Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction

Rate this book
Scholastic Metaphysics provides an overview of Scholastic approaches to causation, substance, essence, modality, identity, persistence, teleology, and other issues in fundamental metaphysics. The book interacts heavily with the literature on these issues in contemporary analytic metaphysics, so as to facilitate the analytic reader’s understanding of Scholastic ideas and the Scholastic reader’s understanding of contemporary analytic philosophy.

The Aristotelian theory of actuality and potentiality provides the organizing theme, and the crucial dependence of Scholastic metaphysics on this theory is demonstrated. The book is written from a Thomistic point of view, but Scotist and Suarezian positions are treated as well where they diverge from the Thomistic position.

290 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 2014

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Edward Feser

29 books259 followers
Edward Feser is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a Visiting Scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara, an M.A. in religion from the Claremont Graduate School, and a B.A. in philosophy and religious studies from the California State University at Fullerton.

Called by National Review “one of the best contemporary writers on philosophy,” Feser is the author of On Nozick, Philosophy of Mind, Locke, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, and Aquinas, and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Hayek and Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics. He is also the author of many academic articles. His primary academic research interests are in the philosophy of mind, moral and political philosophy, and the philosophy of religion.

Feser also writes on politics and culture, from a conservative point of view; and on religion, from a traditional Roman Catholic perspective. In this connection, his work has appeared in such publications as The American, The American Conservative, City Journal, The Claremont Review of Books, Crisis, First Things, Liberty, National Review, New Oxford Review, Public Discourse, Reason, and TCS Daily.

He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and six children.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
112 (50%)
4 stars
85 (38%)
3 stars
18 (8%)
2 stars
6 (2%)
1 star
2 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews
Profile Image for Wyatt Graham.
111 reviews27 followers
July 14, 2019
A clear yet detailed account of contemporary scholastic metaphysics. He engages with a giant amount of scholarship while also referring to Aquinas and others. A true introduction which does not dumb down the material but simply gives it to you.
Profile Image for Pinkyivan.
130 reviews81 followers
March 18, 2018
While Feser does not have the ability to argue at the level of Garrigou-Lagrange or Alexander Pruss he has another quality that is often not there, especially for scholastic metaphysicians, he is able to make the argument clear and will serve both for reference and as a textbook in a way others will not and this is a must read for anyone interested in the subject on any level. All is not well only in the sense that he does not engage much with Kant, Hegel and Heidegger and spends most of his time with Hume, Russell, Quine, Locke and others in the mainstream anglophone philosophy.
Profile Image for Matt Pitts.
575 reviews40 followers
May 26, 2023
Feser is fantastic. At times he got a little more into the weeds than seemed necessary for an introduction, but he’s the expert, not me. On the whole he seemed to focus on major issues and he addressed plenty of objections. I certainly didn’t take it all in on a first read, but this is a great go-to for scholastic metaphysics.
Profile Image for Jonathan Platter.
Author 1 book21 followers
February 10, 2016
This is an indispensable guide to scholastic metaphysics. The main virtue which distinguishes this book from others is that it is not simply historical on the one hand nor idiosyncratic on the other. Feser is neither providing a strict account of Thomistic metaphysics (though Thomas is one of the main heroes) nor offering his own system. Rather, Feser offers an introduction to metaphysics in the scholastic mode, recommending it by defending it and contrasting it with more recent analytic metaphysics.

Overall, the presentation is elegant and systematic, beginning with the fundamental act-potency distinction and showing how it is both the most coherent metaphysic and the basis of scholastic philosophy following Aquinas.

Feser's interaction with contemporary analytic metaphysics was superb, making the project relevant for contemporary thought in a way no other book does. He both integrates recent developments in philosophy (especially the understanding of causality as rooted in "powers" or dispositions that inhere in objects) and critiques and rejects other developments. Notable here is his comparison of new forms of essentialism in analytic philosophy, especially following Kripke and Putnam, with scholastic essentialism. The former relies on possible world's semantics and hence can only name an essence by counterfactuals, whereas scholastic essentialism understands a thing's essence to be the source of a things real properties. I also gained much from his critique and analysis of "atomism" as a purported alternative to hylemorphism.

The book is well worth $20 and the time for reading it cover-to-cover. It's an important book to have on the shelf.
Profile Image for Paul Barth.
34 reviews23 followers
December 23, 2019
This is a very helpful introduction to metaphysics. I particularly appreciated his critiques of scientism and his use of analogies and examples to explain difficult concepts. At points, however, it is tedious when the author responds to various modern critiques.
347 reviews10 followers
November 21, 2020
Excellente introduction à la métaphysique scolastique (thomiste en fait) par un auteur très pédagogue et concis qui arrive à rendre intelligible des notions abstraites et des arguments philosophiques parfois très complexes ! Feser utilise beaucoup d'exemples concrets, c'est pour ça que vous verrez peut-être pour la première fois des vélociraptor et Hulk dans un livre de philosophie ! Pour autant, je conseille très fortement de régulièrement prendre des notes et surligner le livre pour ne pas vous perdre et vraiment apprendre des choses.

Ce livre a le mérite d'être à la fois exhaustif et concis (toutes les parties sont assez équilibrées et assez courtes). Sont traités : acte/puissance, substance/accidents, matière/forme, distinctions réelles/virtuelles/formelles, essence/existence, essence/propriétés (i.e. accidents propres), les universels/particuliers, l'analogie, la principe de causalité, le principe de finalité. Autant de notions élémentaires et indispensables pour comprendre la philosophie de Thomas d'Aquin et d'Aristote.

D'abord, il confronte l'avis de Thomas d'Aquin à celui d'autres philosophes médiévaux : Suarez, Duns Scot et Ockham pour bien nous faire comprendre leurs différences. Ensuite, il interagit énormément avec les philosophes analytiques contemporains (par ex Thomas Nagel, Anthony Kenny, Hilary Putnam, Saul Kripfe, Alexander Pruss, Alvin Plantinga, David Lewis, Wittgenstein, Anscombe, Quine, Russel), des modernes (Hume, Locke). Comme certains l'ont écrit, c'est vrai qu'il manque des discussions avec les idéalistes (Kant, Hegel) et plus généralement des rationalistes (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz). Mais bon, le livre serait alors peut-être trop gros pour une introduction. L'important, c'est que Feser répond aux objections des courants les plus populaires aujourd'hui : le scientisme, l'empirisme et les philosophie basée sur les mondes possibles.

Je l'ai dit ailleurs, le contenu de ce livre recoupe celui de plusieurs de ses autres livres (The last superstition, Aquinas, Five proofs for the existence of God) et inversement.
Profile Image for MM.
106 reviews2 followers
December 20, 2015
This is an amazing introduction to the topic. I haven't read the original works, so I cannot say how "true to tradition" he is, but Feser is extremely accessible and sheds a lot of light on how Scholastic views on causality, the theory of act and potency, hylemorphism, etc are relevant to us today. He has large sections on objections and the Scholastic response, which, since often the objections mirrored my own, were very helpful. He also shows how the early moderns, Hume in particular, misinterpreted a lot of mediaeval thought, leading to some fundamental issues in contemporary analytic philosophy.

Reading this has also helped me understand how the theory of powers, being more intuitive (initially I think, though of course most of us are indoctrinated into Hume before we know it!), is more philosophically valid than the alternative. This is personally relevant to me, as a prominent Sunni theological school, Asharism, has (as far as I'm aware) similar conclusions to Hume when it comes to causality, which they then connect to God. Reading this book makes me question the validity of those views, and I am now encouraged to learn more about Islamic theology to see if their arguments are at all similar to their contemporary Hume's. I'm also very curious now on what it means to be a "true" cause, and if secondary causes can be true causes. (Aquinas, according to Feser, would say they are.)

I was surprised at what a big role change and limitation play in Scholastic philosophy. It is still hard for me to wrap my head around thinking of things "in potency" (I suppose this is why I never understood potential energy in Physics' class!), but Feser's Scholastic arguments are very convincing. His explanation of why causes and effects are often simultaneous (though not instantaneous) was also very enlightening.

As someone with a (very basic) interest in philosophy of the mind, I thought Feser's critique of dualism (mind vs matter) was very interesting. Though not obvious, Cartesian dualism has led to a lot of seemingly-irresolvable problems in contemporary philosophy of the mind, e.g. qualia. To me, this was the most interesting section of the book, and Feser does not limit himself to Scholastic philosphers, but quotes Thomas Nagel and some other guy whose name I forget in helping show that as long as we maintain a dualism between the mind and matter, "removing" the mind from matter, issues relating to phenomenal experience (i.e. phenomenology) will always exist.

Lastly, Feser has a chapter at the beginning refuting scientism ("Against scientism") that I think everybody should read. Very clear and succinct.

Great book.
Profile Image for Alan.
33 reviews10 followers
January 11, 2015
Concise summary of refutations of modern philosophy's arguments contra Scholastic metaphysics

Considering this book is only ~260 pages, Dr. Feser covers a lot of ground. I found the beginning on causality and Dr. Feser's several arguments against Hume's "loose and separate" conception of causality very good.

Dr. Feser engages modern physics, too, quoting Heisenberg's Physics and Philosophy and briefly mentioning structural realism. His analogy that uncolored color-by-the-numbers drawings are to physical theory as a metaphysical explanation of said theory is to reality was illustrative. Feser also argues, along with Nancy Cartwright, that modern science supports the Aristotelian tenet that physical objects have essences, because if they did not, one could not make sense of how physical theories (e.g., Newton's inverse-square law of gravitation between two bodies) never hold exactly (e.g., ∵ of the perturbing influence of other bodies). Physical laws, pace Hume, flow from the natures of things; change the laws, change the nature.

Feser also discusses the real distinction between act and potency and relates that to the real distinction between essence and existence.

At the very end, Dr. Feser briefly discusses analogy and the analogy of being.

The only drawback is that the book is so short. There was no space for much discussion at all of natural theology, for example. Dr. Feser does cite many good scholastic manuals and writings of analytic philosophers for further reading, though. This book has certainly inspired me to check out Nancy Cartwright, David Oderberg, Walter Ott, and Anjan Chakravartty's A Metaphysics for Scientific Realism: Knowing the Unobservable . That book apparently relates hylemorphism (although he doesn't use that term, saying "powers", I think it was) to scientific realism.

I can't wait for Dr. Feser's book on natural philosophy which he said he's going to write next. ☺
Profile Image for B. Rule.
809 reviews23 followers
March 17, 2020
This is a dense, technical, and cogent summary of Thomistic metaphysics, with a good account of its differences from the positions of Suarez and Scotus. Feser takes care to argue in a way that appeals to contemporary analytic philosophers in defending the traditional Scholastic approach. However, the book is also dry as toast. Feser's preferred style is a droning lecture full of bursts of compressed argumentation and lots of (helpful, technical) definitions. There is next to no humor, sense of beauty, or deviation from the Received Wisdom here. He's an explicator, not an independent thinker. That's fine, but it also makes for some slow going at times. Very useful for what it is, as long as that's what you're after. Would probably be more useful as a textbook reference than rainy day reading.
Profile Image for A.J. Jr..
Author 4 books14 followers
October 3, 2019
This is a good book on the subject. The book had way more information than I needed, because the author deals with the many and various criticisms of scholastic metaphysics made by analytic philosophers, which I'm not that interested in, although I did find some of this information interesting. At times the text became too academic and technical for my interests and abilities but, if you're interested in that sort of thing, you will certainly enjoy this book. The author's "Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide" was far more helpful to me, since that's what I'm really interested in at the present time, and because it's written more for the general reader.
32 reviews4 followers
March 27, 2018

This book has helped me to understand better some of the central concepts of scholastic metaphysics: act and potency, causation, substance, matter and form, essence and existence. It deals mainly with Thomist metaphysics, but also touches on points where John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Francisco Suarez had different ideas than St. Thomas Aquinas. Occasionally this can be confusing. For example, in section 1.3, "Real distinctions?", it seems to get bogged down in the controversy of Aquinas vs. Scotus and Suarez over real distinctions and logical distinctions, and a third kind of distinction, without telling us why any of these distinctions "make a difference" or are important and worth knowing about. But mostly it is a good book.

I like the fact that the book engages with post-Scholastic philosophers, and not only "modern" philosophers like Descartes, Locke, and Hume, but also recent and contemporary analytic philosophers. Some readers may find that also confusing, but it should be noted that although this book is an introduction, it is an introduction at an advanced level, and presupposes (or at least it is best read) with some prior knowledge of the history of philosophy including recent philosophy in the analytical school.

Feser's engagement extends even to what he calls "scientism" or "naturalism" -- the view that the methods of natural science alone give us knowledge, and the objects of natural science are the only things that exist. If that were so, then metaphysics would be impossible. So before even getting off the ground, he considers that position. His rebuttal is both colorful and effective.
January 17, 2023
Dr. Edward Feser provides a well written introduction to scholastic metaphysics for contemporary philosophers interested in interacting with a historic philosophical position that fell in prominence and is once again on the rise. For the contemporary philosopher trained in the Analytic tradition, Feser provides windows back and forth that allow members of each tradition (Scholastic and Analytic, respectively) to understand and dialogue with each other by providing detailed definitions of terms and the way the terms are understood and used historically. This allows the two positions to better dialogue with one another, which in this dialogue dry age is a welcome well of refreshment. He also helpfully provides overviews of historic and contemporary Scholastic defenses for the positions they take. Regardless of whether one ultimately finds them persuasive, they are detailed and worth interacting with. Feser's book should become the new standard for new Analytic philosophers seeking to engage the Scholastic philosophical tradition in an introductory class.
Profile Image for Pinky 2.0.
102 reviews4 followers
October 17, 2022
While Feser does not have the ability to argue at the level of Garrigou-Lagrange or Alexander Pruss he has another quality that is often not there, especially for scholastic metaphysicians, he is able to make the argument clear and will serve both for reference and as a textbook in a way others will not and this is a must read for anyone interested in the subject on any level. All is not well only in the sense that he does not engage much with Kant, Hegel and Heidegger and spends most of his time with Hume, Russell, Quine, Locke and others in the mainstream anglophone philosophy.
Profile Image for Michael Brennan.
100 reviews1 follower
July 26, 2017
I love the book, but it feels like in the complete guide to scholasticism and Thomism. I have to say, I do love Feser's arrogance and wit, but it's sometimes a distraction and perhaps not the best representatives of the Thomists. Kreeft is correct in asserting that it is best to have an understanding of the Summa before reading about the Summa.
Profile Image for David Diaz.
Author 3 books
January 8, 2020
This book represents an indispensable aid to those who would attempt to fathom the depths of philosophy and theology of the middle ages. Feser can be considered one of the better expositors of the theological and philosophical positions of Thomas Aquinas. Although this book is not an easy read, it is an important source for any who would study Aquinas.
Profile Image for Noah Nevils.
182 reviews2 followers
February 19, 2020
Loved it. Extremely useful introduction to understanding
Scholastics (mostly Aquinas, but also a bit of Scotus and Suarez)
on things like virtual and real existence, act and potency, accident and
230 reviews
June 27, 2020
This is a great introduction to Thomistic metaphysics. Very readable. Worth starting here before moving onto something like Garrigou-Lagrange. This is probably a better intro than Feser’s Aquinas book.
Profile Image for Tyler Holley.
24 reviews32 followers
July 3, 2019
Helpful introduction. But the Analytic Philosophy was too... well... Analytic.
Profile Image for Hasnain.
1 review1 follower
October 26, 2020
Edward Feser's 'Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction', is an erudite account of medieval philosophical concepts and notions_ common to both the Scholastic and Islamic, intellectual traditions_ that presents a convincing argument for the enduring relevance, and profound significance, of Scholastic Metaphysics, contrary to that which is posited by most modern proponents of science, particularly the empiricists, who claim the obsolescence of philosophy in general, and scholastic metaphysics in particular. The text discusses core metaphysical concepts, theories and principles, underlying scholastic philosophy within an Aristotelian framework, in accordance with its Thomistic interpretation. Feser discusses concepts such as essence & existence, unity & plurality, actuality & potency, substance & accident, and causality, in a style that is simultaneously both succinct and engaging, and in the process disproves the erroneous anti-scholastic interpretations of contemporary scientific theories.
Profile Image for Isaac.
33 reviews3 followers
October 12, 2017
Although this book says it's an 'introduction', it will be a challenge for most readers. It was for me. Nevertheless, I like the books that are the most challenging, as they tend to stretch my mind. This book outlines scholastic metaphysics (the approach to philosophy that was predominant in the universities of the late medieval period), but does it in a way that engages with contemporary analytic philosophy. It also give a defense of metaphysics as a intellectual discipline, refuting various objections to the possibility of metaphysics, including the objection that only empirical science can provide a solid basis for reasoning about the world. This section was particularly excellent, as Feser shows that such 'scientism', as it is called, is self-refuting and that science itself is based on a variety of philosophical presuppositions that the methods of science cannot justify. Though a little hard going, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in metaphysics.
Profile Image for Christopher.
Author 3 books10 followers
June 28, 2018
Good general overview of scholastic metaphysics, presenting the thomist position first and contrasting it, where helpful, with dissenting views of Scotus and Suarez. The book first explicates the Aristotelian doctrine of act and potency, which forms the fundamental starting point for all of the remaining doctrines: Aristotelian causation, substance and accident (including identity), and essence v. existence (including different senses of "being," i.e., univocal, equivocal, and analogical. It is a very nice primer to all of these issues, and Feser does a good job of showing how they are all interrelated (including the primacy of act/potency). Feser defends these theses against the historic and contemporary critics, showing (along the way) how an an understanding of scholastic metaphysics is (or could be) vital to discussions that worry contemporary philosophers. Great read!
103 reviews6 followers
June 3, 2016
Feser expertly navigates the current philosophical landscape and shows decisively why Scholastic Philosophy is more relevant than ever to the modern discussion. An excellent book to use for a reference whenever you encounter a claim like; "the laws of nature exclude the possibility of a supernatural cause," or even, "quantum mechanics dispels the notion that we live in an orderly universe." A must read for any sincere academic.
215 reviews14 followers
September 14, 2015
In a sentence, I found Feser's book to be both quite enriching as well as dissatisfying.

[Proper review to follow]
Profile Image for Edmund.
9 reviews5 followers
December 24, 2014
Prepare for a slog, simply due to the subject matter. I can't think of a better synthesis and distillation of current scholastic metaphysics, however.
Profile Image for Manuel.
53 reviews
April 18, 2017
This was a much better book than I had expected. The first book by Edward Feser that I read was "The Last Superstition", and it left me with a very bad impression of the author. It was such an angry book, filled with invectives, sarcasm and poorly-made jokes. What's more, the arguments presented in favor of Feser's position were weak in the extreme, which added to the disappointment after having been promised a "slam dunk" against atheism. However, "Scholastic Metaphysics" is on another league altogether. It is a serious scholarly work, yet in an easily-digestible style that makes it possible for the newcomer to appreciate the elaborate and sophisticated construction that is Medieval metaphysics. At points it is slightly dry, but this is inevitable, for we are dealing with one of the most abstract ideas in philosophy (e.g. essence and existence). That said, the book is accessible to the intelligent reader.

What makes this book stand out from other books on the subject is how it compares old medieval doctrines with modern and analytic ones. Had this book been around when I was still an undergraduate, I would probably have given Medieval philosophy more of a chance instead of dismissing it tout court. The problem with many neo-Scholastics is that they don't engage with contemporary academic philosophy and use a language that is foreign to most students. For that reason, they don't attract many followers. But Feser has one foot in each camp, and in this work we get to learn about old concepts with newer terminology. As a translation between these two worlds, "Scholastic Metaphysics" is a step in the right direction.

As to whether Mr. Feser was faithful to the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition, that must be determined by going through the original works he references. My worry is that those more-detailed works will be hard to understand (if not unintelligible) without the kind of guidance provided by Mr. Feser. That is why it is important that future writers follow the lead from this book, and try to bridge other gaps between contemporary and Medieval philosophy.

I highly recommend this book.
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.