Saturday, October 30, 2004

A Poem Draft

This is an older one.

The City Builds Up Around Me

The City builds up around me;
it is founded and built on heady thoughts,
mortared and bricked by poetries of mind.
I have seen it in the morning and at eventide.
I have tasted it in the sour and the sweet.
I have heard it in dream and waking,
evoking a pattern beyond itself,
breathing order even in all its disorders.
I had once a vision of a battleground;
the earth, soaked with blood, was littered with bones,
the refuse and residue of continual conflict,
a battle of courtesies never completed,
unending clash of merely partial civilities,
and its name was the City.
We build it around us.

Darwin on Reason and Imagination

To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.

Darwin, Origin of Species, Chapter VI. I've always liked this quotation from Darwin, and since it peaked its head up in a post (very indirectly through a horrible misquotation) at Doing Things With Words, I thought I'd post it. The book is actually a very good read; unfortunately the remark Chesterton made decades ago about it is still true - just as many people are under the mistaken impression that evolutionary theory has explained things that it actually hasn't, so many people are under the mistaken impression they've read the Origin of Species when they actually haven't. I suppose that's the imagination's revenge on Darwin; there are all types of people who confuse strong imaginative association with rational conclusion, and Darwin has suffered a lot from it. I strongly recommend you read it if you haven't; Darwin is philosophically a much more consistent and powerful (and often cautious) reasoner than many of his pop-sci defenders have been, despite the fact that they could probably run circles around him in issues of fact. (Here and there one can find annotated OS's, in which some biologist or another has footnotes updating some of the facts - I recommend this sort of edition if you can find it.) Darwin has the same feature he attributed (rightly) to Paley - logic almost like Euclid's. (The Descent of Man is not as good in this regard, but isn't bad, and is in some ways more philosophically interesting.)

I think one of the most serious philosophical issues that is raised by scientific popularization is precisely this trouble with the continual flux of cooperation and competition between imaginative association and rational inference; and one of the reason so many scientific popularizations are so horrible is that they fail to navigate this flux properly - they either confuse imaginative association with rational inference, or they fail to recognize the flux at all. It takes a surprising amount of talent to convey science correctly to the public; and perhaps a bit of luck, too. (This is the aspect of philosophy of science that really interests me; it's hard to find anything on it, though, since it's just a poor country cousin of most of what interests people who actually go into philosophy of science.) One thing I like about Darwin is that he raises the bar beautifully; a sterling standard when it comes to careful argumentation that doesn't dumb things down and yet conveys things clearly and rationally.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Proof that Garry Wills Does Not Read Siris (or Aquinas Closely)

From the New York Review of Books, reviewing Walzer's book:

Thomas Aquinas is not much more helpful. He has three main norms for permissible war—declaration by competent authority, just cause, and proper intent. The last is defined as acting "to promote good or prevent evil"—a thing that can justify war as a tool of social engineering (e.g., to spread democracy and rebuff tyranny). It is not surprising then that Aquinas approved of the social engineering of his day, the Crusades (to spread Christianity and rebuff Muslimism)—which again is more useful to current jihad than to a secular democracy.

Aquinas doesn't consider "norms for permissible war". He does not consider the issue of declaration of war. He considers only whether a Christian prince may wage war without violating justice, and answers that he may if he has the right authority and he does it for the right end (just cause) and he does it with the proper intentio. And intentio in Scholastic Latin doesn't mean 'intent', it means 'the disposing of means to ends' - which can include intent, but a great deal more besides. He does not define 'intentio' as 'to promote good or prevent evil' - what he does is indicate that the intentio must be a disposition to the promotion of good or prevention of evil. He also explicitly says that those who are attacked must deserve to be attacked (this is essential to just cause), and the authority he discusses is only an authority of defense.

Further, Aquinas is simply considering here the bare issue of whether one can wage war without being unjust in so doing; he is not giving a checklist for whether 'a war' is just, and using him to this end would be pointless anyway.

Also I can't make heads or tails of Wills's reference, in a footnote, to the Scriptum Super Sententiis for the Crusades question. He gives "Scriptum super Sententiarum 4.32, 38", but 4 d. 32 and d. 38 aren't on the Crusades (they are on marriage). I don't normally read much of the Sentences commentary, so I could be missing out on some really obvious citation form, but I don't know what he's talking about in this case, and the least one could do in the New York Review of Books, when backing up your claims, is to make the citation clear. (I also have never seen the designation 'Scriptum super Sententiarum', rather than 'Sententiis'.) Actually, I can't find any questions on the Crusades (or war, or papal authority to authorize war) in the commentary, although I admit that I have not rigorously searched - there aren't any where one would expect them. Wills also gives references to the second and fifth Quodlibetal Questions. Aquinas does discuss the crucesignatus or Crusader in these questions: the first has to do with the indulgences given to Crusaders; QQ V.7.2, which asks, roughly, whether the Crusader who falls in battle has a better death than the one who dies on the way there, which does indeed assume that the Crusader is just in his vow, but does not explain further.

Unlikely Cases

At Current Electoral Vote Predictor:

Even more unlikely news: A reader pointed this out to be. Suppose the EC is tied 269 to 269 and the House deadlocks 25 states to 25 states. This is exceedingly unlikely, but just suppose. Then the Senate gets to choose the vice president. Also suppose the new Senate is divided 50-50, a very real possibility. Then the sitting vice president, Dick Cheney, gets to cast the deciding vote, electing himself as the new vice president. In the absence of a president, Cheney would be acting president for four years. This is not likely to happen because the Republicans are virtually certain of controlling at least 26 state delegations in the House. Still, scenarios like this one support the case for electoral college reform.

I don't see how. First, the House would have to be deadlocked on the issue for the entire four years; according to the 20th Amendment, the Vice President under such circumstances would only be acting President until a President had qualified.

Second, there are too many such unlikely cases to stamp out with election reform, and it is clear that they have nothing to do with the electoral college, but with the line of succession. Another unlikely case is if no one qualifies for either President or Vice President; then acting President is determined by law, which would make, I presume the Speaker of the House - Dennis Hastert - acting President; although conceivably Congress could do things differently. Suppose other unlikely cases with just the Vice President: Bush resigns; Cheney becomes President. Bush is impeached; Cheney becomes President. Bush dies; Cheney becomes President. (Note to self: If you run for President, make sure to choose a Vice President your opponents find scarier than you; it's a defense against assassination.) Cheney kills Bush; Cheney becomes President (and, I hope, would be impeached). Cheney colludes with a majority of the Cabinet to declare Bush unfit for the Office; Cheney becomes President. Bush gets a law through Congress that puts the authority to determine the fitness of the President for office in an independent body, which declares him unfit; Cheney becomes President (and presumably Bush would respond by transmitting a declaration of his fitness and becoming President again, unless the body declares him unfit again, in which case Congress will decide the issue). These are all actually the same sort of case (the only real difference being the means, and whether the Vice President becomes President or acting President); the only difference in the above case is that it's harder for Cheney to become acting President (and, if he did, to stay acting President) that way.

This can be seen more clearly by looking at another unlikely way Cheney could become acting President for the next four years. If he were to receive enough votes in the Electoral College to become Vice President, but neither Bush nor Kerry do the same for President, and the House deadlocks for the entire four years, the same result occurs without Cheney voting himself into the Vice Presidency.

Third, if the distant possibility of a simultaneous deadlock in the Electoral College, and unbreakable (for four entire years!) deadlock due to a perfect split in the state delegations to the House, and a perfect split in the Senate is a reason for reform -- it's a very slight and distant one. You might as well say we need reform because nothing prevents Congress from passing a law authorizing the President to invade the United States, or because it's technically possible for a mentally insane President to stay in office if Congress deadlocks (if the Cabinet declares him unfit, but the President delivers a declaration of fitness, and Congress deadlocks for twenty-one days after it receives that declaration or it returns to session, the President returns to office), or because it's technically possible for a Vice President to become and to stay President by killing his predecessor (I originally typed 'successor', which would make no sense) if Congress doesn't impeach him. If Congress has become so utterly incompetent, no sort of reform will save us.

Wherein Our Hero Passeth a Trial of Exceeding Greatness

And it chanced upon a day that our Hero wandered into the book sale of St. Mike's and was in exceeding parlous straits. For it had been prophesied according to many certain omens that of all the university book sales, that at St. Mike's was most likely to embrangle his interests and bind his soul with many a mouldering tome. And lo! it was so.

And straightway he was in exceeding danger, for he discovered a Latinate Text, the Secunda Secundae of Thomas Aquinas. And our Hero said unto himself: "Behold! It is the Secunda Secundae of Thomas Aquinas." And immediately he began to wrestle with himself over the purchase of it. But Good Sense triumphed over Concupiscence, and he said unto himself, "The Secunda Secundae does not a Summa Theologiae make!" And he forthwith continued on his way.

And straightway he was again in exceeding danger, for he found the Prima Pars of Thomas Aquinas. And immediately he began to wrestle with himself. But Good Sense again triumphed over Concupiscence, and he said unto himself, "The Secunda Secundae and the Prima Pars together do not a Summa make!" And then he said unto himself, "Very well, but I will take the Latin Index to the Summa." And he did, and forthwith continued on his way.

And so it passed, with many a trial and tribulation, until finally the fates decreed he should pay. And therefore he paid for his acquisitions, which were the Latin Index; and an Opuscula Summa of Thomas Aquinas; and a translation of the Itinerarium of Bonaventure; and two tomes of Textes Inédites of Leibniz; and C. S. Lewis's Letters to an American Lady; and G. K. Chesterton's Charles Dickens. And the sum of his penance was thirty-one dollars. And he began to moan and wail within himself for the spending of the silver. But then he said unto himself, "Set your mind upon the words of the Immortal Erasmus, who said, 'Sometimes we have money for food and books, and sometimes for books alone.'" And he was quieted, and was no more troubled, and forthwith continued on his way.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Question on Event Causation

Some of you philosophically-minded types who hold that event causation (understood as a relation between two distinct events) is the primary sort of causation can perhaps help me here. I'm currently working on a paper that touches on issues of event causation, and want to make sure I don't do anyone any injustice. I can understand someone thinking that causation is an event (I think so myself); but why would one think of causation as a relation obtaining between two distinct events? Such a view rules out any possibility of causation being something that is done, because events don't do anything - they just are, and come before and after and during each other. So causation can't be an act or action, even a relative one. Second, if causation were a relation obtaining between distinct events, what about the relation prevents it from obtaining between things other than events (e.g., substances, or numbers on a number line, and so forth)? Third, what reason do we have for thinking events can be distinct objective entities rather than just arbitrary intentional markings-out of regions of spacetime?

Leiter on Dworkin

The blogosphere's Brian Leiter has a good paper on Dworkin, entitled "The End of Empire: Dworkin and Jurisprudence in the 21st Century." It can be found here. I don't do philosophy of law as such, but my attitude toward it is a bit like my attitude toward philosophy of science - while it's not my field, interesting things worth thinking about (for anyone in any field) pop up in it, so it's good to keep at least an occasional eye on it.

(Hat-tip to Under the Sun.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Does Hume Think Our Sense of Morality is Natural?

This is Hume's Treatise 3.1.2, paragraph 9:

But nature may also be oppos'd to artifice, as well as to what is rare and unusual; and in this sense it may be disputed, whether the notions of virtue be natural or not. We readily forget, that the designs, and projects, and views of men are principles as necessary in their operation as heat and cold, moist and dry: But taking them to be free and entirely our own, 'tis usual for us to set them in opposition to the other principles of nature. Shou'd it, therefore, be demanded, whether the sense of virtue be natural or artificial, I am of the opinion, that 'tis impossible for me at present to give any precise answer to thsi question. Perhaps it will appear afterwards, that our sense of some virtues is artificial and that of others natural. The discussion of this question will be more proper when we enter upon an exact detail of each particular vice and virtue.

The Nortons' notes to this paragraph says that "Treatise 3.2 shows that some virtues are artficial, while Treatise 3.3 discusses the natural virtues" (p. 539).

This is not what Hume is talking about, however. He does not say "Perhaps it will appear afterwards, that some virtues are artificial and others natural," but "Perhaps it will appear afterwards, that our sense of some virtues is artifical and that of others natural." This is actually a very different issue. Hume does regard some virtues as artificial, and some as natural; (property-)justice, for instance, is not a natural virtue, but one that depends on human artifice and convention. But Hume's position on our sense of virtue is quite different; our sense of virtue is natural. He explicitly says this at the very end of Book 3 (3.3.6, paragraphs 3 and 4). This turns out, I think, to be essential to Hume's view. Several of his arguments about the relation between virtues that are virtues because of 'agreeableness' and virtues that are virtues because of 'utility' actually require that our sense of morals, or sense of virtue, be fundamentally natural, not the result of convention. Convention as it were diversifies it, and creates new virtues; but all these virtues have to trace back (through sympathy, generally) to the original sentiments of approbation and disapprobation that are natural to us. So in the passage above I read Hume as saying that, as far as he has discussed to that point, it could well be that our sense of some virtues is artificial and of others natural; discussion of this would require a closer examination of particular virtues. But, when he performs such an examination, he concludes that while (property-)justice and others like it are artificial virtues, our sense of them is natural. So he ends up rejecting the view he says is 'perhaps' the case here; the 'perhaps' needs to be emphasized and confined to context. It's possible, of course, that I'm missing some nuance in Hume's later use of 'natural', but I don't think so.

By the way, sometime soon I'll be doing a post on Hume's philosophical account of good manners, which is very interesting and not sufficiently examined.

Interesting Online Reading

* George Lakoff is evidently setting up a blog. Currently there's nothing much going on, but the blog is part of a larger website that includes links to articles, interviews, and the like. As you know, I strongly disagree with a number of Lakoff's views, to the point of thinking that progressives will ruin themselves if they follow them, but if he develops a significant blog presence, it will make for interesting reading, I'm sure.

* The excellent John DePoe of Fides Quarens Intellectum has a paper responding to Lynne Rudder Baker's recent article in Faith and Philosophy on why Christians should not be libertarians. It's a good paperIt also brings up a number of issues that will be raised here and there in my Free Will series. It touches on, in a more developed way, several issues that I thought when I first read Baker's article. That was before I was blogging, so here are my notes on it. Like all notes (and like many blog posts here at Siris) they're rough and first-impressiony (sorry about that neologism!), and need not necessarily be taken as developed or serious in all aspects. I've done some minor editing to clarify.

I've just recently come to think that the difficulty with this debate might be simply the difficulty of figuring out what any given person might mean by 'libertarian'. I use the term 'libertarian' just to indicate that I'm talking about a view of free choice that sees it as nondeterministic (i.e., not necessitated by its causes). Here, however, is the definition Baker gives in her article:

Quote: Let us say that an account of free will is libertarian if and only if it entails that a condition of a person S's having free will with respect to an action (or choice) A is that A is not ultimately caused by factors outside of S's control. Let us say that an account of free will is compatibilist if an only if it entails that a person S's having free will with respect to an action (or choice) A is compatible with the A's being caused ultimately by factors outside of S's control.

The problem I have with this, is that it seems to be bringing in a great many assumptions about what it is to cause something. Normally compatibilism is regarded as the position that it is somehow possible to have both determinism and free will in a way that counts (as far as the reasons for being determinist or an advocate of free will are concerned). But this can only fit with the above definitions if we assume that all causation is deterministic. A good case in point is Thomas Aquinas. Baker reads Aquinas, as her definitions would require her to do, as a compatibilist; but Aquinas can't be regarded as a determinist about free choice by any stretching of the texts. Since my own views of free choice are of the same general kind as Aquinas's, I would be considered a compatibilist by Baker; but I oppose determinism of every kind with regard to free choice, which by most accounts would make me a libertarian. Nor is this, I think, a simple confusion on Baker's part; for one thing, she's not generally liable to such confusions, and for another, it seems to be common. (Baker does note that the issue of causation is a tricky one, but she doesn't consider the above points.) There is confusion in the air as to what's really going on in the debate.

There are libertarians who arguably fit Baker's profile above. Robert Kane and Roderick Chisholm, for instance (neither of them write as Christian philosophers). But it's not a common position among those who oppose determinism, or, if it is, has only become so fairly recently.

And in another note:

We have to be very careful about carrying over anything Augustine says in his later anti-Pelagian works into the question of determinism vs. free will. This is precisely because Augustine is opposing the heresy of Pelagianism. Pelagianism, however, is a heresy of merit, not of free choice. Free choice does enter into the question obliquely, because the crude summary of Pelagianism would be that it's the position that divine mercy can be merited by our own free will. Pelagianism was condemned not because it talked about free will but because it talked about salvation as if it could be deserved, whereas the official position was that mercy, properly speaking, is not deserved; it is properly speaking a gift, not a reward. The fact that Pelagianism was about merit explains why so much of the discussion was about original sin: Pelagians had to deny that original sin had a significant effect on us, while Augustine argued that original sin damaged our nature--which made it impossible for free choice to do the sort of meriting the Pelagians demanded: we can't live the perfect lives Pelagianism would require, and so we actually need purely gratuitous help.

Given this, Baker is exactly right when she sums up the orthodox position by saying, "No finite will, on either a compatibilist or a libertarian conception, has a causal role in bringing about salvation" (p. 466). Where I disagree with her is when she goes on to say, "But the will cannot come to faith without God's causal action on it. Since God causes faith, the will involved in faith is only a compatibilist will. Therefore, on Augustine's mature view, free will as libertarians contstrue it is entirely irrelevant to salvation" (p. 466)

The trickier issue is whether this is really true about Augustine's mature view, when we factor in the points noted above. I'll have to leave this to those who are more closely acquainted with Augustine's views on this subject than I am. The easier point to make is that the argument given only goes through if we assume that God's causation is necessitating, i.e., only if it is deterministic, in this case. Seen in that light, it is clear the real issue is whether grace is irresistible: that is, the argument is not that Christians should be compatibilists, but that they should be Calvinists. (That this is really so is further suggested by various comments made by Baker throughout the article.) Given that, the article's point would have been better served by directly supporting and strengthening Calvinist arguments on the subject, such as those of Jonathan Edwards.

Baker several times recommends Derk Pereboom's Living Without Free Will, which she says ably makes the case against libertarian free will. Pereboom also argues against compatibilism, but she's unconvinced by those arguments and is preparing a paper to argue that case. I'll have to get around to reading it but I suspect I'll be as little impressed by its arguments against libertarian free will as Baker is by its arguments against compatibilism (especially if by 'libertarian' Pereboom means anything like what Baker means).

* Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, has been posting almost solid gold yesterday and today. I find the remarks on academic philosophy interesting, particularly this quotation which is sad but true:

Philosophy is a magnificent thing and my reason for living. Unfortunately, many if not most philosophy professors don’t see it that way: they are time-servers who went into the teaching business because of the long summers, a relaxed schedule, and the lack of heavy lifting. It’s a job to them, and as one erstwhile colleague remarked, "It beats working for a living." Some of them play the game quite well; the bottom line, however, is that they live from philosophy, not for it, and if they became unable to live from it they would drop it like a hot potato and go into real estate or something.

There seem to be a lot of sophists in academic philosophy, in something like the old sense of the term. Sophists can produce good, stimulating work, but they are doing precisely what Vallicella notes here: they live from philosophy, not for it. I also found the comments in a later post on teaching to be interesting; from my perspective, teaching is the greatest attraction of academic life. I loved even the survey course I co-taught this summer, which was the hardest of the three courses I've taught (condensed summer courses, with 3-hour lectures, split down the middle with one instructor teaching the first term and another teaching the second term, each naturally bringing different teaching styles and interests despite attempts to give some unity to the course, will inevitably make students cranky), despite the fact that I would avoid teaching another course with similar constraints at almost any cost. I hope to settle in at a smaller teaching-oriented institution, probably religious, like the one in which I did my undergraduate work. Then again, we'll see if I find it so interesting after several years of a heavier teaching load.

Besides the posts on academia and independent scholarship, there are several posts worth reading - Reppert's response to Carrier, the review of Vallicella's book on existence (which I keep trying to get my hands on, but which is checked out at the libraries that have it here in Toronto), and especially the post on the image of God.

* (UPDATE added later) I forgot that I also intended to link to this essay at Another Think:

All creatures great and small...

An Evidence for the Usefulness of Truisms

I will be extremely busy over the next two weeks. I'm uncertain how this will affect my blogging. On the one hand, it means blogging falls far down the list of priorities. On the other hand, in the past it has often actually increased when I'm busy - I often use blogging as a break during a long stretch of revision or composition, and if I have a lot, that means a lot of blog breaks.

So, I'll just say this: I'll be blogging less these next two weeks, unless I won't.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Jokes on Massachusetts

Nathanael Robinson has an interesting post at Cliopatria on the function of "Massachusetts" in political rhetoric, linking to an article by Paul Waldman. I confess, I'm not entirely sure I see the issue, although perhaps that's because I'm a Texan and have heard more than my share of Yankee jokes (the butt of them used almost always to be New York, the first state that comes to mind to most Texans when thinking of Yanks; I wouldn't be surprised, though, if, given 9/11, that more-or-less permanently switches to Massachusetts, which is a good candidate for being the second state that comes to mind). And I really don't find the attempt to turn the senator joke into a 'former governor of Texas' joke funny at all, because it doesn't make any sense at all. What other right-wing former governors does Texas have? Ann Richards? Massachusetts, on the other hand, rightly or wrongly has a reputation for liberal senators that goes back at least a couple of decades. And so I find Bush's joke less puzzling, and thus less unfunny. As less unfunny as Yankee jokes can be, at least. (I never did find them very funny in the first place; but when a Canadian refers to Americans in general as Yankees (as they sometimes do) I still automatically bristle. If you ever want to start bar fights in Texas, go in and start calling the natives 'Yankees', and you'll get more bar fights than you can handle.) And I don't really see that redneck jokes about Texas would be all that damaging - Texans make them about themselves all the time - unless they were said by someone from Massachusetts.

But one does have to wonder about the prudence of candidates making such jokes in the first place. It certainly doesn't help any Texas Democrats in the long run if the Democrats are remembered as making snide jokes about Texas; and I wouldn't be surprised if something similar were the case with Republicans and Massachusetts.

What it reminds me of is just how different the states are. We tend to downplay the differences among the various states; but in fact they're rather considerable, and have been for a very long time, long before people started messing up the election color scheme with this red-state/blue-state business. (The traditional coloring is just that the party in power gets blue and the challenger gets red; but that was messed up by pundits after 2000, who locked in the colors to the parties.) States really are to some degree distinct cultural units, however often we may forget it. And what political jokes about Massachusetts or Texas one can get away with would depend on how those jokes play in other cultural units besides those states. It would be interesting if someone did a study of this. I hypothesize that jokes about Texas would often tend in those other states to be taken as implicit jokes about all the "red states"; whereas jokes about Massachusetts (or Vermont in the Howard Dean case) would often tend to be taken as just about Massachusetts (or Vermont). If we're going to start making redneck jokes about Texas, what do people in Louisiana, Alabama, Oklahoma, etc. take that to imply about Louisiana, Alabama, Oklahoma, etc? Do New Yorkers or Marylanders take offense at Massachusetts jokes? This would actually be very, very interesting to know - it's one of those cases where I'd be as fascinated by being proved wrong as by being proved right.

By the way, I voted today; so expect a post in the next few days on which candidates I didn't vote for (because that's about the shape of this election, isn't it?): my one partisan post.

The Simple and the Wise

327. The world is a good judge of things, for it is in natural ignorance, which is man's true state. The sciences have two extremes which meet. The first is the pure natural ignorance in which all men find themselves at birth. The other extreme is that reached by great intellects, who, having run through all that men can know, find they know nothing, and come back again to that same ignorance from which they set out; but this is a learned ignorance which is conscious of itself. Those between the two, who have departed from natural ignorance and not been able to reach the other, have some smattering of this vain knowledge and pretend to be wise. These trouble the world and are bad judges of everything. The people and the wise constitute the world; these despise it, and are despised. They judge badly of everything, and the world judges rightly of them.

Pascal, Pensees. Learned Ignorance or "ignorance savante" (not to be confused with the ignorance of the learned) is a major theme in philosophical history, deriving from its Socratic-Platonic side. One of the more famous works on the subject is Nicholas of Cusa's De Doctrina Ignorantia (PDF). How much of this tradition Pascal actually has in mind is hard to determine, as much of what we need to know to interpret properly the Pensées is hard to determine.

Puzzle, Puzzle

Not only are H.L.'s archive pages not currently working (404 error), for several minutes it wouldn't let me edit a post at all. That problem is now out of the way; but the archive pages are still not working. I can't think of any fiddling with the files that would have caused this; as far as I can remember I haven't messed with the template or the code at all since before I looked at an archive page (for the Philosophers' Carnival), except to add a link on the right sidebar, which shouldn't have done anything. But none of my archive links work - LinkChecker finds them broken. I'll probably go to the WP forums, but I'd like to be able to give them more information than, "My archives links are broken, I don't know why." Does anyone have any guesses at all?

On the plus side, I did finally find a broken link that LinkChecker kept picking up on but I couldn't find before - the calendar's links are weird.

UPDATE: I figured out what it was: the .htaccess file was missing the correct rewrite rules. I have no idea why it was missing them; I put them in when I did the template originally, and it has worked since then. The calendar links still are weird, but I think I should be able to fix that with just a bit of experiment.

UPDATE: Fixed the calendar. On browsing the support forums, it turns out that it's a common problem: the calendar coding assumes that the permalink URLs have a structure that's actually optional (and which I don't use). So a little change in a file fixed the issue.

One thing that still bothers me is that I can't access .htaccess through the WP template. I know I've done it before, and the permissions are right; so I'm not sure what's up with it now. But that's a minor problem.

Historical Journals Blogged

I enjoy these sorts of things considerably, so I thought I'd pass along the ones I know. They are historical journals that are being re-journalized as blogs.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys
There is absolutely no better way to get the dish on the seventeenth century; this contribution by Phil Gyford and others is the most elaborate of the historical journal blogs, and is interesting in that it is marshalling the power of the blogosphere to develop an online scholarly apparatus for the diary. This reminds me a bit of the recent discussion, started by Jason Kuznicki, about the possibility of a history wiki; the structure of this diary is rather different in some ways from wiki, but it has many interesting similarities to the sort of thing he seems to have intended. It also reminds me a bit of questions about whether blogging can be a mode of scholarship in a fairly narrow sense; if the blogging is along these lines, I think there's a good argument for it. One of the interesting new features is the topic map, which is way cool.

David Brainerd's Blog
Rebecca gives us a look at the missionary work of David Brainerd.

John Wesley's Journal
Seymour guides us through Wesley's journal.
(I especially like Wesley's comments on Law for October 23: "Philosophical, speculative, precarious; Behemish, void, and vain!" I've written briefly about Law's interest in Boehme elsewhere.)

All three of these are early modern. Does anyone know of any others?

(Cross-posted to Houyhnhnm Land.)

UPDATE: Sharon and Caleb provided additions in the comments. Apparently the blog "Keywords" some time ago had a post on books that are being blogged, which includes several journals, including Da Vinci's (hat-tip to Kmlawson at Muninn).

Somewhere Near Avonlea

You're Prince Edward Island. You're a happy person,
love life, and seldom complain. You're able to
see the best in any situation.You do live a
g-rated life and tend towards things
mainstream. People like you, unless they're

What Canadian Province Are You?
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Not at all expected. PEI, for those who don't know, is mostly associated with potatoes, lobsters, and Lucy Maud Montgomery. It's the smallest Canadian province in both size and population. I'm not so sure Islanders seldom complain, though....

(Via A Journey Through Time.)

High Table

I intended to do this earlier, but since I'm taking a break in some revisions I'm doing for a paper, I can do it now. I was invited to the Trinity College Humanities High Table. Well, strictly speaking, I was invited to the Philosophy High Table, but for some reason they didn't follow the normal practice of one per don per term, but instead had one for the philosophy and humanities dons together. I didn't quite follow it; I'm just a simple American. 'High Table' means nothing to me except that I need to wear a nice suit.

In any case, it was fun, and the meal was actually fairly good. Afterward I had several long discussions on various issues with various dons in the Senior Common Room - on the relation between ethics and philosophy of science in the nineteenth century, on the defensibility of Hume's analysis of causation, and on hermeneutics. The one one hermeneutics caught me off guard; the discussion started out harmlessly enough, about the plethora of excellent French philosophers who aren't really studied. Then it somehow went into French contemporary philosophy, and Derrida, Gadamer, Levinas, Ricoeur (emphatic pronouncements were made on the superiority of Ricoeur to Derrida in every way), the problems with intellectual celebrity, and by that route to Derrida again. I followed nary a word of it, but because of my blogging I was actually able to say one or two intelligent things about perceptions of Derrida.

It has brought home to me, though, as, indeed, the discussions of Derrida the past few weeks have also, that I really do need to read more on this side of philosophy. I've read bits and pieces of all the thinkers who were named, sometimes extensive bits and pieces, but bits and pieces of anyone is very remote from any genuine acquaintance with them. I need to start listing them on my Neverending Reading List (which is quite literally and fittingly headed with Eccl. 12:12 (KJV). Truer words were never spoken.

In any case, does anyone out there have particular recommendations about what to read along these lines?

Monday, October 25, 2004

Plug for Carnivalesque

The Early Modernists' Carnival, Carnivalesque, is coming to Houyhnhnm Land (pronounced "whinnim" or "hwinnimn"), my other weblog. The date will be November 5 (subject to change). If you have written a post in September or October (the first few days of November will be OK, too), or have in surfing the blogosphere come across a post, on the early modern period (broadly conceived - from about 1450 to 1850), send it my way. You can email me through the "Email" link at Houyhnhnm Land, or directly through the following address:


(With @ for [at] and . for [dot], of course.)

Since H.L. is devoted primarily to early modern philosophy, posts in that area, or in the general history of ideas in the early modern period, will be especially welcome; however, this is in no way a requirement. Also, if you have a post that's primarily on the late medieval period, or on the post-early-modern period, which would be of interest to early modernists in any way, we're interested in that, too.

Philosophers' Carnival IV

The fourth Philosophers' Carnival is up at Doing Things With Words. My little contribution is here, on Hume. Also among the carnies:

* Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty has an argument for compatibilism - from evil robots, no less. Quite interesting actually; although, since I'm of the view that compatibilism seems plausible because of imaginative associations rather than real reasons (hopefully I'll eventually get around to discussing this), it wouldn't be a good argument to use against me. But I do think it has real potential; and since I don't think many compatibilist arguments have real potential, that's saying a lot.

* Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise is continuing her work on Quine's naturalized epistemology, and has a post trying to find the best way to pin down Jaegwon Kim's criticism of that project. If it's something in which you're interested, head over and see what she has.

* An excellent post on counterfactuals by Chris at Mixing Memory; I intended, I think, to say something about this post when it came out, but I never did, and have since forgotten what I wanted to say.

* Clark Goble's Gift of Jacques Derrida post at Mormon Metaphysics; the comments are especially worth browsing.

And others. The selection this time around seems very good.

The Syllogistic Theory of Deduction

I was reading the article in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Medieval Theories of Causation when I came along this passage:

There is, indeed, an extensive literature of medieval commentaries on the Posterior Analytics, and much of this literature is very important; we find in it a great deal of material on the authors' attitudes to necessity, the structure of science, the relation between various sciences, the autonomy of philosophy vis-à-vis theology, and the like. However, it cannot be taken to be automatically relevant to the practice of reasoning in the Middle Ages: the logical metatheory (that of the syllogism) is far too restrictive, and the conditions placed on scientific demonstrations are far too stringent, for it to be a plausible description of very many actual processes of reasoning, in the Middle Ages or at any other time.

Now, it is certainly true that most arguments in the Middle Ages are not demonstrations (they would not, I think, have claimed they were). But I'm inclined to think the logical metatheory of syllogism was not very restrictive at all, as becomes clear when one looks at examples they could give of dialectical, rhetorical, and poetic syllogisms. Most of the time we can just use the word 'deduction' or even 'inference' instead of 'syllogism', so long as we recognize that they are always thinking of it as the combination of two terms by way of a mediating term.

There's still work to be done in this aspect of medieval logic. Deborah Black here at the University of Toronto has looked at rhetoric and poetics, and the syllogisms involved, in the Islamic philosophers - al Farabi, Avicenna, Averroes (particularly Avicenna). How far similar applications of the metatheory were used by the Latins I'm not sure - the work on this is still being done (Black herself is, from what I understand, planning on a sequel to the Islamic logic book). But whether they actually applied it that way or not, it's the same metatheory, or at least, we don't currently seem to have reason to think the understanding of the syllogism was so radically different. Then again, I'm no expert in this field.

Aristotle in the Gameworld

A paper (very short) here (PDF)by Michael Mateas on the adaptation of (Neo-)Aristotelian dramatic theory to game design, proposing an "Aristotelian interactive poetics". It's a genuinely interesting little paper, but one thing I found somewhat humorous was the citation. The citations are in the (Author, Year) format; and so he cites Aristotle as (Aristotle, 330 BC).

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Progressive and Reactionary Styles of Discourse

- By which I mean not "the styles of discourses of those who consider themselves or are considered progressives or reactionaries" but, quite literally, "styles that are progressive or reactionary". Blogging has made me more clearly aware of styles of political discourse, and I think there is some need for a clearer delineation of the two styles. The label 'progressive' in this sense does not align with self-identification as 'a progressive', for several reasons: 1) styles of discourse are not determined by political self-identification; 2) while 'progressive' as a political label used to mean something quite clear about one's political goals (improvement of conditions for everyone, the need for continual reform, the importance of civil liberties), it has, as far as I can see, become attached to people entirely on the basis of whether they hold an arbitrary set of x, y, and z, without regard for whether they do so for ends or in ways that could be considered progressive in that sense; 3) some styles of discourse that are conducive to improvement, reform, and respect can be found across the political spectrum, while the same may be said for contrary styles.

So, that said, here's my first rough characterization of the difference I see (particularly but not exclusively in the blogosphere) between progressive and reactionary styles of discourse:

-> Reactionary Style

* Often indicates revulsion or contempt for opponents; there's a tendency to speak and write in terms one knows the other side will find insulting, sometimes simply for that reason. The impression one would get from the style of discourse is that the other side deserves to be insulted.

* The general pattern of thought, then, is us/them: that is, reactionaries write or speak in such a way as to suggest that what they are doing is defending us against them, whoever 'them' might be.

* Tends to see the distinction between us and them as clear-cut and obvious - 'they' are not reasonable, not educated, not informed, not compassionate, not critical thinkers &c.; 'they' are ignorant, absurd, cruel, wicked, stupid, sneaky, &c. 'We' are the opposite. These categories are considered basic - they are taken as obvious, and the discussion is in terms of them. Reactionary style of discourse is (as it were) Manichaean: all the real good on this side, all the real evil on that; we are wholly right, they are wholly wrong.

* Argument in reactionary style is warfare (usually trench warfare): the discourse doesn't invite one to expect that one can work with the other side to move forward for mutual improvement, and it doesn't invite converts. For there to be progress the other side must be overwhelmed.

-> Progressive

* The progressive style of discourse is an attempt to persuade, and tends to make explicit appeals rather than assuming the entire set of evaluations.

* It is fallibilistic in tone; that is, the style of discourse doesn't give the impression that 'we' are always and undeniably right (or reasonable, or good, or informed, etc.) - often quite the reverse.

* The approach logically presupposes that the other side is at least capable of conscience, reason, compassion, good will, etc., and that there is a particular direction in which both sides can move on the basis of such appeals, one which will allow for the betterment of everyone's situation.

* Argument in progressive style is judo: it is not geared to overwhelming the other side, but to winning them over when possible, and, when not possible, deflecting or absorbing insults, appealing to the better aspects of the other side. The only force is moral force, and the appeals involving that.

Obviously, this is all a bit crude; but I think familiarity with various political blogs in the blogosphere will bring one to recognize that there is at least something to it. I'm not saying that all styles of discourse are one or the other (obviously, for instance, many are not confrontational at all, and so can't be either). It's also important to recognize that while my preference is for the latter, I'm not dividing the styles of discourse into the bad group (reactionary) and the good group (progressive). I think there are actually cases in which a reactionary style will do more good than a progressive style - I think they tend to be extreme, but they do exist, and I can allow that there is some room for differences in personal judgment about where and when those extreme cases arise. It's also important to recognize that both of these come in degrees. And, again, I can't reiterate often enough that these are not designations indicating your favored political policies. For instance, Lakoff, who seems to be something of the progressive flavor of the day when the word is taken in the contemporary way as a label for someone who advocates certain particular policies, has what I would consider a reactionary style of discourse - certainly not reactionary at full strength, but strong enough to be recognizable.

John Paul II on the Body

The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible, the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial, and thus to be a sign of it.

(Feb 20, 1980: quoted here.)

A Textual Puzzle in the Treatise

From Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature 1.2.3 (towards the end of the section; in Selby-Bigge it is pp. 38-39):

Here therefore I must ask, What is our idea of a simple and indivisible point? No wonder if my answer appear somewhat new, since the question itself has scarce ever yet been thought of. We are wont to dispute concerning the nature of mathematical points, but seldom concerning the nature of their ideas.

The idea of space is convey'd to the. mind by two senses, the sight and touch; nor does anything ever appear extended, that is not either visible or tangible. That compound impression, which represents extension, consists of several lesser impressions, that are indivisible to the eye or feeling, and may be call'd impressions of atoms or corpuscles endow'd with colour and solidity. But this is not all. 'Tis not only requisite, that these atoms shou'd be colour'd or tangible, in order to discover themselves to our senses; 'tis also necessary we shou'd preserve the idea of their colour or tangibility in order to comprehend them by our imagination. There is nothing but the idea of their colour or tangibility, which can render them conceivable by the mind. Upon the removal of the ideas of these sensible qualities, they are utterly annihilated to the thought or imagination.

Now such as the parts are, such is the whole. If a point be not consider'd as colour'd or tangible, it can convey to us no idea; and consequently the idea of extension, which is compos'd of the ideas of these points, can never possibly exist. But if the idea of extension really can exist, as we are conscious it does, its parts must also exist; and in order to that, must be consider'd as colour'd or tangible. We have therefore no idea of space or extension, but when we regard it as an object either of our sight or feeling.
(my emphasis)

What is puzzling about this passage is that there is nothing new here; the position Hume gives is indistinguishable from Berkeley's. What is more, Hume surely must have known this. I suppose one could put emphasis on the 'scarce' and 'seldom'; but it still seems odd for him to talk about the newness of his question, when Berkeley had already addressed it along exactly the same lines.