Saturday, August 22, 2009


I was a bit amused to read this by Grayling:

In the aftermath of the Reformation in the 16th century, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuit Order as an army of defence against the attack on the One True Church. The Jesuits saw that the reformers had learning and intelligence on their side; they were translating the Bible into vernacular tongues, and encouraging lay people to read it, and when laymen did so they could see that the doctrines and practices of the Roman church were a mountain of rubbish. The Jesuits aimed to be an army of very smart casuists and propagandists, skilful in rhetoric and argument, trained to counter the reformers' charges, not interested in truth but in Catholicism's tendentious version of it.

Since this very weblog was once accused of being tendentious by Grayling (in response to some comments in which I mocked some claims he had made in a Guardian article), someone might perhaps hope that I'm overinclined to think that he has a mistaken notion that 'tendentious' means 'suggesting conclusions not in conformity with the views of A. C. Grayling'. Anyone who has read Grayling knows that it's one of his favorite derogatory terms; he calls all sorts of things tendentious. But apparently he really does have no sense of the irony of raising the term in a context in which he describes the Society of Jesus as an "army of very smart casuists and propagandists" who, not being interested in truth "but in Catholicism's tendentious version of it," were trained to counter the views of those who "had learning and intelligence on their side" and were making it possible for anyone to "see that the doctrines and practices of the Roman church were a mountain of rubbish".

In any case, Thony C., who is hardly an adherent of Catholicism's tendentious version of the truth (and, contrary to Grayling's suggested description just prior to this of everyone who disagrees with his interpretation of history, is not "deaf, dumb, blind and of the creatures of faith"), has a good post on why the Jesuits are probably not the best choice of example for Grayling's purposes in the essay. And as he notes, he's only touching on highlights. (UPDATE: He has a follow-up here.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Prudence and Leadership

Some excellent words from James Chastek:

One common way of denying that prudence is required for leadership is to cast political decisions as essentially easy. Politicians need not be prudent men, we think to ourselves, because any moron can just look at problem X and see what needs to be done. If we simply point out that people are starving, or uninsured, or immoral, or uneducated, or oppressed, or attacked then what we should do (or whether we should do anything at all) is assumed to be immediately obvious. Notice that on this supposition, a bad leader can only be incredibly stupid or evil or both, since this is the only way to to account for why he neglects to do obvious goods.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Butler on Reciprocity and Self-Deceit

It would very much prevent our being misled by this self-partiality, to reduce, that practical rule of our Saviour, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, even so do unto them," to our judgment and way of thinking. This rule, you see, consists of two parts. One is, to substitute another for yourself, when you take a survey of any part of your behaviour, or consider what is proper and fit and reasonable for you to do upon any occasion: the other part is, that you substitute yourself in the room of another; consider yourself as the person affected by such a behaviour, or towards whom such an action is done; and then you would not only see, but likewise feel, the reasonableness, or unreasonableness of such an action or behaviour. But, alas! the rule itself may be dishonestly applied: there are persons who have not impartiality enough with respect to themselves, nor regard enough for others, to be able to make a just application of it. This just application, if men would honestly make it, is, in effect, all that I have been recommending: it is the whole thing, the direct contrary to that inward dishonesty as respecting our intercourse with our fellow-creatures. And even the bearing this rule in their thoughts may be of some service: the attempt thus to apply it, is an attempt towards being fair and impartial, and may chance unawares to show them to themselves, to show them the truth of the case they are considering.

Joseph Butler, Upon Self-Deceit

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Ray of Pleasure Lights My Languid Mind

Sonnet XXXIV -- To a Friend
by Charlotte Turner Smith

Charm'd by thy suffrage, shall I yet aspire
(All inauspicious as my fate appears,
By troubles darken'd, that increase with years,)
To guide the crayon, or to touch the lyre?
Ah me!--the sister Muses still require
A spirit free from all intrusive fears,
Nor will they deign to wipe away the tears
Of vain regret, that dim their sacred fire.
But when thy envied sanction crowns my lays,
A ray of pleasure lights my languid mind,
For well I know the value of thy praise;
And to how few the flattering meed confined,
That thou,--their highly favour'd brows to bind;
Wilt weave green myrtle and unfading bays.

Smith was one of the major architects of the revival of the English sonnet in the nineteenth century; Wordsworth, who was very influenced by her, said of her that English verse owed more to her than was likely to be appreciated or remembered, and unfortunately he was right. In part due to her bluntness in dealing with other people, her fame, which was considerable at its height (although always more for her novels than her poetry), began to fade, and was virtually extinguished after her death. Cori Samuel has an excellent reading of the above sonnet at Librivox.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Dialogue on Humean Sentimentalism (repost)

A repost, slightly modified, from 2006.

The following is based (very, very closely, since Hume almost puts it into dialogue form himself, and I've just colloquialized it a bit) on an argument in the first appendix to the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. H is Hume, A is the moral rationalist (who holds an abstract theory of morals like one finds in Malebranche or Clarke). Naturally the dialogue favors Hume's position; a robust defender of the rationalist position would have more to say.

H: "Reason concerns itself with matters of fact and relations. Ask yourself, then, where is the matter of fact we call 'criminal ingratitude'. Point it out, determine the time of its existence, describe its essence or nature, explain the sense or faculty to which it discovers itself. Perhaps it resides in the mind of ungrateful person? If that's so, he must feel it and be conscious of it. But there is nothing there except ill-will or indifference. You cannot say that of themselves these are always and in all circumstances criminal. No; they are only criminal when directed towards people who have before expressed and displayed good-will towards us. So we can conclude that the moral crime of ingratitude is not any particular individual fact. Instead, it arises from a web of circumstances that excites the sentiment of blame in a spectator because of the structure and fabric of his mind."

A: "Your representation of me is false. Crime in this sense doesn't consist in a particular fact whose existence we know by reason. Instead, it consists in certain moral relations discovered by reason, in much the same way as we discover the truths of geometry or algebra."

H: "But what are these relations? In the case we are considering, I see first good-will and good-offices in one person, then ill-will and ill-offices in the other. The only relation between these is contrariety. Does the crime consist in that relation? But suppose a person bore me ill-will or did me ill-offices and I, in return, were indifferent towards him, or did him good-offices. Here is the same relation of contrariety; and yet my conduct is often highly laudable under these circumstances. Twist and turn this matter as much as you please, you can never base morality on relations. It must be based on sentiments.

When we say that two and three are equal to half of ten, I understand this relation perfectly. I conceive that if ten is divided in half, and one of these halves is compared to two added to three, the one will have as many units as the other. But when you use this as an analogy for moral relations, I confess that I don't understand you at all. A moral action, a crime like ingratitude, is a complicated object. Does the morality consist in the relation of its parts to each other? How? After what manner? Specify the relation: Be less vague, and you will easily see the falsehood of your claims."

A: "No, the morality consists in the relation of actions to the rule of right; they are called good or bad to the extent they agree or disagree with it. "

H: "What, then, is this rule of right? How is it determined? By reason, you say, which examines the moral relations of actions; these moral relations are determined by the comparison of actions to a rule; and that rule is determined by considering the moral relations of objects. Isn't this a fine way to reason!"

A: "But the fact that you have to get into such metaphysical reasoning as you do gives us a strong presumption that your claim is false."

H: "There is certainly metaphysical reasoning here, but all on your side. You are proposing an abstruse hypothesis, one which can never be made intelligible or squared with any particular example or illustration. Our hypothesis, on the other hand, is clear. We hold that morality is determined by sentiment. We define virtue to be any mental action or quality giving to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of approbation. Vice, of course, is the contrary. We then look at a plain matter of fact, to wit, what actions have this influence. Considering all the circumstances in which these actions agree, we endeavour to extract some general observations about these sentiments. If you call this metaphysics, and find any thing abstruse here, the natural conclusion is that your mind is not suited to the moral sciences."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Links for Thinking

* This would make an interesting kernel for a fantasy short story: Islamic law on whether it is permissible to eat mermaids.

* New works by Mozart have been discovered. They were actually always there but nobody recognized them as Mozart's because the score was clearly written by Mozart's father. But the music is like Mozart's music, and not at all like Mozart's father's; and thus it appears to be a very early piece, from when Mozart was seven or so, before he knew how to write musical notation.

* An article about Jan Matzeliger, the inventor of the shoe lasting machine.

* A farmer discusses modern farming and its critics. (ht)

* The 39th century considers the 20th century's obsession with donkeys.

* Catholics in science fiction. (ht)

* Nsibidi symbols.

* A six-word story contest. (ht) I haven't really thought about it, but if I were to write a six-word story, I think it would be, "The sun did not rise. Surprise!" (It's a short story and a poem!) Or "The world ended yesterday. I cried." Or "Death, while strolling, slipped on ice." Or "Nietzsche wrote his books yet again." Or "Not my fault! He was speeding! Or "After the burglary the thief escaped." Or "Veni, vidi, vici consilio et armis." Or "My car broke down in traffic." Kind of a boring exercise, actually; we tell six-word stories all the time.

* The IEP has an article on the role of religion in the philosophy of Nicolas Malebranche. I have to confess, I find myself somewhat depressed in looking at it. I'm not at all pleased with it, but I eventually reached a point at which I decided I was genuinely incapable of balancing the conflicting demands placed on an article of this sort in a way that would please me. But now there's something up on the subject, and that, at least, is a plus. Comments and corrections are welcome.

* Sherry's Hundred Hymns List continues:

#40 O Come, O Come Emmanuel
#39 The King of Love My Shepherd Is
#38 Like a River Glorious
#37 For All the Saints
#36 My Jesus, I Love Thee

Both #40 & #36 were on my list of recommendations.


* The new Philosophers' Carnival is up.

* I'm currently putting together links for my ethics course website, and would be glad of any recommendations for online resources in ethics that you might have. (I've incidentally learned that ethics bloggers have absolutely no imagination, since their blogs are all called things like "Business Ethics Blog" or "Research Ethics Blog".)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mary Sidney's Hundred-Seventeenth

Psalm 117

by Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke

P raise him that aye
R emains the same:
A ll tongues display
I ehovah's fame.
S ing all that share
T his earthly ball:
H is mercies are
E xposed to all:
L ike as the word
O nce he doth give,
R olled in record,
D oth time outlive.

One thing I recently learned that I did not know was that Mary Sidney, who became Mary Herbert, was related to George Herbert (by marriage first cousin once removed, unless I'm mistaken).