Saturday, April 14, 2007

Disciples Week VI

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Judeans, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

He said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord."
But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

(John 20:19-25)

Three Poem Drafts

The Petulant

I think sometimes of skeptics' wit
that it is the charm of a child's fit:
a fit of images raging in the mind
that on the paths of reason falls behind.
I think sometimes that the doubters' doubt
is nothing but an infant-child's pout
as he looks out upon the pleasant toys
that bless the lives of other boys;
and on occasion, with shattered dreams,
that pout becomes a high-pitched scream,
and the boy falls down in kindled wrath,
refusing to walk upon the path.

Land of Love

All river-ridden is the land of love,
like Eden watered by the rivers four;
along the path of every river's course
the olives, growing higher, shelter doves
that coo and flirt, then flicker up above
on wings like poet's light and music force;
they catch the light and paradoxes prove.
And on these rivers grow the trees of dreams:
the pomegranates fertile with their seeds,
the apples sweet and full like ravished need,
the peaches with their honey blessed for cream,
the lemons that like suns all brightly gleam
beside the limes on which the angels feed;
on every bough the fruits of splendor teem.
You know whereof I speak, for you have seen
in vision or in haunting some glimpsed sight
of all that fecund glory, green with grace,
all that sunlit garden of delights,
where peacocks pomp amid the leaves of green
that grow in the light of Love's own face.


The cedars grow tall on the Liban hills
with a life beyond the grasp of human will;
the light grows bright around the muddy grave
of a hermit-saint who prayed and hid his face;
the heart is kissed by the burning of the light
of a noble cedar rising up to sun and sky
and, flaming with a fire that sears the night,
it burns but is not burned.

As much as I am able

I am the sonnet, never quickly thrilled;
Not prone to overstated gushing praise
Nor yet to seething rants and anger, filled
With overstretched opinions to rephrase;
But on the other hand, not fond of fools,
And thus, not fond of people, on the whole;
And holding to the sound and useful rules,
Not those that seek unjustified control.
I'm balanced, measured, sensible (at least,
I think I am, and usually I'm right);
And when more ostentatious types have ceased,
I'm still around, and doing, still, alright.
In short, I'm calm and rational and stable -
Or, well, I am, as much as I am able.
What Poetry Form Are You?

I seem to have just missed being Heroic Couplets.

Cyril on Genesis

A salutary passage from St. Cyril's response to Julian the Apostate:

20. The divine Moses does not appear before our eyes as one who composed doubtful stories, nor one who launched himself out on this road from simple ambition. He had in mind primarily to contribute to making lives led better. And in fact he did not attempt to discourse subtly on the nature of the things, by speaking about what the first principles are named, or about the elements which proceed from it; these things are, in my opinion, too obscure, and inaccessible to some minds. His goal was to form the spirits of his contemporaries with the doctrines of the truth: because they were being misled and had taken to worshipping each according to his imagination. Their extreme ignorance made them ignore the one God, God by nature, and to worship his creations. Some thought that the sky was god, others the disc of the sun; there were even some wretched enough to allot the glory of the supreme nature to the moon, the stars, the earth, to plants, to the watery element, birds, or to brute animals! They had come to this, and such a terrible sickness had affected all the inhabitants of the earth, when Moses came to their help and revealed himself as the initiator into knowledge of great value for all. He proclaimed clearly that there exists by nature only one Creator of the universe, and radically distinguished Him from all other realities which He had merely brought into being and existence. Considering what was useful, and as clearly as possible, neglecting every excessively subtle point, he restricted himself to deal only with that which was strictly essential.

Pity the Nation...

And Almustafa was silent, and he looked away towards the hills and toward the vast ether, and there was a battle in his silence.

Then he said: "My friends and my road-fellows, pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.

"Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own winepress.

"Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.

"Pity the nation that despises a passion in its dream, yet submits in its awakening.

"Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it walks in a funeral, boasts not except when its neck is laid between the sword and the block.

"Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.

"Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpetings, and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings again.

"Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years and whose strong men are yet in the cradle.

"Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation."

Kahlil Gibran, The Garden of the Prophet

Friday, April 13, 2007

Some Linkables

* Kevin Edgecomb has a fascinating post on the titles of the Psalms at "Biblicalia".

* Alejandro suggests the introduction of a new word into the English language, upstuff.

* Bora has had some interesting discussions in the 'Framing Science' dispute that erupted on several science blogs recently. See here, here, and here.

*Johnny Hart, the creator of B.C. and the co-creator of The Wizard of Id, died on April 7th of a stroke. He was one of the great innovators of the comics pages, one of the few in the league of greats like (earlier) Charles Schulz and (much later) Bill Watterson. It is fitting, then, that he died at his storyboard.

* On April 29th, Siris will be hosting the early modern edition of Carnivalesque. If, since the last early modern edition (February 24th) you have had a post on the period from 1450-1850, submit it. You can submit in three ways:

(1) E-mail me at branemrys[at]yahoo[dot]com
(2) Use the carnival address, carnivalesque[at]earlymodernweb[dot]org[dot]uk
(3) Use the Blog Carnival submission form

Disciples Week V

While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."
But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

Then he said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have."
And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, "Have you anything here to eat?"
They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.

He said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled."
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.

(Luke 24:36-45)

Cyril Against Julian

Roger Pearse has put up on his excellent website part of Book 2 of St. Cyril of Alexandria's criticism of Julian. I was particularly amused by one passage. Julian had said, as a preliminary to comparing Greek and Christian beliefs,

Now it is true that the Greeks invented their myths about the gods, incredible and monstrous stories. For they said that Kronos swallowed his children and then vomited them forth; and they even told of lawless unions, how Zeus had intercourse with his mother, and after having a child by her, married his own daughter, or rather did not even marry her, but simply deflowered her and then handed her over in marriage to another. Then too there is the legend that Dionysus was rent asunder and his limbs joined together again.... This is the sort of thing described in the myths of the Greeks!

To which Cyril decides to get a bit sarcastic:

What a defense to present! So what's the point of making a lot of noise and pretending to correct us when we have almost kicked out of existence the babbling of the Greeks, so ugly and improbable, and accorded preference to the truth? The divine Moses and after him the chorus of the holy prophets, the Apostles and the Evangelists, they sing the glory of God, one by nature and in truth; they invite us to imitate them by ripping away the myths from ourselves --- all the unbelievable forms and sleazy ideas -- and involving us in a way of life which attracts admiration. Nothing of what they say is invented, nothing in their ideas demands an incredible explanation.

(ht: The Way of the Fathers)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Disciples Week IV

You were dead in your transgressions and sins
in which you once lived following the age of this world,
following the ruler of the power of the air,
the spirit that is now at work in the disobedient.
All of us once lived among them in the desires of our flesh,
following the wishes of the flesh and the impulses,
and we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest.
But God, who is rich in mercy,
because of the great love he had for us,
even when we were dead in our transgressions,
brought us to life with Christ
(by grace you have been saved),
raised us up with him,
and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,
that in the ages to come he might show
the immeasurable riches of his grace
in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not from you;
it is the gift of God;
it is not from works, so no one may boast.
For we are his handiwork,
created in Christ Jesus
for the good works that God has prepared in advance,
that we should live in them.

(Ephesians 2:1-10)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Poetry Reading

Just recall how unbearable poems become when they are recited by actors, who, wanting to "interpret," ignore the meter of the verse, make dramatic enjambements as if they were declaiming prose, concern themselves with the content and not with the rhythm. To read a classical poem, you have to assume the singing rhythm the poet wanted. It is better to recite Dante as if he had written children's jingles than pursue only his meanings to the exclusion of everything else.

[Umberto Eco, "Postscript," The Name of the Rose, Harcourt Brace (New York: 1984), p. 520.]

And yet I am not so sure. There is no question that failure to be guided by the rhythm and music of the words is a failure to read poetry properly. But I find children's-jingles reading even more grating. The poem of "In Flanders Fields" by John MacRae is a good one; it's a popular poem in Canada, and so is often mutilated by children's recitations. And they recite it exactly as if it were a children's jingles, so it sounds like this:

In Flanders fields
the poppies blow
Between the crosses,
row on row,
That mark our place;
and in the sky
The larks, still brave-
ly singing, fly
Scarce heard amid
the guns below.

When it should sound more like this:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses,
row on row,
That mark our place;
and in the sky
The larks,
still bravely singing,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

It's utterly maddening. I think that the two exaggerated readings (all meaning vs. all jingle) are equal and opposite sins -- vices of defect and excess. But aesthetic sins aren't like moral sins. Nothing rights a moral sin of excess or defect except moderation. You can't cancel out a sin of excess with a sin of defect, because that just leaves you doubly guilty. But with aesthetic sins two wrongs may make a right. It's actually a good exercise to read poems in both ways, I think, because it's like practicing scales.

Moral Permissibility and Impermissibility

There's an interesting post at "Show-Me the Argument" arguing that moderate pro-lifers, in the sense of people who hold the following three propositions, are inconsistent:

1) Abortion is the killing of an innocent person.

2) It is not morally permissible to use force against a doctor who is about to perform an abortion.

3) It is morally permissible to use force against someone who is about to wrongfully kill an innocent person.

I don't think the argument works, however, because it's very difficult to create inconsistent sets relying only on moral permissibility, because moral permissibility is both very weak and very description-relative. In other words, a particular action or type of action may be morally permissible and not morally permissible under different descriptions. What the triad really says is that while it is morally permissible to use force in cases answering to the description "someone is about to wrongfully kill an innocent person" insofar as that description applies, it is not in cases answering to the description "a doctor is about to perform an abortion" insofar as that description applies. And we should all be thankful it is so, because if this were not the case we would constantly be running into paradoxes of moral permissibility.

To create an inconsistency you need instead of (3) something like the following:

(3') It is never morally permissible to refrain from using force against someone who is about to wrongfully kill an innocent person.

And that is a very strong claim indeed.

Disciples Week III

If then you were raised with Christ,
seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above,
not of what is on earth.
For you have died,
and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion,
evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.
Because of these the wrath of God is coming.
By these you too once conducted yourselves,
when you lived in that way.
But now you must put them all away:
anger, fury, malice, slander,
and obscene language out of your mouths.
Stop lying to one another,
since you have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its creator.
Here there is not Greek and Jew,
circumcision and uncircumcision,
barbarian, Scythian, slave, free;
but Christ is all and in all.

(Colossians 3:1-11)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Disciples Week II

Or are you unaware
that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his,
we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.
We know that our old self was crucified with him,
so that our sinful body might be done away with,
that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.
For a dead person has been absolved from sin.
If, then, we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.
As to his death, he died to sin once and for all;
as to his life, he lives for God.
Consequently, you too must think of yourselves
as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

(Romans 6:3-11)

On Epistemic Non-Peers

Suppose I am interacting on a particular point with someone who is technically my epistemic 'inferior' -- e.g., a student, who, however clever, is unlikely to have the same familiarity with the evidence that I do. And suppose he begins advocating a position on the topic I haven't come across or considered before. How much should the fact that he is my epistemic inferior contribute to my rejection of (or my inclination to disagree with) that position?

I would suggest none. Whether or not he is my epistemic inferior is entirely irrelevant to questions of rejection or inclination to disagree, precisely because these things should be governed by the evidence, not by my assessment (however accurate) of our respective abilities. For all I know, he may have been lucky and stumbled across something good. The only way it would be relevant is if I didn't know the relevant evidence and were trying to determine who had the greater expertise.

If this is so, however, then it suggests that the currently popular equal weight view (which I've argued against here and here) is wrong, since the most plausible rationales for it also require giving less weight to those of less ability.

UPDATE: Re-reading this, it occurs to me that I could make part of it more clear. Of course, when I am determining positions I hold my assessment of my expertise is not relevant to my assessment of the evidence, except where I already have reason to think that someone with less than a certain level of expertise is likely to go astray in such-and-such way; and even there, it does not affect the assessment of the evidence itself. It can affect practical matters pertaining to what I do with that assessment; but the assessment itself is not affected. How, then, could the assessment of another's expertise affect my assessment of the evidence I have? Surely it can't. And I think we see this more clearly and obviously in the case of an epistemic 'inferior'. If I'm deciding how much credit I should give to that person's new proposal, it would be utterly absurd for me to weigh my expertise against his. All that's relevant is how the new proposal fits with the evidence with which I'm familiar. The same thing goes if the proposal is not new, but is something that has been proposed many times before. In such a case, how expert the proposer is, is irrelevant to my assessment of the proposal itself; the same proposal, for instance, could be put forward by many different people, of many different levels of expertise, for many different reasons. So if I'm evaluating the proposal, it would be silly for me to bother about the competence of the person putting it forward, unless there are purely practical reasons for doing so (e.g., if there's inadequate time to consider the evidence when competing proposals are put forward, I may go with the proposal of the more expert, because as a general rule it's prudent to trust the more expert, even though in particular cases this may lead me astray; but this is, again, a matter of pragmatic need due to the fact that I don't have the leisure to investigate thoroughly). That it comes to me from a student, or someone who has only passing familiarity with the subject, or what have you, is not relevant to this evaluation.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Care for Lebanon

Lent is over, but I wanted to suggest one other charitable venue for almsgiving that I didn't have the chance to note before Easter. The Eparchies of Our Lady of Lebanon and of Saint Maron are taking up a collection to help with Maronite charity work in Lebanon. There is a very deep need for this sort of work in Lebanon at present. Please consider giving something, even if it's only a little. You can donate online.

Previous Posts in This Series
The Amazing Change
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
International Orthodox Christian Charities
Catholic Charities USA

Discovering Iron with Iron

Lady Mary gets slightly snarky in criticizing Hume:

What should we think of an author, who, in attempting to account for the original discovery of metals, proved that it was effected by the use of instruments framed from a material termed iron, drawn from the bowels of the earth?

In like manner there is a want of logical precision in referring all the principles which connect our ideas to three kinds of associations amongst them; of which causation is ranked as one; and then (in order to account for causation,) shew the power that lies in the associations of ideas. Such a notion ends in the formation of a mere identical proposition; viz. a certain association of ideas is causation; and causation consists in an association of ideas.

[Lady Mary Shepherd, An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect, pp. 90-91.]

Disciples Week

When he had risen, early on the first day of the week,
he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.
She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping.
When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.

After this he appeared in another form to two of them
walking along on their way to the country.
They returned and told the others; but they did not believe them either.

Later, as the eleven were at table, he appeared to them
and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart
because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised.

(Mark 16:9-14)

Carnivalesque Call for Submissions

On April 29th, Siris will be hosting the early modern edition of Carnivalesque. If, since the last early modern edition (February 24th) you have had a post on the period from 1450-1850, submit it. You can submit in three ways:

(1) E-mail me at branemrys[at]yahoo[dot]com
(2) Use the carnival address, carnivalesque[at]earlymodernweb[dot]org[dot]uk
(3) Use the Blog Carnival submission form

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Poisoning the Wells

You may know that poisoning the well is the rhetorical tactic of insinuating that someone is untrustworthy so that doubt can be cast on anything they say later on. It's one particular example of an ad hominem tactic, and arguably the one that is most ethically problematic. What you may not know is that we owe the name, and the characterization of it, to John Henry Newman in the famous dispute with Charles Kingsley. Charles Kingsley had stated in an article in Macmillan's Magazine that Roman Catholics (unlike Anglicans) did not consider truthfulness a virtue; and he attributed this view to Newman, saying that he held that deceitful cunning was the weapon of the saints against the "brute male force of the wicked world." There was an exchange of letters, and it all culminated in Newman's writing the Apologia Pro Vita Sua [corrected-ed.]. At one point Kingsley had argued:

Dr. Newman tries, by cunning sleight-of-hand logic, to prove that I did not believe the accusation when I made it. Therein he is mistaken. I did believe it, and I believed also his indignant denial. But when he goes on to ask with sneers, why I should believe his denial, if I did not consider him trustworthy in the first instance? I can only answer, I really do not know. There is a great deal to be said for that view, now that Dr. Newman has become (one must needs suppose) suddenly and since the 1st of February, 1864, a convert to the economic views of St. Alfonso da Liguori and his compeers. I am henceforth in doubt and fear, as much as any honest man can be, concerning every word Dr. Newman may write. How can I tell that I shall not be the dupe of some cunning equivocation, of one of the three kinds laid down as permissible by the blessed Alfonso da Liguori and his pupils, even when confirmed by an oath, because 'then we do not deceive our neighbour, but allow him to deceive himself?' … It is admissible, therefore, to use words and sentences which have a double signification, and leave the hapless hearer to take which of them he may choose. What proof have I, then, that by 'mean it? I never said it!' Dr. Newman does not signify, I did not say it, but I did mean it?

This is the rhetorical tactic Newman will call 'poisoning the wells'. As Newman notes, if successful, it would result in readers taking everything Newman does as a sign of deliberate, double-tongued equivocation. His response to it is to identify it and call Kingsley on it:

I really feel sad for what I am obliged now to say. I am in warfare with him, but I wish him no ill;—it is very difficult to get up resentment towards persons whom one has never seen. It is easy enough to be irritated with friends or foes, vis-à-vis; but, though I am writing with all my heart against what he has said of me, I am not conscious of personal unkindness towards himself. I think it necessary to write as I am writing, for my own sake, and for the sake of the Catholic Priesthood; but I wish to impute nothing worse to Kingsley than that he has been furiously carried away by his feelings. But what shall I say of the upshot of all this talk of my economies and equivocations and the like? What is the precise work which it is directed to effect? I am at war with him; but there is such a thing as legitimate warfare: war has its laws; there are things which may fairly be done, and things which may not be done. I say it with shame and with stern sorrow;—he has attempted a great transgression; he has attempted (as I may call it) to poison the wells.

If debate is like war, then, Kingsley has broken the law of war by an unscrupulous tactic. Then, after quoting the above passage from Kingsley, he continues:

Now these insinuations and questions shall be answered in their proper places; here I will but say that I scorn and detest lying, and quibbling, and double-tongued practice, and slyness, and cunning, and smoothness, and cant, and pretence, quite as much as any Protestants hate them; and I pray to be kept from the snare of them. But all this is just now by the bye; my present subject is Mr. Kingsley; what I insist upon here, now that I am bringing this portion of my discussion to a close, is this unmanly attempt of his, in his concluding pages, to cut the ground from under my feet;—to poison by anticipation the public mind against me, John Henry Newman, and to infuse into the imaginations of my readers, suspicion and mistrust of every thing that I may say in reply to him. This I call poisoning the awells.

This is all laid out in slightly abridged form in the Preface to the Apologia. Note, incidentally, the use of the term 'unmanly' here; this is a subtle but recognizable swipe at Kingsley, who had a long-entrenched habit of swiping at Catholics for being unmanly and effeminate. Kingsley was a big partisan of what came to be called 'muscular Christianity', which emphasized as a virtue a sort of manliness expressed in straight talking, sex, fighting, sports, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.

Citizens' Symposium #1

The first symposium for the Citizens' Symposium is up. The subject is free speech. It has three interactions:

(1) Steve Gimbel's Free Speech, For What?, with a reply from Errol Lord.

(2) Errol Lord's The Respect Model for Freedom of Expression

(3) Omyma's Censorship by Aggression vs. Free Speech for Wimps: Don’t Throw Out the Scales with the Blindfold, Ms. Liberty

Steve Gimbel has a reply to both Lord and Omyma together, which can be found with either of their articles.

Gimbel argues that freedom of speech is an instrumental good; in particular, it is good insofar as it conduces to the pursuit of truth. Lord argues for a broader conception of freedom of expression on the basis of respect for persons as ends in themselves. Omyma looks at the problem of protection of the freedom of speech that, in effect, gives power to those who can most shamelessly treat speech as an aggressive weapon, thus contributing to the restriction of the freedom of speech by those who are more civil and moderate.

He Is Risen

Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.

Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.

Revelation 7