Friday, June 22, 2018

Scottish Poetry XXII

Gude Nicht, and Joy Be Wi' Ye A'
by Carolina Oliphant


The best o' joys maun hae an end,
The best o' friends maun part, I trow;
The langest day will wear away,
And I maun bid fareweel to you.
The tear will tell when hearts are fu';
For words, gin they hae sense ava,
They're broken, faltering, and few;
Gude nicht, and joy be wi' you a'.

O we hae wandered far and wide,
O'er Scotia's lands o' firth and fell,
And mony a simple flower we've pu'd,
And twined it wi' the heather bell.
We've ranged the dingle and the dell,
The cot-house and the baron's ha';
Now we maun tak' a last farewell,
Gude nicht, and joy be wi' you a'.

My harp, fareweel, thy strains are past,
Of gleefu' mirth, and heartfelt wae;
The voice of song maun cease at last,
And minstrelsy itsel' decay.
But, oh! whare sorrow canna win,
Nor parting tears are shed ava,
May we meet neighbour, kith and kin,
And joy for aye be wi' us a'!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Augustine and Aristotle's Categories

Fred Sanders has a nice post on a passage in Augustine's De Trinitate V about how God should be understood, whose Latin he provides:

sine qualitate bonum,
sine quantitate magnum,
sine indigentia creatorem,
sine situ praesentem,
sine habitu omnia continentem,
sine loco ubique totum,
sine tempore sempiternum,
sine ulla sui mutatione mutabilia facientem,
nihilque patientem.

As he notes, Augustine is going through Aristotle's categories: God is to be understood as good (without quality), great (without quantity), creator (without need), present (without position), containing all (without having), wholly everywhere (without place), sempiternal (without time), acting on changeable things (without being changed), in no way affected. Thus Augustine is saying that God transcends the categories.

It's noteworthy, though, that Augustine does not here mention the category of substance, and he mentions only part of the category of relation or relatedness (instead of mentioning relatedness as such, he mentions indigentia, need or lack). This can scarcely be an accident; a significant portion of the De Trinitate is concerned with how substance and relation terms apply to God, since you need those kinds of words to talk about the Trinity. (He does not, of course, think they apply to God in the way they apply to creatures, which is why he has to discuss them at such length.)

This is not the only passage in which Augustine talks about the categories; the topic comes up in his Confessions (Book IV, Chapter XVI), as well:

And what did it profit me that, when scarce twenty years old, a book of Aristotle's, entitled The Ten Predicaments, fell into my hands — on whose very name I hung as on something great and divine, when my rhetoric master of Carthage, and others who were esteemed learned, referred to it with cheeks swelling with pride — I read it alone and understood it? And on my conferring with others, who said that with the assistance of very able masters — who not only explained it orally, but drew many things in the dust — they scarcely understood it, and could tell me no more about it than I had acquired in reading it by myself alone? And the book appeared to me to speak plainly enough of substances, such as man is, and of their qualities, — such as the figure of a man, of what kind it is; and his stature, how many feet high; and his relationship, whose brother he is; or where placed, or when born; or whether he stands or sits, or is shod or armed, or does or suffers anything; and whatever innumerable things might be classed under these nine categories, — of which I have given some examples — or under that chief category of substance.

Here we learn that, at about the age of 20, Augustine read (in Latin translation, probably that of Marius Victorinus) Aristotle's Categories themselves, and that despite being warned that it was a difficult book, thought it was fairly straightforward and obvious. The book has some significance for Augustine's theology, as he goes on to say:

What did all this profit me, seeing it even hindered me, when, imagining that whatsoever existed was comprehended in those ten categories, I tried so to understand, O my God, Your wonderful and unchangeable unity as if Thou also had been subjected to Your own greatness or beauty, so that they should exist in You as their subject, like as in bodies, whereas You Yourself art Your greatness and beauty? But a body is not great or fair because it is a body, seeing that, though it were less great or fair, it should nevertheless be a body. But that which I had conceived of You was falsehood, not truth — fictions of my misery, not the supports of Your blessedness.

Augustine, of course, tells us elsewhere that he had difficulty overcoming the idea that God is a like a body, and this gives one way in which he did have this difficult -- thinking that everything fell under the categories, he tended to think about God as if God were a subject that participated in goodness, greatness, etc., rather than being good and great simply by being God.

Scottish Poetry XXI

To Dr. Samuel Johnson
...-Food for a New Edition of His Dictionary
by Robert Fergusson


    Let Wilkes and Churchill rage no more,
    Though scarce provision, learning's good:
    What can these hungries next explore?
    Even Samuel Johnson loves our food.

Great pedagogue whose literarian lore,
With syllable on syllable conjoin'd,
To transmutate and varify, hast learn’d
The whole revolving scientific names
That in the alphabetic columns lie,
Far from the knowledge of mortalic shapes;
As we, who never can peroculate
The miracles by thee miraculiz’d,
The Muse, silential long, with mouth apert,
Would give vibration to stagnatic tongue,
And loud encomiate thy puissant name,
Eulogiated from the green decline
Of Thames's banks to Scoticanian shores,
Where Lochlomondian liquids undulize.

To meminate thy name in after times,
The mighty mayor of each regalian town
Shall consignate thy work to parchment fair
In roll burgharian, and their tables all
Shall fumigate with fumigation strong:
Scotland, from perpendicularian hills,
Shall emigrate her fair muttonian store,
Which late had there in pedestration walk'd,
And o'er her airy heights perambuliz'd.

Oh, blackest execrations on thy head,
Edina shameless| Though he came within
The bounds of your notation; though you knew
His honorific name; you noted not,
But basely suffer'd him to chariotize
Far from your towers with smoke that nubilate,
Nor drank one amicitial swelling cup
To welcome him convivial. Bailies all!
With rage inflated, catenations tear,
Nor ever after be you vinculiz'd,
Since you that sociability denied
To him whose potent lexiphanian style
Words can prolongate, and inswell his page
With what in others to a line's confin'd.

Welcome, thou verbal potentate and prince!
To hills and valleys, where emerging oats
From earth assuage our pauperty to bay,
And bless thy name, thy dictionarian skill,
Which there definitive will still remain,
And oft be speculiz’d by taper blue,
While youth studentious turn thy folio page.

Have you, as yet, in per'patetic mood,
Regarded with the texture of the eye
The cave cavernic, where fraternal bard,
Churchill, depicted pauperated swains
With thraldom and bleak want reducted sore;
Where nature, colouriz'd, so coarsely fades,
And puts her russet par’phernalia on?
Have you, as yet, the way explorified
To let lignarian chalice, swell'd with oats,
Thy orifice approach P Have you, as yet,
With skin fresh rubified with scarlet spheres,
Applied brimstonic unction to your hide,
To terrify the salamandrian fire
That from involuntary digits asks
The strong allaceration?–Or can you swill
The usquebalian flames of whisky blue
In fermentation strong? Have you applied
The kilt aerian to your Anglian thighs,
And with renunciation assigniz'd
Your breeches in Londona to be worn?
Can you, in frigour of Highlandian sky,
On heathy summits take nocturnal rest? o
It cannot be :—You may as well desire
An alderman leave plumpuddenian store,
And scratch the tegument from pottage dish,
As bid thy countrymen, and thee, conjoin'd,
Forsake stomachic joys. Then hie you home,
And be a malcontent, that naked hinds,
On lentiles fed, could make your kingdom quake,
And tremulate Old England libertiz'd!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Scottish Poetry XX

Frankenstein
by Alexander Anderson


In my boyhood time long years ago,
When life was half divine,
I read, with a horror you may not know,
The story of Frankenstein—

That student wild and deep who wrought
Alone in his silent room,
Till the monster-man of his midnight thought
Took shape in the ghostly gloom.

Then when life woke up in each heavy limb,
And the pulses began to play,
And its dull, blank eyes open'd up on him,
He rush'd from his work away.

But still through his life, when Hope held high
Her cup full to the brim,
The demon whose life was his came by
And dash'd the bliss from him.

Ah! fearful story it was and seem'd
To wear little purpose then;
But its deeper truths have upon me gleam'd
Since I look'd as a man on men.

For still in the hurry and fret of life,
When I see the brow bent down,
And the hand stretch'd out for the straws of strife,
Instead of the golden crown,

Then I whisper—Here is one who moulds
In his heart, and knows it not,
A monster that yet will burst its folds,
And haunt him from spot to spot—

Haunt him till life's frail powers grow weak,
And the hopes we keep to cheer
Turn away from the deathlike brow and cheek,
And come no more anear.

Ah me ! what wisdom this might teach,
If we lent but our ear and will;
What inward things would rise up and preach,
For our better guidance still!

But this working world rolls on, and we shape
All things but the high divine;
And still, far down in our heart, we ape
The story of Frankenstein.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Inquiry and Metaphor

I previously noted problems with a version of Howard-Snyder's "Panmetaphoricism" (the final version of which is here), namely, that his criticism of the position seems to depend on an absolutely untenable theory of metaphor. His objection is very much like taking "Medieval Latin can only talk about black holes metaphorically" to be self-refuting; it manifestly is not. Black holes and their distinctive properties are simply not envisaged in the vocabulary of medieval Latin as standard meanings. One can talk about black holes in medieval Latin, of course; one would have to do what we in fact do in colloquial modern English, namely, use metaphors. Howard-Snyder consistently makes a mistake (it is a common one) of thinking that 'literally' and 'really' are synonyms, which they are not if we are talking about the distinction between the literal and the figurative. 'Literal' applies to how we are using words; it does not have any special alethic or ontological status.

But I want to look at a slightly different (although related) issue here. Howard-Snyder says:

We wonder why water moves downhill, speaking literally. We are told that it seeks the lowest point it can find. That might be a start at gaining understanding, but we should not be satisfied. Why? Because water does not ‘seek’ the lowest point it can ‘find’, speaking literally. Those are metaphors. We want more. Fully successful metaphysical enquiry–in theology as elsewhere –ultimately demands the stone-cold sober truth, spoken literally.

This claim that Fully successful metaphysical enquiry ultimately demands to be expressed literally is one that I suspect has a lot of plausibility to people. However, I think one should ask what this 'demand' is. And I think when one does, one finds that the claim is probably not true. I mean, Howard-Snyder can't even formulate it without doing so metaphorically; 'stone-cold sober' is a metaphor when applied to truth, as is 'ultimately demands'. His own principle would require us not to be satisfied with this characterization.

The real reason why 'water seeks the lowest point it can find' is not completely satisfying is that it only improves on 'water moves downhill' by clarifying that water's moving downhill is not a matter of chance but due to something about water itself. It does not tell us anything else about this something-about-water-itself; 'the lowest point' is arguably nothing more than a minor clarification about what we take the direction 'downhill' to mean, i.e., toward the lowest point. There is obviously a lot of room for more specification here, and that is what leaves us unsatisfied -- we haven't moved very far in the inquiry. Our next question would be something like 'what is involved in this seeking', but this is not due to its being metaphorical. Suppose the claim had instead been, 'Water is such that it flows coherently in the direction of the lowest point'; we would still want to know exactly the same thing, namely, what is involved in this flowing-coherently-in-a-direction? What's unsatisfying is that there is still obviously so much to know. It has nothing to do with the language in which we are expressing it. A physicist can perfectly well use 'black hole' to describe black holes, even in a fully rigorous and precise discussion of black holes, despite the fact that 'black hole' is a metaphor. His discussion will not be less satisfying merely because he didn't use a more literal expression. One notices, in fact, that physics gets more metaphorical the more rigorous it gets, as long as they are not simply speaking in equations. This is because the metaphors actually have a use in helping to describe things rigorously when our vocabulary is limited. If you look at other fields -- ethics, even mathematics, one finds a similar process. There is no reason to think this will not be generally true.

In any case, there is a straightforward reason to reject the claim that fully successful metaphysical enquiry ultimately must be expressed literally. The distinction between literal and figurative is entirely an artifact of how we set up our vocabulary. We see this with dead metaphors. 'Black hole' is metaphorical to us; but a hundred years from now, people might use 'blackhole' to describe the same thing and not see the metaphorical components; to them it could well be just the word for a black hole, and not convey any notion of 'hole that is black'. One also sees in history cases of fluctuation -- 'light' is perhaps one of the most important examples, since the word (and its cognates in other languages) has wavered all over the place. Is it a metaphor to call reason 'light'? Well, if you mean by 'light' primarily sensible, physical light, then obviously it would have to be; but the word 'light' has not always been taken so narrowly, and if you take it to mean 'source of action that makes something evident', which it has often meant, then calling reason 'light' is not a metaphor. And as it turns out, nothing fundamental hangs on the difference; 'light' (and its cognates) has applied to essentially the same things for centuries regardless of whether we were taking it literally or metaphorically. You can say the same things about the same things, as long as you are consistent. Indeed, unless you are actually talking about the meaning of the word itself, there needn't be any difference in the words you use. This all follows because the literal/figurative distinction is a distinction in how we are using words; and nothing is really harmed as long as we aren't switching back and forth.

The Notes that Men Have Sung Going to Valorous Deeds

Happy Juneteenth!

O Black and Unknown Bards
by James Weldon Johnson


O black and unknown bards of long ago,
How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
How, in your darkness, did you come to know
The power and beauty of the minstrel’s lyre?
Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?
Who first from out the still watch, lone and long,
Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise
Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?

Heart of what slave poured out such melody
As “Steal away to Jesus”? On its strains
His spirit must have nightly floated free,
Though still about his hands he felt his chains.
Who heard great “Jordan roll”? Whose starward eye
Saw chariot “swing low”? And who was he
That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,
“Nobody knows de trouble I see”?

What merely living clod, what captive thing,
Could up toward God through all its darkness grope,
And find within its deadened heart to sing
These songs of sorrow, love and faith, and hope?
How did it catch that subtle undertone,
That note in music heard not with the ears?
How sound the elusive reed so seldom blown,
Which stirs the soul or melts the heart to tears.

Not that great German master in his dream
Of harmonies that thundered amongst the stars
At the creation, ever heard a theme
Nobler than “Go down, Moses.” Mark its bars
How like a mighty trumpet-call they stir
The blood. Such are the notes that men have sung
Going to valorous deeds; such tones there were
That helped make history when Time was young.

There is a wide, wide wonder in it all,
That from degraded rest and servile toil
The fiery spirit of the seer should call
These simple children of the sun and soil.
O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed,
You—you alone, of all the long, long line
Of those who’ve sung untaught, unknown, unnamed,
Have stretched out upward, seeking the divine.

You sang not deeds of heroes or of kings;
No chant of bloody war, no exulting pean
Of arms-won triumphs; but your humble strings
You touched in chord with music empyrean.
You sang far better than you knew; the songs
That for your listeners’ hungry hearts sufficed
Still live,—but more than this to you belongs:
You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.

Scottish Poetry XIX

O, Summer Day
by Alexander Anderson


Summer day, pour down your love,
That I may idly lie
And watch the happy clouds that move—
The Mercuries of the sky;

Who, sent by God on some sweet task,
Will loiter on their way,
As if they gently paused to ask
His sanction to their stay.

I hear the birds—I see the flowers
From their cool places peep,
And odorous as the purple hours
That hush the sun asleep.

I hear each breathing of the wind,
Each whisper of the tree,
That, taller than its branchy kind,
Bows down and speaks to me.

A languor creeps throughout my blood,
Whose happy workings move
The heart to its sublimest mood
Of all-embracing love.

I feel no idle purpose roll
Its restless freak in me;
But one vast wish to shoot my soul
Through everything I see,

And be a part of this sweet light
That warms the breathing day;
To sink from aught of mortal sight,
And dream myself from clay.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Scottish Poetry XVIII

A Thanksgiving
by George MacDonald


I Thank Thee, boundless Giver,
That the thoughts Thou givest flow
In sounds that like a river
All through the darkness go.

And though few should swell the pleasure,
By sharing this my wine,
My heart will clasp its treasure,
This secret gift of Thine.

My heart the joy inherits,
And will oft be sung to rest;
And some wandering hoping spirits
May listen and be blest.

For the sound may break the hours
In a dark and gloomy mood,
As the wind breaks up the bowers
Of the brooding sunless wood.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Scottish Poetry XVII

When Truth and Humanity
by Robert Allan


When truth and humanity hang on the lip,
To give and to take—what a treasure I
As the bee on the flower, there I ever could sip,
And bask in the sunshine of pleasure.

'Tis ever a sunshine with virtue and love,
Giving life and delight to the bosom;
These are banquets here spread by the spirits above,
Fair flowerets, for ever in blossom.

Yes, life is a sunshine—a world of flowers,
If mortals would please so to make it;
From her horn Nature freely her benison pours,
And gives all a welcome to take it.

Away, then! ye fools and ye bigots, away!
And drink of your gall and your bitters:
If Reason's bright mandate you will not obey,
Leave the world alone to your betters.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Scottish Poetry XVI

In the Gloaming
by Meta Orred


In the gloaming, O my darling ! when the lights are dim and low,
And the quiet shadows falling softly come and softly go,
And the winds are sobbing faintly with a gentle unknown woe,
Will you think of me and love me as you once did, long ago?
In the gloaming, O my darling ! when the merry song is stilled,
And your voices sink to whispers, and the thought your heart has thrilled
All day long ’neath jest and laughter, rises, and your eyes are filled
With bitter tears for my lost face—think only of a trust fulfilled.
In the gloaming, O my darling! think not bitterly of me,
Though I passed away in silence, left you lonely, set you free ;
For my heart was crushed with longing—what had been could never be :
It was best to leave you quickly—best for you, and best for me.