Friday, January 18, 2019

Two New Poem Drafts


The brightness sits upon the sky,
a golden-crimson in its dye;
beneath its burning, breezes sigh
and birds awake to wing on high,
for dawn is here.
The sun is born again and, new,
the splendor shines through glints of dew
and upward beams at spreading blue
and heaven clear.

The Grapes of Wrath

The terroir of the grapes of wrath is terror;
their harvest inks the feet with blood.
They are erasure of all error.
Their aging vintage is red and good.

The wrath that overthrows the Harlot
who rules the world by might and gold
shall stain her purple robe black-scarlet
as seers in every age have told.

No longer will excuse be uttered;
and how can just assessors rue,
no matter self-defenses muttered,
that all receive as they are due?

You think you know it, mortal hearer,
the taste of justice, pure and sweet?
You know it not; a flavor dearer
is stamped in press by angels' feet.

The Moral of the Story

I rejected any approach which begins with the question 'What do modern children like?' I might be asked, 'Do you equally reject the approach which begins with the question "What do modern children need?" -- in other words, with the moral or didactic approach?' I think the answer is Yes. Not because I don't like stories to have a moral: certainly not because I think children dislike a moral. Rather because I feel sure the the question 'What do modern children need?' will not lead you to a good moral. If we ask that question we are assuming too superior an attitude. It would be better to ask 'What moral do I need?' for I think we can be sure that what does not concern us deeply will not deeply interest our readers, whatever their age. But it is better not to ask the questions at all. Let the pictures tell you their own moral. For the moral inherent in them will rise from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life.

[C. S. Lewis, "On Three Ways of Writing for Children", On Stories, HarperOne (San Francisco: 2017) pp. 62-63.]

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

I Grant I Never Saw a Goddess Go

Sonnet 130
by William Shakespeare

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

My favorite Shakespearean sonnet, which probably says something about me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


The recent 3:AM interview with Sophie Grace Chappell has reminded me of a paper in Ethics that I think is all too underappreciated: Chappell's "Glory as an ethical idea" (originally published as, and sometimes still only found under, Timothy Chappell). I don't have a great deal of sympathy with Chappell's overall aversion to theory, but I think there is a real value in recognizing gaps in the works of modern ethicists, and I think Chappell is quite right that glory is one of them.

Chappell suggests that we could get a first approximation to what is meant by glory by coining the word 'hurrahability'; more specifically, "glory is--typically--what happens when a spectacularly excellent performance within a worthwhile form of activity meets the admiration that it merits." This can in turn be clarified by appeal to MacIntyre's account of practices, that is, developed and socially established cooperative activities with internal goods, internal goods being goods that can be had in and through the activity on its own, as opposed to external goods like salaries or awards. That is to say, a practice is a cooperative activity of a recognizable kind in which we find the activity itself provides part of the reason for engaging in the activity to begin with. Sports are practices, professions (like medical professions) are often practices, arts (understood not as individual skills but as community endeavors) are practices, politics and citizenship when taken seriously tend to be practices; they are things you don't merely do, but do as a community of people engaged in the activity, because the activity is worthwhile. Money, fame, awards, and the like are added, by means of institutions, in order to sweeten the deal, make the activity more sustainable, and so forth, but the root reason for having the activity in the first place is that the activity itself involves things worth having. Because practices have internal goods, we can (and do) define better or worse ways of engaging in the activity. Better ways of being a football player are those that achieve the internal goods -- the love of the game, the athleticism, the teamwork, and so forth. Worse ways are those that raise unnecessary impediments to achieving these goods that make the practice of football worthwhile to begin with. And as we become familiar with how this works, practices naturally form standards of behavior that are peculiar to that practice.

What Chappell notes is that this means that you can identify the glorious within the context of a practice by looking at those performances or engagements in the practice that not only meet the standard but do so very conspicuously (spectacularly, dazzlingly) so that the person engaging the activity is manifesting the worthwhileness of the activity in doing so. The glorious in a practice is found in its moments of "Yes! This is what it's all about!"

The glorious is the hero-making feat, although sometimes it can be subtle or hidden from those who do not have the requisite background. Because it is tied to the achievement of standards of excellence in a practice, it follows that the glorious is, as Chappell puts it, narrative and perspectival: it needs to be contextualized so that we can understand why it is spectacular. Someone who knows nothing about a sport cannot generally recognize the glorious moments in it; someone who knows nothing about music cannot fully grasp why someone's musical accomplishments make them not just competent but in some way heroic.

Glory, however, has another aspect, which is that it provides something that we can, for lack of a better word, call "meaningfulness". Practices come in all sorts of different grades of complexity and comprehensiveness; you can have a practice that includes and organizes other practices. And part of MacIntyre's argument is that living a human life is itself something that we recognize as a practice. And as our achievements in lesser practices can contribute to the achieving of internal goods in a fully human life, so too the glory of great achievement in these practices can mark an extraordinary contribution to living well. Indeed, I think you can argue that glory is itself one of the internal goods of a human life; it is certainly a major part of the stories we tell about ourselves.

Chappell muddles all of this a bit by suggesting that this is merely the typical course for glorious feats, and that you can in fact have glory outside of worthwhile activities. I think this is a mistake arising from mixing together standards of excellence that really belong to different practices. Practices can adapt over time to new things, their standards of excellence likewise adapt, and we can be involved in a lot of them at a given time, which can occasionally leads to complications and contradictions in our assessment of the worthwhileness of things. In any case, this is enough to show that glory is an idea relevant to ethics; certainly, it is at least as important as pleasure to ethics, and we never stop hearing about pleasure and satisfaction and related terms.

It's interesting, actually, that we do so emphasize pleasure and so often forget glory, given the latter's historical importance and the fact that we clearly can still identify it all over the place today. My suspicion is that this is an artifact of the structure of our society; I think there is a good argument (one with excellent Platonic pedigree) that broadly democratic societies will tend naturally to overemphasize the importance of pleasure, because the integrity of such a society is heavily dependent on pleasing as many people as possible, while you will find a much greater emphasis on glory in broadly aristocratic societies, by which I don't mean the broadly democratic societies with residual aristocratic institutions that you find in Europe today. What makes you noble in an aristocratic society? Ultimately it is (at least in principle) glorious deeds; some extraordinary contribution that is so great that society has to recognize it formally. Aristocratic families arise because merely recognizing you for it does not seem to be enough; it is the sort of contribution for which we cannot sufficiently reward you in your lifetime, so how do we reward you for it? We do it by rewarding your family; but the expectation is that your family will carry on the tradition -- you having done great deeds and your children having been rewarded for your greatness, they then have the obligation not to be the link in the chain that gets the reward of greatness but acts shamefully. Of course, in practice, it's messy and there's a lot of maneuvering, and people are always trying to subvert the whole system for their own benefit, just as we find in broadly democratic societies. But that's the structure of aristocratic thinking in general. And you can well imagine that in such a society duty will take precedence over preference and glory will be regarded as more essential to happiness than pleasure. One would expect such a society to overemphasize the importance of glory and honor and related terms, just as we overemphasize pleasure and related terms.

Which brings me to one of the most important discussions of glory in the history of ethics, that which is found in Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy. In the Consolation, Boethius who of course has been accused of treason and put under house arrest while refused the right to defend himself, portrays himself as entering into a discussion with Philosophia herself, Lady Philosophy. Philosophy is out to cure Boethius of his illness, by which she means his distress over having lost power, reputation, and the like and being in imminent danger of losing his life. And the course of her cure is to identify a series of false goods, or goods of Fortune, things that we tend to identify with human happiness, that we pursue as if our happiness depended on them, even though they clearly have characteristics showing that they are incapable of fulfilling this function. They are mutable, they are limited, they are fragmented, they are incomplete by their very nature, and they are really in great measure outside of our control, so that our pursuit of them can be successful only as a matter of chance. The goods that she identifies as goods of Fortune are wealth, office, power, glory, and pleasure. Glory fails to be a genuine source of happiness because it depends so much on the opinion of others; and reflected glory, like that you get from having parents who did glorious things, has the obvious problem that it's not yours.

But that's not really the end of the story, because Philosophy notes that the only real explanation for why we pursue goods of Fortune as if they were real goods capable of giving us happiness is because they seem like the latter. So there must be something about glory that reflects or imitates some genuine aspect of happiness. Philosophy calls this celebritas, a sort of self-revealing clarity or splendor. This is what we are really trying to get when we pursue glory. But celebritas, the work goes on to argue, is something that can really only be found in being God. That's the secret of true happiness: Be God. Of course, Boethius is a Christian Neoplatonist, so while it's obvious that we are not God by nature, we can participate in divine life, and our particular human way of participating in divine life is virtue.

This makes it sound like a very sharp break: you have glory, which is a false source of happiness, and then there is celebritas, which we are really trying to get in our pursuing of glory, and which glory cannot give us. But, of course, you could also argue on Platonic principles that it's precisely the fact that glory is celebritas-like that is confusing us; it is an imitation or shadow of glory, a trace outline of it, and the problem is not so much that we are entirely wrong as that we are confusing a crude picture of celebritas with the celebritas itself; it doesn't really help Boethius any, languishing under house arrest with a ruined reputation while he is waiting to be executed, but you can still recognize some good in glory as a picture or reflection of something higher.

We find some minor modification of Boethius's view in Aquinas. Aquinas's account of happiness is essentially Boethian, but, being more Aristotelian than Boethius, he modifies a few points. In particular, he recognizes a distinction between perfect/complete happiness (which we cannot have in this life) and imperfect/incomplete happiness, which we can. This leads him to give a slightly different account of our mistakes in pursuit of glory (ST 2-1.2.3). Human glory -- glory depending on human opinion -- cannot be a source of real happiness for precisely the reasons Boethius states, and these are all tied to the fact that glory is an after-the-fact thing. Human recognition of our excellence depends on signs of the excellence. Thus when it is right, we already have what is the real source of happiness. When it is wrong, it's because people were misled by the signs. In either case, glory is superadded. However, there is a kind of glory that does not work this way, namely, glory depending on divine knowledge. This is more than just being recognized as excellent by omniscience; the point is that in this case we find the reverse of what we find in the human case, because divine knowledge of our excellence precedes our excellence; God's knowledge of our excellence is in fact a practical knowledge of what He does with us in union with us, and therefore it is the cause of our excellence. Human glory recognizes that we seem to have done something spectacular; divine glory makes us spectacular.

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Garden for the Wandering of Our Feet

by Archibald Lampman

What is more large than knowledge and more sweet;
Knowledge of thoughts and deeds, of rights and wrongs,
Of passions and of beauties and of songs;
Knowledge of life; to feel its great heart beat
Through all the soul upon her crystal seat;
To see, to feel, and evermore to know;
To till the old world’s wisdom till it grow
A garden for the wandering of our feet.

Oh for a life of leisure and broad hours,
To think and dream, to put away small things,
This world’s perpetual leaguer of dull naughts;
To wander like the bee among the flowers
Till old age find us weary, feet and wings
Grown heavy with the gold of many thoughts.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Athanasius of the West

Today is the memorial for St. Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church. A pagan Neoplatonist, fluent in Greek despite being born in the West, he converted to Christianity with his wife and his daughter (St. Abra) after having begun to study the Bible. Somewhere between 350 and 353, he was chosen by the Christians at Poitiers to be their bishop, popular acclamation still being a significant component in the election of bishops in those days, despite the fact that he was married. He is the first bishop of Poitiers about which we know anything definite. As the Western bishop most thoroughly fluent in Greek and familiar with Greek philosophy, he became a significant player in the Arian controversies, being several times invited to participate in discussions with Eastern bishops, and he soon became one of the most important defenders of Athanasius of his day. Thus he received the two titles by which he is often known: "Hammer of the Arians" and "Athanasius of the West". From his book On the Trinity, Book I, Section 7:

Therefore, although my soul drew joy from the apprehension of this august and unfathomable Mind, because it could worship as its own Father and Creator so limitless an Infinity, yet with a still more eager desire it sought to know the true aspect of its infinite and eternal Lord, that it might be able to believe that that immeasurable Deity was apparelled in splendour befitting the beauty of His wisdom. Then, while the devout soul was baffled and astray through its own feebleness, it caught from the prophet's voice this scale of comparison for God, admirably expressed, "By the greatness of His works and the beauty of the things that He has made the Creator of worlds is rightly discerned." The Creator of great things is supreme in greatness, of beautiful things in beauty. Since the work transcends our thoughts, all thought must be transcended by the Maker. Thus heaven and air and earth and seas are fair: fair also the whole universe, as the Greeks agree, who from its beautiful ordering call it κόσμος, that is, order. But if our thought can estimate this beauty of the universe by a natural instinct — an instinct such as we see in certain birds and beasts whose voice, though it fall below the level of our understanding, yet has a sense clear to them though they cannot utter it, and in which, since all speech is the expression of some thought, there lies a meaning patent to themselves — must not the Lord of this universal beauty be recognised as Himself most beautiful amid all the beauty that surrounds Him? For though the splendour of His eternal glory overtax our mind's best powers, it cannot fail to see that He is beautiful. We must in truth confess that God is most beautiful, and that with a beauty which, though it transcend our comprehension, forces itself upon our perception.

To Dare Some Forward Part

by Bl. John Henry Newman

"I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?"

How didst thou start, Thou Holy Baptist, bid
To pour repentance on the Sinless Brow!
Then all thy meekness, from thy hearers hid,
Beneath the Ascetic's port, and Preacher's fire,
Flow'd forth, and with a pang thou didst desire
He might be chief, not thou.

And so on us at whiles it falls, to claim
Powers that we dread, or dare some forward part;
Nor must we shrink as cravens from the blame
Of pride, in common eyes, or purpose deep;
But with pure thoughts look up to God, and keep
Our secret in our heart.

At Sea.
June 22, 1833.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Unknown Nerves

The opening of Mortiz Schlick's General Theory of Knowledge:

There was once a time when philosophers marvelled that man could move his limbs even though he was not familiar with the nerve and muscle processes on which such movements depended. They even went so far as to conclude that man was quite incapable of moving his body by himself. Whenever he wished to perform some movement, they believed, a higher power had to come to his aid and do it for him. (Schlick, General Theory of Knowledge, Blumberg, tr., Open Court [La Salle, IL: 1974] p. 1)

One does not go to logical positivists for competent history of philosophy, but this idea with which Schlick starts is not made-up, although the vagueness of it makes it at least sound exaggerated, since it's only one lineage of philosophers who reasoned in this way. The most influential proponent of the idea described here is Nicolas Malebranche, since this is one of Malebranche's arguments against second causes, and his major argument against the idea that the mind causes the body to move. We find an example of this kind of argument in the Fifteenth Elucidation to The Search after Truth:

But I deny that my will is the true cause of my arm's movement, of my mind's ideas, and of other things accompanying my volitions, for I see no relation whatever between such different things. I even see clearly that there can be no relation between the volition I have to move my arm and the agitation of the animal spirits, i.e., of certain tiny bodies whose motion and figure I do not know and which choose certain nerve canals from a million others I do not know in order to cause in me the motion I desire through an infinity of movements I do not desire. (LO 669)

I deny that there is a relation between our thoughts and the motion of matter. I deny that the soul has the least knowledge of the animal spirits of which it makes use to move the body it animates. Finally, even if the soul had an exact knowledge of the animal spirits, and even if it were capable of moving them, or of determining their motion, I deny that it could thereby select the nerve ducts, of which it has no knowledge, in order to impel the spirits into them and thus move the body with the promptness, exactness, ad force observed even in those who least know the structure of their body. (LO 671)

For, in short, since the soul is a particular cause and cannot know exactly the size and agitation of an infinite number of particles that collide with each other when the spirits are in the muscles, it could neither establish a general law of the communication of motion, nor follow it exactly had it established it. Thus, it is evident that the soul could not move its arm, even if it had the power of determining the motion of the animal spirits in the brain. (LO 671)

When you will to move your arm, you do not will the micromotions that are required for your arm to move, because you have no knowledge of them. All you do know is that you will, and the motion follows, unless something interferes. The motion operates entirely by 'a general law of communication of motion'; and laws of nature, in a Cartesian system, are acts of God.

Ironically, part of Malebranche's overall argument is that descriptions like 'the union of the mind and body' and 'the will's power to move the body' are associated with no clear idea and therefore are merely "vague and indeterminate words" that are used by prejudice so that those who use them do not know what they are saying, which is very much a forerunner of the logical positivist attack on metaphysics as meaningless.

Hume takes up Malebranche's argument in ECHU, Section VII (which repeats a significant number of Malebranchean arguments for occasionalism):

Here the mind wills a certain event: Immediately another event, unknown to ourselves, and totally different from the one intended, is produced: This event produces another, equally unknown: Till at last, through a long succession, the desired event is produced. But if the original power were felt, it must be known: Were it known, its effect also must be known; since all power is relative to its effect. And vice versa, if the effect be not known, the power cannot be known nor felt. How indeed can we be conscious of a power to move our limbs, when we have no such power; but only that to move certain animal spirits, which, though they produce at last the motion of our limbs, yet operate in such a manner as is wholly beyond our comprehension?

He later notes the positive Malebranchean proposal (in order to reject it):

In like manner, it is not any energy in the will that produces local motion in our members: It is God himself, who is pleased to second our will, in itself impotent, and to command that motion which we erroneously attribute to our own power and efficacy.

Hume thus accepts Malebranche's negative argument but not his positive solution, a recurring pattern in Section VII, which is heavily influenced by Malebranche's arguments for occasionalism. It's notable that in describing the Malebranchean position, Hume also uses the generic term 'philosophers' (that it is Malebranche's is mentioned only briefly, in passing, in a footnote at the end), as he has occasionally does throughout the Enquiry; it's a tempting hypothesis that Schlick's generic 'philosophers' is an imitation of this habit, particularly as Schlick is raising the point in order to argue that there is a flaw in skepticism.

Since it's unlikely that Schlick ever read much Malebranche himself, the only source Schlick seems to have other than Hume is Arnold Geulincx. Geulincx may actually have the priority over Malebranche as the originator of the argument, but given the late posthumous publication of most of Geulincx's works and Malebranche's general contempt for non-Catholic philosophers, it's difficult to imagine any serious influence. In any case, Geulincx's notion is summed up in his famous phrase, Quod nescis quomodo fiat, id non facis, which might be colloquially translated as, "If you don't know how you're doing it, you're not doing it." Given that this idea is more or less what Schlick will diagnose as the false assumption of skepticism about knowledge, and that Schlick will mention Geulincx twice by name later in the work, it makes sense that Geulincx would be specifically in mind here. Geulincx had been revived by authors of works about the history of philosophy and for a while was much better known than he is today.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Dashed Off I

As always, dashed-off notes.

intransitive to be: to exist
transitive to be: to cause x (to make x to be)
intr. reflexive to be: to act (to be so)
trans. reflexive to be: to do x (to enact x)

excluded middle as a feature of universes of discourse (its failure as a sign that we are not dividing one universe of discourse)

int. to live: to be alive/to live
trans. to live: to enliven/quicken/give life to x
intr. ref. to live: to live as
trans ref. to live: to give life as

int. to think: to think (to be thinking)
trans. to think: to think of x
intr. ref. to think: to reflect (to be reflective)
trans. ref. to think: to reflect on x

int. to make: to be a maker
trans. to make: to make x
intr. refl. to make: to cultivate oneself
trans. refl. to make: to cultivate oneself as x (to make oneself be x)

The Kantian postulation of God is essentially a postulation of the (ultimate) unity of practical reason.

Kant on holy wills & the postulation of the possibility of angels

Pfleiderer's argument for teleology based on will as original would also work for moral realism, with minor modification (indeed, specifically moral teleology).

Material implication detaches implication from inference; which is why 'material' should perhaps be taken as alienans.

assertion : ordinary inference :: command : challenge :: question : search?

arity is a modal notion: how many objects a relation *can* relate

self-identity as relating subject and predicate: the self-identity of F is F's being F.

first subject, first ground, first totality

'What is?' as a necessary question

Modern governments are too high-maintenance to be indefinitely sustainable.

"Truth may be safely borrowed from all quarters, and it is not the less true because it has been borrowed." Max Muller

The error of quietism involves confusing 'love God for Himself and not for the sake of reward' with 'love God without regard for reward'. It creates a fictional kind of love divorced from all hope or fulfillment.

the course of every healthy inquiry:
(1) consideration of truth, dialectically
(2) contemplation of truth, intellectually
(3) admiration of the majesty or beauty of truth

"We can easily distinguish three classes of miracles. Some miracles are ideas materialised, others facts idealised, while a third class owes its origin to a simple misunderstanding of metaphorical phraseology." Max Muller
-- This is a neat and clean summary of the liberal position on miracles.
-- Note that these are in fact the three kinds of story (although one would have to state the third less tendentiously).

Modern heresies, among those who remain Catholic, tend to be, in one way or another, misconceivings of the common good of the Church.

"Whatever in nature had to be named, could at first be named as an agent only. Why? Because the roots of language were at first expressive of agency." Muller

"To overcome an error, we must discern its partial truth." E Caird

kinds of epistemological theistic argument
(1) error (Royce)
(2) skepticism-breaking
(3) illuminationist: (a) ontologistic (b) non-ontologistic
(4) epistemic precondition

Prediction is merely a branching complexity problem; it is detachable from questions of determinism. Prediction, in other words, is a use of a system of conditionals.
Prediction is hypothetical by nature.

Note that Frege takes yes/no questions to have the same thought/proposition but not the same force.
(The usual problem raised for this is that "John knows that Bill is coming" is not equivalent to "John knows whether Bill is coming"; but this seems to assume falsely that the latter is literally an embedded question.)

The yes/no of yes/no questions works exactly like true/false.

In punishment one can
(1) communicate what is the appropriate behavior for common good (public rebuke)
(2) correct behavior by discipline so as to be more appropriate to common good (corporal, shaming)
(3) force a restitution to common good (fines, community service)
(4) impede ability to harm common good further (imprisonment, exile)
(5) end ability to harm common good further (death)

Social rights in constitutions often have addressability problems: e.g., if people shall have free water, who is being addressed, specifically in this implied imperative? This interacts with the fact that different possible addressees have different capabilities and limits.

Biblical scholars have sometimes confused literary plausibility with historical plausibility. For instance, there is a literary plausibility to JEPD, in that the distribution of divine names seems not wholly arbitrary, and exhibits at least partial patterns, and in that there are functionally coherent portions that seem otherwise concerned with particular topics. There is a literary plausibility to hypotheses about redaction and even about some historical contexts. But this is treated as if it gave historical probability to various conjectures about those contexts, actions, etc. Perhaps an even more vivid cases is the Deuteronomistic History, a hypothesis which has had plenty of insightful points with structural plausibility but could never bear the historical weight that became attributed to it, because we simply don't have that kind of evidence on that kind of scale. Yet more obvious cases can be found in historical Jesus studies. (This contrasts in part with, say, dating NT books, which has sometimes been reckless in this way but has been more concerned with evidence, and also contrasts with purely literary criticism and canonical criticism on one side and with the study of manuscript history and variants on the other.) Thus one so often gets an interesting mix of ideas, serious analysis of evidence, and discussions that proceed as if the discussants had not the faintest clue how evidence and probable reasoning actually work.

Note that Caird praises the Reformation for secularizing the faith.

Every metaphor is a seed for a story.

Human beings have a standing social fear of evil rituals (in whatever form).

If there are credences, there is no particular reason to regard them as simulations of objective chances rather than assessments of salience for practical action. Indeed, the number of accounts of psychological development and structure that would not make the latter obviously preferable is very small.

Governments in practice only respect claims of natural rights when they can interpret such claims as giving license for expanding government power.

Imperialist expansionism is the political analogue of drug addiction: first you take speed to get your work done more effectively, then you begin working to get speed at any cost; first you exert imperial power to protect your interests, then you sacrifice your interests to maintaining and expanding imperial power. Imperialism teaches desire, craving, pleonexia, as an end.

To make a factual claim about the world is to make a normative claim for reason.

The principle of noncontradiction is simultaneously an Is and an Ought.

We often think of painters as dealing with flat surfaces, but it is worthwhile to remember that painting has layers (paint layers, varnish), textures, relations to frame (note Byzantine icons, for instance). Painters use microvolume to suggest deep volume; which is different from visual effect and perspective suggestions of depth.

"The Book of Acts is rightly closed with St Paul's arrival at Rome. An insight a statesman might have envied led him step by step from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Antioch to Corinth, from Corinth to Rome. The battle for the world's faith could be finally decided nowhere but in the world's capital." Gwatkin

"The roots of a belief may be deeper than the associations which suggested it or the flimsy arguments first advanced in its support." Pringle-Pattison

"The whole mind is present in every act of the mind, and every act of the mind implies the whole mind." R. Haldane

question-settling evidence
-- NB that such evidence is not necessarily indubitable; it just settles the question. E.g., if I wonder whether I have a mouse, and I see what seems to be a mouse just scurrying under the refrigerator when I turn on the light, this settles the question, not because there is no consideration that could lead me to think I was mistaken, but because there is no point in pursuing the matter further. That particular inquiry has been complete, no matter what new inquiries I might raise later.

Every step of an inference is characterizable by a question.

What premises are empirical or not can only be determined empirically, and will vary according to the empirical means available.

For it to be possible that there is something necessary, it must be necessary that there is something necessary.

Samkara's principle: Nothing even appears to be like a genuine impossibility.

Appearing-not-to-be requires relevant comprehensive search. E.g., I look over the whole room, therefore there appears to be no dog in the room. But if I only look in a corner, it does not appear to me that there is no dog in the room, but only that there is no dog in the corner. What is more, it requires that I have done a relevant search, or an action equivalent to one, in order to find what is being looked for.

external world fictionalism
-- note that Berkelely has often been read as such, although he is in fact an external world structuralist.

Note that Tillich has something like an erotetic ontological argument ("The question of God is possible because an awareness of God is present in the question of God") but characterizes it as having a transcendental structure ("This awareness precedes the question. It is not the result of the argument but its presupposition"). Systematic Theology I, 206. He does not, however, regard it as actually an argument, either.

A society involves a coming together (faith-like) in moving to a goal (hope-like) which must be accomplished by actions appropriate to a goal (love-like).

immersed vs transcending hope
E.g., a sick person may have hope for a cure, but also might have hope independent of the matter of sickness or health, e.g., hope for one's children.

In Humean ethics, the magnetism of the good is sympathy itself.

Both 'propositional meaning' and 'emotive meaning' are always operative.

Stevenson's account, despite his intent, does not save disagreement about the good; disagreement in interest is not disagreement about anything; it's just a discord of interests.

generalization to salience values, salience conditions
Salience for
-- assertions: truth (being assertible)
-- imperatives: being in force
-- questions: being askable
-- wishes: being wished (to-be-wished?)

May John get well! Therefore John is not yet well.
God save the Queen! Therefore there is a Queen
If only I were rich! Therefore I am not yet rich.

"A Sign is nothing but a correlative Effect from the Same Cause." Hume ECHU (1750)
This was dropped from later editions.

assertive imperatives vs vocative imperatives

assertions : questions :: imperatives : optatives

(1) Rationality requires consistency in choice.
(2) Consistency in choice requires, for social agents, some form of governance.

optative ontological argument?
'May there be a God'; therefore, there is a God.
This *does* seem closely analogous to the Zenonian argument, but obviously the issue is how the optative would work with the necessity.

The 'feeling of understanding' is often more a feeling of breaking through to a new perspective.

Human sympathy is always approximative.

'no evil can overcome wisdom' (Wis 7:30)

You can build propositions just from vocatives and interjections. (You!--Wow!)

Hope and forgiveness are interlinked.

Caird: the phenomenal/noumenal distinction should instead be understood as a distinction between the world as imperfectly conceived and the world as more adequately conceived.

hierarchy as a kind of semiosis

By the authority of Christ the King, the Church has an inalienable right not only to Catholic places of worship and eleemosynary institutions, but also Catholic schools, Catholic hospitals, Catholic markets, and all such similar things, as prudence determines them appropriate and feasible.

A society can go far just on customs of trustworthiness, accountability, and personal initiative.

modestia as communication of dignity

analogies as the diagrams of sacramental theology

(1) A considerable portion of 'seemings' are crude and dubitable on their face; they have no 'felt verdicality' or 'assertiveness' or 'forcefulness'.
(2) 'Seeming' is an analogical, not a univocal term.
(3) 'Felt veridicality' is usually nothing other than apparent inevitability in practice or inquiry.
(4) We are often in doubt about how things seem.
(5) We can often change how things seem by changing perspective.
(6) How things seem is often contradictory.
(7) The role of seeming in inference and inquiry is entirely a matter of its being an effect.

Only by an absurdity argument against God's existence (or anything similar) can one rationally reject PSR -- i.e., by showing a case in which PSR results in an actual absurdity.

A brute fact, in the sense inconsistent with PSR, cannot be composite because its constituents are reasons explaining its being the fact it is. It cannot have intrinsically grounded relations for the same reason.

The Holy Spirit inspires sanctity in some, and part of this sanctity is a power of attracting others to sanctity, as magnet magnetizes iron; from these saints chains of others are suspended. Through these, God sways yet more souls, one drawn to the hints of sanctity in another. But there are countervailing forces, and the influence weakens down the chain.

"If ritual is suppressed in one form, it crops up in others." Mary Douglas

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that democratic popular-governance institutions are increasingly occupying a purely ceremonial role, like kings giving way to parliaments. This is related to their increase in nominal prestige; they give dignity and communicate legitimacy to other things without having much effect themselves; everyone lauds them and everyone maneuvers around them to do whatever they like.

Nomen naturae importat habitudinem principii. (Aquinas, In Phys II)

Dodgson to Mary Brown on hell, 28 June 1889

"Everything is real, so long as you do not take it for more than it is." Bosanquet

time as measure vs time as the life of the World Soul (Plotinus)

In politics, people regularly overshoot what they believe in order, first, to build a protective ring around what they do believe, and, second, to counterbalance what they think are their most serious opponents.

The actual world exhibits objective possibilities organized by causal order.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Structures of Fantasy

In her excellent Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn identifies four major forms of fantasy literature, by looking at the way in which the fantastic enters into the story, which might be roughly characterized in the following way, using Mendlesohn's labels:

(1) Portal-Quest: The characters enter by some means into a fantastic world.
(2) Immersive: The story occurs in a fantastic world treated as the real world.
(3) Intrusion: The fantastic enters into and disrupts the real world as something foreign to it.
(4) Liminal: The fantastic enters into the real world as if it were part of the real world.

I think we can generalize this a bit, and a notation would be handy in doing so. So let's take a standard set-up, the contrast between the mundane and the fantastic:


There are a few things that need to be recognized about this distinction. It will be important for later that the contrast between the mundane and the fantastic is relative, not absolute; the mundane is the 'rest state' or 'reference point' in the narrative. 'Mundane' here is not a synonym for 'real' and something obviously real can be fantastic relative to someone else. (And both are common parts of human experience. If you fall asleep and dream and then wake-up, you've from mundane to fantastic to mundane again. If you walk through a dark wood and get creeped out, you're in a fantastic state relative to your usual state.) Despite its possibly counterintuitive sound, the fantastic is also the more fundamental of the two notions -- nothing in a narrative is recognizable as mundane except in contrast to the fantastic, but the fantastic in a narrative is fantastic directly to the hearer or reader. While it's tempting to talk about 'the mundane world' and 'the fantastic world', in many situations we are not talking about worlds, but just states or contexts.

The notation we have so far doesn't of itself constitute any sort of story at all; it's just the contrast between the mundane and the fantastic. To get a story we have to do something to that contrast. There are several things we can do.

A mundane element can move into a fantastic context.

A fantastic element can move into a mundane context.

A context recognizable as mundane can turn out also to be fantastic.

A context recognizable as fantastic can be treated as mundane.

These correspond to Mendlesohn's four major kinds of fantasy (portal-quest, intrusion, liminal, and immersive, respectively). However, again, I want to understand these at a more general level; this is not an empirical classification, but a kind of narrative movement. To these four, I think we need to add a fifth:

It can be deliberately ambiguous whether we are dealing with the mundane or fantastic. (This is often how writers try to handle Christmas stories in movies and television shows -- everything is mundane and not fantastic, but there's that one strange thing, so that maybe you were dealing with the fantastic all along? That department store Santa couldn't have really been Santa Claus -- and yet....)

We can call these five 'the standard fantasy structures'. It's important to note that these are structures, not genres or subgenres, although you could define genres of fantasy in terms of them. Because the distinction between the mundane and the fantastic is a relative one, these structures can be nested. You can have a perfectly good story that has a simple fantasy structure. But you can also have more complicated structures, and some of the great works are partly so interesting precisely because of their more complicated structures. For instance, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a paradigmatic example of a portal-quest fantasy, so its pivotal structure is naturally M|>F. The Pevensies enter Narnia. But this is not a complete characterization of the fantasy structure of the work. For one thing, Lucy enters the wardrobe, M|>F, but she returns and seems to her brothers and sister to going crazy. So Lucy's entering the wardrobe and return arguably means that she is the fantastic intruding on the mundane state of her siblings, M>|(M|>F). They end up all going through the wardrobe despite avoiding the wardrobe room because the Macready is leading a tour of the house and she somehow seems to be everywhere until the children have no choice except to enter the wardrobe; the mundane world turns out to be (maybe) fantastic already, although it's not clear, M?(M|>|(M|>F)). In Narnia they meet up with the Beavers and start getting used to the place. But a fantastic thing has happened: Aslan has returned. Narnia has become the reference point; Aslan is fantastic relative to it and is intruding into it, M?(M|>|(M|>F))|F. This is actually extraordinarily important for the character of the story: we've entered a fantastic world and a more fantastic thing is entering into that world. But this is not the end of it. Because of Edmund's betrayal, Aslan has to save him in a way that complies with the Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time, which is a fantastic element discovered in Narnia-as-mundane, (M?(M|>|(M|>F))|F)F|. But, of course, there is a Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time, ((M?(M|>|(M|>F))|F)F|)F|. The Pevensies, however, become Kings and Queens, and later return through the wardrobe again, yet changed, a fantastic element entering the mundane: M<|(((M?(M|>|(M|>F))|F)F|)F|).

Likewise, the pivotal structure of The Lord of the Rings is the fantastic as mundane, since Middle Earth is a contained context and we never enter or leave it: |FM. But the full structure is immensely more complicated, since, for instance, Rohan is mundane compared to Gondor and the Shire is mundane compared to both. Nor is this interaction between mundane and fantastic built in a straightforward fashion of increasing fantastic; the mundane hobbits find the fantastic Riders intruding, and they flee and the story steps up to fantastic Tom Bombadil, and then steps back down to comparatively mundane Elves. This is why quests have become a cliche in fantasy; Tolkien's very sophisticated use of quest structure to take us naturally and easily through a dizzying array of different fantasy structures has led to others trying to replicate the richness of that experience, sometimes using Tolkien's own techniques and sometimes just doing cargo cult imitations.

However, while fantasy structures can nest, this is not the only way they can be related. For instance, the first meeting with Mr Tumnus in LWW is set up simultaneously as mundane Lucy entering fantastic Narnia and as fantastic Daughter of Eve entering mundane Narnia, and done so extraordinarily well. This is done in a way even more central to the story in Prince Caspian: the mundane Pevensies entering fantastic Narnia again are also the fantastic legendary Kings and Queens entering mundane Narnia. Is it primarily a M|>F Pevensie tale or a M<|F Caspian tale? These are not nested structures, furthering a plot in an orderly way, but two structures being used to build the overall story, each treated alternately, and in some passages more or less simultaneously, as if it is the structure of the story. Likewise, while fantasy structures essential to plot tend to nest, unless they are badly done, fantasy structures that are a matter of episode will tend to float relatively free. Lucy having tea with Mr Tumnus is a structured as a |FM that does not, in itself, constitute a plot-building structure but a character-building one; it does not need to connect up with another fantasy structure because the book is not an account of the adventures of a Faun. It's just there so that Mr Tumnus matters and the stage is set for a later crisis.

One sees the distinction very well in cases where a fantastic structure basically floats free in a context that is deliberately eschewing anything fantastic. Dream and hallucination sequences are standard ways in which you get fantasy structures in works that are not part of the fantasy genre by any stretch of the imagination, and you could very well have a story that has nothing fantastic except a dream or a hallucination.

There can also be a great deal of ambiguity about whether a given fantasy structure is of a particular kind or is even in play. For instance, above I suggested that when Lucy returns from Narnia the first time, she comes back as a fantastic intrusion. One could dispute this, I think, although I think some of the structure of the story (in particular, how the Professor handles the matter) requires it. When Edmund goes and returns, that's pretty clearly M|>F for Edmund, but it's not shifting the reader or the other characters about at all; it's not a part of the nested structure of the plot, but just a stage-setting and character-building structure. But one could perhaps say that Lucy's return (although not her going) should be treated the same way, and not, as I've depicted, as an important element of the nested structures constituting the plot. This kind of dispute is unavoidable, I think; people will sometimes just read a story differently. This is not to say that such disputes are irresolvable, of course -- it's a very a great error to assume that the inevitability of dispute implies the irresolvability of dispute. For instance, it's inevitable that people will catch different moral tones in reading a work, and therefore disagree; but people who read The Lord of the Rings as a simplistic tale of Good vs. Evil are provably reading it badly -- you can point to a large quantity of evidence in the story that shows that they are not getting the moral tones right. Likewise, there will inevitably be disputes about how the mundane and the fantastic interact in any very sophisticated story; but there is evidence from which to argue. However, the evidence cannot be assumed in every case to decide every dispute, and if that's the case, we are left with an ambiguity. A general rule, though, is that anything that could happen naturally with regard to a story is something that could be used deliberately by a storyteller, so there may well be cases in which the ambiguity is entirely deliberate and an essential part of the story.

A Vague and Starry Magic

by James Russell Lowell

The moon shines white and silent
On the mist, which, like a tide
Of some enchanted ocean,
O'er the wide marsh doth glide,
Spreading its ghost-like billows
Silently far and wide.

A vague and starry magic
Makes all things mysteries,
And lures the earth's dumb spirit
Up to the longing skies,--
I seem to hear dim whispers,
And tremulous replies.

The fireflies o'er the meadow
In pulses come and go;
The elm-trees' heavy shadow
Weighs on the grass below;
And faintly from the distance
The dreaming cock doth crow.

All things look strange and mystic,
The very bushes swell
And take wild shapes and motions,
As if beneath a spell;
They seem not the same lilacs
From childhood known so well.

The snow of deepest silence
O'er everything doth fall,
So beautiful and quiet,
And yet so like a pall,
As if all life were ended,
And rest were come to all.

O wild and wondrous midnight,
There is a might in thee
To make the charmed body
Almost like spirit be,
And give it some faint glimpses
Of immortality!

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Evening Note for Tuesday, January 8

Thought for the Evening: Assertion, Fiction, and Truth

It's a common view in contemporary philosophy of language that the act of assertion has some special link with truth. A common view is that this is through some norm of assertion which is violated if assertion is detached from truth. There are different such norms proposed -- perhaps the norm is that we should only assert what is true, or that we should only assert what we reasonably believe to be true, or that we should only assert what we know to be true. It's also fairly commonly the case that people want to take 'truth' here as a specific kind of thing. For instance, is the following true?

Sherlock Holmes lives on Baker Street.
The usual assumption in these kinds of discussion is that it is really not. But we assert things with fictional presuppositions all the time, and we don't normally have any problem with this. As I've noted before, I seriously doubt that any of the proposed norms can account for all the things we really need assertion to do. But even if that were not so, it seems to me to be quite obvious that any account of the truth of an assertion can treat 'truth' as univocal in all cases. There is a perfectly straightforward sense in which it is true that Sherlock Holmes lives on Baker Street, and no reason to hold that this is merely metaphorical or that it is a shorthand for a more elaborate and indirect kind of truth. If I ask where Sherlock Holmes lives, there are many situations in which it would be flat-out wrong to deny that he lives on Baker Street. It is true that Sherlock Holmes lives on Baker Street; it is true that Kryptonians like Superman are psychokinetics; it is true that Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth; it is true that Eustace became a dragon. And there is no problem with saying so, because while different cases of 'true' are related to each other, there is no reason whatsoever to think that they are all the same, or that true in a story is somehow not really true at all. To be sure, there are many cases in which true in a story would not be the right kind of 'true' for whatever we are doing; but as anybody knows from those tiresome hyperliteralists who cannot enjoy a story for its own sake, assuming that 'true' in a nonfictional sense (for instance, true insofar as our best scientific theories suggest) is always necessarily relevant is also an intellectual defect. Nor does this cause any problems for logical reasoning at all, as long as you aren't unreasonably shifting the sense of 'true' in the middle of your argument.

One of the recurring problems of much philosophy of language is the attempt to overload linguistic acts with special significance in order to get some solution to some problem or other. We see this in some of the elaborate epicycle-ridden systems people develop with respect to the paradox of fiction, merely in order to deny that we can have emotional attachments to fictional characters, on the ground that they do not exist. But whether a fictional character exists doesn't change anything about the telling of a story itself; if you tell the same story in a situation in which people think the character exists, in a situation in which people think the character doesn't exist, and in a third situation in which people are unsure whether the character exists or not, nothing would have to change in how the storytelling itself works on us. If there were a major difference, we would have reason to say that we are never emotionally responding to the storytelling itself. There is no difference between describing a fictional character and describing a real person; the bare act of description is not so loaded with metaphysics that it can distinguish the two, and if there is a difference in our emotional responses to the two cases, it would have to depend on things that are not particularly relevant to our responses to description, whether what is described exists or not. And likewise it's an error to think that assertion as such has much to do with a specific metaphysics of truth; we may respond to it differently depending on some metaphysical view, but nothing about assertion itself is affected by any of these things. Why would it be?

When we look at the full panoply of assertions we make -- and, indeed, reasonably make -- there seems very little reason to think that assertion, simply considered as such, always has to be concerned with truth; and even when it is concerned with truth, there seems very little reason to think that it will always be concerned with truth in exactly the same way. It's often noted that we criticize false assertions as improper; but we don't actually seem to criticize false assertions as being in any way defective as assertions -- we criticize them for being morally or practically inappropriate in a context. Truth, and whatever kind of truth is relevant in a given case, is important for assertion for moral and practical reasons that have to do with the aims of reason. But this is an indirect importance; if assertion is detached from truth, or from a specific kind of truth, it still works perfectly well as an assertion.

If this is the case, as I think it is, then a common philosophical assumption -- that you can learn something about truth by investigating assertion itself -- is not true. You might learn something by investigating particular kinds of assertions in particular kinds of cases, but for that to be done you would already need to know enough about truth to select out the kinds of assertions and kinds of contexts to study. From assertion itself you will learn nothing much about truth, just as you will learn nothing much about real existence or fictional existence from description, and nothing much about real relations among events from narration, despite the fact that we can and do use all of these acts to talk about all of these things.

Various Links of Interest

* Vaneesa Cook, Why divine immanence mattered for the Civil Rights struggle

* Jessica Murdoch, On the Relationship Between Sanctity and Knowledge: Holiness as an Epistemological Criterion in St. Thomas

* Kris McDaniel, A Philosophical Model of the Distinction between Appearances and Things in Themselves (PDF link a bit more than halfway down the page under "History of Philosophy")

* Working Off Yesterday's Technology at "DarwinCatholic"

* And MrsD recently took up the challenge of writing a story that has all the standard tropes of a Hallmark Christmas movie while giving them an occasionally different twist: Christmas in Luxembourg, Ohio.


* Scott Alexander has a nice review of Kuhn's The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions, one that (thankfully) avoids the usual mistakes people make about Kuhn. There's more that might be said on a few issues, of course. For instance, there is, in principle, no difficulty with finding the paradigms for a science, since strictly speaking you just look in the textbooks: the paradigms are the examples that keep being used to teach the theory. But it was recognized very soon after the book was written that Kuhn sometimes uses 'paradigm' in this sense, sometimes for a family of such examples, sometimes for central features of such examples, sometimes for concepts used in them, sometimes for methods exemplified by them, sometimes metonymically for the theory or for the general view in which the paradigm is seen as plausible, etc. And as David Chapman notes in the comments, the historical location of the work, published in 1962, is quite important for understanding it; logical positivism, once so impressive-seeming, was in its late stages of collapse, but its influence was still everywhere (particularly in the obsessive interest in theory and the tendency to treat physics as the paradigmatic science). While people had taken a history-of-science approach to discussing science before, Kuhn's discussion came at a time during which a lot of people were particularly willing to listen to alternatives to abstract discussions of different formal and semi-formal systems for modeling the process of theory disconfirmation and falsification. It gave them a reason to consider both actual history and messy proposals that could not be captured in a logical system. That Kuhn is often vague and ambiguous at important points arguably was part of what made the work a success -- different people could take him in different ways; that's pretty much what happened, of course, sometimes to Kuhn's exasperation.

I think you can argue that Structure is in some ways to twentieth-century philosophy of science what Richard Whately's Logic was to the field of logic in the nineteenth century. Whately did come up with some interesting things on his own, but his real importance was that he gave a large number of people a new and interesting starting point, and those people did yet more new things with it, to the considerable benefit of the field. So also with Kuhn: his primary importance lies in having shaken things up at the right time.

Currently Reading

C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
Augustine, Against the Academicians and The Teacher
Catarina Dutilh Novaes, Formalizing Medieval Logical Theories

And the Wind, the Wind in My Sails

The Windmill
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Behold! a giant am I!
Aloft here in my tower,
With my granite jaws I devour
The maize, and the wheat, and the rye,
And grind them into flour.

I look down over the farms;
In the fields of grain I see
The harvest that is to be,
And I fling to the air my arms,
For I know it is all for me.

I hear the sound of flails
Far off, from the threshing-floors
In barns, with their open doors,
And the wind, the wind in my sails,
Louder and louder roars.

I stand here in my place,
With my foot on the rock below,
And whichever way it may blow,
I meet it face to face,
As a brave man meets his foe.

And while we wrestle and strive,
My master, the miller, stands
And feeds me with his hands;
For he knows who makes him thrive,
Who makes him lord of lands.

On Sundays I take my rest;
Church-going bells begin
Their low, melodious din;
I cross my arms on my breast,
And all is peace within.

Monday, January 07, 2019

The Pancratiast

I have already once observed in a contest of pancratiasts how one of the combatants inflicted blows with hands and feet, all well aimed, and omitted nothing that could lead to his victory, but then exhausted and weakened ultimately quit the arena without the crown, whereas the one receiving the blows, a firm mass of compact flesh, dour, solid, full of the elasticity of the true athlete, all muscle, hard as rock or iron, gave no ground in the face of the blows, but by his patient and steadfast endurance reduced the strength of his adversary until he had attained complete victory. Much the same, it seems to me, is the situation of the virtuous man; his soul well fortified through firm reasoning, he compels the one who acts with violence to sink in exhaustion, sooner than himself submit to do anything contrary to his judgment.

[Philo of Alexandria, Quod Omnis Probis Liber Sit 26-27, as translated in Philo of Alexandria, The Contemplative Life, the Giants, and Selections, Winston, tr., Paulist Press (Ramsey, NJ: 1981), p. 77. A different translation of the same passage is available here.]

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Fortnightly Book, January 6

The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: 'Let's try to make a story about it.'

[C. S. Lewis, "It All Began with a Picture...", On Stories, and Other Essays in Literature, HarperOne (San Francisco: 2017) pp. 79-80.]

The next fortnightly book will be The Chronicles of Narnia, all seven books. The series got its name from Roger Lancelyn Green around the time of the publication of The Silver Chair.

There is, of course, the question of the order in which they should be read. There are three orders that are immediately on the table:

Order of Writing
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Dawn Treader
The Horse and His Boy
The Silver Chair
The Last Battle
The Magician's Nephew

Order of Publication
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician's Nephew
The Last Battle

Internal Chronological Order
The Magician's Nephew
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Horse and His Boy
Prince Caspian
The Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Last Battle

Lewis himself, in response to a young fan asking whether the internal or the publication order was the better order for reading, said that possibly it did not matter, since the whole series wasn't planned out beforehand. He's usually thought to have preferred the internal order, but I think his actual comments are more ambiguous than that; others have noted that he never changed the order of the series himself. I remember when I was in elementary school that librarians were plugging the internal order, and this has become common today. However, there seems to me to be a fundamental problem with the internal order: the entry into Narnia should be by wardrobe. The story structurally works better if it begins in medias res, in the thick of the tale. (For one thing, The Magician's Nephew works better paired with The Last Battle as a sort of higher-order comment on the rest, especially since the story makes more sense on assumption of familiarity with Narnia.) And the whole thing began with a picture about Faun. I just can't get on board with an order that doesn't start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

But it is true that Lewis was not primarily concerned with matters of order. So I think for this reading I will go with the order in which Lewis is generally thought to have written the books, in which the beginning of the tale is the end of the series. It also has the benefit that The Dawn Treader and The Horse and His Boy pair very well (adventure from and to Narnia), as do The Silver Chair and The Last Battle (the darker books of the series, both concerned with deception).

Somewhere I have the Focus on the Family adaptation on CD, so I might dig those out for a re-hearing.

Music on My Mind

Today, of course, is the Holy Feast of the Epiphany.

The Hound + The Fox (with Tim Foust), "We Three Kings". The myrrh verse just hits me every time I hear this song, in any version.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Boole's The Laws of Thought as a Text on Natural Theology

George Boole's The Laws of Thought (the longer title being An Investigation of the Laws of Thought on Which are Founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities) is one of the classic works in logic. Published in 1854 and showing that you could do a very large amount of logic using an algebra in which x2=x was treated as a fundamental principle, it made a significant splash, but some of the choices made by Boole -- in particular, his use of exclusive disjunction (which was deliberate, and which Boole would insist was necessary to the end of his life) and his allowance of uninterpretable terms struck most of his contemporaries as odd, and eventually led them to develop what we today call Boolean algebra, which works on Boole's ideas but throws out such oddities. This has led people, I think, not to fully understand what Boole was doing; what we call Boolean algebra is simply not appropriate to what Boole was trying to do to begin with.

What Boole was doing was in the title itself: The Laws of Thought is not a discussion of a pure abstract system, but a mathematical investigation of an empirical phenomenon, thought, on analogy with mathematical physics. Boole recognizes that there are differences between the mental and the physical, and that these can sometimes be relevant to the course of the investigation, but the analogy on its own makes obvious that we should not worry about uninterpretable terms. In the mathematical derivations used in physics, nothing requires that the mathematical steps be describing physical steps. As long as your starting point describes something physical and your ending point describes something physical, you are fine; the rest may be physically interpretable or it may just be mathematical bookkeeping. And a number of features of Boole's argument can only be properly understood in light of this approach. For instance, in one passage that is often skipped over by people who are only interested in the logical methods, Boole makes appeals to how poetry works. If you're only interested in the mathematical method, you might treat this as a quaint example. But a close examination of the brief discussion makes clear that it is actually a major pillar of Boole's argument. Poetic language is expression of thought that is not encumbered by ordinary practical constraints; it is intelligible but free. Showing that poets regularly make use of commutativity (e.g., treating adjectives as switchable) gives us reason to think that it's reasonable to treat commutativity as part of the underlying structure of thought; if we find commutativity-violating cases, we can look for the additional factors (practical limitations, for instance) that make those cases different from the most unrestricted case. The Laws of Thought is about the laws of thought.

If you read the whole work, however, it becomes obvious that there is a lot of natural theology in it. Theology was one of Boole's major interests; he read extensively in it. Many of the examples given in The Laws of Thought are theological in character, and there is no doubt that one of the purposes of this is to show the value of Boole's methods in analyzing arguments even in quite difficult fields of thought. But here again, focusing on the structure of the method alone overlooks certain important structural features of the argument itself. One of the chapters devoted to showing the power of the method -- Chapter XIII -- uses algebra to discuss arguments in Clarke's Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God and Spinoza's Ethics. You could very well treat this as a matter of happenstance, due to Boole's interests, or as just a handy set of examples, but you would be wrong. Boole does not confine himself to simply showing that you can characterize the arguments using his algebraic methods, but instead takes the trouble to use that as a platform for deeper considerations. Boole, remember, is not barely interested in the use of algebra to do something relevant to logic; he is trying to make progress in understanding the constitution of the mind, the laws of thought, analogous to the way the physicist seeks to make progress in understanding the constitution of the world and the laws of nature. And this is precisely what he tries to do. Boole has an obviously high opinion of Clarke and a low opinion of Spinoza, but his overall thrust is to argue that the a priori approach they both favor is not really tenable. In Spinoza's case, Boole thinks the algebraic method shows that there is not much happening beyond some rather trivial manipulation of terms. Clarke, he thinks, is generally doing things that are more subtle. But in both cases, the overall conclusion that can be derived is that the argumentative part of the arguments is not doing the actual work. While Boole has a high opinion of Clarke's logical acumen, the discovery of truth does not primarily consist in the logical transformations that are traced by the algebra.

When Joseph Butler was a student, he wrote a number of letters to Samuel Clarke with objections to certain points in Clarke's Demonstration; the correspondence has been preserved, and serves an important role in Boole's analysis. The correspondence established that some of Clarke's argumentation depended on the principle that whatever is absolutely necessary is necessary at all places and times. Butler objected that necessary existence seems to require only that the necessarily existent exist somewhere and at some time, assuming, of course, that all existing is existing somewhere and at some time. Commenting on the correspondence, Boole says,

The objections of Butler are precisely those which would occur to an acute mind impressed with the conviction, that upon the sifting of first principles, rather than upon any mechanical dexterity of reasoning, the successful investigation of truth mainly depends. (p. 200)

This conviction attributed to Butler is also Boole's. (It's notable, incidentally, that every one of the several mentions of and allusions to Butler in the work are favorable and express Boole's agreement with Butler's approach.) Boole takes a priori approaches in theological matters to put the cart before the horse. Discussions of these difficult metaphysical topics must begin with analogy and probable induction, because an inquiry into the laws of thought makes clear how limited our pure thinking-capacity is:

To infer the existence of an intelligent cause from the teeming evidences of surrounding design, to rise to the conception of a moral Governor of the world, from the study of the constitution and the moral provisions of our own nature;--these, though but the feeble steps of an understanding limited in its faculties and its materials of knowledge, are of more avail than the ambitious attempt to arrive at a certainty unattainable on the ground of natural religion. And as these were the most ancient, so are they still the most solid foundations, Revelation being set apart, of the belief that the course of this world is not abandoned to chance and inexorable fate. (pp. 217-218).

That this is all not just a digression becomes clear given the remaining course of the book. Boole immediately goes on to discuss probability, with the ultimate conclusion that Algebra, Logic, and Theory of Probability all have extensive analogies with each other, and the subordinate conclusion that when we think probabilistically about causal order, the algebra inevitably involves terms to which we cannot definitely assign a numerical value. Probable reasoning about causes is only possible by assuming hypotheses; but this does not mean that the causal order is itself merely hypothetical. Rather, there are steps that are not measurable but real. And this is precisely the point that Boole draws in the final chapter of the work, when he reiterates that he is interested in understanding the constitution of the mind. Boole takes it, as it is a question of the Order of things, that we can only draw probable inferences involving hypotheses, but it is an error to treat this as making the inferences insignificant. (This is as true when we are talking about laws of thought as when we are talking about laws of nature.) In every kind of causal reasoning, the make-up of our minds is playing a key role. How do we move from particular data to general conceptions? "It is the ability inherent in our nature to appreciate Order, and the concurrent presumption, however founded, that the phaenomena of Nature are connected by a principle of Order" (p. 403). This means that necessary truths should probably be seen more as limiting suppositions than as things we know distinctly in themselves; our approach should be generally a posteriori.

Further, Boole returns to the question of a priori method in metaphysical and theological questions, and the argument again shows that he is interested in the constitution of the mind and not just the algebraic method. Building on his algebraic methods, he tries to explain why the a priori approach always recurs in the history of thought. In Boole's algebra, the number 1 is found all over the place. It represents what he calls the 'universe of discourse', the ultimate subject of discussion. Thus, if I say, "There is nothing in the refrigerator", this can actually mean many different things, depending on whether we assume that the overall discussion is about milk, food in general, or matter. If the universe of discourse represents material objects, there is a material void in the refrigerator; if it represents food, there may be things like air but not things like pickles; if it represents milk, there may be pickles, but there won't be milk. The universe of discourse shows up as 1 in Boole's algebra, and Boole takes this not to be an accident: logical universe is closely analogous to numerical unity, and human thought is so constituted as to trace everything it considers to some kind of primal unity (p. 411). Thus we get various mysticisms of The One, and so forth. And the fact that we do tend to think this way suggests the probable hypothesis of there being some sort of Primal Unity such as natural theology indicates. But it also shows that what is occurring in a priori approaches to natural theology is the assumption that the natural world has the unity-based structure we are inclined by the constitution of our thought to assume for it, combined with the assumption that we have direct insight into how the primary unity is to be interpreted. But as we ascend from particulars to general conceptions, this interpretation is really something we could only get by analogy and probable induction. And similar considerations can be traced with other foundational elements in the laws of thought as Boole has traced them out algebraically.

Boole concedes that some people might regard all of these theological and metaphysical discussions as a digression, but they are not; this in fact how he ends the book:

To some they will appear foreign to the professed design of this work. But the consideration of them has arisen naturally, either out of the speculations which that design involved, or in the course of reading and reflection which seemed necessary to its accomplishment. (p. 424)

And this is confirmed by Mary Everett Boole, George Boole's wife, who in a published letter usually titled "Indian Thought and Western Science in the Nineteenth Century" explicitly lays out precisely this interpretation of The Laws of Thought. First, the originary idea:

My husband told me that when he was a lad of seventeen a thought struck himsuddenly, which became the foundation of all his future discoveries. It was a flash of psychological insight into the conditions under which a mind most readily accumulatesknowledge. Many young people have similar flashes of revelation as to the nature of their own mental powers; those to whom they occur often become distinguished in some branch of learning; but to no one individual does the revelation come with sufficient clearness to enablehim to explain to others the true secret of his success....But by the help of a learned Jew in Lincoln he found out the true nature of the discovery which had dawned onhim. This was that man's mind works by means of some mechanism which "functions normally towards Monism."

This, she says, was the point in the writing of The Laws of Thought:

If he had stated it in words, he would have been entangled in an unseemly theological skirmish. He presented the truth to the learned, clothed in a veil so transparent that it is difficult to conceive how any human being could have been blinded by it; he proved that by the mere device of always writing the symbol 1 for whatever is the "Universe of Thought" for the time being, the whole cumbersome mechanism then known as 'Logic' could be dispensed with.... He said in the book that this law was a law, not of facts or of essential reason, but of the human mind (Laws of Thought, p. 4).

Mary Boole, I think, has a tendency to oversimplify a bit when talking about her husband's work in matters involving her own interests, but her interpretation here is borne out by the facts of the case. The Laws of Thought discuss the application of algebraic methods to logic and probability theory; it does this explicitly to investigate the laws of thought that constitute the mind. Obviously a lot of different issues are discussed in doing this -- thus we get the 'veil' -- but the structure of the work is quite clearly a twofold argument: that the constitution of the mind "functions normally towards Monism", i.e., has a tendency to trace everything back to primal unity, and that this is a law "not of facts or of essential reason, but of the human mind", and thus the significance of it really requires an a posteriori rather than an a priori approach.

Arguably, Boole's attempt to avoid being "entangled in an unseemly theological skirmish" resulted in a veil less transparent for the learned than Mary Boole suggests. Certainly most people fail to grasp the structure of the work at all, and most of the theological side of the work is treated as either merely an example for the logical apparatus or a digression. Nor can they be entirely blamed, because when Boole brings these things up, he always ends up talking about suggestion and analogy, and saying he can't fully pursue the question here, which makes it easy to overlook that these things may in fact have been among the things he primarily had in view. It also, I think, leads to a number of inadequately filled gaps in Boole's argument. Much of his diagnosis of a priori approaches, for instance, really depends on hypotheses for which he has provided only very brief argument, or even only gestures at arguments. As Boole notes with respect to natural theology itself, that an inference depends on hypotheses is not in itself a flaw, but the avoidance of "skirmish" has the result that some important parts of the argument are not thoroughly examined. Nonetheless, there can be no doubt, I think, that a major goal of The Laws of Thought is the critical investigation of methods of reasoning in matters such as the existence of God; it comes up not just as a set of examples but as essential to the structure of the work.


George Boole, The Laws of Thought, Prometheus Books (Amerst, NY: 2003).

Thursday, January 03, 2019

I Ease You

by George Herbert

Jesu is in my heart, his sacred name
Is deeply carved there: but th’other week
A great affliction broke the little frame,
Ev’n all to pieces: which I went to seek:
And first I found the corner, where was J,
After, where ES, and next where U was graved,
When I had got these parcels, instantly
I sat me down to spell them, and perceived
That to my broken heart he was I ease you,
And to the whole is J E S U.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Capreolus on the Unity of the Virtues

One of the standard positions of traditional virtue ethics is what is often called the unity of virtues thesis, which is that virtues are interconnected so that to have one you have to have all of them. In practice, the position has usually been understood not to apply literally to everything that can be called a virtue but only to the cardinal virtues. To have prudence, the intellectual cardinal virtue, you must have the three moral cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude, and temperance; to have justice, you must have prudence, fortitude, and temperance, and so forth. It has also tended to be recognized that we often use virtue-terms to indicate acquired dispositions that are not strictly virtuous but virtue-ish, incomplete virtues, we might say, and that this incompleteness is due to imperfections in the integrity of one's character, so that there is a perfectly reasonable sense in which one can say that (for instance) someone is temperate but not just.

So the basic position really amounts to saying that to have any cardinal virtue (at least in a complete and proper form), you must have all the cardinal virtues (in a complete and proper form). This makes a certain amount of intuitive sense, given that you can think of ways in which one cardinal virtue might be necessary to the completeness of another -- for instance, someone who (we suppose) has justice but not fortitude is not going to be appropriately disposed for cases in which justice requires endurance in the face of death or grave danger, and someone who has (again, we suppose) temperance but no justice would presumably have difficulty finding the right point of moderation in matters in which justice was intimately involved. In addition, of course, there are good Aristotelian reasons for thinking that all virtues whatsoever depend on prudence in one way or another. However, even so, people tend to be quite shy about accepting the unity of the virtues thesis today, so it's worth looking a bit more closely at a more developed defense. Capreolus's defense of the Thomistic version of the unity of virtues thesis, from his Defensiones Theologiae Divi Thomae Aquinatis.

Capreolus analyzes the position into basic claims that could be disputed, with each given its own basic argument.

(1) No one can possess prudence without moral virtues. You can't have, by a sort of second nature, the disposition to judge rightly in a matter to which a virtue is relevant unless you can judge rightly with respect to the particular presuppositions of particular virtues, which vary according to the virtue. We see this in cases where someone desires badly; people who desire badly have a tendency to make false assumptions in their moral reasoning about those things they desire. People who have a vice are prejudiced in the direction of the vice whenever they reason, for instance. So it follows that prudence has to grow up with the other moral virtues, so that we will be reasoning rightly in the regions of human life with which those virtues are concerned.

(2) No one can possess moral virtues without prudence. This follows in the standard Aristotelian way:

No habit that chooses according to right reason can exist without a right reason that deliberates, judges, and prescribes. But this is the way in which moral virtue is related to prudence. Therefore it cannot exist without prudence. (p. 327)

(3) The four cardinal virtues are interconnected so that whoever possesses one possesses the others. This follows, of course, from the previous two claims.

These arguments suffice for the conclusion, but as Capreolus is a scholastic commentator, he does not consider a question to have been properly understood until one can see how objections may be handled, and despite the near-universal acceptance of the unity of virtues thesis up to Capreolus's day, he is able to find some fairly formidable objections in the work of John Duns Scotus. As with many disputes between Thomists and Scotists, the dispute is not so much about the central point but about load-bearing features in the rational account of that point. Scotus, like Aquinas, does accept the unity of virtues thesis in some form, even if qualified. However, if you think about the above two arguments, it's clear that the load-bearing element in these arguments is the virtue of prudence, so that the ground for the interconnection of the cardinal virtues is prudence itself. Scotus thinks that this is more complicated than it seems, and that because of this (1) is not strictly necessarily true, and that (3) is only going to be the case if we are talking about the character of someone who is moral, simply speaking. Obviously you need all the virtues to be moral, simply speaking, and obviously to have virtue you need prudence. But Scotus has the view that there is not a single species of prudence, and you need different kinds of prudence for different virtues, so even (2) is not accepted by him in an unqualified form.

Part of the reason for the additional complications is Scotus's desire to preserve freedom of will against all possible intrusion: on his account, you can judge rightly and not will at all in accordance with it. So it is in principle possible to have the habit of judging rightly (prudence) but have no moral virtues because you simply don't make the relevant choices that your right judgments indicate. Obviously its being in principle possible does not imply that this is at all the norm; I'm not sure how common Scotus thinks it actually is, in fact. But if it's in principle possible, then (1) certainly has to be weakened and (3) qualified.

A second reason is that Scotus thinks virtues could be complete in their own field even if they are not complete with regard to what they would have to be for a completely moral character. He uses the analogy of the senses. You could have perfect sight without perfect hearing; the two kinds of sensation are different. Obviously if you lack perfect hearing, you have imperfect sensory ability, simply from that very fact, but it doesn't directly affect the act of sight. In the same way, he thinks, if you lack (say) the virtue of temperance, you lack virtue in the sense of full moral character, but this would not affect acts of (say) fortitude, for which you still could have the right disposition of second nature.

Thomists have always regarded the Scotist account as effectively breaking the account of virtues, so that virtues are barely more than habits that happen to conform to some kind of right judgment; the relationship between virtues on Scotus's account, while real, is quite limited. The acquired dispositions for the virtues aren't interconnected on their own but only in the sense that they happen to be the acquired dispositions that are consistent with right reason. The unity is posterior to the habits, one might say, rather than integral to them in the way Thomists want to argue.

The Thomistic position on free choice, of course, differs from the Scotistic position in that Scotus treats the intellect as a purely natural faculty and puts all of the freedom in the will itself, whereas Aquinas divides human freedom in matters of choice between the intellect and the will, so that both are free faculties in a limited sense and freedom of choice in the full sense arises from their interaction. Because of this, Capreolus takes the position of the Scotists to over-assimilate prudence to universal practical knowledge; prudence is in fact concerned with deliberating, judging, and prescribing in these particular circumstances here and now, and it is impossible treat the actual choice as completely separate from this judgment -- it is of the nature of the thing that how the will chooses incorporates, so to speak, the intellectual contribution. This is not to say that prudence always issues in doing the right thing, which everyone agrees is not the case with any of the virtues, but when prudence fully prescribes something as the right course, it's impossible for the will to be in a state as if this had not happened or as if this were irrelevant, and since a virtue is a habit and not a single act, it's impossible for the intellect to have the habit of prudence, and the consistent right judgment that comes with that, without the will acquiring an appropriate disposition in response.

Capreolus, of course, simply denies the analogy with the senses; the two cases are not similar. It is true that there is no strict interconnection among the senses, but this is because the sense are straightforwardly independent: sight does not subserve hearing, nor vice versa, they just contribute different things. Sensory life does not, as such, depend on any particular ordering. This is not true of moral life: moral matters are structured such that (for instance) if you are intemperate, you are going to commit injustices, and we see this all the time in people failing to do justice to each other because of lust. Moral decision-making is not, for the Thomist, a matter of doing the right thing in relatively isolated domains; rather, doing the morally right thing in one domain will often overlap with doing the morally right thing in another domain. So prudence is in fact all one and the virtues have to grow up together, so to speak, into one integral moral character. Consistently good moral decision-making is holistic, and can't be broken into lesser parts. This doesn't change the fact, noted previously, that as the virtues are being developed, the interconnections might not be fully formed; but these failures will be precisely ways in which we have failed fully to develop the virtue in question.

Now, obviously I have somewhat simplified the points in question, and equally obviously Scotists will have responses to Capreolus. But as is generally the case with scholastic dispute, as one works through the dispute one gets a clearer picture of the conclusions that are being drawn.


John Capreolus, On the Virtues, White and Cessario, trs. Catholic University Press (Washington, DC: 2001).

Basil and Gregory

Today is the feast of Ss. Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzen, Doctors of the Church.

From On the Holy Spirit (1.2) by St. Basil the Great:

To count the terms used in theology as of primary importance, and to endeavour to trace out the hidden meaning in every phrase and in every syllable, is a characteristic wanting in those who are idle in the pursuit of true religion, but distinguishing all who get knowledge of "the mark" "of our calling;" for what is set before us is, so far as is possible with human nature, to be made like God. Now without knowledge there can be no making like; and knowledge is not got without lessons. The beginning of teaching is speech, and syllables and words are parts of speech. It follows then that to investigate syllables is not to shoot wide of the mark, nor, because the questions raised are what might seem to some insignificant, are they on that account to be held unworthy of heed. Truth is always a quarry hard to hunt, and therefore we must look everywhere for its tracks. The acquisition of true religion is just like that of crafts; both grow bit by bit; apprentices must despise nothing. If a man despise the first elements as small and insignificant, he will never reach the perfection of wisdom.

From The First Theological Oration (section 3) of St. Gregory of Nazianzen:

Not to every one, my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God; not to every one; the Subject is not so cheap and low; and I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.

Not to all men, because it is permitted only to those who have been examined, and are passed masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are being purified. For the impure to touch the pure is, we may safely say, not safe, just as it is unsafe to fix weak eyes upon the sun's rays. And what is the permitted occasion? It is when we are free from all external defilement or disturbance, and when that which rules within us is not confused with vexatious or erring images; like persons mixing up good writing with bad, or filth with the sweet odours of ointments. For it is necessary to be truly at leisure to know God; and when we can get a convenient season, to discern the straight road of the things divine. And who are the permitted persons? They to whom the subject is of real concern, and not they who make it a matter of pleasant gossip, like any other thing, after the races, or the theatre, or a concert, or a dinner, or still lower employments. To such men as these, idle jests and pretty contradictions about these subjects are a part of their amusement.