Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands (Sir Roger Scruton)

Scruton, Roger.  Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands.

The New Left is different in that the traditional Marxist categories are harder to apply.  This makes sense.  How many “Starbucks Socialists” really understand the Base and Superstructure paradigm? The New Left focuses more on Liberation and Social Justice than on surplus value.  This is understandable since few are likely to get excited on the metaphysical reification of labour.

Social Justice is not equality before the law but the rearrangement of social structures.

Marx’s contradiction: the future state is one where there is a full legal order present with none of the structure of the law.

Socialist utopias are violent “because it takes infinite force to make people to the physically impossible.”

Thesis: The purpose of language, at least on one level, is to describe reality. Newspeak asserts power over reality instead. As he notes, “Ordinary language warms and soens; Newspeak freezes and hardens. And ordinary discourse generates out of its own resources the concepts that Newspeak forbids.”  The New Left encapsulates reality in “Newspeak.”

Resentment in Britain

Problem with the Marxist theory of history: there is a web of connections between social and economic life, but it really can’t say which is the cause and which is the effect.  Marxists would reply that base (economics) determines superstructure, but as Scruton points out, there is no series of experiments for which we could test the theory.

Another problem with class warfare theories of history: it cannot account for the fact that many people, indeed most people for most of history, did not place their loyalties in a class, but in entities like the nation or the church. Indeed, “Nation, law, faith, tradition, sovereignty – these ideas by contrast denote things that unite us.”

Scruton maintains that the concept of English Common Law completely devastates the class theory of history.  Common law transcends class and itself has been the instigator of economic change, not vice-versa.

Disdain in America

I might disagree in emphasis with Scruton on one point: I don’t think John Kenneth Gailbraith was entirely wrong. To be sure, he was a proponent of the Welfare State and that’s a problem. Still, I think Gailbraith somewhat accurately anticipated how mass consumerism and mass society enslaves us.  Galbraith is probably best seen, not as a socialist, but as a modern New-Deal liberal.  As Scruton notes, like other liberals, he isn’t bothered by private property. He is bothered by the private property of others.

France and Foucault

Galbraith remained a relatively sane liberal.  His interviews with William Buckley Jr. are worth watching. He would no doubt oppose the extremism of Zizek.  When we move to French philosophy, however, all bets are off.  We can probably understand this chapter as the central hinge of the book, since most of the disaster known as modern Continental philosophy today stems from France.

Fun fact: The French Communists were allied, at least indirectly, with Hitler when he invaded France.  Munitions workers went on strike in support of the Nazi invasion.

Before we get to Kojeve, we should clarify what Hegel meant:  As Scruton points out, the process by which we come to know ourselves as subjects and the process whereby we realize our freedom are one in the same. Whereas Hegel drew conservative conclusions and saw the opposites–Self and the Other, Subject and Object–as coming together in a unity, left-wing Hegelians hardened the opposites into oppositions.

Scruton’s comments on Sartre and others are important, and Sartre’s influence on Pol Pot cannot be minimized, but an extended analysis would take one far beyond the scope of the review.

Foucault: focus on episteme, a new structure of knowledge. It serves a power-interest. 

Tedium in Germany

Lukacs: Lukacs took the “hidden meaning” of Marxian exchange value and applied it across the board: There is always a hidden undertone to society that needs theory and interpretation to bring it out.  

Brutal Bon Mots

Scruton almost rivals Samuel Johnson in the well-time phrase.  We list a few:

“Liberation of the victim is a restless cause, since new victims always appear over the horizon as the last ones escape into the void.”

“Marx’s remark about hunting, shing, hobby farming and lit. crit. is the only attempt he makes to describe what life will be like without private property – and if you ask who gives you the gun or the fishing rod, who organizes the pack of hounds, who maintains the coverts and the waterways, who disposes of the milk and the calves and who publishes the lit. crit., such questions will be dismissed as ‘beside the point’, and as matters to be settled by a future that is none of your business.”

“Peace never appears in Newspeak as a condition of rest and normality. It is always something to ‘fight for’, and ‘Fight for Peace!’”

“Intellectuals are naturally attracted by the idea of a planned society, in the belief that they will be in charge of it.”

“Had Heidegger attached his great ego to the cause of international socialism, he would have enjoyed the whitewash granted to Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Hobsbawm and the other apologists for the Gulag. But the cause of national socialism could enjoy no such convenient excuse, and the sin was compounded, in Heidegger’s case, by the fact that it was precisely the national, rather than the socialist aspect of the creed that had attracted him.”

“When, in the works of Lacan, Deleuze and Althusser, the nonsense machine began to crank out its impenetrable sentences, of which nothing could be understood except that they all had “capitalism” as their target, it looked as though Nothing had at last found its voice.”

“Their few empty invocations of equality advance no further than the clichés of the French Revolution, and are soon reissued as mathemes by way of shielding them from argument. But when it comes to real politics they write as though negation is enough. Whether it be the Palestinian intifada, the IRA, the Venezuelan Chavistas, the French sans-papiers, or the Occupy movement – whatever the radical cause, it is the attack on the ‘System’ that matters. The alternative is ‘unnameable in the language of the system.”

“While exorting us to judge other cultures in their own terms, he [Said] asks us to judge Western culture from a point of view outside—to set it against alternatives, and to judge it adversely, as ethnocentric and even racist.”

“The search for a policy to overcome original sin is not a coherent political project.”


Against the Tide (Sir Roger Scruton)

Scruton, Roger.  Against the Tide. Bloomsbury.

This is a collection of Sir Roger Scruton’s best editorials.  To note, these are not precise argumentative pieces. They are generally short, witty, and to the point.  The prose is magnificent.  Imagine if G. K. Chesterton actually had something of substance to say.

Put a Cork in it

Corked wine slows down the pace of life.

Human Rights

Pace reactionary conservatism, human rights do in fact exist.  The problem is trying to delineate something like “universal human rights.”  A right not only implies a duty, but it also implies someone against whom a right is claimed.  It is not clear how this works on the global scale. I have a duty to my neighbor.  It’s not clear what kind of practical duty I can have to a Sherpa in Tibet.

On the Soul

Scruton defends some form of dualism. He is very clear that we should call it the soul, noting that cultural philistines call it “mind.”  He interacts with John Searle’s famous Chinese room experiment.  Though Searle was correct to rebut some hard forms of physicalism, his lack of belief in any sort of telos makes his dualism irrelevant to human life.

God and the New Atheists

Scruton employs something like Alvin Plantinga’s response to naturalism.  Richard Dawkins, the New Atheist, argues, or rather asserts, that religion is like a meme.  It replicates itself.  Here is where it gets interesting.  In terms of evolutionary theory, false “memes,” like false maths, do not survive.  Religion, for better or worse, is surviving. It has survived, even thrived, for quite some time.

Education and Sociology

Scruton defends what are called “the irrelevant subjects.”  Earlier custodians of the British Empire studied logic, Greek, and Latin and successfully managed the greatest empire in history. What they studied developed the mind and soul, yet was largely irrelevant to “practical matters.”  We have reversed the situation today.

He has a hilarious chapter on a mock dialogue between two sociologists from the BBC.


The current fad of “function over form” guarantees neither.  Modern buildings are ugly, and for that reason non-functional.  Most urban planning projects look like bombed out war zones.  They are not functional for the main reason that no one wants to live there.

Animal Rights

If you want to promote the well-being of animals, hunt and eat them.  Hunting animals guarantees the preservation of their ecosystem.  

Bon Mots

As with all of Sir Roger’s writing, we are treated to devastating one liners.

“Sociology takes legitimate relations–Lover/Beloved, Employee/Employer–and turns them into power structures.”

“The pit bull terrier will go most of his life before turning on and killing his owner, much to the delight of everyone else.  Unfortunately, it also wants to kill everyone else.”


Because Sir Roger’s prose is so fine, one is tempted to let it wash over himself.  That in itself is a worthy endeavor, but one should not miss the cogency of the argument for the beauty of the prose.

On Metaphysics (Chisholm)

Chisholm, Roderick. On Metaphysics.

Human Freedom and the Self

agent causation:  if a man is responsible for some particular deed, then an event, or set of events will be caused, not by other events, but by that man himself (Chisholm 6).

  • transeunt causation:  when one event causes some other event(s)
  • immanent causation:  when an agent causes an event.

Free will

  • actus imperatus: whether we are free to accomplish what we will to do (not what the question is concerned with)
  • actus elicitus: whether we are even free to begin this intention.

Identity through Possible Worlds

essential properties:  properties a subject has necessarily

Identity through Time

Ship of Theseus Problem: Parts of the ship (S₁)are being changed out at intervals, yet is it the same ship?  When does it become a different ship?    What if the parts of the old ship are gradually being used to build a new ship (S₂). 

Is a Person existing at one time the same as a person existing at another time, even though the human body is “changing?”

Parts as essential to their wholes

principle of mereological essentialism: for any whole x, if x has y as one of its parts, then y is part of x in every possible world in which x exists (66).

object pair: a class containing just a thing and a time that the thing constitutes an object during the time (76).  Objects are always objects at a time.

It is not necessary to say that nonprimary objects exist in any possible worlds (e.g., tokens), only primary objects (e.g., types).


A part of a thing is a constituent which is not a boundary (83).   We need the idea of boundaries as a description of physical continuity.   

“x is discrete from y” means there is nothing that is constituent of both x and y.

Df. of a part:  x is a constituent of y and x is not a boundary in y.

Substance: if x has parts, then for every y, if y is a part of x, x is necessarily such that y is a part of it (93).  Also, Platonic forms are substances.  

Problem for process philosophy: no one has ever devoted any philosophical toil showing how to reduce substances to processes (94).

The Mental

Nature of the Psychological

psychological attribute/property:  any property which is possibly such that it is exemplified by just one thing and which includes every property it implies or involves is psychological (99).


(D1) P is an attribute = Df. p is possibly such that there is something that exemplifies it.

Chisholm sees property as a subattribute.

implication: P is necessarily such that if anything has it then something has Q.

inclusion: P includes Q = Df. P is necessarily such that whatever has it has Q.

Presence in Absence (Intentionality)

There is no linguistic interpretation of intentionality.  Though precedes semantics.  

Questions about Minds

  • Descartes’ use: the mens refers to that which has psychological properties.
  • a person’s intellectual capacities
  • That which by means one thinks.
  • A spiritual substance.

Is there a mind-body problem?

The Primacy of the Intentional

de re belief: believing is a matter of believing certain properties of x. 

de dicto locution:  there is a y such that x believes with respect to it that it is true.

Object-Content distinction

object: x is an object = Df. x is something I want you to think about.


An Intentional Approach to Ontology

Properties and States of Affairs Intentionally Considered


extreme realism: there are properties, some of which are exemplified and some of which are not exemplified.

Basic Relations Between Properties

  • implication: P implies Q = Df. P is necessarily such that if it is exemplified then Q is exemplified.  The property “being a wife” seems to imply the property “being a husband”
  • Inclusion:  P includes Q = Df. P is necessarily such that whatever exemplifies it exemplifies Q.   The property being a dog includes that of being an animal, but not vice-versa.
  • Involvement: each is necessarily such that it is impossible for one to conceive it without conceiving the property x.
    • Being x.
    • Being ~x
    • Being possibly x
    • Wanting x.
  • Entailment: P entails Q = Df. P is necessarily such that for every x and every y, if y attributes P to x, then y attributes Q to x.

A negative property is a property that is the negation of a property.

States of Affairs

Df. a type of abstract object that is at least analogous in many respects to properties.  It either obtains or doesn’t obtain.

States and Events

Chisholm does not distinguish between universals as abstract objects and universals as particulars.  As a being of another thing, a state is not an ens per se.  States are ontologically dependent on things of which they are states.


The Self in Austrian Philosophy

Austrian definition of substance: something which is not a state of something else (Bolzano, quoted in Chisholm, 156).  Elements form the self-soul.  Bundle theory variant.

The Categories






Limits (boundary)





What of Classes or Sets?

Russell: the principles of set theory may be construed as being principles about attributes.

Intro to Philosophy Source List

Earlier I had done a list on which basic philosophy texts to read. Here I should step back and look at the best secondary literature on the topic. On one hand, some philosophers like Plato need no interpreters. His writing is too good. Others, like Hegel and Kant, demand interpreters. The writing is not so good. Even worse, men like Locke and Hume are not always using terms the way you think they are.

Learning the Language

101 Key Terms in Philosophy and their use for Theology. Eds. Clark and Smith. Covers theological prolegomena, some analytic philosophy, and some hippie continental nonsense.

Using the Tools

Baggini, Julian. The Philosopher’s Toolkit. Excellent job explaining the methodology in philosophy. Written from a secular standpoint.

History of Philosophy

Frame, John. History of Western Philosophy. Okay. Frame’s strength is in linguistic analysis. Good sections on Kant and Hegel. Misreads other thinkers, though.

Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy. Once you get over how impressed Russell is with himself, this is a handy tool. Very well-written.

Scruton, Roger. A Short History of Modern Philosophy. A sheer joy to read. Writing style surpasses Russell’s.

Tarnas, Richard. Passion of the Western Mind.

Philosophy of Religion

Thiselton, Anthony. Approaching Philosophy of Religion. Superb writing. Leans analytical with discussions on Wittgenstein.

Rowe, William. Philosophy of Religion. Rowe is an atheist but a competent philosopher. This isn’t his best work, though.


Meek, Esther Lightcap. A Little Manual for Knowing. Wonderful account of how we know. Almost has a healing effect on the mind.

Wood, W. Jay. Epistemology. Echoes some of Plantinga’s moves.


Holmes, Arthur. Ethics. Great discussion of utilitarianism.

Geisler, Norman. Ethics: Issues and Options. Probably the best modern systematic treatment of ethics. Presents his “graded absolutism.”


Hasker, William. Metaphysics. In the same series as Wood and Holmes. Hasker is an open theist, but even then he presents a very weak defense of free will.

Chisolm, Roderick. On Metaphysics. Difficult at times but a number of important discussions.

Engaging the World

Moreland, J. P. Love Your God with All Your Mind. Probably the most important philosophy text I have ever read.

Moreland, J. P. Kingdom Triangle. Similar effect as the above one. Updates JP’s project to include virtue ethics and the Spirit’s power.

Philosopher’s Toolkit (Baginni)

Bagini, Julian and Fosl, Peter S. The Philosopher’s Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

If the word “philosophy” alarms you, as it might some pietists, substitute “critical thinking” and this book will give you a crash course in key concepts used in the literature. The book is divided into seven sections, with each section denoted 3.1, 3.2, etc. Section 1 deals with the basic tools of argumentation (validity, soundness, etc).  Section 2 explores more advanced topics, such as abduction and dialectic. Section 3 covers most of the basic fallacies. Section 4 is the most important in the book. Chapter 5 explores historical tools (e.g., Leibniz’s Law, Ockham’s Razor, etc.). Chapter 6 explores what will later be called “critical theory.”

In section 4 he deals with a number of powerful concepts. For example, analytic philosophers have noted the difference between de re and de dictionary beliefs.  De dicto refers to the statement about x, de re to the thing (4.6). In terms of necessity, it runs:

De dicto: Necessarily, (Fa)

De re: A is necessarily F.

In terms of historical analysis, for example, Baginini gives a lucid presentation of Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology–no mean feat.  To note: consciousness is a fact of existence. However, we always experience ourselves as part of something in this world.  How then can we find the essence of a thing? Husserl uses epoche to bracket out what may or may not exist. This allows him to focus on intentionality.  In other words, consciousness is always consciousness of something.

Although most readers of this review will be hostile to critical theory, perhaps rightly so, that makes this chapter extremely important.  Not all of the radical critiques are important.  Even the pertinent ones are rarely logically cogent.  As a result for this review, we will focus on a few.  Per Marx, society is divided into opposing classes, with one class opposing the other

In terms of philosophy, deconstruction does not mean what it means to today’s “ex-vangelicals.” For Derrida, the problem with philosophy is a problem of metaphysical presence. It is not exactly the same as the thing in-itself, but close enough. Reality, by contrast, is always mediated through signs.  We can never have ultimate meaning (6.2).


By all accounts this is a most useful tool for both beginning and advanced philosophy students.  Each section contains a small recommended reading list.

Making Sense of it All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life

Morris, Thomas V. Making Sense of it All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.

As with all of Professor Morris’s books, this one could not be boring even if it tried. Tom Morris gives a lucid account of Pascal’s worldview without its being another exposition of the Pensees.

Pascal is not trying to make an argument for God’s existence. His concern is much deeper. You cannot ignore ultimate concerns. You cannot be indifferent about an object of love. Although this will be a particular focus of his famous “Wager,” it accurately reflects his general outlook. His arguments report “on a connection that has motivational impact” (Morris 24). The form of our behaviors function in a certain context.

Diversion and the “Empty Self

Pascal and Morris address the problem that later psychologists would call “the empty self.” People have a vacuum in their lives and they fill it with diversions. It is only when crises arise that people deal with deep issues, but, as Morris cogently observes, “that’s not usually when we have the clearest heads for figuring things out” (34).

To combat the empty self, Morris, following Pascal, notes three realms: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. “A full, complete human life will encompass, or partake of, all three realms” (37).

The Meaning of Life

After exploring some reasons why people commit suicide, Morris explains how one can find the meaning of life. He begins with what he calls “The Endowment Thesis,” “Something has meaning if and only if it is endowed with meaning or significance by a purposive agent or group of such agents” (56). In other words, “Meaning is never intrinsic; it is always derivative” (57).

Following the Endowment Thesis is the “Control Thesis:” “We can endow with meaning only those things over which we have legitimate control” (59).

Wagering on a Hidden God

The problem with believing in God is not the existence of evil but the fact that God seems so hidden. Why does not God simply give me more proof or evidence? Probably because he knows what I would do with it. Morris writes: “In human development, the paramount importance attaches not just to what we know but to what we become and do. Perfect clarity, the free gift of unambiguous knowledge in matters of religion, might for many people be dangerous” (98).

Lacking such knowledge, we can now understand Pascal’s famous wager. This is not an argument for God’s existence but a strategy for living. A good wager will account for “expected value” (112ff).

(EV): (Probability x Payoff) – Cost = Expected Value.

Morris gives the following example. Gold (a horse) has a ⅔ probability of winning with a payoff of $300. Placing a bet costs sixty dollars. Silver, another horse, by contrast, “pays nine hundred dollars, and to bet on this horse costs only $20” (112-113). Even with only a ⅓ probability of winning, Silver is clearly the best bet.

The key strategy is not how much money I get at the end, but how can I quantify “the overall value of each bet.”

Applying this to the religious realm, we can look at the costs of admission into the best. As Morris points out, the cost of admission is not heaven or hell, but what we are giving up in this life. The Christian gives up, among other things, a life of selfishness and debauchery. The atheist gives up having any kind of real hope. Strangely enough, if the atheist is right, he cannot know that he is right (119). At best, the atheist can only have a finite number of benefits against the potential of infinite loss.

It might be objected that such a wager does not actually create belief in God. Of course it does not. That misses the point. One cannot simply manufacture beliefs. Rather, such a wager structures our actions, which in turn may condition beliefs. Pascal seeks “to cultivate those capacities on the part of people who, because of the great values involved, are gambling their lives, hoping for success (124).

How does such a wager condition our beliefs. Morris suggests the following: action creates emotion, which in turn either blinds us or opens our eyes to aspects of our objective environments. They “color patterns of perception that either reveal or hide from us the ultimate realities” (125). In other words,
Action → Emotion → Perception → Objective situation


I will admit that Pascal is not my favorite philosopher, and I certainly do not consider him a Christian apologist. He was a fairly good psychologist, though. Professor Morris, here and elsewhere, does a fine job elucidating these key realities of the human condition.

The Nature of the Gods (Cicero)

Most books about natural theology seek to prove or defend God’s existence from nature, reason, etc.  They are usually written by adherents of said religion.  Every now and then, one will find a text written by an outsider.  This might be such a text. It is hard to know exactly what Cicero believed about the gods.  My guess is that he believed that belief in them is useful to society, much like how a neoconservative or liberal Protestant believes in “god.”

This book is indispensable for learning the context in which ancient Christianity would later come on scene. It is helpful to remember that the book of Acts was more interested in Epicureans and Stoics than it was in Plato and Aristotle. Moreover, and though Cicero had no interest in this, the text works as a check on erroneous views of God.

We begin with a philosophical retreat to what is ostensibly Cicero’s villa. The gentlemen would know at least three things: do the gods (or God) exist, what are they like, and are they interested in us.  The first question is generally granted, even by the skeptic, Cotta.  If the gods exist, though, their nature and their existence will be intertwined.  For example, it is no good to say that god exists but he is made of parts (or finite, etc.).  Such a god would have to be assembled, for example.

Vellius the Epicurean:

He begins by critiquing the weaknesses in earlier natural theology.  He makes a number of correct statements, even attacking the idea that the human mind is God (i.e., if it were God, how could it be ignorant of anything?).

Epicurus correctly pointed out that the human mind is a prolepsis, a tool.  It is something like a conception and an anticipation.  So far, so good.  From this he concludes that the gods must exist, for they implanted this conception in our minds.  

From here he explains the Epicurean view of “atoms” and that free will is a borderline-irrational swerving of atoms.

Cotta the Academic:  

He demolishes all of Vellius’s arguments. Cotta is wrong in his claim that atoms do not exist.  We know today that they do. He is correct, however, that atoms do not function the way Vellius says they do.  And even if they do function the way Vellius says they do, Cotta delivers the kill shot: if the gods are made of atoms, then they were made that way. They are not eternal.  At best, these gods do not have reality, but a mere semblance of reality.

Cotta finishes this section with a number of defeaters, all of them brutal.

Balbus the Stoic:  

He has the weakest of all arguments.  As weak as his arguments are, Cotta response is not as devastating, for some reason.  Balbus’s argument is a design from nature. There must be a designer.  I agree, but he needs much more for his theology. He starts strong. He reasons that god or the gods must exist because of divine foreknowledge, blessings, judgments, and the movement of the universe.

Unfortunately, it is not clear that Balbus is talking of God, the gods, or the universe. This makes his argument from design backfire.  If there is design in the universe, and the universe is god, then who designed the universe?

Because god is living, and the universe is living, the universe must be god. Not surprisingly, this argument does not convince anyone.


The text at the end is somewhat corrupt, so we will leave it here.  The book is valuable for early Christian history as key thinkers like Minicus Felix, Arnobius, and Lactantius (and almost certainly Jerome) read this book.

Christian Apologetics (Geisler)

Geisler, Norman.  Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

When I sat down to write this review, I debated on how I would classify it among apologetics textbooks.  It is certainly more useful than Sproul’s Classical Apologetics, but it is not as good as his more popular Defending Your Faith. Parts of it are quite technical, and there is much repetition from his earlier works.  On some sections, though, Geisler reigns supreme.

Part 1: Methodology

Skepticism:  Hume said all meaningful propositions are reducible to two kinds: definitional (think mathematical) or empirical.  Moreover, for Hume causality is based on custom, which comes from sense experience. From here God-talk moved to Kant’s practical agnosticism to logical positivism and to the literal dead end of Wittgenstein’s silence.

A new update to this volume is the section on Postmodernism.  

Evaluation of agnosticism.  It is self-defeating.  It says one can know enough about God (or reality) to know that we can’t know God (or reality).  Geisler points out that if someone grants the premise that we can know reality, but not an infinite God, the conversation moves to a different field.  It’s no longer complete agnosticism.  Now the question focuses around whether God is finite or infinite, personal or impersonal.

Pace Hume, if everything were separate and disconnected as his atomism said, then he couldn’t make that statement for the affirmation of that statement since it implies some unity of meaning.  Furthermore, his attack on analogy doesn’t work.  The Law of Analogy will always hold.  To reiterate what Geisler said: an effect is similar to its cause (B → b). “The cause cannot give what it doesn’t have.”  If someone were to deny this, he would have to deny all similarity.  This cannot work because “unless there were some knowledge of the cause, there would be no basis for denying any similarity.”

Pace Kant, his statement comes down to we can’t know ultimate reality except that one facet of ultimate reality.  He must already have knowledge of ultimate reality to say we can’t know it.

Pace Wittgenstein, it is self-defeating to express that the inexpressible can’t be expressed.

Criticisms of Religious Fideism

1) Confuses belief *in* God with belief *that* God exists. There is a difference between belief in God and supports for that belief in God.


Polytheism can be anything from Hinduism to Mormonism to Wicca. Of interest is the Mormon claim that each God was begotten by another God.  If this is in fact what they teach, then it is open to the same attacks made on finite godism.

Plotinus, himself probably not a monotheist, has an argument that works well against the idea of many gods.  All plurality presupposes a prior unity. “Thus many gods are not self-explanatory. What is the basis of their unity?”  Pace Mormonism, there cannot be an endless series of many gods begetting other gods.  We can’t say we were always here, for that violates the law of causality.  If the universe isn’t eternal, then these lesser gods aren’t eternal. If they came into existence, they are just creatures.



The only interesting criticism atheism has is whether the ontological argument backfires.  Are existence statements necessary?  Atheists say no.  We can turn it around: is the statement “no existence statements are necessary” a necessary truth or not?

Another problem that comes up here and also with pantheism (and also to some criticisms of divine simplicity) is whether God’s being a necessary being makes creation necessary.  Geisler responds: the only thing a necessary being must will is the necessity of his own nature.


Geisler has an extended, almost overwhelming, point-by-point case for theism.  There is no way I can cover it here.  Here are some links.

It is worth noting some Christian conclusions from his case on being. If God is a necessary being, then:

  1. He is changeless. What has potentiality can change.
  2. He is non-temporal.  Space and time measure positions of change.
  3. There is only one necessary existence. If there were two Pure Acts, then they would have to have some real potentiality for change, otherwise they would be identical.  If they were identical, then they would be the same thing.  Yet, a necessary being cannot have potential; therefore, there is only one.
  4. Such an existence is simple.  Something that has parts would have to have a greater something to put those parts together.
  5. Similar arguments can be used to prove the infinite and uncaused nature.

We are not at Christian theism yet.  We are getting close.  Such a God above is ultimate. Failure to worship this God at the very least is idolatry, since you are not giving ultimate commitment to the ultimate.

The final section of the book is a series of test cases on Christian theism.  Of most importance is the defense of miracles.  Pace Hume, past regularity does not rule out a future singularity.

Moreover, miracles do not attack science.  Not all science is empirical science.  Forensic science, for example, involves proleptic leaps to the unknown. Forensic science cannot test things in a lab.

Miracles occur in the natural world, but they are not of the natural world.  The phrase “all events that are natural occur in the natural world” cannot be converted into “all events that occur in the natural world are natural.”


This is not the first apologetics book I would recommend.  It is not even the first book by Geisler I would recommend.  The careful student is urged to study his Introduction to Philosophy before diving into this work.

How to Think About God (Adler)

Adler, Mortimer J. How to Think About God: A Guide for the 20th Century Pagan. New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1980.

Have you ever read the arguments for the existence of God, and upon seeing said existence established, thought to yourself, “That seemed too convenient?”  If the person were not a Christian, would he or she have come to the same conclusion? Although Mortimer Adler, himself a Thomist, even if an unconverted one, is sympathetic to Thomas Aquinas’s arguments, he does not find them persuasive as they currently stand.  

The question before the house is this: since the cosmos is not part of a larger whole, and since the scientific evidence can be read either way regarding its eternity, does it need the presence of an efficient cause for its continuing existence (Adler 134)?

Adler begins his work by granting several “pagan” premises, namely that the universe could be eternal. To do otherwise, he says, is to beg the question.  As a result, he is not aiming to prove a creative cause in the universe, but a continuing cause.

Though I do not share his skepticism regarding some of the traditional arguments, I do appreciate his clarity.  One danger in seeing God as the First Cause is that it sometimes becomes God as the first temporal cause.  That places God within the created order.  To be sure, seeing First Cause in hierarchical language avoids that problem.

Is God an object among objects?  He is not.  That is the difficulty in giving a definition of God.   When we define objects, we refer them to a general class of objects.  God is in no such class.  What do we do?  Adler says we use the phrase “object of thought” instead of definition.  That is fine, although at this point most people would not have that kind of problem.


Even though Adler pointed out difficulties relating the Big Bang to the cosmological argument, it is not clear how such difficulties would harm the argument from hierarchical cause. His argument from what I can tell is that hierarchical causes do not need secondary instrumental causes (43). It is not clear to me why they do not.

Adler faults the traditional cosmological argument for relying on the principle of sufficient reason, to which he correctly rebuts with Occam’s razor. The problem, though, is that Thomas Aquinas did not need the principle of sufficient reason.  I refer the reader to Norman Geisler’s work on Aquinas.

Adler rightly points out that Aristotle’s view of causation is a faulty view of inertia. Aristotle believed that a body set in motion on a straight line continues indefinitely until counteracted.  This is obviously false.  Is this fatal to Thomas’s argument?  It is not.  Motion, for Thomas on this point, is a change from potency to actuality and does not require Aristotle’s view at this point.

Adler provides a brief autobiographical introduction in this book, to which readers of Adler such as myself will find most interesting.  He also gives an impressive, if somewhat dated bibliography. As the book stands, however, I cannot recommend it. It is not Adler’s best work.  Some concepts, such as his distinction between radical contingency and superficial contingency, were insufficiently argued.  Skeptics will not like his weakened affirmation of God’s existence at the end of the book.  Likewise, theists will not like his weakened affirmation of God’s existence at the end of the book.

Epictetus (Discourses)

This is a manual for Business Ethics 101. The following metaphor is not original to me, but imagine your life as placed on a wheel with spokes.  If you focus your life in the center, the hub, then when the wheel turns, as it must, you will be moved, to be sure, but you won’t be thrown over the place.

Epictetus exhorts the reader to develop a strong inner life.  This goes beyond merely getting your priorities right.  It means being proactive and never reactive.  It even includes a calculus for business decisions.  Know your worth. 

Epictetus does not paint a rosy picture for the reader.  Having been a slave in a cruel world, he knows how the world can be.  He does not think it will ever get any better.  If Stoicism has sometimes been accused of being resigned to despair, that criticism might have some justification with Epictetus.

He does give us the basics of a Stoic worldview. There is the standard Stoic line on rationality.  Man is midway between beasts and God.  From the former he has a body, the latter a mind.


Man’s good is a type of moral purpose, or “a disposition of the will with respect to appearances” (1.8).

On the Gods

When Epictetus uses the term “God,” he can mean the gods, Jupiter, and/or a guardian spirit within us. He believes our souls are “parts and portions of God.”  We also have a guardian genius with us.

As a good Stoic, Epictetus assumes some form of pantheism, albeit not an extreme kind.  All things are united as one (I:14).  He does not mean some form of Eastern pantheism.  His point, so it seems, is to find a reciprocal relationship between heaven and earth.  In fact, “our bodies are intimately linked with the earth’s rhythms.”  We do not have to accept his mild pantheism, but that statement is not wrong.


“Impressions” is the key word in Epictetus’s epistemology. It is not always clear what an impression is. Notwithstanding that, they come to us in four ways: “things are and appear to be; or they are not, and do not appear to be, or they are, but do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be” (I.27.1).

 The mind forms “ideas that correspond with the impressions” (I.14.8). That seems accurate enough, but Epictetus takes it a step further with his definition of reason: a collection of individual impressions (I.20.5). That does not seem right.


The goal of education is to bring our will in alignment with God’s reality and governance (I.12.15). As long as we understand that Epictetus does not mean the same thing by “God” as one normally does, it is a true enough statement. 

One strength in his approach is that there is not a sharp line between epistemology, education, and ethics.  Epistemology and education dovetail with his use of the term “impressions.”  We all have preconceptions. Our reason makes use of “impressions.”  Getting an education, therefore, is “learning to apply natural preconceptions to particular cases as nature prescribes, and distinguishing what is in our power from what is not” (I.22.9). That last clause connects education with ethics.  The wise man understands what he can and cannot control.


The goal of virtue is “a life that flows smoothly” (12).  Even though he does not use the term, he means that we should reach a state of apatheia. We can only do this by having “correct judgments about externals,” as externals are the only things outside of our control (I.29.24).


If one wants to read a primary source on Stoicism, this is as good as any.  Epictetus, perhaps in line with his own philosophy of limitations, never gets to the substance of the issue.  These are more conversations than logical analyses, and they should be judged as such.  It even seems that Epictetus commits a logical fallacy.  He writes: “God is helpful. Whatever is good is also helpful.  It is reasonable to suppose, then, that the divine nature and the nature of the good correspond” (II.8.1).  The conclusion is certainly true, but Epictetus committed the fallacy of the undistributed middle premise. We can illustrate it in a Venn Diagram.


Epictetus lacks the nobility of Marcus Aurelius and the poetic grandeur of Lucretius. In some ways, however, he is more accessible than both.