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On Whether or Not Animals Go to Heaven, David Bentley Hart on Thomists, and Edward Feser on the Soul

Dog Heaven

Somewhat related to Rufus’ Field Notes and my own reference to two articles on Mind and Brain below, there has been an interesting debate of late about whether animals go to heaven. In case you missed it, David Bentley Hart wrote his monthly article in First Things about it, and began with an extended riff comparing Thomists to … beatniks.

I was once told by a young, ardently earnest Thomist … you know, one of those manualist neo-paleo-neo-Thomists of the baroque persuasion you run across ever more frequently these days, gathered in the murkier corners of coffee bars around candles in wine bottles, clad in black turtlenecks and berets, sipping espresso, smoking Gauloises, swaying to bebop, composing dithyrambic encomia to that ­absolutely gone, totally wild, starry-bright and vision-wracked, mad angelic daddy-cat Garrigou-Lagrange. . . .

Weird. And I like Garrigou-Lagrange, at least Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, which is one of the first books I read in Kindle form (“Kindle form” because I actually read it on my phone).

Luckily, there’s always Ed Feser to rely on. Feser posted his response to Hart at the Public Discourse, and it’s well worth reading.

Hart is correct to note that Thomists deny that there will be non-human animals in Heaven. But he gives the impression that Thomists “reject all evidence of intentionality . . . or affection in animals,” and that they are committed to a “mechanistic” account of non-human animals according to which their apparently conscious behavior reduces to “biomechanical stimulus and response.” He insinuates that at least many Thomists maintain an “unsettlingly gnostic picture” of human nature on which “the vegetal, animal, and rational functions of the soul must be segregated into strictly impermeable compartments,” so that the human soul becomes a “Cartesian ghost” inhabiting the physical body.

None of this could be further from the truth. As with his critique of natural law two years ago, Hart’s latest anti-Thomistic salvo is a showy exercise in firing blanks, all shock and no awe. Hart’s piece is long on rhetoric and short on argumentation, riddled with sweeping assertions, attacks on straw men, and failures to make crucial distinctions. The reason why Thomists tend to deny that non-human animals go to heaven has nothing to do with those attributed by Hart. Let’s untangle the mess.

Good stuff, and worth reading even as an introduction to the Thomist view of the nature of human souls. Feser is hard enough on Hart that I doubt Hart himself will be persuaded, but he ought to be.

Heads up.

Martyrdom: The Coloring Book - Fryd and GfrörerMartyrdom: The Coloring Book

  • Illustrated by the supremely grim, superlatively talented Julia Gfrörer *
  • Due September 2015 from Zest Books
  • Blurb:

    The lives of the saints are filled with inspiring, life-changing moments—but the deaths of the martyrs are where you’ll find the real “Oh, hell no!” moments of history. This adult (very adult, as the body count will quickly indicate) coloring book gives aspiring crayon and paper artists the chance to hone their craft while also buffing up their knowledge of Catholic history and tales. The attending stories will go down pretty easy at cocktail hours as well. [Continued…]

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Grieg Piano Concerto, performed by Leif Ove Andsnes, Leonard Slatkin conducting

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Last night I saw the Grieg Piano Concerto performed by Marc-André Hamelin with the Seattle Symphony. I thought I was done with big, gushing romantic pieces like the Grieg concerto, but it was outstanding. Hamelin was amazing. Not that I know a lot about what makes one virtuoso better than another … they all just play so damn fast!

Here is Hamelin himself playing Chopin’s Minute Waltz, Debussy’s Feux d’artifice and Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnet No. 123. This last piece is quite good, and if you’re wondering how Liszt wrote a Petrarch sonnet for the piano (I was), here is an article by Andrew Fowler that explains what Liszt set out to do.

Also on the program last night was a world premiere by the composer Sebastian Currier. Divisions is an orchestral piece I rather liked, particularly a weird sequence near the beginning in which a chord played by the entire (or most of the) string section was bent to waver a few times before the orchestra continues the same discordant dialogue as before. To give you a sense of Currier’s style, here also is a violin concerto called Time Machines that is pretty great. Performed by Anne Sophie Mutter, who is always worth listening to.

And here is the composer being interviewed about that last piece, with some interesting observations about “objective time” and “psychological time” and the way music is the optimal medium for exploring this (with comparisons to film and television). Here is another, more general interview, beginning with a selection from his String Quartet, New Atlantis and including comments about a piece based on a poem by Wallace Stevens.

Two More Short Poems About Animals

Don’t Stir Up the Dust!
On the savannah, a spindly-legged,
galloping camelopard
dwarfed a nearby zebra, who begged
her not to trammel so hard.

So Not Happening at the Zoo
You’ll have to forgive the elephant,
if his manner seems a bit brusque:
imagine a runny nose in that trunk,
let alone a toothache in his tusk!

Ross Douthat Checks Gary Trudeau’s Privilege

Can Ross Douthat bring to Reason the subscription base of the New York Times? Probably not, but he continues making a valient effort:

A living cartoonist lecturing his murdered peers makes for a curious spectacle, but that’s what transpired at journalism’s George Polk Awards a week ago. The lecturer was Garry Trudeau, of “Doonesbury” fame; his subject was the cartoonists for Charlie Hebdo, the Parisian satire rag, who were gunned down by fanatics because of their mockery of Muhammad and Islam.

Trudeau did not exactly say they had it coming, but he passed judgment on their sins — not the sin of blasphemy, but the sin of picking a politically unsuitable target for their jabs. By mocking things sacred to Europe’s Muslim immigrants, Trudeau lamented, the Hebdo cartoonists were “punching downward … attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority.” This was both a moral and an aesthetic failing, because “ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny — it’s just mean.”

Two Articles on Mind and Brain

Recently a number of related items have popped up, almost at random, that are somewhat related to Rufus’ Field Notes. The first two were articles sent to me by my Uncle: one by Michael S. A. Graziano, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton and the author of the (truly excellent) novel, Love Song of Monkey. In the article, Graziano writes:

[What] is the relationship between our minds and the physical world? Here, we don’t have a settled answer. We know something about the body and brain, but what about the subjective life inside? Consider that a computer, if hooked up to a camera, can process information about the wavelength of light and determine that grass is green. But we humans also experience the greenness. We have an awareness of information we process. What is this mysterious aspect of ourselves?

Many theories have been proposed, but none has passed scientific muster. I believe a major change in our perspective on consciousness may be necessary, a shift from a credulous and egocentric viewpoint to a skeptical and slightly disconcerting one: namely, that we don’t actually have inner feelings in the way most of us think we do.

The entire article is worth reading, as are Graziano’s books God Soul Mind Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Reflections on the Spirit World and Consciousness and the Social Brain (probably—I’m guessing on this one, as I haven’t actually read this one yet). In the article and the first book Graziano makes his case for an account of the mind that reckons it in entirely materialist terms. Philosophically this is called eliminative materialism, and while the science is certainly new, the big idea has been around at least since Democritus and Leucippus.

I won’t quote the entire article by Graziano, but I will quote my response to my Uncle:

In ​one of​​ ​his books about neuroscience, he has proposed a theory of consciousness that is intriguing—namely, that consciousness evolved when hominids took their already highly developed social skills (think​ ​of ​monkeys grooming each other, or chattering on the brink of speech) and as individuals then turned these skills “inward”. I don’t know if he’s right or wrong, but it’s an interesting theory.

He doesn’t go into that in the article, but I find that more compelling than his idea about brain-as-information-processing machine. An idea that is pretty worn out, it seems to me, as people have been making that analogy for decades now. It seems to me that Graziano has simply taken the analogy seriously, which is to say he takes the computer as a model for the brain/mind, when of course it is the brain/mind ​(or some of its properties, such as the ability to perform mathematical computations) ​that has historically been a model for the computer.

​This unfortunately seems to me an example of the “cartoonish reconstruction of attention” of which he speaks.​ Not that I think he’s wrong about there being cartoonish awareness, but aren’t some instances of awareness more accurate (less cartoonish) than others?

While Graziano is an excellent novelist and, as near as I can tell, an excellent scientist, in this article ​he makes statements that are half-truths at best.

For example, he writes that Copernicus showed us that “we’re a speck in a large space”, ​and of course this is true as far as it goes, but what of the fact that in that large space, ours is the only planet that supports any kind of life, let alone intelligent life? Of course we may find that we are not alone in the universe, but then what would that mean, exactly? Our planet wouldn’t be unique, strictly speaking, but would that mean that our planet and planet #2 were really less marvelous for supporting life? Of course not, and I doubt Graziano would even claim that. So what exactly is he arguing against? The existence of God? Why?

​Likewise for his second great scientific insight, that “we’re a twig on the tree of evolution”. Just another twig? I doubt Graziano really believes this​. One twig on a tree is much like any other twig, which really isn’t all that different from bigger limbs or even a tree trunk or a tree’s roots. But Graziano is one of the only kind of primate to study other primates. It may turn out that Graziano and the rest of the human race evolve into beings that are as different from us as we are from non-rational animals, or as animals are from vegetable life, or as vegetable life is from inorganic matter, but this remains to be seen. But to say that the most complex organism produced yet by evolution is just another twig strikes me as betrayal of Darwin’s theory rather than a supporting analogy.

Like the philosophers Dennet and Churchland he refers to, Graziano’s philosophy of mind seems to be eliminativist materialism, which seems to me to be ultimately incoherent. Going back to Graziano’s analogy, he’s eliminated any idea of truth except whatever he calls “science”, which seems to me to postpone any and all truth to the claims of some future science. How can he claim that “wavelength is a real, physical phenomenon; color is the brain’s approximate, slightly incorrect model of it​” without relying on “awareness”? How does he know that one “complex bundle of information” is a caricature and another is not?

We know that some things are true and some things are not true, and we know this now. Certainly it is very difficult to prove that anything is true, but somehow that doesn’t stop us from knowing some things are true (not just believing some things are true). Science comes from the Latin “scire”, to know, and ought to include ways of knowing other than mathematics and reasoning with tools. It ought to include reasoning in such areas of philosophy as metaphysics, since arguments for the truth are always built on assumptions of some kind or another, and proponents of any argument need to be able to examine their assumptions.

The other article my Uncle sent to me is by Lawrence Berger, Being There: Heidegger on Why Our Presence Matters, itself a response to the Graziano article linked above. Berger begins:

A cognitive scientist and a German philosopher walk into the woods and come upon a tree in bloom: What does each one see? And why does it matter?

While that may sound like the set-up to a joke making the rounds at a philosophy conference, I pose it here sincerely, as a way to explore the implications of two distinct strains of thought — that of cognitive science and that of phenomenology, in particular, the thought of Martin Heidegger, who offers a most compelling vision of the ultimate significance of our being here, and what it means to be fully human.

In the article, Berger offers a pretty good criticism of the Cartesian view of matter (“The prevailing view is that the universe consists of discrete entities that are ultimately related by physical laws”) and proposes instead that “Heidegger, on the other hand, offers a holistic view of all that is. We belong here together with the trees and the stones, for we are made manifest together. Rather than being discrete entities, the relation comes first, and the extent to which we are related matters for what we and the stone ultimately are.”

I think this is fine as far as it goes, but I’m not so sure Berger or Heidegger get to what we and the stone ultimately are, if only because I don’t think the story ends with just we and the stone.

As I wrote to my uncle:

I’m not sure the difficulty with Heidegger is your problem alone. I think he (and his explicator Berger) leave some things out, without being as clear as Graziano. For example, it seems obvious that it’s easier to talk to somebody who is actually listening, but isn’t clear how “the same general principle applies to a purely physical object such as a stone,” or exactly how “the manner in which such an object is made manifest can be affected by the quality of my presence.” Unless he means something vacuous like my throwing it means that it will move, or (maybe a little less vacuous) that I can use it along with other stones to build a wall.

And Heidegger is notoriously murky, not just in the way he expresses things, but in what he is trying to express. For example, which is “more primordial”: being or time? What is the difference between some thing and the being of some thing? What is the difference between the being of some thing and the being of all things?

It isn’t clear to me that Heidegger makes any headway in answering these questions. The questions themselves have become interesting to me, but I’m not sure there are answers to these questions, or that there is even a way to answer these questions.”

Unless we go back into the history of philosophy and find out why Heidegger formulated these questions in the way he did, and if perhaps that might shed light on why the questions have meaning as ultimate questions, though perhaps unanswerable, or if rather they lead to a philosophical cul-de-sac.

I suspect the latter, but the place to go is Reduction and Givenness by Jean-Luc Marion, who reveals how much Heidegger’s ontological investigation owe to his teacher Husserl’s phenomenological investigations.

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Frank Sinatra, Live at the Seattle Civic Auditorium in 1957, Full Concert

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

In the Billie Holliday post from last week, I noted that one of her biggest fans was Frank Sinatra, who even picked up some of her style by dropping just behind the beat in some of the phrasing.

So: in an effort to bring Big Jon back to the site, here is a complete recording of Frank’s 1957 concert at the Seattle Civic Auditorium (where McCaw Hall presently sits).

Several commentators have remarked that this is an even better recording than the famous show at the Sands a few years later, and I completely agree. Nelson Riddle conducts the orchestra through a fantastic set list, and Frank works in some pretty good jokes along the way. He’s clearly having a great time.

1. Introduction / You Make Me Feel So Young
2. It Happened in Monterey
3. At Long Last Love
4. I Get a Kick Out of You
5. Just One of Those Things
6. A Foggy Day
7. The Lady Is a Tramp
8. They Can’t Take That Away From Me
9. I Won’t Dance
10. Sinatra Dialogue
11. When Your Lover Has Gone
12. Violets For Your Furs
13. My Funny Valentine
14. Glad to Be Unhappy
15. One For My Baby
16. The Tender Trap
17. Hey Jealous Lover
18. I’ve Got You Under My Skin
19. Oh! Look at Me Now

Badger Korrektiv


Yep, just like the proverbial blister – showing up after the work is done. That is in fact JOB staying the hell out of the way of men who actually know what they’re doing as he heads to Twin Cities for something called the Argument of the Month Club as chauffeur for ten good men in Driver 8, including Matt Korger, Wisconsin’s Own Blogging Superstar of the Catholic Blogosphere, who was there to document the crash course with zaniness.

We were done in under 20 minutes with plenty of time for beer and appetizers…

Enough to make even the Old Man proud.

Field Notes

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 10.27.14 AM1.
The desire to go off the grid —
Take the family to an island like I said.
The ink sinks into the very fibers of the pages.
Give me the eyes to see into the murk
And the will to act on what I see and know.
To go off the grid while staying put,
That’s the trick.

What it comes down to is either
Material existence is the
Ultimate mystery or God is —
Or the infinity of permutations thereof.
But there is no escaping that it comes
Down to an ultimate mystery.
There’s no either/or about that.

Love. There’s the rub.

Another way to put it.
Either matter is the ultimate mystery
Or spirit is. But there’s
No getting round that the mystery
Is ultimate in either case.
Why is there something
Rather than nothing?
And if God (Spirit) is responsible,
Then how does one account for God?
Answer: one doesn’t.
But the same answer applies
To a strictly material universe.
So place your bets, brothers and sisters.

Tipping the scales.
Human intelligence would seem to point to
An ultimate intelligence.
Human love would seem to point
To an ultimate Love.
Human creativity would seem to
Point to an ultimate creator.
Human power would seem
To point to an ultimate power.
Human mystery would
Seem to point to an ultimate mystery,
Who is intelligent, loving, powerful —
And personal. And yet:
Human depravity would seem to point to
A fall from the grace of that mystery.
There’s the other rub.

Well now.


“We have both lived too deeply in our own generations to have much communication except with a mutual respect but that you accepted me as an equeal — even tho it was the exterior factor of a terriblee mutual grief that acted as the catylitic agent — settled something that had been haunting me about my relations with men since my tacit break with Ernest Hemmingway. I suppose like most people whose stuff is creative fiction there is a touch of the feminine in me (never in any sense tactile — I have always been woman crazy, God knows) — but there are times when it is nice to think that there are other wheel horses pulling the whole load of human grief + despair, + trying to the best of their ability to mould it into form — the thing that made Lincoln sit down in Jeff Davis’ chair in Richmond and ask the guards to leave him there for a minute
— F. Scott Fitzgerald to H.L. Mencken, 6 August 1935

[Emphasis mine.]