Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Fortnightly Books Index 2019

A fairly diverse year, as I was in part trying to get through a backlog of candidates for fortnightly books. The great discovery this year was, without a doubt, Fanny Burney's Evelina, which is such an extraordinarily good book that I wish it had not taken me so long to get around to reading it. I also, of course, re-read all of the novels of Charles Williams, and brought my tally of Verne's fifty-four Voyages Extraordinaires read up to fifty-two. I still want to try to get some version of the last two, Les Histoires de Jean-Marie Cabidoulin and Un drame en Livonie, in the next year; they're hard to find, so we will see if I manage that. I am also thinking of reading all of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books next year -- the read-through-an-author approach has been working fairly well (although Verne was a long slog through a lot of books), it wouldn't be much harder than Charles Williams was, and I have an omnibus edition of the books sitting on my stairs so might as well use it. But we shall see; there's always a measure of chance in what comes up in the series.

December 1: John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Introduction, Review

November 17: Irving Stone, Love is Eternal
Introduction, Review

November 3: Charlotte Yonge, The Heir of Redclyffe
Introduction, Review

October 20: H. P. Lovecraft, The Whisperer in the Darkness
Introduction, Review

October 6: Charles Williams, Descent into Hell; All Hallows' Eve
Introduction, Review

September 22: Bram Stoker, The Jewel of Seven Stars
Introduction, Review

September 8: Robertson Davies, The Salterton Trilogy
Introduction, Review

August 25: The Nibelungenlied
Introduction, Review

August 11: Louis Hémon, Maria Chapdelaine
Introduction, Review

July 21: Maria Edgeworth, Belinda
Introduction, Review

July 7: Oscar Wilde, The Plays of Oscar Wilde; De Profundis
Introduction, Review

June 23: C. S. Lewis, The Space Trilogy
Introduction, Review

June 9: Dora Landey & Elinor Klein, Triptych
Introduction, Review

May 26: Fanny Burney, Evelina
Introduction, Review

May 12: Charles Williams, Shadows of Ecstasy; The Greater Trumps
Introduction, Review

April 28: H. G. Wells, The Time Machine; The War of the Worlds
Introduction, Review

April 14: Sigrid Undset, Gunnar's Daughter
Introduction, Review

March 31: John Milton, Paradise Lost & Paradise Regained
Introduction, Review

March 17: Jules Verne, Keraban the Inflexible; The Steam House
Introduction, Review

March 3: Garland Roark, The Lady and the Deep Blue Sea
Introduction, Review

February 17: Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Introduction, Review

February 3: Charles Williams, War in Heaven; The Place of the Lion
Introduction, Review

January 20: Jane Austen, Persuasion
Introduction, Review

January 6: C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
Introduction, Review


Fortnightly Books Index for 2018

Fortnightly Books Index for 2017

Fortnightly Books Index for 2016

Fortnightly Books Index for 2015

Fortnightly Books Index for 2014

Fortnightly Books Index for 2012-2013

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Both Orderly and Personal

Music can put us in the presence of something that has no place in this world, and which moves in a world of its own. And it can do this in a way that seems both orderly and personal, moving with a complete necessity that is also a kind of freedom. Two features of music contribute to this effect. First, the space of music, in a listening culture, is what I call an ‘acousmatic space’: it is a space full of movement and fields of force in which nothing actually moves, and of which we ourselves could never be a part. In a mysterious way the order of music transforms sequences of sounds into melodies that begin and end, chords that occupy whole areas and gravitational fields that push and pull in ways of their own. I have elaborated on this in The Aesthetics of Music, and I think one conclusion to be drawn is that musical space is a space in which things move with a singular freedom, precisely because it contains no obstacles – no part of it is occupied, in the way physical space is occupied, but all of it is open.

Secondly, the virtual causality that operates in musical space is or aims to be a causality of reason. In successful works of music there is a reason for each note, though not necessarily a reason that could be put into words. Each note is a response to the one preceding it and an invitation to its successor. Of course, sequences in music may sound facile, mechanical or arbitrary, so that the listener has no sense of a reasoned progression. But when that happens we are apt to dismiss the music as trivial or meaningless. Real music is not a sequence of mechanical movements but a continuous action, to which the ‘why?’ of inter-personal understanding applies.

Roger Scruton, "Effing the Ineffable".

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Anúna, "The Coventry Carol".

A Poem Draft

Long and Foggy Road

Father Time is marching step by step;
you and I are there, just passers-by.
Save for this, there is little that we know:
every heart, love, hope, and year must surely die.
Somewhere down this long and foggy road,
final berth whence never soul returns,
Time having reached its destined end,
maybe an eternal fire burns,
but you and I are still upon this path,
though follies of this age our step has slowed;
and this we must hold onto till the end:
it's you and I together on this road.
Let other folk grasp hard their lonely selves.
Every soul in the end reaps what it sowed.
Whatever darkness falls, we'll power through,
you and I, on this long and foggy road.
Year again is passing to its grave!
Never fear; I'll write to you this earnest ode:
step by step and each for each, we will not fail,
you and I, on this long and foggy road.

ADDED LATER: I had forgotten that I also had this one:

The Flowers Grow in Luthany

The flowers grow in Luthany
row by row beside the road;
the sunlight shines epiphany
on fields where hope and joy are sowed.
The trill of bird is riding breeze;
I heard it one day shrill and clear
like wind that blows across the seas,
sea-wave crispness bringing near.
A spring of water near a tree
bubbles over, sweet and glad,
but stillness lies on Luthany;
even laughing springs are sad.
For sometimes joy, an apple gold,
the painter paints on background dark;
the warmest flame is found in cold;
in darkness first will sing the lark.
And every joy in Luthany
is sweeter far for tears of grief,
a melancholy ecstasy,
an ache, and in the ache relief.
The flowers grow in Luthany
row by row beside the road
and mark the graves with sanctity
and pay with joy where debt is owed.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Feast of St. John

Earth Cannot Bar Flame from Ascending
by Christina Rossetti

Earth cannot bar flame from ascending,
Hell cannot bind light from descending,
Death cannot finish life never ending.

Eagle and sun gaze at each other,
Eagle at sun, brother at Brother,
Loving in peace and joy one another.

O St. John, with chains for thy wages,
Strong thy rock where the storm-blast rages,
Rock of refuge, the Rock of Ages.

Rome hath passed with her awful voice,
Earth is passing with all her joys,
Heaven shall pass away with a noise.

So from us all follies that please us,
So from us all falsehoods that ease us,–
Only all saints abide with their Jesus.

Jesus, in love looking down hither,
Jesus, by love draw us up thither,
That we in Thee may abide together.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Feast of St. Stephen

"Good King Wenceslaus", Clamavi De Profundis.

Dickens's A Christmas Carol

The structure of Dickens's Christmas ghost story, A Christmas Carol, is somewhat richer than it is usually seen to be. Scrooge, of course, famously responds to "A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!" with "Bah! Humbug!" "Humbug" is not really something you say to indicate general approval; it is an implicit accusation of dishonesty or hypocrisy. Afer some discussion, Scrooge's nephew replies:

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

This response actually gives the real theme of the work, the fact that there are things from which we might derive good (Christmas among the rest) by which we have not profited. Scrooge in treating Christmas as a lie has demanded to be left alone from it instead of taking the opportunity to become a better person. He is then, of course, visited by four ghosts, each of whom introduces a part of the response to this attitude:

(1) Scrooge himself has done wrong (Ghost of Marley);
(2) in a world of people trying in small ways to make the world better, he has made himself selfish and worse (Ghost of Christmas Past);
(3) this selfishness is even now leading him to miss opportunities to do good (Ghost of Christmas Present);
(4) and, like everyone else, he is running out of time (Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come).

Scrooge's problem is that he has chosen to take a position from which he can look down on the little goods done by others as nothing but humbug, hypocrisy, fakery, and treat that very position as a reason why he himself need not do any such good at all. He has cultivated a wall of selfishness with the justification that he is seeing through all the nonsense of other people. When he learns his lesson, he responds by seizing his opportunities to do good to others while he still can.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Feast of the Nativity

"What Child Is This?", Peter Hollens.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve

"Silent Night", The Hound + The Fox.

Science and Philosophy

It is common to make claims about the relationship between scientific positions and philosophical positions, but the arguments that underwrite such claims are not always the same. There are at least two major groups:

(A) Analogy of Theory: We have some scientific theory, call it T, which naturally suggests some metaphysical or natural-philosophical position. For instance, Gilson notes somewhere that historically people who tended to assume that the physical world is deterministic did so because determinism seemed the natural philosophical analogue of how they understood Newtonian physics (T).

(H) Historical Induction: Our best scientific theory, call it T, was reached by assuming some metaphysical or natural-philosophical position, sometimes such that even those who had a different position in fact proceeded as if this philosophical position were true. For instance, it is sometimes argued that naturalism is the best philosophical position because our modern physical theories (T) were developed by people assuming naturalism or, even if they did not in fact believe naturalism true, doing their investigations as if naturalism were true.

(There are other kinds of arguments; for instance, both of these go from scientific theory to philosophical position, but it is also the case that people accept scientific theories that best fit their philosophical positions. I am more interested here, however, in the science-to-philosophy direction.)

In practice, people tend to use either kind of argument as it suits them, as is perhaps inevitable, but there are complications that are often not recognized. First, both kinds of argument are sensitive to what we might focus on; for instance, using H on neuroscience for the past fifty years, the philosophical position that might be suggested is materialism about the mind, but if one uses the entire history of neuroscience, the sure winner is substance dualism. I've noted before that not only were substance dualists primarily the founders of the field, most scientists studying the brain were substance dualists well into the twentieth century, and two people who have received the Nobel prize for major work in neuroscience (Sherrington and Eccles) were vocal substance dualists of one kind or another. And this makes sense in itself -- if you want a philosophical position that both recognizes the relevance of the brain to the mind but at the same time does not make assumptions that would affect your interpretation of how any particular discovery about the brain bears on questions about the mind, substance dualism is a very obvious candidate, and in the development of a difficult science a philosophical position that recognizes a connection without prejudging it will have obvious advantages over its rivals.

Second, assessment sometimes depends on your reference points. For instance, most modern biologists would take modern biological theories to suggest materialism/mechanism by A and H alike, but it is clear that by nineteenth-century standards modern biology would have to count as weakly vitalistic and the actual history of biology is much more checkered. Modern biology is partly built out of mechanistic triumphs (such as the discovery that there is no sharp line between organic and inorganic compounds), but it is also partly built out of vitalistic triumphs (such as the organic theory of fermentation and the germ theory of disease), and the ease with which biologists fall back into information-based metaphors is a vitalistic heritage. The reason modern biologist don't recognize their field as vitalistic is that when they think vitalism, they are largely thinking of vitalism as Driesch's entelechies and things of that sort,
and take more modern theories to have developed solutions to problems that nullify the kinds of problems late vitalists insisted upon; they think of strong forms of vitalism when thinking of vitalism and weak and partially agnostic forms of mechanism when they think of materialism or mechanism; and they organize their thoughts on the history of the field, when they think of vitalistic triumphs at all, as a largely mechanistic framework with vitalistic qualifications rather than a largely vitalistic framework with mechanistic qualifications.

Another example is that while there were certainly Newtonian physicists who were determinist, this was not a historically popular position; most physicists who laid the groundwork of the field thought that there were causes not covered by the laws of motion, such as minds with free will, and thus tended to read Newtonian theory as ceteris paribus, something you use when you don't have to worry about such other causes, rather than as absolute.

A third complication is that A and H are both based on highly defeasible forms of inference, and therefore can never on their own get you certain conclusions. A is based on analogical inference, and, what is more, most often an analogical inference based not on any rigorous standard of similarity but a general 'feel' as to how this suggests that. As some have noted in recent decades, it's not clear how strictly deterministic Newtonian physics is even when taken strictly; there are situations definable in the theory, like Norton's Dome, for which arguably there is an answer but no deterministic one, and while there are counterarguments, there is no general agreement about whether they are successful. But the way Newtonian physics tends to be taught makes the billiard-ball universe seem inevitable.

Likewise, just as A depends on an assumption of a standard of similarity that might not be accepted, so does H depend on an assumption of uniformity that might be controverted. Major sea-changes do occur, after all; the history of neuroscience is in fact very favorable to substance dualism, but one could well argue that once it reached a certain point, enough changes had accumulated to tip the scales in a different direction.

These complications are unavoidable; there is no kind of A or H you could make that would enable you to avoid them completely. And thus we have what we have, with everybody using whichever one, and whichever variation of one, opportunistically.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Light in the Temple

Tonight is the beginning of Hanukkah, which will continue until through December 30; it commemorates the dedication of the temple after the retaking of Jerusalem by the Maccabees. From the version of the story found in 1 Maccabees:

Then Judas and his brothers said, "See, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it." So all the army assembled and went up to Mount Zion. There they saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned. In the courts they saw bushes sprung up as in a thicket, or as on one of the mountains. They saw also the chambers of the priests in ruins. Then they tore their clothes and mourned with great lamentation; they sprinkled themselves with ashes and fell face down on the ground. And when the signal was given with the trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.

Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them. Then they took unhewn stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one. They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple. They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.
[1 Maccabees 4:36-51 (NRVSCE)]

The comment about storing the stones until a prophet came to tell them what to do with them is interesting, and I think marks a major theme in 1 Maccabees, the problem of how to live faithfully in a time of trial when there are no trustworthy prophets to guide you (which is explicitly mentioned in 9:27 and 14:41, as well).

Saturday, December 21, 2019

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath


Opening Passage:

To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. The plows crossed and recrossed the rivulet marks. The last rains lifted the corn quickly and scattered weed colonies and grass along the sides of the roads so that they gray country and the dark red country began to disappear under a green cover. In the last part of May the sky grew pale and the clouds that had hung in high puffs for so long in the spring were dissipated. The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet. The clouds appeared, and went away, and in a while they did not try any more. The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not spread any more. The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country and white in the gray country.

Summary: The banks have been evicting small farmers and repossessing their farms in the aftermath of the Dust Bowl. The Joads are among them, and they pile all of the possessions they can into their rickety Hudson and head out for California. All sorts of handbills have been sent out asking for people to pick fruit, so surely there's work there. As they travel, however, a number of warning signs begin to develop: they meet a lot of other people doing the same, and everywhere they go, people are worn down with all the people passing through to get jobs in California. And in California itself, they find vast numbers of people looking for jobs, jumping on every employment opportunity they can find. The whole state is awash with migrant workers, and not enough jobs for them all. Which, of course, is deliberate.

When you have a large population of migrant workers, it's never the case that they just happened to be looking for a job and then were exploited. A large population of migrant workers is always, always, a sign of highly exploitative conditions that are making that flood of migrants. Say you are a landowner, growing fruit on your land for a nice price. You need fruit-pickers -- let's say a couple hundred. You hear about another area that is struggling economically. So you send out handbills, perhaps twenty thousand, promising work. You see, if you just sent out enough handbills to get your couple hundred workers, you'd have to pay them well. But if you ask for a couple hundred and five thousand show up, you can make your wages low, low, low, and desperate people will still jump on them in order to feed their children. Of course, you could just hire your couple hundred and try to pay them well anyway, but then the Farmer's Association might come around and tell you that if you keep paying your workers well, it will cause unrest among all the other workers hired by other people, and they can't have that; they will make sure that you never get a loan from the bank again -- risky investment, raising wages like that when you could pay so much less. If you're really savvy, you can get your pick of workers out in the middle of nowhere by paying wages that are moderately nice, at first, but collect some of it back by a company store. Your company store can sell at a higher price than they could get in town; if the cost is still less than they cost of the gasoline they would have to use driving back and forth, what else will they do but return some of your money to you, at a further profit to you? And as the numbers of workers build up, hoping desperately for a job, you can cut wages. And what will they do? They could go on strike, but you can pay for strikebreakers at the wages you started with, and lower those, too, when the police have helped you break the strike. Populations of economic migrants do not spontaneously arise like magic; they are created by people who benefit from them.

It's a self-interested system, not one that arises rationally from the actual needs of the situation. Steinbeck, in one of his semi-poetic interludes to the Joad family's troubles, and one of the candidates for my favorite passage, has a striking description of orange growers burning and destroying oranges to keep the price of oranges up:

The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest, bitterest thing of all. Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground. The people came for miles to take the fruit, but this could not be. How would they buy oranges at twenty cents a dozen if they could drive out and pick them up? And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges, and they are angry at the crime, angry at the people who have come to take the fruit. A million people hungry, needing the fruit—and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains.

And the smell of rot fills the country.

It is profiteering by the cultivation of waste. No one may have the crumbs because they might not then buy the bread. If the poor can have the gleanings, you might not be able to squeeze a few dollars more out of them. So many people capable of doing so many things, and you waste all that ability by getting them into one place competing for a few jobs, just so you can keep the payroll costs down. The extra oranges must be burned, so that you can still charge twenty cents an orange for oranges gathered at two or three cents a crate. And the smell of rot fills the country.

The book is stylistically a bit uneven, I think; I'm not sure that Steinbeck quite manages to integrate the Joad passages with the more poetic passages in a completely adequate way. But the prose poetry is very effective at making this a novel not just about the Joads but about an entire country of which they are merely representatives.

I also listened to NBC University Theater's version of the story, which stars Jane Darwell, who had won an Academy Award for the same role in the more famous movie:

Like the movie, and perhaps a bit more so, it is fairly faithful, allowing for differences of medium. However, one thing that struck me is that both the movie and the radio play are more hopeful than the book is. When we get a phrase like "the people go on", said by Jane Darwell playing the role with all of her talent, it sounds like hope. But the Ma Joad of the book is not so much hopeful as practical; 'the people go on' is not an aspiration but a statement of a practical fact. The people go on because that's all there is to do, and they are used to doing it. It's not about looking to the future but about surviving today. The book is not without its version of hope, but it's not an exalting hope but the confined and limited hope that comes from making do, something a bit less like what we usually think of as hope and a bit more like relief at not having died yet. And with respect to the future, the overall tone of the book, as opposed to the movie and the radio episodes, has no hopeful tinge, but rather an ominous one: the grapes of wrath are being trampled out as the poor are being crushed, and there will be a reckoning.

Favorite Passage:

Ma studied him. Her hand went blindly out and put the little bag of sugar on the pile in her arm. "Thanks to you," she said quietly. She started for the door, and when she reached it, she turned about. "I'm learnin' one thing good," she said. "Learnin' it all a time, ever'day. If you're in trouble or hurt or need--to go poor people. They're the only ones that'll help--the only ones." The screen door slammed behind her.

Recommendation: Recommended. I found it a bit slow at the beginning, but it picks up once the story is not relying on Tom Joad alone.

Pieter Kanis

Today is the feast of St. Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church, most famous for his catechetical work and often known as the Second Apostle of Germany. From A Small Catechism for Catholics:

What does the first article of the Creed mean, "I believe in God the Father"?

It shows first in the Godhead a person, namely the heavenly and eternal Father, for whom nothing is impossible or difficult to do, who produced heaven and earth, visible things together with all invisible things from nothing and even conserves and governs everything he has produced, with supreme goodness and wisdom.

What does the second article of the Creed mean, "And in Jesus Christ his Son"?

It reveals the second person in the Godhead, Jesus Christ, obviously his only begotten from eternity and consubstantial with the Father, our Lord and redeemer, as the one who has freed us from perdition.

What is the third article, "Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit"?

The third article proposes the mystery of the Lord's Incarnation: because the same Son of God, descending from heaven, assumed a human nature, but in an absolutely unique way, as he was conceived without a father, from the power of the Holy Spirit, born from the Virgin Mary who remained a virgin afterwards.

[Peter Canisius, A Small Catechism for Catholics, Grant, tr., Mediatrix Press (2014) pp. 12-13.]

Friday, December 20, 2019

Impeachment II

This impeachment is giving constitutional scholars a bit of a workout. Noah Feldman, one of the legal scholars who testified during the inquiry, argues that Trump has not been impeached:

Impeachment as contemplated by the Constitution does not consist merely of the vote by the House, but of the process of sending the articles to the Senate for trial. Both parts are necessary to make an impeachment under the Constitution: The House must actually send the articles and send managers to the Senate to prosecute the impeachment. And the Senate must actually hold a trial.

If the House does not communicate its impeachment to the Senate, it hasn’t actually impeached the president. If the articles are not transmitted, Trump could legitimately say that he wasn’t truly impeached at all.

That’s because “impeachment” under the Constitution means the House sending its approved articles of to the Senate, with House managers standing up in the Senate and saying the president is impeached.

This appears entirely false; the Constitution says nothing whatsoever about the House managers, nor about sending the articles to the Senate. It simply says that the House has "the sole Power of Impeachment", which implies that the House's power of impeachment is something it has in its own right, and not with respect to the Senate. Thus whom the House votes to impeach is impeached. This is the way it has always been interpreted; when the House managers stand up in the Senate and say that the President is impeached, they are reporting what the House has already done, not engaging in a performative act of impeachment.

Feldman goes on to recognize that technically the Constitution says nothing about sending anything to the Senate, but, he says, "the framers’ definition of impeachment assumed that impeachment was a process, not just a House vote." This is perhaps in some sense true, if we are taking 'impeachment' in the broadest sense; Hamilton in Federalist 65 says that the impeachment trial is a "method of national inquest into the conduct of public men". But impeachment itself is just charging someone with "high crimes and misdemeanors", and is distinct from the trial. And while it is true that the point of impeachment is to have an impeachment trial, it does not follow from this that impeachment itself requires anything more than an inquiry and vote in the House.

Contrary to what Feldman argues, the House did not vote "to impeach (future tense)" President Trump; what it voted on was the resolution, "That Donald John Trump, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors". And the House voted that yes, he is impeached. There is a future-tense part of the resolution, the resolution that the articles "be exhibited" to the Senate. But that is presented as an additional thing to the claim that Trump "is impeached".

But the fact that Feldman could even think this was a plausible argument is a sign of just how out in the deep waters we are; it's just not heard of for the House to vote for an impeachment resolution and then not send the articles to the Senate for the impeachment to be tried. (It also suggests very strongly, I think, that any attempt by Democrats in the House to go this route will backfire on them.)

Lying and Flattery

Amanda Patchin has an interesting discussion of Josef Pieper's 1974 booklet, Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power at "Front Porch Republic":

Pieper goes on to distinguish lying (mis-representing reality) from flattery (having any motive in speech other than aiming at truth), and it is this distinction I find most compelling. Lying as a tool of exploitation—understood in the context of political propaganda—is an obvious evil whose destruction is evident all around us. Flattery is a subtler evil whose insinuations debase our humanity while leaving us externally intact. Lying is the characteristic sin of Big Brother in Orwell’s 1984, and flattery is the characteristic sin of Brave New World. Any words that are spoken with the goal of achieving some end other than the communication of truth are flattery—even if they are actually true! The truth-content of the words is not the only component denoting their status as rightly-used language or wrongly-used language. Any abuse of words that debases their truthfulness or their intentions is, for Pieper, an "abuse."

Thursday, December 19, 2019


I haven't said much about the impeachment process, because there hasn't been much to say. Impeachment itself is just bringing charges; the charges that were eventually made were, I'm very sure, much more vague and less serious than Democrats were hoping. In principle, of course, since the point of impeachment is to give primacy to the legislature, the House can impeach any civil officer of the United States for anything whatsoever that it regards as misconduct; it is the sole authority on what counts as 'high crimes and misdemeanors', and the power has never been understood to require a legally defined crime at all. (In the first impeachment that went to conviction, that of John Pickering, it was universally recognized that there was no crime committed in a strict sense; Pickering was removed because he was a mentally ill alcoholic and was becoming increasingly erratic. Usually when an impeached official is convicted and removed, a criminal trial is held for the offenses, but nobody even tried to indict Pickering on anything. As a side note, one of the 'high misdemeanors' in his impeachment was that he was making a bad example because, when drunk, he swore, profaning the divine name in public.) In practice, it really needs to establish that something identifiable as a crime in at least a broad and loose sense has been committed. The charges against President Trump are 'abuse of power' and 'obstruction of Congress', which are about as broad and loose as you can get.

Some people have warned that this could set a precedent for attempting to impeach every President, but in fact we already live in this regime: Clinton was impeached; attempts to impeach both Bush and Obama were begun but petered out due to lack of political will and opportunity; Trump has been impeached.

Everything goes to trial in the Senate now, which alone has the power to remove a President from office; at least one of the two charges will require a guilty vote from at least two-thirds of the Senate for anything to come of it. In principle, if it convicts, the Senate can also disqualify the person in question from future office, but this is a hard sell even in very obvious cases. The Senate is the sole authority in such trials; famously, in the very first, that of Senator William Blount, the Senate opened its trial and then voted that the House of Representatives had no authority to impeach a Senator. (The Senate instead removed him by its own power to expel Senators.) This is why you find Democrats voicing the absurdity of not transmitting the articles of impeachment to the Senate; the Senate is not expected to push for conviction, and the Senate can pretty much do whatever it wants in the matter. To be wholly honest, I think it's a pointless game; the Senate explicitly has the power to try all impeachments, so if the House has impeached, the Senate could very well try it if it wanted, although there's no precedent for how to do that. Everything else is legislative courtesy. But if the House doesn't transmit, the Senate will likely just go on as it has been, as if there were no impeachment at all. A bizarre situation, but we seem to be in a snowstorm of bizarre situations.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Evening Note for Wednesday, December 18

Thought for the Evening: Caring About and Caring For

Now that grading has been turned in and I no longer have to deal with (e.g.) students asking why they got an F on an assignment when they did almost half the work that was required, or demanding that I reassess every assignment they have done in the course so that they get the grade they wanted, or begging for extensions on something they literally had the entire term to do, I've been reading, among other things, Sandrine Berges's A Feminist Perspective on Virtue Ethics. I was particularly interested in some of the discussion of the relation between ethics of care and virtue ethics. One of the especially interesting parts is the discussion of the distinction between 'caring about' and 'caring for'. Ethics of care is based on 'caring for'; at least some care ethicists, like Nel Noddings, have been insistent on a sharp distinction between this and 'caring about'. Berges considers a number of aspects of this distinction, one of which is linguistic:

...it is not clear that caring for and caring about should share a name; indeed, in some languages, they don't. If, for example, we try to translate care ethics into French, we can't. The French refer to it as "le care." And yet, there are French words to describe everything else that can be described as "care" in English. The word for care in "health care," "emergency care" or "first care" is soin. A "soin" is something that is given to someone who is hurt or requires attention. The verb soigner can mean to administer medical care or to pay particular attention to a task, as in "soigner son écriture" which means to write neatly. On the other hand, to say in French that we care about someone or something is to refer to one's emotional state:"avoir de l'affection," "tenir à coeur," "se sentir concerné" (to have affection for, t hold something close to one's heart, to feel concern for). These expressions cannot be substituted by the noun soin or the verb soigner. (pp. 155-156)

Berges notes that this is suggestive, not determinative, but if 'caring about' indicates an emotional response and 'caring for' indicates an engagement with a person, it would explain why Noddings makes the distinction in the way she does. On the other side, seeing it this way would explain how the two could be seen as related: in at least some kinds of virtue ethics, character is developed by training and educating our passions, so if 'caring about' is an emotional response, then it could be the kind of thing that needs to be trained into 'caring for'; caring about someone, we learn more about them so that we are able to care for them.

This is quite plausible, but there is another aspect to both that perhaps strengthens the point. 'Caring' always has a relation to attention. This is true etymologically ('care' historically has often indicated a kind of anxiousness), and sometimes in translating it into Romance languages one translates it by cognates of 'attention' or words that can also translate 'attention'. The connection to attention is found in care ethics, as well; Noddings takes caring for someone to involve three elements, engrossment, motivational displacement, and response. Engrossment is close, careful attention to the needs and wants of another person. So one could think of 'caring about' as covering various kinds of incipient attentiveness (some of which are surely those arising from certain emotional responses), which, when the 'caring about' involves caring about a person, can be developed into the kind of engrossment that leads to motivational displacement, their motivations becoming in a sense part of your own.

This also suggests a possible way in which a virtue ethics could 'locate' care in virtue ethics. In Western virtue ethics, there is an important virtue that is also closely connected with attention, prudence, which has solicitude as one of its acts. (See, for example, Aquinas, ST 2-2.47.9). Solicitude is discerning alertness to details relevant to acting; prudence, in its aspect of solicitude, pays attention to the things that tell one what needs to be done. Thus 'caring about' seems to be the kind of attention or vigilance of which prudence is the trained, excellent form; 'caring for' arises when one cares about someone in a deep way such as to make their response possible, and thus likewise is trained into prudence. ('Prudent' is after all related to 'provident' in the sense of 'making provision'.) That's at least one possibility, anyway.


Sandrine Berges, A Feminist Perspective on Virtue Ethics, Palgrave Macmillan (New York: 2015).

Various Links of Interest

* An interesting interview on French symbolism and the origins of analytic philosophy.

* Bill Vallicella on five grades of agnosticism.

* Mark Satta on sorites authoritarianism.

* Sandrine Berges, Sophie de Grouchy, at the SEP.

* Christina Lamb, When Courts Constrain Conscience

* Tony Christie discusses the centering of the medical field on physicians in the early modern period.

* Natasha Frost looks at the one-pot meal campaign of Nazi Germany.

* Gil Student on the miracle of Jewish history.

* Andrew Fiala, The Importance of Gratitude

* kaomoji

* Eve Tushnet reviews Sharon Leon's An Image of God: The Catholic Struggle with Eugenics

* An interview with Alexander Stoddart on public art

* A number of documents have come to light showing ways in which deception, disorganization, and corruption played a role in the U.S.'s handling of Afghanistan. Richard Hanania had a good breakdown on Twitter of some of the highlights, which you can find in a more readable form here. In effect, the U.S. established a kleptocracy and then did the worst possible thing -- we incentivized its corruption by throwing an immense amount of money at it. And except for occasional pushback from military personnel, almost everyone involved was more interested in symbolic victories than real solutions to problems. And it is, I am afraid, a concentrated epitome of everything that is currently wrong with the American political approach today.

* Gary Larson has put The Far Side on the Internet.

* Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry looks at our serious problem with pornography.

* Shawn Regan discusses why environmentalists don't usually try to protect land in the U.S. by buying it (short answer: for many of the kinds of land they want to protect, you are only allowed to have it if you agree to use it for resources).

* Nicolas Bommarito on modesty.

* I've been thinking about replacing one of the readings in my Ethics courses, and have had some difficulty coming up with something useful. But this is an interesting resource I came across in looking: Teaching Ethics with Short Stories.

* Maya Kosoff, Big Calculator: How Texas Instruments Monopolized Math Class

* An interview with Jared Ortiz on deification in the Latin tradition.

* John Brungardt, Those Two Roads: How a Natural Philosophical Solution to a Difficulty about Motion Serves Thomistic Theology

Currently Reading

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Sandrine Berges, A Feminist Perspective on Virtue Ethics
Michael J. Gilmour, Animals in the Writings of C. S. Lewis
Lisa Coutras, Tolkien's Theology of Beauty
Alexander Green, The Virtue Ethics of Levi Gersonides

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Joy and Sorrow

For Tolkien, joy and grief were closely linked. He describes the eucatastrophe as producing " a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief." In a letter from 1944, he explains that "Christian joy" may be accompanied by tears, for it has an essential similarity to sorrow, drawing from a state "where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled." For Tolkien, "eucatastrophic" joy originates from beyond creation and time, in the realm of the eternal. The sorrow of tragic legend draws from the same timeless reality as this joy. He expresses this in the Great Music, wherein Ilúvatar's theme relays an "immeasurable sorrow" revealed in beauty. Sorrow probes the deep truths of reality, capable of expressing the light of transcendental beauty.

Lisa Coutras, Tolkien's Theology of Beauty, Palgrave Macmillan (New York: 2016) pp. 152-153.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Rosmini on the Magnificat

Con esso la Madre di Dio inaugurò, quasi direi, l’opera della Redenzione, anticipò l’annuncio del Vangelo, proclamandone il tema, compendiandone la sapienza, profetandone gli effetti infallibili e meravigliosi a beneficio del genere umano.

With this incomparable song the mother of God may be said to have inaugurated the work of Redemption, and anticipated the promulgation of the Gospel by announcing its subject, epitomising its wisdom, and predicting its infallible and marvellous effects for the weal of mankind.

Among Bl. Antonio Rosmini's works is a short commentary on the Magnificat, which is a rather interesting work:

Italian: https://www.rosmini.it/Objects/Pagina.asp?ID=295 (PDF)
French: http://www.rosmini.fr/Rosmini,%20Magnificat.htm
English: https://books.google.com/books?jtp=227&id=qyv9FRiJfiQC

After an introduction, he divides the song into two parts. In the first part, the Virgin shows her awareness of what God has done, magnifying the Lord in soul (animal life) and in spirit (mind and will); as part of her pregnancy, she feels the greatness of God's work in her body, and she exults in it by her mind. Thus in a song about the child in her womb, she praises God as Savior, as her ancestor David had done, and that by her bearing the child, she is God's handmaiden in his work of salvation, for which reason she will be called blessed.

This opens the second part of the Magnificat, in which Mary sings as la Regina dei Profeti, the Queen of the Prophets, summarizing the effects of what God is accomplishing. All generations will call her blessed, a prophecy that has already been fulfilled, and, since faith and divine charity alone merits blessedness, that also shows her sanctity and dignity. However, she explicitly attributes this dignity to God; she has it not of herself but because God has done what is great in her. And in describing this work, she highlights that it is a work with three aspects. God has done this specifically as the Mighty One, as divinely omnipotent, and thus the work itself is such as to be appropriate to omnipotence, and her blessedness in proportion to that work. In this way, the Virgin speaks of a greatness beyond any mortal greatness, and a blessedness beyond even ordinary blessedness, but does so in complete humility. But God also performs the work as the one whose name is Holy. The angel, of course, had told her that the Holy that would be born of her would be the Son of God. Thus it is a work expressing the sanctity of God. And the third aspect is that it is a work expressive of the boundlessness of God's mercy, which is given to those who revere Him, from generation to generation.

Nor does she stop at summarizing what God has done in the Incarnation itself; she continues by singing of what God's mercy will do from generation to generation through it. "He has showed the might of His Arm" serves as the compendium of what follows, because "the Arm of God means the Son of God; because the Son springs from the Father as the arm from the body." It is, in other words, an allusion to Isaiah 5:9-11:

Arise, arise, put on strength, O thou arm of the Lord, arise as in the days of old, in the ancient generations. Hast not thou struck the proud one, and wounded the dragon? Hast not thou dried up the sea, the water of the mighty deep, who madest the depth of the sea a way, that the delivered might pass over? And now they that are redeemed by the Lord, shall return, and shall come into Sion singing praises, and joy everlasting shall be upon their heads, they shall obtain joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning shall flee away.

What Isaiah prophesied is now being fulfilled: the Arm of the Lord has put on strength, and will wound the Dragon that the delivered might pass over the mighty deep and the redeemed might come with everlasting joy to Zion.

Three serious evils infect the unredeemed world, and the Virgin now goes on to prophesy that the Lord will undo them:

(1) la superbia dei falsi sapienti, the pride of false sages
(2) la prepotenza dei forti, the tyranny of the mighty
(3) la dissolutezza dei ricchi, the dissoluteness of the rich

The Arm of the Lord will scatter the proud in the conceit of their hearts, the foolishness of God overcoming the wisdom of the world; He will cast the mighty from their thrones, exalting the humble by the preaching of His Church; and He will send the wealthy away and by the charitable work of His disciples fill the hungry.

In expounding this, Mary is also anticipating the teaching of her Son. (Rosmini mentions the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew in particular, but I think his point is even stronger if one looks at the corresponding passage in Luke 6, which we often today call the Sermon on the Plain, since it is inevitable in reading Luke to see it as calling back to the Magnificat: Blessed are the poor, for you shall receive the kingdom of God; blessed are the hungry, for you shall be filled; blessed are you who weep, for you shall laugh; blessed are you when you are hated, for your reward in heaven will be great. But woe to the rich, woe to the filled, and so forth.) The Holy Virgin is thus given the honor of being the first to proclaim the Lord's own teaching.

Christ, the Virgin Mary prophesies, will overcome the philosophers of the day, the imperial and royal powers, the wealthy; He shall do so by a wisdom that goes beyond the counsels of the human heart, by humility, and by satisfying the hunger of those in need. But the prophecy of the Virgin extends beyond us, for there is another thing that she attributes to the Arm of God: mercifully lifting up Israel from the ground as He had promised Abraham and Abraham's descendants since. Thus she affirms that God's promises to Israel are everlasting.

"In this Canticle, then," says Rosmini, "which is at once so simple and sublime, the predictions of the ancient prophets are summed up, the history of the Church is epitomised, the pith of gospel wisdom is concentrated, and the wonders of its infallible results are narrated." In a single panorama we find captured the whole Christian view of all of salvation history.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Who for Their Saving Sendest Men to Men

Third Sunday in Advent
by Samuel John Stone

Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and
stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in
stewards, that a man be found faithful. 1 Cor. iv. 1,2.

Deliver from blood-guiltiness—O Thou
Who for their saving sendest men to men--
Pastors and people, ere Thou com'st again:
Those, for the breach of every awful vow,
For hope once high made lowly memory now;
These, for the careless ear, averted eye,
The tongue fain to disparage or defy,
And wills that, wooed or warned, refuse to bow.
These have forgot that all they are is Thine
For use until Thine hour of love and wrath;
Those, that albeit frail men prepare Thy path,
Not seraphs, yet their mission is divine.
Deliver from blood-guiltiness, O Lord,
These shamers and those scorners of Thy word.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Juan de la Cruz

Today is the feast of St. Juan de Yepes y Álvarez, better known as St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church. St. John was a Carmelite who, not quite satisfied with the Order, considered becoming a Carthusian -- until one fateful day he met St. Teresa of Ávila, who was trying to get support for Carmelite convents based on the original rather than the modified and mitigated rule that the Carmelites had come to follow; she was just starting her second, and it was in the course of doing this that she happened by chance to meet St. John, who just happened by chance to have taken a trip to the town in which she was doing it. It shows what a chance meeting between saints can do. St. John was taken with the idea and after studying how it worked, founded the first monastery in St. Teresa's reform, and the Discalced Carmelites began to grow at a rapid pace from there. It would be a rocky road -- St. Teresa had to face the Inquisition and St. John was arrested several times, due to the instigations of Carmelites who were opposed to the reforms. But they survived all the trials and did not stop. St. John died of infection on December 14, 1591.

From Dark Night of the Soul (Book I, Chapter III)

Many of these beginners have also at times great spiritual avarice. They will be found to be discontented with the spirituality which God gives them; and they are very disconsolate and querulous because they find not in spiritual things the consolation that they would desire. Many can never have enough of listening to counsels and learning spiritual precepts, and of possessing and reading many books which treat of this matter, and they spend their time on all these things rather than on works of mortification and the perfecting of the inward poverty of spirit which should be theirs. Furthermore, they burden themselves with images and rosaries which are very curious; now they put down one, now take up another; now they change about, now change back again; now they want this kind of thing, now that, preferring one kind of cross to another, because it is more curious. And others you will see adorned with agnusdeis and relics and tokens, like children with trinkets. Here I condemn the attachment of the heart, and the affection which they have for the nature, multitude and curiosity of these things, inasmuch as it is quite contrary to poverty of spirit which considers only the substance of devotion, makes use only of what suffices for that end and grows weary of this other kind of multiplicity and curiosity. For true devotion must issue from the heart, and consist in the truth and substances alone of what is represented by spiritual things; all the rest is affection and attachment proceeding from imperfection; and in order that one may pass to any kind of perfection it is necessary for such desires to be killed.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Dashed Off XXVI

same distinct from one by added note of relation (Suarez)
"one implies a negation of division in itself, whereas same implies a negation of division from itself, or from that object with which a being is said to be the same"

certum est pars veri as the foundation of positive governing authority

the fit between questions and answers
questions as means to answers

poetry as first history

prudence & seeking divine advice

Being responsible is related to the ability to take responsibility and to the ability to hold responsible.

episcopal ordination as itself a sacrament: Pius XII, Sacramentum ordinis; Vatican II, Lumen Gentium no. 21

Both St. Albert and St. Thomas are skeptical of the notion that episcopacy is a distinct sacramental order from the priesthood because distinctions between sacramental orders should be distinguished according to their relations to the Eucharist, the final cause of the sacraments.

establishing seal vs perfecting seal

All great achievements are at the cost of a sacrifice.

Justice is something intrinsically linked to evidence.

"Homer would never have been so great if he had not often nodded." Vico

"Besides the principle of Divine Providence, and in accordance with it, I advance the principle of the free choice of good and evil on the part of man; without these philosophical principles one could not in any sense speak of justice, of what is right, and of laws." Vico

A consistent pattern in the relation between theology and philosophy is that a theological doctrine will condense into a concentrated form a large number of philosophical doctrines, or at least designated families of philosophical doctrines.

the right to endow churches and charitable foundations, to feed, clothe, and shelter the poor, to guard the land, and to enforce justice

If every truth has a truthmaker, God is the truthmaker for the principle of noncontradiction.

textual vs commentarial interpretations of philosophers (not absolutely opposed)

Love yearns to be eternal, but it is only eternal when it is also grace.

As Socrates practices the true politics of the city, so the saints practice the true politics of the Church.

"Sympathy or solidarity may very well promote the uncovering of truth, especially in situations when people who divulge information are rendering themselves vulnerable in the process." Narayan

the four solaces of the Kalama Sutta & the Platonic argument that nothing bad happens to the good man

knowledge as justified vs as justifiable

faculty psychology as an analysis of the way things can appear/seem.

When people say that faith is not mental assent, they show that they have a defective concept of mind.

the 'mathematical person' as calculating potential
- how is the 'mathematical person' related to the mathematical account of the computer (abstract machine)?
- The Turing machine idea was developed as a mathematical person in process of computing a number according to effective method (marker, markable, eraser, strict discipline). In this way it is like construction with straight edge & compass in geometry.
- Consider Godel on intuition in this light, as well as oracle, etc., in hypercomputation

Due process is a guard against moral panic.

"No one should desire something that exceeds his powers, and is not proportion to them; otherwise he would be a fool." Aquinas

The practical aim of the Magisterium is to cultivate charity and to weed out counterfeits of charity.

"That a prelate is hated by the laity comes about if he neglects the worship of divine praise." Aquinas

deacon : faith :: priest : hope :: bishop : charity

"When two virtues are such that one contains the other, that which is per se for the superior virtue belongs per accidens to the inferior." Aquinas

correction theories of punishment vs rehabilitation theories
- rehabilitation is (1) an end-state and (2) a global state; correction is (1) a focused act connected with the wrong and (2) not concerned with broader issues.

Anything that can be done with propositions can be done with questions and answers.

The same person facing the same evidence in a different order would not necessarily evaluate it the same way, not merely due to subjective ordering effects but also because some evidence gets its character from ordering (e.g., the difference between predictive confirmation and retrodictive confirmation).

ground of desire/volitionprinciple of acting
subjectiveincentive maxim
-- Kant's account requires a disanalogy between these.

"The word *sensation*, as commonly used, is defined not by introspection but by causation." C. D. Broad

It is a standing feature of human moral life that we can be penitent for others.

"Each one offers to the Tabernacle of God what he is able."

"...if there was no divinity, there could be no possible existences, and consequently no truths concerning them." Cockburn

Suspension of judgment presupposes judgment.

"The very notion of reward and punishment implies merit or demerit arising from a compliance with or neglect of some end, which moral agents were *previously* obliged to have pursued; so that obligation must be founded on some principle prior to all consideration of reward and punishment, otherwise there could be no ground for them." Cockburn

the social character of private happiness
moral sentiment as a feel for relations of perfection
relations of perfection that are promulgated by divine will
private happiness and moral sentiment as ultimately rooted in divine will

conscience, moral sentiment, love of humanity, and respect for oneself as four overlapping grounds for treating oneself as being obligated
every obligation as having a fourfold face
- some religious sense poss. needs to be added

The Kantian argument that rational nature/person/humanity is an end in itself is essentially right, but the argument also works for transcendental pure perfections (the true, the good, the beautiful).

treating humanity/rational nature as an end in itself (1) qua rational nature (2) qua social (3) qua embodied in animal nature (4) qua participant in divine providence

modalities as modes of givenness

For there to be a gift there must be a kind of reciprocity.

Gift naturally calls forth return; giving is a transforming circle, an egress and regress, like creation itself.

The system of exchange presupposes giving; to exchange, one must first give.

The return for which gift calls is not repayment of what is given, nor does it call for a definite path of return.

Giving establishes a sharing.

In marriage, each person is acquired as a person.

Quotation is (at least vaguely) attributed reiteration. Notably, most theories of quotation ignore both the repetition and the attribution to some source from which it derives.

It is obvious that most quotation in real conversation is not merely mention, but either witness to original use or else itself derivative use.

When we quote we may repeat the words alone or the use of them as well.

Respect for persons requires respect for rationality, and respect for rationality requires respect for evidence.

helpfulness & unhelpfulness of answers (obviously a kind of fit between means and end)

Every book as a splay of possible interpretations.

Every beautiful story has many possible ugly stories that could have been by mutilation of it.

To respect moral law properly, one must receive it as gift.

In giving the gift, by the attitude in which we give it we choose our reward for the giving.

As Christ is the Word made flesh, so too the unchanging truths of the Faith take cultural flesh.

That only can be truly willed as fully moral that is coherent, discernibly good, universal, and in accordance with divine will.

Kant's discussion of autonomy doubles as an account of the autonomy of philosophy (explicitly, see the discussion of the need for an a priori proof of the cat. imp. in the Groundwork).

From the LoN and KoE formulations together, you can get a divine will formulation: Act according to that maxim that (whether God exists or not) could by its nature be treated as a universal command of God.

beauty as a criterion for theories vs beauty as a criterion for inquiry

simplicity, naturalness, elegance
unifying, nonarbitrary, engaging the essential

Experiment, like photography, requires a frame, a boundary that demarcates, within which occurs what is of primary focus, selected out of the greater whole.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

A New Poem Draft

I've been reading Jackson Crawford's The Wanderer's Havamal, so my head is full of all things Nordic. I wrote this while my students were doing their Ethics tests yesterday and today; there are a few poetic licenses, whether for the odd rhyme scheme or to fill in a bit what the norns do (our information is patchy), but most things in it have at least some foundation in sources.


The air is cold, the sun is bright, and I
am waiting for the night;
the leaves are rustling, crisp and winter-dry;
the boughs look strange and bent.

The ash of worlds is swayed by gale from home
of elves to shadowed Hel,
but roots go down within the sand and loam;
the tree of realms will stand.

The caverns down below with darker ways are filled,
the caves that know no days,
where live the beasts no god, no soul, has willed,
with eyes as black as coal.

Beneath the tree, the steed where rides the god,
the fateful threefold hides;
they rule with might more sure than ruthless rod;
their word is bitter truth.

The waters trickle down the stony stair
to world untouched, alone;
where Urth is weaving golden thread the air
is weighted thick with dead.

The well of Urth is deep and cold; its maw
is like a dragon bold.
By Urthabrunn the ancient fates make law
devoid of love and hate.

Those waters holy heal, their dew the tree
of realms can make as new;
to taste that water is to wholly be,
and be made fresh of soul.

There too the swans a whiteness sure receive
from water hale and pure;
the draughts of truth all wounds and griefs relieve,
and fair are those reliefs.

The three who know all things there speak in thought;
all secret lore they seek.
Their turning thread they wove; their net has caught
the passed, the now, the yet.

Verthandi speaks the word of nornish doom
and men are slain or born,
and Skuld will consecrate the blooded gloom
and set aside the good.

Verthandi writes the runes on graven wood,
this man to free or save,
and Skuld the valkyrie in verdant maiden's hood
will sort each soldier-shade.

But Urth in law beyond all law is great;
around her head is awe,
for being is as she will deem its fate
and as her maidens dream.

Around a crowd is formed, with norn on norn
for every creature born,
to oversee the birth when babe from womb is torn
and fix its someday tomb.

Your birth is fated; fated too your death,
your fortunes old and new;
a good or evil norn has given breath
to you, and thus you live.

The waters trickle upward full of force,
in spirits form and pool
each Urthabrunn is echoing as source,
to shape each living thing.

From deepest sand and stone the roots go up
and give off greening shoots.
The tree of worlds is rising high and fair.
Its breezes gently sigh.

The boughs are vital-lovely, blooming worlds,
defying mortal doom;
every stem is blowing, dreams uncurled,
with bright and dewy gleams.

It overarches earth and even sky,
a fair and mighty eave;
upheld by fate, its leaves are bright, and I
am waiting dawning light.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Queenliest Flower

The Lotus
by Toru Dutt

Love came to Flora asking for a flower
That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
The lily and the rose, long, long had been
Rivals for that high honour. Bards of power
Had sung their claims. "The rose can never tower
Like the pale lily with her Juno mien"—
"But is the lily lovelier?" Thus between
Flower-factions rang the strife in Psyche's bower.
"Give me a flower delicious as the rose
And stately as the lily in her pride"—
"But of what colour?"—"Rose-red," Love first chose,
Then prayed,—"No, lily-white,—or, both provide;"
And Flora gave the lotus, "rose-red" dyed,
And "lily-white,"—the queenliest flower that blows.


There have been many, many kinds of saints. One of the interesting classes is that of the Stylites. The stylitic movement was begun by St. Simeon Stylite the Elder, who at some point in the early fifth century got kicked out of his monastery for being too weirdly ascetic; his fellow monks told him that he was not suited for life in a community. So he became a hermit, but in his eremitic life he continued his weirdness; at one point his ascetic discipline was to stay standing as long as possible, which some people were beginning to try out at the time. Extreme ascetic devotions were popular in Syria at the time, and word of him spread, so that pilgrims started going out of their way to see him and get his blessing, and then he became pilgrimage destination in his own right. That really started exasperating him as crowds started interfering with his prayers. So he came up with an ingenious solution: having discovered a pillar in some nearby ruins, he built a little platform on top it, climbed up, and stayed there. It definitely improved things, although he eventually had to move to a taller pillar, and he eventually had to have people build a wall around to control the crowds. Passing shepherd boys would pass him food. The crowds still came -- more than ever, in fact, to see the monk on the pillar -- but visitors could climb up part of the way to talk to him if they needed, he'd often preach to the grounds, and he started corresponding with people who sent him messages. You'd think living on top of a pillar all the time would reduce your social interactions, but in fact, while the interactions became more manageable, being on his own terms, St. Simeon's interaction with the world increased massively. However weird pillar-life might sound, it was a very effective and balanced ascetic approach, allowing for a little of everything. St. Simeon, too weird to accommodate life in the communities he found, climbed a pillar and found a community coming to accommodate him.

Thus the stylitic movement was born, with a long list of stylites following in his wake, many of whom became saints: St. Simeon Stylites the Younger, St. Symeon Stylites of Lesbos, St. Luke the Younger, and so forth. And that brings us to St. Daniel the Stylite, whose feast is today. He visited St. Simeon Stylite the Elder in his travels from monastery to monastery, and it inspired him to imitate the saint. He found a great place for a pillar, the ruins of a pagan temple north of Constantinople; he climbed up, and did the standing asceticism as much as possible. Unfortunately, he never asked the owner of the land for permission. The owner tried to convince him to go, and couldn't, so the owner appealed to the Patriarch of Constantinople, St. Gennadius. St. Gennadius couldn't convince him to leave, and St. Daniel managed, somehow, to convince the Patriarch that he shouldn't have to leave. He stayed there over thirty years until his death in the 490s, preaching against monophysitism and encouraging people to pray, and it was widely said that people who touched his pillar were cured of their illnesses.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Conscientious Objection of Interpreters

Nathan Emmerich and Christine Phillips raise an interesting conscientious objection question at BMJ:

Whilst our engagement with this question no doubt has generalizable implications, it first arose as a result of an experience one of us had when an interpreter terminated their participation in a consultation because the issue of abortion had arisen....

Interpreting is an unusual profession, not least because there is a sense in which the interpreter does not act independently. Insofar as their duties extend to relaying the words of others, they do not engage in any de novo speech acts. Thus, even if an interpreter knows that A is lying to B, it is their professional duty to convey that lie in the same way as it is uttered. Indeed, if that lie is subsequently believed it would be unethical for them to take it upon themselves to point this out. As such, interpreters adopt a morally neutral stance as to the content of the communications they facilitate and with regard to the situations they find themselves.

Contrary to what they suggest, this is a common kind of problem for professionals. Every doctor, every lawyer, every minister, every teacher regularly has situations in which their job is to pass on things with which they do not agree, because it is important for the lines of communication between the client and the system to be clear. But it is also necessary for the professional to be able to judge when they might not be the best way to do this. Emmerich and Phillips argue that Interpreters do not have the right to object conscientiously in these cases. They are assuming in the background the AUSIT Code of Ethics. It's impossible, however, to get the result they want while doing so -- the AUSIT Code of Ethics (rightly) holds up the standard that Interpreters should avoid or should attempt to withdraw from assignments in which their impartiality or detachment might be difficult due to personal beliefs. The idea of Emmerich and Phillips, that because an Interpreter has a duty to convey what is uttered that they therefore have no choice but to accept any assignment and to continue with it regardless of their judgment about whether they are able to remain unbiased and detached in their task, is a non sequitur and absurd on its face -- and there is no way to get from point A to point B here without assuming the conclusion they want. The attempt of Emmerich and Phillips to deny Interpreters a standard right of conscientious objection fails at the starting gate.

It's not essential to the point, and as I say the AUSIT Code of Ethics recognizes a standard according to which Interpreters might engage in conscientious objection if anyone attempts to force them to interpret in a condition that they deem dangerous for their unbiased detachment, but Emmerich and Phillips also show signs that they are overly influenced by an all-too-common superstition about what it is to be a professional:

However, to be a professional is to adopt a particular and socially defined role. To be or act as a professional is, in a sense, to adapt one’s individuality so as to conform with broader, collectively determined, professional responsibilities.

Professional responsibilities are not determined 'collectively'; there is no 'adaptation' of one's individual to the collective. Professional responsibilities are determined individually and refined cooperatively. All professional ethics arises from the actual work of professionals approaching their own work conscientiously; to be part of a profession is not to be part of a 'collective', but is instead to be a worker in a community with other similar workers, sharing what they know and have learned so that the work itself may be done well. The top-down view of professional ethics as descending from 'The Profession' -- I call it the Totalitarian view, because in practice it is used by people trying to deny all sorts of human and professional rights -- is gibberish; professional ethics does not descend from on high, it grows from the soil of actual practice, which is done by individuals and not by collectives. The purpose of codes of ethics put forward by professional organizations is to establish stable reference points of general agreement, to publish what professionals by and large regard as the standards and that people therefore can reasonably expect, not to dictate terms.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Spell Eva Back and Ave Shall You Find

Our Ladies Salutation
by St. Robert Southwell

Spell Eva backe and Ave shall yowe finde,
The first beganne, the last reversd our harmes;
An angell's witching wordes did Eva blynde,
An angell's Ave disinchauntes the charmes:
Death first by woeman's weakenes entred in,
In woeman's vertue life doth nowe beginn.

O virgin brest! the heavens to thee inclyne,
In thee their joy and soveraigne they agnize;
Too meane their glory is to match with thyne,
Whose chaste receite God more then heaven did prize.
Hayle fayrest heaven, that heaven and earth dost blisse,
Where vertewes starres, God sonne of justice is!

With hauty mynd to Godhead man aspird,
And was by pride from place of pleasure chasd;
With lovinge mind our manhead God desird,
And us by love in greater pleasure placd;
Man labouring to ascend procurd our fall,
God yelding to descend cut off our thrall.

As sung:

Sunday, December 08, 2019

A Great Tract of Time

Of all men only those who find time for philosophy are at leisure, only they are truly alive; for it is not only their own lifetime they guard well; they add every age to their own; all the years that have passed before them they requisition for their store. Unless we have no gratitude at all, those glorious fashioners of sacred thoughts were born for us, for us they laid the foundations of life. By the efforts of other men we are led to contemplate things most lovely that have been unearthed from darkness and brought into light; no age has been denied to us, we are granted admission to all, and if we wish by greatness of mind to pass beyond the narrow confines of human weakness, there is a great tract of time for us to wander through.

[Seneca, "On the Shortness of Life", from Seneca, Dialogues and Essays, Davie, tr., Oxford UP (New York: 2008), p. 155.]

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Ambrosius Episcopus

Today is the feast of St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church, who is notable among other things for having been baptized, confirmed, ordained, and consecrated bishop all in one week. Tensions were high over Arianism and the see of Mediolanum, or Milan, the second most important see in the West, was empty. Ambrose went to the cathedral to calm the crowd, because he was the Roman governor at the time, but as he was trying to do so, the crowd starting chanting, "Ambrosius Episcopus!" until he fled. It was too late, though; everyone started treating him as the bishop elect and even the Emperor, when he heard about it, assumed that Ambrose was resigning his governorship and sent congratulations to the people of Milan on their excellent choice. Since he was only a catechumen, he had to catch up on his sacraments. He was also the mentor of St. Augustine and quite a few others. From his De officiis (Book I, Chapter 9), the Cicero-inspired handbook he wrote as a guide for the behavior of his clergy:

The philosophers considered that duties were derived from what is virtuous and what is useful, and that from these two one should choose the better. Then, they say, it may happen that two virtuous or two useful things will clash together, and the question is, which is the more virtuous, and which the more useful? First, therefore, "duty" is divided into three sections: what is virtuous, what is useful, and what is the better of two. Then, again, these three are divided into five classes; that is, two that are virtuous, two that are useful, and, lastly, the right judgment as to the choice between them. The first they say has to do with the moral dignity and integrity of life; the second with the conveniences of life, with wealth, resources, opportunities; while a right judgment must underlie the choice of any of them. This is what the philosophers say.

But we measure nothing at all but that which is fitting and virtuous, and that by the rule of things future rather than of things present; and we state nothing to be useful but what will help us to the blessing of eternal life; certainly not that which will help us enjoy merely the present time. Nor do we recognize any advantages in opportunities and in the wealth of earthly goods, but consider them as disadvantages if not put aside, and to be looked on as a burden, when we have them, rather than as a loss when expended.

(The first paragraph is also a good summary of the standard Ciceronian position on officia, often translated 'duties', a position that, despite being historically important and influential, has tended to be lost in most recent virtue ethics; it plays an important role in Hutcheson's argument against Hume's account of virtue, but other than that discussions of it are almost nonexistent in modern versions of virtue ethics.)

Friday, December 06, 2019

Dashed Off XXV

The historical present establishes that we are inclined at times to treat the past (and at times the future) as an as-it-were/as-if present.

"In each error, there is truth, insofar as it is thinkable." Lambert

"...that object can only bejustly called sublime, which in some degree disposes the mind to this enlargement of itself, and gives her a lofty conception of her own powers." John Baillie

People always engage in impetratory prayer conditionally.

genuine distinctions, with examples
(1) purely conceptual: what are distinguished are themselves just conceptual ('a is the same as a')
(2) founded conceptual: what are distinguished are things insofar as they are conceptualized (practical & theoretical intellect)
(3) relative: what are distinguished are things as relative (imaginary numbers: i, -i)
(4) modal: what are distinguished are ways the things themselves are (myself yesterday, myself today)
(5) compositive: what are distinguished are things with respect to parts (overlapping regions)
(6) count: what are distinguished are discrete separables (John & Mary)
-- perhaps there's a need for a distinct capability-based distinction

distinctions allowing
(1) true and proper counting
(2) counting in an extended sense
(3) counting in a metonymic sense
(4) no counting

ens (considered as id quod est)
considered in itself
positively: res
negatively: unum
considered relative to ens
to entia in general: aliquid
to cognitive ens: verum
to appetitive ens: bonum
to cognitive-appetitive ens: pulchrum

tiers of philosophy
(1) nascent
(2) regimented
(3) analyzed
(4) systematized
(5) scholastic
(6) civilizational
(7) hypercivilizational

A cognitive power has a material and a formal object, but in addition there is a penumbra of circumstantial associates, what the object suggests as beyond itself, that of which the object is a sign or an effect.

alethics, ethics, aesthetics

Philosophy as dialectical cannot ignore authority; it must be in dialogue with it.

initiators, ultimate organizables, ultimate organizing principles (laws of nature), attractors

Locomotion simply in itself causes nothing. You always need something else like resistance.

The substance is the final cause of its proper accident, and the way in which it is so makes it like an active cause of it (insofar as the accident receives its actual being from the substance) and also like a material cause for it (insofar as the substance receives the accident).

the ubication of a body

We measure the intensity of sensations only by other sensations in context.

- Mercier on exteriorization of sensations ((1) contrast with muscular sensations; (2) double sensations)

Analytic judgments are not purely explicative because analysis does not leave us where we began.

Mercier's version of the principle of causality: A being whose essence is not its existence necessarily demands for the explanation of its existence a cause which brought it into existence.

The intrinsic possibility of a thing is logically prior to its conceivability, which is as it were an effect and sign (in the mind) of the former.

spontaneous belief arguments (a version of PSR argument, combining PSR with the phenomenon of widespread spontaneous belief) for: external world, other minds, secondary causation

The action of the efficient cause is from another perspective the action of the final cause.

order as a transcendental

aspirational arguments for the existence of God
(1) infinite desires
(2) gratitude
(3) postulates of meaningfulness

knowledge as the final cause of logic

Nothing can obligate except by imposing an end.

one, two, etc., in ____ sense
(1) strictest: separable opponent parts
(2) strict and proper: opponent parts
(3) extended proper: opponent relations *or* nonopponent parts
(4) figurative/improper: likeness to something that is (1), (2), or (3)

ens : unum :: res : verum :: aliquid : bonum :: multitudo : pulchrum

While there are obvious reasons why one, true, and good are primary, there seems to be reason to say that there are infinitely many transcendental attributes of being.

Love is that which makes change possible.

loved/able-to-be-loved as transcendental
(I say able-to-be-love rather than lovable because the latter suggests some particular worthiness to be loved, whereas we are here considering something prior to worthiness)
- obv. this will be closely related to good as a transcendental

the sacramental character as title to participate the Passion of Christ, to suffer with Christ in a sacramental way

People are not saved by invincible ignorance; invincible ignorance is a reason to believe, given other truths, that God will act in mercy by means outside of the ordinary. Even then, divine mercy is not a free pass but the grace for people themselves to receive faith and union with Christ.

One danger to justice is the human habit of trying to satisfy fictional debts rather than the debts that are really owed.

the politics of poshlost

existential operator as definite confirmation (confirming case)

Given an ordered set of yes/no questions, an (im)possible world can be represented as a binary number corresponding to the answers.

extensionality as relative invariance
extensionality as relative indifference

Possible worlds only admit of comparison if the model includes the same propositions (or questions & answers).

believing x in light of y
-- a way of thinking about consistent belief-tracks for doxastic logic

half-belief as nonexclusive belief track

The way things look does not depend only on looking.

To know that one knows requires an account of knowledge; merely to know does not.

pragmatism : alethics :: consequentialism : ethics

arousal theory : music :: Modernism : theology

We experience truth not merely as discovery and as knowledge but also as patrimony.

We know each other by causation, remotion, and eminence.

self-identity as an M! operator: Box(a) is equivalent to (a).

Utilitarians, oddly enough, often underplay urgency of need in evaluating pleasures. (I suspect that they often falsely conflate it with intensity, i.e., they treat it as measured by expected intensity of relief.)

sundbuend, lit. 'sea-dweller', used in plural to mean 'mankind' (soundbands)
gastiberend, lit., 'spirit-bearer, man (ghostbearer)

modality -> mereology -> quantification

Ordination does not make fools into sages, nor idiots into geniuses.

Note that Malebranche (TM 2.4) takes duties to be internal movements / impressions of love.

a possibility: intercession of Church Patient works as occasional causality, intercession of Church Triumphant as instrumental cause

sacraments as instruments of grace (First Way), as special participations of divine energies/transcendentals (Fourth Way), as orderings to divine ends (Fifth Way)

Every sacrament, directly or indirectly, links us by sign to a more full form of being that grace makes available to us, and into which we grow as saints.

Virtues are society-forming.

Knowledge being a formal sign, the theory of signs directly affects epistemology.

Knowledge is the world itself as signified well through itself.

uncanny: "anxious uncertainty about what is real caused by an apparent impossibility" (Windsor)

intentions as actional vs propositional attitudes (cp. Lucy Campbell on why the latter should nto be simply assumed)

To try to do X requires doing something that could apparently be dispositive to doing X.

Every poetic 'school' can be seen as a complex of three categories: primary influences, principles, and social interaction among poets.

The farther one moves from Imagist principles, the less sense free verse makes.

metric line vs verse line vs breath-utterance line

1 - Wherever - Whenever - Whoever - Whatever
0 - Impossible place (nonplace) - nontime - nonperson - impossible thing (nonthing)
TOP - somewhere (indefinite) - sometime - someone - something
BOTTOM - nowhere - no time - no one - nothing
A->0 - A is not anywhere at all - A is never at all - A is no one at all - A is nothing at all
1->A - A is everywhere - A is always - A is everyone - A is everything

the four notes of the Church in Irenaeus: Adv Haer. I.10.1; III.3.1

Priests and deacons perform some of their functions from their own orders and some as human instruments, through their orders, of the bishop.

Benedict XIV takes the traditio instrumentorum in the Decree to the Armenians to be concerned not with the matter proper but with bringing accessory matter into conformity with the Latin rite (De Syn. VIII, X, 8)

Our obligations to the Church are not only the natural obligations of interest but also the moral obligations of honor and conscience, and the sacramental obligations of seal and character.

Hume duplicates of worlds // philosophical zombies

a modal logic as a logic with a phenomenology

time: change measured by change
location: place measured by place
probability: possibility measured by possibility
argument complexity: inference measured by inference

peace as a transcendental attribute of being

'permissibly obligatory' and 'obligatorily permissible' as the key modalities for positive law

the firmitas, utilitas, and venustas of the Church as Temple

Pure alethic modality depends directly on the principle of noncontradiction, not on any possible world semantics. Other modalities can combine the principle of noncontradiction with other principles (but the how of this last should be considered in more detail).

We often treat real and rational relations as opposed categories. But the kinds of dispute arising about them suggest that this opposition is not so straightforward. So what if we think of them dimensionally rather than oppositionally? Everyone agrees that to-another with separation is real relation; everyone agrees that self-identity is rational relation. Take these as extremes near an axis, and take everybody to be disagreeing about the field between them and the location of each distinction in 2D space between them.

"...conversation, understood widely enough, is the form of human transactions in general." MacIntyre

the union of the courtly and the homely in the worship of the Church

same-or-other as transcendental distinction (Aristotle Met IV, 2 1004; cp. Met X, 3 1054)

the association of transcendental distinctions with transcendental attributes (potentiality/actuality with ens; sameness/alterity with unum; one/many with unum, etc.)