Saturday, March 10, 2018

Aquinas for Lent XXII

The effect of Sacred Scripture is twofold: it teaches man to know the truth and persuades him to work justice. Jn 14:26: But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost...will teach you all things to be known, and bring all things to be done to your mind. And therefore it is profitable to know the truth and direct it into action.

For there is the speculative reason and the practical reason. And in each two things are necessary: that it know the truth and refute errors. For this work is the work of the wise man, namely, not to lie and to refute the liar. Regarding the first he says, is profitable to teach, namely, the truth. Ps 118:66: Teach me goodness and discipline and knowledge. Regarding the second he adds, to reprove. Tit. 1:9: That he may be able to exhort in sound doctrine and to convince the gainsayers.

[Thomas Aquinas, Commentaries on St. Paul's Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Baer, tr. St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN: 2007) p. 137. From the commentary on II Timothy.]

Friday, March 09, 2018

Aquinas for Lent XXI

When hope is abandoned, the reason is usually to be found in the powerlessness of him from whom help was expected. The confidence characteristic of hope is not wholly grounded on the mere willingness to help professed by him on whom our hope rests: power to help must also be present. We sufficiently express our conviction that the divine will is ready to help us when we proclaim that God is our Father. But to exclude all doubt as to the perfection of His power, we add: “who art in heaven.”

Thomas Aquinas, Compendium of Theology, Part 2, Chapter 6.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Music on My Mind

Martin McGinn, "Rob Roy MacGregor".

Eat the breed, heed the baw
The man who ett the bile`t ham raw
He very seldom kicks his maw
Rob Roy Mcgreeger, O

It's a parody song of the finale from John Davy's operatic play, "Rob Roy":

Pardon now the bold outlaw
Rob Roy MacGregor, O!
Grant him mercy, gentles, a'
Rob Roy MacGregor, O!
Let your hands and hearts agree
Set the highland laddie free
Let us sing wi' muckle glee
Rob Roy MacGregor, O!

Lang the state has doomed his fa',
Rob Roy MacGregor, O!
Still he spurned the hatefu' law,
Rob Roy MacGregor, O!
Scots can for their country dee;
Ne'er frae Britian's foes they flee,
A' that's past forget - forgie,
Rob Roy MacGregor, O!

Scotland's fear and Scotland's pride,
Rob Roy MacGregor, O!
Your award must now abide,
Rob Roy MacGregor, O!
Lang your favours hae been mine,
Favours I will ne'er resign,
Welcome then for auld lang syne,
Rob Roy MacGregor, O!

Aquinas for Lent XX

All things naturally tend to God implicitly, but not explicitly. That this may appear clearly it should be observed that a secondary cause can influence its effect only in so far as it receives the power of the first cause. The influence of an efficient cause is to act; that of a final cause is to be sought or desired. A secondary agent acts only by the efficacy of the first agent existing in it; similarly a secondary end is sought only by reason of the worth of the principal end existing in it inasmuch as it is subordinated to the principal end or has its likeness.

Accordingly, because God is the last end, He is sought in every end, just as, because He is the first efficient cause, He acts in every agent.

Thomas Aquinas, Disputed Questions on Truth 22.2

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Voyages extraordinaires #34: Sans dessus dessous

"So, Mr. Maston, you claim that women are incapable of even advancing either the mathematical or the experimental sciences?"

"I'm afraid that is what I am forced to think, Mrs. Scorbitt, said J.-T. Maston. "It's certainly the case that there have been, and even are now, a few astonishing lady mathematicians, particularly in Russia. But, with the type of brains females have, no woman could ever become an Archimedes or still less a Newton."

"Oh, Mr. Maston! I protest in the name of our sex...."

[Jules Verne, The Earth Turned Upside Down, Sophie Lewis, tr., Hesperus Press (London: 2012), p. 3.]

Mr. Maston, of the Baltimore Gun Club, should perhaps be a little less self-important; as we discover, despite his prodigious algebraic ability, he's not quite an Archimedes, either.

Sans dessus dessous, often titled in English, Topsy-Turvy, or The Earth Turned Upside Down, or The Purchase of the North Pole, is the third of the Baltimore Gun Club books. Twenty years after the historic trip to and around the moon, President Barbicane, Captain Nicholls, and J. T. Maston are hatching a new scheme for the next generation of artillery engineering, one that, with the help of Captain Nicholls's new explosive, melimelonite (literally, 'mish-mash-ite') or dyna-mix (as Lewis decides to translate it), will shake the world. On the basis of some evidence that there are coal deposits in the Arctic, they purchase it in an auction. But how are they going to get to the coal? Well, since it involves the Baltimore Gun Club, you know that it will involve a very, very big cannon.

The work is highly comical; Verne's full satirical vein is seen here (my favorite is when the British try to organize a collective effort among the Europeans to lock the Americans out by outbidding them and it fails because none of the nations are willing to promise more than a few dollars for fear that it would put them on the hook for more than their neighbors, a beautiful symbolic caricature of most European efforts to stop Americans from doing whatever they want), and the buffoonery that often came out in From Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon is taken to the limit. It's a fun romp, but it also touches on a number of serious themes that are common in Verne's works. Verne remarks more than once, that nobody consults any of the people who actually live in the Arctic, or any of the poor nations that will be affected by the scheme. The work presents a picture of single-minded devotion to 'scientific progress', regardless of the consequences, as if real scientific progress was not progress by being a benefit to all humanity rather than a juggernaut rolling over anyone who stands in its way. And it is also a commentary that these big, boundary-breaking ventures in 'scientific progress' are often themselves based on a wholly unwarranted confidence.

Sans dessus dessous is interesting with respect to the whole series of Voyages extraordinaires, because it binds together a number of them. It is, of course, an explicit sequel to De la terre à la lune (#4) and Autour de la lune (#7), but it also explicitly mentions in the course of the story two other works: Hector Servadac (#15) and L'École des Robinsons (#22). I find it interesting that Verne did this, in part because it puts a number of his crazier and more satirical stories in the same 'fictional universe', as we would call it -- a universe in which one of the least crazy things is a billionaire spending absurd quantities of money to buy an island to play a practical joke.

Aquinas for Lent XIX

It cannot be said that man's happiness should arise from any kind of life, for even plants have life. But happiness is sought as a good characteristic of man since it is called a human good. Likewise, happiness must be different from the life of nutrition or growth, which even vegetables possess. From this we take it that happiness does not consist in health, beauty, strength, or great stature, for all these things result from activities of vegetative life.

On the step above the life of mere nutrition and growth is the life of sense experience. Again, this is not proper to man but is possessed by horses, oxen, and other animals. In this kind of life, then, happiness does not consist. So we conclude that human happiness is not found in any form of sense perception or pleasure.

Beyond the life of assimilation and of sense experience there remains only the life that functions according to reason.

[Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Litzinger, tr., Dumb Ox Books (Notre Dame, IN: 1964) p. 42.]

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

William Whewell

William Whewell died 6 March 1866. A few links to some posts I have done on various aspects of Whewell's philosophy. I have been talking about Whewell since this blog began (the fifth post I ever did was a quotation of Whewell); nearly fourteen years of occasional comments. I have not included all the quotations, nor all the casual mentions.

Moral Philosophy

Whewell argues that moral life can be organized according to five Virtues: Justice, Benevolence, Order, Veracity, and Purity.

* Justice

* Benevolence

* Order

* Veracity

* Purity

* The Principle of Purity

He argues that moral judgment is complex:

* Moral Judgment

He was an active opponent of utilitarianism, being instead an intuitionist:

* Moral Faculty

He has a moral argument for the existence of God based on multiple strands of moral life:

* Sentiment of Dependence

* Spontaneous Impulse of Gratitude

* The Idea of a Higher Moral World

* Aspirations for the Infinite (includes the comments on the various components)

Philosophy of Science

Whewell's philosophy of science was informed by an intensive study of the history of science and of all its major fields -- the reason for Sydney Smith's famous biting comment about him that science was his forte and omniscience was his foible. His studies led him to argue for a theory of scientific history based on three phases in the development of any major field:

* Epochs of Induction

* Inductive Epochs (considers astronomy in particular)

He recognized a point that is later associated with Planck, namely, that one of the mechanisms that has to be considered when looking at how theories develop is the older generation dying off:

* Transformation of Hypotheses

Whewell's view of scientific progress is pluralistic; there is no single line along which it proceeds. However, he famously argues that one mark that you really are making progress is consilience, when two theories from previously separate fields jump together so as to provide a unified account of both. I discuss consilience and consider whether it might be related to supererogation in moral matters:

* Supererogation and Consilience

The key idea in Whewell's philosophy of science is what he calls the fundamental antithesis, namely, that all knowledge is a union between the world as we discover and the mind's conceptualization of what we discover:

* The Fundamental Antithesis of Philosophy

* The Fundamental Antithesis

* Scientific Method

* Epistemology

* Theory

I did a series looking at Whewell's account of Newton's Laws of Motion:

* I: Induction

* II: Causes

* III: The First Law

* IV: The Second and Third Laws

Whewell has a fairly well developed theory of classification. He attempted to work out a rigorous account of scientific classification, which is based on the notion of a natural classification:

* Constructing Classificatory Sciences

* Natural Classification

I consider how his philosophy of classification relates to a historical question in mathematics:

* Classification and the (Non-)Primality of 1

And also his opposition to a claim by John Stuart Mill (and Auguste Comte) on classification, namely, that there is a natural series as well as a natural classification:

* Natural Series

Closely related to his interest in classification was his interest in rational scientific terminology, and was considered the foremost authority on this subject in the English-speaking world. Because of this, we owe a number of important scientific terms to Whewell:

* Scientific Terms We Owe to Whewell

Philosophy of Education

Whewell, as Master of Trinity College, was actively involved in the curriculum debates of his day. He argued that colleges should seek to have a unified curriculum involving both permanent and progressive elements -- classics and sciences, roughly. However, he did not think this should be indiscriminate. For instance, he argues that geometry is a better form of mathematics for a liberal arts education than algebra and calculus:

* Analytic Mathematics in Liberal Arts Education


Whewell takes his place in the history of found poetry for a sentence in his 1819 textbook, An Elementary Treatise of Mechanics. He wrote serious poetry (including translating German poets), but it's probably the most famous poem linked to him:

* Found Poetry

Part of his poem on the death of his wife:

* The Return Home

He also wrote an important book on Gothic architecture, arguing that it was dominated by the Idea of the Vertical; I make a comment or two on the relation between this and intellectual life:

* Philosophy in Stone

* Gothic Cathedrals

Aquinas for Lent XVIII

It is also a property of friendship that one take delight in a friend’s presence, rejoice in his words and deeds, and find in him security against all anxieties; and so it is especially in our sorrows that we hasten to our friends for consolation. Since, then, the Holy Spirit constitutes us God's friends, and makes Him dwell in us, and us dwell in Him (as was shown), it follows that through the Holy Spirit we have joy in God and security against all the world’s adversities and assaults.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, Chapter 22, Section 3.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Necessity Implies Normativity

There is, I think, a very good, but generally overlooked, case for the claim that necessity implies normativity; that is, that necessary claims are, ipso facto, normative claims as well.

(1) Role in practical planning. Suppose that you are an engineer building a bridge. There are certain things to which your project must conform; among these are principles of mathematics directly relevant to the project of building a structure spanning a space. But this is nothing other than for relevant necessary claims (in this case mathematics) to function as relevant normative claims, since they impose a standard or requirement on your plans. But what is true of engineering in building a bridge is true of any sort of practical plans; there are always at least some necessary claims relevant to your plans, and these claims work just like any other kind of normative claim.

(2) Role in rational discourse. The principle of noncontradiction is a necessary principle; what does that mean in practice. In practice it means that its being necessary makes it function in rational discourse (say, in the evaluation of an argument) just like anything we would consider a normative principle. All discussion of rational argument, in fact, treats necessity as implying normativity for how one ought to act and reason.

(3) Convergence of vocabularies. We in fact talk about necessary truths in normative terms. For instance, we can phrase the principle of noncontradiction as the norm that you shouldn't hold something to be and not to be in the same way at the same time. Likewise, we talk about at least some norms in necessity terms: they are things to which you must conform. This indicates that there is at least a strong analogy between the two. But that it is more than an analogy is suggested by the fact that we get absurdities if we try to treat the necessary as not normative, e.g., "This principle is certainly necessary but nobody has to act accordingly."

(4) Deontic logic. In deontic logic, we have the well-known problem of deontic necessitation. But the whole of the problem just consists in assuming that it is wrong that the necessary should be 'obligatory'; as I've noted, this is probably not a fair assessment of the deontic logic itself, but if we look at how we use strong normative terms, we find that, in fact, there is in real life some kind of connection between necessity and normativity, and so we should be putting that assumption in doubt, anyway. In any case, assuming that necessity implies normativity allows the most elegant and easy-to-work with kinds of deontic system. This would not be definitive on its own, but the only reason for not taking it to be a reason is if it were actually a bad model for our discourse. But, as noted above, this does not seem to be true.

As there seem to be contingently normative claims, it is not true that normativity implies necessity; necessity is the stronger modality. But it does appear that it is strong enough that it is reasonable to say that necessity implies normativity. And it is noteworthy that contingent normativities work a lot like conditional necessities.

There may, of course, be some kind of qualification. For instance, we don't usually pay attention to details of what is relevant to what when dealing with necessary truths (we just assume that they are relevant, somehow), but one might argue that normative claims require definite relevance to practical contexts; in which case it might be better to say that necessity, in a practical context, implies normativity. But this does not affect the fundamental point, which is that learning that something is a necessary truth would ipso facto be learning that it is normative for certain kinds of practical contexts.

Aquinas for Lent XVII

Manly exercises in warlike feats of arms are not all forbidden, but those which are inordinate and perilous, and end in slaying or plundering.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2-2.40.1 ad 4

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Music on My Mind

The Corries, "Bonnie Dundee". The lyrics of this popular folksong are a shortening and simplification of a poem by Sir Walter Scott, written in 1825; the tune already had the name and Scott, having it in his head one day, decided to make lyrics for it. The poem, like the name of the tune, is about Dundee's Rising, the first major military action by the Jacobites, in 1689. 'Clavers' is John Claverhouse, the first Viscount of Dundee, who was one of a handful of Scottish nobles to remain loyal to King James. He won the Battle of Killiecrankie, but died almost at the moment of victory. This song is, incidentally, one of the songs parodied in Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.

Bonnie Dundee
by Sir Walter Scott

To the Lords of Convention 'twas Clavers who spoke.
'Ere the King's crown shall fall there are crowns to be broke;
So let each Cavalier who loves honour and me,
Come follow the bonnet of Bonny Dundee.

Come fill up my cup, come fill up my can,
Come saddle your horses, and call up your men;
Come open the West Port and let me gae free,
And it's room for the bonnets of Bonny Dundee!

Dundee he is mounted, he rides up the street,
The bells are rung backward, the drums they are beat;
But the Provost, douce man, said, "Just e'en let him be,
The Gude Town is weel quit of that De'il Dundee."

Come fill up my cup, etc.

As he rode down the sanctified bends of the Bow,
Ilk carline was flyting and shaking her pow;
But the young plants of grace they looked couthie and slee,
Thinking luck to thy bonnet, thou Bonny Dundee!

Come fill up my cup, etc.

With sour-featured Whigs the Grass-market was crammed,
As if half the West had set tryst to be hanged;
There was spite in each look, there was fear in each e'e,
As they watched for the bonnets of Bonny Dundee.

Come fill up my cup, etc.

These cowls of Kilmarnock had spits and had spears,
And lang-hafted gullies to kill cavaliers;
But they shrunk to close-heads and the causeway was free,
At the toss of the bonnet of Bonny Dundee.

Come fill up my cup, etc.

He spurred to the foot of the proud Castle rock,
And with the gay Gordon he gallantly spoke;
"Let Mons Meg and her marrows speak twa words or three,
For the love of the bonnet of Bonny Dundee."

Come fill up my cup, etc.

The Gordon demands of him which way he goes?
"Where'er shall direct me the shade of Montrose!
Your Grace in short space shall hear tidings of me,
Or that low lies the bonnet of Bonny Dundee.

Come fill up my cup, etc.

"There are hills beyond Pentland and lands beyond Forth,
If there's lords in the Lowlands, there's chiefs in the North;
There are wild Duniewassals three thousand times three,
Will cry hoigh! for the bonnet of Bonny Dundee.

Come fill up my cup, etc.

"There's brass on the target of barkened bull-hide;
There's steel in the scabbard that dangles beside;
The brass shall be burnished, the steel shall flash free,
At the toss of the bonnet of Bonny Dundee.

Come fill up my cup, etc.

"Away to the hills, to the caves, to the rocks
Ere I own an usurper, I'll couch with the fox;
And tremble, false Whigs, in the midst of your glee,
You have not seen the last of my bonnet and me!"

Come fill up my cup, etc.

He waved his proud hand, the trumpets were blown,
The kettle-drums clashed and the horsemen rode on,
Till on Ravelston's cliffs and on Clermiston's lee
Died away the wild war-notes of Bonny Dundee.

Come fill up my cup, come fill up my can,
Come saddle the horses, and call up the men,
Come open your gates, and let me gae free,
For it's up with the bonnets of Bonny Dundee!