Saturday, May 14, 2005

Reading for the Holy Days: Pentecost Edition

Pentecost has come in with padded cat's feet this year, so quietly I almost missed it.

* There will be Pentecost grid blogging, in which Christians from around the world will be blogging in all sorts of languages. A great idea!

* Pentecost at British Library Images Online

* Celebrating Pentecost at "Friary Notes"

* From 1 Corinthians 12:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;
and there are varieties of activities,
but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good....
All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit,
who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
For just as the body is one and has many members,
and all the members of the body, though many, are one body,
so it is with Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--
Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--
and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many....
If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?
If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body,
each one of them, as he chose.
If all were a single member, where would the body be?
As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you,"
nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable...

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,
that there may be no division in the body,
but that the members may have the same care for one another.
If one member suffers, all suffer together;
if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it....

As usual, if I come across new things of interest, I'll put them up.


* Whitsunday, Year A

* Insanity at "Letters to the Pope"

* Martin Luther's Holy Pentecost Sermon at "The Trivium Blog" (HT: Rebecca Writes)


John Wilkins has a great post on William Hamilton on classification. I've been toying with the idea of eventually posting a summary of William Whewell's philosophy of classification; in part, because I also find interesting the importance 19th-century philosophers place on classification. He suggests that the drop of interest may have been due to views on relations; which is an interesting idea that I hadn't considered before. My own thought on this point has been that the drop of interest in part has something to do with the depreciation of naming. It always strikes me how often 19th-century philosophers of science reflect on the importance of naming things well; both John Herschel and Whewell, for instance, treat it as a very important part of scientific progress. And in a sense it's not difficult to see why; just by casually looking around they could see several cases in which concern about names had contributed to science in important ways. Lavoisier, for instance, became the father of modern chemistry because he wanted to improve chemical nomenclature for easier use in application and discovery; to do this, he had to find the right classification, which meant he had to construct certain sorts of experiments and find the right way to interpret them, etc. Naming and classification go together. But there's a sense in which proper naming (and the classification required for it) is only exciting when you see them actually set a chaos in order; when they aren't really paying attention to that, philosophers tend to have a sort of nonchalance about naming, as if it were purely a matter of attaching labels to things -- i.e., it contributes nothing to our knowledge. (And, of course, simply labeling something doesn't contribute to our knowledge; but while one can simply label things, very often naming is much more than labeling, and classification is a good example of this.) But that's all a vague speculation. I'll have to think about this suggestion about relations, since it seems like it might be a more powerful way of looking at the issue.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Kant and Romantic Love

Dan at "Doing Things With Words" is soliciting comments about a paper on Kant and romantic love. I'll have to look at it more closely when I have the time; but go over and help him out. Even if Kant isn't your thing, he's also looking for comments about how readable it is.

UPDATE: The second part is here. A third part is coming.

UPDATE 2: Now you can read the complete draft.

Poem Draft

This, tidied up and improved a bit, would make a good prologue to something....

In Aenigmate

Our paths are dark--not lacking light,
but we lack the seeing eye,
ours being dim and covered over
with darkness and dismay.
The understanding mind, confounded,
seeks truth in the grosser image,
finding vision in the grotesques of sense
by which a greater glory is shown,
the latitude of love's secrets,
exceeding every sensation's confinement.
No prison holds the truth,
no image contains the light,
overarching, undergirding, all-pervading,
but every image must burst open,
twist and sway in mind's creation,
be remade to gesture upward
at heaven with a holy hint.
Our paths are dark, our journey needful;
we seek our way with staves,
tapping here and there before us.
Thus slowly can we come to know
the cause, the excess, the negation
that makes reason to overflow.
By enigma we are freed, liberated unto light;
the darkness of this Mystery
being a brilliance beyond all seeing;
and we, poor owls in sunlight,
mole-like creatures bursting forth
into the ecstasy of a painful day,
take refuge in these shadows,
subtle and sundry intimations,
thereby to know the living sun.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Berry and the Bath

The Kalevala is one of the world's most important works of literature. (You can find a summary of the Kalevala's contents at the Finnish Literature Society, and John Martin Crawford's 1888 translation at Compiled by Elias Lönnrot in the early nineteenth century from Karelian folk songs, it is the national epic of Finland. What Lönnrot was attempting to do had been attempted before with much less scholarly skill, in particular by James MacPherson in his 1760 Ossian, an attempt to pull together Highland folksongs into a national epic.* But Lönnrot's masterpiece is in another league entirely.

One of the interesting aspects of the Kalevala is Lönnrot's adaptation of the first three poems in a religious cycle of Christian legends; in a trope common in folklore, he presents it as the ending of the Kalevala -- the old gods and heroes sail away as they are replaced by Christianity. As the story goes, there was a young girl named Marjatta who was sweet and pure and innocent; so pure and innocent, in fact, that she refuses to sit in a sledge drawn by a stallion. One day she's out tending sheep on the hillside, when she comes across a cowberry, which she eats ('Marjatta' suggests the Finnish word marja, 'berry'). She becomes pregnant. After nine months, she begins to realize that she needs a sauna (to ease childbirth, of course); so she goes to her mother, who gives this supportive response:

'Fie upon you, demon's bitch!
Who were you laid by?
Was it an unmarried man
or else a married fellow?'

So she goes to her father, who is equally supportive:

'Go, you whore, further than that
scarlet woman, further off
to the bruin's rocky dens
ino the bear's craggy cells--
there, you whore, to breeed
there, scarlet woman, to teem!'

Marjatta responds:

'I am not a whore at all
no kind of scarlet woman:
I am to have a great man
to bear one of noble birth
who will put down the mighty
vanquish Väinämöinen too.'

(Väinämöinen is the sky-god/hero who is the protagonist of most of the Kalevala. According to Bosley's notes the line 'who will put down the mighty' might be more literally translated as 'who will have power over power itself'.) But she needs that sauna, and it doesn't seem to be forthcoming; so she sends her servant-girl Piltti find a sauna at Sedgeditch; when Piltti asks who she will ask for one, Marjatta replies that she should ask for Herod's bath at Saraja's gates.

Piltti comes to Herod's cabin and there finds Herod at a feast. The picture is unforgettably good:

Ugly Herod in shirtsleeves
eats, drinks in the grand manner
at the head of the table
with only his lawn shirt on;
Herod declared from his meal
snapped, leaning over his cup:
'What do you say, mean one? Why
wretch, are you rushing about?'

Piltti replies that she's looking for a bath at Sedgeditch. When Herod's mistress asks her for whom she's asking, Piltti replies that it's for Marjatta. To which Herod's mistress replies:

'The baths are not free for all
not the saunas at Saraja's gate.
There's a bath on the burnt hill
a stable among the pines
for a scarlet woman to have sons
a whore to bring forth her brats:
when the horse breathes out
bathe yourself in that!'

Piltti returns to Marjatta with this bit of counsel. Poor Marjatta bursts into tears and goes to the stall on Tapio hill, praying as she goes:

'Come, Creator, my refuge
and my help, merciful one
in this hard labour
in these most hard times:
free a wench from a tight spot
a woman from the belly-throes
lest she sink in woes
perish in her pains!'

So Marjatta gives birth with the horse's breath as a sauna, and beside a manger brings forth a baby boy, whom she wraps in swaddling clothes.

The story goes on from there, with a confrontation between the little boy and Väinämöinen. It's an interesting set of legends, forming a sort of mythological symbol of the life of Christ. (One thinks of various similar moves in other cultures. For instance, the Berry legend plays on the association of Marjatta and marja; similarly, we have the common medieval play on the association of Maria and Latin maris, as in Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, a popular title for Mary. No doubt examples could be multiplied.)

[All quotations from the Kalevala are from Keith Bosley's excellent translation, Oxford Univeristy Press, 1989.]

[*]The Ossianic question, namely, whether MacPherson had forged the poem, was one of the major literary disputes and scandals of the eighteenth century, with most of the period's literary intellectuals in Britain lining up on one side of the question or another, e.g., Hugh Blair argued that it was genuine, David Hume and Samuel Johnson that it was not. My understanding is that current folklore scholarship holds it to be based in actual Highland folksongs, but massively re-worked.


* "Farkleberries" points to an interesting article on chimerism; apparently it is quite common. Chimerism occurs when a body absorbs a genetically distinct zygote; some researchers hold that 50 to 70 percent of healthy living adults have this condition. In general, of course, the genetically distinct populations of cells are quite small in comparison with the dominate genetic population of cells.

* Verbum ipsum directs us to an interview with Rene Girard on Ratzinger's notion of the 'dictatorship of relativism'.

* "Allthings2all" is collecting posts on the Darfur crisis. If you've written anything on it, send it that way. (HT: Rebecca Writes)

* Don't forget to look around your weblogs to see if you have anything suitable for the History Carnival, the next edition of which will take place at St. Nate's Blog.

* "Early Modern Notes" has a great post on medical history: how does one accurately diagnose people long dead? It's a tricky issue. Even when we have a clear medical diagnosis of the time -- e.g., as is the case with Christopher Smart's mental illness -- we have to take into account the many shifts in medical common wisdom; Smart was diagnosed with 'religious mania', a very vague label that could many any number of mental illnesses. Sharon suggests that in looking at these issues, researchers would be well-advised to take a page from the methodology of the sort of historical research historians actually do.

* The University of Toronto Philosophy Department recently had the honor of being listed as a graduate program that is especially "women and feminist friendly" according to the in a recent report (PDF) by the APA Committee on the Status of Women.

* The Christian Carnival is up at Semicolon. Of special interest is Pseudo-Polymath's notes on N. T. Wright's speech on the Holy Spirit at the Fulcrum Conference. He also provides a link to the transcript.

* "Flos Carmeli" has a post on 'Intelligent Design theory'.

* "Parableman" has an interesting post on Chronology in I Samuel 16:1-18:5.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Imaginary Flaw

One of the great dangers one faces in History of Philosophy is the identification and correction of imaginary flaws. Malebranche is a good case in point. Many of Malebranche's conclusions are obviously wrong. But I think people make the mistake of assuming that because the conclusions are obviously wrong, the reason he was led astray must be equally obvious; and this, I think, is almost universally false. When Malebranche comes to an untenable conclusion, the error is always a very subtle one. But because people assume that the flaw must be an obvious one, they leap on just about anything that doesn't immediately seem right. Many positions Malebranche puts forward that seem at first to be implausible are actually quite plausible in context, given other things he holds; if you bay at the first apparent implausibility, you're off on the wrong trail. The result is that people are constantly proposing as problems for Malebranche things that really aren't problems for him at all; and then other people have to come through and point out that if you read a bit more widely, and place the issue a bit more carefully in its context, the supposed problem evaporates. The flaw is a figment of one's manner of reading. So a major question is: How does one avoid getting mired down in imaginary flaws?

I don't know the answer; but, on the plus side, knowing that it's a serious issue seems like a good start.

Testimonial Bias

Hume, in his Essay on Miracles:

The wise lend a very academic faith to every report which favours the passion of the reporter; whether it magnifies his country, his family, or himself, or in any other way strikes in with his natural inclinations and propensities. But what greater temptation than to appear a missionary, a prophet, an ambassador from heaven? Who would not encounter many dangers and difficulties, in order to attain so sublime a character? Or if, by the help of vanity and a heated imagination, a man has first made a convert of himself, and entered seriously into the delusion; who ever scruples to make use of pious frauds, in support of so holy and meritorious a cause?

The problem with this argument is the first premise: "The wise lend a very academic faith to every report which favours the passion of the reporter." The problem with this, as was soon noted in responses to Hume, is that this, despite an initial plausibility, turns out to be untenable. Boswell records the following conversation with Samuel Johnson, which touches on the problem:

We talked of denying Christianity. He said it was easy to be on the negative side. "If a man were now to deny that there is salt upon the table, you could not reduce him to an absurdity. I deny that Canada is taken, and I can support my assertion with pretty good arguments. The French are a much more numerous people than we; and it is not likely that they would allow us to take it.--'But the Ministry tells us so.'--True. But the Ministry have put us to an enormous expense, and it is their interest to persuade us that we have got something for our money.--'But we are told so by thousands of men who were at the taking of it.'--Ay, but these men have still more interest in deceiving us. They don't want you should think they ahve gone a fool's errand; and they don't want you should think that the French have beat them, but that they have beat the French. Now suppose you should go over and see if it is so, that would only satisfy yourself; for when you come home, we will not believe you. We will say you have been bribed.--Yet, for all these plausible objections, we believe that Canada is really ours. Such is the weight of common testimony."
[Boswell's London Journal. Pottle, ed. McGraw-Hill (New York: 1950) 301-302.]

A similar line of thought forms part of Richard Whately's satire on Hume's arguments against miracles, Historical Doubts Relative to Napoleon.

And we can back their arguments up with an additional consideration. If you haven't recognized it yet, journalism is largely about testimony: reporters don't generally identify facts directly, but find a source that will give testimonial evidence for whatever is being put forward. Now, it has also been recognized that journalists have an infuriating habit of reporting crackpot testimony alongside respectable testimony. I think if you look closely at this practice, one will see that what lies behind it is Hume's principle. When scientists give testimony about what the best explanation of a phenomenon is, this testimony is in conformity with the passions and interests of the scientist themselves; when this is combined with Hume's principle, it follows that we must lend an 'academic faith' to the reports of scientists, because of the potential for bias. So journalists go off and find some other testimony with a countervailing potential for bias, so as not to prevent a one-sided view of a matter that is clearly conformable to the interests of those giving testimony.

Hume's principle, in other words, is, if taken strictly, the stuff of quackery and conspiracy theory.

Why then does it initially seem so plausible? The reason, I think, was rightly recognized by many of the early critics of Hume (Campbell, Shepherd, etc.): we do use something like Hume's principle, when we have independent reason for thinking the testimony in this particular case to be distorted by the passions of the reporter. In other words, Hume mistakenly treats as a general principle what in fact is a rule of thumb for particular cases that meet certain conditions. For Hume's principle to have merit, each case of testimony must be considered on its own merits. The reason is that there is very little testimony that is not in conformity with the passions and the interests of the reporter in some way; and, indeed, for all we can say a priori, the passions and interests of the reporter may in this case be helping them to give a more accurate testimony. We have to look and see whether there is any reason to think the testimony in this particular case is genuinely distorted.

Aquinas on the Filioque

This is a very rough translation of Aquinas's article in the Summa on the Filioque. The Latin is here; the Dominican Fathers translation is here.

To the second [article] we proceed in this way.

[1] It seems that the Holy Spirit does not proceed from the Son. For according to Dionysius, we must not dare to say something about the divine substance, save according what divinity expresses to us through sacred oracles [ex sacris eloquiis]. But sacred Scripture does not express that the Holy Spirit proceeds from teh Son, but only that He proceeds from the FAther; as appears in John 15, "Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father." Therefore the Holy Spirit does not proceed from the Son.

[2] Further, in the Symbol of the Council of Constantinople we read this: "We believe in the Holy Spirit, Lord and Life-giver, proceeding from the Father, with the Father and the Son to be adored and glorified." Therefore it should not be added in our Symbol that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, but it seems that they who added this are to be anathematized.

[3] Further, Damascene says, "The Holy Spirit we say is from the Father, and we name Him Spirit of the Father, but we do not say the Holy Spirit is from the Son, although we name Him the Spirit of the Son." Therefore the Holy Spirit does not proceed from the Son.

[4] Nothing proceeds from that in which it rests. But the Holy Spirit rests in the Son. For it is said in the legend of the Blessed Andrew, "Peace be to you, and to all who believe in one God the Father, and in His one Son, our only Lord Jesus Christ, and in one Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father, and remaining in the Son." Therefore the Holy Spirit does not proceed from the Son.

[5] Further, the Son proceeds as Word. But our spirit in us does not seem to proceed from our word. Therefore neither does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Son.

[6] Further, the Holy Spirit proceeds completely [perfecte] from the Father. Therefore it is superfluous to say that He proceeds from the Son.

[7] Further, in things perpetual there is no difference between actual being [esse] and possibility [posse], as is said Physics III; and much les in divine things. But the Holy Spirit is able to be distinguished from the Son, even if He did not proceed from Him. For Anselm says, in the book on the procession of the Holy Spirit, "The Son and Holy Spirit have their being from the Father, but in diverse ways, the one by being born , the other by proceeding, so they are distinct from each other." And later on he says, "For even if the Son and the Holy Spirit were not through distinct [plures] for any other reason, through this alone they would be different [diversi]. Therefore the Holy Spirit is distinguished from the Son, from whom He does not have His being [ab eo non existens].

But on the contrary is what Athanasius [i.e., the Quicunque Vult attributed to Athanasius] says, "The Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, not made, not born, but proceeding."

I respond that it must be said taht it is necessary to say that the Spirit is from the Son. For if He is not from Him, in no way is He personally distinguished from Him, as appears from what has been said above. For it is not possible to say that the divine persons are distinguished from each other according to something absolute, because it would follow that there would not be three in one essence; for whatever is said of the divine absolutely pertains to the unity of the essence. Therefore it must be conceded that the divine persons can be distinguished from each other only relatively. But the persons cannot be distinguished relatively, save insofar as they are opposed; which appears in this, that the Father has two relations, according to one of which He is referred to the Son, and according to the other to the Holy Spirit, but as these are not opposed, they do not constitute two persons, but pertain only to the one person of the Father. If therefore there be found in the Son and in the Spirit only two relations which refer each to the Father, these relations would not be opposed to each other, just as the two relations the Father has to them are not. Therefore, since the Father is one person, it would follow that the Son and the Holy Spirit would be one person having two relatednesses opposed to the two relations of the Father. But this is heretical, for it takes away faith in the Trinity. Therefore it is fitting that the Son and the Holy Spirit be refered to each other through opposed relations. But there cannot be in the divine any opposed relations save relations of origin, as is proved above. But opposed relations of origin are attributed according to principle and according to what is from the principle. Therefore it must be conceded that it is necessary to say that either the Son is from the Holy Spirit, which nobody says, or the Holy Spirit is from the Son, which we confess.

And this is consonant with the notion of the procession of each. For it is said above that the Son proceeds by way of intellect, as Word; but the Holy Spirit by way of will, as Love. But it is necessary that love proceed from the word, for we do not love something save according to the mental conception we apprehend. Therefore it is also clear according to this that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.

The same is also shown from the order of things. For we nowhere find this, that different things proceed from one another without order, save in those things that differ materially; as one smith produces many knives that are materially distinct from each other, but are not ordered to each other. But in things in which there is not only a distinction of material, we always find in a mutlitude of products some order. Hence also in the order of produced creatures, the beauty [decor] of divine wisdom is manifested. If therefore there proceeds from the one person of the Father two persons, namely, the Father and the Holy Spirit, it is fitting that there be some order of one to the other. Nor can any other order be assigned, save the order of nature, whereby one is from the other. Therefore it is not possible to say that the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father such that neither proceeds from the other, unless we post in them a material distinction, which is impossible.

Hence also the Greeks themselves understand the procession of the Holy Spirit to have some order to the Son. For the concede that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Son, and is from the Father through the Son. Some of them are also said to concede that He is from the Son, or that He flows forth from Him, but not that He proceeds; which seems to be either from ignorance or from stubbornness. For if one rightly considers it, one discovers that the word 'procession' most commonly pertains to all that denotes origin of any kind. For it is used to designate any kind of origin; as a line proceeding from a point, a ray from the son, a river from a spring; and similarly with everything else. As it pertains to any origin, one can conclude that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.

Therefore to the first it must be said that we ought not to say of God what is not found in sacred Scripture, either by word or by sense. But although we do not find by word in sacred Scripture that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, we find it according to the sense; and especially where the Son says (John 16), speaking of the Holy Spirit, "He will glorify me, because He receives of me." For by a rule of sacred Scripture it must be held that what is said of the Father is fittingly understood of the Son, although there be added an exclusive saying, save only in those things in which the Father and the Son are distinguished according to opposed relations. For when the Lord says (Matthew 11), "Nobody knows the Son save the Father," this does not exclude that the Son knows Himself. Thus when it is said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, even though it be added that He proceeds from the Father alone, this does not at all exclude the Son, because the Father and the Son are not opposed according to one's being the principle of the Holy Spirit; but only according to this, that this is Father and that Son.

To the second it must be said that in every Council there has been instituted some Symbol, according to some error which is condemned in the Council. Hence subsequent Councils did not make any other Sybmol than the first, but what was implicitly contained in the first Symbol, is explained by some addition against insurgent heresies. Hence in the determination of the Council of Chalcedon it is said, that those who were gathered together in the Council of Constantinople, handed down the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, not implying that there was less in the preceeding Council (which was gathered at Nicaea); but declaring against the heretics what they had left understood. Therefore because in the ancient times of the Council there had not yet arisen the error that says that the Holy Spirit does not proceed from teh Son; it was not necessary to propose it explicitly. But afterward, certain errors arising, in another Council gathered in the West, it was expressed by the authority of the Roman pontiff; by whose authority even the ancient Councils were gathered together and confirmed. Nonetheless it was contained implicitly in that according to which it is said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.

To the third it must be said that the Holy Spirit's not proceeding from the Son was first introduced by the Nestorians, as appears in the Nestorian Sybmol condemned in the council of Ephesus. And this error was held by the Nestorian Theodoret, and many after him; among whom was also the Damascene. Hence in this his sentence does not stand. Although it is said by some that while the Damascene, did not confess that the Holy Spirit is from the Father, he also does not deny it with these words.

To the fourth it must be said that when the Holy Spirit is said to rest or stay in the Son, it is not at all excluded that He proceeds from Him, because the Son also is said to say in the Father, when He nonetheless proceeds from the Father. Also it is said that the Holy Spirit rests in the Son either as lover of the lover rests in the beloved, or according to the human nature of Christ, about which it is written (John 1), "On whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and staying on Him, He it is who baptizes."

To the fifth it must be said that word in the divine is not attributed according to the likness of the vocal word, from which spirit does not proceed, for it would then be said only metaphorically; but according to the likeness of the mental word, from which love proceeds.

To the sixth it must be said that from this, that the Holy Spirit completely proceeds from the Father, not only is it not superfluous to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, but it is altogether necessary. For one power is in the Father and the Son; and whatever is from the Father, necessarily is from the Son, unless it is repugnant to the property of filiation; for the Son is not from Himself, although He is from the Father.

To the seventh it must be said that the Holy Spirit is personally distinguished from the Son in this, that the origin of one is distinguished from the origin of the other. But the difference of origin itself is because of this, that the Son is from the Father alone, whereas the Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son. For otherwise the processions would not be distinguished from each other as is shown above.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Aquinas on the Monarchy of the Father

What follows is my (very rough) translation of the first article of Aquinas's question on the Father. The Latin is here, the Dominican Fathers translation is here.


We proceed to the first [article] in this way.

[1] It seems that the Father cannot be said to be the Principle of the Son or of the Holy Spirit. For principle and cause are the same, according to the Philosopher. But we do not say that the Father is the Cause of the Son. Therefore one ought not say that He is His Principle.

[2] Further, principle [principium] is said with respect to what is of the principle [principiati]. If therefore the Father is the Principle of the Son, it follows that the Son is of the Principle, and consequently is created. Which seems to be erroneous.

[3] Further, the word 'principle' is taken from priority. But in the divine there is no prior or posterior, as Athanasius says. Therefore in the divine we should not use the word 'principle'.

But to the contrary is what Augustine says in De Trin. IV: The Father is the Principle of the whole deity.

I respond that it must be said that this word 'principle' signifies nothing other than that from which something goes forth [procedit], for everything that goes forth from another in whatever way, we call a 'principle'; and vice versa. Since the Father is one from which another goes forth, therefore, it follows that the Father is Principle.

Therefore to the first it must be said that, in divine things, Greeks use indifferently the word 'cause' and the word 'principle', but Latin teachers do not use the word 'cause', but only the word 'principle'. The reason for this is that principle is more general [communius] than cause, as cause is more general than element, for the first term of a thing, or the first part of a thing, is called 'principle', not 'cause'. But to the extent some name is more general, it is more appropriate to apply it in divine things, as is said above, because names, to the extent they are more specific [magis specialia], are more determinate in a way appropriate to creatures. Thus this word 'cause' seems to imply diversity of substance, and dependence of one on another; which the word 'principle' does not imply. Therefore in all kinds of cause, there is always discovered a distance (according to some perfection or power) between the cause and what is caused. But the word 'principle' is used in even in cases that do not have a difference of this kind, but only a difference of order, such as when we say a point is the principle of a line, or also when we say the first part of a line is the principle of the line.

To the second it must be said that with the Greeks one finds it said of the Son or the Holy Spirit that they they are of the principle [principientur]. But this is not the usage of our teachers. For although we attribute to the Father something of originality [aliquid auctoritatis] through the notion of principle, nonetheless we do not attribute to the Son or the Holy Spirit any subjection or inferiority of any kind, so as to avoid all occasion for error. Accordingly, Hilary says (De Trin. IX) By originality of the giver the Father is greater; but the Son is not less to whom one being is given.

To the third it must be said that, although this word 'principle' seems to be taken from priority, to the extent [we consider] that from which its signification is imposed, nonetheless it does not signify priority, but origin. For what a word signifies, and that from which the word is imposed, are not the same, as is said above.

Berkeley Against Big Pharma

It's been a while since I've done any posts related to the Berkeleyan theme of my weblog title. Berkeley's philosophical work Siris is part of a number of works Berkeley wrote to advocate the use of tar-water as a universal medicine; it discusses other philosophical topics, but starts from tar-water. One of the reasons tar-water interested Berkeley so much is that he was a man deeply concerned with the plight of the poor -- you will be hardpressed to find any major philosopher who devoted even half as much time, money, and effort as Berkeley did to improving the lives of the poor. And a major issue for the poor in the eighteenth century was medical attention. Doctors, by and large, tended those who were able to pay their (rather hefty) fees. Medicines by professional apothecaries were extremely expensive. Most people who were poor had no choice when they were sick but to go to the local midwife for a folk remedy, or to someone who had book-learning, like the local bishop, in the hope that they might know something helpful. What excited Berkeley about tar-water was that it was very cheap, fairly easy to make, and (according to him) worked very well if made properly. It seemed to him to provide a way to improve the health options of the poor. Needless to say, professional apothecaries attacked him for his advocacy of tar-water. He wrote the following poem in response, which satirizes them as trying to protect their incomes at any cost:

On Siris and Its Enemies

How can devoted Siris stand
Such dire attacks? The licens’d band
With upcast eyes and visage sad
Proclaim, ‘Alas! the world’s run mad.
The prelate’s book has turned their brains,
To set them right will cost us pains.
His drug too makes our patients sick;
And this doth vex us to the quick.’
And vexed they must be, to be sure,
To find tar-water cannot cure,
But makes men sicker still and sicker,
And fees come thicker still and thicker.

Bursting with pity for mankind,
But to their own advantage blind,
Many a wight, with face of fun’ral,
From mortar, still, and urinal,
Hastes to throw in his scurvy mite
Of spleen, of dulness, and of spite,
To furnish the revolving moons
With pamphlets, epigrams, lampoons,
Against tar-water. You’d know why?
Think who they are, you’ll soon descry
What means each angry doleful ditty,
Whether themselves or us they pity.

Not Berkeley's best poetry, by any means; but one gets a bit of a feel for why Jonathan Swift liked him so much (they were close friends).

On Some Misconceptions About Figurative Language

(1) People often talk as if all figures of speech were cases of figurative language (in the sense ordinarily understood). This is clearly not so. A figure of speech is any artful variation of normal discourse, and only some figures of speech are actually figurative. Take this famous example of aposiopesis, which ends Sterne's A Sentimental Journey:

So that when I stretch'd out my hand, I caught hold of the Fille de Chambre's---

There is no figurative language here; but there is the figure of aposiopesis, which (since it's just an artful breaking off of a sentence) is never figurative (in the sense we usually mean). There are, in addition, other figures of speech that are ambiguous; one can consider them to be figurative, or one take them as just a way of playing with the syntactical structure of the sentence. Take the following syllepsis:

He drove off in anger and a Coup de Ville.

One can read this as figurative (as if he drove off in anger and drove off in a Coup de Ville in the same way) or as simply syntactic play (which has a comic effect because you could read it as figurative, even though you don't have to do so). It makes no difference to the meaning whether you treat it as figurative or not.

(2) Even with definitely figurative language its being so is not always particularly important for the meaning. In one of Aquinas's most interesting discussions, in a little-read article on whether the word 'lux' is properly used of spiritual things, Aquinas recognizes that the distinction between figurative and literal usage is one relative to how one takes the words in question. In some cases where the word has extensive normal usages, as in the case of 'lux' (this is true of the English 'light' as well), depending on how one takes the word the same sentence can be treated as figurative or literal and mean basically the same thing. God is Light is a figurative expression if one takes 'light' in its strict and primary meaning. But the way the word 'light' is actually used in language, it is not confined to this strict and primary sense alone. It also has an extended sense that is very common. And if taken in this extended sense, God is Light is a literal expression. Whether one takes it in the strict sense or the extended sense makes very little difference; they are both getting at the same thing. As Aquinas says, "Any word may be used in two ways--that is to say, either in its original application or in its more extended meaning." And the point is worth making because there are lots of words with very clear and standard extended senses: life, light, love, sight, soul, mind, and so forth.

(3) Contrary to what is still bandied about in some places, there is no reason to deny that metaphorical expressions can be true. I summarized an argument for this quite a while ago here. My own guess about the reason that people make this error is the distinction between sentence meaning and speaker's meaning; which, however, (1) is not as sharp as some people make it; and (2) does not correspond very closely to the distinction between literal and figurative usage at all. The sentence meaning/speaker's meaning is fairly useful for artful metaphor and some other sorts of figurative language, because they make use of a tension between expected meaning and actual meaning in use; but this is a fairly limited explanatory value. The error is probably also helped by the phrase 'the literal truth', which people don't always recognize is a figurative use of the word 'literal'.

(4) Despite Owen Barfield's rather conclusive refutation, people still think that the physical meaning is always somehow the literal meaning. 'Literal meaning' indicates the standards of expected usage; in a given language the literal meaning of the word meaning 'light' may be either physical light or spiritual light, depending on the way our expectations of usage work. Further, as Barfield rightly noted, the literal/figurative distinction is actually a breaking apart of what at least sometimes is an earlier holophrastic meaning -- that is, we have no reason to think that people took pneuma (=wind) as the anchor meaning and then extended the use to pneuma (=spirit); rather, they just used the word pneuma in both ways without bothering about literal and figurative senses. [Re-reading this, I realized that I sound much more confident about this particular than I am. My point is not that Barfield is right about this particular case -- I leave that to linguists -- but that Barfield seems quite right that we can use words 'holophrastically' in his sense, that he is right to reject the view that literal meaning is always a physical meaning, and that he seems to me to be right in his rejection of the view that originally there were only literal, physical meanings that were then metaphorically extended to non-physical meanings. --ed.] The concern to distinguish the literal and the figurative, the primary meaning and the secondary meaning, came later, for purposes of analysis; and outside this concern there was no literal or figurative meaning, just a holophrastic meaning that covered indifferently both of the meanings we distinguish. Barfield's own explanation of this was initial participation; but whether one agrees with Barfield or not, the point seems right that the literal/figurative distinction is not intrinsic to meaning but is instead an analytic tool for sorting out the verbal meanings that are already there, relative to expectations of usage.

Philosophers' Carnival XIII

The Thirteenth Philosophers' Carnival is up at Mormon Metaphysics. Clark did a great job; the quality of posts this time around is quite high. I submitted German Science (on Pierre Duhem) -- late, but Clark was kind enough to overlook that.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Some Additional Links to Keep You Occupied

* Sharon gives us links For VE Day and On Mother's Day at "Early Modern Notes".

* "Fido the Yak" reminds us of the liberation of Ohrdruf.

* This is the time of year when Dutch and Canadian minds turn to the liberation of Holland.

* Laurence Thomas discusses the blasphemy of an abominable website put up by Westboro Baptist Church at "" (HT: Philosophy, etc.).

* You can have your very own Map of Narnia.

Mother's Day

And Hannah prayed and said,

My heart exults in the LORD;
my strength is exalted in the LORD.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.

There is none holy like the LORD;
there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.

The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's,
and on them he has set the world.

He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the power of his anointed.

1 Samuel 2:1-10 (ESV)