Thursday, February 02, 2006

Reasoning per Impossibile

Reasoning per impossibile is initially a puzzling phenomenon. The reason is logical: from a contradiction anything follows. So the question is, how do we make use of an impossibility in reasoning per impossibile? Clearly we don't allow such reasoning to include to anything. There must be something to stop the spread of implication.

I think the solution to the puzzle is this. When we reason per impossibile we posit some impossible thing. However, we never reason from the impossibility. The reason we posit the impossibility is that it's useful for abstracting from particular details. Suppose that God necessarily exists and that, necessarily, every other thing that exists is sustained in existence by God. It's still possible to say, "If, per impossibile, God did not exist, what would the features of such-and-such created thing be?" In other words, the purpose of such reasoning is not to use an impossibility but to abstract from a necessity.

In this sense we can see reasoning per impossibile as a form of idealization -- indeed, idealization taken to an extreme. We are not committing ourselves to the impossible idealization's being the way things are; rather, we are idealizing in order simply to clarify some particular point or other about the non-idealized (and therefore possible) case.

There is another possible, and perhaps more important,use of reasoning per impossibile, one which is more epistemic or doxic in nature. We can use reasoning per impossibile in order to help us get more clear about the implications of someone's position, if that position includes a claim we consider to be impossible. For instance, the above theist can reason per impossibile, not in an attempt to determine anything about the subject of reasoning, but to determine something about the perspective; what the world would look like if we falsely assumed something impossible. In some abstract logical sense, of course, when we assume something impossible we are committed to everything; but as a matter of fact we limit the spread of implication, and need to do so if we are to reason at all. To that extent we are paraconsistent reasoners and need a way of seeing how to be rational even when paraconsistent, as certain contemporary logicians have seen. Reasoning per impossibile is one way we can handle failure of consistency in a rational way.


And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest: Who shall offer it before the LORD, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female. And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.
[Leviticus 12:6-7]

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

[Luke 2:29-32]

It is called 'Candlemas' because of the blessing of the candles. Candlemas is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple and the Purification of Mary, and is the liturgical of the ending of the Christmas season -- from now until Advent, Easter dominates the calendar. There's a famous poem by Robert Herrick that conveys this sense of the holiday:

The Ceremonies for Candlemas Day

Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset let it burn ;
Which quench'd, then lay it up again
Till Christmas next return.
Part must be kept wherewith to teend
The Christmas log next year,
And where 'tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischief there.

The best known association with Candlemas in North America is Groundhog Day. Traditionally, the weather on Candlemas was held to provide clues about the future of winter:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, winter, have another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go, winter, and come not again.

This is the source of the popular tradition that if the groundhog sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of winter. The semi-official groundhog of the United States, Punxsatawney Phil, saw his shadow today. None of Canada's groundhog grand marshals (Manitoba Merv, Shubenecadie Sam, and Wiarton Willie) did. Of course, in both cases the people involved just make something up beforehand.

Eric Gill

Here are (roughly copied) samples of typefaces by Eric Gill (1882-1940):

Gill Sans

Gill Sans is a registered trademark of Monotype Imaging. Gill's famous work An Essay on Typography was set in Joanna. The book is more than a discussion of typography; it muses on the conflicts between industrialism and craftsmanship, and argues that the difference between a commercial article and a work of art is that the former is "simply physically serviceable and, per accidens, beautiful in its efficiency" whereas the latter is beautiful in its very substance and, per accidens, as serviceable as an article of commerce." Gill designed the grave monument for his fellow Distributist, G. K. Chesterton.

The Tate Gallery has a number of Gill's other works, in drawing, engraving, and sculpture.

End of an Era

Western Union no longer provides telegram services. (HT:

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hume on Women's Men

'Tis a general remark, that those we call good women's men, who have either signaliz'd themselves by their amorous exploits, or whose make of body promises any extraordinary vigour of that kind, are well receiv'd by the fair sex, and naturally engage the affections even of those, whose virtue prevents any design of ever giving employment to those talents. Here 'tis evident, that the ability of such a person to give enjoyment, is the real source of that love and esteem he meets with among the females; at the same time that the women, who love and esteem him, have no prospect of receiving that enjoyment themselves, and can only be affected by means of their sympathy with one, that has a commerce of love with him.


Commerce Clause

Two interesting articles by Randy Barnett on the original meaning of the commerce clause (HT: Positive Liberty):

The Original Meaning of the Commerce Clause

New Evidence of the Original Meaning of the Commerce Clause

History Carnival XXIV

The new History Carnival is up at The Elfin Ethicist. Wilson did a great job with this edition. Go and browse!

The Gallows and the Rack

When Hume builds his account of the passions, he makes extensive use of examples. Some of them are rather interesting little insights into the culture of the day, at least as it was seen by Hume. (The Treatise was first published in 1739.) An interesting instance:

Thus we find, that tho' every one, but especially women, are apt to contract a kindness for criminals who go to the scaffold, and readily imagine them to be uncommonly handsome and well-shap'd; yet one, who is present at the cruel execution of the rack, feels no such tender emotions; but is in a manner overcome with horror, and has no leisure to temper this uneasy sensation by any opposite sympathy.


Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Borrowing Properties

This is a sequel to the post on Senor's criticism (Word doc) of the compositional account of the Incarnation.

The key aim of a compositional account of the Incarnation is to give an account that allows the relevant sort of reduplication. Eleonore Stump attempts to provide this by using a notion borrowed from Lynne Rudder Baker, that of property-borrowing. Baker understands property-borrowing in the following way: if x borrows property H from y, x has H, really but by 'piggyback'. One of Baker's examples is bleeding: I, as a whole, borrow the property of bleeding from my cut hand. My hand is bleeding, but by 'piggyback', this is as much to say, "I am bleeding (by virtue of my cut hand)." And I am really bleeding, because property-borrowing is a real feature of the world.

Stump adapts this to the case of the Incarnation, arguing that just as a molecule that has a coiled part is properly allowed to be coiled (in part), so the Word can have (e.g.) a limited part and be said to be limited (at least with regard to its part). Stump sees this as an example of property borrowing. Senor objects to this, saying:

Yet on Baker’s account of borrowing, the whole neither borrows every property from every part nor borrows any property only in "some respect" or "to some degree." Properties that are borrowed are "really" had by the whole.

But this is an odd sort of objection to make, for Stump is not claiming that the property-borrower doesn't really have the borrowed property; rather, she is saying that it really has the property but not genuinely simpliciter. Nor is this obviously different from Baker. Contrary to what Senor implies, Baker does say something that suggests that the borrowed property is had in a qualified way; she says it has it "piggyback, so to speak." And it isn't clear why Senor doesn't think that Stump's 'having a property in some respect' or 'having a property to a degree' indicate ways of having properties piggyback. He certainly has not justified his claim that Stump "misuses" Baker's notion.

But Senor goes farther and argues that Baker's notion can't do the work Stump wants it to do:

For on Baker’s account of borrowing, if x were to borrow H from y, and at the same time x were to borrow ~H from z, then x would really be H and ~H. So if JC borrows omnipotence from his divine part and non-omnipotence from his human part, then JC would really be omnipotent and non-omnipotent, and, like the poor, the logical problems would always be with us.

But this is certainly hasty. For the logical problem only arises if x is really H and ~H in the same respect. But since by supposition x is borrowing the properties from different parts (y and z), x really is H, and really is ~H, but is not H and ~H in the same respect. Thus using Baker's notion in the case of the Incarnation, we could say that Jesus is omnipotent (a property piggybacking on his divine nature) and non-omnipotent (a property piggybacking on his human nature); or, in other words, Jesus would be omnipotent with regard to his divine nature and not omnipotent with regard to his human nature. There are two distinct borrowings or 'piggybackings' occurring here; and Senor has not shown that this is irrelevant to the logical question. To put it another way: Senor is only right if the possession of a property 'piggyback' is not significantly different from possessing a property in a non-piggyback way, which seems highly implausible. That Senor is making this mistake is suggested by what he goes on to say:

I get a gash on my leg and blood is pouring out. My leg is bleeding. I’m bleeding. I am bleeding because I have a part that is bleeding. As explained above, Baker’s account of "borrowing" has it that I have this property in an unqualified way. That is, it isn’t that since I am bleeding only because my leg is bleeding (and my leg is a part of me), I am only bleeding "in a respect." No, I am just plain bleeding.

As I noted above, Baker's account of borrowing does not have it that I have this property 'in an unqualified way', but that I have it piggyback, in virtue of my bleeding leg. I genuinely have it, because my leg is genuinely my leg; but 'bleeding' is not the sort of property that can attach to me simpliciter -- I can only bleed in virtue of one of my parts. There is, properly speaking, no such thing as 'just plain bleeding'; bleeding is always the bleeding of a part, genuinely attributable to me because it is my part.

Hume's Notion of Probability

It's common for people to be taught only Book 1 of Hume's Treatise. It's easy to see why this would be so, but it's somewhat unfortunate, because there are many things in Book 2 and Book 3 relevant to understanding Book 1 properly. The best brief summary of Hume's view of probability in the Treatise, for instance, is not from Book 1 at all but from 2.3.9 (paragraph 10), in a discussion of the direct passions:

Probability arises from an opposition of contrary chances or causes, by which the mind is not allow'd to fix on either side, but is incessantly tost from one to another, and at one moment is determin'd to consider an object as existent, and at another moment as the contrary. The imagination or understanding, call it which you please, fluctuates betwixt the opposite views; and tho' perhaps it may be oftner turn'd to the one side than the other, 'tis impossible for it, by reason fo the opposition of causes or chances, to rest on either. The pro and con of the question alternately prevail; and the mind, surveying he object in its opposite principles, finds such a contrariety as utterly destroys all certainty and establish'd opinion.

In probable inference, Hume thinks, the mind concludes (tentatively) to the side that has "a superior number of views or chances on one side" ( In other words, the imagination wavers; and accepts the side it finds itself on most when it is wavering.

Various Notes

Ralph Luker notes the passing of Coretta Scott King; Hugo Schwyzer notes the death of Wendy Wasserstein. God be with them both.

Schwyzer also points to the Feminist Sexual Ethics Project and reflects on it in A rambling musing on "five pillars" of a feminist theology of sex.

At "verbum ipsum" Lee has two posts on Nagel's The Last Word. It's a good book and an easy read, one I'd highly recommend. It's more of a thought-provoker, I think, than a rigorous argument, but there's nothing wrong with that.

"Against the Grain" has posted a vast set of commentaries and reactions to Benedict XVI's recent encyclical, from all across the web. As some have noted, the fact that Deus Est Caritas is on the subject of love doesn't mean (contrary to the assumptions of some reporters, and I imagine others) that it is uncontroversial. It should be seen as what it probably is: the Pope is laying down foundations for a fight.

Monday, January 30, 2006


The God or Not Carnival and the Philosopher's Carnival are both up at "The Uncredible Hallq."

I thought Kenny Pearce's Persons as Events, giving a "broadly Lockean" account of personal identity, was especially interesting. I'm not convinced it's quite accurate to say that Locke himself views persons as events; rather, I think he thinks of 'person' as a quasi-legal ('forensic', in his terms) attribution; one very similar to, but better thought out than, Hobbes's personation account of persons. But one can see how the event account suggested in the post might be seen as at least "broadly Lockean".

The Compositional Account of the Incarnation

I have been reading with some interest Tom Senor's paper on The Compositional Account of the Incarnation (Word). I disagree with it completely, but it's worth reading, in part because I think people are not always careful when proposing compositional accounts of the Incarnation. I would make the following points about it.

(1) The question is whether the compositional account can do just to Chalcedonian Christology. But no Chalcedonian is committed to the claim that Jesus's human mind and human body would have composed a (complete) human being if they weren't assumed. Moreover, the inference from mind and body are components of a human person to mind and body (completely) compose a human person is illegitimate, even in the case of an ordinary human being, unless we have an account of mind-body union adequate to bridge the gap between the two. This is relevant to Chalcedon particularly in that the Councils when talking about minds are regularly concerned not with substantive components but with abilities: God assumes humanity and therefore human abilities. In other words, in Chalcedonian Christology God does not assume a human person, or even a potential human person; he assumes humanity and so becomes a human person with genuine human abilities (and the genuine organs of those abilities). The compositional account can allow for this unless we are assuming a very particular sort of account of mind-body union (namely, that mind and body are united as two substances are united).

(2) Morris's criticism of reduplication doesn't even make sense. Suppose the following is true:

(a) S is P (qua N)
(b) S is not-P (qua N*)
(c) P is univocal in (a) and (b)

These are not an inconsistent triad, because to create a contradiction it is not enough for P to be univocal; the predication of P must be univocal. But predicating P of S is different in (a) than in (b) -- that's precisely the point of the reduplication, that P, however univocal it may be in meaning, is not univocal in its predication. The triad is not enough to conclude simpliciter that 'S is P and not-P'. There are no logical problems with reduplication. The one and only problem is whether we can give an account of the Incarnation that allows us to reduplicate in this way. (The part of Senor's paper that argues that the compositional account fails to do this is the most interesting and important part of the paper; but I won't be looking at it in this post.)

(3) Contrary to what Senor seems to think, it is not any part of traditional theology to say that the divine persons are simple -- except insofar as the divine nature is simple. Therefore it does not contradict the doctrine of simplicity, as traditionally understood, if the Son is not simple in the Incarnation. (We know for a fact, in any case, that the Son is composite in the Incarnation because he has at least some parts, e.g., hands and feet.) Nor is it a problem for the Son to be material in the Incarnation. The only way materiality and composition would be a problem is if we said that God was material and complex in virtue of the divine nature. But, as Senor admits, the composition account doesn't imply this.

(4) Senor says:

So then we must ask, in virtue of what do the human body and mind come to be parts of GS, as opposed to mere instruments or some other kind of entities related externally and instrumentally to GS? If we think of an analogy with a non-divine person, I think we’ll see that there is no way for this compositional relationship to be established.

I think this is fairly clearly false; first, because an analogy is not an adequate argument for this sort of conclusion unless you show that the impossibility of the compositional relationship in the non-divine case is not due to an intrinsically non-divine feature. But more importantly, the claim is likely to turn out false in at least some cases with non-divine persons. Geordi LaForge's visor may be related externally and instrumentally to him, but his prosthetic eyes are not. It's not the fact of the prosthetic but the quality of its integration that is important; and the reason why people don't regard most of their prosthetics as parts of them is that their prosthetics are usually not well-integrated with them so as to be considered their own part (i.e., it's not possible for the part to be considered themselves in extension).

So I don't think Senor has given a very serious set of arguments against compositional accounts in general, although he has noted points that need to be considered in the formulation of such an account. In what I've said so far I haven't looked at his argument that the compositional account fails to yield reduplication in the proper way; this, I think, is the only part of the paper that really has a chance of working against compositional accounts. But I'll leave it for another post someday.

Northwest Passage

I am fascinated by Canada's many (and I do mean many) territorial disputes. The most significant of these are the Arctic waters. Canada claims them all as internal waters; it is the only nation in the world that considers Canada to have a claim to them at all -- everyone else, including the United States, considers them international waters. The United States has on multiple occasions, with great deliberateness and noise, sent its ships through the waters without asking permission. Canada, while continually insisting that it owns the waters, has tended to turn a blind eye to this, precisely because it has had neither the resources nor the clout to face the U.S. down on this point. However, Stephen Harper, the new Prime Minister of Canada, has made a special point of saying that he will build up Canadian presence in the waters in order to protect Canada's claim to them.

The Arctic waters will become more and more significant due to melting ice. As the Arctic ice has melted, the waters have become more navigable; if it continues to do so, the Northwest Passage will finally open up as a feasible route for shipping (currently the passage is only navigable briefly during the summer). Canada has an interest in making sure that it will be a Canadian passage; everyone else has an interest in making sure that it will be an international passage. It will be interesting to see whether the dispute ever reaches the level of a direct confrontation. At present Canada doesn't have the means to press the issue much; but Canadians, docile and complacent as they may often seem, can become rather bold and fierce when roused.

Campbell on Self-Consciousness and the Substantival Self

Self-consciousness, it must be insisted, is a fact, a datum from which we have to start. And in self-consciousness the subject of which we are conscious is a subject which in some sense has, not is, its different experiences, and is identical with itself in its different experiences. Even if it were possible for self-consciousness to be illusory, its mere occurrence is enough to refute those who take the view that the notion of a substantival self is as 'meaningless' as the notion of an unknowable substratum of material things. It is idle to deny that the former of these notions has any meaning for us if that is in fact what the self is for itself in self-conscious experience.

[from C. A. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood]

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Style of My Own

You're sporty, yet practical, and you have a style of your own. You like to have fun, and you like to bring friends along for the ride, but when it comes time for everyday chores, you're willing to do your part.

Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

At least it's something that gets great reviews.

A Poem Draft

Night Scene

Soft as silver a silent river
like a sliver upon the land
winds and wanders; pauses, ponders;
then wends again like weathering wind.

Links and Notes

Jimmy Akin has an interesting discussion of how a Catholic would tend to view the Calvinist doctrine of Ordo Salutis. For the Calvinist doctrine of Ordo Salutis from the Calvinist perspective, see here. [UPDATE: For another, see Rebecca Stark's The Ordered Lists of Salvation at "Theologica."

The election map (PDF)for Canada's recent election (HT: The Crusty Curmudgeon). Because Canada has so much open space, it's a bit misleading. Instead of focusing on the map itself, focus on the bars beside each province, which represent the ridings that elected members of Parliament.

Continuing its lists of essentials for theologians, "Faith and Theology" has essential plays for theologians. It's a great list, and some of the choices are exactly right (Murder in the Cathedral, Antigone, Dr. Faustus, Faust, Samson Agonistes, and Waiting for Godot are all undeniably top candidates for a list like this), but I note with considerable dismay that there's no Euripides on it! (Apparently he lost the coin toss to Aristophanes.) I'd recommend The Bacchae, which has a richly theological subject. Everyman would have also been a good choice; but I'm very glad that mystery plays weren't left out -- the York Mystery Cycle is wonderful. I would have chosen Saint Joan rather than Man and Superman; but it's a hard choice. I would also have chosen Dorothy Sayers's series of radio plays, The Man Born to Be King.

Lewis Gould argues that we should abandon State of the Union addresses (HT: Cliopatria). I agree with his argument, but think that the proper conclusion would be to return the State of the Union address to its roots.

Descartes Walks into a Bar....

Descartes walks into a bar, and tells the bartender, "I'm excited about the live entertainment tonight!" The bartender says, "Yeah, the trick pony is pretty cool." "The trick pony! I thought it was Karaoke Night! I was looking forward to it so much." "Well," says the bartender, "we can do that, too." So they got out their schedule and put Descartes before the horse.

Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Are you having a beer?" Descartes says, "I think not," and ceases to exist.

Descartes walks into a bar, then goes out the back, circles around, and comes back in. He does this several more times, and finally the bartender says, "You're going in circles!" And Descartes says, "Thank God!"

Descartes walks into a bar. Then he says, "Ouch!" You would, too, if you walked into a bar.