Wednesday, November 29, 2006

But He Doesn't

I recently had a search engine hit on the string, "hume thinks metaphysics is crap," and so I can't resist the obvious response, which is that he explicitly defends metaphysics in Section One of the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. There he divides philosophy into two kinds: the easy and humane, and the abstruse and difficult, commonly called metaphysics. Aristotle would be an example of an abstruse and difficult philosopher, Cicero of an easy and humane; Locke's abstruse and difficult, Addison's easy and humane; and so forth. Hume notes the easy and humane approach to philosophy has a number of advantages: "It enters more into common life; moulds the heart and affections; and, by touching those principles which actuate men, reforms their conduct, and brings them nearer to that model of perfection which it describes." He insists, however, that we need both, and proceeds to defend metaphysics from those who wish to do away with it altogether. A rough summary of his arguments:

(1) The easy and humane approach philosophy needs the abstruse and difficult approach to achieve "a sufficient degree of exactness in its sentiments, precepts, or reasonings". Hume famously uses the analogy of the artist and the anatomist. The artist can present a picture to the world that is far more interesting (to most tastes) and far more pleasant than the anatomist can; but the artist can benefit from the anatomist to an immense degree. As he puts it, accuracy is advantageous to beauty and good reasoning to refined sentiments.

(2) Even if nothing more were to be gained from metaphysical discussions than the satisfaction of curiosity, there is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, the life of someone devoted to satisfying his curiosity is, at least generally, inoffensive and pleasant, and even if it did nothing more than this, the person who encouraged it would be a benefactor to mankind. Of course, it does, in fact, do more than this, as per (1).

(3) The most serious objection to metaphysics is that it involves a lot of obscurity, cavil, arguing about words, talking about things we can't know anything about, etc. Hume does admit that this is true of a lot of metaphysical discussion. But he very cleverly turns the objection around by noting that a lot of the cavilling is due to vanity and superstition calling up an intellectual fog. But, Hume notes that this is not a reason for rejecting metaphysics: on the contrary, it's a reason for doing it:

But is this a sufficient reason, why philosophers should desist from such researches, and leave superstition still in possession of her retreat? Is it not proper to draw an opposite conclusion, and perceive the necessity of carrying the war into the most secret recesses of the enemy? In vain do we hope, that men, from frequent disappointment, will at last abandon such airy sciences, and discover the proper province of human reason. For, besides, that many persons find too sensible an interest in perpetually recalling such topics; besides this, I say, the motive of blind despair can never reasonably have place in the sciences; since, however unsuccessful former attempts may have proved, there is still room to hope, that the industry, good fortune, or improved sagacity of succeeding generations may reach discoveries unknown to former ages. Each adventurous genius will still leap at the arduous prize, and find himself stimulated, rather than discouraged, by the failures of his predecessors; while he hopes that the glory of achieving so hard an adventure is reserved for him alone. The only method of freeing learning, at once, from these abstruse questions, is to enquire seriously into the nature of human understanding, and show, from an exact analysis of its powers and capacity, that it is by no means fitted for such remote and abstruse subjects. We must submit to this fatigue in order to live at ease ever after: and must cultivate true metaphysics with some care, in order to destroy the false and adulterate. Indolence, which, to some persons, affords a safeguard against this deceitful philosophy, is, with others, overbalanced by curiosity; and despair, which, at some moments, prevails, may give place afterwards to sanguine hopes and expectations. Accurate and just reasoning is the only catholic remedy, fitted for all persons and all dispositions; and is alone able to subvert that abstruse philosophy and metaphysical jargon, which being mixed up with popular superstition, renders it in a manner impenetrable to careless reasoners, and gives it the air of science and wisdom.

It has been said by others, and Hume argues for it very well, I think, even if he does so cautiously, that you can only get rid of bad metaphysics with good metaphysics.

(4) In addition to this negative advantage of eliminating bad metaphysics, abstruse reasoning can have positive advantages. Even if our metaphysics could do no more than give a 'mental geography', the understanding this would bring would be worthwhile on its own.

The fact that metaphysics is abstract, and abstruse, and difficult, and about obscure and abstruse topics, is a serious disadvantage, one to be surmounted as much as possible. But it's not a knock-down argument against metaphysics like people have often thought. In fact, quite the reverse: metaphysics is still justified even when we give the argument the benefit of the doubt.

Warburton and the Golden Chain

Re-reading Warburton's Divine Legation (Book I, Part I) in order to pin down the original argument to which Cockburn was responding, I was startled to come across a familiar image. Warburton has identified three basic principles of morality: the moral sense, the reasoning faculty perceiving essential differences, and the will of a superior, and argued that each of these has its place, since morality must be palatable, satisfying to reason, and obliging to the will. Each of these will also tend to appeal to a greater degree to people of different temperaments: people of elegant mind and refined sentiments will be incited to morality through the charms of the moral sense, people of especially speculative and abstract disposition through the essential differences perceived by reason, and the bulk of mankind by the authority of another. He sees this threefold help as a sign of providence. He then goes on to make a very interesting set of claims:

To these great purposes serve the THREE PRINCIPLES, while in conjunction: But now, as in the civil world and the affairs of men, our pleasure, in contemplating the wisdom and goodness of providence, is often viewed and checked by the view of some human perversity or folly which runs across that dispensation; so it is here in the intellectual. This admirable provision for the support of virtue hath been, in great measure, defeated by its pretended advocates; who, in their eternal squabbles about the true foundation of morality, and the obligation to its practice, have sacrilegiously untwisted this THREEFOLD CORD; and each running away with that part he esteemed the strongest hath affixed that to the throne of heaven, as the golden chain that is to unite and draw all unto it.

Siris! The allusion is to the same passage of the Iliad from which Berkeley derives the same image for his philosophical work Siris, used to a different end.

It's also an interesting passage in that Warburton explicitly denies that you can do without any of the three -- the people who try to eliminate any of the three as 'excitements to virtue' do so 'sacrilegiously'. So he has a much more sophisticated view than comes across in Cockburn's response to him, since he explicitly rejects the claim that morality as a whole is a matter entirely of the will of a superior. Nonetheless, Cockburn's summary is quite accurate. While Warburton thinks each of the three is equally necessary for moral motivation, he insists very clearly that the will of a superior is the "true bottom" of morality. This is because he thinks the will of a superior is necessary for moral obligation, which is what Cockburn is explicitly contesting. Thus, the point of dispute is not morality in the broad sense (including all our reasons and motivations for being moral) but morality in the strict sense (what constitutes moral obligation).

In another post I'll give Warburton's argument, in his own words, for the claim that an atheist, as such, can never attain to knowledge of morality in the strict sense.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cockburn on Whether Atheists Can Be Moral

The short answer is: Yes. It's the details, of course, that are interesting.

To understand why the question even arises, you have to go back to a text that isn't often read these days, William Warburton's Divine Legation of Moses. Even though it is scarcely read today, it exercised a powerful influence on its time. In the course of the work (Cockburn has in mind the second edition in particular) Warburton advances a particular view of moral obligation. It is with this that Catharine Cockburn (1679-1749) disagrees; and atheists are significant test case.

Warburton argues that morality is not based on perception of the fitness of things (such as Clarke, or Cockburn, argue for). An atheist could recognize the 'natural essential differences' between things; but this is not sufficient for moral knowledge. Knowledge of one does not ground knowledge of the other. (This is Warburton's version of 'Hume's fork'.) What the atheist is missing is that (in Cockburn's summary) "nothing but the will, or the law of a superior, can constitute the morality of actions" (138). As Cockburn argues, this seems to get things backwards. But she also argues against the claim that an atheist could only know the bare 'natural essential differences' rather than moral fitnesses as well. Her argument for this is worth quoting in full.

In order to judge of this point, let us suppose of a society of Atheists, one fallen into a pit, where he must inevitably perish if unassisted; and another of them happening to travel that way, who could with great ease relieve him. Will these two persons perceive nothing, but the natural essential difference between leaving a man to perish in a pit, and helping him out of it? Would not the distressed consider one of these as inhumanity to be detested, and the other as a good action deserving grateful return? Might not the traveler be too conscious, that one of these actions would be better than the other, have a goodness in it more to be approved? Yet we will supose some business or pleasure he is intent upon, stifles this consciousness and prevails with him, to leave the distressed to his miserable fate; and that he afterwards relates to the rest of society, how he had hurried from the melancholy object, in pursuit of his inclinations. Can it be imagined, that they would coldly consider this action, only as not agreeable to reason? Or would they not rather judge it to be wrong, inhuman, and worthy of detestation. It cannot, I think, be doubted, that such a society might be capable of these sentiments. And what is this but to perceive the moral difference of things, tho' they have not discovered a superior will to enforce the observance of them? Or tho' they may think the guilty secure from that punishment, which they must be conscious so great an immorality deserves. (138n)

Thus Cockburn's view is that there is good reason to think that moral differences aren't so wholly independent of the facts as Warburton claims; and since atheists can clearly distinguish 'natural essential differences' -- for instance, the difference between leaving a man to die and helping him to live -- there is no reason to deny that they could see the moral difference between the two -- that one of these is better than the other. She notes elsewhere that this is not a conflation of natural differences and moral differences, but only a recognition that when we recognize natural differences, it creates a fitness for certain types of action, and a lack of fitness for other types of action. And this is sufficient for identifying grounds of obligation.

It is interesting, as a side issue, to think of how Hume is to be placed with regard to this argument. Cockburn's argument is formulated in the terms of what Hume calls 'the abstract theory of morals', which Hume sharply rejects and criticizes at great length at the beginning of Book III of the Treatise and elsewhere. And Hume can at least plausibly be read as accepting some version of Hume's fork (although, as I've noted, there are hermeneutical difficulties here). But Hume, while not a moral rationalist, is a moral sense theorist, and it seems that a moral sense theorist would have to accept some closely similar version of this argument.

So it would appear that we can see a sort of double divide in the ethical disputes of the period. On the one hand, we have what we can call moral positivism, like that espoused by Warburton, found in those who locate morality purely in convention or else in the 'will of a superior'; on the other hand, we have the moral naturalists, and they fall roughly into two camps, the moral rationalists, like Malebranche, Clarke, Price, and Cockburn herself; and the moral sentimentalists like Hume. The latter two are similar in that they both hold that in some sense we naturally perceive the moral status of things; where they differ sharply is in what we should actually mean by 'perceive', and what exactly this moral status consists in. On the other hand, the moral sentimentalists and the moral positivists will both agree that the moral rationalist is failing to observe the is/ought distinction properly; but moral positivists will insists that moral sentimentalists are also failing in this regard, and the moral sentimentalists will insist the same of the moral positivists. Of course, this is very crude and idealized, and one wonders how far it can actually be taken, but it's an interesting line of thought worth further investigation.

Page references are to Catharine Trotter Cockburn, Philosophical Writings, Patricia Sheridan, ed. [Broadview Press (Peterborough, Ontario: 2006)].

A Poem Draft


the cars on the road
rip by me
roaring madly
rushing past
in huff and hurry
like hell and fury
as though the world
were clearly ending
which it is


For Christ’s sake we are fools.

Given modern tastes in stories of the saints, the person not seriously acquainted with hagiography might be excused for thinking that saints are all alike -- all swooning sentimentality and pious preachiness. Some are definitely that. But saints are very diverse -- as diverse as human beings can be -- and the study of the classification of saints turns up some very peculiar beasts at times. Extraordinary Mortifiers are a case in point; Stylites another case in point. But perhaps the most peculiar of all are the Holy Fools. I've been thinking about them a bit, since they were mentioned in a recent post at First Things.

Fool-saints are quite rare (in part because they walk a very fine line), and are quite diverse among themselves. If we set aside Francis of Assisi, who is only a borderline candidate in any case, the two most famous fool-saints are Basil Fool for Christ (after whom St. Basil's in Moscow is named) and Simeon of Emesis (whose exact historical status is uncertain). Simeon, it is said, would go about disrupting church services, blowing out votive candles, and making loud noises; he danced with prostitutes and once, finding a dead dog thrown out on a garbage heap, tied it to his belt and dragged it back into the middle of town. Basil, or Vasily, went about naked except for chains (in Russian winter!), upset merchants' carts whenever they sold inferior wares, scolded people in taverns, and once rebuked Ivan the Terrible for not paying atttention in Church. In both cases the mark of sanctity was extraordinary kindness and a wonder-working faith. And so it goes. Pelagia Ivanovna once slapped a bishop who insisted that she should take a gift.

The fool-saint is poor -- vagrant, in fact -- having no status, no family, no position, no money, no power, and no shame. That is part of the appeal, I think: there's a sort of incorruptibility attached to the person who has gone so far in giving up the proprieties of the world that he cannot be exploited or bribed. Some of them are brilliant, making a deliberate point about the absurdly pompous solemnities of the world; some of them are simpletons with gracious hearts; some of them are eminently sane; some of them are clearly a little disturbed. All of them are the sort of people we would lock up in jail or an asylum, or be tempted to despise if we met them on the street or (perhaps even worse, in a case like Simeon's!) church. Their sanctity is a secret sanctity, their saintly exploit is heroic virtue hidden from the world behind things the world considers indecent; they hide their virtue from others. They are the aggressive destroyers of the sanctimonious. They have been beaten and mistreated and locked up and killed. And the question that always arises is: would we do the same? And it is so very difficult to find any sign that we would not. They are on the edge of the tolerable. But that's part of the point, I suppose; they are a rebuke of our tendency to accept vice that is easy to tolerate and dismiss virtue whenever it is annoying or disruptive.

Jottings on Fitch's Paradox IV

Continuing my rough thoughts on Fitch's Paradox. Up to this point I have suggested that, contrary to first appearances, the paradox is not generated by KP but by a peculiar interpretation. The argument is that, when you keep track of who knows p and under what conditions, the paradox fails to go through, unless you assume that the knower in question is such that it is possible, no matter what the circumstances, that that knower knows the truth in question. And on that assumption it is perhaps rather plausible that this is only true of an omniscient person; or, rather, that it is a knower that either knows no truths (and therefore is not really a knower) or knows every truth, i.e., of a person of whom it can be said that, for any truth you please, they are able to know it, and for whom the knowledge of any truth has exactly the same conditions of knowing. If such a person knows any truth, his knowing of any other truth requires no change in circumstances, or, to put it in other words: such a person doesn't have to learn truths (knowing any truth, that person is in a position to know any truth) and therefore is not dependent on conditions for passing from ignorance to knowledge.

But so far I haven't really looked very closely at this notion of "possibility of knowing." So I'd like to look more closely at KP:

(KP) p → ◊K{∃x|∃c}p

And, in particular, at what this "◊K" means, or can mean. To put it more colloquially, what can people consistently mean when they say, "Every truth is knowable," or "Every truth can be known by somebody"?

I already noted that we have to be careful here, because 'knowable' very often hides a temporal operator: If I ask if it's knowable whether such-and-such is true, I will very often mean "Is it currently possible to come to know that such-and-such is true?" Or, in other words, "Is it possible for such-and-such to come to be known?" This is very different from the following two interpretations:

Is it possible that such-and-such is known now?
Is it possible that such-and-such is known (at some time, past, present, or future)?

Now I think it's fairly clear that the most natural reading of sentences in modal logic is to read it in one of these two ways. Thus, the most natural interpretation of a sentence like KP, just in general, is "If p is true, it is possible that p is known," where only the context will determine the ampliation (this time or any time at all). However, KP is supposed to be a sentence that is very plausible to a lot of people, and is the sort of thing they might appeal to in discussion. But the only people to whom it will be plausible that "If p is true, it is possible that p is currently known" are those who believe that there currently exists an omniscient being (although strictly speaking if someone believed that the community of all epistemic agents -- and this would have to be a community immensely larger than the human race -- is collectively omniscient, they could hold this, too -- but who believes that?); and even they wouldn't usually mean a sentence like KP in this sense.

So of the interpretations canvassed so far, the only one that is even remotely plausible as an interpretation of KP is:

If p is true, it is possible that it is known at some time (by someone under some circumstances).

And even this is a very strong claim. Take, for instance, the location of a molecule fourteen billion years ago. Someone who held the above claim would be committed to saying either that there existed epistemic agents at the time for whom knowing it was possible, or that, at some point afterward, epistemic agents could arise who could discover it, or that, in fact, there is no truth to be known. And so on with the features of every molecule in all the universe, at any time. I very much doubt that people really intend this; it's only a plausible claim to make if you assume the existence either of an omniscient being or of a collectively omniscient community.

I think it's also possible that we are seeing a conflation of propositional and predicate modality, although how far it messes things up is an open question. As we saw when we were looking at Sommers-Englebretsen Term Logic, a great deal of sense can be made of a position that distinguishes modalities applying to part of the predicate from modalities applying to the whole proposition. And it seems to be a good idea in cases like this, because 'p could be known by S' is compatible with 'It is possible that p is known by S' -- 'p could be known by S' is true when certain conditions for S's having the ability to know p are met, whereas 'It is possible that p is known by S' requires that conditions for actually knowing p are not ruled out (whether in fact p is actually known or not). It is possible for S to have the ability to know p, but to be prevented from knowing p by some accident or incidental condition, for instance.

None of this is particularly surprising in itself, but it highlights the layers and layers of complexity hidden in these apparently simple statements. And it is relevant to this paradox. Michael Fara has an interesting paper called the Paradox of Believability (PDF) which notes a parallel sort of paradox (for believability and 'superagents') that is resolvable by closer attention to modal issues similar to these. And that suggests that we can't be lax about them here.

Again, all this is sketchy. Further thoughts to follow, I am sure.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

My Own Hymn

I am an uneven poet at best; but unevenness never stopped a poet from writing a hymn when the mood took him. And on today, the Feast of Christ the King, the mood takes me. I think of it as sung to Hesperus, with a slight variation; but you can fit it to whatever tune you please.

O Son of Man Upon Your Throne

Were I to take the endless sands,
each grain a grace on which I stand,
no tally tells, no number holds,
the counting of that sea of gold.

And if the waters of the sea
were on my soul let loose and free,
it would not match the ceaseless grace
that thunders down from Jesus' face.

O Son of Man upon your throne,
take all your children as your own!

On the cross, the blood rains down
to kiss and sanctify the ground;
with God made flesh and human bone,
the earth is made a heavenly throne.

O Christ the King, both far and wide
cast down all envy and all pride;
dominion take to spread your peace
in every heart, that strife may cease.

O Son of Man upon your throne,
take all your children as your own!

If I count the stars above,
so small they seem beside your love.
The tallies of your mercy rise
like stars on stars in endless skies.

All hopes are met inside of you;
as you are Truth, your word is true,
and every truth will demonstrate
infinities of mercies great.

O Son of Man upon your throne,
take all your children as your own!

O Christ the King, who rules the world,
upon my heart your flag unfurl;
let be on earth as 'tis above,
where ensign reads: Our God is Love.

Ride out, O Faithful and Most True,
send rains of grace, make all things new,
as in your path the angels sing
Hosanna-hymns to Christ the King!

O Son of Man upon your throne,
take all your children as your own!
With your Father take their part,
to spread your peace in every heart!

O Jesus, King Most Wonderful

This hymn goes back to St. Bernard of Clairvaux; this is the Edward Caswall translation.

O Jesus, King Most Wonderful

O Jesus, King most wonderful,
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou Sweetness most ineffable,
In Whom all joys are found!

When once Thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, Light of all below,
Thou Fount of life and fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire!

Thy wondrous mercies are untold,
Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousand fold,
Whatever we can say.

May every heart confess Thy Name;
And ever Thee adore;
And seeking Thee, itself inflame,
To seek Thee more and more.

Thee may our tongues forever bless;
Thee may we love alone;
And ever in our lives express
The image of Thine own.

Crown Him With Many Crowns

This one is probably the most famous hymn on the theme of Christ the King. It was written by Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Thring, although it has been popular enough to admit of a number of variations. The usual melody for it, Diademata, is one of those very simple melodies that can be jazzed up like you wouldn't believe; and once you've heard it sung that way by a good gospel choir, you'll never forget it.

Crown Him With Many Crowns

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

Crown Him the virgin’s Son, the God incarnate born,
Whose arm those crimson trophies won which now His brow adorn;
Fruit of the mystic rose, as of that rose the stem;
The root whence mercy ever flows, the Babe of Bethlehem.

Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest.

Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, Who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

Crown Him the Lord of peace, Whose power a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease, and all be prayer and praise.
His reign shall know no end, and round His piercèd feet
Fair flowers of paradise extend their fragrance ever sweet.

Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.

Crown Him the Lord of Heaven, enthroned in worlds above,
Crown Him the King to Whom is given the wondrous name of Love.
Crown Him with many crowns, as thrones before Him fall;
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is King of all.

Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King.

Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

O God of Love, O King of Peace

Continuing to post the lyrics of tried-and-true hymns on the theme of Christ the King, this one, by Henry W. Baker, is one of my favorites. It's perpetually timely. The usual melody that goes with it, composed by Henry Baker (a different Henry Baker), is also one of my favorites -- very simple, very direct, very easy to remember, very easy to sing.

O God of Love, O King of Peace

O God of love, O King of Peace,
Make wars throughout the world to cease;
The wrath of sinful men restrain,
Give peace, O God, give peace again!

Remember, Lord, Thy works of old,
The wonders that our fathers told;
Remember not our sin’s dark stain,
Give peace, O God, give peace again!

Whom shall we trust but Thee, O Lord?
Where rest but on Thy faithful Word?
None ever called on Thee in vain,
Give peace, O God, give peace again!

Where saints and angels dwell above,
All hearts are knit in holy love;
O bind us in that heavenly chain!
Give peace, O God, give peace again!

The Eternal Gifts of Christ the King

Since it is the Feast of Christ the King, and since I like doing something to celebrate holy days, it seems fitting to celebrate by posting a few hymns on the theme of Christ the King. The first is attributed to St. Ambrose (4th century), in the 1854 translation of John Neale; reaching across time, it seems a fitting start.

The Eternal Gifts of Christ the King

The eternal gifts of Christ the King,
The Apostles’ glorious deeds, we sing;
And while due hymns of praise we pay,
Our thankful hearts cast grief away.

The Church in these her princes boasts,
These victor chiefs of warriors hosts;
The soldiers of the heavenly hall,
The lights that rose on earth for all.

’Twas thus the yearning faith of saints,
The unconquered hope that never faints,
The love of Christ that knows not shame,
The prince of this world overcame.

In these the Father’s glory shone;
In these the will of God the Son;
In these exults the Holy Ghost;
Through these rejoice the heavenly host.

Redeemer, hear us of Thy love,
That, with this glorious band above,
Hereafter, of Thine endless grace,
Thy servants also may have place.

Coleridge on Faith

...The first or most indefinite sense of faith is fidelity: then fidelity under previous contract or particular moral obligation. In this sense faith is fealty to a rightful superior: faith is the duty of a faithful subject to a rightful governor. Then it is allegiance in active service; fidelity to the liege lord under circumstances, and amid the temptations of usurpation, rebellion, and intestine discord. Next we seek for that rightful superior on our duties to whom all our duties to all other superiors, on our faithfulness to whom all our bounden relations to all other objects of fidelity, are founded. We must inquire after that duty in which all others find their several degrees and dignities, and from which they derive their obligative force. We are to find a superior, whose rights, including our duties, are presented to the mind in the very idea of that Supreme Being, whose sovereign prerogatives are predicates implied in the subjects, as the essential properties of a circle are co-assumed in the first assumption of a circle, consequently underived, unconditional, and as rationally unsusceptible, so probably prohibitive, of all further question. In this sense, then, faith is fidelity, fealty, allegiance of the moral nature to God, in opposition to all usurpation, and in resistance to all temptation to the placing any other claim above or equal with our fidelity to God....

...Faith subsists in the SYNTHESIS of the Reason and the individual Will. By virtue of the latter therefore, it must be an energy, and, inasmuch as it relates to the whole moral man, it must be exerted in each and all of his constituents or incidents, faculties and tendencies;--it must be a total, not a partial--a continuous, not a desultory or occasional--energy. And by virtue of the former, that is Reason, Faith must be a Light, a form of knowing, a beholding of truth. In the incomparable words of the Evangelist, therefore, FAITH MUST BE A LIGHT ORIGINATING IN THE LOGOS, OR THE SUBSTANTIAL REASON, WHICH IS CO-ETERNAL AND ONE WITH THE HOLY WILL, AND WHICH LIGHT IS AT THE SAME TIME THE LIFE OF MEN. Now, as LIFE is here the sum or collective of all moral and spiritual acts, in suffering, doing, and being, so is Faith the source and the sum, the energy and the principle of the fidelity of man to God, by the subordination of his human Will, in all provinces of his nature, to his Reason, as the sum of spiritual Truth, representing and manifesting the Will Divine.

From the Essay on Faith. Emphasis is Coleridge's.

Notable Links

* If you haven't looked at the Carnival of Citizens yet, please do so.

* Every academic blogger should read this post at "Slaves of Academe".

* Fr. Daniel Sparks of "Miserere Mei" has a series of posts where you can, via YouTube magic, watch and hear the St. Paul's Cathedral Choir sing a number of hymns and songs.

* Someone just happened to have two lost paintings of Fra Angelico hanging behind their door in Oxford.

* An article on Fulton Sheen via "Insight Scoop".

* I'm currently reading Thomas Kelly's The Epistemic Significance of Disagreement (PDF). I am also browsing some of Alison Gopnik's online papers.

* A rather funny parody of Jack Chick's tracts -- what Stan Lee's Fantastic Four would look like if done by Chick. A small bit of trivia: I had never even heard of Jack Chick until I read about him in a post at Pharyngula one day a year or two ago.

* Rebecca has a good post summarizing the 'Solas' in light of sola fide. Roughly: salvation is through Christ alone, so can be granted by God's grace alone, and can be received by faith alone, so that it is all for God's glory alone; and this can be known through scripture alone. Of course, as is clear from Rebecca's post, this is a minimal understanding -- a jumping-off point -- since appeal to the 'solas' usually has something stronger and more precise than this in mind. But it is the basic starting-point, the one going back to Luther, which (as to details) has manifested itself diversely in diverse theologians.

* In related news, Scott Carson has a Catholic criticism of Protestant understandings of sola scriptura and sola fide.

* Chris at "Mixing Memory" gives some links to the presentations at the recent "Beyond Belief" conference. I can't access them for some reason (a software conflict, I think), but you can also find clips of some of them easily enough at YouTube. The greater part of it seems to be just the standard academic sort of narcissistic self-indulgence (as conferences like this are bound to become, whatever the topic), but I've enjoyed what I've been able to find of Neil DeGrasse Tyson; Steven Nadler has an interesting argument that Spinoza is more accurately called an atheist than a pantheist (interesting, but not, I think, wholly convincing, since while it makes sense of the Ethics, it would seem to make the Tractatus, so dependent on the difference between true and false religion, virtually unintelligible); and Scott Atran has some sharp things to say about criticizing religion in the name of science without regard for actual scientific work on religion.

* Also, Chris has a post worth reading on how scientists deal with unexpected results, which gets into some very cool issues. If I did work in cognitive science, the cognitive science of scientific cognition would be the sort of research I'd want to do. It appeals to my Whewellian side. Plus, 'the cognitive science of scientific cognition' is a very catchy title for a field of inquiry to have.

The Consummation of Kingdomtide

In the Catholic calendar, today is the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next Sunday opens the Advent Season amd the path to Christmas. But today is for meditating on the consummation of all things in Him. The readings for today:

As the visions during the night continued, I saw
one like a Son of man coming,
on the clouds of heaven;
when he reached the Ancient One
and was presented before him,
the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship;
all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.

Pilate said to Jesus,
"Are you the King of the Jews?"
Jesus answered, "Do you say this on your own
or have others told you about me?"
Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I?
Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me.
What have you done?"
Jesus answered, "My kingdom does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom did belong to this world,
my attendants would be fighting
to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not here."
So Pilate said to him, "Then you are a king?"
Jesus answered, "You say I am a king.
For this I was born and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Fr. Jim Tucker has a sermon for the day.

UPDATE: Another good homily by Fr. Philip Powell.

Carnival of the Citizens I

The inaugural edition of the Carnival of the Citizens is up at Philosophy, et cetera. Richard has done a great job gathering posts for this edition.

As Richard says, I'll be hosting the next one mid-December; it will be a themed edition, devoted to issues of war and peace (particularly to just war theory and pacifism). I'll have something more official up a bit later.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Saint Catherine of the Wheel

In the liturgical calendar, today is one of my favorite feast days of the year, the Feast of Queen St. Catherine, Virgin and Great Martyr of Alexandria, patron saint of philosophers (and students and young women). As the Orthodox might say,

Let us praise the most auspicious bride of Christ, the divine Katherine, protectress of Sinai, our aid and our help. For, she brilliantly silenced the eloquence of the impious by the sword of the spirit, and now, crowned as a martyr, she asks great mercy for all.

My first year of blogging I celebrated with a St. Catherine's Day Pageant. And here's a version of the poem I wrote to celebrate the occasion:

The Triumph of St. Catherine

Behold the worldy-wise bent down,
the brilliance of the earthly minds,
the best of all the men who know,
all brought to shame, refuted all,
all answered with the purest truth
and conquered by a woman's word!

The vestige of the Spirit's power,
its print upon the sands of time,
is here, the maid, the queen who knows,
who overcomes the present age,
the darkness in high places!

They seek to break, the rack they bring,
to torture truth to fit their whims;
the rack she breaks. She overcomes!
God bless Queen Catherine, Spirit-wise!

They seek to burn, to turn to ash,
to make as nothing Gospel truth;
they set the virgin on the wood
and light the flame - she does not burn.
The flames can only purify,
but in God's love she is most pure.
God bless Maid Catherine, Spirit-wise!

Behold the godless Caesar's host
of answer-men and scholars wise,
all wordly men who serve the gods
of lucre, politics, and death,
bent down and puzzled by this truth:
The maiden, Church-like in her faith,
cannot be broken, cannot burn!

They bring the sword to pierce her soul,
it enters in her tender side
and blood flows out as with Christ -
she is a witness in her death,
she mimics Him in sacrifice,
a martyr true attesting truth.
The blood by which she lives flows out,
and she is born amid the pangs
of Christ who births us on the Cross
into His everlasting life!

All are silent, overcome,
uncertain what they saw that day:
the truth could not be made to break,
the truth could not be made to burn,
and blood itself, from stigma pierced,
seemed to witness to God's truth.

The vestige of the Spirit's power,
its print upon these changing sands,
is here, the maid, the queen who knows,
who overcomes the present age,
the darkness in the highest places!
She has the martyr's palm in hand -
God bless Saint Catherine, Spirit-wise!


There has been some discussion in the blogosphere of Pinker's recent essay on faith and reason in the Harvard Crimson. In the course of the discussion he says:

Second, the juxtaposition of the two words makes it sound like “faith” and “reason” are parallel and equivalent ways of knowing, and we have to help students navigate between them. But universities are about reason, pure and simple. Faith—believing something without good reasons to do so—has no place in anything but a religious institution, and our society has no shortage of these. Imagine if we had a requirement for "Astronomy and Astrology" or "Psychology and Parapsychology." It may be true that more people are knowledgeable about astrology than about astronomy, and it may be true that astrology deserves study as a significant historical and sociological phenomenon. But it would be a terrible mistake to juxtapose it with astronomy, if only for the false appearance of symmetry.

I find the attempt to claim that 'faith' means 'believing something without good reasons to do so' very peculiar. As Alan Rhoda notes, it's not our colloquial sense of the term; it's not the way the term is used as a technical or quasi-technical term in theology. Aquinas considers faith to be the disposition to believe, understand as thinking with assent that is firm but not certain; e.g., we don't know what some good authority tells us is true, but we believe it because they are a good authority. Indeed, Aquinas explicitly insists that there are reasons for belief; they are the reasons inducing us to believe rather than merely suspect or opine. Many people, like Martin Luther, consider faith to be a sort of trust; and they would deny that it is baseless trust. Luther, for instance, explicitly tells us that we must first know of the mercy of God on good report, and that it is based on good reasons, namely, divine promises. Calvin says that having faith is having a constant assurance or complete confidence; in his metaphors, it is 'planting one's foot' or resting on a sure foundation. Nothing in any of this about believing without good reason. From what I understand of Islam, faith (iman) is usually taken to mean something like 'internal affirmation or acceptance of the claims of a good authority'; perfect iman is unreserved affirmation or acceptance of divine authority. And none of this seems particularly surprising or difficult to find out. So this whole trope -- faith is believing without good reasons -- seems odd. But I've come across it many times recently. What are the reasons for it? Or is this just another form of thinking by way of unexamined cliché?

(Incidentally, even setting this aside, Pinker slips up in the above argument by eliding the distinction between "ways of knowing" and things we are "knowledgeable about". Are we talking about ways of knowing, or are we talking about the objects of knowledge? The two can't be treated the same. Much better than this, his second argument, are his first and third arguments, which don't fall into this confusion. Since I don't have access to the report itself, which doesn't seem to be online yet, I don't know if the report has the same confusion.)

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Rigid Wise and Pyles o' Caff

I have been greatly amused by a recent dust-up at ScienceBlogs, and some of satellite weblogs, over the proper way to approach public education over evolution; Mike Dunford gives a summary of it with reasonable commentary, and John Lynch tries to remind people of common ground. As some have noted, this sort of argument really doesn't get anyone anywhere. It seems to me that some people on both sides would really do well to remember that, as it is with the Rigid Righteous, so it is with the Rigid Wise; and those congratulating themselves on their own superior rationality might be benefitted by reflecting a bit on Burns's "Address to the Unco Guid":

My Son, these maxims make a rule,
An' lump them aye thegither;
The Rigid Righteous is a fool,
The Rigid Wise anither:
The cleanest corn that ere was dight
May hae some pyles o' caff in;
So ne'er a fellow creature slight
For random fits o' daffin.
Solomon.--Eccles. ch. vii. verse 16

O ye wha are sae guid yoursel',
Sae pious and sae holy,
Ye've nought to do but mark and tell
Your neibours' fauts and folly!
Whase life is like a weel-gaun mill,
Supplied wi' store o' water;
The heapèd happer's ebbing still,
An' still the clap plays clatter.

Hear me, ye venerable core,
As counsel for poor mortals
That frequent pass douce Wisdom's door
For glaikit Folly's portals:
I, for their thoughtless, careless sakes,
Would here propone defences--
Their donsie tricks, their black mistakes,
Their failings and mischances.

Ye see your state wi' theirs compared,
And shudder at the niffer;
But cast a moment's fair regard,
What makes the mighty differ?
Discount what scant occassion gave,
That purity ye pride in;
And (what's aft mair than a' the lave)
Your better art o' hidin.

Think, when your castigated pulse
Gies now and then a wallop,
What ragings must his veins convulse,
That still eternal gallop!
Wi' wind and tide fair i' your tail,
Right on ye scud your sea-way;
But in the teeth o' baith to sail,
It maks a unco lee-way.

See Social Life and Glee sit down,
All joyous and unthinking,
Till, quite transmugrified, they're grown
Debauchery and Drinking:
O would they stay to calculate
Th' external consequences;
Or your more dreaded hell to state
Damnation of expenses!

Ye high, exalted, virtuous dames,
Tied up in godly laces,
Before ye gie poor Frailty names,
Suppose a change o' cases;
A dear-lov'd lad, convenience snug,
A treach'rous inclination--
But let me whisper i' your lug,
Ye're aiblins nae temptation.

Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human;
One point must still be greatly dark,--
The moving Why they do it;
And just as lamely can ye mark,
How far perhaps they rue it.

Who made the heart, 'tis He alone
Decidedly can try us;
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias:
Then at the balance let's be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What's done we partly may compute,
But know not what's resisted.

I know by experience that the poetic rendition of the Preacher's sage saying is always worth repeating a few times whenever a quarrel arises; we always need to be reminded not to slight our fellow creatures for things that we consider to be "pyles o' caff" and "fits o' daffin'".

Thursday, November 23, 2006

An Ecosystem Game

A little game I came across, to play with the TTLB Ecosystem:

Date Game Was Played: 23 November 2006

Ecosystem Rank (at that time): 4406 (Flappy Bird)

Blogs in the Top Fifty Places of My Category that I Have Read (at least occasionally):

The Blog Ten Places Higher: 4396 - Photon Courier

The Blog Ten Places Lower: 4416 - One Child Left Behind

Blogs Within Twenty Places (Higher or Lower) that I Have Read (at least occasionally):
Geeky Mom

The Blog One Hundred Places Higher (if any): 4306 - No Oil for Pacifists

The Blog One Hundred Places Lower: 4506 - TKS on National Review Online

The Blog One Thousand Places Higher (if any): 3406 - Patriot's Corner

The Blog One Thousand Places Lower: 5406 - Ian's Messy Desk

Slifkin on ID

Rabbi Natan Slifkin recently had a good op-ed on the Intelligent Design Movement in the Jersualem Post. The article is behind a subscription wall, although you can read the abstract for free. The final paragraph of the essay encapsulates nicely a problem I had with the theistic enthusiasm for the movement from the very beginning:

Either God is everywhere or He is nowhere. But He is certainly not limiting His appearance in the universe to the bacterial flagellum and the blood-clotting system.

Slifkin, an Orthodox rabbi, is the director of Zoo Torah, which is devoted to educating people both about the animal kingdom and the Jewish attitude toward it. I regularly get emails about Slifkin's essays, and I've always enjoyed reading them; there are several available on the site.

'We ought in all things to give thanks....'

Since November 23rd this year is both American Thanksgiving and the feast of Clement of Rome, this passage from First Clement (ch. 38) seems very fitting:

So in our case let the whole body be saved in Christ Jesus, and let each man be subject unto his neighbour, according as also he was appointed with his special grace. Let not the strong neglect the weak; and let the weak respect the strong. Let the rich minister aid to the poor; and let the poor give thanks to God, because He hath given him one through whom his wants may be supplied. Let the wise display his wisdom, not in words, but in good works. He that is lowly in mind, let him not bear testimony to himself, but leave testimony to be borne to him by his neighbour. He that is pure in the flesh, let him be so, and not boast, knowing that it is Another who bestoweth his continence upon him. Let us consider, brethren, of what matter we were made ; who and what manner of beings we were, when we came into the world; from what a sepulchre and what darkness He that moulded and created us brought us into His world, having prepared His benefits aforehand ere ever we were born.

Seeing therefore that we have all these things from Him, we ought in all things to give thanks to Him, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Today Anglicans have a sort of feast-day for C.S. Lewis, who died on this day in 1963. So it seems fitting to post a passage from him. This is from one of his classic essays, "Bulverism" (of which, alas, we only have part in full, and the rest in notes taken down at a meeting of the Socratic Club where the paper was read), which can be found in God in the Dock.

In other words, you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became to be so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it "Bulverism." Some day I am going the write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father - who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third - "Oh, you say that because you are a man." "At that moment," E. Bulver assures us, "there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall." That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Religious Tackiness

As some of you may know, there has been a big controversy over an IRS investigation of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California; Rev. George Regas preached a sermon there on October 31, 2004 that has been accused of violating the requirements for maintaining nonprofit tax exemption, and, in particular, of endorsing a particular political candidate. The LA Times recently published the sermon. I can see why people thought it was a clear endorsement of Kerry, or at least a clear condemnation of Bush; I can also see why one would think it isn't. I incline to the latter view.

Reading it over, what strikes me most is that Jesus sounds an awful lot like a middle- or upper-class Episcopalian. I was once in Patzcuaro, in Michoacan, Mexico. Patzcuaro has a beautiful and important Basilica, la Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Salud, the Basilica of Our Lady of Health. And, as often happens around important churches, a sort of bazaar had grown up selling all sorts of tacky religious wares -- insipid prayer cards, plastic glow-in-the-dark rosaries, rather silly-looking figurines. I bet a lot of people who visit that church are put off by the tackiness, and deplore it as a contrast to the church itself. They wouldn't put it this way, but what puts them off is the tackiness of the religious poor -- cheap, badly executed knock-offs of religious paintings, rosaries made out of the same materials you use to make stupid novelty items that are bought at your local dollar store, mass-produced figurines and refrigerator magnets. What they forget is that there are other sorts of religious tackiness, and most of the visitors indulge in religious tackiness themselves; it's just not obviously the same, because it is the religious tackiness of the bourgeois, and it is a mark of us bourgeois that we almost never see how tacky we sometimes are. The picture of Jesus in the sermon is like a picture on a prayer card in a bourgeois bazaar. In it's own way it's a Jesus bobblehead.

But the thing of it is: the judgment that something is tacky is not a spiritual evaluation. Tackiness is a fault of no religious significance. The spirit that makes the little ongoing market outside the Basilica thrive is the same spirit that decks Nuestra Señora in the bright and festive gown and train of blessing. It is the same spirit that attends the Basilica not as a tourist attraction but as an act of devotion. And so it is here, as well. And this is an important thing to keep in mind. For as I look out at the common criticisms of the 'Religious Right' by the 'Religious Left', and of the 'Religious Left' by the 'Religious Right', I am struck by how many of those criticisms are just elaborate ways of saying something that's usually not explicitly said but clearly meant, that those people over there -- whether we call them Right or Left -- are being tacky.

And they certainly are. And it's certainly irrelevant to everything important that we are doing. It most certainly is not a substantive criticism.

Three Poem Drafts

Before the Storm

I took a walk before the storm,
feeling the electric charge in the air,
while the dark clouds glowered above,
grumbling like old Presbyterians.
Here and there the lightning flashed;
moonlight-bright, it pierced the eyes,
enchanting them with sudden lunacy.


Would that I were written in ink purpureal and gold,
a book crafted for the ages, imperial and bold;
but I fear it's not to be. The simple black and white
flash across the page, are gone in a day and night,
evermore forgotten, remembered nevermore,
save as a line in a catalog behind a library door.


In the windy east the moon will wax,
the wheel of time is turning;
in the south, the subtle south,
a fuller moon is burning;
in the west, where wanes the moon,
all things wisely flow;
in the north, where moon is new,
the mountains all things know.

A willow wand the sunrise spring
remembers and recalls;
the summer noon in all its light
upon the dagger falls;
a chalice filled with sunset dreams
in autumn pours out fate;
and on a winter midnight pure
the salt of ages waits.

Life around my spirit rings;
raise your voice and gladly sing!
Sing, O maidens of the world!
sing, O mothers wise!
Sing, O widows wise and bold!
The world is in your eyes!

Sing, O winds that blow and breathe,
sing O flame that sparks and seethes,
sing, O waters filled with worth,
sing, O pillars of the earth!

Nature is a circle round
for which no border can be found;
mark the center, measure fair:
everything will be found there.
The central point of what may be
is every creature living free,
and every power great and bold,
and every element deep and old.
And every center has four ways
to mark the field in which it plays:
east, and south, and west, and north,
from the center each goes forth,
and everything, wherever it be
may its truest homeland see
by calling forth a hallowed place,
by living in a sacred space.

Cloud of Unknowing

But now thou askest me and sayest, "How shall I think on Himself, and what is He?" and to this I cannot answer thee but thus: "I wot not."

For thou hast brought me with thy question into that same darkness, and into that same cloud of unknowing, that I would thou wert in thyself. For of all other creatures and their works, yea, and of the works of God’s self, may a man through grace have fullhead of knowing, and well he can think of them: but of God Himself can no man think. And therefore I would leave all that thing that I can think, and choose to my love that thing that I cannot think. For why; He may well be loved, but not thought. By love may He be gotten and holden; but by thought never. And therefore, although it be good sometime to think of the kindness and the worthiness of God in special, and although it be a light and a part of contemplation: nevertheless yet in this work it shall be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And thou shalt step above it stalwartly, but Mistily, with a devout and a pleasing stirring of love, and try for to pierce that darkness above thee. And smite upon that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love; and go not thence for thing that befalleth.

Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 6


With this ranking tool you can find out how far you are from the blogging A-list.

C-List Blogger

Not bad for what is effectively just a publically accessible notebook for my thoughts.

[Ht: PZ Myers, an A-lister who rebels against the pink. And the A.]

Monday, November 20, 2006

Government Neutrality and the Good Life II

In the previous post I summarized Murphy's recent arguments on a weak Devlin-type argument against the principle of government neutrality. It presented two basic reasons to think that principles of government neutrality are problematic, which I'd summarize in the following ways:

(1) A liberal or free society is one that, at least in part, recognizes basic rights. It's not possible to treat all our possible rights as equal; we have to select and choose, and, even if only for practical purposes, it is necessary to privilege some over others. This set of privileged basic rights is not something that can be delivered from on high; it's something that the free society must work out together over time. However, to do so we need to be able to argue and reason about the relative merits of these rights, and it appears we cannot do so without appeal to what makes life good, meaningful, etc. And this is as much as to concede that the state cannot be neutral on the good life. To take a stand in favor of basic rights is to take a stand on the good life; and in a free society that's exactly what we want and need our government to do: take a stand in favor of basic rights.

(2) Our sense of the rightness or goodness of our nation's laws seems to depend in part on regard for certain virtues and repugnance to certain vices. Thus, we tend to think repentant criminals should be treated more leniently than unrepentant ones, and that criminals who committed the crime in a way suggesting malice should be more severely punished than criminals who committed much the same crime but without the malice. It would appear, then, that law cannot be blind to personal character, even if it turns out that character (as it seems it does) that personal character is only one of many, many things that must be considered in the making and applying of laws.

I think both of these arguments are quite right; they might need development in places, but they seem to me to be on the right track. The state cannot ignore the problem of the good life; and it cannot be blind to personal character. The problem with legal moralism, I take it, is its failure to make an adequate distinction between means and ends. To regard our government as being invested with any sort of authority, we have to regard it as having some sort of moral right to exercise the authority, or, at least, we have to regard it as not being in irreparable violation of the moral conditions for that authority. This means that moral considerations are at the very heart of government life. And since the government of a free society does not exist independently of the people, the sort of moral considerations that are relevant to the existence of government are those that enable society to continue and that make it possible for people to act morally. To put it in other terms: there are real moral ends that government must subserve. These moral ends -- things like justice, domestic tranquillity, and more -- cannot be ignored; and when we ask why they can't be ignored, our primary response will always have to be that they are at least the rudiments of the good life. Where legal moralism goes astray is not making a distinction between these ends and purported means to them. One might try to argue that the government should be conservative about slavery in a slave-based society because that favors the national object of domestic tranquillity; that at least would be an argument (short-sighted, since there are even stronger arguments from domestic tranquillity in the other direction; but, at least, worth addressing and, if sincere, worth addressing civilly). But if someone tried to argue that the government should be conservative about slavery because a lot of people think slavery is OK, that would hardly be worth taking seriously. Similarly, even if you think it completely wrong-headed, based on inadequate grasp of facts or inadequate understanding of moral ends and what counts as a family, you can see how a sincere argument that gay marriage should be illegal because the preservation of the family is a moral end of society might be worth the trouble of a careful response. An argument that gay marriage should be illegal because a lot of people think homosexuality is wrong seems, on the other hand, to be missing the point of government completely. Even in a democratic society, perhaps especially in a democratic society, not every commonly held belief can be given the force of law, because that would not subserve the moral ends in view of which we regard governments as having the right, or at least permission, to act authoritatively. To put it in other terms: legal moralism just as quickly runs afoul of basic rights as government neutrality, and perhaps more obviously. To adapt the phrase made famous by Devlin, the rights of 'the man on the Clapham bus' have to be preserved -- whichever man he may be, and regardless the beliefs of the other men on the Clapham bus.

Legal moralism, then, considered as the view that there is no area of morality into which the state may not (under at least some circumstances) enter, still needs to be rejected; and one way to characterize this need to reject it is that it requires a state that concerns itself with morality in society but is itself wholly amoral. Once we concede the existence of basic rights -- even if we do not always agree on everything about them, and even if each society chooses different things to privilege as basic rights -- the state clearly is barred from certain areas of morality. If people have the right to speak freely in ways that don't directly endanger others, the government cannot enter the area of morality of speech (where the speech in question doesn't directly endanger others). If people have the basic right to have their homes preserved inviolate whenever warrants are not issued and reasonable procedures are not followed, the state cannot enter the area of morality in the home when the matter does not practically admit of warrants and reasonable procedures. There are areas of morality the state cannot enter; and in every free society there will be such areas, even if the precise boundaries of those areas shift a bit from society to society.

At the same time, however, government neutrality is impossible: not only does the government of a free society have to take some stand on the good life, its very authority for the people -- surely a key element of government in a free society -- depends crucially on its doing so. One of things that perhaps makes the principle plausible is our tendency to think of a 'conception of the good life' as a unified thing. But it never is, except at a very abstract level. Of course, today and tomorrow there are certain very general features that are necessary for the good life -- being unoppressed, not oppressing others, being relatively safe, doing something to make the lives of others better -- but the specific form that these features take will vary incredibly according to what I'm actually doing. Further, the values or ends exemplified by the good life are a very diverse multitude; I may have a great life if certain of these values or ends are considered, but this might require qualification in light of other values or ends. And since the good life with which the government is concerned is not its own, but that of the people, and, what is more, not that of any one person but of (at least ideally) all the people, it seems clear that the government's contribution to the good life will necessarily be piecemeal and that the government will not and cannot be the only contributing factor to any of these ends. When this is recognized, much of the implausibility of a government concerned with the good life disappears: it's a government that encourages the health, prosperity, and virtue of its citizens, but does so in a way that recognizes that it is not omnicompetent, that it cannot give the citizens the good life but only facilitate their having it, that it cannot even do that except in ways that don't infringe their rights (for the obvious reason that you can't facilitate the good life by eliminating key elements of it).

And that, perhaps, is not an unrecognizable ideal.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Government Neutrality and the Good Life I

I have been thinking for a while about what I want to write for the first edition of the Carnival of the Citizens. On the one hand, there are about a jillion topics one could write about, and on the other, they are all complicated, and writing about them in a spirit of reflection and deliberation requires navigating some of the complexity.

The Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association regularly publishes addresses given by the Presidents of its three divisions; and one of those in the most recent issue was Jeffrie G. Murphy's "Legal Moralism and Retribution Revisited." The address will also appear in the inaugural edition of the journal Criminal Law and Philosophy. So I thought I'd summarize part of the argument of the article, and use that as a springboard for my own thoughts about society and the common good.

The article tells the story of Murphy's intellectual journey on the subject of punishment, and starts in the mid-sixties with the then-dominant debates in philosophy of law: the debate over legal moralism, and the arguments over the degree to which accounts of punishment based on the notion of retribution were consistent with accounts of punishment based on consequentialism. I'll be setting the latter aside in order to focus on the former.

The debate over legal moralism had at its core the dispute between Lord Patrick Devlin and Herbert Hart over the role that coercion could play in society. In his lecture, "The Enforcement of Morals," later expanded into the 1965 book of the same name, Devlin criticized what is often called the harm principle, a key liberal idea going back to John Stuart Mill in On Liberty. The harm principle, roughly stated, is:

A society is not justified in coercing any of its members unless it does so to prevent clear harm (violation of rights) to others.

Devlin argued that, on the contrary, it was legitimate to use criminal law to enforce the norms and morals of society. A society is united by its values, Devlin argued, and those who violate some of these fundamental values -- e.g., through certain forms of private sexual conduct -- are undermining society in a way analogous to treason. The analogy to treason, Murphy notes, was one of the weak points of Devlin's argument; Hart famously replied that the claim that private acts of consensual sodomy undermine society was on par evidentially with the claim that homosexuality causes earthquakes. (For further on this debate, see the SEP article on The Limits of Law.)

However, Murphy wants to point out that Devlin's argument, if we express it more cautiously and carefully, does carry some force. When people argue, for instance, that this or that sexual freedom erodes the nuclear family, they may be incorrect, but it's not a silly idea; it merits a careful weighing of the evidence to see if it is, indeed, so. (It does identify what at least arguably is a harm to society; it's more amorphous than that found in the harm principle, but it's no more so than (say) some environmental harms than we have come to accept as meriting the sanction of law.) At the very least, the harm principle alone doesn't give us a clear reason why the law should never be concerned with such a thing.

One of the problems with Mill's harm principle, Murphy notes, is that it doesn't take the trouble to assess the social and individual importance of the particular kinds of liberty involved. Mill himself recognized that not all liberties are equal; but this does not register in the harm principle itself. How important is one form of liberty (say, sexual liberty) compared to another (say, freedom from unwarranted search and seizure)? If a liberty is relatively important, it's obvious that the state should show it is protecting rights; if it's not, one might well ask why it's so important to show that harm is involved. (Perhaps an example might make this clearer: A national park is established, and rules, with the force of coercion, are established in order to keep it intact. What harm, what violation of rights, are these rules preventing? It's not a very obvious, or very strong, or very direct harm, although I think we could agree that preserving a national park for future generations is a good thing. But because the liberties that are curtailed or limited are relatively unimportant, most people think it is worthwhile, given what you get out of it.).

How would one go about defending the harm principle against an attack like this? Mill's original defense of the principle was utilitarian. However, the problem with this is that it is very vulnerable to the type of argument Devlin runs, which is also in its own way utilitarian -- Devlin just identifies different sorts of consequences as the relevant ones. So philosophers have attempted to find a principle or set of principles that yields the harm principle (or something reasonably close to it) without falling victim to this problem. A very common approach is to try to tie the harm principle to some principle of government neutrality; the idea behind this being that the government, out of respect for its citizens, should not take a stand on the nature of the good life, or, at least, not enforce a particular view of the good life. It should remain neutral.

Murphy argues, however, that a Devlin-inspired argument can show that this line of argument appears to be inconsistent with two other values that are commonly held by liberals: what he calls fundamental rights constitutionalism and character retributivism in criminal sentencing.

One of the features that we all tend to associate with a liberal society are bedrock rights that are woven into the constitutional framework of the government. Now, there are a lot of different possible rights. However, we always privilege some possible rights over others (e.g., by actually writing them into law or a charter of rights and freedoms). And the reasoning we tend to use in privileging some possible rights over others is that these privileged rights serve to promote some basic human good, helping people to live lives that are meaningful and worthwhile. Murphy gives the example of Justice Kennedy's argument for sexual liberty in the Lawrence v. Texas decision. The natural way to understand the argument is to see it as an argument that intimate sexual relations are a possible part of the core of a meaningful human life, one graced with respect and autonomy. This contrasts with, say, the right to have jet skis; which is a liberty we tend to think derivative and recreational rather than fundamental. If this line of reasoning is to be accepted -- and it is difficult to imagine how we could go without the distinction between fundamental and derivative rights, however fuzzy it may sometimes be -- this is an argument against any principle of government neutrality.

A further problem arises with the problem of the role of character in sentencing. We often want to reduce the sentences of criminals who show genuine remorse and repentance; or, at the very least, we want to be able to take them into account when determining such matters. It's clear, however, that this introduces a matter of purely personal virtue and vice into law. The remorse and repentance of the criminal generally doesn't contribute much to society at large; it's a good, but it's not what we would usually call a public good. But once we let the door open for considerations of personal virtue and vice, it's difficult to find a principled way to stop. If nothing else, the person who wishes the law to take into account things like malice, repentance, lack of remorse, or anything like it, can't treat "Criminal law should not consider matters of personal virtue and vice" as a general principle, because such a person has conceded that some matters of personal virtue and vice should be considered in criminal law. What is more, they have conceded that people sometimes should be punished in cases where there is no victim and no rights violated -- for a purely victimless point of morality -- because they have admitted that an unrepentant criminal may be treated more harshly merely because of his lack of repentance than a repentant criminal. And if that's the case, both the principle of state neutrality and the harm principle seem to be out.

That's the part of Murphy's argument I wanted to summarize; I'll continue in another post with my own rough thoughts.

Links and Memoranda

Stephen Grabhill has a short but good article on Natural Law and the Protestant Moral Tradition. I especially recommend it because it mentions Reformed scholasticism, which people, Reformed and otherwise, have a surprising tendency to forget completely about. (Ht: CADRE)

Don't forget to submit something to the Carnival of Citizens. You should see something from me for this carnival in a day or two. The deadline for the general carnival is November 23.

Don't forget that the nominations are still open for the Cliopatria Awards. If you've come across any good history-related writing in the blogosphere over the past year, be sure to note it in the relevant category.

The 2006 Weblog Award nominations are open as well.

The I

There is a very interesting New Yorker article on Descartes by Anthony Gottlieb. I found this pasage especially interesting:

But is Grayling’s spy theory any more fanciful than the late Pope’s account? In "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" (1994), John Paul II says that, for Descartes, "only that which corresponds to human thought makes sense. The objective truth of this thought is not as important as the fact that something exists in human consciousness." Later, in "Memory and Identity," published in 2005, John Paul II argues further that the philosophical revolution brought about by Descartes downgraded God and put the mind of man in his place: "according to the logic of cogito, ergo sum, God was reduced to an element within human consciousness."In other words, Descartes inaugurated a shift to a view of the world in which the "I" is the foundation of everything, and a selfish monstrosity rules.

Given that Descartes did not mince his words when attacking his critics—the writings of one French mathematician were "impertinent, ridiculous and despicable"; the rector of the University of Utrecht was "stupid," "malicious," and "incompetent"; the work of Pierre Fermat, the greatest mathematician of his time, was "shit"—one wonders what he would have said about John Paul II. For Descartes repeatedly makes it clear that his own existence (and, indeed, that of the whole world) depends on God, not the other way around. Those who suspect Descartes of rampant subjectivism have confused the style of his reasoning with its substance. Descartes cast his philosophical inquiries in an autobiographical style. He looked within himself. But there was nothing subjective about what he found.

Which is right about Descartes. I think Gottlieb is not quite catching JPII's perspective, though. Karol Wojtyla was a phenomenologist, and read Descartes in that light; more specifically, he read him in light of the major philosophical problem to exercise the great phenomenologists who gathered around Husserl: objectivity and realism. Read phenomenologically -- which is easy to do -- Descartes does look like Wojtyla claimed. There are good reasons not to read him this way, of course; but it's hardly fanciful, and certainly not as fanciful as Grayling's spy theory.

Disgust as a Moral Emotion II

Ophelia Benson responded in the comments to my recent post on disgust as a moral emotion. One of my responses to her comments got a bit too long. I recommend you read the comment to which I am responding. To sum it up briefly, we are discussing what role, if any, disgust can have as an initiator; and Benson suggested that it could do so as a source of hypotheses. My comment follows:


I do agree that it can be a source of hypotheses. The problem with this view taken as complete, however, is that it seems to eliminate entirely any serious moral role for disgust. As you note, hypotheses can come from anywhere. But if disgust is nothing but a source of hypotheses, not different from any other source, then there is no moral role to disgust at all; it is abstracted too much from any moral action. It has no more a serious moral role than any other source of hypotheses (e.g., random guessing).

A parallel might help. I see arguments like yours quite a bit from the anti-feminist crowd with regard to anger and indignation as moral emotions. The click of anger and indignation at mistreatment (of oneself or others) is allowed a place as an idea-generator, divorced from the action itself by the medium of general rules -- by creation of hypotheses, more or less, although I don't know of anyone who has put it quite that way -- and this is supposed to contrast with the more visceral place it has occasionally had in feminist consciousness-raising. The problem there, as here, is that it is simply a moral form of Cartesian dualism. A sharper division is made between passions and actions than can be seriously entertained. In fact, any passion is itself a reason for action; the only question is whether it is adequate for it given every other consideration that has to be in play. Reasons for action, after all, are defeasible; to that extent you're quite right that we shouldn't trust disgust alone, because we need to look out for defeating reasons for action. But that allows disgust to have a rather robust role as an initiator, just as anger and indignation can have a rather robust role as an initiator.

When feminists try to show you just how infuriating some aspect of society is, they aren't saying, "We have a hypothesis that this is a bad thing that should be tested." They are saying that, if we aren't ignoring some hidden factor that needs to be brought to the fore, the fury induced is itself consciousness of something wrong. When, for instance, you try to convince people that a particular option is disgusting by describing it a certain way, you aren't saying, "Hey, look here, I have a hypothesis, test it out and get back to me"; rather, the message you are conveying is, "Look, this is the sort of thing that should be shunned or avoided, and I think you can see that directly if you look at it in this light." And this, I think, is often the right sort of message to convey. Of course, it's quite reasonable to bring further reasons, and sometimes it would be unreasonable not to do so; but once you've conveyed that it strikes (at least some) people as disgusting, you've, by the very act of doing so, conveyed a reason for avoiding it, if possible. The qualifications ('if possible'), of course, are necessary; but they presuppose that passions like disgust are reason-giving.

I think the way to handle deviant disgust, as with the inter-racial marriage case, is not to pretend that socio-moral disgust is not a reason to act, but to insist vehemently on all the many and strong countervailing reasons. In other words, when someone exhibits disgust at the idea of interracial marriage the best route is not to deny generally that disgust is a defeasible reason, but to insist on its defeasibility and actual defeat in this sort of case by pointing out opposing and defeating reasons. Some of these defeaters are found in disgust at other relevant things (e.g., at the treatment interracial married couples sometimes get); others in other emotional responses; yet others in reasoning about our moral consistency. To borrow terms from Hume, we handle faulty emotional responses by giving people a more 'general point of view' through the 'intercourse of sentiments'. The fault arises from not having a sufficiently well-rounded perspective on the situation, from focusing too narrowly on certain aspects relevant to their own interests, while ignoring others. So, for instance, bigots zoom in on their emotional response to one particular feature of the situation, overlooking other features, the standpoints of other people, which would serve to moderate, refine, redirect, or completely change their response (depending on what, exactly, they are ignoring).

We can look at it from the other side, too. Suppose one of the spouses in an interracial marriage is confronted with an 'anti-miscegenationist' mouthing off vilely and feels a sharp response of disgust, revulsion, and anger. My suggestion is that those things are themselves, and on their own, reasons to act -- the fact that it inspires these emotions is, and should be, capable of legitimately grounding action. The question is not whether the spouse has reason to act; he or she obviously does, and no further reasoning about that is required, except to the extent the person in question has reason to think his or her emotional responses faulty in general (e.g., a mental health problem). The question is whether there is any reason for self-restraint, and it is this that calls for deliberation and reason. Someone who rejects the anti-miscegenationist's views vehemently on disgust alone is not being unreasonable at all, unless it can be shown that they've been negligent, overlooking or refusing to see some good reason not to act so immediately on their disgust. It would seem rather absurd, already responding to the vileness of the anti-miscegenationist with disgust, anger, and the like, to say to oneself, "OK, these feelings suggest the hypothesis that these vile insinuations and insults are wrong and perhaps worthy of punishment; we can test this out and get a peer review, to make sure, and then proceed to deciding our proper course of action." Of course, we might do this in more leisurely moments when we are engaging in general moral self-maintenance and improvement. But that can't be all of it, because it doesn't do justice to practical reasoning, nor to the role disgust and other emotions are capable of playing as defeasible reasons for action.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What Does 'Randomly Lucky' Mean?

Your Luck Quotient: 71%

You have a high luck quotient.
More often than not, you've felt very lucky in your life.
You may be randomly lucky, but it's probably more than that.
Optimistic and open minded, you take advantage of all the luck that comes your way.

Three Pods of Pepper

On November 24, Sikhs around the world will be celebrating the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bhadur Sahib, the Ninth Guru, also called more poetically Dharam di chadaar, the Shield for Faith. There is an interesting story associated with the event. The Guru went to Delhi, having been approached by some Hindus, asking him to help intercede with the Emperor Aurangzeb, a Muslim, who was attempting to convert them by force. In the course of his journey, he was arrested and brought before the Emperor Aurangzeb, who was Muslim. The Emperor told the Guru of a vision he had had, in which God had said to him that he should convert all the world to Islam; and he laid out his policy for doing so, whereby those who converted would receive land, money, and preferment.

"So you see," the Emperor said, "you would do well to convert. Your reputation for goodness is already known far and wide; with my backing you could gather many disciples and become a great teacher of Islam. Become Muslim, and receive your heart's desire."

The Guru reflected on this, and then asked the Emperor for a hundred pounds of black pepper. When it was brought he set it on fire, and let it burn for a whole day until it seemed to be nothing but ash. Then he had people sift the ashes. Out of all the pepper that had been burned, three little pods of pepper remained.

Then the Guru said to the Emperor, "O Emperor, you who are mighty among men, you wish to make one religion out of two religions." He spoke, of course, of Islam and Hinduism. "But God, O Emperor, wishes to make three religions out of two. For just as three pepper pods were saved out of that fire, so shall three great religions exist in India, Muslim and Hindu and Sikh."

At this, the Guru was imprisoned and given three choices: to embrace Islam, to perform a miracle to show his worthiness as a Guru, or to prepare for death. And he replied, "A miracle is not within the will of God. For me there is only one religion, that of God; and whoever belongs to it, be he Muslim or Hindu or Sikh, has his place not with the temporal and changing but with the eternal and undying. As for those who attempt to convert others by force, they are charlatans. I do not fear physical death. The Emperor may do as he pleases. "

And so the Emperor did; the Guru was tortured and beheaded. He was succeeded as Guru by his son, Gobind Singh.

Disgust as a Moral Emotion

For someone who is on record as saying that disgust is worthless as a moral compass, Ophelia Benson seems to be a bit addicted to appealing to it in morally tinged arguments. In recent posts at the Butterflies and Wheels Notes and Comments blog she has managed to call some of Swinburne's arguments 'disgusting', 'truly revolting', asking, "Why doesn't everybody for miles around just tell him 'That's disgusting' until he's so embarrassed he stops saying it?" In an earlier earlier post she talks about disgust at a mixture of abuse and sycophancy, in a yet earlier post she talks about how preaching against condom-abuse is disgusting, in an even earlier post she calls a comment by Karen Armstrong disgusting, and so it goes on back through the archives; and in every single case these comments can easily be shown to be doing moral work.

I don't bring it up in order to pick on Ophelia Benson. The moves she is making are certainly not out of the ordinary, and she would certainly be a less interesting to read if she took more trouble to be consistent. Rather, I think the quandary into which Benson has backed herself -- being officially against treating disgust as morally informative while being practically unable to stop treating it as such -- is just what the official position gets you. The official position arises from thinking that the real question with regard to disgust is "Does disgust have any role to play in moral reasoning?" when it actually is "What role does it play?" The inconsistency is not so much a flaw as the reassertion of good sense against the absurdity of the official view.

I would suggest that there are several false assumptions that tend to get in the way of clear thought about this subject.

(1) There is only one kind of disgust. This assumption, that all disgust can be treated as if there were simply one kind, seems to be very common; but it also seems to be very dubious. I grab an apple and am about to bite into it, when I suddenly notice it is crawling with worms; a nausea-laced revulsion results. I pick up a book and read a graphic scene in which a pedophile rapes a child, which also creates an intense, visceral revulsion. And note that there's nothing about the latter that's necessarily more 'abstract' or less visceral. But it's not at all clear that the two should be treated as simply one kind of disgust. In other words, how we should think about disgust appears to vary depending on what we are disgusted at. There's a sort of object-dependence to its significance. If it's a disgust due to revulsion at something put in our mouths, or almost put in our mouths, that's very different from disgust at the thought of a person being violated.

(2) Disgust is a reaction to animality. This has become popular among people who follow Paul Rozin's research on disgust; it plays a major role, for instance, in Nussbaum's attack on disgust as a moral emotion. Now, I happen to like a lot of what Rozin does in this regard, and would never say that the research itself is problematic. But Rozin seems sometimes to be rather sloppy when expressing some of his results, and saying things like, "Anything that reminds us we are animals elicits disgust" is as sloppy as you can get. Taken strictly it is obviously false; I just reminded you that we are animals by mentioning the subject, and I doubt you had a disgust reaction simply in virtue of that. And Rozin himself is quite aware that a lot of our disgust reaction is culturally conditioned. Sexual play, foreplay, and the like, for instance, reminds people of their animality over a far greater range of behavior than it elicits disgust And when we try to cash out what features of animality elicits disgust, we really don't have a much more precise view than that they are the features of animality that are gross -- hardly a profound insight. The traits related to disgust are not traits that we most conspicuously share with other animals, if we set aside disgust itself as an indicator. There is, of course, the fact that physical objects of disgust tend to be contaminating in some way. But, again, watching someone eat a beating heart can't be contaminating in quite the same sense that eating one myself would be; and watching someone eat a beating heart isn't contaminating in the sense that the disgust that comes from association with a moral monster is; and in neither case is it clear (without simply begging the question) why we would feel disgust rather than, say, shame or humor at the association. To stretch that far, contamination has to take on figurative senses; what we have is a word useful for discussing all these different kinds of disgust, but very little more. We're missing some key factor here. [As a side issue, with regard to physical disgust why don't people do more research on fun disgust? Perhaps it's just due to being part of the Nickolodeon generation; but having fun with our sense of disgust is a big part of many cultures, although the precise details of it vary from place to place. A lot of the comments about disgust made by researchers make disgust sound so solemn and serious -- which it obviously can be -- but it's like treating fear as a purely negative flight response without considering the fact that people can enjoy being scared. People can enjoy dabbling in the disgusting on occasion. It's not all revulsion. And this is itself an interesting thing.]

Now, I do think that Rozin and others like him are on the right track, and are genuinely uncovering features of disgust; I just think we must guard against premature conclusions about what they've actually shown, such as we find in Nussbaum and elsewhere. It seems to be less that disgust is a reaction against the inhuman than that it itself creates a line between humanity and inhumanity that otherwise might not exist. We can feel sick and revolted at lots of things that aren't animal or contaminating in any strict sense of the term; and many things that are animal or contaminating in a strict sense of the term don't always elicit disgust. Rozin is certainly aware of this himself, since he thinks of disgust in terms of a sort of evolution -- there's a level of disgust devoted to keeping contaminated food out of the body; there's a level of disgust devoted to avoiding animal grossness and mortality, however that's to be understood; and there's a level of disgust devoted to putting out of one's mind things that are found culturally offensive. While Rozin isn't always as careful as he should be in discussing them, the levels simply cannot be conflated. One level is purely sanitary in nature; another Rozin goes so far as to say is the sign of civilization. And that seems along the right lines. Even this stage view of disgust may be attributing more unity to disgust than actually exists; the distinction between physical disgust and socio-moral disgust seems much sharper than this suggests, even though they clearly share some important commonalities (and thus are both kinds of disgust).

(3) If some kinds of disgust are morally wrong, disgust can't be relevant to (good) moral reasoning. This also seems to be a common assumption, at least judging from how people argue. How this is to be squared with the fact that almost everything else related to moral reasoning can take morally wrong form is always left unclear. For instance, some kinds of thought are morally wrong; but it doesn't follow from this that thoughts are not relevant to moral reasoning. It would take a rather elaborate argument to eliminate disgust as a potential source for good moral reasoning; one that is never made.

In any case, how would disgust play a role in good moral reasoning? My own rough view in this regard tends Humean. That is, we start with the inchoate reactions that are developed simply from growing up human, and this inchoate state is fine for a certain level of moral maturity; however, a great part of our moral education involves cultivating these reactions so that they tend to hit the moral mark in cases farther and farther removed from the original ones. In other words, we adapt the response to general rules. The general rules, note, are not doing all the work here; for one thing, if they were, there would be nothing to adapt. Rather, what they are doing is setting up dams that guide the course of the stream; even given the dams, it's the stream itself that does the work of going where it needs to be. And so it is with disgust. Reactions of moral disgust, at least, should be treated with respect as a reason to worry, even if nothing else. It may well be -- and it has turned out before -- that the reaction was unjustifiable, due to a failure to cultivate the sense of disgust properly. But failures to react with moral disgust are in some cases equally unjustifiable, and equally due to a failure to cultivate the sense of disgust properly. It's a bit much to ask that our emotions be infallible guides, particularly since we don't demand the same of the reasoning by which we shape them. But that's precisely what people demand in their attacks on the role of disgust in moral reasoning. To put it in terms that Benson uses in the essay linked to above, it is certainly true that "Ew, ick, gross" and "That's wrong" don't mean the same thing; but that's no good reason for saying that the the sense behind "Ew, ick, gross" has no role to play in the judgment behind saying, "That's wrong."