Dr. Anthony Crifasi

Anthony Crifasi

Position Title: Assistant Professor
Department: Philosophy
Office: Ferrell Academic Center 320
Phone: (913) 360-7566
Contact Dr. Anthony Crifasi


Originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Dr. Crifasi did his graduate work at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.  After teaching in Texas and Minnesota, he is now happily settled in Atchison with his wife, Claudia.

Dr. Crifasi received his Ph.D. from The Center for Thomistic Studies.  His doctoral dissertation, titled “The Philosophical Significance of Cartesian Sensory Physiology,” sought to demonstrate a clear philosophical and historical correlation between scientific disputes in sensory physiology and philosophical disputes regarding sensory realism in the history of western philosophy.  Dr. Crifasi is interested in recovering the scientific context of philosophical disputes; he is convinced that the absence of such context weakens many proposed solutions to contemporary philosophical problems.

Dr. Crifasi has taught Ancient, Medieval, & Modern philosophy, Metaphysics, and Epistemology; his current Benedictine College courses include Natural philosophy, Logic, and Ethics.  He specializes in Early Modern philosophy (Descartes), Ancient & Medieval epistemology and natural science (Aristotle, Aquinas), and the History of Philosophy and Science (Ancient to contemporary sensory physiology/cognition).

Curriculum Vitae

Education

Ph.D.in Philosophy

Center for Thomistic Studies, University of St. Thomas (Houston, TX), May 2009

Dissertation: The Philosophical Significance of Cartesian Sensory Physiology

Director: Christopher Martin, D.Phil.

M.A.in Philosophy

Center for Thomistic Studies, University of St. Thomas (Houston, TX), 1997

B.A.in Liberal Arts

Thomas Aquinas College (Santa Paula, CA), 1992

Four-year seminar Great Books program

Areas of Specialization

Early Modern philosophy (Descartes)

Ancient & Medieval epistemology and natural science (Aristotle, Aquinas)

History of Philosophy and Science (Ancient to contemporary 20th-cent. sensory physiology/sensory cognition)

Areas of Competence

Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Philosophy (Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Science, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Ethics); Husserlian and Heideggerian Phenomenology; Logic

Employment

Benedictine College (Atchison, KS) Assistant Professor in Philosophy, Spring 2010 - present

University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN) Visiting Assistant Instructor in Philosophy, Fall 2007 - Summer 2008

University of St. Thomas (Houston, TX) Adjunct Instructor, Philosophy, Fall 2002 - Summer 2007

North Harris College (Houston, TX) Adjunct Instructor, Philosophy, Fall 2004 - Summer 2005

San Jacinto College - Central Campus (Pasadena, TX) Adjunct Instructor, Philosophy, Spring 2004

San Jacinto College - South Campus (Pasadena, TX) Adjunct Instructor, Philosophy, Spring 2002

Houston Community College (Houston, TX) Adjunct Instructor, Philosophy, Winter 2000 - Summer 2001

Houston Community College (Stafford, TX) Adjunct Instructor, Philosophy, Fall 1999 

Publications

“Descartes’ Dismissal of Scholastic Intentional Forms: What would Thomas Aquinas say?” History of

Philosophy Quarterly 28, no. 2 (April 2011).

Conference Presentations

Commentary on David Echelbarger, “Aquinas on the Passions’ Contribution to Moral Reasoning,”

American Catholic Philosophical  Association (11/12, Los Angeles, CA).

Commentary on Michael Storck, “Cogs, Dogs, and Robot Frogs: Aquinas’ Presence by Power and the Unity of Living Things,”

American Catholic Philosophical Association (11/11, St. Louis, MO)

“Can the optic nerves transmit the species of colors? Thomistic intentionality and modern neurophysiology,” 45 th International Congress on Medieval Studies (5/10, Kalamazoo, MI). 

“From the scholastics to the early moderns: paradigm shift or scientific proof?” South Central

Renaissance Studies (3/10, Corpus Christi, TX).

Commentary on James Rooney, “Reconsidering the Place of Teleological Arguments for the Existence of God in the Light of the ID/Evolution Controversy,” American Catholic Philosophical Association (11/09, New Orleans, LA).

“Martha Nussbaum vs. the Commentary Tradition on Aristotelian Sense Perception,” Marquette Summer Seminar in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (6/09, Milwaukee, WI).

“Descartes’ Scientific Argument for Sensory Skepticism,” Sixteenth Century Society Conference (10/08, St. Louis, MO).

“The Philosophical Significance of Aristotelian Sensory Physiology,” Marquette Summer Seminar in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (6/07, Milwaukee, WI).

“Aristotle on Sense Perception: The Enemy of My Enemy is Not My Friend. A Reply to Martha Nussbaum and Hilary Putnam,” American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division(12/06, Washington DC).

“The Commensurability of Thomistic Natural Philosophy and Cartesian Mechanics,” American Catholic Philosophical Association (11/04, Houston, TX).

“How Would Thomas Aquinas Answer Descartes?” Texas Medieval Conference (10/02, Houston, TX).

“Heidegger and Aquinas on Metaphysics,” 19 th annual Heidegger Conference (4/99, Denton, TX).

“Are Ends Subject to Deliberation in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics? A Reply to David Wiggins,” American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division(12/98, Washington DC). 

“An Aristotelian Response to Thomas Hobbes,” American Maritain Association (10/98, Colorado Springs, CO).

“The Starting Point of Thomistic Metaphysics,” 33 rd International Congress on Medieval Studies (5/98, Kalamazoo, MI).

“Paul Feyerabend’s Scientific Anarchism,” Mid-South Philosophy Conference (2/95, Memphis, TN).

Languages

Latin (reading proficiency)

French (reading proficiency)

Thai (conversational, basic reading proficiency)

Present and Future Research

My current research seeks to demonstrate a clear philosophical and historical correlation between scientific disputes in sensory physiology and philosophical disputes regarding sensory realism in the history of western philosophy. My general purpose is to recover the scientific context of many metaphysical and philosophical disputes. This scientific context is largely absent from contemporary analyses of the history of philosophy, and its loss weakens many proposed solutions to contemporary philosophical problems. In my future research, I intend address additional areas in which scientific disputes impact philosophical development – for example, the early modern opposition between scholastic teleology and inertial physics, and between hylomorphism and atomic theory.

Ph.D. Dissertation

The Philosophical Significance of Cartesian Sensory Physiology

Examining Board: 

Christopher Martin (Director)

Helen Hattab (External Reader)

Lisa Mundey (Chair)

Thomas Osborne Jr., Steve Jensen, Irving Kelter (Readers)

ABSTRACT

One of the most hotly contested points in Cartesian philosophy over the past century has been the precise role of skeptical arguments in Descartes’ thought. Many scholars have maintained that Descartes used skeptical arguments in order to overcome skepticism – by ruling out anything dubitable, the mind is driven to discover what is absolutely indubitable (Gilson, Popkin, Hatfield). Other scholars have argued that Descartes’ reasons for sensory skepticism were primarily scientific, not merely instrumental, since a direct consequence of his mechanistic physics is the lack of any necessary resemblance between sensation and object (Wilson). A problem with the latter view, however, is that Descartes’ physics entailed numerous hypotheses about the microscopic properties of matter which were, at the time, too untested to serve as a reasonable basis for overturning ideas as academically entrenched as sensory realism (Hatfield).

I propose a three-stage response to the latter objection. First, Descartes provides a scientific argument for sensory skepticism from his exclusively brain-based sensory physiology. The evidence which he provides for the exclusive primacy of the brain in sense perception consists of certain easily testable macroscopic observations, not mechanistic hypotheses about the microscopic properties of matter. These arguments appear in texts often neglected by philosophers due to the technical nature of their scientific content. 

Second, Descartes’ argument from sensory physiology includes the premise that nervous transmission precludes any likenesses of external objects from reaching the brain, and the evidence he provides for this premise entails certain early modern mechanistic hypotheses about the nature of nervous transmission (viz., that it consists only of motion). I maintain, however, that an independent basis can be supplied for this premise from the very theories that Descartes was opposing – the scholastic theory of intentional species and the Aristotelian theory of sensible forms. I argue that an analysis of these theories, despite Descartes’ misrepresentations of them, reveals that they do indeed philosophically preclude nervous transmission of any likenesses of the properties of external objects.

Finally, in order to lend historical support to the scientific basis for Descartes’ sensory skepticism, I argue that Cartesian sensory physiology shares a singular correlation with sensory skepticism in the history of western philosophy. An extensive survey of pre and post-Cartesian theories of visual physiology reveals that no philosopher or scientist before Descartes had proposed a visual physiology similar to his, and that every major philosopher after him espoused not only a similar sensory physiology, but also an equal degree of sensory skepticism. No other aspect of Cartesian philosophy exhibits this historical pattern. Descartes’ sensory physiology is the only aspect of his thought which is historically correlated with the permanent acceptance of sensory skepticism that ensued in western philosophy.

Location