Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Notes and Links

* Gabriel McKee ranks Phillip K. Dick film adaptations. Paycheck was much stronger, and The Minority Report somewhat weaker, than McKee suggests, I think.

* A blog devoted to the School of Salamanca.

* The cause for the beatification of Paul Xu Guangqi has been officially opened (ht). He was one of Matteo Ricci's most important converts, and certainly his most important collaborator, and is called one of the Three Pillars of Chinese Catholicism.

* John Wilkins has some interesting criticisms of some recent remarks by the Pope on evolution; they are well worth reading. I'm not sure the Pope need be read as taking a position quite as strong as John takes him to be taking, but I'm also not sure that this would blunt the force of the main criticism, either. I think part of the difference here is that Benedict XVI is very decidedly Augustinian in approach, whereas John favors more thoroughly Thomistic approaches (at least if you're going to head in anything like that direction at all). Given my own inclinations it's not surprising that I think he's pretty much right, even though I would quibble about some details in the stating of it.

He does come close to one of my pet peeves by saying that Aquinas has a design argument for the existence of God, but in this context we're talking in a very broad way and have very few convenient labels for what we're talking about -- Lewis Ezra Hicks argued for a eutaxiological/teleological distinction, and you can look around and see how successful he was at getting people to recognize that the most the two had in common was a very loose family resemblance. But there are functions that can be served by either, as well as by certain other kinds of arguments, and we have absolutely no convenient terms to talk about this functionality that can be fulfilled by different kinds of arguments (a common problem, and one that historians of philosophy should take more seriously), so 'design argument' works as well as anything, as long as you read him closely and don't import too much baggage into the label. [On this, see comments.]

* Brendan O'Neill has some doubts about Grayling's recent secular humanist Bible. Actually, the basic criticism seems to me to generalize easily to pretty much all of Grayling's nontechnical work (which is a pretty significant portion of his work):

By wrenching a few nuggets of wisdom from Aristotle’s Metaphysics or Mill’s On Liberty, he has reduced these and other thinkers to Deepak Chopra-style providers of happy-clappy advice for how to live a decent, upstanding life. Their intellectual tussling with the headache-inducing question of what it means to be human, to be conscious, to be moral, is elbowed aside in favour of culling a few lines of insight that might help people decide what to do on a particularly troublesome Tuesday morning or when faced with a workplace/relationship dilemma.

Part of the problem is that Grayling likes to think of himself as a good philosophical popularizer and daring freethinker, when in fact he is a very inconsistent, and mostly mediocre, philosophical popularizer whom people like because he is so bourgeois and bland, like them, harmlessly liberalish with a little soupcon of learned allusion. You have only to set Grayling's philosophical popularizing next to, say, Russell's in order to see the difference between the two, especially when you consider the different climates in which they operate. This new venture, from which you can read excerpts online, in which selections of Grayling's fave passages are removed from context and blended together in ersatz and pretentious pastiche, a mash-up, in fact, is just Grayling taking this difference from Russell to the point of self-parody.

* Thomas Fink famously did a mathematical analysis identifying 85 ways to tie a tie; his tie knot page is worth reading. One set of knots I don't see on the list -- although not having gone thoroughly through each one it's possible I simply missed them, is the family of tie knots in which the knot itself is actually backward: the Ediety or Atlantic knot is the most famous of these, although one sometimes sees the Eldredge as well. (The Shak Knot proposed here is essentially another variation on the theme, as the author notes.) These are interesting knots; they can sometimes be tricky to tie but, because the knot has much more texture than normal, they can also look quite interesting. They are also becoming much more popular, under the name Merovingian, although from what I've seen this tends to be used of several different knots of the same family. (The name Merovingian has become popular because the character of that name in the Matrix movies wore one; the underworld believer in underlying determinism having, appropriately, a necktie whose knot puts what usually is the underside in front.)

On rare occasions when I wear a tie, my preferred knot is the Shelby.

* Arsen Darnay discusses the calculation by hand of fractional and decimal exponents at "La Marotte".

* The USCCB Committee on Doctrine is putting together a conference on the title, "Intellectual Tasks of the New Evangelization"; the applications are due May 15. I can already tell you one of the intellectual tasks of the New Evangelization: to stop making the mistake, which this conference is making, of assuming that only those in theology and religious studies departments are suited for the task, or even that they are necessarily well-equipped or well-situated for it at all. As Ratzinger once said on this very question, "Everyone needs the Gospel; the Gospel is destined to all and not only to a specific circle and this is why we are obliged to look for new ways of bringing the Gospel to all." The New Evangelization, by definition, is a task for the whole Church; and theologians are not the only intellectuals in the Church. It is very difficult to see how a small circle of academics in one academic field stand any chance of fulfilling or even identifying all the intellectual tasks that such a project with such an aim requires. In other words: no doubt they have something to contribute, but there's no reason to think that people in theology departments even know what many of the intellectual tasks of the New Evangelization are.

* Russell Nieli has a good post at "Public Discourse" on Hume's essay on polygamy and divorce.

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