Friday, October 10, 2008

Yes, Rational Animals are Animals

An article at New Scientist on Six 'uniquely' human traits now found in animals. I confess that I was rather puzzled on reading it; every single trait listed as a supposedly 'uniquely human' trait can be found attributed to non-human animals in some form by medieval and early modern Aristotelians -- although, of course, they wouldn't have had the range of accurate data in support of the attribution that we can have now. Was there ever really any scientific reason to think that any one of these was unique to human beings, or is it just that we were so deadened to the obvious (animals have emotions!) by Cartesianism and the like that we couldn't see it for centuries? Or is it just that we have become so urban that none of us spend enough time working with animals and so lots of people really are so silly as to think that dogs, cats, horses, pigs, birds, etc., are 'characterless'? Or is this just sensationalistic reporting in order to get people to read New Scientist articles?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Lovely Book List

Kevin Edgcomb notes the interesting curriculum at Thomas Aquinas College. It would make an awesome reading list. I've bolded the ones I've read already. I would have italicized the ones I've been planning to read at some point but just haven't gotten around to reading or that I'd only partially read, but that would have been almost all the ones that weren't bolded. As you can tell, it's very much my sort of book list. I've actually been gearing up to do a sort of self-study in mathematics that would involve working through, closely and carefully, Euclid's Elements, Archimedes' Quadrature of the Parabola, Appollonius' On Conic Sections, thence to Descartes's Geometry, probably with a look at Newton's Principia (which I've read, but which really should not be so much read as worked through in close detail) and Whewell's Mechanical Euclid (ditto). This gives me a few more to add to the list.

Freshman Year
Homer Iliad, Odyssey
Plato Ion, Republic, Symposium
Aeschylus Agamemnon, Choephoroe, Eumenides
Sophocles Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone
Herodotus Histories
Aristotle Poetics, Rhetoric
Plutarch Lives (Lycurgus, Pericles, Alcibiades, Aristides, Alexander)
Euripides Hippolytus
Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War
Aristophanes The Birds, The Clouds

Wheelock Latin: An Introductory Course Based on Ancient Authors
Nesfield Aids to the Study and Composition of English

Euclid Elements

Aristotle Parts of Animals
DeKoninck The Lifeless World of Biology
Fabre Souvenirs Entomologiques
Galen On the Natural Faculties
Harvey On the Motion of the Heart and Blood, On Animal Generation
Linnaeus Systema Naturae
Pascal On the Equilibrium of Liquids
Archimedes On Floating Bodies
Mendel Plant Hybridization
various authors Scientific papers of Driesch, Gould, Marler, Tinbergen, Goethe, Virchow, von Frisch, et alia
Measurements Manual

Plato Meno, Protagoras, Gorgias, Apology, Crito, Phaedo
Porphyry On the Predicaments (Isagoge)
Aristotle Categories, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics
St. Thomas Aquinas Proem to the Posterior Analytics

The Holy Bible


Sophomore Year
Vergil Aeneid
Lucretius On the Nature of Things
Cicero Offices
Livy Ab Urbe Conditia
Plutarch Lives(Marcellus, Tiberius & Caius Gracchus, Marius, Sylla, Caesar, Cato the Younger, Brutus)
Tacitus Annals
Epictetus Manual
St. Augustine Confessions, On the Teacher
Boethius Consolation of Philosophy
Dante Divine Comedy
Chaucer Canterbury Tales
Spenser Faerie Queen
St. Thomas Aquinas On the Teacher

Wheelock Latin: An Introductory Course Based on Ancient Authors
Martin of Denmark Tractus De Modis Significandi
Horace, Cicero Selections
St. Thomas Aquinas Selections
Canon of the Mass

Plato Timaeus
Ptolemy Almagest
Copernicus Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
Apollonius On Conic Sections
Kepler Epitome of Copernican Astronomy, Astronomia Nova
Archimedes On Conoids and Spheroids

Aristotle On Generation and Corruption
St. Thomas Aquinas On the Principles of Nature,
On the Combination of the Elements
Lavoisier Elements of Chemistry
Avogadro Masses and Proportions of Elementary Molecules
Dalton Proportion of Gases in the Atmosphere
Gay-Lussac Combination of Gaseous Substances
Pascal Treatise on the Weight of the Mass of the Air
various authors Scientific papers of Berthollet, Couper, Lavoisier, Mendeleev, Richter, Wollaston, Cannizzaro, et alia
Atomic Theory Manual

Pre-Socratic Philosophers Fragments
Aristotle Physics
On the Soul

St. Augustine On Christian Doctrine,On the Spirit and the Letter, On Nature and Grace, On the Gift of Perseverance, On the Predestination of the Saints, City of God
St. Athanasius On the Incarnation
Gaunilo On Behalf of the Fool
St. Anselm Proslogion, Reply to Gaunilo
St. John Damascene An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith


Junior Year
Cervantes Don Quixote
St. Thomas Aquinas On Kingship, Summa Theologiae
Machiavelli The Prince, Discourses
Bacon The Great Instauration, Novum Organum
Shakespeare Julius Caesar, King Richard the Second, King Henry the Fourth: Part One, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Sonnets
Montaigne Essays
Descartes Discourse on Method, Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind
Pascal Pensées
Hobbes Leviathan
Locke Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Second Essay on Civil Government
Berkeley Treatise Concerning Human Understanding
Hume An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
Swift Gulliver's Travels
Milton Paradise Lost
Gibbon Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Corneille Le Cid
Racine Phaedre
Rousseau Social Contract, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
Spinoza Theologico-Political Treatise
various authors Articles of Confederation
Declaration of Independence
U.S. Constitution
Hamilton, Madison, Jay Federalist Papers
Smith Wealth of Nations
Kant Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Critique of Pure Reason, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals
Leibniz Discourse on Metaphysics

Plato Timaeus
Boethius On Music
Mozart Sonatas
Gustin Tonality

Viete Standard Enumeration of Geometric Results, Introduction to the Analytic Art
Descartes Geometry
Archimedes Quadrature of the Parabola
Griffin Mathematical Analysis
various authors Mathematical works of Hippocrates, Archimedes, Cavalieri, Pascal, Leibniz, Bernoulli, Newton, Berkeley, Bolzano, et alia

Descartes Principles of Philosophy
Galileo Two New Sciences
Newton Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy


Aristotle Nicom. Ethics

St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae:

On Sacred Doctrine
On God
On Law


Senior Year
Tolstoy War and Peace
Goethe Faust
Hegel Phenomenology of Mind, Philosophy of History
Flaubert Three Tales
Feuerbach Essence of Christianity
J. S. Mill Utilitarianism
Marx Capital, Communist Manifesto, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, German Ideology
Melville Billy Budd
Willa Cather My Antonia
Engels Quantity and Quality, Negation of the Negation
Darwin Origin of Species
Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil, Use and Abuse of History
Twain Huckleberry Finn
Austen Emma
Freud General Introduction to Psychoanalysis
Jung Analytical Psychology
Newman Development of Christian Doctrine
Kierkegaard Fear and Trembling, Philosophical Fragments
Ibsen A Doll's House
Dostoyevski Brothers Karamazov
Eliot Ash Wednesday, Journey of the Magi, The Waste Land
St. Pius X Pascendi Dominici Gregis
Leo XIII Aeterni Patris, Rerum Novarum
Pius XI Quadragesimo Anno
Pius XII Humani Generis
Vatican II Lumen Gentium
Plato Phaedrus
Vico The New Science
Tocqueville Democracy in America, The Old Regime and the French Revolution
Husserl The Idea of Phenomenology
Lincoln and Douglas Debates
Flannery O'Connor A Good Man is Hard to Find, The Enduring Chill
St. Thomas Aquinas The Division and Method of the Sciences

Pascal Generation of Conic Sections
Taylor Integral Calculus
Dedekind Essay on the Theory of Numbers
Lobachevski Geometrical Researches on the Theory of Parallels

Einstein Relativity: The Special and General Theory
Huygens Treatise on Light
Newton Optiks
Maxwell A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism
Gilbert De Magnete
Ampere Papers
various authors Mechanics, Waves, and Optics Manual
Electricity and Magnetism Manual

Aristotle Physics, Metaphysics
St. Thomas Aquinas On Being and Essence

St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae: On the Trinity, On the Sacraments, On the Passion of Christ

Another Politician Inspiring Confidence

This story is great (ht), even setting aside the melodramatic tone. In the British House of Commons Ian Paisley said about the recent economic crisis, "I trust that our whole nation will turn in repentance and cry to God for an intervention so that calamity will not come on our children and on babes in cots." Not only did it have the excellence of making a whole chamber of politicians thoroughly uncomfortable, it called forth this profoundly consoling comment from Alistair Darling:

Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, had to try to find something to say to Mr Paisley by way of response during yesterday's Commons Statement on the banking crisis. 'Er,' he said, 'I am not as well qualified to comment on whether or not divine intervention can help us or not.'

Yes, that's the comforting response to give when someone says we should pray for God to help us. You can now take your cue from Mr. Darling, and say, "Um, I can't really be sure that even God can help us now."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


St. Michael's on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that bath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Domino gloria!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.

from G. K. Chesterton's Lepanto

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Angel in the House

Virginia Woolf famously said, "Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer." But this has, I think, often been misunderstood. I have often seen the phrase "The Angel in the House" interpreted to mean something about submission, but this is not a plausible gloss. For one thing, in the original poem by Coventry Patmore, whose title Woolf is adapting, submission plays virtually no role: the word and its cognates only arises twice in the poem, and in both cases is used merely as a secondary image for the headlong character of being in love, and Patmore also makes use of the common lover's trope that the beloved woman is to be served, so the image moves both ways. For another, this is not at all the point Woolf actually draws out:

You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her—you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it—in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all—I need not say it—–she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty—her blushes, her great grace. In those days—the last of Queen Victoria—every house had its Angel.

Woolf goes on to describe the experience of a woman writing a review of a book by a man. She takes up the pen to be critical, and the Angel slips in behind her and whispers, "As a woman you should be sympathetic, tender, tactful, gentle, etc.; you should be pure, not saying what you think but always saying what you ought." It's not submission but this ethereal, unreal purity that is the reason the Angel in the House must be killed by the woman writer; it is an image of woman that is inhuman and threatens to rip out the heart from any woman's writing. It's an image of woman so unreal that, if taken as a standard, it is dishonest:

For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex. And all these questions, according to the Angel of the House, cannot be dealt with freely and openly by women; they must charm, they must conciliate, they must—to put it bluntly—tell lies if they are to succeed. Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality.

And this is why 'Angel in the House' is a good label for what Woolf is trying to describe. There really isn't anything dishonest about Patmore's poetry, but the image of woman presented in The Angel in the House is simultaneously real and mythological. It is Patmore's wife, but it is Patmore's wife pitched to cosmic significance, used as a model for a goddess:

But when I look on her and hope
To tell with joy what I admire,
My thoughts lie cramp'd in narrow scope,
Or in the feeble birth expire;
No mystery of well-woven speech,
No simplest phrase of tenderest fall,
No liken'd excellence can reach
Her, thee most excellent of all,
The best half of creation's best,
Its heart to feel, its eye to see,
The crown and complex of the rest,
Its aim and its epitome.
Nay, might I utter my conceit,
'Twere after all a vulgar song,
For she's so simply, subtly sweet,
My deepest rapture does her wrong.
Yet is it now my chosen task
To sing her worth as Maid and Wife;
Nor happier post than this I ask,
To live her laureate all my life.

There is in a sense nothing wrong with this in itself, or, at least, nothing that Woolf herself would have thought wrong with this: this is literary depiction and trope. The problem arises not with the image, but with an image like this becoming a standard to which women are expected to hold themselves to (and, more than this, a standard to which they hold themselves). For it is a lover's fantasy, a romantic myth, a pretty painting by a man who wants to laud the excellences of his wife; it is not a woman, and it is something no woman can actually be. It's all the difference between serving as a model for a painting of Aphrodite and expecting yourself to be Aphrodite. But Woolf notes that something like this image, not perhaps Patmore's own but something closely analogous, is taken not merely as a picture for which a woman can be a model, but as the standard for what a woman should be. It becomes not merely art that they can inspire but the state to which they are expected to aspire. And no one can hold themselves to such a standard without dissimulation. You should be pure -- more pure by far than any woman can be; and if that's the standard of what a woman is to be, well, what option is there but lies and deceit? It will tear the honest heart out of what you do.

So the woman writer must kill the Angel in the House, this standard of purity whispering in her ear, and be -- what? Woolf doesn't think the answer is easy at all. We'd naturally say that she should just be a human woman. But Woolf thinks this a superficial answer:

I mean, what is a woman? I assure you, I do not know. I do not believe that you know. I do not believe that anybody can know until she has expressed herself in all the arts and professions open to human skill.

After all, we are talking about a standard for what a woman should be. The Angel in the House can't be that standard. But merely take that away and you don't have a woman who is as she should be. You either have a woman who doesn't know what it is to which she can aspire, or who finds herself faced with yet another unreal phantom standard which must yet again be slain:

These were two of the adventures of my professional life. The first—killing the Angel in the House—I think I solved. She died. But the second, telling the truth about my own experiences as a body, I do not think I solved. I doubt that any woman has solved it yet. The obstacles against her are still immensely powerful—and yet they are very difficult to define. Outwardly, what is simpler than to write books? Outwardly, what obstacles are there for a woman rather than for a man? Inwardly, I think, the case is very different; she has still many ghosts to fight, many prejudices to overcome. Indeed it will be a long time still, I think, before a woman can sit down to write a book without finding a phantom to be slain, a rock to be dashed against.

Linkable Thinkables

* The 79th Philosophers' Carnival is up at "Possibly Philosophy"

* Timothy Burke analyzes the slow (and in the future, possibly swift) decline of higher education. Miriam Burstein discusses Burke's analysis at "The Little Professor".

* A post with some interesting discussion (incl. in the comments) on perceptions of masculinity and femininity in women, at "Feminist Philosphers": The Doc Marten Vote.

* Bonnie Mann, Beauvoir and the Question of a Woman's Point of View

* An opinion column arguing that network theory is a useful tool for understanding the current credit woes.

* Music and the Enlightenment at "Philosophers' Zone". There was also a recent episode on Frankenstein and Romanticism, although I found that one a bit disappointing.

* A review of Anne Rice's Called Out of Darkness at "Flos Carmeli"

* The ten highest-earning authors

* I don't think it's quite comforting, but apparently academia is a mess all the world over.

Monday, October 06, 2008


As to temper and conceit and impudence and brass and lying, he was not half so bad twelve months ago as he is now. That is where I should have liked him to profit by your teaching; and we could have done, without his knowing the stuff he reels of at table every day: 'a crocodile seized hold of a baby,' says he, 'and promised to give it back if its father could answer'--the Lord knows what; or how, 'day being, night cannot be'; and sometimes his worship twists round what we say somehow or other, till there we are with horns on our heads!

Lucian of Samosata, Hermotimus. In this passage (supposedly a father complaining to a teacher), we see Lucian skewering the Stoic notion of good philosophy, suggesting that it neglects ethical behavior and amounts to nothing more than tiresome logic-chopping, resulting in students are worse than they were before they began to study. This is not really a new charge (cf. Aristophanes's mockery of the Socratics in The Clouds.) The problems identified here, however, are not caricatures: they were really discussed.

(1) The Crocodile Paradox. A crocodile seizes a baby on the banks of a river, but being a sophist says to the mother, "If you can accurately predict what I will do, I will return the child without eating it, but if you guess wrong, I will keep and eat it." To this, the mother replies, "You will keep and eat it." The crocodile says, "Aha! I cannot give the child back, because if I do, you will have predicted falsely. But if you predict falsely, I keep and eat it." "Ah," said the mother. "But you cannot keep and eat my baby, because if you do, I will have accurately predicted what you will do, and therefore you must return the child without eating it."

(2) Day and Night. The Greek is ambiguous between "Since it is day, it cannot be night" and "If day exists, night cannot exist."

(3) Horns. If you haven't lost a thing, you have it. You haven't lost your horns, have you? So you have them.

The complaint, then, boils down to the complaint that people who go to study philosophy end up really learning just how to twist words and arguments. Socrates had complained of the Sophists that they studied rhetoric not because it made them better, but because it gave them power -- the power to bully others. But the study of philosophy, Lucian suggests in the person of the exasperated father, is liable to the same abuse:

[A]nd if his mother asks him why he talks such stuff, he laughs at her and says if once he gets the 'stuff' pat off, there will be nothing to prevent him from being the only rich man, the only king, and counting every one else slaves and offscourings.

One could, I imagine, provide an updated version of the complaint here. "It would be wonderful if my child actually learned from you how to be a wiser person. But what we get when he sits down to talk with us is just a long list of bizarre science fiction and fairy tales, about splitting people, about rooms that speak Chinese, about places that have water that's not water and you's that aren't you, about people who know everything about colors that they've never seen, and Lord knows what; and if we argue anything, he always twists our argument, and if we say anything, he always squints at us and tells us we need to define our terms because he doesn't understand what we mean. And if we tell him he's talking nonsense, he talks airily of how we lack critical thinking skills, or fail to understand the value of being skeptical of assumptions, or are simply being irrational." And one wonders what the response would be that would be fundamentally different from the rather unimpressive one Lucian has the old teacher say.

Fiat Votes

This weekend I was thinking about the remark I made in my previous post about the popular vote:

But more importantly than this, not all of those votes in that tally were counted the same. And it's impossible for them to be, unless all our states had the same election laws and none of those laws allowed much wiggle room for interpretation by vote-counters. But both of these conditions are empirically false. A vote that would count in Miami might not count in Denver; and a vote that would not count in Los Angeles might have counted in Roswell, New Mexico. We are not using the same ballots. We are not using the same means of voting. Our votes are not counted according to the same laws, nor according to the same methods. And the reason is clear and explicit: we are not voting as a nation, we are voting as a state. In principle, my vote should count the same, to the extent humanly possible, as every other citizen in my state. If it's not, that's a sign that the state election laws need revision. But my vote is, strictly speaking, incommensurable with the vote of someone in a completely different state. We can only be treated as doing exactly the same thing by abstracting from a number of important differences.

Not only do I think this is true, I think it is true for reasons related to a feature of voting that is usually not noted, namely,that what actually gets tallied in a popular vote is not the vote you put in but a unit of exchange. That is, the government, through its election law, establishes by fiat a type of vote that is linked to certain standards of exchange. If this, this, and that condition are met, a punch on a paper ballot gets exchanged for this legal vote. If such-and-such obtains, an electronic entry gets exchanged for this legal vote. And so forth. If a state allows, say, punched paper ballots, electronic entries, and mail-in fill-in ballots, this is entirely arbitrary: it could just as easily deny any of these legitimacy. By allowing them, it says, "If such-and-such conditions are met, your entry gets exchanged for a legal vote, which will be counted in the election"; this legal vote works very much like a specialized kind of money. And it is legal votes, fiat votes, that are counted toward the official tally; and only those that are counted. Your actions in the voting booth receive their power by their exchange value: one mark on a ballot exchanges for one vote of political influence.