Saturday, August 11, 2007

Some Links of Note

* Jender at Feminist Philosophers notes this column on protestors at an abortion clinic not having any answers to the question of what penalties should be given to women who have abortions if abortion is criminalized. While it's interesting, I'm inclined to think it overlooks an obvious feature of the dispute -- namely, that whereas pro-choice rhetoric tends to portray abortion as something women do, pro-life rhetoric tends to portray abortion as something doctors do. Given that it's common in pro-life discourse to talk about most women as being bullied or pressured into abortion -- whether by boyfriends, husbands, parents, or pro-choice groups -- I'm not sure why it would be surprising that they're vague about what penalties the women should get if abortion is criminalized. In your typical pro-life account they're not treated as the primary criminals, but at most as accomplices, and accomplices of ambiguous status, at that, since they are often, as a matter of fact, treated as partly the victims. What we really need to know is not just how they answered the question about penalties for women, but also how they would answer a question about penalties for the doctors performing the abortions. In any case, it's clear enough that the "logical" dichotomy the column proposes toward the end is a false one, and blatantly so, since it assumes that if abortion is a crime it must be primarily and inexcusably perpetrated by the women who receive abortions and that to the extent that women participate in it, if it is a crime their participation would require prison. Pro-choice thinkers won't help their case by pushing it too heavily, since none of these assumptions is well-motivated: one can hold that there are legitimate excuses that mitigate or wholly excuse; that women are not the primary perpetrators; that their participation in the act does not merit prison because of the type of participation it is; and so forth. There is plenty of room for controversy on all of these things.

For a different view, though, see Scott Lemieux's post on the matter. Lemieux's basic argument, as developed in the posts he links to there, seems to me to be based on the assumption that the system is not perverse -- that it is not set up so as to pressure women into this action, or to make it difficult for them to avoid it, so that they are not primarily responsible for obtaining them in a sense of responsibility relevant to punishable fault -- or else that, if it is perverse, this should be ignored in determining punishments. It also assumes, contrary to all serious progressive thinking, that recognizing systemic influences ipso facto involves treating people as passive agents (since it is only if the one is a ground of the other that it is relevant that the one has sometimes been used to excuse the other). This is a rather controversial set of assumptions, so it's not as cut and dry as Lemieux thinks it is. But it's worth pointing out his argument, since it raises some important points.

Given that this is a debate in which people like to wear blinders, I suppose I will have to point out explicitly that despite these rational problems in the argument that I don't really have a problem with the conclusion reached; I think that the criminalizing of abortion is a much more complicated project than most people think, and that there are currently no plans on the table that meet basic practical, moral, and legal standards.

[Jender has a thoughtful response. I do think the question of how consistent and well-founded one can be in treating the problem as (in great measure) systemic, which Jender raises toward the end, is a key one, and probably one of the most serious issues in the whole cultural dispute over abortion.]

[In the comments Macht notes Serrin Foster as an example of someone in the pro-life camp who makes an even stronger and more controversial argument than the more common one I summarized, namely, that abortion is often straightforwardly a tool of patriarchy whereby women are not given free choices but forced ones on patriarchal terms. That is, Foster regards it as often being a way whereby patriarchy can grant concessions to women (they can have educations, or careers, or futures) on the condition that women adapt themselves to the system and not vice versa (i.e., that their ability to bear children make no significant difference to the system).]

* Part of Tanasije Gjorgoski's excellent Philosophy Blogs Aggregator is a list of the blogs in the aggregator by their Technorati ranking. The Aggregator tracks about 150 philosophy blogs, and is certainly a good place to start when trying to find out what the philosoblogosphere is talking about at any given point. (As one might expect it's always many different things.)

* The Ochlophobist has a thoughtful post on tradition.

* I keep coming back to this on YouTube: Noel Coward, Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

* The Sci Fi Catholic looks at the ethical problems surrounding Dumbledore's death. Snape, I think, was right: Dumbledore did take too much for granted. That was Dumbledore's besetting fault, a crack that runs through everything we know about him, even his best qualities. I think it is a mistake, however, to characterize it as suicide.

* You can read the introduction and first chapter of James Hannam's upcoming book on the medieval foundations of modern science here.

* Today is the 321st anniversary of the birth of John Balguy (1686-1748). You can read Balguy's A Letter to a Deist online. This work is one of the classics of British moral thought in the eighteenth century.


* Miriam has a thought-provoking post on how "biopics about the life of the author inadvertently contribute to the death of the author."

* David Kaiser summarizes Raoul Berger's argument that executive privilege is a 'constitutional myth'. A key part of the argument -- that it follows from Congress's powers of impeachment that it has power of inquiry, i.e., that it may compel testimony and documents relevant to any and all impeachable offenses -- seems very plausible to me: a definitive reason to disallow executive privilege as a standard sort of privilege, and a good reason to disallow special cases. But it is interesting that the idea that there might be such an executive privilege goes back in one form or another to the Founding Fathers themselves, although not, it would seem, in any form they could make consistent with the broader principles of the Republic.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Edith Stein describes how she began her first major philosophical work:

In his course on nature and spirit, Husserl had said that an objective outer world could only be experienced intersubjectively, i.e., through a plurality of perceiving individuals who relate in a mutual exchange of information. Accordinly, an experience of other individuals is a prerequisite. To the experience, an application of the work of Theodor Lipps, Husserl gave the name Einfühlung [Empathy]. What it consists of, however, he nowhere detailed. Here was a lacuna to be filled; therefore I wished to examine what empathy might be. The Master found this suggestion not bad at all. However, almost immediately I was given another bitter pill to swallow: he required that, as format for the dissertation, I use that of an analytical dialogue with Theodor Lipps. He liked to have his students clarify, in their assignments, the relation of phenomenology to the other significant directions current in philosophy. This was not his forte. He was too preoccupied with his own thoughts to take time for the comparative study of others. And whenever he demanded that of us, he found us as unwilling. He used to say, with a smile: "I educate my students to be systematic philosophers and then I'm surprised that they dislike any tasks that have to do with the history of philosophy."

Edith Stein, Life in a Jewish Family. Josephine Koeppel, tr. ICS Publications (Washington, D.C.: 1986) p. 269

No One Told You

xkcd is usually funny, but this one I found hilarious:

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Wicked, Wicked Walking

I find this somewhat amusing:

Walking does more than driving to cause global warming, a leading environmentalist has calculated.

Food production is now so energy-intensive that more carbon is emitted providing a person with enough calories to walk to the shops than a car would emit over the same distance. The climate could benefit if people avoided exercise, ate less and became couch potatoes.

Of course, the flaw in the reasoning for the alleged conclusion -- that walking contributes to global warming -- is the assumption that we wouldn't be taking in those calories if we weren't walking. Even thinking about our society a moment shows how obviously absurd this is. This is connected with further absurd assumption: that someone, by no longer walking, would reduce carbon emissions. Food production is supply-side in the sense that you first create the food and then try to get rid of it for profit; even refusing to buy the food wouldn't immediately reduce carbon emissions because that's all in production and distribution, which occur before the buying. The only thing one could hope to do in that regard is to make the carbon-intensive food production unsustainable as a business. The difference between walking and driving is simply that in driving you are adding the driving-related carbon emissions to the food-related carbon emissions; you aren't substituting them.

The reasoning also overlooks compensating factors. The carbon emissions on which the calculation were based was those created by beef and milk; but no one, not even those of us born in West Texas, get all our calories from beef and milk. Some we get from the local farms; some from the garden; some from the sea; etc. Even West Texans get some of their calories from Dr Pepper. Each different source would have a different carbon profile.

The only reasonable conclusion from the principles and data used is not to walk less (and certainly not to drive more) but to buy food more selectively, and lower the demand for beef and milk in favor of alternatives, if this would make a significant difference (alone or in combination with other projects).

Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Today is the feast of Edith Stein. Here is a passage from her philosophical masterpiece, Finite and Eternal Being:

God's inner life is the perfectly free, immutable and eternal mutual lvoe among the Divine Persons, independent of all created things and beings. And what the Divine Persons give to each other is one, eternal, and infinite nature and being, wholly encompassing each of them separately and all of them together. This anture and being the Father gives from eternity to the Son by generating him, and from this gift proceeds, as the fruit of mutual love, the Holy Spirit. The being of the second and third persons is thus a received being and yet--unlike created being--no newly originating being. Rather, it is the one divine being, simultaneously given and received, since the giving and receiving pertain to divine being as such.

Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being. Kurt Reinhardt, tr. ICS Publications (Washington, DC: 2002), p. 351.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Contempt is Not Whining

PZ Myers is dismissive of Paglia's latest comments on the recent works on atheism:

This has been the week that the whiny little twits have risen up to complain about atheism. The latest entry is from Camille Paglia, and many have written to me about it. I'm not going to bother. I've never cared much for Paglia, and Salon's infatuation with her as a columnist is incomprehensible to me — her specialty is haughty pseudo-intellectual blurts of pretension, strung together on the one common thread of her febrile narcissism.

So, sorry, no evisceration of her babblings — there have just been too many of them lately, so all she gets is a curt dismissal.

Whatever one might say about Paglia, she does not once "complain about atheism"; which is not surprising, since she explicitly says that she is an atheist, as anyone who reads the article can see. Nor does she by any stretch of the imagination whine. (Paglia is in any case not the sort of person who whines; where others might whine, Paglia is merely contemptuous.) The particular passage on the basis of which Myers lumps her in with the "whiny little twits":

Now, in contrast, aspiring young filmmakers are stampeded toward simplistic rejection of religion based on liberal bromides (sexism, homophobia, etc.). Religion as metaphysics or cosmic vision is no longer valued except in the New Age movement, to which I still strongly subscribe, despite its sometimes outlandish excesses. As a professed atheist, I detest the current crop of snide manifestos against religion written by professional cynics, flâneurs and imaginatively crimped and culturally challenged scientists. The narrow mental world they project is very grim indeed -- and fatal to future art.

My pagan brand of atheism is predicated on worship of both nature and art. I want the great world religions taught in every school. Secular humanism has reached a dead end -- and any liberals who don't recognize that are simply enabling the worldwide conservative reaction of fundamentalism in both Christianity and Islam. The human quest for meaning is innate and ineradicable. When the gods are toppled, new ones will soon be invented. ("Better Jehovah than Foucault," I once warned. For more on this, see "Religion and the Arts in America," a lecture I gave at Colorado College earlier this year that was broadcast on C-SPAN's "American Perspectives" series and that has just been published in Arion.)

The article is about the decline of the art film, and she has just finished linking Ingmar Bergman's creativity to a religious impulse; that's the contrast indicated in the first sentence. Needless to say, the theses put forward in the above passage are controversial in a high degree (given that Paglia is always controversial, this isn't surprising). But Paglia fairly clearly is not whining about atheists of the sort Myers likes; she's being contemptuously dismissive of them. Myers should understand the difference, given that that's precisely what he's being to Paglia. Of course, it's rhetorically convenient to call what one's opponents do 'whining'; but in this case as in so many others where similar tactics are used, the attitudes on both sides are of exactly the same kind, and the attempt to make them different by mere fiat is unreasonable. If Paglia is whining, so is Myers; if Myers is simply being curtly dismissive, so is Paglia.

Art and the Art Critic

I said that criticism has no bearing on art, but rather on the apprehension of the work of art. The object which the critic sets out to describe cannot be the work produced by the artist, but what he thinks of it. The critic does not produce art but criticism, and the object of his activity does not pertain to art but to esthetics. This is the reason, moreover, why critics and estheticians most often refuse to distinguish between the two orders, inasmuch as their only chance to remain within the order of art is by blurring the lines of the demarcation.

Etienne Gilson, Forms and Substances in the Arts, Salvator Attanasio, tr. Charles Scribner's Sons (New York: 1966), pp. 13-14

Monday, August 06, 2007

Ring Out the Old

Today is the 198th birthday of Lord Alfred Tennyson. Here's one of his hymns.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife,
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweet manners, purer laws.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

It's usually sung to the tune of Waltham (Calkin). As you can guess from the lyrics, it's chiefly a hymn for New Year's Eve.

Notes Toward a Formal Typology of Argument IV

In the first post I laid out in a rough way the notation for the typology.
In the second post I introduced the notion of attenuation and used it to establish hierarchies of arguments.
In the third post I introduced the notion of preclusion and used it to show how distinct hierarchies of arguments are interrelated.

That's the basic typology. In this post I will be looking at an optional bit of notation that doesn't fundamentally change the typology but gives it slightly more power for classifying arguments. However, before I do that I need to make a small but nonetheless important correction to my account in the above posts.

The problem with those posts is that the hierarchies presented in them are all incomplete. The relative orderings of arguments are right, as are the preclusion relations; but not all argument-types that should have been included were included, through an oversight early on. The argument-types that are missing for R1 are:


The first four are incorporated into the hierarchy in a fairly straightforward way. I had said that the strongest argument-type in R1 was RL(XT); that was correct of the hierarchies as given, but not of the full hierarchy. The strongest argument-type in R1 is, of course, RL(XLT). RL(XLT) can attenuate either to RL(XL~F) or RL(XT). RL(XL~F), like RL(XT) can attenuate to RL(X~F). Similarly, the weakest argument-type in R1 is not, as I had said, RM(X~F), but RM(XM~F). RM(XT) can attenuate not only to RM(X~F) but also to RM(XMT); and both RM(X~F) and RM(XMT) can attenuate to RM(XM~F).

The other four are rather more complicated. As it turns out, RL(XT) can attenuate to three independent argument-types. Two were those noted in the original hierarchy: RL(X~F) and R(XLT). However, it can also attenuate to RL(XMT). RL(XMT) can attenuate to RL(XM~F) or to R(XMT). It therefore is a shorter path of attenuation from RL(XT) to R(XMT) than that noted in the original hierarchy; it is also certainly independent of the other. RL(X~F) can attenuate to RL(XM~F), which can attenuate to R(XM~F). Similarly, R(XLT) can attenuate to RM(XLT), which is able to attenuate either to RM(XL~F) or RM(XT); R(XL~F) can attenuate to RM(XL~F) as well. RM(XL~F) can attenuate to RM(X~F). I leave it to the interested reader, if there are any interested readers, to work out the look of the hierarchy given these modifications. These patterns of attenuation give the hierarchy a 'three-dimensional' character rather than the two-dimensional character of the hierarchy as I originally presented it.

Preclusion follows the same sort of patterns noted for the incomplete hierarchy.

And, of course, analogous things can be said for all the other hierarchies. Therefore each hierarchy has not ten arguments, as I originally suggested, but eighteen; the four basic hierarchies together involve not forty types of arguments but seventy-two. It just goes to show that a small oversight in the classification system can lead to a massive oversight in things classified.

That correction out of the way, we can turn to the concept of candidacy, and we can motivate our introduction of it in the following way. The strongest argument-type in R1 is a : RaL(XLT). These are arguments in which a is a reason thinking that it is a necessary truth that X is necessarily true. However, not all arguments of this type are of equal strength, because while they all argue for a conclusion of the same strength, they don't all argue on equally strong reasons. Some reasons, even good reasons, for thinking anything a necessary truth are defeasible or probable or plausible. Some rare bases, however, are stronger than this, being such that arguments based on them preclude any counter-argument, even on a different base. (Rigorous demonstrations would be an example.) One way to think of it is that they are cases where an argument based on a is such as to exclude all candidates for counterarguments. It is useful to have a notational option for capturing this. Since we speak of this sort of thing modally, it makes sense to use a modal sign, L, to indicate it; to distinguish it from the other modal signs, it will be standardly placed in front of the R.

Stated in the way I have above, this new L in front of the R is the complement of candidacy: an argument of that type rules out other arguments as being even potential candidates for argument(regardless of base). It makes sense, then, to have a complementary sign, M, which indicates candidacy given a base. That is, it indicates that a is potentially an argument for the conclusion. It too will be placed in front of the R.

It is clear that all LR's can attenuate immediately to plain R's. For instance, a : LRaL(XLT) can attenuate immediately to a: RaL(XLT). It is also clear that any R can attenuate immediately to MR. For instance, a : RaL(XLT) attenuates to a : MRaL(XLT). (Obviously, if an argument is actually made as a good argument, it is a fortiori a candidate for being made as a good argument.) The strengthened hierarchy created by this notation I will refer to as R1+. Similarly strengthenings may be accomplished for all the other hierarchies.

It is important to keep in mind that, while the same modal signs are used in several different positions (in part because we use very similar terms to speak of them, anyway), their positions are important. They do have relations, of course; these are traced out by the attenuation relations of the hierarchy. But they cannot have the same meaning precisely because they are only related to each other by the way they attenuate.

One of the interesting things about candidacy is that it shows something of the relation between the one-base hierarchies that we have been discussing and the multiple-base hierarchies we would sometimes meet. If we have a two-base argument-type:

a,b : Ra(Rb(XT)T)

this is related to:

b : MRb(XT)

The reason is clear; if there is a good argument given a that b is a good argument for XT, it follows that b is a genuine candidate reason for concluding XT. This is not an attenuation relation, because you can go partially in reverse. That is, b : MRb(XT) indicates there is some multiple base argument available for thinking Rb(XT) a good argument; but we don't know what it is. We don't know the bases, and we don't know the structure of the argument. To put it in other words, b : MRb(XT) tells us of the existence of a multiple-base argument, but does not tell us anything about its nature. Since there is a loss of information in moving from a,b : Ra(Rb(XT)T) to b : MRb(XT), but some information is preserved that would not be preserved in an ordinary attenuation relation, we can treat this as a new relation, and call it reduction. Reduction, of course, is key to understanding how multiple-base arguments relate to the simple one-base arguments we have been considering so far. This is a further sign of the value of the strengthened notation, since the strengthening allows us to relate certain kinds of multiple-base argument-types to the one-base hierarchies that could not be related to them without it.

In the next post on this topic I will close by giving a few simple examples showing the typology in action.

More Notes and Links

* Enigman hosts the 51st Philosophers' Carnival. It's a math/science/logic edition, and a very good one at that. I liked the post and discussion on proving that 1 + 1 = 2 at "Philosophy Sucks!"; "Good Math,Bad Math" on space-filling curves. The defense of Deleuze at "Sporting Thoughts" is also worth reading. My post on Duhem's view of mathematical generalization
is also there.

* Patrick Bahls keeps track of the geographical location of submitters to the Pluggers and the They'll Do It Every Time comic strips. Pluggers and TDIET are strips belonging to the same basic genre that exhibit widely different forms of American life: Pluggers depicts a hard-working, very simple, down-to-earth, almost rustic America, while TDIET depicts a suburban-to-urban, middle-class, almost Eisenhower-era America, so it's interesting, although not wholly surprising, what he finds. One of the interesting differences between the strips that has to be considered, though, is that the idea behind Pluggers is that of people poking fun at themselves (if not always themselves directly, then nonetheless at the sort of people they are), and in particular at the completely makeshift character of their lives; whereas TDIET is premised on poking fun at other people, in particular at their exasperating inconsistencies. So this could have some effect on the sort of submitter each gets -- at least, it's something in addition to the type of life depicted that the data alone can't rule out as a possible influence on the sort of patterns in geographical location Bahls notes. For instance, the jokes found in TDIET often involve the irrational inconsistencies of neighbors or co-workers, but of a sort that shows up when you get to know them over long periods of time; you can find such scenarios in rural areas and small towns, of course, but you might be more likely to get them in suburbs and cities, where exposure to neighbors and co-workers in this way may be less avoidable. (HT: CC)

* Camille Paglia, contemplating the tensions between religion and art, argues for the importance of religion to a renaissance of art, both as catalyst and as impediment. On the catalyst side one thinks of Makoto Fujiumura and the International Arts Movement, or the Asian Christian Art Association.

* Cyber Hymnal has some curious tidbits on their Hymn Trivia page, including two popular Christian hymns written by non-Christians, hymns in movies that were nominated for Academy Awards, a hymn that was inspired by a murder (fittingly, a translation of Dies Irae), hymns that made their first appearances in novel (including the very popular "Jesus Loves Me"), and more.

* A letter in 1997 from then Prime Minister Tony Blair to Isaiah Berlin. (ht: virtual philosopher)

* Jane Austen is apparently a good source of dating advice for girls.

* Scott Carson has a good post discussing some of the religious criticisms of the Harry Potter books.

One interesting issue that always arises as a tangent to this sort of discussion, and that of my recent post on Rowling vs. Pullman, is how durable these works are as fiction. It's usually put in terms of comparison with Narnia and The Hobbit, but, of course, one should really compare them with the great nineteenth-century children's works: The Secret Garden, The Water Babies, the Curdie books, etc. And I think it's very unclear. We have excellent reason to think the Narnia books will still be read a hundred years from now. There are a great many things that could happen between now and then, but they have everything in their favor: they are short, simple, profound, stylistically well-written, focused on timeless themes, and popular. The Harry Potter series has a few things going for it: it is popular, and popularity is a factor for durability because it finds more of the people who would be likely to keep reading it, and that is what durability is for literature. But popularity just means the book is finding people; it is the book itself that has to keep them reading. It has some good passages, but it is very inconsistent in style. It has a great many allusions to contemporary culture, which will become less comprehensible over time. It is also very long. The chief strength of the books is the overarching plot: we do not see Rowling at her best in the individual books but in the whole story, beautifully constructed, that binds them together. Harry Potter really is a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. But is this enough? I'm inclined to think not. Instead, what will likely happen is that people in general will stop reading it -- except, of course, for the same sort of people who still read, say, Charlotte Yonge's children's stories and write dissertations on them. Much the same could be said of Pullman. He has a better and more consistent literary style than Rowling, which is a plus, but his overall story is so inconsisently crafted it sometimes borders on silly. His Dark Materials is also, let us face it, a series of children's books that consists in moralizing at great length about sex, and it takes a very particular sort of society even to tolerate that, however well-written it may be. It's possible that it will endure; but more likely that it will not.

* The discussion on politics and quotation continues at ProgressiveHistorians.

* The Philosophical Midwife argues against the Catholic stance on birth control. It's an interesting argument, but I think it is weak on two points: (1) Although many Catholic theorists appeal to natural law alone on the issue of contraception, I think this is largely laziness, of which there is a great deal among Catholic intellectuals; the official Catholic position, going back to Humanae Vitae is really based on five points: a theology of marriage, a single vague sex-oriented point of natural law (namely, that sex has a moral connection with procreation given the constitution of human nature) along with the very general natural-law precepts relevant to virtue in general, reverence for the whole natural functioning of the human organism, what might be called a virtue-theoretical account of familial love (both between spouses and between parents and children) as part of human civilization, and the distinctively Catholic function of marriage as a source of natural growth for the Church. It's the combination of these that makes the Catholic rejection of contraception so intense; natural law only fulfills the function of laying down a general species-level guideline. To that extent the Philosophical Midwife is right, but the argument does not hit its target. (2) It is radically implausible to say that copulation is intrinsically the marriage-constituting act; this is a view of marriage that is, to say the least, rare, and needs a rather robust defense. (That this is needed, it should be said, is explicitly recognized; I merely note it to emphasize how serious a need it is.)

* A. C. Grayling discusses atheism in a recent Philosophy Bites podcast. It's actually quite good; he avoids the tendency he has had in some of his more recent columns to make exaggerated and rationally insupportable claims, and thus lays out in a reasonable, straightforward way a description of atheism. The response to the morality and atheism question was seriously inadequate, but perhaps not more inadequate than one usually finds among atheists, who tend never to have learned much from the range of possible positions on this question beyond the most easily caricatured versions of divine command theory; and it can be regarded as simply identifying one basic reference-point for what is actually a very complicated question.


* The July Patristics Carnival is up at "hyperekperissou". My post on Cyril and the Victorians was included.

Augustine on the Transfiguration

Come down, Peter: you were desiring to rest on the mount; come down, "preach the word, be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." Endure, labour hard, bear your measure of torture; that you may possess what is meant by the white raiment of the Lord, through the brightness and the beauty of an upright labouring in charity. For when the Apostle was being read we heard in praise of charity, "She seeks not her own. She seeks not her own;" since she gives what she possesses. In another place there is more danger in the expression, if you do not understand it right. For the Apostle, charging the faithful members of Christ after this rule of charity, says, "Let no man seek his own, but another's." For on hearing this, covetousness is ready with its deceits, that in a matter of business under pretence of seeking another's, it may defraud a man, and so, "seek not his own, but another's." But let covetousness restrain itself, let justice come forth; so let us hear and understand. It is to charity that it is said, "Let no man seek his own, but another's." Now, O you covetous one, if you will still resist, and twist the precept rather to this point, that you should covet what is another's; then lose what is your own. But as I know you well, you wish to have both your own and another's. You will commit fraud that you may have what is another's; submit then to robbery that you may lose your own. Thou dost not wish to seek your own, but then you take away what is another's. Now if you do this, you do not well. Hear and listen, you covetous one: the Apostle explains to you in another place more clearly this that he said, "Let no man seek his own, but another's." He says of himself, "Not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." This Peter understood not yet when he desired to live on the mount with Christ. He was reserving this for you, Peter, after death. But now He says Himself, "Come down, to labour in the earth; in the earth to serve, to be despised, and crucified in the earth. The Life came down, that He might be slain; the Bread came down, that He might hunger; the Way came down, that life might be wearied in the way; the Fountain came down, that He might thirst; and do you refuse to labour? 'Seek not your own.' Have charity, preach the truth; so shall you come to eternity, where you shall find security."

Augustine, Sermon 28.6. So always must we bring down glory from the mountain through our service in the world.

Holy Transfiguration

We did not follow cleverly invented stories
when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For he received honor and glory from God the Father
when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory,
saying, "This is my Son, whom I love;
with him I am well pleased."
We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven
when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

The image above is, of course, Fra Angelico's Transfiguration.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Literary Sketch

This is a very well-written post. It reminds me, in a general way, of Nathaniel Hawthorne's sketches. For an example, see "A Night Scene" here. The sketch is a literary genre that should be appreciated more than it usually is. If blogging brings it back, it thereby proves its worth a thousandfold. The reason, of course, that sketches fell so wholly out of favor -- almost no one writes them anymore -- is that it is a non-narrative genre -- any narration is incidental and usually only part of the frame, although of course in biographical sketches it occupies a larger place. It is an evocative description of the impressions of a mind of sensibility -- in effect, a sketch of mundane life -- and it so happens that many people find extended description in literary prose boring, having precious little sensibility. This, I am convinced, ranks almost up there with our distaste for didactic poetry as the most serious aesthetic flaw in the mind of the age; and that is saying quite a bit. It is possible to err in the opposite direction; but there are very few Mariannes left in the world, and, unfortunately, that lack is not even made up by a surplus of Elinors.

The basic point of a literary sketch is, in the words of Washington Irving, to observe "with the sauntering gaze with which humble lovers of the picturesque stroll from the window of one print shop to another, caught sometimes by the delineations of beauty, sometimes by the distortions of caricature, and sometimes by the loveliness of landscape." The writer of sketches is the literary equivalent of an artist on the Grand Tour (whether amateur or professional, it does not matter) drawing sketches of ruins, sculptures, people, and the like -- things that are 'picturesque', i.e., things he or she comes across accidentally or quasi-accidentally that admit of being observed with a leisurely and reflective eye and given a description evocative to those with sensibility. It is not a moralistic genre, but, as can be seen in some of Dickens's sketches, it can be designed to evoke thoughts about virtue or judgment or (as in Jack's sketch at the link) death. In the hands of a master it can be quite imaginative; one of Dickens's most famous sketches, and, indeed, one of the most famous literary sketches ever, is "Meditations in Monmouth Street," in which Dickens describes the clothes in the window of a secondhand store by imagining that they all belonged to one man, and reading that man's story off of them. Of course, this is a descriptive device; it is highly unlikely that the clothes all belonged to one man. But by treating them as if they did, Dickens is able to bring each suit into vivid outline. It is not a satirical genre, but a master writer of sketches can make the description evocative of a satirical, cynical, or ironic view of the world; some of Thackeray's sketches are notably good specimens of this. And it is not a fantastic genre, but someone like Hawthorne can (as in "A Night Scene") make the description evoke the wildest fantasies. If the picture is composed properly, the ordinary matter of life can intimate the highest and lowest things, evoke the fullest range of human sentiment and idea. Mundane things are shown to be, as Dickens's Boz puts it, "inexhaustible food for speculation," and we begin to see the world with new eyes.

Thrice Returning Echoes

Te Deum

Thee, Sovereign God, our grateful accents praise;
We own thee Lord, and bless thy wondrous ways;
To thee, Eternal Father, earth's whole frame
With loudest trumpets sounds immortal fame.
Lord God of Hosts! For thee the heavenly powers
With sounding anthems fill the vaulted towers.
Thy Cherubims thrice Holy, Holy, Holy cry;
Thrice Holy, all the Seraphims reply,
and thrice returning echoes endless songs supply.
Both heaven and earth they majesty display;
They owe their beauty to thy glorious ray.
They praises fill the loud apostles' quire:
The train of prophets in the song conspire.
Legions of Martyrs in the chorus shine,
And vocal blood with vocal music join.
By these thy Church, inspired by heavenly art,
Around the world maintains a second part,
And tunes her sweetest notes, O God, to thee,
The Father of unbounded majesty;
The Son adored co-partner of thy seat,
And equal everlasting Paraclete.
Thou King of Glory, Christ, of the Most High
Thou co-eternal Filial Deity;
Thou who, to save the world's impending doom,
Vouchsafedst to dwell within a Virgin's womb;
Old tyrant Death disarmed, before thee flew
The bolts of heaven, and back the foldings drew,
To give access, and make thy faithful way;
From God's right hand thy filial beams display.
Thou art to judge the living and the dead;
Then spare the souls for whom thy veins have bled.
O take us up amongs thy blessed above,
To share with them thy everlasting love.
Preserve, O Lord! thy people, and enhance
Thy blessing on thine own inheritance.
For ever raise their hearts, and rule their ways,
Each day we bless thee, and proclaim they praise;
No age shall fail to celebrate thy name,
No hour neglect thy everlasting fame.
Preserve our souls, O Lord, this day from ill;
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy still:
As we have hoped, do thou reward our pain;
We've hoped in thee, let not our hope be vain.

This is John Dryden's free rendering into verse of the ancient hymn, Te Deum Laudamus. Dryden's poem is sometimes found in hymnals using the first line as its title.

(I think this will be the first in a series of posts on hymns by great and well-known poets.)

LMS, Spurzheim, Brown

In the journals of Amelia Opie, as found in the Memorials of the Life of Amelia Opie, we have an interesting account of Lady Mary Shepherd that is worth noting. She attended a dinner party that Lady Mary also attended, and later noted a philosophical debate that had arisen:

I did contrive to say civil things to Dr. Brown; but the wonder of the crowd, and the persons who sucked us all in turn into their vortex, were Professor Spurzheim and Lady M. Shepherd. Her ladyship fairly threw down the gauntlet, and was as luminous, as deep, as clever in her observations and questions, and in her display of previous knowledge of Gall's theory and Hartley's, as any professor could have been, and convinced me, at least, that when Mr. Tierney had said, of Lady Mary, she was almost the best metaphysician he ever knew, and the most logical woman, by far, he ever met with, he was probably right. The professor looked alarmed, and put on his pins; and Lady Mary began her dialogue at ten, and it was not over at a little past twelve.

Dr. Brown listened occasionally, and with an anatomizing eye, for he does not like literary women; therefore a woman, entering his own arena, must have called forth all his reviewer bitterness. L. M. had assured Dr. B. our parties were mixed ones, and nothing like science or learning displayed; and on his first introduction he meets with a scene like this! (pp. 150-151)

This event occurred in late May of 1814, so Lady Mary was about twenty-seven at the time. The "Dr. Brown" is Thomas Brown; as Opie says of him, he is "the Dr. Brown, professor and lecturer on moral philosophy, the successor of Dugald Stewart, the Edinburgh Reviewer" (p. 150). Brown's best-known philosophical work is his Inquiry into the Relation of Cause and Effect, a defense of Hume. Lady Mary criticizes this work at great length in her An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect, which is a brilliant attack on all Humean theories of causation. The "Professor Spurzheim" is Johann Spurzheim, the phrenologist, a former associate of Gall's who was primarily responsible for popularizing him, and, indeed, coined the word 'phrenology'. Shepherd no doubt raised more than a few serious questions about it.

When Opie saw Lady Mary next she was self-conscious about it: "She was nervous about her display on Sunday last; but I assured her she was thought to talk well, though I could have added, but not by Dr. Brown" (p. 152).

Online Resources

C. L. Brightwell, ed., Memorials of the Life of Amelia Opie
Thomas Brown, Inquiry into the Relation of Cause and Effect
Lady Mary Shepherd, An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect
Johann Spurzheim, A View of the Elementary Principles of Education

[Cross-posted at Houyhnhnm Land]

Henri Gouhier on the Two Worlds of Ideas

The "ideas" of a philosopher belong to two worlds. There are those that are the product of reflection; they have been mulled over at leisure, purified by analysis, and joined together into a system, a logical poem that sings the triumph of reason when, freed of time, it was able to attend to eternal things. But underneath these clear ideas, there are those that participate in that other system that is the living person; these are rather the tendencies to concepts; they have not yet been collected into a definition, and they extend into each other, a landscape without lines like the colors of heaven; they live in those regions of the soul where heredity, education, social influences and other fay folk sow the seeds that will later develop into passions, into beliefs, into worries, without it being possible for us to follow the mysterious labor of their development. Interior temple where all the gods have their altar, it is from there that both cries of revolt and words of love escape; it is there that systems plunge their roots, for it is there where questions are perhaps posed and where certainly solutions are formulated. The relations of reason and faith, above all else, belong to this philosophical subconscious; nobody ever believed that it could be found at the conclusion of a syllogism; it is lived before being thought and it is thought all the more strongly as it is lived with more fervor.

Henri Gouhier, La vocation de Malebranche, J. Vrin (Paris: 1926) pp. 135-136. My translation.