Saturday, June 29, 2013

Such Gleam of All Things

How Sweet It Is, When Mother Fancy Rocks
by William Wordsworth

How sweet it is, when mother Fancy rocks
The wayward brain, to saunter through a wood!
An old place, full of many a lovely brood,
Tall trees, green arbours, and ground flowers in flocks;
And Wild rose tip-toe upon hawthorn stocks,
Like to a bonny Lass, who plays her pranks
At Wakes and Fairs with wandering Mountebanks,
When she stands cresting the Clown's head, and mocks
The crowd beneath her. Verily I think,
Such place to me is sometimes like a dream
Or map of the whole world: thoughts, link by link
Enter through ears and eyesight, with such gleam
Of all things, that at last in fear I shrink,
And leap at once from the delicious stream.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thursday Virtue: Clemency

The major text of ancient philosophy on the virtue of clemency is Seneca's De Clementia, which is, in one of those priceless historical ironies, dedicated to the young emperor Nero. Clemency is there depicted as "restraint of mind [temperantia animi] in when it has the power to avenge, or the leniency of a superior towards an inferior in fixing punishment." The argument of the treatise is divided into three parts, although the treatise itself it is quite digressive and, as we have it, incomplete. The first part deals with remission of punishment, which is the characteristic act of clemency; the second with its relation to other virtues and vices; and the third with how it is obtained.

Seneca considers the argument that clemency enables wicked people, and replies that while excessive pardoning of faults is vicious, nonetheless we should regard clemency itself as a medicinal virtue. The healthy do not despise medicine, but recognize its value. And nobody is so healthy as to be able to rule out that they might need medicine some day. Clemency works very much the same way. One does not give out medicine indiscriminately; one carefully proportions the medicinal treatment to the sickness at hand. In addition, clemency is not all about saving the guilty from punishment; it saves the innocent from punishment, as well. What is more, clemency is desirable simply in itself, since it is perhaps the most human virtue, in part because it is one we tend to admire, and in part because it is highly concerned with common good. One alleviates punishment and penalty because it is sometimes, perhaps often, good for us all. Without it governments would seem harsh and demanding; with it, they are, as we say, humanized. And this is true quite broadly. Seneca points out that while gods are gods regardless of what we think of them, nobody wants gods who are inclement, and he urges the young Nero to treat his subjects with at least the clemency he wishes the gods to show him.

A prince inflicts punishment for one of two reasons, to avenge himself or to avenge another, and vengeance or vindication serves as either a compensation or a deterrent. Because of anger, it is more difficult to be clement in punishing on one's own behalf, which is why it is the standard for clemency. The clement person remits punishment even where the harm was committed against himself. Princes in particular should forego punishing another for compensation on their own behalf; and clemency may sometimes itself do as much good for future security as deterrent punishment. This brings us to punishment on the behalf of others:

Let us, pass now to the injuries done to others, in the punishment of which these three aims, which the law has had in view, should be kept in view also by the prince: either to reform the man that is punished, or by punishing him to make the rest better, or by removing bad men to let the rest live in greater security. You will more easily reform the culprits themselves by the lighter form of punishment; for he will live more guardedly who has something left to lose. No one is sparing of a ruined reputation; it brings a sort of exemption from punishment to have no room left for punishment. The morals of the state, moreover, are better mended by the sparing use of punitive measures; for sin becomes familiar from the multitude of those who sin, and the official stigma is less weighty if its force is weakened by the very number that it condemns, and severity, which provides the best corrective, loses its potency by repeated application. Good morals are established in the state and vice is wiped out if a prince is patient with vice, not as if he approved of it, but as if unwillingly and with great pain he had resort to chastisement.

Thus reform and general deterrence are often best served by a clement approach to punishment. One of Seneca's additional arguments is interesting. People who break the law or do something unjust are quite common. One of the things a state must do is to make sure it is entirely unclear how common it is. If you mark off the lawbreakers too sharply, everyone can start to count their number, and once it becomes clear from the punishment that large numbers of people are breaking the law, people who otherwise would not break the law will start to do so. If nobody's guilt is pardoned, this does not, contrary to what we might expect, make people obey the law; it makes people think that, since there's a good chance they will be punished for the inevitable slip-up, no matter how good they are the rest of the time, they might as well not worry about what the law says, and instead see what they can actually get away with.

The opposite of clementia is crudelitas, that is, cruelty, "inclination of the mind toward the side of harshness [atrocitas]". Cruelty is the most inhuman of vices; it transgresses not just ordinary bounds of human decency, but humanity itself, since it begins to search for ways to torture and begins to take delight in the suffering of others. We fall into cruelty by mistaking it for strictness. Likewise, we fall into compassion [misericordia], which Seneca as a Stoic regards as a vice, by mistaking it for clemency. As he puts it, misericordia regards only the (mis)fortune and distress, not the cause of it; whereas clementia must be rational. He recognizes that people tend not to like this teaching of the Stoic school, but insists that this is because they confuse feeling sorrow for another, which merely spreads the distress around, with actually doing something about it: the Stoic sage is motivated not by the distress of others but by the opportunity genuinely to help them. Because of this, Seneca insists that clemency is not concerned with pardon, because pardon [venia] is remission of punishment that is deserved [poenae meritae remissio].

Aquinas, when he considers clemency (ST 2-2.157), links it with the virtue of meekness. The two are distinct, but they are related in that meekness restrains the desire to vindicate while clemency restrains the external expression of it. Both are potential parts of temperance; that is, they are temperance in a broad sense, but they are distinct from temperance strictly speaking. The association with temperance is explicitly derived from Seneca, who is Aquinas's most quoted authority on the subject. It distinguishes clemency from equity, which also mitigates punishment, because equity mitigates punishment in order to preserve justice, whereas clemency does so out of "sweetness of soul". The reason clemency is a virtue is because moral virtues are simply the ordering of desire by reason, and, as Seneca says, clemency in mitigating punishment is rational.

For purely Christian reasons, however, Aquinas has to seriously consider the possibility that meekness and clemency are the greatest virtues. He ends up denying that they are in any strict sense, because both are concerned with mitigating evil, and the greatest virtues need to be concerned with positive good. However, among virtues that mitigate and restrain evil, they are the most excellent. As Aquinas says, charity is the greatest of all possible virtues, but clemency of all moral virtues concerned with mitigation of evil seems to be most charity-like, because it is most concerned with the good of others, on the sides both of punishment and restraint.

There is nothing in Aquinas, of course, about the vice of misericordia; misericordia is obviously a virtue for Aquinas, because it is associated with charity, the greatest Christian virtue. Both misericordia and clementia could be translated as 'mercy', but they are different, albeit analogous. Misericordia is the positive counterpart of clementia; as clementia is the greatest moral virtue concerned with mitigation of punishment, misericordia is the greatest moral virtue concerned with actively aiding our neighbor. However, being more concerned with positive good means that misericordia is the greater virtue, as the one that both resembles charity most and is more closely associated with it (since it includes within its scope external acts of charity). However, the two are enough alike that the words used to describe one are often used to describe the other, and in the same way the mercilessness that opposes misericordia is often conflated with cruelty.

In the modern period, clemency tends to not to be discussed directly; it is in the context of its major opposing vice of defect, cruelty, that it usually gets treated. This is an interesting switch, since medieval philosophy seems rarely to discuss cruelty except as a side issue in discussing clemency or mercy. Much of the modern discussion of cruelty is directly or indirectly Senecan in origin. Hume, like Seneca and Aquinas before him, takes cruelty to be associated with anger, and with a rather Senecan argument points out that it is widely despised (Treatise 3.3.3): "Where these angry passions rise up to cruelty, they form the most detested of all vices. All the pity and concern which we have for the miserable sufferers by this vice, turns against the person guilty of it, and produces a stronger hatred than we are sensible of on any other occasion." As in Seneca, cruelty is mostly associated in Hume with government action. This is not uncommon. Further, 'cruelty' has become a catch-all term; it would be difficult to make Aquinas's distinction between mercilessness and cruelty, for instance, in purely modern terms, and cruelty is often not treated as a vice, but more as an ambience created by a system.

One of the more interesting discussions that could be related to clemency is found in Bishop Butler's Fifteen Sermons; Sermons VIII and IX are devoted to resentment and forgiveness of injury, which certainly brings us very close to the matters with which clemency is concerned. Resentment or indignation, according to Butler, is the natural passion that, when sudden and hasty, we call anger, and, when deliberate and settled, we call by a variety of other names (most are associated with vice, but, as Butler notes, the passion is not itself a vice). God has given us this passion in its hasty form so that we "might be better qualified to prevent, and likewise (or perhaps chiefly) to resist and defeat sudden force, violence, and opposition, considered merely as such, and without regard to the fault or demerit of him who is the author of them." Deliberate resentment, however, is for resisting and defeating wickedness, cruelty, and the like: " It is to be considered as a weapon put into our hands by nature, against injury, injustice and cruelty." We all recognize the good that comes to society because of resentment, because people are kept in line by fear of the resentment of others.

However, we need to distinguish resentment properly deployed as a weapon against injustice from vengefulness. Resentment is medicinal, but it is a painful remedy, hard on society, and therefore should not be used unless we carefully proportion it to the case to produce greater good. In particular, it must be constrained by general benevolence, and this general benevolence must be taken so far as to include love of our enemies, who are people who have injured us. This admits of a very Stoic reading so far, but Butler, as a Christian moral philosopher, also wishes to emphasize the importance of compassion:

Though injury, injustice and oppression, the baseness of ingratitude, are the natural objects of indignation, or, if you please, of resentment, as before explained; yet they are likewise the objects of compassion, as they are their own punishment, and without repentance will for ever be so. No one ever did a designed injury to another, but at the same time he did a much greater to himself. If therefore we would consider things justly, such a one is, according to the natural course of affections, an object of compassion, as well as of displeasure: and to be affected really in this manner, I say really, in opposition to show and pretence, argues the true greatness of mind. We have an example of forgiveness in this way in its utmost perfection, and which indeed includes in it all that is good, in that prayer of our blessed Saviour on the cross: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!"

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fractal, Part V

This is the fifth part of a short story draft. Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV.

I remember once, early in the development project, helping Becky run through equipment lists. David was not there. Perhaps he was off looking into something else, or perhaps he had gone home already. I had always worked late, and Becky began to do so.

Morgan Stimson stopped by, asking where David was. When told that David was not in the lab, he said in his fake jocular tone, "Well, at least the two of you know how to work. But you're the two that should most be taking a rest; you never seem to leave. Why not just leave everything for tomorrow?"

"There is far too much to do, Morgan," I replied.

Becky, who had been putting an order into the computer, finished the order and said, "We should probably get this done and out of the way."

Morgan with his usual fake smile made a couple of lame jokes about workaholism, then went home.

When he was gone, I said, "I do not know how he thinks he, of all people, has any right to criticize David for not doing work. I think he is jealous of David."

Becky was quiet a moment, then said, "Aren't you ever jealous of David?"

I was baffled by the question, and, to be honest, a little offended. "Of course not. David is a friend. How could I be jealous of him? What he has accomplished is not something to be jealous over; I am only proud of him."

"I am proud of him, too," said Becky. "But I am also jealous of him. To be entirely honest, I am jealous of you, too."

This baffled me even more. "How could you possibly be jealous of me?"

She turned to face me directly and threw up her hands. "You make it look so easy," she said. "Both you and David do. I can never keep up. I love you both, and would never want to detract from anything either of you have ever done, but you have it easy, Charli. You're a genius. David's a genius. I have only to mention a problem to David and he's halfway to a solution. You're the same. I've spent a good part of my life just struggling to keep up and not hold you two back."

"That makes no sense at all, Becky," I replied, still mystified. "You have done as much as either of us. More, even."

"Minor technical stuff."

"You have revolutionized an entire field; you have made it possible for David and I actually to apply our ideas. You have always been the engine of the trio, Becky. For that matter, you are the reason we are here at Trisagion, and this very project was your idea."

"There is that," she admitted. She did something or other on the computer, and then smiled, Becky-like. I always liked that smile: confident and sure of her way. "This project will be something, won't it?"

"I have never been more excited about anything in my entire life," I said. "The secondary issues alone are bound to lead to important applications. This is the best one can ask for in scientific work: ambitious, substantive, promising."

"But it will be best of all when we actually succeed," she said.

"Well," I said skeptically, "I have already told you that I doubt we will get so far. Capturing so much of someone's mental life would be like making a perfect simulation of a train wreck on the basis of indirect information. It is what we will discover along the way that will really make this project worthwhile."

"You underestimate yourself, Charli," Becky said. "And you underestimate David. Both of you will go beyond anything you or I can imagine. I have complete confidence in that."

"All three of us," I corrected.

She was quiet a moment. Then she smiled at me again. "Well," she said, "I hope to be able to play a part."

I cannot remember what else was said. We finished up and each of us went home.

I am not quite sure when I first had the suspicion that Becky was having an affair with Morgan Stimson. Looking back, it seems to be the only interpretation of a great many things. But at the time it did not seem that way at all. At the time Morgan was just an inconvenience who kept trying to butt into things that were none of his business. I think I could not wrap my mind around the idea that anyone would like fake-smile Stimson. Perhaps she never did. Who knows what she was thinking in those days? Perhaps it was just restlessness. Perhaps in one of her down moments she thought she deserved Morgan the fake smiler more than David the genius. Whatever the reason may have been, the two left no obvious evidence. Here and there Morgan seemed to take a minor liberty; I think I thought Becky was just oblivious to it.

I do not think David suspected at all. But I do not know what David thought or suspected in those days. Sometimes he would be his old self. At others, however, he seemed to retreat, leaving the outside world, and even his friends, very far away.

It was several months later that they told me about Becky's condition.

to be continued

But, ah, Desire Still Cries

Sonnet LXXI
by Sir Philip Sidney

Who will in fairest book of Nature know
How Virtue may best lodged in Beauty be,
Let him but learn of Love to read in thee,
Stella, those fair lines, which true goodness show.
There shall he find all vices' overthrow,
Not by rude force, but sweetest sovereignty
Of reason, from whose light those night-birds fly;
That inward sun in thine eyes shineth so.
And not content to be Perfection's heir
Thyself, dost strive all minds that way to move,
Who mark in thee what is in thee most fair.
So while thy beauty draws the heart to love,
As fast thy Virtue bends that love to good.
But, ah, Desire still cries, give me some food.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Three Poem Drafts


My heart, my life, my queen and soaring star,
now hear my prayer, do not it bar,
but grant me mercy for my endless love;
I love you well, my rose, my grace, my dove!
Do not my urgent need then turn away,
but miracle endow to I who pray,
and grant me cheer, and joy, and all good thing,
that I may in your honor rise to sing!
But, ah! most cruel beloved one divine,
though truly you have claimed that you are mine,
yet you deny, deny, deny, my every wish,
as though you were as cold as ocean-fish.
How cruel you are, unyielding in your ways,
and taking joy from all my summer days!
It seems that when I beg, you have but laughed,
and I have then been charged for overdraft.
The dollars in the book seem far too low,
though I have saved and saved, and this you know;
O empty bank account, my sweet, my pet,
refill your empty heart and heal my debt!


How strange the tricks that memory will play!
You never were so great in living life.
When thought turns toward your face, the care and strife
are softened by the twilight shades to May.
The lies my mind will tell of you today!
Can victims come to love the wounding knife?
My thoughts all run a-riot, folly rife,
until they are made sane by light of day.
Your words were not quite gentle, but they soared;
they sing as I recall them, sad and low.
I know as sweet what then I did not know,
so precious all the things I had ignored,
as if old pain were tied up in a bow
and set in splendor in a treasure-hoard.

On Reading a Particularly Pointless Paper in Analytic Philosophy

I would rather a world
filled with oceans, storms, sights,
or jungles below us
where leopards hunt in the night
and far arctic deserts,
not sand but cold snow,
where the moonlight above
makes a moonlight below.

I would rather strong wine
or whiskey oak-aged
and a torrent of language
in black ink on a page,
filled with light
from sun, moon, and star,
mingling and bright,
whence the reindeer are.

Or baroque desert vistas!
Where wind carves old stone,
as the sun furies down
on dust and bleached bone.
I'd rather a small garden
with a picnicking space
than this cramped little cell
that orders no-place.

Layers and layers in a grain of dust are curled;
yes, but in a mote within a mighty world.

Let Reason Leech the Morbid Thoughts

Sonnet to Lord Byron
by Elizabeth Cobbold

Is it the sleep of death thy wayward mind
Misnames the loveliest, since it dreams the least?
And can a soul like thine expect to find
In death eternal sleep, and dreamless rest?
Ah! probe tho' sharp the pang, thy erring breast,
Thy talents give that sophist's saw the lie;
Thy feelings wildly tenderly exprest,
Proclaim the heavenly flame that cannot die:
Let reason leech the morbid thoughts that try
To darken all the horrors of the tomb,
And turn to realms of light thy wandering eye
Where pure religion's sun-beams chace the gloom.
So shall unclouded bliss to thee belong,
Immortal too beyond thy own transcendent song.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Wrong Part of the New Testament, Ian

Advocating not only altruism as a logical foundation for science, Peirce invoked John the Evangelist's three cardinal virtues of faith, hope, and charity. 'Charity' here not the charitable donations to the poor that Peirce mocked, but the classic rendering of caritas, often translated as disinterested love. I used John's and Peirce's very profound trio as early as 1965 (p. 47), and in 2001 used the same passages to end my introductory text on probability and induction (pp. 265 f.). In a forthcoming book, 'The Tradition of Natural Kinds', I spend a little time explicating Peirce's use of the words of the Evangelist, as understood by Peirce and as understood by St John, in a way that might discomfit your average twenty-first century pragmatist, but not, I hope, Putnam.

[Ian Hacking, "On Not Being a Pragmatist: Eight Reasons and a Cause", in New Pragmatists, Misak, ed. Clarendon (New York: 2007) p. 43.]

I can't find the reference in the 1965 book (Logic of Statistical Inference), although the passage on p. 47 can be read as vaguely allusive, but his 2001 book, Introduction to Probability and Inductive Logic, does correctly attribute the trio to St Paul rather than St John, so I'm not sure what's going on here. The only thing I can think of is that his brain got stuck on 'charity', which is indeed discussed throughout the Johannine Corpus, and more extensively than in the Pauline. It happens; I've caught myself, or been caught, doing something similar a few times recently. I've no doubt at all, however, that St John's understanding of charity would discomfit your average twenty-first century pragmatist.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Fortnightly Book, June 23

In May of 1940 the Nazis invaded France. The collapse was swift, and France was defeated within the month. An accomplished Jewish author and his wife, who had already had to flee Austria, found that they had to flee again. They hoped to cross the Pyrenees, to reach Portugal through Spain, but they were turned back at the border, which was at that point overwhelmed. A friendly family told them that there might be room at Lourdes. And there they had to wait for weeks, fearing that things might suddenly turn very badly. But while in Lourdes, they heard the local stories of St. Bernadette Soubirous, who had died about seventy years before, and one day, at a time of great stress, the Jewish author made a vow that if he ever made it to America, he would sing the song of Bernadette to the best of his ability. And that is the origin of the next fortnightly book, The Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel, which became a bestseller.

Franz Werfel (1890-1945) was born in Prague and died in Los Angeles; his wife's name was Alma. Much of his early literary output was as a playwright, but with The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a tale of the Armenian genocide that is often considered his greatest novel, made him renowned the world over. The Song of Bernadette was equally popular; an abridged translation was published in 1942 and adapted into a big-budget film in 1943. (Catholic story by Jewish author written in Protestant America: that's pretty much Golden Age Hollywood already.) Lux Radio Theater did radio versions of the film in 1949 and 1954.

The life of Bernadette Soubirous occurred during a very troubled period of France's history, but since there was no part of nineteenth-century France that wasn't troubled, that is perhaps not surprising. She was from a merchant family that had fallen into poverty. Between February and July of 1858, at the age of fourteen, she had visions of a lady in a cave-grotto; these are the famous Lourdes apparitions. Bernadette's claims divided the town and became a major controversy. They came to be increasingly accepted, though, in part because of Bernadette's own behavior, which was very restrained, being rather quiet and refusing to embellish her story in any way. Eventually, of course, the Lourdes apparitions were accepted as worthy of belief by the Catholic Church -- which, I should perhaps point out, in theological terms means not that a Catholic has to believe them (no private revelations, even those approved by the Church, have that force) but that the message and events of the apparition are highly consistent with Catholic doctrine and devotion, and that the belief and devotion of those who do accept it must be respected. Bernadette was beatified in 1925 and canonized in 1933.

I have family coming into town this week, so it's likely that this 'fortnight' will in reality be three weeks. Since I like radio drama, one thing I might do if I have the time is also listen to the 1954 radio version (which seems easiest to obtain) and compare it with the book. I might do it with the movie, too, but the order of priority goes book - radio - movie.

Here is a Jennifer Warnes song, named after the book, co-written by Jennifer Warnes, Bill Elliott, and Leonard Cohen. Warnes was given the name Bernadette at birth, but this was changed to Jennifer shortly afterward; near Lourdes while touring the south of France with Leonard Cohen, she started writing an exchange between the Bernadette she might have been and the Jennifer she was, and that eventually morphed into this song.

The song has been sung by quite a few others since Warnes first recorded it in the 1980s, including Judy Collins (which is quite excellent, and I think far and away the best version), Bette Midler (which is very BetteMidler-ish, take that how you will), Carmel Conway (also good, and certainly the most prettied-up version).

Music on My Mind

Faun, "Egil Saga". This tells parts of a story from Egils Saga, an Icelandic saga about Egil, who is something of a rebel without a cause. The full story:

While they sat at meat Egil saw that a woman lay sick on the daïs at the ends of the hall. He asked who was that woman in such sad case. Thorfinn said she was named Helga, and was his daughter; she had long been ill; her complaint was a pining sickness; she got no sleep at night, and was as one possessed.

'Has anything,' asked Egil, 'been tried for her ailment?'

'Runes have been graven,' said Thorfinn; 'a landowner's son hard by did this; and she is since much worse than before. But can you, Egil, do anything for such ailments?'

Egil said: 'Maybe no harm will be done by my taking it in hand.'

And when Egil had finished his meal, he went where the woman lay and spoke with her. Then he bade them lift her from her place and lay clean clothes under her, and they did so. Next he searched the bed in which she had lain, and there he found a piece of whalebone whereon were runes. Egil read them, then cut the runes and scraped them off into the fire. He burned the whole piece of whalebone, and had the bed-clothes that she had used hung out to air. Then Egil sang:

'Runes none should grave ever
Who knows not to read them;
Of dark spell full many
The meaning may miss.
Ten spell-words writ wrongly
On whale-bone were graven:
Whence to leek-tending maiden,
Long sorrow and pain.'

Egil then graved runes, and laid them under the bolster of the bed where the woman lay. She seemed as if she waked out of sleep, and said she now felt well, but she was weak. But her father and mother were overjoyed. And Thorfinn offered to Egil all the furtherance that he might think needful.

You can find the exact lyrics and their translation here.