Friday, October 14, 2005

Gifford Lectures

As some of you know, I have a taste for Gifford Lectures; I've read quite a few, and, to the very, very, very, very, very limited extent my budget allows, I collect them. Reading some articles on them(here and here, HT: speculative catholic), I came across the Gifford Lectures Online. At present it looks like it's very much under construction; about all one can find there right now are lists of Lecturers and published Lectures. But it looks like they'll eventually have more. As to the articles I was reading, it appears that they were touched off by a new book on the Gifford Lectures, The Measure of God by Larry Witham, which I'll have to read eventually.

The Limits of Reason and Anti-Skeptical Strategy

I've been teaching Descartes's Meditations recently, and happened to come across a very good paper by Jennifer Nagel (PDF) on the role of God in Descartes's response to skepticism. She argues that (at least an important part of) the role of God in Descartes's argument against skepticism is to provide a backdrop against which the limits of our own rational powers can be seen, and that there is something to be said for an approach that is at least broadly Cartesian (i.e., insisting that the skeptic properly recognize the limits of reason):

Having acknowledged that our active rational powers are limited, it is unsurprising that such powers would fail in certain hypothetical circumstances, tailored precisely to exploit those limitations, but when our limited powers are exercised in favorable circumstances, the Cartesian contends that this exercise has every right to count as yielding knowledge.

This doesn't, of itself, deal with the skeptical claim that we can't prove that we are not in an unfavorable circumstance; but, as she rightly says, the worry that we might be wrong is less pressing than the worry that we can't be right, to which it does provide a serious response.

(Cross-posted at Houyhnhnm Land)

Butler on the Ties that Unite

Mankind are by nature so closely united, there is such a correspondence between the inward sensations of one man and those of another, that disgrace is as much avoided as bodily pain, and to be the object of esteem and love as much desired as any external goods; and in many particular cases persons are carried on to do good to others, as the end their affection tends to and rests in; and manifest that they find real satisfaction and enjoyment in this course of behaviour. There is such a natural principle of attraction in man towards man that having trod the same tract of land, having breathed in the same climate, barely having been born in the same artificial district or division, becomes the occasion of contracting acquaintances and familiarities many years after; for anything may serve the purpose. Thus relations merely nominal are sought and invented, not by governors, but by the lowest of the people, which are found sufficient to hold mankind together in little fraternities and copartnerships: weak ties indeed, and what may afford fund enough for ridicule, if they are absurdly considered as the real principles of that union: but they are in truth merely the occasions, as anything may be of anything, upon which our nature carries us on according to its own previous bent and bias; which occasions therefore would be nothing at all were there not this prior disposition and bias of nature. Men are so much one body that in a peculiar manner they feel for each other shame, sudden danger, resentment, honour, prosperity, distress; one or another, or all of these, from the social nature in general, from benevolence, upon the occasion of natural relation, acquaintance, protection, dependence; each of these being distinct cements of society. And therefore to have no restraint from, no regard to, others in our behaviour, is the speculative absurdity of considering ourselves as single and independent, as having nothing in our nature which has respect to our fellow-creatures, reduced to action and practice. And this is the same absurdity as to suppose a hand, or any part, to have no natural respect to any other, or to the whole body.

(From the sermon Upon Human Nature, Sermon 1 of the Fifteen Sermons)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Prescient Election

In her post, Peering Down the Corridors of Time, Rebecca gives a great response to the doctrine of prescient election (that God elects based on foreknowledge of the faith of the elect). It reminds me in some ways of Aquinas's arguments against a similar position.

In ST 1.23.5, Thomas considers the question of whether foreknowledge of merits is the cause of predestination. 'Merit', it should be noted, is used in a broad sense by scholastics to indicate both congruous and condign merit. 'Condign merit', which is merit in the strict sense, is intrinsic merit; it is established by justice. Thus, if I merit something by condign merit, or adequate merit (as it is sometimes also called), it is unjust not to give me what I merit. 'Congruous merit', also called inadequate merit or quasi-merit, does not derive from justice. If I merit something congruously, all this means is that it is fitting, all things considered, for that something to be given to me. Thus, for instance, if a king decides that if I do x, he will give me y, and y is not strictly required for justice, then when I do x, I merit y congruously. It would not be unjust for the king to deny me y, but all things considered (including the king's decision) it is better for me to be rewarded y than not. When we are talking about predestination we are necessarily talking about something that can only be congruously merited. Thus, in this sense, the claim that God predestines because He foresees our faith is just a slightly more specific version of the claim Aquinas is considering; the doctrine of prescient election claims that by faith we congruously merit election. And, indeed, the first objectio that Aquinas considers is a clear affirmation of prescient election:

It seems that foreknowledge of merits is the cause of predestination. For the Apostle says (Romans 8:29): "Whom He foreknew, He also predestined." Again a gloss of Ambrose on Rm. 9:15: "I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy" says: "I will give mercy to him who, I foresee, will turn to Me with his whole heart." Therefore it seems the foreknowledge of merits is the cause of predestination.

In answering the question, Aquinas first makes a distinction between two positions:

(1) Positions that take it to mean that the meriting action somehow forces God to choose, which Aquinas says that no one has been so insane (insanae mentis, of unhealthy mind) as to claim (alas, I don't think we could say the same);


(2) Positions that take it to mean that God has pre-ordained that He would elect to anyone who merited it in some way.

And he divides the positions in (2) according to the time of merit.

Some people hold that God predestines according to the merits of a former life (Aquinas attributes this to followers of Origen). In response he quotes Romans 9:11-12: For when they were not yet born, nor had done any good or evil . . . not of works, but of Him that calleth, it was said of her: The elder shall serve the younger.

Others hold that God predestines according to pre-existing merits in this life. By 'pre-existing' Aquinas means, 'occurring before the time when the effect of God's predestinative decree actually goes in to effect for that person'. This is the position that by doing some type of good works we can merit saving grace, and Aquinas associates this with the Pelagians: we begin the process, God completes it. Aquinas quotes 1 Corinthians 3:5 against this position: we are not sufficient to think anything of ourselves as of ourselves.

The third position Aquinas considers is the position that some effect of predestination is the reason for predestination (e.g., that God foresees that we will make good use of grace).

His argument against his third position actually applies against all three positions. He notes that the reason why someone might hold this view is to preserve free choice:
But these seem to have drawn a distinction between that which flows from grace, and that which flows from free will, as if the same thing cannot come from both. It is, however, manifest that what is of grace is the effect of predestination; and this cannot be considered as the reason of predestination, since it is contained in the notion of predestination. Therefore, if anything else in us be the reason of predestination, it will outside the effect of predestination. Now there is no distinction between what flows from free will, and what is of predestination; as there is not distinction between what flows from a secondary cause and from a first cause. For the providence of God produces effects through the operation of secondary causes, as was above shown (ST 1.22.3). Wherefore, that which flows from free-will is also of predestination.

In other words, Aquinas is arguing that these views make the mistake of thinking that free choice has to be somehow protected from predestination or it isn't free. But this is to make a mistake about how God causes things. They think that if God's causing an action by grace is inconsistent with our having free choice. But this is simply false; if this were true in general, God's providence would be riddled with wholes and failures. Therefore, says Aquinas,

It is impossible that the whole of the effect of predestination in general should have any cause as coming from us; because whatsoever is in man disposing him towards salvation, is all included under the effect of predestination; even the preparation for grace. For neither does this happen otherwise than by divine help, according to the prophet Jeremias (Lamentations 5:21): "convert us, O Lord, to Thee, and we shall be converted."

There is, of course, a sense in which faith or good use of grace or what have you is the reason for election; it is a final cause of it. That is, God gives grace in order that we might have faith, or use it well, or whatever else. But this is a very different sort of thing. The real cause of election, however, is nothing other than God's goodness, "towards which the whole effect of predestination is directed as to an end; and from which it proceeds, as from its first moving principle."

In this we can see what Aquinas's answer to the doctrine of prescient election will be: "The use of grace foreknown by God is not the cause of His conferring grace, except after the manner of a final cause."

I was reminded of Aquinas's argument in readnig Rebecca's post, because her response is at least close kin to Aquinas's. And this is perhaps not surprising; while they are not the same, Aquinas's basic doctrine of predestination and Calvinist doctrines of predestination are very similar in their basic principles, and they both agree completely at least in this: they are serious attempts to preserve the primacy or priority of God's creative power over any creaturely effect.

Perfect Love

One of my favorite hymns:

O perfect Love, all human thought transcending,
Lowly we kneel in prayer before Thy throne,
That theirs may be the love which knows no ending,
Whom Thou forevermore dost join in one.

O perfect Life, be Thou their full assurance,
Of tender charity and steadfast faith,
Of patient hope and quiet, brave endurance,
With childlike trust that fears nor pain nor death.

Grant them the joy which brightens earthly sorrow;
Grant them the peace which calms all earthly strife,
And to life’s day the glorious unknown morrow
That dawns upon eternal love and life.

Hear us, O Father, gracious and forgiving,
Through Jesus Christ, Thy coeternal Word,
Who, with the Holy Ghost, by all things living
Now and to endless ages art adored.

--Dorothy Gurney

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


* There's been some discussion about the recent article by Gregory Paul arguing that religiosity is correlated with societal dysfunction. You can find it online. It is a very weird paper, and noticeably so even to a non-statistician's eye. While the study is supposed to be on the noncorrelation of nonreligiosity with societal dysfunction (i.e., with providing a statistical refutation of the claim that religiosity is required for a health society), it spends most of its space talking about creationism and evolution. It makes many claims that are not clearly connected to its statistical argument. It claims not to give causal links but makes claims that require them (e.g., paragraph [17]). It doesn't seem to examine very carefully the fact that the U.S., as usual, is out in the middle of nowhere as an extreme outlier, whereas most statistics papers of this sort that I have seen would at least have a short explicit argument about whether the outlier was distorting the results (or was a symptom of some deeper distortion). For what is purportedly a statistical study it is highly polemical in tone. It mischaracterizes Catholic doctrine. It is vague in its use of terms, and its statistics seem to consist entirely of little graphs that are not very informative.

I would be the first to admit that statistics is an immensely difficult discipline, involving many things that are not entirely intuitive, but if this were standard statistical practice I would begin to be very skeptical of statistics. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to be anything remotely near standard. The best discussion of the article that I have seen is at Magic Statistics, the weblog of Scott Gilbreath. He gives his reasons for doubting the statistical value of the article. Alas, the atheistic part of the blogosphere has been spreading the study. Even if the conclusion of the paper is right, it doesn't seem to provide any clear statistical evidence for it; and if we're stuck with regarding it as a philosophical argument based on scattered evidences, it's not a very good one of those, either (and even if it were a well-formulated philosophical argument it wouldn't be contributing anything new, anyway).

* The next poetry carnival is going to be at Talking to Myself. Entries need to be in by the end of October 14. The host is asking for a theme:

NEW THIS MONTH: I would like to ask for a theme for all entries and this month's theme is short poetry -- limericks, haiku, tanka, renku, cinquains, you name it -- anything is welcome as long as it is 6 lines or less.

Spinoza on Buridan's Ass

Fourthly, it may be objected that if man does not act from freedom of will, what would happen if he should be in a state of equilibrium like Buridan's ass? Will he perish of hunger and thirst? If I were to grant this, I would appear to be thinking of an ass or a statue, not of a man. If I deny it, then the man will be determining himself, and consequently will possess the faculty of going and doing whatever he wants....

As to the fourth objection, I readily grant that a man placed in such a state of equilibrium (namely, where he feels nothng else but hunger and thirst and perceives nothing but such-and-such food and drink at equal distances from him) will die of hunger and thirst. If they ask me whether such a man is not to be reckoned an ass rather than a man, I reply that I do not know, just as I do not know how one should reckon a man who hangs himself, or how one should reckon babies, fools, and madmen.

[Ethics, Part II, Proposition 49 Scholium.]

This is a very refreshing response (and, I think, very reasonable, given that the objection isn't very strong), since most determinists seem to try to wriggle out of having to admit the equilibrium.

By the way, I've been told by a Buridan scholar that Buridan himself tends not to use an ass in this sort of example. He uses a dog. I imagine the ass caught on because it makes the rhetoric better.

All New Elevator Cables Are Like Elevator Cables

I've been very busy the past two weeks, so I've only just now been able to read the weird SF lines at Thog's Masterclass. It's perhaps a sign of something about the profession of philosophy that many of them sound vaguely like something we would find in philosophy journals. Consider:

'"You have a slight fever, suggesting your body is fighting some infection," Nicole told General Borzov. "All the internal data confirms that you are feeling severe pain."' -- Arthur C.Clarke & Gentry Lee, Rama II

`Just to the south of them, the new Socket was like a titanic concrete bunker, the new elevator cable rising out of it like an elevator cable ...' -- Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Mars

`He knows in that moment more than he has ever known in his life and more than he will know in five minutes.' -- Marge Piercy, Body of Glass

`The agony went on and on as she threshed about the room, oblivious to nothing but the pain.' -- Stephen Marley, Shadow Sisters

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

First Draft of a Poem

I've always liked this name (Maher Shalal Chash Baz); for those who are interested in sources, it's found in Isaiah 8. Incidentally (for those who like trivia), it's the longest word in the Bible. The Vulgate renders it, "Velociter spolia detrahe Cito praedare", which would be a rather long name for a little boy to be saddled with; almost as long as some Puritan names. But you could call him "Velociter" for short. The imagery of the poem is part Isaiah, part Nahum, part Revelation, part Daniel, part other, all jumbled up together.


An angel in heaven was flying
to and fro o'er all the earth;
an angel in a loud voice crying,
How many, O sons of men?

How many men are fallen, O sons of men,
how many are dead and dying
in great Ascalon and Tyre?
How many widows are crying
where the blood flows down like water
from the horse's smashing hoof?

How many young men lie dead, sons of men?
How many in the grave unwed,
where roses grow, and poppies,
in the bloody fields of war?
How many, O ye nations?
How many slip into darkness,
whose face will be seen no more?
How many men are fallen, sons of men?

In the starlit skies, brightly shining,
Mars has wandered to work his will.
In the midst of all our feasting
a formless hand has writ
our sorrow on walls of joy;
we are gravid with the weight of it.
We see it on gilded tables,
on the heads of children at play:
Mahershalalhashbaz --
'Quick pickings, easy prey'.

Respecting Beliefs

I tend to like Simon Blackburn, but his essay Religion and Respect (PDF) is a bit disappointing. He opens the essay with a story about a dinner party:

Some years ago, without realizing what it might mean, I accepted a dinner invitation from a Jewish colleague for dinner on Friday night. I should say that my colleague had never appeared particularly orthodox, and he would have known that I am an atheist. However, in the course of the meal, some kind of observance was put in train, and it turned out I was expected to play along—put on a hat, or some such. I demurred, saying that I felt uncomfortable doing something that might be the expression of some belief that I do not hold, or of joining a “fellowship” with which I felt no special community, and with which I would not have any particular fellow-feeling beyond whatever I feel for human beings in general. I was assured that what it would signify, if I went through with the observance, was not that I shared the world views or beliefs of my host, or wished myself to identify uniquely with some particular small subset of humanity, but only that I respected his beliefs, or perhaps his stance. I replied that in that case, equally, I could not in conscience do what was required.

Note what, according to Blackburn's own words, is happening here. Blackburn accepts an invitation for dinner; during the dinner the host asks him, as a guest, to participate in an observance. He protests that he would be uncomfortable doing anything that would express a belief he doesn't hold, and his host assures him that he will not be understood in this way. Now, as Blackburn notes later, someone might well argue that he had some obligation, as a guest to his host, that needs explicitly to be considered in this line of reasoning; not once did he seriously consider that his host's request to respect his beliefs might be a way of asking him to show respect for the host, who has certain beliefs that are coming into play. Contrary to what Blackburn seems to suggest later, nothing in this requires that he express any beliefs at all, even in a play-along sort of way. It was made clear by the host that the observance wasn't going to be taken as his expression of belief, but simply as a way of participating in the dinner party as the host was throwing it. One can perhaps argue that the observance was tasteless proposal for this participation (we can't in this case, because we don't know what it was), but one can insist that, if you're a guest at a dinner party, you should participate in it along the lines suggested by a host unless you can give a good reason why you shouldn't that shows proper respect to the person who invited you over. One can certainly think of a situation in which someone confronted with a case like this would bow out from it, with a carefully constructed response that both expresses respect for the host, both as a person and as a host, and makes clear that he cannot in good conscience do it. But Blackburn decided to take the course of being rude to his host, without, it seems, explaining himself as a decent dinner guest would. (It should be noted that Blackburn himself doesn't try a full justification of his response, saying that it is "indeterminate" whether he was being asked to engage in self-deception or show minimal respect, because his host's state of mind could be interpreted in different ways. I'm not at all sure what this means; if it's indeterminate merely because there are different interpretations, I'm not sure why we wouldn't have to conclude that anything involving any human state of mind is so far indeterminate. Blackburn criticizes people for treating all opinions as equal; but then he concludes by effectively including that all opinions about his host's state of mind are equal -- since that seems to be the only way it could be 'indeterminate'. If one opinion were better than another, it wouldn't be indeterminate. I don't know what to make of this.)

But, really, beyond the question of good manners, the dinner party isn't important. What it does is serve as an occasion for considering the respecting of beliefs; and that's the argument that's really important. But his reasoning is sometimes very odd. For instance, he says,

And as far as toasting some particular subset of humanity goes, I also wish people were not keen on separating themselves from others, keen on difference and symbols of tribalism. I don’t warm to badges of allegiance, flags, ostentatious signs of apartness, because I do not think they are good for the world. I am glad that the word “race” has lost most of its reputation recently, and I would rather like the word “culture”, as it occurs in phrases like “cultural diversity” to follow it. More moderately, we might keep it, but also keep a beady eye on it. When people do things differently, sometimes it is fine, but sometimes it is not. This is especially so with overt signs of religious affiliation. By all means be apart, if you wish, but don’t expect me to jump up and down with joy.

But this line of reasoning, far from justifying (however slightly) his reaction at the dinner, tells against it. For it was clearly Blackburn, not the Jewish host, who was engaging in an ostentatious display of apartness. Just as you can't justify rebellion by saying, "Lapses from conformity should be despised," you can't reasonably try to justify a show of apartness by saying, "We should keep a wary eye on shows of apartness."

There is some good in the essay. Blackburn rightly recognizes that 'respect for X's beliefs' is a phrase that can mean lots of very different things. Sometimes it simply means that we should respect X enough to recognize that we can get along with him even if we disagree with him. But Blackburn tries to spin this into a much stronger thesis, namely, that "once we are convinced that a belief is false, or even just that it is irrational, we cannot respect in any thicker sense those who hold it—not on account of their holding it."

But this makes the mistake of conflating false beliefs and irrational beliefs, at least to the extent of treating them as if they really had the same effect on the sort of reasonable respect that could be given. It may well be that if I believe that X believes p irrationally, there's not much more respect I can extend to him beyond the minimum, as far as that belief is concerned. But suppose that I hold that (a) p is false; but (b) X's holding of the belief is not irrational, but eminently rational. For instance, I think the belief 'God does not exist' is false; but that doesn't mean I can't respect someone's holding of the belief 'God does not exist' in something more than the minimal sense. Depending on the case, it might well be that X believes 'God does not exist' not for any lack of rationality or good sense, but simply because, through no fault of their own, their starting data were messed up, and their rationality and good sense is what led them to their belief given that starting data. In such a case I can well appreciate that, despite the falsehood of the belief, the holding of the belief is even to some extent admirable; and this will clearly take me beyond the minimal type of respect.

Further, I can respect and admire someone's holding of a false belief if the way they hold it is a sign of moral excellence. Naturally, since I think the belief is false I'll be inclined to think that something went wrong somewhere. But that doesn't make it impossible for me to admire certain pacificists for the quality, conviction, and moral character of the expression of their pacificism, even though I think pacificism a false doctrine. Even more than this, I can admire pacificism itself in some ways (e.g., for its simplicity, or its beauty, or its clarity) while still thinking it clearly false, and I can respect people for holding it, for precisely those reasons (that pacifism has a simplicity, or beauty, or clarity). Or I could hold that pacificists, despite the falseness of pacifism, are, by the very fact of being pacifists, showing signs that they are taking into account something important that is usually neglected. Pacifism, for instance, might be false by simple defect -- e.g., the pacifist is on to something important, but has simply not followed it up completely. In such a case, I can respect and admire pacifism, though thinking it false, for being an excellent beginning; indeed, it's entirely possible for me to respect and admire pacifists, though in my view wrong, for recognizing something in their pacifism that people I agree with might often neglect. In that case I'm respecting and admiring the holding of a belief I think false because I think it provides an important corrective, or because I think it refreshingly emphasizes something important that's often forgotten.

In short, there are lots and lots of good reasons why I might respect the holding of a belief I think false, far beyond the minimal sense of tolerating it and letting the believers get on with it. If I think it false, it will be because I think some beliefs better in some way (Blackburn's certainly right about that), but it does not follow from the fact that believing A is better than believing B that believing B can only be tolerated, and not respected. For believing B might, in some ways, or under the particular circumstances, be quite good enough to be worthy of a more substantial respect.

Blackburn's argument also doesn't seem to take sufficiently into account that false beliefs may be of varying degress of harmfulness; and, indeed, does not appear to consider that a false belief may even be largely harmless. Anscombe once argued that pacifism is not only false but disastrously harmful; but not everyone accepts the latter, and those who don't, and who think that, while pacifism is based on false principles, war should be rare, will quite reasonably think of the pacifist as close enough for most practical purposes, and even take the sincerity, the simplicity, the courage, and the conviction of the firmly convinced pacifist as something to admire.

Blackburn seems less inclined than I to accept that we should admire the passion or conviction of false beliefs:

Tony Blair is regularly given credit for his sincerity, at least by the right-wing media, as he remains the only person in the world to believe in Iraqui weapons of mass destruction. But surely we ought to find passion and conviction in such a case dangerous and lamentable. The tendency of mind that they indicate is the vice of weakness, not the virtue of strength. Far from being a sign of sincerity, passionate conviction in these shadowy regions is a sign of weakness, of a secretly known infirmity of representational confidence.

But this appears simply to be a case of tendentious example. For what is really governing the evaluation in Blackburn's argument is not the falsehood of the belief -- it is not because Blair's views are false that he thinks we should lament Blair's conviction and passion; it's because he thinks the conviction and passion express a weakness of character. But what of false beliefs that don't express a weakness of character? Or is Blackburn making the odd and (one would presume) controversial claim that all false beliefs are expression of a weak character?

Now, Blackburn does appear to recognize some of these points. For instance, he says that "The quality of mind that got someone to believe something with which, all the same, we do not agree, may itself be more or less admirable"; but if we accept this, we should also accept that we may respect the false beliefs as being expressions of this quality of mind in this type of circumstance -- just as we may find a belief lamentable for expressing a weakness of character (indeed, we may find it lamentable for this reason even if it happens to be right, as Blackburn's mention of Clifford should have reminded him -- Clifford's discussion of cognitive duty is not about whether beliefs are right or wrong at all, but about whether they are adequately supported or inadequately supported). And if we can have different grades of respect for different false beliefs, it must be false that we cannot respect false beliefs beyond the minimal sense. For minimal respect is exactly that: minimal respect, which admits of no grades.

Holding a false belief, as such, considered in no other light, does not entitle anyone to deeper respect, and it doesn't, considered only so far, entitle the belief to respect. But we are simply making a bad assumption if we think that this is the only light in which the holding of a false belief can be considered. For the holding of a false belief is a personal expression; the way in which the belief is held may express good character, or rational good sense, or something like this; the belief held may not merely be false but interestingly false, or admirable as well as false.

On the critique of expressive theology, I have very little to say. I'm not a fan of the position myself. But if anyone actually took Blackburn's argument against it seriously, we would have to condemn a taste for mythology that involves expressing oneself mythologically as "a cheat" because "the function of the language (the legitimation of attitudes and attitudes to attitudes) actually depends on ontological imaginings that the position officially disavows." This is the attitude of philistine; Blackburn's response reminds me of the irrational responses of those Christians who freak out about Shakespeare because his characters talk so much about Jove and other Greek gods, or who become hysterical about Harry Potter, or Narnia, or Middle-earth because it deals with magic (and even if it is fiction, they will patiently tell you if you disagree, such fiction legitimates magic and that's a no-no because magic is wrong). If you think something is a good fiction -- as, for instance, I think Feuerbachian atheism or Neo-Gnosticism is good fiction -- then there's no clear sense in which there is any cheating going on if we dabble in it in our expressions and lives, unless we are being hypocritical about what we are doing, i.e., unless we are trying to make people believe that we believe it. And even then the problem is not the use of the language but the hypocrisy in using it. We philosophers have better things to be doing than advocating puritanisms of the worst type. But, again, Blackburn's own argument when he talks about how it's OK for atheists to respond to great religious works of art should have yielded this result when he talks about expressive theology, which takes the whole of religion (or at least a large part) to be a great communal work of art.

UPDATE: Given that I always type directly into the post editor, long posts become filled with typos and residues of editing. I've fixed some of these.

Asian History Carnival

The first Asian History Carnival is up at "Frog in a Well". Jonathan Dresner has done an excellent job, and there are quite a few interesting links worth browsing. Go see!

Jolley on Descartes and Leibniz on the Image of God

I often find myself in disagreement with Nicholas Jolley; nonetheless, he often has excellent insights, and equally excellent formulations of them. The following is an example. He has just finished pointing out (rightly) that in a sense Malebranche's epistemology is chiefly inspired by the prologue to the Gospel of John. He then goes on to contrast Descartes and Leibniz:

The Book of Genesis, rather than St John's Gospel, furnishes the key text for Leibniz and Descartes; they invoke the doctrine that man (i.e. the human mind) is made in the image of God. Edward Craig has shown that the influence f this doctrine was pervasive in seventeenth-century philosophy, but obviously, as it stands, the doctrine is extremely indeterminate; some definite philosophical content must be introduced to fix the shape of the likeness. The choice of content varies from philosopher to philosopher. In the case of Descartes, Craig denies that it is a thesis about knowledge which fixes the shape of the likeness; it is rather a thesis about the nature of the will and its freedom. But this is an unduly restrictive reading of Descartes. In fact, the Genesis text is intimately bound up with Descartes's whole campaign against scholasticism. Much that is imost revolutionary in Descartes's philosophy of mind and knowledge is capture in his insistence on the doctrine that the mind is made in the image of God. As we shall see, the doctrine is even implicit in Descartes's choice of the term 'idea'.

The 'image of God' doctrine permeates much of Descartes's philosophy but it does not dominate it; contrary influences are at work, such as the creation of the eternal truths. In Leibniz's philosophy, by contrast, the Genesis doctrine achieves an almost complete ascendancy; it is pushed further perhaps than ever before....

[Nicholas Jolley, The Light of the Soul (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990) pp. 8-9.]

The references to Craig are to E. Craig's The Mind of God and the Works of Man. It is noteworthy that the Cartesian twist on the image of God has had a long shelf-life in philosophy; one finds even contemporaries appealing to it on occasion (Plantinga in particular comes to mind). As Jolley notes above, this isn't the only way to take it, but it shows how pervasive Cartesian thought is that the Cartesian interpretation keeps returning.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Carnivals in Blogging

Coturnix of Science and Politics fame participated in ConvergeSouth (a convention on Internet-based creativity) this weekend; he spoke on the concept of blog carnivals. He put together a post on some basic points in his analysis of blog carnivals. Highly recommended for those interested in the subject. (Bora, as I think I've said before, has a history of doing thoughtful meta-level analysis of blogging; this is one more addition to the mix.) Apparently his session went well.

Love Is the Astrolabe of God's Mysteries

This is a useful Rumi site for those who are interested in Islamic mysticism.

We, who are parts of Adam, heard with him
The song of angels and of seraphim.
Our memory, though dull and sad, retains
Some echo still of those unearthly strains.

Bits and Bytes

* Discussion of (a)moral themes in Serenity at "speculative catholic"

* A First Things article on Darfur (HT: verbum ipsum).

* Faithful living in the technological society at "verbum ipsum"

* Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton at "We are still here", in a post that fits nicely with Columbus Day (I hadn't realized that the source of the holiday was the Tammany Society).

* Jimmy Akin directs some well-deserved sarcasm at a Times of London story on the Catholic Church (HT: NWW).

* Sharon's Early Modern Resources website is looking gorgeous. Go and browse a bit!

* The Twentieth Philosophers' Carnival is up at "Logic and Language". If you are interested in hosting an edition of the Philosophers' Carnival, read this and talk to Richard.

The Problem with Government

The major problem - one of the major problems, for there are several - one of the many major problems with governing people is that of who you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

To summarize: it is a well-known fact, that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

-- Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, ch. 28.

As those who've read the book know, the government of the Universe has solved the problem by making their President a figurehead, and letting all the major decisions be made by someone who doesn't believe the Universe exists.

Haunted by the Past

The newest Carnivalesque (ancient and medieval edition) is up at alun. I especially liked Dissing the Middle Ages at "Creating Text(iles)".