Saturday, December 03, 2005


* Carnivalesque XI (ancient/medieval edition) is up at Blogenspiel. It's quite good. (I really like the brief discussion of the Song of Roland.)

* The Nine Ways of Prayer of Saint Dominic: a lovely little work of 13th century Dominican spirituality. (HT: Magic Statistics)

* A very thoughtful and thought-provoking post by Myers on teaching intro bio.

* Timothy Sandefur has an interesting, if unnecessarily abusive, post on Alexander Hamilton. I'm not a Hamilton expert, and I haven't read Chernow's biography; but if Chernow's biography tends hagiographical, the truth almost certainly falls somewhere between that biography and Sandefur's post. Not being a great admirer of Jefferson, beyond a few of his ideas, I'm not inclined to regard Jefferson's characterization of Hamilton as trustworthy -- on the contrary, I'm more inclined to regard Hamilton's characterization of Jefferson as right: too partial an idea of his own powers, expecting to have a greater share in things than he did, and inclined to ill humor when not getting his own way. I say 'more inclined' because on considered judgment I think it very likely that both were partly right about the other, and only partly right; for the other part, they were confused in labeling their opponents with their own flaws (a common confusion in politics). I think Sandefur's characterization of Hamilton's actions in the 1800 election is a bit extreme; there is an entirely reasonable interpretation under which Hamilton's actions are just ordinary politics. It is certainly true that Hamilton seems to have a long history of taking things too personally; although given how much he was vilified by his opponents, it's a bit tricky to estimate exactly where the line should have been. I think Madison is right that Hamilton had a tendency to think that the government should be 'administrationed' into something new; and the common opinion of him at the time that he was strong in ambition and weak in discretion is unfortunately true. I've never actually seen a good argument for Hamilton's corruption, so I'll have to defer to Sandefur on that point. I'm not sure I follow Sandefur's reasoning about the duel, which seems just to be a vague analogy. Of course, for full disclosure: it's no secret that I like Hamilton; I have no distaste for flawed heroes, and despite my rather non-Hamiltonian political tendencies, I find Hamilton more likable than most of our other flawed Founding Fathers.

On Criticisms of Narnia

I found this article at Guardian Unlimited occasionally a little puzzling. Particularly this:

Lewis, however, had a preference for what used to be called "muscular Christianity", which recommended a strong and even militant faith, and the portrayal of Christ as athletic and super-masculine. This may have been responsible for his choice of a beautiful but terrifying lion the size of a small elephant as his allegorical figure of Jesus, rather than something nearer to the traditional innocent, meek and mild Lamb of God.

Or what may have been responsible for the choice of beautiful but terrifying lion is that it's quite as traditional as the "traditional innocent, meek and mild Lamb of God." Indeed, the two go very closely together, as in this well-known passage from Revelation:

I saw in the right hand of Him Who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.

And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?"

And no one in Heaven or on the Earth or under the Earth was able to open the book or to look into it.

Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals."

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the Earth.

And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

And notice, by the way, that the Lamb is in this passage not 'mild' but a terrible and powerful being with seven horns and seven eyes.

There are basically three major fields of criticism that come up in criticism of the Narnia books.

The charge, attributed (I hope with some exaggeration) to Pullman, that Narnia is religious propaganda is as silly as some people's condemnation of His Dark Materials as anti-Christian propaganda. I think the label 'propaganda' is very difficult to pin on any children's story. Is The Cat Who Went to Heaven Buddhist propaganda? (It's an exquisite little story, by the way. If you haven't read it, go to the children's section of your local library and look it up.) Are the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer Jewish propaganda? Is Arni's The Mahabharata: A Child's View Hindu propaganda? One might as well call The Dark Is Rising series Manichaean propaganda. It's difficult to see that there is any meaning in using the term this way. Anyone who talks in this way is somehow failing to be mature enough to be able to read children's books.

I am much more sympathetic to the other two criticisms, which pertain to race and gender.

I'm not sure, though, what is meant by the 'serious political repercussions' of a The Horse and His Boy movie. I do think people's worries about the Calormenes are a serious issue; but putting it in terms of 'political repercussions' misses the real point of the worry, which is that The Horse and His Boy, read a certain way, reads a little too much like one of those old dark continent adventure tales, and thus has to face the same sorts of questions. Plus, putting it in terms of 'political repercussions' just propagates a bad way of looking at the matter: there's always a danger that, sometimes, comes too near the top, of the Western critic advocating that (say) we treat Muslims well, but adding in support of this, or in explanation of this, some argument or statement that paints Muslims in ominous tones as people who go around taking frightful vengeance on people who stir up their wrath -- as if Muslims weren't by and large decent and reasonable people just trying to get along with their lives in a world that keeps trying to paint them in ominous tones. I hope there's no hint of that here; but I don't know what else there would be.

It is certainly true that Lewis tends to write boy stories, and is uneven in his characterization of girls; I always liked Polly, Aravis, and Lucy, but not so much Jill and Susan. I think a protest of what happened to Susan is entirely reasonable; although the problem is not, as Lurie suggests, one of bad writing. We are, after all, talking about a good portion of a lifetime, one that includes adolescence and young adulthood, so there's time and opportunity enough for Susan to change; and I'm not sure the later off-stage Susan is entirely unrepresented in the earlier Susan, despite the turn for the worse. Susan was always a little wavery and indecisive, and, despite Lurie's suggestion otherwise, it's actually the sort of failure she would find dangerous. Likewise, the problem is not unfairness, since unfairness is really not a significant criticism of point of plot -- whenever was a fictional plot fair? It could have been handled better, though; it's too easy to read in a problematic way. It should be noted, incidentally, that Lurie is speaking nonsense in saying that Susan is 'shut out of paradise forever' -- this is a massive eisegesis. We don't actually know what happens to Susan, at all. We don't even have any indication that she died with everyone else, so we don't ever hear the end of Susan's story. In fact, there have been occasional rumors -- how creidble I do not know -- that Lewis toyed with writing a story about Susan's redemption after having inherited Diggory's house, but never did it. It's difficult to know what to make of such rumors, since fans have been aching for some closure about Susan ever since the beginning. The Problem of Susan a common topic in the underground world of Narnia fan fiction (underground because C.S. Lewis Pte., the C. S. Lewis estate, has a reputation for being ruthlessly defensive of its copyrights -- cracking down hard on fan tributes of any kind has been one of the many bad mistakes of the estate, which has earned them much anger among C. S. Lewis fans).

I think it's entirely possible to have an ethical critique of fiction without falling into a sort of literary puritanism in which we go about wagging our finger at artifacts of our own flawed manner of reading. I think such an ethical critique needs to focus on ways of writing and reading. We can with great fruitfulness pinpoint weaknesses, incompletenesses, distortions etc., involved in reading a work a certain way, as well as tendencies in the work to be read a certain way, without thereby suggesting that there's something vaguely evil about people who like to read that work, particularly if they read it a different way. A well-considered critique can have the beneficial result of improving the way we read every work. We learn from the lapses as well as from the excellences, and are enriched in the learning. But it's difficult to do; the key to it is a judiciousness most of us lack.

Pentarchs and Patriarchs

Or: A trip throught Wikipedia lists (always the best part of Wikipedia), wherein I mention a lot of important people that you have never heard of, and that neither your nor I ever hear about. The traditional list of the Patriarchs of Constantinople, going back to Andrew. Wikipedia is a good source for the traditional list of the Patriarchs of Rome, going back to Peter. It also is a good source for the traditional list of the Patriarchs of Alexandria up to Chalcedon, which begins with Mark, and the continuing lists after the Miaphysite split betweem the conciliar (Chalcedonian) Patriarchs of Alexandria and the nonconciliar Coptic Popes. You should also see the traditional list for the Patriarchs of Antioch, also tracing back to Peter, and the split list after 518 between the Patriarchs of Antioch and the Syriac Patriarchs of Antioch. The final element in the Pentarchy is Jerusalem. Its traditional list traces back to James; and you can find the lists of Patriarchs of Jerusalem The current bishops in these seats are, of course: Benedict XVI (Rome), Bartholomew I (New Rome), Theodore II (Alexandria), Shenouda III (Coptic Alexandria), Ignatius IV (Antioch), Ignatius Zakka I (Syriac Antioch), and Theophilus III (Jerusalem). There are also, of course, Latin Patriarchates in the Eastern branches of the Catholic Church, which are responsible to the Pope in matters of faith and morals but are autonomous in everything else: Jerusalem (currently Michael Sabbah), Coptic Catholic Alexandria (currently Stephanos II), Syrian Catholic Antioch (currently Ignace Pierre VIII), Melkite Catholic Antioch (currently Gregory III), Maronite Antioch (currently Nasrallah Sfeir), Chaldaean Babylon (currently Emmanuel III Delly), and Armenian Catholic (currently Nerses Bedros XIX).

The Chaldaean Patriarchs of Babylon are not to be confused with the Assyrian Patriarchs of Babylon, who derive from Nestorius (but whose current Christology, laid out by Babai the Great in the sixth century, while still not the standard Orthodox picture, is closer to the Orthodox Christology than Nestorius's -- it avoids Nestorius's dualism, although it denies theopaschism, i.e., the claim that God suffered on the cross). The current Assyrian Patriarch of Babylon is Addai II; its traditional list goes back to Thomas.

Of course, I haven't discussed the Oriental Orthodoxy, except in passing. They differ from the above in tending Monophysite -- I say 'tending' because strictly speaking they are usually officially Miaphysite, which is a more vague position, and can be interpreted either as strictly Monophysite or as much closer to Chalcedon. I've already mentioned Coptic Alexandria and Syriac Antioch, which are both examples of Oriental Orthodoxy. The current Catholicos of Armenia (the traditional list of which traces back to Thaddeus and Bartholomew) is Karekin II. The largest Oriential Orthodox Church is the Ethiopian, often called the Tewahedo Church (Tewahedo='being made one', a reference to their Christology), which (of course) traditionally traces itself back as a Church, although not as a patriarchate, to Philip, and is currently headed by (depending on whom you talk to, since there's a split over it) Merkorios or Paulos. The closely related Eritrean Orthodox Church is currently led by its third Patriarch, Antonios. The Malankara Orthodox Church, in India, traditionally traces itself as a church back to Thomas, although not as a patriarchate; its present Catholicos is Thoma Didymos I. (As an autonomous church, it is not to be confused with the older Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church, which is entirely under the authority of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, and is headed by Catholicos Thomas I, and with which it is still in communion.)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Catching Up

I've been busy, and so most of the things I've been posting have been things that were already in the works in one form or another. Some catching up.

December 1st was Blog Against Racism Day; people are still trying to collate all the different participants (see milkriverblog and the trackback list at Creek Running North for a sample) -- in excess of 200, it seems, and since a few are posting belatedly, it can only increase. Naturally it will take a while to run through even a fraction of them. Amanda Marcotte's post on stereotypes at "Pandagon" seems to be a particular favorite for reflection. Strictly speaking I didn't do any blogging on the day, but I had a relevant post the day before, in which I linked to various discussions of racism in the context of modern philosophy (Hume and Kant in particular).

Speaking of which, Chris of Mixing Memory has, after a long absence returned to blogging with some posts for the occasion. Glad he's back.

I missed that "Ralph the Sacred River" had its blog-birthday on Wednesday. Congratulations on that!

I've promised a further post on the issue of miscompassion; that will be coming along in the next few days, although I don't know precisely when.

Clark has put up one of my favorite stories about a saint. It gives a slightly different perspective on the jolly old fellow.

And if you haven't done it yet, you should still stop by History Carnival XXI. I submitted a post at Houyhnhnm Land on Lady Mary Shepherd.

Hume on Geometrical Equality

One of the more interesting and overlooked passages in Hume's Treatise is the discussion of equality in geometry (1.2.4). In context, Hume is arguing against geometrical arguments for infinite divisibility; he takes a very strong stance against them:

But I go farther, and maintain, that none of these demonstrations can have sufficient weight to establish such a principle, as this of infinite divisibility; and that because with regard to such minute objects, they are not properly demonstrations, being built on ideas, which are not exact, and maxims, which are not precisely true. When geometry decides antyhing concerning the proportions of quantity, we ought not to look for the utmost precision and exactness. None of its proofs extend so far. It takes the dimensions and proportions of figures justly; but roughly, and with some liberty. Its errors are never considerable; nor wou'd it err at all, did it not aspire to such an absolute perfection. (

Despite the qualification in the last sentence, this is a strong position to take: that geometry is inexact, imprecise, and merely approximate in its conclusions is not a claim that is usually made. Part of Hume's argument for this interesting conclusion is an argument about the standard of equality in geometry.

If we were to think of geometric lines as composed of points, we could (in principle) simply identify geometric and arithmetic equality: Line A would be equal to Line B iff the number of points on Line A is equal to the number of points on Line B. Even setting aside the qualms we might have with treating points in this way, Hume notes that this would be "entirely useless"; no one actually identifies two lines as equal by counting their indivisible points.

Another argument, which Hume found in the mathematician Isaac Barrows, was to define geometric equality by appeal to congruity: Figure A is equal to Figure B iff, by placing the one on the other, every part in Figure A contacts every part in Figure B. Hume argues, however, that this is just an elaborate way of conflating arithmetic with geometric equality: ultimately, the congruity position reduces to the claim that for every point on Figure A there must be a corresponding point on Figure B.

Hume's own view is that "the only useful notion of deriv'd from the whole united appearance and the comparison of particular objects" ( In effect, the only standard of equality in geometry is the one you use when you eyeball it.

In effect. When we look at the details, it ends up being more complicated. The general appearance can be put into doubt. When it is, "we frequently correct our first opinion by a review and reflection"; this correction may be corrected with another correction, and so forth. We use instruments of measurement that are of varying degrees of precision. At different times we exercise more or less care in the determination. Our idea of equality, therefore, is not exact. On the contrary: we form "a mix'd notion of equality deriv'd both from the looser and stricter methods of comparison" (

However, we don't stick with this. Having become accustomed to making these judgments and corrections, we get into the habit of doing so, and led on by a sort of mental momentum, we suppose an exact standard of equality. Knowing that there are bodies more minute than those that appear to the senses, we falsely suppose that there are things infinitely more minute than those that appear to the senses; and in light of that we recognize that we don't have any instrument or means of measurement that will secure us from error and uncertainty in such a context: the difference of a single mathematical point could be crucial. Because of this we suppose the corrections in our "mix'd notion" of equality to converge on the existence of a perfect but "plainly imaginary" standard of equality. What makes this "plainly imaginary," Hume thinks, is that our idea of equality is just the "mix'd notion," i.e., the appearance plus the corrections used by applying a common measure, juxtaposition, or instrument. The supposition that there is a standard of equality far beyond what we can actually measure is "a mere fiction of the mind." It's a natural fiction, since it is a result of this mental impulse or momentum whereby the mind keeps going even when it has ceased to be in touch with the facts. It is, however, a fiction.

Hume notes that this point, if true, is perfectly general: it applies not only to geometrical equality, but to equality in any sort of measurement: whether in time, or physics, or music, or art (e.g., hue). In all such cases we are led by the impulse of the mind to something far beyond the judgments of the senses. Our real notion of equality is "loose and uncertain": the exact standard of equality is more than we could possible know to be the case.

The problem this poses for the geometer is this. Either (a) equality in geometry is imprecise; or (b) it is precise. If (b), then geometrical equality is useless in practice (we can never know that a case exists) and depends on the controversial notion that lines are really and actually composed of infinitely divisible points, which Hume (and most of the geometers he would have known) thinks simply absurd. The standard they actually use, Hume thinks, is the imprecise one; but if we accept this view, many of the inferences made b geometers are ill-founded, since they assume a precision far beyond what the imagination and senses can yield. Thus, says, Hume, this shows that a geometrical demonstration of the infinite divisibility of a line is impossible.

One of the reasons I find this an interesting discussion is that in 1.4.2 he appeals to the same mechanism by which he explains how we come up with an exact standard of equality to explain how we come up with an idea of body continuing independently of our perceiving it. I presented a paper before the Hume Society a few years ago on this topic; my views have changed a bit, but I still think it's a key issue in understanding what Hume's theory of the external world really is.

History Carnival XXI

The Twenty-first History Carnival is up at CLEWS: The Historical Crime Blog. Enjoy!

Invisible Ideal Reasons

An interesting passage from Aquinas's Commentary on Hebrews(PDF) (par. 565). Aquinas is commenting on Hebrews 11:3 ("By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear").

He continues, that from invisible things visible things might be made. But because the common notion among the ancients was that the soul was produced from nothing (2 Physics), when they saw a new work, they said that it was made from invisible things. Hence, they either supposed that everything was in everything else, as Empedocles and Anaxagoras, of whom we shall say nothing at present; or thought that forms were in hiding, as Anaxagoras. Still others supposed that they were formed from ideas, as Plato; and others from a mind, as Avicenna. Hence, according to all these philosophers, visible things were made from invisible ideal reasons. But we say, according to the aforesaid manner, that visible things were produced from invisible ideal reasons in the Word of God, by Whom all things were made. These reasons, even thought they are the same reality, differ in aspect by diverse relations connoted in respect to the creature. Hence, man was created by one reason, and a horse by another reason, as Augustine says in the Book of 83 Questions. Thus, therefore, the world was framed by the word of God, that from invisible ideal reasons in the World of God, visible things, i.e., every creature, might be made.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Racism in Modern Philosophy

It is possible to learn by blogging. I've previously discussed Hume's notorious footnote and Beattie's response to it, and noted that you can find a useful, if somewhat uneven, discussion of the footnote in a paper by Eric Morton. In addition I've given a resource or two on the subject of Francis Williams, the Jamaican poet who is casually libelled by Hume in the footnote. As I've noted before, I think this an important issue, one that needs to be considered more often than it is; at the very least, it raises questions that need to be considered seriously. What had somehow slipped my notice, though, is that Kant makes use of the footnote; what called it to my attention was this post at "Musings of a Postmodern Negro," which I found while surfing the blogosphere. If you want the background to the Kant quote, you can find that online as well. Thomas Teo has a brief discussion of Kant's racism in the context of critical psychology; and Matthew Hachee has a brief discussion of it in the context of ethics. Laurence Thomas (PDF) has a truly excellent discussion of it in the context of moral psychology (Thomas, by the way, is a blogger).

On a slightly different but somewhat related note, see Nathanael Robinson's interesting discussion of Race and Progressives at "The Rhine River."

(BTW, Chris Clarke of "Creek Running North" has suggested that bloggers treat December 1, the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks's act of civil disobedience in Montgomery, as Blog Against Racism Day. HT: Majikthise)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wee Teas and Analytic Philosophy

In the mid-1920s, a group of Junior Fellows in philosophy formed a philosophical discussion group called the Wee Teas. The name was put forward in order to distinguish it from the Philosophical Teas, a philosophical discussion group already in existence, which was dominated by senior members of the faculty (e.g., Prichard and Joseph). The following were at various points members of the group:

Gilbert Ryle
H.H. Price
W.F. Hardie
J.D. Mabbott
T. D. Weldon
W. C. Kneale
C. S. Lewis

Quite a group. Ryle and Price are, of course, well-known to those familiar with twentieth-century philosophy. Price was also the president of the Society for Psychical Research from 1939-1941. You can read an interesting article by Price arguing that telepathy proves both materialism and Cartesian dualism wrong at the International Survivalist Society. Mabbott did political philosophy, and became a significant Locke scholar. Weldon also did political philosophy, and did some work on Kant. Kneale later did work on logic. Lewis, of course, needs no introduction; although people forget that Lewis originally went into philosophy, and only ended up in English because of the job market.

The Wee Teas formed the core of what later became recognized as the second major generation of the Oxford Realists, who were key to making analytic philosophy such a big item after the Second World War. This is especially true of Ryle, Price, and Kneale. Analytic philosophy as we know it is in part an outgrowth of a very particular school of thought, that of Cook Wilson, who is in a sense the patriarch of Oxford Realism; and, indeed, the common theme of early Anglo-American analytic philosophy is rebellion against British Idealism. The Cantabrigian rebellion is well-known (the major figures involved Russell and Moore). The equally important Oxonian rebellion (which was more linguistic and less logical in its approach) is not so well known.

Mathieu Marion has a lovely pair of articles in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy (2000) on the role of the Oxford Realists in the rise of analytic philosophy.

Seven Sevens, Sort of

Tagged by Matthew Mullins; this was a wickedly hard meme to do:

Seven things to do before I die
See Mount Kilimanjaro in person.
Write a few books.
Find someone worth marrying.
Read all of Aquinas's works in the original Latin.
Take a real vacation.
Brush up on my Spanish.
Learn to play an instrument.

Seven things I cannot do
Play the piano.
Leap over the moon.
Keep a tune.
Stay worried for more than fifteen minutes.
Keep to my notes while lecturing.
Stay around large groups of people for long without getting tired.

Seven things that attract me to my best friend
Absolutely no pompousness, pretentiousness or pedantry (those things are what I'm there for). I count that as three.
Sense of humor.
Basic sense of decency.
The ability to put up with large doses of me.

Seven things I say most often
I confess.
I suppose.

Seven books (or series) I love
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.
The Foundation series (Isaac Asimov).
The Epistle to the Hebrews.
The Chronicles of Narnia.
A Canticle for Leibowitz.
The Man Who Was Thursday.

Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would watch over and over if I had the time)
The Princess Bride.
Breakfast Club.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
Grosse Pointe Blank.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Seven people I want to join in, too
As usual, I'll forgo this option. I suppose that means I'm stuck with six sevens. Feel free to join in if you want to.

Some Thoughts on Ultimate Sourcehood

Johnny-Dee has started a series of posts on libertarian free will (LFW) in which he begins laying out the basics of an ultimate sourcehood (US) account of LFW. In the first post he brooks the question of an account of LFW that doesn't appeal to PAP (the Principle of Alternative Possibilities). PAP is more or less as follows (there are actually slightly different versions, but they are all very similar):

PAP: An agent is responsible for an action if and only if the agent can act otherwise with respect to that action.

The reason for doubt about PAP is the Frankfurt-style counterexample, which was first put forward in Frankfurt's Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility. John gives an example of a Frankfurt-style counterexample in his post. If you think, as many people do, that Frankfurt-style counterexamples refute PAP, then you will want to find an alternative account of moral responsibility and perhaps an alternative account of free will.

In the second he proposes the first elements of a US account of LFW. his suggestion is as follows:

An agent is free with respect to some action only if (1) the agent responsible for the action is the original cause of the action; (2) the causal sequence that causes the action to occur cannot originate outside the agent.

I'm all for LFW, but I think US accounts are untenable. My reasons go back to the very beginning: I deny that Frankfurt-style counterexamples tell us anything about PAP. In my view they tell us that the model of free will that most people work with is simplistic. For instance, it is common to conflate two distinct elements of free will: free decision and free choice. The first, the non-coerced conclusion of practical reason, is not affected one way or another by Frankfurt-style counterexamples. However, both elements presuppose alternative possibilities. All Frankfurt-style counterexamples really show, then, is that you can suppress free choice without suppressing the alternative possibilities presupposed by free decision. Indeed, most Frankfurt-style counterexamples seem to depend crucially on this fact: the original characterization of the scenario is in terms of alternative possibilities. And it is unlikely one could build a Frankfurt-style counterexample that would eliminate the alternative possibilities of free decision: any such scenario would be straightforwardly deterministic, since it would effectively mean that Jones's thoughts as well as his choices are rigged. What Frankfurt-style counterexamples are picking up on is not that PAP is false but that there is more than one point where alternative possibilities can enter into the picture. (I think there are lots of other problems with Frankfurt-style counterexamples, since I think that people have been insufficiently critical in their acceptance of them, but I won't go into them now. Suffice it to say that I think them a laughably weak basis for denying PAP. You can see a small handful of my other objections to Frankfurt-style cases here.)

So I am unconvinced by attempts to claim that PAP is not a necessary condition of LFW or moral responsibility. Even if it weren't, however, I don't think US accounts of LFW (or moral responsibility) will work. The big issue, of course, is what is meant by something's being the 'original cause' of an action. One way of glossing it is to read it as simply first cause. On such an interpretation, the US account would read:

US(1): An agent is free with respect to some action only if (1) the agent responsible for the action is the first cause of the action; (2) the causal sequence that causes the action to occur does not begin outside the agent.

I think US(1) is obviously false. It is certainly false on any view that holds that nothing can happen without God's permission; and it's clearly the case that the causal sequence always in our ordinary experience begins outside the agent. The causal sequence for any action includes the sine qua non causes. For instance, all my free actions presuppose that I am alive; this life has causes that are certainly outside me (the sun, the air, etc.).

But sine qua non causes are necessary conditions. Perhaps the idea is that of sufficient conditions:

US(2): An agent is free with respect to some action only if (1) the choice of the agent responsible for the action is the sufficient condition of the action; (2)there is no sufficient condition for which the agent is not responsible.

But US(2) seems to imply PAP. If there is no sufficient condition other than the agent's choice, that means that the conditions of the choice itself cannot determine the choice to one alternative (otherwise they would also be sufficient conditions) unless they are conditions due to the agent, and those conditions cannot determine the choice to one unless they are due to the agent. Since we are finite agents, the chain cannot infinitely regress; we must eventually reach a point at which there are no sufficient conditions other than the agent's own choice (the so-called 'self-forming action'). In such a case, the possibilities cannot be determined to one by any conditions (otherwise these conditions would be sufficient conditions for which the agent is not responsible), and the choice will therefore take place in an environment in which there are alternative possibilities. If this is true, however, then PAP is vindicated, since there will be no case of responsibility that does not involve alternative possibilities, somewhere along the causal chain. If PAP is untenable, so is US(2).

Is there another account of US that might be given? US can't be formulated in terms of necessary conditions, since then it is obviously false. If we formulate it in terms of sufficient conditions, it concedes that there are alternative possibilities.

A Poem by George Eliot

Question and Answer

"Where blooms, O my Father, a thornless rose?"
"That can I not tell thee, my child;
Not one on the bosom of earth e'er grows,
But wounds whom its charms have beguiled."

"Would I'd a rose on my bosom to lie!
But I shrink from the piercing thorn;
I long, but dare not its point defy,
I long, and I gaze forlorn."

"Not so, O my child, round the stem again
Thy resolute fingers entwine---
Forego not the joy for its sister pain,
Let the rose, the sweet rose, be thine!"
(September) 1840

Edith Stein on Thinking with the Heart

The activity of the intellect is regarded in some quarters as something relatively superficial. Such a devaluation of the intellect is usually a reaction against an age of enlightenment and its one-sided overestimation of reason. What lends such a view some persuasive force is the fact that a certain kind of intellectual activity leaves the depths of the soul untouched. But this superficiality does not have its cause in the nature of the intellect. It is more correct to say that in such superficial intellectual activity the true power of the intellect is not fully unfolded. It may happen that two human beings listen jointly to the same news and that both have an intellectually clear grasp of its contents, such as, for example, the news of the Serbian regicide in the summer of 1914. However, the one "thinks no more about it," goes calmly on his way and a few minutes later is again busy with his plans for a summer vacation. The other is shaken in his innermost being....In his case the news has struck deeply at his inner life, and he understands the external events from the point of view of his own interiority. And because his full intellectual power is alive in his understanding, his mind penetrates into the context and into the "consequences" of the external event.

In this latter kind of thinking "the entire human being" is engaged, and this engagement expresses itself even in the external appearance. It affects the bodily organs, the heartbeat, and the rhythm of breathing, the individual's sleep and digestion. He "thinks with his heart," and his heart is the actual living center of his being. And even though the heart signifies the bodily organ to whose activity bodily life is tied, we have no difficulty in picturing the heart as the inner being of the soul, because it is evidently the heart that has the greatest share in the inner processes of the soul, and because it is in the heart that the interconnection between body and soul is most strikingly felt and experienced.

[From Finite and Eternal Being, quoted in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 8.2 (2005) 183-193.]


A really good post at Cantànima on a case in which a woman was fired from her teaching position at a Catholic school because she became pregnant out of wedlock. We need a word for this sort of error [i.e., the error of those who rationalized the firing in the way noted in the post--ed.] (it's certainly common enough). I offer the above neologism as a candidate.

A Poem Draft

In the city angels spire,
moonlight falling on their wings,
each a harp of mystic fire.
The wind, which is their heart's desire,
sweeps across their starlight-strings;
each quivers, straightens, sighs, and sings.

I heard one night their carols played
across the starlit meadow's grass.
Each note, like some soft lunar ray
upon the breeze would dance and sway
and leap; then lightly would it pass,
like whispers strayed from heaven's mass.

When I once, a blond-bright child,
looked into the sunset sky,
I saw a city, blessed and wild,
never ruined nor yet defiled,
brighly shining in clouds on high;
every sunset it draws nigh.

My eyes, so tired in my bed,
like stones now draw me into sleep,
where all my cares are gently shed
and pictures play inside my head;
and I, within this ocean deep,
grow wise, and angel-counsels keep.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Sacred and the Profane

Nice slideshow at Slate on Fra Angelico. (HT: verbum ipsum)

A Brief Moment of Waxing Nostalgic

Oh for the days when, if you ordered iced tea in a restaurant they gave you brewed tea rather than that Nestea stuff in a can, which, to borrow a phrase from Douglas Adams, is the Substance That Is Almost, But Not Quite, Entirely Unlike Tea....