Thursday, March 30, 2006


I'll be visiting family over the next few weeks. I should be able to get to a computer here and there, but posting will certainly be lighter than it has been recently.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Bits and Pieces

* Sunni Sister has an excellent post on women and body image, from a Muslim perspective.

* The coolest British MP in any timeline, of course, is the MP from Flydale North.

* A good discussion of Presidential signing statements at FindLaw. Also at FindLaw, a very good discussion by Sherry Colb of the somewhat absurd claim that forcing fathers to pay child support for unwanted children is sexual discrimination (see also Joanna Grossman's discussion); and John Dean discusses a very disturbing event in which a bill not passed by Congress has been treated as a law, due to faulty procedure.

* McCarraher on The Incoherence of Hannah Arendt [HT: Cliopatria]. The Library of Congress, by the way, has a great set of Hannah Arendt papers online.

* A discussion of Galileo and methodological naturalism at "Studi Galileiani".

* A must-read on immigration tensions in the U.S.: Multilingual by our own choice at "The Rhine River". Spanish is an official state language of New Mexico. Problems like the one Nathanael highlights in the post are surprisingly pervasive. I remember reading once about a Democratic rally in New Mexico, before a largely Hispanic crowd, at which Teresa Heinz said, "I'm an immigrant, too." The problem, of course, was that the crowd consisted of almost no immigrants; they were almost all middle-class and working-class Americans of Hispanic background, many of whom had probably never even been out of the country on vacation. People were not amused; Hispanics in New Mexico tend to treasure their Hispanic background and the Spanish language; but they tend not to treasure the stereotypes that Hispanics all hopped over the Rio Grande, whether legally or illegally. And who could seriously blame them? (Trivia Question: What other states besides New Mexico have non-English official languages in addition to English? A hint: the languages are French and a certain Austronesian language.)

* An interesting review of Dennett's Breaking the Spell by H. Allen Orr (HT: Prosblogion).

* In case you needed to know:

You Are 14% Evil

You are good. So good, that you make evil people squirm.
Just remember, you may need to turn to the dark side to get what you want!
[HT: AES ]


* According to Heisenberg, his cooperation with the Nazi regime grew out of a conflict. On the one hand, he had no sympathies for the regime and its more enthusiastic supporters at all (nor they for him, since he was associated in their minds with Einstein), and considered leaving. On the other hand, he didn't feel he could leave Germany, and had received advice, which seemed convincing at the time, from no less than Planck, to hunker down and wait out the storm. So he cooperated with the regime in its nuclear weapons program. While he doesn't claim to have engaged in any direct sabotage, he does claim that he regularly overestimated to the authorities how long and how expensive the relevant research would have been, and devoted what uncertain influence he had to convincing them that the focus of the research should be piles, not bombs. Such is Heisenberg's claim in published works (Physics and Beyond, if I'm not confusing it with one of his other books), and much of the story has received at least a bit of confirmation from contemporary documents and declassified files involving secretly recorded conversations. I was interested, however, to come across this letter from Bohr to Heisenberg, in which Bohr expresses puzzlement over part of Heisenberg's story. (Clark recommends this PhysicsWeb article for general background on this point.)

Newton against the Trinity

Isaac Newton's place in the history of science is generally known. What it is less known is his place in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity. Newton devoted considerably attention to the Trinity, which (as an Arian) he opposed, even using the General Scholium to the Principia Mathematica as a forum to take a subtle swipe or two at the doctrine. I want to look briefly at this attack on the Trinity, which is actually quite clever; but a bit of background might be useful at first.

In one of Newton's manuscripts (Yahuda Ms. 1.4) we find a discussion of the Arian controversy in the context of an exegesis of a vision in the book of Revelation, with which he had a bit of a fascination. On Newton's view, the primary purpose of Revelation was "to describe & obviate the great Apostacy," which "was to begin by corrupting the truth about the relation of the Son to the Father in putting them equal." For this reason, on Newton's view, the vision in Revelation 5, in which a figure is seen upon a throne and gives to the Lamb a scroll, is not a mere set of images by a doctrinal system put in imagistic form. In particular, it is a prophecy showing the true relation between Father and Son: "the Son's subordination, & that by an essentiall character, his having the knowledge of futurities only so far as the father communicates it to him." The scroll is originally sealed; Newton points to this as evidence that the Son's receiving of knowledge from the Father is not eternal. This knowledge "was not given to the Lamb at his first generation but since his resurrection; he meriting it by his obedience to death."

The obvious orthodox response to this, of course, would be to say that Newton is confusing the Word in Himself with the Word Incarnate. Newton, however, is no fool, and anticipates the response, which he thinks the vision also guards against "by a threefold insinuation."

First, the vision begins with the one on the throne holding the book in his hand, and is closely followed by the declaration, in the entire company of heaven, that only the Lamb is worthy of it. Thus the vision shows God and the Lamb as the most worthy in this assembly; and the Lamb is shown originally without the book. On Newton's view, this suggests that the distinction between the Word as God and the Word as Incarnate is sophistical: if the Word had known these matters beforehand, the Lamb would have been as much in possession of the book as the one on the throne. (For those who aren't used to this sort of topic, Newton's argument here is very weak; it depends crucially on his assumption that the scroll is some sort of divine knowledge. The usual interpretation, which takes into account the whole imagery of the book of Revelation, is that the scroll has to do not with knowledge but with salvation and judgment. The one thing going for Newton's interpretation is the claim in the Gospels that only the Father, and not even the Son, knows the day and hour of judgment; this verse is an important problem for the orthodox position, but Newton's application of the claim to the vision is a stretch.)

Second, Newton notes that the Lamb in this vision is the object of worship, both alone and together with the one on the throne. This might at first seem to cause a problem for Newton's own view, but he has a clever response that is relevant to his jab at Trinitarianism in the General Scholium:

Now this worship was given to the Lamb as he was a God without all doubt, Divinity & worship being relative terms, & yet it was given to him as he was worthy to take & open the Book for at the falling down of the four Beasts & 24 Elders before him to worship him, the very act of their worship was to celebrate him for his worthines to take & open the book. The Lamb therefore as he was a God was worshipped for his worthines to take & open the book & therefore took & opened the Book as he was the object of worship, that is a God. But to make all this plainer you may compare it with Philip: 2.9 where tis expresly said, that for his obedience to death God gave him a name above every name that at the name of Iesus every knee should bow &c. that is that all the creation should worship him which is as much as to say that he should be ισα θεω as a God over the creation: for Deity & worship are relative terms & infer one another.

In other words: 'God' is not an absolute term; it doesn't identify anything ontological. The reason we call something a 'God' has nothing to do with what it is in itself. Rather, we call a thing 'God' if it has the sort of dominion or authority that calls for worship. Thus Newton has no problem with calling the Lamb 'God', because the Lamb is given divine authority (which he previously did not have) by the Supreme God (the one on the throne).

Third, Newton identifies a difference in how God and the Lamb are treated by the vision as objects of worship. (1) The Lamb does not sit on the Throne but stands by it; whereas the one on the throne (and who is therefore King over all who are not on the throne, including the Lamb) represents God. (2) In Newton's view, the doxologies that follow the investiture of the Lamb show a gradation, with God being given a "higher degree of worship" than the Lamb, a pattern that he thinks is repeated in Revelation 7.

Thus Revelation 5 is:

a system of the Christian religion, showing the relation of the ffather & Son, & how they are to be worshipped in a general Assembly of the Church & of the whole creation. The ffather the supreme King upon the Throne, the fountain of prescience & of all perfections. The Lamb the next in dignity, the only being worthy to receive full communications at the hand of the ffather. No Holy Ghost, no Angels, no Saints worshipped here: none worshipped but God & the Lamb, & these worshipped by all the rest. None but God upon the Throne worshipped with the supreme worship; none with any other degree of worship but th eLamb; & he worshipped not on the account of what he had by nature, but as he was slain, as he became thereby worthy to be exalted & indowed with perfections by the father. This was the religion to be corrupted by the Apostacy. This therefore was very pertinently shaddowed out in the exordium to the Prophesy of that Apostacy.

This is Newton's Arianism in a nutshell; although I think it's a bit strained, it's quite striking, and much more creative and original than most subordinationisms.

On to the Principia. In the General Scholium, which was added to the Mathematical Principles in 1713, after having stated that a system as beautiful as the solar system must be "under the dominion of One," goes on to consider the nature of this being:

This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God Pantokrator, or Universal Ruler. For God is a relative word, and has a respect to servants; and Deity is the dominion of God, not over his own body, as those imagine who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants. The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: These are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God usually a signifies Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God; a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God.

It can be seen easily enough that this is the same argument that we saw above. There it was used to interpret the prophecy of Revelation in a non-Trinitarian way. Notice the claim that "a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God". (As we saw above, Newton interprets claims that the Son was given dominion quite strictly with regard to the person of the Son.) Notice also the distinction between 'true', 'supreme', and 'imaginary' Gods. (As we saw above, according to this distinction the Word is a true God, but not the Supreme God.) By relativizing the term 'God' in this way, Newton can break up the apparent unity that seems to be attributed to Father and Son in Scripture. Of course, by relativizing the term 'God' in this way, Newton seems to be committing himself to polytheism. He does, however, make some effort to alleviate this by pointing out occasional uses in Hebrew and the like where the relevant term for 'God' is applied to people who aren't God. This is fair enough. It's doubtful, however, that this bit of evidence stretches quite as far as Newton wants it to stretch.

ADDED LATER: A number of people have been coming to this recently for various reasons, so I thought I would update it with a link to the newer address of the Newton Project, where you can find the manuscripts in question:

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tom Zarek, Freedom Fighter

I thought this was an exciting hint of what's to come in the next season of Battlestar Galactica:

"What happened to Zarek? Given his help getting Baltar elected, I would have expected him to have recieved a pretty nice 'reward', perhaps as VP? Did Baltar even have a VP? We never see Zarek post-election or a year later on New Caprica. Given Zarak's penchant for political mayhem, I would think that his fate would be one of significant interest. Perhaps we will see this early in Season 3? "

You will be seeing Zarek again and early in the season. He was the Vice President, but his relationship with Baltar went south relatively quickly, and he simply refused to cooperate once the Cylon occupation began.
[Ron Moore]

Unnatural Death

In Unnatural Death (a.k.a. The Dawson Pedigree), Dorothy Sayers puts together a distinctive mystery story. Unlike most mystery stories, this Lord Peter novel (the third, I believe) is fairly clear from the beginning who committed the murder, if any was committed; what is puzzling is whether it can be shown that the death was, in fact, a murder, and (if so) how and why it was committed. The story is also notable for the extensive involvement of Miss Climpson. As readers of other Lord Peter novels know, Miss Climpson is a recurrent occasional character, a gossipy old spinster with a heart of gold who often helps Wimsey out. She's also noteworthy for being the only consistently religious character in the series; and one of the interesting features of Unnatural Death is Miss Climpson's difficulties in both assisting Wimsey by nosing about, and doing so in a scrupulously Christian way -- a tension she doesn't always successfully navigate. As she says, sometimes she has to get Jesuitical in a good cause. Climpson is also fairly consistently an occasion for Sayers to say something about the poor prospects of intelligent older women for finding worthwhile employment in societies like ours. Alas, there's no Dowager Duchess, but you can't have everything.

As with all of Sayers's Lord Peter novels, there are lots of allusions that are easy to miss. Bill Peschel has a good set of annotations for Part I.

Principle of Counterpoise

From Michael Levine's article on Hume's argument against miracles:

Why did Hume think that one could justifiably believe that an extraordinary event had occurred, under certain circumstances, but that one could never justifiably believe a miracle had occurred? The proposed interpretation of Hume's analysis of miracles in relation to his analysis of causation and his wider empiricism yields the only plausible answer to this question that I know of. This interpretation also shows why it makes no substantial difference whether we interpret Hume's argument in Part I "Of Miracles" against the possibility of justified belief in testimony to the miraculous as an a priori argument or an a posteriori argument since the arguments essentially coalesce.

My own interpretation is that there is no argument at all against the possibility of justified belief in testimony to the miraculous in Part I of the essay. Rather, what Hume does is argue for a standard of proof to which testimony for miracles would have to be held. He then goes on in Part II to argue that no testimony in favor of miracles meets this standard.

The only basis, I think, for holding that there is an argument against the possibility of justified belief in testimony to the miraculous is the principle of counterpoise. Hume says:

The very same principle of experience, which gives us a certain degree of assurance in the testimony of witnesses, gives us also, in this case [i.e., the case of a fact "as has seldom fallen under our observation"], another degree of assurance against the fact, which they endeavour to establish; from which contradiction there necessarily arises a counterpoize, and mutual destruction of belief and authority.

It is the principle of counterpoise that seems to make Hume's argument parallel to Tillotson's argument against transubstantiation. Thus one might argue, that just as Tillotson uses a sort of counterpoise-principle to argue against transubstantiation, Hume uses it to argue against miracles.

This can be granted; but it doesn't follow from this that it has any teeth in Part I. (It clearly does in Part II, because if the considerations in Part II are right, the mutual destruction of belief and authority always ends against miracles.) What Hume actually argues in Part I is that even if the testimonial proof of miracles be 'entire' -- i.e., conclusive if considered on its own -- in combination with experience of the uniformity of nature (also a complete proof in Hume's sense of the term) it creates a counterpoise, to the mutual destruction of both. If there is any disparity at all in the force of the proofs, then the proof with greater force wins out, and survives with its original force minus the force of the opposing proof.

Given that Hume had originally told us in Section VI of the Enquiry that proofs are arguments from experience that leave no room for doubt or opposition, it is something of an exegetical mystery how Hume can talk about proofs in opposition, but he does; so either he is inconsistent or (perhaps more likely) he is merely speaking hypothetically here or (and this, while more of a stretch, is an intriguing hypothesis) he is describing a mechanism for how proofs could cease to be proofs. In any case, I won't dwell on this here. The question at hand is: Does this amount to an argument against the possibility of justified belief in testimony to the miraculous?

No, unless one assumes that testimony for the miraculous never has a greater force of proof than experience of the uniformity of nature. Hume never argues for this in Part I. Indeed, strictly speaking, he never argues for this at all, because he thinks it can easily be shown that testimony for the miraculous doesn't even have the force of proof (unlike experiential evidence for the uniformity of nature, it always falls short of proof). Strictly speaking, all Hume implies in Part I is that you'd have to consider the matter on a case-by-case basis, and determine whether (in his words) it would be more miraculous for the testimony to be false than for the alleged event to occur. This is not an argument against justified belief in testimony to the miraculous; it's the set-up for an argument to such an effect, an argument we only get in Part II.

I like parts of Levine's argument, but I think in addition that he puts too much emphasis on the fact that in Hume's sense we could never experience a supernatural cause. Hume seems elsewhere pretty well committed to the claim that we could never experience the cause of gravity, either; but it doesn't follow that we can't ever attribute events to it, due to an inference that there must be such a cause. (This particular example gets into tricky issues in Hume interpretation, but Hume does clearly allow for us to attribute events to causes we can't experience; he attributes such actions to 'philosophical', i.e., scientific, thinkers.) Also, I don't think Levine's quite right about the Indian prince, although I find his argument very interesting. The Indian prince example, like the Cato example, is just an example of counterpoise, as the way of proportioning belief to evidence, in action. Due to Locke, this sort of example is in fact used in this period as a rather standard example of such a proportioning. (I've briefly discussed it here and here.) And note, that while Hume insists that the Indian prince reasons justly, he denies that the Indian prince is in a position to be "reasonably positive" about what would happen under conditions other than those found in Sumatra; the claim that ice freezes requires "a pretty strong testimony, to render it credible to people in a warm climate". This seems to me to be fairly conclusive evidence against Levine's interesting conjecture that Hume considers us all to be in the position of the Indian prince (with regard to testimony for miracles). Hume actually denies that with respect to miracles we are in the same position the Indian prince was with regard to ice. Hume says something very interesting in this connection, though. He says that the difference between the two cases is that the Indian prince actually doesn't have a proof against ice freezing under different conditions (it would be a "new experience" and thus uncertain, and liable only to analogical conjecture; and analogy would have not have suggested the freezing of ice). This differs from the case of miracles because the miracle is supposed to be a deviation under the same conditions. This is why the experience of the uniformity of nature is supposed to be a full proof against a miracle we are told of, even if we are supposed to have a full proof in favor of the testimony by which we heard of it.

But these kinds of issues are a bit contentious. I like Levine's article, although I disagree with much of it. I do agree with his claim about Bayesian interpretations of the argument; but I think my interpretation gives a better reason to accept such a claim than his own does.

Power of Pardon

In a post at "Prosblogion," Theological Determinism and Supererogatory Salvation, on which I have been doing some commenting, there has been an interesting discussion of supererogation. (One of my arguments is that sets of supererogatory acts may be suberogatory. To put it in other terms, the inference from 'Doing A is supererogatory, Doing B is supererogatory, etc.' to 'Doing both A and B is supererogatory' is illegitimate. It commits the fallacy of composition, or something like it.) In the context of this discussion, I brought up the csae of executive power to pardon, which is a case of legal supererogation: the executive is not duty-bound to pardon anyone, but is free to use the power to pardon at his best discretion to preserve and further the common good. So I've been doing some reading on the legal power to pardon. I haven't found much that's actually relevant to the particular discussion at "Prosblogion," but I have found some interesting passages on the role of mercy in a justice system. Here are three historical examples by top-notch thinkers in the field of jurisprudence:

William Blackstone on the power of pardon:

This is indeed one of the great advantages of monarchy in general, above any other form of government; that there is a magistrate, who has it in his power to extend mercy, wherever he thinks it is deserved: holding a court of equity in his own breast, to soften the rigour of the general law, in such criminal cases as merit an exemption from punishment. Pardons (according to some theorists) should be excluded in a perfect legislation, where punishments are mild but certain: for that the clemency of the prince seems a tacit disapprobation of the laws. But the exclusion of pardons must necessarily introduce a very dangerous power in the judge or jury, that of construing the criminal law by the spirit instead of the letter; or else it must be holden, what no man will seriously avow, that the situation and circumstances of the offender (though they alter not the essence of the crime) ought to make no distinction in the punishment.

Alexander Hamilton on the power of pardon:

Humanity and good policy conspire to dictate, that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed. The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel. As the sense of responsibility is always strongest in proportion as it is undivided, it may be inferred that a single man would be most ready to attend to the force of those motives, which might plead for a mitigation of the rigor of the law, and least apt to yield to considerations, which were calculated to shelter a fit object of its vengeance. The reflection, that the fate of a fellow creature depended on his sole fiat, would naturally inspire scrupulousness and caution: The dread of being accused of weakness or connivance would beget equal circumspection, though of a different kind. On the other hand, as men generally derive confidence from their numbers, they might often encourage each other in an act of obduracy and might be less sensible to the apprehension of suspicion or censure for an injudicious or affected clemency. On these accounts, one man appears to be a more eligible dispenser of the mercy of the government than a body of men.

James Wilson on the power of pardon:

The most general opinion, as we have already observed, and, we may add, the best opinion, is, that, in every state, there ought to be a power to pardon offences. In the mildest systems, of which human societies are capable, there will still exist a necessity of this discretionary power, the proper exercise of which may arise from the possible circumstances of every conviction. Citizens, even condemned citizens, may be unfortunate in a higher degree, than that, in which they are criminal. When the cry of the nation rises in their favour; when the judges themselves, descending from their seats, and laying aside the formidable sword of justice, come to supplicate in behalf of the person, whom they have been obliged to condemn; in such a situation, clemency is a virtue; it becomes a duty.

But where ought this most amiable prerogative to be placed? Is it compatible with the nature of every species of government?

...Why, according to Sir William Blackstone, can the power to pardon never subsist in a democracy? Because, says he, there, nothing higher is acknowledged, than the magistrate, who administers the laws. By pursuing the principle of democracy to its true source, we have discovered, that the law is higher than the magistrate, who administers it; that the constitution is higher than both; and that the supreme power, remaining with the people, is higher than all the three. With perfect consistency, therefore, the power of pardoning may subsist in our democratical governments: with perfect propriety, we think, it is vested in the president of the United States.

(Blackstone and Hamilton presumably need no introduction; but Wilson might. James Wilson, born in Scotland in 1742 or so, was a lawyer who signed the Declaration of Independence for Pennsylvania; he was one of the first Supreme Court justices, and served on the Court until his death in 1798. Brilliant in the field of government and constitutional law, he seems to have been incompetent in practical matters, and was continually having problems with debt -- he even served time, while on the Supreme Court, in debtor's prison.)

Monday, March 27, 2006

I'm from B-162

You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer

Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you're from.
And while you may have some problems being "normal," you'll have no problems writing sci-fi.
Whether it's epic films, important novels, or vivid comics...
Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world!


...which is scarcely bigger than myself. In case you really are wondering.

By the way, this year is the sixtieth anniversary of that exquisite little classic. My favorite character is the fox. I can never get enough of the fox.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

'Caesar's Divinity Is Showing Again'

He fingered the mound of faggots on which the wooden martyr stood. That's where all of us are standing now, he thought. On the fat kindling of past sins. And some of them are mine. Mine, Adam's, Herod's, Judas's, Hannegan's, mine. Everybody's. Always culminates in the colossus of the State, somehow, drawing about itself the mantle of godhood, being struck down by the wrath of Heaven. Why? We shouted it loudly enough--God's to be obeyed by nations as well as men. Caesar's to be God's policeman, not His plenipotentiary successor, nor His heir. To all ages, all peoples. --"Whoever exalts a race or a State or a particular form of the State or the depositories of power...whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God....." Where had that come from? Eleventh Pius, he thought, without certainty--eighteen centuries ago. But when Caesar got the means to destroy the world, wasn't he already divinized? Only by the consent of the peopel--same rabble that shouted: "Non habemus regem nisi caesarem," when confronted by Him--God Incarnate, mocked and spat upon. Same rabble that martyred Leibowitz....

From Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz. The quote in the passage is indeed from Pius XI -- Mit brennender Sorge, 14 March 1937. The full quotation is:

Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community - however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things - whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds.

Unfortunately, it's a truth of which people need continual reminding.

Links and Things

* An interesting paper by Mark Sharlow: Chemical Possibility and Modal Semantics (PDF).

* At "Philosophy, etc.," Richard has a good post on Customer Consultation vs. Democratic Deliberation. See also Bowling Together by Coleman and Gøtze.

* A great Borges resource page (HT: Reality Conditions). My favorite Borges stories, if you are interested in knowing, are "La busca de Averroes" (which I can't find online anywhere Thanks to Alejandro for pointing out that it is here); Tlön, Uqbar, Orbius Tertius (I find the whole notion of a Nihilartikel fascinating); and El Sur.

* Chris at "Mixing Memory" has a link to an interview with Daniel Dennett on his recent book.

* Heo Cwaeth continues her series on "Medieval Women I Adore" with Hrotswitha von Gandersheim.


* Ed Cook at "Ralph the Sacred River" debunks some common urban legends about cannabis and the Bible; some of which are found in the Wikipedia article on cannabis.

* Fido the Yak muses on shoes, ways of thinking, and disposability in the context of Roger Scruton's "On the Mend".

* Chris Bray mentions Martin Van Ceveld at "Cliopatria." I've read two of his works (Command in War and Supplying War), which are quite good (I particularly liked Supplying War). There are several things by him online. Some particularly interesting examples: Through a Glass, Darkly, which briefly discusses the way war has changed through the centuries; Sonshi's interview with Van Creveld, in which he discusses Sun-Tzu's The Art of War, Iraq, and war in general; The Blemish of Conquest.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Determinate Future

Suarez on the determinate truth value of future contingent propositions:

For present purposes, one may reply briefly that the determinateness of the truth in a future contingent proposition does not have to derive from its being the case that the cause from which a given effect will proceed is already, in its own power and ability, determined to that effect at the time or instant when it is true to say that the effect is going to occur. Rather, this determinateness derives solely from the fact that at some [future] time the cause in question will be determined in its action to a given free effect. For this is all that is being asserted by means of the proposition in question--and it is _not_ being asserted that the cause, of itself and by its own power, is already determined to such an effect. Therefore, the truth or falsity of the propositions in which the effects in question are asserted to be future is compatible with the absolute contingency of those effects, since this sort of determinate truth is no more incompatible with contingency than in the case of a present-tense proposition. For even if a given effect is able to be brought about and able not to be brought about, from which it follows that it is contingent, nonetheless, one or the other will in fact determinately occur, and from this it follows that it is determinately a future contingent. (DM 19.10.11)

[Francisco Suarez, On Efficient Causality: Metaphysical Disputations 17, 18, and 19. Freddoso, tr. Yale UP (New Haven: 1994) 389-390.]

Feast of the Incarnation

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, one of the Great Solemnities of the Christian faith. Doctrinally it's arguably the second most important feast in the Christian calendar.* (Liturgically, of course, Christmas has for a complicated set of reasons absorbed most of what pertains to the Feast of the Annunciation; thus, while the Annunciation is technically the Feast of the Incarnation, most of the Annunciation-related celebration occurs around Christmas.) Of course, both doctrinal and liturgical importance here are measured Christologically. The Annunciation is also the most important Mariological feast of the calendar (Mariology being Christology in the key of Mary), in which Mary takes the part of the New Eve and sums up in herself the obedience of all the righteous of Israel; one of its common names in English is Lady Day.

Here is John Keble's poem in The Christian Year for this day:

Oh Thou who deign'st to sympathize
With all our frail and fleshly ties,
Maker yet Brother dear,
Forgive the too presumptuous thought,
If, calming wayward grief, I sought
To gaze on Thee too near.

Yet sure 'twas not presumption, Lord,
'Twas thine own comfortable word
That made the lesson known:
Of all the dearest bonds we prove,
Thou countest sons' and mothers' love
Most sacred, most thine own.

When wandering here a little span,
Thou took'st on Thee to rescue man,
Thou hadst no earthly sire:
That wedded love we prize so dear,
As if our heaven and home were here,
It lit in Thee no fire.

On no sweet sister's faithful breast
Wouldst thou thine aching forehead rest,
On no kind brother lean:
But who, O perfect filial heart,
E'er did like Thee a true son's part,
Endearing, firm, serene?

Thou wept'st, meek maiden, mother mild,
Thou wept'st upon thy sinless child,
Thy very heart was riven:
And yet, what mourning matron here
Would deem thy sorrows bought too dear
By all on this side Heaven?

A son that never did amiss,
That never sham'd his mother's kiss,
Nor cross'd her fondest prayer:
Even from the three he deign'd to bow
For her his agonized brow,
Her, his sole earthly care.

Ave Maria! blessed Maid!
Lily of Eden's fragrant shade,
Who can express the love
That nurtur'd thee so pure and sweet,
Making thy heart a shelter meet
For Jesus' holy Dove?

Ave Maria! Mother blest,
To whom caressing and caress'd
Clings the Eternal Child;
Favoured beyond Archangels' dream,
When first on thee with tenderest gleam
Thy new-born Saviour smil'd:

Ave Maria! Thou whose name
All but adoring love may claim,
Yet may we reach thy shrine;
For He, thy Son and Saviour, vows
To crown all lowly lofty brows
With love and joy like thine.

Bless'd is the womb that bare Him bless'd
The bosom where his lips were press'd,
But rather bless'd are they
Who hear his word and keep it well,
The living homes where Christ shall dwell,
And never pass away.

A different sort of Annunciation Day poem, this time by Oscar Wilde:

Ave Maria Gratia Plena

Was this His coming! I had hoped to see
A scene of wondrous glory, as was told
Of some great God who in a rain of gold
Broke open bars and fell on Danaë ,
Or a dread vision as when Semele,
Sickening for love and unappeased desire,
Prayed to see God's clear body, and the fire
Caught her brown limbs and slew her utterly.
With such glad dreams I sought this holy place
And now with wondering eyes and heart I stand
Before this supreme mystery of Love:
Some kneeling girl with passionless pale face,
An angel with a lily in his hand
And over both the white wings of a dove.

[March 25 is also (if you have forgotten) the day that the One Ring is destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom; it is often thought that Tolkien's choice of this date was influenced by the Catholic calendar (since the Feast of the Annunciation is a stable feast) and by traditional legends that make this sort of the Day of Everything -- creation of the world, sacrifice of Isaac, beheading of John the Baptist, deliverance of Peter from prison, martyrdom of James the Greater, etc., etc.]

There is a long history of recognizing the Feast of the Annunciation as a sort of Christian New Year. So make a resolution on this new cycle of grace, contemplate the Holy Incarnation, and have a happy Lady Day.

How numerous, O Lord, my God, you have made your wondrous deeds! And in your plans for us there is none to equal you. Should I wish to declare or tell them, too many are they to recount. (Ps. 40:5)
*It should go without saying, but might not, that the most important feast in the Christian calendar is Easter Sunday, the Feast of the Resurrection.

A Crude Characterization of the Doctrine of the Trinity

There has been some recent vigorous discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity at Prosblogion (here and here), and it has become a popular topic in contemporary philosophy of religion. It has always seemed to me, however, that the understanding of the Trinity that is usually under discussion in these arguments is rather Sunday-School-ish. There's nothing wrong with Sunday-School-ish interpretations, but they are not an adequate basis for philosophical discussion. If we're going to be using just a Sunday-School-ish interpretation, we might as well admit openly that we're really just toying with some ideas, not seriously discussing the matter. However, given that this is my attitude, I realized that I should take more trouble to articulate what is needed for an adequate discussion than I have as yet done. Rather than formulate the doctrine in the Quicunque Vult way (which was a simplified summary reached after the major issues had seriously been discussed in detail), we should formulate it in terms of four features:

I. Monarchy. For every property in the set of God-befitting properties, the Father has the property.

II. Distinctness. For any subject, if that subject has a God-befitting property, that subject is the Father if and only if it is not the Son and not the Spirit; it is the Son if and only if it is not the Father and not the Spirit; and it is the Spirit if and only if it is not the Father and not the Son.

III. Consubstantiality. For every property in the set of God-befitting properties, if the Father has the property, the Son has the property and the Spirit has the property.

IV. Unity. For every property in the set of God-befitting properties, if subject X has the property and subject Y has the property, the property had by X and the property had by y is identically the same individual property.

This is certainly much closer to the doctrine of the Trinity as actually formulated by the Church Fathers. The Sunday-School-ish version (which is the simplified Quicunque Vult itself simplified) suffers from (1) unnecessary vagueness; (2) oversimplification, through leaving out a lot that was originally considered essential for correctly understanding the doctrine; and (3) trivialization of the actual historical process of articulating the doctrine. Each of the four features identified above played a significant role in the actual articulation of the doctrine, and each is explicitly discussed by many of the Church Fathers at some length. Any serious discussion of the Trinity has to discuss issues that are at least in the ballpark of these. For instance, discussions of whether the doctrine of the Trinity is consistent are really discussions about whether these four features (monarchy, distinctness, consubstantiality, and unity) are consistent, since if they are, the sense of Three-in-One that is orthodox is the sense governed by their consistency.

Even this formulation is only approximate, however. I am not completely satisfied with it for four reasons in particular:

(1) The formulation above gives no indication of the role of negative theology in the doctrine of the Trinity.
(2) One of my major concerns with most discussions of the Trinity in contemporary philosophy of religion is that they ignore the processions almost entirely. But this should seem fishy from the outset, because all the reasons for articulating the doctrine in the first place (which need to be brought into the discussion because they govern the correct interpretation of the articulated doctrine) had to do with the processions. The above formulation is much better, but it only touches on the processions indirectly (via I and II).
(3) The formulation of the principle of monarchy in particular seems incomplete, and I'm not sure I have the principle of unity quite right. (These two issues go together. The phrase "There is but one God," as traditionally understood, sums up the union of these two principles, so if the formulation of one isn't quite adequate, the adequacy of the other's formulation will be hard to evaluate.)
(4) The formulation above gives no indication of the perichoresis (circumincession or circuminsession). This could be brought into the formulation in one of two ways: if the processions were more clearly delineated, it might possibly show itself as a corollary of one or two of the principles; or it could be added as a distinct principle (but I'm not sure quite how to formulate it).

A sample of relevant readings on each of the four features. (Naturally, there is considerable overlapped; I've very roughly categorized things according to the feature they seem to me to shed more light on):

I. Monarchy. Dionysius of Rome Against the Sabellians (from a fragment cited by Athanasius). Photius Encyclical to the Eastern Patriarchs. Aquinas ST 1.33.1.

II. Distinctness. The original Nicene Creed and its Constantinopolitan recension. Hilary of Poitiers On the Trinity. Quicunque Vult. Anselm On the Procession of the Holy Spirit (PDF). Aquinas ST 1.40.

III. Consubstantiality. Athanasius Four Discourses against the Arians. Gregory of Nyssa On the Holy Spirit, against Macedonius. Gregory of Nyssa, Onthe Holy Trinity and the Godhead of the Holy Spirit. Basil On the Holy Spirit. Gregory Nazianzen Theological Orations. Ambrose On the Faith. Ambrose On the Holy Spirit.

IV. Unity. Gregory of Nyssa On Not Three Gods. Augustine On the Trinity. Anselm Letter to John the Monk concerning Roscelin (PDF). Aquinas ST 1.39.

There are, of course, many others; but these are some of the big ones that are easiest to find. In any case, the above characterization of the doctrine by four features is a bit crude and simplistic; but it will do for a first rough draft in a blog post.

I want to say one more thing, somewhat tangential to this topic, on a claim that was made by Dale Tuggy in the second of the posts. Tuggy argues that the Trinity is not found in Scripture. A full discussion of this issue would require examination of one's particular view of Scripture. It is noteworthy, however, that what interested the Church Fathers was Scripture as preached, practiced, and prayed by the Church. This is one reason why, from Athanasius on, they are all so worried about how the doctrine of the Trinity affects baptism (which, of course, is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Indeed, one of the major problems they had with Arianism was that they couldn't make sense of it in the context of baptism; which for them was not merely something they read about on the page, but something the Church had been doing since before it was reaffirmed in Scripture. In general, the argument of the Church Fathers on the Trinity, abstracting from person differences, is this: The whole of Scripture as preached, practiced, and prayed by the Church rationally commits you to something like the the above four features, on pain of serious (salvation-relevant) inconsistency. Athanasius and Basil can't be refuted by pointing to Scripture as text, because they would simply point to Scripture as lived in the worship of the Church. Verbally they are (of course) the same Scripture; but the one is dead letter, the other living spirit. (The Church Fathers, of course, had none of the 'Deism of the Scriptures' so common today, i.e., the view that God gave a fillip and there was inspired revelation, and then He just let it run on its own. This view couldn't be reconciled with their understanding of the experience of Christ and the Spirit in the life of the Church.) Proof-texting consists in merely pointing to the letter, whatever position you are defending. Serious interpretation requires the spirit.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Poem Draft

A bit morbid, but one of my better ones recently.


Sometimes I think I'd like to die
and fly upon a summer's breeze,
in ease unburdening every care
in the air so swift and free.
For I have walked this weary road,
my load upon my bending back,,
no lack of labor in my hands,
vast lands of worry behind me.
Sometimes I think, with heavy sigh,
to die is not a brutal end--
a friend instead, a gentle guide
inside each weary soul.

But then I think of warming suns,
the ones that burn the morning bright
with light that, golden, almost sings,
with wings that bear to other goals.
For light is sweet, the Preacher taught;
the knot of care it can unbind.
I find this true; I drink it deep;
it leaps on me like lover's kiss.
And so in gentle days in spring
I sing of light and gentle cheer.
No fear then weighs, no worry slays--
my day is sweet with sunlit bliss,
my heart is glad because of this.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Little Bit of Metaphysics II

A little bit of metaphysics can go a long way. This is a direct sequel to the previous post in this series.

There are objects in the world. We seem committed to saying that these objects have natures (of some kind), on pain of being able to say nothing about them. If there are natures that have some causality beyond bare regularity of succession, then there is something other than regularity in virtue of which things exhibit regularity, namely, the natures. However, if there is nothing to these natures beyond regularity of succession, the world begins crashing down around our ears (so to speak); they cannot do what they need to do. For one of the things a theory of natures must do is ground simultaneous causation. Whether one wishes to call it causation in a proper sense or not, it is clear that there are cases of simultaneous causation which require there to be some kind of causation that goes beyond regularity of succession. My computer monitor is currently caused to remain several feet above the floor by the desk (due to the desk's nature). This causation involves no regularity of succession, because it is not intrinsically successive. It's not the case that something is happening and then (as a distinct successor-event) the monitor is motionless several feet above the floor. Rather, the natural properties of the desk are what keep the monitor several feet above the floor while the monitor is above the floor. If, suddenly, the monitor were to fall through the desk to the floor, we could easily recognize that the properties of the desk had in some way, for whatever reason, changed. Clearly, then, there must be something to the nature of the desk beyond mere regularity of succession; and, whether we consider this to be a fundamental or a derivative form of causation, it is causal (beyond mere regularity of succession) in some way. It is clear then, that we have a positive reasons, of some sort, for denying the second thesis of RRTC. There is something causal about the world that explains regularity, and is not merely explained by it. If a bowling ball is on a mattress, it makes a dent; this denting of the mattress is not mere regularity of succession, because the ball's denting the mattress is not a distinct event from the ball's being of such-and-such nature while placed in such-and-such relation to a mattress of such-and-such properties. We see a crystal, and analyze it into its molecules; the properties and interactions of the molecules, as they exist in this crystal right now, are causing the crystal to have the structure it does. The natures in cases like this are contributing more to explanation than we can analyze into regularities alone.

Any plausibility that RRTC has depends crucially on RRTC's ability to deliver the world we actually experience. But the more one looks at the world as we actually experience it, the more obvious this truth becomes: our notion of the nature of an object (pick any object you wish) is a notion that is richer than RRTC can provide. A sign of this is just how rich our causal language (pick any natural language you wish) is. Another sign is that we never, in practical life, bank on there being nothing but regularity to causation. We suppose that there is more to the world than mere regularity; and what we suppose is that there are natures to things that cannot be wholly analyzed into resemblances among regularities of succession. In other words: we suppose there are reasons for regularities. We find positive grounds in experience for thinking this supposition right (as in cases of simultaneous causation), such that only it can actually do justice to the world as we experience it; we also find that acting and reasoning on this supposition (in prediction, retrodiction, application) shows it to be continually confirmed. Even the slightest bit of working with one's hands or interacting with the world gives ample evidence that RRTC cannot be right.

From this it is clear how one can answer the argument that was proposed in favor of RRTC; for there are many experiences of the world that cannot adequately be accounted for by RRTC. The only way to make our experience of the world seem in conformity with RRTC is to take experiences in isolation. If there were nothing more to my experience of the monitor on my desk than a mere glimpse, it might be reasonable to say that there is nothing more to it than a juxtaposition of colors. But when I take into account all my experiences of the monitor on my desk, and take them all together, it is clear that more is going on than can be accounted for by regularity of succession alone. There is more to the regularities than bare regularity, and my total experience of the monitor and desk gives me positive grounds for rejecting RRTC. However much one may try to play these down, they exist. The world I actually experience is not a world of mere successive stimulus and response; it is a world of structured objects capable of simultaneous interaction (however one analyzes this) and ordered dispositions and indispositions.

This goes not only for external objects like bodies; it goes also for the mind as well. It is entirely true that many of the regularities involved in my control over my body are completely mysterious to me; they are not transparent to experience. It is also clear, however, that there is more to my mental interaction to my body than successive events exhibiting regularity. My intentionally sitting still, for instance, cannot seriously be analyzed into succession of intention (as prior event) + sitting (as posterior event). However one may choose to analyze it, intentionally doing something cannot be analyzed in this way; but this is the only way in which RRTC can analyze it. What is clear for the mind's control of the body is even more clear for the mind's self-control. Even a basic puzzling over the answer to a problem provides grounds for thinking that there is more to the mind than RRTC suggests. And our interactions with other persons involve much the same reasoning. Even if RRTC could manage an analysis of these things as we actually experience them, such an analysis would have no advantages at all (and a number of disadvantages, such as complexity) over the more straightforward analysis that denies RRTC.

It should noted (and has been suggested briefly by a number of things already said) that it is not actually enough for the supporter of RRTC to argue that we don't actually experience a causal factor (beyond mere regularity of succession) in our experience of the world. The supporter of RRTC must argue as well that there are no positive grounds in our experience favoring the supposition of such causal factors over RRTC. Such a claim, however, is manifestly false, particularly when we go beyond carefully regimented and limited singular experiences and take into account our complete experience of the world. RRTC is simply not well disposed to explaining the world as we actually experience it.

Garrison against the Tyrants

Tyrants of the old world! contemners of the rights of man! disbelievers in human freedom and equality! enemies of mankind! console not yourselves with the delusion, that REPUBLICANISM and the AMERICAN UNION are synonymous terms—or that the downfall of the latter will be the extinction of the former, and, consequently, a proof of the incapacity of the people for self-government, and a confirmation of your own despotic claims! Your thrones must crumble in dust; your sceptre of dominion drop from your powerless hands; your rod of oppression be broken; yourselves so vilely abased, that there shall be none so poor to do your reverence. The will of God, the beneficent Creator of the human family, cannot always be frustrated. It is his will that every form of usurpation, every kind of injustice, every device of tyranny, shall come to nought; that peace, and liberty, and righteousness, shall reign from sea to sea, and from the rivers to the ends of the earth; and that, throughout the earth, in the fulness of a sure redemption, there shall be none to molest or make afraid. Humanity, covered with gore, cries with a voice that pierces the heavens. His will be done! Justice, discrowned by the hand of violence, exclaims in tones of deep solemnity, HIS WILL BE DONE! Liberty, burdened with chains, and driven into exile, in thunder-tones responds, HIS WILL BE DONE!

William Lloyd Garrison, The Liberator, 10 January 1845

Against the New Subordinationists

One of the most disturbing trends in Trinitarian theology is the massive resurgence of a new subordinationism, usually called 'functional subordinationism'. It is often justified by saying that it isn't an ontological subordinationism. That this is false is easily seen in a passage by one of the most prominent of the functional subordinationists today:

Scripture frequently speaks of the Father-Son relationship within the Trinity, a relationship in which the Father "gave" His only Son (John 3:16) and "sent" the Son into the world (John 3:17, 34, 4:34, 8:42; Galatians 4:4). But if the Father shows His great love by the fact that He gave His Son, then He had to be Father before He could give His Son. The Son did not suddenly decide to become Son on the day He came to earth. The Trinity was not just Person A and Person B and Person C before Christ came to earth, for then there would have been no Father who could give and send His Son. The idea of giving His Son implies a headship, a unique authority for the Father before the Son came to earth. So even on the basis of John 3:16, the egalitarian claim that Jesus' submission to His Father was only during His time on earth is incorrect.

But the Father-Son relationship also existed before Creation. The Father created through the Son, for "all things were made through Him" (John 1:3), and "there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things...and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things" (1 Corinthians 8:6). The Bible tells us that in these last days God "has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" (Hebrews 1:2). When the Bible discusses distinct actions of the members of the Trinity in Creation, this is the pattern: things were made "by" or "from" the Father and "through" the Son. But this also means that before Creation the Father was Father and the Son was Son. The Father had to have a Son before He could create a world through His Son. This means that they are related as Father and Son before Creation. Again, the egalitarian claim that limits the Son's submission to the Incarnation is incorrect.
[Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 406-407, emphasis in original]

The functional subordinationist is caught upon a dilemma from which there is no escaping: either the subordination of the Son is only in the Incarnation, or the Son is not equal to the Father. For if the Son is subordinate purely in virtue of being the Son, and if the Father is purely superordinate in virtue of being the Father, then it follows that the Son is simply subordinate and the Father is simply superordinate. For, as Grudem rightly says, the Trinity is not Person A, Person B, Person C; the Trinity is nothing other than Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Nor can it be said that this is merely functional; for we know nothing of the Father, of the Son, or of the Spirit distinctively except what we know of them in relation to each other under the Scriptural designations; and the Scriptural designations, which Grudem rightly notes is eternal, are Father, Son, Spirit. But Grudem has claimed that these indicate subordination. Such a claim is as absurd as if he had said they indicate disparity in age; but, granting the claim, we are committed to saying that the Son is simply subordinate, and to denying that the Father and the Son are one in every God-befitting dignity.

And we see, moreover, how functional subordinationists read ghosts of subordination into every little thing. The Father gave the Son; therefore the Son is subordinate. The Father sent the Son; therefore the Son is subordinate. The world was made through the Son; therefore the Son is subordinate. But we have seen these claims before; we battled them in the Eunomians sixteen hundred years ago. They were no more plausible then. The Father sent the Son, yes, but 'to send' tells us nothing of authority. A child may say to his parent, "Go and see how well I have cleaned my room." The parent goes; and, behold, in going, the parent is sent. But this tells us nothing of who has the greater authority. My friend and I are in perfect agreement that she should help you on some matter; I say to you, "I am sending you my friend to help you." Have I arrogated an authority over my friend? Hardly, for my purpose does not rule the agreement. Was I lying? Certainly not, for I am sending my friend. This supposed proof is dubious in our own case; shall we think it conclusive in God's? It is even less likely to be legitimate there. For if I and my friend are in perfect agreement, it can be nothing in comparison to the agreement of the Father and the Son and the Spirit, who are so united that the work of the Father is through the Son and in the Spirit, so that one and the same action belongs to three persons, whether it pertains to creation or salvation. What human unity of purpose could possibly compare? But in unity of purpose, as such, there is no subordination; if there were subordination there would not be unity, but one purpose subordinating another purpose, however congenially. And so if the Father gives the Son, and this giving is eternally purposed by the Thrice-Holy Trinity, there is no subordination in being given, for there is no subordination of purposes, only a perfect unity of purpose: that the Word be made flesh and come among us a Savior, a gift of life. Thus from the mission of the Son, nothing follows about subordination. And likewise from the making of all things through the Son, nothing follows about subordination; indeed, the reverse: for that all things are made through the Son shows clearly that the Son is one with the Father with a unity that we can scarcely comprehend. But so eagerly do the functional subordinationists grasp after straws that they see elaborate subordinations lurking in every difference of preposition.

And did God predestine us in His Son, and choose us in Him before the foundations of the world? Certainly. And where is the alleged subordination of the Son in any of this? Does it follow from the fact we attribute this predestination and election in the Son to the Father that the Son is subordinate to the Father? Why would it? Suppose you and I were to collaborate in a plan, and part of the plan were attributed to me. Would it follow from this that you have less authority than I do? Any such inference would be sophistical. Why then should it somehow introduce disparity into the relationship of the Father and the Son, who are more one than you and I? Particularly when the Scriptures as preached, prayed, and practiced in the Church through the ages have not been understood in this way?

But, the functional subordinationists reply, the Church has always believed what we believe, that the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father. For, as Grudem says later (p. 415), they held that the Father is first, the Son is second, and the Spirit is third. But they also said, lest it be forgotten, that there is no inequality among any of the three, whether it is with regard to power, or authority, or knowledge. Did they contradict themselves? Not in the least, for as the Cappadocians noted, everything had by the Father, except being the Father, was had by the Son and the Spirit, so that every willing of the Father was a willing also of the Son and of the Spirit. The point can be read in countless places. The Father is first not in rank, not in authority, not in power, but in order. Only by confusing the ordinate with the subordinate can we deny this. If we sing a song, and I sing the first note, would it follow that my note had more authority? If one is the first number, does it mean that two is subordinate to it? When Grudem and others argue that the order of the Trinitarian names indicates a first, second, and third in authority or subordination, they are arguing (or claiming, rather, since they don't actually argue for it) for what is traditionally called subnumeration. When we are determining what the traditional view is, are we to ignore completely the explicit warnings of Basil and others about the folly of subnumerating the persons of the Trinity? But we have to if we are to accept the claim of functional subordinationists that theirs is the traditional view of the Trinity. Functional subordinationists often become very angry if we orthodox call them neo-Arians; but by advocating subnumeration, they are doing nothing other than advocating an Arian position.

Ah, say they, but the Son is begotten. Yes, for He is the Son; and as all the Fathers argued, this means He is equal to the Father. But there is an eternal difference between the Father and the Son! Yes, the Father is always the Father and the Son is always the Son; what about subordination follows from this? The two persons are distinct; this no one denies. Does it follow from the fact that the Son is eternally begotten that the Son is eternally younger than the Father? And in fact the Church has never read the eternal begetting of the Son as a proof of inequality, but as a proof that the Son is equal to the Father in every God-befitting dignity. And such an equality is contrary to any sort of subordination. If one is subordinate to the other by nature, they are not equal, but unequal in nature, since one is subordinate by nature to the other. If one is subordinate to the other by subsistence, they are not equal, but unequal by subsistence, since one is subordinate by subsistence to the other. If one is subordinate to the other by operation, they are not equal, but unequal in operation, since one is subordinate by operation to the other. There is no getting around this. But we know that the Son is eternally of the Father, so as to be Light of Light, very God of very God. This is not a subordination; it is a perfect unity.

At the slightest provocation functional subordinationists are leaping like mountain goats to conclusions they have taken no trouble to justify. If the Father does anything, they say it must be because He has special authority; if the Son does anything, they say it must be because He does not. If the Word incarnate submits to God, they say it proves their point, although all it proves is that men should submit to God; if the Word is sent, they say it proves their point, although all it proves is that the Word came among us; if the Word is called 'the Son', they say it proves their point, although all it proves is that the Son is from the Father. If the world is made through the Word, they say it proves their point, although all it proves is that without Him was nothing made that was made. If the saints are predestined in Christ, they say it proves their point, although all it proves is that the saints have been predestined in Christ. Such people cite Scripture at every turn, but without regard for the analogy of it, or even at times for logical consistency. Ignoring the overwhelming number of authorities against them, they cherry-pick a handful who agree with them. Faced with the charge of being neo-Arian, they piously deny it, and then brazenly affirm the same arguments and subnumerations as the Arians.

There is an unfortunate tendency among opponents of the functional subordinationists as well. Some in their attempt to avoid subordinationism make all every person subordinate to every other. Such a strategy surpasses all understanding. Functional subordinationists unreasonably twist the doctrine of the Trinity to fit their doctrine of marriage; it is perversely unreasonable to respond to this by doing the same. There is too much at stake to be frivolous about these matters.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Little Bit of Metaphysics I

A little bit of metaphysics can go a long way. I've decided to do a series of posts on this point. Here's the first helping.

We find ourselves in a world full of regular causal events. Suppose that, on the basis of this, someone were to propose the following two-part position, which I will call (following Galen Strawson) the Realist Regularity Theory of Causation (RRTC):

(1) External World Realism. There is an external world of mind-independent objects.
(2) Causation in the mind-independent world is simply regularity of succession (insofar as it is anything).

RRTC recognizes an external world, and it recognizes that this world is regular; but it insists that this regularity of succession is not explained by any feature of this world, whether we take the relevant explanation to be an explanation of why there is any regularity at all, or whether we take it to be an explanation of why there is such-and-such regularity rather than some other kind of regularity.

We might argue for such a position in this way. In order to form any reality-relevant concept of causation other than regularity of succession, i.e., in order to get beyond regularity in our account of causation, we must be able to identify some feature (or features) of our experience that is both causal and exhibits more than a regularity. Such a feature cannot be found; therefore causation in the world is simply regularity.

That such a feature cannot be found might be established by an eliminative argument. [Astute and informed observers will recognize that the following argument is influenced by Hume's discussion of necessary connection in ECHU, Section VII, Part I.] If such a feature exists, it must be found in our experience either of bodies or of minds. When we look at the bodies that we experience, this additional feature would have to be available to our senses. However, when we examine the qualities we sense, we find no such feature. A billiard ball hits another billiard ball, causing it to move. All we see in this scenario is one thing following another: this three-dimensional bit of color against this colored background, moving up to and touching (with a sound) this other three-dimensional bit of color, which then moves. All our sensory experiences can be handled in this way; so this supposed feature is not available to the senses. Therefore nothing in our experience of bodies shows there to be more to causation than mere regularity of succession.

This naturally brings us to minds, which we can divide into our own mind and the minds of others. When I contemplate my own mind, there are only two possible cases in which this feature could show up: either in my mind's causal power over my body, or in my mind's causal power over itself. Let us take my mind's causal power over my body first. Inquiry into this possibility seems very clearly to show that no causal feature beyond regularity is found in our experience of our power over our own bodies. Two signs of this emerge immediately. The first is that we find the question of mind-body union so perplexing. How is the mind related to the body (and vice versa)? It is a highly controverted issue. If, however, we were able to identify a causal feature beyong regularity in the experience of the mind's control over the body, this question would not be so mysterious. The second sign is that there is nothing in our experience of the mind that gives us any indication of why we can move our arms at will and but cannot move our liver at will. If we suddenly became paralyzed, we would find nothing different in our experience of the mind; it just would now be the case that what happens in our mind is no longer followed by the moving of the arm. Thus the only causal feature we experience in our experience of the mind's control over its body is regularity of succession.

What, then, of our experience of the mind's control over itself, e.g., in the formation and examination of ideas? But here, as with the body, we do not have unlimited control. There are things about our minds we do not control. Yet we have no more knowledge here of why we control some things and not others. We can only learn by experience that the mind's internal attempt to do X is followed by a doing of X (or not followed by it). Likewise, this self-control is very different at different times; but we cannot identify any feature in our experience that explains this difference.

This only leaves other minds. But it seems manifestly false to say that we have direct experience of the causal features (beyond regularity) of other minds, particularly when we cannot find any such features in our own minds, which we know much more intimately and directly. Even if we were to say that we do have direct experience of other minds, we still cannot identify any aspect of this experience that fits the description of what we are looking for; because the motions and changes due to things other than ourselves are not more clear and less mysterious to us than those due to ourselves.

Thus we do not find such a feature in bodies or in minds; and it seems reasonable to say that there is no third thing falling within our direct experience. Therefore, one might say, the argument holds: we must accept that everything we call 'causation' in the mind-independent world is merely regularity of succession.

It seems clear, however, that RRTC is not a tenable position. I will discuss the reasons why in a post to follow.

Probability is the Very Guide to Life

Dr Blacklock spoke of scepticism in morals and religion, with apparant uneasiness, as if he wished for more certainty. Dr Johnson, who had thought it all over, and whose vigorous understanding was fortified by much experience, thus encouraged the blind bard to apply to higher speculations what we willingly submit to in common life: in short, he gave him more familiarly the able and fair reasoning of Butler’s Analogy: 'Why, sir, the greatest concern we have in this world, the choice of our profession, must be determined without demonstrative reasoning. Human life is not yet so well known, as that we can have it. And take the case of a man who is ill. I call two physicians: they differ in opinion. I am not to lie down, and die between them: I must do something.'

James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, entry for 17 August.]

The reference is to Butler's famous pronouncement in the Introduction to the Analogy:

Probable Evidence, in its very nature, affords but an imperfect kind of Information; and is to be considered as relative only to Beings of limited Capacities. For nothing which is the possible object of Knowledge, whether past, present, or future, can be probable to an infinite Intelligence; since it cannot but be discerned absolutely as it is in itself, certainly true, or certainly false: But to us, Probability is the very Guide to Life. (page iii)

Of course, when talking of 'probability' Butler is not thinking of probability in the sense of probability theory, but of verisimilitude.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Living in the Light of Tabor

I had missed the fact that last Sunday was the Sunday of Gregory Palamas among the Eastern Orthodox. Since I am a Palamist (which is unusual for someone who tends Thomistic), I thought I'd put a few links up about the great theologian of the hesychasts. Unfortunately, there isn't much available online, but I was able to scrounge up a few worth reading.

Light for the World: The Life of St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359)

St. Gregory Palamas: An Historical Overview

St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers by Fr. Florovsky

Gregory Palamas on the Relationship Between Philosophy and Theology by Nick Trakakis

Dionysius Areopagites in the Works of Saint Gregory Palamas: On the Question of a "Christological Corrective" and Related Matters by Hieromonk Alexander Golitzin

The Pneumatology of Bernard Lonergan: A Byzantine Comparison (PDF) by Eugene Webb (One criticism: It erroneously attributes the formula "the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son" to the Union Council of Lyons. This is not true; the formula at Lyons was "the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one principle". Florence reaffirmed this and said that the common expression "The Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son" meant the same thing.)

Unceasing Prayer by Gregory Palamas

Notes and Notes

Chris has an interesting post on motivated reasoning. In it he points to evidence that "motivated reasoning is in fact our default mode of reasoning; the one that we revert to when we are threatened, when our cognitive resources are limited, or when we aren't highly motivated to make an effortful attempt to come to the objectively 'right' answer." I find this interesting because it seems to me that in philosophical work on the role of the emotions in reasoning (e.g., De Sousa's The Rationality of Emotion) something at leasts vaguely like this has been suggested, for at least quasi-independent reasons (I say quasi-independent because they are influenced by cog sci research on these topics, but they are developed at least in part in response to philosophical issues); i.e., one of the roles of emotions in reasoning are to provide saliences that allow us to continue with some sort of rational action in cases when purer forms of rationality aren't possible (cases like those Chris mentions). De Sousa gives some (very general) indication of how emotions can provide such saliences. And note, by the way, that the fact that these are not purer forms of rationality doesn't entail that they are irrational, or even that reasoning in this way is always less rational, than purer cases. To be irrational this sort of reasoning would have to be poorly suited to fulfill the role needed in a given case; it may well be as rational, or even more rational, to reason in a motivated way in certain kinds of cases than to try for something more objective. The tricky thing, if this is so, is to determine the precise sphere and mode in which motivated reasoning is acceptably rational, as well as any sort of contribution motivated reasoning makes to the support of purer forms of reasoning; and this requires a better theory of rationality than we currently possess. (Those interested in this sort of issue might see De Sousa's Modeling Rationality, which is a good, accessible, albeit narrow and incomplete, discussion of some of the relevant issues, or The Rationality of Emotion, a brief paper discussing a small sampling of the issues he discusses in his book.)

That post gives the background for another good post on the recent highly-publicized results by Westen et al. on motivated reasoning in political partisanship, in which he corrects a number of serious misinterpretations. Much of it is the sort of thing that's very obvious in retrospect, when it's pointed out, that might be missed by those of us who don't normally work with imaging studies and aren't thinking out the implications of claims very closely. Well worth reading.

"Heo Cwaeth" has a series of posts called "Medieval Women I Adore". So far it includes Aethelflaed, Chrodield and Basina, and Hilda of Whitby. (HT: Mixing Memory) She also has a good post on Why Medieval Women Writers Belong in the Canon; a number of things she says could be said, mutatis mutandis, of early modern women in the philosophical canon.

Michael Pakaluk defends the history of philosophy at "Dissoi Blogoi". See also the follow-up post. I would add to it a more purely aesthetic reason. Sometimes in doing history of philosophy, one comes across an argument that is breathtakingly beautiful. It may still be flawed (and usually is) but it is a stunning example of human reason at its best. However, these arguments are often hidden. It isn't obvious to the superficial reader just how beautiful Aquinas's multi-layered theory of the will is; or, if we start sorting out what goes where and why, just how exquisitely crafted Hume's analysis of the components of causal inference, apparently rambling and confused, really is. To find these things you must do history of philosophy. If you eschew it, or take a purely instrumentalist interest in it, you will miss some of the wonders of the world.

Janet Stemwedel has an interesting post on theory vs. experiment in science, which has garnered some interesting comments. I don't normally find this an interesting topic at all; but what makes the discussion at "Adventures in Science and Ethics" interesting is that it touches on an aspect of the question that I think is much more interesting and important than the one usually discussed, namely, the pedagogical side of it (taking 'pedagogical' in a broad sense to include all communication between scientists and the general public).

At verbum ipsum Lee has a post that asks bloggers, What big-ticket issues have you (in the course of blogging) changed your mind about or found yourself "an incorrigible squish" about? My primary answer would be just about anything political: I always have the feeling that talking about a matter in a purely political light is suspiciously close, by its very nature, to missing the point. Or so I analyze my squishiness about politics, anyway. I waver on the New Hume interpretation; which is not surprising because the data for choosing between New Hume and Old Hume are fairly slight. I've become less sympathetic to arguments for anti-realism (outside a handful of domains), although I'm still not as dogmatic about it as some realists. I've also become more serious about issues of racism and sexism in the history of philosophy. But overall I haven't done much changing. But then, I'm the sort of person who tends to change very slowly -- a lot of slow shifts all over the place rather than one or two major shifts in one or two places.

Tillotson's Argument against Transubstantiation in Early Modern Thought

I hadn't originally intended to do a series on it, but a series is what it became. Here are the posts, for more convenient browsing.

The Argument
Tillotson against Transubstantiation

The Influence of the Argument in the History of Philosophy
Boswell & Johnson

Rogers on Hume on Tillotson against Transubstantiation

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Henry Rogers wrote a lovely little philosophical dialogue, which deserves to be better known, called, The Eclipse of Faith: A Visit to a Religious Sceptic. Fortunately it can be found at Project Gutenberg. I don't know how well known it was in the nineteenth century. It went through several editions in just a few years, which sounds good; but I don't know enough about publishing practices of the time to say what that would likely mean in terms of readers.

The dialogue is undeniably worth reading. One of Rogers's excellent literary choices was to write the dialogue as a journal being sent as part of a letter to the narrator's brother; this complicated frame allows for a much greater degree of literary flexibility than is usually available to the writer of philosophical dialogues. Although the work as a whole is a defense of Christianity against philosophical objections, Rogers made another excellent choice when he broke with tradition on these matters and made an honest skeptic, Harrington, the dominant discussant. Usually in a philosophical dialogue the dominant discussant is the character (or characters) most closely conforming to the author's views. In the hands of a masterful dialogue-writer this could turn out well; but usually it just leads to a very one-sided dialogue. Rogers's dialogue, however, is very readable, with characters who seem interesting and (as Rogers hints in his Advertisement) are probably at least very loosely based on real people.

One of the interesting examples of the candor and honesty of Harrington centers immediately on the subject of Tillotson's argument against transubstantiation:

"And do you know," said Harrington, "I have sometimes thought that Hume, so far from representing his argument from 'Transubstantiation' fairly, (there is an obvious fallacy on the very face of it, to which I do not now allude,) is himself precisely in the condition in which he represents the believer in miracles?"

Fellowes smiled incredulously. "First, however," said he, "what is the more notorious fallacy to which you allude?"

"It is so barefaced an assumption, that I am surprised that his acuteness did not see it; or that, if he saw it, he could have descended to make a point by appearing not to see it. It has been often pointed out, and you will recollect it the moment I name it. You know he commences with the well-known argument of Tillotson against Transubstantiation and flatters himself that he sees a similar argument in relation to miracles. Now it certainly requires but a moderate degree of sagacity to see that the very point in which Tillotson's argument tells, is that very one in which Hume's is totally unlike it. Tillotson says, that when it is pretended that the bread and wine which are submitted to his own senses have been 'transubstantiated into flesh and blood,' the alleged phenomena contradict his senses; and that as the information of his senses as much comes from God as the doctrines of Scripture (and even the miracles of Scripture appeal to nothing stronger), he must believe his senses in this case in preference to the assertions of the priest. Hume then goes on quietly to take it for granted that the miracles to which consent is asked in like manner contradict the testimony of the senses of him to whom they appeal is made; whereas, in fact, the assertor of the miracles does not pretend that he who denies them has ever seen them, or had the opportunity of seeing them. To make the argument analogous, it ought to be shown that the objector, having been a spectator of the pretended miracles, when and where they were affirmed to have been wrought, had then and there the testimony of his senses that no such events had taken place. It is mere juggling with words to say that never to have seen a like event is the same argument of an event's never having occurred, as never to have seen that event when it was alleged to have taken place under our very eyes!"

Harrington in the dialogue goes on to argue that Hume has things backwards. If a disbeliever in miracles (among whom Harrington includes himself) were to see one, he would doubt his senses and fall back on the general testimony that such things do not happen. Thus Hume's argument is actually more dangerous for the miracles-skeptic than the believer:

"It appears, then, my good fellow, that the position of those who deny and those who assert miracles is exactly the reverse of Hume's statement. The man who believes 'Transubstantiation' distrusts his senses, and rather believes testimony: and even so would he who has fully made up his mind, on our sublime principle as to the impossibility of miracles, when any thing which has that appearance crosses his path; he is prepared to deny his senses and to trust to testimony,--to that general experience of others which comes to him, and can come to him, only in that shape. It is we, therefore, and not our adversaries, who are liable to be reached by this unlucky illustration."

This is a remarkable argument against Hume's essay on miracles, in part because I can think of no other case in which anyone thinks to use the Tillotsonian parallel in such an interesting way.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Superheroes and Academia

The previous post about religious superheroes set me thinking. What academic affiliations do superheroes and supervillains have?

The most obvious place to start is the Fantastic Four, since Reed Richards is known to have attended CalTech, Columbia, Harvard, and the fictional Empire State University (although sometimes it is said to be the equally fictional SUNY-Hegeman). The latter appears to be the alma mater of a lot of Marvel superheroes.

So what others are there (real universities, of course, are more interesting than fictional ones)?

UPDATES: I had forgotten, if I ever knew it, that Captain Marvel was a university professor at "Dartmoor University". (I've never kept up with Captain Marvel at all.)

Charles Xavier apparently did his graduate work at the University of Oxford.

Firestorm is one-half college professor, being a fusion of a high school student and Martin Stein, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, who seems to have taught at the University of Pittsburgh (although previously at Hudson University, a major fictional university in the DC universe). (I have found no explicit statements about the University of Pittsburgh, though, so that's speculative.)