Bok is a remarkably good writer and clear thinker, and she brings the problem of freedom and responsibility--what exactly is at stake and what isn't--...moreBok is a remarkably good writer and clear thinker, and she brings the problem of freedom and responsibility--what exactly is at stake and what isn't--into sharp focus. I learned quite a bit from reading this book. More importantly, I immensely enjoyed reading it, even though her main topic is not one of my main philosophical obsessions.
I learned more from the God than the Action parts of this book. For me, this book lost steam once he started talking about the concept actus, because...moreI learned more from the God than the Action parts of this book. For me, this book lost steam once he started talking about the concept actus, because at that point the author of the book seemed to have lost his ability to make Aquinas's project compelling.
But I really did appreciate his attempts, in the first half of the book, to explain his claim (which is certainly true) that Aquinas is not trying to lay out a doctrine or theory of God. Instead, he argues that what Aquinas is up to in the questions where he treats of God's simpleness, perfection, limitlessness, unchangeableness, and oneness, is that "he is engaged in the metalinguistic project of mapping out the grammar appropriate in divinis." (p. 17) He also notes that the reasons he offers are never ones internal to Christian faith or revelation. "Rather, Aquinas is uniquely concerned with showing 'whatever must belong to the first cause of all things which is beyond all that is caused.' Such a task does not involve settling upon certain empirical generalizations and finding a theory to unify them. It is solely a matter of logical analysis, or as Aquinas understood it, of philosophical grammar."
It is find to call this sort of "philosophical grammar" of the divine metaphysics, so long as we remain content in our low expectations of what we can expect from metaphysics in this domain. Because of the completely transcendent nature of God, saying that we can apply certain predicates of him is not to assume that we know what they mean, when applied in such a context. And here he sounds every bit like a follower of McCabe: "God escapes our grasp because every bit of knowledge we possess is knowledge about something. Yet such a statement already violates the divine mode of being. It does so precisely because God's way of being is not a mode of being, but being itself. And we have no way of formulating that since all our expresssions are articulated to fit modalities."(p. 18)
I also think Burrell does an admirable showing demonstrating what can be made intelligible about God, given what we can say he is not. From the fact that He is not complex, we can know that he does not have a form nor any potentiality; and from this we can infer that he does not have a body; and from this we can infer that God is to be identified with his own essence and nature, and so on.
I checked this book out of the library in the hope that it would provide good material for my introduction to philosophy of religion. It turned out to...moreI checked this book out of the library in the hope that it would provide good material for my introduction to philosophy of religion. It turned out to be pretty useless for that purpose, since it is a long and at times fairly advanced debate about metaphysics and ontology. Smart's argument is familiar enough: if you are a reductive materialist then it will seem highly implausible (if not metaphysically impossible) to you that God exists. True enough. Haldane's response is mostly to argue that reductive materialism isn't true, and also, pretty shallow, as far as metaphysics goes. I don't think either one of them makes a truly compelling case, in large part because neither manages to break out of the narrow set of problems that obsess contemporary analytic philosophers. In this way, it is disappointing, because it is much more interesting to frame the debate in ways that immediately grab everyone's interest, regardless of intellectual background, in the tradition of Russell, Flew, Anscombe, Kenny, and McCabe. (less)
Dennett doesn't offer us much that is new in this book; it's basically a re-presentation of old ideas (we're just robots taking up the intentional sta...moreDennett doesn't offer us much that is new in this book; it's basically a re-presentation of old ideas (we're just robots taking up the intentional stance, religion is a meme to be explained in Darwinian terms, etc), thrown together with a good deal of liberal social commentary, a painfully distorted presentation of Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic belief and practice, and some revisionist history for good measure. It could easily have been two hundred pages shorter if he had cut out all the irrelevant anecdotes.
I also found it very strange that Dennett proposes, as if it is something new and intellectually heroic, that we study religion as a "natural phenomenon". Last time I checked, anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and critical theorists have been doing that for well over a century and a half. Of course, Dennett supposes that if we open up religion to the neurologists and biologists, the game is surely over, and we will all become secular humanists in light of the "results". I, for one, am quite confident that if religion has survived these purportedly devastating queries so far, a gaggle of neurologists telling us which neurons flash when someone prays is unlikely to make us throw it all away either. (less)
This is a truly comprehensive and even handed treatment of this topic. I found myself genuinely impressed with several contributions here, and I will...more This is a truly comprehensive and even handed treatment of this topic. I found myself genuinely impressed with several contributions here, and I will no doubt be using this extensively in my philosophy of religion course.
The essay in here by Gavin Hyman is particularly illuminating, particularly in its elucidation of the transformation of our conception of God from the late Medieval to the Modern period. Of particular delight to me is that he endorses the tradition that traces all modern error to Scotus. Being singularly obsessed with the idea that the rise of nominalism in the late Medieval period was the root of all evil for most of my undergraduate life, his tracing of modern atheism to Scotus and Ockham really tickled me.