Saturday, August 21, 2004

Houyhnhnm Land Preview

I have been thinking about moving Houyhnhnm Land for a while, and have finally begun to do so. Here is the preliminary form of the new site. The comments are not properly done yet (either in the pop-up window or on the permalink page), but I haven't decided yet whether I'll allow comments on H.L.

The template is from Elise Free (there's a link on the page under "credits"), and is called "Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti." So far I like it as a general format, despite the Hannibal-Lectorish sound of the template name; but to make it fit my needs I've tweaked a few things and there are a lot of things I'm going to have to figure out how to tweak. *sigh* This is the problem with computers; you're always already behind. Anyway, if you have suggestions, let me know. I might end up changing the template entirely, but that's for later, if at all.

Do let me know what you think. I haven't yet had a chance to look at it from different screens, browsers, etc., so if you notice an obvious problem, let me know so I can look into it.

Siris will be here with Blogger for a while longer; if I like WordPress enough, I can move it. The old H.L. address will still be around; I'll probably modify it for some other purpose. Rather than import I think I will move the posts from the old H.L. manually; it will take more time, but will, I'm thinking, be less hassle in the long run. In any case, the actual transfer of focus and function from the old to the new H.L. will probably not occur for at least a week.

Also let me know if you have any ideas for the functionality of the site. One thing I hope to do on the new H.L, once it gets up and running, is occasionally to have what I call Guest Pieces. Essentially they would be guest posts in which guests from various disciplines would write an overview summarizing an issue of potential interest to those studying early modern philosophy (a very vast field, since it encompasses philosophy, history, literature, science, theology, etc.) and give an annotated list of references for further reading and research. The primary idea is for experts in various fields to give students a heads-up on issues in those fields that might be worth studying more closely. I think I might even be able to get a big name here or there, given that the commitment required for a Guest Piece would be barely more than that required to write a medium-length abstract. In any case, that's for down the road....

Again, all suggestions are welcome!

Speaking of Coleridge...

Since he came up, here are three good poems by Coleridge:

Drinking versus Thinking
Or, A Song Against the New Philosophy

My Merry men all, that drink with glee
This fanciful Philosophy,
   Pray tell me what good is it?
If antient Nick should come and take
The same across the Stygian Lake,
   I guess we ne'er should miss it.

Away, each pale, self-brooding spark
That goes truth-hunting in the dark,
   Away from our carousing!
To Pallas we resign such fowls -
Grave birds of Wisdom! ye're but owls,
   And all your trade but mousing!

My merry men all, here's punch and wine,
And spicy bishop, drink divine!
   Let's live while we are able.
While Mirth and Sense sit, hand in glove,
This Don Philosophy we'll shove
   Dead drunk beneath the table!

And more somberly:

Human Life,
On the Denial of Immortality

If dead, we case to be; if total gloom
   Swallow up life's brief flash for aye, we fare
As summer-gusts, of sudden birth and doom,
   Whose sound and motion not alone declare,
But are their whole of being! If the breath
   Be life itself, and not its task and tent,
If even a soul like Milton's can know death;
   O Man! thou vessel purposeless, unmeant,
Yet drone-hive strange of phantom purposes!
   Surplus of nature's dead activity,
Which, as she gazed on some nigh-finished vase,
Retreating slow, with meditative pause,
   She formed with restless hands unconsciously!
Blank accident! nothing's anomaly!
   If rootless thus, thus substanceless thy state,
Go, weigh thy dreams, and be thy hopes, they fears,
The counter-weights! - Thy laughter and they tears
   Mean but themselves, each fittest to create,
And to repay the other! Why rejoices
   Thy heart with hollow joy for hollow good?
   Why cowl thy face beneath the mourner's hood,
Why waste thy sighs, and thy lamenting voices,
   Image of image, ghost of ghostly elf,
That such a thing as thou feel'st warm or cold?
Yet what and whence thy gain, if thou withhold
   These costless shadows of they shadowy self?
Be sad! be glad! be neither! seek, or shun!
Thou hast no reason why! Thou canst have none;
They being's being is a contradiction.

And, more uplifting:

God's Omnipresence,
A Hymn

My Maker! of they power the trace
In every creature's form and face
   The wond'ring soul surveys:
Thy wisdom, infinite above
Seraphic thought, a Father's love
   As infinite displays!

From all that meets or eye or ear,
There falls a genial holy fear
Which, like the heavy dew of morn,
Refreshes while it bows the heart forlorn!

Great God! they works how wondrous fair!
Yet sinful man didst thou declare
   The whole Earth's voice and mind!
   If rootless thus, thus substanceless thy state,
Lord ev'n as Thou all-present art,
O may we still with heedful heart
   Thy presence know and find!
Then, come what will, of weal and woe,
Joy's bosom-spring shall steady flow;
For though 'tis Heaven THYSELF to see,
Where but thy Shadow falls, Grief cannot be!

(Notice, incidentally, the use of the line "If rootless thus, thus substanceless thy state" to serve directly opposite moods and themes in these last two poems.)

On Lesbianism in Coleridge's Christabel

It has become common to talk about the hint of lesbianism in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Christabel. For instance, Camille Paglia (as might be expected, I suppose) notes it, and the notes to my Penguin Classics Complete Poems say, "Nineteenth-century commentators on 'Christabel' - including STC himself - divert attention from the central erotic aspect of the poem, with its inescapable suggestion of lesbian sexuality" (p. 507). What I would like to suggest is that we should pull back a bit from claims like this, not because Christabel does not admit of such interpretation, but because such interpretation goes beyond the (probably deliberate) indeterminacy of the text, to treat it as if it were more specific than it actually is. In other words: the lesbianism interpretation fits the poem; but it is not required by the poem, which is more evocative and suggestive than this interpretation, if pressed too exclusively, allows. It is possible (and even, perhaps, reasonable) to read the poem as being such that its central aspect is erotic, and the suggestion of lesbian sexuality is inescapable; but this requires suppositions beyond the text. In actual fact it is difficult to define a central aspect to this constantly shifting poem (Coleridge's own "witchery by daylight" is perhaps the best that can be done in this direction), and the suggestion of lesbianism is escapable.

Just one example: it seems common to interpret the 'sin' of Christabel (at line 381) as having something to do with a lesbian encounter. However, it is not even clear from the poem that Christabel has really sinned; Christabel suggests it with "Sure I have sinned!" but this could (for all the poem ever tells us) just be an incorrect inference. It isn't clear what Christabel means by 'sin'; she could, for instance, be referring to her having brought Geraldine across the threshold. Indeed, it isn't even clear that Christabel knows what she means by 'sin'; "Sure I have sinned!" could be said if (for example) you were to see your state as a punishment, but do not know what you have done that has deserved the punishment. Further, Coleridge emphasizes Christabel's innocence later in the poem; at line 599 he calls her "The maid, devoid of guile and sin," and this is essential to her being the dove held tight in the serpent's coils. There is a great deal the poem does not tell us, and thus considerable room for radically different interpretations.

Christabel is very characteristic of Romantic poetry in that it is more suggestive than definitive; it lets the mind lead itself on its own track of associations, guided but not coerced by the poetic words. There is no definite lesbianism in the poem (and no definite lack of it) only the somewhat misty, dreamlike chiaroscuro of witchery and poetic suggestion. (Have you ever had a nightmare in black and white? I once had one; and Christabel always reminds me of it.) Exploring these associations, even the sexual ones, is part of what a good literary criticism of Romantic poetry must do; but it is also important not to get pinned down by one interpretation. Such is my thought, anyway.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Malebranche on Self-knowledge

A translation of a passage from Malebranche's Réponse au Livre des vraye et des fausses Idées (1684). It's a bit rough and needs tweaking, but it's a start. The passage may be found at OC 6:57 (Réponse chapter VI, sections IV and V).

"Mr. Arnaud does not deny that the mind has the idea of infinity, for he avows it page 314. He must therefore claim that the modalities of the soul are essentially representative of the infinite. But I have two things to say to him.

"The first, that all modality is the being itself in some fashion. The roundness, for example, of a body is nothing but the body itself figured in such-and-such fashion, that all the parts of the surface are equally distanced from the which one calls the center. And so, the modality of the soul is not able to represent objects, save only the fashion of being, i.e., the perception it has of the object: that perception, I claim that it makes it felt without idea, I claim that it is essentially representative, by interior sentiment, of what it contains. But I deny taht it is able to represent by idea, or to make known what it does not contain.

"The soul does not know itself by an idea that it is able to contemplate, in order to discover the properties of which it is capable, as do the Geometers who contemplate the idea they have of extension, and discover relations in it: it does not know its own being, other than by interior sentiment of what it has in itself. The soul is not able, therefore, to know its modifications, but only to feel them. For as the modifications are not other than the substances themselves in such-and-such fashion, the perception one has of modifications is of the same kind as that which one has of substances. I have an idea of extension: I therefore have an idea of circle. I have only an interior and confused sentiment of my being: therefore I have also have an interior and confused sentiment of my own perceptions, which are not other than modifications of my substance. So, rather than modalities of the soul being able to be representative of objects, so as to make them clearly known, and so that one may learn, for example, like Geometers the certain truths of their science, they do not make themselves known. This is what I already said in the Search after truth, in so many words."

A Thought on the Holy Incarnate Word, Part I

The doctrine of the Incarnation is neatly stated by Athanasius in his work On the Incarnation: "At one and the same time--this is the wonder--as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father." More technically, Cyril of Alexandria wrote in a letter that was affirmed at the Council of Ephesus in 431:

Rather do we claim that the Word in an unspeakable, inconceivable manner united to himself hypostatically flesh enlivened by a rational soul.... Rather did two different natures come together to form a unity, and from both arose one Christ, one Son. It was not as though the distinctness of the natures was destroyed by the union, but divinity and humanity together made perfect for us one Lord and one Christ, together marvellously and mysteriously combining to form a unity.

So what do we have here? We have, first, a divine person (the Word of God) 'hypostatically' united to 'flesh enlivened by a rational soul'. 'Hypostatically', for our limited purposes here, can be treated as a synonym for 'personally'. To say that the Son of God was hypostatically united to flesh enlivened by a rational soul is to say that He was personally united to it; that is, this very person, the Son of God assumed or took up fleshly rational life. Note what does not follow from this.

1. It does not follow from this that the Son of God ceased to be a person of the Trinity. Quite the contrary - the whole point is that this very person of the Trinity was enfleshed.

2. It does not follow from this that the Son of God was somehow turned into flesh; all that follows is that He was united to it.

3. It does not follow that the Son of God took up or assumed a human person; all that follows is that He took up human flesh, life, and reason. (More on this below.)

4. It does not follow that the Son of God was somehow turned into a human person (merely); all that does follow was that the Son of God became man, which allows for an interpretation under which the Son of God does not cease to be God. As we noted in (1), this is the whole point.

5. It does not follow that divine and human natures ceased to be distinct in Christ; all that follows is that they were united.

These sorts of considerations led to the clarification put forward by Chalcedon in the Definition of the Faith, which said that there was

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

There are, then, two natures under consideration in the Incarnation: a human nature and a divine nature. In the hypostatic union, i.e., the personal union in which the Word became flesh, these natures are united without ceasing to be distinct, and are distinct without ceasing to be united. They are distinct as natures: being divine is, and always will be, something different from being human. But they are united in the one person who became incarnate, namely, the Word. Two distinct natures of one single person. Since the sort of things one can do depend on one's nature, throughout His earthly life, Christ was engaged in two types of action, human actions and divine ones. As Athanasius says in the same text noted above,

You must understand, therefore, that when writers on this sacred theme speak of Him as eating and drinking and being born, they mean that the body, as a body, was born and sustained with the food proper to its nature; while God the Word, Who was united with it, was at the same time ordering the universe and revealing Himself through His bodily acts as not man only but God.

William Vallicella in an interesting article has raised this issue about the consistency of the Incarnation. The doctrine leads, he says, to the following incompatible triad:

1. Necessarily, if two things are identical, they share all their (non-intentional)properties.

2. God the Son and Jesus do not share all their (non-intentional) properties.

3. God the Son and Jesus are identical.

An example of an 'intentional property' would be believed to be the Son of God. Naturally, it would be possible for someone to believe that God the Son is the Son of God without believing that Jesus is the Son of God; this really doesn't, and shouldn't, have any affect on our discussion here, so the "non-intentional" here sets those properties aside.

Vallicella considers this triad to encapsulate what he calls the "Orthodox Chalcedonian incarnationalism" or OCI. Vallicella is quite right that the triad he presents is an incompatible one. He is quite wrong to think that this triad is OCI. The problem is with the identity thesis (3): it is only superficially similar to the genuine Orthodox thesis, which is that the Word of God and Jesus are one person. To see this, consider the following example (apologies for the lowliness of it):

Brandon without clothes is the same person as Brandon with clothes; but Brandon without clothes is not logically identical to Brandon with clothes, because in putting on clothes I add non-intentional properties to my person. Having clothes and not having clothes are not the same thing.

Likewise (mutatis mutandis, of course), the Word of God is the same person as the Incarnate Word of God; but the two are not logically identical, because the Word of God can be unincarnate as well as incarnate. It is not necessary for the pre-incarnate Word to have all the same properties as the incarnate Word; indeed, that would defeat the whole point of the Incarnation, which is the doctrine that the unincarnate Word took on incarnate properties. The unincarnate Word is still the same person as the incarnate Word. There are not two persons, one unincarnate, the other incarnate; but there is one person, who has in the one case additional properties. This, you will note, is what the Chalcedonian definition says. (3), which is the culprit in the incompatible triad, is a false characterization of Chalcedon and orthodoxy.

A major temptation of those with a sophisticated philosophical background, in this area as in the area of Trinitarian theology, is to treat the matter as a question of logical identity. It is not, and treating it as though it were inevitably will tie you in tangled knots. It is not surprising that such people begin to think of the doctrine of the Incarnation as involving contradictions. It is fairly easy to show that there is only one way in which the basic doctrine of the Incarnation could be shown to involve contradictions. Contradictions can only arise if X is A and Y is ~A in the same respect. It would be a contradiction, for instance, if Christ were God and not-God in exactly the same way. But this, of course, is not the doctrine of the Incarnation. Christ is God because He is the Word; He is also human, and only in that sense not-God. This is the whole point of Chalcedon, which has resoundingly and effectively closed off any attempt to locate an easy contradiction in the doctrine: Christ has both human and divine properties; for there to be a contradiction in this, Christ would have to have conflicting properties (e.g., omnipresence and containment in a limited space) in the same way. Christ (in his divine nature) has some properties (divine ones) and Christ (in his human nature) has some properties (human ones); what is true of Christ as God may not be true of Him as man, and vice versa. This sort of statement, in which we say, "X as Y is Z" is called a 'reduplicative statement'; and one of the things reduplicative statements do is block straightforward contradictions.

They do not block all contradictions. In this case the reduplicative or two-natures response leaves open one way in which a contradiction could arise: namely, if it could be shown that there is a contradiction in one person being the subject of both divine and human natures. While I think there is a solution to this implicit in what has already been said, it is clearly the case that showing this route to contradiction is blocked is more difficult; Chalcedon doesn't explicitly show it. To see it we have to turn from the Council of Chalcedon (451) to the Third Council of Constantinople (680-681).

In my experience, the single biggest stumblingblock people face to accepting the integrity of the doctrine of the Incarnation is this. We tend to think of ourselves as our minds; and thus people construct the following sort of dilemma: if God has taken up 'flesh enlivened by a rational soul' He can only do so by 1) taking up a human person; or 2) taking up less than what is required for a human person. The reasoning is that if the Word assumes a rational soul, he assumes a mind and therefore a person; but if He does not assume a person, He does not assume a rational soul and therefore does not become human. If this dilemma is acceptable, the sort of contradiction noted above would arise.

However, if by 'divine mind' we mean 'divine capability for thinking' and by 'human mind' we mean 'human capability for thinking', then there is no clear sense in which this would be the case. It is not clear what else we could mean. And a single person can have two different capabilities, e.g., a physical capability for walking and a mental capability for reasoning. And this is, in essence, the point of the Constantinople III. They put it in terms of will rather than intellect; the reason I put it in terms of intellect is that this is where the problem arises nowadays. But the two cases are closely parallel. As the council said of wills:

And we proclaim equally two natural volitions or wills in him and two natural principles of action which undergo no division, no change, no partition, no confusion, in accordance with the teaching of the holy fathers. And the two natural wills not in opposition, as the impious heretics said, far from it, but his human will following, and not resisting or struggling, rather in fact subject to his divine and all powerful will.

The only way to argue for a contradiction in the doctrine of the Incarnation, then, is to argue that it is logically impossible for one person to have two different capabilities (whether intellectual or volitional), one subordinate to the other. I don't have an argument that such an argument is impossible; but we can, I think, reasonably ask, on what basis would we make such an argument? Certainly on no basis proposed so far; and it seems doubtful, even from the point of view of mere reason, that we could absolutely rule out the possibility of one person having "two natural wills not in opposition".

I put a "Part I" in my title for the same reason I did so with my Trinitarian post; all this is very rough and incomplete and will, no doubt, need a sequel at some point.

UPDATE (24 Aug 2004): Vallicella has put up a helpful response to my argument; it seems clear that I misunderstood his argument in some way. I'm leaving the above post untouched both because it was a first draft anyway, and because I still think its positive points are all quite right and, while the position attributed to Vallicella might not be his, these sorts of criticisms do come up. For a link to Vallicella's response and my further puzzlings about his argument, see this post.

The Value of Things Heterogeneal

One of the oft-overlooked peculiarities in Hume's argument against testimony for miracles is his notion of balancing. When we entertain two thoughts, each one comes with its own force or vivacity; if the thoughts conflict, we weigh the thoughts against each other, subtracting the force or vivacity of Thought A from that of Thought B, and assent to Thought A with the force or vivacity by which A exceeds B. In the case of testimony that conflicts with our normal experience, we weigh the force or strength of the testimony against the force or strength of the experience. Hume's argument consists in arguing that, however strong the testimony for a miracle may be, by the nature of the case the experience with which it conflicts has the strongest possible force or strength. In the following passage from A Dissertation on Miracles, Campbell attacks this notion of balancing. The passage is of especial interest because the assumption criticized by Campbell here is a common one.

There is in arithmetic a rule called REDUCTION, by which numbers of different denominations are brought to the same denomination. If this ingenious author shall invent a rule in logic analogous to this, for reducign different classes of evidence to the same class, he will bless the world with a most important discovery. Then indeed he will have the honour to establish an everlasting peace in the republic of letters; then we shall have the happiness to see the controversy of every kind, theological, historical, philosophical, receive its mortal wound: for though, in every question, we could nto even then determine, with certainty, on which side the truth lay, we could always determine (and that is the utmost the nature of the thing admits) with as much accuracy as geometry and algebra can afford, on which side the probability lay, and in what degree. But till this metaphysical reduction be discovered, it will be impossible, where the evidences are of different orders, to ascertain by subtraction the superior evidence. We would not but esteem him anovice in arithmetic, who being asked, whether seven pounds or eleven pence make the greater sum, and what is the difference, should, by attending solely to the numbers, and overlooking the value, conclude that eleven pence were the greater, and that it exceeded the other by four. Must we not be equal novices in reasoning, if we follow the same method? Must we not fall into as great blunders? Of as little significancy do we find the balance. Is the value of things heterogeneal to be determined merely by weight? Shall silver be weighed against lead, or copper against iron? If, in exchange for a piece of gold, I were offered some counters of baser metal, is it not obvious, that till I know the comparative value of teh metals, in vain shall I attempt to find what is equivalent, by the assistance either of scales or of arithmetic?

(A Dissertation on Miracles (1839 edition), pp. 23-24)

Thursday, August 19, 2004

You Can Lead a Horse to Water....

I'm in the middle of grading end-of-term exams for my PHL 210 class. There are some very solid responses here; but there's also a bit of what must exasperate anyone who has ever taught. I won't go too much into it, but here's a good example:

One of the exam questions is a short answer question, fairly easy, on Kant. Because this is a summer course, the class periods are very long (3 hours), so I divided the period up into a guest lecture (by Julie, who taught the first term) and the test. The guest lecture was on Kant. Julie, with whom I had consulted on the question beforehand, emphasized the answer three or four times in the course of her lecture, which was about an hour long; and her formulation of it was very similar to the formulation of the question. Since Julie is a fairly good lecturer, the lecture was clear (better than mine usually are, since she is less likely to be carried away by the line of thought in front of her at a given moment), and the importance of the answer was easy to recognize. There were still people whose answers to the question weren't even in the ballpark. Several of them, in fact; it can't be that all of them just blanked on the question whose answer they had been given several times in the previous hour.

My philosophy of teaching is essentially Thomistic in character. The greater part of the intellectual work is and must be done by the pupil; all learning is an exercise of the pupil's own understanding on occasion of assistance by another. The purpose of an external instructor is:

1) To provide external aids and means of understanding, e.g., by relating it to the experience of the students or by giving examples and analogies, which the pupils can use to help themselves understand the truths and opinions being studied;
2) To give order to the truths and opinions being studied so the pupils can more easily see how they all fit together.

This is all (I'm leaving aside things that may conduce to these ends but are not essential to instruction, e.g., the things that make classes not just informative but enjoyable and entertaining). These things are very difficult to do; but they don't get anyone very far if the students are not willing to put forward a bit of their own intellectual work. Fortunately, there are lots of students who are willing to do this. Nonetheless it's frustrating to find that there are those who aren't. Even one is exasperating; that there are several almost makes me angry.

¡Viva la RevoluciĆ³n!

Not long ago I published a rambling miscellany post in which I advocated the use of singular "they". Now, independently, there are posts springing up on the same same subject. Wolfangel has this argument post, followed by a post with examples from Shakespeare, C. S. Lewis, and Austen, and a link to the Austen page I had indicated. Wolfangel suggests in the former that the generic 'he' is actually vanishing; the younger generation has difficulty recognizing 'he' as ever generic. Then Sharon at Early Modern Notes published this post, in which she advocates all-out revolution. And All Day Permanent Red adds this post. So it begins!

I'm not convinced by arguments that 'he' never really functions generically, because (if nothing else) it does so by fiat, and in language that suffices; but I think the arguments put forward toward this conclusion all show conclusively that the generic 'he' runs into serious problems because of the existence of the masculine 'he' - it is very easy to build cases in which a generic 'he' would be confusing at best and (in general) leads to inconsistency. Maintaining 'he' as the generic pronoun is simply an unreasonable position when there is already a much better alternative in play.

Update: There are two other discussions of the subject over the previous several days here and here.

Update: As Rebecca notes in the comments, Parableman has a discussion of this issue, tailored to a particular topic, here.

The Immutable Knowing of Mutable Knowns

From Dummett, Truth and the Past, p. 94:

God's foreknowledge is conventionally explained in one of two ways. One is that God's knowledge of how things will be rests on his intention to make them happen so. This explanation implies that God brings about all that happens, and thus restricts our moral freedom to giving our will to it or withholding our will from it; if the same explanation is given of God's foreknowledge of which we shall do, we have no freedom at all. An alternative account is that God apprehends the past, the present, and the future all at once, being himself unchanging. If this were so, he would not apprehend change as it is: only one who is in time can be aware of anything _as_ changing.

Both of these claims seem to be a bit hasty, for different reasons. While there are people who hold something like the position Dummett gives for the first, far more common (I would think) is a looser claim that God necessarily makes some sort of causal contribution to everything that happens, and, knowing his causal contribution, knows the things. There are problems with this if it is a stand-alone position, but is rarely stand-alone, since most people who hold such a view also hold the second view as well; they are not mutually exclusive. The second claim, the reason why the eternalist view won't work, seems to be simply false, or, at best, equivocal. If God is immutable, and knows past, present, future, all at once, then his knowing past, present, and future is unchanging, but what is known in this immutable knowing is changing: change as it is. There is no problem here. Consider several parallels in this regard:

God's knowing of places is non-spatial; but what is known is spatial.

God's knowing of evils is not evil; but what is known is evil.

God's knowing of the merely possible is not merely possible; but what is known is merely possible.

God's knowing of visible things is invisible; but what is known is visible.

God's knowing of temporal things is atemporal; but what is known is temporal.

God's knowing of changing things is unchanging; but what is known is changing.

The list could be made much longer than I've made it; we would need very good reason to except time and change from the list. I've talked (well, argued) with several open and process theists on this point, and the only one who ever came close to giving me a good reason even for thinking such a reason might (on any defensible suppositions) be given was Lewis Ford, the process theist (for those interested in process theism, his book, Transforming Process Theism, is a great read, by the way); and it was a very complicated response, involving long forays into the metaphysics of time, experience, being, and knowledge. Suffice it to say, if you're not a process theist, you have no basis on which to make the exception; if you are a process theist, you might be able to provide such a basis, but it is hard to evaluate because of its complexity. It's certainly not the easy move many people (Dummett is just one example here) think it is.

The issue with God's knowledge vs. what God knows is a perfectly general issue; we could make a list for our own knowing very similar to that I gave above for God. We may be necessarily temporal, but we are not so because we know temporal things but for some other reason (e.g., because of what we ourselves are).

The Problem of Induction

SCENE: Two squirrels are frisking about in a park across the street from a butcher's shop. There are lots of humans walking about.

Little Squirrel: Ugh! What ugly, lumbering creatures! Are you sure they aren't dangerous?

Big Squirrel: I'm sure; why won't you trust me on these things?

Little Squirrel: Well, they look rather dangerous, clomping about like ugly walking trees.

Big Squirrel: Well, they're so uncoordinated you might get stepped on, if you're not careful. But as long as you stay out of their path, they're not dangerous. They're not even carnivores.

Little Squirrel: What makes you so sure?

Big Squirrel: I've never seen 'em eat a squirrel. Have you?

One of the ugly, lumbering creatures comes too close, and they both scramble up a tree.

Postgraduate Angst

For those of you who are in grad school, or are on the verge of being in grad school, Claire at "17th century" has been saying some things worth reading; I think she captures well what a lot of people feel at this stage. See especially here and here.

Update And especially here, too, where she makes the very apt comment:

Most importantly I've decided that I need to change the definition of what I'm trying to do. I keep saying 'I want to be an academic' etc. What a constricting word. I should be saying historian instead. It's the difference between putting yourself in a bag and carrying the bag yourself.

An excellent way of looking at it (I'll have to remember it myself)!

Christian Carnival XXXI

The most recent Christian Carnival is up at Parableman; he correlates the posts with Kansas lyrics - and does so fairly well, too. This is something very difficult to do; I was astonished he could make it work so well.

My contribution was the post on Edith Stein, here. Other notables:

* Jeremy has a post on problems with the rhetoric of the movement against gay marriage, at "Parableman"

* Samantha at "Uncle Sam's Cabin" has a post commenting on what the command to love our enemies presupposes

* "Joe Missionary" has a post on answered prayer

* Rebecca at "Rebecca Writes" continues her musings on the divine attributes with a post on God's power

* Chase at "Wide Awake" has a post on the source of rights

The others are worth reading, too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

On an Argument for the Existence of Bodies

Malebranche considers the following (Descartes-influenced) type of argument (it has several slightly different but closely related versions).

    1. It is at least possible that there are external bodies.

    2. We have nothing that proves to us there are no such bodies.

    3. We have a strong inclination to believe there are such bodies.

    4. Therefore, we have more reason to believe there are such bodies than to believe there are not any, our natural judgment being that there are.

    5. We should follow our natural judgment when we cannot positively correct it by reason.

    Therefore, we should believe there are external bodies.

Malebranche's attitude toward this argument is ambivalent. He calls it "sound enough," but denies that it is demonstrative. That is, he thinks that while the argument is correct in all its claims, we are capable of suspending judgment on it. On Cartesian principles, when we can suspend judgment we should, at least for theoretical purposes. The conclusion only follows with probability, not certainty; and in the eyes of Cartesians like Malebranche who are concerned with defeating skepticism, probability is not good enough.

His attitude can be contrasted with another Cartesian, Arnauld, who accepts this sort of argument as demonstrative. The issue between them is (5), or rather, the argument for it. The basis for (5) is this. We are set up in such a way that we tend to believe certain things. We are also made by God. If God made us so that we could not help but believe something false (i.e., such that we could not correct our belief), He would be a deceiver. God is not a deceiver. Therefore if we are made so as to believe something by natural judgment, and cannot correct our belief, what is believed is true. Both Malebranche and Arnauld agree with all this; but Malebranche is not convinced that we can apply this with certainty in this case. For it to apply, God must in some sense reveal to us that bodies exist, either by designing us a certain way or by some sort of revelation. While we are designed to tend to believe that bodies exist, we know that this design is linked entirely to issues of preservation, avoiding pain, etc.; that is, our tendency is wholly a matter of practice. We cannot conclude from this that God's intention in the design was that we believe that bodies really exist, rather than simply making it easier to live in the world by giving us a useful fiction. Therefore, Malebranche thinks we can only apply this reasoning with certainty if we have some way of being certain about the intentions of our design, which can only be the case if 1) we have clear information about our design (Malebranche thinks Adam in Eden would have had such information, but we certainly do not, because of original sin); or 2) our designer actually tells us through some message (Malebranche opts for this).

Arnauld, on the other hand, is clear that he thinks that, given our natural tendency to believe in the existence of bodies external to our minds, God would be a deceiver if there were no such bodies.

My own view on this point is that Malebranche has the stronger argument. In a Cartesian framework, "God is not a deceiver" is a good reliability-ensuring principle at a very general level of the design. That is, if God is not a deceiver, the cognitive faculties he gave us must be able to come to the truth. But there is nothing in the principle to tell us how easy or difficult coming to the truth might be, nor does it seem to give us any certainty about particular beliefs. Any thoughts?

Wisdom from Aquinas

People need to be supported in the evils that happen to them. And this is what consolation is, strictly speaking. Because if a person did not have something in which his heart could rest when he is overcome with evils, he could not bear up. And so one person consoles another when he offers him some relief, in which he can rest in the midst of evils. And although in some evils one human being can take consolation and rest and support in another, nonetheless it is only God who consoles us in all evils.

[In II Cor. 1.2, quoted in Stump, Aquinas, p. 476.]

Monday, August 16, 2004

More on Stump on Alternative Possibilities

Here is a rough argument re Stump and PAP. Tucked away in a discussion of divine simplicity:

...nothing in Aquinas's theory of free will requires a free will to be able to choose evil over good. The principle much defended by some contemporary philosophers that a person acts with free will and moral responsibility only in case he could have done otherwise than he did is therefore not a principle Aquinas espouses. (Stump, Aquinas, p. 106)

This appears to play a role in Stump's argument in the passage I've been chewing on: "Although the blessed cannot will evil, they nonetheless will freely whatever good they will" (p. 299).

What puzzles me is why she thinks this is so. PAP, or the principle of alternative possibilities, if you recall, is this:

(PAP) A person has free will with regard to (or is morally responsible for) an action A only if he could have done otherwise than A.

In the case of God or the blessed, who cannot sin, the idea (I presume) is that they cannot do (or will) otherwise than impeccably; so that if PAP were true, they would not freely be doing A (and would not be morally responsible for it). At least, this is the only thing I can think of that would lead to this conclusion.

But this doesn't seem to me to be right (and this is the disagreement over PAP that I mentioned earlier). For consider God doing A; God could instead do B. Both A and B are necessarily good; God cannot do otherwise than actions like A or B. But it is still the case that for any good action A, God could have done otherwise; and for any good action B, God could have done otherwise. So for any good action A or B, God could have done otherwise and there is therefore nothing in this situation to tell against PAP's application. As with God, so a fortiori with the saints; and as with the saints, so a fortiori with everyone else. (This isn't, as far as I can unravel it, the entire argument presented by Stump; she has another line of argumentation on the issue of intellect/will interaction and on being overcome with passion; I think it can be shown that neither of these affects PAP in the sense suggested here, but that's an argument for another day.)

Because I'm completely unimpressed by the contortions of Frankfurt-style counterexamples, I don't keep a close eye on the Frankfurt-style counterexample literature, in which these issues are usually discussed. Are there actually defenders of PAP who insist that it means that if we cannot will evil we cannot be responsible for good actions, even if we could do other good actions? Could she perhaps be thinking of certain variants of the Free Will Defense, in which God is said to have created people capable of willing evil because that follows from creating people capable of willing freely? If this is so, I think I agree that Aquinas has to rule out such a strategy, at least in a simple form; but this does not mean he has proposed anything that would require rejecting PAP.

Philosophers' Carnival

Richard Chappell of Philosophy, et cetera has started the ball rolling on a Philosophers' Carnival. The first Philosophers' Carnival will be at "Philosophy, et cetera" on August 23 (date subject to change). This is a great idea, so any blogging philosophers out there should at least send a submission. Now I'll have to think which recent philosophical post of mine would be suitable....

Even Better

So I was walking home and then it hit me -- Stump and myself are probably interpreting Aquinas in more or less the same way. The culprit is not Aquinas interpretation but the interpretation of PAP. I think this would explain a lot.

As I said, the argument goes by fairly quickly, so there are parts that are slightly obscure. But Stump emphasizes the fact that necessity of natural inclination is like necessity of end. An example of necessity of end: if I want to cross the ocean, I need a transport capable of crossing it.

Now, I think the difference between Stump and myself might turn out to be whether this sort of necessity violates the formulation of (PAP) below -- she thinks it does, I think it doesn't.

This is why I love philosophy: there's always more than meets the eye. And it's also why, of all the modes of doing philosophy, I love history of philosophy best, because I meet this all the time there: refutations can turn out to be exactly right, and yet not refute; supporting arguments can turn out to be flawless, and yet not support; two opposing sides can turn out to agree on precisely the sort of thing thought to be at issue, and disagree on what was thought to be shared. Turning the crystal the right way lets the light through. It's just rare that I get the chance to do it with myself!

Homer and Modern Poetry

From Owen Barfield's Poetic Diction (pp. 105-106):

Although the poetic principle in language has waned since Homer's day, poetry as inner experience has increased. The light of conscious poetry which can irradiate a modern imagination, as it comes into contact with, say, the Homeric hexameters, is not to be compared with such fitful aesthetic gleams as must indeed have flared up now and again amidst the host of grosser pleasures preoccupying the dim self-consciousness of his own (probably half-intoxicated) audience.

I suspect one could say similar things of most literary forms and genres.

After a work-intensive weekend, I am exhausted, so you probably shouldn't expect much from me today or tomorrow....

Pollen in the Wind

Sharon has an interesting post at Early Modern Notes speculating about philosophy and the internet. I think she's completely right; the internet is a very limited tool for the needs of philosophy. It has the value of accessibility and so it is good for archiving and cross-referencing and other things along those lines. And one sees this at, for instance, Brian Weatherson's "Online Papers in Philosophy," which is probably the most valuable source of information about philosophical research on the web (largely epistemology, philosophy of science, and so forth). But it's difficult to do top-notch philosophy on the internet; blogging has perhaps gone some way toward remedying that, but blogging requires small snippets, and it's very easy to oversimplify a philosophical argument to a dangerous extent in the context of a weblog. This is one reason why I keep insisting that posts here at Siris are only roughed out, and are never finished arguments so much as pollen or seeds of thought. The best that can be had out of it are fragments only. There's a use to fragments; but they are not the whole thing.

Actually, I think this may be a general problem for philosophy. Journal articles, for instance, are very flexible and useful, but I think they show their limits, too, when it comes to philosophy; at least, I find in very noticeable in the work I do. Journal articles are fragments, too; they are polished fragments with standard conventions, but they are partial and fragmentary. And this is perfectly fine but there also is a sense in which philosophy needs to be done holistically: everything starts have ramifications for everything else. If, for instance, you reject a premise in (say) Aquinas's First Mover argument for the existence of God, that has immediate logical consequences for one's view of the natural world, causation, the sort of science that can be done, what style of arguments you can or cannot use, &c., &c. Nothing is hermetically sealed (fortunately, there are ways to handle this, if you keep on your toes, but it's a problem that constantly looms). So, while we are condemned to fragmentary work, we can never rest satisfied with the fragments, which means we are always being forced to evaluate and re-evaluate each thing in light of all the other fragments. Ultimately philosophy has the quirk that the only tool well-suited for it is the brain itself....

I'm not sure how coherent this is (I'm feeling it's way too early right now....)


Hot Off the Presses

I just now finished this short passage in the chapter I'm working on; it's part of a larger section. I've been a bit surprised at how much trouble it has given me, so I thought I would put it up to see if anyone might have anything helpful to say on it -- comments on readability (which is a big issue) or clarity of argument, or anything. In the passage immediately prior to this one, I have been talking about Malebranche's major move in epistemology, namely, treating Reason as a personal agent (indeed, as a divine personal agent): we are all rational in virtue of our personal interaction with divine Reason. (One of the difficulties I've been having all along is with presenting this in a way that shows just how powerful a move it is, despite its more obvious disadvantages.) I have been looking at how this affects Malebranche's theory of ideas, and then say, "There is, however, another way in which Reason affects us, namely, by convictions and reproaches." (I should say that LO = the Lennon-Olscamp translation of Malebranche's Search after Truth, and JS = the Jolley-Scott translation of his Dialogues on Metaphysics and on Religion.)


Malebranche opens the Search with a discussion of the understanding and will. The understanding is “that passive faculty of the soul by means of which it receives all the modifications of which it is capable” (LO 3). The will, on the other hand, is “the impression or natural impulse that carries us toward general and indeterminate good” (LO 5). The will is both active, although Malebranche is careful to qualify this by the phrase “in a sense” (LO 4), and free, where freedom is “the power that the mind as of turning this impression toward objects that please us so that our natural inclinations are made to settle upon some particular object” (LO 5). The will is a blind power that can only tend toward the various things that are presented to it by the understanding, but the judgments and inferences we associate with the understanding are also accomplished by the will. The intellect does nothing but perceive; through our will, and only through our will, we can consent to what is presented to us through our intellects. When we believe something necessary, it is because “there is in these things no further relation to be considered that the understanding has not already perceived” (LO 9). We need freedom because there are many cases in which this has not yet occurred, requiring us to direct our attention (another act of the will) in other directions, and, more importantly, because everything the intellect receives has some appearance of truth (we seem to perceive it, after all), so “if the will were not free and if it were infallibly and necessarily led to everything having the appearance of truth and goodness, it would almost always be deceived” (LO 10). This would force us to conclude that God, as Author of our natures, was the source of our errors.

As a good Cartesian, Malebranche does not find this result palatable. He concludes therefore that God gives us freedom that we may under these circumstances avoid falling into error. In particular, we are given freedom so that we may refrain from accepting the merely probable, by continuing to investigate “until everything to be investigated is unravelled and brought to light” (LO 10). We have, therefore, an epistemic duty to use our freedom as much as we can, as long as we do not use it to avoid yielding to evidence, which is to say, “the clear and distinct perception of all the constituents and relations of the object necessary to support a well-founded judgment” (LO 10). How do we know when we have reached this point? Interestingly, Malebranche’s brief statements of how we know we have reached clear and distinct perception never consider it to be something intrinsic to the clear and distinct perception itself. Rather, he considers it to be due to the “inward reproaches of our reason” (LO 10), “the powerful voice of the Author of Nature, which till now I have called the reproaches of our reason and the remorse of our conscience” (LO 11). In addition to these pangs of intellectual conscience, we are led by “a certain inward conviction” and “the impulses felt while meditating” (LO 13). These sentiments are the first mentions of Reason in the Search, and as similar sentiments about “the replies He gives to all those who know how to question Him properly” arise in the conclusion to the work, they may perhaps be said to frame the entire work.

Not only does Reason teach by illuminating us with ideas, then; it also teaches by giving us inquiry-guiding sentiments. This appears to be what is behind an otherwise entirely inexplicable passage in the Search, where Malebranche says that we know God wills order through interior sentiment (LO 579). This should be compared to the discussion at the end of Dialogue VIII. The topic of the discussion is whether God can will that we love more what deserves to be loved less, which is related to the issue of order, since order is the reason He cannot. Aristes, who is hesitant about this claim, says, “I am convinced by a kind of interior sentiment that God cannot will that we love and esteem more what deserves to be loved and esteemed less; but I do not see it very clearly” (JS 145, slightly modified). Then, after he has given further reasons for the proposition, says,

Consider them well, Aristes, in order to remain convinced of them, not simply by a kind of interior sentiment by which God inwardly persuades all those whose heart is not hardened and entirely corrupted, but also by an evidence such that you can demonstrate it…. (JS 147, slightly modified)

In these passages we see what seems to be an explicit example of Reason’s teaching through sentiment. This would make considerable sense. We know God not through any idea in the ordinary sense, but through Himself, for “He can act on our mind and reveal Himself to it” (LO 236). The most obvious way in which He does so is by “illuminating” us. We have seen, however, that Reason also serves as our intellectual conscience in philosophical meditation, rebuking us when we are obstinate and giving us “inward convictions” of the truth. It is not, therefore, surprising that we have some sort of knowledge through interior sentiment of the fact that God always wills order. It is not a direct knowledge in the way interior sentiment gives us a direct knowledge of the fact that we are thinking. There can, however be some form of cognitive dissonance at the thought of God not willing order; even to someone who has not yet thought the matter through, there can seem something rather absurd and incredible about this thought. We are not left with this alone; Theodore gives supporting reasons, and the passage in Elucidation Eight suggests as an additional reason the failure of all objections to it. Nonetheless, it is clear that Reason’s teaching function extends beyond illuminating us with ideas to instilling in us inquiry-guiding sentiments. Nor is this the end of Reason’s magisterial function in Malebranche’s system. We are further told that He teaches by sensible example in the Incarnation (LO 367) and, related to this, He instructs Christians through the authority of the Church (JS 92). We will return to these in a later chapter.

In Virtue Of

Keith Burgess-Jackson has an interesting post on the phrase "in virtue of". Which is correct: "in virtue of" or "by virtue of"? According to Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, the latter; the former, he says is an archaism. Burgess-Jackson was puzzled because, as he says, philosophers use the phrase "in virtue of" all the time. I was puzzled, too, because while I hear and read "in virtue of" quite often, it has been a long time since I can remember having heard the phrase "by virtue of." This piqued my interest, so I ran a Google search.

"In virtue of" came up with approximately 112,000 hits. Virtually all of the hits in the first thirty pages were from three fields: philosophy, theology, and law, in that order, with law only yielding a handful. The overwhelming majority were philosophical; very few of the uses of the phrase were casual.

"By virtue of" came up with approximately 920,000 hits. The first thirty pages were far more diverse than was the case with "in virtue of", with many casual uses of the phrase; but a clear majority of the hits were from the field of law.

So the results seem to be this. "In virtue of" is not an archaism, but it is clear that it survives primarily in philosophy. The theological remnants appear to be largely due to older translations of the Bible; and "in virtue of" is used in law as a rare synonym of "by virtue of". "In virtue of" is clearly the preferred phrase in philosophy, just as "by virtue of" is clearly the preferred phrase in law. Neither phrase is particularly common in ordinary speech, but there is a clear preference for "by virtue of."

It is worth noting that the on-line OED gives no suggestion whatsoever of "in virtue of" being an archaism; and this is also true of the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary .

It's curious that I never noticed how philosophy-bound "in virtue of" is. This morning I thought I spoke English; now I find I speak Philosophy....

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Aquinas on Free Choice

I recently picked up Eleonore Stump's massive Aquinas from the library. I haven't really started reading it, but I've dipped into it. I was startled to find her claiming that "Aquinas does not suppose that human freedomeven as regards willing consists in or depends on the ability to do otherwise" (p. 299). A bit surprising, I thought, given that Aquinas says, at ST 2-1.13.6, "For man can will and not will, act and not act; again, he can will this or that, and do this or that," and this is intended to be a clarification of why we do not will necessarily. So what does she mean?

Aquinas distinguishes between two sorts of necessity: a "necessity of coercion" and a "necessity of natural inclination." The first is incompatible with free choice. The second, however, Aquinas says is not incompatible with it. It is from this that she draws the conclusion that Aquinas rejects the principle of alternative possibilities, where it is defined as

(PAP) A person has free will with regard to (or is morally responsible for) an action A only if he could have done otherwise than A.

But surely Stump is incorrect in this regard. Aquinas holds not that we are sometimes moved by a necessity of natural inclination and sometimes not, but that we are always moved b a necessity of natural inclination. The will consists in inclination to good in general; this is the natural movement of the will, and it therefore necessarily is inclined to good in general. The reason this does not introduce any "necessity of coercion" is that the good in general is precisely that: general. As an end it does not determine us to any particular good but instead makes it possible for us to choose any particular good that falls within itself (see here, for instance). The reason that necessity of natural inclination does not conflict with free choice is that it is the necessary precondition for any choice whatsoever. Necessity of natural inclination, therefore, does not in any way interfere with PAP. And, indeed, Aquinas insists that our wills are not necessitated to one thing, and, indeed, not necessitated to anything except in the case of natural inclination (see here). When the saints see God face to face, they will love Him (as supreme good) by necessity of natural inclination, and will not be able to will evil; but they will still be free to express their love for God in many different ways, which is why Aquinas can say (in a De Malo passage cited by Stump, and also, I think, in an SCG passage I can't remember or find right now) that there is no state in which humans lack liberum arbitrium, what I have been calling 'free choice'.

I conclude that Stump is incorrect to say that "on Aquinas's account, human freedom even with regard to willing does not depend on her having alternative possibilities available to her; it is possible for an agent to act freely even when she cannot act otherwise than she does" (p. 300).

Judicial Activism

There's an interesting post by Jonathan Dresner at Cliopatria (thanks to Ralph Luker for the mention, by the way) on judicial activism, where he asks the very sensible question:

While I applaud her attempt to highlight the hidden activism of "conservative" judicators and challenge the "judicial activism" meme, the moderate in me wonders why the middle ground -- the vast majority of judges at all levels doing their best to apply enduring and slowly changing legal doctrines to swiftly shifting gray areas of contemporary life -- gets so little attention.

I think it may be because there are a number of things that are thrown together and not properly distinguished by both sides when it comes to this 'judicial activism' issue. There are, for instance, issues at the theoretical level about how the Constitution should be interpreted, and this is one level at which there are fights over (from one side) "judicial activism" and (from the other side) "living constitution" (to choose just one set of labels under which it is fought). Both labels are simply absurd when applied in this way; this is why I don't agree with the perspective found in the quote from Dahlia Lithwick in Dresner's post. And this ideological worry (which is the aspect that Dresner calls "perceptual and rhetorical") tends to be a worry that everyone but oneself is interpreting the Constitution incorrectly.

There is, however, another issue mixed in, namely, a worry about whether the judiciary is being properly checked and balanced within our system, and a concomitant worry about whether it might not be, in myriad subtle ways, usurping legislative functions. Whether one agrees with them or not, these worries always deserve to be taken very seriously. The first worry is congenital: it has been a worry about our constitutional system since it was first conceived, and will, I think, always be one. It is probably impossible to give the judiciary the flexibility that's needed without also running the risk of its overstepping the bounds laid out for it. [I do think, though, that there is something to the whole notion of a notwithstanding clause, like that in the Canadian constitution, in which a legislature can, for a precisely limited but renewable period of time, explicitly ignore a judicial ruling (this can only be done explicitly, for the specific period of time, on certain issues, in the formal acts of the legislature itself -- if any of these are missing, the notwithstanding clause is not in use); this gives the legislature more time to deliberate about its options, and it doesn't extend legislative power very much since as a rule it can only keep up the appeal to the notwithstanding clause on matters that have considerable and stable popular support. It does complicate matters somewhat, and is still controversial in Canada itself; and I'm not sure what the whole set of pros and cons of introducing something like this into the U.S. would be. But it's an interesting idea.]

The second worry, I think, holds that for the most part the whole judiciary has, precedent by precedent, slowly moved or begun to move outside its Constitutional bounds, and that therefore the problem is systemic. I think the reason moderate judges tend to get overlooked is that this worry tends unfortunately to get blended with the above ideological worry: the systemic worry is about something pervasive, and the ideological worry involves on both sides a mentality of if-you're-not-for-us-you're-against-us, so their bastard child is something of a monster. But the systemic worry itself is one that should be respected, since I think it will tend to spring up in any sufficiently involved citizenry, just as worries about whether executive authority is transgressing Constitutional bounds will.

Then again, these issues get very complicated very quickly, so I might be off on any number of things.

Campbell and Norris; and the State of the Discipline

[Note: Since this was posted, Houyhnhnm Land has moved to this new location; the posts noted here can still, however, be found in either place.]

I've put up information for on-line resources on Norris and Campbell at H.L. I'm having trouble with Blogger again, so if they look a little weird, you know who is to blame. It's been doing a weird doubling and tripling of the content of the posts (not the posts, the content), and it won't save any of my edits. Infuriation! I still haven't done anything in the way of a real evaluation for these resources; and probably won't for a bit.

Looking at these four figures, Cockburn, Astell, Norris, and Campbell has reminded me of just how little one can glean from the internet in philosophy. To be sure, this is not entirely surprising. Philosophy is, after all, the Infinite Field of Study. We scholars of philosophy may build our little villages (schools of thought) and, when doing history of philosophy, turn the dark footpaths (influences, parallels) between the villages into well-lit roads, and even discover new villages; but there are continents upon continents, planets upon planets, galaxies upon galaxies, universes upon universes, of work to be done.

Nonetheless, the roads for early modern are often very bad, and there are lots of villages tucked away where no one ever visits. Even the important roads leading to well-known towns are often barely laid out. Serious study of Descartes's medieval influences has only started relatively recently, and serious study of Malebranche's influence on Hume has been patchy at best. There are rather significant towns that have been almost swallowed by the jungle (Malebranche himself, for instance), and we've only just recently begun to put our machetes to work on it.

So, again, it's not especially surprising that there's lots that cannot be gleaned in philosophy from the internet. Nonetheless, it is depressing how limited the resources are. I am, of course, deliberately starting with thinkers who are underappreciated. But it's a bit sad when George Campbell, for instance, whose influence on the nineteenth century is extensive, has as his best on-line representatives brief lecture notes and short undergrad papers.

On the other hand, it's not so much depressing and sad as challenging and exciting. It is not the case, after all, that things are much different in Real Life; the serious books and articles written on Campbell would not make a very long bibliography. And quantity of the sort found in, say, Hume or Aquinas studies, isn't always quality. So perhaps even more importantly than turning up philosophy resources, I am turning up where such resources are needed (even more than I had previously thought); and that's information worth having.


The analytic approach always seems so precise because of its emphasis on logic; but one could well joke (but it is only half a joke) that analytic philosophy consists in making up for logic's lack of vagueness in other ways. I've already expressed my concerns about 'intuition'. I've recently been thinking about 'proposition'. What brings this on is that I have recently started reading Dummett's Truth and the Past, which opens with the following two sentences:

The distinction between linguistic utterances and what they express is borne in on us by many common experiences, for instance, that of finding out how to say something in another language, and that of rephrasing something we have said to make it clear to our hearer. What a sentential utterance expresses is a proposition.

And this has started me thinking about propositions. What is a proposition? What a sentential utterance expresses. But to what does it refer? And I'm not sure there's quite enough concern about this. To be sure, there are debates about whether propositions 'exist' and what 'nature' they have; there have been claims that moral sentences do not express propositions, and so forth; but really, these are, I think, contributors to my point, which is that it's very, very hard to tell what analytic philosophers mean when they talk about 'propositions'. They're what sentences express; they're the 'meaning' of sentences. But this doesn't really tell us anything.

I've said there have been discussions of the existence and nature of propositions. Usually the idea seems to be that there is some abstract object that is both the intentional object of a mental act of judging (that something is so or not so) and the meaning of a sentence, or of one of the two (usually the latter). What an 'abstract object' is is a very thorny question. For all practical purposes we can just replace 'some abstract object' with 'a somewhat' or 'a something-or-other'; this something-or-other is the meaning of a sentence and maybe the intentional object of an act of judging. Not very helpful.

My point is not that all talk of propositions is foolish, or that there might not be accounts of propositions that work - indeed, if by 'proposition' we mean anything at all, there's bound to be some good account of it. My point is rather that there really is no standard account of what these mysterious things are; and the illusion one might get from analytic philosophers themselves that it's pretty obvious what propositions are is precisely an illusion. The 'roles' of the proposition are real, in the sense that we do judge whether things are so or not, and we do mean things when we speak or write; but 'proposition' seems to waver between being a mere synonym for these judgments or meanings, and being a je-ne-sais-quoi floating around that magically does all the work. Perhaps there is some third thing; my point is that there is no consensus of it among the people appealing to it.

I wonder, indeed, why anyone thinks that a proposition would be an abstract object at all. The word itself suggests not an abstract object but an action; a proposition would be the proposing of something. To be sure, by a standard sort of ambiguity we use names for actions for the objects of the actions; e.g., a remembrance can either be the remembering or what is remembered. Likewise, a proposition would be the proposing or what is proposed; but it isn't clear why what is proposed would have to be an abstract object, any more than a sensation, i.e., the object of the act of sensing, would have to be a 'sense-datum'. There still will be uses for the word 'proposition'; but perhaps we should ask whether much of what is attributed to 'propositions' is really just due to taking a figure of speech or two too literally.

Perhaps I'm just missing something; it wouldn't be the first time....