Saturday, January 04, 2014

Press Briefing

PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for coming to this daily briefing. Before we get to questions, I want to lay out the basic ideas behind the new defense policy. This policy does represent a major change from previous approaches, so it's important to get the rationale for it.

As you know, there has been considerable worry recently about the percentage of the budget going to defense, so we've been looking for programs that are more easily sustainable, but still quite effective. At the same time, it is absolutely imperative that we send a message to the entire world that the United States is still the elite military power on this globe, and that, no matter how serious anyone else may be about their military capabilities, they simply cannot be more serious than the United States is. We have also been looking into shovel-ready military projects, that can be quickly developed because the groundwork has already been established in local industries.

I am pleased to be able to let you know that the first phase of this exciting new project has already begun to show serious promise. We are breeding giant destructo-lobsters as big and heavily armored as tanks. Initial worries were that with that much armor the lobsters would be unable to move and would just sit on the bottom of the seafloor, but it turns out that this was a very easy method to solve, since we just fitted them out with hydraulics when we put in the ballistic missiles. What is especially exciting about this program is the relatively foolproof character of it; we can reasonably guarantee that in any deployment we would lose no more than two and a half percent of the local civilian population, and to maintain this guarantee of safety we've only had to put the coast of Maine under naval quarantine. A similar program, a bit behind schedule but nonetheless under budget, is underway for the West Coast using Alaskan snow crab.

I don't have to tell you all that there is no other nation in the world that is even close to being able to wield an army of giant destructo-lobsters. Even our allies are not this seriously in the forefront of modern-day military technology. The closest are the British, of course, but it's well known that they've been having difficulty getting the project finished since the board of the Scottish company in charge of the project suddenly and without warning took a vacation at one of those vacation resorts in Syria. Our speed and efficiency in developing this project will certainly show the world that we mean serious business when it comes to defense policy. This is really what we want to highlight today: The United States is serious about defense, more serious than anyone else, and we have the lobsters to prove it.

I'll now take any questions.

Q. You mentioned the budget before. How are you paying for this project?

PRESS SECRETARY. That's an excellent question. My understanding is that the President and the Vice President are each funding about twenty-five percent of it out of pocket, and most of the rest comes from selling obsolete lobsters to restaurants. We are also planning on holding Ireland hostage, and our economic experts tell us that we can probably get three or four thousand dollars from that. This Administration is committed to making the population of giant destructo-lobsters self-sustaining.

Q. You said that this was phase one. What is phase two?

PRESS SECRETARY. Ah, that's very exciting. We've already begun it, although certain aspects are still years away from their final stages. Phase two consists of weaponizing seagulls with stealth technology and nuclear missiles. Initial testing shows that the basic idea is sound, but obviously there are certain environmental concerns that will require further research and development. We are confident about our ability to surmount those obstacles, of course; nothing in the world can outpace American ingenuity.

Q. Is there any truth to the rumors of a phase three?

PRESS SECRETARY. Obviously I cannot go into details about the kind of national security deliberations occurring behind the scenes, but we do want to put to rest recent scurrilous reports by Republicans that we are planning on hurling American bison through the air into the path of oncoming missiles. This is certainly not true, and it's sad that people will make up stories like this. We are very much in favor of protecting the American bison population, and I would like to point out that it was Republicans in Congress, not this Administration, that killed the bill that would have let us establish no-fly zones for buffalo. This Administration is strongly committed to the development of a rational, consistent defense policy based on the principle of shock and awe. What is shocking and awful about bison soaring through the air? Absolutely nothing. What is really shocking and awful is that anybody believes such obvious fictions.

Q. On a separate issue, reports today that the U.S. has halted all nonlethal aid to Quebec -- I’m wondering, is the U.S. losing faith in the ability of rebels to fight without Francophone extremist interference or participation?

PRESS SECRETARY. Well, Dave, as you know, most of our approach to Canada is geared toward supporting those terrorists who are moderately committed to respecting basic human rights. So that's really our goal when it comes to the provision of nonlethal aid.

We have seen the reports that the NDP has seized the maple syrup warehouses belonging to Quebec, and we’re obviously concerned by those reports. We’re still gathering intel, but we have suspended all further deliveries of nonlethal assistance to Quebec. At the same time it's important to to understand that any aid distributed through international and nongovernmental organizations is unaffected by this decision. Likewise, certain military assistance programs are unaffect, so the government of Quebec will still be getting their supply of shrieking parakeets.

Q. The President said last week that he had a plan for reducing the deficit that would be declared this week; but so far there hasn't been any word of it.

PRESS SECRETARY. Let me stop you right there, because I know exactly what you're talking about. There was a bit of a snag due to the President's attention being taken up by the threats of a disgruntled NSA employee to leak state secrets -- you've certainly heard of this -- but as this happily resolved itself when his plane went down in flames due to pilot error, we are now back on track and should have it for you next week. I can't tell you the details, but I can tell you that it involves blackmailing all the politicians in the free world. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that will better show this Administration's commitment to reducing the deficit, and it will also show the naysayers that the money being spent on NSA surveillance is money well spent.

Thanks, everybody. Have a good Friday.

Q. Does the President have anything on his schedule the rest of the week?

PRESS SECRETARY. Aside from visiting his volcano lair, I don't think so, but there's some possibility that something else will be coming up a bit later. As we get some more details, we’ll let you know.

Thanks, everyone.

Dashed Off II

dependent origination of ideas

(1) The human person is a single whole with a plurality of attributes.
(2) The human person is not infinitely divisible.
(3) The human person is a subsisting agent in relation to others.
(4) The human person is a possibility of experience, an active existent, and a necessary condition of a kind of life and thought.

how we derive apodeictic knowledge from experience -- the empirical apodeictic
->Aristotelian epistemology is precisely the epistemology of the empirical apodeictic
-> phenomenology as also concerned with the empirical apodeictic

The unity of thought lies not in its representations but in its character as immanent action.

Note Kant's abstraction point A355, which is a good one.

Categories are not deduced but reached by division.

T(p or q) iff (Tp or Tq)
This is a modal fallacy if we are considering all T-style modalities, for exactly the same reason that [](p or q) iff ([]p or []q) is fallacious for some interpretations of [].

Predication requires the introduction of being or not being.

We are all only dialecticians in any field we have not made our own

a Buridanian account of endoxa: They are important because people, following their natural inclination to the true, accept them, having found no counterexample.

ends as endpoints consistent with nature vs as endpoints consistent with the functioning of nature

enthymeme as the body of persuasion
but its aim is judgment which requires preparation of audience & presentation of oneself as an appropriate kind of person;
this requires the study of character and of the kinds of soul
and of the passions and dispositions of mind.

Poetic catharsis is a civic or political end; it has to be understood as something involving our sociality, as bearing directly on social life.

note Iamblichus on inborn knowledge of the gods

Extended practice of prayer nurtures our mind, enlarging its receptivity to truth, revealing to us a more-than-human order and divine life and light, elevating our mind to good things, stimulating trust, communion, friendship, making us to be familiar with divine things.

Schrodinger's anschaulichkeit has less to do with literal visualizability than with concreteness of explanation, the discernible unfolding of identifiable processes in space and time.

Schrodinger's two principles of science: intelligibility of nature, objectivity.

Instrumental rationality qua coherence of intention and belief is different from instrumental rationality qua appropriateness of means-taking, which are both different from instrumental rationality qua means-construction.

climacteric ideas

rhetoric as consensus-building

"In the products of his activity man beholds himself as in a mirror." Susan Blow

mutual aid, inventive thrift, structured sociability, just exchange

The Holy Spirit is the purest traditionalist and the agent of holy tradition; He is, in truth, the only full evangelist.

Metaphor is a way of thinking with the world as one's cognitive instrument.

In becoming we recognize both being and nothingness.

The quality of an argument is partly determined by context.

The finite is that which admits of the infinite as a possibility.

the precursive character of the Holy Spirit's work

the Virgin Mary as instrumental part of the mission of the Son and the Spirit (Mary as Seat of Wisdom)

the body as itself an economic system

money as expansion of exchange vs money as a restriction of exchange
(note that flexibility of money disappears for those without a surplus to use in a system in which everything requires money; in a less restrictive system they would not be so confined, but could barter or service-borrow and steward their money for more general exchanges)
-> it follows from this distinction that a money-only system loses much of the benefit of money
-> No economic system currently in existence is strictly money-only; but there are subsystems of major economies that are.

It follows directly from Thomas Reid's account of the sense of sublimity that the experience of the sublime in nature is evidence for an intelligent Author of nature.

Lent as a giving of firstfruits to God (and thus asceticism generally as the same)

Who apprehends the genus apprehends the species potentially -- indistinctly and confusedly.

That which is sensible may also be taken intelligibly.

Something's being a fallacy is not a fact about its formal structure.

measurement as the uniting of quantity and quality

The primary mechanism of democratic debate is not reasoned argument but sympathy.

existence as relative necessity

categorical judgment
(1) of inherence: accidental quality of its substance
(2) of reflection: essential property of its substance
(3) of necessity: essence of its substance

think about Hegel's association of 2nd Figure with induction & 3rd Figure with analogy

Nothing can be identified as an explanatory mechanism except in terms of its tendencies.

mockery as concerned with wrongness having such weak support or defensibility as to be incongruous

play and playthings as mediating between inner and outer worlds

"Comparisons are always favorable to the promotion and application of truth." Froebel

Personal need is a form of obligation. It is a dangerous one to consider, however, in the sense that there are many ways to go wrong in one's assessment of it, not least because we tend to be confused about what we genuinely need.

forms of deontic []
to be done always
to be done everywhere
to be done by everyone
necessarily to be done

Experimentation is in a sense merely greater attention to the instrumental element of cognition.

original justice as not being a merely personal justice but a justice of the human race itself

Nothing prevents us from knowing as object what must be presupposed in order to know any object; for there is no contradiction between something having each character in different moments of cognition.

Remission of powers is not remission of substance.

"Grace and virtue imitate the order of nature." ST 2-2.31.3

As Lent in some sense joins Epiphany and Easter, so Penance joins Baptism and Eucharist.

Aristotelian place as containment with orientation

To the extent that anyone is a tool prior to other tools, existing instrumentally to impart instrumental purposes to instruments, they are slaves.

seven causes considered by rhetoric: chance, nature, compulsion, habitus, reason, passion, desire (appetite)

Language arises out of rational cooperation (cf how Deaf languages develop automatically if you just have enough Deaf in one place).

Leibniz's law of continuity: "In any supposed transition, ending in any terminus, it is permissible to institute a general reasoning in which the terminus may also be included."
-> This is where Whewell must (directly or indirectly) have found the idea for his principle for Limit.
-> Robinson took the transfer axiom (Every real statement holding for all real numbers holds for all hyperreal numbers) as a specification and precisification of this.

Law can only legitimately approach rights by remotion, recognizing causation and eminence, however.

marriage as a tradition of oneself and one's body

The sacramentality of marriage is an extension of that of baptism. (cp Familiaris Consortio no. 13)

genius as superassociation

picturesque : eye :: expressive : ear

The general structure of defensive war is to impede and that of offensive war is to overcome impediment.

The military art is a casuistic art.

the military as representative, as advisory, and as instrumental

Origen on Joshua: "the book does not so much indicate to us the deeds of the son of Nun, as it represents for us the mysteries of Jesus my Lord" (Hom 1 in Jos)

Josiah // Joshua
2 Kg 22:2 // Josh 1:7; 23:6

Term functor logic needs to be supplemented with an account of ampliation, and it needs something suitable for reduplication. (Note that Englebretsen's dispute with Angelilli seems to turn partly on E's ignoring of any reduplicatively modulated predication.)

The unity of the Trinity is the principle of the unity of the Church.

The Notes of the Church are Christ unifying, sanctifying, catholicizing, and apostolocizing the community of the faithful.

The unity of the Church is Christ communicating His life to the Church; the holiness of the Church is Christ giving Himself for the Church; the catholicity of the Church is Christ present in the Church; the apostolicity of the Church is Christ present through the Church.

There is a sense in which chemistry is the science most natural to human beings, the one we all dabble and progress in, although rarely beyond the two paths of recipe and trial-and-error; thus it is unsurprising that mixing, boiling, sampling things to find out something is almost the universal image of natural science itself.

Only in our own case do we derive our notion of possible experience from actual experience, and even that is arguably not exceptionless. We rather determine conditions for possible experience and then establish what would be a possible experience for any hypothetical experiencer.

The causality of the cause needs to have come into being only if causality in itself is temporal.

Sublimity is involved in the larger branch of each of Kant's antinomies.

The intelligible appears, and appearances are intelligible: the intelligibility of appearances themselves.

To test is to cause to produce an effect, or else to register some effect.

The sum-total of all possibility contains itself as a possibility.
the sum-total of all possibility as branching or 'chunked'
The possibility of the sum-total of possibilities could only have an actual ground in an intellect.

The Christian theologian may draw from all myths and religions insofar as they reflect on the common principle and ultimate end of the human race, insofar as they are shadows and images that prepare for truth.

Existence proofs of any kind may start from determinate experience, or from indeterminate experience, or from something abstracted from any and all experience.

NB: Kant has no adequate answer to Malebranche, for whom 'the thought, which is in us, is the thing itself', i.e. God

The principle of causality does not apply to the world precisely as sense but rather as intelligible.

Postulation is the attempt to reach by hypothesis what is or must be presupposed.

Kant's primary problem is his uncritical and naive acceptance of the empiricist account of experience. Before his critique of pure reason he needed a critique of experience. (The Critique of Judgment partly, but only partly, remedies this.)

arguments that prove vs arguments that prepare (give a natural leaning)

The Beatific Vision is precisely the doctrine that God is a possible object of experience, and may appear as given to (intelligible) intuition.

Kant's account of intuition in the Aesthetic is so abstract that nothing prevents it from including things we do not usually regard as sensation.

The Transcendental Ego, Freedom, and God should all have been considered the same thing: the rationalists did not take the soul or the will to have the particular unconditional Kant draws upon; only divine substance and will did. Thus the three are really just divine substance, divine intellect, and divine will.

The Church participates the mission of Son and Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of her as missionary.

The Church is apostolic as being called to be with Christ and to be sent out to preach. (Mk 3:13-14)

Winnowing out error is the fasting and temperance of the mind.

Kernel and Husk

Probably the most significant work on religious epistemology from a liberal Christian perspective written in the nineteenth century (and perhaps ever) is Edwin Abbott Abbott's The Kernel and the Husk, subtitled 'Letters on Spiritual Christianity'. Slow-witted as I am, I only realized just last night that the title is probably Augustinian in origin:

To run over it briefly: by the five loaves are understood the five books of Moses; and rightly are they not wheaten but barley loaves, because they belong to the Old Testament. And you know that barley is so formed that we get at its pith with difficulty; for the pith is covered in a coating of husk, and the husk itself tenacious and closely adhering, so as to be stripped off with labor. Such is the letter of the Old Testament, invested in a covering of carnal sacraments: but yet, if we get at its pith, it feeds and satisfies us....

What remains then, but that those matters of more hidden meaning, which the multitude cannot take in, be entrusted to men who are fit to teach others also, just as were the apostles? Why were twelve baskets filled? This was done both marvellously, because a great thing was done; and it was done profitably, because a spiritual thing was done. They who at the time saw it, marvelled; but we, hearing of it, do not marvel. For it was done that they might see it, but it was written that we might hear it. What the eyes were able to do in their case, that faith does in our case. We perceive, namely, with the mind, what we could not with the eyes: and we are preferred before them, because of us it is said, "Blessed are they who see not, and yet believe." And I add that, perhaps, we have understood what that crowd did not understand. And we have been fed in reality, in that we have been able to get at the pith of the barley.

Of course, the difference is that Augustine thinks such moral doctrines are interpretations of miraculous events, which were all done not merely to show a wonder but to teach truth, and Abbott's thesis is that all the stories of the miracles are cases where moral stories were mistakenly taken literally.

Friday, January 03, 2014

'Occurrent Belief'

It is a curious feature of contemporary analytic philosophy, which takes some getting used to, that its practitioners tend to explain things in terms of the more poorly understood. Thus, for instance, they like explaining things in terms of propositions, even though there is no generally accepted account of what propositions are; and they like appealing to intuitions, even though there is no particularly illuminating account in contemporary analytic philosophy of what intuitions are; and they like analyzing things in terms of their properties despite the fact that there is no widely accepted account of what properties are; and they like boiling things down to justification even though they can't agree on what justification is or implies; and they like bringing in identity despite the well-known puzzles concerning it; and so forth. I see that Andrew Moon has recently been puzzling about one of these curious terms, 'occurrent belief', in a recent "Certain Doubts" post.

It's worth thinking a moment about the history of the phrase, which shows exactly why it falls into this category. 'Occurrent belief' arose from the dispute over the nature of beliefs in the middle of the twentieth century, which was regularly -- especially by dispositionalists -- put in terms of occurrentism vs. dispositionalism. Roughly speaking, dispositionalists took 'belief' to mean a state one is in over a period of time, not any kind of happening or doing. Pretty much any account of belief that did not make belief a disposition was labeled occurrence theory of belief, since the dispute was mostly ginned up by dispositionalists to build arguments for dispositionalism, and they just stuffed all their very different opponents in one box to do it. The dispute faded, more or less, although dispositionalism won to the extent of getting to set the default terminological assumptions among philosophers, but the terms remained; when people talked about 'occurrent belief' they meant simply 'belief as it would be understood in some occurrence theory or other'. 'Occurrent belief', in other words, never did more than signal that the person using it was not using 'belief' as a dispositionalist would use the term; it never indicated anything about what that belief was.

Of course, in particular cases we can find particular accounts of belief in play, further specifications from context, or because people wanted to be clear what they meant when using the phrase. But such cases simply show that 'occurrent belief' largely meant whatever people wanted it to mean. A common early view was that occurrent beliefs were acts of some kind; e.g., acts of assent or taking an attitude toward propositions. We find trace of this, for instance, from a dispositionalist perspective, in Price's influential Gifford Lectures. Another, later, example of this view would be Amelie Rorty's definition of it as the assertion or denial of propositional content. A different view that sprang up, somewhat later, but now quite common, was the one that occurrent beliefs were just beliefs-we-are-conscious-of-somehow; David-Hillel Ruben says somewhere, for instance, that as far as he can tell it's the only plausible meaning of the phrase. The two are obviously going to be capable of having radically different implications. In reality, of course, people just use the phrase with occasional clarification when necessary, to mean whatever it is convenient for it to mean at the point when they are using it.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Rosmini on Uprightness of Judgment

We can see wonderful uprightness of judgment in children, and often in the honest, just judgments of peoples (taken as a whole) free from agitators. Children's uprightness derives from their lack of passions, or lack of subjection to them, as we ll as from their freedom from bad habits, prejudices, and so on; the uprightness of a people depends necessarily on their being free from sophisticated passions, and from the considerations and sophistries of cultural human beings, which find their source and development in the possibilities open to the powerful. However, uprightness of judgment on the part of children and peoples does not prevent their falling into error. It is different for the truly wise, who unite virtue and experience of human affairs with the search for knowledge. Prudent persons of this kind are more easily on their guard against error because they have no love for it. Using reflection illuminated by experience, which has informed them about the danger of error, they put a brake on their passions and at the same time rule the natural instinct drawing them towards hasty judgment. As a result, they form a habit of suspending their judgment when necessary, and of examining matters coolly and accurately before pronouncing on them.

Antonio Rosmini, Certainty, Denis Cleary and Terence Watson, tr., Rosmini House (Durham: 1991) p. 196n.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

What Charity Is Not

What charity is not, therefore, is looking after others by telling them how to live. This is Mrs. Elton's idea of charity, and it is clearly shown to be misguided, as her officious exertions on behalf of Jane Fairfax demonstrate. In addition to directing the lives of the less fortunate, Mrs. Elton also sees charity as a matter of style. In her estimation, charity is what those in power offer to those without power: it both assists the beneficiary, and increases the positive social image and self-image of the benefactor. Early in the novel, Emma is guilty of conceiving of charity in just this way, and the introduction of Mrs. Elton to Highbury is a reminder to her of how charity should not be conducted. For example, Emma feels for Jane when Mrs. Elton insists that her servant will pick up Jane's mail, or when she insists on arranging a governessing position for Jane. Even when Mrs. Elton is planning her part in the strawberry party, her focus is on her image, and her ability to make Jane over in her own image....

Sarah Emsley, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues, p. 135. Later Emsley characterizes this by saying that Emma is "concerned with the difference between charity as love and charity as image" (p. 138).

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Howard-Snyder on Panmetaphoricism

Daniel Howard-Snyder has a forthcoming paper (PDF) arguing against what he calls 'panmetaphoricism', which is to say, the position that all language about God must be metaphorical (in a broad sense of the term). Unfortunately, I think his argument clearly fails at several points due to a lack of clarity about figurative language.

The first and basic argument Howard-Snyder gives, and then presupposes throughout the paper, is this:

Panmetaphoricism possesses an unenviable property: if it is true, then it is false. For if our speech about God can only be metaphorical, then the predicate “can be talked about by us only metaphorically” applies to God literally. But in that case, our talk about God cannot only be metaphorical, contrary to panmetaphoricism. Panmetaphoricism is self-refuting.

Unfortunately this is much too fast, and, indeed, it becomes clear when one considers the peculiarities of this predicate; Howard-Snyder begins to consider this point, but does not press it hard enough. If I say that something 'applies to X literally', the only thing I can mean is, 'when taken literally applies to X'. But the panmetaphoricist simply does not have to take the predicate in question literally; the panmetaphoricist doesn't -- and indeed cannot -- think that talking about God is talking about God in the sense we take the phrase when taking it literally; so all our talking about God is talking about God involving at least some kind of figurative element. Howard-Snyder tries to block this move with a further argument:

She says that no predicate of ours can apply literally to God. When we remind her of the predicate “cannot be talked about literally by us,” she replies, “And that one doesn’t either”. But if that’s the case, there must be something about God in virtue of which no predicate of ours can apply literally to God, not even the predicate “cannot be talked about literally by us”. It isn’t just magic, or an inexplicable brute fact. But then we can introduce a new predicate into our lexicon—say, “is illiterable”—and we can stipulate that it signifies literally whatever that something is, from which it follows that some predicate of ours can apply literally to God after all.

This, however, is simply question-begging; if we stipulate that 'is illiterable' applies when taken literally, we are doing nothing other than stipulating the success of a kind of language the panmetaphoricist denies. The panmetaphoricist will say that 'is illiterable' applies when taken figuratively; it cannot apply when taken literally. Obviously it is true that if you stipulate that panmetaphoricism is wrong then it will follow that panmetaphoricism is wrong. But this is not a refutation. What Howard-Snyder needs, and does not give, is an argument for why the panmetaphoricist herself cannot say that there is at least some metaphoricity, some figurative aspect to such predicates.

And the seriousness of this lapse becomes worse when we consider more closely the possible panmetaphoricist response that Howard-Snyder himself considers. He imagines the panmetaphoricist saying that first-order speech about God is only metaphorical, leaving open the status of second-order speech (language about our language about God). But the fact that we are able to make any such distinction intelligible at all shows the problem with Howard-Snyder's argument: the kinds of predicate his arguments use (like 'can be talked about by us only metaphorically') involve transfers from one domain to another. Speech about God and speech about speech about God are not talking about God in the same sense of 'talking about God'. And all cross-domain transfer is metaphor in the broad sense. Far from establishing that panmetaphoricism is self-refuting, Howard-Snyder's predicates make it more secure.

The problem appears very much to be a bad theory of metaphor. We see this in another of his arguments:

One concern is this: according to Abrahamic religion, God exists, really exists. However, if our first-order speech about God can only be metaphorical—as our panmetaphoricist insists—then no first-order speech of ours can be used literally of God, including the predicate “exists”. But if the predicate “exists” cannot be used of God literally, then there is nothing about God in virtue of which the predicate “exists” can apply to him literally. And if there is nothing about God in virtue of which the predicate “exists” can apply to him literally, then the statement “God exists, really exists” is false, which is to say that God does not exist, not really.

But this is simply false. If there is nothing about God in virtue of which the predicate 'exists' can apply to him literally, all that follows is that the statement 'God exists, really exists' is false when taken strictly literally. But the panmetaphoricist has every reason to accept this. She will simply say that God does exist, does really exist, if we take those phrases metaphorically. Howard-Snyder does consider this, but argues:

If our panmetaphoricist replies that she means for her use of these predicates to be merely metaphorical, she will fail to solve the problem for which she invoked them. For if they don’t apply to God literally, and if “exists” and the like don’t either, God won’t show up anywhere on the ontological map, not as an existent or a non-existent object, not as a denizen of reality or unreality—which, on the terms of the ontology she invokes, is incoherent.

But this again is simply false; the panmetaphoricist will obviously reply that they do show up on the ontological map in such a way that only metaphorical expressions can describe them. Howard-Snyder is assuming that reality -- and thus ontology -- is literal. But neither reality nor ontology have any intrinsic connection to literalness; literalness is a matter of the language we use, not reality or ontology. We can talk about reality in expressions to be taken literally, but we can also talk about reality in expressions to be taken metaphorically. Our ontological map can be drawn using expressions that are literal or expressions that are figurative. The panmetaphoricist is saying that God does show up 'on the ontological map' -- but that there are parts of the ontological map that can only be drawn with metaphors and God shows up there. Or, indeed, the panmetaphoricist may say that there are really several different ontological maps that human beings lack the means to reconcile into a single map; and God is on an ontological map only metaphorical expressions are robust enough to trace. 'Really' and 'literally' are not synonyms; nor do they mutually apply each other. They don't even belong to the same domain.

The more disastrous issue is that Howard-Snyder is begging the question in every step of the argument, because subject terms are talk about things, too. Consider an analogy. Suppose I were to say, "Colloquial, conversational English can only talk about black holes metaphorically." Is this self-refuting in the way Howard-Snyder had suggested? No. If we use the predicate 'can only be talked about metaphorically' of something we are already metaphorically calling 'black holes', we are still only talking about it metaphorically. The same is true if we say, 'black holes are illiterable'. The same is true if we say 'black holes exist'. In order for Howard-Snyder's argument to work, he must first assume that 'God' in 'God can only be talked about metaphorically' involves no implicit metaphor -- that is, he must first assume that panmetaphoricism is false. (But even if we set this aside, we run into the cross-domain transfer problem noted above, once the panmetaphoricist makes a distinction between first-order and second-order language.) And the same is true of 'God exists'.

But suppose we even ignore this. Consider our analogy again, ignoring the fact that the subject term is a metaphor. Is there anything inconsistent about saying that 'Black holes really exist' is true only if we take the predicate to apply metaphorically? There is not; whether or not it is true, it is entirely possible to have a version of English in which the words 'really exist' only apply literally to things very different from black holes. Does this claim commit us to saying that black holes are not on our 'ontological map'? It does not. At the very least, Howard-Snyder needs an argument to show that it does, and he has provided no such argument. He is merely assuming it. And in the same way, if we say, "Human languages can only talk about God metaphorically," we seem neither to have any inconsistency, nor to have any problem with saying that God exists -- if understood in the right way.

We see the same problem later when Howard-Snyder considers a version of panmetaphoricism using Thomistic language:

if , as my friends insist, his doctrines of analogical predication and divine simplicity imply that the predicate “is personal” can only be predicated analogically of God and humans, and if, as my friends insist, that implication itself implies that the predicate “is personal” cannot apply literally to God, then God is not personal, not really.

Howard-Snyder's friends are simply wrong about Aquinas, but it doesn't really matter, anyway, since Howard-Snyder is simply not justified in drawing th econclusion. If the predicate 'is personal' cannot apply literally to God, but it does apply to God, then God is personal, really, when 'is personal' is not taken literally but in the appropriate figurative way, in the same way that when we rightly say that 'Such and such astronomical phenomenon is a black hole', the astronomical phenomenon is a black hole, really, as long as we take 'is a black hole' in the appropriate figurative way.

And, indeed, this is the whole problem of Howard-Snyder's argument: it involves a shoddy understanding of the distinction between the literal and the figurative that lets Howard-Snyder slide back and forth between between treating the distinction as linguistic and treating it as somehow ontological. This is quite easily visible in Howard-Snyder's continual sliding between 'literally' and 'really'. This is simply untenable, and cannot be seriously maintained after a moment's thought. Howard-Snyder's argument, however, depends crucially on it: it repeatedly comes up, and can't be eliminated from the argument without eliminating the argument.

Of course, the panmetaphoricist view fails, but for precisely the reason Howard-Snyder's argument against it fails: it's based on a false view of the literal/figurative distinction. But that's another argument.

Music on My Mind

Regina Spektor, "My Dear Acquaintance". It's a good rendition, but it would be very, very hard to beat Peggy Lee's original version.

A happy New Year to all that is living, to all that is gentle, kind, and forgiving....

Monday, December 30, 2013

Desolation of Smaug

I went to see The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug yesterday. I don't have all that much to add to what everyone else says, and the most obvious problem with the movie is precisely what everyone says it is -- the pacing is completely off. We keep lingering on side issues and speeding through essentials.

I think a great deal of the problem is that Jackson has sliced the movies badly, plus let too much filler be added to the script. If you really had to make a movie for The-Hobbit-plus-background-to-LOTR, the second movie should really have involved two things: the dwarves making their way to Smaug and the Council of the Wise assaulting Dol Guldur. We barely got anything related to the latter here, which means that the third movie is going to have to see the death of Smaug, the assault on Dol Guldur, the Battle of the Five Armies, and everyone getting home, which is far too much even for three hours -- something is going to get shortchanged. And, frankly, from the all the made-up action sequences here, it's quite clear that something like the assault on Dol Guldur was needed here. It would also have been able to take care of a lot of what the filler was thrown in for. Need a strong female character? Have Galadriel direct troops in person. Need spectacular special effects? Let's see Saruman's magnificent assault weapons. And it would have been more faithful -- Galadriel might well have been there in person, and LOTR explicitly tells us that Saruman's machinery was a major part of the assault.

The filler is also getting to be a bit much. I don't have much of a problem with modification for cinema, but it's a problem when the filler is starting to choke out the original -- it begins looking like bad fan fiction. The filler needs justification. It makes sense that we would get more Legolas here than in the book, since he would have been there doing something anyway, and the movie is a prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy; it's reasonable to set things up, then, for the Legolas-Gimli interaction. Tauriel, on her own, is a not-unreasonable kind of character. But the Legolas set-up is a secondary matter, and invented characters should either simplify the story (e.g., by summing up what would otherwise require several characters or complex scenes) or add nice touches, not require their own entirely fabricated storylines. We spend a ridiculous amount of time on Tauriel here, and we already have the Azog filler spilling over from the first movie. We aren't just dealing with added storylines here; we're being subjected to major divergences at significant points, since they are starting to interfere with the main story.

Other weaknesses: Smaug is too talky -- yes, he's a vain dragon, but he just never shuts up. We never get any sense of why the Master celebrates the dwarves, perhaps because the reason is that he wants to get them out of town as fast as he can and the script leaves a third of them in town for no good reason. Almost the entire Lake-town portion is botched, in fact. We don't get enough of the mirkiness of Mirkwood.

The strengths: Martin Freeman is such a good Bilbo Baggins that he deserves a better Hobbit movie. In fact virtually all the acting is quite good, even for the made-up characters. Despite an endless number of liberties being taken, the barrel sequence was done well (it helped that the liberties taken actually make some sense in terms of cinematic structure, since it made sense to have a bit more action at that point, and that it was done with a sort of zany zest without any pretentiousness, and that it was better done than the mountain sequence in the previous movie). I liked seeing the dwarven forges, which are the single best scenic part of the movies so far. Many of the smaller touches of the movie are just splendid -- it baffles me how so much obvious love and care can be lavished on little details when the seams of the main story are so sloppily stitched together, but the detail-work is often excellent, whether it's Beorn's bees, Gloin's portrait of Gimli, Bilbo's first introduction to the treasure under the mountain, or the scenery in Esgaroth which manages to tell us more about what's really going on than the script does.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Austen Unfinished

Virginia Woolf on what might have happened had Austen lived past 42:

She would have stayed in London, dined out, lunched out, met famous people, made new friends, read, travelled, and carried back to the quiet country cottage a hoard of observations to feast upon at leisure. And what effect would all this have had upon the six novels that Jane Austen did not write? She would not have written of crime, of passion, or of adventure. She would not have been rushed by the importunity of publishers or the Battery of friends into slovenliness or insincerity. But she would have known more. Her sense of security would have been shaken. Her comedy would have suffered. She would have trusted less (this is already perceptible in Persuasion) to dialogue and more to reflection to give us a knowledge of her characters. Those marvelous little speeches which sum up in a few minutes' chatter all that we need in order to know an Admiral Croft or a Mrs. Musgrove forever, that shorthand, hit-or-miss method which contains chapters of analysis and psychology, would have become too crude to hold all that she now perceived of the complexity of human nature. She would have devised a method, clear and composed as ever, but deeper and more suggestive, for conveying not only what people say, but what they leave unsaid; not only what they are, but (if we may be pardoned the vagueness of the expression) what life is. She would have stood further away from her characters, and seen them more as a group, less as individuals. Her satire, while it played less incessantly, would have been more stringent and severe. She would have been the forerunner of Henry James and of Proust—but enough. Vain are these speculations: she died “just as she was beginning to feel confidence in her own success.”

It's dangerous to disagree with Woolf on a matter of writing, but I think she is partly misled here by her reading of Persuasion and by the error of thinking that dining in London and meeting famous people is much of a way to gain a new appreciation for the complexities of human nature. While Woolf does have some interesting and plausible things to say about Persuasion if read as a transitional book, which it certainly is, a number of features Woolf attributes to Persuasion are found much earlier; and some of the harshness of the work, assuming it is not due to the fact that Austen never had time to put a final polish on it, is due to the fact that Persuasion, more than the other books, is about how human beings can be a detriment, intentionally or unintentionally, to other human beings.

When we look at Sanditon, the unfinished novel, we find that the satire is indeed more stringent and severe -- but it is in fact more incessant, becoming a sort of subtle atmosphere. I do think it likely that Woolf is right about Austen trusting less to dialogue and using the suggestive more, since this seems to be something of a trend within The Six themselves. But all the signs are that this makes Austen more satirical, not less. There seems to be another trend in her heroines, a trend toward more intense virtue; or, perhaps, it would be better to call it 'sophistication of virtue'. And, with all respect to Woolf, the kind of people one meets when dining and lunching out and meeting famous people and staying in London show up worse, not better, against such a heroine. We see this in Sanditon, as well, for all that we get only a very limited glimpse of the heroine; she seems on the way to being a wittier Anne, and everyone looks even more ridiculous in comparison, because she sees through them. It makes her the perfect heroine for a work that looks like it would probably have been, among other things, a commentary on the moral hypochondria and convalescence of the day -- that is, on excuses for not doing the right and sensible thing. And this is almost certainly what Austen would have seen in Woolf's scenario: more excuses, more hypocrisies, more superficialities masquerading as sophistications. It does seem that as The Six progress we get more of a sense of people in groups, so it's likely Woolf is right that this would continue; but the result, contrary to Woolf's suggestion, is more individuality, not less. By seeing them in groups, Austen sees more of the heart of each character, not less.

An Austen novel about London would be worth reading; and all indications are that such a novel would be harsh, ruthless, and devastating. But even that, of course, assumes that Austen would have found London interesting enough to write about; she might well not have. She spent time at Bath and in the novels we only occasionally get there; Austen as we know her likes more scenery and less artificiality than that. Bath ends up being a contrast to human nature, or a device for mixing things that wouldn't ordinarily be mixed. There's no reason to think London would have been different. And I think Sanditon shows us that she would probably have gone a different direction even if she wanted to write about London. Londoners in their native habitat can hide their quirks, or pass them off as reason; get them into new situations, let their fads and fashions carry them out of their element, and that is where an author like Austen would give us her telling of what London is. And the danger of it is that there might not be a novel's worth there. While Woolf, no doubt, would give us an excellent account of London that explores subtleties too nuanced for a hit-and-miss method, Austen herself might well have found it precisely the sort of thing to sum up in a few devastating lines and dismiss forever.