have deviated from the original topic somewhat when the pronunciation of my name entered the picture! (To continue the pun, it has occurred to me that I should name my potential child ‘Chili’…)
    Anyway, I concur with the comment that it’s an “Exciting time to be a Neo-Aristotelian”, there seems to be ever increasing interest towards foundational issues that are intimately connected with Aristotelian topics.
    Thanks for advertising my Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics volume as well — a bunch of the names mentioned here are among the contributors (Lowe, Fine, Oderberg, Simons, Koslicki). Stay tuned for more info, the volume will come out some time next year…

    July 30, 2010 — 16:41
  • Tuomas! So glad you could join us!

    August 1, 2010 — 7:38
  • Mark

    >> “If you are thinking of prominent analytic Aristotelians, then there are some pretty important folks who haven’t been mentioned yet … Moreland, ”
    Moreland calls himself a “Thomistic substance dualist”, but holds that “I am my soul and I have a body”. The quotes below are taken from Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview” (Moreland & Craig), p219 – 225.
    He holds that there is a “unity found in wholes called property-things, ordered-aggregates, or structured stuff ” but this is not a “deep unity” and “the unity of a property-thing does not spring from or reside within its own being.” “According the the traditional view, a substance -in contrast to a property-thing has new properties true of it as a whole and not true of its parts prior to their incorporation into their substances.” Since only “substances maintain absolute sameness and strict identity through change”, and the examples of substance normally (if not always) given are “individual living organisms, e.g. a dog, an oak tree, a human being”, I can’t see that he thinks there is an inherent unity or a coherent account of change in things other than living organisms.
    Wouldn’t that rule out Moreland as an Aristotelian or Thomist on any reasonable standard? Do say so if you disagree. I like him but I’m just trying to categorize his (and other similar) views properly. If “I am my soul” and things without souls have no real essential nature, it seems very Platonic and idealistic than any Aristotelian or Thomist could ever accept.

    August 1, 2010 — 14:56
  • md

    >> “If you are thinking of prominent analytic Aristotelians, then there are some pretty important folks who haven’t been mentioned yet … Moreland, ”
    Moreland calls himself a “Thomistic substance dualist”, but holds that “I am my soul and I have a body”. The quotes below are taken from Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview” (Moreland & Craig), p219 – 225.
    He holds that there is a “unity found in wholes called property-things, ordered-aggregates, or structured stuff ” but this is not a “deep unity” and “the unity of a property-thing does not spring from or reside within its own being.” “According the the traditional view, a substance -in contrast to a property-thing has new properties true of it as a whole and not true of its parts prior to their incorporation into their substances.” Since only “substances maintain absolute sameness and strict identity through change”, and the examples of substance normally (if not always) given are “individual living organisms, e.g. a dog, an oak tree, a human being”, I can’t see that he thinks there is an inherent unity or a coherent account of change in things other than living organisms.
    Wouldn’t that rule out Moreland as an Aristotelian or Thomist on any reasonable standard? Do say so if you disagree. I like him but I’m just trying to categorize his (and other similar) views properly. If “I am my soul” and things without souls don’t have a clear essential nature, it seems very Platonic and idealistic than any Aristotelian or Thomist could ever accept.

    August 2, 2010 — 19:32
  • Unless his view has changed, J.P. is a Platonist. Methinks he doth protest too much. He’s a Protesting Platonist!

    August 2, 2010 — 22:34
  • md

    >> Unless his view has changed, J.P. is a Platonist. Methinks he doth protest too much. He’s a Protesting Platonist!
    Trent,
    Thanks for responding. I think you’re right so far as I understand Platonism, but on the other hand how would you distinguish a Platonist from simply a person devoted to modern philosophy? Many Thomists have this critique of these folks. I think Etienne Gilson spoke of a “spiritualistic rationalism” attributed to modernism or modern philosophy if my memory serves. Or do you consider the modernists to be grounded in Platonism (whether they know it or not) so that they may be so called? Thanks so much for interacting.
    Mark

    August 3, 2010 — 1:03
  • p toner

    md,
    You and I may disagree about how much one is entitled to disagree with Aristotle before one forfeits the right to be called an Aristotelian. For me, Moreland is close enough. He may hold some non-Aristotelian views, but so do other people who seem to me to count as Aristotelians. Even St. Thomas’s Aristotelianism has been challenged by many. I don’t have a good rule to suggest regarding who should count as an Aristotelian, but at least if we go by Jonathan Jacob’s rather generous standards, Moreland (and St. Thomas) should both count.
    But with that said, however, I don’t see Moreland’s account of human beings as Platonistic. Moreland’s view of the human person, if I understand him correctly, is that humans are essentially organisms…which he regards as being perfectly consistent with the claim that we are identical with our souls. (I haven’t read the book you cited. I’m drawing from his co-written book with Rae: _Body and Soul_, pp 201-206.) I think he would say that the body should not be understood to _be_ the organism (which would be how a Cartesian would see it), nor should the body be understood to be _essential_ to the existence of the organism (which is how Aristotle sees it). Rather, the soul just is the organism, which sometimes has a body as a part, and which sometimes doesn’t. The soul’s normal state is one of embodiment, but it can survive in an unnatural, disembodied state. (Incidentally, though there are some technical differences between this account and Eleonore Stump’s interpretation of St. Thomas, the views have a lot in common, most centrally the claim that human beings survive their death.)
    Now, I don’t think Moreland’s picture of the human being is Aristotle’s view, nor do I think it is St. Thomas’s view. But I do think that the general thrust of it is Aristotelian rather than Platonistic.
    Regarding “property things,” here I think he’s on even stronger Aristotelian grounds. Artifacts and other accidental unities don’t have the same kind of ontological status as substances. This point has been made by folks like Loux, too. (See his Metaphysics textbook chapter on substances.) Take a bunch of pieces of wood (or whatever) and unite them via an accidental form, making a chair, and you don’t have something that will survive change in the same way that a substance will, since such accidental unities don’t have a nature.

    August 3, 2010 — 15:31
  • I think we should just throw in most Dominicans as Aristotelian-Thomists. This is not to say that some of them do not appreciate Gilson’s concerns, but they pretty much have passed on the Aristotelian tradition. In fact, I actually think that it would be nice for analytic philosophers to actually engage with these philosophers. They’ve been interpreting Aristotle for centuries and a lot of philosophers would benefit from them. At the same time, there is nothing more annoying than a religious order defending Aquinas no matter what.

    August 4, 2010 — 10:27
  • Alfredo Watkins

    Analytic Thomism is great. That’s how Catholic philosophy and theology needs to be from now on. And Moreland is a total Platonist. Read “Body and Soul”.

    August 12, 2010 — 14:52
  • Damien

    Isn’t Nancy Cartwright an Aristotelian of soughts?

    August 15, 2010 — 8:57