Saturday, January 08, 2011

Tucson Shooting

As some may have heard, there was an attack at a public "Congress on Your Corner" event in Tucson, Arizona today, which put Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in the hospital with a head wound and killed Chief Judge John Roll (United States District Court for the District of Arizona) and a nine-year-old girl. The motives are unclear; Giffords, while a Democrat, was a former Republican and well-known as a Blue Dog Democrat, which puts her very much middle-of-the-road. Roll, who was appointed by George H. W. Bush and has been Chief Judge since 2006, has previously had problems with death threats, but Giffords was very definitely the target. The man linked to the shooting appears to have had some mental problems. It's very difficult to know what to say in the face of such events. Prayers for all concerned.

ADDED LATER: The NY Times has biographies of those who died in the shooting. It's very much a snapshot of America.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Dreaded Boring Guy-ometer

Pearls Before Swine

Everyone who does history of philosophy occasionally meets the siren.

Notable Links to Linkable Notes

* Gilbert Ryle's Jane Austen among the Moralists (PDF).
There are weaknesses: Ryle massively exaggerates the similarities between Austen and Shaftesbury, most of which can be explained by the influence of novels of sensibility, whose vocabulary she uses but radically rethinks; he is surprisingly unjust to Persuasion and his reading of Mansfield Park is astoundingly superficial (not wrong as it goes, but very, very limited), especially given how many times he had read them both (Ryle re-read Austen pretty much every year); he is sometimes more condescending than he really has a right to be, and some of his concessions about supposed weaknesses in Austen's works are merely signs of weaknesses in his own (otherwise largely good) taste, and are really unnecessary concessions to aesthetic prejudices in society that should not be indulged. But the basic point, that Austen should be taken seriously by moral philosophers, is quite right, although not (as far as I can see) widely followed, more's the pity. But one does occasionally see something along these lines, and it's due to Ryle.

Now we just need something that does the same for George Eliot -- who may not be a Jane Austen but is undeniably also worth taking very seriously in moral philosophy (and the case for whom is far more impressive than the fairly decent case that Martha Nussbaum has made for Henry James).

* The reviews for this Kindle book, currently priced at over $6000, are hilarious.

* Brian Doherty has an interesting article suggesting that TSA security procedures are Benthamite in spirit: i.e., to impose good behavior by a Panopticon.

* Quilting Basics. I always find quilting interesting; it's at least as much art as mosaic but tends not to be appreciated as much. But even very basic quilts serve William Morris's two ends of Use and Beauty, and often in spades; they make everything better.

* Europe in Legos.

* David Tubbs reviews Martha Nussbaum's From Disgust to Humanity.

* In a recent interview Richard Carrier made some comments critical of how Tim and Lydia McGrew have handled Bayes' Theorem. So Lydia McGrew responded, and in comments at Victor Reppert's blog, Tim McGrew is showing ways in which Carrier's expositions of the Theorem are flawed. As there's no question that the McGrews know Bayes' Theorem and its philosophical implications under typical Bayesian assumptions, it should be an interesting take-down.

* It occurred to me recently that one of the benefits from the same-sex marriage debate is that it shows just how poorly thought out everyone's account of marriage is. In principle, most people want an account of marriage that makes miscegenatic marriage OK and incestuous marriage not OK -- i.e., that makes fathers marrying their daughters at least very difficult but puts no serious obstacles in the way of blacks marrying whites. There are people who would gladly get rid of one or both of these constraints, but most people are not those people. It is seen over and over again, however, that most of the arguments for same-sex marriage are such that there's no principled way they wouldn't apply to incestuous marriage as well and that most of the arguments against same-sex marriage are such that there's no principled way they wouldn't apply to miscegenatic marriage as well. At the very least, why they wouldn't apply to these other cases is either left unsaid or handled with an adroit, "You're just plain stupid if they think they do," which is notably not informative and a sure sign of a lack of principled reasons. You do find arguments that don't fall into either of these undesirable groups, but given how little they are emphasized it seems that they are precisely the arguments people consider only to be supplemental. So I propose that from now on nobody be allowed to give any arguments on the subject unless they also say whether their argument applies to these two other cases -- and if so, say why they think that's OK, and if not, say what is the principled reason for thinking it doesn't. It certainly would improve the discussion.

* Of all the intelligence agencies in the world that are recognizable by name, Mossad is the one that probably has the most widespread reputation for managing to succeed with extraordinarily elaborate schemes; but, successful as it has often been, much of this reputation is just accumulating rumor combined with Arab conspiracy theories. Foreign Policy has a list of some recent conspiracy-theories that have been floating around about Mossad. (ht)

* Awesome news: on Christmas Eve, thousands of Muslims attended Coptic Masses in order to make sure that there would be no attacks. (ht) On New Year's Eve 21 people were killed in an attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria, and the response from many sectors of Egypt's Muslim community has been splendid. (The Copts, of course, don't use the Gregorian calendar, which is why their Christmas Eve is after New Year's rather than before.) It was a very brave thing to do -- the people who engage in these sorts of attacks are often people of the "If you're not with us, you're against us" type. And it was a very noble thing to do; a very good sign, and we should pray for this trend to continue.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Topics and Term-Finding

Suppose you have an analogy like this:

CAT : TOMATO :: ______ : PLANT

This is what we might call an easy analogical inference; what you do is actual look at the ratio TOMATO : PLANT and see that PLANT is a more general description of TOMATO; then you do the same with CAT. Depending precisely how you understand the TOMATO : PLANT ratio, there are several things you could put in the blank. ANIMAL would be the more obvious one. You could try, of course, to work things out based on the CAT : TOMATO ratio, but that's a much harder route.

There are, however, much harder analogical inferences. For instance:

CAT : TOMATO :: ______ : POTATO

It's not so obvious what to put into the blank, is it? You have two ratios again, but neither of them is a softball like TOMATO : PLANT. Instead you have to figure out what about the ratio CAT : TOMATO or TOMATO : POTATO is relevant. Unlike TOMATO : PLANT neither of these involve a genus-species relationship; nor do they involve the other easy relation, part-whole, nor do they involve common associations, at least of any sort that would be useful. One could perhaps use similarity to find answer; since TOMATO and POTATO are both plants in some way, one could just pick an animal and fill the blank with that. DOG would be the most obvious, but there's really nothing obviously preventing you from writing in AARDVARK.

It's very noticeable that what we do when we try to solve analogical inferences is make use of topoi or commonplaces or loci communes. Topoi or commonplaces are traditionally used to find middle terms. In neither case above are we finding a middle term. But this is because the usefulness of topics as a field of logic derives from the fact that finding a middle term is merely a specific form of a more general activity, namely, finding a relevant term. And, of course, degenerate analogical inferences do begin to look a lot more like finding middle terms in a syllogism, e.g.,:

BIGGEST : BIGGER :: ______ : BIG

And the reason for this, again, is that they share the fact that they are forms of reasoning devoted to finding relevant terms.

Congratulations, by the way, if you figured that the optimal answer to the second analogy problem was ASH and that the inference was actually purely verbal -- as the scholastics might say, it requires reading the terms with material supposition. Tricky, wasn't it?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

In Those Twelve Days

In Those Twelve Days

What is that which is but one?
What is that which is but one?
We have but one God alone
In Heaven above sits on his throne.

In those twelve days, and in those twelve days, let us be glad,
For God of his power hath all things made.

What are they which are but two?
What are they which are but two?
Two Testaments, as we are told,
The one is New and the other Old.

In those twelve days, and in those twelve days, let us be glad,
For God of his power hath all things made.

What are they that are but three?
What are they that are but three?
Three persons in the Trinity,
The Father, Son, and Ghost Holy.

In those twelve days, and in those twelve days, let us be glad,
For God of his power hath all things made.

What are they that are but four?
What are they that are but four?
Four Gospels written true,
John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew.

In those twelve days, and in those twelve days, let us be glad,
For God of his power hath all things made.

What are they that are but five?
What are they that are but five?
Five senses we have to tell,
God grant us grace to use them well.

In those twelve days, and in those twelve days, let us be glad,
For God of his power hath all things made.

What are they that are but six?
What are they that are but six?
Six ages this world shall last,
Five of them are gone and past.

In those twelve days, and in those twelve days, let us be glad,
For God of his power hath all things made.

What are they that are but seven?
What are they that are but seven?
Seven days in the week have we,
Six to work and the seventh holy.

In those twelve days, and in those twelve days, let us be glad,
For God of his power hath all things made.

What are they that are but eight?
What are they that are but eight?
Eight beatitudes are given,
Use them well and go to Heaven.

In those twelve days, and in those twelve days, let us be glad,
For God of his power hath all things made.

What are they that are but nine?
What are they that are but nine?
Nine degrees of Angels high
Which praise God continually.

In those twelve days, and in those twelve days, let us be glad,
For God of his power hath all things made.

What are they that are but ten?
What are they that are but ten?
Ten Commandments God hath given,
Keep them right and go to Heaven.

In those twelve days, and in those twelve days, let us be glad,
For God of his power hath all things made.

What are they that are but eleven?
What are they that are but eleven?
Eleven thousand virgins did partake
And suffered death for Jesus' sake.

In those twelve days, and in those twelve days, let us be glad,
For God of his power hath all things made.

What are they that are but twelve?
What are they that are but twelve?
Twelve Apostles Christ did chuse
To preach the Gospel to the Jews.

In those twelve days, and in those twelve days, let us be glad,
For God of his power hath all things made.

This is an old English folk carol for the Twelve Days of Christmas. A slightly different version was collected by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and is in the Rossetti Archive under the title "The Twelve" and another version was collected and perhaps slightly reworked by Davies Gilbert (to whose collection of Cornish Christmas carols many popular carols owe their popularity) under the title These Twelve Days.

Your True Love Better Have a Lot of Money

As we end the Twelve Days of Christmas, we find that the Christmas Price Index is up 9.2% to $23,439.38. One of the interesting features of the index is that goods (partridges in pear trees and the like) have steadily become the least expensive part of the index, giving way to services (like ladies dancing). Overall PNC calculates the True Cost of Christmas -- in which your True Love gives you not just the gifts on the Twelfth Day of Christmas, but all of the cumulative gifts for each day, for grand total of 364 gifts -- at $96,824.29.

A Poem Draft

Very rough; I sort of threw it together on the plane ride from Minneapolis to Austin.


Reason, no electric light,
flickers on and off with life,
casting shadows in the night;
not like some smooth, steady sun
throwing gold rays by the ton
equally on everyone,
but like a fire lit at camp,
reddish in the dew and damp,
casting light in frenzied dance.
Some are brighter, some are less,
some will see where others guess,
but each must honestly confess
that reason's flame is not so bright
to cast all shadows from the night,
is none too steady in its light,
but flickers here and blazes there
and here dies down to ashes bare
and sputters in the rainy air.
But who is fool enough to say
that lights that are not bright as day
cannot still light up our way?
And who will say that smaller hearths
than that which lights the world's own heart
in true light can have no part?
Say rather that we never lack
the means to fight and harry back
the dark of night, the inky black!
It dances, but is never dead;
it aided where its light has led;
it keeps us safe till morning-red.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Seventh Day of the Month

At the beginning of the year some bloggers review their posts for the year; I've never had enough interest in doing so to do a formal review. But it has always seemed fitting to do something for the New Year, so here's another edition of my usual substitute for a real review of the year: these are the posts that were published on the seventh day of each month of the year 2010.

Deg Gud Till Aere, Oss Till Gavn

Three Poem Drafts
The Sight of a Bear or a Fox

Links and Links

Gilman on the Problem of Evil

'Every event has a cause'


To Have Nought is Ours

On Myers on Baber

Whewell and Found Poetry

Philippa Foot (1920-2010)
Linkable Thinkables

Rarest-Veinèd Unraveller

Cogito Ergo Sum XIV
Beam on Our Bewilder'd Mind
Pardon II

The most popular post, in terms of views, was my 2005 post Rule of Law vs. Rule by Law, which absolutely exploded into popularity during 2010. The second most popular post in 2010, which the rule by law post dethroned from being the most viewed post several years in a row, is the 2004 Best Known Philosophical Sentences; it is still, far and away, the most viewed post of all time on this blog; even though it was beat out for first place in 2010, practically every day someone somewhere in the world types into a search engine "philosophical sentences" and gets this post. I don't have precise enough statistics to say what was the most viewed post from 2010 in 2010; but I suspect very strongly from what I've seen in my referrer logs that it was Immanuel Kant's Guide to a Good Dinner Party, which dominated through most of August and early September because it was picked up on several other blogs and on Twitter.

The two blogs from which I consistently get the most traffic are Just Thomism and Edward Feser; the blog that has sent the most traffic my way, however, is the First Things blog, First Thoughts, but it's in the form of occasional avalanches.

Foot and Anscombe

Interesting passage from an interesting article on Philippa Foot, who is, of course, interesting herself:

In the wake of the news of the concentration camps, Foot was haunted by the notion that there was no way to rationally overcome a moral standoff with a Nazi. She wanted to argue that moral evaluation (“It is wrong to kill innocent people”) is not fundamentally different from factual evaluation (“It is incorrect that the earth is flat”). A cynic should no more be able to deny the moral implications of a relevant body of evidence than a flat-earther can deny the factual implications of astronomical data. It was Anscombe, a devoted Catholic, who liberated Foot, a lifelong atheist, to dare to think in this outmoded fashion. Foot had been speaking of the conventional contrast of “ought” and “is,” and Anscombe feigned confusion. “She said: ‘Of what? What?’ ” Foot recalled. “And I thought, My God, so one doesn’t have to accept that distinction! One can say, ‘What?’!”

Would that more philosophers would at least ask "What?" when talking of the ought/is distinction.

Descartes Walks into a Bar...

This is a repost from 2006. The second one, of course, is the most famous Descartes joke ever.

Descartes walks into a bar, and tells the bartender, "I'm excited about the live entertainment tonight!" The bartender says, "Yeah, the trick pony is pretty cool." "The trick pony! I thought it was Karaoke Night! I was looking forward to it so much." "Well," says the bartender, "we can do that, too." So they got out their schedule and put Descartes before the horse.

Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Are you having a beer?" Descartes says, "I think not," and ceases to exist.

Descartes walks into a bar, then goes out the back, circles around, and comes back in. He does this several more times, and finally the bartender says, "You're going in circles!" And Descartes says, "Thank God!"

Descartes walks into a bar. Then he says, "Ouch!" You would, too, if you walked into a bar.

Monday, January 03, 2011


Well, I'm back now from Montana, having visited Billings, a.k.a., the Star of Big Sky Country, skied at Red Lodge, and seen Chico Hot Springs. It's late and I'm not yet sure what I have to do tomorrow, so I'm not quite sure when ordinary posting will begin back up, but it will be soon.


Sunday, January 02, 2011

By Infant Tongue and Looks of Babish Eyes

The Epiphany
by Robert Southwell

To blaze the rising of this glorious sun,
A glittering star appeareth in the East,
Whose sight to pilgrim-toils three sages won
To seek the light they long had in request;
And by this star to nobler star they pace,
Whose arms did their desirèd sun embrace.

Stall was the sky wherein these planets shined,
And want the cloud that did eclipse their rays;
Yet through this cloud their light did passage find,
And pierced these sages' hearts by secret ways,
Which made them know the Ruler of the skies,
By infant tongue and looks of babish eyes.
Heaven at her light, Earth blusheth at her pride,
And of their pomp these peers ashamed be;
Their crowns, their robes, their train they set aside,
When God's poor cottage, clothes, and crew, they see
All glorious things their glory now despise,
Sith God contempt, doth more than glory prize.

Three gifts they bring, three gifts they bear away;
For incense, myrrh and gold, faith, hope and love;
And with their gifts the givers' hearts do stay,
Their mind from Christ no parting can remove;
His humble state, his stall, his poor retinue,
They fancy more than all their rich revenue.