Friday, November 25, 2005

Interesting Links

* "" has a post on Aquinas's argument that it is fitting to convey divine truths by way of bodily images. (HT: BHT) There's also an interesting post on Scotus on univocity.

* The discussion on Heidegger and Nazism continues with a great post at The Rhine River. (Looking at my comment just now, it's a bit long -- I should have written another blog post rather than taking up so much space in the comments section. I'll try to keep that in mind if I comment again.)

* Bill Vallicella has a very nice summary of the set-theoretical paradox of omniscience. My (limited) understanding is that it actually depends considerably on what formulation of set theory we are using (see here and also here, for example; the latter link shows just how interesting the paradox is, since it would have ramifications for possible worlds semantics as well -- the paradox is one form of a general type of set-theoretical paradox for the semantics of modal logic). I'm also not convinced that we should concede that omniscience is defined as knowledge of the set of all possible truths, rather than knowledge of all possible truths (which may or may not make a set in the relevant sense), although Grim in the exchange linked to in The Maverick's post denies that this would make a difference. I also wonder if one could perhaps deny the emphasis on propositions, and say that what this sort of paradox shows (if it even works) is that divine omniscience is such that its content cannot be fully specified as a set of propositions, because there is no set of all propositions specifying it. (This is perhaps not so far out as it might seem; on some medieval accounts of omniscience, for instance, divine knowledge of enunciables, i.e., propositions, is an entirely incidental result of the arguments that God has flawless self-knowledge and practical, non-propositional knowledge of things as creatable -- to put it crudely and a little misleadingly, divine know-how.) On such a view that paradox would cause no problems for the doctrine of omniscience, although some might be uncomfortable with the notion of omniscience as non-propositional knowledge. In any case, it's a good paradox to ponder.

* John da Fiesole at "Disputations" discusses the Fra Angelico exhibit at New York's Metropolitan, with pictures and links to reviews.

* Read John Haldane's What Philosophy Can Do (in the November issue of First Things). Haldane, of course, is a major member of the analytic Thomism movement (in the tradition of Anscombe and Geach).

* BTW, I really liked this comment in his Public Square column by Fr. Neuhaus:

Actress Jane Fonda’s 1998 conversion to Christianity received considerable attention. She recently told the Baltimore Sun, “I believe people have different ways of approaching the Word. For me, it’s metaphor, written by people a long time after Christ died and interpreted by specific groups. I read the gospels that aren’t included in the Bible. These make me feel good about calling myself a Christian.” She may be on to something. The ones that are in the Bible sometimes make me feel bad about calling myself a Christian.

Not Very Recommended

The other day I read through Atheism: A Reader, by S. T. Joshi . I don't particularly recommend it; the general impression it gives of atheism is that it is very intellectually lightweight. That's not the fault of atheists, however, but of the editor, whose only genuinely redeeming choice was George Eliot's delightful 1855 "Evangelical Teaching". Feuerbach and Marxist atheism are missing; there's a completely irrelevant section on immortality (as has been known since the eighteenth century, there's nothing particularly theistic about immortality and nothing particularly atheistic about its denial), and the whole thing comes across as piecemeal eclecticism. Nietzsche-inspired atheism simply cannot mix with Feuerbach-inspired atheism; neither sits well with Hume-inspired atheism; and it scarcely needs to be said that none of these really fits with Spinoza-inspired atheism. Pick it up at a library to read George Eliot; Shelley's essay is perhaps worth a scan as well. Everything else is rather unimpressive; even for the big names we don't really get a sense of why they are atheists. And if we looked more closely we would see that the reasons are all inconsistent: theists may be theists together, but atheists are usually atheists alone. That's the difference between a reasoned affirmation and a reasoned denial of an existence claim.

Shepherd on Experimental Reasoning

Lady Mary Shepherd on causal reasoning [An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect, pp. 107-108]:

"If the human body is in the same state on any occasion, as on that when bread nourished it; there is as great a necessity it should again nourish as that it should be white.

"Thus all experimental reasoning consists in an observation, and a demonstration, as has before been shown;--an observation, whether teh circumstances from which an object is produced, and in which it is placed, are the same upon one occasion as upon another;--and a demonstration, that if it is so, all its exhibitions will be the same."

Shepherd's account of causal reasoning is opposed to Hume's. Hume thinks of induction as the most general sort of reasoning about matters of fact possible. Shepherd has denied this, and with considerable plausibility. One way to see Shepherd's insight is to phrase it in terms of suppositional reasoning, where we identify what follows, what cannot follow, and what is consistent with, a given set of suppositions. This sort of reasoning is (1) deductive; and (2) a more general form of reasoning about matters of fact, since it bridges the gap, which Hume considered to be insurmountable, between reasoning about relations of ideas and reasoning about matters of fact. We clear argue suppositionally in mathematics, for instance; and we also clearly do it in physics. And Shepherd considers all such reasoning to be causal. In mathematics, we reason about how one set of supposed things (e.g., a particular acute angle in a right triangle) causes another set of things to be what it is (e.g., the other acute angle in the triangle). On Shepherd's view causal reasoning in physics is exactly the same as this. The difference between physics and mathematics is not the form of reasoning, which is logically the same; the difference is that physics requires an additional step before we get to the causal reasoning. In mathematics you can suppose whatever you will. In physics, we want our reasoning to tell us something about a given state of affairs. So physics, in addition to its causal reasoning, requires a step in which we match our suppositions to the facts.

Given this move, Shepherd is able to disentangle two issues: the problem of induction and the problem of causal reasoning. Causal reasoning is deductive; it is, however, ex suppositione. When we expect that a new case will be like an old case, our reasoning moves from experience to expectation in the following way:

(1) Experience: We have analyzed previous instances of such-and-such conditions.

(2) The Observation Step, which is probabilistic: that the current conditions are the same as we have found in previous cases.

(3) The Demonstration Step, which is certain: that if they are the same, the conditions must exhibit themselves in the same way.

(4) Expectation: We therefore expect the new to be like the old. If it is not, the problem is not with our reasoning (3), assuming it has been done carefully, but with our matching of supposition to reality (2).

Thus there is no Humean mystery about why we believe that the future will resemble the past; we believe it will because the current conditions have implications, which we have discovered by reasoning about the same conditions that have come before. There is therefore no vicious circle in the justification of induction. Since induction is not the most general form of reasoning about matters of fact, we can justify induction in terms of a more general form of reasoning. There are still issues involved in induction -- for example, the Observation Step will necessarily only be probabilistic -- but these are not justificatory problems for induction itself. And Shepherd recognizes quite correctly the right way to deal with these problems: try out our suppositions. It is noteworthy that Shepherd, unlike Hume, talks a great deal about testing, since it plays an important role in her account. Having developed an expectation on the basis of certain suppositions, we test it experimentally against facts, and if it fails, we go back and reconsider our suppositions. As she notes, it is her account of reasoning, not Hume's, that more clearly takes scientific practice into account.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Pauline Epistles as Ecclesiology (Aquinas)

On Aquinas's view, the Pauline Epistles contain a complete ecclesiology. The basic distinction on which he bases this position is most clearly found in the Commentary on the Hebrews:

These three things are found in the body of the Church, just as they are found in a natural body, namely, the mystical body itself, its chief members (prelates and rulers) and the head, namely, Christ, from Whom life flows to all the members. Some of the epistles deal with the grace of the New Testament, so far as it extends to the whole mystical body of the Church. This is a theme of all the epistles he sent to the churches, i.e., to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, up to the first epistle to Timothy. In others he treats of this grace, insofar as it extends to individual persons, namely, Timothy, Titus, Philemon. But in the epistle to the Hebrews he treats of this grace, inasmuch as it pertains to the head, namely, Christ.

He also makes more clear the breakdown among particular Pauline epistles in his Commentary on Romans. The basic structure of it is as follows.


The first series of epistles have to do with God's grace:

Romans: describes God's grace (which works sacramentally)
I Corinthans: describes the sacramental life of the Church
II Corinthians: describes the ministers of the sacraments
Galatians: excludes superfluous sacraments, against those who want to mingle old and new sacraments

The next series of Epistles have to do with the faith of the Church.

Ephesians: for the fortification of the faith of the Church, particularly by describing the unity of the faith
Philippians: for the growth and preservation of the Church

Colossians begins the theme of protecting the faith:

Colossians: for the protection of the Church from corruption and error
I Thessalonians: for the protection of the Church from present persecution
II Thessalonians: for the protection of the Church from future persecutions, by warning of the Antichrist


The first three have to do with the individual as having responsibility in the Church:

I Timothy: with regard to the unity of the Church
II Timothy: with regard to the steadfastness of the Church against persecutors
Titus: with regard to the protection of the Church from heretics

Philemon adds to this by helping us to understand the role of the Christian who has temporal responsibility in the world.


Hebrews is the pinnacle of the ecclesiology, for it discusses Christ, the Head of the Church.

Of course, Aquinas doesn't think the above themes are the only things found in the epistles; it's just that, by seeing the epistles thematically in this way, we can see that the Holy Spirit, by giving us Paul's epistle, has given us a complete study of the role of grace in the Church.

You can read some very good translations of some of Aquinas's commentaries on the Pauline epistles online in PDF format.

Reading Hume on Ought and Is

One of the most influential and misunderstood passages in Hume is the last paragraph of Treatise 3.1:

I cannot forbear adding to these reasonings an observation, which may, perhaps, be found of some importance. In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark'd, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, `tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention wou'd subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv'd by reason.

This is usually understood to be an argument that 'one cannot infer an ought from an is'. However, that's not what it says at all. So here's a little lesson in how to read Hume (and, indeed, almost any other philosopher).

(1) Look for the conclusions being drawn. We have a tendency to read our own conclusions into arguments; and since the conclusion determines the nature of the argument, this leads to severe misreading. Notice the moral Hume draws from his observation:

I am persuaded, that this small attention wou'd subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv'd by reason.

In other words, Hume is really targeting a specific position, one that grounds morality on "the relations of objects" and that thinks moral distinctions can be perceived by reason. 'The vulgar systems of morality' is vague in this passage; we'll come back to it.

(2) Don't assume you understand the words. One of the trickiest sentences in this passage is the one that says:

For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, `tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.

What makes it tricky is the word 'deduction'. We think of deduction as an inference. That is one thing that 'deduction' can mean in the early modern period. However, it can also mean an explanation or an account. So we need to proceed carefully and not merely assume that it's the inference that's the problem here. Perhaps Hume is talking about an explanation or description. (There is good reason, in fact, to think that 'X is a deduction from Y' here means 'Y explains X'.)

(3) Determine the textual context of the passage. Treatise 3.1 is devoted to arguing against moral rationalism, i.e., the view that distinctions between vice and virtue are discerned by reason (sound familiar). Hume himself is arguing for an alternative position, moral sentimentalism, which holds that we have a special moral sense for determining vice and virtue.

(4) Determine the historical context of the passage. Two major opponents are in view in this section, Samuel Clarke and William Wollaston, both moral rationalists. Wollaston held that morality is a matter of the significance of our actions; vicious actions are those which are 'acting lies' and virtuous actions are those which exhibit truth. Clarke held that morality is a matter of eternal relations discerned by reason; these eternal relations are relations of fitness or aptness. Much of Hume's critique builds on an earlier critique of the same thinkers by Francis Hutcheson, the other great moral sentimentalist of the day. In both Hume's and Hutcheson's critique, the repeated criticism is that moral rationalisms of all types argue in a circle.

(5) Conclude in light of the information gathered. Hume adds to his circularity charge a recommendation to those who read the moral rationalists. Whenever Hume reads these authors, he notices a pattern in their explanations. They start out by talking about God, human nature, etc., and then at some point switch over to talking about duty, obligation, etc. Hume doesn't criticize inferences from Is to Ought (he makes them himself, as all moral sentimentalists do), but the particular way in which moral rationalists, purporting to explain our moral duties and obligations, actually just gloss over the matter entirely. The problem is not that they conclude Ought from Is but that the connection or relevance of their explanation of morality (the Is) to morality itself (the Ought) is not explained, even though (given their position) they need to provide such an explanation. This is confirmed by Hume's mention of 'vulgar systems of morality', because the vulgar (=popular) justification of morality ends up trying to explain morality by morality: X is virtuous because it is our duty, etc. This is precisely the problem with the moral rationalists, in Hume's view. It's another way in which they tend to beg the question.

This, of course, is all very rough, but it should give the basic idea of how to go about interpreting the passage.

Two Attitudes to Truth

There is this difference between him who loves the truth and him who hates it. He who hates the truth, lies in the darkness of mortal sin. He hates what God loves, and loves what God hates. God hates sin, and the inordinate joys and luxuries of the world, and such a man loves it all, fattening himself on the world's wretched trifles, and corrupting himself in every rank. If he has an office in which he ought to minister in some way to his neighbour, he serves him only so far as he can get some good for himself out of it, and no farther, and becomes a lover of himself. Christ the Blessed gave His life for us, and such a man will not give one word to serve his neighbour unless he sees it paid, and overpaid. If the neighbour happens to be a poor man who cannot pay, he makes him wait before telling him the truth, and often does not tell it to him at all, but makes fun of him; and where he ought to be pitiful and a father of the poor, he becomes cruel to his own soul because he wrongs the poor. But the wretched man does not see that the Highest Judge will return to him
nothing else than what he receives from him, since every sin is justly punished and every good rewarded. Christ embraced voluntary poverty and was a lover of continence; the wretched man who has made himself a follower and lover of falsehood does just the contrary; not only does he fail to be content with what he has, or to refrain through love of virtue, but he robs other people. Nor does he remain content in the state of marriage, in which, if it is observed as it should be, a man can stay with a good conscience; but he plunges into every wretchedness, like a brute beast, without moderation, and as the pig rolls in filth, so does he in the filth of impurity.

--Saint Catherine Benincasa of Siena, Letter to Lorenzo del Pino of Bologna (Catherine's letters are online at Project Gutenberg)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Natural Law and Divine Command

Jim Ryan argues that natural law theory is a divine command theory. I think his argument misses the point that for the natural law theorist the primary issue for human beings is not biological function but rationality, and, in particular, what is involved in being a rational animal. The natural law theorist isn't appealing to divine choice at all but ultimately to truths deemed necessary. A natural law in the strict sense is just a conclusion that follows from Good is to be sought and evil is to be shunned and other necessary principles, when we add the relevant facts; a natural law in the weaker sense is a principle that has to be followed because its contradictory is conducive to violating a natural law. So for a real natural law theorist, assuming we have a natural law theorist who thinks homosexuality violates natural law, the complaint about homosexuality would not be that we have certain biological functions, but that it is irrational; and one of the reasons a natural law theorist might give for that is an argument about what role biological function should have in our practical reasoning. So the natural law theorist is not pointing to an arbitrary decision in the way a divine command theorist is; he is arguing for what would be, if he is right, a general and universal principle of practical reason. God, in fact, only enters into the matter in the sense that natural reason participates eternal reason. In other words, God's choice only enters into it in that He chose to create beings who were rational. The moral force of the dictates is derived from reason, not from divine intentions about biology, although divine intentions might be relevant to determining how serious the violation of reason is.

Natural law theory is not a specific morality; it is a theory of law that (1) understands law to be a promulgated dictate of practical reason having authority; (2) holds that there is a higher law than positive law, namely, the moral dictates of practical reason; and (3) regards the principles of the higher law as being universal, for the same reason that any principle of reason is universal: anyone who violates the principle violates reason. This is why any charge of 'naturalistic fallacy' against the natural law theorist is absurd in the first place; the natural law theorist doesn't consider nature as such, but reason. In the face of the charge, the natural law theorist doesn't have to retreat to divine intentions, but simply to point out that the person making the charge is effectively making the absurd demand that morality have nothing to do with practical reason.

Early Modern Philosophy Pop Quiz

Concerned Catholic doesn't believe in atheists (HT: Speculative Catholic). Pop-Quiz Question: What well-known philosopher is said to have said exactly the same thing -- to the eighteenth century French atheist, d'Holbach?

At The Thinkery there's a good post that talks about William Harvey. Quick: What Danish thinker who personally knew both Spinoza and Leibniz vindicated Harvey's theory by refuting Descartes's criticism of it?

I just finished a post on Keats. Tell me: What major Romantic poet admired Berkeley's theory of vision, and called Berkeley's A New Theory of Vision an analytic masterpiece?

Unweaving the Rainbow

A nice little physics quiz at the end of this Guardian article on physics education (HT: Cosmic Variance). It's fairly basic stuff, but I'm rusty enough that I was glad I got them all right.

However, Keats did not say that physics destroyed beauty. Contrary to what seems to be the common belief, the general Romantic position on science is not that science is bad but that science is good, not that it interferes with our sense of beauty but that it stimulates it. What the Romantics opposed is what today would be called scientism, which is out to destroy the wonder of the world by making everything turn out to be nothing important. What they don't like is the Merely syndrome: that a rainbow is merely a refracted spectrum, that animal behavior is merely genes and environment, that the moon is merely a hunk of rock in empty space, that sexual attraction is merely a particular combination of hormones in the body. On the Romantic view, the Merely syndrome is a pernicious attitude that involves continually missing the point. In the Romantic universe there is no such thing as 'merely': things are valued for what they are, and you can't fully understand anything by reducing it down. A Romantic may well allow that sexual attraction is a combination of hormones in the body; but he will repudiate anyone who thinks that this is an adequate account of sexual attraction, because it leaves out of the description everything that makes sexual attraction wonderful, beautiful, dangerous, inspiring, destructive, etc.

Keats's comment about 'unweaving the rainbow' in his two-part poem, Lamia, is scarcely relevant, and a reading of the poem would show it, since the remark is not about rainbows but a simile for the tragedy of Lamia, a demoness in love with a man. Keats was following the story as he found it in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy:

Philostratus in his fourth book _de vita Apollonii_, hath a memorable instance in this kind, which I may not omit, of one Menippus Lycius, a young man twenty-five years of age, that going between Cenchreas and Corinth, met such a phantasm in the habit of a fair gentlewoman, which taking him by the hand, carried him home to her house in the suburbs of Corinth, and told him she was a Phoenician by birth, and if he would tarry with her, "he should hear her sing and play, and drink such wine as never any drank, and no man should molest him; but she being fair and lovely would live and die with him, that was fair and lovely to behold." The young man a philosopher, otherwise staid and discreet, able to moderate his passions, though not this of love, tarried with her awhile to his great content, and at last married her, to whose wedding, amongst other guests, came Apollonius, who, by some probable conjectures, found her out to be a serpent, a lamia, and that all her furniture was like Tantalus's gold described by Homer, no substance, but mere illusions. When she saw herself descried, she wept, and desired Apollonius to be silent, but he would not be moved, and thereupon she, plate, house, and all that was in it, vanished in an instant: "many thousands took notice of this fact, for it was done in the midst of Greece."

Keats is just telling this story, not writing a treatise in criticism of science. The famous phrase is just part of a simile for the story:

What wreath for Lamia? What for Lycius?
What for the sage, old Apollonius?
Upon her aching forehead be there hung
The leaves of willow and of adder's tongue;
And for the youth, quick, let us strip for him
The thyrsus, that his watching eyes may swim
Into forgetfulness; and, for the sage,
Let spear-grass and the spiteful thistle wage
War on his temples. Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine -
Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
The tender-person'd Lamia melt into a shade.

Perhaps Keats thought the story a haunting one -- which it is; there's no need to read it allegorically (although it is open to it, Romantic poems like this one generally contain amiguities that don't allegorize well). The story is a tragedy; and tragedies don't have to have villains, just a sad and painful crossing of things that cannot happily go together, the manifestation of things that cannot happily be. The poem is a multifaceted thing; it would be a shame to treat its rainbow metaphor as just a critique of science, particularly without noticing the ambiguities. Apollonius, for instance, is right, Lycius is besotted, and Lamia is clearly dangerous. This isn't the whole of it anymore than the other interpretation is, but one can just as easily read it as a sad recognition of the need for our illusions, however lovely, to be destroyed. The poet draws no moral one way or another.


* Philosophers' Carnival XXII is up at "For Those at Home."

* Natalie Bennett has started a cultural guide to London (HT: EMN)

* An interesting discussion of the argument from desire at Prosblogion and FQI. Independent of this, but worth reading in conjunction with the discussion, is Ed Cook's Does Joy Lead to God? Lewis, Beversluis, and the Argument from Desire.

* I've been having an interesting discussion with Richard on the actual world in possible worlds analysis here and here. It's not an issue I think about much, so if I made any mistakes, swoop in and correct me.

* Macht discusses ID and reductionism at "prosthesis". Of course, my own view is that this is why everyone should be (broadly) Aristotelian. You know you want to be.

* An interesting post on the movie, Hero, discussing how someone with a good knowledge of Chinese culture and story might view it somewhat differently from those of us who don't know much about it at all: Hero and Mao at "Frog in a Well:China".

* A good discussion by Sarah Sumner of the textual reasons why we should give a certain priority to Ephesians 5:21 (be subject to one another) over 5:22 (wives to your husbands). (HT: Better Bibles Blog).

Locke and His Critics on God's Existence

Reading Vere Chappell's review of a book by Forster, I was interested to read the following paragraph:

The fallacy in Locke's argument for the existence of God (or at least one fallacy) has been noted by readers of the Essay since Leibniz. The argument starts with two premises that are unassailable, that "there is some real Being" and that "Non-entity cannot produce any real Being". From these two premises, Locke concludes (validly, if the second premise is properly interpreted)that (A) "From eternity there has been something" (Essay IV.x.3). Then in the next paragraph he refers to "This eternal Source . . . of all being", as if the argument so far entitles him to hold that (B) one single being has existed from eternity. Perhaps he thinks that (B) is merely a restatement of (A), that the two have the same meaning; or perhaps he thinks that (B) follows from (A). If the former, Locke's fallacy is that of equivocation, since (B) and (A) do not have the same meaning; if the latter, then he is simply mistaken about the logical relation between (A) and (B). (Contemporary logicians would say that in either case, Locke gets from (A) to (B) by switching the order of the two quanitifiers that are implicit in both).

Except that Locke commits neither fallacy as stated. You can see the original argument here. The mistake is in thinking that Locke moves directly from (A) to (B). But this is clearly not the case. The idea is:

(1) Everything not from eternity has a beginning;
(2) Everything that has a beginning must be produced by something else;
(3) Therefore there must be something from eternity.

Obviously, there are implicit premises here that would have to be investigated. But there is no fallacy of equivocation (except in the misinterpretations of Locke's critics), and no misdiagnosis of the logical structure of the argument (except on the part of Locke's critics). Locke's critics are confused about the role played by paragraph 3 in the argument: paragraph 3 is introductory; the details about the 'something' that paragraph 3 argues for are worked out in the next few paragraphs. Chappell's mention of the next paragraph is itself a bit of illogical gerrymandering: the phrase he mentions is the conclusion of a further argument about the power that must be attributed to the something (it must be a unified cause), not Locke's summary of the conclusion of the paragraph 3 argument. There is no doubt that Locke's arguments aren't in rigorous form; there's also no doubt that blatant misreadings of Locke's arguments shouldn't be held against him. If Chappell, to make the fallacy charge stick, has to radically rearrange the order in which Locke talks about things, that's a sign that perhaps Locke was right to tackle them in the order he actually did.

UPDATE: And what gets me about this charge is that it is so obviously false. Locke's argument is clearly constructed in stages, which can be organized by their conclusions:

1) Something must exist from eternity (i.e., there must be something that did not begin from another). (IV.x.3)
2) Something that exists from eternity must be the unified source for all things that do begin from another. (IV.x.4)
3) Something that exists from eternity as a unified source must have knowledge. (IV.x.5)
4) God (as eternal, most powerful, most knowledgeable being) must exists. (IV.x.6)

You can read it yourself and see that this is exactly how Locke himself sets it up. And it makes sense to do it this way, because given (4) someone might argue (a) that there is nothing eternal; (b) that what is eternal is not a unified source of things that are not eternal; or (c) that this eternal, unified source does not have knowledge. Locke's argument is not rigorously constructed, and could only be made so by a generous use of implicit premises, and it's not clear that all his arguments are particularly sound anyway, but Locke is so obviously not guilty of the fallacies of which he is accused that it is astonishing to me the claim is even made.

[A commenter claims I make the mistake Locke is accused of in (3) and (1). I can see how the confusion would arise -- it comes from taking 'something' here to mean 'something in particular'; but it isn't intended to mean that either here or in Locke's discussion, but the more general 'something (whatever that something may be)'. In any case, it is still clear that only by arbitrarily rearranging Locke's argument can you get the result Chappell claims.]

A Castle Made of a Single Diamond

While I was beseeching Our Lord to-day that He would speak through me, since I could find nothing to say and had no idea how to begin to carry out the obligation laid upon me by obedience, a thought occurred to me which I will now set down, in order to have some foundation on which to build. I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions. Now if we think carefully over this, sisters, the soul of the righteous man is nothing but a paradise, in which, as God tells us, He takes His delight. For what do you think a room will be like which is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and so full of all that is good? I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul and its great capacity. In fact, however acute our intellects may be, They will no more be able to attain to a comprehension of this than to an understanding of God; for, as He Himself says, He created us in His image and likeness. Now if this is so -- and it is -- there is no point in our fatiguing ourselves by attempting to comprehend the beauty of this castle; for, though it is His creature, and there is therefore as much difference between it and God as between creature and Creator, the very fact that His Majesty says it is made in His image means that we can hardly form any conception of the soul's great dignity and beauty.

It is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea who his father or his mother was, or from what country he came? Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls. As to what good qualities there may be in our souls, or Who dwells within them, or how precious they are -- those are things which we seldom consider and so we trouble little about carefully preserving the soul's beauty. All our interest is centred in the rough setting of the diamond, and in the outer wall of the castle -- that is to say, in these bodies of ours.

--Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, First Mansions, Chapter I

Monday, November 21, 2005

By Night When Others Soundly Slept

By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.

I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bow'd his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.

My hungry Soul he fill'd with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.

What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I'll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Loue him to Eternity.

--Anne Dudley Bradstreet (1612-1672)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Case Study Research

Case-study methodology is an important and often overlooked form of reasoning. Case study is inquiry into a particular case for the purpose of describing and explaining it. The key features here are (1) that it is a form of inquiry; (2) that it focuses on a particular case; (3) and its goal is improved understanding of the case through description and explanation. The most important of these three features is (2), since the peculiarities of case study derive entirely from it.

It is possible to have a multi-case case study; however, such case studies are, in effect, particular case studies united together. A common division of types of case studies is into instrumental and intrinsic:

(a) Instrumental case studies are case studies undertaken as the means to understand a larger issue.
(b) Intrinsic case studies are case studies undertaken for the understanding of the case itself.

Either of these may be individual (one case alone) or collective (several connected individual case studies). The particularity of the object of a case study is both the strength and the weakness of case study method: strength, because as a matter of fact we need a way of dealing reasonably and rationally with particular cases (this becomes especially clear in fields like medicine and ecology, but is in fact quite generally important, although more important in some fields than in others); weakness, because if you only work with one case there are many more ways in which your reasoning can go wrong. We can distinguish out several aspects of case study method (I follow Shrader-Frechette and McCoy, with some differences):

(1) The characteristics of the investigator.
(2) The design of the case study.
(3) The types of evidence accepted.
(4) The analysis of the evidence.
(5) The evaluation of the case study itself.

(1) The elimination of bias is a major issue in case study research. Effectively, the investigator needs to display good taste, which (as readers of this weblog are already aware) means that (a) they need to have a familiarity with a broad field of relevant background knowledge; (b) they need to have practice in the skills relevant to the study (since the particular problems to be considered will vary from case to case, the investigator needs phronesis); and (c) they need to exercise good sense, i.e., reasonable self-critique.

(2) & (3) A case study typically has several elements: questions to be investigated, something to be analyzed, criteria for the interpretation of the evidence, and the actual structure of the reasoning. In addition, case studies don't generally look at everything that might conceivably be put forward as evidence; rather, they pick out forms of evidence that are deemed relevant.

(4) The precise sort of analysis used will vary from case to case, but a typical approach would have the following features:

(a) Case Description: The heart and soul of case analysis, case description consists in the identification of regularities and the classification of elements of the case (and sometimes the case itself). Classification is particularly important. In particular, what one aims for is a natural classification. Unfortunately, natural classification is not discussed much in studies of reasoning; it was of massive importance for nineteenth-century philosophy of science, but discussion of natural classification as such has almost completely lapsed in philosophy. The last thinker of any note who discussed natural classification was Duhem, at the beginning of the twentieth century. In a natural classification, to use the common phrase, one tries to "carve nature at the joints"; the idea is that your classification should not merely be arbitrary, nor should it merely be based on particular natural features, but should itself identify something real. The hope is that the classification will not merely be useful but will shed light on the actual nature of what is being classified. The best rule of thumb for natural classification is probably still Whewell's: that classification is natural to which our various classifications (according to different features) converge.

(b) Hypothesis Formation: Even in the process of description, it is sometimes necessary to make reasonable guesses as to the underlying character or structure of the elements of the case. In other words, hypotheses need to be framed. Further, in instances in which the case study is intended to support some sort of policy decision (for example), there are likely to be hypotheses that presuppose the case description. This is part of the discovery and exploration of the case study.

(c) Informal Testing: Where hypotheses are about, testing is not far behind. It is called 'informal' because case studies rarely are in a position to do rigorous testing of hypotheses (sometimes, however, they may be, depending on the sort of hypothesis in question). Instead, hypotheses are informally tested by seeing how they fit the evidence, seeing whether the evidence makes them plausible or implausible, etc.

(d) Composition of Report: The analysis needs to be organized, mapped out.

(5) Because so many things can go wrong with a case study, evaluation is especially important. We can roughly divide the aspects of the study which need to be divided into interpretation, structure and value.

A. Interpretation: Because description plays such an important role in case study, it is not surprising that the interpretation of the case and its elements is one of the most important things to evaluate. A significant issue in interpretation of a case is what is usually known as construct validity, which is (roughly) the appropriateness of your concepts, measurements, and labels to the case at hand. The concepts and labels should allow you to cover (to the degree required for the purpose of the inquiry) the whole case and every part of the case, without bringing anything irrelevant into the picture. Major issues that are important to construct validity are (a) clear definitions; (b) adequate precision of description, particularly in slippery or hard-to-define areas; (c) adequate explanation of potentially controversial interpretations; (d) well-marshalled evidence for the major aspects of the interpretation; (e) proper distinctions among distinct things; (f) clear recognition of the level at which you are inquiring, and the limitations that imposes on the conclusions you can draw; (g) elimination of interfering bias.

B. Structure: An important aspect of the case study is the reasoning by which one goes from the evidence as interpreted to the conclusions. (As noted above, this can happen even within the interpretation itself, since interpretations of cases generally have many layers of interpretation and reasoning.) The chief points here are adequate background information, internal consistency and well-chosen order. In other words, the case study needs to be rich in relevant information, make no contradictory claims, and provide us with an organization that sets things out in a reasonable way. As the Cartesians pointed out, order is the chief part of any method.

C. Value: We don't want a case study that is nicely organized but has no value for our reasoning at large. Major issues in assessing the value of a case study are utility (for both replication and application), durability in the face of objections and alternative explanations, completeness, heuristic power, and so forth. The precise values held to be important will vary depending on the case, the purpose of the inquiry, and the field in which the inquiry is conducted.

Case study method is more common than generally realized, I think. Not only is it found in various sciences, but historians and literary scholars are often effectively engaged in case study. It's not surprising that this is so; after all, much of what historians and literary scholars do is try to reason upon and draw conclusions from particular cases. It's only natural that, in an informal way, good, well-reasoned history, biography, literary scholarship, and the like would often begin to look like it is following (something along the lines of) the typical sort of case study format described above. Perhaps by recognizing more explicitly the elements of case study method used in our disciplines, we can improve our own reasoning and raise the quality of the research.

Wherein My Goal is for All to Know Truth

You scored as Neo, the "One". Neo is the computer hacker-turned-Messiah of the Matrix. He leads a small group of human rebels against the technology that controls them. Neo doubts his ability to lead but doesn't want to disappoint his friends. His goal is for a world where all men know the Truth and are free from the bonds of the Matrix.

Neo, the "One"


Batman, the Dark Knight


William Wallace


Captain Jack Sparrow


Lara Croft


The Amazing Spider-Man


Indiana Jones


The Terminator


El Zorro




James Bond, Agent 007


Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with


The Rights and Duties of Man Simplified

In what does man's pre-eminence over the brute creation consist? The answer is as clear as that a half is less than the whole, in Reason.

What acquirement exalts one being above another? Virtue, we spontaneously reply.

For what purpose were the passions implanted? That man by struggling with them might attain a degree of knowledge denied to the brutes, whispers Experience.

Consequently the perfection of our nature and capability of happiness must be estimated by the degree of reason, virtue, and knowledge, that distinguish the individual, and direct the laws which bind society: and that from the exercise of reason, knowledge, and virtue naturally flow, is equally undeniable, if mankind be viewed collectively.

The rights and duties of man thus simplified, it seems almost impertinent to attempt to illustrate truths that appear so incontrovertible; yet such deeply rooted prejudices have clouded reason, and such spurious qualities have assumed the name of virtues, that it is necessary to pursue the course of reason as it has been perplexed and involved in error, by various adventitious circumstances, comparing the simple axiom with casual deviations.

--Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), Part I, Chapter I. I've always liked this passage.