Saturday, January 28, 2012

Music on My Mind

historyteachers, "Thomas Aquinas"

Students and the First Way III

I keep a sort of loose track of a number of things in my teaching to see what sort of questions and issues regularly come up among students. So, for instance, I look at what students in my ethics class choose for their virtue analysis paper, at some key questions in the discussion board, or their answers to how they would restructure the course if they had as much time or resources as they could want. One of the several things I've found handy in my intro course is keeping track of their responses to questions about the First Way. I've posted summaries of these here and here.

This past term things were a bit different than usual; I had no ordinary intro courses, just two hybrid format courses, which work rather differently. There was also a restructuring of the content that meant slightly more time was spent on Aquinas's First Way, although it was still just one class and the point was still just to give students a basic tour of how medieval, and particular scholastic, philosophers argued, rather than devoted to any close examination of the argument; and it has to be kept in mind that the hybrid format is in some ways a limiting format -- students have much more going on that has to be done on their own initiative. And as always, it's worth keeping in mind that virtually none of the students knew anything about it except for their reading -- assuming that they did, which is not always a safe bet -- and what they could remember from one class period. I gave them all at least partial credit if they (1) showed that they knew what argument was meant and (2) actually gave reasons of some kind; and full credit if they identified an actual premise and said either something genuinely creative or something that could be interpreted as at least a crude form of something that you occasionally find professional philosophers saying. The question was:

We discussed Thomas Aquinas's First Way. (1) Identify the premise of the First Way that you think is weakest. By 'weakest' I mean the one that would require the most work to defend (whether you think it actually defensible or not). (2) Explain why you think this premise is the weakest premise of the argument.

The answers were (and, as usual, since I'm only interested in answer types, these are just summary-paraphrases to get at the substance rather than exact quotations):

* "Either there is a first mover or an infinite regress of movers." It is weak because an infintie regress of movers is impossible.

* The one in which he says the first mover is God. It's like he can't think of anything else the first mover could be.

* (no premise explicitly identified). How can something be moved if it has no mover?

* (no premise explicitly identified). The world is moved around the sun by the force of the sun. This would make the sun the first mover.

* (no premise explicitly identified). He admits that some things are moved and some things are not, and it seems obvious that there can't really be a first mover if it doesn't move everything.

* That there could be a first mover. That is a contradiction in terms.

* "For moving is nothing other than drawing forth something from potency into act" Couldn't moving also be moving from no energy to potential energy? For instance, by placing a ball on a tabletop?

* "What is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot." This seems right, but I say it is the weakest because Aquinas wants to use it to argue that something cannot be both moved and mover, which is a leap.

* "What is moved is moved by another." There are some motions that are caused by physics, not by another, like centrifugal force or gravity. He also needs to explain what the first mover actually moves in order to make the argument plausible.

* "There is a first mover, unmoved by any prior mover." This doesn't seem wrong, but it seems like the argument is made just to lead the reader to God rather than consider other options.

* "For moving is nothing other than drawing forth something from potency into act, for something cannot be reduced from potency into act, save through some actual being; thus actual heat (as fire) makes wood (which is potential fire) to be actually hot, and thereby moves and alters it." How is moving that only draws something from potential making it actual. Is it only parts within the potential that completes it to become actual?

* "This is the sort of thing people understand when they talk about God". I think this is the weakest because not everyone believes in God.

* "An infinite regress of movers is impossible." Some things are moved and whatever is moved, is moved by another; this seems to show that the movers are also being moved, without end.

* Without a first mover there are no other movers. I personally agree with this but it comes back to the age old question of "if God was the first mover, who was his mover?"

* The impossibility of an infinite regress and that there must be an unmoved mover. Who's to say where the unmoved mover starts? Theologically you can say God is an an umoved mover but what made "God"? [This student added a number of other things that were not relevant to the immediate question, but, interestingly, he argued that there would have to be a material cause for any change and thus that there could not be anything merely making something actual.]

* "Either there is a first cause/first mover or else nothing needs a cause to move it." Aquinas seems to assume that any force in motion had to be put in motion by another, and drawing that out infers that if you trace it back all the way to the beginning there has to be one force that put in motion all others. But what put that first mover in motion, and why do the movements have to be traced back to only one original mover?

* "Every event has a cause." This requires an infinite regress, which he wants to deny.

* "Either there is a first mover or an infinite regress of movers," because it contradicts the next premise, which says an infinite regress of movers is impossible.

* "Either there is a first mover or an infinite regress of movers." I know he's actually ruling out that there should be an infinite regress, but this makes it sound as if an infinite regress was possible. Also, the word 'infinite' is hard to understand.

* "There is either a first mover or an infinite regress of movers." This is contradicted when it goes on to say that an infinite regress of movers is impossible.

One of the summaries of the First Way they had available put the argument in disjunctive form; notice the problem students had with interpreting the disjunction. This is an implicature problem, I think; they have difficulty seeing why one would mention infinite regress in a disjunction at all if you were not suggesting that it is a real possibility. I'll have to keep this in mind in both this unit and the logic unit of future courses. (And actually one of the reasons I keep track of this is to identify logical problems that need to be addressed more carefully, as well as how I can tighten this particular unit up.)

Feast of Thomas Aquinas IV

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross thy Godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran---
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory's sight. Amen.

This, of course, is a translation of Aquinas's hymn, "Adoro Te Devote". The translation, which I think is very likely the best poetic translation, is by none other than Gerard Manley Hopkins; it is, if I recall, one of several versions he attempted, and is one of his fairly early poems. As all poetic translations tend to be, it's a bit loose in parts, but (1) it is remarkable how close it actually is, particularly given the verbal gymnastics of the original, and (2) every license taken is justifiable poetic license for the target language. The result is much wordier than the original, though. The literal translation of the first stanza would be something very roughly like:

Devoutly I adore you, hidden Deity [or Truth, depending on the reading]
who these figures [or appearances, or forms] truly underlies;
all my heart submits itself to you,
for in contemplating you it all subsides [or fails].

Caswall's slightly tighter translation of the same stanza:

O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.

There are a number of hymns attributed to Aquinas. This and the hymns from the Mass of Corpus Christi universally attributed to Aquinas are the ones most widely accepted as really Thomistic; it would be genuinely surprising if they were not.

Feast of Thomas Aquinas III

Reason employs anger for its action, not as seeking its assistance, but because it uses the sensitive appetite as an instrument, just as it uses the members of the body. Nor is it unbecoming for the instrument to be more imperfect than the principal agent, even as the hammer is more imperfect than the smith.

Thomas Aquinas, ST 2-2.123.10 ad 2

Feast of Thomas Aquinas II

Now it is one thing to say: "I believe God" (credere Deum), for this indicates the object. It is another thing to say: "I believe God" (credere Deo), for this indicates the one who testifies. And it is still another thing to say: "I believe in God" (in Deum), for this indicates the end. Thus God can be regarded as the object of faith, as the one who testifies, and as the end, but in different ways. For the object of faith can be a creature, as when I believe in the creation of the heavens. Again, a creature can be one who testifies, for I believe Paul (credo Paulo) or any of the saints. But only God can be the end of faith, for our mind is directed to God alone as its end. Now the end, since it has the character of a good, is the object of love. Thus to believe in God (in Deum) as in an end is proper to faith living through the love of charity.

Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John: Chapters 6-12, 901, The Catholic University of America Press (Washington, DC: 2010) p. 21

Feast of Thomas Aquinas I

Beyond the life of assimilation and of sense experience there remains only the life that functions according to reason. This life is proper to man, fo rhe receives his specific classification from the fact that he is rational. Now the rational has two parts. One is rational by participation insofar as it is obedient to and is regulated by reason. The other is rational by nature as it can of itself reason and understand. The rational by nature is more properly called rational because a thing possessed intrinsically is always more proper than a thing received from another. Since, therefore, happiness is the most proper good of man, it more likely consists in the rational by nature than in the rational by participation. From this we can see that happiness will more properly be found in the life of thought than in a life of activity, and in an act of reason or intellect than in an act of the appetitive power controlled by reason.

Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, 126, Litzinger, tr., Dumb Ox Books (Notre Dame, IN: 1993) p. 42.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Baggini, "Subjective Experiences," and Suspicion

Julian Baggini has an article up at CiF Belief responding to some arguments by Mark Vernon. I think the article sums up nicely the extraordinary confusions about psychology that typically plague Baggini's discussions of religion, and they are common enough to be worth pointing out. We see the confusions early on:

Traditional arguments for the existence of God and contemporary attempts to use fine-tuning and cosmology to back up the case for his existence always strike me as kinds of games, since hardly anyone believes on the basis of these arguments at all. Rather, they gain faith some other way and the arguments are post facto defences or rationalisations, attempts to reply to the rationalist atheist on her own terms, when the reality is the rules of engagement have never been accepted as fair. So I much prefer it when people come out and say honestly that their reasons for belief are not the kinds of reasons atheists accept as admissible, and for them to then make the case for why atheists are wrong about this.

It's not difficult to show, however, that this involves an extraordinarily simplistic understanding of the psychology of belief. The most notable thing about it is that this line of thought makes no proper distinction between causal factors leading to belief and causal factors supporting or maintaining belief. Let's take a simple case. Johnny is a physicist; he believes black holes really exist. However, he orginally came to believe that black holes really exist because someone happened to mention them when he was in the sixth grade and he felt at the time that the universe was so awesome that something like black holes had to exist. As he goes on, this same feeling motivates him to study physics; and as he does so he comes into contact with the arguments of actual physicists, based on both observations and mathematical theory, for the existence of black holes. Like any reasonable person interested in black holes, he takes these seriously; they become part of the structure that supports his belief in black holes. At no point does he take black-hole denialists seriously; he does, at times, think their arguments need to be addressed, either because he is worried about how they might mislead the public, or because he thinks they really do raise important issues on their own, and he responds in such cases either by summarizing the scientific arguments for black holes or by coming up with new arguments that are appropriate. Of course, you can replace black holes with any scientific issue you please. Now, we have here a case where belief leads understanding and where, if challenged in rational discussion, the arguments put forward all postdate the origin of the belief. Baggini, if we took his argument here seriously, would be committed to saying that all the appeals to scientific argument are in this case dishonest, because they are post facto defenses or rationalizations. This is clearly nonsense, however. Merely because something wasn't originally a reason for belief doesn't mean it never becomes one. If you want to explain the support for Johnny's belief in say, his later career as a physics professor, it would be a sign of stupidity to explain it by his middle-school feeling of what the universe's awesomeness requires. By that point, while it still may motivate him in his study of black holes, the original feeling that solidified the belief is likely one of the least of the real psychological supports of his belief.

We can take a rather different kind of case. Suppose Lisa one day becomes convinced that her husband Scott is cheating on her. She can't point to anything very definite, or even articulate very well why the things she can point to make her feel so strongly about the matter; there are just a few little things here and there that could be explained in other ways, but she can't shake the feeling that the best explanation is that he's cheating on her, although she can't really give an account of events under which it definitely would be the best explanation. She confides in her mother; and as it happens, her mother thinks it's all in her head, and raises some objections. So Lisa goes out to see if she can collect information that meets her mother's objections -- still no smoking gun, but when she comes back to her mother she has additional evidence, mostly circumstantial about his patterns of behavior, and has arguments that she's pretty sure show that her mother's objections don't apply in this case. Now, if we were to say what supports Lisa's belief at this juncture, it would be nonsense to say that "really" it's just that original sense that he must be cheating on her and that she doesn't believe on the basis of her new information "at all". This is not the way belief works. When we find new supporting information or new supporting arguments, the mere fact of their being new doesn't rule out their being grounds for belief. Quite the contrary; we add new supports for our beliefs all the time.

The problem, again, is that Baggini's argument fails to recognize that there can be any other supports for belief than the original ones. This remains a problem even if you put a great deal of emphasis on the phrase 'post facto defenses and rationalizations'. Most defenses, of course, are post facto; people often find their beliefs faced with objections they had not originally considered, and they naturally defend their beliefs. But even if the arguments in question are purely rationalizations -- we are simply making up an argument to go with our belief, one to which we have no particular prior commitment -- the quality of that argument is itself determined not by its psychological origin but by rational standards. And it can happen -- indeed, it is, I think, a common occurrence -- that what starts out as a rationalization becomes viewed by the rationalizer as a good argument and an important part of the supporting structure for their belief. Trying to say that something is not a real support for a belief because it started out as a rationalization simply shows a failure to understand how reasoning actually interacts with belief.

I also find it interesting that Baggini brings out the old trope that hardly anyone on this topic believes on the basis of the arguments. This is in fact true for most topics; the overwhelming majority of people who believe black holes exist do not do so because they have rigorously thought through the physics. Most probably have no better reason than that they heard it somewhere. We cannot tell from this, however, how significant the number of people believing precisely on the basis of rigorous physical argument may be. It could be almost nonexistent, or it could be that it's a sizable minority. People certainly are on occasion persuaded by arguments. There are plenty of testimonies of people claiming that they became theists because of this or that argument, or claiming that they became atheists when they came to the conclusion that this or that argument failed. Perhaps such people are lying or deluded, but that would have to be proven. And we simply cannot assume that they are best described as "hardly anyone". Nor can we assume, if "hardly anyone" does fit, that the arguments have no important role at all.

The muddled psychologizing continues in Baggini's later discussion:

I'm afraid it's all too common for defenders of faith to start off by piling up a whole load of interesting scientific findings, only to follow up with a plethora of non sequiturs.

The question rightly asked, however, is how reliable are the various cognitive mechanisms we use for establishing different kinds of truth? And there seems to be no escaping the simple fact that subjective experience, in all its forms, is a very unreliable detector of objective reality. Despite the comfort Vernon draws from recent research, there is no escaping the fact that the vast bulk of it points in exactly the opposite direction, undermining any confidence we might feel that our intuitive judgments are effective truth-trackers.

I find it rather amusing that he castigates believers for doing something he then goes on immediately to do. But there is a more immediate problem. The question he raises, "How reliable are the various cognitive mechanisms we use for establishing different kinds of truth?" is in fact not "rightly asked" for the reason that it is not directly relevant. Reliability is a statistical measure; it has to do with probability distribution in a population of cases. But reliability, although it can be important for assessing how strong certain kinds of inferences are, is not directly relevant here, because even if the statistical performance of a "cognitive mechanism" is very poor, if it ever, even in only one in a million cases, gives a true positive, that suffices. We would certainly want to know that it is unreliable, since it would help us to determine what we would also have to do to rule out, to a reasonable degree, that it is yielding its usual false positive, but that is all. A veridical experience is a veridical experience however rarely that kind of experience is veridical. (As a side note, it may be worth pointing out that recognition of this truth was one of the major insights that made possible the foundation of probability theory. A lot of early probability theorists originally began thinking of probability in terms of the proportion between how often, in an ideal series of cases, a given inference would turn out to be right and the total series of cases. A lot of refinements and improvements beyond this needed to be discovered, but it's not a minor point.)

Possibly what's tripping Baggini up is that we use the word 'unreliable' in an equivocal way. Sometimes when we call something unreliable we mean the normative claim that it should never be trusted because it is so rarely right that using it defeats our ends. At other times we mean it is never right. At yet other times we mean it is only occasionally right. There are sense of reliability corresponding to each of these. But it is only in this third sense, the primary sense, that it can be used in Baggini's question: the scientific evidence Baggini points to does not establish the first sense, and the second sense would make the rest of his argument question-begging at best.

Let me put the point again: drawing conclusions about veridicality from reliability alone is not itself very reliable, as a general matter. And this is for the clearest of reasons, namely, that one has to do with the properties of the population and the other has to do with the properties of individual cases. There are cases and conclusions, for instance, in which one only has to establish that something is at least sometimes veridical, however unreliably so. Likewise, one may have good reason to think something veridical in a given case even if this is often illusory; mirages may happen often in the desert, but you may still have good reason to think that you aren't seeing one despite being in the desert. The two issues are simply not the same. Reliability is important for assessing the further course of inquiry; and where we have already established very high reliability or very low reliability this can be useful for determining whether we should proceed on the assumption that any given case is veridical, where other evidence is lacking. But very general considerations of reliability -- which is all we get here -- tell us almost nothing.

Even if we set this aside, though, there is no "simple fact that subjective experience, in all its forms, is a very unreliable detector of objective reality." For one thing, this claim is radically hyperbolic. Take, for instance, your subjective experience of there being a world external to you, or your subjective experience that your wife or children are real people. We know for a fact that there are such subjective experiences because there are psychological conditions in which people don't have them. We also can be quite certain that almost everyone believes that there is an external world, or that their wives or children are real people, almost entirely on the basis of these subjective experiences. One of the most important factors leading almost any one of us to believe that there is an external world or that the humaniforms we meet are real people is that these things feel right. You will search in vain, of course, for any cognitive science research that shows that your feeling of the reality of the world around you is "very unreliable" or that you are usually wrong when you think, on the basis of your subjective experience of them, that your family members are real people. And these are hardly the only things we believe on the basis of subjective experience that either have never been shown to be unreliable or that, if unreliable at all, have never been studied adequately. The whole category is just too big to make such an irresponsible claim as Baggini is making here.

What we actually find in cognitive science research is more limited. A lot of external factors that we hardly notice can affect our judgment -- smells, for instance, or words we happened to have heard. Quite a few kinds of things that we might call 'intuitive judgments' have at least a sharply restricted range of reliability. Things that we might think closely connected -- for instance, our intuitive judgments about what is probable and probability theory -- turn out to come apart a lot. Given psychological complexity, experiments have to be very sharply defined and very precisely oriented, and so any general conclusions require interpreting a whole battery of tests -- no crucial experiments in cognition research, only experiments more or less valuable for clarification. No cognitive scientist will claim that they have rigorously studied the reliability of the whole field of intuitions, cognitive mechanisms, or subjective experiences, both in precise tests and in the wild, so as to be able to determine whether they are reliable as actually used or, with any precision, how reliable. And what we really get in the research is what you'd expect: some of these things are very reliable under some conditions and very unreliable under other conditions, and in some cases the conditions for reliability are fairly narrow. I can't avoid making an analogy here. It's rather like testing animal performance at cognitive tasks. Some animals, like border collies or dolphins are whiz-bang at all sorts of cognitive tasks. Others, like zebras, come across as utter morons at most of them. Zebras, unless there's been new research I'm not aware of, perform badly at most cognitive tasks. It's hard to say how much this indicates stupidity, since zebras are notoriously obstinate and bad-tempered. But give zebras a cognitive task requiring them to distinguish elaborate patterns of black and white stripes and it's suddenly like they're geniuses, massively outperforming animals that do better at almost everything else. And so here; a "cognitive mechanism" that doesn't track truth generally may do so extraordinarily well if certain other conditions are met. Precise specification of contextual conditions is extremely important; something may be very good at "truth-tracking" here and very poor at it there. And, indeed, if we are considering the full scope of possible situations, it is very, very dangerous to talk about truth-tracking. For the same reason, whether something is "truth-tracking" in a particular domain has to be established, not extrapolated.

Baggini ends:

The modern sceptic is indeed suspicious of subjective convictions, which is not to say they dismiss them completely. The modern believer is not suspicious enough, which is perhaps why when they try to construct arguments in their defence, the convictions are left doing all the work and reason, debilitated by neglect, weakly fails to prop them up.

I don't think, however, that modern skepticism can be put so vaguely. Most skeptics I know don't have general suspicions about "subjective convictions" even if they are suspicious of large classes of them. This is, again, the point about there being too many kinds of things that fall under such a label. Moreover, it is at least as irrational to be suspicious of something for no good reason as it is to accept it for no good reason; and at least in principle they want their suspicions as well as their beliefs to be well-grounded. And the only skeptic I've ever come across who appealed to such a ridiculously broad consideration as Baggini has here is Julian Baggini. And suspicion is as much a subjective experience as anything else: it's one of the kinds of ways we feel that something might not be right.

But if we were to use the word 'suspicious' somewhat sloppily to mean 'engaging in critical examination', instead, I fully agree that most modern believers should engage in more critical examination this way. I also think that most modern skeptics should, too. Except for where genuine practical limitations (time, resources, etc.) say otherwise, you can never have too much.

Stein on Husserl

I am not at all worried about my dear Master. It has always been far from me to think that God's mercy allows itself to be circumscribed by the visible church's boundaries. God is truth. All who seek truth seek God, whether this is clear to them or not.

Edith Stein, from the Letter to Sr. Adelgundis Jaegerschmid, OSB, Freiburg Gunterstal (#259), Self-Portrait in Letters, 1916-1942, Gelber and Leuven, eds., ICS Publications (Washington DC: 1993) p. 272.

Here she's talking in particular about Edmund Husserl, her teacher. Like Stein, Husserl was Jewish by birth, but raised in a family that was largely secular; like her, he later was baptized, although he was baptized as a Lutheran rather than a Catholic; and like her he had problems with the Nazis due to being Jewish. He, however, died of natural causes in April of 1938, about a month after this letter was written.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Long Generations

The Daily Mail has an interesting article on President John Tyler's two grandsons, who are still alive despite the fact that Tyler was born in 1790. (ht) Normally I would trust the Daily Mail about as far as I can throw the British Isles, but confirmation for this is easy to find, and they have the handiest article of it, complete with pictures and family tree. Basically the timeline is:

1790 John Tyler was born

1841 Tyler becomes Vice President and then becomes President on the death of William Henry Harrison

1844 Tyler marries Julia Gardiner Tyler, his second wife, who was thirty years his junior

1853 Lyon Gardiner Tyler born

1923 Lyon Gardiner Tyler marries Sue Ruffin, his second wife, who was twenty-six years his junior

1925 Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. born

1928 Harrison Ruffin Tyler born

1935 Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Sr. dies

And Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. and Harrison Ruffin Tyler are both still alive; their grandfather had started his political career on the eve of the War of 1812.

I, Child of Process

“I am the Way”
by Alice Meynell

Thou art the Way.
Hadst Thou been nothing but the goal,
I cannot say
If Thou hadst ever met my soul.

I cannot see—
I, child of process—if there lies
An end for me,
Full of repose, full of replies.

I’ll not reproach
The road that winds, my feet that err.
Access, Approach
Art Thou, Time, Way, and Wayfarer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Unwept, Untended, and Alone

by Christina Rossetti

I sigh at day-dawn, and I sigh
When the dull day is passing by.
I sigh at evening, and again
I sigh when night brings sleep to men.
Oh! it were far better to die
Than thus forever mourn and sigh,
And in death's dreamless sleep to be
Unconscious that none weep for me;
Eased from my weight of heaviness,
Forgetful of forgetfulness,
Resting from care and pain and sorrow
Thro' the long night that knows no morrow;
Living unloved, to die unknown,
Unwept, untended, and alone.


Back in the Long Ago Times, internet quizzes were a common feature of blogs. They contributed absolutely nothing but silliness, but I occasionally miss them. So here's an internet quiz to tell you whether you are out of touch in an upper class bubble:

On a scale from 0 to 20 points, where 20 signifies full engagement with mainstream American culture and 0 signifies deep cultural isolation within the new upper class bubble, you scored between 9 and 12.

In other words, even if you're part of the new upper class, you've had a lot of exposure to the rest of America.

I found some of the questions rather funny. Neither I nor my nonexistent spouse have ever bought a pick-up truck, so I picked 'no'; but my dad, my sister, several of my cousins, and lots of people I know (I live in Texas) have. I would never, ever, ever stock my own refrigerator with cheap beer because I rarely drink at all, and would take forever to get through it. I also don't talk politics with friends or family -- I find it excruciatingly boring -- so, although things come out here and there, I really don't have a clue what the political views of most of my friends are, much less any strong and wide-ranging disagreements. And I avoid hanging out with people smoking cigarettes because I am allergic to cigarette smoke -- I have a fairly strong constitution, but exposure to cigarette smoke for any extended stretch of time is one of the few things that can knock me down but good.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Classes look like they'll be good this term, but I'm feeling like I'm talking a bit too much. Perhaps I should hire a croc to help me out.

Incomparable Correspondence

Today is the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church. From his Treatise on the Love of God, Book I, Chapter 15:

But besides this affinity of likenesses, there is an incomparable correspondence between God and man, for their reciprocal perfection: not that God can receive any perfection from man, but because as man cannot be perfected but by the divine goodness, so the divine goodness can scarcely so well exercise its perfection outside itself, as upon our humanity: the one has great want and capacity to receive good, the other great abundance and inclination to bestow it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Contentment, Happiness, Pleasant States

Early on in Book IV of Society and Its Purpose, Rosmini proposes an interesting set of distinctions between contentment, happiness, and pleasant states.

You are in a pleasant state when your felt needs are met and you feel no pain. Thus being in a pleasant state is purely a matter of how you feel.

More developed than this is contentment. In order to be content, you must not merely be in a pleasant state; you must assess yourself as being in a pleasant state. It requires conscious judgment that you are fine. Whereas pleasant states just arise naturally, contentment in this sense is a personal state, dependent on personal judgment. Because of this, human beings, as persons, cannot rest content with merely having pleasant states -- pun intended. Once our mind develops to a certain extent, we do not merely feel, we judge, and merely feeling good is not always enough. We need to judge that we feel good because we have something good. Feeling is, Rosmini says, just a "first tribunal"; it is intellectual judgment that finally rules.

This judgment of contentment, however, does not need to be explicit; it can be a 'habitual judgment', which is to say, contentment really lies in the disposition to judge ourselves as in a genuinely satisfying state. Or in other words, contentment in this sense is not an act of judgment but a state of being inclined to judge.

Happiness is the next stage in sophistication on Rosmini's view. You are happy when you are not merely content but you can ascribe your contentment to the possession of a true, complete, and lasting good.

Aegidius Draft VII

Capitulum Primum: Wherein we meet the Wolf of Wolves
Capitulum Secundum: Wherein we learn something of Wolves
Capitulum Tertium: Wherein a plan is made
Capitulum Quartum: Wherein a war begins
Capitulum Quintum
Capitulum Sextum
Capitulum Septimum
Capitulum Octavum
Capitulum Nonum
Capitulum Decimum

So 9 and 10 are new here. I had hoped to have more, and to have had it sooner, but things kept coming up. Decimum is a not much of a chapter, and would probably vanish in revision, but writing-wise it's a pause before the final cascade of events as Aegidius starts reeling things in.

In many ways I think the storyline that will be coming, and which now is clear in all but some details, has a kind of Medea-like feel to it, quite by accident. Certainly Euripides is in one sense merely telling the story of a deus ex machina -- it just happens that the god from the machine was Medea herself all along, and anyone who thinks that deus ex machina is necessarily a lapse of art should study that tragedy closely to be corrected -- and there's some of that here. But the crucial difference is that Medea had the untamed and burning fire of the sun in her, while Aegidius has in him the coldly ruthless madness of the moon. And also, I think, that the end result here can't quite end up a tragedy, because I am not a pagan Greek. Revision would no doubt play with this a bit.