Saturday, December 01, 2007

Spe Salvi

Benedict XVI put out his newest encyclical on November 30, and it's well worth reading.

Brief summary of the encyclical:

Paul says, "In hope we are saved" (Rm. 8:24). What can justify that?

The Christian faith is not merely informative but performative; it doesn't merely make things known, it makes things happen, because Christian faith involves hope, and the one with hope lives differently, with a new life.

The hope that is redemption is life with God; a good example is St. Josephine Bakhita of Darfur, and this experience is discovered as well in the early Church.

Human beings live lives in a sort of paradox; we want life to continue, for us and for our loved ones, but we don't want merely to live indefinitely. We know and yet do not know what we want, and reach out for something out of our reach. We use the term 'eternal life' to describe this 'unknown' that we want, something that would not merely be interminable but life in its fullest and most proper sense.

Christian hope is not individualistic but social; the known unknown that we seek is to be numbered among a people. But there is an idea that hope is selfish rather than social. We find the reason for this in the foundations of the modern age, in which the disturbing step is taken of trying to find salvation in a union of science and technological practice. Faith became faith in progress, and hope, which is intimately tied to faith, became perverse.

Technological progress must be matched by ethical progress; calculating reason must look beyond itself and direct the will along the right path; fully human freedom requires the convergence, based on something else, of various kinds of freedom. The point put simply: man needs hope, so man needs God.

Institutions, however important, cannot guarantee the moral well-being of the world; even the best ones can only function when people are motivated as a community to assent freely to the social order. Thus we cannot definitively establish the world of good will; free assent must be constantly won over to the cause of good, so every generation in a sense begins anew. Yet it is also the case that ever generation must make its own contribution to those institutions for good and for freedom that can serve as a guideline to the next generation.

We are redeemed by love; in Jesus Christ we can say, "I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). This love is life, and it is communal life, for it is union with the one who gave Himself for all. Loving God, we participate in His justice and love for others. We see an example of this in the life of St. Augustine.

How, then, may we learn and practice hope? First, through prayer, prayer that is both personal and guided and illuminated by the great prayers of the Church and the saints in the liturgy. Second, in contexts of action and suffering, we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to good, and courageously place ourselves on the side of good even when it is difficult to do so. St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh provides a useful example of this; and perhaps it would be judicious to revive, moderately and reasonably, the practice of 'offering up' the hardships we experience. Third, by faith in the Last Judgment, which is a faith in the ultimate justice of the order of the world; God's judgment is hope because it is both justice and grace. And fourth, by taking Mary as our sea-star (stella maris) of hope in our journey of faith.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Research Project Is a Learning Project

Miriam Burstein has some wise words about research at "The Little Professor":

The author brings up academic integrity--"Yet if the undergraduates doing this research attempted the same outsourcing of written work in their term papers, they’d face disciplinary proceedings, and several student researchers told me they felt uneasy about this cognitive dissonance between expectations for their own work and that of their professor"--but one of the reasons we crack down on plagiarism is that it short-circuits the learning process. Faculty do not cease to be "students" just because they have alphabet soup after their name.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Disjunction Introductions

This is what we usually call the disjunction introduction rule (vI):

Therefore, A or B.

But this would also be a perfectly legitimate disjunction introduction rule that we could use instead:

Therefore, A or B.

The latter has the advantage of not pulling things out of thin air. It also makes the disjunction introduction rule much more like the conjunction and implication introduction rules, both of which depend wholly on what has already been given as part of the argument.

Some Scattered Notes

The last four months have been one of those periods where, every time you think you are going to have a good amount of time to catch up on blogging you want to do, something comes up immediately to reduce it. So I've got something of a backlog of things I want to post, and who knows when I'll manage it. But things will still trickle out.

* Evelyn Brister has a report of the continual failure of philosophy departments to turn out more women with Ph.D.'s in philosophy. In fact, the percentage has hovered around 27% for fifteen years now. She has another good post on possible reasons for this, using an analogy with computer science. (ht)

* As you probably know, Kevin Rudd is the new prime minister of Australia. A little more than a year ago, Rudd wrote a very controversial column for The Monthly called Faith in Politics. Rudd is a formerly Catholic Anglican who is still heavily influenced by Catholic social teaching.

* A simple but fun little simulation of the Battle of Gettysburg, from the Confederate perspective. I fought it to a standstill which, of course, leaves the balance in Union favor. If I had chosen the other way on the choice I was most uncertain about, I would have won. But, then again, I'm good at multiple choice tests; and Lee was certainly not faced with a multiple choice test. (ht)

* John Haldane on the recent Flew controversy.

* There has been a remarkable amount of fuss on various science blogs over this list, and the fact that it contains no science books in its nonfiction section. I find it a bit odd, because the list is explicitly a list of especially notable books that have been reviewed in the Sunday Book Review of the New York Times. The sort of books that are reviewed in the Book Review are heavily narrative in nature, so the best you would find among that selection are (1) biographies about scientists; (2) autobiographies by scientists; (3) historical accounts of scientific events. Thus, for instance, in the past month the Book Review has had reviews on James Watson's latest memoir, on a biography of Wernher von Braun, Venter's autobiography, Lehrer's book on science and art, and a collection about music and the brain. It's that kind of book that will show up on that kind of list; thus, for instance, there is a 'mathematics' book on the list, but it's not a book about mathematics, but a biography of Hardy and Ramanujan. To put it in other words: the closest you will tend to find on the list are science-themed biographies (or, when we are talking about events or ideas rather than people, histories that are biography-like). Thus, you have to medical-themed books on the list, a mathematics-themed book, etc. Here and there you might find an exception, but the thing notable about the books you find in the Review is that they are all very similar (biographies, memoirs, popular histories that have lots of biographical and narrative details, pundit's bloviations), selected for what is probably the most common taste in leisure reading among people who consider themselves to have high-brow tastes. I notice, too, that there are no philosophy books on the list; but you don't see us whining. (I hope.) Being noted by the Sunday Book Review is a lot like being tagged, "To Our Taste for the Moment." It's not a profound honor or a particularly revealing label.

* A Sola Gratia argument for the Immaculate Conception, an Anglican argument for Mary as model, and an argument for blessing Mary at "First Things" (more to come).

* Two interesting new logic-related blogs: Blogicum and (Blog&~Blog). The latter is about dialetheism; I have recently been discussing there whether dialetheists are better advised to reject disjunctive syllogism or disjunction introduction in response to explosion arguments. (Most dialetheists do the former; I think this is probably a mistake -- at least, an additional mistake beyond thinking that contradictions can be true.) The work being done by Tom at "Blogicum" is very interesting, and I hope to comment on it, if I can find the time at any point in the near future.

Monday, November 26, 2007

GoodShop for the Holidays

The Acton Institute Blog has a good idea: if you do any online shopping for this holiday season, check to see if your vendor is a GoodShop participant. Vendors participating in GoodShop donate a part of their profits to the charity of your choice (how much varies from vendor to vendor).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Poem Draft

Burger's "Lenore" spawned many imitations and translations in the nineteenth century, the most famous of which is probably Dante Gabriel Rossetti's. This is mine, which owes something to Rossetti's version.


Lenore in her bed is deeply disturbed
by nightmare-madness that shakes and unnerves,
by the terror of dream that ennervates souls,
the last horror, hopelessness, that Pandora stole,
while the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
widly dash as they seek to be free.

"Ah, Wilhelm," she says, in a sigh like a moan,
"have you no faith, or no strength, to come home?
Have you no means, or no will, to return,
when Iliam falls and Jerusalem burns?"
But the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

And the armies come home, the men and the boys;
the throngs of the soldiers return to their joys.
But never is Wilhelm found laughing with bliss,
arriving at home to catch Lenore's kiss.
And the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

Swiftly and often the maiden's bright eye
searches among the men who go by,
gladsome and glorious, and uncaring at all
for Lenore's worried searching, or the name that she calls.
But the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

Her mother seeks to ease her, as mothers will do:
"God is in heaven, His grace ever new;
seek mercy from him, and comfort you'll see."
"Mother, it seems God has no mercy for me."
And the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"Her words are but the words of a child distraught;
she knows not the sense of this wickedest thought!
Heaven, forgive her, and daughter, know this:
God's wisdom is endless, and mercy is his."
But the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"Mother, my mother, your God does not care,
and he who has mercy relieves all despair;
but pitiless God, he brings only night,
takes away Wilhelm, and shuts away light!"
And the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"Heaven forgive you! The wine and the bread
show a God with the mercy to save us from death.
The cup and the paten are mercy indeed:
reflect on their power; my daughter, take heed!"
But the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"Mother, the lies of the wine and the bread
have no power to vanquish or raise from the dead;
no pity I find there, only the loss
of a man all forsaken and dead on the cross."
And the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"And what if it's Wilhelm, not God, who's untrue?
What if your young man another pursues
on some rugged mountain, on some distant plain?
Watch who you blame in your anguish and pain!"
But the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"Mother, my mother, it all matters not,
if his heart be still or by someone else caught,
nothing at all can raise this sad head,
my life is for nothing, my place with the dead."
And the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"Cease, my dear girl, all this moan and complaint!
Set your sweet heart on the goal of the saint:
seek you the vision of the God who makes whole,
He who alone is bridegroom to the soul."
But the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"What is bliss, my sweet mother? And what is hell?
With Wilhelm is bliss, and without him I fell
down to the darkness, down to the tomb.
He is my light, all else is but gloom."
But the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"All other things, You may take away,"
the lovely Lenore in her anguish did pray,
"but Wilhelm alone is my heaven and light.
She requires no other who is by his side."
And the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

The clack and the clatter of the hoof of the steed,
the clank of the steel and the voice Lenore needs,
waft through the door to meet Lenore's ear,
to bring her rejoicing and turn her to cheer.
For the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"Are you waking or sleeping, Lenore, O my bride?
Come with me, come with me, away let us ride!
Off must we go, ere dawn slays the night,
a fast journey and far, to wedded delights!"
And the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"Wilhelm, my Wilhelm, eleven's the bell
that tolls in the churchyard and says all is ell;
rest you within until night's retreat;
come inside, dearest, and whisper me sweet."
But the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"No, my Lenore, before break of day
I have many a mile to mark on my way.
Swift, at dead gallop, through storm and through night,
through rain and through gusting, before morning's light."
For the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

Without pause, unwary, she raced through the door
with kiss and caress no man could ignore;
but Wilhelm straightway did lift her beside,
and settled her down, and away they did ride.
For the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

The world like a pouring of water sped by
as bridge blurred to bridge for the slow human eye,
and trees of the forest became like a wall
that flickered and rose, then behind them did fall.
For the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

Shimmers and shadows alone in the dark
rose to the eye like the fire and spark,
the shapes of the warriors who died far away;
they rush to find solace before break of day.
For the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

"What ails you, my darling, my dearest, my bride?
Why do you shudder and your head turn aside?
Are they not lovely, the shades of the dead?"
Lenore answered not as she covered her head.
And the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dashed as they sought to be free.

Soon to a gate born of iron and fire
they came; and there Wilhelm as if in ire
threw back his hand, and the iron bolts bent,
and gently inside the two lovers went.
And the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dashed as they sought to be free.

But see how the moonlight plays tricks on the eye!
See Wilhelm, how thin, like bones long laid by!
See now his head, like a skull reft of skin,
and how like he looks to the bones of dead men!
And the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

Now lies before them the tombs of the dead,
but Wilhelm sings of the sweet nuptial bed,
and Lenore, who now struggles, was drawn ere she wist
into the grave by cold hand on her wrist.
For the ghosts of the dead across land and sea
wildly dash as they seek to be free.

How to Pronounce "Whewell"

A controversy used to exist in Cambridge as to the proper pronunciation of Whewell's name. He was described in a newspaper article as a man whose name was more easy to whistle than to spell; and in practice the pronunciation was somewhat various, some saying You-ell, others Woo-ell, or perhaps rather Whoo-ell. On a public occasion, when he recited his own name, I remember that his own pronunciation corresponded nearly to the last of these three, which therefore I presume may be regarded as the correct rendering of the name.

Harvey Carlisle, in Macmillan's Magazine, volume XLV, p. 139.

Now if I can only figure out the difference between Woo-ell and Whoo-ell, I'll be good.

Christ the King

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
For by him all things were created:
things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;
all things were created by him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
And he is the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead,
so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace through his blood,
shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

Air Maria has an interesting online video series on the Scotist doctrine of the primacy of Christ, with which the Feast of Christ the King is usually associated.

Announcement to Mary

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

I always find it interesting how thoughtful Mary appears when described in Luke; she's always pondering something.

Sensitivity and Society

Richard Chappell, reflecting on this post by Ophelia Benson, is very critical of appeals to subjective emotion:

It's so depressing how arbitrary subjective responses are presented in public discourse as though they were legitimate reasons ('Shut up! Shut up! You're making me feel bad! So do as I say!'). We've developed a disastrous social norm according to which anyone can win instant brownie points by claiming to be a "victim" -- and doubly so if their claim is made qua membership in some "community" ('As an X, I'm offended...').

I'm actually inclined to regard this as an improvement rather than a disastrous social norm. To be sure, it may be abused, which I take it was Ophelia's point, but it seems to me that the requirement, that no appeal to emotion be allowed unless it can be shown to be 'warranted', has (at least) two significant flaws.

(1) As far as I can see, there is no clear sense of warrant or rational defense that is applicable here. One can see some sort of notion of warrant or rational defensibility that would apply to repeated and consistent emotional responses; it's the sort of thing to which virtue theorists appeal. Thus, for instance, we can urge that people develop the virtuous habits (rationally desirable acquired dispositions) that are needed in order not to be hurt by every little thing, not to be made angry by every single breach, not to be offended by every little thing with which one disagrees. But these take some discipline and work to develop; some people will, because of temperament, find some of them easier than others will, but it's an extended process of rational self-development. It's precisely this that makes it reasonable to talk about warrant or rational defensibility, because there is a definite and easily recognizable rational activity involved. If, however, we are talking about emotional responses that are not habitual, but occasional, it becomes a great deal more murky. For instance, I am not temperamentally inclined to worry; indeed, so far am I from having any particular inclination to worry that I very rarely worry about anything at all, and when I do it is usually only to some extent and for short bursts from which I am easily distracted. But some things, on occasion, do make me worry rather severely. Now suppose that some friend's plans for the weekend suddenly puts me into a worrying fit, and I get back into that worrying fit whenever I think about the plans. Even if I can't quite put my finger on what it was that made me worry, it is rather difficult to find a stable notion of warrant or rational defensibility that could be applied as a standard here: it is a spontaneous response, a combination of temperament and habit and circumstance, and we have and reasonably act on those all the time without any concern for warrant or rational defensibility. And rightly so: if we have no reason to think that they are pathological or signs of vice, then we have no reason to demand their credentials; there is, so to speak, no warrant for demanding their warrant, because they are simply facts that must be taken into account. If John is disgusted by someone's crassness, and John does not tend to be disgusted in a disproportionate number of cases (which would be a sign that John needs self-discipline in this department), and John's functioning as a rational person is not put into jeopardy by the disgust (which would suggest that John needs some sort of therapy on this point), then it is absurd to demand that John not say anything unless he can show (by some vague yet strangely demanding standard) that it is rationally warranted or defensible; and, while there will be many cases where John would be well-advised, as a matter of prudence, to exercise restraint and just let the matter go, in cases where prudence does not tend this way, John is entirely reasonable in expressing his disgust and expecting consideration for it because the mere fact of being disgusted is, ceteris paribus, the only sort of 'rational warrant' required for expressing disgust, and failure to regard the disgust of others is in fact a sin against sociability. (It might be, of course, that you have some very good reason for continuing in the behavior John is disgusted at, despite his disgust; but simply to ignore John's disgust as if it did not matter is to ignore John as if he did not matter.) To put it in simpler terms: If you are offended by something you have every right to express this and expect people to take that into account, without any need for rational defense, as long as the following conditions are met:

(a) there are no indications that the offense-taking is due to some emotional or mental pathology;
(b) there are no indications that the offense-taking is due to some character flaw that needs to be re-worked by self-cultivation;
(c) there are no indications that expressing this feeling of being offended would definitely be imprudent.

It is such cases that require rational defense and warrant; everything else, so to speak, carries its warrant with it, by virtue of being a natural response. Arguments like Ophelia's are only legitimate when they involve pointing out that there are reasons to think that this 'default' defensibility (so to speak) does not obtain. (So, I take it, Ophelia's real point is that there are reasons for thinking that the appeal, in the cases she is considering, fails to meet condition (b), namely, by showing a vicious, or at least potentially vicious, disregard for truth.)

(2) If we claim the following, as Richard does, we seem to run into some serious social problems:

Feeling offended is not a public reason that has any place in the discourse. It's a purely private fact about yourself (or your faction, if you're angling for the "community" bonus points) that has no claim on society at large.

What this seems to me to do is strip away a great deal of the means by which underprivileged groups (I don't say 'minority', because depending on the society in question the underprivileged group may actually be a majority) can fight back against injustice. It no longer becomes possible for blacks to say, "Hey, look, this is offensive to us as blacks, so cut it out"; instead they'd have to go the long way about to show that it's problematic for society at large. And for that to be a reasonable approach requires that they have pretty good reason to think that people are going to stop long enough to listen seriously to their whole argument in an open manner that springs from good faith and good will. There are going to be many cases in which this cannot be reasonably assumed. In any case, if an underprivileged group comes to the conclusion that society at large does not have sufficient regard for what offends that group, they will eventually make it an issue for society at large; and when riot and revolution rise, it will be a little disingenuous to say that feeling offended is not a public reason and has no claim on society at large. In truth, there are public reasons for restraints on how we express our feelings of being offended; thus there is no good reason to deny that there may be public reasons for expressing them.

To this extent, I think Richard would perhaps do better to distinguish sharply cases in which someone simply expresses their personal mood or emotional response from those in which people express their reactions as members of a community. When I do this, I put myself as representing or personating (to use Hobbes's term) a segment of public life; this makes my claim a matter of public reason automatically. I might, of course, be lying, or, without regard for truth, simply putting up the claim (which may or may not be true) as a front for my own personal interest; but such may be the case with any public reason that anyone brings forward. Appeals to truth, to justice, to freedom, to reason -- each of these is very often abused in precisely this way.

With more purely private opinions Richard's suggestion sounds less implausible and more feasible. It is less easy than one might suppose to distinguish such cases from cases involving the at-least-implicit representation of a community. The tricky part here, though, is how we are really going to adjudicate what has a "place in the discourse" or not. After all, public discourse does not exist independently of any public; it is created by the public as part of their lives. And, what is more, it is created by negotiation. It thus does not seem possible to have any univocal notion of 'public reason', i.e., of things that have a legitimate place in the discourse, because the very nature of the discourse will change depending on the society engaging in the discoure. Public reasons are what you get when you find that everyone's private reasons cluster around particular points that are not set aside by rules that are generally agreed upon. Of course, one can argue that it would be wiser to set aside this or that sort of appeal, in the sense that this would be more appropriate to the type of discourse at hand, and I take it that this is what Richard is really trying to do here. But when Richard says, that it is important "for the progress of civilization that there be a space for open debate and unhindered intellectual inquiry into controversial issues," he is, I think, exaggerating. No one actually believes in unhindered intellectual inquiry; everyone draws a line somewhere, and will hinder any intellectual inquiry that tries to cross it. No one would justify, say, Nazi medical experiments on the grounds that intellectual inquiry must be unhindered; they would say, instead, that such an approach to intellectual inquiry must be not merely hindered but stopped entirely. And while this is an extreme case, most people will agree that in controversial issues standards of inquiry must be raised quite a bit -- more must be done to show objectivity, rationality, etc., precisely because it is a controversial area. And raised standards, too, are a hindrance. But they are a hindrance, like friction for a machine, that is essential to good functioning. If people are offended, a genuinely truth-seeking society will take that as a sign that it needs to make doubly sure (1) that the inquiry is conducted responsibly; and (2) that it is presented responsibly to the public. (I would suggest that our repeated failure to do the latter even in the face of major reactions is far and away a more serious problem for our status as a 'truth-seeking society' than hypersensitivity to what offends.)

Now, I do think Richard makes an excellent point here:

The underlying problem, I suspect, is that our public culture has become so infected with subjectivist assumptions that people don't realize that there's a difference between desires and reasons. Sentiments are taken as given; no-one ever stops to question whether their reactive attitudes are warranted. Any kind of negative emotion is not just evidence, but constitutive, of suffering injustice. You're offended, therefore they're in the wrong. It's fucked up.

I think Richard has put his finger on the real problem; I just don't think he has diagnosed it quite right. The real problem, I think, is that people take these feelings of being offended as adequate reason for blame, and thus take them to be evidence of some culpability in the other. But as we can see from thinking through the case of John's disgust, this may not be so; there are plenty of circumstances in which John may be disgusted, and may reasonable express this, and may reasonably expect that people will take it into account in their behavior, where, nonetheless, no one is culpable. Rather, what has happened is that there was a fact -- that John would be disgusted by this -- that was simply unknown. Now that it is known, it would be absurd to ignore the fact -- a fact's a fact, and simply ignoring it or dismissing it does no good, since it's obviously relevant. Thus, what people need to be weaned from is not the reactive attitude, nor expression of the reactive attitude without explicit defense, but rather the assumption that "You're offended, therefore they're in the wrong."

UPDATE: Fixed some typos.