Saturday, January 29, 2005

Search for the Baby

The rehearsal dinner went well. The couple had chosen Uptown Billiards for the dinner; an excellent choice - it's a high-quality pool hall, so it had a nice informal-but-classy feel to it. One of the bride-to-be's aunts, who is from Louisiana brought a King Cake; I found the baby, which traditionally means that I get good luck for a year (and that I have to bring the next King Cake!).

The wedding is this evening at The Crown Ballroom, and looks to be quite the elegant affair.

Friday, January 28, 2005


A quick whirlwind tour:

* Ed Cook (I keep wanting to call him 'Ralph') at "Ralph the Sacred River" has an essay up on C. S. Lewis's Argument from Desire, responding to a set of criticisms to it. He also has an interesting post on George Steiner. I've always liked Steiner, but I've sometimes felt he was a bit sloppy about the details.

* Bill Vallicella at "The Maverick Philosopher" has a very good post on Christ and reduplicatives. I think the general thrust is quite right: reduplicatives, as I've said before, aren't a Christology, and I think they do push us to look at some sort of mereology (analysis of parts and wholes). And, indeed, when the scholastics look at the consistency of the Incarnation, their primary response is to talk parts and wholes. So I think there's a lot that's potentially fruitful here. I find mereology a bit tricky, so won't attempt any on the fly. Vallicella has recently enabled comments; use the privilege wisely!

* I haven't had the time to put it up on the sidebar yet, but Studi Galileiani is a great weblog for those who like history and philosophy of science.

* John Depoe at "Fides Quaerens Intellectum" has a post on an argument for the A-theory of time. I'm not convinced, but then I'm skeptical of premises (1) and (2).

City of Roses

I made it safe and sound to Portland, Oregon, and will be here today and tomorrow, flying back Sunday. Today I'm mostly doing what I can to avoid being too much under foot, and then I'll be going to the rehearsal dinner tonight; tomorrow's the wedding.

The weather here is astonishingly good; it's quite a break after Toronto with its cold spell and winter storms (I am enjoying not having to wade through snow). The flight went well; my first leg was delayed, but since I had a long layover in Houston that didn't bother me a bit. The in-flight movie from Houston to Portland was Vanity Fair; I think I remember Miriam Burstein commenting on it and its relation to the book at The Little Professor, so I'll have to go back and read those. Blogging is one of the best things to happen to movie critique in a long while; it is conducive to widespread and well-developed cinematic taste.

More reports on any interesting happenings, if any, later.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Image of God

It completely slipped my mind even to look at the 53rd Christian Carnival when it came out (actually, I think I did look, and looked at one or two posts, but didn't get any farther). It's a huge one. A particularly important post is Rebecca's For in God's Image, which makes some good points. She is right that we often don't adequately distinguish 'mark of our being made in God's image', i.e., a sign of it (usually an effect of it under normal circumstances), with 'element of our being made in God's image', i.e., something essential to it. Parableman highlights a few other interesting posts in the Carnival. The newest Christian Carnival will be up later tonight at Digitus, Finger & Co.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Quote of the Day

Via farkleberries:

"Legal experts say there is no law against using faeces as a flag stand and the federal constitution is vague on the issue."

The Lotus, Part I: Tremontaine

I have known of Fyodor Rozanov for most of my adult life, but I have met him only once. It was at an Embassy dinner in London. He was standing in the mist of a small crowd of attentive listeners, animatedly telling some story; but on seeing me, he stopped in the middle of a sentence and bowed slightly.

"You are not as tall as pictures make you seem," he said. "I have wanted to meet you for a very long time."

"And I you," I replied.

He returned to his story and I was soon called away to meet someone else. Wee might never have talked again, had I not later slipped away from the party to catch a bit of night air in the garden.

I saw him standing near a fountain. In a party of small, scrawny diplomats his tall, athletic fram was unmistakable. As I approached, he threw away a cigarette and said without looking at me, "I thought I might be fortunate enough to meet you out here." Then, after a moment: "You and I are not like them at all."

"By which you mean...."

He turned toward me with an impatient gesture. "You and I are men of the moment. They are paralyzed by their own self-consciousness. But you and I form the world with our hands."

"I doubt the difference is so very great," I replied. "People are, I imagine, much the same everywhere. And self-consciousness has more than a few uses."

He made a noise that I think was a word of contempt in a dialect I do not know. "No," he said. "You are wrong. The difference is that those who build the world deserve immortality."

"And that would mean that the rest deserve death?"

He lit another cigarette and regarded me a moment. "You know, I almost met you once in Brussels. I was told you were my competition. I am glad I did not. I might have had to kill you, and you have done so many great things since."

I shrugged. "You are presuming a bit in thinking that you could kill me."

A puff of smoke and an appraising look. "True. For men like us, presumption is the only sin. It is death itself."

We talked for a long time afterwards, comparing lives. We knew more about each other than either of us had known, since our lives often paralleled without our knowledge. For instance, we had once been in the same village near the Congo River within a week of each other looking for the same thing; Rozanov had found it first. Rozanov usually found things first; he was usually hired first, and so always had a narrow lead. In our trade, when people want something found that they are willing to make public, they call it an "inestimable service." Both Rozanov and I had performed many such services, about the some number. When people want something found that they are not willing to make public, they do not call it anything at all. Rozanov had performed many more of these than I, having more of a reputation for discreet ruthlessness. All in all, I think we each were surprised at what we learned from the other. Rozanov found I was much more bookish and phlegmatic than he expected; I learned that he was surprisingly moody and morbid. It was inevitable that we would each gain something of a feeling of superiority from the encounter; but Rozanov was right about the danger of presumption, and I thrust the feeling aside, as I'm sure he also did.

Up to that night our lives had been entangled largely without our knowledge. After that night it was clear they continued to be entangled. Sometimes I was a step ahead, more often he was a step ahead, but every major event in my life was interlinked in some way with every major event in his. However, we had never met again.

And now I was there again, in a long, gray room (the rooms are always long and gray), facing a row of gray men in tailored suits (the men are always gray and the suits are always tailored), with Rozanov, unseen and absent, around me like the air I breathe.

"What do you want me to find?" I had asked.

"Fyodor Rozanov," they said.

I had to get them to repeat the answer.

After a moment in thought, I asked, "What did you hire Rozanov to find?"

There was a flickering of fingers. "Mr. Tremontaine," one of the gray men said, "we do not at present feel that this information is such that you would require it for the task for which you would be hired. The task is not to find what Mr. Rozanov was seeking, but to find Mr. Rozanov."

"What do you want me to do when you find him?"

More flickering fingers, this time with a few exchanged glances. Another gray man, or perhaps it was the same one, said, clearing his throat, "We require the information Mr. Rozanov was sent to gather, if it can be obtained by any means. By any means." He paused and went on (or was it another?). "Mr. Rozanov has failed to meet his contractual obligations. We are sure" - he, or someone, cleared his throat - "we are sure that something terrible has happened to him, and thus need you to find him. The information is of very great importance."

"What did you send Rozanov to find?"

Fingers flickered. "Mr. Tremontaine," one of the men said, "as we have already said, it does not appear to us necessary--"

"The question is simple," I replied impatiently. "You sent Rozanov for something, and you are certain he has taken whatever it is for his own purposes. What is it?"

No one said anything for a moment. Then one of the men replied, "Suffice it to say, Mr. Tremonaine, that it was verification of a rumor. We do not, however, require you to verify the rumor, but to find Mr. Rozanov and, if possible, to bring him to us in order to clear up this unfortunate misunderstanding; or, if that is not possible" - he paused a moment, or else stopped while someone else went on - "if that is not possible, to bring us any information he may have gathered before his demise. We hope that will not be necessary, but the information must be retrieved by any means. We think you understand. We will pay you twice what we paid Mr. Rozanov."

"How do you expect me to find him if I don't know what he was looking for?"

"We know the place he was last seen, and know the general area of the world where he would have been looking to verify the rumor."

One of the men held out a map, on which were several red marks. I took it and examined it a moment, then sat back. I knew the area, and it would give me a chance to see Quin again. I handed the map back.

"It may be difficult to fetch Rozanov," I said. "He would be difficult to find if he wishes not to be found."

"We are sure that the means can be provided to make this a feasible venture for you. We consider this a reasonable investment."

"Double the offer on the table."

Fingers flickered, glances were exchanged, and there was a nod.

I left the building, which overlooked a gleaming white city, and considered my course of action. They say you can tell what a man truly loves about civilization by how he says goodbye to it. If this is true, then the common consensus of mankind seems to be that the best parts of civilization are beer and loose women. I have never been one for either, and never one for goodbyes. I went down to the harbor to catch the first ship out.

The Lotus

I've dug up a short story draft and have decided to post it. It comes in three parts. I won't get to them all at once; you'll have the first part tonight and the second probably next week.

The Analogy

Through an analogy whose nature escapes physics's confines but whose existence is imposed on the physicist's mind, we surmise that it [i.e., the ordering of physical phenomena that constitutes physical theory] corresponds to a certain supremely eminent order. In a word, the physicist is forced to recognize that it would be unreasonable to work for physical theory's progress were this theory not the increasingly better defined and more precise reflection of a metaphysics - the belief in an order transcending physics is the sole justification of physical theory.

Duhem says this somewhere in La théorie physique, son objet, sa structure (1906); but I'd have to look up precisely where.

The Fourteenth Catholic Carnival

Catholic Carnival XIV is up at DeoOmnisGloria. There's a good mix. Particularly noteworthy are "Take heed that you are not consumed by one another" at "Ales Rarus" and Obedience and Faith at "DeoOmnisGloria".

Bits and Pieces

* Blogging will be a bit limited this week. I'll be out of town for a wedding from Thursday to Sunday and in the meantime, I have fallen way behind on things like email that I need to get out of the way before I leave.

* For because of the miracle and deliverance that you will perform for your Messiah, and for the remnants of your people who will remain, all the Gentiles, nations, and tongues will confess and say, There is no God but the Lord, for there is none besides you; and your people will say, There is none mighty except our God.

That's from the Psalms Targum (18:32), which I came across through Ralph the Sacred River, and have been reading with interest.

* That mondegreen naturally puts me in mind of Coleridge:

Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !

* The January PLoS Biology is up, as is PLoS Medicine. The first PLoS Computational Biology issue comes out in June, and the first PLoS Genetics issue comes out in July. PLoS Pathogens will come out later in the year.

* I've done some work on the H.L. Internal Resources and External Resources pages.

* Food for thought from the the gentle apocalypse:

Instead of lands, therefore, buy afflicted souls, according as each one is able, and visit widows and orphans, and do not overlook them; and spend your wealth and all your preparations, which ye received from the Lord, upon such lands and houses. For to this end did the Master make you rich, that you might perform these services unto Him; and it is much better to purchase such lands, and possessions, and houses, as you will find in your own city, when you come to reside in it. This is a noble and sacred expenditure, attended neither with sorrow nor fear, but with joy. Do not practise the expenditure of the heathen, for it is injurious to you who are the servants of God; but practise an expenditure of your own, in which ye can rejoice; and do not corrupt nor touch what is another's nor covet it, for it is an evil thing to covet the goods of other men; but work thine own work, and thou wilt be saved.

* A bit of George Herbert, Bemerton's most favored sage:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

* And a bit of John Norris, Bemerton's second most favored sage:

Sun of my soul, what shall I do
Thy beauties to resist or bear?
They bless, and yet they pain me too,
I feel thy heat too strong, thy light too clear.


I am going to die at 79. When are you? Click here to find out!

Apparently, though, much of it is that I am not a eunuch threatened by the mafia, daily engaging in gunfights with local gangs while I drink myself silly. For which I thank my lucky stars!

Roe and Nonprogress

The anniversary of Roe v. Wade (January 22, 1973) recently passed. Some oft-forgot passages from the decision:

On the basis of elements such as these, appellant and some amici argue that the woman's right is absolute and that she is entitled to terminate her pregnancy at whatever time, in whatever way, and for whatever reason she alone chooses. With this we do not agree. Appellant's arguments that Texas either has no valid interest at all in regulating the abortion decision, or no interest strong enough to support any limitation upon the woman's sole determination, are unpersuasive. The Court's decisions recognizing a right of privacy also acknowledge that some state regulation in areas protected by that right is appropriate. As noted above, a State may properly assert important interests in safeguarding health, in maintaining medical standards, and in protecting potential life. At some point in pregnancy, these respective interests become sufficiently compelling to sustain regulation of the factors that govern the abortion decision. The privacy right involved, therefore, cannot be said to be absolute. In fact, it is not clear to us that the claim asserted by some amici that one has an unlimited right to do with one's body as one pleases bears a close relationship to the right of privacy previously articulated in the Court's decisions. The Court has refused to recognize an unlimited right of this kind in the past. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905) (vaccination); Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927) (sterilization).


The pregnant woman cannot be isolated in her privacy. She carries an embryo and, later, a fetus, if one accepts the medical definitions of the developing young in the human uterus. See Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary 478-479, 547 (24th ed. 1965). The situation therefore is inherently different from marital intimacy, or bedroom possession of obscene material, or marriage, or procreation, or education, with which Eisenstadt and Griswold, Stanley, Loving, Skinner, and Pierce and Meyer were respectively concerned. As we have intimated above, it is reasonable and appropriate for a State to decide that at some point in time another interest, that of health of the mother or that of potential human life, becomes significantly involved. The woman's privacy is no longer sole and any right of privacy she possesses must be measured accordingly.

I think there are a number of objective standards by which this decision is an utter failure (in Planned Parenthood v. Casey the decision was described as one in which "the Court's interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution" and its purpose to resolve an intensely divided controversy, whereas it isn't clear what 'common mandate' Roe actually gives to people on both sides of the divide, and it certainly hasn't resolved anything; on the other hand, Casey, which is rather pompous as decisions go, itself partly fails according to a standard it set, since part of the point of its upholding Roe was to prevent the weakening of the Court's legitimacy in the eyes of the people, which has certainly not been the result). Nonetheless, I think a certain respect for Roe is called for; for one thing, it seems to me a much better-reasoned opinion on its own terms than many of its successor opinions, which are sometimes astoundingly confused and scattered. Despite its sometimes problematic phrasing, Roe at least has the benefit of giving precise voice to the two issues that were seen to be at hand: the already-established right to protection from invasive regulation by the state and the state's regulative interests. Whether one agrees with Roe's reasoning or not (I certainly don't think the matter is as simple as the decision treated it, and think there is something to Rehnquist's dissenting claim that the decision formulated a rule of constitutional law broader than the precise facts of the case), these clearly are the major principles that need to be considered in coming to a decision. Its successor opinions have not always been so reasonable.

It would be nice, incidentally, if people in these sorts of controversies would not use Court decisions as symbols, but would instead actually read them. Verdicts made into symbols tend not to be thought through. What is needed is to make progress in the clarity of reasoning involved.

Monday, January 24, 2005

A Jotting on 'Statistical' Models of Modality in Medieval Philosophy

It is often claimed that the medievals had a 'statistical' model of modality; or, at least, that they saw Aristotle as having a 'statistical' model of modality. This view is due to Knuuttila. Now, Knuuttila is certainly more an expert in the history of modality than I am, and by a long shot, but I am skeptical. On the statistical model:

(1) p is necessary iff for all times t, p occurs at t.
(2) p is possible iff there is some time t such that p occurs at t.

And the medievals often say things that could be interpreted in this way; a common point is that what happens always or for the most part is necessary. And it may well be that some medievals really do buy into precisely this model of modality. But I think we should be very cautious about saying a particular scholastic does in a particular context. For one thing, the sort of necessity and possibility that they are discussing in these contexts is natural necessity; so the modality here is tangled up tightly in the scholastic notion of a 'nature'. Really, in many cases (1) should read:

(1) p is necessary if and only if there is an operative nature such that (ceteris paribus) for all times t, p occurs at t.

The 'ceteris paribus', I think, is needed given that natural action can be impeded (this is the 'for the most part' of the 'always or for the most part' criterion); and the occurrence of p is dependent on the operation of a nature. And, while the reminder that 'natures' are involved here may not make much difference, it isn't really statistical in any sense at all. And the necessity here is rather tricky (as is the possibility); it is a necessity that is bounded by the nature of the thing in question. But it's always possible in these things that I am missing something.

You Know You Do Philosophy...

...when you dream of beating up philosophers. I recently had a dream in which Immanuel Kant made an appearance, with the Dick-Tracy-villain, monster-mask face he sometimes has in pictures of him (here, for instance). The details of the dream are very fuzzy, but I distinctly remember at some point snatching up a broom. I then proceeded to shout at Kant: "You are stupidest man alive! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! You are the stupidest man alive!" At each "stup" syllable I brought the broom handle down hard on his head. Naturally, he started running, and I chased after him, shouting, "You are the stupidest man alive! Stupid! Stupid!" and managing to him over the head with the broom handle a goodly number of times (no mean feat, because it turns out that Kant is swift and nimble when he is dodging a broomstick). I don't know how it would have turned out because I woke myself up by swinging the broomstick too hard.

While I do often make jokes at Kant's expense, I assure you that this animosity toward Kant does not intrude into my waking life....

The Traditional Analysis of Reduplicative Propositions

Since I've referred several times to the traditional analysis of reduplicative propositions, I thought I would say something about that, for anyone who hasn't come across it before. (Geach famously says in Providence and Evil that the logic of these statements is still an unsolved problem; I don't recall what he thought the problem to solve was. But it is certainly true that there isn't much done on reduplicative propositions these days.) All this will be a bit rough.

A reduplicative proposition, in the broad sense, is an exponible proposition--in technical terms, it's something that can't be plugged directly into a categorical syllogism without translation into more than one categorical proposition; in non-technical terms, to examine it, you have to unfold its meaning more fully. Reduplicative propositions are typically marked by reduplicative particles, e.g.:

Man inasmuch as he is rational is risible.
Man as rational is risible.
Man insofar as he is rational is risible.
Man qua rational is risible.

But they need not be. For instance, the following proposition can be considered a reduplicative proposition:

The board at time t is blank.

We can see this by recognizing that, at least on some interpretations of this proposition, it could just as easily be formulated as:

The board, as it exists at time t, is blank.

This is certainly reduplicative.

Now, there are many sorts of reduplicative propositions. The general point of a reduplication is either (1) to apply to the subject a formal concept under which the predicate applies to it or (2) to give the cause of the predicate's applying to the subject. Propositions of type (1) are called specificative reduplicative propositions, or specifically reduplicative propositions, or simply specificative propositions. Propositions type (2) are called reduplicatively reduplicative propositions, or just plain reduplicative propositions. Roughly, the difference is that the reduplication in specificative propositions fiddles with the subject; in reduplicative propositions, it fiddles with how the predicate applies to the subject. I'll only look at the latter here.

Exponible propositions generally break down into elements that are called exponent propositions; they explain or expound what is going on in the exponible proposition. The traditional analysis isolates four exponents for every reduplicative proposition:

1) the fundamental proposition;
2) a proposition affirming the reduplicate term of the subject;
3) a proposition affirming the predicate of the reduplicate term;
4) a causal proposition (in a very broad sense of 'causal') giving the ground between subject and predicate.

As an example, take the reduplicative proposition, "Every human being as rational is risible." This has four exponents:

1) Every human being is risible.
2) Every human being is rational.
3) Every rational (thing) is risible.
4) Being rational is a cause of being risible.

The key exponent here is (4); in explaining the reduplicative proposition, we can just say, "Every human being's being rational is a cause of his/her being risible; therefore every human being is risible inasmuch as he/she is rational."

One reason we need to focus on (4) is that reduplication can do funny things with the predicates of the propositions. Take, for instance, the following set of reduplicative propositions:

1) Every man as rational is risible.
2) Every man as animal is not risible.

The second exponents, if we were to forget that these are reduplicative propositions, would read:

1) Every man is risible.
2) Every man is not risible.

These look like contradictions. They are not, however; this is because the fourth exponent shows that the second exponents of (1) and (2) need not be contradictions. To treat them as contradictions would be to commit the fallacy of equivocation: the fourth exponent, remember, is fiddling with the meaning of the predicates by telling us why and how the predicates apply to the subjects; and they do not apply in the same way, so there is a difference between the second exponents of (1) and (2). The actual contradictory of

1) Every man as rational is risible;


1') Every man as rational is not risible.

The actual contradictory of

2) Every man as animal is not risible;


2') Every man as animal is risible.

Thus there is no formal contradiction in saying, "Every man is (as rational) risible and (as animal) not risible."

I've been considering reduplicatively reduplicative propositions. Specificative propositions are somewhat different, since they don't involve the causal exponent; they tend to be somewhat simpler. The distinction between the two is sometimes important, because sometimes there can be considerable differences in meaning. A famous historical example is found in Christology. In orthodox Christology,

(A) Christ as man came to be

is, if taken reduplicatively, true, because it implies that the person (who is Christ) began to be man; if taken specificatively, false, because it implies that the person (who is Christ the man) began to be.

Reduplicative propositions, despite our tendency to ignore them, play an important role in many philosophical fields. Aristotle, for instance, argued that being qua being is the subject of metaphysics (when a term reduplicates itself, this is called a reflexive reduplication); Leibniz's principles of identity presuppose reduplicative analysis; Anscombe has noted that her use of the phrase 'under the description' in discussing intention is reduplicative. They are often used in resolving paradoxes. And so forth.

Roberto Poli has an interesting online discussion of reduplicative analysis, Qua-Theories (PDF; for HTML, here's Google's cache).

UPDATE: corrected a few typos.

Infinite Regress

An interesting paper on infinite regresses (PDF) (if you can't read PDF, you can read Google's HTML snapshot of the page) by Tony Roy, which I think is in the right direction. Posts in which I have discussed infinite regress arguments:

* Infinite Regress Arguments

* Aquinas's First Way

First Poetry Carnival

The first poetry carnival is up at Philosophical Poetry. My contribution was Sign of Fire.