Saturday, July 09, 2005

Whewell on Theory Change

...when a prevalent theory is found to be untenable, and consequently, is succeeded by a different, or even by an opposite one, the change is not made suddenly, or completed at once, at least in the minds of the most tenacious adherents of the earlier doctrine; but is effected by a transformation, or series of transformations, of the earlier hypothesis, by means of which it is gradually brought nearer and nearer to the second; and thus, the defenders of the ancient doctrine are able to go on as if still asserting their first opinions, and to continue to press their points of advantage, if they have any, against the new theory. They borrow, or imitate, an din some way accommodate to their original hypothesis, the new explanations which the new theory gives, of the observed facts; and thus they maintain a sort of verbal consistency; till the original hypothesis becomes inextricably confused, or breaks down under the weight of the auxiliary hypotheses thus fastened upon it, in order to make it consistent with the facts.

William Whewell, "Of the Transformation of Hypotheses in the History of Science" in Selected Writings on the History of Science, Yehuda Elkana, ed. U Chicago P (Chicago: 1984) p. 385.

This essay was read May 19, 1851; he gives a detailed and brilliant case study of "the battle of the Cartesian and Newtonian systems" to make his argument. Yet again, Whewell, in his philosophy of science, was ahead of his time by more than a generation; and yet again, he was largely ignored and the point he had already made had to be independently rediscovered. A bit sad, really.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Onocephalic Calumny

I've been reading a collection of Jean Borella's writings (translated) called The Secret of the Christian Way. (Borella does work in esoteric Christianity -- Christian gnosis [e.g., Clement of Alexandria], pseudognosis [i.e., what's usually called Gnosticism], responses to pseudognosis, etc.) He speaks at one point of Gnostic (in the heretical sense) aberrations, and notes a text, called Genna Marias (The Lineage of Mary), that claims that the Jews worshipped a man with the face of an ass who stood in the Holy of Holies, and that this was the reason why Zechariah was killed in the Temple. He notes that Flavius Josephus attributes a similar calumny to Apion (Against Apion Bk. II, 7), the claim that Jews put an ass's head in the Holy of Holies. Tacitus (Histories 1.5, 3, 4) also claims that the Jews are onolators. The Christians were also targets of this calumny; Tertullian deals with it in two works, Defense of the Christians agains the Gentiles and To the Nations. gives an excellent summary of the history of this calumny. The source of it (as Borella also says) appears to be in Typhon worship: "Typhon" is the Greek name for Set, the murderer of Osiris, an underworld god.


* An excellent post on the use of labels in history of philosophy at "Philosophical Fortnights": Ism-itis, or the Vanity of Labels. I think in some sense labels are for the historian of philosophy what Duhem thought mechanical models were for the physicist: they assist us in simplifying, when simplification is needed in order to reduce confusion (as it often is in pedagogy,or when we are just starting out); but precisely for that reason real progress in understanding a philosopher doesn't rest much on them at all.

* Philologos discusses interest and usury in the Bible. (HT: Paleojudaica)

* Miriam Burnstein points to this article at CoHE about the possibility that blogging might ruin one's job search. If so, I've pretty much sunk myself a thousand times over; which is entirely fine, I guess, since I'm not sure I'd want colleagues who are so far behind the times that they'd make such odd inferences. It's a bit like rejecting an applicant after finding out by accident that they've been divorced twice, or that they're all-out-no-holds-barred Manchester United fans, or (in a case almost exactly parallel to the 'Techno Geek' case, which is the one that actually irritates me) that they are passionately addicted to stamp collecting. What sort of crazy, sour-faced, self-righteous department would that be? I found this part of the article hilariously funny:

Several members of our search committee found the sheer volume of blog entries daunting enough to quit after reading a few.

I can just imagine some search committee trying to wade through a month's worth of my entries, which average about three a day, most of them hastily jotted notes on just about everything under the sun! When I started blogging, it never occurred to me to do so under a pseudonym; I was surprised to find that so many people did so, although I can entirely understand it. I don't put Siris on my CV, but it's easy enough to find, even despite the jillion and a half Brandon Watsons on the internet. People do need to keep in mind that their weblogs are accessible to the public (it's admittedly easy to forget); anything you say might come back to bite you. Probably will. Such are the consequences of saying and doing things in public. I'll still go about saying things in public; how else does one learn? [UPDATE: Daniel Drezner probably strikes the right note with his two bits of advice; see also Dr. B.]

* An interesting post on theology of the body at "Catholic Ragemonkey".

* "Studi Galileiani" has a good post on teaching science, opening discussion about whether the historical method is the best way to go about it. Duhem has a great argument that it is, at the end of La theorie physique; but for some reason I'm blanking on important parts of it at the moment, so I won't say more about it, but just direct you to the argument itself.

* Some interesting discussions touched off by the London bombings:
Soldier On at "Easily Distracted"
The Rhetorics of Violence at "Michael Berubé Online"
Some doubts at "Mode for Caleb"
Violence and Agency at "Easily Distracted"
"No right of secession from modernity" at "The Elfin Ethicist"

* (This is primarily a reminder to myself) The Provisional Schedule for the 32nd International Hume Conference can be found here. I present on Wednesday, July 20 in a good slot (not too early, not too late).

I'm still catching up on posts that I intend to write, and I'll get through them. But I'm also at the beginning of preparing for a move, and the Hume Society conference is approaching, so posts may be a bit sporadic.

Thought for the Day

People learn no general lessons from war; but with a little luck we can perhaps make sure that they remember what actually goes on during war.

Wisdom from Maurice Blondel; and the Analogical Leap

But it must be realized (for, more and more, philosophers who take the data of sensible intuition or the symbols of the positive sciences as materials for their thesis will be disqualified and will not count for those who count) that the time is past when mathematics , physics or biology could be thought to have a direct bearing on philosophy....There is no passage from one to the other; and the sciences will develop indefinitely without making any contact with what they are mistakenly supposed to signifiy; for it is no business of theirs to attain or to reveal the final ground of thigns: their sole task is to constitute an increasingly coherent system of relationships on the basis of their own special conventions, into which a certain element of arbitrariness always enters, and in so far as each of their various hypotheses proves to be in conformity with factuale vidence.

Thus to discuss conceptions of mass, of the atom, of affinity and so forth, as if one could derive from the scientific theories which elaborate them some information of immediate relevance for the philosopher, is to waste one's time; worse still, it is to become sterile and to discredit oneself. There is no more agreemetn or disagreement possible between the sciences and metaphysics than there is between two lines drawn on differetn planes. When once one has awakened, really awakened, to this truth, which is quite independent of the variety of philosophical opinions, it is impossible to understand how one could have believed the contrary. And then a great deal of time is saved which would have been simply wasted on false problemsna nd a great deal of misdirected effort.

[Maurice Blondel, "A Letter on the Requirements of Contemporary Thought and on Philosophical Method in the study of the Religious Problem," The Letter on Apologetics & History and Dogma, Alexander Dru and Illtyd Trethowan, eds. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids: 1994) pp. 131-132.]

Verily, verily, amen. I recall reading once in Etienne Gilson somewhere a discussion of the association of determinism with Newtonian physics. It is, in some sense, a real puzzle: there is nothing particularly deterministic about Newtonian physics; many who accepted Newtonian physics (I would go so far as to say the overwhelming majority) were not determinists, and were clearly not inconsistent in this; you can only get rationally from Newtonian physics to determinism by a vast number of controvertible suppositions; and so forth. So why did the association between Newtonian physics and deterministic metaphyics arise? Gilson points out that the source seems to have been a vague analogy. When determinists would appeal to Newtonian physics as proof of determinism, the inference from one to the other was not a rational one but an imaginative one, based on a strong felt analogy between certain aspects of Newtonian physics and certain aspects of their deterministic worldview. The inference consists entirely of this analogy; nobody did the hard rational work of building a rational inference. Newtonian physics suggested to the imaginations of determinists (and others, it should be said) certain things that felt or seemed similar to certain deterministic claims. The whole association was based on nothing stronger than a felt resemblance of structure between the scientific theory and the philosophical position; a felt resemblance which was taken for granted rather than rigorously and critically examined. Something very similar happened with quantum indeterminacy; some people, like Eddington, held that it refuted determinism and made room for free will. What was really going on was that, their imaginations having been trained by the previous analogy to associate certain aspects of Newtonian physics with determinism, when those aspects turned out not to show up in quantum mechanics, they made a similar sort of analogical leap in the opposite direction.

It has become more and more clear to me that this failing is extremely common. You can find it everywhere. Steady state theorists often opposed Big Bang cosmology simply because of a felt resemblance to a doctrine of creation; an analogical inference (and again, nothing more than an analogical inference) that seems to be very common. William Lane Craig holds that Big Bang cosmology contradicts the view that the universe has always existed; in fact, this is just analogical, as well, since the only rational way to get from Big Bang cosmology to the refutation of the claim that the universe has always existed is by way of a string of debatable suppositions. Some people think that evolutionary theory involves an attack on morals; what they really mean is that what they hear about evolutionary theory has a strong felt resemblance to an amoralistic worldview. Lindsay, in reply, says:

Simple Darwinism* tells me that every single human is literally family to me. Darwinism tells me that racism is crazy. Pace Genesis, Darwinism also reminds me that I'm not so different from a lot of other animals who are capable of feelings and therefore shouldn't be tortured, regardless of what any deities have to say about our respective statuses. I'm not saying that Darwinism is the only road to those conclusions, just that these Darwinian-inspired tenets are at least as good prima facie reasons for tolerance as anything in Genesis.

[The footnote at the * just points out that the label 'Darwinism' is being borrowed from the context of the discussion, rather than having any deep meaning for Lindsay's argument.]

But evolutionary, of course, says nothing whatsoever about these things. What Lindsay means is that certain aspects of evolutionary theory have a strong imaginative resemblance to a moral view of the human race in which all human beings would morally be able to be counted as family, animals are not so morally different from human beings. These are, as Lindsay rightly says, "Darwinian-inspired"; they are not Darwinian. The tenets are only based on what is felt by the imagination to be a strong resemblance between the physical structure and process indicated by evolutionary theory and the moral structure and process of certain moral views. People in the early twentieth-century who read evolutionary theory in exactly the opposite way, as licensing racism and human superiority over animals, were making an argument of exactly the same sort. The move from evolutionary theory to a moral claim would rationally involve many complicated and difficult-to-defend suppositions; imaginatively it just takes a sense of similarity.

Nor is ethics the only area in which this is true. One of Darwin's most brilliant philosophical insights about how evolutionary theory could be established was in his recognition of the need sharply to distinguish imagination and reason in one's approach to the theory of natural selection. Natural selection, properly speaking, is unimaginable: there are simply too many factors involved in it for anyone to imagine anything remotely close to accurate. People who try to understand natural selection by imagining it will get it wrong. But reason can go where imagination cannot; it can find ways to get around and overcome the complexity of the topic. The path of reason is much, much harder than that of imagination, requiring much, much more careful argument. But Darwin rightly recognized that it is on reason, not imagination, that the theory of natural selection had to be built. If you try to convey the theory by imagination, you will fail and you will mislead people, because you will only convey a caricature that is vaguely analogous to the theory of natural selection, not the theory itself.

I am far from saying that these analogical leaps are always wrong, or even that they are always bad. Hume is right, I think, that the problem with analogical inference is not that it is weak (some analogical inferences are very strong) but that, on its own, it is very uncertain: we cannot say from the inference itself whether it is strong or weak. Only when you begin actually tracing the rational path the analogical inference leaps over can you begin to tell whether the analogy is actually relevant. I do think that these imaginative moves are almost ineliminable; they are an artefact of the way the human mind works, and, recognized for what they are, they can sometimes serve a heuristic function, or (used carefully) they can sometimes be a useful way to shorten an otherwise extremely complicated discussion that can (for the moment) be glossed over. But they need to be recognized for what they are: leaps based on a subjective sense of resemblance, not on any real rational analysis.

Wherein I Am Saint Anselm, the Wesleyan Roman Catholic Evangelical

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavily by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Roman Catholic


Neo orthodox






Classical Liberal


Reformed Evangelical




Modern Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with


There is a story somewhere about a meeting between John Wesley and Joseph Butler that didn't go so well; Butler, like most eighteenth century Anglicans, was shocked at anything 'methodistical', and firmly disapproved of it. I am quite a bit more open to the 'methodistical' than Butler; but I pay only a tiny bit more attention to Methodist theology than he did.

You scored as Anselm. Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'



Karl Barth




John Calvin


Charles Finney


Friedrich Schleiermacher


Jonathan Edwards


Martin Luther


Paul Tillich




Which theologian are you?
created with

(HT: The Elfin Ethicist)

I'm not sure why Anselm is considered "the outstanding theologian of the medieval period," but I am very pro-Anselm, and thus am pleased. I suspect the main factor in whether you get Anselm is how close you are to accepting an Anselmian account of the atonement.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

John Calvin on the Image of God

Calvin, in his Commentary on Genesis:

Since the image of God had been destroyed in us by the fall, we may judge from its restoration what it originally had been. Paul says that we are transformed into the image of God by the gospel. And, according to him, spiritual regeneration is nothing else than the restoration of the same image. (Colossians 3:10, and Ephesians 4:23.) That he made this image to consist in righteousness and true holiness, is by the figure synecdoche; for though this is the chief part, it is not the whole of God's image. Therefore by this word the perfection of our whole nature is designated, as it appeared when Adam was endued with a right judgment, had affections in harmony with reason, had all his senses sound and well-regulated, and truly excelled in everything good. Thus the chief seat of the Divine image was in his mind and heart, where it was eminent: yet was there no part of him in which some scintillations of it did not shine forth. For there was an attempering in the several parts of the soul, which corresponded with their various offices. In the mind perfect intelligence flourished and reigned, uprightness attended as its companion, and all the senses were prepared and moulded for due obedience to reason; and in the body there was a suitable correspondence with this internal order. But now, although some obscure lineaments of that image are found remaining in us; yet are they so vitiated and maimed, that they may truly be said to be destroyed. For besides the deformity which everywhere appears unsightly, this evil also is added, that no part is free from the infection of sin.

Later, in discussing Genesis 5:1, he says:

Moreover, Moses again repeats what he had before stated that Adam was formed according to the image of God, because the excellency and dignity of this favor could not be sufficiently celebrated. It was already a great thing, that the principal place among the creatures was given to man; but it is a nobility far more exalted, that he should bear resemblance to his Creator, as a son does to his father. It was not indeed possible for God to act more liberally towards man, than by impressing his own glory upon him, thus making him, as it were, a living image of the Divine wisdom and justice.

And on the important image of God passage in Genesis 9:6:

For the greater confirmation of the above doctrines God declares, that he is not thus solicitous respecting human life rashly, and for no purpose. Men are indeed unworthy of God's care, if respect be had only to themselves. but since they bear the image of God engraven on them, He deems himself violated in their person. Thus, although they have nothing of their own by which they obtain the favor of God, he looks upon his own gifts in them, and is thereby excited to love and to care for them. This doctrine, however is to be carefully observed that no one can be injurious to his brother without wounding God himself. Were this doctrine deeply fixed in our minds, we should be much more reluctant than we are to inflict injuries. Should any one object, that this divine image has been obliterated, the solution is easy; first, there yet exists some remnant of it, so that man is possessed of no small dignity; and, secondly, the Celestial Creator himself, however corrupted man may be, still keeps in view the end of his original creation; and according to his example, we ought to consider for what end he created men, and what excellence he has bestowed upon them above the rest of living beings.

The same basic point is repeated in the Commentary on Colossians:

And this is what he immediately adds, that we are renewed after the image of God. Now, the image of God resides in the whole of the soul, inasmuch as it is not the reason merely that is rectified, but also the will. Hence, too, we learn, on the one hand, what is the end of our regeneration, that is, that we may be made like God, and that his glory may shine forth in us; and, on the other hand, what is the image of God, of which mention is made by Moses in Genesis 9:6, the rectitude and integrity of the whole soul, so that man reflects, like a mirror, the wisdom, righteousness, and goodness of God. He speaks somewhat differently in the Epistle to the Ephesians, but the meaning is the same. See the passage -- Ephesians 4:24. Paul, at the same time, teaches, that there is nothing more excellent at which the Colossians can aspire, inasmuch as this is our highest perfection and blessedness to bear the image of God.

In the Commentary on Genesis, Calvin, interestingly enough, is very critical of Augustine's very influential meditations on the image of God in De Trinitate:

But Augustine, beyond all others, speculates with excessive refinement, for the purpose of fabricating a Trinity in man. For in laying hold of the three faculties of the soul enumerated by Aristotle, the intellect, the memory, and the will, he afterwards out of one Trinity derives many. If any reader, having leisure, wishes to enjoy such speculations, let him read the tenth and fourteenth books on the Trinity, also the eleventh book of the "City of God." I acknowledge, indeed, that there is something in man which refers to the Father and the Son, and the Spirit: and I have no difficulty in admitting the above distinction of the faculties of the soul: although the simpler division into two parts, which is more used in Scripture, is better adapted to the sound doctrine of piety; but a definition of the image of God ought to rest on a firmer basis than such subtleties.

Note, however, that this criticism falls short of an absolute rejection; his concern is with what he sees as "excessive refinement for the purpose of fabricating a Trinity in man" and too much tendency to rest the definition of the image of God on "subtleties". He accepts the basic Augustinian move, however, when he says that "there is something in man which refers to the Father and the Son and the Spirit," although it isn't clear from this how far he is willing to go.

The Broken World

For information on the London explosions, see:

* BBC News Reporters' Log

* BBC News eyewitness accounts

* The UKBlogs Aggregator

* Technorati links on London bombings

On a different note, in an interview at Der Spiegel, a Kenyan economist argues that aid to Africa, at least in most of its forms, does more harm than good; it tends to prop up oppressive governments, and free donation outcompetes anything Africans themselves can produce (HT: Ravishing Light):

* 'For God's Sake, Please Stop Aid'

New Jerusalem: A Kant-Inspired Philosophical Meditation

A bit of blog-name trivia: You know the weblog, Crooked Timber, and you know the source of the name is Kant, but do you know the context in which Kant makes his remark about the crooked timber of humanity? It is from Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone; he makes the remark in the middle of arguing that the ethical commonwealth cannot be created by human beings but only by God.

The following is a Kant-inspired meditation. It is, in fact, a paraphrase of three passages in RWLRA, with some modification, since I am not giving a meditation by Kant but by someone like myself along lines very similar to Kant's. The paraphrase, therefore, in some places is very close to Kant and sometimes is heading in a different direction, as can be seen if you nab a translation of RWLRA and compare. 'New Jerusalem' is the name I have given, to conjure up the imaginative associations of that name. The argument is an interesting one; Kant's philosophy of the kingdom of God (i.e., the ethical commonwealth) is actually very good. Where the account in RWLRA really fails as an attempt at 'moral Christianity', I think, is in its philosophy of Judaism: Kant's argument collapses in the face of certain elements of Christianity, and they are, by and large, its Jewish elements. But that's a discussion for another time.

The dominion of good begins, and a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand appears, as soon as the basic principles of its constitution first become public; for in the realm of the heart, something is already there when its causes have generally taken root, even if the consummation of its appearance in the sensuous world are still immeasurably distant. The uniting of oneself into a community devoted to moral excellence is a distinctive moral responsibility of human beings insofar as they are rational and therefore morally social creatures. If everyone heeded only their private moral responsibilities, we could infer an accidental agreement of all in a common good, even without the necessity of a special organization. However, such a general agreement cannot rationally be hoped for unless people are specially united with each other for one and the same end, or, in other words, unless there is more than a society of happenstance. There must be a commonwealth under moral laws, federated so as to be a stronger power for withstanding evil and fighting the good faith in common conscience. (Otherwise we are tempted even by each other to do or accept evil as if it were natural to us.) Such a commonwealth can be called Zion or New Jerusalem. Presented with the image of a New Jerusalem, natural reason cannot help but regard it as an object of rational hope; and, indeed, it would be both irrational and immoral not to hope for at least something like it to come to be.

If Zion or the New Jerusalem is to come to be, all individual persons must be ordered together by a public legislation, and all the laws of this public legislation must be the dictates of a common legislative power. In the New Jerusalem, the people, as a people, cannot itself be this power, for the laws of the New Jerusalem are moral (and thus inward, being neither externally imposed nor concerned with merely external behavior). There must therefore be someone other than the populace who is the common legislator of the New Jerusalem. In its foundation, however, moral law cannot be thought of as emanating purely on condition of a legislator's command, for then it would not be moral law, and the response proper to it as law would not be the free excellence of virtue but regard for its sanction and legality. Hence none can be the highest legislator of Zion unless the moral law he commands and makes effective is one with the dictates of eternal reason. Likewise, he must be one who knows the heart, who sees the inwardmost disposition of each person and who is capable of tailoring the ultimate consequence to the worth of the action as determined by moral law. This, however, is the concept of God as moral ruler of the world; thus Zion or New Jerusalem must be thought of as the people of God, ruled by eternal reason. Presented with this image, too, natural reason cannot help but regard it as an object of rational hope.

Now, it is indeed possible to conceive of a people of God under merely statutory laws; in such a system God would be legislator, but although the constitution of such a state would be theocratic, the actual government would be an aristocracy or oligarchy of human mediators. Such a system, being a system of positive rather than moral law, must be distinguished from the New Jerusalem, whose law is inward and moral, being a realm organized by the principles of virtue, and a people of God that is zealous of good works. Such a people are not a rabble or a mob, nor are they a rabble organized by a government, nor are they even a rabble organized by God through a government of priests. Rather, such a people is a spiritual temple, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's possession, who have been called out of darkness into his light. This idea is truly sublime; too sublime for human construction. For when human hands attempt to build this, they only (at best) create an institution that merely intimates to the sensuous imagination and the earth-bound intellect the possibility of Zion. This intimation, however it might be confused with that which it intimates, shows itself, on further examination, always to suggest also the impossibility of going beyond the merely intimating institution by human means. And, indeed, when we speak of human beings, how can one expect to make something perfectly straight out of such warped wood? To found a moral people of God, therefore, is a task whose consummation can be looked for only from God Himself, not from ourselves, however good we may be. Yet we are not therefore entitled to be idle, attending only to our own private moral affairs,as if the moral destiny of all humanity were a matter indifferent to us; rather, we must throw ourselves wholly into the establishment of the cause of Zion. The wish or hope of a virtuous people is always that God's kingdom come, and His will be done, not merely in heaven, but also on earth. A people under divine moral law is a church that, so far as it is united in God (the idea of such union being the archetype of what is to be established or instituted by us) may be called the church invisible. The visible church is the actual union of human persons into a whole striving to harmonize with that archetype.

As we have seen, however, to found a church as a people under moral laws seems to call for more wisdom (both of insight and of good disposition) than can rationally be expected of ourselves, especially since it seems necessary to presuppose the presence in the midst of us of the moral goodness which the establishment of such a church has in view. Actually, it is nonsensical to say that human beings ought to found a kingdom of God; God Himself must be the founder of His Kingdom. Yet, since we know only a little of what God might do directly to translate into actuality the idea of the New Jerusalem, and since we find ourselves the call to become citizens and subjects in that moral city (it being, as we have said, irrational and immoral not to hope for such a possibility, and being, as we certainly are, called to moral life), and since we do know how we may participate in the indirect activity of God toward this end, fitting ourselves to be members thereof, the idea of the New Jerusalem, however discovered or made public, magnetically attracts moral reason to a church of whose constitution God Himself, Founder of Zion, is the author, and to come together into an organization suitable for our striving against what draws us away from that goal.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A Poem Draft

My Cup of Tea Is Half the World

My cup of tea is half the world;
the other half is yours.
At friendship's table they are joined,
undoing every curse.

Without the opening of the lid
the seeing eye is blind;
without each voice the silence hides
the face of humankind.

I write, a pen held in my hand;
it is not half enough --
but when we join our hands to write,
justice is our brush.

Justice is before all first
except for only one:
justice is the shining moon
to friendship's burning sun.

For friendship is the heart of love
and justice is its child;
the time will come when justice reigns
through friendship running wild.

Descartes and Malebranche on the Image of God

Descartes interprets it in the context of his argument for the existence of God (Meditation III; this is the John Veatch translation):

And, in truth, it is not to be wondered at that God, at my creation, implanted this idea in me, that it might serve, as it were, for the mark of the workman impressed on his work; and it is not also necessary that the mark should be something different from the work itself; but considering only that God is my creator, it is highly probable that he in some way fashioned me after his own image and likeness, and that I perceive this likeness, in which is contained the idea of God, by the same faculty by which I apprehend myself, in other words, when I make myself the object of reflection, I not only find that I am an incomplete, [imperfect] and dependent being, and one who unceasingly aspires after something better and greater than he is; but, at the same time, I am assured likewise that he upon whom I am dependent possesses in himself all the goods after which I aspire [and the ideas of which I find in my mind], and that not merely indefinitely and potentially, but infinitely and actually, and that he is thus God.

In the Treatise on Morals Malebranche prefers a more Trinitarian account (Oeuvres Complètes 11:186; this is C. Walton's translation in Treatise on Ethics (1684), Kluwer (Dordrecht: 1993) p. 163):

Each of the three persons of the Holy Trinity impresses its own mark upon all minds created in Its image. The Father, to whom power is attributed, makes them to share in his power, having established them as occasional causes of all they produce. The Son communicates his wisdom and discloses all truths to them through their direct union with intelligible substance, which is comprised of the Son as universal Reason. The Holy Spirit animates them and sanctifies them through their invincible impression toward the good, and through the charity or love of Order which It infuses into all hearts.

Malebranche is traditional in inspiration here. Of course, the result doesn't look very traditional; he translates it into his own system (he is both an occasionalist and an ontologist). The odd consequence, as you can see, is that the image of the Trinity is the Trinity itself (perhaps not so surprising, though, since for Malebranche the idea of God is God Himself, one reason for his many divergences from Descartes in his theory of ideas).

Murphy's Law

There's danger of a garbage strike here in Toronto (the last one a few years ago was very bad). Of course it would happen the month I'm moving out of my apartment and have more trash than usual that I absolutely need to get rid of now. If the city doesn't come to a deal with the outdoor workers they'll go on strike Friday; Friday is my garbage day (and except for organics they only pick up trash every other week now). Sigh. Well, I hope they get a good deal, anyway. In the meantime I wait with 'bated breath.

Links for Reading

* Early Modern Carnivalesque is up at Cliopatria. My post at Houyhnhnm Land on The Horizontal Moon is in it. Jonathan Dresner did a great job of organizing it! The next Carnivalesque will be the Ancient/Medieval edition.

* The Camel's Nose Is in the Tent: Rules, Theories, and Slippery Slopes by Mario Rizzo and Douglas Glen Whitman (HT: Agoraphilia)

* In Carly Simon's 1973 hit song, "You're So Vain," Simon has the lines, "You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you." Glen Whitman at Agoraphilia suggests that the song is about several men, so that "You probably think this song is about you" means "You probably think this song is about you in particular." I think this is close; but the supposition of several men is unnecessary. Actually, Simon's song is paralleled by (I'd imagine) hundreds and maybe thousands of arguments between couples every day. She starts talking about herself; she mentions him prominently because she's in a relationship with him (with all the problems and issues that raises); being a self-centered jerk, he assumes that the mentions mean that he's the topic of the day. So it is here: he can't see that the song is about her, and merely mentions him. There's actually a lot in the song that supports this latter supposition. And it's an important distinction; the fact that the song has lines that are about him doesn't mean that the song itself is about him.

* Brush Up on Butler is the best place on the web to find resources on early modern moral philosopher, Joseph Butler. I find that I've been put up as a link, which is nice. I haven't done much on Butler in the last two or three months, but I've been meaning to return to the good Bishop of Durham. And I certainly will now.

* An Argument Against Doubt at "Mumblings and Grumblings" is interesting; I think Descartes deals with this sort of argument in the Replies to the Seventh Objections.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Carnivalesque Reminder

Carnivalesque ButtonDon't forget that the early modern edition of Carnivalesque will be held tomorrow, so if you have any nominations or submissions, you should get them in today: dresner[at]hawaii[dot]edu.

She Goes Not Abroad, in Search of Monsters to Destroy

John Quincy Adams guestblogs at Cliopatria, with some words that are certainly relevant to today.

I haven't read much of Adams; but my favorite Adams oration is online, at Project Gutenberg: "The Jubilee of the Constitution, delivered at New York, April 30, 1839, before the New York Historical Society." The speech is an argument that the Constitution improved upon the Articles of Confederation by returning the principles of the Declaration of Independence. My favorite part:

And thus was consummated the work commenced by the Declaration of Independence--a work in which the people of the North American Union, acting under the deepest sense of responsibility to the Supreme Ruler of the universe, had achieved the most transcendent act of power that social man in his mortal condition can perform--even that of dissolving the ties of allegiance by which he is bound to his country; of renouncing that country itself; of demolishing its government; of instituting another government; and of making for himself another country in its stead.

And on that day, of which you now commemorate the fiftieth anniversary--on that thirtieth day of April, 1789--was this mighty revolution, not only in the affairs of our own country, but in the principles of government over civilized man, accomplished.

The Revolution itself was a work of thirteen years--and had never been completed until that day. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are parts of one consistent whole, founded upon one and the same theory of government, then new in practice, though not as a theory, for it had been working itself into the mind of man for many ages, and had been especially expounded in the writings of Locke, though it had never before been adopted by a great nation in practice.

I don't agree with all of Adams's argument (I don't have quite the animus against the Articles of Confederation that he did), but I think he was on to something.

You can also find Adams's State of the Union addresses. I looked over them when composing this post, and was rather saddened by the thought that they show so vividly a decline in the governance of our great nation: compare the propagandistic, self-aggrandizing pap of modern addresses with the substantive addresses -- sometimes short, but almost always conveying crucial points -- of early Presidents like Adams. For that matter, compare recent Presidents to the Presidents of the middle of the twentieth century. To some extent it's a matter of subjective judgment, but it seems to me that, while there were already clear signs of decline, there begins to be sharp decline in quality of thought with Johnson; in particular, a massively increased tendency to tell us less about the state of the Union and more about why we should believe that the President is brilliant. Looking at various online summaries of the history of the addresses, I wonder if the reason has to do with television. Truman's 1947 State of the Union was the first to be televised. And perhaps it has some effect on the speeches of Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. But Johnson must have been very aware of the political value of television, since he's the one who moved the State of the Union to prime time; and comparing his addresses to those of Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy is a bit jarring. Starting with Johnson the advertisements and excuses, and endless egoistic self-parading, seem to begin in earnest. And it doesn't really get better at any point, although to be fair, Reagan at least has the decency to make the excuses and advertisements less obvious - he's politicking rather than giving us the state of the Union, but at least he sometimes manages to sound like he's telling us about the state of the Union. Clinton and the Bushes are all shameless, although Bush Sr.'s first address starts out on the right note. Of course, it seems to have been Reagan who started that nasty, horrible habit of actually having in the address a sentence saying something like "The State of the Union is strong" -- the most uninformative do-nothing politically-smarmy sentence you can find in any State of the Union address; and it has come up often. When Wilson re-instated the long-dead practice of delivering the State of the Union address in person, the practice having been killed by Jefferson's refusal to act like a monarch, he was attacked by members both within and without his party for trying to imitate the silly pompousness and cavalcades of despots. Perhaps it's time we started saying the same.

(A good essay on the problem of the televised addresses here.)

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Three Peculiar Pages

Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, published in multiple volumes in the 1760s, is perhaps the world's greatest experimental novel. That's a fairly bold statement, but if any experimental novel has a claim on that title, Tristram Shandy does. For quite a while now I've wanted to put up a post on three pages in the work, each of which is intended to indicate an aspect of the mysteriousness of human life.

The Black Page

In Volume I Chapter XII we find a page that looks something like this:


It is an elegiac page; Sterne inserts it after the death of the parson Yorick (Alas, poor Yorick! -- According to Shandy, this Yorick is a relative of Hamlet's Yorick). It symbolizes the mystery of death. Death is a black page, something put in the novel which we are almost expected to read (and which we all try to read, as we always try to 'read' death and the mysteries involved therein).

The Marbled Page

This page, which is inserted at the end of Volume III Chapter XXXVI, I can't really reproduce here; for an example, see Tristram Shandy Online.

I say 'an example' because an example is all that it is. It is one marbled page. But the marbling process creates a different page each time. Thus, every single book with a true marbled page has a different marbled page! And that's the point. As the narrator says:

Read, read, read, read, my unlearned reader ! read, -- or by the knowledge of the great saint Paraleipomenon -- I tell you before-hand, you had better throw down the book at once; for without much reading, by which your reverence knows, I mean much knowledge, you will no more be able to penetrate the moral of the next marbled page (motly emblem of my work !) than the world with all its sagacity has been able to unraval the many opinions, transactions and truths which still lie mystically hid under the dark veil of the black one.

A "motley emblem of my work": in other words, the book itself. But the book is itself a sort of presentation of life -- Sterne is constantly mocking the pretensions of the novel to being 'true to life' by giving it, in Tristram Shandy, a task that takes such a pretension seriously: the actual recording of a full life, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy. With the exception of a few digressions and what one generally learns about a narrator (who is Tristram himself), we learn virtually nothing about Tristram's actual life: virtually all the long, sprawling, unfinished nine-volume work is devoted to the background that would be needed to understand Shandy's early years. A large chunk is taken to develop the background necessary for understanding his conception, and another to understanding his birth; we already get something of the Tristra-paedia, and would no doubt get more if Sterne had managed (as he intended) to write yet more volumes. The novel's 'trueness to life' is simply inadequate for a serious demand that it be true to life. Tristram Shandy is motley and endless because human life is motley and so individualized -- each person being, as it were, a unique marbled page, whose individuality is so precise it admits of no adequate description.

The Blank Page

The third peculiar page is found in Volume VI Chapter XXXVIII. Shandy has just begun to talk about the widow Wadman, of whom he says at the end of Chapter XXXVII, "never did they eyes behold, or they concupiscence covet any thing in this world, more concupiscible than widow Wadman". He then goes on to say:

TO conceive this right, -- call for pen and ink -- here's paper ready to your hand. ---- Sit down, Sir, paint her to your own mind ---- as like your mistress
as you can ---- as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you -- 'tis all
one to me ---- please but your own fancy in it.

The Picture of the Widow Wadman, the most desirable of all women, is a blank page. And after the blank page, the narrator continues:

------ Was ever any thing in Nature so sweet ! -- so exquisite !

---- Then, dear Sir, how could my uncle Toby resist it ?

Thrice happy book ! thou wilt have one page, at least, within thy covers,
which MALICE will not blacken, and which IGNORANCE cannot misrepresent.

It might be a bit too pedantic, or too pompous, or both, to say that this blank symbolizes the mystery of love, although I think a lot could be said in such a vein. What we call 'beautiful' or 'attractive' is actually just that which is blank enough that we can 'please our fancy in it'; we conceive it aright when we just let our imagination make it up. And it's surprising how obvious this sometimes seems if you think about the fashion industry, or Hollywood. There are always exceptions, of course; but attractive people are often blank -- not quite as blank as the picture of Widow Wadman, but blank enough -- and all their attractiveness is just what we have chosen to write on them with our imaginations (often guided by designers and directors). In other words, they are attractive to so many people because they are so easy for everyone to adapt for their own imaginations.

But it's possible to look at the blank page a bit differently (one of the problems with the interpretation of a blank page, I suppose). This is suggested by the "Thrice Happy Book" paragraph. The blank page is not merely about the interpretation of beauty or 'concupiscibility'. [Incidentally, the ambiguity of what Sterne actually says about the widow is interesting. He says that our eyes have not seen or our concupiscences coveted anything so concupiscible as the widow Wadman. One reading of that, encouraged by the lines immediately following the blank page, is to take 'concupiscible' as synonymous with desirable; but it could be a play on words, as well, since 'concupiscible' can also mean 'filled with strong desire, lustful', which describes the widow to a T, as she lays siege to poor uncle Toby in order to get him as a husband.] The problem with interpreting concupiscibility can be generalized to all interpretation. By providing a blank page, Shandy purports to give us the one page in his book safe from distortion by malice or ignorance; since there is no right or wrong way to interpret a blank page, it is immune from misinterpretation.

I think of that blank page sometimes when I get the sinking feeling (as one is apt occasionally to do in history of philosophy, since I know I'm not the only one to feel this way at times) that I am surrounded by brilliant, intelligent people who nevertheless cannot read. They're literate, but more is needed to read Descartes than vocabulary and grammar, which are just the technical rudiments of the art of reading. For it is an art, one that has to be adapted to the peculiarities of each genre and text; it is a very difficult art, one that takes patience to learn. The feeling that they can't read at all is, of course, a bit exaggerated, and only liable to overtake one when faced with the most egregious cases. It's not quite that bad; and yet there is sometimes enough of a deficiency there to make one through up one's hands in a fit of exasperation (in my case it doesn't help that I do so much work with authors and texts that diverge considerably from people's expectations -- Malebranche, for instance, is notoriously easy to misread, and if my interpretation of him is right, he has always been misread, as he often insists he was, by people who fail to take seriously what he thinks is important). And we are not talking here about mere misreading, which is a possibility that can never entirely be eliminated in reading, however well one reads -- it's always possible that, even if only on one point, the author is too clever for you, or that the text is set up in a way that with your background you can't help but project your own imagination onto it regardless of what the author actually says. The problem identified here is more systematic, more consistent, than the occasional lapses to which we are all certainly subject. The problem is that all text invites misrepresentation; all communication that's more than a blank page is perpetually in danger of being misread by people who have not learned the art of reading that particular sort of communication well. The only remedy, to the extent that there is a remedy, is the cultivation of candor (which I suppose would be the eighteenth-century opposite of malice) and relevant knowledge, and the patient self-cultivation required for both. Sterne, so often misread himself, knew this well.

Those are just three pages in the novel. Sterne does a many other experimental things that are fascinating in themselves. But the three peculiar pages are my favorites.

Further Linking

* I've always thought that, despite some weaknesses, The Ball and the Cross is one of Chesterton's best works -- not up to the level of The Man Who Was Thursday, to be sure, but still quite good. Michael Gilleland recently posted the following quote from the book, which reminds me of why:

"Well, we won't quarrel about a word," said the other, pleasantly.

"Why on earth not?" said MacIan, with a sudden asperity. "Why shouldn't we quarrel about a word? What is the good of words if they aren't important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn't any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn't there be a quarrel about a word? If you're not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about?"

So if you haven't already, read the book, you chimpanzees. And I use that word in a nice way.

* At "Houyhnhnm Land" I've posted on an important issue in the philosophy of vision, the Horizontal Moon; or, as Sharon calls it, Mooning with Brandon. (An interesting fact: for most people the illusion ceases if they stand with their back to the moon, bend over, and look at it through their legs.) You can leave comments about it here, if the impulse takes you; if you catch any errors I've overlooked, please let me know.

* Around July 4, it's always a good thing to take a little time out for a relevant blogospheric classic, What Should Christians Think of the Fourth of July? at "Parableman".

* An interesting post on theodicy at "Prosblogion"; Jeremy's comment and trackbacked post are dead-on.

* Timothy Burke at "Easily Distracted" has an excellent post on Live8; the general thought I thought myself (while watching Ah-Ha; honestly, I didn't even know they were still alive, but they looked like they were doing well; and "Take on Me" still sounds horrible without studio editing), but Burke has a knack for clarifying issues like this. (HT: Cliopatria.)

* "Death in the Afternoon" rightly points out that the Daleks are The Doctor's most terrifying enemies. Indeed, despite the fact they look like modified garbage cans, they are the sci-fi baddies I would least like to tangle with. The Daleks are not merely ruthless but ruthlessly ruthless. They are also, unlike many sci-fi baddies, very good at long-term strategy (not so great when they have to think on their feet, though); and they are the only species who were capable of fighting to mutual destruction the Time Lords of Gallifrey. The Daleks are also an interesting sci-fi concept, in that they are independent of the show itself: the intellectual property rights to the Dalek concept are partly owned by the estate of Terry Nation, who created them, and the BBC has to go through immensely complicated negotiations and pay a rather hefty price whenever it decides to use them (so much so that the Daleks, who recently made an appearance on the season finale of the new Doctor Who series, almost didn't: in original negotiations they failed to agree on terms). The BBC has through the years had to find a medium between the cheaper and easier alternative of not using them (which irritates fans, who have always been fascinated by the Daleks and want more of them) and the fan-desired alternative of using them often (which is financially prohibitive).

* Macht guests at "The Evangelical Outpost" with an interesting post on technology. I suppose I'm neither quite instrumentalist or substantivist; what constitutes technology as technology is a set of intentions and conventions. As a result I agree with a number of things in Macht's post. Incidentally, technology is a good reason why the move in philosophy of science from the 1930s & 1940s emphasis on social and ethical aspects of science and society to the more technical (and, with rare exceptions, completely useless) confirmation-and-justification babble that has largely occupied it since was a sort of fall from grace. Whatever might be said against the Vienna Circle (and many things might be said), they were entirely right that the ethics and politics of science is of crucial value and importance.

[Kathleen Okruhlik has a good article in Hypatia (2004) called "Logical Empiricism, Feminism, and Neurath's Auxiliary Motive" that, among other things, notes how the devaluation of values in philosophy of science has been systematically used to block feminist critiques of scientific and technological practice and how a return to the more values-oriented view could have fruitful results. Even if you have no sympathy with Neurath's Marxism, it's a worthwhile read; Neurath's work on the 'auxiliary motive', despite some oddities, is an interesting place to start for people interested in the way valuation works in science, and his work on the problem of how to convey complicated statistical information to ordinary people is fascinating work that needs to be developed.]

* Chris has a post at "Mixing Memory" sorting out different strands of research that are called "evolutionary psychology".

* UPDATE: Rebecca gives Cecil Alexander's 1889 translation of the Lorica of St. Patrick.

A Rant

When will people recognize the claim, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" for what it is: a shoddy cliché, with no rigorously specifiable meaning, based on a confused and unimpressive philosophical analysis of the way evidence actually supports claims, relying for its 'ring of truth' more on rhetorical parallelism than on serious thought about evidential reasoning, used by lazy-minded people as an excuse for not doing the hard rational work of real meta-evidentiary analysis? Will we really have to wait until they start realizing that it's the sort of nonsensical stupidity that can be turned against any position, any time, for any reason?

End of Rant.

An Academic Meme

Miriam Burnstein sent this my way; it's interestingly different meme than the sorts that usually go around. Unfortunately, most of my answers are very dull; I really should get more.

(1) Imagine it’s 2015. You are visiting the library at a major research university. You go over to a computer terminal (or whatever it is they use in 2015) that gives you immediate access to any book or journal article on any topic you want. What do you look up? In other words, what do you hope somebody will have written in the meantime?

I have an affection for brilliant philosophical minds who have been (in my opinion) unfairly overlooked by academics, so this is fairly easy -- I can name three things off the top of my head:

(a) a thorough study of Lady Mary Shepherd's theory of causation;
(b) a thorough study of William Whewell's moral philosophy, with particular focus on his arguments against the utilitarians;
(c) a critical and annotated edition of the works of Mary Astell, or, at the very least, a well-edited edition of The Christian Religion As Profess'd by a Daughter of the Church of England, her major work.

(2) What is the strangest thing you’ve ever heard or seen at a conference? No names, please. Refer to “Professor X” or “Ms. Y” if you must. Double credit if you were directly affected. Triple if you then said or did something equally weird.

I really can't think of anything, unfortunately; but I tend to be so oblivious at conferences that I probably wouldn't notice anything strange if it happened right in front of me.

(3) Name a writer, scholar, or otherwise worthy person you admire so much that meeting him or her would probably reduce you to awestruck silence.

I'm not inclined to regard anyone who hasn't been dead for a hundred years with awe, and I can assure you that if I met someone who had been dead for a hundred years, my response would not be awestruck silence. But I suppose the closest case would be Gyula Klima. We'll have that tested in Fall term; he'll be at a medieval seminar here at UT.

(4) What are two or three blogs or other Web sites you often read that don’t seem to be on many people’s radar?

The Scholasticum, which is devoted to scholastic philosophy and theology, is the most obvious thing that comes to mind. There are also some good Biblioblogs, like Hypotyposeis and Ralph the Sacred River that tend to be overlooked by people who don't read much in that area.

I like receiving memes, but I don't generally pass them on much, any more. But anyone can carry on the torch, if they so wish.