I'm a bit out of the loop on everyone's lives, but it sounds like your wife is considerably ill. Even if she's not, I'm sorry, yo!
What is your friend's focus? My guess is: philosophy of religion and/or metaphysics (he probably reads too much Plantinga and Leibniz as well). And if he calls himself a "neo-Aristotelian," you punch him right in the face. RIGHT IN HIS GROUNDING RELATIONS FACE.
I can't wait to get my PhD applications out for this upcoming fall so I can get back to doing philosophy. This going to work-thing has me feeling pretty shitty.
My wife is actually doing pretty good now, she had surgery for colon cancer last year, and now she's just finishing up with chemo. It looks like they caught the cancer in time; they only had to cut out a relatively small chunk of her colon, plus her lymph system managed to stay free of cancer, and apparently they caught it before it spread to other organs ... she's still scared out of her wits though, and its taken just about every ounce of patience I have to help her through this thing. (The moral to the story is, if your doctor tries to talk you into a colonoscopy, do it, and let the killer laxatives and discomfort be damned.)
I'm not sure exactly what my philosophy professor friend's focus is. Obviously, I'm not exactly up to speed on the various schools of philosophy, so I literally wouldn't know the difference between a neo-Aristotelian and a Leibnizian, even if they walked up to me and bit me. We'd been going back and forth for a couple of months prior to the argument, trading barbs about Catholicism and religion in general, but the thing that seemed to push the argument over the edge was a rant that I posted about a JFK assassination conspiracy theory (yeah, I haven't changed much, have I?)
I'm actually kind of glad that my friend and I cleared the air after that argument though; my friend has always had a tendency to argue about religious stuff, but it sounds like the condition has advanced in his old age. After he told me how his compulsion to argue had cost him several old friends (that both of us have known since High School or Jr. High,) plus alienated him at work to a point where the "liberal professors" at his small, community college in central California were "picking on him" and excluding him from work related functions, I found myself feeling sorry for the guy. He's basically a good dude, but he's got this obssessive idea that philosophy should be able to reveal absolute, quasi-mathmatical truths ... a concept that I just don't take seriously at all, even on my most open minded days.
If you're on Facebook, check me out ... I operate under my real name there, "Scott Mitchell." I've been kind of quiet since the big blow up with my friend, but I'll eventually manage to offend somebody, somehow, sooner or later.
I'm very sorry to her about your wife, and I can only imagine how stressful the situation has been for you and your family. I'm glad to hear that her prognosis looks good though! I hope your wife has a speedy recovery so you guys can put this behind you. Needless to say that your wife has a good head on her shoulders, since she made the prudent decision to be screened for colon cancer early on. A couple of years ago we had a family friend who decided to ignore the possibility of developing colon cancer, and when it was detected, it was too late for him.
Ha! Your friend sounds like a pretty hardcore anti-materialist, but I sort of expected that anyway. My friends who have an interest in the philosophy of religion tend to be on the opposite side of the philosophical spectrum regarding philosophy's methodology and what it can accomplish. I find armchair metaphysics and a priori knowledge to be a dubious method for uncovering the nature and structure of reality, or for answering old philosophical conundrums and puzzles. I don't dislike the philosophy of religion, or the majority of analytic metaphysics (I actually do metaphysics).
Department politics can be pretty nasty. I've witnessed it, and I have been dragged into it in varying degrees (which I wasn't fond of). Early in the fall, I was at the department collecting course materials for my students, and some of the new graduate students came in as one of the other professor's was publicly venting about some old, unsettled score. After the professor left the office, I looked at the new graduate students, and from their facial expressions, they seemed to be clearly confused and uncomfortable with what they just observed. So, I smiled at them and I said, "It's best to avoid department politics. When you see it, just keep your head down and keep moving."
Whelp, I'm going to get my philosophy on before I head over to a show in Harvard Square. Again, I'm sorry about what you and your family have gone through. I'm currently not on FB, nor have i ever been; however, I have thought about creating an account with a fake name. I'll be sure to "friend" you if I do!