Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Chastity: PART TWO (How I Stopped)

A patent for some sort of
anti-masturbation device
This has been a difficult post to write. For a couple of reasons. One, it's sort of an awkward topic. And two, I've had difficulty trying to determine what it is that helped me. But I want to get this out because it ties in with the next post, which I want to get finished by Ash Wednesday. As the title indicates, the purpose of this post is to help people stop the masturbation and pornography habit. The number of people (especially men (though I hear the number of women is incredibly high too)) who look at pornography and/or masturbate daily (give or take) is not negligible. (50 points to the first person who can tell me where I got the "not negligible" language.) If it had to make a wager, I would say it represents the vast majority of the post-pubescent population in the country. At any rate, there may be some "too much information" details here, but I'll only include them if I think they're necessary.

I've received messages from a number of people asking for help with this issue. For many, the inability to control sexual appetite represents the single biggest moral failing in their lives. Even great men struggle with this problem. Unfortunately, there's no secret to the process of stopping. It's difficult, and it's frustrating, but it is doable. And it's doable without any ridiculous side effects or problems, despite what people love to claim to the contrary. What I've decided to do is tell my story with respect to the issue, identifying what helped and what hurt throughout the process. It's not a particularly interesting story necessarily, but I think it's the best way to approach this.

Before getting into the story, though, the first thing I think people need, and this is why I started the blog the way I did, are reasons for acting. They need at least a basic philosophical basis for doing or not doing something. I don't think they need graduate degrees in philosophy (and honestly, such things, in many cases, may actually inhibit their growth), but they need a basic moral background. When a person acts voluntarily, he acts on a reason. "I shouldn't do X because of Y." He needs a well-developed Y if he has any hope of being good. If not, his appetites tend to overtake him. 

In many ways, this has made me critical of certain religious teachings. As I've said, I do not think "faith in Jesus" by itself is sufficient for tackling something as challenging as sexuality. Now, I am in no way being critical of faith as a thing; faith is a virtue. Religion, I think, by its nature, is the best avenue for exploring and developing philosophical wisdom, but it tends, at least in the modern world, to actually inhibit such development. It is too commonly used as an excuse to avoid analysis. "Why don't you masturbate?" "Oh, because I'm Catholic." It's an answer, it's a reason, but it isn't enough. That God does not want us to do something, in some ways, is a compelling reason for not doing something. In other ways, it isn't. It has the benefit of putting some strong force behind the reason, but it has the problem of making the reason feel arbitrary. "Why does God care about this?" every good college kid eventually asks. And worse, "Why should I care what God wants?" the real cutting-edge ones ultimately get behind. It's only a short step from there to serious immorality.

This is a lifelong process, of course. I don't think, for average people anyway, there is a clear point where they can say "Alright, I've got enough philosophy to make moral decisions." But they need to be taught, to know things somehow beyond their gut, if they want to get anywhere. Their gut is of course very helpful, and I think most people are initially repulsed by pornography and masturbation, but I've never seen this to be enough in most people. This is because, as I will go into below, virtue is trained. The actual overcoming of immorality is incredibly difficult and takes a great deal of fortitude, especially when the vice is so ingrained in a person. But people need a reason for their struggles; they have to know why something is immoral if they really hope to be moral. I hope that I've given at least some part of that background.

Assuming a person can get this basic background, it's important to know the actual process of stopping something like masturbation. So to explain that, let me start where I began. (I believe I mentioned this story somewhat in my introductory post, but I want to flesh it out here because I think it's relevant.) Like any red-blooded American, I was addicted to pornography by the time I was in high school. (It's honestly probably earlier now. The internet wasn't as easily accessible (nor was it as fast) as when I was very young. Kids today can look at porn with their iPhones in waterproof cases while taking showers! I would have killed for that as a youngster.) It was a pretty daily thing, and I was pretty efficient at it. And it really wasn't a major concern for me. I mean, considering what I was looking at (dudes and all), I would have absolutely died had my parents found out, but it was something I had relative control over. That is, like most boys, I had to have it, but I wasn't crazy or reckless about it or anything. And what's really funny is that at this time I thought that I would still find a wife and get married. The gay porn stuff was just whatever, something I did when no one was looking, not me. I think people who have consistent porn habits always feel like they have two lives, convinced that the bad life doesn't really affect them---a phenomenon common to most addictions, I think.

College made it worse. The internet was faster, I had way more free time, and I wanted it more. I can remember my freshman year of college. After realizing I could look at porn whenever I wanted, for as long as I wanted (college was really easy...), I came up with the saying "True freedom is a prison." I used to say it all the time to myself. It sounds really overly dramatic now, but I meant it. Which leads me to my next point. I never really was okay with the porn. I always felt guilty about it. Now, I'm probably a person who is prone to feeling guiltier than I should (which has honestly changed quite a bit in my adulthood), but I know I wasn't the only one. I'd talk to people about it, at least in passing, and it affected everyone the same way. And I wasn't raised on strict sexual principles either. I didn't really have anyone ever telling me that it was wrong. I mean, it was private and it was embarrassing, but the idea that it was bad wasn't hammered into me as a child. I don't mean to imply that I didn't have a good upbringing, but I hardly had any guidance with respect to sexual ethics and masturbation as a child. This is probably going to become even more of a problem as time goes on, where fathers, who have their own porn addictions, will have to deal with the problems related to their sons' porn addictions.

But by the time I was in graduate school, it was at its worst. I can remember looking at porn, masturbating, and then quickly going over to my homework where I had to translate something from the Greek New Testament. What a world, right? (I can actually remember one day in particular; I think I'd finished masturbating before coming across my favorite Greek phrase for the first time: ὁ Θεός ὁ ὕψιστος ("The most high God") (always appearing in the genitive, I think: Ἰησοῦ υἱὲ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ὑψίστου / δοῦλοι τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ὑψίστου εἰσίν, etc. The title "most high" has always been really linguistically and theologically interesting to me. And it sounds awesome: ho theos ho hupsistos (remember, the o's are omicrons; they sound more like a's! (I'm sure some people might disagree with this!))) But it wasn't until after graduate school that it started to change. Before starting law school, I moved away to live near some friends. I had my own, sad single room apartment. I decorated it with things I found from Goodwill, and I had nothing to do. 

This was a very difficult time for me. I think that I'd always thought that I could just hang out with my friends for the rest of my life, ignoring my sexuality. No one knew about it, and no one needed to know about it. And that was fine. I had my friends, I had my porn, what else could I possibly need. But my friends weren't really interested in hanging out all the time. They had lives, and that felt like a betrayal to me. They hung out with me when they could, but the idea of lasting happiness through "hanging out" is a child's dream. I decided, through the many days I spent alone, that I wasn't going to get anywhere unless I dealt with my sexuality. I felt like that was the was the solution to my unrest. However I did it, it had to be dealt with. What I'd come to realize, I think, is that there is no such thing as not dealing with it. There are moral ways to deal with it, and there are immoral ways to deal with it. But it has to be dealt with. Ignoring it just makes it worse.

As I noted elsewhere, this lead me down a philosophical path. I wanted to know why, at least on some level, homosexuality and masturbation were wrong. But that's not what I want to talk about here. And in a certain way, it wasn't exactly what I was interested in back then. I mean, it was, but I was most interested in the idea of freedom. That is, freedom from the appetite. I wanted so much to just not have any sexual attraction. I wasn't even asking to be made straight or anything; I just wanted to be free. What I didn't realize at that time, I think, is that, one, sexuality is good (it is not a curse that binds us), and two, that there is nothing good about being freed in such a way. At the time, I couldn't see sexuality as anything but a vice in itself, something you had to trudge through. And this makes sense, of course. For the majority of my life it had been something that had to be kept secret, something that had to be indulged in at any stake, beyond any notion of dignity or self worth.

So what did I do? I fasted. I remember having a talk to with a Mormon professor some time before then. He said that the most important answers come through fasting. I thought this was ridiculous, especially considering the fact that we were talking about what school I should go to. But there was something about it that I liked. So I fasted. Probably dangerously so. But I did. What I think I realized through that process was that there was something special, something heroic about not choosing to do something you think you have to do. This is actually a bit difficult to convince people of. I think that people think, and as I thought in college, that true freedom was doing what you wanted to do. And as everyone who subscribes to such beliefs can attest, that is a prison. You're in that case, as St. Paul (and our Lord) put it, a δοῦλος, a slave. True freedom, I think I came to realize, is being able to not do something I want to do. 

People don't understand the importance of this I don't think, nor do they realize how far the principle stretches. It affects everything in our lives. It is best to call it a virtue. As I mentioned in my last post in this series, it is the thing that elevates us above everything else, that which frees us, that which makes us good examples of human beings at every moment in our lives. The more we give in to a thing, the less of men we are. No matter our stations in life, this is always true. This is what fasting, I think, taught me. No matter how hungry or thirsty I was, the more I came to realize that I could go longer without it. And this was for something that I actually needed. How much easier would something like masturbation, which I didn't need, be!

But of course it wasn't easy. I thought, at the time, that stopping the porn would be a big step and that maybe it would be enough. I think a lot of people think that the porn is really the bad part about masturbation, and masturbation is just something that has to be there. Like you could virtuously masturbate or something. And I get where this comes from. Pornography can be completely depraved, and it makes our sex drives feel like bottomless pits. I think many people yearn for the days when they didn't need pornography to get them off. Masturbation, by comparison, seems innocent, something we did as kids. In some ways, this, just quitting porn but keeping with the masturbation, was a good idea, and in other ways, it was completely worthless. But I did. I stopped looking at what I classified as porn sites. Now, I would still find other stuff that wasn't exactly porn to use (like movies with sexual plots that I would otherwise have no interest in), but I avoided the sites I really wanted to go to. 

This, by itself, felt freeing. The flowers smelled a little sweeter, if you will. But like any case where a person doesn't really quit something, he falls back into the worst parts of it. Eventually the sexually themed movies just ended up being porn, and the line between what I felt was acceptable and unacceptable blurred to the point of non-existence. I remember there was this one movie I watched on Netflix. It was this gay Romeo-and-Juliet-type movie, where there's this conservative Palestinian guy who falls in love with a liberal Jewish guy. (Again, following the classic experienced-teaching-the-inexperienced formula I mentioned in this post.) But there were some pretty explicit sex scenes in it. Nothing out of control, but I remember thinking to myself, afterward, "you were just watching that to jerk off; be honest with yourself."

So I decided I had to stop completely. When I fasted, I chose not to eat or drink during daylight hours (like a Muslim---the only people I've ever really known who fast regularly). But the thing about fasting is that it provides you clear goals in a simple way. If you can get to 4 p.m., you can get to 5 p.m. And if you can get to 5 p.m, you can get to 6 p.m. And by the time it's sundown, you feel like you could go any number of more hours. Once you've trained the appetite, you can control it. Obviously you cannot go forever, and I am not advocating fasting until you make yourself sick. I am merely trying to identify how the virtue works. So I applied it to masturbation. I didn't masturbate one day. And if I didn't masturbate one day, I could go a couple more days. And so on. And after a few months, it was only easier. And by this point, a couple-few years later, the act of masturbation seems very foreign to me. It's hard to even picture myself doing it now.

There are a few things I want to point out though. It's not easy. All you're going to want to do after a certain point is masturbate. Just don't. Some people advocate filling your time with something else (like a hobby), but I'm not a big advocate of this. Because, in some ways, it's not facing what it is head on. It is obviously good not to dwell on it, but you have to be able to say "I am actively choosing not to do this" to yourself. Over and over. Your not doing something is what develops the virtue in you. But don't take this the wrong way. You must avoid anything that makes you horny. This seems ridiculous and unreasonable, but I mean it. If Yahoo! news makes you horny, avoid it. If Facebook gets you going (and for the kids in my law school who look at girls' bikini pictures all through class, it clearly does), just don't go on it. If you see an attractive person in a news story (like a story about how to get great abs), do not click on it. Do not even give yourself an inch.

I know this seems absurd, but it's not. I am a firm believer that once a sexual image is in front of us, we lose some control of our mental faculties, at least a little bit. Now, we never lose control of them so completely that we can't just close the window (and I always recommend this; if you feel yourself getting into it, just close your eyes and close the window; it's not worth it, whatever it is you're looking at), but it takes that much more strength the deeper in we are. This isn't revolutionary advice, but it is absolutely vital. Facing your sexuality does not mean putting yourself in a situation where you have to say no to temptation. It's controlling yourself so that saying no isn't always an insurmountable struggle. Now, the more you do this, the more control you will have when faced with serious temptation and the less you'll have to avoid such images. You'll be able to live your life like a normal person, without the constant fear that you're going to fall back into it, but never tempt temptation. 

The other thing I want to note is that you will have wet dreams. This seems like a haha-whocares-gross thing. But it's something that people don't talk about enough. While wet dreams can be a sign that you are freeing yourself from the habit, they are annoying, and you will come to want them to happen. This can be a struggle in itself. Not that you can really make them happen, but that you get frustrated when they don't. This, in my experience, has been the most annoying part about the whole thing. You can control masturbation; you can't control wet dreams. And you can't control waking up before finishing a wet dream, lying there, ready to...yeah. I have no great advice here. My only advice is to just try to let them happen without making them happen. This may sometimes feel futile, but remember, you are not responsible for the things that you do when you are asleep or half-asleep. Never feel guilty about them.

And what's also important to remember is that a sexual drive is an objectively good thing. It is a sign of health and flourishing. How we use that drive, like any appetite, determines what kind of people we are, but you must not, ever, resent the drive that you do have. It must merely be used in the appropriate context. When it is used there, it is one of the greatest things we can do. So be proud that you are healthy and able to have things like wet dreams. I remember, early in the process, I thought to myself, "I haven't done it in so long, I could have sex with anyone right now," getting encouraged that I'd somehow found the "cure" to homosexuality. I don't think this anymore (and I will write a lot more on the topic of mixed-orientation marriages), but I will say that if young men didn't masturbate and didn't see it as an option, we'd have a lot more happily married couples.

Anyway, this post has gotten quite long, and I should end it. There's a lot I want to say about the modern pornography generation, but that can wait for another post. All I want to emphasize is that it can be done; but also that it is very difficult. If it were easy, it would be valueless. If sexuality were like everything else, it wouldn't be special. It's that it is so powerful and such an enormous part of being a human being that controlling it makes a person that much more heroic.


  1. Regarding the intellectual justification, I think this is an important gap that a lot of times natural law advocates tend to gloss over. They tend to focus on the more rigorous philosophical doubts like empiricism: "How can we KNOW that it is in the nature of a penis to ejaculate into a woman's vagina?". But I've noticed that to most people, this just seems like common sense. What gets them more is why it is necessarily wrong to go against that nature. It seems too much like biological determinism to them. In short, why morality has to necessarily consist of rationally choosing to pursue the natural end of something.

    Regarding how popular pornography is, I'm not sure. I get the impression that the average young man doesn't use it every day, whether that's because they don't masturbate every day (low sex drive, lack of opportunity, etc.) or because they find pornography gross and distasteful. Is there a sizable minority of young men who do use it every day? Sure. But I think the average young man is probably closer to 2-3x a week.

    I think there's also something to be said for limiting opportunity, whether that's through work/hobby, being around people a lot, or a porn blocker. "Idle hands are the devil's workshop" and all that jazz. Active self-control is a lot easier when you're not tired/stressed/lonely/bored, but in real life these emotions come up and it's nice to have a safeguard. Of course, a motivated person can always get around these things, but it does help some.

    1. To the first paragraph, I think people have been trained (and I think it's somewhat intuitive) to think there's a big gap between fact and value. There's a lot of "well, okay, but what makes that Bad, though?" They see morality as this strange, separate thing. I honestly think the emphasis on the supposed distinction comes from Judaism, Christianity, and especially Protestantism, where morality is seen as law coming from a divine lawgiver, where people are depraved and are only good or moral insofar as they conform with that law. Protestantism (at least certain branches of it) takes this even further, saying things like "how can we know what's good AT ALL considering our sin-nature!" I think this carried over into modern philosophy, but I'm sure there's been dozens of books written on the topic.

      The Thomist answers it with the transcendentals, that "being" and "good" are convertible with one another, where "goodness" (or value) isn't some separate thing and is merely a standard for how closely something instantiates the essence of the thing it is. I tried to go into this a little bit, but I agree, it's a different way of looking at the whole picture, and it requires a person to drop certain assumptions from the get-go. And to the last sentence of the first paragraph, morality always (no matter who's talking and no matter how they want to frame it) consists of a rational agent choosing some good. In the case of the Thomist, the good is necessarily related to a thing's natural end. Everyone sort of intuitively knows this, I think. I mean, we say things like "she's a good mother" when talking about how well she raises her children, an end necessarily related to human procreation. The goodness is always related to the thing (and its end) in question.

      I have no statistics, obviously, on how often young people masturbate to pornography. I know what my habits were, I know my friends' habits, I know people on the internet's habits, etc. I think Most people average about every other day, depending on their lifestyle, but I wouldn't be shocked if it were a little less or a little more. Regardless of the amount, though, the issue is being able to stop; that's all that's at issue here.

      I don't disagree with the devil's workshop theory Necessarily. My point is merely that if someone wants to do it, he'll do it, no matter how much he tries to fill his time. He has to be able to say NO without relying on a distraction. I think this often ends up being the case, where the person masturbates when the distraction he lined up fell through or isn't as distracting as he hoped it be. In other words, what happens when his friends cancel plans or the book he's trying to distract himself with is just kind of blah?

      Now, boredom is always bad, and porn passes the time, so in that way boredom is sort of its own temptation. But I'm just trying to focus on the character trait in the person that allows him to say no at All opportunities. I've known a lot of people who try the distraction thing, and a lot of times it's just a matter of delaying the inevitable. They actually know that going into the distraction much of the time. In some ways that makes the addiction seem even more powerful than it is, a sort of specter always waiting for you to finish watching that movie.

    2. Yes, I would do another post on the whole "convertibility of the transcendentals" thing. I haven't been able to find a good explanation of it anywhere--just 1 or 2 sentence summaries in Feser and some others.

      I actually got this month's copy of First Things in today, and there was David Bentley Hart (an Eastern Orthodox theologian) going on about how you can't derive an "ought" from an "is" and how natural law only makes sense to someone who accepts that there is an ultimate Good (aka God) that the final causes of things orient us toward. As he put it, "What do you say to someone who insists that they have no moral obligation to nature?"

      I got the feeling that Thomists would strongly reject this line of reasoning, but I couldn't articulate a counter-argument off the top of my head. On one hand, I think things like good triangle vs. bad triangle, good driver vs. bad driver, etc. are pretty intuitive examples where conforming to the essence of something is key to "goodness" in that particular area. But on the other hand, what DO you say to someone who simply says, "Why should I care?" That they'll be happier by acting in accordance with their nature? It seems that someone could tell me "Well, I disagree" and I wouldn't know what to say back to them.

    3. Well, the first thing he should note is that natural law does not say that we have an "obligation to nature." The way that question is framed is really strange to me actually. It's implying that natural law attempts to, like, replace God with nature as lawgiver.

      The question he's really asking is "why be GOOD?" or something like it. That's a question that isn't just a natural law problem. Even if God came to earth tomorrow and told everyone Exactly what they OUGHT to do, you could still ask the question, "why should I listen to what you say?" In other words, I'm a little curious as to whether an "ought" is EVER an "ought" in the way in which is-ought people want it to be. (I guess this is where existentialism (or some basis for it) comes from.)

      I think that whole approach is assuming a lot going into the analysis. We always seek some good when we act. The question "why be good?" is already answered from a Natural Law standpoint. Natural law, relying on final cause, says that the the human intellect is always aimed at what it perceives as somehow good. We can't not choose to seek goodness; we are just mistaken as to what goodness Is. The question is a little like asking "why be a human being?" Philippa Foot writes a lot about this. I'll do a more comprehensive post on it after I get through some of the stuff I'm working on now.

  2. "To the first paragraph, I think people have been trained (and I think it's somewhat intuitive) to think there's a big gap between fact and value.”

    I agree, and I would say the primary reason for this, at least considered philosophically, has a lot to do with Idealism. The other reason, also philosophical, is the influence of Empiricism in modernity (especially Hume).

    Taking Idealism first. The clearest exposition and critique of Idealism I have read comes from Etienne Gilson, a French Thomist/Realist. Now, the idealist begins with thought, not with being. This is why Descartes is famously left with having to prove the existence of the external world by beginning with the "thinking self." Because Descartes begins with thought, the external world is no longer self-evident. Now, Descartes believes in the existence of the external world, but assumes God's existence to guarantee the veracity of our sense impressions with regard to extra-mental reality (for a good God, says Descartes, would not deceive us). Legitimate realists (like Aquinas) begin with being itself; the self-evident existence of the external world. Because man's body and soul are a unity (under hylemorphic dualism), his intellect is in direct "contact" with reality, and there is metaphysically no separation or gap between our thought/perception and the external world. This is because, when the intellect takes on the form of instantiated particulars, it directly comprehends the quiddity of a thing and extracts its essence or universal nature. For idealists like Kant, because they begin with thought, they cannot ever get into real contact with being, as perceptions are then only representations of external reality. Epistemologically, we cannot have real knowledge of the essence of an object, but only what is relayed to us through its respective representation. But it is through direct participation of these forms with our intellect by which we (as realists believe) know the transcendentals. The consequence of this is best stated by Gilson:

    "...idealism, having decided once and for all not to begin with being, asked itself what it was going to do with the transcendentals. Once the truth is no longer being known by the mind, what is truth? Once the good is no longer being as the object of desire, what is the good? And, consequently, what are science and morality? It is at this point that the good, the true, and the beautiful began to transform themselves into values, because values are simply transcendentals that strive to subsist after they have severed their connection with being. But from the moment they are, it becomes necessary to ground them. This is the origin of the sterile proliferation of purely verbal speculation, which encumbers modern philosophy, about values and their foundation;"

    Gilson ["Methodical Realism" pg. 89]

    This is why I would reject even using the language of "values" to begin with, as it casts transcendental goodness in terms of subjective thought, a mistake the idealist makes. It is no wonder so many people today believe that "values" are personal and subjective!

  3. And briefly on Empiricism...

    We are told repeatedly by the likes of Hume that we cannot derive moral principles through knowledge of the states of thing in the world (the dreaded ‘is-ought fallacy’, and the apparent gap between fact and value). It seems, as Hume says, we must either assume the existence of moral precepts as brute fact, or become skeptics (epistemologically) about knowing what is good. The simple and brief response to this is that it utterly begs the question against the realist. The ‘is-ought fallacy’ only follows for the empiricist, who believes that the sole valid avenue of moral knowledge is through sensory perception/empirical reality. As Oderberg discusses, the ethical realist does NOT assume the empiricists view of facts, and therefore the ‘is-ought fallacy’ obviously doesn't present a problem to the realist, who has a much wider view of what counts as fact.

    I'd also like to say that I've greatly enjoyed reading your blog, and would encourage you to continue doing what you're doing. I think you’re doing something very important here.

    1. Insightful explanation, NoshPartitas! This here is one of the best & most succinct summaries of idealist & empricist epistemology that I've ever seen.

    2. Thank you, Nosh, for both the analysis and the encouragement. It means a lot. I've been meaning to get a hold of Oderberg's Real Essentialism, but I am always too busy to finish anything I start. It's a problem.

      I think everyone is raised on "values" language. I know I was, and I constantly get in arguments with friends when discussing it (I've given up really seriously discussing philosophy with most friends) because it's such an assumed problem. It's really difficult to pin down the reason for why this is in a lot of ways. More accurately, it's probably difficult to determine the actual effect philosophical movements have on the whole of society. (I'm sure a wonderful book has been written on this.)

      Even writing "I think it's somewhat intuitive" gave me pause in the original comment. I think there's something about "goodness" that naturally seems other, but I have no idea if people thousands of years ago intuitively felt that there was such a distinction between a thing and its goodness. I'd absolutely take book recommendations on the historical development of this particular line of thought!

    3. Thanks Alypius! Gilson's work is definitely worth checking out.

      Hi Joe,

      Real Essentialism is great, but Oderberg actually discusses this subject in particular in his book Moral Theory. I would definitely suggest getting a copy, along with its companion volume Applied Ethics (they are kind of meant to be read together, though not necessarily; especially since you already have a good understanding of natural law and the underlying metaphysics).

      "I think everyone is raised on "values" language. I know I was, and I constantly get in arguments with friends when discussing it (I've given up really seriously discussing philosophy with most friends) because it's such an assumed problem. It's really difficult to pin down the reason for why this is in a lot of ways. More accurately, it's probably difficult to determine the actual effect philosophical movements have on the whole of society. (I'm sure a wonderful book has been written on this.)"

      Yep, I definitely agree with all of this. As to the history of philosophy...it's a cool subject. This is why I enjoyed Feser's books Aquinas and TLS. Besides being my first real exposure to A-T metaphysics, I think he does a fantastic job of tracing general historical trends in philosophy. It's been a while since I read the Last Superstition, but I believe he argues that abstract philosophical notions (like mechanistic philosophy) filter down into general society much more than we often realize. In fact, doesn't he argue that philosophies like mechanism (rejection of final and formal cause etc.) are majorly responsible for the majority of moral and religious decay in modern society? I don't want to misrepresent him, but I seem to recall this line of thought.

      But as you say, tracing this in a thorough manner is difficult. I would also be open to recommendations regarding the subject.

      I had meant to reply in the nested comments, so I deleted the other post...

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  5. "Religion, I think, by its nature, is the best avenue for exploring and developing philosophical wisdom"

    That's interesting; what is your reasoning behind that? I have been thinking something similar myself.