Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Single Sword to Thee

O God of Earth and Altar
by G. K. Chesterton

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honour and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,
a single sword to thee.

This was written in 1906.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sympathy with the Dead

An interesting passage from Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments (II.1.2.5):

If the injured should perish in the quarrel, we not only sympathize with the real resentment of his friends and relations, but with the imaginary resentment which in fancy we lend to the dead, who is no longer capable of feeling that or any other human sentiment. But as we put ourselves in his situation, as we enter, as it were, into his body, and in our imaginations, in some measure, animate anew the deformed and mangled carcass of the slain, when we bring home in this manner his case to our own bosoms, we feel upon this, as upon many other occasions, an emotion which the person principally concerned is incapable of feeling, and which yet we feel by an illusive sympathy with him. The sympathetic tears which we shed for that immense and irretrievable loss, which in our fancy he appears to have sustained, seem to be but a small part of the duty which we owe him. The injury which he has suffered demands, we think, a principal part of our attention. We feel that resentment which we imagine he ought to feel, and which he would feel, if in his cold and lifeless body there remained any consciousness of what passes upon earth. His blood, we think, calls aloud for vengeance. The very ashes of the dead seem to be disturbed at the thought that his injuries are to pass unrevenged. The horrors which are supposed to haunt the bed of the murderer, the ghosts which, superstition imagines, rise from their graves to demand vengeance upon those who brought them to an untimely end, all take their origin from this natural sympathy with the imaginary resentment of the slain. And with regard, at least, to this most dreadful of all crimes, Nature, antecedent to all reflections upon the utility of punishment, has in this manner stamped upon the human heart, in the strongest and most indelible characters, an immediate and instinctive approbation of the sacred and necessary law of retaliation.

It's also a nice example of the Smithian way with a phrase; I particularly like the part about our imaginations animating "anew the deformed and mangled carcass of the slain".

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fortnightly Book, December 10

The last fortnightly book of the year will be one of my favorites, G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, which was published in 1908. The subtitle is important; as Chesterton remarked in his Illustrated Daily News column for June 13, 1936:

It was a very melodramatic sort of moonshine, but it had a kind of notion in it; and the point is that it described, first a band of the last champions of order fighting against what appeared to be a world of anarchy, and then the discovery that the mysterious master both of the anarchy and the order was the same sort of elemental elf who had appeared to be rather too like a pantomime ogre. This line of logic, or lunacy, led many to infer that this equivocal being was meant for a serious description of the Deity; and my work even enjoyed a temporary respect among those who like the Deity to be so described. But this error was entirely due to the fact that they had read the book but had not read the title page. In my case, it is true, it was a question of a subtitle rather than a title. The book was called The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was, even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.

The book was written during Chesterton's Anglican period, and has become a classic. It was one of Orson Welles's favorite books, which is why his Mercury Theater of the Air did a production of it, which I've talked about before here. I'll be listening to it again.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass


Opening Passages: From Alice:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversations?’

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

From Looking-Glass:

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it:--it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it couldn't have had any hand in the mischief.

Summary: Both of Carroll's most famous works are attempts to capture, in a basic sort of fairy-tale narrative, the imagination of children. This is particularly obvious with Through the Looking-Glass, which, while it gets its structure from the chess game, gets its content from nursery rhymes, but it is true throughout. This is perhaps the simplest way to capture the new thing that Carroll was attempting: a fairy tale, but elaborated as much as possible from the perspective of a child of seven and a half years (as we discover Alice is in Through the Looking-Glass). This is a shift, since fairy tales typically had not been, indeed still aren't, constructed in an attempt to mimic a child's own imagination. The result is inevitably episodic; the overarching plots, to get to the garden party and to get queened, are minimal, and one thing comes after another in quick succession, and without much rhyme and reason. Carroll himself recognized this as a potential issue in his essay, Alice on the Stage, and attributes to his tendency simply to be struck by ideas and develop them on their own, but it fits with the child's-perspective approach.

In this sense, 'nonsense' is a misleading name for the genre; it is really concerned with fragmentary sense. It's not that the White Rabbit is nonsense; it's that the White Rabbit is sense on its own, and that is all. As Carroll notes in the same essay:

And the White Rabbit, what of him? Was he framed on the `Alice’ lines, or meant as a contrast? As a contrast, distinctly. For her `youth’, `audacity’, `vigour’, and `swift directness of purpose’, read `elderly’, `timid’, `feeble’, and `nervously shilly-shallying’, and you will get something of what I meant him to be. I think the White Rabbit should wear spectacles. I am sure his voice should quaver, and his knees quiver, and his whole air suggest a total inability to say `Bo’ to a goose!

The White Rabbit is not an allegory, but a fragment capable of serving as allegory for the oddness, from a child's perspective, of the adult tendency to rush around and 'nervously shilly-shally'. The nonsense is that of the adult world insofar as its sense cannot be fully grasped by a child. Thus the baffling conversations, which are like the conversations children sometimes have to get through with adults in which they don't understand half of the assumptions being made; hence the arbitrariness of the examination for being queen, or the endless tumble of apparently incomprehensible punishments. If you see the world of adult sense with a child's partial perspective and imagination, that is the sort of 'nonsense' that we get in the Alice books. In both books this is mediated by the fact that it is supposed to be a dream; this, however, I think mostly serves to help the adult reader get a foothold in a child's world, where the difference between dream and waking is not so sharp because the latter does not always seem as obviously more coherent than the former.

But all this is, perhaps, a bit too serious; it's not an allegory for children among adults, although it uses something of that as a basis. It's a lot of silliness, of course, just for the sake of it. There is, of course, a great deal of humor throughout. I found the tendency of the Looking-Glass folk to recite poetry to Alice whether she wanted to hear or not rather funnier than I remembered.

Favorite Passages: From Alice:

The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good-natured, she thought: still it had very long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect.

‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. ‘Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question.

From Looking-Glass:

'I know what you're thinking about,' said Tweedledum: 'but it isn't so, nohow.'

'Contrariwise,' continued Tweedledee, 'if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.'

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Two New Poem Drafts

A Devil Rogue Yet Debonair

She saw him in the lunar light
on moonlit night of storm and dark;
the moon was horned and icy-bright
and painted shadows black and stark.
The wind was whipping through his hair,
a devil rogue yet debonair.

On nights of waning moon he went,
where lonely bent the wilder roads;
they say he howled from yearning pent;
they say his eyes with fury glowed.
A melancholy air he bore,
and sorrow like a mantle wore.

She loved him as a woman can;
a fire ran from eye to eye,
and all the charm of mortal man
like lightning from the tempest sky
upon her forest-heart then burned,
and, for a while, her love he earned.

But madness like contagious blight
of deadening spite through thought did spread;
his blood in fever raged at night
and ceaseless through the country led,
a second rot to turn love bad.
The first: that she a husband had.

As love grew stronger, she grew less,
as in each breath his passion grew,
an aching yearning to possess,
the power sought by love untrue.
For love seeks ways it may endure,
and impure love seeks ways impure.

He bade her swear to be his own
as shone the moon with wicked horn,
a vow to be like granite stone,
as if the wedded bond were torn.
She did; his words like heaven were,
for sweetness she her hell incurred.

such bonds are self-inflicted curse;
such thirsts can never steady last.
They soon will move from worse to worse
and worst of all as worse is passed.
You know it well, despite all lie:
a faithless love will faithless die.

She grew to hope, but he to tire;
the liar cast her off to roam.
She longed for death with heart's desire.
Her corpse is now beneath the loam.
Her husband wept in sable dressed;
his prayers alone her gravestone blessed.

And he, more driven night by night
as light of moon grew cold and fierce,
in madness born of moonlit sight
her shade he saw; his heart was pierced,
and madness from from its core,
and through his blood in fury poured.

Upon the rocks he cast his frame --
but blamed not he his own cruel deed.
And round his body demons flamed,
for sin to hell is as the seed.
A path through judgment ever goes,
and curse to loss like river flows.

She saw him in the lunar light,
on moonlit night of storm and dark.
The moon was horned and icy-bright
and painted shadows black and stark.
The wind was whipping through his hair,
a devil rogue and debonair.

Dionysian Cantillation

From the Father of lights a light goes out,
all-informing, undivided,
without confusion diversifying,
ever same and never changing.
Illuminated, the mind is exalted,
rising up to understanding,
where knower and known are one,
as spirits live in splendid choir.
But human thought is matter-mixed,
never rising on its own.
Through ministry of spirits bright,
a golden strand in heaven fixed,
the soul may put aside its chains,
seek the truth and find the truth,
and be restored to beauty.
Thrice by thrice does providence
enact through spirits endless things:
its first work, love, undying burns;
illumination springs from love;
righteous purity proceeds from both;
sublime in triple splendor,
these shape the world in threefold way,
by authority, by order, and by strength,
which are exercised in threefold way,
by presidence, by method, and by service due.
Thus ever spirit flows from light,
a light beyond what sight can see,
first in gift and first in splendor,
shining through each spiritual rank
like rays of sun through crystal pure.
Each order heralds those above it,
each manifesting from beginning to end,
each receiving from the light,
each instructing those below it.
Through hierarchies flows down endless light
to human hearts, by spirits taught
as eye is taught by burning lamp.
Rising, human reason travels
up that ladder raised to heaven,
growing ever more integral,
shining bright step by step,
until it is so bright with shining
it is life from light and without end.


Feast of the Immaculate Conception

By your Yes, O maiden, you made Truths true.
The prophets had spoken great things to come;
through your faith those prophecies were fulfilled.
They were the words of God, who does not lie,
and by the Son you bore they were made true.

So great a thing it is to bear the Lord!
And yet your faith is greater than that deed!
As you were made our Mother on His cross,
for our defense, O Mary, intercede!

By your Yes, O maiden, you gave us light,
for Light was born from your unsullied sky.
In His light, the light of God we will see
for from you comes a Priest forevermore,
the Lamb upon the Throne, who is our Light.

So great a thing it is to bear the Lord!
And yet your faith is greater than that deed!
As you were made our Mother on His cross,
for our defense, O Mary, intercede!

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Honey from the Swarm

Today is the feast of St. Aurelius Ambrosius, better known in English as St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church. He was in any many ways the most Roman of the Church Fathers. He was born in Gallia Belgica (modern day Belgium/Luxembourg/Netherlands) to a Roman family involved in the government there; he studied at Rome, and eventually was made governor of Aemilia-Liguria, whose capital, Mediolanum or Milan, was at the time the second most important city in the Empire in honors, and in practical importance probably the first. Milan had been rent by the controversy over Arianism, and its Arian bishop, Auxentius, had been one of the major Arian polemicists; after Auxentius's death, Ambrose went to the church to keep order, because the election of the bishop was likely to cause a serious uproar regardless of who was chosen. When he tried to give a speech encouraging people to be peaceful about the election, however, the crowd starting chanting "Ambrose, bishop!" While Ambrose was Christian, he was (like a lot of Romans at the time) merely a catechumen; he had never been baptized. Ambrose fled to a friend's house, but the Emperor Gratian had heard about the people's choice and sent a letter formally congratulating them on the excellent choice -- at which point Ambrose basically had very little choice. He was baptized, confirmed, ordained, and consecrated bishop of the second most important see in the West, all in the same week. And Ambrose, Roman to the core when it came to duty and honor, took it seriously; he started devoted himself to the study of theology, gave away most of his wealth, and began living ascetically. It actually turned out quite well; his top-notch Roman education, devoted to making him an excellent contributor to Roman government, had trained him for administration and public speaking and made him fluent in Greek, an increasingly rare thing in the West. This would be important in the fights to come, as he had showdown after showdown with increasingly powerful Arian patrons, including, eventually, Imperial ones.

From his work De officiis ministrorum (Book II, Chapter II), which adapts, fairly radically, the Ciceronian approach to ethics to Christian ethics:

The philosophers have made a happy life to depend, either (as Hieronymus) on freedom from pain, or (as Herillus) on knowledge. For Herillus, hearing knowledge very highly praised by Aristotle and Theophrastus, made it alone to be the chief good, when they really praised it as a good thing, not as the only good; others, as Epicurus, have called pleasure such; others, as Callipho, and after him Diodorus, understood it in such a way as to make a virtuous life go in union, the one with pleasure, the other with freedom from pain, since a happy life could not exist without it. Zeno, the Stoic, thought the highest and only good existed in a virtuous life. But Aristotle and Theophrastus and the other Peripatetics maintained that a happy life consisted in virtue, that is, in a virtuous life, but that its happiness was made complete by the advantages of the body and other external good things.

But the sacred Scriptures say that eternal life rests on a knowledge of divine things and on the fruit of good works. The Gospel bears witness to both these statements. For the Lord Jesus spoke thus of knowledge: “This is eternal life, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent.” About works He gives this answer: “Every one that hath forsaken house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name’s sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”


Faith, then, has [the promise of] eternal life, for it is a good foundation. Good works, too, have the same, for an upright man is tested by his words and acts. For if a man is always busy talking and yet is slow to act, he shows by his acts how worthless his knowledge is: besides it is much worse to know what one ought to do, and yet not to do what one has learnt should be done. On the other hand, to be active in good works and unfaithful at heart is as idle as though one wanted to raise a beautiful and lofty dome upon a bad foundation. The higher one builds, the greater is the fall; for without the protection of faith good works cannot stand. A treacherous anchorage in a harbour perforates a ship, and a sandy bottom quickly gives way and cannot bear the weight of the building placed upon it. There then will be found the fulness of reward, where the virtues are perfect, and where there is a reasonable agreement between words and acts.

One of Ambrose's hagiographical symbols is a beehive (he is also patron saint of practically anything bee-related). According to the story, when Ambrose was a baby, he was suddenly surrounded by a swarm of bees. After he was rescued, he turned out to be completely unharmed, indeed, unaffected in any way, except for a drop of nectar or honey on his cheek. His family is said to have regarded it as an omen that he would be an eloquent orator. It's a good emblem for Ambrose's life during the Arian swarm.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Star and Soup

Star of the Evening
by James M. Sayle

Beautiful star in heav’n so bright,
Softly falls thy silv’ry light,
As thou movest from earth afar,
Star of the evening, beautiful star.

Beautiful star,
Beautiful star,
Star of the evening, beautiful star.

In Fancy’s eye thou seem’st to say,
Follow me, come from earth away.
Upward thy spirit’s pinions try,
To realms of love beyond the sky.

Beautiful star,
Beautiful star,
Star of the evening, beautiful star.

Shine on, oh star of love divine,
And may our soul’s affection twine
Around thee as thou movest afar,
Star of the twilight, beautiful star.

Turtle Soup
by Lewis Carroll

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

Beau–ootiful Soo–oop!
Beau–ootiful Soo–oop
Soo–oop of the e–e–evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game or any other dish?
Who would not give all else
for two pennyworth only of Beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?

Beau–ootiful Soo–oop!
Beau–ootiful Soo–oop!
Soo–oop of the e–e–evening,
Beautiful, beauti–FUL SOUP!

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Meet Nicholas Steno (Re-Post)

Today is the feast of Bl. Nicholas Steno, so I re-post this with minor revision.

Depending on whether you date according to the Julian or the Gregorian calendar, Niels Stensen was born in Copenhagen January 1 (Julian) or January 11 (Gregorian) 1638. (The Gregorian calendar only began to be used in Denmark itself after 1700.) He was a second child of the goldsmith Sten Pedersen; his mother's name was Anne. He would become one of the great overachievers of the early modern period. While other people were often working on the same subjects, and there are several instances of 'firsts' typically attributed to him where it's possible to argue, depending on how you define terms, that he was really co-discoverer or independent discoverer, it is nonetheless extraordinary how often his name comes up as a candidate for a 'first'; whatever else may be said about his discoveries, Steno was at the forefront of a wide number of fields.

In 1656 he matriculated under the name Nicolaus Stenonis at Copenhagen University, and it is under variants of this name that he is most widely known. While he was attending University, Denmark and Sweden became involved in a war, and King Karl X Gustav of Sweden invaded. Because of winter ice in 1658, Karl Gustav was able to cross over to Zealand, the island on which Copenhagen was located. King Frederik III of Denmark had to cede territory to stop the advance. Karl Gustav invaded again in 1659 in an attempt to take all of Denmark; Copenhagen repelled the main attack, but remained under a landside siege until 1660. We know that Steno spent some time in a student company manning the ramparts, but not much more; most of what has survived of Steno's life is found in a text called the Chaos-manuscript (discovered in 1946 in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale of Florence, Italy, by Father Gustav Scherz): 92 folio pages of closely written observations, experiments, reflections, and excerpts.

In 1659 Steno seems to have sailed to Amsterdam, perhaps with an extended stop in Rostock, where he attended lectures by Gerard Blaes (Blasius), the City Physician. He was given leave at the time to do his own dissections, and entered the first major controversy of his life. During dissection of a sheep's head, he discovered the parotid excretory duct, and showed it to Blaes, who was inclined to dismiss it as either an artifact of dissection or a freak of nature. While it had been discovered before, this was not known at the time. Several days later he found the parotid excretory duct in a dog's head, and showed it to Blaes. After defending his thesis (on hot springs), he left Amsterdam for Leiden. At the University of Leiden, he showed his discovery to to several professors, one of whom (Van Horne) began demonstrating it in his anatomical lectures as the ductus Stenonianus (Stensen's duct, which is its name still). At about the same time, however, Blasius was demonstrating it in his lectures as his own discovery and by 1631 had published it, also as his own discovery. Niels found himself attacked as a plagiarizer by Blaes and his supporters. The dispute, quite fierce, lasted for some time, and did not entirely die out until it became more generally known just how brilliant an anatomist Steno actually was. Spurred on by the dispute, Steno plunged into his investigation of glands and ducts, and discovered (among many others) the lateral nasal gland, which is still called Steno's gland. Steno published his work, which was very well received. At this point he wanted to give anatomy a rest, but for various reasons soon returned to it. One of those reasons was the posthumous publication in 1662 of Descartes's Treatise on Man. Niels began to study the major subjects of that work: the heart, the muscles, and the brain. In 1662 he discovered sino-atrial and atrio-ventricular dissociation. He proved that the heart was entirely a muscle (which had been affirmed, without full explanation, by Harvey, but was not the common view at that time); he also discovered, pace Harvey, that the muscle was arranged spirally rather than circularly.

While in Leiden he made a number of acquaintances, which he would later call a very freethinking group, including Swammerdam, de Graat, and Spinoza, but he didn't stay long; in early 1664, he returned to Copenhagen. There he published De musculis et glandulis observationum specimen, one of the major early modern works in the history of cardiology. At this time he was 26.

In autumn of 1664, Steno left Copenhagen for Paris, and at some point in winter of 1665 he delivered a lecture on the brain (published in 1669 as Discours sur l'anatomie du cerveau). In the lecture he criticized Descartes's view of the brain, and, in particular, the appeal to animal spirits. After traveling in the south of France, Stensen arrived in Tuscany. In 1667 he published his major work on muscles, the Elementorum myologiae specimen, one of the distinctive features of which is that in it Steno develops a theory of muscle contractions that did not appeal to animal spirits. His alternative theory was attacked again and again, so that it was no longer held by anyone by the end of the 18th century. Work on the subject since 1980 has shown that parts of his argument actually did have some merit, and, on this point at least, myology has now caught up to where Steno was at age 29 in 1669.

The Elementorum myologiae specimen is also significant in that appended to it were two works describing shark dissections. One of these works, called Canis carchariae dissectum caput, noted the resemblance between shark's teeth and certain fossils; Steno agreed with those who had suggested that the latter were somehow versions of the former, and began to develop an argument that this was possible. The second treatise, the Historia dissecti piscis ex canum genere, showed that the 'testes mulierum' of the non-oviparous dogfish were sufficiently ovary-like to be considered ovaries. This is commonplace now, but at the time it was unclear whether the females of many species had ovaries. After the publication of this work, Steno continued his study of female reproductive organs, and is sometimes credited with being the first discoverer of the mammalian ovarian follicle.

In November 1667, Steno became Catholic. He was confirmed December 8, and on the same day he received a letter from Frederik III ordering him to return to Copenhagen; he replied with a letter asking if the order still stood given that he was no longer Lutheran. In the meantime, he studied geological formations, publishing a preliminary report on them in 1669: the De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus (also here in Latin). In it he gives the first systematic classification by common origin for solids within solids, and in so doing laid down the principles of reconstruction of geological history. The Prodromus is a founding text of paleontology and dynamic geology; it is also, with the work of Erasmus Bartholin on Iceland spar, one of the founding works of crystallography. One of its many important contributions was the recognition that the faces of quartz crystals are related to each other by a constant angle, which is perhaps the fundamental insight of crystallography. Here and there it is referred to as "Steno's rule".

From late 1668 to early 1670, Steno traveled through Europe confirming his geological theories and giving anatomical demonstrations. At one such demonstration (at Innsbruck in June) he dissected the head of a hydrocephalic calf, showing that the deformity was caused by a disease, and thus providing a strong argument against the view that it was caused by maternal fantasies, a view that still had some broad acceptance even up to the early nineteenth century. When he returned to Florence in 1670, he was made court geologist by the Grand Duke, Cosimo III. Steno became more involved in theological discussions, and on the publication of Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus in 1670, he wrote a letter to his old acquaintance urging him to become Catholic.

In April 1675 he was ordained a priest in Florence and became tutor and moral preceptor to the Crown Prince. In 1677 he was appointed by Innocent IX apostolic vicar of the northern missions and was consecrated the titular bishop of Titiopolis. Steno went to Hanover at the invitationof Duke Johann Friedrich of Brunswick-Lüneburg. When Johann Friedrich died, Steno became auxiliary bishop to Prince Bishop Ferdinand von Fürstenberg of Münster. Catholicism there seems to have been rather lax; Steno spent much of his time there advocating pastoral reform against strong opposition, and eventually left in protest. He began to live an ascetic life of poverty at Hamburg, during which he began, but never completed, an essay reviewing confirmed knowledge of the nervous system.

Steno died November 25 (Julian, 5 December Gregorian), 1686. He was 48. His last words are said to have been Jesus sis mihi Jesus et misericordiam tuam, Domine, in aeternum cantabo. Cosimo III had Steno's body brought back to Florence, where it can be found in the Church of San Lorenzo:

On 23 October 1988, John Paul II beatified him. His feast, officially celebrated in certain areas of Europe, is celebrated (as they often are) on the day of his death, December 5.


A number of the details from above are from:

Troels Kardel. Steno: Life - Science - Philosophy. Acta Historica Scientarum Naturalium et Medicinalium, vol 42. Munksgaard (Copenhagen) 1994.

Hans Kermit. Niels Stensen: The Scientist who was Beatified. Michael Drake, tr. Gracewing (Leominster, Herefordshire) 2003.

'Embedded Questions' and Knowledge-Wh

A lot of current work in the logic of questions is concerned with what are known as 'embedded questions' in knowledge-wh propositions. For instance,

John knows who went to the store

is said to have the embedded question, "who went to the store". Likewise, you could have "John knows where the store is", "John knows what is at the store", "John knows whether there is a store down the street", and so forth. These kinds of claims are often known as knowledge-wh propositions. The object, e.g., "who went to the store" is sometimes known as the wh-complement.

The fundamental problem with all of this is that the wh-complement in knowledge-wh propositions is not a question at all. The "who went to the store" in "John knows who went to the store" is not a question; it does not mean "Who went to the store?" but is just a description for the person or persons of whom it can be said that they went to the store. The claim is not that John knows the question "Who went to the store?" John knows who it is that went to the store.

Contrast this with cases involving a real embedded question:

John wondered who the man was.

John wondered, "Who was that man?"

These give us genuine interrogative expressions (the first indirectly, the second directly). The examples noted above do not, and therefore have nothing whatsoever to do with questions and how they work.

The usual way of handling this is to treat the wh-complement as a question, but one indicating the set of answers to the question; but as questions are not their answers, or any set of them, this is simply worthless.

To be sure, there is a pattern linking the wh-complements with verbally similar questions, and this is, in fact, something found in a number of very different languages, albeit with considerable variation. But the link is made to seem stronger than it in fact is, simply by the facts that (1) English neglects the subjunctive and similar moods; and (2) picking and choosing examples given that English allows so many different ways to say the same thing, and does not require you always to say things like, "John knows who it is that went to the store" or "John knows where the place is located".

No doubt there are fields in the philosophy of language where these 'embedded questions' are of some use; but the name should not fool a philosopher into thinking that one of these fields is the study of questions.

Fat Minds

Then we should be careful to provide this wholesome food in proper amount. Mental gluttony, or over-reading, is a dangerous propensity, tending to weakness of digestive power, and in some cases to loss of appetite: we know that bread is a good and wholesome food, but who would like to try the experiment of eating two or three loaves at a sitting?

I have heard a physician telling his patient—whose complaint was merely gluttony and want of exercise—that ‘the earliest symptom of hyper-nutrition is a deposition of adipose tissue,’ and no doubt the fine long words greatly consoled the poor man under his increasing load of fat.

I wonder if there is such a thing in nature as a FAT MIND? I really think I have met with one or two: minds which could not keep up with the slowest trot in conversation; could not jump over a logical fence, to save their lives; always got stuck fast in a narrow argument; and, in short, were fit for nothing but to waddle helplessly through the world.

Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), "Feeding the Mind". (This is a fairly nice essay, originally a public talk, in which, as the title suggests, is developed the analogy between eating well and learning well.)

Monday, December 04, 2017


The feast of St. John Damascene, Doctor of the Church, is today. His name at birth was probably (although not certainly) Yanah ibn Mansur ibn Sarjun, and he was a Christian in Muslim-occupied Syria in the eighth century. His family worked for the civil service under the Umayyad caliph, as they had under the Byzantine emperor before the conquest, and so, in turn, John did too, until he left for the monastery. His most famous work in the West is the Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. From Book I, Chapter V:

The Deity is perfect, and without blemish in goodness, and wisdom, and power, without beginning, without end, everlasting, uncircumscribed, and in short, perfect in all things. Should we say, then, that there are many Gods, we must recognise difference among the many. For if there is no difference among them, they are one rather than many. But if there is difference among them, what becomes of the perfectness? For that which comes short of perfection, whether it be in goodness, or power, or wisdom, or time, or place, could not be God. But it is this very identity in all respects that shews that the Deity is one and not many.

Again, if there are many Gods, how can one maintain that God is uncircumscribed? For where the one would be, the other could not be.

Further, how could the world be governed by many and saved from dissolution and destruction, while strife is seen to rage between the rulers? For difference introduces strife. And if any one should say that each rules over a part, what of that which established this order and gave to each his particular realm? For this would the rather be God. Therefore, God is one, perfect, uncircumscribed, maker of the universe, and its preserver and governor, exceeding and preceding all perfection.

Moreover, it is a natural necessity that duality should originate in unity.

Father William

The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them
by Robert Southey

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth would fly fast,
And abus'd not my health and my vigour at first,
That I never might need them at last."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And pleasures with youth pass away.
And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth could not last;
I thought of the future, whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And life must be hast'ning away;
You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"I am cheerful, young man," father William replied,
"Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remember'd my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age."

You Are Old, Father William
by Lewis Carroll

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

"You are old," said the youth, "As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
"I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling a box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, "And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!"

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Type of the Divine Word

An interesting passage in Philo, discussing Genesis 9:6 (Questions and Answers on Genesis, II.62):

Why is it that he speaks as if of some other god, saying that he made man after the image of God, and not that he made him after his own image? Very appropriately and without any falsehood was this oracular sentence uttered by God, for no mortal thing could have been formed on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe, but only after the pattern of the second deity, who is the Word of the supreme Being; since it is fitting that the rational soul of man should bear it the type of the divine Word; since in his first Word God is superior to the most rational possible nature. But he who is superior to the Word holds his rank in a better and most singular pre-eminence, and how could the creature possibly exhibit a likeness of him in himself? Nevertheless he also wished to intimate this fact, that God does rightly and correctly require vengeance, in order to the defence of virtuous and consistent men, because such bear in themselves a familiar acquaintance with his Word, of which the human mind is the similitude and form.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Lewis Carroll and Euclid

Lewis Carroll, or Charles Dodgson, as he was known in professional life, was, of course, a mathematician. Most of his mathematical work published in his lifetime was in linear and matrix algebra (Dodgson condensation is named after him, for instance), although he was interested in a number of other fields, as well. In addition to work in mathematics itself, he also wrote on mathematical pedagogy, and, in particular was a vehement defender of continuing to use Euclid to teach geometry. This defense is primarily found in Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1879) and Supplement to Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1885).

He gives his purpose for the first book right at the beginning:

The object of this little book is to furnish evidence, first, that it is essential, for the purpose of teaching or examining in elementary Geometry, to employ one textbook only; secondly, that there are strong a priori reasons for retaining, in all its main features, and specially in its sequence and numbering of Propositions and in its treatment of Parallels, the Manual of Euclid; and thirdly, that no sufficient reasons have yet been shown for abandoning it in favour of any one of the modern Manuals which have been offered as substitutes.

It is written in the form of a satirical dialogue between Minos and Rhadamanthus, both of whom are examiners treating modern textbooks like examination papers, the Phantasm of Euclid, and Professor Niemand, the counsel for the modern would-be replacements. Minos's description is perfect: "His hair, from much running of fingers through it, radiates in all directions, and surrounds his head like a halo of glory, or like the second Corollary of Euclid I.32." The second Corollary of I.32 is "All the exterior angles of any rectilineal figure are together equal to four right angles", and in Todhunter the diagram for it is:

The Elements of Euclid for the Use of Schools and Colleges - 1872 page 36b

One of Carroll's consistent points throughout is that for a geometry textbook you are not actually presenting geometry itself; what you want is "a book that will exercise the learner in habits of clear definite conception, and enable him to test the logical value of a scientific argument", as Minos tells the Phantasm of Euclid. Thus it is irrelevant whether there are omissions; overloading the curriculum is a danger to be avoided, and, in any case, if it's just a matter of adding a few theorems that have turned out to be especially useful, adding such things to Euclid is something that geometry teachers have always done. In addition, you want a clear line of inferences. While there are many cases in which you could do something in a different order than Euclid does, for teaching beginners, this is not something you should be getting into, and Euclid, having been a standard reference for so long, provides the service of a universal reference, with a numbering system on which everyone can agree.

Carroll regards only two of the criticisms of Euclid to be of any significance: the criticism that Euclid does not distinguish problems from theorems (which had been proposed as a major criticism in Carroll's day), and the criticism of Euclid's treatment of parallels. The former Carroll seems to find easily answered (separating problems and theorems doesn't actually seem to provide any improvement for the teaching of beginners), and most of the book is concerned with the latter. Part of the complexity of the latter is perhaps due to the fact that Carroll thinks axioms have to be established as axioms -- as Euclid tells Minos in discussing Playfair's Axiom, "What is an Axiom at one stage of our knowledge is often anything but an Axiom at an earlier stage" -- so to determine what should count as axiom, you need to lay out what it is useful for proving within a system and determine how it meets the several requirements for what you are trying to do. And, of course, in teaching geometry, one of the requirements is that it be suitable for beginners, that is, that it be something that can be grasped and used without a developed sense of geometrical constructions or proof techniques; most modern treatments Carroll thinks get tempted off the right pedagogical road by pursuit of a standard of elegance or rigor that raises the difficulty, without increasing clarity, for people just starting out.

Carroll had no problem with doing things differently from Euclid, however, as long as you didn't try to overcomplicate beginner's work with it, and he himself devoted a considerable amount of thought to different ways of handling parallels. One way is found in his Curiosa Mathematica, Part I -- or, actually two ways, since in his original version he used a hexagon in his substitute for Euclid's parallel postulate, but decided instead to simplify it further in the third edition to a tetragon. Part of what Carroll wanted to do was come up with a substitute for Euclid's treatment of the parallels that did not, like almost all other proposed at the time, involve infinities or infinitesimals in one way or another, but just used basic ideas easily accessible to human reason. His proposed substitute is, "In any Circle, the inscribed Tetragon is greater than any one of the Segments that lie outside it."

A great many people wonder why Carroll, so creative, shows little interest in non-Euclidean geometries; but, of course, even today non-Euclidean geometries are not what you think about for teaching people just starting out, so one wouldn't expect it to arise in the context of his work on mathematical pedagogy. As for the geometrical work itself, though, Carroll quite clearly regards Euclidean geometry as true, and thus the primary issue as one of finding the best foundations for a Euclidean geometry. It's also worth recalling -- mathematicians in particular tend to forget it when thinking about the history of mathematics -- that mathematical results do not propagate instantaneously, and prior to the twentieth century, they propagated very slowly indeed across national lines. People kept up with international work, as they could, but people in different nations often didn't share the same notations, teach the same methods, or prefer the same approaches. Carroll, even if he had not simply thought it a bunch of clever paradoxes, could have been aware of the work on non-Euclidean geometry without having had the kind of access to it that would have made it possible for him to work on the subject without essentially starting from scratch himself or devoting several years of his life to researching it.

Music on My Mind

Clamavi De Profundis, "Christmas Medley".

Adam Smith on Music

An interesting passage from Adam Smith on music (Theory of Moral Sentiments I.II.26):

When music imitates the modulations of grief or joy, it either actually inspires us with those passions, or at least puts us in the mood which disposes us to conceive them. But when it imitates the notes of anger, it inspires us with fear. Joy, grief, love, admiration, devotion, are all of them passions which are naturally musical. Their natural tones are all soft, clear, and melodious; and they naturally express themselves in periods which are distinguished by regular pauses, and which upon that account are easily adapted to the regular returns of the correspondent airs of a tune. The voice of anger, on the contrary, and of all the passions which are akin to it, is harsh and discordant. Its periods too are all irregular, sometimes very long, and sometimes very short, and distinguished by no regular pauses. It is with difficulty, therefore, that music can imitate any of those passions; and the music which does imitate them is not the most agreeable. A whole entertainment may consist, without any impropriety, of the imitation of the social and agreeable passions. It would be a strange entertainment which consisted altogether of the imitations of hatred and resentment.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Dashed Off XXV

"beings do not wish to be governed badly" (Aristotle, Met 1076a)

Taking into account all possibilities is as teleological as taking into account a goal in the future,and for similar reasons.

What has proportion is by nature reason-like.

A society cannot be more free than it is temperate or courageous.

the industriousness of spiritual poverty

The fundamental wrong of hypocrisy is that it is a refusal to repent.

The spirit of repentance is the mean between hypocrisy and brazenness.

four senses of id quod non est (Victorinus)
(1) privation
(2) not another
(3) not yet
(4) above what is

does not please on being seen
displeases on being seen
pleases on not being seen

problems as signs of predicables

God can be first moving cause only by being first efficient cause.

memorable, intelligible, true
appetible, eligible, good
lovable, enjoyable, beautiful

As a man may sin with a hand or foot, so Adam sinned with the whole human race.

the inbreaking of the world

The visible part of the Church is but the tip of its iceberg.

True love unifies by signs.

coherence and our sense of the external world as thoroughly philosophical

No human being has intrinsic title to the service of another human being.
extrinsic titles by: just exchange (private good) or just law (common good)
Just exchange requires it be for equivalent service, or for appropriate wage, or in compensation for loss or risk.
Just law, of course, requires that it be genuinely consistent with and conducive to common good.

A government does not have intrinsic title to the property of its citizens. Extrinsic title may rise from requirements of common good, either positive (general taxation) or negative (seizure for purposes of punishment) or from specific benefits (exchange of goods and services).

It is a moral responsibility of every good citizen not to appeal to the coercive power of the state except where genuinely necessary for safety and justice.

Justice is a giving virtue.

The human mind is naturally aphoristic.

participation and reflection as the fundamental mode of human learning

Aristotle's De Caelo 292a3-6 describes a lunar occultation of Mars. Three possible dates for it (Savoce, Natali):
16 March 325
4 May 357
20 March 361

syscholazein kai symphilosophein

Rashi's commentary on Gen 1:2: "The Throne of glory was suspended in the air and hovering over the face of the water with the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, and with His word, like a dove, which hovers over the nest."

schismatics as brethren (Optatus)

Medieval etymologies make more sense when one recognizes that they are extrapolating from how many Latin words were in fact formed.

commercio formatarum in the unity of the Church (Optatus Adv Don Book 2.iii)

communicatio memoriis sanctorum

"L'attention est la seule faculté de l'âme qui donne accès à Dieu." Weil

"it is one contradistinction of genius from talent, that is predominant end is always comprised in the means; and this is one of the many points, which establish an analogy between genius and virtue" Coleridge

Problems must be investigated many times in many ways to be properly understood.

constancy and coherence as signs of substance
substance as ground of invariances

A real definition summarizes a real explanation.

the evening reflection and the morning reflection of the Church

"in respect of Christ's true body no order is above priesthood, whereas in respect of Christ's mystic body, the episcopate is above the priesthood" (ST Supp 29.6ad1)

unction is intrinsically petitionary

Sacramental form should (1) establish what sacrament is given (2) indicate the divine power working in the sacrament (3) identify the effect. (Matrimony, however, complicates these matters.)

"just as baptism is a spiritual regeneration and penance a spiritual resurrection, so extreme unction is a spiritual healing or cure" (ST Supp 30.1)

People often fail to do what they prefer simply from the difficulty, or from inertia; and it is mere equivocation to say that this is because they prefer nondifficulty or not exerting themselves. Not preferring to use the means is not the same as preferring not to use the means.

The right to punish must always be bestowed; seizing it is wrong in and of itself.

The authority to punish cannot be severed from the responsibility to punish.

The most basic form of retributivism is that one may only punish the deserving. No retributivist in practice also holds that all the deserving are to be punished, so the only question then is what additional principles are needed.

Hart's theory of punishment gets things exactly backwards. Retributivism is suited only to answering the general justifying aim, except in certain obvious cases; utility is only a suitable consideration for systems already restricting punishment to the guilty, and set up for precisely that purpose of punishing the guilty. Whom we actually punish must be tempered by concerns for general welfare, however.

eagerness to punish as a character flaw

Most arguments against the death penalty may be adapted to have force against life imprisonment.

One needs reasoning well before one gets to argument.

toledoth // apostolicity

Whether a story or account is useful is a purely causal question.

laws of nature // world-soul
(the analogy becomes more exact if we think of natural powers of the world-soul)

What makes geometry so powerful is the ability to make new definitions.

the twin themes of pity and hope in Middle-Earth

pity and counsels of healing

the conditions of good government (cp Polybius)
(1) The political order is voluntarily accepted by the people through reason rather than through force.
(2) Governance is by the most just and most wise.
(3) The community is structured by traditionary and customary respect (for gods, for parents, for elders, for laws) and the will of the majority prevails.

confirmation as the sacrament of many ends

centers as point-boundaries
circularity as directional indistinguishability

putting one idea in the guise of another to see how they interrelate

There is no single property of pleasantness common to all pleasures.

hierarchy, collegiality, conciliarity
subsidiarity, solidarity, x

stylization of thought as an instrument of thought

geography of possibilities, topography of reasons

aphorism as cellular communication

Human sexuality naturally tends to allegorize other things as sexual (this allegorization is a major part of what is called bawdiness).

Estel as the condition for the possibility of Amdir in matters of salvation (estel being trust that healing is possible, amdir being expectation of that very good)

Amdir: expectation OF good
Estel: expectation THAT Good will do good

the human person as demiurge

"Romance and poetry, like ivy, lichens, and wall-flowers, need Ruin to make them grow." Hawthorne

The problem with American Catholicism is not that it has no roots but that it does not put down any. Its roots are inherited and not encouraged to grow deeper into new soil.

The privation of sin does not expire with time.

accounts of qualia & accounts of figurative language

The promulgation of consent is governed by convention.

in dubio pro reo
in dubio mitius

Having been united by goodwill with the Word, the Church became inseparable from Him, having in all things one work with Him, in a supremely intimate union. The Word, indwelling the Church, unites with Himself all He receives, preparing the Church to enter into communion with all the dignity that He, the Son, indwelling the Church, makes common for them. He makes the Church one with Him by virtue of the unity to which He raises the Church, communicating to the Church all primacy and willing by good will to accomplish all manner of things with and in and through the Church.

To be united in marriage is to be such that some of one's operations are cooperations simply by virtue of the marriage itself.

(1) Marriage is a more basic society than civil society.
(2) Civil society has moral obligations to marriage.

Mt 6:13
Kingdom : Father :: power : Son :: glory : Spirit (Bulgakov)

An account of belief is defective if it does not allow for believing in common.

We can misapply 'I'. ('Am I the one doing that?')

"the whole world is man's potential and peripheral body" (Bulgakov)

deference-structures, loyalty-structures (membership), and exchange-structures in society

deference (authority), loyalty (common wisdom, communal values), and exchange (shared agreement) as colors of starting-points for arguments in rhetoric

The heavens filtered through human mind declare the glory of God; by human poetry day utters speech to day and by human lore night manifest knowledge to night.

Duradus claims diaconate is a sacramental; Victoria takes this to be probably true; Bellarmine takes it to be a sacrament. Starting with Paul VI there is clear attribution of indelible character.
Given the nature of the diaconate, one would expect to be able better to observe the major-sacramentality of the order in extraordinary rather than ordinary matters.
The deacon does not serve only by doing but by the witness of being.
Optatus on the diaconate as third priesthood (Contra Parmen 1.13); see also Leo I (Ep 12.5, 14.3f); Jerome (Ep 48,21)

All discussion of pure possibility seems to require something like Aristotle's argument by analogy for prime matter.

Much of scientific experimentation proceeds by making a series of bets that will ultimately result in a loss; the scientist is looking for a loss.

Betting against a necessary truth is a sure loss regardless of one's evidence for it.

necessity-like contingent truths (one's own existence, very general causes, practically-necessary truths with moral certainty)

Lack of evidence is only evidence to the contrary to the extent one's search is discernibly general.
There is a dog in the room -> A dog exists
~ (There is no dog in the room -> No dog exists)

Note that language in Genesis begins with God and comes down to man; man extends it to describe his world; the temptation comes by conversation, and the fall leads man to be afraid of God's voice; then man seeks to ascend to God and God confounds the language.

(1) Not all human judgment is belief, or of the same kind.
(2) Under the right conditions, probable reasoning can lead to certainty.
(3) How evidence affects the probability of a conclusion depends on the entire context, not solely on features of the evidence, and changing the evidence can sometimes require evaluation of all the other evidence.
(4) Evidence may overdetermine a conclusion.
(5) Evidence does not always affect the probability of a conclusion; it may change other features of evidence (e.g., availability or defeasibility).
(6) Absence of evidence is only evidence of absence if one has definite reason to think one must accept a negation as failure rule for one's conclusions.
(7) A reasonable person not only considers evidence for a position but ramifications of changing a position.
(8) There are no degrees of belief as such.
(9) Evidence and belief are distinct things not subject to the same measure.
(10) Logical inference captures more fundamental aspects of evidence evaluation than probability theory.
(11) Inquiry is more properly modeled as a search than as a probabilistic weighing.
(12) When people talk about probabilities in the context of inquiry, they do not mean only one kind of thing.
(13) New evidence can change what counts as evidence.
(14) The most important element for evaluation of evidence is why something is or is not evidence; any reasonable assessment of probabilities is downstream from this.

True humility has an intrinsic link with clarity of perspective.

People make themselves evident.

the dangers of soundbite ethics

schematic instrument // formalized argument

"Reflected beauty like reflected light has a special loveliness of its own -- or we shouldn't, I suppose, have been created." Tolkien

Gently and Roughly

Speak Gently
by David Bates

Speak gently! -- It is better far
To rule by love, than fear --
Speak gently -- let not harsh words mar
The good we might do here!

Speak gently! -- Love doth whisper low
The vows that true hearts bind;
And gently Friendship's accents flow;
Affection's voice is kind.

Speak gently to the little child!
Its love be sure to gain;
Teach it in accents soft and mild: --
It may not long remain.

Speak gently to the young, for they
Will have enough to bear --
Pass through this life as best they may,
'T is full of anxious care!

Speak gently to the aged one,
Grieve not the care-worn heart;
The sands of life are nearly run,
Let such in peace depart!

Speak gently, kindly, to the poor;
Let no harsh tone be heard;
They have enough they must endure,
Without an unkind word!

Speak gently to the erring -- know,
They may have toiled in vain;
Perchance unkindness made them so;
Oh, win them back again!

Speak gently! -- He who gave his life
To bend man's stubborn will,
When elements were in fierce strife,
Said to them, 'Peace, be still.'

Speak gently! -- 't is a little thing
Dropped in the heart's deep well;
The good, the joy, which it may bring,
Eternity shall tell.

Speak Roughly
by Lewis Carroll

Speak roughly to your little boy,
And beat him when he sneezes;
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases.

Wow! wow! wow!

I speak severely to my boy,
I beat him when he sneezes;
For he can thoroughly enjoy
The pepper when he pleases!

Wow! wow! wow!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sword in the Stone

People studying the provenance of various legends and myths usually trace back the idea of the sword in the stone (in Arthurian legend) to the hagiography of St. Galgano Guidotti, whose feast is today. St. Galgano was a twelfth-century saint. He was a knight, and said to be rather arrogant and ruthless, but one day his horse refused to be guided and ran up to the hill of Montesiepe, where he had a vision of the Archangel Michael. In response, he drove his sword into a rock, which, it is said, it went through as if it were butter, and fused with the stone. There he started a hermitage, the Rotonda at Montesiepe (which was later given to the Cistercians), and there you can see the sword even today.

San Galgano Spada nella roccia

Galgano lived during the period when the first formalized canonization process was being put into place, and thus, when he was canonized a few years after his death, he was one of the first to go through that process. For that reason we know more about his actual life than we probably would have otherwise known. (The earlier default process, by long local veneration, has many advantages, but, unlike the formal process often lets historical traces fade into the mists of legend.) When in the nineteenth century it became fashionable to be preemptively skeptical of legends like St. Galgano's -- i.e., not merely recognizing them as stories with accumulation and occasionally transformation, misunderstanding, and assimilation to other stories, but treating them as active fictions made up whole cloth unless it can be shown otherwise -- the sword was often assumed to be a modern forgery; but the sword is indeed medieval, and the basic story goes back almost to the life of St. Galgano himself. Were the sword to have vanished, people would doubtless now regard it as pure fiction; but, whatever one's explanation of how it got there, there actually is a sword in the stone.

Nonsense and Wonder

If, therefore, nonsense is really to be the literature of the future, it must have its own version of the Cosmos to offer; the world must not only be the tragic, romantic, and religious, it must be nonsensical also. And here we fancy that nonsense will, in a very unexpected way, come to the aid of the spiritual view of things. Religion has for centuries been trying to make men exult in the 'wonders' of creation, but it has forgotten that a thing cannot be completely wonderful so long as it remains sensible. So long as we regard a tree as an obvious thing, naturally and reasonably created for a giraffe to eat, we cannot properly wonder at it. It is when we consider it as a prodigious wave of the living soil sprawling up to the skies for no reason in particular that we take off our hats, to the astonishment of the park-keeper. Everything has in fact another side to it, like the moon, the patroness of nonsense. Viewed from that other side, a bird is a blossom broken loose from its chain of stalk, a man a quadruped begging on its hind legs, a house a gigantesque hat to cover a man from the sun, a chair an apparatus of four wooden legs for a cripple with only two.

G. K. Chesterton, "A Defence of Nonsense"

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Optative Inference

If we can have imperative logic and erotetic logic, we can surely have a logic of optatives (or euctic logic, if you prefer the Greek).

Suppose, for instance, someone says, "God save the Queen!" From this I can infer, "There is a Queen." If I say, "If only we were rich!", from this you can infer, "We are not rich." If someone says, "May John get well soon!", you can directly infer that John is not well yet.

A very natural way to interpret optative inference would be to take optatives to be assertions about wishing or wanting. If I say, "If only it were so", this does seem to be very much like, "I wish it were so", and the two would at least often be equivalent. This, you will note, is essentially the Bolzano approach; Bolzano thought that questions worked this way, but it's even more plausible with optatives. It does raise a question, though. Bolzano's account of questions naturally has a number of problems, not least that which Husserl noted about its implausibility in dealing with silent wondering. Are there optative analogues to 'silent wondering'?

If optatives are not assertions like this, then truth values need to be answered, and presumably there would be some analogy to imperatives in this way.

Sluggard and Lobster

The Sluggard
by Isaac Watts

'Tis the voice of the sluggard; I heard him complain,
"You have waked me too soon, I must slumber again."
As the door on its hinges, so he on his bed,
Turns his sides and his shoulders and his heavy head.

"A little more sleep, and a little more slumber;"
Thus he wastes half his days, and his hours without number,
And when he gets up, he sits folding his hands,
Or walks about sauntering, or trifling he stands.

I pass'd by his garden, and saw the wild brier,
The thorn and the thistle grow broader and higher;
The clothes that hang on him are turning to rags;
And his money still wastes till he starves or he begs.

I made him a visit, still hoping to find
That he took better care for improving his mind:
He told me his dreams, talked of eating and drinking;
But scarce reads his Bible, and never loves thinking.

Said I then to my heart, "Here's a lesson for me,"
This man's but a picture of what I might be:
But thanks to my friends for their care in my breeding,
Who taught me betimes to love working and reading.

'Tis the Voice of the Lobster
by Lewis Carroll

'Tis the voice of the Lobster: I heard him declare
"You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair."
As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose
Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.
When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,
And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark;
But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.

I passed by his garden, and marked, with one eye,
How the Owl and the Panther were sharing a pie:
The Panther took pie-crust, and gravy, and meat,
While the Owl had the dish as its share of the treat.
When the pie was all finished, the Owl, as a boon,
Was kindly permitted to pocket the spoon;
While the Panther received knife and fork with a growl,
And concluded the banquet by ---

Monday, November 27, 2017

Evening Note for Monday, November 27

Thought for the Evening: The Hegelian Ontological Argument

Graham Oppy, in his article on ontological arguments for the SEP:

I provide no example of a ‘Hegelian’ ontological argument because I know of no formulation of such an argument. Many people assert that Hegel provided an ontological argument; but, when pressed for a list of the premises of the argument, Hegel’s friends fail to deliver.

I find this a little baffling, because while there are complications with interpreting Hegel in general, and while there are complications with interpreting Hegel on ontological arguments (because the best discussion, in Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, is something of a mess due to not being in a finished form), there is no real mystery about this -- the basic outlines, at least, are clear enough, and there's no excuse for Oppy to be talking about it at all if he is incapable of doing the basic scholarship of actually picking up Hegel and working through it on his own. I thought I would say a few things about it; I am going to try to avoid the very technical and finicky (anything Hegelian gets both very quickly), in order to deal with the basic point.

The first and most important thing to understand about Hegel on the ontological argument -- about Hegel on anything, really -- is that Hegel thinks concepts, positions, and arguments are dynamic, not static. They are in motion. Arguments do not consist in a "list of the premises" (although single stages, snapshots, will have such a thing); they consist in the movement from premise to conclusion. And, what is more, arguments transform into arguments, positions into positions, concepts into concepts in rigorous fashion. This is the fundamental key to grasping the basics of Hegel's position on the ontological argument: Hegel's argument is not going to be just a single stage, but is going to be a result of an argument being faced with an objection which can be overcome by a rethinking of the original argument in light of the objection. That's Hegelian dialectic: the original argument is right (but not as originally interpreted), the objection to it is right (but it opens the possibility of an interpretation to which it does not apply). It's perfectly fine to call the last stage of this 'Hegel's ontological argument', but the whole point is that you cannot understand its 'list of premises' unless you understand how those premises grew.

Stage I. Hegel begins with Anselm's version of the argument; it is where he starts and in a sense where he will end up. He intends to give a version of Anselm's argument. It will, of course, not be Anselm as Anselm understood him, but Anselm Hegelianized, transformed. Things are complicated a bit, as well, by the fact that Hegel's Anselm, like Kant's on those few occasions where Kant acknowledges him, is a somewhat Cartesianized Anselm. That argument is, more or less (this is just the simplified form of an argument that can be explicated more fully):

(1) God is what is most perfect, beyond which nothing can be thought.
(2) If God is merely an idea, He is not what is most perfect.

In other words, we start with God 'subjectively', as idea, a possibility, distinct from being, and since God cannot be God and be merely 'subjective', God must also be 'objective', exist in reality. This is the transition involved in Anselm's argument.

Stage II. To this, Kant opposes the objection that being is not a real predicate, and so does not add anything to the concept. As Hegel notes, this assumes there is no difference between the case of God and finite, limited, contingent things. But the objection has some bite because Anselm's argument starts with the concept distinct from being and then transitions to being; this seems to be the sort of thing that can only be done with hypothetical necessity. The ontological argument assuming God's existence to get God's existence.

Thus we have Anselm's argument, which is not exactly refuted by Kant's objection (since Kant's objection assumes that the case of God is not different from the case of thalers), but which is problematized by it; and Kant's objection, which does not quite succeed as a refutation but raises a serious problem for Anselm. But there are no impasses in Hegel.

Stage III. The problem, Hegel thinks, is that both Anselm and Kant think that you can start with the concept rather than the existence. This is not quite right. Remember, Hegel thinks that concepts are in motion. Concepts do not just sit there; they express themselves. This is the reason for the famous comment Hegel makes on Kant's thalers: You can't imagine thalers into existence, but you can achieve them as a goal by working for them. We don't merely go around with the concept of money; our concept of money expresses itself into an actual system of economics in which money can be obtained. Working for money shows that concepts move into actual being. The concept obviously is generally not just the same as the being; but concept is related to being as (actualizing) potential to actual. The concept has existence potentially; but this is, again, not a mere passive potential, but is being worked out as the motion of the concept. The subjective concept is making itself objective. This is true of all concepts, although it is in the very nature of how Hegel thinks of this that the potential dynamism in each concept will often work itself out in very surprising ways. This is very important: Concepts are not static for Hegel; they are ongoing processes expressing a potential.

Thus another way to state the problem both with Anselm and with Kant, as Hegel thinks of it, is that they are both thinking of concepts or ideas as static, and thus missing part of what it is to be a concept in the first place. (Hegel would, of course, regard Oppy's demand for a list of premises as a sign that he, too, misses the point, not because you can't give such lists of premises, but because they are only samplings of the actual argument, identifying only one stage of it, and unable to be interpreted without a context. If Oppy gets a list of premises, what is he going to do with them? Merely assume that he understands them? Guess at their meaning? As we'll see this is not a mere quibble; it is the heart of the matter.) If, however, we interpret Anselm's argument not statically but dynamically, the argument avoids any problem raised by Kant's objection. The concept, in being a concept, is an activity of turning itself into reality. It is not merely subjective; it is becoming objective; it is a living movement. God is not assumed; being is not assumed as being in the concept, it is put forward as the goal, the result, of the task or process that the concept is.

Thus the premises are not a problem here; if you want premises, they are the same as Anselm's (in the Cartesianized forms of which the simplified version is given above). This doesn't help you any, however; you need to know the interpretation, which you can only have by establishing its place in the dialectic. Hegel's premises are rethinkings of Anselm's. A crude, rough way to get a sense of what Hegel means is that Anselm's starting-points need to be interpreted teleologically. Mind, conceptualizing the Absolute, works itself out to be the Absolute. This is why Hegel is so very sympathetic to the ontological argument: interpreted in Hegelian terms, it just is the basic outline of Hegel's system.

Various Links of Note

* Emanuel Rutten, Dissolving the Scandal of Propositional Logic?

* There's been some recent hubbub over the CFPB, a relatively new agency devoted to upholding financial protections for consumers; the Obama-appointed Director, Richard Cordray, is leaving. The Trump administration appointed an Acting Director -- and Cordray appointed a Deputy Director to become Acting Director. The latter would in most cases be insanely stupid, since the first principle of government ethics is that actions under color of authority must have an appropriate ground of authority, and most Directors would not have such an authority. But in this particular case, when Congress set up the CFPB, it gave the Director the authority to appoint a Deputy Director and the Deputy Director the power to be the Acting Director when there is need. The conflict has led to legal action. In reality, I don't think Cordray has a leg to stand on here, although he has received support from some significant people, like Senator Warren; yes, Cordray has the authority to appoint a Deputy Director, but the Federal Vacancies Reform Act gives the President practically unlimited power to appoint an Acting Director, as long as it is someone who has already been appointed with the consent of the Senate. The FVRA has not been repealed; the standing rule for legal interpretation is that laws cannot be repealed merely by implication, so courts must uphold both laws in as substantive a sense as possible. The most natural way to do that is to hold that the President can appoint an Acting Director in either way: by letting a Deputy Director serve as Acting Director without special appointment, or by specially appointing someone. And the other issue here is that in a matter of dispute over how the government itself works, one defers by default to the relevant Constitutional office; as Congress has not explicitly required the President to let the Deputy Director become Acting Director (a requirement that would certainly be challenged and could very well not be constitutional), as a matter of government ethics (and constitutional law), the President would typically be presumed to have the authority to act as he could in any other case. This is not a sure thing, because laws can add complications, but it seems to me the natural diagnosis. In any case, Adam White discusses the matter with the relevant legal quirks. It has also been argued previously, by Kent Barnett, that the legislation concerning the Deputy Director of the CFPB is itself constitutionally problematic.

* Pius XI, Quas Primas, on the Feast of Christ the King:

If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquillity, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent. Men will see in their king or in their rulers men like themselves, perhaps unworthy or open to criticism, but they will not on that account refuse obedience if they see reflected in them the authority of Christ God and Man. Peace and harmony, too, will result; for with the spread and the universal extent of the kingdom of Christ men will become more and more conscious of the link that binds them together, and thus many conflicts will be either prevented entirely or at least their bitterness will be diminished.

* Charles Dickens and Two Kinds of Punch

* The Babylon Bee, Liberal Christian Attempts to Debate Atheist but They Just Agree on Everything. Sometimes parody is practically truth.

Currently Reading

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass
Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments
Cathy Cobb, Monty Fetterolf, and Harold Goldwhite, The Chemistry of Alchemy
Kenneth Laine Ketner, Elements of Logic: An Introduction to Peirce's Existential Graphs
David Makinson, Sets, Logic and Maths for Computing
Edith Stein, The Hidden Life
Tanith Lee, The Secret Books of Paradys, III & IV

Bee and Crocodile

Against Idleness and Mischief
by Isaac Watts

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skilfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labour or of skill
I would be busy too:
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play
Let my first years be past,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

How Doth the Little Crocodile
by Lewis Carroll

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Fortnightly Book, November 26

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson got his pen name by taking his first two names, translating them into Latin (Carolus Ludovicus), switching them, and re-translating them into English a different way. He was not the one who actually chose it -- he submitted to his editor, Edmund Yates, as one candidate among several for a pen-name, the others being Edgar Cuthwellis, Edgar U. C. Westhill, and Louis Carroll. Yates chose Lewis Carroll, thus sparing us Alice in Wonderland by Edgar Cuthwellis. Dodgson studied to be an Anglican priest, but concluded in the end that it was not for him; he became a mathematician at Christ Church, a position he seems to have detested, perhaps because he found himself intellectually lonely there -- Dodgson, despite a certain shyness due to his stuttering, was an extremely sociable person, with a wide network of friends and an immense correspondence, and any kind of isolation seems to have caused problems for him. (It seems, for instance, to have hampered his work in logic that he had no one to discuss it with except John Cook Wilson, who not only did not fully understand what he was doing, but was a bit patronizing about it, as well.)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865, in part on the recommendation of George MacDonald; Through the Looking-glass was published in 1871. I'll be doing both. Despite both being nonsense-tales, they are elaborately constructed out of any number of logical, mathematical, and recreational puzzles. For instance, here is Carroll's own description of Through the Looking-glass as a chess game:

Alice chess game

We'll see what we can pull out of the puzzle and riddle of the tales; it is not an accident that they are both structured on games, so let the game begin.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Twice-Told Tales


Sample Opening Passage: From "The Birthmark", which captures a common theme in Hawthorne's work:

In the latter part of the last century there lived a man of science, an eminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy, who not long before our story opens had made experience of a spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one. He had left his laboratory to the care of an assistant, cleared his fine countenance from the furnace smoke, washed the stain of acids from his fingers, and persuaded a beautiful woman to become his wife. In those days when the comparatively recent discovery of electricity and other kindred mysteries of Nature seemed to open paths into the region of miracle, it was not unusual for the love of science to rival the love of woman in its depth and absorbing energy. The higher intellect, the imagination, the spirit, and even the heart might all find their congenial aliment in pursuits which, as some of their ardent votaries believed, would ascend from one step of powerful intelligence to another, until the philosopher should lay his hand on the secret of creative force and perhaps make new worlds for himself. We know not whether Aylmer possessed this degree of faith in man's ultimate control over Nature. He had devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studies ever to be weaned from them by any second passion. His love for his young wife might prove the stronger of the two; but it could only be by intertwining itself with his love of science, and uniting the strength of the latter to his own.

Summary: The stories in the volume I read were collected from three different short story collections published by Hawthorne; they are practically all well known. One of the notable things about the selection is that it markedly toned down Hawthorne's tendency to allegorize -- except for the pure satire-allegory of "The Celestial Railroad" and some of the more popular moralizations, like "Lady Eleanore's Mantle",it mostly just peeks out here and there. I'm not sure this is fair to Hawthorne, because Hawthorne has two strengths: allegorization and atmosphere. Throwing out too much of one gives an unbalanced Hawthorne. Modern readers tend to have a distaste for allegory; this distaste is sometimes justifiable, but more often it is bad taste. Hawthorne still lived in a day when Pilgrim's Progress was in practically every house, when preachers still preached the world as a typology of moral and religious life, when Calvinist and Transcendentalist alike saw the world in moral terms. The palate was accustomed to allegory, so allegory was part of the palette. On the other side, I find it a bit suspicious that the stories that tend to be preferred by modern readers are those that in some way can be read as jabbing at Calvinist gloominess; I wonder if the more allegorical side of Hawthorne jabs at the pet views of modern readers more than they like.

In any case, I read most of Hawthorne in high school. I had read Little Women, which had led to Pilgrim's Progress; then we had read "Young Goodman Brown" in American literature, and, liking it, I looked around for more Hawthorne and happened to stumble upon "The Celestial Railroad", which, of course, uses the framework of Pilgrim's Progress to mock the world of Hawthorne's day, with its sleek taste for making things, anything, more efficient, and for going more comfortably and quickly in any direction you wished to go, even if it was in the direction of hell. Even after reading a lot of Hawthorne it (along with House of Seven Gables) became my favorite work by him. I was pleased to find, not having read it in several years, that it holds up splendidly, and is still my favorite. One that improved greatly was "The Artist of the Beautiful", which I vaguely remember not liking very much, and yet found quite enjoyable this time around. Likewise, I enjoyed "Mr. Higginbotham's Catastrophe" a bit more than I remember. "The Great Stone Face", on the other hand, seemed a little strained.

In addition to reading the short stories, I listened to classic radio adaptations (a reason why this fortnight extended to three weeks). I have already discussed the four versions of "Rappaccini's Daughter" to which I listened. In addition, I listened to The Weird Circle's adaptations of "Ethan Brand" (retitled as "The Heart of Ethan Brand") and "Lady Eleanore's Mantle" (retitled as "The Curse of the Mantle"). Both were fairly freely adapted, emphasizing the fantastic elements -- for instance, the latter takes Hawthorne's identification of the mantle with pride and runs with it, making an interesting story, but one with a very different atmosphere than Hawthorne's original. CBS Radio Mystery Theater's "The Birthmark" made a strong effort to stay close to the story; it does so by telling a lot of it in conversation, which gives an interesting staccato pacing to the tale. I listened to two versions of "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment": one by Favorite Story and another by CBS Radio Mystery Theater. The Favorite Story adaptation was splendid; easily the best of all the adaptations I heard -- discovering it was worth the time spent listening to all the episodes I listened to for this project, and I highly recommend it. The CBSRMT version was pretty decent -- it's a good story for radio -- although not as good as the Favorite Story version, in part because it felt a little more padded -- it only really starts picking up halfway through. I also listened to Vanishing Point's "The Artist of the Beautiful", which was, shall we say, entirely bizarre, in part due to VP's taste for modernizing old tales; they make Owen a 1980s computer programmer and Annie a slang-slinging feminist with an interest in robotics. Everyone becomes infinitely more annoying. It's also over-busy in terms of music and sound effects. The basic idea in the adaptation was interesting, but it doesn't, I think, come out entirely as it should have (although they do a good job with the ending).

Favorite Passage: This passage, from "Earth's Holocaust", jumped out at me this reading:

From Shakespeare there gushed a flame of such marvellous splendor that men shaded their eyes as against the sun's meridian glory; nor even when the works of his own elucidators were flung upon him did he cease to flash forth a dazzling radiance from beneath the ponderous heap. It is my belief that he is still blazing as fervidly as ever.

"Could a poet but light a lamp at that glorious flame," remarked I, "he might then consume the midnight oil to some good purpose."

"That is the very thing which modern poets have been too apt to do, or at least to attempt," answered a critic. "The chief benefit to be expected from this conflagration of past literature undoubtedly is, that writers will henceforth be compelled to light their lamps at the sun or stars."

"If they can reach so high," said I; "but that task requires a giant, who may afterwards distribute the light among inferior men. It is not every one that can steal the fire from heaven like Prometheus; but, when once he had done the deed, a thousand hearths were kindled by it."

Recommendation: Hawthorne is very uneven, but his worst is always at least good, and his best is very good. Highly Recommended.