Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Analytic Method and and Philosophy of Nature

POOR NATURE, ONCE RECOVERED from the neglect of theology, she must also be rescued from the assault of philosophy. Modernity has been singularly unkind to the concept of nature, and the recovery of the concept requires that both theology and philosophy undergo some sort of "sensitivity training." Having addressed the theological insult to the concept of nature in his earlier chapters, in Chapter 3 of this book Natura Pura, Steven A. Long reflects upon the philosophical problem once theology is made to see that nature, pure nature, is an important concept with "ontological dynamism, density, and relative autonomy vis-à-vis the revelata." Long, 111. It is as if once we have convinced a mother that her son is grown up, we have to turn to the father and begin to persuade him the same thing. The problem with releasing the concept of pure nature from the theological snubbing she received by la nouvelle théologie is that the philosophical world at large--a world in which analytical philosophy and the analytic method is at large*--is not ready to receive her. She will be misunderstood, and her beauty and poise unappreciated, in a world governed by the method of analytic philosophy. To introduce the concept of nature into a room full of analytic philosophers may be akin to introducing a débutante into a hall full of half-blind forensic pathologists. Nature will not be viewed as a débutante to be courted, greeted, toasted, danced with, and engaged in conversation--the old traditions are dead--but she will be greeted as an analysandum or definiendum. The analytic philsophers will never notice our débutante's décolletage, much less know her soul, as they will be focusing on the quicks of her fingers with their weak eyes aided by microscopes. The fact is that analytic philosophy is incapable of greeting nature because it lacks a "methodic narrative," an "essential method in philosophy of nature and metaphysics" of being. Long, 116. "[A]nalytic practioners as such do not accept as essential to analytic thought any normative commitment" to any substantive doctrine of nature or metaphysics nor "to any method in philosophy of nature and metaphysics." Long, 116. Both substance and method are lacking. Certainly, analytic philosophy alone is incapable of handling nature. The question then is whether the analytic method, coupled with Thomism, is what is modernly needed to handle the notion of nature? Is there such a thing as "analytical Thomism," and does it have any value over classical Thomism? Or are we merely taking our myopic and hyperopic pathologists and dressing them with some ill-fitting, old-fashioned livery?

In Long's view, an "analytic Thomism" is not a match made in heaven, but a sort of philosophical chimera. The analytical world might be identified through the following list of "sociological desiderata and meta-philosophy," since it really does not espouse any sort of methodically-unified doctrinal system:
  • a focus on logic and a penchant for logical symbolism in argument as "method;"**
  • a concern about how arguments should be displayed;***
  • a concern for analysis of language;
  • an inherited gap with respect to any principles of being and nature and a lack of any methodic approach required to apprehend or work with such concepts;
  • a tendency toward Humean skepticism and conventionalism;
  • an inherited bias without current justification against philosophies and philosophers that were originally deprecated by the original revolutionary analytic doctrines, even though these latter doctrines have been subsequently shown to be erroneous or flawed;****
Given the above, Long has doubts about what contributions, if any, analytic thought can make to classical Thomism in the area of nature or being. It may be more a a detriment to try to blend Thomism and analytic method, weaking Thomism's rigor, sort of like trying to make paint thicker by adding solvent. It is even worse to suggest that analytical method alone should be used as a replacement for Thomism as the underpinning of a modern philosophy of nature.

Einstein at Bern Patent Office

Several observations may be made:
  • To suggest that a modern understanding of nature requires the analytical method be used seems to beg the question of whether a secular, non-speculative, non-metaphysical philosophy prevalent in the secularized institutions is one that can comprehend a theonomic notion of nature. It seems rather unlikely.
  • Analytical method is not necessarily attachable to a philosophy such as Thomism merely because it uses logic. Logic is preliminary to all philosophies and sciences, including Thomism. Logic is not equivalent to analytic method or vice versa.
  • The suggestion that analytic method is superior to other philosophies is, "after
    the failed cognitive revolutions," virtually a matter of ipse dixit, "as though a simple assertion should suffice to privilege one's philosophy of logic from criticism." Long, 120.
  • There may be too much emphasis given to trying to fit a Catholic philosophy into analytical method, so that such becomes the goal, and this at the expense of a principled and rigorous
    analysis of speculative truth for the sake of that truth.
  • Because of "typical but not universal deprivations within analytic method," it could result in the loss of apprehension of Thomas Aquinas's teachings
  • Because analytic method is non-systematic, but is "chiefly a
    sociological multiple of speculative privations, logical rigor, and logicist and skeptical errors," whatever limited benefits it may provide through its narrow speculative insights may affect negatively the systematic and speculative strength in a philosophy such as Thomism.
The positive philosophical theories of scientism and logicism upon which analytic thought relied appear to have collapsed, leaving nothing behind but the analytic method, which may be better classified as something not equivalent to philosophy, but perhaps a partial meta-philosophy. Once we get into the philosophical real--where Thomism may be found--we leave meta-philosophy behind.

The analytic tradition has no essential principles of metaphysics upon which it is founded and which govern its function. The analytic tradition never goes beyond logic, beyond definition, to grasp a method beyond logic and definition, a method which is designed to take intellectual possession as it were of reality so as to make it intelligible and rationally defensible. Without such a method beyond logic and definition, we do not have a philosophy strictly so-called.
The sum of the matter is simply this: the realm of analytic thought today is merely the amalgam of considerations developed by persons who have a predictable exposure to certain logical and linguistic disciplines, but no reliable exposure or formation with regard to method in philosophy of nature and metaphysics . . . . There is no analytic philosophy. This patent fact is a reason for looking skeptically on the claims of analytic practitioners to maintain a monopoly of position and influence . . . . It suggest no reason whatsoever why any but adventitious contributions might be expected to the development of the realist tradition from analytic sources.
Long, 121.

The contributions it makes: fine. But it ought to be seen for what it is, something that occurs in spite of the lack of philosophical method, and not because of it.

An Einstein can come from the patent office, but it does not follow that the patent office as such thus becomes the Source of Einsteinian Genius or of Einsteinian accomplishment, but less the repository of method in hypothetico-deductive physics. The same may be said equally of redoubtable minds formed in analytic thought who subsequently take on the task of genuine engagement with philosophy of nature and metaphysics.

Long, 121.

In the matter of nature, let us make sure we are listening to an Einstein who thinks himself a clerk, and not a clerk who thinks himself an Einstein.

*Analytic philosophy is a philosophical school without any unitary doctrine prevalent especially in the English-speaking countries, the central methodology of which is the analysis of concepts or language. Its emphasis is on method, and so Long describes the "analytic concept" as a "adjective on pilgrimage to find out what if anything it may modify." Long, 112. It arose in the 20th century as a reaction to the idealism of Hegelian philosophy which was prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th century. It shuns systems, and in fact seems, through its method, inimical to them. Leading practitioners have included Bertrand Russell, George Edward Moore, A. J. Ayer, Rudolf Carnap, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Analytic philosophy tends to focus on detail using logical and language analysis to clarify philosophical issues somewhat perhaps like a pathologist would use a microscope to look at a biopsy sample. Its method is an application of "a certain understanding of logic," a "concern for language," and a "concern about how arguments should be expressed." Long, 113. Long observes that "logic is a propaedeutic to method rather than a method," that "language is to be judged by its effects," and that the way an argument is expressed is "secondary to what the argument is." The analytic method ultimately has no "intrinsically philosophic method or formation to offer," but a panoply of "ad hoc discussions." Long, 113. It has no "normative metaphysical or ontological evidence and principles," no "normative methodic account," by which it may be distinguished substantively from any other philosophical system. Long characterizes it as a stumbling from error to error, an "intriguing compendia of error," which displaced prior systems of philosophy, "more or less forced all the other stars from the heavens," and which, "although in search of a new revolution, is to this day marked by the deprivation of method in philosophy of nature and metaphysics." Long, 113. Without ontology, without metaphysics, without natural theology, it seems like analytic philosophy is hardly "poised to aid in developing these philosophical disciplines, howsoever true it is that discourse with particular minds formed in the analytic tradition may prove fruitful." Long, 114. In fact, by self-definition, analytic philosophers require no commitment to any system or any philosophical method outside of "a mere commitment to logic," which is the same thing as saying that "analytic thought is not a philosophy," strictly speaking. Long, 117.
Today the term "analytic" is free of any philosophic substance at all, a Banquo's ghost as it were, roaming the halls of academe, seeking living philosophic works to haunt and adjectivally modify. . . . Analytic "method" thus is not method at all, but turns out to be merely a partial meta-philosophy, a part of a part masquerading as the whole. The confusion of meta-philosophic principles with method is a methodic impoverishment.
Long, 117.
**Long observes that "logic" is not properly speaking a "method," since "logic is propadeutic to method in every science rather than itself being a method." Long, 118.
***Long criticizes this overemphasis on the form of argument: "[P]references about how arguments should be displayed are extrinsic to the arguments themselves and rather picayune as grounds for examining or not examining them." Long, 118.
****Though there is a tendency in all human systems to rely on the past and its inertia, and though sometimes the initial presuppositions need to be re-examined, it is particularly a crucial problem with analytic practitioners "because of the sociological predominance of analytic thought on the one hand, and the falsification of the strategically positive philosophic judgments of the early revolutionary analytic doctrines on the other. Where the original grounds of criticism are no longer extant, it is not a sign of integrity of thought to persist uncritically in negations that are no longer justifiable." Long, 119. To the degree they deprecate past systems, e.g., Thomism, the practitioners of the analytic method may be somewhat like those who, based upon the strength of their inherited Ptolemaic biases, failed to see the validity of the Copernican theories.


  1. If faith and reason are distinct, how can there be "catholic" philosophy. The term would have to refer to philosophers who happen to be catholics.

  2. These (faith and reason) are not two separate impenetrable worlds without communication. We don't subscribe to a "double truth" notion, where there is one truth for reason, and another for faith, and they may be different. It's sort of like the human brain with its two halves, joined together by the corpus callosum: they communicate and overlap and are intertwined at certain junctures. There are some philosophies that are simply incompatible with the Catholic faith (try to reconcile Spinoza with Catholicism: it cannot be done). It would seem that one has a "Catholic" philosophy when one's philosophical system is compatible with the Catholic faith, so that the marriage of faith and reason, is a "communion of life and love," or perhaps a "communion of truth," and not a union of friction, constant bickering, and working against each other's interest. Like a good marriage.