As was noted in part two, Dr. Feser claims to prove quite a few things in his first chapter, and he begins chapter two with a brief history of Greek philosophy from Thales of Miletus, with stops to mention Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno, the Sophists, and Socrates, before delving somewhat more deeply into Plato. I certainly don't know enough of historical Greek philosophy to comment on the accuracy or inaccuracy of his summations, nor is that my purpose in this series. As a reminder, my purpose is to comment on what I find convincing in Dr. Feser's book, what I find unconvincing, and whether he has lived up to any or all of his claims by the end of it, either to the extent of convincing me that he is correct, or his fallback position of convincing me his position is rational. To that end, his historical accuracy is barely a footnote. The first step on that path will be below the fold.
After a discussion of Plato, the first bit of meat for my meal appears: a discussion of realism, nominalism, and conceptualism. As Dr. Feser himself acknowledges, the position of realism is indeed central to his arguments later in the book:
Indeed, it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that virtually every major religious, moral, and political controversy of the last several decades -- of the last several centuries, in fact -- in some way rests on a disagreement, even if implicit or unnoticed, over the "problem of the universals" (as it is known)., with realism being the position that these universals, numbers, and propositions are real in one fashion or another. He notes there are many flavors of realism.
Before we get into Dr. Feser's nine justifications for this position, I wanted to note what these things are. Universals are adjectives being treated as nouns. His three examples: triangularity, humanness, and redness. Mind you, he never pulls out the word 'adjective' and carefully avoids using the adjectival forms of triangular, human, or red. Nevertheless, he is saying that the common features of the descriptions of various objects are themselves real. By numbers, he means the ordinary sorts of numbers on a real line, making quite a bit of the fact that 2 + 2 = 4 is a necessary truth (even though this is not always true, for example, 2 liters + 2 liters will often be less than 4 liters). Propositions refer to the meaning behind sentences that make a claim about the world. For example, he says that "John is a bachelor" and "John is an unmarried man" are the same proposition.
His first justification applies primarily to universals, and is the notion of "one over many". That is, you can describe many different objects with the same adjective, and that the description could apply to something even when it doesn't actually apply to anything, and even when no mind is thinking about it, therefore it is real. So, even though unicorns and griffons are not real, the concept of being a unicorn or being a griffon is a real concept. Oddly, he does not use fictional examples like unicorns and griffons to illustrate this point. No doubt this is an oversight.
The second and third justifications apply to mathematical objects like circles, numbers, etc. (they are divided into two for some reason). Again, Dr. Feser relies on the notion that these statements are always true, as opposed to models that true given the right circumstances. I am firmly opposed to the notion that mathematical truths are real, because I understand there are too many situations where they are not true.
The fourth is an argument from the nature of propositions, and is basically the idea that a true proposition will often be true even when there is no one around to state it, and that it has no material component. He makes an excellent argument for these propositions being true. However, he makes no argument for them being real.
The last of the arguments directly supporting realism, as opposed to attacking the alternatives, is the argument from science, which amounts to saying that science uses universals and mathematics, and both are real based on arguments 1-3, so anyone who accepts the results of science accepts 1-3. I found this argument did not add any force to his position, as it rests entirely on arguments 1-3.
The remaining four justifications discussed are arguments against the plausibility of nominalism and conceptualism. Nominalism is presented as basically denying the reality of universals (and presumably numbers and propositions, although this is not specifically discussed). Instead, we apply the same descriptions to items because they resemble each other in some fashion, but that resemblance is not some instantiation of a universal. Conceptualism is presented as saying that any existence to universals occurs only in the mind, not in the exterior reality. While acknowledging there are many varieties of nominalism and conceptualism, Dr. Feser prefers to focus on the most extreme variations for his criticisms.
The first of the two arguments directed against nominalism specifically is the vicious regress problem. When the nominalist speaks of resemblances, is the property of resembling something itself a universal? If not, and we identify them all as resemblances because they are similar to us in some ways, is that similarity a universal? Personally, I don't see where there is a good answer to those questions either way. I can certainly understand why someone would reject nominalism on this basis.
The other argument against nominalism, which is also the second argument presented against conceptualism, is that words themselves must be universals. Otherwise, every time we used a word, it might mean something different, and communication would not be possible. Of course, this objection works only if this situation is different with realism, and it seems to me that realism suffers this same communication defect, in a different fashion. Because there are so many universals, we can never be sure which universal the other person is invoking. After all, in addition to redness, there are universals for scarlet, rose, burgundy, crimson, etc., and all of these are particular types of redness. There is nothing in realism that prevents Person A from invoking the universal of red that is close to rose, while person B hears the universal of red that is close to crimson. I recall reading there have been studies that the white universal of people is the USA is more bluish that the white of the South Americans (which looks pinkish to USAers). This theme of an overwhelming number of universals, and the arbitrariness that people use to select from among them, will appear again in future parts of this review.
Finally, the first argument against conceptualism is the objectivity of concepts and knowledge. Dr. Feser claims that when we entertain concepts of the same thing, such as a dog, the concepts are the same inside our brain, that when we think about the Pythagorean Theorem, we are discussing the same proposition. Similarly to what I wrote above, I do not agree. We often are thinking about difference concepts when we think about dogs (since we have two beagles, my dog concept is very beagleish) and while I don't know how beagleish his dog concept is, it's fairly clear our concepts of the Pythagorean Theorem are different.
Coming to my purpose for this review: Dr. Feser presented no evidence that realism is a better position than conceptualism from what I can see, while his argument against nominalism was stronger. So, I would say he failed in the part of the task where he wanted to convince me he was right. However, I can certainly see why people might reasonably hold to realism, so he was successful in his fall-back option of convincing me that his position is rational.