Monday, March 07, 2005

Virtue Jurisprudence

I found this post on virtue jurisprudence at "Legal Theory" very interesting. I hope also to be able to read Solum's paper, which focuses on judicial phronesis (prudentia). This kind of discussion warms my neo-Scholastic heart.

Chrysostom on Mutual Submission

"Subjecting yourselves one to another," he says, "in the fear of Christ." For if thou submit thyself for a ruler's sake, or for money's sake, or from respectfulness, much more from the fear of Christ. Let there be an interchange of service and submission. For then will there be no such thing as slavish service. Let not one sit down in the rank of a freeman, and the other in the rank of a slave; rather it were better that both masters and slaves be servants to one another;--far better to be a slave in this way than free in any other; as will be evident from hence. Suppose the case of a man who should have an hundred slaves, and he should in no way serve them; and suppose again a different case, of an hundred friends, all waiting upon one another. Which will lead the happier life? Which with the greater pleasure, with the more enjoyment? In the one case there is no anger, no provocation, no wrath, nor anything else of the kind whatever; in the other all is fear and apprehension. In the one case too the whole is forced, in the other is of free choice. In the one case they serve one another because they are forced to do so, in the other with mutual gratification. Thus does God will it to be; for this He washed His disciples' feet.

John Chrysostom, Homily XIX on Ephesians

Insoluble Question

The Flann O'Brien quote in the previous post puts me in mind of O'Brien's short story, "An Insoluble Question". Every student of philosophy should read it! Alas, I think I myself have already gone for a few too many cups of dark, mysterious, uncharted tea. Fortunately, to this point I have escaped with my life.

Blogs and Science

Chris at "Mixing Memory" has an excellent post with advice for bloggers (and others) on writing about cognitive science issues; and I think it applies to writing on any scientific matters. It's advice that's occasionally a bit difficult for us laymen to follow, particularly in a blogging forum, but excellent advice. I think it does show a quandary the lay public is in, and has been for a long time. Lay society is simply not set up in such a way that it can keep pace with scientific research; the lay public is not well-equipped for distinguishing real claims from crank claims; it is continually receiving misinformation it has only limited resources for filtering, and so forth. It's a fascinating problem; in part because it has no obvious solution. In my very limited experience, Chris's #3 is dead on. I remember reading Mendel's Demon by Mark Ridley (it has a different title in the U.S.; I forget what it is), and about halfway through the book realized that I had no real clue what he was intending to convey, nor why he was intent on conveying it. For all I really could tell he was trying to say something about snarks and boojums (literally, since he talks at great length about snarks and boojums when dealing with mitochondria; I understood that stuff, probably better than he did himself, but what it really was supposed to say about mitochondrial DNA, I don't rightly know). Biologists who already completely know what he's talking about might enjoy it. But my thought was, "How is somebody who doesn't already know about this subject supposed to distinguish the metaphor from the reality it is being used to describe, the guesswork and speculation from the established fact, the basic biology from the absurd little flourishes this author apparently thinks constitutes a literary writing style? How can someone without all the background knowledge needed to filter through all this - in short, much of the book's actual readership - come away from this without having been entirely misled?" How does the lay public both take advantage of scientific work and do so in a way that keeps reasonably up to speed, so as to deal with the obsolescence of scientific information, and avoid being misled and do it all in such a way that it can manage it even given all the other claims on its time, interest, and resources? As Sergeant Pluck says, ""That is a great curiosity, a very difficult piece of puzzledom, a snorter."

In any case, Chris's posts suggests to me one of the potentially valuable things about blogs (and in the case of blogs like his own, actually valuable), since they can answer a need that otherwise isn't really met: putting at least part of the lay public in touch with the most recent relevant literature, correcting the most obvious common misunderstandings, etc. We'll see how far the blogosphere helps in matters like these; but it's at least promising.

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.