Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cyborg Name

Biomechanical Robotic Android Normally for Destruction and Online Nullification

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Immediate Success

Now, what is the illusion proper to Machiavellianism? It is the illusion of immediate success. The duration of the life of a man, or rather the duration of the activity of the prince, of the political man, circumscribes the maximum length of time required by what I call immediate success, for immediate success is a success our eyes may see....Yet immediate success is success for a man, it is not success for a state or a nation; it may be...a disaster according to the duration proper to state-vicissitudes and nation-vicissitudes. It is with regard to immediate success that evil and injustice enjoy a seemingly infinite power, a power which can be met and overcome only by a heroic tension of the antagonistic powers. But the more dreadful in intensity such a power of evil appears, the weaker in historical duration are the internal improvements, and the vigor of life, which have been gained by a state using this power.

[Jacques Maritain, The Range of Reason, Scribner's (New York: 1952) p.149.]

One of the things that is very noticeable whenever I teach the Gorgias is that my students have difficulty sorting these two perspectives out: they, like most people in our society, have an equivocal notion of success which occasionally ties them in knots. They accept the Sophistic conception of success -- getting whatever you'd like to have -- but also a Socratic conception that places success in the doing of justice, and the two mix as well as oil and water. It is always very difficult to get them to set aside the former for the moment in order to see that from the latter perspective the former is illusory; and the most common move, a perfectly understandable move, is to try to have both, to have their cake and eat it too. But all this ever leads to is switching back and forth in an ad hoc fashion. As I always point out to them when they try to describe a good politician, from a Socratic perspective they are simply saying that they want a Callicles-style man of nature who agrees with them. They never quite like that. But they never quite manage to find their third alternative, either. They can see that from one perspective the success of the unjust is the success of a cancer cell; but holding onto the perspective of the common good of civilization, even if only to trace out the consequences, they find difficult. And I think they are fairly representative of our society at large. We like to think ourselves practical, and what is more practical in appearance than immediate success? And, after all, if you judge cells in the body on their ability 'to get things done', on one way you can take that phrase, the cells that really get things done are the cancerous ones. And so the hunt is on for a controlled cancer that has only beneficial effects....

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hannam on the Conflict Thesis

James Hannam has a fairly nice little article at the Guardian's "Comment is free" space on the conflict thesis. One of the nice things about it is that it recognizes the fundamental issue of the conflict thesis: namely, that it does not depend on one's personal philosophical views of the nature of religion or, for that matter, the nature of science, but on the evidence to which those philosophical views must be held: the actual history of science. The importance of this is not to be downplayed. It's still not utterly impossible to argue for a conflict thesis historically, and perhaps never will be, given just how much work has to go into thorough refutation of views of history; the argument for it at this point, however, would have to be extraordinarily complex, because all routes to a simple conflict thesis have been pretty thoroughly blocked since the days of White and the like. Any version of the conflict thesis that is seriously put forward will have to deal with this fact, that virtually every major historical advance in the field has shown itself problematic for the conflict thesis: this or that particular religious doctrine understood this or that particular way may conflict with this or that particular scientific conclusion at this or that particular stage of scientific inquiry, but the historical evidence that one proves to be a serious obstacle to the other has steadily grown weaker over time. The evidence suggests the rather weaker conclusion that people can force a conflict when they want to, and here and there can back themselves into corners they can't see a way out of, but that's the whole of the conflict. There is no monolith Religion opposed to a monolith Science, however much we may reify them. You can have conflicts between them here and there that can be put in terms of something religious conflicting with something scientific, just as you can have conflicts between particular claims made by politicians and particular scientific conclusions, but the evidence for the two is about the same, and a general conflict thesis for Religion and Science is no more reasonable, on the historical evidence, than a general conflict thesis for Politics and Science.

It's important to recognize for another reason. You can still find people citing White's 1874 book as proof of the conflict thesis as if the discipline of history. That's lag -- there's folk history as well as folk science, and it can be harder to stamp out, and there will probably be people fifty years from now still citing White as if historical research were incapable of moving beyond him. But it's also become easier to challenge, and as proponents of various versions of the conflict thesis have found history less and less amenable to their point, they have slowly begun to vacate the historical ground and argue that there is a general philosophical opposition in their 'spirit' or 'approach'. Thus the grounds for the conflict thesis become ethereal: it is irrelevant (the argument goes) whether scientists have been religious, or religious people have been scientific, or if there have been times when scientists were inspired to scientific discovery by this or that philosophical view, or if there have been reasonable people who saw no conflict. All irrelevant. What matters is that they are somehow conceptually opposed: if you try to put them together you get an inconsistency. This way of arguing, like the other, runs up against the monolith problem again: we have no good reason to think that there is One Universal and True Account of What Religion Is, and no good reason to think that there is One Universal and True Account of What Science Is, and certainly no good reason to think that the conflict theorists have them. Indeed, 'religion' is just a colloquial term whose meaning changes massively depending on context, and 'science' was coined not to describe a unified field but a vast array of very different fields of philosophy that happened to make distinctive use of what were seen as 'inductive' or 'experimental' methods; it would be astonishing if conceptual analysis could boil them down so straightforwardly, as if we had magically hit on the natural classification, and carved nature perfectly at the joints, our first time at bat. But even if they did have the magic accounts that could show the conceptual incompatibility, they could only show that they did by looking at the historical evidence that shows what, in fact, people have said, believed, and done religiously and scientifically, and showing that Religion and Science as they understand them do in fact describe what people like Max Planck and others were doing. As I always tell people (but being a historian of philosophy myself, I am perhaps oversensitive to the point), that there is no avoiding the actual evidence of history even by abstract philosophy. Evidence: you can't really do without it. And while this particular topic is one where the evidence is especially complicated and tangled, and where the history runs right up to the present time, and thus is continually accumulated (sometimes in surprising ways), it's to the history that we have to go for evidence. Moving to philosophical territory does not make the argument simpler; quite the reverse, in fact.

Thus, as conflict theorists have increasingly had to resort to begging the question and making things up, it is important to nail their arguments to the actual evidence. And while the CiF space doesn't give much room for doing this, Hannam does a fair job in the limited space available.

I do have one criticism; it's a conflation that Hannam is actually carrying over from Coyne and others, which I think would be helpful to resolve into distinctions. Coyne builds his anti-accommodationism on a conflict thesis and has not, at least as far as I have seen, taken the trouble to distinguish them. In fact, accommodationism is not a thesis about science and religion but a thesis about the best practical policy for some end -- in the current context, the debate has been about the ends of scientific pedagogy (especially with regard to evolution). It is possible to accept the conflict thesis but also accept accommodationism in this context (e.g., if you think that the only alternative is the collapse of scientific education, or if you think in fact it is unavoidable in our current culture); and it is possible to reject the conflict thesis but reject accommodationism (e.g., if you think that as a practical matter organizations like the NCSE, whatever their intentions, are only likely to make things worse in cases where conflicts occur or are perceived to occur). The two are relevant to each other -- most of the anti-accommodationists stake their claim on some form of the conflict thesis, and likewise most of the accommodationists stake their claim on the rejection of it -- but the argument would be more illuminating and fruitful if we took the trouble to distinguish the two up front. There are forms of anti-accommodation that are not tied to the conflict thesis, and forms of accommodation that are not tied to its rejection. But for those cases where there is a clear tie, it's good to hold the conflict thesis to the actual evidence.

Dashed Off

Various jottings, notes, and reminders to myself, gathered from my notebook. As always, to be treated as pollen rather than fruit.

Effects are said to be necessary or contingent according to how they proceed from their causes; but causes can be said to be necessary or contingent either according to what they are in themselves or according to how they cause their effects.

Questions are constructed on the basis of prior assumptions.

legislature : universality :: judiciary : analogy
- the two kinds of stability are different, for one is normative over cases & the other is the similarity of precedent case and current case; the one resolves to principles in general matters, the other dialectically approximates them in particular matters.

Every agent acts by virtue of its form. Each natural agent has one such form, but intellectual agents in addition to their natural forms have many intellectual forms, any of which can inform their wills, in light of which they may act.

If you show no mercy to the errors of others, you do not leave them sufficient room to learn.

We live in a sort of dark age in which people are starved for reason, whcy htey get only in small rations. And, as what they have always received has been weak and watery, they think all reason is of this weak and watery sort. What can they know of the draught of life poured forth by a master brewer?

If you come away from an argument justifying yourself, you should be suspicious. Let others vindicate you, if vindication there be; as for yourself, forego it and instead strive to learn and improve.

People are never bigots because they intend to be bigots; rather, they see themselves as having a serious regard for facts. But their facts are not facts at all but ill-founded generalizations, the accepting of which fails to do justice to real, living people.

The problem with following the argument where it leads is that arguments are engineered.

Managing not to do harm is the greater part of diplomacy.

Irrationality is not something one merely has or not; like dust it accumulates in layers.

The heart of every nation is its great poetry.

Every society has an immanent common good, that which is good in the society, and a transcendent common good, that for which the society is good, and the immanent is subordinate to the transcendent.

One task of the philosopher is to trace out, for everyone to see, the common good of civilization.

Without friendship there is no happiness of any non-illusory sort; even beatitude requires friendship with God.

One may approach the thought of St. Thomas as a rival among other systems, or as something prior to the others and explicative of what is good in them. The former, where the other systems are coordinately opposed, we may call minimal Thomism, and the latter, where they are subordinately opposed, we may call maximal Thomism. One may, of course, be minimal & maximal in different ways, much as Thomism itslef is in some ways minimal Aristotelianism and in most ways maximal Aristotelianism. The two are both genuinely Thomistic; but in many ways the minimal and the maximal Thomist will not understand each other; and the maximal Thomist will say many things that the minimal Thomist will not consider properly Thomistic (rather than merely analogous to what is properly Thomistic) at all, for the maximal Thomist will accept other philosophical systems in light of Thomistic principles, and will not simply lay out the Thomistic view but develop it, for the maximal Thomist will see minimal Thomism as merely the residue of one stage of living Thomism.

The fruit of anguish is not more anguish but victory or defeat.

The end of an inquiry is always somewhat beyond its subject, for the end of an inquiry into X is the cause or reason for X.

inferential, constructive, and heuristic modes of reason

Theological metaphors and images create liturgical and religious affordances.

Were sex never procreative it would have no more moral importance than burping. But as procreative, it takes on great significance: symbolically, since in sex partners personate all humanity, insofar as humanity is a continuing thing, and teleologically, insofar as the continuation of humanity is a good thing, and religiously, insofar as sex then becomes a subcreative or co-creative act, a partnership with the Creator and Conserver of the world.

Reason is inherently social in part because it allow sthe formulation of some description of common good or end.

We can speak of a sort of natural selection of ideas because in a sense the higher one goes in the scale of mind, the more one finds the match of the flexibility, adaptability, and aptitude to survive of a whole species in one mind. Thus mind imitates nature: the mark of more and more powerful cognition is the ability to match in one mind a greater and greater portion of the problem-creating and solution-finding ability of life generally.

In a political dispute, people will converge on the intersection of their self-interest and the perceived public interest, or on those points that are closest to being such.

Equivocation is the devil's playground.

In order to stand, large-scale generalizations about classes of people or ideas require the definition and analysis of comparison classes, in order to eliminate alternate possibilities. This is espectially true when the generalizations are about causal factors or about harms and benefits.

sympathy that leadds to fear & hope
sympathy that leads to judgment of right & wrong
- the latter requires training

"they worshipped but doubted"

peeves as social allergens

prayer of simple will
prayer of deliberate will

The means for upholding justice can become means for holding it up.

Goodness takes on the fragility of the material in which it is found.

With jokes we give our social reasoning skills exercise.

Risibility manifests rationality not as to vocalization but as to object and motive. That is, we laugh from humor at things presented to reason. For 'sense of humor' is a name for reason under one of its aspects.

As knowledge accumulates it becomes increasingly more important to ask the questions that are most meaningful and relevant.

Icy hearts have low tensile strength; they shatter easily under impact.

diffraction around the edge of grace

We often only notice those rare cases of self-deception in which we catch ourselves in the act, or are forced by circumstances to recognize it in hindsight; but we have every reason to think that it is common. That even saints sometimes have to worry about it on a daily basis is clear enough from their writings. Some such cases are trivial, some are venial faults, and some the very hand of spiritual death upon us.

Choice is the will precisely as rational.

Sensitive appetite may be will by participation.

Many sophisms arise from taking predications without regard for the reason underlying the predication.

Christ wondered (Mt. 8:10) in order to teach us also to wonder at great faith.

ignorance, proneness toward evil, and obstinacy toward well-doing

You can learn more about critical thinking from the myths of Plato than from all the critical thinking courses in the world.

Ideas that rule centuries are not thought in a day.

affection as habituated sympathy

Backlash is not to be trusted even when it comes bearing arguments.

How extraordinarily absurd it would be to be 'about to embark on your quest for happiness'; it would be like getting your mind ready for the process of actually thinking.

To see an apple I do not need to be familiar with every part of that apple.

the sportive science

conversion of one argument into another
-premise transformation
-premise analysis
-premise combination
-rule shift
-argument addition
-argument subtraction
-premise shift

People provoked will fight back; it is remarkable how little we remember this.

logical concepts
0-agent (e.g., implication)
1-agent (e.g., inference)
2-agent (e.g., dialectic)

History of philosophy is often like an n-body problem, where n may be either small or great.

ren & yi in HoP (Tang Junyi): benevolence (to tolerate & not detroy philosophies), righteousness (to criticize them)

To think critically is to recognize that even your thoughts are open to being judged.

the sense and reference of geometric points and lines

the form, the shape, the veins of jade

You have no business arguing with people unless you would be willing, really willing, to be crucified for their good, if that were required.

Because the external & internal senses do double duty, for the needs of animal life and for intellectual activity, they have limitations in both directions that should be considered--one feature may be better tailored to animal life than to understanding, and so on.

Knowledge of singulars belongs to the perfection of the intellect, but as practical.

defeasible approximations to rigorous demonstrations

to pray with images
An icon is a public prayer by an iconographer.
We may pray as well with the phantasms of our imagination.
Such prayer is merely a steppingstone to the prayer of understanding, but it is prayer beyond what is common today.
The symbols and gestures of liturgy are prayers with physical images.
The prayer of physical symbols is merely a steppingstone to the prayer of communion with Christ in the Eucharist, but even this prayer is too often debased.
Scripture itself induces prayer by calling up images to be offered to God.
By these images all people may be more closely united to Him.
Even in those who have the prayer of understanding, and have their minds charged with the energies of God, the prayer of images is important.
As in an old church the laity glimpse the eucharist through an iconostasis, so can the prayer of understanding be reached even by the simple and ordinary, through and because of the iconostasis and not despite it.
Two kindred errors: to go no farther than the iconostasis of our minds, and to wish it to be invisible.
Some are granted to assist the Spirit in the prayer of understanding and the rest of us to view the mystery of the Spirit offering that prayer for us through the great cloud of witnesses, images gathered around the altar.
As flickering candles represent the Sun of righteousness, so the images of our minds represent the divine things.

correlate, supplement, transcend

We do not have to start from the special sciences and build up to metaphysics because things known to all descend on the special sciences from metaphysics; although, of course, how these things fare in the special sciences can be an indirect test of the adequacy of the metaphysical reasoning underlying them.

No matter how enlightened the governance, a people can only take so much intervention and imposition from above before they begin to be debased by it.

Some second chances, like some favors, come at too high a price.

Love makes the only truly permanent matches; wishful thinking makes the rest.

Prudence forms situations conducive to virtuous action.

As dawn to the candle on the foggy window, so heaven to the life of the saints on earth.

Words that flawlessly describe the night do not carry over to the dawn.

Who cannot think of something in many different metaphorical ways usually does not understand it.

Every thriving field of study has a rich and a bare form of discourse (sometimes more than one of either). Each is used under different conditions, and the elimination of either is bad for the discipline.

the universal ocean of poetry

art as an organon & document of philosophy

knowledge that is shadowy and mixed with darkness

The poet lacks the prophetic light that gives the prophet true judgment about things imagined; he is like Pharaoh dreaming of corn and cattle.

Poetic talent is given to a person for the profit of others; but it can happent that someone not morally good can still be of profit to others in his or her poetic work. And likewise not every good person is very fit to be a poety, for some who lack virtue are gifted with natural clarity of mind and agility of imagination, and some who are virutous lack these things, or are too busy with other, more important, things to hone the relevant skills. Thus there is no unfairness in wicked people being great poets or saints being bad poets, although, of course, saints and virtuous people who are great poets, like Ephrem the Syrian or John of the Cross, are a great treasure. The good have the better part, for their very lives are poems of God, and some of the immoral serve the good by their talents in the long run, whether they will it or nill it. And so it is with every other talent of value.

reaching truth through well-founded intimations (knowledge through veils)

Kant's account of genius as an account of free verse (or the beginnings of one)

argumentative fallback positions

the picturesque verb with exact meaning

the three reasons for doing a good thing: necessity, utility, congruity

The Christian is called to seek God reasonably by faith, which seeks the light of God's truth, eagerly by hope, which seeks the glory of His majesty, and ardently by love, which seeks the sweetness of His goodness.

Moral life is from God as effect from cause, as splendor from light, as type from archetype.

seven routes of spiritual understanding
(1) faith
(2) humility
(3) endurance of bitter evil
(4) love of one's neighbor
(5) penitent sorrow
(6) fervent prayer
(7) reverential hearing of holy Scripture

The validity of disjunctive syllogism is linked to the principles of division.

to reason with honor, bravery, and vision

searches as desiderative reasoning

Words are signs of the secrets of hearts.

rights as a hybrid concept
-not all rights can be on a level because they involve different blends of more fundamental things

injective & surjective analogy

humor as the interaction of incongruous things under harmless aspect

the principle of reciprocity as a key feature of critical thinking
- the minimal analogy test

What counts as a reasonable question is determined by means-end reasoning.

the pleasant mortifications and embarrassments of love

the reverse engineering of arguments & positions

The soul of worship is singleness of heart.

symbolic utilities in rhetorical arguments

Something becomes relevant to utility only iin light of one's ends.

"Il faut être toujours ivre." Baudelaire

We should trust least those of our words that satisfy most easily.

Reasons are not evidences, but some reasons are uses of evidence.

Plausibility is often measured by the ease with which analogous cases can be brought to mind.

The structure of every society penalizes some ways of believing and rewards other ways of believing.

An ocean of doubt, uncertainty, and contradiction is a challenge to be met; there is adventure on those high seas, and if one sailor may not conquer, a civilization might.

A good scientific theory is a viable template for inquiry.

languor, language, love, & light

In the language of friendly discourse, mind and mind run together like drops of quicksilver.

In sacred scripture, as in the stalk of a plant or the body of an animal, we find many paths of circulation: now up through positive theology to the ineffabilities of mystical theology, now down from mystical theology through negative theology, now from negative theology to positive theology, like so many veins & arteries & capillaries.

Our food denied, we will devour poison.

extrapolative reasons as associative

Not all truths can be distinctly enumerated.

cities that are survival-sustainable

seasoning deductive arguments with appeals to experience

Light is the precondition for genuine fellowship.

One may regret what one does not resent.

The mechanical craftsman or artisan does genuine scientific wrok, but does it in a sporadic, rule-of-thumb way suitable for the rough-and-tumble of practice and production, rather than in a systematic and increasingly precise way for the improvement of theory. Of course, what counts as 'rule-of-thumb' and 'sporadic' will vary from field to field, since some crafts presuppose a higher level of precision than others.

In discovery we aid the ascent of reason by the wings of imagination, small though they be.

The Spiritual Experience of the Philosopher

Anguish is no more than one form of the spiritual experience of the philosopher. In proportion as he goes forward, the philosopher moves through other states: he knows the intellectual joy (into which nothing human penetrates) of decisive intuitions and illuminating certainties--a sort of intoxication with the object that is almsot cruel--and sometimes the freezing exaltation of the glance that denudes and destroys; and sometimes the revulsion of handling those animal skeletons and bones of the dead of which Goethe speaks; and sometimes the ardour which wounds him on every side for the infinite search which men carry on and for all captive truths; sometimes the pity for error with its ambiguities; and sometimes the great solitude or distress of the spirit; and sometimes the sweetness of going forward in the maternal night. What I should like to stress is that the spiritual experience of the philosopher is the nourishing soil of philosophy; that without it there is no philosophy; and that, even so, spiritual experience does not, or must not, enter into the intelligible texture of philosophy. The pulp of the fruit must consist of nothing but the truth.

Jacques Maritain, Existence and the Existent. Image (Garden City, NY: 1948) p. 151.


Well, I'm back after a great trip to Portland. It was a pretty easygoing trip, but we visited Powell's City of Books, the Evergreen Aviation Museum, and walked a bit in Forest Park up to Pittock Mansion.

I notice that while I was gone there was a Philosopher's Carnival at "Philosophengang".

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Two Poem Re-Drafts


A lady by the salted sea
now sleeps forevermore;
forever on the sands I walk,
her beauty to adore.
Her hair is sun turned into strand,
her skin is light like cream;
by endless ocean's endless wave
she endlessly shall dream.
I loved her deeply in my youth,
but she my brother wed;
I wove enchantment in the air
that struck my brother dead.
I spoke a word of ancient might
that turned her soul to sleep
and cast a spell on time itself
eternal love to keep.
Now walk I upon the sand
for ages none can tell
keep my heart upon her form,
cry out, and love in hell.


The moon is full tonight,
as is my mind:
memories of another life,
another time.

On the river-water
waves ripple as boats glide;
each ripple is half-remembered
as it rises up, then dies.