Saturday, December 02, 2006

Charming

Which Hogwarts Professor Would You Be?


Flitwick - Charms
Take this quiz!

Christmas Price Index

A rather fun little bit of economics is PNC's Christmas Price Index. The Christmas Price Index has, for the past 22 years kept track of the cost of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The True Love gives a very diverse package of gifts -- from goods like a partridge in a pear tree to services like nine ladies dancing -- so it tends to mirror the actual trends of the economy better than you might think. This year the cost of the True Love's 364 gifts reached an all-time high of $75,122.03. With fuel costs (which play a major role in the price of the harder-to-find birds) levelling off, goods did not rise very much. However, services rose considerably, with only the maids a-milking, who receive minimum wage, not becoming more expensive. The partridge in the pear tree saw the greatest increase over last year, due to a surge in the price of pear trees (related to an increase in construction, which has increased demand for ornamental pear trees). While gold is more expensive this year than last, the price of gold rings was stable due, apparently, to jewellers absorbing the increased cost in the face of lower demand for luxury items.

The Christmas Price Index for this year is $18,920.59, a 3.1% increase over last year. The PNC website has all sorts of interactive charts and games for those who like to play around a bit with numbers. It's also a good way to introduce children to basic economic concepts.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Thoughts on Ritual

PZ Myers claims that he gets along without rituals. As several commenters point out, this claim highly implausible, but the arguments given need a bit of fine-tuning. Early on the suggestion was made that something like (say) morning coffee would be a ritual; and it was (rightly) pointed out that this need be nothing more than a habit, and that a habit does not a ritual make. It should also be said that not all rituals are habitual or routine, either; you can engage in a ritual only once. One of the commenters suggests that people would react strongly to the notion that their attending a special Mass each each year was only a habit or routine. But, of course, attending a Mass regularly is only a habit or routine. The ritual is not attending Mass but the things in which you participate when you attend (whether you attend regularly or not).

Another mistake that seems to be made occasionally in the discussion is the confusion of ritual and ceremony; the latter being a public forum for a particular sort of ritual activity. For instance, a graduation ceremony is a forum for the ritual activity of receiving one's diploma -- symbolically receiving it, since it doesn't matter whether they actually hand you your diploma or just a blank paper standing for the fact that you will be receiving one. A wedding cermeony is a forum for rituals pertaining to marriage, of which there seem to be quite a few -- saying "I do," wedding rings, kissing the bride, and so forth. Ceremonies are in some sense constituted by rituals. But the reverse is not true; without any ceremony at all you can engage in some very common rituals -- giving a toast, for instance, or shaking someone's hand as a sign of respect. It would be exceedingly trying to have to undergo an elaborate public ceremony every time you wanted to shake someone's hand; but that really doesn't tell us much about ritual actions, because you don't need public ceremonies for ritual actions.

So a ritual is (at least) a deliberate action that is both symbolic and has at least a recognizable potential social significance; it shouldn't be confused with habits or routines, nor with ceremonies. Myers is clearly thinking of ceremonies. But it is possible for someone to have gone through life without ever participating (in any way) in an awards ceremony (of any sort), ever doing anything in a marriage ceremony, ever attending a graduation (whether as a student or as a professor or as a parent), ever toasting a friend over drinks or dinner, ever saluting the flag, ever standing during the national anthem (or singing it), ever blowing out candles on a birthday cake or singing "Happy Birthday," ever pausing for a moment of silence, ever attending a funeral, and so forth. All you have to do is eschew any action that is symbolic and that would be recognized as having at least potential social significance. There's nothing impossible about that. It's just extraordinarily difficult for anyone who actually takes the trouble to live in society without being wrapped up entirely in themselves.

Warburton and the Obliger Argument

In the argument to which Cockburn is responding, Warburton is addressing Bayle's attempt to argue that atheists can have, on their own (i.e., without borrowing illegitimately from theists), an idea of morality. So we should be careful in the first place, inasmuch as Warburton's argument is made in Bayle's terms. This sort of situation -- in which one philosopher (Cockburn) is responding to another philosopher's (Warburton's) response to another philosopher (Bayle) who is responding to a common belief -- is a common kind of situation in the history of philosophy; it is also a difficult one to navigate properly, since the context is constantly shifting. In what follows I will be ignoring what Bayle's widely diffused arguments on this were in their original context and focus on the argument, as Warburton constructs it by gathering it together from these disparate sources; then I will look at Warburton's key argument, what I will call the Obliger Argument. This will prepare us to look at Cockburn's response to the Obliger Argument in particular.

The Innocence of Atheism Argument

The Bayle-based Innocence of Atheism argument, as Warburton constructs it, can be summarized roughly along the following lines (as the atheist himself might reason):

(1) While nature is not modeled on the ideas of a workman, she nonetheless produces her diversity in such a way that different species have different essential attributes, independently of us. Thus, fire and water are distinct in themselves regardless of whether we think they are; so on with love and hate, affirmation and negation, and so forth. We learn these natural distinctions by comparing and contrasting. Likewise, even setting aside the question of moral distinctions, there must be natural distinctions between truth and falsehood, gratitude and ingratitude, and so forth. They are naturally separable from each other.

(2) However, we can attribute the same necessity of nature to the relations between things and to the rules by which we distinguish those relations. The rules of reasoning are an example of this. These rules are independent of us; syllogisms don't work the way they do by our arbitrary fiat, but because they are right and true in themselves.

(3) If there are certain and immutable rules for the operation of the understanding, there must be similar rules for the determination of the will. For these rules are not arbitrary but necessary. The most general such rule is that we ought to will what is in conformity with right reason; it is an evident truth that it is fitting for a reasonable creature to conform to right reason and unfitting for such a creature to recede from that standard.

The implicit conclusion, of course, is that the atheist is not, qua atheist, shut off from morality. Warburton concedes (1) and (2). (3), however, he denies. He takes 'natural essential differences' to have the property of creating a fitness to act accordingly; that is, given that fire and water have different properties, it is fitting for a reasonable creature to take those different properties into account when we act. Moral differences, however, create not only a fitness to act but an obligation, and, Warburton insists, there is no moral difference that does not impose such an obligation, and no obligation that is not due to a moral difference. If this is granted, then showing that right reason alone cannot impose an obligation will show that knowledge of what conforms to right reason does not constitute knowledge of moral differences; and atheists, as such, have no moral obligations if they are right in being atheists. To argue this, Warburton puts forward the Obliger Argument.

The Obliger Argument

This is Warburton on the Obliger Argument:

Obligation, necessarily implies an obliger: The obliger must be different from, and not one and the same with the obliged: To make a man at once the obliger and the obliged, is the same thing as to make him treat or enter into a compact with himself, which is the highest of absurdities. For it is an unquestioned rule in law and reason, that whoever acquires a right to any thing from the obligation of another toward him, may relinquish that right. If therefore the obliger and obliged be one and the same person, there all obligation must be void of course; or rather, there would be no obligation begun: Yet the Stratonic atheist is guilty of this absurdity, when he talks of actions being moral or obligatory.


The key principle here, that obligation implies an obliger, may not seem immediately obvious; but there is quite a bit to be said for it. For one thing, even if it is not always true, it clearly is true for many of our obligations. For instance, your employer obliges or obligates you to do many tasks for which you would otherwise have no obligation; and your employer is himself obliged or obligated by higher authorities; and so forth. And the claim is not merely a cultural relic of Warburton's time. To give just one example: Anscombe makes very much the same argument in her extremely influential article, Modern Moral Philosophy, which should be read in conjunction with the passage from Warburton above.

It needs to be kept in mind that here, as in Anscombe's essay, there is no assumption that everything we call morality falls under the scope of moral obligation. In fact, Warburton has explicitly denied this. He has conceded that atheists can tell the difference between gratitude and ingratitude; and that this difference sparks a tendency in them to act according to that difference. He has also conceded that they can have moral sentiments, i.e., a taste for moral action. They still may think it smart and desirable; but 'smart and desirable' and 'obligatory' can be very different kinds of things. What he is denying is that atheists have any (consistent) reason to think of any part of the morality they know as obligatory.

Cockburn, as we shall see, contests this, and with a very interesting and (I am inclined to think) powerful line of reasoning. I will get to her response in the next post on this topic. But I want to underline the fact that Warburton's argument is far from silly; and that, utterly implausible though Warburton's claim that morality properly speaking is constituted entirely by the will of a superior, it is a claim backed by serious arguments. This is important not only for understanding Warburton, but is even more important for my purpose, which is to understand Cockburn in her response to Warburton.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

But He Doesn't

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warburton and the Golden Chain

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cockburn on Whether Atheists Can Be Moral

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

A Poem Draft

Cars

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

Yurodivy

For Christ’s sake we are fools.

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

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

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

Jottings on Fitch's Paradox IV

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

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

(KP) p → ◊K{∃x|∃c}p

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 26, 2006

My Own Hymn

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

O Son of Man Upon Your Throne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O Jesus, King Most Wonderful

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

O Jesus, King Most Wonderful

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crown Him With Many Crowns

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

Crown Him With Many Crowns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O God of Love, O King of Peace

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

O God of Love, O King of Peace

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

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

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

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

The Eternal Gifts of Christ the King

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

The Eternal Gifts of Christ the King

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

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

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

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

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

Coleridge on Faith

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

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


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

Notable Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Consummation of Kingdomtide

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

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


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


Fr. Jim Tucker has a sermon for the day.

UPDATE: Another good homily by Fr. Philip Powell.

Carnival of the Citizens I

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

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