Sunday, November 18, 2018

Voyages Extraordinaires #13: Le Chancellor

Charleston, September 27th, 1869.—It is high tide, and three o’clock in the afternoon when we leave the Battery-quay; the ebb carries us off shore, and as Captain Huntly has hoisted both main and top sails, the northerly breeze drives the “Chancellor” briskly across the bay. Fort Sumter ere long is doubled, the sweeping batteries of the mainland on our left are soon passed, and by four o’clock the rapid current of the ebbing tide has carried us through the harbour-mouth.

But as yet we have not reached the open sea; we have still to thread our way through the narrow channels which the surge has hollowed out amongst the sand-banks. The captain takes a south-west course, rounding the lighthouse at the corner of the fort; the sails are closely trimmed; the last sandy point is safely coasted, and at length, at seven o’clock in the evening; we are out free upon the wide Atlantic.

The Chancellor, also known in English as The Survivors of the Chancellor, is not widely read in English, but it has always had a good critical reputation as one of the great novels about disaster at sea. J. R. Kazallon, whose diary we follow, is in South Carolina and heading home to Britain. He could go to New York or New Orleans to catch a steamship, but walking by the quays, he decides instead to take a sailing ship -- The Chancellor, a British ship heading home with 1700 bales of cotton in its hold. It will turn out to be an unfortunate notion. While it's a rare occurrence, cotton can spontaneously combust if conditions are right, and one of the other passengers turns out to have illegally been smuggling potentially explosive picrate of potash. What is worse, the captain seems to be suffering from a mental illness and has decided to take them off the usual route. Disaster after disaster will strike; a ship with thirty-two people on it becomes a raft with fewer and fewer people, on the verge of death, running out of food, running out of water, despairing of rescue, going mad. In such a situation, can any human being avoid being reduced to a beast?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Friday, November 16, 2018

Dashed Off XXVII

(1) by formal difference (genus to species)
(2) by matter (species to individuals)
(3) by participation (exemplar to examples)

ontological argument and the real composition of essence and esse
that there could only be one being whose essence is actually to be + many beings -> composition of esse and essentia
(NB if this reasoning can be made, it establishes composition without assuming existence of a being whose essence is actually to be)

It is foolish to try to purge religion of the difficult and the tedious, and equally foolish to try to confine it to such.

"to act without any principles is to live by chance" Mary Astell

It is a widely recognized practical principle to do by substitute what cannot be done by the thing itself.

That none may serve as slaves, some must serve freely.

"Gnosis without praxis is the theology of demons." Maximus Confessor

The Maronite liturgy for the assumption especially emphasizes the gathering of the apostles around the Virgin.

We improve our practice by remotion (eliminating discovered errors and fault), intensification (increasing good we've discovered), and assent (finding higher unifying goods).

All the power of law to be obeyed lies in habit.

When people do not respect a freedom in their own activities, the result is always a government that actively tramples on it.

The Fifth Amendment establishes grand juries as part of the judicial checks and balances; this is an obvious point, but it is often overlooked in discussing constitutional checks and balances.

If actual liberalism were always describable by the North Star slogan -- "Right is of no sex, Truth is of no color, God is the Father of all, and we are all brethren" -- it would always be a splendid thing. It is this that holds the full appeal of liberalism as a vision of society. But in every society, high sentiments are used as cover for base graspings, and what we get in contemporary liberalism is too often an elaborate set of political power plays masquerading as morality. A liberal society cannot become just a wax nose for some agenda and still fall under the idea that made it attractive in the first place.

In drifting from Right, Truth, and God, modern liberalism becomes a politics of making things up as one goes along. This often has the brilliance of improvisation to it, and new and clever things are sometimes discovered, answers formed to new situations. But it is a role-playing game in which the rules are just whatever others can be convinced (by sweet words or by insults) to allow. Every good thing will be sold off tomorrow to satisfy some group's whim, the moment feelings tip their way.

Bellarmine puts an emphasis on membership in the Church by desire -- catechisms and excommunicates are in the Church by desire rather than properly.

A people without heroes cannot often be heroic.

The structure of rationalization is the same as that of hypothesis formation.

Fiction by its nature presupposes what is not fictional.

cosmological arguments based on the impossibility of
(1) actual infinite
(2) infinite regress
(3) dependency without an independent
(obv. there are overlapping cases)

It seems clear from the Short Treatise that Spinoza developed his views partly in opposition to a (broadly) Thomistic natural philosophy.

Duty speaks most loudly when it is partly echoed by need.

For every propose semiotics, ask, "What theory of evidence does this suggest?"

Human life needs not only forgiveness but a system of forgiveness.

Equality cannot adequately substitute for reciprocity -- it lacks the latter's capacity to accommodate difference.

All citizens are part of the public sphere by virtue of being citizens; this is just what the public sphere is for a citizenry, the domain established by the union of citizens qua citizens.

the cycle of system and rhapsody in the historical development of philosophical ideas

Christianity evangelizes and expands by layers, often many layers over a very long period of time.

Love and duty tend naturally to have similarities with each other.

Much of government administration is just a system of lists.

Civil rights depend on civic education.

Much of what is called 'public opinion' is not really opinion but a set of interested attitudes. (cf. RB Perry)

Computer programming should be seen as a modern liberal art.

Where there is no light, there can be no mercy.

Nothing drives the world toward dystopia like utopia.

Much of our belief is deferential; it's not that, psychologically, we have much or even any commitment to it, but it is what others say, so we go with it until we have reason to think otherwise.

Imaginative verisimilitude does not work on anything like a Bayesian principle.

experiments as essentially ordered causal series.

It is insufficiently remarked that no moral theory requires that human beings intervene to prevent great evils except under very specific conditions. One reason it is little remarked is that we usually think about these things in cases where the conditions are relevant; but step back from the conditions and it becomes clear enough.

Every obligation arises out of a teleology.

Hume's taste of the fig & Locke's Essay 2.13.24

'loss of problems' as a philosophical disease (Wittgenstein)

Aristotle's account of tragedy makes it an exploration of eudaimonia by reversal.

moral law as a postulate of philosophical inquiry (Plato's Gorgias suggests something analogous to this)

To understand what virtue and duty deserve, the philosopher must posit a point of view according to which the duty or virtue and its desert are united. To understand how they are to be done at all, the philosopher must posit a notion of an in-principle capability of acting morally. To understand how they are to be done adequately, the philosopher must posit the notion of an in-principle process commensurate with their quality.

Sooner or later, academic writing always becomes a parody of itself.

The primary danger with political faction is not disagreement, even heated disagreement, but the rise of a mentality in which people count themselves as just and right because of whom they oppose.

Any view in which moral goodness has no connection to power or to knowledge is inevitably incoherent.

It belongs to the nature of good parenting to draw greater good from the errors of one's children, a feature that is most clear with the parenting of small children (since that is when parenting is most likely to swamp other factors) and in teaching (since this is a relatively specific form that in great measure consists of drawing good out of error).

There are no indefeasible evils.

The Council of Frankfurt 794 rejected II Nicaea because it read it as saying that icons of saints should receive the same veneration as the holy Trinity -- which is so off that it seems it has to be due to a bad translation.

It seems that classification-based validity would be affected by differences in tone or coloring, as in 'dog' vs 'cur' or 'argent' vs 'silver', even if only in marginal cases.

All of history is a testimony to the ingenuity of human beings in going wrong.

(1) Start with Calvin's concessions on infallibility of the Church (Institutes 4.8).
(2) Go beyond: The bishops can represent the Church in this.
:::: Scripture treats bishops as having representative authority.
:::: It is recognized among Apostolic Churches.
:::: It is rationally plausible on the basis of order.
(3) Go beyond: The Pope can represent bishops in this.
:::: Petrine privileges
:::: It is consistent with the way the Church Fathers treated Rome.
:::: It is rationally plausible on the bases of honor and deference.
(4) But not too far: These representations cannot be unlimited, and have conditions.
:::: Divine authority has pre-eminence.
:::: Bishops and Popes have repeatedly recognized this in circumstances in which they were speaking representatively.
:::: Rationally, they are clearly not always speaking representatively.

We can look at any causal series and ask the reason why it is as long as it is.

All forms of participation are cases in which the less universal derives from the more universal, in some way.

tone-meaning arising out of: etiquette, aesthetics, common usage and derivation therefrom, context

The Bible's ideal reader is the Church herself.

Theism is a very large family of related positions, and thus is not the sort of thing that can be assigned a single probability in a context.

Probabilities only exist within a universe of discourse.

A probability is not a brute fact but a measurement; before you can have your probabilities, you must have your means of measurement.

the epiphany and transfiguration aspects of divine tradition

The first requirement for theological language is to facilitate speaking truly.

Too many people do not care about arguments as such, seeing them only as a tool for manipulating others into silence or confusion.

The kind of causality we experience within the stream of experience itself (as opposed to the causal character of having experience at all) is one experience shifting our disposition to receive another experience.

We don't merely move from idea to idea according to resemblance; we resemblance-make among ideas that are available.

Refusing to forgive is a vice in that it subordinates common good to private mood.

Nyaya as a theory of grounds of signification

to transfigure students of this world so that they are also candidates of heaven, workers so that they are also worshipers, thinkers so that they are believers, friends of man so that they are also friends of God

Feuerbach's comment about the stars is key to understanding his failure. The heavens do reveal human nature. But it would be absurd to treat this as suggesting that the stars are nothing but reflections of human nature. The 'nothing but' Feuerbach finds for religion does not derive from the anthropological analysis as such, but only from the axiom of materialism assumed from before the beginning.

Feuerbach approaches theology as if the Church as such had no place in it.

other minds and readiness to respond

In interacting with other people, we recognize ourselves as being already part of a perspective other than our own, distinct from us, independent of us, and continuing when we are not aware of it.

We do seem to cognize with feelings to some extent: who feels gratitude, feels something as gift; who feels anger, feels something as threat; who feels sorrow, feels something as loss. It is, of course, a question whether the object-content comes first from an independent source or is discovered by the feeling itself.

Feuerbach is exploiting a weakness of subject/object metaphysics (given that the object is in some sense in the subject), one that doesn't arise when subject and object are understood by means of act and potency. Taking subject and object as primitive provides nothing to prevent reduction to reflexivity.

As there are apparent answers to prayer, the question of the efficacy of prayer is a subset of the problem of induction.

Bentham relativizes the principle of utility to the interest being considered.

Verbs are 'doing words' because 'do' is a general verb. You can use verbs to answer, "What is being done?" Not all verbs allow for clear answers to time questions on the other hand (infinitives for instance). Thus verbs are better classified as action/doing words than as time/aspect words (as some have suggested).

The problem of induction is not any kind of problem at all unless things appear to be connected.

Religion unites man with himself; in it he finds God as the principle of his own coherence.

Feuerbach's account of the Incarnation is essentially the counterpart to Kant's; where Kant sublimates it into pure practical reason, Feuerbach passionates it into the 'heart', i.e., our sensibility. Their accounts are not wholly wrong, even; but given the limits of their methods, what they are each doing is capturing one aspect of the appeal of the Incarnation to the human mind, and ignoring all the rest, or, indeed, anything that one does not find in the mental attraction itself. Kant traces out how it is morally magnetic, Feuerbach how it is touching to the heart, and then each goes away pretending to have said all that was worth saying. Feuerbach, however, captures more than Kant does, due to the nature of the doctrine.

At-at is a poor account of motion because an account of motion must explain to begin with why one thing at one place/time can be at another.

multiplicity of potential -> need for a mover to select

the facingness of painting, the amidst-dwelling of sculpture

Allusion is the mother of poetic diction.

A mass media society is a society of facsimile emotions.

Feuerbach's conflation of providence and miracle quite clearly leads to a false view of Judaism, which takes providence to be linked to covenant.

"The relation of the communal experience to the individual experience is constitution, not summation." Edith Stein

Scientific knowledge is a community knowing.

The dictum de omni et nullo can be interpreted as making syllogistic validity dependent on classification-based validity.

It as through permissible things that the obligatory becomes feasible.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Evening Note for Thursday, November 15

Thought for the Evening: Deception and Clifford's Ethics of Belief

It's not sufficiently recognized, but because Clifford's arguments in "The Ethics of Belief" (PDF) are ethical, tout court, they have direct implications for a much wider field of human life than just inquiry and belief. The argument cannot be confined just to belief. An obvious case is the common property argument:

And no one man’s belief is in any case a private matter which concerns himself alone. Our lives are guided by that general conception of the course of things which has been created by society for social purposes. Our words, our phrases, our forms and processes and modes of thought, are common property, fashioned and perfected from age to age; an heirloom which every succeeding generation inherits as a precious deposit and a sacred trust to be handled on to the next one, not unchanged but enlarged and purified, with some clear marks of its proper handiwork. Into this, for good or ill, is woven every belief of every man who has speech of his fellows. An awful privilege, and an awful responsibility, that we should help to create the world in which posterity will live.

It follows directly from this (if it works as it is supposed to work) that it is always wrong to lie, since by lying you are contaminating the 'precious deposit' by affecting the beliefs of others by communication. But more than this, it seems to require us to take a stronger stance than is taken even by very strong positions against lying, namely, that any kind of deception whatsoever is morally wrong, because you are interfering with the ability of others to believe well.

This is perhaps not surprising, since one of Clifford's arguments is that believing without evidence is wrong because it creates a dishonest society:

Habitual want of care about what I believe leads to habitual want of care in others about the truth of what is told to me. Men speak the truth to one another when each reveres the truth in his own mind and in the other’s mind; but how shall my friend revere the truth in my mind when I myself am careless about it, when I believe thing because I want to believe them, and because they are comforting and pleasant? Will he not learn to cry, “Peace,” to me, when there is no peace? By such a course I shall surround myself with a thick atmosphere of falsehood and fraud, and in that I must live. It may matter little to me, in my cloud-castle of sweet illusions and darling lies; but it matters much to Man that I have made my neighbours ready to deceive.

Anyone who accepts Clifford's argument for the conclusion that 'it is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence' is thereby committed to its being wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone to do something that will deceive or mislead someone else.

This, of course, is not the same as to say that everyone who accepts the claim is so committed; it's Clifford's argument for it in particular that, built entirely on moral principles, requires that those moral principles be applied with parity and consistency across the board. Not every kind of 'ethics of belief' is moralizing the way Clifford's is; William James in "The Will to Believe", for instance, relativizes the kind of 'ethics of belief' you use to the specific goals you have in inquiry, and so is (perhaps unsurprisingly) more accurately called a 'pragmatics of belief' than an 'ethics of belief'.

The fundamental problem with Clifford's argument on this point, of course, is that it's simply wrong, when we look at the evidence, to say that every single belief, without exception, harms the 'precious deposit' or contributes to more dishonest society; this posits a fragility in human society that simply does not show up when you look at how societies work. Every human society has to deal with falsehoods by the load; there is no way to avoid that, because even in the best of times people will make honest mistakes, be confronted with misleading evidence through no fault of their own, misinterpret and misread evidence, and the like. Societies develop means for dealing with it; they adapt and move on. Nor does there seem to be any evidence that a society in which some people occasionally show a disregard for truth is a society that slides into being one in which people in general are "ready to deceive". A lot of things have to go into habitual deception; merely coming into contact with disregard for truth does not seem to give us a cause proportionate to the purported effect. And we see the same with lying: most lies in fact seem to be swamped out or neutralized, and doing things that mislead others does not seem to be particularly likely to make them liars.

The real problem with lying, of course, is that it is a perversion of the natural ends of reason as communicative. But it is true that deliberately saying what you know to be false is a sin against trust as part of common good. It's just not necessarily a sin that on its own damages that common good, and society is not so fragile as to be corrupted by occasional wrongdoing. And neither of the arguments against lying suggests that everything you do that could deceive and mislead is always wrong; although you may generally have to be careful.

The perversion account of lying is usually the most anti-lying position on the table these days (it is often vehemently attacked for being too strong); but Clifford as a nineteenth-century Englishman in a culture in which 'candour' was considered a national virtue and candid behavior and honesty a mark of a civilized gentleman, and John Henry Newman had been attacked for dishonesty just a little over a decade before simply for suggesting that it was sometimes moral to be cautious in expressing the truth. Clifford could assume at the time that it was not a point at which most of his audience would have pressed his argument.

Various Links of Interest

* This has been going around Twitter due to Nick Kapur: A Japanese illustrated history of the United States from 1861. It hits the major highlights: Columbus, the American Revolution, John Adams slaying a giant serpent with a sword, George Washington punching a tiger, John Adams killing another giant serpent with the help of a giant eagle, all the key moments of American history. The book in question is Osanaetoki Bankokubanashi by Nozaki Bunzō under the pseudonym Kanagaki Robun (writer) and Utagawa Yoshitora (illustrator).

* Adrian Currie on the paleontologist Mary Anning

* Corey Dethier, William Whewell's Semantic Account of Induction (PDF)

* Nathanael Blake, Living With Morals: A Review of The Fall of Gondolin

* Juhana Toivanen, The Fate of the Flying Man: Medieval Reception of Avicenna's Thought Experiment

* Timothy Chow, The Consistency of Arithmetic (PDF)

* Given some complaints that are being made about politics today, it's worth remembering Thea Skocpol's argument from over a decade ago: The Narrowing of Civic Life.

Currently Reading

Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman
Simon Conway Morris, Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe
C. S. Lewis, On Stories
Jules Verne, The Survivors of the Chancellor

Universal Doctor

Today is the feast of St. Albert the Great, Doctor of the Church, patron saint of scientists and engineers, teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas. Born probably at some point in the 1190s in Bavaria, his own name for himself was Albert of Lauingen, but we don't know if the 'Lauingen' referred to his actual birthplace or to his family's being from there. He became a Dominican in the 1220s and in the following decades became recognized as their most talented teacher, which is why he was sometimes called 'Albert the Great' in his lifetime. He was a major figure in the reintroduction of Aristotle into the West, writing commentaries on the bulk of the Aristotelian corpus. He was briefly bishop of Regensburg, but spent most of his career in other positions. He lived a famously long life, outliving most of his early students and dying in Cologne in 1280. He was deeply interested in the natural world; we have a story, from Albert himself about his trying to get an ostrich to eat gravel in order to test whether the claims in the books about them doing so were true (he couldn't get the ostrich to eat it). He is the first person in the West to work on a systematic study of minerals and stones, and may be the first person to have identified specific organs in a fertilized egg.

In investigations of nature, however, it is necessary not only to consider the changeable understood universally according to its common features, but it is necessary to get down to details so that the primary agent in each individual case may be ascertained, especially in sensible, animate things, because in investigations of nature we must discover the universal principles through singulars, since in such investigations the particulars are better known than the universals. It is through the singulars that we come to believe that it is convenient and necessary for universals and their principles to exist, since it is only those universals which are exemplified in particulars that we accept, while those which are not exemplified in particulars, we reject.

[Albert the Great, De animalibus IX tr. 2, c.4, ed. HernannStadler, in: BGPhlvfA5, Munster9 16'.T21, ll.16-21m as quoted in Leen Spruit, "Albert the Great on the Epistemology of Natural Science", p. 64.]

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Treacherous Month

by Helen Hunt Jackson

This is the treacherous month when autumn days
With summer's voice come bearing summer's gifts.
Beguiled, the pale down-trodden aster lifts
Her head and blooms again. The soft, warm haze
Makes moist once more the sere and dusty ways,
And, creeping through where dead leaves lie in drifts,
The violet returns. Snow noiseless sifts
Ere night, an icy shroud, which morning's rays
Will idly shine upon and slowly melt,
Too late to bid the violet live again.
The treachery, at last, too late, is plain;
Bare are the places where the sweet flowers dwelt.
What joy sufficient hath November felt?
What profit from the violet's day of pain?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Moon Is Down

Being stuck in an airport for most of Sunday gave me a chance to catch up with some reading. I finished Mathias Sandorf, of course. I read Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye, which I think MrsD had recommended; some of the story was familiar, so I suppose I may have read it years and years ago, if I hadn't picked up parts of it from some other source. And I read John Steinbeck's The Moon Is Down, which was quite excellent. The title comes from Macbeth (Act II, Scene I):

BANQUO: How goes the night, boy?

FLEANCE: The moon is down; I have not heard the clock.

BANQUO: And she goes down at twelve.

FLEANCE: I take't, 'tis later, sir.

John Steinbeck had been worried about the extent of Nazi propagandistic efforts, and he wrote the work, which was published in 1942, as his contribution to countering it. He originally wrote it as set in America; since it describes a military occupation of a small coal town, and the war was not going all that well (the Germans were still expanding and the U.S. had not yet won any significant victories against Japan), this went down very badly with the people he was trying to get interested in the book, so he rewrote it to take place in a generic and unnamed country, one that has a lot in common with Norway or Denmark. He wrote it in tandem with a screenplay version, and the play debuted shortly after the book came out.

Both the book and the play, and the movie that followed them, did reasonably well. But Steinbeck was blindsided by the very, very harsh criticisms he received from some quarters. One of the interesting aspects of Steinbeck's propaganda piece is that much of the story is told from the point of view of the occupiers -- obviously, strongly hinted to be German, although they are not explicitly identified as such. And they are presented quite sympathetically. Colonel Lanser, who is in charge, has fought in war before; he has to keep the coal flowing, but is pessimistic about the prospects of the occupation. The captains are mostly idealistic young men who would rather be going to dances with young women and who have no desire to cause problems with the townspeople. Some of them have a mental breakdown from the stress of living in a community that actively hates them. They are normal people, not melodramatic villains. Although there were many who did defend him, and vehemently, Steinbeck was savaged by pundits, critics, and fellow authors claiming he was soft on fascism. It made him quite bitter, actually.

But these criticisms were the usual soft-handed posturings of the literati, the pretenses of intellectuals and chatterers at being fighters for justice. In occupied Europe, the Nazis were desperately trying to stamp out the little book, which was spreading like wildfire. The thousands of copies smuggled into Norway from Sweden caught the attention of the Quisling government; as the war was ending, a legal edition came out and sold twenty thousand copies before the occupation had even officially ended. A bookstore owner in Copenhagen who lived literally under the Gestapo offices mimeographed a never-ending stream of disguised Danish editions, which were then bought by students, who distributed them throughout the resistance. It has ever since been a well known book in Denmark. Similar stories could be told of the Netherlands or France and elswhere. Its circulation was very wide, although it is sometimes difficult to trace because so much of it was clandestine.

Steinbeck's little book touched a chord that none of the other Allied propaganda could -- and part of it was that the occupiers in the book were not cartoonish villains. To people who were actually resisting the Germans, propagandists who wrote their Germans with melodramatic wickedness were obviously just writing propaganda to write propaganda, were obviously, with whatever good intentions they might have had, just making things up. But Steinbeck -- the story he wrote was very much like their story, quiet people trying not to fall apart while under the military heel, dealing with soldiers, some of whom were indeed obviously awful, but many of whom were just like themselves, could well have been good neighbors in another time, and yet were clearly, undeniably, to-the-death enemies, the lonely and homesick boys you might have to stab in the back or blow up today, or who tomorrow might get an order to shoot you. And Steinbeck had captured an idea that resonated with the experience of the occupied populations of places like Norway and Denmark: that the occupiers were in reality less free than the occupied, and could never win as long as the occupied refused to be crushed.

It's not a difficult read at all, and I recommend it heartily.


John Steinbeck, The Moon Is Down, Introduction by Donald V. Coers, Penguin (New York: 1995).

Monday, November 12, 2018

Voyages Extraordinaires #27: Mathias Sandorf

Trieste, the capital of Illyria, consists of two towns of widely dissimilar aspect. One of them—Theresienstadt—is is modern and well-to-do, and squarely built along the shore of the bay from which the land it occupies has been reclaimed; the other is old, and poor, and irregular, straggling from the Corso up the slopes of the Karst, whose summit is crowned by the picturesque citadel.

The harbor is guarded by the mole of San Carlo, with the merchant shipping berthed alongside. On this mole there may at most times be seen—and very often in somewhat disquieting numbers—many a group of those houseless and homeless Bohemians whose clothes might well be destitute of pockets, considering that their owners never had, and to all appearance never will have, the wherewithal to put into them.

To-day, however—it is the 18th of May, 1867—two personages, slightly better dressed than the rest, are noticeable among the crowd. That they have ever suffered from a superabundance of florins or kieutzers is improbable, unless some lucky chance has favored them—and they certainly look as though they would stick at nothing that might induce that chance to come.

Mathias Sandorf is Verne's homage to The Count of Monte Cristo; Verne even dedicated the first edition of the book to Alexandre Dumas. In a sense, it asks the question, "How could a story like The Count of Monte Cristo occur in the nineteenth century?" This necessarily leads to a number of differences, since much of the actual story of The Count of Monte Cristo is tied up in the details of its period; adapting it to a different time requires a great deal of ingenuity and re-thinking. (Mathias Sandorf is also much less about revenge than The Count of Monte Cristo is, but this seems not to have been Verne's original intent. Hetzel, his publisher, was uncomfortable with serializing a revenge story in his family-focused magazine, so Verne had to re-think a number of things in order to make the story more obviously about justice rather than revenge.)

Count Mathias Sandorf is a Hungarian nobleman in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He and a number of others are involved in a conspiracy to try to liberate Hungary from the Austrians. They fail due to the treachery of some of those involved, which leads to several conspirators captured and executed. Sandorf himself disappears beneath the waves in a hail of bullets. Fifteen years later, a famous physician, Dr. Antekirtt, who is so extraordinarily wealthy that he owns his own private island and a fleet of advanced electric-powered ships, sets out to bring justice to the traitors, who one by one will fall into his grasp.

Fortnightly Book, November 11

I was stuck in an airport for five hours longer than expected yesterday, so didn't have this ready to go and didn't have a way to put it up.

Brian O'Nolan was an Irish civil servant who had ten siblings, all of whom he had to help support for various reasons. The Civil Service at the time (first half of the twentieth century) was that rare thing in Ireland, a job with a steady paycheck a man could live off of; but if you needed any extra money beyond that, your options were limited. It was not strictly illegal, but was very much frowned upon (as it generally is in a civil service), for a civil servant to express opinions in public on controversial matters, so if you wanted to do some writing on the side, you really needed to get departmental approval, and you can well imagine the problems you'd get trying to get anything particularly creative through the approval process of bureaucracy. O'Nolan got around this by a prolific use of pseudonyms. In many cases, that he was the author was in reality widely known, but civil servants are generally good at distinguishing what is known from what is officially known, and the pseudonyms let O'Nolan earn his much-needed extra spending money while letting his colleagues save face by not associating his real name with the satirical work at which he excelled.

And even we don't know all of his pseudonyms; there are many works that may or may not be O'Nolan's. (The problem is not made easier by the fact that one of O'Nolan's favorite things was to write crazy pseudonymous responses to irate pseudonymous letters he had written complaining about his pseudonymous columns.) The pseudonym under which he most garnered his fame was Myles na gCopaleen, which he used for satirical columns in the Irish Times; his column, "Cruiskeen Lawn", with its zany humor and endless imagination, developed an enthusiastic fan following in Ireland. (The Irish Times, aware of O'Nolan's situation, had the official position that the column had three pseudonymous authors. In reality, O'Nolan was the sole author, but it allowed the paper some wiggle room to shield O'Nolan if one of his columns touched a raw nerve in the wrong politician.) But the pseudonym that will likely last longest and the world over is Flann O'Brien, which he used for his novels.

I first read Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman in college and it immediately became perhaps my favorite postmodern novel. He wrote it about 1939, and was himself very pleased with it, but he failed completely to find any publisher willing to publish it. Rather heartbroken about it, he withdrew the manuscript from consideration and it was only published in 1967, the year after his death. In a sense it is a fitting irony that it was only the author's death that made the book publishable, since the book, to the extent it is about anything, is about death, of all kinds. At least, it is about death and bicycles. Or rather, it is about death and bicycles and teeth and policemen and the nameless narrator's soul, which for convenience he calls 'Joe'. And, in short, omnium, which is a name the signifies both a bicycle race and any nondescript or miscellaneous whatnot.

The BBC has a very good audio abridgement of it, which you can find at the Internet Archive.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea(s)


Opening Passage: Using Walter's translation:

The year 1866 was marked by a bizarre development, an unexplained and downright inexplicable phenomenon that surely no one has forgotten. Without getting into those rumors that upset civilians in the seaports and deranged the public mind even far inland, it must be said that professional seamen were especially alarmed. Traders, shipowners, captains of vessels, skippers, and master mariners from Europe and America, naval officers from every country, and at their heels the various national governments on these two continents, were all extremely disturbed by the business.

In essence, over a period of time several ships had encountered “an enormous thing” at sea, a long spindle-shaped object, sometimes giving off a phosphorescent glow, infinitely bigger and faster than any whale.

Summary: Pierre Aronnax, of the Paris Museum, is asked to assist the Abraham Lincoln in hunting a mysterious monster that has been damaging ships. With his servant Conseil and the harpoonist Ned Land, he discovers that the sea monster is in fact a submarine ship powered by sodium-ion batteries, an extraordinary achievement of technology, built and captained by the mysterious Captain Nemo.

One of the nice things about the work is how well it captures the joy of sheer discovery, of diggining into the treasury of the unknown. Professor Aronnax goes from an expert on the sea who has written speculative books about it based on traces of evidence to having plumbed the depths and seen it all firsthand. Between the two there is a wide gap.

I've always found Ned Land's role in the book to be a bit odd, since he spends most of it complaining. His harpooning skills do occasionally come in handy, but I think the real role he plays is to keep the theme of freedom in the forefront of the narrative, since Aronnax is liable to get lost in the adventure. Nemo fled to the depths of the sea in search of freedom, but he has nonetheless taken the freedom of the three travelers, as surely as the freedom of his own native land was taken (this is left mysterious here, but it is later said in The Mysterious Island that Nemo is a prince of India who attempted to fight the British Empire in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and not only was defeated but lost his wife and child, although Verne's original idea was that Nemo would be Polish and hate the Russian Empire). The entire book can be seen as a reflection on freedom: freedom of inquiry, freedom from oppression, the perils of freedom, the exhilaration of freedom. Perhaps this is the reason why Verne will eventually try to find some resolution to Nemo's tale in The Mysterious Island, which is also about freedom; there is no resolution here, since the book deliberately ends with unknowns.

I read the work in two translations, Walter's and Lewis's; Walter's is infinite superior. I also listened to both the Family Theater (#180) and the Favorite Story; they both attempt to be faithful but in the attempt to compress it down to a radio episode they end up being quite different. Favorite Story focuses on Captain Nemo; Family Theater focuses on Pierre Aronnax. Unsurprisingly, given the usual approaches of each series, Family Theater plays up the hope of Nemo's redemption much more than Favorite Story does. It's remarkable how reasonably faithful adaptations can go in some very different directions. But both are quite good.

Favorite Passage:

“You love the sea, captain.”

“Yes, I love it! The sea is the be all and end all! It covers seven-tenths of the planet earth. Its breath is clean and healthy. It’s an immense wilderness where a man is never lonely, because he feels life astir on every side. The sea is simply the vehicle for a prodigious, unearthly mode of existence; it’s simply movement and love; it’s living infinity, as one of your poets put it. And in essence, professor, nature is here made manifest by all three of her kingdoms, mineral, vegetable, and animal. The last of these is amply represented by the four zoophyte groups, three classes of articulates, five classes of mollusks, and three vertebrate classes: mammals, reptiles, and those countless legions of fish, an infinite order of animals totaling more than 13,000 species, of which only one-tenth belong to fresh water. The sea is a vast pool of nature. Our globe began with the sea, so to speak, and who can say we won’t end with it! Here lies supreme tranquility. The sea doesn’t belong to tyrants. On its surface they can still exercise their iniquitous claims, battle each other, devour each other, haul every earthly horror. But thirty feet below sea level, their dominion ceases, their influence fades, their power vanishes! Ah, sir, live! Live in the heart of the seas! Here alone lies independence! Here I recognize no superiors! Here I’m free!”

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Always, Everywhere, and for Everyone

Francisco Mejia Uribe attempts (unsuccessfully) to defend W. K. Clifford's argument about the ethics of belief from criticisms. One of the constant criticisms of Clifford's argument is that it is based on an exaggerated view that every single belief, without fail, is of serious social consequence (a view for which Clifford never gives adequate evidence). Uribe argues:

I think critics had a point – had – but that is no longer so. In a world in which just about everyone’s beliefs are instantly shareable, at minimal cost, to a global audience, every single belief has the capacity to be truly consequential in the way Clifford imagined. If you still believe this is an exaggeration, think about how beliefs fashioned in a cave in Afghanistan lead to acts that ended lives in New York, Paris and London. Or consider how influential the ramblings pouring through your social media feeds have become in your very own daily behaviour. In the digital global village that we now inhabit, false beliefs cast a wider social net, hence Clifford’s argument might have been hyperbole when he first made it, but is no longer so today.

This is obviously an absurd response. Not only is this evidence also completely inadequate to establish the claim being made, it's simply wrong. If John believes without any evidence that Mary has ten pairs of socks (e.g., if he just assumes that everyone has ten pairs like he does), how does the existence of social media and global travel and communication make 'the stakes very high'? If Francisco Mejia Uribe believes without adequate evidence that "every single belief has the capacity to be truly consequential", why should I consider this a serious moral wrong, rather than just bad reasoning without all the moralism about it?

Mejia Uribe also tries to defend on exactly the same grounds Clifford's argument that every single act of belief has a definite effect on our character, despite the fact that 'character' in this sense is a word used to describe something that is established by repeated actions, not single actions. It fails for this point, as well; there is simply no evidence that "careless believing" in the very, very weak sense it has to mean here -- namely, believing even one thing without adequate evidence -- "turns us into easy prey for fake-news pedlars, conspiracy theorists and charlatans".

Mejia Uribe's defense of Clifford's common property argument is no better:

Today, we truly have a global reservoir of belief into which all of our commitments are being painstakingly added: it’s called Big Data. You don’t even need to be an active netizen posting on Twitter or ranting on Facebook: more and more of what we do in the real world is being recorded and digitised, and from there algorithms can easily infer what we believe before we even express a view. In turn, this enormous pool of stored belief is used by algorithms to make decisions for and about us.

Big Data is not any kind of belief at all; it is data, as the name suggests, which is a different thing entirely. And as anyone knows who has dealt with algorithms, algorithms themselves often put forward false things on inadequate evidence. And as has been noted, a problem with Clifford's common property argument is that part of our common property consists of hypotheses and speculations put forward for further inquiry. Much of what we say we know is likely to need modification when new evidence comes in, or new ways of looking at old evidence are developed. And since the process of sorting and refinement is not affected whether the things in this treasury of things we think we know are even true or false, it's not clear why adding something on inadequate evidence (which might be false, but might also be true) would make any difference at all.

In any case, as I've noted before, the whole set of arguments fails because they are the wrong arguments to get the conclusion that Clifford wants; he wants to conclude "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence", but what the arguments would actually prove, if they worked, is "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything that tends to morally relevant bad consequences". Clifford never does anything to establish that the latter implies the former, nor does Mejia Uribe, and even if they did the 'always, everywhere, and for anyone' is just assumed, not established on sufficient evidence. Always, Everywhere, and Anyone are strong modal operators; they require that one have established a complete lack of exceptions.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Scotus Day

Today is the feast of Blessed John Duns Scotus. Hug a Scotist!

Know that in regard to another, one can act rightly either by giving oneself to another as far as one can or by giving him something else that belongs to him. The virtue inclining one to the first is friendship, by which one gives oneself to one's neighbor insofar as one can and one's neighbor can have one; and this is the most perfect of the moral virtues, because justice as a whole is more perfect than virtues that are directed to oneself, and this is the most perfect form of justice.

Scotus, Ordinatio III Suppl, dist. 34, as translated by Allan Wolter in Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality, CUA Press (Washington, D.C.: 1997) p. 248.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The Torchful Leaf

Autumn Orchards
by Clark Ashton Smith

Walled with far azures of the wintering year,
Late autumn on a windless altar burns;
Splendid as rubies from Sabean urns,
A holocaust of hues is gathered here.

The pear-trees lift a Tyrian tinged with blood;
Strange purples brighten in the smouldering plums;
The fire-red gold of peach and cherry comes
To storm the bronzing borders of the wood.

Rich as the pyre of some Hesperian queen,
Feeding the ultimate sunset with sad fires,
Is this, where beauty with her doom conspires
To tell in flame what death and beauty mean.

O, loveliness grown tragical and dear!
My heart has taken from the torchful leaf
A swiftly soaring glory, and the grief
Of love is colored like the dying year.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Election Day

Always worth remembering that these things are a matter of means and not ultimate ends.

But what is this power of yours, so glorious, so desirable? You creatures of the earth! You seem to preside over creation, but surely you think about those over whom you seem to preside? And you: Were you to catch sight of a nest of mice and one among them claiming power and authority for himself in preference to all the rest, what laughter would split your sides!

[Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Relihan, tr., Hackett (Indianapolis: 2001) p. 39 (Book II, Prose 6).]

Monday, November 05, 2018

Abyss & Sea 1

I wanted to do something, even if only informally, for NaNoWriMo; I have a number of things I could revise, but I've wanted to get this story 'on paper', as the saying goes, for a very long time, and decided I would just try to get it down. It's not particularly original as a story, particularly the type of high fantasy it is, but perhaps that will make it easier to get out. Usually when I do something like this, I do another blog for it, but that complicates the writing, so I decided to experiment putting it here, at least once a week.

High above the sea-cliffs of Sorea, or so it is said, there were the white, sparkling spires of Neyat Sor, rising as if the sea-mist below had turned to flowing stone. The spires were tall, and caught the tone and hue of the light of sun and moon, casting it back in new form, rainbow-like. In the tallest of the towers of the castle was a small room within a balcony. It was a room mostly bare of furniture; it had a table with a map and a stand holding a multi-faceted crystal the size of an egg and a heavy chest in the corner, and that was all. The door to the room was usually locked, and only the King and Queen of Sorea ever had the key. By some power that has been lost in these lesser days, anyone who took the crystal in his hand and looked out from that balcony could see anywhere in the world that was touched by the ocean-sea. Far to the west he could see the Chipou shores, and on the waves the swift Sorean ships that no storm could sink and no rock or reef could founder. He could see the very secrets of the deep and, by some strange twisting of sight, around the shores to the far eastern bays of the Great Realm, and to the nearly endless sea beyond.

Disan, King of Sorea, often went there. Sometimes he went alone, sometimes with his wife and queen, Baia, and sometimes, as today, with the large castle raven, Ker, who was, as all castle ravens are, very conversable.

"I do not think so," said Disan. "They will not drive directly through the storm."

Ker croaked and cocked his eye at the king.

"Yes," said Disan, who knew the raven-speech well, "but men are certainly sinkable. They will skirt it, and it will take at least an extra day."

Ker croaked again, with the usual sarcasm of a raven.

"Well," said the king, "perhaps then we should send you out with them next time, so you can be a ship raven."

"No," said Ker. He was unamused enough to make the effort to say the human word, which he would have usually pretended not to be able to speak.

Disan laughed and looked a while at the sea. He felt a great peace, as if all were well. It is the feeling you have when you have come home after a long and difficult journey, for that was indeed what Disan had recently done.

The people of Sorea were generally accounted a handsome people, and their king was generally accounted handsome for a Sorean. He was tall, as Soreans often were, with the delicately pale skin, black air, and eyes with epicanthal folds for which Soreans were well known; but his eyes, instead of the usual dark brown, were grey. They were striking and clear and piercing. No one who ever saw them could doubt that they were far-seeing.

The door opened behind them, and Disan did not have to turn around to know who it was.

"My Queen," he said, still looking out at the sea.

"My King," she said, putting her arms around him and pressing her cheek into his back. She sighed. "It is good to have you here."

"It is good to be here," said Disan. "Too many days on ships and too many days in camps. It is nice to be home and do nothing." He cast a sly eye toward Ker. "Except making bets with Ker. When he loses he has to become a ship raven and actually work for his meals."

"No," replied Ker.

Disan laughed, and Baia hugged him before letting him go. Patting his back, she said, "We have had a message from King Envren. He will be here early evening tomorrow, at the latest."

He turned around and looked at her with surprise. "That is fast. What could possibly be his hurry?"

She shrugged. "Fortunately, preparations are mostly done. And if anything is rushed, I suppose they can hardly blame us given the suddenness of the visit, can they?"

He took her hand in his. "Come along, Ker," he said. "We apparently have work to do."

The raven hopped on his shoulder, and the three, king, queen, and raven, descended the tower stairs. On the walls were the tapestries, woven by an art now lost, with moving pictures of the great heroes of the House of Sorea. Here in vivid detail, Keran slew the Wolf of Fire by thrusting his sword into its mouth, thus becoming Keran One-Handed. There was Maia of the Pearls, wisest of all women, rescuing her father, King Belan, by outwitting the dragon. Here was a different King Belan, Disan's grandfather, leading a charge against the armies of the Court of Night. On and on, the stories of centuries, until at the bottom they came to a tapestry that had no pictures at all, although it was of all the tapestries the one most valued by the Kings and Queens of Sorea. It was black, dark as jet, as starless night. It was said to have been woven by Maia of the Pearls herself. They say that when she gave it to her father, he asked her why she had made a tapestry with no picture or pattern. "On this tapestry is the only universal pattern," she replied, "the final picture of all human life. For all things come to an end, and everyone falls into darkness."


The visit of another of the kings of the Great Realm was a major event. All of the castle was in a flurry activity the rest of the day, the kitchens continued preparations for most of the night, and in the space of the night between first and second sleep, Disan and Baia spent their time touring the castle to determine what else needed to be done instead of drinking lotus flower tea and talking as they usually did. The castle became fully awake before dawn, and shortly after sunlight peaked out from the east, a long line of messengers and tradesmen went back and forth between Neyat Sor and the harbor city of Soromir. Disan and Baia had ordered fine gifts from the artisans of the city, and they went in person to collect and pay for them (and, truth be told, to ensure that they were not cheated): a cunningly crafted sword with pearl-studded hilt, a casket of paragon-pearls of finest water, bolts of silk dyed in shimmering Sorean black, that rare and expensive color that can only be produced from the collected secretions of tens of thousands of the snails that thrive on the coasts of Sorea, and more. Then Baia and Disan both had to return for formal dress and preparation. Baia wore a dress, white and shimmering, embroidered with pearls, and a juliet cap of finest golden braid, pearls, and diamonds, all made especially for the occasion. Disan was in silk of Sorean black, with ceremonial armor, and strapped to his side his grandfather Belan's sword, a finely wrought weapon of orikhalh, more valuable than gold and stronger than steel. On his head was an orikalh circlet studded with pearls. The two together made a shining pair.

King Envren and his entourage arrived in the late afternoon, as the sun was swinging low. He came on a splendid stallion, for the kingdom of Ezrym had the finest horses in all the world, and beneath his road-stained riding cloak he wore fine red silk, for he too had had to prepare extensively to greet a fellow king. Disan and Baia met him in the outer courtyard as he dismounted.

"You are welcome, O Envren, son of Envren, son of Adven, to all of my hospitality and all of the hospitality of my queen and my people," said Disan.

"I thank you, O Disan, son of Rezan, son of Belan," said Envren in response, clasping Disan's arms, "and I account myself blessed to receive such generous hospitality." He smiled. "It has been too long since we last met." Then he turned to Baia, "I greet you, O Baia of Sorea, and thank you for your grace."

She thanked him, and then they gave each other gifts in the formal greeting ceremony between kings of the Great Realm, and then processed into the Great Hall for dinner. It was a grand affair, a rhythm of Sorean servants going in and out among the dark-skinned Ezryman knights as the music played and the jugglers juggled and the tumblers tumbled and the fire-breathers spouted flame. There was shark fin soup and sea cucumber, and dishes of fish, and, a special, imported delicacy, bear's paw to crown the feast, and then vast piles of cakes and sweet breads, and, of course, kegs and kegs of the finest rhodomel. Such feasts are rare, and, for all that it had been rushed, this one would be long remembered. It went well into the night, and then the kings formally said good night.

Before he went off to bed, however, Envren said quietly to Disan, "I hope there will be time tomorrow for a long conversation. There are things of importance that we must discuss."

Disan nodded. "We will have a long lunch in the inner gardens, as long as you require."

Later that evening, drinking tea before second sleep, Disan and Baia speculated about what could have brought Envren so suddenly to Neyat Sor, and what it could be that he wanted to discuss. But they could think of nothing, at least not in the short time before returning to bed, so they left it to uncover itself the next day.


The rulers of Sorea and Ezrym had lunch in the inner gardens. The inner gardens of Neyat Sor were renowned for their excellence. Every tree useful for fruit or beautiful for flower was found there, and every kind of lily and rose, white and gold and red and a thousand colors beside. Fountains fed into ponds in which lotuses flourished. During the day, it was bright, sunlight-bright, and looking above you saw a clear and vivid blue. But it was not the sky. There was no sun in it. If you visited it at night, it would be silver-lit as if it were full moon; but there would be no moon and no stars in the blackness of the vault above. The firmament of the inner gardens was of stone, and the whole gardens were simply a vast room. How they made what was indoors seem as if it were outdoors is something we no longer know. You would walk through the archway into the gardens, and it was as if you had stepped outside. Looking back, there was an archway through which you could see the hall you had just left, but all around it, on all sides, there was only garden, going on and on. For this characteristic was also found in every true neyat in the Great Realm: it was much larger on the inside than it seemed on the outside.

The two kings and the queen held a picnic beneath a great apple tree, just flowering, near a large fountain splashing into a pool. It was a light lunch, as Soreans deem it, for lunch is usually their primary meal of the day: small cutlets of lion and mutton, followed by fruits in season, and, to drink, a sweet rhodomel flavored with lotus.

"I wish I knew the secret of your rhodomel; it is far superior to any I have had elsewhere," said Envren after the meal.

"The brewmaster would revolt if I told any secrets," said Baia, "but I will have several casks made ready so that you can take some with you."

"I thank you, and I give you now the thanks my family will certainly have." He looked at them both a moment. "When I learned that Disan had returned, I decided to come here. I am taking a grave risk, but things have become serious enough that my choice seems to be between certainly losing or gambling to open up space for a win. What have you heard about the new fleet being built by the Tavrans?"

Disan and Baia exchanged baffled glances. "The Tavrans? Tavra is landlocked except for the Great Canal," said Disan. "Why would they be building a fleet?"

"And how?" asked Baia.

"Tavra is paying Andra to build three hundred fifty ships. It has been going on for at least three years now. They have been trying to keep it quiet, and doing much of the actual building abroad, but the Andrans are the worst secret-keepers in the world, because they can't just keep a secret but have to make an elaborate show about how well they are keeping it. If you have heard nothing at all about it, you should replace all your spies in the Andran court."

"We have no spies in the Andran court," said Baia.

"That is imprudent," replied Envren. "I assure you that every royal house in the Great Realm has spies in yours."

"Including your own," said Disan drily.

"Of course," said Envren, without hesitation. "Even though I did know your father, I would not be here taking this gamble if I did not already know a great deal about you and the kind of court you have." He shook his head at them. "You are both young, and here in Sorea you can easily come to think of yourself as far removed from the affairs of the other realms, but that is a mistake you must learn to correct. Power lies entirely in the ability to anticipate what the other houses will do, and you cannot anticipate if you are always surprised. In any case, the Tavrans are building a fleet. I do not know exactly why. Any report I can manage to get from the Tavran court is garbled and strange; old Canthan is still alive, but it seems that his daughter is the one really in charge these days, and she seems to have an extraordinary talent for secrecy. But the ships that are being built are not trading ships but warships. And it's not just the Tavrans and the Andrans. Which of the other houses are in on it is difficult to tell, but they are being backed by the Porphyry Mountain."

"You are certain of this?"

"There is no doubt of it; the High King is the one who initiated it all, and he has been slowly increasing his recruitment of soldiers and guards. Tavra, Tala, and Andra are all fully involved; I have definite suspicions about two other houses. I know that I am not involved, and I have positive reason to think that you are not involved, because Disan has been away and there has been no unusual activity here. And with the other five, petty politics among the houses makes it seem unlikely that they would be, although perhaps they are doing better at keeping the secret than they usually are. Three hundred fifty warships. Nobody suddenly builds a large number of warships unless they plan to use them. And that raises the important question. What fleets are there in the entire world that could stand against even twenty Andran warships?"

"There are none," said Disan. "With twenty Andran warships I could destroy any known fleet of any known power in the world. Such fleets don't exist. It makes no sense."

"Ah, but my friend, they exist. There are in fact fleets that could meet an Andran fleet in battle and stand a chance of winning."

Disan thought about this. "You are suggesting that they intend to use the fleet against the other kingdoms of the Great Realm."

"What other goal could they have? It is a like a cunning riddle. Only one answer is possible, but it is the unthinkable one. And yet the riddle is there, demanding that singular answer. The normal fleets of the Great Realm are more than adequate to chasing down pirates and terrifying tribes that break treaties. The only reason you would need something better is if those were the very fleets you were intending to fight. Could Sorea hold off the current Andran fleet and three hundred fifty more ships?"

"I do not know," said Disan.

"Our ships are better, our crews are better, some of them have considerably more experience with actual naval engagements," Baia said to him. "We would not be easy to defeat."

"All true," Disan replied. "And Sorea is more easily defensible than Andra. But I would prefer better odds." He thought a moment, and then said to Envren, "I take it you are not here just to tell us of all this. What is your plan?"

Envren spread his hands. "I wish had something more definite than 'prepare', but there are still too many things that are unknown. But I have reason to think that the High King is intending to sound you out, to see if you could be brought into whatever exactly their alliance is. There is the Great Council in two years, but I think you will be getting an invitation to the Porphyry Mountain very soon. I am here gambling that you are enough like your father to see the horror of a possible civil war for what it is. I have learned all that I seem to be able to learn. We need someone who might be in a better position than I to discover the details."

"You want me to accept and play double agent for you," said Disan, giving him a long look.

"I want you to accept the invitation of your High King, as you normally would, and uphold the Tablets, as you normally would. And just keep your eyes and ears open while doing so."

Disan nodded. "I suppose I could do something of the sort."

Envren smiled broadly. "You actually remind me in many ways more of your grandfather than your father. I was young when I knew him, but he was a great man. He was probably the greatest hero of the War against the Court of Night, and yet he was never haughty or arrogant."

"I once asked him if he had ridden a unicorn in the War, and he replied that a king does not ride a unicorn; he bows until it passes."

"That was the man," said Envren.

The talk turned to other things less serious. Later that day, when alone, Disan asked Baia what she thought of it all.

"He is definitely trying to use us for his political ends, whatever they are," she said.

"True enough, although that does not make any of it false. And he has a reputation for knowing practically everything that goes on."

"He could very well be paranoid."

"Also true; he has a reputation for that, as well."

"I suppose I could ask my father if he has heard any rumors," said Baia. "And as for the rest, I suppose we are simply waiting and seeing."

"And pretending to know less than we do," said Disan. "Which unfortunately might not be difficult, given how little that is. If he is right about what he is saying, it all could be worse than we thought."

King Envren left for Ezrym the next day. Three days after, a message came from the High King, asking Disan to honor him with a visit.


Kant on Our Duty to Animals

Since animals are an analogue of humanity, we observe duties to mankind when we observe them as analogues to this, and thus cultivate our duties to humanity. If a dog, for example, has served his master long and faithfully, that is an analogue of merit; hence I must reward it, and once the dog can serve no longer, must look after him to the end, for I thereby cultivate my duty to humanity, as I am called upon to do; so if the acts of animals arise out of the same principium from which human actions spring, and the animal actions are analogues of this, we have duties to animals, in that we thereby promote the cause of humanity. So if a man has his dog shot, because it can no longer earn a living for him, he is by no means in breach of any duty to the dog, since the latter is incapable of judgment, but he thereby damages the kindly and humane qualities in himself, which he ought to exercise in virtue of his duties to mankind.
[Kant, Lectures on Ethics, Heath & Schneewind, eds. Heath, tr. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge: 2001), p. 210 (27:459).]

Kant gets a lot of criticism for this argument these days, because he reduces our moral obligations to animals to our moral obligations to human beings, but I think Kant's argument here is a case of Kant excelling himself. I think he is right about a number of very important things.

(1) If you look at how we come to treat animals as morally important, I think there is good reason to think that Kant is right about the psychology: the analogy matters, psychologically, and is a considerable part of why people come to the view that they have obligations to nonhuman animals. Taking loyalty as being morally valuable in human beings, we can't easily bring ourselves to treat something like it in animals as worthless; and if we do treat the loyalty of animals as morally unimportant, that immediately raises the question of how morally important we could really be taking it to be even in the human case.

(2) More than the psychology, I think Kant is onto something very important about moral reasoning. Kant is known for holding that the only thing that is morally important is doing your duty; but people tend to forget his recognitions, as here, that doing your duty requires more than the bare duty itself -- if you have a duty to do something, you have some kind of a duty to do what prepares you to do your duty, you have some kind of duty to do what makes it easier for you to do your duty, etc. Every strict moral obligation has an aura of secondary obligations, and ignoring the latter will often get you the wrong moral answer when we are asking what your obligations are. This is especially true since we are not abstract reasoners but rational animals, trying to be moral while living an animal life in an animal world. If anything, I think Kant's failure here is not to recognize that these kinds of analogies are actually very pervasive throughout our moral lives.

(3) Kant is also right, I think, that the case of nonhuman animals is one where you cannot ignore the extraordinary moral importance of character, even if, like Kant, you do not take morality to be based on character. Deliberately to do things that 'damage the kindly and humane qualities' in you is not a some quibbling moral matter; it is a very serious one, regardless of what you take the foundations of morality to be. And our relationship with nonhuman animals in particular is a personal interaction, and our moral character is directly of relevance to everything in it. When you interact with a dog, you are doing so as a person, and you are using the same skills and habits that you develop for interacting with other human beings. That you are interacting with something that is not human does not relieve you of the responsibility to act like a human person capable of interacting humanely on a personal level with other human people; that's still there in the background. And the kind of person you are, and your ability to interact with other people, is a matter of character.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

That Heaven-Revealing Smile of Thine

Even so for Me a Vision Sanctified
by William Wordsworth

Even so for me a Vision sanctified
The sway of Death; long ere mine eyes had seen
Thy countenance—the still rapture of thy mien—
When thou, dear Sister! wert become Death's Bride:
No trace of pain or languor could abide
That change:—age on thy brow was smoothed—thy cold
Wan cheek at once was privileged to unfold
A loveliness to living youth denied.
Oh! if within me hope should e'er decline,
The lamp of faith, lost Friend! too faintly burn;
Then may that heaven-revealing smile of thine,
The bright assurance, visibly return:
And let my spirit in that power divine
Rejoice, as, through that power, it ceased to mourn.

(Nov. 1836)

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Dashed Off XXVI

Charm is in part a skill of reasonable and selective distraction.

A problem with Humean accounts of laws of nature is that counterfactual prediction requires different conditions entirely from simple prediction. (Indeed, Hume's own argument exploits what on analysis turns out to be this very distinction, and thus the distinction is not generally avoidable.)

auspicial, formulaic, and reputational expressions of authority

forms of state/Church regime
(1) integral (Immortale Dei 21): state accepts own limits and respects explicit rights of the Church
(2) ralliement (Au milieu des sollicitudes 22): state has no protective role, but a Catholic people make laws in accordance with Catholic teaching
(3) influenced secularity (Au milieu des sollicitudes 28): state rejects protective role but legislators influenced by acceptable principles and tolerate the Church
(4) persecution (Vehementer Nos 15)

A healthy society needs a stable heritage, a sound view of progress, and a living spirit animating both.

ontological arguments as establishing that God's existence is not less than that of mathematical objects

To be genuinely Catholic requires being infinitely Catholic.

the five aspects of sacrifice: consecration, oblation, immolation, consumption (nihilation), participation

(1) Either a thing has a direction to effects in itself or it does not.
(2) Direction to effects is a cognitive act.
(3) Lacking direction to effects makes effects a chance case-by-case affair -- causal regularity requires direction to effects.
(4) Noncognitive things have causal regularity.
(5) Therefore noncognitive things have direction to effects.
(6) Therefore noncognitive things have direction to effects from another.
(7) Therefore noncognitive things get direction to effects from a cognitive source.

forms of inquiry regime
(1) cumulative progress: clear desiderata indicate a particular tree of possibilities that presuppose each other
(2) broad diffusion: many trees of possibilities being explored simultaneously
(3) random exploration: field of possibilities has no clear trees, or at least none that have yet been discovered

"...marriage emerged as the first kind of friendship in the world." Vico
"...the true natural friendship is matrimony, in which are realized the three final goods: the honorable, the useful, and the pleasant. Husband and wife by nature share the same lot in all the prosperities and adversities of life, just as by choice friends have all things in common (amicorum omnia sunt communio), and Modestinus therefore defines matrimony as a lifelong lot sharing (omnis vitae consortium)." Vico

The common view that we take things as metaphorical because we have assessed that taking them literally would require them to be false, is absurd; it sits poorly with the pervasiveness of metaphor, with the fact that the line between literal and metaphorical sense often takes profound analysis to trace, with the fact that shifts of language often leave unclear where to draw the line (e.g., 'light'), and with the practice of poets, who do not typically go around hunting for falsehoods in their descriptions.

social relativism // polytheism

deterioration of public spirit:
(1) idleness and lassitude with regard to liberties
(2) overreliance on command
(3) indifference to usurpation
(4) ignorance of commonweal as if it were alien

There are no rules for devising literal speech as such because what counts as such depends on common usage and expectation. There is no test for literal sense that does not involve a sort of social sense.

No literal meaning can be assigned to words apart from contexts of use.

There is no limit to what language calls to our attention, and much of what we thereby notice is not propositional in character.

Literal statements are often not easily amenable to literal paraphrase in terms other than those they use.

All historical reasoning must use the principles of causation, remotion, and eminence: from this evidential trace, we work back through the causes, removing what cannot be true of them, recognizing that what was, was such as to exceed the trace that came from it.

To be a unified diversity is to be an effect.

truth, stability, and purity as features of knowledge

Phaedo 107d-108c The soul is guided to Hades by its daemon
Republic 620d Each soul has a guardian daemon
Symposium 202d-203a Daemons intermediate between gods and men (cp also Epinomis 984b-985c)

Seneca, Letter 41 to Lucilius, and sublimity as the mark of divine action

the inherent tendency of the notion of philosophical inquiry to the notion of human moral equality (cp. Seneca to Lucilius, letter 44)

Idle hands will break an army.

Apaideusia is a failure to cultivate what is required for being part of a community of inquirers; thus, for instance, those who demand demonstration of first principles do so out of apaideusia, cyclopean barbarism of intellectual habits, an inability to be in genuine intellectual conversation or dialogue.

"Some need persuasion, some need hard knocks." Aristotle Met 1009a17-18

Stories are constructed out of things about which one wonders.

It is important to be merciful, but you need God's mercy more than anyone needs yours.

forms of evidence for function
(1) apparent aptness
(2) comparison of actions
(3) analogy to other kinds of actions
(4) structural constraints

Pascal's Wager is not concerned with utility functions but with having practical reasons under conditions of uncertainty.

laws of nature as divine ideas (the explanatory role of laws of nature as exemplar in character)
-- an exemplar account of laws of nature can allow for both necessary and contingent laws

"No collection of facts can constitute a law; for the law goes beyond any accomplished facts." Peirce

(1) There is no sentence meaning in the sense usually meant; it is all speaker's meaning or else expectations about speaker's meaning.
(2) The distinction between literal and metaphorical is not sharp, and it is possible to understand a claim and not know whether it is literal or figurative.
(3) Metaphorical statements may be true.

In matters of religion, what is different is not always contrary.

Hume overestimates both the extent to which non-Christian religions make miracles a matter of importance and the extent to which miracles have as their direct scope the establishing of religion.

[responding to] : [appropriate response]
argument : argument
declamation : analysis
inconsistency : exposition

Works of classical Chinese are clearly not meant to be read outside an already existing tradition of teaching and learning; thus their allusiveness and indirectness, as if one were always walking into the middle of a conversation.

As far as everyday experience is concerned, minds are less in need of explanation than other things, because we have direct, everyday experience of (1) minds as having the feature of explaining other things; and (2) minds as directly involving necessities in their operation. In everyday experience, nothing is more explanatory, and less in need of any immediate explanation, than mind.

Phil's Arguments in Hume's Dialogues
(1) His power is infinite; what He wills is done; neither man nor animal is happy; therefore he does not will their happiness.
-- possible response: Anselmian recognition of ambiguities of 'to will'
(2) His wisdom is infinite; He flawlessly chooses means to ends; nature does not tend to human or animal felicity; therefore nature is not established for that purpose.
-- possible response: Butlerian recognition of partial tendency and possibility of probationary means
(3) Therefore, from (1) and (2), His benevolence and mercy do not seem to resemble human benevolence and mercy.
-- possible response: human benevolence does not seem to work in the way this assumes.
(4) the Epicurian questions: If He is willing to prevent evil, but not able, He is impotent; if He is able, but not willing, He is malevolent; if He is able and willing, there should be no evil.
-- possible response: All three of these are hyperbolic, and thus not to be trusted as a strict guide.

Most reasons for rejecting cosmological arguments have analogues in arguments rejecting realism about laws of nature.

(1) the Trinitarian invocation
(2) various divine attributions to the Three
(3) the absolute distinction between Creator and creature
(4) the unity of God
non-Trinitarian positions are not really possible.

The rights of children grow up within the rights of their parents.

Experience and testimony are not commensurable evidences, although at a very abstract level we can compare them. (Note that Campbell explicitly argues this.)

By testimony we use the minds of others as instruments; thus there is a close link between evaluation of testimony and evaluation of instrumental results (e.g., in experiments).

While the evidence of bare sense is more forceful than the evidence of bare testimony, our interpretation of sensory evidence is heavily influenced by testimonial evidence.

The testimony that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood is not, pace Tillotson, a testimony that one is sensing wrong.

Nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus Inciderit. (Horace)
-- 'God of the gaps' and similar is an issue for narrative explanation in general.

internal structure of ideas + drift due to imperfect transmission and chance psychosocial interactions + sifting of ideas through the structural pressures of political and social institutions and practices

To flourish a religion must stimulate communal feeling and a sense of mission, build a unifying structure, appeal to sense and intellect both, maintain a continutiy from which to develop; it also must involve a simplicity ramifying into great variety, and a boldness that does not cease to venture.

the confusion between rights and life-ideals

By mercy we often reach a greater justice.

the passions as natural educations

The power to punish too often leads those who wield it to assume their own rightness.

A common trick of modern government is to rule without appearing to rule by indirectly forcing corporations to impose policies for them. Thus a government itself restricted from (e.g.) limiting freedom of speech may limit it indirectly by requiring employers to have policies that stifle certain forms of speech. Thus also governments have historically enforced secularization, party loyalties, economic activities, and symbolic obeisances. Sometimes its effects are good, sometimes bad, but in all these cases it is a government coercing intermediaries to coerce in ways that it cannot.

God and His saints do endlessly many things in the Church; it is neither necessary nor possible fo rthe Church to certify the authenticity of them all.

Without honesty, political deliberation begins to collapse; only what is honest in it maintains it as real deliberation.

Above the Grief and Languor of the Dying Lands

In November
by Clark Ashton Smith

With autumn and the flaring leaves our love must end-—
Ere flauntful spring shall mock thy tears and my despair
With blossoms red or pale, some April bride may wear:
Now, while the weary, grey, forgetful heavens bend

Above the grief and languor of the dying lands,
In one last kiss shall meet and mingle and expire
The muted, last, remembering sighs of our desire;
And on my face the flower-like burden of thy hands

Shall rest a little, and be taken tenderly,
And, ah, how lightly hence! And in thy golden eyes,
Thy love, and all the ashen glory of the skies,
Shall mingle, and as in a mirror lie for me.

Friday, November 02, 2018

All Souls

When then—if such thy lot—thou seest thy Judge,
The sight of Him will kindle in thy heart,
All tender, gracious, reverential thoughts.
Thou wilt be sick with love, and yearn for Him,
And feel as though thou couldst but pity Him,
That one so sweet should e’er have placed Himself
At disadvantage such, as to be used
So vilely by a being so vile as thee.
There is a pleading in His pensive eyes
Will pierce thee to the quick, and trouble thee.
And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself; for, though
Now sinless, thou wilt feel that thou hast sinned,
As never thou didst feel; and wilt desire
To slink away, and hide thee from His sight;
And yet wilt have a longing aye to dwell
Within the beauty of His countenance.
And these two pains, so counter and so keen,—
The longing for Him, when thou seest Him not;
The shame of self at thought of seeing Him,—
Will be thy veriest, sharpest purgatory.

-- from The Dream of Gerontius, by John Henry Newman.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

All Saints

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us.

Gianna Beretta Molla

Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta, near Milan, Italy, in 1922, to a very active Catholic family. Her mother and father were Third Order Franciscans, and there were a number of priests in the family. For various reasons, her family moved around Italy quite a bit, but she returned to the area of Milan in 1942 to study medicine. She completed her studies in 1949 by obtaining a degree from the University of Pavia and began pediatric practice. She originally hoped to join her brother, who had become a priest in Brazil, to offer medical services to poor women there, but these plans fell through due to her own health issues. She continued with her own medical work, and with furthering her medical education, and actively participated in her church and in Azione Cattolica. She married Pietro Molla in 1954 and they had several children. In her fourth pregnancy, however, it was discovered that she had a fibroma on her uterus. The path to dealing with the problem that had the greatest chance of saving her own life involved aborting the child. If, on the other hand, they tried to focus on saving the child, they could do a Caesarean section, but her chances would be uncertain. Molla, as mother and doctor and Catholic, chose the latter route. The daughter, Gianna Emmanuela, survived. Molla, however, spent a week in pain and died of septic peritonitis on April 28, 1962. Her daughter would go on to become a geriatric physician. Molla herself was beatified in 1994 and canonized in 2004 by St. John Paul II. Her feast is April 28.

Margaret of Scotland

Margaret was born to the exiled English prince, Edward Ætheling, while he was in Hungary, so she grew up in the Hungarian court of King Andrew I. She returned to England when her father was recalled in 1057; she would have been somewhere around 12 years old at the time. Her father died almost immediately after his arrival, but the family stayed in the English court for a while until, after the Battle of Hastings, Edgar was declared King of England by the Witengamot. Alas, he was never crowned; William the Conqueror invaded and the nobles of England just handed Edgar over. Margaret and the rest of her family had to flee northward to Northumbria. They would eventually end up in Scotland. The story is that they had decided to return to the continent, but their ship was blown off course to a place that is today called St. Margaret's Hope, near North Queensferry. There they met King Malcolm III Canmore (the same Malcolm who is fictionalized in Shakespeare's Macbeth), a widower with two sons; Malcolm was intrigued by Margaret. That she was one of the last surviving members of an English dynasty was probably one of the reasons, although it may not have been the only one. They married in 1070. It was not the kind of marriage one would expect to be successful -- Malcolm was a very rough man and seems not to have had a religious bone in his body -- but they actually thrived together. He seems to have liked the polish she brought to the court and actively encouraged her to do whatever religious work she deemed appropriate. He did not participate in her regular prayer and religious devotions, but he did not at all stand in the way of them. He seems to have particularly liked having a literate wife (he himself could not read); despite his lack of interest in religion, he often had her read Bible stories to him, and he had gold and silver covers made for her devotional books. In order to facilitate pilgrimage to Dunfermline Abbey, Margaret established a ferry across the Firth of Forth, which gives the towns of South Queensferry and North Queensferry their names. She also did extensive charitable work for the poor. Malcolm died at the Battle of Alnwick in 1093; St. Margaret died on November 16 of the same year, just a few days after having received word of his death. She was canonized in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV; her feast day is November 16.

Yu Tae-chol Peter

Born in 1826 in Korea, Peter was raised by his father to be Catholic, but his mother was not Catholic. When his father was killed for his faith, his mother, fearing for her son, tried to stop him from engaging in Catholic practices. He insisted, however, that to honor his mother as he should required first honoring his Father in heaven. When a new persecution targeting Catholics broke out, he turned himself in to the government. He was found guilty of being a Catholic from a Catholic family and thrown in prison, where he was often beaten or whipped. He became well known in the prison, however, for always maintaining a cheerful demeanor, no matter how the guards treated him. Peter was eventually given over to be beaten to death, but the beating took so long that he was eventually just strangled. He died in October of 1839, at the age of 13. His feast in the Roman Martyrology is October 21, and he is also celebrated with the Holy Korean Martyrs, of whom he is the youngest, on September 20.

Justa and Rufina of Seville

Justa and Rufina are said to have been sisters living in Hispalis, modern day Seville. They sold fine pottery and were known for their aid to the poor. Because of their reputation, the local authorities attempted to buy their pottery for a pagan festival. When Justa and Rufina refused to sell their wares for pagan purposes, a mob broke into their store and smashed all their works. The sisters, being somewhat fiery in temperament, responded by smashing a statue dedicated to Venus. They were arrested and tortured, then thrown into prison, where they were not given sufficient food and water. Justa died from malnutrition. According to the legend, Rufina lasted longer and was thrown to the lions. But as the lions did not harm her, she was killed by strangulation. The two came to occupy an important role in the Mozarabic liturgy and have long been a favorite subject of Spanish artists.

Giuseppe Moscati

Born in Benevento in 1880, Giuseppe Moscati spent most of his early life in Naples. His family became friends with St. Caterina Volpicelli, who would be a major influence on him. He became interested in medicine, particularly physiological chemistry, and graduated from the University of Naples in in 1903, after which he joined the staff of the Ospedale degli Incurabili, Naples's most important medical institution. He was a very busy man, taking on a heavy administrative burden while also continuing his medical research, and his general experience and competence rose to the occasion when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 and he successfully evacuated a nearby hospital primarily devoted to paralytics, and again when a cholera epidemic broke out in 1911. He was active in helping Italian soldiers in the First World War. He regularly attended Mass, regarding prayer as an essential part of his medical work, and took a vow of chastity. Moscati became well known for helping patients regardless of whether they could pay, as well as for his prodigious ability to diagnose illnesses correctly. Rumors that he could work miracles began to circulate even before he died. He died on April 12, 1927, having spent a busy day rising early for Mass, finishing administrative work in the hospital, and seeing patients. Feeling unusually tired, he sat down to rest, dozed off, and never woke up. He was beatified by Bl. Paul VI in 1975 and canonized by St. John Paul II in 1987. His feast is November 16, the anniversary of his beatification.

Kazimierz Jagiellończyk

Second son of King Casimir IV Jagiellon and Queen Elisabeth of Hungary, Casimir became heir to the throne when his older brother Vladislaus was elected King of Bohemia. He spent most of his days in princely duties, but his reputation for good deeds spread. He contracted an illness, apparently tuberculosis, although he continued to be active in helping others, and died on March 4, 1484. Stories of miracles at his tomb in Vilnius became widespread, and a canonization cause was eventually opened for him. It seems to have been interrupted by the death of Leo X, since there is no documentation of the process's completion, but St. Casimir was eventually written into the Roman Martyrology. The lack of any surviving documentation of his canonization complicated the spread of his feast, but he was eventually added to the universal calendar by St. Pius V, and his feast is March 4.

Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghaţţas

Soultaneh Maria Ghattas was born in Jerusalem in 1843 to a poor Palestinian family in a poor Palestinian community. She joined the Congregation of St. Joseph of the Apparition, which had been founded by St. Emilie de Viliar for mission work, and there took the name Marie-Alphonsine. She became a catechist and spent some time in Bethlehem doing this but in the 1870s she began to have visions of the Virgin Mary that she should found a religious community, the Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary. She wrote about the visions in her journal, but told no one except her spiritual director about the visions at the time, and no one else knew she had had them until after her death. She patiently worked to get official permission to leave the Sisters of St. Joseph and to found the new community, and eventually received them. The new congregation was founded under the patronage of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Marie-Alphonsine spent the rest of her life quietly running schools for girls and helping parish ministries, and died on the feast of the Annunciation in 1927. She was beatified in 2009 by Benedict XVI and canonized by Francis in 2015. Her feast is November 19.

Salomone Leclerq

Born in 1745 in France, Guillaume-Nicolas-Louis Leclercq lived a quiet life, joining the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in order to teach; it was there he took the name 'Salomone'. After some years as a teacher, he rose to become provincial in the Institute, and would likely have simply continued quietly living in that position, were it not for the French Revolution. The Institute, like many other religious societies and orders, was outlawed in 1790, when it refused to accept the conditions of the new oath of loyalty that the revolutionary government required. After the dissolution, Salomone's correspondence was monitored by government spies until he and a number of other religious were arrested in August 1792; they were all summarily executed on September 2 of that year. He was beatified by Pius XI in 1926 and canonized by Francis in 2016; his feast day is September 2.

Arnulf of Metz

Arnulf (Arnoul, Arnold) was born into a wealthy noble family, said to have descended from the Roman consul Flavius Afranius Syagrius, in Lorraine in the latter part of the sixth century, during the Merovingian dynasty. He became part of the court, for which he performed a number of missions and had considerable success both as a military commander and as a civil governor. After the death of the king, the king's grandmother, Brunhilda, took the reins of power as regent; she was quite competent, but seems to have had both a ruthless manner of governing and an extremely abrasive personality. The major nobles of the realm, most particularly Arnulf and Pepin of Landen, gave their support to Chlothar (Clotaire), one of her longstanding enemies, and Chlothar seized power and had Burnhilda executed. In reward, Chlothar offered Arnulf the see of Metz, although apparently on condition that he would also continue in court as Chlothar's steward. Pepin became Mayor of the Palace, and Pepin's daughter, St. Begga, married Arnulf's son, Ansegisel. Toward the end of his life, Arnulf retired to a hermitage. According to legend, he had begun to have qualms about some of the things he had done while trying to survive the feuding Merovingian court, and threw his ring into a river, asking God to return it to him if absolution was granted. Many years later an honest fisherman came to him with the ring, which had been found in the belly of a fish, and Arnulf took it as a sign that it was time to retire and devote his life to better things. He died some time in the 640s. Arnulf's oldest son, St. Chlodulf (Cloud, Clou) would eventually succeed his father as bishop of Metz. His younger son, Ansegisel, became Mayor of the Palace; before St. Begga would retire to the convent of her sister, St. Gertrude of Nivelles, she and Ansegisel would have a son, Pepin of Herstal, whose son would be Charles Martel, whose son would be Pepin the Short, whose son would be Charlemagne.

Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez

Born in 1917 in El Salvador, Romero had an early interest in the priesthood. After becoming a priest, he was eventually assigned to the diocese of San Miguel, where he proceeded to have what was in many ways quite an ordinary priestly career, obtaining a reputation for being quite conservative. He made his way up the hierarchical ladder and was eventually appointed Archbishop of San Salvador, against the complaints of more progressive priests. Shortly afterward, one of Romero's friends, Fr. Rutilio Grande Garcia, was assassinated by Salvadoran security forces in retaliation for a homily he had preached criticizing the government. Romero responded by taking a more active stand, both for the vulnerable and against government corruption. He started a radio program to broadcast the human rights abuses, and especially the anticlerical human rights abuses, of the regime; but throughout his career, he always insisted that social change required interior reform of one's own heart. It eventually came to a head in March 1980, when, during a Mass, having just finished his homily and stepped to the altar, a gunman came to the door of the church and shot him in the heart. He was beatified in 2015 and canonized in 2018. His feast is March 24.

Frumentius of Tyre

Born to a Syro-Phoenician family in Tyre, Frumentius and his brother Edesius (or Aedeius) were still young boys when they accompanied their uncle on a trip and were kidnapped and enslaved. They were eventually brought to the court of the King of Aksum (probably in the reign of King Ella Amida), and after the king's death became tutors to the new king, Ezana, who was still a boy. They used their influence to help Christians throughout the country. Edesius eventually returned to Tyre, but Frumentius only went as far as Alexandria in order to meet the Alexandrian Patriarch, St. Athanasius the Great, requesting the patriarch to send him a bishop and some priests as missionaries. Athanasius had a better idea: he consecrated Frumentius as a bishop, and sent him back as the missionary. King Ezana converted to Christianity, and the Church in Aksum thrived. In the Arian controversy, the Emperor Constantius II tried to pressure King Ezana to replace Frumentius with an Arian bishop, but Ezana refused. Frumentius died around 380, still the head of the Church in Aksum. As the Illuminator of Ethiopia, St. Frumentius is one of the most important saints in the calendars of northeastern Africa, and his feast is celebrated in the Catholic Church on October 27.

Jeanne Jugan

Jeanne Jugan was born in 1792 in Cancale, Brittany. During the anti-Catholic persecutions of the French Revolution, her mother, Marie Jugan, secretly made sure she was catechized. Jeanne did various odd jobs until she joined the Congregation of Joseph and Mary, where she spent a number of years as a nurse and as a live-in attendant. But in 1839, she started assisting poor women with disabilities or with age-related difficulties, and this started to develop into a community as more women lent a helping hand. She wrote a simple rule of life for them, and thus was founded, almost incidentally, the Little Sisters of the Poor. It was quite difficult at first -- at times she had to beg in the street to make ends meet -- but the community grew until it was quite thriving. At that point, however, a jealous priest removed Jeanne from her position as the head of the order; she was no longer allowed to have any say at all in the working of the order. But for more than a quarter of a century she continued to assist the other sisters -- although by the time of her death in 1879 most of her fellow sisters didn't even know that she was the one who had founded the order. It was only after the priest who had removed her was investigated for independent reasons that the truth became widely known. St. Jeanne was beatified in 1982 and canonized in 2009; her feast is August 30.

Joseph Zhang Dapeng

Born in China in 1754 to a Buddhist family, Zhang Dapeng led a quiet life, eventually moving to Guiyang as part of his work in the silk business. There, however, he came into contact with Christians and was baptized at the age of 46. He became a lay catechist and began preaching the gospel. The times, however, were troubled; a tax protest by the quasi-religious movement, the White Lotus Society, became an active rebellion, which was put down harshly by the Qing government. To reduce the chances of it happening again, the government began to crack down hard on people who were even rumored to be part of a marginal sect, and the activities of Zhang Dapeng were known enough that he was an easy target. They arrested his son; his son died shortly afterward and he fled to Sichuan. He was, however, eventually captured, and was executed by strangling on March 12, 1815, at the age of 61. He was beatified by St. Pius X and canonized in 2000 by St. John Paul II. His feast is with the Holy Chinese Martyrs on July 9.

Maroun and Abraham of Harran

Maroun (Maron) was a Syrian priest in the late fourth century; he may have studied at Antioch with John Chrysostom, but we know that he decided eventually to become a hermit in the Taurus Mountains, near the city of Cyrrhus. There he transformed an abandoned pagan temple into a church and began a regimen of open-air asceticism, living without a roof over his head, which was not a minor feat in the winter months. He preached to all travelers who happened to pass nearby, and an increasing number of people began to join him. One of the first of those who did was a man from Carrhae (modern Harran), by the name of Abraham. Apparently under the influence of Maroun, Abraham tried the ascetic life in the desert of Chalcis, but had found it untenable and returned to being a fruit-seller. While he was in this occupation in a village in Lebanon, he helped to pay the taxes of a village. They asked him to stay with them as a teacher, and he did, on condition that they would build a church. He became a priest for them for a few years, then returned to the ascetic life; others flocked around him. He was eventually made bishop of Carrhae. He was summoned at one point to Constantinople to consult with the Emperor, but died shortly after he reached the city. Because of his missionary work, St. Abraham has become known as the Apostle to Lebanon. The groundwork laid by Maroun, Abraham, and their students, would become the Maronite ascetic movement, and eventually the Maronite Catholic Church. St. Maroun's feast day is February 9 and St. Abraham's is February 14.

Magnus Erlendsson

Grandson of Thorfinn the Mighty, Magnus followed his grandfather and father as the Earl of Orkney. He was a peaceful and very religious man, which made his life and career quite difficult because he ruled Vikings, who saw both as a sign of weakness, and he repeatedly had to fend off both family members and other Norse powers. At one point he was taken hostage by King Magnus of Norway, and at another time he was forced to flee to Scotland. Eventually under the evenhanded King Eystein I of Norway he was restored to power, and shared the earldom with his cousin Haakon. (The earldom of Orkney was often shared.) He and Haakon seemed to rule amicably, mostly staying out of each other's way, but fights started breaking out between the partisans of each. To end the matter, the two Earls agreed to meet at Easter on the Isle of Egilsay, where each was to bring only two ships. Magnus came with his two ships; Haakon brought eight. Haakon's forces overwhelmed Magnus's, and Magnus was forced to take refuge in the church. He was dragged out and offered Haakon to go into exile or even prison, but he was condemned to death. This may have been generally agreed on by Haakon's men, but when it came to actually being the person to kill Magnus, Haakon had difficulty getting anyone to volunteer, and his standard-bearer refused to do it even when commanded. So Haakon summoned his cook, Lifof, and had him cut off Magnus's head as Magnus prayed for the soul of his executioners. His death occurred on April 16 after Easter, and thus is usually thought to have occurred in 1117. The story of Magnus the Martyr was recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga.

Callixtus I, Hippolytus, Urban I, Pontian, Anterus, Fabian

Pope St. Callixtus lived his early life as a slave, and while he was still a youth, he was put in charge by his master, Carpophorus, of a fund that was collecting donations from Christians in order to distribute them to orphans and widows. He lost the money, and fearing the punishment, fled; he almost escaped, but was finally cornered and taken back to Carpophorus. The people who had donated the fund advocated on his behalf that he be given a second-chance to make back part of what he had lost, but he botched this too when he was arrested for starting a fistfight in a synagogue where he was trying to collect money from a Jew who owed him a debt. Because he was a Christian, he was sentenced to the mines of Sardinia, where he spent quite some time; he was eventually released, but was in such bad health, his fellow Christians had to take care of him, and it is said that Pope St. Victor I, as part of his charities, gave him a small pension to do so. Eventually he was ordained as a deacon by Pope St. Zephyrinus, and was given the task of managing the Christian cemetery on the Appian way, which would eventually become known as the Catacombs of Callixtus. (According to Tertullian, Callixtus got his position in part by bribes, but this may well have just been malicious gossip; Tertullian had incentive to dig up dirt on Callixtus.) After the death of Zephyrinus, he was elected Bishop of Rome, and as Pope quickly became very controversial. He became notorious for leniency, not requiring the usual penitential period for schismatics returning to the fold, and insisting that he had the authority to absolve even the sins of adultery and murder. He also gave special dispensations that under certain conditions recognized concubinage as valid marriage. This resulted in an intense reaction, and the man who came to the forefront of the anti-Callixtan party was one of the Roman Church's most brilliant men, Hippolytus of Rome.

St. Hippolytus was no stranger to controversy; he had been sharply critical of various statements of Trinitarian doctrine that had been made by St. Zephyrinus. The reaction against St. Callixtus became so intense that a group of dissidents tried to elect Hippolytus, who was a priest, as Bishop of Rome, thus making him an anti-pope. He continued his opposition beyond Callixtus's death (the cause of which is unknown, but he is one of the popes for which we have the earliest direct evidence that he was regarded as a martyr), as Callixtus was succeeded by Pope St. Urban I. Urban's tenure as pope was relatively peaceful except for continual back-and-forth between the two opposing parties of Roman Christians. After Urban's death came Pope St. Pontian, and St. Hippolytus and St. Pontian continued to be at loggerheads. However, when the Emperor Maximinus began cracking down harder on Christians, both Hippolytus and Pontian were arrested and sent to the mines of Sardinia, where they both were martyred. Fortunately, Pontian had had early indications that his arrest was imminent, and so he had resigned the papacy (the very first papal renunciation). Pontian's successor was Pope St. Anterus, about whom very little was known except that he, like Callixtus was a freed slave; but Anterus was followed by Pope St. Fabian. It was actually a surprise that Fabian was elected; he was a noble-born deacon from well outside of Rome who was visiting for the papal election. As the electors were discussing in the presence of the congregation who should be the next pope, a dove happened to land on Fabian's head, and the whole congregation took it as a sign that he should be the next pope. By this point, the government persecutions were dying down, and as Fabian was a good negotiator, he was able to negotiate the return of the bodies of both Pontian and Hippolytus. He had both buried with honors (although Hippolytus was buried with the honors due to a priest, not a bishop), and allowed both to be venerated as martyrs. When government persecutions heated up again under Emperor Decian, Fabian was one of its earliest victims, dying in prison in the year 250.

The feast of Pope St. Callixtus is October 14. That of Pope St. Urban I is May 25. Pope St. Pontian is celebrated on August 13, while Pope St. Anterus is commemorated on January 3. Pope St. Fabian is remembered on January 20. And St. Hippolytus of Rome, the only saint in the calendar to have been a schismatic anti-pope, is commemorated with St. Pontian, the enemy with whom he was martyred, on August 13. According to later legend, St. Hippolytus and St. Pontian reconciled in the mines, but this may well have been a hypothesis to explain why an antipope was being commemorated to begin with -- we don't have any independent way of knowing how accurate the legend is. But ever since St. Fabian's irenic ending of the old disputes, Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus have been commemorated together.

Jean de Brébeuf

Jean was born in Normandy in 1593, and joined the Jesuits in 1617. He became a teacher, but contracted tuberculosis in 1620, which almost put an end to his work for the Jesuits. However, unlike most tuberculosis patients of the day, he survived. In 1625, he was sent to New France, that is, Quebec, as part of the mission to the Huron. While he became fluent in the language and culture, he made very slow progress. He would eventually turn the mission over to another and devote himself to teaching the Wyandot, which is the Huron language. His translation of Ledesma's catechism became the first printed work in Wyandot, but the most famous Wyandot work attributed to him is "The Huron Carol", the first Christmas carol of the New World. In 1649, the Iriquois attacked the Huron and the Huron mission. The priests, including Brébeuf, were captured, tortured, and killed, in Brébeuf's case by having a red-hot iron thrust down his throat. He was beatified in 1925, canonized in 1930 and became a patron saint of Canada in 1940. His feast day is September 26 or October 19, depending on the calendar.


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2016 All Saints Post
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2015 All Saints Post
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2014 All Saints Post
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2013 All Saints Post
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2012 All Saints Post
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2011 All Saints Post
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2010 All Saints Post
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