Scientism, Catholicism, Libertarianism, and conscience, stirred.

Scientism has been much discussed recently. It is at the heart of Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism and is a significant theme of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. In fact, it attracted such press, most of it critical, that Steven Pinker was moved to pen a spirited defense in The New Republic that provoked a spirited response and exchange with Leon Wieseltier. These discussions will be with us for some time and the above give a good outline of the contours of the public debate. However, having read the above, you would well to read Ed Feser’s two part essay on scientism, Blinded By Scientism, and Recovering Sight After Scientism, at Public Discourse. His round-up of various posts on scientism are also indispensable.

Moving along. There has been of late a discussion about the compatibility of Catholicism with libertarianism. Ultimately, both are incompatible, given the different presuppositions upon which they rest, however, there is a large share of answers that each can give to matters of public concern that make them friends rather than enemies. For a discussion of some of the issues begin the adventure with Rick Garnett here. Over at First Things, Roger Scruton reminds us of The Good of Government, helpful given the quantity that we currently encounter which is awful;  while over at Claremont Review of Books, Josiah Lee Auspitz takes A New Look at Michael Oakeshott. In The New Criterion, Hadley Arkes has written a appreciative though critical review, The Law and Richard Epstein, of Epstein’s most recent book, The Classical Liberal Constitution. While over at The New Atlantis, there is a wonderful essay by William A. Schambra, Philanthropy’s Original Sin, which looks at the stunning role they played in the eugenics movement during the first half of the 20th century; it appears that many a utopian scheme was/ is first nurtured by a philanthropist.

It is June, and the men and women in black will give their judgments on several issues not the least of which involves whether certain institutions must comply to the HHS mandate. What if the decision does not provide relief to those effected? Michael Gorman asks: Will the Bishops comply? Moreover, given the increasingly perilous position of religion in the public square, do Christians have something to learn from the Jews, Rabbi Sacks  believes we do. He presents his case in the 2013 Erasmus Lecture.

Lastly, the website Dominicana present a wonderful series of essays on reading Aquinas through Dante in The Summa in Verse, while The New Criterion, Sarah Ruden reviews The Oxford Anthology of Roman Literature, in The arc of empire.


  1. prendelaluna

    Wow dover you have assembled a formidable table from which to select food for thought. Thank you

  2. We Read

    I won’t have time to read Nagel’s work but it immediately calls to mind one big quandary concerning human health. Virtually all research on human health is molecular but there are a number of studies which point to causative agents which can be just as important for our health. Having meaning and purpose appears to be very important not only for healthy but also longevity,. As an anecdotal example consider this:

    It reminds me of a what a nurse once told me – a patient had been in a coma for a long time. A long lost relative visited her and she came out of consciousness, only to die a few days later.

    Stories like the above are not uncommon and defy our present understanding. I have raised this issue before in this way: it seems non-material factors can be just as determinative of our health and well being as material factors. This represents a fundamental challenge to the idea that we are simply biological machines. Edelman hinted at this when he wrote:

    Diderot’s view of human consciousness opened up the possibility that
    to be human was to go beyond mere physics.

    The workings of the mind go beyond Newtonian causation. The workings of higher-order memories go beyond the description of temporal succession in physics. Finally, individual selfhood in society is to some extent an historical accident.

    At a certain practical point, therefore, attempts to reduce psychology to neuroscience must fail.


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