Friday, August 26, 2016

Three Poem Re-Drafts

Due to a lot on my plate, the Fortnightly Book will be delayed slightly this weekend, as well; I've just run out of time actually to finish the post, as I am helping with a confirmation retreat and preparing for the start of Fall term.

Crowns

On an early morn I walked a road
past ancient oak trees bent and bowed;
the grass was dewed, the sky was dark
the breezes played with shadows stark.
Afar arose a mountain high
with vastness sheer that touched the sky;
behind, the sun shed glory bright:
a shadow-king with a crown of light.

And then my mind went walking, too.
I thought of me, I thought of you,
and the wishing hopes that never found
a way to grow in thorny ground.
Astute aurora slowly spawned;
melancholy was the golden dawn
like tales I've heard since I was born
of peasant king with crown of thorn.

In life we walk a darkling night,
and peace is rare without a fight.
But faces through the years grown worn
still memories with hopes adorn,
like sunrise red. Our shadowed mind
will someday leave our fears behind
when elders throw their bodies down
before the Throne and cast their crowns.

Laid Low

Every life ends in a loss with lonely grief;
all lovers rise and, rising, softly leave;
the lights upon the high and canvas sky
glimmer off and fade, afraid to die
but dying nonetheless, then endless void;
and we are left to live with loss and lie.

The wind on stormy wave moves unsettled sea
but on the sand-scored stone there will not be
the slightest tremor; Heaven let it be
the stone, not sea, that settles inside me.

Every sun will set to fade to gnawing night,
all faith to fear, and reverence to flight,
all love to loss, as sweetness turns to sigh,
all life to death, for love itself can die
and fall in shallow grave beside the road,
till mind alone is left, and shattered heart, to cry.

The sailor in the storm who is swallowed by the sea
struggles in his pain, but then is free;
first fear from love of life, but soon from life then freed.
Swiftly come the last; the first -- short may it be.

People always leave; that's what people do.
We gain new friends to lose our friends anew;
not knowledge, might, or wealth will surcease buy,
for all will cease, all will fall, all will die,
all will fail, all deeds and works of man,
all laid low that once, but once, was high.

The Space Between My Words

The space between my words is formed of steel;
the silence in the sound is iron-wrought.
As temples formed of stone can only rise
inside an empty space, as written words
will not be writ on any page not blank,
so thought itself, and voice, and deed, and life,
require a frame on which to build and rise,
an empty volume for a soaring spire,
a place to write, a silence framing song,
without which all would fall and crash to dust.
And never need I fear my words will fall:
the space between my words is formed of steel,
supporting all my thoughts as they appear:
a buttress certain holds up rising walls,
a silence, more than void, a soil where sound
can grow a garden fruitful with Amens.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Gifford Lectures

The Gifford Lectures are one of the most prestigious honors in the philosophical world. Provided for at four Scottish universities by Lord Gifford in his will after his death in 1887, they are intended to be broadly popular lectures on subjects relevant to natural theology (in the broad sense of the term) and the foundations of ethics, and lecturers can lecture on any topic of their choice as long as it has some kind of relevance to those topics. The general expectation is that the lectures will themselves serve as a foundation of a book on the same topic.

About six years ago I posted a list of the Gifford Lectures I've read, and I've wanted since to go back and update it. Up to 1984 I follow Jaki's list. After that time, I pull from the Gifford Lectures website, the University of Edinburgh Gifford Lectures site (Edinburgh is the only one of the universities that has an adequate website for the lectureship), and various Wikipedia articles, but there are inevitably some omissions and mistakes. Some lectures get published versions immediately; some slowly; some (like Daube's, which were only recently published) long after the death of the lecturer, which adds an additional complication. Bold indicates that I have read it; ambiguous cases (e.g., I've only read parts, or don't remember if I actually read it), I have simply not bolded. * indicates that, for whatever reason, I have it on my own shelves. If you notice any omissions or errors, let me know.

EDINBURGH
1888-1890 J. H. Stirling, Philosophy and Theology
1890-1892 G. G. Stokes, Natural Theology
1892-1893 O. Pfleiderer, Philosophy and Development of Religion
1894-1896 A. C. Fraser, Philosophy of Theism
1896-1898 C. P. Tiele, Elements of the Science of Religion, Volume I; Volume II
1900-1902 W. James, *The Varieties of Religious Experience
1903-1904 H. M. Gwatkin, The Knowledge of God and Its Historical Development
1905-1906 S. S. Laurie, On God and Man
1909-1910 W. W. Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People
1910-1912 B. Bosanquet, The Principle of Individuality and Value ; The Value and Destiny of the Individual
1913-1914 H. Bergson
1915-1916 W. M. Ramsay, Asianic Elements in Greek Civilization
1919-1921 G. F. Stout, Mind and Matter, God and Nature
1921-1923 A. Pringle-Pattison, The Idea of God in the Light of Recent Philosophy ; The Idea of Immortality
1926-1927 A. S. Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World
1927-1928 A. N. Whitehead, *Process and Reality
1928-1929 J. Dewey, The Quest for Certainty
1930-1931 N. Soderblom, *The Living God
1932-1934 E. R. Bevan, Symbolism and Belief ; Holy Images
1934-1935 A. Schweitzer
1937-1938 C. S. Sherrington, Man on His Nature
1938-1940 R. Niebuhr, *The Nature and Destiny of Man
1940-1941 O. Kraus
1947-1949 C. Dawson, Religion and Culture ; Religion and the Rise of Western Culture
1949-1950 N. Bohr
1950-1952 C. E. Raven, Natural Religion and Christian Theology
1952-1953 A. J. Toynbee, An Historian's Approach to Religion
1954-1955 R. Bultmann, History and Eschatology
1956-1957 A. Farrer, The Freedom of Will
1957-1959 W. Kohler
1959-1960 R. D. Maclennan
1961-1962 J. Baillie, The Sense of the Presence of God
1962-1964 D. Daube, The Deed and the Doer in the Bible; Law and Wisdom in the Bible
1964-1966 D. M. Mackinnon
1966-1968 H. D. Lewis, The Elusive Mind ; The Elusive Self ; Freedom and Alienation
1968-1970 W. H. F. Barnes
1970-1971 E. L. Mascall, The Openness of Being
1971-1973 PANEL (A. Kenny, H. C. Longuet-Higgins, and C. H. Waddington) The Nature of Mind ; The Development of Mind
1973-1974 O. Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind
1974-1976 S. L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God
1976-1977 J. P. Jossua, Pierre Bayle ou l'obsession du mal
1977-1979 J. C. Eccles, The Human Mystery ; The Human Psyche
1979-1980 N. R. Smart, Beyond Ideology
1980-1981 S. H. Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred
1981-1982 I. Murdoch, *Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals
1982-1983 D. Daiches, God and the Poets
1983-1984 M. A. Arbib and M. Hesse, The Construction of Reality
1984-1985 J. Moltmann, God in Creation
1985-1986 P. Ricoeur, Oneself as Another
1986-1987 J. H. Hick, An Interpretation of Religion
1987-1988 A. MacIntyre, *Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry
1988-1989 R. Panikkar, The Rhythm of Being
1989-1990 M. Douglas; M. Midgley, Science as Salvation
1990-1991 J. Barr, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology
1991-1992 A. Schimmel, Deciphering the Signs of God
1992-1993 M. Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought
1993-1994 J. Polkinghorne, Faith of a Physicist
1995-1996 G. A. Cohen, If You're an Egalitarian, How Come You're So Rich?
1996-1997 R. Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind
1997-1998 H. R. Roston III, Genes, Genesis, and God
1998-1999 C. M. Taylor, Living in a Secular Age
1999-2000 D. Tracy, This Side of God
2000-2001 O. O'Neill, Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics
2001-2002 M. Arkoun, The Unthought in Contemporary Islamic Thought
2002-2003 M. Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil
2003-2004 J. W. van Huyssteen, Alone in the World?
2004-2005 S. Toulmin; M. Anstee; N. Chomsky, Illegal but Legitimate
2005-2006 J. B. Elshtain, Sovereignty: God, State, and Self
2006-2007 S. Conway Morris; J. Riley-Smith
2007-2008 A. Nehamas; R. M. Veatch, Hippocratic, Religious, and Secular Medical Ethics
2008-2009 D. Eck; J. Sacks
2009-2010 P. Churchland; M. S. Gazzaniga; T. Eagleton
2010-2011 G. Brown; P. Harrison, The Territories of Science and Religion
2011-2012 S. Sutherland; D. MacCulloch
2012-2013 B. Latour; S. Pinker
2013-2014 O. O'Neill; R. D. Williams; C. O'Regan
2014-2015 J. Waldron; H. Nowotny

GLASGOW
1888-1892 F. M. Muller, Natural Religion ; Physical Religion ; Anthropological Religion ; Theosophy or Psychological Religion
1892-1894 W. Wallace, Lectures and Essays
1894-1896 J. Caird, The Fundamental Ideas of Christianity
1897-1898 A. B. Bruce, The Providential Order of the World ; The Moral Order of the World
1900-1902 E. Caird, The Evolution of Religion ; The Evolution of Theology
1903-1905 E. Boutroux, Science and Religion in Contemporary Philosophy
1907-1908 A. C. Bradley, Ideals of Religion
1910-1912 J. Watson, The Interpretation of Religious Experience
1913-1915 A. J. Balfour, Theism and Humanism
1916-1918 S. Alexander, Space, Time and Deity
1919-1921 H. Jones, A Faith that Enquires
1922-1923 A. J. Balfour, Theism and Thought
1923-1925 W. P. Paterson, The Nature of Religion
1927-1928 J. S. Haldane, The Sciences and Philosophy
1929-1931 J. A. Smith
1932-1933 W. Temple, Nature, Man and God
1935-1937 W. M. Dixon, The Human Situation
1937-1938 W. E. Hocking
1938-1940 J. Laird, Theism and Cosmology ; Mind and Deity
1946-1948 R. B. Perry, Realms of Value
1949-1950 H. H. Farmer, Revelation and Religion ; Reconciliation and Religion
1952-1954 J. Macmurray, The Self as Agent ; Persons in Relations
1955-1956 L. Hodgson, For Faith and Freedom
1959-1961 C. F. Weizsacker, The Relevance of Science
1962-1963 C. W. Hendel
1965-1967 H. Butterfield
1971-1972 R. W. Southern
1974-1975 B. G. Mitchell, Morality, Religious and Secular
1979-1980 S. Brenner
1981-1982 S. Clark, From Athens to Jerusalem
1981-1982 C. J. Larner, The Thinking Peasant
1982-1983 A. J. Sanford, Models, Mind and Man
1982-1983 P. Drew
1983-1984 A. D. Galloway
1984-1985 C. Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience
1985-1986 D. M. MacKay, Behind the Eye
1986-1987 PANEL [N. Spurway, ed., Humanity, Environment, and God]
1989-1990 G. Steiner, Grammars of Creation
1991-1992 M. Warnock, Imagination and Understanding
1993-1994 J. S. K. Ward, Religion and Revelation
1995-1996 J. H. Brooke and G. Cantor, Reconstructing Nature
1997-1998 R. J. Berry, God's Book of Works
1999-2000 R. McInerny, Characters in Search of an Author
2000-2001 PANEL [A. Sanford, ed., The Nature and Limits of Human Understanding]
2002-2003 S. Blackburn, *Truth
2004-2005 L. E. Goodman; J. Hare; Abdulaziz Sachedina
2007-2008 D. Fergusson, Faith and Its Critics
2008-2009 C. Taylor
2009-2010 G. Vattimo
2012-2013 V. Ramachandran
2014-2015 J. Marion


ST. ANDREWS
1888-1890 A Lang, The Making of Religion
1890-1891 E. Caird
1894-1896 L. Campbell, Religion in Greek Literature
1899-1901 R. A. Lanciani, New Tales of Old Rome
1902-1904 R. B. Haldane, The Pathway to Reality
1907-1909 J. Ward, The Realm of Ends
1911-1913 J. G. Frazer, The Belief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead
1914-1916 J. A. Thomson, The System of Animate Nature
1917-1919 W. R. Inge, The Philosophy of Plotinus
1919-1920 L. R. Farnell, Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality
1926-1928 A. E. Taylor, The Faith of a Moralist
1929-1930 C. Gore, The Philosophy of the Good Life
1932-1933 R. R. Marett, *Faith, Hope and Charity in Primitive Religion ; Sacraments of Simple Folk
1935-1936 H. H. Henson, Christian Morality
1936-1937 W. Jaeger, The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers
1937-1938 W. G. De Burgh, From Morality to Religion
1938-1939 J. Bidez, Eos
1939-1940 R. Kroner, The Primacy of Faith
1946-1948 E. Brunner, Christianity and Civilization
1948-1949 A. M. Macbeath, Experiments in Living
1951-1953 B. Blanshard, Reason and Goodness ; Reason and Belief
1953-1955 C. A. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood
1955-1956 W. C. Heisenberg, *Physics and Philosophy
1956-1958 V. A. Demant
1958-1960 G. H. von Wright, Norm and Action
1960-1962 S. Runciman, The Church in Captivity
1962-1963 H. Chadwick
1964-1966 J. N. Findlay, The Discipline of the Cave ; The Transcendence of the Cave
1967-1969 R. C. Zaehner, Concordant Discord
1970-1971 W. H. Thorpe, Animal Nature and Human Nature
1972-1973 A. J. Ayer, The Central Questions of Philosophy
1975-1976 R. Hooykaas, Fact, Faith, and Fiction
1977-1978 D. Stafford-Clark
1980-1981 G. Vlastos
1982-1983 D. G. Charlton
1983-1984 J. Macquarrie, In Search of Deity
1984-1985 A. Grunbaum
1986-1987 A. Flew, The Logic of Mortality
1988-1989 W. Burkert, Creation of the Sacred
1990-1991 H. Putnam, Renewing Philosophy
1992-1993 A. Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age
1994-1995 N. Wolterstorff, Thomas Reid and the Story of Epistemology
1996-1997 M. Dummett, Thought and Reality
1998-1999 M. M. Adams, Christ and Horrors
2000-2001 S. M. Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe
2001-2002 P. van Inwagen, The Problem of Evil
2004-2005 A. Plantinga, Science and Religion
2006-2007 M. Rees
2010-2011 R. Scruton, *The Face of God
2012-2013 D. Alexander


ABERDEEN
1889-1891 E. B. Tylor
1891-1892 A. M. Fairbairn, The Philosophy of the Christian Religion
1896-1898 J. Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism
1898-1900 J. Royce, The World and the Individual
1900-1902 A. H. Sayce, The Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia
1905-1906 J. Adam, The Religious Teachers of Greece
1907-1909 H. Driesch, The Science and Philosophy of Organism
1909-1910 W. Ridgeway
1911-1913 A. Pringle-Pattison
1913-1915 W. R. Sorley, *Moral Values and the Idea of God
1917-1919 C. C. Webb, God and Personality ; Divine Personality and Human Life
1921-1922 E. W. Hobson, The Domain of Natural Science
1924-1926 W. Mitchell, The Place of Minds in the World
1927-1929 E. W. Barnes, Scientific Theory and Religion
1930-1932 E. Gilson, *The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy
1935-1936 W. D. Ross, Foundations of Ethics
1936-1938 K. Barth, The Knowledge of God and the Service of God according to the Teaching of the Reformation
1938/39, 1946/47 A. D. Nock
1947-1948 J. Wisdom
1948-1950 G. Marcel, The Mystery of Being
1951-1952 M. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge
1952-1954 P. Tillich, Systematic Theology
1956-1958 H. A. Hodges
1960-1962 H. H. Price, Belief
1963-1965 A. C. Hardy, The Living Stream ; The Divine Flame
1965-1966 R. Aron
1966-1968 T. M. Knox, Action ; Layman's Quest
1969-1970 A. T. van Leeuwen, Critique of Heaven ; Critique of Earth
1972-1974 H. Arendt, The Life of the Mind
1975-1977 J. Z. Young, Programs of the Brain
1979-1980 F. C. Copleston, Religion and the One
1981-1983 A. Hultkrantz
1983-1984 R. Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul
1984-1985 F. J. Dyson, Infinite in All Directions
1987-1988 A. Plantinga, Warrant: The Current Debate ; Warrant and Proper Function ; Warranted Christian Belief
1989-1990 I. G. Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science ; Ethics in an Age of Technology
1992-1993 J. Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture
1994-1995 A. Broadie, The Shadow of Scotus
1997-1998 R. Stannard, The God Experiment
2000-2001 J. S. Habgood, The Concept of Nature
2002-2003 E. Stump, Wandering in the Darkness
2003-2004 J. Haldane, Mind, Soul, and Deity
2007-2008 S. Pattison, Seeing Things
2009-2010 A. McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe
2012-2013 S. Coakley
2014-2015 D. Livingstone

Of course, not all of them 'stick' equally well; and there are some that I really didn't like, although perhaps a few of them would improve on second reading. Some of the ones I liked quite a bit, and would recommend quite generally, are (in no particular order):

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
Nathan Soderblom, The Living God
H. D. Lewis, The Elusive Mind and The Elusive Self
Stanley Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God
Iris Murdoch, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals
David Daiches, God and the Poets
Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry
Arthur Balfour, Theism and Humanism and Theism and Thought
George Steiner, Grammars of Creation
R. R. Marett, Faith, Hope, and Charity in Primitive Religion
Warren Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy
Etienne Gilson, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy
Jaroslav Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture
William Wallace, Lectures and Essays on Natural Theology and Ethics

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Music on My Mind



Regina Spektor, "Small Bill$".

Multo Tempore Disce

Ne ad scribendum cito prosilias et levi ducaris insania. Multo tempore disce, quod doceas.

St. Jerome, Letter CXXV to Rusticus (p. 428 in the Loeb Classics edition).

Roughly translated by me:

Do not swiftly rush into writing so as to be led by trifling folly. Learn for many years what you are to teach.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fall of Man

We have fallen into the habit of seeing everything, ourselves included, as a thing to be used and consumed, and this is rightly called a fall. Indeed, this is what the 'fall of man' consists in. Eating the forbidden fruit means believing that it is for us to define the distinction between good and evil. We then rewrite the distinction in purely human terms: good and evil become benefit and cost, so that nothing is holy, nothing is consecrated, nothing is rescued from barter and exchange. We deal with the world by pricing it.

Roger Scruton, The Face of God, Bloomsbury (New York: 2015), p. 127.

Two Poem Re-Drafts and a New Poem Draft

Lamentations

The roads to Zion softly mourn, her women raped beside;
within the sanguine city square the dandled infant dies.
In the streets the ruthless sword tears husband from his wife;
in every house and every home it strips away all life.
With fury and with burning wrath the Lord became our foe,
to ruin every standing wall and render every woe
until the sabbaths come to end, and all the feasts have failed,
and law as coward flees away before the whip and flail,
and prophet's visions surely cease (their lies the Lord detests),
and babies' blood pours gushing out upon their mothers' breasts.
The joy of all the endless earth has vanished in the flame.
The completion of all beauty's life became a jeering name.
Hunger's gnawing, biting death a ruthless need now gives,
and mothers boil bonny babes that other babes might live,
and women eat their children sweet, the ones for whom they care,
for none the aching famine leaves, and none the famine spares.
On the holy temple steps are priest and prophet slain;
on street and porch and burning field the people fall like rain --
the young, the grown, the sagely old, all bloody dusty ground,
and maid and gentle youth are joined among the corpses found.
Our end drew near, relentless, sure, like beat of constant drum;
our days like coins were numbered small -- and now our end is come.
But though I fall in tears aside, yet still my tongue might say
his love endures forever and aye, is new again each day,
and he is yet our portion sure, whatever fickle fate,
and he is good with gloried grace to those who for him wait --
But, Lord, you reign forever on your everlasting throne!
Do you forget your children and leave us all alone?
Return us to your bosom, that we may be restored!
--Or are we cast off forever, in wrath to be ignored?

Providence

I saw the plan of providence --
not the whole, and just a glimpse.
Without an end it hung with grace,
endless time through endless space
it hung; threads fine like fairy-wire
held galaxies and worlds entire
like little droplets, shining dew --
my mind could hardly grasp the view.
Into a drop I, trembling, fell,
down more years than I can tell.
The plan was there, and finer still
its threads than thought of heart or will,
and on each strand bright droplets stood,
single atoms of the good.
I saw one whisper of one wind;
I saw the glimmer of a friend
when friends first meet, the subtle shift,
the instant's instant of heart's lift;
I saw one photon of the dawn
kiss one small blade upon the lawn.
A million million things I saw,
but further still I fell in awe,
and past the quarks in interlink,
bits of grace we barely think,
I fell, down to where reason's point
is worlds too coarse to cut the joint,
such subtle goods whose brightest glints
are only known through hints of hints,
and still I saw, like frost arrayed
in finest line, God's plan displayed.

Gyönyörű

The summer rain
in spectra splashing
filters sunlight
through the air;
the breeze is clean,
the birds are laughing --
and you are there.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Music on My Mind



Dave Adkins, "Fool-o-sophy".

Soma Sema

In the Gorgias, Callicles claims that a life without desires and ambitions is the life of a corpse. Socrates responds to this in a tricky passage full of allusions; one of which I want to look at now (492e-493a):

Well, well, as you say, life is strange. For I tell you I should not wonder if Euripides' words were true, when he says:

“Who knows if to live is to be dead,
And to be dead, to live?"

and we really, it may be, are dead; in fact I once heard sages say that we are now dead, and the body is our tomb....

The word used for 'body' is σῶμά and the word used for 'tomb' is σῆμα, so we are dealing with a play on words.

This association between the body and the tomb is given a more expansive development in the Cratylus (400b-d):

Hermogenes
Now what shall we say about the next word?

Socrates
You mean “body” (σῶμα)?

Hermogenes
Yes.

Socrates
I think this admits of many explanations, if a little, even very little, change is made; for some say it is the tomb (σῆμα) of the soul, their notion being that the soul is buried in the present life; and again, because by its means the soul gives any signs which it gives, it is for this reason also properly called “sign” (σῆμα). But I think it most likely that the Orphic poets gave this name, with the idea that the soul is undergoing punishment for something; they think it has the body as an enclosure to keep it safe, like a prison, and this is, as the name itself denotes, the safe (σῶμα) for the soul, until the penalty is paid, and not even a letter needs to be changed.

So we have here three different etymologies of the word for 'body':

(1) σῆμα (tomb, grave, cairn, barrow)
(2) σῆμα (sign, mark, token, omen)
(3) σῶμα (safe)

There are indeed natural verbal connections among all of these, going beyond mere similarity in sound. σῶμα had already begun to be applied to all kinds of bodies, as here, but in Homer it only applies to corpses. σῆμα (tomb) obviously relates to this. σῆμα (tomb) and σῆμα (sign) are not homophones -- they are the same word in different usage, since a tomb is a sign marking a burying-place. The third derives a word from σώζω, which means to keep safe, and, indeed, is often used in the sense of 'to keep alive'. Socrates associates the third with a prison-house, δεσμωτήριον and the Orphic view that our souls are in our bodies as a punishment. As James Adam noted long ago in his The Religious Teachers of Ancient Greece, it is entirely plausible to suggest that the third usage might lead to the first usage as a kind of abbreviated form.

The flipping of life and death, as we get it in the Gorgias, is not unknown elsewhere in Plato. I've noted before the instance in the Allegory of the Cave in the Republic in which, having condemned Homer for having Achilles claim that the world of the living is better than the world of the dead, he nonetheless quotes the exact same passage -- for the Allegory of the Cave flips the underworld myth. We are the shades in the underworld, the world of the dead; and it is better to be out in the light than to be as we are.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Aesthetics, Research, and the Heterogony of Ends

I was interested to see a discussion of aesthetics develop at the Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science blog. The reason was that a commenter had proposed an analogy between assessing art and assessing research, so that it was tied up in three questions:

1. What was the artist attempting to do?
2. Were they successful?
3. Was it worth doing?

That there would be analogies between art evaluation and research evaluation is virtually inevitable; they are both concerned with skills of production, and thus naturally organized in means-end terms. This is precisely what is going on with the three questions: (1) is a determination of the specific ends of the work; (2) is an assessment of the fitting of means to those ends; and (3) is an assessment of how those ends relate to more general ends. Any account of how any practice is evaluated will be at least broadly analogous to the evaluation of art. So one would expect there to be such similarities to works of art if we focus on 'works of research' (which we arguably should).

But Andrew Gelman at the link suggests a possible problem with this:

There are many cases of successful art, and for that matter successful research, that were created by accident, where the artist or researcher was just mucking around, or maybe just trying to do something to pay the bills, and something great came out of it.

I’m not saying you’ll get much from completely random mucking around of the monkeys-at-a-typewriter variety. And in general I do believe in setting goals and working toward them. But artistic and research success often does seem to come in part by accident, or as a byproduct of some other goals.

One old phrase for this kind of situation, in which something progresses by fulfilling ends at which it did not aim, is 'heterogony of ends' (Heterogonie der Zwecke), due to the German moral philosopher and psychologist Wundt. As he puts it:

The resultants arising from united psychical processes include contents that were not present in the components, and these new contents may in turn enter into relation with the old components thus changing again the relations between these old components and consequently the new resultants that arise from them.

Thus, for instance, in the course of acting according to one set of motives, and by the very process of acting according to them, we develop another set of motives, which do not replace, but interact with, the motives we had before. The development of new goals is a natural side effect of pursuing goals.

There is, on the other hand, some reason to be cautious about the introduction of accident into the mix. Art (like research) is not something that happens unawares. If a dog shakes off water, the waterdrops may make a pleasing pattern; but the pattern is not art if nobody notices it. So the mere accident doesn't accomplish anything. But a photographer might present it artistically, or a painter might represent it artistically, and then we have art. Art (and research) involves skills, and it is the application of those skills that actually makes anything art (or research). Thus, one might say, the accidents one might name as contributing to art are in fact just vividly dramatic examples of what artists really are always doing -- take the contingent features of their material and the situation in which they find themselves, and use them artistically. But it is in fact the skill that makes the art, and skills are analyzed by means and ends.

We also have to keep in mind that accidents can be only partial and ends can be complex. Our ends are never simple monads, but have their own structure. A bare end (world peace) is nothing but a wish or velleity, if even that, but when we are actually doing something, we have hierarchies of ends. Even analyzing something as simple as deliberately tying one's shoes before a race turns up an entire structure: I make this loop to make this knot to keep my shoes cinched to keep them on to avoid tripping to run better to compete in the race, etc. Thus an accident may well be unexpected and even inconsistent with one end, but allowed for and consistent with a more general end -- for instance, I may be looking for Such-and-such Street to get to the park, but in the course of doing so come upon an easier route. Did I find the park by accident? Well, in a sense yes and in a sense no: I was looking for the park; I was trying to do it one way but discovered a better way; the better way came by accident, but would not have been discovered at all unless I had already been looking for the park.

Thus we have a sort of aporia here -- on one side heterogony of ends and on the other analysis of skill, each of which can be taken as suggesting an opposed view of the role of accident. But I think we can deal with it fairly easily, by asking the question: In terms of what is art (or research) successful? To be successful is to achieve ends or goals. In the case of the researcher mucking around just "trying to do something to pay the bills" it is nonetheless not a matter of sheer chance that the researcher was examining this rather than that, or that, having found it, they made this use of it rather than that. Even with the researcher just "mucking around", it's not chance that they were mucking around with this rather than that, or doing it in this way rather than that. There's already a rather robust structure of ends in place -- standing operational goals, so to speak. And non-chance this-rather-than-that means that we are still comfortably within the realm of evaluate by means and ends.

And what questions can we ask to evaluate by means and ends? Nothing other than: What were they? Were the means good? Were the ends good? And those are noticeably just more general forms of the three questions above.

ADDED LATER: I intended also to note, but forgot when actually writing the post, that often the contribution of accident to art (or research) can easily be accommodated by the third question -- sometimes an accident makes a line of research more worthwhile than one could have ever expected, because it put you in the right place at the right time with the right resources at hand.

Maronite Year LXVIII


Fifteenth Sunday of Pentecost
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Luke 7:36-50

O God, who formed us in Your image,
Your Son has brought us true salvation,
bringing divine gifts of compassion.
You came in power and the Spirit,
and yet in humility of form,
forgiving sins to those with true faith.
In a mercy of forgiveness, Lord,
You became for our sakes mortal man,
descending into darkness of tomb;
You freed the just held captive by death,
establishing peace in the dark realms,
assembling the people to praise You,
that from them Your word may go forth,
that nations may turn from their idols
and be delivered from coming wrath.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mellifluous

Today is the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, O. Cist., Doctor of the Church. He spent a great deal of his life trying, with a complete lack of success, to avoid conflict and controversy; he was a religious reformer, and thus inevitably became mired in controversy, and people kept thrusting him into responsibilities of arbitration and negotiation, with the result that he was continually criticized for meddling in matters that did not concern him. He established the Abbey of Clairvaux, helped to solidify the status of the Knights Templar, participated in the Second Lateran Council, and preached the Second Crusade. The most famous theological work of the Doctor Mellifluus is his Sermons on the Song of Songs, but he has a number of other works. The following is from the opening of his Life of St. Malachy:

It is indeed always worth while to portray the illustrious lives of the saints, that they may serve as a mirror and an example, and give, as it were, a relish to the life of men on earth. For by this means in some sort they live among us, even after death, and many of those who are dead while they live are challenged and recalled by them to true life. But now especially is there need for it because holiness is rare, and it is plain that our age is lacking in men. So greatly, in truth, do we perceive that lack to have increased in our day that none can doubt that we are smitten by that saying, Because iniquity shall abound the love of many shall wax cold; and, as I suppose, he has come or is at hand of whom it is written, Want shall go before his face. If I mistake not, Antichrist is he whom famine and sterility of all good both precedes and accompanies. Whether therefore it is the herald of one now present or the harbinger of one who shall come immediately, the want is evident. I speak not of the crowd, I speak not of the vile multitude of the children of this world: I would have you lift up your eyes upon the very pillars of the Church. Whom can you show me, even of the number of those who seem to be given for a light to the Gentiles, that in his lofty station is not rather a smoking wick than a blazing lamp? And, says One, if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! Unless perchance, which I do not believe, you will say that they shine who suppose that gain is godliness; who in the Lord's inheritance seek not the things which are the Lord's, but rather their own.