Wednesday, July 07, 2004

A Bit from Novalis

My previous post on my Romantic propensities in blogging have set me thinking about Novalis. I don't have much in the way of Novalis on hand, but I have gone back to read George MacDonald's Phantastes again. Here is the big section quoted from Novalis at the beginning:

One can imagine stories without rational cohesion and yet filled with associations, like dreams; and poems that are merely lovely sounding, full of beautiful words, but also without rational sense and connections--with, at the most, individual verses which are intelligible, like fragments of the most varied things. This true Poesie can at most have a general allegorical meaning and an indirect efect, as music does. Thus is Nature so purely poetic, like the room of a magician or a physicist; like a children's nursery or a carptenter's shop....

A fairy-story is like a vision without rational connections, a harmonious whole of miraculous things and events--as, for example, a musical fantasia, the harmonic sequence of an Aeolian harp, indeed Nature itself.


In a genuine fairy-story, everything must be miraculous, mysterious, and interrelated; everythign must be alive, each in its own way. The whole of Nature must b ewondrously blended with the whole world of the Spirit. In fairy-story the tie of anarchy, lawlessness, freedom, the natural state of Nature makes itself felt in the world....The world of the fairy-story is that world which is opposed throughout to the world of rational truth, and precisely for tha treason it is so thoroughly an analogue to it, as Chaos is an analogue to the finished Creation.

And, at the beginning of Chapter XXV is this Novalis quote: Our life is no dream, but it ought to become one, and perhaps will.

More Weblog Neighborliness

It bears mentioning that the weblog "17th century", self-described as "An online community for early modernists," has put up a link to my other weblog, "Houyhnhnm Land". As I noted previously, history of early modern philosophy is more philosophy than history; but H.L. is, I think, in the process of becoming useful to those who might need resources on the metaphysical and religious thought of the 17th and 18th centuries (with a bit of the 16th and 19th thrown in).

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Spidey Sense

I've been having difficulty with a chapter recently, so I set it aside for a bit and went and saw Spiderman 2. It was very well done; much better humor, better spectacle, better organization of spectacle, and better dialogue. I didn't entirely like the ending (insofar as it involved MJ). Indeed, I found Mary Jane in this movie to be largely an irritation, and thought some of her actions were inexcusable. I would have enjoyed the ending more had the movie cut out the last bit with her. But other than that, it was a great movie. The Elfin Ethicist has a post on the movie that's worth reading.

Now I'm recharged for tackling that chapter....

Monday, July 05, 2004

Political Taste

I do a lot of thinking about early modern interest in Taste (see here for my brief definition of this term), and it occurred to me that one could expand it beyond the aesthetic issues to which discussion of taste is usually confined. In a sense this is what Hume attempts to do in his ethics; and there certainly does seem to be such a thing as good and bad ethical taste, even if you think (as I think) there must be more to ethics than good taste alone. It could also, I think, be extended to politics (this was what interested me about this line of thought). One wouldn't have to hold that reasoning about politics is purely a matter of taste in order to allow that taste plays an important role in politics. Nor would one have to make a value judgment about whether (e.g.) conservatives or liberals have better political taste (which is what these debates are usually about, as can easily be seen by looking at the major conservative and liberal weblogs) in order to find the concept useful. Hume, in his essay "Of the Standard of Taste" (its organization is hard to follow, but it's worth reading) rightly notes that the real difference between good and bad critics of art (and therefore between good and bad taste) is that bad critics allow various flaws of reasoning into their evaluative judgments: 1) prejudice, which biases their perception of the actual thing being evaluated; 2) narrowness of acquaintance with the various sorts of things that might be experienced; and 3) inconsistency in the application of the general evaluative rules good taste generates. These are counteracted by 1) focusing on the actual issue at hand, and not letting prior conceptions about the people involved, or the party involved, or whatever, cloud your judgment; 2) looking into the political actions of other cultures, nations, times, &c., comparing and contrasting them - good taste is a matter of seeing things in the whole context of their possibilities, and to understand what those possibilities one needs to see what's out there; 3) striving for consistency in evaluation.

One of the neat things about a theory of political taste is that it would be eminently practical: a theory of political taste would be a theory about the basics of how to make reasoning about political matters, both private and public, more consistent, accurate, and useful. It would also give people something whereby they might engage in self-critique, improving the basis of their judgments (one of the problems with political reasoning as it stands is that everyone thinks they have good sense and their opponents don't; this is conducive to bad taste). It would also raise the political discussion to the right level. If you look at the major groups in the debate over the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, you will find that both sides put forward leaders with far better political taste than most of the people we manage to put forward: they are paradigmatic cases of political good case, exemplifying all three of the actions that signal a good political critic to an eminent degree. (Various examples are available here.) They should be the starting point (with select others) for the building of a theory of political good taste.

Incidentally, even if we set aside the issue of the standard of political taste, there is still value in reading both the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists; for one thing, some of the debates they had still go on (e.g., over the proper role of the judiciary in the Constitution, which the Anti-Federalists claimed, and the Federalists denied, was insufficiently checked and balanced), and for another, they show just how thoughtful political disagreement over major issues can be.

No, He Wasn't Crazy

Today I gave an introductory lecture on Berkeley, focusing on his theory of vision in New Theory of Vision and Alciphron and the reflections on tar-water in Siris. They're a bit heavy for a first introduction, but I like to start with them because, if you can see what Berkeley is doing there, you can see far more easily what he is doing in his better-known works. It's exhausting, but on the plus side I get to teach the jolly prelate's poem, On Tar, which I always enjoy doing. My thoughts on the poem:

Hail vulgar juice of never-fading pine!
Cheap as thou art, thy virtues are divine.
To shew them and explain (such is thy store)
There needs much modern and much ancient lore.

Here the poem opens by noting the occasion: the phenomenon of tar-water's apparent healing virtues, and, more generally, its hidden complexity. This will be a theme throughout the poem: there is more to tar than meets the eye, and if you inquire into this apparently lowly substance in the right way, you will find yourself drawn into much greater things.

While with slow pains we search the healing spell,
Those sparks of life, that in thy balsam dwell,
From lowest earth by gentle steps we rise
Through air, fire, æther to the highest skies.
Things gross and low present truth's sacred clue.
Sense, fancy, reason, intellect pursue
Her winding mazes, and by Nature's laws
From plain effects trace out the mystic cause,
And principles explore, though wrapt in shades,
That spring of life which the great world pervades,
The spirit that moves, the Intellect that guides,
Th' eternal One that o'er the Whole presides.

Note that we investigate the healing properties of tar "with slow pains." This emphasis on the difficulty of the investigation carries over from the first part of the poem, and continues until the end. By "sparks of life" Berkeley means pure invisible fire (=light=aether), which he hypothesizes to be the source of tar-water's efficacy as a medicine. He then opens the ascent them that continues through the rest of the poem. From lowest earth (tar) we proceed to air (from which plants distill their sap, which becomes tar), to fire or light (which is what they draw from the air), to aether (which is fire or light in its purest form, pervading the universe and guiding the motions of everything else), to "the highest skies," i.e. Heavenly providence. "Clue" can mean either 'clue' or 'thread'; it does double-duty here. The link between threads (the original meaning of the word) and what we call clues can be seen in the story of Ariadne, to which the poem alludes. The world is a maze, but by seeking the true explanation of the phenomenon, we can follow a thread that leads out of the maze, or, in other words, by discerning Nature's laws we can move from the phenomena or "plain effects" to the true causes of the effect, and, in particular, to God. Notice that there are actually two ascents here. There is an ascent from effects to causes in things (tar, air, fire, aether, God), and there is an ascent in the type of inquiry (the data of the senses, the patterns of sensory data, the rational investigation of what underlies those patters, the intellectual understanding of the phenomena in relation to its true causes). "Fancy" is another word for imagination, and means (roughly) sub-rational sensory processing.

Go learn'd mechanic, stare with stupid eyes,
Attribute to all figure, weight and size;
Nor look behind the moving scene to see
What gives each wondrous form its energy.
Vain images possess the sensual mind,
To real agents and true causes blind.

The "mechanic" here is someone attempting to explain the efficacy of tar entirely in terms of the motion of particles. This is staring "with stupid eyes" - if you've ever seen someone so tired they can't think very quickly, you've seen the sort of staring with stupid eyes (stupid from the stupor of sleep) Berkeley means. The stupor of the mechanical philosopher is that he can't get beyond the appearances to the true causes, which are not sensible and therefore not, strictly speaking, imaginable. The mechanical philosophers, caught up with the success of mechanistic philosopher, avoids the real rational and intellectual work required to see what is really happening. Berkeley holds that the only real agents and true causes are minds or spirits; this is the basis for one of his arguments for God's existence.

But soon as intellect's bright sun displays
O'er the benighted orb his fulgent rays,
Delusive phantoms fly before the light,
Nature and truth lie open at the sight:
Causes connect with effects supply
A golden chain, whose radiant links on high
Fix'd to the sovereign throne from thence depend
And reach e'en down to tar the nether end.

Contrasted with merely mechanistic investigation is genuinely intellectual study of the world. This includes mechanistic investigation as part of the ascent; but in the right sort of inquiry we attempt to go beyond bare appearances, and beyond the purely mathematical patterns exemplified by those appearances, to causes. When we do this, and rise, through reasoning, from a purely imaginative level of inquiry to a genuinely intellectual level of inquiry, false views start falling away and we begin to understand the true nature of the world. Notice that the golden chain discovered by the intellect is fixed to "the sovereign throne," not tar. We ascend from tar to God in inquiry, but this is only possible because there is a chain of cause and effect leading from God (as first cause) to tar (which, because of its utter mundaneness, symbolizes the least effect). By recognizing effects, we begin to inquire into causes; and even if we start with phenomena as unimpressive as those associated with tar, we reach God.

The poem, then, is an account of what Berkeley thinks is the correct attitude in investigating anything. 1) Start with the phenomena; 2) recognize that it takes time and effort because there is more even to the least important things than meets the eye; 3) rise, from effect to cause, through the causal chain by, at the same time, rising from the senses, through the imagination, through reason, to intellectual understanding; 4) we understand things, properly speaking, by understanding how they fit into the golden chain that is the universe, and which depends on God.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

The Look of a Window Around the Corner

I recently changed the lightbulbs in my bedroom; I thought I would try the 'daylight' kind that filter out the yellow and are supposed to be better for your eyes. I wasn't especially impressed by them when I put them in. This morning, however, I was walking toward my room, when suddenly I saw why they call them 'daylight'. This wouldn't be interesting except that the reason it suddenly really looked like daylight was that it looked like a window was around the corner. It's a strange thing, if you think of it, that someone can know what having a window in the wall would look like from around a corner. Berkeley, I think, would love an example like this: the immediate perception of the play of light across the floor, the color of the light, the angle from which I was viewing, all contributed to the suggestion of there being a window in a wall I could not see. It was a mooreeffoc moment:

And there is (especially for the humble) Mooreeffoc, or Chestertonian Fantasy. Mooreeffoc is a fantastic word, but it could be seen written up in every town in this land. It is Coffee-room, viewed from the inside through a glass door, as it was seen by Dickens on a dark London day; and it was used by Chesterton to denote the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle.
J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

I Can Do a Great Exegesis of Myself

It suddenly occurred to me what I see myself as doing in Siris. I tend to think of weblogs, at their best, as exercises of wit in the old sense, i.e., ingenium, the faculty of discovery and invention. This is what I tend to look for when I look at other weblogs; if I don't find it I'm disappointed. So what I do here is pull together resources, link diverse ideas together, combine poetry and philosophy and anecdote, cover the universe and back again piecemealwise, all to the service of wit (my own, primarily, but you're all welcome to what you can get out of it). Posts are like brainstorming, or, to borrow an image from Novalis, pollen. In blogging, at least, I am a Romantic philosopher. For evidence see here and here, among other places. The last time I read any of the Romantics was in undergrad; if I remember correctly Novalis intrigued me, but Schlegel bored me. Perhaps I will have to go back and look at them more closely.

Unquinable Malebranchean Modifications

I am currently doing some revising of a chapter that includes a section on Malebranche's theory of sensation. I've dealt with some of it before, but things come across differently when you are trying to write about them than when you are trying casually to read them. One argument has struck my eye anew. Malebranche is arguing that we have good reason to think not everyone has the same sensations:

Suppose that there are twenty people, and that oen of them, who does not know the words used in France to indicate cold and warmth, has cold hands, and the others have extremely warm hands. If tepid water were brought to them during the winter for washing, those with warm hands, taking their turns to wash first, would say, this is very cold water, I do not like it at all. But when he with the very cold hands finally had his turn to wash, he would say, I do not know why you do not like cold water; for myself I find the sensation of cold water and washing in it quite pleasing.

It is quite clear in this example that when this fellow says, I like cold, it means nothing if nto that he likes warmth and that he feels warmth where others feel the opposite.
(Search after Truth 1.13, LO 65)

Malebranche uses this as part of an argument arguing that, because no one's sensory organs are exactly the same, and since the dispositions of our sensory organs are correlated to our sensations by general laws, no one has exactly the same sensations. What struck me was the closeness of this to some discussions of qualia in more recent literature. Indeed, this whole notion of 'qualia' is an attempt to re-insert Cartesian modifications of the soul into philosophy of the mind; they are both "the way things seem to us."

It is worth noting, however, that Malebranche's 'modifications' are on very strong ground, because he does not rely on them, as qualia theorists often rely on qualia, to argue against reduction of mind to body. That is dealt with in a different set of arguments. Consider the arguments against qualia in Dennett's famous paper, Quining Qualia. (It will help if you refer back to the paper at each point.

Intuition pump #1: Watching You Eat Cauliflower. This sounds a lot like Malebranche, but unlike Dennett's qualia-advocates, he does not make his case on the basis of a stripping down to residuals, independently of how they are stimulated. On the contrary, his primary argument is that because they are stimulated in different ways, they (probably) have different modifications of the soul.

Intuition pump #2: The Wine-tasting Machine. The reason the wine-tasting machine cannot enjoy wine is that it has no soul; thought is not a modification of extension.

Intuition pump #3 & #4: These pro-qualia inverted spectrum stories can easily be accepted by Malebranche if they are correlated to changes in the sensory organs (this turns out to be significant later). Malebranche would have problems with #5 since it would suggest a denial of his conception of general laws, but could probably allow for something like it as a possibility.

I'm not sure precisely how Malebranche would deal with intuition pump #6 (alternative neurosurgery), but since he does not need an inverted spectrum story to argue for his position, and since his dualism is supported on other grounds, he would not be put out by it at all. In both cases all that's being fiddled with are the equivalent of what he would have called animal spirits in the brain. Malebranche would also consider Dennett a victim of what he lists as the first error about the passion of the soul in sensation: Dennett confuses the modification itself with the body-state correlated with it, and would reply to him, "a man cannot be entirely ignorant of what pain is when he feels it."

On Intuition pump #7, Malebranche would (I think) deny that, properly speaking, we can be wrong about our modifications; he would be unimpressed by Wittgensteinian arguments to the contrary. Whether he would be wrong on this would be too complex to go into here. Suffice it to say that Malebranche would not be scared off by a little changing in coffee tastes, particularly since he thinks he already knows why tastes change, and so would undoubtedly take Sanborn's side. There is perhaps some reason to give him at least a little benefit of the doubt on this, given that his choosing to take Sanborn's side would not be based exclusively on an attempt to give an account of qualia. I confess to having a bit of difficulty following what's supposed to be going on in intuition pump #8, so I'll skip that one. I suspect Malebranche would think it contravened general laws, but I'm not sure what precisely Dennett's going for in this one.

Intuition pump #9: Experienced Beer Drinker. As far as I see Malebranche has no problem with this on; at least I don't see how this would be a problem for him. Ditto on intuition pump #10, which he clearly would consider to be mired in another error pertaining to the passion of the soul, namely, considering the sensible qualities of things to be in the things.

Intuition pump #11: the cauliflower cure. Malebranche would deny this is a possible situation, given the way he argues for the differences of modifications of the soul.

Intuition pump #12 would be taken care of by general laws again.

Cerebral achromotopsia is, I think, easily handled by Malebranche's dualism, whatever the precise details. (And, indeed, I suspect the differences among qualia theorists Dennett notes has less to do with qualia than with different notions of the mind and its relation to the body, so this is perhaps not surprising.)

Malebranche would, again, be unimpressed by intuition pump #13, insofar as it is skeptical about things like modifications of the soul. He would attribute the difficulty of capturing the osprey cry in words to the limitations of our will; we can't call up sensations the way we can call up ideas at wills, so this limits the way we can use language to communicate things about them. He would disagree that it is a matter of informativeness, and would have nothing but contempt for Dennett's Jello box analogy, intuition pump #14. He would consider intuition pump #15 to be mired in one of the errors he identifies.

This is all rough-and-ready, and it has been years since last I even looked at Dennett's paper, so I might be a little off on Dennett. But I find it enlightening about Malebranche; I think he would agree with a great deal of David de Leon's paper on qualia.

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?