Saturday, April 28, 2007

Carnivalesque Call for Submissions

Don't forget to send in your submissions for the early modern edition of Carnivalesque. If, since the last early modern edition (February 24th), you have had a post on anything of historical interest from the period 1450-1850, submit it for consideration. 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

The carnival will be posted on April 29th, probably in the evening. As my time zone is currently UTC-5, this may be early morning on the 30th for some of my readers. Please send in your submissions by mid-day (at least by mid-day somewhere in the world) tomorrow.

Non-Endorsement of Religion

This started as a comment to a post at "Positive Liberty" and should only be read in that context, since it is explicitly and exclusively addressing Jason's hypothetical scenario as developed in that post. It quickly became clear that it was really too long for a comment thread.

Well, I think part of the issue here is that we tend to muddle up a great many different issues here due to the ambiguity of the term 'religion'. After all, if the government is not supposed to endorse religion, this can't be interpreted as saying that the government is not to endorse anything that anyone thinks vaguely religious in some sense or other -- there's probably nothing that wouldn't be ruled out by such a standard, since for a lot of people 'religion' is an extremely wide net indeed. So there needs to be a criterion of what counts as 'religion' (1) that is objective, i.e., not simply arbitrary; (2) that is not itself question-begging; and (3) that is definite and restricted enough to allow one to enforce non-endorsement practically. This is not a simple thing to find.

Why, for instance, should one consider a statement about God to be religion in the relevant sense? Obviously it's religious in the vague sense that some people appeal to God in religious contexts; but people appeal to a lot of things in religious contexts. Suppose, for instance, that it is a widely held belief in our society -- as in fact it is, although by no means universally held -- that the existence of God and some sort of moral providence whereby virtue is in the long run rewarded and vice in the long run punished is simply a fact of the universe. On such a view, it is something relevant to good governance; is the government to recognize no facts that might be considered in some sense 'religious' facts? In which case, how is it supposed to determine which facts are the 'religious' ones? Or is it supposed to apply some independent standard of factuality to determine that, regardless of the widespread view, it is not a fact at all and can be dismissed because of that (as the Explicit Atheist suggests)? In which case, how is this not, in fact, meddling in religious matters already by governing on principles dismissive of any religious views that have as part of their make-up a belief in the existence of God and divine providence? And what if the independent standard were to say that it was (at least plausibly) a genuine fact (or, to put it in other terms: how is one to formulate such a standard in a way that it would consistently rule out talk about God)? And if we know it won't, we can only do so because we know the standard -- and then it's reasonable to ask what it is.

Consider a similar scenario. There are a great many people in our society who classify morality as essentially a religious matter; and it is certainly true that religions are built as much around alleged moral values as they are around alleged higher beings. There are also some who don't classify morality in that way, and consider appeal to moral values like justice to be nonreligious (and a small minority who regard it as fundamentally, even if not obviously, inconsistent with what they would tend to classify as religious). If it's merely a matter of how people in the society are classifying it, whose side should the government take in determining whether it can appeal to moral values? On what objective basis could such a thing be decided? But if whether or not appeal to moral values is religious is something independent of the views of people in society, in virtue of what principle does government decide such a matter, and on what authority does it appeal to that principle regardless of the views of the citizenry? And if appeal to moral values is legitimate, what, precisely, makes appeal to moral providence illegitimate?

The obvious reason why one should reject the sort of government action you mention in your hypothetical scenario has nothing to do with religion as such; it's simply that a lot of people would oppose it, vociferously and actively, and in a government that at least purports to be based on the people that's not a minor thing. It's also clear that this ground will clearly allow cases like 'In God We Trust' as legitimate, as long as there is not a sufficient groundswell against them. So there would have to be something particularly religious to rule it out. Now, one can work out a concept of religion by doing what in fact we have done: start with paradigmatic cases like religious tests, of the sort put forward in the Test Act, and established churches, of the sort found when we first began, and work out from there by analogy. But analogy always runs into the problem that it becomes more and more attenuated, and reaches into more and more gray areas, and eventually, if taken too far, extends into everything. So we would need some more principled line; and that requires a well-grounded notion of what constitutes religion in the first place. Anyone who thinks the motto is illegitimate endorsement of religion, for instance, owes us a basis on which to think this view should take precedence over views in which it is not, because it is not (in the relevant sense) religious at all, or because it is not (again, in the relevant sense) an endorsement at all. And this is because everyone in the discussion owes everyone else a similar account of what is and what is not relevant. And no one so far, at least as far as I can see, has an account that would be generally accepted.

UPDATE: Nathanael has an excellent post on the more serious danger here of making the nation a sort of ultimate object of worship. I'm reminded of Mit brennender Sorge:

Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community - however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things - whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds.

And the worry is that, while this might well not be a divinization of the people or the state in the way that Nazism (which the encyclical has in its sights) is; but there are a thousand ways to skin a cat, and there is a legitimate worry that this just might be another, more subtle, way to do it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Publia Battles Julian the Apostate

I love this story about a particular form of Christian revolt against the persecutions under Julian the Apostate:

A certain woman, named Publia, had about this time acquired great celebrity by her eminent virtues.... She had at her house an assembly of young women who had vowed perpetual virginity, and who continually sung the praises of the Creator and Saviour. When the emperor was passing, they sang louder than usual, to show the contempt with which they regarded his profanity: they chiefly sang those psalms in which the weakness of idols is derided ; and they exclaimed, with David, "The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, the works of men's hands." And after having described the senselessness of idols, they said, "Let those who made them, and all those who trust in them, become like unto them." When Julian heard them singing he was much vexed, and commanded them to be silent whenever he should pass that way. Far from obeying this mandate, Publia directed the virgins to sing still louder than before, and to repeat this verse, "Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered." Julian, more enraged than ever, desired that the leader of the choir should be brought before him. He showed no respect for her age or virtue; but called one of the soldiers, and commanded him to give her a blow on each side of her face. Publia esteemed this insult as the highest honour. She returned to her house, and continued to harass the emperor with spiritual songs, in the same way as he who wrote the psalms repressed the evil spirit which agitated Saul.

Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Chapter XIX.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award

Courtesy of Ahistoricality I've been tagged with a Thinking Blogger Award. Thanks! The description of Siris is even nicer than the award itself:

Philosophy, theology, original poetry, logic, and, sometimes, other interesting things. Plus an even disposition and civil approach that makes disagreement a pleasure, though it's very difficult to win.

I work hard at it -- both the pleasure of disagreement and the difficulty of winning! The Award is a meme, and the rules of the meme are as follows.

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is a gold version and an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

So here are my five. I've tried to tag people who haven't been tagged who deserve it; obviously there are others on my blogroll who would deserve it as well. So these are weblogs that, as far as I've been able to determine, haven't been tagged, but certainly deserve it, probably more than I do. (There are also several deserving blogs I don't read often enough to put up on my blogroll but that I do read at semi-regular intervals; I've stayed close to my blogroll here, though, which was difficult as several of the blogs on my blogroll have been given one, some more than one, and Rebecca at least four.)

1. Chris at Mixing Memory--Cognitive science for the millions, both theory and application, always presented with that good sense of balance required for presenting things both accurately and clearly.

2. Miriam Burstein at The Little Professor: Victorian literature of every shape and kind, reflections on teaching, and infinitely many books.

3. Michael Liccione at Sacramentum Vitae: Sober, balanced, and informed posts on issues in Catholic theology and philosophy.

4. The Bloggers at Fides Quaerens Intellectum, especially Johnny-Dee:- A good weblog to practice one's facility with epistemology, philosophy of religion, and general geekery.

5. Clayton Littlejohn at Think Tonk: You know he's a thinking blogger from the fact that the name of his blog is a very clever but extremely obscure logic joke. 'Tonk' is a crazy logical operator that, in languages in which it is admissible, allows you to prove any sentence from any other sentence; it has the introduction rule for disjunction and the elimination rule for conjunction, hence the subtitle for the weblog. And if that wasn't enough thinking for you, you can stop reading the title and look at some of the posts on contemporary epistemology, too.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Open and Restricted Inquiry

After having had some online discussion with David Corfield (of The n-Category Cafe and Why Do People Get Ill?) on the subject of tradition, I decided I needed to go back and look at Alasdair MacIntyre's work on the subject more closely than I have done, so I've started re-reading some of his key works. Since San Francisco I've been going at a leisurely pace through Whose Justice? Which Rationality?(and am currently starting my second re-reading), and so will probably post on a number of issues relevant to the argument of that work in the weeks ahead.*

MacIntyre identifies (WJ?WR? pp. 79-81) several characteristics of an inquiry-tradition, i.e., an ongoing inquiry that on retrospective examination shows indications of progress toward a goal, that distinguish it from an inquiry in which no such progress exists.

(1) "[T]he later stages of the enquiry would have to presuppose the findings of the earlier." Naturally, this doesn't mean that the earlier findings are always confirmed, only that they are taken seriously enough that trouble is taken at later stages to identify and characterize the earlier findings in order to give the later stages something to build upon or modify.

(2) "[W]here there has been at an earlier stage unresolved and, at that stage, unresolvable disagreement, it must at some later stage be possible to provide an explanation both of why the disagreement occurred and of why it was then and with those resources unresolvable." That is, later stages provide a theory of error with which to view the problems of earlier stages.

(3) Later stages must make possible successively more adequate conceptions of the good of the inquiry. As time goes on and problems get solved, our understanding of the goal of the inquiry becomes less sketchy, thus making it possible, at least in principle, to direct the inquiry more effectively.

(4) "[T]his gradually enriched conception of the goal is a conception of what it is to have completed the enquiry."

I think this account is right; but I [don't--ed.] think it's unrestrictedly so. In particular, I think we need to distinguish between open inquiries and restricted inquiries. Restricted inquiries are structured by particular problems. It's clear that at least some such inquiries have these four properties; these are major problems that are ongoing projects. Some of these ongoing projects last for decades or even generations, some for even longer. Thus, saving the phenomena of the heavens was an ongoing research project, one that lasted quite literally millenia, which was governed by the attempt to identify the best model for capturing all the astronomical phenomena pertaining to the planets. The story of it is a well-known one, so I won't rehash it here, except to point out that the inquirers did indeed build on each others' work (1), develop error theories for previous limitations (2), filled out their understanding of what it was they were actually doing (3), and in so doing began to have a better idea of what it would be to complete the inquiry (4).

However, there is another type of inquiry, and that is the open inquiry, the kind that is not tied down to any particular problem. Physics, for instance, is an open inquiry of this sort. And the application of (4) becomes very tricky here, because it seems at first glance that it's inimical to open inquiry for there to be any conception of completion. MacIntyre will later recognize something like this problem when he discusses the difference between tradition-constituted inquiry and Hegelian inquiry. Here's what he says there (WJ?WR? 360-361):

Implicit in the rationality of such enquiry there is indeed a conception of a final truth, that is to say, a relationship of the mind to its objects which would be wholly adequate in respect of the capacities of that mind. But any conception of that state as one in which the mind could by its own powers know itself as thus adequately informed is ruled out; the Absolute Knowledge of the Hegelian system is from this tradition-constituted standpoint a chimaera. No one at any stage can ever rule out the future possibility of their present beliefs and judgments being shown to be inadequate in a variety of ways.

I'm not sure that this quite says everything that needs to be said with regard to the problem, but it points immediately to the chief concern of (4), which is that of a theory of truth. Just as a progressive inquiry needs a theory of error with regard to which it can evaluate the limitations of prior approaches, it needs a theory of truth with regard to which it can evaluate its own adequacy (within whatever limitations to which it is subject at that point in time). MacIntyre tends to understand this theory of truth as "a conception of what it would be to understand things as they are absolutely," which in turn he complete understanding of the subject-matter. I think it's here that he goes slightly wrong, because it's clear that open inquiries can be progressive inquiries directed toward a goal without that goal being the complete understanding of the subject matter. We do need a "conception of what it would be to understand things as they are absolutely", but this is very different from having the conception of a complete understanding of the subject matter, or, at least, it would only be the same within particular traditions of inquiry. Rather, again, what is really relevant here is a theory of truth or, if you prefer, understanding: the inquiry needs not a conception of complete understanding but a conception of genuine understanding; and we need not a conception of the understanding of the complete subject matter, but a theory of understanding that is completely adequate to the thing in itself insofar as it is able to be understood by the mind's capacities for understanding.

MacIntyre does recognize that open inquiries exist; he tends to characterize them as being such that our conception of what it would be to have a complete understanding of the subject matter exhibits that complete understanding as unattainable -- presumably in practice by us, because we can only conceive of a complete understanding as something at least in principle obtainable by some capacity to understanding. I do not think that this is enough. One of my reasons for thinking so is something that MacIntyre himself hints out but does not draw out fully enough, namely, that this theory of truth or of understanding may itself be one of the things changing and in dispute in the course of the inquiry. Obviously, insofar as the disputants are participating in the same inquiry, there will always be something shared; but the theory of truth or understanding will itself be progressing in a progressive open inquiry. What will be progressing, however, will not be a conception of what it would be to attain the complete subject matter (even if it is not in practice attainable) but a conception of the ways the subject matter can be understood, the modes in which the object of inquiry presents itself to inquirers. This is not the same as a conception of what it would take to complete the inquiry, but only of the way inquiry can be evaluated in terms of its effectiveness for understanding the object of inquiry.

* All page numbers will refer to Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, U Notre Dame P (Notre Dame, Indiana: 1988).

Women in Philosophy

Brit Brogaard of "Lemmings" has a report on the APA report on the status of women in philosophy. Extraordinarily dismal. One of the things that shocked me as a graduate student was how blind the academic philosophy community can be to the rampant sexism that goes on in its programs. The lack of self-critique in a matter like this, from people who claim to do philosophy, is utterly shameful.

One possible contributing factor that would be fairly easy to fix is the lack of female voices in the standard curriculum. It's easier to fix in some subdisciplines than others, but I've always insisted that the curriculum could be radically improved by introducing students to more women philosophers on an equal plane with the men who are taught -- women like Catharine Trotter Cockburn, Lady Mary Shepherd, Simone de Beauvoir, and so forth. In the U.S. at many colleges the students come in with a firm but uncritical belief in some form of divine command theory of ethics; why not make them think a bit more about it by introducing them to Cockburn's criticisms of Warburton? Simone de Beauvoir's existentialism is in many ways more insteresting than Sartre's, and admits more easily of practical application; so why are students always exposed only to Sartre? We always teach Hume on causation; why aren't we teaching Shepherd's rather brilliant response? I have met bright female students exasperated by the lack of women being taught in their philosophy courses; it's not as if it's difficult to find excellent philosophical work by women.

But, in the end, such a modification will do little if more is not done to eliminate the problem of differential treatment and to encourage greater participation by women in academic philosophy. As it is, academic philosophy is mostly breathing with one lung.

Cloud and Lining

Dark Cloud: Philosophy Lectures make the list of candidates for the Most Boring Thing in the World.

Silver Lining: It's currently candidate #148, after golf (#1), politics (#6), shopping (#13), tennis (#15), Al Gore (#16), fishing (#18), Oprah (#20), reality television (#38 and #47), Chicago (#50), NASCAR (#51), abstract algebra (#56), iguanas (#59), geometry (#65), soccer (#71), Catholic weddings (#85), chess (#89), cricket (#92), weddings in general (#93), baseball (#96), banking (#97), working for the state of California (#102), checkers (#107), symphony (#110), Abercrombie and Fitch (#122), zucchini (#128), football (#132), being dead (#133), chemistry (#135), and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (#136).

I can see the advertisements now: PHILOSOPHY: MORE EXCITING THAN ZUCCHINI!

Dark Cloud: The list is constantly changing, and it's hard to imagine that philosophy lectures won't rise higher in the ranks of candidates for the Most Boring Thing in the World.

Silver Lining: Is there really any danger of philosophy lectures ever being ranked higher than abstract algebra, Al Gore, or working for the State of California?

Dark Cloud: Can anyone honestly say that most philosophy lectures are less boring than iguanas?

Silver Lining: Reality television is so boring it needs more than one spot.

A Poem Draft

Chant of the Maronites


From the wilds of Syria I come,
from the holy church of Kefar-Nabo,
fleeing the Ol-Yambus Mount,
toiling for the God who gives,
my task a task of joyful bliss,
to hymn in word and deed
our glorious Lord and God.

Let those in the street be silent,
let those in the house hush down,
let the hermits retire in prayer,
as I sing the psalms of David,
the Hallelujahs of the Lord.

Blessed is the one the Father loves;
blessed the one for whom His Son died;
blessed is the one whose life is charged
with the power of the living Spirit.
Blessed is the one whose rubric of life
is an echo of heaven's liturgy,
the one who amid the cedars
feels the wild delight of God.

Bring Christ home, children of Maroun,
bring Him from the cedars of Liban,
from the enclosures of the hermits bring Him,
bearing Him in your heart in procession,
carrying Him to every city and nation.

The message goes forth: Do not be afraid!
The Glory shines out: Do not fear!
An angel appears to an Israelite maid,
telling of wonders and of heavenly favor,
foretelling a son to sit on the Throne,
the Throne that is David's, for ages and ever.
when the Spirit comes over Mary of Zion,
when the Most High's power, like glorious cloud,
overshadows the virgin that the Holy be born.

Glory to God in the highest of heights!
Glory to God in the will of the graced!
The angels are singing the highest Hosanna,
heralding the coming of the Messiah and Lord.
Highest of high meets the lowest of low;
God's Anointed is swaddled in a trough made for oxen,
the light of the Word infuses the flesh,
Christ comes to save creation from darkness.


O Simeon, awaiting the great consolation,
sing songs of blessing for God's good grace;
the Spirit's promise in fire and light
is here fulfilled in a baby boy;
God's salvation comes, a light for revelation,
a hope and a glory for Israel's nation.
But, Oh! Contradiction, rise and fall,
and a piercing sword in the Virgin's heart;
many are the thoughts brought to exposure,
great is the tumult of a world thrust in darkness
at the rising of the Infinite Sun!


O tribe of Asher, in the prophetess Anna
fortunate are you, favorite and favored,
the oil of gladness runs over your feet!
Mighty your fortresses, iron your gates,
your strength is of God, enduring forever.
The daughter of Zilpah, most holy widow,
gives thanks to her God, will not be silent,
but speaks of the Lord to all who await;
happy is Asher, the tribe of good fortune,
to herald the one who will seal every tribe!


Our Lord and God spoke to Peter
on the shore of the Tiberias Sea:
"Simon, son of John, do you love Me,
more than the rest of these?"
And Peter replied, "You know that I love you."
"Then, O Peter, feed my lambs."

We are the heirs of Peter in Antioch;
we feed the lambs with prayer and love.

Our Lord and God spoke to Peter
on the shore of the Tiberias Sea:
"Simon, son of John, do you love Me?"
And Peter replied, "You know that I love you."
"Then, O Peter, tend my sheep."

We are the heirs of Peter in Antioch;
we tend the sheep with blessing and love.

Our Lord and God spoke to Peter
on the shore of the Tiberias Sea:
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
And Peter replied, "You know that I love you."
"Then, O Peter, feed my sheep."

We are the heirs of Peter in Antioch;
we feed the Lord's sheep with praise and love.

Listen to me, O children of Maroun!
No province are you, no small group;
the garden of Maroun is the whole holy Church,
catholic and complete, it has no end,
blessed of God in memory of Peter,
only within it is salvation found.
Raise your eyes to the cedar-crowned hills:
on every hill is the whole holy Church,
Rome is a cedar in the garden of Maroun,
Liban is a hill in the city of Rome,
for each is in each, and each is in all:
for Christ is for each and in everything All.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Monday, April 23, 2007

More Notables, More Linkables

* 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 anything of historical interest from the period 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

I should say that when I say 'April 29th' I mean that it will probably be on the evening of April 29th; since my time zone is currently UTC-5, this may be very early morning on the 30th for some of my readers.

* Chris digs up an 1870 article on women's rights by the odious Robert Lewis Dabney, who manages to be racist, classist, and sexist simultaneously.

* Razib has an interesting argument that the approaches to religion of Atran and Boyer on the one hand and Wilson on the other are complementary.

* Ambrosius at "The Cornell Society for a Good Time" discusses Distributism in modern America. Like Kevin Jones I'm not convinced you can have a genuine distributism, or even an approximation to it, without distributed proprietorship, which is very different from having stock options.

* The Philosophers' Carnival is up at "The Space of Reasons". Daniel Dennett makes a showing, in what is one of the better posts of this carnival; I wouldn't put things exactly the same way, but I was pleasantly surprised by it.

* At "Serendipities" we have an interesting discussion of Maurice Bloch's sharp criticism of meme theory as, basically, redundant cultural anthropology with metaphors instead of facts. Ouch. But it does suggest how one might really understand the sort of scientific work memetic theory seems to suggest, namely, by looking at what cultural anthropologists are already doing.

* One of the interesting religious innovations sparked by the internet is the Catholic cause-for-canonization website. Such websites are becoming relatively common. Here are a few I've run across recently:
Teresa of Calcutta, Religious
John Paul II, Pope
Fulton Sheen, Archbishop
Dorothy Day
Isabel of Spain, Queen
Karl of Austria, King
Demetrius Gallitzin, Priest
Vincent Capodanno, Priest
Catherine Doherty
Cyprian Michael Tansi, Priest
Patrick Peyton, Priest and Religious
Isaac Hecker, Priest
Catherine McAuley, Religious
Solanus Casey, Priest and Religious
Paul Murphy
John of Vercelli, Priest and Religious
Michael McGivney, Priest
Frederic Ozanam
Rafael Guizar y Valencia, Bishop
Diego González, Priest
Stanslaus Papczynski, Priest
Kunjachan, Priest
Zofia Czeska, Religious

* Currently reading:

Tall, Gray, et al. Symbols and the Bifurcation Between Procedural and Conceptual Thinking (PDF)

Kreines, Between the Bounds of Experience and Divine Intuition: Kant's Epistemic Limits and Hegel's Ambitions (PDF)


* (late evening 23 April) David Novak has a review of Dawkins's The God Delusion from a Jewish perspective.

No Shoes But His Own

There came to a cobbler's shop a philosopher with worn shoes. And the philosopher said to the cobbler, "Please mend my shoes."

And the cobbler said, "I am mending another man's shoes now, and there are still other shoes to patch before I can come to yours. But leave your shoes here, and wear this other pair today, and come tomorrow for your own."

Then the philosopher was indignant, and he said, "I wear no shoes that are not mine own."

And the cobbler said, "Well then, are you in truth a philosopher, and cannot enfold your feet with the shoes of another man? Upon this very street there is another cobbler who understands philosophers better than I do. Go you to him for mending."

Kahlil Gibran, The Wanderer, Chapter 27

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Saints in the Shadow of Babel

I have been reading Theodoret's attack on Cyril's Twelve Anathemas, and very surreal reading it is. Part of the reason for the strangeness of it is that Theodoret of Cyr was, without any question, a saintly man, a savvy theologian, a careful interpreter of texts, and a passionate defender of orthodoxy. He was also a passionate defender of Nestorius, who he seems to have misinterpreted, and a passionate critic of St. Cyril, who he definitely misinterpreted. The Counter-Statements to the Anathemas reads like a perpetual ignoratio elenchi in which Theodoret attacks an orthodox statement of Cyril by making an orthodox statement. For instance, in Anathema IX Cyril condemns those saying that the one Lord Jesus was glorified by the Spirit as an alien power and not His own proper Spirit. So Theodoret responds by vehemently insisting that the Lord Jesus was glorified by the Spirit. Well, yes, but hardly to the point, since Cyril's point was not that the Spirit does not glorify Jesus but that He does not do so as an alien power but as the Spirit of Christ. In Anathema II, Cyril insists that the Word is united by hypostasis with the flesh; to which Theodoret replies that the natures are not mixed. In Anathema III, Cyril claims that the union is a concurrence by nature; and Theodoret says that this is wrong because it was voluntary. It is true that the natures are not mixed, but, again, not to the point, since Cyril doesn't say they are, and it is true that it was voluntary, but, again, Cyril doesn't deny that it was. Throughout Theodoret assumes that Cyril is mixing the natures and attributing mutability to the Word; of course, interpreted in this way, Cyril would be heterodox, but nothing about what Cyril says requires this interpretation.

Another part of reading it is that it is a heretical text, condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople, in which every single thing in it might be taken in an orthodox sense, and very probably was taken in such a sense by Theodoret. This paradox makes it unsettling reading; but it is, of course, not a contradiction. Just about anything may be taken in an orthodox sense; it does not follow that every statement is easily taken to be so, and much of Theodoret's language is simply a confused and confusing mishmash that is easily read as disposed to heresy. This is not at all surprising given that Theodoret regularly defends Nestorian terminology (e.g., he talks of "the man assumed of us by God") in a sense that is in no way consistent with Nestorian doctrine; and this because he thinks Cyril's terminology is obviously Apollinarian. He's a verbal Nestorian, but he holds that Mary is Theotokos, that the Word took flesh and tabernacled among us, that Christ is one without mixture or confusion, and explains the phrase 'God assumed man' in such a way as to mean 'God assumed human nature'.

Theodoret's writings against Cyril are heretical in the material sense; but Theodoret later condemned Nestorian Christology, and became a rather vehement critic of it. In particular he seems to have been put out by the Nestorian denial that Mary was Theotokos. Theodoret had certainly always believed that she was Theotokos, since he forcefully affirms it in the middle of attacking Cyril, whom we usually think of it as the great defender of the title. And this seems to be typical of Theodoret's doctrine, in which he upholds an orthodox position and fails to distinguish it in a clear way from the Nestorian position. What a confusing time it must have been. In any case, Theodoret's censure against Nestorius was slow in coming; he went from defending Nestorius and his claims as orthodox, to accepting doctrinal reconciliation with Cyril (since he had misinterpreted Cyril as an Apollinarian, his view of it is that Cyril has stopped being Apollinarian) while abhorring him as a disturber of God's peace and refusing to condemn Nestorius (e.g., here and here and here), to rejecting Nestorius's claims as heterodox while refusing to condemn Nestorius, to condemning Nestorius.

Ludicrous and Ridiculous

Some authors have treated of Ridicule, without marking the distinction between Ridiculous and Ludicrous ideas. But I presume the natural order of proceeding in this Inquiry, is to begin with ascertaining the nature of what is purely Ludicrous. Things ludicrous and things ridiculous have this in common, that both excite laughter; but the former excite pure laughter, the latter excite laughter mixed with disapprobation or contempt. My design is, to analyse and explain that quality in things or ideas, which makes them provoke pure Laughter , and entitles them to the name of Ludicrous or Laughable.

[James Beattie, An Essay on Laughter and Ludicrous Composition, p. 587.]

Beattie goes on to distinguish several types of laughter, noting that animal laughter, the sort called forth by tickling, is different from sentimental laughter, the sort called forth by reading good satire. After rejecting several theories for what is common to things that provoke sentimental laughter (Hobbes especially), he suggests his own view, which is that such laughter arises from "the view of things incongruous united in the same assemblage," or, more precisely, " the view of two or more inconsistent, unsuitable, or incongruous parts or circumstances, considered as united in one complex object or assemblage, or as acquiring a sort of mutual relation from the peculiar manner in which the mind takes notice of them," the idea being that sentimental laughter is provoked by a comparison between the suitable and the unsuitable. This is not, of course, a complete account, and Beattie insists on that point, saying that it is not an exact description, much less a definition, since there are so many different types of relations between the suitable and the unsuitable, some of which are not ludicrous at all. Trying to make it more precise, he suggests that the non-ludicrous relations are those that are customary and common or cause an intense emotion in the beholder, one that, in Beattie's terms, has "greater authority". Thus, people are not provoked to laughter by things they simply take for granted, even though someone else from a different culture might; and they don't find ludicrous things they find enraging, sad, or frightening. That does seem a promising first analysis of the ludicrous or (as we would call it) the comic, although obviously it does need some work and development. (Beattie is not wholly original; the account has precursors in Hutcheson and Gerard, although Beattie's development is superior.) And, in fact, cognitive science research into humor has tended to come back again and again to some variation of the line suggested by Beattie, as this old post from "Mixing Memory" shows.

Taharah and Tumah

Taharah and tumah, both very important terms for Jewish ritual law as laid out in the Torah, are usually translated as 'purity' and 'impurity', or something similar. As has often been noted, it's not clear that these are actually good translations for these terms. In practice the terms tend to mean 'ability to be immersed in the life of the community as called by God' and 'inability to be immersed in the life of the community as called by God', and the standard rabbinical interpretations (taking their cue from verses like Psalm 19:9, "The fear of the Lord is tehorah, enduring forever") see a link between taharah and what endures. The laws governing taharah are the laws governing one's fitness for representing the enduring the covenant God has made with Israel. Thus, tumah is almost always associated with death or physical loss.

And this seems to be about right. The Biblical book that is most insistent on issues of taharah and tumah, Leviticus, is the one that is most insistent on the Election of Israel: "I, the Lord, am your God" is its repeated refrain: Be holy, for I, the Lord, am holy, and I, the Lord, make you holy (cf. 20:7-8). And in Numbers (35:34) the children of Israel are told "Do not tameh the land in which you will live, in which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel." Interestingly as well, the Bible looks with appoval on a certain kind of tumah, when the kings of Israel render unfit for use the places and instruments of idolatry (2 Kings 23; cf. Isaiah 30:19-22).

Similarly, one of the passages in the Bible which talks most about taharah, is the description of the Tabernacle in Exodus, in which the purity is simply the purity of gold without dross (cf. the important usage in Psalm 12:6). This suggests, actually, a great number of possible translations, since there are many words for purity in the sense used of metals, depending on the process and on what is in view: parted, cupellated, tried, assayed, refined, etc. Taharah would then apply when something has been refined, parted from the dross of the unenduring to leave only the enduring; tumah would apply when a thing becomes associated with the unenduring, needing to be tried and assayed again in order to symbolize the dwelling of the Lord with Israel through His enduring love.

UPDATE: Ed Cook of Ralph the Sacred River informs me that the transliteration here should be tohorah rather than taharah.