Saturday, January 11, 2014

Linkable Thinkables

* Philosophers' Carnival #159 at "Scholardarity"

* The Daily Mail online has a collection of a number of interesting documents: Gandhi's letter to Hitler, the Queen's drop scone recipe (and attendant note to President Eisenhower), Nixon's just-in-case-disaster-happens speech for the Moon landing, and a rather creepy threat letter from the FBI to Martin Luther King, Jr.

* Newly discovered Mary Shelley letters

* Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Sister Years, his allegorical short story about the new year.

* Joe Carter has a good post on the Geography of Civic Virtue

* Arnold Farr's SEP article on Herbert Marcuse

* Muncaster Steam Engine Plans

* Christopher Tollefsen discusses obligations to other animals:
What Our Obligations to Other Animals Are Not
Our Obligations to Animals

* Hamm and Bott on Tense and Aspect at the SEP

* Lawrence Schiffman on the Halakhic Response to the Rise of Christianity

Dashed Off III


I Pt 5:1-4 as summarizing the Petrine mission

Christ guides the invisible Church both visibly and invisibly (cf Myst Corp Chr). The invisible Church is not said to be invisible because its members are unseen, or because their practices are invisible, or because they need nothing visible, or because all of Christ's work with them is invisible.

Classification can sometimes explain, but this is also why labels can look like they explain even when they do not.

All of Kant's errors can be traced to small errors in the beginning.

Space and time both presuppose part and whole as the more general form of appearance.

Experience teaches us that a thing could not be other than what could somehow be an actual experienceable thing.

What Kant says about Hume with regard to defining the limits of understanding could be said about himself with respect to defining the limits of experience.

Kant's claim A773/B801-A774/B802 that appeal to the hyperphysical would "relieve us from further investigation" treats appeal to hyperphysical as appeal to complete cause, not as appeal to primary cause.

Otto: the sublime as the schema of the numinous

that all accounts of evidence adequate to their subject presuppose causal principles
that all accounts of signification adequate to their subject presuppose causal principles
that the act of communicating performatively presupposes causal principles

organisms as deontic systems

Transfiguration as the sign of citizenship in heaven

We cannot be who we must be if we do not rise to the difficult good.

the attributing, narrating, and systematizing functions of reason

substance : assertion :: choice : narration

suppose we turned the Transcendental Aesthetic from 'space and time' to 'the geometrical and the arithmetical' (perhaps 'the measurable precisely as such')

transcendence as the medicinal gift of Platonism to philosophy

substance, change, perfection
character, narrative, narrative world
principle, action, end
person, freedom, providence
perspective, project, purpose
perception, deduction, classification
Head, sacrament, heaven
symbol, ritual, ceremonial world
intelligible, true, evident
term, judgment, universe of discourse

the author as the transcendental ego of the character (also the freedom and the being of beings for characters)

Only causation connects theory to reality.

the mereology of spheres of cognition

The space we experience is not a mere abstract extension.

Kant thinks existence is not a predicate because he regards it as a modality.

Rhapsodic metaphysics is discoverer's metaphysics.

Kant doesn't seem to have any account of how concepts would or could explain anything -- they just fit intuition or not, and it is experience that "explains" everything, when put with the right concepts. But this is an abusive understanding of explanation. Everything that could actually explain is relegated to mere logical functionality on the subjective side.

We cannot determine from either the empiricist's experience or the rationalist's pure reason that life is the subjective condition of all our possible experience.

attraction that generates fantasy vs fantasy that generates attraction (this distinction is implicated in many great difficulties in romantic love)

anticipation of nature as essential to social relationships

systematic (controlled) rhapsody under architectonic principles (which, pace Kant, is entirely possible, and probably the usual mode of philosophical inquiry)

Democracy is not a way to aggregate diverse preferences but to minimize interference in individual preferences. Indeed, it has to be so: even in a very small group with massive time and resources to make decisions, not everything will be able to be considered. Some preferences will be left out of any aggregation. Decision-making in a society is not merely a matter of aggregating preferences, but also a matter of priorities, external necessities, and procedural limits.

Deleuze on the Epicureans as pluralists is utterly implausible.

catholicity as linked to evangelistic character

What is given materially cannot be given except in some form.

Note Kant's plausible diagnosis of the difference in evaluating Hume's objections with respect to deism vs with respect to theism (PFM 356)

practical scientific metrology as the pursuit of invariance across methods

Corruption is diversified according to the kind of passions whose excess and defect induce it.

The dialectic of pure reason first considered as a natural illusion still has to be considered as a natural provision to an end; but considered first as a natural provision to an end it need not be considered an illusion at all.

Metaphysics, like any other science, is perfectly capable of being incomplete without ceasing to be a science.

By Kant's account of idealism Berkeley himself is not an idealist.

Space as such would have to be a form of inner sense, not outer sense -- the visual/tactile problem.

'the interest of the philosophical commonwealth'

We could not prove that there is no a priori knowledge unless we knew a priori what such a proof would have to be.

Kant's rejection of happiness as the foundation of morality is based on the idea that every person has his own private happiness or welfare, thus allowing only accidental unity.
Kant identifies self-love and the principle of private happiness; thus he has no notion of happiness precisely as correlative to human nature as intellectual and volitional. Or, in other words, he lacks a Platonic-Socratic notion of happiness (everything he says on the subject would by Plato be classified as doctrine of the Sophists or rhetors).

existence propositions in mathematics as practical propositions

Law depending on the good, we cannot determine what can be universally legislated except by reference to the good.

There is a great difference between what is advised and what is required; but this does not mean that we cannot ever get one from the other.

Kant's argument against moral sense theory also seems defective: it confuses means of knowing with what is known, and presupposes that moral sense is not natural but dependent on developed character.

Kant's uncritical theory of experience is the Achilles' heel of his practical as well as his theoretical critique.

The claim that law may have any content is a denial of human rights, or, indeed, of any kind of right prior to law, including those required by the functioning of institutions making, executing, and deciding law.

Law is not apt for supporting morality unless it naturally tends to subserve moral ends (which is not the same as claiming that it exists to support morality).

The concept of law is not a concept of an artifact but a concept of a principle of action that may be communicated by artifacts produced for it. Law is parallel to argument in this way -- indeed, for exactly the same reasons.

Customary law is not produced as an artifact but is instead evolved in the course of reason's interaction with the world.

Enumeration of rights is confirmation, not origination.

The single greatest burden in education is to lack the relevant mathematics; the second is to lack the relevant language.

Frege's judgment stroke as an epistemic operator

Kant's 'problematic' as indicating 'intelligible proposition'

Willing is a fitness or disposition to an end.

The primary disciplinary task for the spiritual beginner is to overcome thoughtlessness.

moral principles as principles of causality

The kingdom of ends is based on taking morals as analogous to nature considered teleologically. Thus it is a totality synthesizing the first twof romulations.

NB that Kant CPrR says that geometrical inferencer, as based in synthetic judgment, has the same structure as causal inference.

In practical everyday life we often use asymmetries in effects as indicators of living agents.

Kant's argument that moral systems based on an object of the will are heteronomous (GMM 444) requires that there be no natural, intrinsic, objects of willing, and that any objects of will must be known a posteriori and empirically.

To say that the person is autonomous and to say that the will is autonomous are two different things.

religious societies as multiplying spiritual resources

the eremitic life as manifesting the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church

To become a consecrated virgin is to become a sacramental precisely as a human person, indicating in a special way God as principle, in being a sacred person; Christ's love for the Church, in dedication of the body; and the life to come, as living the eschatological life.

the intrinsic apostolates of each of the sacraments

the Analogies of Experience as argument for transitive action

Without bringing in forces or something like them, description of motion is just a description of space by means of time.

Reason experiences itself as rational.

the threefold Petrine mission: orders, jurisdiction, and magisterium

icon-statues as stational in character (this distinguishes them from proper icons, which abstract from space, and pious paintings, which represent space as an aid and concession to imagination)

Admiration does not feed the stomach.

the value for which goods are exchanged vs the value by which goods are exchanged

a deontic logic where O = 'ought to be taken into account' and P = 'can reasonably be taken into account'

& and v as unordered list operations

Time is discerned by measuring order in change.

instrumentality & commercium of substances

Private relations are to be judged according to whether they are, according to prudence, probable and credible to piety.

You can't learn from failure if you are indifferent to it.

Civilization requires tradition, which requires discipline.

capital vices as teh sevenfold slavery

substitute 'objectivity' for Kant's 'intuition'

Dogma is the inner life.

The agent intellect gives to the world of sense the form of an intelligible world without interfering with its character.

lawfulness as the marker for objectivity

Teaching cannot be shown, only understood.

happiness as given a priori in practical reason
--> In the notion of a will the notion of tendency to good is already contained.

poetry as an art of philosophical description appropriate to discovery

God as the principle making possible the union of virtue with a sensible world appropriate to it

NB: Kant means by 'doctrine of virtue' doctrina *officiorum* virtutis

By the exodus the Lord has taught us that there is no security except in the one who can say I AM

Conservation is a means, not an end; and it subserves either the good of oneself or that of some others or the good of all.

A weakness in Kant's jurisprudence is the lack of customary right and law.

What is acquired through contract is acquired not by acceptation but by tradition (delivery).

What Kant means by property is 'object of acquisition' (Mine & Thine).

Maupertuis's general principle: When a change occurs in Nature, the quantity of action necessary for that change is as small as possible.

summation over possibilities as a sign of intellect

We refute not positions as such but positions as interpreted by support-position complexes.

Change in method changes the questions that are fruitful to ask.

Motherhood is the foundation of tradition.

sensus decori as a concern of law

Kant's schemata as showing that categories are not purely formal (cp. Schopenhauer).

Philosophers are continually being seduced by the wrong kind of power.

To be a citizen is to be one called to govern the city.

drama as the scenic art

citizens as colegislative members of the state

Kant deliberately opposes his virtue theory to the virtue-ethical tradition: (1) unity of virtue (2) golden mean (3) primacy of prudence.

virtues as forms of dispassion, as forms of self-command

Money is created in the process of exchange.

Study versus the Love of Reading

Nothing is more common in an age like this, when books abound, than to fancy that the gratification of a love of reading is real study. Of course there are youths who shrink even from story books, and cannot be coaxed into getting through a tale of romance. Such Mr. Brown was not; but there are others, and I suppose he was in their number, who certainly have a taste for reading, but in whom it is little more than the result of mental restlessness and curiosity. Such minds cannot fix their gaze on one object for two seconds together; the very impulse which leads them to read at all, leads them to read on, and never to stay or hang over any one idea. The pleasurable excitement of reading what is new is their motive principle; and the imagination that they are doing something, and the boyish vanity which accompanies it, are their reward. Such youths often profess to like poetry, or to like history or biography; they are fond of lectures on certain of the physical sciences; or they may possibly have a real and true taste for natural history or other cognate subjects;—and so far they may be regarded with satisfaction; but on the other hand they profess that they do not like logic, they do not like algebra, they have no taste for mathematics; which only means that they do not like application, they do not like attention, they shrink from the effort and labour of thinking, and the process of true intellectual gymnastics.
John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University, 2.4.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Mansfield Park and Hugh Blair's Sermons

Hugh Blair was a notable philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment, most famous for his work on rhetoric and belles lettres, but in direct contact with many of the major philosophical names of the period. (As an example, Blair is the intermediary between David Hume and George Campbell in their dispute over miracles.) His sermons were also widely read as excellent examples of polished homiletics. Blair's sermons are specifically mentioned in Mansfield Park:

"You assign greater consequence to the clergyman than one has been used to hear given, or than I can quite comprehend. One does not see much of this influence and importance in society, and how can it be acquired where they are so seldom seen themselves? How can two sermons a week, even supposing them worth hearing, supposing the preacher to have the sense to prefer Blair's to his own, do all that you speak of? govern the conduct and fashion the manners of a large congregation for the rest of the week? One scarcely sees a clergyman out of his pulpit."

It's just a side-mention. It is also a mention by Mary Crawford, and because of that association some people have concluded that Austen -- who read sermons extensively -- was not a fan of Blair.

However, I wonder if there is more to the matter than might seem to be the case at first. Mansfield Park crosses themes with several of Blair's sermons. One that is quite noticeable is that Blair's sermons are a work Austen certainly would have read that uses the word 'constancy' in a sense much like that in which Austen uses it in the novel. Indeed, one of his sermons, Sermon XV of Volume I, is entitled, "On the Motives to Constancy in Virtue".

In the sermon, Blair imagines a man who has decided to devote himself to virtue. However, it turns out to be quite difficult:

The peace which he hoped to enjoy, is interrupted, either by his own frailties, or by the vices of others. Passions, which had not been thoroughly subdued, struggle for their accustomed gratification. The pleasure which he expected to find in devotion, sometimes fails him; and the injustice of the world often sours and frets him. Friends prove ungrateful; enemies misrepresent, rivals supplant him: And part, at least, of the mortifications which he suffers, he begins to ascribe to virtue.

Blair's purpose in the sermon is to argue that, despite occasional appearances, the difficulties of life never provide a sufficient reason to be "weary in well-doing". He raises several points to back this up. (1) Every state of life has its difficulties, so if the aim is to avoid having a difficult life, it's an aim that can't be guaranteed, no matter what one does. (2) More importantly, vice actually increases the difficulty of life even when it isn't obvious that it is doing so. Contrary to what we usually think, self-denial is not the exclusive province of virtue; self-denial, in fact, is common to both virtue and vice. Disorder in one's passions mean that some of your desires will go unmet, and whenever you are doing something wrong you are denying yourself some kind of good. (3) Difficulties associated with virtue, on the other hand, since virtue is linked with moderation of passions, are more bearable, because moderation of passion itself can ease the pain and hardship. Virtue, in other words, better prepares us for when things do not go our own way -- which, inevitably, they sometimes will. Virtue gives its bearer an independence of fortune:

It is the peculiar effect of virtue, to make a man's happiness arise from himself and his own conduct. A bad man is wholly the creature of the world. He hangs upon its favour, lives by its smiles, and is happy or miserable, in proportion to his success. But to a virtuous man, success, in worldly undertakings, is but a secondary object. To discharge his own part with integrity and honour, is his chief aim. If he has done properly what was incumbent on him to do, his mind is at rest; to Providence he leaves the event.

At the same time, while virtue may seem at first to restrict the enjoyments you can have, the truth is actually the opposite: genuine virtue allows worldly pleasures, in proper moderation and place, and adds to them its own pleasures. (4) Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy, due to the future life.

Another of the sermons in Volume I is Sermon XI, "On the Duties of the Young", in which we also find a connection with constancy:

Too many of the pretended friendships of youth, are mere combinations in pleasure. They are often founded on capricious likings; suddenly contracted, and as suddenly dissolved. Sometimes they are the effect of interested complaisance and flattery on the one side, and of credulous fondness on the other. Beware of such rash and dangerous connections, which may afterwards load you with dishonour. Remember that by the character of those whom you choose for your friends, your own is likely to be formed, and will certainly be judged of by the world. Be slow, therefore, and cautious in contracting intimacy; but when a virtuous friendship is once established, consider it as a sacred engagement. Expose not yourselves to the reproach of lightness and inconstancy, which always bespeak, either a trifling, or a base mind. Reveal none of the secrets of your friend. Be faithful to his interests. Forsake him not in danger. Abhor the thought of acquiring any advantage by his prejudice or hurt.

The whole of Sermon XI is worth reading, actually, in this respect, since a large number of themes in the sermon are shared with Mansfield Park. It's true, of course, that the moral dangers of youth are fairly universal, so it's possible that convergence rather than interaction explains the resemblances. But it is suggestive nonetheless.

Austen's Heroines, Love, and Marriage

For Austen's mature and maturing heroines, from Elinor and Marianne through Fanny and Elizabeth to Anne and Emma, love is a crowning virtue, just as marriage is a crowning reward. Faith, in education, and in themselves, as an intellectual virtue, added to a fundamental faith in God and in the Christian desire for the good, comes before--even if sometimes just before--love. This is why marriage is not ultimately the telos for these heroines....The difference between most of Austen's heroines and the heroines of sentimental romances of her time and ours is that for the majority of the latter, love is paramount, while for the former, love is both preceded by and accompanied by faith and the development of the mind.

Sarah Emsley, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues, p. 33. And, indeed, it is notable how intellectual the typical development of the Austen heroine is, and the fact that (good) marriage seems to be so consistently linked with moral education in her stories. (This is as true for the Austen heroes as for the heroines -- I think even in the most apparently unbalanced case, that of Catherine Moreland and Henry Tilney, where Tilney has all of the obvious experience, culture, and background education, there are plenty of indications of the importance of mutual moral education.) It is also true that, despite the importance of marriage to every single story, it is always quite clear that marriage is a reward, not the point.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Music on My Mind



Peter Hollens, "I See Fire".

Two Poem Drafts

The first is a scene from Runo XV of the Kalevala. Lemminkainen has died, but his mother is making a charm that will raise him from the death. To get the ingredients, she sends a little bee out to gather ingredients in increasingly difficult tasks. The last, and hardest task, is to fly to heaven to bring the unction of God, the final ingredient in resurrection.

The Bee

The bee from earth arose,
from dust its honey-wing;
with flutter, flicker, flight,
it zipped and rose and soared.
The bee beside the moon,
around the sun, did ring;
it tickled starry bear
and crossed the seven stars
and thus to cellar came,
the cellar of the Lord.
There unction overflows,
the ointments, unguents, salves,
in silver kettle-pots,
in jars of precious gold;
and honey was distilled,
and butter poured with cream;
the ale was flowing south,
and north the balsam flowed.
The little bee then toiled,
the sweetest balm it took,
the living unction bore,
and, weary, hovered home.

Brief Prayer

Most holy God, with thunder shake
the valleys, make the mountains quake
that form in human hearts, and wake
the sunrise; all the darkness break,
and all our hopes and lives remake
with force of love, and for your sake.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Also Lowly Mushrumps

Scorn Not the Least
by St. Robert Southwell


Where wards are weak and foes encount'ring, strong,
Where mightier do assault than do defend,
The feebler part puts up enforc├Ęd wrong,
And silent sees that speech could not amend.
Yet higher powers must think, though they repine,
When sun is set, the little stars will shine.

While pike doth range the seely tench doth fly,
And crouch in privy creeks with smaller fish ;
Yet pikes are caught when little fish go by,
These fleet afloat while those do fill the dish.
There is a time even for the worm to creep,
And suck the dew while all her foes do sleep.

The merlin cannot ever soar on high,
Nor greedy greyhound still pursue the chase ;
The tender lark will find a time to fly,
And fearful hare to run a quiet race :
He that high growth on cedars did bestow,
Gave also lowly mushrumps leave to grow.

In Aman's pomp poor Mardocheus wept,
Yet God did turn his fate upon his foe ;
The lazar pined while Dives' feast was kept,
Yet he to heaven, to Hell did Dives go.
We trample grass, and prize the flowers of May,
Yet grass is green when flowers do fade away.

The spelling has been modernized a bit.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Plato and Democracy

Aikin and Talisse have an argument at "3 Quarks Daily" in which they don't get Plato right:

Plato is among the most famous critics of democracy. His criticism is relatively simple, but potentially devastating. It runs as follows. Politics aims at achieving justice, and so political policy must reflect the demands of justice. Only those who know what justice is and have the self-control to enact what justice requires are capable of doing politics properly. Alas, the average citizen is dumb and vicious. Hence Plato's conclusion is that democracy is a fundamentally corrupt form of politics; it is the rule of those who neither know nor care about justice. In The Republic, Plato's Socrates argues for a philosophical monarchy, the rule of the wise and virtuous.

I've discussed this sort of issue before; not to repeat myself too thoroughly, the basic points are:

(1) The argument of The Republic is not that the average citizen is dumb and vicious; this would make a just society simply impossible on Socrates's account, since he is quite clear that a just society requires that people in the main act wisely and justly -- not just the rulers, but the typical citizen -- and that the way to work toward a just society is to strive to be more just and wise oneself. The whole point of the Republic is that society and citizens reflect each other. And, indeed, what other position could possibly be consistent with the Socratic approach as Plato presents it?

(2) Plato's Socrates does not spontaneously argue for the kallipolis; even the kallipolis is what Socrates comes up with only after his first proposal for a just society is rejected.

(3) Plato's actual criticism of democracy is that it has the minimum possible defenses against injustice. It works well as long as everyone agrees about what is harmful and not harmful. But it has nothing to guarantee that people will agree about this; everyone is his own city and can make up his own standards. Philosophy is a kallipolis thing; traditions are timarchical; calculating profit is oligarchical; so what else is actually left to make democrats cohere into a society of any sort? Rhetorical manipulation. Thus Plato's problem with democracy is that it is a breeding ground for demagogues, and thus has nothing to prevent the slide into the rule of brute force. While it would still be too extreme, it would be more accurate to say that Plato thinks the problem with democracy is that democracy makes the average citizen dumb and vicious, by forcing him into a situation in which rhetoric has more power than justice, and sophistry than wisdom.

But Plato's criticism of democracy is in fact not unqualified; in the Republic he is only considering the pure case. It's worth pointing out the Athenian's comments in the Laws (693d):

There are two mother-constitutions, so to speak, which you could fairly say have given birth to all the others. Monarchy is the proper name for the first, and democracy for the second The former has been taken to extreme lengths by the Persians, the latter by my country; virtually all the others, as I said, are varieties of these two. It is absolutely vital for a political system to combine them, if (and this is of course the point of our advice, when we insist that no state formed without these two elements can be constituted properly) -- if it is to enjoy freedom and friendship applied with good judgment.

When he goes on to discuss how Athens became corrupt, he argues that the issue was that the Athenians lost respect for authority and law: resisting authority, they began resisting their traditions and the admonitions of their elders; resisting the admonition of their elders, they began to resist the laws themselves; resisting the laws, they came to resist even the moral principle underlying promise and pledge. A city needs freedom -- but it also needs unity and wisdom, and neither, Plato argues, can be had from democracy as such.

Part I of Hume's Argument on Miracles

C. M. Lorkowski has an interesting article on Hume's philosophy of religion at the IEP. Just from a quick read-through, it looks mostly in order, but I think the miracles section could use a little work. Lorkowski says:

The section is divided into two parts. While Part I provides an argument against believing in miracles in general, Part II gives four specific considerations against miracles based on particular facts about the world. Therefore, we may refer to the argument of Part I as Hume’s Categorical Argument against miracles and those of Part II as the four Evidential Arguments against miracles. Identifying Hume’s intentions with these arguments is notoriously difficult. Though the Evidential Arguments are fairly straightforward in and of themselves, there are two major interpretive puzzles: what the Categorical Argument of Part I is supposed to be, and how it fits with the Evidential Arguments of Part II. Some see the two parts as entirely separable, while others insist that they provide two parts of a cohesive whole.

The primary problem with this is that one interpretive option -- and I would argue the one that does far and away the best job at fitting the textual evidence -- is that Part I of ECHU X has no argument against believing on the basis of testimony that a miracle has happened. When Lorkowski later clarifies in a reconstruction he frames it this way:

Both testimonial probabilities supporting the occurrence of a miracle and (hypothetical) testimonial proofs supporting the occurrence of a miracle would be evidentially weaker than the proofs supporting the laws of nature. [Empirical Premise- EHU 10.2, EHU 10.13, EHU 10.36. The first clause is true by definition for probabilities, but Hume also establishes it more clearly in Part II.]

The basis for the premise shows precisely the problem. 10.36 (the numbers after the decimals are just the number of the paragraph) is very, very far into the argument of Part II. 10.2 is very naturally read as simply a brief summary of the entire essay. And the key passage, 10.13 does not give us a categorical conclusion:

And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof, which is superior.

But, of course, Hume's account of 'proof' undeniably allows that we may have opposing proofs, and he is, in any case, hypothetically assuming that there is a testimonial proof for miracles. So all he actually concludes in Part I is that the proof for the law of nature and the proof for the miracle will balance against each other and the stronger proof (where 'stronger' here means more psychologically forceful) will win out, although diminished by the force of the opposition. This leads to the famous summing up of Part I, notably also conditional:

The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), 'that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish; and even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior.' When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

And as Hume says at the beginning of Part II, he was assuming in Part I that it would be some kind of miracle for the testimonial proof for the miracle to be wrong -- or, at least, "a real prodigy" because it amounted to "an entire proof". He never, at any point, explicitly says that it would be less prodigious than the miracle itself; he only makes conditional claims. And then, of course, Part II is devoted to arguing that, in fact, when we are dealing with religious miracles, it would never be "a real prodigy" for the testimony to be wrong and thus that we never have "an entire proof" in any case.

Lorkowski's division of things seems to be a residue of the old interpretation that Part I has an 'in-principle' argument against believing in miracles on the basis of testimony. This has become more controversial, as I think may be indirectly recognized here, but the article really understates the extent of the controversy, since one may argue that Part I is entirely a set-up to Part II -- for which there is textual evidence -- and thus we aren't just dealing with different interpretations of what the argument against miracles in Part I is -- one may reasonably deny that there is any such argument. On such an interpretation, Hume is running a purely empiricist argument based on psychological claims about testimony; Part I merely sets the standard of evidence and Part II argues that religious miracles have never met it.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Fortnightly Book, January 5

The Spy was James Fenimore Cooper's second novel, and is often consider the first great American novel. It certainly was the novel that made Cooper the first great American novelist. Subtitled "A Tale of the Neutral Ground", it gives us espionage and battle in the no-man's land of Westchester County, New York, in the years 1780 and 1781. At this point the Revolutionary War is still being fought; the British have firm control of the nearby city of New York, but neither side can maintain a tight grip on Westchester County. They want to, of course; the army that controls it can divide the opposing army. But that is precisely what keeps the territory in play.

Cooper got the idea for his story from John Jay, best known for becoming the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. According to Cooper, during the Revolutionary War, Jay headed a secret committee of the Continental Congress that had as its task limiting British attempts to raise local troops. In carrying out this task, Jay employed a spy:

He was poor, ignorant, so far as the usual instruction was concerned; but cool, shrewd, and fearless by nature. It was his office to learn in what part of the country the agents of the crown were making their efforts to embody men, to repair to the place, enlist, appear zealous in the cause he affected to serve, and otherwise to get possession of as many of the secrets of the enemy as possible. The last he of course communicated to his employers, who took all means in their power to counteract the plans of the English, and frequently with success.

It was dangerous work, and in fact more than once the American spy narrowly avoided being executed by Americans. Jay was made an ambassador, and so had to leave his position, but before he did he convinced Congress to pay the spy for his services. When Jay tried to give him the money, however, the spy refused to take it, saying that his country had more need of it than he did. This basic anecdote served as the seed for Cooper's own spy character, Harvey Birch.

The Spy was a worldwide bestseller, even, it is said, being translated into Arabic and Farsi. It was even bigger at home, where the very idea of a historical novel about exciting American events involving fighting and intrigue was itself novel. A number of people claimed to be the original on whom Harvey Birch was based -- but, of course, Cooper did not know who the original spy was, having nothing more to go on than his memory of Jay's anecdote. Probably the most popular candidate for the role is Enoch Crosby, a simple shoemaker who probably did do some spying of this sort in the Westchester area for the New York Committee of Safety, on which Jay did indeed serve. As there were almost certainly not a few spies in such a crucial area, it's unclear whether Crosby, or some other man whose name has simply been lost, was the spy in question.

I'm reading this in a Heritage Press (New York) edition, one of the very nicest Heritage Press volumes I have from my grandfather, with a dark blue cover and silver decoration. It has illustrations by Henry Clarence Pitz, who was the author of a large number of books on illustrating and drawing techniques, and who actually wrote a bestselling book on book illustration, The Brandywine School, discussing the illustrators following in the footsteps of Howard Pyle, one of Pitz's heroes. The typeface is 12-point Bell. It has a nice introduction by John T. Winterich, a well-known bibliophile who seems to have written a lot of introductions to a lot of books; he had been an editor for Stars and Stripes in World War I.

Not Quite Turkish

I'm not sure what it is, but I've seen quite a few people in the past month refer to St. Nicholas of Myra as Turkish. I find this somewhat interesting. He is associated with Myra, which is in modern Turkey, but that's the only thing about him that has anything whatsoever to do with anything Turkish. Myra was an Anatolian Greek colony in Lycia in the Roman Empire. Chances are that he would be of an ethnically Greek family; chances are also that he would have considered himself culturally a Roman. He would certainly have spoken Greek and would have had no idea what 'Turkish' meant, since the Seljuk Turks didn't invade Anatolia and begin its Turkification until more than five hundred years after his death. One could as easily claim that Attila the Hun was Polish, or that Hannibal was a Roman.

To-day's a Nipping Day, a Biting Day

Winter: My Secret
by Christina Rossetti


I tell my secret? No indeed, not I:
Perhaps some day, who knows?
But not to-day; it froze, and blows, and snows,
And you're too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? well:
Only, my secret's mine, and I won't tell.

Or, after all, perhaps there's none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun.
To-day's a nipping day, a biting day;
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps:
I cannot ope to every one who taps,
And let the draughts come whistling through my hall;
Come bounding and surrounding me,
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping through my wraps and all.
I wear my mask for warmth: who ever shows
His nose to Russian snows
To be pecked at by every wind that blows?
You would not peck? I thank you for good-will,
Believe, but leave that truth untested still.

Spring's an expansive time: yet I don't trust
March with its peck of dust,
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers,
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither through the sunless hours.

Perhaps some languid summer day,
When drowsy birds sing less and less,
And golden fruit is ripening to excess,
If there's not too much sun nor too much cloud,
And the warm wind is neither still nor loud,
Perhaps my secret I may say,
Or you may guess.