I recently got an e-mail from “Lambert Academic Publishing,” offering to publish my 2010 master’s thesis Newman’s Apologia and the Drama of Faith and Reason. I did a little research on LAP, and found an article on Slate that describes their curious business model. They give a new meaning to Leo Tolstoy’s remark about the “the diffusion of printed matter” as an “engine of ignorance.” I decided to turn their offer down, considering that any fun that might be had in letting them “publish” my thesis would be outweighed by the necessity of associating my name with theirs.
But it made me think of the thesis that I wrote six years ago, and what I would change if I were to revise it. I think that it has two major flaws. The first is in the view that I took of Evangelicalism. I read Evangelicalism as, so to speak, a chapter in the history of enthusiasm. I now see that this was slightly unfair: the better strands of Evangelicalism are not enthusiastic in the relevant sense. Indeed their faults lie sometimes in the opposite direction… But I was mislead by the beautiful symmetry of the the schema that I applied to the parties within Anglicanism at the time of Newman.
The other flaw is in my account of Newman’s Aristotelianism. I didn’t do justice to the extent to which Newman’s reading of Aristotle was affected by the nominalist habits of thinking current in the Oxford of his student days. I do indeed still think that most of my argument for Newman’s Aristotelianism still holds— but now (thanks in part to arguments on TNET with J.K. and J.R.) I think that part of what I described in my thesis as a “development” of Aristotle was in fact Newman getting by a circuitous route to conclusions that he could have reached much more directly had he had a deeper reading of Aristotelian logic. The essay on development, for instance, arrives at very Aristotelian conclusions, but could have reached them more easily if Newman had had a better understanding of confused knowledge and what it means to draw conclusions from premises.