Metaphysics and the Case Against Scientism | Christopher S. Morrissey | CWR
Edward Feser’s new book, Scholastic Metaphysics, makes a strong case for the contemporary relevance of St. Thomas Aquinas’s philosophical reflections on Aristotle
The fundamental structures of reality go beyond what even physics is capable of studying. Modern science has forgotten that humanity actually does possess a tradition of rigorous intellectual inquiry that has been able to probe, painstakingly and fruitfully, beyond physics. The name of this venerable intellectual tradition is “metaphysics,” and the Catholic Church in her universities and seminaries has long recognized its key role in the life of the mind.
In his new book, Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (Editions Scholasticae, 2014), Edward Feser (website) shows how the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics developed by thinkers who take key ideas from Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas is still relevant today. When Aquinas himself engaged in the most heated academic controversies of his own time, he formulated highly influential interpretations of Aristotle. They have become a precious inheritance because of their permanent achievement with regard to clarifying how to fundamentally understand nature.
The great strength of Feser’s book is how well it exposes the shortcomings of the speculations of contemporary analytic philosophy about the fundamental structures of reality. The most recent efforts of such modern philosophical research, shows Feser, are remarkably inadequate for explaining many metaphysical puzzles raised by modern science. In order to properly understand the meaning of humanity’s latest and greatest discoveries, such as quantum field theory in modern physics, an adequate metaphysics is urgently required, now more than ever.
Feser devotes a great deal of space to showing how contemporary analytic philosophy tries to account for the most basic features of reality. However, when he proceeds to contrast its own various theories with those of Scholastic metaphysical research, especially those of the Aristotelian-Thomistic variety, it becomes clear how many advantages the ancient and medieval tradition possesses when it comes to making sense of the universe. Surprisingly, that metaphysical tradition still offers wisdom that bears directly upon many of the most heated philosophical controversies in philosophy today.
Readers interested in stepping beyond physics and exploring what the human mind is capable of doing with the disciplined application of logic and organized thought will enjoy Feser’s book very much. It has four main chapters devoted to four key topics mapping the fundamental structures of reality: potency and act (Chapter 1); causation (Chapter 2); substance and matter (Chapter 3); and essence and existence (Chapter 4).
Feser has a notable flair for being both witty and engaging and for using entertaining and vivid examples. The book demands much from the reader’s intellectual abilities, but like reading St. Thomas Aquinas himself it is always rewarding and exhilarating. Page after page, insight after insight piles up—so many that if you have any philosophical curiosity at all, you simply cannot stop reading. ...