Friday, December 16, 2005

Surprised by Joy

Surprised by joy--impatient as the wind
I turned to share the transport--Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind--
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss?--That thought's return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn,
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

-- William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Speculations on Jesus and 'the Jews' in John

I have recently been re-reading the Gospel according to John; and in doing so I have been struck by something more forcefully than I have previously, namely, the peculiarities of the evangel's use of the term 'Jew'. We might be inclined, and, indeed, any look at comments on John shows that many people are inclined, to read the word in the modern sense; but a look at the author's actual usage shows that this is an untenable approach, because he is clearly not using it in our sense. There are two aspects of his usage that become clear when we look at this usage:

(1) John's term 'Jew' is limited by geography. So, for instance, Jesus stays in Galilee to avoid the Jews (Jn 7:1), despite that Galilee has a lot of Jews in our sense of the term. The author of the gospel uses the term always and only for Judeans (the one possible exception is probably not really one, see below). Indeed there are a number of groups in the gospel that are not called 'Jews', despite being clearly what we would call Jewish:

(a) the disciples of John
(b) the disciples of Jesus
(c) the Greeks (who are in context clearly Hellenistic Jews, since they have come to Palestine to celebrate the holy days)
(d) Jewish Galileans

In some cases, particularly (a), (b), and perhaps (c), there is a clear opposition of some sort set up between the Jewish group and the Jews in John's sense.

(2) What is more, John usually restricts it even further, to those who are in league with the Pharisees and priests. In other words, the Jews in John's sense of the term are those who are representatives of Judea's religious establishment. Several uses of the term can only be understood in this way. For instance, Caiaphas's advice to the Pharisees and the priests (Jn 11:48ff) is later summarized as his counsel to the Jews (Jn 18:14); and in more than one spot the people of Judea are opposed to the Jews -- the people are afraid of the Jews because (for instance) the Jews have the power to throw them out of the synagogue.

Obviously, there are lots of uses of the term that can be interpreted in more than one way. But there are only two scenes in which the word 'Jew' seems to have a broader signification than this narrower 'those in league with the Pharisees and priests'. The first scene is the discussion between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (Jn 4). The Samaritan woman having called him a Jew, Jesus identifies himself with the Jews:

You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.

If we regarded this use of the term as being closer to our own sense of the term, it would be the only case in the whole gospel which would definitely take that meaning. Much more probable is the conclusion that Jesus is accepting the Samaritan's labeling of him as Judean. We don't find any reason for this in the gospel itself, but, of course, we already know (from Matthew and Luke) that there was a Christian tradition predating this gospel which did, in fact, take Jesus to be born in Judea, despite living in Galilee. Origen had interpreted the phrase 'his own country' in 4:44 (which, if we take it to refer to Galilee seems to conflict with 4:45) to refer to Judea; this is usually dismissed, because modern scholars tend to assume that John only associates Jesus with Galilee (cf. 1:46), not Judea. But I wonder if they are perhaps being too glib on this point, since I suspect Origen is quite right. To identify 'his own country' with Judea fits with the passage preceding. I don't know if this is the right solution or not; but it seems to me that we are taking the gospel more consistently if we regard v. 22 as an affirmation of a Judean identity.

In any case, the other scenario is in some sense more interesting, since it is the interaction between the priests and Pilate (Jn 19). It is a sign of deliberateness, I think, that throughout this entire interaction, the narrator continues to use the term in his usual narrow sense, but Pilate consistently uses it to mean 'Judean'; the Roman governor lumps in all the Judeans together. His title for Jesus, "King of the Jews," clearly means "King of the People of Judea" rather than "King of the Jewish People".

I find all this somewhat interesting in that the gospel is often accused of being anti-Semitic for its heavy, and heavily negative, use of the term 'the Jews'. But the structure of the work tells against this interpretation. There are several Jewish populations who are never condemned under this term, and usually the term is restricted to the Judean religious establishment. The occasional positive use (Jesus with the Samaritan woman) and neutral use (Pilate) are the exceptions that prove the rule: for these are the only cases where there is a straightforward positive argument for taking the term as a reference even to all Judeans. There is no attack on the Jewish people in the Fourth Gospel. Rather, the picture that the evangel gives is of a particular group -- the Judean religious establishment -- who see themselves as the leaders and protectors of all Jewish people, and take this self-appointed mission as a license for meddling in the religious affairs of others. So effective is their meddling that ordinary Jewish people, and even some of their own members, live in fear of their sanction. They are self-appointed gatekeepers, who brand Jewish people who oppose them as sinners or (even worse) Samaritans. That's the picture that John gives; a very limited picture of a very small group within Judaism, and not of the whole Jewish people. In the gospel Jesus opposes not the Jews in general, but the power of the Temple: one might say that in this gospel the Temple of Jesus's body stands over against the corrupted Temple as the symbols of the two opposed ways in which God may be worshipped, the first of which liberates and the second of which oppresses.

Theology in the Blogosphere

The 100th Christian Carnival is up at I found especially interesting the post on the view of messianic prophecy in the Talmud.

Nestorius Lives is very good post on the Theotokos doctrine at "The Crusty Curmudgeon." (HT: Rebecca Stark at Theologica)

Was Jesus really a carpenter? Euangelion discusses the alternatives to the traditional attribution.

Loren Rosson III discusses New Testament meanings of Christ's death at The Busybody.

Claude Mariottini discusses the proper translation of Isaiah 40:6.

At Prosblogion there's a discussion of Rowe's Can God Be Free? argument. It's an interesting argument; but I'm inclined to think it was already shown to be impossible by Malebranche. People forget that Leibniz, in his affirmation that God must create the best possible world, was explicitly opposing himself to Malebranche, who denies--rightly, I think--that there's any coherent argument for such a conclusion. The best you can do is conclude that whatever God does must be done in the best possible way given the ends He has in view. Malebranche himself held that this world was not only obviously not the best possible world, it's not even a particularly good one by most of our standards; but this does not reflect on God as infinite perfect being at all, since all that follows from God's being infinite perfect being is that his actions must be the best possible actions of their kind, not that his effects must be the best possible effects. Leibniz, in fact, makes no good argument whatsoever for his rejection of this view; and none of his erstwhile modern followers are even as good as Leibniz is at making Malebranche's distinction even to reject it, which is the absolute minimum for saying anything useful on the subject. I've given an argument for accepting what is essentially Malebranche's distinction in a similar context. Once the distinction is accepted, the argument fails.

Bernoullian Combination

Jakob Bernoulli's posthumous Ars Conjectandi (1713) is a classic of probability theory that deserves to be better known among students of early modern thought. One of the interesting things about the work is its proposal of a non-Bayesian way of dealing with probability of arguments. We tend to forget that originally there was no notion of numerical probability; our tendency to think of probabilities numerically is precisely one of our inheritances from the early modern period. Originally a probability was an argument; and much early probability theory gets its major impulse from the first exploratory attempts to see if this sense of probability could be clarified by algebra.

Against this background, it was natural that people would begin seeing what analogies there were between gambling, an area where decision and argument was very easily mathematized, and other areas. Bernoulli explored a way to mathematize probably arguments by seeing them as analogous to a game of chance. A probable argument, Bernoulli suggested, can be broken down into 'cases of argument', where each case is a possible outcome of using the argument. So, as just one example, if I put forward a given argument, I could break this down into a case in which the argument yields A and a case in which the argument does not yield A. That is, if I have a probable argument, there will be cases in which the probable argument will give a given possible conclusion and cases in which it won't.

If we break down a probable argument into its cases, we can then combine arguments in an interesting probabilistic way. Here's an example. Suppose someone has been murdered. We know there was only one murderer, we have a profile of the murder, and we know that p people fit the profile. Since the profile fits p suspects, for each suspect we can regard the profile as a probable argument for the conclusion that that subject is the murderer. These are the cases of the argument. Suppose that one of the suspects is called Gracchus; then there are p-1 cases of the argument in which the argument does not prove Gracchus guilty, and 1 case in which it does. So far, so good; but let us add another argument, since we're interested here in the combination of arguments. Suppose that Gracchus, on being questioned about the murder, turns pale. Let's put on our sleuthing hats. Gracchus's pallor can form the basis of a probable argument about his participation in the murder. If we break this down into its cases, there would be a case in which this argument would prove his guilt, because the guilt and the pallor would actually be linked; and there would be cases in which it would not (because the pallor would not be linked to the guilt). Let the total number of these cases be called q; then the number of cases which leave the matter open is q-1.

By combining this argument with the previous one, we could reason in this way. We can use our first probable argument to divide the q-1 cases into cases in which Gracchus is guilty and cases in which he is innocent. In accordance with that first argument, proportion of these cases, 1/p, yield the conclusion of guilt, because one case out of p will lead to guilt; the rest, (p-1)/p, will yield the conclusion of innocence. So if we put together all the cases yielding the conclusion that Gracchus is guilty, we get the following number:

1 + (q-1)/p

Think it through a moment, and you'll see why: we have 1 case of guilt, and we add to that a proportion 1/p of the q-1 cases. The combined probability that Gracchus is guilty, then, is as follows:

[1 + (q-1)/p]/q

which can be simplified to:

(p + q -1)/pq

Suppose there were 20 suspects; and suppose that we judge on the basis of our experience that guilt can be inferred from pallor one out of every hundred times. Assuming I haven't made a stupid addition mistake, the probability of guilt is a little under 3/50 (more precisely, something like 119/2000). Suppose there were only 4 suspects, and we could corrrectly infer guilt from pallor one out of every ten times. Then the probability of guilt would be 13/40.

One of the interesting features of this approach is that, depending on the arguments we are combining, we can't assume that the probabilities for and against a conclusion sum to one. This isn't actually surprising, given that we are dealing with probable arguments; we would hardly expect it always to be the case that the arguments we are combining always cover all possible cases.

Bernoulli's work was only published poshumously in 1713; however, it was an attempt to bring mathematics to the understanding of probability that was then common. It's not surprising, then, that if we look at what people in the seventeenth and eighteenth century say about probabilities and chances, we find that they think of it in terms that are (broadly) like those of Bernoulli, and not really like the way we tend to think of them. Barry Gower had a nice article in the April 1990 Hume Studies in which he pointed out that recognizing this explains one of the common objections to Hume's argument against miracles. It was common for people to insist that whatever the probability against miracles may be, it has no effect on the probability for miracles. Their conception of probability is certainly not Bayesian; it is not even directly probability-theoretical (since it's based on a different, albeit related, notion of probability). Rather, it is much closer to the Bernoullian combination of arguments (as Hume's own argument also is). Pretty much everyone in the period has this view of the matter; they differ on details, but they tend to think along the same lines.

Glenn Shafer has a really good article on the significance of Bernoulli's Ars Conjectandi for probability theory (PDF format).

History Carnival 22

(My she's growing up fast!) The 22nd History Carnival is up at Frog in a Well: Korea. My criticism of Stark's essay was apparently nominated. There's a good mix this time around -- both light reading and heavy reading. Take a moment to browse.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More Notes

* Critique of pure (Jedi) reason at "verbum ipsum"

* Interview with a Penitent: Anne Rice at Christianity Today (HT: Another Think) Also worth perusing is Rice's official website; she corrects common misconceptions about her recent writing of Christ the Lord here.

* The Philosopher's Carnival is up at "Right Reason"

* Apparently Daniel Dennett stuck his foot in his mouth recently. That's what he gets for lying about Darwin.

* James Madison's original proposal for the Ninth Amendment (HT: Stuart Buck):

The exceptions here or elsewhere in the constitution, made in favor of particular rights, shall not be so construed as to diminish the just importance of other rights retained by the people; or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the constitution; but either as actual limitations of such powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.

* Some of you may have noticed that there was a period when accessing Siris would create a pop-up ad. It took me forever to figure out what was doing it (since I am a slow and naive country bumpkin in this land of wicked code-writers), but it was my Nedstat counter (now webstats4u). It was originally an awesome free webcounter (Danish, if I recall correctly), which I used to great effect to keep track of who was linking to me, etc. However, when the new management took over, they started using pop-up ads, so I took the counter off. Apparently a lot of people are very annoyed. The new management had put more ads in the statcounter dashboard itself, which would have been just fine; but coding pop-up ads into other people's websites without so much as a how-d'ye-do is a bit uncouth. I'll be experimenting a bit with StatCounter to see if I like it.

* My result in the Narnia Quiz (HT: Rebecca, who is also Tumnus):

Feast of St. John of the Cross

En una noche escura
con ansias en amores inflamada
¡o dichosa ventura!
salí sin ser notada
estando ya mi casa sosegada.

ascuras y segura
por la secreta escala, disfraçada,
¡o dichosa ventura!
a escuras y en celada
estando ya mi casa sosegada.

En la noche dichosa
en secreto que naide me veýa,
ni yo mirava cosa
sin otra luz y guía
sino la que en el coraçón ardía.

Aquésta me guiava
más cierto que la luz de mediodía
adonde me esperava
quien yo bien me savía
en parte donde naide parecía.

¡O noche, que guiaste!
¡O noche amable más que la alborada!
¡oh noche que juntaste
amado con amada,
amada en el amado transformada!

En mi pecho florido,
que entero para él solo se guardaba
allí quedó dormido
y yo le regalaba
y el ventalle de cedros ayre daba.

El ayre de la almena
quando yo sus cavellos esparcía
con su mano serena
en mi cuello hería
y todos mis sentidos suspendía.

Quedéme y olbidéme
el rostro recliné sobre el amado;
cessó todo, y dexéme
dexando mi cuydado
entre las açucenas olbidado.

An English translation to this masterpiece of Spanish theological poetry is here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Smith and the Invisible Hand

Adam Smith uses the phrase "invisible hand" in Theory of Moral Sentiments IV.i.10 and Wealth of Nations IV.2.9. Keith Rankin points out What Adam Smith Really Said about the invisible hand. It's good to see an argument like this; one tends to forget how focused Smith was on national good -- the book, after all, is called The Wealth of Nations. Also, as a commenter noted in response to it at Stealth Badger, Smith was primarily a moral philosopher, and presumed that sympathy and moral sense would be part of what contributes to making something part of one's self-interest. We also tend to forget that Smith himself recognizes most of the problems with capitalism that others have and recognizes them as problems -- one of the reasons why he puts such emphasis on the importance of public education, for instance, is to compensate for these failings (Smith doesn't think it should be nationalized, but does think a universal basic education should be regulated and supported by the government, especially at the local level, in a way that allows people to make their own choices about their education to the extent consistent with the need to regulate the basic form of education).

(HT: Science and Politics)

A Story is a Story

I very much recommend Rebecca's post on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a remedy for the tendencies, which seem to be rampant these days, to play it up as Christian at the cost of overlooking it as what it really is: a story. It taps into Christian imagery, and here and there illustrates Christian claims in its own way; but it's a story, geared to the imagination, not a doctrinal treatise in story format.

Womb of Science

I recently came across Stark's article at The Chronicle on Christianity, capitalism, and science (HT: Cliopatria). The argument manages to be both confused and confusing at the same time. In the first paragraph he seems to be trying to convey the problem of China, which did arise in Enlightenment circles here and there (the problem was why China, which was occasionally used by a handful of thinkers as a paradigmatic rational society, appeared not to be as advanced scientifically as Christian Europe); but he manages to make it sound as if it were a general problem pertaining to the 15th century, which is odd. And while shifting economic systems probably had a role somewhere in the mix, anything recognizable as (genuine) capitalism seems to have missed completely some of the major scientific advances of the early modern period. I suppose it depends on what you're willing to call 'capitalism'.

The more serious problem with the argument is that it seems to be mixing up genealogical and logical backgrounds, which need not be the same (or even consistent with each other). There is a strong argument that both Christianity and new economic awareness played a role in the genealogy of science as we know it. To name just one example, a number of early scientists saw themselves as doing something for Christianity and Christendom when they did their scientific work. But it isn't clear what this gets us. For instance, we could interpret this as meaning (1) that Christianity has some special aptness for incubating scientific development; (2) that the scientists were acting inconsistently; or (3) that the union of the two is little more than a coincidence. Even if we accept (1), it wouldn't follow that other things lack the same aptness. That something forms a genealogical background for a given historical/intellectual event tells us very little about how it is related to that event logically or in explanation. Stark gives us a largely genealogical argument that capitalism and Christianity played a role in the development of science, but tries to draw from this a conclusion about how the development of science is to be explained, as if he had shown that there was some deeper logical link between Christianity and scientific thought. Some of Stark's undeveloped claims are perhaps supposed to give this deeper explanatory link; but many of these are rather dubious. In fairness to Stark, he's clearly just putting up a summary of his forthcoming book, which (one would imagine) develops his claims at greater length, and perhaps in a more nuanced and argued way. But as it stands it's not a particularly great argument.

Spat Among the Anti-Materialists

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of 'Christian Science', was apparently not very impressed by Berkeley:

Bishop Berkeley published a book in 1710 entitled "Treatise Concerning the Principle of Human Knowledge." Its object was to deny, on received principles of philosophy, the reality of an external material world. In later publications he declared physical substance to be "only the constant relation between phenomena connected by association and conjoined by the operations of the universal mind, nature being nothing more than conscious experience. Matter apart from conscious mind is an impossible and unreal concept." He denies the existence of matter, and argues that matter is not without the mind, but within it, and that that which is generally called matter is only an impression produced by divine power on the mind by means of invariable rules styled the laws of nature. Here he makes God the cause of all the ills of mortals and the casualties of earth.

Again, while descanting on the virtues of tar-water, he writes: "I esteem my having taken this medicine the greatest of all temporal blessings, and am convinced that under Providence I owe my life to it." Making matter more potent than Mind, when the storms of disease beat against Bishop Berkeley's metaphysics and personality he fell, and great was the fall—from divine metaphysics to tar-water!

[From Mary Baker Eddy's Message for 1901.] The context can be seen here (scroll down). Eddy, it seems, was a little sensitive about the charge that Berkeley was the inventor of Eddy's views about the world. She is certainly right that Berkeley would not have accepted the 'Christian Science' claim that death, disease, and sin were illusive errors. Berkeley deals with the question of God's relation to ills in PHK 151ff.

In any case, I knew I had to post about it when I came across the comment on Berkeley's interest in tar-water.

Butler on Mediation

The whole Analogy of Nature removes all imagined Presumption against the general Notion of a Mediator between God and Man. For we find all living Creatures are brought into the World, and their Life in Infancy is preserved, by the Instrumentality of Others; and every Satisfaction of it, some way or other, is bestowed by the like Means. So that the visible Government which God exercises over the World is by the Instrumentality and Mediation of Others.

Joseph Butler, Analogy of Religion, II.v.i

UPDATE: Fixed the text (some of it had dropped out by accident). By the way, you should read the poem, "Reflections Upon Butler's Analogy of Religion" at The Occident and American Jewish Advocate.

Another Poem Draft

Farther Shore

Every good thing passes, but there is a farther shore;
the dying of the one good makes another to endure;
it's a feature of all goodness no subtle words can hide:
God is born in Bethlehem, and God is crucified.
As the seed-husk falls away so that the sprouting stem may live,
so falls away the prior good, its very life to give.
This is the dark evangel that reigns beneath the sky:
the flower bursts to blossom and in its very blossom dies.
But in every flower's fading is fruition of a life,
a mediating labor that births the fruit to light.
And in a dusty manger far beneath a Magi's star
a doom is writ and graven that no mortal hand can bar
in living proof of glory that no man can well ignore:
for every good thing passes, but there is a farther shore.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I Have Seen the Future, and it is Malebranche

Dr. Pretorius predicts that Malebranche is up for a revival. (I think his other prediction is as sure a thing as can be.) If Richard is right, the signs are looking very good; more people speaking French increases the probability of reading 17th-century French philosophers.

So you see your future, brothers and sisters: join with the forces of Malebranche scholars today while there still is time to jump on the bandwagon! In the meantime I have a head start; so I'll just conveniently ride the tide to a cushy position somewhere....


The Matter of Narnia

Roger Ebert has a very good review of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I agree with him that it seems inevitable that the series will tip over into R -- I don't see how The Last Battle can possibly avoid it. The joke about the animal inhabited by an archbishop is a good one, and I liked this point to ponder with which he ends:

But it's remarkable, isn't it, that the Brits have produced Narnia, the Ring, Hogwarts, Gormenghast, James Bond, Alice and Pooh, and what have we produced for them in return? I was going to say "the cuckoo clock," but for that you would require a three-way Google of Italy, Switzerland and Harry Lime.

I agree with Jared Wilson of Thinklings fame that Anna Popplewell's performance as Susan, although very likely to be overlooked, was excellent, and deserves commendation. The boys had nothing on the girls, although Skandar Keynes as Edmund managed to capture the look of an Edmund very well -- miserable and beastly simultaneously. I hope that when the Dawn Treader comes along they get someone who captures the look of a Eustace (my favorite character in the series) well. I think it's possible to exaggerate the weakness of Moseley's performance; I'm inclined to put it down to a weakly written part. Swinton as the White Witch was good -- she managed to come across as quite cold. I look forward to seeing how she does in The Magician's Nephew (my favorite book in the series), assuming that she continues with the role -- the signs are quite promising.


I am very, very picky about fantasy -- it's my favorite genre, but it's a little like free verse: everyone can write it but only a handful of people can write it well. So I usually don't catch up to more recent good quality fantasy until quite a bit after everyone else. I had read China Mieville's Perdido Street Station and The Scar some months ago, but only got around to reading Iron Council yesterday. Of the three, PSS is still the one most worth reading. TS was a massive disappointment; a rather crude and unimpressive bit of misdirection that was only alleviated in its tediousness of plot by Mieville's undeniable talent for description. Fortunately the story of IC, while not up to the level of PSS, is much better. I confess, by the way, that I don't understand why he has a reputation as a 'gritty' or 'edgy' author. Perhaps my notion of 'gritty' and 'edgy' is much grittier and edgier than that of everyone else, but I just don't see it. There's certainly a lot of squalor in Mieville's world, but it's one of the things he conveys least satisfactorily -- he has an odd tendency to romanticize it. He also likes fight scenes, but does them remarkably badly -- again, his talent for description often saves him, but for battles that should be rather grim, they read an awful lot like staged pyrotechnics. (Admittedly, they are difficult to do properly.) Mieville does best, I think, with the political side of the story -- he's clearly quite comfortable here, and not stretching at all. IC, while less of a story, is very skillfully done -- better even than PSS in some ways, and I recommend it for those who like that style of storytelling. (Crooked Timber had a seminar on the book in January.)

Likewise, I only just recently got around to reading Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It's a bit self-indulgent -- it could easily be a hundred pages shorter without serious damage to the story -- it's excellent, and I recommend it highly. (There was also a Crooked Timber seminar on it, much more recently.)

So That's My Stereotype This Week

Green - You believe that small economic units
should control the goods, and that the
government should be permissive of
"victimless crimes," respectful of
civil liberties and very strict towards big
business. You also believe in either a
socialist tax structure or more power to local
communities. You think that environmental
policies should be written into law. Your
historical role model is Ralph Nader.

Which political sterotype are you?
brought to you by Quizilla


To Begin to Exist Is to Be an Effect

The ever lovely and brilliant Lady Mary on beginning to exist:

Let the object which we suppose to begin its existence of itself be imagined, abstracted from the nature of all objects we are acquainted with, saving in its capacity for existence; let us suppose it to be no effect; there shall be no prevening circumstances whatever that affect it, nor any existence in the universe: let it be so; let there be nought but a blank; and a mass of whatsoever can be supposed not to require a cause START FORTH into existence, an dmake the first breach on the wide nonentity around;--now, what is this starting forth, beginning, coming into existence, but an action, which is a quality of an object not yet in being, and so not possible to have its qualities determined, nevertheless exhibiting its qualities?
[Lady Mary Shepherd, An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect, p. 35.]

That's a pretty hefty sentence, so let's break down the idea a bit. Hume (who is Shepherd's main target here) says that it is possible to imagine something beginning to exist without a cause. Shepherd argues against this view in this way (more or less):

(1) Suppose there to be an object that begins to exist without a cause.
(2) Beginning to exist is an action.
(3) An action is a quality (feature) of something that exists.
(4) The object that begins to exist cannot exist until it has already begun to exist.
(5) Therefore the action involved in beginning to exist is not the action of the object that begins to exist.
(6) This is to have a cause, which contradicts the supposition.

As she puts it a bit later:

But if my adversary allows thtat, no existence being supposed previously in the universe, existence, in order to be, must begin to be, and that the notion of beginning an action (the being that begins it not supposed yet in existence), involves a contradiction in terms; then this beginning to exist cannot appear but as a capacity some nature hath to alter the presupposed nonentity, and to act for itself, whilst itself is not in being.--The original assumption may deny, as much as it pleases, all cause of the existence; but, whilst in its very idea, the commencement of existence is an effect predicated of some supposed cause, (because the quality of an object which must be in existence to possess it,) we must conclude that there is no object which begins to exist, but must owe its existence to some cause.
[Lady Mary Shepherd, An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect, pp. 35-36.]