Saturday, November 17, 2007


Bosco Peters has alerted me to the fact that Antonio Rosmini will be beatified tomorrow. This is very welcome news. It will help open up several important doors:

(1) There should develop, at least over time, a greater interest in nineteenth century of a broadly Malebranchean sort, of which Rosmini is certainly an instance (he tells us that he and Malebranche differ only in details). Needless to say, as someone who studies Malebranche, I will be happy if this comes about very soon.

(2) Attention will be directed to some of the good work done by the Rosminians.

(3) More people will read Rosmini's classic, The Five Wounds of the Church, which has for too long lain under a shadow of suspicion. The book is an excellent example of how to criticize abuses in the Church without being anti-ecclesiastical. The Wounds that Rosmini saw in the Italian Church of his day are still, in slightly different forms, to be seen today. But even that aside, it's filled with excellent meditations on (e.g.) the fact that Christ, in saving mankind, saves not only individuals but human associations (the family, the nation, humankind in general), transfiguring them with grace; or the role of moral dignity in human life; or the role of language in the teaching of the faith; or the relation between Church and state; or on the general patterns that characterize the history of the Church. There is much worth reading in this book.


Other weblogs discussing the beatification:

Lacrimarum Valle
Roman Miscellany

Benedict XVI emphasized Rosmini's intellectual charity.

Augustine and Incubi

"Philosophical Misadventures" has a post on Augustine, saying that he was "convinced that devils were fornicating with wanton women". The passage in question is from The City of God:

There is … a very general rumour, which many have verified by their own experience, or which trustworthy persons who have heard the experience of others corroborate, that sylvans and fauns, who are commonly called 'incubi,' had often made wicked assaults upon women, and satisfied their lust upon them; and that certain devils, called Duses by the Gauls, are constantly attempting and effecting this impurity is so generally affirmed, that it were impudent to deny it.

I'm inclined to think, though, that Augustine's point is, when taken in context, not quite but almost exactly the opposite of the way Mathews (and the Malleus Maleficarum before him) have taken it to be. Immediately after the cited passage, Augustine goes on to say things that seem to be very skeptical of the whole idea.

Here is the structure of the chapter as I see it. The question is raised, whether, when Genesis talks of giants born when the sons of God mated with the daughters of men, we should understand this as saying (as indeed some have understood it to say) that angels fell from heaven out of lust for the human women, with whom they mated. The big issue here is that angels are spirits, and mating with women requires a body of some sort. He considers the possibility that the Psalmist, in saying that God makes his ministers flames of fire, is talking about angelic bodies; but concludes that it is unclear, and that the Psalmist might well mean that God's ministers should be ardent with love. However, Scripture does, indeed, seem to say that angels have bodies that can be touched; and (here's the passage above) that spirits can lustfully mate with women is such a common view, and seems to fit with enough claimed experiences of enough trustworthy people, that Augustine does not see himself as being in a position to reject it out of hand -- he would be merely impudent to do so without better reasons than he thinks he has. Taking it as granted, however, it's still not enough to tell us whether there might be spirits who have some sort of 'aerial' body, and Augustine passes on deciding the question. He then denies that the passage in Genesis is really talking about angels, and thus that it has anything to do with demons lustfully seducing women; he argues that it's clear that the passage is talking about men. Of course, some people might want to make a big deal about the term 'giants', but Augustine rightly notes that people of unusual stature can be born of human parents -- no need to bring in angelic mating as an explanation.

(He draws a rather lovely moral from the whole thing: "And it pleased the Creator to produce them, that it might thus be demonstrated that neither beauty, nor yet size and strength, are of much moment to the wise man, whose blessedness lies in spiritual and immortal blessings, in far better and more enduring gifts, in the good things that are the peculiar property of the good, and are not shared by good and bad alike.")

So Augustine, I think, is pretty agnostic on the whole thing; he does think that the evidence points to something going on (and that he has no particular reason for rejecting that there is), but he places no weight on it in the context: he remains explicitly agnostic about whether such claims show that there are spirits with bodies, and he explicitly denies that it has relevance to the question he is considering. Contrary to the Malleus Maleficarum interpretation, then, Augustine is not settling the matter of incubi and succubi, but passing on the question as not particularly relevant to his concerns; to the extent he addresses it at all, he simply defers to others. I suppose, though, it depends on how one takes the somewhat ambiguous phrase "it would be impudent to deny it," which can be understood as meaning, "It would be impudent for anyone to deny it," or as meaning, "It would be impudent for me to deny it." The two, of course, are not the same thing; the former leads to something like the interpretation Mathews puts on it, whereas the latter leads to the interpretation I'm inclined to give it.

Gregory's Declaration

The Declaration of Faith usually attributed to St. Gregory Thaumaturgos:

There is one God, the Father of the living Word, who is His subsistent Wisdom and Power and Eternal Image: perfect Begetter of the perfect Begotten, Father of the only-begotten Son. There is one Lord, Only of the Only, God of God, Image and Likeness of Deity, Efficient Word,Wisdom comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and Power formative of the whole creation, true Son of true Father, Invisible of Invisible, and Incorruptible of Incorruptible, and Immortal of Immortal and Eternal of Eternal. And there is One Holy Spirit, having His subsistence from God, and being made manifest by the Son, to wit to men: Image of the Son, Perfect Image of the Perfect; Life, the Cause of the living; Holy Fount; Sanctity, the Supplier, or Leader, of Sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father, who is above all and in all, and God the Son, who is through all. There is a perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty, neither divided nor estranged. Wherefore there is nothing either created or in servitude in the Trinity; nor anything superinduced, as if at some former period it was non-existent, and at some later period it was introduced. And thus neither was the Son ever wanting to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity abideth ever.

Don't Forget the Cliopatria Awards

The Cliopatria Awards recognize the best writing among history bloggers. The categories for 2007 are:

Best Group Blog
Best Individual Blog
Best New Blog
Best Post
Best Series of Posts
Best Writer

If you've come across any historical writing, or writing about the practice of historical scholarship, that deserves nomination for one of the categories, don't forget to click the link above and follow the instructions to nominate it for an award. If you haven't, don't forget to think about possible nominations!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Epistemic Responsibility

In consequence of the commitments he has made that led to his becoming a respected scientist and a Fellow of the Royal Society, Gosee has epistemic responsibilities that, in a certain sense, transcend those of "ordinary" members of an epistemic community. He thus faces demands of epistemic responsibility of a more pressing nature than those that face an "average" enquirer. He is one of those who shape the standards of responsible enquiry; thus, when he proves no longer able to continue shaping those standards, his case is especially difficult to judge, particularly in view of the apparent worthiness of his reasons. Teachers, clergy, physicians, and scientists, among others, in their professional capacity, face special epistemic demands. One might be reluctant, in fact, to judge as intellectually virtuous a teacher (or physician or scientist) who is epistemically responsible in professional matters but is dogmatic, careless, and unscrupulous in private life.

Lorraine Code, Epistemic Responsibility, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH: 1987) 62-63.

The Gosse mentioned here is Philip Henry Gosse, who is indeed an interesting case. The point, of course, is general. It's remarkable, though, how easy it is to find academics who will unthinkingly say things that suggest that the greater one's successes as an outstanding part of the epistemic community, the less anyone has a right to demand or expect that you act responsibly as a member of such a community. It's curious how, for instance, some people are willing to give Nobel Prize winners almost a free pass for saying whatever they please. But there's a sense in which, if you're an academic, or a scientist, or physician, or such, that you never stop being one -- you continue to represent the academy, or the scientific community, or what have you, even when not engaged in strictly professional matters. Of course, you don't do so to as great an extent and there may be more room for foibles than there would in the stricter world of actual research and teaching. But signing on to be an academic is in a sense signing on always to be an academic. When people see you outside the academy, they won't say, "Oh, there goes so-and-so, who is a historian/philosopher/scientist when he goes to work." They'll say, "Oh, there goes so-and-so, who is a historian/philosopher/scientist, and so that's an example of how historians/philosophers/scientists act and think."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Whewell and Gothic Architecture

Speaking of Whewell, I find to my delight that the Internet Archive has a copy of Whewell's Architectural Notes on German Churches online, which it didn't last time I had checked. This work is one of the great classics of philosophy of architecture (like all of Whewell's works, alas, it tends to be overlooked), and is of interest even to those who are interested in Whewell's better known philosophy of science, because in this work he applies the principles of his philosophy of science to the study of architecture. (Notably, he also has a brief discussion of Gothic architecture in his History of the Inductive Sciences as a case in which we can trace some scientific progress through the Middle Ages.) Jonathan Smith has a great little paper online about this. It's also of interest as being one of the major works contributing to the Gothic Revival.

Whewell and the Gorham Controversy

As you know, I have an interest in William Whewell. I was reading Whewell's sermon, Strength in Trouble, which was published in 1851 (I do not know exactly when it was originally delivered). The sermon is partially a stern warning and partially an earnest exhortation for people to stay Anglican. Since we're talking about Whewell, he's subtle enough that it's hard to catch details, but clear enough that there's no question what 'Egypt' represents in the sermon. My first thought was that it might be anti-Tractarian, or even have Newman in view; which would be interesting, but is probably wrong. Todhunter says that the sermon is concerned with the Gorham controversy, which is extremely likely given the date of publication -- the Gorham controversy led to a fair number of Anglicans converting to Catholicism after a secular court -- the Privy Council -- ruled that the High Church bishop of Exeter was wrong to have refused to institute a Calvinist Evangelical (Gorham) to a vicarage (the specific ground was that Gorham denied baptismal regeneration). The conversions were due to the shock of finding that so many Anglicans held, or seemed to hold, that the teaching authority of the Church of England was from the state. Manning is probably the most famous convert in the wake of the controversy. The controversy had been aggravated by Wiseman preaching a vivid sermon on the controversy (in which it is a storm rocking the ship of the Church of England, which therefore desperately needs to return to the Catholic Church), which elicited some rather heated replies, like this one. Whately also got involved, with an attack on the High Church view of baptism. Many of the other big names of the time got involved in one way or another (although I know of no comments by Newman on the subject).

Project Canterbury has a page devoted to the controversy.


In the comments Miriam notes that Newman discusses the controversy here.

For St. Albert's Day

Tomorrow (Thursday) is the Feast of St. Albert the Great, patron saint of scientists, and so I thought I'd do what I've done before and put up interesting science-related links.

An online biography of Albert.

John Farrell has a post on whether the Church is indifferent to science. Scott Carson comments.

Cognitive Daily has a post on wine and the taste of food.

Chris has some visual illusion videos.

Volume 4 number 8 of Grand Rounds, the medical blog carnival, is up at Doctor Anonymous.

Works by and about William Whewell at Internet Archive

Pierre Duhem's History of Physics article

Bora has his science news picks from Science Daily.

You might also consider doing something to support PLoS; and, in any case, PLoS journals make great reading. (I particularly recommend PLoS Biology, which always has something interesting.)

If you know of any others, let me know.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


The Thomist at "Just Thomism" has what I think is probably the most accurate assessment of ecumenical discussion between Protestants and Catholics I've seen in a while:

Catholic- Protestant ecumenism is like a very odd dinner party where everyone sits around saying polite and edifying things while waiting for the other guest to die.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bleg about Wikis

Dear all,

I'm considering doing a wiki-based assignment for a course (as a form of class participation, participation in the wiki contributing a small but as-yet-undetermined percent of the final grade). Does anyone have any recommendations for a free wiki hosting site that's very user-friendly -- something even students with little wiki experience could easily jump into (and have a bit of fun with)? Do any of the following sites have advantages and disadvantages that you know of?


Anything anyone might know from personal experience or even hearsay would be welcome. The big desiderata here are (1) ease of use; (2) good help features (tutorials, or whatever) that students could use; and (3) any features that might make it especially fun or enjoyable to work with.


P.S. I suppose I should be more specific about what I have in mind; I'm thinking about having students build, collaboratively, a sort of reference site out of class notes, their own work, etc. But this is all just at the bare-idea stage, so if you've come across excellent educational uses of wikis other than this, I'd like to know that, too.

Victims and Accomplices

Neil Steinberg argues:

If abortion is to be a crime, as many would like, then somebody has to be punished for the crime. The assumption is that this would be the doctors, exclusively, while the women undergoing the abortions get off, I assume, with a stern lecture.

That is not, however, how it usually works in criminal law. In criminal law, if you are planning to rob a bank, and I drive you to the bank and wait while you are inside doing your business, then I am not an innocent party. I am a bank robber, just like you, and if you shoot a guard while inside, I'm a murderer, too.

So if abortion is murder -- the reason we're banning it, supposedly -- then why would not the women who delivered their fetuses up to slaughter be equally guilty as the physician who actually does the deed? That's how they do it in South America.

Whether abortion should be treated as murder is in fact a rather contentious issue among pro-lifers, who are united not in believing that abortion is murder but that it is a violation of the right to life. Not every violation of the right to life need be treated the same way as murder, and there is in fact a long history of treating abortion as a distinct and relatively unique way to violate the right to life, although the popularity of this view seems to swing wildly through time. It is one of a number of contentious issues, like the death penalty, related to the question of the right to life and how it can be violated.

But let's take the view that abortion is, in fact, murder in a straightforward sense, which does seem a very common view at present. Why (setting aside purely prudential reasons of politics) is it that there's a tendency to want to shield women from legal consequences in this matter? I don't think there's actually much mystery here; you can ask a lot of pro-life activists, and, while you'll get a lot of confused and odd answers as well, the coherent reason you'll get most often is that there is should be a presumption that women are pushed into it. The analogy would then not be to people driving the get-away but to people who are coerced into opening the safe. No one thinks that such people should be treated as accomplices to the robbery, even though they facilitate it. Indeed, so disinclined are we to do so, where there is no specific reason to think the person complicit on other grounds, that we simply presume that the person in question has no guilt whatsoever, despite actively contributing to the robbery. This is a very widespread view among pro-life activists, and it seems to be getting more common: that abortion is not usually an expression of liberated woman's choice but is instead usually the result of others restricting a woman's choice for their own convenience. The people who on this view are like the get-away car drivers are boyfriends or parents who push for the woman to get an abortion, where they exist. The women are like the people forced to open the safe: yes, it's possible that the person opening the safe is actually in on the criminal aspect of the act, but barring clear and definite information on it, that person is presumed to be a victim rather than an accomplice. Of course, there are purely practical considerations, as well, like the hard sell point. And, believe it or not, there are quite a few people in the pro-life camp who, while they regard the pro-choice position as ultimately untenable, nonetheless sympathize with it, and are willing to make what limited concessions they can in that direction.

In any case, abortion is a tricky kind of case to analyze, precisely because it joins into one a number of things that are, outside of cases of abortion, rarely found together. Not, of course, that they are never found together -- for instance, it's a surprisingly common view, for instance, that it should be illegal for women to drink while pregnant, due to fetal alcohol syndrome, and some of the same issues arise there. It doesn't help that this is an Any Stick issue -- both sides, besides giving arguments that are worth taking seriously, also give forth a continual stream of bad arguments because any stick is good for beating their opponents. This leads people to try to minimize the fact that it really is peculiar case, where a whole bunch of moral considerations suddenly come together that usually are easy to keep apart. I would suggest that what is needed is not analogies to other crimes, but a careful inquiry into the nature of this particular kind of case to show either (in the pro-choice case) that there is no morally consistent way to make it illegal or (in the pro-life case) that there is a clear and appropriate legal solution.

A Bit of Juvenilia

A draft of an old poem I came across while going through some papers:

You See the World

You see the world;
I say there's a world
inside the world
and it is you
and only you
can study you
and grow more wise
as worlds grow wise.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


* Bartolomé Blanco Márquez, who was one of the Spanish martyrs beatified on October 28, wrote a letter to his girlfriend while in prison waiting to go before the firing squad. He was 22 years old. Well worth reading.

* Benedict XVI on Jerome:

What can we learn from St. Jerome? Above all I think it is this: to love the word of God in sacred Scripture. St. Jerome said, “To ignore Scripture is to ignore Christ.” That is why it is important that every Christian live in contact and in personal dialogue with the word of God, given to us in sacred Scripture.

This dialogue should be of two dimensions. On one hand, it should be truly personal, because God speaks to each of us through sacred Scripture and has a message for each of us. We shouldn’t read sacred Scripture as a word from the past, but rather as the word of God addressed even to us, and we must try to understand what the Lord is telling us.

And so we don’t fall into individualism, we must also keep in mind that the word of God is given to us in order to build communion, to unite us in the truth along our way to God. Therefore, despite the fact that it is always a personal word, it is also a word that builds community, and that builds the Church itself. Therefore, we should read it in communion with the living Church.

The privileged place for reading and listening to the word of God is in the liturgy. By celebrating the word and rendering the Body of Christ present in the sacrament, we bring the word into our life and make it alive and present among us.

* A heated but reasonably informed debate about whether it is consistent for a Catholic to advocate the legalization of prostitution at "The Curt Jester."

* "Reformation Theology" has a grouped list of recommended books for studying Reformed theology.

* In light of the recent arguments on plain sense, it's interesting to go back and read Rebecca's summary of the Reformed view on the perspicuity of Scripture.

* John Heard discusses Sufjan Stevens.

* There are few things like Yakko's Universe Song for putting things into perspective.

* Eliezer Yudkowsky at "Overcoming Bias" seems to have difficulty overcoming his own. As I've noted before in other contexts, the sort of position he criticizes is not based on threat and punishment, which is merely a convenient caricature, but on a particular view of what's required for either rationally consistent moral motivation, or obligation, or both. Perhaps because the caricature admits of a very simple sort of refutation, it tends to be read into any argument concluding that there is some link between morality and God, often without due regard to the actual features of the argument made and the position defended by it. The reason the argument is problematic is not the silly reason given by Yudkowsky, but its implications for the role of reason in our moral life.

* Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, a day of Christian solidarity with all those who are persecuted and killed for Christian faith and life in the world today. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering (Heb. 13:3). You might consider giving to Open Doors International or Aid to the Church in Need.

* An interesting article on the problem of the standard kilogram.

Currently Reading Online

James Wilson's Of the Nature and Philosophy of Evidence from his Lectures on Law.

I. Todhunter, William Whewell: An Account of His Writings

William Whewell, Six Lectures on Political Economy

Mark Collier, Why History Matters: Associations and Causal Judgment in Hume and Cognitive Science (PDF)

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Testing the Selectorate (PDF)
Game Theory, Political Economy, and the Evolving Study of War and Peace (PDF)

Charles Babbage, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England

Bernard Bolzano at the SEP


* An autobiographical essay by one of the greatest ghost writers of recent times, Mildred Wirt.

* An interesting article at the Guardian on the problem of the 'Greek loves'. The little editorial blurb asks why the Greeks were so confused about homosexuality, but what the article really shows is how we are confused by Greek practices. It should be noted, incidentally, that Plato's affirmation of the blessedness of male lovers should not be taken as if it were quite so unambiguous; after all, this is in the Symposium, which is a slightly comic text about a drunken dinner party, and the model held up in the dialogue is of male lovers who have sublimated or transcended every particular sexual interest in the other in order to contemplate beauty as such. A great deal is made of the fact that the relationship between Socrates and Alcibiades is not sexual. In Xenophon's Symposium, Socrates argues that everyone who seriously teaches another is like a sexual procurer; it does not follow from this that sexual procuring was favorably regarded, since it's clearly the sort of thing that might be said in half-joking philosophical discussion during a drinking party. It's also a bit problematic that Davidson shifts back and forth between 'homosexuality', 'homosex', and 'gay', which are none of them exactly the same thing. But it is, as I said, an interesting article, and it makes the book sound interesting.

* An excellent primer on game theory (PDF)

Renewal of the Church

Jesus answered them,
"I told you and you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father's name testify to me.
But you do not believe,
because you are not among my sheep.
My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life,
and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me,
is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father's hand.
The Father and I are one."

Today is the Feast of the Dedication of the Church; together with last Sunday's celebration (the Consecration of the Church) it marks the beginning of the Maronite liturgical year. So it's a good time for us all to take stock and consider what steps we will take to grow over the next year.