Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction

By Besong, Brian | New Oxford Review, December 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction


Besong, Brian, New Oxford Review


Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction. By Edward Feser. Editiones Scholasticae. 290 pages. $24.95.

Philosopher Edward Feser has earned significant fanfare in recent years for his lucid presentations and defenses of Thomism, with popular books including The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (2008) and Aquinas (2009), as well as a host of books and articles aimed at academic audiences. The fanfare is well deserved, for in addition to a witty polemical style, Feser has a mostly unrivaled ability to present faithfully the views of Aquinas in a deep and systematic way, without assuming a background familiarity with Thomism. This is not to say that Feser assumes nothing of his readers, as his writing can often be relatively dense and technical, even when it's ostensibly targeting a broad audience. His approach is not that of a Peter Kreeft, for instance, whose works can be recommended to practically everyone, no matter their philosophical abilities. Instead, Feser's books are relatively more demanding of the reader, as though Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., had sought to adapt his writings to a broad audience.

Given this background, readers familiar with Feser's other popular works will take note of his newest "introduction," this one on Scholastic metaphysics. As a branch of philosophy, metaphysics is an investigation into fundamental aspects of reality. The investigation conducted by the schoolmen of the Middle Ages involved no harmonious consensus, even if the present dominance of Thomas Aquinas makes it appear as though his work were a sort of brilliant torch in an otherwise dark age, calling forth the allegiance of his contemporaries and inspiring those after him to carry and spread the philosophical light into ages to come. Far from it. St. Thomas's philosophical ascendency was gradual, competing as it did with sophisticated rivals, such as John Duns Scotus (among others), and exacerbated by the partisanship of the religious orders of the time.

Feser's introduction to Scholastic metaphysics comprises five chapters. In the first - a chapter 0 - Feser briefly attacks the popphilosophical fad of scientism, an exaggeration of natural science that makes it out to be the gold standard for all knowledge. In this prolegomenon, Feser sets the tone of the book: It is not centrally about providing an historical overview of the medieval positions and their arguments, as one might expect. Instead, a major theme of the book is in arguing that contemporaries, academic and nonacademic alike, need to pay attention to the medieval debate and take seriously its central positions (especially that of Thomism) if they are to arrive at a proper understanding of the world.

Chapter one pertains to the distinction between act and potency, including an extended discussion of the necessity and relevance of causal powers and their importance in making sense of the laws of nature. Here Feser pays significant attention to showing why a proper understanding of the reality of act and potency, and all that this reality entails, is more plausible than rival views advanced by the early modern philosopher David Hume or contemporary neo-Humeans.

Thus armed with vindicated causal powers, in chapter two Feser provides an analysis of causation itself, particularly defending central Thomistic principles about how causation works against a host of objections (both past and present). …

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