Saturday, October 08, 2005

Personation and Personated Things

I'm not much of a Hobbes fan at all. But I do like one move he makes, even though I don't think he manages to do it quite adequately. One of Hobbes's concepts is that of personation. For X to personate Y is for X to represent Y as the source responsible for Y's words and deeds. I think Hobbes is quite right that we need a concept like this to understand personhood properly. It is needed to understand one facet of real personhood; and it is needed to understand legal fictions like corporate personhood.

Just about anything can be personated. The most important form of personation (from Hobbes's perspective) is representation in a person. If a group of us is adequately represented by one person, that person personates the whole group as one person by being the representative in virtue of whom the whole group has a unified responsibility. Likewise, if we allow groups to be personated under law (as we certainly do), we are allowing the treatment of an entire group as a single person, for at least certain purposes.

There are other cases of personation, though. One important one is when one person personates another. Thus (Hobbes's own example) Moses personated God by his ministry; that is, in the way he interacted with God, Moses represented God as an agent responsible for words and deeds. Another important one is when a person personates himself -- which we all do when we treat ourselves as agents responsible for our own words and actions.

Where Hobbes goes wrong, I think, is in thinking that personhood just is personation. This leads him to the odd view that every personation is a different person. This means that the same person (in our sense) can be many different persons (because he or she can be personated by many different people). This comes out in Hobbes's explication of the Trinity: the Father is God personated by Moses, the Son is God personated by Jesus, the Holy Spirit is God personated by the Apostles. Hobbes himself later backed off from this. Taken strictly it isn't actually heterodox -- the Father is personated by Moses, the Son is personated by Jesus, and the Spirit is personated by the Apostles -- but (1) they don't each personate just one person; (2) it isn't because of Moses, Jesus, and Peter that there are three persons in God. And even though we can read Hobbes's formulation in a non-Sabellian way, it doesn't have anything in it to prevent a Sabellian reading. So Hobbes's account of personhood as a being-personated doesn't do one of the things he originally thought it could, namely, provide a complete account of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

It's not surprising, though; Hobbes's account fails as an account of human personhood as well. For one thing, nothing in Hobbes's account privileges one form of personation over another. (This is one reason why Locke's account of personhood as 'forensic', although very similar, is superior to Hobbes's: Locke privileges divine forensics, i.e., divine personation, over other kinds, followed by self-personation.) For another, personation is probably not the best foundation for an account of personhood, despite the fact that any complete account of personhood needs to say something about personation. An account of personhood should not allow things arbitrarily to be designated persons in the proper sense, because we can't really think of persons in that way (morally, politically, or metaphysically). There needs to be a standard against which the propriety of a personation can be measured -- and that standard will necessarily be a better foundation for an account of personhood than personation itself will.

Antonino of Florence and Just Price

St. Antonino of Florence lived in the Florence -- i.e., the Florence of the Medicis. A moral theologian (who wrote a work called Summa Moralis), he had to deal with the rise of Florentine banking and trade, and with finding an adequate moral-economic analysis of it. He was strongly opposed to usury; to counteract the effects of usury on the poor, he advocated what were called montes pietatis, which were (in essence) municipal pawnshops where, for a small security or occasionally even no security, the poor could get small, short-term no-interest loans to help tide them over in a tight spot, with just a small flat fee to help support the operating costs.

He also battled against exorbitant prices, but in an interesting way. Antonino was focused on the importance of finding a just price for items; the just price was always a factor of the utility, cost of production, and desirability of an item. Now, this could be very complicated, but if I understand him correctly, Antonino held that the socially recognized market price would, as a rule, approximate the just price in any given case, if three conditions were met:

(1) The socially recognized market price only approximates the just price if we are not considering an emergency situation (I think we can give a support for this as follows: socially recognized market prices are neither morally adequate nor justly accurate when a true emergency case has arisen, because the socially recognized market price only gives the just price ceteris paribus, so doesn't take into account special circumstances; likewise, in major emergencies, the market doesn't adjust quickly enough to give an accurate idea of the just price.)

(2) The socially recognized market price only approximates the just price if we are in a healthy economy. (In times of general want, for instance, prices for necessities like basic staples can spiral out of control.)

(3) The people involved in market negotiations (i.e., buyers and sellers) are not acting out of greed. (E.g., the market price doesn't approximate just price unless we assume that people are not deliberately price-gouging, engaging in fraud, etc.)

Since the socially recognized market price approximates just price under the right conditions, it becomes much easier to regulate the cases where it doesn't (e.g., by setting price ceilings on basic staples in emergency situations, or by making fraud illegal).

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Bit of Serenity Online

Those of you have the technical setup can watch the first nine minutes of Serenity online.

And, of course, you should go to the theater and watch it in full. There are a few things I would have changed, but it is mighty close to being exactly what a good sci-fi action adventure should be.

Malebranche's Prayer

O eternal Wisdom, I am not a light to myself; the bodies that surround me cannot enlighten me; the intelligences themselves cannot contain in their being the Reason that renders them wise, nor can they communicate this Reason to my mind. You alone are the light of angels and of men: you alone are the universal Reason of minds: you are yourself the Wisdom of the Father, the eternal, immutable, necessary Wisdom, who renders creatures and even the Creator wise, although in different ways. O my true and only teacher, appear to me: make me to see light in your light. I address myself to none but you; I wish to consult none but you. Speak, eternal Word, Word of the Father, Word in whom all things have been spoken, who speaks and who has spoken all things: speak, and speak so loudly as to make me understand despite the confused noise that my senses and my passions ceaselessly excite in my mind.

But, O Jesus, I pray that you speak nothing in me save to your glory, and make me to know nothing save your greatness, for all the treasures of the wisdom and the knowledge of God Himself are contained in you. Those who know you, know your Father: and those who know you and your Father are perfectly happy. Therefore make me to know, O Jesus, what you are, and how all things subsist in you. Penetrate my mind with the clarity of your light: burn my heart with the ardor of your love: and give me in the course of this work, which I compose only for your glory, expressions that are clear and true, vivid and lovely, in a word, worthy of you, and such that they are able to increase in me, and in those who will meditate carefully with me, the knowledge of your greatness, and a sense of your mercies.

[This prayer prefaces Malebranche's Christian and Metaphysical Meditations; the translation is mine.]

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Free Will Blogging

Sorry to be linking so much, but I just had to link to two posts on free will. The first is Harry Potter on Compatibilism and Self-fulfilling Prophecies at "The Garden of Forking Paths". I'm not convinced that compatibilism actually comes into play, because I don't see anything in Potter's view that's particularly compatibilist. But that's perhaps because the author is reading it as a sort of Frankfurt-style example, and I take the minority view that Frankfurt-style examples don't have any relevance at all to the question of compatibilism (a claim I've suggested before on this weblog), because they aren't really relevant to much of anything. In any case, it raises interesting questions in a fun way.

The other is Free Will Blogging at "Majikthise." I basically agree (except with the claim that there have ever been convincing arguments against free will, since I've never seen one that wasn't a fairly obvious bit of handwaving and question-begging).

Forgery, Pseudepigrapha, and Apocrypha

There is a fascinating discussion on the biblioblogs that's devoted to the conceptual analysis of 'forgery', particularly as it applies to the study of ancient texts. Some of the posts in question:

* "Forgery" (deceit) or "pseudonymity" (admiration): Ehrman's take at "Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean" (Sep. 18)

* Lying and Deception: Prologue at "The Busybody" (Sep. 19)

* Lying and Deception in Homo Sapiens at "The Busybody" (Sep. 24)

* Lying and Deception in Honor-Shame Societies at "The Busybody" (Sep. 25)

* Lying and Deception in Authorship at "The Busybody" (Sep. 28)

* The Seriousness of Forgery in Late Antiquity at "Hypotyposeis" (Sep. 30)

* Ancient "forgery" debate continues on other blogs at "Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean" (Oct. 1)

* Toward an Understanding of “Forgery”: Metzger at "Hypotyposeis" (Oct. 2)

* Toward an Understanding of “Forgery”: Speyer at "Hypotyposeis" (Oct. 3)

Serendipitously, Richard has a post on Truth and Lies at "Philosophy, etc."


The wedding went well. It was at a lovely vineyard, and, except for a bit of rain, everything worked exactly as it was supposed to work. It was great fun seeing friends, of course. I also saw Serenity. It was awesome.

Bloggers were busy while I was gone. Some interesting things that floated around the blogosphere in my absence:

* Sharon discusses Ghosts, murders and providenceat EMN.

* At "Dappled Things" Father Jim discusses ethics and futurism.

* The History Carnival is up at "Apocalyptic Historian".

* Rebecca discusses the delights of potatoes at "Rebecca Writes." She also has a post on one of my favorite Biblical characters.

* Johnny-Dee muses on the possibility of whether the only real objects are fundamental particles in his post, Do Mid-Sized Objects Exist?

* Jeremy discusses moral luck in Battlestar Galactica at "Parableman."

UPDATE: First Things has a weblog. (HT: Redeem the Time)