Saturday, July 22, 2006

Mary Magdalene, Equal to the Apostles

I haven't had much chance to post anything about it today, but I did want to note that today, the 22nd is the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, Equal to the Apostles on the Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican calendars. 'Equal to the Apostles' is a liturgical title, used primarily by the Orthodox and by Eastern Rite Catholics, translating 'isapostolos'. It designates not a rank -- while there may be saints of more or less universality, there's no point in ranking them because they are all one in Christ -- but a calling. It is given to those who were called to spread the Gospel 'just like' the apostles were. Saints Cyril and Methodius, who missionized Russia, had an isapostolic calling; Saint Benedict, the 'Apostle to Germany', had an isapostolic calling; Saints Olga and Vladimir, responsible for the conversion of Russia, had isapostolic callings; and so forth. For what is Mary given the title? For the most important thing, because she was the first to see the dawn of the new age. As Hippolytus said, she was the apostle to the apostles:

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Because the gospels say that Jesus cast seven devils out of her, Mary of Magdala has become one of history's great symbols of repentance and transformation. So it seems fitting to remember the tears of the Magdalene by repentance of wrongs we have done, and forgiveness of wrongs done to us.

Arts and Crafts

Some links on The Arts and Crafts Movement.

See also William Morris's work Hopes and Fears for Art, in which he discusses the 'lesser arts', that is, the decorative arts. Morris makes a very interesting argument that the decorative arts, despite being 'lesser', are central to civilization, and that when they get separated from the 'greater arts',

it is ill for the Arts altogether: the lesser ones become trivial, mechanical, unintelligent, incapable of resisting the changes pressed upon them by fashion or dishonesty; while the greater, however they may be practised for a while by men of great minds and wonder-working hands, unhelped by the lesser, unhelped by each other, are sure to lose their dignity of popular arts, and become nothing but dull adjuncts to unmeaning pomp, or ingenious toys for a few rich and idle men.

As Morris points out, the whole point of decoration is to give people pleasure in the things they use and make, and the importance of this for life at large can hardly be overestimated. One of the effects is that our attitude toward decoration tends to have a major influence on our attitude toward labor in general (because decoration contributes a great deal to the beauty of labor), so much so that Morris suggests that a healthy attitude toward the decorative sciences is one of the great aids of progress. Thus we need a healthy philosophy of the decorative arts, for the sake of progress and our own humanity; without one (and Morris didn't think we had one, and certainly wouldn't think we have one now) we get "Unhappiness and Brutality." That's perhaps a bit exaggerated, but it's less exaggerated than it looks. In any case, the book is well worth reading; I recommend it highly. It's a much-neglected classic of aesthetics. One of the many memorable lines:

I do not want art for a few, any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.

Which, in a single sentence, encapsulates an argument of its own for the importance of the 'lesser arts'. Another:

Believe me, if we want art to begin at home, as it must, we must clear our houses of troublesome superfluities that are for ever in our way: conventional comforts that are no real comforts, and do but make work for servants and doctors: if you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it:


That's a much sterner asceticism than it sounds, but there's no doubt we would all be benefitted by it.

More links. Charles Robert Ashbee, an overview at "The Victorian Web" (some great pictures).

Fairy Tale Illustrations of Walter Crane.

John Ruskin's The Two Paths, subtitled "Lectures on Art, and Its Application to Decoration and Manufacture Delivered in 1858-1859." Ruskin argues that "all noble design" derives from the sculpting or painting of organic form. He also makes more controversial arguments, like his argument that the fine arts lead to the deterioration of society and that fashion is bad for morals; this is an argument like Morris's, but more controversially stated.

I had previously mentioned a thing or two about Eric Gill.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Philosophy and Critique

Chris at "Mixing Memory" has a post on a recent article by Graham Priest in Philosophy on the question, "What is Philosophy?" I haven't read the article, but Chris's summary makes it sound rather unimpressive (but it does sound like something a contemporary analytic philosopher would say). Chris asks,

Is "philosophy is critique" insightful or profound in some way that I'm not seeing? Is it anything more than such a vague and abstract definition that you can't possibly say it's wrong, even when it looks like people aren't doing any critiquing but are still doing what looks like philosophy (Priest notes that philosophy has its constructive side, too, but it's built on the critical side -- to paraphrase Nietzche, to create, one must also destory)?

Without seeing the article, I'd have to say it sounds fishy to me. 'Critique' is just a fancy way of saying 'thinking critically', and that just comes down to evaluating things using good judgment, so saying that philosophy is critique is like saying that philosophy is thinking really hard about stuff in a good way. There may be something to that, but at best it's a little too vague to be of much help.

Of course, there are more substantive notions of critique (the Marxist notion comes to mind as an example), so it's always possible that he has one of these in mind. That would certainly be interesting. But then it would need a serious defense, since the more substantive the notion of critique, the more doubtful (at first glance) the statement "Critique is what philosophy is."

The most plausible way of making 'philosophy is critique' work, at least that I can think of, is to connect it with something along the lines of Aristotle's notion of aporia (e.g., we come upon things that don't (yet) make sense on what we know thus far about the world -- aporia, or doubts -- and we wonder about them, and philosophy starts with wondering) or Socratic ignorance. That would at least give you something concrete to start out with, and to be profound about philosophy in general you'd need to start out concrete.

i sometimes get very annoyed at the things people in philosophy say about philosophy for this very reason. I do history of philosophy, or I consider myself to be doing what I call history of philosophy, and that's very metaphilosophical in nature. As I've noted before, a great deal of what you do in history of philosophy is handle 'the problem of the philosophical problem', so it's metaphilosophical in that sense. But it's also metaphilosophical in another sense, in that you can't really say anything about philosophy without grounding it in the history of philosophy. The history of philosophy is your data, your connection to the real thing you're supposed to be talking about. That's why Aristotle, for instance, is able to say such such amazingly profound things about philosophy: more than most philosophers he takes the history of philosophy up to his time seriously, and he uses this to immense advantage (perhaps to greater advantage than anyone has since).

But without history of philosophy there is a great temptation to try to answer the question, "What is philosophy?" without any regard for how people have actually done philosophy across time, across cultures, across language barriers. I once knew someone, fairly famous, who told his intro classes that the universal method of philosophy was 'skepticism'. Such a view cannot possibly withstand serious examination; but now there are hundreds of students, over many years, who have been told it. That annoys me to no end. But this sort of thing is very common.

Notes and Links

* Jospeh Bottum discusses A. J. Cronin at First Things. I haven't read The Keys of the Kingdom, but Judas Tree was probably good (i.e., if I'm not confusing it with something else), and The Citadel was definitely good, and I loved Adventures in Two Worlds.

* Michael Pahl at "the stuff of earth" has a series on the historicity of Jesus: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V. I like Pahl's approach, although in a sense it is a moot: to argue seriously, without detriment to our ability to do history in the first place, that Jesus did not exist, you have to argue that none of the witnesses to his existence -- the non-Christian witnesses Pahl discusses in Part II, the New Testament witnesses discussed in Part III, the existence of the Church prior to the writing of the New Testament, the witness of the apostolic Fathers -- can be relied upon on this point. This is not proof in the sense Pahl discusses in Part IV, but any historian can point to excellent historical existence claims put forward on much less evidence. If we have any knowledge of who existed two thousand years ago, Jesus is a good candidate; if he's not a good candidate, most of the people we think existed then are not good candidates. While it's not obvious, Part V makes a controversial theological claim that needs more defense than Pahl gives, namely, that things would not be much different historically if we had only the (false) belief that Jesus existed -- since for this to be true it has to be false that the Church has a special connection to the Living Christ. But his other two points about the theological implications of the historicity of Jesus are well worth reading and thinking about.

* If you liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer and/or Angel, and you aren't watching the second season of Cherub the Vampire with Bunny Slippers, you're missing out.

* In discussing the current situation between Israel and Lebanon, The Elfin Ethicist makes an important point that's exactly right:

But a just war is not about killing guilty people. It's about protecting innocent people. So even if going to war is otherwise justifiable, it may not be wise in the long run. That distinction is lost on our hawks and adventurists, who may appeal to just war criteria but who seem to have little respect for unintended consequences.

* Clayton Littlejohn presents some mereological puzzles for your enjoyment. My answers: (1) Head to the DMA for the statue and sue the dumpster diver for copyright infringement. (2) The thief has the original parts, but he's just copied the statue in such a way that the copy has the original parts. The original has been adulterated to the point that it is a reconstruction. It's as if someone restoring a painting were to replace all the paint; the result is not the original+touch-up but simply a forgery. (3) If I implied at any point in the negotiation that Junkbarge was unique, he should sue me for fraud; but he has the statue. I just have a twinned statue. And this is true, I think, in all these cases. The statue is what was originally placed in the DMA. Replacements The other statue, however, is definitely a twinning: it is, as it were, split off of the original. But this has perhaps as much to do with our notion of 'artifact' (or 'artwork') as with mereology itself.

It reminds me of a mereology joke. An Illinois farmer happened to mention to a city slicker that he had an axe that had been used by Abraham Lincoln. The city slicker was eager to see it, so they went out to look at it.

"Why, it's in excellent condition!" the city slicker said.

"It ought to be," the farmer replied. "The head has been replaced twice and the handle three times."

* An algorithm for multiplying roman numerals. (HT, GMBM)


* Ralph Luker notes that the current edition of Essays in Philosophy looks at philosophy of history.

* Benjamin Cohen answers the question, "If you could have practiced science in any time and any place throughout history, which would it be, and why?" with the answer mid-eighteenth century France, because of the optimism. It's a good answer. But, of course, we have to keep in mind the Other Side. Lavoisier, for instance, had his head chopped off in the French Revolution, and Rousseau was both paranoid and extremely pessimistic about the whole trend of the times. But it's a good answer.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Aquinas and Design

John Wilkins has a nice post on design at "Evolving Thoughts." One thing I disagree with quite a bit, though, is the attribution of a design argument to Aquinas. Wilkins points to the Fifth Way (ST 1.2.3), quoting a common translation:

...things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end.

The problem is that the Fifth Way is not actually a design argument. The phrase translated by 'designedly' here is actually ex intentione; but ex intentione does not signify design but orientation. The Fifth Way is actually an argument not from design but from the fact that there's any causation at all. On Aquinas's scholastic adaptation of Aristotle, the end or final cause is what selects the effect for the efficient cause -- in other words, it is what answers the question, "Why does this cause produce this effect rather than some other effect?" The disposition of the cause to the end is its intentio. The word is associated in the medieval imagination with archery: the aim of the arrow is its intentio. So the argument of the Fifth Way is roughly that because nonintelligent things act regularly in order to achieve an end, they must achieve their end not a casu, by chance, but ex intentione, by being disposed to it. But things not capable of determining their own ends have to be, in the end, disposed to them by things capable of determining ends, namely, intelligences. So what is supposed to be at stake in this argument is not design but any sort of causation that is not due to deliberate self-determination; what's being examined is the very possibility of bodies having effects at all. This is perfectly general; final causes are for Aquinas the explanation for the fact that efficient causation occurs at all.

Aquinas does make design arguments, but he makes them in the way they usually were made before the early modern period, i.e., as arguments not about God's existence but about God's activity: given that God exists, why would we think that God interacts providentially with the world? (Compare Leibniz's argument in the Discourse on Metaphysics that, given that we know that God exists, it's not reasonable to ignore Him as a possible explanation for certain types of order in the world.) A more plausible locus classicus for design arguments as we usually think of them is the discussion of contrivance in Paley or, slightly earlier, Boyle's essay on final causes, Newton's Optics, or Hume's Dialogues on Natural Religion. But this disagreement aside, it's a post worth reading.

Brown and Shepherd on the Five Propositions of Hume's Causal Theory

In his important work, Observations on the Nature and Tendency of the Doctrine of Mr Hume, one of the earliest significant works of Hume scholarship, Thomas Brown distills Hume's causal theory into five basic propositions, which he goes on to evaluate. (Brown is important because he is one of the first people to look seriously at Hume's causal theory who doesn't interpret Hume as denying that we have an idea of cause and effect. As Brown points out, Hume's whole argument only makes sense on the assumption that he thinks we do have such an idea -- necessary connection -- and that the tricky thing is to determine which impression provides it.) The five propositions are:

(1) The relation of cause and effect cannot be discovered a priori.
(2) Even after experience, the relation of cause and effect cannot be discovered by reason.
(3) The relation of cause and effect is an object of belief alone.
(4) The relation of cause and effect is believed to exist between objects, only after their customary conjunction is known to us.
(5) When two objects have been frequently observed in succession, the mind passes readily from the idea of one to the idea of the other: from this tendency to transition, and from the greater vividness of the idea thus more readily suggested, there arises a belief of the relation of cause and effect between them; the transition in the mind itself being the impression from which the idea of the necessary connection of the objects, as cause and effect, is derived.

Brown's view is that (1), (2), and (3) stand or fall together; he also thinks Hume is right on all three counts. (4) and (5) he regards as related to each other, but independent from the first three. He also regards them as clearly wrong. His basic argument against (4) is that we can believe things to be causally connected even in the absence of customary conjunction (e.g., in inferences about single experiments). Hume, of course, has ways to handle some of these, but Brown argues against them. Thus Brown substitutes Hume's basic explanatory principle, 'custom', with his own, 'instinct' or 'instinctive belief'.

The fourth chapter of Lady Mary Shepherd's An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect is explicitly devoted to Brown's Observations. Shepherd accepts Brown's criticisms against Hume on (4) and (5), but, of course, sharply criticizes Brown for accepting (1), (2), and (3), and devotes some space to showing that Brown's instinct doesn't fare much better than Hume's custom as an explanation of causal reasoning. She notes that both Hume and Brown are guilty of an ambiguity with regard to the first two propositions: they don't properly distinguish questions about the general form of reasoning from questions about particular instances of it. For instance, Shepherd admits that we can't know a priori the particular qualities that will arise under particular circumstances; but she points out that this is neither surprising nor particularly interesting. What we want to know is the answer to questions like: "Must like causes in general necessarily be connected with like effects?" Given these general forms, we just need to go to experience to fill them in with details. Her argument against the third proposition is more indirect, since she argues that neither Hume's custom nor Brown's instinct can do the work they would have to do even assuming that causation is a matter of belief and not knowledge. (This is relevant because a great deal of Brown's argument against (4) is devoted to arguing that Hume's custom cannot do this work.)

Shepherd thinks that a problem with (5) is that it makes Hume seem to argue in a circle. Hume's search for foundational impressions, the whole point of the Treatise, is a causal search -- impressions are important because they are the causes of ideas. Ideas must be derived from impressions, because there is a necessary connection between them; but then he disproves the only account of necessary connection on which the original principle could be built. She attributes this argument to Brown, but, unless I am missing something, this appears to be a mistake. Most of Brown's argument is actually an argument against Hume's account of belief, combined with the argument that if necessary connection derives from the impression of the mind's transition from idea to idea, all associations would be causal. But it is clear that Hume has to distinguish causal associations from associations due to resemblance and contiguity in order to motivate his inquiry about causes. Thus Brown accuses Hume of petitio principii, but it is a different petitio than the one Shepherd accuses Hume of here.

Macrina the Righteous

Today is the memorial of St. Macrina the Righteous, by all accounts a remarkable woman. You can read about her in her little brother's Life of Macrina, where St. Gregory records her death-bed prayer:

Thou, O Lord, hast freed us from the fear of death. Thou hast made the end of this life the beginning to us of true life. Thou for a season restest our bodies in sleep and awakest them again at the last trump. Thou givest our earth, which Thou hast fashioned with Thy hands, to the earth to keep in safety. One day Thou wilt take again what Thou hast given, transfiguring with immortality and grace our mortal and unsightly remains. Thou hast saved us from the curse and from sin, having become both for our sakes. Thou hast broken the heads of the dragon who had seized us with his jaws, in the yawning gulf of disobedience. Thou hast shown us the way of resurrection, having broken the gates of .hell, and brought to nought him who had the power of death----the devil. Thou hast given a sign to those that fear Thee in the symbol of the Holy Cross, to destroy the adversary and save our life. O God eternal, to Whom I have been attached from my mother's womb, Whom my soul has loved with all its strength, to Whom I have dedicated both my flesh and my soul from my youth up until now----do Thou give me an angel of light to conduct me to the place of refreshment, where is the water of rest, in the bosom of the holy Fathers. Thou that didst break the flaming sword and didst restore to Paradise the man that was crucified with Thee and implored Thy mercies, remember me, too, in Thy kingdom; because I, too, was crucified with Thee, having nailed my flesh to the cross for fear of Thee, and of Thy judgments have I been afraid. Let not the terrible chasm separate me from Thy elect. Nor let the Slanderer stand against me in the way; nor let my sin be found before Thy eyes, if in anything I have sinned in word or deed or thought, led astray by the weakness of our nature. O Thou Who hast power on earth to forgive sins, forgive me, that I may be refreshed and may be found before Thee when I put off my body, without defilement on my soul. But may my soul be received into Thy hands spotless and undefiled, as an offering before Thee.

Bainbridge on Proportionality

Stephen Bainbridge has a column at TCS Daily on just war and proportionality (ht: verbum ipsum). It's interesting, but it still makes use of a notion of 'proportionality' that I think misses the spirit of traditional just war theory. He says, "The proportionality prong of jus in bello requires that belligerents attain their legitimate military objectives with no greater use of force than is militarily justified and avoid disproportionate collateral damage to civilian life and property." As I noted in the comments to Lee's post on proportionality, the 'no greater use of force than is militarily justified' clause seems to me to break down into incoherence. The real heart of proportionality is not quantity of force used but our own disposition to justice. It's a part of what Aquinas calls right 'intentio', the orienting or directing of all our action only to just ends and only in ways appropriate to those ends. In reality there is no such thing as 'disproportionate collateral damage to civilian life and property', because intended collateral damage to innocents (even if only indirectly intended) is never proportionate to just ends, because it's not the kind of thing that can be rationally weighed according to principles of justice.

In fact, there is nothing intrinsically inconsistent with being proportional and using overwhelming force; you can use whatever force you please as long as you do so morally. The problem is not the force used but the type of action that 'overwhelming force' usually suggests -- recklessly endangering civilian lives, doing nothing to minimize civilian casualties, and so forth. It is the kind of action that is disproportionate to the end. Amount of force is only relevant insofar as it changes the kind of action. But it is here that Bainbridge, I think, has the right conclusion despite the faulty notion of proportionality: justice in war requires waging war justly.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Lost Brother

Y'honatan, his brother, exited from before the Sanhedrin with the rest of the generals.

In low spirits, he met his brother Natanel in the corridor, and he said, "What do you say, my brother, about the end of our brother?"

"His end was destined from his beginning," answered Natanel in tears.

"But what is our guilt that we saw with our own eyes the sorrows of our brother, yet didn't raise our hands to save him?" asked Y'honatan. "God will surely chastise us that we didn't continue to reproach him on his ways."

Sarah Feige Foner, The Children's Path.

Links and Notes

* Mark Chu-Carroll at "Good Math, Bad Math" has been summarizing sequent calculus and linear logic. Good stuff.

* Lee discusses proportionality in just war theory at "verbum ipsum". Lee's right; there are a lot of things that are said about this in contemporary discussions that don't make much sense.

* "Cliopatria" has a symposium on comparison of British and American imperialism.

* Thomas Williams has an interesting paper (PDF) arguing that the Scotist doctrine of univocity is true and salutary. (h/t: The Prosblogion) Univocity is summarized as:

Univocity: Notwithstanding the irreducible ontological diversity between God and creatures, there are concepts under whose extension both God and creatures fall, so that the corresponding predicate expressions are used with exactly the same sense (in scholastic jargon: have exactly the same significata) in predications about God as in predications about creatures.

Where a hardcore Thomist (or a Thomist-sympathizer) will really stumble is not, as far as I can see, addressed in the paper, though, and that's the assumption that if the concept is the same, "the corresponding predicate expressions are used with exactly the same sense." If the same concept can be predicated in different ways, it isn't clear that they are "used with exactly the same sense." And, in fact, I take it that everyone agrees that the concepts do not apply in the same way to God and creatures -- in God what is signified is transcendental, in creatures categorical; in God unrestricted, in creatures restricted; etc. -- so we seem right back where we originally were in the dispute: are the 'corresponding predicate expressions' really used with the same sense even if the same concept is used in both? Predicates, after all, are not merely concepts, but concepts predicated of subjects in certain ways. But I do think Williams's argument is salutary. Let's have no more bashing of Scotus for such-and-such consequence univocity without taking the trouble to show that it really is a consequence.

* Michael Gilleland has posted yet another translation of the famous ninth-century Irish poem, Pangur Bán. (He links to another post in which he presents three others. The Flower translation of the poem hung in my dorm room for most of my undergraduate years.

* Ocham muses on Tibbles at "Beyond Necessity."

* An interesting discussion is going on at FQI about Kierkegaard and arguments for the existence of God.

Campbell on Two Kinds of Miracles

There are two kinds of miracles, to which Mr Hume hath alluded in a note, tho' he does not directly make the distinction. One is, when the event, consider'd by itself, is evidently preternatural. Of this kind are the raising of the dead, walking on water, making whole the maimed; for by no natural causes can these effectes be produced. The other kind is, when the event consider'd by itself, is natural, that is, may be produced by natural causes, but is denominated miraculous, on account of the manner. That a sick person should be restor'd to health, is not, when consider'd singly, preternatural; but that health should be restor'd by the command of a man undoubtedly is.

George Campbell, Dissertation on Miracles II.5 (1st edition, p. 232). This distinction is a fairly common one, although what Campbell calls 'preternatural' is usually called 'supernatural', and what he calls 'natural' is usually called 'preternatural'. There is sometimes another category added, counternatural, but this is distinguished primarily because it requires a different explanation than most supernatural miracles, with which it can be classified for most other purposes. I discussed these classifications briefly here.

Tibbles Again

The original Tibbles argument bled into the comments of another post on another weblog, namely, this discussion of motion and time at "Maverick Philosopher." Instead of picking up the argument as it is continuing in the threads on the Tibbles posts, I'll comment on some comments made there, because I think it offers occasion for some clarifications that seem less easy to make here, given the length of the threads and the number of issues that have to be managed. Ocham summarizes what he sees as the argument in this comment:

The issue is, on the assumption that Tibbles had a tail yesterday, and that he lost it overnight, and now has no tail, what is it that became the cat without a tail? Was it

(a) The part of Tibbles yesterday which had no tail, i.e. Tibbles yesterday minus tail.
(b) The whole of Tibbles, i.e. Tibbles yesterday with tail.

Brandon seems to be saying (rather absurdly in my view) that it is the proper part of Tibbles, i.e. Tibbles-minus-tail that becomes Tibbles today. I say 'rather absurdly' because the proper part, whatever it is, is something that always lacks a tail. So how can it change into precisely what it already is. I maintain, by contrast, that the subject of change is Tibbles himself, i.e. a thing which yesterday had a tail, but became something without a tail.

It should be said that this is not what I intend to convey. In fact, my argument against maximality turns on exactly the point Ocham notes here: Tibbs does not change. On the maximality view, however, Tibbs was originally not a maximal part; therefore Tibbs was not a cat, and now Tibbs, without changing, has become a cat (because Tibbles lost its tail). So the maximality view commits us to saying that things that are not cats can become cats without any intrinsic change. This is due to the fact that maximality requires that all and only maximal parts of cats are cats. Maximality requires us to make the absurd claim that the proper part of Tibbles becomes the cat today.

But it does appear that I've misunderstood Ocham's position, since I took him to be holding the maximality view. The above summary, however, is not maximality at all, but something different. On a maximality view, we have a tension once we recognize that, despite their differences from spatial parts, there are temporal parts. Is the cat the maximal spatial part or the maximal spatiotemporal part? If we accept the former, we have thus committed ourselves to saying that there is a different cat on the mat from moment to moment (now Tibbles, now Tibbs, now something else). If we accept the latter, we have to hold that none of these is a cat at all -- the only cat is the whole of which all of these are merely proper parts. (In something roughly like the sense that the movie, Goonies, is not identifiable with any one scene but is the whole of which all the scenes of the movie are parts.) Either way we get into weird territory.

But Ocham's view is not actually either of these, because, in effect, he posits some subject (let's call it S) which was Tibbles (when it had a tail) and is now Tibbs (when it does not have a tail). So is this a different view from the ones I noted before, or does it fall into one of them? To clarify this, it might be helpful to look at another puzzle Ocham proposes in a later comment. Suppose we take a sentence like:

(A) S was Tibbles and is now Tibbs.

Of this sort of sentence Ocham asks:

In what way does this assert or imply any kind of 'transtemporal identity'? Clearly the pronoun 'he', if it is to make any sense, must refer back to the proper name Tibbles. So this implies an identity, between the object referred to by 'Tibbles', and what is referred to by 'he'. This further implies an identity, if the statement is true, between what satisfies the predicate '- is now lost his tail' and what satisfies '- had a tail'. But how is this identity 'trans temporal'? It's not at all. It's an identity between an object which exists now, an object which once had a tail, and an object which exists now, and has lost a tail.

But while it's true that the identity is between an object that exists now and an object that exists now, this isn't all that (A) implies. For (A) to be true, the object that exists now has to have been an object then (otherwise the object now couldn't be said to have lost a tail). Then it had different properties than it does now -- (A), in fact, gives us one such difference of properties. So for (A) to be true, or even to make any sense, S has to have endured through time, undergoing changes (it is different now than it was), but such that it is the same S. For (A) to be true, S has to have had two mutually exclusive properties. Of course, there is no contradiction here, because it has them at different times. Still there is no (classical) identity between S as it was and S as it now is, even though they are the same S. A relative identity theorist will say that S was identical to Tibbles at that time, and now S is identical to Tibbs; Tibbles and Tibbs are identical qua S, and thus there is a (relative) identity between S as it was and S as it now is. But since Ocham denies relative identity, we see clearly where his position fits: it's a sameness without identity view, at least for temporal parts. Tibbles and Tibbs are the same S, but treating them as the same S is not to treat them as identical (although S is identical to S, of course). And this, I suspect, is why I was completely puzzled by his position; I thought he was putting forward a maximality view, but he kept saying things that suggested sameness without identity.

If we're going to go this route for temporal parts, however, why wouldn't we do the same for spatial parts? Tibbles and Tibbs are the same S, even though what has a tail and what does not have a tail are not identical. There is no need to appeal to maximality and no need to say that only Tibbles is a cat or that Tibbs is not a cat -- in fact, Tibbles is just S considered as a totality of parts, and Tibbs is just S considered without its tail. In all these cases S is the cat, so Tibbles is the cat considered in all its parts, and Tibbs is the cat considered in all its parts except the tail. Tibbles and Tibbs are the same cat, even though they are not identical, just as the cat before its amputation is the same cat as the cat after its amputation, even though they are not identical.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Lady Mary Shepherd on Hume's Basic Causal Argument

At the beginning of her long argument against Hume, Shepherd puts together a summary of Hume's arguments about the nature of causation, chiefly consisting of a digest of extracts from Hume's works, both the Treatise and the Enquiry. (Shepherd calls the latter the Essays because their original title was Philosophical Essays.) In the course of doing this, she also summarizes in her own words what she sees as the causal argument of the Enquiry:

That "Nature may be conceived to alter her course, without a contradiction," is the material proposition in both Essays; used as an argument to prove, that it is "custom" only which forces the "imagination" to fancy there is a "necessary connexion between Cause and Effect," with a liveliness, and vivacity of conception, equal to a firm belief founded on reason. In the Essays, the whole of these notions are supposed to derive their support from the argument, that as we have no knowledge, either a priori or a posteriori, concerning the "secrets of Nature;" so our observation of the action of a Cause, affords no ground for the conclusions of reason respecting it.

That the idea of causation is only derived from custom, becomes therefore the premises from which the conclusion is deduced, that "beings can begin their existences of themselves;" which proposition, though not formally repeated in the Essays (and which immediately renders void that for the necessity of a great first Cause, and "productive principle" of all things), must tacitly in these Essays be considered as well grounded , because, as every foundation whatever, for supposing any cause necessary for any effect, is denied, and only an influence of "custom on the imagination" is allowed as suggesting a "fancy of it;" it necessarily follows, that nothing beyond what this influence suggests can be assigned as any reason why there should be any productive principle for all the contrivances and ends that take place in the universe; it must therefore, I think, be understood that this "juvenile reasoning" was adopted, and acknowledged but too surely, in the latter Essays.

[Lady Mary Shepherd, An Essay on the Relation of Cause and Effect, pp. 18-20.]

This is perhaps not the most lucid summary. Roughly, Shepherd sees the following progression in Hume's thought:

(1) We have no knowledge, either a priori or a posteriori, concerning the secrets of nature.
(2) Our observation of the action of a cause affords no ground for conclusions of reason concerning it.
(3) Nature may be conceived to alter her course without contradiction.
(4) Therefore the idea of causation is derived only from custom.
(5) Therefore there is no foundation (other than custom of the imagination) for supposing any cause necessary for any effect.
(6) Therefore 'beings can begin their existence of themselves'.
(7) Therefore there is no assignable reason beyond this influence why there should be any productive principle for all the contrivances and ends that take place in the universe.
(8) Therefore there is no need for a first cause and productive principle of all things.

(2) is supposed to follow from (1); (3) from (2); (5) follows from (4); (6), I take it, is supposed to follow from (3) and (5); (7) from (6); and (8) from (7) -- all with suitable additional arguments, of course. Despite the sound of it, Shepherd is not attributing to Hume the position that some beings are self-caused in saying 'beings can begin their existence of themselves'; it is clear from the way she argues against it that she merely means 'beings that can begin to exist without a cause'.

Shepherd will concentrate a lot of attention on the foundation of the argument (1)-(3), arguing that while particulars of causal inference can only be derived from experience, the general form of causal inference can be known by reason a priori. She has a very clever set of arguments for this, which I have briefly touched upon occasionally, which start from a type of cause Hume doesn't discuss much, namely, the cause why something remains as it is or changes the way it does. This is a constituent cause, an intrinsic cause rather than an extrinsic cause; and one of Shepherd's clever moves is to point out both that these causes admits of a type of a priori knowledge by reason that Hume denies of causation and that what extrinsic causes do is add or remove these intrinsic causes. If both of these are accepted, however, Hume is wrong -- at least some causal inference can be justified (as to its general form) by reason alone, however much the details may depend on experience and custom. For instance, on Shepherd's view the difference between mathematics and mathematical physics is not that the former has more certain inferences than the latter, but that the latter has less certain starting-points. The inferences, in fact, are exactly the same. The only difference is that in mathematics you can stipulate your starting-points, and therefore you can always be certain you've found them all. But in mathematical physics your starting-points have to come from without, and often can only be discovered slowly, by measuring, experimenting, testing, etc. And although our ordinary causal reasoning about the world is not as rigorous, either as to inference or as to starting-point, as physics, it is nonetheless underwritten by the same basic logical principles. We can't conceive nature to change her course, at least without supposing a cause for it; because, on Shepherd's analysis, that would involve a contradiction. Shepherd's arguments for this are varied and complex, ranging from positive arguments for her approach to causation to negative arguments against Hume's claims to the contrary. Although this foundation (1)-(3) is perhaps Shepherd's major target, she also explicitly addresses some of the other links in the argument. She has at least two arguments, for instance, criticizing (6) on its own.

Another feature of Shepherd's summary that might need some comment is her reference to 'juvenile reasoning'. The phrase is not an insult, but is a paraphrase of Hume's own Advertisement to the Treatise. After the Enquiry came out, it was still common for people to criticize the Treatise as the more substantial and thorough work. Beattie, for instance, primarily focuses on the Treatise. As an answer to Beattie and others Hume appended a note to future additions of the Enquiry, which has become notorious in Hume scholarship because it is both vague in itself and a complication in the quest to interpret Hume correctly. In it Hume says that most of the principles and reasonings in the Enquiries are found in the Treatise; but the latter was a work whose basic plan had been laid out before Hume left college. Because of this he calls it a "juvenile work," and presents the Enquiries as a recasting of the basic arguments of the Treatise, "where some negligences in his former reasoning and more in the expression are, he hopes, corrected." Shepherd thinks that on the question of causation, the argument in the Treatise and that in the first Enquiry are basically the same. However, she recognizes that she has to justify this assumption; and this is one of the functions served by the digest of extracts she provides. Strictly speaking she probably doesn't need to do so, because most of her argument is clearly directed against the Enquiry, and in any case, as she points out, the Treatise is still being published whether Hume agrees with it or not, and thus its reasoning is still fair game. However, the Treatise has interesting developments on its own that she occasionally brings in (e.g., with regard to beginning of existence), and she's still careful to argue her point that the basic reasoning in the two is the same. (The primary difference, she suggests, is that the Enquiry adds some positions on the application of Hume's causal theory to "the affairs of ordinary life" for the purpose of advocating moderat skepticism.)

Two Things on Sufjan

All things go. My favorite Sufjan Stevens song at present is "Chicago," but in some ways I like this a capella version better than Stevens's own. But I have a taste for a capella in its own right, so that's perhaps the reason why. But I also like his acoustic version better than both.

And he takes and he takes and he takes. There's an interesting discussion of his "Casimir Pulaski Day" at Majikthise.

He will apparently be in Austin in September, so I'll have to see what my plans are as that draws near.

Aquinas and the Ordination of Women

This post at "Anglican Scotist" has set me wondering about Aquinas's view on ordination of women. The passage quoted in the post isn't actually helpful to that end, because in the context Aquinas is primarily arguing that, however subject women should be, they are not so inferior that they would be better seen as results of sin rather than as part of the natural goodness of original creation. So, in his lopsided, and somewhat backhanded, medieval male way he's actually arguing that women play an essential role in the natural goodness of things. Although it's not made explicit, the reference to the image of God at the end seems clearly to be a reference to the mysterious statement in 1 Corinthians 11:7. There's no doubt that Aquinas doesn't handle this problem as well as, say, Augustine did (Augustine argues in De Trinitate that women are properly and strictly speaking equals to men as far as the image of God goes, and that Paul was only using common marriage customs as part of a figure of speech here, and not saying anything about women themselves). But the passage bears on the subject only indirectly.

Aquinas's actual discussion in the Summa Theologiae is in the Supplement, which means we don't have his polished view, only the selection drawn from the earlier Sentences commentary. He makes two distinctions -- between sacraments and gifts of God, and between the validity and the lawfulness of the sacrament. The first distinction is to take into account prophetesses. Being a prophet is a higher calling than being a priest, and women can certainly be prophets, so (the objector argues) a fortiori there's no problem with women being priests. And Aquinas concedes that women can be prophets and appears also to concede that prophecy is a higher calling than priesthood. But prophecy is not a sacrament, and therefore is not governed by sacramental symbolism; it is a gift of God given to whomsoever he pleases. "And," says Aquinas, "since in matters pertaining to the soul woman does not differ from man as to the thing (for sometimes a woman is found to be better than many men as regards the soul), it follows that she can receive the gift of prophecy and the like."

So what is the reason given for the inability of women to received the character of ordination? Here Aquinas makes a distinction between validity and lawfulness. If the conditions for validity are missing, you can't receive the sacrament or what it signifies. If I understand the distinction properly, when the conditions of lawfulness are missing, you can receive the sacrament but not what it signifies. So validity has to do with what's strictly required, and lawfulness has to do with what's appropriate, given what the sacrament signifies. Validity has to do with the very possibility of the sacrament, while lawfulness has to do with its failure in particular cases. Or something along those lines. He argues that being a women is an impediment to Orders in both these ways, but his argument is a bit vague:

Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Orders.

And that's the whole argument. In the case of lawfulness I think I can see where he is going. He argues in the case of those in a state of servitude that being in such a state is an impediment to being ordained because it is only fitting (lawful) for those who have disposal of themselves. Where women don't have that sort of freedom, they aren't in a position to be be signs of the appropriate sort, because freedom is required for the sacramental work involved in ordination. Such is more or less the idea, anyway. Validity is trickier, and his position on it depends crucially on a false premise. He distinguishes the two cases by saying that while servants are subject by convention, women are subject by nature, and this is what makes the alleged difference (a slave can validly receive orders, just not lawfully; a woman can receive orders neither validly nor lawfully); and it's in this sense his Aristotelianism makes him take a wrong turn.

It's worthwhile, though, to try to be a bit precise about where the wrong turn comes, because it shows we're not actually so far away from this position as we think we are. Aquinas has argued that, because they have the vital operation of reason, it is fitting for us to be sexually divided as a species; woman is a helpmeet to man in the sense that she is a partner in the work of generation. The 'natural subjection' of women comes as a part of the general need for society to have some sort of governance; this need pre-exists any introduction of sin, and has to do simply with the diversity a good society has to keep in orderly form. So originally people wouldn't have been equal; for instance, some people would have been older and more experienced than other people, and in a good society this would be (at least some) reason for inequality and subjection. But the sort of subjection involved would not be the sort that involves one person being for another's use, nor the sort that involves one person being at another's disposal, nor the sort that involves one person being ordered to another. These are all types of subjection that can only follow sin. The sort of subjection that a naturally good society would have would be the subjection of a free subject to a government directed to his or her proper good and to the common good. There is no distinction between men and women on this system except insofar as it is required for the work of generation. Now Aquinas has the (fairly reasonable) idea that the order of society generally requires that there be someone in charge, if for no other reason than to adjudicate disputes or take responsibility for keeping things going right given the diversity of people. He applies this to sexual diversity, holding that there has to be concurrence between male and female in generation. And this is where we would begin to think that his view of sexual relations goes a little wonky; he usually thinks of it along the lines of the union an active principle and a receptive principle. (This is an analogical extrapolation from the notion of composition -- a composition is a unity of act and potency of some sort; it's a very strong unity, and Aquinas thinks this has to be going on if man and woman are to become one.) That males are by nature fitted to be the active principle (even if in particular cases they fail to be so) Aquinas assumes as a general truth; this is usually assumed without argument, but the 'discretion of reason' mentioned in the passage quoted by the Anglican Scotist appears to be the sort of argument he would give -- apparently he thinks men are better suited for figuring out how children are to be raised, because that would be the primary sort of subjection in question. (Aquinas distinguishes the power to admonish from the power to coerce, and is very explicit that admonishment is the only power in domestic matters. So it comes down to the slightly odd position that the husband always has the authority to advise his wife and decide how to handle the kids; and Aquinas thinks it just so happens that, given original sin, things are arranged so that the wife usually has little choice but to follow the advice.) He never really develops this to the point of being clear; although when talking about the resurrection he talks about "vigor of soul and strength of body". Since he very explicitly insists that women will not be naturally subject to men in the world to come, because that will be a world structured on merit rather than natural need, we have here a glimpse of a different sort of order than the one he typically assumes. Indeed, his chief intellectual problem in this regard is that he hardly thinks about women at all; they come up, inevitably, here and there, but he never gives himself much opportunity to sit down and thoroughly think through what he is saying about them in a systematic way. The impression one gets is that he thinks they're equal but not really; that any inequality is of a very general sort that doesn't apply in individual cases, but does; that it is natural, but won't be some day. It raises a lot of questions, more than he answers.

It is interesting, however, that in this inadequately developed, inadequately polished mass, Aquinas explicitly states (1) that women can have prophetic authority; (2) that they can have delegated spiritual authority; and (3) that they can have temporal authority. Aquinas is juggling a lot of different ideas in his discussions -- natural subjection of women to men, the equality of men and women in matters of the soul, the patriarchal family, the character of marriage as friendship, original sin in this world, merit in the world to come, natural tendencies, individual divergences from these tendencies, the image of God that we must all equally have, Paul's attribution of 'the image of God' to man in particular, the symbolic nature of sacramental work, etc. -- and he never spends enough time to give us a clear argument for this sort of question.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

More on Mereology

Alejandro provided a good set of comments to my previous post on mereology. They raise some interesting questions about life, the universe, and everything, so I thought I'd use them to clarify a few things.

I realize of course that the discussion is not about Tibbles, but I am not so sure it is not primarily about the common notion of object –which I perhaps conflated in my post with "common objects" like cats, overlooking things like fusions, indivisibles, etc. This "common notion" involves an object as a "thing", a subject of properties, that can be in relations with other objects, and that (at least if it physical) can be located in space, or in space and time. Isn’t this the idea of object with which mereology works?

This is a good question, since it allows me to make more clear something that should have been made more clear in the previous post. Mereology as such doesn't deal with objects of this sort, except in the sense that objects of this sort always exhibit mereological relations. When we talk about objects in mereology -- it's often avoided, but sometimes not -- we mean something capable of being the value of a variable and able to be the term of a mereological relation. An example of a mereological object that does not have location in space or time is a mathematical set; membership in a set is definitely a mereological relation, although the mereology of mathematical sets involves a lot of complicated issues I don't know much about (e.g., how the relation element-of is connected to the relation part-of). Another example would be parts of a theory (understood as a collection of equations). Another related sort of mereological object is the fusion, which can be completely arbitrary, since you can have a fusion of any a and b. (x is a fusion of elements when x has all the elements in question as parts, and no parts that are not those elements.) For instance, we can have fusion of my nose, your hand, and the equation E=mc2. It isn't clear in what context there would be any point in considering this object in particular; but it is a legitimate mereological object. (There are complicated issues about fusions that I'm glossing over here. I'm assuming what's called 'unrestricted composition', which is actually a controversial thesis about what can be admitted as part of a fusion. But note that this is a real debate; whether the unrestricted composition thesis is right or not, mereological principles don't automatically rule out such odd fusions. And this is really a dispute about objects, not about the mereological relation itself.) Further, even things that have no proper parts -- like geometrical points -- seem to be able to exhibit some mereological relations. (A geometrical point, it seems, is capable of the part-of relation, because it is reflexive -- even though the point has no proper parts, it is part of itself.) So the upshot is this: anything capable of being in a mereological relation to anything is fair game for mereology.

Of course, it is true that people doing work in mereology have tended to focus on a lot of common objects. In part this can be explained by the fact that common objects are easily accessible mereological objects; if you put forward a strong mereological thesis, it's easier to see if it's refuted by a common object than to see if it's refuted by Quantum Field Theory. Since mereological relations are general, any mereological object should (in principle) be able to falsify a strong mereological thesis. So the easiest way (again, in principle) to refute such claims is to show that they break down even in the easiest and most accessible cases. Of course, I have to add the 'in principle' qualifications because in practice we run into the same problem with mereology that we run into elsewhere: things don't falsify cleanly, because the theses can't be applied in an isolated way -- you have to make additional assumptions to apply them. Falsification just shows that you've gone wrong somewhere in the whole system of theses and assumptions; on its own, it doesn't tell you where. Sometimes it's easy to figure out what's throwing things off, and sometimes it's not. But in principle, it makes sense for mereologists to pay attention to things like cats.

Of course, the danger from this is that mereologists will only build mereologies for common objects, without regard to other mereological objects. To the extent that this happens (and I think it does happen), something has gone wrong, and I am in agreement with Alejandro. I don't think this always happens, and I don't think it's endemic to the discussion. An area in which the question always needs to be raised, though, is maximality. Maximality tries to resolve mereological paradoxes by appealing to a principle of classification: no proper part of an F is an F. But it isn't clear that this applies to all mereological objects. For instance, if the elements are proper parts of the mathematical set, maximality clearly fails for mathematical sets. (Are elements proper parts? I can think of arguments both for and against; but, as I said, this is an area of mereology with which I am only slightly acquainted, so I don't know what, if any, work has been done on the question in recent years.) If they are not, however, then we can have parts of an object that are not proper parts and are not the object itself. And that's an unusual and interesting thesis that would have to be explored. Does maximality hold up for all fusions? It appears not, because you can have a fusion of fusions. So perhaps maximality is merely a principle for doing mereology in a restricted domain -- e.g., perhaps it only applies to common objects. If that's so, however, we need to be very careful (as maximalists rarely are) to distinguish between what follows strictly from our mereological principles and what follows when our maximality principle is added. And we also need to justify the use of maximality for every field in which we use it. Otherwise, we are beginning to confuse the general issues of mereology with the particular issues of maximal parts, and mereological objects with common objects (which are only one kind of mereological object).

I don’t see how your "Brandon on Wednesday" argument proves relevance of mereology for ethics. If we decided on general, abstract grounds that temporal parts of objects are different objects, so B on Wed is different than B on Thurs, that would make us rewrite most of our ethics and our talk about persons, but it would be just a change of language –it would not affect substantive moral issues. If now we say a man can only be responsible for what he did himself, then we would say that he can be responsible only for what his "temporal predecessors" did, or something like that. There seem to be no problems internal to ethics that require "help" from a more precise mereology, as in my example the problem of abortion needs a more precise concept of personhood.

I'm not entirely sure what 'internal' means here. It's true that ethics is not a fragment of mereology, and that mereology is not a fragment of ethics; so they aren't internal to each other in that way. But the two may overlap by sharing some common concern. And the common concern here is identity or sameness; which is an issue in mereology (for mereological reasons) and an issue in ethics (for ethical reasons). Thus our conclusions in the one case have ramifications for our conclusions in the other case. It's not necessary, of course, for those ramifications to be straightforward; but they are clearly there.

Consider the matter this way. How would we go about making our concept of personhood more precise? One of the questions we would have to ask is, "What is required for two things to be the same person?" We've thereby added the question of sameness. Now, we can means sameness without identity or sameness as identity. If the latter, we can mean either classical identity or relative identity. One thing that will be relevant is whether 'person' is better used for the whole four-dimensional entity through time, or if it is better used for the thing at a time; which gets us into questions like maximality. This raises further question. For instance, do I ever see a whole person, or do I only see the part of the person that exists at a given time? And should we associate responsibilities to, for, and of persons with the whole person or the person-part. (To put it in a crude analogy, for ethical purposes are persons mereologically like lawns, where we can see the whole lawn without having to rely on memory, or like movies, where we never actually see more than a proper part of the movie. It seems clear that we will evaluate differently depending on which we say, because one links the evaluation to what's happening at a given time, and another links it to what has happened over the whole history of the person.) I'm not saying that these would be the driving, make-or-break questions of the ethical inquiry into personhood; but they, or questions like them, do come up.

And the fact that they come up seems sufficient to say that they have practical relevance in the way Alejandro's post suggested. That is, it affects our evaluation of the best way to talk about persons for ethical purposes. For the best way to talk about anything for ethical purposes can't be completely divorced from the best way to talk about them for other purposes; because the best way to talk about them for other purposes will be the best way to talk about them in light of certain facts, and ethics has to take some account of the facts, or it becomes blind.

I also can’t see your justification for the claim that "If relative identity is a coherent and viable solution to the Tibbles problem, it is a coherent and viable form of identity everywhere. And on the relative identity view, equality is an identity relation, because it's an instance of 'X is the same F as Y'." Why can’t relative identity be posed as a sui generis solution to the particular problem of parts and wholes, without exporting itself to other areas? Again, I don’t see any issues internal to mathematics that could be affected by mereology in its philosophical sense.

Again, it depends a bit on what's meant by 'internal'. It certainly wouldn't change any equations; formal systems would remain as they were. But it would have some effect on how we inquire in interpreting and applying them, because accepting or rejecting relative identity shifts how mathematical equality relates to logical identity. And how one formal system is connected to or not connected to another does seem reasonably 'internal' to mathematics as a discipline, even if it made no practical difference what position we took. It's one of the things mathematicians might be expected to do.

But the more interesting question is why relative identity can't be proposed as a solution for this type of problem and this type alone. And the reason, I think, is this: relative identity theorists try to handle the mereological paradoxes by asserting that they are based on a misunderstanding of identity itself. And the identity relation is perfectly general; it's found just about everywhere. Now, if identity has to be understand in a certain way (as determined by mereological questions raised), this applies to identity in all its uses. There is some room to restrict the significance of this move, in that we can hold that Leibniz's Law (which is the feature of classical identity relative identity theorists most definitely reject) still obtains under some conditions. But this doesn't make the relative identity thesis any less general; it just means that you can add suppositions to relative identity to get classical identity. So the proper understanding even of classical identity will require understanding it as a development of relative identity.

Admittedly, the reason why relative identity is so general is that, while it is relevant to mereology (since it comes up in mereological questions), the feature with which relative identity is concerned is more general than any particularly mereological feature. Identity is not a mereological relation; it holds even in cases where there are no mereological relations. It's just that a complete mereology, like everything else, can't avoid the identity relation, and it just so happens that mereology is a field in which questions about identity can become especially intriguing. But the fact that mereology can provide interesting test-cases for questions about identity is just one of the reasons why mereology is relevant to everything. Of course, it's only indirectly relevant (on this point, at least) -- but this should still be enough for practical relevance in Alejandro's sense.

I agree of course that the existence of cats and their parts is, in a sense, a fact more certain that any physical theory. But it doesn’t follow from this that the language of "objects" and "parts" that philosophers use is the "correct" one, in the sense that their questions are well-framed taken as "deep" questions about reality (instead of "shallow" questions about pedantical refinements of ordinary language). My idea is that the truth-value of ordinary sentences like "there is a cat on the mat" supervenes on fundamental physics (given such-and such distribution of quantum fields or strings or whatever, whether there is or not a cat on the mat follows), so it is a fact that cats exist, but we should not invest too much seriousness into the concepts of "object", etc., which we normally use to express this fact. Our ultimate physical theories may very well use conceptualisations utterly different to these. Just to take an example, I do not think there is anything in Quantum Field Theory corresponding to "objects", with or without "parts". What most people intuitively picture as ultimate physical objects, particles like electrons and quarks, turn out to be at best ambiguously defined and observer-dependent, and at worst completely ficticious entities (in popular formulations the "number of particles present" means only "number of clicks in a particle detector") Sigfpe has an understandable explanation of this. Quantum fields themselves are more likely candidates to be "real" than particles are, but they have purely abstract mathematical definitions. And things are even messier in string theory.

The first part of this quotation is definitely true. The claim would have to be conditional (as I formulated in my last post), not categorical. If the questions are well-framed, they are relevant to deep issues. They might not be well-framed, of course. However, whether or not this is so can only be decided by looking at each of the questions in particular and doing exactly what mereologists are doing -- examining whether they are general or restricted, whether they allow us to make sense of some mereological object, or just lead to confusion; etc. It's possible (and even likely) that mereologists could do better than they are doing, e.g., by paying more attention to uncommon mereological objects, but the point is that there's no other way to determine whether our current mereological questions are well-framed except by mereological inquiry and discussion.

I have (a lot) more to say on this subject, and on this passage in particular; but I'll have to leave it for a later post, given how long this one looks like it will be. (BTW, Alejandro I'm assuming that the post by Sigfpe you had in mind was the one I link to above? The link in the comments wasn't working properly.) Expect more on this.

A Poem Draft

Protreptic for Prothalamion

Trip the tongue on love, keep the time;
bear up your broken soul, and bear in mind
that every poem passes, and when it's passed
the spirit's light remains, for love will last.
Love is legend's match; it lies in wait
for worthy men and wise with hearts of faith
to fill the face with cheer and fling the snake
that murders, maims, and lies into the lake.
So bring your bright-lit joys and ring the bells;
let will be wed to love, which makes all well.