Saturday, October 23, 2004

One Use of the Linguistic Analogy

Out of curiosity I looked up one of the uses Augustine makes of the linguistic analogy for the Incarnation in De Trinitate; I know there's another one somewhere, but I couldn't find it offhand. I am using Hill's translation:

Thus the word which makes a sound outside is the sign of the word which lights up inside, and it is this latter that primarily deserves the name of 'word.' For the one that is uttered by the mouth of flesh is really the sound of a 'word,' and it is called 'word' too because of the one which assumes it in order to be manifested outwardly. Thus in a certain fashion our word becomes a bodily soudn by assuming that in which it is manifested to the senses of men, just as the Word of God became flesh by assuming that in which it too could be manifested to the senses of men. And just as our word becomes sound without being changed into sound, so the Word of God became flesh, but it is unthinkable that it should have been changed into flesh. It is by assuming it, not by being consumed into it, that both our word becomes sound and that Word became flesh.

Therefore if you wish to arrive at some kind of likeness of the Word of God, however unlike it may be in many ways, do not look at that word of ours which sounds in the ears, neither when it is uttered vocally nor when it is thought of silently. The words of all spoken languages are thought of silently, and people run over songs in their minds while their mouths remail silent; and it is not only the number of syllables either, but the notes of the melodies as well, all of them bodily realities pertaining to the bodily sense called hearing, that the thoughts of those who are thinking them over, and silently pondering them all, find ready to hand in their own kind of non-bodily images. But we must go beyond all these and come to that word of man through whose likeness of a sort the Word of God may somehow or other be seen in an enigma.

(Augustine, The Trinity. Edmund Hill, O.P., tr. New City Press (Hyde Park, NY: 1991) 409-410. The section is XV.20. A different translation can be found online.)

I find this very interesting, since 1) he notes (albeit briefly) that there are disanalogies even in the case of the interior word; 2) his primary interest in the linguistic analogy - here, at least - is to insist that the interior word is a better analogy to the divine Word than the word of speech; 3) the two features he isolates out as analogous to the incarnation are (a) words are signs manifesting the interior word as the incarnate form of the Word is a sign manifesting the divine Word; (b) the interior word is not 'consumed' by being embodied as the divine Word is not 'consumed' by being embodied, i.e., neither are 'changed into' the thing into which they are embodied (in the sense that they simply transmute into them). What is particularly interesting in this bunch of interesting things is the use of the linguistic analogy to the Incarnation to insist that we should do better than the linguistic analogy for the Trinity; it's a surprising twist, although it makes sense - if the word of speech is more analogous to the Incarnation, it's better to use the interior word embodied in the word of speech as an analogy for the divine Word itself.

More about Occasionalism

Bill Vallicella at Maverick Philosopher has a great post discussing Hume and Occasionalism. I think he's quite right that Hume's theory is occasionalism without God; although Hume never puts it this way - and, indeed, I think, explicitly avoids doing so. What he does instead is to argue that we can have no direct knowledge of divine causation - all we can do is infer it from impressions. It is crucial to occasionalism that we have some sort of way to recognize God's unique causal ability - either faith, or reason, or both; since Malebranche regards Reason itself as God (in particular, the Divine Word), he thinks we have direct rational access to God's divine causality, and he thinks we can find occasionalism in Scripture. So, in essence, Malebranche's view is that we know God alone is true cause, and everything else is an occasional cause, because God has told us so (by rational illumination and by Scriptural revelation). If you set faith aside, and deny that we have direct rational access to the fact that God is true cause, but hold that Malebranche's arguments that creatures are not true causes are sound, then you get Hume. Hume, in fact, always puts the difference between himself and Malebranche in terms of "innate ideas" - or, as we would put it, as a difference between rationalism and empiricism. Since Malebranche's rationalism is a strong rationalism - Reason is God, quite literally - removing Reason from the mix the way Hume does is exactly the same thing as removing God from it. This is very clear in Section VII of the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, on causation, which is the most clearly Malebranchean thing Hume ever wrote. In effect, Hume is using Malebranche's arguments to argue for his own position. I briefly noted some of the ways in which this was so for my class this summer; you can find the post at the old Houyhnhnm Land, here.

Vallicella ends:

Brandon's view appears to be that all genuine causation is agent- as opposed to event-causation, but that (contra Malebranche) there are non-divine agents including perhaps material bodies. How then does Brandon fit together divine causation with natural causation? Is he a concurrentist like Freddoso? I myself argue that occasionalism is defensible in contemporary terms. A sketch of my position is presented in my article, "Concurrentism or Occasionalism?" (Amer. Cath. Phil. Quart., Summer 1996, pp. 339-359.) Not yet available on-line.

I wouldn't quite put my view this way myself, since I think the term 'agent causation' as it is used today actually only covers a small part of what was covered by the pre-occasionalist view of causation: it was an attempt, explicit in both Berkeley and Reid, to preserve that view for minds or spirits alone. And I think its current usage bears the clear marks of the restriction, which I do not accept; it is a carry-over from idealism. However, if this is all kept in mind, I could indeed put my view of causation that way, i.e., all genuine causation is agent-causation, where there are non-divine agents including material bodies. The result of this (when added to other things) is that I am, indeed, a concurrentist. Freddoso is a concurrentist along the specific lines of Suarez and Molina; my concurrentism doesn't have quite that specificity, so I'm just a generic concurrentist, one might say. I'll have to look up Vallicella's article; this whole area is of interest to me. (Freddoso's papers on the subject are quite good; I used his paper on secondary causation last year twice, once for Berkeley and once for Malebranche.)

In August I translated a passage from Malebranche on the issue of providence and causation, in which he lays out the field as he sees it, and why he rejects concurrentism. (The translation is somewhat literal, which is why there are commas everywhere - Malebranche likes balancing and counterbalancing clauses, so tends to mark every turn of the sentence with commas.)

Friday, October 22, 2004


1. Augustine on the Incarnation at "Maverick Philosopher," on Augustine's use of the linguistic analogy for the Incarnation in On Christian Teaching. Augustine uses it several times in On the Trinity, as well. Vallicella notes several of the disanalogies in the analogy. I'm inclined to think that Augustine wasn't putting the analogy forward as an argument for the coherence of the Incarnation, or a proof of its possibility; but this leaves us with the question of what he is doing. I think it could be argued that in part he is usually looking at just one element or aspect of the doctrine of the Incarnation. This is certainly the case whenever he gives an analogy for the Trinity, where he is always very careful to insist on the disanalogies, and is simply heading off certain types of objections or impediments to belief - e.g., someone who would disbelieve the doctrine of Trinity simply because things cannot be both three and one is overlooking that some things are both three and one. Augustine insists that this does not mean that these other things that are both three and one are exactly like the Trinity; rather, they just show that "things cannot be both three and one" is a bad objection to the Trinity. I'd have to go back and look at how Augustine uses the linguistic analogy; but I know that Greeks like Damascene occasionally use it to head off objections that Incarnation somehow involves a diminution or reduction of God. I suspect one reason he uses it is that he is already using the interior word analogy for the doctrine of the Trinity; and, whatever its imperfections, it does involve some sort of embodiment of the interior word.

Beyond this, I'm not sure Augustine's analogies are intended to be anything more than a rough first-attempt to help people get started on knowing what is not yet known. For instance, if someone were to come across the sentence, "The Word was made flesh" and were to ask, "What in the world could that even mean?", an analogy like the linguistic analogy might help clarify at least some aspects of the meaning of the sentence, without committing anyone to the claim that the Incarnation is a special case of the phenomenon of speech. (Indeed, going into the disanalogies as well as the analogies would clarify the meaning even more.)

An interesting and thought-provoking post.

2. A post on Theism at "AnalPhilosopher"; I don't agree with it all (in part because I do know people who have come to believe God exists because of cosmological arguments, and people who have come to be atheists because of the problem of evil; I also don't think it's necessary for a belief's being rationally grounded that it originally come about because of the arguments - but this actually makes me agree with Burgess-Jackson's conclusion even more), but it's interesting to get an atheist's perspective on the matter.

3. An Odd Ode by Thomas Gray at "Flos Carmeli"

4. A post on the last convicted witch in England at "Early Modern Notes"

5. Pictures from Burnet's Telluris Theoria Sacra at "Giornale Nuovo".

6. A description of Baghdad's current state by Hala Fattah at "Cliopatria"

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Psychotic Architecture

One of the symbols that occasionally haunts horror and dark Gothic literature is that of the evil shape. It's been a while since I've read any Lovecraft, but I think he uses it occasionally. Here's the closest thing I've ever found to something that really has an evil shape. It's perhaps not quite up to 'evil'; but I think most people think of it as a bit creepy.

This building would make a great metaphor for a Kafka-esque story, with its wickedly slanted walls, it's tall brooding emptiness, it's visibility to an entire city, the refusal of the citizens of the city even to acknowledge its presence.

Hmmm. My literary wheels are starting to turn.

(Extended Hat-tip: From The Shape of Days, via Marginal Revolution, via Under the Sun.)

Two Augustinian Poem Drafts

Two poetic offerings today; the second is more recent, and was written after reading all the way through Augustine's On the Trinity (in Hill's excellent translation) in preparation for my PHL 310 course on Malebranche (the idea of the course being to examine Descartes, Augustine, and Malebranche, and see how Malebranche transmutes Descartes using Augustine). I don't recall the occasion for the first, but I came across it during my yearly Massive and Much Needed Sorting of Papers, which began today (and will continue, it seems, for some time). I liked it, and so decided to pass it on. The last line is an allusion to the old Christian proverb, to sing once is to pray twice (I don't remember the origin of the proverb, but it is usually attributed to Augustine as well).

God has Blessed my Cup of Tea

God has blessed my cup of tea;
It is a thing of wonder.
In the cup amidst the leaves
I hear His holy thunder.

My bed's beneath God's Holy Throne;
His Light is on my walls;
And as I pray my very room
Becomes a new St. Paul's.

The wind bites deep into my bones,
The fires fade and dim,
But every singe flick of frost
Bears up the weight of Him.

I stand beneath the winter tree
And love God's snow and ice,
And lift a hymn to pray for me;
each psalm is prayer twice.

Augustine's Hymn

O pure and holy God of Love,
The angels sing before your Throne,
By sharing all, each will each own;
The Voice, the Lamb, the burning Dove
Are each in all and one alone.

Anthems in my head will ring,
The sky is never blue but gold,
And as the earth, so new, is old,
So is the song the mornings sing
On days of light in breezes cold.

The wooing of my soul is here,
Astride this point as we ascend
With those who count the God a friend,
Enflamed with love and holy fear
By First and Last and Without End.

The Three are One, the One are Three,
Where each is all and all are each,
And when God gives as we beseech
He gives this truth, an endless sea
Beyond the mind's most brilliant reach.

You drown us with Your holy grace,
As dust must drown within the sun,
You drown us ere we have begun
By casting light from off Your Face:
The Three It is, where Three are One.

Time and Omniscience Again

Johnny-Dee wrote an excellent reply in the comments to my post on Wierenga/Craig:

Good post! I too am interested in the God and time issue, although I'm much closer to Craig's view.

I think your characterization of (1a) is not accurate to Craig's (and other's) arguments. The point in bringing up tensed facts is not to say "God knows temporal things; therefore God must know them temporally." Rather, it would be something like this:

(1a*) Tensed facts (if they exist) can only be known by a being in time.

The point is that if certain facts are tensed, and if God knows them (i.e., if God is omniscient), then God would have to be in time to know them.

As I see it, the debate turns on these questions: (1) Are there such things as "tensed facts"? (2) Is it possible to translate all facts into "timeless" propositions? I am convinced that certain facts have a tensed aspect that cannot be eliminated. Moreover, since I am convinced that God knows all facts, I believe he exists temporally.

I agree with the (1) and (2) as characterizations of the way the debate actually tends to go; I stand firm by my position that they are irrelevant to the question of consistency, though. I see the same sorts of problems arising with (1a*) that arise with (1a): we have no reason to believe it to be true. We cannot know it simply by induction from cases we know; so there would have to be some sort of necessary connection between tensed facts and knowers in time. But we would need to know exactly what it is about tensed facts that makes them such that whoever knows them must be in time; and there is, as far as I can see, no plausible account of this. This issue is not whether we can translate all facts into timeless propositions; the only reason we would think this relevant to the question is if we already assumed that a nontemporal being could not know tensed facts precisely as tensed, which would be what is at issue. Craig tends to assume that (1a*) is a necessary truth; but, if so, it is not an obvious necessary truth: the denial of it has been the dominant position of philosophical theologians through the centuries. So there needs to be some sort of analysis that would require us to say that knowing facts that are tensed necessarily entails that the one who knows them be temporal. (And this, note, is very much a family relation of (1a).) Further, we need such an analysis because similar patterns of arguments do not appear to work for other sorts of facts; so we need to know anyway why tense is so unique (see here for discussion of a related issue).

The reason I formulated (1a) the way I did is that there are several different variations of the same type of inference proposed by, e.g., open theists or process theists; all of which face similar problems. (1a) was the most general formulation I could come up with at 3 a.m. to describe the entire group; it's possible that there's a better formulation somewhere. So, while I'm less cranky at the moment, I hold fast to my basic positions: the participants in the debate are treading dangerously close to claiming that they know what God's experiences are like; the issue of whether there are tensed facts is largely irrelevant to the question of divine timelessness, because we have no reason to believe the claims that the existence of tensed facts would require that an omniscient being be temporal; while it's an interesting question, nothing actually turns on whether we can translate all tense facts completely into tenseless propositions; and so forth. At least, there's a lot more work to make the inference work than most people admit.

Chatting about Infinity in the Afternoon

I was approached by the What Would Plato Do club here at the University of Toronto and asked to give a paper for their first philosophical function of the year, which I did today. It was great fun. The title I chose was "Naturalism, Infinity, and the Cartesian Argument from Reason" - basically it was just a roughed-out adaptation of some of my work on Malebranche for an audience of mixed undergraduates. It turned out, however, to be a good topic for such a group; I focused on Malebranche's arguments, which are fairly lucid, but I also touched briefly on its historical root in Descartes's Third Meditation and the more recent work, along parallel lines, of Thomas Nagel in The Last Word. People who are very early in their program would still be able to recognize the issues in Descartes, and people who have a deeper interest in more recent analytic stuff than in the early modern period were able to relate to Nagel's adaptation of Wittgenstein. Also, everyone is always fascinated by infinites, so that worked to good advantage, too. There are several different things called 'the argument from reason'; what I called the Cartesian Argument from Reason is the view that:

1. Reason involves in some way infinity and related properties;
2. Because of these properties, reason cannot be entirely explained in terms of finite experience of finite objects + finite psychological operations.

The sort of explanation rejected in (2) is one thing that could be called 'naturalism' (always a slippery term), and was for the purpose of the talk the only sense of naturalism I was considering.

It was great fun; chatting with undergrads about philosophical topics always is.

Time and Omniscience

I promised to do something on the continuing Wierenga/Craig debate in Faith and Philosophy, but they have made me rather impatient, since I think neither of them are making much sense. My two-minute summary of why:

1) The sort of inference in question in these things is always:

(1a) God knows temporal things; therefore God must know them temporally.

2) Only an insane person would regard this as a direct inference, since (as I have pointed out elsewhere on this blog) similar patterns of reasoning fail in virtually every other case under the sun.

3) The only way this inference can be salvaged is to explain why time is different from other characterization of things. Or, in other words: the inference needs middle terms.

4) No reasonable middle terms have ever been provided.

5) The reason atemporalists like myself belief that divine omniscience, divine eternity, and temporal facts are a consistent trio is a) their inconsistency has never been shown and b) (1a), which comes up again and again and again and again and again is really undeniably dubious. If it turns out to work, it will be an astonishing discovery.

6) The question of whether the trio in (5) is consistent, or whether (1a) works, is not affected one way or another by whether one accepts an "A-theory" of time or a "B-theory" of time, or, if there were any other Alpha Bits used, any of them, either. At least, unless you can show that (1a) actually works (which it probably doesn't).

Actually, it's not really all that bad; neither of them are actually being unreasonable in any way. But I do find that there are a lot of red herrings that get thrown about in these discussions, which contribute to it in no clear way. I also dislike the tendency to assume that tensed facts would be a 'difficulty' for the trio in (5). Why? Craig always goes about talking as if "If God is timeless, He does not know tensed facts" were a necessary truth; but this claim is, as far as I can see, completely unfounded, and is dubious for the same reason (1a) is dubious. (It is, in fact, a family relation of (1a).) There is no reason for thinking it true. It is not necessary to go into a long account of the nature of time in order to recognize that no reason is being provided for (5); all we need to do is look and see if a reason is being provided. And yet every single person goes immediately into the long account of the nature of time, needlessly, pointlessly, uselessly, as if (5) were in any way plausible, which it is not unless we have in hand a good, clear reason for treating tense so differently from everything else.

Part of the problem is the very odd view that we need to explain how God knows things. I take a very dim view of such projects, because I am a firm proponent of orthodox negative theology, the whole point of which is that, while we can know facts about God, our knowledge of how God does anything is sharply limited by (1) divine infinity; (2) divine simplicity; (3) the general difficulty of our knowing precise detailed facts about God; (4) the absolute impossibility of our knowing what it is like to be God. What we do have are good reasons to believe that God is eternal (in the traditional sense, which is often misunderstood, since it is a negative term, not a positive one), that God is omnisicent, and that other things are not eternal. Given this, there is no need for a 'defense' of the consistency of the three; if we have good reasons for all of them, and no proof of their inconsistency is forthcoming, their consistency can be presumed, as we always presume consistency when we have good reasons for things that haven't been shown to be inconsistent.

To be fair to Craig, though, anyone interested in the subject should read his discussion here.

I'm not sure how coherent I'm being, given that its 3:30 in the morning; and I am a bit cranky at having had to read about A-theory and B-theory when there are so many more interesting things that might be argued on the subject. We'll see if I find any of this making sense in the cold light of day.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Christian Carnival XL

Well, the newest Christian Carnival is up (XXXIX is still pending due to Real Life, alas). My lightweight submission, Chapter 33, is here. Less lightweight notables:

* Chapter 7: God's Mercy at "Rebecca Writes," where Rebecca continues her series on divine attributes. At this rate it won't be long before her weblog will be the best place on the web for a crash course in beginning theology. Who but knows that someday there might be a footnote in some historian's text about how a blogger in the Yukon had an impact on the theological scene? (Does anyone know the adjectival form for 'Yukon', by the way? Yukonian?)

* Chapter 9: Just War: a post, In the Name of Justice, at "Viewpoint on just war (as you might have guessed)

* Chapter 19: Relational Apologetics at "Jollyblogger"

* Chapter 25: Thoughts on 2nd Timothy at "A Physicist's Perspective"

* Chapter 32: Beautiful Feet at "Another Think"

* Chapter 34: Might as Well be on Mars at "The Crusty Curmudgeon," on Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet and H.G. Wells. The quote toward the end is from my favorite scene in the book. I propose a new phrase: a "Ransom translation"; a Ransom translation would be an exposing of what a discourse really means by seeing how it would be translated into simple terms the straightforward and innocent could understand. (Wouldn't politics be changed if we all heard Ransom translations instead of the actual things politicians say!)

Mosey on over!

Parmenides' Vision

I wrote this yesterday in the library, when I should have been doing revisions on a paper. It's based, very loosely, on Parmenides' work On Nature; and when I say 'loosely', I mean very loosely.

Parmenides' Vision

Rapt, thrown upward, undone,
In ecstatic vision seeking vital clue,
I journeyed to the well-spoken path;
She came:
Great gold-winged goddess, chariot-driven,
More splendid far than Cyprian goddess
On sands made manifest to Anchises' son.
She came,
And, speaking, said to my dreaming ears:
Two ways lie before you; one is true, one appears,
Both gated, and above the former
The message of the gods shines forth
Like the words above the Delphic road,
What is, is, and is not what is not.
Upon that path lies your way, said she,
The way of truth and not of seeming;
What appears will pass, but the real remains,
And wisdom's lover finds his sweet relief
In what is.
Then the fleeting, swift-footed, gold-winged goddes
Was gone, and I amazed.

Absentee Voting, Continued

Since I have to submit my ballot electronically by fax, due to the lovely circumstance of my never having received the Official Envelopes, I need to waive my right to secret ballot. To do this requires an affidavit, so Monday I have an appointment with a Notary Public to get that sworn. It will cost me at least $49 Canadian to do so; it will be another $2.25 to get there by the TTC; I will then have to spend more money to fax it, since I have no personal access to a fax machine.

One of the interesting issues on the ballot in New Mexico right now is a constitutional amendment to expand a special veteran's tax exemption from those honorably discharged veterans who served during an armed conflict to those who served, period. You can find the proposed amendment and arguments pro and con here (scroll down to Constitutional Amendment 4). I lean in favor of it, but am not entirely decided. Of the arguments there presented against it, I think #1 is the strongest. #2 is just silly, since there isn't a state or municipality that in fact doesn't extend some sort of special recognition or compensation to individuals for service to the nation. Conceivably one could argue that tax emptions are not a good way to provide such recognition, but that would be an entirely different argument. #3 is false, I think, since the fact that there's no longer a draft doesn't make actual service any easier or less to be respected. #4 depends on what I regard as the utterly absurd proposition that the federal government does an adequate job in its provision of benefits for veterans. #5, taken strictly, would require that we never make changes to the tax code that would shift tax burdens at all. #6 is stronger, but I see no reason why tax emptions should be based solely on need with no regard to merit. #7 is exactly right, but isn't necessarily an argument against the exemption. #8 is the second strongest argument. So the against vote would rest on #1, #8, with the possible addition of #7 and maybe #6. All the arguments for, on the other hand, are good; although they actually turn out to boil down to just a few arguments.

There's also a proposed constitutional amendment for changing the name of the New Mexico school for the visually handicapped to "the New Mexico school for the blind and visually impaired." Surprisingly, this turns out to be the most difficult amendment to evaluate; it seems a small issue, but changing a name turns out to have more potential ramifications than one might think. Part of the reason it is difficult is perhaps precisely because it's a small issue. It's small enough that it seems silly to vote against it; and yet it has potential ramifications that make one doubt that it's a good idea.

Back to absentee voting: apparently people who got the Official Envelopes nonetheless face a few difficulties themselves, since some of their ballots are accidentally being returned.

I should say, that while I do make a big deal about the rigmarole involved in Absentee Voting, this is largely because it is fun to do so - it is something of an adventure, and I do think it's worthwhile to let people see what's involved, particularly when they have an easier time of it but are for no good reason deciding not to vote. I have no complaints against the New Mexico Bureau of Elections beyond a wish they would explain things better (I finally figured out why they sent me my ballot by email - they need to encourage electronic submission because it reduces the possibility of litigation); I think it's impressive how much states do to make sure Americans abroad can easily vote. It's not as if it's easy to hold an election including those abroad while at the same time limiting voter fraud; and I look dimly on those who go around suing states simply because they didn't take the trouble to pay attention to election law before election day. (I suppose, though, that there's a sort of backhanded comfort in seeing that Christmas and Easter aren't the only days people think about only once a year.) Nothing I say on absentee voting should be construed as any sort of hint that the Land of Enchantment is "disenfranchising" me in any way, even when I dwell on the difficulties of absentee voting. Despite some lack of clarity in communication, they are doing a good job.

A Bit Perplexing

Paul Denton gives a good critique of Jimmy Carter's recent claims that the Revolutionary War could have been avoided (and its objectives achieved); Denton argues that Britain's move in the 1850s toward "Responsible Government" in the "White Dominions" was in great part an attempt to avoid another American War of Independence, and that Carter is probably wrong that the American colonies (some of them, at least) would have been part of such a movement, anyway.

I confess myself a bit puzzled as to why Carter thinks the Revolutionary War was the most violent war we had fought until recently. But I am far and away more puzzled as to why Carter thinks comparing the Revolutionary War with the Iraq War on national television will lead Americans to think badly of the latter.

Hume on Mortality of the Soul

An argument by David Hume against the immortality of the soul:

On the theory of the soul's mortality, the inferiority of women's capacity is easily accounted for. Their domestic life requires no higher faculties either of mind or body. This circumstance vanishes and becomes absolutely insignificant on the religious theory: the one sex has an equal task to perform as the other; their powers of reason and resolution ought also to have been equal, and both of them infinitely greater than at present. (Essay on the Immortality of the Soul)

Talk about one man's modus ponens being another man's (or woman's!) modus tollens! There has recently been some interesting work by feminist philosophers on the history of philosophy, in which it is critically examined whether the absurd remarks about women made by so many male philosophers is dependent on or consistent with their philosophical principles, and (simultaneously) how those principles are actually or potentially conducive to women's equality and serious thought about women's issues. It's been very uneven; in some cases, as in Augustine or Aquinas, it has been rather poor. Things have been attributed to Augustine, for instance, that he explicitly opposes. Nonetheless, it is an important and valuable sort of work; and I look forward to it continuing. One philosopher who has certainly not yet had his comeuppance, with regard to both his sexism and his racism (I think it can be shown that neither are inconsistent with his moral principles), is Hume. There also needs to be some reclamation of egalitarians, like the unfortunate Beattie, who, despite his adamant insistence on fundamental racial and sexual equality (and severe and extensive criticisms of Hume on the former), has gone down in philosophical history as "that bigot fellow, Beattie." Why? Because that's what he was called once by Hume.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Infinite Regress Arguments

The issue of infinite regress arguments came up in the comments to this post at "The Garden of Forking Paths"; and since I was intending to do a post on infinite regress arguments in the next several days anyway, given that they'll play a role in some of my Points in the Why I Believe in Free Will series, it has stimulated me to post it now.

What's wrong with infinite regress as such? Nothing at all. Infinite regress becomes a problem in only two types of circumstances:

1) The infinite regress arises in an attempt at explanation that involves the endless deferral of what actually explains the explanandum.

2) The infinite regress implies a contradiction given the nature of the regress.

An example of (2) occurs in Aquinas's ways to God, some of which use the impossibility of certain kinds of infinite regresses to prove the existence of something that's the sort of thing human beings call 'God'. Aquinas does not appeal to the impossibility of infinite regress as such; indeed, he is quite insistent that some infinite regresses are possible, which is a reason why he believes that we cannot demonstrate that the world had a finite past. What Aquinas does is argue that in certain cases, e.g., a regress of movers, or a regress of efficient causes, positing an infinite such regress implies the existence of something both unmoved and moved, or both caused and uncaused.

Interestingly, this is not how Aquinas's arguments are usually explained; they're usually explained as if they were (1)-type arguments. They are not. It seems likely that, given certain notions of explanation you can construct a sound (1)-type argument to go with any sound (2)-type argument involving any sort of dependence (which is what generates the contradiction in all the cases I have seen); but these are not the arguments Aquinas actually makes. And, while there is in certain cases a link between the two types, they are different types of argument, since (1)-type arguments yield practical contradictions, i.e., they set up a contradiction between what you are trying to do (explain) and what you are putting forward in trying to do it (complete deferral of explanation). But (2)-type arguments yield logical contradictions. Aquinas occasionally does run refutations based on practical contradictions (most notably against the Averroist doctrine of the intellect), but they are very rare; like all scholastics, Aquinas tends to look for logical reductio, not pragmatic retorsion.

So when an infinite regress is the sort found in (1) or (2), we are forced to achieve state, i.e., we have to terminate the regress in some way, or we are caught in a contradiction. It is the contradictoriness of certain regresses that causes the problem, not their infinity as such.

PLoS Medicine and Medical Carnies

PLoS Medicine -

The most reliable medical information on the Internet—the contents of peer-reviewed medical journals—is hidden from the public and most of the world's physicians. Although most medical journals are available online, their publishers limit access to those who choose, and can afford, to pay for access. This should not, and need not, be so. *

Yay! The first issue of PLoS Medicine is out, and it looks like a fine addition to the PLoS achievements. Some interesting articles:

* There's a neat "PLoS Medicine Debate" feature. This issue's debate topic: Should Health Professionals Screen All Women for Domestic Violence? I'm very pleased that the editors have recognized the usefulness of such discussions in an open-access medical journal; this alone would be enough to show that PLoS Medicine won't be a pale imitation of PLoS Biology, but will have its own style, tailored to its subject.

* There's an interesting essay on dealing with the AIDS/HIV epidemic; as well as a fascinating essay on surgical research.

* There's a "Neglected Diseases" feature, which highlights a neglected disease or a novel strategy for dealing with a neglected issue in health care. This one is on the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative.

* There's a "Perspectives" feature, "for experts to discuss the clinical practice or public health implications of a published study that is freely available online."

* There's a "Policy Forum" feature on health care policy.

* There's a "Learning Forum" geared toward "a general medical audience" - i.e., people who have some sort of background in medicine and are interested in clinical issues.

* And, of course, there are case reports and research articles.

Incidentally, those interested in medical issues, might also be interested in Grand Rounds, the blog carnival for medical blogs. They often discuss issues of medicine and politics, as well as critically examine medical information in the media.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Rating Party Platforms (on Things Other than Actual Political Positions)

Here are the primary party platforms for this election year (in alphabetical order by party name):

Strong at Home, Respected in the World: 2004 Democratic Party Platform (PDF)

2004 Green Party Platform

2004 Libertarian Party Platform

2004 Republican Party Platform: A Safer World and a More Hopeful America (PDF)

OK, I just have to say this about the Democratic and Republican party platforms: is it just me or is there something really silly about naming the party platform, particularly with an absurd title like "Strong at Home, Respected in the World" or "A Safer World and a More Hopeful America"? It seems much wiser just to title one's platform: Such-and-Such Party Platform.

As a matter of organization, the Libertarians win hands down; I really like the recursive Issue-Principle-Solutions-Transitional Action structure; it puts down in succinct terms exactly what a party platform should give its voters. The Executive Summary was a great idea, too. The Greens are a distant second; and I really don't know what the Republicans and Democrats were thinking when they put their platforms together.

The Republicans have the most striking preamble; they can appeal to Lincoln and abolition. It's hard to top that. Or is that the introduction rather than the preamble? It's the one flaw in the opening of the Republican platform that it puts into three distinct parts elements that could easily have been unified. The Libertarians are a close second. The Greens are next; it looks better in PDF than HTML, since it's clearer what goes where. The Democrats really fell off the horse, I think, because theirs seems just silly - surely they could have come up with something more original than words from the Pledge of Allegiance, or at least developed a better way to integrate it into the content of the preamble itself? As it is, it just hangs out there, looking forced and - well, silly. In terms of quality of writing in the preamble, the Libertarians are first (since they are the only party who actually made their preamble a real preamble), followed by the Republicans (a close second; if they had unified it a bit they might have topped the Libertarians), then the Greens; and, not surprisingly, the Democrats limp behind, the bad-preamble-writing Donkeys!

As to general informativeness, the Libertarians win again, followed closely by the Greens. They each have different strengths in this department. The Republicans (at 92 pages) and the Democrats (at 43 pages) are much more verbose, but you try figuring out what work the words are doing. I would have to rate the Republicans over the Democrats on this, however, because while a hefty bulk of the Republican 92 pages talks about what Republicans have done the past four years, an inordinate amount of space in the Democratic 43 pages is devoted to talking about what the Republicans have done the past four years. It might have saved them time and paper if they had just written a section on the Bush Administration, set off on its own, summarizing everything in bulleted list form, instead of spending so much time on every issue talking (rather vaguely) about how horrible Bush is. I have occasionally read Democrats complaining about being labeled simply anti-Bush rather than pro-Kerry; but the party platform is clearly more anti-Bush than pro-Kerry.

As for statement of principles, the Green Party's Ten Key Values were a great idea; but I think the Libertarians have a somewhat neater, cleaner statement of their principles, so I would be inclined to give them first prize here, with a special mention to the Greens. Democrats and Republicans apparently have no principles.

In terms of internet accessibility, the Libertarians and Greens were intelligent enough to put their platforms in both HTML and PDF; the Democrats and Republicans seem to have just done PDF - perhaps because they go on and on and on. Between the Libertarians and the Greens on the HTML version, the Libertarians have the prettier webpage; the Greens have a webpage that's a rather ugly green. It makes sense (Green-green) but it could have been done much better. The Libertarian page also has the best design of the party platform pages, followed by the Greens. The Democratic Platform Page is really rather poor; but they beat out the Republicans on this one, given that the GOP doesn't have a platform page but just a tiny link hidden like a needle in a haystack on their main page.

Miscellaneous special mentions:

** The Republicans have a nice epitaph - the tribute to Reagan on the very front; they also give quotations from Bush at the headings of the major sections.

** The Greens indexed their party platform. If you want to know what the Greens think about factory trawlers, it's easy to find. This is a great idea.

** Am I reading too much into this, or is there something rather fitting about the Libertarian Party being very spartan and no-frills in the presentation of its platform? Tasteful, but unobtrusive.

** I was afraid that the only special mention I would be able to give the Democratic platform would be to mention that their drafting committee needs to be knocked upside their heads. But I did find one special mention for them: the Democrats have the nicest cover sheet graphic. So I suppose somebody did a good job.

** Although, to be fair, the Democrats do have one thing the other parties don't. It's not in the platform itself, but they do have a link from their platform page to "interactive platform submissions," which is a truly stellar idea. The FAQ is also fairly good; if the writing in the platform had been half as good as the answer to the first question, the Democrats would have given the Libertarians a run for their money. I recommend that Democrats ditch Strong at Home, Respected in the World and just go with that answer.

The Brandon Watson Best Party Platform Award goes to: The Libertarian Party. Unfortunately, no prize money goes with the award, because we have had our government subsidies cut. Perhaps they can make up for it on the free market by giving lessons to the other parties in how to write a good party platform.

New Faith and Philosophy Issue

The new issue of Faith and Philosophy (the journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers) arrived in the mail today. It looks like a good selection of articles this time around. There's an article on virtue epistemology by Robert C Roberts and W. Jay Wood, as well as a continuation of the Wierenga-Craig debate on omniscience and time.

There's also an article, "Kant Chastened but Vindicated: Rejoinder to Forgie," by the blogosphere's very own Maverick Philosopher, William F. Vallicella. I've only briefly looked it over, and I'll have to go back and read the earlier contributions to the exchange, but it definitely seems interesting. As a matter of very vague first impression, it strikes me that what Vallicella is arguing is not so much Kantian as Scotist; but I'll have to look more closely at the details to see whether this first impression goes anywhere. Expect a report back at some point. I'll probably also be saying something about the Wierenga-Craig exchange, too, since it's a subject that interests me and with which I have a fair amount of acquaintance. I don't know at this point whether I'll agree with Wierenga, but I almost always disagree with Craig's take on this issue; so we'll see if that pattern holds up.

Immutability and Joy

In going through some of my books I came across a number of works by Kierkegaard I haven't read in a long time; so I've been doing some reading of Kierkegaard. The following is from an Edifying Discourse on the unchangeableness of God; he is discussing James 1:17-21.

Different viewpoints! The merely human tendency (as paganism indeed gives evidence) is to speak less about God, and to speak almost exlusively and with sadness about the mutability of human affairs. The Apostle, one th other hand, desires only and alone to speak of God's unchangeableness. Thus so far as the Apostle is concerned. For him the thought of God's unchangeableness is one of pure and unmixed comfort, peace, joy, happiness. And this is indeed eternally true. But let us not forget that the Apostle's joy has its explanation in the fact that the Apostle is the Apostle, that he has already long since wholly yielded himself in unconditional obedience to God's unchangeableness. He does not stand at the beginning, but rather that the end of the way, the narrow but good way which he had chosen in renunciation of everything, pursuing it invariably and without a backward look, hasting towards eternity with stronger and ever stronger strides. But we on the contrary, who are still beginners, and subject to discipline, for us the unchangeableness of God must have also another aspect; and if we forget this, we readily run in danger of taking the lofty serenity of the Apostle in vain.

Kierkegaard, Edifying Discourses: A Selection. Swenson and Swenson, trs. Harper Torchbooks (New York: 1958) p. 255.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Pearl

The Pearl poet, who is thought also to have written Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Patience, and Cleanliness is the second greatest poet in Middle English after Chaucer; and, although he is much more inconsistent and is writing a rougher type of poetry, at his very best he arguably exceeds Chaucer at his best. And yet we are stuck with calling him the Pearl poet, or the Gawain poet, because we do not even know his name. It sets one thinking, to realize that one of the greatest poets of the English language is likely forever to remain unknown. We're lucky we even have any of his writings; only one manuscript survives of his major poems (British Library MS. Cotton Nero A.x), and that one narrowly survived a major library fire.

Here is a sample of Pearl; the first is the Middle English, the second is J.R.R. Tolkien's translation of it. I tried to come up with my own, but had to give up - that Tolkien managed to do so well is a tribute to the effort he put into it.

Ryght thus I knaw wel in this cas
Two men to save is god by skylle:
The ryghtwys man schal se hys face,
The harmles hathel schal com hym tylle.
The Sauter hyt sas thus in a pace:
Lorde, quo schal cklymbe thy hygh hylle,
Other rest wythinne they holy place?
Hymself to onsware he is not dylle:
Hondelynges harme that dyt not ille,
That is of hert bothe clene and lyght,
Ther schal hys step stable stylle.
The innosent is ay saf by ryght.


It is a right thus by reason, as in this case
I learn, to save these two from ill;
The righteous man shall see His face,
Come unto him the harmless will.
This point the Psalms in a passage raise:
"Who, Lord, shall climb Thy lofty hilll
Or rest within Thy holy place?
He doth the answer swift fulfil:
Who wrought with hands no harm nor ill,
Who is of heart both clean and bright,
His steps shall there be steadfast still":
The innocent ever is saved by right.

Why I Believe in Free Will: Point # 2

I'm continuing my series on libertarianism (in the free will sense); by my rough estimate I should have at least seven or eight posts total by the time I'm done. (Don't worry; they aren't all as indirect as these first two.) This one should be taken in conjunction with Point # 1.

Point #2: If event-based analyses of causation drive us inevitably to something like Hume's position on causation, they drive us inevitably to something like Hume's position on liberty and necessity.

I suggested the antecedent in Point #1. Here I will suggest 1) my reason for thinking the conditional is true; and 2) more importantly, I will point out what I would have thought rather obvious, but which no one else seems to allow, namely, that Hume's position on free will causes as much trouble for determinists as it does for libertarians.

2.1 Hume's position on liberty and necessity, as presented in the Treatise and the Enquiry, follows fairly easily from his views on causation. In Hume's theory of causation, causation, objectively, is nothing but constant conjunction; subjectively, it is constant conjunction plus a determination of the mind to infer one element in the conjunction from another. Hume's account of liberty and necessity is simply an attempt to apply the theory of causation seriously to this issue. The heart of Hume's causal theory is causal inference; as he notes in Part 3 of Book I of the Treatise, it consists in taking causation to be based on the inference rather than vice versa. So, given that we do make such causal inferences in human actions, and given some other aspects of Hume's analysis that follow from the basic core of the theory as corollaries, it's clear that necessity in Hume's sense applies to human actions, and the word 'liberty' has to be used in such a way that it is consistent with this sense of 'necessity'.

2.2 What always puzzles me, though, is that compatibilists and determinists think Hume is on their side. In fact, Hume is often called a compatibilist. If by 'compatibilist' you mean anyone who thinks that 'necessity' understood in a certain way can be applied to the same things 'liberty' understood in a certain way can be applied to, then Hume is a compatibilist. But compatibilism in this sense is pretty much a useless label; anyone can redefine the terms as they will. And it is simply a matter of labels. Hume uses the word 'necessity' simply because that's his word for inferential connection. In actuality, Hume's position is quite inconsistent with any determinism that could be proposed, because determinism is largely a non-issue in Hume's causal theory. The only relevant aspect of causation in Hume's theory is inferability. That we can infer C from E or E from C is all that Hume intends in talking about the 'necessity' of actions. And it is important to note that this inference is not an implication - i.e., it is not a logical inference. When Hume says there's a necessary connection between C and E, he simply means that we develop a very strong habit of concluding that if there's a C there's an E, and vice versa. (There's a slight complication given that Hume also has an account of how these habits are shaped by progressively more consistent maxims, but this doesn't change the essentials.) Unless by 'determinism' you just mean that we can draw conclusions about human actions, Hume's theory weakens causation far too much to be deterministic. Indeed, Hume's theory requires that there is no objective determinism at all; no system, in itself, is deterministic on Hume's analysis. 'Necessity' is a habit of association, and nothing more. So Hume's determinism causes quite as much trouble for almost anything that could plausibly be called 'determinism' as it could possibly for libertarian views.

And Hume himself explicitly recognizes this, because he insists that he is not changing our notions of liberty, but our notions of necessity, by insisting that there is no necessity except what used to be called 'moral necessity'. He notes:

I define necessity two ways, conformable to the two definitions of cause, of which it makes an essential part. I place it either in the constant union and conjunction of like objects, or in the inference of the mind from the one to the other. Now necessity, in both these senses, has universally, tho' tacitely, in the schools, in the pulpit, and in common life, been allow'd to belong to the will of man, and no one has ever pretended to deny, that we can draw inferences concerning human actions, and that those inferences are founded on the experienc'd union of like actions with like motives and circumstances. The only particular in which any one can differ from me, is either, that perhaps he will refuse to call this necessity. But as long as the meaning is understood, I hope the word can do no harm. Or that he will maintain there is something else in the operations of matter. Now whether it be so or not is of no consequence to religion, whatever it may be to natural philosophy. I may be mistaken in asserting, that we have no idea of any other connexion in the actions of body, and shall be glad to be farther instructed on that head: But sure I am, I ascribe nothing to the actions of the mind, but what must readily be allow'd of. Let no one, therefore, put an invidious construction on my words, by saying simply, that I assert the necessity of human actions, and place them on the same footing with the operations of senseless matter. I do not ascribe to the will that unintelligible necessity, which is suppos'd to lie in matter. But I ascribe to matter, that intelligible quality, call it necessity or not, which the most rigorous orthodoxy does or must allow to belong to the will. I change, therefore, nothing in the receiv'd systems, with regard to the will, but only with regard to material objects. (Treatise 2.2.1 Part II)

And from this, I think, it could be argued that Hume's so-called 'compatibilism' is more of a problem for determinism than libertarianism: if you can have a libertarianism that allows for moral evidence and inference, you are unaffected by Hume's basic arguments; no determinist can be unaffected by them. But I will not argue this here. Suffice it to say that determinists who consider Hume on their side will find him a false friend, since Humean analysis implies that there is no objective determinism, and makes necessity into nothing but customary inferability. But if I am right that event-based analysis of causation forces us to a Humean theory of causation, and that Hume's position on liberty and necessity is simply an application of this, then this is the position to which most determinists in analytic philosophy today would be committed, were they consistent.

Note to Producers: Things to Keep in Mind when Alien-Supported Nazis Invade

Paul Denton at "Ravishing Light" discusses the recent Enterprise episode, in which (yet again) the Enterprise gets involved with time-travel. Where I'm at, the show comes on at the same time as Joan of Arcadia, which is my non-negotiable TV show right now, so I only watched bits and pieces during commercial breaks. I wish I had seen the teaser, though. And he's right that the Collaborator looks an awful lot like William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Canadian Prime Minister at the time, in Ottawa. (Enough so that it looks like it's a historical picture; I haven't been able to find any like it online, but much praise will be sent your way if any of you can find it and let me know.)

Inalienable and Inviolable

What does it mean to say that someone has 'inalienable rights' or 'inviolable rights'? One often finds people talking about these things as if (e.g.) having a right to liberty meant no one could ever do anything to infringe on one's liberty. But this is not what the phrases have traditionally meant. To say that someone has 'inviolable rights' simply means that they have rights too sacred or too important to be broken by force or violence; and to say that someone has 'inalienable rights' (or 'unalienable rights') is to say that they have rights that cannot be handed over to someone else. The reason Jefferson appealed to 'inalienable rights' in the Declaration of Independence can be seen in context:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The appeal to rights that cannot be alienated is there to insist that there are some rights citizens cannot simply turn over to the government - to 'alienate' means to sell off or give over to someone else. When we form political societies, we hand over or alienate rights to our government, so that it can do the work we all need it to do. Some rights, however, cannot be alienated at all: we cannot lose them by giving them to someone else. No government can claim to have taken away or received its people's rights to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness; the people cannot give such rights away to the government under any circumstances. Inalienable rights, in other words, are rights no one can waive. The Declaration needs to appeal to rights of this sort to allow a right of the people to abolish or alter their government, because if it appealed to rights that citizens gave away to their government, it obviously couldn't support the conclusion of the above line of thought.

Likewise, inviolable rights are rights that are too important or sacred to be infringed by violence. It does not follow from our having an inviolable right to liberty, however, that no one will ever have the right to curtail our liberty; it only means they cannot do violence to our right to liberty. Now, it may well be that we have inviolable rights to x that are such that no one can ever have the right to take away or curtail x. It's possible to argue, for instance, that our inviolable right to life is such that no one can ever have the right to put us to death; but this requires further argument. The right's being inviolable is not sufficient argument; for it may well be that there are ways to curtail your liberty that don't do violence to your right to liberty (e.g., if there is some right that is more fundamental than the right to liberty, and upon which the right to liberty was founded, curtailing someone's liberty to protect that right wouldn't be doing violence to the right to liberty, because the right to liberty itself requires the protection of that more fundamental right).