Friday, April 11, 2008

Kit Smart's Birthday

Sherry notes that Christopher Smart, one of the great poets of the early modern period, was born on April 11, 1722. So it seems fitting to celebrate the day. Here's one of his poems.


Hallelujah! kneel and sing
Praises to the heaven'ly king;
To the God supremely great,
Hallelujah in the height.

Praise him, arch-angelic band,
Ye that in his presence stand;
Praise him, ye that watch and pray,
Michael's myriads in array.

Praise him, sun at each extreme,
Orient streak, and western beam;
Moon and stars of mystic dance,
Silv'ring in the blue expanse.

Praise him, O ye heights that soar
Heav'n and heav'n for evermore;
And ye streams of living rill
Higher yet and purer still.

Let them praise his glorious name,
From whose fruitful word they came;
And they first began to be
As he gave the great decree.

Their constituent parts he founds
For duration without bounds;
And their covenant has seal'd,
Which shall never be repeal'd.

Praise the Lord on earth's domains;
Praise, ye mutes, that sea contains;
They that on the surface leap,
And the dragons of the deep.

Batt'ring hail, and fires that glow,
Streaming vapours, plumy snow;
Wind and storm, his wrath incurr'd
Wing'd and pointed at his word.

Mountains of enormous scale,
Every hill and every vale;
Fruit trees of a thousand dyes,
Cedars that perfume the skies!

Beasts that haunt the woodland maze,
Nibbling flocks and droves that graze;
Reptiles of amphibious breed,
Feather'd millions form'd for speed.

Kings, with Jesus for their guide,
Peopled regions far and wide;
Heroes of their country's cause,
Princes, judges of the laws.

Age and childhood, youth and maid,
To his name your praise be paid;
For his word is worth alone
Far above his crown and throne.

He shall dignify the crest
Of his people, rais'd and blest;
While we serve with praise and pray'rs,
All in Christ his saints and heirs.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Zombie Invasion

A blogospheric discussion of reductionism recently became overrun with zombies. Yes, there is actually an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on zombies. Because that's the image of philosophy we're going for, voodoo reasoning.

I confess to being slightly torn. I very much dislike the zombie argument; it presupposes all sorts of things that I think are just plainly false, and comes to a conclusion I think just plainly absurd; and I would marvel at it if it weren't for the fact that philosophers insist on a lot of absurd things these days, like material conditionals and Bayesianism and qualia. But some of the arguments being proposed against zombies in the Great Zombie Battle are just so muddled in their own right that my underdog-sympathizing tendencies are starting to kick in. But I think I can resist them. In any case, someone should write a science fiction story based on the idea, so that at least one good thing will come from the zombie argument.

Zombie Rationality (Philosophy, et cetera)

Zombies! Zombies? (Overcoming Bias)

Epiphenomenalism and Twin-Chambers-Zombie (A brood comb)

The Aliens and the Zombies (A brood comb)

Zombies Obsessed with Using the Word 'Consciousness' (A brood comb)

Episode 4: Being Right by Being Wrong (A brood comb)

Zombie Responses (Overcoming Bias)

The Generalized Anti-Zombie Principle

philosophical zombie parade of links (my mind on books)*

Zombie Cage Match (The Uncredible Hallq)

The Inconceivability of Zombies (Philosophy Sucks!)

Munching on Chalmers's Brain (Madness & Games)

GAZP vs. GLUT (Overcoming Bias)

Non-Physical Zombies (Philosophy Sucks!)

How To Imagine Zombies (Philosophy, et cetera)

How Not to Imagine Zombies (Philosophy Sucks!)

A Poem Draft

The Stallions of Sunrise

The stallions of sunrise are galloping in the east,
kicking up red glint and gold light,
neighing their welcome to cerulean skies,
hooves stamping, teeth champing, necks arching high.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Doing History of Philosophy with Funerary Inscriptions

I have an interest in the diffusion of philosophy by nonstandard means -- i.e., outside the usual means of philosophical treatises and lectures. I've found by experience, however, that it's fairly difficult to get most of my colleagues interested in this as well. Usually if we are talking about correspondence and sermons you can find a few people who are willing to discuss the matter -- if the person corresponding or sermonizing is a sufficiently renowned name, of course. But if it's a more obscure name, it is harder to catch anyone's interest. And if we move outside even correspondence and sermons to more unusual conduits of philosophical thought, like, say, newspapers and tracts and poems and examination questions in the Tripos, you have to find a historian to talk it over with, because your chances of finding anyone in a philosophy department who will take an interest are very, very small. Indeed, it tends to get denigrated as 'of purely historical interest'; which is in some places in philosophical academia a rather terrible condemnation. To say of someone doing history of philosophy that his work is 'history, not philosophy' is a profound insult; it is often taken as a reason for ignoring the work altogether. There is an absolute rejection of the idea "that a historical inquiry can establish a philosophical point," to use a phrase William Frankena used to criticize Alasdair MacIntyre's work. But I'm very much on MacIntyre's side in this matter. I think the following, which looks at an even more unexpected conduit for the diffusion of philosophical thought, namely funerary memorials (such as eulogies and inscriptions), with a special focus on inscriptions, is one of the several things there needs to be much more of in HoP.

One source, in England at least, of knowledge about common beliefs about the virtues in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is the Church of England tombstone or memorial in church or graveyard. Neither Protestant dissenters nor Roman Catholics generally carried on this practice of funerary inscription in a systematic way in this period, so that what we learn from tombstones concerns only one section of the population, and one moreover ostensibly still committed by its religious allegiance to a Christian teleology. But this makes the degree of variation in funerary catalogues of the virtues all the more impressive. There are for example Humean inscriptions: the memorial to Captain Cook erected by Sir Hugh Palliser in 1780 on his own land speaks of Cook as possessing 'every useful and amiable quality'. There are inscriptions in which 'moral' has already acquired a highly-restricted meaning, so that to praise someone's virtues you must praise more than his or her morality: 'Correct in Morals, Elegant in Manners, Steady in Friendship, Diffusive in Benevolence,' says the tablet commemorating Sir Francis Lumm in St. James's Piccadilly in 1797, in a way that suggests that the Aristotelian ideal of the great-souled man still lives. And there are distinctively Christian inscriptions: 'Love, Peace, Goodness, Faith, Hope, Charity, Humility, Sincerity, Gentleness' are the virtues ascribed to Margaret Yates in the same church in 1817.

[Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2nd ed., Duckworth (London: 1987) 235.]

Of course, one can conceive it being done on a more systematic level than this, and with perhaps a bit more caution in interpretation. But this is a good move; there is a great deal about commonly accepted ideas of the good life that can be learned from funerary inscriptions; one could, depending on the period, branch out into eulogies and obituaries and the consolation genre for supplementary information; and from this all draw a picture of how more technical and sophisticated moral philosophy is filtering down among the people (or, for that matter, filtering from common society into more sophisticated forms of moral philosophy). This is only an example of the sort of thing one could do, of course; there are many other possible ways of supplementing the more standard fare.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Links and Notes

* You have to read this story from Liberia.

* Joe argues against Germain Grisez's criticism of Catholic Relief Services in Did the CRS violate church doctrine? at "Praeter Necessitatum". (CRS has a response to Grisez as well.) He also has a post on Descartes's view of truth.

* Rae Langton, Maria von Herbert's Challenge to Kant (ht). Roman Altshuler discusses it (Part I, Part II) at "The Ends of Thought".

* Iaian Dale has a worthwhile reminder for bloggers (ht).

* Murray Rothbard, New Light on the Prehistory of the Austrian School. It's an older article, but a good first introduction to the economic significance of the School of Salamanca. (The 'School of Salamanca' is a label used for the surge in Iberian scholasticism in the early modern period, the last great upward swing of scholastic thought. They pioneered a number of key ideas in economics, human rights, international law, and metaphysics.) This website also has a number of useful links.

* The Lord of the Rings and Canadian property law. Hat-tip: John C. Wright, who adds a point or two.

* A look behind the scenes of scientific research. (ht)

* Bl. Ramon Lull on elections.

* Richard Heck, Truth and Disquotation (PDF)

* Sherry Allen of "Semicolon" has been writing about Kreeft's dedition of Pascal's Pensees, Christianity for Modern Pagans. So far she has:
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three

* Amir Harrak, Patriarchal Funerary Inscriptions in the Monastery of Rabban Hormizd

* Tanasije Gjorgoski's philosophical comic strips

* Chu-Carroll defends frequentism. I lean frequentist myself (along the lines of Venn, i.e., in terms of ideal sequences abstracted from actual data, while considering factors in the data that create uncertainty), without absolute committal, and agree with the caution about Bayesianism in the post and developed a bit more clearly in the comments. Philosophers, unfortunately, are especially guilty of this nonsense. (It goes without saying, of course, that 'Bayesianism' as an interpretation is not the same thing as simply recognizing the value of Bayes's Theorem. The frequentist criticism of Bayesianism is that it is naturally disposed to misuse of Bayes's Theorem.) Of course, while I only lean frequentist, I am very definitely anti-Bayesian, so I'm inclined to be less generous to it than Chu-Carroll is (contrary to what some of his commenters seem to think, he isn't arguing that it is wrong, but only that frequentism has one advantage that Bayesianism definitely lacks).

* A thought: every philosophy department should require (and, obviously, arrange for) its graduate students to take several classes in fields other than philosophy: sociology, psychology, physics, history, classics, whatever. As it is, there is too much encouragement to disciplinary narcissism in the core of the discipline -- always focusing on the 'literature' and the handful of self-feeding problems therein rather than continually interacting with other fields, enriching them and being enriched by them. Only in a handful of areas do we really find anything approaching this sort of interaction (philosophy of physics has a good reputation for it, but only a few other areas even make feeble attempts).

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Some Poem Drafts

Minor stuff, very rough.


The slime of ages creeping
in my ears as I lay sleeping
smothers me with weeping
for the folly of my ways.

Viscous darkness dripping,
to fallen, error-slipping
volition's scale is tipping
in the narrative of my days.

The devil inside mocking
never ceases talking
and, tempting, never stopping,
resolve and reason frays.


And I asked,
What is the color
Of a cobordism at sunset
And were I really
A nonabelian cohomology
Where would I hide?

And she said,
Red, like two lovers
In free union, so close,
They together bound
Expanses of the world.

And in the subtle passing
Of the hemidemisemiquaver
In the music of the spheres,
When the gerbes pile up
And sing old songs
Of bringing in the sheaves
At a mathematician's funeral.

Ecclesiological Aphorisms

The human heart we know right well,
a bit of heaven, a bit of hell;
we are taught it in the psalter.

The Church must suffer death and lies
that Christian hearts may sympathize
with every sinner's falter.

They who pray by work and rest
find church all places east and west,
the earth itself their altar.

The Church that lives by faith and love
is ruled by none but God above;
no law can be its halter.