Argumentum ad verecudiam literally means argument to modesty, which is what, in the event, the argument to authority turns out to be. “Not I, but someone greater that I, is my authority for this statement.” Of course, through the lowliness you can feel the surge of the ego — a besetting problem for the religious, because they do, in the end, insist on speaking for God.
This turns out to be Feser’s staple argument, as, of course, it must be, since, being a Roman Catholic, the truth is already laid down for him. His task, as an apologist — one can scarcely call him a philosopher — is to establish the rational bona fides of the faith. And since the first Vatican Council defined which philosophy was to be authoritative for the Roman Catholic Church — namely, the “philosophy” of Thomas Aquinas — and any who disagreed with its definition were anathematised — Feser had only one line of reasoning that he could, as a Roman Catholic, adopt. All others were closed to him. This is not philosophy, but religion.
As a simple example of the argumentum ad verecundiam, take Feser’s critique of Dennett. Oh, no, that’s right, it’s not Feser’s critique at all! Although the name is not mentioned in the text, we do have a footnote. It’s Tadeusz Zawidzki’s – and Michael Ruse’s too, just for good measure. And the combination of Zawidski’s saying it, and Ruse obviously in agreement, is taken by Feser as establishing that the consensus evaluation of Dennett’s work is that, while “undeniably creative and important,” it “lacks philosophical depth and is not systematic.” (79) And lest we should be in any question about this, he repeats several pages later:
And Dennett, you’ll recall, is known to these same peers as a thinker who “lacks philosophical depth and is not systematic. 
And this qualifies as a second instance of the original argumentum ad verecundiam. It simply does not follow from the fact that one philosopher says that this is a consensus view that it is a consensus view, even if Michael Ruse agrees.
But Feser has more fruitful uses for this handy little argument. Take the following, for instance:
I will give Dawkins this much, however: Unlike his fellow “New Atheists,” he does seem to realize that if you are going to mouth off about what a gang of idiots religious thinkers are, you had better try to make some effort actually to refute them, and especially the most eminent among them. … [And] they don’t get more eminent than Thomas Aquinas, who is widely considered, even by secular philosophers, to be the greatest philosopher of the Middle Ages, and among the greatest philosophers period — certainly the top ten, probably the top five — of all time. He is, of course, more or less the official philosopher of the Roman Catholic Church, and esteemed as the greatest Christian philosopher even by many Protestants. Hence, it can safely be said that if you haven’t both understood Aquinas and answered him — not to mention Anselm, Duns Scotus, Leibniz, Samuel Clarke, and so on, but let that pass — then you have hardly “made your case” against religion. 
I think you can see what a strange thing this is to have said. Quite aside from the argumentum ad verecundiam aspect of what Feser says here, I should have thought, on the whole, that if a religious institution had accepted a philosopher as their official philosopher, this says something about the standing of that philosopher’s work as philosophy. And whether esteemed or not, and by how many, it does not follow that one must answer the arguments, especialy since very few professional philosophers today take Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God seriously. Of course, that in itself would be an argumentum ad verecundiam had modern philosophy not given any serious consideration to the arguments of Aquinas, Anselm, and other medieval theologians. But they have, and while there is still dispute about the status of these arguments, it is generally accepted in contemporary philosophy that these arguments are not successful, in themselves, in proving the existence of God.
But Feser in fact gives the game away at the very beginning of his book, when he suggests that it is
… very likely only on the classical Western philosophical-cum-religious worldview that we can make sense of reason and morality. The truth is precisely the opposite of what secularism claims: Only a (certain kind of) religious view of the world is rational, morally responsible, and sane; and an irreligious worldview is accordingly deeply irrational, immoral, and indeed insane. [5-6]
Notice how he slips from “very likely” to “the truth is” to “only a certain kind of religious view,” as though no one was watching him slip the card up his sleeve. I have already argued in my last post that the immorality and inhumanity to which Feser’s reason drives him is reason enough to question his arguments. If we are driven by our arguments to believe, for example, that there is a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world and subordinate all others to themselves, then we should go back and look at our premises. But if our premises are highly subtle and disputed claims in the philosophy of logc, as Feser’s are, and if these premises lead us to callous and inhuman conclusions, then we must revisit our premises. This is a moral obligation.
This is something that the Roman Catholic Church cannot see and will not recognise. It cannot see its own inhumanity. The handling of the sexual abuse crisis has made this very clear. Recall that, from the church’s point of view, all that is done by the church is done in the name of God and for the salvation of souls. Recall, too, the mantle of authority that is laid on the shoulders of priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes, who are in fact the point men for eternity. Therefore, the church’s reputation for sanctity is vital to its mission. How can a merely human institution do what is required if people are to be saved? The instinct to protect its reputation is not only instinctive; it is required. The church is more important than children, and the laws that protect children cannot be permitted to interfere with the church’s great work, given to it by Christ himself.
And all this, too, is an argumentum ad verecundiam. It is inescapable. There it is: an institution, headed by someone held to be, in certain respects, infallible. Therefore, when a priest argues that women should be ordained — a question of faith — he must be opposed with all the power at the church’s command. The same applies to a priest who welcomes gay people into the church, and defends their claim to be recognised without prejudice, as whole and capable of holiness. But when a priest abuses a child, it is the reputation, not the authority of the church that is in question. It is a matter of morality, of sin and salvation, and that is, after all, what the church is all about. It can therefore be treated as a pastoral concern, as a matter for confession and absolution, whether of the offending priest or the offended child. Children are, after all, infected like everyone else by the relativistic society around them, steeped in its cesspool of vice, and so they must — mustn’t they? — send out sexual signals very early. How can priests alone be at fault? As a bishop of Antigonish once said, “Children can be very seductive, you know” — or words to that effect. These are obviously matters for the secrecy of the confessional. The church has long experience in dealing with sin and sinners.
It’s all about authority, really. It results in what Jerry Coyne has (only today!) helpfully and rather felicitously called “theological suasagery.” What is important, above all, is that the church’s authority should be buttressed and defended. And, like any large, bureaucratic institution, the church must rely on rationalisation. They will call it reason, even philosophical reason, but the truth is that it there to dress a window, to make the church seem solid, and its foundations secure, not to make them so. Therefore, it will even have its official philosopher, along with its official exorcist. It will speak generously about miracles, but it will only pretend to provide scientific support for the truth of such claims — for science is not content with “miracle” as an answer, and will seek until it finds one that can be supported by empirical reason. The church will express its approval (and apparent acceptance) of the theory of evolution, but it will withhold its approval at a crucial point, and people will praise it for its openness to reason, when the doors are really locked and barred against it.
Thus, after telling us that
The First Vatican Council famously decreed that the existence of God could be known with certainty through “the natural light of human reason,” and anathematized anyone who dissented from this judgment, 
Feser goes on to say that this condemnation distanced “Christianity from the sort of irrationalism and fideism that would make religious belief out to be a purely subjective and emotional affair.” (159) It did nothing of the sort. You cannot decree that something is rational, nor can you rationally condemn those who dissent. What the church did by this declaration was to place – not Christianity, but — the Roman Catholic Church squarely in the tradition of the repression of freedom of thought and belief that entered the Western tradition with the Christian emperor Theodosius in the year 381 of the Common Era (see Charles Freeman, AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State). For reason does not license the condemnation of those who dissent from a judgement. Reason is open to question and inquiry and, indeed, dissent, and once it has closed the door to dissent, the church has closed the door to reason. Not only is this obviously an appeal to authority; it is quite clearly irrational.
Yet there is more. Feser condemns modernity as a cesspool of vice, and the secularism of the modern as “deeply irrational, immoral, and indeed insane”, (5-6) as we have just seen. One of the problems with modernity is that
This life, in both its good and bad aspects, takes on an exaggerated importance. Worldly pleasures and projects become overvalued. Difficult moral obligations, which seem bearable in the light of the prospect of an eternal reward, come to seem impossible to live up to when our horizons are this-worldly. Harms and injustices suffered in this life, patiently endured when one sees beyond it to the next life, suddenly become unendurable. [153, my italics]
When I read this I was immediately reminded of Heinrich Himmler’s speech to SS leaders in Poland after touring the killing centres there in October 1943. Although Himmler speaks of this as a chapter of history never to be written, he permitted the speech to be recorded, and this recording has survived:
Someone will tell me that this is an outrageous comparison, but I am not so sure. Of course the scale of the horror is not so great, but is the injustice and the horror any less because it happens only to a few? And when does a few become many? Is it outrageous to suggest that there is a resemblance between, on the one hand, a church that would condemn a 9-year-old girl to remain pregnant with twins, raped by her step-father, and excommunicate peremptorily those who took part in the abortion, and, on the other, the callousness of men who steeled themselves to act without mercy to fellow human beings, as the Nazis did? Perhaps nothing will ever equal the horror of the Holocaust — hopefully it will not – but the resemblance does not consist in equality of horror, but in a disregard for the humanity of others in response to the dictates of a belief in some “ideal” tomorrow, some “obvious” truth. Consider the outrageousness of the excommunication of the nun in Phoenix, Arizona, because she approved, in a Catholic hospital, the abortion of a woman whose pregnancy would have led both to the woman’s death, already the mother of children, as well as to the death of the foetus she was carrying. Is it outrageous to suggest that this is evidence of a callous disregard for human rights and dignity, based on Catholic “morality”? Himmler at least had enough sense to know that what the Nazis were doing was morally disreputable, and could never be spoken of, yet the man who stands behind these acts of Christian inhumanity, as well as many many more, is widely regarded with adulation little short of the kind of worship offered by Catholics to the God they believe in.
Such inhumanity surely calls into question the train of argument which leads to it. Having come to this point, surely the philosopher has a responsibility to go back and try to find where the error in his reasoning lies. Feser, however, does not see this. Indeed, the very hardness of heart, for Feser, witnesses to the truth of the beliefs. As Himmler says: “To have stuck it out and — apart from a few exceptions due to human weakness — to have remained decent, that is what has made us tough.” I find in Feser’s stand, and the stand of the Roman Catholic Church, very little that is in substance different from this. It may seem hard and merciless, but it is our duty. That is what is being said. These things, looked at as purely this-worldly, may seem inhuman and cold, but in the light of eternity they are for the best. I think I see where the rationale for so much tyranny comes from. The Communist looks to the brilliant future when the state has withered away, the Nazi to a world without Jews, the Roman Catholic to heaven and its rewards. Such fond hopes and silly beliefs will justify a multitude of evils.
And it is all based on the argument from authority, which Feser, and, indeed, the church he serves, continuously invokes. His whole argument is, in a sense, based upon it. As I mentioned in my last post, Feser again and again speaks of the obviousness of the premises of the metaphysical arguments, but he cannot establish this obviousness. He is not, he says, dealing with probabilistic reasoning, but metaphysical demonstration. “In each case,” he says of this demonstration, “the premises are obviously true, the conclusion follows necessarily, and thus the conclusion is obviously true as well.” (125-6) For Feser things are either obviously true or incoherent. He does not allow for the play of philosophical disagreement, for dispute and reason. Now, I know that I don’t know a lot about the philosophy of logic, a field which often seems to me as complex and puzzling as theology, but it seems to me that to base one’s life on conclusions in the philosophy of logic, which is essentially what Feser does (see his discussion of “Realism, Nominalism and Conceptualism” on pp. 39-49), is a truly hazardous undertaking. Given the moral consequences of Christian belief as Feser understands it, Pascal’s wager is a no brainer: one should choose not to believe, for one simply has to rely on too much that is simply claimed, without adequate foundation, to be “obvious” or “incoherent,” and to accept this on the basis of authority, thus risking the only life that we know on very uncertain premises.
I will return to consider Feser’s understanding of the Aristotelian arguments and what Aquinas makes of them in a later post, but I find it a disagreeable and rebarbative task, and for now will think of other things.