Friday, January 16, 2009

Dashed Off

Another semi-random selection from my constant note-writing. Read at your own peril.

Continual ranting is dangerous because, however much it may have been originally justified, it inevitably carries one into regions of intellectual dishonestly as, through the the momentum of ranting, one begins making up flaws to rant about: often, it seems, without even being aware of doing so. This happens because ranting is parasitic on what is being ranted against; so the more one's views are made to find expression in ranting the more any perceived goodness in one's own view leads to the attribution of a corresponding flaw in the views of others; and in the absence of rigorous self-critique one begins doing this without close and careful examination of those views. Thus argument blurs into self-flattering fantasy.

2 kinds of habitus (second nature)
(1) inclination of power to act
(2) disposition of system so as to be well or ill disposed
virtue, knowledge, &c. are instances of (1); health, sickness, original sin, &c. are instances of (2)

There's little point in thinking through something if you are not willing to think it through in half a dozen different ways.

method of argument ex abundantia concessionis

descriptio, expositio, significatio

to hear an argument and play with it, as if in improvisational jazz

pie repone te

Heuristic principles are approximations, for practical purposes, to metaphysical principles.

Religious orders are training schools (cf. Aquinas ST 2-2.188.1) and research institutions for the practice of complete charity. This practice of charity is something with many facets, so it is necessary for religious orders to be diversified according to different special ends (e.g., hospitality to strangers, feeding the hungry, prayer in solitude) and different methods of practice (e.g., manual labor, ascetic discipline, communal life) in such a way as to contribute to the general end.

A thing may be due a person on account of
(1) necessity, which makes all common
(1a) from weakness of body that prevents work
(1b) from insufficiency of good work for livelihood
(1c) from background making unfit for work
(2) affordance of something
(2a) that is temporal (e.g., physical goods)
(2b) that is spiritual (e.g., teaching)

nonsatiation & utilitarian analysis

extensive, intensive, & protensive aspects of inquiry
- principles of the possibility of discovery
- we can call a society a heuristic institution to the extent that it is in accordance with practical principles derived from the motive of discovery
- unity, division, affinity classes of heuristic maxims
- a heuristic institution has a
(1) culture: positive development of inquiry skills
(2) discipline: elimination of things destructive to inquiry
(3) deposit: an archiving of results that may be taught, to further later inquiry

defensible extrapolation
+ progressive elimination of alternatives
+ progressive refinement of extrapolation

"It would be to banish reason from the world if we had to be infallible in order to have the right to reason." Malebranche DMR XIV.xiii

knowing things conjecturally by signs

Our souls should be the cloth of Veronica, bearing His imprint.

philosophical abstraction as a means of cultivating social agreement among diverse groups

"Blindness is a kind of preamble to sin." Aquinas ST I-II.80.1
- Permanent darkness of mind is a fatal condition; but temporary darkness may have medicinal value once it comes to be recognized.

For any language we may compare and analogize between it and another language (or some fragment of itself). Therefore not all intellectual activity takes place in a language.
- language-creating vs. language-presupposing

the concept of instances that fall under concepts

philosophical beachheads

"What would be ridiculous, if delivered to a jury of honest sensible citizens, is no less so when delivered gravely in a philosophical dissertation." Reid IP 6.5

Quot hominum linguae, tot nomina deorum. (Cicero)

difficulties that stall vs. difficulties that promise

It is possible for the same good to be a search, experience, or credence good, depending on the people involved. (This is especially noticeable where expertise is involved.)

It is possible for X, which we believe, to present itself suddenly under an aspect that repulses our mind, before deliberation can intervene; this sudden motion of disbelief, resulting from mood, or social pressure, or trick of mind, or insightful new perception, can then be confirmed or rejected by more deliberate consideration of the matter. Thus belief is not a unitary thing; it has undercurrents, in which we may consent on occasion in a way contrary to deliberation and decision, and decide in a way contrary to our occasional deviant consent.

Even a nonphilosopher may do philosophical work.


Where we cannot lay hands on the universe itself, we abstract from the universe and lay hands on the abstraction.

The Kantian noumenon faces the same problems Berkeley identified in the Lockean material substrate, and Kant has no significant defenses agains the Berkeleyan criticism.
- cf. A250: " a something = X, of which we know, and with the present constitution of our understanding can know, nothing whatsoever"
- cf. also B307: "a something in general outside of our sensibility"

Everything in philosophy should be done from love, or joy, or peace, or zeal for justice.

the good of the intellect overflowing into the body: dance & song
- it is because of this that dance & song are both fitting symbols of the glory to come
- laughter also, or, more broadly, making merry

Stability presupposes finality.

The potential for equivocation arises naturally from the fact that our limited languages must cover the unlimited things we might want to say.

satire as extended hyperbole (of the petty = anti-sublime)
- this shows the link w/, e.g., farce, which is also extended hyperbole, but w/ a different object

There are usually a thousand reasons why an argument wouldn't work; there is no ingenuity in picking some historical argument and giving one of these. The thing that requires wit is identifying the reasons why an argument would work. Critical thought is most manifest in cases where we've pinned down exactly the conditions that would have to obtain to make an argument an excellent one. The genuinely important flaws, if there are any, will fall out naturally from this in a way that they won't from active flaw-hunting.

2 facets of 'secularization'
(1) laicization
(2) insulation
(2) is the incidental effect of religious conflict; (1) is prob. an effect of economics & diffusion of education

Dante held that philosophers should take Aristotle as legislator for their domain. Clearly this wouldn't require accepting all of his conclusions without question. So here's an interesting exercise: what in Aristotle can be seen as legislative, i.e., promulgated as possessing a normative force for the activities of philosophers qua philosophers, and what does philosophy look like under such legislation? (A related, but distinct, exercise: How is this related to the legislation of the Dantesque Aristotle?)

Politics takes advantage of the principle that evil mars evil.

The best way to work for the greater good is to do good to those we know.

hospitality to children (babies)

accounts of reasonableness:
ideal spectator
impartial spectator

Survival is a movement from complete dependence on one's environment to relative independence from it.

It is bias against what is true, not language, that impedes the solution of philosophical problems and the dissolution of sophistries; and this bias is rooted in the wounds of original sin: craving for more proximate goods, regardless of reason; faltering of resolve and inconsistency of decision and choice; failure to think in light of what is true and good and noble, even to the point of Eichmann-like shallowness; and the perversity, plain and simple, whereby we take things as good merely because we do them and thus call good evil and evil good as it fits our whim and desire. Because these wounds are never eliminable, even very bad error is difficult to root out.

Every philosophical error gets its plausibility either from human sin, or from approximation to a truth, or from both.

Experimental controls are means of rational comparison; they prevent you from taking the data at face-value and require you to ask, "Compared to what?"

the control of intellectuals by material incentives as a major factor in stagnation

analogical products noncommutative

Intellectual progress is never step-by-step. Rather, at every stage inquiry has a teleological character, and what we call 'progress' or 'degeneration' is a sort of vector result arrived at when we take into account all the teleologies and the sucesses and failures in fulfilling them.

We oppose temptation most successfully not with resolve of will but with fidelity to others.

para-philosophical phenomena

Just as there is no universal strategy for winning games, so there is no universal method of rationality.

Formal systems, programs, recipes, geometrical constructions, languages, texts, are all intellectual residues.

One rule concerning the art of reasonable discourse is: one must pay special attention to the order.

People can be optimizing in their aims but satisficing in their evaluations of success.

The choice to punish using (say) a fine rather than (say) death is not a costless choice; it uses moral capital (so to speak).

Inability to reason about schema-inconsistent agents is an inability to abstract social information about minds from ordinary experiences.

Prudence prevents virtues from becoming vices.

Every problem is the beginning of a solution to some other problem.

teaching as the prolegomena to civilization

We should not confuse the claim that science is a kind of methodical inquiry with the claim that science is a kind of method.

practices, problems, affiliations

reasonable supposition
(1) it looks like things that are true
(2) we can tell a plausible story in which it is true
(3) we can give at least a decent reason to think it is in fact true
- these involve supposing something true. But we may suppose X w/o supposing it actually to be true (e.g., suppositions for the sake of argument)

real-node typology of positions & fictional-node typology of positions
How would you define the weights of links with fictional nodes?
- resemblance, number, affinity

wholeness, harmony, brilliance

philosophical progress
(1) suavitas: ability to develop generous & profound visions of important things
(2) subtilitas: systematizing and detail-work
- philosophical degeneration corresponds:
(2) obscuritas
(1) licentia

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Notes and Links

* At "Feminist Philosophers" stoat has put up an interesting case relevant to epistemic injustice. I've never entirely been convinced of Fricker's claim that only discountings of credibility can be epistemic injustice. Certainly it is rare, but that's because it's rare to find us downplaying someone's testimony by overcounting their credibility. So I'm inclined to read the case straight. But there are tricky issues of interpretation, for which you should read the discussion in the comments.

* Apparently one of the big issues at Wikipedia at the moment is mediating the dispute over whether Ayn Rand should be counted as a philosopher and, if so, in what way. Ocham discusses the matter. Rand occasionally has good moments, especially when defending Aristotle from cavalier dismissal. (There's a place in her correspondence somewhere, I think in her correspondence with Hospers, where she rips apart beautifully a rather silly argument Hospers raised against Aristotle's account of time as the measurement of motion according to before and after.) I have difficulty condemning her completely, in part because of occasionally moments like these in which one sees what she could have been; in part because many of those who condemn her outright transparently have the same flaws, even if more sporadically noticeable; in part because I like her fiction; and in part because most of those condemning her have never done as much as she has for getting people in general interested in philosophy. The way to handle Ayn Rand, ideally, is not to dismiss her but to outdo her.

* John Attarian has an interesting article in which he discusses how Ayn Rand helped make him a Christian and the Marquis de Sade helped make him a conservative. (ht)

* It's a good name for it: 27 Ninja scenarios in bioethics:

Some of you might recognize the first part of that as one of my favorite things to collect: 27 Ninja Scenarios–That is, fantasy situations which 1). start with a preconceived notion (destructive embryonic research is morally acceptable) 2.) construct a scenario in which an act that ostensibly affirms the preconceived notion is the only sensible choice, and 3.) whistle past whole chunks of reality to make it work.

The original 27 Ninjas post has some good words of advice for handling far-out examples and counterexamples.

* Rabbi Michael A. Signer, a major figure in Christian-Jewish dialogue, passed away on January 11. One of his courses at Notre Dame, Jews and Christians throughout History, is available in Open Course format online.

* Frankincense has been shown to be mildly psychoactive. (ht)

* Ricardo Montalban, most famous for his roles in Fantasy Island and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, died on Wednesday at age 88.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Poem Draft

This one is very rough; it just came to me now while on a walk.


'Home' is a word we repeat to ourselves,
a mantra to guide our ways;
I don't know if we know what it means --
it's just this thing we say.
But somewhere in the darkness of night
a vision of home under pale moonlight
beckons and coaxes and sways;
I want to go to this myth we call 'home'
and live there the rest of my days.

Code of Amiability

As it says on the sidebar, I try to run this blog in accordance with Teresita Gonzalez-Quevedo's Code of Amiability (changing what needs to be changed in order for it to apply to the blogosphere). I am constantly forgetting this, so it is salutary occasionally to repost it for my own benefit. Here is the Code in Ven. Teresita's version; obviously some things apply only indirectly to blogging, but the whole thing is worthwhile as a starting-point.

The virtue of amiability results from the fusion of several strong virtues. It is the all things to all men that grows out of charity: the knowledge of self that humility teaches; the pure detachment found in mortification; the meekness born of patience; and the undaunted courage won of perseverance....The Code of Amiability obliges one:

1. To smile until a kindly smile forms readily on one's lips.
2. To repress a sign of impatience at the very start.
3. To add a word of benevolence when giving orders.
4. To reply positively when asked to do a favor.
5. To lend a helping hand to the unfortunate.
6. To please those toward whom one feels repugnance.
7. To study and satisfy the tastes of those with whom one lives.
8. To respect everyone.
9. To avoid complaining.
10. To correct, if one must, with kindness.

These are the dispositions which union with the amiable Virgin will place in our heart.

(2), (6), (7), (8), (9), and (10) make for rather high blogging standards; but good standards to aim for, I think.

Boswell, December 1764 (II)

The second part of my summary of Boswell's interesting visits to Rousseau and Voltaire in 1764 is up at Houyhnhnm Land.

Monday, January 12, 2009

White Horse

Before the gods that made the gods
Had seen their sunrise pass,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was cut out of the grass.

Before the gods that made the gods
Had drunk at dawn their fill,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was hoary on the hill.

Age beyond age on British land,
Aeons on aeons gone,
Was peace and war in western hills,
And the White Horse looked on.

For the White Horse knew England
When there was none to know;
He saw the first oar break or bend,
He saw heaven fall and the world end,
O God, how long ago.

Miriam has links on hill figures, the most famous of which is the Uffington hill figure made famous in Chesterton's Ballad of the White Horse.

Happy in Leisure and Obscurity

A good poem from Bemerton's second greatest poet (the first, of course, being George Herbert), the philosopher and British Malebranchean, John Norris.

Text not available
A Collection of Miscellanies Consisting of Poems, Essays, Discourses and Letters, Occasionally Written By John Norris

UPDATE: Michael Gilleland gives the Latin (from Seneca) on which Norris's poem is based. You can also compare it with Andrew Marvell's riff on the same.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Links and Notes

* One of the several things that has kept me busy recently is putting together my teaching evaluation portfolio for the year. I didn't like the old statement of teaching philosophy that I had on file, so I re-wrote it more to my taste. There's actually a lot more I wanted to say, but I had to keep it brief, which turned out to be the difficult and time-consuming part. I thought some readers might be interested in my view of teaching, so I put it online. I'm always interested in refining it, so comments are welcome.

* Under the Lateran treaties for the past 80 years, Vatican City essentially operated under Italian law: laws passed by the Italian parliament automatically went into effect in Vatican City. No more.

* Sir Peter Stothard, who actually writes good literary review pieces, discusses Chesterton's Father Brown stories.

* Father John Neuhaus died on January 8. "The Public Square" was always an interesting example of a relatively rare genre these days, the philosophical miscellany.

* Rebecca had an excellent post recently on that remarkable late nineteenth-century genius, Beatrix Potter. Potter, of course, is best known for her Peter Rabbit tales, but she was remarkable in other ways. For instance, as part of being something of a virtuoso amateur naturalist, she did a considerable amount of research into mycology. Potter quickly became convinced of the view that lichens were not a single organism but a double one, in which algae and fungi interacted symbiotically. Something like this idea had been suggested on the Continent, but it was usually thought that the relationship was parasitic, and in England it was not given much credence. She did some testing of the idea, and managed to get her paper on it read before the Linnaean Society. But it came to nothing, and she eventually withdrew it. Part of the reason seems to have been sexism (Potter herself was very convinced that some figures with whom she had to interact were misogynists, and it was still a time when Potter could not read her own paper before the Linnaean Society because women weren't allowed to be members or participants in the Society). From what I understand she also had difficulty with contamination of samples, and she seems to have concluded that more research needed to be done. And it was also a time where the role of the amateur scientist was passing; the enthusiasm in the days of John Herschel for the idea that science is something done, or capable of being done, by the whole of society had begun to pass, and amateur naturalists were no longer seen as having much to contribute to the discussion of professional scientists. The fact that she was a shy person, and like many shy people not especially adept in being either tactful or persuasive when she felt forced to state her opinion, may not have helped. The exact details, however, are unknown; we do not have Potter's paper, only some research notes and mentions in correspondence. In any case, that was that; Potter went on to other things, to the loss of mycology and the benefit of literature. Roy Watling has a paper discussing her mycological adventures (PDF) with a focus on her scientific practice. In the course of her mycological research she seems to have come across a great many things; for instance, there is some evidence that she independently discovered the antibacterial properties of penicillin.

* I think I linked to it before, but I still need to get around to reading it more closely: Mark Granovetter, The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited (PDF)

False Statements and False Statements

An interesting discussion of falsehood in the Soliloquies, in which he makes the distinction between being falsely a statement and being a statement that is false. When you have the distinction in hand, it's pretty obvious; but if you don't, it takes some hard thinking to get to it.

R: Truth is that by which anything that is true is true?
A: Certainly.
R: Nothing is said to be true except what is not false?
A: It would be silly to doubt it.
R: Is not that false which has a certain likeness to something, but is not that to which it bears resemblance?
A: To nothing else would I more freely give the name of false. And yet that is commonly called false which is very unlike the true.
R: Undeniably. But there is always some imitation of the true.
A: But how? When we are told that Medea joined together winged serpents and sped through the air, there is no imitation of what is true. For the tale is not true, and there can be no imitation of what does not exist.
R: Quite right. But observe that a thing which does not exist cannot even be said to be false. If it is false it exists. If it does not exist it is not false.
A: Are we not, then, to say that that monstrous story about Medea is false?
R: Not exactly. If it is false, how is it monstrous?
A: Here is a surprising thing. When I hear of "Huge winged serpents joined together by a yoke" I am not to say it is false.
R: Of course you are, but that implies something that exists.
A: What exists?
R: The statement expressed in that verse.
A: And where is there any imitation of true in it?
R: Because it is stated as if Medea had really done it. A false statement is expressed exactly like a true one....
A: Now I understand that there is a great difference between mere statements and the objects about which statements are made....The falsehood lies not in our statement but in the material objects about which it is made.

Book II, 29.