Saturday, December 31, 2011

The World Above in the World Below

New Year's Chimes
by Francis Thompson

What is the song the stars sing?
(And a million songs are as song of one.)
This is the song the stars sing:
Sweeter song's none.

One to set, and many to sing,
(And a million songs are as song of one),
One to stand, and many to cling,
The many things, and the one Thing,
The one that runs not, the many that run.

The ever new weaveth the ever old
(And a million songs are as song of one).
Ever telling the never told;
The silver saith, and the said is gold,
And done ever the never done.

The chase that's chased is the Lord o' the chase
(And a million songs are as song of one),
And the pursued cries on the race;
And the hounds in leash are the hounds that run.

Hidden stars by the shown stars' sheen;
(And a million suns are but as one);
Colours unseen by the colours seen,
And sounds unheard heard sounds between,
And a night is in the light of the sun.

An ambuscade of light in night,
(And a million secrets are but as one),
And a night is dark in the sun's light,
And a world in the world man looks upon.

Hidden stars by the shown stars' wings,
(And a million cycles are but as one),
And a world with unapparent strings
Knits the simulant world of things;
Behold, and vision thereof is none.

The world above in the world below
(And a million worlds are but as one),
And the One in all; as the sun's strength so
Strives in all strength, glows in all glow
Of the earth that wits not, and man thereon.

Braced in its own fourfold embrace
(And a million strengths are as strength of one),
And round it all God's arms of grace,
The world, so as the Vision says,
Doth with great lightning-tramples run.

And thunder bruiteth into thunder,
(And a million sounds are as sound of one),
From stellate peak to peak is tossed a voice of wonder,
And the height stoops down to the depths thereunder,
And sun leans forth to his brother-sun.

And the more ample years unfold
(With a million songs as song of one),
A little new of the ever old,
A little told of the never told,
Added act of the never done.

Loud the descant, and low the theme,
(A million songs are as song of one);
And the dream of the world is dream in dream,
But the one Is is, or nought could seem;
And the song runs round to the song begun.

This is the song the stars sing,
(Ton-ed all in time);
Tintinnabulous, tuned to ring
A multitudinous-single thing,
Rung all in rhyme.

This is one of those poems that you have to read several times before you get the hang of it: technically brilliant on the part of the writer, and technically demanding on the part of the reader.

Pop Apocalypse (Re-Post)

This is a reposting, with some revision, of a post that originally was posted in 2007. It seems a fitting post for the year's closing time, when we all look to the future.

A distinction can sometimes be made in the apocalypse genre between dark apocalypses and gentle apocalypses; they both exhibit the Final Judgment but in different ways. It's interesting to compare in this regard two of Leonard Cohen's songs from his album The Future: The Future and Closing Time.

"The Future" is a dark apocalypse. In the future mankind has become fundamentally corrupt:

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won't be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul
When they said Repent Repent
I wonder what they meant

It's therefore no surprise that God's judgment is correspondingly harsh:

You don't know me from the wind
you never will, you never did
I'm the little Jew who wrote the Bible
I've seen the nations rise and fall
I've heard their stories, heard them all
but love's the only engine of survival
Your servant here, he has been told
to say it clear, to say it cold:
It's over, it ain't going any further
And now the wheels of heaven stop
you feel the devil's riding crop
Get ready for the future: it is murder.

Mankind is in hell, a hell so terrible that we would rather have the evils we have now; but humanity deserves every bit of the future it has made for itself.

We get a different apocalypse in "Closing Time". There, too, the human race has piled its sins high; there, too, the Final Judgment comes, bringing hell with it. But it's pictured in terms of a drunken humanity getting busted by the cops because "the Boss don't like these dizzy heights." And the tone is one of bittersweet resignation:

And I loved you when our love was blessed
and I love you now there's nothing left
but sorrow and a sense of overtime
and I missed you since the place got wrecked
And I just don't care what happens next
looks like freedom but it feels like death
it's something in between, I guess
it's closing time.

It's closing time; the drunks are all being thrown out of the bar. It's hell; but here it is almost a relief, something between freedom and death, because the party has gone on too long and, despite its highlights, maybe wasn't all that great anyway.

and I lift my glass to the Awful Truth
which you can't reveal to the Ears of Youth
except to say it isn't worth a dime

The Ambiguity of the Modern Word 'Political'

We talk about things being political, and political literally means what has to do with the polis, the city, the society of citizens (in one sense or another). It's clear that our usual use of the word does not really mean this; by it we mean not all that comes with citizenship but all that comes with elected or appointed offices of governance. But I think it's also clear that the older meaning is still there as a common secondary meaning.

In this sense, it's interesting to contrast the fate of the term 'political' with the term 'civic' (or 'civil', as we sometimes find it, although more commonly civil is to civic as polite is to political). In a sense you would expect them to be the same -- civitas is a rough, but natural, Latin equivalent for Greek polis -- but they really aren't, and that is because 'civic' seems to have headed (more slowly) in the opposite direction from 'political': the civic has more to do with the society of citizens, and usually not with the elected or appointed offices of governance unless we're talking about local govenments. (It still retains some connection with 'city'.) But the boundaries here are much looser, I think, than in the case of the primary meaning of 'political'; 'political' is often used as a sort of opposition to the society of citizens (abstracted from elected and appointed offices), while 'civic' rarely is. And, of course, in much of government, 'civil' positions are the opposite of 'political' positions: the latter are elected or appointed, while the former are hired.

The fact that 'political' has these ambiguities -- a specialized primary sense and a more general secondary sense that occasionally pops up, can make it difficult to determine what people mean at any given point when they talk about the political, and I think this often creates serious and troubling equivocations. 'Everything is political' if we take 'political' in the secondary sense, in the sense that is closer to what we usually mean by 'civic' -- directly or indirectly everything is civic, and it is as citizens (whether of cities, states, nations, or the world) that human beings achieve their highest natural goods. It is in this sense that man is a political animal, and it is in this sense that being a political animal both follows from and necessarily presupposes being a rational animal. Other animals are members of societies; only human beings actually become citizens of societies. It is a distinctively human spin on membership in a society. On the other hand, 'everything is political' is dangerous nonsense if we mean it in the primary specialized sense of 'political', which in the modern world has to do with political parties, into whose hands we ultimately end up committing elected and appointed political offices. We are not political animals in this sense; and in this sense it has very little to do with rationality. And clearly you are going to understand 'everything is political' in a very different way if you are thinking of the whole body of citizens working together as citizens than if you are thinking of politicians as legislators and magistrates.

What worries me somewhat is that I think there's an argument to be made that the ambiguity of the word 'political' -- which is a far more common word than 'civic' -- is a symptom of a collapse in our civic understanding. The ambiguity of the word encourages an equivocation that seems actually to be very common: that the only way to work together as citizens is by means of political offices or parties, which, again, get their power from the fact that we really think of political offices in partisan terms. This removes the emphasis on finding ways to work together (which does not always mean compromise in our usual sense, but sometimes means deference or even argument) and puts the emphasis on organizations which tend to be groups of citizens trying to shut other groups of citizens out of power. The one can't completely eliminate the other in a society that is still functioning -- when the partisan political completely abolishes the civic political we have civil war. But thinking of our political lives in terms of political parties more than in terms of citizenships is simply and utterly a deterioration, a degeneration, a fall. Political parties exist for the sake of political offices; political offices exist for the sake of the whole society of citizens precisely as citizens. When we take them as an important part of who we are, rather than affiliations for better expressing our positions as citizens, we have perverted what it is to be political.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Buridan's Ass and the Major

Thus it was to-day, at my friend Marmaduke Langdale's. The last course was no sooner removed, than the fermentation of wit and humour began; and the first display was elicited by the major, who observed, that "he was not like Buridan's ass (as General Sibthorpe used to say), for he had both eaten and drunk to his heart's content."

"I dare say you don't know the origin of Buridan's ass," interrupted Burlingham.

"I can't say I do," replied the major; "but I know what it means—that I have made a good dinner."

"Buridan," continued Burlingham, "was one of the schoolmen; and, in order to prove the existence of free will, he supposed a hungry ass—or an ass equally hungry and thirsty—"

"As you were, major, when you sat down," interrupted Jeremiah Chesterton; "only my friend Burlingham did not like to say so."

"Buridan," pursued Burlingham, "supposed such an ass placed between a bushel of oats and a tub of water, each being equi-distant from him; and then inquired—what the ass would do?"

"Nothing at all," said the Rev. Jonas Dankes, "for equal powers must produce equal results, and the ass would be starved to death; his hunger and thirst would be suspended between co-ordinate attractions."

"When that was the answer," observed Burlingham, " Buridan derided it as a palpable absurdity: but when it was contended that the ass would both eat and drink, then he maintained it had free will—else it followed, that of two equal attractions one was greater than the other, which involved a contradiction of terms."

"Buridan was a magnificent ass himself," exclaimed Jeremiah, "to suppose he proved anything by such an argument."

"I am not going to defend Buridan," replied Burlingham; "I merely wished to explain to Major Bagot tbe origin of the expression."

"Thank you," said the major; "it is very curious, and I'll try and recollect it, please the pigs—"

"I dare say," interrupted Burlingham again, " you don't know the origin of that phrase either; and little think, while using it, that you are employing a corrupt formula of popish adjuration."

"God forbid !" exclaimed the major, "for I hate the pope and all his works."

From "The Chudleigh Papers: A Dinner Scene in the Reign of George the Second," The Canterbury Magazine, vol. 2, no. 9 (March 1835), p. 103.

Some Notable Links

* Michael Kremer, What is the Good of Philosophical History? (PDF)

* Jeff Bell discusses Hume, Husserl, and Deleuze.

* Jerome Copulsky reviews two books on Moses Mendelssohn.

* John Farrell recommends Toby Huff's Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution.

* A very awesome little house in Wales.

* Lots of interesting things in SEP's Philosophy of Chemistry article.

* Robert Paul Wolff has a pair of posts appreciating Kierkegaard's Philosophical Fragments:
Part I
Part II

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Michael Dummett (1925-2011)

Michael Dummett died recently. I never had much philosophical connection with him, because he was wrong about most things that he spent most of the time discussing, but he had some excellent moments: his attacks on British racism were excellent, and would, in fact, be worth the time of Americans or anyone else; and his modern-style revival of Berkeley's argument for the existence of God in his Gifford Lectures, Thought and Reality, is worth reading, and a splendid joke on everyone who dismisses that argument facilely. The IEP has an article on his philosophical thought.

He also had some facets that deserved more recognition than they got. He was, for instance, an expert on the history of card games, and a wrote a fairly hefty number of works on it. One of his major arguments was that Tarot's association with fortune-telling is actually fairly late, and an offshoot of the game's extraordinary popularity in the early modern period.

He was one of the great Catholics in analytic philosophy in the third quarter of the twentieth century; now that he's gone, Peter Geach is about the last. He argued both for and against the Catholic position on contraception; his arguments against are, I think, the arguments that should most be taken seriously. He wrote a short piece a number of years back that was very critical of the English translation of the Mass that came about after the Second Vatican Council, arguing for the complete replacement of ICEL. That's a pretty strong view. But Dummett was never afraid to put forward a strong view if he thought he had an argument for it.

ADDED LATER: Skholiast has a nice post on the subject.


Ritual is really much older than thought; it is much simpler and much wilder than thought. A feeling touching the nature of things does not only make men feel that there are certain proper things to say; it makes them feel that there are certain proper things to do. The more agreeable of these consist of dancing, building temples, and shouting very loud; the less agreeable, of wearing green carnations and burning other philosophers alive. But everywhere the religious dance came before the religious hymn, and man was a ritualist before he could speak.

G. K. Chesterton, Heretics. And from the same book:

Christmas remains to remind us of those ages, whether Pagan or Christian, when the many acted poetry instead of the few writing it.

A Poem Draft

On a Flight from Billings to Denver

Bright the lights of God in the sky, the first gems;
bright are men's lights shining below with warm cheer;
darkness mediates in the middle night air --
planes are there flying.

World below my feet as the plane on high mounts,
I with calm mien look on the nighttime wind.
Coldly, cloud-like, misty, it arches wide wings,
rushing to darkness.

I as well: the world in its speed will rush past.
I, a mist, will fall to the aft and be gone.
Yet -- and I with surety and vision know it --
stars will be shining.

High above me, God's own creations gleam gold.
Down below me, streets will be lined with bright light.
Here in the middle spaces the world will pass by,
light all around it.

What will worry wind? In the light it leaps up.
Time is not its foe; it will dance in deep night.
Only worlds pass, only the planes; the wind plays --
time cannot rule it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Music on My Mind

Crosby wanted "Little Drummer Boy," Bowie didn't; they compromised, and I've heard this song probably every Christmas of my life. Crosby died a month after recording, in October 1977.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"There Is No Peace on Earth," I Said

Christmas Bells
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Longfellow's wife had died due to an accidental fire a few years before, and he never really recovered from it, developing, in fact, a laudanum problem to cope. He had even been unable to attend her funeral because he was burned badly trying to save her from the fire. It is clear that Christmas especially hit him hard each year because of it; he once wrote that all holidays were inexpressibly sad. His son Charles had been seriously wounded in the War; Longfellow was still trying to nurse him back to health. And this was still months away from Lee's surrender and the end of the Civil War. He wrote this on Christmas Day, 1864.

But the Civil War did end, and Charles went on to have a productive life, traveling the world.

The Hobbit Trailer

So far, so good.

A Brief History of Catechisms, and Peter Canisius

Catechetical instruction goes back to the earliest beginnings of Christian history; in its basic character it is simply the instruction of those being baptized. Several of the Church Fathers had catechetical lectures that were preserved; the most notable of these were those of Cyril of Jerusalem, whose Catechetical Lectures is one of the great theological classics of the fourth century. Likewise, Augustine wrote a manual on the subject of how to catechize. None of the catechetical works of the Church Fathers includes anything clearly and definitely identifiable as a catechism in our sense of the term, although some do occasionally approach it; but they are worth mentioning, because catechisms were an early modern attempt to get back to the patristic emphasis on catechesis in a form suitable for the day; both Cyril and Augustine, as well as some other Church Fathers, were highly influential for the development of the catechism.

One can find catechism-like fragments throughout Church history simply because catechesis is found throughout Church history. If you want a convenient point from which to identify the beginning of the catechism in the proper sense of the term, though, that is, a writing not consisting of lectures that systematically and topically arranges the foundational doctrines of the faith to serve as a guide to catechesis, it's useful to start with the fourteenth century, in which things recognizably what we would call a catechism appear. There tend to be two kinds, one in a simple question-and-answer format for the laity to learn, and another, more detailed, to assist the catechist, and both kinds continue until today.

What really makes the catechism take off, however, is the Protestant Reformation. Well before Luther, as early as the fourteenth century, it had regularly been recognized that catechesis was essential to reform of the Church. The Reformers carried this idea forward, and with them we find the beginnings of a process of refinement; taking the idea of a catechism, which had already developed, they began to improve upon it. This resulted in at least four major classic works, two of which were Luther's Small Catechism and his Large Catechism, both published in 1529. Luther placed extraordinary emphasis on the importance of catechesis, and devoted himself to it with a will; his exhortation at the beginning of the Large Catechism is well worth the reading. Starting with Calvin the Reformed tradition also produced catechisms regularly; the most notable in English were developed in the seventeenth century (1647-1648), namely, the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Westminster Longer Catechism. The beginning of the Westminster Shorter Catechism has achieved almost legendary status:

Q. Quis hominis finis est præcipuus? (What is the chief end of man?)
A. Præcipuus hominis finis est, Deum glorificare, eodemque frui in æternum. (The chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.)

The publishing of catechisms was not a purely Protestant matter, however. And this brings us to the Jesuit, Peter Canisius, whose feastday is today. Canisius published three important Catholic catechisms: a long major form (1555), a very short minimus form (1556), and an intermediate minor form (1558). They quickly became the Catholic catechisms throughout the Catholic communities of Greater Germany, and then began to be translated into other languages all over Europe. "Knowing Canisius" became a common expression for being well-catechized, regardless of whether it was out of his books or not. Canisius's catechisms were a model for Bellarmine's catechisms at the end of the sixteenth century, and Bellarmine's catechisms in turn were raised up as a general model for Catholic catechisms.

Canisius was one of the most important theologians of his day. He attended the Council of Trent. He also attended the Diet of Worms and provided the primary Catholic responses to the arguments of Melanchthon -- and, indeed, it was his list of points that was actually under discussion when those attending discussed the Augsburg Confession. Canisius had the upper hand in the discussion, in part because (as he himself wrote in a letter to the Jesuit vicar in general) the Protestants were in complete disarray. One of Canisius's major points had been to note that there were divergences in the text of the Augsburg Confession, due to Melanchthon, who had both drawn up the original and also a later version that broadened the language of some of the clauses; and thus he and the other Catholic collocutors asked that the Protestants clarify what version they actually meant when they talked about it. The result was sheer confusion among the Protestants, who on the spur of the moment were unable to come to any agreement on the acceptability of Melanchthon's changes.

Nonetheless, Canisius was one of the more irenic voices of the Counter-Reformation, repeatedly insisting that polemical approaches should be avoided in dealing with Protestants; his letters to his superiors are full of complaints about the corruption of clergy, asking them to push for remedies, so he was well aware of the problems, and sympathetic to that extent. And he more than once insisted that the German people should be treated leniently because, decent and humble at heart, they could be brought about if treated with courtesy and if, instead of trying to force them into submission, someone just spoke honestly and plainly with them. A German himself (his name is Peter Kanis) he was very pro-German, a lover of German language and life. It is largely due to the work of Canisius, and his furthering of the Jesuits throughout the German provinces, that Bavarian and Austrian parts of greater Germany remained Catholic. His levelheadedness and generally irenic temper led him to be widely respected even by Protestants -- he was known as a man with whom, no matter how much you disagreed with him, you could always have a reasonable discussion. I say 'widely'; he was also criticized widely, in very sharp terms, because he was recognized as one of the major opponents of the Protestants, and his catechisms as a significant part of the Catholic response. But, opposed to polemic and ridicule to the very end, he refrained from attacking people and instead focused on arguments and claims. He stands as a testimony to the extraordinary power of intelligence combined with an ability not to take offense. Leo XIII described him as the Second Apostle to Germany, and Pius XI named him a Doctor of the Church. From one of his sermons:

It is not enough for the Gospel-teacher to please the people with his speaking. He must also be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, and so by his eloquence call many to the good life. He must not be a dumb dog, not even able to bark, as spoken of by the Prophet Isaiah. Yea, he should also burn in such a way that, equipped with good works and love, he may adorn his evangelical office, and follow the leadership of Paul....Those churchmen err who imagine that it is by brilliant preaching that they fulfil their office; rather, it is by holiness of life and all-embracing love.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Poem Draft

No icy lace here, though; Austin weather, firmly committed to keeping Austin weird, has been gracing us with mild rainy days broken up by chill sunny days. But I'll be going up to Montana to see family over Christmas; no doubt there will be webs a-plenty there.


Tranquil tapestries in the breath of house-air,
Like the white fog blown in the cold, the pure smoke
Children puff in play, but with power, strength, force,
Memories growing --

White and cold, ice forms on the sill in laced webs:
Flawless winter spiders enmesh the whole world,
Artisans of power and grace with fair threads
Catching the shadows.

Devil's Advocate

I really have no interest in Christopher Hitchens, and never have, but in all the talk over his recent death, I did come across something interesting that I did not know before:

The 1983 streamlining of canonization eliminated the traditional position of Devil's Advocate, whose job was to make the case against a given candidate. Nevertheless, the people who were handling Mother Teresa's cause wanted to be as thorough as possible, and decided to call as a witness her harshest critic.

"Somebody in the world had to represent the Devil pro-bono. And I was perfectly happy for that to be me," says author Christopher Hitchens, who recalls being thunderstruck when he was called to testify in Mother Teresa's case.

Hitchens, who specializes in the slaughter of sacred cows, wrote a book that took the 20th Century icon to task for perpetuating poverty with her militant opposition to family planning, and preaching that poverty was a blessing.

"I met her. My impression was that she was a woman of profound faith, at least in the sense that one can say of anyone, who is a completely narrow-focused single-minded fanatic, that they are a person of faith," says Hitchens.

Did he meet her before or after he made up his mind about her?

"It was by talking to her that I discovered, and she assured me, that she wasn't working to alleviate poverty," says Hitchens. "She was working to expand the number of Catholics. She said, 'I'm not a social worker. I don't do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the church.'"

And the church listened to Christopher Hitchens, but decided that his argument was irrelevant.

Yes, if that's the argument he gave for why she shouldn't be a Catholic saint, I rather suspect the Congregation did regard it as a bit irrelevant. But I find the reason for his animus rather interesting, and also (and this was the part I didn't know before) that they brought him in -- which was really the right thing to do, since there was a reason for the Devil's Advocate position originally. Without it, bringing in Hitchens as a makeshift Devil's Advocate was the best thing to do.

The truly great irony, of course, is that the other name for the original Devil's Advocate, indeed, the real name, was Promoter of the Faith.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Historical Analysis as Causal Reasoning

One thing study of Hume, his influences, and responses to him has taught me is that the single most important area of philosophy, in terms of its ramifications, is philosophy of causation. Everything leads back there; it pulls everything together; and a very tiny change there can lead to massive changes everywhere else. While not all reasoning is causal, most reasoning involves causal reasoning of some sort. It is crucial in the strictest sense; it is the major crossroads of philosophy. One thing that I think needs to be worked out more clearly is the way in which historical reasoning is causal reasoning, and these are just some notes in that direction.

(1) To say that a given description of the past is reliable is to say that this description is an effect of such sort that it can only be traced back to actual historical actions that are such as the description describes, allowing for approximation (or, what is the same thing, in such a way as to be an appropriate means for the ends of the kind of inquiry one is doing). By saying 'it can be traced back' to these causes, I mean that it is caused by them, through intermediating causes.

(2) All historical accounts are effects; all effects have causes. The big problem for historical inquiry is determining how the features in the effect can be accounted for by causes, and what kinds of causes those must be. This genus of causal reasoning has not gone unnoticed in the history of philosophy; in fact, most undergraduates in philosophy have read one of the most influential early modern texts on the subject, although the discussion there was for different ends than clarifying historical inquiry. I speak, of course, of Descartes's Meditations III. There the question is of how to determine the features of the cause of an idea from the features of the idea, considered as an effect. But it is structurally the same problem, and what follows are some rewritings of parts of the argument of Meditations III in terms of historical accounts rather than ideas in the mind.

If we only take historical accounts to the extent that they are accounts, they seem on par. But if we take historical accounts in terms of what they represent to us as objects of thought, they end up being rather different. And this is the key point. Everything in the effect must be traced back to the causes of the effect. Thus, taking historical accounts as effects, as they obviously are, we must be able to identify causes not merely of the formal reality of these accounts, that is, for the fact that they exist and are accounts, but also for the objective reality of them, that is, for their being accounts saying this rather than that. What is more, we must take the causal chain resulting in the historical account to explain everything in the historical account without remainder, although obviously for practical purposes there will often be gaps. But it must be so: it is an a priori precondition for any inquiry that effects can be fully explained by their full set of causes. Given a principle of this sort, rational inquiry is possible; without it, it will never get off the ground.

Now accounts may, with the help of additional intermediate causes, give rise to other accounts, serving as the partial cause of later accounts (partial because accounts tend not to be self-propagating). This cannot regress infinitely, though; we must in the end reach a first account, the cause of which is the archetype from which the objective reality or content of the historical account comes. (There need not, of course, be one single cause for the whole content of the historical account, but every bit of content in the historical account must have some originating cause.)

Historical inquiry, insofar as it deals with historical accounts, is the attempt to identify, from the features of the effect and what is known about the intermediate causes, what the features of this archetype must be, may or may not be, or must not be.

(3) It is clear from thinking about these chains of intermediate causes that the most important thing to determine about them is whether any of the parts of the total cause of our historical account are defective or deficient causes. This genus of causation, too, has been given some thought, although again not with the specific purpose of elucidating historical inquiry. It has arisen in the context of privation theories of evil. As Augustine noted, if evil as such is a privation of good, then, while there is an oblique sense in which evil has an efficient cause, it is more accurate to say it has a deficient or defective cause. That is, evil as privation traces back not to an efficient cause insofar as it is effective, but an efficient cause insofar as it fails to be effective.

This is actually going to be true of privations generally, including failures to be accurate in recording something. When we ask whether an account is reliable, we are asking whether it lacks what is required to be a true account; or, in other words, we are asking whether any of the partial causes that constitute its total cause are defective causes precisely to the extent that they are causes of the account at all; and, if so, whether these deficiencies are significant for our purposes and whether any other causes compensate for them. All errors must have some defective cause; and in assessing the reliability of an account historians spend their time ruling out the possibility of various deficiencies in the causes, such as malice, deception, confusion, gullibility, or mistake.

(4) We could also say that claiming an account to be reliable involves claiming that it can be trusted. It's important to understand that this is not a different account of reliability from that found in (1). When we trust an account to tell us what happened we are assuming something about how it relates to its causes. Either we have reason to think it can only be traced back to actual historical actions that are such as it describes, or we have no reason to think it doesn't and are willing for our purposes to work on the assumption that it does. The primary value of putting it in terms of trust is, besides the fact that this is often the way people put it anyway, that talk of trust brings out the fact that every evaluation of the reliability of an account is in terms of how reliable it is as a means for whatever precise ends we have in view. It is this that raises questions about whether the account is reliable to a sufficient degree of approximation. Sufficient for what? Sufficient for whatever we are doing with it. Putting it in terms of trust brings this out nicely.

(5) All of the above talks about what historians do with accounts -- that is, testimony. Obviously historians do not only work with testimonies about what happened. They work with artifacts (papyrus, monuments, coins, etc.) as well, and even with natural objects. The reasoning in these cases is causal as well -- artifacts and natural objects are effects, with causes of their own, and we can ask broadly similar questions. The main reason for focusing on testimonies or historical accounts first, though, besides the fact that historical accounts are very, very important for historians, is that causal inferences to positive conclusions about the content of a historical account are generally quite direct and straightforward. The full-scale causal inquiry to establish these inferences can be quite complicated, and a single account can require many, many such inferences. But the inferences themselves are fairly straightforward, and tend all to be of the same kind. This is not necessarily so with other things historians look at. In talking about historical accounts, we have already narrowed down the type of cause we will be considering: accounts are by their nature direct or indirect effects of cognitive agents. Other causes only have to be considered very indirectly, insofar as you might want to know why a cognitive agent might make this mistake, or that modification, or anything else. Any involvement of a noncognitive cause that is direct (i.e., not mediated by a cognitive cause) would be rather unusual. Almost the only time it ever comes up at all is when the medium in which the account itself is preserved can be a defective cause for the account; and the way in which the medium can be a defective cause of the account is simply by loss of information (holes develop, edges shred, magnetic structure is disrupted). When we deal with artifacts as such, however, there are lots of other causes besides cognitive agents that consistently are important, despite cognitive agents still being fairly important; and when we talk about natural objects, cognitive agents are often very minor parts of the full explanation, if at all, and there are jillions of other factors to consider. Thus historical analysis of testimony, while not simple in itself, tends to be simpler in overall structure than other kinds of historical reasoning.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

PNC Christmas Price Index

PNC Financial Services Group does a 'Christmas Price Index' each year based on the song, "Twelve Days of Christmas." The main website is an awfully unnavigable flash page, but they also provide a nice PDF. Calling birds and gold rings are slightly cheaper this year than last, but everything else is at least as expensive as last year. In our current economy, the price of getting twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords-a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree is $24,263.18, up 3.5% from last year, although a good deal of that is driven by the highly volatile swan market; dancers (both lords and ladies) are the most expensive items on the list, at least at dance company and ballet prices. But swans are far and away the most expensive non-service items on the list, and there are a whopping seven of them; which has a considerable effect on the price, because swan mating cycles are highly unpredictable, and thus supply of swans can vary drastically from year to year. It is apparently not a good year for buying swans. If you take the swans out of the picture, the rise of the price over last year is only 0.7%.

Vaclav Havel (1936-2011)

Václav Havel, one of the most profound statesmen of recent times, has died at age 75. He started his career in drama and first became famous as a playwright. Because of his active support of Czechoslovakian freedom in the Warsaw Pact Invasion, his works were banned from stage in 1968 and to support himself ended up having to take a job in a brewery. He wrote a play about this experience, and other plays as well; although no one could stage them, people all over Czecholslovakia copied them and read them in secret. He became one of the founding members of the Charta 77 group and the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted. He was imprisoned several times, once from 1979 to 1984. Things turned when he became one of the leading figures of the Velvet Revolution; on December 29, 1989, he was elected president of Czechoslovakia by the Federal Assembly, which was confirmed by popular vote in June of the next year. One of his first acts as president was a general pardon for the imprisoned, arguing that the corruption of courts under the Communist regime meant that none of its verdicts could be trusted. (It was an act for which he was severely criticized.) It was he who withdrew Czechoslovakia from the Warsaw Pact. He opposed the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, but when it was a done deed, he became president of the Czech Republic. He was also a cancer survivor.

He was not a perfect man, but in everything he sought to live according to his motto, Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate. We are less for having lost him.

Every story begins with an event. This event-- understood as the incursion of one logic into the world of another logic -- initiates what every story grows out of and draws nourishment from: situations, relationships, conflict. The story has a logic of its own as well, but it is the logic of a dialogue, an encounter, the interaction of different truths, attitudes, ideas, traditions, passions, people, higher powers, social movements, and so on, that is, of many autonomous, separate forces, which had done nothing beforehand to define each other. Every story presupposes a plurality of truths, of logics, of agents of decisions, and of manners of behavior. The logic of a story resembles the logic of games, a logic of tension between what is known and not known, between rules and chance, between the inevitable and the unforeseeable. We never really know what will emerge from the confrontation, what elements may yet enter into it, and how it will end; it is never clear what potential qualities it will arouse in a protagonist and what action he will be led to perform by the action of his antagonist. For this reason alone, mystery is a dimension of every story. What speaks to us through a story is not a particular agent of truth; instead, the story manifests the human world to us as an exhilarating arena where many such agents come into contact with each other.
(from Stories and Totalitarianism)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Music on My Mind

Trevor Jones, "Delbert's Theme". A bit of instrumental, because Enbrethiliel brought it to mind.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent Giving

It's a little late in Advent for this, but if, like me, you had a hectic early Advent, it might still be worthwhile. I've previously recommended Africa Windmill Project as a candidate for Advent giving, and still do:

Africa Windmill Project focuses on educating and supporting rural farmers as they work to feed and care for their families. We do this by working directly with the farmers and by supporting other organizations as they work with farmers. Currently Africa Windmill Project is focused in the Central Region of Malawi.

The Africa Windmill Project has a blog where they occasionally post notices about the status of projects; lots of interesting things there. (For those who prefer to review financial data before donating, that can be found by registering with GuideStar.)

I have also in the past had fairly good experiences with International Justice Mission, although you should know beforehand that they are rather assertive mailers:

International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local officials to secure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, to prosecute perpetrators and to ensure that public justice systems - police, courts and laws - effectively protect the poor.

International Orthodox Christian Charities, which is, as it says on the tin, an Orthodox organization but is devoted entirely to humanitarian activities, has also been a charity with which I've had good experiences in the past. It has a number of programs.

Any other suggestions?

Marjatta and the Berry (Re-Post)

This is a repost, with minor revision, of a post originally posted in 2005.

The Kalevala is one of the world's most remarkable works of literature. Compiled by Elias Lönnrot in the early nineteenth century from Karelian folk songs, it is the national epic of Finland. What Lönnrot was attempting to do had been attempted before with much less scholarly skill, in particular by James MacPherson in his 1760 Ossian, an attempt to pull together Highland folksongs into a national epic.* But Lönnrot's masterpiece is in another league entirely.

One of the interesting aspects of the Kalevala is Lönnrot's adaptation of the first three poems in a religious cycle of Christian legends; in a trope common in folklore, he presents it as the ending of the Kalevala -- the old gods and heroes sail away as they are replaced by Christianity. As the story goes, there was a young girl named Marjatta who was sweet and pure and innocent; so pure and innocent, in fact, that she refuses to sit in a sledge drawn by a stallion. One day she's out tending sheep on the hillside, when she comes across a cowberry, which she eats ('Marjatta' suggests the Finnish word marja, 'berry'). She becomes pregnant. After nine months, she begins to realize that she needs a sauna (to ease childbirth, of course); so she goes to her mother, who gives this supportive response:

'Fie upon you, demon's bitch!
Who were you laid by?
Was it an unmarried man
or else a married fellow?'

So she goes to her father, who is equally supportive:

'Go, you whore, further than that
scarlet woman, further off
to the bruin's rocky dens
ino the bear's craggy cells--
there, you whore, to breeed
there, scarlet woman, to teem!'

Marjatta responds:

'I am not a whore at all
no kind of scarlet woman:
I am to have a great man
to bear one of noble birth
who will put down the mighty
vanquish Väinämöinen too.'

Väinämöinen is the sky-god/hero who is the protagonist of most of the Kalevala. According to Bosley's notes the line 'who will put down the mighty' might be more literally translated as 'who will have power over power itself'. But back to Marjatta: she needs that sauna, and it doesn't seem to be forthcoming; so she sends her servant-girl Piltti find a sauna at Sedgeditch; when Piltti asks who she will ask for one, Marjatta replies that she should ask for Herod's bath at Saraja's gates.

Piltti comes to Herod's cabin and there finds Herod at a feast. The picture is unforgettably good:

Ugly Herod in shirtsleeves
eats, drinks in the grand manner
at the head of the table
with only his lawn shirt on;
Herod declared from his meal
snapped, leaning over his cup:
'What do you say, mean one? Why
wretch, are you rushing about?'

Piltti replies that she's looking for a bath at Sedgeditch. When Herod's mistress asks her for whom she's asking, Piltti replies that it's for Marjatta. To which Herod's mistress replies:

'The baths are not free for all
not the saunas at Saraja's gate.
There's a bath on the burnt hill
a stable among the pines
for a scarlet woman to have sons
a whore to bring forth her brats:
when the horse breathes out
bathe yourself in that!'

Piltti returns to Marjatta with this bit of helpful counsel. Poor Marjatta bursts into tears and goes to the stall on Tapio hill, praying as she goes:

'Come, Creator, my refuge
and my help, merciful one
in this hard labour
in these most hard times:
free a wench from a tight spot
a woman from the belly-throes
lest she sink in woes
perish in her pains!'

So Marjatta gives birth with the horse's breath as a sauna, and beside a manger brings forth a baby boy, whom she wraps in swaddling clothes.

The story goes on from there, with a confrontation between the little boy and Väinämöinen. It's an interesting set of legends, forming a sort of mythological symbol of the life of Christ that plays on the association of Marjatta and marja; one thinks of the common medieval play on the association of Maria and Latin maris, as in Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, a popular title for Mary.

[All quotations from the Kalevala are from Keith Bosley's translation, Oxford University Press, 1989.]

[*] The Ossianic question, namely, whether MacPherson had forged the poem, was one of the major literary disputes and scandals of the eighteenth century, with most of the period's literary intellectuals in Britain lining up on one side of the question or another, e.g., Hugh Blair argued that it was genuine, David Hume and Samuel Johnson that it was not. My understanding is that current folklore scholarship holds it to be based in actual Highland folksongs, but massively re-worked.

Palantirs on Every Desktop

David Brin shows himself to be completely incompetent at literary analysis:

We owe absolutely nothing to $%#! elfs or wizards who clutch secret "wisdom" (what we moderns call "useful information about the world") to themselves for thousands of years, leaving men and women to flounder in miserable ignorance, when they might have opened a college in Lothlorien Forest, so we'd have flush toilets and palantirs on every desktop. Oh, thank God such creatures are mythological, because Tolkien himself opined that they were - in truth - the enemies of humankind.

Too true, because a society in which the Eye of Sauron has direct access to every desktop would be quite splendid, and flush toilets will necessarily be the highest priority of all rational people when they are engaged in a struggle with Morgoth. But the level of literary sophistication in the post does explain why I always find Brin's stories to be extraordinarily tedious characters used for implausible developments of ideas that are occasionally mildly interesting.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Links of Note

* Brit Brogaard has a paper up on eudaimonistic virtue epistemology.

* The Symbolism Survey. A sixteen-year-old in 1963 did a project in which he sent a survey on symbolism to 150 authors; seventy-five responded, and these are some of the notable ones. The Ayn Rand one has caught the most attention, being very Ayn-Randish -- but it is noticeable, and also Ayn-Randish, that she thought it important enough to reply. Ray Bradbury's response is somewhat interesting, too.

* The IEP has a new article on Immanuel Kant's Philosophy of Religion

* Geza Vermes on early Jewish Christianity. I'm glad to see him pointing out that the Patriarchs of Jerusalem up to the time of Hadrian were, as Eusebius puts it, "of the circumcision."

* Bill Witt has some Anglican Reflections on Justification by Faith, in which he corrects some common misunderstandings of the Reformation view.

* Humphrey continues discussion of some of Pinker's statistics.

* Janet Smith clarifies her argument on lying. I find it very unhelpful; it leaves me more baffled than ever about how the different parts of her argument are supposed to work (particularly her discussions of purposes of speech). But I thought I should point to it. In any case, nothing she says here persuades me to modify my quodlibetal question on lying.

* There are rumors that the Pope will name St. Hildegard von Bingen a Doctor of the Church at some point in 2012. (ht) If so, I'll end up having to modify my Doctors of the Church post again.

* An interesting post on the Carolingian argument for why the Frankish Emperors could call themselves Emperors of the Romans.

The Myth of Judgment

Fr. James Schall has an interesting post on the eschatological myth with which the Gorgias ends. I'm not sure I fully follow the line of argument in the essay, but I read the myth rather differently -- that is to say, the afterlife is not the point at all. When Socrates sums up, he says that Gorgias, Polus, and Callicles have failed to prove that you shouldn't live the sort of life that the myth says you should. Thus I don't think the justice or injustice of the world is Socrates's primary concern; it comes up, but is not discussed extensively. Rather, what Socrates is doing is showing that Callicles's trump card -- the claim (entirely true as far as it goes) that Socrates's philosophizing will result in his being brought before a jury and condemned to death -- is just a story, and other stories can be told. And what matters is that Callicles and the others have been unable to refute Socrates's contentions that those who do wrong are always worse off for doing it, that nothing bad really happens to the just person, and that being good is always better than seeming good; these are all contentions woven into the story. What the gods do in the story is bring the question back to truth: Zeus sets up a situation in which no soul can hide behind rhetoric, in which every soul stands naked and unadorned for its judgment. Souls scarred with injustice are seen as scarred; souls beautiful with justice are seen as beautiful. The myth is not chiefly about eschatology, what will happen after you die, although that is the framework of the story; the myth is about reality, how things are now, even if we ourselves, not being gods, cannot always see them.

But, as I said, it's an interesting little post.

Wrongmaking Characteristics of Right Actions?

I was looking at something in Tooley's SEP article on the problem of evil, which is one of those SEP articles that makes an interesting paper without being very good as an encyclopedia article, and stopped to read his "Concrete, Deontological, and Direct Inductive Formulation" of the PoE. Evaluating it he goes through each of the nine premises and concludes, "So all of the premises seem fine"; I don't actually think this is true, since several of the premises seem to me to be ambiguous as formulated. But this premise in particular just baffled me:

(10) An action is morally wrong, all things considered, if it has a wrongmaking characteristic that is not counterbalanced by any rightmaking characteristics.

It reminds me of Campbell's cutting comments (in his critique of Hume on miracles) about the bizarreness of Hume's principle of counterpoise. Clearly if we are accepting this principle as "by virtue of the concepts of rightmaking and wrongmaking characteristics, together with the concept of an action's being wrong, all things considered," we can't be using the phrase "wrongmaking characteristic" to mean "characteristic that makes an action wrong". And the same with "rightmaking characteristic". In every other discussion I've come across in which phrases like these have been used, 'wrongmaking' was the adjectival form of 'making wrong'. So what, then, are these wrongmakers and rightmakers that don't necessarily make actions wrong or right? What general features do they have?

When he first mentions them, he says that they are properties "that determine whether an action is one that ought to be performed, or ought not to be performed, other things being equal." I take it that the ceteris paribus clause here is supposed to be doing some major work, but combining it with (10) seems to convey the idea that wrongmaking characteristics are characteristics that make an action wrong when it's not a right action, and rightmaking characteristics are characteristics that make an action right when it's not a wrong action. And then (A) we need to have a clear account of how we identify them in a non-question-begging way, which we don't have; and (B) we need to have an argument that they are universally stable and not merely functional according to circumstances -- i.e., that characteristic of type C is not wrongmaking under some circumstances and rightmaking under others; and (C)we need to know how we assess the balance of rightmaking and wrongmaking. Indeed, rather weirdly, rightmakers and wrongmakers don't make actions right or wrong; rather, what makes an action right or wrong is the higher-order characteristic of how your wrongmakers relate to your rightmakers. This is not, as far as I have been able to determine, standard usage of the terms at all; in standard usage, 'rightmaking' indicates something that makes your action right. It's not normally used to talk about what makes your action right assuming it isn't "overbalanced" by the sort of thing that makes your action wrong (if it's not "overbalanced" by the sort of thing that makes it right...); or, to put it in other terms, we don't usually talk about oughts in such a roundabout, vague, and wishy-washy way.

Setting aside the unnecessarily confusing nature of the terminology, part of the weirdness is that this is a principle of the kind that usually indicates a consequentialist view, but it is stated in terms that are usually used to indicate a deontological view. (Tooley seems to want to get away from a consequentialist view in order to avoid certain controversies, but this sort of principle is not a usual part of deontological views, and so it's difficult to see how it avoids the problem of controversy.) We can make sense of:

(10') An action is morally wrong, all things considered, if it has disutility that is not counterbalanced by any utility.

But (10) is not obviously even coherent, and even if we assume it coherent, it isn't clear how we'd identify our wrongmaking and rightmaking characteristics as they'd have to be understood here (without begging any questions), and even if we assume we could, it isn't clear how we'd determine whether (say) 'letting Pinocchio become a real boy' was counterbalanced by (say) 'letting Bambi's mother die', and by what measure. Under what moral theory does it actually make sense to analyze actions this way?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Poem Re-Draft


'Tis true he's not the greatest bard
to grace the human race;
his poems are filled with little lines
that hang in filler-space.
He has a certain fervor
(more a fever in the brain);
it substitutes for music --
thus all his lyrics strain.
And he preaches like a pastor,
and lectures all the day;
I'd love to love his poems
but his words get in the way.
He is pompous and pretentious --
yes, a flash of wit thrown in,
but his taste is all the former,
the clunky prosist's sin.
And, boy, he likes a good conceit
(conceited people do!),
writ in vain and empty words
dressed up like clerihew.


Homer may be an ocean
and Virgil a city spired;
I think that people tell it true
who say Dante is a choir.
But this poet is a napkin
scribbled in a dim-lit bar
before the scribbler passes out
and the barkeep calls a car.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Foe of Every Cruelty

Today is the feast of St. Lucy, Virgin Martyr; she is one of the saints who is often easily picked out because she is usually represented as carrying her eyes on a plate, like so:

Saint Lucy by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi

The reason is that the stories of her martyrdom tell that her eyes were gouged out during the Diocletian persecution.

She was extraordinarily popular. She has an important, although mostly offstage, role in Dante's Divine Comedy (Dante, who had eye troubles, was highly devoted to her); she is the saint that the Virgin Mary sends to Beatrice, telling her to send Virgil as Dante's guide through hell; or so we are told by Virgil himself:

" 'That Lady called on Lucia with her request
And said: "Your faithful follower has now
Such need of you that I commend him to you."

" 'Lucia, the foe of every cruelty,
Started up and came to where I was,
Sitting at the side of the aged Rachel.

" 'She said, "Beatrice, true credit to our God,
Will you not help the man who so loves you
That for your sake he left the common crowd?

" ' "Do you not hear his pathetic grieving?
Do you not see the death besieging him
On the river which the ocean cannot sway?"

She is also conspicuously mentioned in the Paradiso, where Beatrice confirms Virgil's story:

"And opposite the eldest family father
Lucia sits, who stirred your lady when
Your head was nodding downward, to your ruin."

Thus in the Mystical Rose of Heaven she is directly across from Adam.

John Donne also has a famous poem on St. Lucy's Day:

A Nocturnall upon St. Lucie's Day, Being the Shortest Day
by John Donne

'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

This poem is usually thought to have been written in 1627, a year in which Lucy Donne, his daughter, and Lucy, Countess of Bedford, a close friend, both died. The reference to the 'year's midnight' is to the fact that St. Lucy's feast was at one time more-or-less the Winter Solstice (in England in Donne's day, and for quite some time before it, St. Lucy's would have been the closest major saint's day to the Winter Solstice -- you need to keep in mind, of course, the difference between the Julian and the Gregorian calendar). St. Lucy's as liturgical Winter Solstice creates an interesting series of juxtapositions given that her name is derived from the word for 'light'; exactly suitable to the poetic conceits of a metaphysical poet like Donne.

Monday, December 12, 2011

On an Answer to a Quiz Question

I've recently finished grading one of the take-home tests I give for my Intro courses; it's a test on the history of philosophy, and is a rather difficult two-part test, so I throw in a lighter question or two. One of them is simply to name something they learned from the course that is not on the test. As you might expect, there's a wide variety of answers, but one answer I've come to expect, which is virtually always mentioned by one or two students, is that they were surprised to discover that there were any Christian philosophers. That is to say, any Christian philosophers ever. Sometimes I get a more generalized form, expressing surprise at the existence of religious philosophers of any sort.

They learn that such people have existed, of course, because I always have a medieval philosophy segment to the course, and all the philosophers there are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim and, because it is convenient for giving some order to the period, explicitly labeled as such. I think of this as being to some extent a vindication of teaching Introduction to Philosophy with a historical approach, despite the difficulties it introduces: had I not taught this course several times, and if I taught it by problem-units (free will, skepticism, etc.) rather than by historical sweep, it would never have occurred to me even to raise the point explicitly -- it's the sort of thing I ordinarily take completely for granted. And, whatever one may think about the interest of that point in general, this is a matter that is undeniably a point of interest to many students: I mean, there are students whose minds are seriously just blown by it, and all their preconceptions of philosophy smashed into bits by it.

One wonders what the background causes are that lead so many students to disassociate the concepts of philosophy and religion, but it's not an uncommon thing. The number of people who, on discovering (usually through different channels) that I'm both Christian and teach philosophy, have actually been taken aback, and puzzled about how that could possibly work, is extraordinary. It can't be any well-defined conception of philosophy. I find that most people, that is, most ordinary people going about business that has nothing to do with academia and have never taken a philosophy class before, have difficulty keeping philosophy and psychology straight. And (for instance) it's not difficult to find people whose conception of philosophy is that it is a sort of koan meditation; in their mind philosophy works by coming up with questions that have no possible answer -- not many possible answers that can't be narrowed down but no possible answers at all. (This is, incidentally, worth keeping in mind when one teaches philosophy, because such students can go through philosophy courses without ever being disabused of it, since they have no problem with saying that such questions can look like they have answers, or that people can think they are giving answers to them. But a lot that is puzzling about the way students respond to, say, trolley problems or skeptical scenarios suddenly makes sense if you assume that some of the students are assuming from the beginning that posing a trolley problem or skeptical scenario is like asking about the sound of one hand clapping. To them it's a category mistake to think that one can really get any farther than merely posing it.) But it is very, very common. Perhaps the heavy emphasis on skepticism that has been such a common staple of the modern undergraduate philosophy class is a contributing factor; but, again, we are talking about people who have never had an undergraduate philosophy class before, and whose acquaintance with the very term consists entirely of pop culture references and whatever might come up in ordinary conversation.

Dashed Off

domain-specific principles of sufficient reason
->cf. Suarez: "we have a general rule that distinctions are not to be multiplied without sufficient reason (seeing that a distinction does not occur in anture without a sufficient cause or without necessity)."

Ezekiel's repair of the temple as figure of resurrection

acquired faith: opinion fortified by argument

(1) the infinite for-any-finite-a-greater
(2) the infinite greater-than-any-finite
(3) the infinite than-which-nothing-greater
->For each we may inquire whether it can be in potentia and whether it can be in actu
->in each case the potential is with respect to some power real or posited

negative indistance

reflection on the Passion a prayer for purity

The worst forms of despair disguise themselves as faith and hope, especially the former.

We should avoid both mortal sin and venial sin, but our reason for avoiding them is not the same: we avoid mortal sin so that we may love God and neighbor, and we avoid venial sin so that we may love them better, and not defectively.

Both Hobbes & Leibniz take conatus to be the impulse of motion considered pointwise -- in Leibniz's analogy conatus : motion :: point : space

analogy between reduplicative & material propositions (Leibniz)

Faith, being an infused virtue, has a twofold analysis, one human that concerns itself with motives of credibility and one divine that is spritiual discernment through divine illumination; and a twofold synthesis, one human that concerns itself with the beauty of the whole world and one divine that is intimacy with glory.

The divine side of faith is entirely on God's terms, not ours.

the perichoresis of virtues

We can only appropriate ideas of the Mysteries, never the Mysteris themselves; but they can appropriate us.

The vocation of a writer is to bear witness; and it is perhaps the very distinguishing mark of the good writer, as opposed to the bad, that the good writer bears witness to what is definitely something.

We learn our true worth through humility; and one thing we learn through humility is that the beatitude or happiness worth having is a very great thing.

People who see the world as it is but cannot give different priorities to what they see will inevitably become depressives.

Without prudence, conscience is mere abuse.

Mockery is answered by proof of rightnes,s proof of congruity, or proof of defensibility.

the world as an occasion of aspiration

A painting, like a text, is a composition of signs.

Impassibility is moral transcendence.

the link between the Ascension & the Headship of Christ

Ascension as anticipation of parousia (Acts 1:11)

Analysis of argument is fundamentally analysis of means and ends; formal structure becomes relevant insofar as it makes arguments suitable or unsuitable for their ends.

adapting belief revision models to argument revision (some are at least primitive versions of the latter already)

It is a mistake to confuse acting without a principle and acting in violation of it. People violate noncontradiction all the time; it is still the first principle of all reasoning, without which nothing makes sense....Just as it would be follish to assume that inconsistency, which is mere violation, means either that we are free from noncontradiction or that noncontradiction is not a norm of consistency,m, to too with bonum faciendum, mutatis mutandis.

If you are not wrong often, you are not thinking enough. (But being wrong often is rather different from being wrong always, or even being wrong about most things; both of these are dysfunctional in a way that being wrong often is not.)

In sexual life our bodies are rational signs of deeper things.

No one understands heroism who thinks it can be forced.

The Faith is not merely our fidelity but our confidelity.

Human beings are often at their best when humbly attempting great things and earnestly doing simple things well.

intense emotion concentrating itself into an image in which the subjective is expressible by the objective

images as seeds of civilization

evocative juxtaposition of images

In art as well as science even failures can be progress (for this is a feature of reason that learns).

Analytic philosophy of the more formal sort is like cubism in its focus on the abstract and inorganic structures of concrete and living forms; it is like impressionism in its more intuition-peddling sorts. This philosophical cubist impressionism has its place, but the museum of philosophical art, even the museum of modern philosophical art, is not chained to one such style. The same can be said of the philosophical tachisme of certain continental schools.

Bentham & Grote seem wrong in saying that pain has more various shapes than pleasures.

Sometimes useless information combines with other useless information to become useful information.

The philosopher has a responsibility to take even false and dubious positions seriously, to the extent that they raise points that may indeed need to be resolved.

computers as mathematical looms

Some contributions to a nation, or to humanity, are so great that ar eword or honor that can be confined to a lifetime is not adequate; this was one reason for heritable titles.

'Observation' as used in different scientific fields is an analogical term, not a univocal one. Observing double stars is not the same as observing bird song, and neither is the same as observing subatomic particles.

In at least some cases (e.g., solution of proportional equations) analogical reasoning is fully rigorous. So the question becomes: under what condtions are analogical inferences so rigorous?

It is true that truth does not contradict truth, but it is also true that the coherence of truth with truth may be subtle.

Reasonable gadflies and intelligent kooks have always performed inestimable services for the intellectual world.

We are beggars in the face of grace in exactlyt eh saem sense we are beggars before nature, and just as we must panhandle for air to breathe, we must panhandle for divine light. But these are all loose metaphors; they capture nothing but our dependence on things that do not depend on us.

Polytheism tends to monotheism by two routes: henotheism (this god is more deserving of my worship, at least, than other gods) and theomonism (all gods are in some way one).

To overcome suffering for what is right is greater by far than signs and wonders.

Bentham's methods of paraphrasis and archetypation are valuable if freed from Benthams complete incapacity to understand the human mind, and the inevitable self-parodying crudeness that results.

Paraphrasis naturally tends to abstraction, not concretion; where concreteness is increased there is generally implicit modification in which concrete things are treated as if they were themselves abstract (i.e., the paraphrasis is by figure of speech), or else information and meaning is definitely lost.

"To try wrong guesses is, with most persons, the only way to hit the right. The character of a true philosopher is, not that he never conjectures hazardously, but that his conjectures are clearly conceived, and brought into rigid contract with facts." Whewell

Because hypocrisy is chiefly a matter of motivation, and becaus ethe values and ideas the hypocrite chooses as whitewash are often genuinely good, we should not forget that the arguments & criticisms made by hypocrites can be right.

To make human beings means to the ends of technology rather than vice versa is inconsistent with human dignity and therefore with justice.

Sacrifice is associated with eating because the latter is assimilation.

As Christ's redemption comes under natural signs, so His body and blood under signs of bread and wine.

Some kinds of prayer, like exercise, require good form. (Hence Acts of Contrition, Faith, Hope, Love, and so forth.)

the familial munus: to guard, reveal, and communicate love

Hope is the patriotism of Heaven.

the liturgical year as an oscillation of anticipations and remembrances

All is material, everything occasion, for grace.

loyalty to the virtuous as a group
-Foot's army of volunteers

the books of Daniel & Esther as models for hagiography

the eduction of anecdote and moral from story

Money in the broad sense is a system for comparing, prioritizing, and rationing in a broader system of exchange.

the conditions for self-sustaining intellectual networks

Pleasures without contexts corrupt.

All intellectual insults, however specific, approximate over time to synonymy with 'stupid', i.e., to indefinite and generalized denigration of intellectual & reasoning abilities. Since any intellectual criticism can be turned into insult simply by being used that way, critical vocabulary has a sort of natural tendency to degeneration and impoverishment.

We have in Scripture not one voice but a consonance of voices, and they do not sing all the same notes, but harmonize different notes in polyphonic song.

It is the grace of the young tnot to be terrified of the precipice on which they stand; we have all been there and we all barely noticed.

The aim of the poetic art is to make something to be wondered at.

logical time as measured in inference steps
- note significance of branches of argument (one branch to C can take longer than another branch to C, and two lines of argument can be non-simultaneous or simultaneous)

circular reasoning as a sign of the edge of argument
(cf Aristotle's point that petitio principii treats non-principles as principles)
-> the edge of argument is like the edge of fractal if we consider structure alone

per accidens & per se series of questions

Hope lies in understanding priorities and differences of importance.

Conversions that are not moral miracles always build on some kind of intellectual curiosity or some kind of natural piety, and, indeed, often a mix of both.
-> Indeed, thinking of this further, how many of the obviously unconvertible are so wholly because they are incapable of even basic intellectual curiosity about what they are rejecting? Rational curiosity doesn't guarantee conversion; but deadness of intellectual interest is deadness to all but miraculous persuasion.

Freedom is exactly as valuable as the acts of honor and virtue it makes possible.

Delusion is a stopping of the mind before it has returned to first principles.

seraphim and scorpions

Lists being natural or rational in character, no infinite list of numbers can ever include all real numbers. This suggests the possibility of superlists, pertaining to higher cardinalities: the real superlist, etc.

Equality between human beings necessarily has to take many different forms; any account of human equality failing to recognize this will fail to attain certain needful kinds of equality. For equalities are as diverse as relations between people, and while these fall into kinds, there are many kinds; and there are equalities that pertain to unequal incidentals, as with employers and employees, or parents and children, that are distinctive to those relationship and easily lost through an attempt to reduce all equality down to one kind.

the history of philosophy as a datum for natural theology (cf. civil theology)

Our call is not to civilize the earth but to be civilized in it.

As signs the sacraments are revelations.

The Eucharist is not merely Passion and Resurrection extended to us; it is also Pentecost extended to us.

hamartia - hubris - nemesis - anagnorisis

Since sin consists of dwelling on lesser goods to the exclusion of greater goods, the key practice that must be learned in moral life is looking beyond good to greater good.

It is the beauty, not the complexity, of the universe that most properly indicates divine wisdom.

In the finest classical tragedies, nemesis operates unseen: we are destroyed before we know it.

mereotopology of regions of influence

Means of communication that allow swift transmission of ideas do not always do the best job of establishing them; and vice versa.

the cultivation of play into art

young man's humor, old man's calm

The most dangerous kind of person who presents himself as an intellectual is the one who will not allow others room to be wrong.

rings & fields & the theory of lists

Error theories are not merely useful but necessary when otherwise the existence of a concept or term is itself reason or evidence for the opposing position. That is, when you can say, "But how could we have had the concept/term X at all, if we didn't somehow get it from X?" So Descartes (at least) showed that this is so for God (qua the infinite) & the rationalists extended this in their anti-empiricist arguments; other examples would be things like 'contingency', 'good', and so forth. That is, there is an actual argument from our having that very idea that would need to be addressed by the opposing side (or else it stands).

People who tell no stories of darkness and light, in stark black and white as we say, cannot see shades of gray as gray.

Religious liberty protects the supremacy of the Faith from neglect, fraud, and discord insinuated into society by political interests.

We seek out ritual & liturgy not for pleasure but for rich experience.

paradox of tragedy & extreme initiations

The pretense that all other men contribute equally to the common good as good fathers do is a dangerous one for both societies and men.

Unpredictable turns of argument can form predictable patterns.

nonpersonal, emotional, and analytical factors shaping turns of argument

The potential parts of argument-types are typical deteriorations and adaptations of the original.

argument simulacra

therbligs of reasoning

Facts are feats of intellect and thing.

Lullian combinatorial method as an attempt to trace the fractal edge of argument.

invariances in voluntary acts

the 'great chain' of the good (much more important, perhaps, in hostorical cases than Lovejoy's interpretation allows)

An advantage of the mathematician over the logician is that in some/many areas of logic the lgoician cannot take advantage of the power of massively iterated operations.

The pursuit of wisdom is necessary for a government; it is the only way to be both consistent and flexible enough to stay just in the face of the world's mutability.

comparison & contrast of seed crystal and pollen metaphors for aphorisms

- there needs to be more exploration of marriage as a sign

Logic has analogies to every art.

zones of reasonable doubt and constraints thereupon

regions of acceptable utility

A utilitarianism without a semiotic of goods is blind.

drivers and enablers in historical explanation
- disablers as well

NQV analysis of interscholastic disputes
Boyd's Loop analysis of interscholastic disputes

secularism vs. liminalism

Like ocular blindspots, mental blindspots can be identified by inference. Doing so, however, requires being open to such inferences in the first place.

incantatory functions of money

the oracles, especially Delphic, as having seeded Greek philosophy

Mary as the Mother of Many Ends (Lull)

"As the end is, so is the hope." Lull

"One virtue is an exemplar for another." Lull

Standards of artistic excellence must consider the difficulty of what is being done.

To study philosophers requires appreciating the interest of philosophical experiments that didn't work out.

paratypical modifications of arguments

(1) Regions of influence are colelctions of nodes linked by arcs of influence.
(2) Of two regions of influence, a region A mediately influences a region C when there is some region B such that there is a path through B from a node in A to a node in C.
(3) A region A includes a region B as a subordinate region of influence if every path of influence to a node in B includes at least one node in A, and there is at least one node in A not in any path in B.
(4) Region A and region B overlap when there is some region C that is a subordinate region of both A & B.

We can think of the nodes of regions of influence as persons, texts, artifacts, or institutions.

Possibility of arcs of influence is determined by the causal conditions for communication.

bridge influence can be represented by cuts, on assumption that all relevant influences are considered

utility-amplifying institutions
utility-generating institutions

decision theory & the modeling of prudence

prudence in limited, closed situations vs. prudence in open-ended situations

Laity are not simply subordinate to clergy but functionally interordinate with them, by each being subordinate to the ends of the other in certain respects. The two errors in ecclesiology to avoid are that in which the clergy do not serve their flocks and that in which the laity have no real shepherds.

the vocation of marriage to be revelatory

Society can only reliably be ruled by philosopher-kings when society is filled with potential candidates for philosopher-kings.

sophistry as idolopoetic

If the Seventh Letter hadn't been written by Plato, we would still have to say that its anonymous author was one of the most remarkable minds of ancient Greece.

the divine pastor in Plato's Statesman
(he feeds, heals, arranges nuptials, acts as midwife, soothes with music)

baptism as maieutic

The statesman, politikos, weaves the friendships of the city into balanced harmonies.

self-interrogating reasoned exposition

sexual usury

rhetoric as the art of persuading many by means of mythology rather than instruction (Plato Polit. 304d).

The universe participates the likeness of the Word, but is not the Word.

Christian eschaton is not mere phthora.

Agape is what most suits the pursuit of agathon.

immediate self-sameness (point)
mediate self-sameness (circular motion)

Intention is one of the things capable of temporal asymmetry.

The best thing for good government is prudence in the authorities; the second best thing is for law to be sovereign; the latter is easier to guarantee.

Just as virtue in a person is not merely knowledge, so justice in a city is not merely the knowledge of those in charge.

One of the things writing cannot convey is the massiveness of true dialectic, both its scope and detail; take a text as long as you please, it is merely one surface of the rational discourse that created it.

Times of adversity require patience, forbearance, and pardon.

"The source of wisdom is God's word in the highest heaven." Sir 1:5

the battle of cant & candour

It takes true candour not to call virtue cant.

An understudied area is how much philosophy depends on the mild approval or even mere toleration of large numbers of people who are otherwise largely indifferent to it.
--> NB: this is today most clearly seen with the sciences

Totalitarianism is an attack on MacIntyrean practices.

Immorality corrupts but does not destroy society -- until it becomes immoralism.

The caricature of fortitude will seem more like fortitude than fortitude itself to those who have little acquaintance with fortitude. And so with all other virtues.

Excessive fear of hypocrisy is quite as dangerous as hypocrisy.

open & closed premise sets
-> quasi-closed premise sets for nonmonotonic/defeasible inference

a theory of human exchange in terms of object, work, expense, and risk

The extent of hypocrisy in a society is an indirect (and somewhat unfortunate) measure of the excellence of its moral standards.

the horror reveal & the suspense nonreveal

The amount people are willing to pay for something is usually less than their estimate of its value; people like bargains, and want things at bargain price.

Demand is explained by taste, need, price, and ability to demand.

The key to economics is the difference between real equality and practical equivalence in a domain.

accessibility relations between markets

Lending markets are generally markets involving asymmetric information; they rarely even approach ideal symmetry.

The reason for interest lies in bargaining about loans (not lending itself).

What matters most in modern democratic politics is who is known to oppose you.

Is 55:10-11 & fourfold sense

Political parties are expressions of practical reason; many of their quirks & abuses chiefly arise when practical reason is severed from speculative reasoning.

Finance as a field is nothing other than contract engineering.

protecting the juridical person in man through juridical equality & due process
protecting the moral person in man by protecting memory & conscientious objection
protecting the individual identity in man by protecting creative spontaneity and assertion

commonalities of sentiment reflect natural law which reflects divine law

(1) Being is prior to becoming.
(2) Knowledge originates in experience.
(3) Logic alone does not verify.

Fortitude "is a habit that builds fortifications against the vices" (Lull)

"Faith is the intellect's instrument and enables it to elevate its understanding through belief." (Lull)

the source & sink of an idea

Participation is the basis of testimony.

remote & proximate preparations for rational inquiry

Pleasures must be purified, moderated, and mortified.

the parallel between skepticism & scruples
(note that scruples is often caused by meticulous-mindedness combined with confusions about principles, and failure to distinguish sentiment and consent)
(note too the major remedies for scruples: reasonable obedience & deference to others)

As there are many kinds of assent (imaginative, opinion, knowledge), so there are many kinds of inference (in Newman's sense) corresponding to each.

Holidays and festivals, however vulgar, give nourishment to imaginative and poetic life in people who otherwise may get little.

pseudo-traditionalists who throw out internals to maintain externals

Too much activism breeds an unwillingness to listen to others.

Latin & Greek as treasuries of alternative conceptual vocabularies (obviously any language shaped by robust interplay of philosophical traditions could serve -- classical Chinese and Sanskrit have similar value)

The mountain in the reflection has no height at all. This is half of Zen.

treating words as fields of association

Much of the task of life is to learn how to go bravely to meet our fate, whatever it may be.

Economics is fundamentally an exercise in recognizing what you cannot assume.

For one who has done wrong but retains a living and well-formed conscience, judgment is itself a punishment or at least partial expiation. Hence purgatory: the just find judgment a vindication, the honest wrongdoer under mercy finds it expiation; for both it is salvation.

We measure space by the power to traverse it.

The translator presents the original not literally but by an extraordinary figure of speech.

Participation is another way to talk about final causes (directly or indirectly, depending on the kind of participation).

ongoing operational preferences in reasoning

Every premise set establishes not just conclusions strictly deduced by also conclusions apt to be drawn.

Remnants of older arguments remain in later arguments.

As belief requires context, there must be cognitive acts prior to it.

What makes fideism a coherent kind of position is that (1) we often find ourselves believing things without knowing why and (2) we take at least some beliefs to be themselves evidence of their own truth (the act of believing is itself evidence of the belief). Thus the general logical type, fideism, is possible: We could indeed find ourselves believing something on no discernible evidence but reasonably take the believing itself as evidence of the belief's truth, and this just is fideism. (You will note the similarity of this to taking something to be self-evident; which is no doubt why fideists not uncommonly make the mistake of conflating fides and intelligentia.) Things get trickier when it comes to specific fideistic positions, especially in areas in which the belief in question is not somehow self-reflexive.

Prayer gives stability toboth work and study, whether we are thinking individually or communally.

The greater part of maturity is learning how to work with what the world throws at you.

All formal systems explicitly representing identity necessarily require the assumption that at least some intensional or modal contexts are irrelevant. Consider X=Y. But as labeled, X is X, and not Y, and Y is Y, and not X, and X is on the left and Y is on the right; thus if this is identity, these must be considered irrelevant.

Our discourse about time is modally complex, including not just time-ordering modalities, but also alethic, epistemic, incipit/desinit, and perhaps even deontic. It is a stew of modalities.

Love of the good is health of the will.

Precepts of natural law fructify into prudential counsels of moral philosophy.

Faith we have because of the good, hope we have because of the true.

If families or nations have duties, they have the rights requisite to perform them.

-- a map of the episcopal, monastic, and mendicant lines of the Doctors of the Church

Religious rituals are in effect dialectical negotiations of vaiorus kinds, and thus exhibit on a large scale the features we recognize on a small scale in argument, persuasion, courtesy, and otehr interactions with human beings.

Courtesy is the natural expression of respect, whether we speak of respect for another person, or resepect for truth or justice, or respect for the natural world. Courtesies just are what human beings do in expressing respect.

We often require of people a rational account of how they avoid the problems of not believing something.

Agnosticism is not a simplifying position; it uses necessity to eschew simplicity.

Much of analytic philosophy is voodoo philosophy: to attack or support reasoning you attack or support toy models of it.

Definition is the test of self-evidence.