Saturday, May 31, 2008

The U.S. Military under Bush

There's a post at "Philosophical Fortnights" identifying ways in which the Bush administration has bungled military matters in such a way as to harm American soldiers. It is, unfortunately, a long and well-documented list. You can find further, extensive discussion of these issues from the (very pro-military) site, Soldiers for the Truth, always a first stop for getting the view of military men and women on how the military is being mismanaged to their detriment. SFTT has been sharply critical of how things have been handled for some time now.

Gennadios Scholarios on Thomas Aquinas

The author of these books is a Latin by birth and so he adheres to the dogma of that church as an inheritance; this is only human. But he is a wise man, and is inferior to none of those who are perfect in wisdom among men. He wrote most especially as a commentator of Aristotelian philosophy, and of the Old and New Testaments. Most of the principal conclusions of both Sacred Theology and philosophy are seen in his books, almost all of which we have studied, both the few which were translated by others into the Greek language, and their Latin originals, some of which we ourselves have translated into our own tongue....In all the aforesaid areas this wise man is most excellent, as the best interpreter and synthesizer in those matters in which his church agrees with ours.

The reason for that last phrase is that Gennadios, of course, being Orthodox rather than Catholic, sticks to the Orthodox line on (he says) "those things wherein that church and he differ from us-they are few in number-namely on the procession of the Holy Spirit and the divine essence and energies."

I take it that the translator of the quotation is Fr. Hugh Barbour; I found the quote in the reproduction of a talk of his at "Eirenikon."

Friday, May 30, 2008

Dashed Off

It's a bit long because it has been a while since I've done one of these. Sundry notes, good, bad, and cryptic:

Good reasoning is less about manipulation of premises than about refinement of principles.

Grace perfects nature as love perfects reason

harmony in the body for the sake of consonance in the soul

the road to Emmaus: we often walk beside the truth without knowing it

Moral progress brings moral risks, and this sets up a tension between the cautious, trying to minimize moral risk, and the eager, trying to maximize moral advance.

the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire

It is not our place to judge whether we are charitable, but solely to pray for charity in thought, word, and deed.

the children of Sarah (1 Pt. 3:6): they who do what is good and fear no intimidation

Grace lends charm to reason.

An argument is an organization of resources in an environment, for a purpose.

The forgetting of faith is the forging of chains.

parenting as rational service

Our trials and burdens are among our gifts.

systemic factors facilitating the spread of culpable dispositions

Somehow the end of the world is always in fashion.

habituating the automaton to obey what reason has discovered to be true

He who writes in naught but prose
contributes less than he'd suppose.

1st articulation of system: connection of parts
2nd articulation of system: distribution of force

The force of taste is the force of an exemplar.

the faith that holds off moral death

quasi-sound arguments

hypothesis as a discursive device (cf. Santayana)

money as sign (token), as measure, as pledge

likings vs. desires

There is no philosophical discipline, only disciplines that are philosophical. ('Philosophical discipline' is in a sense like 'spiritual discipline'. Benedictine spirituality and Franciscan spirituality are not 'right' ways or 'wrong' was, but the refraction of the inexhaustible truth through the diversity of human nature. So too philosophy.)

cost-of-reasoning containment of contradiction explosion

When you can classify, you can extrapolate.

The two things against which we need strategic guards are falsehood and foolishness.

An archive is a communication channel; as w/ any such channel a key issue is reduction of noise.

Historians only purge their histories of fables until they find new types of fable to charm them.

Even if there are no national characters, there are advocacies of national self-images.

Even where an act is permissible and not itself in bad moral taste, it may be morally inadvisable for other reasons.

An act may be permissible in its primary aspect, but not in some circumstantial aspect; and even where it may be permissible in both, it may be in bad moral taste.

Salus ex Judaeis est.

Deus suam gloriam non quaerit propter se, sed propter nos. ST II-II. 132.1 ad 1

the conditions under which a nation can be a philosophical community

dramatic representation as a way of understanding alien philosophical positions and discourses

A conception of the resources of rationality is essential to an adequate account of rationality.

Good moral taste is a virtue ancillary to prudence.

all the mighty commonwealth of things

Tradition is stability in motion.

sketches of problem-outlines

discretio caritatis, oratio continua

separateness without separation

3 aspects of every cognitive act
(1) extension to object
(2) cognitive self-presence
(3) dwelling in the divine light from which one comes, and according to which one proceeds, and to which one tends

Medicine has a robust moral end: the health and healing of human life, in a manner fitting and appropriate to human life

The problem with trying to eliminate poverty is that its form is protean.

the NQV's of opposing philosophical schools

teleology as a transcendental condition for the possibility of scientific inquiry

explaining the less known by the better known vs. explaining the less familiar by the more familiar

The proper discipline of the imagination, neither too rigorous nor too lax, is one of the essential keys to good philosophical work.

An argument's conclusiveness is never manifest from the 'mere form of the expression', that is, the form without regard for the meaning; but it may be manifest from how the form gives structure to the meaning. That is, the 'formal' is always with the 'material'; we focus on it or abstract it not by separation but by attention. Logical reasoning is hylomorphic.

the soul's natural appetite for managing the body.

imagination as the Green Lion of the Great Work of philosophy

the imagination to dabble and the reason to restrain

the black fire of judgment writ on the white fire of grace

To make the rightness and the advantageousness of an act irrelevant to each other is to divorce reasoning about rightness from practical reason.

Folly! Queen of governments,
ruler of nations, muse of every age,
inciter of false hope and empty dreams,
teacher of artists and strummers of chords,
whisperer in every public ear,
truce! Make me no gifts or favor,
and I will not so fiercely fight you
with words from a venomous pen.

the joy of another's understanding

It is letting oneself be questioned that is the piety of thought.

We should not ask, "Is utilitarianism right or wrong?" so much as "Under what conditions is utilitarian reasoning good reasoning?"

ethical gymnastic (Kant)

3 aspects of tradition
(1) stability of position
(2) transference by consent
(3) loyalty & solidarity

We only know what makes something probable in light of evidence that it is that probable.

prayer as hope in action

Without law there can be no forgiveness; without wisdom there can be no reconciliation; without love there can be no healing.
(Cf. Wright)

Scientific progress can only be discerned in light of the final causes of scientific endeavors.

the philosopher as civilization in one person

A single self has many I's, many egos, each the center of a stance in the world.

In the cogito Descartes constructs a center of gravity for the self (so to speak) that is invariant under a certain kind of perturbation. He then gives this constructed point an interpretation, on the basis of which he engineers the world.

A key does not have a power to open locks. It is, instead, so disposed as to be able to fit the lock mechanism; and in proper conjunction with that a certain action on the key is an action on the lock, to open it.

Much cognition is implicit; so too the inspirations of grace.

the practice of gratitude (gratitude as a spiritual discipline)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

An Epode for Iphigenia

Meanwhile, the men from Argos, Iphigenia,
Are twisting flowers into the curls of your hair,
To lead you like a pure white heifer
Out of a mountain cave for slaughter
And prick a throat with human blood.
Not to the shepherd's pipe or herdsman's whistle
Were you brought up, but at your mother's side
To be adorned one day as bride
For the son of a king.
Where can Decency show her face?
Where has Virtue hidden?
Brute godlessness is all the rage:
Virtue tossed on the refuse heap.
Lawlessness now governs law.
Mankind no longer is concerned
With not provoking heaven.

Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis. Translation by Paul Roche, Euripides: Ten Plays. Penguin Putnam (New York: 1998) p. 256. The first five lines of this are exquisite; Agamemnon, of course, is going to sacrifice Iphigenia, his young daughter, to Artemis in order to get a good wind to Troy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

BSA Declaration of Religious Principle

There have been a couple of stories about 'freethinking camps' recently. It's not actually very interesting news unless you're a freethinker, but I was a little puzzled by this passage from one of the articles:

The idea for the alternative summer camp originated with Edwin Kagin in 1995. Kagin had been an Eagle Scout, and was upset about the anti-freethought and pro-theist policies of the Boy Scouts of America.

In Boy Scouts, a person must agree to sign a 'Declaration of Religious Belief,' in which he must agree that "only a person who acknowledges his duty to God can be the best kind of citizen".

I was a little puzzled by that for a while, since I hadn't heard of it (I knew there were special requirements for leadership positions but didn't know precise details) but I couldn't find any information on it because the reporter got the name wrong and misquotes it (enough to make it difficult to find). The actual name is "Declaration of Religious Principle" and it is as follows (Bylaws, article IX, section 1, clause 1):

The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, 'On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.' The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them. The Boy Scouts of America, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and the organization or group with which the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.

Clause 4 of the same section makes it a requirement for certificate of leadership in Scouting programs. I put it here in case anyone else had difficulty finding the actual source. You can find out the details at the Boy Scout National Council Legal Issues website.

Countably Distinct and Yet Not Countably Distinct

In Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxane falls in love with a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and brave. His beauty is Christian's, his brilliance is Cyrano's, and his bravery belongs to both. Roxane, of course, does not know that Christian and Cyrano are two different people, and she has no way of knowing. Therefore, insofar as they are the object of Roxane's love, the two are not countably distinct -- they both together are one object of Roxane's love, and she is not wrong when she says toward the end, after they are dead and she has found out, that she only loved one man but lost him to death twice. It's not the case that she really loves Christian, and not Cyrano; or that she really loves Cyrano, and not Christian; she loves them both as one man. And therein lies the tragedy: Christian and Cyrano are not countably distinct insofar as she knows and loves them, but they are insofar as they are persons in their own right. It's quite the tragic tangle: Christian is not identical to Cyrano, neither is identical to the man Roxane loves, but in terms of the unit of counting 'men whom Roxane loves', they are all indistinct: Roxane has no way to count Christian differently from Cyrano, or either from the man she loves; they are one man whom Roxane loves. But change the unit of counting and they fall apart: Christian is a distinct man, and Cyrano is a second distinct man, and the 'man whom Roxane loves' is not a distinct man at all but two men whom she cannot distinguish from each other. To be overtechnical about it: countable unity is sortal-relative; whether something counts as one depends on your units of counting.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Poem Drafts

Ayesha in the Fire

This life beyond life no life can now bear,
fair beyond fair, and yet still more fair;
fire and light beyond human desire
quicken the heart to nothing but fire.
No god are you, of unending grace,
but star-gazing ape in angelic place;
winged with God's fire, you rule with a rod
and are light graced with light, but are not a god.
Defer all the darkness by year or by age,
Death writes your book and limits your page;
live for long centuries, yet shall you die,
and dimness destroy the light in your eye,
and darkness drag down your frame to the dust,
and time cover over your life with black rust
and ravish your spirit and sap you of name
by the fire that quickens your soul with bright flame.

Life in the Valley of Hinnom

Moloch grins in the valley of Hinnom,
fiery smiles of burning death --
Angel of light,
ringed and haloed with screaming flame --
Anointed cherub,
covered over with infant blood --
and we who have tasted lie
put children in the maw,
speaking the pieties of this age,
this world of very present darkness,
rejoicing in our freedoms,
leaping in our joy
as John did leap in the womb.

Robin's Eggs

Two robin's eggs of skylit blue
look out on me,
look out from you,
look out on worlds with bright surprise,
two heavens pooled,
two cloudless skies.

Allegory of the Cave

I have been going through YouTube videos on the Allegory of the Cave. It's a popular theme (film students especially seem to gravitate toward it), but, of course, the videos are all rather uneven. Most are adaptations. I liked this adaptation in claymation quite a bit -- it's definitely an adaptation rather than Plato's, but it is a charming video and gets the point across. The Basement is an especially quirky, and rather funny, adaptation, and probably my favorite at present. This animated adaptation sticks much more closely to Plato himself.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Plato's Dialogues and Socrates

Mark Vernon has an interesting opening paragraph in a post on Nussbaum's review of moral philosophy and Shakespeare:

In my PhD viva, the external examiner pushed me on one question in particular: what does the drama of Plato's dialogues add to his philosophical arguments? I responded that it carries his readers with him, so that they do not just rationally engage but are emotionally moved too. That way, Plato's philosophy gets under your skin; it might change you. The examiner was not really persuaded: why shouldn't an abstract argument move you too, if it is rationally convincing? I think I came back with the thought that we are not only or ultimately rational beings, and so philosophy, as the love of wisdom, not merely the construction of a good argument, needs means other than just logic. But schooled in the analytic tradition, the examiner did not buy such a broad definition of philosophy.

I think this sugestion is right; Plato's dialogues are not merely descriptions of arguments. They are (so to speak) ways of acting on the reader. Just as part of the purpose of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is not merely to lay out Christian life but to impress upon people the way out of the City of Destruction and into the Heavenly City, so are Plato's dialogues not merely catalogues of arguments in dramatic form, but instruments for transforming sophists into philosophers. But I think there is yet another thing that the drama gives us that could not be had by simply stating the arguments: Socrates. And Plato's Socrates is at least as important a contribution to philosophy as any argument Plato puts in his mouth.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Brief Bit on Paley

William Paley died on May 25, 1805. Today he is usually remembered only for his 'watchmaker argument', which is unfortunate, since it really doesn't sum up the man. He is brilliant at putting together interesting arguments and he is never sloppy or muddled. His criticisms of Hume, to name an example, are always at least insightful, and sometimes incisive. In addition he is a vivid writer; you get excellent passages like the pigeons in Book III, Part I, Chapter I of The Principles of Morality and Politics, which is an image of human institutions and customs concerning property that does not easily leave you.

He arguably has more right to be considered the father of modern utilitarianism than Bentham does, despite the fact that the latter is more to the taste of modern secular-minded utilitarians than Paley is. It wasn't always so, of course; and Bentham labored all his life with the burden, which he did noto hesitate to complain about, of being seen as putting forward a variety of Paleyan ethics.

He was a compassionate person, opposed to the slave trade, enthusiastic in a desire to help the poor. I've already mentioned the pigeon passage, which is actually the background to a criticism of the inequality between the rich and the poor; and he is everywhere intensely concerned with the welfare of the oppressed. He had many of the common weaknesses of his time with regard to this; but his strengths were not minor strengths.

Intellectual Culture

Reading the following made me think of Michael Gilleland.

Text not available
On the Principles of English University Education By William Whewell