Philosopher Ed Feser wrote Aristotle’s Revenge to show that metaphysics complements modern science rather than becoming obsolete due to it. In fact, modern science presupposes, argues Feser, metaphysics.
Did he succeed? Largely. Could he have improved his argument? Probably. Let me first describe scholastic metaphysics before highlighting some of Feser’s major arguments. I will recommend Aristotle’s Revenge with some caveats at the conclusion.
Feser begins his book by providing a high-level overview of scholastic metaphysics. The particular metaphysical tradition that Feser uses is scholastic metaphysics, although one does not have to maintain such a view to read and enjoy Feser’s work. Interestingly, this overview may provide a better starting place than his fuller argument in his 2014 book, Scholastic Metaphysics. He clearly teases out the whole system of description that scholastic metaphysics grants us.
Such a metaphysic describes how things change from potency to actuality, how things are composed (with matter and form), how the four causes work (efficient, formal, material, and final causes), how everything has an intrinsic or extrinsic purpose, and so on.
Science and metaphysics
But do things truly move from potency to actuality? Does everything have an efficient and final cause? Modern physics would seem to invalidate the potency-actuality paradigm due to physical science. And can we really say that things have an efficient and final cause—the latter indicating telos or purpose. Are we not brains in bodies that act according to biological necessities for the purpose of propagating the human race?
Feser answers vigorously that non-metaphysical explanations of the world do not tell the full story. Even something as simple as match has the efficient cause or power to ignite; and it tends towards a particular end (ignition). Even at this simple level, the language of efficient and final cause can and does make sense of the world.
To do so, he commits an intense investigation of opposing views, fairly represents them, and provides what he considers to be persuasive answers. Yet these answers do not mean that Feser rejects modern science. Not at all. Rather, he aims to show that metaphysics complements and never supplants it. He wants to show how these two things work together. At this, he succeeds—or at least makes a plausible case.
Were I to lodge one minor complaint, I would say that his format (basically a medieval scholastic format) of stating a position, listing all opposing positions, and arguing for one view throughout created a sort of monotone pacing to the book. Rather than striking at one thesis and allowing the data to prop up that thesis, Feser opts to highlight and rebut all opposing views. To be fair, this stylistic observation is quite minor. The thorough methodology, on the positive side, demonstrates a wide-randing competence on Feser’s part and builds confidence in him as a researcher.
Who should read this?
To whom is this book written? Someone like me, I suppose. But I also think students of philosophy and professional scientists would profit from reading. I doubt the average person would enjoy or need to read this work.
So while I do recommend this book, I would only do so for the following three audiences: theologians, students, and practicing scientists who want to think about their work at a higher (but contradictory) level.
To purchase the book, click here.
The publisher (editiones scholasticae) provided me with a review copy without any obligation to give it a positive review.