Saturday, March 05, 2005

Two Poem Drafts

Two poems I scribbled down on scratch paper while I was away this past week:

Nursery Rhyme

"How flawless you are,"
said the cat to the mouse
as they supped at their sunday tea.

"How flawless you are,
like the wide, healing airs
sweeping swiftly out from the sea."

"You are over-kind,"
said the mouse to the cat
as they chomped on their buttered scones.

"You are over-kind,
like the sun in the spring
as it shines on the sparkling ponds."

"But alas, O alas,"
said the cat to the mouse
as she prepared to go on her way.

"But alas, O alas,
that it must end so soon!"
And she ate the mouse straight away.

All-Father's Knowledge

Weird is the wyrd of man, and wild,
written on the stars with sacred stile,
carved on the ash of ages blessed,
graven on its leaves, which all confess
the truth to those who hang for nine --
nine days, nine nights, in death sublime.
Then opens the eye, the source of awe,
then wise becomes the Hanging God,
wise with lore of ancient runes,
wise in the ways of birth and doom.
A draught fresh-drawn from the prophet's well,
from which the poets drink their fill,
the scops who with their eddas dream
of things to come and things unseen,
will wake from slumber sleeping thoughts;
then wise becomes the prophet-God,
who gives an eye to be made wise,
who on the ash of ages dies.
The ravens from past the rainbow-bridge
with peircing eye for all things hid
go back and forth through all the lands --
of death, of elf, of god, of man;
through all the ages they, restless, roam
from root to crown to Father's throne,
his thought, his memory, turned to wing
and seeking out all things unseen.
But he sees in all, blessed or defiled,
that the strangest fate is the human child's.

Women Philosophers and Theologians I Enjoy Reading

Just a somewhat random list, in no particular order:

* St. Teresa of Avila, particularly the Autobiography. Way of Perfection and Interior Castle are also good. The strength of the Autobiography is that it is more biographical and less advanced, and therefore more accessible.

* Lady Mary Shepherd, An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect. I would identify this book as the single philosophical work that is typically unread that most needs to have a wide readership among philosophers. (It needs to be supplemented, though, by some of the essays in her book on the perception of the external universe, since they clarify things that aren't wholly clear in the earlier work on causation.)

* Iris Murdoch, especially Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals. The Sovereignty of Good is also worth reading. She also writes fiction, most of which I find only so-so (and some, like The Sacred and Profane Love Machine quite bad); but The Black Prince is fairly good and The Green Knight is quite good. But there are lots of her books that I haven't read. One I haven't that is supposed to be excellent is her fiction work, The Bell.

* St. Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being. Frankly, some of this work is over my head; I just don't have the background in Husserl and the early phenomenologists to catch everything. But for all that, it is an enjoyable read.

* Martha Nussbaum, particularly Love's Knowledge. There's way too much Henry James, and Nussbaum makes the mistake of agreeing with James's utterly absurd critique of George Eliot, but I suppose there's no accounting for taste. This work discusses ways in which literature, as such, can contribute to philosophy. Also good is her work on Greek tragedy and moral philosophy, The Fragility of Goodness. Some of her newer work is not, I think, quite so good; one of Nussbaum's weaknesses is a tendency to try to rig the argument (and interpretations of alternatives) to get conclusions she already deems right, which has, I think, become more prominent in recent years. But she's still well worth reading.

* Dame Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love. How could one not like this book? Alas, she is often misinterpreted. For instance, her famous tendency to call God 'mother' is easily misunderstood: it is the Second Person of the Trinity that is Mother, and is called so entirely in relation to us: Julian sees the essential properties of motherhood as "natural love, wisdom, and knowledge" and rightly recognizes that these are all in Trinitarian theology technically appropriated to the Son in His relations to us: the Word of God, as the Wisdom of the Trinity, grounds our existence by encompassing us (He is that in which all things cohere), and, through His loving laborpangs on the cross, he births us into new life; As she says, "He is our mother in nature, in our substantial making" and "He is our mother by mercy in sensuality, by taking flesh." Christ also cares for us tenderly, so "He is our mother in nature, by the working of grace." And she is, I think, undeniably right on all accounts.

* Mary Astell. A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Part II is an excellent little manual on critical thinking. I've only read bits of The Christian Religion, which, alas, is difficult to find, but it's quite good as well.

* G. E. M. Anscombe. Her best-known work is probably Intention, but I prefer some of the articles in her collected papers.

Duhem on the Historical Method in Scientific Pedagogy

La méthode légitime, sûre, féconde, pour préparer un esprit à recevoir une hypothèse physique, c'est la méthode historique. Retracer les transformations par lesquelles la matière empirique s'est accrue, tandis que la forme théorique s'ébauchait ; décrire la longue collaboration par laquelle le sens commun et la logique déductive ont analysé cette matière et modelé cette forme jusqu'à ce que l'une s'adaptât exactement à l'autre, c'est le meilleur moyen, voire le seul moyen, de donner à ceux qui étudient la Physique une idée juste et une vue claire de l'organisation si complexe et si vivante de cette science.

Rough, off-the-top-of-my-head translation: "The sure, fruitful, legitimate method for preparing a mind to receive a physical hypothesis is the historical method. Retracing the transformations by which the empirical matter is increased while the theoretical form is sketched out; describing the long collaboration by which common sense and deductive logic have analyzed this matter and modeled this form until the one is adapted exactly to the other; this is the best way, or even the only way, to give to those who study Physics an accurate idea and a clear view of the organization, so complex and so alive, of this science."

-Duhem, La théorie physique, son object, sa structure (1906).

Friday, March 04, 2005


I saw Constantine today; it was fairly good, but then, I'm a sucker for theological and quasi-theological thrillers anyway. The plot is weak in some ways, but it moves quickly (I didn't notice any drag-time, although people more familiar with the Hellblazer comics than I might find some of the attempt to set out the background a bit frustrating - there's a lot of background, and the movie is aiming to interest people who know nothing about it, so they cut corners and splice things together and simplify things down). As comic adaptations go, it's one of the better ones. It does move the scene from London to LA, and makes Constantine an American, both of which are perhaps not ideal; but in some ways Keanu Reeves was actually a fairly good choice for the overall character (it could have been much worse, and would likely have been), and I'm fairly sure trying to put Keanu Reeves in London, speaking a British accent, would have been disastrous. It could have been played more bitter and anti-heroic than Reeves does, I'm sure; but as Hollywood goes, it was quite good, and (as far as I can tell from my very limited acquaintance with the comic) was probably as close to the original as the screen could seriously take.

The allusion to Jude 9 toward the end was quite clever, much cleverer than one would expect from Hollywood (so much cleverer that I wonder whether it was accidental!). One of the clear marks that Gabriel has overstepped his bounds is that he says, "I will smite you for His honor"; a sign of (doomed) presumption that contrasts sharply with Michael's wiser move.

Split Something-or-Other

Richard has an interesting post on split-brain cases. As I note in the comments, I actually think commissurotomy cases are one more evidence that personal identity is not reducible to psychological continuity: people whose hemispheres have been split act almost exactly like you do. There is clearly a division of some sort going on; but it takes quite a bit of work to set up a situation that uncovers it. One of the surprising things about split brains is that it can allow for hemispheric conflicts of the sort made famous by the experiments. Another surprising thing is that, despite this, brain bisection has extremely few effects. Split-brain patients do not seem to be split people, despite the fact that under particular circumstances you can induce hemispheric conflicts.

I'm Back

Well, I'm back; I returned yesterday, a day later than I expected (the snowstorm forced some rescheduling). Portland, Maine is a lovely place.

For Reading

* Carnivalesque 4 is at Philobiblon; it has some great posts. The contribution for Siris was the post on Malebranche and Seventeenth-Century Views of Heredity. The carnival also links to a selection at H. L. from Lady Mary Shepherd. There are lots of great posts here; go and see.

* Paul Denton at Ravishing Light links to a (possible) spoiler for the end of the Enterprise series. I agree with his comment on it.

* The Tenth Philosophers' Carnival is up at "E.G."

* The Christian Carnival is up at "Crossroads". It's the soap opera version.

* Catholic Carnival XIX is up at "A Penitent Blogger"

* Curt at Northwestern Winds discusses two types of faith.

* "Science and Politics" has a good post on Lysenko - what he got wrong, what he got right, and so forth. Very interesting; Lysenko is often used in phil. sci. as a paradigm case of bad science or pseudo-science, but, whatever truth there may be in that, there's a more complicated historical situation there that usually doesn't get looked at.

[* A good post on the value of our predecessors at Rebecca Writes.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Personal Identity and Crazy Cases

Richard has been posting on personal identity at Philosophy, et cetera. I left a comment that, in retrospect, should be a post in itself. So, here it is, with clarifications. It suffers a bit from the obscurity that always follows on my commenting; but I hope it's clear enough.


I'm not convinced Parfit avoids the need for a 'further fact' [beyond psychological and physical continuity in personal identity]. That is, he needs not just continuity, but continuity relevant to preserving personal identity. Any change the body undergoes, for instance, would exhibit continuity, simply because that's the way physical change works. (Psychological change is trickier, but we can presume it the same for our purposes; the point would be moot for most physicalists anyway, given the issue with physical change.) Parfit himself occasionally talks of "full continuity", and I am not convinced that that 'full' isn't in fact dragging in a 'further fact', i.e., something that must be preserved through the continuity.

And I think this actually gives away the store to the ego theorist, who doesn't have to hold that the ego is a 'pure ego' unmodified by anything psychological and physical; she just has to posit a unifying subject to which the relevant psychological and physical acts are referred. In other words, the old idea that to actually have continuity through change, something must remain through it, a subject of the change, which is a precondition for saying "There is real continuity here". And, whatever its nature (or even if it changes over time itself) when we are talking about ordinary personal identity, we just call this subject of change the ego, or person, or what have you, because that's the type of change we're looking at. (I think, in fact, that this is precisely what has traditionally been intended by ego theories, and it is what Parfit misses about them.) What happens in the typical philosophy of mind Crazy Sci-Fi Cases is irrelevant unless we have a handle on whether there is a subject of change in those cases. And the reason there is sometimes no answer to whether we will persist through a change proposed by these cases is that the cases are not clear and precise enough about what is going on for us to get a handle on whether there is a subject of change.

I think the reason, though, that personal identity is supposed to be deeply significant is precisely Locke's reason: whatever the metaphysical reality, we simply can't do without personal identity forensically: i.e., morally and legally. We need it to have a viable theory of responsibility. And this also requires that we have more of a handle on what is actually going on in the change than the Crazy Cases give us.

So in other words, (1) identifying something as a relevant continuity seems to require a 'further fact' itself; (2) the Crazy Cases aren't clear enough to tell us anything metaphysically; (3) the Crazy Cases aren't clear enough to tell us anything forensically; (4) it is utterly unclear why we are using them at all (I tend to follow Kathleen Wilkes's line in Real Persons on this whole issue). But it's been ages since I've read Parfit, so he might have some reasonable response to this that I've forgotten.

Out of Town

I'll be out of town from Monday morning to Wednesday evening, so I probably won't get much blogging done. Feel free to browse around.

The Lotus

The full rough draft of "The Lotus":

Part I: Tremontaine

Part II: Quin

Part III: Rozanov

Comments and suggestions are welcome. In the meantime, I recently had a good idea for a story about a paranoid delusional academic. It will be called "Hanique," and I'll probably put it up here as I write it.