Saturday, May 26, 2018

Dashed Off X

An argument cannot apply itself.

bi: obsession with one aspect in such a way that one cannot accommodate the significance of other aspects; opposed to ming as blindness to clarity

Sustained political violence always depends on accessory enablers and post-hoc enablers.

Human nature is unhoned.

Shameless people will escalate harder against you than you can escalate against them. They need to be sidelined, not the focus of obsessive attrition. One sidelines them by focusing on what is more essential.

Going around actively trying to shame people is usually an injustice. The difficult question to answer is: When is it not? A necessary condition seems to be some kind of stakeholding, and it seems clear that what may be done depends on the kind of stakeholding.

Escalation only works under two conditions: (1) you have overwhelming advantage; (2) the other already doesn't want to be in the conflict either through first-order reluctance (don't want to be fighting this kind of conflict) or through second-order (don't want to be fighting at all), and can see a better alternative.

The most basic principle of government is: Actions in guise of authority must have a specific and appropriate ground of authority.

A problem with deterrence theories of punishment is that deterrence does not answer questions like, "Why not use the same punishments to deter other actions with bad consequences, like over-eating?" The only answer can be that some things are, independently, more punishment-worthy than others.

Reasoned discussion is the first and most basic form of politics. Any political view that does not recognize this is a form of political corruption. In this world, other methods and means may be necessary, but if they are not subordinated to reasoned discussion, they are simply an expression of might-makes-right.

Verecundia in Aquinas's sense should probably be more like a potential part than an integral part - kin to continentia. There is something in Temperance functionally filling that integral part place. (As Justice has doing good & avoiding evil, so Temperance has honoring the beautiful/graceful and avoiding/rejecting the disgraceful.)

convention marches vs protest marches

"The mind is the artisan and the steward of the Way." Xunzi

The sense of novelty is certainly linked to the sense of (im)plausibility, but neither is reducible to the other.

Shaming punishments are either exposures or harassments.

Shunning punishments: boycott, ban, banishment.

shaming punishments & issues of detraction
- actually a great many things pertaining to justice can be seen as restricting this and other kinds of punishment

All reasons for disestablishment of state churches seem to carry over and apply, with minimal change, to disestablishment of state schools.

intrinsic & extrinsic titles to penalty

opinions (properly speaking) vs opinion-like gestures

li as a way things are set in order

Dao is order that sets in order.

normification // classification
artificial normification converges on natural normification

"The noble uses authority; the petty uses force." Xunzi

There is no difference of significance between yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater and rigging up a machine or pulling a fire alarm to get the same effect; that the one is done by means of speech is incidental to the act and the reasons for prohibiting it.

Civilization in the broad sense is the tradition of reasoned interaction.

We are not structured so that it is easy for us to pursue being pleased; we are instead structured to pursue things, and then be pleased in attaining them.

The purpose of the police is not primarily to make the citizens do right or avoid wrong; it is primarily to be a middleman and buffer between citizens in matters that can lead to violence.

Nothing is worse for politics than trying to use political means to shortcircuit rational discussion.

The Bible itself records a history over centuries of continually reading the texts of previous ages more deeply.

aspects of the literal sense of Scripture
(1) local grammatical
(2) local historical
(3) unity of Scripture
(4) centrality of Christ
(5) ecclesially dispositive character

conjecture refinement processes

title to taxes & risk, loss, and service

(1) truth with authority
(2) objective presumption
--(2.1)inadvertent = madness in a broad sense
----(2.1.1) folly
----(2.1.2) madness proper
--(2.2) deliberate = lying
(underlying structure of "lunatic, liar, Lord arguments")
LLL arguments & defective causes

Apologetics draws on rhetoric rather than demonstration. It thus incorporates concerns of passion and character.

Sabbath rest symbolically teaches the imitation of God.

Paul Guldin's criticism of Cavalieri's proof by superposition of figure (Centrobaryca): 'Who will be the judge -- hand, eye, or intellect?'

Kitcher: "Central to the idea of rigorous reasoning is that it should contain no gaps, that it should proceed by means of elementary steps."
-- This obviously raises questions of what counts as a gap, and what counts as elementary. In fact, both of these can onlyl be determined relative to possible lines of criticism (the relativity of rigor).

experiential arguments based on affinity; based on revelation; based on hypothesis confirmation

"There is hope of the conversion of a nation of unbelievers; of the conversion of a nation of hypocrites none." Brownson

"I am as good as you, does very wll; but, you are as good as I, is quite another affair, and few will accept it, who have not the supernatural virtue of Christian charity." Brownson

" a philosopher and historian the madness and imbecility and wickedness of mankind ought to appear ordinary events." Hume to Robertson (27 Nov 1768)

To remain free, a society must be thick with traditions.

Who flees the field will find it difficult to turn suddenly to fight.

mathematical existence proofs as arguments that something is good to be (or at least good to be posited)

Luck and genius are often kin.

'in' as the relation of part to its whole; 'out', of nonpart to whole

Principles of warfare are guards against stupidity, not methods of winning.

Every Mystery of Mary is a sign of a Mystery of Christ.

a quasi-ontological argument
(1) God morally ought to be.
(2) God canont be such that He morally ought to be unless He is such that He must be.
(3) Therefore God must be.
-- As with the atheistic argument from evil, the question of moment is the status of this ought.

If we can distinguish and speak of mathematical existence, axiological existence, metaphysical existence, etc., then divine existence should be something in which, so to speak, these kinds of existence are not divided.

Right to truth accounts of lying do not take into account the importance of fidelity to truth. (Cp. Chastek)

Truth can be said to have a sort of right to manifestation and defense. This seems connected both to our obligations to ourselves and others as rational, and also to divinity (since truth is an appurtenance of divinity).

Friday, May 25, 2018

Beda Venerabilis

Today is the feast of St. Beda of Jarrow, Doctor of the Church; he is, of course, most commonly known in English as the Venerable Bede.

Bede's Death Song
tr. by Craig Williamson

Before he departs on that inescapable journey
Down death's road, no man is so wise
That he knows his own end, so clever or unconstrained
That he need not contemplate the coming judgment,
Consider what good or evil resides in his soul,
What rich reward or bounty of unblessings
Will be offered in eternity when his time runs out.

[Craig Williamson, The Complete Old English Poems, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia: 2017) p. 1051.]

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Evening Note for Thursday, May 24

Thought for the Evening: Rosmini on the Definition 'Rational Animal'

In Anthropology as an Aid to Moral Science, Rosmini has some critical things to say about the Aristotelian definition of man as "rational animal". They more or less come down to three.

(1) 'Rational animal' understates the importance of volition to the human being, although the volitive and the intellective aspects of human nature are both important and are not the same. While it is true that the volitive follows on the intellective, "there is no proof that this happens necessarily and that the opposite involves absurdity" (p. 21).

(2) It would be more appropriate to call the human being an 'intellective animal' than a 'rational animal' because the intellect is more fundamental than reason, and all reasoning presupposes intellectual understanding.

(3) 'Man is a rational animal' implies that animal is the subject and rational is an attribute of the animal. The intellectual element in human nature, however, has to form part of the human subject so that it can't simply be abstracted away as a secondary or consequent element.

With regard to (1), I think Rosmini just has a different notion of volition than the Aristotelians do, since I'm quite sure Aquinas would deny Rosmini's claim that there is no proof that the intellectual and volitional are linked necessarily; having a will for Aquinas just means that you have an intellectual appetitus or tendency to act.

With regard to (2), Rosmini himself concedes that the scholastics tended to prefer using 'rational' of human beings to distinguish them from the more purely intellectual angels, and that this is potentially useful. And I suspect a Thomist could also say that using 'rational' here is analogous to saying that the object of the human mind is 'material being'; it's not exclusionary but identifying the primary and principal characteristic of the faculty.

The third is interesting, and I think there is probably something to it. As Rosmini goes on to note, the definition creates some complications for the scholastic in discussing how the soul, i.e., what makes you a living thing, is both a form of the body and the form of the human being; he points to the trouble Aquinas has to take in ST 1.76.1 as an example.

Rosmini gives two of his own proposed definitions:

(A) An intellectual, volitional, animal subject.

(B) "[A]n animal subject endowed with the intuition of indeterminate-ideal being and with the perception of corporeal-fundamental feeling, and acting in accordance with the animality and intelligence it possesses" (p. 26).

A scholastic response to (A) would likely be that it looses any sense of the unity of the human being. (B), although it is supposed to be essentially equivalent, avoids the obvious appearance of disunity by being more explicit about the relations among these. It depends on a number of Rosmini's own positions, though; 'the intuition of indeterminate-ideal being' is how Rosmini thinks of intellect, and 'the perception of corporeal-fundamental feeling' is more or less animal consciousness. Perhaps more seriously for the Aristotelian, Rosmini's definition is definitely dualistic; Rosmini is a much stronger dualist than any Aristotelian would be.

[Antonio Rosmini, Anthropology as an Aid to Moral Science, Rosmini House (Durham: 1991).]

Various Links of Interest

* Ed Simon has a nice, if occasionally florid, look at the French revolutionary calendar, which was, of course, not the worst but one of the most symbolic ways in which people have attempted to erase the Catholic Church.

* Thony Christie looks at the twin histories of astronomy and astrology.

* Kenny Pearce is curating an online exhibition of Berkeley's Manuscript Introduction to PHK.

* On Pierre Hadot at "Knowledge Ecology"

* Philippe Hamou, Marin Mersenne, at the SEP

* The marginalia of John Stuart Mill online

* An interesting story about how DNA can be misleading in criminal forensics.

* Nathan Goldman reviews two books on Gershom Scholem.

* Charles Camosy on Alfie Evans.

* Claire Lehmann, The War on Dignity

* An interesting look at five kinds of Bible cultures in the United States.

* Ben Taub, The Spy Who Came Home

* Ivanoe Privitera, Aristotle and the Papyri: The Direct Tradition. It's always worth remembering how tenuous our hold on the thought of the past is.

* David Graeber, 'I had to guard an empty room': the rise of the pointless job.

* Emily Thomas on Catharine Trotter Cockburn.

* An interactive map of medieval trade route networks.

* David Whidden, The Alleged Feudalism of Anselm's Cur Deus Homo and the Benedictine Concepts of Obedience, Honor, and Order. Quite important, if you ever do anything with Anselm; the suggestion, which you still find, that Anselm's mindset (or his theology) is feudal has been known to be problematic for a while -- Anselm didn't live in a fully feudal society, rarely uses feudal terminology and probably never understands it in a feudal sense even when there is overlap, and is pretty clearly drawing most of his thought from Benedictine thought and practice. Whidden's paper is a nice exploration of some of these points with particular concepts important to Anselm's thought.

* Owen C. King, Pulling Apart Well-Being at a Time and the Goodness of a Life

* Michael Milona and Katie Stockdale, A Perceptual Theory of Hope

Currently Reading

Jules Verne, The Self-Propelled Island
Antonio Rosmini, Anthropology as an Aid to Moral Science
Christopher Tollefsen, Lying and Christian Ethics
Neil Oliver, A History of Scotland

Philosophers on the Irish Eighth

Ireland is currently on the verge of a referendum to consider whether the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which was originally passed a quarter of a century ago and recognizes the right to life of unborn children, should be repealed. Given how much support for abortion has receded elsewhere, and how much the notion of rights has expanded in that quarter of a century, I'm not sure there's more here than modern Ireland's perpetual characteristic of only arriving at a party when everyone else has begun to get tired and go home, but we'll see what happens.

In any case, I finally got around to looking at the recent statement put out by a number of philosophers on the question, and it is a good example of how completely useless philosophers can be on these kinds of issues. The statement says:

What has not been discussed much is whether a 12-week old foetus is a person entitled to constitutional protection. What makes this particularly problematic is that the issue hinges on a complex philosophical question that has no straightforward answer, namely ‘What is a person and when does a person begin?’

If we accept that personhood is indeed "a complex philosophical question that has no straightforward answer", why would we also think it is even relevant to the question of whether one should retain a constitutional amendment that doesn't even use the word 'person'? The Amendment in question reads, "The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right." I don't see anything explicitly about personhood here. And why anyone should spend one's time on questions that have "no straightforward answer" when discussing constitutional issues is beyond me.

The obvious reason it's brought up (besides its being something the philosophers in question think they can sound clever discussing) is that it is being assumed that that what is not a person is not entitled to constitutional protection. Put precisely that way, it's obviously false -- every constitution provides protections to things that are not persons -- but presumably, by 'entitled to constitutional protection' what they really mean is 'having a right worth acknowledging by a constitution' -- in this case, a right to life. Taken so, the key issue would be what a right to life is (which would tell us, without bare assumption, what kind of thing it could apply to), not what a person is, but in an era in which people discuss whether rivers and ecosystems and chimpanzees and species can be said to have rights, they've decided to stake their whole and entire claim on personhood, as if they all just woke up from having been frozen in the eighties.

In so doing they (unsurprisingly, perhaps) make a further common mistake of philosophers discussing matters like this, namely, they assume that if personhood is relevant it must be a metaphysical rather than a forensic and practical notion of personhood. Here is an argument that gets used, in different variations, in considering animal rights: "Persons have rights; but the assumption that animals with such-and-such characteristics are not persons is a matter that can be controverted; supposing even that we are at an impasse and there is 'no straightforward answer', the law should, to the extent practically possible, play it safe in matters of rights and assume that rights are more rather than less widely spread, particularly given the atrocities in which law can be complicit if it decides to start dictating what is not a person." This is obviously itself going to be a controversial argument in many cases, but as arguments go, it is perfectly sensible, and could be easily adapted to this situation. And while it depends on the notion of personhood, it does not depend on any metaphysics about personhood; what it depends on is a notion of law and its purposes, and is arguing that, given that notion of law and its purposes, we should legally count animals of such-and-such characteristics as persons for those legal purposes.

Or take another line of argument. "There is practical reason to have laws against fetal homicide, namely, that if one doesn't then, even aside from assumptions of fundamental rights, it becomes very difficult to do justice to parents. The easiest legal way to make laws against fetal homicide work, however, is to treat the fetus legally as a person existing under particular conditions." No doubt there would be people who would disagree with such an argument, but it's a perfectly appropriate argument for legal purposes. Law is a practical field. One does not need the finer points of metaphysics to do it. And here we have an argument for attributing personhood that does not require any metaphysics at all; it depends not on the metaphysics of personhood but on the practical question of what the easiest way to do justice to a third party would be. The concept of 'legal person' or 'juridical person' is not a secret; it's widely known. So why would one assume that the metaphysical notion of personhood would be a necessary, and not just a sufficient condition, for treating something as having rights, even if one connected rights directly to personhood in the traditional way?

It gets worse. They go on to say:

Influential figures like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas held that a foetus is not a person until it begins to move, which they took to be 40–80 days after conception.

This is entirely wrong. Neither Augustine nor Aquinas are talking about personhood when they discuss these matters; they are talking about the standard view of what is involved in conception of a human being. The standard biological view in their day regarded human conception as an extended process over time; it was literally a sort of cooking process as the materials developed in the heat of the womb. Quickening, i.e., the point at which the fetus begins to move, plays no role at all in the thought of Aquinas. The only time Aquinas mentions the 40 to 90 day point he is talking about Aristotle's view, not his own (he never, as far as I am aware, commits definitely to any particular timetable at all). Quickening did not begin to have much of a presence in discussions of conception at all until the early modern period, and then it was a purely legal device for deciding how serious the penalties should be in various legal cases (e.g., if someone harmed a pregnant woman and caused her to miscarry). And, again, prior to the egg-and-sperm model, the dominant view of conception was that it was a process lasting several weeks; it shows nothing but historical ignorance to frame the discussion during this period as personhood arriving weeks "after conception". Augustine treats as the key characteristic not movement but sensation. This level of non-research in people trying to pull out their credentials in order to influence a political situation is embarrassing. What good is your status as a "professional philosopher" if you are going around making statements about texts that you've never bothered to read?

It gets even worse:

We grant that the question ‘when does a person begin’ is complex. But because the constitution is the backbone for all law in the state, it should be confined to highly plausible restrictions on the law that more or less everyone can agree with.

This is not how constitutions work. This is not how constitutions have ever worked. There is no serious theory of constitutions that would take this as a reasonable principle. Did not a single philosopher signing this document pause enough to ask, "And what would be the result if this were applied in contexts involving slavery, or mistreatment of minorities?" Is every one of the signatories so ignorant of history that they completely missed the fact that constitutions are built not on "highly plausible restrictions" that "more or less everyone can agree with" but (at most) on compromises that give concessions to as many major groups as possible, because you can't practically build a constitution entirely out of prior agreements? Do they honestly think that most constitutions in the free world are built entirely out of things that are "highly plausible" and that "more or less everyone" originally agreed with? That the purpose of a constitution is just a formality to summarize what practically everyone accepts anyway? Constitutions cannot do one of the things they are morally supposed to do -- protect the rights of the vulnerable -- on the principle given; constitutions are not in fact ever written on the basis of the principle given; and the principle quite obviously shows up here only in order to get the conclusion that they want.

Schopenhauer, I think, says somewhere that arguments are not like cabs; you cannot ride them to your preferred destination and then get off. Apparently none of these philosophers have learned that lesson yet; or else (more likely), they just decided to sign without any regard for the rationality of the argument, because they already agreed with the conclusion. The whole thing is just awful sophistry.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Power, Wisdom, and Goodness

...there must be Power, Wisdom, and Goodness, subsisting in one Degree or other, in every Government worthy to be so called, let the exterior Form of it be whatever it may.

For Example, without Power the very Idea of Government is annihilated; and there are no traces of it left.

Without Wisdom to conduct this Power towards some certain End, or Object, the Thing itself would not be Power, in a moral sense, but blind Impulse, or mechanic Force.

And without Goodness to influence and incline the Operations both of Wisdom and Power towards some benevolent Uses, conducive to public Happiness, the Efforts of Wisdom would in effect be Knavery, Trick, and Cunning; and the Display of Power mere Tyranny and Oppression. There must therefore be a Coalition, or Cooperation of all three, in order to form a Government fit to rule over such a Creature as Man.

Josiah Tucker, A Treatise Concerning Civil Government (1781), Part II, Chapter III.

Monday, May 21, 2018


Philip Kitcher has a good review of Errol Morris's The Ashtray, in which he makes some important points about the work of Thomas Kuhn.

According to the cartoon — and according to Morris: Kuhn denied the possibility of communication across the revolutionary divide. No — he said that such communication was inevitably partial. The languages of different paradigms are not straightforwardly inter-translatable. Often, no single term in one language will do for a scientifically important term in the other. What one paradigm sees as a “natural” division of the subject matter appears as odd and disjointed to its rival.

When I was in undergrad (a time when I read quite extensively in philosophy of science), I remember reading a number of criticisms of Thomas Kuhn and suddenly realizing that the reason they didn't entirely make sense to me was that the critics were assuming that 'X and Y are incommensurable' meant 'X and Y cannot be compared'. Of course, this is not true -- in fact, incommensurability implies that they can be compared. When we say that the legs and the hypotenuse of a right triangle are incommensurable, we don't mean that we can't compare them -- in fact, the Pythagorean Theorem gives you a precise account of such a comparison. Rather, the point is that in such a comparison there is no unit definable wholly in terms of a leg that measures the hypotenuse without anything left over. So to say that two theories are incommensurable in how they use the term 'mass', for instance, is not to say that you can't compare how they use the term, but instead that there is a shift of meaning between the two such that when you do compare them you find that one cannot perfectly translate what is meant by the other. 'Mass' in Newtonian physics and 'mass' in Einsteinian physics are obviously related and obviously comparable; but on comparison they do not fit each other exactly. You can identify precisely ways in which they do not fit each other. First, they are not exact synonyms. Second, if you try to get Einsteinian 'mass' from Newtonian 'mass' by adding qualifications or complications, you still don't get a direct translation until your qualifications have multiplied so much that you are just restating the Einsteinian account of mass. Third, if you try to get Newtonian 'mass' from Einsteinian 'mass' by (say) idealizing and introducing negligibility assumptions, you still don't get a direct translation until you've introduced so many assumptions that you can no longer use it for Einsteinian purposes. They are incommensurable -- you cannot intertranslate without something being lost or gained that the other theory cannot or does not countenance, because the sets of problems considered by each theory are not exactly the same, the methods used by each theory are not exactly the same, and the topics each theory treats as most important are not exactly the same.

Kuhn is hardly the first person to make the point -- Duhem argues the same, and more rigorously -- but Kuhn's version is in a generalized form so that it did not otherwise depend on the exact details of your account of how theory works. People reading him, however, regularly misunderstood what the word 'incommensurability' means, to the complete distortion of everything he says on the subject. This, combined with a dogmatic assumption about what scientific progress would have to mean -- cumulation without break -- and which Kuhn rejects, resulted in the kind of caricature Kitcher is arguing against.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Fortnightly Book, May 20

Our next fortnightly books will be lesser-known Jules Verne works from the Voyages extraordinaires: The Self-Propelled Island (L'Île à hélice, #41) and The Castle in Transylvania (Le Château des Carpathes, #37).

In The Self-Propelled Island, a Parisian string quartet touring California is kidnapped and brought aboard a vast artificial island, Standard Island, whose main city is called Milliard City because it is inhabited by billionaires. It is a utopian, if expensive (lunch costs $160 per person), loaded with an endless list of the finest technological luxuries. It has everything you would expect from a Verne tale: amazing technologies, a voyage to exotic places, and -- all too forgotten -- biting social satire. Technological utopia is not a stable utopia, and a society of billionaires is perhaps not as promising a foundation for a healthy life as its endless parade of luxuries and conveniences and gee-whiz advancements might suggest. The original English translations all cut material out; I'll be reading the recent (2015) University of Nebraska Press translation, by Marie-Thérèse Noiset, which is the first unabridged English translation of the original 1895 work.

'Propeller Island' by Léon Benett 69

The Castle in Transylvania, first published in 1892, is thought by some to have been an inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula; it is Verne's attempt to play around with Gothic tropes, including the sometimes-forgotten Gothic trope of science intersecting with superstition. In a village in the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania, rumors are flying about the local castle, which the villagers think is haunted by a devil and the spirits of the dead. Dr. Patak, a freethinker, investigates and discovers more than he had ever imagined. Count Franz de Telek, also freethinking, decides to get to the bottom of it all in order to show these superstitious villagers the light of reason. But the Count is perhaps underestimating the darkness in human nature. And he is also forgetting that the advance of science makes the world weirder and more uncanny: by technological discoveries, the past can last into the future in unexpected ways, and people can be present where they are not, and to deal with this can be as harsh and difficult an adjustment as dealing with ghosts and devils. I know less about the translation history of this work, but I will be reading the most recent translation, the 2010 Melville House translation by Charlotte Mandell.

The works are not particularly long or difficult, but because I have fairly busy schedule the next several weeks, I'm not sure if this will be a normal fortnight or will actually stretch into three weeks.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Isaac Asimov, The Complete Adventures of Lucky Starr


Opening Passages: Asimov knows how to open, so it's worthwhile to see each one. From David Starr--Space Ranger:

David Starr was staring right at the man, so he saw it happen. He saw him die. (p. 11)

From Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids:

Fifteen minutes to zero time! The Atlas waited to take off. The sleek, burnished lines of the space-ship glittered in the bright Earthlight that filled the Moon's night sky. Its blunt prow pointed upward into empty space. Vacuum surrounded it and the dead pumice of the Moon's surface was under it. The number of its crew was zero. There wasn't a living person aboard. (p. 129)

From Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus:

Lucky Starr and John Bigman Jones kicked themselves up from the gravity-free Space Station No. 2 and drifted toward the planetary coaster that waited for him with its air lock open. Their movements had the grace of long practice under non-gravity conditions, despite the fact that their bodies seemed thick and grotesque in the space suits they wore. (p. 246)

From Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury:

Lucky Starr and his small friend, John Bigman Jones, followed the young engineer up the ramp toward the air lock that led to the surface of the planet Mercury.

Lucky thought: At least things are breaking fast. (p. 361)

From Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter:

Jupiter was almost a perfect circle of creamy light, half the apparent diameter of the moon as seen from Earth, but only one seventh as brightly lit because of its great distance from the sun. Even so, it was a beautiful and impressive sight. (p. 475)

From Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn:

The Sun was a brilliant diamond in the sky, just large enough to the naked eye to be made out as something more than a star; as a tiny white-hot pea-sized globe. (p. 592)

Summary: David Starr is the youngest member of the Council of Science, an advisory body whose advice seems to be taken as considerably more than advisory, in what is variously called the Terran Federation, the Terrestrial Empire, the Solar Confederation, and the Solar Federation of Worlds. We follow his adventures through the Solar System as he uncovers plots of various kinds. The first book tries to stay true to its Lone Ranger origins, with Lucky obtaining a personal shield (his mask); after the first book, this mask then plays virtually no role whatsoever, and by the end of the series one of Lucky's problems is that everyone knows who he is, so being a masked ranger seems to have been Lucky's only failure.

An interesting feature of all the stories is that they take standard tropes and turn them in a new direction. A man who would ordinarily be a typical mad scientist character turns out to be just alone and unhappy; a story that would ordinarily be a revenge story ends with mere persuasion; an attempt to control minds becomes recognized as a brilliant discovery; the sinister Sirians, while genuinely sinister, are sometimes just being framed; deaths apparently connected turn out to be unrelated; the leak for a secret project turns out not to be either human or alien; the Sirians' most aggressive move is foiled by a diplomatic vote. And in all of the tales, means that are sinister are not seen as inherently so: Lucky's detective work doesn't just solve mysteries, but advances the frontiers of science, to the benefit of all.

While there are some inconsistencies throughout the works, the real weakness of the books, I think, is the Council of Science. The books themselves recognize the potential issues with an unelected body of men having virtually unlimited sway over matters of government -- at least, Mercury does, but this is quite limited, and by the last books, Lucky keeps telling people that he outranks them, which raises all sorts of unaddressed issues about how the Council of Science even works. Because of this, it's often unclear what's at stake. We find a similar problem with the Sirians, although the Sirians we actually learn more about (they are very much like the Solarians in the Robot novels). This is, I think, the primary way in which the book's unrelenting optimism gets in the way of the stories -- we really don't know much about this shadowy organization that seems to work more like a high-tech intelligence agency than any scientific institution we know.

But in other respects the optimism of the books makes for excellent reading. Scientific progress is a mythic idea; it is capable of epic scope and inspiring detail; portrayed well, it has a sublimity that both overwhelms and exalts. The difficulty is always the 'progress' part: you can't have a progress without a teleology, and specific set of ends, that tells you whether you are going in the right direction. But if you posit the direction, even as a primitive, you can build beautiful stories, as long as the direction is something you can bring your reader to grasp as a good thing. Asimov here does this better than he does elsewhere, because it is a very human direction, and because each apparent danger becomes a stepping stone to something more human and beneficial to all.

Favorite Passage:
But Lucky shook his head. "No, Senator Swenson is not a real cause for worry. He's ruthless and dangerous , but for that very reason he keeps the Council on its toes, keeps us from getting flabby.

"Besides," he added thoughtfully, "the Council of Science needs its critics, just as Congress and the government do. If ever the Council began to consider itself above criticism, then the time might come when it would establish a dictatorship over the Earth, and certainly I wouldn't want that to happen."

"Well, maybe," said Bigman, unsatisfied, "but I don't like that Swenson."

Lucky laughed and reached out to tousle the Martian's hair. "Nor I, but why worry about that now. Out there are the stars, and who knows where we'll be going next week, or why?" (p. 469)

Recommended: Recommended; all of them are worth a read if it comes your way. If you only do one, Venus is the best.


Isaac Asimov writing as Paul French, The Complete Adventures of Lucky Starr, Science Fiction Book Club in arrangement with Doubleday (New York: 2001).

Friday, May 18, 2018

Butler on Compassion

This constitution of nature, namely, that it is so much more in our power to occasion, and likewise to lessen misery, than to promote positive happiness, plainly required a particular affection, to hinder us from abusing, and to incline us to make a right use of the former powers, i. e. the powers both to occasion and to lessen misery; over and above what was necessary to induce us to make aright use of the latter power, that of promoting positive happiness. The power we have over the misery of our fellow creatures, to occasion or lessen it, being a more important trust than the power we have of promoting their positive happiness: the former requires, and has a further, an additional security and guard against its being violated, beyond, and over and above what the latter has. The social nature of man, and general good will to his species, equally prevent him from doing evil, incline him to relieve the distressed, and to promote the positive happiness of his fellow creatures: but compassion only restrains from the first, and carries him to the second; it hath nothing to do with the third.

The final causes then of compassion are, to prevent and to relieve misery.

The Right Reverend Doctor Joseph Butler, Bishop of Durham, in his sermon VI, on compassion, from the Rolls Chapel sermons. Butler, one of the greatest moral philosophers of his day, was born May 18, 1692.

Music on My Mind

Kardemimmit, "Hius Heliä".

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Authority of a Title

In Shakespeare's historical plays, we find something of a study of the nature of authority, and in particular the name of the king. Richard II insists on the importance of the king's name, and insists, entirely correctly, that he is king. But, of course, what we see is that he has no significant authority -- his authority is unraveling even as he insists on his kingship, and all the insistence merely shows him to be weak and, at times, foolish and petty. All his talk about the King's Name is insubstantial in the face of a man with real power. And thus we get Henry IV. But Henry IV, a man who has seized the throne solely by force of will and competence, also has authority problems, albeit of a different kind. It is Henry V who shows the full authority of a king, and it is Henry V who shows that Richard's insistence on the authority of the king's name is not wrong: he invests his kingship with so much authority that his son Henry VI, a very weak king, is literally able to stop a revolt by merely mentioning that he is the son of Henry V. Shakespeare's historical plays are useful lessons in how authority works. A king's name is a title, and titles have authority -- except when they don't.

I was thinking of this recently having come across by accident an online discussion by a professor on the topic of insisting on one's title -- 'Doctor' or at least 'Professor'. And one of the things claimed was that those of us who do not insist on the title make it harder for those who, like the professor in question, do; the matter was explicitly put in terms of authority with students. There's no point in mentioning the professor's name; I have seen many professors sabotage themselves the way the professor in question is doing, so it is not particular to the person in question. But the insistence on title is indeed self-sabotage, and shows that the academics in question do not understand how authority works in a classroom, or anywhere, in fact. (Which explains a lot of how academics behave in political contexts, to be honest.)

There are things that carry an intrinsic authority -- we can summarize the sources of intrinsic authority as obvious power, obvious wisdom, and obvious goodness. All authority has to trace back to some kind of intrinsic authority. The Office of the President has authority because it is an obvious reservoir of immense power, and also more indirectly because of the general American belief in the wisdom and goodness, or at least wisdom-enough and goodness-enough, of the Constitution. Someone who can make whatever they want happen has a sort of authority from the power. A sage carries the authority of wisdom. A saint has the authority of goodness. But even in these cases the authority only arises to the extent that it is known, so it is the recognizable sign of power, or wisdom, or goodness, or at least something like these things, that conveys authority.

This is all quite abstract. But a title like 'Doctor' only has any authority at all insofar as it is taken to be a sign of expertise, hard work in achieving the difficult, and, perhaps sometimes, influence, which are, so to speak, small sips of wisdom, goodness, and power respectively. But we do not live anymore in a society in which people automatically assume that people with the title of 'Doctor' are brilliant; it still conveys to some extent that you can stick with something, and that you have spent some time trying to learn difficult things, but not much more than that; and, of course, nobody thinks that getting a PhD gives you influence. As conveying intrinsic authority, it is weak, and it is limited. And someone who keeps stubbornly insisting on its being given respect is like poor Richard II, with all the name of authority and none of the substance. It might well be the result of wisdom and goodness, or at least intelligence and difficult achievement, that itself should have some authority, but it does no good whatsoever to insist on it if people can't see that already. Something like a title is neither power, wisdom, and goodness, but it does convey authority if -- and only if -- it suggests these things in some way to people.

The other kind of authority is extrinsic, which is based on a sort of exchange, and a title always gets most of its value from this. If you are made Vice President of Sales it indicates that you probably have a sort of power, for instance, to hire and fire, or to talk to the right people, but this only gets you so far in matters of authority; Richard II's title was King and it gave him very little authority. You can get more authority by obviously showing yourself to be forceful, competent, or decent, but this, too, will only get you so far, just as Henry IV's obvious power or Henry VI's obvious goodness gave them some advantages but still left them with authority problems. Intrinsic authority is a very general authority. What gives the most authority in actual practice is using your signs of intrinsic authority to exchange for more immediate authority in the context. Or to put it in other words, while there are some things that give authority by merely having them, other things only give authority when you give them away.

The President, for instance, has immense practical power. But this is a general power; nobody thinks that the President is going to use nuclear weapons in most situations, or that the power he has directly applies to most of the situations in which he finds himself. The fact that he is commander in chief of the most powerful military in the history of the world is completely useless in moving most people most of the time, because it is not seen as directly applying to most of those situations. So how do Presidents move people? By giving power, or at least signs of power, to other people. Someone who hoards signs of power, like Richard II, looks weak. The person who knows how to give them freely, like Henry V, looks immensely authoritative. Presidents exercise military authority by giving signs of authority to others, which is why militaries are structured the way they are; they exercise political authority by giving other people signs of authority. President Obama was excellent at the latter form of authority: his authority with a lot of people arises from the fact that he did not hoard the signs of the Presidency as his own particular authority, but made a lot of people feel that if they had a chance to talk with him, he would listen, and that he was sincerely working for their interests. This, of course, is what politicians are always trying to do, but President Obama was very good at giving out specific, easy-to-recognize tokens of this, in the form of how he talked to people, how he interacted with people, and so forth. And so people freely deferred to him on a far greater scale than they would have if he had just insisted that he was the President. (Contrast that with how he handled Congress, where he did go the 'I am President' route, and then began having difficulty even moving people of his own party who had an incentive to work with him.) This was, ultimately, the difference between Richard II and Henry V: Richard II, who was king, kept insisting that he was king, and lost everyone's respect; Henry V, who was king, made himself one of the people, and because of that the people respected him entirely as king -- respecting the kingship of Hal had become a way of respecting themselves. Henry V gave people signs that they themselves mattered; and in exchange for these tokens they treated him as mattering. He gained authority by trading his own authority for new authority, and got a massive profit in doing so. Just as you cannot be obviously wealthy if you are hoarding money (which makes you look like a cheapskate), you cannot be authoritative while hoarding signs of authority (which makes you look insecure or desperate).

All of this is about authority in general. But it all applies to a title like 'Doctor' or 'Professor'. These titles carry some authority insofar as they are seen as signs of things like power over grades or expertise in a field. But this is not going to get you very far, and if you are a title-hoarder, going around insisting that students call you by your title, you will look insecure and self-doubting, and thus not authoritative. Perhaps you could get away with it if it were just blindingly obvious that you were a genius, but not very likely otherwise. If you want to look authoritative, you have to exchange your signs of intrinsic authority to get the respect that gives extrinsic authority. This, I think, is something that is sometimes difficult for academics to grasp: your degree, and the title from it, can give people a general reason to think you should get some respect, if the public at large thinks of it as indicative of something important, but it gives very little reason for anyone to think that they in particular should respect your authority in particular in whatever particular context in which they are crossing your path. That involves a kind of negotiation, which means you have to give something to get something. Too many academics think that being academics makes their opinion especially valuable, or gives their voice authority, for particular contexts. It does not -- it gives you a general ticket that you can use in earning the respect of others, as part of an exchange. Every academic knows the student who thinks that having worked really hard on a project in and of itself entitles them to an A; academics who think their titles in and of themselves make them worthy of particular acts of respect in particular contexts are making exactly the same error. It's what you are actually giving people in the context at hand that matters.

Given this, demanding that people use your title will often be the wrong move, because it looks like an insecure person trying to force people into respecting them because they can't actually earn it. It is self-sabotaging. Of course, there are exceptions. It's a great way to show contempt to people, put them in their place, or throw them off balance rhetorically by framing them as rude. One hopes you would not be doing this in a classroom, but icily insisting on one's title is one of the most effective uses of a title. And if it really matters to you, it is indeed possible, as noted above, to frame it in such a way that it is a way of giving power to students; you have to avoid looking like you are either demanding or begging. Most students prefer to use some kind of title to begin with, because it helps to establish the boundaries and guidelines for the interaction (and reduces the risk of accidentally getting too rudely familiar with the person who is grading your work). But even then, again, the only effective authority a title carries is that it can be exchanged; the students have to be getting something from the exchange. There are certainly other ways to do it than to give your title over to them (thus giving them the authority to decide how to treat your title), but they need to be getting something.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

And the Sound of a Voice that Is Still

Break, Break, Break
by Alfred Tennyson

Break, break, break,
  On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
  The thoughts that arise in me.

O well for the fisherman’s boy,
  That he shouts with his sister at play!
O well for the sailor lad,
  That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
  To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
  And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,
  At the foot of thy crags, O sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
  Will never come back to me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Alfred's Will

If Alfred's will were to have been understood in the way David Hume and Edward Burke thought,* it would have allowed the English, after his death, to choose the form of government they preferred most.


* The interpretation given to Alfred's will by these authors was refuted by Count von Stolberg in his life of Alfred.

[Antonio Rosmini, Philosophy of Right, Volume 6: Rights in Civil Society, Clear & Watson, trs., Rosmini House (Durham: 1996) p. 125.]

The reference for Hume is to the discussion of King Alfred in Hume's History of England:

Yet amidst these rigours of justice, this great prince preserved the most sacred regard to the liberty of his people; and it is a memorable sentiment preserved in his will, that it was just the English should for ever remain as free as their own thoughts.

The reference to Burke is thus probably from his abridgement of English history:

This great man was even jealous of the privileges of his subjects; and as his whole life was spent in protecting them, his last will breathes the same spirit, declaring that he had left his people as free as their own thoughts.

Neither Hume nor Burke need be interpreted quite as strongly as Rosmini does, but it is clear that he is influenced by Friedrich Leopold Stolberg's discussion in his life of Alfred. Stolberg's argument is that the famous phrase, 'free as their thoughts' is due to a clumsy mistranslation into Latin, and that Alfred was actually asking that his noblemen confirm the serfs in their liberties. As Stolberg puts it, having heard the story before, he was delighted to find Hume and Burke confirm it (unsurprisingly, since he was a major Romantic figure), but his dream was destroyed by further research. (I know too well the feeling, Graf zu Stolberg.)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The National Popular Vote Compact Scam

Since Connecticut lawmakers were recently stupid enough to be taken in by the National Popular Vote Compact, it seems worthwhile to give a reminder of the ways in which the (falsely called) National Popular Vote Compact is an obvious scam:

(1) We don't have any mechanism for getting information about a national popular vote; the add-all-the-state-numbers-together tally is a complete fiction that has no direct meaning. The United States under the Electoral College does not run one election; it runs fifty-one different elections (states plus D.C.), weights them by population, and gives the laurels to the person who won enough elections of sufficient weight. Each of these elections is run on different laws governing means of collecting votes, times and places, means of counting, and even who can vote and how. Adding numbers from different elections doesn't get you a 'national popular vote' number, because they are measuring different things. What is more, there is always a certain amount of uncertainty in elections involving large populations (and the U.S. electorate is very large); we have no mechanisms, as we would need if we were collecting a real national popular vote number, for minimizing this uncertainty, and, indeed, trying to guesstimate a national popular vote number from the elections we do have necessarily multiplies the uncertainty.

(2) The 'National Popular Vote Compact' is not a national popular vote system; the name is a lie. It is an Electoral College system under which states agree to ignore the decisions of their own populations and distribute their Electoral College votes based on a number that was obtained inconsistently with their own election laws and by methods that they cannot themselves properly monitor and correct. It is indeed as stupid as that sounds. As I have said before:

On the NPV system, states would be committing themselves in the Electoral College to preferring votes elsewhere to those cast by their own citizens. If State A doesn't allow felons to vote and State B does for civil rights reasons, then on the NPV plan, State A is committed to accepting as legitimate felons voting in in State B despite the fact that people in A exactly like those in B don't get to vote, and State B is committed to accepting as legitimate the election numbers coming out of State A, despite knowing quite well that the numbers are derived in part on what people in State B regard as a civil rights violation, and that there are potential voters in A whose votes are not getting counted despite the fact that they would count in B. This is an absurd situation. Moreover, NPV guarantees that states with well-thought-out election laws and well-run election systems are held hostage to those without....Numbers can't be established for a 'national popular vote' (even one based on a fiction) under a state-by-state system like ours unless all the states have their act together. We know for a fact that this can't be guaranteed, and that a state can make a complete mess of things by poor collection methods, inconsistent vote-counting, and loopholes for voting fraud. And we also know for a fact that nobody can actually fix these problems except citizens of that state.

Any state legislature that is so stupid as to sign on to the Compact is failing in their responsibilities to their own citizens.

(3) Because it is not a real national popular vote, and involves nothing remotely like what would be required for a real national popular vote, no arguments for a national popular vote actually give one a reason for supporting the National Popular Vote Compact. And because it doesn't have any mechanism for guaranteeing equal votes, no argument for equalizing votes can give a reason for supporting the National Popular Vote Compact. And because it is an Electoral College system that is designed on principles inconsistent with the Electoral College itself, no arguments about how the Electoral College could better represent the people of the United States can possibly give a reason for supporting the National Popular Vote Compact, either. There is no good reason for it. The Electoral College is resilient enough that maybe -- maybe -- it could avoid disaster, but a proposal that is so incoherent -- and it is, again, literally incoherent -- cannot possibly be good for an electoral system.

(4) The proposal depends on an attack on the integrity of the Electoral College; it requires claiming that the Electoral College as it is intended to function is not getting good results. But at the same time, the proposal does not eliminate the Electoral College, and, indeed, the entire point of the proposal is to avoid going through the proper process to amend the Constitution. This is a further incoherence in the plan: it is, and this is often explicit in the defenses of the defenders, an attempt to treat a provision of the Constitution as defective while simultaneously pretending it doesn't need actual correction. Any citizen in any state should regard a legislator's vote for the NPV plan as an act of contempt for the United States Constitution and as a sign of incompetence, because it takes both stupidity and contempt for the Constitution to treat such a ridiculous proposal as a serious election system.

Poem Drafts

William Dawes on the Road

Swift in the night,
the trees rushing by,
the hooves on the path
like a drummed lullaby,
Boston behind,
Concord ahead,
message in hand,
through Boston Neck sped
a horse at full speed
with lives at the stake,
Hancock to warn,
the British to break.
Will Adams be saved?
Or Concord have aid?
Midnight comes soon;
a nation is made.


Lo, this infantry
of fragile parts!
May it be fortified
fully and lastingly
by signs of allegiance,
armors of grace,
that strengthen and ease,
restoring to place:
in fight like a sword,
in wound like a balm,
in throes of death
a resurrection.


The silent north star
shines from afar
and brave men fall dead where they are.

A heather bed is cold
for loyal men and bold;
and never's account made for why.
The tale will be told
by the young and the old;
but never return those who lie.
The blood trickles far
as dark black as tar;
yes, brave men lie still where they are.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Dawn of the Brightness

Praying toward the East is handed down by the holy apostles, as is everything else. This is because the comprehensible sun of righteousness, Christ our God, appeared on earth in those regions of the East where the perceptible sun rises, as the prophet says: “Orient is his name” (Zech 6:12); and “Bow before the Lord, all the earth, who ascended to the heaven of heavens in the East” (cf Ps 67:34); and “Let us prostrate ourselves in the place where His feet stood” (cf Ps 67:34); and again, “The feet of the Lord shall stand upon the Mount of Olives in the East” (Zech 14:4). The prophets also speak thus because of our fervent hope of receiving again the paradise in Eden, as well as the dawn of the brightness of the second coming of Christ our God, from the East.

From the Historia mystica ecclesiae catholicae, usually attributed to St. Germanus of Constantinople, whose feast day is today.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Dashed Off IX

"Love makes us poets, and the approach of death should make us philosophers." Santayana

the Chinese five virtues as a better spirit of interpretation than a mechanically applied principle of charity

Santayana wants to put objective weight on mechanical law while holding an account on which it is more subjective than objective.

Cons Ipr3: Philosophy enters the solitude of our exile, leaping down from the center-point of heaven.

The condition of Boethius is the literal and physical expression of the moral exile of all human beings.

Cons Ipr3.11: To be displeasing to the most despicable is a guiding principle of philosophers.

Cravings and fears are the chains of cowards.

the library as the dwelling-place of philosophy Ipr4.3
but, no, the dwelling-place is the mind IPr5.6 (cp. IIPr1.5)

the sponsor of recuperation IPr6.19

the mereological analogy for practical reason (end : whole :: means : part)

A virtue, even if not expressed, is an intrinsic good.

To be such as to endure difficulty for virtue is in itself desirable.

Our desires alone do not function precisely the same as our desires when we are interacting with others.

A man who sacrificed a pleasant life for an erroneous conception of Virtue or Beauty made a mistaken choice, but not as mistaken as one who did the reverse. There is nobility even in failing in the pursuit of Virtue and Beauty.

An ultimate end must 'satisfy our imagination by its vastness, and sustain our resolution by its comparative security.' Pleasure has no vastness or security in itself.

To consider one's actual individual existence, one must recognize the point of view of a larger whole.

Good is naturally regarded as Pleasant, pleasantness being a diagnostic sign of Good, but not naturally regarded as Pleasure. That is it, it is natural to think of goodness as eliciting pleasure, but not as its being the same.

The pain of sentient being sis not per se to be avoided, but only on balance and normally.

Water can be channeled because it has tendencies not imposed from outside; so too with cultivation of human nature.

There is a relish to morality itself.

Moral goodness must be something shared in common.

If you save a child from falling into a well, you don't do it for pleasure. And if we ask in the abstract why it is good and right to do so, it is not because of pleasure. And if we discovered that letting the child fall would bring, in the end, everyone more pleasure, and the child little pain, it would not matter.

Eventually every moral matter of importance to a society is invaded by humorless, self-righteous moralizers.

invariance principles in reasoning about precedents and moral cases (person invariance, time invariance, space invariance)
modulation principles of same (how circumstantial constraints shift applications)

"A good way of testing the calibre of a philosophy is to ask what it thinks of death." Santayana

Academics have a tendency to overestimate the extent to which others have a responsibility to take them seriously.

Legitimacy of government is nothing other than consent of the people through customary means, as ascertained by reason.

The human ability to form society (qun) is interlinked with the ability to divide roles (fen).

conditions of good taste as basis for evaluation of analogical reasoning

the conditions for reasonable hyperbole

yang xin, yang wei, yang an

three aspects of intellect: xu (continual power to receive the new), yi (power to receive contraries and consider contradictories), jing (power of clarity)
- emptiness, unity, stillness

arguments in which a starting point that is Diamond requires another thing that is Box

incipit as a kind of Diamond
- in which case the corresponding Box is not-Incipit-not (which is a non-desinit)

'Act only' in an imperative can be interpreted as having 'existential import' or as not.

One violates bodily integrity by treating the body as if it were not the body of a rational being.

"The life of reason is a heritage and exists only through tradition." Santayana

One may love the ideal and still not condemn the actual that fails to meet it, and for good reason.

wisdom, tradition, calculation, and negotiation

mimesis, catharsis, and wonder as political acts

It is a psychological fact that people don't always avoid evitable pain, and, indeed, that they sometimes actively seek it.

dark utopia literature as theodicial
(false utopias are often used to explore why, for instance, free will is valuable enough that it should not be traded for peace, etc.)
-Because they aren't specifically written to be theodicies, they sometimes depend on assumptions that are not nec. theologically relevant. E.g., part of Whedon's Serenity is concerned with lacking wisdom to make that trade-off, and that's not uncommon as a theme. (Whedon's Serenity, however, also suggests a more straightforward free will defense.)

Bayesianism is a theory of analog probability calculators.

the importance of the rationalizable in political negotiation

Contractualism overassimilates ethics to sustainable reasoned discourse.

penance as partly to heal the wounds inflicted on the Church by your sins

the Lucan portrayal of Mary as the foundation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Heart (Cana is the major non-Lucan element in the devotion)

subjective credence, degree of implication (or evidence), objective chance, evaluations of propositions

In the long run, political movements are more likely to be defeated by their own corruption and incompetence than by their opponents.

Political protests are only effective when they establish that you have the power to force a choice between your proposal and something worse. For this, they require a context to which they are appropriate and within which a choice is intelligible.

Property is a defense of dignity; thus its perpetual link to honor and shame.

Tiny steps from the obvious eventually get you far afield.

Roman history as a system of ethico-political cases

planning as concerned with the convergence of the expected and the desired.

In historical reasoning, coincidences are to be expected but mistrusted.

Discussions of moral luck often confuse luck and contingency.

analyzing dialogues in terms of players, payoffs, and strategies

religious vows and priestly celibacy as ways of minimizing conflicts of interest

freedom of thought, limitlessness of inquiry, the Great Coherence

the objective beauty of intelligibility

A real determination of the sense of the people has to take some account of diversity, in particular limiting swamping by a single large subpopulation. But at the same time some consideration must be had for pluralities and majorities.

Punishments in which the state benefits create a conflict of interest by giving the state an economic interest distinct from its interest in public order.

"If you let loose a law, it will do as a dog does. It will obey its own nature, not yours." Chesterton
"There is no trysting place outside of reason; there is no inn on those wild roads that are beyond the world."

Politics is the art of getting people willingly to make sacrifices.

Effective escalation in politics requires overwhelming superiority in force or else extensive alliance-building. Those who escalate without either are incompetent and will be swept aside. Those who cannot do either, however, sometimes find that de-escalation is a more effective, if sometimes more time-consuming, path to victory.

We can surely have existence proofs in ethics analogous to those in mathematics.

'There is nothing' seems clearly to be necessarily false in mathematics. (cp Augustine on this)

The existence of goodness is an obvious candidate for ontological argument; and, in fact, this is historically the origin of ontological arguments.

Brownson on private judgment with sola scriptura: "It subjected me to all the disadvantages of authority without any of its advantages."

"...whenever you and I feel fully sane, we are quite incapable of naming the elements that make up that mysterious simplicity." Chesterton
"The age we live in is something more than an age of superstition -- it is an age of innumerable superstitions."

When a moral principle is not defended, it is forgotten. When it is not discussed, it fades away.

One of the problems with always telling people what they must do is that in every society only the worst people dare to do this consistently. One may firmly believe something is right; one may reasonably hold that it should be encouraged by law, or even that deviation should come with consequences; one may hold that in extreme or in emergency cases people must be made to comply; but in every society only evil people take this as a normal, default path, or treat themselves as having any particular right to do it all the time.

To conceive of punishment as normally a means of forcing compliance is already a corruption.

Could Hume's conception of the 'problem of induction' be influenced by Thucydides -- 'an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must be resemble if it doe snot reflect it'?

intermediary measures (e.g., rates, like speed, link to time measures and space measures, which are not mutually commensurable)

What could possibly be the unit of measure for a 'quantum of happiness'? Degree-seconds per animal?

Correct interpretation starts with being human to oneself and others in the act of interpretation, with being, so to speak, co-human.

Ways and means shape the flow of social order; virtue and honor are the wellspring of order.

As accumulated earth makes a mountain, and accumulated water makes a sea, so accumulated good deeds make moral authority. (cp. Xunzi)

Achieving authority one can achieve steadfastness.

'More probable' in ordinary conversation often means 'more trustworthy for giving you an answer that is largely correct'.

Probability theory in itself is just a mathematics dealing with relations on an interval entirely from 0 inclusive to 1 inclusive; everything else we say about it is an application that must be justified.

What are the conditions for reasonable enforcement of law by the general citizenry rather than by police?

Church and state in society
(1) classical: social institutions properly and in themselves fall under the authority of Church or of state, but not both
(2) glutty: social institutions properly and in themselves fall under the authority of both Church and state
(3) gappy: social institutions properly and in themselves are not strictly under the authority either of the Church or of the state
(4) coincidental; social institutions are properly and in themselves twofold, under each distinctly
(5) eliminativist: there are no real social institutions, just bundles of customs and conventions pertaining to the operations of the Church and the state
- each of these, of course, allows for general and specific forms

kinds of defective causation in testimony
(1) internal distortions (e.g., misinformation)
(2) distortion from internal to channel
(3) distortion from external to channel
(4) distortion in inference and interpretation

God in Whitehead is supreme rhetor.

A politicized civil service is in a pervasive state of conflicts of interest.

inside/outside formulations of CoI
public/private formulations of CoI
safety/risk formulations of CoI

CoI & theology of temptation
(a conflict of interest is indeed an occasion for temptation -- whether a proximate or a remote one)

original sin as the most comprehensive conflict of interest

MacDonald & Norman: primary problem with CoI is not immediate case but precedent

feeling offended vs being offended against

Civil freedom is a system of privileges, protected from external interference, and justified by general benefit.

Fidelissimus ad Mortem

Kováts Mihály was a Hungarian nobleman who became a noted cavalry officer, first in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and then in the Prussian cavalry under Frederick the Great. And in 1777 he heard about the American War of Independence, and immediately began preparations to leave for the United States, writing Benjamin Franklin to ask for a letter of recommendation by which he could offer his services to the Congress. He didn't wait for an answer, which is perhaps a good thing; Franklin deliberately sat on Kovats's letter, worried that acting on it would offend potential allies in Europe. He introduced himself to Washington, who was wary of foreign aristocrats and declined at first to give him a commission as a cavalry officer; undeterred, Kovats worked as a recruiting officer for a while. When Congress commissioned a legion under Casimir Pulaski, Pulaski insisted on Kovats's value, and therefore he was named colonel commandant, and put in charge of the training of the cavalry along Hungarian and Prussian lines, which he did very well. Pulaski's Legion was to be somewhat ill-fated; Americans were suspicious in general of the loyalty of foreign officers, the Legion was always short on money, they were ordered here and there without always much reason, their actions were several times ruined by arriving late and thus having to fight on the enemy's terms, and on a march to Charleston, South Carolina, half of them died from smallpox. Their march to Charleston was to help lift the Siege of Charleston, which would be one of the worst defeats suffered by Americans in the entire war. But the tatters of cavalry under Kovats did wonders until, in the final series of engagements, Michael Kovats himself fell on May 11, 1779.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Mothers Tell Us So

Human will and intelligence are in act as soon as the human being exists; personal dignity subsists and cannot be violated in any way whatsoever, nor obstructed in its natural operations. But the baby can certainly be helped to carry out its actions. An infant needs this kind of help, expects it and receives it gratefully -- mothers tell us so....

...Although the condition of babies is mysterious and virtually unknown, I am convinced that human beings use their understanding an will from the very first moments of their existence; babies do indeed consent with all their will, utterly grateful for the loving care given them. I am convinced that they acknowledge the superiority and just dominion exercised over them by those who feed, govern and care for them. Finally, because morality begins with the use of the will at the first moment the human being exists, I am convinced that babies are moral beings....

[Bl. Antonio Rosmini, The Philosophy of Right, Volume 2: Rights of the Individual, Cleary & Watson, trs., Rosmini House (Durham: 1993) pp. 149, 151.]

Monday, May 07, 2018

David Hume

David Home was born on what in the modern calendar is May 7, 1711 to Joseph and Katherine Home; Britain was not on the modern calendar at the time (it switched in his lifetime) so on the 'old style' calendar he was born on April 26. He was born in Edinburgh, although his family actually lived at Ninewells; he was the second son. David never really knew his father, who died when he was one year old. He was a precocious child, and had early admission into the University of Edinburgh. His family expected him to study for law, which he kinda-sorta did, but he never really had an interest; when he was supposed to be reading books on jurisprudence, he read classics. He had significant ambitions, though, and at the age of eighteen began obsessively studying philosophy. This would eventually lead to a serious breakdown in his health. He eventually recovered, to a fair extent, but while he had been a skinny kid before his health problems, he was considerably more weighty afterward. He went Bristol with some recommendation letters in an attempt to find a good mercantile position, but failed to find anything that he though suitable. It is probably about this time, however, in 1734, that he started writing his last name 'Hume' so that the English would pronounce it correctly.

From Bristol, he went to Rheims, and then to La Flèche in France, where the famous Jesuit school was, probably in part to be close to their library. He seems to have loved it; he spent three years there, writing A Treatise of Human Nature, which he published in 1738 after having returned to London. It did not make the major splash that he had hoped. At Ninewells, he started reworking the material into a more popular, essay format, which would eventually, although not immediately, be much more successful. During the Jacobite Rising of 1745, Hume was invited to be the companion of the Marquis of Annandale in England, and spent a year there. In itself this was something of a disaster (the Marquis was mentally disturbed), but connections Hume made during the visit led him to be invited as the secretary of General St. Clair on what was supposed to be an expedition to Canada but which never got further than France; he would soon after be attached to St. Clair for a while in a military embassy to Italy.

On returning from Italy, he continued to write in the essay format, as his works slowly began to pick up interest. It was in 1752, however, that his literary career would take a major turn for improvement, when he was appointed the Librarian for the Faculty of Advocates, which paid very little but gave him full access to the library. From that well he drew much, and began writing his History of England as a study of political factions. Hume's tendency not to modify his historical account to fit standard partisan lines, and in particular his active sympathy for Charles I, shocked a great many people when the first volume came out, but later volumes did quite well, and, indeed, it was primarily his work as a historian that secured Hume's literary reputation both in his lifetime and for a long time afterward.

Having finished the History, and now reasonably well-to-do, he returned to Scotland, expecting to stay there permanently, but he was invited to be secretary to the embassy in Paris. After some reluctance he went -- and discovered what it was like to be a celebrity. Only Laurence Sterne was more popular and more widely lauded. He made many French friends while there. In 1765 he became chargé d'affaires for a brief period, and when the ambassador arrived, he returned to Scotland. Despite his great enjoyment of the French, he seems to have regarded them as a bit much. He was Under-Secretary of the Northern Department for a time, and then spent his last years in Edinburgh. He became quite sick in 1775, and died on August 25, 1776.

Radio Greats: The Brooklyn Brain (2000 Plus)

But Carl, doesn't it give you satisfaction to know that, because of our invention, there is one dog in this city that knows the Einstein theory?

2000 Plus was put out by the Mutual Broadcasting System from March 1950 to January 1952. It was the very first experiment in an attempt to design a science fiction radio program that would appeal to adults. Unlike most other such programs, it used all-original material. The series has not weathered time particularly well; out of eighty-eight episodes, we only even know the titles of less than half, and of those only about half seem to have survived.

It's a pity, because what we do have is quite excellent in quality: good actors, interesting and distinctive stories, and good effects. The series is quite entertaining, which is itself interesting since its stories are usually dystopic and skeptical about technological progress.

Of those I have heard, "The Brooklyn Brain" is far and away the best, and this seems to be a common view among others who have heard episodes from the series. I would go so far as to say that it is perhaps one of the best comic science fiction episodes ever done. It is often hilariously funny.

Joe from Brooklyn is a not-very-bright guy with little education who works in a particularly dull job. He has his eyes set on a girl, Clarice, and has proposed to her, but she's the kind of girl who likes 'culture', as she calls it. So when he discovers an advertisement for an experiment in learning things without teachers and tutors, he writes in. Scientists are going to beam knowledge of art directly into his brain by electric shocks. Everybody involved gets made fun of, from the hapless Joe, to the absurdly pretentious Clarice, to the scientists who are absolutely certain it will work but make transparent excuses for not trying it on themselves.

You can listen to "The Brooklyn Brain" at Internet Archive (#6 on that list).

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Fortnightly Book, May 6

The next several weeks will be quite busy, so a lighter read seems to be in order.

Due to the success of the run of the Lone Ranger, whose television run had begun in 1949, producers cast about for some new variation that would be suitable for television, which was still a fairly new medium. Some science fiction programs -- 2000 Plus on the Mutual Broadcasting System and Dimension X on NBC were the most obvious examples -- had been doing fairly well, so this may have led to the proposal, pitched to Isaac Asimov in 1951, for a science fiction analogue of the Lone Ranger -- a Space Ranger. The idea was to bring out a novel to build up some prior interest and then follow up with a series. Asimov, not much of a fan of what he had seen thus far on television, said he would only do it if he could do it under a pseudonym, and it was agreed. Asimov began writing, using the pseudonym 'Paul French', and finished David Starr: Space Ranger in two months. It was published soon after. The TV series fell through completely (probably because of conflict with another 'space ranger' series, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger), which in Asimov's view was the best possible result. Asimov continued to write in the series. He quickly became tired of writing under a pseudonym; when they were later put out in new editions, he insisted that his real name be on the cover. There are six Lucky Starr books in total:

David Starr: Space Ranger (1952)
Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953)
Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954)
Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury (1956)
Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter (1957)
Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn (1958)

The stories get more obviously Asimovian as time goes by, with typical mysteries and even the Three Laws of Robotics showing up at one point; the tone of the stories also becomes less the Wild-West-in-Space of the first book and more suggestive of Cold War espionage.

The first Asimov works I ever read were the Norby books he wrote with Janet Asimov (Boys' Life had serialized some of the stories in comics form, which had led me to pick up the Norby books), and I enjoyed those enough that I picked up the next Asimov books I could find, which were David Starr: Space Ranger and Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus, after which I read all the rest. Some features of the former, vaguely, and of the latter, vividly, have stuck with me through the years. They are quite solid science fiction adventure stories, and from a unique period, still bearing some of the earlier optimism of science fiction, before it became clear just how utterly hostile most of the planets in the Solar System are for life, that period where Venus would have been a hot, tropical ocean, and Mercury was thought to show one side to the Sun at all times, and the other planets were probably inhabited by some kind of robust life. While Martian canals were regarded skeptically by astronomers, those astronomers had reason to think parts of the Martian surface were covered with something like algae. Asimov seems to have later been a bit embarrassed that these works turned out to be so wrong about the planets, but the stories themselves are probably the better for having been written at a time when everyone was overly optimistic.

So, since I have an omnibus edition, The Complete Adventures of Lucky Starr, that will be the next fortnightly book. The entire series has some interesting ideas in common with the Foundation novels and the Robot novels of the 1950s, given some rather different twists; and they are in some ways more fun works, real adventures, that served as the germination grounds for other ideas that Asimov uses in more famous works later.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Sir Walter Scott, Waverley


Opening Passage:

The title of this work has not been chosen without the grave and solid deliberation which matters of importance demand from the prudent. Even its first, or general denomination, was the result of no common research or selection, although, according to the example of my predecessors, I had only to seize upon the most sounding and euphonic surname that English history or topography affords, and elect it at once as the title of my work and the name of my hero. But, alas! what could my readers have expected from the chivalrous epithets of Howard, Mordaunt, Mortimer, or Stanley, or from the softer and more sentimental sounds of Belmour, Belville, Belfield, and Belgrave, but pages of inanity, similar to those which have been so christened for half a century past? I must modestly admit I am too diffident of my own merit to place it in unnecessary opposition to preconceived associations; I have, therefore, like a maiden knight with his white shield, assumed for my hero, WAVERLEY, an uncontaminated name, bearing with its sound little of good or evil, excepting what the reader shall hereafter be pleased to affix to it. But my second or supplemental title was a matter of much more difficult election, since that, short as it is, may be held as pledging the author to some special mode of laying his scene, drawing his characters, and managing his adventures.

Summary: Waverley is often criticized for having a very gradual build-up, but I think Sir Walter Scott knew what he was at. He is trying to tell a story sympathetic to Jacobite Scots without drawing on sympathy for the Jacobite cause. Scott, of course, is a very pro-Union author, and he is writing for an audience that would itself have largely been pro-Union. So how does one convey the events of the Forty-Five in such a way that the reader can love the characters even when thinking them seriously wrong? So we start with Waverley, an Englishman, and we get a sense of why he would eventually throw his lot in with the Jacobites: the peculiarities of his education that lead him to be a more idealistic sort, his romantic reading and poetic sensibilities, the strongly traditional character of his family with its Anglo-Saxon traditions that are in some ways so very like Highland traditions, the association with a harmless bunch of mild pro-Jacobites. This provides a bridge whereby a reader, if only they share some of this, may get a line of sympathy regardless of their actual view of the politics. He is then put in a situation in which he has an apparently serious grievance against the English army that he has joined for treating him unreasonably simply due to his family connections. And of course we get the usual sweeteners -- funny and goofy characters, beautiful and marriageable women, Highlanders acting with honor and rough charm, depictions of unshakable loyalty. The slow build is exactly what the story needs.

The Highlands, and, indeed, all of Scotland, are at the opening of the novel in considerable disarray. The British attempts to pacify the Highlands and disarm potential troublemakers have, of course, backfired, with the result that Scotland is basically run by organized crime. The disarmament has left Lowland Scots relatively defenseless against the Highland Scots. And attempts to enforce it and other laws has in essence just turned the Highland clans into a tartaned mafia, with an extensive network of smuggling operations and protection rackets, as well as outlaws roaming about making temporary alliances with clan chiefs who are each half warlord and half magistrate, scraping by but having dreams of more. On the Lowland side, there are the Lowland gentry, preserving the tatters of honor that have been left to them. And into the mix comes Charles Edward Stuart, the charming Prince Regent, waving the banner to restore the Stewart throne and the pride of Scotland. The Forty-Five will fail, of course, but it will be effective enough to frighten the English like few other things could have, with the result that the aftermath will be an extraordinary crackdown on Scotland. The Scots will be disarmed, systematically this time. The tartan plaid will be banned. The military will press down hard on the Highland chiefs to comply until they have only a choice between that and death. And for all the talk of Scotland as benefiting from the Union, it is a partner under continual suspicion, as is seen when Scottish requests much later to build a militia like that of England are denied. To be sure, real benefits did accrue. But part of Scott's intent in this novel is to suggest to all involved that perhaps things should be done on a more amicable principle than the national prejudices that governed 'sixty years since'.

The characters, of course, are the great attraction, especially the pedantic Baron of Bradwardine, who can hardly go a sentence without throwing out a Latin quotation or classical allusion. In the eighteenth century, a bit after the time of which Scott is writing, a number of literary Scots went to great lengths to purge their written English of Scotticisms, and several of the most successful, like Hume and Beattie, published lists of expressions to avoid, for the benefit of those who were also trying to crack into the English literary market. If you look at those lists, it's noticeable that the difference of the Scots was not due to the influence of Gaelic, as we might naively expect, but to the influence of Latin and French. Scots English was massively more latinate than the English of England, Latin still retaining more of its place as the language of learning; and because law had a much more central place in Scottish life than in English, it was also threaded throughout with all sorts of legalese, which itself was largely adapted forms of Latin and French. Thus the Baron's elaborate and complicated form of Latin-English is, while certainly exaggerated for comic effect, very much what you would expect from an educated member of the gentry, immersed in the law of his country. And I, at least, found the most charming and endearing scene in the book to be the Baron, homeless after the failure of the Forty-Five, but still with a sort of resigned good cheer, curled up in a tiny cave, reading Livy and collecting loci communes. That, more than anything else in this very Scottish book, says 'Scottish' to me.

Favorite Passage:
'We poor Jacobites,' continued the Baron, looking up, 'are now like the conies in Holy Scripture (which the great traveller Pococke calleth Jerboa), a feeble people, that make our abode in the rocks. So, fare you well, my good lad, till we meet at Janet's in the even; for I must get into my Patmos, which is no easy matter for my auld stiff limbs.'

With that he began to ascend the rock, striding, with the help of his hands, from one precarious footstep to another, till he got about half-way up, where two or three bushes concealed the mouth of a hole, resembling an oven, into which the Baron insinuated, first his head and shoulders, and then, by slow gradation, the rest of his long body; his legs and feet finally disappearing, coiled up like a huge snake entering his retreat, or a long pedigree introduced with care and difficulty into the narrow pigeon-hole of an old cabinet. Waverley had the curiosity to clamber up and look in upon him in his den, as the lurking-place might well be termed. Upon the whole, he looked not unlike that ingenious puzzle called 'a reel in a bottle,' the marvel of children (and of some grown people too, myself for one), who can neither comprehend the mystery how it has got in or how it is to be taken out. The cave was very narrow, too low in the roof to admit of his standing, or almost of his sitting up, though he made some awkward attempts at the latter posture. His sole amusement was the perusal of his old friend Titus Livius, varied by occasionally scratching Latin proverbs and texts of Scripture with his knife on the roof and walls of his fortalice, which were of sandstone. As the cave was dry, and filled with clean straw and withered fern, 'it made,' as he said, coiling himself up with an air of snugness and comfort which contrasted strangely with his situation, 'unless when the wind was due north, a very passable gite for an old soldier.'

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Cinco de Mayo

A repost with some revisions.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, in which Mexican soldiers, facing a much larger French army, achieved victory. It is not to be confused with Mexico's Independence Day, which is September 16; Mexican independence from Spain was achieved almost fifty years before the battle of Puebla. During the administration of Mexican president Benito Juarez, Napoleon III had sent an army, under the pretext of debt collection, to establish French rule in Mexico under the viceroy Maximilian. It was a bold plan, but the odds dramatically favored Napoleon III: the French army was one of the finest in the world at that time, and the United States, who given the chance would certainly have opposed the French incursion and assisted the Mexicans (as they would later), was embroiled in the Civil War. The French smashed through the initial Mexican defenses.

Operating under the assumption that the Mexicans would capitulate if their capital were to fall, the French set out to attack Mexico City. The Mexican army, under the leadership of Texas-born Ignacio Zaragoza (Texas, of course, was at the time of his birth still part of Mexico; Zaragoza was born in Goliad and moved with his family to modern-day Mexico after Texas independence), retreated to the fortified city of Puebla. When the French arrived, they sent their cavalry out to the French flanks; the French army made the mistake of sending its own cavalry to chase them. The Mexican cavalry was easily able to tie up the French cavalry, thus forcing the French infantry to charge the Mexican infantry unassisted. The ground was muddy from rain, making it difficult to maneuver. It is also sometimes said that the Mexicans stampeded large herds of cattle against the French; which, if true, would have no doubt been a bit disconcerting. In any case, the French were eventually forced to retreat from Puebla. Against enormous odds, the Mexicans had won the battle.

But they lost the war. The French naturally brought in reinforcements and nothing could really stop them from seizing control of Mexico. Juarez was sent into hiding, where he organized the resistance. Maximilian ruled until 1867, when he was executed by troops loyal to Juarez.

Cinco do Mayo is celebrated in Mexico, but except for perhaps Puebla and the surrounding areas, it is not particularly popular, and not even close to as popular as it is in the U.S., where it is perhaps second only to St. Patrick's Day as the most widely celebrated ethnic holiday. Part of the reason is that for a long time the only place it was celebrated, besides Puebla, was Texas, particularly around Goliad; it then spread from there throughout the U.S., largely as a side effect of the Chicano Movement.