Saturday, January 01, 2005

My Name Is Called 'Excellent'

"You are sad," the Knight said in an anxious tone: "let me sing you a song to comfort you.... The name of the song is called 'Haddocks' Eyes.'"

"Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?" Alice said, trying to feel interested.

"No, you don't understand," the Kinght said, looking a little vexed. "That's what the name is called. The name really is 'The Aged Aged Man.'"

"Then I ought to have said, 'That's what the song is called'?" Alice corrected herself.

"No, you oughtn't: that's another thing. The song is called 'Ways and Means': but that's only what it's called, you know!"

"Well, what is the song, then?" said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.

"I was coming to that," the Knight said. "The song really is 'A sitting on a Gate': and the tune's my own invention."

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass.

There Ain't No Gold and There Ain't Nobody Like Me

I headed out from Toronto to Boston on Tuesday. I took the Greyhound bus, so the trip was fourteen hours (actually, it ended up being twelve and a half, but that's because the driver on the last leg somehow managed to get an hour and a half ahead of schedule). Boston isn't far from Toronto as the crow flies; but a bus has to go around a Great Lake. It turned out to be even cheaper than I expected, which meant that even on a grad student's budget I could afford a little splurging here and there.

This is Peace Bridge, between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario. Over $7 billion (US) in commercial merchandise is carried over it each year, making it one of the most important ports of entry in North America. It was constructed to commemorate 100 years of peace between Canada and the United States, and was dedicated August 7, 1927 (I noticed this in particular because August 7 is my birthday). The site was chosen to be near where the last shots of the War of 1812 were fired, and the revolutionary decision by Canada and the United States in the aftermath (due in great measure to Richard Rush, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State after the War of 1812) not to put defenses on the border. May God grant that the example for which it stands be remembered and admired through the ages.

In any case, having crossed Peace Bridge without much trouble, I continued on the bus, via Syracuse, to Boston, arriving on Wednesday. I got a bit lost trying to get where I was trying to go, but got a nice exposure to old Boston in the process. Bostonians, by the way, are quite courteous; I was very impressed. I checked into my hotel, the Boston Milner, which I thought a nice hotel. If you like big rooms, you wouldn't like it, though; I got upgraded to a bigger room when I checked in, and it was still one of the smallest hotel rooms I had ever been in. Given the price of the rooms, which wasn't bad but also wasn't cheap, it might turn people off. On the other hand, the staff is quite good, and it has a great location - I was in a much better part of the city than those silly people who actually got rooms in the Marriott where the convention was held. I tell you, I don't know what people are thinking when they only fly into conventions on planes and only stay at the hotels in which the conventions are held; one might as well eat entirely at Burger King whenever you're in a foreign country, for all the worth you get out of such a plan of action.

But I'm rambling again. By the time I got to the hotel, I wasn't feeling that well; I went to registration to check in, but felt progressively worse as time went on. I had intended on going to the Society of Christian Philosophers session that evening, but wasn't feeling well enough to do much of anything. I just stayed in my room and watched TV. It is astonishing how little there is to watch on cable. I ended up watching Dogma. I had seen the ending before, but never the beginning. It's a very neo-Gnostic movie, complete with Metatron and a forgotten apostle. Quite interesting, actually, despite a lot of bad humor; but, then, I've always thought that Gnosticism sometimes makes good fiction even where it obviously makes absurd theology.

I felt much better the next day and attended a nice colloquium later on early modern epistemology - there was more Leibniz than I really liked, but I was glad to have caught it. James Bednar of Vanderbilt had an interesting paper on Hume's Dialogues, good enough that I will have to say something about it here at some point. And then I caught the bus home, returning this time by way of Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls.

Despite the mysterious illness of the first day, I enjoyed myself considerably. Reading around at what other people have said, I'm not sure if that's due to the objective goodness of the time I had or my subjective cluelessness as to what was going on around me. But it was still enjoyable.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Berkeley and the Unconceived

There is an interesting post at Fake Barn Country on Berkeley's unconceived tree. The author makes the error, I think, of being too vague about conception and thought. Berkeley has something fairly precise in mind when he talks about ideas and conception. Consider the following possible line of objection in the post:

Even if Berkeley is right that we cannot, without contradicting ourselves, conceive of an unconceived tree, this does not imply either that (a) we do not in fact conceive of such things (after all, we can conceive of impossible things like the largest prime number), or that (b) there could not be an unconceived tree (the link between imaginability and possibility is not nearly so strong as Berkeley supposes).

But one can very well say that we do not, in fact, conceive of impossible things like the 'largest prime number'; we simply use the words 'largest prime number'. And there is nothing in Berkeley's theory to prevent saying this; in part, because it is precisely along the lines of the sort of thing Berkeley says. Merely because you use words meaningfully (in a linguistic sense), it does not mean you have a notion to correspond with those words (nor does it mean that you've said something consistent). And on (b) it isn't actually very clear what one can mean by saying that I can conceive the existence of a tree whose existence I cannot conceive. The same point arises with another response to Berkeley that's discussed:

Although his argument purports to show that I cannot conceive of any particular unconceived tree, it seems to leave open the possibility that I can have the thought that there is some tree that is unconceived. That is, I may be able to have thoughts about unseen trees that are descriptive, rather than directly referential.

And another:

Consider the following story:

Once upon a time, there was a universe with nothing in it except for a single tree. Since there were no people or thinkers or anything else in this universe, the tree just sat there for all of time, and no one ever saw it, or thought about it, or told a story about it. The end.

My story is boring and probably lacking in literary merit, but it is not incoherent. Since Berkeley’s argument – even when weakened with the quantifier response – claims that it is inconsistent, the response in question is insufficient to stop Berkeley from proving something absurd – that my story is conceptually confused.

But it isn't obviously absurd to say that the story is conceptually confused; that is, it isn't clear that the story it gives is coherent, and even if it is coherent, it isn't clear that its coherence is a problem for Berkeley. (It's coherent, of course, even on Berkeley's view, to say that no one has told a story about the tree about which I am currently telling a story; it would be incoherent, however, to say that I have a story about a tree about which there are no stories, simpliciter, and it is this that Berkeley would claim to be parallel to the case of matter. Such things make great fiction, but bad philosophy.)

The author's own suggestion is very interesting; but I'm not very clear why it's supposed to be plausible. I think of a tree does, prima facie, appear to imply A tree is thought of by me, because they seem to be saying simply the same thing. And if this is so, I'm not sure why the issue of the relation between the thinker and the thing is going to make any difference to Berkeley's argument. If I claim, "I have an idea of a tree of which I can have no idea," what generates the contradiction is not the relation between thinker and tree, but the contradiction in saying "I have an idea I do not have". It's like the old invisible pink unicorn example; one cannot see a unicorn one cannot see. And one needs no theory of seeing to recognize that this is so. Likewise, one needs no theory of thinking to see that we cannot think of things of which we cannot think.

My own view, only very roughly thought out, is that Berkeley is quite right: we cannot say that we conceive an unconceived thing, or perceive an unperceived thing, properly speaking, without contradicting ourselves. And I don't see that there is any problem with saying this; we cannot have ideas we cannot have, we cannot have perceptions we cannot have. Berkeley needs more for his idealism than just this, but he's right on this point.

[We do, of course, have a notion of not conceiving, because sometimes we don't conceive things. But this doesn't imply that we can ever conceive of something unconceived, properly speaking; it just means we know we are not always conceiving everything. When we do conceive things, they are not unconceived; when we are thinking about things, we are thinking about them. The things themselves, however, can still be in some sense independent of us, external to us, and continue to exist when we are not thinking about them; and Berkeley, in fact, accepts all three of these claims. In this argument he merely denies that we can ever have in mind the being of something that is properly speaking 'without the mind'; and his interpretation of the three claims does not treat the independent, external, continuing existence of things as 'without the mind'. In other words, he breaks down the internal/external dichotomy that undergirds external world skepticism.]


As you could probably guess, I'm back from Boston. I'll probably post about it this weekend. I didn't do as much as I'd hoped at the APA, because when I actually got into Boston I wasn't feeling very well; but it got better. Boston's actually a great city; I wish I had had a few more days (and dollars) to spend.

Best wishes for the New Year!

Newest Christian Carnival

The last Christian Carnival of the year is up at MediaSoul. Posts I found particularly interesting:

* On the Holy Family at "NOTES"

* Learning from Shepherds at "3:17"

* The Silmarillion at "Semicolon"

Naturally, there are others of interest; go see.

Philosophers' Carnival VII

The Philosophers' Carnival is up at Mixing Memory. My contribution was the post on the Humean account of analogy. Other interesting posts include one on Ockham's Razor and Clayton Littlejohn's In Defense of Almeida and Oppy. Go see what it has to offer!

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

"Ramblin' Man, Why Don't You Settle Down?"

I'm off to Boston for the next two days; I'll probably be back Friday morning, and I don't think I'll be doing any blogging before then.

'Moral Equivalents'

I have recently heard and read the phrase 'moral equivalent' several times, and after thought, I have no notion what it means. See a few examples here. The natural meaning would seem to be that, given two cases, one can, for all moral purposes, substitute them for each other (in what way?) without change (of what?). But this can't be what is meant, because the phrase is often used of things that are clearly not intersubstitutable. If it just means the two cases are in some way analogous, it can't be reasonably used for the sorts of arguments in which it is employed without clarifying in what way and to what degree they are analogous. (I have similar problems with 'moral standing' when used comparatively.)

(Incidentally, even setting that aside, I find none of the arguments in the Reason article linked above even particularly interesting, since they are as sloppy as all get out. The term 'holocaust' is misused; most of the rhetorical questions could be consistently answered by a right-to-lifer with a "That doesn't necessarily follow"; the 'thought experiment' is ludicrously stupid, since it doesn't support what it is supposed to be supporting; and the last paragraph requires the erroneous assumption that the only reasons for which one could want to halt stem cell research are theological. It would be helpful if people actually used rational arguments on this sort of topic, particularly in a magazine called "Reason". But Eric Muller has a good review of Malkin's internment book, which quite redeems the December issue. And, to be fair to Bailey, he does have a good article or two about.)

Monday, December 27, 2004

A 1748 Doctrinal Pamphlet

The following is a doctrinal pamphlet published in 1748. "J.F." is James Fanch, about whom I haven't been able to discover anything further. The reference to the eternal covenant suggests Calvinist influence, but can be explained in other ways. Some of the pamphlet reads like sermon notes, and it is not at all impossible that some of it is based on a sermon series or two. The pamphlet is arranged so that on the left-hand side of the page the outline and verse reference can be found, and on the right-hand side, the verse is actually stated. Like this:

I. The Moral Law is the Will of God revealed a a Rom 1:19

a---Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath shewed it unto them.

Rather than do this, which in blogging would have been an immense pain, I have just linked to the initial letter (italicized in the above example) and done away entirely with the marginal reference (a Rom 1:19) and the explicit verse on the right-hand side.

Also, since in blogging it's difficult to do structured outlines in a way that will come out with any consistency, I have used parenthetical numbers rather than indentation as the original does. Where I write (II.1.1), the original only has 1., indented so as to show that it falls under section 1. of section II. The spelling is as it is in the pamphlet. The word 'Session' just means 'sitting'; it refers to Jesus's sitting at the right hand of God.

UPDATE: Rebecca notes in the comments that much of Fanch's discussion is highly consistent with covenant theology. It's hard to say for sure, given Fanch's purpose in the pamphlet and the limits of his method, but this does seem likely. You can find a discussion of the history of covenant theology here.


A COMPENDIUM of the Principles of Religion, Doctrinal and Practical;

In a short VIEW of the LAW and GOSPEL,
With some OBSERVATIONS on both.

The whole

Illustrated with particular PORTIONS of SCRIPTURE adpated to each Head, in a Method entirely New, Easy, and Comprehensive.

Designed chiefly


By I. F. Minister of the Gospel

O how I love they Law! it is my Meditation all the Day. Ps. cxix 97
R E A D I N G :

Printed for S. BLACKMAN, at the King's Arms in Fisher-Road
(Price 3 d.)

Initial Matter


You will sometimes find several Scriptures under one Letter of Reference, but observe, they are all design'd to prove the Truth asserted under the Head to which the Letter refers; so that the Asterisms (*) and Obelisks (†) are only design'd to direct the Eye more readily to the beginning fo the several particular Texts in the same Proof: As for Instance, at the beginning of teh View of the LAw under the Letter d there are several Texts from Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah, but all design'd to prove that we are to believe one God only; and so of the rest.

To the

The Design of the following Pages is to give a general and comprehensive View of our holy Religion in it's chief doctrinal and practical Principles, in a plain scriptural Way. My Method would not suffer me to offer any Thing in the Form of an Argument, I have therefore only asserted such Truths as appeared to me of the greatest Importance, and plainly revealed in the Word of God; to which in every Sentence I therefore appeal, as the only infallible Rule in all Matters of Faith and Practice.

I very well know that every Text I have quoted (nay every one I can quote) may be, by Art or Violence, explain'd away, and press'd to serve a contrary Scheme; but as to any Thing of that Kind I am quite easy, having no Design of entering into a formal Controversy with any Man.

My main design is to assist Parents in the Instruction of their Families, and to furnish the serious Youth, and other Beginners in Religion, with such Materials as might not only help their Enquiries into divine Things, but enable them to judge of Truth and Falshood the more readily and safely; and so render the reading and hearing the Word more profitable to them, preserve them from that Unsteadiness and Vanity of Mind that too much prevails among the Professors of this Day, and direct their Practice in the Duties of Piety and Morality. And thus what I ahve written may be used either as an Introduction or an Appendix to the Assemblies Catechism, just as the Teacher finds most convenient.

As to the Method of learning it, I should think it were best that the View of the Law and the Gospel be got by Heart first; and after that the Observations, all
without meddling with the Scriptures: Then let the whole be gone over again with the Scriptures, but without regard to to Chapter and Verse the first Time.

That my Endeavours may be attended with the divine Blessing, I hope will be your Prayer, Reader, as well as mine, the Author
, J. F.

Primary Matter

A short VIEW of the LAW

The LAW is either Moral or Positive,

I. The moral Law is the Will of God revealed a as an eternal Rule of Righteousness to all Men. b

II. The moral Law teacheth us our Duty towards God, and towards Man. c

(II.I) Our Duty towards God is
(II.I.1) To believe in one God only, as he reveals himself in hiw Works and Word. d *
(II.I.2) To pay divine Worship to one God only. e(II.I.2.1) In Simplicity, without Images, f
(II.I.2.2) In Sincerity and Purity, g
(II.I.2.3) In fervency of Affection, h
(II.I.2.4) In Faith of his Acceptance. i
(II.I.3) To treat his Name, at all Times, as holy, dreadful, glorious, and delightful. k *
(II.I.4) To devote one Day in seven particularly to his Worship, l
(II.I.4.1) In Adoration of his Being, m
(II.I.4.2) Prayer for his Assistance, n
(II.I.4.3) Praise for his Perfections, o
(II.I.4.4) Attention to his Word. p *
(II.I.5) And to redeem some Time daily besides for this Worship. q

(II.II) Our Duty towards Man, is,
(II.II.1) To honour our Superiors, r *
(II.II.2) To be kind to our Inferiors, s
(II.II.3) To preserve Chastity t in Thought, u Word, and Deed w
(II.II.4) To be tender of the Life, x Property, y and Reputation of all, z
(II.II.5) To envy none, a but be content in our Condition. b


I. The Moral Law is sum'd up in ten Commandments in the old Testament. a

II. The Moral Law is sum'd up in two Commandments in the new Testament. b

III. The Moral Law was given to Man as a covenant of Life, thro' perfect Obedience. c *

IV. Upon Adam's Disobedience, it pronounced Death upon him and his Posterity d *

V. From the Law's Sentence of Death we cannot be freed, but by Christ the Redeemer. e *

VI. No Works done by us at any Time, in this World, can be perfectly Good, in the Eye of the Law. f

VII. But the Works done by Christ in the room and stead of Sinners, were perfectly Good in the Eye of the Law. g *

VIII. Therefore we can have no Right to Life by our Works, but by the Obedience of Christ only. h *

IX. The proper Use of the Law is
(IX.1) To shew us our Duty. i *
(IX.2) To convince us of Sin. k
(IX.3) To condemn us for it. l

X. The Gospel does not make void the Law, m but enforces our Obedience to it. n
(X.1) To manifest our Gratitude to Christ for our Redemption. o
(X.2) To silence the Cavils of ungodly Men. p
(X.3) To promote the Glory of God, q and the Good of the World. r

XI. The Gospel calls those Works Good, s which are done
(XI.1) By the Grace of Regeneration. t
(XI.2) By Faith in Christ's Mediation. u *
(XI.3) By the Assistance of the Holy Spirit. w *
(XI.4) Out of Regard to the divine Authority. x
(XI.5) From the Motives of the Gospel. y
(XI.6) With a View to the Glory of God. z

A short VIEW of the GOSPEL

I. The GOSPEL is the good News of free Salvation to Sinners. a *

It may be considered as, I. CONTRIVED, II. CARRIED ON, III. COMPLEATED.

The Gospel is I. CONTRIVED.

I. In the eternal Counsels of God the Father, freely chusing some to grace and glory by Christ Jesus, b *

II. In the everlasting Covenant of Grace, between the Father and the Son. c *

The Gospel is II. CARRIED ON.

I. In Redemption by Christ.
From, 1. The Guilt of Sin, d
2. The Curse of the Law, e
3. The Wrath of God, f
4. In-dwelling Corruption, g
5. The Power of Satan, h
6. The Malice of the Wicked, i
7. The Evils of the World, k
8. The Power of Death, l
9. The Pains of Hell; m

Through, 1. His mysterious Incarnation, n
2. His spotless Nature, o
3. His perfect Obedience, p
4. His acceptable Sacrifice, q
5. His compleat Atonement, r
6. His bitter Death, s
7. His powerful Resurrection, t
8. His triumphant Ascension, u
9. His glorious Session, w
10. His prevailing Intercession, x
11. His universal Government y of Providence and Grace, z
12. His final judgment of all. a

The Gospel is also carried on

II By the Publication of Grace ---
(II.1) In the free Promises of
(II.1.1) Pardon to the condemned. a
(II.1.2) Justification to the ungodly. b *
(II.1.3) Adoption to strangers. c
(II.1.4) Sanctification to the impure. d
(II.1.5) Perfection to the imperfect. e
(II.1.6) Immortality to the mortal. f
(II.1.7) The Sum of all which is, g
(II.2) In wide Proclamations. h
(II.3) Kind Invitations. i *
(II.4) Powerful Perswasions. k
(II.5) Strong Protestations. l
(II.6) Merciful Expostulations. m
(II.7) Solemn Warnings. n
To all, o Particularly

(II.7.1) To the impenitent for Conviction. p
(II.7.2) To the penitent for Comfort. q
(II.7.3) To the backsliding for Recovery r

III. By the Operation of the Spirit,
(III.1) Enlightening the Mind. s
(III.2) Convincing the Conscience. t
(III.3) Perswading the Will. u
(III.4) Melting the Affections. w
(III.5) Quickening the holiness of the whole Man. x
(III.6) Enabling to persevere to the End. y


I. In the Resurrection, and glorious Change of the Body at the last Day. z

II. In the blessed Vision of God in the heavenly World, a * which will be
(II.1) Perfectly clear, b
(II.2) Intirely transforming, c
(II.3) Eternally satisfying. d


I. Some scripture Doctrines are so joined with the Gospel as to be inseparable from it, viz.
(I.1) The Godhead of Christ, a * by whom it is procured.
(I.2) The Godhead of the Holy Spirit, by whom it is applied. b
(I.3) Original Sin, from which it delivers. c *
(I.4) The Perfection of the Law, which it every where magnifies. d *

II. The Decrees of God, and Covenant of Grace, enfold the Salvation of his People in its Compass; so that
(II.1) The Covenant of Grace, is Salvation enclosed. e
(II.2) Salvation in the Gospel, is the Covenant unfolded. f *
(II.3) The Conversion of the Sinner, is the Cov'nant apply'd. g
(II.4) The Glorification of a Saint, is the Covenant compleated. h

III. The saving Operations of Grace are
(III.1) Perfectly free. i *
(III.2) Unsearchably Deep. k
(III.3) Omnipotently strong. l
(III.4) Eternal in Duration. m

IV. The internal Glory of the Gospel is not to be seen, without the special Grace of the Spirit. n
  For which therefore we are
(IV.1) To seek diligently. o
(IV.2) To pray constantly. p
(IV.3) To hope chearfully. q *


((There is an appendix on the Lord's Prayer "In a Method partly borrowed from Bernard's Thesaurus Biblicus, with scripture Illustrations," which I will not give here.))

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Christmas without Christ

From John Henry Newman, Verses on Various Occasions:

Christmas without Christ

HOW can I keep my Christmas feast
In its due festive show,
Reft of the sight of the High Priest
From whom its glories flow?

I hear the tuneful bells around,
The bless├Ęd towers I see;
A stranger on a foreign ground,
They peal a fast for me.

O Britons! now so brave and high,
How will ye weep the day
When Christ in judgment passes by,
And calls the Bride away!

Your Christmas then will lose its mirth,
Your Easter lose its bloom:
Abroad, a scene of strife and dearth;
Within, a cheerless home!

December 25, 1832.

Special Circumstances

I spent a quiet Christmas Day. I re-read the Gospel of Luke (it's a good exercise just to sit down and read the whole thing through in one sitting; you pick up rhythms and patterns of word and thought that you would miss in our usual piecemeal approach to the text - I came away with a strong sense of the unity of the book), and finished re-reading George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss. Having read it again, I think people who criticize her emphasis on the brother-sister relation (some critics have claimed she sees it as more important to the novel than it really is) need to read the novel again. The problem with the work is not that the relation between Maggie and Tom is treated by the author as more important than it is; the problem is that Eliot largely loses sight of Tom in the sixth book, and so the sixth book wanders from the main line of the novel. It's not a serious flaw, I think; but it's enough to make the ending of the book seem a little jarring after so much Stephen Guest. And that brings me to my second beef with the critics; there is a long tradition of criticism that thinks Eliot's presentation of Maggie's temptation by Stephen is not plausible: Maggie's just not the kind of girl to turn so easily from Philip after this coxcomb. But I think anyone who has read the story up to that point in a way sympathetic to Maggie should also be tempted by Stephen; that is, there should be part of the reader that does almost wish that she would eloper with Stephen. After all, by the time Stephen arrives on the scene, we've seen relatively little of Philip; and he hasn't presented himself as much more than a nice, but occasionally peevish, cripple. Maggie's affection for him is more pity and gratitude than anything robust. But more importantly, I think a reader sympathetic to Maggie's plight will be very alive to the desire for things finally to go right for her, and Stephen is very tempting in this regard. He is the easy way; and I think Eliot highlights in many ways that this is where much of the temptation for Maggie is: he's strong, protective, persistent, and Maggie after such a wearying sequence of trials finds a genuine pleasure in someone deciding things for her, smoothing the way, protecting her from further troubles, giving her an easy way to pursue her interests without the hard work of discipline. I think a reader who has really understood Maggie will tend to recognize this, and, though knowing as well as she that it is not right, feel that almost it would be better if it were.

In any case, an interesting passage from book 7, chapter 2:

The great problem of the shifting relation between passion and duty is clear to no man who is capable of apprehending it; the question whether the moment has come in which a man has fallen below the possibility of a renunciation that will carry any efficacy, and must accept the sway of a passion against which he had struggled as a trespass, is one for which we have no master-key that will fit all cases. The casuists have become a byword of reproach; but their perverted spirit of minute discrimination was the shadow of a truth to which eyes and hearts are too often fatally sealed,–the truth, that moral judgments must remain false and hollow, unless they are checked and enlightened by a perpetual reference to the special circumstances that mark the individual lot.

All people of broad, strong sense have an instinctive repugnance to the men of maxims; because such people early discern that the mysterious complexity of our life is not to be embraced by maxims, and that to lace ourselves up in formulas of that sort is to repress all the divine promptings and inspirations that spring from growing insight and sympathy. And the man of maxims is the popular representative of the minds that are guided in their moral judgment solely by general rules, thinking that these will lead them to justice by a ready-made patent method, without the trouble of exerting patience, discrimination, impartiality,–without any care to assure themselves whether they have the insight that comes from a hardly earned estimate of temptation, or from a life vivid and intense enough to have created a wide fellow-feeling with all that is human.