Saturday, January 13, 2007

Three Poem Drafts

Iphigenia's Wedding

Birds brightly sing,
song pours out,
flowers litter the path,
joy leaps up,
diamonds bloom in silver;
maidens sing soft hymns
of white heifers led home
to rest in royal fold,
of chastity and gladness
and everlasting love.
The procession leads to a bower,
to a genial bed of stone,
to a knife of bronze
that glitters in the fire.


Somewhere on the green-topped Tor
where Michael prays and Arthur swore,
I lost my way in swirling mist
and lost my heart in spite of this,
the ringing of the bells.

Down in valleys like the sea,
somewhere deep inside of me,
I broke the sword that caught the light;
its shattered shards were gleaming bright
and rang like little bells.

Old Glastonbury's stone complains
that in its ruin naught remains
of Dunstan's chapel, save the trace
that even time cannot erase,
the ringing of the bells.

The raven feathers gathered here
cannot speak a word so clear,
cannot move the silent crowd
as when in times of dark and cloud
the bells are rung, the ringing bells.

Somewhere on the green-crowned height
we lost the chapel in the fight
to wander lost in depths below;
but still our children come to know
the ringing of the bells.


Mighty on earth, mighty in heaven,
many in name, I Aphrodite
sway every soul in light of the sun
from Euxine shore to distant main,
honor those who revere my might,
bring to the ground the arrogant heart.

Am I a goddess remote from her people?
You feel me inside you, my power prevails.
Am I a goddess dark and unyielding?
Those whom I punish all praise my power.

Holy on earth, holy in heaven,
many in form, elusive and luring,
I Aphrodite ride on the waves,
rise from the foam in splendor appearing,
rise like a goddess from death and decay.

Sublime Theorists

We shall suppose, that a creature, possessed of reason, but unacquainted with human nature, deliberates with himself what RULES of justice or property would best promote public interest, and establish peace and security among mankind: His most obvious thought would be, to assign the largest possessions to the most extensive virtue, and give every one the power of doing good, proportioned to his inclination. In a perfect theocracy, where a being, infinitely intelligent, governs by particular volitions, this rule would certainly have place, and might serve to the wisest purposes: But were mankind to execute such a law; so great is the uncertainty of merit, both from its natural obscurity, and from the self-conceit of each individual, that no determinate rule of conduct would ever result from it; and the total dissolution of society must be the immediate consequence. Fanatics may suppose, that dominion is founded on grace, and that saints alone inherit the earth; but the civil magistrate very justly puts these sublime theorists on the same footing with common robbers, and teaches them by the severest discipline, that a rule, which, in speculation, may seem the most advantageous to society, may yet be found, in practice, totally pernicious and destructive.

Hume gives as historical examples of this type of religious fanatic some of the more extreme Puritans during the English civil wars; he also gives the Levellers as possibly an example of a similar group of political fanatics.

This passage always strikes me as a good example of Hume's dry wit.

[Quotation from An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Section III, Part II.]

Notes and Links

* Mark Chu-Carroll gives a useful summary of the difference between Turing equivalent and Turing complete. This has led to interesting futher posts about computational complexity:

Basic Computational Complexity
Basic Complexity Classes: P and NP
Probabilistic Complexity

* Charles Blattberg's Political Philosophies and Political Ideologies (PDF) offers an interesting argument for patriotism as a political philosophy. Certain aspects of the argument are developed in Patriotic, Not Deliberative, Democracy (PDF). (By 'deliberative democracy', of course, Blattberg has in mind something very specific and Rawlsian; one thread of Blattberg's argument is that a patriotic democracy, in his sense, allows for more of what we would ordinarily call deliberation -- i.e., mutual dialogue and conversation -- than what is usually called 'deliberative democracy'.)

* R.U.R., by Karel Capek; the play that gave us one epoch-changing word: Robot. It's also an interesting read for Asimov fans, because you get to see just how much of Asimov's Robots series is influenced by this play, despite the very different things Capek and Asimov are doing with the idea. The play is also interesting in light of recent discussions over P. D. James's Children of Men.

* Through Aliens in this World I came across this great essay by Alan Garner on the language of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

* A fascinating discussion of Sir John Fielding at "Westminster Wisdom".

* CopyrightWatch has a list of authors whose works entered the public domain on January 1 of this year. You certainly will recognize some of the names. Of course, a distinction actually has to be made between several different types of countries, since public domain is not the same in every country. As the post notes, some countries are on a life + 50 years system, while others are on a life + 70 years system, so when a work becomes public domain in one system, it won't in the other for another twenty years. So whether any of these authors have become public domain in your own country will depend on the specifics of your country's copyright laws. Unfortunately the U.S. is on a life+70 system (as is most of Europe), with a few quirks. This handy chart gives a summary of what is and what is not in the public domain for the U.S. For information on other countries, this website is a good place to start your research.

* This is an old YouTube offering, but still one of the best: a speed-metal version of Pachelbel's Canon on electric guitar.

* Today is the feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers, the most Greek of the Latin Fathers. From his classic work On the Trinity:

While my mind was dwelling on these and on many like thoughts, I chanced upon the books which, according to the tradition of the Hebrew faith, were written by Moses and the prophets, and found in these words spoken by God the Creator testifying of Himself 'I Am that I Am, and again, He that is has sent me unto you.' I confess that I was amazed to find in them an indication concerning God so exact that it expressed in the terms best adapted to human understanding an unattainable insight into the mystery of the Divine nature. For no property of God which the mind can grasp is more characteristic of Him than existence, since existence, in the absolute sense, cannot be predicated of that which shall come to an end, or of that which has had a beginning, and He who now joins continuity of being with the possession of perfect felicity could not in the past, nor can in the future, be non-existent; for whatsoever is Divine can neither be originated nor destroyed. Wherefore, since God's eternity is inseparable from Himself, it was worthy of Him to reveal this one thing, that He is, as the assurance of His absolute eternity.


* Wow, the Gummy Bears attack the Hornburg in a viciously sugary battle.

* Thanks to Kieran Healy, you can read Anscombe's Analysis article, A Note on Mr. Bennett. All two sentences of it.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Scott McLemee recently had an interesting discussion of Hegel in his Inside Higher Ed column; he followed it up with a post at Cliopatria asking:

Might GWB be playing a world-historical role even if his stated plans turn out to be as disasterous as they've been so far? Could his actual significance in the grand scheme of things be as catalyst for the complete destruction of U.S. power in the region?

I'm not a Hegel expert by any measure at all, but this set me thinking about Hegel's discussion of world-historical persons in Hegel's philosophy of heroes. What Hegel would say, I don't know, but I think a Hegelian could very well answer Yes (Maybe) to the first question, but would answer No to the second question.

It's tricky navigating Hegel's philosophy of history because we are always in danger of reading into it things that are not there, or that may only be ambiguously suggested. So I'm not going to claim to have an exact description of the world-historical role in Hegel's account. And, again, everything I say here should be taken with a grain of salt. But I am going to suggest a way of looking at it that at least gets us in the vicinity of what Hegel means when he is talking about world-historical persons.

We might, if we had simply thought about it before looking at the actual course of history, have thought that the world would be a pretty balanced place -- very stable, in equilibrium. But that's not the way history actually works. There is an imbalance to it, an asymmetry, a faultline running through all history. This faultline, which makes perfect equilibrium impossible, drives progress; it is what gives history direction. World-historical persons are people who happen to fall on this faultline; they unbalance the world. If human beings were able to achieve complete complacency, progress would grind to a halt and the stagnation of equilibrium would set in. We would be stuck at a given level. What world-historical persons do is throw us off balance. They break complacencies; they take the boundaries that we think are secure and step outside of them, and get away with it. This forces us to expand our horizons to take into account this ability to step outside the box.

Progress in Hegel's understanding of history is always progress in consciousness; this is what led Marx to make one of the most effective and scathing criticisms of Hegel's philosophy of history, that it treats all history as the history of philosophy -- what's called history of religion is the history of our philosophical awareness of religion; what's called history of government is the history of our philosophical awareness of government; what's called history of culture is the history of our philosophical awareness of culture. It's very idea-oriented, and a lot of the strangeness of Hegel's view of history goes away when you understand this. Within its limits, in fact, it begins making a strange sort of sense; it's not particularly teleological, and the whole appeal to providence is very ambivalently introduced -- it's pretty much introduced as a concession to Hegel's audience, making it easier to grasp his point. So it's not particularly providentialist, either. Rather, it is very much about the blasting away of human assumptions about reality. There's a faultline in history; our assumptions break upon it; we are forced to rethink the world; and our new thought necessarily both includes the prior stages and goes beyond them. That, allowing for a certain amount of approximation and stylization, is Hegel's account of history.

So I think the Hegelian could answer Yes to McLemee's first question, if he sees Bush as forcing a break-down in our common wisdom, our assumptions about the way the world works. If Bush does that on a massive scale, he is a world-historical figure; this status is not a moral status (it does not indicate approval or disapproval -- two people in the twentieth century who clearly qualify for world-historical status are Gandhi and Hitler, because they forced, in very different ways, massive changes in the way we understand the world), and it is not a status of rationality or excellence. It is a label that indicates an ability to crumple our worldview by force of will, and the sort of success relevant to being a world-historical figure is not success in the ordinary sense, but success in this destabilization. The Idea of Reason continually intrudes into the world (we are necessarily forced to rethink our understanding of the world on ever-larger scales); but to do so it has to use cunning, and clothe itself in things inferior to it (the forced rethinking generally occurs not from people aiming at such a shift but from people along the faultline of history pursuing their own passions and interests); this means that the entrance of Reason into the world (the greater self-understanding of the human race) is necessarily accompanied by Unreason (people suffer and things go wrong on a massive scale). [This, incidentally, is the Hegelian version of the problem of evil. It is also the beginning of the Hegelian response: because this is all a matter of necessity (in some sense of the term) there is really nothing to do in the face of the massive suffering of humanity but stand in shocked astonishment at the overwhelming and ruthless sweep of progress in human self-understanding. (There is more to it, of course, and I am stating it in a deliberately crudely way; but this is where the Hegelian begins to develop the response.)]

But for the same reason, I think the sort of role McLemee posits in the second question is just not Hegelian enough. What possible shift in philosophical awareness could be brought about merely by collapse of U.S. power in the region, even if it does so? It's just not the kind of historical explanation the Hegelian finds interesting. The only collapse the Hegelian is interested in is the collapse of the sort of complacency that would impede progress in our understanding of ourselves if it were not removed.

The Truth Cannnot Be Made Clear in Any Other Way

The Second Council of Constantinople on Vigilius:

In order to persuade him, we reminded him of the great example left us by the apostles and of the traditions of the fathers. Even though the grace of the holy Spirit was abundant in each of the apostles, so that none of them required the advice of another in order to do his work, nevertheless they were loathe to come to a decision on the issue of the circumcision of gentiles until they had met together to test their various opinions against the witness of the holy scriptures.

In this way they unanimously reached the conclusion which they wrote to the gentiles: It has seemed good to the holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.

The holy fathers, who have gathered at intervals in the four holy councils, have followed the examples of antiquity. They dealt with heresies and current problems by debate in common, since it was established as certain that when the disputed question is set out by each side in communal discussions, the light of truth drives out the shadows of lying.

The truth cannot be made clear in any other way when there are debates about questions of faith, since everyone requires the assistance of his neighbour. As Solomon says in his proverbs: A brother who helps a brother shall be exalted like a strong city; he shall be as strong as a well-established kingdom. Again in Ecclesiastes he says: Two are better than one, for they have a good reward for their toil. And the Lord himself says: Amen I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

The 'example of antiquity' here is the interaction of the apostles in Acts 21, what has occasionally been called the 'Council of Jerusalem'.

I find this a fascinating passage, and worthy of meditation. I will be saying something more about it soon, you can be sure.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Sharon Ryan has an article up at the SEP on wisdom; her conclusion is that we can define (or at least formulate a promising definition) of wisdom along these lines:

S is wise iff:

1. S has extensive factual and theoretical knowledge.
2. S knows how to live well.
3. S is successful at living well.
4. S has very few unjustified beliefs.

I like the attempt, but I don't think this is promising at all. What strikes me about the discussion leading up to this conclusion is that it leaves out completely what has perhaps been the dominant view of wisdom over the centuries, namely, that wisdom is a disposition to right judgment about the first and most important things. One of the advantages of this description over Ryan's is that it allows you to recognize both domain-general and domain-specific forms of wisdom (depending on which first and most important things are in view). The above definition could only apply to domain-general forms of wisdom, because of #2 and #3, which make it utterly implausible for any domain-specific form. Someone who is wise in a craft is not necessarily someone who knows how to live well, nor are they necessarily successful at living well. Contrast it with, say, Aquinas's account, in which wisdom is a virtue in which we consider rightly the highest causes (clearly a version, and a very influential one, of the dominant view I've mentioned). Aquinas explicitly allows for domain-general forms of wisdom (two kinds!), which in his view consider divine causes, and domain-specific forms of wisdom: "Accordingly he that knows the highest cause in any particular genus, and by its means is able to judge and set in order all the things that belong to that genus, is said to be wise in that genus, for instance in medicine or architecture" (ST 2-2.45.1c; he gives 1 Corinthians 3:10 as an example of this sort of usage).

Another weakness in the article is that it ignores an entire field of contemporary philosophy that deals at great length with issues of wisdom, namely, Sage Philosophy. And, again, this touches on another major current in thought about wisdom through the ages, the relation of wisdom to what we call wisdom traditions -- proverbs, advice, and the like. After all, Socrates may be wise, but so are Okemba Simiyo Chaungo or Paul Mbuya Akoko in their own diverse ways; so are, sometimes and in their own small ways, the old men and women sitting on their front porches in some small town in Mississippi, thinking about what's important in life and passing it down to the younger generation. You don't need extensive factual and theoretical knowledge to be wise; you need the right kind of knowledge. You don't need to have very few unjustified beliefs to be wise; it's possible to be a mixture of wise and foolish, as long as you are so in different ways. Nor, perhaps, do you need to be successful at living well to be wise, even at living well; there is tragic wisdom: wisdom is sometimes found at the end of a long road of failure, after you have missed your chances for living well, and come to see what serious foolishness it all was. Wisdom comes in many forms.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Bishop of Nyssa

I see on the Orthodox liturgical calendar that I occasionally consult that today is the Feast of St. Gregory of Nyssa. So I can't help but link to On Not Three Gods, one of the great masterpieces on Trinitarian theology.

Development of Doctrine

There was recently some very interesting discussion of doctrinal development at several blogs that I wanted to say something about, but lacked the time to do so. And it took quite a bit of effort to get this post out, as it turns out; Blogger was killing me, since it kept doing weird things when I had time to work on it. However, I've finally got it out. The discussion deserves at least to be skimmed in full, so the course of the discussion seemed to be:

1. Doctrine and the Deposit of Faith at "An Examined Life"

2. And the Son at "An Examined Life"

3. Ampliative and Clarificatory Inference at "Sacramentum Vitae"

4. That homoousious again at "Sacramentum Vitae"

5. Development of Doctrine East and West at "An Examined Life"

6. Further Notes on Ampliative and Non-Ampliative Inference at "An Examined Life"

7. Ampliative Development of Doctrine at "Sacramentum Vitae"

8. Again with non-ampliative inference at "An Examined Life"

9. Sola Deduction at "Zippy Catholic"

10. Ampliative Development of Doctrine II at "Sacramentum Vitae"

11. Just what is the principle of the development of doctrine, anyway? at "An Examined Life"

12. Carson and Liccione Argue the Development of Doctrine at "Pontifications"

13. Back to the (for me) source at "An Examined Life"

14. It Isn't a Shotgun at "Zippy Catholic"

15. Not Just an Empty Suit at "Zippy Catholic"

My comments fall into three parts.

I. The first comment I want to make is that it's perhaps not so clear what the discussants mean by 'doctrine' when they talk about 'development of doctrine'. A doctrine, after all, is just something taught; but necessarily there are different modes or levels of things taught, differentiated by how they are taught, and what the properties of the teaching are. For instance, a doctrine like the Chalcedonian definition is rather different from a doctrine like the limbo of children, and necessarily so; they are both things taught, but what is being done in teaching them is radically different. I think any discussion of development of doctrine has to make very clear what sort of doctrines are being discussed; althought I think everyone above knows what's being discussed, some of the comments suggest that others might be finding it a bit more fuzzy. I can think of four things offhand that legitimately can be called development of doctrine, and what you can say about the subject depends crucially on which one you chiefly have in mind.There is no reason to think that the sort of development involved will be the same in each of these different cases; indeed, there is good reason to think that it will not be so.

1. Articulation of the Faith. Both Liccione and Carson give examples -- homoousios at Nicea, Filioque, Immaculate Conception -- that at least suggest that they have in mind the articulation of the faith into 'joints' (the metaphor whence we get the term 'article' in 'article of faith') of dogma. However, articulation of the faith is a very peculiar process, in the sense that it is both extremely unusual and quite unique. It is not the usual process by which the Church teaches anything. What gives it its importance is that the result of articulation is, as it were, the core, the key, the fundamental doctrines that we share in virtue of our common faith. There is no articulation without dogmatic definition; dogmatic definition is purely a matter of authority in teaching. Moreover, as Thomas Aquinas (and many others) have noted, articulation is defensive, in the sense that it has to be provoked. The faith is inexhaustible in its potential ramifications and commonly recognized to be so; so articulation of it only occurs in response to controversy. Strictly speaking, of course, it need not be a direct response to controversy -- the articulation can in principle happen after any of the relevant controversy has happily been resolved, and perhaps there are a few cases where this is arguably what happened. But the controversy has to be there. What makes a listing of the articles of the faith, such as the full Nicene Creed, adequate is not that it conveys everything in our common faith, but that it covers all the broad categories under which further articulation might occur. Further controversy might provoke further articulation as, for instance, it certainly did at Chalcedon or III Constantinople.

If the dispute is about articulation, however, it's hard to see how the discussion could have taken the turn it did. Early in the discussion, Michael noted:

I happily grant, as indeed I must grant, that the (true) assertion that the Son is homoousios with the Father added nothing to what had been revealed to the Apostles. That is not at issue. The question is whether the formula amplified the Church's collective understanding of what had been revealed to the Apostles. Of course it did. It does not merely tell us what is "not in line with revelation"; it gives a more formal, and thus clearer, meaning to what was always materially the faith of the Church. That is precisely what made it useful in defense of orthodoxy. It is not merely apophatic, either syntactically or semantically. It would have been neither necessary nor useful if it had been so intended.

While I don't know that he would agree with every aspect of how this is formulated, I find it difficult to imagine that Scott would disagree with the substance of this; the sense of 'amplification' here need not be taken to say anything about the Principle of Non-Ampliation, because saying that the formula amplified the Church's collective understanding of what had been revealed is just to say that the formula was a development, and no one in the discussion disagrees, I think, about this. But speaking about articulation of the faith as such, which is what the conciliar affirmation of homoousios certainly is, there doesn't seem much more that can be said from the perspective of development of doctrine than what is said in the above passage. At least, if the dispute were about articulation, one would expect it to focus in on dogmatic authority and infallibility.

2. Explication of the Articles. So perhaps the later discussion has not so much to do with articulation as itself a way in which the Church teaches as it does with the further teaching of what is articulated. Articulation is in its own way one of the ways the Church teaches; but, having articulated, the Church must then further unfold what has been articulated. And a great deal of the discussion suggests this; synonyms and circumlocutions for unfolding, for instance, keep coming up. This process of explication is messier and less clear-cut than articulation itself is; it often follows from articulation, it often leads up to articulation, and so it is intimately connected to it. In explication we take what we have and carefully reason out what conclusions we should draw from this. I take it that the dispute over induction vs. deduction, or ampliative vs. non-ampliative inferences, which we see in the late part of the discussion is about precisely what is being done when we are reasoning out what conclusions we should draw from the faith as it has been articulated to this point.

So I'm fairly certain that this is what is being debated; the comments late in the discussion about 'de fide propositions' make it virtually certain. But I do want to mention very briefly two other forms of development of doctrine, because I think they hover in the wings in discussions like these; and they are like the poles in pole chess: they sometimes jump in unexpectedly and confuse everybody. So it's good at least to note them in order not to be baffled by them if they show up suddenly.

3. Progress of Elucidation. It is often forgotten, I think, that much of Christian doctrine is not rigorously authoritative; but it is nonetheless taught as being valuable for understanding the articles and their explications. It's not quite the case that things that are proposed in the process of elucidation are not authoritative, or are not essential to the faith. They sometimes can be; but we are talking about the process or development here, and the point is that there is nothing in the process of elucidation that requires that it be so (unlike articulation or explication). Something developed through elucidation might unintentionally turn out to be equivalent to something already articulated, or to some explication of it; it's just that elucidation is neither articulation nor explication but something auxiliary to both. The point is that when the Church teaches, say, the Trinity, it does not merely lay out the articles on the Trinity and carefully show what conclusions can be drawn from them. It pours out a torrent of analogies, icons, metaphors, neologisms, approximations, practices, and the like, because its teaching does not merely involve laying out the faith but also bringing people to an understanding of it that illuminates their lives. These things develop through time, as any teaching for this end would in the hands of even a merely adequate teacher. It's unfortunate that this aspect of Christian doctrine is so neglected merely because the process itself doesn't carry compelling authority; for much of what is very powerful about what the Church teaches -- much of its beauty, much of its positive presence in the world -- has been discovered by Christians struggling not to articulate the faith, not to explicate the faith, but to elucidate it.

4. Plausible and Pious Speculation. A fourth important thing that can be considered development of doctrine is the growth of plausible & pious speculation. An example is the ongoing dispute over Molinist accounts of providence. Most of this are easily distinguished precisely because they are disputed; but the process can't be dismissed out of hand. For instance, Catholics regularly recognize a case in which plausible and pious speculation turned out to lead, perhaps a bit unexpectedly, to an articulation -- namely, Scotus's speculations about instants of redemption, which opened the way for the eventual definition of the Immaculate Conception. Other examples can be found. It's also important because people are often willing to concede a development as a plausible and pious speculation (whether they agree with it or not) but not as an explication of the faith.

II. While the dispute has been framed in terms of the nature of development, it seems to me that this is not quite the right way to frame it. After all, the nature of the development is purely historical, and to discover it you simply look at how the doctrines did, in fact, develop it. Rather, what the discussion has been looking at is the nature of anticipation or intimation in development of doctrine. To see what I mean, let's go back to basics for a moment and think about development of ideas.

We are taking a historical view of the matter, so the most general feature of what we are discussing is that it has a before and an after, a prior moment and a posterior one. The mere transition from before to after is not, however, enough to characterize development; it constitutes a mere difference. What we are interested in is change, and to have change you need not merely a difference between before and after but something connecting the two, so that you can say, "This before is relevant to this after." Think of a sudden shifting of scenes in a movie. Within the movie this is a mere difference: first we're over here, then we're over there. If this were all that were involved, there would be nothing to make one relevant to the other; it would be somewhat as if we shifted from a scene in one movie suddenly to a scene in another movie. The two have no real connection, and thus the difference between the two would not be a change (within the movies). However, in fact, a change of scenes within a movie is a genuine change because the scenes have a commonality make them parts of one changing thing: that is, they are both scenes within one movie, so the change from one to another has intelligibility as a single change in which before and after are relevant to each other.

So we are thinking not just of differences between before and after, but of differences involving relevances, i.e., changes. But even this is not specific enough. We are talking about developments, and what distinguishes a development from other changes is that what we have before internally anticipates or intimates what we have after. The change is not imposed from without, and the relevance between before and after is not merely a common substrate. A stump and a chair hacked out of it are relevant to each other as the termini of a single change, a before and after that shares a common substrate (the wood). But we do not say that the chair developed out of the stump, because the stump does not internally anticipate or intimate the chair that came from it. This differs from, say, the relevance linking an acorn to an oak tree; the acorn really does internally anticipate or intimate the oak tree that comes from it, despite the rather heavy differences in what Newman calls their 'external images'. Even if the chair looks roughly like the stump, and even though an oak at first glance looks nothing like an acorn, there is a sense in which the connection between the acorn and the full-grown oak is more intimate than that between the stump and the chair, because the acorn intimates, anticipates, within itself what it will become, whereas the stump does not. This link of relevance between the before and the after in a case of development I will call, for lack of a better term, intimacy.

However, even intimacy is not enough to make a development in the strict sense, because there is another form of change involving intimacy (that therefore is development in a broad sense of the term) that is not development in the strict sense. This is deterioration, or decay, or corruption. In deterioration or decay, the before internally anticipates the after; but the change is not progressive. It is, so to speak, the development of the dying rather than the development of the living.

It is noteworthy that virtually the whole of Newman's discussion in An Essay on the Development of Doctrine is devoted to this distinction between development and deterioration. The reason is not hard to find; Newman is not so much interested in development of doctrine for its own sake, as for the light it sheds on an important question: Why is it important and worthwhile to consider the history of the Church from its origin to the present time in order to clarify current matters of dispute? Or, to put it more crudely but more vividly: Why does it really matter what the Church Fathers taught about, say, the Trinity? The answer to the general question is the development of doctrine, and the importance of the Church Fathers (or the scholastics, or Church teachings since the time of the apostles) lies in the difference between progressive development and other kinds of change. It is for this reason that Newman denotes so much time and space to the seven notes of development: they provide "tests" or signs (albeit "of varying cogency, independence, and application") that help us decided when something is development or decay. (It is also why it doesn't matter to Newman's discussion which development of doctrine we have in mind.)

The discussion here, however, seems to me to be very different; the focus is on the nature of the intimacy between the beginning and the end of legitimate development, or, to put it in other terms, the question is: given that B is the result of A, what constraints on A's anticipation of B make A's growth into B a development rather than a deterioration of some sort.

III. Michael's basic idea is that the process of understanding divine revelation recapitulates (in at least a general way) the unfolding of divine revelation. The unfolding of divine revelation, however, is ampliative -- new revelation does not merely clarify or work out the implications of the previous content, it (also) adds new content. His standing example is the way in which Isaiah's prophecy about an almah, became understood as about a parthenos, and this as suggesting a virgin birth. However, Scott has argued that the unfolding can't be ampliative: nothing can be contained in the conclusions that is not contained in the premises collectively. He argues that the Isaiah 7:14 example shows not an inference at all but an interpretation; and interpretation is common to ampliative and non-ampliative inferences alike.

I'd like to get two superficial difficulties out of the way, and point to a lacuna in each account that makes it more puzzling than it need be; and then say why I think neither can be quite right.

The chief superficial difficulty of Michael's position, and a point at which I think many people will balk, is that it seems to require something like prophecy in the development of doctrine: and this seems to come very close to claiming that something radically different from development is actually going on, because it becomes unclear how we can have anticipation or intimation of something entirely new. It allows progress, but the change admitted seems too strong for intimacy. This is not, I think, insurmountable. To return to the Isaiah 7:14 example, this is clearly a development, and clearly involves internal anticipation, although it is tricky to say how it actually works. Just as the oak doesn't have to be a mechanical unfolding of an acorn, so the end result can be clearly different from the beginning while still preserving intimacy. But, again, this is a matter that is very tricky to elucidate; it can't just be any change that works this way.

The chief superficial difficulty of Scott's position, and the point at which many people seem to be balking, is in some ways the reverse. It seems to make the change too weak: 'development of doctrine' just turns out to be saying things you've already said. Again, it seems very close to being a claim that something radically different from development is going on, because it becomes unclear how you can have not just intimacy but progress. I think, again, that this is not insurmountable. Take a fairly clear case of the sort of domain in which conclusions are only accepted as authoritative if they follow by rigorous deduction, mathematics. It's clear that mathematics develops -- sometimes in extremely surprising ways. After all, mathematics in this sense is not a formal system but a study and a discipline pertaining to formal systems; and likewise Scott is not committed to saying that Magisterium could be replaced by a computer; since teaching and the authority to teach are not formal systems even if what is taught is. What seems tricky here is how we explicate by deduction premises whose precise nature we (at least apparently) can only determine by explication.

Where I think a problem arises with both accounts is that they both end up talking about development of doctrine as if it were an inference. Clearly it is not; development of doctrine is a dialogue involving many different people, and what is more, it is an extremely complicated dialogue involving hundreds of thousands of inferences of many different kinds relating to each other in many different ways. This is not a trivial point; you can have both ampliative and non-ampliative inferences reaching the same conclusion, for the obvious reason that whether the inferences in question are ampliative or non-ampliative has nothing to do with the conclusions reached but only with the principles with which you started, which may be different in different contexts in which the conclusion in question is important. So the intimacy involved in actual development of doctrine can't simply be one or the other, but must be characterized in a different way; it must be as much richer than inference as the reasoning of a wild, living intellect is richer than paper logic.

Of course, what is tricky here is how we should characterize it if we are not going to characterize it inferentially. I hope to say more about my (somewhat embryonic) ideas about that in some future post.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Philosopher's Carnival

The 41st Philosopher's Carnival is up at Westminster Wisdom.

In one of the posts, SteveG at "Philosophers' Playground" discusses the commonly accepted prohibition against speaking ill of the dead. He asks, "What is so special about death that it overrides truth?" I'm not convinced that this is the right way to put it. It is, after all, entirely possible to follow the prohibition without lying; and there are lots of circumstances in which it is inadvisable to say some true things unless you have to do so. A lot of tact, in fact, is knowing what to pass over in silence unless you are forced to bring it up. The prohibition is pretty certainly not theological, since the version of it found in very theological cultures -- Muslim and Christian, for instance -- tends to be very weak; the strongest forms of the prohibition are certainly going to be found in cultures where religion is not so much theological as ancestor-oriented. And even in such cases, it isn't clear that the religion would be the source of the prohibition. The moral hypothesis seems very plausible as an explanation of the survival of the prohibition in most Western nations; but the etiquette hypothesis at least at first glance seems far more plausible for cultures like Japan and China. Perhaps, then, these are only furthering causes rather than original ones -- perhaps they are all the sorts of things that may strengthen the prohibition, or take it in various directions, without being the actual source. If so, however, what could be the source? I suspect it would lie somewhere in common human attitudes to death and the dead, which can be (to some degree) culturally invariant and thus able to be the source of serious discomfort at instances of speaking ill of the dead. But that's just a guess. It would bear further investigation.

Murdering Rastari, Part IV

Part I, Part II, and Part III of this short story draft.

Needless to say, we couldn't just hop off to a hunting cabin with Rastari in the state he was in. We had to wait patiently nearly three months before we could even broach the subject. In the meantime, I visited Rastari two or three times a week. It was a difficult task, but I believe that discipline is the better part of virtue. I soon came up with a way to endure Rastari's endless laughter and annoying jokes. I would imagine his face turning blue, slowly deepening to black, and his laughing mouth contorting to a sheer agony, as the poison did its work to rid the world of the man and save all that was good and holy. It was lovely, and there is no way I could have endured as much of Rastari as I did if I had not hit upon it.

As Rastari grew better, I began to broach the subject of getting away to the cabin for a good weekend's hunt. Being the complete idiot that he is, he agreed it would be fun, and soon began actively talking of it whenever we met.

So it was that we eventually found ourselves in a hunting cabin with Danny Rastari, watching with a certain amount of abstract pleasure as he wolfed down the poison-laced food we had prepared for him. It was only a matter of time before the world would be in a better state; we settled in for a short wait.

The short wait began to stretch out into a long wait. Finally, Max took me aside and said, "I don't think it's working."

"I thought you were sure it would."

Max shrugged. "I don't know what happened. Perhaps he's immune."

"Well," I said, thinking, "do you know of any other poisons we could use."

"I think we need to move beyond poisons," Max replied. "Poison is too fickle. We need a more effective method. Something quicker."

As he picked up a heavy log from beside the fire, a chill went down my spine. "No, no, no," I whispered as forcefully as I could without alerting Danny. "We can't murder him; we just want him dead."

"The only thing that will kill him is the trauma to the back of his head. I'll just be helping it to start," Max replied, and, before I could stop him, he had rushed up on Rastari and, wielding the log like a baseball hat, had hit him with full force across the back of the head.

The sound the log made when it hit his head was sickening; I expected Danny to fall like a stone. Apparently his skull was harder than even I had thought, though, because he only staggered back, holding his head. He shouted something I didn't quite hear in the confusion; but Max was already swinging the log again. It missed as Rastari scrambled out of the way.

For the next minute or two they played what looked almost like a gruesome game of blind man's bluff, with Max swinging recklessly and Rastari dodging like a madman. Finally Rastari managed to fling the door open and sprint out into the woods.

Exasperated, Max threw the log aside and grabbed his hunting rifle.

"I owe you an apology," he said as he made sure the rifle was loaded, "for setting us on the poison trail. You had the right idea originally. It will have to be a hunting accident."

"Wait," I replied. "Surely it won't be an accident if you deliberately do it?"

"I won't be deliberately doing anything but aiming the gun. The bullet will do the rest," Max replied, and before I could stop him he ran out the door after Rastari.

After a moment of shock at the violent turn of the night's events, I followed. There was really nothing else I could do. If the world was to be made a better place for virtue, Rastari had to die.

More to follow.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Notes and Links

* The Carnival of Citizens, at "Sportive Thoughts", has been postponed one week to allow people more time to get submissions in. The theme is Reconciliation, but any posts considering matters of politics and society from a reflective and deliberative view will be considered. Please consider submitting something.

* The Madman of Chu gives some clarification about what is going on with Christianity in China. As one might expect (but somehow as we never do expect!), it's very, very complicated.

* It's from 2005, but I just recently came across Rabbi Charles Arian's nuanced discussion of the complications of Jewish + Christian prayer services.

* Chinese Siege Warfare. The place to go if you ever need to unite everything under Heaven in the Warring States period, or if you ever become a Mohist advocating the value of universal benevolence and catapults.

* Anniina has a nice post on Mary Astell at "Mischievous Muse".

* It is, was, and probably always will be the best version of the song "Hallelujah", even if Buckley's is far better known: Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. Buckley's changes turned Cohen's song of battered victory into a song of sordid defeat by replacing the last two stanzas. These last two stanzas I've always thought stunning; and well worth remembering in a world filled to overflowing with broken Hallelujahs. They also fit much better with the David and Bathsheba theme.

* Scott Carson looks at the causal structure of the world in relation to some aspects of Catholic thought at "An Examined Life".

* Phil of "hyperekperissou" has up his weekly Patristic Roundup.

* The Black and Tan model of Christology at "Alive and Young" might come in handy as a discussion piece if you are ever in a bar and need a shot of theology with your beer. Mix the two at your own risk.

* There is some interesting discussion at "Maverick Philosopher" on Dawkins's complexity argument.

* Today, as the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord, brings Christmastide to a close in most places. In other places, due to slightly quirky calendars, this is not quite so; American Catholics, for instance, have Epiphany as a movable feast that falls today, which messes things up slightly and breaks an age-old rhythm of the year. Well, liturgical timekeeping is not an exact science; and as I'm of the opinion that you should never celebrate once what you can celebrate twice, I don't really have a problem with divergent calendars. The more holidays, the better; it gives you a chance to celebrate them in multiple ways in the course of a single year. In any case, the move out of Christmastide is likely to return things to normal, or bring them closer to normal around here; less focus on feasts and more on other things.'


* Apparently one of the curious twists of the recent AHA convention was that Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, a well regarded and very mild-mannered historian, was thrown on the ground, handcuffed, and thrown in jail for eight hours with a bail of one thousand dollars -- for jaywalking. He is interviewed about the experience here. He has a good sense of humor about the whole situation; I'm glad, though, that the AHA is considering registering a complaint. (HT: Cliopatria)

* Ehud Sprinzak's essay, Rational Fanatics (PDF), on suicide terrorism. It's a little dated, but still the must-read article on the subject.

* Ronald Knox's great satire of source criticism, Materials for a Boswellian Problem