Saturday, March 24, 2007

William Morris on Decoration

True it is that in many or most cases we have got so used to this ornament, that we look upon it as if it had grown of itself, and note it no more than the mosses on the dry sticks with which we light our fires. So much the worse! for there IS the decoration, or some pretence of it, and it has, or ought to have, a use and a meaning. For, and this is at the root of the whole matter, everything made by man's hands has a form, which must be either beautiful or ugly; beautiful if it is in accord with Nature, and helps her; ugly if it is discordant with Nature, and thwarts her; it cannot be indifferent: we, for our parts, are busy or sluggish, eager or unhappy, and our eyes are apt to get dulled to this eventfulness of form in those things which we are always looking at. Now it is one of the chief uses of decoration, the chief part of its alliance with nature, that it has to sharpen our dulled senses in this matter: for this end are those wonders of intricate patterns interwoven, those strange forms invented, which men have so long delighted in: forms and intricacies that do not necessarily imitate nature, but in which the hand of the craftsman is guided to work in the way that she does, till the web, the cup, or the knife, look as natural, nay as lovely, as the green field, the river bank, or the mountain flint.

To give people pleasure in the things they must perforce USE, that is one great office of decoration; to give people pleasure in the things they must perforce MAKE, that is the other use of it.

From William Morris, "The Lesser Arts," in Hopes and Fears for Art

UPDATE: I was reminded by this of this old post. Wow; that was over a year ago....

Ubiquity, and Hamann

Thomas Adams of "Without Authority" has a rousing defense of the Lutheran doctrine of ubiquity. It doesn't change the fact that if we accept ubiquity, Christ's body and blood are really present in the grilled cheese sandwich on my plate, and not just in the bread and wine on the altars of the world; but the post makes some important points that tend to be overlooked in the discussion.

Speaking of which he has a good post on Johann Hamann. You can read more about Hamann at the SEP and at the IEP. Hamann is an interesting philosophical figure in part because he is a Christian Humean, at least a Christian Humean of sorts -- he calls Hume 'his philosopher' and unleashes him against Kant, to poke holes in the pretensions of the Enlightenment thinkers. And he takes the Humean account of the mind and transforms it into a theology of language. Which is perhaps a fitting twist, given that Hume's philosophy is in part a transformation of Malebranche's Christian-rationalist attack on idolatry into a skeptical-naturalist view of the world.

Manalive, I love the history of philosophy. You couldn't make this sort of thing up if you tried.

A Use of Philosophy

A lovely take-down by Rob Jubb.

When I was in my last year of undergrad (which was my third), I lived in a single room in the most party-oriented wing of the campus's party dorm. Except for a handful of people who knew me from before, everyone in the wing called me The Guy, because they never saw me; while they were partying, I was at the library or studying in my room or visiting friends. I somehow missed the partying-through-4-years-of-college use of philosophy (perhaps it was counteracted by my being a double major), but I will add it to my list.

Callista and Newman's Theology of Conversion

If no one knew that John Henry Newman had written Callista, any literary scholar puzzling over the authorship of the work would be able to determine that it was written by either Newman himself or someone thoroughly permeated with his ideas. The novel, in fact, is saturated with a Newmanian theology of conversion.

Some background may be in order. Callista is intended to be a historical romance portraying Christianity in the third century, specifically for a Catholic audience. The major characters of the work are Agellius and Callista herself. Curiously, while she is mentioned in conversation earlier, Callista does not appear in person until Chapter 10. Of the other characters, the only ones of importance are Juba and Jucundus, relatives of Agellius, and the priest Caecilius, who turns out to be a rather important historical personage, better known under one of his other names. The events take place in and around the town of Sicca Veneria (modern-day Al-Kaf or El Kef in Tunisia); while not nearly as large as Carthage to the northeast, it nonetheless is fairly important as the seat of the Proconsular Africa. The novel opens during a time of relative peace; Christianity has been declining in the area, to such an extent that Sicca has neither priest nor bishop, and the general view among the pagans in the area is that it is (finally) dying out there, although there is worry about the pervasive influence of Christians across the empire. There are, in fact, only a handful of Christians in Sicca at all, and most of those are merely nominal. While Agellius sincerely believes in Christian doctrine, his brother Juba is only nominally Christian (and that only when he feels like it, being inclined to local superstitions), and his uncle Jucundus is a pagan. Even Agellius is merely a catechumen, and has been for most of his life, not moving forward; he is "stuck fast in the door of the Church," and it's the view of both his brother and his uncle think it likely that only a little nudge will back him out. The particular nudge they think most likely to nudge him out is Callista, a beautiful and intelligent pagan Greek with whom he is smitten. Callista, however, turns out to be a more complex person than they had thought, for while she is definitely pagan, she has considerable sympathy toward Christianity. Things become complicated as the Decian persecution finally reaches Proconsular Africa and is officially put into effect there. And that's the basic line of the story.

Much of the novel is concerned with the conversion of Callista, and it is here that we see Newman's theology clearly manifested. Callista's conversion is, in essence, an interaction with three Christians: Chione, her maidservant, who has already died, and is the reason for Callista's sympathy toward Christianity; Agellius; and Caecilius, a priest who is riding around the countryside giving aid to Christians while hiding from the authorities, whose true identity we only learn in Chapter 20. In the Oxford University Sermons Newman has an important but often-overlooked sermon on personal influence as the means of propagating truth. In it Newman argues that moral truth, and in particular the truth of Christianity, is not generally propagated by miracles, arguments, or a Church hierarchy, although these may play a role in scattered cases. The real means by which moral truth is propagated in the world is personal influence, in the 'inherent moral power' we observe in some of those from whom we learn. These people are simultaneously the teachers of moral truth and the models by which we understand it. People in the world are drawn to the beauty and majesty of their characters; they recognize them to be rare and therefore precious; they regard them as in some sense out of their league; they are directly influenced by it. This is precisely the way Callista is affected by Chione, Agellius, and Caecilius; she feels that they are somehow sublime, that there is something in them which is worth having, even though she does not know quite what it is. Indeed, for a very long time she knows nothing of Christianity except that there is something attractive in Chione, Agellius, and Caecilius. As the narrator expresses it (in Chapter 27):

But then again, if she had been asked, what was Christianity, she would have been puzzled to give an answer. She would have been able to mention some particular truths which it taught, but neither to give them their definite and distinct shape, nor to describe the mode in which they were realised. She would have said, "I believe what has been told me, as from heaven, by Chione, Agellius, and Cæcilius:" and it was clear she could say nothing else. What the three told her in common and in concord was at once the measure of her creed and the ground of her acceptance of it. It was that wonderful unity of sentiment and belief in persons so dissimilar from each other, so distinct in their circumstances, so independent in their testimony, which recommended to her the doctrine which they were so unanimous in teaching.

In a slave, a country boy, and a learned priest she saw something that they all shared, particularly when they spoke of divine love. She has no commitment to Christian doctrines; but the Christian image found in her three sources, however vaguely defined, does provide a conduit by which those doctrines reach her in at least a vague form and impress her. The attraction borders on worship; as the narrator says of her attitude to Caecilius, "In spite of what she had injuriously said to him, she really felt drawn to worship him, as if he were the shrine and the home of that Presence to which he bore such solemn witness."

In Chapter 28 we are introduced to another way in which Callista's process of conversion exhibits echoes of Newman's theology, because Callista recognizes a sort of divine vocation. This is briefly mentioned in the sermon on personal influence to which I've just referred, when Newman talks about those "who acknowledge the voice of God speaking within them, and urging them heaven-ward"; but it is more extensively discussed elsewhere. The most famous discussion is that in the essay on Assent. In the Oxford University Sermons, the key passage is found in the sermon on the influences of natural and revealed religion. By 'natural religion' he means not religion based on reason alone, but those admirable aspects of the attempts by non-Christian people to worship God as they should. The foundation of this natural religion is conscience. Callista explicitly affirms natural religion in this sense:

"Well," she said, "I feel that God within my heart. I feel myself in His presence. He says to me, 'Do this: don't do that.' You may tell me that this dictate is a mere law of my nature, as is to joy or to grieve. I cannot understand this. No, it is the echo of a person speaking to me. Nothing shall persuade me that it does not ultimately proceed from a person external to me. It carries with it its proof of its divine origin. My nature feels towards it as towards a person. When I obey it, I feel a satisfaction; when I disobey, a soreness—just like that which I feel in pleasing or offending some revered friend. So you see, Polemo, I believe in what is more than a mere 'something.' I believe in what is more real to me than sun, moon, stars, and the fair earth, and the voice of friends. You will say, Who is He? Has He ever told you anything about Himself? Alas! no!—the more's the pity! But I will not give up what I have, because I have not more. An echo implies a voice; a voice a speaker. That speaker I love and I fear."

However, Newman holds that there is a weak point in natural religion understood this way; namely, that while it teaches "the infinite power and majesty, the wisdom and goodness, the presence, the moral governance, and, in one sense, the unity of the Deity," it nonetheless is limited in what it can convey of the divine Personality. He later did not like this way of stating it, since obviously many theists who are neither Jewish nor Christian believe in a personal God in some way or another. But something at least analogous to this lack Callista clearly feels, because she goes on immediately to say,

"O that I could find Him!" she exclaimed, passionately. "On the right hand and on the left I grope, but touch Him not. Why dost Thou fight against me?—why dost Thou scare and perplex me, O First and Only Fair? I have Thee not, and I need Thee."

Finally, in Chapter 29, Callista begins reading the Gospel of Luke and finally recognizes in clear outline the original Image which she had found echoed in Chione, Agellius, and Caecilius:

Here was that to which her intellect tended, though that intellect could not frame it. It could approve and acknowledge, when set before it, what it could not originate. Here was He who spoke to her in her conscience; whose Voice she heard, whose Person she was seeking for. Here was He who kindled a warmth on the cheek of both Chione and Agellius. That image sank deep into her; she felt it to be a reality.

This passage is suggestive of the passage on Gibbon in the later Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, in which he argues that an adequate account of the spread of Christianity has to include the Image of Christ, which was spread by personal influence in preaching and teaching, and which made it possible for people to assent to Christian doctrine with a 'real apprehension'. This is, in fact, the form of Callista's own conversion:

She now began to understand that strange, unearthly composure, which had struck her in Chione, Agellius, and Cæcilius; she understood that they were detached from the world, not because they had not the possession, nor the natural love of its gifts, but because they possessed a higher blessing already, which they loved above everything else. Thus, by degrees, Callista came to walk by a new philosophy; and had ideas, and principles, and a sense of relations and aims, and a susceptibility of arguments, to which before she was an utter stranger. Life and death, action and suffering, fortunes and abilities, all had now a new meaning and application. As the skies speak differently to the philosopher and the peasant, as a book of poems to the imaginative and to the cold and narrow intellect, so now she saw her being, her history, her present condition, her future, in a new light, which no one else could share with her. But the ruling sovereign thought of the whole was He, who exemplified all this wonderful philosophy in Himself.

Callista, then, is a novel shot through with Newman's theology. I have only considered it insofar as it relates to Callista's conversion. There are other examples that could be drawn on; for instance, part of Caecilius's striking discourse on love and omnipotence in Chapter 19 could be fruitfully compared to Newman's sermon on the omnipotence of God as the reason for faith and hope. But it suffices to show, I think, how much Callista is really an idea-novel, which probably explains some of Newman's curious choices in its composition (e.g., the two main characters, the fact that the primary character does not appear until a third of the way into the book, etc.).

Inner World

You Are An INFP

The Idealist

You are creative with a great imagination, living in your own inner world.
Open minded and accepting, you strive for harmony in your important relationships.
It takes a long time for people to get to know you. You are hesitant to let people get close.
But once you care for someone, you do everything you can to help them grow and develop.

You would make an excellent writer, psychologist, or artist.


Waiting for a New Benedict

An interesting discussion came up over my recent linking to Alasdair MacIntyre's argument for not voting. I suggested in the comments that at the back of MacIntyre's mind was something more or less like the famous passage with which he closes out After Virtue:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of the imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead - often not recognizing fully what they were doing - was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without ground for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.

Now, MacIntyre's not committed here to complete withdrawal from the 'imperium'; but he's not too far from suggesting it, either. It's a very strong position. In reply to it, Jack Perry said:

If that's what McIntyre's getting at, then I'm even more appalled by his ideas. The ancient world he speaks of was one where government was essentially organized thuggery—doesn't St. Augustine have some famous quote that implies that?—and people of all stripes of virtue had no real way to affect the course of events, short of trying to convince the emperor (or the tribal leader, or whatever) that he should become a Christian (or a Zoroastrian, or a Moslem, or whatever) and then hope that his enlightenment would civilize him somewhat. It seems to me that the isolation of Christians into communities only compounded the problems McIntyre bewails, because you then had Arian Germanic tribes who felt no compunction about invading the Catholic/Orthodox Roman Empire. One way Byzantium survived the short term was by converting the Slavs, and I suspect that one reason it didn't survive the (very, very) long term was that it failed to convert the Arabs, in part because the Patriarch and the Emperor together aggravated differences with the Copts, the Syriacs, the Latins, and so forth.

We live in an age where we can affect the course of events by organizing and voting. The solution to our difficulties at affecting the course of events is, I think, to organize and to stand fast to principles. As distasteful as Political Action Committees may seem, they give people a voice in government that we would not otherwise have in such an unimaginably large nation as ours. So I side with Cicero on this, and say that participation in politics is a virtue, so long as it is done virtuously, and abstaining from politics is a vice.

I confess to being torn. I am tempted to the view that, in fact, we should see ourselves as living through (having lived through?) a collapse of the basic structures of moral community, and that we need some rebuilding. I am also naturally skeptical of government, being also tempted to the view that the only difference between our governors and theirs is that ours are (to use a phrase I think someone has used somewhere) 'thugs with high pretensions'. I think, in fact, that one of the problems of our modern forms of government is that it encourages thuggery among otherwise decent people, and encourages them to cover it with high-sounding phrases. And what is worse, we all become accustomed to it. We should not kid ourselves; we are not Nehemiahs rebuilding Jerusalem, every man contributing to building the wall that protects the area where he lives. We are condoning all sorts of thuggery as the natural concomitants of living in a fortress; and not merely condoning, but often actively supporting it as long as it runs smoothly enough not to disturb us and our consciences.

On the other hand, things are not so simple; because Jack is quite right that, however far gone things may be, our society is indeed structured so that organizing and voting makes some difference. It's a very slow sort of difference-making, but it has not lost its power; if we do not use it as we should, that is because we have forgotten what little we ever knew about using it as we should, and this is only remedied if we learn it again by doing it again. But I think it's a mistake to think of politics as chiefly a matter of government; participating in the polis is much more than that, and it is this that is the virtue. And that is really where the matter starts, with like-minded people joining together to improve themselves and contribute to the improvement of life around them. So to that extent, the way forward is through participating in society, not withdrawing from it.

But we are stilling waiting for a new Benedict.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Vice of Meanness

We never excuse the absolute want of spirit and dignity of character, or a proper sense of what is due to one's self, in society and the common intercourse of life. This vice constitutes what we properly call meanness; when a man can submit to the basest slavery, in order to gain his ends; fawn upon those who abuse him; and degrade himself by intimacies and familiarities with undeserving inferiors. A certain degree of generous pride or self-value is so requisite, that the absence of it in the mind displeases, after the same manner as the want of a nose, eye, or any of the most material features of the face or members of the body.

Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Section VII


Tomorrow, March 23rd, is the feast day of Boutrosiya Sabaq Al-Rayes, more commonly known as Saint Rafqa. Rafqa's story is a curious one; not long after praying to share in the suffering of Christ and his saints, she fell ill, eventually becoming blind and crippled, with continual migraine headaches and frequent nosebleeds. She was part of an order that places a great emphasis on work, so she insisted through it at all that she still contribute what she could -- in her case, knitting clothes for the other sisters in her order. She gave what little she had to the poor. So it went until her paralysis spread. She eventually died in late 1914. The exact nature of her afflication is unknown, although it seems to have been tuberculosis. But Rafqa herself insisted that her suffering was a gift for which she gave thanks.

I think saints like Rafqa tend to be difficult to understand for those of us who live comfortable First World lives. How could we consider ourselves blessed if we were to suffer as she did? But Rafqa was Lebanese, at a time when suffering was common in Lebanon, and her embrace of her suffering was part of her solidarity with others who suffered. And one of the reasons she has become such a popular saint is precisely this: undergoing terrible suffering, she was not overcome by it; her solidarity with others who suffer allows those who suffer to enter into solidarity with her, and be strengthened by it. They need not suffer in lonely silence; amidst the tragedies of life they do not walk alone. They walk with others, and although the suffering is not less, they find more strength to bear it when there are others who willingly bear it with them. Even in pain we are social creatures. And in that there is perhaps hope for us all. Further, she has been taken as a self-symbol by the Maronite community, which has also suffered rather extensively; but who see in Rafqa the possibility of not being overcome by it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On Bates and the Episcopal Argument

Sorry to just be getting back to this; I've had other things to do, and so it's had to go on the backburner. I will be getting back to the original argument that started this all at some point, but there is another side issue to get out of the way. One of the arguments that was set aside was what we can, following Bates, call the Episcopal Argument:

Arg. I
(1) Same-sex unions realizing the unitive end do so by God's love.
(2) Any realization of the unitive end effected by God's love is holy.
Therefore, (3) same-sex unions realizing the unitive end are holy.

Arg. II
(1) Same-sex unions exhibiting effects of the Spirit are holy.
(2) There are same-sex unions exhibiting the effects of the Spirit.
Therefore, (3) There are holy same-sex unions.

Arg. III
(1) The church is permitted to bless holy unions.
(2) Some same-sex unions are holy.
Therefore, (3) The church is permitted to bless some same-sex unions.

Originally I had said this:

The conservative Anglican can still point out that a proponent of something recognized as vile -- for instance, pedophilia -- could run a parallel argument; and the problem with such an argument is not that there is no empirical evidence for the effects of the Spirit in pedophile unions, but that there an insuperable obstacle to believing I.1, namely, that pedophilia is immoral, and nothing immoral can 'realize the unitive end'.

To which Bates has replied that I was confused because I.1 regiments like this:

For any (x), if x is a SSU realizing the unitive end, then x realizes the unitive end by God's love.

Now, if that's the way we should be interpreting it, I am entirely willing to concede the regimentation. But this regimentation is not at all an initially plausible way of regimenting the premise. A much more natural way of regimenting the premise would be:

There is at least one x such that x is a same sex union (SSU) and x realizes the unitive end and for any x, if x both is a SSU and realizes the unitive end, x realizes the unitive end by God's love.

There are obvious reasons for assuming that there is an existential commitment here, the most obvious being that if there is none the argument is utterly useless, and a mere red herring. As Bates notes, if we interpret the premise as he has, it is necessarily true, even if there are no same-sex unions, even if there are no same-sex unions that realize unitive ends, even if it is impossible for there to be same-sex unions that realize unitive ends. But in any of these cases, the point would be moot; so, since the argument can't differentiate among them, it follows that it contributes nothing to our understanding of the topic at hand, the actual blessing of actual same-sex unions. Put another way: As the argument is laid out, the only relevance Argument I can have to the question at all is as a support for III.2. Now, III.2 simply tells us that there are actually same-sex unions that are holy; any support has to be for this in particular. But if we interpret I.1 as Bates suggests, it does not give us this conclusion at all, and this follows from the very point he puts forward as a defense against my original criticism.

So I think this is simply a case in which Bates has sacrificed meaning for form; yes, the argument as he has regimented it avoids my criticism, but it also avoids being relevant to anything, including the subject of the argument. It becomes a red herring, a diversionary tactic, a piece of fluff, an irrelevant encumbrance. My fault was not formal confusion but assuming that the argument was actually supposed to be performing a function.

Bates is right, though, that under this interpretation Argument I forces us to focus on Argument II, especially II.2; but the reason is not that it has any logical 'beauty', to use his term, but rather that it has been defined into irrelevance, so the only thing left holding up the argument at all is Argument II.

UPDATE: I see that Mike Liccione underestimates my tenacity when it comes to putting arguments in the refiner's fire. It hasn't petered out quite yet, Mike! But with regard to the Episcopal Argument (or Argument II + Argument III, since Argument I seems only to be there as a door prize), I think Mike is quite right about the point on which its opponents will take a stand. Those who support the Argument will do so because, like Bates, they are confident of II.2; those Anglicans who reject it will do so because, like Mike, they are confident of the sheer impossibility of what is claimed in II.2. And that's pretty much the way the argument will stand; the only way to move forward will be to bracket it altogether in order to look at the reasons for confidence on each side.

Ad Hominem

Bill Ramey has a nice post on the ad hominem fallacy. I once essayed an attempt to pin down the fallacy myself. I think the basic idea of that post was right, but I wouldn't put it now the way I did then.

Part of what has influenced me to adjust my views is reading David Hitchcock's lovely little paper, Why there is no argumentum ad hominem fallacy, which I highly recommend. I think his arugment is quite right: in the strictest sense, there is no such thing as an ad hominem fallacy. However, I think there is a good basis for talk about an 'ad hominem fallacy' in a looser sense of the term 'fallacy'. The reason is this.

The problem with informal logic as it is often taught is that it fails to distinguish strategies and tactics of reasoning from strategies and tactics of rhetoric or persuasion. Any communicated argument will tactically involve both reasoning and rhetoric; but the two cannot be simply conflated. You can use the same tactic of reasoning with a very different tactic of rhetoric, and vice versa. So we need to distinguish the two. The traditional understanding of ad hominem (as Hitchcock notes, 'traditional' here is not very old at all, but it does seem to have become ensconced) is that it is a fallacy of irrelevance. There are genuine fallacies of irrelevance, the most important of which is the ignoratio elenchi. In an ignoratio elenchi, or fallacy of wrong conclusion, an argument adduced in support of conclusion X does not support X at all but Y instead. Whately has an excellent example of such an argument, one that is both obviously fallacious, but also shows how easy it would be to commit the fallacy. Suppose you are arguing for the conclusion, "The poor ought to be relieved in such-and-such way (e.g., by passing this particular law)"; and to argue for this conclusion, you give an argument for the conclusion, "The poor ought to be relieved". You have committed an ignoratio elenchi; quite literally you are arguing for the wrong conclusion.

What I would like to suggest is that our label 'ad hominem fallacy' is actually a conflation of a tactical mistake in reasoning and a particular rhetorical tactic. The tactical mistake in reasoning is nothing other than the ignoratio elenchi itself; that is the fallacy being committed, if any, when people talk about an 'ad hominem fallacy'. What makes it ad hominem is, however, purely a matter of rhetorical tactic. Thus we can find this grain of truth in discussions of the ad hominem fallacy: it is really a mistake of reasoning committed while trying to persuade in a particular way. However, the two aspects are not to be conflated; the mistake of reasoning is a perfectly common one, and the tactic of persuasion is a perfectly common one, both of which can occur without the other; and we just call 'ad hominem' those cases in which they happen to overlap.

So I would suggest this definition of an ad hominem fallacy: it is an ignoratio elenchi in an argument that involves a rhetorical focus on the ethos, that is, the character or behavior, of a given person or set of people precisely for the purpose of drawing from someone a concession or commitment.

This definition has immense advantages over the earlier ones. For instance, it shows why we find ad hominem fallacies so difficult to characterize properly: we have been conflating two different domains of discourse which, while related, need to be clearly distinguished. It also shows why we classify ad hominem fallacies the way we do: they are fallacies of irrelevance, because they are cases of ignoratio elenchi. It further shows how to resolve a common puzzle about ad hominem arguments, namely, the fact that sometimes they seem fallacious and sometimes seem not merely OK but exactly the right sort of argument: there is an ad hominem rhetorical tactic that sometimes is put into effect with an ignoratio elenchi, and sometimes with a perfectly reasonable and relevant argument.

As with ad hominem, so with a whole host of other neatly named fallacies: ad baculum, ad misericordiam, ad verecundiam, etc. They are all the same fallacy; they are merely that fallacy as exemplified in different rhetorical approaches to persuasion.


In the Anglican liturgical calendar, today is the memorial of Thomas Ken (1637-1711), Bishop of Bath and Wells. I mention it because the man deserves to be remembered even if only for this hymn he authored:

Awake, my soul, and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise,
To pay thy morning sacrifice.

Thy precious time misspent, redeem,
Each present day thy last esteem,
Improve thy talent with due care;
For the great day thyself prepare.

By influence of the Light divine
Let thy own light to others shine.
Reflect all Heaven’s propitious ways
In ardent love, and cheerful praise.

In conversation be sincere;
Keep conscience as the noontide clear;
Think how all seeing God thy ways
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.

Wake, and lift up thyself, my heart,
And with the angels bear thy part,
Who all night long unwearied sing
High praise to the eternal King.

All praise to Thee, Who safe has kept
And hast refreshed me while I slept
Grant, Lord, when I from death shall wake
I may of endless light partake.

Heav’n is, dear Lord, where’er Thou art,
O never then from me depart;
For to my soul ’tis hell to be
But for one moment void of Thee.

Lord, I my vows to Thee renew;
Disperse my sins as morning dew.
Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with Thyself my spirit fill.

Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say,
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.

I would not wake nor rise again
And Heaven itself I would disdain,
Wert Thou not there to be enjoyed,
And I in hymns to be employed.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

The last verse, commonly known simply as the Doxology, is one of the most commonly sung hymns for public worship in the entire English-speaking world. (That may seem an exaggeration, but I have heard it sung not just by Anglicans but by Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians; and I'm sure there are more than a few others.) Ironically, Ken wrote it at a time when the Church of England frowned on hymns: only Scripture was to be sung in Church. So when Ken taught it to the boys at Winchester College, he had to charge them strictly to sing it only in their rooms for private devotions. He has had his vindication, a resounding sockdolager.

Ken was profoundly anti-Catholic; he seems to have refused to sign James II's Declaration of Indulgence, which established a general religious tolerance precisely because he thought it unwise to allow Catholics such freedom. For this he was charged with high misdemeanor and thrown in the Tower, but he was acquitted. However, when the Glorious Revolution occurred, Ken became a Non-Juror -- having sworn allegiance to James, he refused to swear allegiance to William of Orange. This shows a good deal of integrity, because one reason for the Revolution was James's Catholicism; when James had a son, it made it highly likely that James was the beginning of a Catholic dynasty. Bringing William over was a way to guarantee a Protestant England. But Ken wouldn't back down on his oath of allegiance to James, so he was forced to retire as Bishop.

The Truth in Chains

Lola Young has a good article in the Guardian on the bicentennial of the passage of the Slave Trade Act (HT: Cliopatria). I've already given my two cents on this topic, which I'll repost here:

Since this is in some ways the Year of William Wilberforce, I thought that it might be worthwhile to make clear exactly what we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of. In great measure through Wilberforce's perseverance over several decades, the Slave Trade Act finally passed its second reading and became law in February and March of 1807. This outlawed the slave trade in British dominions. It is important to note that the abolition of the slave trade is not the same as the abolition of slavery. Over the next decade or so Wilberforce and others worked to extend this abolition of the slave trade worldwide -- largely through treaties. One of the means of enforcing the ban on slave trading which Wilberforce worked for was the creation of a Slave Registry, which would make a clear distinction between slaves bred and slaves bought, and allow the government the means to guarantee there were none of the latter. In the course of fighting for this it became clear to Wilberforce that the abolition of the slave trade was simply not enough to handle the sorts of abuses he was trying to stop. It was only in 1818, if we go by the judgment of his two sons in their Life of William Wilberforce, that he began actively working not merely for what he called Abolition -- the elimination of slavery as a trade -- but what was called Emancipation -- the elimination of slavery as a status. This is not actually surprising. We tend to lump these things all together, but Abolition alone was a massive task that had taken quite literally decades of continual pressing and organizing even to accomplish; and when it was done, there was still required similar ceaseless work over many years to consolidate and extend this victory. The elimination of slavery was not a matter of a flick of a pen; the whole nature of society had to be reconsidered and transformed, against considerable resistance. Despite the pressing importance of the matter -- and we only have to read the writings Wilberforce has left to see how clearly he recognized its urgent necessity -- everything had to be done in slow, ponderous steps. What is remarkable is not that Wilberforce advocated the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Many people did that. What is remarkable about Wilberforce is that he never stopped advocating it, despite defeat after defeat; when he had finally done it, he did not rest on his laurels but continued the long, hard work of consolidating it; and when consolidation was proceeding apace he took the next step to start what was a completely new stage of the fight. And all this while doing many other things relevant to his parliamentary work and social action with a more than common diligence. Not bad for a man whose diaries show him regularly reprimanding himself for wasting time, failing to do as much as he thought he should do, and failing to be as Christian in his actions and words as he should. The work of progress is never easy work; if you find it easy to progress you should immediately become suspicious, and investigate whether you are really progressing at all. For the genuine work of progress is the work of reordering civilization itself; and this is never easy.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rogers and Newman

A brief mention at "The Little Professor" has put Henry Rogers's The Eclipse of Faith; or, A Visit to a Religious Skeptic on my list for re-reading. The book can be found at Project Gutenberg. Miriam notes that Google Books has Rogers's A Defence of "The Eclipse of Faith", albeit under the wrong title. I had not known of this work before. Interestingly, it's a response to F. W. Newman, whose work, Phases of Faith, is subjected to criticism in Rogers's work. (Project Gutenberg has that, too.) Newman's reply to Rogers is included with Rogers's "Defence".

Francis William Newman was the younger brother of John Henry Newman. John became a devout Anglican, and, via Tractarianism, a Catholic. Francis, on the other hand, went in almost the opposite direction, his religious views becoming Unitarian (and more and more vague in the process, to the extent that he's sometimes considered an agnostic). He seems to have been in general a somewhat unpleasant person; at least, if he was not, he did not leave the most accurate impression of himself in his writings.

In any case, I have a reading project, and the reason I've written this post is so that I'll have the links all handy:

F. W. Newman, Phases of Faith
Henry Rogers, The Eclipse of Faith
Henry Rogers, A Defence of "The Eclipse of Faith"

Another thing I'll be re-reading a bit more closely is Orestes Brownson's review of an American edition of Rogers's The Eclipse of Faith, which Google Books has here (October 1853, p. 417). Brownson's review is -- somewhat surprisingly -- a defense of Newman from Rogers, from a Catholic perspective. (The reason for this is polemical; he argues that Newman is a more consistent Protestant than Rogers.)

A Poem Draft

It came to me as I was making sandwiches today.


I carry moly in my pocket;
I use it to mollify
the spirits that meander
where my memories go to die.
The elephants in their graveyards
stack the ivory to the heights
where phantoms march and murmur
of long-lost loves and lights.
Deceptive and dishonest
are the markers of the dead;
wanderers sad and foolish
are those who are by them led;
But I too wandered in those shadows
beneath a darkening sky,
where the skeletons of madness
on the sands of heartache lie.

Notes and Links

* Currently reading: Phillip Wolff, Representing Causation (PDF). Ht: Mixing Memory.

* Wonderful: Matteo Ricci's map of the world. Hat-tip to Ralph Luker.

* James Schall on Benedict XVI on natural law at "Insight Scoop"

* This is from 2004, but, alas, I fear it's an argument that has to be taken seriously for many elections to come. Alasdair MacIntyre encourages people not to vote:

When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives. These are propositions which in the abstract may seem to invite easy agreement. But, when they find application to the coming presidential election, they are likely to be rejected out of hand.

* Bernard Williams argues for philosophy as a humanistic discipline. I tend to agree with him that the 'scientism' is a serious problem in academic philosophy: instead of trying to be good scholars people try to be ersatz scientists. We don't need ersatz scientists; we have perfectly good real scientists. What we need are people who aren't going to shirk the richness of philosophy in an attempt to pass themselves off as something that they're not. There's no question that there is much to be learned from the sciences -- they are, after all, experimental philosophy, and the only reason we don't still call them such is verbal convenience. But philosophy can't ignore things like history.

* I have recently been reading Newman's Callista. I'm enjoying it, but for a book that includes persecutions and locust plagues and lynchings and wicked witches it manages to have a remarkably uneventful plot. A lot happens, but it all seems incidental to the storyline. Wiseman's Fabiola, to pick a novel of a very similar sort, is much better in terms of both plot and characterization; Kingsley's Hypatia is better in terms of plot and dialogue; even Abbott's Onesimus, which is largely just an excuse to engage in lengthy philosophical meditations on Epicureanism and Stoicism, has a more lively plot than this work does. Part of the problem is that we spend most of the book wondering why it's called Callista when she seems such a completely insignificant part of it. But there's no shame in that; stories admit of all different forms. Newman's primary strength is description: some of his extended descriptions are quite masterful, and he often turns a lovely phrase.

* The SEP has its Friedrich Schlegel entry up.

* Mike Liccione discusses the essence/energies distinction, building on some things I said in a previous post. His mention of the doctrine of simplicity as defined by Lateran IV and Vatican I led me to go back to see exactly how they had defined it; not surprisingly, Lateran IV links it to the unity of the Trinity, and Vatican I links it to the distinction between Creator and the world He has created, which are probably the two most important areas of Christian doctrine in which simplicity plays a significant role. Rather interesting.

* This website has a number of translations of the works of Xavier Zubiri, the Spanish existentialist.

The Essence of Human Morality?

From the NY Times:

"Morality is as firmly grounded in neurobiology as anything else we do or are," Dr. de Waal wrote in his 1996 book “Good Natured.” Biologists ignored this possibility for many years, believing that because natural selection was cruel and pitiless it could only produce people with the same qualities. But this is a fallacy, in Dr. de Waal’s view. Natural selection favors organisms that survive and reproduce, by whatever means. And it has provided people, he writes in "Primates and Philosophers," with "a compass for life’s choices that takes the interests of the entire community into account, which is the essence of human morality."

I like the general sentiment, but taking the interests of the entire community into account is not even essential to human morality, much less the essence, which is why it's not always wrong to give only a secondary priority to the interests of the entire community when, for instance, that community is making unreasonable demands on you. People fighting for civil rights may have to take into account the interests of the entire community in order to find the best way, or the most generally acceptable way, to win their battles; but whether their fight is moral is independent of whether it's in the interests of the entire community. As Hume and Butler could point out to anyone who took the trouble to inquire, self-love of a particular sort has a key moral role, one that does not depend on benevolence toward the community as a whole. Further, there are values that are, in Charles Taylor's phrase, 'hypergoods' that are such that, if the interests of the community went contrary to them, we would conclude that the interests of the community are themselves immoral; in which case the community needs to be changed. This is why we have notions like 'social progress', in which the very interests of the community are supposed to improve over time.

There is no question that altruism and empathy have their place in morality, in the same way that any components of human personality have their place; and because they are so important to social life, there is no question that a good moral account has to include them. But there is also curious tendency to overemphasize the role of both. As Hume could point out to them, this argument only works if you are arbitrarily limiting the notions of altruism and empathy considered to those that are moral, or very like moral altruism and empathy. But altruism for and empathy with the wrong people can be not merely immoral, but diabolically perverse.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Buddhist Parable

There once was a simple man who was fascinated by water; so fascinated, in fact, that he wished to find a container that would hold all the water he could wish.

He started with a container as big as a teacup. It soon began to overflow, and he began to cry for all the water lost.

He then found a bucket, and began to fill it. Soon it, too, began to overflow, and the man began to cry.

Then he decided he had done too little, relying too much on what others made. So he dug a ditch six feet by six feet by six feet and began pouring water into it. After a while it, too, began to overflow, and he began to cry.

And so it went; the simple man digging bigger and bigger holes in order to contain more and more water. But every one of them began to overflow, inducing much sorrow for the water lost.

At long last, he gave up, almost in despair. Mourning his inability to do the work required to make a container to hold all the water one could wish, he began to walk. And after a while he came to the ocean, which he had seen many times before, but had never much considered before.

He sat down by the ocean, which no man has ever made, which is full of water, and is always filling with more water, and yet never overflows.

And he was content.

Terror and Slaughter

My favorite Rudyard Kipling poem:

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market-Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn.
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market-Place;
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch.
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch.
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four-
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man--
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began:--
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Gerard on Good Taste

Thus taste, like every other human excellence, is of a progressive nature; rising by various stages, from its seeds and elements to maturity; but, like delicate plants, liable to be checked in its growth and killed, or else to become crooked and distorted, by negligence or improper management. Goodness of taste lies in its maturity and perfection. It consists in certain excellences of our original powers of judgment and imagination combined. These may be reduced to four, sensibility, refinement, correctness, and the proportion or comparative adjustment of its separate principles. All these must be in some considerable degree united, in order to form true taste. The person in whom they meet acquires authority and influence, and forms just decisions, which may be rejected by the caprice of some, but are sure to gain general acknowledgement. This excellence of taste supposes not only culture, but culture judiciously applied. Want of taste unavoidably springs from negligence; false taste from judicious cultivation.

Alexander Gerard, An Essay on Taste (1759), pp. 104-105. It is worthwhile to compare Gerard's four excellences of good taste with the analyses of good taste in Hume, Beattie, and Kant.

In any case, sensibility of taste is delicacy of sentiment, in which one is feelingly alive to each subtle impulse. Refinement or elegance of taste is an ability to recognize inferiorities, blemishes, and deficiencies, of the sort that arises through long acquaintance with the type of object being judged by taste. Correctness of taste is, roughly, the ability not to be fooled by initial and possibly misleading appearances; it involves making the distinctions and comparisons that allow us to classify things. Proportion of the principles of taste is a bit more complicated. Gerard reduces taste in general to a collection of simpler principles -- the sense of novelty, the sense of harmony, the sense of the sublime, the sense of beauty, etc. A proportionate taste is one in which these principles are blended in such a way that one of these does not detract from or override the others.

Cyril of Jerusalem on the Body

Tell me not that the body is a cause of sin. For if the body is a cause of sin, why does not a dead body sin? Put a sword in the right hand of one just dead, and no murder takes place. Let beauties of every kind pass before a youth just dead, and no impure desire arises. Why? Because the body sins not of itself, but the soul through the body. The body is an instrument, and, as it were, a garment and robe of the soul: and if by this latter it be given over to fornication, it becomes defiled: but if it dwell with a holy soul, it becomes a temple of the Holy Ghost. It is not I that say this, but the Apostle Paul has said, Do you not know, that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you (1 Corinthians 6:19)? Be tender, therefore, of your body as being a temple of the Holy Ghost. Pollute not your flesh in fornication: defile not this your fairest robe: and if ever you have defiled it, now cleanse it by repentance: get yourself washed, while time permits.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 4.24

Klimax tou Paradeisou

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran.When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

Genesis 28:10-15 (NIV)