Saturday, July 03, 2004

Independence Day

The opening of the Declaration of Independence:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

The oft-forgotten closing:
We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that, as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

Here is the great article by Isaac Asimov on the Star-Spangled Banner, "All Four Stanzas."

Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream
'Tis the star-spangled banner. Oh! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

God Bless America.

Sickening Poetry

There's an interesting post at the Victorianist weblog, "The Little Professor," on sickening poetry. The author rightly notes that you have to go to the eighteenth century to find the really sickening poetry, and quotes Swift's "The Lady's Dressing Room." It is certainly Swift at his most merciless; of all idealisms he disliked, I think he disliked the idealism of the romantic affections most. Some of his other works are in a similar vein, but more moralistic about it. You can find the link to the poem through the above link; it is not for the faint of heart.

'Enervating Miasma' Does Not Include the Blogs or My Explanations

Well, the gremlins at Blogger have, as far as I can tell, surrounded Siris and every other site hosted on Blog*Spot with an enervating miasma defeating not only the attempts of people to link with the site but also my own attempts to post; the Berkeley post just prior to this one was whisked off into no-man's land for three hours before it returned without apology. Sorry to anyone who might have been struggling under any deep Siris withdrawals.

Some blogosphere neighborliness is in order. "Early Modern Resources" linked to Siris in reciprocation for a prior link of my own. It's great to have a good neighbor, particularly since I decided a few days ago (but haven't reached the actual point of doing so) to put the Early Modern Resources sites under the Resources section of Houyhnhnm Land. I also find (and this is a result of the other, I believe) that Siris has been given a place under "Blogs of History" at "The Elfin Ethicist," a well-designed, diverse-content, and, in short, high-quality weblog. I should resent his showing in a quarter of the posts he writes that he has a better English writing style than I do, but I just can't bring myself to dislike someone who titles his weblog "The Elfin Ethicist" and puts up a G. K. Chesterton quote.

A note of clarification for those coming to Siris with a perspective from another discipline. History of philosophy, being more philosophy than history, possibly divides its historical labels along slightly different lines than other historical disciplines. (I say 'possibly' because I don't keep up on how other historical disciplines draw their lines.) Plus, some people aren't historians at all, and so might not have any inkling what is meant when I talk about 'early modern philosophy'. The paradigmatic 'early modern philosophy' is done in the 17th and 18th centuries ('Descartes to Kant' is the standard model), and outside those two centuries assignment to 'early modern philosophy' usually has more to do with continuity with the 17th and 18th centuries than the century in which it is found. Thus, in the sixteenth century, and even into the seventeenth century both 'early modern philosophy' and 'medieval philosophy' are being done; and, in Britain at least, 'early modern philosophy' includes much of the first half of the 19th century. Siris covers all this period along with everything else (as noted in the description, Siris covers everything in its own little way); but since different disciplines use the same labels differently, I thought I would clarify my usage of the label 'early modern philosophy' for anyone who might be browsing my posts. I've found lots of people who do not dabble at all in history tend to be confused by the label, although it's better than the label under which it went in the first undergraduate course I took on it: Modern Philosophy, concerned, of course, almost entirely with the 17th century.

Scientists are Glorified Cooks and Diviners

We know a thing when we understand it; and we understand it when we can interpret or tell what it signifies. Strictly, the sense knows nothing. We perceive indeed sounds by hearing, and characters by sight; but we are not therefore said to understand them. After the same manner, the phenomena of nature are alike visible to all; but all have not alike learned the connexion of natural things, or understand what they signify, or know how to vaticinate by them. There is no question, saith Socrates in Theaeteto, concerning that which is agreeable to each person, but concerning what will in time to come be agreeable, of which all men are not equally judges. He who foreknoweth what will be in every kind is the wisest. According to Socrates, you and the cook may judge of a dish on the table equaly well, but while the dish is making, the cook can better foretell what will ensue from this or that manner of composing it. Nor is this manner of reasoning confined only to morals or politics, but extends also to natural science. (Berkeley, Siris 253)

That natural science is a sort of sophisticated augury or omen-reading is a common theme in Siris. Compare 252:

There is a certain analogy, constancy, and uniformity in the phenomena or appearances of nature, which are a foundation for general rules: and these are a grammar for the understanding of nature, or that series of efects in teh visible world whereby we are enabled to foresee what will come to pass in the natural course of things. Plotinus observes, in his third Ennead, tha thte art of presaging is in some sort the reading of natural letters denoting order, and that so far forth as analogy obtains in the universe, there may be vaticination. And in reality, he that foretells the motions of the planets, or the effects of medicines, or the result of chemical or mechanical experiments, may be said to do it by natural vaticination.

Berkeley means to be taken literally when he talks about the "grammar for the understanding of nature"; he considers our sensory impressions to be literally linguistic in nature.

Wise Leaders are Always in Demand

You are Proverbs
You are Proverbs.

Which book of the Bible are you?
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Friday, July 02, 2004

"Beauty, Virtue, Truth, and Love, and Melody"

While I'm still thinking about Beattie, here is a link to an excerpt from the source of Beattie's (poetic) fame, The Minstrel (1771-1774). His full poetic oeuvre can be found at Project Gutenberg, in less readable form, here. An example of Beattie (almost) at his best:

But who the melodies of morn can tell?
The wild brook babbling down the mountain side;
The lowing herd; the sheepfold's simple bell;
The pipe of early shepherd dim descried
In the lone valley; echoing far and wide
The clamorous horn along the cliffs above;
The hollow murmur of the ocean-tide;
The hum of bees, the linnet's lay of love,
And the full choir that wakes the universal grove.

Beattie is also very good at single lines and excellent phrases (one of my favorites is "Fret not yourselves, ye silken sons of pride").

Beattie's other great work, which earned him his philosophical fame, is, of course, the Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, which is a critique, from the point of view of Scottish Common Sense Philosophy, of a number of lines in early modern philosophical thought (particularly Hume).

Shepherd on the First Cause, Part II: The Mixture of Qualities

This is a sequel to the post "Shepherd on the First Cause," which should be read first.

The key to understanding Shepherd's comments lies in grasping her theory of causation. (It is useful to keep in mind that Hume is her constant foil.) Here is a rough attempt to characterize this theory.

Shepherd sees causation as a "mixture of qualities." Suppose you have a cause (C) and an object (O) or co-cause. Each of these has a number of properties or qualities. When C acts on O (or combines with O), the qualities 'mix'. The mixed result is the effect. So, for instance, I punch my fist into clay, the resulting impression is a 'mixture' of some of the properties of my fist and some of the properties of the clay.

Take another example, which will perhaps give a clearer idea of the significance of the view. There is a book on a sturdy table. That the book does not fall through the table is necessitated by the combined properties of the book and the table. It is not impossible, of course, for books to fall through tables; but it is only possible if some of the properties of either the book, or the table, or both, are changed. That is, a change can be induced in the situation only by introducing new properties into the mix. These new properties are causes of new situations. This provides Shepherd with a very strong response to Hume's view that "Whatever begins to exist has a cause" is not a necessary proposition. On Shepherd's view of causation, it is necessary, because every change of properties requires the introduction of new properties. On the mixture view of causation, Shepherd thinks, anything new is necessarily an effect of a new introduction of properties. This, of course, is exactly right; you can't change the properties of a situation without changing its properties; if you have a new set of properties, it can only be because some properties in the set are new.

This is a very elementary summary of her view; I hope to cover more precise details in later posts.

Beattie on Liberty

Nothing is more friendly to the soul of man, than Liberty; which is the birthright of every rational being, and which none can without cruelty deprive us of, unless by our crimes we have proved ourselves unworthy of it. Despotick governments are therefore unjust, as far as they deprive the innocent of this prime blessing: and it never can be for the good of mankind, that injustice should triumph, or that innocence should be born down. Besides, activity and genius flourish in free governments, but in the abodes of tyranny disappear: and however it may fare with some individuals, society will always decay or prosper, as genius and industry are discountenanced or promoted.

Beattie, Essay on Memory and Imagination, Of Imagination, ch. 3 ("Remarks on Genius").

By 'genius' Beattie means "the talent of useful invention," whose complement is taste (which is the sort of mental sagacity involved in the appreciative perception of excellence and fault). The reason he ends up discussing society in his remarks on genius is that he is struck by the providential diversity of human genius, which makes society possible.

Perhaps I Promise to Do Evil Things

I was a bit harsh (and rightly so) in my discussion of some of the mistakes made about natural law theory in Murphy and Coleman's Philosophy of Law: An Introduction to Jurisprudence. There is, however, one interesting passage I wish to discuss a bit more fully:

"People are often called upon to recognize their moral obligation to obey the law in those cases where they morally disagree with the law--e.g., the law perhaps requires that they fight in a war they regard as evil or requires that they accept a way of life, say racial integration, that they regard as contrary to the common good. It is unclear how natural law theory will illuminate such cases. Such cases may be understood, however, when one realizes that foundations for moral obligation other than morality of content may be possible. Consider promises. My moral obligation to keep my promise is generated by the act of promising, not by the content of what I promise. My helping you paint your fence is morally trivial and, by itself, generates no moral requirement for me. If I promise to help you pain the fence, however, then my doing it takes on the character of a moral requirement. Is there any important analogy between the obligation to obey the law and the obligation to keep a promise? Social contract theory claims yes, and this shows that it is at least possible that grounds for the moral obligation to obey the law other than those favored by natural law theory might be articulated." (pp. 17-18).

Now, it is clear that if you find it unclear how natural law theory illuminates the cases noted in the passage, one thing to do is to look at how natural law theory of one form or other has actually operated in such cases; for there is no doubt that it certainly has. But this is not the part of the passage that most interests me; rather, what I think is worth noting, and what I think shows the fatal flaw(s) in Murphy's approach to natural law theory.

1) It is clearly false to say that the obligation of a promise is generated by the act of promising rather than by the content of the promise. Immoral promises do not bind; and it would be perfectly reasonable to say, in parallel to what Aquinas says about laws, that promises to do evil things are not promises but perversions of promises. They have the act of promising to suggest they might be classified as 'promises'; but they don't have the moral force of a promise, which suggests they are not, morally speaking, promises, even if they are considered to be promises in virtue of the act of promising. To obligate us, a promise must be consistent with (guess what!) natural law. Likewise, if a legislature passes an unjust law, it is a 'law' in the sense that it was created by an act of legislation by an authority that intended it to have force of law. But if it is unjust it is, morally speaking, not a law but a perversion of law, and that means it does not obligate, anymore than an immoral promise obligates.

2) Is there an analogy between the obligation in a promise and the obligation in a law? More than an analogy, they are variations of the same thing - that is, they derive from the authority of natural law (the first principles of moral reasoning). This brings me to the second point. Social contract theory cannot be an alternative to natural law; it can only be an additional specification. Social contract theory needs some basis, some framework, within which it may regard contracts or promises as have obligatory force, i.e., authority. If you look at many of the early social contract theorists, you will find that they are well aware of this, and often, in fact, are natural law theorists of one stripe or other, or, if not, borrow from the natural law tradition in order to make this or that point. If you look at the foundation of any social contract theory, you will find principles that look suspiciously like attempts to formulate natural law. This is true of any purported 'alternative'. Unless you are going to try the (apparently impossible) feat of building a moral theory without any principles at all, you will come back to something like natural law. There's no escaping it, for the same reason there's no escaping the need for a moral theory to recognize that something like "Good ought to be done and evil ought to be avoided" is obvious and undeniable.

Beattie on Association of Ideas

The doctrine is not peculiar to modern philosophy. Aristotle, speaking of Recollection, or active remembrance, insinuates, with his usual brevity, that the relations, by which we are led from one thought to another, in tracing out, or hunting after (as he calls it) any particular thought which does not immediately occur, are chiefly three, Resemblance, Contrariety, and Contiguity. And this enumeration of the associating principles does not differ, in any thing material, from what is here gven. I reduced them to five, Resemblance, Contrariety, Nearness of Situation, the relation of Cause and Effect, and Custom or Habit. Now the three last may very well be referred to that one which Aristotle calls Contiguity. Nearness of Situation is nothing else. In its influence a Cause may be said to be, because it really is, contiguous to its Effect. And two things or ideas cannot be associated by Custom, so as that the one shall introduce the other into the mind; unless they have, once and again, or once at least, been in company together, or thought of at the same time.

James Beattie, "Essay on Memory and Imagination," in Dissertations Moral and Critical (1783), Of Imagination, chap. 2, sect. 5.

I find this passage fascinating. Beattie's principles of association are essentially Hume's, slightly modified (his biggest change is the addition of contrariety; he has some interesting and, I think, cogent arguments that Hume should have considered contrariety an associating principle, too). It is essentially independent of any Aristotelian thought on recollection, and is proposed for a different phenomenon, but here we have an approximation of the one doctrine to the other - the philosophical equivalent of what Whewell calls a 'Consilience of Inductions', where two different fields 'jump together' in investigation. Like any consilience of inductions, this one suggests that these taxonomies of association-principles are capturing something real and definite. One doesn't see much work on association any more; but the above passage would make, I think, a good Exhibit A for why we should.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Incarnation and Chalcedon

There is a great post by Matthew Mullins at "Prosblogion" on the issue of the Incarnation. After noting that an orthodox view would have to avoid Monophysitism, Appollinarianism, and Nestorianism, he says:

The OC must embrace a version of the Incarnation that appears to contain multiple contradictions, for the incarnate must be a single identity that is uncreated and created, omniscient and having limited knowledge, atemporal and temporal, omnipotent and having finite powers. Yet the attributes necessary for divinity are irreconcilable with those attributes required for humanity when restricted to a single individual. With so many logical contradictions it seems to me that the doctrine of the Incarnation cannot be true.

Where I lose the author's argument is when he says "Yet the attributes necessary for divinity are irreconcilable with those attributes required for humanity when restricted to a single individual." The reason is that I don't see on what basis one could support such a claim. And in fact, the Chalcedonian Definition, which was explicitly constructed to avoid the heresies the author notes, denies the claim:

So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.

(The Definition on this point follows the Tome of St. Leo, which should be read for further explication.) In other words, you can only have a contradiction if you have irreconcilable attributes attributed to something in the same way. But this is not the conciliar view of Christ, which holds that Christ is both man and God, and that his human soul and body have all the limits of any human soul and body, and his divine nature has all the attributes of divine nature. The attributes are attributed in different ways. I don't see that there is any problem with this. The genuinely tricky aspect of the doctrine is not the natures in one person, but the fact that the divine nature is the divine person. As a person Christ is fundamentally divine (he is the Word); but the Word, without ceasing to be divine, also takes as His own a human soul and a human body, i.e., a human nature with all the attributes of human nature. And that it is the trickier issue can be seen by the fact that the Church had to deal with it again (at III Constantinople).

More Misconceptions about Natural Law

From Philosophy of Law: An Introduction to Jurisprudence, by Jeffrie G. Murphy and Jules L. Coleman (Westview Press 1990):

To use the language of G. E. Moore, it si always an "open question" what morally ought to be done given any statement of what is naturally done or factually the case. To think otherwise is to comit what Moore called "the naturalistic fallacy"--the fallacy of believing that one can derive a theory of what ought to be the case from an account of what is the case. Thus, because of what is (to put it mildly) a certain logical looseness in any account of natural uty, natural law ethical theory often appears arbitrary and confused--an attempt to explain the obscure (what we ought to do) in terms of the even more obscure (moral duties built into nature). When they do attempt to be clear, natural law theorists often offer clarity at the price of uselessness, as when Aquinas offers the following as the first principle of natural law theory: "Do good and avoid evil." One can hardly quarrel with the sentiment expressed here, but one troubled with a moral problem is going to find this piece of highly general advice of very little use. For all these reasons, it is not surprising that natural law ethical theory has often provoked impatience and even contempt from its critics. For Aristotle and Aquinas, the natural law was viewed as a mechanism for imposing duties and giving guidance for the virtuous life. (p. 14)

This is the sort of thing that tempts me to "impatience and even contempt"; for it is this criticism that is arbitrary and confused. First of all, Aristotle is a natural law theorist? Aquinas considers natural law to be "a mechanism for imposing duties and giving guidance for the virtuous life"? While much of what Aristotle says is consistent with, and can be neatly tied in to, a natural law account (hence the ease with which Aquinas does so), natural law theory is not Aristotelian. Aquinas gets the main lines of his account not from Aristotle but from Augustine's considerations on eternal Reason. Further, Aquinas does not consider natural law to be a mechanism for imposing duties. Natural law is not a 'mechanism'; it does not 'impose duties'. It is (if one must speak in terms of duties at all) correct rational perception of duties and what is required for, or consistent with, the virtuous life. Nor can any talk about "open questions" and "naturalistic fallacies" have any affect on the issue, because Moore's question cannot apply; natural law is law, which means it sets out what one ought to do. There is no naturalistic fallacy here, only a recognition that 'human nature' can in fact be an evaluative as well as a descriptive notion and the common principle that moral principles have rational authority.

Second, Aquinas offers the first principle "Seek good and shun evil" not as a counsel for morality, as the author seems to think, but as a basic reference point that needs to be considered in looking at necessity, contingency, and defeasibility in right moral reason. In particular, "seek good and shun evil" is offered not as an earth-shattering novelty, but 1) as a case of moral self-evidence that 2) constrains the basic structure of all precepts of natural law. In other words, the reason Aquinas mentions it is that it defines the field. (See here for the relevant text.) Actual moral guidance comes not with this general principle but with the virtue theory made possible by it. The author's attempt to mock Aquinas's use of the principle in reality supports the Common Doctor's case.

The author then goes on to criticize Aquinas's definition of 'law':

What seems to be happening here is that the concept of ideal or perfect or morally good law is seen as part of the moral order; from this correct insight, a careless slide is made into identifying law itself with a part of morality--the ideality no longer being regarded as a possible and desirable feature of law but as a part of the very meaning of "law." When Aquinas speaks of "being in accord with reason" and "being for the common good," he seems to be making a comment, not merely (and sensibly) about desirable features of law, but rather as part of the analysis of the concept of law or legality--matters of definition rather than evaluation. If this is the view, then it seems immediately open to some serious and rather obvious objections....A dramatic and decisive counterexample to this view, however, is the obvious existence of legal rules that clear thinking would force us to acknowledge as laws even if we believed them to be morally evil. Suppose, for example, that you believe that it is morally wrong for the state to eliminate all considerations of fault in granting legal divorces. Surely you could not reasonably conclude from this that all those persons in a "no-fault" state who claim to be legally divorced are really not divorced at all but are still legally married. (pp. 15-16)

This "dramatic and decisive counterexample" decides nothing. Natural law theories involve what is called "toleration"; i.e., it is often necessary, because of various limits on enforceability, and because human beings fall short of perfect virtue, for the law to tolerate things that are not strictly moral. The most common medieval example of this, interestingly, is prostitution. (The example, of course, is due to Augustine.) The reasoning is that if you outlaw prostitution, then given human immorality "all of Europe would become inflamed with lust." In other words, the medievals felt prostitution needed to be tolerated because things worse for common good (= the good each of us have in common in virtue of being rational and therefore social creatures) would follow if stringent measures were applied against it. So prostitution needed to be tolerated in order to limit the degree to which people could wreak sexual havoc. Further, it was recognized that toleration was a tricky issue; indeed, the whole area of law was recognized to be an area in which perfect certainty or virtue could not be expected, so there would not necessarily be only one way to deal with the difficult problems that arise in legislative matters. It is clearly the case that the issue in allowing divorce is toleration. It is also clearly the case, however, that, contrary to the author, if someone genuinely considers divorce law to be immoral and thus without authority, it is perfectly rational for them to consider people who are divorced to be divorced in name only. And the author says nothing that would actually show that such people are being unreasonable or not engaging in "clear thinking."

As to the "careless slide", Aquinas is quite explicit and deliberate about it. An unjust law is not a law in the sense that a perversion of authority is not the actual authority. An unjust law has several features of a law; it has the appearance of a law; we can call it a law. But an unjust law is missing the essential feature of a law, which is rational authority. If you have something that has no authority then it is not strictly a law, even if it is a law in a looser sense of the term. What gives a law authority? The source of authority in human practical matters: the basic principles of practical reason, without which practical reasoning is not possible, and what follows from them. In other words, natural law. Natural law is a way to connect human law and practical reasoning; and, in fact, it is the only way that has ever been proposed that stands alone. Other attempts can be shown to make implicit appeal to principles that on closer investigation start to look an awful lot like precepts of natural law.

There are many rules in any society that are surely laws but are just as surely morally neutral--e.g., some law requiring that one have one's validated registration tag on the auto license plate prior to March 1. Aquinas sensibly admits that such rules are laws, but the degree to which the admission is compatible witht he literal wording of his definition is unclear. Such rules, though no doubt, consistent with the common good, are not obviously for the common good in the sense that laws prohibiting murder are clearly for the common good. (p. 16)

This is to no purpose; that registration regulations are not for the common good in the same way that laws against murder are not for the common good does not show that they are not for the common good in a different way. And, indeed, if they are not for the common good in some way, what in the world is their point?

Technical Note on Comments (Yes, Again)

OK; I haven't worked out all the bugs in getting the comments part of this weblog up, so bear with it. Currently some links are open to the public, some are not. Probably the final result will be two different types of comment sections, one open access, which will only allow (very short) comments; and one that can be viewed by the public, but to which only people on my list can post, with no length limit. But all this is in disarray until I figure out how I want to do it, so sometimes some links will work and sometimes they won't. Please bear with me and my leisurely pace in constructing this site!

Because Everyone Expects the Church to Be in the Wrong....

This article in the Telegraph blares out "Pope says sorry for crusaders' rampage in 1204," calling the Pope's speech "an emotional apology." I feel a bit sorry for the Pope, who apparently has been cursed with the curse of being blatantly misunderstood by every reporter on the planet every time he opens his mouth. According to the Vatican Information Service, what the Pope actually said was, "How can we also, eight centuries later, not share the indignation and pain that Pope Innocent III immediately expressed about what happened?" The article, note, leaves out everything after the word "pain," thus missing the whole point of the question, which is that we share the indignation and pain of Pope Innocent III immediately after the event. Why is this called an apology?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Simon's "In Defense of Blogging"

An excellent defense of blogging by Simon at "Showcase". My favorite quote from the defense:

Thirdly the blogosphere as a whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. The constant linkage is its greatest strength and leads the reader direct to the source, or to alternative opinions, or instant responses, or responses to responses. It is the written form of that most basic human interaction: conversation.

Of Natural Law

There is an interesting post at Richard Chappell's "Philosophy, et cetera" blog that discusses (among other things) natural law - in particular, Bentham's criticism of it. They're interesting, to be sure, but they miscarry.

1. The first criticism is that there are conflicting systems of natural law. I would have to see the research behind such a statement (knowing Bentham there probably wasn't much) before I could give a full response to this. But it does not seem so; at least, if we're talking real natural law accounts rather than the caricatures of it made by its opponents. Natural law accounts are hierarchical; i.e., laws are nested within laws. The more general the principles, the more the evident the principle and the harder it is to apply to concrete particular instances. The more particular the principle, the easier it is to apply, but the harder it is to fit properly under the general principles in which it is nested. In fact, the more general the principle, the more agreement between varying authors within the natural law tradition; the more particular the principle, the more room for disagreement. This is not a problem that is exclusive to the natural law tradition; it arises not from the notion of natural law itself, nor from any of the principles used, but from two facts: a) the more general the principle, the more you've abstracted out particular factors that need to be considered in this particular sort of ethical case; b) the more particular the principle, the more complex you'll find the set of factors that have to be considered to come up with a correct judgment. All ethical theories have to face this difficulty.

2. The second criticism is that the natural law position appears to confuse physical laws with normative laws. In fact, I think you will find this is never actually the case. Natural law is not called natural law because it is like a physical law (law of nature). Physical laws were called 'laws' because they were originally considered to be like positive laws. Natural law, however, is called natural law because it is the basis in rational natures of positive laws.

3. The third criticism is one I'm not sure I understand, because it seems an absurd objection: Nature must have had some reasons for the law; wouldn't it be "surer, shorter and more persuasive, to give us those reasons directly?" The answer I'm tempted to make is No. Actually, it's a little more complicated. To say "nature must have had some reasons for the law" is as much to say "nature must have had some reasons for ethical reasons". And so, since we're talking about ethics, the answer is this: for all but the very most general principles of natural law nature has given us the reasons; and for the most general principles of natural law, since they are the most fundamental ethical reasons, any reasons for them would not be ethical reasons but some other sort of reasons, and therefore not likely to provided a "surer, shorter, and more persuasive" way. To put it simply: nature already has given us the relevant reasons directly; the difficulties of ethics are due precisely to that fact, so Bentham doesn't know what he's talking about.

4. The fourth criticism is that, besides being false, natural law theories are pernicious, since they encourage a) dogmatism; and b) anarchy.

As to (a): I have two points. First, I would be more impressed by harangues against dogmatism if it were coming from the mouth of someone other than Bentham, who's hardly one to talk. But more importantly, I don't see any reason to think that the natural law view is more (or less) likely to lead to dogmatism than any other view. What makes people obstinately dogmatic is certainty that they are right; this is generally more a matter of ignorance than ethics, and it doesn't seem likely that we could find a view of ethics that actually made it impossible for people stubbornly to assume they are right. And indeed, utilitarianism turns out to be far worse than natural law in this regard; serious concern for natural law always forces people to reason out what their doing, and to try to show how it falls under the right principles, but utilitarianism short-circuits this by reducing it all to a means-end analysis that encourages people to think the ends justify the means. And that's exactly what fanatics do.

As to (b): I don't see that it's plausible. First, because sometimes people should rebel against unjust human laws; and the natural law position is that what makes unjust human laws unjust is their conflict with the principles of justice, i.e., natural law. Take a good example of a case where people appealed to the higher law, i.e., natural law, the civil rights movement (the abolitionist movement would work as well). Can we honestly say it would have been better for people just to sit back and accept the injustice of the laws they were faced? Second, genuine concern for natural law forces people to reason out what they are doing, as I noted previously (the civil rights and abolitionist movements provides good examples of this as well). Third, the sort of rebelling that would follow from natural law would have to be consistent with natural law, which would restrain any genuine anarchy. Fourth, the real problem is not people refusing to obey human laws because they see them as in conflict with the higher law, but rather people going along with human laws despite seeing that they conflict with the higher law. That is, people are not generally inclined to much rebellion, even when it's good for them to rebel, because people are too concerned about the consequences of their actions. They accept laws legitimizing slavery or discrimination because they are afraid of public opinion and the police. So anarchy wouldn't be a likely consequence anyway; sanctions are by and large effective, even when they shouldn't be.

So the long and the short of it is that I don't accept any of Bentham's objections to natural law. Some of my responses here are particularly focused on utilitarianism, so it's always possible that they might be evaded by someone who's not a utilitarian but is appropriating Bentham's arguments. But I suspect most objections to natural law could be met fairly easily; it would require, however, going into more specifics than I have here.

Shepherd on the First Cause

I'm gathering these together because they haven't been gathered together before. I hope to comment on them when I have the time. They do not exhaust Shepherd's comments on the topic, but do highlight some of the key issues (including Shepherd's clever and underappreciated theory of causation). (I bold where Shepherd italicized.)

The sum of my answer and argument [i.e., to Hume] is, that although we know not the "secrets of nature," yet we know that nothing can "begin its own existence;" therefore there must truly be a "productive principle," a cause necessary for every new existence in nature;--that we gain the knowledge of a "necessary connexion between Cause and Effect," by an experimentum crucis, and therefore no greater number of invariable antecedents and consequents are wanted, than what is necessary, in order to observe what circumstances affect each other, or the contrary. That neither fancy nor custom creates the notion by an association of ideas; but the UNDERSTANDING gains it, by an observation of what is that circumstance, without which a new object does not exist. Things therefore could not change their places, nor nature alter her course, without a contradiction

Hence it is that a cause is wanted in the universe equivalent to the change from non-existence ot existence! And also that it is not more unreasonable to believe in miracles than in any other extraordinary phenomena of nature, when we may suppose, that efficient Causes have been in action, towards their production; and that final causes are of sufficient weight to justify the altered work of Providence!

An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect, Chapter 2, Section 3, pp. 94-95.

Let it not be retorted, that it is easier to conceive of all the little changing beings we know of, as existing without a creator than of such a being [as God]; for I answer, it is not easier so to think; the one side of teh dilemma involves a contradiction, the other does not; the one is to image the existence of a series of dependant effects without a continuous being of which they are the qualities, and is equal to the supposition of the possibility of every thing springing up as we see it, from an absolute blank and nonentity of existence; the other is the result of referring like effects to like causes. The one is to regard each little being we know of, as the strange appearance of contrivance without design, and of being at once a series of changes in relation to no end, though apparently directed to it; the other is to believe in the infinite universe of mind, matter, space, and motion, eternally and necessarily existing: generating the creation of all minor existences in every form and kind that is possible, through the rounds of ceaseless time.

Essays on the Perception of the External Universe, Part II, Essay XI ("On the Immateriality of Mind"), pp. 391-392.

All changes are but the little beginnings of new forms of existence, derived from the Universal Essence which began not to be. All motions derived from previous motion form together but ONE ACTION put forth originally by the essential power to begin motion, itself no motion. To suppose otherwise, is to imagine it possible for all which we at present see, to be of itself capable of arising where there was nothing but a blank. The mind feels that such an hypothesis involves a contradiction; that the idea contains an impossibility.

EPEU, Part II, Essay XII ("On the Union of Mind with Organization"), p. 399.

More Poetic First Drafts, with Comments Out Loud

We all have voices

We all have voices
We've all been places
We've all seen times
We all have rhymes
And rhythms in our heads.

And we all have masks
That cover our faces
We all have our places
Amid hundreds of races.
We've all known virtue
We've all been sin
We've all lost faith
In this human race
And gained it back again.

Age of Wonders

We live in an age of wonders,
So wonders we cannot see;
Bones may turn to stones
And Leviathan swim the sea,
Rocks may fall from clear blue sky
And the human heart is free.

We live in an age of wonders,
Marvels are our ways;
Who but knows that the trilobyte
In some small corner without light
May live, even in our days?
The stars that have hung in night,
A million years rehearsing light,
May suddenly cease their rays.

We live in an age of wonders,
Glories adorn this dome;
We may look at the ships sunk in the deep,
Unlock the brain of a man in his sleep,
And among the planets roam;
But throught it all we laugh and weep,
And in our hearts most guarded keep
A yearning for our true home.

The first leans to being a bit sappy and silly; it would perhaps make a better song lyric than reading-poem, although I confess to liking it, so prob. will only modify it slightly. The second is better, but too clunky; I need to rework some of it (especially the last stanza) for smoothness, and make the catalogue of wonders a bit more structured....

Science and History

There's an interesting post at Alex Ross's "The Rest is Noise" weblog on science stories about music that show inadequate awareness of music history, so (e.g.) they claim that scientists have "discovered" a fact that was already well-known. I've noticed similar cases where science stories touch on philosophical issues. The moral from these sorts of cases is that science may inform, but history tells the relevance; there are lots of interesting facts, experiments, and theories in scientific research into music, for instance, but where they all really fit is something that can only be seen by looking at music history, i.e., at our knowledge and understanding of music as it has actually grown and developed and moved through time. The same is true of philosophy; scientific research can shed light on philosophical issues, but what light is shed depends on knowing what those philosophical issues actually are and have been through time.

Wisdom from Witherspoon

Let us now ask this short question, what is the value and advantage of civil liberty?

Is it necessary to virtue? This cannot be supposed. A virtuous mind and virtuous conduct is possible, and perhaps equally possible in every form of government.

Is it necessary to personal private happiness? It may seem so. We see the subjects of arbitrary governments, however not only happy, but very often they have a greater attachment to their form of government than those of free states have to theirs. And if contentment be necessary to happiness, there is commonly more impatience and discontent in a free state than in any other. The tyranny even of an absolute monarch does not affect with personal injury any of his subjects but a few, and chiefly those who make it their choice to be near him. Perhaps in free governments the law and the mob do more mischief to private property than is done in any absolute monarchy.

What then is the advantage of civil liberty? I suppose it chiefly consists in its tendency to put in motion all the human powers. Therefore it promotes industry, and in this respect happiness--produces every latent quality, and improves the human mind.--Liberty is the nurse of riches, literature and heroism.

Rev. John Witherspoon, Lectures on Moral Philosophy (c. 1768). Witherspoon, of course, was sixth president of the College of New Jersey (a.k.a. Princeton) and signed the Declaration of Independence.

Ironic fact, by the way: Reese Witherspoon is a direct descendent of John Witherspoon. The irony is that Witherspoon wrote several tracts on the immorality of stage-plays.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Some Wonderful Natural Contagiousness

There are, indeed, few pleasures or none, not even physical ones, which the company of others does not for the most part considerably increase, by some wonderful natural contagiousness. Every happy or joyful state of themind carries with it the urge for communication to others and sharing with them. Whatever is agreeable, pleasant, cheerful, witty, or humorous will hardly ever, indeed never, fail to spring up and burst forth from teh human heart, endeavouring to unfold itself amongst others. Nothing gives man greater joy than sharing his joy with others. For this reason, even if we were to suppose that everyone seeks his own pleasure or advantage, nevertheless, such is the nature of most pleasures and of the greatest ones, of such a kind are most of our desires, that they induce us to seek social life for its own sake almost without any reasoning, and make the offices of social life in themselves joyful and agreeable.

Francis Hutcheson, from the Inaugural lecture on the social nature of man.

Siris Ranking

It turns out that, in a Yahoo! search for "Lady Mary Shepherd," Siris is currently number 10. This is even better than one might expect, given that most of the top 20 are either Thoemmes Press or the great Margaret Atherton, whose little anthology first interested me in her. Actually, this is an unfortunate sign of the general neglect of this astute nineteenth century philosophical thinker.

Siris is number 21 in the Yahoo! search for "Berkeley, Siris".

It is number 27 in the Yahoo! search for "Berkeley, Tar-Water".

I'll probably be posting something on all three of these topics next month, so in the unlikely event of people performing Yahoo! searches for these phrases, they won't be disappointed at the result.

One Pond Seen Five Times Over

"We gain the notion of the independancy of objects, from the observation of one object affecting many minds in a manner which renders it impossible there should be as many objects as minds. If five men see a pond, and can only walk round one pond, then there is one pond seen five times over, not five ponds; so the pond whatever it may be when unperceived, must at least in its unperceived state, be independant of, and I may add external to all the minds; for if the pond were only in the mind, there would be five ponds, and every person who perceived a pond would create another pond, and yet this multitude of ponds in perception would in many respects but merit the definition due to one pond. Thsu there would be such a contradiction among the 'ideas and sensations,' that the mind must come to the belief of only one pond, seen by five persons; that is, in other words, an independant cause for particular sensations. This objection to his doctrine Berkeley answers, in a very unsatisfactory, hesitating manner in his dialogues."

Lady Mary Shepherd, Essays on the Perception of an External Universe, Part I ("An Essay on the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy as Applied by Mr. Hume to the Perception of External Existence"), pp. 80-81. ('Independant' with an 'a' is Shepherd's standard spelling.)

Technical Note on Comments

The comments are not being counted on the main page; I need to fix this. I don't have many comments yet anyway, so it's not a problem.

On a related note: To post comments, you need to be on a list. If you want to post comments, send me an email at bwatson{at}chass{dot}utoronto{dot}ca (with, of course, @ for {at} and . for {dot}), and I'll send you the invitation.

UPDATE (29 June 2004): Fixed the comments problem. Next I'll probably re-work the comments links on the post pages; they work, but they're ugly.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

This Whole Notion of "Event Causation" - Bah!

There's an interesting discussion of 'agent causation' accounts of free will at "OrangePhilosophy" (yet another philosophy weblog) by Jeremy (the last name isn't given at that point, but I'm fairly sure it's Pierce). The problem proposed is an interesting one. The most reasonable move by the 'agent causation' people, I think, would be to deny that events, properly speaking, are either causes or effects. In other words, causation is not a relation between events; the only relations between events are relations like spatial and temporal contiguity (before, after, overlapping, etc.).

Nor would this be an unreasonable move. This whole 'event causation is the only causation' fad was, one could argue, started (unintentionally) by Malebranche in the 17th century. He did it in order to attack what he considered to be the idolatrous notion that creaturely substances could be true causes. To put it in other words: event-based accounts of causation come into their own when people starting denying that the earlier (largely scholastic) accounts of causation in the created world. Malebranche still held that this older account of causation was the account of true or real causes; creatures were not true causes but occasional causes, i.e., 'causation' for creatures consists of events organized by laws governing God's activity. He gives a number of arguments to supplement his conclusion, the most famous being the case of billiard balls hitting each other on a table. (Malebranche, we are told, was very good at billiards.)

Berkeley takes up something similar, but extends true causality to all spirits (he is very explicit about this move). I suspect it is from Berkeley that Reid originally picks up his notion of an agent, although I don't know for sure. (This would be a good thing to research; I'll have to think about it more.)

Hume does away with what Malebranche and Berkeley considered true causation, and just keeps what they considered to be the derivative causation of creatures (Malebranche) or sensible objects (Berkeley). (Hume, of course, is closer to Berkeley's version, but he uses a number of Malebranche's arguments, including the billiard ball argument.) He also, I suspect (there needs to be more research on this), is the one responsible for the rise of popularity in discussions of causation in terms of events (although he wouldn't have been the only one). Analytic philosophers tend to accept the event causation = causation view because they are uncritically Humean on this point. Unlike Hume, however, they don't realize how limited the set of kinds of relations events can have to each other really is. Hume's recognition of this is the key to the entire Humean account of causation. What makes the Humean account of causation so strong is that, if you once start thinking of causation entirely in terms of events, you are pretty much committed to the path Hume takes, unless you inconsistently splice your 'event causation' with elements of (e.g.) an 'agent causation' account.

People who advocate what are commonly called 'agent causation' accounts of free will usually don't take this road; they more or less accept the event causation orthodoxy but add another kind of causation on top of it. This need not be inconsistent; it can only be inconsistent (to return to the author's argument) if event causation is fundamentally deterministic. This is another issue with which I have problems for related reasons, but I'll leave those out. [[LATER NOTE: I just realized that the first sentence is vague; "this road" is the alternative of denying that 'causation' actually applies to events.]]

Jeremy has a closely related post at "Parableman," also worth reading. Actually, I find I like a lot of Jeremy's posts, so I'll probably put his weblogs up on my weblog list, as soon as I get around to it.

Practical Doubts about Reason

I'm a bit surprised people interested in the practical applications of epistemological issues haven't spent more time looking at Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. The running theme of the play is the difficulty of distinguishing true perception from self-deception in the case of romantic love. Consider the following speech by Lysander in the second act:

Content with Hermia? No, I do repent
The tedious minutes I with her have spent.
Not Hermia but Helena I love.
Who will not change a raven for a dove?
The will of man is by his reason swayed,
And reason says you are the worthier maid.
Things growing are not ripe until their season;
So I, being young, till now ripe not to reason.
And touching now the point of human skill,
Reason becomes the marshal to my will,
And leads me to your eyes,where I o'erlook
Love's stories written in love's richest book.

The irony, of course, is that Lysander loved Hermia but has been addled by the flower "love in idleness". But this is not quite the whole story, because the flower turns things to right as well. The point, of course, is not magic flowers but rationality and irrationality in love.

Non-violent Punishment

There is a fascinating discussion at "Ruthless Precision" suggesting a "Society for the Non-Violent Punishment of Rapists". The name is a bit misleading, since the society would not be concerned with what sort of punishment the state should dole out in response to rape, but would instead be "a grass-roots association that will include all people who care about the horror of rape and are willing to live like it is truly evil." The goal of the society would be to make rape unthinkable.

I like the idea, although I have a few quibbles with the way it is set up here. What seems to be covered by "non-violent punishment" is shaming and spurning as a response to (alleged) rape. I don't see how this would do much towards the goal of the society. We already do, to some extent, shame and spurn rapists and alleged rapists; we could definitely use shaming and spurning to a greater extent, but I'm not convinced that this would do all that much to deter rape, which should be the great priority. For one thing, how many people actually have much warrant for thinking anyone they know to be a possible rapist? Some, perhaps, but in general rape is a clandestine wrong; most of us are only put in a situation of this sort by accident. There needs to be something more systematic and more preemptive than just appeals to people in this sort of situation to use social punishment ('social punishment' is, I think, a better label than 'non-violent punishment'). The most obvious point, I think, is to come up with a way to deal, systematically, with cases where the media (music, movies, and the like) are ambiguous about rape. There needs to be a stronger anti-rape message in our culture generally. But there are probably other possibilities, less obvious, that could be part of the approach.

The Reporting Trees (LFPA)

Citation: John King-Farlow. "Two Dogmas of Linguistic Empiricism." Dialogue vol. XI, no. 3 (1972) 325-336.

Summary: (General Overview) Taking his start from comments by Hampshire and Quine, King-Farlow identifies two 'dogmas' about what it is to speak or to be a speaker:

I. If we have a case of a rational speaker we must then have a being with a self-concept (or something similar).

II. If we have a case of a rational speaker of a rule-governed language learnable by others, then this being must have learned it from others and must use it primarily or almost entirely in interaction with others whom he knows to be fellow-speakers of the language.

King-Farlow's article is an attempt to show that these dogmas are "confusedly anthropocentric" (326); in particular, they contribute to confusing [a] the truth that typical human speakers are typical human speakers with [b] the falsehood that typically rational speakers must closely resemble typical human speakers. He will do this by arguing that "a description of possible beings that would be rational speakers" (326) satisfy almost all the requirements for rational speech noted by Bennett in Rationality. ("The idea of rationality is that of the ability, given certain present and particular data, to unite or relate them wit other data in certain appropriate ways..." - Bennett, quoted p. 327).

(The Parable of the Reporting Trees) The "description of possible beings that would be rational speakers" opens with this:

Neo-Quinean linguistic explorers lost deep in the Amazon jungle try to take refuge from irate, rabbit-worshipping tribesmen, who consider it blasphemous for aliens to utter their sacred sound "Gavagai." An ecumenical witch-doctor, sympathetic even to Skinnerian Scripture, directs the fugitives to an invariably respected sanctuary which, he truthfully tells them, is called by the tribe The Inviolable Wood of The Reporting Trees. Twenty closely bunched and meagre trees, forming a slightly curved line, remind one newcomer a little of a William Blake illustration for Dante's Wood of the Self-Murderers: are they not equipped with what appear to be eyes and ears? This interpretation of the arboric appendages is held in scorn by most of our long confined and bored field-linguists until statistical analyses are applied (initially as a joke) to certain rustle-regularities of the trees' leaves, sounding in motion. There is hardly any wind which could even begin to account for this motion.

Long story short, the appendages of the trees turns out to be sufficiently analogous to a nervous system to make the explorers think they should look into leaf-rustlings of The Reporting Trees as a matter of linguistic research. The (tentative) conclusion of their work: 1) The trees can respond to visual and auditory stimuli if they occur between about 400 and 600 yards away. 2) Within this field the trees can correctly a)discriminate relative distances; b) state the number of objects of certain kinds; c) state the number of times a 'thing of a sort' is seen within a 10-second 'now' or within the previous period of up to 50 time units (where a time-unit is 21/53 of a minute). 3) If one tree gives a statement the same tree or another tree sometimes gives something like a correction, indicating the truth value of the statement and the reasons for assigning the truth values. 4) The trees do not appear to distinguish in any way their own statements and the statements of other trees. Further research suggests that, while a certain amount of contact with the trees is possible, they seem to be equipped only for the types of statements indicated in (1) - (4).

King-Farlow then considers a handful of minor protestations and argues against them. I pass over to the conclusions drawn.

(Moral of the Parable) King-Farlow draws several conclusions from his parable.

(C1) "Speaking what dserves to be called a language requires no concept of Self, no concept of myself-versus-others, no Cogito ergo sum, no Transcendental Unity of Apperception." (p. 333)

(C2) "Unfortunately for Strawson's anthropocentrism, we have seen that there is no need for our Reporting Trees to think of themselves as having a point of reference within the spatiotemporal network which interests them. They just do identify and reidentify things like crows well enough for them to count and state accurately the numbers of birds of various kinds that appear in the network within anything up to fifty of their time units, to make meta-stateemtns about such calculations, to give reasons, referring only to what goes on in a spatial framework in which they do not participate, etc. More important, human beings just do understand a tale about such hypothetical organisms. Humans just are capable of analogical thinking about language, meaning, identification, vision and much else. And this precious human capacity for analogical thinking seems to have been better appreciated by alleged obscurantists of the Middle Ages than by Renaissance humanists or our modern anthropo-eccentrics." (p. 334) Strictly speaking, the last sentence isn't essential to the argument, but I love it too much to let it go.

(C3) "Having to learn language from older members of one's linguistic community and mainly using language to interact with other members in societal ways may be essential to men as linguistic beings. But neither is essential for a language user qua language user." (p. 334)

(C4) "Insofar as Wittgenstein in his so influential Philosophical Investigations or Norman Malcolm in commentary seems to suggest that the rule-governed use of language can only be ascribed either to human beings or to what look and behave very like humans as they behave in interacting groups, intending to influence each otehr, they are wrong." (p. 335)

(C5) With respect to (Gricean/Searlean) attempts to link meaning qua meaning and language qua language to intentions, performative intention, etc.: "The Reptorting Trees have no such intentions, ahving no concept of Self-versus-Others, but they speak much and mean plenty. It just conceivably might be objected that a Reporting Tree intends to influence itself: but since, ex hypothesi, it has no concept of Self, it has no concept of me-affecting myself either." (pp. 335-336)

(Conclusion) King-Farlow concludes:

Man already has a broader concept of language and of meaning than many terrestrially land-locked 'naturalists' are predisposed to allow. Man has the intelligence and conceptual fertility to grow much further in wisdom (scientifically as well as philosophically) about language and meaning. If or whenman meets linguistic organisms very different from himself, he should nto be handicapped by parocial apriorities. Philosophers should not try to sell their intellectual birthright for a mess of stale, anthropocentric pottage.

I will give my thoughts on this interesting article in the comments section.

The Writing on the Wall

Insular Majuscule
Insular Majuscule- You are spiritual and well
rounded. People look to you for advice, but
sometimes find you difficult to understand.

What Calligraphy Hand Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

The script never lies....

The Land of Forgotten Philosophy Articles (LFPA)

One of the flaws of the journal-article system is that if a journal article doesn't catch people's interests immediately, it fades away - or, rather, molders away - lost in some library stack no one ever sees, never unearthed, rarely if ever cited. There are (unfortunately) a lot of journal articles for which this is probably best, but there are articles that get lost in the shuffle that are interesting and worth reading. Now, I have a stack of old journals, especially Dialogue and Philosophy of Science, that need to be put to some sort of use if I'm to justify keeping them, so I'm thinking about starting a series of posts on precisely this. In these posts I'll be citing, summarizing, and evaluating journal articles that I think should be more widely considered. Some of them will be very lost, some might be recognizable but rarely given much attention any more, some might be fairly well known but rarely actually read; but I'll be doing my little bit for them all. The series will be marked by the letters "LFPA" in the headline.

Philosophy (&c.) Weblogs

I'm still sorting out what weblogs I want to put on my sidebar; here are the philosophy weblogs I am currently considering. They're all good, but I really only want to put on my sidebar weblogs I'll actually look at regularly, so they are, as it were, in the testing phase.

Experimental Philosophy

Certain Doubts


Fake Barn Country

Personal Knowledge

They're all good; but several of them are analytic epistemology, and so have discussions that, while interesting in themselves, are not my cup of tea, i.e., discussions to which I would be unlikely to have any response save my usual cynical skepticism about analytic approaches - which is certainly not the most constructive sort of participation for me or anyone else. So I'll still mostly be doing my own thing, and will just see if I find any of these turn out to be more than just occasional reads.

Other (broader interest) weblogs I'm looking at include

Ruthless Precision

God of the Machine

as well as the Ravishing Light website noted in an earlier post.