Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Comfort of Friends

127. They that love beyond the World, cannot be separated by it.
128. Death cannot kill, what never dies.
129. Nor can Spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle; the Root and Record of their Friendship.
130. If Absence be not death, neither is theirs.
131. Death is but Crossing the World, as Friends do the Seas; They live in one another still.
132. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is Omnipresent.
133. In this Divine Glass, they see Face to Face; and their Converse is Free, as well as Pure.
134. This is the Comfort of Friends, that though they may be said to Die, yet their Friendship and Society are, in the best Sense, ever present, because Immortal.

This passage, from William Penn's Fruits of Solitude (Part II: Union of Friends) has suddenly jumped into prominence almost overnight, because J. K. Rowling places part of this section (131-134) at the beginning of her work, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, along with a passage from Aeschylus's The Libation Bearers. The astute reader will note the thematic links between this epigraph and two allusions in the important King's Cross chapter to 1 Corinthians 15:26 and Matthew 16:21. Incidentally, Matthew 6:19-21 is as neat and clear a summary of the book as you could want; it captures the whole contrast between Voldemort and those who oppose him.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Stability and Moderation

You scored as Antoninus Pius, Your attention to good character and stability has earned you your standing as Antoninus Pius. Your long and moderate reign is probably one of the most peaceful epochs in human history up to the modern age. It is too bad more emperors did not share your humility.

Antoninus Pius


Marcus Aurelius


























Which Roman Emperor Are You?
created with

HT: Parableman. One interesting result is that four of my top five results are from the period AD 96-180, and constitute four of Gibbon's so-called "Five Good Emperors," who were Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. Of that period Gibbon says:

If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws. Such princes deserved the honour of restoring the republic had the Romans of their days been capable of enjoying a rational freedom.

Of Antoninus Pius in particular, Gibbon says:

Titus Antoninus Pius has been justly denominated a second Numa. The same love of religion, justice, and peace, was the distinguishing characteristic of both princes. But the situation of the latter opened a much larger field for the exercise of those virtues. Numa could only prevent a few neighbouring villages from plundering each other's harvests. Antoninus diffused order and tranquillity over the greatest part of the earth. His reign is marked by the rare advantage of furnishing very few materials for history; which is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind. In private life, he was an amiable as well as a good man. The native simplicity of his virtue was a stranger to vanity or affectation. He enjoyed with moderation the conveniences of his fortune, and the innocent pleasures of society: and the benevolence of his soul displayed itself in a cheerful serenity of temper.

Of course, as with most of Gibbon's comments, later historians have found more than enought to require some qualification of these claims. But it's nice nonetheless.

[I've taken the liberty of correcting the misspelling 'epics' to 'epochs'. It raises the interesting question of what a peaceful epic would be, though.]

Links and Notes

* JT Paasch has an excellent pair of posts on Scotus's argument against treating the divine essence as a substratum for the divine persons: I, II. This is relevant to 'material constitution' accounts of the Trinity.

* An interesting post at "In Socrates Wake": John Alexander discusses the teaching of business ethics: Part I, Part II. From Part II:

Over the years I have become convinced that, as Michael suggested, business should be understood within a virtue ethics framework. Business is a formal structured way by which we can develop into the kind of persons we want to be and to find happiness in our lives. One of the key virtues is ‘respect for people’ (You can obviously get this from Kant and Buber also.) I explain to them that they really do have a virtue ethics framework already in place; we do differentiate in practice between people of good and bad character. I refer to this a ‘character in practice.’

* The Vatican is currently investigating an interesting candidate for a miracle:

In December 2001, an Indian Bridgettine, Sister Martine Kochuvelikakathe, was assaulted by three gang members outside Mexico City. When a gang member pulled out a gun to shoot Sister Martine, the Indian religious invoked the name of her order’s founder. The young thug pulled the trigger, but the pistol did not fire. Now the Vatican is addressing the question of whether the incident constitutes a miracle.

Assuming this is all there is to it, it would pretty clearly not count by the usual standards applied by the Vatican; it could legitimately be regarded as a genuine answer to a prayer, but that's well below even a preternatural miracle, which is the most this could be. And to be recognized as a preternatural miracle there would have to be an organized and significant interaction of circumstances (which is no doubt what is being investigated).

* Currently reading Two Conceptions of Natural Number (PDF), by Alexander George and Daniel Velleman

* Glenn Giokaris briefly tours The Philosophical Journey of C. S. Lewis. Lewis, of course, studied philosophy, and intended to teach it. He taught it for a while as a Junior Fellow, during which time he was a member of the Wee Tees, a philosophical discussion group that included, among others, Gilbert Ryle and H. H. Price. He then went into English Literature when in a tight job market he was narrowly beaten out for a philosophy position by Price. The time was a curious one in retrospect, since it was on the very edge of a major change: Absolute Idealism was still a major philosophical position, and the major issue in British philosophy of the day was its fight with the Realism of Cook Wilson and his successors. Giokaris only really considers this one strand of Lewis's philosophical background here, the conflict between Idealism and Realism. There are others, but it's an interesting strand.

* Donald Gunn's analysis of the twelve basic patterns of advertisement.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

So Upsoaring as to Stride Sea Over

One of my many idiosyncrasies is that I love Browning's rendering of Aeschylus's Agamemnon. It is usually considered unintelligible, which it arguably is, but I tend to think of it in Romantic terms: it's the dreamy half-suggestions, the sudden, happy twists of diction, that make it work. How can one not love language like this:


Hephaistos — sending a bright blaze from Ide.
Beacon did beacon send, from fire the poster,
Hitherward: Ide to the rock Hermaian
Of Lemnos : and a third great torch o' the island
Zeus' seat received in turn, the Athoan summit.
And, — so upsoaring as to stride sea over,
The strong lamp-voyager, and all for joyance —
Did the gold-glorious splendor, any sun like,
Pass on — the pine-tree — to Makistos' watch-place ;
Who did not, — tardy, — caught, no wits about him,
By sleep, — decline his portion of the missive.
And far the beacon's light, on stream Euripos
Arriving, made aware Messapios' warders,
And up they lit in turn, played herald onwards,
Kindling with flame a heap of gray old heather.
And, strengthening still, the lamp, decaying nowise,
Springing o'er Plain Asopos, — fullmoon-fashion
Effulgent, — toward the crag of Mount Kithairon,
Boused a new rendering-up of fire the escort —
And light, far escort, lacked no recognition
O' the guard — as burning more than burnings told you.
And over Lake Gorgopis light went leaping,
And, at Mount Aigiplanktos safe arriving,
Enforced the law — " to never stint the fire-stuff."
And they send, lighting up with ungrudged vigor,
Of flame a huge beard, ay, the very foreland
So as to strike above, in burning onward,
The look-out which commands the Strait Saronic.
Then did it dart until it reached the outpost
Mount Arachnaios here, the city's neighbor;
And then darts to this roof of the Atreidai
This light of Idé's fire not unforefathered !
Such are the rules prescribed the flambeau-bearers:
He beats that's first and also last in running.
Such is the proof and token I declare thee,
My husband having sent me news from Troia.

How could one not like snatches of phrase like, "so upsoaring as to stride sea over" or "the gold-glorious splendor, any sun like" or "fullmoon-fashion / Effulgent" or "This light of Ide's fire not unforefathered"? And the whole work is filled with it.

McKellar at Aetiology

A while ago I mentioned Danica McKellar's forthcoming book, Math Doesn't Suck, which is intended to help get more middle school girls interested in math. Tara Reid of "Aetiology" has a review and an interview with the author. Tara asks the interesting question of how McKellar, in contrast to many other child stars, managed to stay grounded enough to go on to get a degree in mathematics and to be an advocate for math education. McKellar responds:

I attribute much of my staying grounded to my parents, who always made sure to emphasize the importance of schoolwork. Acting was treated as a hobby, and not as the thing that made me "special." I think a lot of poor kids who are child actors get praised again and again for their acting, and aren't praised or encouraged in other areas. So when their acting jobs stop, they feel that they don't have anything else to offer, and their self-esteems simply tank. I love my parents very much, and am so grateful to them for always reminding me what was really important in life: being a good person, developing education and intelligence, and making a contribution to society whenever you can.

It Does Lead Up to Me

From a recent review:

Another problem is what the editors call "the degree to which it is possible to avoid the difficulties associated with the specific genre of philosophical history." (p. 4) What they mean by 'philosophical history' is, apparently, a Kantian or Hegelian approach to history and the history of philosophy. They note that this kind of approach "is so structured that historical events unfold as the means of solving present philosophical problems." (p. 4) This kind of philosophical history seems prone to an approach to the history of philosophy that concludes 'it all leads up to me'. (While it may be true that the Kantian and Hegelian histories of philosophy clearly have this feature, it is also the case that histories of philosophy written by such great philosophers as Aristotle and Bertrand Russell show exactly the same tendency.) Following on from this kind of view of philosophical history, the editors suggest that "the history of philosophy has remained largely in the hands of philosophers as a tool of doctrinal exploration and justification." (p. 2) Much of this critique is on the mark.

Or so one would think until you actually look at the alternative. The alternative to having an account of the history of philosophy that does not lead up to you is to give an account of the history of philosophy and then say that you've learned nothing from it. If, on the other hand, you've actually learned from the history that you're relating, it will lead up to you for the simple reason that you will be taking everything you've related and building upon it. Thus it will all serve in one way or another as a foundation for you. So we can say: if your view of the history of philosophy does not conclude with "It all leads to me," why are you such an incompetent student of that history?

There is a hint of a real critique here, because, in fact, there are two ways you could approach the history of philosophy (besides ignoring it altogether): you could try to do justice to the facts and evidence, or you could cherry-pick what supports your own view (or what's sufficiently easy to caricature and refute). That is, the worry is that one will, instead of building on the history, try to force it into a particular shape. There is always a temptation to do that, and what people worry about with, say, Hegel, is that it often seems to do just this. It's the same reason why Russell's history, fascinating as it is (and it must be said I'm a fan of it despite disagreeing with almost all of it, because it first introduced me to just how rich the history of philosophy could be), is very flawed. But one can do justice to the history itself, build upon it, and do it brilliantly -- Hegel at his best sometimes does manage this (particularly with the period from Descartes to Kant), and Aristotle certainly sets the tone for it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Stein on Self-Knowledge

We see ourselves intellectually "as in an image" whenever we recongize our own human nature in other human beings. Friedrich Schiller's epigram, "If you want to know yourself, observe how others behave," stresses the significance of such figurative [bildhaft] seeing for self-knowledge. But it would not be possible for us to find the image of ourselves in others unless we knew about ourselves by virtue of a more primordial, non-figurative insight, namely, by that "self-consciousness" or immediate awareness of the self and of being which pertains to our self and our being. This kind of knowledge is not clear, distinct, and complete, but rather a dark, indefinite, and unformed groping and probing [Spüren], but it is nevertheless the ground and the root of everything we know of ourselves and of others like ourselves in a natural manner.

Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, Reinhardt, tr. ICS Publications (Washington, DC: 2002) p. 348.

Duhem on Mathematical Generalization

In my recent post on difficulties with how we are taught to characterize induction, I noted favorably (although without commitment to it) the existence of the position that mathematical induction is inductive, not deductive, contrary to what is often claimed; and in the discussion that followed I defended it as being at least as intelligible as any other position on the subject, given the terms in which we generally characterize induction. The position was, of course, most famously insisted upon, or put in its most famous form, by Poincaré in the opening Science and Hypothesis. Given some of the discussion of that point, I found it interesting to read Duhem's response to Poincaré's thesis. Duhem's basic argument is similar to the one that Ocham proposed in the comments; although he allows that Poincaré's characterization does show how we have a sense of the generality of our conclusion prior to actually showing the generality, he thinks Poincaré's account confuses this vague sense with the actual reasoning, and fails to recognize that mathematical induction as presented in mathematical treatises is often presented in an abbreviated form that can easily be expanded into a finite number of syllogisms. But the interesting part of the review is that Duhem recognizes that this leaves open the broader problem Poincaré is considering, namely, how to understand generalization in general in mathematics. If mathematics is purely deductive, it is not easy to see how we can build an account of mathematical generalization that actually does justice to progress in mathematics. Poincaré's claim about mathematical induction or recursion is simply the key part of his argument that the best way to handle this problem is simply to deny that mathematics is wholly or even primarily deductive. Deduction, for Poincaré is not the means of mathematical progress; it is merely that whereby mathematicians sometimes neatly present what they have discovered after they have discovered it. Before it reaches that point, what is being put in that form has been proven non-deductively. Duhem insists that mathematics is, in fact, primarily deductive, and that all mathematical demonstration is deductive. But he recognizes that this leaves him with the question of how mathematical generalization is possible, and so he proposes an answer: generalization is not a matter of the form of reasoning used by mathematics, but of what they are reasoning about. Mathematics does not deduce conclusions from axioms alone; it deduces them from axioms and definitions, and while axioms are rare and hard to come by, definitions are not. Because of this, "it is always possible for us to add to the previously defined and studied mathematical concepts new mathematical notions obtained by combination, modification, and generalization of the previously defined and studied notions". It is the power of the intellect to come up with new definitions that is the basis for the fertility of mathematics, not, as Poincaré would have it, its ability to perform inductions involving infinite series when that series is perfectly regular.

It is now easy to understand what one means by generalization in mathematics.

We have demonstrated a proposition A, which states a certain property of a mathematical notion a. We compose a mathematical notion b, which includes the notion a as a particular case. Finally, with respect to this notion b, we demonstrate a proposition B that restores proposition A when we substitute for notion b its particular determination a. Theorem B is a generalization of theorem A.

[Pierre Duhem, "The Nature of Mathematical Reasoning," in Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science, Ariew and Barker, eds. Hackett (Indianapolis: 1996) p. 231.]

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lit Surface of an Obscure Depth

By virtue of its own inner light the human intellect knows about its present life and about many things which at one time were present. Its knowledge of what lies in the past, however, is fragmentary, and what lies in the future can only be anticipated with some degree of probability in some particular details. In its larger expanse, the future remains indefinite and uncertain--though conceivable in this indefiniteness and uncertainty--while the origin and ultimately end remain completely inaccessible. And the immediately certain life of the present is merely the fleeting fulfillment of a passing moment, instantaneously sinking away and completely disappearing forthwith. My entire conscious life is not equivalent to "my being." Rather, it resembles the lit surface that covers an obscure depth, a depth which manifests itself in and through the medium of the surface. If, then, we want to understanding the human being-person, we must penetrate this obscure depth.

Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, Reinhardt, tr. ICS Publications (Washington, DC: 2002) p. 364.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Emperor Who Never Sleeps

You’re Justinian!

In the sixth century, Justinian accomplished the brief recovery of the empire’s old territory in the east, in Africa, and in the west. His victories, however, were hard won over the course of decades, and they came at a great cost in human life, not to mention taxation. Paradoxically, Justinian’s military successes probably contributed to the empire’s subsequent decline. The conquered lands were hardly secure, and many were lost in the years after his death. During his reign there was a great flowering of Byzantine culture, whose monuments remain in Istanbul (e.g., Hagia Sophia) and Ravenna. His reconstitution of Roman law, the so-called Justinian Code, is still the basis of civil law in some modern states. Justinian is venerated as a saint in the Orthodox Church.

Find out which Byzantine ruler you are at The Way of the Fathers!

The Isapostolic Magdalene

Today is the feast day of Mary of Magdala, Myrrh-bearer and Apostle to the Apostles.

Song of Mary Magdalene
by Alexander McLachlan (1818-1896)

Weep not, though the Saviour
Has gone with the dead,
For the light and the glory
Still halo his head;
The sighs and the sorrows,
The stigmas, the stains:
The anguish is over,
The glory remains.

Weep not for the Saviour:
His sorrows are o'er,
And his love shall encircle
Our hearts evermore;
The rainbow of promise!
The star ever bright!
The compass to guide through
The perilous night!

The light of the temple!
The eye of the blind!
The food of the hungry!
The friend ever kind!
The well in the desert!
The shield from the blast!
The staff of the weary!
The refuge at last!
The sun of our glory!
The light of our eyes!
Weep not for the Saviour,
For he shall arise.

Memory and Accuracy

I recently came across an interesting comment in Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology:

Dr. John Henry Newman says, that if Protestants insist on making the Church of Rome Antichrist, they thereby make over all Roman Catholics, past and present, "to utter and hopeless perdition." This does not follow. The Church of Rome is to be viewed under different aspects; as the papacy, an external organized hierarchy, with the pope, with all his arrogant claims, at its head; and also as a body of men professing certain religious doctrines. Much may be said of it in the one aspect, which is not true of it in the other. Much may be said of Russia as an empire that cannot be said of all Russians. At one time the first Napoleon was regarded by many as Antichrist; that did not involve the belief that all Frenchmen who acknowledged him as emperor, or all soldiers who followed him as their leader, were the sons of perdition. That many Roman Catholics, past and present, are true Christians, is a palpable fact. It is a fact which no man can deny without committing a great sin. It is a sin against Christ not to acknowledge as true Christians those who bear his image, and whom He recognizes as his brethren. It is a sin also against ourselves. We are not born of God unless we love the children of God. If we hate and denounce those whom Christ loves as members of his own body, what are we? It is best to be found on the side of Christ, let what will happen. It is perfectly consistent, then, for a man to denounce the papacy as the man of sin, and yet rejoice in believing, and in openly acknowledging, that there are, and ever have been, many Romanists who are the true children of God.

This is an interesting case of misreading. For Newman, of course, does not claim that the Protestants in question as a matter of fact hold that all Catholics are doomed to perdition (he explicitly denies that they do). His argument, indeed, assumes that they would not want to say this at all, since he claims that Protestants, if they claim that the Church of Rome is Antichrist, are committed by Scripture to saying that all Catholics are doomed to perdition. This is notable when we look at the original context of Newman's comment. He has pointed out that when Paul discusses Antichrist in II Thessalonians 2, he says of the followers of Antichrist, "They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved; and for this cause God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not in the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." He notes in particular the 'all'. And he also points out Revelation 14:9. It's Newman's argument that passages like these commit someone, on the basis of sola scriptura, to saying that, if someone or something is Antichrist, all who follow him or it are damned. Then he goes on to say:

We entreat indulgence of serious minds for quoting such very awful words in a composition of this kind; but it is most necessary to bring before all thinking men the real state of the case, and respectfully and anxiously to warn them what they are doing, when they so confidently and solemnly pronounce Christian Rome to be Babylon. Do they know what they say? do they really resign themselves in faith, as they profess to do, to the sovereign word of God as they interpret it? Do they in faith make over the millions upon millions now and in former times who have been in subjection to the Roman See to utter and hopeless perdition? Do they in very truth look upon them as the direct and open enemies of God, and children of Satan? Then surely they ought to show this much more in acts, in the fruits of such faith, than even the most zealous of them have adopted; then is mere exclusion of Romanists from political power a very poor and miserable way of separating themselves from the kingdom of Satan. If even heresy stops the channels of sacramental grace, if there are degrees of moral corruption which bid fair to destroy the being of a Church and annul even the most canonical Succession, if we are to shun and abhor those in whom the prince of this world works, what ought to be our acts and our feelings towards the embodied idea of rebellion and pride, towards him who is pure evil, who is to be revealed as the son of perdition, and who is destined from the beginning for divine wasting and destruction?

This, of course, is the passage Hodge has in mind.

One of the things that makes this an interesting misreading is that Hodge, whatever may be said of him, typically makes a reasonable effort to lay out his opponents' positions fairly. What I suggest we should see here is an instance in which memory works against fair reading. Of all of Newman's discussion, the passage quoted above is probably the most memorable: it is direct, it is vividly expressed, and it is forcefully to the point. But, of course, it does not capture the full argument. There is also the elaborate exegesis, the background to the rhetorical question, "do they really resign themselves in faith, as they profess to do, to the sovereign word of God as they interpret it?" and so forth. But this is far less memorable, and it is only the memorable part that gets carried forward to be criticized by Hodge. This sort of problem, of course, is quite common; memorable claims have a tendency to usurp the positions of the arguments that they merely sum up, leading to distortion in interpretation. This is particularly notable when the author's style tends to the rhetorically elaborate -- this is true certainly of Newman, and is one reason why Augustine, for instance, being so full of memorable phrases and claims, is so often and so easily misinterpreted. The memorable sometimes pushes out of view its own context; what is left is an inaccurate memory, inaccurate because it only contains the more memorable features, leaving out the rest even when it is important.