Wednesday, December 26, 2007

See You Next Year

Off to Baltimore. I doubt I'll have a chance to post anything while there. Some things to keep you occupied until I get back:

* Roxanne Marcotte's Suhrawardi entry in the SEP. Suhrawardi is very, very important, and not well known in the West.

* The latest edition of the Basic Concepts in Science list.

* Buffon the Enlightenment Sensation at TLS (ht)

* This article on Abraham Joshua Heschel has stirred up some interest in the important Rabbi. This is another good, quick introduction to his thought.

* Some good discussion of Henry of Ghent on the Trinity.

And, of course, I have some great weblogs on my blogroll. I might start posting again on New Year's Eve; but, then again, you might have to wait till the new year.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas, and God Bless

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.

O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy
Pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to thee,
Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching
And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

--Phillips Brooks, 1868. Here it is sung by Sarah McLachlan; another version by Susan Paree; another by Elvis Presley.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Linkables and Notables

* A course in Chaldean Catholic theology, and a good one, although the accents and the occasional casual introduction of Aramaic phrases sometimes require close listening.

* I've been doing some reading on theories of cultural evolution:

Henrich and McElreath, The Evolution of Cultural Evolution (PDF)

Henrich and Gil-White, The Evolution of Prestige (PDF)

Henrich, Boyd, and Richerson, Five Misunderstandings about Cultural Evolution (PDF)

Nicolas Claudière and Dan Sperber, The Role of Attraction in Cultural Evolution (PDF)

Kim Sterelny, The Evolution and Evolvability of Culture (PDF)

István Czachesz, The Emergence of Early Christian Religion: Toward a Naturalistic Approach (PDF)

* Danny Garland discusses the development of the doctrine of papal infallibility.

* The science fiction path to luxury: instead of oppressing human beings, create a class of society that exists to be oppressed. Here's the rub: the more human-like robots become, the less ethical it becomes to treat them as mere instruments, precisely to the extent that they are human-like, because otherwise you are devaluing human life, even if only by proxy. (A portrait, for instance, is not a human being; it doesn't even act like one. But precisely because it pictures one there are serious ethical issues with my deliberate acts toward it as a portrait of a human being. Writing 'Die Die Die' in red ink over someone's portrait, or making child pornography of children that don't actually exist by creating composites, are ethically problematic. So with any human simulacrum, and the better the simulacrum, the more serious the problems.)

* Alexander Pruss has a good post on humanity, personhood, and the Incarnation.

* Apolonio Latar has a post on the Incarnation and hospitality.

* This is a bit older, but I just came across it; Minnesota Atheists published a series of rebuttals to "34 Unconvincing Arguments for God," which PZ Myers put up at his site at the beginning of December. It gives one some idea of what sort of reasoning about religion passes as good among many people; the shallow analysis and weak reasoning of a number of the rebuttals should go without saying, but in a number of cases they are saved from being useless by the shallow analysis and weak reasoning of the arguments to which they are the stated responses. Perhaps it should be called 34 Unconvincing Atheist Responses to Unconvincing Arguments for God. I had started to do what I often end up doing with atheists, namely, pointing out places where they can find the arguments they should be making to be as much of a rational challenge as they think they are; but given that it's Christmas, I have more pressing priorities.

* This is rather interesting: a face-averaging demo. Studies have shown that we have some sort of preference for averaged faces, although this is apparently not the only factor.

* I always like this song around Christmas.

* This and this are good ones too, for those who like their songs in a rather different style.

* A Norwegian Christmas carol.

* Stephen Law on atheists and Christmas services (ht).

Bérulle on the Birth of Jesus

As we contemplate the birth of Jesus we proceed from grandeur to grandeur. For this human birth is a mystery of life. For the one who has life from the Father, and who is begotten as living by the very nature of his emanation; the one who is true life and who gives himself without reservation the name of life; the one who is life and source of life within himselfand outside himself wishes to take on life in this mystery in order to be our life eternally.

It is a mystery of light. For the one who is light of light, who comes forth from the Father of lights, who emanates from him as light and who, in the very nature of his Person, is the splendor of the Father, being light in his Essence and in his Person, comes into the world through this mystery to be the light of the world....

This birth is a mystery of holiness, according to the angelic words, your offspring will be holy (Lk. 1:35)....

Pierre de Bérulle, Discourse on the State and Grandeurs of Jesus in Bérulle and the French School, Thompson, ed. Glendon, tr. Paulist (New York: 1989), 152-153.

Christmas Eve

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The song is a translation by Neale. It's become a favorite. Here's a version by the The Clark Sisters; another by Boyz II Men; another by Whitney Houston; another by Rebecca St. James (that's a good one). Here are the original Latin words.

Predicate Quantity

In the nineteenth century Sir William Hamilton caused some controversy by suggesting that the predicate as well as the subject term should be understood as quantified. Thus, we should understand "All dogs go to heaven" as saying "All dogs are some things that go to heaven". This gives the following schedule of propositions

Afa U All S is all P
Afi A All S is some P
Ifa Y Some S is all P
Ifi I Some S is some P
Ana E No S is any P
Ani η No S is some P
Ina O Some S is not any P
Ini ω Some S is not some P

The three-letter names at the beginning are Hamilton's own; the letters in bold immediately afterward are Thomson's (who rejected η and ω), which became more widely used in discussing predicate quantity.

Predicate quantity quickly fell out of favor, in part because the new propositions are very difficult to interpret, and the proponents of it never developed a consistent account of it, in part because they kept getting tripped up by the particular quantification of the predicate. If we take 'some' in the predicate to work the same way as 'some' in the subject, we can link each of the new propositions to information conveyed classically in the following way:

U = (SaP and PaS)
Y = PaS [i.e., Only S is P]
η = PoS [i.e., Not only S is P]

ω turns out to be a bit of a puzzler. It has no ordinary contradictory, and would have to be true, always, except where the P in question is the very same S we find in the subject (in which case it would say that that S is not that S).

Adding these propositions, therefore, doesn't convey more information than we could convey with the ordinary forms (with the possible exception of ω, which seems difficult to find a use for); and it complicates the rules of syllogism a bit, since the standard rules with U propositions will fail to rule out some syllogisms as invalid. The new propositions are messing with the distribution of terms; which complicates matters quite a bit, and for very little gain. There are, in fact, only two points of note: it allows us directly to handle U and Y propositions, which do show up in ordinary discourse quite often, without treating them as exponible; and (although this was not, as far as I recall, discussed at the time) it makes it easier to do some things if we are predicating singular terms. Singular terms are curious because they are predicable but also seem to carry their quantity around with them, so to speak. For instance, if I say,

Tully is Cicero,

I am predicating a singular term; and it is crucial for understanding what I intend that we recognize that 'Cicero' is a singular term. This is, in fact, the root of a number of longstanding puzzles about singular terms: unlike other terms, they seem always to be quantified. You can, in fact, treat them as always quantified and get viable (if sometimes confusing) results; I have done so in the past. For instance, in discussing singular terms in my series on Sommers-Englebretsen term logic, I treated singular terms as always quantified. This is not quite orthodox, and reading over the posts again I should have been more clear than I was that it wasn't (since I find that I didn't indicate at all that it wasn't!); but it simplifies discussion of singular terms quite a bit, because the only place it can cause problems is with interpretation, since in SETL singular terms have wild quantity. But while this has its conveniences, I have become less satisfied with it of late, and have begun to think it should be handled differently. In SETL, subscripts makes more sense, I have come to think; and, outside SETL, it seems reasonable to treat propositions with a predicate that apparently has singular quantity (however one understands singular quantity) as exponible.

But I don't know for sure. And there is a (small) part of me that hopes that someone will come up with a better account of quantified predicates for categorical propositions than Hamilton's; it was an ingenious idea, and worth trying, although it seems, having done the experiment, to be more trouble than it could possibly be worth. (It would have been better, I think, to conceive of quantity not as attaching to the subject or the predicate but as being the quantity of the proposition, and arguing that the quantity of the proposition is actually the proposition's pattern of distribution. Then quality becomes simply affirmation and negation, having nothing to do with distribution at all. But this doesn't seem to solve all the problems with predicate quantity.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Genealogy Sunday

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

Matthew 1:1-17. In my view, the genealogies are never given quite the theological credit they deserve; like the Holy Family itself, they are a key part of the doctrine of the Incarnation that tends to be overlooked. The Son of God does not merely become flesh; He is descended from David (Rm. 1:1-3). He does not merely share our nature, He is part of our family. And many, many generations, providentially guided, have gone into this, so that the promises of the prophets might be fulfilled and God and man should be joined together in the solidarity of kinship.