Saturday, June 09, 2012

Two Poem Re-Drafts, Two New Poem Drafts


Cedars grow tall on Liban hills,
life beyond grasp of human will;
flame is bright over muddy grave
of a hermit-saint who hid his face;
the heart is kissed by burning light
as cedar soars to sun and sky,
is charged with day without a night,
and burns but is not burned.

The Bacchae

The god of wine and revel
made dizzy the city's prince
and omens darkly muttered
with a strange malevolence.

But the king kept to his folly;
he was slain by the godly bull,
carried home in his mother's arms.
Amen: the gods are cruel.

You are proud in your ways, O mortals!
Better it were to mourn
than to march through mocking streets
to where the beasts are torn.

You are vain with vain cosmetics:
you think to hide your soul;
you boast of civic order
when destruction is your goal.

You speak the name of Justice?
But Justice walks with sword
to slit the throats of mortals
with a fate no charm can ward.

And when your life is over
we will see the path you've trod:
in place of boasted glory
just the mocking of the god.


With silver ray the moon now smiles
on leaves that tremble in the wind;
with laughing eye you beam at me
and breathe soft flutters through my heart,
to make me royal here and now,
more blessed than kings imperial.
For in your face I see a life.
It winds its way in front of me
and all of me will flow along
that path into the dancing sea.
No heaven on this earth is found.
No joy will pour in endless rain.
But this a man may have:
to say a word, to keep a word,
to choose a path with living heart,
and, best, to look back at the end
and know he chose the better part.


Cast your glance at me, O dryad-nymph!
Let branch and bough and leaf send forth a glimpse
of spirit sighing free like inner breeze
within the living sap of oaken tree.
Let smiles like the sun's rays on your leaves
shine forth to light the day, and pleasures keep
in store for me along this way my life has made,
that I may rest and stay beneath your shade.

Dashed Off

As usual, just putting some of my dashed-off notes up. Use with caution.

Since art does not require deliberation, deliberation is not required for having ends.

Contempt is a weakness in the contemner.

Laughter is the diamond in the crown of reason.

It is corrosive to demand apology when only concession is required.

A funeral should provide the fitting closure to a journey by being a thanksgiving for the sharing of a life and a remembrance that our lives in coming to an end show their substance and weight.

Music paints pictures of motions by representing rises and falls, slides and steps and soars, shades of force and textures of sound. To some extent these are conventional -- what in one culture is seen as the ascent of a scale may in another be seen as the descent of a scale -- but this is true of painting as well.

The adaptation of the changing condition of humanity to the gospel is always needed in every age of the world.

Irrational natural explanations are no less irrational for being natural.

Much nonsense has been written about evolution that treats it as a single kind of change when it manifestly is not.

Asserting the same thing in two different ways can be a very useful thing to do.

how to assess extraordinary evidence -- anything assessible like ordinary evidence is ordinary evidence

free choice as a necessary precondtiion of rational evaluation

the rational choreography of a Platonic dialogue

There are two kinds of epiphany. Some people are like the shepherds at night, taken by surprise, or a-sudden. But others are like the Magi, thinking through their destination and the way to it, having to find their way by reason and advice. But both have their epiphany.

The historical record has large holes to hide things in; even our best such records can miss extraordinary things, as we have sometimes found by new discovery.

Excessive focus on tiny strands of argument is a common weakness in philosophical reasoning; one learns much from such focus, but not all reasoning is wisely treated as a mere aggregate of little bits.

teaching as casting one's bread upon the water

Teachers are facilitators and catalysts: they simplify and accelerate the process of learning. But for the same reason they have limited effect on the essentials of learning.

We cannot account for the actual as we find it without considering the actual as also potential.

Practicing law is like engineering with an incomplete, and sometimes unstable, physics.

The only hopeless students are the ones who run away.

associative chains as inference facilitators

Love in the will activates or energizes love in the passions; but other things influence the passions as well.

Wars are often lost in their first conception.

HADD accounts of religion presuppose that agency is not conceptually confined to the ordinary agents of our experience, but that it admits of much, much wider possible extension.

To consider & test: Defenders of well-entrenched philosophical positions are more likely to argue for stalemate, rather than victory, in their defenses.

All divine attributes are essentially divine.

The inability to handle situations involving ambiguity is a sign of logical frailty, not logical strength.

philosophical argument as position play (go)

People often talk about entitlement when all they have established is need or prudence.

In politics rewards are often leashes.

Necessity has no slippery slope.

There are two kinds of verbal dispute: practical disputes about stipulation and theoretical disputes about classification. Neither is automatically silly or pointless; what is silly or pointless is to treat one as if it were the other.

We cannot adequately contextualize historical events unless we think in grand sweeps as well as in precise details.

The construction of arguments is precision work.

urgency, impact, and trend of philosophical problems

Intellectuals too often forget the distinction between their private interests and the interests of intellectual life itself.

crafts of a free people

the Allegory of the Cave as a transcendental deduction of the Good

liturgical refreshment of senses

Too little of what passes for critical thinking is concerned with means-end reasoning.

but-for causation

The best action movies work by focusing on the aesthetics of daring -- one notices that clear failures are the ones that either lose a grasp on daring entirely -- nothing is really dared, or, at least, nothing is felt to be so -- or subordinate it to non-daring-related spectacle, not as a respite or refreshment, but on a large scale.

Lv 19:19 as a figure for not mixing the covenant of God with other things, or for carefully distinguishing what pertains to each law ("Keeping statues")

Bene docet qui bene distinguit.

cascade failures in argument

argument weakening
(1) by modal subalternation
(2) by quantitative subalternation
(3) by terminal qualification
(4) by qualititative qualification
(5) by inferential qualification

It is better to speak of hard fortune than bad fortune, hard luck than bad luck, for it is always by its nature merely a difficult opportunity.

It is fortitude that makes it possible for anger to become an instrument of reason.

Antecedent credibility establishes suitability for being a provisional hypothesis.

Pursuit of the pleasant or pleasing is not the same as pursuit of pleasure.

economy, decorum, & equity as principles of politics and governance

Grace perfects nature, but here we must be careful. For grace perfects nature not necessarily according to natural ends but according to ends beyond natural ends, namely, divine ends. Grace perfects nature by preparing it for the transfiguration of glory.

Questions are only as simple as their context.

There are many different kinds of persuasion; arguments in particular can have several distinct persuasive functions.

The primary purpose of experimental controls is to increase the salience of desired information.

We can see Godel as having set up, indirectly, a hierarchy of intellectual risk for mathematical systems.

Natural selection can get no closer to belief as such than value/referent structure-types.

Debunking arguments are causal arguments.

mere hesitancy vs judicious suspense

Danger is an aesthetic concept.

oppression as the fruit of imprudence Pr 28:16

It is possible to aestheticize or ethicize any natural statement simply by adding a relevant modality.

faith as extending the horizon of reason, or rather rational certainty

mere conjunction vs. conjunction in the idea of a whole

petitio principii, ignoratio elenchi, etc. all have counterparts in defining -- fallacies of definition

dominance and submission symbolisms in philosophical argument -- these become mroe extensive and more easily identifiable in the modern period

We live our lives according to the audience we think we have, within the limits of memory.

Sometimes a more inaccurate model will allow for more fruitful lines of research.

the duty of practices of joy

Long chances may win long games.

Confirmation is always with respect to a context.

the sheaf of middle terms in a conclusion

liturgy as a source of richness of life

Demonstrations rise like spires from a seething sea of dialectical negotiations.

The faithful hold their bishops to the faith as will moves reason to believe.

Selection-based accounts of functions are only viable if they work by restricting possible functions rather than by positing functional ends.

the circulatory system of the Church: missionary travel and epistolary correspondence

Long after moral truths are no longer understood, cargo cult imitations of morality will endure.

Contrastive explanations are implicitly reduplicative.

If integrity is a good, there are sins against oneself that harm only oneself.
We can make sense of sins against oneself whether we are utilitarian, Kantian, or Aristotelian.

the need for hortatory institutions, especially in democratic societies

The decisions of courts need to be as predictable as the need for ingenuity in the face of the new can allow, so that citizens may take this into account.

contrastive explanation & final causes

All great ideas take years to develop.

ideational drift & the loss of learning

justification as grounding
justification as accounting
justification as rectifying

The thing about leaping to conclusions is that you can always recover from it.

"A quest is always an education both as to the character of that which is sought and in self-knowledge." MacIntyre

entitlements: right, desert, title

Avoiding proximate occasions of sin requires not just evasion but also development of the habitudes that make them no longer proximate occasions of sin.

It is notable that so much of the Matter of Britain is French and that so much of the Matter of France is Italian.

While you can standardize competence, you can only inspire excellence.

questions as imperatives

mass as an activity of a body

Statistics is the study of nomologies and anomalies in collections of measurements.

a fortiori by argument weakening
a fortiori by superparity

superparity : parity :: ≥ : =

(1) reality of the world
(2) intelligibility of the world
(3) real definition
(4) natural classification

Cumulative experience allows recognition; recognition allows insight.

People have become suspicious of crucial experiments, but they still treat virtually all abstract arguments as if they were supposed to be crucial in exactly the same sense.

Family resemblances can be defined with respect to types.

Disputes in economics are either purely technical or primarily ethical.

good-natured humor as a sign of sanity

the dervishness of life

The Faith is too much to put in a party platform or a social policy.

the Aeneid & the cost and worth of vocation

The Age of Gold is at angles to every present age.

We verify the emotions of others by participation in them.

Fear is less honest in tendency than hope.

on treating 'harm' as a taboo-like concept

The natural ends of work and business are, first, necessity, and, beyond that, creative fruition. Profit, on the other hand, is merely the delight of business, as pleasure is the delight of sex. Whoever is in business to make profit *rather than* to create is a dissolute libertine, and, like all dissolute libertines, will only be preserved from destruction, and the destruction of others, by sheer chance. One may indeed take profit as an end in business, but only as the crown of creation.

The function of an institution in broader society cannot be separated from the justifications it is seen as having.

Satire displays incongruity; hence its associations with humor, since humorous things are in some way incongruous. But the reverse is not true, and sometimes the incongruity is not supposed to induce laughter, but to distress, or to puzzle, or to emphasize, or to make suspicious.

treating laws of nature as a belief revision system for cases of nomological counterfactuals

convenant as mutual law
covenant as law mutually agreed

Remoteness of material cooperation generalizes complicity; proximateness specifies it.

Callicles's attack on philosophers as acting like boys picks up on the childlikeness of philosophical inquiry, its innocence in the use of the question, Why?

inference rules as accessibility relations among propositions

Tolkien's Elves are magical because they make poetry real; they do not merely personify trees in words, they wake the persons in them.

Being human is partly a learned behavior.

Massive complexes of evidence are negotiated by 'feel', that is, by passion and inclination organized by the desire for truth. Such things are handled synoptically.

Conscience cannot be kept private; it tends to the public by nature.

Autonomy is merely a way of talking about authority.

Arguments chiefly change beliefs by shifting sympathies.

It is natural to human beings to embody their beliefs in their material environment; otehrwise the beliefs come to seem tasteless.

utility, loyalty, deference, purity, dignity, and equity as facets of justice

solidarity as a link between dignity and purity -- purity vs complicity

In the last analysis, people must be taken on faith; there is too much of them not to do so.

(1) No consistent distinction can be made between justice by nature & justice by convention.
(2) Any consistent account of the good life includes self-discipline.
(3) True politics makes the people more just.
(4) Injustice is more to be feared than death or suffering.

Peace is a kind of wholeness.

There is no true freedom of worship where there is no freedom to live religiously.

requirements of natural law vs 'aspirations or wishes of natural law' (Maritain)

Socrates's dialectics is a positional game constructed largely by quiet moves.

The architectures of music and language are as important to civilization as those of stone.

Every virtue has a solidarity appropriate to it.

People are more convinced by arguments to which they contribute something than they are by other arguments.

We only love ourselves properly when, loving God, we see ourselves as we are, and all the joy and sorrow of it: icons of God under the shadow of death. And when we love ourselves as such, we finally know what it is to love our neighbor as ourselves; and it is then that the second law is like to the first.

poetic arts of advice & counsel

atheism as larger solipsism (cf. Merleau-Ponty on Malebranche & the cogito)

The political power of the literary is a subtle but constant pressure; like all subtle, constant pressures, it is easy to overlook but can in the long term accomplish extraordinary things.

Rule is more about attracting the wise, the capable, and the noble than about giving commands.

analytic, synthetic, and synoptic approximation

logical, psychological, sociological, and ethical dimensions of the strength of an argument

progress as the opiate of the intelligentsia

Excessive focus on defense immobilizes.

Common good establishes rights in common.

Joy and Sorrow are bound by Light and Glory.

re-enactments of intellectual arguments

causation as a foundational concept of ethics

Hurt feelings are not grounds for exception to laws.

the sense in which learning begins with trust (fides)
the sense in which learning begins with understanding (intelligentia)
the sense in which learning begins with experience (experientia)

The history of philosophy is by its very nature a real -- although imperfect -- dialectic.

The human race working together, or even a fragment of it, has in some ways a less sophisticated cognitive agency than a single human being, but in some ways a more powerful one.

In the moral life, great changes are sometimes needed, but more often subtle refinements are more valuable: delicate detail-work rather than massive reconceivings.

The transfiguration tells us that it is the Son who suffers.


We do not directly study power, whether active or passive; we study it by recognizing a certain unrestrictedness or unlimitedness in the actual.

The first thing a debunking argument must do is avoid debunking itself; and then from then on out it must not add anything that would lead to self-debunking.
Debunking arguments encourage special pleading.

Ethics must deal with the unusual, but it must deal most with the everyday.
The standard of competence for an ethicist is being able to give people ethical guidance for the circumstances under which many people actually live -- having this history, being faced with those choices and problems, having these resources, starting with those institutions and practices.

Even when something is morally permissible, that does not mean it is prudent to do.
Discussions of moral permissibility cannot ignore particulars, for these can affect the permissibility. It matters that this person is doing it, not that; it matters that these are the circumstances, not those.
There is no contextless moral permissibility.

When Kant says that religion is recognition of all duties as divine commands, he means rather that religion is the recognition fo teh fact that such an interpretation of duties is admissible given the character of duty.

Moral law may be complete in itself, but moral action is not until moral law is completely integrated with the conditions of human action.

Infants are communal members (qua wards) of their family and of society at large, not private property of their parents.

Indulgences are penitential practices suitable for substituting for other penitential practices, and certified as such by the Church as extension of its sacramental ministry of reconciliation.

The great sin of the intellectual is to support evil because it is interesting; it is a very great sin.

Exchanges may themselves be gifts.

potential parts of justice and the surplus of gift over exchange

The man who starts with fictions may discover truths, but the man who starts with nothing discovers nothing.

Every proverb is the seed of a story.

Scientific inquiry gets its value more from identifying the potential than from identifying the actual.

Eustathian vs Meletian lines of orthodox response to Arianism

From the distinctions of (1) the same and the different, (2) the actual and the potential, and (3) the consistent and the inconsistent, and these alone, if they can be granted to be actual distinctions of actual relevance to the real world, we can build almost all of classical metaphysics.

Hume's paradoxes in Treatise 1.4.2 shoudl be regarded as closely analogous to ancient Greek paradoxes about change. Indeed, they both are in the one genus of paradoxes of sameness and difference. Take this analogy & run with it.

Proportioning belief to evidence in Hume's account requires restraint of one's passions; any other reading of it is non-Humean.
Pascalian Wagers as arguments that we can and must sometimes proportion belief to practical reasons as well as theoretical reasons (all Wager arguments actually do this for specific domains)

The love of novelty has a worse reputation than it deserves; neither Malebranche nor Hume are fair in their criticisms. It is on strongest ground when it is not used alone; and even when alone it is at least harmless and often mildly beneficial -- if it is moderate. And it is as much an impulse of discovery as surprise or curiosity.

principles of credulity for each kind of inquiry, serving as initiators
principle of credulity for sensation

By testimony society itself becomes a cognitive instrument.

the mythopoetical aspect of scientific theory (verification of likely stories)

Mathematics begins with imagination rather than sense.

Cataphatic theology is recognition; apophatic theology is purification.

The sin of legalism doesn't just involve condemning others unjustly; it also invovles excusing oneself unjustly.
Legalism and anomianism have a sort of symmetry in the vices they feed.

ritual sacrifice the template for moral sacrifice

theodicy & the problem of formulating cases of conscience for God

Memory plays a more important practical role than speculative role, although, of course, our reason and reasoning are always both practical and speculative.

"Every morally obliging authority and force is founded essentially in the light of truth." Rosmini

the circulatory system and immune system as quasi-cognitive subcognitive systems

We must trust in order to learn what is trustworthy.

Future-loss accounts of why murder is wrong reduce murder to theft. This should strike more people as odd than it does. But it raises the question of what you'd get if, holding an account of the wrongness of usury, or lying, or ruthlessness, constant, one assimilated murder to that instead; and also what would happen if theft were instead reduced to murder. Think on these things.

A scold will inevitably be charged with hypocrisy. This will usually be right, but the charge will be made regardless of whether it is.

We experience coherence as a feature of the external world insofar as we experience it having a history.

Understanding based on ridicule is generally illusory.

resentment as a fellow-feeling

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop


Opening Passage:
One summer evening in the year 1848, three Cardinals and a missionary Bishop from America were dining together in the gardens of a villa in the Sabine hills, overlooking Rome. The villa was famous for the fine view from its terrace. The hidden garden in which the four men sat at table lay some twenty feet below the south end of this terrace, and was a mere shelf of rock, overhaning a steep declivity planted with vineyards. A flight of stone steps connected it with the promenade above. The table stood in a sanded square, among potted orange and oleander trees, shaded by spreading ilex oaks that grew out of the rocks overhead. Beyond the balustrade was the drop into the air, and far below the landscape stretched soft and undulating; there was nothing to arrest the eye until it reached Rome itself.

Summary: Death Comes for the Archbishop is the story of Father Jean Marie Latour and his closest friend, Father Joseph Vaillet, as they attempt to revive the old, large, and neglected territory of New Mexico. The story is episodic, consisting of an introductory prologue, from which the above is taken, and nine episodes in the life of Fr. Latour. "Death Comes for the Archbishop" is the name of the last of these episodes, but it makes a fitting title for the whole, as well, because that is very much what this novel is about: from the moment we come into this world death is already coming for us, but in the meantime there are many good and beautiful things to do. Both Latour and Vaillet are well-rounded characters, good men but very human, and they do, indeed, do many good and beautiful things, along with the simple people they have come to serve and guide, but it requires many sacrifices along the way. You feel by the end that you know them well.

The novel is fiction, but Latour is based loosely on the life and history of the French missionary Jean-Baptiste Lamy.

Favorite Passage:

"Well, we are getting older, Jean," he said abruptly, after a short silence.

The Bishop smiled. "Ah, yes. We are not young men any more. One of these departures will be the last."

Father Vaillant nodded. "Whenever God wills. I am ready." He rose and began to pace the floor, addressing his friend without looking at him. "But it has not been so bad, Jean? We have done the things we used to plan to do, long ago, when we are Seminarians,--at least some of them. To fulfil the dreams of one's youth; that is the best that can happen to a man. No worldly success can take the place of that."

Recommendation: Had I realized the book was this good, I would have read it long ago; those who say it is one of the great American novels are not exaggerating. Filled with lush description and vivid characterization, it makes its mark. Very highly recommended.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Argument/Temperament Compatibilities

I've been thinking on and off the past few months about the relation between temperament and assessment of argument. It's a fascinating question, and raises the possibility that there might be arguments that will tend only to appeal to certain kinds of temperaments, regardless of how well the argument is expressed, or assessments of arguments that are heavily affected by temperamental differences.

A good candidate for this sort of thing is the family of ontological arguments. There are several different things that are called 'ontological arguments'. They tend to be well-liked by philosophers for a typically philosophical reason, namely, that most people think they fail but there is no agreement on what is wrong with them. But the other interesting feature of ontological arguments in general is that they tend to appeal to very, very logical people. Indeed, if you like the big champions of various ontological arguments, people like Anselm, or Leibniz, or Godel, you realize very quickly that these are not logical amateurs; they think at a logical level well beyond most people. And while it's purely anecdotal, if you talk to people who reject these arguments, but who do very serious logical work in general and have actually studied them at some length, you can often get stories from them about how at some point, for however brief a period, the ontological argument they were looking at it seemed stunningly, obviously sound. Perhaps it was something they ate, or how much sleep they were getting, but for perhaps just one moment they thought, "Holy moly, it might actually work!" Other people, however, regard them as just obviously not right because they are, for lack of a better phrase, so rational as to be suspiciously like a sleight of hand. Most such people don't really have an especially good reason, and, as I said, one of the things philosophers love about ontological arguments is that everyone comes up with completely different 'obvious' reasons why they won't work, many of which are inconsistent with each other or would have really bizarre consequences for reasoning if actually accepted. So perhaps there is an issue of temperament here: people who have temperamental inclinations to think abstractly will react to the argument differently from those who are temperamentally inclined to think very concretely. And one can imagine that, as there are more cautious thinkers and more bold thinkers, more suspicious thinkers and more generous thinkers, that these temperamental differences in and of themselves, regardless of any other factor relevant to assessing an argument, might sometimes be the full explanation for why people assess a particular argument in different ways.

It really shouldn't be surprising. We know that moral and scholarly habits can affect assessment of arguments, at least at the extremes; honesty, and prudence, and scholarly caution. But if second nature can have such an effect, it's not surprising that first nature would, even if in a rougher and looser way. And if you think about your own reasoning, you don't consider every single argument you come across with the same studiousness; you prioritize, and some arguments simply dismiss as bizarre, and some you tag as interesting and in need of further thought. It's difficult to see how we could do this in a way that temperament wouldn't affect at all. And you've only to look around, if you can't see it in your own case, that a lot of people clearly have a taste for particular kinds or styles of arguments. Likewise, we talk about critical thinking, but critical thinking is just a taste for certain kinds of reasoning, identified as good, over others, identified as bad. That is, all we mean when we talk about it is having good taste in reasoning or avoiding bad taste in reasoning. And taste again, is a kind of second nature, or habit, rooted in first nature, which includes temperament.

I find people tend to worry that this somehow makes the whole act of evaluating arguments irrational, but this doesn't seem to follow. It's certainly not true that all assessment of arguments can be explained by temperament. Temperament is relatively stable, but people shift their positions all the time; temperament is difficult to change, but people can often be persuaded. There are many other factors at work, many of which are quite objective. But it does create the complication that there may be perfectly good arguments for which we have no taste, or which would we would have difficulty accepting simply due to our temperament or personality, and that, likewise, between two people who disagree about whether an argument is a good argument, there might be no difference beyond a difference in taste or natural preference. If so, I don't think this would change a great deal; it would have to be taken into account, but wouldn't require a huge revision in thinking.

Premiseless Argument

We often think of premises as necessary for inferences, but this depends to some extent on what one counts as premises. Here is a simple example, although since it uses a system that most people don't know, Peirce's existential graphs, it needs a bit of explaining.

Peirce's existential graphs are a purely diagrammatic way of doing logic, in which logical steps consists primarily of making and erasing shaded ovals on a blank sheet of paper according to some very, very basic rules. Obviously it would be a pain to reproduce the shaded and unshaded ovals here, so we'll do a work around using brackets; you can imagine a pair of brackets as a large oval on a page. Whether it is shaded or not depends on what surrounds it. Thus this is a shaded oval:

[ ]

This is an unshaded oval in a shaded oval:

[ [ ] ]

This is a shaded oval within an unshaded oval within a shaded oval:

[ [ [ ] ] ]

So if you count pairs of brackets, the first or outermost pair is always shaded, and every even pair represents an unshaded oval, every odd pair represents a shaded oval.

The basic way the system works is this. You take a blank sheet of paper, which Peirce calls the Sheet of Assertion, and this is your universe of discourse -- the whole universe of things that are relevant to whatever you'll be talking about. You draw your premises on the sheet with pencil. A shaded area represents a negative. An unshaded area represents the positive. A line to the left, called the line of assertion indicates that something is definitely in the universe of discourse (colloquially, that some exists). This allows you to say, "There is something that is not a phoenix":


And also "There is nothing that is a phoenix":


And things like "There is a phoenix who rises" and "There is a phoenix who does not rise" and "There is no phoenix who rises":


There are three things you can do once you have any premises drawn, which Peirce calls Permissions. They are, roughly:

(1) You may erase any graph-instance on an unshaded area as you please, and you may insert a graph-instance on any shaded area that already exists. (Shaded areas themselves are not considered graph-instances.)

(2) Any graph-instance may be repeated in the same area, or in any area enclosed within that area, provided that any lines of assertion have the same features each time; and for any graph-instance already repeated in this way, the innermost instance (or either if they are in the same area) may be erased.

(3) Any vacant ring-shaped area may be collapsed; any vacant ring-shaped area may be created by shading and erasure. (An area is not vacant if crossed by a line of assertion, even if nothing else is in it.)

And that's all; with this you can do nearly everything you would learn in an undergraduate logic class. It's a bit tricky to use, at times, because it wasn't designed to be easy to use but to break down reasoning to its very bare essentials. But you can do predicate calculus with it (and it can be extended even further to do modal logic). And as it happens, we don't need the full system here, because we won't need lines of assertion. And in this context we can see that you can have an argument that does not start with any premises.

(1) We start with the blank sheet.

(2) Third Permission allows us to draw

[ [ ] ]

(3) Then Third Permission allows us again to put in more ovals:

[ [ [ [ ] ] ] ]

(4) Then First Permission allows us to add a letter representing a proposition, any proposition you please, in a shaded area:

[ a [ [ [ ] ] ] ]

(5) Then Second Permission allows us to repeat the letter in another area:

[ a [ [ [ a ] ] ] ]

(6) Then First Permission allows us to add another letter:

[ a [ [ b [ a ] ] ] ]

And this, as it happens, is logically equivalent to "If a, then if b, a" or as we would usually represent it: a -> (b -> a). And we started with a blank sheet empty of premises. (If you want to see how this looks in the real graph format, see Sowa's commentary about halfway down.)

Of course, it's true that you can't get conclusions if you don't have anything at all to start with. Besides premises there are two other sources of information: the universe of discourse itself and the rules of inference. In this case we've drawn out a limit of possibility for the three Permissions -- no matter what universe of discourse you are in, whatever result you get using the Permissions will be consistent with a -> (b -> a). So we can call the universe of discourse and the rules of inference principles of argument, and say that every argument requires principles. But not every argument requires premises, as we see here. The only possible alternative is to claim, Tortoise-like, that (1) positing a universe of discourse and (2) every rule of inference are premises, in which case, also Tortoise-like, you are really claiming that all arguments are infinitely dense -- between every premise there are infinitely many premises, whether we explicitly name them or not -- and infinitely long -- whenever we identify a premise, there are infinitely many premises already on the table, namely, all the rules of logic and their every possible combination. You can have some arguments with no premises, or every argument with infinitely many; you can take your pick, but you are stuck with one of the two.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Cheese, Chicken, and Cake

Because MrsD had to put it in my head....


Jimmy Akin notes that the first drive-in movie theater opened on June 6, 1933; and thinking about drive-in movie theaters certainly brings back memories.

I spent parts of elementary and middle school, and then later senior year of high school, in Carlsbad, New Mexico, a dusty but charming little town. Like most dusty by charming little towns, it has quite a few quirks arising from the combination of various historical accidents and the general lack of things to do. So, for instance, Carlsbad has a mall, but for large parts of the town it wasn't very conveniently located, and there was little to do there except buy clothes. So instead of going to the mall to hang out and see people they might know, they went to Wal-Mart -- still do, from what I understand. In a town the size of Carlsbad, you're very likely to meet someone you know there. There were lots of other quirks.

One of these quirks was the fact that everyone called the movie theater the 'walk-in'. And the reason for that was the extraordinary popularity of the Fiesta Drive-In. If you were going to movies, people would assume that you were going to the drive-in, unless you specified that you were going to the other place, which everyone started calling the 'walk-in'. Carlsbad had had a Fiesta Drive-In long before, but it had shut down. However, in 1989, a businessman named Brad Light re-opened a fully updated drive-in with FM stereo sound and a pretty decent concessions stand; and since you paid by the car, it was also a cheap way to take the family out for entertainment -- a movie that would cost a family thiry or forty dollars at the walk-in would cost ten or fifteen at the drive-in. It was a hit.

One of Carlsbad's traditions is what is known as Christmas on the Pecos. The Pecos River runs right through Carlsbad, and many of the most fancy houses and wealthiest people in the town are found along it. So every Christmas season they run river tours along it so that everyone can see the Christmas decorations. Houses that don't participate have a slight tendency to get vandalized, and there's a social status element to participation, so participation is quite good -- the householders along the Pecos usually pull out all the steps. Quite a sight. In any case, you could always recognize Brad Light's house because his Christmas display would include a little replica of a drive-in movie screen with a projector that would play old cartoons.

Alas, it seems that Light, while awaiting trial on charges of light drug trafficking, died in early summer of 2010 of a drug overdose, thus shutting down the Fiesta. A sad thing, really; he always came across as quite a decent guy (although, of course, I was not very old at the time), but seems to have fallen in with the wrong 'friends'. I think the theater's been sold and is reopening again under new management. It will be interesting to see how it works out. A lot of what made the Fiesta work was that Light put his heart and soul into it; it's very unlikely to have any new owners who will do as much. On the other hand, the perpetual problem of what to do, and especially what to do on weeknights, will always require a solution. And what else are you going to do? Go to the walk-in?

Obscure, Uncertain, Wonderful

Do not let us forget that, when Hegel and Schelling were misleading the minds of Germany, Wagner was still young: that he guessed, or rather fully grasped, that the only thing which Germans take seriously is—“the idea,”—that is to say, something obscure, uncertain, wonderful; that among Germans lucidity is an objection, logic a refutation. Schopenhauer rigorously pointed out the dishonesty of Hegel's and Schelling's age,—rigorously, but also unjustly, for he himself, the pessimistic old counterfeiter, was in no way more “honest” than his more famous contemporaries. But let us leave morality out of the question, Hegel is a matter of taste.… And not only of German but of European taste!… A taste which Wagner understood!—which he felt equal to! which he has immortalised!—All he did was to apply it to music—he invented a style for himself, which might mean an “infinity of things,”—he was Hegel's heir.… Music as “Idea.”—

Nietzsche, The Case of Wagner (Ludovici, tr.), p. 31. I haven't checked the German or any other translation, but I'm pretty sure that 'wonderful' is not a compliment here. [UPDATE: Arsen notes in the comments that a closer translation would make it something like 'ominous'.]

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Dashed Off

Politicism deadens moral judgment.


the web of instrument causation

Different kinds of arguments in particular contexts appeal to different characters -- some build on the force of vices, some on the force of virtues, some on a mix, etc;. This rhetorical aspect of arguments is something no one can afford to ignore.

accord of arguments: implicational, convergent, analogical, sentimental
-> There are, of course, corresponding discords of argument

The winds at the end of LOTR that scatter Sauron's darkness & deny to Saruman the West, are the grace & judgment of Manwe; consider also the involvement of the Eagles. Note, too, the involvement, simultaneously more explicit and more subtle, of Varda (Elbereth) in the feats of the Ringbearer. Above the Shadow is Sovereignty and Light.

pity as the sustainer of hope

The Silmarillion as about pride and humility in making
The Silmarillian is a book on the ethics of sub-creation.

Research problems only become fatal problems at the point of insolubility; failure to prove insolubility, at least probable insolubility, shipwrecks many supposed counterexamples & refutations.

Counterexamples do not work with definitions the way they do with nondefinitional claims; definitions are more resilient, for one thing, because the purported counterexample must avoid more pitfalls.

The ants are wise in their preparation, the rock-badgers are wise in their choice of refuge, the locusts are wise in their cooperation, the lizards are wise in their use of their weakness; in each case, despite weakness, the wisdom is a kind of power. We are called to be wise in all of these ways.

propositions as cuts in strings of modal operators

Truth strings are not just infinite but densely so; between every T and T is another T. They can only be represented finitely by abbreviation. Between any two modal operators in a string there is a Truth string. Thus every modal operator is in reality an infinite and infinitely divisible string of modal operators.

Tiny minds, on becoming full, think they know everything.

Arguments unused have no force, as weapons unused do not defend.

religion as the discovery of humanity through sin (Cohen)
messianism as the dominion of good on earth (Cohen)

Except where demonstration is rigorous, a field of scientific inquiry can only place external incentives on other fields, not demands or obligations.

order, relation, relevance

humor as linked to the sublime
humor as giving ugliness place in the beautiful
humor as related to our moral capacity
humor as the aesthetic apprehension of grace

the socializing power of prayer (it creates a common language)

Truth is personalized in truthfulness.

"Aesthetic feeling is love for man." Cohen

Melian is a sort fo counter-Sauron, but the fact that htere is no counter-Morgoth in Beleriand means that there is no hope for the Noldor in the long run.

Thingol's pride seems somewhat misplaced given that he himself is joined to Melian; which surely is as disproportionate a union as Beren and Luthien.

Valor is the bloom of fortitude.

Spouses in the sacrament of marriage signify the love between Christ and the Church by participating it.

Marriage is the most natural treaty of alliance; and it is along the lines of treaties, not property contracts, that its contractual element should be understood.

Promise is the natural language of friendship.

Jn 4:12//Jn 8:53. Together they indicate Jesus' superiority to the two major traditions of Palestinian Judaism, the Samaritan and the Judean.

Most definitions of determinism fail for pointwise deterministic universes. Any account of determinism that cannot handle such universes cannot establish more than a conditional and qualified determinism.

Ecclesiology forces the universalization of political philosophy in the context of Church-state politics.

Nargothrond falls through pride and rashness, Menegroth through pride and greed, Gondolin through pride and treachery; Morgoth's doing, but not Morgoth's arms alone.

When people talk about the grounds of ethics and morals, keep careful track of the modalities.

To live in peace is to learn how to die in peace.

Sins directly opposed to theological virtues cannot be avoided without grace.-->hence original justice

No one manifests the rhymes of doctrine better than Bonaventure.

The fear of death tightens the bonds we have to the goods of fortune.

The One Ring is made possible by the double-heartedness of the Elves, who wish to have both Middle-Earth and the bliss of the West; note that this was also the problem with Numenor.

Of the three abominations of which Christians were often accused -- atheism, Thyestean feasts, and Oedipal intercourse -- we find a confirmation of three features of Christian speech and practice: opposition to idolatry, eucharistic meal, and spiritual fraternity.

Tuor is a man of hope as Turin is a man of despair.

argument weakening: modal, terminal, quantitative, qualitative, inferential

Truth in deed gives credit to truth in word.

Goods encompass goods by ordination of means to end.

Omnis delectatio est ratione proportionalitatis. (Bonaventure)

ideas in the imagination dissociate by distraction (sudden replacement by more vivid), deterioration (the changefulness of imagination itself), and association with the incompatible

Free choice can be evaded by hypothesis for any particular context; it is in general for all contexts that such evasion looks implausible.

Extrinsic denomination identifies a role within a context.

Obediential potency is the full capacity of a thing to be an instrument, for it is the potential of the thing to be instrumenal, direclty and indirectly, to the first cause.

Grave matter is sufficient for making a kind of action a mortal sin; but we must still consider knowledge and consent to determine whether in any particular cause it is fully exemplified as mortal sin, or rather impeded as something fully chosen.

arguments as relics & treasures of mind
argument curation

Truthmaker theory is a crude attempt to capture exemplar causation.

All love requires a sort of voluntary poverty for its completion.

Arguments are constructed by recollection and anticipation.

Debunking is necessarily contrastive, but people often hide the contrastive branch of the argument.

Rigorous theology presupposes a developed literature. (This is actually true of any rigorous discussion.)

Will being that which pertains directly to good, the will of God is the primary concept under which we first come to think through the goodness of God.

If no causation is simultaneous, present actualities precisely as present would be inexplicable.

Enlightenment is the strengthening of our cognitive capabilities so that we may know more.

Kant's philosophy of religion is weak at the point of visible vs invisible church.

Half of wisom is learning how to be foolish in the right ways.

argument-temperament compatibility, argument-mood compatibility

A remote occasion is that in conjunction with which a proximate occasion has a probability of arising that is sufficient for being considered in the attempt to have or avoid the proximate occasion.

the ethnography of positions one opposes

Hegel's criticism of physiognomism generalized to all biological determinisms

Modern theories of truth confuse functions of talking about statements as true for definitions of truth.

Try as one might, one will never convince people that contraception is wrong if they believe there are few or no cases of consensual sex that are wrong.

an economic analogy for Humean constancy

lying & usury & the contraceptive mentality

When we lie we do not merely use false words but express a falseness in ourselves.

Human learning is plagiaristic by default. Going beyond plagiarism requires much discipline and learning itself.

Learning logic is like lucid dreaming.

Since human sympathy is adapated to human intelligence, in human beings nothing foreign to sympathy is genuinely intelligent.

What is perceptible is participable.

Human beings cannot communicate concepts with perfect precision; there is always an uncertainty at the edges of communication.

It is not merely the Law but Israel shaped by the Law that reveals.

Love's flames are flames of God. (Song 8:6)

the link between history and prophecy (1 Chr 29:29)

Nature must have ends because the ends of art build on them.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Even Play

But even playful actions, which seem to be done for no end [absque fine fieri], have a due end, to wit, that through them the mind may be in some way relaxed, so as to be afterward more capable for studious work [potentes ad studiosas operationes]: otherwise, were play sought for itself, one would always have to play, which is inappropriate.

Aquinas SCG III.25.9. I'm almost inclined to translate "quod est inconveniens" at the end with the pseudo-cognate "inconvenient," because it would definitely be that, too. Some translations translate "ad studiosas operationes" as "for serious work," but I think the relation to the virtue of studiousness is deliberate, given what Aquinas says elsewhere. We play because, despite being rational creatures, real thinking is hard work; thus the more we do it, the more we need to relax our minds, lest we wind ourselves up so tightly we break. (This is precisely the image Aquinas uses in discussion the virtue of eutrapelia, good playfulness, in fact.) The importance of balancing study and play is very clear in Aquinas: as bodily rest is to physical work, so play is to mental work. In any case, his primary point here is not that but simply that, even though play seems to be aimless, it actually has a very important aim, to which it must be proportioned. If it had no aim, then play would be an end in itself, and there would be no limit to how much it should be done. But it's not difficult to think of limits for play.

Beattie on Truth III: First Principles

Beattie's Essay on Truth, Part I, Chapter 2, is a long section devoted to giving an inductive argument for the position that all human inquiry, and thus all knowledge, is based on first principles. In order to show that his induction is reasonably comprehensive, he runs through the basic ideas underlying his various categories in an interesting footnote. All the objects of understanding, i.e,. things we can genuinely be said to know in some way, are either abstract ideas and relations or things that really exist. If we are speaking of abstract ideas, we are in the realm of mathematical evidence, which consists either of immediate intuitive evidence or the evidence of strict demonstration. If we are talking about what really exists, knowledge is experiential in some way, and we are either talking about our own experiences or someone else's. If we are talking about our own experiences, then we are either talking certainty or probability. If certainty, this pertains to the evidence of external senses, the evidence of internal senses, memory, and legitimate causal inferences from effect to cause. If it is probable, we are arguing either from cases of the same kind, which Beattie calls experimental reasoning, or from cases of a similar kind, which is analogical reasoning. And, of course, if the experiences in question are those of other people, we are speaking of faith in testimony. To put it in outline form.

I. Abstract Ideas and Relations: Mathematical Evidence

II. Things Really Existing

A. Judged by Our Own Experience
A1. Certainty
A1a. External Senses
A1b. Internal Senses
A1c. Memory
A1d. Reasoning from Effect to Cause
A2. Probability
A2a. From Things of the Same Kind: Experimental Reasoning
A2b. From Things of a Similar Kind: Analogical Reasoning

B. Judged by the Experience of Another: Faith in Testimony

Given the length of this chapter, I won't go into close details, but will simply note some features of Beattie's argument for each. It is important throughout, however, to understand that 'evidence' in Beattie doesn't yet have quite the meaning it does for us; Beattie is writing in a period during which the meaning of the term is shifting. Originally it meant obviousness; for us it meant a reason to think something may be true, which is very weak. In Beattie we can see how the shift from the former to the latter happened, namely, by allowing a pretty straightforward sense in which even probable reason can have obviousness or evidentness; but he still uses the term in a way closer to the original meaning than we do. It's also important to keep in mind a distinction between first principles and conclusions we try to draw from them -- the former can be evident and the latter not, and we can be perfectly right in thinking the former evident while being entirely wrong about the latter being evident. We need this to keep in mind, because each of these categories is a category of inquiry, which may be right or wrong, and Beattie is not arguing otherwise; rather, he is arguing that every such inquiry is based on evident first principles, known by instinct, that we cannot help but think right.

I. Mathematical Evidence

In mathematical reasoning, proofs are supposed to be constituted entirely by evident principles and conclusions from those principles based on evident moves of reasoning, and it is precisely this that gives mathematics its reputation for extraordinary certainty. Thus mathematics has first principles -- very many, in fact; if you refuted them, you would destroy large sections of mathematics, and if you refuse to believe them, you will never get any farther. Refuse to believe, and, even worse, pretend you can refute the first principles, which allow for any mathematical proof in the first place, and you will generally be regarded as a fool or a liar. At the same time, these principles are themselves indemonstrable: no proof we could provide would be more evident, or make the principles more evident, than those principles already are. Even if it did turn out that you could give something that could reasonably be called a proof of such a principle, the principle would still be as evident as it ever was. Thus all mathematical reasoning depends on first principles discerned by common sense, which we believe because it is in our nature to believe them: "We are convinced by a proof, because our constitution is such, that we must be convinced by it: and we believe a self-evident axiom, because our constitution is such that we must believe it" (p. 61). Given that, we can't even properly frame the question of whether these axioms conform to the way things really are: we can't help but regard them as such because that's the way we're set up. And if you worry that we might be set up wrong, we would have to conclude that God is a deceiver, which, as Descartes notes, is problematic at best; and, moreover, that we could have no notion of truth or falsehood in the first place that doesn't depend on the way we're set up.

IIA1a. External Senses

Any evidentness that derives from the senses resolves itself into the principle that things must be as we sense them. If we did not believe this, we would think nothing obvious and evident merely because it appears so to the senses. This principle, however, and any secondary principles governing its application to particular cases, are first principles known by common sense or instinct, i.e., they are things we can't help but believe, simply because it is in our nature or constitution to believe them. If you say it is unreasonable to believe this sort of thing without proof, Beattie will answer that, since we believe it because it is in our nature to believe it, we would still be exactly as unreasonable, and for exactly the same reason, even if we did have something that we called a proof: we would believe because it is a law of our nature, not because of any proof. But what of sensory illusions and the like? Particular sensations can be fallacious, i.e., misleading; but we test sense and against sense and sensation against sensation. How do you know an optical illusion is an optical illusion? Because you use your senses to figure out that this particular sensation is misleading, the cogency of which resolves itself into the claim that things must be as we sense them, at least as a general matter. Usually when we are mistaken in these cases it is because we misattribute whether we have the evidence of sense, i.e., whether we are genuinely sensing something; but whenever we are sure we have it, we always take our conclusions to be as obvious as they can be.

IIA1b. Internal Senses

By introspection we know that we exist and have certain actions and capabilities. I know that I exist, that I remember, that I believe, that I doubt, that I feel, that I morally approve and disapprove of things. This is the evidence of internal senses, and it is as evident as anything we sense externally or know by mathematical reasoning. No proof you could give me that I do not exist or do not think could possibly be more evident than the principles that I do exist and do think; and the same can be said for any proof you could give for these principles. The principles of internal sense, like those of external sense, are known by common sense, and we cannot disbelieve them without doing violence to our nature; if there are any people who do disbelieve them, it is because they are mentally ill. And the principles of internal sense are quite important: they cover conscience and conscious reasoning alike, our sense of obligation, our sense of moral liberty, our sense of ourselves as beings that continue to exist through time (Beattie devotes a considerable amount of space to this point), and so forth. We cannot do without them. Here as with the external senses, we must accept that things must be as we sense them, not, indeed, on a point-by-point basis, but as a whole.

IIA1c. Memory

As with the senses, so with memory: "We trust to the evidence of memory, because we cannot help trusting it" (p. 92). Even trains of reasoning require the evidentness of memory: you need to be able to remember how you started in order to see whether you've been reasoning well. Now, it's true that we often misremember, and it's true that people remember the same event rather differently. Some (e.g., Hume) take this to indicate that the evidentness of memory is linked to its vivacity or liveliness, but Beattie denies it: our believe that something is true, or real, or exists doesn't have much to do with the liveliness of our perceptions. If we think we genuinely sense something, we are certain that it exists, regardless of how vivid the sensation is; if we think we remember something, we are certain that it happened, regardless of how vivid the memory is. Likewise with doubt, since it does not matter how vivid a sensation is, if you begin to doubt that it is a sensation (e.g., if you begin to think you are hallucinating), you begin to doubt that its object is real. It is consciousness of the fact of the memory, not the force of it, that carries the certainty.

IIA1d. Reasoning from Effect to Cause

Suppose you are in a room with a table or desk, which has nothing on it. You leave the room, and come back a little later to discover a book on the table or desk. It is a remarkable book, in terms of its binding and its color, so you are quite sure that you didn't just overlook it, and you are quite sure that you would remember it if it had been there before. We all know what question you would ask: you would ask who, or at the most extreme what, put the book there, and if someone denied that anyone put it there, you would that that is impossible. A strong word! But such is in fact the evidentness of the first principle of causal reasoning, that whatever begins to exist proceeds from a cause. It is as certain as anything else. We are all reluctant in most things to admit miracles or even Rube-Goldberg-style chains of events, but we are massively more likely to accept these things than that the book, which had not been on the table, is now on the table and that there is no cause of this whatsoever. Beattie admits that one might dispute whether this causal principle is strictly a first principle or demonstrable from some more fundamental principle (he himself doesn't think so), but this doesn't affect the certainty of it, one way or another, because in either case the ultimate reason we believe it is that it is in our nature to believe it. Hume argued that the standard arguments for the principle failed, and Beattie actually agrees with him on this point; but Hume also argued that the principle was not known intuitively because certainty only arises from the comparison of ideas in order to see their relations, and the only relations admitting of certainty were resemblance, quantitative proportions, qualitative degrees, and contrariety. Beattie rejects both premises: certainty does not arise only from the comparison of ideas, since some things are known with certainty by direct perception, and Hume's list is not exhaustive, because it cannot account for the certainty of things like personal identity. Hume also tries to argue that the principle cannot be evident because we cannot demonstrate the impossibility of its contrary; but Beattie denies that this is relevant. For some evident principles, like axioms in geometry, we cannot conceive the contrary; but for others, like 'I exist', we can. It is entirely impossible to demonstrate the impossibility of my not existing, because my existence is not necessary. But the evidentness of the principle is not any less for all of that, and the ground of it is the same: I must believe I exist, because my constitution requires it. Beattie also has an interesting discussion of causal reasoning in children, in which he argues that curiosity is a sign that the causal principle is a first principle known by instinct. We are only curious if we think there is something more than what is presented to us; but in general the reason we think there is something more than what is presented to us is causal. Curiosity, however, is certainly innate, and since it is structured causally (presented with something, we wonder why), the causal principle is innnate. To reject the causal principle as intuitively evident is to reject the idea that curiosity is part of human nature. He also goes on to argue that this shows that we can have a certain demonstration of God's existence, but, having a lot to get through, I won't dwell any more on this kind of evidence.

IIA2a. Experimental or Probable Reasoning

'Experimental reasoning' is Beattie's term for any reasoning that assumes that the course of nature will continue as it has; in short, it covers what is often called 'induction', although that word covers so many different things it seems wiser to stick with Beattie's term. 'Experimental', incidentally, doesn't mean 'having to do with experiments' but 'having to do with experience'; it is the older term for experiential, and we started calling experiments 'experiments' simply because they were kinds of manufactured experiences suitable for reasoning since they were well-defined enough to be an easy reference point. Another way Beattie will describe this kind of reasoning is as causal reasoning from causes to effects. (You will notice that previously he only talked about reasoning from effects to causes.)

We are as convinced that what has always happened will continue to happen as we are of any mathematical proof, or of the evidence of our senses. The conviction is not of the same kind. We make a distinction between moral certainty and absolute certainty, and experimental reasoning only gives you moral certainty -- probability high enough that we can treat it is certainty for most practical purposes. But it is conviction nonetheless; we are convinced that it is reasonable to presume this.. We are constantly inferring the future from the past; if the past is uniform, we get moral certainty, and if it is not, we get certainty within the limits provided by the past. This is not on the basis of any reasoning -- Beattie is in full agreement with Hume's arguments here. Beattie has some nice passages here, about a man formed fully mature on a desert island, who sees night falls for the first time, and is in distress and despair, because he has no experience on which to think the sun will ever appear again, and who, at sunrise, is in transports of joy, and he ties this with Milton's description of Adam. (Beattie is a big fan of Milton, and quotes him in illustration of points quite regularly throughout the book.)

IIA2b. Analogical Reasoning

As with experimental reasoning, so with analogical reasoning. The certainty of analogical reasoning resolves into the principle that similar causes will have similar effects, as that of experimental reasoning was of the principle that causes of the same kind will continue to have the same kind of effects, and with the necessary modifications what applies to one will apply to the other.

IIB. Faith in Testimony

There are times when not accepting what others say, makes you a fool, and everyone accepts some things without question simply because someone said so. Beattie notes that when we are dealing with honest people who tell us of what they themselves have experienced, we treat their experience exactly as if it were our own, at least for the purposes of reasoning. Thus faith in testimony is really just the evidence of external and internal senses when we have these at second-hand, and Beattie suggests that the second-handedness becomes possible through experimental principles, by which we understand that people who have been honest in the past can be presumed to be honest again. Reasoning about testimony, then, is just a specialized version of what we have already seen, and it, like all the others, resolves into first principles recognized by the instinct of common sense. Beattie, of course, knows Hume's more skeptical discussion of testimony in the Essay on Miracles, and says of it that Hume's position on the subject, like most of Hume's positions, is "directly repugnant to matter of fact" (p. 135). We are set up so as to believe testimony; this is what Scottish Common Sense philosophers often call the 'principle of credulity' ('credulity' here is not derogatory and is, I think, a quasi-technical term actually taken from Hume). Hume assumes that testimony is presumed true only when experience has shown it to be reliable. The Scottish Common Sense philosophers, most notably Reid and Campbell, had already argued at some length that the opposite is true, namely, that testimony is presumed true until experience shows it to be unreliable. A great deal of their argument has to do with children, since children do not seem to be Humean skeptics about testimony. Beattie agrees with this argument, but he does allow that there is an experience that does have some effect on our testimonial reasoning. This experience is our own experience with ourselves. Beattie notes that children tend to speak their minds, to such an extent that the uncomfortable honesty of very young children has become proverbial. This, he thinks, might increase the faith given by children in testimony. And presumably this would extend into adulthood, modulated by experience: people who are honest are at least somewhat more likely to take other people as being honest until they have reason to think. He does not, however, commit very strongly to this line of thought, and points out that whether it is true or not, the basic point stands that testimony still resolves into first principles intuitively known by common sense.

There are, then, both a priori (Part I, Chapter 1) and a posteriori (Part I, Chapter 2) reasons for thinking that common sense exists and that we know first principles by it. Beyond common sense we cannot go; and Beattie notes that, while we tend to think of it as a bad thing, there are times when it is good. A lighthouse telling you that you are at the limit of the water is exactly what you sometimes need when navigating. If all reasoning resolves into first principles known by common sense, however, then we have learned that common sense is superior to reason, and that it is common sense, not reason, that provides the standard of truth in every field of thought. Beattie notes that if this is true, then a great deal of what passes for philosophy is in fact, if taken to be serious, and not simply as a way of clarifying a matter, mere sophistry. So be it; that's what people get when they claim to provide demonstrations against what is simply obvious to everyone. Arguments showing that something non-obvious is being confused with something obvious will still be handy, of course; but refutations of first principles are topsy-turvy by nature. Likewise, things are only useful if they contribute to happiness but improving wisdom or virtue; and since attacks on first principles require people to believe contrary to nature, they can do neither and are useless. (As we shall see later, this point is actually quite important for understanding some of Beattie's later arguments.) Skeptics, of course, often hold their approach up as morally superior to that of their opponents: "for the sanguinary principles of bigotry and enthusiasm, substitute the milky ones of scepticism and moderation" (p. 144). Beattie waxes a bit sarcastic here, and in essence says that this is like a doctor trying to get a law passed that, because sick people stay at home peacefully while healthy people get into all kinds of trouble, it is now illegal to be healthy. It's true that if you eradicated conviction you would eradicate bigotry; just as there would be much less violence if you forced everyone to be sick enough to stay at home. Such remedies, however, are more troublesome than the diseases they are supposed to cure. You simply cannot eradicate conviction without doing serious damage to human beings, to the pursuit of knowledge, and to moral improvement. And to the extent that you could put such a remedy into effect, the result would only be sick and stunted minds incapable of reasoning vigorously.

To this point, Beattie is simply laying out the basic position of Scottish Common Sense philosophy, although some of his arguments are original. There are a number of questions that come to mind, though. How do we distinguish these first principles from prejudices picked up through education? Does this account have any practical value in real-life inquiry? And how would one use this foundation to respond to the skeptics Beattie is hoping to refute in this book? Some answer to these questions will be given in Part II of the Essay.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Book a Week, June 3

Part of my high school was in South Dakota, and Willa Cather's Prairie Trilogy, especially My Ántonia, is a big part of English education in South Dakota. However, I happen to have come in just in time to miss her completely. I don't have a copy of My Ántonia, but I do have a copy of Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop, which I've also never read. So that's the next one up.

Willa Cather was born in Nebraska, where she graduated from the University of Nebraska; she then went east, first to Pittsburgh, then to New York. She is famous for writing novels about frontier life. The latter part of her life is actually somewhat sad: she was acclaimed brilliant for a great part of her career, but towards the end of her life, literary fashions changed, and she began to be sharply criticized and dismissed as out of date, stuck in the past, and, in short, a has-been who, incapable of writing about contemporary life, wrote romances about an idealized past. Faced with such criticisms, Cather became a recluse. Of course, there's no evidence that Cather's literary ability had faded; at least, the arguments of the critics don't really seem to point to any. It's just that the critics of the thirties and forties had no more taste for it.

Death Comes for the Archbishop is, in a sense, Cather's last great victory before her reputation was swept away by the barbarians. Published in 1927, it has repeatedly been listed as one of the great American novels. It's set in New Mexico territory, so that will make for quite a change of scenario from the Mediterranean setting of the last book.

Depths Calamitous

Trinity Sunday
by Christina Rossetti

My God, Thyself being Love Thy heart is love,
And love Thy Will and love Thy Word to us,
Whether Thou show us depths calamitous
Or heights and flights of rapturous peace above.
O Christ the Lamb, O Holy Ghost the Dove,
Reveal the Almighty Father unto us;
That we may tread Thy courts felicitous,
Loving Who loves us, for our God is Love.
Lo, if our God be Love thro' heaven's long day,
Love is He thro' our mortal pilgrimage,
Love was He thro' all aeons that are told.
We change, but Thou remainest; for Thine age
Is, Was, and Is to come, nor new nor old;
We change, but Thou remainest; yea and yea!