Saturday, December 22, 2007

One More Journalistic Oddity

A mystifying headline and subtitle. What is remarkable is that there is no evidence for anything said in the title or the subtitle of this article; the article itself not only provides no evidence for it but provides the evidence against it, namely, that what the title attributes to the Pope was actually said in an editorial of L'Osservatore Romano, not written by the Pope (who has weightier responsibilities than to edit the Vatican newspaper).

In newspaper journalism it's often the case that the headlines are editorial decisions, so the bizarre titles shouldn't be attributed to the reporter for the piece, Erin McWhirter.

Newton's World

Normal Levitt has a critical review of Steve Fuller's Science v. Religion. In the course of the review he makes a number of good points against Fuller; but, as is absurdly predictable with people who write for skeptical magazines like this, he takes the liberty of making claims that go well beyond the evidence:

Newton, no less than his frankly materialist or Deist successors, was well aware that the cosmological picture flowing from his own achievement left little room for an interventionist God — an activist, miracle-working being whose constant attention is necessary to the steady functioning of the universe. He sensed that his own brilliant ideas constituted an argument for the deus abscondatus, a conceptual innovation that was soon to become a standard item of skeptical Enlightenment thought. But Newton’s religious traditionalism, unconventional as it was in some respects, found this notion abhorrent because the impersonal God it cautiously endorsed was a far cry from the Biblical Ancient of Days embedded in his own theology. This led him to argue that his own system of the world must be incomplete and that it must indeed be modified to allow a role for an interventionist God whose intermittent action is necessary to keep planets and comets in their orbits. The key point is that this line of thought did not follow from the mathematics of Newton’s mechanics, nor from any sound new physical insight. It was dictated, rather, by the psychological necessity of reconciling his scientific achievement with his pre-existing religious dogma.

We have, of course, no evidence whatsoever that Newton "sensed that his own brilliant ideas constituted an argument for the deus abscondatus," in part because Newton's ideas don't constitute any argument for a deus absconditus, which can't be pulled out of any bit of the mathematics of Newton's mechanics, nor from any of his sound physical insights; and in part because Newton shows no indication of associating any aspect of his system with a notion of deus absconditus or anything like it. The brief discussions of the 'divine sensorium' seem to indicate the very opposite. To the extent that Newton's God could be regarded as distant or hidden, this appears to have more to do with what is usually called Newton's Arianism than his sense of his system. Newton's system of the world was incomplete, which is why we could later have people like Laplace; and Newton, taking his mathematics as accurate, noted that (1) it couldn't explain the first origin of things; and (2) it couldn't account for the long-term continuance of the system. Levitt is right that his conclusion, divine intervention, does not follow from the mathematics or from physical insight; the considerations Newton gives (in the Optics or the letters to Bentley) are teleological. Indeed it is often forgotten that one of the points associated with Newton's famous claim not to feign hypotheses was that hypothesis-feigning was what was done to avoid appealing to teleology (he makes this point explicitly in Optics, Book III, Query 28 -- it also seems to be why the discussion of analysis and synthesis occurs in the context it does later on); in making the claim Newton is, among other things, rejecting the notion that science is merely the study of natural mechanisms. Descartes and Boyle constructed suppositions that allowed them to proceed as if nature were purely mechanistic in character; Newton rejects this approach, and does not assume that an accurate account of the phenomena will be mechanistic. Thus (and it is a 'thus', although the line of reasoning is not simple) Newton affirms design arguments because he thinks design arguments are the sort of thing in which scientific work culminates. The degree to which this depends on pre-existing religious dogma is difficult to determine; it would not have been a widespread religious view at the time, since the rise of the design argument as the most popular argument in natural theology is largely post-Newton (being to some degree spurred by Newton himself), but, then, many of Newton's religious views were not widespread religious views at the time, because there was no real sense in which Newton could be considered guilty of "religious traditionalism," deviating as he does from traditional religious views on many, many points.

There is something a bit odd, given Newton's actual comments and the Leibniz-Clarke debate, in thinking of Newton as the great (if inconsistent) anti-interventionist forebear. I would agree that Newton's interventionism is a bit of intellectual blunder, as Levitt characterizes it; but this is not because Newton was being inconsistent but because Newton had a different view of his scientific work than people came to have later.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Poem Draft

This came to me today. It doesn't really represent a particular event; but it's pretty clear that among the influences are the famous stories about the Christmas truces that arose spontaneously between British and German soldiers in 1914.

Christmas on the Warfront

Christmas on the warfront
when all the world's at war:
soldiers, trenched, all shiver
at the cold and things in store.
The guns have now gone silent
and silence has grown to dread,
while the air is heavy with the scent
of smoke and of the dead.

Some are drinking their coffee
to fight off weary sleep,
but one there is who, off alone,
cannot the silence keep.
"Stille Nacht," he softly sings;
the air carries it away.
From the other side a "Silent Night"
comes softly, but plain as day.

One moment of two as brothers,
compatriots, and friends,
until commanders hush them down
and silence falls again.
But though the bodies be at war,
by the manger of Christ's birth
Christian hearts together dream
the song of peace on earth.

Seven Random Things

Janet tagged me for the seven random things meme, so here goes.

The rules:

Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.

Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.

Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.

Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

(1) Books currently on my desk: Theodore Abu Qurrah, John C. Lamoreaux, tr.
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature
David Hume, Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals
The New American Bible
Ephraim Radner, Spirit and Nature: The Saint-Médard Miracles in 18th-Century Jansenism
Nicolas Malebranche, The Search after Truth
Pierre de Bérulle, Oeuvres Complètes, vol. 6: Cortes traites
Bérulle and the French School: Selected Writings, Thompson, ed., Glendon, tr.
Orson Scott Card, Xenocide

(2) Most recent movie watched: Layer Cake

(3) Number of end of term projects that were not picked up by students after grading: 26 (and I had to lug them around half a day!)

(4) Usual drink at Starbuck's: tall Chai

(5) Earliest book I clearly remember reading: Caroline E. Rush, Tales of Mr. Pengachoosa

(6) I came home from work this afternoon to look this song up on YouTube.

(7) One of the philosophical works that was never finished but that I wish had been is William Whewell's story on the earth and the moon (you can find part of it in Todhunter, Chapter XX). It's early science fiction (probably early 1860s).

I tend not to tag, but anyone who wants to jump in should feel free to do so.

(And Joe takes up the challenge.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The One Overlooked Thing

A parable. Once there was a great and ancient monastery, a pillar of civilization and Christian life; but it had begun to go into a great decline. There were ever fewer monks and ever fewer supporters; the monks were becoming lax and indifferent; and the monastery seemed to contribute less and less to the religious life of the outside world every year. During this time a new abbott came to be in charge of the monastery, and he took himself to thinking about how he could remedy the situation. But nothing he tried seemed to work.

One day the abbott heard of a hermit in the nearby mountains who had come to have a great reputation for wisdom and holiness and true prophecy, and, not knowing what else to do, he journeyed to see this man and ask his advice.

"It is easy enough," the hermit said. "Indeed, it is so easy that I wonder that you did not see it before. You have done many great things in your monastery, and many noble things trying to reform it. But you have overlooked one thing. The reason your monastery has begun to fail is that Christ is not honored there."

"But we pray daily," said the abbott.

"Yes," said the hermit, "and many people pray, even Pharisees. But you misunderstood me. It is easy enough to honor Christ in the abstract. But Christ is among you, in person, in disguise, as though it were a masquerade. Or else his angels are, and that is much the same, for the honor given the messenger is honor given to the one who sent him. And yet no honor is given to Him; and there is your problem. I tell you truly, Christ is among you, unbeknownst to you, and in a disguise you cannot pierce, and you are inhospitable to him."

The abbott returned to his monastery, deep in thought, and when he arrived he called together all the monks and told them of the hermit's words. They were all taken aback, and did not know how to proceed; for the hermit always spoke truth, but how could they honor Christ if they did not know who he was?

There was only one way. They treated everyone with love and honor. When they gave someone a drink, they gave it as if it were to Christ or his angel. When they gave someone a meal, they gave it as if it were to Christ or his angel. When they prayed and sang the psalter together they prayed and sang as if Christ or his angel were the person next to them.

And the monastery flourished as it never had before.

Some More Notes and Links

* I will be hanging around Baltimore for the Eastern APA; so if anyone will be there and wants to meet up for coffee or lunch or something, let me know.

* I don't think I've ever mentioned it before, and I haven't seen it praised elsewhere, but I think that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has, hands down, the best religious website I've ever come across. I use it fairly regularly. It's clear, information rich, and beautifully designed. The liturgical calendar is exquisite, it has a nice icon gallery, and much more. There's something for everyone. I wish that other websites were more along these lines.

* An online book about Saint Charles of Mount Argus (ht)

* How self-refutation paradoxes are too quick at "Just Thomism"

* An educational hero

* Apparently scientific research funding has taken a huge hit in the budget this year. I sometimes get rather passionate about scientific issues, but this is one for which I have no sympathy. What does everyone expect will happen when scientific research becomes dependent on the politics of government spending? Deals with the devil always have a catch.

* I just recently came across this Frank Miller quote about the comic book superhero Daredevil: "I figured Daredevil must be Catholic because only a Catholic could be both an attorney and a vigilante."

* Johnny and the Sprites teaches about the common good. (ht)


* Mark Colyvan, The Philosophical Significance of Cox's Theorem (PDF); Is Probability the Only Coherent Approach to Uncertainty? (PDF)

* Currently reading: da Costa, Bueno, and Volkov, Outline of a Paraconsistent Category Theory (PDF)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What You Can Get Me for Christmas

From Loome Books:

Book #AR272

MALEBRANCHE, NICOLAS (1638-1715). De la recherche de la veritè ou l'on traitte de la nature de l'esprit de l'homme, & de l'usage qu'il en doit faire pour éviter l'erreur dans les Sciences. Paris: Chez André Pralard, 1674. First Edition. The first and most important work of Malebranche, "De la recherche de la veritè" established him as the premier Cartesian philosopher of his day. 12mo, xl + 420pp. Newly rebacked in blind-tooled calf preserving original sprinkled calf boards, gilt lettering on spine, five raised bands. Small tear to lower center of title-page, two library stamps on title-page, library stamp on page 137, lacking diagram.

Price: $1,800.00

But 420 pp. seems short; I don't have any critical apparatus with me, but as I recall the Search was published in two parts; if it's a one-volume first edition from 1674, it isn't the full Search after Truth but just books 1 to 3. Then you'd also have to hunt down and buy me the 1675 edition, of books 4-6, to match, and that just doesn't seem fair to ask. ;)

Pop Quiz

This is a selection of questions from the (take-home) quiz for the feminist philosophy section of my recent intro course. How would you have done?

Multiple Choice

1. The visual presentation of objects, especially but not exclusively women, in such a way that the viewer is forced into a distinctively 'male' point of view is known in feminist aesthetics as:

a) sexism
b) the male gaze
c) gendered viewing
d) visual harassment.

3. In the ethics of care, which of the following would be the most accurate description of 'engrossment'?

a) a method for understanding, involving lovingly attentive and open reflection on others
b) obsession or infatuation, particularly to a dangerous degree
c) motivational displacement
d) caring that is reciprocated by the person cared for

4. Which of the following is most likely to be accepted by someone who believes that all knowledge is situated knowledge?

a) Nothing is really known because 'knowledge' is a relative term.
b) While some things are known, everything that is known is constructed by the mind rather than found in the world.
c) All knowledge has a place in a universal and objective system of knowledge.
d) All knowing is from a particular and partial perspective, and shaped by the character and context of the knower.

8. Which of the following is a key element of epistemology for standpoint theory?

a) the conditions for saying that a belief is justified
b) marginalized experience
c) direct, intuitive understanding
d) the impossibility of genuine knowledge

Short Answer

1. In a few sentences, summarize the Hegelian story of the Lord and the Bondslave (also called the master-slave dialectic) and how some standpoint epistemologists have adapted it.

Tom's Types in Literal Diagrams and Welton Diagrams

Tom has argued for eight types of categorical propositions rather than the traditional four. In this post I want to develop his idea a bit in order to show diagrammatically what his eight types of propositions are. Since in logic everything nice is worth doing twice, I'll use two (related) methods of diagramming here: Carroll's literal diagrams and Welton diagrams. I've talked about Carroll's diagrams before; but I only recently came across Welton diagrams, when reading J. Welton's 1896 Manual of Logic. The two are related, in that you can think of Welton diagrams as being literal diagrams for lines rather than squares. Our biliteral diagram consists of the following squares:


I will use an X to indicate that a box is definitely empty; and an O to indicate that it is definitely full.

Welton's diagrams are similar, but they are along a line:

| S P | S-P |-S P |-S-P |

(I have rearranged Welton's cells so that the similarities to the biliteral diagrams are more obvious.) Welton proposed an unbroken line to indicate presence, a blank to indicate absence, and a broken line when the matter is undecided. I'll use Os and Xs again instead, just because it is easier.

Tom's types are then diagrammed in the following ways:



| X |   |   |   |



|   | X |   |   |



|   |   | X |   |



|   |   |   | X |



| O |   |   |   |



|   | O |   |   |



|   |   | O |   |



|   |   |   | O |

From this the character of the eight types is visible.

Tom suggests that the following holds true:

-[-S+P] = (+S-P)
-[-S-P] = (+S+P)
-[+S-P] = (-S+P)
-[+S+P] = (-S-P)

It can easily be seen from the diagrams that he's right. To negate [ ] you switch out your X's for O's; to negate ( ) you switch out your O's for X's.

More can be said on this; and I'll probably say a bit more in a future post (I don't know when it will come out) on using Welton diagrams for propositional logic.

Schopenhauer on Women

I happened to come across Schopenhauer's Essay on Women recently. It is full of claims like these:

You need only look at the way in which she is formed, to see that woman is not meant to undergo great labour, whether of the mind or of the body. She pays the debt of life not by what she does, but by what she suffers; by the pains of childbearing and care for the child, and by submission to her husband, to whom she should be a patient and cheering companion.

The nobler and more perfect a thing is, the later and slower it is in arriving at maturity. A man reaches the maturity of his reasoning powers and mental faculties hardly before the age of twenty-eight; a woman, at eighteen. And then, too, in the case of woman, it is only reason of a sort -- very niggard in its dimensions. That is why women remain children their whole life long; never seeing anything but what is quite close to them, cleaving to the present moment, taking appearance for reality, and preferring trifles to matters of the first importance.

Hence it will be found that the fundamental fault of the female character is that it has no sense of justice. This is mainly due to the fact, already mentioned, that women are defective in the powers of reasoning and deliberation; but it is also traceable to the position which Nature has assigned to them as the weaker sex. They are dependent, not upon strength, but upon craft; and hence their instinctive capacity for cunning, and their ineradicable tendency to say what is not true.

The natural feeling between men is mere indifference, but between women it is actual enmity. The reason of this is that trade-jealousy -- odium figulinum -- which, in the case of men, does not go beyond the confines of their own particular pursuit; but, with women, embraces the whole sex; since they have only one kind of business. Even when they meet in the street, women look at one another like Guelphs and Ghibellines. And it is a patent fact that when two women make first acquaintance with each other, they behave with more constraint and dissimulation than two men would show in a like case; and hence it is that an exchange of compliments between two women is a much more ridiculous proceeding than between two men.

Try to think up in one sitting more stereotypes about women than you will find in this essay. You will fail. Although the subject is women, the essay's target isn't women but what Schopenhauer calls the "Teutonico-Christian stupidity", that is, the notion of a lady, i.e., a woman who is to be honored and respected in a system of courtesy and gallantry, which he regards as a fundamental flaw in our social scheme. Instead, he argues, women should be regarded as the second sex.

The whole provides a pretty good argument for the need for feminist critique.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Links and Notes

* Carnivalesque XXXIV is up at "Cardinal Wolsey's Today in History".

* Philosophers' Carnival LIX is up at "Buffalo Philosophy".

* A lovely online edition of Augustine's Confessions (in Latin), with detailed commentary (in English).

* David Corfield and Alexandre Borovik have established a blog for a research project on philosophical and mathematical aspects of infinity, called A Dialogue on Infinity.

* Currently reading: Minhyong Kim, Mathematical Vistas (PDF)

* Recommended for those interested in logic and natural language: Ronald Cordero, Subcontraries and the Meaning of "If...then".

* An interesting philosophy weblog in Portuguese: Mente, Cérebro e Ciência, by Miguel Amen. As you can tell from the title, it primarily discusses issues in philosophy of mind. My Portuguese is a bit weak, but there are some interesting-looking posts on Frankfurt dilemmas that I'll be working through. (I became aware of it because he quotes my sidebar in an early post and I noticed the link in my pageload logs.)

* I had someone reach my site the other day by searching for Brandon is the Son of God. That I'm not is something for which we all should be thankful.

* There needs to be some better word than 'elevated' for this:

Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of the ancient Chaldean Church, celebrated the two-hour Mass three weeks after Pope Benedict XVI elevated him to the top ranks of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

I've seen it used half a dozen times in this connection. Usually people who are made Cardinal are indeed elevated; they are Roman Catholics who have been elevated to the College of Cardinal. But Mar Emmanuel III Delly is not a Roman Catholic; he's Eastern Catholic. Moreover, he is an Eastern Catholic patriarch, which means it's inaccurate to describe his entry into the College of Cardinals as an 'elevation', just as it would be inaccurate to describe as a 'promotion' a situation in which the Prime Minister of Canada were knighted by the Queen of England. A patriarch of a sui generis Church is already top rank in the Catholic Church, and exceeds in rank any mere Cardinal; the only real 'elevation' would be to Pope. But, in any case, it's a bit misleading to call the College of Cardinals the 'top ranks' of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, even though it is often true. For one thing, it's possible for Cardinals not to be part of the hierarchy at all; lay Cardinals used to be quite common (although under current canon law, which requires papal dispensation for it, they are not). Further, no priest or deacon outranks a bishop in the hierarchy, but there are Cardinal priests and Cardinal deacons. Moreover, ever since the Pope has started giving the red hat to Eastern Catholic patriarchs as a sign of respect, Cardinals need not even be part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Rather the College should be seen as one of several papal instruments whereby the work of the papal see is carried out.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Sixteenth-Century Wassail

If Wikipedia is to be believed (although the article is inconsistent with itself on a number of points) this is one of the oldest Christmas wassail-songs:

Wassail, wassail, sing we
In worship of Christ’s nativity.

Now joy be to the Trinity,
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
That one God is in Trinity,
Father of heaven, of mightes most.

And joy to the Virgin pure
That ever kept her undefiled
Grounded in grace, in heart full sure,
And bare a child as maiden mild.

Bethlehem and the star so shen,
That shone three kinges for to guide,
Bear witness of this maiden clean;
The kinges three offered that tide.

And shepherds heard, as written is,
The joyful song that there was sung:
Gloria in excelsis!
With angel’s voice it was out rung.

Now joy be to the blessedful child,
And joy be to his mother dear;
Joy we all of that maiden mild,
And joy have they that make good cheer.

Wassail, wassail, wassail, sing we
In worship of Christ’s nativity.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

'Let Him Reply, If He Dares'

John Farrell:

One expects this kind of depressing swill from murmurantes like Bethell and Gilder. (I couldn't resist that one, I've also just rediscovered one of St. Thomas's gems: "There is no contradiction in affirming that a thing was created and also that it was never non-existent" from De aeternitate mundi contra murmurantes. You gotta love St. Thomas: "Hey you. Yeah, you, murmurante, what the hell are you talking about?")

That reminds me of one of my favorite passages in Thomas's works, from the end of De unitate intellectus:

This then is what we have written to destroy the error mentioned, not by the documents of the Faith, but by the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves. If anyone glorying in the name of false knowledge wants to say anything in reply to what we have written, let him not speak in corners nor before boys who do not know enough of such difficulties to judge them; but let him reply to this in writing, if he dares. He will find that not only I, who am the least, but many others zealous for the truth, will resist his error and correct his ignorance.

That's a trumpet-blast.

Standard Conclusions from 'Vague' Sets of Premises

A thought about tentative arguments. Suppose we have a pair of premises like the following:


That is, "All S is M" and "All P is M". These can't directly render the conclusion +S+P, "Some S is P". In fact, the barriers are pretty serious here: trying to draw +S+P directly from the premises commits the fallacies of undistributed middle, illicit major, and illicit minor at one time. Nonetheless, there are cases where, given the information in the above premises, we would want to draw the conclusion +S+P as at least a tentative conclusion. (One would prefer to draw the conclusion +S+P, as being weaker, rather than the even more dubious -S+P, "All S is P".) What conditions govern these cases?

One would often say that -S+M, combined with -P+M, allows for no conclusion. But this is not strictly true; each premise contributes genuine information, and from this information conclusions can be drawn. For instance, given these premises there can be no SP that is not M. So the premises given restrict the possible conclusions that can be drawn. The following pairs of conclusions are therefore possible given the premises (if we are 'presupposing existence', as they say):

-S+P and +P+S
-S+P and -P+S
+S+P and +P+S
+S+P and -P+S
-S-P and -P-S

Other combinations are ruled out. So we can draw a (tentative) conclusion if we have a principle that allows us to prefer one of these pairs over all the others. The most plausible such principle is a principle of simplicity, namely, if we should prefer the conclusion that allows for the simplest characterization of the world. Of the above pairs there are two that are candidates for this: +S+P with +P+S and -S-P with -P-S. Knowing that we can reach either member of the pair from the other by immediate inference, we can completely characterize each by just one member, e.g., +S+P or -S-P. That reduces the choices to two; but it leaves us no way of choosing between "Some S is P" and "No S is P", which is unhelpful. But we can choose between them if we accept the possibility of subalternation as an immediate inference. This allows us to recognize that the original premises, -S+M and -P+M, also tell us that +S+M and +P+M. In that context we can read +S+P as saying:

It's a world where some S is P.

But -S-P has to be read as saying:

It's a world where no S is P, and some S is non-P and some P is non-S.

This is very clear if we diagram it using Carroll's literal diagrams. Thus +S+P is the simplest characterization of the world among the choices. Thus, if -S+M and -P+M, and we have a rule for tentatively accepting the simplest conclusion containing all the information of the premises but not ruled out by them, we can conclude +S+P. The only question left would be when it is legitimate to have such a rule.

The reason we can do this, I suppose, is much the same reason why Carroll is able in Symbolic Logic to dismiss, mockingly, the common claim that negative premises do not yield a conclusion, and also why Tom is right that we can have legitimate parasyllogisms (and here also). It's actually rather absurd to say that the premises allow no conclusion; for the premises to allow us to draw no conclusion they would have to be contentless, and carry no information about the domain. If they do carry information about the domain, they at least rule out some conclusions, and the fact that they rule out some conclusions means that we can draw conclusions about the domain from them. What we actually mean is that the conclusions that can be drawn directly lack certain desirable characteristics (they cannot be expressed in a form that is taken to be standard). Thus our premises above, for example, leave us with a conclusion about the domain that is not expressible in a single standard form, because they leave open the possibility of several different states of the domain that are each expressible in mutually exclusive standard forms. They are, in that limited sense, vague. This is the result of assuming that none of the possible states is to be preferred to the others; no 'standard' conclusion can be drawn. But if we reject this assumption and provide some rule for preferring one over the others, we can go even further and draw standard conclusions from such premises -- tentatively, of course, since we are restricted by how much confidence we can place in the reliability of our rule of preference.