Friday, August 16, 2013

Fredegar Bolger

Ah, Fredegar Bolger. You remember him, don't you? No? He was one of the brave hobbit-heroes in The Lord of the Rings, one of Frodo's friends; he played an important role in the quest of the Ringbearer.

Almost nobody remembers Fatty Bolger, of course, because he never left the Shire. Fredegar's role in the plan was to stay in the Shire and pretend to be Frodo, so that no one would know that he had left, at least for a while, and also to let Gandalf know what was going on when he turned up. As the narrator darkly remarks (Book I, Chapter v), "They little thought how dangerous that thought might prove." Since Frodo and friends were actually just skirting doom by a hair, and Gandalf was a bit occupied elsewhere, Fredegar narrowly managed to escape three Ringwraiths (Book I, chapter xi).

This is not the last we hear of Fredegar, though. He is rescued by the returning questers after the Scouring of the Shire. When the Shire began to be overrun with ruffians, he did not stand idle: he led a band of rebels in the north until he was finally smoked out and thrown into the Lockholes in Michel Delving (Book VI, chapter ix). Not every hero leaves his home.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Poem Re-Draft

Maria Assumpta

Hear, my daughter,
lend your ear,
forget your people,
leave your home.
  The queen will stand
  at Your right hand,
  adorned with gold.

The king will love
and justice seek,
a noble lord:
adore his name.
  The queen will stand
  at Your right hand,
  adorned with gold.

With cheerful sound,
with joyful noise,
their name is praised.
They pass within.
  The queen will stand
  at Your right hand,
  adorned with gold.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Weights and Measures Do Us Both a Wrong

I loved you first: but afterwards your love
by Christina Rossetti


Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda. – Dante
Ogni altra cosa, ogni pensier va fore,
E sol ivi con voi rimansi amore. – Petrarca

I loved you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the other most? my love was long,
And yours one moment seemed to wax more strong;
I loved and guessed at you, you construed me
And loved me for what might or might not be –
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’
With separate ‘I’ and ‘thou’ free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of ‘thine that is not mine;’
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.

The Dante quotation means, roughly, "A little spark is followed by a great flame." It is part of the opening canto of the Paradiso. The Petrarch is, again roughly, "Every other thing, every thought, goes out, and only love of you remains." This Rosetti poem opens the "Monna Innominata: A Sonnet of Sonnets".

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Thursday Virtues and Vices Index

I intended to put this up last week, but I'm still trying to juggle moving and preparing for a busier Fall term than usual. In each case, I've put the cardinal virtue with which it is associated (as quasi-integral, subjective, or potential part, if virtue, or by opposition, if vice).

First Series -- Virtues

Solertia and Eustochia (Prudence)

Gentleness / Meekness / Mildness / Mansuetude (Temperance)

Truthfulness (Justice)

Religion (Justice)

First Series -- Vices

Mollience / Effeminacy (Fortitude)

Craftiness, Guile, and Fraud (Justice)

Superstition (Justice)


Second Series -- Virtues

Magnanimity (Fortitude)

Pietas / Xiao / Filial Piety (Justice)

Clemency (Temperance)

Affability (Justice)

Magnificence (Fortitude)


Second Series -- Vices

Audacity (Fortitude)

Ingratitude (Justice)

Susurration (Justice)

Civil Impiety (Justice)

Boorishness (Temperance)

Jane Frances de Chantal

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, one of my favorites. Her feast day has moved around a lot; it was originally August 21, then December 12, then August 18 in the Americas, then August 12. She was born Jane Frances Fremiot in 1572; at the age of 20 she married the Baron de Chantal and as Baroness de Chantal lived at the Ch√Ęteau de Bourbilly. The Baron died from an arquebus accident a few years later, and she took over the management of his estates. In Lent of 1604 she met St. Francis de Sales, at the time the bishop of Geneva, and they became friends. This soon led to the project of founding the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, devoted to interior discipline through the cultivation of the virtues of humility and gentleness. They were notable at the time for being highly active and public; instead of remaining cloistered, they visited the sick. The Baroness, of course, being experienced in estate management, put the order on solid ground; they had dozens of houses by the time she died in 1641, and were still expanding. Much of what we in the Western world today think of as obviously Catholic in look or tone derives from the massive expansion of Salesian spirituality in the early modern period, which owes itself as much to Chantal as to Francis de Sales himself. She was revered in her lifetime; but, practical as ever, she simply dismissed it as people being mistaken.

John Conley has an article on her at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Some of her letters are available online; they are often quite good. I think I've mentioned before that I think Chantal is a candidate for being declared Doctor of the Church at some point; much of my reason for thinking so is in her letters.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Links of Note

* An interesting experiment showing interconnections between visual and linguistic inference. It's still a ways away from the Berkeleian position that visual inference just is a kind of linguistic inference, but Berkeley would certainly like both the experiment and the conclusion.

* Lars Hertzberg discusses some of the problems with the more incautious conclusions drawn from cognitive bias research.

* An interview with Timothy Michael Law on the Septuagint.

* Philosophers' Carnival #154

* Deborah Mayo remembers Egon Pearson.

* Andrea Staiti, Heinrich Rickert, at the SEP. Rickert is perhaps the key figure of Baden Neo-Kantianism, as Hermann Cohen is of the opposing Marburg school of Neo-Kantianism. The differences between the two schools are complex (and partly discussed in the beginning of the article), but we can roughly summarize them by saying that Marburg tended to develop Kant along epistemological and philosophy-of-science lines, while Baden tended to develop Kant along metaphysical and philosophy-of-culture lines. (Both groups were Neo-Kantian not in the sense of slavishly following Kant, but taking Kant as a basic starting-point for further development.)

* Dr. Boli on Kant

* Ben Springett, Philosophy of Dreaming, at the IEP.

* Jean Bethke Elshtain died on Sunday. Here she is in a brief soundbite discussing why we need the word 'evil':



She discusses the same topic in an hour-long video on Harry Potter, St. Augustine, and the Confrontation with Evil.

Kierkegaard on Works of Love I: The Royal Law

Kierkegaard's Works of Love, perhaps his major work, is put forward as a set of 'Christian reflections' or 'deliberations'. As such, it has some connections with his edifying discourses. Both are presented by Kierkegaard under his own name, and, unlike the pseudonymous works, directly addresses religious matters as such. It is also clear that Kierkegaard intends these reflections to address objections to his edifying discourses (in particular, that Kierkegaard's emphasis on the individual made him overlook the social dimension of human life). However, while the edifying discourses exist to persuade and comfort, the Christian reflections are intended to challenge to action.

These particular Christian reflections concern the works of love. They are about the works of love rather than love itself, because it is part of Kierkegaard's thesis that love as such is inexhaustible and hidden. Love is known only through its fruits, which are its mature works. This is true even of the lover's knowledge of his own love; the major reason it is important to think about the works of love is not so that we can stand in judgment over whether other people love, but so that we can consider our own case, not because love exists in order to be known, but because a love that is true does in fact make itself known. It is easy to deceive oneself about whether one truly loves; the test of true love is whether it bears the fruits of love. Not every effect or sign of love is a work of love, however. You can know the tree from its leaves, as well, but the fruit more fully captures what the tree is. The leaves of love are things like words and techniques of speech. They do say something about the love, but a love that had no expression but words would be a barren love, not love in its true and proper sense.

Kierkegaard begins his discussion of the works of love with the royal law: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. He begins by noting that, while the world will often laud the importance of love, this command at the heart of Christianity provides three basic elements that require a conception of love very different from what the world regards as such. First, it gives as yourself as the standard for love. Second, it insists on love neighbor rather than talking about love of friend or beloved. Third, it commands love, and therefore imposes it as a duty.

(1) In terms of worldly poetry, it is very tempting to say that we should love our neighbor more than ourselves. The royal law directly opposes this way of framing the standard of love:

There is only one whom a man can with the truth of the eternal love above himself--that is God. Therefore it is not said: "Thous shalt love God as thyself," but rather, "Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all they heart, with all they soul, and all thy mind." A man should love God in unconditional obedience and love him in adoration. It would be ungodliness if any man dared love himself in this way, or dared love another person in this way, or dared to let another person love him in this way. (p. 36)

To try to love someone more than oneself is to try to love them as more than human; but while this putting-people-on-super-high-pedestals sounds good in poetry, in practice it does neither yourself nor them good. Indeed, it generally means either that you are not treating yourself as human or that you are not doing for them what they require as human beings. To talk about loving another human being more than oneself puts one, in addition, into a very vague realm; loving God more than oneself is constrained by the fact that God is at the limit, the highest of the high, and gets some definiteness of content from that, but to love a human being more than oneself does not have this assistance. To love them as yourself, however, provides constraints on what can count. Indeed, the constraints it provides are especially useful against hypocrisy, since precisely what the hypocrite is most likely to do is to try to evade treating others as himself, under whatever excuse he can manage (and that you are somehow doing more and better for others is the handiest excuse).

(2) The only other way for the hypocrite to evade the force of the law is to fudge about who is to be loved as himself. But in requiring love of the neighbor, we find yet another opposition to hypocrisy in love. When we ordinarily think of loving others, we think of loving them as friends, or loving them as lovers; but the royal law tells us plainly we are to love our neighbor, that is, the person in some way near us. This neighbor is, as we learned in (1), not nearer than ourselves; but loving one's neighbor as oneself requires taking them as being, morally speaking, as near as ourselves:

The concept of neighbour really means a duplicating of one's own self. Neighbour is what philosophers would call the other, that by which the selfishness in self-love is to be tested. (p. 37)

Putting the standard as yourself together with the neighbor opposes selfishness, because, as Kierkegaard says (p. 38) "what selfishness absolutely cannot endure is duplication"; selfishness requires thinking of yourself as the self alone, the self that matters. What is more, the duplication of self, the treating of others as other selves is indefinite. If there is only one other person, that person is your neighbor; if there are a million people, they are each your neighbor.

Precisely the question, "Who is my neighbor?" was asked of Christ, of course, and Christ's answer, the parable of the Good Samaritan, is curious. As Kierkegaard notes, the parable of the Good Samaritan does not actually give a criterion for determining who your neighbor is; rather, it forces one to change the way in which one asks the question in the first place:

Christ does not speak about recognising one's neighbour, but about being a neighbour oneself, about proving oneself to be a neighbour, something the Samaritan showed by his compassion. By this he did not prove the the assaulted man was his neighbour but that he was a neighbour of the one assaulted. The Levite and the priest were in a stricter sense neighbours of the assaulted man, but they wished to ignore it. On the other hand, the Samaritan, who because of prejudice was predestined to misunderstanding, nevertheless understood rightly that he was a neighbour of the assaulted man. Choosing a lover, finding a friend, yes, that is a long, hard job, but one's neighbour is easy to recognise, easy to find--if one himself will only recognise his duty. (pp. 38-39)

Loving the neighbor also gives special force to loving as oneself, because it forces us to consider the latter in the light of the former: "The law is, therefore: you shall love yourself in the same way as you love your neighbour when you love him as yourself" (p. 39). To love one's neighbor rightly corresponds exactly to loving oneself rightly. Loving yourself rightly requires loving yourself in such a way that you can coherently love your neighbor as yourself, and vice versa.

(3) People are tempted to speak of the spontaneity of love, or about the compulsion to love, but the royal law unequivocally lays love on us as a duty. This a significant difference, even if poetic words drawing on it have taken away some of the surprising character of it:

Take a pagan who is not spoiled by having learned thoughtlessly to patter out Christianity by rote or is not spoiled by imagining himself to be a Christian--and this command "You shall love" will not only surprise him but will disturb him and be an offence to him. For this very reason that which is the mark of Christianity--"All things are made new"--also fits this command of love. The command is not something new in an accidental sense, nor a novelty in the sense of something curious, nor some new something in the temporal sense. Love had also existed in paganism; but this obligation to love is an alteration by the eternal--and all things are made new. (p. 41)

Erotic love, ordinary love of friendship, all the kinds of love that are not obligatory, are subject to change. But if love is a duty, it is raised above change, dependence, and circumstance: the command is simply, you shall love. It takes a priority over other things, the things that are subject to change and limitation. In matters of erotic love, people attempt to capture this by swearing fidelity, and poets are right that love only becomes something truly worthwhile when it has something of 'forever' to it, but this swearing is hollow if it is not backed up by something higher than the love itself. In general, people who swear that their love is eternal swear it by the love itself, or even some component of it; but truly to do it, one would have to swear by the eternal itself, which is found in our lives in its demand on us -- that is, in duty, which rises above changeable circumstances on which other goods depend. Only insofar as love is a duty can it be good as such, rather than merely good in dependence on such circumstances. By making love a duty, the royal law describes a love that is necessarily (1) unchanging, (2) independent, and (3) secured against despair. (Despair enters in because it is a giving up of good as not eternal.)

On this general basis, Kierkegaard will examine additional facets of the royal law, the command to love one's neighbor as oneself, particularly insofar as it is concerned with the neighbor and involves a demand.

----

All quotations from Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, Howard and Edna Hong, trs. Harper (New York: 1962).



Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mirages of the Prophetic Consciousness

...our daily life must inevitably be passed in an environment which we have not chosen for ourselves, but which we have to accept and transfigure. We must be on our guard against the mirages of the prophetic consciousness, for the vocation of prophet is an exceptional one and can only be submitted to. Let us never believe too lightly that we ought to sacrifice the duties of our situation in life to higher obligations, which may be no more than phantoms born of our own boredom or our own pride.

Gabriel Marcel, "The Drama of the Soul in Exile," Three Plays, Hill and Wang (New York: 1965) p. 33.