13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 17 November 2011
This review is for: Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide (Beginners Guide (Oneworld)) (Paperback). This is the first review on UK amazon, but there are already 16 reviews on USA amazon, which I invite the reader to consult. All of these USA reviews of this Aquinas book, by their ratings (14 at 5-star and 2 at 4-star) and the text of their reviews, clearly share my own high opinion of the book.
This is a powerfully satisfying book (as is Feser's The Last Superstition - A Refutation of the New Atheism - see my review of the latter). The present book on the thirteenth-century Roman Catholic philosopher/theologian St Thomas Aquinas (known generally in the literature just as Thomas, or just as Aquinas) reinforces and amplifies the foundation for the arguments in the anti-New-Atheism book. Aquinas, in turn, builds heavily on the philosophy of Aristotle, the fourth-century-BC Greek philosopher (who by the way was the tutor of Alexander the Great). Aristotle's Four Causes (material, formal, efficient and final - Feser, pp. 16-23, but passim) are fundamental to Aquinas's own thinking.
The aim of Feser's Aquinas is the rehabilitation of the value of the Aristotelian/Thomistic philosophy. This rehabilitation is now a real growth industry, from what I can see of the books referred to in, for example, the bibliographies in Feser's own book (excellently up-to-date, mostly post-1990, even mostly post-2000, but including also older traditional classics like Garrigou-Lagrange).
From what I have been reading generally in the religion/science debate, books like those of Feser, Peter S Williams (A Sceptic's Guide to Atheism), John Lennox (God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?), Robert J Spitzer (New Proofs for the Existence of God), Anthony Rizzi (The Science Before Science), David Bentley Hart (Atheist Delusions), Gerald O'Collins (Philip Pullman's Jesus), attacks on Hawking's 2010 book The Grand Design, Antony Flew's There is a God, etc. - from such reading I am convinced that the New Atheists and the radical agnostic/atheistic neo-Darwinians have been thoroughly routed. To repeat the constant thesis of Feser's book anti-the-New Atheism, and again surfacing everywhere in the Aquinas book, the three contentions of traditional and now once-again-trumpeted Thomism, namely, that God exists, that the human soul is rational and immortal, and that morality depends ultimately on the existence of God, are overwhelmingly more likely (to say the very least) than the crass materialism of neo-Darwinism which would reduce all human activity to the mere blind action of material cells, and would deny free will, and would claim that there is no ultimate authority for morality outside of man's own manufacture.
I believe that one of the reasons for the revival of Thomism is precisely the futility of the attempt to provide an understanding of 'the Grand Design' of the existence of the universe and of rational man without this being underpinned by the existence of Aquinas's God. I consider that Stephen Hawking's 2010 book The Grand Design (see my review dated 23 Sept 2010) marks a watershed in the 'science versus religion' debate. Nothing can be worse than Hawking's attempt to turn philosopher, to give 'new answers to the ultimate questions of life', as the subtitle of his book claims. The weakness of his attempts to dismiss the possibility of (or the need for) anything more than blind cosmological forces or blind neo-Darwinian evolution is shattering.
An ever-repeated argument of Feser in his Aquinas book is that the arguments of Aristotle and Aquinas, when examined in the light of their fundamental metaphysical axioms, do not depend for their validity on the weak examples from physics and botany with which our ancient authors illustrated their arguments. For example, on p. 65 Feser says: " Aristotle's metaphysics stands or falls independently of his physics, and ... while [Aquinas's] Five Ways definitely presuppose certain Aristotelian metaphysical claims, there is never a point in any of the arguments where appeal need be made to now falsified theories in physics or any of the other sciences. Indeed, we will see that the Five Ways remain as interesting and worthy of consideration today as any other philosophical argument".
I underline also that Anthony Kenny on Aquinas is much rebutted by Feser, and to my great delight Hume's (to me) absurd rejection of cause-and-effect comes in, in this book of Feser's, too, for continual rejection. Feser stands by formal and final cause, against Hume and the moderns. Material and efficient cause are not enough. The essential underpinning of the metaphysics of Aquinas is the need to take into account the four causes of all created reality, the material, formal, efficient and final causes. 'Modern' philosophers (from the 17th/18th centuries onwards) have, by and large, rejected formal and final causes. Such philosophers simply cannot explain reality. I comment on this in various ways in my reviews of Flew (There is a God), Fergus Kerr (Theology after Wittgenstein) and Simon Blackburn (Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed). Blackburn's book surely does not un-perplex the perplexed. See also Anthony Kenny's Philosophy in the Modern World (being Volume 4 of Kenny's A New History of Western Philosophy). My overwhelming impression from my first quick read of Kenny-4 six months ago is that the book is a mere catalogue of famous names who have failed almost without exception to say anything that enlightens the human condition or gives anything by which the rational human being can live. A damning indictment of 'modern' philosophy - though I am sure that that is not what Kenny intended his book to be!
Throughout his book, Feser stresses that Aquinas's Five Ways (proofs for the existence of God), outlined briefly at the start of the Summa Theologiae, are not Aquinas's most complete treatment of this topic, but rather that his ideas on this topic are expanded and developed throughout all his works. Feser repeatedly introduces fresh quotations from Aquinas in proof of this. Failure to realize, that Aquinas's brief account of the Five Ways at the start of the Summa is only a preliminary summary, destroys the point of most of the 'modern' attacks on the validity of these Five Ways. What they attack is usually a 'straw man' version of Aquinas's proofs as they are expanded throughout his works.
And of course God is uncaused. This emerges from Aquinas's analysis of causality in the Five Ways. So 'who caused God' is a nonsense question. He is pure Act. In him, there is no potency. In him, essence and existence are one and the same. And the divine attributes of the God of the Five Ways are, when fully understood, the attributes of the Christian God. All of this is in Aquinas/Feser.
Feser's book is one of a series of 'Beginner's Guides'. That does not make it an easy read. It deals with the absolute essentials and fundamentals of created and Uncreated being. A difficult but essential read.