Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Place in the Ranks Awaits You

by Adelaide Anne Procter

Rise! for the day is passing,
And you lie dreaming on;
The others have buckled their armor,
And forth to the fight are gone:
A place in the ranks awaits you,
Each man has some part to play;
The Past and the Future are nothing,
In the face of the stern Today.

Rise from your dreams of the Future, —
Of gaining some hard-fought field;
Of storming some airy fortress,
Or bidding some giant yield;
Your Future has deeds of glory,
Of honor (God grant it may!)
But your arm will never be stronger,
Or the need so great as To-day.

Rise! if the Past detains you,
Her sunshine and storms forget;
No chains so unworthy to hold you
As those of a vain regret:
Sad or bright, she is lifeless ever;
Cast her phantom arms away,
Nor look back, save to learn the lesson
Of a nobler strife To-day.

Rise! for the day is passing;
The sound that you scarcely hear
Is the enemy marching to battle : —
Arise! for the foe is here!
Stay not to sharpen your weapons,
Or the hour will strike at last,
When, from dreams of a coming battle,
You may wake to find it past!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Cassam on Conspiracy Theories

There is an excerpt from Quassim Cassam's book on conspiracy theories at at IAI. Like much of Cassam's work on this topic, I think it is both interesting and seriously flawed. A good way to see the problems with Cassam's argument is to look at one of the examples he uses to try to pin down what conspiracy theories are:

Suppose that a conspiracy theory is defined as a theory about a conspiracy. History books tell us, for example, that Guy Fawkes and his colleagues plotted to blow up the English Parliament in 1605. The plot was a conspiracy, and historical accounts of the plot are therefore conspiracy theories....

...Unlike well-documented historical theories about the Gunpowder Plot, Conspiracy Theories are highly speculative. They are based on conjecture rather than solid evidence, educated (or not so educated) guesswork. After all, if a conspiracy has been successful then it won’t have left behind clear-cut evidence of a conspiracy. This leads to the idea that the only way to uncover a conspiracy is by focusing odd clues or anomalies that give the game away.

The fundamental problem is that, while there was a genuine conspiracy to blow up Parliament, the genuine conspiracy was also a seed-crystal for what was undeniably a conspiracy theory, according to which a much larger population of Catholics were involved in a conspiracy to undermine the peace and laws of Britain, despite the fact that most of them had nothing to do with it. Thus we have a conspiracy theory built around an undeniable conspiracy. And Cassam in general tends not to graps that conspiracy theorists themselves do think that the evidence of the conspiracy they are talking about is clear-cut; they think the conspiracies are succeeding not because they are always successful in leaving behind no evidence but because they are successful at obfuscation. An English Protestant who thought that the Catholics were engaged in a conspiracy to subvert the kingdom could literally point to things that showed it -- particular plots, actions of Jesuits, and the like. The evidence was clear and obvious; it's just that Catholics were good at lying, and would be able to do it all in secret if not for divine providence and the work of vigilant people like himself. The odd clues and anomalies are not proof of the conspiracy itself; they are proof of the desperate cover-up as the conspiracy attempts to hide its failures. The conspiracy itself is taken to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt; everyone would believe it if it weren't for all the obvious lies that people are believing instead. The conspiracy theorist focuses on odd clues or anomalies not because it is the foundation of his belief that there is a conspiracy but because the conspiracy theorist has to show other people that they are in fact only believing a cover story that can't possibly be true. How do you prove to somebody that something is a lie? You show them the inconsistencies. And once you've made people realize that they've been lied to, the conspiracy theorist thinks, the evidence will speak for itself.

Cassam is here, as most people are, confused by the name 'conspiracy theory'. This makes it sound like it's just about there being some sort of conspiracy. But we could just as easily call it 'cover-up theory'.

This is the reason why Cassam's later conclusion, "Conspiracy Theories are first and foremost forms of political propaganda", is in one sense on the right track and in another simply not useful, because the conspiracy theorist is someone who sees himself as countering political propaganda. Cassam, in his view, would be the propagandist -- after all, in a sense Cassam has effectively just admitted it, by saying that the reason he opposes conspiracy theories is that they put forward dangerous political views. Of course, Cassam doesn't think that he is propagandizing; but neither does the conspiracy theorist. Conspiracy theorists are not putting out propaganda; they are trying to oppose what they see as propaganda. It just so happens that what they see as propaganda, put out by an elite with political incentive to lie, Cassam sees as reasonable report, put out by experts with political incentive to seek the truth, and what he sees as propaganda, the conspiracy theorist sees as critical thinking that shows that the so-called experts are in fact active propagandists.

Conspiracy theory in the sense Cassam has in mind does not begin with an intent to propagandize; it begins with political discontent when it takes on the idea that the opposed political faction, whatever that may be, is fighting dirty and trying to hide that fact. Take, for instance, one of the popular conspiracy theories of the Enlightenment period, the theory of priestcraft: a bunch of priests have made alliance with a bunch of politicians to benight society throughout the ages, encouraging superstition and backing it with police power in order to make the people more pliable to both priest and politician. This is the kind of conspiracy theory that only arises in the context of an already-existing dispute about the role of religion in political life, from people who have come to think, for whatever reason, that their religious opponents are fundamentally liars concerned only with their own political position and their dupes who don't bother to think through the religious propaganda because they have a political reason not to do so.

It's true, of course, that conspiracy theorists can and do propagandize, like anyone else; but the mistake is not in recognizing this but thinking that the propagandizing is the core of the conspiracy theory. Cassam thinks that the basic function of a conspiracy theory is to advance a political agenda; but the basic function of a conspiracy theory is to stop the perceived advance of a political agenda. There is a fundamental sense in which all conspiracy theorists, regardless of whether they are right or left politically, are reactionaries. They exist to resist; they are in their own view the Resistance. The people in power are fighting with dirty tricks. The 'experts' have sold out. The proof of it is there to see, but the powerful are lying to try to hide it. And what you need to do is not persuade people of the conspiracy -- that's obvious to anyone who just thinks the matter through -- but to wake people up to the fact that they are being taken in by a lie. Now, of course, you can call their wake-up attempts propaganda if you like, but the point is that Cassam mislocates it: it is not to put forward an agenda but to resist one. To advance an agenda you just argue for it; but to resist one, you set out to debunk falsehoods, to uncover lies, to wake people up.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Voyages Extraordinaires #31: Le Chemin de France

My name is Natalis Delpierre. I was born in 1761, at Grattepanche, a village in Picardy. My father was a farm laborer. He worked on the estate of the Marquis d'Estrelle. My mother did her best to help him. My sisters and I followed our mother's example.

My father never possessed any property. He was precentor at the church, and had a powerful voice that could be heard even in the graveyard. The voice was almost all I inherited from him.

My father and mother worked hard. They both died the same year, 1779. God has their souls in His keeping!

Natalis Delpierre becomes a soldier and fights in the American Revolution, and then for the king, and then for the Republic. It is a time of great tension, as none of the other Powers trust the French Republic, and Germany in particular seems inclined to invade. Because of this, Delpierre takes two months' leave from the army to go to Germany and find his sister, Irma, who is servant and companion to a half-French family there, the Kellers, in order to bring her back safely. However, it turns out not to be possible to bring her back immediately, and war breaks out while he is there. This will lead Delpierre, Irma, and the Kellers to the journey that gives the book its title, Le Chemin de France (in English, The Flight to France).

The book is a light and easy read, with twenty-five very short chapters. The narrator is quite engaging. As with most of Verne's books, the backbone of it is a geographically precise journey, this time in the midst of war zone. That sounds perhaps more interesting than it is; the primary difficulty for the protagonists is not the war but the need to evade arrest when everyone is at the height of their suspicions; the armies affect their travel primarily by forcing them to go a long and difficulty road around in order to avoid them, which causes them to overstay on their passport. This is not to say that there is no excitement, nor does the story drag in any way (it is too short to drag), but aside from a couple of brief brushes with death and the urgency of a deadline, it largely ends up being a tale of a trip on which everything goes wrong. It's interesting, but in a way it's only very accidentally a war story.

I read it in English translation, in a cheap copy I picked up; although there was no indication of the translator, I believe that the translation was that by I. O. Evans, which, if so, means that the translation was probably usually so-so. Indeed, looking at the French, it's noticeable that the translation above strips out all the specifically Catholic references; what Delpierre actually says is that his father was a cantor, singing the Confiteor, with a loud voice that could be heard in the cemetery near the church, and could have been a priest, being a 'peasant dipped in ink', but his voice was about all that Delpierre inherited from him. The omissions are not essential to the story; that Delpierre's father was a cantor plays no role in the story, except that it makes sense of why he says that he only inherited his father's voice -- Delpierre is not the priestly or scholarly type, so his narrative will be rough and uneducated (in fact, Delpierre only starts learning to read and write in the course of the story he as narrator is setting down later in life). It's the kind of little value-adding detail that translations like this sandpaper away.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Feeling Your Way Through Poetry

Talking with Nick about GPT-2, I mentioned that one of the things poets do is feel out the next easy word, so I thought I would talk about this a bit more. I have no particular conclusions to draw about it, and am making no particular argument; it's just an interesting process, and it's also interesting in its contrast to other things poets are usually doing simultaneously.

One word doesn't given us much, so let's start with two words:

The evening

Now, obviously, the question is, the evening what? And there are two obvious paths we can go; we can take evening as an adjective, or we can take it as a noun. If the former, among the very salient next words are 'breeze' and 'star'; if the latter, two of the obvious next words are 'is' and 'falls'.

One of the things you do in writing poetry is to take a road less traveled and deliberately avoid the easy word, feel your way to something and then avoid it, and it will be worth contrasting this with just feeling your way through. So for the moment let's instead do:

The evening wolf

And the obvious question is, the evening wolf what? Now that we definitely have a noun, it begs for a verb. 'Is' is still possible; 'howls' is obvious. Let's break away from those and say instead:

The evening wolf breaks

Now, I've deliberately picked this verb because it's an odd one; you need a kind of breaking that a wolf can do, which limits what can go next. Two obvious possibilities are 'out' (as in breaking out in a howl) and 'cover'. Perhaps we can twist slightly again and say,

The evening wolf breaks silence

Now, we can compare that with the case in which we tried to go the easy way. So

The evening star

What do stars do? They shine.

The evening star shines

What's the next word after shines? Probably 'down'.

The evening star shines down

You usually don't just shine down, though, you shine down on something.

The evening star shines down on

On what? We could get a noun next, but it's probably going to be 'the' + something.

The evening star shines down on the

What do evening stars shine down on? The world.

The evening star shines down on the world

We could leave it there, but there's an obvious next word,

The evening star shines down on the world below

So let's pause here. It's a very pedestrian line (by definition, since taking the linguistic path of least resistance is what it means to say that something is pedestrian in poetry), which is not to say that it is a bad one; a poet who wrote lines like this would probably be trying for larger-scale effects -- big descriptive scenes, juxtaposed images, narratives, thematic repetitions, slowly building metaphors or twists. You often need pedestrian lines to make larger poetic structures easier to pick out. It's very difficult to do large-scale poetic effects Sagrada-Familia-style, with nothing normal in the details and yet a clear structure to the whole. So if you started here, you might use a structure like:

The evening star shines down on the world below,
which, covered with the freshly fallen snow,
shows tracks, deep black, of wolf and hare,
that punctuate the paper white and bare;

and so on, narratively, each line usually being the sort of thing that on its own could be found in a prose description or narrative, just arranged so that you keep the rhyme. The evening star shines down on the world below is a storytelling kind of line.

With The evening wolf breaks silence you would probably be doing detail-work -- capturing a particular image or metaphor or aural effect.

The evening wolf breaks silence,
the clouds unveil the light
which howls with silver violence
against the shades of night.

But what I am doing in showing how you might go from the original line is another act entirely different from feeling your way; I am identifying a function for the poem and engineering a way to incorporate the lines into a mechanism with that function. If you just feel your way forward, it works very differently. You know, for instance, that you are eventually going to go off the road, just as you know you would if you were blindfolded on a real road. But just by feel you can get quite a bit. For instance, evening stars shine down on the world below, but in poetry they also shine down on snow, and there are likely many, many poems where below calls and snow answers, so you can feel that a line after one that ends with 'below' is likely going to have 'snow'. If you're writing in English and used to poems that rhyme in couplets, one way to go from line to line will be boustrophedon, taking your words left to right in the first line and then taking them right to left in the next, then back to left to right. (In practice, of course, you sometimes might be feeling your way in both directions, sometimes left to right, sometimes right to left, just as the spirit takes you.) So we have

The evening star shines down on the world below

and it's very unlikely that you would just have the lines like this! The natural thing is to have something in front of 'snow'. What is often in front of 'snow'? 'Fallen'.

The evening star shines down on the world below
fallen snow

And what's an obvious thing to come before 'fallen', when you are talking about stars and snow?

The evening star shines down on the world below
freshly fallen snow

A few more moves and we might well get something like my two first lines above:

The evening star shines down on the world below,
which, covered with the freshly fallen snow,

Just by feel you might get the tracks in the snow, and the wolf and hare (which often make tracks in snow, and might be naturally paired); it's just possible that by feel you might get the paper from the white and snow, but unless you've come across the image before, you probably would not get the punctuation on paper because it's not common and requires combining several different comparisons simultaneously. When crafting a poem, that's exactly what you might use easy lines for to lay out the obvious things that you then twist all together at once. If you're not crafting, you're never going to get a twist except by accident. (Such accidents do happen; as I've noted before, there is a purely aleatory component to every kind of art. One of the things you do if working by feel is to keep an eye out for such happy accidents.)

You could go on by feel for as long as you please, but in practice you would usually not do so unless you were writing something very short, because of the fact that you will inevitably go off the road. As I have no great poetic genius, a lot of the poetry I write is just my experimentation with this or that, so I do lot of first drafts mostly by feel, and inevitably at some point, if you have a meter, you get off it, if you have a syllabic count, you deviate from it, if you have a rhyme scheme, you lose it. Do it with anything very long and you start sounding like William McGonagall, who is the master of going on and on as purely on the basis of feel as you can go while somehow still getting something completely recognizable as verse:

As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o'er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill'd all the peoples hearts with sorrow,
And made them for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav'd to tell the tale
How the disaster happen'd on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Dashed Off IX

Unction makes one's illness a sign of Christ's Passion, first for oneself and then for others.

- to read Hume's Treatise as a background to his History, an account of how to write history

"Marriage is a Holy Mystery (Sacrament) in which by the grace of the Holy Spirit a man and a woman are united into one body and create a domestic church. The family union created by marriage is a community of persons which, according to God's plan, is an icon of the relationship of the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity." COP #471
-- note that while there is a sense in which marriage as a natural office is hieratic, only by the sacrament of marriage is it genuinely ecclesial

One can think of the traditionary argument as being almost Kantian: Reason provides the structure of meaning, but the material is necessary for language actually to exist. This linguistic material, however, must be given to us, and in human cases it must be given to us by teaching of the language. But all though must ultimately work by means of linguistic material. So far it is structurally analogous to Kant on intuition.

inherence, consequence, composition

Kant's combat arena metaphor for skeptical method A423/B451

the terroir of symbol systems

"Christ reveals himself not to untaught or completely unlearned souls, but he shines forth and appears to those souls who are already more prepared to want to learn and who, giving birth to the beginning of faith in simple words, hasten on toward the knowledge of the more perfect." (Cyril of Alexandria)

Every universal proposition implies a kind of possibility and impossibility.

"The intelligible species which are participated by our intellect are reduced, as to their first cause, to a first principle which is by its essence intelligible -- namely, God." ST 1.84.4ad1

The uncreative person's conception of creativity tends to be purely recombinatorial.

suppositional voluntarism

memorization and doxastic voluntarism

Marx's analysis of alienation applies even more forcefully to socialist regimes than it does to capitalist regimes, since socialist regimes, trying to go beyond capitalist ones, in fact aggravate the essential problems involved.

In the course of an inquiry, it not uncommonly happens that a question arises about a source of evidence, such that a monitum or vetitum has to be imposed with regard to it, until the question is answered.

registers of literal reading
(1) hyperhyperliteral: even etymological meanings taken as literal
(2) hyperliteral: even figurative speech taken as literal
(3) grammatical: includes tropes and explicit elements only
(4) historical/narrative: includes tropes, implicatures, implications, explicit and implicit allusion in the text itself.
(5) contextual: includes everything for the historical/narrative as well as emergent allusions, implicatures and implications in a broader context or corpus, interactions with genre conventions or reasonable juxtapositions with other texts

character arcs
involve learning how
(1) with respect to the good
---- (a) to handle good possessed
---- (b) to seek good not yet had
---- ---- (1) and in seeking to fail to achieve the good sought
---- ---- (2) and in seeking to achieve the good sought
(2) with respect to the bad
---- (a) to handle bad possessed
---- (b) to go about avoiding bad
---- ---- (1) and in the attempt to fail to avoid bad
---- ---- (2) and in the attempt to avoid the bad

Apology presupposes honor conventions.

the Epicurean clinamen as making a distinction between physical and ethical events

Act so that the maxim of your action is in accordance with what is sublime.

misvalues in axiology

"I can think of myself as immortal only insofar as I am myself the creation of an act of love." Marcel

Love imbues into things a goodness not reducible to reward, and it is such that participation in it is that whereby the goodness is imbued. This participation is made possible by love itself in a threefold way: vocation, satisfaction, election, each of which orients the participant. Such participation, for human beings, cannot but be by signs, by which this participation is intensified, expressed, handed over, and consummated.

Moral law is received from grace, as a means of grace.

"The duty to educate follows from the agreement to beget children; and the obligation to set up a common household follows from the common duty of education." Mendelssohn

The rights to admonish, to instruct, to fortify, and to comfort are ipso facto rights to the infrastructure and resources essential to these things.

One must dabble much to learn how to build well.

poetry as purifying passion into wonder

monarchy: principle of expansive household
aristocracy: principle of fealty
democracy: principle of voluntary association

Aquinas's reason for thinking that verecundia is not a virtue would be reason to think penitentia is not a virtue; but the latter is a virtue; therefore, etc.

Thomas Carleton Compton: As the sun among the planets, so dialectic among the seven liberal arts is the greatest in splendor (because it teaches truths).

In liberal arts, you learn how to make things with your mind.
Computer programming should be regarded as a liberal art.

five elements of a marital disposition: competence, discretion, openness to children, fidelity, indissolubility

the American citizen as conceptually armigerous

NB that the Maximian Life of the Virgin links the Presentation of the Virgin to Psalm 44. (Note also the allusion at the beginning of the discussion of the Dormition.)

Bodies are experienced as acting.

the refinement of the feeling that something is wrong (or 'looks wrong' or 'sounds wrong')

the Prayer of Azariah as a template of Eucharistic devotion

the world as illuminant (making known)

Political parties kill themselves by pique.

Testining in education should be used simply to indicate thresholds.

The entire Catholic Church owes the humility of Pope Gregory XII a debt beyond all repayment.

II Constantinople gives the orthodox exegesis of "one incarnate nature of the Word".

Note that Hume sees pride and humility as having a causal structure (they require both a causative idea and an object = self).

T->◊B as a bridge principle between alethic and doxastic

demonstration as uniting epistemic Box and alethic Box

the three aspects of episcopal authority: ordinarial, synodal, collegial

The beginning of ECHU takes its origin from Hume's letter to Hutcheson 17 Sept 1739.

The effectiveness of a pope tends to lie more in the accumulation of small things than in major projects.

The measure of a day is what is learned in it.

"The ceremonial law itself is a kind of living script, rousing the mind and heart, full of meaning, never ceasing to inspire contemplation and to provide the occasion and opportunity for instruction." Mendelssohn

the first Chrysippean argument: (1) The cause of what human reason cannot achieve would be superior to man. (2) The heavens are what human reason cannot achieve. (3) The cause thereof all men call God.
the second Chrysippean argument: (1) If there are no gods, nothing is better than man. (2) It is arrogant for man to believe that nothing is superior to man. (3) Therefore it is arrogant to believe there are no gods.

Whether we see a need is partly dependent on our willingness to help, independently of seeing it.

precedent + aleatory variation, through rational selection inspired by the Muse, applied against material resistance

amplique and ciselante phases in the history of philosophical systems

Secrets tend to be much alike.

Kitsch tells us that for which receivers of art thirst, and avant-gardism that for which artists itch.

There is always an element of chance in factional politics, because factions will emphasize what has turned out to succeed, even if only by chance, rather than what a deliberate and coherent plan would have anticipated. Thus, for instance, American conservatives emphasize at present low taxes, pro-life issues, and gun rights, because these are the only popular organizing successes they have had in recent memory. American progressives backed off free speech, once a core issue, when it became clear that it impeded other, more recently popular and successful, progressive issues, like gay rights; and so forth.

Note that the argument of the Lysis implies that virtue is required for love of wisdom: only the virtuous can love wisdom, or, rather, the pursuit of virtue is integral with the love of wisdom.

God as Proton Philon

"To the goods of the mind answers authority; to the goods of fortune, power or empire." Harrington

The first and fundamental condition for good classificatory terminology is distinction useful for inquiry.

FCS Schiller: science, philosophy, and religion all have an animist origin, i.e., they first arise form the notion that all things are analogous to man, and from this form the concept of physical causation on the model of volitional causation.
-- animism in light of uniformity of nature -> polytheism; polytheism in light of uniformity of nature -> monotheism (if personal agency continues) or pantheism (if the sense of causation obscures the notion of personal agency to the point it seems impossible)
-- "Animism is also the origin of philosophy, for the volitional theory of causation does duty also as a theory of the ultimate truth about the world."

"Known essences are simply that activity of at hing which is comprehended in the idea of the thing." Rosmini

"The religion of the Roman people in general has two separate aspects, its ritual and the auspices, to which a third element is added when, as a result of portents and prodigies, the interpreters of the Sibyl or the diviners offer prophetic advice." Cicero (Cotta in NatD 2.5)

All materialism ultimately collapses into speculations about appearances.

A people is
(1) a community of families
(2) a market
(3) a militia
(4) a moral unit of cultus
(5) a system of customary law

Lorentz transofrmation as rotation in 4 dimensions (Poincare)

Protests often seem to fail because of the way they put on display the incoherences of the movement.

"Liberation that cries out against others is not true liberation." Romero

Taxation must be linked to service, risk protection, or restoration of what is lost.

Part of the hieratic function of the natural office of marriage is curation of the family memories -- preserving the traditions, holidays, commemorations and celebrations, etc.

separation of the legislative, executive, eleemosynary, and judicial powers of government
the eleemosynary function of government: pardon, patronage, pension, provision, and subsidy

There is a false kind of social justice that is very good at repenting of other people's sins.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Noting of Notable Links

* Roger Scruton, Kitsch and the Modern Predicament. I discussed kitsch here recently, trying to situate the notion in a larger context.

* Clare Coffey, Modernity's Spell, discusses mesmerism.

* John Locke's Method for Common-Place Books

* John Wilkins on John Ray.

* John P. McGann, Poor Human Olfaction Is a Nineteenth Century Myth

* Gregory DePippo on the life of St. Vincent Ferrer, who served the Avignon papacy; I've discussed St. Vincent here before, Vincent Ferrer and the Antipope.

* Dan Nosowitz looks at the manchineel tree, America's most dangerous tree.

* Elizabeth Picciuto, Why We Feel for Fictional Characters. I discussed the Paradox of Fiction here some years ago. Like Picciuto I would reject premise 1.

* A. Dneprov, The Game

* An interesting Quora discussion of how China feeds its people.

* Brandon Otto, Confirmation in the Church Fathers. I don't think he gets St. Cyril of Jerusalem entirely right; in comparing Confirmation and the Eucharist, the point St. Cyril is making, it seems to me, is not that Confirmation involves something like transubstantiation but that it involves the real presence of the Holy Spirit.

* Ian Miller reviews Owen Davies's A Supernatural War, on purported miracles and religious experiences in World War I.

* Jim Beall, Warships of Sea and Space

* James Hannam on Lucretius.

* Emily Herring on Henri Bergson.

* Philippe Lemoine, Why falsificationism is false and Hell hath no fury like a Popperian scorned

* Oliver Burkeman, How the news took over reality

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Iron Footsteps of Time

A Castle Old and Grey
by Alexander Anderson

I never see a castle
That is gaunt and grey and grim,
But my thoughts at once go backward
To the past so misty and dim.

To the time when tower and turret,
Kept watch far over the vale;
And along the sounding draw-bridge
Rode knights in their suits of mail.

I see the sunshine glancing
On helmet, pennon, and spear;
And hear from the depth of the forest,
A bugle calling clear.

I fill the hall with visions
Of ladies rich in their bloom;
And stately knights in armour,
And waving with feather and plume.

If I climb the broken stairway,
Where the stone is smooth and fine,
I hear a rustle and whisper,
And footsteps in front of mine.

Whisper of youth and maiden,
As they met in the long ago;
His deep and strong and manly,
Hers tender and sweet and low.

But maiden and youth have vanished,
Away from the scene and the light;
Gone, too, the high-born lady,
And the plumed and armoured knight.

Only the grey old castle,
Of crumbling stone and lime,
Still stands to speak of the ages,
And the iron footsteps of Time.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Interrogator

The comedian Tim Conway died today. As he was perhaps the comedian who best understood how to use television as a medium, it seems fitting to share this sketch from The Carol Burnett Show, which is one of the greatest television comedy skits ever done. It starts out working bit by bit, with minor chuckles; all of this is just preparation. Then just after 5:20, he takes Lyle Waggoner and Harvey Korman by complete surprise by pulling out the puppet, which was not in the script. And then we've got the cool-down to a satisfying ending.

Talk to Transformer II

This time giving Talk to Transformer openings of some of my poems. There are some charming expressions -- I like "A maiden of beauty, / wearing bright crimson, / was the first of our kind", although it's very weird that she has hands four feet long, and it's funny to think of being so beautiful that it's impossible you were ever young enough to make a mistake. I also like "we need not be gods, but just men".

She caught,
with casual raise of the hand,
the zephyr-breeze running through the green field --

she caught it too,
and held it up to the light. She stared at it, and at the air above her,
and at the night -- and at the people who lived there,
before her and before her and before her
a year ago, and now she could see them again,
she had seen them,
she'd seen all the things she could have seen,
all the things they can see now, now...
And her eyes took on a wild, wild look of terror,
so dark and so dark there was nothing in them
that could hurt her. They would see her again
in that night, she would see them again,
she would never want to go there anymore!
That night, she'd seen them all again.
But not what she'd seen the night before she was killed -- she wasn't frightened!
That night when one of the people fell from the sky,
into the deep ravine, into the deep ravine,

I carry moly in my pocket;
I use it to mollify
the spirits that meander
where my memories go to die.

The old man is still here;
The children and the children's children
are here, too;
They're just too old to be around me.
He's a friend I must thank for this;
He got me through childhood and
I got through life without a friend.
But the old man is still here,
In this very house where he is.
He is just an old man that has been here
for many moons
with this same old face.
So it is best to let the children and the children's children
be here.
Let me tell you the story of my life.
When I was thirteen, my brother came and
moved in with my mother.
My mother had a large house
and had four brothers and three sisters.
She gave my brother a wife and her children.
My father came over every year
because he was rich. He lived just for me.
My mother's marriage was broken up

Amid the stones an ancient well does stand;
there druids, perhaps, once did their rites,
or some fair nymph gave it sacred gifts.
5. To the left, when at his spring, stands the stone house where he sleeps, the well-known of old. And in front of it lies a temple of the gods, on which the sacred stone is placed and where the gods are wont to worship; and also in front of it stands the temple of Orpheus, the father of song, and Orpheus's wife. 6. Now I come to the right, and as I come there stood before the temple, Orchomena, who is the daughter of Meneus and the wife of Phylacus, who is one of the sons of Aristobulus; and in front of the temple is the place called Bystole, and she was given to Orchomena by an old and fair-haired man, and she bore Agamemnon her son, and then she went to the temple. 7. And then in the temple went she on to the altar of the gods, first from the stone

Over the sea the storms are cast,
the lightning strikes, the winds unfold,
and we are heavy-laid with past,
though once in youth we journeyed bold.

A maiden of beauty,
wearing bright crimson,
was the first of our kind.
On her breast were carved three flowers, red,
in gold leaf-paper:
the first was a white lily with blossoms upon it.
Afterwards two more were placed,
and on one of them is the name
The First. This is the title given to each of us.
I was her caretaker. Her days were spent,
for she was a beautiful babe,
so beautiful in fact that it
it was impossible that she had ever been
young enough to make a mistake.
She had two hands, four feet long,
and she would climb up into the skies,
then glide from the sky down towards the water.
She was gentle, and loving,
as a daughter of Nature.
When her mother died, I took her in.
As usual I had already seen her smile.

On high the cloud is shining gold
where Tabor's hill is rising, bold;
our Lord our God has glories shown
and all his realm to us made known.

The sun, the stars, and all the glory
of his majesty.
O great God God, he knows how to judge.
For we all must serve
and we need not be gods, but just men.
O the greatness of God's glory, he knows
how to make one know all things;
and how to make one know what he knows.
We are no Gods, but our God,
the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit are all.
He sees beyond all things that is and to know the God;
and, indeed, he sees also that we all must worship him.
Our Lord Jesus Christ himself says:
Tabor's hill is shining gold where Tabor's hill rose. [O. Fr. tabor (Fr.) — l.'ordre (Fr.) + -ere (Fr.) + laison de (Fr.) + -tence (Fr.) (+ adj.) +

Monday, May 13, 2019

Talk to Transformer

Talk to Transformer gives a snippet of text generated from a prompt by GPT-2, which uses a large corpus of materials to predict by statistical means what each next word is, given what went on before. So I threw some philosophemes at it. Here is the first result for each.

Prompt: The attributes of being are unity, truth, and goodness.

The attributes of being are unity, truth, and goodness. The attributes of being can be seen and the attributes of truth can be recognized and seen. The attributes of being is perfect and will continue to be perfect. The attribute of being is beauty. The attribute of being is wisdom. The attribute of becoming is love. The attributes of becoming is joy."
Here, by "beauty" I mean beauty of body, of speech and of mind but also beauty of the heart. The "attributes" of being refer to the mind. The words "being" and "truth" refer to the heart. They are the attributes which the human being can perceive and which can be recognized and known for those things as we read "the human soul of the Lord" and "the man of sin." So we see, therefore, that God is all the more perfect because of his unity. He is all the more worthy of glorification and of eternal life because he is the source of glory that must be sought and found and glorified.
The word of God, if it were in any danger of the meaning I am suggesting, would be "God does

Prompt: Change is the act of the potential insofar as it is potential.

Change is the act of the potential insofar as it is potential. Thus, the potential of the soul is that it is possible of being. Because the actuality of the soul is that it is possible of being - not of existing. What is real is not of something real; it is not the actuality of the possibility of the real but the possibility of the actual. What is real is not that it exists, but that inasmuch as it possesses an existing possibility, it does exist. So the potential is always existing insofar as it is possible of existing; the being in a certain time may present its possibility to itself to be realized once, but its existence cannot present itself for any definite time. This is the essence of the unity of possibilities: it is the unity of the real and potential insofar as they are possible of being. This is the point in which the dualism of the Real and the possible becomes apparent. The actuality of the soul does not exist in itself in any particular time, but that does not mean that it cannot have a being existing now. There may be something that existed in time previously. This does not

Prompt: The unexamined life is not worth living. Once it hits the birds, it gets quite distracted from the original idea.

The unexamined life is not worth living. It is not worth making a habit of doing any longer.

Life is hard enough as it is….

When I first saw it, I felt like jumping up and down like I was crazy. Like there was some huge mistake. Like I was falling in love with nothing. Then, I would go for walks and find a place where I could get close to nature and the birds and birds in the garden and the birds and the bees. The birds would sing, and I would listen.

One time at a quiet spot on my way to my favorite spot on my way to do research on the relationship between men and women that I am passionate about. I was taking the bus home, taking the stairs, listening to some music and just enjoying myself. All of a sudden I heard it in the back of my head.

And I couldn't help it. In this moment I really knew that I thought a lot about this, a lot about women and their relationship to their femininity. And I just knew that it was so wrong. How could anything like this happen?!

Prompt: Good is to be done and sought; bad is to be avoided. I thought it was funny that, prompted with the first principle of practical reason, the generator suddenly became fake-Mormon. It is, of course, fake Mormon; neither the verses attributed to Doctrine and Covenants, nor the one attributed to 3 Nephi are the real verses. For instance, the real D&C 112:22 says, "Inasmuch as they shall humble themselves before me, and abide in my word, and hearken to the voice of my Spirit."

Good is to be done and sought; bad is to be avoided. Thus the Lord says (D&C 112:22): "All things whatsoever ye shall ask in my name. . . . Let them speak: and let them do ye deeds; let them do whatsoever ye shall send them. Behold, I will give unto you these commandments, even the commandments and covenants of my spirit" (D&C 112:23–24).

The Savior taught,

"I bear record that God also gives blessings unto those who labor in the mines. . . For as many as have been willing to do the work, the mine has been opened; and those who have refused have not labored"; (D&C 7:3).

Therefore, the Savior warned us that "if ye desire anything good from me, withhold it from him who taketh you up to go up into heaven: because he also hath power to destroy both soul and body" (3 Nephi 28:29).

Our first mission

After we have received the gospel message and seen its truths reflected, we can seek

Prompt: It is better to endure evil than to do it. In all honesty, I've known fan fiction that was more crazy than "Hobbits of New York".

It is better to endure evil than to do it. "What should we expect, from a king who has suffered so much? A thousand stripes in jail. A thousand murders. A thousand beheading by stoning in the streets. A thousand years imprisoned in hell. "The king may have died, but the world doesn't care; a thousand years to be punished, to be punished well and to enjoy what's left over after your death."

In The Lord of the Rings, hobbits have the option of fighting a dragon or being turned to stone on Mount Doom.

In "Hobbits of New York," Jake, a high school football captain from the future, is sent by Gandalf to rescue a young man who had kidnapped his sister. A group of hobbits tries to rescue the man, but he takes them under false pretenses. One says he lost everything and was looking for his mother, while another says he lost everything and was looking for his daughter. Jake, an orphan from what he thinks was a dangerous city in the future, doesn't understand.

Film [ edit ]

The film version of

Prompt: Philosophy is love of wisdom. This one heads in a pseudo-Buddhist direction.

Philosophy is love of wisdom. We seek a living wisdom which can lead to peace, to the knowledge that there is a mind of its own within our souls.

A Mind that is free from fear, and that is guided by a Mind that is free from attachment and self-interest.

A Mind that is free to be the object of all attention and joy. This is the true essence of the Mind which is to be found in the Buddha and which is in all living creatures. There is no place for the mind as such, and the mind is only the product of attachment, desire and greed. We are bound to find this Mind somewhere.

The aim of the student is to get to the Buddha through his understanding of this Mind.

The teacher is the Buddha in all of his fullness. He has an enormous power in the Buddha's heart. As long as he teaches the true doctrines, that is all that the mind can do. The mind may be full, but only once it has been liberated from every other object of mind, it will have ceased to act as a mind. It will cease to be

Five Poem Re-Drafts


I carry moly in my pocket;
I use it to mollify
the spirits that meander
where my memories go to die.
The elephants in their graveyards
stack the ivory to the heights
where phantoms march and murmur
of long-lost loves and lights.
Deceptive and dishonest
are the markers of the dead;
wanderers sad and foolish
are those by them misled;
But I too shadow-wander
beneath a darkening sky
where skeletons of madness
on sands of heartache lie.


With old sepulchral light the moon,
so harsh and vivid, plenilune,
now stares with glaring eye on all
those marked by traces of the Fall;
the night is dark, the night is bright
with unilluminating light,
with unchromatic, pristine white.

The standing stars look sadly down
on stark and shade-infested ground;
the eye is witched, its vision lies,
the light from every corner shies;
a primal sin, like stain, o'erlays
the compline earth that, quiet, prays:
O present help, assist our ways.

The moon resides in orbit high,
but higher orbits yet may fly;
the stars that in the evening wake
but gems of diadem now make
for regnal glory, light most sweet,
that spans the world and night defeats,
the moon itself beneath her feet.


I walked in city-darkness underneath a stormy sky,
Dreaming of the echoes of a God condemned to die,
Dreaming of the words of a convict lifted high:
It is done; it is finished.

The darkness all around me was the blackness of my heart,
Tendrils, living death, that entered every part;
Down I fell, straightway, as wounded by a dart:
It is done; it is finished.

Then in a moment's clearness, I saw me as I am,
An endless sea of failings with denial like a dam--
And off in thorny bushes was the bleating of a ram:
It is done; it is finished.

No guilt within my heart and no burden on my back,
No torment by my demons or a conscientious rack,
Just safely well-defended from all darkness and attack:
It is done; it is finished.

I hardly can be better than the way I was before,
And yet the change is vast as a realm from shore to shore,
As simple and momentous as a sudden-open door:
It is done; it is finished.

And though I fall again I will never be alone
And wait to be restored in resurrected flesh and bone--
For the tomb in which I dwell is no longer sealed by stone:
It is done; it is finished.


I am a leaf that grows on an infinite tree
that is only a flower on an infinite tree
that grows on a hill by an infinite road
that is lined with trees of an infinite height
beneath the expanse of an infinite sky
that has seen the trees grow for infinite years
and a sun that will shine for an infinite age
while the infinite worlds in their boundless array
are rolling forever under infinite stars
that make up a world among infinite worlds
that all grow like one leaf on an infinite tree
that I see in my hand with my infinite eye.

The Well

Amid the stones an ancient well does stand;
there druids, perhaps, once did their rites,
or some fair nymph gave it sacred gifts.
Through long years the endless caravans
cross the seas, cross barren lands,
through forests deep and wild wastes,
to seek the well, its darkened depth,
to cast their kingdoms in.

One day, too, you will seek that well,
with all your heart's unturning hope;
you too will treasures cast inside,
into the well most dearly sought,
the unwishing well, to undo a wish.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Fortnightly Book, May 12

This next fortnight is also a double feature. I will be continuing with Charles Williams, reading his Shadows of Ecstasy and The Greater Trumps.

Shadows of Ecstasy was written in the 1920s, but it wasn't until Williams had published several other books that it became publishable, so it was eventually published, after some rewriting, in 1933. It is in some ways Williams's most occultish work, one that is not so much concerned with higher things but with the nature of power: power in itself, power unfettered, power to change the world, and its ability to sweep people along regardless of any questions of morality.

The Greater Trumps, while written later, was published first, in 1832; one might say that it is about order, the order of the universe understood as a Great Dance, with the images of tarot cards serving as its primary gimmick.

H. G. Wells, The Time Machine; The War of the Worlds


Opening Passages: From The Time Machine:

The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us. His pale grey eyes shone and twinkled, and his usually pale face was flushed and animated. The fire burnt brightly, and the soft radiance of the incandescent lights in the lilies of silver caught the bubbles that flashed and passed in our glasses. Our chairs, being his patents, embraced and caressed us rather than submitted to be sat upon, and there was that luxurious after-dinner atmosphere, when thought runs gracefully free of the trammels of precision. And he put it to us in this way—marking the points with a lean forefinger—as we sat and lazily admired his earnestness over this new paradox (as we thought it) and his fecundity.

From The War of the Worlds:

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

Summary: H. G. Wells's first time travel story was "The Chronic Argonauts", a short story published seven years before The Time Machine. In it, one can see the germinal conceptions that would eventually give us the novel. The explanation for the machine is much the same, as is the mysterious description of the machine as consisting of a lot of parts consisting of materials difficult to obtain or use, like ivory, mahogany, and nickel. But we also see a significant improvement in the underlying craft. "The Chronic Argonauts" is an interesting piece, but it lacks the profundity that makes The Time Machine perhaps the greatest work of its kind. While the Welsh color of the former is striking, the more selective and careful description (and, often, nondescription) of the book greatly strengthens the impact of the story, and the quiet and understated Time Traveler of the latter is vastly more charismatic than the somewhat florid Dr. Nebogipfel.

One of the great aspects of The Time Machine is its ability to combine the sweeping and the personal; you feel how far in the past you are compared with the Eloi and the Morlocks, and the distantness of the slow eclipsing of life on earth beyond them, and yet the story even at its most speculative never gives the sense of abstractness. You are there with the Time Traveler, and with Weena. It is an advantage, I think, not to know how the bifurcation of the human race came about; the Time Traveler speculates, of course, but he does not know. This makes the contrast-with-recognizability especially effective: we can see in ourselves the Eloi-like and the Morlock-like, which intensifies the awfulness of getting the pure forms.

I listened to the Escape version of The Time Machine:

They make a decent effort to try to stay close to the spirit of the work. Among others, they make two very significant changes -- the Time Traveler has a companion, which is probably better for radio than just having the Time Traveler tell his tale as he does in the book (we need a way to retain the narrative distance), and they give the Time Traveler a name, which is probably a mistake. As adaptations go, however, it largely works.

The War of the Worlds sees the greatest empire on earth invaded by an irresistible power. One of the things I very much liked about the tale on re-reading it this past week was how Wells steadily builds it up from the first puzzled curiosity, to shock, to confusion, to animal terror, and finally, when the Martians fail (because they are not defeated) the countershock that jarringly begins the restoration of normal life, to the extent that it can be restored. Its characters are less striking than those of The Time Machine, but it makes skillful use of horror elements to capture the helplessness of the time.

It also does very well with the alien-ness of the Martians, who, unlike the Eloi and Morlocks, are very alien -- their almost baffling physiological structure, their bloodsucking ways, their extreme technical advancement combined with a broad incomprehension of the wheel and of bacteria, combined with our own inability to understand why they are even doing this. Some people don't like the sudden collapse of the Martian invasion, but Wells actually does quite a bit to prepare for it -- not only are the Martians clearly underestimating how disease-ridden we are, it seems clear from a number of things that Wells says that they may have had unexpected problems with the provisions they brought, and so were in an emergency state, on a clock to get more.

There's a sense in which The War of the Worlds is also a time travel story, except that instead of traveling into the future, the future comes to us. One of Wells's own essays is mentioned in passing in the book, "The Man of the Year Million", sometimes better known under the title "Of a Book Unwritten", which quite clearly anticipates some of the physiological features of the Martians by speculating about what human beings might be in a much later evolution. (The link to time travel is also underlined by the artilleryman's plans, which are eerily suggestive of something that could lead to the Eloi and Morlocks.) In another essay, "The Extinction of Man", he says, "It is part of the excessive egotism of the human animal that the bare idea of its extinction seems incredible to it"; but, as he notes, there is nothing strange from an evolutionary perspective about the idea that we might go extinct. It is, indeed, inevitable at some point. The Martians just bring us face to face with it.

But, of course, the Martians are not immune from it, either; for all their alien-ness, they are not so different from us in this respect. Perhaps, as the novel's reference to "The Man of the Year Million" might suggest, they are just what we will be, having only gotten there faster. People often dislike their downfall by bacteria, but, as the essay on human extinction, this could, for all we know, be our own end:

And, finally, there is always the prospect of a new disease. As yet science has scarcely touched more than the fringe of the probabilities associated with the minute fungi that constitute our zymotic diseases. But the bacilli have no more settled down into their final quiescence than have men; like ourselves, they are adapting themselves to new conditions and acquiring new powers. The plagues of the Middle Ages, for instance, seem to have been begotten of a strange bacillus engendered under conditions that sanitary science, in spite of its panacea of drainage, still admits are imperfectly understood, and for all we know even now we may be quite unwittingly evolving some new and more terrible plague—a plague that will not take ten or twenty or thirty per cent., as plagues have done in the past, but the entire hundred.

Favorite Passages: From The Time Machine:

'The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in freshening gusts from the east, and the showering white flakes in the air increased in number. From the edge of the sea came a ripple and whisper. Beyond these lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives—all that was over. As the darkness thickened, the eddying flakes grew more abundant, dancing before my eyes; and the cold of the air more intense. At last, one by one, swiftly, one after the other, the white peaks of the distant hills vanished into blackness. The breeze rose to a moaning wind. I saw the black central shadow of the eclipse sweeping towards me. In another moment the pale stars alone were visible. All else was rayless obscurity. The sky was absolutely black.'

From The War of the Worlds:

I followed them to my study, and found lying on my writing-table still, with the selenite paper weight upon it, the sheet of work I had left on the afternoon of the opening of the cylinder. For a space I stood reading over my abandoned arguments. It was a paper on the probable development of Moral Ideas with the development of the civilising process; and the last sentence was the opening of a prophecy: "In about two hundred years," I had written, "we may expect——" The sentence ended abruptly. I remembered my inability to fix my mind that morning, scarcely a month gone by, and how I had broken off to get my Daily Chronicle from the newsboy. I remembered how I went down to the garden gate as he came along, and how I had listened to his odd story of "Men from Mars."

Recommendation: Both Highly Recommended.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Apostle of Andalusia

Today is the feast of St. Juan de Ávila, Doctor of the Church. John of Avila was born to a wealthy Spanish family; he became a priest and, shortly after, his parents having recently died, he gave away the family fortune to the poor and set out to become a missionary to Mexico. There were delays, however, and while he was waiting in Seville for everything to come together, and he come to the attention of the bishop of Seville, who tried to convince him to stay and be a missionary in Andalusia instead. It took a lot of persuasion, but it was eventually successful, and he became well known throughout Andalusia for the quality of his homilies. As happened with a great many popular priests and religious of the day, his opponents eventually reported him to the Inquisition, and he ended up in jail in 1532; he was there about a year before they cleared him of all charges. In his 50s, he started having serious health problems, and eventually died in Mantilla on May 10, 1569. He was beatified by Leo XIII, canonized by Paul VI, and named Doctor of the Church by Benedict XVI.

From one of his letters:

The Israelites who journeyed through the desert had appetites so disordered that they could not enjoy the manna "containing in itself all sweetness," which God sent them. Their blindness was so great that they did not find fault with themselves, or with the evil condition of their health, but with the food, which was of the most savoury kind. They asked for some other sort of viand with which they thought they would be better satisfied and pleased:—it was given them, but at the cost of their lives. We are to learn by this that even if the things of God are not always agreeable to us, still we must not wish for what is contrary to them, however delightful it may seem to us, for without doubt it would poison our souls. We should rather rid ourselves of the disgust we feel for religion, and then, when the appetites of our soul are healthy, we shall feel a right and pleasant relish for the food God gives His children.

To work slothfully and tepidly in God's service will cause you to lead so unhappy a life that you will be forced to change your ways. Besides, such a life is disloyal to our Saviour Who laboured with such ardent love to redeem us, and so willingly took up the cross that His love for us exceeded His suffering. The tepid soul cannot enjoy the world's pleasures, having given them up in the desire of doing right, and yet, for want of fervour, it does not find happiness in God. In this way such a soul is placed between two opposites, each of which is a torment to it; it suffers such severe afflictions that at last it leaves the right road, and with miserable fatuity seeks the flesh-pots of the Egypt it had left, because it cannot endure the hardships of the desert.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Natural Law Theory

(I've been feeling a bit fried the past two weeks, so this last two weeks of term will likely see more sporadic posting.)

I've been looking at various ethics textbooks, and remembering why I don't really like ethics textbooks. Here is a good example from a textbook that, for the most part, is actually better than most you can find, Lewis Vaughn's Doing Ethics (5th Edition, W. W. Norton & Co., New York: 2019):

According to Aquinas, at the heart of the traditional theory is the notion that right actions are those that accord with the natural law--the moral principles that we can "read" clearly in the very structure of nature itself, including human nature. We can look into nature and somehow uncover moral standards because nature is a certain way: it is rationally ordered and teleological (goal-directed), with every part having its own purpose or end at which it naturally aims. From this notion about nature, traditional natural law theorists draw the following conclusion: How nature is reveals how it should be. The goals to which nature inclines reveal that we should embrace and the moral purposes to which we should aspire. (p. 139).

Literally every sentence in this paragraph is wrong, and not wrong in kinda-close-but-not-quite sort of way, either -- it is wholly wrong. The 'traditional natural law theory' that it imagines is entirely fictional.

(1) The first and most glaringly obvious mistake is the confusion about what 'natural law' means. Natural law is called 'natural law' because it is the law natural to human reason. The idea in Aquinas, and he is not atypical in this, is that there are certain principles of human reason that fit the definition of law, so law is not something that is merely made by us, it is something that is a part of reason itself. The paragraph above makes the common mistake made by beginners that 'natural law' in the sense used by natural law theorists has something to do with 'law of nature' in the sense of the stable course of natural actions and changes. It is in fact essential to natural law theory that this confusion not be made; 'law of nature' in the latter sense is a figurative sense of the term 'law', but in 'natural law' in the sense used in natural law theory, the term 'law' is used in a literal sense. What is more, natural law theory, as such, doesn't have anything to do with "the very structure of nature itself"; that is a matter of metaphysics, not natural law. And while there is a broad sense in which a natural law theorist might say that we read moral principles in human nature, this is only in the sense that it is part of human nature to have reason.

(2) The precepts of natural law are not discovered by 'looking into nature'; they are principles of reason without which we cannot reason about practical matters, applied to the common good of the human race. Not only are they not read "clearly", almost all natural law theorists agree that, except for the very most general principles, they are very hard to think through. Ethics on a natural law account is as difficult as logic or mathematics; the very basics can be recognized fairly easily, but it gets difficult very, very quickly, and navigating it very far requires a lot of serious thinking. Getting to the roots of thinking necessarily involves a lot of thinking.

(3) While natural law theory is teleological, the teleology that matters is the teleology of practical reason, not just any kind of natural teleology. This is why, for instance, New Natural Law Theory, which deliberately avoids anything that even sounds like what is described in the above paragraph, is a genuine form of natural law theory -- while it minimizes teleological-sounding claims, it still regards practical reason itself as teleological, as every sane theory of practical reason does. One can argue -- and traditional natural law theorists sometimes do -- that this NNLT minimalism gives us an inadequate account of common good, but it doesn't affect NNLT's status as a natural law theory.

(4) Not only do natural law theorists not generally draw the conclusion "How nature is reveals how it should be", in the sense in which this would usually be meant, it is inconsistent with every form of natural law theory I have ever come across. Nature may be subject to any number of defects, aberrations, ludi naturae. Natural law theory is not about nature in general; it is only about human nature in a very, very specific and limited way; it is entirely and wholly concerned with what is natural to human reason.

But what is most wrong with the paragraph above is what it does not really mention at all. Any purported account of basic natural law theory that does not begin with a discussion of practical reason is already wrong. Any discussion of natural law theory that does not at any point talk about common good is already wrong. There are two things at the heart of any natural law theory: practical reason and good we share in common as human beings. In a discussion of natural law theory that is supposed to start with the basics, you cannot avoid them, or you have substituted for natural law theory, as the above paragraph does, a completely fictional theory that's not actually natural law theory.

Now, of course, you can get at both of these things in indirect ways -- talk about basic goods, or sustainable and shared rational goals, or about the rational assessment of plans, or what have you. But both practical reason and common good have to be in there somehow.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Moral Grandstanding

Public moral discourse involves talking about serious and important issues: the evaluation of conditions that greatly affect the well‐being of millions of people, the leveling of accusations that could ruin lives, the consideration of a policy that could save or ruin a state and its subjects, and so on. These are matters that generally call for other‐directed concern, and yet grandstanders find a way to make discussion at least partly about themselves. In using public moral discourse to promote an image of themselves to others, grandstanders turn their contributions to moral discourse into a vanity project.

[From Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke, "Moral Grandstanding," Philosophy & Public Affairs, Volume44, Issue3 (Summer 2016) 197-217, found online here.]

Monday, May 06, 2019

A Bow of Living Light

A Night Vision in the Colosseum at Rome
by Alexander Anderson

I sit upon a shattered shaft, as if Time, worn and blind,
Had smote himself in sudden rage and left one limb behind.
And lo the morn comes slowly up with sweet and saintly pace,
While all the crowding stars draw near to gaze upon her face.
O solemn moon, O sad sweet stars, thus looked ye in that time
When the dim years were red with blood, and drunk with lust and crime.
Come, let their spirit touch my brow, and let their spells be cast,
And fold me in their ghostly arms, and lay me in the past.

Ho! let there be a holiday that we may see once more
The wild arena thick with dust we soon shall lay with gore.
What! shall a Roman suckle not his iron strength that makes
His shield-fenced phalanx like the rock on which the ocean breaks?
Yea! by the gods, let all our veins leap with that blood anew,
Which from the she-wolf's dugs the twins in their wild hunger drew.
Hark! as a long deep sudden peal of thunder rolls along,
So through the corridors a hundred thousand footsteps throng.

Here proud imperial Titus sweeps for one swift hour a god,
And all the mightiest of Rome impatient wait his nod.
The bolts are drawn, and forth at once a hundred lions spring,
That, like a tawny whirlwind, sweep in rage around the ring.
Their naked fangs drip blood but still amid their savage play,
The Romans whisper each; 'what gladiators fight to-day?'

Clear the arena! we must see the muscles stretch and start,
Or heave in death; a life is naught if sculptors learn their art.
And forth each gladiator steps a proud look in his eye,
For well they know that Rome to-day looks on to see them die.
They fight. One falls, and falling, turns to make his last appeal,
In vain, there thunders forth the cry, 'Thou slave receive the steel.'
The victor strikes, the victim sinks — my God! what faith can come
To wrench this blood-thirst from the heart and strike the tiger dumb.

Lo, as an earthquake rends the hills that hem an inland lake,
And downward through each yawning gulf the black waves foam and shake,
So sinks the human tide, while Time, still faithful to his trust,
Rains through the years that muffle him a silent storm of dust.

Till, as a rainbow bends itself, so through the wasting night
There bursts, inwoven with keen stars, a bow of living light;
And underneath, the Cross on which with brow all dim and torn,
The Christ of sorrow, toil and pain, and of the crown of thorn,
At whom the gods of Rome fall down and shiver as they lie,
Or lift in white despair their shattered hands against the sky.
And from those grand eyes dark with love, a glorious light is shed,
The far-off nations feel its beams and bow in awe their head.

And now—as when a slave, set free from the corroding load
Of chains, springs up and in that love stands with his face to God—
'Behold our God!' they cry, and all the eager heavens above
Send on from spinning sun to sun the victor-shout of love;
For lo, the light that crowns the Cross shoots through the starry scope,
And rears against the rising years a golden arch of hope,
Through which, as when some mighty host looms upwards huge and dim,
March the great destinies to shape this God-made world and him.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

A Poem Draft

I tried looking for a good Cinco de Mayo poem earlier today; there's a lot of very boring lecturey stuff, and not much about the battle of Puebla itself. So I thought I'd try to whip up something to fill the gap, and here's a first attempt.


Zaragoza looks out on the fields wet with rain,
the mud that flows over the trampled terrain.
The wind in the face is now humid and hot.
He sighs, for he knows that his army is caught;
though at Puebla is safety, at least for a while,
defense on defense to weather the trial,
two forts newly linked by a trench laid in haste,
yet the French are now coming to lay all to waste.
Of the greatness of France, no word need be said,
the might of its force writ in soldiers now dead;
but here -- draw a line for its ruthless demand,
and let it be bitten as it stretches its hand.

Now hearken -- artillery booms out its cry;
insistent with tremor, the cannons let fly.
Too quick and too late have the French made advance,
and, seeking swift winning, they lost their best chance.
Their horses now turn in the sigh of retreat,
but soon are they met by hooves steady and fleet
as the Mexican cavalry swoops on their flanks
and troops in their ambush come out in their ranks.
The rain is now falling like heavenly grace
and all the French army is sliding in place,
and, frantic in flight, slip here and now there
as blood like to rust is incensing the air.

Zaragoza looks out on the field, lost in thought,
and sighs, for he knows that his army is caught,
and speaks the words hardest for commanders to say,
and tells his sure troops to stop now and stay:
Defeat may grow out of a win stretched too far;
repair and look well on the night filled with stars
that fortune has favored you this day to see
with eyes yet alive and spirits yet free.
The French are defeated, at least for a breath,
and now is the time to retreat from more death.
'The national arms have been covered with fame';
immortal shall be Zaragoza's own name.

Zaragoza looks out on the fields he has won.
Perhaps he thinks back on the course he has run.
Perhaps he hears pipers rejoicing in tune.
Perhaps he foresees that his death will be soon.


Rob Alspaugh recently noted the importance of recognizing the relation between Aquinas's comments on war and his comments on strife or quarrelsomeness (rixa), so I thought I'd put up a translation of ST 2-2.41.1, which (like Rob) I think is more important than it is generally regarded. This is all quite quick & rough, and no doubt needs polish. The Latin is here; the Dominican Fathers translation is here.


It seems that quarrelsomeness is not always a sin. For quarrelsomeness is seen to be a kind of controversion, so that Isidore says, in the book of Etymologies, that the quarrelsome one (rixosus) is called so from the maw (rictu) of a dog, because he is always ready to contradict, is delighted by abusiveness, and provokes controversy. But controversy is not always a sin; therefore neither is quarrelsomeness.

Further, Genesis 26 says that the servants of Isaac dug another well, and and for that they also quarreled. But it is not to be believed that the household of Isaac quarreled in public and were not contradicted by him, if it were a sin. Therefore quarrelsomeness is not a sin.

Further, quarrelsomeness is seen to be a kind of partial war. But war is not always a sin; therefore quarrelsomeness is not always a sin.

But on the contrary is the fact that in Galatians 5 quarrels are put among the works of the flesh, which are such that those who do them shall not attain to the kingdom of God. Therefore quarrels are not only sins, they are mortal sins.

I reply that it must be said that controversy means a sort of contradiction in words, just as quarrelsomeness means a sort of contradiction in deeds; thus on Galatians 5 the Gloss says that quarrels are when out of wrath one strikes another. Thus quarrelsomeness is seen to be a kind of private war, which is enacted between private persons, not from some public authority, but rather from disordered will. Therefore quarrelsomeness always means a sin. And in him who unjustly attacks another it is a mortal sin, for it is not apart from mortal sin when one inflicts noxiousness on another even by works of the hand. And in him who defends himself from it, it can be without sin, or sometimes with venial sin, and also sometimes with mortal sin, according to the different impulses of his spirit, and the different ways of defending himself. Therefore if he does it in the spirit of repulsing harm, and defends himself with due moderation, it is not a sin, nor is it properly called quarrelsomeness on his part; if instead in the spirit of vindictiveness and hatred, or defending himself in excess of due moderation, it is always a sin, but a venial one if some light movement of hatred or vindictiveness is mingled with it, or because it does not greatly exceed moderate defense; but it is mortal when in a locked-in inflexible spirit he rises against his assailant to kill him or seriously hurt him.

To the first therefore it must be said that quarrelsomeness does not simply name controversy, but three things are put forward in the preceding passage by Isidore that show the disorder of quarrels. First, swiftness of spirit to controversion, which is signified when it is said, 'always ready to contradict', that is, whether the other speaks or does well or ill. Second, that there is in him delight in contradiction, so that there follows 'is delighted by abusiveness'. Third, that he provokes others to contradiction, so that there follows, 'and provokes controversy.'

To the second it must be said that it is not there understood that the servants of Isaac quarreled, but that the inhabitants of the land quarreled with them. Therefore those sinned, not the servants of Isaac, who endured the calumny.

To the third it must be said that for a war to be just, it is necessary that it be done originating from public authority, as said above. But quarrelsomeness is from a private feeling of wrath or hatred. If therefore the servant of the prince or judge by public authority attacks some who defend themselves, he is not said to be quarrelsome, but thgose who resist public authority, so then the one who attacks does not quarrel nor sin, but those who in a disordered way defend themselves.

With True Books as with Nature

by James Russell Lowell

As one who on some well-known landscape looks,
Be it alone, or with some dear friend nigh,
Each day beholdeth fresh variety,
New harmonies of hills, and trees, and brooks, —
So is it with the worthiest choice of books,
And oftenest read: if thou no meaning spy,
Deem there is meaning wanting in thine eye;
We are so lured from judgment by the crooks
And winding ways of covert fantasy,
Or turned unwittingly down beaten tracks
Of our foregone conclusions, that we see,
In our own want, the writer's misdeemed lacks:
It is with true books as with Nature, each
New day of living doth new insight teach.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Dashed Off VIII

"'Social contract' theories are views of childless men who must have forgotten their own childhood." Jouvenel

Large-scale mobilizing for political and social causes, as opposed to grassroots organizing or formal advocacy, tends toward the cultivation of purely (and merely) symbolic victories, which are useful for mobilizing. Each form of social action, in fact, tends toward the victories that are useful for itself, and no others.

Every human Self begins as an Other dependent on people with more agency.

"Markets depend on relations of trust which they do not themselves produce." Scruton

"Proper resentment for injustice attempted, or actually committed, is the only motive which, in the eyes of the impartial spectator can justify our hurting or disturbing in any respect the happiness of our neighbour." Smith TMS vi.ii.intr.2
-- note structural similarities and material differences with the harm principle

Duty is a framework or structure for moral life.

"Vice is always capricious: virtue is regular and orderly." Smith

"True peace is only in good men and about good things." Aquinas

charity : internal :: mercy : external

The good of ecclesiastical unity is ordered to the good of divine truth.

To wage war justly requires aiming at peace.

freedom immortality God
Law of Nature nondeterminism afterlife Creator
End in Itself sourcehood ultimate judgment? Governor/Teacher
Kingdom of Ends autonomy messianic community (Cohen) Judge

Only charity is truly autonomous.

pleasure as a sense of perfection/completion (Leibniz)

the bain-marie of purgatory

atheism by root-cutting vs atheism by dumbed-down substitute

faith as a sense of truth, as an attitude of adoration, as a deference to God, as a reason for love.

the Myth of Judgment as deus ex machina (Andrea Nightingale)

the church as image of merciful providence (Gregory of Narek)

(1) Justice requires steps toward the orderly raising of children.
(2) Justice to fathers requires steps to guarantee that they can know their children.
(3) Justice to mothers requires steps to guarantee that they are consistently supported in child-rearing.
(4) Justice to all parties requires that education of children be joint and cooperative.
(5) Benevolence requires steps to mutual benefit.
(6) Prudence requires means to unify these in a sustainable, recognizable way.

Hooker on the Lord's Prayer: "the ordinary use of this very prayer hath with equal continuance accompanied the same as one of the principal and most material duties of honour done to Jesus Christ."

land-use acquisition as a check by the people on government

(1) Proper sensibles affect the senses first and per se because they are alterant qualities.
(2) Common sensibles are traceable to quantity in some way.
(3) Per accidens sensibles do not, as such, act upon the senses, but are perceived by a higher power regarding the disposition of the senses.

early modern empiricism as an attack on per accidens sensibilia

Bare carnal desire treats the other as fungible, but a sexualized affection does not necessarily do so.

Disagreement presupposes agreement.

features of healthy inquiry: freedom in inquiry, devotion to truth, truth-focused autonomy of investigation

The graces of marriage are cumulative.

To treat p as an obligation is to treat p as a fixed element, integral to the solution of the problem of what to decide.

Transportation deaths seem to be among the most common deaths in any society.

Note that Rosmini, Certainty 1063n, explicitly identifies his 'idea of being' with the light of the active intellect.

Something recognized by Aristotelian, Ramist, and Cartesian accounts of knowledge is that knowledge is partly a matter of order of cognition.

"Theoretical views, even when only partly true, or even when false, may serve to exhibit clearly and pointedly relations which would otherwise seem vague and obscure; and, with proper warning, they need not pervert our views of facts." Whewell

Skyscrapers tend to be piled horizontals, although the best known such works (e.g., the Empire State Building), do more to have a unified upward flow.

People participate in an election in more ways than just by voting.

Logical validity is the structure of an act.

aphorisms as explicit nodes in an implicit network of reasoning

"The only liberation that endures is that which breaks the chains on the human heart, the chains of sin and selfishness." Oscar Romero

Labor cannot be 'freed' from the market because markets arise out of interactions of labor. There is a naive -- or else dishonest -- strand of socialist thought that treats markets as expressions of captial; this is obvious, and dangerous nonsense, because capital is not the source of market -- labor is, when it is involved in exchange. Capital, if anything, takes control of a market by its power of *leveraged* exchange. (Similarly with views that treat markets as arising out of government action: governments are modifying labor exchanges, not creating them from scratch.)

The mode of purgatory is not to do but to receive.

Doctrine in Scripture
(1) by apparent statement
(2) by logical implication
(3) by prudential implicature
(4) by functional insinuation
(5) by use arising in prayer

(1) The human heart is easily moved from love of the dead to wish them well and pray for them.
(2) We have scriptural example, and word of this as pious, in Judah Maccabee.
(3) It is appropriate to the communion of saints.
(4) It is found, of old and in all, throughout the solemn liturgy of the Church.

By the sacrament of matrimony, the Church constantly evangelizes.

The principle of union with Christ that characterizes the Church Militant is sacramental. That which characterizes the Church Triumphant is Beatific Vision and glorious communion. This raises the question of the principle of union for the Church Patient. It is supersacramental but not yet beatific. (The role of the sacrifice of the altar suggests that there is a sacrificial aspect.)

Good service provided by a reliable business is of more value than good service provided by an unreliable one.

The education of children is doubly considered in natural law, for not only is the education of children part of the common good, but so is the parental interest in education of children.

intrinsic title to educate (parent) and extrinsic title to educate (community)

Rosmini's criticism of Kantianism: "They arbitrarily and hypothetically restrict the power of the mind, and on the basis of these arbitrary assumptions declare the facts connected with the mind to be appearances."

from Christ to us: mysteries
from us to Christ: signs of allegiance
from Christ and us to the world: signs of witness

"But you are the God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, protector of the forsaken, savior of those without hope." Judith 9:11

Acts 20:35 as insinuating unwritten tradition

The historical lines of evidence strongly suggest that the Comma Johanneum had a North African origin (Cyprian, Council of Carthage 484, Fulgentius).
The comma outside the Latin West: Mogila's 1643 Confession of Faith, the Armenian Synod of Sis 1307

over-authority, behalf-authority, self-authority

Even the most elaborate treatise is but a few slices of thought.

"No Education can be liberal which is not also religious." Whewell

"The character of a true philosopher is, not that he never conjectures hazardously, but that his conjectures are clearly conceived, and brought into rigid contact with facts." Whewell

The philosophy of liturgy of most Catholics in the 20th and early 21st centuries falls into one of two categories: romantic aestheticism and hortatory moralism. Neither is wrong as far as it goes, but both are inadequate if taken for the whole.

strictly truth-conducive reasons vs loosely truth-conducive reasons

causation by concentration (Marco Nathan): "a causal relation that is multiply realizable, probabilistic, and 'qualitatively' redundant, since the effect is triggered by changes in the concentration of actual or potential causes"

impeding vs impediment-removing vs condition-supplying causation by concentration

kenning as condensed analogy
whale-road -- road : human : ocean : whale
raven-wine -- wine : human : blood : raven
kenning as category shift
Odin's cuckoos -- ravens

All poetry is partly found poetry.

In polytheistic systems, gods have power by (1) nature/birth (2) office (3) bestowal (4) possession, depending on the situation. Thus Odin is divine by birth (1) and Allfather (2) and wise with Mimir's well (3) and his ravens Thought and Memory (4). Hercules has hsi divine power by apotheosis (3). Aphrodite has power by birth (1) but also has her girdle (4).

point, occasional recurrent, regular recurrent, continual forms of duty or obligation

"...likeness is the only concept by which we understand how things are true and false." Rosmini

The exemplar is articulable as rules, and exemplarity as regulation. But the exemplar arguably exceeds any set of rules, in that no articulation exhausts it.

inquiry as structured by the decomposition of propositions into questions
e.g.: The box is red.
(1) What is the box?
(2) What is it for it to be red?
(3) How does redness pertain to the box?

Monarchical/aristocratic societies seem to develop 'high church' approaches to religion (regardless of whether the government is itself interested or even benevolent to it).

Church Militant : Baptism :: Church Patient : Transfiguration :: Church Triumphant : Ascension

Bayesian accounts of evidence generally assume that evidence is always evidence, but this is not so, as we can see from cases of fraud, as well as cases in which evidence is contaminated in other ways.

You can often tell when social or political movements have become consumed by hubris: their language becomes confused, and they name things in misleading ways on a regular basis.

Many forms of liberal society depend on healthy traditions, the health of which they cannot guarantee.

pilgrimage vs Christian tourism

A good formal argument is one that, structurally, can easily be tollensed -- that is, the reasons for accepting it over its rivals should be evidential, not structural. It should, in effect, give one a formal choice among alternatives, which can then be assessed by evidence.

First principles are common notions in the sense that they are shared in common: common notions // common good.

the epistemological analogues of positivism (see, e.g., Rosmini's criticisms of Reid and Lamennais in Certainty)