Saturday, September 07, 2013

Dashed Off

The usual caveats: these are, quite literally, notes dashed off, which I put here so that I can more easily access them again.

the Decalogue & describing charity by remotion

Through the Incarnation we are made accustomed to the Beatific Vision

Nationalized churches inevitably lose all functions except curation and ceremonial organization.

the universe of discourse as a conceptual denominator


Treatise Book 1 Part 2 as account of contiguity

three Humean arguments for the separability principle (Garrett)
(1) liberty of imagination (poems & romances)
(2) copy principle + 'all impressions are separable'
(3) simple/complex distinction
last mentions of separability principle in Hume: letter to Hutcheson 16 March 1740 & Appendix to Treatise
Aristotle against separability principles Physics 185b3
Koehn's shared boundary argument against the separability principle

A rational distinction has a foundation in the mind either in its activity or in its unity with the thing.

magnificence/liberality, prodigality, and parsimony (parvificence) in matters of rationality (the vice of rational pinch-penny-ness and certain kinds of skepticism)

Complete humility must be consistent with magnanimity.

It is essential to education to leave each generation with a richer heritage than the one before.

three artifices of reason: conventions of general disputational appropriateness, conventions of reason exchange, and agreed-upon dispute formats.
->reason requires these for its sociorational purposes, but the particular details are not themselves requirements of reason

definitions as summations of discoveries

casuistics as systematic and principled classification of advice, with means of handling opposing counsels

Moral safety alone is not a morally safe guide.

Is it easier to predict social & economic movements under conditions of large-scale technological decline?

being -> act & potency -> cause -> possible & impossible task -> law of nature -> physical interaction -> measurement structure

box/bag as simple machine (containment)

In natural motion, "nothing moves itself, because nothing reflects upon itself due to being bound up in matter". Bonaventure (Sent 1d37a2q2n4)

analysis of poetic imagery in terms of revival sets

Truth is not so fragile a thing that it cannot be grasped in many ways.

stable vs. unstable relevance

evidential proof as underlap

abduction as theorematic search

Particles and waves are both propagations of measurable differences in space.

Wars begin with talking, with communication; war is a phenomenon deriving from communication.

Reasoning with precedents is teleological, a way of reasoning about means.

civilization as the inheritance of a conversation (Oakeshott)

propositions as imperatives for relating terms

Whitehead's philosophy as an account of the memory of nature, how the past is present for the present, and how the present is constituted by the manner of this presence

"No action can be requir'd of us as our duty, unless there be implanted in human nature some actuating passion or motive, capable of producing the action." T518

As it is clear that human beings incline to keep at least simple promises even when not considering obligation or duty, we have a natural inclination to observe promises. This natural inclination is a rational inclination, and related to the pursuit of truth.

experiments in artificial virtues (the advantageous concurrence of mankind, by habit, in a general scheme or system of action)

half-rights and semi-obligations

(1) What is not ordered to an end is not an effect.
(2) What is not an effect is not ordered to an end distinct from itself.
(3) What is not an effect is not material.
(4) What is not caused by extrinsic causes is not caused by intrinsic causes.
(5) Everything ordered to an end is so according to an excellence admitting of more and less.
(6) Everything ordered to an end is excelled.

the Socratic function as countering pathological distraction

Chance events can only be identified with respect to identifiable regular events.

three kinds of parsimony in scientific understanding
(1) Parsimony: Nature takes the shortest way.
(2) Continuity: Nature makes no leaps.
(3) Simplicity: Nature acts according to few laws.

Kant's Critique of Judgment as a treatise on the Idea of Nature (sense of nature?)

goods in common / mutual benefit / allegiance

succession, proportion, partition, rotation

the colloquial conception of a 'cult' implies something in religion analogous to despotism

analogy as relative structural indiscernibility of parts of descriptions

Opinions are admissible in metaphysics, without detriment to its certainty, if they occur within contexts recognizable as opinion-contexts (hypotheical contexts).

linear logic as a logic of imperatives

counterexample as not-Box

Subalternation systems minimize the impact of counterexamples, because for every universal there is a (logically) close particular. Nonsubalternation systems increase the impact of counterexamples.

statistics as a theory of tests

Fraternity is the requirement for joining liberty to equality.

means-end reasoning as reversing limit reasoning: we start with an ultimate form and then find a hypothetical construction whose progression has that ultimate form

predictability as a feature of instrumentality

Merely relative change is as good as unchanging for many purposes.

field as effect over space

Truth is the greatest resource of a free people.

Transcendental arguments are not just from actual to possible but from actual knowledge to the mode making it possible.

the capacity for universalization in practical matters as establishing the possibility of ethics

Only through humility can a free people remain free.

"Unsatisfactory answers do not become satisfactory by being tentative." C. S. Lewis

Plato: dialogical method :: Aristotle : didactic method :: Proclus : geometrical method
[Viconian NeoPlatonism]

Vico: literal meaning is abstracted from actual use

Disjunctive addition is a clumsy logical trick for approximating the inference: "p, therefore at least p, whatever else may e true"
->perhaps disjunctions could admit of weighting (at-least weighting) -- we know pvq is true because at least p is true, or we could have a function that covered 'whatever candidates for true that we may have'
current flow in arguments (series, parallel, true = current)

consensus gentium & ius gentium in civil theology (the common nature of nations)

Risibility presupposes the capacity to attend to multiple things simultaneously.

humor as simulation implying a limit

poetry as augury -- of divine conception, of noble conception, of mundane conception, of moderated passions, of extreme passions

Ps 23 as the divine pastoral

casuistic principles in aesthetic contexts

Speculative fiction describes worlds that work like ideas.

Our intuition is not merely sensible but also intelligible; that is, we receive the world intelligibly as well as sensibly, and it is on the basis of this that we think the world.

mathematics as universal aesthetics
(manifestation of integral proportions and harmonies)
->symmetries, isomorphisms, structure arising from simplicity

Clausewitz's Kritik as generalized wargaming

inherence, causation, constitution
predication, consequence, division

problematic : understanding :: assertoric : judgment :: apodeictic : reasoning
->could this be generalized to Kant's full table of judgments?
u - univ - aff - cat - probl
j - part - neg - hyp - assert
r - sing - inf - disj - apod
think about htis

juries and due process as the primary framework of common law

Becoming children of God, it behooves us to remember that inheritance descends,; it does not ascend. God has no need to inherit the Kingdom from us.

(1) common liberty
(2) common counsel
(3) common law
(4) common right

Prisons are for detention and guard, not punishment as such.

Law, as rational ordering, does not compel impossibilities or enforce vanities.

time out of mind + constant and peaceable usage without lawful interruption -> custom as law

Hume's artificial virtues are customary law.
Hume's account of sympathy as an account of customary law

Every priest should be a spiritual son of St. Joseph, who built, and the Holy Virgin, who contemplated in her heart.

Well-founded trust entitles one to things that are not obvious.

Influence-structures are not trees because they admit of self-influence and mutual influence.

partially coextensive transcendentals (cf. Vico's verum et factum convertuntur, which applies within certain domains, e.g., jurisprudence)

utilities defined with respect to necessity, comfort, and pleasure

religion & the idea of greater civilization

Babbage's analogizing of the Analytical Engine to a factory shows a key insight: there is a general theory convering both production and computation (Lovelace's appeal to operations suggests and element of this general theory)
-> the analogies seem to go quite far: computation time // production time ; both allow serial and parallel processes; tractability // feasibility; input, algorithm // procedure, output, etc.

reason (in art/craft) as first technology

It is learned that a kind of error is absent insofar as a procedure of inquiry tending to detect that kind of error when it occurs fails to dos, producing instead results that are appropriate to the absence of the error.

chunk and permeate as a simulation strategy
paraconsistent logic & simulation in general (cross-comparison, perhaps)
discussive logics & positional truth (links modal and paraconsistent for simulations)

De facto legitimacy is established by actually working for common good.

Presumption of innocence is founded on the principle that there are things worse than evil people doing harm.

No account of experimentation can ignore the role of chance, because no experiment can isolate entirely from all external causal lines.

Objections need to be matched to the same domains or universes of discourse as the arguments to which they object; it is remarkable how often this avoids futile argument.

The primary purpose of a model in the context of inquiry is to uncover or to rule out error.

There is nothing to which pride will not descend.

the sense of wonder at excellently crafted arguments

Curiously, almost every argument against hell parallels some argument against utilitarianism. Think about this.

Ritual is poetry of action.

apocalypse as a source of vocabulary for considering moral and spiritual pathology

Due process cannot be foregone because it is always already owed.

You can measure how bad your life is by how much you have to do to enjoy it.

the degenerative series for ethics
virtue -> duty -> profit (utility) -> self-affirmation -> imposition of will

utilitarianism as bourgeois ethics

By our capacity to appreciate the sublimity of the physical universe we show ourselves to be mroe than can be found in it. (cp Kant)

Human playfulness is closely related to our capability for grasping counterfactuals. Even little children can simulate extremely complicated counterfactual situations in play.

Preferences by their very nature are not determinative for decision; nor are they rigorously exclusive; nor are they natural candidates for optimizing rather than satisficing.

Preferences are highly transient and conditionalized -- even highly stable preferences are closely tied to actual circumstances, and they are highly superable -- everyone has the experience of getting things better than originally preferred.

Knowledge presupposes understanding and is therefore not quantifiable.

Part of the point of Northanger Abbey is that the ordinary and mundane course of human life is itself a worthwhile adventure, even without all the Gothic accoutrements.

Expecting democracy as such to yield an ordered society is like expecting tiles thrown down to tesselate. Some principle interrelating individual tiles is necessary.

Recollection (reminiscentia) is tropical / figurative by its very nature.

Test procedures have each their own saliences or 'affordances', thus suiting them for a role in an adequate theory of belief change.

beauty as the salience of a well-ordered whole

Symbolic authority more than almost any other allows for orderly succession.

Impetratory prayer is required for there to be prayer of resignation.

inquiry rituals as establishing presumptions of quality

Epiphany is the fulfillment of philosophy.

We must give to Christ the gold of our success, and the incense of our prayer, and the myrrh of our suffering.

The Church is a ceasleess activity of offering Christ as a gift of Christ.

Bacon's philosophy of science as a general theory of examples

Human beings scale up important services and infrastructures by standardized packaging.

longevity, fecundity, and fidelity in tradition

An initial condition is merely posited for a model; in itself it has no real significance.

Experiments are more reasonably accounted simulations than vice versa; ones in which we can make certain kinds of assumptions.

Higher mathematics is rooted in intellectual play.

energetics as a theory of resource use

Mutual consent presupposes mutual benefit.

Beauty is the salience of coherent unity.

The essentials of management are mathematics and morals.

As intelligence increases, the good and bad of human temperament is magnified.

Interpretation, even interpretation of mathematical symbols, is a moral activity.

Memetics faces the same general problems as associationism.

liturgy as the civil theology of the Church

far-futurism as gnosticism

apocalypse as a vocabulary for the moral sublime

prayer as itself philosophical inquiry (eros for Sophia)

the didactic & heraldic functions of patron saint designation

Parables require the initiative of the student, and this is true even if the parable is given some explanation.

Every cause of an actual effect is a principle of possible effects.

The private & the public are capable of nesting within each other: you can be private in public and public in private.

All human speculative thought is tinged by the practical; speculative or theoretical reason is never not also practical reason.

poisoning the well // scorched earth

Great arguments are easily diversified.

practical interest (fruitfulness, utility), speculative interest (simplicity, coherence with independent lines of inquiry, completeness), dialogical interest (availability to common understanding = accessibility)

Kant's heuristic Epicureanism

The major failing of the merely pseudo-critical thinker is almost always uncritical intepretation, i.e., failure to interpret in a way that recognizes it as an activity accountable to reason & evidence.

magnanimity: 'disdain of trick and littleness' (Emma)

The joys of others may sometimes be penance or mortification for us. Envy is the failure of mortification under these conditions.

repentance as a theme in Emma

Rational society is one that allows for virtuous conversation among friends.

the press as check and balance to the military

Baptism is the sacrament of adoption because through Christ's death we are made one with Christ, as his Mystical Body, so that on us the saying form Heaven falls: This is my beloved Son.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Coin of Thought

Susan Elizabeth Blow, A Study of Dante p. 35. Blow was a St. Louis Hegelian and is best known as the foremost American advocate of Froebel's idea of a Kindergarten.

Deuterocanon Friday: Cardinal Virtues

If riches are a desirable possession in life,
what is richer than wisdom, the active cause of all things?
And if understanding is effective,
who more than she is fashioner of what exists?
And if anyone loves righteousness,
her labors are virtues;
for she teaches self-control and prudence,
justice and courage;
nothing in life is more profitable for mortals than these.

Wisdom 8:5-7 (NRSV-C)

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Three Poem Re-Drafts


In brightness born of moonflow, here I bathe,
the stars stretched out like pebbles where I wade,
and here I wash my soul; in trills I play.
The night is more a friend to me than day!
Its silver on the flowers like a dew
of light gives every stem a seelie hue
and skies like velvet black wrap diamonds fair:
they glance out in your eye and in your hair.
What care I for a throne or crowns or rings?
With treasures formed of moonlight I am king.


Farther shores I know than this,
visions vivid like the morrow;
holy heaven, everlightened,
merciful, will master sorrow.
Anew I wish on falling stars;
leaping lights a-soar display
powers like a dream poured down,
the righteous ruin of the day.
Rue no more the pastward lesson,
harbor here in love alone,
that castle-keep and quiet eyrie
blessed upon a saving stone.


The rain outside washes down the summer heat
into puddles and streams that flood the city street,
leaving the air cool; and, with relief,
the trees stretch out in branch and leaf
to dance and play with misty wind
as with a long-forgotten friend.
A thirsty man, once filled, washes hands and face;
so they wash, with unpretentious grace,
and rub their hands as if in glee.
So you, my Lord, my Savior, work in me
new rain, which to the swelter of the mind
brings cool; and with life unbind
old images locked in deathful drought,
and, raining, bring their gladness out.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Inspection Paradox

Amir Aczel has a very nice post on the inspection paradox, which deals with phenomena of the sort we usually file under watched-pot-never-boils -- things like the fact that if you have to wait at a bus stop you usually have to wait a long time. If you waited the entire time, you would find that the average wait time for the entire day (for instance) is a certain amount of time, but if you're coming in during the day you'll probably have a wait time longer than that overall average, because you're more likely to come to the bus stop during a long wait period than a short one. I very much like the immigration example: immigration can, in and of itself, increase a nation's average life expectancy. The reason is that people can't age backwards. If you move to a country at the age of 30, you have increased by one the number of people in the country who will live to be older than 30. If you move to a country at the age of 50, then there is one more person in the country who cannot possibly die before 50, another person who is at least 50 and therefore did not die before that age. So Israel, with a very large number of immigrants, gets a boost in its life expectancy because it has lots and lots of people constantly coming in who cannot possibly die at a very early age, because they are already older.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

O, Happy Planet, Eastward Go

Move Eastward, Happy Earth
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Move eastward, happy earth, and leave
Yon orange sunset waning slow:
From fringes of the faded eve,
O, happy planet, eastward go:
Till over thy dark shoulder glow
Thy silver sister world, and rise
To glass herself in dewey eyes
That watch me from the glen below.

Ah, bear me with thee, lightly borne,
Dip forward under starry light,
And move me to my marriage-morn,
And round again to happy night.

Rich Experience

I argue that the motive for seeking out painful art is complex, but what we desire from such art is to have experiences on the cheap--not life experience on the cheap, as one theory puts it, but experiences of strong emotional reactions. Art safely provides us the opportunity to have rich emotional experiences that are either impossible or far too risky to have in our daily lives. We can feel fear without risking our lives, pity without seeing our loved ones suffer, thrills without risking going to jail, and a variety of other experiences that usually come with unwelcome pitfalls. Outside of art, it is almost impossible to have many of these kinds of experiences without completely wrecking our lives--murdering our loved ones, destroying our relationships, being sent to jail, or suffering fatal injuries.

Aaron Smuts, "The Paradox of Painful Art," Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 41, no. 3 (Fall 2007) p. 74. Note that Smuts's argument is not that we find rich experience pleasant, but that we desire rich experience even when unpleasant, although we generally prefer for the obvious reasons to have those rich experiences in the least unpleasant ways available.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Philo, Augustine, and Ambrose on the Temptation in the Garden

According to Philo of Alexandria, in the De opificio mundi, the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a model of temptation in general. As he puts it, "these things are not mere fabulous inventions, in which the race of poets and sophists delights, but are rather types shadowing forth some allegorical truth, according to some mystical explanation" (56). The serpent is pleasure. Having no feet, it slithers on its belly; it eats in the dust; and it poisons with its teeth. The person who pursues pleasures exhibits all of these qualities: intemperance keeps him looking at the ground, he feeds not on heavenly things but on earthly things, and he bears with him the poison of immoderate indulgence. The serpent in the garden is said to have spoken with a human voice because pleasure inspires its slaves to defend it against any legitimate criticism.

The serpent dares not take on Adam directly however; he approaches by way of Eve. Eve's role in the story is as a symbol of sensibility, while Adam's is that of reason. Thus pleasure works to ensnare sensibility first, and through it to cajole reason. Or to put it in other words, it makes use of the dependence of reason on sensibility in its interaction with the world (59):

For we must altogether not be ignorant that pleasure, being like a courtesan or mistress, is eager to meet with a lover, and seeks for panders in order by their means to catch a lover. And the sensations are her panders, and conciliate love to her, and she employing them as baits, easily brings the mind into subjection to her. And the sensations conveying within the mind the things which have been seen externally, explain and display the forms of each of them, setting their seal upon a similar affection. For the mind is like wax, and receives the impressions of appearances through the sensations, by means of which it makes itself master of the body, which of itself it would not be able to do, as I have already said.

The result is inevitable: travail for sensibility and much labor with little gain for reason.

The same interpretation is dealt with at greater length in the Legum allegoriae. Mind requires sensibility and sensibility requires mind; the serpent, pleasure, comes between them and by means of this mutual dependence brings them both down; it brings death to the garden, which is nothing other than vice.

This interpretation of the temptation in the garden as a representation of temptation generally had a considerable amount of influence. We find it in St. Ambrose's work On Paradise; Ambrose is directly influenced by Philo, who is mentioned by name in the commentary, and whose interpretation is taken up entirely:

We stand by the conviction held by one who preceded us that sin was committed by man because of the pleasure of sense. We maintain that the figure of the serpent stands for enjoyment and the figure of the woman for the emotions of the mind and heart. The latter is called by the Greeks aisthesis . When according to this theory, the senses are deceived, the mind, which the Greeks call nous , falls into error. Hence, not without reason the author to whom I refer accepts the Greek word nous as a figure of a man and aisthesis as that of a woman. Hence, some have interpreted Adam to mean an earthly nous.

In Ambrose the serpent is the Devil, but he is the Devil insofar as he tempts us to gratify ourselves indulgently, and thus is also a symbol of pleasure, for precisely the same reasons given by Philo. The serpent attacks Eve because she did not receive the command directly from God; she heard it from Adam. But she too represents sensibility for Ambrose: thus the moral law is not directly found in sensibility but received by it from reason.

A similar interpretation is found in Augustine in De Trinitate, with a very Augustinian adaptation. As is often the case with Augustine, he reduces the distance between man and woman as symbols. Rather than represent reason outright, Adam in Augustine's version represents reason insofar as it is capable of contemplation, and Eve also represents reason, but insofar as it is capable of action. Thus Adam is speculative reason and Eve is practical reason. As man and woman are one flesh, so understanding and action are one mind. In what looks very much like a direct reference to Ambrose, he explains why he thinks his interpretation is better (XII.xiii):

Nor does it escape me, that some who before us were eminent defenders of the Catholic faith and expounders of the word of God, while they looked for these two things in one human being, whose entire soul they perceived to be a sort of excellent paradise, asserted that the man was the mind, but that the woman was the bodily sense. And according to this distribution, by which the man is assumed to be the mind, but the woman the bodily sense, all things seem aptly to agree together if they are handled with due attention: unless that it is written, that in all the beasts and flying things there was not found for man an helpmate like to himself; and then the woman was made out of his side. And on this account I, for my part, have not thought that the bodily sense should be taken for the woman, which we see to be common to ourselves and to the beasts; but I have desired to find something which the beasts had not; and I have rather thought the bodily sense should be understood to be the serpent, whom we read to have been more subtle than all beasts of the field.

In other words, Eve interpreted to be sensibility is only imperfectly regarded as a helpmeet or companion of Adam; interpreted as practical reason or rational desire, she is undeniably a fit help: practical reason helps speculative reason to rise up to contemplate the things of God. From this point, however, the basic structure of the argument is much the same. This structure will be widely accepted as the general account of temptation, and its Augustinian roots sometimes recognized (to give just one example, Aquinas, who does not rely on it very much, mentions it in the sed contra of ST 2-2.165.2). The temptation in the Garden is, in concrete form, taken to be a general account of temptation.

Fortnightly Book, September 1

Mackenzie Hooks Hyman served as a photo navigator in the Air Force (then part of the U. S. Army) in World War II; later, finding it difficult to support a wife and three children, he re-enlisted. It's not surprising that his major work, No Time for Sergeants, is a comedic look at the United States Army Air Force. Hyman took seven years to write it; he seems to have been a very careful writer. By the time of his death at age 39 in 1963, nine years after the publication of No Time for Sergeants, he had only this one novel and three short stories to his name, and was working on his second novel. This article from the Cordele Dispatch -- Hyman's hometown paper -- discusses some of the links and differences between the two novels.

Thus, Mac Hyman's No Time for Sergeants is the next fortnightly book. It was popular; a movie (starring Andy Griffith), a Broadway play, a teleplay, and a television series were based on it. Most of what little military-themed fiction I have comes from my grandfather; but this book, interestingly, is quite certainly my grandmother's, since it has a Leftwich bookplate, meaning, unless I'm mistaken (which I might well be, given how long it's been since I looked at that side of the family tree), that it belonged originally to my grandmother's aunt (on her mother's side).

A famous clip from the movie:

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Linkable Links, Notable Notes

* The SEP article on Elisabeth, Princess of Bohemia

* American Folklore

* The Philosophical Methods of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)

* Nahmanides' Theological Boldness

* Tim O'Neill reviews James Hannam's God's Philosophers

* Celia Hayes looks at the real history of long-trail cattle drives, and the curious contrast between the fact that they were done for less than a generation yet have become an integral part of how people all around the world imagine the American Old West.

* Five Math Experts Split the Check

* Nicholas Clairmont has an argument that, in his words, "people need to stop using the word 'literally' to mean 'figuratively'." I think there are a number of problems with his argument.

(1) The problem he is identifying does not consist in using the word 'literally' to mean 'figuratively'. If I say, "When he jumped out at me, I literally hit the roof," the 'literally' does not mean 'figuratively' but 'literally'. That's the whole point of using it, that it intensifies rather than minimizes the very expression I am using, but it would be doing the reverse if I were actually using the word to mean 'figuratively'. This is related to a second problem:

(2) The figurative language is not ironic. Irony would undermine the point. In fact, the literally-haters regularly respond to such language precisely by ironizing it. It is Clairmont and others like him who treat the phrase ironically. People who use this kind of figure of speech are generally using it non-ironically. 'Literally' functions as a hyperbolizer in these cases: it takes a figure of speech and makes it also a hyperbole. The mechanics of this can get slightly complicated when we're taking a hyperbole and hyperbolizing it, but hyperbole is an emphasis-indicator, and thus there is nothing incoherent about hyperbolizing a hyperbole because there is nothing incoherent about emphasizing that you are emphasizing. Hyperbole is not itself ironic.

Indeed, the trend in using 'literally' this way is part of a larger trend of moving from expressions to intensified versions of expressions. This relates to the argument Clairmont is making, about which more in a moment.

(3) None of the "bad reasons" are bad reasons. The meanings of terms are governed by precedent; thus "Bad Reason #1" establishes that the usage is not a mis-use by pointing out that there is longstanding precedent for it. "Bad Reason #2" points out that people have no serious difficulty understanding the expression, and thus rules out a second way in which meanings can be abused, namely, by words regularly failing to convey what they are intended to convey. "Bad Reason #3" mischaracterizes descriptivism, but if we pull it out of the descriptivist/prescriptivist disputes and simply use it in the way the other two arguments are used, then it rules out a third way in which meanings can be abused, by establishing that it is not highly idiosyncratic. Thus each argument addresses a different way in which the usage can be incorrect or an abuse of language.

(4) The argument that Clairmont should be making, that is, that he seems here and there to want to make and that would be a better argument, is that the usage is an abuse not in and of itself but insofar as it is contributing to the deterioration of language. As Coleridge notes somewhere, the deterioration of language consists in the loss of the ability to make worthwhile distinctions. A version of the English language in which the different associations of 'argent' and 'silver' collapsed so that saying that something is argent was exactly the same as saying that it is argent would be a language that has lost linguistic power. In this light someone can reasonably argue that our tendency always to move toward more and more intensive expressions to liven up the language is part and parcel of a linguistic deterioration, since it means that more intense expressions slowly begin to be difficult to distinguish in practice from less intense expressions. Just as 'very good' manages to tread only barely above 'good', 'literally jumped out of my skin' only barely treads above 'jumped out of my skin'. What these things show is that we're not using structure for emphasis. We aren't organizing our language, our sentences and descriptions, so that it emphasizes what we want, and thus we have to use an intensifier to flag what we want to emphasize. There are no handy intensifiers for doing this with obvious figures of speech, so we use 'literally' as such an intensifier.

Put this way, though, the 'literally' problem is merely a symptom of a general deterioration, namely, the collapse of commonly recognized oratorical and poetic dictions, so that the way we usually talk is repetitive and only loosely organized. (We see this in any number of the pet peeves people often have about modern language; for instance, the overuse of 'like', which is handy in letting you substitute acting out a scene for directly describing something, which often lets us convey things for which we have few words, but easily abused, at which point you're left with an interminable sequence of vaguely expressed symbols that convey surprisingly little even en masse, a little bit as if we had given up spoken language entirely in favor of playing games of charades.) That's the problem that would need to be solved; and it's certainly not soluble by imposing an arbitrary rule restricting what we can use as a figure of speech. People would still need a way to express emphasis with figures of speech, so they would find other ways to hyperbolize them. It's a cultural problem, not a usage problem.


* Efraim Mirvis replaces Jonathan Sacks as Chief Rabbi of the UK