January 2007

Philosophy Department Colloquium

January 30, 2007
David Banach
Saint Anselm College

Science and the Meaning of Life
Responding to Evangelical Atheism

Outline Handout

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The Lyceum was a gymnasium or school in Athens from about 6th century BC until the 3rd century AD. It is named after Lycian Apollo and besides having facilities for exercise and education also held shrines to Apollo, the Muses, and the cult of Hermes. It is most famous as the location of school of Aristotle, where he would walk as he talked and taught, which is why Aristotle’s school is often called the school of the Peripatetics (those who walk about).

The Journal of Philosophy published by the Philosophy Department is named after the Lyceum.

The LYCEUM is a peer-reviewed journal of philosophy that publishes articles accessible to both professionals and students. The LYCEUM also accepts undergraduate submissions. It is produced by faculty and students in the Philosophy Department.

Tom Larson: Editor David Banach: Managing Editor

Student Staff

Colin Connors Matthew Gendron Sarah Kallock
David Kimbell Michaela Rocha Gary Senecal

The LYCEUM also has a blog for discussion of articles. You can participate in the debate at http://blog.lyceumphilosophy.com/

The first online issue has just been published:

Volume VIII, No. 1 Winter 2007


The Role of Natural Law in a World of Religious and Political Diversity

Montague Brown

Animals and Machines: On Their Beginnings and Endings

Chris Tollefsen

Tragedy and the Philosophical Life: A Response to Martha Nussbaum

Martha C. Beck

Childhood and Salvation in The Brother’s Karamazov

Gary Senecal

A Publication of the
Philosophy Department

Saint Anselm College




The Meet the Philosopher Series are interviews with the members of the Saint Anselm College Philosophy Department. They aim at introducing you to the members of the department along with their interests and ideas. Professor Robert Anderson is the eighth profile in the series.

In this interview, Professor Anderson talks about his work on the role of intention in ethics and about the difficulty of doing philosophy well.

Saint Anselm Philosophy Podcasts can be found here.

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The secret Strength of things/ Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome/ Of Heaven is as a law, Inhabits thee! – Shelley, “Mont Blanc”

Because of Plato’s use of the term to describe his view of the most basic realities, this term has become one of the most fundamental philosophical concepts. In Greek, the term is eidos, which meant shape, outline, or image. (It forms the root of the English word ‘idea’, but this usage to refer to an object of thought did not arise until the 17th century.)

How did the simple word for image or outline become the most important philosophical concept in history?

The beginning of the intellectual life is the recognition that things have similarities and that the key to their actions lies in these shared features. Two triangles share a common outline or shape, and most of their significant properties will arise from this shared form, rather than the things that distinguish them such as their position, what they are made of, and the unique defects that distinguish each one. This is the beginning of the recognition that there is more to the world than meets the eye. They key to a turtle or a tree or a triangle does not lie in what we see on the surface of each particular instance, but in the hidden source of the similarities we grasp between them. When we see disparate things, with no causal relationship that we can see, having similar properties and acting in similar ways, it becomes clear that these things must be connected on some level that goes beyond their mere appearances. There is a secret source of the similarity in the particular objects that populate our world. The order of the world that we perceive in the apprehended similarities of the objects we encounter has a source, a single ordered source, of which the objects we see and their similarities are copies. The idea of form gave rise to the view that the universe is a kosmos, an ordered whole.

Equally important is the fact that we are capable of grasping these similarities, that, in fact, our mind leaps to uncover them and feels gratification and pleasure at their recognition. Not only is the most important feature of reality the secret source of its order, revealed by our grasp of similarities, but also our most important feature: the unity of our faculties with the hidden principle of the kosmos. There is something that draws the flux of appearances to order, and that something draws us as well. We can feel our connection with the secret source of things in our drive to apprehend form and our perception of form as beauty.

In the concept of form lies the source of the dual beliefs that the most important part of reality are the abstract essences that things share and that the most important part of us is the faculty that grasps them. Of course, in modern times we like to pierce the veil that hides the secret source of things and find the physical laws that explain the order we find in things in terms of their composition and history. We like to find explanations of the working of our minds within the laws that govern the more basic forms of our brains. But the source of the similarities that lie at the heart of even these basic scientific laws remains hidden, and our mind still yearns to discover it.


There is a kind of paradox attached to the Aristotelian notion of substance. For “substance” is distinguished from the so called “accidents,” and is said to be the true goal of our minds’ quest for knowing. As it is not one of the accidents, substance is not something sensible; no description can ever give you the substance of a thing. And yet, it’s only through the sensually observable (hence through the accidents) that the human mind can arrive at the substance of the thing. This process usually goes by the name “abstraction” – we abstract what is substantial from what is accidental in order to arrive at the essence of a thing. But accidents are essential to material substances. And some accidents are called essential properties, while the others are ‘merely accidental’. But how can we distinguish the essential properties from mere accidents without first knowing the substance? And how can we arrive at the substance of a thing without first being able to distinguish an essential property from a quality that is merely accidental?

What do we know when we know the substance of a thing? What makes us think substance can really be known at all? And if it can be known, what must the mind do to reach and articulate it with out obscuring it further?