Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Nursery School Guide to Politics, Part II

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do.
She gave them some broth,
Without any bread,
Whipped them all soundly, and sent them to bed.

MORAL: Politicians who dabble in too many projects end up doing little good and much harm. They also eventually get the boot.

The Nursery School Guide to Politics, Part I

Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

MORAL: All politicians divide, with some overlap, into four categories: those who fiddle away doing nothing, those who pretend to do impossible things, those who mock everyone else from the sidelines, and those who will steal your silverware if they get the chance.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

This Busie World is Nonsense All

Michael Gilleland recently posted a poem by John Norris:

The Retirement

Well, I have thought on't, and I find,
This busie World is Nonsense all;
I here despair to please my mind,
Her sweetest Honey is so mixt with Gall.
Come then, I'll try how 'tis to be alone,
Live to my self a while, and be my own.

I've try'd, and bless the happy change;
So happy, I could almost vow
Never from this Retreat to range,
For sure I ne'r can be so blest as now.
From all th' allays of bliss I here am free,
I pity others, and none envy me.

Here in this shady lonely Grove
I sweetly think my hours away,
Neither with Business vex'd, nor Love,
Which in the World bear such Tyrannic sway:
No Tumults can my close Apartment find,
Calm as those Seats above, which know no Storm nor Wind.

Let Plots and News embroil the State,
Pray what's that to my Books and Me?
Whatever be the Kingdom's Fate,
Here I am sure t' enjoy a Monarchy.
Lord of my self, accountable to none,
Like the first Man in Paradice, alone.

While the Ambitious vainly sue,
And of the partial Stars complain,
I stand upon the Shore and view
The mighty Labours of the distant Main.
I'm flush'd with silent joy, and smile to see
The Shafts of Fortune still drop short of me.

Th' uneasie Pageantry of State,
And all the Plagues to Thought and Sense
Are far remov'd; I'm plac'd by Fate
Out of the Road of all Impertinence.
Thus, tho my fleeting Life runs swiftly on,
'Twill not be short, because 'tis all my own.

Analogical Intelim

I didn't give any introduction and elimination rules for analogical equations in my previous post on analogical inference, but of course they exist. Some candidates for introduction rules:

[1] (a=c)
[2] (b=d)
.: (a:b):(c:d)

[1] (a=c)
.: (a:b):(c:d)

[1] (b=d)
.: (a:b):(a:d)

And, of course, they have analogues where the premises start with analogy, :, rather than identity, represented here as =. Actually, this is pretty common: just about anything you do with identity you can do with analogy, except where it really is crucial to assume that there is no difference whatsoever.

Some candidates for elimination rules:

[1] (a:b):(c:d)
.: (a:c)

[1] (a:b):(c:d)
.: (b:d)

And disassociation, mentioned in the previous post, is another such candidate.

In addition, it can sometimes be handy to have introduction and elimination of self-analogy.

[1] a
.: (a:a)

which can go in the other direction, as well, of course. Self-analogy is a little bit more interesting than it looks, because if we take the empty case as trivial, we can count, although it's not as perspicuous as doing so with sets:

( )
( : )
(( : ):( : ))
((( : ):( : )):(( : ):( : )))

and so forth. I imagine you could do fractions, but you'd have to add rules to disambiguate certain expressions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Poem Draft

You can read Bartolomé Blanco Márquez's actual last letter online.

Bartolomé Blanco Márquez Writes His Last Letter

Tomorrow I die, and a line of grim men
will shoot bullets in me till I fall;
but my life has been good, and I thank you for that,
and I thank my Lord God above all.
I will remember you to the dark, silent grave,
and love you with all of my heart;
lovers who love in the glory of God
become of each other a part.
Fear not, dear Maruja, my darling, my love;
I see death, and I am not afraid.
Remember, Maruja, my dear and my dove,
and recall me in life's wandering way;
take thought to your soul, my lady and love,
that in heaven we may meet again,
and love in the way God meant us to love,
forever in life without end.

Feast of St. Agnes

It's the Feast of St. Agnes; I should have posted these yesterday, but didn't think about it.

St. Agnes' Eve
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Deep on the convent-roof the snows
Are sparkling to the moon:
My breath to heaven like vapour goes:
May my soul follow soon!
The shadows of the convent-towers
Slant down the snowy sward,
Still creeping with the creeping hours
That lead me to my Lord:
Make Thou my spirit pure and clear
As are the frosty skies,
Or this first snowdrop of the year
That in my bosom lies.

As these white robes are soil'd and dark,
To yonder shining ground;
As this pale taper's earthly spark,
To yonder argent round;
So shows my soul before the Lamb,
My spirit before Thee;
So in mine earthly house I am,
To that I hope to be.
Break up the heavens, O Lord! and far,
Thro' all yon starlight keen,
Draw me, thy bride, a glittering star,
In raiment white and clean.

He lifts me to the golden doors;
The flashes come and go;
All heaven bursts her starry floors,
And strows her lights below,
And deepens on and up! the gates
Roll back, and far within
For me the Heavenly Bridegroom waits,
To make me pure of sin.
The sabbaths of Eternity,
One sabbath deep and wide--
A light upon the shining sea--
The Bridegroom with his bride!

Keats's "The Eve of St. Agnes" is too long to post here, but here's a selection:

They told her how, upon St. Agnes' Eve,
Young virgins might have visions of delight,
And soft adorings from their loves receive
Upon the honey'd middle of the night,
If ceremonies due they did aright;
As, supperless to bed they must retire,
And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.

Wiseman's novel Fabiola is also about the Virgin Martyr, and actually makes for fairly interesting reading, all things considered. There's a lot of what you expect:

Text not available
Fabiola Or, The Church of the Catacombs By Nicholas Patrick Wiseman

And also some of the exquisite little passages you get in the better-written Catholic novels of the period:

Text not available
Fabiola Or, The Church of the Catacombs By Nicholas Patrick Wiseman

I Heart My Students

I just got my copies of last term's evaluations and I find that they are considerably better than they should be (they are glowing, in fact). It has left me wondering what I'd done that biased things so far in that direction. I tend to be the sort of instructor that students either hate or love, which means my evaluations are always fairly good; students who hate me tend to withdraw from the class long before evaluation time. But that bias really doesn't account for evaluations in which most of the students say that I am always organized in my lectures. This is straightforwardly false (and I had a few complaints on it even toward the end of the course), and it's very suspicious to have such obviously false positive evaluations. While I have particular ideas I want to address in each lecture, the lectures themselves are always impromptu and rambling. I like it that way, and I think it's a style that works well with the course as I've designed, and I wouldn't ever be likely to change it; but it should be costing me something on that particular issue.

But after thinking it out, I'm pretty sure that it's not really about me, although, again, the drop factor probably benefits me more than it does most professors. It would be nice if it were about me, of course; but so very few things in the universe, or even in my life, really are, and I don't think this is an exception. I think instead, and although the written comments are mostly vague, one or two of them bear this out, that I don't just teach philosophy, I try to teach the romance of it, and I think it both surprises people, who find suddenly that philosophy has something to do with all the things they like best about themselves, and intrigues them, precisely because there is so much romance to it: Socrates taking the hemlock, Boethius writing brilliant literature under house arrest after everything has been taken from him, knowing full well that he might be put to death, Descartes setting out to re-think the world, Aristotle inventing fields of inquiry almost wholesale*, feminist philosophers trying to build a more just society: this is exciting material in its own right. Teach it and people will be excited.

In any case, reading some of the student evaluations, I have to say I love my students, some of whom show even in writing evaluations that they have a sense of humor. I'd love them even if they blasted me in evaluations, because they really were fun to teach, even the section last term that drove me crazy practically every class. It doesn't hurt that many of them thought the classes fun, too. And it's a nice omen for this term, since I had my first classes today, especially since they all went better than my first days usually do. (I'm always a wreck the first day.) So far my students this term look like they'll be fun, too. Everything's coming up cherries.
* There's a really good passage in Lucian's "Sale of the Philosophers," if I recall correctly, which goes through and mocks all the major philosophical schools of his time, and part of the auctioneer's pitch when trying to sell Aristotle (who finally gets one of the higher prices at the sale) is that Aristotle has the advantage of knowing everything. And while it wears better heard than read, I once attended a paper where the author cracked everyone up by saying that Aristotle started his week by making physics more rigorous, but, quickly getting tired of it, went on Tuesday to write some of the most brilliant words of dramatic criticism, then, on Wednesday, collected and catalogued all the constitutions of Greece, and then, deciding that that was too mundane, wrote metaphysics on Thursday, then remembered on Friday that he had promised Nichomachus something before the end of the week, so wrote the Nicomachean Ethics, and finally decided to relax on Saturday by writing all the logical works. He's not quite that brilliant, but Aristotle really is so brilliant as to be funny.

Obama, Lincoln, and Pardons

Obama gets paired with Lincoln a lot, and often seems to invite it; Professor Ruckman at "Pardon Power" has an amusing post in which he notes that there is indeed one thing Obama can actually do to pair himself with Lincoln in a positive way:

First, let it be said that we certainly hope that President Obama does not take Mr. Lincoln's cue and set up secretive military tribunals to try American citizens. We hope that Obama does not suspend any prisoner's right to be informed as to why they are being detained within a reasonable amount of time, as did Mr. Lincoln - squarely in the face of two direct rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court. We assume officials in the Obama administration will not shock the world's notions of "war crimes" the way that Lincoln's generals did. And we hope that Mr. Obama does not instruct that his critics in the press be harassed, threatened and prosecuted, the way Mr. Lincoln did, simply because they exercise their First Amendment right to express dissenting points of view. As Mr. Obama said today, we hope that his administration does not sacrifice the Nation's ideals at the expense of the Nation's security.

On the other hand, there is one side of Lincoln that we would love to see in President Obama. Despite the fact that he was riding thin electoral support and had a Civil War on his hands, Abraham Lincoln took the time and, to some extent, the political risk, to grant pardons to almost 400 individuals in just over four years - more than both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush combined granted in a full twleve years. Had he not been assassinated, Lincoln would have certainly set a record for individual pardons up to that point in history.

Well worth reading.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!

Psalm 72:2-4 (ESV)

Use and Abuse

A suggestion that has been made about anonymity on the internet:

Levmore recommends eliminating the liability restrictions on ISPs and forcing them to divulge the identity of IP addresses if subpoenaed. The logic underlying his recommendation is a hypothetical bargain among all users of the internet. The benefit to each person is tiny from being able to post degrading insults about others, but the cost of being a target of these insults is very high. Even if the chance of being targeted is small, the cost is large enough that the expected value outweighs the miniscule benefit. Thus, the bargainers would not immunize such conduct. Levmore focused on differences in expected costs and benefits to each person while implicitly assuming homogeneous preferences, but an alternative formulation could depend on differences in preferences. No one wants to be targeted, but only a minority wants to target others, so the majority demands the minority give up its antisocial behavior.

One obvious problem with this argument is that it makes the wrong comparison. We shouldn't be comparing the benefit of "being able to post degrading insults" with the cost of being a target; we should be comparing the benefit of the anonymity as a rational protection (e.g., on controversial topics) with the cost of being a target of abuse. There are no cases exactly analogous to internet privacy, but consider a loose analogy. Suppose someone were to come to us and say, "We are going to be massively restricting academic freedom because the benefit of abusing those protections is very small, while the cost of being harmed by such abuses are very high." Would anyone be taken in by this argument in the slightest degree, which only considers the abuses of privileges and not the beneficial uses? And there certainly are beneficial uses of internet anonymity. I'm not anonymous, and never have been (never really ever thought to be, actually), but I am benefitted by the fact that many of my online colleagues can use the protection of anonymity, and obviously they often benefit from it.

This is not to say that there should be no restrictions on internet anonymity; there genuinely are serious and worrisome issues involved with abuses. But this argument, as stated, is an obviously bad argument for that claim.

Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK Jr. and Thomas Aquinas on Unjust Law

A re-post. Incidentally, I was rather irritated by this from a post at "Pharyngula":

King found some strength in his church, and I have to respect that. However, he was also blind to the implications of what he was seeing: that perhaps faith was not a source of wisdom and social justice, but seems to be orthogonal to it. His power did not come from his religion, but from the righteousness of his cause, and it's unfortunate that he did not see that.

But of course he did see that the power of the civil rights movement came "from the righteousness" of the cause; he explicitly states it a number of times in speeches and works, and it is blatantly obvious that the point is made in this very letter, because someone with King's background would speak these very ideas of righteousness in theological and even eschatological language, especially when talking to fellow Christians. And it is exasperating to find someone reading the extraordinarily carefully reasoned and constructed argument here (the small example below is just one small example of the many ways in which the letter is far richer than one could possibly see on first reading) and then patronizingly patting the author on the head as if he were a moron. King had a much greater familiarity with and understanding of the underlying basis of nonviolent methods than Myers, one that had arisen through considerable thought and tested through considerable practice; and this work, which despite its short length is one of the great classics of both natural law and civil rights theories, shows this background in spades. Everyone should read it many times; there is something to be learned from it each and every time.


In ST 1-2.96.4, Thomas Aquinas argues that laws bind the conscience, i.e., obligate, when and only when they conform to the eternal law, particularly insofar as the eternal law is exhibited in the universal principles of practical reason (a.k.a. natural law). To be just, a law must be good as to:

(1) its end: it must be ordered to the common good;
(2) its author: it must not exceed the jurisdiction of the one who imposes it;
(3) its form: it must not place disproportionate burdens on any of the subjects involved.

A law, however, that is unjust in any of these ways does not impose any obligation. That is, a law ceases to have binding force if any of these is true:

(1) it is not ordered to the common good, but merely to the private good of those who impose it;
(2) it exceeds the authority of those who impose it;
(3) it places disproportionate burdens on any of the people in the community.

An act that does any of these things is, says Aquinas, more like an act of violence than like a law; it may share some features of a just law, but it is not a law in precisely the same sense. Thus Aquinas favorably quotes Augustine as saying that it seems that an unjust law is no law at all. The only way in which an unjust law may obligate is indirectly, namely, when it is clear that disobeying it would lead to evils worse than obeying it.

One thing that is often overlooked is that Aquinas considers an argument (3rd objection) that human laws do not obligate because they sometimes bring injury and loss of character on human beings: they oppress the poor and the humble. And Aquinas accepts it, for those cases in which the hurt induced on anyone is unjust. Oppressive laws are perversions of law, usurpations, acts of violence; no one need have conscientious qualms about disobeying them.

It is this line of reasoning that Martin Luther King, Jr. took up in his famous 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail. There he argues that a nonviolent campaign follows four stages:

(1) collection of facts to determine whether injustice actually exists;
(2) negotiation in order to resolve the matter peacefully;
(3) self-purification, in which there is careful preparation for nonviolent direct action;
(4) direct action through nonviolent means.

A major worry, of course, through all of this is breaking the law. To alleviate this worry, King appeals to Aquinas's argument, and does so, I think, more thoroughly and insightfully than is usually thought. King says, "Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality." This move fits very comfortably with Aquinas's acceptance of the argument in the 3rd Objection, which connects the non-obligatoriness of unjust laws with the moral and physical injury they induce. It's not a bare appeal to Aquinas, as it might seem on a superficial reading; Aquinas is not just thrown out there as an authority or as an example. Rather, it's an insightful and reasonable application of Aquinas's argument, one that shows that the natural law position has strength where it counts.

Metaphor and the Logic of Analogical Inference

In the Poetics Aristotle famously gives an analogical account of (some) metaphor; it's a clever and influential account, but I've never seen anyone try to build a rigorous account of "metaphor by analogy" from his brief comments. I've come to think, though, that it would be fairly easy to do so. This will not be such a strictly rigorous account, but simply a gesture to show that there's reason to think it could be done. We need the following:

(1) proportional or analogical equation, which we'll designate by the traditional :
(2) product, which we'll simply indicate by juxtaposition, e.g., ab is the product of a and b (although I'll also use a*b when using words rather than letters)
(3) grouping, which we'll again indicate by the traditional ( )
(4) terms

Our terms and operations will obey the following rules

(1) aa = a2 = a [idempotency]
(2) a:b = b:a [commutation of equation]
(3) a(bc) = (ab)c [association of product]

Note that : is nonassociative and product is noncommutative. When we get to our inference rules in a second, it will be pretty obvious that, given a premise with ab you can still get a conclusion with ba, but there's an important difference between commutativity being built into the analogical product and its falling out of the inference rules. If commutativity were built into analogical product, it would follow that you could commute wherever you have the product, without regard for anything else; but with inference rules you can never commute a product without changing other parts of the analogical equation.

As inference rules we could use the following:

Given the starting point, (a:b):(c:d) ["a is to b as c is to d"], we can derive the following conclusions directly:

1. (ad):(cb) [cross-multiplication or cm]
2. (a:c):(b:d) [cross-division or cd]
3. (ad:b):(cb:d) [distribution, in this case of bd, but we could do either b or d alone]
4. (a:b), or (c:d) [disassocation]

Distribution is where most of the magic happens. (4) is not, as far as I can see, essential; it simply facilitates use. So let's take one of Aristotle's examples:

The cup is to Dionysus as the shield to Ares.

We'll then translate it as follows:


From this analogy, Aristotle concludes, "The cup may, therefore, be called 'the shield of Dionysus,' and the shield 'the cup of Ares.'" We can easily show this.

[1] (c:D):(s:A) [given]
[2] (c:s):(D:A) [cd]
[3] (cA:s):(DA:A) [dist of A]
[4] (cA:s) [left disassociation]
[5] (s:cA) [commutation]

Product doesn't have a strict translation in English, since English varies our phrasing of it depending on the particular sort of analogical relation and pragmatic goal involved. But ab can usually be read as "the a of b" or else "the b version of a", and a single : can usually be treated as a (figurative) 'is'. So (s:cA) straightforwardly says, "The shield is the cup of Ares." We can have a closely analogous argument yield "The cup is the shield of Dionysus." Another of Aristotle's analogies, "As old age is to life, so is evening to day" can receive exactly similar treatment.

We can in addition to known terms allow unknown terms, and represent them as variables. So, to use Aristotle's example,

For instance, to scatter seed is called sowing: but the action of the sun in scattering his rays is nameless. Still this process bears to the sun the same relation as sowing to the seed. Hence the expression of the poet 'sowing the god-created light.'

We can show this. Take the original analogy:


[1] (sowing:x):(seed:sunlight) [cd]
[2] (sowing*sunlight:x):(seed*x:sunlight) [dist]
[3] (sowing*sunlight:x) [disassoc.]

We can commute, of course, if we want to; and this gives us the metaphor. We could get the exact poetical expressions through ordinary syllogisms by taking this expression as a premise and adding other premises.

Aristotle makes another comment on metaphor by analogy. He says:

We may apply an alien term, and then deny of that term one of its proper attributes; as if we were to call the shield, not 'the cup of Ares,' but 'the wineless cup'.

This simply takes the above conclusion, "The shield is the cup of Ares," combines it with another premise, and uses a basic transformation beyond that; it has nothing to do with the analogical inference itself, but is simply something you can do with the conclusion.

Another thing you can do with the conclusions of such inferences is build new figures of speech; depending on the analogical inferences involved, these figures of speech will either be new metaphors, or new metonymies, or new synecdoches, or new ironies (in the strict senses of the first and last of these).

As I said, all of this could be put more rigorously, but this should give the basic idea. Really, it's all quite simple; it requires only

(1) taking the proportional character of analogy seriously,
(2) recognizing that analogical products make sense, and that the multiplication is noncommutative and idempotent,
(3) seeing how this all relates to (certain kinds of) metaphor.

Of these three, I think the second is the hardest; Aristotle, of course, pointed out the third ages ago, and the first predates even him, besides being obvious. When I was in ninth grade I had already worked out the importance of commutativity of equation, from analogical inferences of the sort that you get in tests; it's not a difficult thing to see the potential advantages of treating analogical inferences like equations of ratios, given that this is what they really are. It's multiplication that's tricky, and, despite the fact that I only recognized its features recently, even that isn't so difficult: idempotency is pretty obvious, and someone with a better mathematical education than mine would have seen at once that it makes sense for it to be noncommutative, rather than having to think it through, tiny step by tiny step, as I did.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hutcheson on the Point of Laughter

Text not available
Reflections Upon Laughter, and Remarks Upon the Fable of the Bees and Remarks upon The fable of the bees By Francis Hutcheson, Pre-1801 Imprint Collection (Library of Congress)

He goes on to give a few additional uses that laughter (and with it ridicule) serves -- restoring perspective, correcting minor vices, etc. (Most of the work, however, is devoted to arguing against the Hobbesian theory that laughter involves a comparison with others that makes us feel superior; this more social angle is part of Hutcheson's counter-theory.)