Saturday, July 19, 2008

Like a Little Word Come I

"Out of the mouth of the Mother of God,
More than the doors of doom,
I call the muster of Wessex men
From grassy hamlet or ditch or den,
To break and be broken, God knows when,
But I have seen for whom.

Out of the mouth of the Mother of God
Like a little word come I;
For I go gathering Christian men
From sunken paving and ford and fen,
To die in a battle, God knows when,
By God, but I know why.

"And this is the word of Mary,
The word of the world's desire
`No more of comfort shall ye get,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.' "

From G. K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse, Book II

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fantasy Philosophy

I should be doing other things, but Richard Brown wants to play fantasy philosophy departments, the geekier version of fantasy baseball. You're chair of a philosophy department: you have ten, and only ten, faculty. Build the best department you can.

There are lots of different possible lineups that would be great; but the need to have an excellent department with only ten sets some limits. I set aside all the faculty at the University of Toronto, which is where I got my degree, and any faculty who are not currently there but were there at any point during my graduate studies there; you could have a stellar lineup from the UT department on its own, and I thought it best in this case to take the personal out of the equation, in order to judge more objectively. Of the following, the only three I've ever even met are Baker, Atherton, and Klima, and in all three cases it was a short interaction. I'm not really the kind to have academic heroes, so that makes things easier; but, obviously, the lineup has to include only people who have done at least some work that I've genuinely liked. I take it that we are to restrict our lineup to the currently, and not just recently, living (so, say Deleuze is out) and to those who are in a fairly straightforward way philosophers (so, say, the sociologist Randall Collins is out).

In no particular order:

(1) Lynne Baker

(2) Jorge Gracia

(3) Pierre Hadot*

(4) Lorraine Code

(5) Margaret Atherton

(6) Jean-Yves Girard

(7) Gyula Klima

(8) Helen Longino

(9) Patricia Churchland

(10) Jean-Luc Marion

* Hadot is retired; if retired professors are not counted, replace Hadot with Julia Annas.

Try your own hand at it and link to Richard's original post so everyone can track everyone's answers; and we can compare.

Shepherd on the Origin of All Science

Text not available
Essays on the Perception of an External Universe And Other Subjects Connected with the Doctrine of Causation By Mary Shepherd

Abstraction, which is a key part of what she also calls "analysis," is one of the things she thinks is underestimated by Hume (and those influenced by him on the subject of causation).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Notes and Links

* John Farrell, Has the Church Missed the Import of Science? at Faith magazine

* Google Book is a never-ending surprise. I recently found a copy of Lady Mary Shepherd's An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect tucked away, for no clear reason, at the back of Alfred Lyall's A Review of the Principles of Necessary and Contingent Truth.

* A discussion at "Experimental Philosophy" has become an argument about blogging conferences, starting with a comment by David Velleman:

Academic blogs are threatening the spontaneity of academic conferences. Bloggers regularly publish reports of the papers and discussions they have heard at conferences, which they then go on to analyze and criticize. Conference participants who thought that they were discussing their work-in-progress with a small audience, or airing tentative thoughts on an ephemeral occasion, suddenly find that their ideas have been set down, archived, and disseminated to the entire world -- and not even in their own words. And then they find snapshots of themselves as well, not stored in someone's personal photo album, but published for all the world to see. (The only time a picture of me has appeared in a major newspaper, it was a picture that I had never seen before -- plucked by the newspaper from a conference site on the Web.)

Most undergraduates know that they need their professor's permission before recording his or her lectures. And they know that even if such permission is forthcoming, it does not cover dissemination of the lecture on the Internet. Why don't faculty members accord the same courtesy to their colleagues?

I confess myself extraordinarily skeptical of this whole argument, as I am of the argument, brought up by another commenter, that blogging conferences has a "chilling effect". But it clearly has some purchase in some quarters, and is worth thinking over explicitly. I think it's certainly the case that we need new conventions of both courtesy and critical use of sources that cover the handling of off-the-cuff remarks that have been recorded. Colleen Keating asks some worthwhile questions on the subject at "Arbitrary Marks."

(I think it's false, incidentally, that most undergraduates know that they need their professor's permission before recording his or her lectures; I've been recorded without being asked, when I was in school I was in classes where students recorded without permission, once where students got in trouble for it, and I think the general view of students is that if you don't want to be recorded, you should clearly say so in the syllabus -- and I'm inclined to think the students are right on this one. There are entirely legitimate circumstances where you'd want to limit the use of recording devices in a classroom, but in this day and age you should make explicit provision for it.)

* An entry on Chaos theory at the SEP

* They are still under construction, but the Sophistry and Illusion blog looks like it will be interesting.

* There was an interesting discussion of Hume and compatibilism at "The Garden of Forking Paths" recently that I've been intending to mention. As I note in the comments, I think there is a slip with regard to the interpretation of Hume in the post itself, but I think the post still raises interesting questions for discussion, both as to what Hume is doing in the passages and as to the general notion of 'selective compatibilism'. Some of these are touched on later in the comments. I might at some point put up a post on my interpretation of the passage, because I'm not wholly convinced by Russell's interpretation, and I'll have to work through Werking's suggested modified interpretation more carefully. If nothing else, I'm indebted to Werking's post for making me realize that my position does, in fact, seem to diverge somewhat from Russell's here, which I hadn't realized on originally reading Russell's article.

* Michael Liccione had a post on the Vincentian canon with which I am heavily in agreement.

* Tanyss Ludescher, The Islamic Roots of the Poetic Syllogism

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Salutary Instructions

And we urge you, brothers,
warn those who are idle,
encourage the timid,
help the weak,
be patient with everyone.
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong,
but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
Be joyful always;
pray continually;
give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not put out the Spirit's fire;
do not treat prophecies with contempt.
Test everything.
Hold on to the good.
Avoid every kind of evil.

I Thess. 5:14-22 (NIV)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lakoff and Moral Order

I'm currently reading The Political Mind, the latest step in George Lakoff's descent from cognitive scientist to political hack. I'll have a few things to say in a later post about Lakoff's attacks on, and misunderstandings of, the Enlightenment, but I wanted to note something that has exasperated me a bit about Lakoff's analyses for quite some time now, namely, his complete misunderstanding of the type of discourse he labels as the 'Moral Order' metaphor. In The Political Mind he summarizes it thuswise (p. 98):

The logic behind the metaphor is this: since we owe everything we are--our very existence--to the workings of nature, nature is seen as moral. In short, over history, natural hierarchies of power emerge. Since they are natural, and nature cannot be immoral, traditional hierarchies of power are moral.

I would have hoped that merely writing that would have raised flags about whether it could seriously be as common as Lakoff is committed to saying it is; but apparently not. Let's consider an example of Moral Order discourse; say, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s appeal to 'the higher law'. This is very clearly discourse that fits under Lakoff's 'Moral Order' metaphor: it recognizes a moral hierarchy, it explicitly draws on natural law theory, it places a rather hefty emphasis on people keeping their place in the overall order established by God. But, of course, the inference from this is not that "traditional hierarchies of power are moral" but that any human hierarchy of power must be held accountable to higher principles, and that usurpation of power over one's fellow human beings is immoral.

The problem, I think, is that Lakoff treats two distinct forms of discourse as if they were the same thing. Genuine Moral Order discourse posits a moral order, an order to which everyone is accountable. It is not a hierarchy of power, it is a hierarchy of authority; your good lies not in respecting those who have more power than you do, but in making your function in society one that is consistent with an ideal order which society imperfectly approximates. He conflates this with a very different type of Order-based discourse, one based purely on retaliation: those who get uppity get put in their place. Now, it's certainly true that the two both use similar terminology on occasion -- the phrase 'law and order', for instance -- but we are supposed to be talking about cognitive structures and the uses to which the two are put are radically different, as different as Socrates and the Sophists, or King and the white moderates, or natural law theory and realpolitik.

And here is one place where I think we run up against a major weakness in Lakoff's attempt to apply his understanding of conceptual metaphors to politics. When we look at conceptual metaphor as a cognitive structure, as Lakoff does when he is just talking about the basic account, we find that it's actually just that: structural. So, for instance, to take one example Lakoff uses, we reason about love by using the metaphor Love is a Journey; love in such a metaphor becomes like an enclosure (we fall into it or fall out of it), it moves (it's not always the same), it suggests a destination that can't be reached immediately, and you can treat difficulties lovers face as impediments in this journey. These aspects of the metaphor structure our reasoning about love. Clearly there are stable correspondences here: love is a vehicle, the lovers are moving in it, they are overcoming impediments in a purposeful way, just as you would on a journey. But while this constrains the sort of specific content you can use, it doesnt actually select it for you. John and Marcy may see disagreement about how to educate their children as a major impediment on the journey; but Rosa and Rob will likely have radically different impediments to list. If I may use a metaphor to talk about how metaphor works on Lakoff's account, metaphors are like a set of boxes; in a Love is a Journey metaphor you have one box, the vehicle, already filled with 'love', and there will be box for the destination, a box for the obstacles in the road, etc. These latter boxes, however, will not come ready-filled; you fill them as you go, by throwing something into them as it comes up. Any sort of difficulty can be an obstacle in the road; the same difficulty will be for some just a little bump, and for others an almost insurmountable obstacle. When we think of the love of that couple and this couple as a journey, we don't think of them as the same journey. The structure of our reasoning about them will be the same; but the content that fills out that structure will vary according to circumstances. Lots of different people can have lots of different positions based on Moral Order, depending on how they fit the metaphor to their circumstances.

However, when Lakoff applies his account to politics, he forgets this entirely. The metaphors come with ready-made content. Moral Order on this treatment is not just a conceptual structure, it is an entire political position: "God above Man, Man above Nature, Adults above Children, Western Culture above Non-Western Culture, America above other nations, Men above Women, Whites above Non-whites, Straights above Gays, Christians above Non-Christians (or majority religion over minority religion)" (p. 99). Metaphors are now not merely inference-constraints; they dictate substantive conclusions. Some metaphors, those suggesting obedience to authority, are conservative; others, those suggesting empathy, are progressive. We get a really bizarre example of this in the chapter on "bad apples". One bad apple spoils the barrel, we often say; but if you're progressive you shouldn't, if Lakoff is to be believed. If we were really thinking of the Bad Apple metaphor as a conceptual metaphor, then just about anything could be identified as a Bad Apple under the right circumstances. But for Lakoff in The Political Mind the metaphor is not just a cognitive structure, it's a procedure for scapegoating (to defend yourself, you find a scapegoat and claim that he was the one and only bad apple). This is a rather abrupt move, one that confuses metaphor as a structure of thought with a particular use of metaphor. It's as if you said that talk about public trust made you a Communist sympathizer.

Once we recognize that Lakoff slips back and forth between metaphors as cognitive structures and metaphors as placeholders for very specific positions and strategies, it's very interesting to go through the book and identify points of equivocation. Or, at least, it's very interesting for as long as you can keep up; they are legion.

Campbell on a Heresy Against Common Sense

Text not available
Lectures on Systematic Theology and Pulpit Eloquence By George Campbell, François de Salignac de La Mothe- Fénelon, Henry Jones Ripley, William Stevenson

This is from a set of lectures delivered by Campbell in 1772 and 1773 at Marischal College. He primarily has in mind the view that, to become learned in Scripture you have to read lots and lots of commentators; he suggests instead that people simply read Scripture, study the Scriptural languages, research "the Jewish and ancient customs, polity, laws, ceremonies, institutions, manners," and develop "some knowledge in natural theology and the philosophy of the human mind." Then they can, so to speak, become commentators for themselves. The point, however, is certainly intended to be taken more generally, and fits naturally with Scottish common sense philosophy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Kant on the Theoretical Analogue of Practical Judgment

But in many cases, when we are dealing with an object about which nothing can be done by us, and in regard to which our judgment is therefore purely theoretical, we can conceive and picture to ourselves an attitude for which we regard ourselves as having sufficient grounds, while yet there is no existing means of arriving at certainty in the matter. Thus even in purely theoretical judgments there is an analogon of practical judgments, to the mental entertaining of which the term 'belief' is appropriate, and which we may entitle doctrinal belief. I should be ready to stake my all on the contention--were it possible by means of any experience to settle the question--that at least one of the planets which we see is inhabited. Hence I say that it is not merely opinion, but a strong belief, on the correctness of which I should be prepared to run great risks, that other worlds are inhabited.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason A825/B853 (Kemp Smith, tr.)

The Church is Not Like a Hippopotamus

In his paper, "What Metaphors Mean," Donald Davidson quotes the first part of T. S. Eliot's "The Hippopotamus":

The broad-backed hippopotamus
Rests on his belly in the mud;
Although he seems so firm to us
He is merely flesh and blood.

Flesh-and-blood is weak and frail,
Susceptible to nervous shock;
While the True Church can never fail
For it is based upon a rock.

The hippo's feeble steps may err
In compassing material ends,
While the True Church need never stir
To gather in its dividends.

The 'potamus can never reach
The mango on the mango-tree;
But fruits of pomegranate and peach
Refresh the Church from over sea.

Of this Davidson says:

Here we are neither told that the Church resembles a hippopotamus (as in simile) nor bullied into making this comparison (as in metaphor), but there can be no doubt the words are being used to direct our attention to similarities between the two.

And so we might leave it if we had no reading skills; but, however rudimentary they may be, we do, and so we won't. And what we find when we actually read the poem is that it is simply false to say that "the words are being used to direct our attention to similarities between the two". On the contrary, the repeated result of comparison in each case is to draw attention to differences between the hippopotamus and the Church (at least in its own self-image). The hippo resting on the mud seems firm, but is really just nervous flesh and blood; the Church resting on a rock can never fail. And so forth. And the contrast is maintained throughout the poem, even in the stanzas Davidson doesn't quote, where the joke of the poem, which is satirical, is completed by the hippopotamus going to heaven while the Church remains mired on earth. It's essential to the joke, in fact. The contrast superficially seems to favor the Church, but a closer look shows that the features attributed to the Church, which seem at first glance to indicate its superiority, are rather odd, as with the "need never stir" or even "it is based upon a rock," with its ambiguity between 'founded upon' (the expected meaning) and 'copied on the model of' (which fits the rest of the poem). They become odder:

At mating time the hippo's voice
Betrays inflexions hoarse and odd,
But every week we hear rejoice
The Church, at being one with God.

The hippopotamus's day
Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;
God works in a mysterious way --
The Church can sleep and feed at once.

Somnambulant grazing is not what one normally thinks of as a Note of the True Church; and what makes the joke in the first part of the poem is this pompous, hypocritical eulogizing of greedy laziness.

Davidson makes a very odd comment immediately after the one quoted above:

Nor should there be much inclination, in this case, to posit figurative meanings, for in what words or sentences would we lodge them? The hippopotamus really does rest on his belly in the mud; the True Church, the poem says literally, never can fail.

This is one of those sentences with which you suddenly feel you must have missed something. The hippo may rest his belly in the mud; but the True Church "never can fail / For it is based upon a rock" and that latter seems very much to suggest a 'figurative meaning', or, at least, would to someone who (unlike Davidson) thinks there are figurative meanings. Moreover, given the heavy irony lacing the poem, it's doubtful that there's any part of the poem where the believer in figurative meanings couldn't say that there's reason to attribute figurative meanings to it.

In any case, to get back to the original point, the poem, despite making use of an explicit comparison between the hippo and the Church, doesn't suggest similarities between the hippopotamus and the Church because it suggests only dissimilarities; even the verbal echoes in each description are purely verbal. It is being used to direct our attention not to how the two are alike, but to how the two are different (with the Church superficially, but the hippo really, getting the better of the contrast). The Church is not like a hippopotamus; would that it were, since as it is, it is merely the Church of Laodicea.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Eighty Key History Blogs

I came back from Albuquerque to find that Ralph Luker has made a list of eighty key history blogs.

With that reminder that life on the internet is fleeting, there is a group of history blogs that seem to me to be central to history blogging. I don't presume to say that they are The Top 100 Liberal Arts Professor Blogs. Nor do I even suggest that they are better than other history blogs that are not on the list. I do mean to say that, without them, history education on the internet would be seriously impoverished. Below the fold are 80 history blogs that I recommend. You'll recognize some of them. Others, you may not yet have discovered:
AHA Today
Ancient World Bloggers Group
Axis of Evel Knieval

Blog Them Out of the Stone Age
The Bowery Boys
Britannica Blog
Built History

Cabinet of Wonders
Cardinal Wolsey's Today in History
Chapati Mystery
The China Beat
Civil War Memory
Civil Warriors
A Corner of 10th Century Europe
Curious Expeditions

Dan Cohen
Digital History Hacks
A Don's Life

Early Modern Notes
Early Modern Whale
Easily Distracted
The Edge of the American West
Europe Endless

Frog in a Well

Ghost in the Machine
Got Medieval

A Historian's Craft
History is Elementary
History Unfolding
Hugo Schwyzer

In the Middle
Informed Comment
Investigations of a Dog

Jottings from the Granite Studio

Lawyers, Guns, and Money
Legal History Blog
The Little Professor

Mercurius Politicus
more than 95 theses

New Kid on the Hallway
The Nonist

Obscene Desserts
Old Is The New New
OUP Blog

Pink Tentacle
Politics & Letters
Positive Liberty
Progressive Historians
The Proletarian
Public Historian

Religion in American History
Rogue Classicism
Rustbelt Intellectual

Steamboats are ruining everything
Strange Maps

Talking Points Memo
Tenured Radical
Trench Fever

U. S. Intellectual History

Varieties of Unreligious Experience

Walking the Berkshires
Westminster Wisdom
Whitman's Brooklyn
wood s lot


That's a really great, and very diverse, list. There are a few I've actually never read before, and will have to start reading at least occasionally; but of those that I've read, there are some splendid ones. As you can see, Siris was listed; it's quite an honor to represent history of philosophy among some of the bright lights of the history blogosphere.