Saturday, May 02, 2009

On Reasons to Believe Things

Sorry that so many of my posts lately have been rough, loose, and sometimes cryptic notes; I've been pressed for time when at the computer. Here's another. It would be nice to have some workable taxonomy of the the way reasons relate to what they support, one based on structural links between the reason and thing believed rather than on content. Here's a rough first attempt.

One way in which reasons for believing X might be related to X is directly: that is, the reason (defeasibly or indefeasibly) implies X (either on its own or with additional assumptions regarded as plausible). So let's call those implicative reasons.

Another way might be this. Some (relatively rare) feature or quality is taken to be desirable, and X has it. (For instance, you might think that a good explanation of moral practices should also explain ordinary etiquette; and if this is hard to find, and X allows you to explain both moral practices and ordinary etiquette, that might be taken as a reason for believing X.) Let's call those desiderative reasons, because they tell us that the thing believed conforms to certain independent desiderata.

I think we can add a third genre. A moral realist might think his moral realism to be a reason for believing some form of aesthetic realism, because they are alike, despite not thinking that moral realism implies (defeasibly or otherwise) aesthetic realism and despite not thinking that being like moral realism is itself a desideratum for an aesthetic theory. We can say that this sort of reason is an extrapolative reason, because it says that a plausible extrapolation from the original reason would, on some supposed principle of extrapolation, include the thing to be believed. I suspect that extrapolative reasons are incidental byproducts of particular combinations of implicative and desiderative reasons, but I haven't thought it through completely.

Am I missing any? And no doubt there are important structural subgenres (e.g., based on the type of implication for implicative reasons, on the type of of means-end reasoning for desiderative reasons, and on the underlying principle of extrapolation for extrapolative reasons). Are any of those of special note?


I'm sure I've actually come across this before (although perhaps did not really recognize it), and I've definitely watched the relevant episode, but Wikipedia introduced me today to the Politician's Syllogism:

We must do something.
This is something.
Therefore, we must do this.

The article attributes it to the "Party Games" episode of Yes, Minister!; I don't recall it from the show, for some reason, but it certainly fits with the story of that episode. It's certainly both a better name and a better fallacy than most fallacies you run across in fallacy lists.

It's interesting to think of how one might analyze the fallacy here, though, since it seems to me that one could analyze it in several different ways. What do you think?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Moral Certainty, Probability, and Liguori

There's a discussion going on at "Disputations" on moral certainty (here and here), and in particular with this definition from Alphonsus Liguori:

An opinion of sentiment that is morally certain, is that which excludes all prudent fear of falsity; so that the contrary opinion is regarded as wholly improbable.

This is how I would suggest parsing this.

First, we have to understand that the key issue for cases of conscience is prudence. Prudence makes a double showing here. First it appears explicitly: what is morally certain excludes all prudent fear of falsity. But it also appears implicitly: that the contrary opinion is regarded as wholly improbable. (In fact, I think that this definition is deliberately redundant -- it is a parallelism, and both clauses are two ways of making the same point.)

In other words, we are not talking of probability in our usual sense here (it is not chance of being correct, although there are etymological and historical connections between the two senses); it's a technical term. And Liguori, actually in the very passage where he gives the above definition, gives a meaning to it:

Text not available
Saint Alphonsus Liguori, or, Extracts, translated from the Moral theology of the above Romish saint By Alfonso Maria de' Liguori, Richard Paul Blakeney

(I am, by the way not comfortable getting Liguori from Blakeney; but Blakeney gives the Latin and one could in principle check that against Liguori's Latin. It's difficult to find translations of important passages of Liguori into English online, and I don't have the time to stumble through on my own. One makes do with what one has.) So here we get an idea of what probability is: a moral opinion is probable when there is "some intrinsic reason or extrinsic authority" to which a prudent person, although in doubt, might assent. (The 'extrinsic authority' here would be the authority of someone with a reputation for good judgment in difficult moral matters; and this weighing of authorities is what the casuists usually talked about in discussing probability. But, as Liguori says here, the reasons inherent to the case itself also may play a major role.)

Second, morally certain opinions occur on a spectrum of probable opinions about whether a given act would be wrong:

(a) tenuiter probabilis (slightly probable): based on some reason a prudent person would have to take into account, but not such a one as would cause a prudent person to assent to it.
(a) probabilis: based on some reason that would cause a prudent person to assent to it, although there might still be doubt.
(b) probabilior: based on some reason that would cause a prudent person to assent to it, but with some prudent fear of the contrary being true (i.e., the better of two probable opinions)
(c) probabilissima: based on some reason that would cause a prudent person to assent to it, such that the contrary is only tenuiter probabilis.
(d) moraliter certa: based on some reason that would cause a prudent person to assent to it, such that the contrary is not even tenuiter probabilis.

Tuta (safe) and tutior (safer) have to do with how much is at stake, morally. Liguori's ultimate conclusion in all this will be his aequiprobabilism: that it is morally certain that when one opinion is more probable than the other, we should follow the more probable, but when two opinions are both probable, neither definitely more than the other, then you may choose as you see fit. That is, if you have good reason to think one way definitely more prudent than the other, you should follow the more prudent way; but if both can be prudently followed, even if one is riskier, morally speaking, you may make your own judgment. It's part of Liguori's battle with tutiorism, the view that you should always follow the view that risks less morally; in his view it is wicked to try to circumvent prudence by imposing obligations solely with a view to avoid even approaching the possibility of sinning -- it is morally wrong to treat one thing as obligatory when something contrary to it is also prudent, even if riskier. For one thing, he thinks that this can often lead to the wrong course of action; for another, prudence is prudence. For another, the context for all of this is confession and spiritual direction; your confessor, however, is not your judge, and it is not his business to decide matters of genuine controversy. And all of this does require that there be genuine controversy, not in the sense that people disagree, but that people with a reputation for good and sober judgment in moral matters, giving reasons a prudent person might accept, disagree.

So 'morally certain' in Liguori's sense is not about likelihood of error; it is about what reasons can be brought for and against a moral position to see if it is consistent with good judgment. Thus I think people are conflating two different senses of 'moral certainty' in this passage. In one, something that is morally certain is 'certain enough to act on'; in another, Liguori's, it is more like 'definitely the only prudent option'.

In any case, all of this is unnecessary for the broader discussion of which it is a part; the Church has a test -- I will not say it is always simple to apply, but it is straightforward to state and doesn't require digging into confessors' manuals. Is torture morally permissible? Of course, if you can torture someone charitably and consistently with the love of the God to whose image they are made. If torturing them would impede or hinder that love for them and for God, then it is wrong. And if it is simply inconsistent with them, it is wicked. And there's very little room for doubt as to the results of such a test here -- I would say no room, except that, human beings what they are, there will be people who will take a word and stretch it to things to which it doesn't rationally apply. But that aside, it's pretty clear that torturing someone is not a way to love them.

ADDED LATER: It would be better for everyone if all those who have opinions that are at most tenuiter probabilis, and all those who have principles that are tutiorist, were to bow out. That would mean very few people left in the discussion, I am afraid. But, of course, nobody thinks the opinion to which they are inclined is tenuiter probabilis, and tutiorists always think that they are the last bastion of righteousness (and these days never think of themselves as tutiorist). It's a discussion guaranteed to be artificially sustained, regardless of anything, including the danger of scandal.

Michelangelo on Dante, by way of Longfellow

Quite the convocation of greatness. Longfellow's version of Michelangelo's poem on Dante:


What should be said of him cannot be said;
By too great splendor is his name attended;
To blame is easier than those who him offended,
Than reach the faintest glory round him shed.
This man descended to the doomed and dead
For our instruction; then to God ascended;
Heaven opened wide to him its portals splendid,
Who from his country's, closed against him, fled.
Ungrateful land! To its own prejudice
Nurse of his fortunes; and this showeth well
That the most perfect most of grief shall see.
Among a thousand proofs let one suffice,
That as his exile hath no parallel,
Ne'er walked the earth a greater man than he.

Some Rought Thoughts on Rational Grounds

The following is all very rough. I recently came across a statement of this sort:

"This clearly valid, and so if there are rational grounds for accepting its premises, to that extent there are rational grounds for accepting the conclusion...." (from here)

This sounds plausible enough, and might be meant in a reasonable sense, but it's worth noting that the inference here is not generally valid. 'Rational grounds' as a modality works like possibility (indeed, it is one possible interpretation of Lozenge in, if I'm not mistaken, D4-type modal systems). For, of course, you can have rational grounds on both sides of a question; and even if you didn't, your rational grounds might be too weak to do anything with it. And quite commonly if the following sort of argument is valid (where T is the truth operator)

Therefore Tc

you can't be sure from the form alone that the following argument is also valid (where lozenge is the rational-grounds-for-accepting operator):

Therefore ◊c

(Ta with Tb, because they validly yield Tc, by supposition, would also allow a possibility-preserving conclusion, ◊c; but ◊a with ◊b isn't possibility-preserving in every case that Ta with Tb is.) And the logical reason is fairly obvious; ◊ indicates that there is a domain where it is true. But it doesn't guarantee that everything, or, indeed, anything it is applied to in an argument is in the same domain.

So, for instance, if this is valid:

if p, q
Therefore q

you can't also assume that the following is valid:

There are rational grounds for believing that if p, q
There are rational grounds for believing that p
Therefore there are rational grounds for believing that q

It might be the case, for all we know, that our evidence leads in inconsistent directions: our rational grounds in the first premise might also be rational grounds for ~p; or our rational grounds in the second premise might also be rational grounds for ~(if p, q). Likewise, the combination of the rational grounds in the first premise with the rational grounds in the second premise might not, in fact, be rational grounds for ((if p,q) & p). For instance, you might have rational grounds for accepting that if Malebranche influenced Hume, Hume was Catholic, based on Malebranche's own, very Catholic, philosophy, and you might have rational grounds for accepting that Malebranche influenced Hume, based on Hume's own statements; but the latter might also completely rule out the possibility that Hume was Catholic. (A more complicated example, possibly: Fogelin's interpretation of Hume on miracles, which seems to trade on this.)

What you actually need is the following first premise:

If there are rational grounds for p, there are rational grounds for q.

And this is a different premise. So what we would really need in this sort of argument is not the rational grounds for thinking that (if p, q) is true -- but we would need to know that rational grounds for thinking that p bring with them, so to speak, the rational grounds for thinking that q, either because our rational grounds are actually rational grounds for accepting p and for accepting q, or, if the grounds are different in the two cases, because the existence of rational grounds for accepting p implies the existence of rational grounds for accepting q (which is different from the truth of p implying the truth of q).

Of course, when you say, "There are rational grounds for accepting that p," you could just be taking that always to mean or imply that we can presume that p is true. But that's not how we usually mean it.

Berkeley, Common Sense, and Moral Theory

Kenny on Berkeley and common sense (x-posted here):

Berkeley's project is, as he famously put it, to "think with the learned, and speak with the vulgar." His metaphysical system, he is well aware, bears no resemblance whatsoever to common sense. Nevertheless, he claims, his system preserves the correctness of common sense within its own domain. Is he correct?

My answer would be Yes, and that this is right is particularly noticeable when we actually get into the details of how Berkeley's view handles skepticism. I don't have much time to lay them out at the moment, but long story short: what Berkeley does is preserve the common-sensical view of the world as the explanandum. It is nonsense to say that any scientific or philosophical advance will show that, for instance, the sky isn't really blue. There's no sense of 'really' that can bear that distinction. The fact that it looks blue is the fact that we start with; any other explanation will simply be irrelevant. It could very well be the case that the causal explanation of this explanandum will be much, much more complicated, or much stranger than you would have thought; but failure to preserve common sense "within its own domain," as Kenny puts it, is a failure to retain relevance: you've swapped out your original explananda for something else entirely.

This actually seems to me to be a serious and fundamental difference between the sort of case Berkeley has in mind and the moral case that Richard has in mind. In a moral theory common sense does not serve as the explanandum; or, to be more exact, it only does so in a moral psychology, not in an ethics. So it doesn't seem to me that you can preserve an analogy very well across the cases. But it's the sort of thing that reminds one of the painful loss of Berkeley's sequel to the Principles, where he had laid out his own moral theory. (Berkeley wrote it out in manuscript, but the manuscript was lost and he never rewrote it.) Berkeley was a utilitarian himself, so perhaps he would have had a view of the matter similar to Richard's.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Four Poem Re-Drafts

How Strange Is That?

I felt I fell in love with you today; how strange is that?
Waiting for the bus we stopped and stayed to chat,
when suddenly and subito my head was overturned,
unbalancing my body, making blood to burn.
I'm not even sure I really caught your name!
What mischievous cupid is playing this game,
that uncanny things, ungrounded, maddening, and swift
can throw the world off kilter, make the earth to shift!
That meeting you but once, but for a little while,
I am haunted by your eyes, the flashing of your smile!
That though I hardly know you, nonetheless my brain
spins out imaginations as though your heart were gained!
But swiftly comes its death as swiftly came its birth,
and if it passes thus away, what is such feeling worth?
The merest little fizzle, a frenzy in heated brain,
and after sudden torrent nothing will remain
but strange, wry self-suspicion, memories that will fade,
and the quiet gravestone where this madness has been laid.

Heart's Leap

You are a summer morning,
golden day,
the roses brightly blooming on the way,
a vision for rejoicing,
life and breath renewing on the final mile,
mercy's fire burning,
warmth of flame,
heart's upward leaping at music in the Name.


Lightning cracks the air,
rifting night with fire:
God takes up His pen
and flicks it down the page.
The mark it leaves is madness
drawn with ink of light;
above us clouds still rumble
and glower with His grace.

Bounded Book

I am not so clearly dead
that you can roll me over,
nor am I yet a mouldered corpse
that rests beneath the clover.
My name still echoes in the minds
of people far and distant;
my life was not a leaping splash,
the breath of but an instant,
but hope outreaching to the skies
with prayered hands and dusty:
I worked to build this bounded book
that is not yet grown musty.
And though it be a simple thing,
and not a godlike glory,
no tomb has yet encircled me,
no headstone ends my story.

Nozick, Philosophy, Reasoning

Robert Nozick, The Nature of Rationality [Princeton University Press (Princeton: 1993)], p. xi:

The word philosophy means the love of wisdom, but what philosophers really love is reasoning. They formulate theories and marshal reasons to support them, they consider objections and try to meet these, they construct arguments against other views. Even philosophers who proclaim the limitations of reason--the Greek skeptics, David Hume, doubters of the objectivity of science--all adduce reasons for their views and present difficulties for opposing ones. Proclamations or aphorisms are not considered philosophy unless they also enshrine and delineate reasoning.

Which should be easy enough, given that all proclamations or aphorisms, of whatever kind, "enshrine and delineate reasoning"; it is what makes them intelligible in the first place. This whole passage, in fact, seems to me to be utterly absurd. Lepidopterologists "formulate theories and marshall reasons to support them" and "consider objections and try to meet these" and "construct arguments against other views"; how foolish it would be to conclude from this that lepidopterologists are really interested in reasoning rather than butterflies. I really do have an interest in reasoning -- it's one of the things that fascinates me about the history of philosophy although I would never say that it is what I "really love" -- and I yet constantly have difficulty getting my colleagues to step back from whatever argument they are having at the moment and look at the general patterns or strategies of reasoning involved in a discussion. And it's pretty clear that everyone has strong preferences for the particular kinds of reasoning they try to use; almost everyone leaves lots of reasoning out (as Nozick wishes to leave out many 'proclamations and aphorisms'), focusing only on what they've been trained to work with; which is not what you'd expect if reasoning were really the interest here. It is certainly true that there are philosophers who love reasoning; just as no doubt it is true that there are carpenters who love hammers; just as no doubt it is true that there are chemists who love pouring liquids into glass containers. It is also not to any serious point.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Light upon Light

Today is the feast of the fourteenth-century theologian Catherine Benincasa of Siena. She is (along with Francis of Assisi) the patron saint of Italy and a Doctor of the Church.

You can find her correspondence at Project Gutenberg. And you can find some of her theological treatises at Intratext. From her treatise on prayer:

Then that soul obeyed and rose out of herself, in order to learn the true solution of her difficulty. And the Eternal God said to her, "In order that you may the better understand what I shall say to you, I shall revert to the beginning of your request concerning the three lights which issue from Me, the True Light. The first is a general light dwelling in those who live in ordinary charity. (I shall repeat to you here many things concerning these lights, which I have already told you, in spite of My having done so, in order that your creeping intelligence may better understand that which you wish to know.) The other two lights dwell in those who, having abandoned the world, desire perfection. Besides this I will explain to you your request, telling you in great detail that which I have already pointed out to you in general. You know, as I have told you, that, without the light, no one can walk in the truth, that is, without the light of reason, which light of reason you draw from Me the True Light, by means of the eye of your intellect and the light of faith which I have given you in holy baptism, though you may have lost it by your own defects. For, in baptism, and through the mediation of the Blood of My only-begotten Son, you have received the form of faith; which faith you exercise in virtue by the light of reason, which gives you life and causes you to walk in the path of truth, and, by its means, to arrive at Me, the True Light, for, without it, you would plunge into darkness.

Something New Every Day

You really do learn something new everyday. As any reader of this weblog knows, I'm very interested in Lady Mary Shepherd, the nineteenth-century philosopher. By sheer happenstance I happened to learn today that she has a fairly well-known piece of Scottish music named after her (well, fairly well-known for its niche): Lady Mary Primrose's Favourite. (Shepherd, of course, was her married name, from Sir Henry Shepherd. She was born Lady Mary Primrose, second daughter of Neil Primrose, the third Earl of Rosebery.) I'd never heard of it before, and cannot even imagine that I would ever be in a position to listen live to a 'slow strathspey and reel', but in this glorious multimedia age, of course, you can get CDs of it. In particular, I find that it is played on the fiddle by Hugh MacGilp in his Saft-Tongu'd Melody Volume 3.

Also, in researching this strathspey, I came across this website, which had a quotation from Lady Francis Jerningham to Lady Bedingfield (29 May 1800). Lady Charlotte was Lady Mary's older sister:

Lady Charlotte Primrose’s match was not sanctioned by her parents. He is a near relation of Lady Rosebery’s, and may become Earl of Effingham, but has at present only his pay, as Colonel in the Guards. Her Bands were mutter’d over in the Parish Church, and she walked out at the Half-Door, and met Col. Howard at the end of the street, from whence they proceeded to the altar of Hymen. Lady Mary will perhaps do the same, but she is a sensible girl, and has very good taste. I had a visit a few mornings since from Lady Rosebery and her three daughters; we were all seated when a pretty young man entered. Lady Mary Coloured as red as fire and I have since felt a partiality for her.

A Precise and Tedious Strictnesse

Humphrey at Quodlibeta mentioned early modern courtesy books. Here's a useful admonition for teachers, from the most famous of the English courtesy books, Henry Peacham's Compleat Gentleman:

Text not available
Peacham's Compleat gentleman, 1634 By Henry Peacham, George Stuart Gordon

Peacham goes on to castigate the opposing error of managing your students "so that every day is play-day with them". He has some amusing stories; for instance, the teacher that swore heavily while beating his students, which he did whenever they swore.

He gives salutary advice for how parents should manage the education of their children, as well.

ADDED LATER: Somehow or other I had completely missed the nention of Socrates. The reference, of course, is to the Myth of Theuth in the Phaedrus.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Links and Notes

* On April 22, Rita Levi-Montalcini became the first Nobel-prize-winner to reach 100. (ht) Her 1988 autobiography, In Praise of Imperfection, is well worth reading.

* The exquisite Bea Arthur recently died at age 86.

* Some puzzles arising from consideration of Peirce's view of Kant.

* Some reflections on what constitutes poetry: Part I, Part II. I'm very sympathetic to the view that 'poem' should indicate any deliberately crafted verbal artifact. There is much to be said for the view that medieval cursus has as much right to be considered poetry as metric verse does. (And should perhaps be brought back! Cursus, which is a method of prose rhythm, has almost entirely been lost. When people complain about the language of, say, liturgical documents in the past fifty years, what they are complaining about, whether they know it or not, is the lack of cursus. And it hardly needs to be said that the committee-speak coming out of bishops these days would be greatly improved by a bit of leonitas or gregorianitas. But it would be of value outside of religious documents. It is cursus that allows prose to be chanted, that allows it to be declaimed, that allows it to break free from the merely conversational and rise to the truly oratorical, without requiring that one pander to the emotions of one's particular audience.)

* Marvin has a good post on Augustine and Pelagius.

* The Daily Scroll combs the Christian blogosphere for interesting links.

* Robert Dimand, David Hume on Canadian Paper Money (PDF) -- fascinating

* Massimo Pigliucci:

But Massimo, people usually ask me whenever the f-word is brought up, don’t you have faith in anything? Nope, I say, a denial that is immediately met with both bewilderment and commiseration. Don’t I have faith in my wife, for example? No, I trust her because I know her and know that she loves me. What about faith in humanity, considering that I profess to be a secular humanist? No, I have hope for the human lot, and even that is seriously tempered by my awareness of its less than stellar record throughout history.

In other words, he does, but he likes to use other words for it in order more easily to have the convenience of attributing irrationality to others. Trust and hope consistent with the best evidence are pretty standard views for what faith is. If you don't have to deal with it regularly, you have no idea how irritating the "faith is belief without any evidence" trope is. Wouldn't you think that someone, somewhere, might start getting suspicious that it is a little too convenient, might begin to think that maybe, maybe, it was a bit of wishful thinking? But no, there's not a skeptical temperament among them. The question, of course, that should be asked is, "What is the evidence for saying that faith is belief without evidence, and what limitations do the limits of that evidence place on our conclusions?"

ADDED LATER: But Massimo Pigliucci is generally reasonable, and does sometimes have good posts; like this one. (ht)

* An interesting discussion of links between early Mormon thought and Scottish common sense philosophy -- when Mormonism was forming, of course, Scottish common sense philosophy was still a major force in American intellectual life. It had been a major part of American universities since Witherspoon became the third president of Princeton just prior to the Revolution, and McCosh was giving it its last great push at Princeton starting in 1868 (his influence having started much earlier, of course). The particular link discussed here seems a bit tenuous to me, although perhaps real; but I wouldn't at all be surprised if there were other links.

* David Corfield, in order to fill out an analogy better, recently asked me if Aquinas ever argued for angels on the basis of the imperfection of human minds (i.e., the imperfections of human intelligences require that there be more perfect intelligences). This isn't the way Aquinas usually argues. But I could think of one case where he does (here). Some of my other readers might have come across other cases, though, so put them in the comments if you have. (I also mentioned that Locke seems to argue for angels in this way in Essay Bk IV ch XVI sect. 12.)


* A clever way of saying how much $100 million dollars in budget cuts is, relative to the whole U.S. federal budget. It's supermarket-coupon budget cutting; except that all that's been promised is that one coupon will be used.

* A fascinating spreadsheet that lists how much of a given nation's citizens are resident in the U.S. Almost a third of Guyana actually resides in the U.S.; about a fifth of all Jamaicans; about 1 in 10 Mexicans; about 1% of the British; about 1 out of every 1000 Chinese and likewise one one-thousandth of India; and so forth.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Poem Draft

Very rough but very heartfelt.

To My Beloved Country

Mountain-crowned and glorious expanse,
deep-canyoned and deep-hearted,
in which the wheat-sown oceans dance
and minds and freedoms are not soon parted,
sweet-honeytongued singer of the song
of freedom's hope and inalienable right,
quick to passion at injustice and at wrong,
swift to share your light!
Firewheels on hillsides without end,
bluebonnets mantling royal fields,
land where storm and grace both descend
and all things offer up a tenfold yield,
except for dreams with a hundredfold increase,
where all look to the future that may be,
where generous hearts spread, it seems, without cease,
on every side from sea to splendid sea,
alas! My heart is troubled and I fear
on nights when stars sing out a sobbing note
that none may harm your glory here
but you may slit your own fair throat.
Walk softly, walk gently, and recall,
though no barbarian can overcome your power,
that you yourself have power to bring the fall
and haste that darkest hour.
And fear! Fear Justice and her laws,
which none survive who mock and scorn.
Hold her in your heart with proper awe
that you, and I, we all, may see another morn.

Moran and the 'Courtier's Reply' II

Larry Moran replies:

The point of the Coutrier's Reply is that theists bring up these "problems" when they should be discussing whether gods exist.

The Courtier's Reply does not apply when atheists engage in discussions about the problem of evil or any other problem that theists have when they're trying to reconcile superstition and rationality. It only applies when theists try moving the goalposts—which they do all the time.

OK, I'll bite: I'll read it through with everyone to make obvious to those who don't already see it just how utterly absurd this response is. Alas, it's obvious enough that it doesn't take much in the way of reading skills; more on that later.

Let's recall the narrative background to the Courtier's Reply. It's the tale of the Emperor's new clothes. The Emperor was conned into thinking that there was such a thing as a thread that was so precious that it could not be seen by those who were stupid and unfit. Of course, when they showed him 'cloth' woven from the thread, he saw nothing whatsoever, because there was nothing to see: but thoroughly afraid to be seen as stupid and unworthy, he claimed that he saw it, and that it was very beautiful. So it goes with all the courtiers and all the people: everyone learns that the cloth is such that only the stupid and unworthy can't see it, so, afraid of admitting to being stupid and unworthy, everyone clamors when the cloth is 'shown' to them about how beautiful it is. And finally the Emperor is in parade, all the courtiers are 'carrying' the train of his new robes, and everyone in the crowd being afraid to admit to being stupid and unworthy, nobody will admit that they do not see the Emperor's clothes, and how magnificent they are. But finally a little child speaks up, and says, puzzled, "But the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes!" And from there it starts to spread until the whole crowd takes up the cry. The Emperor, says Anderson, was troubled by this, as were the courtiers; but there was no helping things now. So they continued on their way as if nothing had happened.

Now let's note some important features of this story, without which it would not make any sense.

(1) The Emperor was really and truly not wearing any clothes. Imagine trying to tell a story where the Emperor is actually clothed, and everyone starts claiming that he is not. That would radically reverse the point of the story. So it is essential to the story that the Emperor has no clothes. Otherwise it would merely be the stupidity of the crowd, not the Emperor, that was on display.

(2) Everyone could see that the Emperor had no clothes. What makes everyone look foolish in the story is that they can all see that the Emperor has no clothes, but they are so afraid of looking stupid and unfit for their various occupations that they pretend that really he does have new and magnificent clothes. Think of how the story would collapse if nobody actually could see that there were no clothes, how random and unfounded the claim that he had none would be. Think about how it would be, for an even more complicated tale, if everyone who looked actually saw clothes. It would make no sense to conclude from the story that people a thousand miles away who never saw that the Emperor was naked were foolish if they had thought the Emperor was wearing clothes; how could they possibly know? Suppose someone had told them the Emperor would be wearing his new and magnificent robes today, but they were on a business trip and so never actually saw that the Emperor was naked. Would we say they were foolish for thinking that the Emperor had new, magnificent robes? The story collapses if the people involved can't see that the Emperor has no clothes.

So let's think through what it means if, from an atheist perspective, we interpret the tale as a story about theistic religion. So the Emperor with no clothes is religion involving belief in God: it has no rational grounds, it's absurd, it's silly. Simple enough. But, one could say, even atheists walk on tippy-toes around religion because they are afraid that not treating it with respect will make them seem stupid or unfit -- they'll be an isolated voice in a crowd, and are afraid it would make them look bad to insist too much on this point. Then along comes someone -- in the Courtier's Reply it's Dawkins, so we'll go with that -- who says that the Emperor has no clothes, and, if the story were to continue to the end, everyone would stop trying to wriggle out of the obvious conclusion and take up the cry that the Emperor has no clothes, that belief in God is ridiculous. So that's how the story would unfold were there no change from the original. Notice, though, that because the story is exactly the same, the same two essential points have to be assumed:

(1) The Emperor actually has no clothes. This is the first assumption: theistic religion is irrational, absurd, silly, whatever particular form of deficiency you want to insert here.

(2) Everyone can see that the Emperor has no clothes. This is the second assumption:
All of us, that is, all of us to whom this allegory is addressed, see that theism is irrational, absurd, silly, whatever. But everyone still wants to walk softly and weasel out of the consequences of this by pretending that it's really not.

So far, so good. The Courtier's Reply changes this basic set-up by changing the ending. In Anderson's tale the courtiers simply walk off as if nothing had happened, because they've committed themselves too far. Myers suggested an alternate ending in which a courtier gives a response. Let's read through it point by point.

I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Dawkins, of course, is still the innocent little boy who's unafraid of looking stupid and unfit. So the courtier takes the high road and appeals to scholarship. Dawkins's outburst is embarrassing, he says, because he doesn't know the theological arguments he is criticizing; he has apparently not read Thomas Aquinas very closely, for instance, or considered how the excellence of religion has contributed to the masterpieces of Bernini; there are entire schools of writers who write learned treatises about God's activities in the world, and every newspaper has a religion section, because it is just that common. All these people claim that the Emperor has clothes, that theism is not silly; and Dawkins just cavalierly dismisses them all. The courtier continues:

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor's taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.

And now we see the warning rumblings we've already seen begin to bear fruit as Moran's interpretation starts to crumble. The courtier is an atheist! He doesn't really believe the Emperor is clothed, either! At the very least he suspects atheism is true even if he doesn't want to commit to it in public. And this makes sense in context. You will remember, even if Moran does not, that several the criticisms of Dawkins that Myers would have had in view were notably criticisms by atheists, and so it is not surprising that the courtier is not a theist. And you will remember, too, even if Moran does not, that there was also that flare up in the atheist blogosphere over the phrase "Neville Chamberlain atheist." Moreover, it fits with the story: the story was not that the courtiers were true believers but that they, too, were just weaseling out of having to look stupid and unworthy. In the courtier's reply it is an atheist moving the goalposts, not a theist. This is quite clear, in black and white; it is the only interpretation that fits the story without mangling it.

So what is this atheist's defense of theistic religion against Dawkins? Lots of people believe it, so who is Dawkins to burst their bubble; Dawkins is tactless in comparison with many other atheists so, he should be regarded as merely rude; he should learn theology before anyone bothers with his accusations against the Emperor. For, after all, even if the Emperor has no clothes, even if theistic religion is silly, surely there is a value to imaginary fabric, surely theistic religion is a beautiful thing that shows a lot of imagination? And that's the Courtier's Reply. And note again, for the thing to make sense in the slightest, it still has to be the case that

(1) The Emperor really has no clothes = theistic religion is absurd;
(2) Everyone involved, everyone the story's about and to whom the story is addressed, can see that the Emperor has no clothes = we all really agree that theistic religion is absurd.

Both have to be assumed for the modified tale to be applicable, just as with the original tale. If it were really a point of dispute whether the Emperor had clothes, if we brought people in who not only ignored the fact that the Emperor looked naked but sincerely and truly saw the Emperor clothed when they looked at him, the whole story would collapse. So we, and we are still working on the supposition of an atheist perspective, are telling the story to atheists, to rebuke them for their particular defense of theistic religion, to an audience of atheists. Move it out of that context, and all the assumptions of the story are no longer shared assumptions -- theists have no reason to identify theistic religion with the Emperor's clothes, and so if you tell it to them you;ll have wasted your breath. Unless you think all theists are insincere, you don't think that the theists see that the Emperor has no clothes.

What is more, the whole allegory depends on the initial allegory-making identification. Suppose we were to make an alternative identification in the original story. I know it's a bit unfair to ask that Moran think the story through twice, given that he seems to have been reluctant to do so even the first time around, but bear with me. Suppose that someone were to say, "Ah, but it's not theistic religion that should fill that no-clothes box, but the atheism of people like Larry Moran." So the new assumption is that we are all theists here, talking to theists, and our primary audience is an audience of theists, and we're trying to make ourselves feel swell by talking about how stupid atheists are. So we say that the Emperor having no clothes is the same as the 'obvious' truth that the atheism of Larry Moran is ridiculous, and we identify the fact that everyone can see that the Emperor's clothes aren't there with this supposed obviousness. The story marches on in exact parallel, because it is, after all, an allegory, and that's what allegories do when you just trade meanings; and so in this story everyone is afraid of looking stupid by stating the obvious fact that Larry Moran's atheism is ridiculous, so they all humor him and pretend that it is not ridiculous. Finally, some innocent theist who isn't afraid of looking stupid points out the obvious, and everyone laughs at the ridiculousness of Larry Moran's atheism.

But wait! Do the courtiers in this version of the story (and again, the meaning of the allegory is completely arbitrary) have to be any less clever than in the previous case? Surely not! So up will stand some clever silver-tongued atheist defender of Larry Moran's atheism and say,

I have considered the impudent accusations of the clothes-deniers with exasperation at their failure to engage in simple logic. They have apparently not realized that Larry Moran does not talk at all about any of the arguments that they give to show that problems raised by clothes-affirmers. Unfortunately, this means that the discussion tends to degenerate into classic fashion apologetics where the main goal of the person who claims that the Emperor has no clothes is to rationalize why this claim doesn't conflict with good taste.

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and these clothes deniers are such rude upstarts who lack the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of their accusations (because I don't read any of their disquisitions expanding on the subject of how the Emperor has no clothes), I should at least chide them for their very bad form.

It's amazing how few of my fellow clothes-deniers get this point. Larry Moran can always say, "The problems they talk about -- why there are people who seem to believe that the Emperor has clothes, and so forth -- are only problems on their own assumption that the Emperor has no clothes. The arguments of the clothes-deniers were invented by people who believe that the Emperor has no clothes. They needed to explain why their beliefs seem inconsistent with the real world. Many of these rationalizations are extremely 'sophisticated' as you might expect since the problem is difficult. I don't give a damn about those rationalizations no matter how many books have been written."

Imposing intellect! He seems almost as clever as Larry Moran himself, theist though he is. But, alas, the story is rigged against the valiant defender of Larry Moran's atheism: it's still the case on the assumptions of the story that

(1) He's wrong, and his opponents are right: Larry Moran's atheism is ridiculous.
(2) Everyone the story is really considering can see that the Emperor has no clothes: the story assumes that it's obvious that Larry Moran's atheism is ridiculous.

And with those assumptions, look how ridiculous that courtier's reply is. And so someone later on comes along and says, "Look, it only comes out that way because you rigged it to do so." And that someone is me, because I like fairy tales and fables and dislike people who make stupid uses of them.

But I say this while criticizing Yrral Narom's use of it. And Yrral Narom, that theistic biologist blogger in Toronto, sniffs and says,

The point of the Coutrier's Reply is that atheists bring up these "problems" with theism when they should be discussing whether gods exist.

The Courtier's Reply does not apply when theists engage in discussions about the problem of evil or any other problem that atheists have when they're trying to reconcile their ridiculous view with rationality. It only applies when atheists try moving the goalposts—which they do all the time.

To which I would of course reply, "Silly Yrral Narom; you should not misinterpret stories to people who are capable of reading them; in order to say this you have obviously not thought the story through at all." In the modified Courtier's reply it is obviously a theist who is doing the defending, and the courtier is a type of theist the other theists think are weaseling out of the plain consequences of their conclusions. (We can call them the Neville Chamberlain theists, perhaps, or could if we are also assuming that we are all adolescents.)

So what have we learned? I address you, of course, those two or three readers who actually managed to make it through a blog post this long. What have we learned? That the tale of the Emperor's new clothes crucially depends on the fact that the Emperor has no clothes, and that everyone can see that even if they are afraid to say so. That the Courtier's Reply was written for the mouth of someone who personally thinks there is reason to say that the Emperor has no clothes, and not, as Moran suggests, someone who really believes that the Emperor is clothed. That Larry Moran did not consider this story through, since he affirms the story but denies everything that makes the story make sense as an allegory; and that he did not consider that allegories are flexible things that can be reinterpreted. That it is seriously unfortunate that such an intelligent person has to be walked step-by-step through a children's fairy tale so that he doesn't get lost. And that Larry Moran, intelligent as he is, should never, ever become a spokesperson for atheism, even if paid to do it, because I can think up a more rational and consistently argued atheism than he can.

Yes, I think that about sums up what I wanted to say.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Thomas Reid on Poetic Construction

Text not available
Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man By Thomas Reid, William Hamilton, James Walker

The image at the end is very apt, I think.

Dashed Off

Bits and pieces from my compulsive note-taking. The usual caveats apply.

The opportunity costs of vices are always extraordinarily great.

"...we mount up to the knowledge of men's inclinations and motives, from their actions, expressions, and even gestures; and again, descend to the interpretation of their actions from our knowledge of their motives and inclinations." Hume ECHU VIIIpar9

Modern society is a chaos out of which a new cosmos can be born.

It is important in inquiry not to confuse illuminating forms of description with fundamental explanations; and it is one of the most difficult things as well.

We do not produce knowledge but conditions for coming to know.

grammar: ars recte loquendi et ennaratio poetarum

Aristotle's Rhetoric as a work preparatory to the Ethics & the Politics

drawing out the damp of vice

- a religious order of lawyers (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II.188.3 ad 2)

A constitution may be violated through neglect, through greed or ambition, or through contempt for the constitution itself. The first two are less bad, but frequent occurrences of them inevitably lead to the third.

A thing is contained in a constitution in two ways. First, as to its end, so that, for instance, it makes no sense to understand a constitutional obligation in such a way that it would always or for the most part conduce to civil unrest and the destruction of society. Second, as to its being established by custom as proper outward practice, such as due procedures and required writs.

necessities of nature
necessities of coercion
necessities of liberty (e.g., deontic)

A person may not only do something virtuous but also do it as a gift to another, without ceasing to do it because it is virtuous.

"The goods of the churches should be employed for the good of the poor." ST II-II.185.8

"Isaiah who, wishing to be sent, knew himself to be already cleansed by the live coal taken from the altar, shows us that no one should dare uncleansed to approach the sacred ministry. Since then it is very difficult for anyone to be able to know that he is cleansed, it is safer to decline the office of preacher." Gregory Pastor. 1.7

The perpetual danger in politics is that the politics itself will begin to be treated as a substitute for deliberation and virtue.

The active life & the contemplative life are two ways of being instructed by God through scripture. For we learn by doing and considering, and we learn the truths taught in Scripture by action in the world and prayerful contemplation.

The folly that is a sin arises chiefly from craving.

Just as the wine connoisseur is capable of discerning features of wine, so the wise are discerning of things and causes.

It is in the interests of male power to break down and hem in female virtue, i.e., the moral excellence of particular women; and htus one finds an immense amount of energy and time devoted to doing both.

We craft or articulate compositions of words, written or spoken, in order to do X, Y, Z; it is the doing of X, Y, Z that we call 'meaning'. The word on the page is not a 'vehicle' of meaning any more than a nail is the vehicle of being by a hammer.
What many people call 'meaning' is merely the propsoing of something; and things that are not essential to this proposal are treated as having nothing to do with meaning. But this is a quite arbitrary and artifical convention, useful, no doubt, for certain purposes, but hardly worthy of the privilege of general deference.

"Nature is as free as air; art is forced to look probable." Chesterton

Hume's account of belief as a sort of utilitarianism of assent

All true freedom tends toward community in common good; liberty, true liberty, is the seed of unity in friendship.

In intellectual matters it is quite common for the work of years to be undone in an extraordinarily swift instant.

Sensitive imagination is solitary; only intellectual understanding is ever really shared.

A system, like a rainbow in the sky, is seen when the light of the intellect strikes a cloud of prismatic arguments and claims.

Every moment in time is an infinite tangle of extraordinary things.

In order to maintain their power, men allow women the power to free men from burden and responsibility: contraception, abortion, etc., and they oppose these where they think they will be more burdened by allowing them. Lose-lose, the very problem itself.

Shulamith Firestone's Technological Mode is still given superiority over the Aesthetic Mode, because she treats it as the productive power. But it is precisely this that is the problem. The Technological Mode is instrumental by nature; it does not produce, and cannot produce, whatever the Aesthetic Mode envisions, any more than the ability to craft a pen can produce a poem. To pretend otherwise is in fact a perversion of proper order.

To be a parent is to be part of a community with a common good and, what is more, to be steward of that common good.

needles in haystacks of infinite size

"Wisdom will not enter a malicious soul." Wis 1:4

Modern celebration of Christmas is an odd mixture of haphazard Victorianism and systematic commercialism.

The gift of understanding perceives; the gift of knowledge judges according to human ideas; the gift of wisdom judges according to divine ideas.

sympathetic understanding of divine things

Energized and activated by divine wisdom, the wise in God live divinely and thus judge wisely.

God's grace, like rain, is sometimes gentle and nourishing and sometimes torrential and devastating. It is grace either way.

In matters of war, 'last resort' indicates that no further tribunal with the authority to redress rights and wrongs is available, and that therefore no further authority can protect the common weal.

Not everyone who despised our Lord would have had the stomach to shout, "Crucify!" Those disposed to be contemptuous were contemptuous, those disposed to flatter with lies flattered with lies, those disposed to stone stoned, those disposed to kill killed, and in every way was the Lord's anointed rejected, regardless of the refinement and civilization of those who rejected him.

llaneza / candour

the ingenuous and innocent indecencies of the nuptial bed

Virtue is an immunity to self-destruction.

parenting as spiritual formation

Who argues must cultivate an indifference to losing the argument, but an intentness on honor & virtue in the arguing.

Achieving balance in argument is one part of achieving balance in life.

the teleologies of fatherhood and motherhood, of marriage and citizenship

Parental authority has a double source, the common good of the family and the common good fo the society of which the family is a part.

Civil society bubbles up from domestic society.

Parental consent for a child is only legitimate and meaningful where there are in place recognized and stable familial norms against which the act of proxy consenting can be measured in each case.

If philosophy should, in Hume's phrase, contribute to the "entertainment, instruction, and reformation of mankind," it is clear that much academic philosophy is deficient in the first and last aspects.

Strategically speaking, law is an inefficient and clumsy instrument of change except where it merely has to provide a bit of organization to means already available.

simple solutions that are hard to find

As long as Job's friends merely sat in grief with him, they did no wrong.

a second, and more corrupt, Reformation

Physics is a modeling according to quantity of changes effected by secondary causes.

general forms of moral taste

Saying that religion gives comfort is like saying that weather is convenient.

ecological intercessions
- private property & regulated commons as stage one ecological intercessions
- this naturally raises the question of coherent, feasible, & effective stage two intercessions, in response to failures at stage one

Technical failures in medicine are easy to accept; it is moral failures that are disastrous.

Part of rational medicine is teaching the limtis of our bodies, and how to respect those limits.

pseudo-salvific institutions

the moral division of labor in pursuit of common good

Truth shines on the just and the unjust, the prudent and the imprudent, the wise and the foolish, all alike, and rains on them all alike.

Authority makes possible common participation in great and worthy endeavors.

an apologetics of reverence and gentleness and clear conscience

Without prudence good interferes with good and inquiry with inquiry.

Some of the things -- many things -- that come into our minds do so as candidates for thought, formed by imaginative association, rather than as things to which we actually assent. And it is a good thing; much of our social life requires entertaing possibilities that we do not believe.

idleness : carefulness :: sloth : joy

A purely formal dialetheism would be acceptable as an account of equivocation.

A: Responsibility is grounded in relational being.
B: No doubt; when I try to murder someone, I am in relation to him, and so have the responsibility to murder him effectively.

Authority is acquired by moderation.

The defenders of the faith often fail in their task by conceding what has no business in the discussion beyond the fact that their opponents insist upon it because it is convenient from them to do so. The battlefield must always be determined from the nature and truth of the subject, not from a desire to fight only on one flank.

sketches of philosophies that may never be

urgency, impact, trend

They play as if it were tic-tac-toe a game infinitely more complex!

Hume's counterpoise theory, & more generally the vivacity theory, can be seen as an attempt to give an account of 'the ring of truth' (or of falsehood).

What in a categorical proposal of an argument is an inference, in a hypothetical proposal is an implication, the inference being different.

Socratic politics: It is better to endure the wrongs of the world than to do them.

Societies need some conception of the good in matters of law in order to distinguish real harms from merely apparent harms.

There are many cases where it may be rational to praise people who do not strictly deserve it -- e.g., encouragement.

congruous vs. condign praiseworthiness

Laws are more like premises than like conclusions.

There are, perhaps, as many different meanings to 'mind', 'thought', and 'belief' as there are to 'gene' or 'species'.

Fraternal correction presupposes forbearance with the weak.

We ought to give alms to many, in order that many might be profited.

the fruits of repentance: the righting of wrongs, protection of the poor, and a new, God-pleasing life

The dead are the most ruthless rivals.

the nascency & coalescency of things

jangles of history & apocrypha

Fear and hope are dangerous in politics, being the fuel of tyranny.

What is the context for Enlightenment? According to Kant it is benevolent despotism: allow people to argue as much as they please and hold whatever views they please, but make them obey.

Superstition is quackery of the soul.

Reading the Talmud is like reading a Summa if it consisted entirely of objectiones and sed contras.

The study of Torah is not work but rest.

the logistical lines supporting the front line of argument

It makes no sense to speak of commensurability (or lack thereof) without at least some notion of the type of unit of measure involved.

The phrase "that than which no greater can be thought" is constrained by the context of Christian prayer & meditation whence Anselm explicitly derives it.

Rational postulates are free judgments conducive to practical purposes and harmonizing with theoretical requirements of reason, which thereby may be assumed as a foundation for further reasoning; they thus function as practically sanctioned permissions for reasoning.

If we genuinely ought to promote an end, that end must be possible or the means-end reasoning required for promoting the end becomes incoherent.

things that assure us without giving us knowledge

solving problems by nibbles

quibbles for a good purpose (e.g., clarification)
quibbles without purpose

Validity is really necessity-preserving; truth-preservation and possibility-preservation follow trivially from this.

A considerable part of human learning is using what is learned to discipline our use of images, to regularize and correct the way we imagine. But this is much harder than it sounds.

That an unexamined life is not worth living does not on its own imply that an examined life is worth living. Examination is naturally seen as a remover of impediments.

Love as an act of will widens our understanding, giving us a perspective that allows us richer and deeper thought about the good loved. It does not in itself guarantee such thought or richer understanding, because that requires intellectual activity beyond love itself; but it does make it possible.

the exordial function of proverbs

'Analytic philosophy' is a rhetorical approach to persuasion that emphasizes logos-relevant inventio and treats lucidity as the primary feature of an ideal style, and was originally chiefly applied to topics of speculative grammar.

Topics is that whereby one disputes and reasons not by chance or trial and error but by art and skill.

four orders of argument: Every argument takes the subject and attributes one of four things to it:
(1) a definition (or part thereof)
(2) a proper & convertible predicate
(3) a predicate that assigns the subject to a kind
(4) an incidental predicate

People reward the virtue of those who are free, not those who are slaves.

The living body is the soul interacting the with the physical world.

It is contrary to the evidence of experience to say that we only judge things good because we want them.

Rationality is a way of pursuing the good.

None can be enlightened who cannot be enthused.

The only legitimate way to do polemics is to know what your opponents are talking about better than they do.

What is bad for the unjust is merely difficult for the just.

newspaper editorials as a source of information about popular philosophy

One can imagine a process of taking 'ice cores' in the history of philosophy: rather than following the circulation of ideas, picking a static point (e.g., a university) and following the shift of ideas over time at that point; and then comparing these various samples.

The one and only mark of a good philosopher is doing well and believing well.

Hope is effective of love, productive of joy, perfective of works.

the liquescent neumes of thought

No one has a properly Christian view of omnipotence unless in that view the most perfect expression of omnipotence is mercy.

Fighting a war is like breaking bones: you may reasonably break a bone to reset it, and you may fight a war to fix a defective peace; but it is absurd to claim that every breaking of bones is a medical resetting of them.

Benevolence is embryonic friendship.

three forms of theodicy
justification defenses
reasonable doubt defenses
procedural defenses

Algorithms are only as substrate neutral as they are designed to be.

Science is taught in two different but interconnected ways: imagistically & doctrinally. For reasons related to this, it is very difficult for scientists to counter the popular tendency to make scientific concepts they have been taught more local & practical, deviating from scientific correctness. And even those who know the science doctrinally may (and often do!) slip back into thinking with the images.

instantiation & generalization of arguments

Nonrational animals have more in common with us than angels do.

To love oneself rightly one must see oneself rightly.

Love is a good that we desire for those we truly love.

Every virtue is an extension of the range of free choice, as every athletic excellence is an extension of physical feats that might be performed.

The virtue of the blessed entirely fills their potential for it; thus it has become inseparable from them. But our virtue does not fill our potential for it.

Drawing false conclusions from true principles disposes us to accept false principles.

What kindles charity quenches craving.

The more charity increases the more its ability to be increased increases.

The vyapti relates pervader and pervaded, but doesn't localize it; this requires paramarsha.

economics as logical analysis of human action in matters of exchange

Reason, to be healthy, must breathe; and the breath of reason is love for the good. Without this love we have not reason but corpses of reason, patterns of thought settled into a sort of death-like rigidity, distractions without warrant, reasonings without purpose, claims without grounding, games of words that have no soul, zombies of true thought, animated not from within but marched upon a stage like puppets. It gives to rationality its warmth and its force, its power and its grace, its seriousness and its joy.

It is pointless to follow an argument wherever it leads if youa re nto then willing to check the result you get against what you know and understand.

praising God with well-wrought stories and pure reasonings

Probabilities are cause-dependent; change the underlying causal system and you change the probabilities.

We determine what is extraordinary not on the basis of probabilities, but by contrast with the ordinary class for which we have some account.

reminders, threats, and promises as precepts

restraint as a symbol of respect

Filial fear makes possible two acts, on pertaining to dread of separation from God, which the blessed do not have, and one pertaining to trembling wonder at the manifestation of His glory, for which they in some sense have greater occasion than we. Thus the fear of the Lord is always holy, enduring from age to age.

respect : justice :: mercy : hope

the arduous superintelligible

the acts of hope: to trust, to pray, to love

Trust is an ambiguous term, insofar as it may be acceptance of the true or of the good.

There is a love that is an act of hope, a sort of love of God as desirable for oneself, an incomplete love that only finds completion in charity, which loves God in Himself and for His own sake, as a friend.

All moral virtues are natural symbols of the virtue of charity, but justice is especially so.

the First Rule unruled by other rules

To trust, to pray, to befriend: this is the threefold task of the saint.

Prayer is the most natural expression of hope. To hope is not to wish but to pray.

A consumerist society is a society of people with leaky jars, terrified of resignation and restraint, which they cannot distinguish from the quiescence of stones and corpses.

to learn, to teach, to meditate, to remember.

"Every human act is good that attains reason or God Himself." ST II-II.17.1

philosophy as a remedy for three vices:
(1) culpable ignorance
(2) mental blindness
(3) dullness of mind
But clearly it is not mere argument that provides treatment for any of these; rather, it is genuinely philosophical dialectic. Genuine philosophical dialectic is (1) rational (2) communal and (3) concerned with truth and goodness.

26th of April 1711, Old Style

Today is (in a sense) the anniversary of Hume's birthday. As he says:

I was born the 26th of April 1711, old style, at Edinburgh. I was of a good family, both by father and mother: my father's family is a branch of the Earl of Home's, or Hume's; and my ancestors had been proprietors of the estate, which my brother possesses, for several generations. My mother was daughter of Sir David Falconer, President of the College of Justice: the title of Lord Halkerton came by succession to her brother.

Hume doesn't note here that the 'Hume' spelling was entirely his own innovation: none of the other Homes at that time chose to use it. David's reasoning was that it was only if you spelled it that way that the English would pronounce it in anything like the correct way, and David was an Anglophile, and spent much of his career trying to be accepted by respectable English society.

'Old Style' indicates that the date was according to the Julian rather than the Gregorian calendar. Britain only adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. So today's the anniversary of Hume's birthday only in a sense; in the Gregorian calendar, unless I miscalculated (which is entirely possible -- I find intercalendar conversions extraordinarily confusing), Hume was born on May 7. But it would still be the anniversary if (as one might and as, in fact, I find that philosophers tend to do) one chose to ignore the fact that it's technically according to a different calendar than the one we actually use.

Incidentally, I think it is also the Julian anniversary of Thomas Reid's birthday; he was born April 26, 1710 -- and I believe that was 'Old Style', too.

Moran and the 'Courtier's Reply'

Larry Moran suffers what looks like a complete lapse of critical thought in a recent post on the so-called 'Courtier's Reply'. As he puts it:
Atheists and theists often discuss the existence of God. Unfortunately, these discussions often degenerate into classic Christian apologetics where the main goal of the theist is to rationalize why his or her god doesn't conflict with rationality.

Before long they are rambling on about how to resolve the problem of evil or why god doesn't reveal herself. These problems only exist once you've accepted the premise that there is a god/spirit. This sort of apologetics has nothing to do with the fundamental question of whether god exists in the first place.

Now, Moran is usually pretty reasonable; but this argument is so thoroughly absurd and irrational that he should be ashamed to have put it forward. Let's abstract from the situation a bit to show why. Take a position, A, and a contrary position, B. Now suppose that A gives an objection to B. To this objection, B responds with an argument, whether good or bad, that the objection fails. To which A replies, "This sort of apologetics has nothing to do with the fundamental question of whether B is true in the first place." But this is demonstrably false, of course; B's argument was dealing with an objection put forward by A. What A is trying to do is irrational: he's trying to rig the argument so that his objections are never answered, independently of whether they can be, by dismissing any answer that might be made to them as 'apologetics that have nothing to do' with the original question.

So it is here. The reason theists talk about the problem of evil or the problem of hiddenness is that atheists typically raise these as objections to theism. To say that they have "nothing to do" with the original issue is to show that you have lost all interest in serious analysis of the argument and are merely trying to spin things your way. This is a fundamental problem with certain noisy atheists today: they argue like IDers of the least honest sort, because this is, in fact, a standard ploy of a certain kind of ID theorist -- to every response the evolutionist puts forward to an ID argument, they reply that this really has nothing to do with the fundamental question of whether evolution can really explain apparent design and, like Moran with theists, they take any sort of sophistication as a sign that evolutionists are merely trying to wriggle out of an obvious point. And this sort of response is wrong for general logical reasons, not merely domain-specific ones: to make it takes extraordinary, and baffling, ability to ignore the actual structure of the argument when it suits one. Reasonable people, on the other hand, will point out that arguments are bad rather than try to rig things so that their opponents can't respond to objections. It may well be the problem of evil is only a problem on theistic assumptions, if it is one; but that means precisely that reasonable assessment of the state of the argument requires looking to see whether it really is a problem on theistic assumptions or whether it only looks that way due to superficial analysis. If you are going to claim that someone faces a problem on their own assumptions, it's irrational to shout "Unfair!" when they try to show that, in fact, it is not a problem on their assumptions.

In any case, Moran has completely missed the point about the 'Courtier's Reply' that more reasonable atheists than he have liked about the story: namely, rather than taking it to show that arguments are irrelevant (which is frankly silly, and shows that Moran has not thought this matter through) they take it to show one way in which an argument can go bad -- namely, by a set of subtle red herrings. For that is, in fact, what the 'Courtier's Reply' is: a parable about fallacies of irrelevance used to muddle up considerations of relevance themselves. But it does not show that any particular argument is irrelevant, much less that any particular group of arguments is irrelevant, nor does it show that one's opponent is confusing what's relevant. That depends on (1) the quality of the grounds for thinking that the Emperor has no clothes in the first place; and (2) acceptance of those grounds by the opponent combined with a refusal to accept the consequences. You will recall that Myers, contrary to Moran's suggestion in the post, came up with the 'Courtier's Reply' to deal with people who accepted that the Emperor had no clothes, but denied that this was relevant. That is, the Courtier's Reply is given by someone who sees, or accepts that someone sees, the grounds on which the claim is made -- all the signs are there, the "dangling genitalia" as Myers puts it -- but claims that this merely shows that the person appealing to these grounds has no taste, and can't appreciate the finer points of imagination. And that is all: it's about weaseling out of a conclusion you already accept. The people it fits are atheists who accept that there is no God (although possibly also fideists who accept that there is no reason to think that God exists) but claim that to point this out is bad taste and shows a lack of sophistication. By transferring this without any modification to people who really believe that the Emperor is clothed -- who deny that the grounds for thinking the Emperor is unclothed are good grounds -- Moran has mangled the whole thing rather badly. The parable only works if the Emperor is, in fact, naked, and if everyone in the discussion sees that. You can see that this is, in fact, required for the argument if you actually read the thing. If nothing else, we lose the second requirement in the transition to theists.

It's unfortunate, too, because it makes Moran seem more unreasonable than he probably is. He ends by saying that he would be happy to discuss evidence for theism. This would sound somewhat more sincere if he hadn't just finished giving an argument for why he doesn't have to listen to any responses to any objections he might raise against this purported evidence. It could be that Moran just is not interested in the problem of evil or the problem of hiddenness -- that is, that either he doesn't actually regard those as fatal problems or that he doesn't think he is the one to be developing such objections. And then it would be reasonable to say that you really don't care what theists are saying in response to them. I suspect that this is what is really going on -- that he just doesn't have an interest in that particular kind of discussion. And that can be entirely reasonable. But it is also a personal thing, dependent on one's own particular circumstances; by trying to raise it into some general rational principle he is simply saying that atheists get to cherry-pick from the arguments on the table.

UPDATE: Larry Moran replied, denying the interpretation of the story. So you can see for yourself that he has mangled, and continues to mangle, the whole Courtier's Reply, you can continue reading here.