Saturday, February 02, 2013

Hear Cheerful Robin Carol from His Tree

A Candlemas Dialogue
by Christina Rossetti

"Love brought Me down; and cannot love make thee
Carol for joy to Me?
Hear cheerful robin carol from his tree,
Who owes not half to Me
I won for thee."

"Yea, Lord, I hear his carol’s wordless voice;
And well may he rejoice
Who hath not heard of death’s discordant noise.
So might I too rejoice
With such a voice."

"True, thou hast compassed death; but hast not thou
The tree of life’s own bough?
Am I not Life and Resurrection now?
My Cross balm-bearing bough
For such as thou?"

"Ah me, Thy Cross!–but that seems far away;
Thy Cradle-song to-day
I too would raise, and worship Thee and pray:
Not empty, Lord, to-day
Send me away."

"If thou wilt not go empty, spend thy store;
And I will give thee more,
Yea, make thee ten times richer than before.
Give more and give yet more
Out of thy store."

"Because Thou givest me Thyself, I will
Thy blessed word fulfil,
Give with both hands, and hoard by giving still;
Thy pleasure to fulfil,
And work Thy Will."

Money vs. Riches

We are frequently led into error by mistaking money for riches; we think that a people cannot be impoverished by a waste of money which is spent among themselves. The fact is, that men are impoverished only in two ways; either by having their gains suspended, or by having their substance consumed; and money expended at home, being circulated, and not consumed, cannot, any more than the exchange of a tally, or a counter, among a certain number of hands, tend to diminish the wealth of the company among whom it is handed about. But while money circulates at home, the necessaries of life, which are the real constituents of wealth, may be idly consumed; the industry which might be employed to increase the stock of a people, may be suspended, or turned to abuse.

Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), Part V, Section V

A Poem Draft

Milky Way

Speak, O seeker; stars of grace
silently adorn the face
night emboldens with delight:
Can a spirit hate the night,
burning as it is with flame
ever changing yet the same,
joyful, splendid, diamond-bright?
Mind must love its kin the night.
Never cease to seek the route
milky-white, and do not doubt--
speak your stories to the night,
walk upon her road of light.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Gerard on Taste and Genius I: Principles of Taste

The late eighteenth century, especially in Britain, was profoundly interested in the question of good taste. It is discussed extensively, its relationship to good morals closely probed, and attempts to understand its underlying principles were common. Of these attempts, the one that is most commonly read today is David Hume's essay, Of the Standard of Taste. However, the work on the subject that was perhaps most highly regarded, and certainly most widely referenced, was Alexander Gerard's Essay on Taste.

Alexander Gerard (1728-1795) was educated at the University of Aberdeen. He went on to become the Professor of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College, then afterward became Professor of Divinity, first at Marischal, then at King's College. He first wrote the Essay on Taste in 1756 while still Professor of Natural Philosophy, winning a prize from the Edinburgh Philosophical Society for it; when he published it three years later and its companion work on Genius in 1774, they earned him plaudits throughout the Republic of Letters. The book quickly went through three English editions and two French editions. He was an active participant in academic college, advocating various reforms to the Scottish system of education, and in the Church of Scotland.

Gerard's account of taste and genius is an example of what is known as a reflex sense system. Systems of this type trace back to Francis Hutcheson's An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725). In a sense one can take reflex sense accounts as attempts to redress a problem in standard empiricism. Empiricism requires that all mental content trace back in some way to a sense, but we can clearly identify kinds of mental content that do not seem to be reducible to sight, hearing, and the like. Thus if we take 'sense' to mean (in Hutcheson's words from the Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions) "any determination of our minds to receive ideas independently on our will, and to have perceptions of pleasure and pain", it is clear that we must posit internal as well as external senses. What is more, these internal senses tend to give us higher-order content: unlike the external senses, which sense things about bodies, the internal senses give us information about the information that we receive from the external senses. They are 'reflex' or 'reflective' senses. For instance, one of the reflex senses Hutcheson identifies is the sense of novelty. When something seems new to us, this seeming-new cannot itself be something we get from the eyes, ears, or any of our external senses. Nonetheless it is genuine information; while our reflex senses are no more immune to occasional sensory illusions than the external senses, the most obvious explanation, and usually the right explanation, for the fact that something seems new to us is that it is. Thus we have informative mental content that cannot be understood entirely in terms of the information of external senses. It is also reflective: if I see a new color or shape, I sense the newness of the sensation. While there is a sense in which the sense of novelty presupposes the external senses, however, it does not do so in a crude way; we can have a sense of the newness of very abstract theories, for instance, that cannot themselves be sensed.

On an empiricist approach to matters, moreover, there is no particular reason to privilege the external senses over the internal senses as sources of knowledge; we know that we have senses by actually sensing, and if we seem to sense newness, the empiricist just has to accept that as a fact, and go on to decide whether this is a distinct sense or reducible to other senses. And, to top it all off, we can't actually isolate our judgment from these reflex senses, any more than we, clearly seeing colors, can ignore them completely when making judgments about the world. Thus we can never have a well-founded reason for denying that these reflex senses give us genuine information about the world, at least sometimes: we have no a priori way of ruling them out and no a posteriori way of doing without them. The sense of novelty is as good, and as unavoidable, a foundation for judgment as the sense of sight, and for exactly the same reasons. This does not mean that the reflex senses are brute facts: we can come up with explanations for why things seem to be the way they are, and can identify illusory cases, as with the external senses. But all such explanations, and all such identifications of illusions, presuppose both the reflex senses themselves and their general legitimacy as foundations of judgment.

Gerard therefore starts his account of taste by analyzing it in terms of the senses on which it draws, and, in particular, the reflex senses on which it depends. And as it turns out, it's not a simple matter. Taste as Gerard conceives it makes use of a variety of reflex senses; and cultivating a good taste consists in refining these reflex senses in a unified way:

Taste consists chiefly in the improvement of those principles, which are commonly called the powers of the imagination, and are considered by modern philosophers as internal or reflex senses, supplying us with finer and more delicate perceptions, than any which can be properly referred to our external organs. These are reducible to the following principles; the senses of novelty, of sublimity, of beauty, of imitation, of harmony, of ridicule, and of virtue. (ET 1-2)

We will take each of these principles of taste in turn.

The Sense of Novelty. The agreeable experience of coming upon something new is something everyone knows. Sometimes it's nice to get out and do something different; we get excited when it seems to us that we've made a new discovery, or come up with an idea very different from what we've ever had before; we all know the distinctive agreeable feeling that arises on reading or studying something interestingly new or original. What these experiences show us is that no adequate account of good taste can ignore the effect of our sense of the newness of things on our judgments. We sense some things as novel; this can excite other sensations in us, whether of pleasure or of pain.

The Sense of Sublimity. We could also call this a sense of grandeur. When we experience the world, we experience some things as simultaneously vast and simple. Neither the vastness nor the simplicity are reducible to the five external senses. As we might put it, it is not the apparent size of the ocean to the eye that makes us sense its vastness, since it doesn't take up any more of our visual field than what we ordinarily see. And the particular vastness that makes things seem sublime is the kind of vastness that has a limitlessness to it. It need not be literally infinite, but even when we sense finite things as sublime, there is a sense in which, for practical purposes, they might as well be infinite. Gerard accepts a version of the standard view (another version of which is later shared by an even more famous account of sublimity, Kant's), which goes to back to Longinus, that we sense things as vast and simple in the relevant sense when we ourselves seem vast and simple in sensing them. As Gerard sees it, we sense something as sublime by sensing our need to expand to take it all in, and, with this need, the difficulty of doing so. This is one reason why experiencing sublime things is so exhilarating: we experience pleasure and pride, and perhaps a feeling of being privileged, having both the opportunity and the ability to think on that scale. The difficulty arises because the sublime is not merely vast, but a vastness that has to be taken all together. If you think of the ocean as just a bunch of cups of water, just one after another and nothing more, you don't get a sense of sublimity, any more than you get a sense of sublimity from the mere fact that you can go into your supermarket and see rows and rows of products. To get the sense of sublimity you need to think of the ocean as a whole. To think of your supermarket as sublime -- which is not out of the bounds of possibility -- you would have to think of the sheer vastness of the whole group of actions that come together to give you endless choices of laundry detergent. Likewise, the experience of what Gerard calls "the sublime of science" (ET 14) is an experience of the vastness of the phenomena and truths unified by this or that single principle or simple explanation.

It's important to note, I think, that the fact that this sense of the sublime is a sense of our own expansion does not make it subjective -- at the mere level of sense there's no principled way to distinguish the objective and the subjective. The fact that we sense that something is sublime because our thought must expand to take the whole in makes sublimity no more 'subjective' than the fact that we sense certain kinds of distance by how hard it feels our eye muscles are working makes distance 'subjective'.

In any case, it is not in any way controversial to say that sublimity is important to our judgments of taste.

The Sense of Beauty. Another experience that clearly must be taken into account if we are talking about judgments of taste is our sense of beauty, which takes as its objects things that have uniformity, variety, and proportion: "the absence of any one of these ingredients...diminishes the beauty of objects: but where all of them are wanting, deformity must be prevail" (ET 35). This 'formity', as we might call it, can be found in the figure, color, or usefulness of a thing.

The Sense of Imitation. There is another thing that sometimes gets called 'beauty', and that is lively, exact imitation or resemblance. It's not mere imitation that gives us this experience; it is lively re-presentation. A pile of rocks may be uninteresting in itself; simply repeating the pile of rocks, although a good imitation, doesn't give you any sort of sense of imitation that could be confused with the sense of beauty. However, a painting of that pile of rocks may be breathtakingly 'beautiful', i.e., lively in imitation, and enjoyed for that reason. This is a sense that perhaps looms larger in our own tastes than it would have in the tastes of Gerard's day: the sense of imitation is something we would often call the sense of realism. Realism is not mere imitation, either; if somebody copies the murder scene in a play by actually murdering someone in the same way, we don't say that the murder is 'a realistic portrayal', despite being an obvious imitation. We can enjoy the realism of a portrayal of a real-life villain even though we would hate the imitation in reality of that same villain. In a sense, it's the quality of the imitating that is really in view.

The Sense of Harmony. Another sense that is often conflated with the sense of beauty but, at the very least, involves a distinctive kind of 'beauty' is the sense of harmony; harmony is a function of the agreeableness of single sounds and "the charms and energy of a skillful complication of them" (ET 56). The energetic complication of agreeable sounds is not itself something picked up by the ear; our external sense does not hear anything as harmonious -- it just hears them as sounds. Getting the idea of harmony requires some sort of reflection on sound. But the sense of harmony is actually a good example of an internal sense that gives us what we would generally consider (reasonably) reliable information about the world: when we talk about hearing, we usually include our sense of harmony, our ability to sense proportional relationships among sounds. But proportionalities among sounds are not what the ear picks up, and you can only have information about these proportionalities by some kind of additional synthesis going beyond the bare hearing of something.

The Sense of Ridicule. We all know the sense of ridicule; it is what later came to be called the sense of humor. It picks up on incongruities, that is, uncommon inconsistencies in consistency, unexpected similarities among the dissimilar, oppositions in a unity. What we usually call wit, humor, or ridiculre are different kinds of imitation of the incongruity that we pick up with this sense -- artificial representations of the incongruous, and perhaps incongruous artificial representation of the incongruous. When things aren't funny, it would then be because either we don't think there's enough contrariety (too coherent, so it makes a lot of sense, is not very funny) or we don't think there's enough unity (too incoherent, so it makes hardly any sense at all, is not very funny, either). We need them to make sense of things not making sense, or show that something's making sense doesn't itself make sense.

The Sense of Virtue. Gerard is quite insistent that you cannot have an adequate account of good taste, or any taste for that matter, without taking into account what we might call our sense of morals:

It is never unregarded in serious performances, and it enters even into the most ludicrous. It claims a joint authority with the other principles of Taste; it requires an attachment to morality in the epos and the drama, and it pronounces the quickest flights of wit, without it, phrensy and distraction. Something moral has insinuated itself, not only into the serious designs of Raphael, but also into the humorous representations of Hogarth. (ET 69)

No matter how much someone might try to insert a dividing wall between moral and aesthetic judgment, the two can't be so easily separated. A great deal of our judgment of a literary text, for instance, may consist in our judgments about the villainies or redeeming qualities of villains, or the heroics or flaws of heroes. A work may be flawed by dropping a crude and thus inappropriate joke into the middle of what the story needs to be solemn and respectful. Raphael's painting of the Prodigal Son is judged not merely in terms of painting technique but in terms of its expression of moral qualities like forgiveness.

What's more, we often find that this sense has a certain superiority over other principles of taste, not in the sense that it overrides them completely, but in the sense that it has a massive effect everywhere. Someone may still find a malicious joke funny, but it's impossible that the sense of its being malicious have no effect at all on the funniness of the joke. And likewise, many of the things we do find funny are morally funny, or funny in ways tinged by moral judgment: you have to have a sense of honesty and of hypocrisy in order to find Twelfth Night as funny as it is. Someone who had no grasp of hypocrisy or of inappropriate ambition would lose the ability to grasp any number of jokes. And on the reverse side, understanding what's going on in tragedy requires a grasp of fault and innocence. Even something like the "sublime of science" is affected by our sensing that the explanations and reasonings involved are honest; try still thinking it sublime if it turned out all to be sophistry or based on lies about experiments. Again, it's not that moral inappropriateness or flaw necessarily ruins these other aspects to the work we are appreciating; but that it really is a flaw affecting our entire experience, and thus the entire foundation for our judgments of taste.

All of this, of course, just gives us the basics: the kinds of elements in our experience that feed into judgments of taste. What we are usually most interested in, however, is the formation or cultivation of taste. This requires the union and development of these basic principles, and to that we will have to turn next.

Tearing Down a Good Wall

In an age like our own, when the artist is an altogether exceptional person, he must be allowed a certain amount of irresponsibility, just as a pregnant woman is. Still, no one would say that a pregnant woman should be allowed to commit murder, nor would anyone make such a claim for the artist, however gifted. If Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow, and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear. And, after all, the worst crimes are not always the punishable ones. By encouraging necrophilic reveries one probably does quite as much harm as by, say, picking pockets at the races. One ought to be able to hold in one's head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being. The one does not invalidate or, in a sense, affect the other. The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp. In the same way it should be possible to say, ‘This is a good book or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.’ Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human being.

George Orwell, Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Father and Teacher of Youth

Today is the feast day of St. Giovanni Bosco, who happens among other things to be the patron saint of stage magicians.

The International Brotherhood of Magicians page on St. John Bosco

An article by Angelo Stagnaro on Catholic stage magic and St. John

Boy Scouts and Civil Religion

I have a post arguing that the Boy Scouts of America are unlikely to drop their basic theism at any point in the near future at the "First Thoughts" blog.

Quote for the Day

The old folktales, among many other things, were wisdom literature, a thing that does not exist in any thoroughly modern society.

Tom Simon

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Whewell on Newton's Laws IV: The Second and Third Laws

This accidentally got stuck in the draft stage. It's imperfect -- it really needs to address the historical questions better, for instance, and I didn't finish putting in all relevant citations; but I publish it just to get it out of draft so I can go on to other things and come back to this later when I am able.

It will be convenient in discussing the Second and Third Laws of Motion to proceed somewhat more schematically than with the First Law, keeping in mind what was said about the First Law as being a product of both rigorous conceptual clarification of the Idea of Cause and experimental specification, thus making it in one sense necessary and in another sense contingent and revisable. Mutatis mutandis, this is true for the Second and Third Laws as well, although their histories and philosophical implications (understood as causal laws in Whewell's sense) are somewhat more elaborate.

Second Law (as found in Newton): Change of motion is proportional to the impressed motive force, and occurs in a straight line with respect to that impressed force.
General Causal Axiom: Causes are measured by their effects. (Whewell argues that this causal axiom presupposes certain conditions in order to apply, namely, those that make possible additive measurement in the first place.)
Causal Axiom Specified to Forces: The accelerating quantity of a force is measured by the acceleration produced.
Primary Experimental Component: The velocity and direction which a body already possesses are not, either of them, causes which change the acceleration produced.

The history of the Second Law as Whewell understands it is closely bound up with the history of both early modern astronomy and increasing sophistication in the understanding of gravity in the early modern period. If we start with accelerations, changes of velocity, and try to explain them, we know that if our acceleration has been caused by an impressed force, what can be said about this impressed force has to be determined from the acceleration, its effect; and that, since effects and causes are proportionate to each other, we can give a measure to the cause based on the effect, and we can therefore give a measurement to the force based on the acceleration. But in so doing, we have to rule out interfering factors. This is actually quite difficult to do, since possible interfering factors are often found even in our ordinary experience. The case of gravity, however, appears to give us a cleaner case of force causing acceleration than we usually find, in which the interfering factors can be reasonably minimized. The key issue is that we can reasonably assume -- because the assumption is thoroughly in conformity with our experience -- that gravity is a constant cause. If the earth rotates, then every point of its surface is in motion. If we drop a stone from the top of a tall building, then, we might expect that the stone would be left behind as the earth continued its rotation and the tower moved away from it. However, if the stone were also subject to the same motion, having the same force working on it, then the movement of the stone relative to the tower would be the same as if they were both at rest. This ties in with considerations of the First Law, which gives the proper relation between rest and force; without something reasonable clear and like the First Law, there are quite a few logically possible interfering factors that we will have difficulty sweeping away. Once people began to use something more like the First Law, however, it could be argued that the circular motion of the earth and the linear motion of the stone did not diminish or augment each other, and various experimental studies of relative motion strongly suggested that the change in the vertical movement of a dropped or thrown stone does not depend on any velocity or direction the stone already has. "We so willingly believe in the simplicity of laws of nature, that the rigorous accuracy of such a law, known to be at least approximately true, was taken for granted, till some ground for expecting the contrary should appear."(PIS volume 1, 229); however, there are other things that had to come together to establish the Second Law. It is necessary, for instance, to consider not just bodies in gravity but also bodies interacting with each other, and on that basis come to recognize that the same kinds of causes that can explain motion can also explain tension. To get the Second Law you need to work your way to seeing how something like it could explain not just relatively pure cases but complicated and non-apparent cases; and despite our calling it a Law of Motion it has to cover static cases as well.

Thus, without getting into all the details Whewell chases down on the historical side in the History of the Inductive Sciences and, in more summary form, the Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, we can see that the Second Law is highly bound up, and can even be seen as a sort of summary of, much of the history of what we often call the Scientific Revolution. Whewell doesn't quite think this way himself, not because he doesn't think Galileo and the rest were a major leap forward, since he holds that the medieval period was largely stagnant except in practical matters, but because he tends not to think in terms of Science but in terms of Sciences, and to think of scientific progress not in terms of single events but in cycles of varying speeds, Epochs as he calls them, where the discoveries of prior Epochs are put in new light.

When Whewell says (ETM 5), "All causes must be measured by their effects; and force, as a conception included in the idea of a cause, must be measured by the effects which it produces," this gives what he sees as the logical structure -- it explains, so to speak, why the Second Law can explain anything -- but the clarifications and new data required to make this structure clear are far from being as simple and, in fact, make up a massive portion of the modern history of experiment. As he says elsewhere (First Principles of Mechanics v), "When it is seen through how many attempts, and after how many errors of the most intelligent speculators, every one of these doctrines has been reduced to its final simplicity and certainty, it will perhaps be more evident how entirely they depend on experiment for their proof, and how far from easy the discovery was."

Third Law (as found in Newton): To every action is always opposed an equal reaction; or the mutual actions of two bodies on each other are always equal and directed to contrary parts.
General Causal Axiom: In measurable causal interactions, action is always accompanied an equal and opposite reaction.
Causal Axiom Specified to Forces: In the direct mutual action of bodies, the momentum gained and lost in any time is equal. (Compare also D'Alembert's Principle, which is closely related: When any forces produce motion in any connected system of matter, the motive quantities of force gained and lost by the different parts must balance each other according to the connection of the system.)
Primary Experimental Component: The connection of the parts of a body or of a system of bodies, and the action to which a system of bodies is already subject, are not, either of them, causes which produce any new change in the effects of any additional action.

In many ways, the Third Law is the Law of Motion that most stands out. When Euler later wrote the Mechanica, for instance, he derived the First and Second Laws (they are not laws for Euler but theorems derived from more general principles), but there's nothing definitely like the Third Law. Likewise, the history of statics plays a much larger and more direct role in the historical lead-up to it (at least as Whewell understands it) than it does in the other two. In statics it began to be recognized that "When two equal weights are supported on the middle point between them, the pressure on the fulcrum, is equal to the sum of the weights" (PIS II); an analogous rule began to be recognized in hydrostatics. The Third Law is in part a direct generalization of this. This special connection with statics seems to be related to what Whewell thinks of as the experimental component of the Law, which involves determining what is involved in "the connection of the parts of a body". Moreover, the third law is specifically about bodies, and was itself bound up in the development of thought about bodies. Whewell argues this is not accidental; the kind of reaction indicated by the Third Law is "inseparable from our conception of body or matter" (MPCR) -- hence the close historical connection between the concepts of matter and inertia, inertia being a force-term.

The principle is not, however, purely a generalization from statics, since, as Whewell notes, Galileo gives a principle structurally similar to it; he uses it in revised editions of his Dialogues his principle to patch a hole in his reasoning about inclined plans as he had originally presented it. Galileo in turn had been simplifying an assumption that velocities acquired in rolling down inclined planes are of the same height.

Clarification of the Third Law required clarifying the other two laws as well, according to Whewell. As he says:

The mistake of Aristotle and his followers, in maintaining that large bodies fall more quickly than small ones, in exact proportion to their weight, arose from perceiving half of the third law of motion, that the velocity increases with the force which produces it; and from overlooking the remaining half, that a greater force is required for the same velocity, according as the mass is larger. The ancients never attained to any conception of the force which moves and the body which is moved, as distinct elements to be considered when we enquire into the subject of motion, and therefore could not even propose to themselves in a clear manner the questions which the third law of motion answered. [PIS 2, 589]

Thus the Third Law is distinctive in a number of ways. What is perhaps most significant about it, however, is that, as interpreted by Whewell it involves mutual causation (ETM 6):

For the action and the reaction may each be conceived as determining the other; they are mutually cause and effect; and, therefore, depend each upon the other by the same law. And, therefore, there can be no reason why one should be greater or less than the other, or in a different line. They are necessarily equal and opposite.

This has the direct implication that cause and effect are (at least in this case) simultaneous, and that anything to which the Third Law applies is a counterexample to any view of causation that insists that cause must come before the effect. It is certainly true that we commonly appeal to before and after in discussing causation. But if there is any interval of time between the action of force and its reaction, then for that interval of time the Third Law would be false -- an action would have no reaction. Thus the Third Law, interpreted as a causal law, implies simultaneous causation. Why, then, do we often talk about cause and effect as if they were successive? In part, Whewell thinks (he borrows some clarifying distinctions from a reviewer of his Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences), because we are often talking about indirect causation, and indirect causation does not involve mere application of force, but requires time for parts to move so as to create a cumulative effect. If you think of a machine with gears, for instance, every part that direct imposes force on any other part (one gear on another) has an effect immediately and for as long as it presses on the second part. But the second gear's role in the mechanism is not merely to resist the first one; it is set in motion by the first gear, and its movement takes time. Cause and effect are not successive by nature or in themselves; in the case of forces, it is the combination of applied force with the time required for movement that makes us think of effect as something that comes after the cause in time. This can be generalized to other kinds of cause and effect (PIS 2, 644):

...we have in every case a uniform state, or a state which is considered uniform, or at least normal; and which is taken as the indication and measure of time; and we have also change, which is contemplated as a deviation from uniformity, and is taken as the indication and measure of cause.

It is the combination of change and invariance which tangles together our ideas of Time and Cause. But according to Whewell the work done on the Third Law shows at the very least that, within certain experimental bounds, this temporal element is incidental to the questions of cause and effect themselves. Thus the causal interpretation of the Third Law has some teeth: since causation as such does not require a temporal direction, the interpretation is inconsistent with accounts of causation, like Hume's, that assume causes must be temporally prior to their effects.

An Active and Vital Energy of the Mind

Sense sees only the outside of things, reason acquaints itself with their natures.—Sensation is only a mode of feeling in the mind; but knowledge implies an active and vital energy of the mind. Feeling pain, for example, is the effect of sense; but the understanding is employed when pain itself is made an object of the mind's reflexion, or held up before it, in order to discover its nature and causes. Mere sense can perceive nothing in the most exquisite work of art; suppose a plant, or the body of an animal; but what is painted in the eye, or what might be described on paper. It is the intellect that must perceive in it order and proportion; variety and regularity; design, connection, art, and power; aptitudes, dependencies, correspondencies, and adjustment of parts, so as to subserve an end, and compose one perfect whole; things which can never be represented on a sensible organ, and the ideas of which cannot be passively communicated, or stamped on the mind by the operation of external objects.--Sense cannot perceive any of the modes of thinking beings; these can be discovered only by the mind's survey of itself.

Richard Price, A Review of the Principal Questions and Difficulties in Morals, pp. 20-22.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Leaves' Eyes, "Mine Tåror Er ei Grimme". Norwegian is not always the most obviously beautiful of languages, but every language has its strengths; you just have to play to them. I think this quiet melody, composed and sung by Liv Kristine (best known for having been the lead singer for the goth metal band Theatre of Tragedy), brings out those strengths splendidly. The title means something like "My Tears are Not Horrible" and the chorus is something like "My tears are not horrible, / With weeping I cannot win"; the song is that of a woman weeping for her husband, who has died in battle.

The particular dialect used is one version of Norwegian Nynorsk, which is an interesting language form. It's one of the two dominant forms of Norwegian, the other being Bokmål. (Norwegian native speakers tend to split about 70% Bokmål and 30% Nynorsk; each is not so much a dialect as a dialect-family.) Bokmål is a natural development, mostly: Norwegian affected by Danish language conventions. Nynorsk, associated with Western Norway is actually a reconstruction. It's a partly artificial language, which is why it has its name, "New Norse". In the nineteenth century there was a powerful Romantic movement for national identities -- the sort of thing that gave us semi-artifical epic masterpieces like the Kalevala (in Finland) or the Kalevipoeg (in Estonia), which are built out of genuine folk-stories but reconstructed and re-shaped. Nynorsk is an analogous product, despite being a national language rather than a national epic. Ivar Aasen was a linguist who went around Norway studying various dialects. He made a dictionary and a grammar that attempted to isolate the purely Norwegian elements of the languages he was studying from outside influences (mostly Swedish and Danish). This meant that the reconstructed language had a vocabulary and grammar growing out of Old Norse, but it was very deliberately intended to be a modern language, and since different modern dialects had different Old Norse influences, the result was a clever weaving together of bits from different Norwegian dialects to create a kind of Norwegian that could honestly say that it had both Old Norse roots and modern Norwegian forms. In a sense, you can think of it as an answer to the question: If Old Norse had transformed into Modern Norwegian without foreign influence, and keeping its essential features, what would this modern form look like?

In one sense it was a conservative modification: much of what Aasen did was just keep parts of the various Norwegian dialects that had changed least. In another it was a revolutionary one. For three hundred years the official language of the Kingdom of Norway had been Danish; all upper-class Norwegians had spoken Danish, albeit in a dialect different from any found in Denmark. In the nineteenth century this changed, and the upper-class Dano-Norwegian dialect of Danish began mixing with lower-class Norwegian in ever increasing amounts; Bokmål (which literally means "book language") was the result of this. Landsmål, Aasen's reconstruction and the root source of Nynorsk, was an implicit depiction of an utterly non-Danish Norway. To be sure, since it is a form of Scandinavian and all full Scandinavian languages are closely tied to each other, it is still fairly close to Danish: but it is not so close as Bokmål is.

To complicate matters, the two versions of Norwegian began to be associated with different regions and different politics. Despite heavy-handed government attempts over a century* to force the two versions together (which only diversified the dialects of each by introducing innovations that rarely became widespread), Norwegian divisions over language are very sharp. The divisions are often bewildering; I'm not even sure Norwegians themselves are always entirely sure what is going on, because it draws so much of the entire nation into it. But if we are allowed a lot of simplification, we can say that Nynorsk is associated with rural Norway, with suspicion of urban cosmopolitanisms; it's a reconstructed folk language, and certainly has the folkish character, but being reconstructed, there is nothing backwoods or uneducated about it.

In any case, I think after the dust clears, and even if Bokmål dominates entirely, Nynorsk will be seen as what it is: an exquisite cultural accomplishment on the same level as the great folk epics that grew out of the same Romantic movement.

* As in many European nations, the government of Norway attempts to regulate the language. Unlike some nations (France is the most famous), the Norwegian government is notoriously incompetent at it. I think it can safely be said that it has never had a single unambiguous success.

Music on My Mind

Peter Hollens, "Misty Mountains" (from The Hobbit)

There is also a version with violin accompaniment.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas VII

Pange Lingua
by St. Thomas Aquinas
Edward Caswall, tr.

Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world's redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.

Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wondrously His life of woe.

On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law's command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.

Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;-
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
Lo! o'er ancient forms departing,
newer rites of grace prevail;
faith for all defects supplying,
where the feeble sense fail.

To the everlasting Father,
and the Son who reigns on high,
with the Holy Ghost proceeding
forth from Each eternally,
be salvation, honor, blessing,
might and endless majesty.
Amen. Alleluia.

The most famous pop version, by Mocedades:

A bit more solemn:

I think something midway between these two has the potential to be truly stunning.

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas VI

The cause of all our good is the Lord and divine love. For to love is, properly speaking, to will good to someone. Therefore, since the will of God is the cause of things, good comes to us because God loves us. And God’s love is the cause of the good of nature: “You love everything which exists” (Wis 11:2 5). It is also the cause of the good which is grace: “I have loved you with an. everlasting love, and so I have drawn you” i.e., through grace (Jer 3 1:3). But it is because of his great love that he gives us the good of glory. So he shows us here, from four standpoints, that this love of God is the greatest.

First, from the person of the one loving, because it is God who loves, and immeasurably. So he says, For God so loved: “He has loved the people; all the holy ones are in his hand” (Dt 33:3). Secondly, from the condition of the one who is loved, because it is man, a bodily creature of the world, i.e., existing in sin: “God shows his love for us, because while we were still his enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5:8). Thus he says, the world. Thirdly, from the greatness of his gifts, for love is shown by a gift; as Gregory says: “The proof of love is given by action.” But God has given us the greatest of gifts, his Only Begotten Son, and so he says, that he gave his Only Begotten Son. “God did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for all of us” (Rom 8:32).

Commentary on the Gospel of John, ch. 3, l. 3, sect. 477

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas V

A thing is said to be impossible in respect of a power in two ways. First, on account of an inherent defect in the power, in that the effect is beyond its reach, as when a natural agent cannot transform a certain matter. Secondly, when the impossibility arises from without, as in the case of a power that is hindered or tied. Accordingly there are three ways in which it is said to be impossible for a thing to be done. First, by reason of a defect in the active power, whether in transforming matter, or in any other way. Secondly, by reason of a resistant or an obstacle. Thirdly, because that which is said to be impossible cannot be the term of an action. Those things, then, which are impossible to nature in the first or second way are possible to God: because, since his power is infinite, it is subject to no defect, nor is there any matter that he cannot transform at will, since his power is irresistible. On the other hand those things which involve the third kind of impossibility God cannot do, since he is supreme act and sovereign being: wherefore his action cannot terminate otherwise than principally in being, and secondarily in nonbeing. Consequently he cannot make yes and no to be true at the same time, nor any of those things which involve such an impossibility. Nor is he said to be unable to do these things through lack of power, but through lack of possibility, such things being intrinsically impossible.

De Potentia, q. 1 art. 3 corp.

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas IV

True and rightly ordered love prefers the greater to the lesser good. Now it is clear, that, of all human good, the welfare of the soul is the greatest: next in degree comes physical well-being; and external goods occupy the last place. It is natural to man to observe this order in his preference. For who would not rather lose bodily eyesight than the use of reason? Who would not part with all his property in order to save his life? “Skin for skin,” said Satan to the Lord, “and all that a man has he will give for his life” (Job ii. 4). Very few, if any, fail to observe this order in their preference concerning the natural goods of which we have given examples. There are, nevertheless, many who pervert this order of charity, in the case of the other goods which exist in addition to the purely natural ones of which we have spoken. They will, for instance, prefer physical health or comfort, to the acquisition of virtue or learning; and they will expose their bodies to danger and hardship, in order to gain material wealth. Now this, as we shall show more at large, is not true love. Neither do they who act thus, love themselves sincerely. It is quite clear that the chief part of a thing is really the thing itself. When we say that a city acted thus or thus, we mean that the chief citizens acted in such or such a manner. Now we know, that the principal thing in man is the soul, and that the chief among the powers or faculties of the soul, is the reason or understanding. He, therefore, who despises the good of the rational soul, for the sake of physical welfare, or of the advantage of the sensitive soul, plainly show that he does not truly love himself. “He who loves iniquity, hates his own soul” (Pa. x. 6).

De Perfectione, ch. 13. This directly ties into what it means to love one's neighbor as one's self, of course.

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas III

A sin of omission occurs in two ways: one, when a person fails to do good; another, by failing to endure evil and adversity. In regard to the first he says, Therefore, i.e., because chastisement yields the most peaceable fruit, then to obtain this fruit, lift your drooping hands. For since the hand is the organ of the organs, it is said to droop, when it stops performing good works; therefore, it must be lifted up by a right intention to do things pleasing to God: ‘Let us lift up our hearts with our hands to God’ (Lam 3:41); ‘The lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice’ (Ps. 140:2); ‘The slothful hand has wrought poverty; but the hand of the industrious riches’ (Pr. 10:4); ‘The hand of the valiant shall bear rule, but that which is slothful shall be under tribute’ (Pr. 12:24). As a sign of this, when Moses lifted up his hands, Israel conquered; but when he let them fall, Amalek overcame them (Ex. 17:11). In regard to the other sin of omission he says, strengthen your weak knees. The entire weight of the body is held up by the knees. Therefore, those who have not the courage to endure adversity bravely have weak knees. Therefore, this weakness must be put aside: ‘You have strengthened the weary hands; your words have confirmed them that were staggering, and you have strengthened the trembling knees’ (Jb. 4:3); ‘Strengthen the feeble hands and confirm the weak knees’ (Is. 35:3). Therefore, lift up the hand and knees and do not give in to idleness or hesitate because of weakness.

Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, c. 12 l. 3, section 684

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas II

Since man should act according to reason, he is truly a slave when he is led away from what is reasonable by something extraneous. Furthermore, if he is not restrained by the yoke of reason from following concupiscence, he is free only in the opinion of those who suppose that the highest good is placed in following what is craved (concupita).

Commentary on Romans c.6 l.4, sect. 509

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas I

In fact, the love that a man has for others arises in man from the love that he has for himself, for a man stands in relation to a friend as he does to himself. But a person loves himself inasmuch as he wishes the good for himself, just as he loves another person by wishing him good. So, by the fact that a man is interested in his own good he is led to develop an interest in another person’s good. Hence, because a person hopes for good from some other person, a way develops for man to love that other person in himself, from whom he hopes to attain the good. Indeed, a person is loved in himself when the lover wishes the good for him, even if the lover may receive nothing from him. Now, since by sanctifying grace there is produced in man an act of loving God for Himself,the result was that man obtained hope from God by means of grace. However, though it is not for one’s own benefit, friendship, whereby one loves another for himself, has of course many resulting benefits, in the sense that one friend helps another as he helps himself. Hence, when one person loves another, and knows that he is loved by that other, he must get hope from him. Now, by grace man is so established as a lover of God, through the love of charity, that he is also instructed by faith that he is first loved by God: according to the passage found in 1 John (4:10): “In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us.” It follows, then, from the gift of grace that man gets hope from God. It is also clear from this that just as hope is a preparation of man for the true love of God, so also man is conversely strengthened in hope by charity.

Summa contra Gentiles III.153.2

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fortnightly Book, January 27

The hydra at the beginning, the angel at the end.

Due to the recent Les Misérables movie (which I have not seen), lots of people are reading the book, or at least contemplating it, because it is a very large book. As it happens, I have a two-volume Heritage Press edition on my shelves, so I'll be joining in the fun. I've never actually read the full thing cover to cover, so it should be interesting.

Victor Hugo took over two decades to work out the novel, which was published in 1862. It sold extraordinarily well but did not have a favorable critical reception; indeed, many of France's greatest literary minds, people like Flaubert and Baudelaire, regarded it as a travesty. It was regarded as crude and tasteless pandering, as insincere and manipulative, as a case of an author claiming to provide fair judgment of society while he clearly puts his thumb on the scales, as an elaborate sermon preaching a highly simplistic morality by means of caricatured and stylized characters. It no doubt did not help that the book does in fact preach at extensive length -- literally hundreds of pages of the novel are devoted to moralizing. By a curious irony the book ends up in a rather small group of novels that manage to be extremely long, very preachy, critically panned, and extraordinarily popular, a group that includes Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, with which it actually has much more in common than one might assume. I don't know what Hugo would have thought of the juxtaposition (although many of his fans would screech at the comparison), but Rand, who despised Hugo's philosophy but held up his literary achievements as the proper standard for any decent writer, would undeniably have a certain amount of satisfaction in it.

Les Misérables is a book that is easily regarded in oversimplified terms. There is more to the story than simply the much-remembered interaction between Valjean and Javert. It is notable that Javert's name makes up the title of none of the five volumes of the work, which are, in order, entitled:

The Idyll in the Rue Plumet and the Epic in the Rue St. Denis
Jean Valjean

What these titles tell us is that there is a story here in which Valjean is only one of the major characters. Indeed, one of the ways to read the novel is to read it as actually entirely about Cosette, despite the fact that she is offstage for much of it; but it is Cosette who binds the story together. Read this way, Valjean is the main character only in the sense that his life more than anyone else's impacts Cosette's. There are doubtless other ways to read it; for instance, by splitting the difference and taking it to be a sort of double helix of the lives of Cosette and Valjean. I only bring it up because I think it's important to recognize that we readers should probably assume less about the novel than most of us do when we go into it.

The Heritage Press edition is in the old translation, authorized and approved by Hugo himself, of Sir Frederic Charles Lascelles Wraxall. It has a very large number of truly splendid illustrations by Lynd Ward, arguably one of the greatest book illustrators of the twentieth century. Ward was politically very active, and seems to have felt a considerable connection to this rather political book, because he really went all out on it. The typeface is quite a lovely one, called Granjon. Whenever I use a Heritage Press edition, I always remark on things like this because the great benefit of the old Heritage Press editions is that with them reading a book is not just a reading of words, but the use of a minor -- but lovely -- work of art, carefully crafted to be an artistic vehicle appropriate to the words. We really need more things like them.