Saturday, August 14, 2004

A Little Mirror of His Triune Majesty

From Dorothy L. Sayers, The Zeal of Thy House:

Children of men, lift up your hearts.
Laud and magnify God, the Holy and Eternal Wisdom,
the everlasting and adorable Trinity.

Praise Him that He hath made man in His own image,
a maker and craftsman like himself,
a little mirror of His triune Majesty.

For every Act of Creation is threefold,
An earthly Trinity to match the heavenly.

First, there is the Creative Idea,
passionless, timeless,
beholding the whole work complete at once,
the end in the beginning;
and this is the image of the Father.

Second, there is the Creative Energy,
begotten of the Idea and subject to it,
working in time with sweat and passion
from the beginning to the end;
and this is the image of the Word.

Third, there is the Creative Power,
the meaning of the work,
and its response in the lively soul;
and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.

And of these three, each equally is the work,
whereof none can exist without the other;
and this is the image of the Trinity.

Honor, then, all work of the craftsman,
imagined by men's minds,
built by the labor of men's hands,
working with power upon the souls of men,
image of the everlasting Trinity,
God's witness in world and time.

And whatsoever ye do,
do all to the glory of God.

A Thought on a Sunset

I had to walk home to get something before I settle myself in for a long night's work here. As I left the department, there was a stunning sunset sky overhead. So, as I walked I made this up, and then scribbled it down when I got home.


I grow sad when I think of wondrous skies
that have never been seen by human eyes
nor ever painted by artists' hands,
that mightily hang over times and lands
beyond where the reckoning mind can go,
sad when I look to the heavens and know
as another sunrise or sunset begins
that there are, uncaptured by the camera's lens,
such skies as this, and even more fair,
for which no artist ever did care,
though it deserved to hang where the Masters are,
more lovely than all their works by far,
and deserved to be loved for a million years,
but, alas! in a moment it disappears,
to be seen never again by human eye;
I grow sad when I think of that vanishing sky.

A bit rough, but not bad for off the top of my head as I was walking (I've done much worse under such circumstances).

From a Letter by Mary Astell

The following is the opening of Letter V of the Letters Concerning the Love of God, a correspondence between Astell and Norris on the "Seraphick" subject of love. This selection doesn't get into very much of the heavier thought of the letters, but I have picked this one out for several reasons.

1. It contains Astell's description of her philosophical work, "I have courted Truth with a kind of Romantick Passion," which is one of my favorite summations of philosophy ever.

2. It gives something of the situation of women in the late 17th century, as seen from the perspective of a largely self-taught woman of considerable brilliance.

3. It also conveys Astell's sense of the purpose of philosophical thought, and its role with regard to the development of the human person.

This letter was written December 12, 1693. After this opening, she goes on to clarify their common ground the question they had previously been discussing (whether God is the cause of pain), and then, because she has been asked by Norris to do so, to present her views on the nature and effects of love of God. They spend most of the rest of the correspondence on this topic. It becomes a rather substantive philosophical discussion that grows out of a philosophical agreement. It is not, as most significant philosophical correspondences are, an epistolary debate; rather, it is an epistolary collaboration in which they both assist each other in clarifying various issues related to their topic of discussion.


So candid and condescending a Treatment of a Stranger, a Woman, and so inconsiderable an one as my self, shews you to be as much above the Generality of the World in your Practice, as you are in your Theory and Speculation. Hitherto I have courted Truth with a kind of Romantick Passion, in spite of all Difficulties and Discouragements : for knowledge is thought so unnecessary an Accomplishment for a Woman, that few will give themselves the Trouble to assits us in the Attainment of it. Not considering that the improvement of one single Soul is an Employment more worthy of a wise Man, than most of those things to which Custom appropriates the Name of Business and Affairs. But now, since you have so generously put into my Hand an Opportunity of obtaining what I so greedily long after, that I may make the best Improvement of so great an Advantage, I give up my self entirely to your Conduct, so far as is consistent with a rational not blind Obedience, bring a free and unprejudiced Mind to receive from your Hand such Gravings and Impressions as shall seem most convenient, and though I can't engage for a prompt and comprehensive Genius, yet I will for a docible Temper.

The Esteem I have for those necessary and useful Rules you have already presribed, shall appear by my strict Observation of them : For indeed the Span of Life is too short to be trifled away in unconcerning and unprofitable Matters; and that Soul who has any Sense of a better Life, can't chuse but desire that every minute of her Time may be employed in the regulating of her Will with the most critical Exactness, and the extending her Understanding to its utmost stretch, that so she may obtain the most enlarg'd Knowledge and ample Fruition of GOD her only Good, that her Nature is capable of.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Support Our Linkage Sponsors (and Miscellaneous Topics)

I've been meaning to get around to neighborliness again, but it's just one of those things that keeps slipping away. So, since I'm here for the night to do some much needed work on a chapter, I might as well take a bit of a break to get it done. As near as I can tell from Technorati and BlogShares, these are most of the weblogs that have blogrolled me:

The Elfin Ethicist
Early Modern Notes
Catholic Ragemonkey
A Journey Through Time

(There are a few I haven't listed because, since they blog on more personal matters, I don't know if they would want to be listed. You should know who you are; if you want to be listed, let me know by comments or e-mail.) But I know this is incomplete, because there's at least one more:


BlogShares didn't pick it up because it's always rather behind. I'm not sure why Technorati didn't. In any case, if you have blogrolled me and aren't listed here, and want to be mentioned, let me know.

In any case, these are all great sites, and worthy of your time.

It might be worthwhile, since I'm on the subject, to say something about my own blogroll. In general, the following rules are in play:

1. I only blogroll sites that are updated fairly often; I'm the Cookie Monster of intellectual tidbits, so I need constant feeding.

2. I prefer not to blogroll political bloggers, by which I mean people who blog chiefly on partisan politics. Political bloggers are the parasitic scum of the blogosphere. Well, that's a little extreme. But, in general, I don't think it a good use of my blogroll to reward political blogging. This isn't an absolutely hard-and-fast rule, but if a political blogger gets on my blogroll it's because they(*) at least semi-regularly blog on something that I find more interesting (I think I tend to go easier on political mavericks, too, but I'm not sure). And naturally, many weblogs that would not be considered 'political' under my definition here nonetheless talk about politics: it's just that they do it as a reasonable part of a more important project (religion is the primary one, but there are others like philosophy and history). "More important" is the operative phrase.

3. And, of course, I have to like reading it!

(*) Yes, I am aware that "political blogger" is singular; but "they" is the most convenient neutral pronoun. I don't have a problem with, but can see the reason for changing, the generic "he", but I am beginning to have a considerable distaste for the continual writing of "he or she". I am what I have arbitrarily called a linguistic exemplarist: that is, I think a major guide to language usage should be the example of the greatest literary writers in the language. My full rules (the stupid names for them are off the top of my head):

1. The Exemplarity Rule: Do what the greats do - if you, like they, can get away with doing it.

2. The St. Paul Rule: All things are permissible but not all things are edifying; avoid in any particular case what is likely to be especially scandalous to others.

3. The Shining Use Rule: If it has a clear use and value for the great traditional strengths of English (vigorous balance and balanced vigor, the famous English 'punch' or 'impression'), don't be afraid to use it if the occasion allows for it. (Example: whom, which neatly differentiates the objective, as in: Whom shall we send and who will go for us? Example: subjunctive, as in: Would it were so, but it is not so. Example: y'all, which provides a lovely second person general plural that is transformable to the second person universal plural construction "all y'all", as in: All y'all need to wash up, and y'all also need to decide what to do today. Example: the Newfie after-perfect, as in: What are you after-doing now? - which is a presentist version of the sentence "What have you done?")

For Rule 1, see this great site on Jane Austen's extensive use of the singular 'their' and 'they', which also notes other authors who use it: "Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, the King James Bible, The Spectator, Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Frances Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, Henry Fielding, Maria Edgeworth, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, William Makepeace Thackeray, Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, John Ruskin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walt Whitman, George Bernard Shaw, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, W. H. Auden, Lord Dunsany, George Orwell, and C. S. Lewis." This is good company. Good company means (as a rule) good grammar (in a previous post, "Marginalia," I argued this with regard to the phrase "different than"). Indeed, this is the best company; if you aren't getting your prose skills from these people, from what source are you getting them?

Rule 2 is much more of a judgment call. For a good example of when Rule 2 is obviously in play, consider this example from Pride and Prejudice:

"Of whom does Jane ever think ill? And who is there, whatever might be their former conduct, that she would believe capable of such an attempt, till it were proved against them?"

Did you even notice it? If the style is good, the singular use of 'they' and other such forms works beautifully. Even if it were not so, you use it yourself. You know you do. But there are types of writing in which this construction should be avoided, because it will cause scandal. I don't recall ever having used it in a philosophy paper, but philosophers seem to get inordinately distracted by grammatical issues when they read philosophy papers. I have heard them fuss at great length over prepositions at the end of sentences; although split infinitives seem to get under their radar. So I wouldn't recommend it for a philosophy paper. I wouldn't recommend it for a school assignment, either. But in a blogging environment we can tolerate a bit of informality and thumb our noses at the Vigilantes - as long as we do it deliberately.

Rule 3 is obviously in play here; what else would be the reason for its occurrence, despite scolding grammarians, in practically all the major prose stylists in the English language?

Wow, this has been a Miscellany.

Not Very Surprising, But No Oracle, Either

According to the ethical philosophy quiz, these are my three closest matches (I think #1 is automatically set to 100%):

1. Thomas Aquinas 100%
2. Augustine 90%
3. Plato 88%

That Aristotle was fifth at 78% wasn't surprising either. That Bentham was fourth at 87%, however, is a sign of the fallibility of internet quizzes.

The Self-obedience of the People

The following is from the writings of James Wilson (1742-1798), who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution for Pennsylvania, and served as one of the first Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. His most famous opinion was in Chisolm v. Georgia (which is worth reading, if only to contrast its philosophical astuteness with the gobbledy-gook that passes for Supreme Court opinions these days). Additional writings can be found here.

"The question, which has been proposed--the question, in the negative answer to which, tyranny has triumphed so long and so generally--the question, concerning which philosophers and patriots have indulged, and been pleased with indulging, a contrary sentiment--the question, which, in the United States, is now put upon an experiment--this all-important question is--not merely nor chiefly--are men capable of governing? Of this, even tyrants will admit the affirmative; and will point to themselves as living proofs of its truth. But the question is--are men capable of governing themselves? In other words; are they qualified--and are they disposed to be their own masters? For a moral as well as an intellectual capability is involved in the question. In still other words; are they qualified--and are they disposed to obey themselves? For to government, the correlative inseparable is obedience. To think, to speak, or to act, as if the former may be exercised, and, at the same time, the latter may not be performed, is to think, to speak, or to act, in a manner the most contradictory and absurd."

Bleg on Early Modern Philosophical Resources

I have begun doing some of the preliminary work of hunting down on-line resources for early modern philosophy to put up in Houyhnhnm Land. Currently I have some preliminary lists up on Catharine Trotter Cockburn and Mary Astell, without much evaluation (I'm starting with philosophers for whom there is a scarcity of good information), but the list will expand over the next month or so. If anyone reading this (now or in the future) has placed on-line any significant resources on any thinkers that are listed (significant = more than just a brief mention), especially articles or papers on their work, or selections from their original works, or if you have come across such resources, please contact me at bwatson{at}chass{dot}utoronto{dot}ca.

Currently I am simply dividing up resources into "Little Bits" (elementary information and blurbs), "Somewhat More Substantive" (general overviews and slightly more extended discussions of particular points related to philosophy), "Significant" (developed research on the philosophical views - currently I have none in this category), and "Actual Works". My ideal would be able to have lots of real research, rather than the very elementary introductory stuff that currently seems to be about all that's there; but we have to work with what we can get.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Existential Angst and Eternal Being

Since the anniversary of the death of Edith Stein was just recently, and I missed doing anything special for it, I thought that I would give a belated commemoration of some sort. Since I haven't found all that much on her philosophical work, I thought I'd summarize some interesting argument from her masterpiece, Finite and Eternal Being. In doing this, I face two obstacles. The first is that, not having all that much background in phenomenology, I might be getting in a bit over my head. The second is that it's hard to isolate any particular argument. The whole book is one long interwoven discussion involving interactions with Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and her close friend and fellow phenomenologist, Hedwig Conrad-Martius; while Maritain, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Husserl, and even Heidegger occasionally show up to make contributions. (For an account of the friendship between Stein and Conrad-Martius, see this post at the weblog, "A Catholic Blog for Lovers.") So I'll have to abstract from a great deal, and just give a rough, crude summary. I don't intend to provide anything in the way of evaluation here, but only to call attention to the argument by laying out some of its more prominent features.

The argument I've chosen is in some sense the starting point of Finite and Eternal Being. "Whenever the human mind in its quest for truth has sought an indubitably certain point of departure," she says, "it always encountered the inescapable fact of its own being or existence" (FEB p. 35 - all citations are from the ICS translation). She cites in this connection Descartes, Augustine, and Husserl. The Sum, the "I am" is the most primordial knowledge available to us. It is not the first knowledge, in the sense of being temporally or logically first, but it is the most intimate and immediate knowledge one has, when one has it. This certitude of one's own existence is prior to reflection; in self-knowledge, she says, "the intellect relinquishes its natural attitude of being concerned with external objects in order to turn upon itself" (p. 37).

This being that I am, when brought into focus, has what Stein calls the dual aspect of being and not-being. I am "unable to endure this dual perspective," i.e., I experience this duality in my non-permanence or temporality; from this she concludes that "the being of which I am conscious as mine is inseparable from temporality" (p. 37). To be me is to be through time, to be in flux. But in this flux we as it were 'break apart'; our perspective is dual: we recognize both non-being and being in our change. This gives us the idea of pure being which, in itself, has no mixture of not-being, whether that of the no-longer or that of the not-yet. Pure being is eternal:

And thus eternal and temporal, immutable and mutable being (and also not-being) are ideas which the intellect encounters within itself; they are not borrowed from anything outside itself. This means that we have now found a legitimate point of departure for a philosophy base don natural reason and natural knowledge. (p. 37)

In recognizing being and not-being within ourselves, actuality and potentiality simultaneously begin to come into focus. The being manifested to ourselves in self-knowledge is manifested as actually present; but it contains in itself the potentiality of future actual being and presupposes the potentiality of past actual being: "My present being is simultaneously actual and potential being; and insofar as it is actual, it is the concrete realization of a possibility which antecedes my present actuality" (pp. 38-39). The ego, the I, lives, and is, and is actual, but not enduringly so. It is in a constant state of passing: it is a being thrown into existence [Dasein]. It has been placed into existence; it is received being.

Whence is it received? Either the ego receives its life from the worlds it experiences (external, internal, or both) or it owes its being directly to pure being itself. The two are not, of course, mutually exclusive. What is our relation to pure being? My own being is a being that involves not-being, as we have noted; but it also involves being "in touch with the fullness of being" (p. 55), as we also have noted. Once we grasp the idea of pure act or eternal being, this idea becomes the measure of our being - we approximate it in various ways from moment to moment. But, Stein asks, how do we learn to see eternal being as our source or cause? We get a feel for the nullity and transiency involved in our being from (among other things) existential dread:

Existential anxiety accompanies the unredeemed human being throughout life and in many disguises--as fear of this or that particular thing or being. In the last analysis, however, this anxiety or dread is the fear of being no more, and it is thus the experience of anxiety which "brings people face to face with nothingness." (p. 57)

(The quote is from Heidegger, Being and Time.) However, this angst (=dread or anxiety doesn't dominate our lives; we have what might be called a feeling of security, a trust in our own continuance. This is something to wonder at, because we are clearly transient creatures, indeed, always in flux and always a hair's breadth from death. Is this all due to an illusion or self-deception? Is it purely irrational? No, because this exposure to the possibility of nothingness is counterbalanced by our exposure to the certainty of being. In this we rest secure. But this security is not self-given; it is received, and thus, Stein notes, "In my own being, then, I encounter another kind of being that is not mine but that is the support and ground of my own unsupported and groundless being" (p. 58). There isn't much detail to this feeling of security; it needs to be clarified.

Stein identifies two ways in which we may become aware of eternal being as the source of our own being. The first is the way of faith, and the second is the way of discursive reasoning. In the way of faith, God reveals himself as I AM, as Creator, as Sustainer, as Life-giver. In the way of philosophy or discursive reasoning, she argues that my being, which is received being, and like all finite being, cannot have its ultimate origin and source in another received being. We must, as it were, trace ourselves back to necessary being. This converts the very vague feeling of security we feel in feeling ourselves anchored in being into something more robust. The way of discursive knowledge, however, fails to do much more than give us a clearer terminology, a tidied-up grasp of this very vague feeling; the way of faith, on the other hand, "reveals to us the God of personal nearness, the loving and merciful God, and therewith we are given a certitude which no natural knowledge can impart" (p. 60). But the way of faith is also a dark way; it is a condescension. She quotes Augustine's gloss on God's words in Exodus 3: "For this, I am who am--that pertains to me. But this, the God of Abraham and the God of Jacob, pertains to your understanding" (p. 60). The first is true, but in a sense incomprehensible; but the latter is adapted to our understanding. When it comes to knowing God, all ways are dark ways; the Light is so bright it blinds us.

The Revolution of Sweden

I am currently reading the plays of Catharine Trotter (a.k.a. Catharine Trotter Cockburn - she stopped writing plays when she married, but continued writing philosophical work, which is why in early modern philosophy she tends to be indicated with her married as well as her maiden name). They were all written and performed when she was rather young; her last play, The Revolution of Sweden, was written in 1703, when she was 24. (Her birthday, by the way, is coming up, August 16). The writing isn't spectacular, and sometimes a bit awkward, but in general is clear, clean, and vigorous. Here is a sample from Act II of The Revolution of Sweden. which I've chosen partly because it's a good sample of her writing, and partly because it's philosophical in subject-matter.

Background: The events of the play take place in Sweden during a struggle for independence. The Swedish general Gustavus Vasa is leading an army toward Stockholm to free the Swedes from Danish tyranny. The protagonists of the story are Count Arwide (a close friend of Gustavus), his wife Constantia, and Christina (the good wife of the villainous Beron). In this scene the viceroy of Sweden, Beron, and the archbishop of Upsala, all Danish sympathizers, have established themselves in Stockholm, which they are defending against the Swedish army. Constantia has been captured by the viceroy's forces, and intend to use her capture as a means of blackmailing Arwide (the "powerful Rebel") into deserting Gustavus. Here Constantia debates the archbishop.

Const. The Sacred Pow'r forbid
That my poor Country be for my Redemption,
Depriv'd of the least Aid against our Tyrants.
Oh rather let me fall a Sacrifice
To their Inhuman Vengeance!
Arch. To our Justice,
For 'tis of Right to punish lawless Rebels
In their Alliance and curst Progeny.
But Interest of State, may bate of right,
And grant your Life to awe a powerful Rebel.
Const. Wisely that branded Name has been apply'd,
For a pretence to such Barbarities,
As else must ahve bare Fac'd confess'd themselves,
In their most horrid Form.
Is it Rebellion for a wretched People
Oppress'd and Ruin'd, by that Power they gave
For their Defence, the safety of their Rights,
To seek Redress? When Kings who are in Trust
The Guardians of the Laws, the publick Peace and Welfare,
Confess no Law but Arbitrary Will,
Or know no use of Pow'r but to Oppress,
And Injure, with Impunity, themselves
Disown their Office, tacitly acquit
The People, of whose due Obedience, just
Protection, is the Natural and Essential Condition.
Arch. Excellent Maxims, to perpetuate Confusion!
Pernicious Principles! Which ev'n those
Whose turn they serve against the Reigning PRince,
Gladly disclaim when their own Pow'rs establish'd,
Then wou'd they be obey'd as Heav'ns Viceregents,
Accountable to none but him they represent.
Const. Wou'd Princes govern as if they themselves
Believ'd they were accountable to Heav'n,
There had been no occasion to contest
Whether their Pow'r be of Divine, or Humane
Institution; But when such impious Cruelties
Are practis'd, as our Sweden long has been
The Scene of (under this too justly stil'd
The Northern Nero) strong necessity,
Becomes the Peoples Casuist, proves that Piety
And Justice must allow that self-defence, to which
Nature so universally incites.
Arch. Nature indeed, for Mutiny, a Love
Of Novelty, and Spirit of Rebellion,
Are Nature in the giddy Multitude;
Humour and headstrong their Will their Casuist,
Unknowing of that specious Sophistry,
With which their Factious Leaders gild their Cause.
Not the Kings Cruelty, but too Imprudent
Partial Clemency, gave Rise to this Revolt;
Had he not spar'd the Sons of those his Justice doom'd,
Had Young Gustavus, when his Pris'ner, shar'd
His Father's Fate, the King had Reign'd securely,
And Sweden been in Peace.
Const. Most true, My Lord,
The Tyrant shou'd have spar'd no generous Swede,
Whom breach of publick Faith, the Law of Nations,
And Murther of so many Innocents,
Cou'd prompt; or to Redress, or to Avenge
Their Countries Wrongs.-----But can you thus insulting,
Or without Terror, name those noble Victims
Whose Blood still cries out for Vengeance! They, My Lord,
Were sure no Rebels, relying on the Faith
Of Treaties; Solemn Oaths, and the smooth Face of Peace,
Secure they went as to a Friendly Feast,
The Band of Union; but with barbarous Treachery,
Themselves were made th'inhumane Banquet,
To glut the Luxury of sanctify'd Revenge,
And Cruelty.
Arch. No, Rebels! Dare you vindicate those Wretches
Accurst, with sacred, solemn Excommunication.
Was not the Cause of Piety concern'd,
The Int'rest of our Holy FAith engag'd,
T'expel such Poys'nous Vipers from the Earth?
Const. The Cause of Piety! Can that Religion
Of which the Spirit, and distinctive Character
Is Mercy; forgiving Injuries and Universal Love,
Can it e'er authorize Revenge? Icite
To Persecution, and Bloody Massacres?
Well may Infidels be scandaliz'd
At our most Holy Faith, when its Professors
Themselves impute to it the most unnatural
Impieties? Well may Religions sacred Name
Be fall'n to Contempt, when thus abus'd,
To serve the vilest, the most impious Ends!
Arch. Is it for you
To judge of your Superiors, t'instruct your Guide?
When Women preach, 'twill be with Luther's Aid;
A blessed Reformation.
Const. Not to instruct, my Lord, but to awake;
You've shut your Eyes against our present Miseries
And future Dangers, else wou'd you not oppose
Your Countries Liberty, or give pretext
To Luther's growing Schism, which (with its fatal
Consequences) will all be set to the Account
Of those Ambitious Church-Men, who've turn'd
The Spiritual Pow'r, to Secular Tyrannical
Dominion, and giv'n Libertines occasion
In detecting the Usurp'd, to throw off
Undistinguish'd, the just Authority.
Arch. Insolent Assertions!
Such are th'Insinuations which support
Your Party-----But we shall quell these impious
Reformers-----Beron, lead on your Pris'ner,
We shall try if Sweden's great Deliverer
Can save himself.

["The Revolution of Sweden" (pp. 19-21), The Plays of Mary Pix and Catharine Trotter, Volume II: Catharine Trotter; Edan L. Steeves, ed. Garland Publishing (New York: 1982).]

On the Future of Houyhnhnm Land

Since I won't be teaching early modern next term, I probably won't be using "Houyhnhnm Land" for a class. However, inspired in part by Sharon Howard's Early Modern Resources and its companion blog, Early Modern Notes, I will probably continue posting semi-regularly in order to gather together and evaluate various sorts of resources on early modern philosophy. Most of this will be on-line, although I'll probably occasionally discuss books and articles of note. One of the reasons for doing this is that the internet is something of a mess when it comes to accurate information for philosophy - there are excellent resources, but it would be helpful if people had a means of sorting it all out.

I will probably also occasionally post neater & simpler summaries and conclusions of work in early modern philosophy I've roughed out in Siris.

(Cross-posted to Houyhnhnm Land.)

Just Warring

An interesting article by Michael Walzer on 'just war theory' (thanks to Ektopos for the link). I didn't disagree with much, but that's because the essay is very general. As I've noted before, I think that properly speaking 'just war theory' in the traditional (e.g., Thomistic) sense is a much more precise theory than people would like it to be. It essentially just says that someone authorized to protect a people from being harmed by their enemies can (if he is authorized to do it, i.e., assuming that the responsibility for protection isn't divided up) take active measures to protect them from being harmed by external enemies without violating justice or charity. (It gets a bit more complicated when the responsibilities of protection are divided up, but mutatis mutandis it's along the same lines in that case.) It is a theory about warfare not in the vague, general sense in which we use it, but in the sense of the actual war-activities of someone authorized to wage war. It barely extends even to the soldiers who actually fight, in an attenuated way through the ethics of obedience. It does not extend to civilians at all; their activities in war are governed by an entirely different part of the ethical theory. While it does give to the war-wager considerable room to maneuver, it also imposes sharp limits. For instance, you can feint but not lie: i.e., you can set things up so that your opponents are misled, but you cannot actually lie to them (violation of truth is violation of justice and charity; all the traditional just war theorists even up into the early modern era agree on this). It is unjust and uncharitable for bishops to fight, or for anyone to fight on high holy days - but, oh, yeah, this is because traditional 'just war theory' is explicitly and unflinchingly a Christian doctrine.

In Aquinas, there is no distinction, and can be no distinction, between jus ad bellum and jus in bello: what makes warring just or unjust is exactly the same in both. The Spanish scholastics distinguish between the two because they are interested not merely in the justice or injustice itself but in the practical reasoning, and the details of the practical reasoning of going to war is at a slightly different level than that of actually fighting the war. While I think we must allow for the latter difference, I am certain that Aquinas is right: there is no fundamental distinction between the justice of going to war and the justice of fighting in a war: it's just useful for practical purposes sometimes to distinguish them. And I think, contrary to Walzer's view, the traditional just war theory requires that we look at war as a very heavy-duty police action - messier, more complicated, less rule-governed, and less likely to end up in a but it is a different, and more terrible, manifestation of exactly the same civic protective authority. Walzer is right that it is different from domestic actions of the police, but it is the other side of the same coin.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Cinematic Taste

The best (indeed, the only) good negative review of The Village I've found is at "Gnostical Turpitude," here. It has some of the ponderous, sulky silliness virtually all critical reviews of the movie have had, but makes some valid points (most of them are the obvious points, but some of them more subtle).

I have been thinking about movie reviews, and about what I like or don't like in movie reviewing. Here are some very rough preliminary thoughts - aphorisms toward a theory of Cinematic Taste.

1. It is stupid to criticize a movie simply because the basic story idea is silly, stupid, ridiculous, or trite. Take the silliest, stupidest, tritest, and most ridiculous story idea you can think of, and it could potentially make a good movie. The sillier, stupider, triter, and more ridiculous it is, the harder it might be to make a good movie from it - but good movies can be, and sometimes have been, made from worse. It's the application that needs to be considered.

2. People who review movies should try to cultivate the perspective of an impartial spectator in addition to their own perspective. That is, they need to do the hard work of trying to recognize what in their response to the movie was a matter of personal quirk and temperament, and what is something shared in common with people who are not exact clones of themselves. It can be helpful to know your own personal, quirky gut response, but if you are claiming, implicitly or explicitly, to be giving more than a description of your own gut response to the movie, you need to be able to do more than this. You need to try to see how someone might have great sympathies for a movie you hate, or how they might hate a movie you love. This is extremely difficult to do. Difficulty is not an excuse for not at least trying.

3. Plot twists do not need to be clever. As I've said before, plot in a movie is one of its least important elements. A plot twist just needs to move the whole spectacle forward. If it is clever, great. If it's not, read #1. If you still have doubts, see if you have the impudence to say Euripides doesn't know what he's doing since he has Medea ride off in the Chariot of the Sun. If you do, you have bad taste, and shouldn't review movies. Euripides' plot twists may be a weakness in his art; his art is still magnificent.

4. Very many purportedly aesthetic evaluations are really moral evaluations. Moral evaluation of movies is perfectly reasonable; but don't fool yourself about what you are doing. For instance, when I talk about "ponderous, sulky silliness," this is a moral criticism. It is a very, very weak moral criticism; but it is still a moral criticism. Words like silly, frivolous, cheap, simplistic, and clever usually involve an implicit moral evaluation; they suggest a failure to fulfill one's intellectual and social responsibilities properly. They are, whatever anyone might label them, moral evaluations, for much the same reason Aristotle and Aquinas both (rightly) considered boorishness to be a moral vice. It is only because they are moral evaluations that they add anything to the discussion. (It would be possible to use most of these words in ways that do not involve moral evaluation - e.g., you could describe a deliberately silly movie as 'silly', simply as a description - but this is the exception, not the rule.)

5. I suggest that we should follow in the case of movies the suggestion C. S. Lewis makes about literature in An Experiment in Criticism. When it all comes down, the people who are the best judges of books are those who simply love reading, in and for itself, and the books that are best are chiefly those books that these people commonly enjoy reading over and over and over again (e.g., Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice). This is limited, since a book's not being commonly read and re-read by these people doesn't necessarily mean it's not one of the best. Austen's Lady Susan, for instance, is probably the most brilliant epistolary novel ever written, and could well be one of Greats; but it's not commonly read and re-read for the simple reason that it's not commonly read in the first place. But it is true that my judgment about Lady Susan's high quality can never be as sure as my judgment about Pride and Prejudice, because it is harder to find confirmation. Still, I enjoy reading simply in and for itself, and I love Lady Susan, and read and re-read it. Not as much as Pride and Prejudice, to be sure, but quite a bit. It could be that this is purely a personal quirk; but, then again, it might not be. The parallels with movies should be fairly clear.

6. The fact that a lot of people like a movie doesn't mean it's a bad movie. The fact that a lot of people with bad taste like a movie doesn't mean it's a bad movie. Most people who hear Pachelbel's Canon or Beethoven's Für Elise like them. Most people who can manage to read Great Expectations like it. The parallel with movies should be clear. Some good works need an acquired taste or special skills. Some are easily accessible by almost everyone. But whatever work is in question, there is no one with worse taste than a snob, someone who looks down his nose at other people. If you doubt this, read #2 again.

7. You need to distinguish weaknesses from real faults. I find (when it comes to philosophy texts, for instance) that people have difficult doing this. All real faults are weaknesses; some weaknesses are not real faults, just failures to be absolutely perfect. It is no more necessary that a great movie or novel be utterly flawless than that someone presenting an argument must think of every possible objection that anyone from any point of view might at any point in time propose. Even good Homer nods; and it is stupid to demand that he never do it.

8. Keep in mind that no one is more susceptible to a legitimate tu quoque argument than someone engaged in literary, artistic, or any other form of criticism. Tailor your review accordingly.

Two Poetic Offerings

Two poem drafts. The first is an older one, which borrows a great deal from the Song of Songs. I might have been reading Gerard Manley Hopkins when I wrote it.

Two Lovers

Your eyes are dove's eyes,
flicker-wing rolling dewy day,
light cast out, spark overleaping,
ruminant rivers babbling softly,
amaranthine quarry undying.

My love leaps up, hills outrising,
stag-rippling wildness of war
fleshed, flowing, cat-like-pouncing,
manifest panther light outpacing,
golden sun-chariot god-imbued.

She, a lily, bramble-surrounded,
winter-white flawless snowflake,
runs, bannered army-like with wings,
flows, outlooking leopard-mountains,
a garden sealed, belly encircled.

He pastures among lily-lands laden,
love-stirring myrrh-maddened lord,
heart-gladness leaping, cedar-scented,
mouth most sweet, distilling honey,
his chariot-car inlaid with love.

Your lips distill nectar, my bride,
honey-milk tongue with sweet voice,
heart-ravishing jewel, wine overtopping.

Your locks are wavy, raven-black,
dove-like flitting eyes, pure springs,
inmost-being-calling shepherd among lilies.

The second I wrote today while my students were taking their end-of-term exam.

The Trees Are Not Awake

The trees are not awake; they sleep,
they rest with quiet dreams about them,
as still and solemn as the mountains tall,
and only stir at gentle lover's touch
of breezes, or at roughest grasp of gales.
But never do they wake; they dream and dream,
and sleep with justice-sleep for ageless years.

But what, when endless ages pass, shall be
the ending of their sleep, and what
shall come to pass at angel's trump,
when sounds a note so loud, no sleep can stay,
but even death shall wake and dead men rise?

Then shall the trees awake, and rise in full,
and then the oak, the ash, the pine, the elm,
the rowan and the yew, they all shall live
and we, who knew them only in their sleep,
shall know the trees as though we never knew
and only then will know them as they truly are.

Christian Carnival XXX

The newest Christian Carnival is up at "Beyond The Rim...". I submitted my recent post on Trinitarian theology (one of my better posts in recent memory), which is here. As usual many of the submissions were great - indeed, I liked a lot of them this time. Some of the ones I found most notable:

* Reformation at "Minas Tirith"

* Evagrius Ponticus, John, and Barsanuphius at "Dunmoose the Ageless"

* Birthday Reflections at "Fringe" (We Augustborn should stick together)

* Jeremy Pierce has, as usual, an excellent contribution on Lying at "Parableman"

* August Ninth: the martyrs, confessors, and innocents of World War II - I linked to this before

* La Shawn Barber criticizes Jesse Jackson in Jesus Was A Liberal at "La Shawn Barber's Corner"

* Thoughts on Weddings at ""

* Why God Hates Sin at "Miss O'Hara's"

* God's Omnipresence at "Rebecca Writes"

And the others are good, too. Go over and see.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Animal that Stands to See the Stars

I came up with this on the spur of the moment last night.

All the Skeptics Do Not Know

All the skeptics do not know
The blowing courses of the snow
Nor the sun in burning sky;
All incessant mewling 'why'
Must cease before the flood of light
That bursts upon the end of night.
We feel the wind upon our face
And know the loves of all our race,
For this, and this alone, is why
The minds of men so doomed to die
Look up, as bodies rise from land
And tall and proud begin to stand
With eyes that pierce the sea-mists far --
Awed at heaven with its stars.

The allusion toward the end is to Aquinas, who in a discussion of the aptness of the body for human intellectual life considers our upright stature. He gives four reasons why it is fitting for a rational animal to stand upright, and the first is this:

First, because the senses are given to man, not only for the purpose of procuring the necessaries of life, which they are bestowed on other animals, but also for the purpose of knowledge. Hence, whereas the other animals take delight in the objects of the senses only as ordered to food and sex, man alone takes pleasure in the beauty of sensible objects for its own sake. Therefore, as the senses are situated chiefly in the face, other animals have the face turned to the ground, as it were for the purpose of seeking food and procuring a livelihood; whereas man has his face erect, in order that by the senses, and chiefly by sight, which is more subtle and penetrates further into the differences of things, he may freely survey the sensible objects around him, both heavenly and earthly, so as to gather intelligible truth from all things.

I seem vaguely to remember a passage somewhere, though, in which Aquinas is even more specific, and, building on something Aristotle says, notes that we are upright in order to see the stars (astronomy being the first awakening of systematic knowledge). Has anyone come across this passage?

The Ecumenical Leibniz

There is an interesting post at "Reformed Catholicism" (a weblog on ecumenical Calvinism) that looks at Leibniz's reunionism - he attempted to try to find ways for Catholics and Protestants (particularly Lutherans) to reunite through the three works of exposition, deference, and suspension. One very rarely finds any discussion of Leibniz's views (or the views of any other early modern thinker) on this point, which is why I am linking to it.

The Saintly Phenomenologist

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death (at Auschwitz) of philosopher and Catholic saint Edith Stein. You can find a brief summary of her life at "From the Anchor Hold" here.

More on Nussbaum on Disgust

There is an article by Nussbaum in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the issue of disgust in law (thanks to Ektopos for the link). It's interesting but I still found it rather unhelpful. You might remember that when I took up this subject before, I found certain points unconvincing about Nussbaum's Reason interview. She's a bit clearer in this article, but the same points that arose then arise now.

A. On disgust as a shrinking from mortality and animality:

Disgust concerns the borders of the body: the possibility that an offensive substance may be incorporated into and debase a person. The core objects of disgust are animals or their secretions above all feces, bodily wastes, and corpses, or creatures who have (or appear to have) related properties (ooziness, sliminess, decay). To put it very briefly, it would appear that disgust embodies a shrinking from animality and mortality, which, if taken in, would contaminate the human being who has a stake in rising above the merely animal.

It seems false that shrinking from slime, decay, and bodily wastes is a shrinking from mortality and animality. 1) It appears to be a healthy expression of animality. Slime, decay, and bodily wastes are often not healthy; they can be conducive to disease and infection. As a rough-and-ready way of avoiding contamination (literally!), disgust appears to be a natural expression - which is why we naturally feel it. Disgust in this sense is part of our being animals. 2) It isn't clear that feeling disgust at the idea of playing in your own feces (for instance) is a shrinking from animality and mortality, or that it has any connection at all with our "stake in rising above the merely animal". 3) Disgust in the sense Nussbaum is noting here is closely associated with the desire for cleanliness. While we do say that cleanliness is next to godliness, it seems to me to be completely silly to suggest (which Nussbaum does not suggest, but which I think would be required by Nussbaum's claims here) that a desire to be clean is an attempt not to be animal and mortal.

B. On the asymmetry of disgust and anger

Disgust is, then, very different from anger and indignation. Anger is about damage or harm. For that reason, it is very closely related to a central function of the legal system, namely, that of protecting citizens from harm, and punishing harms that occur. The reasons underlying a particular case of anger may, of course, be false or distorted; but if they stand up to scrutiny, we can expect the law to take an interest in them, and nobody would dispute the legitimacy of its doing so. Disgust is different. It is by no means clear that feeling grossed out by something gives the disgusted person a set of reasons that plausibly lead to making conduct illegal, especially when we note, as does Rozin, the irrational and associational thinking so often involved in disgust.

Disgust, too, can be treated as an issue of damage or harm, namely the harm or damage of being contaminated by something unhealthy. Likewise, we can reasonably expect the law to take an interest in lots of forms of disgust - disgust at garbage, disgust at feces. Since this paragraph immediately follows the above paragraph, the "then" in the first sentence means that we are to conclude from the paragraph discussed in (A) that disgust has nothing to do with harm in a way in which the law should take an interest. But the disgust considered in the above paragraph is sanitary disgust, and it is entirely reasonable to expect - even to demand - that the law take an interest in that. Nussbaum has switched, it seems, to an entirely different sort of disgust. This is a constant problem I have with all the arguments by Nussbaum I have seen on this subject: she fails to make distinctions between forms of disgust, and then goes on to use that equivocation to deny parallels between anger and disgust. I'm hoping this is avoided in her book, which I'll be reviewing here when I finally manage to locate a copy. (Note also that she provides no argument here for disgust being different - it is merely asserted.)

C. Disgust at persons vs. disgust at actions

While there isn't any quotable quote on this point, in this article Nussbaum continues to consider only disgust at persons, not disgust at actions. But the two, it seems, need to be considered as rather different. Disgust at the rape of a child is not in the same moral category as disgust at Jews: there is an entirely different patterning of reasons associated with the two.

As I said, I hope eventually to find a copy of her book on this subject and review it here. But, as I said about her Reason interview, I'm not heartened by Nussbaum's article.

Monday, August 09, 2004

A Thought on the Holy Trinity, Part I

Let's do a little theology.

Consider the following scenario. You and I are walking along a sandy beach one beautiful day, when we come across a strange black box.

"What is it?" you breathe, puzzled by its strangeness.

"It's a strange black box," I say blandly.

"No," you reply, unable to keep at least a touch of sarcasm out of your voice. "What is it?"

"I don't know," I reply.

In this crude example is found the point of negative theology. We often talk as if there were only one "What" question, with only one answer. There are, however, layers of "What" questions, and layers of answers to them. This helps us understand a famous saying by Aquinas: We cannot know what God is, only that He is. I have dealt with people (unfortunately, if you ever do history of philosophy, you will deal with many such people) who rather sarcastically respond to this with something like the words: "Well, you have to know what a thing is before you can know that it is." And this is, after a fashion, true. But there are layers to what a thing is.

Let's return a moment to our black box. I see that it is black, I see that it is box. I know what it is: a black box. In another sense, I also don't know what it is at all. In a sense, all I know is how the box is related to me: it is visibly black, it is visibly box-like, and that's all I know. I don't know what the box is in itself. I don't, however, need to know what the box is in itself (the deeper answer to a "what" question) in order to show that it exists. All I need is to have some knowledge of the box under some description. Mutatis mutandis, this is what Aquinas is noting about God. We do not know (in this deeper sense) what God is; we only know that He is (under some set of descriptions). The descriptions under which we know God do not capture Him in Himself, but only relative to us in some way (e.g., as Cause, or as Revealer, or whatever).

Here's another saying that belongs to Aquinas: We do not know what God is, but only what He is not. Again, the "what" in question is the deeper "what"; we cannot ever say what God is in Himself - to do so would be an impossible task for any finite creature - but only what He is not (in this deeper sense). The reason we can do this is that we know what God is (under some set of descriptions) and from these some things follow about what God is not (in the deeper sense). This is what is called negative theology. It has traditionally been the key to all good philosophical thought about God. It's hard to find these days.

Consider the doctrine of the Trinity. With negative theology as a restraint on irresponsible speculation, one would always be reminded that we do not, and can never, know what it is like to be God. It is not possible to 'give an account' of the Trinity. We cannot say what the Trinity is, only that it is. We cannot know what the Trinity is, only what it is not. The Church Fathers noted that there are very distant sorts of analogies to the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is this: "The Father is not of anyone, the Son is of the Father, the Spirit is of the Father with the Son; the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father or the Son; yet there are not three Gods, but only one God." Basil recognized that we already recognize something like this in other things. For instance, take Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, three human beings. Paul is human, Silvanus is human, and Timothy is human; Paul is not Silvanus, Silvanus is not Timonthy, Timothy is not Paul or Silvanus; yet there are not three human natures but one human nature in virtue of which they are all called human. Basil does not pretend this is an exact parallel; indeed, if anyone did claim to find such an exact parallel it would be in clear violation of the reasonable restraints of negative theology. The point is that, while the unity-without-confusion of the Three exceeds any other sort of unity-without-confusion that we know, nonetheless we are familiar with this sort of pattern. Some took thoughts like Basil's a bit too literally, and had to be corrected by Gregory of Nyssa, who clarified the difference between Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy on the one hand, and the Father, the Son, and the Spirit on the other. Each person of the Trinity is distinctly a person, but they share their attributes in common according to their distinction as persons. Take willing. What the Father wills, the Son and the Spirit will: their willing is one willing, but as Gregory says in To Ablabius on Not Three Gods, "every operation which extends from God to the Creation, and is named according to our variable conceptions of it, has its origin from the Father, and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit" such that the power of willing is "issuing from the Father as from a spring, brought into operation by the Son, and perfecting its grace by the power of the Spirit." In other words, they will one thing with one will; but the Father wills it as the Origin or Principle of Godhead, the Son wills it as being immediately from the Father, and the Spirit wills it as being from the Father with the Son. This is itself little more than a restatement of the doctrine of the Trinity in terms of willing: having granted the doctrine of the Trinity, we had already implicitly granted this, and our restatement has just clarified one aspect of what we had granted in an obscure and general way.

Now, it has been argued by Richard Cartwright that the following seven claims are, when taken together, inconsistent:

l) The Father is God
2) The Son is God
3) The Holy Spirit is God
4) The Father is not identical with the Son
5) The Father is not identical with the Holy Spirit
6) The Son is not identical with the Holy Spirit.
7) There is one God.

But this is hasty. Where is the inconsistency? To take (1) through (6) all together is consistent with (7); we can see that from the Nyssan's point about willing. (7) can only be inconsistent with (1) through (6) if we assume that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are not identical with each other because they are different Gods. But this is not the doctrine of the Trinity.

This will be found to be a common problem with claims of the doctrine's inconsistency: the set of (1) through (7) can only be proved inconsistent on the assumption that it is. I have no strict proof of this; but it seems to be the case. Cartwright holds that (1) through (6) are a consistent set, and that the set only becomes inconsistent when (7) is added. (4), (5), and (6) share no common term with (7), so cannot conflict with it. (1), (2) and (3) are not, taken together, inconsistent with (7); they lead to the conclusion that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one God. Let's call this conclusion (C). Put (C) with (4), (5), and (6); the resulting conclusion is that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one God but that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are not identical to each other. This can only be an inconsistent if non-identity of each to the others means non-unity of divinity. But we (Cartwright and anyone else) have no basis on which to argue such a claim from deeper knowledge of the divine nature, since we don't have special insight into the divine 'inner nature', as we well know through negative theology. And Gregory has given us a statement of the divine unity that seems to allow for both non-identity and unity in a consistent way: the substance is not divided (it is explicitly one) and the persons are not confused. Indeed, if Gregory is right, it seems to follow that, given their relations, the distinctness of the Persons implies that they have one being, one willing, etc.; and that the nature they have in common is had in common in such a way that the persons are necessarily distinct. One might argue that there is some hidden inconsistency here, but again, it couldn't be from any special insight into the divine nature, and it is pointless to complain about the difficult of understanding what it would be like for something to be like this, because we aren't being asked to understand what it would be like for something to be like this - that's the deeper "what" question again (it just keeps sneaking back, doesn't it). Another saying, this time attributed to Augustine: If you understand it, it is not the Trinity. Negative theology again. If you understand it (deeper "what" question), it can't be attributed to God without pretending you know what it is like to be God. The whole point of negative theology is to keep us from such absurdity.

I've put a "Part I" in the title because I will probably discuss this issue more at some point in the future; this is all rather rough.

I Learn Something New Every Day

Browsing Claire's Seventeenth Century I came across this link she had posted on Catharine Trotter. I had previously come across Catharine Trotter (a.k.a. Catharine Trotter Cockburn), since she did philosophical work, in particular defending Locke against his critics. There's a selection from her work in Atherton's lovely little anthology, Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period. What I hadn't known was that she was also a more literary writer, authoring poetry, plays, and novels. Since I always have an interest in the literary side of philosophers, and since I've been intending to look in a bit on her work in particular, I'll have to see if I can find some of them....

The Philosophers of Dawn

From Asimov's The Robots of Dawn ch. 4 (sect. 16):

  Fastolfe sighed. "I'm sure Daneel told you what I have maintained at the inquiry--but you want to hear it from my own lips."

  "That is right, Dr. Fastolfe."

  "Well, then, no one committed the crime. It was a spontaneous event in the positronic flow along the brain paths that set up the mental freeze-out in Jander."

  "Is that likely?"

  "No, it is not. It is extremely unlikely--but if I did not do it, then that is the only thing that can have happened."

  "Might it not be argued that there is a greater chance that you are lying than that a spontaneous mental freeze-out took place?"

  "Many do so argue. But I happen to know that I did not do it and that leaves only the spontaneous event as a possibility."

  "And you have had me brought here to demonstrate--to prove--that the spontaneous event did, in fact, take place?"


  "But how does one go about proving the spontaneous event? Only by proving it, it seems, can I save you, Earth, and myself."

  "In order of increasing importance, Mr. Baley?"

  Baley looked annoyed. "Well, then, you, me, and Earth."

  "I'm afraid," said Fastolfe, "that after considerable thought, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way of obtaining such a proof."

(This is all from p. 83 of the Bantam edition (April 1994).)

What immediately struck me about this passage, which I read over the weekend was the parallel to the early modern discussion of miracles. The basic story is this: Elijah Baley has been called to the planet Aurora to solve a case of roboticide, in which the robot Jander was sent into a "mental freeze-out," i.e., was mentally shut down. Dr. Fastolfe's enemies, and in particular Dr. Amadiro, have whispered about that Dr. Fastolfe did it for political purposes. Dr. Fastolfe maintains his innocence and insists (everyone agrees) that only he, the most eminent living roboticist, would have the ability to shut down Jander intentionally, and that, since he knows he did not do it, it must have occurred spontaneously despite the enormous improbability of doing so. Baley eventually discovers another possibility. (I'll let you read the book to find out - it is, on re-reading, easily the best of Asimov's Elijah Baley novels.)

If we think in terms of miracles rather than spontaneous events, the parallel is this:

* Dr. Amadiro is David Hume, who argues that we can only believe (on testimony, at least) the occurrence of a miracle if it is more improbable that the person who is informing us of the miracle is deceived or dishonest than that the event itself occurred. This, you will notice from the passage above, is much like the campaign against Fastolfe.

* Some have argued that while no miracles occurred, since the standard causes have been eliminated, nothing but a spontaneous event can remain. (Fastolfe.)

* Both these positions agree on a lot of their assumptions. Others, however, like Lady Mary Shepherd, take the Baley solution to the problem of miracles and try to introduce a sort of causal reasoning other than that allowed by the first two into the consideration of the probabilities. Their conclusion: there can be a causal circumstance other than the standard ones that allows for the existence of a genuine miracle.

The parallel is only loose, and wouldn't exist at all, except that Hume puts so much emphasis on probability alone, and so has difficulty distinguishing miracles and spontaneous events in the first place (for which he is roundly criticized by Campbell and Shepherd).

How would one go about proving that a spontaneous event has occurred? This is, I think, a question that could only be answered if we had a clear idea of the 'metaphysical status' of spontaneity (i.e., when we talk about 'spontaneous events' what does this signify about the real world?). And this is a difficult problem. It bears some thought....

The Village

I went and saw M. Night Shyamalan's The Village this weekend. It was quite good, despite the rather bad reviews it has been given. Lots of the complaints in the reviews were rather unreasonable (Roger Ebert's is particularly silly, and far, far below his usual standard; he apparently thinks a bored tone counts as a critical review). For instance, it is true that much of the dialogue is a bit stilted. It is also clear, and becomes clear in the course of the movie, that this was intentional. It's a bit corny at times, but for the most part doesn't distract from it at all.

Shyamalan has become famous for 'twist' endings. This is a case, I think, of the critics getting a notion into their heads and being unable to part with it. What do we mean by a 'plot twist'? We can mean, for instance just about anything that changes the story in any way. Shyamalan's endings are 'twists' only in the sense that he likes to run a plot with several loose ends that get suddenly tied up in a scene or two. If you want to bring a movie to a good climax, that's what you do; this is why Shyamalan's movies tend to be unusually good: he is a master of building a movie so that, in retrospect, all the prior scenes build up to that scene or scenes. Some of it obviously was building that way, some of it was a bit unexpected; but it was all building to those scenes. This is not 'twist' but ordinary story-telling. Critics, however, have gotten it in their hands that Shyamalan must always have a 'twist' that spins their heads, never quite realizing that the best way to guarantee their heads will never spin is to keep looking for the twist that will spin them. If you constantly are expecting something unexpected, you are bound to be disappointed sometime. But Shyamalan's endings, although they can throw the unexpecting for a loop, are not less good even if one can tell how they will turn out. It is the height of critical stupidity to demand otherwise. But critics stupidly demand it.

The ending of The Village will surprise some; but it is very clear from the movie that any surprise is not the point of the movie. For one thing, the thing the critics keep thinking is the 'surprise' or 'twist' was clearly not the surprise at all - the real surprise is rather subtle. It is also very quietly placed into the movie - nothing has been done to draw attention to it that would distract from the real point of the story, in which hope overcomes fear. Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free press wrote a review in which he said, "All this craftsmanship and a very fine performance by Howard (daughter of director Ron), however, is in the service of a story that unlike Shyamalan's previous films contains no underlying themes or ideas (the loss of faith in "Signs"; the hero-needs-a-villain comic book mythology of "Unbreakable"; the ghostly grief of "The Sixth Sense") to support the scares." No underlying themes or ideas? Even an idiot can tell that the underlying theme of The Village is the overcoming of fear by hope. For people who keep insisting that the movie is too obvious, the critics have missed a lot of rather obvious things. Lou Lemenick at the New York Post Online makes exactly the same point about the scares, for a different reason: The message keeps getting in the way. What message? He makes up a weird political allegory which doesn't fit with the plot or characters at all.

Another prejudice that seems to be getting in the way of critical judgment: the critics were all disappointed that it wasn't as scary as they expected. My view on the matter: so what? Some people will be scared by part of the movie, others will not. It changes nothing. The scare, to the extent there is one, is just the lure; it is not the point of the movie.

This movie is not Shyamalan's strongest work. But it is a good one. It requires seeing past period costumes and unusual diction, and some people don't really feel like doing that in a cinemaplex. That's fine; it's perfectly reasonable. But there's excellent work here that people with a bit more patience should enjoy, if they don't get silly notions in their heads.