Saturday, September 04, 2004

Circumstantial Topics

The medievals identified seven circumstantial topics (a 'topic' or 'commonplace' is something from which an argument can be drawn), each of which has parts. This is the analysis of which the "5W-H" you were taught in elementary school is the...well, the elementary school version. I just came across some of my notes on the subject:


1. Who, i.e., who did it

Who has eleven parts:

a. name, e.g., Tully
b. nature, e.g., foreigner
c. mode of life, e.g., friend of nobles
d. fortune, e.g., rich
e. studies, e.g., geometrician
f. luck, e.g., exile
g. feelings, e.g., loving
h. disposition, e.g., wise
i. purpose (I don't have an example in my notes, and I might be misremembering, but I think this would be something like office or duty)
j. deeds (other than those at issue)
k. words (other than those at issue)


2. What, i.e., what the action is

What has four parts:

a. the gist of the deed, e.g., killing of a parent
b. before the deed, e.g., he seized the sword in anger
c. while it occurs, e.g., he struck violently
d. after the deed, e.g., he hid in a secret place.

3. Why, i.e., the reason the action was done

4. Where

5. When

When has two parts:

a. time
b. opportunity

6. How, i.e., by what method

7. With what means

The idea behind these 'actional' (as I have called them) circumstances is that for every action there are questions that may be asked about time, place, opportunity, method and means; but these are not actions but 'adhere' to the actions. While the general idea is from Aristotle, the real father of this sort of analysis is Cicero, and circumstantial topics have always had a close relationship with fields that are closely bound up with forensics, i.e., public rhetoric (like journalism and law). Circumstantial descriptions are extremely important for our understanding of what is going on and whether it's good or bad; it's worth keeping an eye out occasionally for how circumstantial topics are used in discussions, especially political ones. But they have lots of uses beyond bland description; for instance, they can be used for speeches of praise or blame, case analysis, and, for one I hadn't thought of, see this post on the 'Circumstantial Rosary' at Disputations -- I suppose they would be very good for all kinds of meditations on actions.

Aquinas has a great discussion of the circumstances at ST I-II.7, in which he clarifies the nature of circumstances (article 1), argues for their importance in moral considerations (article 2), analyzes them into their main types (article 3), and ranks them (article 4).

Whewell's View of Scientific Method

A rough and approximate summary of William Whewell's view of the scientific method:

1. Common observation

2. Collection of instances

     a) by observation if regular

     b) by experiment if occasional

3. Decomposition of phenomena

     a) via analogy

     b) via simple connections

4. Classification and development of terms

5. First induction

     a) of class-describing propositions in observation

     b) of laws of phenomena in experiment

6. Second induction (causes of laws)

The idea is (again, roughly) this. We go about in our everyday lives observing the world, drawing conclusions about it (1); then someone says of something, "Hey, that's interesting," so begins to look more closely and systematically at what happens (2). To understand what is going on, we can't have mere data; we need a phenomenon, i.e., something fairly stable with regard to which we can draw general conclusions. Some natural data (for instance, those of traditional astronomy) are so stable that they are phenomena already, and so the trick there is just to find a way to observe them (2a). Others, however, are harder to pin down, and need to be studied under a set of controls (2b). Once we have recognized a phenomenon, we need to do some analysis of it (3) and in so doing we begin to develop a cogent way of talking and thinking about the phenomenon, adequate to our purposes (4). Then we begin what Whewell calls 'induction', but which we really should call 'superinduction', because as he understands it, it involves the superinducing of concepts on the phenomena; this involves identifying what a set of facts share in order to construct general principles or laws (i.e., stable general propositions) of the phenomena (5). After this we can take the process up another notch in order to explain the laws in terms of the causes on which they are based (6).

As I noted above, all this is a rough approximation. But it conveys, I think, a bit of why, despite having been dead almost a hundred forty years (Whewell's dates are 1794-1866), Whewell is my favorite philosopher of science: he is well-informed, balanced, and thorough, and recognizes that 'doing science' doesn't consist of one thing but of many different sorts of things that tend in a general direction (i.e., toward theories that are predictive and coherent and that allow us to understand unities in the world that might otherwise be missed). Indeed, while there has been good work in philosophy of science this past century, I find it difficult to find anything that really holds a candle to Whewell. Duhem comes closest, I suppose; but even he seems a bit simplistic when set beside Whewell. If you go into philosophy of science, Whewell's still the man to improve upon. For further information about Whewell, see this article.

A Bit about Hume

The most recent edition of Hume Studies came in the mail yesterday; as usual it has some goodies. One of the particularly interesting bits is a transcription of Hume's pamphlet for Archibald Stewart. Stewart was a Scot accused of dereliction of duty when the Jacobite rebellion flooded out from the Highlands in 1745; Stewart turned Edinburgh over to the rebels. The pamphlet argues that Edinburgh was indefensible and could not have withstood siege. Among other things the pamphlet is interesting for its scathing denunciation of religious Whigs, to whom it attributes the vices of "Dissimulation, Hypocrisy Violence, Calumny, Selfishness".

Also of interest is "Philo's Argument for Divine Amorality Reconsidered," by Klaas Kraay; it looks to be as interesting as all of Klaas's work.

A Tad Obvious....

Sorry for two quizzes in a row, but I couldn't resist....

You're a Vulcan!
You're a Vulcan! Cool and collected, you represent
the epitome of self control.

What Star Trek Race Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla
(Hat-tip to Catholic Ragemonkey)

Friday, September 03, 2004

Chop Enemies Down with Skill, Speed, and Accuracy

Katana, chop enemies down with skill, speed and
accuracy. Katana's were made for warriors that
wanted to be fast and deadly like samurai
warriors. The Katana is very sharp and takes a
long time to blunt.

What sword would you use (info and pics on swords as well)
brought to you by Quizilla

Carnivalesque I

The first Early Modernists' Carnival is up at Early Modern Notes.

One of the posts I found especially interesting was an intriguing speculation on 18th century Methodist Bible reading habits at "george.h.williams".

There are lots of good posts, though, on all manner of interesting subjects, with some great pictures, too. Go and see. My modest contribution is here.


Campbell on Muhammed:

There is indeed one miracle, and but one, which he often urges against the infidels, as the main support of his cause; a miracle for which even we, in this distant region and period, have not only the evidence of testimony, but, if we please to use it, all the evidence which the contemporaries and countrymen of this military apostle ever enjoyed. The miracle I mean is, the manifest divinity, or supernatural excellence, of the scriptures which he gave them; a miracle, concerning which I shall only say, that as it falls not under the cognizance of the senses, but of a much more fallible tribunal, taste in composition, and critical discernment, soa principl eof less efficacy than enthusiasm, even the slightest partiality, may make a man, in this particular, imagine he perceives what has no reality. Certain it is, that notwithstanding the many defiances which the prophet gave his enemies, sometimes to produce ten chapters, sometimes one, that coudl bear to be compared with an equal portion of the perspicuous book, they seem not in the least ot have been convinced that there was any thing miraculous in the matter. (A Dissertation on Miracles, p. 67)

What Campbell is talking about here is what is often called in Muslim thought simply "Tahaddi" (Challenge). In several passages of the Quran, Muhammed challenges his pagan opponents to imitate the Koran (e.g., Sura 2:23-24; Sura 10:38; Sura 11:13; Sura 52:33-34; cf. also Sura 17:88). This was closely associated with what was called ijaz (incapacitation), the chief miracle of Muhammed's prophethood. In the Mutazzilite tradition, this was understood as a miraculous incapacitation of Muhammed's contemporaries to produce a Sura in response to the Challenge that was similar in content and style to those of the Quran; however, the notion of ijaz began to be applied more generally to the inimitability of the Quran; as Sura 17:88 says, not even the cooperation of djinn and humans could produce a similar Quran. (On one reading of Sura 28:48-49, and in what seems to be the majority of Muslim commentators, ijaz is extended to at least some of the chapters of the Torah.)

I'm inclined to think that this argument is worth taking a little more seriously than is sometimes done. The most common complaint is that it is purely subjective. I'm not inclined to regard this as a serious complaint, in part because I think a theory of taste can be developed that allows for at least stable inter-subjective agreement. It's also commonly objected that beauty is not necessarily an indication of truth; but sometimes, of course, it seems to be, or at least one form of beauty seems to be. Such objections need to be more detailed if they are to work. I've always actually been inclined to believe that perhaps the strongest Muslim argument for the inspiredness of the Quran was that an illiterate merchant in a backwater tribe could dictate a book of profound poetic beauty capable of changing lives and charging a civilization; and this sort of argument would clearly be related to the issues of Tahaddi and ijaz. The chief difficulty of the whole matter is pinning down what exactly the challenge is and what criteria would allow one to decide the matter. For further information, see this page, which contains several attempts to formulate the Challenge, along with Christian responses.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

A Silhouette of Arrows

I just came back from watching Hero, an exquisitely crafted movie. The music is a bit much in places, but the visuals are stunning. Besides, it has been a while since there's been a good, solid imperialist film.

One of the negative reviews I saw suggested that the high point of the movie was a "discussion of zen brush strokes". It wouldn't be zen, of course; but the brush strokes were certainly the high point of the movie, or, at least, the occasion for it. Hero is a film that's less about external action than about internal struggles. But it receives much of its grandeur precisely because it draws on the idea of Empire (and, more specifically, Imperial Peace). The politics are bound to worry some people [the linked review has spoilers], but a question they do not tend to ask is why Empire is such a powerful notion. I'm not sure I have an answer to that question, but here's something of a start:

Human beings are inevitably drawn to imperial dreams because of something in them that is undeniably good. Everyone is drawn to this something, even those suspicious of the word 'imperial'; I cannot count on one hand the number of people who will in one breath condemn imperialism and colonialism and in the next advocate and justify some scheme of international politics indistinguishable from the sorts of ideas imperialists have had, and in very similar terms, too. They claim to condemn Empire; but what they condemn are means to it other than their own. This can be consistent; but if we were to call a spade a spade, we would have to call them imperialists. Empire draws us. The idea of Empire promises something we genuinely need. The paradox, of course, is that this Empire cannot be built with human hands; the closer we come to doing so, the more our dominions are merely superficially like the Empire that inspired and drove us in the first place. Human beings have a tendency to project their internal life outward, like some vast metaphor; this is a beautiful tendency. It is also dangerous, for human beings have the tendency to treat the external as if it were the real thing. Freedom, for instance, in part becomes something about the external system of government in which you find yourself. As an exterior emblem and protection of something more deeply personal, something at the very heart of what it is to be a person, this is a good thing. But the external can only thrive to the extent that it is kept in its place, and its place is to express, and provide a forum for defending or improving, something internal, some key part of the Dominion of the Heart. Severed from that, it becomes hollow and empty. And this is inevitably what happens to attempts at empire: the closer we come to looking like an Empire, the more we tend to sever it from what was the only point all along. When a person sets himself or herself in order, when they have extended the Empire of their own souls: then politics begins to be set in order. But the more we focus on the external dominion to the exclusion of the internal, the more we lose a grip on both. We are doomed to slip in this way.

Until Kingdom come, of course.

Christian Carnival XXXIII

The Christian Carnival is up at New Trommetter Times. My own minor submission is here. Also of note:

* "CowPi Journal" on the Two Sides of Darkness

* "Beyond the Rim" on Ben Stein and Me

* "From the Anchor Hold" on So folk like me are wacko, eh?

* "Rebecca Writes" continues its series on the divine attributes with God's Holiness

Edith Stein on Hume

Hume can be overcome only on his own ground, or, more precisely, the ground on which he was trying to carry out his own consdierations but which methodlogically he himself was unable to secure sufficiently. He started out with nature as it presents itself to the eyes of the naive contemplator. In this nature there's one causative linkage, one necessary sequence of happening. He wanted to investigate consciousness of this linkage: what kind of consciousness it is and whether it is rational. All that kept him from finding the evident coherence that he sought was a half-baked theory of the nature of consciousness and especially of experience. It misled him on the conclusion as well, to explain away the phenomena from which he started out and without which his whole way of setting up the issue would become incomprehensible.

Edith Stein, "Sentient Causality," in Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, Baseheart and Sawicki, trs., Collected Works vol. 7, ICS Publications (Washington, D.C.: 2000), p. 4.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Simple Esteem

Simple esteem is a duty we ought to render to all men. Contempt is a hurt, in fact the greatest of hurts. Only nothingness is to be held in contempt; every real being deserves esteem. Man being the most noble of creatures it is a false judgment and a misgoverned movement to hold him in contempt, whatever he may be.

Nicolas Malebranche. Treatise on Ethics (1684). Walton, tr. Kluwer Academic Publishers (Boston: 1993), p. 173.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Things Worth Reading

If you haven't been keeping up with it, you should read some of the "campaigning" at Catholic Ragemonkey. One of the priests who runs it has been (really) nominated to the Council of Priests, so the website has been doing a (fictitious) campaign spoofing the political campaigning, Democrat and Republican, that has been going on. Some of it is hilarious. It's this sort of thing that got them a link on my sidebar!

A Journey Through Time has a chilling tale of how we narrowly avoided nuclear war in 1983 through the actions of a Soviet officer. The blog has, meanwhile, been nominated to BlogsCanada's Top Blogs list; Congrats!

A must-read post at Early Modern Notes on "Carnival and the Carnivalesque," asking the interesting question, "Is there something carnivalesque about blogging as a whole?"

Joy to the heart of anyone in philosophy, The Little Professor notes that the students in her Victorian literature survey course usually have at least a vague notion of what Plato's allegory of the cave is about.

The New York Times Online has an article on some of Canada's many, many border disputes. But the reporter needs to learn how to say "Inuit" rather than "Eskimo". And there are no such things (the article is ambiguous) as "Eskimo Rangers"; there are Canadian Rangers who are Inuit.

And yes, I will be writing something more substantial later....

Thought for the Day

If you're not making a fool of yourself wrestling with big, difficult issues...'re making a fool of yourself too easily!

Monday, August 30, 2004

Oportet Filium Hominis Die Tertia Resurgere

The late Richard Taylor has an essay, written for a general audience, on 'myths and mysteries' (thanks to Ektopos for the link). He rightly notes that the Resurrection is essential to Christianity, but then goes on to say:

Of course this presents an overwhelming problem for thoughtful and sophisticated persons, for the doctrine of the resurrection, literally understood, is an absurdity. That a man, three days dead, might be revived, to mingle again with the living, talk to them, and move about much as if nothing had happened to him, violates the most basic certainties of reason and common knowledge. The dead become dust and ashes. They do not rise.

Setting aside the obvious falsity of "move about much as if nothing had happened to him", the question obviously arises, 'It is an absurdity in virtue of what?' We need something a bit more specific than saying it "violates the most basic certainties of reason and common knowledge". Which basic certainties? The dead become dust and ashes, and do not rise. Yes, that's generally the case; this does not tell us whether, given the right cause or causes, there might be an exception. Lady Mary Shepherd would go to town on Taylor, as she did on Hume in similar circumstances. We cannot rule out effects on the basis of their generally not being effected, but only on the basis of there being no cause adequate for them. It is not even inconceivable that with sufficient scientific knowledge doctors could make the dead rise. God forbid, and it might turn out to be physically impossible for reasons we do not yet have in hand, but it is not inconceivable. This would not be the sort of resurrection we Christians attribute to Christ, because it is clear from the accounts that His resurrection was not a mere reversal of the processes of corruption (hence the falsity of the phrase noted above); but merely repeating the sentence "The dead do not rise" no more proves that they cannot than repeating the sentence "The sun always rises" proves that the earth will comfortably orbit the sun for all eternity, come what may. One might as well say that no one can fly from Toronto to London because "men do not have wings". The real issue is not what usually happens, but what causes are involved. And, indeed, it would not be exaggerating to say that the point of the Resurrection is what Cause is involved.

(The title of this post, by the way, is taken from Luke 24:7, Vulgate.)

Early Modern Europe and Chinese Philosophy

I have recently been reading Malebranche's Dialogue Between a Christian Philosopher and a Chinese Philosopher, and it has started me thinking about the interaction between European philosophy and Chinese philosophy in the early modern period. Leibniz also has a work concerned with clarifying the relation between European and Chinese philosophy; these sorts of works were largely intended to supplement the efforts of Jesuit missionaries in China.

This is one of several areas in our understanding of early modern philosophy that need development. We need more work on a) the sort of information on which the characterizations of Chinese philosophy, as found in Malebranche, Leibniz, and others, are based; b) the extent to which such materials were actually used in China, if such materials were used, and in what way; c) influences of Chinese thought on European thought, both through correct understandings and misunderstandings (e.g., Leibniz's linked his development of binary arithmetic with his (mis)understanding of the I Ching); d) influences of European thought on Chinese thought.

Sharon at Early Modern Notes has assembled some useful links relevant to the general background here.

For some general background with great pictures, see here.

For texts on the important Chinese Rites dispute, see here. The background of this controversy is presented here (this is a great article).

Here is a selection from Leibniz in which he discusses China. Apparently there is a book recently published on
Leibniz's interest in China; I'll have to put it on my reading list. Albert Ribas has a discussion on the interconnections between Leibniz's Discourse on the Natural Theology of the Chinese and the better-known Leibniz-Clarke debate. (I'll have to look more closely at what can be found on-line and put up a post at H.L.)

Sunday, August 29, 2004

On the Unreasonable Rejections of Views that Could Be Reasonably Rejected

May I rant a moment?

One of the things that irritates me to high heaven as I do my work in the history of early modern philosophy is the unreasonable rejection of views that could be reasonably rejected.

Case in point: Nobody accepts Malebranche's Vision-in-God thesis. Fine; but if you ask them why they don't, it's usually hard to find any genuinely relevant (or even coherent) answer. When they do put together an objection, it's often so lame that, if one were to take it as a serious objection, we would have to start thinking there is something to Malebranche's view after all. If you do history of philosophy, you find many such cases; people reject it, not because they have good reason, but because -- well, why? Perhaps just because it sounds weird? Many of these positions do admit of a reasonable rejection; but people have often not done the work required to make their rejection a reasonable one.

Legitimate criticism is difficult. Dashing off an answer will never quite work....

(If I sound a little bit cranky in this post, part of it is that the person behind me in the computer lab is BANGING on the keyboard and making it difficult for me to think as I continue my revisions. Part of it is that all the criticisms of Malebranche in the literature are either based on rather obvious misinterpretations or are merely gestural. This is frustrating when you're writing on the subject and so have to deal with these half-formed, and sometimes half-baked, arguments. Toss me a real argument, why don't you!)

End of rant.

Google Babble

Google's dadaistic free association for Siris, as portrayed by Google Talk:

Siris Syndrome Foundation is the World and more. information about the World and the World and more. information for Kids. games and other Voices. from the World and more.

Curious, I put in the names of several other weblogs, of which the best were:

Early Modern Notes is a new feature that will allow you to search for a Vacation in the heart of the matter, by the End of the WORLD. as we Know it....

(sounds about right, don't you think?)

All Day Permanent Red is the fourth installment in the series. is the perfect solution for the on- the- go supplement to the USB specification, Rev. and did did did not Did. too! did not did too. did not did too....

(what series, I wonder?)

The Elfin Ethicist is my property under copyright. Everyone has the right to Children. Boards of Canada. Music has the Right to Children. Boards of Canada. Music has the Right to Children....

(is it just me or is there something a bit sinister about Google's intentions here?)

Hmmm. But beware! The results can be quite distressing, as when I typed in Houyhnhnm Land:

Houyhnhnm Land is now in the fire! Service College Moreton- in Marsh, Gloucestershire GL5 RH did did did did did did did did....

Heavens! In the fire and in Gloucestershire, no less!

Aridity and Consolation

I started this late last night when I should have been sleeping, and finished it this afternoon. The last stanza is a bit weaker than it should be, but for the most part I think it comes together well.

The Flood, the Phoenix, and the Hind

I walked one day, a wanderer amid the trees,
singing out a song, the sun all hid from view
but the air hot, and no whisper in the leaves
nor breeze to blow like balm that heals the wound,
and came I on a course that cut through sandy stone,
once widened by water as it wandered home,
but dry with dust, undamp, like ancient bone,
remembering ancient mists and moisture long ago.

And it seemed that I could see in the silence of the wood
a phoenix, fireborn, that flew from bough to bough,
that sought the stream long slain by drought of old,
and, coming to the course, did cry so soft and low
the angels would all weep and echo it in dreams,
and hardly had my hearing found heaven in those strains
than dropped the phoenix dead by drought unhealed by stream,
and, finished, lightly fell, its fire stripped of glow.

Then, herald of all hope, a hind of silver-white,
brought with bitter haste by the baying of the hounds,
valiant with the force one feels in moonlit nights,
leaped beneath the laurel whose leaves were on it crowned,
and, taken by the dogs, it died and knew no more,
and, broken in its bone, blood on the forest floor,
it sank like sunset, thrice solemn in its woe,
which had lately been alive, but at last was overthrown.

Then I wept, and from my eyes the water fled in grief;
the salt it bore of sorrow, and sadness in my pain,
in gravest ruining it rained upon the leaves,
and newly did I mourn that marvels as I had seen
should die in death, no dawn at all in sight;
overcome, I greatly cried for the coming of the night,
and breath with sorrow bittered, I broke with sob and sigh:
my love, and it alone, alive did now remain.

But wait! one sole whisper, like the wind amid the trees,
did rise and rush, then roar with living force,
and wave, as in war an army like the seas
will arm and rise, did water again the course,
a pouring-out with power; like spring-kissed clouds of rain,
from furthest foreign-land a fountain broke again,
as though the gods of glory with grace, or even whim,
had compassion on the creek, and carved a living source.

So first there broke a flood; then flame did burst to light,
and, fire all around it, the phoenix, winged in gold,
did rise in ruddy glory with rays that blinded sight,
and winged up to heaven, the highest of high roads,
a scion of the sun, with shining in its wings,
so holy in its egress as to humble one who sins,
bring penitent to prayer, inspire seraphim to sing,
more glory in its going than gests and tales have told.

The pooling of the blood from the bitter death of hind
with flood and flame was mingled, and force imbued
into a flowing fire, enveloping with embrace of kind
the carcass of the conquered, and covering it with blood
did wash like aeviternity its weariness away
and death undid, as night undone by day,
and, leaping into life, as long ago it played,
it sped, a shot, a silver flash, through primal wood.

The flood, I saw, was faith; the phoenix charity;
the hind was hope, the herald of new life;
and, filled with seeing vision, a flux of ecstasy,
I saw that what is saved is what is sundered for to die
and brought to burial, to be born anew;
for all grow old, and, ancient, to death must go,
but cycles may be started, and, from being severed through,
new life may live, and spring to wondrous light.