Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Music on My Mind

Nox Arcana, "Running with Wolves." A little instrumental for your morning.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Evening Note for Monday, May 22

Thought for the Evening: Moral Testimony and Problems with the Asymmetry Thesis

It is often thought that there is an asymmetry between relying on testimony in nonmoral matters and relying on testimony in moral matters, so that you can get knowledge, or be reasonable relying on, the former, while there is something problematic about trying to get knowledge or relying on the latter. Pinning down what this asymmetry is supposed to be turns out to be less than straightforward, in part because in order to make it both clear and plausible everything has to be fine-tuned.

It's easy to see why this would be. In order for the asymmetry thesis to work, we must be comparing comparable kinds of testimony, where the moral testimony is taken under conditions that would not be problematic for nonmoral testimony. For instance, you can't state the thesis in a way in which we assume that your nonmoral testimony is taken from generally honest people and your moral testimony is taken from generally dishonest people, because accepting nonmoral testimony from generally dishonest people is also problematic, and the point is to find a comparison on which only accepting the moral testimony would be problematic. Likewise, people can accept testimony in all sorts of different ways, and this needs to be equalized on both sides. Likewise (and people in the literature are not always careful about this), you need to be comparing expert testimony with expert testimony and non-expert testimony with non-expert testimony, on both sides of the balance. Likewise (and this is actually somewhat difficult), you need a comparison where the stakes are not greatly imbalanced -- when the stakes are high, our standards of testimony go up. Part of the problem is that morality itself can raise the stakes, which means that you have to be quite careful to avoid comparing moral testimony on something that radically affects how one should live one's life with say, testimony about the statistical makeup of the population of Iowa. Reasonable caution in the latter case simply is not the same sort of thing as reasonable caution in the former case, and it has solely to do with the fact that the former will demand a lot more than mere acceptance.

This is a fairly serious set of problems, and one that I do not think proponents of the asymmetry thesis have really done the work to solve. But one of the more precise and careful ideas, based on the work of Sarah McGrath and discussed by Guy Fletcher, takes the asymmetry to be about deference in matters involving thin moral concepts leading directly to moral judgment that is problematic because it is without appropriate understanding.

(1) Deference is an interesting element here; our acceptance of testimony is always quite complicated, and we certainly can accept testimony nondeferentially -- for instance, we can accept it only because it agrees with what we already know. Deference requires that we accept something on authority, and this raises the question of how we are evaluating the authority to which we are deferring.

(2) The distinction between 'thin' and 'thick' moral concepts is somewhat misleading; 'thick' moral concepts are concepts that have both an evaluative and a nonevaluative component, whereas 'thin' are purely evaluative. In practice, though, the distinction is more complicated because it's not clear that there are any purely evaluative concepts, with no nonevaluative component at all, so people usually make the distinction relative, with thin moral concepts being "more purely evaluative". This, of course, makes the distinction next door to useless for the kind of work needed here. Suffice it to say that for our purposes it's really an issue of abstraction and fundamentalness, with thin concepts being more abstract and covering a fundamental portion of the moral field. So what people have in mind when they are talking about thin moral concepts are things like good, bad, right, wrong. This contrasts with what they are thinking about when they talk about thick moral concepts, which are things like generous, gracious, cruel, obscene. Thus the idea is that there's something problematic about deference to moral testimony on fundamental things like right and wrong, good or bad.

This brings us back to the equalization problem, since if we are dealing only with very general and fundamental things on the moral side, we can only compare testimony about them to testimony about very general and fundamental things on the nonmoral side. And what are the corresponding fundamental things? Presumably things like true, false, consistent, inconsistent, and (to avoid getting into the analogues of the 'thick' concepts) these concepts have to be functioning as such -- that is, if we are in a context in which dogs are relevant, the question at hand is not testimony about dogs, but testimony about what counts as truth in matters concerning dogs. If we really are operating at such a level, we are in realm where believing something out of deference to testimony is surely extraordinarily rare on either side. On the other hand, if we try to bring it down, we are getting increasingly less 'thin', and we have to do that on the moral side as well, to make the comparison legitimate.

(3) We could use moral testimony in multiple ways; what the asymmetry proponents want to argue is that we cannot use it to form moral judgments about good or bad, right or wrong. For instance, if you don't know if something is right, but defer to someone else's judgment that it is right. This we can leave as straightforward enough, although, if we are going to be serious about the 'thin moral concepts' part, we have to be careful that we don't accidentally turn our thin moral concepts into indirect ways of talking about thick moral concepts.

(4) If we're going to say that accepting moral testimony is more problematic than accepting nonmoral testimony, we have to have some notion of what 'more problematic' means. There are two ways that one can go here. Either (i) the moral case does not give you the right kind of understanding and the nonmoral does; or (ii) neither the moral case nor the nonmoral case give you understanding, but morality by its nature requires understanding in a way that other things don't. The latter seems to be favored; but obviously it would depend on what your account of morality was.

In reality, I think the asymmetry thesis fails totally, if we understand it in something like this way. Think of how testimony works. I tell you something, witnessing to its truth; on authority of my testimony, you come to believe it to be true. One way to characterize this is to say that I am giving you evidence about what you ought to believe, or at least treat as true, that I am putting it forward as right to believe, or at least good to believe. So:

(A) You are very skeptical of modern biology -- biologists talk so much about everything that it's sometimes difficult to take them entirely seriously. But, I insist, "At least some theories put forward by biologists are very credible." "Well, I couldn't say for myself," you say, "but you know more about it, so I guess I should indeed defer to you on this point and accept that some biological theories are very credible."

(B) You are very skeptical of modern biology -- biologists talk so much about everything that it's sometimes difficult to take them entirely seriously. But, I insist, "At least some theories put forward by biologists are probably true." "Well, I couldn't say for myself," you say, "but you know more about it, so I guess I should indeed defer to you on this point and accept that some biological theories are probably true."

(C) You are very skeptical of modern biology -- biologists talk so much about everything that it's sometimes difficult to take them entirely seriously. But, I insist, "Believing in some of the theories biologists put forward is good ." "Well, I couldn't say for myself," you say, "but you know more about it, so I guess I should indeed defer to you on this point and accept that belief in some of the biological theories is good."

In (A) I explicitly mention a 'thick' moral concept, credibility; in (B) I just mention probable truth; in (C) I explicitly mention a 'thin' moral concept. It is difficult to find cases in which we can't treat (A) and (B) as interchangeable, at least with commonly true assumptions. But there also doesn't seem to be any way in which (C) could possibly be problematic if (A) and (B) aren't; (C) seems interchangeable with (A), at least on commonly true assumptions. But it seems like you can run similar translations in any particular case.

It's possible that one can resolve these problems, but not, I think, at this level of precision. Proponents of the asymmetry thesis need a great deal more clarity than has yet been put forward. (My own view is that testimony is testimony; the cases are symmetrical.)

Various Links of Interest

* Helen Andrews has a sharply critical article on John Stuart Mill and Hariet Taylor (in part talking about Hayek's research into the subject). It seems right enough, although it should be noted that the acid tongues of the Carlyles are not always to be trusted.

* Julie D. notes a podcast currently running on Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy.

* Rebilius Crusoe, Francis William Newman's paraphrase of Robinson Crusoe into Latin. Francis William was the younger brother of John Henry; where J. H. went Catholic, F. W. went very liberal, eventually becoming a sort of religious agnostic. He was an enthusiast for languages, and was professor of Latin at University College, London. [I misstated his university earlier; I think I was muddling him up with someone else.]

* Manuel Vargas, If Free Will Doesn't Exist, Neither Does Water (PDF)

Currently Reading

Craig Williamson, The Complete Old English Poems
Vladimir Soloviev, The Justification of the Good
Satischandra Chatterjee, The Nyaya Theory of Knowledge
Roger Scruton, The Soul of the World
St. Romanos the Melodist, On the Life of Christ: Kontakia

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Fortnightly Book, May 21

I have a stack of books about knee-high on my stairs of things that might become a fortnightly book, as well as Heritage Press editions that I haven't used yet; I still have the third volume of the Arabian Nights, and I intend to get around to some plays by Ibsen. But the fortnightly book is not really done to plan. This past week I splurged a bit and bought, among other things, The Complete Old English Poems, Craig Williamson's recent translation of the entire extant corpus of Old English verse. As one of the introductory notes puts it, the work "contains modern alliterative, strong-stress poetic translations of all the Old English (OE) poems in the six volumes of The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records..., plus additional OE poems identified or discovered after the publication of ASPR" (p. liii). And that is going to be the fortnightly book.

The work follows the ASPR and so is partly organized by manuscript.

First, we have the Junius Manuscript, with Genesis (A and B), Exodus, Daniel, Christ and Satan.

Then we have the Vercelli Book, with Andreas, The Fates of the Apostles, Soul and Body I, Homiletic Fragment I: On Human Deceit, The Dream of the Rood, Elene.

This is followed by the Exeter Book, which, being devoted to poetry in particular, has a fair number of different poems of different kinds, the most famous of which are probably The Wanderer and The Seafarer.

After this we have Beowulf and Judith, which are the poetic works found in the Nowell Codex.

Then comes the Paris Psalter, which, being a metrical translation from Latin, is paired with the poetry from translations of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy.

Then there are a lot of minor poems, of which the most famous are probably The Battle of Maldon and Bede's Death Song.

And last there are the additional poems not included in the ASPR.

Tom Shippey in his introduction to the book makes an excellent comment on the whole corpus, which will do well enough to start us off:

The poems we have are also, in their way, almost all "last survivors": only three of them, apart from the Chronicle poems and the poems ascribed to Caedmon and Bede, and found in many manuscripts, duplicate each other. Some of the poems are, furthermore, fragments, including the Maldon and Finnsburg poems and Judith. As for the corpus itself, it is now a ruin. Certainly it exists. But its existence is at least a reminder of what no longer exists, a whole tradition of which we can hear only, here and there, murmurs and echoes....The poems exist, often in fragmentary form, and like the old ruins, they bear testimony to all that they remember, even if it has vanished. (p. l)

Teresa of Avila, The Life; and The Interior Castle


Opening Passages: From the Life:

If I had not been so wicked, the possession of devout and God-fearing parents, together with the favour of God's grace, would have been enough to make me good. My father was fond of reading holy books, and had some in Spanish so that his children might read them too. These, and the pains my mother took in teaching us to pray and educating us in devotion to Our Lady and certain Saints, began to rouse me at the age, I think, of six or seven. It was a help to me that I never saw my parents inclined to anything but virtue, and many virtues they had. (p. 23)

From The Interior Castle:

Not many things that I have been ordered to under obedience have been as difficult for me as is this present task of writing about prayer. First, ti doesn't seem that the Lord is giving me either the spirit or the desire to undertake the work. Second, I have been experiencing now for three months such great noise and weakness in my head that I've found it a hardship even to write concerning necessary business matters. But, knowing that the strength given by obedience usually lessens the difficulty of things that seem impossible, I resolved to carry out the task very willingly, even though my human nature seems greatly distressed. Fro the Lord hasn't given me so much virtue that my nature in the midst of its struggle with continual sickness and duties of so many kinds doesn't feel strong aversion toward such a task. May He, in whose mercy I trust and who has helped me in other more difficult things so as to favor me, do this work for me. (p. 33)

Summary: St. Teresa's Life covers the period from her early years to her founding of the reformed convent, St. Joseph's in Àvila. Two themes intertwine throughout the actual narrative portion, based on two kinds of impediments people may have in the life of prayer.

The first kind of impediment is that which is put in place by oneself. Teresa is frank that she often impeded her own progress; part of the charm of the work is that it is a guidebook by which she warns others not to make the mistakes she made. Coleridge in his notes on St. Teresa was puzzled by her tendency to account herself the "most wicked of sinners", which seemed to him a kind of obvious lie; but, besides the oddity of the poet not grasping the naturalness of the superlative expression in order to express a more forceful condemnation, the more general point is that the things of which she speaks were impediments to union with God. In a like manner, this answers the puzzle people occasionally have about Teresa's forceful condemnations of things that do not seem so very bad, or even bad at all: they are impediments to union, and just as a thing may be minor in itself but serious in troubling a marriage, so a thing minor in itself may be far more grave when considered as an obstacle to a greater good.

The remedy for this kind of impediment is self-knowledge, which, however, is a difficult matter. One of the notable things about Teresa's discussions of self-knowledge is that it is clear that in her view self-knowledge is not something we can fully attain by ourselves; ultimately, of course, we will need the grace of God, but we also need the aid of others. Self-knowledge is social; it requires association with others, in love of God and love of neighbor.

The second kind of impediment is more interesting, storywise, and as interesting psychologically. One of the recurring themes of the Life is that of persecution by good people. Over and over again Teresa's progress is made more difficult by the opposition of good and decent people; and over and over again the most serious and terrible opponents are good and decent, and sometimes holy, people. There is no ironic attribution here; the whole point is that the persecutors are genuinely good and decent, and at times even genuinely holy. The problem arises because while the people in question may be good people acting on good motives, they do not fully understand what is happening. They do not have the experiences Teresa has, and she cannot fully explain them to them in words. Scholars often know about the things Teresa describes, and occasionally more than she does (although her spiritual reading was prodigious, it was not focused on technical and rigorous exposition), but for them it is an abstract conclusion depending on having the right premises, not something known by intimate familiarity. Teresa's experiences strike other people as dangerous -- which they are -- and as possible temptations by the devil -- which is a worry Teresa herself has to think through carefully -- and as forms of spiritual pride -- which is wrong, but understandable given that much of what she does is the sort of thing that could indeed be motivated by spiritual pride, although not always the way in which she does it.

The remedy for this kind of impediment is love of God. The good will persecute the good when they do not know the things they would need to know in order to avoid it; this is not actually abnormal. But this is also not as important, in the greater scheme of things, as it might sound; because goodness, being a work of God, is ultimately consistent, and all of these trials and troubles caused by good people, difficult though they might be, further the progress of Teresa's maturity and insight, and also contribute in the end to the increase of the goodness in what she is able to accomplish. Thus Teresa portrays reliance on the Lord as the primary mainstay throughout such difficulties.

Were we going through Teresa's life, we would have read the Foundations next, which talks of Teresa's trials and troubles and triumphs after the founding of St. Joseph's, and if we were looking at the growth in her spiritual understanding, we would probably look at The Way of Perfection, but there is indeed a special connection between the Life and the Interior Castle that makes it appropriate to fit them together. The entire middle of the Life, from about Chapter 11 to about Chapter 31, the greater portion of the book, is concerned not with telling a story so much as giving an account of the life of prayer. It is narratively a digression, but it is not a gratuitous one, since understanding the complexities of the life of prayer is essential for understanding Teresa's own life, and particularly what is behind her achievement in the founding of St. Joseph's. Interior Castle, written about fourteen years later, sees Teresa considering the same matters from a more mature perspective. The Four Waters, which is the scheme she uses for organizing her account of progress of prayer in the Life, only take us up to the sixth mansion in the Seven Mansions (moradas = apartments or dwelling-places) scheme she uses in the Interior Castle. She has progressed beyond the stage at which she wrote the Life and therefore has a better understanding of the things she talked about in that work, as she explicitly notes at several points. What is more, the work is an attempt to review the same material from that more advanced perspective. The reason why she was required to write the book, was that the Life was still being examined by the Inquisition, so she didn't have a copy of it; and once when in discussion about the spiritual life with her confessor, Father Gratian, she said that she had discussed the matter at greater length in her Life, of which she didn't have the copy. Father Gratian told her to write it down again, without the biographical reflection, and so she did. Thus Interior Castle revisits the self-knowledge theme of the earlier work and puts many of the claims made there in new light.

It is not my purpose here to look in any detail at the schematic of the spiritual life given in these works (a useful summary by Jordan Aumann, O.P, is given here), since I am here concerned more with the books as literary works. They are rich in metaphor, vigorous in language, abundant in insight; the Life, in particular, is a psychologically interesting narrative, and The Interior Castle is practically a prose poem. But they are both written with practical focus, since all of St. Teresa's focus was in some sense practical; they are about a life, one of moral and spiritual progress. Teresa herself is clear enough that the schemes she gives will only be approximated in the lives of other people -- as she says, although she looks at only seven moradas, "in each of these there are many others, below and above and to the sides, with lovely gardens and fountains and labyrinths, such delightful things that you would want to be dissolved in praises of the great God who created the soul in His own image and likeness" (p. 196). The works are not a rigid manual, a scholarly work for scholars. Rather, they are a sharing of experiences by one who has experienced them, a travelogue of the interior life.

Favorite Passages: From the Life, St. Teresa complaining about the difficulty of living a spiritual life and at the same time navigating a culture based on honor and avoiding offense:

...if we take care, as we rightly should, always to please God and hate the world, I do not see how at the same time we can be equally careful to please those who live in the world in matters that are continually changing. If this etiquette could be learnt once and for all, it might be tolerable. But even the correct addressing of letters demands the establishment of a University chair; there ought to be lectures in the art -- or whatever you call it. In one case one corner of the paper has to be left blank, and in another case another; and suddenly a man who was not even a 'Magnificence', has to be described as 'Illustrious'. (p. 282)

From The Interior Castle:

You must have already heard about His marvels manifested in the way silk originates, for only He could have invented something like that. The silkworms come from seeds about the size of little grains of pepper. (I have never seen this but have heard of it, and so if something in the explanation gets distorted it won't be my fault.) When the warm weather comes and the leaves begin to appear on the mulberry tree, the seeds start to live, for they are dead until then. The worms nourish themselves on the mulberry leaves until, having grown to full size, they settle on some twigs. There with their little mouths they themselves go about spinning the silk and making some very thick little cocoons in which they enclose themselves. The silkworm, which is fat and ugly, then dies, and a little white butterfly, which is very pretty, comes forth from the cocoon. (p. 91)

Recommendation: The Life is definitely a must-read; it is one of the great autobiographies of Western civilization, and deservedly considered so. The Interior Castle is Teresa's masterpiece, and a very beautiful work; but it's probably the case that you need to be in the right mindset to read it.


Quotations from:

Teresa of Avila, The Life of Saint Teresa of Àila by Herself, Cohen, tr. Penguin Books (New York: 1957).

Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, Kavanaugh and Rodriguez, trs. Paulist Press (New York: 1979).

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Corpusso Meusso

Today is the memorial for St. Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444), often called the Apostle of Italy. He became a Franciscan Observant -- a strict form of Franciscan -- in 1403, and went on to become an extraordinarily famous itinerant preacher. His homilies are very vivid, and crafted to speak to the common people rather than to the elite or dainty, but they are also quite rigorously thought through, drafted and revised extensively before they were ever delivered. He was especially devoted to the Holy Name, and is a reason for the common iconographic image of the letters IHS on a blazing sun, and was even investigated for heresy over it (he was cleared, of course). They repeatedly tried to make him a bishop; he repeatedly refused, although they eventually got him to be Franciscan Vicar General.

The following is from a sermon on wives and marriage:

So for example of a priest who undertakes to do his priestly work, that is, to consecrate the Lord's Body, and knows not the manner nor the words of consecration, how would you hold this man excused? If, indeed, he sins even in that he does not as he should. Hear now what befel once upon a time; for this is to our present point. There were two priests who spake together, and one said unto the other, "How do you say the words of consecration for Christ's Body? "I" (said the other) "I say Hoc est Corpus meum" Then began they to dispute one with other: "You say not well"-"Nay, it is you who says ill"-and, as they disputed thus, there came another priest to whom they told the whole matter, and who said: "Neither one of you says well, nor the other, for the true words are Hoc est corpusso meusso": and proceeded by demonstration: "You see how he says corpusso, wherefore the adjective should be meusso; therefore (I say) henceforth say you nothing else but: Hoc est corpusso meusso." To which speech the others consented not: wherefore they accorded together to a parish priest near by, going to him of set purpose and laying the case before him. Then the parish priest answering "Ha, what needs all this ado? I go to it right simply; I say an Ave Maria over the Host!" - Now, I ask you, are these men excused? See you not that they make men adore a God a mere piece of bread? Be sure that each of them commits a most deadly sin, seeing that it was their bounden duty to do after the manner which Jesus Christ has ordained to Holy Church. So I say also that, whatever a man does, it is his bounden duty to know all that pertains to that thing.

Alas, I fear we live in an age of corpusso meusso.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Evening Note for Friday, May 19

Thought for the Evening: Saint Teresa of Avila and Rene Descartes

Christia Mercer has an interesting paper discussing the possibility that St. Teresa of Avila might be an influence on Descartes. (It has been fortuitously making the rounds while I've been reading St. Teresa, due to this article, which overstates things a fair amount. I think I first saw notice of the article here, but the most extensive discussion has been in the comments at the Leiter Report.) She primarily focuses on arguing that Descartes's use of the notion of an evil deceiver is anticipated by St. Teresa, especially in the Interior Castle. In particular, she thinks they share what she calls the deceiver strategy, composed of the following features, slightly paraphrased:

(1) The meditator recognizes that many of her beliefs need to be reevaluated.

(2) The meditator sees the need to set aside her beliefs as a first step in the discovery of fundamental truths.

(3) The only way to do this is to refrain from assenting to beliefs about the external world.

(4) When the meditator commits to this, however, the beliefs return and tempt her.

(5) A deceiving demon confounds the meditator and impedes her progress.

(6) The meditator needs to rethink her way forward by means of self-knowledge.

As I have noted in discussing Hume and Buddhism, there are a number of questions that have to be considered in an argument like this. We have (a) the question of what, exactly, the structural parallel is; (b) the assessment of our causal evidence, particularly with regard to available causal paths; (c) causal inference in order to determine whether the reason for the parallel is influence, convergence, objective coincidence, or an artifact of interpretation; (d) assessment of what, exactly, this illuminates in either.

(a) The six-element structure Mercer identifies is interesting. It is true that both St. Teresa and Descartes are concerned with self-knowledge, and that the question of deception is often a major issue for both. The emphasis on belief is a possible issue, since St. Teresa is actually concerned with the whole of life, and not just belief. But it is true, as Mercer says, that St. Teresa's emphasis on self-knowledge means that her conception of the problems often has clear epistemological elements in it.

The structure is also notably pitched at a very general level. (3) is the one that worries me the most on this; I'm not wholly convinced refraining from assent to belief is a good way to characterize what she is talking about, even despite the epistemological aspect of her discussion. And if you get less general than this, I think the differences between what St. Teresa is doing and what Descartes is doing are rather significant. But it is true that we have certain basic themes, linked together, in some kind of order: the need to overcome oneself, the issue of deceptive power, and the importance of entering into oneself in order to deal with these. This is arguably enough to be going on, although the generality forces one to a certain modesty in one's conclusions.

(b) Mercer does an excellent job of identifying in a very concise way the evidence for available causal pathways -- the Jesuit curriculum in which Descartes was taught had a component concerned with spirituality; St. Teresa had close connections with the Jesuits; the Jesuits had been active in pressing for her beatification, which occurred in 1614 while Descartes was at La Flàche; her writings had a surge of popularity after her canonization in 1622; and people around Descartes were reading her. On its own these things are enough to establish a possible causal pathway; indeed, they would be sufficient to make the pathway probable if the parallel were stronger and more precise than Mercer shows it to be.

(c) I think we can reasonably rule out that the parallel is just an artifact of interpretation -- there is no doubt that St. Teresa and Descartes both put self-knowledge and knowledge of God at the center of their projects, that they both often have explicitly epistemological concerns (Mercer does not go into detail, but anyone who reads St. Teresa knows that she has extensive discussions of how you can know that your experiences of God are genuine), they both consider the question of deception by a greater power, and so forth. We can also rule out mere coincidence, in part because in this context, given this topography of evidence, anything one could propose as an argument for coincidence would be a much stronger argument for convergence based on a common context -- both St. Teresa and Descartes can be considered Augustinian, broadly speaking, and both clearly get much of their conception of self-knowledge from Augustine in one way or another, so the common environment is rather robust here, and the features of the parallel are quite clearly linked to the common environment. Even if Descartes developed his ideas entirely independently of anything in St. Teresa, he is developing common themes in a shared tradition under shared background pressures.

It is with deciding between influence and convergence that we run into the limits of our evidence. All of the themes Mercer notes are in fact Augustinian -- and St. Augustine's parallels with Descartes are far more extensive than St. Teresa's seem to be, as a great deal of the research on parallels between Augustine and Descartes has shown. This is a problem because St. Augustine's influence clearly swamps the field, both contextually (he is far and away the single most important philosophical influence in seventeenth century France) and in terms of Descartes himself. If St. Teresa is an influence, untangling that influence from some other path back to Augustine is not a straightforward task. I think Mercer would have to put the emphasis on the order of the six features. But to some extent the order is a natural growth out of any desire for improvement -- we recognize the need for change, we put aside what is problematic, we discover new difficulties in doing so, we overcome those impediments. The shared distinctives in the case of St. Teresa and Descartes are self-knowledge and the worry about an evil deceiver. That these have similar places in the thematic order is suggestive. But the underlying factors are fairly different: St. Teresa is concerned with evil deceivers because she had difficulty convincing people that she wasn't being deceived by the devil, as she notes in her Life; Descartes is interested in it as a device for pressing skepticism to its farthest possible extent. There is an undoubted similarity; but it is a loose one. Given everything, while the available causal pathways and the loose similarity make it impossible to rule influence out, it seems the evidence currently favors convergence rather than influence.

(d) Which is not a minor thing; one does not have to argue that St. Teresa is a direct influence on Descartes in order to have what one needs in order to argue that a comparison of St. Teresa and Descartes is potentially illuminating. This Mercer leaves for further inquirers, and this, I think, she has shown is a worthwhile project. St. Teresa has prior connections of note with other philosophers -- St. Edith Stein's philosophical work on the self being the most obvious because it is the most explicit case of St. Teresa directly influencing a philosophical discussion -- but another line of possible inquiry is always worthwhile when it is sufficiently established.

Various Links of Interest

* Ed Yong summarizes the recent lines of research suggesting that the human sense of smell is actually quite good.

* Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., The Object of the Moral Act

* King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands has, for the past twenty-one years, been working occasionally as an airline pilot, incognito, as a hobby.

* Maurice Baring, The Ikon, is a short story well worth reading: a freethinker learns the price of mixing deities.

* Tim O'Neill discusses the charges against Giordano Bruno.

Currently Reading

Teresa of Avila, The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself
Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
Satischandra Chatterjee, The Nyaya Theory of Knowledge
Vladimir Soloviev, The Justification of the Good

Elements of Modal Logic, Part VII

Part VI

Sometimes when we are reasoning, we are taking something as a reference point that is part of what we are talking about. For instance, if we are talking about time, we might talk about now; if we are talking about location, we might talk about here. 'Now' is a time, albeit a special one; 'here' is a location, although it is a special one. None of our rules so far take this kind of thing into account. In everything we've done so far, our Reference Table is not assumed to be itself one of the tables we are talking about. But sometimes we want our Reference Table to be one of the tables described in the Reference Table; we want it to include itself. This brings us to our next rule, which we might call the reflexivity rule. Rules like it are often called T, or sometimes M; I will call it M:

(M) □ on the Reference Table means that what it applies to is on the Reference Table.

Suppose we are thinking about books on your shelf. We can represent each of them as a table. Suppose you keep track of the books on your shelf by describing them all in a book, which you keep on that shelf. We can call it your Inventory Book. Your Inventory Book is working in a way that can be represented by a Reference Table. We might look at a line in the Inventory Book and discover that it says every book on the shelf mentions other books; this would give us the following Reference Table:

□ (Other books are mentioned.)

Since our Inventory Book is one of the books the Inventory Book itself describes, and □ here tells us that the statement following it is true of every book on the shelf, and thus every book described by the Inventory Book, we know that the Inventory Book mentions other books.

We use this kind of rule quite a bit. So, for instance, we can all see that if something is always true, it is true now, and that if something is found everywhere, it is found here, and that if everybody has a man-eating lion for a pet, I have a man-eating lion for a pet. These are all straightforward uses of the reflexivity rule. And it doesn't matter what the reference point is; perhaps my reference point is not now but the beginning of the world, not here but there, not me but you: it all works the same.

Since our rules are independent, we may use both (D) and (M) or only one. We've seen already that there are many cases in which (D) on its own will suffice; 1234D modalities are very common. 1234M modalities are much less common. The reason is that they are a little odd. They pick a reference point, and doing this makes it so that the Reference Table can talk about itself, (M) on its own is not enough to make the Reference Table a real table; for instance, it might just be something that could be a real table. So, for instance, if my Reference Table is The Day Pigs Fly, and it is true on that day that □p, where p is some claim about the way things are, (M) tells us that p is true on the day pigs fly; but it doesn't tell us that there is actually any real day that is the day pigs fly. (D) tells us that there is a real table somewhere; (M) on its own doesn't -- it just tells us what will be true on the Reference Table if the Reference Table actually exists.

While 1234M modalities seem to be found only in unusual cases, 1234DM modalities are much more common, because in 1234DM, the modalities work just like they do in the easy-to-use 123D modalities, but now, thanks to (M), you have the ability to pick a special reference point like 'here' or 'now'. This makes them very powerful and flexible. Just a few examples of cases in which we often like to use them:

reference point

But, again, even with the same Box and Diamond, we can often pick different reference points. Any point in time can be a reference point for times, and so forth. This raises the question: Can we use more than once reference point at a time? And the answer is a very definite yes, and that gets us into a lot of interesting things. But before we get there, we should take a look at how (M) affects the square of opposition, and also at some of the things 1234DM modalities let us easily do.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Little Veil for So Great Mystery

To a Daisy
by Alice Meynell

Slight as thou art, thou art enough to hide
Like all created things, secrets from me,
And stand a barrier to eternity.
And I, how can I praise thee well and wide

From where I dwell—upon the hither side?
Thou little veil for so great mystery,
When shall I penetrate all things and thee,
And then look back? For this I must abide,

Till thou shalt grow and fold and be unfurled
Literally between me and the world.
Then I shall drink from in beneath a spring,

And from a poet’s side shall read his book.
O daisy mine, what will it be to look
From God’s side even of such a simple thing?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Things You Can't Compare

[In bracketed italics, I've added some of the remarks of commenters who offer corrections and additions, in case the comments are ever lost. Thanks to them for their comments!]

I was thinking about this today after reading the Spanish expression, No hay que confundir la velocidad con el tocino, one must not confuse speed and bacon. In English, of course, we say that you can't compare apples and oranges, and this seems to be known in French and Spanish as well, although in French it tends more often to be apples and pears (des pommes et des poires), a pair also used in Spanish (you can't add pears and apples, no hay que sumar peras y manzanas). The Portuguese reject the comparison of oranges and bananas (laranjas com bananas).

I don't know how accurate it is (all of the above I can confirm), but the Wikipedia article on apples and oranges gives a list of expressions for other languages:

Some languages use completely different items, such as the Serbian Поредити бабе и жабе (comparing grandmothers and toads), or the Romanian baba şi mitraliera (the grandmother and the machine gun); vaca şi izmenele (the cow and the longjohns); or țiganul şi carioca (the gypsy and the marker), or the Welsh mor wahanol â mêl a menyn (as different as honey and butter), while some languages compare dissimilar properties of dissimilar items. For example, an equivalent Danish idiom, Hvad er højest, Rundetårn eller et tordenskrald? translates literally as What is highest, the Round Tower or a thunderclap?, referring to the size of the former and the sound of the latter. In Russian, the phrase сравнивать тёплое с мягким (to compare warm and soft) is used. In Argentina, a common question is ¿En qué se parecen el amor y el ojo del hacha? which translates into What do love and the eye of an axe have in common? and emphasizes dissimilarity between two subjects; in Colombia, a similar (though more rude) version is common: confundir la mierda con la pomada, literally, to confuse shit with salve. In Polish, the expression co ma piernik do wiatraka? is used, meaning What has (is) gingerbread to a windmill?. In Chinese, a phrase that has the similar meaning is 风马牛不相及 (fēng mǎ niú bù xiāng jí), literally meaning "horses and cattles won't mate with each other", and later used to describe things that are totally unrelated and incomparable.

[Mikhail says, on the Wikipedia Russian claim, "Nobody says that in Russia! The phrase used is - не надо сравнивать божий дар с яичницей - which means 'don't compare God's gift with fried eggs"'... :)"]

[hghandi says, "In Iran there are two phrases used.
آسمون ریسمون کردن
is literally "talking about sky and rope". They only rhyme together (ASEMOUN, RISMOUN) but one is sky the other is rope.
The other phrase is
چه ربطی گوز دارد با شقیقه؟
literally meaning "what is the relationship between fart and temple?" temple as a part of body that is."

An 1864 text says you can't compare apples and herrings; in 1901 engineers were saying you couldn't compare apples and potatoes; a 1908 text denies you can compare apples with eggs; in 1915 the American Produce Review denied you could compare apples and pears. But it goes back earlier than that; John Ray in his 1670 proverb collection gives four examples of false comparisons: apples and oysters (which Shakespeare also uses in the Taming of the Shrew), four-pence and a groat, nine-pence and nothing, chalk and cheese (the last of which still is occasionally heard).

Everything I've seen suggests that 'apples and oranges', specifically, is an American thing -- after all, we have long had both in immense supply. [Tailz says, "Apples and oranges is used with equal frequency on the British side on the pond too." I think I intended to say that it was of American origin! I've come across British writers using the expression, so my claim was certainly not right, as written, as even I knew. But even the origin claim is speculative.]

I think, though, the general moral to be drawn is that nothing is comparable to apples.

A Tree of White Birds

Today is the feast of St. Brendan the Navigator, best known for the legendary stories told about him in The Voyage of St. Brendan. A summary of an interesting episode from the Voyage, as condensed by John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquess of Bute:

On the south shore of this island they found a river a little broader than the ship, and up this they towed her for a mile, when they came to the fountain-head of the stream. It was a wondrous fountain, and above it there was a tree marvellously beautiful, spreading rather than high, but all covered with white birds, so covered that they hid its foliage and branches. (The notion is perhaps taken from a tree loaded with snow.)... And [a bird] said, "We are of that great ruin of the old enemy; but we have not fallen by sinning or consenting; but we have been predestinated by the goodness and mercy of God, for wherein we were created, hath our ruin come to pass, through his fall and the fall of his crew. But God the Almighty, Who is righteous and true, hath by His judgment sent us into this place. Pains we suffer not. The presence of God in a sense we cannot see, so far has He separated us from the company of them that stood firm. We wander through the divers parts of this world, of the sky, and of the firmament, and of the earths, even as other spirits who are sent forth [to minister]. But upon the holy days of the Lord, we take bodies such as Thou seest, and by the ordinance of God we dwell here, and praise our Maker...." And when the bird had so spoken, it rose from the prow, and returned unto the others. And when the hour of evening came, they all began to flap their wings, and to sing as it were with one voice, saying, "Praise waiteth for Thee, O God, in Zion, and unto Thee shall the vow be performed in Jerusalem, through our ministry." And they repeated that verse even for the space of an hour, and the song and the sound of their wings was like harmony (carmen cantus) for sweetness. Then holy Brendan saith unto his brethren, "Refresh your bodies, since this day the Lord hath satisfied your souls by His Divine rising again." ...So by day and by night these birds gave praise to God.'