Friday, April 29, 2005


* Orthodox Holy Week: A Liturgical Explanation and Dear Reporter... at "Orthodixie"

* Songs of Procrastination at "" looks at hymns that aren't quite hymn-like (hat-tip: Rebecca Writes)

* Apparently most people take a much more serious view of sermon-borrowing than I do. Plagiarism and Preaching at "The Narnia 3 Blog" comes down strongly against. I confess, I don't see how it's plagiarism unless the preacher deliberately covers it up by actually insisting that he authored the sermon. But, then, I suppose, when I think of sermon-borrowing, I always think of early modern Anglicans, among whom it was often expected. That's the reason published sermons became so popular at the time: they were published in part to get them out into the world for other people to adapt to their own use. There was a general recognition that people called to ministry have different strengths: some people are especially good at writing a sermon, and sermon-borrowing made it possible for people far away to benefit in a way from their sermons. Preaching was a community thing. So in early modern Anglican preaching, there were three types of sermons: original sermons (like the published sermons of Norris or Tillotson), adapted sermons that drew large sections from the sermons of others but reworked them for various purposes (like the published sermons of Sterne), and straightforwardly borrowed sermons. The two latter were probably much more common than the former. (On the other hand, it seems clear that the charge of plagiarism occasionally did come up; in Tristram Shandy Sterne occasionally satirizes occasional pedantic parishioners who are more concerned about whether the sermon was preached by someone else than whether they were getting good doctrine. It's some of Sterne's best work, actually; he has great passages in which he attacks plagiarizing preachers with much gusto -- but the attack consists entirely of passages lifted from other people.) As I said in a post on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s plagiarisms, plagiarism only makes sense in a context in which ideas take back-seat to reputation or money -- which is why it is the cardinal sin in academics or journalism. If sermon-borrowing is stealing and lying -- or would be seen as stealing and lying in one's community, which (by the principle of avoiding scandal) is much the same thing -- it should be avoided. But it's trickier than one might think to pin down stealing and lying in this sort of case; it can be done quite innocently. One thinks of I Peter and Jude. And we have to watch out for the (in my opinion, more serious) opposite problem, despite its being less obvious: Were I a preacher, I wouldn't preach anything but original sermons -- but that would be purely due to vanity, and that's not a good thing. Nonetheless, I tend in these matters to defer to others; go read the post.

* History Carnival VII at "Studi Galileiani"

* The Audacity of Jesus at "Wittenberg Gate"

* An excellent post at "Dawn Xiana Moon": Jim Wallis, the Bible, and Poverty. How often does the New Testament talk about poverty and the marginalized? A lot.

Dryden Against the Deist

The Deist thinks he stands on firmer ground;
Cries eureka the mighty secret's found:
God is that spring of good; supreme, and best;
We, made to serve, and in that service blest;
If so, some rules of worship must be given;
Distributed alike to all by Heaven:
Else God were partial, and to some deny'd
The means his justice should for all provide.
This general worship is to PRAISE, and PRAY:
One part to borrow blessings, one to pay:
And when frail Nature slides into offence,
The sacrifice for crimes is penitence.
Yet, since th'effects of providence, we find
Are variously dispens'd to human kind;
That vice triumphs, and virtue suffers here,
(A brand that sovereign justice cannot bear;)
Our reason prompts us to a future state:
The last appeal from fortune, and from fate:
Where God's all-righteous ways will be declar'd;
The bad meet punishment, the good, reward.

Thus man by his own strength to Heaven would soar:
And would not be oblig'd to God for more.
Vain, wretched creature, how art thou misled
To think thy wit these god-like notions bred!
These truths are not the product of thy mind,
But dropt from Heaven, and of a nobler kind.
Reveal'd religion first inform'd thy sight,
And reason saw not, till faith sprung the light.
Hence all thy natural worship takes the source:
'Tis revelation what thou think'st discourse.
Else how com'st thou to see these truths so clear,
Which so obscure to heathens did appear?

John Dryden (1631-1700), from "Religio Laici". It's hard to find didactic poetry at this high a level -- the argument, while obviously a bit condensed and floralized, is a good one (so that it is really didactic rather than pseudo-didactic), but it still manages somehow to sound less preachy than (say) Pope.

Desert and Rational Hope

I was reading Stephen Brock's Action and Conduct (quite a good book) in a coffee shop this morning, and it started me thinking about the relation between desert and hope. For there certainly is a relation; that there is has been implicitly recognized, I think, by most discussions of desert, but Kant, of course, attempted the most explicit formulation. Kant's insight -- in some sense his only insight, since everything else subserves this -- is (put very roughly) that if it is rational to believe:

(A) The truly good person deserves the fullest happiness conceivable;

then, necessarily, it is rational to hope that the truly good person gets such happiness. It is always rational to hope that good people get what they deserve, just as it is always rational to hope to deserve what good people deserve. And, further, if it is rational to believe (A), it is irrational not to hope that the universe is set up so that good people get that happiness. The rational person hopes the best for anyone who deserves it. From which it follows, Kant reasons, that, given (A) it is rational to hope that there is a God and immortality of the soul; that God has designed the world so that, in the end, it serves a moral purpose; that God has conjoined happiness and virtue in the long run; that the soul is immortal so that no truly good person who dies will fail to get what they deserve; that it is possible (somehow - even Kant admits that on our own there's probably not much chance of managing it) to deserve to receive the happiness that the truly good person in such a world would receive. This is all very rough, and I don't pretend it's a precise characterization of Kant. My point is just that there is something to this line of thought, because there is a relation between what can be deserved and what may rationally be hoped.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


You have a set of conflicting authoritative opinions on important moral issues. You have a particular case in which you need to come to a conclusion. What would you do?

* If you hold that any opinion with at least some probability may be followed, you are a laxist.

* If you hold that the less safe opinion can be followed only if it is solidly probable, but that if it is you can follow it even if the safe opinion is more probable, you are a probabilist.

* If you hold that the less safe opinion can be followed only when you are uncertain about the general principle involved and the less safe opinion is reasonably close to being equal in probability to the safe opinion, you are an aequiprobabilist.

* If you hold that the less safe opinion can be followed only if it is more probable than the safe opinion, you are a probabiliorist.

* If you hold that the less safe opinion can be followed only if it is strictly certain, you are a rigorist (also called a tutiorist).

These could all be formulated in terms of liberty and playing it safe: a laxist holds that you are at liberty to follow any opinion that is probable; the others gradually increase the field in which you are required to play it safe. Strictly speaking, they have all traditionally only applied to ordinary moral cases capable of doubt; they were not supposed to be applied to cases in which personal rights are at stake (on the principle that you should always play it safe with what is due to someone else) or in any other case where it would be simply irrational not to play it safe (for instance, in matters of eternal salvation). But in other cases, they would come into play. Naturally, they don't conflict except in cases where (1) there are conflicting authorities; (2) of varying safeness; (3) and you are considering whether you can follow the less safe opinion.

The biggest casuistical dispute of all time was the dispute between the Jesuits (who were largely probabilists at the time) and the Jansenists (who were unanimously rigorists). One product of that dispute was Pascal's famous Provincial Letters, a merciless but beautifully-written satire of Jesuit probabilism. Pascal, of course, was a major defender of Jansenism. The dispute between the Jesuits and the Jansenists so absorbed philosophical reflection on casuistry that the whole field was in an uproar for nearly two centuries as a result. It is from this dispute that the word 'casuistry' got its bad name.

Whether one likes it or not, casuistry is not the sort of thing you can simply reject; it is simply the rational application of general principles to particular cases, and is essential to moral reasoning. The most important Catholic casuist is Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787). The most famous Protestant casuist is Richard Baxter (1615-1691), the Puritan, who wrote several works on the subject (you can find them by clicking on the link and scrolling down).

(Cross-posted at Houyhnhnm Land.)

Filioque (but never και του Υιου)

The Filioque controversy is an immensely puzzling theological dispute. For instance, the Catholic Church condemns the use of the Greek expression και του Υιου in Greek formulations of the Nicene Creed. It uses Filioque, however, in Latin formulations. This fits very well with the Catholic position that arose out of the combination of II Lyons and Florence. In essence, the position is this: the Greek Symbol, without the και του Υιου, is most accurately translated into Latin using the Filioque, due in part to complications in translating the Greek το εκ του Πατρος εκπορευομενον into Latin. So, in conformity with the Latin Fathers, they translate it as qui ex Patre Filioque procedit. Thus we have the odd situation that, from the Latin point of view there is no real controversy; they affirm the Greek position, and just hold that they had to translate the Greek into Latin using the Filioque because without it the Latin implies subordinationism. Translate into Latin from the Greek, you have to use the Filioque, because otherwise the Latin loses something suggested by the Greek; translate from the Latin into Greek and you do not add και του Υιου, because that implies something false that the Latin does not. The Greek position, from this perspective, ends up being simply that the Latins don't know what the Latin means. Thus, as far as the Catholics are concerned, the Orthodox are perfectly orthodox Catholics in denying the και του Υιου. Hence, the Catholic position on the Orthodox is that there is nothing in this to prevent communion; the two sides are (on this point) in complete doctrinal agreement. And, naturally, Protestants who affirm the Filioque have similar views. From the other perspective, the view is very different. And so we have a theological dispute in which the dispute has become whether there is actually a dispute; one side says it's all just verbal, and the other side says it's crucially substantive.

I was reminded of all this by Jeremy's excellent post on preservation of form and meaning through translation in the case of the Bible.

Historia Calamitatum, Part I

Peter Abelard's Historia Calamitatum is a fascinating autobiographical account that is at the same time a philosophical argument. The work opens:

Often the hearts of men and women are stirred, as likewise they are soothed in their sorrows more by example than by words. And therefore, because I too I have known some consolation from speech had with one who was a witness thereof, am I now minded to write of the sufferings which have sprung out of my misfortunes, for the eyes of one who, though absent, is of himself ever a consoler. This I do so that, in comparing your sorrows with mine, you may discover that yours are in truth nought, or at the most but of small account, and so shall you come to bear them more easily.

Abelard tells how he became passionately devoted to learning, and especially to logic, and eventually came to Paris, where he began to study under William of Champeaux, who had a reputation for excellence as a teacher. Abelard regards William as having genuine merit; but Abelard seems to have been one of those undergraduates who go around trying to refute his professors. And, being a very brilliant person, he did so quite well; and, at least according to Abelard, William did not take it too well, particularly from someone as young as Peter. With something of a literary sigh, Abelard reflects that this has pretty much been the story of his life: he goes somewhere, gets a reputation for brilliance, and stirs up envy until people try to destroy him. Eventually, Peter surpasses poor William, and he receives a teaching position -- in fact, the person who held the teaching position gave it to him in order to be his student, which says quite a bit about our good Mr. Abelard. But William would have none of it, and began a campaign against Peter, replacing him in that position with one of Peter's rivals. So Abelard started his own school. And so the battle goes for some time longer.

Eventually Abelard turned his interest to the study of theology. Since the most renowned teacher in theology was Anselm of Laon (a former student of St. Anselm), Abelard went to study under him. Abelard was not impressed by Anselm, saying his reputation was due more to longstanding custom than talent, and that anyone who came to him with doubts went away even more doubtful. Well, you can imagine the result. One day someone asked him what he thought of the lectures on Scripture:

I, who had as yet studied only the sciences, replied that following such lectures seemed to me most useful in so far as the salvation of the soul was concerned, but that it appeared quite extraordinary to me that educated persons should not be able to understand the sacred books simply by studying them themselves, together with the glosses thereon, and without the aid of any teacher.

They challenge him on this, so a test is arranged, and the students picked the prophecy of Ezekial for him to expound. According to Abelard, the lecture was a smashing success, so much so that he started lecturing regularly, and Anselm was smitten with envy. Anselm forbade Peter to lecture, saying that he didn't want the blunders of an inexperienced young man to be attributed to him. So Abelard returned to the school in Paris, and continues lecturing in theology, with great success. Now looms the most famuos episode of Peter's life:

But prosperity always puffs up the foolish and worldly comfort enervates the soul, rendering it an easy prey to carnal temptations. Thus I who by this time had come to regard myself as the only philosopher remaining in the whole world, and had ceased to fear any further disturbance of my peace, began to loosen the rein on my desires, although hitherto I had always lived in the utmost continence. And the greater progress I made in my lecturing on philosophy or theology, the more I departed alike from the practice of the philosophers and the spirit of the divines in the uncleanness of my life.

At this point, Peter says, he was punished, first for his lust, and then for his pride. There dwelt in Paris a young woman named Héloïse, the niece of canon Fulbert. Fulbert wanted to give Héloïse the best education, so Peter, impressed by her, became her tutor in the hopes of seducing her. It worked:

We were united first in the dwelling that sheltered our love, and then in the hearts that burned with it. Under the pretext of study we spent our hours in the happiness of love, and learning held out to us the secret opportunities that our passion craved. Our speech was more of love than of the books which lay open before us; our kisses far outnumbered our reasoned words. Our hands sought less the book than each other's bosoms -- love drew our eyes together far more than the lesson drew them to the pages of our text....No degree in love's progress was left untried by our passion, and if love itself could imagine any wonder as yet unknown, we discovered it. And our inexperience of such delights made us all the more ardent in our pursuit of them, so that our thirst for one another was still unquenched.

And so with sweet steps the doom of Peter came closer and closer. He became so wrapped up in Héloïse that he began to shun study. His lecturing began to suffer, since he no longer prepared. There just wasn't enough time both to teach and to spend all night in "vigils of love," even in the twelfth century. People began to talk, although Fulbert was apparently still oblivious for some time. Eventually he heard, however, and, grief-stricken and angry, he forced the lovers to separate. Soon afterward Héloïse found out that she was pregnant, and, happy at this news, wrote to Peter asking him what they should do. Peter helped her flee her uncle's house, and sent her to his sister, where she gave birth to a baby boy, called Astrolabe. Needless to say, Uncle Fulbert was furious. Peter went to him to try to make peace, offering to marry Héloïse, on the condition that the marriage be kept secret. Peter had a reputation to keep, after all; he was a priest. Uncle Fulbert, not knowing quite what else to do, agreed. So, the peace established, the doom drew closer.

Peter returned to his own country, and brought back Héloïse with the intention of marrying her. Héloïse, however, was firmly opposed to the marriage. She insisted that her uncle would never be appeased by something so simple, and that the disgrace it would bring to Peter was unacceptable:

She asked how she could ever glory in me if she should make me thus inglorious, and should shame herself along with me. What penalties, she said, would the world rightly demand of her if she should rob it of so shining a light! What curses would follow such a loss to the Church, what tears among the philosophers would result from such a marriage! How unfitting, how lamentable it would be for me, whom nature had made for the whole world, to devote myself to one woman solely, and to subject myself to such humiliation! She vehemently rejected this marriage, which she felt would be in every way ignominious and burdensome to me.

Héloïse argued that it would be better for her to remain Peter's mistress than to burden him with a wife; that way she would always know that his only obligation to her was love. Peter was not to be persuaded, however, and so she grudgingly gave in. Héloïse's family, however, began to leak the story of the marriage, despite her best efforts; and when she began to denounce her family as liars, Uncle Fulbert began to punish her. Peter sent her to a convent at Argenteuil. Uncle Fulbert and the rest of the family became convinced that Peter had backed out of his part of the bargain and rid himself of Héloïse by making her into a nun. So one night they broke into his apartment and castrated him.

Now, to return a moment to the passage with which we began; Abelard had said that he hoped that by telling the story of his sorrows, you might think yours a little less. It's all part of the argument: Abelard is using his castration to make a point. But the point is not fully made yet; the Historia Calamitatum is only half-finished.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Canon Closure

A very good discussion, from a Catholic perspective, on whether the canon is closed: Ad Simplicium Circa Scripturas at "Jimmy". The basic point seems right to me; after all, the precise character of the canon is a canonical matter. What the community of saints has discovered is that the Spirit has worked in that community so as to establish certain books as having canonical authority. (A canon is a standard according to which other things are measured.) There is nothing to prevent other books from achieving the same authority; although it would be difficult to think of circumstances which would make it even likely. The canon we have owes itself in great manner to the fact that it grew up gradually; people looked around and saw that some books had canonical authority in the Church at large, and began to defend those books against those (like Marcion or the Gnostics) who denied that canonical authority. Even in the case of marginal books, some (like Revelation) gradually took universal hold while others (like Shepherd of Hermas) gradually faded out of canonical use everywhere.

I once had an argument with a Neo-Gnostic about the status of the Gospel of Thomas; I was denying, of course, that we could rationally treat the Gospel of Thomas as canonical. My argument was this: despite the way it is sometimes treated, the canon did not arise by people looking at texts and saying, "Yes, these texts meet these criteria." People did, of course, start formulating criteria and arguing about whether certain books met them. But this was not how the canon came about; people started forming criteria in order to hammer out apparent differences. This argument presupposed already the existence of books exhibiting canonical authority in their use by the Church. When Irenaeus talks about the Rule of Faith, for instance, it is not (contrary to some Neo-Gnostic anti-Irenaeus propaganda) in order to argue that the books he used should be canon; it is in order to argue that, unlike the books used in orthodox Churches, which are canon, Gnostic books are not even reasonable candidates for canonical status. So the criteria (e.g., apostolic origin) are not the foundation of the canon; they are theories proposed to help us think more clearly about the canon insofar as it already exists.

Now, even if we assume (as the Neo-Gnostic did) that the Gospel of Thomas is inspired by the Holy Spirit, inspiration is not sufficient for canonical status. I, for instance, believe that the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp are inspired. They are the works of Spirit-guided men that the Spirit has used, and will continue to use, for the good of the Church. But it is one thing to be inspired and another thing to be inspired so as to be used by the Spirit in the preaching and prayer of the Church as a canonical standard against which doctrine is to be measured. To make any judgment about whether a book is fulfilling that role, we have to see the book in action in the preaching and prayer of the Church. We barely have any indication of this in the case of the Apostolic Fathers; although if it turned out that we found ourselves needing in our doctrine and practice to rely on I Clement, it would be a reasonable question to ask whether this need is indicative of the Spirit's use of it as a canonical. As it happens, this is immensely unlikely; I Clement had its chance, and made a decent show, but did not take, and it's difficult to think of any conditions under which the canon we have would not suffice for anything that I Clement could give us. But in the case of the Gospel of Thomas, we haven't the faintest clue about the Church-context of the text -- no more than a few guesses, at least. Indeed, we don't even know if there was any canon-like function in the community that used the text; it might have just used the text as private devotion rather than public standard. Certainly, it seems to be the case that many Gnostic communities lacked anything we could clearly call a canon; it doesn't sit particularly well with most Gnosticisms to treat books as anything more than pointers to a religious experience. And so we haven't any clue how the Gospel of Thomas would have worked canonically, or how it would work canonically for us. It's just a non-issue; there is no question of whether the Gospel of Thomas is a candidate for canon. It is not impossible that some day far in the future we could look around and see that the Gospel of Thomas as preached and prayed a certain way was exercising a canonical Scriptural authority in the Church; but we need that 'preached and prayed a certain way', and that's something the Spirit sets, not any appeal to any criteria. Any criterion one might use for whether something should be canon is just something that has been proposed as a possible way to clarify our understanding of the canon; it's a guess, sometimes a reasonable guess, but only a guess, as to why the Spirit has already canonized the book through the preaching and prayer of the faithful.

See also, at the same site, the following:

* Marcion and the Canon
* What If We Found a New Letter of Paul? (Part One)
* What If We Found a New Letter of Paul? (Part Two)

As a reading of the three will show, I'm largely in agreement (I only came across these posts after I had written the above, so it's a case of unintentional convergence); even on the issue of apostolic origin, I agree that as a matter of psychological and sociological fact, a serious inclusion movement within the Church would require a text that pretty clearly was apostolic.

A Small Venting of Futile Exasperation

Why is it that people always associate rationalism with atheism? Atheism is more of an empiricist thing (not, of course, that all empiricists have been atheists). Rationalists have a long tradition of being theists (not, of course, that all rationalists have been theists). Rationalism has always tended almost to be mystical at times, because reason is an almost mystical thing. To the extent that the label connects with historical realities at all, the label 'rationalism' should suggest (as a likely concomitant) 'theism'. If we're not using it in that way, it isn't clear what we mean at all. I don't consider myself a rationalist; but I am far closer to being a rationalist (and, what is more, far closer to being an 'Enlightenment rationalist') than any atheist I have ever heard of.

[Of course, on further thought, 'rationalism' is sometimes taken as a synonym of 'freethought', in which case it is more of a mixed bag. Freethought is a better term, I think; at least, it would simplify the distinction of various positions,and has a good history behind it.]

Of Interest

* First Experience Latin with Father Reginald Foster (hat-tip: Ad Limina Apostolorum). Reginald Foster is the Vatican's top Latin expert. I've been intending to work a bit on my Latin this summer, since it is getting infinitely rusty; and now I know where to start.

* I didn't submit anything, but Vox Apologia XV is up. The topic: Objections: How Can God Allow Sin?

* An interesting paper by Jonathan Kvanvig: Incarnation and Knowability (PDF). (Hat-tip: Prosblogion.) Since I don't think Morris's defense is traditional, or even consistent with the traditional doctrine of the Incarnation, I'm not much worried about the problem; and, indeed, I think it just illustrates why the over-used analytic concept of 'property' is pretty much useless as a technical term, however useful it may be for talking loosely. The traditional doctrine of the Incarnation doesn't imply that every human being is possibly omniscient except in the limited, and metaphysically useless, sense that it implies that every extended object is possibly intelligent. That is, nothing in a subject's being extended implies that it can't also be intelligent. But this is a very limited sort of thing; because it actually doesn't imply that any extended subject is really possibly intelligent; it just means that you can't rule out its being intelligent on the basis of its being extended. It is not possible for a grain of sand to be intelligent; but the grain of sand's not being intelligent does not follow from the fact of its being extended. Human persons are subjects that are extended; our being extended does not rule out our being intelligent. Likewise, a human subject's being human does not rule out the subject's being omniscient, because being human doesn't rule out being something other than human as well (e.g., divine and thus omniscient); but it does rule out being humanly omniscient. In other words, human nature does carry the property of non-omniscience, which boils down to the possession of an intellectual ability not capable of being omniscient. The point about omniscience belonging to the person is, I think, completely misleading. For a person to be omnscient means not that the person, as such, has the property of omnscient, but that it has an omniscient knowing-power; which is why in the traditional doctrine of the Incarnation it is considered a natural and not a personal property: omniscience pertains to the nature, and only thereby to the person. But this means that for no human person who is merely human (i.e., has human nature and no other nature) is it at all possible for that person to be omniscient. And full humanity and mere humanity are in nature just the same thing; the 'mere' in 'mere humanity' doesn't indicate anything about humanity itself but is a denial of the existence of another nature in the subject. This denial means that mere humanity is in no way possibly omniscient. I confess I don't understand this (very non-traditional) tendency of analytic philosophers to talk about 'omnscience' and 'limited knowledge' as if these were not purely matters of capabilities for knowing; particularly when they call it the traditional view. The traditional view doesn't ever say 'omniscient' without meaning 'having a capacity for knowledge that is omniscient'; and this makes so much more sense: omniscience is something that applies to a particular ability to know. Likewise with limited knowledge. The traditional view does not imply that it is essential to full humanity that every truth is knowable by any fully human being. This is, as far as I can see, basic Tome of Leo and Third Constantinople; and what Kvanvig keeps calling the traditional view seems very clearly run aground in the same way Monotheletism did - the natures are distinguished but only in order to be confused.

* Steven Riddle of "Flos Carmeli" gives his Rules for Reading Poetry.

* Word for word: World Magazine discusses the phenomenon of preachers using each other's sermons. Sermon borrowing has always been a common practice; preachers make use of each others' strengths. It has also been a fairly stable ecumenical practice, like the publishing of devotional tracts: they are borrowed and adapted across denominational lines. So I say: it should be encouraged, just as original sermon-writing should be encouraged. But for a well-argued contrary view, see here at "Postscript Posthaste".

UPDATE: * Christianity and Violence (PDF) by Miroslav Volf (hat-tip: verbum ipsum)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Shepherd on Causation (Re-post)

This is a re-post, but it's been a while since I've posted anything about Shepherd, and she can never get too much publicity! Incidentally, when I started blogging, the only online resource for information on Lady Mary Shepherd was the Thoemmes Press introduction to her philosophical works. Now, not only have I roughed out some basics in posts here at Siris, but I've also put up a few selections from her works, and hope to put up some more this summer. Most of my blogging is largely for my own benefit -- I love the interactions in the blogosphere, but Siris is mostly intended to be, and has mostly been, just my thinking out loud or playing around. But there are a few points where I'm as it were on a mission to spread the news: Lady Mary is at the top of the list.

Here’s a rough summary of Lady Mary Shepherd’s view of causation.

At the heart of Shepherd’s causal theory is reflection on the causal principle, namely, that every beginning of existence has a cause. Her full analysis of our development and application of this principle is something like this:

1. A new quality appears to my senses.

2. New qualities are differences; and thus the appearance of a new quality is the introduction of a difference; the introduction of a difference is causation.

3. This new quality could not be caused by itself (it would not then be an introduced difference).

4. In the environment of this new quality there are not any surrounding objects except such-and-such object(s) that could affect it.

5. Therefore such-and-such occasioned it, because there is nothing else to make a difference and a difference cannot begin of itself (3 and 4).

She notes that this sort of reasoning is standard in scientific work, and insists that one trial is all that is necessary to establish the general principle. If she is right about this, then, as she rightly notes, Hume would be wrong in his claim that the causal principle is based on custom. All we actually need in practice, Shepherd thinks, is to reason on a single case involving an introduction of a difference; this serves as an occasion adequate for our deriving the general principle, which is, if she is right, necessary.

(3) is a significant move in the analysis, so it is worthwhile to look more closely at her reasoning on this point. Suppose we have an object that 'begins its existence of itself', i.e., just begins, uncaused. This beginning of an object is "an action, which is a quality of an object not yet in being, and so not possible to have its qualities determined, nevertheless exhibiting its qualities". In other words, she thinks "beginning to be, uncaused" involves a contradiction; beginning to be is necessarily an introduction of a difference, and therefore requires something from which it may be introduced. As she puts it elsewhere, objects cannot begin their existences except as having the nature of effects.

This is perhaps made clearer by the way she thinks differences are usually introduced. Shepherd sees causation as a "mixture of qualities." Suppose you have a cause ( C) and an object (O) or co-cause. Each of these has a number of properties or qualities. When C acts on O (or combines with O), the qualities 'mix'. The mixed result is the effect. So, for instance, I punch my fist into clay, the resulting impression is a 'mixture' of some of the properties of my fist and some of the properties of the clay.

Take another example, which will perhaps give a clearer idea of the significance of the view. There is a book on a sturdy table. That the book does not fall through the table is necessitated by the combined properties of the book and the table. It is not impossible, of course, for books to fall through tables; but it is only possible if some of the properties of either the book, or the table, or both, are changed. That is, a change can be induced in the situation only by introducing new properties into the mix. These new properties are causes of new situations. On this view of causation, the causal principle is necessary, because every change of properties requires the introduction of new properties. On the mixture view of causation, Shepherd thinks, anything new is necessarily an effect of a new introduction of properties. This, of course, is exactly right; you can’t change the properties of a situation without changing its properties; if you have a new set of properties, it can only be because some properties in the set are new.

Shepherd, always very perceptive as to the implications of her positions, notes that this means that cause and effect, properly speaking, are simultaneous. If causation is the introduction of difference, and effect is the beginning of existence of the introduced difference, cause and effect are strictly occurring at the same time. They entail each other, and therefore cannot be separated by an interval. Likewise, she notes that on her view one can often call the same thing 'cause' or 'effect' depending on how you look at it. For instance, the entire set of properties involved in the interaction can be regarded either as the effect (given that it is newly different because some of its properties are newly different) or as cause (given that it is the whole set of properties in union that makes the new difference). This means that Shepherd’s causal theory has an immense capacity to capture the various ways we actually do tend to use the words 'cause' and 'effect'.

This is all very rough; Shepherd has been unduly neglected, and, indeed, has been virtually ignored, so there has been relatively little study of her. Nonetheless there is an astounding amount of interesting analysis in her work, and I hope this brief, rough summary is enough to intrigue people into looking at her a bit.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Boswell, Hume, and HoP

From Boswell's London Journal 1762-1763, Frederick A. Pottle, ed. McGraw-Hill (New York: 1950) p. 154:

We met a coach loaded with passengers both within and without. Said I, "I defy all the philosophers in the world to tell me why this is." "Because," said Erskine, "the people wanted a quick carriage from one place to another." So very easily are the most of the speculations which I often perplex myself with refuted. And yet if some such clever answerer is not at hand, I may puzzle and confound my brain for a good time upon many occasions. To be sure this instance is too ludicrous. But surely, I and many more speculative men have been thrown into deep and serious thought about matters very little more serious. Yet the mind will take its own way, do what we will. So that we may be rendered uneasy by such cloudy reveries when we have no intentionto be in such a humour. The best relief in such a case is mirth and gentle amusement.

What pulled me up on reading this is how like Hume it sounds. To be sure, Hume has more serious perplexities in mind than Boswell's obscure puzzlement about the carriage; but the remedy of 'mirth and gentle amusement' is very Humean. Compare it with this well-known passage from Treatise 1.4.7:

The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I?, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, environed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, Nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when, after three or four hours' amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any further.

It is possible that Boswell is influenced by Hume on this point; but it could well be that the similarity should be traced to a common source. It's an intriguing issue; and one of the things I enjoy about History of Philosophy. One of the neglected areas of HoP that I find fascinating is the study of how philosophical ideas diffuse through society; i.e., not just philosophical texts, but how they impact the world around them (and are impacted by it). I'm currently reading Sterne's Tristram Shandy; and one of the fascinating things about it, for me, (beyond the fact that it is just a great novel in its own right) is the way in which it, as light, satirical literature, interacts with the philosophical thought of the day. It's a bawdy, humorous story, intended for casual reading; but it doesn't take much to find interactions with, and satires of, Lockean or Baconian philosophical positions (for instance). This is a fascinating phenomenon the historian of philosophy should take an interest in: the adoption, and adaptation, of philosophical positions in novels, poems, sermons, newspaper articles (like the Spectator or the Idler), correspondence, private journals, dictionaries and encyclopedias (like Chamber's Cyclopaedia), pamphlets, and the like. We do, of course, look at some of this; but I can't help but fill that we would be greatly enriched by better understanding these aspects of ideas in motion. Very often, HoP is treated as a matter of getting an author right; but it should be part of our discipline to look at the diffusion of these ideas as well, in itself, and not merely as part of getting the author right.

After all, if interest in the diffusion itself is not enough, people like Hume did not write books in order that those books might exist as self-contained units, or that they might exist as part of an oeuvres complètes; they wrote books that they wanted to be read. (If you haven't already, you should read Hume's little autobiographical essay, written the year of his death.) They wrote letters to discuss ideas. They wrote sermons (well, Hume didn't write sermons, but others did) to edify and teach their congregations. And their books were often read; their letters often answered; their sermons often heard. Hume wanted to make an impact on society at large; it's why he wrote works like the Essays or the Enquiries. People like Descartes weren't writing for philosophers alone; as an unfinished Cartesian dialogue makes clear, part of the value Descartes saw in his philosophical approach was that it made philosophy more accessible to ordinary people. The life's work of these philosophers wasn't a set of arguments on paper; their life's work was the use to which they wanted to put those arguments, and the purpose for which they crafted those arguments, and the effects that they hoped those arguments would have. That is what makes a philosophical text. And so the philosophical text itself begs us, demands of us, that we take the time and see: How did it move out into the world? How did its arguments and concepts spread? How did it affect the society to which it belonged?


* Charlie at "AnotherThink" discusses What Andrea Dworkin Got Right: But if she failed to understand the root causes of the evil she witnessed, she did not fail to grasp the terrible price women were paying in a society that views them as sexual objects.

* "21st Century Reformation" discusses living the gospel as a religious community in Benedict and Francis and The New Monastic.

* There's a great story at the top of this article at "Jews for Jesus"

* Christian Humanism: Beginnings at "The Internet Monk"

* An interesting discussion of skepticism at "Vomit the Lukewarm": Parmenides as the Refutation of Skepticism (Introduction), A General Account of Skepticism, Parmenides as the Refutation of Skepticism, Solutions to Apparent Difficulties in the Philosophy of Parmenides

* Greek Easter Holy Week at "deceptionsblog". Yes, it's Holy Week again, this time on the Constantinople side of the Church. If there happen to be a lot of interesting posts I'll post another Reading for the Holy Days toward the end of the week. And am I tired of posting about Holy Week and other holy days? Not on your life. If the blogosphere were up for it, I'd be willing to have Holy Week 52 weeks a year. That's what Christian life is, anyhow; the liturgical Holy Week is just Spring Training.

Georger Herbert on the Scholar's Glory

Art thou a Magistrate? then be severe:
If studious, copie fair, what time hath blurr'd;
Redeem truth from the jawes
: if souldier,
Chase brave employments with a naked sword
Throughout the world. Fool not: for all may have,
If they dare try, a glorious life, or grave.

From "The Church-Porch" in his excellent poetic work, The Temple. If you haven't read his prose work, The Country Parson, I highly recommend it; it's a beautiful picture of Herbert's ideal pastor.

Triple Primacy

John Duns Scotus's beautiful triple primacy argument (in one of its simpler versions) is found here:

On the First Principle


'The Carnival of the Godless' tends to be a little light in the intellectual department (although Richard's edition was quite good); non-specialist blog carnivals, I suppose, usually are. In the most recent one I did find this post at "Guide to Reality" quite interesting, though, not so much because of its formulation of the question of God's existence is particularly deep, since it's a summary so concise it doesn't even really do justice to the attempts of the atheistic side, much less the theistic side; but because the issue of plausibility is quite an interesting one. I think we can only talk about something's being plausible against a set of background assumptions -- antecendent credibilities and probabilities, as Newman might have said. An example: you are faced with a (bare) allegation that a friend has committed fraud. For this to be plausible it must fit with what you already accept to be true about your friend. Now suppose the same allegation backed with evidence. Whether you find the allegation plausible will depend on your prior views of both your friend and the sort of evidence being brought against him. So plausibility is really relative to prior suppositions. And this means that plausibility will depend on the person: what is plausible to a Samoan village council will not necessarily be plausible to a Pennsylvanian jury. But in the end we all only convince each otehr by what we each find plausible. So the natural question in juding the plausibility of any issue is: what prior knowledge can and should we agree upon, in order to determine whether this is plausible or not?

Poetry Index

Here's an index of drafts of my poems I've posted on this weblog since its inception. Some of them are fairly good, some are manifestly bad; all are quite rough, and some are very rough. If I had to choose a favorite, I think it would be "The Flood, the Phoenix, and the Hind" or "A Graduate Student Thinks of Footnotes" or "God Has Blessed My Cup of Tea" or "Parmenides' Vision". Are there any that you especially like?

Age of Wonders
A Graduate Student Thinks of Footnotes
A Kryptonian Hymn
All-Father's Knowledge
All the Skeptics Do Not Know
Ashes and Clay
As Zeus upon Danae
A Texas Hymn
Augustine's Hymn

Before a Storm

Cartesian Meditations
Commonplace Things
Cosmogonies (selections)
Coursing Star

God Has Blessed My Cup of Tea


In which she rebukes a rose, and in it those like it

Love's Madness

Mary's Magnificat

Nursery Rhyme

On Being Stuck in an Airport

Parmenides' Vision

Rhyme of St. Bernard

Sign of Fire
Stabat Mater Dolorosa
Stabat Mater Speciosa

The Battle
The City Builds Up Around Me
The Conversion of Ramon Lull
The Crucial
The Flood, the Phoenix, and the Hind
The Garden of the Great Khan
The Good of Sorrow
The Light Is a Tiger Pouncing
The Sorrow of the Shepherd Boy
The Striving
The Trees Are Not Awake
The Triumph of St. Catharine
The Word They Hear
Two Lovers


We All Have Voices
Winter Sunset

Alcestis Cycle (unfinished)
1. Lament of Alcestis
2. Elders of Pherae
3. Alcestis and Admetus
4. Lament of Admetus

I stopped with the "Lament of Admetus" because it seemed clear to me that I needed to practice writing narrative poetry, and just rethink the whole poetic approach. In part, for instance, the verse needs to flow more swiftly -- a common mistake, to which I succombed, is to write narrative verse in an ordinary way. Narrative verse, or dramatic verse conveying a narrative, needs to be tight and swift.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Romance of a Rascal

You can find an essay by Chesterton on Thackeray in The Common Man; one of Chesterton's works that tends to get fewer readers than it deserves. The essay is called "The Romance of a Rascal." Like most of Chesterton's essays on literary subjects (of which The Common Man is chock-full), it is thought-provoking and quirky. (Chesterton famously wrote a book-length biography of Charles Dickens without any dates at all.) "The Romance of the Rascal" isn't quite devoted to Thackeray, since it spends most of its time talking about Scott's Waverley novels; but it isn't quite not devoted to Thackeray, either. Here's the paragraph on Vanity Fair:

When Thackeray called Vanity Fair "a novel without a hero", or even when he made the relatively realistic Pendennis a novel with a rather unheroic hero, he was doubtless by that time so accustomed to Victorian fiction as to feel that he was doing something new, and even "cynical". For Victorian fiction had already returned to the old romantic idea that the hero should be heroic, even if it did not understand him so well as did the old romances. Nicholas Nickleby vanquishes Squeers as St. George vanquishes the dragon; and John Ridd is a knight without fear or reproach, like Ivanhoe. But in fact Thackeray was only slightly reacting towards what had been universal in the time of that sly old boy, his papa.

Just War and Terror Bombing

The recent edition of ACPQ had an interesting article by Christopher Toner called "Just War and Graduated Discrimination." Here's the abstract:

This paper investigates the question of legitimate targets in war and the traditional just in bello principle of discrimination, which is generally interpreted to mean that a bright line must be drawn between combatants and noncombatants, and that only the former may be attacked directly. Michael Walzer and John Rawls have proposed a "supreme emergency exemption" to this principle, which permits the targeting of innocent people in emergencies such as that of Britain in late 1940. Rejecting this, the paper offers as an alternative a principle of "graduated discrimination." This principle distinguishes three classes: innocents, combatants, and noncombatant belligerents (noncombatants are belligerent if they contribute directly to the enemy's war effort). It holds that the bright line must still be drawn, but between innocents and belligerents, and that, among the later, non-combatants may be attacked in severe conditions--even, in supreme emergencies, if their belligerent role is simply providing the regime with a popular mandate.

I agree with Toner that this "supreme emergency exemption" nonsense just won't do; an innocent person has done you no harm, so it makes no sense to say that it is just to harm, deliberately, an innocent. And, as Toner also notes, this "supreme emergency exemption" appears to stand in the way of the only licit end of warfare: return to a just peace. We cannot seriously allow such an exemption to exist.

I am not convinced by Toner's proposed alternative (which, it should be said, he is largely just airing and examining rather than actually using). I do like the recognition that the combatant/noncombatant distinction is not quite right; civilian commanders-in-chief, for instance, are not combatants, but qua commanders-in-chief are responsible for what the combatants do. However, Toner wishes to go farther and extend the category of noncombatant belligerent to anyone who is supporting the soldiers qua soldiers. So, while farmers wouldn't be fair game (they are supporting the soldiers qua human beings), munitions factory workers would be. More seriously, in a society in which the regime is supported by a 'mandate' from the people, the people would be complicitous, and therefore viable targets (under certain circumstances).

Now, I don't believe in any such superstitious nonsense as a 'mandate of the people'. Unless the decision to go to war were referred to the people in a referendum, and they specifically voted, "Yes, we will go to war", there is no mandate. There may well be a vague sense of support in the population, or even an enthusiastic sense of support; but there is no 'mandate'. Mandates are things made up by politicians as a ready-made justification for whatever policies they prefer; when, as far as anyone really knows, they may have actually been elected for entirely different policies, or for the way they look on TV. Even if there were such a mandate, the opposing army would have no serious way of distinguishing it from a mere appearance of the mandate, and no good way of discerning when the mandate changes, and so it seems to me that this whole line of thought is simply useless. Toner has a reply to this, but it is very weak; he responds that we don't demand certainty of our leaders, but just action on the best information they have. That's certainly true; but it seems to me to miss the point. There is no 'best information' here, and I don't think there is even in principle.

So I take a different stand on this sort of thing. When Britain terror-bombed German cities in World War II, Britain was morally in the wrong, however great the complicity of the German civilians in the Nazi regime. The Dresden bombing was a terrible thing that cannot be justified, either in terms of a "supreme emergency exemption" or in terms of a form of graduated discrimination. If the civilians are not actually engaged in military work (e.g., transporting weapons to military bases), it is utterly illegitimate to go around deliberately killing them. Strictly speaking one should even be doing what one can to limit the deaths of combatants, to the extent it is possible to do so while intending the just cause that is governing one's involvement in the war in the first place.

Chesterton on the Great War

I have come to have a sort of mystical feeling about the abstract justice of our case in the Great War. I mean that I am not less, but rather more, convinced that it was just. But I also mean that the feeling has grown more mystical and the justice more abstract; being abstracted from almost all the actors in it, even the actors on the rigth side. The medieval chronicler commemorating a Crusade (as it happens, a Crusade conducted by rather unscrupulous Crusaders) gave his whole book the magnificent title of Gesta Dei Per Francos; that is, Acts of God done through the French. I should call the Great War an Act of God done through the French, through the English, through the Russians, Serbs, Roumanians, Italians and Americans. But I doubt whether any of them quite understand the Act of God; I even doubt whether any of them were even worthy to understand it....[T]he point is not that the cause of the Allies was much better than the Germans'. The point is that the cause of the Allies was much better than the Allies. I do not doubt for a moment that we were right; I know of no cause in history that was so right. But I have sometimes come to doubt whether we had any right to be so right....We went into the War with the organ of government diseased with political corruption; but the disease of the English Parliament was also the disease of the French Republic. And as France and England were sham democracies, Russia was governed by only too real a despotism. It is open to anyone to dispute whether it is worse to be governed by Samuel or by Caillaux or by Rasputin. It is much more certain that Prussia was against liberty than that England was for liberty. It is much more certain that Prussia was against equality than that France and America were for equality. It is much more certain that Prussia was against religion than that Russia was for religion.

"The Hope of the New Nations," The End of the Armistice (1940)