Saturday, May 21, 2005

Trinity Sunday

Whosoever will be saved : before all thinges it is necessarye that he holde the Catholyke fayth. Whiche fayth except every one dooe kepe holy and undefyled : without doubt he shal perishe everlastingly. And the Catholike faith is this : that we wurship one God in Trinitie, and Trinitie in unitie. Neyther confounding the persones : nor devidyng the substaunce.

For there is one persone of the father, another of the sonne : and an other of the holy gost. But the godhead of the father, of the sonne, and of the holy Goste, is all one : the glorye equall, the majestie coeternall. Such as the father is, suche is the sonne, and suche is the holy gost. The father uncreate, the sonne uncreate : and the holy gost uncreate. The father incomprehensible, the sonne incomprehensible and the holy gost incomprehensible. The father eternall, the sonne eternall : and the holy gost eternall. And yet they are not three eternalles : but one eternall. As also there be not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated : but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.

So lykewyse, the father is almyghtie : the sonne almightie, and the holy gost almightie. And yet are they not three almyghtyes: but one almightie. So the father is God, the sonne God: and the holye gost God. And yet are they not three Goddes: but one God. So lykewise the father is Lord, the sonne Lord : and the holy gost Lorde. And yet not three Lordes: but one Lorde.

From the Quicunque Vult, in the translation in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer

A Chapter in the Narrative Is Done

Paul Ricoeur has died; Nathanael Robinson has the relevant links. Ricoeur provides a useful summary of his philosophical position in an online chapter from What Makes Us Think?.

Perfect Delirium of Theoretic Rapture

In commenting on an excellent post on dream skepticism at Philosophy, etc., I linked to the following classic discussion of Hegel by William James, which is so good (and funny) it deserves a link here as well:

Subjective Effects of Nitrous Oxide

Go and read it in order to learn how Hegel's philosophy is like being drugged up on laughing gas. If nothing else, it would deserve to be remembered for the lines, "What's nausea but a kind of -usea?" and "That sounds like nonsense, but it's pure onsense!"


Browsing Malebranche's Trois Lettres Touchant la Defense de M. Arnauld, which is (quite literally) Malebranche's response to Arnauld's response to Malebranche's response to Arnauld's criticism of Malebranche's theory of ideas, I came across this passage (the translation's very rough):

Mr. Arnauld does not comprehend anything that he criticizes. This is perhaps my fault, rather than the quality of the material, or the disposition of his spirit. One may judge it as one wills: but I am able to say nothing on this text more honest & more Christian. I do not respond to it, because after what I have said, it seems to me that I ought not to respond to it. But here, Sir, is a text rather distressing to me. The quarrels [mouvemens] of Mr. Arnauld agitate me only a little: but I am not able to read this text without emotion, because supposing that Mr. Arnauld understands my sentiments a bit, I find there a horrible spite [malignité].
[Three Letters I, Rem. XVII; OC 6:248]

(I think what Malebranche is primarily referring to is Arnauld's claim that Malebranche "says God is incorporeal, at the same time that he makes Him corporeal".) In any case, this sort of thing is actually fairly common in the Malebranche-Arnauld dispute: they continually exasperate and anger each other, repeating in different words the arguments they already gave, exchanging words that are more and more bitter.

Malebranche's Augustinian Argument vs. Arnauld

Our light is our ideas: it is universal Reason, it is the intelligible substance that contains them. The truths that we know, are nothign other than the relations that are between these ideas. For it is clear [visible] that the relation of equality that exists between two & two & four is an immutable and necessary truth. By virtue of holding that the modalities of your soul are essentially representative, you are saying that you are your own light, your own wisdom, your own interior teacher. You render the honor due to the power of God, if you recognize that you are not the cause of your light. But you do not render the honor due to his wisdom in holding that your modalities are essentially representative of the truth, in holding that they are really and formally the light that enlightens you. You attribute to yourself what pertains only to universal Reason, who instructs you, you Sir, & all of the intelligences that there are, who only see the truth because they contemplate the intelligible substance that contains the Reason by which they are made, and without which nothing is intelligible.

[Malebranche, Réponse aux VFI, Chapter VII, section II (OC 6:64).]

This argument is adapted from St. Augustine; Say that you are not your own light is perhaps Malebranche's favorite Augustinian phrase. Likewise, the mention of the 'interior Teacher' highlights the Augustinian origin of the argument, since Malebranche borrows it from the De Magistro. The above passage gives Malebranche's primary and perpetual complaint against Arnauld.

Malebranche may never have read the De Magistro through -- despite the fact that people are constantly appealing to his authority, Augustine's original works seem not to have been widely available in the seventeenth century. What were available were florilegia and manuals of various kinds that quoted Augustine extensively and arranged passages from Augustine's works under various topics. In this way, Augustine was everywhere, but in modified form. Henri Gouhier established that Malebranche often draws directly from a manual by Ambrosius Victor, a.k.a. André Martin (French, scroll down).

Something on Paley, Something on Newton

Apologies for so many links this past week; it's a busy time, and is likely to stay so over this next week. In any case, here are two excellent additional links worth checking out:

* blast from the past (two): Dan Herzog at "Left2Right" uses a pamphlet by William Paley as a tool for asking some cogent questions.

* Newton Reconsidered: Paul Newall interviews Stephen David Snobelen on Newton's religion and its role in his intellectual life. (HT: Studi Galileiani.)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Mnemonic Rhyme

Can you guess the secret of this mnemonic rhyme?

Sir, I bear a rhyme excelling
In mystic force and magic spelling
Celestial sprites elucidate
All my own striving can't relate.
Or locate they who can cogitate
And so finally terminate. Finis.

Arguments and Contexts

A recent Vox Apologia symposium was on C. S. Lewis's Trilemma argument. Ales Rarus, one of the contributors, gives the relevant passage in Mere Christianity:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

We need to distinguish two things, the Trilemma argument as found in Lewis and the Trilemma argument as it might be used outside that context. It's a standard sort of distinction in History of Philosophy disciplines; someone will propose an argument within a given context and someone else will use what is apparently the same argument in a different context, and the two need to be distinguished, because they can sometimes be very different even when word for word. An example: Hume sometimes takes up Malebranche's arguments on causation word for word; but in one case they are given by a seventeenth-century Catholic Cartesian rationalist and in the other by an eighteenth-century Presbyterian-raised skeptical empiricist. They have very different ultimate implications, and would have to be criticized on very different principles, despite the fact that they have apparently identical premises and conclusions. Arguments do not stand alone; they exist as part of an approach or strategy that gives them place and meaning. Malebranche's conclusion, which might be expressed as, "There is no necessary connection between observed causes and observed effects," is intended as an antidote to pagan idolatry and one step in a process of giving God His rightful glory as the Only True Cause. Hume's conclusion, which might be expressed as, "There is no necessary connection between observed causes and observed effects," is part of a theory of belief that is intended to establish the science of man as the foundation of all sciences on purely empirical principles. In a sense, they are about as opposed as conclusions can be, because of the principles that coordinate them with other conclusions. Any arguments and conclusions that move from one context to the other -- like the famous billiard ball argument -- undergo a massive change.

To return to the Trilemma example, note that Lewis has a very particular context in mind. Some people, he says, put forward the following position: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' Lewis is responding to this position. The argument is often used by amateurs, however, outside of this context. I think this is not always made clear in the submissions, although one or two touch on it.

But the Symposium is a good example of critique of apologetics within apologetics itself.

Major System

Evangelical Outpost links to a page describing the Dominic System. I confess, looking it over, I prefer the Major System, which I once taught to myself. (Now that it comes up, it occurs to me that I almost never use it. And I should; I have a horrible memory for numbers, and that's where the Major System works best.) Under the Major System, you would convert a numerical string into a string of sounds. For instance:




Then you use vowels to expand this sound-string into something capable of being mnemonic, e.g., BRANDON. You can then reconvert whenever you need to do so. The bulk of the actual memory work, under this as under every other system, is in a further conversion to images: I associate an image with the word BRANDON, recall the image, convert to the label, and convert to the numbers. Although, I confess, since I have a very verbal mind I often just use the mnemonic words, supplementing with images as needed.

Under the Dominic System, the above number would be converted into:


which the Dominic System can't even handle on its own, since it doesn't have an even number of elements. Now, I have no doubt that the Dominic System, fully worked out, is probably much better than the Major System for speed memorization, but I ask you, how often outside a speed memorization contest will you really need to memorize long strings of numbers all at once? The Major System is a much more flexible system than the Dominic System, since it can be tailored to any number-memorizing need you might have. Here is an article on using the Major System.


* In Those Rakish Scholastics at "The Rhine River," Nathanael Robinson tells of bloodthirsty nominalist protesters in the Middle Ages, or, as I call it, The Age of Reason. As a realist, though, I'm a bit glad students don't engage in violent anti-realism protests anymore!

* If trope theory is your thing, Bill Vallicella is calling for comments on a paper, Trope Theory Meets Bradley's Regress. If (like me) you only know tropes (abstract particular properties) through distant rumors, you might still appreciate the very helpful section, "An Outline of Trope Theory," which lays out the basic elements.

* At "Language Log" they are analyzing Yoda's language. See Geoff Pullum in Yoda's syntax the Tribune analyzes; supply more details I will!; Eric Bakovic in Speak this way I do because wiser than I actually am I sound; and Mark Liberman in Syntax is a disturbance in the there. (HT: The Elfin Ethicist.) UPDATE: See also Mark Liberman's Unclear of Yoda's syntax the principles are, if any.

* An interesting post on The Politics of Sith (the movie, not the order) at "My Stupid Dog" (minor spoilers). UPDATE: The Elfin Ethicist gives his own spin. He apparently wasn't impressed with the Jedi in this movie; but what can you expect from someone who belongs to something called The Shadow Council. He works for the Sith, I say.

* "The Daily Burn" discusses The Worf Factor in science fiction.

UPDATE: Macht at "prosthesis" discusses the recent decision at Calvin College to drop Wolterstorff as a speaker for a commencement address and replace him with Bush. UPDATE 2: And so does Hugo Schwyzer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Frivolous and Satirical Political Parties

This Wikipedia list makes for interesting browsing, although not all of the articles have actually been written (the Canadian list, interestingly enough, is completely done, whereas the U.S. list has no articles written at all). Of course, really, there are few political parties that shouldn't be on such a list, but such is the force of custom.

A Brief Guide to Current Canadian Politics

For those of you who don't follow Canadian politics, a number of interesting developments have occurred recently. There are at present four major parties in Canada: Liberals; the National Democratic Party; the Bloc Quebecois; and the Conservatives. (It should go without saying that 'Liberal' and 'Conservative' do not perfectly map onto U.S. political categories.) After years and years of majority government, the Liberal Party barely squeaked by in the past election, forming a minority government with the help of the NDP and a sprinkling of independents. The reason the Liberals took such a beating is the sponsorship scandal. The general result of inquiry into the scandal has been a severely declining respect for the Liberal Party, and an increasing association of the Liberal label with corruption and abuse of power. After dominating Canadian politics for so long that people had begun to joke that Canada was the only democracy that was also a single-party dictatorship, the Liberals only barely managed to pull enough seats in the House of Commons to stay in power.

Such a situation is unstable. In April polls seemed to indicate that, while Canadians did not want an election, the opposition parties would stand to gain rather significantly if an election were called. The situation became so troublesome that in an unusual move, the Prime Minister (Paul Martin) addressed the nation, promising to call an election after the Gomery commission, which is investigating the sponsorship scandal, delivers its final report in November. Things began to look election-like. The government made a rather hefty budget-deal with the NDP to keep things stable. On May 10, the House of Commons passed a motion, 153-150, that the Liberal government should resign. Since it was not technically a non-confidence vote, the Liberals are still in power; however, there will be a vote on the budget, and Martin promised that if they lost that vote, he would ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament, thus starting the election process. The margins are so razor-thin that it is up in the air. If all MPs were able to attend, the vote would (it is thought) split 153-153, with the Speaker casting the deciding vote (for the government); but two of the independents have been playing coy. There were rumors (denied, of course) that the Liberals were offering a special appointment to a Tory Member of Parliament or two in order to reduce the Conservative vote.

Then Belinda Stronach, a Conservative MP, defected to the Liberals for a cabinet position. With this change, if the two undeclared independents support the Liberals, they will stay in power. The Conservatives retreated a bit, saying they will vote for the budget but try to bring down the government on the Liberal-NDP budget amendment. It's less likely than it was. However, the Stronach move might have cost Martin an independent vote --although the independent still won't commit to anything.

Manalive, Parliamentary politics is complicated.

UPDATE: And the Liberal government remains in power, after a 153-152 vote (Speaker breaking the tie).

Aquinas on the More Perfect Knowledge of Grace

A very rough translation of Aquinas's article on whether we have through grace a higher knowledge of God than we do through natural reason. The Latin is here. The Dominican Fathers translation is here.

We proceed to the thirteenth in this way.

[1] It seems that one does not have through grace a higher knowledge of God (altior cognitio Dei) than what one has through natural reason. For Dionysius says, in the book on Mystic Theology, that whoever is better united to God in this life, is united to him as to one wholly unknown, for he says this of Moses, who nonetheless obtained a sort of excellence in the knowledge by grace. But to be united to God while not knowing of Him what He is, this occurs also through natural reason. Therefore through grace God is not known to us more fully than He is through natural reason.

[2] Further, through natural reason we are not able to arrive at knowledge of divine things save through phantasms, and so it is according to knowledge by grace. For Dionysius says, Cael. Hier. chapter 1, that it is impossible the divine ray to enlighten us in any way, save as veiled about by a variety of sacred veils. Therefore by grace we do not know God more fully than by natural reason.

[3] Further, our understanding by the grace of faith adheres to God. But faith does not seem to be knowledge, for Gregory says, in Homil., that things that are not seen are had by faith, and not by apprehension (agnitionem). Therefore there is not added to us by grace some more excellent knowledge of God.

But on the contrary is what the apostle says, I Cor. 2, God has revealed to us through his Spirit that which none of the princes of this age knew, i.e., [none of] the philosophers, as the Gloss explains.

I reply that it must be said that by grace we have a more perfect knowledge of God than by natural reason. Which is clear in this way. The knowledge that we have by natural reason requires two things, namely, phantasms received from sensibles, and natural intelligible light, by whose power we abstract intelligible conceptions from them. And in both ways human knowledge is aided by revelation of grace. For both the natural light of the intellect is fortified by infusion of gracious light (per infusionem luminis gratuiti); and occasionally the phantasms in the human imagination are also divinely formed, so as better to express divine things than those that we received naturally from sensibles; as appears in prophetic visions. And occasionally also some sensible things are divinely formed, or even voices, in order to express something divine; as in the Baptism is seen the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove, and the voice of the Father is heard, This is my beloved Son.

To the first it must therefore be said that, although by revelation of grace we do not know of God in this life what He is, and so we are conjoined to his as if to something unknown; still we known Him more fully, inasmuch as many and more excellent of His effects are demonstrated to us; and inasmuch as we attributed to Him some things from divine revelation, to which natural reason does not attain, as that God is three and one.

To the second it must be said that from phantasms, either received from the senses according to the natural order, or divinely formed in the imagination, we have so much the more excellent intellectual knowledge, the stronger the intelligible light in man is. And so by revelation we receive a fuller knowledge from phantasms, from infusion of the divine light.

To the third it must be said that faith is a sort of knowledge, inasmuch as the intellect is determined by faith to some knowable thing. But this determination to one does not proceed from the believer's vision, but from the vision of the one who is believed. And so, inasmuch as it lacks vision, it falls short of the rational cognition that is in knowledge [properly speaking] (scientia), for knowledge [properly speaking] (scientia) determines the intellect to one by vision and understanding of first principles.

Divine Simplicity

Johnny-Dee (re-)introduces an objection against the doctrine of divine simplicity. He says, quoting Craig and Moreland:

The doctrine [divine simplicity] is open, moreover, to powerful objections. For example, to say that God does not have distinct properties seems patently false: omnipotence is not the same property as goodness, for a being may have one and not the other.

But it's difficult to see how this is in any way relevant. The doctrine of divine simplicity is not the doctrine that power just is goodness; it's the doctrine that in God 'power' and 'goodness' just refer to God Himself. In other words, Craig and Moreland fail to distinguish properly between the sense and reference of the terms. 'Power' and 'goodness' have different senses; but in the case of God they refer to one and the same thing, divine being, in different ways.

Further, this term 'property' is a bit of sophistry; for it isn't clear what it means in this context. We may predicate omnipotence of a being without predicating goodness; it does not follow that every predicate has one distinct entity to which it is attached, which will be found in everything of which it is predicated. That would be a rather silly view. But that, really, is what the above argument requires; that, because we can predicate goodness of some beings and not omnipotence, that there is a distinct entity 'goodness' that in all cases is distinct from 'omnipotence'. But this is a faulty inference. This would also be my criticism of the second, Plantinga-based objection. If we say

(13) If a property is identical with God, God is a property,

we can either mean by 'property' that to which (for example) 'being omnipotent' refers; or we can mean the way in which it refers (the sense). The former turns (13) into

(13a) If that to which we refer when we predicate something of God is identical with God, God is that to which we refer when we predicate something of God.

But (13a) doesn't tell us anything about a property in the sense in which (14) does:

(14) No property is alive, etc.

The second way of understanding it turns (13) into

(13b) If the way a predicate refers to God is identical with God, God is the way a predicate refers to God.

Which goes well with (14), but isn't what anyone actually says. No one says, for instance, that an abstract property is identical with God, or, if they do, they deviate from the doctrine of simplicity.

It should be kept in mind, incidentally, that Aquinas, and all non-analytic philosophers who discuss simplicity, keep clear of this mistake because they don't talk in terms of properties. The closest they come to it is to talk in terms of predication or naming. What we name in God is God, understood in a certain way. When we say 'God is omnipotent' we are really saying, 'God is such as to be understood in such-and-such way'. But our understanding God in such-and-such way does not imply that there is a distinct entity in God, constituting God, which just is what is understood. To say that is to assume far, far too much about the human way of understanding: it is to treat each and every way in which something is understood as if it were a distinct thing. It is as if I said, "John is human; John is a person; John is a student; therefore John is composed of a human-property, a person-property, and a student-property, all three of which are distinct." But someone could reply, "When I say that John is human, I just mean that John admits of being understood in such a way that he can be recognized as human; I don't imply anything about his constituents or composition."

The mistake of the analytically-minded, like Craig and Moreland, is thinking that by introducing the term 'property' they are making the doctrine of simplicity more precise; they are actually just confusing things by introducing a word that is much more ambiguous than the actual terms of the doctrine.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Discipleship Links

* Brad at "21st Century Reformation" discusses the 20th Century Two-step, the tendency to Get-Saved-and-Tell-People-About-It while skipping all the actual work (discipleship) of living the Christian life.

* An interesting article, called Sex in the Body of Christ, on chastity as spiritual discipline.

* Jeremy at "Parableman" discusses Eschatology and the Christian Life.

* The Diet of Bookworms looks like it might be the source of many intersting posts in the blogosphere in the months to come.

Huxley on Whewell on Classification

The Finest Freethinker criticizes the Omniscientist:

Not to give this lecture a too controversial tone, however, I must only advert to one more doctrine, held by a thinker of our own age and country, whose opinions are worthy of all respect, it is, that the Biological sciences differ from all others, inasmuch as in them classification takes place by type and not by definition.

It is said, in short, that a natural-history class is not capable of being defined--that the class Rosaceae, for instance, or the class of Fishes, is not accurately and absolutely definable, inasmuch as its members will present exceptions to every possible definition; and that the members of the class are united together only by the circumstance that they are all more like some imaginary average rose or average fish, than they resemble anything else.

But here, as before, I think the distinction has arisen entirely from confusing a transitory imperfection with an essential character. So long as our information concerning them is imperfect, we class all objects together according to resemblances which we feel, but cannot define; we group them round types, in short. Thus, if you ask an ordinary person what kinds of animals there are, he will probably say, beasts, birds, reptiles, fishes, insects, &c. Ask him to define a beast from a reptile, and eh cannot do it; but he says, things like a frog or a lizard are reptiles. You see he does class by type, and not by definition. But how does this classification differ from that of the scientific Zoologist? How does the meaning of the scientific class-name of "Mammalia" differ from the unscientific of "Beasts"?

Why, exactly because the former depends on a definition, the latter on a type. The class Mammalia is scientifically defined as "all animals which have a vertebrated skeleton and suckle their young." Here is no reference to type, but a definition rigorous enough for a geometrician. And such is the character which every scientific naturalist recognises as that to which his classes must aspire--knowing, as he does, that classification by type is simply an acknowledgment of ignorance and a temporary device.

[T. H. Huxley, "On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences," Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews. Macmillan (London: 1880) 81-83.]

Huxley notes in a footnote the passage to which he is referring in Whewell's Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. I think, however, that Huxley has misunderstood Whewell on this point; for what Huxley calls a definition, Whewell would, I think, still call a type. If, for instance, by a freak of development a filly were to be born with a complete inability to suckle her young, we would not hold that a mammal had given birth to a non-mammal. Whewell thinks biologists classify by type not because they are ignorant, but because they have to do so, given the variety of nature. They can give well-defined characters of the type, but only a type. The distinction between the resemblance that is felt and the resemblance that is defined is actually found in slightly different terms in Whewell, as well, when he distinguishes between primitive and more sophisticated attempts at natural classification. (I suspect, too, that Whewell would regard Huxley's defined class of Mammalia as an artificial classification rather than a natural grouping; as opposed to the natural group of roses. But I'd have to go back and see for sure.)

Nihilism and Value Fictionalism

This weekend there was a Graduate conference here at UT. I only attended one of the sessions, but had the opportunity to hear an excellent paper by Jonathan Ichikawa on value fictionalism as a response to nihilism. (The paper is in PDF here.) His basic argument (as summarized in the associated handout): order for a (fictional) reason to have normative force, we must treat it as authoritative. To treat fictions as authoritative is to commit oneself to the valuing game. A inclination to stop playing the game, if it is to have force, must be endorsed as normative. And to endorse it as normative is to play the game. So the fact that it is 'only' a game will not cause us to stop playing it, even when our inclinations are against it. They only count against when we are affirming it.

I originally intended to ask a question about whether this really does justice to the psychology of the person suffering depression from nihilism, but Simon Blackburn asked it before I did. So I asked a variant of the question, namely, whether this does justice to the psychology of the happy nihilist. Think of a Romantically-conceived Prometheus, viewing the Law of Zeus. Naturally, it's the first Law of Zeus that One must obey Zeus; but Prometheus sees through all the pompous pretensions of Zeus to authority and normativity, and finds it funny. The above argument doesn't really seem to deal with such a nihilism. Ichikawa suggested that the real issue is practical reason; unless we admit some sort of normativity or authoritativeness to reasons, we can't act.

I am much, much farther away from nihilism than Ichikawa is -- almost as far away as one can be -- but I think the nihilist is on much stronger ground than this. When I am thirsty, I don't need a normative or authoritative reason to drink a glass of water; I just need an inclination to do so (which I do, ex suppositione). Likewise with the rest of life. There is a sort of normativity or authoritativeness associated with reasons; but this is just the straightforward fact that a person can rationally propose a standard of behavior and hold himself to it -- and that, really, is all there is to normativity. We have something identifiable as a norm, and we treat it as a norm by expecting it to be upheld. But this is basically to say that the person himself has an authority over his acts inasmuch as he is the natural originator of them, and not much else; it does not follow that it is necessary to practical reason that his reasons have authority over him. The mistake, I think, is thinking that values are necessarily normative, which they are not. A nihilist is not being inconsistent in valuing things and yet considering it pompous, pretentious, or irrational to attribute authority or normativity to the value. It would be utterly absurd for me to attribute some 'normative force' to my reason for acting on my inclination to drink water; I just have a reason to drink, and so I drink. And I could, potentially have something I consider a better reason not to drink, not because there's something called 'normative force' that one reason has in greater quantity than another, but simply because I like it better. Ichikawa is addressing the sort of person who is inclined to say that he acts not out of 'normative reasons' but 'because he just feels like it'; but, I think, 'I just feel like it' is actually able to cover an immense range of human behavior.

Ichikawa gives some rational credit to the nihilist on the basis of Mackie's argument from queerness and Harman's argument from moral explanation; that is why he proposes a value fictionalism rather than a value realism. Since I think both arguments beg the question and are based, moreover, on necessarily false premises if my own theism is true, I don't give the nihilist such credit. If Mackie's and Harman's arguments were to succeed, however, I think the nihilist is immune to Ichikawa's argument; the nihilist is still quite capable of acting. There are lots of things we do that we do on the basis of no reason except that we felt like doing it, a reason neither normative or authoritative unless one makes it so; and the nihilist is just extending this to everything. Reasons are not 'normative entities'; they don't need to exert 'normative force' or 'prescriptive force' on us; they just need to be had and acted upon (if we feel like acting on them).

There is a place for normativity in practical reason; and I think a full account of practical reason requires it (and I think defenders of Mackie and Harman are unreasonable in not realizing that this is so, and in a way independent of the quite arbitrarily-chosen extrinsic standards to which they insist it conform to be admitted). Not, however, in order to act, since the nihilist has an account that can cover an indefinitely large range of human action. The problem with nihilism is that it is irrational, not that it is impractical.

History Carnival #8

The newest edition of the History Carnival is up at St. Nate's Blog.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Various and Sundry

* An Annotated Wimsey; much needed, although only partial. The notes on the interesting but very odd The Documents in the Case (non-Wimsey) are especially good. Never having read Bulwer-Lytton, I hadn't had a good grasp on why "It was a dark and stormy night" has become the proverbial bad literary opening; but the Whose Body? notes conveniently give the full sentence:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents -- except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

The sentence starts out just fine, but then gets worse and worse until it's the literary equivalent of nails on a blackboard. And the fact that it gets worse and worse makes its good start almost painful. So now you know, if you didn't already.

* Michael Spencer discusses Christian sexuality in Sex in Dangerous Places.

* Hugh Montefiore died Friday (HT: NT Gateway Weblog, which has a list of obituaries). He was a pro-nuclear-power environmentalist, Bishop of Birmingham, and Biblical scholar. He was 85.

* Paul Newall has put up an interview on Incompleteness and Scientific Theories (HT: Studi Galileiani), which is an interesting read. I think that it's very clearly not the case that underdetermination is always due to incompleteness of data. In physical theory, i.e., the sort of heavily mathematical theories Duhem solely concerns himself with, underdetermination appears to be due not so much to the incompleteness of the data (although perhaps that contributes) but due to the power of the instrument used: mathematics is a vastly more powerful instrument for generating theory than any methods of data-gathering are for constraining it. One can see an analogy to this if one considers the common exercise of completing a series of numbers:

1, 2, 3, ?

What number comes after 3? If we interpret the data in terms of one possible mathematical pattern (e.g., addition of one), we will get a different result than if we interpret the data in terms of another mathematical pattern (e.g., as part of a Fibonacci sequence). And Duhem's argument for what we would call underdetermination of theory basically insists that we can come up with any number of mathematical ways to organize any set of generalizations from experiment; we are limited in this only by the ingenuity of physicists and mathematicians. Duhem has a rather complicated story for why we don't, in fact, always accept just any mathematical pattern that organizes the data, which gets into psychology; and, in fact, in Duhem's philosophy of science, underdetermination is never a genuine problem, since Duhem doesn't think theory choice in physics needs to be justified by observation, anyway -- observation just gives the material for organization. But the basic point is that in mathematics, the potential for theorizing on any given set of data has no discernible bounds; this is something on the theory side itself, even abstracting from any fuzziness or incompleteness on the empirical side. (That said, Duhem also recognizes underdetermination through the incompleteness of the data, in his discussions of measurement.) I'm not quite sure why this turned into a discussion of Duhem. I also disagree with the 'empirical undecidability' of God's existence as Mathen defines it in the interview, of course. It's absurd to say we can't argue for the existence of x on the basis of our experiences unless our scientific theories for those experiences are complete -- if we believed that, we could never argue for the existence of anything. But there's no reason to restrict it to God's existence: any cause of any experience is in the same boat, because there might always be some other cause that's really doing it (which would show up on a more complete scientific theory). This, in fact, is the reason for Newton's Fourth Rule of Reasoning; thinking that this makes an issue undecidable is just a version of what Newton calls the evasion of induction by hypotheses.

* Haiku summaries of great works of literature at "Mansfield Fox" (HT: Death in the Afternoon). The summary of the Acts of the Apostles is especially appropriate for this Whitsunday:

The Church is born as
The Holy Spirit descends.
Comedy ensues.

* I received a hit from a search engine that shows a profound faith in the informative power of the internet: how to be the master of the world. If only it were that easy....


WHEN God of old came down from Heaven,
In power and wrath he came;
Before his feet the clouds were riven,
Half darkness and half flame:

Around the trembling mountain's base
The prostrate people lay,
Convinc'd of sin, but not of grace;
It was a dreadful day.

But when He came the second time,
He came in power and love,
Softer than gale at morning prime
Hover'd his holy Dove.

The fires that rush'd on Sinai down
In sudden torrents dread,
Now gently light, a glorious crown,
On every sainted head.

Like arrows went those lightnings forth,
Wing'd with the sinner's doom,
But these, like tongues, o'er all the earth
Proclaiming life to come:

And as on Israel's awe-struck ear
The voice exceeding loud,
The trump, that angels quake to hear,
Thrill'd from the deep, dark cloud,

So, when the Spirit of our God
Came down his flock to find,
A voice from heaven was heard abroad,
A rushing, mighty wind.

Nor doth the outward ear alone
At that high warning start;
Conscience gives back th' appalling tone;
'Tis echoed in the heart.

It fills the Church of God; it fills
The sinful world around;
Only in stubborn hearts and wills
No place for it is found.

To other strains our souls are set:
A giddy whirl of sin
Fills ear and brain, and will not let
Heaven's harmonies come in.

Come, Lord, come, Wisdom, Love, and Power,
Open our ears to hear;
Let us not miss th' accepted hour;
Save, Lord, by Love or Fear.

-John Keble, Whitsunday, The Christian Year (1827)