Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Consummate Art of Our Age?

I had a curious thought today. When ages come and go the arts they thought of as distinctive and as their consummate forms of art are not always the arts the later ages admire most. As things are happening, people tend not to see how derivative they are, for instance; when an art is living and common we tend to assess them in part by how difficult they are, but the extraordinary work that went into it may be regarded by later generations as the mountains groaning in labor in order to birth a mouse. And certainly most of the arts we think of when we think of our culture, and most of the arts in which we commonly partake, are on closer examination more derivative than innovative, and not very fresh at all.

And the conceit struck me suddenly that there's one exception -- an art at which we uncontroversially excel over prior generations, an art we have made our own, an art at which we get better all the time. It is as ubiquitous to us as air, and that inevitably means a certain amount of genius gets applied to it. We pour vast resources into it and a very good argument can be made that much of that investment is good investment, and results in good quality. And that art is advertisement. It's odd to think of it that way; it reminds one of the clever joke in the movie Demolition Man, where, when people in the future turn their radios to a golden oldies channel to listen to the music of our era, the songs they hear are commercial jingles. (Like "The Land of the Jolly Green Giant".) But if you think of things like the Marlboro Man, the Maytag Repairman, the Energizer Bunny, the Geico Gecko; and if you think of how enthusiastic or critical people get about Superbowl commercials; and if you think of just how large a place these things have in our culture; and if you think about the fact that virtually every single person in the developed world can name advertisements that we would consider really good -- if you think of all these things, perhaps it becomes less strange to think of advertisement as the consummate art of our age. As a society, it is something we are not just good at; it is something we are great at. Every art in every age has its failures, and so does ours. But our successes are genuinely good, and the memorable ones add up. And they are distinctive; they mark periods, identify eras, build up unique traditions.

Perhaps it's all merely a conceit. But I think that the more you think of it, the more you'll find things that at least half-convince you. And I'm not sure it's wholly a bad thing. It's a sort of heraldry, and, minor as the art may be, being great at an art is hardly a thing to mock. It would perhaps be embarrassing to be represented in the angel of history's chapter on excellent art by Tony the Tiger or the Pillsbury Doughboy rather than, say, Gothic cathedrals or Kufic calligraphy or fresco painting; but, you know, it still shows our creativity, and it's about as charming and striking as we get. Advertisement has to face a more daunting and demanding set of critics than anything in any MOMA; it is certainly better funded; and in most cases I'm not really convinced that it exhibits less talent. We really and truly are good at it.

And yet it's difficult to shake the feeling that, if this all-too-plausible conceit of imagination were true, the embarrassment would be warranted.

Notes and Links

* A remarkable animation of deliberately induced nuclear explosions between 1945 and 1998. It starts slowly, of course, but soon becomes quite the fireworks display.

* A discussion of music as philosophy by Robert Spano:

It raises more questions than gives answers, but that's hardly unparalleled when it comes to philosophy. I think the basic issue ends up being this. The reason one would usually tend not to think of music itself as a philosophical activity is that it does not (qua music) articulate any propositions or arguments. However, it is not clear that all philosophical activity requires such articulation; in fact, certain practical activities have often, by a longstanding tradition, been treated as philosophical activities despite the fact that they are not themselves articulations of propositions or arguments -- joining together into a community to live the good life, for instance. That being so, it would seem that either music is capable of being a philosophical activity in itself, or there is some principled difference that prevents music from being a philosophical activity and this principled difference is not the mere fact that music is not an articulation of positions and arguments. Moreover, since music is a rational activity, and there is no a priori reason to deny of any rational activity that it can serve as a philosophical activity, there seems positive reason to think that music can be a philosophical activity. The challenge, then, is either to elucidate how music can be a philosophical activity or to give some straightforward argument for why apparent reasons like these, in favor of music's having at least the ability to be a philosophical activity, fail.

* "The Unpublishable Philosopher" has a criticism of Karen Armstrong (ht). Armstrong seems to me to be as surely a sign of the deterioration of thought among liberal theologians as the New Atheism is a sign of the deterioration of thought among atheists; her arguments are almost always crude and simplistic versions of arguments that were better articulated and developed decades ago at least. But somehow she has become a media darling and thus is always popping up as the representative of theism generally; which makes one want to bang one's head against the table when one compares her work even to some of the classics of liberal theology, e.g., Edwin Abbott Abbott's The Kernel and the Husk (the same Abbott famous for Flatland, which in its own quirky way is also, interestingly enough, a classic of liberal theology). Thus it's perhaps unsurprising that ArithmoQuine makes some criticisms of her that really do stick.

Nonetheless, the tropes out of which she constructs her discourse have some intellectual history behind them; and, deteriorated though they may have become by the time they have reached Armstrong, the tropes themselves were hardly developed by lightweight reasoning, and are certainly not adquately refuted by playing stupid, which is what some of ArithmoQuine's criticisms come dangerously near to being. A good example is the response to Armstrong's suggestion that determinism undermines our idea of thinking, learning, reasoning, and choosing; AQ responds to this that he has no idea what she's talking about in the case of the first three. But it's not really so extraordinarily complicated; learning involves study and research, which are practical activities that involve choices, while reasoning is often nonmonotonic, which often is plausibly understood as requiring choices, and so forth, so if determinism is worrisome in any way for choice there's nothing that obviously prevents it from being worrisome for thought, learning, or reasoning. The worry has been around for quite some time in liberal theological circles; I wouldn't expect AQ to know that, but there is really no excuse for someone with philosophical training not to see the potential connections here. Everyone has studied Descartes and the Meditations on First Philosophy, and it is clear enough that there is a connection in Descartes, and that determinism would put a wrench in the works of Descartes's whole account of thinking; one may argue that this sort of analysis is flawed, but the fact that it can be made is getting pretty close to being literally Philosophy 101.

* Bill Vallicella argues that necessarily something exists.

* D. G. Myers discusses Marilynne Robinson on parascientific literature and subjectivity. Arguments of this sort are difficult to give proper rational grounding, but the book sounds interesting.

* Roger Pearse considers transmission of texts.

* Kenny Pearce on implicature and the interpretation of texts.

* Apparently an adjunct in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of Religion, who teaches a course on Catholicism, was removed from the adjunct pool for an email sent to the students that gave arguments for the position that homosexual acts were contrary to natural law. It seems to me that in his email his explanation was clumsy and mangled at best (a common failing in explaining this doctrine, since people try to make it simpler than it actually is), but it was a pretty mild email, also. There are some in arms over it as a violation of academic freedom, but I find I am not; that's just what an adjunct professorship contract is, a term-by-term hiring system (this is one major reason why academics are frustrated with the increasing reliance on adjuncts rather than full-time positions). Even to say that he was fired is arguably to overstate his position as adjunct; he was simply told that offers of courses were no longer going to be renewed. That's the line the University is taking, and they are strictly right. Adjuncts are permatemp workers. Given that the professor was both popular and recognized for teaching excellence, and that, as far as I can tell, there was one and only one complaint about the matter (and a second-hand complaint, at that), simply terminating the arrangement rather than giving a warning (particularly since it's standard to allow professors to give their own opinions on classroom topics, even of the most controversial kind, as long as they allow students room to disagree) seems a little stupid on the part of the department, and shows a lack of even minimal collegiality; but even so, it's a form of uncollegial stupidity that is their prerogative. It really makes no sense to complain of these things on a mere case-by-case basis rather than, say, advocating for better conditions for adjuncts.

Meanwhile, there are places where worse things can happen to professors who are Catholic.

* Richard Brown gives an outline of a case for agnosticism which is pretty interesting; there are other kinds of agnostics, I think, but I imagine quite a few agnostics would think something in this ballpark is right.

* Jerry Coyne and Greta Cristina insist that design arguments for God's existence. are valid. Of course, there's a purely formal sense in which any argument can be made valid, but they are insisting on a much stronger position, which is that there are plenty of kinds of design arguments are valid without any implausible assumptions underwriting the inferences (what we might call substantive validity) -- that, in fact, the only problem with them is the right kind of phenomenon to start the inference off simply hasn't been found. I always find it remarkable how many atheists today insist on this, when just a couple of generations ago it would have been hard to find any, in public at least. Part of it goes back to Dawkins, I think, who has always conceded a great deal to Paley; all the examples Coyne and Cristina provide are merely more generalized Paley-type design inferences. Part of it, too, perhaps, goes with the fact that accepting that design arguments are substantively valid allows one more easily to use the structurally related arguments from evil and hiddenness. This is a double-edged sword with regard to atheism, as the case of Cleanthes in Hume's Dialogues shows: Philo is able to use Cleanthes's similar moves to run the argument from evil, but Cleanthes had earlier used them to show that Philo had to concede the basic design inference and that the strength of the starting point would then only be a matter of degree. It is remarkable how contemporary atheism has advanced so little beyond Hume; even the examples are much the same (and, it should be noted, are much the same as those given by ID theorists when they argue that their basic inferences are substantively valid, and just need the right phenomenon to work).

My own view, of course, is that these arguments consisting of 'lists of things that would persuade me' tend to be naive as to psychology, as to analysis of argument, and as to the underlying accounts of evidential confirmation on which they rely. As Chris Schoen notes, many of the things that the atheists claim would make them believe are things of which theists would often be very skeptical unless additional safeguards were added, rightly so; and finding substantively valid design arguments for God's existence that are not question-begging is tricky business -- there are candidates, but it takes a lot of work to show that they are even serious candidates. None of Cristina's examples of things that would convince her are things for which I can see any warrants that would not themselves be highly controvertible. On the plus side of it all, it all seems to show that you can catch up completely on almost the whole range of theist-atheist debate outside of academic philosophy simply by reading Hume's Dialogues, which is bound to be a considerable time-saver.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Nine Unelected Lawyers

Thomas Reeves has an article at discussing the power of the U.S. Supreme Court. It's a very puzzling article; so much so I'm actually not wholly sure it isn't purely sarcastic. In response to the common question of why Americans should be ruled by nine unelected lawyers, he responds:

The short answer (these are admittedly all short and partial answers) to the first question is simply that every nation and organization needs a person or a body of people that can settle issues once and for all, a place where, as Harry Truman put it, the buck stops. The alternative is chaos often followed by violence. While Americans want nothing to do with kings or emperors, we, too, need a source of final authority. Think of the mayhem that might well have occurred following the election of 2000 without a Supreme Court to halt the shenanigans going on in Florida. The Court continues to play this role because it works, and we are a practical people. We've had our Civil War and are now content (at least the vast majority of us) to work together as a single nation under law, as defined by the Supreme Court.

The problem with this answer is that it is straightforwardly false: the Supreme Court does not, and by its very nature cannot, "settle issues once and for all." Since the Supreme Court works by establishing precedent rather than by imposing decrees, and since precedent admits of continual change, reinterpretation, modification, qualification, and reversal, no matter of general principle is settled by the Supreme Court 'once and for all'; all decisions on this point are temporary and admit of potential qualification within a very short time. Moreover, since the application of precedent is always by analogy and parity rather than by any sort of direct application, every Supreme Court decision by the nature of the Supreme Court leaves open and even raises as many questions as it answers. This, in fact, is why Congress leaves so much to the Court in the first place: Congress can leave some unpleasant responsibilities to the Court without having to worry that Congress itself will become otiose in the process.

Moreover, the answer overlooks what I would have taken to be the usual point when people ask this question, namely, that if you are going to have anyone with the responsibility to "settle issues once and for all" and if you are going to establish anything as "a source of final authority," it should be more like an elected Congress than like an appointed Court, or at least should be an elected Court. One can certainly imagine any number of alternatives to the system we have; one could have, to take just a fairly extreme example, a system in which the role of the Supreme Court was taken by a Judicial Congress whose members were elected by the people and confirmed by the legislature, which issued not precedents but directives. The many problems of such alternatives would have to be addressed, but it really doesn't answer the question to say, "Oh, well, we need someone to do it."

Self-Knowledge and Conversation

As with Alcibiades, so with Critias, Socrates emphasizes the need to seek self-knowledge in conversation with another. As Socrates understands it, self-knowledge is not a product of introspection. As knowledge of what makes a human being human, self-knowledge is not at all self-contained or independent. It requires knowledge not only of other human beings but also of the nonhuman things to determine the difference between them and thus what is distinctively human. As knowledge of one's limits, self-knowledge as Socrates understands it entails recognition of one's lack of self-sufficiency and the consequent need to join with others. Self-knowledge as Socrates understands it consists in knowledge of one's ignorance rather than, as Critias claims, knowledge of knowledge.

Catherine H. Zuckert, Plato's Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues, University of Chicago Press (Chicago: 2009), pp. 243-244.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Gregory of Nyssa on Slavery

'I got me slave-girls and slaves.' For what price, tell me? What did you find in existence worth as much as this human nature? What price did you put on rationality? How many obols did you reckon the equivalent of the likeness of God? How many staters did you get for selling that being shaped by God? God said, Let us make man in our own image and likeness. If he is in the likeness of God, and rules the whole earth, and has been granted authority over everything on earth from God, who is his buyer, tell me? Who is his seller? To God alone belongs this power; or, rather, not even to God himself. For his gracious gifts, it says, are irrevocable. God would not therefore reduce the human race to slavery, since he himself, when we had been enslaved to sin, spontaneously recalled us to freedom. But if God does not enslave what is free, who is he that sets his own power above God's?

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on Ecclesiastes; Hall and Moriarty, trs., de Gruyter (New York, 1993) p. 74.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

To Have Nought Is Ours

The Holdfast
by George Herbert

I threatnd to observe the strict decree
Of my deare God with all my power and might :
But I was told by one, it could not be ;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.

Then will I trust, said I, in him alone.
Nay, ev’n to trust in him, was also his :
We must confesse, that nothing is our own.
Then I confesse that he my succour is :

But to have nought is ours, not to confesse
That we have nought. I stood amaz’d at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend expresse,
That all things were more ours by being his.
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Of Catamites and the Teaching of Texts

In class today we had a discussion of the following passage from Plato's Gorgias (494d-495a)

What an odd person you are, Socrates—a regular stump-orator!
Why, of course, Callicles, that is how I upset Polus and Gorgias, and struck them with bashfulness; but you, I know, will never be upset or abashed; you are such a manly fellow. Come, just answer that.
Then I say that the man also who scratches himself will thus spend a pleasant life.
And if a pleasant one, a happy one also?
Is it so if he only wants to scratch his head? Or what more am I to ask you? See, Callicles, what your answer will be, if you are asked everything in succession that links on to that statement; and the culmination of the case, as stated—the life of catamites—is not that awful, shameful, and wretched? Or will you dare to assert that these are happy if they can freely indulge their wants?
Are you not ashamed, Socrates, to lead the discussion into such topics?
What, is it I who am leading it there, noble sir, or the person who says outright that those who enjoy themselves, with whatever kind of enjoyment, are happy, and draws no distinction between the good and bad sorts of pleasure? But come, try again now and tell me whether you say that pleasant and good are the same thing, or that there is some pleasure which is not good.

It's very difficult to convey to students just how much of a face-slap Socrates' remark about catamites is. They had all read the passage, of course, but (and also of course) when I asked if they all knew what a catamite was, not one of them had a clue. This led, of course, to a long discussion that embarrassed most of my students, most of whom, despite their pretensions, have a more delicate sense of shame than I do. (My attitude is that of Reason in Jean de Meun's Romance of the Rose. At one point in the discussion, Reason talks about testicles and the Lover is shocked -- it's not something polite people do, and certainly not a ladylike thing for Lady Reason to do. Lady Reason, apparently irritated by this, launches into a speech -- but everyone launches into speeches in Jean de Meun's Roman -- about how God created testicles and she is the daughter of God, and therefore she has every right to talk about testicles if she sees fit.)

But it started me thinking about the primary difficulty in teaching texts to students. Here was a shocking thing to say, so shocking that the man beyond shame himself, Callicles, is shocked that Socrates would even bring it up. The attitude they should have had was to start up and say, "Whoa!" (or "Snap!" or give a low whistle). Callicles, as we say, got burned. But it just passed by: the students had just let it roll past their eyes without bothering to look up the word.

Part of this is translation; the difficulty of making a lively translation that is accurate is one of the most serious difficulties a translator has to face. There are plenty of lively texts that are killed by a competent but lifeless translation: the greatest treason of translation, perhaps. Part of it is perhaps context. People don't read things for school as if they would be lively: and if you don't expect it at all, you're likely not to see it. Possibly this is due to the fact that they are required to read it, but I think the real reason is that people simply don't think that things read for school should be lively, so they read them in the least lively way possible.

From what my students have said in the past, I think most of them would say that the problem was the "language". I'm not sure that this is so. For one thing, English, as it is usually found in easily intelligible conversation, is not, in fact, a very lively language. It has its beauties, but it is largely very pedestrian and bland, a language for greengrocers and supermarkets. And liveliness is really conveyed by the meaning. If you have a basic understanding of what a kinaidos was, you can see why Callicles was shocked when Socrates said his view put forward the life of one as ideal, and you can see that Socrates is not pulling his punches. A very lively exchange, however it is written up, can read as lively or dull depending entirely on how you approach it.

It's clear enough that one of the important things when teaching texts is to bring out to students just how vivid and lively they are (if they are), because this is what captures the student's interest enough to cause them to go farther. But it's a tricky thing to do. You can stop at every point and explain it, but this often has much the same effect as trying to show that a book is funny by stopping to explain the punchline of every joke: it's not that it can't work, but that it's only going to work if they already have some sense of the funniness of the text. It seems a bad thing to say that one teaches by hit-or-miss methods, but I really can't think of any approaches that aren't, in fact, very hit-or-miss. And what seems to work sometimes doesn't really do so: there's always that serious danger of capturing the students' interest, but in such a way that you've drawn their interest not to features of the text but rather to features of your entertaining way of talking about it. Interested students are better than bored students, but students interested in what zany thing you are going to entertain them with are not necessarily the same as students interested in what you are teaching.

It's a conundrum. I don't see how to get around it. And perhaps it's insoluble. But what do you think?

Propositional Logic with Literal Diagrams

Propositional logic is often taught as if the only ways to test groups of statement in propositional logic for consistency were truth tables and truth trees. But we can also easily handle simple statements with Lewis Carroll's literal diagrams, in a way that is far more clear than either truth tables or truth trees.

A literal diagram is a diagram that recognizes combinations of terms. The standard biliteral diagram looks something like this, with the boxes given labels:

That is, we have one letter (p) on the left, with its negative complement (not-p) on the right; and one letter (q) on the top, with its negative complement (not-q) on the bottom. In propositional logic this is understood to represent possible ways the whole domain can be, given the truth or falsehood (-) of two propositions, which we label 'p' and 'q'. Information about p and q 'black out' possible ways the world could be given that information; we can represent this on the diagram by X'ing out the relevant box. With this insight we can easily represent all the propositional connectives:

This is the biliteral diagram for the conjunction, also known as p & q.

This is the biliteral diagram for the disjunction, also known as p v q.

The biconditional, p ↔ q.

The conditional, p → q. [NOTE: This is actually an erroneous diagram; the X should be in the lower left rather than the upper right. This diagram is actually the diagram for q → p.]

Now, take the following set of sentences: p ↔ q, p, -q. The result is a world blackout, i.e., the conclusion that there is no possible way for the world to be given these three statements together:

p blacks out the -p+q and -p-q boxes; -q would black out out +p+q (and -p+q, but p already blacks it out). This only leaves +p-q. But this (along with the redundant -p+q again) is blacked out by p ↔ q. World blackout: the statements taken together are inconsistent.

Another example. The statements (p v -q), (-p), and (-p & q) lead to world blackout as well. -p blacks out +p+q and +p-q. -p & q blacks out all except -p+q. But -p+q is precisely what (p v -q) blacks out.

Diagrams with world blackouts always indicate inconsistent statements; diagrams with at least one space open are consistent. It's also easy to do two other useful things with literal diagrams.

(1) We can easily tell whether two statements are truth-functionally equivalent, by seeing whether they are diagrammed the same way. If they are, they are equivalent.

(2) We can easily tell that statement B is not implied by statement A by diagramming them and determining whether B is part of A. If B, for instance, has information not contained in A, then it is not implied by it. If, on the other hand, B's diagram is nothing more than part of A's diagram, A implies B. (In effect doing these comparisons is like making a higher-order diagramming showing A ↔ B or A → B, whichever is being considered, and whatever A and B might be.)

Of course, it is no mystery why literal diagramming works in this case; the literal diagram, interpreted for propositional logic, is logically equivalent to a truth table. We can think of them as truth diagrams. The advantage to working with them is that they make explicit and visual the concepts of inconsistency, equivalence, and implication. Their only disadvantage in comparison with standard truth tables, actually, is that they quickly become unwieldy as you multiply the number of propositions you work with. But one can easily imagine beginning with truth diagrams and using them to introduce truth tables.

I've noted this before, but I'm intending over the next few weeks to expand a bit on this; so this is a recap before I get to those other posts.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

That Philosopher Who Loves the Original and Formless Light

“You are wrong,” said the Secretary, drawing his black brows together. “The knife was merely the expression of the old personal quarrel with a personal tyrant. Dynamite is not only our best tool, but our best symbol. It is as perfect a symbol of us as is incense of the prayers of the Christians. It expands; it only destroys because it broadens; even so, thought only destroys because it broadens. A man’s brain is a bomb,” he cried out, loosening suddenly his strange passion and striking his own skull with violence. “My brain feels like a bomb, night and day. It must expand! It must expand! A man’s brain must expand, if it breaks up the universe.”


As Syme strode along the corridor he saw the Secretary standing at the top of a great flight of stairs. The man had never looked so noble. He was draped in a long robe of starless black, down the centre of which fell a band or broad stripe of pure white, like a single shaft of light. The whole looked like some very severe ecclesiastical vestment. There was no need for Syme to search his memory or the Bible in order to remember that the first day of creation marked the mere creation of light out of darkness. The vestment itself would alone have suggested the symbol; and Syme felt also how perfectly this pattern of pure white and black expressed the soul of the pale and austere Secretary, with his inhuman veracity and his cold frenzy, which made him so easily make war on the anarchists, and yet so easily pass for one of them. Syme was scarcely surprised to notice that, amid all the ease and hospitality of their new surroundings, this man’s eyes were still stern. No smell of ale or orchards could make the Secretary cease to ask a reasonable question.

From The Man Who Was Thursday, of course.

Not Philosophers Indeed

Behold, however, others, not philosophers indeed, but men of ready power in disputation, who affirm that all men are happy who live according to their own will. But this is certainly untrue, for to wish that which is unbecoming is itself a most miserable thing; nor is it so miserable a thing to fail in obtaining what you wish as to wish to obtain what you ought not to desire.

Another quotation Augustine gives us from Cicero's Hortensius, this time from a letter to Proba. Augustine's comment on it:

What is your opinion? Are not these words, by whomsoever they are spoken, derived from the Truth itself? We may therefore here say what the apostle said of a certain Cretan poet whose sentiment had pleased him: “This witness is true.”

And, indeed, Augustine seems to have been very pleaed with this passage; he quotes it in the De Trinitate (XIII.8) as well with equal insistence on its truth. His comment there is also worth reproducing:

But when Cicero, too, had propounded this in opposition to himself, he so refuted it as to make them blush who thought so. For he says: "But, behold! people who are not indeed philosophers, but who yet are prompt to dispute, say that all are blessed, whoever live as they will;" which is what we mean by, as pleases each. But by and by he has subjoined: "But this is indeed false. For to will what is not fitting, is itself most miserable; neither is it so miserable not to obtain what one wills, as to will to obtain what one ought not." Most excellently and altogether most truly does he speak. For who can be so blind in his mind, so alienated from all light of decency, and wrapped up in the darkness of indecency, as to call him blessed, because he lives as he will, who lives wickedly and disgracefully; and with no one restraining him, no one punishing, and no one daring even to blame him, nay more, too, with most people praising him, since, as divine Scripture says, "The wicked is praised in his heart's desire: and he who works iniquity is blessed," gratifies all his most criminal and flagitious desires; when, doubtless, although even so he would be wretched, yet he would be less wretched, if he could have had nothing of those things which he had wrongly willed? For every one is made wretched by a wicked will also, even though it stop short with will but more wretched by the power by which the longing of a wicked will is fulfilled. And, therefore, since it is true that all men will to be blessed, and that they seek for this one thing with the most ardent love, and on account of this seek everything which they do seek; nor can any one love that of which he does not know at all what or of what sort it is, nor can be ignorant what that is which he knows that he wills; it follows that all know a blessed life. But all that are blessed have what they will, although not all who have what they will are forewith blessed. But they are forewith wretched, who either have not what they will, or have that which they do not rightly will. Therefore he only is a blessed man, who both has all things which he wills, and wills nothing ill.

Taking Courage to Renew the Battle

Now, if slavery had been a good thing, would the Fathers of the Republic have taken a step calculated to diminish its beneficent influences among themselves, and snatch the boon wholly from their posterity? These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: "We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man.

In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children's children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began—so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built.

Abraham Lincoln in a speech at Beardstown on August 17, 1858.