Sunday, September 22, 2019

Fortnightly Book, September 22

While Bram Stoker is most famous for Dracula, he wrote a number of other works in the horror genre, of which the next fortnightly book, The Jewel of Seven Stars, is one. An archeologist has become obsessed with the idea of returning an Egyptian mummy, Queen Tera, to life, and things become very dangerous when it turns out that the mummy-queen is herself manipulating events. The book did not have a very friendly critical reception in its own day, but Stoker was himself an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, and the book is usually thought to be one of the better mummy-monster novels at evoking a truly Egyptian atmosphere.

There are two different versions of the book. The original, published in 1903, has a dark ending; the revised version, published in 1912, takes out a chapter ("Powers Old & New") and modifies the ending to be somewhat happier. It's unclear why Stoker made the changes. The version I have is very definitely the 1912 version, but the original is available online, so I will perhaps have to read it as well.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Robertson Davies, The Salterton Trilogy


Opening Passage: From Tempest-Tost:

"It's going to be a great nuisance for both of us," said Freddy. "Couldn't you make a fuss about it, Tom?"

"If your father said they could use the place, it's no good for me to make a fuss," said Tom. (p. 3)

From Leaven of Malice:

It was on the 31st of October that the following announcement appeared under "Engagements", in the Salterton Evening Bellman:

Professor and Mrs. Walter Vambrace are pleased to announce the engagement of their daughter, Pearl Veronica, to Solomon Bridgetower, Esq., son of Mrs. Bridgetower and the late Professor Solomon Bridgetower of this city. Marriage to take place in St. Nicholas' Cathedral at eleven o'clock a.m., November 31st. (p. 251)

From A Mixture of Frailties:

It was appropriate that Mrs. Bridgetower's funeral fell on a Thursday, for that had always been her At Home day. As she had dominated her drawing-room, so she dominated St. Nicholas' Cathedral on this frosty 23rd of December. She had planned her funeral, as she had planned all her social duties and observances, with care. (p. 481)

Summary: In the small town of Salterton, Ontario, the local am-dram group is putting on The Tempest with the help of Valentine Rich, a professional director. She has her work cut out for her, as she has to deal with the self-important members of the troupe (Professor Vambrace, who, of course, thinks he knows everything about Shakespeare, and Nellie, who is the all-organizing all-busybody social climber), and with the obsessives (Major Pye the set guy, Cobbler the musician), and the inevitable tumult of the guys (Solly, Roger, Hector) mingling with the girls (Griselda, Pearl). Tempest-Tost is very entertaining (the character-work is excellent), but it is also very oddly structured. It ends quite abruptly, and has a number of features that make it seem as if Hector were the main character (we get much more of his backstory, and he is the mover of the major final crisis), but other parts don't. I've read somewhere that it may have originally been conceived as a play, and it does in some ways read like a play about Hector that has been filled out by description and occasionally following other characters in such a way that the author just adds whatever interests him. But the humor is constant, and sometimes surges into funniness.

Leaven of Malice moves us forward a bit, and focuses on journalism. The editor of the local newspaper, Gloster Ridley, is in a bit of trouble when a false announcement of a marriage between Solly Bridgetower and Pearl Vambrace appears in his paper. The histrionic Professor Vambrace is livid over the matter, as is Bridgetower's overbearing mother. This work has much more of a coherent structure than the first; it is structured plainly as a mystery story, although a somewhat unconventional one. A little leaven of malice can change almost everything.

In A Mixture of Frailties, Solly and Pearl (now preferring to go by her middle name, Veronica) have married and are dealing with the death of Solly's mother, who continues to be as overbearing in the grave as she was in life. In her will, Mrs. Bridgetower, who was quite well-to-do, leaves almost everything to Solly on a set of conditions that guarantee that he will have to struggle for some time. The most significant is that all of the money is to be used to fund the education of an artist until such a time as Solly and Veronica have a baby boy; and, in the meantime, if he is to get the legacy at all, he must maintain his mother's large house and her two servants on his professor's salary. The artist chosen by the Bridgetower Trust is Monica Gall, a girl with a lovely voice who sings on the radio for her fundamentalist church. She is sent to London, where she takes various lessons with teachers set up for her by the conductor, Sir Benedict Domdaniel; in the course of this she meets the brilliant young composer, Giles Revelstoke, and falls in love. Her musical education, I think, is well depicted, as is her overall education; Davies is very good at capturing the mix of real maturing and nonsensical bluster that characterizes growing up. This work is the best written of the three, although Salterton is really only used as a frame for the story of Monica Gall, which in most ways could simply be a novel standing on its own. But it is all tied together fairly well.

Of the three, Tempest-Tost, despite its odd character as a mix of unblended things, is easily the most entertaining. Part of this is probably that amateur actors are by nature more entertaining than journalists or professional and semi-professional musicians. Part of it, though, is probably the lavish attention paid to characterization; while the characterization is good all through the works, Tempest-Tost develops its characters in a leisurely and rich way. Much of the interest of the more organized Leaven of Malice is simply in seeing what happens to the Vambraces and Bridgetowers whom we met in Tempest-Tost; while you could read Leaven alone, I think it benefits massively from being read specifically as a sequel. Mixture partly foregoes this advantage; yes, we get some of the characters carrying over, but in a small amount and in such a way that they are little more than an occasion for the story to open and then later to close. It's technically a sequel, but for the most part its sequel-ness is incidental to the story it is telling. I also had the difficulty with Mixture of not being impressed by Revelstoke. The fundamental difficulty with writing about volatile musical geniuses is that writing only conveys all of the volatility and very little of the actual musical genius, so while in real life we might give some leeway to brilliance excusing or at least counterweighing bad behavior, in a literary context we get nothing more than the bad behavior in full view and a sort of rumor that maybe there is a brilliance that partly compensates for it, which is not the same thing.

All three of the books were great reading, though; the 800 or so pages of the omnibus edition were remarkably easy to get through, while nonetheless being richly written. To manage a kind of writing in which one can either just follow through with the flow of the story or stop and savor the writing at almost every point is a significant talent, and Davies certainly has it.

Favorite Passage: From Tempest-Tost:

The Torso was a silly girl, and a hoyden, and unseemly in her desire for the attentions of the male. But like many silly, hoydenish, man-crazy girls, she had a great charity within er. One of her admirers had said that she had "a heart as big as a bull", and if this special enlargement carries with it a certain sweetness and generosity of nature, the phrase may be allowed to stand. She ran up the stairs after Pearl. What she did cannot be related here, but in ten minutes they were both in the drawing-room, drinking sherry, and Pearl looked better than she had ever looked in her life; if there was any makeup on her face, it had been applied with The Torso's artful hand.... (pp. 190-191)

From Leaven of Malice, in which the classicist meets the Freudian:

"Professor, let's get down to brass tacks. I'm only here because I want to help. I want you to understand right now that my job is simply to understand, not to accuse. Now, you're an intelligent man, so I don't have to beat about the bush with you. We can take the gloves off right at the start. I take it that you've heard of the Oedipus Complex?"

"I am familiar with all forms of the Oedipus legend."

"Yes, but have you understood it? I mean, as we moderns understand it? Have you got the psychological slant on it?"

"Mr. Yarrow, I should hardly be head of the Department of Classics at this University if I were not thoroughly acquainted with all that concerns Oedipus."

"But the Complex? You know about the Complex?"

"What Complex are you talking about? All art is complex." (pp. 419-420)

From A Mixture of Frailties:

Ripon solemnly removed his hat. "This is a sacred moment," said he. "Sacred to me, anyhow, as a student of literature. You have just made the great discovery that behind every symbol there is a reality. For years you have accepted holly as a symbol of Christmas, unquestioningly, like a true Anglo-Saxon believer. And now, in a flash, you know why it is so. It is because, in this land which gave you your Christmas, holly is at its finest at this time of year. Perhaps we should cause a carved stone to be erected on this spot, to identify forever the place at which, fo rone human being out of the whole confused race, a symbol became a reality." (pp. 630-631)

Recommendation: Tempest-Tost is Highly Recommended; Leaven of Malice and A Mixture of Frailties are Recommended.


Robertson Davies, The Salterton Trilogy, Penguin (New York, 2011).

Thursday, September 19, 2019

'Mid Foam and Rays

I Rise in Summer When the Warmed Breeze
by Thomas Caulfield Irwin

I rise in summer when the warmed breeze
Fails o'er the ocean with the morning haze,
To plunge in deep, cool waters from the blaze
Of the strong sun, just risen from the seas:
And thus, companioned by two deities
Sport elementally 'mid foam and rays:
Then breathe sweet hours along the sandy bays
Where scarce the ripple creams, and hum the bees
In the hot hush of the sea banks: and cool
The listless brow in the faint wind, where swing
The waves along the reefs, and in some pool
The anemony opens its soft purple ring
Refreshed : 'till o'er the tide, at evening full,
The gull floats, and the woodward crow makes wing.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Matteo Ricci, Jiaoyou Lun

Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), also known in China as Li Madou, wrote his work On Friendship somewhere around the year 1595, originally calling it You Lun, Essay on Friends, but changing it to Jiaoyou Lun, Essay on Friendship, at the recommendation of several Chinese friends. The original idea seems to have been to do it as a language exercise, translating and paraphrasing Western maxims on friendship into Chinese, but there was so much interest in the topic among those to whom he showed the work that he eventually worked it up so as to give it as a gift to the Prince of Jian'an Commandery, who was a cousin of the Emperor -- probably in the hope that the prince would help Ricci in his perpetual attempt to meet the Emperor.

The Essay was on just the right topic at exactly the right time. The late Ming dynasty had seen the rise of debating societies and similar organizations that were based on developing one of the five relations, that between friends. While it would be a mistake to say nothing had been written on this, friendship was often treated as the least of the five, and certainly less explored than the ruler-subject or the parent-child relationship. People were interested in the topic of friendship as they never had been before. At a later point, the powers that be would try to rein in the enthusiasm for discussions of the value of friendship -- too much association with bands of revolutionaries -- but this had not begun yet. Ricci's work was short, thus being in one sense easy to read, and yet challenging, presenting a foreign point of view. The scholars of China seem to have been struck by the strange-yet-fitting turn of several of his aphorisms, weirdly stated paradoxes that somehow captured exactly their experience of friendship, positions very much like the traditional Chinese positions on friendship but with an unexpected twist, stories and comments that they had never heard before clothing points that they knew well.

If Ricci had been deliberately calculating to capture the interest of intellectuals, he could not have done a better job. It certainly did. Everyone wanted a copy; finally, the inevitable happened, and pirated versions (as we would say) began to be printed. It became the first work by a European to be printed in a number of important influential Chinese anthologies and collectanea, and while approval and popularity have waxed and waned multiple times, it can rightly be said to have become one of the modern classics of Chinese literature.

I read the work in Timothy Billings's translation: Matteo Ricci, On Friendship: One Hundred Maxims for a Chinese Prince, Billings, tr., Columbia University Press (New York: 2009). It has a nice introduction that gives some of the biographical and historical context, on which I am drawing, and it seems to do well in tracing down Ricci's original sources.

The Thought and Structure

The work opens with an autobiographical proem about how Ricci has sailed the seas to China out of respect "for the learned virtue of the Son of Heaven of the Great Ming dynasty as well as for the teachings bequeathed by the ancient kings" (p. 87). He visits the Prince of Jian'an Commandery, who asks him about how friendship is understood in the Far West, and for this reason Ricci is writing his book. Billings notes in the introduction that there are a number of reasons not to take this as literal, and to treat it as a literary rather than a historical introduction. It functions in a way as a tactful dedicatory note: Ricci shows respect for the prince and in a way gives him credit for it.

After this follows a hundred maxims -- it was probably originally a shorter list later rounded out to a hundred. One of the aphorisms that seems to have particularly caught the attention of Ming philosophers of friendship is the very first, which Ricci draws from Augustine and Aristotle:

My friend is not an other, but half of myself, and thus a second me -- I must therefore regard my friend as myself. (p. 91)

Another very popular one was the 24th aphorism (also derived from Augustine):

The harm that is done by a friend's excessive praise is greater than the harm that is done by an enemy's excessive calumny.

COMMENTARY: If a friend praises me, I may become self-conceited. If an enemy slanders me, I may become more cautious.

Some of the aphorisms show Ricci taking good advantage of the differences that can arise when translating into another context; he will sometimes find a way to make a wordplay work in Chinese as well as the original, or will draw on the characteristics of Chinese script (like the fact that one way of writing the word for 'friend' looks like a double version of the character for 'another'). He also will draw subtle but undeniable links between the aphorisms he is translating and Chinese ethics. For instance, on one aphorism drawn from Plutarch (the 52nd), he comments:

Since my friends must be virtuous and benevolent, they will know whom to love and whom to hate. This is why I rely upon them. (p. 111)

The word translated here as 'virtuous and benevolent' is ren, which is perhaps the foundational virtue in Confucian ethics.

The aphorisms derive from a wide variety of sources: Aristotle, Cicero, Plutarch, Augustine, Seneca, Diogenes Laertius, and more. In some cases he pulls together several different sources, and in a few cases (like the popular 95th aphorism, on the sharing of wealth between friends), Ricci seems to be himself the originator of the aphorism, although always on a theme that was common.

The book ends with a colophon which we apparnetly have in two slightly different forms, one in which Ricci calls himself a shanren (a man of the mountains), which has Taoist overtones, and was commonly used among certain independent-minded intellectuals of the day, and another in which he calls himself a xiushi, a moral scholar, which has a more Confucian tone to it. Billings notes (pp. 17-18) that this is probably because the shanren text occurs at the transitional stage between the original Jesuit attempt to describe themselves in Buddhist terms and the later Jesuit attempt to describe themselves in Confucian terms, and that the Taoist word actually goes very well with the proem, in which Ricci describes his choice of residence in China in terms at least evocative of Taoism.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Today is the feast of St. Roberto Bellarmino, Doctor of the Church. From his catechism:

God wants to be held for that which He is, without a doubt, for the One True God. This happens when a man cultivates within himself the four virtues pertaining to the Divine Majesty, this is faith, hope, charity and religion. For he who believes in God acknowledges God for God, i.e., for the Supreme Truth; in this, Heretics commit offense, because they do not believe in Him.One who hopes in God, he--in a similar fashion--acknowledges God as God, insofar as he holds Him as the most faithful, merciful and powerful, and trusts that He can and will help him in all necessities. Those who despair of the mercy of God sin against this, as well as those who hope in man more than in God, or certainly, trust in man as though he were God. One who loves God above all things, holds God for God, i.e. for the Supreme Good. Those men sin gravely against this who love any creature either before God or equally with God, or on the other hand--and more gravely-- those who hate God. Next, one who worships God with supreme reverence (which the virtue of Religion teaches), holds God as God because he acknowledges God as the Beginning and Author of all things. They sin against this who hold those things consecrated to God with little esteem, sucha s Churches, sacred vessels, the Priesthood and like things, as well as those who honor men either more or equally as they do God.

[St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctrina Christiana, Grant, tr., Mediatrix Press (2016) pp. 100-101.]

Monday, September 16, 2019

She Answered, Even So

by Alice Meynell

One wept whose only child was dead,
New-born, ten years ago.
“Weep not; he is in bliss,” they said.
She answered, “Even so,

“Ten years ago was born in pain
A child, not now forlorn.
But oh, ten years ago, in vain,
A mother, a mother was born.”

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Evening Note for Sunday, September 15

Thought for the Evening: Non Aliud

In recent discussion, I mentioned Cusanus's Non Aliud as one possible parallel to Advaita nonduality, so I have been thinking a bit about the concept.

Nicholas of Cusa was probably the most talented German theologian of the fifteenth century. He was active at the Council of Basel and was a major figure in bringing about the Council of Florence. He was also actively involved in the resurgence of Platonism in the Renaissance, and in particular, the attempt to reclaim parts of the Platonic heritage of the Church that had begun to fall out of view. One of the difficulties of this project was the fact that there were really a lot of varieties of Platonism beginning to resurface, and one of Nicholas's major contributions was in trying to work out ways in which these varieties might be pulled together. A good example of this is his notion of God as Non Aliud, Not Other.

Of the Not Other (De li Non Aliud) looks specifically at a few sources for broadly Platonic ideas: Plato's Parmenides with Proclus's commentary, Proclus's Platonic Theology, the works of Dionysius (whom he also calls the Theologian), and the works of Aristotle. Nicholas recognizes that a concern common to all of these works (in one way or another) is definition. A definition is good when it can be put into a form like 'A is not other than B'; the limit case of this is 'A is not other than A'. All of the works Nicholas is considering make definition to be a central part of knowing; you know something when you know its particular definition. Definitions are called such because they are acts of delimiting.

On the basis of this, Nicholas considers the question of the act of defining that defines everything. This Definition must be not other than what it defines, which is everything, so, given this, Nicholas proposes that we call it Not Other. If definitions are in some sense 'not others', the all-defining Definition is the Not Other. It in some sense defines itself -- Not Other is not other than Not Other -- and its defining gives the things themselves. It is perfect defining. And of course, the all-defining defining is God. As he puts it, 'other' indicates a terminus or endpoint of understanding; that which is on the other end, the very beginning point of it all, has to be Not Other, on which everything else depends. Not Other is simply prior to anything and everything else that can be defined; insofar as it makes understanding possible we call it Light. But as everything is not other than itself, it also has its existence from Not Other as the Cause and Reason for everything.

This serves as the foundation for Nicholas's explanation of the tendency in Platonism to suggest that transcendentals like being, one, true, good, are posterior to God. Since one is not other than one, it presupposes Not Other (one is one because of Not Other that defines it as such), which is more simple; one is other than Not Other. Some Platonists, of course, will use One as a name for Not Other, but they will also usually recognize that this is stretching the term in some way. Likewise, we can say that Not Other is beyond being because any being is not other than a thing that is, and so for good, as well. But it's not as if being, one, good, and true follow after Not Other as something separate; they each are what they are through Not Other, so that Not Other is present to them all, and, of course, present to everything to which they pertain.

Because of this, Not Other is in whatever is other -- every other is not other than the other it is. Every other is lacking something, because it is contrasted to that to which it is other. But Not Other is not like this; all others, even the ones contrasting with each other, are what they are through the all-defining defining that is being called 'Not Other'. Thus everything that can exist or be thought is so because of Not Other. Not Other is, of course, absolutely not other than Not Other; but as all-defining, it is also not other than every other. In Nicholas's example, God is not any visible thing, because He is antecedent to them all; but as antecedent to all He is also not other than them. The sky is other than what is not sky; and God, being Not Other, is neither sky nor not-sky, both of which are other than each other. But in the sky, God is not other than the sky, without being the same as the sky, and in what is not sky, God is not other than what is not sky, without being the same as what is not sky. Being Not Other, He is not other than these things. Unnameable, He is that by which all else is nameable; indefinable, He is that by which all else is definable; illimitable, He is that by which all is limitable; all these other things cannot be opposed to Him as one thing to another thing, because that would be inconsistent with their existing at all. This is Nicholas's Non-Aliud way of characterizing what Platonists often call 'participation'. Likewise, this is another way to think of divine ideas and creation: in Not Other, the sky is Not Other than Not Other, which is the divine idea, and we get creation insofar as in the sky, Not Other is not other than the sky. And whenever we are considering the sky, we are, whether we realize it or not, always considering the sky and the Not Other that defines it. Thus everything becomes a sign of God, pointing to God. "The definition defining itself and all things is the definition every intellect seeks."

All names we give to God, then, are attempts to capture Not Other, prior and all-defining, with respect to some particular aspect of things that are posterior and defined, sometimes more and sometimes less precisely: Infinite Power (as in the infinite power of the First Mover), Creative Will, etc. We call God 'substance' or 'substance of substances' or 'supersubstantial substance' because substances are not other than their accidents, but they are limited because they are other than other substances; but God is prior to substances as Not Other, and there is no other that is opposed to Him so as to be able to limit Him. We say that God has power, will, intellect, etc., because in us these are things by which we are closest to Not Other. Intellect and will are less other and more not other than other things. Nicholas uses the example of Trajan's column: it's called Trajan because it exists by Trajan's will, which defined and delimited it, and it is not other than Trajan's will for it, what Trajan willed it to be. And because of this, the column is the sign of Trajan's will.

The whole discussion is a clever way to synthesize a very large number of very different Platonic approaches (Perhaps, Nicholas muses at one point, they were all trying to make the same point but were expressing it differently), even though in doing so he stretches both thought and language, as he himself recognizes. He spends quite some time trying to show that his account corresponds to things said by Plato, Proclus, and the Theologian, and to a lesser extent Aristotle, and therefore provides a more precise way to characterize the things they all talked about. But, a true Platonist, he also insists that 'Not Other' is not the name of God, who is beyond all names; it is merely a way to rise to Him.

Various Links of Interest

* Alexandre Costa-Leite, Oppositions in a line segment (PDF)

* Alexander Pruss on eleven varieties of contrastive explanation

* Paul R. Audi, Existential Inertia (PDF)

* An interesting discussion of the history of the Mormon Pearl of Great Price

* Quentin Ruyant, The Inductive Route to Necessity (PDF)

* Jud Campbell, Natural Rights and the First Amendment

* An interesting article on how chess grandmasters lose weight due to the stress.

* Ryszard Legutko, Nationalism, Conservatism, and the E.U.

* An interesting paper by Chad Vance: The World is a Necessary Being (PDF). The title is perhaps a bit misleading, although not through Vance's fault; it comes about because of the clunky terminological apparatus of possible world semantics as it is usually described. Possible worlds are often said to be 'the way the world can be', and The World in the title is just that whatever it is that is such that possible worlds are the way it can be. What the argument really does is establish that on certain common modal assumptions, something actually existing, on which different possibilities depend, must be necessary.

* This year is the 50th anniversary of Scooby-Doo, so various pieces have been coming out in commemoration. Far and away the best I have read is Eleni Theodoropoulos's How Scooby Doo Revived Gothic Storytelling for Generations of Kids.

* Phil Christman reviews John Warner's Why They Can't Write.

* Fr. Joseph Bolin on the seal of confession.

Currently Reading

Robertson Davies, A Mixture of Frailties
Penelope Maddy, What Do Philosophers Do?
Declan Finn, Hell Spawn
Johann Wyss, The Swiss Family Robinson

Then Draw Your Curtains, and Begin the Dawn!

by Sir William Davenant

The lark now leaves his wat'ry nest,
And climbing shakes his dewy wings.
He takes this window for the East,
And to implore your light he sings--
Awake, awake! the morn will never rise
Till she can dress her beauty at your eyes.

The merchant bows unto the seaman's star,
The ploughman from the sun his season takes;
But still the lover wonders what they are
Who look for day before his mistress wakes.
Awake, awake! break thro' your veils of lawn!
Then draw your curtains, and begin the dawn!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Spiritus Destructionis

A propensity to wanton destruction of what is beautiful in inanimate nature (spiritus destructionis) is opposed to a human being's duty to himself; for it weakens or uproots that feeling in him which, though not of itself moral, is still a disposition of sensibility that greatly promotes morality or at least prepares the way for it: the disposition, namely, to love something (e.g., beautiful crystal formations, the indescribable beauty of plants) even apart from any intention to use it.

[Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, Book I, Chapter II, Episodic Section, sect. 17, in Immanuel Kant, Practical Philosophy, Gregor, tr. & ed. Cambridge University Press (New York: 1996) p. 564.]

Friday, September 13, 2019

Dashed Off XIX

This begins a notebook that was begun in July of 2018.

To receive the sacraments is to accept Christ's taking moral and juridical responsible for us, and in doing so to receive a responsibility ourselves.

Every child is born already in relation to parents.

An endless amount of our lives consists in making the best of a bad thing.

The seal of confession is integral to the sacrament's character as the tribunal of mercy.

(1) Christ's occupancy of the sacraments by presence
(2) Christ's designation of the sacraments through his priests as representatives
-- (1) presupposes Christ's jural title by creation; (2) presupposes Christ's institution.

(1) Social relations are mutable and uncertain.
(2) The mutability and uncertainty of them is a significant impediment to the maintenance of society.
(3) Thus we tend naturally to submit to the easiest reasonable remedy available, because we are unwilling to leave everything in suspense.
(4) Thus we rely on biological parenthood as our default for understanding parenthood.

Analogies for sacraments
-- medicine in vial (Hugh of St. Victor)
-- tokens in demonic pact (William of Auvergne)
-- water in aqueduct (Augustine)
-- ring &c. of investiture (Bernard)
-- axe used by artisan (Aquinas)
-- promissory note issued by king (Bonaventure)
-- pencil used by artist (Bañez)
-- paid ransom (Cano)

"By His wine, union; by His oil, sanctification." Ephrem
"Jesus mingled His might in the water."

An instrument that is visible is, by the very fact of being such, a sign of the effect.

A divine pact with the Church gives the framework for the sacraments (the new covenant) but does not explain the actions specifically performed in the context of the pact.

"Non-experience of something can prove that it is absent only when positive experience of it can prove that it exists." Vatsyayana

(1) Suppose moral relativism.
(2) Then there are many moral standards.
(3) Then there are features of these standards that make them identifiable as specifically moral.
(4) Then there are conditions required for anything to count as a moral standard in the first place.
(5) Then there are general constraints on morality that are not relative.
-- Not that a family resemblance response would still fail -- there must be a way to sort family resemblance from its lack.
-- A stronger possible objection: we only call them moral by analogy; we could also regard them as just something different from morality. -- But this would have to be principled. And once one allows analogies, partial overlaps, and approximate convergences, it becomes impossible to take descriptive moral relativism (insofar as it suggests 'Moral disagreement is more pervasive than moral agreement') seriously: partial and loose agreements are pervasive.

Relative to any particular way of measuring, truth values may be glutty or gappy or both.

Morality // Laws of Nature:
emotivism // pure naive empiricism
expressivism // conventionalism
error theory // fictionalism?
nonnaturalism // Necessitarianism/primitivism
nonreductive naturalism // Aristotelianism/powers theory
reductive naturalism // counterfactualism

Because of its complexity and the difficulty of making and confirming estimates, utilitarianism in practice works more like a rhetorical method than an ethical account.

All arguments for separation of Church and State have analogies for separation of Press and State.

Booker T. Washington & the working man's cosmopolitanism

Law tends to accumulate endless idiosyncratic, quaint, and otherwise obsolete usages because precedent, and classes of precedents, are important for its reasoning, particularly since imprecision can hurt you badly. Thus keeping old usages is often the easiest way to avoid going wrong.

logical ampliation as shift of standpoint

the principle for perception that corresponds to the principle of credulity for testimony

The modern world is premised on the inexhaustibility of fertilizer results, accessible petroleum, and antibiotic efficacy.

Defeat by sin is a worse evil than suffering.

We should treat our imagination sometimes as if it were a sophist inside us. (Cp. Epictetus)

"The Council of Trent was a Council of Recapitulation." Manning

Standard probability theory cannot distinguish happenstance actuality, conditional necessity given causal factors, and simple necessity.

(1) dangerous -- (2) unhealthy -- (3) shameful -- (4) culpable -- (5) wicked
Each category overlaps the one before and the one next.
safe, healthy, honorable, decent, virtuous

Four things need to be explained in talking about the principium individuationis: being one and the same, being in fact undivided, being subject, being such as to be uncommunicated.

families of accounts of sacraments: Dualism, Organicism, Memorialism

sacramentals as linking public and private devotion

entertaining, supposing, suspecting, opining

arguments for realism about grace (donative realism)
(1) from miracles
(2) from religious experience
(3) from human requirement + divine ability
(4) from ordinary language of believers
(5) from sublimity of sainthood

forms of donative anti-realism (liberal theologies of grace)
(1) symbolic natural
(2) ordinative/prescriptive
(3) fictive
Each of these takes one of the genuine elements of the phenomena and treats it as exclusive: symbolism, action-guidance, and narrative.

All forms of moral noncognitivism focus on an associated feature fo moral life: expression (attitudinal, emotive), prescription, symbol-building, etc., There obviously has to be some form of associated feature from which to draw plausibility, and the strength and weakness of the noncognitivism lies entirely here.

forms of lay Catholic contribution
(1) Catholic Action
(2) Catholic Worker Movement
(3) Humanitarian Traditions
(4) Catholic Education

Advaita means 'nonsecondness' or 'no second'. And in much of its position that there is no second to Brahman, it is attractive. Avidya can in that sense be seen as the ignorance that is an idolatry-tendency (seeing the world and its parts as if they were ultimate). Nonsublatability (abbadhyatvam) is like Rosmini's ultimate reason.

Each of Advaita, Vishishtadvaita, and Dvaita Vedanta as a philosophy captures something important: Advaita the nonsecondness, Vishishtadvaita the distinctness of souls with aptness for union, Dvaita the personal real difference. Each arguably focuses too narrowly on something it definitely gets right.

Any possible evidence for an error theory of morality is also interpretable as evidence for a modest success theory of morality.

"Considered in general, competition through honest means is a natural right relative to all kinds of earning." Rosmini
"Titles are those factual conditions in which the application of law takes place."

It is essential to double effect in the case of self-defense that we have an obligation to defend ourselves, broadly speaking.

forms of acts of satisfaction: (1) attestative (2) honorific (3) pecuniary

Hope is what converts opportunity into freedom.

Diversity is primarily a strength within the context of friendship.

The laity have a right to episcopal protection and aid.

We experience ourselves as actualizing potential.

"The cogito in general is explicit intentionality. The concept of intentional experience generally already presupposes the opposition between potentiality and actuality...." Husserl

person-relative modalities: epistemic, doxastic, deontic
as-if modalities: fictional, hypothetical
alethic modalities: alethic proper, provable, temporal, locative, dynamic

The experience of potentiality and actuality is related to the experience of incompleteness and completeness in act.

Love, and everything then belongs to you.

recognition of the vastness of the universe --> sublimity of the mind --> teh sublime as such, which all call God

health (sanitive) nonnaturalism

Everything in later Christian doctrine must find its seminal reason in Apostolic teaching.

Doctrine, that is, teaching, by its very nature unfolds.

NB that Augustine holds that for the baptized concupiscence is not sin if there is no consent (Mar & Con 1.23); i.e., the regenerate have grace such that it does not immediatley produce sin, although it is an effect of sin and through consent can become sin.

The text is the governing guide for interpreting the text.

elements that are in Apostolic teaching 'invisibiliter, potentialiter, causaliter quomodo fiunt futura non facta'

preexistence in Apostolic doctrine
(1) materially
(2) in cause
(3) in active powers (germinally)
(4) by similitude
[Compare Aquinas, ST 1.73.1 ad 3.]

"In order to be successful in any kind of undertaking, I think the main thing is for one to grow to the point where he completely forgets himself, that is, to lose himself in a great cause." Booker T. Washington
"Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work."

three kinds of aporia
(1) variation according to perspective
(2) disagreement
(3) apparent infinite regress

"Once there is a religion, it must necessarily also be social." Schleiermacher

Once there is a religion, it must necessarily also be semiotic.

sign as an intentional instrument of cognition
sign as mediating instrument for cognition

example-diagrams vs analogy-diagrams

the Church as standing memorial of duty to God (Butler)

Philosophical accounts of artifacts too often drop the recognition that 'artifact' is a denomination relative to art (techne, skill).

The analogy between motion of particles and motion of cracks suggests a higher-order generalization of which both are merely specifications.

creation as giving readiness to appear (communication of readiness to appear)

sacraments as artifacts of divine art

artifacts as quasi-deontic objects

the sacramental economy as the material culture of salvation and deification

Never enter an argument without having some grasp on the larger context.

If the First Way yields sacraments as instruments (moved movers) and the Fifth Way as expressions of providential plan, what do the Second, Third, and Fourth Way yield?

God is the subsisting and exemplar principle of noncontradiction, the 'turhtmaker' and 'truthbearer' for all necessary truths, all of which 'unfold' from Him.

While we speak of contingent truths as a lot, not all contingent truths are contingent in exactly the same way.

sanctity as a sign of the Holy Spirit, as signifying the Holy Spirit

the Ascension as the initiation of the full sacramental economy (Cp Leo Serm 74.2)

sacraments as: artifacts, signs, instruments, gifts, mediations, memorials, occasions of presence, synergies/cooperations, pledges

Matrimony effects what it signifies by forming the domestic church.

Purgatory is like mystagogy, but away from the sacraments rather than to them.

the ivy of analogy threaded through the trellis of demonstration

kinship, friendship, patriotism, and worship

marriage as partial asceticism

Out of much foolishness an occasional brilliance can be born.

opening (Diamond), illustrative (True), and binding (Box) precedent

angelology : learning :: demonology : temptation

synousia with the saints through relics, icons, and hagiography

"No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial." Tolkien

partwise cooperation vs wholewise cooperation

the gifts of the Holy Spirit as forms of freedom

Golden Mouth

Today is the feast of St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church. From his Homily XXII on Hebrews:

"The lifting up of my hands" (it is said) "is an evening sacrifice." With our hands let us also lift up our mind: ye who have been initiated know what I mean, perhaps too ye recognize the expression, and see at a glance what I have hinted at. Let us raise up our thoughts on high.

I myself know many men almost suspended apart from the earth, and beyond measure stretching up their hands, and out of heart because it is not possible to be lifted into the air, and thus praying with earnestness. Thus I would have you always, and if not always, at least very often; and if not very often, at least now and then, at least in the morning, at least in the evening prayers. For, tell me, canst thou not stretch forth the hands? Stretch forth the will, stretch forth as far as thou wilt, yea even to heaven itself. Even shouldst thou wish to touch the very summit, even if thou wouldst ascend higher and walk thereon, it is open to thee. For our mind is lighter, and higher than any winged creature. And when it receives grace from the Spirit, O! how swift is it! How quick is it! How does it compass all things! How does it never sink down or fall to the ground! These wings let us provide for ourselves: by means of them shall we be able to fly even across the tempestuous sea of this present life. The swiftest birds fly unhurt over mountains, and woods, and seas, and rocks, in a brief moment of time. Such also is the mind; when it is winged, when it is separated from the things of this life, nothing can lay hold of it, it is higher than all things, even than the fiery darts of the devil.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

John Duns Scotus Month at OUP

The September Philosopher of the Month for Oxford University Press is Bl. John Duns Scotus. They are making available a number of Scotus-related resources for free, especially if you have a library with a subscription.

Mill on Love of Virtue

The love of virtue, and every other noble feeling, is not communicated by reasoning, but caught by inspiration or sympathy from those who already have it; and its nurse and foster-mother is Admiration. We acquire it from those whom we love and reverence, especially from those whom we earliest love and reverence; from our ideal of those, whether in past or in present times, whose lives and characters have been the mirror of all noble qualities; and lastly, from those who, as poets or artists, can clothe those feelings in the most beautiful forms, and breathe them into us through our imagination and our sensations.

[John Stuart Mill, Notes on Plato's Gorgias]

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Chance and the Perfection of Things would be contrary to the very meaning of providence if things subject to providence did not act for an end, since it is the function of providence to order all things to their end. Moreover, it would be against the perfection of the universe if no corruptible thing existed, and no power could fail, as is evident from what was said above. Now, due to the fact that an agent fails in regard to an end that is intended, it follows that some things occur by chance. So, it would be contrary to the meaning of providence, and to the perfection of things, if there were no chance events.

[Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles 3.74.] The point, of course, is that there are kinds of good that are subject to chance just by being what they are, so complete good requires chance.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Ethics in the Background

John Houston has a brief discussion of what he calls "morally horrific religious beliefs"; it's somewhat interesting, although not very informative. But I think it is a good minor example of a problem that often takes much more egregious forms in contemporary philosophy of religion, to the extent that in other cases it is often indistinguishable from sloppiness or laziness: the tendency to rely on a background ethics without proper critical examination of it.

It's actually an interesting exercise. Ethics comes up constantly in contemporary phil-rel, and whenever it does it's worth asking what kind of ethics has to be true for the arguments to work. It's often obvious that the ethics being assumed is not consistent with any of the most commonly accepted forms of ethics, some obscure variant that may, for all one knows, be perfectly justifiable, but whose use is never justified despite not even having the excuse of being common. In other cases, it's not clear what ethics you could have that would make the argument work. I've come across cases, usually in the wilds of the internet, but real cases by actual philosophers nonetheless, in which it seems very much as if the ethics has to be changing in the middle of the argument -- a strict consequentialism to get this step, a strict deontology to get that one. In other cases, the problem doesn't seem to be incoherence so much as obscurity -- it's just not clear what ethics is operative in all these ethical judgments, at all.

In this case, for instance, Houston rejects the notion that God could require morally horrific actions (it is never explained what exactly is being taken to constitute an action as horrific, although murdering is given as an example and it is supposed to have something to do with "beliefs that are most central to the core of one’s moral convictions", although it is never said whose beliefs are being counted) by appeal to Kant:

For Kant, it seems that such commands carry with them the inherent transparency of their not being from God, and therefore they must be regarded as illusory. Thus, in The Conflict of the Faculties, Kant says of the man who hears a voice commanding him to violate the moral law, that he must doubt that advice: “for if the voice commands him to do something contrary to the moral law, then no matter how majestic the apparition may be, and no matter how it may seem to surpass the whole of nature, he must consider it an illusion.”

All well and good; it is pretty clear that Houston's argument would require the rejection of consequentialisms of all sorts (although at one point he does frame it in terms of consequences), and his argument also won't work on any kind of positivist deontology, like divine command theory. So it would make sense that he is assuming a Kantian view of morality, and thus we get Kant.

On the other hand, he goes on immediately to argue "God can and does owe things to the men and women he creates." As I've noted before, there is no widely accepted theory of obligations on which it makes sense to think of God as the kind of moral agent who would have obligations -- on most theories of how obligations work, it would be a category mistake to say that God owes anything at all, unless we are using the term in a way much looser than Houston's argument would require. But the most relevant thing here is that Kant's theory of obligations is very definitely one of the theory of obligations in which God has no obligations and therefore owes us nothing. We have obligations because there is a possible disparity between our wills and moral law; but this disparity does not exist in the case of God, who has a holy will. God's will is just an expression of moral law itself. And this is directly relevant to the argument that Kant just gave. We know that it's impossible for God to command something like sacrificing your son, Kant thinks, because God's will, being holy, directly expresses moral law without the kind of gap our will has to overcome; the moral law, being the categorical imperative, is something we directly know; and we know that the moral law imposes no such requirement. Thus God's will can impose no such requirement. Thus it makes perfect sense for Kant to give the argument that Houston quotes; but the whole argument in Kant depends crucially on the fact that God's will is not even the kind of will that could have an obligation. So in a very brief space Houston has used an argument from Kant to draw a conclusion and then denied one of the assumptions that Kant is making in the argument to begin with.

Now, of course, it's entirely possible that there is some other foundation by which you could have the Kantian argument without the Kantian assumption. But the point is in a different question: How could we know it? The ethics being assumed as absolutely obvious and definitive appears to be a definitely nonstandard deontology that's inconsistent with the most common major forms of deontology, and we don't know enough about its details to say whether it is better justified than the more common forms. We don't really know what it is at all, or how it works, or why it is giving us this particular set of arguments. This is a minor example, but as I've said appeals to ethical considerations in philosophy of religion are sometimes considerably more egregious in their failure to explain what the ethics actually is. (Houston at least gives us a few definite pointers, so we can guess that it's probably a deontology somewhere in the vicinity of Kant although not strictly Kantian, and it requires assuming that people generally share a "fundamental moral intuition" about murder; that's more definite than you sometimes get.) Whenever we look at arguments in philosophy of religion that appeal to ethical considerations, we always need to stop and look closely at the ethics in the background.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Forgiveness and Amends

Alexandra Couto has a well-known paper, "Reactive Attitudes, Forgiveness, and the Second-Personal Standpoint", in which she gives an argument that elective forgiveness is only warranted and virtuous in cases where the wrongdoer has repented and made amends:

(1) Forgiveness involves overcoming the reactive attitudes stemming from a wrongdoing.
(2) The reactive attitudes issue an implicit second-personal demand.
(3) To know when forgiveness is warranted, we need to know what that demand is and how it may be answered.
(4) Wrongdoing entails a violation of the recognition respect owed to the victim.
(5) The demand implicit in the reactive attitudes experienced by the victim is a demand for the re-establishment of recognition respect.
(6) The demand for the re-establishment of recognition respect is a fundamental demand.
(7) Not insisting on the demand to re-establish recognition respect would be tantamount to showing lack of self-respect.
(8) It isn't virtuous to forgive when the demand for the re-establishment of recognition respect hasn't been answered.
(9) The view that unconditional forgiveness is virtuous (ceteris paribus) is not justified.

We have to be careful to some extent since 'virtuous' may mean either 'appropriate to virtue' (something a virtuous person could and perhaps would generally do) or 'required by virtue' (something a person would have to do to be acting as a virtuous person would). The background account here is a sentiment-based theory of obligation, deriving from Darwall: a moral obligation is such that its violation would warrant a 'reactive attitude' like blame or resentment. All reactive attitudes in some way call for action, a sort of expectation that what the reactive attitude concerns will be appropriately addressed. This is what gives premises (2) and (3). 'Recognition respect' is respect in the sense that you treat someone or something as worth taking into account appropriately in your deliberations. The claim in (4) requires a particular restriction; Moriarty and Holmes both render each other recognition respect (among other kinds of respect) in the basic sense that they treat the other seriously worth considering in deliberation and action, but I take it that the assumption is that we aren't dealing with recognition respect in quite this sense. There is a narrower sense of recognition respect in which we are talking about specifically moral cases, in which failure to treat someone as worth taking into account appropriately in your deliberations would be regarded as a moral wrong. (4) clearly assumes something like this. It's unclear to me why one would think that wrongdoing entails a violation of such respect; I suspect that Couto is taking the 'appropriately' very seriously here. (5) would more or less follow from the rest, although one could argue that the demand is for re-establishing recognition respect or something that can be treated as equivalent or better (more on this in a moment). (6) sets up for (7) and (7) for (8). As to (1) itself, I am not at all convinced of reactive attitude accounts of most major moral concepts (they typically confused indicators of things with the things themselves), but the Darwallian emphasis on what is warranted makes this less serious for this particular case than it might otherwise be, so let's assume the account correct for the moment. I take it that the "ceteris paribus" in the conclusion is to take into account cases where the action might be virtuous for completely independent reasons.

Getting (6) is tricky. What Couto wants to argue is that the demand for re-establishment of recognition respect that warranted resentment against wrongdoing establishes is fundamental in the sense that it is not superable or defeasible. The point I previously noted, that you could argue for a more flexible claim than (5), is directly relevant here: if there are other things one can do, even if only occasionally, it would massively complicate the argument. Couto's attempt to argue that the demand for re-establishment of recognition respect really is fundamental is somewhat complicated, and I am not sure I fully understand it. If we take the point to be "a relationship of equal accountability", and consider what would be experienced by hypothetical members of an ideal moral community, and as a violation of recognition respect is such as would warrant blame or resentment, this is how members of an ideal moral community would react. As I said, I'm not sure I fully understand this line of thought, but I think the point is that, since we are, Darwall-like, tying moral obligation to what is warranted, it follows that if the blame or resentment is warranted, it is obligated, so an ideal moral community would act accordingly. (Usually we would say that 'X is warranted' does not imply 'X is required', but this cannot be the sense relevant here.) What's unclear to me is why this would be taken as suggesting that the ideal moral community's blame/resentment must be narrow (specifically, one must re-establish recognition respect specifically) rather than broad, beyond the fact that Couto seems to assume there is no substitute for re-establishing recognition respect in particular.

Setting aside for a moment cases in which forgiveness is given knowing that the forgiven will never repent, the big kind of case that needs to be considered is forgiveness in advance of repentance and/or amends. There are a number of different kinds of this forgiveness-in-advance, but two obvious cases could be called anticipatory (you forgive expecting that repentance and amends will probably be made) and optative (you forgive hoping that your forgiveness will spur the forgiven to repent and make amends). Couto would rule out both cases on grounds of self-respect. Self-respect requires the belief that one is owed respect; such a belief requires that one thereby have 'appropriate attitudes'. This argument is utterly baffling to me. Self-respect is naturally read as requiring the belief that one should treat oneself as worthy of respect; 'worthy' is a weaker term than 'owed', and 'oneself' is a narrower extent than one that would include anyone who might have wronged one. And how one conceives respect to work is clearly relevant. Consider a Stoic conception of self-respect, in which you treat yourself as worthy of respect (because of your participation in Reason), and that primarily consists in holding yourself to moral action and not caring all that much about how other people treat you. The proper response to wrongdoing would be to do well oneself, not go about demanding that other people make it up to you. The Stoics are interesting, because I think Stoics would usually agree with Couto that you should only forgive those who have shown a willingness to correct the matter (following a strict interpretation of some Socratic comments), but this does not follow from the Stoic conception of self-respect. And one has to consider too that one common reason people give for anticipatory and optative forgiveness is that they came to recognize that by carrying their resentment or blame they weren't respecting themselves, but rather holding themselves back, letting the wrongdoing imprison them. People not uncommonly justify their anticipatory or optative forgiveness as a way of rising to what they should be; and this, if true, cannot be inconsistent with self-respect. But whether self-respect can include such a thing seems already to depend on whether you think it is the sort of thing that could be regarded as appropriate to someone worthy of respect; and thus Couto's self-respect argument seems to beg the question.

Couto has another argument, based on the notion, previously mentioned, that the point of it all is "a relationship of equal accountability". On a Darwallian account, holding people accountable requires that we do so entirely on factors internal to the practice of holding people accountable; this excludes acting simply on what would be desirable. So Couto suggests that forgiveness for a reason other than repentance and amends would be the "wrong kind of reason". Now, I think the Darwallian account of accountability is gravely wrong -- I think most accountability is based on goods in the appropriate larger context of the practice rather than goods internal to the practice -- but let's assume that it is right. Optative forgiveness would work as a target of the "wrong kind of reasons" argument, because it is in some sense based on desirability. But anticipatory forgiveness is not so clear a matter. How does this really affect the anticipatory case, where there is an expectation that probably repentance and amends will be made? In particular, how is anticipatory forgiveness different from ordinary forgiveness on probable grounds, in which you don't know with absolute certainty that repentance and amends were made, but you have good reason to think that they probably did happen? They both regard the same reason, and the only difference is in the note of time. Thus either anticipatory forgiveness is fine for the same reason ordinary probability-based forgiveness is, or we have to deny that forgiving on only probable grounds is acceptable (which drastically reduces the allowable cases of forgiveness, since most forgiveness is based not on certainty, even moral certainty, but on signs of repentance and amends-making), or we have to hold that holding-accountable is an intrinsically backwards-looking practice (which is implausible and seems arbitrary).

There are a number of cases of forgiveness that Couto's strictures rule out as capable of being virtuous. It is worth going through them a moment, and seeing how they work. I take it that there are three major families of cases, at least.

(1) We have already raised the first family, forgiveness in advance of repentance and/or amends, and the two main kinds, anticipatory forgiveness and optative forgiveness. These are often done, contrary to what Couto's argument suggests, out of a concern for self-respect, and in particular out of a sense people have that they need to be the better person, or that they need to hold themselves to a higher standard than others do, or that they need to avoid being passive about moving on.

(2) The second major family of cases is forgiveness in circumstances of impossible repentance and/or amends. The obvious impossibility here is simple impossibility (the most common case is forgiving people who have already died); perhaps there are cases of relative impossibility, impossibility for incidental reasons, but let's focus on a recurring case where amends are simply impossible: forgiving the dead. Why do people sometimes come to the decision that they have to forgive people who are already dead and can't make amends? A common reason is that they have to do it to move on with their life. They aren't getting amends, period. So what do you do? Do you just dwell on the wrong done to you, which will never be righted, never even given symbolic recognition by the wrongdoer? Human beings can't live like this. This is perhaps a problem with the Darwallian tendency to see everything as a matter of accountability. Is accountability really the primary thing demanded by blame and resentment? Could not one argue that healing in some sense is what is demanded instead? Then one could say that accountability is sometimes the best way for healing to proceed, but perhaps not always. Another reason people give is self-respect, as with the case of forgiveness in advance of amends. A third reason, perhaps, that people do it is that once death has come, it's absurd to demand anything more. Neither Darwall nor Couto really consider whether human accountability has limits that are sometimes in fact reached -- limits like death itself -- so that once they are reached, there is nothing to do but count it a loss and move on, or else find a way to move on constructively.

(3) The third major family is a particularly interesting one, which I call cases of forgiveness by deemed amends. What counts as amends? The category has to be able to include things that are symbolic, as well as things that are purely conventional. So if that's the case, why cannot some things merely be deemed as amends? OK, so let's assume you can't virtuously forgive without there being amends, but what if you often have the power simply to count something as amends? There are three cases that would sharply cut into the thrust of Couto's. Sometimes we treat the bare fact of repentance as amends enough, even though it could only possibly be so symbolically and because we treat it as being amends enough. Sometimes we don't even require definite repentance; just something repentance-ish, repentance-like, gets treated as amends enough. And sometimes, even where there has been no repentance, we count other actions as taking the place of amends -- for instance, we might take someone's good deed to someone we love to work as well as if they had repented and made amends to us, even if that wasn't the intent. Of these, the first could technically be given a place within the letter of Couto's account, but perhaps not the spirit; the second, if allowed, would make it impossible to eliminate most cases of anticipatory forgiveness; and the third seems entirely inconsistent with it. But all three of them are plausible given a very common assumption about forgiveness: forgiveness is not a passive response but an exercise of power on the part of those who have been wronged. Minimally, you have the power to accept repentance and amends. But it also seems that you have at least some power to decide what you will count as amends. (Who else would draw the line for you?) So how far does this go? Is it very restricted, or (as actual practices of forgiveness suggest) does it extend quite far?

There is an oddity in all of this kind of discussion. Forgiveness has been a topic that has picked up interest recently, so more people are discussing it; it's not surprising that they discuss things from their own ethical perspectives; given the make-up of the academy, and its conventions, it's not surprising that these perspectives are often not particularly religious. But on a matter like forgiveness, it is very strange how little anyone considers the religious aspect to it. If we are talking about unconditional forgiveness in general, why do most people who consider it a good option do so? Because they think it fits closely with Christian requirements about forgiveness. Even that aside, people regularly forgive under conditions that do not fit Couto's account and do so for religious reasons, direct or indirect, whether the religion be Christian or another. Part of the argument was about hypothetical people belonging to an ideal moral community. But what about actual people who converge on our moral ideals in many ways? What have they done? Even if you regarded all these as non-definitive, surely they are relevant to understanding the topic? But there is a curious disconnect in certain parts of ethics, as if ethics were a thing entirely done in the head of the ethicist, rather than something done in the real world by real people, some of whose advice is worth hearing and some of whose practices are worth taking seriously. And while I think you can find sages who would agree with something like Couto's basic idea that amends is necessary, I think even in those cases you would often find that they work with a very different conception of amends; and in other cases, I think you would find that the advice and examples we see in our best suggest that forgiveness is possible in many cases where there are no amends in at least an ordinary sense of the term.

Three New Poem Drafts

On a Passage in the Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth

Down the green-clad hillside slope
the water flows in streams,
mining through the young wheat fields
with silver-streaking seams
beside the sheep that graze the hill
like clouds in dozing dreams.
The sunshine through the rain-glossed day
sparks life to sudden crowds:
the flowers leaping like the spring,
hepatica, violet, proud,
the snow-drops raising snowy heads
in sunsong sweet and loud.
The woods of brown exhibit light
through netting made of bough
and planted oaks, like columns old,
are crowning hillside-brow.
And so it is, and so you are,
in pure and standing now.

Light in Mist

Mind is a landscape covered with mist;
shapes there go walking, hinting of more;
everything dances with curl and twist
like breeze-playing spray from wave and shore.

The moonlight at times silvers the air,
dim sunlight through clouds may color all,
but neither is light like that you share
when something of you does on me fall.

That of which we think may become clear;
thinking itself is vaporous sea.
And light is a music subtle and clear,
rainbowing reason: thus you to me.


the wholeness of good possessed as a whole
the completion of the power inherent in you
at splendid things true joy of the soul
when you triumph at being your self pure and true
to reason well in choosing the natural thing
to contemplate order of all things in all
to be like a circle and unending ring
in all choice and thought to hear virtue's call
achievement of life that is smooth in its flow
that which makes nature finished in kind
the good to will and the true to know
being the divine that in us we find

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Fortnightly Book, September 8

William Robertson Davies had a lot of careers in his lifetime. He was an actor for a while in London (which is how he met his wife). He was an editor for a number of publications. He became part owner of a number of small media outlets. He helped found the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada, and served on its board of governors. He wrote plays, essays, and novels. He taught literature at Trinity College at the University of Toronto. He was the first Master of Massey College. Of all the Canadians of his day, he was perhaps the one who most completely summed up the literary world.

The Darwins gave me an omnibus edition of Robertson Davies's humorous Salterton Trilogy: Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, and A Mixture of Frailties, so this will be the next fortnightly book, although it's possible that the set will make for a three-week fortnight. All three novels take place in the fictional Canadian town of Salterton. Tempest-Tost is about the local theater group putting on a play, or trying to, in any case, as much as possible given their quirks. Leaven of Malice is a sort of mock-mystery involving a false engagement notice. And A Mixture of Frailties is about a will and testament of fiendish design.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

The Nibelungenlied


Opening Passage: The first sentence is the usual opening sentence, but it does not appear in all manuscripts, and is thought to be a later addition:

We have been told in ancient tales many marvels of famous heroes, of mighty toil, joys, and high festivities, of weeping and wailing, and the fighting of bold warriors -- of such things you can now hear wonders unending!

In the land of the Burgundians there grew up a maiden of high lineage, so fair that none in any land could be fairer. Her name was Kriemhild. She came to be a beautiful woman, causing many knights to lose their lives.... (p. 17)
Summary: The beautiful Kriemhild resolves never to marry after a dream suggesting that her husband will die a violent death. But soon the prince Siegfried comes along to woo her, and this upends her world, for Siegfried is the greatest hero of an age of heroes. He helps her brother Gunther fight the Saxons and, on condition that he would then be able to marry Kriemhild, journeys with Gunther to woo the mighty maiden-warrior, Brunhild. Brunhild agrees to marry Gunther if Gunther can defeat her in contests of strength, but it becomes clear that her own strength is superhuman. But Siegfried, who has been pretending to be Gunther's vassal, has a cloak of invisibility, and using it he secretly adds his own great strength to Gunther's, and together they defeat Brunhild, who marries Gunther thinking that he defeated her alone. However, she is bothered by the relationship between Gunther and Siegfried -- something about her entire situation seems off, and Siegfried seems to be at the center of it. She demands Gunther tell her the secret, and when he refuses, she refuses to sleep with him on their wedding night, and when he tries to press the matter forcibly, she uses her strength to tie him up and hang him on the wall all night. Needless to say, he is humiliated, but Siegfried manages to get him to tell the shameful secret, and offers to help again with subduing Brunhild. Gunther accepts, on condition that Siegfried not actually sleep with her. Siegfried uses his cloak of invisibility to sneak into their room in the dark of night, and Brunhild finds that her strength, great as it is, is no longer able to subdue (as she thinks) Gunther. Gunther sleeps with her, and despoiled of her maidenhood, loses her great strength. Very fatefully, however, Siegfried took from Brunhild her ring and her belt -- usually a sign of sexual conquest.

Siegfried and Kriemhild marry, but Brunhild is still very suspicious; she puzzles aloud to Gunther about how he married his sister to one of his vassals. The translator in the edition I read reads this straight, and notes that it is an oddity that Brunhild never figures out that Siegfried is a great prince, despite all of the signs. But I think you could very well read it as a case of Brunhild, suspicious of the Gunther-Siegfried relationship from the beginning, harping on one of the odd things that she, rightly, sees connected to the source of her suspicion, and obsessively pressing it -- we know that she is quite stubborn -- until finally the whole truth comes out, Kriemhild supporting her case by the ring and belt. In any case, she pushes Kriemhild on the subject until Kriemhild in retaliation lets out the whole tale of Brunhild's humiliation. From that point on, Kriemhild and Brunhild are enemies. Both Siegfried and Gunther try to avoid any trouble arising from this, but one of the great knights in Gunther's court, Hagen of Tronje, who is ruthlessly loyal to Burgundy, avenges Brunhild by murdering Siegfried. When Siegfried's corpse bleeds in Hagen's presence, Kriemhild learns the truth, and meditates revenge in her heart. Hagen is no fool, and he takes steps to prevent her ever getting into the position of retaliating, which infuriates her further.

Kriemhild eventually marries Etzel, the romanticized version of Attila the Hun, and as Queen of the Huns sets a trap to destroy Gunther and Hagen. Many knights, both Hun and Burgundian, will lose their lives because of it.

The author clearly sees the tale as having an ensemble cast; he is pulling together a number of different hero stories into a single tale, mostly successfully. But you could also see the tale as the tragedy of Kriemhild, with event mounting on event to an end of ever greater violence and destruction. The author does a very good job of building this, both in terms of plotting and in terms of foreshadowing. Throughout the work, someone will do something apparently innocuous or only somewhat serious, and the author will remark that it will later be rued or that many people will lose their lives because of it. These warnings do not always pan out, at least in a straightforward way, but their cumulative effect is to give a doomward tendency to even the smallest things done, until finally the whole cumulative tone of warning is satisfied by a doom that is entirely adequate to the whole incremental anticipation.

Favorite Passage: Brunhild and Gunther have their unconventional wedding night:

'Sir,' she said, 'you must give up the thing you have set your hopes on, for it will not come to pass. Take good note of this: I intend to stay a maiden till I have learned the truth about Siegfried.'

Gunther grew very angry with her. He tried to win her by force, and tumbled her shift for her, at which the haughty girl reached for the girdle of stout silk cord that she wore about her waist, and subjected him to great suffering and shame: for in return for being baulked of her sleep, she bound him hand and foot, carried him to a nail, and hung him on the wall. She had put a stop to his love-making! As to him, he all but died, such strength had she exerted.

And now he who had though to be master began to entreat her. 'Loose my bonds, most noble Queen. I do not fancy I shall ever subdue you, lovely woman, and I shall never again lie so close to you.'

She did not care at all how he fared, since she was lying very snug. He had to say hanging there the whole night through till dawn, when the bright morning shone through the windows. If Gunther had ever been possessed of any strength, it had dwindled to nothing now. (p. 88)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.


The Nibelungenlied, Hatto, tr., Penguin (New York: 2004).

Friday, September 06, 2019

That Is to Be, to Live, to Strive Indeed

Booker T. Washington
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The word is writ that he who runs may read.
What is the passing breath of earthly fame?
But to snatch glory from the hands of blame--
That is to be, to live, to strive indeed.
A poor Virginia cabin gave the seed,
And from its dark and lonely door there came
A peer of princes in the world's acclaim,
A master spirit for the nation's need.
Strong, silent, purposeful beyond his kind,
The mark of rugged force on brow and lip,
Straight on he goes, nor turns to look behind
Where hot the hounds come baying at his hip;
With one idea foremost in his mind,
Like the keen prow of some on-forging ship.

Music on My Mind

Mean Mary, "Dark Woods".

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Evening Note for Thursday, September 5

Thought for the Evening: Civility

There has been a lot of philosophical discussion on the subject of civility recently; three notable examples, all good:

* Amy Olberding, 20 Theses Regarding Civility
* Olufemi O. Taiwo, What Incivility Gets Us (and What It Doesn't)
* Amy Olberding, Righteous Incivility

One weakness of the discussions is a running ambiguity between civility in the sense of etiquette ('lesser morality' as Hume calls it) and civility in the sense of the specifically civic version of amicitia, civil amiability. This is not generally fatal, because there is a relation between the two. But etiquette is essentially a set of norms that (for the most part) arise out of social interaction. None of the norms is indefeasible, and many of them are negotiable. (Indeed, as I've pointed out before, many of them are simply moves in ordinary social negotiations.) Civil amiability, on the other hand, is essential to common good, and lies in a mean between obsequiousness and hostility. (That is significant because many of the arguments against the necessity of civility can be clearly seen to be conflating it with obsequiousness.) Etiquette is a means to civil amiability; civil amiability is both a means to society (because it facilitates other things that are necessary for society to work) and an end of society (because things in society that conflict with it are contrary to common good, simply speaking). If you violate etiquette, this indicates a breakdown in particular negotiations within society; if you act in a way simply inconsistent with civil amiability, this is a breakdown in society itself. Allowing ambiguities between them often results in defenders of the value of civility conceding half their ground of argument when there is no good reason to do so. (I think Olberding, who usually avoids this, nonetheless ends up doing it in her "Righteous Incivility" piece.)

Even lumping the two together, much of the opposition to 'civility' in this mongrel sense is not well motivated, and, indeed, often looks clearly like excuse-making. One argument that I have repeatedly seen, and that needs to die, is that civility is how oppressors keep the oppressed in line. (Taiwo discusses it briefly and takes exactly the right line on it.) Close examination shows, I think, that this is not really true all that often; what is more commonly used to keep people in line is inconsistencies in standards of civility. You can tell who has power in a society, very often, by who gets to be more rude. It is true that people sometimes try to appeal to civility to keep people down, but it's not the appeal to civility that's keeping them down, it's put up as a roadblock and it is a roadblock in particular because other people are not strictly held to it. Even if this weren't so, however, it's an absurd and useless argument. Guess what other things have been appealed to by oppressors? Justice. Freedom. Loyalty. Responsibility. Reasonableness. Indeed, one could say virtually all of ethics. And the reason is obvious: ethical discourse has an independent normative force and motivational influence, so one of the things you try to do if you want to maintain power is to control the ethical discourse. You see this everywhere when you look at abuses of power and persecutions. People don't go around justifying their actions by the evilness of their actions; they look for things that are independently recognized as good, and try to use those. The bad as well as the good appeal to things that are good.

But civility, again, has a power on its own, whether you interpret it in the sense of etiquette or in the sense of civil amiability. The reason manipulators of all kind go for it is that it has an independent value; and thus this value does not rely on, nor can it ever by wholly ruled by, the manipulator. Civility usually deals with small things. You will not overthrow tyrants with civility. But there are many cases in which people abusing their power have found civility to be a power they cannot control. This is one reason why nonviolent campaigns often work, when they do: there reaches a point where, no matter how you manipulate things, it becomes obvious that your opponent is being decent and you are being abusive. On its own, this might not accomplish much; but if it's integrated into something larger, it can contribute quite a bit in its own way. Civility is like gravity; its power lies in its constancy and universality. And like a tree breaking stone there can be an immense power in the consistent insistence on being civil regardless of what those in power try to enforce.

I know that there are lots of people who don't want to hear that. But it's true nonetheless.

It is true, of course, that civil amiability has to be understood in such a way as to be consistent with indignation against injustice and vindication of the just. But neither righteous indignation nor vindication trump civil amiability; they must be understood in light of it just as much it must be understood in their light. Civil amiability is often precisely what differentiates just from unjust anger and vindication from vengefulness. Those who dismiss civility outright do so at great danger to others, yes, but at greater danger to themselves.

Various Links of Interest

* Emily Hanford discusses how the strategies of teaching reading that have been used in schools for decades have in fact probably been interfering with learning how to read.

* A good discussion of Alien as the preeminent example of science fiction horror.

* Tim Maudlin reviews Judea Pearl's The Book of Why

* Ashok Karra discusses Wittgenstein's blocks and slabs

* Diane Shane Fruchtman, Martyrdom as Sacrificial Witness. This is not far from the truth; think, for instance, of the medieval notion that the Holy Innocents, St. Stephen, and St. John are all in some sense martyrs, despite the fact that only St. Stephen is a martyr in the most direct and obvious sense. But one also can't divide martyrdom from death, even in cases like that of St. John, who did not literally die for the faith. Otherwise it empties the notion of sacrifice of any and all meaning that made the adjective 'sacrificial' indicate something of importance to begin with.

* Cecelia Watson, The Virtues of the Semicolon

* Patricia Grosse St. Monnica (or Monica, as she is usually known; one N is a Romanization).

* The Cherokee Nation is planning on trying to press one of the rights that it was given in a nineteenth century treaty but which was never fulfilled -- the right to send a territorial representative to the House of Representatives.

* Remembering Shareware-era DOS games. SLEUTH was a good game -- I actually still have it for DosBox on my computer.

* Strategies for combating online hate. This explains the moderation behavior of a number of websites. What I find a little disturbing is that there seems no recognition here that all of these strategies are strategies regularly used by majorities to stifle minority voices of any kind -- there's nothing about them that requires them only to be used one way.

* The Isotype of Marie and Otto Neurath.

* Keith A. Mathison, Christianity and Van Tillianism

Currently Reading

The Nibelungenlied
Rosamund Hodge, Desires and Dreams and Powers
Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind
Anna L. Peterson, Everyday Ethics and Social Change
Brad Inwood, Ethics After Aristotle

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Voyages Extraordinaires #39: P’tit-Bonhomme

Ireland, which has an area of 31,759 square miles, or 20,326,209 acres, formerly formed a part of the insular tract of land now called the United Kingdom. This we learn from the geologists; but it is history and fact that the islands are now two, and more widely divided by moral discord than by physical barriers. The Irish, who are friends of France, are, as they always have been, enemies of England.

A fair country for tourists is Ireland, but a sad one for the dwellers in it. They cannot fertilise it, and it cannot feed them, especially in some of the northern districts. But although the motherland has no flowing breast to give her children, she is passionately loved by them. They call her by the sweetest of names; she is 'Green Erin',--and indeed her verdure is unequalled--she is 'The Land of Song'; she is 'The Island of Saints'; she is 'The Emerald Gem of the Western World'; she is 'First flower of the earth, and first gem of the sea'. Poor Ireland! She ought to be called 'The Isle of Poverty', for that name has befitted her for many centuries. In 1845 the population of 'the most distressful country that ever yet was seen' reached its highest point, 8,295,061; in 1891 when the last Census was taken, it had fallen to 4,706,162, and the terrible preponderance of indigence is maintained at the old figures, 3 to 8.

[Jules Verne, The Extraordinary Adventures of Foundling Mick, Royal Irish Academy (Dublin: 2008), pp. 1-2.]

The English title has always been Foundling Mick, but the French is P'tit-Bonhomme; we never learn the title character's originally given name. He is known by everyone as P'tit-Bonhomme, and such is his name to us. Born into extraordinary poverty, an orphan in rags having no options, abused and misused by those around him, P'tit-Bonhomme nonetheless is an irrepressible soul. His nickname/name is fitting, because he has an abhorrence of begging, and has a precocious sense of appropriate behavior. Because he has a natural talent for recordkeeping, and a firm willingness to work, he will go far, and by the end of the story, still a teenager, he will have risen from impoverished orphanhood to become a business-owner beginning to be wealthy and drawing around himself a sort of family.

The tale is unusually optimistic for Verne. It reminds me in a way of a robinsonade; P'tit-Bonhomme is starting not from a deserted island but from a destitute position, and friendship and hard work are the primary keys to his success rather than encyclopedic knowledge, but in a sense, P'tit-Bonhomme is concerned with the same sort of civilization-building. Civilization, after all, is a thing one is always building.

We Lack Not Songs, Nor Instruments of Joy

To Summer
by William Blake

O Thou who passest thro' our valleys in
Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! thou, O Summer,
Oft pitchedst here thy golden tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy, thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.

Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when noon upon his fervid car
Rode o'er the deep of heaven: beside our springs
Sit down, and in our mossy valleys, on
Some bank beside a river clear, throw thy
Silk draperies off, and rush into the stream:
Our valleys love the Summer in his pride.

Our bards are famed who strike the silver wire:
Our youth are bolder than the southern swains:
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance:
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Gregorius Magnus

Today is the feast of Pope St. Gregory I, also known as Gregory the Great, Doctor of the Church. From his Moralia in Iob, Part VI, Book XXXV:

All human wisdom, however powerful in acuteness, is foolishness, when compared with Divine wisdom. For all human deeds which are just and beautiful are, when compared with the justice and beauty of God, neither just nor beautiful, nor have any existence at all. Blessed Job therefore would believe that he had said wisely what he had said, if he did not hear the words of superior wisdom. In comparison with which all our wisdom is folly. And he who had spoken wisely to men, on hearing the Divine sayings, discourses more wisely that he is not wise. Hence it is that Abraham saw, when God was addressing him, that he was nothing but dust, saying; I speak unto my Lord, though I am dust and ashes. [Gen. 18, 27] Hence it is that Moses, though instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, as soon as he heard the Lord speaking, discovered that he was a person of more hesitating and slower speech, saying; I beseech Thee, O Lord, I am not eloquent; for from yesterday, and the day before, since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant, I am of a more hesitating and slower tongue. [Ex. 4, 10] ...Hence Ezekiel speaking concerning the four animals, says; When there was a voice above the firmament, which was over their heads, they stood, and let down their wings. [Ez. 1, 25] For what is designated by the flying of the animals but the sublimity of evangelists and doctors? Or what are the wings of the animals, but the contemplations of saints raising them up to heavenly things? But when a voice is uttered above the firmament which is over their heads, they stand, and let down their wings, because when they hear within the voice of heavenly wisdom, they drop down, as it were, the wings of their flight. For they discern, in truth, that they are not able to contemplate the loftiness itself of truth. To drop down their wings then at the voice which comes from above, is, on learning the power of God, to bring down our own virtues, and from contemplating the Creator, to think but humbly of ourselves. When holy men, therefore, hear the words of God, the more they advance in contemplation, the more they despise what they are, and know themselves to be either nothing, or next to nothing.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Aelred of Rievaulx, On Spiritual Friendship

St. Aelred lived in the twelfth century; he spent time as an official in the court of King David I of Scotland, but eventually left to join the Abbey of Rievaulx, which is located on the River Rye in Yorkshire. His De spirituali amicitia is perhaps his best known work.

On Spiritual Friendship is in some ways in the same genre as St. Ambrose's De officiis; whereas Ambrose was adapting Cicero's De officiis to the life of a Christian priest, Aelred is adapting Cicero's De amicitia to the life of a Christian monk. The course of the discussion follows that of Cicero, sometimes fairly closely, but the explicit point of the dialogue is to argue for an approach to friendship that is superior to Cicero's. The work also shows a heavily Augustinian influence, with the Confessions (definitely) and Augustine's dialogues (I suspect) helping to shape the work in the direction Aelred wishes it to go.

I have previously talked about Cicero's De amicitia: Part I, Part II.


Besides Aelred, there are Ivo, Walter, and Gratian. Aelred is the abbot of Rievaulx. Ivo is generally thought to be monk from Wardon Abbey, which was a daughter monastery to Rievaulx; Aelred seems to have dedicated another of his works, Jesus at the Age of Twelve, to him. Walter seems to be a monk from the same abbey. Of Gratian we know nothing outside this dialogue.


Aelred opens by giving the background to the book. As an adolescent he had greatly enjoyed Cicero's dialogue on friendship, which he began to take as a standard with which his own friendships could be compared and measured. Later, however, when he joined the monastery, he found that this standard was less and less adequate, and wanted to have a standard of friendship that would be supportable by Scripture and take into account the lives of Christ and the saints. He then outlines what the topics of discussion will be:

(1) the nature of friendship;
(2) the fruition and excellence of friendship;
(3) how and among whom friendship can be preserved unbroken.

Book One

Book One discusses Cicero's definition of friendship in light of Aelred's desire, which is expressed in the dialogue by the character Ivo, to give a more Christian account of friendship. The definition, "Friendship is mutual harmony in affairs human and divine coupled with benevolence and charity" (p. 53), presents some puzzles -- in Aelred's Latin, benevolentia and caritas both have very specific and Christian meanings, so it's not immediately clear how the pagan Cicero would have understood them. Aelred suggests that by 'caritas' Cicero meant internal affection and by 'benevolentia' he meant external expression of this affection. Both Aelred and Ivo think the definition inadequate, but they do think it is a good starting point; it captures something of friendship, but does not adequately capture friendship in the truest sense. Drawing on Isidore of Seville, Aelred notes that the Latin word for 'friend', amicus, is related to the word for amor, so that the friend is a sort of guardian of mutual love or, by love, of one's own spirit and its secrets. "Friendship, therefore, is that virtue by which spirits are bound by ties of love and sweetness, and out of many are made one" (p. 55). Aelred then introduces one of the key ideas of the dialogue, from Proverbs 17:17: "He that is a friend loves at all times." This will mark the distinction between Aelred and Cicero: Aelred thinks, properly speaking, true friendship is eternal. This means it is very difficult to have true friendship, but Aelred insists that it is possible and that even striving for it is a noble thing.

Friendship is clearly related to charity, in the Christian sense, but the two are not the same; charity is more universal in its embrace than friendship, because Christians are specifically commanded to love even their enemies. And while friendship is a kind of harmony or cooperation, it needs to be distinguished from those kinds of agreements that are based on vice. Those kinds of carnal or worldly friendships are based on a desire for gain, but true friendship is its own reward. When we understand this correctly, this is what Cicero's definition gets right, but it is very important to understand it as excluding vice: "such friendship prudence directs, justice rules, fortitude guards, and temperance moderates" (p. 61). Friendship arises from a natural desire impressed on us by God, which is part of the general providential activity of harmonizing and unifying the world. As such it is, like virtue and wisdom, true friendship a natural good, good in itself, and cannot be directed to a bad end. What is more, while wisdom is a higher thing, friendship has so intimate a connection with wisdom that in an extended sense one can say that it just is a kind of wisdom. This is another reason why friendship has to have something eternal in it.

Ivo finds Aelred's account both attractive and difficult to believe, asking if we should conclude that just as God is love, God is friendship as well. Contrary to the way it is sometimes presented, Aelred does not outright commit to saying this -- he notes that it is not in Scripture and is an unusual thing to say -- but given that friendship has some key similarities to charity, he would not deny that you can attribute to friendship what you can to charity. But this raises the question of the fruition of friendship.

Book Two

Some years later, Ivo having since died, Aelred starts up a discussion with the monk Walter, who refers back to the discussion between Aelred and Ivo on spiritual friendship. Aelred tries to get out of going over it again by pointing out that the discussion was a long time ago, and that he had lost the paper on which he had written his notes on the dialogue. But Walter outmaneuvers him, saying that he knows that Aelred recently rediscovered it, and so he wants to read it. Aelred reluctantly lets him do so, and Walter says that, having covered the nature of friendship, the obvious next question is to look at its practical advantages. Unsurprisingly, Aelred has a very high estimate of its value:

It manifests all the virtues by its own charms; it assails vices by its own virtue; it tempers adversity and moderates prosperity. As a result, scarcely any happiness whatever can exist among mankind without friendship, and a man is to be compared to a beast if he has no one to rejoice with him in adversity, no one to whom to unburden his mind if any annoyance crosses his path or with whom to share some unusually sublime or illuminating inspiration. (pp. 71-72)

Highest of all, true friendship is on the threshold of love and knowledge of God, "so that man from being a friend of his fellowman becomes the friend of God" (p. 73).

At this point they are joined by their friend Gratian, whom Walter comments devotes all his energy to loving and being loved, so especially needs to be able to distinguish counterfeit friendship from true. Aelred elaborates the sense in which true friendship is a step tword love and knowledge of God by characterizing its structure as beginning from Christ, advancing through Christ, and being completed in Christ. And it is Christ who gives the guide to understanding what a friend may do: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13). But this, too, must be understood correctly, since if wicked men die for each other, that does not change the previous conclusion that there is no friendship among the wicked. People are in fact inclined to use friendship as an excuse for evil, but this is an abuse of the term. While friendship doesn't require perfection, it does require goodness. We should therefore avoid puerile associations, based only on playful affection, as well as vicious associations, or associations based on advantages. (There is no problem with receiving advantages from friendship, but they should not be the reason for the relationship.) We should also avoid flatterers. These are all cases in which the friendship is such that, even if one dies because of the relationship, one does not die for the friend the way Christ has indicated a true friend would.

By this point, they have been talking an hour, and they adjourn the question of how one should act in the friendship to the next day.

Book Three

Friendship springs from love, but not all loves are equally conducive to true friendship. The love that is most suitable to that is the kind that springs simultaneously from reason and affection, which is connected with contemplation of virtue. But the only foundation that can actually give the eternal character that belongs to true friendship is the love of God, and everything in friendship needs to conform to this. One needs other things, however, since love is more universal than friendship; friendship requires companionship, and goes through four stages: selection of possible friend, probation or trial by which one discovers that they are indeed such as can be your friend, admission into friendship, and finally the complete conformity to the definition of friendship as "perfect harmony in matters human and divine with charity and benevolence" (p. 93).

There are vices that are simply inconsistent with friendship, and among the ones that most need to be avoided is wrath or anger, because attaching oneself to someone who cannot control themselves in matters of anger is a recipe for disaster. Likewise one should avoid people who are easily changeable or inclined to suspicion. If you become associated with such people, the command to love them remains, but you should not try to be their friend, because they are only capable of false friendship; instead you should slowly detach from them, and seek instead the kind of friendship that can be eternal.

To test someone for friendship, you need to investigate whether they have four essential qualities: loyalty or fidelity (fides), right intention (intentio), discretion (discretio), and patience (patientia). Loyalty gives the friendship security; right intention establishes that the friendship is not for gain but for God and the natural good of friendship itself (this is how Aelred understands the command to love one's neighbor as one's self, because we don't love ourselves in the expectation of being rewarded for it); discretion makes it possible for him to make decisions as a friend should make them, maintaining the kinds of priorities that are consistent with friendship; and patience gives the friendship resistance from fault and durability in the face of correction.

One of the errors that Aelred seeks to correct is the notion that spontaneous impulse is at all adequate for friendship; prudence and caution are in fact necessary. In heaven this is not so, because in heaven all are virtuous and united in love by God, in the truest and most perfect friendship, but on earth we are dealing with a mix of wise and foolish, virtuous and vicious, and the most important thing is to do the hard work of making sure that what we call friendship actually unfolds as a friendship should. Because of this we should also, of course, act in such a way as to make sure that we exhibit those qualities that are needed for friendship.

If we have done this, however, friendship raises us up: by it we bear each other's burdens, by prayer in friendship we are united more deeply to Christ; and through it we prepare ourselves for the Beatific Vision, in which God will be all in all.


Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, Laker, tr. Cistercian Publications (Kalamzoo, MI: 1977).