Saturday, May 26, 2012

Beattie on Truth I: Introduction

James Beattie (1735-1803) is not widely read today, but he was well-known in his own time. Educated at Aberdeen University, he eventually became professor of moral philosophy in Marischal College there. In an age of overachieving Scotsmen, he was one of the most successful overachieving Scotsmen. He became a celebrated English poet, which was not a small feat; Scots and English, while closely related, were farther apart in those days, and Scotsmen like Beattie and David Hume who made their splash south of the border only did so by working very hard to master the tongue of England. Of all the great literary Scotsmen of the day, Beattie was the most successful at this difficult discipline. His most famous poetic work, still worth reading, is The Minstrel, or the Progress of Genius; the conceit of the poem is that it traces "the progress of a Poetical Genius, born in a rude age, from the first dawning of fancy and reason, till that period at which he may be supposed capable of appearing in the world as a Minstrel, that is, as an itinerant Poet and Musician;—a character, which, according to the notions of our fore-fathers, was not only respectable, but sacred." Its major strength, however, is in its descriptions, which are generally lovely and sometimes rise to true poetic genius.

His most famous prose work, which was perhaps even more famous than his poetic work, was An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, in Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism. In England, although not generally elsewhere, it was often considered the decisive refutation of the philosophical ideas of David Hume, with which it is concerned at great length. One of the roles it plays in the history of philosophy is in the rise of Kant. Immanuel Kant famously is said to have woken from his dogmatist slumbers -- that is, his general acceptance of the rationalist approach of people like Wolff -- because of David Hume. In fact, while Kant eventually does seem to have read Hume directly, like many Germans, his first acquaintance with Hume came from Beattie's attempt to refute him. Kant wasn't impressed with Beattie's refutation, and in his Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics, Kant dismisses Beattie by saying that Hume had as much common sense as Beattie but he also had critical reason, which Beattie did not have at all. Not very flattering, but Kant is also pushing a particular philosophical perspective, and he doesn't have any respect for the particular approach found in Beattie's work. That approach is usually called Scottish Common Sense philosophy, because it puts a great deal of emphasis on common sense (hence Kant's snipe about common sense and critical reason). And Common Sense philosophers like Beattie would no doubt have some things to say about Kant, too, if they had had the chance to read him; judging from later British responses to Kant, it's likely they would not have been impressed by what Kant called critical reason. In any case, Beattie is not the greatest of the Scottish Common Sense philosophers -- that place surely goes to Thomas Reid -- but he has the distinctive merits of (1) summarizing the basic approach in a very straightforward way and (2) not pulling any punches, but going for the full refutation without any hesitation, which gives a much better sense of just how far you can go with the Common Sense approach. Beattie lacks Reid's nuance and tact, but he makes up for it in style. It's important, though, to underline that while Beattie is not as original as Reid, what we get in Beattie is not purely derivative, but shows some genuine ingenuity on occasion (his all-out defense of human equality and attack on Hume's racism is just the most obvious example); Beattie's style is not superficiality, but integral to his own conception of common sense and how it works, and a mark of the fact that he is much more pragmatic in focus than Reid is.

The motto on the titlepage of the Essay on Truth, as it is usually called, is Nunquam aliud Natura, aliud Sapientia dicit, which is from Juvenal's Satires, and more or less means, "Never does Nature say something and Wisdom say something else," and is a good summation of how Beattie is going to approach the question of truth and how we know it. And even though it's somewhat flowery, it's worth lingering a bit over Beattie's introduction to the book. It opens with a sort of tight-rope walk. On the one side, Beattie addresses those who think too much philosophy is mere verbal disputation, arguing over words, and he agrees that this has been the tragedy of much of the history of philosophy. He promises that he won't do this. He will oppose, rather than fall into, merely verbal disputation, and hopes that he will stand a chance of doing so because of his approach: he aims at no startling paradoxes, he will judge his success by how well it fits with truth and virtue, and he will accept no principles unless he has reason to think that they "have influenced the judgment of a great majority of mankind in all ages of the world" (p. 10). This, however, brings him to the danger of the other side. Some people might think that this is a somewhat useless promise; of course a mere verbal disputant is no true philosopher, and in this day and age we all see that. People today are surely too discerning to be misled by mere cavils of words. Beattie, however, thinks that this self-congratulation premature, and that many of those who will say this most loudly are also people who are most completely duped by sophistry with words, and that this age is not so firm-minded as to be immune from merely verbal disputation itself. This is actually pretty important. Why will Beattie spend so much time attacking someone like Hume rather than taking a more constructive approach? Because one of his points is that the philosophy of the day really does subscribe to ideas he is attacking. While it's not his only reason, it has the benefit of showing that Beattie is serious when he says that merely verbal dispuation is a clear and present danger that must be addressed. While we must appreciate the advances of the time, we must take care not to overlook our own potential faults:

They who form opinions concerning the manners and principles of the times, may be divided into three classes. Some will tell us, that the present age transcends all that have gone before it, in politeness, learning, and good sense; will thank Providence (or their stars) that their lot of life has been cast in so glorious a period; and wonder how men could support existence amidst the ignorance and barbarism of former days. By others we are accounted a 'generation of triflers and profligates; sciolists in learning, hypocrites in virtue, and formalists in good-breeding; wise only when when we follow the ancients, and foolish whenever we deviate from them. Sentiments so violent are generally wrong: and therefore I am disposed to adopt the notions of those who may be considered as forming an intermediate class; who, though not blind to the follies, are yet willing to acknowledge the virtues, both of past ages, and of the present. And surely, in every age, and in every man, there is something to praise, as well as something to blame. (pp. 11-12)

In the sciences -- that is, mathematics, natural philosophy, and natural history -- the modern age is an age of great accomplishments. This has not been true elsewhere, although even moral philosophy and logic, Beattie thinks, while not sharing in the same kind of success, have at least been improved by the removal of pedantry and jargon. Incidentally, whatever the case may be with moral philosophy, historically and in hindsight we can see that Beattie was wrong about logic; clearing out the pedantry and jargon from logic also ended up clearing out a lot of the logic from logic, and the eighteenth century is a very low point for logic in the English-speaking world. Prior to that century at least the deteriorating remnants of scholastic logic had some kind of wide circulation, after that century there was the revival touched off by Whately that led to a new explosion in logical thought. But the eighteenth century could very well be called a logical dark age, if it were ever entirely correct to call a period a dark age simply because it had its strengths elsewhere. Perhaps more accurately we could say that logic in the eighteenth century, especially the eighteenth-century English speaking world, was a pretty bare and undeveloped thing. Really, of course, the standard Beattie is using is not the sort of standard we would use looking back, but the dominant standard of the day: these fields at the time were very suitable to the sentiments of a free people engaged in the process of cultivating good taste and fair-minded civic eloquence. And put that way, one has to admit that there are worse standards to use. And Beattie does not leave it at that: despite what he sees as the improvements in moral philosophy and logic, he thinks that people should not rest on their laurels. There is much work to do. In particular, there is a serious worry that the thrust of the day is toward the destruction of these two fields:

All sciences, and especially Moral Philosophy, ought to regulate human practice: practice is regulated by principles, and all principles suppose conviction yiction: yet the aim of our most celebrated moral systems is, to divest the mind of every principle, and of all conviction; and, consequently, to disqualify man for action, and to render him as useless, and as wretched, as possible. (pp. 13-14)

In short, the tendency of the age is to paradoxes of Scepticism, which, not being directed merely to making us humble, are going so far as to making it difficult for people to do good in the world. What is more, Beattie says, he can prove it. And Beattie thinks this is a point at which we must avoid a deceptive open-mindedness. Certainly we should be fair and open. But in the ultimate analysis we have to have an allegiance to truth and virtue, and this requires recognizing them as good, as useful, and as attainable. Any purported philosophy with the implication that truth or virtue are not good, useful, or attainable, is not just an idle speculation but an attack on humanity, and the honest man will rise to do battle with it. Moreover, the honest man has a chance of winning. Scepticism does not succeed because it is clever; it succeeds because it is obscure. Bring in more clarity and its refutation rises almost on its own. We see here Beattie preparing the reader for his rather aggressive approach, and he immediately goes on to apologize for it, saying that in what follows he will not always be able to do justice to the superior virtues and talents of some of the great names of the day. People like Locke, Berkeley, and Hume are all exemplary in many ways, and much is owed to them, but there is a real need for someone actually to stand up to them and criticize them striaghtforwardly, and this is what Beattie intends to do. His brief discussion of Hume is particularly interesting and amusing; he admires his History of England and admits that Hume may well be an excellent writer on political subjects, but that despite being the author of A Treatise of Human Nature he is "not much acquainted with human nature" (p. 17). Despite Hume's many strengths, Beattie thinks, his ideas have done serious harm to the progress of philosophy, being in places little other than an full-scale attack on the the principles that are required for human beings to discover truth and become virtuous.

Despite dealing with difficult philosophical topics, Beattie has an explicitly popular aim, and intends to try to make the basic points intelligible to everyone. "Truth, like virtue, to be loved, needs only to be seen" (p. 26). He will be more concerned with clear description than fancy argument, bringing his reasoning into contact with the real world, real experience, at every point he can. Scepticism survives by ambiguity and subtle disguise; its opponent must speak plainly. It is true that this plain speaking may at times open one to the charge of having misunderstood one's opponent, and no one can rule that out completely. But Beattie promises that he has done what he can to prevent it. He has not rushed into publication, he has sought out the opinions of others on his interpretations and arguments, and he has deliberately looked for any objection he could. He recognizes that polemic is not the most respectable genre and that he is attacking some very fashionable ideas. He agrees entirely. But he nonetheless hopes, and has had the encouragement of others to think, that publishing his essay, despite its polemical character, may do some real good.

And that's Beattie's introduction. I've spent some time on it because I think a great many misinterpretations of Beattie arise from not taking seriously the reasons for his approach. We need to understand that Beattie is not attacking at random, and that he is in attack mode because he thinks that there is a serious dearth of critical thinking about some very fashionable ideas, most notably, scepticism, and that the rise of scepticism is dangerous all the way across the board. An analogy might be helpful. Beattie thinks of the scepticism of people like Hume in much the same way that many people have thought of postmodernism in the past several decades, and for many of the same reasons: it is seen by them as a fashionable philosophy devoted to the subversion of everything regardless of whether it is good or useful or important, as an attack on progress and scientific knowledge, and as something that manages to thrive not because it itself contributes anything good or useful or important, but because it is obscure and ambiguous, and therefore lets its practitioners treat themselves as superior to the common man who can't peer through the fog of words they throw up. Setting aside whether this is an accurate characterization of postmodernism itself, this is precisely the attitude Beattie has to Hume; we may not think of Hume in this way, but it's really not difficult to see why someone in the eighteenth century would see Hume in this light. If we allow ourselves this sort of comparison, we could very well say that as far as Beattie is concerned, Hume is the Derrida of the eighteenth centur, and he has exactly the same attitude toward Hume that many analytic philosophers have toward Derrida today. I mention this only because most contemporary philosophers will start their reading of Beattie, if they read him at all, by being on Hume's side, and this sometimes leads to the assessment that Beattie is a bit unhinged, and doing the sort of thing that no philosopher would get away with today. It is not so.

In any case, the introduction just gives us an idea of what Beattie is doing. We get down to some seriously interesting philosophy in Part I.

Frank G. Slaughter, Sword and Scalpel


Opening Passage:

Larry Kirk was having trouble with his lead. For the first time in years the ace television commentator faced his typewriter with a mind empty as a cave whence even the bats had fled.

Summary: It turns out that Larry Kirk is not very interesting or important; he's just there as a place to start. Sword and Scalpel is a Korean War story told in a format alternating between a military trial and flashbacks to the events in question. The actual characters of importance are Dr. Paul Scott, a military surgeon who is on trial; Kay Storey, a USO entertainer on her way up in the world; Father Timothy O'Fallon, who died in Korea; and Hilary Saunders (usually referred to as Hi), who is Scott's now-civilian attorney and who was saved by Scott in the war. The basic problem raised by the trial is this: Scott, Storey, and O'Fallon, along with a number of others, were captured and made prisoners of war by the North Koreans. Dr. Scott is accused of aiding the enemy and of freely signing a false confession stating that United Nations troops were using biological, charges that were brought forward by Scott's commanding officer in Korea, Colonel Hardin. There is a plot twist, but it is visible from miles away; this is not a plot-driven book. Rather, the interest of the work is found in the characters. What would make a man like Scott cooperate with the North Koreans and sign a false confession? What is the relationship between Scott and Storey and O'Fallon. Seen in this light, the story is about a man on the edge of suicide who is pulled back by a love for others and out of that love for others develops the strength of chracter to save them even knowing the potential costs to himself. Or, to put it in other words, it is the story of how a man who almost kills himself because he has lost everything becomes a man who is willing to lose everything simply for the sake of those he loves.

Favorite Passage:

The silent prayer had helped; so had his familiar communion with the past. He was glad that he had gone back to the beginning with Kay--and happier still that he could face that beginning with no regrets. Until their meeting he had not quite realized that he was a member (in reasonable standing) of the family of man. The lesson had taken a deal of learning; he had passed his last exam in the hell of the prison camp at Pyongyang. But he had learned to forget the demands of self with Kay. For the first time he had discovered that being in love is only a short cut to the admission that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Recommendation: The book has grim parts -- over half the book occurs in Korea in the middle of the Korean War, and there are detailed descriptions both of surgery (Slaughter was a physician, remember) and of North Korean tortures. The tortures actually aren't very grisly, but they are still squirm-inducing; the description of the bamboo splinter torture is the most squirm-inducing of these. And there's a lot of human hardship. However, the book was less grim than I had thought it would be from descriptions of the book. The book is really about hope, and hope shines brightest against a dark background. The book is not high literature, but it would make a very good movie; and if you like war stories, this is a very touching one. Recommended.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Social Meaning

Ralph Wedgwood has an argument up at The Stone that discusses same-sex marriage. Setting aside the broader issues, and looking only at the particular argument Wedgwood uses, I'm finding myself a bit perplexed at the notion of 'social meaning' he's using. The first mention of it is in the context of a particular argument against same-sex marriage:

This social meaning consists of the web of shared understandings and expectations that have built up over centuries.

And he goes on later to reiterate this:

The “social meaning” of marriage — as I use the term here — consists of the understandings and expectations regarding marriage that almost all members of society share.

One worry about this immediately is the MacIntyrean question: Which society? This is a particularly gnarled question in a nation like the United States where legal issues are broken up into levels. There are federal issues with regard to marriage and state issues, and states differ considerably. There are more complicated issues, however, when we look at how Wedgwood glosses this issue of "shared understandings and expectations almost all members of society share":

So what exactly is this meaning? Since it consists of generally shared understandings and expectations, it can not include any controversial doctrines (such as the traditional Christian belief that marriage symbolizes the union of Christ and His church). It must consist in more mundane and less controversial assumptions about what married life is normally (though not always) like. These assumptions seem to include the following: normally, marriage involves sexual intimacy (which in heterosexual couples often leads to childbirth); it involves the couple’s cooperation in dealing with the domestic and economic necessities of life (including raising children if they have any); and it is entered into with a mutual long-term commitment to sustaining the relationship.

We get into the problem of the 'almost' here. Wedgwood claims it cannot include any "controversial" doctrines; taken flat this would imply that only understandings and expectations admitted by all members of society would be acceptable. But this would effectively make the whole notion of 'social meaning' useless; all it takes to have a controversy is one person who disagrees, and in a population like the United States, with well over 300 million people, for anything you could propose, there's someone somewhere who would disagree. So we really do have to take seriously Wedgwood's previous qualification of 'almost'. But -- and this is relevant to the question Wedgwood is considering, although it is not one of the more crucially important things -- how controversial does it have to be before we can no longer say that it is uncontroversial to "almost all"? Is this determined by poll and by some special threshold? Is it a pragmatic matter of how people actually act? Is it (and this is a question that would complicate Wedgwood's argument) a matter of what institutions and standards people actually make the effort to support?

What really strikes me about Wedgwood's list is that there is nothing distinctively marital about it in this day and age; if this is all there is to the social meaning of marriage, there is no fundamental difference between marriage and any other committed sexual relationship, even those that are explicitly anti-marital. This becomes something of an issue:

I propose that the crucial benefit is roughly this: by marrying, a couple can give a signal to their community that they wish their relationship to be viewed in the light of these generally shared assumptions about what married life is like. The rest of the community is not obligated to interpret the couple’s relationship in the light of these assumptions; but because marriage is such a familiar and generally understood institution, virtually the whole community will be able to understand the signal that the couple is sending.

Far be it from me to say that Wedgwood is old-fashioned and out of date, but this is an old-fashioned and out-of-date suggestion. Nobody marries for this reason because nobody needs to marry for this reason; and because of that, nobody expects marriage particularly to signal this because it's usually already been signaled. In this day and age people do this sort of thing by moving in together, not by marriage. Again, we come against the fact that in Wedgwood's account the social meaning of marriage, while relevant to marriage, has nothing particularly marital about it.

So what's missing? I think we get the answer when we go back and look at a point in Wedgwood's original description of shared meaning, the one he gave when describing the shared meaning argument against same-sex marriage, that fell out completely: "the web of shared understandings and expectations that have built up over centuries". People don't marry to signal that they are in a committed sexual relations involving a pooling of resources. You can do that easily in other ways. Nor does it make up a particularly salient part of the community's recognition of marriage. People marry to participate in the tradition, to join the club, so to speak; to do and be what married people have been through ages. And this is as relatively uncontroversial as everything else on the list. You do occasionally find same-sex partners who want to marry only for legal benefits, but usually people want to get married because they want to be married, to participate in the tradition, the institution, the practice, of marriage.

And it is here I think we hit an insuperable wall. For while it's relatively uncontroversial that marriage goes beyond other committed sexual relationships by being a traditional institution with benefits accumulated through that tradition and history by its contribution to larger society, it is highly controversial what the essential features of marriage as a traditional institution are. Opponents of same-sex marriage insist that once you get rid of the man-and-woman element of it then you what you have left is not really a way of participating in the tradition of marriage at all; it is at most superficially similar. Advocates of same-sex marriage insist that this is not true. And to resolve this dispute neither side can guarantee that anything to which it thinks legitimate to appeal will be shared by the other side. We are back at the question, "Which society?", because you can't talk about tradition without specifying which societies are to be taken into account. General features of marriage can be uncontroversial, part of this monotone general understanding, without providing sufficient specification to determine what specifics are necessary for those general features to be really -- and not merely apparently -- instantiated.

One of the fundamental problems with Wedgwood's talk of "social meaning" is that he appears to assume that there is one, univocal social meaning for everyone. I think this is manifestly false. There are broad similarities among very different conceptions. If you talk vaguely enough you can get something that widely diverse people will agree on, albeit for often very different reasons. And different societies and sub-society groups and communities will often have expectations and understandings that directly overlap with expectations and understandings of other communities. But what we find with social meaning is not one social meaning but a family of them, and when we try to sum them up we mostly get constructed types based on people's assessments of what's essential and incidental, or else such vague and patchwork happenstance-agreements that we can't tell what's actually essential and incidental. And it is, of course, entirely possible for people to make different judgment calls about what is essential and incidental in the things they agree on.

It's pretty clear that Wedgwood's post is not an argument for same-sex marriage. The argument actually depends on the premise that it is an injustice not to allow same-sex marriage, and this premise is not defended, so the argument presupposes that the case for same-sex marriage has been made, and made successfully. Rather, Wedgwood's argument is intended to be an argument against an argument against same-sex marriage; that is, it's intended to show that a particular argument against same-sex marriage, based on social meaning, fails. Wedgwood agrees that marriage does have a social meaning, but holds that this doesn't affect the case for same-sex marriage at all. I think his argument for this as written fails, for the reasons given above: (1) He is clearly missing some kind of key element in shared expectations and understandings of marriage and, I think, precisely the shared expectation and understanding that is causing the whole problem, tradition-participation; and (2) he doesn't do justice to the fact that you and I can have a very vague general-level agreement about some feature of marriage and still have an insoluble disagreement about what that general feature specifically requires in practice, and without dealing with this it's not really clear that he's given an adequate answer to the argument to which he is responding. But it is an interesting line of approach.

Baeda of Northumbria

Today is the feast-day of the St. Baeda of Northumbria, Doctor of the Church, more commonly known as the Venerable Bede. He was born 672-ish and died in 735. We actually know very little of his life. Most of it can be summed up in his own comment on how he went about writing his masterpiece, The Ecclesiastical History of England, at the very end of that book:

Thus much of the Ecclesiastical History of Britain, and more especially of the English nation, as far as I could learn either from the writings of the ancients, or the tradition of our forefathers, or of my own knowledge, with the help of the Lord, I, Bede, the servant of Christ, and priest of the monastery of the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, which is at Wearmouth and Jarrow, have set forth. Having been born in the territory of that same monastery, I was given, by the care of kinsmen, at seven years of age, to be educated by the most reverend Abbot Benedict, and afterwards by Ceolfrid, and spending all the remaining time of my life a dweller in that monastery, I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture; and amidst the observance of monastic rule, and the daily charge of singing in the church, I always took delight in learning, or teaching, or writing. In the nineteenth year of my age, I received deacon’s orders; in the thirtieth, those of the priesthood, both of them by the ministry of the most reverend Bishop John, and at the bidding of the Abbot Ceolfrid. From the time when I received priest’s orders, till the fifty-ninth year of my age, I have made it my business, for my own needs and those of my brethren, to compile out of the works of the venerable Fathers, the following brief notes on the Holy Scriptures, and also to make some additions after the manner of the meaning and interpretation given by them....

After which follows a long list of historical works, scriptural commentaries, and other works. The Abbot Benedict mentioned is St. Benedict Biscop, and the Bishop mentioned is St. John Beverley. Bede is, of course, the patron saint of historians. Most people of his day simply collected stories; the Venerable Bede, however, always tried to find some confirmation and evidence. His standard of what counted as evidence wouldn't always be generally accepted among historians today, but the combination of his consistent efforts to collect evidence, his talent for organization and narrative (neither of which should be underestimated, for Bede is a master of both), and his sobriety of style put him in the ranks of the great historians through the ages.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Super Big Canada II

Doug Saunders has a column in the Globe and Mail arguing for massive immigration to increase the population of Canada to 100 million. It's a better argument than Robert Kaplan's argument to the same conclusion last year, but still has many of the same problems. I was amused by this:

Today we need to recognize the fact that, despite what Laurier did a century ago, Canada remains a victim of underpopulation. We do not have enough people, given our dispersed geography, to form the cultural, educational and political institutions, the consumer markets, the technological, administrative and political talent pool, the infrastructure-building tax base, the creative and artistic mass necessary to have a leading role in the world.

Because our immigration rates have remained modest and our birth rate is low, our population will grow only slightly – to perhaps 50 million by mid-century. By that point, the world’s population will almost have stopped growing and it will be difficult to attract large numbers of immigrants. At current rates, Canada will have lost its chance to be a fully formed nation.

Canada is already a fully formed nation and has a leading role in the world, being a notable diplomatic influence and exerting a moderating and mediating influence on some of the world's major powers. It has rather good cultural institutions, decent educational and political institutions, a healthy consumer market, and an extraordinary talent pool. It is true that some of this is managed by very careful government regulation. It does have very serious ongoing infrastructure problems, but immigration would provide no direct solution to this, since its most immediate effect would be to put greater strain on the infrastructure, and immigration-focused tax-base expansion is an extremely indirect way to raise new funds. (Immigrants, for instance, consistently make less than non-immigrants for decades after they enter.) It's also clear that nations with larger populations often have even more serious infrastructure problems, so there's no automatic connection between higher immigration and better infrastructure. Rather, it seems that the reverse is necessary: serious expansion of immigration requires that you get your infrastructure house in order first, or at least be in the process of doing so.

Another amusing bit:

Canada’s environment would probably be far better protected: Densely populated places like California and France tend to do better at conservation than empty zones like the Asian steppe, which produced such ecological catastrophes as the Aral Sea disaster unobserved. The threats of global warming – notably ocean-level rises – will require large-scale infrastructure projects that must rely on a large tax base. And it’s no coincidence that the most progressive climate-change policies are found in the countries with the most dense populations.

Yes, or it could be that California and France make it a very high priority. One could argue that this is due to dense population -- dense populations increase the tendency to environmental degradation but also force people to deal with the problems raised by environmental degradation quite directly. But this is, again, quite indirect. And the problem with large-scale infrastructure projects is that they are only large scale because of geography or large population, and Canada's infrastructure propblem -- like those of the United States, which has ten to twelve times the population and thus "a large tax base" -- is due primarily to refusing to spend a reasonable portion of tax revenues on maintenance and development; where nations spend a reasonable amount, they tend to have the infrastructure required for their population and geography.

And, of course, you have the usual graying-Canada arguments, which are, however they are framed, arguments that immigrants should be brought in so that they can be exploited for the benefit of non-immigrants.

In practical terms, Saunders proposes bringing in 400,000 to 450,000 immigrants a year (about one and a half to two times what it does now). In practice, of course, this would mean steadily increasing the populations of Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal for the next several years until, by spill-over effect, the rest of the population strip along Canada's southern border is economically and infrastructurally capable of absorbing them. There are labor shortages in a number of places in Canada -- Alberta, especially -- but (1) labor shortages are in skilled workers, who have to be taken as they come; and (2) Canada notoriously has difficulty bringing skilled labor in as it is, because it takes forever to get into Canada, and Canada is notoriously inconsistent in what it considers acceptable credentials. The whole system would have to be revamped; and, what is more, it's not clear that simply revamping the system wouldn't get you better results than aiming for that 100 million.

This think-tank idea seems to go around quite a bit in Canada. The problem with it is not the suggestion that Canada should increase immigration, which may well be true; rather, the problem is that it's proposed as a quick-fix solution to problems it pretty clearly would not fix. All the problems Saunders lists are problems that have other solutions; the immigration increase is only relevant because it is assumed that it would contribute ot these other solutions.

Three Poem Re-Drafts


At times a loneliness will creep
within as from some monstrous deep,
surprise my heart, and terrorize
my brain with visions from its eyes.
But mostly I, a timeless stone,
am never lonely, just alone
with sun in sky, and trees around
that sway in breezes rich with sound
of music from the birds that, free,
alone can speak the joy in me.


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.
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.
Each must honestly confess
reason's flame is not so bright
all shadows flee it, nor the night;
none too steady in its light,
flickering here and blazing there,
here it dies to ashes bare,
sputtering in the rainy air.
But -- who is fool enough to say
lights that are less bright than day
shed no light upon our way?
Say rather that we never lack
means to fight and harry back
dark of night, the inky black!
Dancing, it is never dead,
aiding us where it has led,
keeping safe till morning-red.

To My Beloved Country

Mountain-crowned with glorious expanse,
deep-canyoned and deep-hearted,
in you the wheat-sown oceans dance
with minds and freedoms not soon parted,
sweet-tongued singer of the song
of freedom and unaliened right,
enfuried by the unjust wrong,
swift to share your light!
Firewheels burn here without end,
bluebonnets mantle royal fields,
land where storm and grace descend
and all things offer tenfold yield
or else a hundredfold increase,
where all look to the what-may-be,
where generous hearts seem without cease
on every side from sea to sea.
My heart is troubled and I fear
on nights when stars sing sobbing note;
though none may harm your glory here,
yet you may slit your own fair throat.
Walk softly, gently, and recall,
though foe may fail before your power,
you yourself can bring the fall
and haste that darkest of dark hours.
And fear!
Fear Justice and her laws,
which none survive who mock and scorn.
Hold your heart in proper awe
lest judgment come some brutal morn.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Replace Them Whence They Came

The Lord’s Prayer
by Alice Meynell

"Audemus dicere 'Pater Noster.'"—Canon of the Mass

There is a bolder way,
There is a wilder enterprise than this
All-human iteration day by day.
Courage, mankind! Restore Him what is His.

Out of His mouth were given
These phrases. O replace them whence they came.
He, only, knows our inconceivable "Heaven,"
Our hidden "Father," and the unspoken "Name";

Our "trespasses," our "bread,"
The "will" inexorable yet implored;
The miracle-words that are and are not said,
Charged with the unknown purpose of their Lord.

"Forgive," "give," "lead us not"—
Speak them by Him, O man the unaware,
Speak by that dear tongue, though thou know not what,
Shuddering through the paradox of prayer.

Act of Religion

A somewhat amusing passage from Aquinas's commentary on 1 Corinthians (section 329). But the phrasing is amusing only because we don't really talk about sex in this way any more, or at least not much. But there's something rather defective about a perspective on sex that can't conceive of it as a morally virtuous act, so joke's on us.

Hence it should be noted that the conjugal act is sometimes meritorious and without any mortal or venial sin, as when it is directed to the good of procreation and education of a child for the worship of God; for then it is an act of religion; or when it is performed for the sake of rendering the debt, it is an act of justice. But every virtuous act is meritorious, if it is performed with charity. But sometimes it is accompanied with venial sin, namely, when one is excited to the matrimonial act by concupiscence, which nevertheless stays within the limits of the marriage, namely, that he is content with his wife only. But sometimes it is performed with mortal sin, as when concupiscence is carried beyond the limits of the marriage; for example, when the husband approaches the wife with the idea that he would just as gladly or more gladly approach another woman. In the first way, therefore, the act of marriage requires no concession; in the second way it obtains a concession, inasmuch as someone consenting to concupiscence toward the wife is not guilty of mortal sin; in the third way there is absolutely no concession.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dashed Off

imaginative dissociation & its principles
-> certainly 'ideas' do dissociate, just as they associate

certitude, belief, opinion, surmise, conjecture, suspicion, doubt, toleration, rejection, denunciation

myth as arche kai psyche of tragedy

Athena Tritogenia: thought, speech, action

the golden chain & the prime mover (Aristotle, Movement of Animals 4, 699b32-700a6)

philosophy as death in the realm of opinion and rebirth in the realm of knowledge, as death in the realm of the sensible and rebirth in the realm of the intelligible

"Myths, if they are to serve their purpose, must necessarily import time distinctions into their subject and will often present as separate entities powers that exist in unity but differ in rank and faculty." Plotinus Enn 3.5[50] 9.24-26

poetic modes
(1) imaginative (mode of appearance)
(2) imitative (reproductive)
(3) educative (didactic)
(4) participative (mode of inspiration)
- (1) & (2) mimetic broadly speaking

mythical concrescence (Cassirer)
- coincidence in unity of feeling that is the feeling of the unity of life

"The three marks of insight are breadth of range, coherence and unity of view, and closeness of personal touch." Royce

"The Ideal, the Need, the Deliverer -- these are the three objects which the individual experience, as a source of religious insight, has always undertaken to reveal." Royce

development of doctrine
(1) on analogy with extensions of logical propositions
(2) on analogy with unfolding of patterns from mathematical formulae
(3) on analogy with germination of organisms
-> actually, we find cases like each of these three: unexpected logical results, unexpected patterns arising from consistent application of doctrine, and organic development according to inner principle in response to environment. All three are distinct from articulation as such (although they may feed into it).

"To see a friend and feast with him is most pleasant." Aquinas In Job 96

3 impediments to finding truth in debate
(1) refusal to listen
(2) contentious response
(3) vicotry -seeking (failure to aim at truth)

"justice and truth are manifested by mutual discussion." Aquinas In Job 165

The three elements of intelligence are caliber, brace, and aim.

Rivendell & Lorien as two kinds of memory-preservation (recalled in lore, retained in life)

ethics: theurgy :: poetics & rhetoric : thaumaturgy

While it is a submetaphysical point itself, the single most important discovery for metaphysics is that we can know things on the basis of sensible experience that we cannot perceive by direct sensation. And it remains something to which we must repeatedly return: the most plausible responses to Humeanism, for instance, or to external world skepticism, are attempts to re-convey this discovery.

The Kantian church cannot meddle with the world; this is a fatal flaw in Kant's account.

Prehension is shared content with active direction.

LOTR Bks I & II both end with the flight fo the Ringbearer from the Enemy
They likewise end with a failure connected to the flight: Frodo's use of the Ring in I, & Boromir's attempt to take the Ring in II

Rivendell & Lorien punctuate the string of failures in LOTR II: Caradhras, Moria, Boromir, & the Fellowship itself.
Note, too, the parallel structure of Galadriel's & Boromir's temptation -- the difference being that Galadriel sees it for what it is while being tempted. Note also the parallels of vision for Frodo associated with each: the Mirror and Amon Hen.

Weathertop & Amon Hen: note Frodo puts on the Ring in each case

NB the discovery that Gandalf protected Frodo at Amon Hen

wise, ordered, measured, strong

kosher laws as fasting practices

Some 'refutations' are merely infrastructure problems -- the opposed party simply does not have the resources to devote to adequate defense and counter-refutation.

Who has ever felt true gratitude knows by experience that there are things beyond words.

letting ideas jostle

The participation of an effect in its cause is injective.
Causal participation, when we are considering per se causes, is associative, because it admits of map-composition.

contradiction removal strategies
(1) assumption reduction
(2) restriction of universe
(3) reduplication

Saruman uses language like a machine, a tool to be manipulated, for exertion and application of power; thus it is really tonalities, etc., the voice, that interests him. It is a lever, nothing more.

Hypotheses are selected on the basis of a cultivated taste.

logic as exploring the limit conditions of the authoritative

tria munera: to teach, to govern, to sanctify

pride is immunity to improvement
Logic is a poetry of modes of relevance.

scholastic etymologies as translative definitions

The doctrine of the mean, or something like it, is necessary to the coherence of natural law theory in its actual applications.

Since the most obvious thing about reason is its motion, which is problem-solving, it is unsurprising that we have much in common with general problem-solving animals like ravens, dolphins, and chimpanzees. But the most obvious thing about reason is not the most distinctive thing about it.

The decline of Gondor is from something loosely approaching a kallipolis to something more purely a timarchy. We see this in the contrast between Faramir and Boromir.

We can continue to struggle through the darkness only because we remember the light.

As a symbolon the Creed designates the underlying principles or internal form of the faith; it is, in its proper sense as a Creed professed, both outward sign and inward mystery.

Military tactics is the efficient navigation of the geometry of difficulty-of-lines-of-attack.

Most of the time when we are determining probabilities we are really considering what kind of inference we are supposed to be making.

The patristic attraction to the idea that Plato learned from the tradition of Moses is in fact a standard kind of Neoplatonist move, and is parallel to, and arguably linked with, Neoplatonist attempts to link Plato with Egyptian hieratic tradition. (Note also Moses/Egypt link.)

Wisdom is greater than folly because wisdom can think folly through from both the inside and the outside.

Icons in their own ways display the creed.

Resemblance and contiguity are both field concepts.

The genuinely independent mind is not the one that is unguided but the one that is deliberate.

Corollarial and Theorematic

There's a common misunderstanding of logic that takes it to be part and parcel with logical reasoning that the conclusion can't go beyond the premises. It is easy to see why someone would think that, but it's not strictly true even for some quite rigorous kinds of reasoning. What you get when you go beyond the premises will depend on the kind of reasoning in question, or the kind of formal system used to model it. But I did recently come across a nice little bit by C. S. Peirce that brings the point home by pointing out that there is a rigorous formal system, one that most people would once have studied, that draws out necessities while going beyond premises:

There are two kinds of Deduction; and it is truly significant that it should have been left for me to discover this. I first found, and subsequently proved, that every Deduction involves the observation of a Diagram (whether Optical, Tactical, or Acoustic) and having drawn the diagram (for I myself always work with Optical Diagrams) one finds the conclusion to be represented by it. Of course, a diagram is required to comprehend any assertion. My two genera of Deductions are first those in which any Diagram of a state of things in which the premisses are true represents the conclusion to be true and such reasoning I call Corollarial because all the corollaries that different editors have added to Euclid's Elements are of this nature. Second kind. To the Diagram of the truth of the Premisses something else has to be added, which is usually a mere May-be, and then the conclusion appears. I call this Theorematic reasoning because all the most important theorems are of this nature. (to William James, EP 2:502)

The terminology, of course, comes from Euclidean geometry, as traditionally taught. Actually, it turns out that Peirce uses the distinction a lot, and considered it one of his most important logical discoveries.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hume's So-called 'In-Principle' Argument Against Miracles (Re-Post)

This is a re-post from 2008, and still as necessary.

Everyone who studies a given philosopher, or, I suppose, just about anything, has their own mental laundry list of clean-up points, by which I mean the set of common misunderstandings that, come what may, you are going to eliminate. Of course, this is optimistic thinking, since the laundry list gets longer and longer as time goes on, but something about those misunderstandings puts you on a mission to eliminate them.

One of the entries on my laundry list is the so-called 'in-principle argument' in Part I of Hume's essay on Miracles. This argument has haunted interpretation of Hume like the Flying Dutchman has haunted the Seven Seas; it is a ghost argument. In the history of philosophy you run across such ghost arguments from time to time: people begin seeing arguments in texts that are not there, but to someone reading them with certain presuppositions (not least of which is the mere expectation of finding the argument there), it looks like it is there. In the case of long-term hauntings this is often due to some quirk of the text that makes the real argument difficult to understand, and, as the ghost argument usually makes sense (even if it is rejected), it becomes easy to see things in the text that look like the ghost, and to ignore things in the text that are inconsistent with it, sometimes even explicitly so. This is precisely the case with the 'in-principle argument'.

The essay on Miracles falls into two parts. Much of Part II is fairly easy to follow; it consists of a number of a posteriori arguments against testimony for miracles, empirical evidences for regarding it as unreliable. Part I, however, is not so obvious. Its explicit conclusion is a rather puzzling play on words: "no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish; and even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior." It appeals to a complicated psychological mechanism, talks of proofs balancing proofs, and has many more puzzling characteristics. But Hume does say that there is "a uniform experience against every miraculous event" and that "as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle." That sounds pretty critical of miracles, and we know in any case from Part II that Hume is not impressed by testimony for miracles, and so people have naturally taken Part I to be an argument against miracles. Moreover, since there is a uniform experience against every miracle, and such uniform experience is a "direct and full proof" against the existence of any miracle, what can be more natural than reading Part I as an argument that testimony of miracles should be rejected in principle. It has the advantage of giving the essay a pleasing symmetry: Part I is the in-principle argument, Part II is, so to speak, the in-practice argument. It's a two-pronged attack against testimony for miracles, and looks quite clever. It's not surprising that it keeps appearing when people read the text.

But the text clearly cannot bear this interpretation. Part I has no in-principle argument against miracles. In fact, it has no argument against miracles at all. It's the set-up for the real argument, which is found in Part II. When Hume tells us that uniform experience is a "direct and full proof" against the existence of any miracle, he does not leave it at that. He immediately goes on to say, "nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof, which is superior." And in the paragraph prior to this one, he tells us what he is doing:

But in order to encrease the probability against the testimony of witnesses, let us suppose, that the fact, which they affirm, instead of being only marvellous, is really miraculous; and suppose also, that the testimony considered apart and in itself, amounts to an entire proof; in that case, there is proof against proof, of which the strongest must prevail, but still with a diminution of its force, in proportion to that of its antagonist.

Proof against proof! Hume has set us up in a situation in which we have a "direct and full proof" that miracles don't happen, and an "entire proof" that at least one has. So, he says, we are to take subtract the force of the weaker proof from the force of the stronger proof, and accept the conclusion of the stronger proof with whatever force it has left after the subtraction. We don't think of proofs as capable of having opposites; but Hume does. We don't think of "entire proofs" or "full proofs" as coming in degrees; but Hume does. If you have any doubts about this, I give you Hume's own words, in his response to Campbell's attack on him on this point:

I find no difficulty to explain my meaning, and yet shall not probably do it in any future edition. The proof against a miracle, as it is founded on invariable experience, is of that species or kind of proof, which is full and certain when taken alone, because it implies no doubt, as is the case with all probabilities; but there are degrees of this species, and when a weaker proof is opposed to a stronger it is overcome.

Deciding not to explain this point in future editions was perhaps a mistake, because it has often been overlooked. In Part I Hume explicitly supposes that we have a full proof for the miracle; and the conclusion he draws is not that testimony for a miracle should be rejected in principle, but that it should be rejected unless it is a sufficiently strong proof to override the proof of the laws of nature. Recognizing this we understand what Hume is really doing in Part II: he is arguing that, in fact, no testimony for religious miracles ever attains to this standard. And this is what he explicitly says he is doing, right at the beginning of Part II:

In the foregoing reasoning we have supposed, that the testimony, upon which a miracle is founded, may possibly amount to an entire proof, and that the falsehood of that testimony would be a real prodigy: But it is easy to shew, that we have been a great deal too liberal in our concession, and that there never was a miraculous event established on so full an evidence.

So there is no in-principle argument against miracles in Part I of the essay, indeed, no argument against miracles at all; he is simply setting up the argument in Part II. It's easy to see why the ghost haunts interpretations of the text, but it is a ghost. It is time that we finally salted that grave.

Book a Week, May 20

This is one I've never read before, but is on my shelves from my grandfather's library: Frank G. Slaughter, Sword and Scalpel. Frank Gill Slaughter (1908-2001), was a physician and surgeon who became a very successful twentieth century author, producing about one novel a year in his heyday. He also served in World War II for the U.S. Medical Corps. Most of his novels have a medical theme of some sort, sometimes a wartime medical theme, but many of his more popular novels were Biblical in theme, about St. Luke, or about Joseph of Arimathea. It's just possible I may have read at some point his book about Luke -- The Road to Bithynia -- but I'm not sure.

The 1957 Sword and Scalpel is about a doctor in the Korean War who is taken prisoner when the North Koreans capture his MASH unit. By all accounts it is a very dark and grim book about enduring -- and sometimes failing to endure -- in the most terrible times. But it is also supposed to have strong themes of self-sacrifice and friendship. So it will be quite a change; but it should be interesting.